This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Imagine a young man who would one day be governor of Tennessee, slipping and sliding as he runs down a snow-covered highway, blood on his shirt. He’s just crashed into a state trooper’s car, knocking out one of his own teeth, now fearing that whoever was in the other vehicle could be in danger. He goes to grab the trooper, who yanks him by his tie and cusses him out. Political friends and foes alike, meet Bill Haslam. In a wide-ranging talk – covering everything from the early death of his mother to his evolution from aspiring pastor to business man to politician – the Republican governor gave a rare glimpse of himself Tuesday evening. “If you really are in this to get the best answer, then you have to be yourself,” Haslam said of his job atop state government. “It’s incredibly hard to stay yourself.”
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to substantially reform the state’s hiring, firing and promotions process passed another House committee Wednesday afternoon. The legislation, also known as the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management (TEAM) Act, would eliminate a state system that gives priority to an employee’s seniority and replace it with a system where employees are evaluated based on merit, according to its sponsors. The House Government Operations Committee discussed when the new rules and the appeals process for complaints would be put in place if the bill passes. The bill would establish a nine-member board of appeals, ideally with geographic, racial and gender diversity, that would handle appeals from state employees.
Gov. Bill Haslam today stopped at the University of Tennessee Medical Center to visit a critically injured state trooper and pass on his well wishes to gathered relatives and law enforcement officers. Haslam was in Knoxville for the dedication of an electrical engineering and computer sciences building at the University of Tennessee. During that visit, he mentioned his plans to visit Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Lowell Russell. Haslam has spent time with Russell in the past. When a U.S. Marine who Russell helped raise was killed last year in Afghanistan, Haslam attended the marine’s funeral.
Gov. Bill Haslam paid a hospital visit Wednesday to the Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper injured in a fiery crash on Interstate 40 early Tuesday morning. Sgt. Lowell Russell, of Vonore, remains in critical condition at UT Medical Center. He was in his cruiser doing paperwork after a traffic stop when a tractor-trailer driver who had fallen asleep hit the vehicle just before 3:00 a.m. The cruiser caught fire. Paramedics, a police officer and the truck driver rescued Sgt. Russell. Officers arrested the truck driver, Eric Dwayne Lewis, 32, of Orlando, Florida. He’s charged with aggravated assault with reckless intent, reckless endangerment and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. He’s being held in the Knox County Jail on bonds totaling $10,500.
Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper, Lowell Russell, is in critical condition at UT Medical Center battling for his life after a tractor trailer slammed into his cruiser. But he’s not alone. His brother, Cory, hasn’t left his side since Russell was taken to the hospital Monday morning. He’s also got dozens of THP troopers and other family members and friends waiting patiently at the hospital for news about the man they all love. One told us, “It’s just amazing what he’s done with his life and how dedicated he is to helping other people.” A Tennessee highway patrolman for 14 years, friends say Lowell Russell never met a stranger, and touches the lives of everyone he meets. Even Governor Bill Haslam stopped by the hospital to wish him a speedy recovery.
On Wednesday, campus’ iconic Hill dedicated a new addition to its surroundings. This new landmark is the state-of-the-art Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building. The dedication was attended by namesake Min Kao, along with his wife Fan, Gov. Bill Haslam, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, President Joe DiPietro and a host of other officials. The building, which cost over $37.5 million to construct — $12.5 million of which came from the Kaos — will serve to augment and hopefully advance the college. “The University of Tennessee opened its doors and offered me an opportunity to grow in my field,” said Kao is a press release from the university.
Balloons tumbled from the ceiling Wednesday, ribbons cascaded five stories, and cannons shot confetti into the expansive atrium of the new Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building on the campus of the University of Tennessee. Several hundred onlookers leaned against the railings and sat in rows of acrylic chairs on the landings to hear Gov. Bill Haslam, UT administrators and the building’s namesake and benefactor dedicate the $37.5 million building. “It is my hope that our future graduates will one day look back at the Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science building with the same fondness as I have for Ferris Hall and remember it as a place that inspires great thinking,” Min Kao told the crowd, referring to the building that had previously housed the electrical engineering department.
Two weeks after a tornado killed two people in Cumberland County, Governor Bill Haslam has yet to tour the damage there, or in any other hard hit towns in East Tennessee. He said the damage is too wide spread, but he’ll continue to pressure FEMA for help. Governor Haslam said, “Its very critical to the communities impacted so I mean, one of the things the Governor can do is continue to put pressure on the feds to come through for us.” Deputy governor Claude Ramsey already visited a number of the tornado sites.
