This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Students hoping to go to community college for free through the Tennessee Promise program will get a little help from Volunteer State Community College on Saturday. Vol State is holding an application workshop for high school seniors and their parents from 9 a.m. to noon in the Thigpen Library at 1480 Nashville Pike in Gallatin. Another workshop will be held Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. At each session, students can use computers to complete the online Tennessee Promise and Vol State applications. More than 35,000 students have already signed up for Tennessee Promise, the new program led by Gov. Bill Haslam that gives Tennessee’s high school seniors free tuition at the state’s two-year community colleges, including Vol State, and colleges of applied technology.
The Tennessee College of Applied Technology will open its computer lab today to allow high school seniors to fill out their college applications as part of Scholarship Saturday, a statewide initiative. The lab will be open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The event is designed to encourage students to enroll in Tennessee Promise, the state’s new program that provides two years of technical or community college tuition-free for any student graduating from a Tennessee high school, according to the college. Officials said the class of 2015 will be the first eligible to take advantage of the program.
The fight over academic standards in Tennessee shouldn’t be about what it ends up being called, Gov. Bill Haslam suggested Friday, but whether it’s rigorous enough to help Tennessee students. “For me, it shouldn’t be about the name and what we call it, the battle should be about: Are we going to have high standards or not and what exactly should those standards be?” Haslam said. Haslam delivered that message in Nashville as he sat next to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, in town for a Denver Chamber of Commerce leadership visit. Haslam’s latest comment follows others in which he called for a “full vetting” of Common Core standards, with a legislative session looming and the fate of the controversial standards expected to take center stage.
Abuse of prescription opioids (pain relievers) is the number one drug problem for Tennesseans receiving state-funded substance abuse treatment services, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Key strategies to address prescription drug abuse, according to the department’s website, are to: • Increase public awareness about dangers of methamphetamine and prescription drugs • Increase data sharing among state departments and agency partners for drug abuse • Expand treatment options for people addicted to prescription drugs • Support health care organizations and providers to become champions for prescription drug abuse prevention • Reduce unethical and dangerous practices among prescribers • Develop regional approaches to monitor and reduce prescription drug and methamphetamine trafficking.
When we hear the word addiction, we typically think of alcohol, cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine. However, none of these — or even several of them combined — are anywhere near the most significant substance abuse challenge we face in Tennessee: prescription drugs. The most prevalent addiction problem in our state is abuse of prescription opioids — pain relievers. In the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vital Signs report, Tennessee, along with two other Southern states, has the highest rates of prescriptions for these medications written per person. This appears to be taking a toll. According to recently released numbers from the Tennessee Substance Abuse Data Task Force, treatment admissions for abuse of prescription drugs have increased 500 percent in the past decade.
New federal data show deaths from prescription painkillers have decreased for the first time since 1999, while heroin deaths have surged, suggesting some addicts may have turned to illicit drugs as new federal and state restrictions made prescription narcotics harder to get. Abuse of prescription opioids, such as the powerful painkiller OxyContin, fueled a surge in overdose deaths, which quadrupled from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,917 deaths in 2011. The numbers are based on mortality data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2012, the latest year available, deaths from prescription painkillers dropped 5% to 16,007, according to CDC data made public Wednesday by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Deaths from all categories of prescription drugs dropped 3%, the data shows.
It’s nicknamed “Malfunction Junction” by some, and it can be confusing, especially for drivers unfamiliar with this intersection of four roads. That’s why the city is seeking a Tennessee Department of Transportation grant to build a roundabout at what is now the intersection of Providence Road, Pennsylvania Avenue, East Pasadena Lane and North Tulane Avenue. The grant application will be the subject of a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building training room. A project overview will be presented, and comments will be included in the grant application, due to TDOT by Nov. 3.
Tennessee State Representative Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) was recognized recently by the United States Department of Defense for his “leadership on public policy changes positively impacting the quality of life of Service members and their families.” The award of appreciation comes after Rep. Johnson successfully passed several bills to aid military service members and their families, including House Bill 1372 which was approved this year. That new law would allow certain out-of-state veterans to pay in-state tuition and fees at state colleges and universities.
A ballot mix-up this week was an isolated incident that has been fixed, says the Sumner County elections administrator. On Friday, Administrator of Elections Lori Atchley said she was aware of five voters who had called candidates with ballot issues relating to the Gallatin municipal races since the start of early voting on Wednesday. The issue stems from the voting machine wording for machine operators who select either “no ward” for voters who live in a district that is not currently up for re-election or “no city,” which means the voter lives outside the city limits, Atchley said. The Gallatin city races on the November ballot include mayor, city recorder and city council districts 3, 4, 5 and one at-large seat. A referendum for wine in grocery stores is also on the ballot for residents who live inside the city limits.
Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. have been invited to speak at a summit in Cleveland, Ohio, next week to discuss the handling of rape kit backlogs. The summit is Oct. 19 to 21. Norris, who is also chairman of the national Council of State Governments, sponsored legislation last year that requires law enforcement agencies to inventory their rape kits. Experts say Memphis has one of the nation’s largest known backlogs of rape kits, at more than 12,000. Thousands of the backlogged kits have been tested since they were discovered last year, and authorities are working to identify suspects from the evidence and charge them. Rape victims have filed a lawsuit over the untested kits. Memphis officials say testing of old sexual assault kits has led to indictments against 26 suspects.
When Senator Lamar Alexander and his opponent, Gordon Ball, appeared together on Thursday, one shared strategy became clear: they’re both courting the Tea Party vote, a force that proved to be formidable in the Republican primary. Since Alexander’s primary challenger Joe Carr took 41 percent of the Republican vote, Alexander knows that converting his supporters will be important in the election. After a forum hosted by the Farm Bureau on Thursday, Alexander said he recently met Carr at a Cracker Barrel in Smyrna to win him over. The hour-long dinner wasn’t winsome enough to result in a Alexander endorsement. “I told him I would welcome his endorsement,” Alexander said after the forum.
