This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam Announces Grants For Monteagle and Tracy City (Grundy County Herald)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer recently announced nearly $820,000 in two transportation alternative grants for Monteagle and Tracy City to connect downtown districts to trails and make other enhancements. Haslam awarded the grants on July 8 at Harton Park in Monteagle. The town of Monteagle was awarded a $216,320 grant for the Pedestrian Corridor Extension Project. The project will install approximately 2,000 feet of 5-foot sidewalks on the east side of Highway 64 beginning at Dubose Street heading south to Elgin Drive.
Liberty High School receives Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award (JS)
Liberty Technology Magnet High School is one of this year’s recipients of the 2014 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards for the school’s agricultural program, in which students grow vegetables for use in their own cafeteria and cafeterias in other schools in Jackson-Madison County. June Murry, Liberty principal; Susan Johnson, school nutrition director; and staff and students from Liberty attended the awards ceremony at the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville on June 23. Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau presented the awards recognizing efforts to make a positive impact on Tennessee’s natural resources.
Haslam to girl, 10: If you run for governor, I’m toast (Tennessean/Yankova)
Gov. Bill Haslam filled a room full of people with joy when he complimented a local sixth-grader today in Hendersonville. “Hannah, if you ever run for governor, I’m toast,” Haslam said. “Please wait a while before you run for governor.” Hendersonville resident Hannah Grubbs, 10, received $500 for her Bows & Ballcaps charity from the Hendersonville Rotary Club at Bluegrass Yacht & Country Club where Haslam was the guest speaker. An upcoming sixth-grader at Sumner Academy in Gallatin, Grubbs has alopecia areata, a skin condition that caused her to lose her hair.
Governor Says VW Incentives Not Tied To New UAW Deal (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that his administration is giving Volkswagen almost $180 million in incentives — regardless of any deal it might work out with the United Auto Workers. That marks a major reversal of policy. Earlier this week, Haslam and Volkswagen officials announced a deal to expand the company’s plant in Chattanooga, adding 2,000 new jobs. But our NewsChannel 5 investigation had discovered a confidential document where another incentive offer a year ago was made contingent upon the Haslam administration’s “satisfaction” with the company’s deal with the UAW.
Governor: No Problem With Commissioner Using Troopers As Chauffeurs (WTVF)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he has no problems with his safety commissioner using state troopers as chauffeurs. That follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation. Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons commutes to and from Memphis on the weekends. Our hidden-camera investigation discovered that he sometimes uses state troopers — at least two, occasionally four — to help him get back home. Gibbons claimed it helps him keep working during the drive, and the governor said Wednesday that he won’t tell him to stop. “Like a lot of our commissioners, they have very involved busy lives,” Haslam said.
Safety commissioner defends troopers driving him while he works (CA/Locker)
State Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Wednesday he believes his occasional use of state troopers to drive him halfway home to Memphis from his Nashville office is appropriate because he uses the time to get state work done. Gibbons, the former Shelby County district attorney, also said he declined an offer to have a trooper assigned to him virtually full time when he joined Gov. Bill Haslam’s Cabinet in 2011. But he acknowledged he has at times asked for troopers to drive him halfway home to Memphis so he can get work done. Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 reported Monday that Gibbons was driven by a trooper to Exit 108 on Interstate 40 at least 31 times over the last 2½ years.
Tourism department presents new Tennessee logo (Associated Press)
Tennessee’s tourism agency has a new logo and ad campaign aimed to spark travelers’ interest in a vacation that can only be made in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s “Made in Tennessee” campaign features original music from Tennessee musicians and highlights other unique aspects of the state. Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker said in a news release announcing the new branding that the campaign will emphasize Tennessee’s scenic beauty, music, history and family-friendly attractions. The campaign will include famous Tennessee residents like Dolly Parton and Jack White.
