This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
After visiting Dover Monday morning to announce a $400,000 grant for the town to rehabilitate its sewer system, Gov. Bill Haslam stopped in Erin for lunch and to hear about what is happening in the community. Public utilities were also on the minds of Houston County officials. “In a rural community like ours, water is the most important thing you can do for us,” County Mayor George Clark told the governor at the Court Square Cafe where about 15 local people joined the governor for lunch.
Gov. Bill Haslsm listened to the concerns & needs of Houston County during a lunch visit to Erin.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced a $693,961 workforce development equipment grant for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) – Dickson and its new Clarksville expansion site. The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.
The Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge will become the 56th state park in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam recently made the announcement at the annual Legacy Parks Foundation luncheon in Knox County. The refuge is a Knox County wildlife sanctuary that is managed by the Seven Islands Foundation and Knox County Parks and Recreation. Uses for the refuge include a wildlife sanctuary, an area for hiking and observation and an educational facility for schools and other groups. Officials say the county will transfer the 360-acre property to the state over the coming months and Tennessee State Parks will begin managing the site in July.
Fingerprinting Obamacare health plan counselors is going to wait in Tennessee. The state’s Department of Commerce and Insurance is backing off the requirement, saying there’s no time to run checks through the system. The agency issued “emergency rules” late last week that mandated federal background checks, sending fingerprints to the FBI, which can – in some cases – take months. It was seen by some health care advocates as an effort to impede enrollment in the health exchange set to launch October 1st.
Open enrollment on the public health insurance marketplaces is set to begin in one week, but Tennessee’s insurance companies are still waiting on final approval from Washington, D.C., before they release rates and plan details to consumers. In late August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told insurance companies it would not sign final agreements until mid-September, later than an original Sept. 5-9 timeline, and now it appears that’s been pushed back right up to the Oct. 1 deadline. “Some of the talk has been that we won’t find out until Oct. 1,” said Kelly Allen, spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
Plans are back on track for the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s proposed new $32 million regional transportation headquarters in Chattanooga. Members of the State Building Commission’s executive subcommittee on Monday unanimously approved the project after TDOT officials successfully addressed concerns over funding. Those questions, which cropped up this month at a full State Building Commission, resulted in the panel sending the project to the four-member executive committee.
The University of Tennessee received approval from the state Monday to move forward with a $2 million deal to sell the long-empty former home of five presidents and chancellors. The executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission accepted the offer with little discussion during a monthly meeting in Nashville, according to UT officials. “It’s a lovely home and we look forward to the project of working on it,” said Ruth Fielden, who made the offer on the home with her husband Joe. There’s much work to be done, she said, but declined to comment further until the deal is finalized.
A deteriorating interstate bridge in Nashville soon will be repaired. The Tennessee Department of Transportation on Friday awarded a contract to replace a 200-foot section of concrete on the Interstate 40 bridge over Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, where chunks of debris have fallen three times since August, causing closures. TDOT has awarded a contract worth $399,060 to Jamison Construction, LLC. The repairs will close the bridge on an upcoming weekend in October or November. A much larger $40 million rehabilitation of the bridge and three other spans is planned for 2015.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol has graduated seven new canine teams that specialize in explosive detection. The teams were presented with a certificate and badge at a special ceremony held recently at the agency’s training center in Nashville. The six-week training course focused on teaching canines to assist their handlers in the detection of explosive materials. The dogs are taught to demonstrate a passive response by sitting when explosive substances are discovered. This is the second canine graduation this year. The agency held a drug detection canine course and graduation in March.
A Fairview woman has been charged with TennCare fraud and second-degree murder in connection with an overdose death. Fairview police Detective David Bohler investigated the death of Henry Flair, 31, of Fairview, after Flair apparently ingested a lethal dose of the narcotic drug, Percocet, in November 2012. Bohler said Flair got the drug from his friend, Frances Mangrum, who also used the name Frances Kay Lane. “He was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital,” Bohler said. Bohler said Mangrum knew Flair was unconscious but delayed calling 911 for almost an hour.
