July 24 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Haslam announces transportation grant to Brownsville (Jackson Sun)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced a $715,844 grant to the city of Brownsville at a press conference Wednesday. The transportation alternative grant will fund Phase II of the Downtown Enhancements Project, located along Main Street from South Bradford Avenue to North Park Avenue. It will include the replacement of 1,800 feet of sidewalk, relocation of utilities and new landscaping. “Our hope is that it will improve pedestrian safety and mobility and create a gateway into Brownsville,” Haslam said. The grant is part of a federally funded program administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

More than $700,000 awarded to Brownsville for downtown enhancement (WBBJ)
Governor Bill Haslam stopped in Brownsville Wednesday to announce a grant for more than $700,000 be given to the downtown area of the city. The check from the Tennessee Department of Transportation will be used to replace sidewalks along Main Streer from South Bradford Ave, to North Park Ave., for improved pedestrian safety. Governor Haslam says Brownsville was one of few cities across the state to get these funds. “We thought this was one that really does enhance the quality of downtown Brownsville,” Haslam said.

Gov. Haslam announces 5 grants for Shelby County (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has announced five grants totaling more than $1.4 million for transportation, recreation and energy efficiency projects in Shelby County. Haslam said Wednesday that a $458,830 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation will fund new curbs and gutters at crosswalks, new sidewalks, bike racks and pedestrian lighting near the University of Memphis. A $250,000 Clean Tennessee Energy Grant will be used to make the Shelby County Corrections facility more energy efficient.

Haslam delivers five grants worth $1.4M to Shelby County (C. Appeal/Veazey)
Visiting Memphis Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam touted five grants of about $1.4 million that he said will address quality-of-life issues in Shelby County. “These are all things that make people say, “Hey, I want to live in a place like this’,” Haslam told reporters after an event held at the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Memphis. That building fronts Walker Avenue, which is a major target of the grant funding. A $458,830 grant administered by the Department of Transportation and funded by federal money will help make the street more pedestrian-friendly, adding new curbs and gutters, sidewalks, park benches and pedestrian lighting.

Shelby County green spaces, other projects get $1.4 million infusion (MBJ)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced grants totaling more than $1.4 million for Shelby County which will be used for several different projects across the county. “These types of projects strengthen our communities,” Haslam said. “Increasing energy efficiencies saves taxpayer dollars, and making our cities more pedestrian-friendly and enhancing our parks and recreation areas improves the lives of Tennesseans. We want Tennessee to continue to be the very best place to live, work and raise a family, and projects like these are key to making that a reality.”

Local Projects Win State Grant Money (Memphis Daily News)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam handed out five oversized grant checks Wednesday, July 23, on the University of Memphis campus for a total of $1.4 million in grants funding for various pedestrian, park and recreation projects across Shelby County. The announcement along the Walker Avenue section of the University District, which is being renovated with state transportation grants, was part of a schedule of appearances this week in Shelby County and West Tennessee. And it drew five mayors who were on hand to accept the grant money.

Haslam Awards Shelby Co $1.4M in TDOT, TDEC Grants (TN Report)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced five grants totaling more than $1.4 million for Shelby County to make Walker Avenue in the University District more pedestrian friendly, enhance parks and recreation opportunities in Arlington, Collierville and Germantown, and to make the Shelby County Corrections facility more energy efficient. “These types of projects strengthen our communities,” Haslam said. “Increasing energy efficiencies saves taxpayer dollars, and making our cities more pedestrian-friendly and enhancing our parks and recreation areas improves the lives of Tennesseans. We want Tennessee to continue to be the very best place to live, work and raise a family, and projects like these are key to making that a reality.”

Shelby County recognized for employee health (Associated Press)
Shelby County’s government has been named a recipient of the Healthier Tennessee Workplace Award. Healthier Tennessee is a nonprofit agency associated with Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. The agency promotes healthy workplace conditions at businesses across the state. Shelby County was specifically recognized for the creation of the Total Health Wellness initiative, a program focusing on employee lifestyles and health habits. During the past several months, government employees have participated in 5K races, volleyball games, various running and walking events, attended cooking classes promoting healthier preparation of foods and have had healthier food choices at government facilities.

Shelby County government recognized for wellness initiative (C. Appeal/Moore)
Shelby County Government has received a Healthier Tennessee Workplace Award for its Total Health Wellness initiative, a comprehensive program that focuses on employee lifestyles and health habits. The award comes from Healthier Tennessee, a nonprofit agency led by Gov. Bill Haslam to help and encourage Tennesseans to lead healthier lives. County government has worked hard for two years to “reacquaint” employees with healthful eating habits and lifestyles that include physical fitness and preventive health issues, said county Mayor Mark Luttrell.

