Friday, July 31, 2009

Breaking News:House approves $2 billion for Cash for Clunkers program

By KEN THOMAS • Associated Press Writer • July 31, 2009 WASHINGTON — The House has voted to rush an additional $2 billion into the popular but financially strapped "cash for clunkers" car purchase program. The bill was approved on a vote of 316-109. House members acted within hours of learning from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the program was running out of money. Called the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, the program is designed to help the economy and the environment by spurring new car sales. Car owners can receive federal subsidies of up to $4,500 for trading in their old cars for new ones that achieve significantly higher gas mileage. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the new money for the program would come from funds approved earlier in the year as part of an economic stimulus bill.

'Cash for Clunkers' program runs out of cash

Buyers burn through $1 billion, but White House looks for more By G. Chambers Williams III • THE TENNESSEAN • July 31, 2009 Update 10:19 a.m. (from Associated Press) WASHINGTON (AP) — The House raced Friday to pass legislation pouring an additional $2 billion into the popular — but financially strapped — "cash for clunkers" car purchase program. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., revealed the floor plan after he and other lawmakers were assured by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the program would continue at least through Friday while the Obama administration looked for more money. Democrats in both the House and Senate were exploring the possibility of votes as early as Friday to replenish the funding. At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs sought to assure consumers that the program is still running and will be alive "this weekend." "If you were planning on going to buy a car this weekend, using this program, this program continues to run," Gibbs told reporters. He would not commit to any timeframe beyond that. But Gibbs said administration officials and bipartisan leaders of Congress were working Friday morning "to find and develop ways to continue to fund this program." Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said it wasn't clear when a Senate vote would be held. Previously reported Car dealers and congressmen were told Thursday that the wildly popular "Cash for Clunkers" new-car rebate program was being suspended less than a week after it began out of fear that the $1 billion appropriated for it had already been used up. But a White House spokesman said later the Obama administration is "evaluating all options" to keep the program funded and that all valid deals made so far will be honored. Under the program, which began last Friday, consumers were able to trade in older vehicles with fuel-economy ratings of 18 miles per gallon or less for vouchers of either $3,500 or $4,500 toward the purchase of a new vehicle that gets better mileage. Middle Tennessee dealers reported being flooded with customers looking to take advantage of the program, but some said they began cutting off the sales Thursday afternoon after the chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association warned the government that the program might already have run out of money. "I just cut it off a few minutes ago until we find out what's going on with it," Barry Huber, general sales manager at the Freeland Chevrolet Superstore in Nashville, said Thursday evening. "We only did one deal today." Transportation Department officials called lawmakers' offices earlier Thursday to alert them of plans to suspend the program as early as today. But the White House said later the program had not been suspended. "We are working tonight to assess the situation facing what is obviously an incredibly popular program," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is administering the program, reported at the close of business Thursday afternoon that only about $95 million of the money had been approved for payment to dealers. But NADA Chairman John McEleney, a Clinton, Iowa, General Motors/Toyota/Hyundai dealer, said that a poll of about 2,000 of the group's 23,000-plus dealers showed that with deals already in the works, it was probable that the rest of the $1 billion was already tied up in transactions that had not been submitted or approved by the government. The Safety Administration said earlier in the day that the vast majority of applications submitted by dealers were being rejected because of incomplete or illegible paperwork, but it was expected that those transactions eventually would be submitted properly and would receive the government money. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said late Thursday that lawmakers had been informed of the government's decision to suspend the program. "It is amazing that 'Cash for Clunkers' would be this successful this quickly," she said in a statement. "I urge Congress and the administration to provide additional funding." The Transportation Department called Congress members to alert them to the decision to suspend the program. Congress last month approved the Car Allowance Rebate System, the official name of the clunkers program, to boost sagging auto sales and remove some vehicles with poor fuel economy from the roads. Deals in works Officially, the program began July 1, but dealers were not able to begin submitting paperwork to recover the rebates from the government until last Friday afternoon, when final rules were published. Some Nashville-area dealers said they had dozens of deals in the works, and by Monday, many of those consumers had already driven home in their new vehicles. Because some dealers nationwide actually began delivering vehicles under the program as early as July 1, there is "a significant backlog of … deals that make us question how much funding is still available in the program," NADA spokesman Bailey Wood said. Even before the suspension announcement, some in Congress were seeking more money for the program. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., wrote a letter to House leaders requesting additional money. "This is simply the most stimulative $1 billion the federal government has spent during the entire economic downturn," Miller said. "The federal government must come up with more money, immediately, to keep this program going." General Motors spokesman Greg Martin said Thursday the automaker hopes "there's a will and way to keep the CARS program going a little bit longer." Dealers had already reported, however, that many consumers who wanted to use the clunkers program did not have eligible vehicles. Dealers said many customers were buying cars anyway, which was one of the intended benefits of the program — getting people into showrooms that had been mostly vacant for the past year. So far this year, through June, U.S. new-vehicle sales had fallen about 35 percent, to an annual level of fewer than 10 million vehicles. That compares with 2007's record year of about 16.3 million new vehicles sold. Strict restrictions on the trade-in vehicles kept many would-be consumers from taking advantage of the program. The rules stated that to qualify, the vehicle's EPA combined city/highway mileage rating must be 18 mpg or lower, the vehicle must have been a 1984 model or newer, and the buyer must have owned the vehicle for at least a year, and must have had it continuously registered and insured for the past year. But there were reports this week that before the final rules were announced July 24, some dealers took in trades that didn't qualify under the registration and insurance rules. It was not clear Thursday whether those dealers would be able to undo the deals or recover the money from customers who had already concluded their deals but whose trade-ins didn't qualify. Middle Tennessee dealers who were contacted said they were holding the new vehicles for customers until the rules were finalized and had not delivered the cars before finding out whether the trade-ins were eligible.

Critically ill heart, pneumonia patients fare worse at 4 Nashville area hospitals

By Jennifer Brooks • THE TENNESSEAN • July 31, 2009 Your odds of surviving a heart attack may depend on which hospital you visit. That's something Margaret Petre found out first-hand last summer, when she staggered into an emergency room, clutching her chest with one hand and a bottle of nitroglycerine with the other. "I must have looked really bad because they had me flat on my back in the ER within minutes," said Petre, a 47-year-old Nashville native who had two heart attacks in the past five years. "... When you're in that position, you're incapable of making decisions, so you just let it go and say do what you have to do." In an effort to measure how American hospitals are caring for their most critically ill patients, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services analyzed deaths from heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia at 4,600 hospitals in recent years. While most Middle Tennessee hospitals mirror the average hospital mortality rate, a few showed troubling results. Baptist Hospital scored slightly worse than the national average for deaths from heart failure — something the hospital says reflects faulty paperwork, not poor patient care. Three regional hospitals — Maury Regional Hospital in Columbia, Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin and Gateway Medical Center in Clarksville — scored worse than the national average for deaths from pneumonia. Nationwide, the analysis found hospitals where patients were dying needlessly and hospitals that admitted and readmitted the same cardiac patients over and over. At other hospitals, particularly in wealthier areas, patients enjoyed much higher than average odds of survival and recovery. For every 100 heart attacks at area hospitals, between 14 and 19 percent will die, depending on which hospital they visited. The national average is 16 percent. For heart failure patients, the mortality rate in this region ranged from just under 10 percent to almost 14 percent. The national average is 11 percent. The pneumonia death rate ranged from 9 percent to 16 percent. The national average is 11.5 percent. Needless deaths To keep track of how hospitals care for their most vulnerable patients, the Medicare system tracked hospital admissions and deaths between 2005 and 2008. While Middle Tennessee hospitals fell within the expected death rates, at hundreds of other hospitals around the country, researchers found patients dying needlessly. The Medicare analysis found a wide variation in death rates between the best hospitals and the worst. At 5.9 percent of hospitals, patients with pneumonia died at rates significantly higher than the national average. With heart failure, 3.4 percent of hospitals had death rates higher than the average, and 1.2 percent of hospitals were higher when it came to heart attack. Researchers also found that the majority of U.S. hospitals operate the equivalent of revolving doors for their patients. One of every four heart failure patients and slightly less than one in five heart attack and pneumonia patients land back in the hospital within 30 days. "We have double failure in our health system," said John Rumsfeld of the Denver VA Medical Center and chief science officer for the American College of Cardiology's National Data Registry. None of the failing hospitals was in Middle Tennessee, although a handful of Tennessee hospitals made the list, including Baptist Memorial Hospital in Carroll County, where the heart attack death rate almost tops 22 percent; or the Hardin Medical Center in Savannah, which saw an average of 17 percent deaths in heart failure. Most Nashville-area hospitals had death rates and readmission rates that fell within the statistical average of the national rates. One exception was Baptist Hospital in Nashville, which registered a death rate of 13.8 percent for heart failure. The national average is 11.1 percent. "To be candid, we were surprised by that number," said Elizabeth Lemons, vice president of clinical effectiveness for Saint Thomas Health Services, which includes Baptist Hospital. Baptist sees a large number of patients suffering from congestive heart failure, and prides itself on having full-time heart failure cardiologists on staff, as well as an innovative pilot program aimed at reducing readmission rates. After some investigation, the hospital concluded that the problem was a matter of paperwork. The Medicare analysis used complicated criteria to make a fair comparison between small hospitals and major cardiac centers. Its formula also balanced the deaths of patients with treatable conditions and those so deathly ill they would have died no matter where they were treated. Baptist concluded that it wasn't sharing enough details with the government to identify those deathly ill patients. "At Baptist, we had a culture of 'useful' charting," said cardiologist George Crossley. In other words, staff would take note of medical conditions directly affecting a patient in crisis, but not underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. These days the staff takes pains to check all the boxes and fill out all the paperwork. Baptist takes action For the moment, the hospital is more excited about a different set of criteria — readmission rates. Baptist has instituted a pilot program that allows staff to track and monitor patients discharged after treatment for heart failure. Nurses check in with patients, make sure they take their medications and follow their rigorous, low-salt, low-fluid diets and monitor their health. Since the program went into effect, the readmission rate for heart failure dropped to zero after 30 days and 5 percent after six months. The national average is 24 percent. The program is a relatively inexpensive option, certainly compared to the expense of readmitting a patient in heart failure. What worries Crossley, however, is that in all the talk of health-care reform, no one seems to be talking about how to fund preventative programs like this one. The Medicare analysis comes as the White House and Congress debate ways to cut costs and improve quality in the nation's health system. One idea is to reward doctors and hospitals not just for how many procedures they perform but how well their patients fare. More than 200 hospitals have death rates better than the national average, and hundreds fare better on readmission rates. The findings are based on more than 1 million deaths and readmissions among Medicare patients from 2005 to 2008. How well a hospital performs in these evaluations can affect everything from government funding levels for the hospital to patients' decisions about where they will seek help if they fall ill. At Vanderbilt, hospital performance data "drives us, inspires us to do better," said Julie Morath, chief quality and patient safety officer at Vanderbilt University Hospital, which ranked high on the list for patient survival but slightly lower than the national average for readmission rates. "Every time these data come out and we see a hospital that performs better than us, we call them and ask, 'What are you doing?' " she said. "And other hospitals, of course, call us."

