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August 16 TN News Digest

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

Bill Haslam: Spread word about Tennessee Promise (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Tennessee high school seniors now have an opportunity to change the future, not only for themselves and their families, but also for our state. Earlier this year, working with the General Assembly, we passed the Tennessee Promise, a new scholarship program that provides two years of community or technical college to graduating high school seniors absolutely free of tuition and fees. The class of 2015 will be the first to take advantage of this program. Starting this month through Nov. 1, we are encouraging high school seniors to go online at www.TNPromise.gov to sign up.

Grants to improve cities in Weakley, Crockett counties (Jackson Sun)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the award of transportation grants for Weakley and Crockett counties. The grants will fund improvements in the cities of Dresden, Martin, Bells and Maury City. The city of Martin received the largest grant, with $1,020,780 going to fund Phase IV of its Downtown Improvement Project. Dresden was awarded a $520,000 grant for Phase III of the Green Rail Trail Project. Bells was awarded a $320,612 grant for Phase II of the Downtown Improvements Project, while Maury City received a $293,692 grant to fund Phase II of its Downtown Revitalization Project.

Haslam Announces FEMA Assistance for 18 Tornado-Affected Counties (WKMS)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is working to apply Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance to help counties affected by twin tornadoes on June 5th. The storms claimed three lives and left thousands without power. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama declared 18 counties as federal disaster areas as a result of severe weather June 5-10. “This federal aid will help our communities in rebuilding and recovery,” Haslam said in a release. “State and local teams worked quickly to survey damage in more than 35 counties to determine the impact of these storms, and we are grateful for this assistance.”

Obama declares counties hit by June floods disaster areas (Tennessean/Wilson)
President Barack Obama has declared portions of Middle Tennessee affected by flooding and straight-line winds in June as disaster areas. Obama issued a disaster declaration Tuesday that allows federal funding to be sent to state and local governments in areas affected by the storms, according to a White House news release. From June 5 to 10, a series of storms that produced heavy rain and high winds swept through the state, including several counties south of Nashville. Three people died after being swept away by floodwaters in Hickman and Lawrence counties. A tornado was reported in Obion County in West Tennessee.

Classes to begin at $13.8m Roane State building (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)
Students in a first-of-its-kind, high-tech course had a brand-new classroom to themselves Thursday while last-minute preparations for the opening of the new Goff Health Sciences and Technology Building continued. Dedication and ribbon-cutting for the 64,000-square-foot, three-story building on the Oak Ridge campus of Roane State Community College will be Sept. 5 at 8:30 a.m. Roane State, based in Harriman, has an enrollment of about 6,000 students on nine campuses. College officials are thrilled. “Students will have wonderful learning opportunities in the new building, all thanks to the community’s support,” said Melinda Hillman, Roane State’s vice president of development and community relations.

Tanker truck explosion kills driver, damages bridge (Tenn./Walters, Tamburin)
Thousands of drivers across Williamson County can expect slower commutes in the months ahead as the state rebuilds the Goose Creek/Interstate 65 interchange in the wake of a deadly gasoline tanker crash early Friday. The tanker truck slammed into the bridge around 3:40 a.m., killing its driver and sending flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air. The cause of the accident remains under investigation. The tanker was owned by the Edwards Oil Co. of Lawrenceburg. The accident dealt a setback to the $46.1 million project to widen the Goose Creek Bypass bridge from two lanes to 10 lanes.

TennCare blames feds for application delays (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Officials with the state of Tennessee have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them, contending the federal government, not TennCare, is to blame for a backlog of Medicaid applications. And their lawyers argued in court papers filed Thursday night that the case does not meet the criteria to be granted class-action status. The suit, filed by three nonprofit organizations on behalf of 11 plaintiffs — who include parents of babies who went without medical coverage and a woman with kidney failure — asks the federal court to force the state to process Medicaid applications within a legally required 45-day period.

Tennessee blames feds for TennCare delays (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)
Accused of creating monthslong delays for thousands of Tennesseans trying to apply for Medicaid, TennCare officials named in a federal lawsuit said Thursday that another name needs to be topping the lawsuit: The federal government. In a memo filed Thursday evening, attorneys for the state asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against them last month, arguing that the long delays alleged by 11 Tennessee plaintiffs — including new moms, newborns and people with chronic health conditions — are not in their hands. “In short,” state attorneys wrote, “Plaintiffs allege an injury that results directly from the actions or inactions of the [federally-facilitated marketplace].”

String of Tennessee computer failures affect real people (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
It’s become a broken record in Tennessee: When state government runs into controversy, someone blames a computer system. Multimillion-dollar statewide information technology projects that miss deadlines, bust budgets and break down repeatedly, if they get finished at all, have become epidemic in agencies that conduct the people’s business. And no matter how huge or complicated, computer systems that don’t work have had an impact on real people. In Tennessee, investigations into abuse of vulnerable children have been hampered. And poor families applying for food stamps, the unemployed seeking benefits, people in need of TennCare insurance and drivers and county clerks who deal with vehicle registrations — all would have benefited by state tech projects that bogged down or failed.

