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November 21 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.  

 

Haslam: State prepared for federal cuts, but they won’t be painless (CP/Zelinski)

Gov. Bill Haslam said the state can weather large cuts that could come down from the federal government early next year but said “we shouldn’t kid ourselves” to believe reductions would be painless. As the governor’s staff begins to build a roughly $31 billion state spending and budget proposal, he said state government coffers won’t make up for large federal cuts included in a threatened sequester, an automatic funding cut for a series of federal programs that will go into effect Jan. 2 unless Congress agrees on an alternative plan.

States Get a Say in Health Law (Wall Street Journal)

The Obama administration Tuesday issued new rules to implement several key provisions of the health-care-overhaul law, giving states some additional discretion over plans sold within their borders. The long-awaited rules underscore that the millions of customers who get new insurance through the law will see their plans vary from state to state. For example, the administration said it would let states choose whether to ban insurers from taking into account consumers’ tobacco use when setting prices for their policies.

Haslam stops short of calling for DesJarlais’ resignation (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam stopped short of calling for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ resignation Monday, but said the Republican congressman should ask himself, “Can I effectively represent the people who elected me?” The Tennessean reports. DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, has been under fire since it was reported before Election Day that he’d encouraged a patient he slept with to have an abortion. After winning re-election, unsealed court records from DesJarlais’ divorce proceedings showed that the pro-life Congressman had supported his wife getting two abortions before they married in 1995.

More Inmates, Fewer Releases Busting Prison Budget (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Inmates are entering Tennessee prisons faster than they’re being released, and the Correction Department says the unforeseen trend is busting the agency’s budget. The state prison system has asked for an extra $50 million to make it through this year. Last year, 2,000 more inmates than the state projected entered the system after being sentenced by local courts. At the same time, the number of prisoners released into the community dropped by more than a thousand. Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield lays partial blame on the Parole Board, which comes into play on both ends.

Meningitis outbreak: Officials warn of new fungal infections (TN/Wilemon, Roche)

All who had steroidal epidurals may be at risk State and federal officials are issuing a new alarm in the ongoing outbreak of disease caused by tainted steroids from a Massachusetts drug compounder — and the warning applies even to those who may have thought they had dodged serious illness. While the cases of deadly fungal meningitis are on the decline, there has been a recent surge in potentially dangerous injection site infections, both in patients who already have been diagnosed with meningitis and in those who have not, health officials said Tuesday.

Tenn. expands recycling to welcome centers (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation, Department of Transportation and Tourist Development Department have teamed up to provide recycling services at interstate welcome centers. TDEC spokeswoman Shannon Ashford told The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/10mkqCo ) the program began with a pilot study at the Clarksville Welcome Center and grew to a few other locations to test feasibility. Ashford said TDEC already coordinates Tennessee’s State Facility Recycling Program to encourage workers in state offices to recycle.

Tennessee law enforcement’s ‘No Refusal’ campaign targets impaired drivers (T-N)

Law enforcement in Northeast Tennessee has an offer impaired drivers can’t refuse over the Thanksgiving weekend. Officers gathered at the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Fall Branch location Tuesday to remind motorists to look out for the state’s “No Refusal” enforcement campaign starting at 6 p.m. today and ending at midnight Sunday. The “No Refusal” law, enacted last July, allows law enforcement statewide to seek search warrants for blood samples in cases involving suspected impaired drivers — with or without their consent.

UT Athletics halts academic donations; $$ needed to fund coaching change (NS)

The University of Tennessee Athletics Department will stop contributing nearly $6 million annually to academic scholarships, fellowships and programs for the next three years, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced Tuesday. In a written statement, Cheek said the money “was committed under different circumstances” and that athletics needs the money to stabilize its own budget in the midst of a football coaching search. Cheek told the News Sentinel on Monday that he did not yet have a plan for assisting the athletics department.

