This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Thursday he’s always thought the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be expensive to enact and costly to administer for the state. And he’s seen nothing yet to change his mind. “My initial concerns about the Affordable Care Act have only been realized the more I see the impact that it is going to have on our state budget, on small businesses and on providers. So, my original concern has been highlighted the more I have gotten into this,” Haslam said at a press conference following a budget hearing for TennCare, the state’s government-run medical program for the poor.
The deadline has arrived for governors across the country to declare their intent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on whether they will create their own state-run insurance exchanges under the new federal health care law. Beginning in 2014, consumers and small businesses will be able to shop for insurance coverage on Internet-based exchanges or marketplaces. President Barack Obama’s administration has said that states must decide by Friday, Nov. 16, though they have until Dec. 14 to submit blueprints for exchanges.
The federal government extended the deadline Thursday for states to decide whether to implement a key piece of President Barack Obama’s health overhaul after Republican state officials struggled to reach decisions. Hours ahead of a Friday deadline, the administration told states that they could take another month to declare if they will set up their own insurance exchanges, where people can shop for approved plans and apply for tax subsidies toward the cost of health-insurance premiums.
With one day left before states were required to notify Washington if they wanted to form their own health insurance “exchanges,” the insurance marketplaces authorized by the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius granted a one month extension yesterday. She said states will also have to submit detailed exchange “blueprints” at that time. Since postponement of the deadline came at the last minute, this week was marked by a flurry of announcements from governors about how they intended to run their exchanges.
An expansion of taxpayer-financed health insurance for the poor as prescribed by Obamacare would cost the state nearly $200 million through 2019, the state’s top TennCare official said this week. And in each year after that, the expansion would cost $100 million or more, TennCare Director Darin Gordon said during a state budget hearing for his agency. The Haslam administration is deciding whether to enlarge the state’s Medicaid program by lifting eligibility to as high as 138 percent of the poverty level — or about $31,800 for a family of four.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate decreased slightly in October. Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis said in a news release Thursday that October’s rate was 8.2 percent, down from 8.3 percent in September. She said the October rate is the lowest since June. The national unemployment rate for October was 7.9 percent, 0.1 percentage point higher than the previous month. In Tennessee, total nonfarm employment rose by 7,500 jobs from September to October, with increases in leisure/hospitality and professional/business services.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for October was 8.2 percent, down from both the September revised rate of 8.3 percent and the 8.9 percent mark in October 2011, Karla Davis, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, announced today. The unemployment rate is the lowest the state has seen since June. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for October 2012 was 7.9 percent, 0.1 percentage point higher than the September rate. During the past 12 months, the national rate declined from 8.9 percent to 7.9 percent.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate dipped slightly in October, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today. Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent, down from September’s revised rate of 8.3 percent. Nationally, unemployment in October increased to 7.9 percent, up 0.1 percent from September. Tennessee’s October unemployment rate is the lowest since June. Over the last year, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen from 8.9 percent to 8.2.
Tennessee employers created 24,800 new jobs in October, pushing the state jobless rate down to 8.2 percent, the state Labor & Workforce Development Department reported on Thursday. Throughout the state, 2,694,100 full- and part-time jobs were filled last month, compared to 2,669,300 a year earlier, when the unemployment rate was 8.9 percent. The national rate inched up in October to 7.9 percent. A deeper analysis of September patterns determined 2,686,600 jobs were filled, producing a revised Tennessee unemployment rate of 8.3 percent for September, state officials reported on Thursday.
THEC proposes 12.9 percent fund increase for 2013-14 The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) met for their fall quarterly meeting Thursday and announced that, for the second year, Austin Peay State University leads Tennessee’s four-year institutions in increasing their student retention and graduation rates. As a response, the THEC recommended in their report that APSU receive a 12.9 percent funding increase for 2013-14, according to a news release from Melony Shemberger, assistant director of communications at APSU.
Tennessee Department of Transportation will hold two public hearings on Dec. 11 to gather input on the proposed State Route 126 (Memorial Boulevard) project in Sullivan County. The first hearing will be held at 11:30 a.m. at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium, 1550 Fort Henry Drive. The second public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. in the Sullivan Central High School gym, 131 Shipley Ferry Road, Blountville. According to TDOT, the department has made efforts to reduce impacts to the community and environment in response to comments from citizens since the January publication of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
Tennessee will receive $3 million for its part in a settlement with GlaxoSmithKline concerning its diabetes drug Avandia. Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper announced the settlement today in conjunction with 37 attorneys general around the country. The overall settlement was $90 million. Cooper’s office said Tennessee served a leadership role in reaching the settlement with GlaxoSmithKline. The attorneys general accused GlaxiSmithKline of engaging in “unfair and deceptive practices by misrepresenting Avandia’s cardiovascular risks and safety profile.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he’s convinced employees already lock up their firearms in their vehicles parked at work, and he said he wants to quickly make the practice legal. Ramsey said he plans to hammer out a compromise early next year over legislation that last year pinned Republicans between gun rights advocates — who want to commute to work with their firearms — and the business community, which wants to retain the right to ban guns on their property.
