This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee is one of 14 states with the nation’s most sophisticated education data systems, allowing it to link students’ success in college back to the K-12 systems where they started their education. Data like that helps school districts see how well they are preparing students for college. But Tennessee is slightly behind the curve in giving parents the long view of their children’s success in school, including whether they are on track to succeed in college or work when they graduate. Several states, including Arkansas and Delaware, can give parents this kind of alert by the time their children are in third grade, according to the Data Quality Campaign report, released Tuesday.
Governor Unsure As To Why Now Governor Bill Haslam says it’s hard to pin down exactly what’s behind an apparent uptick of drug abuse costing the state money. Several Tennessee commissioners have blamed drugs for rising costs in budget hearings in the last week. The state Bureau of Investigation, the Health Department, and Children’s Services have all pointed to growing problems with drugs. Haslam says there’s no doubt it’s an issue, but the reason behind it is less clear. “We are seeing an increased number, and our numbers feel a lot worse than the national averages.
While the number of people in Tennessee buying health insurance through new exchanges has been slow, state officials say the number of people being directed to the state’s expanded Medicaid program is more than they expected. The online insurance marketplaces and the Medicaid expansions are part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. So far, about 1,000 people have purchased health insurance. Officials had projected that the exchanges would identify nearly 47,000 people who are eligible but not enrolled in TennCare.
Even if TennCare slashes its budget, the state could end up spending millions more on health care next year as the Affordable Care Act entices more people to sign up for Medicaid. Gov. Bill Haslam received a proposed budget for the state’s Medicaid program on Monday that would pay less to providers, charge higher co-pays and reduce grants to safety-net hospitals. Those are some of the cuts that would add up to $118.3 million in savings — but the state may wind up spending an additional $172.5 million because of medical inflation and more people coming onto the TennCare rolls.
A top TennCare official said today he doesn’t see see the state continuing with its Cover Tennessee program for an estimated 15,400 residents beyond Jan. 1 despite President Barack Obama’s offer last week to let people keep current health plans for a year if they wish. TennCare Director Darin Gordon told Gov. Bill Haslam during a budget presentation today that under additional federal guidance Tennessee has been told the state program “doesn’t constitute what health care has to be starting Jan. 1.” “They’re not going to continue to grant waivers for programs that had limited coverage whether it be an annual dollar limit or an individual limits for particular services,” Gordon said.
The National Weather Service confirms that two tornadoes touched down in Middle Tennessee, causing some damage to buildings and homes. After surveying damage Monday, the weather service said an EF-1 tornado with 90 mph winds touched down briefly around 5:30 p.m. CST on the southeast side of Orlinda in Robertson County, causing roof damage to homes and blowing out windows. An EF-1 is the second weakest classification. Also Monday, a damage assessment team confirmed an EF-0 tornado, the weakest classification, with winds of up to about 70 mph touched down at about 6:40 p.m. Sunday in Portland in Sumner County.
The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-0 tornado touched down in Sumner County on Sunday night. NWS crews surveyed the damage on Monday morning, and found that the tornado– with maximum winds around 70 miles per hour– ripped the roof off of a fire station in Portland. A nearby church also suffered minor damage. The fire chief said it wasn’t raining, and the wind was not blowing when they heard a loud noise and the roof was lifted away. “Most of the roof is actually on the street behind us wrapped around the duplex and automobiles directly behind the fire home,” Al West with the Portland Fire Department said.
Tennessee may soon nudge colleges which train future teachers toward tougher average entry requirements. A recent report from the state’s Higher Education Commission (PDF here) dinged some of the state’s biggest programs for churning out too many teachers who end up being sub-par. Forthcoming requirements—part of a transition under the national Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation—are far from set in stone. But the gist is this: schools would have to admit students with a 3.0 GPA, on average, and also ever higher scores on tests like the ACT.
