This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, and President Barack Obama have announced that the federal government will provide individual assistance to 10 Tennessee counties for storm damage caused by severe weather between Feb. 29 and March 2. Bradley and Polk counties are included in the declaration, along with McMinn, Monroe, Hamilton, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Jackson and Overton counties. The disaster declaration, signed by the president, is for victims of the storms. The damage came from tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding. “My goal is always to make sure we get the needed assistance to as many families as possible,” Haslam said of the disaster assistance he requested.
Governor Bill Haslam announced Saturday the federal government will provide individual assistance in Bradley, Claiborne, DeKalb, Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton, and Polk counties under a disaster declaration of Feb. 29 to March 2, 2012. This comes after President Obama declared Tennessee a disaster area following the tornadoes that hit East Tennessee during that time. In a statement, Haslam said: “My goal is always to make sure we get the needed assistance to as many families as possible,” Haslam said of the disaster assistance he requested. “I’m very pleased the federal government has taken this step to provide needed relief to those individuals and families impacted by these storms.”
Ten East Tennessee counties were declared federal disaster areas after being ravaged by the tornadoes and severe storms of March 2, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today. Bradley, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton and Polk counties become eligible for federal assistance. Residents who sustained losses can begin applying for aid immediately through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Apply by registering online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362. “My goal is always to make sure we get the needed assistance to as many families as possible,” Haslam said.
President Barack Obama has declared 10 Tennessee counties disaster areas in the wake of storms and flooding between Feb. 29 and March 2. The designation, announced Friday night, means residents of Bradley, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton and Polk counties will be eligible for federal disaster aid. The assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help homeowners and business owners recover. Gov. Bill Haslam released a statement Saturday expressing the positive response his request for major disaster declaration has received at the federal level.
President Obama has declared a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding during the period of February 29 to March 2, 2012. The President’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Bradley, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton, and Polk. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said the state needs to provide high school students with better technical and career-oriented classes. The comments, which were reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/zv18v6), came at a Friday meeting of education and business leadersin Chattanooga billed as a “career-ready summit” to align education and business priorities and enhance the workforce. “I think we have a real need to revamp some of the course offerings and an opportunity to do that with the encouragement of the business sector,” Huffman said.
The county’s jobless rate rose in January to almost 10 percent, according to preliminary numbers released by the state’s office of labor and workforce development. Unemployment for Bedford County was reportedly at 9.8 percent, a shift of 0.6 percent from the revised figure of 9.2 percent for December 2011. The jobless rate this time last year was at 11.8 percent. Labor force estimates for the county showed a workforce of 22,060, with 19,900 working and 2,160 unemployed in January. State rate falls Tennessee’s unemployment rate for January fell to 8.2 percent, down from the December revised rate of 8.5 percent, while the national unemployment rate for January was reported to be 8.3 percent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage point from the December rate.
Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who announced his retirement last week, will receive the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Gov. Ned Ray McWherter TNDP Legacy Award during the party’s Jackson Day dinner on March 31. “Throughout his many years of service, Speaker Naifeh has worked hard to mentor a generation of lawmakers in the art of representing their districts and the people of Tennessee,” said Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester. “While they may not have known it at the time, all Tennesseans have benefited from his exceptional leadership in state government during his time as Speaker and as a Representative of the 81st House District.”
With state tax revenues rebounding, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is under pressure from legislative Democrats, some Republicans and social-service advocates to restore cuts proposed to programs they say help some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and adults. Areas slated for cuts in the coming fiscal year range from family resource centers, which coordinate support services such as food and tutoring for poorer students, to community services for the mentally ill. The 2012-13 fiscal year begins July 1. “I think the first thing we ought to do is restore some of those things that were on the chopping block in this budget,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, a former Finance Committee chairman.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has written a letter to the state Senate, urging lawmakers to reverse their reversal of Metro’s nondiscrimination ordinance. In a one-page letter given to members of the Senate State & Local Government Committee last week, Dean says he supports Senate Bill 2762. That bill would let Metro reinstate a nondiscrimination ordinance that the city passed last April but the legislature quickly nullified in May. “That local ordinance prohibited Metro Government contractors from discriminating in their employment practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Dean wrote.
