This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
As a parent and a public schoolteacher, I believe that all students in Tennessee should receive a world-class education that prepares them for success in life. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case. Nearly half of third- through eighth-graders failed the 2013 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program in both math and reading. Furthermore, the results showed startling racial and economic achievement gaps. But we’re moving in the right direction. This past year there were statewide gains in 22 of 24 tested subjects.
Tuesday saw the beginning of a new joint venture between Jackson State Community College and Western Governors University of Tennessee, providing smooth transitions for community college graduates to move on to bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. As part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to increase the number of college graduates in Tennessee, WGU Tennessee and Jackson State signed an agreement waiving application fees and providing a 5 percent discount to students, staff and faculty.
Future Vol State students will be better trained in computer technology thanks to a nearly $260,000 education grant from the state, Gov. Bill Haslam announced at the Gallatin college Tuesday. The $259,700 development grant will help buy equipment to establish a networking laboratory for the upgraded computer information technology program at Volunteer State Community College. The new equipment will improve learning opportunities for at least 145 students within the next fiscal year and is expected to affect more in the future, Vol State officials said.
Gov. Bill Haslam has announced that Hartsville-Trousdale County is getting a $500,000 grant to help fix its water system. Haslam announced the Community Block Grant in a news release Tuesday. Hartsville-Trousdale County plans to use the money to rehabilitate existing water lines and will focus efforts to decrease the nearly 40 percent of water loss the system experiences. Once complete, the new system will be expected to work more efficiently and help residents avoid rate increases. The funds were allocated under a procedure authorized by the Tennessee General Assembly.
Programs that help low-income and at-risk Tennesseans that are heavily federally funded but administered by the state will be most significantly impacted by the partial federal government shutdown, state officials said Tuesday. The WIC (Women, Infants & Children) supplemental nutrition program can only sustain a shutdown to approximately Oct. 10th. Federal funds for the Food Stamp program would expire within 10 weeks, although limited state funding would remain, and the state Department of Human Services would need to reduce staff as a result of reduced federal funding, according to a state-impact update issued by Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
At least a few thousand federal workers based in Tennessee were sent home Tuesday as the partial government shutdown began to ripple through the state. More than 1,500 civilians who work for the Tennessee National Guard and countless more in other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and National Park Service, were furloughed on the federal shutdown’s first day, thrusting them into a position of missing pay until lawmakers resolve the impasse in Washington over federal spending and health care…The impact also could trickle down to state government.
State government’s first casualties from congressional Republicans’ budget standoff with Democrats over the federal health care law came Tuesday in the form of unpaid furloughs for more than 1,500 Tennessee National Guard technicians and contract workers. And more disruptions for state employees and services are on the way if Washington doesn’t soon resolve the budget impasse involving the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, according to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. For weeks, everyone has warned what would happen to the federal government if congressional Republicans’ efforts to first defund and then delay portions of the federal Affordable Care Act through a temporary funding resolution resulted in a partial federal government shutdown.
The federal government shutdown forced hundreds of Mid-Southerners to go on emergency furlough Tuesday. Although 1,600 civilian workers are furloughed at the Naval Support Activity Mid-South about 200 civilian workers will still work. Also, anyone on active duty in the military will still get paid. The WIC federal program that provides nutritional food and services for women, infants and children will no longer receive funding in Mississippi. But the Magnolia State’s distribution centers will remain open. In Arkansas, the WIC program will be funded on a week-by-week basis. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe says the shutdown impacts real people in his state.
More than 1,500 technicians and contract workers for the Tennessee National Guard will stay home unpaid until the government shutdown ends, officials said. The furlough affects employees statewide, said Maj. Gen. Max Haston, state adjutant general and commander of the Tennessee National Guard. A breakdown of how many workers would be affected locally wasn’t immediately available. “This is an across-the-board furlough affecting essentially every military technician and contract employee in the Tennessee Army and Air National Guard,” Haston said.