Nashville council members hear both sides on guns-in-parks ban

Metro to decide whether to opt out of new state law By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 31, 2009 Metro Council members on Thursday peppered two groups of experts with questions about the impact of a proposal to ban guns in city parks, with each side arguing that its stance would make the parks safer. Supporters of the ban said preventing handgun carry permit holders from bringing their guns would protect children and others who simply want to enjoy themselves. Opponents said the ban would leave legal gun owners unprotected, while criminals would continue to bring their weapons. "Criminals don't obey the law," Rick Cowan, a software engineer who attended the forum in the council chamber, said after it was over. "I, and I alone, am responsible for my self-defense." A new state law allows handgun carry permit holders to take their guns into state and local parks, but it also allows city and county governments to opt out. Metro Law Director Sue Cain said last week that Nashville doesn't need to opt out, however, because the new law, while pre-empting many existing local ordinances, provides exceptions for those adopted before 1986. Metro's law, which prohibits all firearms in city parks, dates to 1966. The proposed ban wouldn't take any rights away from legal gun owners, sponsoring Councilman Jerry Maynard said, because they haven't had a right to bring guns into Metro parks for the past 43 years. Maynard and other supporters of the gun ban are expected to continue their pursuit of the opt-out when the council meets next Thursday. If they dropped the legislation, opponents then could try to repeal the 1966 law. The audience of about 25 people and the dozen or so council members who attended were dominated by Second Amendment advocates. They worked to make the case that Metro parks and greenways are already unsafe, while gun ban supporters said the parks are often full of children and close to schools and don't need anymore guns brought in. Metro police Capt. Rich Foley, head of the park police, said there were 71 misdemeanor arrests and 24 felony arrests in the parks in the first six months of this year. Three of the people who were arrested were carrying handguns, none of them legally. But Foley said less than one crime a day was reported in 2008 in the parks system, which has 115 locations. Of the 332 crimes last year, 76 were violent, while the rest were burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts, he said. The violent crimes included 48 aggravated assaults, 22 robberies, four rapes and two homicides.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dollar General may go public again

Analyst says owner's timing 'pretty good' By Wendy Lee • THE TENNESSEAN • July 30, 2009 Wall Street analysts say there's a good chance Goodlettsville-based Dollar General Corp., a discount retailer that has made sales gains during the U.S. recession, may go public again two years after private equity buyers took it private in a multibillion-dollar deal. "It's pretty good timing," said Stacey Widlitz, an equity analyst with Pali Research in New York. "I think the trends are certainly with them." Dollar General was sold to Wall Street giant Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. in summer 2007 in a $7.65 billion buyout. KKR was among four private equity firms interested in buying the discount retailer at the time as its shares dropped in price. Published reports, including a recent one in The Wall Street Journal, suggest that Dollar General's owners may be planning an initial public offering of stock as interest in IPOs nationally picks up steam. The newspaper said KKR would be one of the lead underwriters on a deal and sell shares to institutions and the general public. This would be the first time KKR would be the underwriter for its own IPO and the private equity firm plans to share the task with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc., among others, the paper reported on Wednesday. Lately, Dollar General has done a better job than other retail chains owned by private equity firms such as the arts and crafts operator Michaels Stores Inc. and accessories retailer Claire's Stores Inc., said Ana Lai, a director at Standard & Poor's in New York. Lai said her firm had changed Dollar General's credit rating from a B- to a B+ earlier this year. The company "performed really well mainly because consumers (are) trading down and seeking more value," Lai said. Timing advantageous If KKR were indeed to be the lead underwriter in a deal, the private equity firm would be able to make more money, said John E. Fitzgibbon Jr., founder of IPO Underwriting fees account for about 7 percent of the IPO price per share, he said. It's unclear at what level a Dollar General stock offering might be priced. Dollar General did not return calls seeking comment, and KKR did not comment. "We do not comment on market speculation," said Peter McKillop, KKR's director of communications. Some analysts said the move to make Dollar General a public company again makes sense because stock market conditions are better and more cost-conscious consumers are shopping at the store. Dollar General had 8,462 stores in 35 states as of May 1. Net income increased to $83 million in the first quarter, compared with $5.9 million a year earlier.

Man found slain in Bell Road hotel room

The tennessean July 30, 2009 A Nashville hotel manager found a body in a guest room Tuesday afternoon. Metro Police say Thomas Alexander Turner III, 52, appeared to have been shot inside his room at Inn Town Suites, 1621 Bell Road. He had been living in the hotel since March and was last seen alive late last week, police said. No further details were released pending investigation. At the time of the fatal shooting, Turner was free on bond on charges of crack cocaine possession and manufacturing glass pipes used to smoke crack cocaine. Anyone with information concerning Turner's death is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 74-CRIME or by texting the word "CASH" along with a message to 274637 (CRIMES).

Costs stymie health-care reform

By Maureen Groppe • TENNESSEAN WASHINGTON BUREAU • July 30, 2009 WASHINGTON — One reason Congress is having so much trouble agreeing on a health-care plan is that lawmakers haven't figured out how to rein in costs. President Barack Obama has said any reform bill he signs must be fully paid for and must slow the growth in health-care spending. That spending is increasing faster than inflation, taking more money away from state and local governments, families and businesses. But early versions hammered out by lawmakers don't go far enough in slowing health-care inflation, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Here's a look at the proposals and the opposition each has encountered: CREATE AN INDEPENDENT COUNCIL TO REIN IN MEDICARE SPENDING Obama backs an independent council that would recommend how much doctors, hospitals and other health providers would get paid for treating senior citizens. The council also would recommend changes for improving quality and cutting costs. Changes made to Medicare, which covers 12 percent of the population, probably would have spillover effects on how the private sector delivers care. There already is a Medicare advisory panel that makes recommendations to Congress. But when the panel has recommended cuts, Congress usually hasn't gone along. Under the proposed change, Congress could block but not alter whatever the independent council recommended. Many lawmakers think that's taking too much authority out of their hands. Health-care providers, who regularly lobby lawmakers for higher payment rates, don't like the idea, either. The Congressional Budget Office has said that, depending on how the new board is structured, it might not result in significant savings. For example, the initial version of the proposed council wouldn't be required to reduce Medicare spending and wouldn't be given reduction targets. TAX HEALTH-CARE BENEFITS Employees aren't taxed on health coverage they get from an employer, which amounts to an average subsidy of about 30 percent. Many experts argue that taxing health benefits in some way — such as taxing more costly plans — would hold down costs by giving workers incentives to seek lower-cost plans. But the idea is strongly opposed by unions, which have bargained for better health-care benefits. In addition, the president is reluctant to violate a campaign pledge by imposing a new tax on middle class Americans. Some lawmakers are exploring going after the most expensive plans by taxing the insurance companies that offer them. Health insurers oppose that idea. PAY FOR QUALITY OF CARE, NOT QUANTITY The House health-care reform bill includes various proposals aimed at restructuring payment incentives. Under those proposals: • Hospitals would get paid less when patients are readmitted because they weren't treated right the first time. • Doctors would be paid for doing the best treatments instead of the most treatments. • More research would be conducted to determine the most cost-effective treatments. Many of the proposals in this area would be tested through pilot programs, not required. And if the government does start using "comparative effectiveness" research to limit or deny coverage for less-cost-effective treatments, providers and consumers might cry "rationing" and complain that the government is interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. CREATE GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH INSURANCE OPTION The House bill and one of the Senate proposals would create a government health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers for some customers. Proponents say this would use market forces to slow the increase in insurance premiums, which have risen several times faster than wages. One reason a public plan could charge less is it would reimburse health-care providers at lower rates than private insurers do. But if the rates are too low, doctors and hospitals will fight it. Republicans oppose the idea because they don't want to increase the government's role in health care. SPEED THE APPROVAL PROCESS FOR SOME GENERIC DRUGS While pharmaceuticals made from chemicals face competition from cheaper generic versions, the government doesn't have a similar, streamlined approval process for generic versions of drugs like insulin made from living organisms. Those drugs, often called biologics, are expensive. The annual cost of treatment with the breast cancer drug Herceptin, for example, can reach $48,000, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The House and Senate health-care reform bills would create a pathway for generic competition, but there's disagreement on how many years of exclusivity brand-name makers should get. The Senate bill would grant them 12 years, which would save consumers and the government an estimated $25 billion over 10 years. Obama and some House members are pushing for a shorter time period to save more money. But the brand-name drug industry argues that it needs enough incentive to continue researching and developing new drugs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Night Out Against Crime is Aug. 4

