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December 20 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: State survey demonstrates need for tech skill training (Jackson Sun)

Earlier this year, Connected Tennessee conducted a workplace/employer survey to better understand the role of computer technology in the workplace and the demand for worker technical skills. The results of the survey send a clear message to communities across Tennessee: Workforce preparation efforts must place greater emphasis on developing computer literacy, knowledge of essential computer software and development of computer skills. This study must be taken seriously by public school systems, higher education and community workforce retraining efforts.

Tennessee sees biggest drop in unemployment since April 2010 (NBJ)

The unemployment rate in Tennessee fell to 8.1 percent in November, down from October’s revised rate of 8.5 percent, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It marks the state’s biggest monthly decline since April 2010. However, Tennessee’s unemployment rate remains well above the national average, which fell to 7 percent in November, down from 7.3 percent the month prior. 

Tenn. November unemployment rate is 8.1 percent (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for November was 8.1 percent, four-tenths of one percentage point lower than the previous month. Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips said the October to November rate change is the largest monthly decline since April 2010. The national unemployment rate for November was 7 percent. State figures show that nonfarm employment increased by 9,400 jobs from October to November.

State unemployment rate inches downward (Nashville Post)

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for November was 8.1 percent, down from the 8.5 percent October revised rate. The national unemployment rate for November 2013 was 7 percent, down from the October rate of 7.3 percent. Of note, Tennessee’s October to November rate change is the largest monthly decline since April 2010. 

Settlement over foreclosure abuses can mean payment to eligible (TN/Williams)

Ocwen Financial Corp. will reduce struggling borrowers’ loan balances by $2 billion in an agreement with federal regulators and 49 states over foreclosure abuses. Federal and state officials announced the deal Thursday with the Atlanta-based company. Regulators said Ocwen pushed borrowers into foreclosure through illegal actions, such as failing to promptly and accurately credit mortgage payments. Under the agreement, Ocwen also will refund a combined $125 million to about 185,000 borrowers who have been foreclosed upon. The company also agreed to change the way it manages mortgages.

TennCare Choices criticized for impeding nursing home access (Tenn/Wilemon)

A TennCare process for deciding who qualifies for nursing home care came under fire at a legislative hearing Thursday when people complained about a program called Choices creating barriers. Choices gave families the option of deciding whether to put a loved one in a nursing home or get state assistance to provide at-home care when it was launched in 2010, but the program has evolved. Last year, it launched a new rating score for determining who qualifies for skilled nursing care. That system rates people according to deficiencies of daily living, such as whether they are able to walk or feed themselves.

Supreme Court justice Koch to retire in 2014 (Tennessean/Haas)

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch Jr. will retire in July, making him the second justice planning to retire in 2014. Koch announced his impending retirement Thursday and said he will become dean of the Nashville School of Law. He started his career as a part-time law clerk in 1971 to Attorney General David Pack and became an assistant attorney general the next year. He was first appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1984 and served for 23 years. Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2007 appointed him to the Tennessee Supreme Court. In a statement released Thursday, Koch said he was grateful for his time on the bench, but felt it was time for something new.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch to retire (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch said Thursday he intends to retire from the state’s highest court in July, becoming the second member of the state’s five-member court to announce plans to retire. The move, which caught a number of court watchers by surprise, comes after a nearly 30-year career on the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. Koch, 66, will have a new job as dean of the Nashville School of Law. In a statement, Koch said his service on the Supreme Court and earlier on the Court of Appeals “has been rewarding and meaningful, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to serve as chief justice next fall.

Beth Harwell: Wine in grocery stores may pass this year (Tennessean/Sisk)

A bill sent to the Senate floor last spring would let supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and other retailers with beer licenses place wine on their shelves, provided voters agree through local referendums. The bill got tied up in a House committee during the 2013 legislative session by a single vote. Speaker Beth Harwell, who favors the idea, said she thinks the logjam will be broken in 2014. “I believe there is support from the general public, so I see movement, and I think all parties involved have been sitting down and talking to each other during the recess,” she said.

New Round of Guns-in-Lots Debate Likely (TN Report)

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell anticipates more legislative debate over whether gun-carry permit holders should receive additional legal protections to store a weapon in their vehicle while at work. The General Assembly earlier this year revised state law to eliminate criminal penalties for gun owners who keep a gun in their car at work, even if by doing so they are violating a policy set by their employer. Harwell, a Republican from Nashville, said she expects some members if the House’s GOP supermajority caucus will file legislation in 2014 to “make some changes to what we passed last year.”

Why Rep. Cooper voted for a budget deal he thinks falls short (Nash. Biz Journal)

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed a two-year budget deal that eases the threat of a government shutdown in January and replaces some of the across-the-board sequestration cuts. Last week, the deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray easily passed in the House of Representatives. Nashville Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper voted for the budget deal, though he doesn’t consider it the ideal solution. In a statement last week, he called it “a puny deal, but better than no deal at all.” “The budget is really just trim the toenails of the sequester,” Cooper said Wednesday.

White House Will Allow Some To Buy Catastrophic Health Plans (Wall St. Journal)

The Obama administration said Thursday it would allow some of the millions of Americans whose insurance policies had been canceled to purchase bare-bones plans next year, in another 11th-hour tweak to the law likely to cause consternation among health insurers. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a group of six senators in a letter that people whose policies had been canceled because of new requirements under the Affordable Care Act would be allowed to purchase “catastrophic” plans.

UT-Battelle on verge of new 5-year contract at ORNL (News-Sentinel/Munger)

UT-Battelle, the government’s managing contractor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory since 2000, is on the verge of getting a new five-year contract, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann announced Thursday at a special meeting of the East Tennessee Economic Council. “The secretary of energy contacted me and has granted a five-year extension to UT-Battelle for a job well done,” Fleischmann told the crowd of Oak Ridge business leaders, which erupted in applause. ORNL Director Thom Mason attempted to temper the enthusiasm a bit, saying the contract extension is not a done deal yet.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee extends payment date (Tennessean/Wilemon)

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee said Thursday that people who choose one of its policies on HealthCare.gov will have until Jan. 15 to get their premiums paid for coverage beginning with the new year. However, people still have to choose a plan by Monday for the coverage to begin by Jan. 1. BlueCross made its announcement the day after the national association that represents health insurers said its members had voluntarily agreed to accept premium payments as late as Jan. 10. Originally, insurance companies had to receive the first premium before the first of the year. Technical problems with HealthCare.gov, the website for the federally run Health Insurance marketplace, have caused sign-up delays.

 

OPINION 

Guest columnist: Take pride in TN’s fiscal responsibility, integrity (Tennessean)

Government is not the first thing most people put at the top of their list of things they are thankful for during the holidays. On the contrary, government generally is hated by many. The flames are fanned by radio and TV pundits, because government-bashing sells. Most of our contact with government is limited to its intervention in our lives. Government, by necessity, taxes us and seems to continuously fall short of expectations in comparison with the private sector. But Tennesseans should take pride and satisfaction in their state government. Based on data provided by the Tax Foundation in Washington, Tennessee excels in comparison with the other 49 states in the vitally important areas of fiscal responsibility and integrity.

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