This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
They sit at the pinnacle of Tennessee’s justice system, enjoying power, privileges, prestige — and even a job nearly for life, once in office. With all the enviable perks that justices on the state Supreme Court earn, it’s no wonder Gov. Bill Haslam is at a loss to explain why only five people applied for the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Janice Holder. “I was surprised there were only five for a Supreme Court position,” Haslam told reporters recently. “We don’t control how many people apply.” That small pool has been whittled down to three: The Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, which reviews applications and conducts interviews for judicial vacancies, eliminated two potential candidates during its vetting process.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has announced four new locations ready for company investment. One of those sites is located in East Tennessee. The Clinton I-75 Industrial Park was tapped for a push to bring-in investment Friday, it was named as a new site for the Select Tennessee Certified States Program. The park has 1,500 employees and is home to three international automotive supply distributors. Officials say the site hadn’t been adequately prepared in the past few years to attract more companies to the business park….There are currently 26 Greenfield sites available in 19 different counties across the state.
Sixty-three percent of Tennesseans support expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, according to a new Vanderbilt poll. But Gov. Bill Haslam is delaying a final decision in hopes that the Department of Health and Human Services will green-light an alternate proposal he announced in March. “We do not see a path forward in the current environment to extend coverage” unless implementation issues with the Affordable Care Act are resolved and his plan gets approval, Haslam wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week. He described his decision last month as “trying to thread a needle from 80 yards.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation raided the home of a former state employee on Friday night they say stole the personal information of approximately 6,000 state and Metro government employees. In a statement, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said state officials searched the Hermitage home of 24-year-old Steven Hunter to seize computers that held the personal information of government employees. That information included Social Security numbers, full names, dates of birth and home addresses. Hunter was accused of sending that data from his state email account to his personal email account before he resigned from the Tennessee Department of Treasury on Thursday.
State troopers, local police officers and Tennessee Department of Transportation HELP trucks will be available to assist with traffic management Sunday as construction work forces the closure of a crucial ramp at the congested Interstate 40-240 interchange in East Memphis, officials said Friday. The closure of the Exit 12C ramp from the I-40 north loop onto eastbound I-40 toward Nashville had been scheduled for Saturday, but the threat of rain prompted officials to move it back a day. Similarly, lane closures that had been slated for Sunday on the other 12C ramp — the one from I-240 to eastbound I-40 — have been rescheduled for Monday night. Transportation officials expect the Sunday closure to cause the most serious delays and complications.
The total number of traffic fatalities in Tennessee is down by 30 in 2013 over 2012, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. “We’re down 33 percent over the last eight years,” said Kendall Poole, director of the GHSO at a press conference in Murfreesboro Friday. As of Friday, 2013 has seen 934 fatalities on Tennessee roadways. Poole said he wants that number to stay down and to accomplish that the GHSO and more than 25 different law enforcement agencies gathered Friday in Murfreesboro to remind the public about the “Booze It and Lose It” enforcement campaign.
Two men and one woman who sold prescription drugs paid for by TennCare were charged with TennCare fraud, which has a sentence of up to two years in prison. Two Dyersburg residents, 20-year-old Lateia Cruse and 42-year-old Raymond Thomas, and a Trimble resident, 55-year-old Thomas Moore, were arrested on indictments alleging they used TennCare healthcare insurance benefits to get prescription drugs, then resold some of the drugs. According to the indictments, Cruse used TennCare to get Dextroamphetamine, Thomas got Hydrocodone, and Moore got Oxycodone.
Split over a proposal to require public votes on municipal annexations, a state panel this week recommended that Tennessee lawmakers extend a state moratorium on adversarial annexations for a year for more study. The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations OK’d the recommendation last week as its members — comprising legislators and city and county mayors — bogged down on a variety of thorny issues. Lawmakers last session passed the moratorium on cities’ forced annexations of residential and farm property and asked TACIR to study annexation and related matters under the state’s landmark Urban Growth Planning Act.
Two of the leading sources of political contributions to Sen. Lamar Alexander in his current term reflect what campaign finance experts call “inside Washington” money, Federal Election Commission records show. Lobbyists and leadership political action committees are two of the top “industries” giving to the Tennessee Republican since his election in 2008, according to a breakdown of FEC data by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks political dollars. The top five are pharmaceutical and health products ($263,650), lobbyists ($183,485), insurance ($170,250), health professionals ($166,450) and leadership PACs ($165,000).
The majority of Tennessee’s congressional delegation voted in favor of a two-year budget agreement. The plan easily passed the House Thursday night; the Senate will vote on it next week. Nashville’s Jim Cooper voted yes, though he wasn’t completely happy about it. “It’s a very puny deal, but at least it’s a deal,” Cooper said. “It will keep government open, which is important. But it ducks the most important fiscal issues that we face.” Only two members of Tennessee’s delegation voted against the budget deal. Knoxville Republican Jimmy Duncan says the bill increases spending by $63 billion. 4th District GOP Congressman Scott DesJarlais opposed fee increases in the bill, which he said amounted to tax increases.
Angela Woods got up hours before daylight on Oct. 1 to go onto the “Obamacare website.” More than 150 attempts later, she still has not gotten signed up for health insurance. She has tried using alternate Internet browser programs, going online at various hours, sitting down at somebody else’s computer, starting the application process over again, engaging in a live Web chat with a government employee and making telephone calls to the official help line for the Health Insurance Marketplace. The people on the other end of the phone couldn’t get the website to work either. Now, it’s down to the wire. For coverage to begin at the first of the year, she has to select a plan by Dec. 23, then get her first premium payment made by Jan. 1.
Joy Houng is shopping for health insurance for next year. Her biggest priority right now is to find a plan that covers her monthly visits to specialists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. So far, she has found one plan that includes Cedars-Sinai—but it doesn’t cover other services that she needs. “I want to be treated by the same doctors I’ve been seeing for years,” said Ms. Houng, a 27-year-old project manager in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who is being treated for chronic pain. Her current policy with Blue Shield of California will expire in March because it doesn’t meet all of the 2010 health-care law’s requirements for benefits offered.
A growing number of community colleges are steering students away from the freshman sampler: the smattering of unrelated courses taken by those figuring out what they want to study. Instead, the schools are hoping to boost dismal completion rates by limiting students’ choices to certain scripted paths to a degree—and even rewarding them along the way with certificates that have value on their own. “Students are just radically confused by all the options,” said Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University.
The announcement that the Achievement School District will expand its reach into Memphis schools for the 2014-2015 school year expands the portfolio aspect of public education in Memphis. That aspect has to be a significant factor in the administrative and classroom-related decision making for the newly merged city-county school district’s administrators and its school board. Yet it also opens doors for job opportunities to teachers and better education choices to parents for their children. The ASD is the state’s tool to permanently improve 83 schools that persistently rank in the bottom 5 percent for student achievement. Sixty-eight of those schools are in Memphis. The ASD opened in the 2012-2013 school year with five schools here and one in Nashville.