This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
It is perhaps easy to underestimate the importance of some announcements; we can become accustomed to the accolades that seem to shower upon us as one of America’s favorite cities. Tuesday’s news that Bridgestone Americas would be moving its U.S. headquarters to a new building in downtown Nashville is the kind of announcement we might assume would naturally occur.Nashville’s business leaders, who almost daily over the past 18 months worried whether they were doing enough, say that bringing Bridgestone to SoBro is a huge economic development win for Metro. As one said, “There are some companies, some business brands, that are so synonymous with Nashville that losing them would start people asking questions.”
With more than 50,000 high school seniors applying for free community college tuition and fees through Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise, it’s reasonable to wonder if Tennessee’s community colleges have the infrastructure – including classroom space and instructors – to handle such an influx of new students. And what about the state’s four-year schools? Will the offer of free community college erode already-declining enrollment numbers? Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause discounts such concerns, largely, he says, because he expects only about 12,000 of those 50,000 students will actually take advantage of the plan. Elsewhere, college officials and experts across the state say it’s simply too early to tell exactly what impact Tennessee Promise will have.
Larry and Linda Drain took turns at a microphone telling how they separated last December after 33 years of marriage so she could remain on TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program. “When Obamacare came and I went to sign up last year, I found that I made $5,000 too little to qualify,” Larry Drain of Maryville said at a rally Monday outside the state Capitol where about four dozen people urged state officials to expand Medicaid. “Shortly after that, I found that the income I do have (about $11,000 a year from Social Security early retirement) was going to take away my wife’s TennCare.” His wife, who has epilepsy and other chronic health problems, spoke next. “Many people in Tennessee are pro-life, but it’s not possible to be pro-life if you deny people access to the health care they need. Many people in Tennessee are pro-family. It is not possible to be pro-family if you force married couples to split up in order to maintain their health coverage.” She remains covered but her husband falls into Tennessee’s coverage gap.
After three and a half years of division, fights and big changes that put Tennessee in the national spotlight for public education, a push has emerged for an education commissioner who is homegrown to replace the departing Kevin Huffman. Finding a Tennessean for the high-profile job could also be ideal politically for Gov. Bill Haslam — particularly as he kicks off a public process to review and likely tweak the state’s Common Core academic standards into a Tennessee-branded version. Representatives from both of Tennessee’s main teacher advocacy groups, who have clashed routinely with Huffman, say they want a successor who comes from the public school ranks — a clear knock at Huffman who came from the nonprofit Teach For America. They also contend that a Tennessean would be best positioned to take the torch.
Angela Hibbitt has a huge sense of humor and talks about the struggles she has with TennCare by interspersing jokes throughout her story. But her situation isn’t a joke, she said Wednesday. Hibbitt, 54, has muscular dystrophy, chronic respiratory failure, ulcerative colitis and asthma and has lived with an invasive ventilator for years. The tubes and wheelchair, which she has used since 1978, don’t stop Hibbitt from living a normal life. “I go where I want to go, do what I want to do,” she said. “I go to community activities, do anything that anyone would want to do.” TennCare could soon take that all away, Hibbitt said. Hibbitt used to have 20 hours of daily home nursing care. About a year ago, she was told her care would be cut down to 16 hours a day, a cut that took effect a week ago. Then, TennCare dropped another bomb, telling Hibbitt it would be cheaper for her to live in a nursing home, whether she liked it or not.
An anonymous call will force Bluff City to pay more than $3,000 to the state, which angered some alderman Thursday night. City Manager Judy Dulaney informed the Bluff City Board of Mayor and Alderman that an anonymous call was placed to the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury recently. The caller alleged there was money missing from the city. The comptroller had recently finished an audit of Bluff City. No missing money was found during the first audit. A separate audit of Bluff City was authorized after the call was place. That audit has been completed, but the results have not yet been released. Because the city had to be audited again, a charge of $3,400 needs to be paid by the city.
