This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor’s tourism conference starts Thursday (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Hundreds of tourism industry representatives from across the state will be in Knoxville this week for the 2014 Tennessee Governor’s Conference on Hospitality and Tourism. The annual event held at the Knoxville Convention Center kicks off today with a seminar on delivering world-class service by Teri Yanovitch, a costumer service consultant and author, according to a news release. The conference wraps up Friday with a keynote address by Gov. Bill Haslam On Thursday, Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker will present her annual state of the industry address at the breakfast session. Also Thursday, Inky Johnson, former University of Tennessee football player and inspirational speaker, will be the keynote speaker at the lunch session.
Convergys hiring nearly 300 in Chattanooga (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)
Staffing up for the holidays and beyond, Convergys Corp. plans to hire between 250 and 300 more people for its Chattanooga call center. Convergys has gained a new business for the holidays, and it needs more people to handle work for its existing clients, Crystal Wilson, the company’s senior regional manager for recruiting, said Tuesday. She said less than 100 of the jobs at its Eastgate Town Center offices will be seasonal slots, and the majority of the posts are full-time. Wilson said the jobs will be customer service positions with some sales. Pay will range from $10 to $11 an hour, she said. Required skills are a “customer service mindset, being comfortable on a computer and some sales experience,” Wilson said. She said the added positions will put Convergys at nearly 900 employees in Chattanooga.
Tennessee’s economy continues to improve (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee’s economy continues to travel down recovery road, according to monthly economic indicators released by the Business and Economic Research Center at MTSU. September’s data, which reflects August’s economy, show positive grow in all the right places. Permits for single-family homes grew, as did state sales tax collections, nonfarm employment, weekly hours worked and average hourly earnings. At the same time, the initial claims for unemployment sank. The only dark spot was an increase in the state’s jobless rate. The most recent national unemployment rate released Friday was 5.9 percent — the lowest level since the depths of the Great Recession in July 2008.
Tennessee outlines Ebola preparations (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner expressed confidence Tuesday in the ability of the U.S. military and state hospitals to safeguard the public from Ebola. He spoke as 700 soldiers from Fort Campbell make preparations to deploy to Liberia where they will build hospitals. But the state’s preparations began weeks ago. Health officials have held an informational meeting with people from West African nations living in Nashville and have been sharing protocols with hospitals on how to respond to suspected cases. Dreyzehner stressed the importance of the public understanding that Ebola is not an easily transmittable disease.
Tennessee is prepared, say officials (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Nelson)
There are no cases of Ebola in Tennessee right now — none confirmed, none even suspected. But that doesn’t stop worried patients from coming into local emergency rooms, concerned they’ve been exposed to the virus. So far, none has met the criteria that would concern health officials, said Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of Knox County Health Department. They’re examined, educated on signs of the virus and how it spreads, then sent home, she said. Local hospitals are “on heightened alert” for possible cases, said Janice McKinley, senior vice president and chief nursing officer for Covenant Health, which operates nine East Tennessee hospitals. “As more people hear about (Ebola) on the news, we suspect the number of people coming in (with concerns) will go up,” she said.
Tennessee officials say they are prepared in event Ebola reaches state (T-N)
Health officials in Tennessee assured the public on Tuesday that if the deadly Ebola virus makes its way to the state, they are prepared. “I have great confidence in this state to respond to this or any other threat,” said Dr. John Dreyzehner, Commissioner with the Tennessee Department of Health during a Tuesday press conference. “I can’t speculate whether it will happen in Tennessee, I hope not, but hope is not a plan.” Ebola is a severe and often fatal disease that can occur in humans. Recent outbreaks in West Africa have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. Recently, a case of Ebola was discovered in Texas. Dreyzehner said there were some important things to remember when it comes to Ebola such as there are no confirmed cases in Tennessee; it’s important for everyone to work together to detect, protect and respond; fear, mistrust and stigma are driving the hysteria surrounding the outbreak.
Tennessee Health Commissioner On Alert, But Thinks Ebola Risk Is Low (WPLN)
There have been no cases of Ebola reported in Tennessee, but the state’s Department of Health is taking an offensive approach to handling questions about the disease. Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner says he doesn’t want Tennesseans to panic when they travel, and he wants them to pay attention to the facts about the disease. Right now, members of the state’s health department and soldiers from Fort Campbell are in Ebola afflicted countries. But Commissioner Dreyzenher doesn’t anticipate them bringing the infectious virus back, emphasizing they will be screened before coming home. “Fear, mistrust and stigma is going to do more, much more harm to the health of prosperity for Tennessee and around the world,” Dreyzenher says. Ebola can’t be spread easily, and the virus isn’t airborne.
