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December 12 TN News Digest

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

Haslam presents multiple grants (WDEF-TV Chattanooga)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam made a stop in Bledsoe county to present two grants Wednesday afternoon. They’re to help the community, and they total more than five hundred thousand dollars. Governor Haslam, Tennessee Governor said, “This is a very competitive process, to be awarded one of these grants, and so Bledsoe county and the city of Pikeville made great applications.” Not only one grant, but 2 grants were presented in front of the Bledsoe County Courthouse. One for the county for 500-thousand dollars, and the other to the city of Pikeville for 25-thousand dollars.

Haslam: Talks Continue on TennCare Expansion (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says his letter this week to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the terms of a possible Medicaid expansion in Tennessee means ongoing talks between his administration and Sebelius’ office will continue. Haslam gave a conditional “no” to such an expansion in March, which was followed by the discussions on terms Haslam has said are necessary because of Tennessee’s unique situation. Expansion of Medicaid coverage opens Jan. 1. For Tennessee that would mean $1.4 billion to cover 140,000 Tennesseans who are currently uninsured.

Degrees of hope: College offers free education to foster kids (NS/Boehnke, Young)

Becca Griffey’s dorm room ceiling spewed white streamers last week and balloons covered the floor. It’s been three months since Griffey started at Hiwassee College, and it’s clear she’s made friends. She has worked to keeping up with her courses. For the October issue of the school’s newspaper, The Tiger’s Tale, she wrote two articles. “She’s bright and positive and has an extremely good work ethic,” said Alan Eleazer,an assistant professor of music. “I don’t have any doubts that college will be a cakewalk for her if she wants it to be.”

State health rankings show TN improvements, challenges (News-Sentinel/Nelson)

Our adults are becoming more active. But more of our children are poorer. United Health Foundation’s annual “America’s Health Rankings” report shows that, although Tennessee’s rank of 42 is unchanged from last year, the state has gained some ground — and some challenges. Over the past year, for example, 28.6 percent of Tennessee adults were physically inactive, compared to 35.1 percent last year. That reflects a national trend; the national rate of inactivity dropped to 22.9 percent, from 26.2 percent. But Tennessee is still ranked fifth from the bottom in adult physical activity, with some 1.4 million adults reporting being physically inactive.

Tennessee’s health rankings remain near bottom (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee is still one of the nation’s least healthy states. That’s according to the 2013 America’s Health Rankings report released today by the United Health Foundation. The Volunteer State comes in at No. 42 among the 50 states, unchanged from the group’s 2012 survey. The report shows Tennessee’s health ranking hasn’t changed much since 1990, the study’s inaugural year, when it also ranked 42. The study analyzes a comprehensive set of behaviors, policies, community and environmental conditions and clinical care data.

Hearings set to gather input on discrimination (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

The Tennessee Human Rights Commission is calling for testimony about discrimination in the state to include in an upcoming report, “The Status of Human Rights in Tennessee.” The commission, which enforces state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination, will host public hearings across Tennessee in early 2014 to accept written and spoken testimonies. Input from community leaders, advocacy groups and researchers is being sought regarding discrimination in employment and housing and about disparities in race, gender, religion, national origin, disability and age.

TN inmate Billy Ray Irick’s execution postponed (Tennessean/Haas)

The Tennessee Supreme Court has rescheduled the execution of convicted murderer Billy Ray Irick. Irick, who raped and killed a 7-year-old Knoxville girl he had been baby-sitting in 1985, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Jan. 15 in a wave of executions Tennessee is seeking to carry out. But the Supreme Court has rescheduled the execution for Oct. 7 because of new legal challenges to the way Tennessee plans to put the condemned to death. Tennessee’s executions have been on hold for at least two years because a key lethal injection drug, sodium thiopental, became unavailable.

Payback Time for Hill? (Metro Pulse)

State Rep. Mathew Hill, R-Jonesborough, committed a cardinal sin last session. He agreed to vote for a bill favored by the speakers of both houses of the legislature but changed his mind at the last minute and scuttled it. It was the wine-in-grocery stores bill. Hill, a religious broadcaster, now has an opponent in the Republican primary, and most political observers do not think it is a coincidence. His district includes Washington County, and he is being opposed by former Johnson City Commissioner Phil Carriger, who cites his business experience.

Poll shows Tennesseans support boosting Medicaid (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tennesseans favor expanding Medicaid and requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine by nearly 2-to-1 margins, a new poll taken by Vanderbilt University has found. Even amid deep hostility toward the Affordable Care Act, 63 percent of the state’s registered voters say Tennessee should offer Medicaid to more low-income people. A greater portion, 65 percent, favor requiring a doctor’s prescription for pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter medication that can be used to make methamphetamine. State lawmakers are expected to debate such a measure next year. The poll also found that approval for President Barack Obama has tumbled, that support for Gov. Bill Haslam remains high and that state Rep. Joe Carr has not drawn tea party backers in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

4,500 Tennesseans Enrolled For Coverage: Better, But Far Behind Goal (WPLN)

Tennessee’s efforts to sign people up for insurance on healthcare.gov improved somewhat last month. Still, the state, like most others, remains far behind federal goals set before the botched roll-out. Back in October, only a thousand Tennesseans managed to get signed up for a private plan. From that low benchmark, November was a big improvement, raising the total to 45 hundred. And thousands more were told they qualify for Medicaid. Sharon Barker works as part of GetCoveredNashville, helping about 20 people a week sign up. Barker says many come in dreading the enrollment process, and wind up relieved.

