This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he’s abandoning his proposal to do away with average class size restrictions in Tennessee. The Republican governor’s decision came as a growing chorus of educators — and parents and the lawmakers who represent them —criticized the idea, fearing the change would hurt teaching standards because more classrooms would be filled to capacity. Haslam said in a press conference in his Capitol office that his plan was thwarted by the challenge of explaining that the measure’s goal is to give school districts more flexibility to hire high-priority teachers.
Governor Bill Haslam is backing off an attempt to let local school boards increase class size. The governor says he didn’t adequately explain what he was trying to do. The governor’s proposal relied on raising some class sizes in order to free up money to teach other subjects. The argument in favor was complex. But the argument against was simple and short – smaller classes are better. Haslam admits he was losing the battle of the message. House Speaker Beth Harwell, his ally in the lower chamber, says calling off the current effort is a good decision.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he has decided to drop a plan to eliminate one of Tennessee’s two caps on class sizes, amid opposition from teachers, school districts and some state lawmakers. Haslam told reporters that he will not ask the legislature to press forward this year with a bill that would strip the statewide cap on how large schools classes can be on average. Haslam presented the proposal in January as giving school districts more flexibility to pay some teachers more to take on difficult assignments.
Gov. Bill Haslam gave up Wednesday on his controversial proposal to let schools increase average class sizes, but said he plans to bring the measure back next year with modifications. “We still quite frankly are committed to the idea,” Haslam told reporters after informing legislative leaders. “But we have gotten feedback from across the state, whether it be school boards or superintendents or teachers or legislators [that] ‘we don’t think you’ve gotten this exactly right.’”
Gov. Bill Haslam backed away Wednesday from his legislative proposal to lift average class-size restrictions in public K-12 schools after the plan encountered a wave of opposition from local school boards fearful that it would lead to funding cuts by county commissions and city councils. The governor had unveiled the proposal at the start of the legislative session last month as a way to give local governments more flexibility and to free up money to increase pay for better teachers and teachers in hard-to-fill subjects and schools.
Williamson parents, schools fought proposal When Gov. Bill Haslam sought to dismantle collective bargaining by teachers unions, Republicans lined up to support him. When he said Tennessee’s teacher evaluations were too lax and their tenure too easy, his party backed some of the nation’s most stringent rules on both. But this year, when the governor suggested allowing larger class sizes to make way for optional teacher bonuses, his strongest opposition came from an unlikely camp — GOP stronghold Williamson County.
After facing a mountain of criticism, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam is abandoning his proposal to remove average class size restrictions in schools. We found out school systems, teachers, and parents had concerns about removing restrictions that would cap the number of students in a class based on enrollment numbers.
Gov. Bill Haslam Wednesday defended his legislative efforts to make secret the names of business owners getting millions of state taxpayer dollars to build or expand in Tennessee. The bill, set for a Senate floor vote this morning, would expand confidentiality provisions already in state law regarding the proprietary information of companies awarded taxpayer-funded incentives to include the names of owners of privately held companies.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to overhaul state civil service laws and make it easier to hire, promote or fire workers passed its first House test Wednesday even though the bill is not yet complete. State and Local Government Subcommittee members voted 6-3 to send the measure on to the full committee. Top administration officials, including Haslam’s deputy, former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, sat in the committee room watching. Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, was the lone Democrat to side with Republicans in supporting the measure.
Your boss offers you a 5 percent raise. The only catch is that in return you risk being fired at any time, without any right to an explanation. Would you take it? This is the dilemma that 26,000 Arizona state employees may soon face if Governor Jan Brewer’s proposed overhaul of the state’s personnel system becomes a reality. Her budget calls for a 5 percent raise for employees who voluntarily give up all civil service protections. Brewer argues that there’s no reason in this day and age for state workers to be treated differently than employees in the private sector, who generally have “at will” status and are promoted or fired based on their performance rather than being protected by seniority.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam met today with nursery growers and industry leaders and toured local nurseries to highlight Tennessee’s horticultural industry. Mrs. Haslam met with a small group of nurserymen at Boskey’s Grille in Manchester for a brief discussion on industry issues and to enlist their support for the landscape renovation project at the Tennessee Residence in Nashville.
