November 14 TN News Digest

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

Haslam featured speaker at development conference (Associated Press)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is the featured speaker Friday at a conference on economic development in Tennessee. Haslam’s speech comes on the heels of the announcement this week that Bill Hagerty is stepping down as commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. The two-day conference was scheduled to include sessions on site selection, marketing, federal rules, social media and a speech by former University of Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer. Several recent recipients of state incentives packages to either locate or expand their companies in Tennessee are listed as sponsors of the event. They include German automaker Volkswagen, Italian gun maker Beretta and South Korean tire maker Hankook.

Tenn. revenue collections see increase in October (Associated Press)

Tennessee Finance Commissioner Larry Martin says the state’s revenue collections for October were more than $15 million over what was expected. Martin said in a news release on Thursday that the state’s sales tax collections recorded the strongest first-quarter growth since 2011. They were more than $17 million above the estimate for October. The state’s general fund exceeded expectations by more than $10 million. However, corporate franchise and excise taxes for October were $26.8 million, which is $19.2 million below the budgeted estimate of $46 million.

Haslam: OTICS USA Expanding TN Operations with New Sevierville Facility (TNR)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with OTICS USA, Inc. officials announced today the company will construct a new automotive parts manufacturing facility in Sevierville to support company growth and increased product demand. With operations currently in Morristown, OTICS USA will invest $69.5 million in the company’s second Tennessee facility and create 117 new jobs in Sevier County. “We want to thank OTICS for continuing to invest in our state and creating more than 100 new jobs in Sevier County,” Haslam said.

Education commissioner leaving for private sector (Associated Press/Johnson)

Education Department Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Thursday that the scrutiny he received during his nearly four turbulent years at the helm of the state’s schools didn’t influence his decision to leave for the private sector. Huffman, whose departure was announced by Gov. Bill Haslam, has been a lightning rod whose policies and strong advocacy for Common Core standards made him a target for conservatives and teachers’ groups. Huffman told The Associated Press he knew what he was getting into when he took the job. “The governor brought me here as a change agent,” he said. “And I knew full well that coming here and having an agenda of changing some of the things that had always been done was going to create some noise and some controversy, it just sort of comes with the territory.”

Huffman Leaving as Haslam’s Education Department Head (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the Department of Education, will be departing the administration to move into the private sector. “Improving education in Tennessee has been a top priority for our administration, and having someone of Kevin’s caliber to lead the charge during this time of significant progress has made a difference,” Haslam said. “I am very grateful for his commitment to our students, educators and parents, and I wish him well as he continues his commitment to education.” Tennessee has seen historic gains in academic achievement during Huffman’s tenure.

Kevin Huffman departs Tennessee education post (TFP/Omarzu, Sher)

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says he knew coming into Tennessee that as Gov. Bill Haslam’s personally recruited “change agent” in education he would “upset the apple cart” and encounter “push back” from the state’s education establishment. But Huffman said the harsh criticisms he encountered over nearly four years from much of the state’s education establishment and some lawmakers aren’t what’s causing him to leave a job in which during his tenure Tennessee students last year won national recognition for gains they made on national test scores. Haslam, a Republican, announced on Thursday that Huffman, who became a lightning rod for criticism, had decided not to join him in his second term and was leaving for the private sector.

Education Commissioner Huffman stepping down (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who has been the target of some lawmakers and school district administrators wanting him to resign or be fired, is stepping down from the position to move into the private sector, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced Thursday. His successor will be named later, and it has not been disclosed where Huffman is going. The governor has been his education commissioner’s chief defender so Huffman is likely leaving on his own. He is the second Haslam Cabinet member to announce he won’t stay for the governor’s second term, after Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced Wednesday he is also departing.

Huffman latest to leave Haslam administration (Nashville Post)

After years of teachers, principals and legislators agitating for Gov. Bill Haslam to expel his current education commissioner, Kevin Huffman is leaving the administration for the private sector, likely by year’s end. Huffman, an advocate for the politically contentious Common Core state standards and a former Teach for America executive, is the second member of the governor’s cabinet to announce his exit since the November election last week. “Improving education in Tennessee has been a top priority for our administration, and having someone of Kevin’s caliber to lead the charge during this time of significant progress has made a difference,” Haslam said in an official statement Thursday.

