This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The recent higher education grant announced last week in Jackson by Gov. Bill Haslam targets workplace preparedness. As Jackson-Madison County and rural West Tennessee look toward future economic development, improving our workforce is the key to success. The $573,000 grant to Jackson State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Jackson will be money well spent, but it is only the beginning. The grant will be split between the two schools of post-secondary education to improve programs directly related to manufacturing and to job opportunities in our area.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he wasn’t happy about the brinkmanship in Washington that could lead to what he calls an “arbitrary” and partial shutdown of federal government spending. “I don’t think it’s an appropriate action for the federal government to have gotten to this point,” Haslam told reporters on Monday. “I’m one of those who believes the federal government has to quit spending way more than it’s bringing in. But this is not the way to do that. “Just to have an arbitrary shutdown of government that’s going to impact services in a nondiscriminate way is not the right way to do it.”
A judge won’t block emergency rules covering people who dispense advice on the new health insurance exchange in Tennessee that launches today. Chancellor Russell T. Perkins ruled Monday evening that the state’s rules would not immediately do irreparable harm. He scheduled the next hearing on the lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Justice Center for Oct. 9. The judge did say, however, that he was concerned certain language in the rules might cause “unintended consequences” and directed the defendants to “interpret these rules as strictly consistent with the federal rules … while we get this sorted out.”
A Davidson County judge won’t stop Tennessee’s emergency rules covering workers and volunteers who want to help people sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Chancellor Russell T. Perkins ruled Monday night that the state’s rules would not immediately do irreparable harm. He scheduled the next hearing on the lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Justice Center for Oct. 9. But Perkins did say that he was concerned certain language in the rules might cause “unintended consequences” and directed the defendants to “interpret these rules as strictly consistent with the federal rules … while we get this sorted out.”
Gov. Bill Haslam asked state department heads to report to him on the possible impacts on the state of a partial federal government shutdown. “Some of our immediate concerns are like the things that are funded out of Human Services, like the SNAP program and others,” the governor said, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or Food Stamps. SNAP provides food assistance to low-income children and families, the elderly, disabled and unemployed. The reports were still flowing in from the agencies Monday evening, and many of the departments were still “receiving feedback” from Washington about what would happen, the governor’s press secretary, David Smith, said.
Thousands of families would lose income. Soldiers and spouses at Fort Campbell would have one less place to buy groceries. Tourists looking to soak up the fall colors at Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area or Civil War history at Stones River National Battlefield would have to look elsewhere. But federal courts would continue to operate without interruption, whether workers get paid or not. A federal government shutdown, which was expected at midnight if Congress failed to come to terms on a spending bill, would cut a wide swath through Tennessee.
After weeks of worry and speculation, news of a government shutdown will come to John Bundy by way of a short, early morning e-mail from Washington. For his employees, it will be a slip of paper. Bundy will then direct all but four members of the 26-person staff at Shiloh National Military Park in West Tennessee to power down computers, store maintenance equipment, and turn off lights as they lower a barricade across the public entrance. Then comes a sign at the gate, he says — something akin to “closed until further notice due to government shutdown.”
The mail will still come, the TSA agents will still screen you at the airport and the essential government personnel will still head to work Tuesday, but with the first government shutdown in 17 years now a reality, many people will notice changes come October 1. “If you’re trying to sign up for new social security benefits, you probably won’t be able to do that, if you’re waiting on a refund from the IRS you may not get it,” explained Bill Fox, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee.
If Congress is unable to pass a budget bill before Tuesday morning’s mid night deadline, leading to a government shutdown, national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee will be impacted. Officials there say a shutdown couldn’t come at a worse time for them, but they do have a plan. October is one of the biggest months for the Great Smoky Mountains because nearly one million people visit. A hike through the Smoky Mountains attracted the Durbins all the way from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but the couple says they’re happy they arrived when they did.
