This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam ran on the mantra of reducing the size of government, but acknowledges his most recent edits to the budget don’t completely achieve that end — at least when it comes to adding back spending he originally said he’d cut. And he says that’s OK because his goal is more about trying to “right-size” state government rather than shrink it. “I’m a conservative Republican, and I don’t apologize for that,” Haslam told reporters after moderating a discussion about higher education goals at the Spring College Completion Academy in Franklin Tuesday.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam rolled out a comprehensive statewide campaign designed to inform Tennesseans about the consequences of violating the “I Hate Meth Act,” which took effect on July 1st, 2011. The announcement took place in coordination with the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Nashville. “The goal of this campaign is to communicate the harsh consequences of violating our anti-meth law,” Haslam said.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expressing exasperation at the attention given to the “craziest” proposals flowing through the Tennessee General Assembly. But instead of taking lawmakers to task, the governor points the finger at the news media. During a panel discussion about work force development and higher education this week, Haslam argued that an overhaul of standards in schools has failed to gain the proper attention from reporters.
More than 250 acres has been added to the Shiloh National Military Park after a Hardin County tract was donated. The Civil War Trust bought 267 acres 6 miles southwest of the main battlefield. The tract is known as Fallen Timbers and it is where Federal and Confederate troops fought the final hours of the Battle of Shiloh. The Jackson Sun reported the formal donation was made Thursday during a ceremony at Pickwick Landing State Park.
Trust also seeks to preserve Greer Tract A 267-acre tract of Hardin County field, where Civil War soldiers fought the final hours of the Battle of Shiloh, was officially added to Shiloh National Military Park on Thursday. The area, called Fallen Timbers, is six miles southwest of Shiloh’s main battlefield. Members of The Civil War Trust want to preserve another 491 unnamed acres along the Tennessee River about two miles south of Pittsburg Landing. The acreage is the last section of Shiloh’s core battlefield not owned by the trust or the U.S. Department of Interior.
Gov. Bill Haslam has issued a proclamation announcing April as Tennessee Safe Digging Month. The proclamation reminds Tennessee homeowners to call 811 before starting any outdoor digging projects. April marks the start of spring digging season, so Greater Dickson Gas Authority, Tennessee811 and Gov. Haslam are encouraging homeowners to call 811 before they dig to prevent injuries, property damage and inconvenient outages.
The clock is ticking down for employees of the only teen correctional facility in the area. The Taft center is closing due to budget cuts. Pink slips went out last week for the 168 employees. The center has operated in Pikeville for nearly a century and has the best rehabilitation success rate in the state. July 1 is the tentative closure date if Governor Bill Haslam’s budget without funding for it passes. Many are scrambling to figure out their next move during what they say is a very emotional time.
The University of Tennessee is training students how to handle unexploded ordnance in cooperation with a Maryville based contractor. The course does not earn college credit, but completion earns a certification. Relyant, whose contractors dispose of explosive materials globally, is the university’s partner in the course. The Knoxville News Sentinel ( http://bit.ly/Hs1Dh0 ) reported nearly all of the student taking the course served in the military.
Steven D. Elliot, O.D. and Associates Inc. in Clinton has been awarded a $21,000 worker training grant, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday. In its application for the grant, the firm said the funding “will provide the training, consulting and the follow-through program needed to position the practice for dramatically improved performance (and) retain and add employees.”
Former probation officer under state investigation A former juvenile probation officer is under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for alleged embezzlement in the Clarksville-Montgomery County Juvenile Court system. The officer, who was with the Juvenile Court for five years, resigned in July 2011 after allegations surfaced that he had been stealing restitution money. According to Kristin Helm, TBI spokeswoman, the agency received a request from the district attorney general to open an investigation in September 2011 into money that was discovered missing.
