This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam, Tuesday, reiterated his determination to keep funding pre-kindergarten programs in Tennessee at current levels but remained mum about any future plans for expansion. Speaking to reporters in Jackson, Haslam commented on recent preliminary results from a study by Vanderbilt University comparing the performance of students exposed to pre-k programs and those who are not. The study is ongoing, but the report released last week shows mixed results, especially relating to how long benefits of pre-k education last.
Tennessee has received yet another poor health diagnosis. While childhood obesity rates across the nation have gone down, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that Tennessee is one of just a handful of states where the epidemic has grown. Gov. Bill Haslam said the latest statistical report is disheartening. “Loving something doesn’t mean you can’t recognize its faults,” he said. “In Tennessee, we’re not nearly as healthy as we should be. We’re somewhere around 40 when it comes to the 50 states.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam launches a new statewide health and wellness initiative. The Governor visited Blue Cross, Blue Shield in Chattanooga Wednesday morning to kick off the “Healthier Tennessee” program. Haslam says the initiative will encourage residents to be more physically active and eat nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables. The program also asks people to stop using tobacco, or never start. Governor Haslam says a healthier Tennessee could lead to more jobs.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday the launch of “Healthier Tennessee,” an initiative to encourage Tennesseans to be more physically active, to eat nutritious foods in healthy portions, and not to use tobacco products. “Tennessee is one of the best places there is to live, work and raise a family, but we also are one of the least healthy states in the nation,” Haslam said. “Our citizens have high rates of behavior-related diseases such as hypertension and stroke, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancer.”
It was only fitting that the Farmers’ Market, with its bounty of locally grown fresh vegetables, served as a background Wednesday afternoon as Gov. Bill Haslam pitched his new “Healthier Tennessee” initiative to a downtown Knoxville crowd. Haslam asked the Market Square gathering to jump on board for his vision, which calls for Tennesseans to eat healthier, get off the couch and kick the tobacco habit. “Tennessee is one of the best places there is to live, work and raise a family, but we are also one of the least healthy states in the nation,” Haslam said.
Gov. Bill Haslam made stops around the state Wednesday, rolling out a new “Healthier Tennessee” initiative. Haslam says he hopes the initiative will help improve the state’s less-than-flattering health rankings. The governor used the backdrop of Knoxville’s Farmers Market to urge the state to take on healthier habits Wednesday. “I love Tennessee, it’s a great state, but we have to admit one thing that we can do much better and that’s living healthier lives,” Haslam said. The “Healthier Tennessee” initiative focuses on three principles: Having people physically active for at least 30 minutes, five times per week. Eating more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and less sugar, salt, and processed foods. Never use or quit using tobacco products.
A new study shows childhood obesity is down, but in Tennessee, it’s up. Tennessee is known for wholesome home cooking. Mix that with a lot of sitting around and you’ve got a recipe for problems. Chelsi Wolz, a research associate at the University of Tennessee’s Healthy Eating Lab says the report doesn’t surprise her. “it’s unfortunate for us,” she says, “but a lot of contributing factors would be high consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, juices, a lot of TV time, screen time, computer time, and also just a lack of physical activity.”
Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a new statewide health and wellness initiative.Haslam visited the Church Health Center Memphis on Tuesday to launch the “Healthier Tennessee” program. Haslam said the initiative will encourage residents to be more physically active and eat nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables. The program also asks people to stop using tobacco, or never start. Haslam noted Tennessee is one of the least healthy states, with high rates of high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
Swinging through Chattanooga on a statewide tour to launch a new health and wellness initiative, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tennesseans were “not as healthy as we should be.” But with a self-imposed, end-of-summer deadline on whether he will decide to partner with the federal government to expand TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, the governor said he had no “new insight” on how he’ll make a final decision on a health issue that could directly impact as many as 180,000 Tennesseans.
The clock is ticking down on the next round of major health care changes. But it’s still unclear whether 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans may be able to tap into new health insurance coverage through a TennCare expansion, and scant publicity has been given to the new online health insurance marketplaces available to state residents in October. While Tennessee leaders have done much to criticize the law, they have had little to say about consumers’ preparedness — or lack thereof — for the changes set to take effect in just weeks.
If the Cheatham County school budget is not approved by Oct. 1, the Tennessee Department of Education can start withholding state funds — money the school district heavily relies on to operate. Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball said the deadline to submit a school budget to the state is Aug. 1 — 30 days after the beginning of a fiscal year. If the deadline is not met, the department can withhold Basic Education Program funds, Ball said. But a district has the ability to operate under a continuing budget passed by the County Commission.
