This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Sarah Johnson’s work begins long before the school bell rings. First up is a meeting with a fellow teacher to talk about how a lesson was paced. Did you finish before the class was over? Did students have a chance to ask questions? Did they seem interested? As one of nine teachers trained to evaluate first-year educators in St. Paul Public Schools, it’s her job to identify the teachers who are excelling and those who are floundering. It’s up to her to help them become better teachers. Never has that job been more crucial. “I think all teachers are feeling a sense of urgency and a need to improve,” Johnson said.
Critics say measure raises costs, favors some drugmakers Proposed state legislation pitched as a tool to reduce prescription pain pill abuse and overdose deaths in Tennessee has drawn concern from some lawmakers who say it is really designed to steer more business to major pharmaceutical companies. The House bill would require pharmacists to dispense tamper-resistant pain pills, which are produced by pharmaceutical companies like Endo and Pfizer. The tamper-resistant pills cannot be crushed in order to be snorted or injected, a practice that proponents of the bill say increases the chances of overdose.
Prohibits inappropriate attire in Tenn. schools Three years ago, state Rep. Joe Towns failed to make Tennessee the first state to fine teenagers for wearing saggy britches. Now the Memphis Democrat has a more comprehensive measure that would prohibit “risque dressing” in schools — and its chances of passage are looking good. The proposal is headed for a House floor vote and is moving steadily in the Senate. The bill seeks to prohibit students from exposing “underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment.” It means that in addition to boys not letting their pants sag, female student athletes might be required to wear shirts over their sports bras if they were deemed inappropriate by school officials.
If you ask 17-year-old Jassiem Robertson when and why he started sagging his pants down low, he’ll tell you he doesn’t really remember. “I’ve been sagging since the cradle,” Robertson said, sitting outside Howard School of Academics and Technology, waiting for the bell to ring so he can shimmy his shorts a little lower than teachers will allow. He proudly lifts his shirt to show where he is wearing the waistline that day. Only a little underwear shows. Maybe it was the rappers on television or the guys who got out of prison and slung their pants low cause they weren’t allowed to wear belts in the pen.
Edwin “Ed” Arnold, a former state representative and assistant district for Blount, Roane and Loudon counties, has died. He was 77. Mr. Arnold was killed Saturday morning when he stepped into traffic on Interstate 40 to help his grandson, who had just been in a wreck, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Mr. Arnold received his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee and his law degree from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. Arnold was active in the Loudon community as a member of the Jaycees, Lions Club and First Baptist Church in Loudon.
Hamilton County’s budget season is cranking up, and Mayor Jim Coppinger says he’s asking elected officials and department heads to keep their belts cinched tight. Coppinger said he’s not sure what the numbers will look like for the 2013 fiscal year that starts July 1, but he predicts it will be another lean one — though not likely one requiring another round of layoffs. Last year the county cut more than 50 positions and laid off 36 workers, though about 10 were rehired in different positions. This year, he said he hopes there will be enough money to boost compensation for county employees, who have gone without a raise since fiscal 2009.
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones wants the Knox County Commission to analyze his department’s multimillion-dollar pension program and decide whether voters have a say in its future. County Mayor Tim Burchett wants it left in the hands of the Charter Review Committee. Jones says it’s too complicated an issue for that. He says the commission is already well-versed and wouldn’t need much time to figure out what changes are needed to save money. Burchett disagrees and says a committee could be brought up to speed in 15 minutes. He doesn’t want it changed. He wants it closed.
Health coverage for more than 30 million people. The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. President Obama’s re-election. The reputation of the Supreme Court and the legacy of its chief justice. And to hear some tell it: liberty. All that and more could be at stake today when the Supreme Court begins three days of historic oral arguments on a 2010 health care law that has become a symbol of the nation’s deep political divide. Not since the court confirmed George W. Bush’s election in December 2000 — before 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, Wall Street’s dive and Obama’s rise — has one case carried such sweeping implications for nearly every American.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on health care reform — a historic case that will affect millions of Americans, likely have an impact on the fall presidential election and set the direction of American health care in the near future. The six hours of oral arguments over three days are the longest set aside to hear a case since 1966 and may have as far-reaching implications as 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that integrated public education. Technically, the justices are examining the Florida v. the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services case.