Repairs Needed On Bridges Highlight Country’s Faltering Infrastructure (WPLN)
There are 80 bridges in Nashville in need of structural repairs, according to a study from a construction trade group, coming just as Washington lawmakers wrangle over how to continue funding for the country’s highways. Statewide, Tennessee has more than a 1,000 bridges that need work. And the study’s authors say in the context of the rest of the country, that’s actually not bad. (It should be noted that the group responsible for the study, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, is a trade group of transportation construction workers, so making a case that roads are in ill-repair aligns with their business interests.)
TennCare has delayed or prevented families from getting coverage (TFP/Harrison)
Jakob Morgan’s parents already had plenty to worry about when he was born. He was delivered in April by emergency Cesarean section, and his intestines were suspended outside of his tiny belly — a life-threatening condition known as gastroschisis. Over the next three months, Jakob underwent three surgeries. He has only one-third of his intestines. His bones have been made brittle by the nutrition supplement he must take. But those aren’t the only things that have fueled his parents’ anxiety. For weeks, a huge worry was insurance — crucial to help pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of treatment Jakob was receiving.
Move begins to get wine in grocery stores (Ashland City Times)
After years of controversy, the Tennessee General Assembly authorized supermarket wine sales in the state earlier this year. In order for Cheatham County grocery stores to sell wine, Sandy Cherry, the county’s administrator of elections, said registered voters are responsible for getting the referendum on the ballot. Under the state law allowing wine-in-grocery-store referendums, the question can only be on the ballot within Tennessee jurisdictions that have passed measures allowing liquor by the drink or package liquor stores. Locally, that includes Ashland City, Kingston Springs and Pleasant View.
Campfield’s use of taxpayer-funded account questioned (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
State Sen. Stacey Campfield has become the first state legislator to use his taxpayer-funded “constituent communications” account to cover the cost of cable TV ads as well as a more traditional direct mail piece sent to voters on the last day permitted prior to the Aug. 7 election. A review of communications accounts indicates that legislators who face opposition in this year’s elections, such as Knoxville Republican Campfield, generally are more likely to spend their allocated funds than those who do not.
The Stacey Chronicles (Metro Pulse)
As he runs for re-election as Tennessee’s 7th District state senator, Stacey Campfield campaigns from house to house like no other candidate. And standing on your porch, if you don’t know who he is, he seems like an affable conservative, just the kind of nice, regular guy Knox County needs in the Legislature, not beholden to special interests. But if you do know who Campfield is, you know that mask he puts on for campaigning isn’t the one he wears on the job—even his supporters will admit as much. In the Senate, and before that in the House, Campfield is often combative and abrasive. If you talk to other Republicans who work with him, they’ll privately admit most of the Legislature can’t stand him. Even lobbyists say they don’t like him.
Tennessee’s citizens need to get out more (Memphis Business Journal)
Tennessee could do better when it comes to breaking a sweat according to a report by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The State Indicator Report of Physical Activity ranked every state according to their access to safe places for physical activity, policy regarding physical activity in education and child care settings, and design policy such as green spaces and sidewalks that make physical activity possible and attractive. In Tennessee, 39 percent of adults and 25.4 percent of children met the minimum moderate intensity aerobic activity guideline, which the CDA labels as 150 minutes a week for adults and 60 minutes a day for children.
Rep. Diane Black faces challenge over key spending vote (Tennessean/Barton)
Rep. Diane Black last year got quite the lesson in congressional sausage-making — make that lawmaking. The Gallatin resident, now running for a third term in the 6th Congressional District and facing school administrator Jerry Lowery of Sparta in the Aug. 7 Republican primary, found herself voting against a bill that bore her own name. It happened during the government shutdown of October 2013, which congressional experts saw as government dysfunction at its finest. Black was listed as the lead sponsor of HR 2775, which passed 285-144 on Oct. 16, after earlier clearing the Senate.
Flinn pours the money in; Alexander still flush (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Memphis multimillionaire George Flinn has put more than $1.8 million of his own money into his campaign account, giving him a financial edge over fellow challenger Joe Carr in their effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Flinn, a physician and owner of several radio stations, reported he received $7,000 in contributions during the three months ended July 1, spent $146,331 and had a cash-on-hand balance of $1,665,918. Flinn launched a statewide TV ad campaign July 1. The total loans to the campaign: $1,805,250. Flinn ran unsuccessfully for the 8th District U.S. House seat in 2010 and for the 9th District seat in 2012.