Davidson neighborhoods announce events July 28, 2009 Night Out Against Crime is being held across the county on Tuesday, Aug. 4. The scheduled events are: • Academy Square Homeowners, 6-7:30 p.m. • Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, C.E. McGruder Center, 2013 25th Ave. N., 5:30-7p.m. • Castlegate Civic Club and Neighborhood Watch Group, parking lot of Smith Spring Church of Christ, 2783 Smith Springs Road, 7-8 p.m. • Chester Avenue, 1121 Chester Ave., 4-7 p.m. A writer’s night will follow from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at 2410 Gallatin. • Crieve Hall Neighborhood Association, Crievewood United Methodist, 415 Hogan Road, 6:30- 8:30 p.m. • Edgehill FRC/O.N.E. & SunnySide Community Organization/Edgehill Homes Resident Association, I.W. Gernert highrise, corner of 12th and Edgehill Ave., 3-7 p.m. • Gillock/Hilltop Neighborhood Watch, Hilltop Lane, 6-9 p.m. • Glengarry Park Neighborhood Watch, Arlington United Methodist Church, 1360 Murfreesboro, 6:30-9 p.m. • Green Hills Keller Williams, 408 Glen West Drive, 6-8:30 p.m. • Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church Family Life Ministry, 2334 Herman St., 6-9 p.m. • Haynes Manor Neighborhood Association, Moormans Arm Road on vacant lot next to Shampoo Perry's, 6-8 p.m. • Heartland Pointe Neighborhood Watch, 401 Harrell Court, 5-7 p.m. • Hermitage Hills/Plantation Drive Neighborhood Watch, Plantation Drive, Hermitage, 6-8 p.m. • Inglewood Neighborhood Association, in the green space between Winding Way, Kenwood, behind the Masonic lodge and Inglewood Library. 5:30-9:30 p.m. • Lake Park HOA, Port Jamaica Court cul-de-sac, 6:30-9 p.m. • Lockeland Springs Neighborhood Association , intersection of 14th and Woodland streets, 6 p.m. • Long Hunter Chase Subdivision, small playground on Cambridge Drive, 6-8 p.m. • Martha O'Bryan Center, 711 S. Seventh St., 5:30-7:30 p.m. • Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce & Dickerson Road Merchants, Schwab Elementary, 1500 Dickerson Pike, 4-7 p.m. • Neighbor's Reaching Out, Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, 2416 Clifton Road, 6-8:30 p.m. • NightOwls Neighborhood Watch, Nix Drive, Madison, 5-8 p.m. • NNOCI/ Osage NW, Firehall #11, 6-8 p.m. • Bourdeaux Community, Bordeaux Garden Park on Snell Blvd., 6-8 p.m. • Percy Priest Meadows Neighborhood Association and Watch, corner lot at 500 Moss Landing Drive, Antioch, 7 p.m. • Rensaw Community Association, Old Warner Mansion, 1524 Gallatin Road, 6:30-8 p.m. • River Plantation Condominiums, General George Patton Road, 6 p.m.-until • Starboard Neighborhood Watch, Starboard Drive, 6-8:30 p.m. • STARS Nashville, Edmondson Park, corner of 17th and Charlotte Avenue, 6-8 p.m. • Sylvan Park Neighborhood Association, St. Ann's Church, 5101 Charlotte Pike, 6-8 p.m. • TAG - Trimble Action Group President, Dudley Park, between Third and Fourth avenues South at Chestnut Street, 5:30-8 p.m. • Village West Apartments, Tennessee Avenue, 4-7 pm • Walton Oaks, Walton Oaks Subdivision, 6-8 p.m. • Warner Parks Community Association, corner of Percy Warner Boulevard and Vaughn’s Gap, 7-8 p.m. • Woodland-in-Waverly Neighborhood, Prentice and Whit avenues, 6-7:30 p.m. • Youth Changes, Haynes Garden Apartments, 2715 Whites Creek Pike, 5:30-7:30 p.m. • NNOCI/ Osage NW, Firehall #11, 6-8 p.m. • Bourdeaux Community, Bordeaux Garden Park on Snell Blvd., 6-8 p.m. • Percy Priest Meadows Neighborhood Association and Watch, corner lot at 500 Moss Landing Drive, Antioch, 7 p.m. • Rensaw Community Association, Old Warner Mansion, 1524 Gallatin Road, 6:30-8 p.m. • River Plantation Condominiums, General George Patton Road, 6 p.m.-until • Starboard Neighborhood Watch, Starboard Drive, 6-8:30 p.m. • STARS Nashville, Edmondson Park, corner of 17th and Charlotte Avenue, 6-8 p.m. • Sylvan Park Neighborhood Association, St. Ann's Church, 5101 Charlotte Pike, 6-8 p.m. • TAG - Trimble Action Group President, Dudley Park, between Third and Fourth avenues South at Chestnut Street, 5:30-8 p.m. • Village West Apartments, Tennessee Avenue, 4-7 pm • Walton Oaks, Walton Oaks Subdivision, 6-8 p.m. • Warner Parks Community Association, corner of Percy Warner Boulevard and Vaughn’s Gap, 7-8 p.m. • Woodland-in-Waverly Neighborhood, Prentice and Whit avenues, 6-7:30 p.m. • Youth Changes, Haynes Garden Apartments, 2715 Whites Creek Pike, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

New bus services connects small TN communities

USA Today NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Bus service linking several small Tennessee communities to large cities will start this week with a route connecting Nashville and Lawrenceburg, about 70 miles south. The network of bus routes will connect more than 40 towns to bigger cities throughout the state. More than $3.6 million in federal transportation funds will be provided to transit companies and community groups to create the new services. Anchor Trailways received $2.5 million to operate the Lawrenceburg to Nashville line and the company will operate another series of bus lines in West Tennessee. "When this is all done, folks from rural areas that are having such a hard time with unemployment are going to have a chance to get on a bus at a reasonable rate and get to urban areas where they can find more employment opportunities," said Mark Szyperski, director of business development for Anchor Trailways. Julie Oaks, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, told The Tennessean that the service will benefit a wide range of people, including work commuters, sightseers and travelers looking to link up with other bus services. Other lines will connect Nashville to Wayne County in the southeast, Montgomery County to the northwest and Cumberland County to the east. The number of times the buses will run will depend on the service, but Oaks said some lines will operate seven days a week and make multiple trips on some days. The Nashville-to-Lawrenceburg bus will typically make two trips in each direction during the week and one round-trip on the weekends, Szyperski said. The line will include stops in Ethridge, Columbia, Spring Hill, Franklin, downtown Nashville, the Donelson Music City Star station and the Nashville International Airport. A round-trip ticket from Lawrenceburg to Nashville during the week costs about $38.

Mail-order pharmacy opens in Antioch

PromiseCare emphasizes community outreach, savings By Getahn Ward • THE TENNESSEAN • July 29, 2009 A mail-order pharmacy company has set up shop in Antioch with 20 employees, and it hopes to boost that to a total of 200 jobs over two years here. PromiseCare Pharmacy targets senior citizensand others with home delivery of prescription drugs and diabetic and other medical supplies. "We plan to be the one-stop shopping for customers," said Readus C. Smith III, the company's chief executive officer. Smith moved here from West Palm Beach, Fla. There, he was president of the commercial division of a mail-order diabetic supply company. PromiseCare's business includes community outreach, such as through churches at which it organizes health fairs and other educational events. Its community health initiatives division is working with 63 Church of God in Christ congregations across the state on a weight-loss program. Bishop Jerry Maynard, the churches' overseer, has a seat on PromiseCare's board. The company also plans to market through clinics, doctors' offices and managed care plans to which it promises cost savings of up to 25 percent in the first year of service. In addition to the Church of God in Christ, clients include Humana of Florida and TennCare. Sal Giorgianni, an assistant professor at Belmont University's School of Pharmacy, said success of such mail-order pharmacy models is driven by providers' ability to offer counseling and other services along with distributing drugs. "It's a very valuable way to get medications to people — saves them from having to go to the pharmacy — and it's a cost savings as well," Giorgianni said, adding, however, that it's not for everyone because some customers still prefer dealing with in-store pharmacists. Smith said customers would still have an option to pick up prescriptions and other supplies from PromiseCare's pharmacy at 605 Bakertown Road. The roughly 30,000-square-foot operation also houses a call center. Eventually, Smith said he plans to move the call center and PromiseCare's marketing and administrative programs to Gallatin or elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, while keeping its pharmacy and outreach operations in Antioch.

2 charges dismissed in 'Wooded Rapist' case

By Mitchell Kline • THE TENNESSEAN • July 29, 2009 FRANKLIN — Two charges against Robert Jason Burdick, the man accused of raping four women in Williamson County, have been dismissed. Burdick, whom police have called the "Wooded Rapist," still faces five counts of aggravated rape, four counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, one count of rape and one count of aggravated kidnapping in Williamson County. Tuesday afternoon, Circuit Court Judge James G. Martin III dismissed two counts of aggravated burglary, saying the statute of limitations on those charges had expired. Both offenses, which were connected to alleged rapes by Burdick, allegedly occurred in 1999. The statute of limitations on aggravated burglary, a class-C felony, expires after four years. Assistant District Attorney Kate Yeager argued that the statute didn't apply because Burdick concealed the offenses and prosecutors didn't know who committed the burglaries until DNA evidence linked him to the crime scene. Martin also ruled that Burdick could face three separate trials in Williamson County, because he is alleged to have committed rapes on three days between March 1999 and November 2004. District Attorney Kim Helper asked that Fletcher Long, one of Burdick's three defense attorneys, be disqualified because of a conflict of interest. Helper said Long knew one of Burdick's alleged victims through a family member and had helped the woman start a business. Defense attorney John E. Herbison said there was no conflict. Martin denied Helper's motion but ruled Burdick must sign an affidavit acknowledging Long's relationship with his alleged victim and that he desires Long's representation.