The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities stopped at a local social service business Wednesday to get to know social workers and to hear about the work they are doing. Kimbrough Cooper, the CEO of Anchor for Life, Inc, the business where Commissioner James Henry stopped, said he looked forward to talking with the commissioner about their day-to-day activities and to learn more about the future of the department.
Since the Republicans took control of the state Legislature and the governor’s office, there has been some tension between longtime state bureaucrats, many of them Democrats from the McWherter era, and the new regime. Two longtime directors of the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation were fired last week with no explanation other than it was time for a change. Paul Davis, head of water pollution control, and Mike Apple, head of solid waste management, were let go.
Voters started heading to the polls Wednesday to cast their ballots in a presidential primary that could pack more punch than most in Tennessee. The first day of early voting for the March 6 election also provided the first test of the state’s controversial new voter ID law, which requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. But county election officials said voters were uniformly prepared, which the Tennessee Republican Party chairman said was a testament to education efforts by Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office.
Year after $6M bequest, TSU sees 84% drop Charitable donations to colleges and universities increased 8.2 percent nationwide last year — but that largesse didn’t extend to Tennessee, where donations fell 5 percent across 34 institutions studied by the Council for Aid to Education. Vanderbilt University raised more than any other institution in the state — $119.4 million — and ranked No. 52 nationally for charitable donations. But donations to Vanderbilt fell 3.6 percent from fiscal 2010, when the college brought in $123.9 million, according to a study made public on Wednesday. Other Tennessee colleges and universities saw larger drops.
Workshops beginning Thursday across Tennessee are designed to help farmers with harvesting, storage, direct marketing and merchandising. The four-hour workshops are being presented by the University of Tennessee Center for Profitable Agriculture. The events, titled “Decision Making at Harvest and Beyond,” are Thursday in White Pine; Jackson, Feb. 20; and Clarksville, March 5. Topics include choosing the best time and how to harvest fruit crops for the right market. Also to be discussed is storage conditions for various fruit crops.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn won’t disclose details concerning what sparked a TBI investigation into allegations of legislative misconduct by state Reps. Tony Shipley and Dale Ford. The TBI probe focused on whether the two upstate GOP lawmakers illegally pressured the Tennessee Board of Nursing to reinstate three nurse practitioners suspended from practicing in March 2010. The nursing board took emergency action against the three nurses, who were accused of over-prescribing medications at the now-defunct Appalachian Medical Center in Johnson City.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrested a Dyersburg doctor on Tuesday on multiple charges of fraudulent billing and illegally prescribing controlled substances after she was indicted by the Dyer County Grand Jury on Monday. Dr. Debra McKenzie, 53, 115 Poplar Circle, was indicted on one count of TennCare fraud, one count of insurance fraud and one count of improperly prescribing a controlled substance.
High-profile Knoxville lawyer Herb Moncier continues to fight for his legal career, on two fronts. Last year, Moncier, 65, was suspended for 45 days, followed by a probation period of about eight months in which he could resume practicing law in state court but only under monitoring by lawyers appointed by the board. In Knoxville this week, a three-lawyer panel appointed by the board is holding a hearing on a petition to revoke the probation.
A bill that would restrict access to economic development records is drawing fire, with critics arguing it could open a door to corruption. A measure proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam to clear up disclosure laws has hit a barrier in the state Senate, amid persistent questions about whether it will actually conceal crucial economic development records from the public. The measure is scheduled to come up for debate again this morning.
A legislative impasse that threatened existence of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission may have been eliminated. According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, a House committee has approved a bill that would change the commission’s name, but not its basic functions. The House Conservation Subcommittee passed the measure sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, after amending it to comport with a deal Matheny said was endorsed by Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell. The new commission would continue to have 13 voting members with nine appointed by the governor and two each by the speakers of the House and Senate. The current commission will cease to exist on June 30 without legislative action.
A proposal that seeks to ban Tennessee public schools from teaching about gay issues is advancing in the House. The proposal, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed the House Education Subcommittee on a voice vote Wednesday. House sponsor Joey Hensley added an amendment that mirrors the Senate version of the proposal, which passed last year. The legislation limits all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade.
