This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced 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.”
With Tennessee continuing to lag behind most states in measures of healthy living, Gov. Bill Haslam announced an initiative today to encourage residents to exercise more, eat better and refrain from using tobacco. The “Healthier Tennessee” program will bring together employers, hospitals, schools and other organizations to promote healthy behaviors, Haslam said during an event at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. The governor said changing the way Tennesseans live will improve the state’s quality of life and give it an edge in economic development.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s new statewide “Healthier Tennessee” initiative, designed to work with local communities to promote health and wellness, is a preventive measure and not designed to deal with whether Medicaid should be expanded, says Rick Johnson, who will lead the effort. “It’s a 501c3 (nonprofit). There will be some funds from tobacco settlement money. It’s a preventive measure, not TennCare expansion,” he said in a phone interview Friday. Haslam appeared Wednesday on Market Square to tout the program.
After announcing a wellness plan getting people to eat better, exercise more and avoid tobacco products, Gov. Bill Haslam said he is still talking with federal officials about striking a deal offering more low-income people health care coverage. Haslam said he is planning a trip to Washington, D.C., later this month to figure out whether they can come to an agreement on a way to offer more people care without expanding the state’s TennCare Medicaid program. “We’re very serious about trying to see what the best long-term answer is for Tennessee,” Haslam said.
Governor Bill Haslam says he doesn’t expect any more departures from his cabinet, following the resignation of Steve Cates. The General Services commissioner is the fifth person to leave the administration since February. Speaking to reporters at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, Governor Haslam said the resignations should be kept in perspective. He pointed out that only 5 people in his 32-member cabinet have stepped aside. “That’s really not a lot,” he said “But a handful, several of those folks said, ‘Hey, I’m just coming for two years.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Robert E. Oglesby as the new commissioner of the Department of General Services. Oglesby replaces Steve Cates who is departing the administration on Aug. 20 to return to his Nashville development business. Oglesby currently serves as Tennessee’s state architect. “Bob has done a great job as our state architect, and his experience will be uniquely valuable as we continue the important work of effectively managing our assets and leveraging the state’s buying power to save taxpayer dollars,” Haslam said.
The day after Thursday’s flash flood, families across Davidson County built piles of soaked and muddied belongings in their front yards. On Gibson Drive in Madison, they piled sofas, wood furniture and bags of toys together in one yard. In the next one over, a man tossed his belongings into a ditch by the mailbox — he’d keep his guitar but get rid of the old fish tank with its replica of the Parthenon inside. And across the street from them, Steve Kaesemen left his four-wheeler and riding lawn mower overturned, but took care to lay out his most precious possessions on a blue tarp — his collection, 30 years in the making, of “Dungeons & Dragons” books.
The state has finshed the budget year with a $42 million general fund surplus. Tennessee collected $342 million more than originally projected by the State Funding Board for the 2012-2013 budget year, but the panel revised that prediction upward by $306 million in December. Collections still came out above those estimates. Over the course of the budget year, sales taxes grew by 1.8% and corporate taxes increased by 9%. A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said there it was too early to say what the surplus would be used for.
The State Building Commission this week approved the “decommissioning” of the Chattanooga State Office Building and James R. Mapp Building as Tennessee officials prepare to lease up to 129,000 square feet of commercial space for state agencies. Haslam administration officials hope to finish negotiations with local bidders for leased space Thursday so they can have a final recommendation for the building commission’s executive subcommittee Aug. 19. “That’s what’s outlined in the schedule,” Peter Heimback, a General Services official, said this week.
The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed an outbreak of norovirus in Robertson County with more than 100 people reporting illness which may or may not be caused from norovirus. Health Department officials said they are continuing to investigate, and have not identified the source the illness. TDH said they expect to hear from more people who have become ill, but there is no indication of ongoing transmission of the virus in Robertson County. To learn more about norovirus click here.
Cleanup of diesel fuel that spilled into Town Creek Thursday could take up to three weeks, and investigators have so far been unable to determine the amount released into the water. “We probably won’t know,” said Gallatin Fire Marshal Stan Gwaltney, who is leading the investigation. The spill originated from the Shell gas station, operated by H&S Fuels, at 385 W. Main St. The vendor that supplies fuel to the store is Hollingsworth Oil in Springfield. The store’s general manager, Scott Summers, said 20 gallons may have been released into the water based on inventory records, but a state environment official, Daniel Roop, said that seemed too low for the four miles the fuel flowed down Town Creek.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has a public meeting scheduled about a river bridge in Dandridge. The purpose of the meeting next Thursday is to present TDOT’s recommended alternative to replacement of the Route 92 bridge over the French Broad River. Public input will be gathered on the project design. There will also be a question & answer session following the presentation at the Town of Dandridge Activity Center. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.