Governor Bill Haslam says he’s doing his part to help lure Peyton Manning to Tennessee. The legendary NFL quarterback played college ball here, and is said to be meeting with top Titans officials as he looks for a new home. Haslam was asked at an event last night if he had any details on recruiting Manning, drawing chuckles, and then this: HASLAM: “I texted him to say ‘free temporary housing in the governor’s residence if you come to Nashville.’” (laughter) INGRAM: “Did you really do that? Because he is a friend, right?” HASLAM: “He– It’d be terrific if he came here. Peyton is the real deal, he really is. He’d be great on the field, but he’s a great guy.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration won’t weigh in on mountaintop mining legislation that has put state GOP lawmakers and a pro-environment group at odds. “We’re sort of neutral on that. … We defer to the legislature on the (mountaintop mining) original bill or amendment,” Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Commissioner Robert Martineau Jr. said of the situation at the Tennessee Environmental Conference on Wednesday. The bill as introduced by state Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, would prohibit TDEC from issuing or renewing a water quality permit that would allow surface coal mining operations to alter any ridge line above 2,000 feet.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill to require working carbon monoxide detectors in leased recreational vehicles. The bill was sponsored by two Clarksville Democrats, Sen. Tim Barnes and Rep. Joe Pitts, in response to the deaths of five people from carbon monoxide poisoning at a biker charity event last year. The measure requires all lease or rental agreements to contain a statement acknowledging that the vehicle is equipped with a working detector. Police said the deaths were accidental after a generator was found near a vent for the trailer where the five people were sleeping. There was no working carbon monoxide detector in the trailer.
A proposal to change the name of the state Department of Mental Health has been signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The legislation adds “Substance Abuse Services” to the department’s name. The governor’s office announced Wednesday that he had signed it. It unanimously passed the Senate 32-0 and was approved 93-3 in the House.
The state comptroller’s office says a current tax arrangement on solar energy is unconstitutional, upping the pressure on legislators to cast the policy aside as a fight over its purpose escalates. A bill in the Tennessee General Assembly would change the tax treatment of solar companies, and various segments of the industry have spoken up, decrying it as a massive tax increase in place of an incentive they’d been anticipating. Jason Mumpower, executive assistant to state Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson, today cited a 1986 attorney general opinion, saying that a justification used for the treatment of solar installations is not constitutional.
Trucker’s log book discrepancies cited State authorities are requesting a federal investigation into discrepancies discovered in the log book of a truck driver charged in the fiery collision along Interstate 40 in West Knoxville that critically injured a state trooper Tuesday. Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Lowell Russell, 39, remained hospitalized in critical condition after he was struck by a passing tractor-trailer while parked on the shoulder of the westbound lanes near Walker Springs Road shortly before 3 a.m. The driver of the flatbed — Eric D. Lewis, 32, of Orlando, Fla. — told investigators he was falling asleep and had stopped not long before the crash to splash water on his face, according to court records.
A new $80 million plan shows dramatic changes to U.S. 27, the arterial highway that pumps more than 70,000 cars per day through the heart of Chattanooga. Under the plan released by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, not much will remain of the southern portion of the expressway — the 1.5-mile stretch between Interstate 24 and the Olgiati Bridge — that has roots dating back to the 1940s. “Even when the design was built, it was below standard, but compromises were made in the design to allow for the fourth street interchange,” according to Jon Van Winkle, city traffic engineer.
State transportation “help trucks” will be in the Tri-Cities this weekend to assist with heavy traffic expected for NASCAR races Saturday and Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Four lime-yellow trucks from the Tennessee Department of Transportation in Knoxville will be available to do a variety of functions from clearing stalled cars to changing flat tires. The trucks are four-wheel drive and equipped with push bumpers, emergency work lights, air compressors and other tools. “Help trucks” are also used in Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis.
State troopers will be working around the clock for drunken driving enforcement during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Fifty sobriety and driver license checkpoints are planned across the state Saturday and Sunday. The Tennessee Highway Patrol will be doing bar checks and have saturation patrols, the THP said in a news release. Last year, the THP made 18 impaired driving arrests statewide during the St. Patrick’s Day enforcement. So far this year, state troopers have made 1,106 arrests for drunken driving, up more than 47 percent over a year ago.
The city of Dyersburg continues to make improvements and renovations to the Dyersburg Regional Airport since it assumed a management role just three months ago. The latest improvement comes in the form of a $63,386 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation for much-needed equipment at the airport. According to the narrative submitted to TDOT, the airport does not own any equipment for the maintenance of the 244-acre facility and grounds. “We want to maintain the airport in a professional manner for the safety and beauty of pilots, visitors and residents,” said Mayor John Holden.
