This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Skilled welders are in high demand in Greene County among no less than a half-dozen major local industries. Responding to that need, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday a grant of $337,297 for Walters State Community College (WSCC) to fund needed equipment for an industrial skills and training program and an advanced welding program. The industrial skills program will move throughout WSCC’s service area based on demand, while the welding program will be stationed in Greene County, according to J.B. Pectol, vice president of Communications and Marketing at WSCC.
Bell Buckle and Wartrace heard good news Monday in the form of large Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for upgrades on water and sewer systems. A total of $200,000 will be going for sewer system rehabilitation in Bell Buckle, while Wartrace will receive $549,450 for water system work. The grant funding announced was part of more than $27 million approved to assist 66 Tennessee communities with infrastructure, health and safety projects and downtown improvements, said Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty.
Tennessee’s state and local law enforcement officials said Tuesday that the next two months is not the time for unwise driving decisions. The Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office announced Tuesday morning that it is teaming up with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the Chattanooga Police Department for a high-visibility traffic safety campaign throughout the holiday season. Authorities are beefing up their presence on area roads, and they will be looking for any traffic-related law violations.
Leaders with Launch Tennessee announced that they are partnering with tech startup website PandoDaily for their second annual Southland conference “The first Southland conference was a big success for Tennessee because it brought together entrepreneurs and investors from all over the country to exchange ideas and experience our state’s hospitality and culture,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a prepared statement. “This partnership with PandoDaily is a great way to grow the event, which I, and many others, believe has the potential to be the most important technology startup conference in the Southeast.”
Folks interested in tracing their family history can get some advice at a free workshop being offered by the state. The Tennessee State Library and Archives is having its third annual “Family History Day” event on Nov. 30. It is designed to introduce more people to genealogy. The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. in the TSLA auditorium, which is located at 403 Seventh Ave. North, west of the state Capitol in downtown Nashville. Participants will be given an overview of records that are available at TSLA and shown how to navigate the various databases.
Three members of Hamilton County’s legislative delegation say they’ll push forward on a school voucher plan this spring when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes. Gov. Bill Haslam’s limited voucher plan was put on hold last session after Senate Republicans sought an expansion. But Hamilton County lawmakers told teachers and parents Tuesday that the issue will be back on the table this time around. Vouchers, called “opportunity scholarships” by some proponents, allow parents to use tax dollars targeted for public education to pay private school tuition.
Parents claiming that some textbooks being used in state schools are biased say they’re open to a stronger public review process, which state education officials acknowledge is needed to improve the current process for choosing books. Several parents spoke Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Education Committee that is reviewing the role of the Tennessee Textbook Commission, which recommends its selection of books to the State Board of Education. Local school systems then choose which textbooks to adopt from the official state textbook list.
A longtime political operative who last year had to shut down his polling firm because of money problems will be the next executive director of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Alan Secrest will start work in January, party Chairman Roy Herron said Tuesday. Secrest, who has 30 years of experience in Democratic politics, announced in June 2012 that he had to close Secrest Strategic Services because “our financial circumstances have left us no choice but to discontinue this work and close our business,” The Washington Post’s The Fix blog reported.
The Shelby County Election Commission has answered critical audit findings that questioned the integrity of its voter registration process, cash collections and other matters. The Election Commission’s management says it corrected problems flagged in an internal Shelby County government draft audit report released in August. The report said election officials had failed to process dozens of voter registration applications between March 2012 and this January and that improper documentation made it impossible for auditors to identify election employees who processed or changed some voter registration records.
The fight that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and other congressional Republicans have been waging to roll back President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms is about to get personal. Come January, the South Pittsburg congressman and his 12-member staff will give up their federal health insurance and buy their health plans through one of the online insurance marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act. DesJarlais, a physician who has made repealing Obamacare one of his top priorities, thinks no one should have to buy their insurance through the online marketplaces.
