This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee State Veterans homes in Knoxville and Murfreesboro have been ranked among the best in the country. U.S. News and World Report rated more than 16,000 nursing homes using data research on nursing home safety, health inspection and staffing. The source of the data originates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In 2013, CMS issued five star ratings to the Senator Ben Atchley State Veterans Home in Knoxville and the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro. This is the third year for the distinction for the home in Murfreesboro and the second for the home in Knoxville.
Free smoke alarms installed by firefighters across Tennessee have now saved 50 lives in less than three years, the state fire marshal announced Thursday. Alarms from Memphis to Pigeon Forge have been credited, as well as installations in Middle Tennessee. A rescue in Ashland City was among “saves” recorded since the state began handing out more than 50,000 free alarms. About half were bought with a $399,050 federal grant. Others were bought by the state and donated. It was about 2 a.m. the day before Christmas 2013 when an Ashland City man pulled his elderly grandmother and her dog from a burning mobile home on Caldwell Road.
Business-friendly Gov. Bill Haslam now has two governor-friendly business organizations ready to back him on policy and political matters in the weeks and months ahead. He doubtless welcomes their help and probably needs it in the evolving rancor within Republican ranks. Initially, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry put together “the Tennessee Prosperity Project,” described on the chamber’s website as “a nonpartisan voter education effort with the goal of providing information that promotes free enterprise, jobs and prosperity in Tennessee.”
Unhappy with the proposed changes to the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship, a coalition of the state’s private colleges has offered a new plan to fund Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” program. Four-year schools already had expressed concerns about the governor’s intention to change the HOPE Scholarship, the state’s largest merit-based aid program, in order to fund his plan to make community college free for recent high school graduates. Instead, the private colleges want Haslam to look to another lottery-funded scholarship, the Aspire Award, which is granted to low-income students to supplement their HOPE Scholarships.
On the morning of March 1, 2013, Steve Angle boarded a plane in Dayton, Ohio, flew to Chattanooga and stepped on to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus for just the second time. He found himself rubbing shoulders with local brass and answering questions about the future of a university he was not yet intimately familiar with. Angle was on campus to accept a nomination from UT’s board of trustees to become the next UTC chancellor, and before the sun set he flew back to Dayton. “What a day. For us, for our family,” Angle said at the time. The past 12 months have been nearly as full for UTC’s new leader.
Tennessee is seeing an increased demand for the latest edition of the state’s Blue Book, which is dedicated to former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt and includes a special orange version. The Blue Book, which comes out every two years, is Tennessee’s definitive manual on state government. Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the state is releasing over 50,000 blue versions of the book and 22,000 copies in Tennessee orange. The state printed about 55,000 copies of the previous edition. Hargett said that “frankly, I’ll be surprised if in a couple of weeks you’re still able to find an orange one somewhere.”
Work is continuing on the Gap Creek Highway project, which celebrated a milestone in January with one section, from Tenn. Highway 361 to Tester Road, opened on schedule. The project still has a year to go before it is completed, according to Mark Nagi, community relations officer for Region 1 of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The good news is that with the opening of that section, traffic is now permitted on the highway from the beginning of the project to the end. ”We opened the new connector portion which goes from the SR361 intersection to Tester Road,” Nagi said.
A measure to allow wine to be sold outside of Tennessee liquor stores may soon be heading to the governor for his consideration. The Senate, which passed its version of the bill 23-8 in January, is scheduled Monday evening to take up the House version that overwhelmingly passed 71-15 last month. Lawmakers will try to work out slight differences in the bills, such as licensing fees. Both measures would grant authority to cities and counties that currently have package stores or liquor-by-the-drink sales to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores.
The Senate has passed and sent to the House a bill that requires all law enforcement agencies to destroy all records of vehicles and license plates captured by their cameras after 90 days unless a picture is part of an “ongoing investigation.” “The government does not need to know where all Tennesseans are at all times while we’re driving,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsor of SB1664. Kelsey said many police and sheriffs’ departments use high-speed cameras equipped with automated license plate recognition systems to search for “bad guys” with outstanding criminal warrants. But they are also capturing image of “the good guys” and there is no need to keep that data on hand, he said.
A bill intended to require more use of monitoring devices by released criminal defendants with a history of drug or alcohol abuse has been approved by the House after being designated “Amelia’s Law” in honor of a slain Maryville teenager. Amelia Dior Keown, 16, a William Blount High School student, was killed Aug. 14, 2012, when her car was hit head-on by another vehicle driven by John C. Perkins, 44, of Maryville. State Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, said in a House floor speech that Perkins, also killed in the collision, was on parole after “a 25-year history of criminal felonies,” suffered from “severe personality disorders” and, according to blood tests, was under the influence of drugs.
Some Tennessee lawmakers are hoping to further restrict cellphone use while driving. A bill in the Tennessee House of Representatives would make it illegal to call someone or answer your phone while in the car. Under the proposal, drivers would still be able to talk with hands-free devices. The bill’s sponsors say drivers who use their phones are two to three times more likely to crash. It’s a change Tennessee Regional Safety Council Executive Director Andrew Williams said is a step in the right direction. “I think it’s the first step, tying to address the issue that’s happening on our highways today.
When President Barack Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors in mid-February, he again called on Congress to boost the minimum wage for other workers too. “Give America a raise,” he urged during a signing ceremony in the White House’s East Room. Raising the minimum wage, however, remains a tough sell among congressional Republicans and East Tennessee’s congressional delegation in particular. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann blasted the president’s push to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 per hour and called it “a smoke-screen or a diversion” on the part of an administration “that has consistently failed to produce jobs.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais doubts that he’ll lose his seat representing the 4th District despite a $792,025 campaign fundraising advantage in 2013 by congressional candidate Jim Tracy. “Voters actually care about your voting record and what you stand for,” DesJarlais said during a recent interview at his office in downtown Murfreesboro. “I don’t think in most cases they are going to allow someone to just come in and buy a seat. I think Sen. Tracy has not been up front with the constituency of the 4th District about what he would do better or differently than me. Frankly, I think it’s up to the media to ask him.”
Susan Hart is grateful for parents who planned ahead. They bought long-term care insurance back in the 1990s that her dad, who died of pancreatic cancer, never used. However, the policy helps cover the cost for her mother to live at an assisted-care center in Franklin. “My dad was very wise about this,” Hart said. “In this case, this policy has an unlimited term. The policy is already well worth the investment of the premiums paid.” Such a policy is not even available anymore for Hart to buy. And the closest option would cost her double or more what her parents paid. People on the wrong side of the baby boomer population curve are getting doubly squeezed.
Dr. Sven Jonsson, a primary care physician in this rural community, is seeing a steady tide of new patients under President Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act. And so far, it is working out for him. His employer, a big hospital system, provides expensive equipment, takes care of bureaucratic chores and has buffered him from the turmoil of his rapidly changing business. “This is just a much saner place for me right now,” said Dr. Jonsson, 52, who left private practice to work for the system, Baptist Health, in 2012. “I’m probably going to live another five years.”
Methamphetamine used to be called the “poor man’s drug” — cheap to buy and easy to make. Most people consider it a rural problem, but increasingly it is creeping into urban areas such as Nashville and Memphis. St. Luke’s Community House has a proud heritage of working with the needy in Nashville, and we join the call to beat back this scourge. But we do not believe it should be done on the backs of law-abiding citizens. With the current state legislative session in full swing, our organization is increasingly worried about bills that would do just that — implement severe purchasing limits for certain over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines.