This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee is one of a dwindling number of states yet to indicate whether it will run a health insurance exchange. Wednesday, Tea party groups have organized a rally outside the state capitol to discourage Governor Bill Haslam from going along with the federal government. He says he’s paying attention. “We want to listen to everybody. But I could probably go in this room and say do you think we should run a state run exchange? I’d probably get a whole lot of people who’d raise their hand and say yes. So you take all the information you can. At the end of the day, it’s our job to make the very best decision for the state.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to address a group of Nashville-area Republicans on Tuesday as a deadline nears on how Tennessee will comply with a key facet of the new federal health care law. The Haslam administration has been on the fence about whether it will recommend a state-run health insurance exchange or defer to the federal government to create the marketplace required under the law. The governor has said he leans toward having more state control, but has criticized the federal government for not being able to divulge details about how much flexibility would be granted to the state.
Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam are inviting Tennesseans to tour the executive residence during the first two weeks of December. For more information, go to www.tn.gov/firstlady.
The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals will host its annual free networking social Dec. 6 from 6-8 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi’s Parish Life Center, 8151 Chimneyrock Blvd. Sponsored by Robert Half Technology, the keynote speaker will be Ted Townsend, regional director of West Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Townsend will provide an update on economic development activities in the Memphis area. Professionals in multiple industries will attend and can provide free career advice, especially for those in a job transition.
A state official taking a tour of Scales Elementary today left feeling impressed with the work being done at the Saint Andrews Drive K-6 school. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been a nice experience,” said Etta Crittenden, director of early elementary instruction for the Tennessee Department of Education. “It confirmed what I’ve already known: good teachers are doing great work in our schools.” The Curriculum and Instruction Division of the Tennessee Department of Education kicked off a tour of K-12 classrooms throughout the state Monday.
Tennessee and other Southeastern states are posting the highest number of influenza cases in the earliest flu season in a decade, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday. The last time flu season started this early was in 2003. “That was an early and severe flu year,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “While flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as well as the specific strains we’re seeing suggest this could be a bad flu year.” This year’s flu shot is a 90 percent match for the strains reported to the CDC.
Knox County is definitely seeing higher levels of flu and “influenza-like illnesses” for this time of year than in several previous years, said Knox County epidemiologist Kathleen Brown. The AH3 strain has been most prevalent among lab-tested specimens, she said, but many doctors don’t test if the illness looks like flu. Brown reminds people to stay home when sick and “wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands” to prevent getting and spreading flu. You can still get vaccinated at Knox County Health Department clinics, or visit http://www.flu.gov to find a provider by ZIP code.
Flu season has kicked off early, a sign it could be more severe than in the past couple of years, federal health officials said Monday. In the earliest start to flu season in nearly a decade, five Southern states have reported higher-than-normal levels of doctor visits for flulike illnesses in late November, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is a month or two earlier than the typical surge of the seasonal flu, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in a teleconference with reporters.
Tennessee is one of the 10 toughest states in the nation for teens to find work, according to a study released Monday. Fewer than one in four Tennesseans aged 16 to 19 held jobs in the last year, according to the Youth and Kids policy report by the Kids Count project tracking children’s issues. “Since the recession, we’ve definitely seen more competition for jobs,” said Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Labor. That’s in part because people displaced and laid off from previous jobs are accepting more starter-level positions to make ends meet, Hentschel said.
Just 23 percent of all Tennessee teens ages 16 to 19 had jobs in 2011 – making it one of the toughest states in the nation for youths seeking work, according to a report released Monday by a national foundation. According to a new report on youth employment by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT project, only the District of Columbia, West Virginia, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina have lower employment rates for teens 19 and younger.
The number of Tennessee cases of infections from tainted spinal steroids has jumped by four to a total of 88 cases, according to data compiled by the state Health Department. Health Department spokesman Woody McMillin said Monday that the number of deaths from the fungal meningitis outbreak remains at 13. He said the number of infections climbed from 84 to 86 on Nov. 28 and jumped to 88 over the weekend. The CDC reported Monday that the number of infections nationwide jumped from 510 early last week to 541 and the number of deaths remained at 36.
A Madison psychiatrist will give up his practice and pay a six-figure fine, after allegations that he over-billed TennCare by nearly a million dollars. The state Attorney General says AKM Fakhruddin saw about 150 TennCare patients. Most of the appointments were to make an adjustment to medication, lasting just a few minutes. Prosecutors say Fakhruddin would bill the state for full psychotherapy sessions. These kind of appointments usually last about an hour, but Fakhruddin sometimes claimed to see as many as 15 patients in a single day.