Haslam: Medicaid Expansion Talks Didn’t Get Down-and-Dirty with HHS Top (TNR)
Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam, said he had a “great conversation” with Sylvia Mathews Burwell when she was in Nashville a little over a week ago for the for the National Governors Association summit. But Gov. Haslam said he and Burwell, the Obama administration’s new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, didn’t get into particulars with respect to working out a deal that might enable the state to draw down Affordable Care Act money from Washington earmarked for expanding the number of people in Tennessee eligible for government-finance health insurance.

Haslam’s private meeting draws criticism (Cleveland Daily Banner)
At least two Bradley County Board of Education members are unhappy the governing body was not informed of what became a secret meeting in Cleveland on Monday between Gov. Bill Haslam, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and educators from five area school systems. Haslam and Huffman met with 10 selected representatives from the Bradley County, Cleveland, Hamilton County, Meigs County and Rhea County school systems in the central office of the Bradley County school system. The unannounced session, which also excluded the news media, was held in the same chambers used by the county school board, a fact that didn’t sit well with its members.

Vote early, officials say: Officials warn lengthy ballots could cause waits (TFP/Sher)
State elections officials are urging people to vote early in the Aug. 7 election, saying the lengthy ballot will generate long lines on Election Day. An estimated 143,625 Tennesseans — 7,428 in Hamilton County — had cast early ballots by the time the polls closed Wednesday according to the state Division of Elections. “If you know who you’re going to vote for, go ahead and get your ballot in the box,” Secretary of State Tré Hargett said during a telephone conference call with reporters. Hargett and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins said early voting, which began Friday and goes through Aug. 2, is already up 15 percent over a somewhat similar, nonpresidential ballot in 2010.

Tennessee signs out-of-state firm $60 million for ‘Made in Tenn’ tourism ads (AP)
Tennessee officials have signed a five-year, $60 million contract with a Kansas City firm to produce the “Made in Tennessee” tourism campaign. The marketing agency VML, which has opened a Nashville office, produced two 30-second TV commercials promoting getting outdoors in Tennessee. The ads feature with dramatic waterfalls, green rolling hills and horseback-riding amid a forest scene. The ads will play in about a dozen markets around the country. The head of the state’s tourism department, Susan Whitaker, said Tennessee needs to keep up with other states which are spending to promote tourism.

Health Advocacy Groups File Lawsuit Against State (Associated Press)
Three advocacy groups filed a class action lawsuit on Wednesday accusing the state of Tennessee of failing to provide certain services required by the federal health care law. The lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Tennessee Justice Center and the National Health Law Program follows a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that was sent to state officials last month, accusing them of failing to meet requirements under the health care law. The lawsuit says the state isn’t providing in-person assistance and is forcing applicants to apply for TennCare – the state’s expanded Medicaid program – through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace website, which was not designed for that purpose.

Legal advocacy groups file federal suit against TennCare (Nashville Post)
Three legal advocacy groups have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the state of Tennessee over issues with the state’s TennCare program. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Tennessee Justice Center and National Health Law Program have filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to address TennCare’s failure to meet a number of federal requirements for the state’s Medicaid program. Accusing the state of purposefully constricting the program in political opposition to the Affordable Care Act, Sam Brooke, staff attorney with the SPLC, said Tennessee has made it harder than any other state to apply for coverage.

Patients in Tenncare limbo sue for benefits (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Babies who went without medical coverage, a mother of three with high blood pressure and a woman with kidney failure are among the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed today contending that TennCare illegally denied them Medicaid benefits. Three nonprofit legal firms — the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Tennessee Justice Center and the National Health Law Program — are representing the plaintiffs. TennCare has also come under fire from the federal director of Medicaid programs, who this month sent a letter putting the agency on notice that it had failed to abide by its legal obligations. The suit comes after TennCare Director Darin Gordon sent a defiant response to that letter, blaming many of the state’s problems on the federal website healthcare.gov.

TennCare sued over delays in coverage (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Harrison)
Using the words “disgraceful” and “atrocious” to describe long delays in the TennCare application process, three legal advocacy groups say they hope a federal class-action lawsuit filed against the state agency will put more pressure on state officials to overhaul the system. Announcing the lawsuit on Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Health Law Program and the Tennessee Justice Center said the state has broken federal law and “broken a decades-old promise to its most vulnerable residents” by using a new enrollment system that created delays in coverage as long as six months for newborns, pregnant women and the elderly.

