This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Dolly Parton helps celebrate Imagination Library program in Nashville (AP)
Country legend Dolly Parton joined Gov. Bill Haslam in celebrating the 10th anniversary of her Imagination Library in Tennessee. Parton, Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen were part of a ceremony on Tuesday that capped a statewide bus tour promoting the program, which started during Bredesen’s administration. The Imagination Library has mailed over 20 million free books to Tennessee children since it began. The Books from Birth Foundation helps support the program by matching the funds raised by local groups. Parton said her main reason for starting the program was to honor her father, who couldn’t read or write.
Dolly Parton celebrates Books from Birth in Nashville (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
He had a tough act to follow, but a 6-year-old boy stole the show from Dolly Parton and two governors during a literacy awareness event Tuesday at the Tennessee State Capitol. Dawson Dykes, with his red hair combed over impeccably, received the microphone from Parton, reassured her that he didn’t need any help, and recited a sing-song poem about how much he loves reading… Parton, who spoke after Gov. Bill Haslam, first lady Crissy Haslam and former governor Phil Bredesen, said the program transcends political lines. That sits well for Parton, who launched her library in honor of her father. He never learned to read or write, she said. “It’s very personal to me. Very emotional,” Parton said. “I’m just happy I can help get books into the hands of children. You can’t get enough of that.”
Haslam working to stop shredding of books (Associated Press/Johnson)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that he’s continuing to negotiate with the U.S. Postal Service to prevent it from shredding Imagination Library books delivered to incorrect addresses. Haslam spoke to reporters following a ceremony celebrating the 10th anniversary of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee. Earlier this year, the governor signed a measure lawmakers passed to ban the shredding of the books, and instead direct the U.S. Postal Service to donate them to pre-kindergarten or other programs. For a while, many post offices had been setting aside the undelivered books until a volunteer could pick them up because the Governors Books from Birth Foundation – a partner with the Imagination Library – wasn’t paying to have them returned to their facility in Nashville.
6-year-old upstages Dolly Parton at Imagination Library celebration (WKRN-TV)
Dolly Parton starred in her own party as only she can do Tuesday on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill. It was a 10-year anniversary celebration of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and Parton’s Imagination Library. The bus tour, which has gone to 54 counties in the last month, celebrated the more than 21 million books distributed to children in Tennessee over the past 10 years. The programs provide books free to every child in Tennessee from birth to age five. While Governor Bill Haslam and his predecessor Phil Bredesen were there, both acknowledged that it was Parton that a crowd filling the Old Supreme Court Chambers came to see. She did not disappoint.
Governor defends TennCare director (Tennessean/Wilemon, Gonzalez)
Gov. Bill Haslam praised TennCare Director Darin Gordon on Tuesday for saving tax dollars, despite a federal notice that the program’s backlog of applications violates U.S. law and a lawsuit accusing the agency of creating barriers for people seeking coverage. “I want to be as blunt as I can,” Haslam said. “Darin Gordon — I guarantee you — every other state in the country would love to have him as their Medicaid director. He has helped serve millions of Tennesseans, has saved the state taxpayers’ dollar, and certainly we’ve had a great product we provide to folks.” The lawsuit centers on TennCare’s decision to stop providing direct assistance to people seeking coverage and require them to apply through Healthcare.gov, the website for the federal insurance exchange.
Haslam asks for bigger cuts after revenue shortfall (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Gov. Bill Haslam wants state agency leaders to plan for their largest spending cuts during his time in office. Haslam asked agency chiefs to plan for 7 percent reductions, although on Tuesday he downplayed the request as a routine exercise as the next budgeting process approaches. He said severe across-the-board cuts aren’t inevitable. Last year, for example, Haslam asked state departments to detail 5 percent cuts, but most avoided worst-case scenarios. “We always ask them to prepare what we think could be the toughest scenario,” Haslam said.