Prosecutors and the TBI are taking part in the investigation into a weekend shooting in which a Jefferson County deputy killed a charging, armed man. Jefferson County Sheriff G.W. Bud McCoig said Monday the man called authorities about 8:22 p.m. Sunday asking to be taken to a mental hospital. The man said he would either be at a Zoomerz store in Dandridge or at his home at 875 Lakeshore Drive. Officers first responded to Zoomerz. When they did not locate the man, the officers drove to the man’s home on Lakeshore Drive, McCoig said.
The construction at Exit 11 on I-24 is currently being worked on and won’t be completed until next year, according to Beth Emmons, Community Relations Officer of Tennessee Department of Transportation. The work started around Oct. 10 and is expected to last until June 2013. The cost of this contract is approximately $937,000.00 dollars, according to Emmons. The construction includes intersection modifications and miscellaneous safety improvements to the I-24 east bound off ramp to State Route 76.
Glenda Glover had to keep a secret when she attended Tennessee State University’s centennial homecoming celebration in September. At the time, she had already applied to be the next president of her alma mater. Only a few close friends knew. “I did have to keep it under my hat,” Glover said. But the news became public about a month later when Glover was announced as a finalist for the job. Last week, the Tennessee Board of Regents approved Glover as the school’s next president, after she earned the support of the TSU National Alumni Association, Gov. Bill Haslam and ultimately Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan.
The two top Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly have endorsed the sale of wine in grocery stores, The Associated Press reports. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, speaker of the Senate, and House Speaker Beth Harwell told The Associated Press they support the sale of wine in supermarkets. “I think opponents have held it off for about as long as they can hold it off,” Ramsey told the AP. The GOP’s new supermajority in both chambers will allow party leaders to reshape key committees that will shape the future of the legislation, the AP reports.
Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell asked state lawmakers Monday to expand prekindergarten and infant mortality programs, and to approve tax incentives for businesses helping their employees pay their own college tuition. They also hope to increase fines for illegal commercial-waste dumping. The Memphis and Shelby County mayors joined other local government officials and mayors of the suburban cities in presenting their requests for state legislative action and funding to the Shelby County legislative delegation.
Up to this point, the major moves in the Tennessee General Assembly regarding the merger/municipal-schools issue have come from Mark Norris, the Collierville Republican who serves as majority leader of the state Senate. It was 2012 legislation by Norris (in tandem with state Rep. Curry Todd) that was just found unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, thereby halting immediate efforts by six Shelby County suburb s to create their own municipal school districts.
Three versions of the original handwritten Tennessee Constitution are being carefully moved to the Tennessee Supreme Court building this week in preparation for their upcoming public display. The documents will be removed on Tuesday from a vault at the State Library and Archives building and carried by hand in archival boxes to the Supreme Court building. They will be escorted by a detail from the Tennessee Highway Patrol. This is the first time that all three documents — handwritten in 1796, 1834 and 1870 — will be on display together.
Tennessee’s original, handwritten Constitutions are going on display to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the state’s Supreme Court Building. The trio of documents, from 1796, 1834 and 1870, have never been put on public view together. They’ll be available to the public at the State Museum this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then again on Monday before moving back into storage. The state’s first constitution gave almost total control to the legislative branch. After forty years, it was replaced with a new one that balanced powers along the same principals as the US constitution.
Chattanooga City Council members are wondering whether it’s time to put the brakes on tax breaks for employers and developers. Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said the city provides essential services to new and expanding businesses, and “it’s time we get some paybacks.” Council members are expected to discuss and vote tonight on moratorium of PILOT, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, agreements. These agreements historically have been tools for the city and county to lure developers or job creators by offering them tax breaks on property taxes.
Elected to the state Senate in November, Republican Janice Bowling, of Tullahoma, automatically lost her position on the GOP’s State Executive Committee after missing her third consecutive meeting over the weekend, an official confirmed Monday. On Saturday, GOP Chairman Chris Devaney told executive committee members the move was required by the party’s bylaws, attendees said.The state GOP’s political director, Michael Sullivan, on Monday confirmed Bowling had been removed.
Local Democrats on Monday attacked U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, challenging Chattanooga’s Republican congressman to forget about Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. “Both Sen. [Bob] Corker and Sen. [Lamar] Alexander have announced that they no longer feel bound to Grover Norquist’s pledge,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said. “Yet Rep. Fleischmann continues to stubbornly cling to it.” A Norquist signer, Fleischmann declined to comment Monday.
