December 3 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. 

 

With deadline looming, Haslam weighs state’s role in Obamacare (CP/Zelinski)

In less than a year’s time, buying health insurance will be much like shopping for a car online, without the giddy excitement about whether to spring for a sunroof. The new system, required by the federal government, will lay out options for the up to 900,000 uninsured Tennesseans who will need coverage to avoid financial penalties from the federal government. But it will also give small businesses a place buy insurance and give people who are covered a place to comparison-shop their plans against their employers.

Gov. Bill Haslam expects voucher bill legislation (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Tennessee lawmakers will almost certainly approve some kind of voucher bill in the upcoming legislative season. And while Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t know how broad it will be, he is not interested in a trial run. “I don’t think it will start with a pilot,” Haslam said late last week. “To say we are just doing this in Shelby, Davidson and Knox …. I wouldn’t be in favor of that. I do think it should be income-qualified.” Any voucher legislation will have the largest impact in Memphis, which has more private schools (91) than other cities in the state and more children that would qualify both as being assigned to low-performing public schools or based on family income.

Governor’s mansion open for holiday tours (Associated Press)

Governor Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam are inviting Tennesseans to tour the executive residence during the first two weeks of December. This year’s holiday decor theme is Tennessee Music, and it incorporates pieces from the collections of the Museum of Appalachia, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Stax Museum. Tennessee students also contributed to the holiday decorations by creating ornaments representing holiday songs, gospel music, patriotic music and Elvis Presley.

Nominations open for Governor’s Arts Awards (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Arts Commission is seeking nominations for the 2013 Governor’s Arts Awards. The awards are Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts. There are three award categories: the Folklife Heritage Award, the Arts Leadership Award and the Distinguished Artist Award. According to the commission, the Governor’s Arts Awards were established in 1971 to recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the cultural life of Tennessee.

TN joins program to increase classroom time (Associated Press/Lederman)

Open your notebooks and sharpen your pencils. School for thousands of public school students, including those at 22 schools in Davidson County, is about to get quite a bit longer. Five states were to announce today that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Tennessee, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.

DCS scrutinized for lack of transparency after deaths (Associated Press)

The embattled Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is facing more scrutiny for not providing details about 31 children it had investigated who died in the first six months of this year. In September, the agency released information showing the numbers after repeated requests from a Democratic lawmaker and The Tennessean. Now, the newspaper said DCS has denied its requests to review the files involving the child fatalities. The newspaper contends the information it has received provides limited details.

TN truancy rules get closer look to improve enforcement (Associated Press)

An increase in the number of truancy cases along with inconsistent enforcement has some at the University of Tennessee advocating change. UT law faculty and students told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that reforms of state rules governing the offense are warranted. Dean Hill Rivkin, a professor in the UT College of Law, has examined truancy laws, data and enforcement across the state for the past four years. Rivkin and his students made a presentation last week to Hamilton County teachers and social workers in which they recommended local programs to involve parents and explore the reasons behind truancy, which is defined by state law as missing five or more days of school “without adequate excuse.”

MTSU’s EXL Scholars Program touted as a ‘model’ for universities (DNJ)

Service learning. MTSU is positioning itself as a model university in this area with its Experiential Learning Scholars Program, or EXL, which was recently commended by a regional accrediting organization for its impact and effectiveness after five years of existence. MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee spoke to a group of faculty and staff at a recent campus reception honoring those involved with the birth of the program, which started in spring 2006 as a pilot project in conjunction with MTSU’s Quality Enhancement Plan.

Ron Ramsey, Beth Harwell support wine sales in supermarkets (Associated Press)

The top two Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly support allowing the sale of wine in supermarkets, and the influx of new GOP lawmakers is giving them the opportunity to reshape key committees where efforts to make that change have long been corked up by opponents. Under the state’s restrictive three-tiered beverage control system, every drop of alcohol is supposed to flow from the manufacturer to a wholesale distributor and then to the retailers. And any bottle stronger than beer can only be bought at one of 501 liquor stores around the state.

Legislative delegation split over Chattanooga Whiskey distillery (TFP/Sher)

Three lawmakers in Hamilton County’s seven-member legislative delegation say they are prepared to honor county commissioners’ request to change state law to allow local whiskey distilling. But despite last week’s agreement by seven of nine county commissioners, the push by Chattanooga Whiskey Co. owners to manufacture the product in their home city is not yet a done deal in the General Assembly. The main opponent, Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, said last week he remains adamantly opposed.

After HCA deal, some in council want incentives for small business (CP/Hale)

Metro Councilman Josh Stites wished we weren’t having this conversation to begin with. “My preference would be that we not get involved in that at all,” he told The City Paper. “That Metro not be involved in giving tax breaks for certain businesses. But if we’re going to do that, I think there are two things that are important. One is based upon number of jobs created, and solely based upon that, so it doesn’t matter what size headquarters you build or where your headquarters is, it’s based upon the number of jobs you create.