Haslam Tells Tennessee Agencies to Plan for Cuts (Associated Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is calling on all state agencies to plan for up to 7 percent spending cuts in the upcoming budget year. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the move comes following a spending year in which revenues fell more than $300 million short of projections, leading the governor to cancel planned raises for state workers and teachers. The actual amount of any potential cuts for the upcoming budget year will depend on whether revenues rebound and on the governor’s spending priorities. Haslam recently traveled to meet with bond rating agencies in New York to tout Tennessee’s fiscal strength. He said the agencies expressed concern about flagging corporate tax collections.
What Life Is Like Inside The Woodland Hills Detention Center (WPLN-Radio Nash)
The hallways of Woodland Hills evoke an eerily quiet high school, only there are cages enforcing almost every window. Guards sitting at desks man nearly every corner. When it comes time for lights out, which usually happens around 8:30 p.m., the inmates (or students, as DCS insists they be called) file into individual 8-by-10 concrete rooms furnished with a metal toilet and a small desk. There’s a vertical sliver of a window providing the rooms with a flash of the outside world. When a teen wakes up in his Woodland Hills cell, he starts with 50 points. According to Melvin Whitlow, the facility’s superintendent, every time he acts out, points are stripped away.
Slatery to be sworn in as Tennessee’s 27th AG (Associated Press)
Herbert Slatery (SLAY-tur-ee) is scheduled to be sworn in Wednesday as Tennessee’s 27th attorney general, and the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction. Tennessee is the only state where the Supreme Court appoints the attorney general. The five justices on Sept. 15 named Slatery to an eight-year term. He previously served as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel. Slatery is a former chairman of the Knoxville law firm Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis, where he specialized in private business transactions and local government organizations. As legal counsel to the Haslam administration, Slatery played a lead role in passing new laws capping payouts in lawsuits and changing the way injured employees can pursue workers’ compensation claims.
AG’s inclusion in past all-white club shrugged off (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Twenty-five years ago, the exclusionary reputation of a Knoxville country club led to a furor when the University of Tennessee feared that its first African-American basketball coach would be rejected based on race. Today, a membership in that club by the state’s new attorney general has been met with barely a shrug. Herbert Slatery, who previously served as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief legal counsel, on his application to become the state’s top attorney listed his membership in Cherokee Country Club. But he responded “not applicable” to a question about whether he ever belonged to a club which limited membership based on race or gender. The Cherokee Country Club admitted its first black member in what was then its 95-year history in in 2002.
Tennessee veterans take a chance on Amendment 4 (Times Free-Press/Sher)
On its face, it would appear to be the least controversial of the four proposed changes to Tennessee’s Constitution on the November ballot. But proponents worry that Amendment 4, which would let many veterans’ organizations join the list of nonprofit groups allowed to hold annual charitable gaming fundraisers, may not pass muster with voters. “The way it’s worded, people won’t know what’s going on,” fretted state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, who shepherded the amendment through the legislative approval process to get it before voters on Nov. 4. “I think it’s going to have a hard time passing. You go into a [voting] booth, and you don’t know what it is,” Crow said.
Gambling fundraisers rake in millions for Tennessee nonprofit groups (TFP/Sher)
Tennessee-based nonprofit groups — churches, schools, hospitals, civic service clubs and others — collectively grossed $23.5 million over the past three years from charitable fundraisers featuring raffles, cakewalks and similar games of chance, figures show. On Nov. 4, voters will decide whether to add veterans’ service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans to the list of groups eligible to hold annual gambling fundraisers. The state House and Senate approved 145 such fundraisers this year. Groups may not raise money using pulltabs, punchboards, bingo, instant bingo, casino games like keno, slot machines and roulette wheels and games of a type operated by the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp.
