This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee may be the first state in the country to offer every teenager who leaves the foster care system a personal guide into adulthood. Officials have announced the expansion of case management to every kid who ages out of state custody. It’s a vulnerable time. Roughly a quarter end up homeless. Half don’t find jobs. Few go to college. “The school that I go to, they have no idea where I should take my ACT,” says Jeremiah Brown of Nashville, who is still trying to get his diploma. “So I talked to my [transitional living] worker, and she’s going to help me set it up.”
Tennessee has become the first state in the nation to offer all children who grow up in foster care special services to help them adjust to becoming adults. Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced that a program providing aid to foster children transitioning into adulthood is expanding through a public-private partnership with Youth Villages, a Memphis-based nonprofit that offers help for “troubled children and their families” in Tennessee and 11 other states. “We’re now expanding the program to make it available to every young person who ages out of state custody in Tennessee.
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 that the federal government officials with whom the state has been in discussions have been busy dealing with the federal exchange website serving 36 states, including Tennessee. Haslam in March declined $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 140,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms the money was offered.
The Tennessean reports the agency told employees this month about the change, which comes on the heels of a pair of U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinions that said case workers have to abide by a constitutional amendment that guarantees people the right against searches and seizures without a warrant. The move has received criticism from child advocates and juvenile judges, who say the safety of children is already being affected. Before the court ruling, case workers and their supervisors could decide on their own whether to remove a child but had to petition a court to review their actions within 72 hours.
This May, 3.3 million high school seniors are expected to graduate in the United States. Most of their college applications are due by midnight tonight. Meanwhile, the nation’s largest college application service is experiencing unprecedented difficulty. “The Common Application” allows aspiring college students to apply online to more than 500 schools nationwide. The organization serves eight schools in Tennessee, as well as eight in Georgia and three in Alabama. The service has promoted “equity, access and integrity” since 1975 in hopes of leveling the college application field.
Just five candidates have submitted applications to fill an upcoming West Tennessee vacancy on the state’s highest court. The two judges, two attorneys in private practice and a law professor submitted their applications by the Thursday deadline to be considered as finalists by the newly-created Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments. Gov. Bill Haslam created the 17-member panel through an executive order on Oct. 17. It largely mirrors the functions of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which lawmakers allowed to expire in June.
Several Memphis jurists and a few just plain lawyers are seeking a change of venue as of Thursday, the deadline for applications for two state appellate court openings. The openings were created when state Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder informed Governor Bill Haslam that she would not seek reelection when her term ends on August 31 of next year, and Judge David R. Farmer informed the governor similarly about his seat on the Court of Appeals, Western Division. SUPREME COURT: All but one of the five applicants for Holder’s Supreme Court position are Memphians, as is Holder.
In a preliminary vote, a majority of members on the commission that evaluates the performance of Tennessee’s top judges has recommended against new terms for two judges on the state Court of Criminal Appeals and one on the Court of Appeals. The three tentatively receiving negative recommendations are: Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jerry L. Smith of Nashville, a former deputy state attorney general who was first appointed to the court in 1995. Smith was arrested April 23, 2012, by Knoxville police on Cumberland Avenue about eight hours before he was to join other judges in hearing cases.
Two Tennessee lawmakers were scheduled to speak at a Southern secessionist group’s meeting this weekend, and while a representative for one claims he’s spent a month trying to get his name off the event’s announcement, the other is ready to go and supports preparing Tennessee to part ways with the United States. A website for the Southern National Congress says Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, and Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, will discuss their proposed legislation at the group’s sixth session, today through Sunday at Fall Creek Falls State Park.