Tennessee senate hopeful’s campaign earns $9,500 from loan (C. Appeal/Locker)
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr said that an unusual arrangement in which his campaign earned more than $9,500 from a $200,000 loan made by his campaign to a prominent supporter’s business was “absolutely not” a sweetheart deal. The supporter, Andrew Miller Jr. and his wife, Tami, both made the maximum contributions allowed by federal law to Carr’s campaign, $5,200 each, in June 2013. A few months later, Carr loaned Life Watch Pharmacy, a Nashville entity that lists Miller as a principal, $200,000 out of his campaign account. The campaign reported receiving $9,564.54 from Life Watch on March 31 of this year.
Sen. Alexander to help East TN family with Congo adoptions (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
Senator Lamar Alexander is asking President Barack Obama to take action and speed up adoptions from the Congo. Alexander wrote the president a letter Wednesday. In it he says, “It is time the president helps end this heart wrenching delay to see that these children and their adoptive parents are able to leave the country and return to the United States.” Alana Carroll, an East Tennessee mother, is waiting to adopt her two boys Neema and Canaan from the Congo. She says it can’t come soon enough. “I mean I knew adoptions would be difficult, both domestically and internationally,” said Carroll. “Internationally there’s a lot of red tape with the government. But, I never thought it would be like this and the adoption would be complete but you didn’t get your children.”
States Siphon Gas Tax for Other Uses (Wall Street Journal)
States are allotting a growing share of the funds they raise from gas taxes to debt service and spending unrelated to roads and bridges, making them more reliant on federal assistance to pay for new infrastructure. The shrinking pot of state cash is one reason why governors increasingly are in a panic over a congressional impasse about replenishing the federal Highway Trust Fund. The federal fund, too, is running out of money and will cut disbursements to states in August if Congress doesn’t intervene. Texas spends 25% of its fuel-tax revenue on education programs. Kansas has allocated some of its gas-tax revenue to pay for Medicaid and schools.
VW center, workers coming to downtown Chattanooga (Times Free-Press/Pare)
Powering up its presence in downtown Chattanooga, Volkswagen plans to work with the city and Hamilton County to erect a $12 million welcome center. Some personnel from VW’s planned research and development center also can expect to work downtown, bolstering a planned innovation district. Those were among new details that emerged Wednesday, two days after the company announced it would bring on 2,000 more workers to build a new vehicle at its Chattanooga plant. In addition, Mayor Andy Berke said VW is looking to start initial hiring in the fourth quarter of this year and then staff up in stages.
Chattanooga may dip into reserves to cover VW incentives (TFP/Brogdon, Flessner)
Nearly half of the $600 million expansion planned at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant will be paid for by Tennessee taxpayers under the proposed incentives package signed this week by company and government officials. State and local governments and utilities pledged $274.3 million of upfront grants and employee training assistance to convince VW to add production of a sport utility vehicle line in Chattanooga, according to the memorandum of understanding between local governments and VW released Wednesday.
Work to begin on Spring Hill site for top-secret project (Tennessean/Page)
An out-of-state auto parts manufacturer is on track to start turning dirt later this month on its new Spring Hill site, where $40 million to $50 million eventually will be spent on the first phase of “Project Angus.” The top-secret project, expected to create more than 400 initial jobs in Spring Hill, has secured a grading permit from the city and could start dirt work as early as next week, said City Codes Director Chris Brooks. NorthPoint Development Group, the developer of the buildings, is buying 162 acres of farmland on Beechcroft Road near Cleburne Road on the Maury County side of Spring Hill, and is still waiting to close on the real estate transaction before work can begin.