A House panel has advanced a Democratic proposal to repeal Tennessee’s new voter ID law, but state election officials are expressing confidence that the measure won’t pass this year. The House State and Local Government Subcommittee voted 5-3 Wednesday in favor of a measure sponsored by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville. State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins stressed that the current voter ID law remains in effect unless both chambers pass a repeal. The panel had earlier rejected several other efforts to tweak the voter ID law passed enacted last year, including efforts to exempt senior citizens and to allow students to use IDs issued by colleges.
A bill repealing Tennessee’s controversial new voter ID law unexpectedly passed a Republican-controlled House panel Wednesday. Republican officials later predicted the bill won’t get much further. The measure would eliminate a Republican-backed requirement passed last year that mandates registered voters have state or federally issued photo identification before being allowed to cast a ballot. It was approved on a 5-3 vote by members of the House State and Local Government Committee. Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Kent Williams, an independent from Elizabethton, sided with the panel’s three Democrats, including Rep. Tommie Brown, of Chattanooga, in favor of the repeal bill.
A subcommittee of state lawmakers took an unexpected step yesterday toward repealing a controversial new voter ID requirement. But the state elections coordinator was quick to cast doubt on the repeal effort. Last year the legislature passed a law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls. Critics have argued that could turn some legitimate voters away. Late yesterday a bill aimed at undoing the new rule won approval in a House subcommittee, with minority Democrats getting help from an Independent and one Republican. Moments later, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told reporters he doubts the repeal effort will get much further.
The House sponsor of a proposal that seeks to cut some students’ lottery scholarships in half said Wednesday that he supports an amendment that would make such a move contingent on lottery revenues. Republican Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville added the amendment in the House Education Subcommittee and the legislation advanced to the full education committee on a voice vote. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee. The original legislation sought to reduce by 50 percent the award for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.
A bill to ban truck stops within a half-mile of neighborhoods in Nashville and Memphis has failed. The House State and Local Government Subcommittee on Wednesday voted 5-2 against the bill sponsored by Rep. Joe Towns. The Memphis Democrat argued that truck stops attract drugs, prostitution and other activities that hurt home prices and are undesirable to communities. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick noted that the bill wouldn’t affect existing truck stops, which would give those facilities an unfair business advantage.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill may soon be overshadowed by what some call the “Don’t Have Sex” bill. At issue is how sex education is taught to hundreds of thousands of Tennessee students. House Bill 3621, sponsored by conservative Republican Representative Jim Gotto, who said it “clarifies that abstinence is the focus” for sex education. “Abstinence in the proposed law means abstinence from any kind of sexual activity. Apparently we need to so do something with our sex education from what we are doing today, because it must not be working very well,” he said.
While state lawmakers delayed voting on the guns in parking lots bills in committee again Wednesday, there were serious talks happening behind the scenes at the Capitol. Gun owners and business owners both put pressure on Tennessee leaders, and one of the top lobbyists for the National Rifle Association visited lawmakers to let them know that this is the main issue the NRA is watching. While some lawmakers are trying to seek a compromise, others believe this is an all-or-nothing issue. “Our position is as long as what’s being transported is legal, the employer doesn’t have any say in what comes on the property in your car,” said John Harris, with the Tennessee Firearms Association.
A House panel has rejected a bill calling for the Tennessee General Assembly to meet every other year. The measure sponsored by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh failed on a voice vote on Wednesday. The Ripley Democrat said the measure was aimed at making the Legislature more efficient and at saving lawmaker expenses. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said he supported the idea in principle, but the Chattanooga Republican said his discussions with Texas lawmakers revealed that the biennial system just leads to more special sessions. A separate Fitzhugh bill seeking to reduce benefits for current and former lawmakers by $100 million was deferred for one week.
A measure to make the sale of synthetic drugs a felony in Tennessee is now moving through the state legislature. Representative Jon Lundberg from Sullivan County proposed the bill. The legislation would make it a felony for any person to knowingly manufacture, deliver or sell an “imitation controlled substance.” Synthetic drugs, such as K2 or Spice, often mimic a high similar to marijuana or other drugs. The legislation comes after several Tennessee counties asked the state legislature to make the sale of synthetic drugs a felony. Several lawmakers say the bill is not enforceable, but advocates say it’s needed to stop a drug epidemic.