Tennessee is nation’s 17th most populous state (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee has the nation’s 17th largest population, having added more than 140,000 residents over the past two and a half years. The Volunteer State will have a total of 6,486,827 residents on Dec. 1, according to new estimates from MBJ affiliate On Numbers. It also ranked 17th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in April 2010, when the 2010 federal census numbers came out. Just above Tennessee is Indiana at No. 16 and Missouri is just below it at No. 18. Mississippi ranks 31st with about 3 million residents and Arkansas is 32nd with 2.97 million.

Provisional vote results: No changes in Knox County (News-Sentinel/Witt)

Statistically, Gloria Johnson could have lost the 296-vote lead she held over Gary Loe after the Nov. 6 election for the state’s 13th House District. But as results from this week’s count of provisional ballots showed, she didn’t need to worry. There were 529 provisional ballots cast in Knox County that had to be verified and counted following Election Day. Johnson, a Democrat, was confident she would prevail once they were counted. “It’s almost statistically impossible for it to change the results of the election,” Johnson said of the provisional ballots.

Chattanooga Democrats air complaints about election (Times Free-Press/Harrison)

Shortly after the Hamilton County Election Commission voted unanimously today to certify the Nov. 6 election, local Democrat leaders presented the commission with a list of problems they said hampered voters at at the polls. State Rep. JoAnn Favors gave a 10-point list of complaints involving “irregularities” at polling places and difficulties voters had casting ballots at particular precincts. A number of issues stemmed from redistricting, with reassigned precincts and changed polling places.

Shelby County mayor warns of looming financial challenges (C. Appeal/Moore)

The federal government’s “fiscal cliff,” next year’s property-tax reappraisal and funding the merged public-school systems are among the financial challenges facing Shelby County next year, county Mayor Mark Luttrell told members of the Financial Executives International on Tuesday. Much of the county’s $1.2 billion budget – in particular funds for education, the Health Department, community services, and roads and bridges – comes from state and federal grants, Luttrell told the group of corporate, nonprofit and academic financial managers during a breakfast meeting at the Crescent Club in East Memphis.

Tennessee congressman asks feds to respect state marijuana laws (N. Biz Journal)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is among a number of congressmen who have written to the Justice Department to ask the agency to respect newly passed laws on marijuana across the country. On Election Day, voters in Colorado and Washington voted to make possession of marijuana legal, which stands at odds with a federal prohibition against marijuana (including medical pot). In his letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Cohen said it would be “a mistake for the federal government to focus enforceable action on individuals whose actions are in compliance with state law,” The Commercial Appeal reports.

DOE funds work on small reactors (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday that it will pay up to half of a $450 million program by Babcock and Wilcox, Bechtel and the Tennessee Valley Authority to develop a design for small modular reactors. The government aims to have these reactors, which have attracted private funding from investors including Bill Gates, in operation by 2022. One of the first could be built on the site of the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Oak Ridge.

Ceva Logistics may lease warehouse, expand its campus in Mt. Juliet (TN/Ward)

Ceva Logistics is nearing a deal for more than 700,000 square feet of new big-box warehouse space in Mt. Juliet, an expansion that could bring more than 400 jobs to the area. A lease with Panattoni Development Co., developer of the Beckwith Farms industrial park off Interstate 40, hinges on Ceva getting incentives from state and Wilson County officials and reaching agreements with customers. Ceva, a global logistics company based in the Netherlands, continues to consider rival sites, including one in Columbus, Ohio, for the potential consolidation of several of the company’s business units, according to a source familiar with its search.

Layoffs loom at auto parts warehouse (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

80 employees of the Advance Auto Parts distribution center are facing pink slips as part of a sweeping reorganization of the company, but its 119,000-square-foot facility will remain open. “They are restructuring their delivery logistics,” building owner Joe Hollingsworth Jr., CEO and owner of he Hollingsworth Companies, said Tuesday. He said Advance Auto Parts has a long-term lease of the Hollingsworth Companies building in David Jones Industrial Park, and about 15 people will remain on the workforce.