How your child’s teacher is doing in the classroom is a step closer to being none of your business. A new bill waiting to be signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam would keep teacher evaluations out of the public’s reach. It passed unanimously in the state senate and house. Tennessee teachers used to only be evaluated every five years, but recently the state increased the times teachers are evaluated. According to experts, that generated more interest in how educators are doing.
Investments should be taxed fairly, thoughtfully As a statewide solar conference is set to begin in Memphis next week, the industry is buzzing about state legislation that many feel could slow or derail progress in the use of solar power. The Tennessee General Assembly is currently debating Senate Bill 3296, which would assess solar equipment and machinery that businesses install to generate power at one-third of the equipment’s cost for tax purposes.
President Sidney A. McPhee and other top officials from Middle Tennessee State University received a standing ovation from lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday as the General Assembly read into the record a resolution commemorating the University on its centennial year, according to a news release from MTSU. The resolution described MTSU as No. 1 choice in Tennessee for undergraduates, transfer students, veterans and students enrolling in summer classes.
State Rep. Gary Moore announced Thursday he will retire from his seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives after eight years of service. Moore, who lives in Joelton, represents state House District 50, which includes Joelton, Bellevue, Goodlettsville, Madison and Scottsboro. Moore was recently elected President of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council and has served as Democratic Caucus treasurer. He has served on the House Consumer and Employee Affairs and Judiciary Committees as well as on various subcommittees.
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah? Lucky, likeable or a combination of both are 25 Tennessee legislative candidates who made it through the state’s qualifying deadline this week with no opponent in either the Aug. 2 primaries or Nov. 3 general election. Barring disaster or a very, very unlikely successful write-in challenge, these men and women are guaranteed election. The luckiest one of them all may well be Republican Mike Carter, of Ooltewah, according to the secretary of state’s unofficial list of qualified candidates.
“This time I waited to be sure,” Ian Randolph said just before the Thursday, April 5, deadline for candidates to file in the Aug. 2 elections. In Randolph’s case, he was filing as a candidate in the Democratic primary for state representative District 90. His remark reflected the uncertainty candidates have faced over the last three election cycles because of the redistricting process. Randolph was among those who filed in the Memphis City Council races in 2011 only to discover they no longer lived in the districts they had filed for.
Williamson County has maintained its No. 1 health ranking in the state. Out of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Williamson was first overall in health outcomes and health factors, according to the 2012 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report released this week by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report rated the counties’ performance based on two categories: health outcomes, which measures how long people live (mortality) and how healthy people feel while alive (morbidity); and health factors, which measures behaviors (alcohol and tobacco use, diet and exercise, sexual activity), quality and access to care, social and economic factors (education, income, community safety) and environmental quality.
Orange construction fences still surround the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn where Occupy Chattanooga tents and canopies stood from November through March 19. The courthouse lawn remains brownish-green, bare in patches. After the county racked up more than $16,000 in legal fees in December and January to file then drop a federal lawsuit against the group, Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said the county soon will pay to resod the lawn.
Kim Bumpas, interim president of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., plans to hold four public meetings to hear from local tourism officials and the community on what Knoxville tourism does and should look like. Since the retirement of former KTSC President Gloria Ray, who made more than $400,000 a year through the publicly-funded tourism group, the future of the organization and how it operates have been questioned by local elected leaders and the public.
After paying for jail expansions, sheriff’s cruisers and needed equipment, Anderson County should have more than $868,000 left over from a bond issue to use for other purposes, County Mayor Myron Iwanski estimates. Using what’s left from last year’s $14.75 million bond issue to pay for upcoming expenses should end the need to dip into the county’s “rainy-day” fund, Iwanski wrote in a lengthy memo to commissioners. That will allow the fund — intended for unexpected expenses — to build back up, Iwanski said.
Several recent articles have suggested Bob Corker as a potential running mate as the GOP challenges President Barack Obama this fall, and the Republican Tennessee senator did not rule out the possibility Thursday, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. “I think you wait and see who the nominee is. You see what it is they want to do, and you weigh those things as to where you might be most effective,” Corker said in an appearance Thursday.