Sen. Lamar Alexander held a round-table discussion Friday at a Memphis hospital about preparing for the Ebola virus, but left with the message that Tennesseans should be preparing for the flu. “Today’s session had Memphis hospitals saying we’re appropriately ready, it had all the public health people saying we have confidence in the Centers for Disease Control, we know we have one of the best public health departments in the country,” Alexander told reporters after meeting for an hour with area public health, hospital and medical experts. “But we also know there’s only been one death of Ebola in the United States and we know 30,000 are going to die of flu this season, and there’s a vaccine for that,” he said.
While the 2014 election might be short on intrigue in Tennessee, it does offer up one of the more peculiar contests in recent memory. The battle for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District includes an incumbent Republican whose own party establishment tried to replace him, in no small part because an old divorce file revealed that the congressman who wanted to outlaw abortion had urged more than one woman, including his former wife, to have one. Now the congressman, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, is battling cancer. He just emerged from treatment and spoke at the Tennessee Agricultural Leadership Forum in Murfreesboro on Tuesday. It was the first and only public appearance he has made since winning his party’s nomination Aug. 7.
Democratic Party nominee Lenda Sherrell touted how she raised more than double what Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais collected in the latest financial disclosure reports. Sherrell, a certified public accountant who built a 25-year career in the private sector as an auditor and controller balancing multi-million dollar budgets for educational and health care institutions, raised $169,880 between July 1 and Sept. 30, compared to DesJarlais’ $72,276, according to her press release. In addition, Sherrell has more than double the cash-on-hand with $234,773 in the bank while incumbent DesJarlais has $102, 756. “I am honored to have the support of so many in this vast 16-county district since we kicked off our grass-roots campaign in February,” said Sherrell, a lifelong Tennessean who grew up on the Cumberland Plateau.
Patricia Wanderlich got insurance through the Affordable Care Act this year, and with good reason: She suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2011, spending weeks in a hospital intensive care unit, and has a second, smaller aneurysm that needs monitoring. But her new plan has a $6,000 annual deductible, meaning that Ms. Wanderlich, who works part time at a landscaping company outside Chicago, has to pay for most of her medical services up to that amount. She is skipping this year’s brain scan and hoping for the best. “To spend thousands of dollars just making sure it hasn’t grown?” said Ms. Wanderlich, 61. “I don’t have that money.” About 7.3 million Americans are enrolled in private coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than 80 percent qualified for federal subsidies to help with the cost of their monthly premiums.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is cutting in half the share of power it gets from coal-fired power plants and should reduce its carbon emissions from its peak levels by nearly 40 percent by 2020. Such cuts would appear to more than meet the overall target proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce power plant carbon pollution 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 to help curb greenhouse gases linked with global warming. But TVA may not get credit for much of that reduction under the way the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is counting carbon cuts by electric utilities. Other Southern utilities adding more nuclear power to replace aging coal plants face a similar regulatory hurdle unless EPA alters its proposed Clean Power Plan.
Volkswagen’s new innovative way of assembling cars, including its planned midsize sport utility vehicle, assures the growth of the Chattanooga plant, an official said Friday. “The SUV opens more doors than simply a new vehicle. It’s our ticket to the future in Chattanooga,” said Ian Davies, VW Group of America’s general manager for product purchasing and supplier readiness. The production platform enables VW to design and produce a variety of vehicles by sharing parts among them. It will provide more production opportunities for the plant as well as possible added business for suppliers, Davies said.
The Supreme Court said Saturday that Texas can use its controversial new voter identification law for the November election. A majority of the justices rejected an emergency request from the Justice Department and civil rights groups to prohibit the state from requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo identification in order to cast ballots. Three justices dissented. The law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. Early voting in Texas begins Monday. The Supreme Court’s order was unsigned, as it typically is in these situations.
I remember lots of summer days spent playing softball with the neighborhood kids or riding our bikes for hours until it was time to come in for lunch or supper. I also very fondly remember the mile-long walks to school and back and the winter days sledding downhill in front of our house as the snow fell around us. Later years I used dancing and then a 35-year “habit” of running several times a week to keep my weight in check, with the added result of no long-term health issues. I am sure I have been blessed with a better than average genetic makeup, but I believe my daily routines have contributed to my overall good health. I am not relaying all of this for a pat on the back, but rather to bring to all of our attention a health crisis that is literally creeping up on us one pound at a time.
The new Flex building at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is an $80 million concrete structure built to take a big hit. Inside the building, which is anchored to the highest point of the plant, TVA has stored enough pumps, generators and other equipment to respond to almost any type of natural or human-made disaster. That includes an earthquake, storm or missile attack. It is a point of pride that TVA, the federal agency prominent in Tennessee and six neighboring states for the past 80 years, is the first U.S. utility to complete the new backup component. The building is named “Flex” because of the flexibility it would offer in allowing the agency to respond to a worst-case scenario.
The fact that Shelby County’s infant mortality rate hit its lowest point ever last year is certainly cause for celebration. And, the collaborative way it happened also is cause to celebrate. In 2013, the county’s infant mortality rate indicated that 9.2 babies out of every 1,000 died before reaching their first birthday. That translates into 127 babies under age 1 who died that year. The rate was 10.6 for 2012 and 9.6 in 2011. That is a significant drop from an infant mortality rate of 14.9 percent in 2003, which was higher than the rate in many Third World countries. The news for African-Americans was not quite as celebratory. The 2013 infant mortality rate for that group was 12.4, but still down from 14.2 in 2012 and 17.4 in 2004.