Tag Archives: initiative

Legislators Skeptical of Haslam’s ‘Health and Wellness Initiative’

Some legislators voiced skepticism about a $72.4 million “health and wellness initiative,” a portion of Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget that was reviewed in full for the first time on Tuesday.
The plan includes $43 million for an anti-smoking and anti-obsesity efforts. Most of that will go to programs targeting teenagers, pregnant women and women with infant children.
About $5 million goes to the obesity program with officials saying they hope to enhance the state money with $20 million to $27 million in private sector donations.
The administration is also counting $24 million for converting the University of Tennessee’s coal-fired steam plant to use natural gas as part of the “health and wellness initiative.”
The project was announced earlier as part of Haslam’s original budget proposal in February. The original proposal was altered somewhat with an amendment outlined Tuesday to the House and Senate Finance Committees.
The coal plant conversion money comes from tobacco company payments being made to the state to resolve lawsuits. Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, questioned the conversion being part of a “health and wellness initiative” as well as involving tobacco money.
“I don’t see the relationship,” he said. “That’s a third of the tobacco settlement money (available to the state next year).”
“The logic behind that is that particular plant in Knoxville is one of the biggest air polluters in the region,” replied Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, who outlined the initiative to the House Finance Committee with Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes.
The anti-smoking efforts were questioned by House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.
“That’s a lot of money and a lot of marketing,” said McCormick, suggesting the state has “some more immediate needs.” He also questioned whether it is necessary to explain the dangers of smoking, when most people are already aware of that – including smokers.
Sargent noted the state had allocated $10 million to an anti-smoking campaign in 2007 and added another $5 million two years later. He questioned whether that expenditure had done anything to reduce smoking among Tennesseans.
Dreyzehner said about 23 percent of Tennesseans smoke, according to most recent statistics, and “the needle has been moving down.” That indicates some anti-smoking efforts have been successful, he said, even though Tennessee’s spending on such programs has lagged far behind other states.
The new initiative will have long-term effect in reducing state spending on health care, he predicted, since it targets teenagers and mothers of small children.

Summerville Seeks End to Discrimination Via Legislation; Some Skeptical

With the “Tennessee Civil Rights Initiative” and related legislation, Sen. Jim Summerville says he is trying to end the last vestiges of discrimination in state government and public education and put everyone on equal footing insofar as race, gender and ethnicity goes.
Following the “mostly peaceful social revolution during the Dr. Martin Luther King era,” Summerville said in an interview, “there may have been a reason for preferences in hiring, in college admissions, in scholarships.”
But not anymore, said the Republican senator from Dickson, an adjunct professor at Austin Peay State University and author of several books involving history research.
“These laws just aren’t needed anymore,” he said. “It’s time to let it all go. We are at another level now.”

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Mayors Giving Attention to the Mississippi River

Forty-one mayors from along the Mississippi River, including Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, gathered in St. Louis Thursday to call attention to the troubles the waterway is facing, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The nation’s largest river, and most important waterway for commerce, has suffered over the years from neglect and most recently from natural disasters such as drought and hurricanes.
The St. Louis gathering is the inaugural event of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, funded by $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
The meeting comes amid a severe drought that has seen the river drop to near record lows, just over a year after historic flooding.
“It has strengthened our resolve that the Mississippi River needs more attention,” said Wharton, who was selected by his peers to serve on the nine-member executive board of the initiative.
Barely a year after its high-water records in numerous cities, the river dropped to historic low stages this year. In Memphis in late August, the river dropped to within almost a foot of the all-time record low set in July 1988 of minus 10.7 on the Memphis gauge.The river is responsible for creating $105 billion worth of U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative. It provides drinking water for more than 18 million people, transports 62 percent of the nation’s agricultural output and delivers nearly 400 tons of coal and petroleum products. The group says the river directly supports 1 million jobs.
This summer, eight of the 10 states touching the river were declared drought emergency sites. Hurricane Isaac added to the problems.