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Federal Assistance to be Awarded to 18 Counties Harmed by June Flooding

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced President Obama has declared 18 counties as federal disaster areas as a result of severe weather on June 5-10. State and local governments and electrical utilities spent nearly $10 million in response to and recovery from the wind damage and flash-flooding impacts.

“This federal aid will help our communities in rebuilding and recovery,” Haslam said. “State and local teams worked quickly to survey damage in more than 35 counties to determine the impact of these storms, and we are grateful for this assistance.”

Anderson, Bledsoe, Carroll, Decatur, Henry, Hickman, Houston, Lawrence, Lewis, Madison, Marion, Maury, McNairy, Moore, Perry, Roane, Sequatchie, and Tipton counties will have access to federal assistance that provides reimbursement for 75 percent of eligible costs. A presidential disaster declaration also includes FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program on a statewide basis.

Three fatalities were attributed to the severe weather and flooding. Two deaths occurred in Lawrence County and another in Hickman County.

The National Weather Service confirmed two tornado touchdowns were part of the storm system. The first tornado, an EF-1 with wind speeds in excess of 80 m.p.h., left a 12-mile debris path across Lake and Obion Counties on June 7. The other confirmed tornado, rated an EF-0, touched down in Kingston, Tenn. More than 28,000 customers were left without power due to wide-spread damage from downed trees and broken power lines.

The disaster declaration provides FEMA’s Public Assistance to the declared counties for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and rebuilding and repairing roads, bridges, water control facilities, buildings, utilities and recreational facilities.

Additional information about state and federal assistance for affected counties will be released as details become available.

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Haslam Announces SBA Disaster Declaration for Late-April Floods

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; May 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has granted his disaster declaration request for Stewart and its surrounding counties after severe storms and flash flooding occurred April 26, 2013.

The declaration includes Benton, Henry, Houston and Montgomery Counties, and an SBA disaster declaration makes homeowners and businesses affected by the disaster eligible for low-interest loans.

Those affected have until July 9, 2013, to apply for relief from the physical damage and until Feb. 10, 2014, to apply for relief from economic injury.

“This is good news, and these loans will help individuals whose homes and businesses were damaged more quickly recover,” Haslam said.

The interest rates for homeowners without credit elsewhere will be 1.875 percent. Loans for homeowners with credit elsewhere will be 3.750 percent. Interest rates for businesses will be four percent for those without credit elsewhere and six percent for businesses that have credit elsewhere.

Additionally, the SBA will open temporary offices to help homeowners and businesses with the disaster loan process. More information on SBA disaster loans is at: http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/loans-grants/small-busi….

The damage survey in Stewart County identified 40 homes with major damage and 19 homes with minor damage. There were eight businesses identified with major damage and two businesses with minor damage. Damage assessment teams also identified three other structures in Stewart County with major damage.

From April 26, to April 28, 2013, a severe weather front brought heavy precipitation into middle Tennessee and parts of west and east Tennessee. The National Weather Service (NWS) reported heavy rainfall totals of up to six inches that resulted in localized flash flooding.

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House Republicans Hear Business Complaints on Workers’ Comp, Unemployment Benefits

Republican lawmakers are expected to address the state’s workers’ compensation system next year and revisit the issue of extended unemployment benefits, based on a meeting of the GOP’s House small business task force in Nashville on Wednesday.

The task force heard anecdotal evidence of people who are currently accepting unemployment benefits but are not willing to apply for jobs. Democrats lobbied hard for an extension of unemployment benefits in the waning hours of negotiations on the state’s $30.8 billion budget passed in May.

But Democrats are not members of the House group that met Wednesday. The task force is comprised entirely of Republicans, who have a 64-34-1 majority in the House. The task force heard from several small business operators from across the state.

Workers’ compensation issues have come up frequently at business roundtables held by Gov. Bill Haslam, and the governor has said the matter should be addressed. Several people spoke of the workers’ comp issue at Wednesday’s meeting of legislators.

“We’re not (going) to get in front of the governor,” Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, chairman of the task force, said after the meeting. “We’re working hand in hand with them. What you’ll see come from this committee is recommendations back to the Assembly of what we heard today, what we’ve found out through our investigations.”

When asked if Tennesseans could expect to see workers’ comp legislation surface when the General Assembly convenes in January, Matlock said, “I think we will.”

Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, who is in the trucking business, said workers’ compensation insurance is one of the problems his business faces. Marsh introduced Raymond Farmer, vice president of the American Insurance Association, a trade group based in Atlanta, as an expert.

Farmer told the group his organization analyzes the insurance environment in different states and that Tennessee is a business-friendly state but that it should focus on workers’ compensation. Farmer said the state should reform its adjudication process, moving from a court-based approach to an administrative format.

“Tennessee is one of only three states, the others being Alabama and Oklahoma, with a cumbersome court-based approach to adjudicating workers’ comp claims,” Farmer said. “Although administrative systems can, and do, have their own shortcomings, eliminating a court-based approach is a significant step in the right direction for a system not based on fault, as is the court system.

“Tennessee should adopt a purely administrative system.”

Farmer said Tennessee currently reimburses based on multiple conversion factors that undermine the system by politicizing physician reimbursements and increasing medical costs, including pharmaceutical expenses. Farmer also said Tennessee should modernize its funding of the compensation system.

Wyatt Owens, a contractor from Paris, Tenn., said trouble with workers’ compensation is the biggest complaint he and other contractors have.

“The really biggest problem I have with it is Owens Construction has to be the policeman,” Owens said. “Every sub we hire, we’ve got to make sure they’ve got their paperwork right. We’ve got to make sure they pay their dues, they pay their whatever. And if we don’t do that, we’re penalized.”

Owens said he believes there should be workers’ compensation but that rules and auditors keep changing.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick formed the task force in July, saying the state needs to identify regulations that impede job growth. McCormick sat in the audience through much of Wednesday’s meeting, as did House Majority Caucus Leader Debra Maggart, who spoke briefly to the task force.

After the meeting, Matlock said there seems to be a common theme in the group’s work, including workers’ comp, unemployment benefits and job creation.

“We’ve got to get people incentivized to get back out and want to get back in the workplace,” Matlock said.

“What these business owners are telling us is, ‘Folks, there are some barriers out here. There are some things that are causing us not to take risk, not to get out and look for employees, because there is this overwhelming data that shows us we’ve got too many pages of issues we’ve got to compile, too many things we’ve got to, as business owners, be responsible for.’

“And at the end of the day it’s all about job creation. It’s all about seeing our communities grow.”

Matlock said he opposed extension of unemployment benefits this year but emphasized that he is just one member of the Legislature. Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova, said he voted for it.

“There really are an awful lot of people out there that are just trying so hard to work,” McManus said. “Yet today it was so interesting that we heard that people are turning work down when they’re unemployed.”

McManus said he believes the group’s homework is just beginning. He said there is a need to distinguish between state regulations and federal regulations and then get specific with state regulations that are hurting businesses.

“We write an awful lot of legislation up here. It’s time to rescind some of this legislation, too,” McManus said.