State lawmakers today took up a measure which allowed them to debate dress codes for students – including the proper dress for “young lady” athletes. Memphis Democrat Joe Towns has tried for several years to make it against the law for young men to wear pants so loose that they sag below the waistline. His current bill came up in the House Education Subcommittee, where it got more help than he expected. That’s because it would ban any underwear from showing. Knoxville Republican Bill Dunn expressed his shock at the way women athletes dress. “…. having several children who play sports, it’s pretty shocking to me that you go to practices and games and young ladies are walking around in sports bras…would that be considered underwear?”
A bill to create a new Tennessee Wildlife Commission – which looks a lot like the old Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission – sailed out of a Senate committee today and is headed for the Senate floor. Several lawmakers have complained about everything from the length of a catch-able bass to the outlawing of wild hog hunting. But the General Assembly does not control the purse-strings of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and its commission, which sets those rules. The agency operates on fees paid by hunters and other sportsmen.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey spoke to families and advocates for the Family Support Program and members of the disability community on Wednesday. The event took place at the capitol at 11a.m. Hosted by the Tennessee Disability Coalition, the program focused on the Family Support Program in order to raise awareness about the vital services provided and necessity of maintaining funding for the next fiscal year. The Family Support Program represents over 4,500 families in Tennessee, and the community has said that they are grateful to have The Lieutenant Governor as their proponent.
The Mark Green for State Senate campaign will kick off on Friday, March 16, at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Clarksville. Dr. Green, joined by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, will announce his intention to run for the Republican nomination for Tennessee State Senate in District 22. Green is CEO of Align MD, a Clarksville-based healthcare company serving hospitals in five Southeastern states, according to a campaign news release. He also founded Align MD Foundation, which provides physicians for humanitarian mission trips to Ethiopia and Cambodia. Green served in the Army as a ranger and as a special operations physician, participating in the capture of Saddam Hussein. He interviewed Hussein on the night of his capture.
Brentwood is the first community in Tennessee to plug into the state’s Next Generation 911 network. Most of what’s new about the system is behind the scenes, but it could lead to big changes for 911 users in the future 911 call centers have a tendency to get overwhelmed during severe weather or other natural disasters. Lynn Questell of the state’s Emergency Communications Board says the new system will allow emergency responders to deal with those situations more efficiently. They will be able to plan out, under situation A we want our calls re-routed to this place. That will be automatically pre-programmed in if there’s overflow or anything like that. 911 first came about in the 60s.
Occupy Nashville protesters are challenging a new law meant to evict them from their camp near the state Capitol. The law prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it. On Wednesday, two protesters donned makeshift tents and walked around the plaza saying that the law criminalizes homelessness and that its penalties are excessive. The main provision of the law makes it a misdemeanor to lay down “bedding for the purpose of sleeping” on government-owned land at the Capitol. One of the protesters is Christopher Humphrey.
Tuesday’s meeting of the Bluff City Board of Mayor and Aldermen was fairly routine; they gave the vice mayor authority to sign a resolution on changes to the city charter. The authority was needed because Mayor Irene Wells has refused to sign the resolution. Several aldermen and members of the audience Tuesday took exception to her refusal. But Wells argued that the changes in the charter, and other changes made by the board, are diminishing the mayor’s authority. “All the duties [of the mayor] have been taken away,” she said. “It seems really extreme.” Mostly administrative, the changes to the charter were unanimously approved by the board at a meeting last week. Under the city’s charter, the mayor is required to sign all resolutions.
Tennessee senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are among 12 Republican senators who are questioning whether the Obama administration is using the Internal Revenue Service to target Tea-party related nonprofit organizations. The 12 senators sent a letter Wednesday to IRS commissioner Douglas Schulman seeking assurances that the agency’s recent string of inquiries into some Tea Party-affiliated nonprofits is not based on politics. The letter says the senators have received complaints of excessive IRS inquiries from Tea Party organizations in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Texas.
Tennessee’s two Republican Senators split today in the vote on a federal highway bill. The measure extends $109 billion in funding to thousands of construction projects. Senator Lamar Alexander voted yes, saying his decision was based in part on his experiences as Governor, recruiting the auto industry. Alexander says a good four-lane highway network was crucial to drawing companies like Nissan and GM. But Senator Bob Corker balked at how the measure was funded. Corker says it’s been designed to take ten years to pay for two years of spending – a move he calls a budget gimmick. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 22.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Tennessee Republican, has spent more money in the last quarter than any other House member on official mailings to constituents. Records obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press from the House’s Statement of Disbursements show that he spent $224,346.33 from October to December 2011. DesJarlais, who beat incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis in 2010 for the 4th Congressional District seat, said in an email that one of his top priorities was constituent outreach and that almost every mailing includes an issues survey that helps him make legislative decisions.