The Tennessee Republican Party says former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis’ class-action suit after being turned away at the polls is simply an attempt to get even with Republicans over his loss in the 2010 general election. “This lawsuit has nothing to do with voter integrity and everything to do with vengeance. Lincoln Davis just can’t let it go that he overwhelmingly lost his Congressional seat in 2010 and is now seeking revenge,” Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said in a statement. The state GOP goes on to hit Davis, who represented the 4th Congressional District from 2003 to 2011, with three standard talking points about Democrats: that he wants the dead to be able to cast ballots, that he isn’t interested in preventing voter fraud and that he wants to waste taxpayer money.
Sprawl, lack of mass transit options sap Middle Tennessee household budgets It costs more for people to get around in Nashville than in all but one of the biggest cities in America. A new study shows that each year, those trips for school, work and shopping eat up almost 29 percent of income for the average household in the Nashville metropolitan area. With few mass transit options and a broader area to cover, local families spend at least $2,000 more than their counterparts in much bigger cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago — and also more than those in similarly sized places like Denver and Seattle.
The cost to clean up and restore War Memorial Plaza after the five-month Occupy Nashville protest will reach more than $60,000, state officials said last week. Maintenance staff at the state Capitol estimate they spent $23,525 more than usual on power washing, repairs and removing trash and graffiti on War Memorial Plaza during the protest, according to figures released by the Department of General Services. Cleaning and fixing the plaza after the protest ended earlier this month will cost an additional $37,500, the department said. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security also reported it spent $90,500 in salary and benefits costs for police who patrolled the plaza.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and his Republican challengers are staging high-dollar fundraisers to fatten their campaign bank accounts before the year’s first financial quarter concludes on March 31. On Tuesday, atop Chattanooga’s Bank of America building, candidate Scottie Mayfield will host his first major fundraiser at the Walden Club, where the “suggested minimum contribution” is $1,000, according to an invitation. The dairy executive’s host committee reads like a Who’s Who of Chattanooga clout — Brocks, Davenports, Luptons and Pattens are on the list. “Some of them know me fairly well, some not so well,” Mayfield said.
First-term U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is deflecting claims that he pushed to expedite a $2 billion loan guarantee for a uranium enrichment project — and tried to mislead people about it — despite criticizing the 2011 Solyndra debacle fueled by federal funding. “I make no apologies for supporting a project that is not only vital to our national security, but will reduce our dependency on foreign oil and create jobs here in Tennessee,” DesJarlais, R-Jasper, said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, the Department of Energy has grossly mismanaged the loan guarantee program. Clearly we need to find a more efficient way to decide how we distribute these funds.
An investigation at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge has found that workers may have been using contaminated respirators since at least February 2009 and possibly earlier. Bill Reis is vice president for environment, safety and health at B&W Y-12, the government’s managing contractor. He told the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/xhT2eY) that radiation technicians surveyed thousands of pieces of respirator equipment that had been shipped off-site for cleaning. About 10 percent of the equipment exceeded required radioactivity limits. There’s no way to know how many contaminated respirators may have been used over the past few years.
Nontraditional schools, career academies make a difference The message is scribbled in black marker on a dry erase board in a Metro Nashville school, written by a student more than two years ago and never erased. “I will always be back to visit you, to show you where my life has gone, because without you I would still be a high school dropout,” Victoria Bell wrote in December 2009, the day she graduated from the Academy at Old Cockrill, a program designed to get struggling near-graduates a diploma quickly. “I had a mouth on me, a short fuse and no filter,” said Bell, who attended only 30 days of her senior year at Hunters Lane High. Months after she dropped out, her grandmother nudged her to try Cockrill.
Parents say they’re encouraged that they’ve been invited into the rezoning process for schools in East Hamilton County, though some wonder whether such a gesture could be too little, too late. After a rezoning plan for the area was met with hostility from many parents, the Hamilton County Board of Education decided last week to start a community advisory committee. Parents criticized the zoning plan for being shortsighted and said the process administrators used wasn’t transparent enough. Some now say they’re encouraged that parents will have a venue to review the rezoning plans and pitch alternate ideas to school leaders.
