This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed John D. Stites II of Cookeville to the Tennessee Board of Regents as the representative of the Sixth Congressional District. “I want to thank John for his commitment and willingness to serve.“This is a significant time in higher education as we continue our work on the Drive to 55 to increase the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school,” Haslam said. Stites, 67, is chief executive officer for J&S Construction Co. He has held many leadership positions in local, state and national organizations.
Governors nationwide have begun issuing Proclamations to bring awareness to the condition known as “Sleep Apnea,” which 95% of Americans who have it…don’t even know they have. Rather, partners routinely find themselves telling their loved one to “stop snoring,” when in fact that person could be dying right in front of them… All fifty governors have been approached to issue Sleep Apnea Proclamations, to date, Proclamations have been received by Governor Dr. John Kitzhaber of Oregon, Govenor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, Governor Paul LePage of Maine, Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri, Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, and Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska.
Hundreds of people packed a Brentwood church on Saturday as part of a push to increase the number of foster and adoptive parents in Tennessee. The “Wait No More” program at Fellowship Bible Church was part of a national initiative with a local focus — finding homes for the 250 foster children cleared by the state of Tennessee to be adopted. Thousands more are in the foster system and not cleared for adoption. Event organizer and Focus on the Family program director Katie Overstreet said local foster care and adoptions tend to get less attention than adoptions overseas.
When Tennessee launched TennCare in January 1994, the switchboard at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee was so overwhelmed on the first day of enrollment that operators couldn’t even answer all the calls, let alone respond to the applicants’ questions. As the state’s biggest managed care organization — and the sponsor of the toll-free phone number for TennCare inquiries — BlueCross was inundated with questions about the new privately operated Medicaid plan. “It practically shut down the switchboard for the entire company,” said Amber Cambron, a 26-year BlueCross veteran who is now chief operating officer for BlueCross’s TennCare program.
A Nashville psychiatrist accused of overbilling Tennessee’s Medicaid program has surrendered his license, while a Lebanon pain doctor has had his suspended for improperly prescribing narcotics. The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners took actions against Dr. A K Fakhruddin, the psychiatrist, and Dr. Nii S. Quao, the pain doctor, at its January meeting, according to a disciplinary report released last week. The board reprimanded a total of 21 physicians from statewide for infractions ranging from failing to maintain continuing education credits to gross health care liability.
The Tennessee Human Rights Commission hasn’t dealt with affirmative action for quite some time. But that hasn’t stopped a pair of conservative state lawmakers from looking to rebrand the agency with that label. Legislation filed by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, would change the commission’s name to the Tennessee Affirmative Action Commission. It also would give the leaders of the House and Senate the power to appoint 10 of the commission’s 15 members — taking away the majority of the governor’s appointments — and replace all 15 of the current members on July 1.
Erlanger Health System leaders hope a state bill introduced last week could give the public hospital a new lease on life. If passed, the bill, introduced Thursday by Chattanooga Republicans Sen. Todd Gardenhire and Rep. Mike Carter, could give Erlanger the freedom to change its more than 30-year-old governing structure, potentially depoliticizing a system that for decades has weathered its fair share of political controversy. Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel said the bill also allows Erlanger to “level the playing field” in how it operates and competes with other local hospitals.
Legislation proposed by Tennessee lawmakers out of disdain for the University of Tennessee’s Sex Week would affect local public institutions, even if they do not have similar events. The pair of bills proposed in the Tennessee General Assembly would change or even eliminate how fees are allotted for guest speakers at public institutions in the state. “I’m sorry if UTC’s students feel the impact on it,” said Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, an anti-Sex Week legislator. “But they need to focus on where the cause of this is.” That cause is the Sex Week event scheduled for March 2-7 at UT that is receiving no taxpayer dollars, but is upsetting Republicans for the second year in a row simply for the fact that it is occurring.
