This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The man in charge of Tennessee’s community colleges and tech schools says there’s plenty of room for an expected influx of students—around 5,600 over the next few years, according to one estimate. That’s once the state starts paying tuition for graduating high schoolers, under a proposal the governor will soon sign into law called the Tennessee Promise. Enrollment in the state’s community colleges has actually been down by several thousand compared to when it peaked a few years ago, just after the recession hit, and Chancellor John Morgan says right now the system has plenty of capacity.
Someone in Tennessee is sick with measles — the first case of that illness here in three years, according to state health officials. The patient is an adult who had traveled abroad, the Tennessee Department of Health said. The agency did not identify the patient but said people known to have close contact have been vaccinated against the disease. “We have done our standard contact investigation during which we identify anyone who may have been in close contact with this patient and at risk of exposure to the illness,” said Shelley Walker, a spokeswoman for the state health department.
The incoming president of the University of Memphis should name his provost or chief academic officer this week as he prepares to take office May 16. M. David Rudd was appointed president of the city’s largest institution of higher learning last week by the Tennessee Board of Regents. He played a key role in the aggressive adjustments to the university’s path during Brad Martin’s tenure as interim president since president Shirley Raines retired in July. Raines hired Rudd as provost in March 2013 from being dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah. Rudd says his strategic vision will include “many of those things we’ve already started this year.”
“You can’t get through to nobody,” James Priddy said. He has spent hours at his computer, hoping for an answer about the unemployment checks he started waiting on in January. “They said they will get back to you in 14 to 21 days. Here it is almost May and I haven’t heard back from Tennessee Unemployment yet,” Priddy said. The construction electrician was laid off twice this year, and says getting unemployment is like pulling teeth. The computer system and phone line he’s supposed to use are plagued with problems. “I can’t get through to anybody, can’t talk to anybody,” he said. He’s not alone.
Conservative activists are laying the groundwork to campaign against three Supreme Court justices up for re-election this summer, but the judges’ supporters are preparing to fight back. A national Republican group and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey have been meeting with potential backers of an effort to defeat Supreme Court Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee when Tennesseans go to the polls this August. The campaign would be the first serious challenge to sitting Supreme Court justices in nearly two decades. But it could draw an equally fierce campaign to retain the judges, all of whom have been endorsed by a bipartisan panel that reviewed their performance.
The coalition of grocery stores who want to sell wine in Tennessee will spearhead a petition drive to get the matter on local ballots this fall. It’s the latest effort from Red, White and Food, which pushed for the bill that passed the state legislature this spring. Local voters still have to sign off before their grocery stores can sell wine. For that to happen, it’ll take signatures, and lots of them—more than 10 thousand in Davidson County alone. Kroger Marketing Manager Melissa Eads: “I think a lot of people may think hey, alright! Wine is coming to my Kroger store! And we’ve not made it over that last hill, so to speak. We still have to get this on the ballot.”
If you need additional incentive to go vote Tuesday, the folks behind the effort to legalize wine sales in food stores just announced one. They’ll be outside select voting precincts in Shelby County collecting signatures on official petitions to get the wine-in-food stores referendum on the November ballot. Approval by local voters is the legal prerequisite set by the Tennessee legislature this year for food stores to sell wine. But to get the referendum on the November ballot, petitions signed by registered voters at least equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast locally in the last gubernatorial election must be presented to the Shelby County Election Commission.
A state Senator’s blog post likening the insurance requirement under President Barack Obama’s health care law to the forced deportation of Jews during the Holocaust drew swift condemnation Monday from leaders of both parties in Tennessee. Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville wrote the comment in a post titled “Thought of the Day.” “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the 40s,” he wrote. State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney called the comment “ignorant and repugnant,” and called for an immediate apology to the Jewish community.
Sen. Stacey Campfield’s comparison of Obamacare to the Holocaust drew bipartisan criticism Monday from the chairmen of both political parties in Tennessee. The Knoxville Republican posted this remark on his blog Monday morning under the headline, “Thought for the day:” “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory [sic] sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the 40s.” Tennessee Democratic Chairman Roy Herron was the first to send media an emailed statement criticizing the posting: “Senator Campfield’s blog post this morning is just the latest example of Tea Party Republican extremism.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield says he regrets that “some people have missed the point” of a blog post he made earlier today that compared Obamacare signups to Nazi “train rides”. In a statement released this afternoon, Campfield stood by the analogy, saying that the Affordable Care Act would open the door to “bureaucrats deciding who should be given life saving medications and who should be denied” and government funding for abortion. But he said that point had been lost amid the reference to the Holocaust. “It was not meant to offend, but rather to warn.
State Rep. Joe Carr says his campaign to unseat longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is moving at about 1,500 miles a week. But record keeping has seemed to be a bit of a speed bump for the Lascassas Republican. On Monday, Carr said he failed to list his family’s 91-acre cattle ranch as an asset on his personal finance reports to the secretary of the Senate purely in error. And he noted that the farm was listed as a liability on the same report. “Those Senate disclosures are a balance sheet. It was listed as a liability, but not as an asset. It was just an error. We will file an amendment and get it listed properly,” Carr said after speaking to members of the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club on Monday.
Tennessee basically doubled its Obamacare enrollment numbers during the last month and a half of Obamacare’s open enrollment period, finishing the six-month process ranked No. 15 as a state in terms of number of residents who’ve selected a plan. “I think Tennessee confirms the general trend,” said George Brandes, director of health care programs for Jackson Hewitt. The state’s late surge is reflective of the national trend toward late-stage enrollment, Brandes said, especially notable in states using the federal marketplace rather than operating their own.
Tennessee’s 151,400 enrollee total for Obamacare’s first-ever open enrollment period surpassed expectations for the state, according to a report from Avalere Health. Based on initial estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, advisory firm Avalere determined that exchange enrollment met or exceeded expectations in 22 states, including Tennessee. Those findings even take into account nonpayment of premiums – one of the remaining unanswered questions about Obamacare enrollment– calculating that even if 15 percent of enrollees do not pay premiums, more than 6.8 million people will have coverage effective May 1.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will cut more than 10 percent of its staff positions this year as it shutters more coal plants and trims operations to bring the federal utility more in line with competitors’ staffing levels. TVA accepted 750 early retirements and resignations under a voluntary incentive program this year and won’t fill about 1,000 other vacant staff positions, TVA President Bill Johnson said. Other staff cuts are planned in TVA’s nuclear power program, which is still being reorganized. But even before TVA cuts its own nuclear staff, 390 Bechtel contractors are scheduled to be laid off this summer from the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn.
The Knox County school board is evaluating several contracts that would help it assess a student’s progress and aid the board in its hiring process. The first contract the board is reviewing, and could vote on at its meeting Wednesday, is with NCS Pearson Inc. and Renaissance Learning Inc. for Response to Instruction and Intervention, which is required by the state’s Department of Education. “This is an initiative … to provide intervention services to students prior to potential identification for special education services,” Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre told board members on Monday.
Massachusetts health officials said Monday they are scrapping the state’s problem-plagued insurance exchange in favor of a private company’s version used in other states, while considering connecting to the federal site as a backup. Massachusetts already has comprehensive health coverage, thanks to a 2006 state law. But overhauling the state’s online exchange to comply with different rules under the federal health law, passed a few years later, has raised technical challenges. Tens of thousands of people submitted old-fashioned paper applications and about 190,000 have been put on temporary Medicaid plans until the state can determine exactly what coverage they are eligible for.