In the course of studying the founding fathers, the three branches of federal government and checks and balances, an eighth-grader wondered aloud how anything ever gets done in Washington. “How does this ever work?” he asked during a social studies class at the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts. He answered his own question Tuesday morning, after the school’s annual trip to the nation’s capital was postponed in the wake of a federal government shutdown that temporarily has closed many Washington, D.C., tourist sites.
Now that the main question about a government shutdown is how long it will last, The Tennessean takes a look at what a shutdown looks like in the Volunteer State. National parks like Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area and Stones River National Battlefield, for instance, are closed, while federal courts will continue without interruption — regardless of whether workers are paid. The Fort Campbell Army post in Clarksville will remain open in a limited capacity, though “essential services” will not be affected. According to The Tennessean, there are 25,000 federal civilian workers in Tennessee.
If the 533 current members of Congress do not solve the budget impasse that has partially shut down the federal government, there will be 28 very disappointed brides. With the park shutting down to all but through traffic on U.S. Highway 441, the Gatlinburg Spur and the Gatlinburg Bypass, this will mean plans may have to change for those brides-to-be who had plans to wed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “In the first two weeks of October, there are 28 weddings permitted,” park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said Tuesday.
Every year, thousands flock to the Smoky Mountains on the first weekend in October to take in its famous array of orange and other Autumn colors. But this year, tourists will see a lot more orange than they’d planned — mostly in the form of traffic cones blocking off roads, trails, and other attractions. Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed for business Tuesday, along with nonessential government agencies across the nation, displacing hordes of tourists already camping inside the park. “This weekend, we’re going to lose well over $10,000 in revenue,” said Vesna Plakanis, owner of A Walk in the Woods guide service.
For the second time in 17 years, Kal Alkhettab’s small business is facing a financial crisis because of a government shutdown. The shutdown, which has left 1,600 civilian employees at Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington on unpaid furlough, affects 50 percent of Alkhettab’s customer base. “It makes me nervous,” said the Jet Way Market owner. “It makes me wonder if I’m going to have to relocate or take out money.” Alkhettab, who has owned the convenience store next to the base in northwest Shelby County for 20 years, said he barely survived the last time the government shut down for 27 days. “I think I could make it about two months,” he said. “It will cut into my savings.”
Folks dropping by the Stones River Battlefield today discovered the national park is closed while Congress debates Obamacare funding. “Can’t we all just get along?” Murfreesboro resident Rosie Briggs said after pulling her car by the gate of the closed battlefield where she had intended to go for a walk before learning that leaders in Washington, D.C., had to stop part of the federal government until Congress and President Barack Obama can reach an agreement on funding services. “I want them to work it out and get it resolved. We are the ones who are hurting.”
Dejuan Rauls left the Social Security Administration building in North Jackson empty-handed. “I needed a new card, but they told me they couldn’t do that today,” Rauls said. Rauls was among several West Tennesseans in need of government services who were turned away on Tuesday as the partial federal government shutdown closed national parks, put more than 1,500 Tennessee National Guard military technicians and contract employees on unpaid furlough, closed the local IRS office and limited services at the local Social Security office.
Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker furloughed most of their employees and closed district offices all over Tennessee as a government shutdown began Tuesday. House lawmakers representing Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, are maintaining fully staffed offices. While hundreds of thousands of federal workers across the country have been told to stay home because their duties aren’t considered essential, many Capitol Hill workers remain on the job at the behest of their congressional bosses. Spokespeople for the four central Tennessee House members — Democrat Jim Cooper and Republicans Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn and Scott DesJarlais — each said constituents deserve full service from their representatives.
In the wee hours of the morning, as the first federal government shutdown in 17 years was about to begin, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais unleashed his frustrations in a posting on his Facebook page. “Looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to shut down the government over a law that 60% of Americans oppose,” the South Pittsburg, Tenn., Republican proclaimed. Later Tuesday morning, with the shutdown already several hours old, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann had a message for anyone willing to listen. “Why delay Obamacare?” the Ooltewah Republican asked rhetorically on Facebook.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage — and now Tennesseans can expect a piece of mail in their mailboxes shortly after that. Starting this month, all Tennessee families with newborns will begin receiving informational packets about child development, parenting and state programs from the Tennessee Department of Health. Officials say the “Welcome Baby” mailings — headed to 79,000 homes per year — will give parents helpful information about the early years of childhood and help the state confront infant health challenges, such as unsafe sleeping and inadequate nutrition.
