This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam says Tennessee should step carefully when it comes to enacting new abortion laws and not needlessly “go charging up hills” only to land in federal court. His comments came in response to questions about a bill prefiled by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, for the 109th General Assembly that begins meeting this month. Womick’s legislation would require that women seeking to terminate their pregnancies first undergo an ultrasound of the fetus or hear a physician’s lecture. A somewhat similar North Carolina law was ruled unconstitutional last month by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for violating doctors’ First Amendment guarantees of free speech.
Typically known for their baccalaureate and master’s programs, Cumberland University and some other area private universities are enthusiastic participants in Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s new, innovated Tennessee Promise initiative that gives high school graduates a chance to earn a two-year Associate’s Degree free of tuition. The general populace think students will flock to state community colleges such as Volunteer State in Gallatin, or technical colleges that offer a two-year certificate. But as Gov. Haslam says in his open letter, “The Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship that covers the remaining tuition and mandatory fees after all other financial aid and can be used at any of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology. It can also be used to cover a portion of tuition at our public and private four-year institutions that offer an associate’s degree.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is among 39 governors urging Congress to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program that helps states provide coverage to 8 million children nationally, including 88,000 in Tennessee. Federal money for the popular CHIP program runs out next September, but states are starting to write their 2015-16 budgets now and are seeking assurances that the federal support – about $13 billion — will continue uninterrupted. But Haslam, who is also proposing sweeping changes to how Tennessee covers poorer adults, suggests Congress do a short, two-year extension of the children’s program to give states time to adjust to the shifting insurance landscape.
Governors across the political spectrum are hitting a roadblock in their bids to expand Medicaid with federal funds: Republican legislators who adamantly oppose “Obamacare.” While some of these governors themselves have criticized the president’s health care law in general, they’ve come to see one component — Medicaid expansion — as too generous to reject. But they’re battling conservative lawmakers who say it’s better to turn down billions of federal dollars than to expand Medicaid under the 2010 law… Perhaps the most aggressive GOP governor is Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who won re-election in November. Meeting with newspapers and others, Haslam now says Medicaid expansion is “morally and fiscally the right thing to do.”
A new Tennessee law will allow trained school personnel to administer insulin. It’s just one of many new laws taking effect on Thursday. Tennessee is now one of more than 20 states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws adding insulin to medications that school staff may volunteer to be trained to administer, according to the American Diabetes Association. “It really just helps give an extra level of support to the children and their families by allowing trained personnel within the schools … to help out when there’s a need,” said Kristie Ryan, executive director of the American Diabetes Association in Tennessee. About 208,000 Americans under age 20 are estimated to have diagnosed diabetes, according to the association. In Tennessee and other states, tight budgets have thinned the ranks of school nurses.
Several new laws go into effect in Tennessee in 2015. The social media password protection law stops employers from requesting or requiring any of your personal passwords or sharing your list of contacts. It even restricts employers from looking at your personal Facebook or Twitter account, even over your shoulder. The state legislature and Gov. Bill Haslam will appoint a school textbook review team that will pick and choose which textbooks come to Tennessee schools. New legislation will give employers extra protection, a certificate of employment ability, which will make it harder to sue companies in negligent hiring lawsuits. The legislation is designed to give criminal re-offenders a true second chance. For parents on welfare, their child’s behavior at school and the parent’s benefits are now related.
The Tennessee Republican Party spent more money helping elect candidates in Colorado and North Carolina than the Tennessee Democratic Party spent to elect its own candidates in the days leading up to the Nov. 4 election. The state GOP sent $108,664 to the Colorado Republican Party on Oct. 17 and $22,000 to North Carolina’s GOP party on Oct. 30. Those donations come after Tennessee’s Republicans sent $100,000 to the Georgia GOP in July, according to federalelection filings. In comparison Tennessee Democrats spent about $104,000 in the days leading up to and immediately after the general election, according to filings. The GOP also spent about $2,000 on a staffer to help Bill Cassidy crush incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana’s run-off election in December.
