This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s first effort to reduce state boards will merge six panels with significant environmental duties into three, affecting one with regulatory power over gas stations, including the family’s Pilot Travel Centers. The Republican insists the proposal won’t diminish conservation efforts in Tennessee or present a conflict of interest for him.
The culture war may rage around him, but Gov. Bill Haslam seems determined to ignore it — at least publicly — and stick to his trademark tone of moderation as he enters his sophomore year in office. The Republican-dominated legislature is about to debate bills dealing with abortion, the Ten Commandments, sex education and transgender people in public restrooms — among other volatile topics — and state lawmakers are whipping up a storm of liberal outrage in the process of defending their proposals.
It’s no small source of frustration for Jimmy Cheek to hear that nothing ever changes at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus. “We have less money, less faculty and more productivity — and that message just does not get out,” says Cheek, who marked his third anniversary as chancellor on Feb. 1.
This is Tennessee’s annual Earthquake Awareness Week, which will include the second annual Great Central U.S. ShakeOut drill Tuesday. The drill at 10:15 a.m. CST will be on the 200th anniversary of the largest of the great New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, which created Reelfoot Lake.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett, State Sen. Lowe Finney and State Rep. Bill Sanderson were among the elected officials in attendance for a Friday morning conversation with Dyer County residents. The Legislative Coffee event was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and presented residents with a unique opportunity to discuss issues of concern with their state and local representatives.
The Capital Campaign for McIver’s Grant Public Library’s new building took a significant leap forward with a check presentation in the lobby of the current library on Friday, Feb. 3. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett visited Dyersburg with a big check in the amount of $100,000.
After a rockslide early this week covered much of Interstate 40 in Cocke County, TDOT representatives say all rock and debris has been removed. I-40 Westbound at milemarker 451 in Cocke County should have one lane open starting at around 2 a.m. this morning.
TN lawmakers seek to amend protections The First Amendment guarantees that public school students have the right to free speech. It also gives them the right to practice their religion.
Wine-in-groceries referendum bill stalled at startup The latest effort to legalize the sale of wine in Tennessee grocery stores appears stalled at the starting gate, but the sponsor insists that it’s only a matter of time until the effort is successful. Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, on Jan. 26 filed HB2874, which would allow sales of wine in supermarkets or groceries in any jurisdiction where voters approved in a local referendum.
After easily outpacing legislative Democrats and the state Democratic Party in fundraising throughout 2011, Tennessee Republicans are sitting atop a huge, 3-to-1 cash advantage over their rivals, filings show. Fueled by the fundraising power of a GOP-led General Assembly and a Republican governor for the first time since 1869, the GOP has created a financial juggernaut to boost already impressive legislative majorities.
Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote plans to resign from the Board of Mayor and Alderman to challenge incumbent state Rep. Tony Shipley in the August GOP primary. Mallicote, an attorney, says he wants the 2nd House District seat to create jobs.
Closure of BankEast was one of state’s first in nearly decade A former Tennessee governor and the state’s current comptroller are among public figures with ties to an East Tennessee bank whose closure by regulators was one of the state’s first bank failures in nearly a decade. Former Gov. Don Sundquist sat on the Knoxville-based BankEast’s board. He and Comptroller Justin Wilson owned shares in its holding company.
When teachers and school leaders begin meeting this week to offer feedback on Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, it’s likely that the controversial component that measures the effectiveness of teachers through test scores will be a common thread of discussion. Halfway through the first year of implementing a new evaluation system, teachers have had several in-class observations, which make up half their overall scores.
This story, the second in a three-part series examining the new teacher evaluation systems being used in Memphis and Shelby County, is a collaboration between The Commercial Appeal and The Hechinger Report. Hechinger is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education news service based at Teachers College, Columbia University.
There was a time, during years one and two of his mayoral tenure, when it seemed Karl Dean would take over Nashville’s public schools. He was on the fast track to be “The Education Mayor” in the truest sense.
When Brooke Pickard of Thompson’s Station learned about the Bring Your Own Technology pilot program at four Williamson County high schools, she knew exactly what Santa Claus would bring her children for Christmas. It was a no-brainer, she said.
Farmers in West Tennessee are working on a plan to get local produce on lunch menus at Memphis City Schools by fall. The school district has said it intends to spend $10 million for regional produce next year instead of getting its supply from the federal commodity program and commercial vendors. David Levy of Willow Oaks Flower Farm in Brownsville, Tenn., told The Commercial Appeal that it’s a great opportunity for small farmers in the area (http://bit.ly/AgC7m3 ).
Jackson-Madison County School Board member Bill Baxter is proposing a change that he says will “place respect” back into the school district during tonight’s work session. In an email sent to board members, Baxter suggests that students who display discipline problems in school should be given three strikes.
Medicaid spending is a matter of urgency almost everywhere in the country right now, but in few places is the urgency as palpable as it is here, where the governor refers to the federal-state health insurance program for the poor as “welfare,” says it’s necessary to eliminate coverage for 65,000 adults, and wants to stop paying room and board for some 2,000 elders who live in group homes. All these ideas are part of Republican Governor Paul LePage’s plan to close a $220 million hole in the state’s biennial Medicaid budget.
If you accept the conclusion of a recent study, Tennessee’s Department of Tourist Development may be seen as a profit-making agency. According to Longwoods International, $42 million in state and local government tax revenue was produced from state-sponsored advertising that promotes Tennessee as a great place to visit. The department’s budget is $20 million. Ergo, the department returned more than $2 in tax revenue for every $1 in tax money spent.
Tennessee has endured three major scandals in modern history, each of which was followed by a flurry of elected officials trying to get ethical. But after a few years go by, slippage commences. There’s a move like that afoot right now. Rep. Philip Johnson, R-Pegram, has filed a bill that would make it easier for lobbyists to target lawmakers whose vote they need with invitations to fancy parties soaked with fine liquor and piled high with shrimp.
Members of Tennessee’s Republican congressional delegation are reserving judgment on giving President Barack Obama authority to merge several business-focused federal agencies, while being quick to criticize the Democratic leader for not doing more. “It’s not nearly enough,” says U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. “I applaud any effort to save money in the federal government, but this really isn’t even a drop in the bucket.”
By Department of Energy standards, it was a relatively small contract, valued at about $15.8 million over five years, but the recently awarded contract was of interest because it involved the outsourcing of uranium work from the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. Y-12, of course, is the government’s designated Uranium Center of Excellence. The National Nuclear Security Administration awarded the contract to Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Operations Group to process highly enriched uranium scrap from Y-12, and the work will be done at B&W’s processing operation at Lynchburg, Va.
The expression “I’m all ears” should be the operative principle of the Transition Planning Commission as it listens to David Pickler’s ideas on how best to organize a unified school district in Shelby County. Pickler, you recall, was the last chairman of the Shelby County Schools board. He opposed the whole idea of merging Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.