Another Haslam commissioner resigns (Memphis Business Journal)

Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, will be leaving his post to move into the private sector. Huffman, who worked in public education as a teacher, lawyer and executive of nonprofits, was involved in implementing the state’s teacher evaluation system and emphasizing teacher training during a restructuring of the Department of Education “It has been an extraordinary honor to serve nearly 1 million students. I am incredibly proud of the accomplishments of Tennessee students,” Huffman said. “More importantly, I am convinced that the state is on the cusp of even more significant breakthroughs as the reforms in our K-12 system link with the opportunity of the Tennessee Promise.”

Gov. Haslam announces Kevin Huffman is stepping down (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Kevin Huffman, Commissioner of the Department of Education, is leaving his position. Huffman will be departing the administration to move into the private sector. “Improving education in Tennessee has been a top priority for our administration, and having someone of Kevin’s caliber to lead the charge during this time of significant progress has made a difference,” Haslam said. “I am very grateful for his commitment to our students, educators and parents, and I wish him well as he continues his commitment to education.” The state of Tennessee has seen historic gains in academic achievement during Huffman’s tenure.

TDOE Commissioner Huffman stepping down (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, will be departing that position for the private sector, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday. “Improving education in Tennessee has been a top priority for our administration, and having someone of Kevin’s caliber to lead the charge during this time of significant progress has made a difference,” Haslam said. “I am very grateful for his commitment to our students, educators and parents, and I wish him well as he continues his commitment to education.” Before joining the Haslam administration, Huffman, 44, spent nearly two decades working with public education systems as a teacher, lawyer and nonprofit executive and board member.

Kevin Huffman out as education commissioner (Tennessean/Boucher, Garrison)

Polarizing Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is stepping down from his position, leaving a legacy that includes historic test gains as well as some of the fiercest clashes this state has ever seen over public schools. His departure, announced Thursday, follows a more than three-year run as Gov. Bill Haslam’s reformed-minded education chief, bringing him national praise and a chorus of criticism that had gotten louder over the past year. Huffman, 44, said he plans to work as a private consultant and write for the next six to 12 months while continuing to live in Nashville, where he and his wife have two children and are expecting another. Beyond then, his future is unclear.

Tennessee’s Lightning Rod Education Commissioner Steps Down (WPLN-Radio)

Governor Bill Haslam is going to have to find a new education commissioner for his second term. Kevin Huffman, who has often found himself at the center of controversy, is calling it quits after four years. The former Teach for America executive says he doesn’t have another job lined up. He jokes about whether there could even be “greener pastures” than working for the state of Tennessee. Huffman says this a good “reflection point.” “I feel like I can only commit to a job if I am really going to give it 100 percent and have my foot on the gas. It’s the only way I know how to do it,” Huffman told WPLN. “Just thinking about the toll of the last years and the difficulty of the job, I think it’s a good time for me to pass the baton.”

Sparks welcomes Huffman’s resignation as ‘good news’ (Daily News Journal)

State Rep. Mike Sparks called the resignation of state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman “good news” during a meeting with other state legislators and local education officials Thursday night. Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Huffman will be leaving the administration to move into the private sector. “I think we had some good news (today),” Sparks said. “I think the governor has seen the backlash of it. I don’t think there’s anyone here who disagrees with me. If I’m wrong, raise your hand.” None of the roughly 40 people in a room at the Murfreesboro City Schools’ central office did so.

Backlogged TennCare applications await hearings (Tennessean/Wilemon)

In Tennessee the only way a non-disabled adult younger than 65 can qualify for TennCare is to be the parent or caretaker of a child eligible for Medicaid. That’s what got Darcy Fournier coverage when he was in a Nashville hospital fighting for his life after a bad case of food poisoning developed into a blood infection. He got signed up, but his 14-year-old daughter never did. That’s not the only thing that went wrong. TennCare didn’t start coverage until after he was discharged from the hospital. “I have got about $130,000 worth of medicals bills I can’t pay,” Fournier said. For six months, the Portland man has tried to get his daughter signed up and to have his eligibility date changed to the day he actually applied for coverage.