BlueCross requests rate increase of 19 percent in 2015 (Tennessean/DuBois)
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee — the state’s dominant health insurance provider — is asking to raise rates by an average of 19 percent for its exchange plans in 2015, according to documents filed with the state of Tennessee. Meanwhile, Cigna is requesting an average rate increase of 7.5 percent in 2015, while Kentucky-based Humana would like to boost marketplace rates by an average of 14.4 percent. In 2014, the least-expensive version of the silver plan — the most popular of the exchange plans — was $160.62 a month in Davidson County. At a 19 percent increase, the new rate would be $191 a month.
Here come higher premiums: TN insurance providers request rate increases (NBJ)
Insurance rates will likely increase in Tennessee during the Affordable Care Act’s second year of open enrollment. According to filings with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is seeking approval for an average rate increase of 19 percent starting Jan. 1, 2015 for its individual ACA products. In the filing, the company cites three primary drivers for the increase: an increase in cost and utilization of medical services, reduction in anticipated payments from the Federal Transitional Reinsurance Program and higher than expected morbidity in the first quarter of 2014 for existing plans.
Why BlueCross BlueShield needs to raise rates (Nashville Business Journal)
The Affordable Care Act’s second open enrollment period won’t kick off for another four months, but the picture is beginning to emerge on what costs might look like for consumers looking to enroll in year two — they’re likely to increase. Beyond that, though, we also now know what results looked like for the insurer covering the majority of Tennesseans, Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Our [19 percent increase] request is to get to a break-even point in 2015,” said Roy Vaughn, BCBS’ vice president of corporate communications, explaining that the company will experiences losses in the “tens of millions of dollars” during this first year.
In Schools, A New Attempt To Help Struggling Students Without Special Ed (WPLN)
Metro Nashville Public grade and middle schools are starting a new initiative this year to identify students that are struggling to keep up with math, reading and writing. Response to Intervention and Instruction, or RTI2 (“RTI-squared”) for short, is part of a statewide effort to intervene before placing students in special education. After taking a screening test, students will be divided into three levels: Kids in the top 80 percent, the bottom 15 percent and the bottom 5 percent.
California: Death Penalty System Is Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules (NYT)
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty system is so arbitrary and plagued with delay that it is unconstitutional, a decision that is expected to inspire similar arguments in death penalty appeals around the country. The state has placed hundreds of people on death row, but has not executed a prisoner since 2006. The result, wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney of United States District Court, is a sentence that “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.” That sense of uncertainty and delay, he wrote, “violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” About 40 percent of California’s 748 death row inmates have been there more than 19 years. Judge Carney, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, issued the 29-page order vacating the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, convicted in 1995 of raping his girlfriend’s mother and stabbing her to death.
Frank Cagle: Fiddling While Hospitals Burn (Metro Pulse)
They announced the closing of a hospital in Brownsville, Tenn. last week. Tennessee has refused, thus far, to accept $1.25 billion in federal Medicaid funds. These things are not unrelated. The Tennessee Hospital Association has predicted that Brownsville’s hospital will not be the only rural hospital to close as financially strapped centers are treating the working poor who are not getting expanded Medicaid and cannot afford insurance. And the feds have cut back on appropriations to hospitals because the hospitals are supposed to be getting an infusion of money from expanded Medicaid. Except in Tennessee, they aren’t.
Editorial: Gibbons needs to drive himself (Commercial Appeal)
There is always an eyebrow to be raised when government officials use government employees to provide personal services for those officials. A raised eyebrow is justified for Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons’ use of state troopers as chauffeurs to drive him between Memphis and Nashville. Gibbons, a former Shelby County district attorney general, believes his occasional use of troopers is appropriate because he uses the time to get state work done. If that is the case, maybe he should hire a driver using his own funds rather than tying up public safety personnel.
Editorial: Courtroom is no place for state politics (Jackson Sun)
We believe the founders of this country were wise to create a separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. As history has shown, too much power in the wrong hands can result in disaster. Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey disagrees with the decisions of Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, all of whom were nominated by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. Ramsey, a Republican, has started a campaign to replace them, saying the justices are weak on crime and hurt Tennessee business. Ramsey has the right to hold these beliefs, but we don’t believe the courtroom is the place for state politics.