Florida washed its hands of Obamacare long ago, opting to let the federal government run a health care exchange for the state. But state Insurance Commissioner Kevin M. McCarty is now scrambling to work with Florida’s largest insurer to rescind cancellation notices and let residents keep their health care, even though it violates Obamacare’s strict standards. President Obama’s announcement last week that he would let states decide whether to let companies continue to offer plans that flout his own health care law has put state officials back on the hot seat… Officials in Tennessee and other states are trying to understand the long-range impact of Mr. Obama’s proposal and haven’t decided one way or the other.
Tennessee’s state insurance regulators are still trying to make sense of President Obama’s decree last week that health insurance companies may continuing selling health policies that do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, which is the law of the land. Like her counterparts across the country, Tennessee’s Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak has been sorting through the information coming out of Washington, D.C., trying to determine if Tennessee’s medical-coverage sellers are in a feasible position to continue offering policies they’d just days ago been planning to scrap.
First Lady Crissy Haslam visited The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee located in Hohenwald November 6, 2013 to host a Read20 Family Book Club event at The Sanctuary’s Welcome Center. The purpose of the book club is to encourage daily reading and parental engagement for families across the state of Tennessee. Each month a new book is featured, and a reading event is scheduled to highlight the book selection. “We were delighted when the First Lady’s office expressed an interest in partnering with The Sanctuary for their November event,” Todd Montgomery, the Sanctuary’s Education Manager, stated.
The tally sheet pinned next to Kendell Poole’s desk is full of marks he never wants to see. It’s a month-by-month account of the people who have died on Tennessee roads, a figure the director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office will always say is too high. On Monday, it was 888. “It’s not just the numbers, though,” he said. “When you deal with the people that we do, it’s families. Those numbers mean something.” With fatality information updated every 24 hours, the highway safety office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are trying to reduce fatalities by placing more resources in specific counties dealing with the biggest uptick in fatalities.
Payday lenders who haven’t been giving the state any trouble will now go longer between visits from examiners. State regulators are trying to ease a backlog of annual reviews as alternative lending grows. Tennessee now has 5,000 non-bank financial institutions, ranging from check cashers to title loan companies. The state department overseeing traditional banks is also charged with dropping in on every location once a year. Commissioner Greg Gonzales says backing off on those without previous violations should give more time to focus on bad actors.
Austin Peay State University’s newest campus addition was celebrated in a large way Monday afternoon, when President Tim Hall performed six unveilings at a ribbon cutting ceremony. APSU alumnus and local businessman James Maynard and his family participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony on the state-of-the-art two-story facility. The construction project was handled by architect Rudy Johnson, of Rufus Johnson Associates. The building was named in honor of Maynard because of his support of APSU and endowed scholarship that is awarded annually to a student pursuing a degree in business at the university.
The state rejected October bids to construct a bridge over Broad Street and will take new bids in Dec. 6, a spokeswoman said today. “It won’t affect the overall time line of the project,” Deanna Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, said during a phone interview. “It will get started early in 2014.” The estimated $30 million project that includes design work and right of way acquisition is supposed to relieve congestion at the Broad Street intersection with Memorial Boulevard/Old Fort Parkway.
Restaurants at eight Tennessee state parks will be open Nov. 28 to serve Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and trimmings will be available starting at 11 a.m. Prices range from $13.50 to $15.95 per person, excluding drinks and gratuity. Group reservations are recommended. The state parks serving the Thanksgiving dinners are Cumberland Mountain, David Crockett, Fall Creek Falls, Henry Horton, Montgomery Bell, Natchez Trace, Paris Landing and Pickwick Landing. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said leaving the cooking to the state parks will give families and friends more time to spend with each other.
The panel that reviews Tennessee judges may recommend against keeping three of them ahead of a statewide referendum next year on how judges are selected. The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission is leaning against recommending to voters that they re-elect a trio of appeals court judges, a rarity since independent reviews began in Tennessee nearly two decades ago. The recommendations are based on the judges’ job performance, including results from a survey of lawyers and statistics on how quickly they issue rulings.