Judge-elect Roger A. Miller’s debts eyed (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)
He won a stunning upset over a longtime judge, and his campaign disclosure statement shows he didn’t spend any money seeking election. But past debts — thousands in taxes to federal, state and local governments and years of unpaid child support — may be catching up to Roger A. Miller. The state is asking that he be jailed for willful contempt for not paying child support, and his eligibility to hold the 8-year judge’s post is being questioned. Miller, a Republican, defeated Democrat Ron Murch, for 21 years the Anderson County General Sessions Judge for Division II, in the Aug. 7 general election. Miller received 7,002 votes to 6,135 votes for Murch. Miller has a yearslong history of not paying taxes, records show.

Wine petition drive deadline looms in Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Proponents say 12,403 people have so far signed Chattanooga petitions seeking a November referendum on wine sales in grocery stores. But while that’s technically more than triple the 3,865 needed to get the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot, advocates say that’s no guarantee all the signatures are valid. Now the push is on for more with a Thursday deadline looming. The key is getting residents who are registered voters and actually live within the city to sign the petition. A state law passed this year requires signatures equal to or exceeding 10 percent of the votes cast in the last governor’s race to put the question on the ballot.

Voters can fill Gilley vacancy (Daily News Journal)
The state coordinator of elections, Mark Goins, has advised Murfreesboro City Attorney Susan McGannon that a state law dealing with vacancies in county offices should be used to place a City Council position on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot. According to Mr. Goins, T.C.A. 5-1-104, should be used to determine the qualifying date for a municipal election. This would mean that noon Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014 would be the deadline for qualifying petitions to be filed with the Rutherford County Election Commission for the Nov. 4, 2014 general election. A special election is not required. Earlier this week, the city attorney had written a letter to the City Council on filling the vacancy of council member Toby Gilley following Gilley’s election Aug. 7, as General Sessions judge.

Corker Seems To Regret Mentioning The Presidency (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Sen. Bob Corker told reporters earlier this week that he wasn’t ruling out running for president. But he doesn’t seem too pleased about the media flurry that his statement created. At a media event Friday, I began to ask him for more details about his possible presidential run, but Corker cut me off to clarify that I was misinterpreting his statement. “Earlier this week, you had mentioned you were pondering running for president,” I began. “I didn’t really say it that way,” he said with a laugh. “I gave a stream-of-consciousness answer to a question about, ‘Would I consider it.’”

Scott DesJarlais holds 38-vote lead after all votes counted (Tennessean/Sisk)
Election officials finished counting the votes Friday in the race between U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Jim Tracy, with the incumbent still holding tight to a 38-vote lead. Officials in Franklin County on Friday afternoon threw out one provisional ballot — the last to be counted — after determining that voter had not been registered. The decision leaves DesJarlais with a 34,793 to 34,755 lead over Tracy. A spokesman for DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, called on Tracy to concede the race “for the good of the district and the good of the Tennessee Republican Party.”

DesJarlais vote count holds up in 4th Congressional District primary (TFP/Sher)
With all but one provisional vote counted in last week’s 4th Congressional District GOP primary, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has at least a 38-vote lead over challenger Jim Tracy. The Franklin County Election Commission will count the lone remaining provisional ballot today, said Margaret Ottley, the county’s election administrator. Even if Tracy wins that one, it won’t change the outcome of the Aug. 7 election. DesJarlais’ campaign once again called on Tracy to concede, and Tracy once again refused. “Because the race is so close, we are going to continue to follow through the certification process,” said his campaign manager, Stephanie Jarnagin.

Pervasive Medicare Fraud Proves Hard to Stop (New York Times)
The ordinary looking office building in a suburb of Baltimore gives no hint of the high-tech detective work going on inside. A $100 million system churns through complicated medical claims, searching for suspicious patterns and posting the findings on a giant screen. Hundreds of miles away in a strip mall north of Miami, more than 60 people — prosecutors, F.B.I. agents, health care investigators, paralegals and even a forensic nurse — sort through documents and telephone logs looking for evidence of fraudulent Medicare billing. A warehouse in the back holds fruits of their efforts: wheelchairs, boxes of knee braces and other medical devices that investigators say amount to props for false claims.

Record investment comes with TVA cheaper industrial power (TFP/Flessner)
While overall electric rates have gone up in the past year, the Tennessee Valley Authority has cut the average bill for its biggest industrial customers by an average 6.8 percent. The industrial power savings have come through cheaper fuel and a variety of incentive programs TVA created a couple of years ago to help it regain its competitive standing and attract more jobs to the Tennessee Valley. TVA is on pace this year for a record high of business investment and job creation, which utility officials say was boosted by new industrial incentives adopted two years ago.

 

 

OPINION

Editorial: Changing VA’s culture to better serve vets will not be easy (C. Appeal)
Robert McDonald, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has been speaking to groups around the country, telling them that the scandals and inefficiencies that have plagued the VA will be fixed. He visited Memphis this week to send the same message, first in a speech to the American Veterans national convention on Wednesday and again on Thursday, while fielding questions at the Memphis Veterans Medical Center. Still, it remains to be seen whether the graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and former chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble can forge his military discipline and ability to sell home care products into an effective weapon to cut through the antiquated VA bureaucracy and make sustainable, positive change.

 

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