TV ad opposes amendment on abortion in Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Sher)
The battle over a proposed abortion amendment to the Tennessee Constitution took to the airwaves Tuesday as opponents began running their first television spot attacking the proposal. The 30-second spot features a physician warning approval of Amendment 1 will result in “government interference” in a woman’s personal decisions. The Vote No on One Tennessee group said it is spending $145,000 to run the ad on cable stations in Nashville. It’s the “first step,” the group says, in a multimillion-dollar TV, radio and direct-mail campaign against the Nov. 4 ballot measure. Amendment 1 proponents have their own plans to support passage. The proposed amendment says that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”
Memphis physician featured in first anti-Amendment 1 TV ad (CA/Locker)
The fight over Tennessee’s proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment is escalating: Amendment opponents put up their first TV ad Tuesday — a Memphis physician warning that it “makes no exceptions for the awful things that can happen” — and supporters held a rally near the statehouse with the Duggar reality TV family of Arkansas. “Vote No on One Tennessee,” the campaign committee against Amendment 1, launched its ad on cable TV in Nashville. It features Dr. Owen Phillips, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist and medical school professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, talking about a patient who battled cancer during her pregnancy.
Alexander proposes legislation to simplify financial aid application (Herald-Courier)
Students are faced with more than 100 questions when filling out a federal application for financial aid and they usually need extensive help and maybe even an instruction manual to complete it. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, thinks the process should be simpler and he visited Northeast State Community College Tuesday to discuss the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act. The FAST Act would eliminate the FAFSA by reducing the 10-page application to two questions about family size and household income two years ago. Alexander said he would like to make it easier for students in Northeast Tennessee to attend college.
Alexander touts plan to trim FAFSA form (Times News)
In front of a room filled with supportive educators, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander pitched on Tuesday his planned federal legislation to cut the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form down from 100-plus questions to basic student information and two financial aid questions. Filling out the FAFSA is the first step in applying for most federal, state, and college-provided financial aid for students, but it is considered tedious, time consuming and a hindrance to entering higher education. The FAFSA covers the prospective student’s family situation, educational background and plans, finances and the student’s parents’ finances.
Alexander hopes election results in shift of power, majority (Johnson City Press)
One of the state’s incumbent U.S. legislators said he was hoping the Nov. 4 general election resulted not only in his re-election, but in a restructuring of power that could yield changes for education in Tennessee and the country. If the Republican party was to win a majority in the Senate, as the ranking member of the committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Sen. Lamar Alexander would assume the role of its chairman. “It’s got the largest jurisdiction in the Senate, and it’s one reason I’m running again,” Alexander said. “It would put me in a position to actually get things done, which is what I like to do.”
DesJarlais backs court ruling against ‘Obamacare’ (Daily News Journal)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais issued a statement today about “Obamacare” in support of a court ruling against certain tax subsidies. The ruling says its unconstitutional to provide tax subsidies for residents signing up health insurance through a federal government exchange rather than a state-run exchange, according to the press release from the South Pittsburg Republican’s press secretary Robert Jameson Judge Ronald White wrote, “The court holds that the IRS Rule is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.” “This issue goes to the very heart of our constitutional separation of powers,” DesJarlais said in the press release.
Soldiers from 101st deploying to Liberia (Associated Press)
Soldiers from Fort Campbell are deploying to Liberia to support the response to the Ebola virus outbreak there. The 101st Airborne Division said the 101st Headquarters will deploy as the joint force command and support the U.S. Agency for International Development as it helps the government of Liberia contain the virus. The agency and joint force command will also synchronize establishment of treatment units across Liberia, train health care workers and establish logistical centers. The 101st said troops deploying to Liberia will receive specific medical training and use specialized personal protection equipment to ensure they are protected from exposure.
Fort Campbell troops headed to Liberia to fight Ebola (Army Times)
About 1,400 soldiers, including 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) troops, will head to Liberia in October to help support the fight against the Ebola virus that is spreading across West Africa, a Pentagon official said Tuesday. The Army’s 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will provide about 700 of those soldiers, while the other 700 will be mostly combat engineers culled from Army units across the force, Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters. The soldiers will be among the total of 3,000 U.S. troops whom the Pentagon plans to send into West Africa this fall. The U.S. military mission will include building 17 100-bed hospital facilities and a health care facility for infected physicians and health care workers.