Google Inc. will pay Tennessee $352,725 as part of a settlement over Internet privacy practices. Thirty-seven states and Washington, D.C., are participating in the $17 million settlement concerning the search engine giant’s setting of cookies on certain Safari Web browsers during 2011 and 2012 According to a news release from the office of Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper, the multistate suit claimed Google altered from June 1, 2011 to Feb. 15, 2012 its DoubleClick coding to circumvent the default privacy settings on Safari, without consumers’ knowledge or consent.
Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said today he was pleased but not surprised by the Tennessee Supreme Court decision upholding the state’s voter ID law, according to a press release. Ketron, who sponsored the legislation which implemented the law, said the state’s Constitution and federal decisions on the matter clearly showed lawmakers had the right to protect the integrity of elections in the state, states a press release from caucus spokeswoman Darlene Schlicher.
It’s not easy being a Democrat on Capitol Hill these days, as the party’s congressional ranks join President Barack Obama in suffering an abrupt drop in approval ratings because of the problem-plagued rollout of the Affordable Care Act. But the only two Democrats in the Tennessee congressional delegation, Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis, stand by the beleaguered health care law and say House Republicans are making too much over flaws in the healthcare.gov website, where consumers are supposed to be able to sort through competing plans with ease.
President Barack Obama will unveil a $100 million competition Tuesday aimed at finding new ways to better prepare high-school students for the global high-tech economy, a senior administration official said. The program, Youth CareerConnect, would award 25 to 40 grants next year for high schools to team up with higher-education institutions and employers, creating innovative programs that give students industry-relevant education and job skills. Grants would range from $2 million to $7 million and applicants would be required to pony up matching funds of at least 25%.
The Obama administration is weighing how to make it easier for big insurers to sign up millions of Americans for health coverage, seeking ways to bypass some of the problems with government-run exchanges. “We have to make sure that there are other means available for the American people, even as we make improvements to the website,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. Mr. Carney was responding to questions about people who wish to sign up for coverage through an insurance company rather than starting at the federal HealthCare.gov site or a state-run website.
Senior Obama administration officials, including several in the White House, were warned by an outside management consultant early this year that the effort to build the HealthCare.gov site was falling behind and at risk of failure unless immediate steps were taken to correct the problems, according to documents released by House investigators. The report, by McKinsey & Company, which was prepared in late March at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that management indecision and a “lack of transparency and alignment on critical issues” were threatening progress, despite the tight deadline.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says in a filing that it paid Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson $5.9 million during his nine months on the job in fiscal year 2013. That’s almost $2 million more than the federal utility paid former CEO Tom Kilgore, who retired at the end of 2012, during his last year with the agency. He made just less than $4.03 million. The Chattanooga Times Free Press cited the TVA’s year-end financial report, which was filed Monday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The utility said that even with the increase Johnson’s pay is still below the industry average.
The new head of the Tennessee Valley Authority was paid nearly 50 percent more than his predecessor even though he was on the job only nine months of the year and has vowed to cut the agency’s overall payroll. TVA said in a regulatory filing Monday it paid its chief executive, Bill Johnson, more than $5.9 million from when he began his job in January through the end of the fiscal year in September. Johnson’s predecessor, Tom Kilgore, was paid just under $4.03 million in his last full year on the job at TVA before retiring at the end of 2012.
Lower demand for electricity saw TVA revenue decrease by 2 percent in fiscal 2013, although the federal utility ended the year in a good cash position for fiscal 2014, its chief financial officer said Monday. TVA ended fiscal 2013 with a net income of $271 million on $11 billion in operating revenues. This compares to a net income of $60 million on $11.2 billion for fiscal year 2012. TVA released its end-of-year financial resultsMonday. In conference calls with investors and the press, TVA CFO John Thomas said the extra cash will be used in 2014 for capital improvement and to reduce debt.
