This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam deserves commendation for his Tuesday announcement of a $625,007 grant to fund equipment at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro. Haslam said the grant is part of the Drive to 55 initiative, which seeks to up the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees to 55 percent by 2025. Haslam said the funds will encourage that drive by allowing more technological programs at TCAT-Murfreesboro to thrive. The grant for TCAT-Murfreesboro will help fund equipment for instruction in mechanical systems, electronics, industrial motor controls, hydraulics, pneumatics and wiring.
Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to attend events in Middle and East Tennessee this week. The governor will speak at a Nashville Rotary Club luncheon on Monday and a Tennessee Farm Bureau meeting in Franklin on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Haslam will attend a dedication in Sparta before making grant announcements in Spencer and Pikeville, and then visiting a factory in Dayton. He will wrap up the week with a grant announcement in Knoxville on Friday, then head to Oak Ridge for an East Tennessee Economic Council meeting.
Only a handful of students are involved, and the program is still in its pilot phase, but the University of Memphis Academic Coaching for Excellence (ACE) program is showing a lot of promise, officials say. It is one of many strategies U of M is using to boost its college completion rate. One piece of anecdotal evidence turned up last week in a text from one of the program’s freshmen to her coach announcing that she had decided to major in counseling. This was a student who had taken difficulties with a relationship and with school to her coach early in the semester.
The Tennessee Judiciary Museum is kicking off its first anniversary celebration with a dedicated website and several new exhibits. The museum is located inside the Supreme Court building in Nashville. It was opened last year as the building celebrated its 75th year. The current exhibit called “Tales of the Tennessee Judiciary” features eight historic Tennessee cases ranging from an 1846 decision on the rights of slaves to the reapportionment of voting districts in 1955. The museum is a project of the Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. Admission is free.
Since the tiny town of Huntland in Franklin County, Tenn., last June became the state’s first municipality to pass an ordinance requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines, the idea has spread like wildfire. In towns where the ordinance is passed, “smurfs” — people who buy pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines from pharmacies for the clandestine production of meth — can’t buy the illicit drug precursor legally without a prescription, helping to sever that link from the supply chain. Most of the city ordinances call for a $50 civil penalty assessed against anyone who sells the medicine to someone who doesn’t have a valid prescription.
It began last summer with Democrat Sara Kyle saying she was seriously considering challenging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in his bid for a second term in 2014. Supporters in August quickly created a draft Sara Kyle political action committee. On Sept. 7 an enthusiastic crowd chanted “Run Sara Run” during the Tennessee Democratic Party’s annual fundraiser. But since mid-September, there’s been nary a public peep from Kyle, the one-time chairwoman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and member of a once-politically powerful family that includes a former governor, the late Frank Clement. Democrats say they haven’t heard much either from Kyle over the past two months. Her husband, state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, refers questions to his wife.
When insurance agent Kelly Fristoe recently spent 30 minutes helping a client pick a mid-level health plan and the federal marketplace website froze, he called the government’s hotline and tried to finish the application. But the operator refused to credit Fristoe as an agent on the application, meaning he wouldn’t get the commission or be listed as the follow-up contact if his client needed help again later. The Wichita Falls, Texas, insurance agent is one of many brokers around the country finding frustration as they try to help customers navigate the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces while earning the commissions they’ve long built their businesses around.
As enrollment picks up on the HealthCare.gov website, many people with modest incomes are encountering a troubling element of the federal health law: deductibles so steep they may not be able to afford the portion of medical expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. The average individual deductible for what is called a bronze plan on the exchange—the lowest-priced coverage—is $5,081 a year, according to a new report on insurance offerings in 34 of the 36 states that rely on the federally run online marketplace. That is 42% higher than the average deductible of $3,589 for an individually purchased plan in 2013 before much of the federal law took effect, according to HealthPocket Inc., a company that compares health-insurance plans for consumers.
For months, the Obama administration has heralded the low premiums of medical insurance policies on sale in the insurance exchanges created by the new health law. But as consumers dig into the details, they are finding that the deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs are often much higher than what is typical in employer-sponsored health plans. Until now, it was almost impossible for people using the federal health care website to see the deductible amounts, which consumers pay before coverage kicks in. But federal officials finally relented last week and added a “window shopping” feature that displays data on deductibles.
The Uranium Processing Facility, one of the biggest projects on the federal agenda and perhaps the biggest construction project in Tennessee history, will be the main subject of an all-day public hearing Tuesday at the Knoxville Convention Center. The focus, however, won’t be on economic development or building a base of suppliers and subcontractors for the new multibillion-dollar production center at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. Tuesday’s hearing of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board will be all about safety.
Most of us watching the looming budget showdown do so with a sense of dread. The last one left congressional approval at 9%, the president’s popularity at a new low, and consumer confidence at levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis. The trouble, of course, is finding common ground on a 10-year budget framework or even on a six-week punt. Hopefully, they will find common ground. If we are committed to evidence, though, there’s one area where we ought to be able to agree: early-childhood education. Investments in pre-kindergarten education have among the highest payoffs of any government policy, and whatever budget agreement emerges should restore the country’s long-standing commitment to early education.