This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced March 29, 2014 as Vietnam Veterans Day to recognize the courage, service and sacrifice of the men and women who served during the Vietnam War. On March 30, 1973, President Richard Nixon began withdrawing combat troops from Vietnam. Between 1961 and 1975, more than 49,000 Tennesseans served in Southeast Asia. Approximately 6,000 Tennessee troops were wounded in the Vietnam War and 1,295 Tennessee service members were killed.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder have declared Saturday, March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day to recognize the courage, service and sacrifice of the men and women who served during the Vietnam War. More than 49,000 Tennesseans served in Southeast Asia from 1961 to 1975. Approximately 6,000 Tennessee troops were wounded in the Vietnam War, while 1,295 Tennessee service members were killed. Twenty-seven Tennesseans remain missing in action in connection with the war.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has walked a fine line since announcing a year ago that the state would not accept federal funding for an expansion of TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid, at least for now. There’s certainly been no false optimism about his attempts to work out a unique arrangement with federal officials. He’s never described an agreement as imminent or said the talks were making any kind of substantial progress. But Haslam has also been careful to criticize the concept and particulars of the Affordable Care Act, not the people running the health care reform act who are on the other side of the bargaining table.
Gov. Bill Haslam got a firsthand look Friday at a piece of Oak Ridge property that has a prized history and — according to the governor — a big future, as well. Haslam and a contingent of local and state officials received a “tutorial” from the U.S. Department of Energy on cleanup operations and reindustrialization efforts at the former uranium-enrichment plant now known as the East Tennessee Technology Park. Workers recently finished tearing down the historic K-25 building, opening up even more space at the 70-year-old government plant that is gradually being converted to private uses. The governor said the sprawling site could be a unique attraction for economic development.
Western Governors University Tennessee Chancellor Kim Estep, Phd., visited Rhea County on Wednesday and spoke with teachers at Rhea County High School as part of a continuing education program. She also sat down with The Herald-News to speak about the opportunities for local citizens through the online university. Western Governor’s University, a non-profit school, was started in 1997 as a way for students in rural areas of western states to get a college degree online. State affiliated WGU schools started in 2010, and the Tennessee branch opened in January 2013 as part of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative to have 55 percent of adults in Tennessee hold a college degree.
Almost 25 percent of adults in Tennessee use tobacco. Sixteen percent of expectant mothers in the state smoke tobacco while they are pregnant. One out of five high school students in Tennessee smokes tobacco. And one in every 10 eighth-graders in Tennessee uses tobacco products. Those are some of the statistics cited Friday by Tennessee Commissioner of Health Dr. John Dreyzehner while talking about the state’s distribution of some Tobacco Settlement money to local agencies to support smoking cessation programs. In the history of Tobacco Settlement money, in a lot of states not a lot has been doled out for that use, Dreyzehner said. He lauded Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly for including the funding in this year’s state budget.
Sullivan County is starting a three-year, tobacco-prevention program. At a news conference Friday at the county’s Department of Health, the county was presented with a check for $267,201 to conduct the program. The funds were part of the decade-old tobacco settlement. Rebekah English, a tobacco prevention specialist with Sullivan County, will manage the program. She said the effort will focus on smoking prevention, the dangers of second-hand smoke and smoking during pregnancy. English said some of the money will be used to hold a conference on smoking prevention in May. The conference will help educate the community about second-hand smoke.
Members of the Tennessee Board of Regents said Friday that they don’t know how much money Tennessee’s universities and community colleges are going to receive in the budget because of a shortfall in the state’s tax collections. The TBR oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. Officials said at a board meeting Friday that the best case for the schools would be to get the almost $6.6 million Gov. Bill Haslam allocated to them in his budget. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters Thursday that planned pay raises for employees and investment in higher education might have to be cut due to a $260 million shortfall of projected revenue.
Roadside memorials can be spotted along multiple interstates throughout Middle Tennessee, but many people do not realize the displays are illegal. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation want people to think twice before putting the memorials on a state route or interstate. “Anything that is placed on the state’s public right of way is trespassing,” said Deanna Lambert, Spokesperson for TDOT. TDOT does not issue fines or citations to people who put up the memorials, but officials do ask that people remove the displays for safety reasons. “It is dangerous to place memorials on the side of the road when you have traffic flowing at 70-75 miles per hour,” said Lambert.
It was midnight when the plane carrying Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker landed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee trip. But there would be no time to relax and freshen up. Instead, Corker, who was wrapping up his first year as the committee’s ranking Republican, heard that Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, chief of Saudi intelligence, wanted to meet with him immediately at the Royal Palace to discuss the ongoing civil war in Syria. “He wanted to talk through what was happening on the ground,” Corker said. It was nearly 3:30 a.m. before the meeting broke up.
Former dairy executive Scottie Mayfield says 3rd District congressional candidate Weston Wamp secretly recorded a conversation they had when Wamp came to his home to talk him out of supporting U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the August Republican primary. “I never dreamed somebody would walk into my house with a bug on,” Mayfield said. “I don’t want to say negative things about people. But I just don’t think that’s correct behavior.” Wamp said in an email Friday he recorded the conversation with his iPhone for his own protection during the campaign.
Even before the Affordable Care Act came along, Deborah Casey was living between a logistical rock and an economic hard place. Casey, a 61-year-old widow, draws a monthly Social Security check based on her husband’s earnings. She works part-time for Shelby County (no benefits), and to continue receiving the same amount in that Social Security check, she has to keep tabs on how much she makes. This is exactly how someone who wants to provide for herself winds up on a “fixed income.” Recently, Casey was sitting in the waiting room at the Church Health Center’s walk-in clinic. It was an unseasonably warm day, but just a few days earlier she had fallen on the ice. She still had various pains. Waiting hadn’t made them go away. She didn’t have health insurance.
The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant has turned into one of East Tennessee’s biggest employers with 5,000 TVA and contractor employees working around the clock to build a new reactor and refuel another. “These workers are eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores and staying at area hotels and campgrounds and that is putting a lot of needed money into our economy,” said Rhea County Mayor George Thacker, who built the 42-room Howard Johnson hotel in Spring City seven years ago to help house Watts Bar workers. “Watts Bar is a great asset for our region.”
The Obama administration’s budget for fiscal year 2015 recommends a steep decline in the dismantlement of nuclear warheads — including the work that’s done at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. According to recently released budget documents, funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s work on dismantlement and disposition of retired weapons would drop from $54.3 million this year to $30 million in 2015. The work at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, where the initial disassembly of warheads takes place, would be reduced by 40 percent, the budget document states.
Our national discussion of the Affordable Care Act continues to say so much about more than the issue of affordable health care. It continues to be the most profound statement about what passes for political discourse and the decision-making process our elected officials have created for issues that are of crucial importance to citizens. And increasingly, those political machinations have become something those outside government try to minimize their contact with when they have to deal with government at some level. The Affordable Care Act and its effects, as well as the reactions to, it force sustained contact for the most vital of services in which cost remains an overriding concern. The concern isn’t that the services will be available.