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September 3 TN News Digest

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

Haslam, legislative speakers call education summit (Associated Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey are convening a summit to discuss education changes in Tennessee. The Sept. 18 event titled “Progress of the Past, Present and Future” will involve elected officials and representatives from 24 organizations focusing on K-12 and higher education and business leaders. Haslam said the meeting is meant to review the ongoing education overhaul in Tennessee and plan for the future. Some of those changes, like the Common Core education standards and related testing requirements, have received criticism from both tea party groups and teachers unions and became election fodder in legislative primaries earlier this month.

Haslam, General Assembly Speakers to Convene Education Summit (TNR)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell today to announce that key stakeholders of K-12 education from across the state will come together in Nashville on Thursday, September 18 for Tennessee’s Education Summit: Progress of the Past, Present and Future. “There is nothing more important to the future of our state than getting education right,” Haslam said. “We are making historic progress in Tennessee, and as part of that progress there has been a lot of change and discussion. This is a chance to review where we’ve been, take a look at where we are today, and make sure we’re planning for where we want to go.”

Haslam, Hagerty Announce AIG to Expand, Relocate in Nashville (Insurance News)
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development issued the following news release: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and AIG officials announced today the company will expand its Davidson County operations by developing headquarters for the marketing and distribution of financial products related to life insurance. The expansion will add approximately 200 new jobs over the next three years. “We want to thank AIG for its continued investment in Tennessee and the jobs they are creating in Davidson County,” Haslam said.

Insurance giant AIG expands in Nashville, to add 200 jobs (Tennessean/Williams)
Insurance giant AIG will expand in Davidson County, adding 200 jobs over the next three years. As previously reported in The Tennessean, AIG will accommodate the expansion by relocating its operations to a new facility in Seven Springs in 2016. Construction is expected to start before the end of the year. Meanwhile, hospital chain HCA recently completed its purchase of AIG’s American General Center in southern Davidson County for $65 million. AIG’s new building will be developed by Highwoods Properties Inc. The $59 million investment will total more than 200,000 square feet and feature structured parking. Highwoods said AIG will take up more than three-quarters of the new building.

Volunteer mentors needed for TnAchieves program (Bristol Herald-Courier)
TnAchieves, an organization that has partnered with Tennessee Promise and will administer nonfinancial components of college attendance through two and a half years of free tuition, projects 435 students will apply for the program between the four Sullivan County high schools, which will require 87 volunteer mentors. Volunteer mentors, after completing training, will meet with their students for an hour each month to help guide the student through the college application process, making sure that they meet deadlines and progress toward college and will also provide extra support.

Arlington welcomes first lady for literacy night (Jackson Sun)
Last year, Arlington Elementary School started Literacy Night, one night a month for parents and students to come to school to read. Kristen Craig, a reading interventionist at Arlington, said the events started as a way to get parents to encourage students to read. Parents were encouraged to read with their children for 20 minutes every day. “We’ve had huge growth,” Craig said. “Every time more parents were coming, and our kids are more excited to read.” Arlington held its first Literacy Night of the new school year Thursday. Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam attended to read to the children.

32 teens escape from DCS detention center in Nash.; 7 still at large (TN/Tamburin)
Changes are coming to the state’s juvenile detention centers after 32 teenagers busted out of the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville, triggering a massive police manhunt and criticism from the community. Seven of the teens remained at large Tuesday, with 25 back in custody. Officials with the Department of Children’s Services launched an internal investigation into the escape to identify weaknesses that need to be addressed, although they said it was too soon to announce any policy changes. “We’re going to have to do better,” DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said Tuesday. Johnson said “rumblings of trouble” began around 11 p.m. Monday, when teens began congregating in dorm common areas.

DCS Investigating Police Call Delay In Juvenile Detention Break (WPLN-Radio)
Tennessee officials say the 32 young men who broke out of a juvenile detention center Monday night appeared to have coordinated the escape, and seven of them, all convicted felons, are still on the loose. A few minutes before 11 p.m., which was shortly after a shift change, security guards at the Woodland Hills facility in Bordeaux started to sense “the rumblings of trouble,” according to Department of Children Service’s Spokesman Rob Johnson. The young men left their unlocked dorm rooms (unlocked by policy) and began drifting through the buildings, as staff members tried to get them back into their dorms.