As students protest, House subcommittee reignites debate A bill to restrict teaching about homosexuality before high school cleared its first hurdle in the state House of Representatives, setting the stage for a second year of debate on the appropriate way to handle discussion about gays and lesbians with schoolchildren. The House Education subcommittee approved the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill on a voice vote Wednesday, renewing a debate that roiled the legislature last spring over whether elementary and middle schools should be allowed to initiate discussions about homosexuality.
A proposal aimed at stopping Occupy Nashville protesters from staying overnight on the Capitol complex comes before both chambers of the Legislature Thursday. The measure up in the House and Senate would make it a misdemeanor to lay down “bedding for the purpose of sleeping.” The proposal refers to items associated with camping, “including tents, portable toilets, sleeping bags, tarps, propane heaters, cooking equipment and generators.” Under the legislation, violators would be fined as much as $2,500 and face up to nearly a year in jail.
Much of Occupy Nashville is breaking camp, in fear of being forced off the plaza outside the state capitol. A proposed law to remove the group’s tents is up for votes in both the state House and Senate tomorrow. A few occupiers say they’ll wait it out and risk arrest if the law passes. Tom Sweet was busy hauling a truckload of camping supplies off to storage. He says once the fear of a police raid is over, protesters will be back on the plaza with signs, but no tents.
State Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville was among 77 lawmakers in Tennessee and 400 state legislators nationwide who filed an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to reject the authority of Congress to enforce the individual mandate of the health care reform passed by President Obama. Gov. Bill Haslam has also joined a similar brief being filed by the Republican Governor Public Policy Committee.
State Rep. Bill Harmon, of Dunlap, said Wednesday he will not seek re-election to the House but is considering possible races for the state Senate or Sequatchie County mayor. “I’d like to thank all the people in the four counties I represented for the past 10 years for the opportunity to serve as their representative,” said Harmon, a Democrat whose 37th Legislative District includes Sequatchie, Marion, Grundy and Van Buren counties. Harmon is the second House Democrat to announce he will not seek re-election following the passage of a Republican-drawn redistricting plan.
Nashville Democrat Janis Sontany says she won’t run for re-election. She’s the fourth Democrat in the state legislature to step down rather than run in newly redrawn districts. Sontany has been a strong proponent for women’s issues in the Tennessee House over the last decade, representing a South Nashville district which sprawls across both sides of Nolensville Road. The Republican controlled legislature redraw that district to make it more narrow and pushed it further south to the county line, essentially placing Sontany in a graphic area that was 70-percent new.
State Sen. Tim Barnes’ work to bring unemployment benefits to displaced military spouses earned him an invitation to the Pentagon from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Barnes, D-Adams, was on hand Wednesday for the unveiling of a report that gives states tips on supporting the unique challenges that face military spouses. The legislation that spurred Barnes’ high-profile invite is working its way through the Tennessee General Assembly. The Senate is expected to approve it today, he said.
The daughter of state Rep. Joe Carr was arrested early Monday morning on DUI and weapon possession charges, according to Murfreesboro Police. Madeline Carr, 26, of Barfield Crescent Road in Murfreesboro was pulled over around 2:20 in the morning when her vehicle was spotted traveling southbound on Broad Street on the rim of its tire, police said. An officer reported she smelled like alcohol, had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes and was unsteady on her feet.
A group of residents and elected officials charged with looking into possibly amending the Knox County Charter will not need the County Commission to sign off on any proposals as initially believed. Instead, any suggestions that the 27-member committee approves will go to the county’s Election Commission, which will put the proposals on the November ballot for voters to decide, committee members were told Wednesday night during the body’s first meeting.
Documents released Wednesday by the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. give a closer look at how a controversial compensation package was created for the organization’s CEO. In response to a records request, KTSC on Wednesday provided the News Sentinel with emails between president and CEO Gloria Ray and the organization’s former board chair, David Duncan.
Gloria Ray earned at least $7.50 for articles written about the cancellation of the Honda Hoot among bonuses she received for national and regional publicity about Knoxville. Though $7.50 may not seem to be much, the bonuses do add up, according to Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. records. In 2008-09 she received a $5,250 media coverage bonus. In 2009-10, Ray’s media coverage bonus was $6,713. That bonus leapt to $16,613 in 2010-11.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell this week announced the launch of a new broad-based health care project designed to improve public health and reduce health care costs for county residents. Healthy Shelby will be coordinated by Luttrell, along with his Public Health Policy adviser, Dr. Kenneth Robinson, former Tennessee commissioner of health. “My role in this is as a facilitator,” Luttrell said. “I look across the horizon and I see holes in our health care delivery system. Now I’m in the process of pulling in advisers who can better define what the holes are and how we can fill them.”