Members of a state House committee that followed up last year on a TBI investigation of 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb expected legislative charges against Bebb and possible removal when the General Assembly convened in January. It hasn’t happened that way. The House committee voted in August to ask that charges be brought. Nearly halfway through the legislative session, the House committee’s counterpart, the Senate Judiciary Committee, has yet to vote whether charges are warranted.
Operating costs of a new middle school and a new 400-bed jail could mean Coffee County, Tenn., residents get hit with a property tax increase, a new wheel tax or both. The new facilities will produce a $2.5 million shortfall in the 2014-15 fiscal year’s budget, according to County Commission Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Rush Bricken. That budget won’t be set until June or July, he said. Bricken said the three solutions commissioners are studying include a property tax increase of 12.5 cents to 25 cents, a $25 to $50 wheel tax, and spending cuts or a combination of those proposals.
With less than 8 percent of Tennessee’s uninsured having signed up for health coverage on the federal exchange as of Feb. 1, a push is underway to improve the numbers before the enrollment period ends. The last count released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was 59,705. Open enrollment will end March 31. “In Tennessee, we like to see as many consumers enrolled as possible,” said Pamela Roshell, the regional director for HHS. “Of course, there are over 800,000 uninsured in Tennessee. So we want to see every person who is uninsured enrolled.” Of Tennesseans who have enrolled, 78 percent have qualified for subsidies toward buying coverage.
Thrust into the national spotlight, Chattanooga may gain — and lose — from the attention garnered by the Volkswagen plant’s United Auto Workers vote, observers say. “I don’t believe [all] publicity is good publicity,” said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. “But our job is to do the best we can with the circumstances we have.” With plant workers voting down UAW efforts to organize the factory, some see that as a green light to wooing more business to the area, particularly suppliers to VW. However, others worry that VW officials, especially in Germany, were turned off by what they saw as outside influence into the company’s initiative to set up a works council labor board similar to what it has in nearly all its plants globally.
After hearing emotional pleas from communities seeking to keep their schools open, the Shelby County Schools Board of Education this week will decide whether to shutter 13 schools — the most ever closed in a single year in Memphis — and uproot thousands of students in the process. The board on Tuesday will vote on Supt. Dorsey Hopson’s final recommendations on schools the district has proposed closing for the 2014-15 academic year. In the district’s initial analyses on the proposed school closures, the reports cited everything from aging and deteriorating buildings and declining enrollment, to students with failing proficiency scores in reading, language arts and math and a lack of resources to offer programs like music, athletics and art.
Controversy surrounding last week’s vote by Volkswagen workers rejecting unionization under the United Auto Workers ended up casting doubt on whether the world’s second largest automaker would expand operations in Tennessee. We believe the focus is on the wrong issue. What the German company wants is to establish a works council at the plant. It operates works councils at every other Volkswagen plant. Works councils represent blue collar and white collar workers in helping negotiate working conditions such as safety and production issues, but not pay. Volkswagen is highly supportive of works councils as good for the company and good for workers.
Annexations often are controversial undertakings, with suburban residents frequently resisting a city’s ambitions to grow. There are four ways a municipality can annex property in Tennessee, but a bill sponsored by two Hamilton County legislators would stop the most controversial method — annexation by ordinance, or “forced annexation.” The bill has a populist appeal — American do not like the idea that a city council can vote to annex people who do not want to live inside the city limits. But annexation is a complex matter, as the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations acknowledged in December when it recommended extending a moratorium on annexations by ordinance so urban growth issues can be studied more in depth.
Memo to the decision-makers at TennCare: Our state’s low-income seniors and disabled are, in fact, people. The physical and mental issues they grapple with every day are not “points” in a competition for assistance. Talk about picking winners and losers. Since July 2012, Tennessee’s Medicaid program for long-term care, TennCare Choices, has required applicants for either a nursing home or intensive at-home care to “score” nine out of 26 possible health problems in order to get the assistance. Take, for example, a couple in their 80s who was profiled in a Tennessean report last week. Both have trouble remembering their medications, neither can walk without assistance and both need help with bathing and bathroom needs.