October 29 TN News Digest

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

Haslam seeks mentors to answer Tennessee Promise demand (Chattanooga TFP)

Applications for Tennessee Promise are piling in faster and higher than expected, and Gov. Bill Haslam is calling for mentors to cover all the prospective students. The state has received more than 47,000 applications for the program, which aims to offer Tennessee high school seniors a no-cost two-year degree. That’s double the original 23,000 estimate. And the program also promises one adult mentor for every five students. As of Tuesday, Haslam said the program is about 2,000 mentors short of the 9,400 needed to cover current applications. And the student enrollment period is still open. “We’ve got 7,400 mentors signed up now. The deadline to apply is Nov. 1 for the students, but for the mentors, we have a bit more time,” Haslam said.

Haslam speaks at Urban League Equal Opportunity Day Breakfast (Chattanoogan)

The Urban League of Greater Chattanooga honored Chattanooga State Community College, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier at the 2014 Equal Opportunity Day Breakfast and Awards Ceremony on Tuesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center, featuring Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam as the keynote speaker. The theme of this year’s EOD breakfast—“Education: The Gateway to Opportunity”— recognized the importance of education in expanding opportunities for youth, improving quality of life and driving workforce and economic development. This year’s speaker, Governor Haslam, was chosen in light of his commitment to education which has contributed to Tennessee becoming one of the fastest improving states in the country in the area of academic achievement, said officials.

Gov. Haslam: Little progress in Medicaid expansion plans (Tennessean/Boucher)

Plans to find a way to expand Medicaid eligibility for Tennessee residents aren’t moving as quickly as expected, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday morning. The governor said he continues to work with federal health officials to find a solution that will work, but it’s taking longer than he had hoped. “I would have hoped we would have made more progress by now, after the meeting we had up there five or six weeks ago,” Haslam said Tuesday morning after speaking at an education conference in Nashville. “It hasn’t been as encouraging recently as I had hoped, after my sit-down with the secretary.” In August Haslam announced he wanted to find a plan to expand Medicaid coverage in some form, working with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Haslam, Alexander Speak on Ebola (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that although state officials continue to monitor the situation, his administration has no immediate plans to go beyond federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines with regard to quarantines for possible Ebola cases. Also Tuesday, Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he will introduce a bill with Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin to help speed the development of Ebola treatments and vaccines. Governors of states such as Georgia, New York and New Jersey, which are home to international airports through which recent travelers from Ebola-stricken Liberia, New Guinea and Sierra are being funneled, have declared guidelines going beyond revised CDC recommendations. None of the five airports are located in Tennessee.

Haslam says state won’t back up on education standards (Commercial Appeal)

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam promised hundreds of Tennessee educators Tuesday that he “won’t back up on the push for higher standards” and that he will continue listening to their concerns as the state moves through waves of changes in education policy. He also said higher teacher pay remains a top priority for him, despite having to scrap plans last spring for a pay raise due to a state revenue downturn. Haslam followed U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in addressing the state’s annual Tennessee Educational Leadership Conference. Last Wednesday, Haslam announced the start of a new review by educators and the public of the state’s Common Core standards in K-12 English language arts and math, in response to increasing pressure by legislators and conservatives to repeal Common Core in the state.

Arne Duncan, Bill Haslam talk achievement, not ‘Common Core’ (Tennessean)

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeated some of his recent praise Tuesday for Tennessee’s improved scores on national assessments and accepting an “honest” system for student proficiency standards. Gov. Bill Haslam echoed those comments and promised hundreds of educators that the state “won’t back up on the push for higher standards.” In their formal speeches during an education conference though, neither mentioned the formal name of those standards: Common Core. Haslam said the politically charged issue of appropriate academic standards is only fueled by what he called the misconceptions associated with the name. “Unfortunately, there are so many misconceptions around the term Common Core, when you bring it up, it means so many different things to different people,” Haslam said after his speech at the LEAD education conference in Nashville.

Education secretary speaks at Tenn. education conference (Associated Press)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan lauded Tennessee’s educators for their efforts in trying to help students be successful. Duncan spoke Tuesday at the Tennessee Educational Leadership Conference in Nashville. He said over the course of several years the hard work of principals and teachers has resulted in Tennessee students leading the nation in academic improvement. Gov. Bill Haslam also spoke Tuesday. He too praised educators and told reporters following his speech that he’s committed to seeing they get more pay. The Republican governor had planned to give teachers a pay increase this year, but said he wasn’t able to because of budget constraints. However, if state revenues allow for it, he says increased pay for teachers will be a priority next year.

