This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s lone public event scheduled for this week is a ribbon cutting at the University of Tennessee’s Natalie L. Haslam Music Center in Knoxville on Friday. A $10 million gift from Jim and Natalie Haslam, the governor’s father and stepmother, and the Haslam Family Foundation helped fund the building along with $30 million from the state. Construction on the four-story, 123,000-foot facility began in 2010 when the university tore down the old building. The School of Music students and faculty have been using classrooms and offices in other buildings since then.
For millions of Americans, the face of health reform will be a friendly, eager-to-please customer service representative on the health insurance exchanges whose title will be “navigator.” These helper-bees have always been envisioned as an essential cog in the foremost function of Obamacare — educating and enrolling 16 million uninsured Americans either in Medicaid or private insurance plans. They are modeled after similar personnel at the federal State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which has operated in Medicare for more than 20 years.
With the program known as “Obamacare” only weeks away from its key launch date, hectic preparations are in motion in communities across the country to deal with one of its major practical challenges: hiring and training a small army of instant experts who can explain the intricacies of health insurance to people who’ve never had it. More than 100 nonprofits and related organizations, which specialize in everything from running soup kitchens to organizing farm workers, have been recruited by the federal government to sign up “navigators” to help the 30 million uninsured people who can now gain coverage.
One Tri-Cities school board went on record against the Tennessee school board’s teacher licensure decision this past Tuesday, and a second will consider doing so Monday. Still, the state Board of Education Chairman Fielding Rolston Friday said he believes the state board’s controversial decision to link licensure with value-added standardized test scores used in teacher evaluations was a good one, pointing out that the delay of implementation until 2015 will give plenty of time for input and discussion.
Gov. Bill Haslam owned a block of shares in K12 Inc., the education company behind a troubled online school in Tennessee, but sold the investment before taking office or weighing in on two bills that affected the company directly. Haslam invested at least $10,000 in K12 Inc. in July 2008, when he was mayor of Knoxville, but had sold off all of his shares by July 2009, when he was running for governor. The investment was reported in a filing with the Tennessee Ethics Commission, as required under state law. Haslam said he did not know about the investment before The Tennessean inquired about it last week.
State Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis wants to use some of the surplus funds from the Tennessee lottery to pay for more Tennesseans to resume and complete college. Kyle said last week he already has had preliminary discussions about the plan with the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, with more to come. “That money isn’t doing anybody any good, ladies and gentlemen,” Kyle said Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Frayser Exchange Club, citing an operational reserve lottery fund of more than $400 million. “We do good things with the lottery, but we can do more for other folks.”
The disciplinary board for Tennessee attorneys will hear ethics charges this week against a prosecutor who triggered a mistrial against a triple-murder defendant. It’s been more than three years since Michael Younger walked free on three counts of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the 1999 Valentine’s Day slaying in Cleveland, Tenn. Younger’s trial ended in a mistrial in May 2010 after the judge found that Assistant District Attorney Paul Rush withheld evidence from the defense and asked witnesses questions he’d been told not to bring up.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke says he supports ongoing efforts to offer health benefits to same-sex partners of workers on the city’s payroll. “I believe that we should treat everyone equally,” Berke said in an interview over the weekend. “And I think that our employees are an important part of the city. We want to make sure we want to find the best ways to treat them equally and fairly.” City Councilman Chris Anderson, who is leading the effort, also wants to create an official nondiscrimination policy against gays and lesbians employed by the city.
Fellow Democrats chanted “Run Sara, run!” during the party’s annual fundraiser over the weekend in support of former Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Sara Kyle, who is weighing a challenge to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in 2014. Kyle beamed, waved and later worked the crowd of about 500 or so Democrats who attended Saturday night’s annual Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville. She later told reporters she continues to travel the state, listening to people’s concerns and assessing a bid. Kyle said she has no “timeline” on a decision.
A 50 percent federal tax on ammunition and a 20 percent federal tax on guns — up from 11 percent on both now — has been proposed by two Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives. Revenue from the steep new taxes in “The Gun Violence Prevention and Safe Communities Act of 2013,” introduced by U.S. Reps. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., and Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., would be earmarked to pay for such things as school resource officers and programs to reduce violence. The bill likely won’t make it out of the Republican-controlled U.S. House — but it has caught the attention of local firearms enthusiasts.
President Barack Obama is hitting the airwaves to try to convince war-weary Americans that strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad are needed for the United States’ long-term safety. Reluctant lawmakers are expecting to hear from top administration officials Monday as the White House makes its case for limited military strikes. Officials are already telling lawmakers and the public that any action against Syria would not be like the open-ended commitments the United States made in Iraq or Afghanistan. Obama plans to make that case directly in six television interviews Monday and a rare primetime speech Tuesday.
We are two former governors of Tennessee, from two different political parties, and our views differ at times. But we are in full agreement when it comes to the importance of addressing our country’s deficit and the resultant skyrocketing national debt. We believe federal lawmakers must begin taking steps to control this problem before further damage is done and before truly draconian measures are needed. One practical way to start this process would be to reform our outdated and inefficient tax code. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., are traveling to Tennessee today as part of their nationwide tour to promote comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform.
As a small-business owner, I have some advice for congressional leaders coming to Tennessee to talk tax reform: Let’s get serious about closing the tax loopholes that give big corporations big tax breaks and undermine small businesses and our communities. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Senate Finance Committee. Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., will be visiting FedEx facilities in Memphis today as part of their national tax reform tour. FedEx is a surprising choice of venue. Over the past five years, FedEx has reported $9 billion in U.S. profits to shareholders, but it paid an effective tax rate of just 5.2 percent on these profits.
Did you go shopping during last month’s Tennessee sales tax holiday? Odds are you did. Thousands of Tennesseans went shopping Aug. 2-4 all across the state at small and large retailers. It was a chance to shop for certain items and save money by enjoying a holiday from sales tax. The success of the annual tax-free holiday is proof that consumers will shop whenever and wherever they can to save money. It’s common sense.