Groups accuse state of deliberately making it tough to get TennCare (NS/Balloch)
Three advocacy groups have joined in filing a federal lawsuit that seeks to correct TennCare practices they say have illegally denied thousands of Tennesseans access to health care. In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, plaintiffs in the lawsuit said that Tennessee is the worst state in the nation when it comes to meeting its legally mandated Medicaid obligations, and is making it harder than any other state for its citizens to even enroll in a Medicaid program. Specifically, the plaintiffs asserted that TennCare has deliberately made applying for coverage more difficult.

Patients Sue TennCare For Giving Them The Runaround (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Infants waiting on vaccinations, pregnant women forgoing prenatal care and people with deadly infections refusing to go to the hospital. These are the kinds of anecdotes contained in a lawsuit against Tennessee’s Medicaid program filed Wednesday in federal court. “Tennessee has created an array of bureaucratic barriers to enrolling in TennCare,” the complaint says. “The State’s acts and omissions deprive thousands of low-income Tennesseans of all ages timely access to essential medical care for which they are eligible under state and federal law.”

Four charged with Tenncare drug fraud (Jackson Sun)
Four people were charged with TennCare drug fraud in Weakley County, after an undercover operation, according to a news release. The Office of Inspector General announced the arrests today, which were the result of a joint effort with the Weakley County Sheriff’s Office. All four arrests involve the sale of prescription drugs paid for by TennCare and are as follows: Jerry Tarion Carter, 58, of Dresden, charged with TennCare fraud and sale of a controlled substance. He’s accused of using TennCare benefits to purchase the painkiller Hydrocodone, later selling a portion to an undercover informant.

Money saving tips for back to school shopping during Tax Free Weekend (WATE)
Back to school shopping time is here again. One way parents can save big is by buying supplies during Tax Free Weekend. This year, Tennessee’s Sales Tax Holiday starts Friday, August 1 and runs through Sunday, August 3. Every penny counts when you’re shopping for school supplies. “I probably spend $125 for their supplies,” said mother of two Dana Powers. If you want to make the most of your money, Tax Free Weekend may help. Items like binders and backpacks $100 or less; clothing like shirts, shoes, and socks; and computers up to $1,500 are all tax free.

Parents to spend more on back to school (Commercial Appeal/Bailey)
Major retailers are widening deals on back to school supplies as they seek to cash in on families who are expected to spend a bit more during this year’s annual shopping ritual. Walmart has reduced prices on 10 percent more items than last year, and Staples has launched a 110 percent Price Match Guarantee. In addition to the savings at stores, local shoppers can take advantage of two upcoming sales tax holidays: Friday and Saturday in Mississippi, and Aug. 1 through Aug. 3 in Tennessee. Families with school-age children are forecast to spend an average of $670 on back to school shopping, five percent more than last year, according to a report from the National Retail Federation.

Hitting airwaves: Sides in justices retention debate dial up ads (NS/Humphrey)
Those supporting retention of three state Supreme Court justices in the Aug. 7 election apparently took at least an early lead over those opposing the judges in spending on television advertising, but a new wave of ads unleashed this week could change the spending picture. Figures collected by Justice at Stake, a national group that tracks state court races, show that through last week Tennessee Forum — the first group opposing the justices to air TV ads — had spent $119,055 on commercials. Keep Tennessee Courts Fair, the umbrella group for the campaigns of Justices Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade, had spent $201,495.

Blackburn says ‘dreamers’ program adds to border crisis (Tennessean/Barton)
Rep. Marsha Blackburn called Wednesday for stripping funding from an Obama administration program that defers deportations of undocumented youth brought to the United States by their parents. A Nashville pro-immigration group said it saw political opportunism in her move. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program applies to undocumented youth who have lived in the United States since June 15, 2007 and are pursuing an education or are in the military. They are often referred to as “dreamers.” They also have to stay clear of criminal activity.

Sarah Palin endorses Joe Carr in primary (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
The original “mama grizzly,” tea party icon Sarah Palin, says she’s got state Rep. Joe Carr’s back in his Aug. 7 GOP primary challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. In a posting on her Facebook page Wednesday, Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, declared, “Joe Carr is the new voice Tennessee needs in the U.S. Senate!” Her statement follows a Tuesday event for Carr headlined by nationally syndicated conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. Palin, a former Alaska governor, didn’t make an endorsement when she visited Tennessee last month for a tea party rally in Sevierville with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

Study: Obamacare enabled 10.3 million uninsured Americans to get coverage (NBJ)
You may not like Obamacare, but 10.3 million previously uninsured adults gained coverage during the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period. That’s according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found the uninsured rate for working-age adults fell from 21 percent in September 2013 to 16.3 percent in April 2014. The biggest gains in coverage were for Latinos, blacks and adults ages 18-34. Most of the people who gained coverage were either low-income residents of states that expanded their Medicaid programs or individuals who qualified for government-subsidized plans purchased through Obamacare’s insurance exchanges.