TennCare rejection letters sent to those who didn’t apply (Tennessean/Wilemon)
A state agency has been sending inaccurate letters to Tennesseans this year informing them they don’t qualify for Medicaid. The letters are automatically generated by an outdated computer system when someone applies to the Department of Human Services for food stamps. The computer makes eligibility determinations according to old income guidelines — not the new ones set by the Affordable Care Act. And the letters are coming from an agency that as of Jan. 1 was supposed to stop making Medicaid eligibility determinations for TennCare. “We were aware of the issue and are currently assessing the ability to make modifications without adversely impacting other important services that the legacy system supports,” said Devin Stone, a communications officer for DHS.
Bad sign: TDOT poised to remove illegal billboard (Commercial Appeal/Bailey)
For the 154,000 motorists who daily drive by on Interstate 240, the bright yellow billboards must be as confusing as they are provocative. The back-to-back signs sit atop a pole, one facing east and the other west, just west of the Perkins exit. The boards state: “PUBLIC CORRUPTION: T DOT COM. SCHROER AND SHAWN BIBLE ARE CORRUPT OFFICIALS”. The “T DOT COM.” refers not to some dot-com company, but to the Tennessee Department of Transportation commissioner. He is “Schroer,” full name John Schroer. “Shawn Bible” works for TDOT, too. She is in charge of the Beautification Office, which, among other tasks, regulates billboards along the rights-of-way. The agency is about to come crashing down on what courts have ruled to be an illegally erected billboard. Not because of the signs’ corruption allegation, but because the structure stands within the Nonconnah Creek flood way.
Rock slide closes U.S. Highway 64 for part of Tuesday (Times Free-Press/Benton)
Traffic flow returned to normal Tuesday about 13 hours after a rock slide closed U.S. Highway 64 east of the Greasy Creek Bridge near the eastern end of Polk County’s Lake Ocoee. Tennessee Department of Transportation crews began working to clear debris from the slide site after daybreak Tuesday. The largest piece, Polk County dispatchers said, was a 15-by-24-foot boulder that landed in the eastbound lane. There were no injuries or private property damage reported. Crews were able to restore traffic flow in one lane by 9 a.m. Tuesday with flaggers directing traffic, TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.
Initiative lets students access ancestral records (Associated Press)
The Tennessee State Library and Archives is launching a new partnership with the popular genealogy site Ancestry.com. The two have collaborated for several years, digitizing many of Tennessee’s historical records. Now, state archivist Chuck Sherrill says the partnership is being extended to offer access to Ancestry.com in every K-12 school classroom. Students will have free access to 14 billion records across the 30,000 databases on Ancestry Institution, such as U.S. Census records from 1790 to 1940, as well as military records and Newspapers.com, another Ancestry-owned website. The State Library and Archives currently works with social studies teachers to provide other Tennessee history materials in support of school curriculum.
UM sees $600K savings in consolidation (Commercial Appeal)
The University of Memphis plans to save $600,000 by blending into a single division its alumni relations, communications and marketing, and government relations divisions. U of M president M. David Rudd disclosed the savings in an email sent last week to college employees. The new division will be named External Relations. Tammy Hedges will serve as the new division’s interim vice president. U of M has been paring costs as state funds decline as a share of total revenue.
State high court justice discusses Amendment 2 (Jackson Sun)
Newly appointed Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeff Bivins addressed the Howell Edmunds Jackson Inn of Court on Tuesday night, discussing the proposed Amendment 2 to the State Constitution, which will be on the ballot in the upcoming election on Nov. 4. Bivins was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to the Tennessee Supreme Court in April. Bivins previously has served on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Williamson County Commission and as general counsel to the Department of Human Resources under former Gov. Don Sundquist. At the Jackson Country Club Tuesday evening, Bivins spoke of the importance of Amendment 2 in the upcoming vote and the reasons behind making sure it is passed.