Grant will add 50 Metro Nashville police officers

Dean grateful but wanted more By Nicole Young • THE TENNESSEAN • July 29, 2009 Metro police will get 50 of the 120 officers the department had hoped to hire with federal grant money. Mayor Karl Dean and Police Chief Ronal Serpas said Tuesday they were happy with the $8.67 million grant. Nashville had asked for $21 million from the U.S. Justice Department in April. The grant money will cover salaries and benefits for 50 new officers over the next three years. Serpas said the department had hoped to hire all 120 new officers and staff new police precincts in Madison and Southeast Nashville. "You always want everything you ask for," Dean said. "It's like Christmas morning. We are grateful for this money." According to the U.S. Justice Department, funding for 50 officers was the maximum granted to police departments nationwide. Twenty-one jurisdictions were granted enough funding to hire that maximum. More than 1,000 agencies from 54 states and U.S. territories applied for the grants, which totaled almost $1 billion in Recovery Act funding. In Tennessee, 19 agencies got grants. Memphis police received funding for 37 officers, and Jackson police received funds to hire 10 officers. Dean said he was proud that Nashville was considered worthy of the same number of officers as larger jurisdictions such as Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago. "Our proposal was based on our reduction in the crime rate," Dean said. "Many of these larger cities are seeing increases in crime." Serpas said the crime rate had been dropping in Nashville for more than a half decade, and he envisions it dropping more once the city opens the new precincts. "The smaller our footprint is within each precinct area, the better able we'll be to serve the citizens of Nashville," he said.

Tennessee is 46th in caring for kids

State worsens in poverty but improves dropout rates By Clay Carey • THE TENNESSEAN • July 29, 2009 Tennessee isn't doing a very good job of making life better for its kids, according to a new study on children's issues. The state ranks 46th nationally in a 2009 Kids Count Data Book, an analysis of issues that can affect children's well-being. Since 2000, the state has improved on five of the 10 measures outlined in the report. On the other five, statistics suggest the state has worsened. Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 in seven of the categories in the annual report, published by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. "We would certainly prefer to be ranked better than 46th," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. The commission helped collect data for the data book. Though the report is grim, it does contain some bright spots for Tennessee. High school dropout rates — which have been targeted by local school districts thanks in part to federal No Child Left Behind standards — fell by 36 percent between 2000 and 2007. The state also saw above-average progress in reducing child death rates. Shari Barkin, division chief of general pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, said the numbers reflect a payoff for efforts to keep children safe through new seat belt laws and bicycle helmet requirements. "It's changing the laws that change people's behavior," Barkin said. "These are big differences." Still, Barkin said, as a state "we've got a lot of work to do. This is not a sprint. It's a marathon." Many of the issues studied in the Kids Count Data Book can be traced back to poverty. The percentage of Tennessee children living in poverty in 2007 was 23 percent, up from 20 percent in 2000, it reported. Tennessee and other Southern states have been plagued by a history of poverty, unemployment and low-paying jobs that worsen dropout rates, teen birth rates and other metrics the study considers, O'Neal said. "We are very challenged in Tennessee. We have limited resources" to pay for improvements in education and economic development, she said. "We have to invest in our future. … When we do the right thing for our children, it is the right thing for our state as a whole." Death rate drops Tennessee's best ratings on the report came in the area of high school dropout rates, where the state ranked 23rd in the country, and the percentage of teens who are either in school or working, where Tennessee came in 31st. The death rate for Tennessee children between the ages of 1 and 14 dropped 21 percent from 2000 to 2006. A 2004 revamp of child seat belt laws that included a new booster seat requirement for auto passengers younger than 8 helped that statistic, O'Neal said. She hopes new laws like the ban on texting while driving, passed by the state legislature this year, will have a similar effect on teen death rates, which rose slightly between 2000 and 2006. "Those (types of laws) only make a difference if people are complying with them," she said. Nationally, the data show some improvement in child quality-of-life issues between 2000 and 2007, but "it's still not on par with what we saw in the late 1990s," said Laura Beavers, who coordinated the national Kids Count project. Health issues like infant mortality rates and teen birth rates generally improved. But economic conditions were already starting to worsen when the data were taken, and current financial conditions are probably much worse than the statistics show, Beavers said. "This data really doesn't include the height of the economic downturn," she said. "We know this (data) is a big understatement of what is going on with kids today."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Breaking News -Semi Crash Forces I-40 Closure Near Fesslers Lane

Channel 5 News NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Eastbound lanes on Interstate 40 have been closed after a semi overturned near Fesslers Lane. The incident happened around 11 a.m. The semi's trailer was blocking all lanes west of Fesslers Lane - just after the I-40 / I-24 merge. Traffic leaving downtown was blocked on both interstates. Officials expect the road to be reopened around 3 p.m. No one was injured in the crash.

Nashville meetings seek input on mass transit's future

Tennessean STAFF REPORTS • July 28, 2009 The public can learn about and comment on plans for mass transit and recreation this week. Metropolitan Transit Authority will hold the first of four meetings tonight to discuss its strategic plan, which will guide mass transit through 2035. The plan sets goals, priorities and actions for public transportation in Nashville and provides guidance and strategy for decisions about public transportation for Metro. Metro Transit's leader, Paul Ballard, says Nashville and the region are at a crossroads for transportation and that many people are ready for alternative options to driving. MTA opened its downtown Nashville transit center, Music City Central, last fall and saw bus ridership boom when fuel prices topped $4. MTA staff also assumed operation of the Music City Star, the region's only commuter rail line. There are also new initiatives by Metro and the state to encourage environmentally sensitive policies and practices and to develop so-called "green jobs." One of those was legislation that gives local communities the option of creating a dedicated funding source for public transit in their communities. "The next five to 10 years and beyond are critical to developing a world-class public transportation system for Nashville," Ballard said in a news release. "Public transportation goes hand in hand with economic development, tourism and jobs growth and is a critical part of any city's success." Meetings start tonight The meetings will include a presentation and then discussion. Refreshments will be served. The schedule: • Tonight, 5-6:30, North Branch Library, 1001 Monroe St. Presentation at 5:30 p.m. Bus service is available on Routes 29 and 42. • Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Music City Central, 400 Charlotte Ave. Presentation at noon. • Wednesday, 5-6:30 p.m. at Southeast Branch Library, 2325 Hickory Highlands Drive, Antioch. Presentation at 5:30 p.m. Bus service on Route 15. • Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m. at Green Hills Library, 3701 Benham Ave. Presentation at 5:30 p.m. Bus service on Route 7. Those who don't attend a meeting can still comment. The draft of the strategic plan will be available on the Web site The Nashville MTA's Strategic Master Plan development is a joint effort between the Nashville MTA, Metropolitan Planning Organization, Metro Planning and the Tennessee Department of Transportation. SOUND OFF: Comments can be mailed to the MTA Planning Department, attn: Public Meeting Comments, 130 Nestor St., Nashville, TN 37210; faxed to 615-862-6208; e-mailed to; or delivered by phone at MTA Customer Care, 615-862-5950.

Home sales surge in June - could the worst be over?

3 months of growth fuels optimism By Alan Zibel and Alex Veiga • ASSOCIATED PRESS • July 28, 2009 WASHINGTON — New home sales rose last month at the fastest clip in more than eight years as buyers eagerly took advantage of bargain prices — a clear sign, economists said, that the real estate market may finally be bouncing back. Historically low interest rates and a federal tax credit for first-time homeowners also helped push home sales to their highest level since November, the Commerce Department reported Monday. While home prices are still falling around the country, sales have now risen for three months in a row. Construction of new homes is at the busiest level since last fall. And home resales rose in June for the third straight month. "The worst of the housing recession," said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities, "is now behind us." And as with the overall economy, the "recovery" is likely to be slow and arduous, he said. Put in perspective, the improvement in sales is modest. The pace of sales for new homes in June was still 72 percent below the peak of four summers ago, and there is still an enormous inventory of homes lingering on the market. "There's been signs of improvement, but we're a long ways off from being back to a normal market," said Corey Barton, president of CBH Homes in Meridian, Idaho. Sales were up there in June, but Barton stressed: "It wasn't our biggest jump in eight years." But there were clear signs the housing market is showing more than life than it has at any point since the recession began. Keystone Custom Homes of Lancaster, Pa., which was founded in 1992, had its best June ever. July is looking good, and president Larry Wisdom expects an even stronger August. "We doubled our sales in May, and then in June it took off," he said. New home sales for June clocked in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000, blowing past the expectations of economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters, who were looking for 360,000. The figure is up 11 percent from May, and May's number of 346,000 was higher than previously thought. The increase is the largest since December 2000, when investors scarred by the tech-stock bubble were looking for more stable places to put their money. Sales decline in South Sales were strongest in the Midwest, where they jumped 43 percent from May's total. Sales climbed 29 percent in the Northeast and 23 percent in the West. They declined slightly in the South. The median sales price was $206,200, down from $234,300 a year and $219,000 from May. Economists expect home prices to continue falling until the competition from low-priced foreclosures ebbs sometime next year. To drum up sales, CBH Homes has had to slash prices by up to 10 percent from last year's levels. The new homes CBH builds have to compete with the glut of foreclosures, which are drawing many first-time homebuyers. In addition to lower prices, buyers are rushing to take advantage of a federal tax credit that covers 10 percent of the home price or up to $8,000 for first-time buyers. Home sales must be completed by the end of November for buyers to take advantage. "There's definitely more first-time homebuyers in the market than what we've seen in the last several years," Barton said. Although the real estate market appears to be starting a recovery, that doesn't mean it will instantly become a powerful economic engine. Construction is weak because builders still have too many unsold homes sitting vacant.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hermitage church donates supplies to Metro schools

WKRN Channel 2 News Posted: Jul 27, 2009 7:36 AM CDT NASHVILLE, Tenn. - With the school year just around the corner, one local church is putting together school supplies to make sure students have everything they need to learn. Volunteers at Hermitage Hills Baptist Church filled nearly 400 boxes with notebooks, markers and other school supplies. In the tough economy, Chad Smith, the pre-school minister for the church, said the church wants to help out the families. "Families are struggling and we just want to be able to take that pressure," Smith said. Smith's wife is a teacher and he said often times, the teachers end up supplying classroom resources out of their own pockets. For the past month, Smith and an army of volunteers at the church have been collecting supplies, boxing them up and now, driving them to six area elementary and middle schools. Each teacher's classroom will start the year with a box full of school supplies. "Most elementary schools in Metro, each child is given a white dry erase board," Smith said. "They need their own dry erase markers so we've collected those." Volunteers loaded up trucks and minivans to make the deliveries, where they go into every school room and leave the box with a note. They say what they're doing is really about the students. "So they don't feel awkward, they don't feel embarrassed because they didn't have [a supply]," Smith said. The church estimated the amount of supplies they've collected will help around 1,000 students. They hope other church and community groups will do the same, helping even more students. "If every church in every community did this, there would not be any child left behind," Smith said. "Ever child that needs these things would have it." The six schools who received supplies are Tulips Grove Elementary in Hermitage, DuPont Tyler Middle and Elementary schools, DuPont Hadley Middle in the Old Hickory area and Mt. Juliet Elementary and Middle schools.