For a minute Monday, Rep. Steve Cohen was an 11-year-old student at Idlewild Elementary, catching a glance from Sen. John F. Kennedy as he rolled through Memphis in September 1960. “He turned around and waved like he knew one day he would inspire me to get into government. And he did,” Cohen told sixth-graders at Grizzlies Academy. The boys didn’t know the name of Kennedy’s “beautiful wife,” or that he was Catholic and broke a religious barrier when he was elected.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen urged Tennesseans to get behind a campaign to reduce the federal deficit, saying Monday that the issue threatens to undermine the United States economy. Bredesen told a meeting of Tennessean reporters and editors Monday that Americans should not be lulled into complacency about the nation’s fiscal problems. The $16 trillion debt may seem manageable now, Bredesen said, but the United States runs the risk of a sudden shock such as upheaval in China or a change in investor sentiment that would throw its finances into chaos.
Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are asking TVA for more information on the utility’s plan to keep floodwaters from disabling either Sequoyah or Watts Bar nuclear plants. In a meeting Monday between the Tennessee Valley Authority and the NRC, an NRC project manager asked TVA executives why the Watts Bar plant should be allowed to continue operating. Fred Lyon, who works in the NRC’s headquarters Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation in Rockville, Md., said the temporary dam heightening modifications — a series of sand and crushed stone baskets — are incomplete.
Distribution firms struggling to fill holiday positions High on some Middle Tennessee employers’ wish lists this holiday season: Temporary workers. Some major logistics and distribution companies, including Amazon and UPS, are facing the prospect of being short-handed as the holiday shipping onslaught approaches. The reason: They’re still struggling to fill thousands of seasonal positions. “This year, for whatever reason, has been more challenging than others,” said UPS spokesman Bill Von Schipmann on Monday.
Tennessee residents now can visit a doctor by telephone for relief from minor ailments. A service called Apogee Doctor on Call charges $50 per contact for physician consultations, according to The Tennessean. The Arizona-based Apogee Physicians told the newspaper that Tennessee is the pilot state for its remote program, partly because the company already provides staffing at a dozen hospitals around the state. The queries are answered around the clock, seven days a week. Doctors cannot prescribe narcotics, but can message pharmacies for routine prescriptions, such as antibiotics.
Cumberland Pharmaceuticals has chopped its national sales force to “more efficiently cover key targets” for its three drugs. The move cuts 29 sales employees from their jobs, which amounts to about one third of the Nashville-based company’s entire business development effort. It’s unclear why Cumberland made this move other than the obvious reduction in expenses. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission says the company is cutting the number of sales regions from 10 to eight.
The Memphis metropolitan area increased its economic performance through 2011 and 2012 when compared to the low point of the recession, according to an interactive map compiled by the Brookings Institution. Though the improvements were marginal, data from the organization’s Global Metro Monitor showed gross domestic product per capita in Memphis improved 2 percent in 2011-2012 compared to the recession’s low point; employment grew 1.3 percent over the same period. “Memphis has partially recovered from a major recession,” the report indicated.
Tennessee is one of five states selected for a private grant to study ways to add 300 hours to the school year. Much of the state research will be conducted in Memphis. With $9 million over three years from the Ford Foundation and technical expertise from the National Center on Time & Learning, the states will study how to structure a longer day and school year and pay teachers working the extra time. The cooperation was announced Monday. The other states are Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
Four schools in Metro will be lengthening their year by an extra 300 hours in the classroom. Tennessee is the lone southerner in a five-state pilot program trying to boost student results. It’s the equivalent of adding more than forty school days. It’s not yet clear which Metro schools will take part, or exactly how they’ll fit the extra hours into their calendars, which will grow by roughly 25 percent. A Metro official notes some enhanced-option and charter schools already have longer hours.
National education experts will descend on five of Nashville’s lowest-performing public schools in the coming months, seeking ways to improve their performance. Brick Church College Prep — a middle school in the first year of a state-mandated, grade-by-grade conversion to a charter school after years of failing test scores — is one of them. The four others will be selected from the district’s “iZone,” schools singled out for more attention due to consistently poor performance.The schools’ names won’t be announced until the National Center on Time & Learning approves them.
Students outside of Knox County are now eligible to apply for a lucrative spot at the L&N STEM Academy. But it won’t come without a price tag for the school districts of those students. Some districts said they have concerns about those dollars and cents, while others say they won’t be jumping on the train just yet. Beginning next year, 30 additional slots in the downtown Knoxville academy will be available for students from Anderson, Blount, Grainger, Jefferson, Loudon, Roane, Sevier and Union counties. School officials have said out-of-county freshmen will be chosen for the slots through a lottery, the same way Knox County students are admitted.