A Tennessee lawmaker Tuesday again took the lead in questioning the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as hearings shifted to the Senate. Sen. Lamar Alexander, ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told the panel his constituents, in large numbers, continue to experience large rate increases or see their policies canceled. Meanwhile, he said, the White House website continues to say that if Americans like their current insurance they can keep it. Alexander held up an iPad showing the site.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander went around in circles today with the woman charged with rolling out the Affordable Care Act. Marilyn Tavenner directs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Alexander sounded exasperated as he asked her why it was taking so long to see hard figures for how many people have signed up, what level of coverage they’re getting, and where they live. Tavenner says those numbers will be released next week, and reminded Alexander that the plan had always been for a monthly report.
Some 387,000 Tennesseans, 654,000 Georgians and 270,000 Alabamians now uninsured or purchasing health insurance on their own will be eligible for subsidies to help pay for coverage next year under the federal health law, according to a new analysis. Kaiser Family Foundation projections show that 645,000 Tennesseans are eligible to buy plans on the federally-run insurance exchange that opened Oct. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act. In Georgia, 1.06 million people are possible customers. About 60 percent of the total in each state are eligible for the tax credits that subsidize their premiums, according to Kaiser projections.
Federal lawmakers and state officials are stepping up pressure on insurers to allow consumers whose coverage has been canceled in response to the health overhaul to keep their policies beyond the end of the year. On Tuesday, one of the largest regional health plans in the nation, Blue Shield of California, said it would relax its stance on terminated policies for about 115,000 people after state regulators demanded it do so. Customers now will have until March to decide which plan to choose for 2014, a three-month extension.
Shelby County will receive $7.4 million for repairs after record-breaking storms caused 345,000 MLG&W customers to lose power and damaged the Raleigh-Millington bridge over the Loosahatchie River in April 2011, officials announced Tuesday. The Community Development Block Grant money will reimburse the county, the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, and the City of Bartlett, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in announcing it has approved the county’s plans submitted in August. Shelby County Department of Housing Administrator Jim C. Vazquez, who hadn’t been formally notified of the decision when reached by a reporter, said some of the work has been completed but the bridge work is just getting under way.
States are reporting far higher enrollment in Medicaid than in private insurance since the Affordable Care Act exchanges opened Oct. 1. In Maryland, for example, the number of newly eligible Medicaid enrollees is more than 25 times the number of people signed up for private coverage. Even some Medicaid experts say they are surprised at the early numbers. A Stateline survey of the 25 expansion states and the District of Columbia provides clear explanations for the strong Medicaid rollout so far. The biggest reason for the initial jump in Medicaid enrollment is that hundreds of thousands of people in the expansion states have been pre-qualified for expanded Medicaid because they are already enrolled in low-income state health care.
Student surveys will soon become a part of how teachers are evaluated in Nashville. Metro Schools Director Jesse Register had asked the state to hold off on using such surveys to help score teachers, but there will not be a delay. The survey is called Tripod, and Register says he has no doubt it’ll eventually come in handy. In a letter to Metro teachers, he notes Memphis has been using it for a few years already, and that it’s been vetted and tends to give teachers useful feedback. It’s set to count as 5 percent of a Metro teacher’s classroom observation this year – and that’s where Register has a problem.
Tennessee’s population, like every other state, is just about evenly split by gender. In fact, it is slightly less so than most, with 52 percent of Tennesseans being female It amounts to a difference of about 160,000 people. So it’s a little odd, even allowing for the South being a bastion of traditional “family values,” that Tennessee’s leadership structure is such a boys’ club. Only two women, Jane Eskind and Sara Kyle, have ever held statewide elected office, having done so on the old Public Service Commission. Only six have ever served in the U.S. House for Tennessee. The first three succeeded their deceased husbands into the office for a single term.
There’s been a prolonged battle to see who’ll manage the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants, and although a Bechtel-led team known as Consolidated Nuclear Security won the contract in January — a decision reaffirmed last week by the National Nuclear Security Administration — the deal is not done yet. The other bidders, Nuclear Production Partners (headed by Babcock & Wilcox) and Integrated Nuclear Solutions (headed by Jacobs Engineering and Fluor), challenged the original decision, and a piece of their protests was validated by the Government Accountability Office.