Tennessee’s tax system is one of the most business-friendly in the country, but not so when it comes to taxes for your favorite adult beverage. Tennessee ranks sixth on the “Worst States for Alcohol Taxes” list complied by NerdWallet, a financial information website founded by a former hedge fund analyst and a derivatives trader. Beer drinkers pay the highest taxes at 11 cents per standard drink, the highest beer tax in the country, according to the NerdWallet analysis of alcohol taxes for all 50 states. Arkansas has the next highest beer tax at 10 cents per standard drink.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker continues to criticize the U.S. response to conflict in Syria. As the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Corker dressed down the Ambassador to Syria at a hearing Thursday. Corker says he’s “embarrassed” that rebel forces are just now receiving equipment such as trucks from the U.S. government. “I find it appalling that you would sit here and act as if we are doing the things we said we would do three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago.” Ambassador Robert Ford told Corker the U.S. would continue to help the opposition. But he also said Syrians are going to have to solve their problems – more or less – on their own.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced today he is cosponsoring a bill to permanently repeal the federal estate tax. “Nobody should be forced to sell the farm or family-owned small business they’ve just inherited in order to pay the tax bill,” Alexander said in a news release. The legislation, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R- S.D.) in June, would repeal the federal estate tax – much like a bill passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in April 2012 that will eliminate Tennessee’s inheritance tax after 2015. Alexander, up for re-election next year, said Thune’s bill would demonstrate “Tennessee common sense” on the national level.
Stop — you don’t need to buy 10 pairs of reading glasses every December — the Treasury Department has decided to loosen the “use it or lose it” rule that applies to employees’ health flexible spending arrangements. Under current rules, the 14 million Americans who have health FSAs through their employer must use all of the money in their account by the end of the year or risk forfeiting the balance. Employers have the option, however, of giving employees a grace period of two-and-a-half months into the next year to use this money. Under new rules, employers can allow employees to carry over up to $500 of unused FSA funds into the next year.
Christine Kaufmann and thousands of other people hired to help consumers sign up for health insurance on the new exchanges this fall knew they would be busy. But problems with the federally run website have placed these “navigators” on the front lines, facing a deluge of questions and resorting to pen-and-paper applications to enroll consumers. Ms. Kaufmann, the 61-year-old director of a navigator program for Montana Primary Care Association in Helena, has been bombarded with phone calls from consumers who can’t access the site. People want to know how much their health care will cost and if they are eligible for government subsidies.
John Rousseau likes to get a rise out of his Louisiana relatives by talking about taxes in his adopted home here. Providence charges an annual tax on the value of vehicles, much like a property tax. This year, the levy on Mr. Rousseau’s Honda was $927, up from $99 three years ago. The 63-year-old advertising consultant said that when he recounted the figures at a recent family wedding, “everyone’s mouths flew open.” Rhode Island’s capital has been squeezing its 178,000 residents for more cash since losing a significant chunk of a big revenue source: state aid. Most city budgets rely on a combination of property-tax revenue, fees and state aid.
Starting Friday, millions of Americans receiving food stamps will be required to get by with less government assistance every month, a move that not only will cost them money they use to feed their families but is expected to slightly dampen economic growth as well. Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly referred to as food stamps, reflect the lapse of a temporary increase created by the administration’s stimulus program in 2009. They are slated to go into effect separately from continuing negotiations over renewal of the federal farm support program, which looks likely to further cut funds for food stamps, which this fiscal year are expected to come to about $76.4 billion.
Winter heating bills won’t take quite as much cold cash from Tennessee Valley consumers this month compared with a year ago. TVA is raising its fuel cost adjustment today to add about 64 cents to this month’s typical residential electric bill in Chattanooga. But compared with November 2012, electric bills for the average Chattanooga household using 1,461 kilowatthours of electricity will be down by $7.76 this month. TVA has cut the fuel portion of its electricity rates by about 25 percent over the past year, due to cheaper natural gas, abundant hydroelectric power and less demand for more expensive purchased power.
As Shelby County Schools prepares to lose 33 schools to new municipal districts, administrators face the continual challenge of calming a rumor mill that is distracting in every school but particularly in those facilities in the six suburban municipalities. Supt. Dorsey Hopson sent a staff-wide memo late Tuesday, reassuring staff that no decisions had been made about staffing. The district is “absolutely committed to retaining a high-quality workforce” and will proceed with “care and consideration.” Monday’s board action authorizing negotiations over leasing at least 33 schools to municipalities “allows our district to prepare for educating all Shelby County students who will not attend schools in a suburban, municipal school system.”
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services needs better legal advice than it is currently getting — unless its objective is to get into another line of work. DCS is intended to be the front line of protection for kids when their home may no longer be a safe place because of abuse or neglect. Its caseworkers are tasked with assessing living conditions, and if there is an imminent threat to children, to remove them from the home and file a subsequent court order. Obviously, such removals can lead to conflict, as in an incident in Hickman County in 2008 that sparked a lawsuit that reached the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.