Tennessee’s efforts to curb domestic violence will be strengthened with the opening of three new facilities — one in Chattanooga, Nashville and Cookeville — that represent unified coordination of services among government agencies and nonprofit service providers, a top state official said today. Bill Gibbons, commissioner of the department of safety and homeland security, credited Family Justice Centers for helping communities address domestic violence and help victims restart their lives. The trio of new centers under development is another step in the right direction, he said during an appearance at the Knoxville Justice Center.
Tennesseans on Tuesday began signing up for health insurance under an online marketplace run by the federal government. “It’s a pretty exciting day, we’re hearing only good things,” said Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center. “If you’re uninsured, regardless of your politics, you’re really excited to have a path to coverage.” Johnson’s group had sued to halt emergency rules enacted by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance to require background checks for anyone giving advice on obtaining coverage under the exchange.
Nashville’s first sign-up event for the Obamacare health insurance Marketplace started with cheers and prayers of thanksgiving. But the praise was tempered by computer glitches and confusion. A dozen certified application counselors set up at folding tables in the Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church fellowship hall. “I’m just confused right now,” said Ronza Williams, who dropped in to see what kind of insurance rate she might be eligible for. Currently, 100,000 residents of Davidson County are uninsured. An estimated 78,000 should qualify for insurance on the new Marketplace, according to Obamacare advocacy group Get Covered Tennessee.
Well, today’s the day health insurance marketplaces open for business. And despite a partial shutdown of the federal government and some technical jitters, they’re available for insurance shoppers. While Oct. 1 is a milestone in the implementation of the health law, other dates are likely more critical for consumers planning to shop for health insurance on their state marketplace. Few consumers are expected to enroll in a plan right away, and that may be wise. It’s a good idea to start looking at the options early and to give yourself plenty of time for the application process.
On Tuesday, the first day that the online insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act opened, a Memphis insurance broker as well as many other Tennesseans found frustration on the exchange website while a Knoxville insurer found its innovative marketing plan halted by state government. Memphis insurance broker Chuck Hudspeth, marketing his services as The Obamacare Answer Man, said he was stopped by a technical glitch when he tried to shop on the healthcare.gov website where insurance companies are selling polices to individuals and families in each state.
Metro transit officials moved ahead this week in their bid to secure $75 million in federal funding for the proposed bus rapid transit line. Monday was the deadline for the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority to submit its application for federal funding for the $174 million transit line, called “the Amp.” The application, which is posted on the authority’s website, includes hundreds of pages of documents outlining plans for the line, which would run from the White Bridge Road area of West Nashville to Five Points in East Nashville along the West End/Broadway corridor.
Nashville officials say the government shutdown won’t slow federal consideration of a proposed bus rapid transit system called the Amp. Nashville is competing with other cities in hopes of winning the federal max, $75 million—a bit less than half the bus project’s planned total cost. Reviewing and refining the application will take a long back-and-forth with the Federal Transit Administration. The Metro Transit Authority’s Jim McAteer says the federal shutdown won’t delay the process, because the FTA hired consultants to keep it moving.
Amazon.com is hiring more than 70,000 full-time seasonal jobs in its U.S. fulfillment centers this holiday season to meet rising customer demand. The seasonal hiring represents a 40 percent increase over last year, according to a press release from the retail giant. Amazon operates Tennessee distribution centers in Murfreesboro, Lebanon and Chattanooga. Last year, thousands of seasonal employees were converted into regular, full-time positions after the holidays. The company expects the same to happen this year.
Amazon’s Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., distribution centers are powering up their workforces as the nation’s No. 1 online retailer hires 70,000 seasonal employees nationally, up 40 percent from last Christmas. Thousands more workers are expected to be hired at Amazon’s Chattanooga center, and hiring will ramp up at its Bradley County facility, as well, the company said Tuesday. Kelly Cheeseman, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Amazon, declined to be specific about numbers, but she put the hiring at the company’s five fulfillment centers in Tennessee at “thousands and thousands” of workers.