Students and public schools in Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities are almost certainly going to be part of the consolidated Shelby County public school system that debuts in August. Last week’s federal court ruling tossing out one of the three state laws that allowed the suburbs to begin immediately forming separate or municipal school districts makes it unlikely the suburbs could do over decisions Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays voided in the ruling in time for a summer start.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s Task Force on Opportunity Scholarships — otherwise known as school vouchers — has given him a range of options for inclusion in a bill should he move forward. The task force did not reach unanimous agreement on most aspects of a voucher system, which is not surprising given the controversial nature of their use. Haslam should move cautiously as he considers which elements to include in a possible voucher program, keeping in mind that some in the Legislature could poison a bill with unwise amendments. Vouchers, which allow K-12 students to take public school funds and apply them toward tuition at private schools, is a reform measure that supporters say will force public schools to improve by allowing families to use public money to send their children to private schools.
When it comes to giving children from low-income families a chance to attend a quality private school, tuition vouchers could be a great idea. Still, starting a state voucher program also comes with some complicated issues, one of which is whether Tennesseans’ tax dollars should be used to pay tuition for children who choose to enroll in private religious schools. Tennessee’s lawmakers are expected to approve some kind of school voucher law in the 2013 legislative session, and bets are that it will not be a pilot program limited to the state’s urban counties. A voucher program could have a tremendous impact in Memphis, which has more private schools (91) than any other city in the state and more children who would qualify based on family income and their current enrollment in failing public schools.
On the Tennessee government website, the Department of Children’s Services is described as “the state’s public child welfare agency, overseeing child protective services, permanency and juvenile justice.” In practice, the word “public” seems to elude DCS — making it impossible for Tennesseans to know whether DCS is being “protective” of children or whether “justice” is being served. Even though there are many questions about 31 children DCS had investigated who died in the first half of 2012, the agency has denied access to files on these children that could put questions about DCS’ oversight to rest. The denial smacks of arrogance at best or, worse, an attempt to cover up ineptitude, all cloaked in the fiction that DCS is protecting the rights of the dead children and their families. A fiction because Tennessee may have the only state child-protective agency that interprets federal disclosure rules as it does.
Many residents of the Chattanooga area are understandably flummoxed by Tennessee’s silly wine laws. While wine is available in grocery stores in Georgia, picking up a bottle of cabernet in Tennessee requires a trip to the liquor store. At the same time, beer, which is generally blamed for more of society’s alcohol-related woes than wine, has been available for decades in grocery stores throughout the Volunteer State to consumers of legal age. So what gives? Why isn’t wine already sold in Tennessee’s grocery stores? Decades ago the state government set up a wine distribution monopoly, allowing a very small number of people to make a very large amount of money — and the greedy distributors benefiting from the system don’t want that system to end.
Here we go again. The state Legislature isn’t even back in session, and it already looks like it’s going to be a contentious one. Republicans have control of both houses now, and we had thought this might result in less time being wasted on non-issues and bickering. But a matter from last spring has been resurrected that forces elected officials to choose between two of the GOP’s traditionally biggest backers, the business community and the National Rifle Association. Initially, the proposed legislation would have allowed anyone to store a firearm in their vehicle at work. The proposal was later limited to apply to the state’s 376,000 handgun carry permit holders. But large employers, including FedEx and Volkswagen, didn’t appreciate giving up control over their property, specifically when it came to allowing guns there.
Tennessee has until Dec. 14 to make a decision on whether to set up a state-run health insurance exchange. The Affordable Care Act forces states to choose between creating a state-run health insurance exchange or allowing the government to create a federally run insurance exchange. To date, 17 states have indicated they will not participate in setting up an exchange, 10 are undecided and 18 have decided to create state-run insurance exchanges. While simply choosing to forgo setting up a state-run exchange will not prevent “Obamacare” from coming to Tennessee, I believe there are several reasons why we should refrain from setting up an exchange.
Congressman Scott DesJarlais’ belated public announcement last week that God has forgiven him for his multiple extramarital affairs and his support of abortion — he got his first wife to have two abortions, and later urged one of his several lovers, a former patient, to seek one — comes at a mighty convenient time, for him at least. The election was four weeks ago. Had he admitted his mendacious, anti-family, pro-abortion, prevaricating and philandering ways before the election, his implied guilty plea would have carried considerably more weight. He surely would have had more on the line. Certainly a pre-election admission about his slimy personal history and his claim that God had forgiven him would have given voters a chance to test his sincerity, and their conviction, about the veracity of his claim concerning God. It also would have given meaningful weight to his related comment that he now wants voters to accept his forgiveness and let him get on with his life as their wayward congressman.