This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday his economic development chief Bill Hagerty stayed in the cabinet longer than the governor originally expected, telling reporters it will be hard to find a replacement. “When I first asked Bill if he would come, I asked him [to] promise me two years. And quite frankly, to serve four was great,” Haslam told reporters after his keynote address at the annual Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development. “[Hagerty] wants to get back to private business. For him, it was just a personal decision. [He has] a lot of young kids at home and wants to be back in the business world.” Haslam didn’t indicate a replacement for Hagerty, who announced his decision Wednesday to step down as commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he wanted the state’s embattled education commissioner to remain in his administration for a second term but it didn’t happen. The governor told reporters after a speech to business leaders in Nashville on Friday that Kevin Huffman’s departure wasn’t aimed at cleaning the slate with critics of the commissioner for his lead role in the state’s education overhaul that has included to the implementation of Common Core standards and changes to teacher tenure rules. “I wanted Kevin to stay, I wanted to be real clear about that,” Haslam said. “Kevin decided what was the right thing for him to do for him and his family.” Huffman announced Thursday that he had decided to step down but said that heavy criticism from some Republicans and teachers groups did not play into his decision.
Enrollment at Northeast State Community College is expected to increase by 500 to 1,000 students next fall because nearly 3,000 local high school seniors have applied for Tennessee Promise. The program allows all Tennessee high school graduates to apply for two years of free tuition. The program is part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 campaign — the goal of which is for 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree or certificate by 2025. Earlier this month during a campaign stop in Blountville, Haslam reported that 56,000 high school seniors out of 62,000 in the state have applied for Tennessee Promise, which starts in the fall of 2015. The deadline to apply was Nov. 1. Students who met the deadline can find information about the next steps in the process at www.tennesseepromise.gov.
Business titan Jim Haslam, in the crowded atrium of a building bearing his name, heaved a cloth bag filled with 3,299 thank you notes. His son, Gov. Bill Haslam, quipped: “They all want responses by Wednesday.” The letters were from students, faculty and staff of the newly named Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, thanking the Pilot Flying J founder for his family’s $50 million gift to endow the college. In his 10-minute remarks, Haslam recounted his childhood in Pennsylvania and Florida, his time as a football player and business student at UT, his tenure in the Army and his bid to build a fuel company from the ground up.
The Tennessee Department of Health continues to work with our vital partners in local, state, national and international organizations to be prepared to prevent and stop Ebola transmission at home and to support critical efforts to bring the epidemic under control in West Africa. As that epidemic in Africa continues, or if it spreads elsewhere, we will continue to face risk here at home and potentially greater risks abroad. In the best case, we expect this work will continue for months. Should there be a confirmed case of Ebola virus disease anywhere in our state, TDH will immediately share that information through public announcements. At this time there are no confirmed cases in Tennessee and protection efforts are ongoing.
When you’re driving, here’s a request: Keep your “eyes on the road and your head out of your apps.” That is the latest digital road-sign quip from Tennessee’s Department of Transportation, which continues its communications campaign designed to grab attention and possibly change driving habits. Though some may think it’s a little risque, the most important thing with the play on words is to draw people’s attention, TDOT community relations officer Heather Jensen said. “A clever message can get people talking and having a conversation — even for a minute,” Jensen said. The digital interstate signs, which number 60 in Middle Tennessee, display a variety of different messages. They allow the transportation department to inform drivers about accidents, road conditions and special events.
Tennessee recently levied a total of $1.36 million in civil penalties against three coal mining companies that have operations in Anderson and Campbell counties and are owned by a West Virginia coal baron. Billionaire James Justice’s Justice Corp. has a history of racking up delinquent fines that are promptly appealed and can stay unpaid for years, said Ann League. She is with the environmental group Appalachian Voices, which focuses on coal-mining operations. The civil penalties against three of the Justice Corporation’s companies — Premium Coal Company Inc., National Coal LLC, and S&H Mining Inc. — are for failing to submit daily monitoring reports of the quality of water runoff.
A Knox County woman is charged for the fourth time with “doctor shopping” for drugs, using TennCare as payment. The Office of Inspector General on Nov. 14 announced the arrest of Nancy Elaine Horsley, 47, who is the fourth person in the office’s history to be charged four times with doctor shopping. An indictment out of White County charges her with doctor shopping and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, in connection with visiting several physicians in a short period of time to obtain controlled substances. Her previous arrests all came out of Knox County. After her second arrest, she was taken into custody for a probation violation. She was served with the three subsequent indictments while being held in the Knox County Jail.