Commissioner applauds Health and Science Academy (Clarksville Leaf Chronicle)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Dr. John Dreyzehner, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, visited the Health Science Academy at Northwest High School Tuesday afternoon. He was greeted not only by the staff, but 14 Health Science Academy students decked out in their green scrubs. Constance Brown, lead teacher for the Health Science Academy, explained that, the academy started in August 2013. “We hit the floor running,” she said. She said they started with 46 students and since have tripled that number to over 116 students now. She explained how students needed to pick a path, whether it be certified nursing assistant, emergency medical technician or medical administration. She explained that every nine weeks students have a different challenge and she explained those challenges.

Shelby school board defends itself against takeover anger (Commercial Appeal)

Anger from school takeover meetings happening around the city this week spilled into the Shelby County Schools board of education Tuesday. Parents and school district employees alternately lashed out at the board for imperiling their children’s futures and jeopardizing careers, accusing it of being in collusion with designing a system that turns their schools over to strangers. “My question to the board is how fair is it for you to allow a lot of inexperienced charter schools to come in? You are not doing your job. You allowed them to come because y’all are not giving us the resources,” said American Way Middle School parent LaQuetta Miles. “How can you allow them to come in and take over a school in a neighborhood they know nothing about?” American Way and nine other schools are “eligible” for state takeover next year.

State high court to decide if condemned can know executioners (Knoxville N/S)

Do the condemned in Tennessee have a right to know who is under the executioner’s hood? The Tennessee Supreme Court will be tackling that issue in the cases of 11 death row inmates, including two from East Tennessee whose crimes date back nearly three decades. The high court on Monday made public the justices grant of an appeal by the state Attorney General’s Office in its ongoing bid to shield the identities of all those involved in the execution process, including pharmacists who provide the lethal injection drug, the doctors who administer and monitor it and any state Department of Correction workers with a hand in the procedure. Two of the lead defendants in the fight over the right to know who will help execute them are Stephen Michael West and Billy Ray Irick.

Knoxville murder prosecution faces state Supreme Court after evidence lost (KNS)

A Knoxville slaying case in which all the physical evidence, including the murder weapon, turned up missing and the medical examiner’s suicide bid and drug relapse kept her off the witness stand has drawn the attention of the state’s highest court. In a rare move, the Tennessee Supreme Court has granted an appeal of the facilitation to commit first-degree murder conviction of Thomas Lee Hutchison, 51, in the 2002 bludgeoning by crow bar death of 18-year-old Gary Douglas Lindsay in what prosecutors said was a robbery bid. Defense attorney Bob Jolley has long contended Hutchison’s constitutional rights were trampled upon from the moment Lindsay’s body was found hidden under a pile of clothes inside Hutchison’s Millertown Pike home.

Alexander: Republican majority would make U.S. Senate work (Commercial Appeal)

A Republican majority in the U.S. Senate won in next week’s election would grease the wheels of that body and produce results for Tennessee, Sen. Lamar Alexander said Tuesday in Memphis. “Sen. (Mitch) McConnell has said with Republicans in charge, we’ll put bipartisan bills on the floor, we’ll debate them, we’ll work Mondays and Fridays, and we’ll start dealing with the problems that Americans expect us to deal with,” Alexander said. “And it’s absolutely ridiculous that we haven’t been in Washington these last several weeks.” Alexander said this could mean replacing the Affordable Care Act “as rapidly and responsibly as we can,” stressing local decision-making on education, defending right-to-work laws and reducing the “growth of runaway spending and fix the debt.”

Jeb Bush talks presidential run, Common Core in Nashville (Tennessean/Garrison)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking in Nashville on Tuesday as he weighs a run for president, discussed his positions on Common Core and immigration, two stances that might complicate his candidacy in a GOP primary. He also took on the question of the Oval Office itself, setting a deadline by the end of the year to decide whether he’ll seek to be the third Bush to capture the presidency. He plans to spend the next few months pondering the decision with his family before ultimately choosing “what’s in my heart.” “If it’s a ‘yes,’ I guess you go into the Bat Cave,” Bush said with a laugh. “I don’t know. I’ve never done it before. … Try to parse superhuman skills, which I will definitely need because I’m imperfect in every way. “I’m totally blessed,” he added. “I’m not like really freaking out about this decision, to be honest with you.”

