CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Hamilton County Schools have collected about $1.6 million from TennCare since becoming the first district in the state to seek reimbursement for special education services like physical therapy. Now other districts are following suit.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/UverL1) that in some states, schools are required to bill Medicaid for reimbursable services. In those states, the departments of education generally provide clear guidance on how to seek the reimbursement.
In Tennessee, many district leaders have been intimidated by the process of requesting reimbursement. But increasingly they are turning to private companies like Chattanooga-based Stellar Therapy Services for help. Stellar works with Hamilton County and receives a percentage of reimbursements for handling the administrative work.
The Hamilton County School District bills TennCare for occupational therapy, physical therapy, audiology and speech language pathology services. The money received goes back into the special education department.
So far at least 15 other school systems in Tennessee are billing TennCare. And Stellar officials say the state’s biggest districts in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville are looking into it as well.
Wilson County Schools Special Education Director Jill Micco said her district decided to pursue reimbursement after seeing Hamilton County’s results. The district expects to receive as much as $30,000 a year.
Tullahoma City Schools Director of Special Education Tammy Hatfield said her district also has started filing for reimbursement. It has received about $10,000 so far that it is putting toward staff training and paying for a consultant.
Hatfield said she felt as if she were stepping out on a limb when her district started the process last year, but it is becoming much more common.
“Now, every time I go to a state conference, this topic comes up,” she said.
Putting a new bridge across the Tennessee River in North Hamilton County will require the state to break its longtime “pay as you go” habit, state Transportation Commissioner John Schroer told Chattanooga area leaders Wednesday.
Further from the Chattanooga TFP: With a tight squeeze on road money, the state would have to enter “uncharted territory,” selling bonds or partnering with private investors to build the bridge and connector roads and repaying them with toll revenues, he said.
“If tolling is not an option, this bridge probably won’t be built — I won’t say forever, but for a long, long time,” Schroer said during a briefing for the county’s toll committee.
However, if the state does make the leap, a toll of $3 for cars and $4.50 for two-axle trucks would raise enough to build and operate the bridge for 40 years and repay the debt, a consultant told members of the Hamilton County Commission-appointed toll committee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of Hamilton County’s state legislative delegation say they’re mulling a request from county commissioners to allow local whiskey distilling.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Democrat from Chattanooga, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/11FVoPn ) she believes at least five members of the seven-member delegation will support including the county in a recently-passed statute. State Rep. Richard Floyd, a Chattanooga Republican, said last week he remains adamantly opposed.
The brand Chattanooga Whiskey is currently distilled under contract in Indiana because Hamilton County requested to not be included when the statute passed in 2009.
Delegation chairman Rep. Bo Watson, a Republican, said he wants any inclusion limited to areas where voters have already approved liquor by the drink and package sales referendums.
Some Democrats are boycotting the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s upcoming annual fundraiser in response to Chairman Paul Smith’s continued refusal to apologize for a sexist joke, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. It’s the latest setback for Smith, who’s facing louder calls to step down after an attempt at humor on a Democratic Party business document was perceived by numerous women as misogyny.
An email about Smith obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press began circulating among party officials and board members Wednesday. It explored the possibility of an emergency meeting about a no-confidence vote that could prompt his resignation.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Smith declined to discuss his future as chairman or the Oct. 10 Estes Kefauver Dinner, named after the esteemed Chattanooga lawmaker and considered the local party’s main mechanism for pre-Election Day money.
“I don’t want to get in an argument with that bunch,” he said, describing those he offended and others who are boycotting the dinner. “I’m trying to register people and work for the candidates.”
Smith, 75, included a lengthy joke about women on a board meeting agenda four days after U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape.” He said he printed it as an attack on Akin, but his explanation baffled and offended high-ranking women in the county party. Smith last week called them “troublemakers” who don’t understand his jokes.
Board member and Hamilton County Young Democrats President Colby Knecht, 20, said his group is withdrawing a $1,500 commitment to the dinner.
Female and male leaders in the Hamilton County Democratic Party are criticizing their chairman, Paul Smith, for including an off-color joke about women on an official business document, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Smith printed the joke, described as a guide to “happy life,” on an otherwise run-of-the-mill agenda for the party’s Aug. 23 board meeting. The joke recommends finding a woman who, among other things, “cooks from time to time,” cleans up, has a job and “is good in bed.”
“It’s very, very important that these four women do not know each other,” the punchline reads, “or you could end up dead like me.”
The joke appeared four days after Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., declared that women’s bodies can block unwanted pregnancies in cases of what he called “legitimate rape.” Akin later apologized for his remarks.
Party board member and Greater Chattanooga Democratic Women’s Club President Rita Fehring, former county party chairwoman, said Smith was “a moron” for printing the joke.
