This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is preparing to deliver his annual budget proposal to Tennessee lawmakers on Monday evening. Haslam’s third State of the State address is also expected to outline the Republican governor’s legislative priorities for the year, including details about his proposal to introduce a school voucher program. Haslam has yet to announce whether he wants Tennessee to participate in the expansion of Medicaid under the new federal health care law. Under that plan, the federal government would pay 100% of cost increases in the first three years and 90% thereafter.
In his first “State of theState” speech, Gov. Bill Haslam declared a “new normal” of Tennessee government getting by with less money; his second was centered on the phrase “believe in better,” suggesting that policy changes can improve things without new spending. The governor hasn’t said what the theme will be in his third State of theState address, scheduled for delivery this evening at a joint meeting of the state House and Senate. But he has said it will be “more of the same” in the general sense of striving to reshape state government toward being more friendly toward business and more efficient in operations.
Gov. Bill Haslam will reveal his legislative agenda for the upcoming year Monday evening before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly and a statewide television audience. For his 3rd annual State of the State address, Haslam is expected to detail priorities of a budget proposal that will likely exceed $30 billion. The address will also be streamed live over the Internet, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern time. In the weeks leading to his speech, Haslam has offered few details as to what his agenda for the upcoming year will cover.
Monday night Governor Bill Haslam will make his annual State of the State address, when he gives his assessment of Tennessee’s state of affairs. The speech is largely about money and policy, and the governor has $300-$400 million in new tax revenue to play with this year. If past years are any guide, Haslam will enumerate what kind of raise state workers will get. They haven’t been thrilled with one and two percent increases in the last couple of years, mostly because they went three years without a pay hike.
A new, independent state agency would oversee all aspects of Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system, including appeals now heard by the courts, under proposed reform measures drafted by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. Critics contend those and other proposals would unfairly curtail injured workers’ rights and compensation, foreshadowing a looming battle over one of Haslam’s and Republicans’ top legislative priorities this year. Haslam spokesman David Smith declined to discuss specifics and said details will be released after a final bill is filed, possibly this week.
Tomorrow the governor and top officials will gather to discuss how Tennessee schools keep students safe. Officials announced the conference days after 20 first-graders were shot dead in Connecticut last month. Hosting the event are the school districts of Williamson County and Franklin. They were first in the state to add more security after the shooting, voting to take more than two million dollars out of reserves and hire 32 armed deputies. Other districts are thinking about following suit. Rutherford, Wilson, Sumner, Robertson and Montgomery Counties are in various stages of discussing it.
Public school teachers with the lowest scores in a new evaluation system appear more likely to retire. That’s according to early figures from the state’s Department of Education. Nearly four percent of retiring teachers have the worst-possible scores. And Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman sees an upside to the latest retirement numbers.“They’re actually lower for teachers performing at a higher level, which is what I think we would have hoped and expected to see.” Less than two percent of retirements are the highest achievers. But overall, more educators are leaving the profession.
People who got state unemployment benefits last year can access online the forms they need for income tax purposes. The documents are called IRS Form 1099-Gs. There is a link to them from the home page of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development: www.tennessee.gov/labor-wfd . Benefit recipients can access the forms by entering their birth date or the PIN they used to certify or inquire on their unemployment claim. The department also began mailing the 1099-G forms to more than 245,000 benefit recipients on January 14.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation says more than 35,000 people have downloaded the department’s SmartWay Mobile App. The application was launched in late December and is available for both Apple and Android devices. TDOT says checking the app to “know before you go” can help avoid traffic problems. Users can scan TDOT traffic cameras and see a visual display of trouble spots. The app is also customizable, so users can get only the information they want.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga opened the doors of its University Center on Sunday to parents and students for its first College Goal Sunday. The national program provides information to students and families about the kinds of financial aid available for college and how to receive it. “Today’s event is to assist students with whatever their goals may be,” said Amber Beason, a financial aid counselor at UTC. “We just want them to be eligible for as much aid as possible, whether they go to UTC or not.”
Low wage jobs, especially those involving manual labor, are increasingly performed by temporary workers. A pair of recent rulings from Tennessee’s Supreme Court shows that trend comes with complications when a worker gets hurt. The amount of worker’s compensation benefits is determined, in part, by whether a person returns to work at the same pay for the same employer. Timmy Britt never worked for Dyer’s Employment Agency again after his carpal tunnel surgery, but that temp agency doesn’t keep anyone on its rolls after a placement ends. State law doesn’t line up neatly with that kind of policy.
Skeptics of a proposal to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores say any change in current law should be deferred for several years to give liquor store owners time to adjust to the new competition. Republican Rep. Ryan Haynes, of Knoxville, says liquor store owners should be given three to five years to get out of their existing leases or to change their business models if they no longer have the exclusive right to sell wine. “They need give them the opportunity to do that after they’ve played by the rules for all these years,” he said.
Area Republican legislators say they are waiting to see what Gov. Bill Haslam recommends on whether to expand Medicaid before finalizing their own positions while Knox County’s Democratic lawmakers support the expansion. That was clear from a meeting Saturday sponsored by the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Some lawmakers stated their position in response to a question from moderator Brandon Hollingsworth and others worked it into their responses to a question about how to deal with problems of mental illness and the homeless by a member of the audience, Vivian Shipe.
