This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Haslam seeks to quash state’s pill problem (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Gov. Bill Haslam will announce Tuesday a seven-point plan to quash Tennessee’s pill-popping problem, but addiction experts worry addicts will turn to heroin as prescription narcotics become harder to get. Tennessee’s prescription drug abuse epidemic has left an estimated 69,100 people with serious addictions to controlled substances. The state ranks second in the nation for per-capita opioid use. Addiction specialists say some of those users are already turning to heroin. “Generally, someone will go in with chronic pain and start with a prescription drug,” said Dr. Terry Alley with Cumberland Heights.
Haslam: Administration ‘re-engaged’ in talks with Volkswagen (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday his administration is back in discussions with Volkswagen officials over state incentives and other assistance programs needed to persuade the German auto manufacturer to build a new line of vehicles at its Chattanooga plant. “We’ve re-engaged in discussions with them,” Haslam told reporters. “I don’t really have any update beyond that except we are talking with them.” Asked if his administration is pegging incentives to whether the VW plant is eventually unionized, Haslam said no.
Haslam Welcomes Christie But Stops Short of Endorsing For President (WPLN)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be making several appearances in Tennessee Friday, and the visits in Nashville and Memphis seem to be part of some potential pre-presidential race campaigning. Christie will be making a stop with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on Friday night at a downtown Nashville restaurant, where the two will greet people and shake hands with supporters. Though Christie is a Republican, he’s seen as more liberal than the GOP base in Tennessee. In the past, Haslam has called Christie a good governor who focuses on results– not partisanship.
Christie to make Tennessee stops (Associated Press/Schelzig)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is headlining the Tennessee Republican Party’s annual fundraiser in Nashville on Friday evening. But that’s not Christie’s only stop in Tennessee. He starts out the day at a Republican Governors Association event in Memphis, followed by a joint appearance with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Alexander is opening his re-election campaign’s West Tennessee office in the Memphis suburb of Germantown. Christie then heads to Nashville, where he’s scheduled to visit a barbeque restaurant with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and then on to the GOP fundraiser at the Nashville convention center.
Chris Christie to grab a bite with Bill Haslam (Tennessean/Sisk)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won’t have to deliver his speech Friday night at the Tennessee Republican Party’s Statemen’s Dinner on an empty stomach. He and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam plan to make a brief appearance just before the event at a downtown Nashville restaurant. Christie and Haslam will shake hands, greet supporters and (one would hope) sample the fried green tomatoes at 4:45 p.m. Friday at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant’s location on Church Street. The choice of restaurant seems apt: Haslam watchers have long known Puckett’s is among the Tennessee governor’s favorites in Nashville.
WGU Tennessee announces new accounting degree (Memphis Business Journal)
Students of Western Governors University Tennessee will now have the opportunity to receive a Master of Accounting degree. WGU Tennessee will officially launch the new program beginning July 1. It is designed for accountants looking to expand their career opportunities, or prepare for the certified public accountant exam. WGU Tennessee was launched in summer 2013 as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative. In addition to the new degree program, WGU Tennessee also announced last week that it would not increase tuition this fall, marking the seventh year in a row that has happened.
Two Republicans seek investigation on TCAP delay (Tennessean/Garrison)
A pair of Republican lawmakers has asked the state to investigate the Tennessee Department of Education’s late release of end-of-year test scores. Their Democratic counterparts say they, too, have questions and have filed an open records request to find out more. Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, said that he and Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, on Thursday requested the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to launch a formal investigation into the education department’s delayed release of Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores.
Woman pleads guilty to stealing TennCare funds (Associated Press)
Authorities say a Jackson woman has pleaded guilty to stealing money intended for TennCare recipients. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says Tammy Marie Swann diverted thousands of dollars in TennCare funds for her own personal gain while working at the Helen R. Tucker Adult Developmental Center in Ripley in 2010. The Lauderdale County Grand Jury returned an indictment for Swann, charging her with one count of theft over $1,000. She pleaded guilty and a judge sentenced her on May 19 to two years’ probation. She must also pay more than $7,000 in restitution.
Tenn May Have Natural Gas To Thank For Major Drop In Carbon Emissions (WPLN)
Carbon emissions in Tennessee dropped by a third over five years, according to a new study. It says the closure of coal-fired plants and the historically low price of natural gas are driving the trend. “That has meant a less carbon-intensive fleet of electric-generating facilities within the state,” said Christopher Van Atten, the study’s lead author. Between 2007 and 2012, Tennessee’s coal-powered energy dipped 40 percent. At the same time, natural gas generation was 11 times greater — in other words, it shot up 1000 percent.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn calls for Shinseki’s resignation (Tennessean/Barton)
Rep. Marsha Blackburn on Thursday night became at least the second member of the Tennessee congressional delegation to call for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Blackburn, R-Brentwood, made the call following her review of the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report released Wednesday. “With the release of the (report), I am appalled at the treatment of the veterans at the Phoenix VA. It is beyond comprehension that Phoenix VA senior hospital employees would intentionally cook the books so that they could be financially rewarded at the expense of our nation’s veterans,” she said in a statement.