Work will begin this weekend to repair the I-40 bridge over the French Broad River in Jefferson County. The work will result in lane closures for the next two years that will affect thousands of drivers. During an inspection, crews found problems with some of the structural support and the concrete deck. The bridge, near mile marker 424, carries more than 27,000 cars a day. Engineers hope repairs will extend the bridge’s life by 40 years. The work will being on Sunday, August 11th. One lane will remain open for eastbound and westbound traffic.
The months-long ban preventing Bristol Nursing Home from admitting new patients into its 120-bed facility has been lifted, the state health department announced Friday. Still, the home remains stripped of Medicaid and Medicare funding and can take in only private-paying patients until health officials are convinced the problem that led to the ban has been corrected “We are fortunate to have reached this point in working with the state and federal authorities,” said Eric Boston, regional vice president for Health Management Services Group, the nursing home’s primary owner based in Cleveland, Tenn.
A Cheatham County man has been charged with TennCare fraud for altering a prescription for a painkiller and paying for it through a taxpayer-funded healthcare insurance program. Daniel Pritchett, 25, of Ashland City, is accused of altering a legitimate prescription for another TennCare enrollee. He added Oxycodone, an addictive painkiller, to the prescription, which was then paid for by the other person’s TennCare benefits. Pritchett is charged with one count each of TennCare fraud, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, and identity theft.
A first-time farmer in South Knox County, Jonathan Buchanan sells what he can at farmer’s markets downtown and on the University of Tennessee campus. What he doesn’t sell, including slightly blemished tomatoes and extra cucumbers, he donates. “I might give the tomatoes to my chickens — they like tomatoes. But honestly, a lot of it would go to waste,” Buchanan said of his extra produce. Instead, he donates to a new initiative kick-started by two UT Institute of Agriculture staffers called “Give More, Grow More.”
Peace and quiet are what neighbors say they will be losing if the University of Memphis satellite campus is allowed to relocate to the former Collierville Middle School campus in the town’s Historic District. But several Town Square merchants say having college students nearby will only complement and stabilize the area. Last week, the Planning Commission approved a preliminary site plan that calls for a new L-shaped one-story, 27,000 square foot classroom building big enough for 675 students. It will be built on the nine-acre campus bound by West Poplar, College and Walnut Streets.
Free-press advocacy earned the First Amendment Center in Nashville the inaugural First Amendment Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass CommunicationFriday, and among the recipients was Ken Paulson, the new dean of the MTSU College of Mass Communication. Paulson, who joined the university July 1, is president of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and previously served as CEO. AEJMC, the accrediting organization for journalism education, presented its First Amendment Award during the group’s annual conference in Washington.
Ending a decade-long effort, the Federal Communications Commission has set a nationwide cap on the rates inmates and their families and friends can be charged for interstate telephone services. Under the order approved Friday on a 2-1 vote, calls made using debit or prepaid cards will be assumed to be “just and reasonable” if they don’t exceed 12 cents per minute, while collect calls will be presumed reasonable at 14 cents per minute. Telephone companies will be allowed to petition for an exception to those caps, but an absolute cap of 21 cents per minute will apply for debit and prepaid-card calls, while an absolute cap of 25 cents per minute will apply for collect calls.
TVA distributors who bought into a gas-fired generation plant five years ago are cashing out that investment to put $400 million into a virtual power source derived from new load management programs. Seven States Power Corp., the Chattanooga-based financing group organized by the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, announced Friday the corporation is giving up its ownership share of TVA’s Southaven Combined Cycle Plant in Desota County, Miss. Seven States will take that money and invest with TVA in new demand-response and peak-shaving programs that help better manage the power load for TVA and its 156 distributors.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 brought more than a billion dollars to the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge operations and was put to immediate use on a series of big demolition and cleanup projects and construction of new facilities. Four years later, the stimulus program is mostly a memory, but DOE and its contractors still have millions of Recovery Act dollars at their disposal. What’s left in the money pot — a total of about $20 million — will be used to put the final touches on some projects started years ago or to support ongoing activities, ranging from environmental studies to science research.
Solar industry representatives are calling for TVA to up the size of its Green Power Providers program after the federal utility had contracted for all the 2.5 megawatt capacity of the program within the day it opened, Aug. 1. Steve Johnson, vice president of TenneSEIA, said that three members of his group, which is a trade association for Tennessee solar companies, took up the capacity of the program, plus 20 percent, leaving no opportunity for the estimated 61 other solar installers in the state to take advantage of the incentives offered through the program.
After announcing partnerships with Chattanooga’s two largest hospitals, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has dropped key Parkridge Health System facilities from its “S” network. Parkridge Medical Center, Parkridge East Hospital and Chattanooga Surgery Center — which is affiliated with Parkridge — will be dropped from the BlueCross network as of Oct. 1. Parkridge Valley facilities will not be affected. Parkridge is still in BlueCross’ Network P. Of the two networks, Network P is much larger and covers more doctors and hospitals, but is more expensive.