For the next two years, drivers on Interstate 40 in Jefferson County can count on travel delays at peak times as work crews progress on a bridge rehabilitation project that will close one lane in each direction. Beginning Sunday, crews with Bell and Associates Contractors L.P. will restrict the Francis Burnett Swann Memorial Bridge over the French Broad River to one lane in each direction. Workers began the $22.3 million rehabilitation project in April, but that work involved replacing 9,000 metal rivets under the structure.
Good news for Tennessee students packing up to head to campus: The Tennessee Lottery raised more than enough to fund the Hope Scholarships and other lottery-financed aid in the fiscal year that ended this summer. And that means considerably less pressure to alter the scholarship program. A year ago, the Tennessee Legislature was considering raising the academic standards for qualifying for Hope Scholarships, to cut the program’s costs in the wake of a short-term shortfall in the lottery’s proceeds earmarked for scholarships and the costs of the scholarships.
Seeking to kickstart his state Senate campaign a year before the primary election, Metro Councilman Jason Holleman took off on a 70-mile walking tour of District 21 on a drizzly Wednesday morning. Joined by school board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering, Holleman walked through Madison Middle School and the adjacent Stratton Elementary School to begin the tour. He said he would spend seven days talking to voters and visiting businesses in Inglewood, East Nashville, Donelson, Cane Ridge, 12South and other neighborhoods before returning to his Sylvan Park home.
Same-sex couples in at least three Tennessee counties tried to get marriage licenses Wednesday, striding into county clerks’ offices, their faces lit up by camera flashes as they made state history. But because same-sex marriage is illegal in Tennessee, they left empty-handed. Will Peyton and Jef Laudieri of Nashville said they weren’t surprised by the rejection, just at how much it hurt. The two met nine years ago in a bar — love at first sight for Peyton, not so much for Laudieri. They moved in together a year later, back when only a handful of states entertained the idea of allowing same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage advocates are hoping to make a change in Tennessee’s laws, so one couple went to the Davidson County Clerk’s Office on Wednesday to apply for a marriage license. In a statewide move organized by the Tennessee Equality Project, several same-sex couples applied for licenses Wednesday in different Tennessee counties in their mission to overturn the state’s constitutional ban and get hitched in the Volunteer State. Jef Laudieri and Will Peyton knew they would be turned away, but they say it’s important to keep fighting for legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.
Two same sex couples applied for marriage licenses at the Shelby County Clerk’s office Wednesday morning but were, as they anticipated, denied in accordance with the state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriage. Organized by the Tennessee Equality Project, it was an act intended partly to raise awareness about the inability of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples to marry in their home state. “They said they don’t do them yet,” said Amy Barton, with fiancée Lyndsay Gray at her side, as they walked away from the clerk’s office without an application.
A state probation officer is labeling former Knox County Trustee John J. Duncan III as a “low risk” candidate for unsupervised judicial diversion, according to a report obtained by the News Sentinel today. Duncan, 33, son of U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. and nephew of state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, faces sentencing Aug. 15 for his plea of guilty last month to official misconduct, a felony, for approving $3,000 bonuses for himself and other staffers in the Trustee’s Office without completing the training programs at issue.
Even as he faces sentencing, former Knox County Trustee John Duncan III is continuing to deny a key element of his confessed crime — knowing he was breaking the law when he ordered up bonuses for himself and other staffers. In a presentence investigation obtained by the News Sentinel, Duncan, son of U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. and nephew to state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, provided a statement in which he says he inked approval for himself and five other staffers of $3,000 each in bonuses knowing the training had not been completed but believing it was OK to do so.
The Knox County Commissioner is offering internal auditor Richard Walls a deal to step down, rather than be fired. Commission Chairman Tony Normal tells 6 News he approached Walls with an offer Wednesday. Norman wouldn’t specify what the offer is, but says Walls is “considering.” The Knox County audit committee voted last month to recommend firing Walls, saying they were not satisfied with the number of audits he’s conducted and the areas he’s focused his audits on. The commission is set to vote on that recommendation at its August meeting. 6News contacted Walls, but our phone calls were not returned.
Short on campaign cash and facing two formidable opponents from within his own party, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais kicked off his bid for a third term in office Wednesday. DesJarlais launched his re-election campaign from the steps of the courthouse in Winchester before about 100 supporters huddled under umbrellas as a storm approached. The congressman got his loudest cheer for pledging to continue to fight President Barack Obama’s health care law. “We’re the last line of defense between President Obama and his radical vision for America,” he said. “If we do not take a stand, then who will?”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais launched his bid for a third term Wednesday, touting his votes in Washington and acknowledging the personal attacks that are likely to characterize the Republican primary. About 100 people braved threatening skies at the Franklin County Courthouse to show their support for the South Pittsburg Republican, holding signs, American flags and umbrellas through a rushed program. The event came on the same day that the National Journal, a magazine that tracks congressional politics, rated DesJarlais the most-likely incumbent in Congress to lose his primary next year.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais kicked off his 2014 re-election campaign Wednesday by dismissing fellow Republicans’ attempts to unseat him and asking voters to back him for having “stood up to President Barack Obama and his far-left allies.” Some 100 DesJarlais supporters braved threatening rain to hear the South Pittsburg physician announce from the courthouse steps that he’ll run for a third term in the 4th Congressional District. Their loudest cheers came as DesJarlais vowed to continue to oppose Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Republicans call Obamacare, by seeking to starve it of funding.