Gallatin man faces 2nd round of TennCare fraud charges (Tennessean/Cross)

A Gallatin man on probation after pleading guilty to fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs is facing new charges after prosecutors say he went doctor shopping for painkillers. James Jeffrey Bond, 30, was arrested Nov. 4 following an October indictment by a Sumner County grand jury on three new TennCare fraud charges. In February, Bond obtained prescriptions for Tramadol and Oxycodone, both painkillers, without knowingly telling his health-care provider that he had received the same or similar controlled substances from a different provider within the previous 30 days, according to the indictment. TennCare paid for both clinical visits. The arrest is Bond’s second in a little more than one year relating to TennCare fraud charges.

Tracy: State needs own education standards (Daily News Journal)

State Sen. Jim Tracy said Thursday night that he plans to submit a bill that would call for Tennessee to develop its own education standards when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Tracy made the statement during a meeting of the county’s legislative delegation, Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City school boards. “My personal opinion is, we don’t need Common Core. We need to come up without own standards and lead the country. When we put these (proposed standards) forward, we have to have the assessments that follow the standards. That’s the big thing I hear from teachers in my five counties,” Tracy said. The three legislative bodies meet annually in November to talk about issues in education and how local school systems are impacted.

Memphis says it’s cutting into backlog of untested rape kits (CA/Callahan)

Memphis is slowly making headway in whittling down the untested rape kits in the city’s backlog, officials said in the third “Community Conversation” on the issue Thursday night. Through September, at least some tests have been done on 3,157 rape kits from the city’s extensive backlog that started with 12,374, officials said. An additional 2,495 kits have been sent to labs and are awaiting tests, leaving 6,722 still waiting to be processed, officials added. City officials called that good news. “It’s under 8,000 now,” said Doug McGowen, director of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team and a point man on the backlog. “It’s still a lot, but we’re making progress.”

State may get reimbursed for reopening Smokies during shutdown (TN/Barnes)

The money spent to keep the Great Smoky Mountains National Park open during the federal government shutdown may be on its way back into the pockets of Tennessee taxpayers. U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker announced Thursday that the Senate Energy Committee passed legislation to reimburse six states for funds used to reopen national parks in October 2013. “This national treasure shouldn’t have been forced to close in the first place, and our legislation ensures that Tennessee taxpayers won’t be forced to foot the bill for having it reopened,” Alexander said in a press release. The National Park Access Act would repay states that used about $2 million in state and local money to reopen national parks. Sevier and Blount counties in Tennessee paid $60,100 to reopen the Smokies.

ACA round two: People will find higher premiums, more plans (TFP/Belz)

This time last year, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act was looking anything but smooth: was not working. A bitterly polarized government was emerging from a two-week shutdown. Insurance “navigators” were still learning the new system themselves. “Last year’s enrollment was barely controlled chaos,” said Rae Bond, director of the Chattanooga Medical Foundation, the largest local navigator group. “Everyone acknowledged there were really significant problems.” But with that “trial-by-fire” period under their belts, navigators, insurance companies and shoppers all say they feel far more confident on the eve of the next ACA open enrollment period, which begins at midnight tonight and lasts until Feb. 15.

How Health Law’s Medicaid Enrollees Strain the System (Wall Street Journal)

New Mexico’s decision to expand Medicaid has been a lifesaver for Kevin Gibson but a conundrum for his nurse practitioner. The 46-year-old Mr. Gibson this year got coverage under the plan, went for a checkup and learned he had prostate cancer. Before 2014, Medicaid rules wouldn’t have considered him needy enough for eligibility. But the expansion, tied to the federal health overhaul, made him eligible, and last month Medicaid paid for robotic surgery to treat his cancer. For his nurse practitioner, Jodi Padgett, the surge of Medicaid enrollees like him creates new opportunities, because some overworked local doctors are turning away new beneficiaries who then visit her practice.

