This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Tennessee Residence, home to Gov. Bill Haslam and Crissy Haslam, is open to the public for holiday tours. The decoration theme this year is Tennessee landscapes. According to the Office of the First Lady, Crissy Haslam visited more than half of Tennessee’s 56 state parks to collect ideas and natural materials for the holiday decorations. One of the Christmas trees is adorned with ornaments that were hand-painted by artists selected by the managers of each park. The decorations on another tree were created by children in the parks’ Junior Rangers Program. The open house runs through Dec. 17, with tours offered Monday through Saturday. Reservations for the tours are available on the first lady’s website at www.tn.gov/firstlady.
Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam have opened the Tennessee Residence for the fourth annual Tennessee’s Home for the Holidays tour. “The Tennessee Residence truly comes to life when it is beautifully decorated for the holidays and full of visitors,” Crissy Haslam said. “Bill and I look forward to the open house each year, and this year’s decoration theme is very special.” The first lady visited more than half of the 56 Tennessee state parks to gather ideas and natural materials for holiday decorations for this year’s theme, “Tennessee Landscapes,” in which one tree located in the home’s foyer has an ornament representing each park. Christmas trees throughout the home are decorated for east, middle and west Tennessee, incorporating each region’s unique geologic and scenic features into the design.
Powered by a certification as an “adventure tourism district,” Grundy County could become home to an off-roading park that is joined to the business community in the tiny town of Coalmont. The community of about 840 is in the center of Grundy County, surrounded by wooded, rolling terrain, deep gorges, sparkling creeks and giant boulders. It’s perfect for the off-roading community, whether they just want to ride and enjoy the scenic beauty or test their stump-jumping vehicles against the toughest obstacles nature can offer. The idea for the proposed Southern Gulf Off Road Park has been in the works for several years. But the recent tourism district designation could boost the project by allowing off-roaders to legally drive on public roads to gas stations, restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses.
The number of Tennesseans on Medicaid has shot up by 120,000 since the beginning of the year, according to newly released data from TennCare. It’s the third largest annual increase in 20 years. The insurance program for low-income residents has grown despite the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid to include more of the working poor. TennCare director Darin Gordon says these are likely people who were already qualified for coverage and just didn’t know it until the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate took effect. “If you look at what our normal growth trends and then you look at what we actually experienced, it was significantly more than what we’ve seen,” Gordon said. TennCare now has slightly more than 1.3 million people covered. That’s still well below a high reached around the turn of the millennium when nearly 1.5 million Tennesseans were on the subsidized health insurance.
Former Red Bank police chief Larry Sneed’s wrongful termination suit against the city will be heard by a jury, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled last week. Sneed sued in 2010 after he was fired by then-city manager Chris Dorsey. Dorsey said at a meeting days later that unspecified “issues” led to the firing, which the mayor and at least one commissioner opposed. Sneed’s attorneys filed a suit alleging, among other claims, that Sneed was the victim of age discrimination as outlined in the Tennessee Human Rights Act and that he suffered retribution for acting as a whistleblower in violation of the Tennessee Public Protection Act. The case was set to be heard in Hamilton County Chancery Court in 2012, but the city questioned whether it should be heard in that court.
When representatives from the County Commission petition the Tennessee General Assembly next year, it could be with a different wish list than the one presented by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and county Mayor Mark Luttrell. At its Monday meeting, the commission will vote on a resolution to approve a legislative agenda that includes fully funding the Basic Education Program, dividing movie and film incentives among Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis and asking Gov. Bill Haslam to expand Medicaid. “I don’t think there’s anything on there that’s really divisive,” Commissioner Terry Roland, chairman of the legislative affairs committee, said during a meeting last week.
Growing up in India, Dr. Mohammed Moinuddin had never heard of Memphis. But as he considered leaving a job in New Jersey to move to the city, colleagues immediately pointed to one of Tennessee’s darkest moments as a warning. “When I was in New Jersey, colleagues and teachers would ask, ‘Why are you going to Memphis? Do you know that Memphis was the place where Martin Luther King was shot?’ ” Moinuddin said Friday afternoon. “I said ‘I do not do what Martin Luther King used to do, so therefore I don’t need to worry about that.'” He moved to Memphis anyway. That was 44 years ago and Moinuddin, or “Moin” as his friends call him, never left. He went on to have a successful career as a physician and received an award in 2008 from the FBI in part for his work as a leader in the local Muslim community.
Each year, more than 6 million children and 370,000 pregnant women, including more than 106,000 children in our state, are covered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP. Created in 1997 and renewed as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CHIP is a vital piece of the nation’s health insurance coverage puzzle. But while the CHIP law was renewed in 2010 to last through 2019, CHIP funding was only extended through September 2015. As a result, CHIP supporters like the March of Dimes are now working to persuade Congress to fund this important program at least through 2019. Our state CHIP program, CoverKids, was created to provide a source of affordable, quality coverage for working American families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
Law enforcement and local government are ramping up the war on meth in Clarksville-Montgomery County, and generally speaking, that’s obviously a good thing. Now, however, measures being weighed at the Courthouse might be construed as a step over the line of real public protection. Meth is a key topic among this year’s set of requests from the Montgomery County Commission to the Tennessee General Assembly. The county’s Legislative Liaison Committee is asking the commission to vote “yes” Monday night on a measure asking state officials to “support and actively advocate for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to be classified as … controlled substances available only through prescription and subject to state prescription monitoring laws.” It is said that this will help curb the illegal manufacturing of meth, an assumption which perhaps holds some truth.
When the Tennessee House Republican Caucus meets Dec. 10 to choose its nominee for speaker, Rep. Beth Harwell of Nashville will be heavily favored to win another term at the helm again. And for at least two good reasons. First, the GOP nominee is virtually assured of being elected speaker when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 13, since Republicans hold a 73-26 House majority. Second, Harwell has been an effective speaker and is an ally of Gov. Bill Haslam. She has shepherded responsible legislation through the lower chamber while managing to derail some of the more misguided bills before they reach the floor. Harwell, the first woman to serve as speaker, is seeking to lead the House for a third consecutive General Assembly. Initially elected speaker in 2011, defeating Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, in Republican Caucus balloting, she was unopposed in 2013.