Former DCS employee says escape was due to poor staffing (WKRN-TV Nashville)
A man who says he worked at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Complex for 10 years told News 2 that Monday night’s escape was a result of poor staffing. Tshonba Bernard said he reached the rank of Sergeant inside Woodland Hills before leaving in 2010. He often supervised the night shift, the same shift during which 32 juveniles escaped Monday night. “There were up to 144 kids and sometimes I would have 25 officers or less,” he said. “The kids knew when we were short staffed.” Bernard continued, “They knew it, is no doubt they knew, because I would even hear some of the kids say ‘They are short staffed today.’” Another issue he said is the fact that juveniles in the facility are the most dangerous offenders in the DCS system. Teens are only admitted to the facility if they have committed at least three felonies.

Federal judge rules TennCare must hold hearings following complaints (TFP/Belz)
A federal judge has ordered Tennessee’s state Medicaid program to take responsibility for long-delayed applications, calling for the agency to hold hearings for people who have waited months to find out whether they will receive coverage. The ruling against TennCare on Tuesday follows months of complaints from Tennesseans who say their TennCare applications have long gone unanswered. The delays led first to a federal reprimand, then a lawsuit filed in July against the state by a coalition of civil rights groups on behalf of 11 people, including newborns and people with chronic health problems.

Judge finds fault with TennCare, orders hearings (Commercial Appeal/McKenzie)
A federal judge in Nashville on Tuesday ordered Tennessee to provide hearings for people who applied for TennCare since last fall, but with no state computer system in place to process applications, had enrollment decisions delayed. District Judge Todd Campbell granted a preliminary injunction sought with a lawsuit filed in July on behalf of TennCare applicants by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tennessee Justice Center and the National Health Law Program. TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, drew fire for referring applicants to the online insurance marketplace provided with the Affordable Care Act, but with no state computer system in place to process applications. Meanwhile, the state stopped accepting in-person applications. The court’s ruling “will require TennCare to do their job and ensure that people who have been stuck waiting for a decision for months will be able to finally receive the health care they deserve,” Sara Zampierin, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement.

Judge rules against TennCare (Tennessean/Wilemon)
TennCare must hold hearings for Tennesseans who have waited months to learn whether they qualify for Medicaid coverage because of delays in processing applications, a federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell also granted class-action status to the lawsuit, meaning hundreds, potentially thousands, of Tennesseans could also become plaintiffs in the case. Campbell issued the orders at 3 p.m. Tuesday. “It is clear that irreparable harm has occurred and will continue to occur without the issuance of injunctive relief,” Campbell said in the order. “The plaintiff class members are economically impoverished and, without TennCare benefits, have forgone or are forgoing vital medical treatments, services and prescriptions. These injuries cannot be made whole by a retroactive award of money after the litigation process is complete.”

Federal judge approves class-action status in TennCare suit (Nashville Post)
The federal lawsuit filed against TennCare by three legal advocacy groups is now a class action, based on an order filed Tuesday afternoon by Judge Todd Campbell. Filed in July by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Tennessee Justice Center and the National Health Law program, the suit alleges that Tennessee’s Medicaid agency, TennCare, has failed to comply with federal requirements. Specifically, the suit centers on the requirement that applications for TennCare must be processed within 45 days. If that deadline cannot be met, a hearing must be held. The advocacy groups allege that several plaintiffs in the case had their applications pending for more than 200 days.

9,000 rape kits untested across Tennessee (Tennessean/Haas)
More than 9,000 rape kits have gone untested across Tennessee, some dating back nearly 30 years. That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in response to a law passed earlier this year requiring all police agencies to account for all untested rape kits. Rape kit backlogs have exploded as a national problem over the past year. Thousands of evidence kits have gone untested across the country, raising serious questions about whether police are leaving violent crimes unsolved. Memphis stood out as one of the most egregious examples, with an estimated 12,000 untested rape kits.

TBI: Memphis’ 6,942 untested rape kits account for 77% of state total (CA/Locker)
The problem of untested sexual-assault evidence kits in Tennessee isn’t just a Memphis problem, according to a new Tennessee Bureau of Investigation survey of law enforcement agencies across the state. But it is mostly a Memphis problem. Of 9,062 untested kits statewide at the time of the survey, 6,942 were collected by the Memphis Police Department — about 77 percent of the total. That’s nearly 18 times as many as the 394 untested kits at the Knoxville Police Department, the second largest number reported. The state legislature in March directed the TBI to survey police departments and sheriffs’ offices to find the extent of the untested rape-kit problem after advocates for sexual assault victims sought state funding to help Memphis pay to get its backlog tested. Statewide, 44 police agencies reported a total of 8,384 untested kits, ranging from the 6,942 at MPD to one each at six small departments. And 37 of the 95 county sheriffs’ offices reported a total of 678 untested kits, ranging from 179 at Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to one each at five counties.