Some state lawmakers say Tennessee’s consistent ranking in the mid-forties for education means it’s time to consider a school vouchers program. It would reroute money meant for public schools, to instead help some parents pay private school tuition. WPLN’s Daniel Potter heard opinions from several parents about vouchers, and has this story. Vouchers aim to give parents another choice, if they don’t love their kid’s public school. Parents who are weighing their options can be found at events like the open-house at Nashville’s historic West End Middle School.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey expects fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to announce by Friday’s deadline that Tennessee will move ahead with plans to create a state-run health insurance exchange. But Ramsey stressed to reporters on Thursday that a final decision is still months away about whether the state or the federal government will ultimately run the health care marketplace required under Democratic President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.
Speaker expects Tennessee to move ahead on health insurance; DesJarlais opposes state-run exchange State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey expects fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to announce that Tennessee will move ahead with plans to create a state-run health insurance exchange. But Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, said Thursday that implementation of the 2010 federal health care reform still can be blocked and urged Haslam to not create a state health insurance market.
Tennessee legislators and a Department of Education representative fielded a range of questions from vouchers to cuts in fine arts Tuesday from both active and retired teachers. The legislative forum held annually by the Rho Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society was held at Liberty Elementary. This was the 11th year for the group of female educators to hold the event. Tackling the issues were Sen. Jack Johnson and Reps. Glen Casada, Jeremy Durham and Charles Sargent, along with Emily Barton, state assistant commissioner of Curriculum and Instruction.
The Commercial Appeal will not be forced to release comments and identifying information about those who commented on stories related to the public controversies over the reorganization of Shelby County’s public schools. U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays issued a ruling Thursday night rejecting the Shelby County Commission’s motion to compel The Commercial Appeal to release that information. The commission’s lawyers from the firm Baker Donelson had filed a motion last week asking the judge to force The Commercial Appeal to comply with a July subpoena request asking for the identities of all online commenters to 45 stories that ran between Nov. 19, 2010, and July 12, 2012.
In the wake of back-to-back hearings on the fungal meningitis outbreak before committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, several ideas are floating about Capitol Hill on how to prevent another tragedy like the one that has sickened 461 Americans, killing 32 of them. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy, saying it should be shut down and proposing a framework that would allow federal regulators to take over when state agencies fail to adequately monitor compounding labs.
A deadly meningitis outbreak that killed 32 people and sickened more than 460 others could have been a lot worse if health investigators hadn’t acted quickly to identify and recall the contaminated medication responsible for the illness, public health officials said Thursday. Thirteen of the deaths and 81 of the infections were reported in Tennessee, the first state to see the initial cases of fungal meningitis and sound the alarm that led to a recall of tainted steroid injections just a little more than a week later.
Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais testified during divorce proceedings that he and his then-wife made a mutual decision for her to have two abortions, according to divorce transcripts released Thursday. DesJarlais, who practiced medicine before going to Congress, easily won a second term in Tennessee’s conservative 4th District despite previous revelations that he once urged a patient with whom he was having an affair to get an abortion. On his campaign website, DesJarlais espoused an anti-abortion position, saying: “All life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and his ex-wife made a “mutual decision” for her to have an abortion, according to transcripts of testimony he gave during their 2001 divorce trial. DesJarlais, a doctor, has been engulfed in scandal since revelations in October of a transcript from a phone call in which he pressured a mistress, who was also a former patient of his, to have an abortion. Despite that, and subsequent revelations about another woman, he won re-election easily last week.
Tennessee Democrats raged and state Republicans went quiet Thursday as new revelations rocked the post-re-election world of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn. A decade before reaching Capitol Hill as a self-proclaimed “consistent supporter of pro-life values,” DesJarlais encouraged his ex-wife’s decision to get two abortions before their marriage, according to the congressman’s sworn testimony during his 2001 divorce trial. First reported Thursday by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the trial transcript also confirms DesJarlais had a battery of potentially unethical relationships while serving in a position of medical authority.
If the federal government falls off the “fiscal cliff,” Tennessee and Georgia will be hard hit because of mandatory spending cuts, according to a study released Tuesday. The nonpartisan Pew Center on the States says the expiration of federal tax cuts and the automatic spending cuts set to occur in January if President Barack Obama and Congress don’t reach agreement will have major consequences for states. “While states would be affected in different ways, the one clear thing is that almost all states will be affected in some way by the different elements of the fiscal cliff,” said Anne Stauffer, project director at Pew Center on the States.
The Postal Service on Thursday reported a record $15.9 billion net loss for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, bringing the financially troubled agency another step closer to insolvency. The widely expected loss, more than triple the service’s loss last year, included accounting expenses of $11.1 billion related to two payments that the agency was supposed to make into its future retiree health benefits fund. But because of revenue losses, the post office was for the first time forced to default on these payments, which were due in August and October.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will end 2012 in the black, despite running losses every quarter this year. Weather played havoc with TVA’s bottom line this year. While customers used record amounts of power during June’s scorching heat wave, it wasn’t enough to make up for a slump during a mild winter. Still, Chief Financial Officer John Thomas says TVA ended up in positive territory, mostly due to cost cutting and cheaper prices for gas and coal. “Overall we ended the year with $60 million worth of net income, which I’m very proud of, given the revenue challenges we had in the year.”