The Tennessee Senate Education Committee on Friday wrapped up two days of hearings on the the new nationwide education-standards blueprint that’s been drawing attention around the country. The committee, chaired by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, didn’t take any definitive action, but promised a formal written review of the Common Core Standards plan in Tennessee. Common Core is all but certain to remain on the political radar going into the 2014 state legislative session as the Tennessee Department of Education and local school districts continue implementing various program elements.
State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, was elected chairman of the Council of State Governments at its 80th annual meeting over the weekend in Kansas City, Mo. Norris, the Senate Republican majority leader, is the first Tennessean to chair the group. CSG is a national bipartisan professional association composed of members of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state governments. It was founded in 1933 to foster excellence in state government. Its regional forums provide exchange of ideas among state officials.
A group that aims to encourage more women to go into politics plans to honor HouseSpeaker Beth Harwell. Women in Numbers, a nonpartisan group that promotes women candidates, said Monday that it will give Harwell its “Trailblazer Award” at a ceremony in early October. The award comes as Harwell, the first woman elected speaker in Tennessee, has been leading a nationwide effort to get more women to run as Republicans for public office. The GOP hopes to close the gender gap with voters, who have leaned toward Democratic candidates over the past three decades. Founded in 1992, Women in Numbers says it was established to “engage, encourage and endorse women in public office.”
A new report from the liberal Economic Policy Institute suggests Tennessee won half a billion dollars in education funding – in part – by exaggerating what it could do with the money. The Washington think tank is trying to keep Race to the Top from being a model for education spending going forward. The EPI never liked the reform program, suggesting the White House was interested in quick fixes and that nearly every state was promising results they could never deliver. The new report focuses on Tennessee. Author Elaine Weiss points out the state – as many other winners did – set goals of having all kids proficient in math and reading on state standardized tests by this school year.
The Tennessee Democratic Party looked Monday to move along after a string of departures by launching the search for a new executive director and other positions. The party released job postings for the top staff position, as well as a new deputy finance director, digital director and office manager. All would fill vacancies in the party offices, including three created since the party’s Jackson Day Dinner Sept. 7. The vacancies have slashed the party’s already lean operation in half, leaving just a pair of full-time staffers.
Even though city officials still aren’t sure they’ll be able to get a $300,000 grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency to aid in flood relief, they still want homeowners to apply for help. Mayor Jane Dawkins said officials with the Southeast Tennessee Development District will host a pre-application event at the Princess Theater on Thursday. Officials said they are hopeful the city will be able to come up with the matching funds necessary to acquire the grant.
Most people love the golden glow of a summertime tan. Those who can’t get the glow outside, often turn to a shortcut and go to tanning salons. Emily Harley has been going to the tanning bed for years. “I like it once a week during the wintertime. It makes me feel better. It gives me that extra sun you can’t get from going out in the sun during the wintertime,” Harley explained. The Nashville mom told News 2 she sometimes allows her young son to tan too. “He’s 10 years old and I’ve let him tan a few times, not long, just about four minutes because his skin is very tender. He has eczema on his arms and legs and if it flares up. The tanning bed is great for drying it out and healing it,” said Harley.
The United States government could shut down in just seven days if politicians in Washington don’t agree on a budget and it’s a situation that could have a profound impact right here in East Tennessee. Experts like Maryville College Professor Mark O’Gorman say it’s all the result of a political showdown. Democrats want to hold onto President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect October 1. While Republicans want to do away with the measure and reel in spending. He said if the parties do not agree on a spending plan by October 1 at midnight, which is the end of the federal fiscal year, some government workers’ salaries could be affected.
A year after installing the city’s first solar panel array, Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and city aldermen today will discuss adding a second, even bigger solar array that would generate 1 megawatt of electricity to be sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority. If approved, the new solar array would deepen the city’s commitment to selling solar-generated electricity and create more revenue from unused city property without Franklin spending any cash of its own. One megawatt — or 1 million watts — can power up to 1,000 typical homes, according to industry estimates. “What’s wrong with saving money and using less power?” Moore asked.