Congressman Scott DesJarlais officially kicked off his re-election campaign Wednesday, but revelations about his past have already drawn two primary challengers. Both are beating the incumbent in the all-important money race and have deep ties to the new population center of the 4th Congressional District. The district stretches to the outskirts of Chattanooga, but the highest concentration of people are in Rutherford County. “Everyone is friends with [state Rep.] Joe Carr, friends with [state Sen.] Jim Tracy,” Murfreesboro businessman Frank Caperton says.
The National Journal has released a compilation of the “Top 10 Lawmakers Who Could Lose a Primary Next Year,” and Rep. Scott DesJarlais is at the top of the list. DesJarlais, who officially launched his bid for a third term at an event in Winchester Wednesday, is described by the Washington, D.C., publication as rarely being mentioned in the news without the word “embattled” next to his name. The observation rings true in the headline of an Associated Press report of the congressman’s campaign kickoff, which quoted the pro-life congressman dismissing coverage in the media of decade-old divorce records.
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), in town to officially open her new Clarksville District office on Second Street downtown (see infobox), spoke to The Leaf-Chronicle on Wednesday on a variety of issues pertaining to Fort Campbell, as well as controversial NSA surveillance programs and the Al Qaeda threat. One of the biggest questions on the minds of people on post as well as in the surrounding community revolves around the possibility of full sequester kicking in for 2014, with effects falling inordinately on the Department of Defense.
The newly confirmed head of the U.S. Commerce Department says the music industry is what makes Nashville stand out. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is touring the country and made a stop in Nashville Wednesday. Local business leaders talk up the city’s strength in health care, but from Pritzker’s view in Washington, that’s an industry with many hubs. “You have a great history here in Tennessee of founding health care companies but you know, there are lots of places in the United States that do that. Whereas you have this incredible music industry.”
Chattanooga was spared an estimated $44 million of flood damage last month because of TVA’s network of dams and storage reservoirs. With rainfall during July nearly twice its normal level across East Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority projects the rain-swollen Tennessee River and its tributaries would have spilled out of their banks and damaged many developed properties in Chattanooga’s low-lying areas without TVA’s dams and storage lakes to hold back the floodwaters. TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said July’s rainfall in the Tennessee Valley was the highest since 1967 and the fourth highest since precipitation record keeping began in 1890.
The U.S. senator who heads a committee with jurisdiction over environmental issues is urging colleagues to block a House-approved bill that would let states set their own standards for disposal of toxic coal ash. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, warned in a letter to her colleagues on Wednesday the legislation would stop the federal government from moving forward with its own coal-ash standards and would bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the material as a hazardous substance.
Plaintiffs file appeal TVA and a group of homeowners who recently lost a lawsuit against the utility over its tree-cutting policy reached an agreement Wednesday in which the homeowners would keep their trees trimmed while their case is on appeal. Don K. Vowell, attorney for the homeowners, said Wednesday he has filed an appeal of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan dismissing his clients’ case. “The important thing to say is that the plaintiffs get to keep their trees while this is on appeal,” Vowell said.
Wright Medical Technology got a local tax break Wednesday and immediately confirmed its world headquarters will move from suburban Memphis to to a leafy office park in the city. The EDGE board voted to give the company, now located in the Shelby County town of Arlington, a $4.6 million tax break in return for keeping its headquarters within Shelby County, retaining 225 headquarters jobs here, adding 35 more, and investing $10.6 million. “We’ve got a number of our employees who live there and they’re pretty excited about being two minutes from work,” Wright senior vice president and general manager Bill Griffin said of the new office site after the meeting.
Students at Isaac Litton Middle School used to line up at their classroom doors before class ended — disregarding their teachers and itching to burst out into the hallways. They’d linger out there and goof off. Often they’d skip classes altogether. “It was a mess between classes. You know, fights in the bathrooms,” said Principal Tracy Bruno. “Kids were lining up at the door to be released 10 minutes before the bell even rang.” That’s how Bruno found things when he arrived in 2009. Now, starting his fifth year at Litton, Bruno still watches students line up at the door — only under his watch, they stand single file, and only when a teacher cues them for dismissal.