Gun ban remains for school athletic events, attorney general says

WKRN Channel 2 News Posted: Jul 27, 2009 12:21 PM CDT NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper says people with handgun permits can't carry their weapons into city or county parks when they are being used by schools. In an opinion released Monday, Cooper says the state's new law to allow permit holders to bring their guns in parks does not prohibit schools from using those facilities but once they do, guns would be banned there. Cooper cites state law that bans guns in any area "owned, used or operated by a school." He writes that non-student permit holders can store their guns in their cars while school-sponsored events are going on. The opinion was requested by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin. Several communities are considering opting out of the guns in parks law. Several Mid-State communities including Brentwood, Williamson County, Murfreesboro and Clarksville have already opted out of the new law, which goes into effect September 1. The city of Columbia has chosen to allow guns in city parks. Local governments have until September 1, when the new law allowing guns takes effect, to opt out. *The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nashville airport may add kennel, clinic

Plan aims to boost slumping revenues By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 25, 2009 A luxury kennel for pets and a health clinic where you could get prescriptions, immunizations and even a physical could be on the way for the nearly 10 million travelers who pass through the Nashville airport each year. The airport, struggling with the recession's bite out of air travel, already has added several restaurants and businesses as part of a renovation that began in 2006. Now it has asked businesses to submit proposals for a pet boarding business and a health clinic as a way to generate more revenue and create more traveler services. At least a dozen airports across the country already have health clinics, and another handful have upscale kennels for pets with suites and massages for furry friends. One company has started an airline just for pets, Pet Airways, though it is not yet serving Nashville. Part of the motivation for airport officials is the need to increase revenue lost because of a drop in air travel. "We're always looking at new ways to offer service to airport passengers," said Emily Richard, airport spokeswoman. "We have 4,500 acres of land at the airport. We have plenty of space for revenue opportunities." In June, parking fees were down 12 percent from the same month a year ago, while car rental revenue dropped 15 percent. Total passenger count was off 4.9 percent compared with last year, but it showed improvement over slower months earlier in the year. Health-care clinics have caught on in popularity in the past two years because passengers have time on their hands after arriving earlier to deal with security measures. Walk-in clinics or pharmacies already operate in airports in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Dallas and Baltimore. Most of them are operated by either New York-based Harmony Pharmacy and Health Center or Aeroclinic of Atlanta, though a few other companies are getting in on the service. San Francisco International Airport added a Harmony Pharmacy two months ago where people can refill prescriptions before boarding flights. Or if they forget a prescription, they can have their doctor call one in. The airport had a walk-in health clinic well ahead of other airports — about 30 years ago. "There was a Dr. Larry Smookler who envisioned 30 years ago a one-stop shop for travelers," said Mike McCarron, spokesman for the San Francisco airport. "It's fully staffed, people can get physicals, sutures and minor surgery." At the Nashville airport last week, Nolensville resident Brian Snyder said the pet hotel and health-care clinic were good in theory, but he wasn't sure he would use either service. He leaves his 55-pound dog at home with his wife or would choose one of the four kennels he passes on his way to the airport. "Such a service (at the airport) might very well be helpful to some pet owners," said CogiSmeeton, guest services manager for an 18-acre pet boarding facility at The Farm at Natchez Trace. But she doubted that such a service would compete with hers because of the extensive services she offers. Snyder, who flies out of Nashville International at least once a month for business, said the clinic sounded convenient, but he wondered if most health insurance would be accepted at an airport clinic or if prices would be inflated. The airport has not gotten responses to its request for proposals for the pet kennel, and airport officials have not decided whether to advertise the idea again, Richard said. Still accepting proposals The airport is still accepting proposals on the health clinic. Some of the requirements would be that the vendor must be open year-round and operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Services would include immunizations, urgent care, occupational health, employee physicals and prescription and non-prescription medications. Also, the provider would have to accept Medicare, Medicaid and TennCare. The clinic would be in an 832-square-foot space on the ticketing level of the concourse connector. Raul Regalado, president and chief executive of Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, said neither of the ideas is a done deal. It depends on what happens when the issue of financing is brought to the table, he added. "We want to make sure it is a viable option, not just an interesting one."

Court ends state tax on illegal drugs

Tenn. could find new way to collect from dealers ASSOCIATED PRESS • July 25, 2009 The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Friday that a state law taxing illegal drugs — dubbed the "crack tax" — is unconstitutional. The court found in a 3-2 decision that the law exceeds the state's taxing power because it isn't a tax on "merchants, peddlers and privileges." But the court also ruled that the law didn't violate constitutional protections against self-incrimination, leaving open the possibility that the General Assembly could develop a new tax on drugs that would be constitutional. The state Supreme Court decision stemmed from the 2005 arrest of Loudon County carpenter Steven Waters. Waters, a first-time offender who was then 51, was arrested for possession of 1,000 grams of cocaine he bought for $12,000 in a reverse sting undercover investigation by the Knox County Sheriff's Office. Waters' attorney, Philip Lomonaco of Knoxville, said Friday he was glad the court ruled as it did. "A lot of people had their property taken," Lomonaco said. "I believe everybody should have their property returned." Eleven days after his arrest, Waters received a tax bill of more than $50,000, plus late fees, for failing to voluntarily buy an excise stamp for his narcotics. The state filed a lien on his Lenoir City home and confiscated $4,000 from his bank account before his criminal case went to trial. Waters eventually pleaded guilty to felony possession and was sentenced to a fine and probation, according to court records. Lomonaco said liens on Waters' property will be released. State Department of Revenue spokeswoman Sophie Moery said officials had just received the ruling and "right now what we are trying to do is figure out what our next steps are. Obviously, we are disappointed." Tax has raised $10.4M The tax, approved by the legislature with one dissenting vote in 2004, took effect in January 2005 and has since generated $10.4 million, Moery said. Tax stamps are available for anonymous purchase in various values at the Department of Revenue. Moery said 75 percent of the revenue goes to law enforcement in the community where it was collected. She said the Supreme Court decision stops collection of the tax. She said the question of making repayments is "going to be another thing we need to talk to the attorney general's office about." A sizable amount of the tax money could be returned with the ruling, said Nashville attorney David Raybin. He has several clients who were forced to pay the tax, and he filed lawsuits immediately after the payments were made in the event this occurred. One of those clients is former Williamson County Sheriff Ricky Headley, who paid $13,000 in drug taxes immediately after his arrest — well before he was convicted, Raybin said. "Fortunately, he had the funds to pay the tax for it, but we didn't have any choice," Raybin said. "Otherwise they would've taken his car, his house." Headley pleaded guilty last year to five misdemeanor charges attached to allegations that he fraudulently obtained prescription pain pills from a Nashville pharmacy. Raybin said he and many other attorneys have had their cases put on hold, and he knows there are many other people who couldn't afford to pay the tax and hire an attorney. If you didn't pay the tax right away, Raybin said, the state would go after your home or car or put a lien on your bank accounts. "They wrap it up as a tax but it is in fact a punishment because it's so disproportionate to the value of the offense," he said. Burden of drugs cited The ruling differed from reasoning of lower courts that struck down the tax because of the self-incrimination issue and because it seeks to generate revenue from illegal activity. Justice Gary Wade acknowledged in the court's opinion the "enormous burden" of using, possessing and selling illegal drugs places on Tennessee. "Our legislature is worthy of commendation for its effort to defray the costs incident to the struggle against illegal drugs," Wade wrote. "Even under these circumstances, however, it is our duty to dispassionately apply the rule of law in a fair and impartial manner, unswayed by genuine public concerns, partisan interests, or fear of criticism." In dissent, Justice William Koch Jr. wrote that he believes the tax can be imposed in a constitutional manner on drug dealers. "The illegal drug trade ... destroys individual lives and tears families apart," Koch wrote. "It undermines our economic well-being by impairing productivity, requiring taxpayers to bear the expense of treatment and social services for the drug abusers and their families, and forcing the public to bear the collateral expenses of drug-related crimes." Chief Justice Janice Holder and former Chief Justice William M. Barker concurred with Wade's opinion. Justice Cornelia A. Clark joined in the dissent.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two Armed Men Break Into South Nashville Home Overnight

Channel 5 News NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Police are looking for two suspects who broke into a Nashville home and robbed a 58-year-old man at gunpoint. The incident happened on Claiborne Street off Lafayette Street in south Nashville around 2:30 a.m. Thursday. Police said two men stacked milk crates on top of each other to break into a bedroom window at the back of the house. The man told police the suspects climbed over him before pointing shotguns at him and demanding money. The victim apparently gave the men all the money he had - about $13. Investigators said the suspects then tied up the man with duct tape. He was eventually able to free himself, but not before the robbers took off with the money and two plasma television sets.