The federal government’s decision to delay implementation of a complex set of new medical codes has been met largely with disapproval by Middle Tennessee health care officials. Speaking at a conference hosted Feb. 14 by the American Medical Association , CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said she was committed to “re-examining” the pace of implementing a new set of codes, though she did not give a specific date nor an indication how far the deadline date — which had been set for October 2013 — would be pushed back.
Army Corps of Engineers say findings to help in future emergencies The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday released a detailed technical report they say will be the definitive record of the May 2010 flood and will provide the foundation for future improvements. The 188-page report is filled with every detail about the flood – record rainfall amounts across the Nashville area, record stream and river elevations, accounting of the some $2.4 billion in damage and 26 deaths from those events.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on Wednesday released its May 2010 Post Flood Technical Report for the Cumberland and Duck River Basins. The report is intended to provide local communities and agencies with a thorough and complete understanding of the record flood event of May 1-4, 2010. Just weeks after the historic flood, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper joined U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in openly questioning the Corps’ preparedness and response to the flooding.
Middle Tennessee police officers and deputies will gather in Nashville in two weeks for free training on how to fight terrorism. They’ll hear from experts from the national Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council and the Combating Terrorism Task Force at West Point. Muslim speakers will explain Islam and its code of conduct to them. What they won’t hear at the event, organized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is anyone from Strategic Engagement Group, the Virginia-based nonprofit that’s been training the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office this week. Its leaders have drawn criticism for painting Muslims as violent believers who follow a law not protected by the Constitution.
Lawmakers in seven states are considering legislation that would make it easier for parents to opt out of mandatory immunization requirements for their children, sparking debate among public health experts and some parents. All but two states —West Virginia and Mississippi — as well the District of Columbia, allow parents to opt out of school-required vaccines based on religious beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Those two states are now considering bills that would allow exemptions because of philosophical beliefs.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu made a quick visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory on Wednesday, got a briefing on advanced computer simulations of nuclear energy and even took a turn experiencing the 3-D environment of a virtual reactor’s nuclear core. Chu’s stop in Oak Ridge was part of a daylong trip to underscore the Obama administration’s support of nuclear energy.
General Motors Co. plans to freeze its U.S. pension plan for longtime white-collar workers and give all salaried employees annual bonuses but not pay raises, though the announcement seems to have no impact on Spring Hill unionized workers, a local union official said. The Detroit-based automaker said roughly 19,000 salaried workers hired before 2001 will move from a traditional pension with guaranteed payments to a 401(k)-type plan with contributions based on salary and bonuses. Employees hired after 2001, which represent about 30 percent of the company’s salaried workforce, already are in that defined contribution plan.
Kinion Dunn, whose DBT Inc. factory in Sparta, Tenn., makes heavy machinery for the auto industry, likes the fact that President Barack Obama wants more manufacturing jobs to come home from overseas. But he’s also cautious enough to see that tax incentives (and possibly penalties on firms that keep thousands of jobs overseas) suggested by Obama may not be enough to trump one costly rule of thumb. That is, if a manufacturer makes a product in the United States, it typically costs 20 percent more to produce it here compared with abroad, the National Association of Manufacturers estimates.
A severance package for a third senior Erlanger Health System executive brings to nearly $1 million the amount the hospital has agreed to pay out to former employees in this year. Dr. Keith Helton, who was senior vice president of physician services until last fall, was given a six-month severance of $92,492, according to his Jan. 22 separation agreement.
More doctors, faced with higher operating costs and shifting health-care rules, are selling their practices to hospitals and insurers or signing deals that turn back-office operations over to more experienced financial hands. Seven months ago, nearly 18 employees at Dr. Melvin Lightford’s three-physician Nashville medical practice went to work for a division of the Saint Thomas Health hospital system. Lightford signed an agreement that lets Saint Thomas handle billing, marketing, human resources, accounting and other functions for his medical practice. Lightford kept the name MetroCenter Health Care Group.
