This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he sees no link between the state’s approach toward the new health insurance exchange and his ongoing efforts to negotiate a special deal for Tennessee for Medicaid expansion. The governor tells The Associated Press that the state isn’t trying to establish any roadblocks to the exchange after having deferred to the federal government to run the insurance marketplace. The online marketplace is scheduled to go live Tuesday. Health care advocates disagree, arguing in a lawsuit filed Friday that that emergency rules enacted to require background checks for so-called navigators are too broad and have a chilling effect.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty joined with Unilever officials last week to announce the company’s expansion of operations at its Covington facility. Plans include facility and site improvements for an 11,000 square foot engine room expansion and a 90,000 square foot parking lot expansion resulting in an investment of $108.7 million and the addition of 428 new full-time positions over a four-year period. Upon completion of the project, Unilever expects to have a workforce of nearly 1,000 employees in Covington.
One of the leading manufacturers of specialty conveyor belts is tripling the size of its operation. Cobra America manufactures conveyer belts in France, China and Poland and the marketing wing of the company is located in Bristol. In the past, the company has focused on the mining industry and sells to Alpha Natural Resources and other mining companies. “We are going after the food industry,” Cobra America Vice President Jeff Jones told Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam during a tour today. “That is what we are doing with our expansion.”
Polk County received a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to assist with the local government’s goal to ensure safe drinking water for all of its residents. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the grant Friday in Ocoee. “Community Development Block Grants have such a large impact on our rural communities, and I’m happy to see that with this funding, Polk County will be able to help 22 households connect to public water,” Haslam said. “Having the proper infrastructure in place can substantially enhance communities and the lives of its residents.”
Tennessee ranks among nation’s lowest grad debt Tennessee is one of the nation’s best states when it comes to managing student debt, according to a new study, but a stunning amount of the state’s graduates still struggle to find economic security. NerdWallet, the San Francisco-based financial literacy website that completed the study, determined Tennessee’s ranking based on 2011 graduates — the newest public data available. Volunteer State students graduate with the sixth-lowest debt in the nation, nearly $6,000 less than the U.S. average of $26,600.
State business officials say the city of Sweetwater is Tennessee’s newest Main Street Community. Cities that receive Main Street designations receive technical assistance and guidance to make their downtown areas safe and appealing places where people want to shop and live. State Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty says strong downtowns signal a healthy local economy and help attract companies. Located in McMinn and Monroe counties, Sweetwater is the state’s 27th Main Street Community.
The Cumberland River Bridge in Montgomery County is among close to 90 repair projects planned by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Recent federal data show dozens of Tennessee bridges are among the thousands nationwide that have advanced deterioration or are at risk of collapsing. A state Transportation Department spokeswoman says 20 bridges on the list are currently under construction for either replacement or repair. Another six are scheduled for replacement or repair within the next three years.
Environmental activists chalked it up as a victory when the University of Tennessee failed this month to receive any bids for a natural gas drilling project on an 8,600-acre publicly owned research forest. The prospect of drilling for natural gas — and the controversial practice to extract it known as fracking — set off intense debate in the state about how best to use public land and resources, particularly in the university’s Cumberland Forest. But Tennessee residents aren’t alone in grappling with the issue. It’s a debate that is taking place throughout the South and beyond as the nation’s natural gas boom spreads and whole new swaths of public land are now eyed as potential energy sources.
While a lawsuit will have a judge looking at Tennessee’s new health care navigator rules to decide whether they go too far, state legislators will be eyeing them to see if they go far enough. A lawsuit filed Friday in Davidson County Chancery Court by Tennessee Justice Center attorneys, representing the Tennessee League of Women Voters and several individual plaintiffs, contends the Department of Commerce and Insurance rules are unconstitutional and conflict with the federal Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
Rocky King, the executive director of Oregon’s new health insurance exchange, has done everything in his power to tamp down expectations for its opening on Tuesday. He rejected the idea of a flashy downtown news conference that morning. He postponed a series of ads meant to drive customers to its Web site, coveroregon.com. In fact, Mr. King is not even allowing people to sign up for health coverage online without assistance at first; they will have to go through an insurance agent or a community group until at least mid-October.
A group of students at Southwind High School will bring cans of food to class this year. They won’t be putting a lunch together, but they might build a bridge. Constructing an entry for the “Canstruction” contest at the University of Memphis is one of the tasks ahead for a sort of school-within-a-school that has arisen in West Tennessee’s first STEM Platform School. That’s STEM, as in science, technology, engineering and math — the curriculum that at the insistence of business and industry is preparing students for the high-tech demands of the 21st Century workplace.
Over the past few years, as our nation’s economy has struggled, many Americans have started to view Labor Day as less of a celebration of workers and skilled laborers and more of a day of thanksgiving for continued employment. This year, as a result of a series of stories in The Tennessean, the holiday also offered us an opportunity to reflect on our economy and the job market, and I applaud The Tennessean for providing a forum for this discussion. Throughout the week, in pieces like “Jobs go Unfilled” and “Jobs Keep Coming,” Nashvillians read about the readily available skilled jobs that employers are unable to fill because applicants don’t possess the skills necessary to perform the required tasks.