This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Environmental Entrepreneurs, a business group with a focus on the green industry, put Tennessee as No. 9 on a list of states that had jobs announced or created between July and September. The report looked at the number of jobs being created for projects across the country. In August, the Tennessee Valley Authority and a North Carolina solar energy firm announced plans to build two 20-megawatt solar energy sites near Selmer. Strata Solar, which is based in Chapel Hill, N.C., plans to start construction on the project sometime between April and June next year, said Blair Schooff, a spokesman for the firm.
The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce will host Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday, Dec. 3, the Embassy Suites Murfreesboro Hotel and Conference Center. The luncheon is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Embassy Suites, located on Medical Center Parkway in Murfreesboro. Open to both Chamber of Commerce members and the general public, the event is designed to give attendees the opportunity to hear about his legislative plans and proposals for next year. The visit comes only days after Haslam held hearings with numerous state agencies and organizations in order to determine how best to prioritize the state budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
President Barack Obama’s one-year reprieve for health insurance plans that don’t meet the mandates of the Affordable Care Act won’t include CoverTN. It will end Dec. 31. The state-sponsored plan allowed employers, their workers and Tennessee to share costs, but it had a maximum annual benefit of just $25,000. The law forbids policies from having yearly or lifetime caps on medical expenses. Tennessee had notified the plan’s 16,000 enrollees in September that CoverTN would end. However, the state later sought a waiver after a mid-November announcement from the president.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said there were no second acts in American lives. But One Commerce Square, the towering Downtown office building at Union Avenue and Main Street, is preparing for its third act. The state of Tennessee has finalized a lease to occupy 104,673 square feet of space on the second through 10th floors at the 29-story skyscraper. The state signed the multiyear lease after deciding to vacate the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building at Civic Center Plaza. Once the state moves in around June 1, occupancy at One Commerce Square will increase by almost 30 percent.
U.S. News and World Report named the University of Tennessee among the top 15 schools in the nation for military veterans. UT comes in at No. 15 on the list intended to help veterans select a school to pursue their degrees under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The national college list maker used annual data already provided by schools to specifically look at colleges that meet three qualifications: certification for the G.I. Bill, participation in the Yellow Ribbon Project, and membership in the Service Opportunity Colleges Consortium.
As holiday shopping season begins, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s Identity Crimes Unit warns consumers to beware of identity theft. Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America, according to a news release from the department. Last year, for the 12th consecutive year, identity theft led the list of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. Eighteen percent of the more than 2 million complaints filed with the FTC were identity-theft related. “We want to take this opportunity to remind holiday shoppers to take precautions to protect their identity during the holiday season,” said Capt. Stacy Williams, who oversees the Identity Crimes Unit.
It started with a scheduled buy. Authorities say the 27-year-old man with tattoos covering a quarter of his face had more than 200 grams of methamphetamine stuffed in his striped, button-down shirt. He had more than $1,500 in cash. He went to a hotel near Interstate 75 and Shallowford Road to make the deal. It never happened. Federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency; Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and local investigators with Chattanooga police picked him up. Armando “Scarface” Campos, of Dalton, Ga., initially was charged with possession of methamphetamine in state court.
As Thanksgiving week began, events seemed to be moving quickly toward a final resolution of the Shelby County school situation. Three years after the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter and the resultant temporary consolidation of city and county schools, Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s template for allowing independent districts in six suburban municipalities has been approved by his board and seems to have found general favor.
The Affordable Care Act could get nicked by the Supreme Court next year when the justices take up the mandate that most businesses provide free coverage for contraception. But that’s not the only legal hurdle it faces. In courtrooms across the country, Republican state attorneys general and conservative groups are challenging the way the law was passed, the way it was worded and the bureaucracy it created. For President Barack Obama and the millions of Americans who stand to benefit from the law’s insurance expansion, the good news is that the lawsuits are long shots. Most are pending at federal district courts, which gives the government more time to implement the law and could make judges less likely to rule against it.
Despite recent progress at HealthCare.gov, a raft of problems will remain beyond the Obama administration’s Saturday deadline to make the troubled federal insurance website work. The news isn’t all bad: Users say the site looks better, pages load faster, and more people are getting through to sign up for health plans. But technical problems still affect HealthCare.gov’s ability to verify users’ identities and transmit accurate enrollment data to insurers, officials say. The data center that supports the site faces continuing challenges, and tools for processing payments to insurers haven’t been built.
A wave of successful state and local initiatives to raise the minimum wage is creating the potential for a greater patchwork of pay standards around the country than ever before, fueling the debate over whether Congress should raise the federal level. New York, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey recently took steps to raise their minimum wages. Voters or legislatures in Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota and Maryland could hold similar votes in 2014. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Bernalillo County, the most populous county in New Mexico, voted to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 in April.
New details emerged Friday about a proposal to overhaul Illinois’s public-employee retirement system, hardening opposition from public-sector unions and drawing criticism from some conservatives for not going far enough. Democratic and Republican leaders agreed earlier in the week on a plan to repair the Illinois pension system—widely regarded as the most troubled among U.S. states, falling nearly $100 billion short of what is needed to meet promised benefits. Newly released details show the state would save about $160 billion in part by replacing a 3% cost-of-living increase for public-sector retirees with a more complex system tied to years of service and the consumer-price index.
During the 16-day government shutdown in October, our national parks were forced to close and people in Tennessee and throughout the country were dramatically affected. Don’t think it’s over. We have long-term problems and short-term solutions as a slow-motion cutting of services and access to our national parks continues to roll out. The good news is that Americans are united on the national parks. In 21 years as a National Parks Conservation Association director, I have never witnessed such an outpouring of concern and reaffirmation of Americans’ love for parks as occurred last month. Also, Democratic and Republican pollsters working together found before the shutdown that 92 percent of voters want national park funding maintained or increased.
Tennessee’s U.S. senators went nearly nuclear over nuclear issues over the past couple of weeks. Washington Democrats provided the fissile material. Sen. Lamar Alexander, in the Washington Post, chastised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “nuclear option” that rewrote Senate rules in place since 1789. Reid and 51 Democrats voted last week to restrict the filibuster, almost to the point of irrelevance. “(Last) Thursday’s stunning rules change by Senate Democrats can best be described as Obamacare II: another exercise of partisan political power to permit the majority to do whatever it wants,” Alexander wrote.