This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Official opening of the new Middle Tennessee State University science building last week came at good time. The timing already was good because opening of the $147 million facility was ahead of schedule and its cost was under budget. Students already are taking classes there, as opposed to the anticipated January 2015 opening of the building. Opening of the new building is the culmination of years of effort to update the facilities for science education and research at the state’s university with the largest undergraduate enrollment. The building also supports efforts to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies that are and will be the foundation of 21st century jobs.
Tanya Foreman, Raymond Brown and Kevin McGlone all admit they had some help along the way getting to their roles at Eastman Chemical Co. That’s why they decided to become volunteer mentors in Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” scholarship program providing two years of tuition-free community or technical college to Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015. Mentors have become a key piece supporting Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative to move the percentage of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate from 32 percent today to 55 percent by 2025. Eastman has teamed with other major state employers in an alliance creating the mentor base.
When Tennessee abdicated responsibility for Medicaid applications to the federal government, foster children got locked out. Adoption agencies had no way to seek coverage after TennCare made state residents apply through healthcare.gov, a website designed for families to shop for health insurance. The website has no computer equivalent to the state social workers once tasked with making sure children didn’t go without medical coverage. TennCare this year ended an arrangement that allowed staff with the Tennessee Department of Human Services to work directly with adoption agencies and hospitals to sign up newborns and children for the state Medicaid program. But even babies with parents got left out. That’s how Chris Williams and Emily Barron of Columbia wound up with a more than $100,000 hospital bill.
State highway officials are urging motorists in Tennessee to be extra cautious now that deer hunting and mating season has arrived.cTennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said deer-related crashes are most likely to occur between October and January, especially in November. “We want to urge drivers to be aware and cautious in areas where deer are populated, and, most importantly, slow down,” Trott said. In Tennessee, there were 5,911 deer-related crashes in 2012. That’s an increase of 4.2 percent from the 5,670 crashes involving deer the previous year. Of the 2012 figure, 5,601 resulted in property damage only, 307 involved wrecks with human injury, and three car-deer crashes resulted in human fatalities.
A Tennessee death row inmate convicted in a 1988 murder Campbell County has died of natural causes, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. Olen E. Hutchison, 61, died at approximately 8:55 a.m. Sunday at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, a TDOC news release states. Hutchison was convicted in 1991 in the drowning death of Hugh L. Huddleston, 46, of Knoxville. Huddleston was lured to Norris Lake under the guise of going fishing. Hutchison’s case became the focus of several demonstrations and forums on disparities in the state’s death sentences.
An online application for Tennessee lawmakers has won an award from the National Conference of State Legislatures. The group awarded the state Legislature the Legislative Staff Achievement Award for the new “Dashboard” for state senators and representatives. The app tracks daily schedules, bill information and proposed amendments during the busy legislative session. In contrast to the Legislature’s public website, the information on the app is billed as updating in real time. The program is geared toward use on touch screen devices so lawmakers can use the app on their mobile devices.
In a state legislature where Democrats represent just one in four members in the House, Tennessee Rep. Bo Mitchell acknowledges that legislative wins might be hard to come by. But he frames it the way a football coach might: “Sometimes it’s not a good offense, it’s a good defense that matters,” said Mitchell, arguing that he and other Democrats have stopped several bills, particularly those “that would have harmed education,” from gaining approval in the Tennessee General Assembly. He’s now trying to defend his claim on a House District 50 seat he narrowly won two years ago that includes his home in Bellevue as well as Joelton and Goodlettsville. His opponent is Troy Brewer, an accountant who has served as treasurer for numerous top Tennessee Republican officeholders over the past decade.
In a little more than a month, state Sen. Jim Summerville has found himself in handcuffs for a second time. Dickson County police arrested Summerville, whom police arrested on public intoxication charges in September, early Saturday afternoon after neighbors reported him for stalking and threatening assault. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been receiving several complaints from his neighbors about the harassing and stalking,” said Dickson Lt. Todd Christian. Just four days prior, police served Summerville with a criminal summons after a neighbor complained about his dogs running throughout the neighborhood. Summerville faces one assault charge and one stalking charge. He posted his $12,000 bail.