Tony Geraci wants to erase the stigma of the free or reduced price meal at school with a program that would make lunch an education staple on a par with books, desks and the schoolhouse itself. The nutrition services director for Shelby County Schools says he is determined to have the “first universally free (lunch) program in the country” in place here by next year. “Now you eliminate any stigma around meals,” he said. “For me personally and professionally it makes a lot of sense. There is always a stigma attached to free meals. I want to eliminate that stigma.”
The federal judge overseeing the merger of Shelby County’s public schools system ruled Wednesday that for one year the Shelby County Board of Education must consist of just seven members. A 19-page order from U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays says he “granted in part” and “denied in part” the Shelby County Commission’s request to create a 13-member school board by Sept. 1 of this year. However, the order represented a rare legal defeat for the commission in contentious schools merger litigation.
The countywide school board will slim down to seven members effective Sept. 1 with no expansion of the board to 13 members until the August 2014 county general elections are decided and the winners take office Sept. 1, 2014. That was the ruling Wednesday, Aug. 7, from U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays which was also highly critical of plans by a majority on the Shelby County Commission to take the school board to 13 members next month by appointing six new members between now and then.
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, newly empowered by the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in June that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, has ordered state officials to resume a fiercely contested effort to remove noncitizens from voting rolls. The program, which was put in place before the 2012 election, became mired in lawsuits and relentless criticism from opponents who viewed it as harassment and worse — a partisan attack by a Republican governor on Hispanic and Democratic voters.
Gov. Bill Haslsam chose the right place to launch his “Healthier Tennessee” initiative when he unveiled the program at Jackson’s West Tennessee Healthcare Lift Health and Wellness Center. It’s hard to imagine any community in Tennessee that has made a greater effort or a larger investment in promoting communitywide health than Jackson. Haslam made a brief visit to our city to kick off his new effort to improve the health of Tennesseans by promoting healthy eating, daily exercise and avoiding tobacco products. We’re glad to see the governor taking on the healthy lifestyle challenge. Jackson has been working on that since 2006. That’s when the Jackson City Council approved a mandate to create a task force to address obesity, health and wellness.
Citizens should not pick up the tab for inmate telephone calls, nor should we be alarmed that the companies contracted to provide calling services for inmates earn significant revenue on those services and share it with the departments that let the contracts. Few readers were shocked to read that Tennessee and many of its counties make a “profit” on inmate phone calls. But it is a reasonable request to review how the rates for those phone calls are set, and whether the current unregulated rates are fair, and perhaps to designate the revenue share to services that increase the value of the system and/or decrease the likelihood of recidivism.
The state government appointee who engineered the plan that will result in about 900 employees relocating from the state office building Downtown is returning to his Nashville real estate business, and we hope his departure does not leave Memphis in limbo over the fate of the building. Steve Cates, Tennessee’s commissioner of General Services, spearheaded the unprecedented privatization of much of state government’s office space. Part of that plan is to relocate state workers from the Donnelley J. Hill Office Building in Downtown’s Civic Center Plaza to other office space Downtown by early 2014. The 46-year-old Hill building will be sold.
The fortunes of the Tennessee Democratic Party have fallen so far that prominent Democrats you’ve never even heard of are chewing off the chains that bind them to the state’s most irrelevant millstone. State Sen. Lowe Finney — a 37-year-old rising star in statewide Democratic politics — announced Wednesday that the upcoming year will be his last on Capitol Hill, deciding that four more months of being completely immaterial to the way the state is governed was enough. Indeed, going back to Madison County to do whatever Lowe Finneys do when they aren’t caucusing with the other half-dozen Democrats who remain in the Senate like faded paintings in the gallery of an artist who once mattered.
The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., opened a heated debate around not only gun-control issues but how to best protect schools. Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold offered the proposal for more school resource officers, and others offered other solutions, including allowing teachers and school staff to carry guns with them on campus. Allowing teachers to carry guns on campus was, in the opinion of the editorial board at The Daily News Journal, a very bad idea. Providing an SRO for each campus, on the other hand, has broader support and makes more sense.
Ready or not, the online insurance Exchange that is an “Obamacare” mainstay for making health care accessible and affordable to the uninsured will be opening for business very soon. On Oct. 1, by law, the Exchange (which is now being called the Marketplace) will start enrolling as many eligible Americans as possible in health plans offered on its website for coverage effective Jan. 1, 2014. In Tennessee, some 500,000 of the state’s estimated 800,000 uninsured are being targeted by outreach efforts to choose from an array of plans being offered “Travelocity style” by the five insurance companies that have opted to do business on the Marketplace.