Survey: Poor in resources equals poor health in Knox County (N-S/Nelson)

In some ways, Knox County is healthier than most of the rest of the country. In many ways, it’s not. That’s been a consistent finding of the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, which Knox County Health Department conducts every three years. But when Knox County epidemiologists were looking at the latest numbers, compiled from 2011 surveys, one pattern was obvious: The higher your income, the healthier you’re likely to be. “If you’re of lesser means, you are at a serious risk for a constellation of issues,” said Kathy Brown, director of Community Assessment and Health Promotion for Knox County Health Department.

Worst-case flood risk has TVA weighing higher dams (Times Free-Press/Sohn)

It has never happened. A wall of flood water so high that it topped dams on the upper Tennessee River and swamped emergency equipment at two nuclear plants just upriver of Chattanooga. But government officials say recent history — including Nashville’s devastating 2010 flood and Fukushima’s 2011 tsunami, as well as changing technology and past calculation errors — make it clear TVA must plan for the worst. Mike Eiffe, TVA program manager for hydrology and hydraulics, said preparing for a “probable maximum flood” means raising the levels of the dams and the earthen berms that flank them.

Dial-a-doctor, online services cut office visits (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Doctors are tossing aside their stethoscopes and sitting down in front of computer screens or simply picking up phones in the expanding practice of remote medicine. Insurers have been encouraging people to embrace the concept by directing them to services such as Teladoc, which offers both telephone and Internet consultations with physicians. Now, telemedicine is entering the direct-to-consumer realm. Beginning today, Tennesseans can dial up a doctor for a $50 flat fee. Apogee Physicians, a company that has been providing doctor staffing in hospitals, has launched Apogee Doctor on Call.

Small merchants turn to Amazon, complain about slow payments (Seattle Times)

For many small merchants, selling on Amazon.com is an easy way to boost their business in a tough economy — if only they can get paid. Dozens of online sellers complain that the Seattle-based company arbitrarily withholds their payments for as long as three months, jeopardizing their ability to replenish inventories and stay in business, state records show. Sellers who say they’ve been hurt by this practice are the single most common source of complaints filed against Amazon with the Washington state Attorney General’s Office over the past three years, The Seattle Times found.

Nashville charter school fair will let parents compare options (Tenn/Fingeroot)

First, Nashville families got a look at all their choices in Metro schools. Now, they’ll get a look at something different: charter schools that promise to do more, thanks to freedom to deliver the curriculum they choose, the way they choose. The county’s first Nashville Charter School Information and Enrollment Fair will be Saturday on the Tennessee State University campus. Representatives from 18 charter schools that are either already open or approved to open in fall 2013 plan to attend, said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association.

McIntyre to urge school board to vote against charter application (N-S/McCoy)

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre has recommended the school board reject the latest application that proposes converting the facilities at Vine Middle Performing Arts and Sciences Magnet School into a charter school. The application, presented by the nonprofit Genesis Rock, will be discussed by the school board at its meeting tonight before being voted on Wednesday. The proposed school would initially have 300 students in sixth through eighth grades, have an extended school day and year, and use a project- and technology-based curriculum.

 

OPINION

Gail Kerr: More questions than answers with school vouchers (Tennessean)

A task force of nine people met numerous times over the course of a year, did massive research, wrote a 94-page report, and still couldn’t reach a consensus on how a school voucher system would work in Tennessee. How in the name of Ned does anyone think the state legislature, with all its differing mindsets, can do any better? The task force was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to look at how to create “opportunity scholarships” (a ridiculous way to keep from saying the word “voucher”). They were told specifically not to debate the philosophical merits of vouchers. But that is exactly where the governor and state lawmakers need to start before they assume it’s a good plan for public school students. Vouchers take public taxpayer dollars and use them to pay tuition for public school students to attend private and religious schools.

Larisa Brass: Solar installer diversifies as incentives dry up (News-Sentinel)

Seven years ago, David Bolt got in the green business by retrofitting his house to produce as much energy as it consumed. As Bolt began touting the benefits of solar and other energy-saving measures, many potential customers shied away from the newfangled technologies. “I set appointments and talked to people and they just weren’t interested,” Bolt says. “They would say, ‘That’s something you do somewhere else. That’s not something you do in Tennessee.’ ” Today solar is something done in Tennessee, and Bolt’s business has reaped the rewards. His company website features a couple dozen projects ranging from homes to commercial installations in East Tennessee. They range from installations at small businesses to the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s headquarters in Chattanooga. Much of that business, particularly on the commercial side, was driven by incentives from federal and state governments deployed to help develop the solar market.

Michael Collins: State’s congressmen still hope to alter ‘Obamacare’ (N-S)

Congressional Republicans still coming to terms with the re-election of President Barack Obama also find themselves struggling with another post-election reality: Obamacare is here to stay. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, summed up the election days after Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney: “Obamacare is the law of the land.” Tennessee Republicans who had been hoping to repeal the president’s signature health reform now acknowledge that will be next to impossible with Democrafts holding on to the White House and a majority in the U.S. Senate. “It’s pretty obvious that at least some parts of Obamacare are going into effect no matter what, whether I like it or not,” says U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.