U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr. has settled any remaining questions about the size of the board that will govern the consolidated city-county school district set to open its doors in 2013: It’s up to the Shelby County Commission. In a conference with attorneys involved in the school consolidation case Tuesday, Mays said the consent agreement reached last year permitted the commission to create a board of up to 13 members, trumping a county charter provision governing the size of the school board.
Despite differences, all agree on this one The unified school board will not decide until late March or April what its position is on excess schools, but the immediate message to lawmakers is that the board is capable of managing its own affairs. In three hours Wednesday evening, factions on the board’s school facilities committee butted heads, laughed, frowned, bargained and cajoled each other before deciding that whatever suburban municipal districts form, the school board is obligated to have schools for the 105,000 children currently enrolled in Memphis City Schools and the 18,000 who live in unincorporated Shelby County.
The Nashville City Paper has sued the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association demanding access to files that were part of an investigation that led to sanctions against an elite private school in Nashville. The suit, filed Wednesday in the Chancery Court of Davidson County, asks a court to order the TSSAA to turn over a report by Montgomery Bell Academy outlining any financial contributions that may have been given to students or their families.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s ambitious drive to reduce the size of Kansas’ government has triggered a Republican Party family feud in one of the nation’s reddest states. The Kansas legislature this week has debated key elements of Mr. Brownback’s agenda, which includes legislation that would flatten the state income tax, overhaul school financing, place Medicaid recipients into a private managed-care system, replace the state pension system with a 401(k)-style model and cap annual state spending growth at 2%.
In Nashville today, the state Senate is taking up a bill that would shield from the public’s view details about companies that receive incentives from state government. These incentives, which have become necessary in the battlefield of economic development, come from tax dollars, yet the Haslam administration wants to shield their recipients from the public eye. The administration is wrong to provide that shield. The bill, pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam and sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, would keep private information about companies receiving incentives.
Local officials continue showing just how serious this community is about cracking down on synthetic drugs. The latest example is the creation of a task force called TN-ZERO Crime Task Force of Rutherford County, which aims to eliminate not only illegal synthetic drug sales, but other societal ills such as sex trafficking, prescription drug abuse and illicit drug abuse, among others.
In the most egregiously misguided effort in the recent history of state politics, two House legislators are attempting to literally destroy our priceless wildlife resources for political and commercial gain. In 2011, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s (TWRA) Commission was up for standard reauthorization, but House Government Operations Committee Chairman Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, refused to hear the bill in his committee. As it stands, the commission will cease to exist June 30. Without the commission, no fishing, hunting or trapping seasons can be set, no budget can be approved, no licenses or permits can be issued.
The state legislature should reject a bill that would allow people 21 and older to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. We are generally cautious any time the government wants to dictate what people should do in their private lives and often believe the government should simply keep out. But, in this case, the state’s law that requires helmet use makes sense. We understand the attraction for some of being able to cruise down the road, unencumbered by a helmet. But this is much more than an issue of personal choice and freedom.
The adage says that figures don’t lie, but that liars can figure. Still, it’s hard to argue with solid numbers. That seems to sum up Federal Judge Thomas Wiseman’s reasoning that the TennCare program now meets its legal obligations to needy children in Tennessee. He dismissed a 14-year-old class-action lawsuit by Tennessee Justice Center, which claimed that the state failed to meet obligations to conduct periodic screening of 750,000 children who meet Medicaid standards and to provide them with needed treatment.
Why moderates win, Gingrich invisible, gun lobby doesn’t want to wait Thoughts on the current political scene: —So a rich guy decides to run for office. He calls all his friends, they call their friends, and they pony up a pile of cash. He then begins the race as the perceived “front runner.” The rest of the race is about whether anyone can catch him. Since the rich guy is a Republican, but not being well versed in Tea Party and movement conservative rhetoric, he is viewed with suspicion by the “base.” He is considered a moderate by the rank-and-file Republicans and is viewed that way by the media—which thinks that’s a sensible view for the general election.
Is it time for Internet retailers – companies like Amazon, Overstock, and eBay – to finally abandon the idea that Web sales should take place free from the burden of collecting state sales taxes? That’s a question that arises today thanks to two decades of policy-by-inaction – a strange soup of federal court decisions, conflicting state policies, and Internet boosterism. For all those years, policymakers have been so eager to nurture Web commerce as an engine of economic growth that they’ve dodged dealing with a basic inequity.