Cooper’s plan would cost legislators if budget late A long-shot proposal by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper to cut off lawmakers’ pay when they miss budget deadlines is gaining traction in Congress. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the measure, which would cut off lawmakers’ pay if they fail to pass an overall budget and all 12 spending bills financing government agencies before the Oct. 1 beginning of each fiscal year. Lawmakers couldn’t be paid retroactively, either. Cooper introduced the bill in December after one of his Nashville constituents asked him why Congress could miss its deadlines while the public had to pay taxes on time, he said.
The aim of the “medical home” concept is simple—improve primary care so fewer people need to go to the hospital. States experimenting with this nationwide movement say that when practiced by doctors serving Medicaid patients, it improves overall health conditions and saves billions of dollars in the long run. But what about the short run? Can medical homes cut Medicaid costs? There, experts differ. A new study published in The American Journal of Managed Care reports that only one of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies of patient-centered medical homes definitevely showed real cost savings — and it did not involve a Medicaid program.
A third of TVA’s six reactors — one at Sequoyah and one at Browns Ferry nuclear plants — have been given a bad grade by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to NRC’s newest annual assessment. And TVA’s third operating nuclear plant, Watts Bar, has been flagged by the NRC for a security issue that neither TVA nor NRC is allowed to talk about, according to spokesmen with both agencies. “As a fleet they have some issues they need to work to correct,” said NRC spokesman Joey Ledford. “We believe they are working to correct these issues, and the additional oversight that these plants are receiving should help.”
Despite the 2-year-old pay freeze for most federal employees, the biggest federal agency in Tennessee is still boosting the wages paid most of its workers. Unionized workers for the Tennessee Valley Authority have been granted wage increases in the current fiscal year averaging $1,729 per hourly employee, according to TVA union contract agreements implemented in October for white-collar workers and in January for trades and labor workers. Such pay increases, ranging from 2 to 3 percent for most of TVA’s 8,500 employees represented by labor unions, averaged less than the 3.1 percent increase in inflation over the past year.
This year’s unseasonably warm winter can officially be counted among Chattanooga’s hottest, according to the National Weather Service. Wednesday set another record high, with temperatures reaching 83 degrees in Chattanooga. The old record of 81 degrees was set in 1990. From December to February, the area maintained an average temperature of 46.8 degrees — 4.4 degrees warmer than usual, placing it in the hottest 10 percent of winters since the NWS began collecting data on the city in 1870. February featured an average daily high of 59.4 degrees, and Feb. 23 set a record daily high at 78 degrees.
Hamilton County Schools officials now have $3.6 million in their coffers for education. The money is the schools’ portion of $4.2 million in payment-in-lieu-of-tax funds collected during the 2011 tax year by County Trustee Bill Hullander’s office. The funds were due by Feb. 29. Known as PILOT funds, the money comes from the county’s deals used to lure businesses such as Volkswagen to the area. Under PILOT, businesses are allowed to pay only the schools’ portion of their property taxes for a certain number of years.
Members of four Bradley County elected bodies met over lunch Wednesday to hash out how to pay for about $38 million in immediate schools needs. The Bradley County Schools system has a short list of needs that amounts to about $26 million. “We have building needs, and one of them is Lake Forest [Middle School],” said county school board Chairman Charlie Rose, who taught at Lake Forest for 30 years. “It is a maintenance nightmare.” The school, which opened in 1976 and was built for elementary and middle school students, includes 17 buildings. County officials want to replace the academic buildings with one large classroom building and keep the remaining buildings, including the gymnasium and cafeteria.
Deputy Memphis City Schools Superintendent Irving Hamer announced his resignation Wednesday, March 14, from the school system effective at the end of April. Hamer resigned as the school system investigates an allegation of sexual harassment against him. The investigation centers on remarks Hamer reportedly made about a coworker at private party Feb. 18 at the home of MCS Superintendent Kriner Cash. Hamer came to Memphis with Cash nearly four years ago and spearheaded Cash’s reform agenda including the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, which won $90 million in funding over several years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to make a personal, perhaps quixotic pitch Wednesday for what could be the least popular proposal in Annapolis this year: raising the tax on gasoline. The governor is scheduled to testify before House and Senate committees on behalf of his $613 million-a-year plan to apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gas so Maryland can start spending hundreds of millions of dollars on backlogged road and transit projects. It won’t be an easy sale, and O’Malley knows it. Gas prices have been rising in recent months, and some forecasters predict that they could exceed $4 a gallon within weeks.