Judge sends Sonya case to Nebraska (Tennessean/Haas)
The judge who first put 10-year-old Sonya McCaul in state’s custody has ruled that the case should be sent to Nebraska, where she is living with her biological father. Dickson County Juvenile Court Judge Andy Jackson ruled late Friday that much of the last nine years of legal wrangling over Sonya in his court may have been invalid because he didn’t have jurisdiction in the first place. Under interstate rules involving children, Jackson has said that Nebraska must first accept the case before it is formally transferred. “I understand that’s in process,” said Lynn Coffinberry, attorney for Sonya’s biological father in Nebraska, John McCaul. ”

Tennessee DA’s office to create audit panel (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Nine years after Tennessee lawmakers required many state-created boards to establish audit committees, the central administrative office for Tennessee’s 31 district attorneys general has finally agreed to obey the law. In its response to the latest state comptroller’s criticism on the issue, contained in an audit released Tuesday, the Office of Executive Director for the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference begrudgingly said it would establish the panel. “We do not totally agree and do not see the need for an audit committee,” the DAs’ conference said in its response, which was included in the Comptroller’s Division of State Audit report. “However, we will formally establish same.”

80 cities, counties to vote on wine in grocery stores (Tennessean/Cass)
Voters in 80 Tennessee cities and counties, including Nashville, Franklin, Hendersonville, Mt. Juliet and Murfreesboro, will vote this fall on allowing grocery stores to sell wine, the group leading the charge announced Tuesday. But 14 municipalities won’t be considering the issue after petition drives in those places fell short. Red White and Food said its coalition, including retail partners and volunteers, collected 262,247 signatures statewide to force referendums in each of the state’s four biggest cities and many suburban areas, including Brentwood, Fairview, Gallatin, Goodlettsville, Lebanon, Smyrna, Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station.

80 Tennessee towns, cities to vote on wine in grocery stores (Times Free-Press)
Registered voters in 80 Tennessee towns and cities, including Chattanooga, will vote in November on whether to allow the sale of wine in retail food stores, the Red White and Food campaign said Tuesday. “This is a tremendous accomplishment for the state’s retail food stores and for their customers who want to be able to buy wine while shopping for groceries,” said Susie Alcorn, Red White and Food campaign manager, in a news release. She said the group’s goal “has always been to give Tennesseans the opportunity to vote on this issue, and now they will have that chance.”

Health exchanges not working for rural population (Tennessean/Cowart)
Like many Southern states, Tennessee has a substantial rural population. Of Tennessee’s 95 counties, 49 are considered rural by federal census standards. Additionally, nearly 2.9 million Tennesseans reside in rural areas, approximately 46 percent of the state’s population. Health reform and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act have been particularly painful to rural populations. Let’s review the challenges. First, rural populations face many demographic challenges. Statistically, they have relatively poor health profiles, with high rates of heart disease, diabetes, tobacco use and other chronic health conditions. Additionally, rural areas are home to disproportionate numbers of low-income and aging populations.

 
OPINION

Editorial: Escapes, suicides indicate all not well at developmental centers (CA)
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has found itself in yet another embarrassing situation regarding a facility where troubled teens are held. Late Monday, 32 teens escaped from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville after crawling under a weak spot in a fence. The escapees, ages 14 to 19, left their rooms and overwhelmed 16 to 18 staff members. Eight of the escapees were still at large Tuesday afternoon. The escapes followed the suicides of two inmates at the Mountain View Youth Development Center in East Tennessee this summer.

Times Editorial: State’s court dependency will cost us again with TennCare (TFP)
What is it about Tennessee officials and lawmakers that makes this state so dedicated to saying no to smart policy and yes to spending our dollars stupidly? This week, we’ve seen yet another federal court ruling — this one on a TennCare lawsuit — that will force us to spend many more millions of dollars that we knew from the get-go we would spend. Now we’ll spend more — including untold millions on litigation and a final, more expensive fix. A federal judge Tuesday ruled against Tennessee’s Medicaid agency, granting class action status to a lawsuit filed against the state agency by 11 patients who alleged months-long delays getting TennCare coverage.

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