Erlanger has ended its 2013 fiscal year with a $7.9 million deficit — a far cry from the original $10.8 million profit the hospital had budgeted for, but not as bleak as initial projections. Auditers presented the final numbers for the public hospital, which has struggled financially for the last two years, at the board’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday. Hospital officials had initially estimated the hospital might close the year showing double digits in the red, possibly surpassing 2012’s $9.5 million deficit last year.
Minority-owned businesses in the Chattanooga area appear to have directly benefited little from the $211 million in local and state grant money spent to plan and build Volkswagen’s auto assembly plant, a new report shows. City figures show that just $58,385, or barely more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the $38 million in city and Hamilton County funds spent so far on the VW project, went to disadvantaged business enterprises such as black- or woman-owned firms. If state contracts for VW-related projects are included, only 2.1 percent of the $211 million spent through Sept. 9 went to the minority companies, the report showed.
Oak Ridge City Schools are out of danger after an important vote by the board of education. Board members voted unanimously Monday to approve a transfer of $25,000 from the city to the school system. Last week, the oak ridge city council approved the money transfer. Leaders had until October 1st to put more money in the school budget or they would have lost nearly $2 million a month in state funding. As previously reported on 6 News, officials said Oak Ridge Schools were notified in August by the State Department of Education about failing the maintenance of effort test that requires local funding to remain at least the same from year to year.
Eleven Williamson County Schools teachers have received tenure for a second time after being rehired by the district. All of the teachers, who range from elementary to high school, were previously in the school system and received tenure, resigned for various reasons and returned to the school system. These same educators have completed a mandatory two-year period to earn tenure status again. The state changed tenure status for teachers in 2011. It now takes teachers five years of consecutive service and top evaluations to achieve tenure, except when they have previously achieved tenure.
Florida’s governor said Monday that the state was dialing back its participation in a national group developing exams for tougher math and reading standards, dealing another setback to an effort that has come under increasing fire. The move could speed Florida’s exit from one of the consortiums developing tests for the new standards, known as the Common Core. The standards, which have been fully adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, lay out what students should know at each grade level in math and language arts.
State officials apparently are serious about boosting tourism in the state, and a beneficiary of their efforts should be Rutherford County, which according to the latest report, had $272.8 million in tourism-related spending in 2012. The county, which ranks in the Top 10 in counties in Tennessee for tourism, saw an increase in tourism-related spending from $252.83 million in 2011. The Tennessee Tourism Committee last week released its strategic plan for tourism development in the state, and Rutherford County should benefit from at least two of the proposed initiatives, if not more. Uncle Dave Macon Days would seem ideal for proposed creation of a network of musical events.
As we approach the Oct. 1 deadline when the Affordable Care Act begins to go into effect, it becomes more and more evident that the president’s health care law is not ready for prime time. Through our congressional oversight and the feedback we get from businesses and families around the country on a daily basis, we have seen just how frustrated people are with the impact ACA is having on their lives. It has become very clear that this law is unworkable. A recent CNN poll shows support for the president’s health care law waning, with only 39 percent of Americans now in favor of it, down from 51 percent in January.
Congress has found a perverse niche — it’s good at pitting groups of Americans against each other who really have no quarrel. The current mess over food assistance and farm assistance is such an example. The decision years ago to include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) with legislation to aid farmers in bad years was a cynical move, though made with good intentions. Supporters of federal food assistance were mostly urban, farm assistance supporters mostly rural, and at the time, help for farmers was popular public policy.
United Auto Workers (UAW) union operatives have spent at least the last year and a half trying to get Chattanooga Volkswagen workers to sign union “cards” that many workers believed were requests for more information or for a secret-ballot vote. Now that a majority of VW workers have supposedly signed cards, Detroit-based UAW union president Bob King is pulling an about-face, pressuring Volkswagen to recognize the cards as pro-union “votes” and therefore declare the union as the workers’ monopoly bargaining agent. The reason why? King now argues that a secret-ballot vote would be “divisive.”