This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
From living wage to death tax, he’s set to confront legislature The barrage in January hit Gov. Bill Haslam from the blind side. More than 2,000 bills. A Republican majority swept into office by a landslide.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s learned a few lessons during his first year in office and plans a more sure-footed approach for 2012, from the budget to working with the General Assembly. “If you don’t climb the learning curve in any new job you’re in, there’s something wrong,” said Haslam, a Republican who was elected in November 2010 to replace Democrat Phil Bredesen.
Over a 10-year period, Bill Haslam has contributed more than $45 million to two charitable foundations that, in turn, have donated almost $25 million to hundreds of organizations promoting education, religion and culture. The average of $4.5 million per year in combined donations to Charis Foundation, established by Haslam and his wife in 2001, and the Haslam Family Foundation, established by his father in 1998, dwarfs the $690,000 in average annual charitable giving separately reported by Haslam as a candidate for governor two years ago.
An expected debate on making school vouchers available to lower-income students in Tennessee’s largest school systems won’t be happening in the state legislature this year. Gov. Bill Haslam, who had indicated he would take a position on “opportunity scholarships” toward the end of this year, announced Thursday the formation of a task force that will examine how vouchers might fit in with Tennessee’s efforts to reform education and report back to the governor in August.
Tennessee state officials are apologizing to about 400 motorists who were stuck on Interstate 40 for about 11 hours after a truck overturned this week. Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer says his agency “should have done better, and we apologize.”
Parents who began saving in 1993 for their newborn’s college education might wish they had Warren Buffett as their investment adviser: That son or daughter who entered one of Tennessee’s public universities this fall is paying tuition and mandatory fees that are 340 percent higher than in the year they were born. By comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 220 percent and the U.S. Consumer Price Index has risen 57 percent since 1993.
Despite sharply rising tuition, it may get tougher to win lottery-funded Hope Scholarships. A state Senate “task force” has recommended changing eligibility standards, requiring students to achieve at least a 21 ACT score and a 3.0 high school grade-point average to qualify for the basic Hope Scholarship of $2,000 per semester at four-year schools.
The nation’s largest provider of drug rehabilitation services and behavioral health therapy has been stung by a series of serious incidents, including deaths of patients, prompting regulators in four states to issue penalties such as fines, citations, or actions that have led to effective shutdowns. California-based CRC Health Group executives said it is unfair to judge the quality of care at its 140 facilities in 25 states based on a few isolated incidents, noting that its patient population is by its nature sick and troubled.
Failing 8th-graders would be retained A state lawmaker wants Tennessee schools to stop promoting eighth-graders to the ninth grade when they are not academically ready. Teachers acknowledge that the practice — called social promotion — is fairly common, but state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed a bill that would force teachers to retain eighth-grade students who have failing grades at the end of the year or do not demonstrate basic skills in one or more subjects of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.
Gill: High number of evaluations a burden When the General Assembly reconvenes next year, it’s likely a resolution urging lawmakers to limit the number of evaluations high-performing teachers must undergo will be introduced. Rutherford County Director of Schools Harry Gill Jr. said he, along with Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney met with state House Speaker Beth Harwell and former educators Rep. John Forgety and Sen. Jim Tracy to talk about issues surrounding the state’s newly adopted teacher evaluation process.
State asked to toughen law on synthetic drugs The Rutherford County Commission responded to a mother’s plea Thursday by passing a resolution urging the state to make synthetic drug dealing a felony. “It has to become a felony offense,” said Brooke Wyant, a Riverdale High School teacher who shared the story of her son’s struggles with addiction to synthetic drugs after attending Middle Tennessee State University on a full-ride scholarship.
State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick was on an access road near the Chickamauga dam when his cellphone rang with a question from a reporter. Do you think the recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board to ban all cellphone use while driving — even hands-free phones — could get on the books in Tennessee?
Local officials should have more leeway to conduct government business in private than is currently allowed under Tennessee’s open government laws, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said. Although the Blountville Republican told reporters this week that he’s against weakening what is known as the state’s Sunshine Law, he said he thinks city or county officials should be allowed to hold some discussions outside of official meetings.
Drug testing for unemployed workers collecting jobless benefits as well as injured employees getting worker’s compensation are among changes Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, plans to push in the upcoming legislative session. “I’m in favor of drug testing for people who are on any kind of benefits, whether it’s unemployment compensation or workers’ compensation, whatever it is, because I don’t think we need to be supporting that lifestyle with government money,” Ramsey told reporters.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says after working for a year with Gov. Bill Haslam that their relationship couldn’t be chummier. They’re now tight enough, apparently, to spend a muddy, rain-soaked Friday engaged in a quintessential Tennessee pastime — four-wheeling.
Charging stations in Tennessee outnumber electric cars and many aren’t used for hours or even days at a time, according to a newspaper investigation State data analyzed by The Tennessean show that about 270 all-electric cars were registered in Tennessee in 2011 while there are about 500 charging stations set up in public areas to serve them (http://tnne.ws/s2Mldg). The Tennessean said it visited more than 12 charging units over a two-day period this month and found multiple cars refueling at only one site — Nissan’s automobile plant in Smyrna.
The adult education program in Sequatchie County has taken over the program in neighboring Marion County because of state budget cuts, a lack of participation and a lack of records reporting this fall, officials said. Marva Doremus, state administrator for the Division of Adult Education, said data was compiled on the Marion County program’s activities, but reports were not sent on to the state so officials were unable to gauge participation or performance.
