This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Four veteran state employees received special recognition at the Governor’s Veterans Day event this week. Sgt. N.E. Christianson has been with the state 46 years, Spc. Gabriella Saulsberry has a 28-year career with the state, Chief Warrant Officer 2 James D. Payne has been employed with the state 25 years and Staff Sgt. John Smalls was recognized as the state’s newest veteran employee. Gov. Bill Haslam joined other state officials in honoring those individuals and paying tribute to Tennessee’s more than 525,000 veterans.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he has discussed specifics of his Medicaid expansion plan with federal officials and hasn’t given up trying to win its approval in Washington. Less than two months remain before the next big provision of the Affordable Care Act goes into effect: Starting Jan. 1, the federal government will pay the full costs of expanding Medicaid coverage to uninsured people with incomes between 100 and 138 percent of federal poverty level, but only in states opting to participate. After three years, the federal share phases down to 90 percent by 2020, with states picking up the 10 percent.
Gov. Bill Haslam concedes he has a “very difficult needle to thread” in persuading fellow Republicans in the state Legislature and the Democratic Obama administration to accept his plan to expand Medicaid for at least 180,000 Tennesseans. “Well, that’s the challenge, I mean just to be really frank with you,” Haslam told reporters Wednesday. “That’s the challenge and that’s why it’s been eight months. We keep having those conversations to see if we can come up with something that we think again that Tennessee will approve and that they [Obama administration] will accept.”
Governor Bill Haslam says he’s still trying to put together a plan to expand Medicaid in Tennessee that would satisfy federal officials and pass a Republican dominated state legislature. But time is running out for the state to accept billions to help the working poor buy health insurance by the start of the new year. Haslam has been talking with Washington for months. But earlier this week, GOP Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he wouldn’t support an expansion of Medicaid, saying the Governor is “wasting his time” by negotiating with federal officials.
In Linda Sparks’ English classes, there’s no hiding or ducking out. Everybody participates. “Everybody’s on high alert that you’re going to be called on,” said the Soddy-Daisy High School teacher. “It’s not just the brainy kid that knows all the answers.” Sparks says that shift, in which every student takes part in classroom discussion and debate, is partially thanks to Tennessee’s shift to the Common Core State Standards, new benchmarks that outline the concepts students are expected to learn. She’s a 33-year teaching veteran and plans to retire at the end of this school year.
Both Paris and Big Sandy will receive a share of more than $27 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to assist with housing and wastewa- ter projects, respectively. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty recently ap- proved the funding which includes $500,000 for Paris for housing and $247,350 for Big Sandy for improve- ments to its wastewater treatment plant. Big Sandy must provide $7,650 in local funding for a total of $255,000 while the Paris grant requires no local funding.
To say the least, the week has started off well for the City of Cowan, which has received word it’s getting much needed help from the state to improve its wastewater treatment plant. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau have announced that two communities, one utility district and one water/wastewater authority have been approved to receive more than $5.7 million in low-interest loans for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements.
Ashland City is applying for a nearly $500,000 state grant to connect three city parks. If awarded the Tennessee Department of Transportation grant, the city will create a half-mile greenway trail to connect Riverbluff Park, the John C. “Preacher” Poole Recreation Area and City Park (tennis courts). The Ashland City Council approved a resolution at a special-called meeting on Oct. 29 to apply for the grant. The estimated cost for the proposed project is $498,059. The grant will cover 80 percent of the costs ($398,447), and the city will be responsible for the remaining 20 percent ($99,612).
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be setting up deer checking stations at several east Tennessee locations to obtain samples for Chronic Wasting Disease testing. This Saturday, Nov. 9 marks the opening day of deer muzzleloader season in Tennessee. This is traditionally one of the most heavily hunted days and usually produces good harvest numbers. The TWRA is targeting this date as well as the opening day of deer gun season on Nov. 23 in hopes of obtaining large numbers of samples for its statewide surveillance program to monitor Tennessee’s deer and elk populations for the presence of CWD.
Shelby County’s election commission says it has corrected voter registration problems and other issues found in an audit. The Commercial Appeal reports that an internal Shelby County government draft audit report released in August said officials had failed to process dozens of voter registration applications between March 2012 and January. The audit also said improper documentation made it impossible for auditors to identify election employees who processed or changed some voter registration records. The audit had 19 findings, seven of them ranked “high” in terms of potential risk to the commission’s operations.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee continues to voice concerns about a proposed United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled. Corker, the ranking GOP member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voiced his concerns as the committee held a new hearing on it today. The treaty — known as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — was also put before the Senate in 2012 but the chamber rejected ratification on a 61-38 vote, five votes short of the needed two-thirds majority. Both Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander, also a Republican, voted against it.
The Army is putting off closure of ROTC programs at three state universities, a move quickly welcomed today by Tennessee members of Congress. “I applaud the Secretary of the Army’s decision to delay closure of three Army ROTC programs in Tennessee, and I am proud to have worked with my colleagues to resolve this issue,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Chattanooga, in a statement today. Army plans announced last month called for closing Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at East Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technology University in Cookeville and the University of Tennessee at Martin along with similar programs on 10 other campuses across the country.