Dow Tops 9,000 First Time Since January

Channel 5 News NEW YORK (AP) - The Dow Jones industrial average is closing above 9,000 for the first time since January. It's the highest closing level for the blue chips since November. Stocks rose Thursday following the third straight monthly increase in existing home sales. Stronger-than-expected earnings and more optimistic forecasts have pushed stocks up more than 11 percent in less than two weeks. The Dow is up 188 at 9,069. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 22 at 976. The Nasdaq composite index is up 47 at 1,974. Five stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.4 billion shares. (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Runway closure will shift jet noise at Nashville airport

By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 23, 2009 Some neighborhoods around the Nashville International Airport will have more air traffic over their homes and businesses during the next year when a major construction project shuts down one runway. The airport's oldest of four runways will be closed from Aug. 3 to July 2010 for a $24 million reconstruction project. The 32-year-old runway has reached its lifespan and needs to be updated. It is the westernmost runway and runs north-to-south from Interstate 40 to Murfreesboro Pike. That means during the closure, the 15,000 aircraft that use the airport each month will be spread among the three remaining runways. The runways used will depend on flight patterns or weather conditions. Airport officials do not expect any inconveniences for air travelers but residents living near the airport may notice the change. "Closing a runway doesn't reduce the level of aircraft," said Raul Regalado, president and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority. "When we put a runway out of use, it means a shift in activity to the remaining runways. It will probably generate some concern from the public because there will be increased overflights in some areas." The oldest runway, which is 7,703 feet long and 150 feet wide, was previously repaired in the 1970s. It is a primary runway for much of the airport's air cargo traffic. Regalado said the goal of the reconstruction project is to increase the safety for the passengers and aircraft that use the runway. The project will employ about 300 workers. The project will be paid for with 57 percent federal funds, 12.5 percent state funds and 30.5 percent passenger facility charges. Airports charge up to $4.50 per passenger, which can be applied to projects approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. It shows up as a fee when passengers buy airfare. Airport officials asked for patience and understanding during the construction. "We may get some calls about it, but it is an issue we will all have to deal with," said James Cheek III, chairman of the Airport Authority Board of Commissioners.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Memphis bans guns in parks, Nashville postpones

USA TODAY Posted 7/22/2009 7:25 AM ET MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The state's largest city has opted out of a new state law allowing people to carry guns in parks. With little debate, the Memphis City Council yesterday voted 11-2 to ban firearms in parks, playgrounds and public recreational buildings. The Commercial Appeal reported Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware saying Memphis isn't "the wild, wild West." The Shelby County Commission earlier voted to ban weapons in county parks and Germantown officials also banned firearms from their city parks. In Nashville, the Metro Council yesterday deferred until Aug. 6 a second reading on a measure to ban weapons in parks. A new state law allows guns in parks, but also lets local government opt out.

More Tennessee child support collected

July 22, 2009 State officials say child support payments in Tennessee increased during the last fiscal year, despite a stumbling economy. The Tennessee Department of Human Services collected more than $557 million for children through its child support program. The figure eclipsed the previous year's record $530 million in collections. DHS Commissioner Gina Lodge said her department and child support partners in all 31 judicial districts across the state are committed to ensuring that children benefit from court-ordered support payments. While the majority of child support collections come through wage withholding from a parent, DHS also uses state license revocations, federal offset programs and liens to collect support. In the fiscal year just ended, $33.25 million was collected by taking more than 24,000 tax refunds. — ASSOCIATED PRESS Next Page undefined Previous Page

Metro Council fills school board vacancy

Former Garcia assistant will replace Alan Coverstone By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 22, 2009 A woman with years of experience in and around Metro schools is the school board's newest member. The Metro Council voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to elect Kay Simmons to the West Nashville seat left vacant by Alan Coverstone, who resigned last month to take a job in the school district's administration. Simmons received 29 of 38 votes, easily outpacing Elizabeth Merkel, the only other candidate in the seven-person field who received any votes. She said she raised $12 million for Metro schools as executive director of the Nashville Alliance for Public Education from 2003 to 2007. She also worked as a special assistant to Pedro Garcia, the district's former director, in 2007 and 2008, when she retired from full-time work after Garcia resigned. Simmons, 60, has extensive experience working in private schools as well. Her own children attended both public and private schools. She said she'll run for the District 9 seat covering Bellevue, Belle Meade and Hillwood next summer, when voters will decide who represents them until the term started by Coverstone ends in 2012. "I would love to dig my heels in and go to work and make a difference," Simmons said. "I take this as a very serious job and commitment, and I will give it everything I've got. Nothing is more important." Hanging over the school board is the possibility that it won't exist in its present form if test scores continue to fall below standards and the state is allowed to change the way the district is run. Mayor Karl Dean could be allowed to take charge. Simmons said she hopes that won't be necessary but she is "here to help in whatever way possible." Others question choice Two of the candidates who received no votes said council members seemed to have made up their minds weeks ago to vote for Simmons or Merkel. Martin Kennedy, a Middle Tennessee State University economics professor with five children in Metro schools and a passionate defense of charter schools, said he suspected "some level of horse trading and back scratching." But Simmons said she met most of the council members for the first time after declaring her candidacy. "I think they just looked at what I've done, and they know why I'm in this race," she said. Lee Limbird, who finished second to Coverstone in last year's election, withdrew from the race last weekend because of family considerations. In other business, the council: • Deferred the second of three votes on a proposed gun ban for Metro parks until Aug. 6. A new state law allows handgun carry permit holders to take their guns into state and local parks, but local governments can opt out. • Approved a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance on the first of three votes. The bill would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees and prospective employees from discrimination in the city's hiring and promotion practices. Councilman Robert Duvall attempted to defeat the bill on the first vote, which is unusual; most bills are routinely passed at that stage and moved into the council's committee system. Duvall's effort failed as the council voted 24-9 for the bill. • Moved the next meeting from Aug. 4 to Aug. 6 to avoid a conflict with National Night Out Against Crime.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Use of social networking sites poses new challenges

Commentary by Barbara Moss • July 21, 2009 Many companies already have policies in place about workers' Internet and e-mail use. With the advent of social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, companies are faced with new problems and the potential need for a new policy. To begin with, companies should be wary about the potential for employees and ex-employees to post negative, and even defamatory statements about the company on these Web sites. This problem has spawned a new category of service that's now being offered by "reputation defenders" and "reputation managers," who promise to search the Internet regularly to help companies and individuals deal with negative information. A written policy also could help shield a company from a defamation lawsuit if employees have been posting negative, untrue information about other companies or individuals. Employees have been known to post proprietary information online, including intellectual property that is trademarked or copyrighted. Information that employees post online can be discovered during litigation and used against the company. Finally, and perhaps most important, employees can waste a lot of time on social networking sites. A policy on the use of social networking sites should cover all of these topics. Employees should be told not to publish negative information about the company or about any other company or individual. Employees should be reminded that the company has proprietary information and, if appropriate, information protected by the laws concerning intellectual property. That information should never be disclosed in any way, including by posting on social networking sites. No expectation of privacy Employees should be reminded that anything that they write could be discovered during potential litigation. They should be careful not to post any defamatory or discriminatory material. Professional employees — such as accountants, lawyers, medical staff and journalists — should be reminded not to give any advice over the Internet, including on social networking sites. Finally, employees should be reminded that computers are for business use only. They have no expectation of privacy when they use their computers on company time. The company can and should reserve the right to monitor computer use when necessary. Moss is an attorney with the law firm of Stites & Harbison who concentrates her practice on workplace issues. Contact her at

Nashvillian's Dream Center is finalist for national honor

Richard runs nonprofit to help men in need find work By Andy Humbles • THE TENNESSEAN • July 21, 2009 Recognition isn't why North Nashville's Terry Richard established and operates a nonprofit organization to help homeless, low income and ex-convict men find suitable employment. triggerAd(1,PaginationPage,11); But, if being named one of 10 finalists nationwide for the 2009 Energizer Battery Company's fourth annual Keep Going Hall of Fame can elevate Richard's Dream Center, that's more than fine. "(The more) the community knows about it, that will help a lot,'' Richard said. "It spreads the work we're doing.'' Richard was initially selected out of more than 1,000 nominations by a panel of judges to be one of the top 100 semifinalists, said Energizer Hall of Fame spokeswoman Samantha Fisher. One winner will be honored Sept. 3 in St. Louis, determined by a public vote through Aug. 7. The winner will win a $10,000 prize and an additional $5,000 to a charity of his or her choice, Fisher said. "This guy is the Energizer Bunny,'' said Dream Center board member Suzanne Lafond. "He's been working at this in small steps, and he has a full-time job on top of it.'' It's been a year of change for the Dream Center, which Richard established in 2004. The Dream Center operates Gear 4 Career, which accepts suitable clothing that is generally donated for men in need to take and wear for interviews and employment. Richard moved the Dream Center and Gear 4 Career office on Jefferson Street, where he operated for about 3 ½ years, to 406 Harding Industrial Drive in the Antioch area. The new residence was donated by a Dream Center board member, Richard said. Hopes are to use the Industrial Drive location as a warehouse and find an office location, perhaps around the Metro Center area near Richard's home or on Charlotte Pike. The economic downturn has brought an increase in clients, Richard said. And clothing donations have dropped. But Richard has not had to turn anyone away yet. Richard also does job readiness workshops, often at area churches, through the Dream Center. He estimates putting in 28-32 hours a week with the Dream Center on top of his regular job as a banquet manager for the Nashville Marriott Hotel at Vanderbilt. In 2008 Richard was named Outstanding Manager for Large Properties at the American Hotel & Lodging Association Stars of the Industry Awards. Richard came to the United States from Nigeria and said the help he received is one reason why he has put the effort into the Dream Center. Lafond, 78, came on as a Dream Center board member after operating Nashville's Dress for Success, which provided suitable work clothing for low-income women. The Nashville based Dress for Success closed in 2007 after nine years because of lack of funding. The Dream Center recently was awarded $10,000 out the money Dress for Success turned over to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee when it closed two years ago, Lafond said. Richard said he may consider providing work clothing for women in need because of the void left by Dress for Success's closing.

