This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee is taking steps to make sure former foster children get the help they need. Gov. Bill Haslam announced this week that the state’s Department of Children’s Services will offer community-based services to each of the more than 1,000 individuals who turn 18 in state custody each year without being reunited with their birth families or being adopted. The initiative is part of a public-private partnership with Youth Villages, one of the largest providers of services to troubled children and their families in Tennessee.
Tennessee will become the first state to extend support services to every teen who “ages out” of foster care at age 18, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday. The state’s Department of Children’s Services, along with Memphis-based nonprofit Youth Villages, will split the cost of the $6 million “transitional living” program, which pairs former foster children with counselors. The Youth Villages counselors guide them in finishing high school, enrolling in college, finding a home and other day-to-day challenges that come with the transition to adult life.
Gov. Bill Haslam says it is unlikely the state will hammer out a deal with the federal government on Medicaid expansion before the new year. The Republican governor told reporters in Nashville on Wednesday that negotiations have been hampered by the problems with the online insurance marketplaces. Haslam said the federal government officials that the state has been in discussions with have been busy dealing with the federal exchange website serving 36 states including Tennessee. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday set a Nov. 30 deadline for fixing the problems that have overwhelmed the website intended to make shopping for insurance clear and simple.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday it’s hard to tell whether he made the right call in bypassing a state health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act, given the troubled rollout of the federal exchange and the success of some state exchanges elsewhere. Neighboring Kentucky is cited as a model for how health exchanges, or marketplaces, created and run by states can help residents compare private and public insurance plans and buy the plan of their choice. The Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” gave states the option of setting up their own exchanges, paid for with federal money for their residents to use, or defaulting to the new national exchange.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that his administration has struggled to find out how many Tennesseans have enrolled for health insurance through the federal government’s new exchanges. Potentially just a few hundred people have made it through the online process, he said. The last time I heard the number was something in the low hundreds — 250 or 300 (enrolled). I do not have a new number on that,” he said. “Obviously, that’s been disappointing for everybody.” Federal officials have said more than 700,000 people have created accounts to buy insurance nationwide, but they have not said how many people have actually enrolled.
Gov. Bill Haslam says the most recent figure the state has on Tennesseans successfully enrolling in the troubled federal health insurance exchange comes to just a few hundred, but the Republican isn’t sure whether he erred by refusing to create the state’s own online marketplace. “The last time I heard the number was something in the low hundreds — 250 or 300” who successfully enrolled, Haslam told reporters Wednesday. “I do not have a new number on that. Obviously, that’s been disappointing for everybody.”
In a month’s time, only a few hundred Tennesseans have been able to enroll for health coverage in the online exchange run by the federal government. If he had it to do over again, would Tennessee’s Governor run his own insurance marketplace? Republican Governor Bill Haslam calls Tennessee’s enrollment figures “disappointing,” but he says it’s hard to know if the state could have done any better than the glitchy federal site. “We felt like it was their program and they were the ones who suggested it and it would be better in this initial stage if they ran it – the thought being at the time that having two cooks in the kitchen when you’re trying to put together something that complex would make it that much more difficult.”
A Chattanooga judge is questioning the state’s decision to close the county’s only center that reinstates driver’s licenses, saying it will lead to more unlicensed drivers on local roads. “[The state] is leaving the centers in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis open, but Chattanooga seems to be getting left out. I don’t think it’s right for the citizens down here,” said City Judge Russell Bean. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced Wednesday the Hamilton County Driver License Reinstatement Center, one of six across the state, would be closing Nov. 15 because not enough people were using the services.
Middle Tennessee State University continues to ask for help to fund a future $147 million science building set to open by spring 2015. Given the state expects the university to fund $18.75 million for the project, MTSU Vice President Joe Bales requested a $1.5 million donation Wednesday from the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board to help prevent harsh student fees from having to pay for the local cut of the building. “It’s going to provide a better workforce for our community,” said Bales, noting that those with strong science and math training will be in demand for high-paying jobs, such as health care, advanced manufacturing and chemical industry fields.
The University of Tennessee has joined a host of other colleges around the country delaying its fall 2014 application deadlines this week because of ongoing technical problems with the Common Application website. The Common Application, a not-for-profit organization that allows prospective students to submit one application to any or all of its more than 500 member colleges, has experienced glitches since rolling out its latest version this fall. UT’s Nov. 1 regular deadline to guarantee consideration for scholarships has been pushed back to Nov. 15. The Dec. 1 final deadline for all applicants has been pushed to Dec. 15.
Today marks one of the most popular holidays for children — dressing up in Halloween costumes and going door to door to ask for candy. Law enforcement officers in Georgia and Tennessee also will be going door to door, but not in search of treats. “We are targeting higher-risk offenders,” said David Lane, deputy district director for the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Chattanooga office. “These are offenders whose victim was under the age of 18, offenders who are homeless, or offenders that the probation or parole officer has deemed necessary due to other reasons or concerns.”
Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott has announced state troopers will plan for increased patrols and conduct a variety of enforcement plans to help ensure a safe Halloween for citizens across the state, according to a news release. Halloween is consistently one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control estimate children are four times as likely to be struck by a vehicle on Halloween as any other day.
A Hawkins County man accused of TennCare doctor shopping in Hamblen County to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances was charged Wednesday with TennCare Fraud. According to a report released by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Brandon Trent, 25, of Rogersville, is accused of visiting multiple physicians within a short period to obtain controlled substances, and using the state’s Medicaid health care insurance program as payment. TennCare fraud is a Class E felony carrying a sentence of up to two years in prison.
In a very old building that has witnessed unceasing turmoil and countless back stabbings — not to mention having four people entombed within its walls or buried on its grounds — you might expect talk about things going bump in the night. And if the place is Tennessee’s state Capitol, you’d be right. While by no means a Stephen King-like Halloween house of horrors, the Capitol, dedicated in 1859 and one of the nation’s oldest working state capitols, does have its ghost stories and a reputation for unexplained goings-on. That’s not even getting into the living politicians who have been known to frighten citizens.
Frustration is continuing for people in Tennessee who are trying to access a federal website to shop for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The new healthcare exchange, which is a key part of the Obamacare law, launched Tuesday, and it’s hard to find anyone in Middle Tennessee who has actually been able to sign up. Scores of people came to places like the Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville to get help signing up on the first day of open enrollment, but everyone, like Frances Totten, left empty-handed.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn cited the woes of her constituents “Mark and Lucinda” who have lost their health insurance in Tennessee in her first round of contentious questioning of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this morning. The Nashville-area Republican who once represented parts of Shelby County also got the embattled cabinet member responsible for this month’s rollout of the Affordable Care Act to acknowledge she is “responsible for this debacle.” But Sebelius, who was repeatedly interrupted by Blackburn, made clear that people being notified that their individual policies are being cancelled currently have policies that can’t meet the minimum standards the new law requires.
Brentwood Congressman Marsha Blackburn wasted no time in grilling the Secretary of Health and Human Services today. Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about problems with the HealthCare.gov website. Most of the Republican lawmakers at today’s hearing started their questions by graciously thanking Secretary Sebelius for testifying. But Blackburn launched right in, saying hundreds of thousands nationwide are losing health insurance because of Obamacare.
The top Obama administration official responsible for the dysfunctional health insurance website apologized Wednesday at a congressional hearing that took place during another site outage. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the website “a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans” and vowed to have it fully functioning by the end of November. Despite calls from some Republicans for her resignation, Mrs. Sebelius gave no indication that she had plans to do so, saying she was “committed to earning your confidence back” by fixing the site.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday said Americans who are losing insurance under the health law would find better coverage, rebutting a rising chorus of complaints that he had oversold the law’s benefits. With Republican criticism in Congress intensifying over canceled policies and the new online insurance marketplaces malfunctioning, Mr. Obama used a speech in Boston to tell Americans that they could obtain improved insurance if they shopped around. This comes after the president has long said that people who like their health plans would be able to keep them after the new law takes effect next year.
State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations. Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, in places as different as Oklahoma and California. Many lawmakers say that news reports of widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents.
It appears that hundreds of employees at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge facilities had their personal information compromised by a cyber attack earlier this year on computer systems at DOE headquarters in Washington, although the exact number of Oak Ridge victims is not yet available. All told, more than 104,000 DOE and contractor employees across the nation were impacted by the cyber theft that occurred in July and August when an alleged hacker from the United Kingdom and co-conspirators took advantage of a vulnerability in software to gain access to the Department of Energy’s protected computers.
The great war over the fate of Shelby County’s schools — one which has preoccupied activists of various kinds, the media, city, county, and state jurisdictions, and the judicial system — may soon be winding down. And the winner is … Actually, that’s a matter of opinion. As matters stand, with the Shelby County Schools board’s adoption Monday night of a plan by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson, there are several parties that might proclaim victory: the SCS board itself; the Shelby County Commission, whose majority has been litigating against the six suburban municipalities hatching independent school systems; and the majority of those municipalities, which seem satisfied with the plan.
What constitutes a public body subject to the Sunshine law and subject to public records requests? —Funded with taxpayer money? Check. —Governed by a board that contains elected officials? Check. —Spend taxpayer money on consultants who commit county revenue to third parties? Check. —Take property-tax revenues from citizens and then propose to force them to sell their property to a third party? Check. —Commit the county to forgo $300 million in tax revenue over the years to benefit a commercial enterprise? Check. —Obligating the county for lost revenue and spending before getting permission from the county government? Check.