Internet websites like Airbnb are making it easy and lucrative for homeowners to rent out their properties to vacationers for a few nights at a time. But that has left cities across the state struggling with how to regulate these rentals, which are not contemplated in most zoning laws. Do homeowners need some type of permit for these short-term rentals, which are often in single-family residential neighborhoods? What taxes are they required to pay? Do they need to install sprinklers in their homes? The Nashville Ledger reports (http://bit.ly/1tFHbEF ) cities don’t have much guidance. But a 2009 decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals that upheld the rights of homeowners has left some administrators feeling hamstrung.
The U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the dual vote for consolidated government — requiring separate passage within Memphis and outside of the city — saying the matter is moot. The decision, filed Tuesday, concerns a challenge by a group of Memphis citizens who contended the dual vote diluted the voting strength of black Memphians, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “We’re glad to hear it,” Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said. “We felt like the lower court got it right and are glad to have the appeals court dismiss it.” Mark Norris, the attorney for the suburbs said: “It is good to be this much closer to having this chapter closed.”
At Nazareth Academy, a Catholic high school just outside Chicago, a full quarter of the 780 students were out with the flu in early December, along with more than a dozen teachers. Officials at the school closed it for two days and disinfected the property. The principal, Deborah Tracy, said it was the first time in her 15 years there that such a measure had been necessary. “It just really was unprecedented for here,” she said. Nationwide, we’re on track for a nasty flu season, with both a large number of cases and many severe ones that require hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It declared an influenza epidemic this week, a status achieved at some point nearly every year, though not usually this early in the season. Twenty-two states and Puerto Rico are reporting high flu intensity.
The first year of the Affordable Care Act is in the books, and now comes a tricky tax-filing season for millions of Americans. The law’s requirement that most Americans carry health insurance means all filers must indicate on federal tax forms whether they had coverage last year and got tax credits to help pay for it. Those who didn’t have coverage could face a fine, although reduced staffing at the Internal Revenue Service and certain changes to the law mean the so-called individual mandate is expected to be lightly enforced this year, tax preparers say. Meanwhile, millions of Americans who got subsidies under the law may find they are getting smaller-than-expected refunds or owe the IRS because credits they received to offset their insurance premiums were too large.
Zoning for schools in Knox County works like the Hogwarts Sorting Hat from the “Harry Potter” series, only here it’s based on population and neighborhood data instead of magic. The schools include such places as Northshore Elementary or Farragut High schools instead of the Gryffindor or Ravenclaw houses. Information from the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission helps determine who goes where, according to Knox County Schools officials. “We actually pay MPC a fee to do this analysis for us,” said Rick Grubb, the school system’s director of enrollment and transportation. The method is a more accurate and equitable way to make sure schools have the right number of students for their size, according to Grubb.cIt’s a bit more technical than a magic hat or the old way the schools did things.
The desire of the Tennessee Board of Regents to have students at its colleges start declaring a major right away makes a lot of sense, for a variety of reasons. It would require students to focus on graduating on time, and that will save them and their families a substantial amount of tuition. Studies show that nearly 66 percent of college students change their major at least once before graduating. About 50 percent will change majors more than once. Students who do not graduate within four or five years also are a costly proposition for colleges and universities. To get students to focus on a major sooner, some schools will not extend scholarships if a student has not earned a degree within four years. It is understandable that some 17- or 18-year-olds entering college may not have a clue about what their major will be.
State and local education officials around the country are trying to figure out how to continue education reform efforts as Race to the Top funding comes to an end next year. That fact is playing on the minds of Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson and Achievement School District Supt. Chris Barbic. And it is a key reason why Hopson would like to see a settlement sooner rather than later in the long-standing dispute with the city of Memphis over the City Council’s vote in 2008 to withhold more than $66 million from the old Memphis City Schools district. A judge later ordered the city to pay $57 million. The city filed a counterclaim and the parties subsequently entered mediation. The Race to the Top funding has been an important element in getting excellent teachers into classrooms and in efforts to improve failing schools.
Tennessee U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are poised to become chairmen of important Senate committees this year. That will place the two in positions to work with President Barack Obama or against him, as the case might be. With the Senate in Republican hands following the November elections, the rallying cry for both parties has been cooperation to solve the nation’s pressing problems, with hints of challenges by Congress and vetoes by the president on the side. No doubt there will be issues involving both. Alexander, the state’s senior senator, is expected to become chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee when Senate committee appointments are made later this month. Corker, former mayor of Chattanooga, is expected to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.