This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Living a healthier lifestyle is something a lot of us want to do, but where do we start? Gov. Bill Haslam recently launched an initiative, encouraging Tennesseans to exercise, eat right, and not smoke. It’s called Healthier Tennessee, and it’s mission is to bring companies, schools, and health care providers together to improve the quality of life. Saturday’s topic is on how new data suggests that Americans are already making healthier food choices. Data from the NPD Group, a market research firm, shows that fruit is now the second most popular food in the U.S., moving up from the number five spot over the last decade.
The gleaming white building with curved exteriors and a spaceship-like tower emerges from the flat landscape of West Tennessee like something out of science fiction, but it’s not a villain’s lair or superhero’s headquarters. It’s Discovery Park of America, a new museum, education center and tourist attraction opening Friday in Union City, Tenn., a town of 11,000 located a few hours’ drive from Memphis, Nashville and St. Louis…Museum operators and local officials are hoping Discovery Park will attract visitors who live within a three-hour drive and bolster the economy in a region of rural America hit hard by job losses, floods, droughts and a tough economy.
Murfreesboro mosque opponents are planning an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after Tennessee’s highest court refused to take up their case. The mosque opened more than a year ago, but the plaintiffs say the legal questions it spawned remain unresolved. Their concern has been whether the Rutherford County Planning Commission provided adequate notice for the 2010 meeting where commissioners approved the mosque’s construction. Members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro greeted news of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision, handed down Friday, with joy as they met for Saturday services.
In April, business executive Clay Morgan found his family’s health insurance in limbo after he moved across state lines from Kentucky to Nashville. Merely updating his address with his carrier wound up pushing him into a different, much more expensive plan. “My wife was three weeks pregnant — just barely,” Morgan said. “I was floored, absolutely livid about it.” All of a sudden, he had to examine his insurance options more closely than he ever had before. Families across the country are experiencing a similar phenomenon as companies roll out their enrollments benefits packages this fall. Companies are bracing for the impact of the Affordable Care Act, and many are changing the health benefits they offer employees.
After releasing a long-range energy plan in 2011, TVA learned what a difference two years can make. Natural gas became much cheaper and more available than it was then. Sales of electricity sagged. Appliances and lighting equipment became ever-more energy efficient. Renewable power, mainly wind and solar, became more affordable and abundant. Nuclear power projects encountered further problems. Amid all the transformative change, the Tennessee Valley Authority decided to update its Integrated Resource Plan well before the previously scheduled 2016 timetable. The plan outlines the federal utility’s strategies to provide electricity for a region encompassing 9 million people living in seven Southeastern states.
A little-known change to Tennessee law could limit options for the United Auto Workers labor union, which is working to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. The law, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in June 2011, specifies secret ballot elections are the preferred way to designate support for a union, rather than the so-called “card check” method that requires organizers to simply get a signature on a piece of paper, according to State Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville. Under such circumstance, no alternative means of designation shall be used in Tennessee as convincing evidence of employee majority support, the law says.
Official: Project not to add jobs The growing Nissan plant here will expand again, town leaders found out this past week. Smyrna Planning Director Kevin Rigsby informed the Town Council that Nissan submitted an expansion plan for a stamping area that will add 59,551 square feet to the assembly that opened more than 30 years ago. The Smyrna Planning Commission will examine the latest plans for the stamping area that will be built to the rear of the existing main factory that’s about 5.9 million square feet during a meeting that starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall, 315 S. Lowry St.
Lakeland and Arlington city officials are considering plans to share a superintendent who could oversee municipal school districts in both suburbs. On Monday and Thursday, the two boards are expected to vote separately on resolutions that would allow them to share the costs of a search for a joint superintendent. The person would answer to both school boards, which Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker jokingly called “double the torture.” The move has some precedent in Tennessee. Officials from the northeast Shelby County suburbs point out that Dorsey Hopson was superintendent over Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools for four to five months before the countywide school merger was official.
Sullivan County’s 2013-14 school budget missed meeting Tennessee maintenance of effort requirements by $405,000. That shortfall is to be amended to meet the requirements at the Nov. 18 Sullivan County Commission meeting, following a vote at Monday’s Board of Education meeting recommending the change. The money in question is going to be designated for health insurance costs, which will be higher than estimated, not to undo other budget austerity measures taken for the budget. Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said the money in question is more of an accounting issue, not money the system could or should use to undo teacher aide positions cut in the budget.
Norman Smith Elementary won the prestigious SCORE Award last week, marking a stunning achievement for both the school and the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. Smith Elementary was cited for “strong three-year growth in reading, math and science as it served a large school population (570 students) with a high proportion of low-income students (77 percent),” according to SCORE. The school narrowed the TCAP achievement gap between lower-income and higher-income students by 22 points in math and by 16 points in reading between 2011 and 2013. The school’s TCAP proficiency rates exceed the state averages by 8 points in reading, nearly 12 points in math, and more than 14 points in science.
A year out, it seems likely that amendments to Tennessee’s constitution may be much bigger issues than Tennessee candidates in our state when voters go to the polls for the general election on Nov. 4, 2014.Four proposed amendments to the state constitution will be on the ballot at that time, two presenting hot-button topics — abortion and a state income tax — that often inspire knee-jerk reactions. The other two involve judicial selection and veterans gambling, topics perhaps more prone to inspire head-scratching. In contrast, almost all seriously-contested candidate elections will have been resolved in the August primaries.
This is why people look at Tennessee and wonder. One of the very basic, fundamental functions of our state government, besides taxes, roads and prisons, is helping to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. At this, Tennessee does a deplorable job. Tennesseans who have intellectual or developmental disabilities — people with an IQ of 70 or less — struggle with the circumstances of their existence, but thousands of them also are left hanging when what they need is long-term care, far more than a caregiver can provide. State lawmakers know it and the state comptroller knows it. It is unclear whether the agency actually in charge, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), truly knows it.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has been one of the Republicans denouncing the Department of Health and Human Services for its troubled insurance exchange website. Alexander has demanded an accounting of the people who have tried to shop for policies as mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and he has called for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ resignation. Sebelius should oblige Alexander by stepping down if her agency does not meet a self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to get the website working properly. The embattled Sebelius accepted responsibility for the website’s poor performance during testimony Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but more accountability will be necessary if the failures continue.
We have never been fans of the Affordable Care Act. We didn’t like the way it was rammed through Congress. We had serious questions about how it would work and the ripple effects it would have on small businesses and the economy. That said, we assumed President Barack Obama and his administration would have the framework in place to allow the uninsured to sign up for health insurance, which is what the act is all about. We are dumbfounded by the failure of HealthCare.gov, the website that was to be the avenue to health insurance for so many people. If you succeeded in passing what promised to be the most important legislation of your presidency, despite vocal opposition, wouldn’t you make sure you could execute?
Nearly 30 years ago, the first Tennessee Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. It permanently protects places we now know as the Big Frog, Little Frog and Sampson Mountain wilderness areas. Two years later, Reagan signed the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 1986, expanding the Big Frog Wilderness Area by 3,000 acres. That bill also expanded protection for the Appalachian Trail by creating the Pond Mountain, Unaka Mountain and Big Laurel Branch wilderness areas. It’s time to protect still more of the wild and diverse areas of our region that provide us not only with beauty, but also with clean water and an outdoor recreation industry in Tennessee that generates $8 billion in consumer spending each year and supports more than 80,000 jobs.