Tennesseans get $10 million in insurance refunds (Tennessean/Wilemon)
More than 336,000 Tennesseans will share $10 million in refunds from health insurance companies because of the Affordable Care Act. The checks, which will average $53 per family, will be written because of the medical loss ratio rule in the law. That provision requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of insurance premiums on patient care and quality improvement efforts. The refunds are for premiums paid in 2013. For 2012, refunds to Tennesseans totaled $5.6 million. The refunds can be made by check, a lump-sum payment to the credit card or debit card used to pay premiums, a reduction in future payments or by employers using refunds to improve health coverage, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Court Ruling on Health Care Subsidies Risks Loss of Coverage (New York Times)
Even with a federal subsidy to help cover the cost, Gloria Spottswood has had to squeeze her household budget to afford the health insurance she bought this year through the Affordable Care Act. Ms. Spottswood, who is 56 and works in food service, signed up for a CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield plan to cover herself and her 17-year-old son. She gets a subsidy of $181 a month toward the $663 premium, and pays the remaining $482. She manages, she said, but just barely. So when a federal appeals court panel found Tuesday that subsidies cannot be used in states like Virginia that rely on the federal insurance exchange — even as a different appeals court in Virginia found the opposite in a separate case — Ms. Spottswood flinched.

Two 101st Airborne brigades going back to Afghanistan (Leaf Chronicle)
The 101st Airborne Division will have yet another stint in Afghanistan, with the deployment this fall of about 1,900 soldiers from two of its brigades. The Department of Defense on Wednesday publicly announced three Army units to deploy in fall 2014 as part of the upcoming rotation of forces. According to the DOD news release, the scheduled rotation involves: • Roughly 1,000 personnel from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. • Roughly 900 personnel from 3rd BCT, 101st Airborne. • Roughly 1,725 personnel from 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Fixing ‘serious’ truancy problem (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/South)
Hamilton County courts, schools set out to address 44% rate The head of Hamilton County Schools and the county’s Juvenile Court judge are putting their heads together over how to stop years of finger-pointing and miscommunication and fix problems with how truant students are handled. They are working from a report submitted Wednesday by a 17-member task force highlighting loopholes and a start-to-finish assessment of problems with how truancy cases are tracked, reported and resolved. “This is a very serious problem,” School Superintendent Rick Smith said. “We’re not the bad guy and the court’s not the bad guy. We’re doing the best that we can to ensure that child gets a good education,” Smith said.

State sets Friday deadline for decision on Union Co. virtual academy (NS/McCoy)
The Union County school system has until Friday to tell the state its decision on whether it plans to enroll an additional 626 students into the Tennessee Virtual Academy in the coming school year, according to documents obtained by the News Sentinel. In a letter to schools Superintendent Jimmy Carter, Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, recommended the district “consider limiting enrollment … to those students previously attending the school” for the public online school because for the third consecutive year students in the program have shown low achievement in testing.

 
OPINION

TheCo is a welcome addition for businesses (Jackson Sun)
TheCo — a new entrepreneurship incubator in Jackson — will celebrate its opening today with a “show and tell” from 4 to 7 p.m. The center is, indeed, something to celebrate. TheCo is at 541 Wiley Parker Road, the former location of Madison’s Restaurant and later Coyote Blues restaurant. It was organized by the Entrepreneur Center, an organization supported by many highly successful local businessmen that seeks to promote and support entrepreneurs and their business efforts. TheCo is a one-stop shop to spur entrepreneurship, innovation and new small businesses.

Editorial: Area hospitals’ high rankings good for Knox area (News-Sentinel)
Four Knoxville-area hospitals were rated among Tennessee’s top 10 medical centers, and that is a strong testimony to the quality of health care in East Tennessee. We should be very proud. The University of Tennessee Medical Center was rated the state’s No. 2 medical center in the “America’s Best Hospitals” survey edition of U.S. News and World Report. It was the third consecutive time UT Medical Center was rated among the “America’s Best Hospitals” report. Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville was rated No. 1 in the state. Three Covenant Health hospitals also placed within the magazine’s top 10.