Delayed VA cases in Nashville double (Tennessean/Roche)
The percentage of veterans facing excessive waits to learn of their eligibility for benefits from Veterans Affairs officials in Nashville more than doubled between 2010 and early 2014, jumping from 24.4 percent to 57.2 percent of veterans applying for first-time benefits, according to government data. According to monthly reports posted online by the VA, those waiting more than 125 days for eligibility determinations stood at 1,967 in January of 2010, then climbed by more than 400 percent to 9,119 in January of this year.
East Tenn veterans hospitals not clouded by VA scandal, officials say (N-S/Lakin)
As revelations continue of what investigators call “systemic” abuse at Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country, East Tennessee lawmakers and other officials say they’re hearing few reports of such problems with veterans’ care locally. “I have heard both sides,” U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, said Thursday from Washington. “But I personally don’t have any complaints about the VA (outpatient) clinic in Knoxville.” An inspector general’s report found at least 1,700 veterans waited in vain to see doctors at a VA medical center in Phoenix. Some patients died due to lack of care.
Common Core School Standards Face a New Wave of Opposition (New York Times)
Opposition to the Common Core, a set of reading and math standards for elementary, middle and high school students that were originally adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, has gathered momentum among state lawmakers in recent weeks. The governors of Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering signing bills to repeal the standards and replace them with locally written versions. In Missouri, lawmakers passed a bill that would require a committee of state educators to come up with new standards within the next two years.
Shelby County Schools orders 13,000 tablets, enough for 16 schools (CA/Roberts)
Billy Orgel has been patient with descriptions of the 13,000 Lenovo tablets the school board this week paid $5.4 million to lease, but what he really wanted to do was see the prototype in person. When he did, he was like a kid with a new Erector set. While the rest of the board was on the dais, Orgel was wrapped up in a Lenovo 11e, touching it, flexing it and dropping — from 6 feet if he wanted — the backpack-friendly tablet that will be assigned every student in 16 Shelby County Schools this fall.
School Board Unveils Digital Devices (Memphis Daily News)
Shelby County Schools board members got a look this week at the new digital devices students in 16 schools will get when the new academic year begins in August. The first Lenovo Yoga and Yoga 11e convertible laptops to arrive were unwrapped before the board vote Tuesday, May 27, for the $5.4 million contract with Unistar-Sparco Computers Inc. to lease 13,000 devices for three years. The devices, which will go home with students every day, will be delivered to the schools June 30, and administrators and teachers are already undergoing training.
Editorial: Governor correct to veto bill over pollution concerns (News-Sentinel)
Gov. Bill Haslam pulled out his seldom-used veto pen and killed a bill initially aimed at criminalizing flash mobs. Haslam made the right call. As amended before passage, the bill could have allowed some forms of polluting to be considered misdemeanors instead of felonies. The bill, drafted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, would have amended the state’s vandalism statute to define flash mobs. Flash mobs typically involve a group of people — frequently teenagers — suddenly converging in one place, generally for entertainment or celebration of some event in response to social media postings.
Editorial: Healthy food should not be a luxury (Tennessean)
Tennesseans are becoming increasingly aware of their state’s issues with obesity and diabetes after years of broad indifference. Malnutrition is less understood in the midst of such obesity, but it’s just as important. “Food deserts” — areas in which residents lack access to fresh, nutritious food choices — can be found nationwide. But Tennessee’s combination of factors makes this a serious threat to any progress our state has made in the past few years toward health and well-being. This is just the leading edge of a problem that goes beyond the advice of schools and family doctors: increased poverty.
Editorial: A Lifeline for Veterans Waiting for Care (New York Times)
In the wake of revelations that patients have waited for months to see a primary care doctor at a veterans’ medical center in Phoenix, the Obama administration announced in the past few days some reasonable steps to mitigate the problems. One important measure will move veterans who have been stuck too long up the waiting list. Another will offer those still facing waits of more than 30 days the option of using private hospitals and clinics. The Department of Veterans Affairs operates a sprawling health care system that includes 152 hospitals or medical centers, 900 clinics and a host of other facilities, including mental health centers.
Guest columnist: How to Fix the Veterans Affairs Mess (Wall Street Journal)
As a former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I am deeply troubled by reports involving the falsification of records to conceal waiting times for veterans at VA hospitals—with at least 40 of them dying while awaiting treatment. A preliminary review by the VA inspector general, released Wednesday, found that at least 1,700 veterans waiting for care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs medical facility were not even on a wait list. Such acts are unconscionable, and those responsible must be held accountable. American veterans deserve nothing but the very best from the nation they have so honorably served, and they need to be reassured that they will receive it.