For Tennessee businesses that have jumped into the world of online sales, revenue has been on the upswing. According to a survey conducted by Connected Tennessee, a nonprofit broadband access advocacy organization, 76 percent of Tennessee businesses use broadband, opening them up to new customers and revenue streams. “Tennessee businesses earn over $30 billion in online sales annually, making it an important driver for our state’s economy,” said Connected Tennessee executive director Corey Johns in a release.
Agreements on school buildings and school attendance zones for the Arlington and Lakeland school systems go to the Shelby County Schools board for consideration at a Tuesday, Nov. 18, special meeting of the school board. School board chairman Kevin Woods confirmed the tentative deal just hours after Shelby County Commissioners discussed it in a closed session with their attorney in the pending federal court suit over the formation of the suburban school districts. The commission ended its regular meeting Monday by setting a special meeting for Thursday at 1 p.m.
At least two deals are pending between suburban municipalities and Shelby County Schools, prompting the County Commission to defer on Monday a vote to withdraw the divisive schools lawsuit until December. The commission will hold a special called meeting at 1 p.m. on Thursday to vote on the agreements reached between the cities of Arlington, Lakeland and representatives of the Shelby County School board. SCS board chairman Kevin Woods confirmed that he is calling a special meeting on Tuesday night to address the agreements.
The dominoes have started falling: That was the message that emerged from Monday’s meeting of the Shelby County Commission. At the heel of the meeting (procedural jargon for holding this or that piece of business untl the very end), the Commission adjourned for an executive session with attorney Lori Patterson When it ended, enough was revealed by Chairman James Harvey and other members to indicate that two of the six suburban municipalities that have been on the other end of litigation brought by the Commission — Arlington and Lakeland — were ready to reach agreement with the Commission on terms that will be brought before the unified Shelby County Schools board at its scheduled Tuesday night work session.
Tempers frayed somewhat in a heated debate on Thursday’s Pre-K Sales Tax Referendum, held Monday night at the Hooks Main Library on Poplar Avenue and sponsored by the Memphis League of Women Voters. But there were light moments, too, in the encounter between Barbara Prescott, a proponent of the half-cent sales tax increase, and the Rev. Kenneth Whalum, an avowed opponent. Above is one such, occurring as Prescott attempted to characterize one of Whalum’s opinions, based on her reading of his tweets.
For the second meeting in a row, Knox County teachers addressed the school board to express their concerns and frustrations with the implementation of Common Core, teacher evaluations and teacher morale. Among them was Lauren Hopson, whose comments to the board last month went viral on YouTube and spurred several hundred teachers to speak up about their concerns. This time when she spoke, Hopson shared with the board solutions that included making sure evaluators are certified and experienced in the content area they are evaluating; researching other evaluation models; creating a team of evaluators who are not affiliated with the school system, such as retired principals and teachers; and only doing what is required by the state — one announced and one unannounced evaluation.
Alaska loves to receive funds from Washington, D.C. On a per capita basis, literally no other state benefits as much as Alaska when it comes to collecting federal funds – the state takes in nearly twice the national average. But on Friday afternoon, Gov. Sean Parnell (R) apparently made the rare discovery of federal funds Alaska doesn’t want: Medicaid expansion. Expansion would have benefited 40,000 or more Alaskans, many of them low-income adults without children who currently have no health insurance.
The Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to retire eight coal-burning units at three of its power plants, propelling the federal utility toward its goal of reducing its dependence on coal. Meeting in Oxford, Miss., the board unanimously approved a proposal to retire all five coal-fired units at the Colbert plant in Tuscumbia, Ala.; one of two units at Widows Creek in Stevenson, Ala.; and two of the three units at the Paradise plant near Central City, Ky. TVA will also build a natural gas-fired plant at the Paradise facility. Retiring the units will put a burden on the plants’ communities because of job losses, but the board made the right decision for the utility, its ratepayers and the environment.