Gov. Bill Haslam has spent about $2.75 million on his re-election campaign so far and has $3 million in the bank, while his Democratic opponent has not reported spending anything yet but has $103 available for the final weeks, according to financial disclosures. A discussion has developed among some Democrats, meanwhile, over who they should support with their votes on Nov. 4. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis has urged fellow Shelby County Democrats to vote for John Jay Hooker, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1970 and 1998 who is running as an Independent this year with the centerpiece of his campaign calling for a defeat of Amendment 2, a proposed rewrite of the state constitution’s language on how appellate court judges are chosen. Hooker reports spending zero dollars on his campaign efforts and says he told listeners in a recent speech on his anti-Amendment 2 efforts, “If you can’t think of anybody else better to vote for, vote for me … but vote for somebody, just not Haslam.”
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander worked the words “regulating mud puddles” into nearly every answer at a candidate forum hosted by the Farm Bureau. He’s referring to new rules under the Clean Water Act governing navigable waterways. Mud puddles have become one of his most-used jabs at the White House during his reelection campaign. “What the Obama administration is trying to do is to take that law and apply it to – literally – mud puddles, to apply it to standing water on your farms,” Alexander said. Alexander is echoing a Republican talking point that has been around for a year or so. He’s been seen as trying to bolster his anti-EPA image because he’s actually one of the more environmentally conscious Republicans in the senate.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is criticizing Gov. Bill Haslam’s campaign on the Tennessee Promise and use of lottery money for free junior college tuition, saying it “siphons” money from the Hope Scholarship and helps only affluent and low-achieving students. Some 35,000 students already have applied for the funds to attend community colleges across the state free of charge, nearly doubling the state’s application goal of 20,000. The deadline to apply is Nov. 1. “The governor’s counting that toward his re-election campaign. It galls me because he just took lottery money that I helped secure with the passage of the referendum in 2002 and the efforts I put in in 18 years to pass a lottery amendment and the people who voted with me,” Cohen, a Memphis congressman who previously served in the Tennessee Senate, said in an interview this week.
In a ramshackle campaign headquarters just off the town square here, Democrat Lenda Sherrell last week was firing up the troops in her bid to unseat the most controversial congressman in modern Tennessee history. “We are ready,” the 67-year-old retired accountant and grandmother declared to the 40 or so mostly youthful volunteers just before early voting began in the Nov. 4 election. “You are here in Murfreesboro, but you’re not alone. Your counterparts are in all 16 counties across this district. This is how we’re going to win.” Easily said, and Sherrell does enjoy a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in cash on hand. But she remains the decided underdog against Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the state’s 4th Congressional District.
Some veterans who detailed their grievances about VA hospital care during a town hall meeting in Nashville last month are still awaiting responses as officials work their way down a list. Juan Morales, director of the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, told them to “fill out a form,” promising his staff would follow up. The town hall meeting on Sept. 22 was one of four such briefings he scheduled in the wake of a congressional investigation about delays veterans faced nationwide trying to see doctors. The VA system in Middle Tennessee reported some of the longest wait times in the nation to see specialists. “Staff have reached out to the veterans who requested additional follow up to a personal concern,” said Jessica Schiefer, the hospital system’s public affairs officer.
When the Tennessee Valley Authority first ordered Watts Bar 2, the nuclear reactor now approaching completion here, demand for electricity was growing at 7 percent a year and coal supplies were uncertain. The mercury, soot and acid rain that coal produced were simply accepted as the way things were, and many of the people who now worry about global warming had not yet been born. But that was 1970. Today nearly all of that is reversed as Watts Bar 2, the nuclear industry’s version of a time traveler, prepares to begin operations. Now there is barely any growth in electricity demand, and plenty of coal, but most aging coal-burning plants need expensive cleaning or replacement. Thus the reactor, the T.V.A. reasons, is arriving at an opportune moment, even if almost every projection made over the last 44 years has proved wrong.