This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has been named co-chairman of the National Governors Association’s health and human services committee. He will work with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat who was named vice chairman. The appointment comes as Haslam says he’s still trying to work out a special deal for Tennessee to expand Medicaid. Haslam was involved previously in the health care debate as chairman of the NGA’s health care sustainability task force.
A leading education reform organization is awarding Tennessee schools that have dramatically improved student achievement. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education will award the third annual SCORE Prize to an elementary, middle and high school, as well as one school district. The winning schools will each receive $10,000 and the district will receive $25,000. Winners are selected from among the nine public schools and three districts named as finalists in September. The event is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at the Laura Turner Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.
The Nissan plant in Tennessee that makes the all-electric Leaf stands to benefit from an announcement this week that eight states will work together to dramatically increase the number of zero-emission cars on the nation’s roads. But Tennessee isn’t among the states signing the agreement, and Republican leaders say they have no plans to do so. Meanwhile, a state program offering a $2,500 incentive for electric vehicles purchases expired in January and Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has made no moves to revive it.
It’s not hard to make the case that the Loudon County Jail is overcrowded. “It’s a problem that needs to be addressed,” Sheriff Tim Guider said. For most of the past year, the population of the jail has run at about 50 inmates above the certified limit of 95 inmates. Last week inmates were sleeping on mats on the floor of their cell blocks. “Last month it went up to 180 inmates,” jail administrator Lt. Teresa Smith said. Maintaining state certification through the Tennessee Corrections Institute under such circumstances is difficult, Smith said.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is offering grants to assist with riparian tree planting projects. Five grants of $500 each are available in each of TWRA’s four regions. Seedlings must be bought through the Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry. Nov. 30 is the deadline to apply and projects must be completed by June 30 of next year. Tree planting season in Tennessee is October through March.
State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, says he will renew his push to require voters’ consent before cities can annex their property, even as a state study panel says it may need more time for its annexation recommendations. “Absolutely,” the Hamilton County lawmaker said last week. “Only death will stop that. And then somebody else will just pick it up. I think the prospects [for passage] are excellent. People have woken up.” In this year’s legislative session, Carter and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, sponsored a bill aimed at giving voters a voice in annexation. Carter, a former adviser to then-Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, cited a spate of annexations initiated by former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield.
As he seeks a third term in the U.S. Senate, Lamar Alexander is doing something few other incumbent Republicans have tried recently: Instead of running scared of the tea party, he’s running against it. Alexander hardly mentions tea party icons such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, nor does he call out the hard-right conservative groups such as Heritage Action for America that forced Republicans to pursue the politically disastrous strategy that led to the recent federal government shutdown. But in speeches across Tennessee, Alexander is in the habit of delivering thinly veiled blasts against the “Washington people” and their “voting scorecards” who propose to tell Tennesseans what it means to be a Republican.
Some states are signing up tens of thousands of new Medicaid enrollees in the initial weeks of the health law’s rollout, while placing far fewer in private health insurance—a divergence that suggests Medicaid expansion may be a larger part of the law than expected. In one sense, the Medicaid figures are good news for the Affordable Care Act’s advocates, who hoped the law would reduce the number of Americans without health insurance. But the predominance of Medicaid enrollees so far could also fuel criticism that the law will lead to a greater government grip on the health-care system, instead of leaving room for private health insurers to grow.
Sean Jackson, like tens of thousands of other Americans, has had trouble signing up for medical coverage using the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace, despite several attempts. “I was able to create an account on Oct. 2, and I haven’t been able to get into there since,” said Mr. Jackson, a sports journalist living in Ohio, a note of annoyance in his voice. “I’ll try at random times, like late at night or early in the morning. I sign in. It just goes to a blank screen.” The economists and policy wonks behind the Affordable Care Act worry that the technical problems bedeviling the federal portal could become much more than an inconvenience.
A team of young policy experts energized by President Barack Obama’s health law toiled for three years in a Bethesda, Md., office building to draw up specifications for the federally run insurance marketplace. Forty miles away at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Baltimore headquarters, longtime agency computer experts with different bosses oversaw building the site’s software and hardware components. And in Washington, White House advisers worked to preserve the law through treacherous politics, sometimes stalling final decisions about the site, HealthCare.gov, to avoid controversy ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
Ashley Foxx was in graduate school at Columbia and on the path to a career as a college professor — or so she thought — when she met a former teacher with Teach for America. Persuaded to delay her plans at least for a while, Foxx entered an elementary school classroom in her hometown of Memphis and was soon hooked on the teaching craft. The 30-year-old teacher is now in her third year doing what she really wants to do — introducing third graders at Memphis College Prep to the joys of learning. That’s one year beyond what TFA teachers commit to spending in the classroom, which makes Foxx part of a movement that might help dispel the notion that the program’s teachers are all just looking for a place to park for a while.
Earlier this summer, the newly appointed Pope Francis traveled to Sicily where he gave a sermon in which he asked the Lord for forgiveness. Pope Francis asked forgiveness for “indifference towards so many brothers and sisters…for those who are pleased with themselves, who are closed in on their own well-being in a way that leads to the anesthesia of the heart.” I may not be Catholic, but I truly believe Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air in the spiritual community. His calls to put the culture wars on the backburner in order to focus on the least of God’s children is something I believe has sorely been needed in both the global community, and right here in Tennessee.