Shortly before the filing deadline of 12 noon Thursday for state and federal offices this year, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, already considered far ahead of potential rivals in his Democratic primary race, both in campaign finances and in voter support, delivered what might be the coup de grace. Cohen’s campaign announced that President Obama, on the very eve of the race, had endorsed the congressman for reelection in the August 2 Democratic primary and beyond.
Tennessee and Georgia are among 15 states to receive a share of $40.6 million from the U.S. Forest Service. National foresters in Tennessee are receiving $5 million to complete the $40 million purchase of a 10,000-acre tract called Rocky Fork to add to the Cherokee National Forest. And national forest service officials in Georgia will receive $2 million to acquire three parcels to add to the Chattahoochee and Oconee national forests.
Austin Peay, MTSU reach out to ensure success Jessica Pierson’s ears used to ring with the sound of mortar fire during the height of the Iraqi invasion in 2005, when she guarded Camp Balad from a watchtower. Now at Middle Tennessee State University, she’s getting used to the slap of flip-flops and the drone of professors. The former Army supply specialist is a little older than her classmates, dresses a little smarter, sits a little straighter — signs that set many of MTSU’s 1,029 veterans apart.
Soon after taking office, President Barack Obama pledged to move every homeless veteran into permanent housing by 2015.It’s a goal advocates say is starting to bear fruit in Tennessee. Nearly 1,000 Tennessee veterans were homeless on any given night in 2011, according to federal statistics. That’s down from more than 1,600 in 2010. Nationwide, the number of homeless veterans on any given night fell 12 percent last year — from about 76,000 in 2010 to 67,000.
Tennessee Valley Authority officials said Thursday that completing a reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City will take three more years, at an additional cost of $2 billion, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The project was first announced in 2007, when it became the first reactor to be licensed for construction since the Three Mile Island partial meltdown of 1979. TVA’s new completion date is late 2015, with a total price tag of $4.5 billion.
The Unit 3 reactor at TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant will shut down for a scheduled refueling and maintenance outage after setting a plant record for continuous operation of all three reactors. Unit 1 operated for 114 days, Unit 2 for 302 days and Unit 3 for 188 days. Spokesman Ray Golden said 114 days is three days longer than Browns Ferry’s previous best of 111 days, set in 2011. Browns Ferry Site Vice President Keith Polson said these records are an important indicator of the plant’s overall health and the quality and safety of the operation.
Erlanger Health System is laying off 142 workers as part of the third and final phase of an employee reduction plan that will save the hospital $10.5 million to $11 million a year. The layoffs represent about 3 percent of Erlanger’s 4,700 employees, according to Chief Administrative Officer Gregg Gentry. About 55 percent of the affected employees accepted a voluntary buyout package, 25 percent of the employees had previously been placed on probation for disciplinary issues and 20 percent were involuntary layoffs, Gentry said.
Metropolitan Chattanooga grew faster than most of Tennessee last year, according to government population estimates released Thursday. The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates the six-county Chattanooga area added 4,150 people during 2011, growing at a pace nearly 50 percent faster than the nation as a whole. Among Tennessee’s biggest metro areas, only Nashville grew at a faster pace last year. But in eight counties surrounding Chattanooga in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, the population declined last year, according to the census bureau.
Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exams come with higher stakes this year, and Metro Nashville Public School officials want to ensure that parents and students are ready. “This year’s TCAP test scores will count as a portion of your child’s final grades,” Metro officials wrote on the district website, announcing the April 25 start of exams. TCAP scores in reading, math, science and social studies for grades 3-8 will count as 10 percent of the final grade for the year.
MCS leader seeks to limit applicants If 17 new charter schools open here in the fall, Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash said he expects to bleed staff as the startups “cannibalize” the city schools, picking at sinews of talent and leaving a weakened system behind. “Everyone is going to cannibalize our top people,” Cash said. “With the new evaluation system, we now know who our top folks are. Who do you think they are going to be after with every lure, bait and catch you can imagine?”