A state representative from Memphis is proposing a change in the so-called parent trigger education law that would give the state final approval. A statute updated in 2011 allows parents to force education reforms at their children’s public schools, but it requires a 60 percent parent approval and local school boards must sign off on the efforts. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, said his bill is intended to start a conversation about making it easier for parents to force reform. He is proposing that a simple majority of parents’ signatures on a petition should allow for a school to be transformed into a charter or closed altogether.
East Tennessee in coming years may find itself front and center in the growing debate over fracking — the hydraulic or nitrogen gas fracturing of shale rock deep underground to free natural gas. The region — with Chattanooga at nearly dead center — sits atop a layer, or “play” in driller language, of shale known as Chattanooga Shale. No fewer than six natural gas drilling companies in recent years have looked at mineral rights and property leases in the Chattanooga Shale play to hunt for their next stake.
Franklin officials lukewarm to McLendon’s proposal Longtime Franklin Alderman Dana McLendon wants to loosen city rules banning guns in municipal buildings such as City Hall so gun owners with carry permits can bring their weapons inside. On the heels of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, McLendon contends Franklin’s rules should be changed so people who are lawful gun owners might have their weapons in the event of an emergency. “I have tried to articulate to people that we need to make policies that are pragmatic in the world that we actually live in, and not the world we wish we had,” McLendon said.
Congressman Stephen Fincher will host a “Town Hall Listening Session” Monday evening following the bi-weekly Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. The Town Hall Listening Session will move the start time of the board meeting to 5 p.m., an hour earlier than usual. At the meeting, press secretary Jennifer Cook said the listening session will include Fincher and some of his staff members who will speak with citizens and receive feedback about job growth and development in the area.
Federal Reserve officials are likely to continue their easy-money policies when they gather this week to weigh a mixed economic outlook and a recent run of low inflation. The Fed has said it would maintain its $85 billion bond-buying programs, aimed at boosting the economy by lowering long-term interest rates, until it sees substantial progress in labor markets. It has also said it would keep short-term interest rates near zero until the jobless rate drops to at least 6.5%, as long as inflation remains steady.
After running a gauntlet of legal and political opposition, the Affordable Care Act is poised to bring the United States closer than it has ever been to universal health insurance. But just how close it gets will be up to individual states. (See Stateline infographic.) To reach its goal of covering 30 million low-income Americans in 2014, the Obama administration wants states to take two crucial steps: create an online health insurance exchange where people can sign up for coverage; and expand state Medicaid programs to cover 17 million more low-income adults.
The far-reaching Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will mean myriad changes to the way health care is accessed and delivered in this country — and how it affects you could depend on your age, income, health and current insurance status, among other things.Here’s a look at what changes could be most important to you: If you don’t already have health insurance: You’re going to have to get coverage next year or likely face a financial penalty that starts at 1 percent of your income (or $95, whichever is more) in 2014 and rises to 2.5 percent of your income by 2016.
Imagine you’re buying health insurance. You type in an Internet address, fill out a basic form, and up pops a list of options, each with benefits and costs outlined. If you have a question while you’re “comparison-shopping” for the best policy for your needs, you call a customer-service center, where a trained individual can walk you through the process — including whether you’re eligible for a tax credit in the form of an upfront discount on your premiums. This is what the health care insurance marketplace is supposed to look like next year, according to standards set by the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010.
Applications must arrive by Thursday Parents hoping to enroll their children in one of three magnet schools that Rutherford County operates have until Thursday to submit applications. McFadden School of Excellence, which serves grades K-5, focuses on communications through arts and technology, while Thurman Francis Arts Academy in Smyrna serves grades K-8 and up to the fifth grade for those living within the designated zone. Its enhanced curriculum is emphasized with visual/performing, technology and Spanish language and culture.
There’s no way to ignore the strong hold meth has on East Tennessee, and that hold doesn’t seem to be loosening, according to a recent state study. The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office’s report released this month shows that, despite a law restricting the amount of ephedrine-based medications a person can purchase, the number of meth labs continues to increase in the state. Tennessee consistently ranks in the top four states for the highest number of meth labs found by law enforcement, according to state and federal statistics.
A Nashville judge made the correct decision last week by requiring the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to make public investigative reports of children who died or nearly died in state custody. Chancellor Carol McCoy ordered the department to release case summaries to 12 media organizations led by the Tennessean and including the News Sentinel. The ruling affirms the public’s interest in the actions of state officials charged with the welfare of Tennessee’s most vulnerable residents. DCS attorneys had argued that the files sought by the news organizations — investigative records of the deaths of 151 children and the near fatalities of 55 others since 2009 — could not be released under state law.
Metro school board members nailed it last week with a direct question: If the district’s most successful middle school test scores are coming out of six charter schools, how can regular schools emulate that success? “We don’t have what you see in charter schools,” said Metro school board member Sharon Gentry. “Our schools do not have the climate, the expectations of charter schools. Until you establish a culture of expectation of consistently high performance, you are not going to get there.” Charter schools are paid for by taxpayers but privately operated, all by nonprofits in Nashville. The momentum locally to turn to them as another choice for parents and a way to improve public test scores has exploded in recent years.
According to Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch, if a Tennessee state law banning the sale of wine in grocery stores is repealed, a “butt chugging” epidemic may spread across university campuses. Really. For those who may need their memories refreshed regarding the unfortunate incident that occurred at the University of Tennessee campus, last September, a Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity member — in an attempt to get drunk more quickly — reportedly consumed boxed wine rectally. Not only did the situation make headlines across the nation, the student spent several days recovering in a Knoxville hospital. The notorious event also resulted in a revocation of his fraternity’s charter.