A jury found Virginia Tech negligent on Wednesday for failing to alert students quickly enough about a gunman loose on the university’s campus who eventually killed 33 people, including himself, in a 2007 massacre. Jurors in Christiansburg, Va., delivered the verdict in a wrongful-death suit brought by the families of two victims who died that day, Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde. The jury awarded $4 million to each family after deliberating for 3½ hours. State law, however, requires the award to be capped at $100,000—a fact that was withheld from jurors. The families have “obtained what they set out to do, to hold the university accountable for failure to warn,” said Robert Hall, one of their attorneys.
Wisconsin lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday allowing schools to teach abstinence only in sex-education classes and joined a small but growing number of states eliminating or de-emphasizing instruction on contraception. The measure passed the state’s Republican-controlled House 60-34, mainly on party lines, after winning approval last year in the Republican-majority Senate. It’s not clear whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker will sign the bill. Under the measure, schools still retain the option to teach about contraceptives, but they must emphasize abstinence as the best policy.
Tennessee lags behind the rest of the nation in the number of people with college degrees. But at the same time state leadership is pushing to increase the number of Tennesseans with degrees, it is cutting investment in Tennessee higher education. If the state is going to compete for future jobs that can support a middle-class standard of living, it must find a way to help the state’s public colleges and universities grow, compete for students and offer higher education at affordable tuition rates. Education researchers at Rice University estimate that in 10 years, 60 percent of new jobs will require a college degree. Studies by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission estimate that as much as 97 percent of future jobs that will support a middle-class standard of living will require some post-secondary education.
Congratulations to the legislature on the inelegant retreat from HB 229, the bill carrying the unfortunate moniker “Don’t Say Gay.” The sponsors tabled the bill, allowing it to die quietly after the session ends, but just in case they are in the mood, leaves an opening to waste time again on it next session. As The Tennessean reported, the legislature woke up to the fact that there was no need for it. “We found out there really is not sex education curriculum in K-8 right now,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Dunn. We would abstain from comment if the legislature would move on to more important tasks, but it seems they have sex on the brain. HB 229 was a simple, 100-word bill modifying the Tennessee Code section dealing with sex education (Section 49-6-1005) that potentially opened a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.
The images from a Knoxville hospital in April 2010 are chilling: A gunman lies sprawled in his own blood outside the doorway where patients are discharged. A SWAT team has Parkwest Medical Center on lockdown, and yellow crime scene tape is up. After shooting three hospital employees, killing one, the gunman turned his weapon on himself. A hospital emergency room or an intensive care unit waiting room are two of the most emotionally charged workplaces around. Add guns to the mix, and you turn a place where lives are saved into a place where lives are in danger. Our state legislators are currently considering legislation that would order private employers , including hospitals, to allow their employees to have firearms in their vehicles on private company property.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s budget proposal to increase funding by 18.9 percent over the next five years is bold. It is probably too bold to pass in its entirety, but it recognizes the need to invest more in education and should spur an important discussion about the value of the schools. McIntyre wants the county to increase the schools’ budget by $35 million above projected revenue growth. The additional money would fund a mix of projects that includes capital improvements, technology upgrades and teacher performance pay. School board members have endorsed the proposal.
More than any other commandment, the authors of the sacred scriptures consistently remind us of the need to love the stranger in our midst. This principle applies to the newcomer, to one who is new to us or who is different from us. We are instructed to extend an ample measure of care, and to offer a significant measure of protection, to them. We do this in the strong belief that they are to be included in a class of individuals that the Bible refers to as the most vulnerable in society; it is in this sense that the stranger is most often grouped with the widow and the orphan, with those most at risk of misunderstanding, intolerance and abuse.
The Obama administration is again standing in the way of a duly enacted state law that requires voters to present valid photo identification before casting ballots. The Obama Justice Department has already misused its authority by blocking such a law in South Carolina, and now it is going after the state of Texas, which enacted its voter ID law in 2011. Tennessee has a similar law, and our state’s recent Super Tuesday primary came and went without evidence that the voting rights of the elderly, poor and minorities were somehow infringed. In fact, the smooth primary voting in Tennessee was in marked contrast to the irresponsible predictions of “disenfranchisement” that opponents of the photo ID law had made prior to Super Tuesday.