Rep. Rick Womick, R- Rockvale, wants to debate state House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, in his long-shot bid for the leadership position. “We elect her to represent us, and she is technically under our authority,” Womick said Friday. “Not over us, but under us. And that’s not always been the case.” Womick announced last week he would challenge Harwell for the role she’s held since 2011. Harwell is considered the establishment Republican choice, while Womick’s views are more aligned with Tea Party politics. Womick said he’d be willing to have the debate at “her place, her choosing.” A spokeswoman for the speaker said she had no comment about the matter. The election is expected before the end of the year.
State Rep. Rick Womick has filed the first bill to take advantage of the General Assembly’s newly expanded power to regulate abortion. The passage of Amendment 1 earlier this month changes the Tennessee Constitution to specify that it does not protect the right to an abortion. Previously, court rulings had limited the restrictions lawmakers could place on abortions. On Thursday, the Rockvale Republican filed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound between one and three days before the procedure. The technician would be required to show the image to the woman or to describe the image if she refuses to look. The technician also would be required to make the heartbeat audible, if possible, and describe it. The bill makes an exception for medical emergencies.
In one clip, a young man wearing a cap and gown tumbles down the stairs at his graduation ceremony. Another shows a guy who face-plants after dunking a basketball. “Reality is — you can’t prevent the unexpected,” a narrator says. “But you can prepare for it with affordable health coverage.” The commercial, which presents an “America’s Funniest Home Videos”-style compilation of laughable accidents, has begun circulating online as part of BlueCross BlueShield’s latest efforts to reach a much-coveted demographic — millennials. Insurers and advocacy groups alike are approaching Round Two of Affordable Care Act marketplace enrollment with a much clearer idea of the holes unfilled during last year’s enrollment and the demographics they need to target this year.
Thousands of Tennesseans are expected to buy health insurance in the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace during the second round of enrollment that opened Saturday. More than 151,000 Tennesseans — 21,000 in Shelby County alone — purchased insurance through the federal marketplace during the first year of enrollment, despite computer glitches and other mishaps that beset the program. Even with the problems, the state’s enrollment exceeded forecasts, raising expectations for round two. While the federal government hasn’t released statewide projections for the next round, “We are looking forward to having a very robust open enrollment period this time,” said Jacob Flowers, Tennessee state director for Enroll America, a nonprofit that works to make sure Americans retain health-care coverage.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won re-election and will become Senate majority leader in 2015 with his vow to fight what he calls President Obama’s “war on coal.” But the federal government’s biggest utility may decide next month to curb its coal use, even in McConnell’s coal-rich Kentucky, to reduce pollution and meet environmental rules. TVA will decide whether to retrofit or shut down two of the nine units at the Shawnee Fossil Plant in Paducah, Ky. Units 1 and 4 are the only coal-fired units there still lacking scrubbers and selective catalytic control devices to control harmful smog emissions. The utility has closed or is shutting down more than half of the 59 coal-fired units it once used to generate nearly two-thirds of its electricity at other plants in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
These are tough times at the Spallation Neutron Source, which hasn’t produced neutrons — its reason for being — on a regular basis since summer. The shutdown has brought important experiments, exploring the very essence of materials and how they behave and interact with other materials, to a standstill. But scientists and engineers are problem-solvers at heart, and the mood was surprisingly upbeat last week as they talked about what’s gone wrong and how they hope to fix it. “This will get worked out. This isn’t an engineering problem that can’t be solved,” Ron Crone, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s acting associate lab director for neutron sciences, told the News Sentinel during a tour of the research facilities. Crone was talking about ongoing issues with the system’s target vessel, a stainless-steel container that holds and circulates about 20 tons of mercury.
Replace Kevin Huffman? I know just the person. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest school, grab the first kid you see and ask one question and one question only. Who’s the most loving teacher here? “Oh, that’s easy,” the kid would say. “Follow me.” Bingo. You just found our state’s next education commissioner. Because if we’re going to heal from the body blows wrought by Huffman’s policies, we need leaders who understand a most stunning truth: Education, first and foremost, is about love. Not knowledge. Not testing. But love. And love is a condition of the heart, not the head. Huffman’s continuous mistake was to locate education exclusively within the head. From the neck up. Testing, more testing, tying teacher livelihoods to test scores and evaluations — all of it head-based policies originating from the fallacy that says education is mainly about what you can know. What you can memorize. What you can be tested on.