Swine flu virus could extend this year's flu season

The Tennessean July 21, 2009 The swine flu virus could make this year's flu season longer and worse than normal, a state health official said. The federal government and drug manufacturers are working on a vaccine for the H1N1 virus — a strain commonly known as swine flu — which closed several area schools this spring. That vaccine won't be finished before school starts, state epidemiologist Tim Jones said. As a result, the flu season will probably start earlier, he said, "and the number of people who get the flu could be much higher than normal." Tennessee officials don't expect to see a dedicated H1N1 vaccine before mid-October. Vaccines for traditional seasonal flu should be ready earlier in the fall, about the time they usually are, but they won't protect against swine flu. "We're going to strongly recommend that everybody get both," Jones said. "You want to protect yourself against both, even though it is a hassle to get two separate vaccinations." Most people who have come down with swine flu have recovered without hospitalization but the virus has killed 211 people nationwide. In Tennessee, there have been 246 confirmed cases, with one reported death. When they are ready, Jones said, swine flu vaccines will be distributed to doctors and pharmacies the same way traditional flu vaccines are. If the need for a broader vaccination program arises, the state could operate additional clinics. — CLAY CAREYThe Tennessean

State could settle Steve McNair's estate

With no will, law would split assets By Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • July 21, 2009 Tennesseans who die with wills get to decide where their money goes, Nashville estate attorneys stay. Die without one, and the state decides. That's an issue being sorted through by the family of former Titans quarterback Steve McNair. The football star had no will, an emergency court filing last week by his wife said, nor any apparent estate planning. Mechelle McNair is compiling her late husband's assets, a task that must be completed in less than two months. Under Tennessee law, if there's no will, a surviving spouse automatically is entitled to a third of the estate and children get the rest. And it gets more complicated with children from previous marriages or relationships, said Denty Cheatham, a Nashville attorney who handled the 14-year-long Conway Twitty estate case. Twitty was rewriting his will when he died. "Those situations cause a lot of difficulties," Cheatham said. "When the children are not the children of the surviving spouse, frequently there is conflict." McNair earned $90 million during his 13-year career with the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. The bodies of McNair and Sahel "Jenni" Kazemi were found July 4 at a Second Avenue condo the former Tennessee Titan rented with a friend. Investigators say McNair was sleeping on his couch when Kazemi, a woman he had been dating for months, shot him four times before ending her life. McNair's blood-alcohol limit when he was shot was twice what Tennessee considers too drunk to drive, the state's assistant medical examiner said on Monday. Kazemi, 20, who shot McNair and then herself, had a small amount of marijuana and no alcohol in her system, Dr. Feng Li said. Hearing scheduled Kazemi was facing a DUI charge after a July 2 traffic stop with McNair in the passenger seat. The video of her traffic stop includes her admission that she was high at the time. Li said McNair's blood-alcohol level was around .16. The final report won't be released until next week, he said. On Wednesday, Adrian Gilliam Jr., the man who police say sold Kazemi the gun she used in the shooting, is due in federal court for a bond hearing. He is being held without bail on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. 2 sons with Mechelle McNair left behind four sons — two with his wife, Mechelle McNair, and two older ones with separate women in Mississippi. Paternity will have to be established for his two older sons so they can make a claim to the estate, legal experts say, but neither had filed a claim in probate court by Monday afternoon. Without protections through trusts and other means, an estate of over $3.5 million can get taxed 50 cents for every dollar, said Nashville attorney Richard Johnson. Handling the estate gets more expensive without a will, he said. An inventory of assets is taken, attorneys representing all sides are involved, debts and taxes are paid, Johnson said. "In these situations, a common term used is that it gets messy," Johnson said. "A lot of times everybody has an opinion and it gets expensive. Leave a will. When I go around to speak to groups about leaving a will I tell them, 'You decide what happens and not the state of Tennessee.' '' There are two ways to leave a will. Usually, a lawyer draws one up or a person can leave a holographic will, which is handwritten by the person. Lawyers advise the former and not the latter. Cheatham said a simple will can be drafted for as little as $150. "I encourage people to have wills," Cheatham said. "A lot of people try to avoid wills. They are not expensive."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nashville police release sketch of suspected rapist

Metro police have released a composite sketch of one of the two men accused of raping a 21-year-old woman in a Heritage Drive apartment on July 9.
The suspect is described as a black man in his late teens to early 20s, approximately 6 feet tall with a thin build and a short Afro hairstyle. At the time of the assault, the attacker was described as wearing a white T-shirt and baggy jeans.
The second suspect wore a ball cap and a bandanna that partially covered his face. He is described as a black man in his late teens or early 20s, about 5-feet, 8-inches tall, with a medium build.
According to police, on the night of July 9, the woman and her boyfriend were watching a movie in the Heritage Drive apartment when the men knocked on the apartment door.
When the boyfriend answered, the men forced their way inside and robbed the couple at gunpoint. The men then took the woman to the bedroom, where they both raped her.
Anyone with information can call the police department's Sex Crimes Unit at 615-862-7540 or Crime Stoppers at 74-CRIME.
You can also send an electronic message to Crime Stoppers by texting the word "CASH" along with a message to 274637 (CRIMES). Tips also can be sent through the Crime Stoppers Web site,

More Tennessee cities opt out of guns in parks

By Bill Poovey • ASSOCIATED PRESS • July 20, 2009 The list of cities and counties opting out of Tennessee's new law that allows people with gun permits to take their weapons into public parks keeps getting longer. While some city and county governments — including Brentwood, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, and Williamson and Shelby counties — have rushed to exempt their parks, a Nashville lawyer who has worked more than a decade for the new law said he is considering a court challenge. John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said the opt-out provision for local governments is a "travesty" and might be challenged in court. "Did the legislature have the authority to pass the buck?" Harris said. "We are researching it." Harris said the exemption option also fails to provide any way for gun-permit holders to secure their weapons in vehicles when they arrive at a park and does not address having a gun in a vehicle when traveling on a park road that is used as access to a neighboring residential area. The state has about 220,000 permit holders but also recognizes permits issued by 19 other states. Reaction was expected Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, the Senate sponsor of the guns-in-parks measure, said she is not surprised that some communities are opting out of the law. "I wasn't for that provision," she said. Aaron Sipe, 34, of south Florida, stopped by Chattanooga's Coolidge Park with his three children and others this week. He agrees with the Chattanooga City Council's vote not to go along with state lawmakers who voted to allow guns in parks. Coming from a family of hunters, Sipe said he is "all for gun rights, but they don't belong in a park." He said carrying a gun in a park is "looking for trouble." At parks operated by cities and counties where officials have voted to opt out of the law, the maximum possible penalty for violators continues to be a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. Clarksville, Johnson City, Bristol and Signal Mountain are also among municipalities where council members have voted against allowing guns in parks. In Memphis, an opt-out ordinance is in line for a final approval vote. Council members in Nashville and Union City are discussing opt-out ordinances. In Jackson, city officials refused to opt out. Larry Zehnder, parks and recreation administrator in Chattanooga, said the city has about 50 park sites where new signs will have to be posted. He said the projected cost is about $7,500, including labor. He said there are already "no weapons" signs at some parks. Meigs County Mayor Ken Jones said he asked county commissioners in a workshop session if they wanted to opt out of the state law, and "basically they said no, so it's kind of a moot point to us." Jones said he personally believes the Constitution provides the right to bear arms and "we cannot legislate gun control." Tennessee lawmakers, over Gov. Phil Bredesen's veto, also approved a law that allows handguns in bars and restaurants. More opt-outs seen Dennis Huffer, an attorney for the Municipal Technical Advisory Service agency that helped develop the opt-out resolution cities are using to exempt their parks, said it is likely there will be more opt-outs in urban areas. "You think of rural areas as being comfortable with hunting and more comfortable around guns," he said. "So far that has been sort of the trend, with the bigger cities opting out." Jones said sentiment among Meigs County commissioners possibly reflects that in rural communities generally, where people probably "grew up with guns and are more familiar with their operation than city dwellers." "Come election time, I think a lot of these people in the state legislature are going to hammered with questions dealing with gun legislation," Jones said. "I have had several people call me or meet me on the sidewalk and ask me: 'Have these people not got anything better to do?' "