The Long-Term Cost of Building Transportation Projects on the Cheap (Governing)
When it came time to replace a runway that is nearly three miles long at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City a few years ago, the agency that runs the airport decided to take a close look at what options would make the most sense for its budget in the long run. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey considered the long-term costs of paving the runway with either concrete or asphalt. Concrete was more expensive initially, but it was projected to last four times as long as asphalt. Officials selected concrete, because they predicted it would save $500 million over the life of the runway and reduce maintenance costs as well. The Port Authority’s approach on the project, known in the industry as “life cycle cost analysis,” is well-known but not commonly used, according to a report released Tuesday.
Erlanger moves forward to expand East campus into full-service hospital (TFP/Belz)
More bulldozers and ambulances are heading toward Gunbarrel Road. Nearly a decade after Erlanger Health System announced plans to expand its Erlanger East Campus, construction work soon will begin to turn the satellite campus into a full-service hospital, officials announced Tuesday. The more-than-$40 million expansion will more than double the number of available beds and will bring more specialty surgeries and services such as a cardiac catheter lab to the hospital. Officials also confirmed that the hospital is trying to bring a hotel to the site — a potential selling point for patients and their families who travel for care.
School board chairman vote set for Wednesday (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)
Front-runners for the chairman’s seat on the Knox County School Board agree the decision isn’t a referendum on the performance of Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre. The Knox County Board of Education is expected to vote a new chairman in during Wednesday’s regular meeting. A previous attempt to name a chair from Mike McMillan or Doug Harris ended in a deadlock and the vote was postponed. Local political gadflies and bloggers have made a case that the school board’s choice would be a vote on McIntyre. McMillan has been hard on the superintendent, while Harris has been viewed as friendlier toward the administration.
Jones elected head of Shelby County Schools board (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)
The Shelby County Schools board of education will be led by Teresa Jones. The board elected her chairwoman in an 8-0 vote Tuesday night. “I thank my colleagues,” Jones said. “I intend to work hard every day to earn the trust you have placed in me.” Jones was appointed to the 23-member board in 2011 by the Shelby County Commission. She was elected in August 2012 in District 2 when the board was reduced to seven members. Jones, chief prosecutor for the city of Memphis, was nominated by board member Kevin Woods. She won on the first vote. Woods was elected vice chairman, also on the first vote. The board now has nine members, including four new members. Jones said she would not be “fixing anything that wasn’t broken,” but did say she would be making efforts to hear the wishes of new board members.
Editorial: Funding cuts appear to be having negative consequences (C. Appeal)
Less than a month after 32 teenage inmates escaped for the Woodland Hills Development Center, 13 inmates overpowered a guard there and managed to escape Friday night. Luckily, all were recaptured. This happened after a number of security updates and the retrofitting of some security mechanisms. For the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam and administrators of the state Department of Children’s Services, which operates Woodland Hills and two other development centers, this situation is embarrassing, and dangerous for the escapees and residents who live near the center. It appears from reports the situation at Woodland Hills has been exacerbated by funding cuts that have negatively impacted staffing and programs at the centers, which house juveniles convicted of serious felonies but remain in the state’s juvenile justice system.
Editorial: State needs to do the right thing on TennCare (Jackson Sun)
Let’s forget for a moment about the 330,000 uninsured Tennesseans. Never mind the nearly $675 million the state’s failure to expand TennCare has cost Tennesseans thus far — a number that grows by $2.5 million each day the sun sets on a deal not reached. Instead, let us take a look at recent court proceedings regarding TennCare: On Sept. 2 U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell ruled against TennCare and granted class action status to a lawsuit accusing the state of not providing in-person assistance and forcing applicants to apply for TennCare online through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. The judge also stopped TennCare from refusing to provide hearings within 45 days after one is requested about a delayed determination.