Cap on special-ed testing concerns schools (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

The push for educational accountability is creating a delicate balancing act for advocates of children with disabilities, who want improvement measured but don’t want children or schools punished for poor scores. Two issues are at the forefront. One is a federal limit on the percentage of students who can take alternative tests, regardless of how many children qualify for them. The second is whether administrators might steer children with disabilities away from their schools because their test scores can reflect poorly on the school.

School Board Delays Vote On School Closings (Memphis Daily News)

Countywide school board members put off a vote Tuesday, Nov. 20, on a recommendation to close 21 schools in northwest and southwest Memphis. The recommendation from the schools consolidation planning commission is considered one of the most controversial items from the citizens group that made 172 recommendations in all on the move to a merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems earlier this year. The school board has approved 48 of the 172 recommendations so far and called the special meeting for Tuesday to take up just the schools closing recommendation.

South Carolina: Offers Details of Data Theft, Warns Could Happen Elsewhere (NYT)

Gov. Nikki R. Haley said on Tuesday that South Carolina officials had not done enough to stop computer hackers who recently stole millions of personal financial records. A new report shows that outdated computers and security flaws at the state’s Department of Revenue allowed international hackers to steal 3.8 million tax records, the governor said. She announced that the agency’s director, James Etter, would resign at the end of the year. “Could South Carolina have done a better job? Absolutely,” she said.

 

OPINION

Times Editorial: Gov. Bill Haslam’s insurance job (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The nation’s Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures have tried mightily to kill or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act since it was passed two-and-a-half years ago, never mind its great value for strengthening secure, comprehensive and affordable care for all Americans. Democratic governors began moving more than a year ago to set up the state insurance exchanges required by the ACA to provide affordable flat-rate insurance for those who need it. But Republican governors filed or joined lawsuits challenging the ACA’s constitutionality. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the new ACA in June, they continued to defer steps to implement the health reform act in the futile hope that Mitt Romney and a new GOP majority in the Senate would dismantle it.

Editorial: Rep. Scott DesJarlais no longer has credibility (Tennessean)

During every election season, voters are subjected to candidates from both major parties making assertions about the issues or about their own accomplishments that do not withstand a fact check. But there are lies, and there are lies. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais deliberately deceived the voters of the Fourth Congressional District in the closing weeks of his successful re-election campaign. And because of that, he should resign immediately. With campaign deception of the usual sort, there is some degree of “plausible deniability,” such as a candidate leaving a loophole in his or her position about taxes, hoping for a change in public opinion. Dr. DesJarlais, however, deceived voters about his sexual relationship with a patient, and he deceived voters when he strongly advocated restricting abortion rights despite having backed two abortions for his ex-wife.

Editorial: Safe Routes grants can help students fight obesity (Jackson Sun)

Many people fight the “battle of the bulge” as they struggle to maintain a healthy weight. With Thanksgiving dinner and the Christmas holiday at hand, winning the battle will be tougher than ever. What is even a greater challenge is finding ways to keep children fit and at a healthy weight. That’s why a federally funded program to increase opportunities for children to walk or ride bicycles to school is worthwhile. Locally, the cities of Milan and Medina have been awarded Safe Routes to School grants to improve bike and pedestrian routes near schools. Milan will use its $101,960 grant to improve sidewalks, crosswalks and signage near Milan Middle School and Milan Elementary School. Medina will use its $173,306 grant for similar improvements near Medina Middle School.

Editorial: Don’t be a statistic (Commercial Appeal)

Those who take Interstate 240 regularly surely have noticed the state Department of Transportation’s electronic signs that warn drivers to buckle up, slow down, or avoid drinking and driving. The signs also include a more tragic reminder — that, according to the latest numbers available, 892 people have been killed in Tennessee traffic accidents this year. Those numbers probably do not include two people who died in a Memphis traffic accident Monday. During a news conference Tuesday, state Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich and Dist. Atty. Gen. Mike Dunavant talked about efforts to keep Thanksgiving holiday traffic deaths and accidents down, with a special emphasis on enforcing the state’s new “No Refusal” law on DUI tests.

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