A communication tool aimed at helping health care providers securely communicate with each other is available as part of a statewide initiative to enhance patient care. Through a collaboration with the state’s Office of eHealth Initiatives and Memphis-based Qsource, a nonprofit health care constancy, the Direct Technology system was created to send and receive encrypted electronic medical health information using an email-based system. The program was piloted this spring in Chattanooga, Memphis and Hickman County and is now being made available across Tennessee to health care providers, said Jennifer McAnally Ride, director of Qsource’s regional extension center tnREC.
The Chicago attorney who represented former University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl during an NCAA investigation is now representing his daughter in the Pilot Flying J investigation. Steven Thompson, of Ungaretti & Harris, confirmed Friday that he represents Jacquelyn Pearl. Pilot, the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops, is facing a federal investigation in connection with allegations of fuel rebate fraud. Seven employees have already pleaded guilty in the case. Jacquelyn Pearl was identified in a federal affidavit as a regional sales manager based in Chicago, who reported to Arnie Ralenkotter. Ralenkotter has pleaded guilty.
Shelby County Schools begins new era as unified district When the first day of the first school year of the unified county school system opened Monday, Aug. 5, a group of school board members, staff and interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson stopped at Millington Middle School. It was one of eight schools the group visited over seven hours by way of a school bus. Some of the schools had warnings on the doors about “no gun zones” and metal detectors to reinforce the policy. Millington Middle had signs reading “no gum zone.”
Fears that the county’s new school district doesn’t have adequate security plans were dismissed by law enforcement officials Friday, who said any problems would amount to “hiccups.” Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham and Memphis Police Department Director Toney Armstrong said they’re confident the Sheriff’s Office will be ready to take over security in Shelby County Schools, which merged this year with city schools. But George Little, the city’s chief administrative officer, wrote a memo this week to interim schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson urging him to review the plan the Sheriff’s Office had for schools.
A former teacher serving on the Metro school board is taking aim at the number of standardized tests students are taking each year. Board member Jill Speering, a retired teacher of 35 years, plans to pitch a resolution at next week’s school board meeting putting pressure on the district and the state to curb the number of tests students need to take, alleging they place “undue stress” on students and are “often unreliable” for measuring student and teacher effectiveness. “Imposing relentless test preparation and boring memorization of facts to ‘enhance’ test performance is doing little more than stealing the love of learning from our students and discouraging creativity,” read the resolution.
Efforts this year by the nation’s largest for-profit online education company to open a second and third statewide virtual school under contract with Campbell County schools are a no-go with the state at least for now. The schools, which publicly traded K12 Inc. won a contract with the school district to operate, was scheduled to start Friday, the district’s first day of school. But state officials, still grappling with low first-year student performance at K12 Inc.’s controversial Tennessee Virtual School operation in Union County, late last month refused to approve the latest venture.
The state Department of Education has turned down — at least for now — an application from Campbell County’s school system to begin immediately operating a virtual school program in partnership with for-profit K12 Inc. Eunice Reynolds, manager of special projects for the school system, said Friday that she fears that the rejection reflects a Department of Education attitude that “K12 is a bad word” and an attempt to stop creation of a new virtual school in Tennessee to join the Tennessee Virtual Academy, set up by K12 through the Union County school system in 2011.
Students who thought they would be taking classes through a new virtual school were instead in classrooms at public schools in Campbell County Friday. State education officials denied Campbell County Schools’ virtual academy application to operate, leaving hundreds of parents asking what comes next. “I’ve had the telephone ringing all day of parents like, ‘Ok, I’ve had to take my child to school and I can’t believe I’m leaving them there’,” said Eunice Reynolds, special projects manager for Campbell County Schools.
For those hoping the opening of the school year would be the end of the turbulence in public education in Shelby County, we have bad news. We also have bad news for those who fervently believed the opening of the school year would simply be the end of public education in Shelby County, at least until suburban school systems are formed one year from now. It’s not that simple. The changes will keep coming. They were coming with or without a merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. This is the new normal and it is a plan. It’s what interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson means when he talks about a goal of schools that feel the same to students as they did when the two separate school systems in Shelby County closed last May.
U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays made the right call Wednesday when he issued a ruling that prevents the Shelby County Commission from being able to increase by appointment the size of the unified Shelby County Schools board. Sixteen members of the 23-member unified board, which grew out of the merger of the legacy Memphis City and Shelby County school districts, will leave the board on Sept. 1. The new seven-member board will be composed of members elected last August. Commission members had discussed appointing six additional members to the board, bringing the number to 13, but were awaiting a ruling from Mays about whether the additional members had to be elected.