The three days of Supreme Court arguments that start Monday on the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law will be a legal marathon, and the lawyers involved have been training. Last week, there were so many of the mock arguments that lawyers call moot courts that they threatened to exhaust something that had never been thought in short supply: Washington lawyers willing to pretend to be Supreme Court justices. The problem, said Paul D. Clement, who represents the 26 states challenging the law, was not just the length of the arguments the court will hear, but the variety of topics to be addressed.
Seen by supporters as the Obama administration’s signal achievement, the Affordable Care Act was challenged the day it was signed, March 23, 2010. Within months of its passage, 30 separate lawsuits had been filed against it, several involving states as plaintiffs. One — brought by Florida and joined by 25 other states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses — was accepted on appeal by the Supreme Court last November. The process that begins with today’s arguments may lead to a clear decision by the end of June. That is, unless the court rules that the centerpiece of the law, the so-called individual mandate, is not ripe for a decision until 2015.
Shuttered since 2010, mall opens Thursday For Kathy Myers, Opry Mills was more than just a mall. Sure, the Goodlettsville woman shopped at the sprawling 1.2 million-square-foot venue for shoes, clothes, home decor and other items. But Opry Mills also was where she entertained visiting family and friends. It’s where she caught the latest movie releases. And it’s where her daughter, now in the U.S. Navy, worked her first job. That seemingly ended when the Cumberland River overflowed its banks in May 2010, swamping Opry Mills with up to 10 feet of murky water and forcing its closure.
The job market is improving—but not for everyone. In recent months, employers have stepped up hiring, layoffs have slowed and the unemployment rate has begun to fall more quickly. But the rosier picture hasn’t been a boon to everyone without a job. In February, 3.5% of the U.S. work force was unemployed for more than six months, compared with 4.0% in February of 2010, a smaller decline than in the overall jobless rate. The average unemployed worker has been jobless for 40 weeks, a mark that has barely budged in the past six months.
Frank Cathey has one ground rule for students in his computer repair class at La Vergne High. “I tell them to leave high school at the door,” he said. “When they come in here, it’s job training. In here, they’re my employees.” Cathey began the school’s computer program in 1988, when La Vergne High first opened. “Back then, everything we did was writing programming, mostly in DOS,” Cathey said. “Now, mostly what I do is preparing students for a job or postsecondary training, mostly job prep.” He stayed at La Vergne until 1994, when he left to work at Nissan.
Participation fees for Murfreesboro City Schools’ Extended School Program are likely to increase when classes start next fall. Nearly 2,200 students, about a third of the PreK-6 district’s 7,000 students, participate in the program, commonly known as ESP, said Director Terry Jolley. Students can arrive at their school for additional enrichment activities before the school day begins or remain there once the day is over. Care is also provided on inclement weather days or during school breaks. The plan calls for increasing the rates by $2 to $5 a week during the school year and as much as $10 during times school is out for winter, spring or fall break.
Germantown rally backs separate schools, asks repeal of district ban Dick Vosburg stood on a truck bed with a bright yellow sign urging Germantown residents to vote “Yes” for the creation of a municipal school district — whenever that vote might be. “It’s a good thing we didn’t put dates on the signs,” he said, deadpan, before a crowd of about 125 gathered Sunday to rally for local control of schools in place of a large school board that will come into power when Memphis and Shelby County school systems merge.
Shifting of Lakeview students to Manor Lake could impair learning, they say The unified Shelby County School Board is expected Tuesday to close three underused city elementary schools, saving taxpayers $20 million over 10 years. The schools — Lakeview, Graceland and Georgia Avenue elementaries — are in parts of town where population is in decline. Parents around Lakeview say they are being forced to move their children from a school in good standing to a school with poorer test scores with little time to make a better choice.