Republican Rep. Diane Black wants Congress to start 2012 by making major changes to the federal budget process. Black, of Gallatin, and other Republicans on the House Budget Committee introduced a package of 10 budget reforms last week, including legislation that would bring back a modified version of a presidential power not used since the 1990s: the line-item veto. The proposal, called “expedited rescission,” is gaining momentum in the House.
Glenys Cushman was grabbing a quick cigarette here the other day outside her federally subsidized apartment. The rules say no smoking inside or within 25 feet of the entrance, and though she hates having to go outside, she has come to accept it.
Toxic waste languishes beneath slab Building 81-10 was constructed in 1943 as a tin shop to support the Manhattan Project work at Y-12. In the 1950s, as the Cold War took hold, the relatively modest facility was converted to a salvage operation to help recover some of the mercury lost during the furious processing of materials for hydrogen bombs A 16-foot-high, gas-fired “roasting furnace” was the centerpiece of the recovery plant on Y-12’s southwest side.
In a far corner of the “Protected Area,” a high-security part of the plant where nuclear warhead parts are built and taken apart, sits a gray, unadorned warehouse that’s home to Y-12’s mercury stockpile. It doesn’t get many visitors. Inside the musty facility, known officially as Building 9720-26, are about 34,000 carbon-steel flasks stacked neatly on pallets.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., knows a lot about mercury. He’s particularly familiar with mercury in Oak Ridge. Alexander was governor of Tennessee in November 1982 when state inspectors posted East Fork Poplar Creek as a health hazard because of mercury pollution and began applying pressure on the U.S. Department of Energy — really, for the first time — to change its environmental practices.
Faced with scandals and complaints involving teachers who misuse social media, school districts across the country are imposing strict new guidelines that ban private conversations between teachers and their students on cellphones and online platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The policies come as educators deal with a wide range of new problems.
Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and nearly every other Republican presidential candidate has visited the same sprawling factory complex here in recent months. They came to talk about business and manufacturing and, of course, to hit hard on the dominant theme of the campaign trail: unemployment and the struggling economy.
Economists call it the “shortsightedness effect.” Government decisions tend to be biased against actions with easily recognized current costs and less-obvious future benefits. Politicians prefer it to be the other way around. They prefer the benefits to show up before the next election — the costs later.
As Bill Haslam might say, frankly, I’m not convinced that our governor is ready to apply the brakes to fellow Republicans who are pushing an incredibly aggressive conservative agenda in the Legislature. But, on the other hand, given his gentle nature, some of the things he’s been saying lately could be seen as a review of potentially adjusting foot position below the dashboard of state government.
It’s time to emphasize an important point about public higher education in Tennessee: While price is going up, cost has gone down. Then why is tuition increasing?
Tennessee’s new voter ID law makes it needlessly difficult for voters to comply with the law and ensure their right to vote. The same can be said of similar laws passed this year by 11 other states — all dominated by Republican-controlled legislatures — and previously passed by six other states controlled by Republicans.
Outrage over the actions of disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner have provoked a genuine but misplaced legislative remedy for the situation. Two area legislators are proposing changes to a state anti-corruption law that prevents officeholders convicted of felonies from receiving retirement benefits.
Rutherford County commissioners and planners have some weighty decisions to make with a comprehensive zoning resolution as they shape the county for the next 50 years. Residents turned out in full force last week during a public hearing on the proposal to voice concerns about everything from property rights to quarry regulations.
The suicide of a Cheatham County high school senior should show every Tennessee legislator how devastatingly dangerous the “don’t say gay” law would be. State lawmakers plan to debate again, come January, the legislation that would forbid teachers and school officials in middle and elementary grades from teaching any lesson involving homosexuality.
While German carmaker Volks-wagen has long been a successful company, who would have imagined even as recently as a few years ago that it would be in a position to challenge the “big boys” as the leading automaker in the world? Volkswagen, that’s who! It was five years ago that Volkswagen set its sights on becoming the biggest carmaker in the world — by 2018.
Voicing opposition to vouchers, a Bradley County Board of Education member asks, “How can we afford to give any of our money to any private school, no matter what the argument may be?” Here’s how: Ignore the “arguments” and look at the facts.
Bills pushed in Congress would clamp speech, invade privacy What images come to mind with the term “online piracy”? Shady websites advertising downloads of songs, television shows and movies that they do not actually own the rights to are an obvious example. But what about a copyrighted story or photograph posted among friends on Facebook?
When a gangster breaks into your home and steals your jewelry, investigators find DNA evidence to pursue the crime. But after a Russian-based website rips off a hit song with the click of a mouse or the touch of a keypad, U.S. law enforcement doesn’t even blink an eye. Dedicated cyber-criminals exploit America’s greatest asset, its creative power, without recourse. The result: Jobs, small businesses and U.S. exports are forced to walk the plank and drown in a sea of cyber-lawlessness.
If you were alarmed when you saw SWAT teams ridding public parks of the First Amendment in the form of Occupy Wall Street, you will be sick when a powerful Congress/corporate SWAT team clears cyberspace of the First Amendment. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was argued last week in a two-day markup session of the House Judiciary Committee.
There are many ways to rein in Medicare spending without scrapping the system and starting over. Republicans are arguing that helping older and disabled Americans buy private insurance would be cheaper for the federal government and better for beneficiaries.