Fired US Sen. Alexander staffer expected in court (Associated Press/Loller)

The fired chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander was expected Thursday in federal court after the aide’s arrest on probable cause for possession and distribution of child pornography, authorities said. Ryan Loskarn was a rising star who had spent the past decade working his way up to increasingly important posts in the U.S. House and then the Senate. Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a news release Wednesday he was “stunned, surprised and disappointed” by the allegations against his newly departed staffer. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, another Tennessee Republican for whom Loskarn had worked as communications director, said she was “shocked, saddened, and stunned.”

Bill to include Tenn. battlefields in park system (Associated Press)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has introduced legislation to include four Tennessee Civil War battlefields in the national park system. The legislation would designate battlefields at Davis Bridge and Fallen Timbers in Tennessee and Russell House — which is in Tennessee and Mississippi — as part of Shiloh National Military Park. It would also include Parker’s Crossroads of Tennessee in the system. The National Park Service has already determined these battlefields are nationally significant and in need of preservation and protection.

Diane Black Says She’ll Support Budget Deal (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Congressman Diane Black is urging her colleagues to support a two-year budget plan. The Republican from Gallatin served on the bi-partisan committee, which came up with the deal. When the committee was first announced in October, Black seemed skeptical it would ever reach an agreement. Wednesday, she acknowledged the two co-chairs, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, did most of the work. Still, she says she’s satisfied with the final product.

Chattanooga-area manufacturers having trouble finding workers (TFP/Bradbury)

Chattanooga manufacturers are having a hard time finding skilled workers. While the number of Chattanooga-area manufacturing jobs have declined about 30 percent since 2000, the gap between what skills the workforce offers and what skills manufacturers need has widened, making hiring increasingly difficult. “Chattanooga is becoming a tougher place to find the kind of employees in our plant that we need,” Miller Industries CEO Jeff Badgley recently told the Times Free Press’ Edge magazine. “Historically we’re finding it harder and harder to find those employees who have the skill set to build product or do the processes that our product needs.”

Shelby Co. Commission recommends $20,000 raises for school board (CA/Moore)

The Shelby County Commission’s education committee approved a pay increase of more than $20,000 for Shelby County Schools board members, boosting the pay for the part-time job from $4,200 to $25,000. The chairman would make $26,000. Supporters in the 4-3 vote say it’s time to take care of the people who look out for the children. Opponents say it’s a bad time to ask for more money. The raise was overdue, said Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who voted for the increase. “School board members in big cities like this are being paid more than $4,000 a year,” he said.

 

OPINION 

Columnist: Shortage of skilled workers national problem (Commercial Appeal)

Let’s not beat ourselves up about the capability of Memphians. Sure, there’s a shortage of skilled workers. Electrolux executive Leigh Ann Berko aired the problem Tuesday at the Urban Land Institute Memphis conference. “We just don’t have enough people in the market that have the skill sets,” Berko told the gathering. No doubt the Mid-South has too few skilled industrial workers. But it’s not because we’re lazy or too poorly educated. The shortage exists in almost every city in the United States. “It’s a national problem,” said Patricia Lee, marketing director for the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, a 2,500-member trade group in Rockford, Ill.

Editorial: Meaningful reforms under way (Commercial Appeal)

Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry appears to have the troubled child protection agency on a path of meaningful reform. Henry, a former state legislator and head of the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was asked to take over the besieged agency after Kate O’Day resigned as commissioner in February amid questions about how DCS handled the cases of children who died after investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect. Those are troubling questions for an agency whose main mission is the welfare and safety of Tennessee’s most vulnerable children. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed O’Day to lead the mammoth department in January 2011.

Editorial: Haslam’s delay on Medicaid expansion leaves uninsured in limbo (CA)

While thousands of Tennesseans remain without health insurance, it appears Gov. Bill Haslam is still finding ways to stall — or perhaps wiggle out of — a decision on how to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. Facing intense pressure from GOP legislators who adamantly oppose the 2010 health care reform law, the Republican governor has asked U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to grant a waiver that would allow Tennessee officials to expand Medicaid, but only under their own terms. Haslam says his alternative approach, which would require new enrollees to share some of the costs and base payments to providers partly on the quality of care, would expand coverage to 180,000 people.

Editorial: Keep a sober eye on tax collectors (Tennessean)

Good grief. Dozens of cities have been shorting school systems around Tennessee, some for more than 20 years, of tax revenue due them under state law. And no one said anything? Whether city officials were just confused or were diverting the funds for other purposes is not known — yet. Neither scenario paints a pleasant picture. A Tennessean report Saturday estimated that a total of $3.9 million is owed to systems in the Nashville area. Maybe it’s just a fraction of their budgets, but it also could buy a lot of computers and textbooks, fix or replace buses — you name it. Most schools need it. And isn’t education supposed to be Tennessee’s No. 1 priority?

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