Ron Ramsey, Lamar Alexander show support for Ed Jackson (Jackson Sun)

A day after Democrats met in Jackson to promote their candidates for U.S. and state Senate, Republicans gathered at the Providence House at the Casey Jones Village to encourage people to get out and vote. District 27 state Senate candidate Ed Jackson was joined Tuesday by several high-ranking Republicans including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who were there to support Jackson’s campaign and give a few words for their own causes. “I think it helps West Tennessee to have a strong state senator like Ed Jackson,” Alexander said. “I mean, Governor (Bill) Haslam and Ron Ramsey are providing excellent leadership for this state, and to have a state senator from Madison County in this area on their team I think will be good for West Tennessee.”

EPA bill grows in Knoxville College cleanup (Knoxville News Sentinel/Boehnke)

It has cost the federal government $425,776 so far to clean up the thousands of chemicals abandoned in a vacant science building on the Knoxville College campus. The figure is not final and the federal agency will seek to recover the cost of the three-week June cleanup from the struggling historically black college, said Anita Davis, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 Superfund Enforcement Branch in Atlanta. The first step in recouping that money will be to send a demand letter to college officials, something the agency plans to do in 2015, she said. The EPA has not decided whether it will file a lien against the school’s property if it cannot pay. The college already has a $466,427 federal tax lien on the 39-acre property, filed in August 2008, according to the Knox County Register of Deeds office.

Feds tell Methodist to pay up (Commercial Appeal)

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare of Memphis should repay the U.S. government nearly $5.9 million for incorrect Medicare bills, a federal audit contends. The Medicare compliance review released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Office of Inspector General stems from an audit of Methodist hospitals’ bills in 2012 in Memphis. In a reply to the review, Methodist has challenged how the government ultimately used a sample of 48 Medicare claims that auditors said were incorrectly billed over 1.5 years to arrive at, or extrapolate, the millions in overcharges for which Medicare wants a refund. Methodist officials also contend that 27 of the 48 claims were correctly billed. Methodist is appealing auditors’ rulings on questions including coding and inpatient versus outpatient “short stays,” while reporting that changes were made to fix flaws in billing processes uncovered by the review.

City airfares rank 8th in cost (Commercial Appeal)

Memphis airfares fell 4.2 percent last spring but still landed the city in the top 10 most expensive U.S. airports for travelers. Memphis International Airport climbed to No. 8 in the April-June quarter from No. 10 last winter, while average fares declined about $20, to $466.05, from a year earlier. Memphis airport officials said the figures reflected continuing volatility in the air service market at a time when new flights and low-cost carriers, such as Southwest and Frontier, are gradually taking hold. “We hope that the continued addition of low-cost carriers to the Memphis market and continued expansion of existing carriers will bring these average fares down,” airport spokesman Glen Thomas said. The Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics said Cincinnati’s $523.33 was the highest average among the nation’s busiest 100 airports, while Sanford, Florida was lowest at $110.61.




Editorial: Methodist earns ‘A+’ for response to Ebola scare Commercial Appeal)

If it was our job to evaluate the performance of Methodist University Hospital with respect to its management of the Ebola challenge we would be pleased to check the box labeled “Exceeds Expectations” from what we know so far. That’s not to suggest that our expectations for the hospital were low. It’s the sense of satisfaction we feel now after feeling aghast at what happened in Dallas, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital misdiagnosed Thomas Eric Duncan with a sinus infection Sept. 25. A doctor flagged Duncan as a possible Ebola victim on Sept. 28, and he died from the infection Oct. 8. Nurses who treated Duncan, it turns out, have been undergoing scares of their own. That’s the kind of news that would — and did — leave Memphians feeling nervous about reports out of Methodist last Sunday morning that a patient had been quarantined after presenting some symptoms of Ebola. The scare didn’t last long. Nevertheless, the sigh of relief was palpable when just after 8:30 p.m. the news came that a blood test performed by the state Department of Health had produced negative results.

Columnist: Addressing truancy one child at a time (Commercial Appeal)

I used to think truancy was about teenagers deciding to skip school or drop out. Then my wife became an elementary school teacher in Memphis, and I began to learn that truancy is just as complicated as any other social problem. There are nearly as many reasons why students don’t come to school as there are students who don’t come to school — especially at the elementary-school level. “In middle school, truancy is a student problem,” said Harold Collins, a city councilman and coordinator of the district attorney general’s truancy-reduction program. “In elementary school, it’s a parent problem. But that problem tends to be a lot more complex and multilayered than you’d think. One solution doesn’t fit all.”