Barring an unforeseen undoing in the Legislature, Gov. Bill Haslam is on the verge of negotiating a seismic shift in state employment policy. This week, the Tennessee State Employees Association agreed to back Haslam’s Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act of 2012, a bill co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville. The TEAM Act, as noted here in January, will push performance by state employees and reduce the ridiculousness of deciding who to keep when times are tough by who has been on the job the longest.
The state Legislature’s House members may continue to agitate for passage of the bill to allow gun owners to stow their guns in employers’ parking lots. But State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has declared the controversial bill dead for the year. Let’s hope he’s right. The National Rifle Association and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council — the background sponsors of this bill and others like it in state legislature across the country — have intimidated, steered and jerked around lawmakers and Tennessee’s citizenry far too much already.
Oh, how Americans appreciate their rights. We love all manner of rights. Like the right to free speech, hateful or ill-informed as it might be. The right to any kind of religion, or none. The right of privacy in our homes, on the Internet, or when driving in our cars. What makes us squirm is trying to balance our rights with the rights of others. If you don’t believe in abortion, can you demand someone else shouldn’t have one? If you don’t want to wear a helmet while riding your motorcycle, can someone else make you do it? If you want to take a gun to work in your car, but your boss doesn’t want that gun in the company parking lot, what then?
Gov. Bill Haslam should heed the appeal of more than 3,000 petitioners and veto a bill that would protect Tennessee teachers who allow students to criticize evolution and other scientific theories. It’s bad legislation in a 21st century world that would allow teachers to help students critique “scientific weaknesses” on matters where there is no controversy about the science. Critics of the legislation said it is akin to the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” in which an East Tennessee teacher, John Scopes, was convicted and fined for violating a state statute by teaching evolution.
With Chattanooga’s and Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in Chattanooga this week, speaking to the Rotary Club Thursday, we hope Tennesseans realize how very fortunate we are to have Sen. Corker serving us all well in Washington. It was natural, we suppose, that a question came up as to whether there is a possibility that Sen. Corker just might be “considered for — or would accept if offered” — the U.S. vice presidential spot with the Republican presidential candidate who will be nominated this year. Sen. Corker responded to such questions by saying, “There’s a time and a place to talk about those kinds of things, and now is not it.”
The commission planning the schools merger is trying to address suburban fears. Opponents can say a lot of negative things about the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools, but they can’t say those planning the marriage have not listened to their concerns or tried to address them. The latest move on that front came from Barbara Prescott, chairwoman of the Transition Planning Commission, which is the entity charged with formulating a plan for the merger.
Although President Barack Obama has proposed a phasing out of the controversial U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program known as 287(g), the Knox County Sheriff’s Office is one of two local law enforcement agencies in the country that will get funding for the initiative this spring, ICE has confirmed. The other is Horry County, S.C., which includes Myrtle Beach. ICE spokesman Temple Black said ICE officials have an April 17 meeting with Knox County Sheriff J.J. Jones to discuss a memorandum of agreement.
The new health reform law, if upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is expected to create 32 million more insured Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The federal government plans to expand Medicaid to low-income adults and subsidize purchases on the health-insurance exchanges when it requires most Americans to carry insurance in 2014. However, an insurance card will not mean much to patients without providers to care for them. Tennessee would have 566,000 more insured residents because of reform, according to an Urban Institute analysis.
A country that should be encouraging more people to vote is still using an archaic voter registration system that creates barriers to getting a ballot. In 2008, 75 million eligible people did not vote in the presidential election, and 80 percent of them were not registered. The vast majority of states rely on a 19th-century registration method: requiring people to fill out a paper form when they become eligible to vote, often at a government office, and to repeat the process every time they move. This is a significant reason why the United States has a low voter participation rate.