AT&T is honored to help America’s children Aspire to success. We understand the importance of students graduating and being prepared to enter the workforce. Our nation’s high school dropout rate is alarming. One in four students — more than 1 million students a year — fails to graduate with their class. Over the past four years, AT&T’s Aspire program has worked with organizations to help reverse this trend to reach the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Tennessee has seen double-digit increases in the percentage of high school students who graduate within four years.
Almost 90 years ago, Tennessee became a national laughingstock with the Scopes trial of 1925, when a young teacher was prosecuted for violating a state law forbidding the teaching of evolution. With the passage of two bills, House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893, the Tennessee legislature is doing the unbelievable: attempting to roll the clock back to 1925 by attempting to insert religious beliefs in the teaching of science. These bills, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
The announcement late last week that employees at the Taft Youth Development Center in Pikeville will soon receive 90-day notices, and that their jobs will be eliminated as of July 1, strongly suggests that all discussion about the future of the center that ably serves the needs of some of Tennessee’s most troubled young men is over. Gov. Bill Haslam, the Department of Children’s Services and other cost-cutting officials and bureaucrats appear to have carried the day. Never mind that state officials have failed to make a case for closure. Politics, it seems, triumphs over reason.
Here’s what happened in Oklahoma. Last year, wanting to cut 5 percent from its budget, the Office of Juvenile Affairs — Oklahoma’s version of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services — decided to close L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs. Rader was the state’s only maximum-security youth center, the place that housed the most violent youth. Just like our state’s Taft Youth Center in Pikeville, Tenn., which is set to close June 30. Knowing that no proper plans had been made to update other medium-security facilities in Oklahoma to handle the potential flood of youth offenders, the Department of Justice pleaded with the Office of Juvenile Affairs, warning that things could go terribly wrong if Rader’s juveniles were transferred.
After all these years, Tennessee is still ranked as one of the most obese states in the nation. Since March is National Nutrition Month, we should take the time to look closely at the details. According to a 2011 report, nearly 32 percent of adults in Tennessee are obese. The same report also found the childhood obesity rate is over 20 percent in the state. As a Nashville-based registered dietitian, it is my hope that as a state we will start thinking about the changes we can make to improve our health, especially the health of our children. A recent Centers for Disease Control report outlined several interesting findings regarding the nutritional health of American children.
In 1992, a gallon of gas cost $1.05 on average, Bill Clinton became president, and Microsoft released amazing new technology called Windows 3.1. Wayne’s World was showing in area theaters, Toad the Wet Sprocket was playing on the radio and DNA fingerprinting was invented. That was the last time that Nashville leaders laid out a big picture plan for Nashville. Mayor Karl Dean announced last week that we’re due for an update. Big time. Development in Nashville is guided by a law passed in the early 1970s called “comprehensive zoning.” Property by property, it lists what can go where.
Preserving the parks, battlefields, cemeteries, shrines and buildings related to the Civil War is demanding work, but it is a worthy endeavor. That is especially so here, where one is never far from reminders of what took place in the past. Tennessee and Georgia residents can help preserve several Civil War sites in the area during Park Day on Saturday. The opportunity to provide a worthwhile public service while helping to preserve history should not be overlooked. Sponsored nationally by the Civil War Preservation Trust, the day is observed at more than 100 sites in more than 25 states and the District of Columbia.
We are in agreement with Sen. Lamar Alexander regarding proposed U.S. Department of Labor rules that unnecessarily restrict youth working on family farms. Tennessee is a state that still sustains many family farms, despite the growth of huge corporate farming operations across the U.S. The updated youth proposals in the Preserving Family Farm Act go too far to usurp parental authority and good judgment. The proposed rules are a case of the federal government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong and isn’t needed.
Tourism and recreation are vital parts of the Chattanooga-area economy, so anything that might adversely affect those industries concerns everyone in our region. For instance, a controversy is brewing over some higher fees planned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. While we can see why heavily indebted TVA would seek more revenue, its plan to slap potentially much higher costs on hundreds of businesses along shorelines in the Chattanooga area is worrisome. A lot of those commercial-use fees have been in the range of $400 to $1,200 per year, which TVA considers too low.