Entire junior class participates in annual event At the end of the month after insurance, income taxes, groceries, and child care, Robby Goldshot was left with only $638. “It kind of gives you a taste of what it will be like in the future,” the 17 year old said Friday after participating in “My Amazing Life,” at Hardin Valley Academy. Goldshot was one of several hundred juniors at the school who got a taste of adulthood as part of the program in which students chose a career and learned how bills would affect their monthly bottom lines. Goldshot chose the career of a construction/building inspector with a salary of $40,060.
Three high-profile crime bills moving in the Tennessee General Assembly could come up for a full vote in the house as early as this week. We urge House members and their colleagues in the state Senate to pass this legislation. It will make our streets safer and hold criminals more accountable. House Bill 2388 passed the House Ways and Means Committee. It would increase the penalty for illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Passing this bill will help close the revolving prison door that puts felons back on the street by keeping many of them in prison longer. Jackson has seen too many crimes committed by convicted felons while armed with a gun.
Parents, schools, agencies need to work together Nearly one in three schoolchildren in Tennessee is obese. Maybe you’ve heard that statistic before; even so, take a moment to consider the implications. With roughly 1.5 million school-age children in this state, that means nearly a half-million are on track to experience problems associated with obesity: diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver disease, even heart disease and cancer. Even those who survive their bouts with such diseases face a lifetime of health complications, multiple doctor visits and use of prescription drugs and therapies to manage their conditions. As grownups, their career options and ability to enjoy things such as sports and travel vacations will be limited.
Gov. Bill Haslam, R-One Percent, recently announced a plan to lure businesses to Tennessee by throwing massive amounts of cash at them without public knowledge. Haslam’s proposal would change the focus of Tennessee’s FastTrack program from tax incentives and infrastructure installment to simple bribery to draw companies to relocate or expand in the state. The program would be renamed the FastCash program. Haslam explained that lots of cold, hard cash, preferably in small bills secretly delivered in discreet brown paper bags, is the surest way to incentivize businesses.
Public decision-making and the availability of records are the two hallmarks of open government. In Tennessee, the Open Meetings Act and the Public Records Act hold government officials accountable to the people. The laws, however, have exemptions and issues with compliance that need to be addressed. Last week, open government advocates celebrated Sunshine Week, a nationwide observation of the importance of open government sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The Tennessee Open Meetings Act was enacted in 1974. At the time, it was one of the toughest in the nation.
Tennessee’s nickname has escaped the attention of the Tennessee General Assembly since thousands of citizens responded to Gov. William Blount’s call for volunteers to serve in the War of 1812. Or so says House Joint Resolution 634, which further states: “WHEREAS, considering that The Volunteer State has been in usage for two centuries, it is indeed surprising that the nickname has never been officially adopted by the State of Tennessee; and “WHEREAS, it is now time to rectify this glaring oversight and make official the name Tennesseans have proudly used in reference to themselves for many generations; now, therefore, BE IT RESOLVED that ‘The Volunteer State’ is hereby designated the official nickname of the State of Tennessee.”
How does a reference to the Ku Klux Klan work its way into a Shelby County Commission meeting? Via commissioner Henri Brooks, of course. Her fondness for hyperbole flared at Monday’s meeting and her larger point drowned in the drama. Brooks had asked for, but not received, the names and race of executives of the organizations that repeatedly win social service government contracts. Without that data, Brooks is left to wonder about the ethnic diversity of the people running those organizations and whether they represent the mostly black population they serve. But here’s what she said: “It could be a branch of the KKK.”
The flood from TVA has lessened but not dried up completely. I’m not referring to the controlled flooding at TVA’s numerous dams; rather, this is about the tsunami of responses I have received in the two weeks since the Times Free Press put the salaries of TVA’s 12,515 employees on our website. Some threatened me and wished me bad luck, unhappiness and, well, let’s just say great personal misfortune. One irate woman ended her email this way: “Wishing you the worst.” A few left me anonymous, expletive-laced voice mails.
The education world is filled with bureaucratic terms and rules that many people don’t understand. But one thing most people can grasp is the concept of saving money over a long period of time by using schools more efficiently. Rutherford County Commissioner Jeff Jordan, a retired educator, is calling for a thorough study and discussion of the county’s high school system in an effort to determine if better use of schools can postpone construction of another high school in five years. Jordan estimates the actual cost of Stewartsboro High School, which opens in August, will be $142 million over 20 years — including bond repayment interest and operating costs — while another high school planned to open in 2017 will require $170 million over the same amount of time.