TVA nominees may get confirmation vote this year (Commercial Appeal/Collins)

Two Tennesseans awaiting confirmation to seats on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board of directors may see their nominations put to a vote in the U.S. Senate before Republicans take control of the chamber early next year. Senate Democrats are planning to push for a vote on the nominations of Ronald Walter of Memphis and Virginia Lodge of Nashville during Congress’ lame-duck session that began this week. “We’re trying,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Thursday when asked if Democrats intend to schedule a vote on the nominees before year’s end. The two seats on TVA’s nine-member board need to be filled, said Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for sending the nominees to the floor for a vote.

Site selectors on why incentives aren’t the only things that matter (N. Biz Journal)

Government incentives often play a key role in landing economic development deals, though they’re a topic that needs to come into play late in the search process. That’s the overall takeaway from four site selectors who spoke Thursday morning at the 2014 Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development. “[You can] provide the world. But if the other parameters [in a search] are not met, it doesn’t matter,” said Mike Mullis, president and CEO of J.M. Mullis, a Memphis-based project consulting firm. Yet Mullis said incentives are an important piece in economic development deals; they just need to fit the needs of what the business is looking for. Companies are trying to find “ways to reduce front-end costs in every way possible,” Mullis said. “There’s a minimum return on investment for those companies to take to the board.”

Target Eyeing Memphis Area for Distribution Center (Memphis Daily News)

Target is eyeing the Memphis area for an industrial project that could create up to 600 jobs, according to multiple sources. The company is considering sites in DeSoto County and Memphis for a distribution center and could soon seek incentives from Memphis and Shelby County, the sources said. The project, in the pipeline for months, could require more than 500,000 square feet of industrial space. A handful of buildings in Memphis and DeSoto County could meet that requirement. Memphis officials declined to comment. At 600 jobs, the Target project would be one of the largest jobs-producing economic development efforts this year, trailing only Conduit Global, which began operating a service center in Memphis that will eventually employ 1,000 people.

Idaho: Idaho Launches Its Own Obamacare Exchange (Kaiser Health News)

Idaho on Saturday becomes the latest state to launch its own health insurance exchange under the federal health law, with marketplace officials promising an easier shopping experience for consumers and greater responsiveness to insurance agents. But the exchange,, will be challenged to do as well as the federal insurance exchange during the first open enrollment period that ended last March. About 76,000 Idahoans signed up for private coverage at, one of the most successful enrollments in any state. Idaho will be one of a dozen states, along with Washington, D.C., to run its own online marketplace this year — and the only one whose state government is completely controlled by Republicans.





Editorial: Eager volunteers ready to help with ACA enrollment (News-Sentinel)

Health care enrollment for federal plans under the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace begins Saturday and, with a year under their belt, volunteers are prepared to help their clients make the most of the registration effort. It is a welcome sign for those who need health insurance in Tennessee that there are enthusiastic people to help them. Carl Wheeler, who is overseeing enrollment efforts in East Knoxville, said the volunteers have been preparing for several months and are ready for the enrollment period, which lasts until Dec. 15 for coverage that begins on Jan. 1. Feb. 15 will be the final day to enroll for 2015 coverage except for those who qualify for certain exemptions. Tennessee had relatively high enrollment last year and ranked 19th among all states. In Knox County, more than 13,200 people enrolled, with the highest numbers in the north and south sections of the county.

Guest columnist: Step One in Defanging ObamaCare (Wall Street Journal)

Americans are frustrated, and rightly so, by Washington’s lack of progress in spurring job creation and economic growth. While the economy is slowly climbing back from the 2008 recession, the president and Democratic-controlled Senate have failed to get our economy moving again, refusing to allow votes on even common-sense, bipartisan reforms. Republicans now have a chance to show Americans that the party has ideas and can get things done. Here’s a great way to start: Repeal ObamaCare’s medical-device tax. The Affordable Care Act hamstrings medical innovation by imposing a 2.3% excise tax on the sale of medical devices such as defibrillators and operating-room monitors. Businesses that often make lifesaving products now have to pay one of the highest effective tax rates of any industry in the world.