The Tennessee Supreme Court denied a death row inmate’s request for a new murder trial despite his claim that his defense attorney did not adequately represent him during the first trial. Clarence Nesbit was convicted of fatally shooting Miriam Cannon in her Memphis apartment on May 20, 1993. He was sentenced to death in 1995. Nesbit’s sentence and conviction were upheld on appeal. In his 1999 petition for post-conviction relief, he asserted that his attorney did not properly prepare for trial and failed to explain his plea agreement in a timely manner. In 2009 a post-conviction court ruled Nesbit was not entitled to a new trial, but awarded him a new sentencing hearing. While the state appeals court upheld that ruling, the state Supreme Court disagreed this week that any failures committed by Nesbit’s attorney had an effect on the jury’s verdict. The case is set to return to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.
A bill requiring women to receive an ultrasound before they can receive an abortion was filed this week, the first move to create new abortion regulations since the passage of a constitutional amendment earlier this month. Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, prefiled the bill Thursday. The main requirement of the bill calls for a woman to receive an ultrasound within 24 to 72 hours of when she plans to have the abortion. “Right now Planned Parenthood and all abortion clinics do ultrasounds before they perform the abortion. All this bill would say is look, let the mother see the picture and hear the heartbeat, that’s all this bill would do,” Womick said Friday. Abortion-rights advocates and critics waged a well-publicized and well-financed fight earlier this year regarding a proposed amendment to the constitution.
A state House member from Rutherford County has introduced legislation that would enact a mandatory ultrasound and waiting period for women seeking abortions, the first such formally proposed restriction on abortion after this month’s passage of Amendment 1. Rep. Rick Womick, a Republican from rural Rockvale, introduced House Bill 2 Thursday. The bill would require an abortion provider to perform an ultrasound between 72 and 24 hours before the abortion. The provider must offer the woman the opportunity to view the ultrasound, or describe it to her if she chooses not to view it. It also requires that the heartbeat be made audible. Under the bill, the regulations would not apply in a medical emergency. Womick’s bill was filed nine days after Tennessee voters, by a margin of 52.6 percent to 47.4 percent, approved an amendment to the state constitution that would allow legislators to enact such restrictions.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. says President Barack Obama is acting like a dictator when it comes to immigration reform. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says he’s behaving like a king. “Our founders did not want a king, and the American people don’t want a president who acts like one,” Alexander said amid reports Obama is prepared to take executive action on immigration, possibly as early as next week. Obama’s threat to bypass Congress and issue an executive order to overhaul the nation’s immigration system has infuriated Republicans, just one week after the GOP won back a majority in the U.S. Senate and boosted its advantage in the U.S. House in the Nov. 4 elections.
The Obama administration on Friday unveiled data showing that many Americans with health insurance bought under the Affordable Care Act could face substantial price increases next year — in some cases as much as 20 percent — unless they switch plans. The data became available just hours before the health insurance marketplace was to open to buyers seeking insurance for 2015. An analysis of the data by The New York Times suggests that although consumers will often be able to find new health plans with prices comparable to those they now pay, the situation varies greatly from state to state and even among counties in the same state. “Consumers should shop around,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the federal insurance exchange serving three dozen states.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz today announced the government has awarded $325 million to build two next-generation massive supercomputers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The super computers will be five to seven times more powerful than today’s fastest machines and are expected to provide major boosts to vital U.S. research leadership in basic science, defense and other areas, officials said. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., hailed the announcement, calling it “another great day for Oak Ridge. “With Secretary Moniz’s announcement of the next generation exascale computing will be coming to East Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory is once again in position to lead the world in supercomputing,” Fleischmann said in a statement.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has signed a contract with IBM for a next-generation supercomputer that will be at least five times faster than the lab’s existing system, which is already the second-fastest in the world. The computer, to be called Summit, will be online in 2017 and will be used for a wide range of scientific applications, including combustion science, climate change, energy storage and nuclear power. “High-performance computing is an essential component of the science and technology portfolio required to maintain U.S. competitiveness and ensure our economic and national security,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Friday at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, where the announcement was made. Oak Ridge’s is one of two hybrid supercomputers IBM will be building for the Energy Department.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is making plans to visit Robertson County in the wake of a Department of Justice investigation that determined the county school district failed to desegregate schools, according to Jimmie Garland, vice president of the Tennessee State Conference of NAACP. Garland, who oversees the NAACP region that includes Robertson County, said the organization intends to reinforce its interest in prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and publicly address the settlement agreement proposed by federal authorities to increase racial diversity in Robertson County schools.
The delay of action on TennCare expansion is slowly eroding the rural health care network in our state. As of October, Tennessee’s decision to not pursue an expansion of TennCare has already cost citizens one hospital — Brownsville Medical Center in West Tennessee. Now the town of 10,000 is without a hospital, and while some services such as X-rays or physicals can still be done at the newly converted Haywood Park Urgent Care facility, individuals in dire need of care must make a 30-minute drive to the nearest emergency room in Jackson, Tennessee. If Tennessee does not agree to some sort of insurance expansion for the state’s nearly 300,000 uninsured, many more communities will find themselves in similar situations.