Monday, July 13, 2009

Food stamp hike helps families cope

$210M is likely to flow through Tenn.'s economy By Bonna Johnson • THE TENNESSEAN • July 13, 2009 TRACKING THE STIMULUS Slowly cruising the aisles of her favorite grocery store, Rosa Diaz kept an eye out for specials to help her stock up on staples, like fruit juice and packaged snacks for her 2-year-old son. "That's a decent price," Diaz said as she placed a couple of large jugs of orange juice, advertised at two for $3, in her shopping cart. Ever since her food stamps increased in April — from $289 a month to $375 — the 21-year-old single mother can afford to fill up the pantry for her small family, which also includes her younger sister, and keep them fed until she gets more money the next month. "Sometimes we came to the end of the month, and we didn't have any more food," said Diaz, who stretches her monthly allotment by staying away from expensive name brands and searching out sales at the H.G. Hill store near her apartment in Madison. As part of the federal stimulus package, families on food stamps across the country got a boost in their monthly benefits of about 13.6 percent. On average, a family of four received an $80 increase per month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The stimulus-funded bump in food stamp payments is intended to not only increase the purchasing power of poor families but also help the economy grow by infusing millions more into grocery stores, which in turn pay their employees and suppliers, and trickling down to the farmers growing crops and even the truckers hauling food. In just the first three months since the increase in payments, an additional $49 million in stimulus funds has been spent in food stamps in Tennessee, according to Michelle Mowery Johnson, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Over the course of the next fiscal year, which started July 1, some $210 million in stimulus funds is expected to flow through the Tennessee economy because of the increase in food stamps, she said. Anti-hunger advocates don't expect recipients to start purchasing caviar and Perrier now that they have more money. "I think the impact is probably that it's going to help people buy more food," said Brian Zralek, executive director of Manna Inc., a Nashville anti-hunger group. For Diaz, who is five months pregnant, this means less anxiety about being able to feed her family all month long. Indeed, benefit amounts have not kept pace with the cost of groceries and needed to be increased anyway, said Richard Dobbs, policy director for food stamps at DHS. "It's really helped," Diaz said. "They needed to do something." At the same time, though, it's not going to help her buy a new car or pay her rent, she said. The worsening economy, plus a bit of bad luck, has made it increasingly difficult for the young mother to make ends meet. She had been working with her mother and sister in a cleaning business, but as the economy took a downward turn, they lost clients. After her car was wrecked recently, she's had no regular transportation to get to the clients they have left. "Things are still hard," Diaz said. A second stimulus Diaz isn't the only one feeling the limitations of President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus package approved in February. There is already talk of a second stimulus even as Republicans criticize the current package for not working and failing to create jobs. Enrollment in the food stamp program, which was recently renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has been rising in Tennessee as layoffs mount and the Tennessee unemployment rate climbed above 10 percent in May. While the aim is to help poor families weather the recession, they likely would have gotten the same increase in October, when the federal government usually applies a cost-of-living adjustment anyway, Dobbs said. Because of the April increase, there won't be another increase this year, he said. At the same time, though, he sees the higher payments as a way to help protect the jobs of cashiers and shelf stockers. And, "the more benefit we provide to (recipients) to purchase food, that frees up more income to pay rental expenses or utility bills or medical bills," Dobbs said. Many grocers, though, have not noticed the extra injection of money into the economy and said it may take more time. "The initial thought is that they haven't seen a direct impact from the food stamp increase," said Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association. Christy Davis, a clerk with Johnny Howell Produce at the Nashville Farmers Market, said she's not noticed any change now that her food stamp customers have more to spend. About one-third of sales of Howell's farm-fresh produce are paid through food stamps, she said. At the Madison H.G. Hill, business is up, but not so much from higher food stamp payments, said owner Todd Reese. "More people are going to the grocery store instead of eating out," he said. Pump primer Some economists credit an increase in food stamp amounts — along with unemployment benefits — as being the most effective way to prime the economy's pump. "People who receive these benefits are very hard-pressed and will spend any financial aid they receive within a few weeks," wrote Mark Zandi, an economist with Moody's, in a 2008 report. "These programs are also already operating, and a benefit increase can be quickly delivered to recipients." Infrastructure spending, no matter how "shovel-ready" the projects, won't help the economy so quickly, Zandi wrote in a forecast earlier this year. Critics, though, say higher food stamp payments won't help the economy grow faster and instead will expand welfare spending to unaffordable levels. "Every dollar Congress hands out from food stamps must be taxed or borrowed from someone else," said Brian Riedl, a senior federal budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, a critic of the stimulus package. "You're taking water out of one side of the pool and dumping it into another side of the pool, but you haven't raised the water level." Raising food stamp payments may be a humane policy, Riedl said, "but that doesn't mean you're growing the economy any faster." It's perfectly fair to say you don't want people to starve, Riedl said, and that's what officials should use as a line of argument instead of claiming that the increase in food stamp payments will stimulate economic growth. For Makeesha Ayodele, 30, it all comes down to feeding her two children, ages 10 and 4. At $384 a month, she usually pitched in an extra $100 of her own money to keep her family fed. When her payment rose to $440 in April, she could use some of that extra hundred bucks "to help pay part of my rent and keep the cell phone on," said Ayodele, who was back at the Nashville food stamps office last week trying to get back on the program after losing her benefits in May.

What health care reform means for you

By David S. Hilzenrath • THE WASHINGTON POST • July 13, 2009 As President Obama and Congress try to overhaul health care, almost every American has a stake. Will you get the care you need? Can you avoid financial ruin? The potential upsides and downsides reflect various proposals under consideration. How you fare could depend on the fine print of any legislative compromise — for example, whether you meet the income qualifications for insurance subsidies, and whether those subsidies are enough to allow you to buy insurance. Here's an overview of what you stand to gain or lose. And remember, health care reform could fail to achieve some of its loftiest goals. Costs could continue to soar, quality improvements could fail to materialize, and pressure to cut costs could lower quality of care or disrupt access to medical services. IF YOU'RE UNINSURED Number affected (2007): 46 million HOW YOU COULD BENEFIT FROM REFORM: • If you have a low income, you could have an easier time qualifying for Medicaid, a program funded by the state and federal governments. Proposals by three House committees and the Senate Health Committee, plus a set of options laid out by the Senate Finance Committee, include loosening eligibility standards. • In addition, based on your income, you could receive federal aid to purchase private insurance and vouchers for preventive care. • A common theme of major legislative proposals is that you could gain the option of buying insurance through exchanges, novel arrangements in which insurers would be prohibited from denying coverage for preexisting conditions or taking into account your medical risk when setting your premium. • Insurers in the exchanges would offer a minimum set of benefits. As spelled out in the House "Tri-Committee" proposal, for example, those would include an annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses and an end to co-payments and deductibles for preventive care. • Older people could pay premiums closer to those paid by younger people, because age-based variations in rates could be restricted. • You could gain the option of buying coverage from a government plan or nonprofit cooperative whose scale would enable it to pass along savings. HOW YOU COULD LOSE UNDER REFORM: • You could be required to buy insurance or pay a penalty. Any assistance the government offers may be too small to make coverage affordable. • Young people and healthy people could end up paying relatively higher premiums, if age becomes a less significant factor and medical history ceases to be a factor in setting rates. As young people grow old and healthy people get sick, such sacrifices could even out. IF YOU'RE ON MEDICARE OR MEDICAID Number affected (2007): Medicare, 42 million; Medicaid, 37 million HOW YOU COULD BENEFIT FROM REFORM: MEDICARE • The "doughnut hole" for prescription drug coverage, which leaves you responsible for the cost when you've racked up $2,700 to $6,100 of annual prescription expenses, could be narrowed or closed. • You could obtain preventive services without paying anything out of pocket. • You could qualify for drug subsidies with more assets than current recipients are allowed. • Income from the sale of your primary residence could be excluded from determinations of who pays higher premiums for outpatient coverage. • Premiums could be reduced for seniors who enroll in wellness or disease-management programs. • Payments to primary-care doctors could be increased, paving the way for them to play a larger role in your care. • As outlined in a Senate Finance Committee options paper, your annual out-of-pocket expenses could be capped, protecting you from catastrophic bills. MEDICAID • Increased reimbursements for physicians could make it easier to find doctors. You also could gain access to private health plans. HOW YOU COULD LOSE UNDER REFORM: MEDICARE • Those with higher incomes could be required to pay higher premiums for drug coverage. • To discourage wastefulness, you could face higher outpatient deductibles and lose the ability to purchase "first-dollar" Medigap policies that can spare you out-of-pocket expenses. • Reduced payments to managed care or Medicare Advantage plans could prompt cuts to special benefits such as free eyeglasses and health club memberships. MEDICAID • If you are moved to a private health plan, you might lose special benefits such as hearing aids and eyeglasses for children and transportation to and from the doctor's office. IF YOU HAVE AN EMPLOYER-SPONSORED PLAN Number affected (2007): 158 million HOW YOU COULD BENEFIT FROM REFORM: • If you're employed at a small business, you and your employer could gain the option of buying coverage through an exchange, in which insurers would have to offer a minimum set of benefits, and factors such as health status would not count against you. The government might help your employer pay for health benefits. • If health care reform succeeds in making care more efficient — a big "if" — your costs may rise more slowly than they would without reform. You could get better care as a result of efforts to increase coordination among providers, identify and encourage best practices, automate medical records, avoid unnecessary tests and procedures, and reduce medical errors. • With expanded coverage for the uninsured, you and your employer could experience a reduction in what some call the hidden health tax you now pay to cover the cost of care that hospitals provide without compensation. • If you leave or lose your job and have to buy your own insurance, you could face much better options than those now available to you (see explanation for people who buy their own insurance). Having new alternatives could make it easier for you to leave a job in which you feel trapped; if you get laid off, it could save you from joining the ranks of the uninsured. HOW YOU COULD LOSE UNDER REFORM: • Some or all of your health benefits, which are now exempt from taxation, could be taxed to help pay for covering the uninsured. • Your employer could be penalized for failing to provide health benefits, and whatever affects your employer could affect you. IF YOU BUY YOUR OWN INSURANCE Number affected (2007): 15 million HOW YOU COULD BENEFIT FROM REFORM: • You could gain the option of buying insurance through exchanges, with an annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses, an end to co-payments and deductibles for preventive care, and no more annual or lifetime limits on coverage. • Insurers in the exchanges could be barred from denying coverage based on your medical history. Insurers could be required to cover your preexisting conditions. • Older people could pay premiums closer to those paid by younger people because age-based variations in rates could be restricted. • You could gain the option of buying coverage from a government plan or nonprofit cooperative whose scale and purchasing power could enable it to pass along savings. • Based on your income, you could receive federal aid to purchase insurance. • Your employer could be required to provide health benefits or pay a penalty, increasing the odds that you would receive coverage at work. HOW YOU COULD LOSE UNDER REFORM: • You could face a penalty if you decide to go without coverage. • Young people and healthy people could end up paying relatively higher premiums, if age becomes a less significant factor and medical history ceases to be a factor in setting rates. • The coverage available to you could remain unaffordable.