“He claimed that he was trying to make light of the Akin matter,” she said. “You know, there’s nothing light about rape. Misogyny’s not really funny when you’re a woman.”
Smith, a longtime local Democratic insider, refused to apologize last week, claiming he was misunderstood. He said the women he offended within the party were “troublemakers” who should have discussed their concerns with him instead of going to the media.
“It was not meant in any way to be a smear,” he said in an interview. “I think my intent there was strictly to point out that the guy who made the statements over there [Akin] is a political Neanderthal and politically ‘dead,’ and if somebody doesn’t understand that, they have a lack of depth of understanding.”
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A federal judge in Chattanooga said Thursday that he needs more information to decide whether to halt prayers at Hamilton County Commission meetings.
U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice heard arguments as two local men sought to bar the prayers at the start of the government meetings while their lawsuit is argued in court.
Mattice set an Aug. 8 deadline for the parties to submit briefs on the constitutionality of the practice.
“I do believe the community deserves an answer on this,” Mattice said, indicating he would likely rule early next month on the request for a temporary injunction.
Plaintiff Tommy Coleman testified Thursday that he felt excluded from the meetings because of the prayers.
“I felt excluded, unwelcome, out of place,” Coleman told the court.
After the hearing, plaintiffs’ attorney Robin Flores said he was pleased by the outcome.
“If he had made a knee-jerk ruling from the bench, I would have been shocked,” Flores said.
The other man pressing the lawsuit, Brandon Jones, told reporters afterward he is optimistic.
“I really felt we presented our points well and that the judge is going to take our arguments into consideration,” Jones said.
Earlier this month, commission members unanimously approved a formal policy that invites clergy to offer prayer.
On Monday in Knoxville, the Knox County Commission voted 10-1 in adopting a written policy on public prayer before their meetings.
Congressional candidate Weston Wamp spent four days asking for votes at Chattanooga’s Northgate Mall, an early voting location, reports the Chattanooga TFP. But now he’s been forbidden to continue by the Hamilton County Election Commission after complaints from 10 voters and the mall owners. “It’s private property, and it’s been that way forever,” said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator of elections for Hamilton County.
Wamp left but later said Northgate should expect “to forego some type of property rights so the public can come and vote.”
“Consistent with that would mean candidates should be able to greet voters at the polls, which I think is mutually beneficial to the process,” Wamp said in an interview.
Most early voting locations, such as the one at the Hamilton County Election Commission, allow candidates to campaign as long as they’re 100 feet away from a polling site’s entrance, as required by state law.
But a spokeswoman for CBL & Associates Properties, the company that owns Northgate, said the 100-foot rule does not apply to the mall, citing a corporate policy that prohibits “all politicking” at CBL’s 85 regional malls.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — The Hamilton County Commission has ejected two men who are opposed to the body opening meetings with prayer.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/N5eIlk ), Aaron Moyer was speaking during a public comment period Thursday when Commission Chairman Larry Henry told him to sit down. Moyer continued to speak and was escorted out of the chamber by a deputy.
The newspaper reported Tommy Coleman, who has filed a lawsuit to halt the prayers, was sitting quietly when he also was taken out of the meeting room.
Moyer said he was objecting to a commission decision to accept free legal representation from the Alliance Defense Fund in the lawsuit.
Coleman’s lawyer said his lawsuit now includes violation of Fourth Amendment rights which guard against unreasonable seizure.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Members of the Hamilton County Commission have approved a new policy on prayer, indicating the intent to continue allowing public prayer at meetings.
Two local men have filed a federal lawsuit and asked for an injunction to prevent the commission from letting people pray out loud as meetings begin. A hearing is scheduled for July 26 on the injunction request.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/N6Og8t ) reported commission members on Tuesday unanimously approved a policy that calls for creation of a countywide clergy database from which speakers will be invited to lead what commissioners termed a “prayer, reflective moment of silence, or a short solemnizing message,” at each weekly commission meeting.
The men filing the lawsuit have asked the commission to hold a moment of silence, rather than the Christian prayers.
Commissioners said the new policy should allow for diversity of opinion and belief.
However, plaintiff Tommy Coleman says the new policy “is pure propaganda.”
An ex-police officer fired for acting inappropriately with a couple of teenage boys is among 37 civilian special deputies who are given full arrest powers and authority to carry a firearm by Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, reports the Chattanooga TFP. None of the civilian special deputies has to undergo law enforcement training, but they have the same authority as an officer in full uniform, wearing a badge and gun. They are required to qualify with a firearm once a year, even though they are not issued guns by the department.
The remainder — and vast majority — of the 128 people who hold special deputy commissions are officers in municipal police departments who need countywide arrest powers to pursue suspects beyond their jurisdictions.
But it’s the civilian cardholders who open up the sheriff’s department for potential abuse with their lack of training and screening, according to a police ethics expert.