Amendment discussion draws emotion, criticism of speakers (N-S/Fowler)
A description of the so-called abortion amendment facing voters Nov. 4 sparked some angry, emotional reactions from a few members of the crowd attending a forum Tuesday night in Oak Ridge. One attendee murmured “baby killers” after one remark from speaker Corinne Rovetti, co-director for the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health. Rovetti was selected to discuss Amendment 1, which would give lawmakers power to enact laws governing abortion. Another member of the audience held up a hastily made sign that read, “Stop Killing Babies.” Still another in an outburst called the matter a “moral issue, and God says thou shalt not kill.” Constitutional Amendment 2, which calls for the governor to appoint appellate court members with lawmakers’ confirmation, was described by University of Tennessee law professor Judy Cornett, while Amendment 3, banning any future personal earned income tax, was the purview of Maryville College professor Sherry Davis Kasper.
Alexander’s Campaign Coy on Plans for Insurance-Coverage Mandate (TN Report)
Should the GOP take control of Congress’s upper chamber in November, Lamar Alexander will become – if he wins re-election — chairman of the U.S. Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee. Among the key issues he wants to tackle is a top-to-bottom revamp of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010 without having earned a single Republican vote in Congress, when Democrats controlled both houses. Alexander, currently the ranking Republican on the HELP Committee, was among 15 national “health care thinkers” that Politico asked last month to contribute views on what to do about the ACA “for the long haul.” His prescription, which appeared under the heading, “A conservative alternative,” included a declaration that “Obamacare is so flawed that it cannot be fixed.”
As Midterm Elections Loom, U.S. Voters Are Excited About…Nobody (WSJ)
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, after an early scare, is cruising toward re-election next month in South Carolina. Yet, he isn’t sure what the deeper meaning of victory will be this year. “There is no mandate other than, ‘We don’t like the other guy,’ ” he said. Sen. Graham and his fellow Republicans hold a clear edge as the midterm campaign heads into its stretch run. The party is almost certain to keep control of the House, and may expand its majority. Depending on the outcome in several close states, the Republican Party could gain between four and seven seats in the Senate, giving it a good shot at capturing that chamber and, with it, control of Congress for the first time in eight years.
Erlanger unveils dreams for the future in Chattanooga (TFP/Anderson)
Erlanger hospital officials plan to build more than a state-of-the-art children’s hospital — they plan to build a new children’s and women’s hospital that will revitalize Third Street’s hospital corridor, channeling the spirit of Chattanooga’s vibrant downtown development. Erlanger invited Chattanoogans to “Re-Imagining Erlanger,” a public event held Tuesday night that filled the auditorium of the Aquarium IMAX 3D Theatre. The audience watched as the final two teams vying for the opportunity to design and build this project unveiled their renderings on the IMAX screen. Hospital officials asked for community support and input. A majority of the audience were Erlanger employees, but there also were business professionals, and curious citizens, who sat alongside hospital officials and committee members in the darkened theater.
Editorial: TennCare prefers courts over service (Tennessean)
To hear Gov. Bill Haslam and state Finance Commissioner Larry Martin tell it, Darin Gordon is a great director of TennCare because he saves taxpayers’ money. But there isn’t much mention of whether TennCare under his leadership is adequately serving Tennesseans who are Medicaid eligible — TennCare’s primary mission. With each new revelation, we are seeing more evidence that TennCare is not fulfilling that mission, and that is the measure by which Gordon’s performance ultimately should be measured. An indeterminate number of Tennesseans who have applied for TennCare have been trying to get processed for nearly a year and failed, first because TennCare could not resolve its computer problems and then because the agency stopped providing personnel in county offices who had previously helped people apply directly to TennCare. The backup plan, applying through the federal healthcare.gov website, suddenly became the only plan.
Guest columnist: MTSU incentives will help enrollees stay on track (Tennessean)
The first two years are critical to a university student. A bump in the road, especially at the beginning, can derail the progress of those struggling to stay enrolled. That’s why I was pleased to announce the MTSU Student Success Advantage last month during the first leg of our six-city True Blue Tour to recruit students across the state. The plan, which has the tagline of “Graduate in Four and Earn More,” will supplement by $1,000 the HOPE Lottery Scholarships of incoming students seeking a four-year degree and who stay on track to graduate on time at MTSU. And, we also added a few extra financial incentives: • We will provide a Finish Line Scholarship to graduating seniors that will return any tuition increases incurred during the four-year period of their studies. • We expanded the eligibility to qualify for five major scholarships guaranteed to eligible students. • We changed our Transfer Academic Scholarships from being competitively based to guaranteed for students from Tennessee’s 14 community colleges.