Both U.S. Reps. Phil Roe and Morgan Griffith remained supportive Monday of a House GOP resolution to continue federal government funding through mid-December and delay Obamacare for one year. But the Democrat-controlled Senate voted later to strip the Obamacare delay and set the stage for a possible partial federal government shutdown today barring an act of Congress. Roe, R-Tenn., said the shutdown would not affect Social Security checks going out but would impact campers at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Sevier County.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that emergency rules covering people dispensing advice about the new health insurance exchange are not designed to hinder enrollment. Haslam told reporters after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new hotel in downtown Nashville that the background check requirement is meant to protect people from fraud. The online insurance marketplaces launching Tuesday are a major part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Haslam said he wants the exchange to succeed despite his opposition to the overall health care law.
As enrollment opens for new health insurance exchanges, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he’s rooting for them to succeed…at least as long as the Affordable Care Act is “the law of the land.” The state’s Republican leader opted not to run an online insurance marketplace for people without coverage through their work. And some recent regulatory moves have been viewed by Obamacare advocates as an attempt to obstruct implementation. “In our case, the federal government is going to be running the exchange. So they have the responsibility for implementing that. But certainly if it’s in place, we want it to work well.”
Tennesseans can now sign up for health insurance under the federally run online marketplace. The state’s average premiums in the exchange rank among the cheapest of the 36 states that have deferred to the federal government to run their exchanges. Republican critics have argued that the insurance available under the exchanges is more expensive than some of the most basic coverage available on the market now. A Nashville judge on Monday denied an effort by health care advocates to immediately block last-minute rules requiring background checks for people giving advice on navigating the health insurance exchange.
The Rev. Dimitrie Maralescu knows the heartache of being without health care. He felt it in Romania when that nation refused treatment because of his Baptist faith. He felt it in the United States when his wife died from cancer that was diagnosed too late. Today, he can get coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace, the Web-based exchange where people can sign up for medical plans and see whether they qualify for subsidies to help buy the policies.
For months, the Affordable Care Act has been something people debated, praised, scorned, and scratched their heads over. Today, it’s something people can shop for. The Health Insurance Marketplace — also called the “exchange” — goes live today, providing an online portal that has been billed as a “one-stop shop” where people can compare plans and prices of private insurance plans. While statewide averages were released last week, today shoppers can get detailed prices. Four companies are offering plans on Tennessee’s online marketplace, but only BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Cigna have chosen to write plans for the greater Chattanooga area.
As the online health insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act officially opens for business onTuesday, one major insurer in Tennessee unveiled its rates, giving people searching for health insurance their first concrete look at pricing. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee on Monday released rates for 54 health insurance plans it will offer through the health insurance marketplace — healthcare.gov. A sliding scale of federal subsidies will lower the cost of coverage for individuals and families earning as much as 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
Community Health Alliance, Tennessee’s health insurance co-op, is running a unique promotional program to drive enrollment in its plans for sale on the exchange: health insurance in exchange for a smartphone. As part of its Community Health Connection Program, CHA is offering qualified individuals an LG Lucid 2 4G smart phone (or equivalent model), a phone plan and tech support, included as a cost of their health plan benefits. The phone plan includes unlimited talk, unlimited texting and 1.2GB of data.
The CEO of 400 Confucius Institutes around the world cut short her trip to a national conference at Western Kentucky University to make her first ever visit to Middle Tennessee State University Monday. Vice Minister Xu Lin of China said she has wanted to come to the institute at MTSU for a long time, but her schedule had not allowed. The Confucius Institute at MTSU opened in 2010 through a partnership with Hangzhou Normal University, according to an MTSU press release.
A high ranking Chinese official is in the mid-state for visit. Vice Minister Xu Lin will meet with Governor Bill Haslam today, and then tour the campus at Middle Tennessee State University. The minister oversees a worldwide network of more than 400 Confucius Institutes, funded by the Chinese government, that provide Chinese language, cultural and teaching resources. A Confucius Institute was opened on the MTSU campus in 2010 through a partnership with Hangzhou Normal University. In recent years, MTSU President Sidney McPhee has fostered a number of ties with Chinese institutions of higher learning.