ROTC programs that had been set to close at three Tennessee colleges are getting some time to improve, in hopes of better meeting the Army’s needs. East Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT Martin were all set to close their military officer training units. Now, Senator Lamar Alexander says the Army will give them two years, while it reviews its plans. “This is a major victory for students on these campuses at programs that have produced some of our nation’s most outstanding military leaders.”
Prodded to be more candid with Congress, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that the administration’s flawed health care website needed “a couple of hundred” fixes when it went online more than a month ago and conceded, “we’re not there yet” in making all needed repairs. But she turned aside any suggestion that the system be taken offline until it could be fixed fully. Doing so “wouldn’t delay people’s cancer or diabetes or Parkinson’s” disease, she told the Senate Finance Committee.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Wednesday that the government needed to fix hundreds of problems with the website for the federal health insurance marketplace, but she categorically rejected bipartisan calls to delay parts of the new health care law. She made her comments at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee hours after the Obama administration disclosed that the chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would retire. His office supervised the creation of the troubled website.
Obamacare recruiters are on a kind of scavenger hunt in Tennessee. They desperately need young healthy people to sign up for insurance to balance out all the older, sicker people who are more eager to enroll. They’re difficult to find, in some instances, and perhaps even harder to convince they need insurance. This worry-free uninsured population has been dubbed the “young invincibles,” which may explain why they’re not so hard to find at a rock gym like Climb Nashville. “I absolutely am uninsured and happy about it,” says Dion Pankratz of Dickson.
Tennessee’s largest insurance company has notified some 66,000 policyholders that their health plans don’t meet minimum standards under the Affordable Care Act. They’re being redirected to plans on the federal health insurance marketplace. These are not cancellation notices, says Blue Cross spokesman Gary Tanner. He prefers the term “transition” notices. Blue Cross runs almost all the plans offered in the online marketplace in Tennessee. Tanner says some of those with individual policies may find a better deal with the exchange anyway.
Knox County teachers, all dressed in red, packed the City County Building’s Main Assembly Room for the school board’s monthly voting meeting on Wednesday to express their concerns over teacher evaluations, implementation of new Common Core standards and student testing. The response came after a YouTube video of Knox County teacher Lauren Hopson speaking to the school board last month about similar concerns went viral, with nearly 90,000 views. Ethan Young, a Knox County student, said he was there to support his teachers, who he said he loves like his family.
Can an agreement between the Shelby County Schools board and the city of Germantown legally commit the yet-unformed Germantown school board to educate children in unincorporated areas of the county? The question arose repeatedly after the idea was proposed by Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy in a meeting of the SCS facilities committee Wednesday. The board had invited her to present an alternative to a proposal from the SCS administration that calls for continuing to operate three schools in Germantown after the formation of the new Germantown municipal school district.
On Wednesday of this week, representatives of the Germantown community were scheduled to make a presentation to the property disposition committee of the unified Shelby County Schools board. Their presentation would attempt to resecure for the soon-to-be Germantown municipal school district the rights to three schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary School — claimed for the unified district under the plan announced by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and approved last week by the SCS board.
The general government committee of the Shelby County Commission rejected a resolution from Commissioner Chris Thomas on Wednesday to drop the schools lawsuit. The resolution would have directed the body’s counsel — Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz — to withdraw the lawsuit and end all legal actions to stop the suburban municipalities from creating their own school systems. Thomas argued that the lawsuit is no longer needed because negotiations between the suburbs and the Shelby County School Board over buildings and other concerns are progressing.
They’re coming to steal your vote. What just a couple of years ago sounded like a harebrained scheme — to take the election of U.S. senators back to the 19th century — still does, but it has become part of a bigger plan hatched by a group of power-hungry people. It starts with a bill in the Tennessee General Assembly, SB 0471/HB 0415, which passed a key Senate committee in April before the legislature adjourned. The bill already has been placed on the calendar in March 2014. Under the bill, party nominees for the U.S. Senate would not be chosen for the November general election by a statewide primary open to all registered voters.
A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop dragging its heels on establishing new rules for the disposal of coal ash. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District of Columbia ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week to submit within 60 days its timetable for completing its review of the proposed regulations. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by 13 environmental and health advocacy groups. The rules would cover approximately 300 coal ash landfills and 584 surface impoundments at roughly 495 power plants across the country. East Tennesseans — particularly those living in Roane County — understand the need for better regulations for coal ash.
When ObamaCare is under attack, its defenders retreat to several well-worn claims. Among them is a provision that compels insurance companies to allow parents to keep their “children” ages of 21 to 26 on their family policies. Yet this part of the Affordable Care Act was not engineered in response to any noticeable interest group. Instead, political considerations are responsible for the provision—which is an unnecessary and a deceptive ripoff of the “young healthies.” The first consideration is that young adults facing chronic unemployment—thanks to government policies that have retarded economic growth—commonly return to their parents’ home.
The problems with the federal health insurance website have highlighted the need for broad reform in how the government uses technology to deliver public services. Some critics have used the troubles of the insurance site, HealthCare.gov, to claim that the government never gets technology right. But that accusation should ring false to anybody familiar with the important role federal agencies have played in advancing innovation. For instance, defense researchers helped create the Internet. And a recent study found that Internet users were more satisfied with the websites of the Social Security Administration than those of private businesses like Amazon.