Despite the federal pay freeze, the biggest federal employer in East Tennessee is boosting its year-end bonuses — which average $12,000 per employee — to nearly 12,000 workers next week. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to hand out “Winning Performance” payments on Wednesday that are up 32 percent from similar bonuses paid a year ago. TVA President Tom Kilgore said the extra pay this fall reflects the utility’s success in the past year in cutting expenses and lowering electricity rates despite an unexpected drop in power sales.
If Nike Inc. decides to expand its North Memphis distribution facility in 2014, the company could be looking to hire more than 250 workers. The big question is where it, like other large companies, will find qualified employees. While the Memphis metropolitan area had an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent in September, the area still struggles to provide qualified applicants for warehouse jobs. Billed as America’s Distribution Center for years, the city and its surrounding counties have not focused on entry-level training to fill many jobs in this industry.
After the Nov. 6 defeat of a half-cent sales tax increase that would have helped fund the Unified Shelby County School District, the new school system still faces a shortfall of an estimated $57 million that will have to be filled before it opens in August. That shortfall, says Mike Ritz, Shelby County commissioner, will most likely be filled by a 2 or 3 percent property tax increase that can be achieved with a simple majority vote of the commission. An increase of more than 10 percent would require nine of the 13 county commissioners to approve it, a long shot because five of them represent the municipalities that are launching their own school districts.
County Schools now can hold students responsible for cyberbullying that occurs off school campuses. The school board voted Thursday to add cyberbullying via text messages, social media or other electronic media to its student discrimination, harassment, bullying and intimidation policy. The policy addition states that administrators can regulate violations that happen outside school or school-sponsored activities, if they are directed at a certain student or students and disrupt or create a hostile educational environment.
Parties involved in the ongoing legal dispute over the reorganization of Shelby County’s public schools agreed Thursday to try and reach a settlement using mediation, with sessions to begin on Monday. Attorneys spoke by teleconference Thursday morning with U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays, who has been expected to issue a ruling any day on state constitutional challenges to 2011 and 2012 state laws that would enable new municipal school districts to form in six suburban municipalities.
Countywide school board members didn’t get to a decision Thursday, Nov. 15, on the schools merger recommendation to close 20 schools in Memphis. But at a special meeting Thursday evening, they approved a group of 29 other recommendations from the consolidation planning commission on a variety of schools operations fronts. A bundle of 40 recommendations out of a total of 172 made by the planning commission were all color coded green. The green designation means the staffs of the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools had reviewed those recommendations and were far enough along to consider including them in a tentative budget for the first fiscal year of the merged school system which begins July 1, 2013.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to expedite records requests by the media and public should clear a path for state legislators and local government to follow. After an eight-month review of the executive branch’s responses to public records requests, the first-term Republican governor said recently he opted not to make any major changes. That’s good news for all Tennesseans, because government works for the people, not vice versa, and the public deserves to know exactly how business is being conducted. Not only did the governor say his fears about potential of abuse of open records laws were allayed, he said he told his Cabinet to handle public and media records requests as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
America Recycles Day, observed on Nov. 15, came at an exciting time for Tennessee. Our desperate need for jobs means that landfill companies will no longer be the sole players in solid-waste policy making. Jobs and economic development will drive Tennessee policy. On July 11, during a hearing by the state Senate Energy Committee on diversion of waste from landfills, the general manager of a construction waste processor testified his company had 26 employees. He testified that landfilling this same waste would create three jobs. A study by the College of Charleston illustrates that if Tennessee recycled 50 percent of the 8 million-9 million tons of solid waste we landfill, this would create 6,800 jobs and a payroll of $268 million.
Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to let the federal government know today if Tennessee intends to establish a health insurance exchange as mandated under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Republican governors in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and several other states have opted out of establishing the marketplaces for state residents to purchase health insurance, while several more, like Haslam, will decide by today’s deadline. While some governors likely made their choices out of political pique, Haslam, in a media availability earlier this week, showed he is approaching the exchange issue with predictable pragmatism. “My initial concerns about the Affordable Care Act have only been realized the more I see the impact it is going to have on our state budget, on small businesses and on providers,” Haslam said.
Now that the 2012 election is over and President Obama has been re-elected, it makes sense for our elected officials in Washington to make every attempt to improve the shortcomings of his ambitious health care plan known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I concluded long ago that our country needed a universal health care system, and even though the ACA did not achieve this goal, it is at least a step in the right direction. Using a baseball metaphor, it is as if our country’s dealing with health care reform moved to first base with the ACA, although that is not a home run and we will still have to move around the diamond before we can actually claim success. Our legislature should now help move us around the bases.