The state fire marshal’s office is encouraging Tennessee residents to create an escape plan in case they are ever faced with a fire in their homes. In preparation for the Tennessee Fire Prevention Week kickoff on Friday, the office is joining the Oak Ridge Fire Department to promote the importance of home fire escape plans. Last Thursday, the Oak Ridge Fire Department launched a public service announcement about home escape plans directed at families across Tennessee. Tips from the state fire marshal’s office include drawing a floor plan of the home and marking two ways out of every room.
The McClure Bridge, which takes state Highway 48/13 over the Cumberland River, will be undergoing repairs over the next two years, according to a Tennessee Department of Transportation bid opening. The repair work is not connected to the planned bridge replacement, which isn’t expected until 2015, according to Deanna Lambert, spokeswoman for TDOT. Contractors must file their bid on repairs by Oct. 18. ‘Within a couple of weeks TDOT will award the official contract to the lowest bidder,” Lambert said.
A Sullivan County woman is charged with selling prescription drugs obtained through benefits under the TennCare state healthcare insurance plan, the Office of the Inspector General said in a press release. Amelia G. Dugger, 47, Kingsport, was arrested after an investigation by the Kingsport Police Department. Dugger is accused of using TennCare benefits to obtain a controlled substance and then selling some of the drugs. A narcotics-based search warrant was executed at her home, and officials later learned that TennCare was used to obtain the drugs. If convicted, Dugger could receive a two-year sentence.
Nearly half of the Democrats in the Tennessee Senate are retiring in the next year – which isn’t saying much. There are only seven left. And with no mercy rule in politics, Republicans say they plan on running up their numbers. A GOP supermajority means there’s almost no way Democrats can stand in the way of any legislation. So it’s hard to make a strong case for controlling more than 26 of the 33 seats, as they do now. But Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he can’t resist. “First of all, I guess it’s the competitive juices in you, that they’re just flowing. It is a challenge. And we’re getting closer and closer to not having any challenges.”
An initiative spearheaded by state Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville is set to cover the costs for some Knox County students of Advanced Placement exams and industry certification programs during a two-year pilot program. The initiative announced Monday is meant to encourage more high school students to take AP courses and attempt the exams without having to worry about the cost, which can go up to around $90. Many colleges give credit to students depending on how well they perform on Advanced Placement exams, which are considered a gauge of a student’s knowledge of a subject at the college level.
Recent events, including a deadly tornado in Oklahoma and last December’s massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut has changed the ways Tennessee leaders take action on safety. “We’re fortifying our schools more and more every year,” said David Burton, Director of Safety for Wilson County Schools for nearly 14 years said. “There have been five mass shootings, five mass murders in the past couple of years.” During his time as Director of Safety, Burton said he has seen a number of changes that redefine the “new normal” in school safety.
When any sign of real leadership comes out of Washington, it can cause a double-take. But there it was last Thursday, in the midst of the morass that led to an apparent (as of this writing) partial shutdown of the federal government: Sen. Bob Corker had had enough of a couple of his Senate colleagues’ showboating at taxpayers’ expense. The Tennessee Republican called out Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah for sending out press releases and email alerts to “outside groups” to tune in to that day’s proceedings as the Senate took up a bill that could keep the government running temporarily.
President Obama is bracing Americans for inevitable problems as the Affordable Care Act rolls out this week, but what he calls “glitches” are hardly routine. Information technology is ObamaCare’s Achilles’ heel. The faulty IT will expose Americans to lost data, attempts to enroll online that fail and the risk of fraud. There are two key technological flaws in ObamaCare. First is the “hub”—the software to link servers at the Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service, Homeland Security and state agencies to verify the income and health-insurance status of enrollees and ensure that they are eligible for subsidies.
The Justice Department on Monday sued North Carolina over the state’s restrictive new voting law, which requires photo identification for in-person voting and cuts back on early voting and same-day registration — all of which will disproportionately affect black voters. The suit, which follows similar litigation against Texas, is the latest effort by the department to go after voting discrimination in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. called the North Carolina law “an intentional attempt to break a system that was working,” and he said that it was clearly intended to discriminate on the basis of race. B