Tennessee’s governor is slated to meet today with a key Volkswagen labor leader as the two face off over the battle to bring a German-style works council and the United Auto Workers to Chattanooga’s VW plant. Gov. Bill Haslam, who has worried that the UAW would hurt economic development efforts in the state, was expected to meet in Nashville with Bernd Osterloh, who serves on VW’s powerful supervisory board and is head of the automaker’s global works council. Osterloh also is to take part in discussions with VW employees in Chattanooga about the potential set up of a works council at the factory.
Blount County Schools students who ride the bus will have to find an alternate form of transportation to get to class on Friday. Friday marks the first of four days in the school year that the school system will not run bus service because of budget cuts. Special education buses, however, will run on their normal schedule. The other three days are Dec. 18, March 14 and May 20. All four days were selected in the budget cutting process because they precede countywide holidays. Students in Blount County will be on fall break next week.
“CLOSED” is never a sign that you want to see — especially when it’s unnecessary and counterproductive. As of Tuesday, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was closed to visitors, thanks to the partial shutdown of the federal government. And just as the park’s peak season was kicking off. It was probably the most visible Tennessee casualty of the impasse in Congress as that body continues to fail miserably at the job that it was elected to do. But park visitors and employees are by no means the only impact we will see in Tennessee if this stalemate drags on — no matter what those who are happy about the shutdown will tell you.
Think the shutdown doesn’t really affect very much in Chattanooga? Think again. Tourists traveling here can’t get into the sites of the Chattanooga National Military Park or its satellite parks such as Craven’s House, Moccasin Bend and Point Park. Not a big deal? Bad luck for tourists? The Society of Environmental Journalists — some 400 or 500 reporters from all over the world are here this week to see Chattanooga and tour our Civil War history and see our beautiful outdoor sites such as the Conasauga River in the Cherokee National Forest. Oops, that’s canceled and the conference is scrambling for new venues.
Congressional Republicans’ desperate attempt Monday to block the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ended in a failure that should lead to a reconsideration of the party’s legislative strategy. Much of the federal government has shut down, while the Affordable Care Act is moving forward. On Tuesday enrollment in insurance exchanges for the uninsured began across the country, even as national parks and government offices closed. The Republican-controlled House on Monday twice sent to the Senate bills that would temporarily continue funding for the federal government — except for the Affordable Care Act.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have gone on unpaid furlough starting Tuesday, victims of America’s 18th partial government shutdown. These furloughs result when Congress fails to appropriate money to operate the federal bureaucracy or fails to pass a continuing resolution to maintain past appropriations. It was the failure to reach a deal between the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate for a continuing resolution this week that caused the current shutdown.
The inability of Congress to come to any consensus on the nation’s budget is not only disappointing it’s unnerving. Lawmakers still manage to get their piece of American workers’ paychecks as federal taxes are deducted to pay Congress members’ salaries. But ordinary federal workers are sent home without pay to watch bills pile up, unless they are exempt for public health and safety reasons. In Murfreesboro, Stones River National Battlefield is closed until Congress can pass a budget. That closure not only seals off bike and walking trails to the public, restricts tourism and keeps local schoolchildren from exploring an important piece of Civil War history, it affects the 12 full-time workers and three Blackman High School students in a job-training program there.
Editor’s Note: With the opening of the federal health insurance exchange on Oct. 1, reporter Shelley DuBois went shopping for coverage from a consumer point of view. This represents one person’s perspective on searching for health insurance and doesn’t necessarily reflect others’ experience on the exchange. The federal health exchange is busted. At least it was for this 28-year-old, nonsmoking female Tennessean looking to sign up for coverage on day one of the exchange. To be clear, I’m not eligible for federal subsidies because my employer, Gannett Co. Inc., offers coverage. But I wanted more, possibly cheaper choices.