This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced the start of a statewide campaign designed to inform Tennesseans about the consequences of violating the “I Hate Meth Act,” which took effect on July 1, 2011. The announcement took place in coordination with the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Nashville, which Dyer County Sheriff Jeff Box and Chief Deputy Mike Boals attended. “The goal of this campaign is to communicate the harsh consequences of violating our anti-meth law,” said Haslam.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed April 9th–15th Tennessee State Natural Areas Week, and Tennesseans are encouraged to join in a weeklong celebration with activities such as wildflower hikes, canoe trips, guided tours and volunteer efforts. The Tennessee Natural Areas Preservation Act was passed 41 years ago by the General Assembly and signed by former Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn. Today, that legacy encompasses more than 120,000 acres of land, endangered or unique plants and a variety of animals – all protected for future generations.
It didn’t take long after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lost the Tennessee Republican presidential primary for Gov. Bill Haslam and the rest of Romney’s state leadership team to pick itself up, dust itself off and start raising money for him again. But the governor’s quick pivot upset some supporters of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney’s chief rival for the Republican nomination. An email sent under Haslam’s name went to Santorum backer William Morgan on March 8, two days after Santorum beat Romney on Super Tuesday.
The upcoming state testing for public school students in grades 3-8 will play a role in the student’s final report card. The TCAP test, formally known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, is mandatory for students in grades 3-8. The assessment measures skills in math, reading/language arts, science and social studies. A new state law, Public Chapter 1127, went into effect July 1, 2010 requiring school districts to count 15 to 25 percent of the TCAP results as a part in the final nine weeks’ grade beginning with this year’s test.
The state legislature might not have heard the final word on medical marijuana for the year after all. Advocate Bernie Ellis said in an email to supporters Friday that he has been told by state Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, there might be one more hearing on her Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act before the year is out. Senate rules require a hearing on any bill referred out of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which sent the measure, S.B. 251, to the Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday with a negative recommendation.
A bill that would require plaintiffs who sue to halt horse slaughter facilities to post large bonds up front probably violates the state constitution, Attorney General Robert Cooper said in an opinion released Thursday. H.B. 3619, which would require those who sue horse slaughterers to post a bond equal to 20 percent of the estimated cost of building a slaughterhouse, is constitutionally suspect under Tennessee’s Open Courts Clause, he said.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent Gov. Bill Haslam a letter urging him to veto legislation dealing with evolution, school prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments. The organization said Haslam should veto H.B. 368, H.B. 3266 and H.B. 2658 because they would “insert religion into Tennessee’s public schools.” The American Civil Liberties Union also has criticized the bills, which recently passed the legislature and were sent to Haslam for his signature.
State legislators are taking another stab at reorganizing the Tennessee State Fair under the Department of Agriculture with a bill that would create a new commission to run the event. S.B. 3603, which is winding its way through the legislature, would create a “state fair and exposition commission” that includes the dean of the University of Tennessee Extension Service, the president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau and a member chosen by the mayor of the county where the fair is held, currently Davidson County.
The battle to get Tennessee’s young people to pull up their pants has finally drawn to a close. Lawmakers approved a bill last week making it official state policy that students can’t indecently expose their underwear or body parts while on school grounds. The legislation, S.B. 3558/H.B. 3679, cleared both chambers of the General Assembly in a single night — a rarity that suggests, if nothing else, that lawmakers were ready to be done with the issue — and was sent to the speakers and governor for signatures.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says critics of his anti-gang legislation in the General Assembly shouldn’t ignore the second half of his comprehensive approach to addressing youth violence. “The strength of this [legislation] is that it removes the worst of the worst,” the mayor said. “But we also want to save and salvage all of the young people and keep them from getting into gangs.” It’s a “dual course,” he said. “Already, we’re talking about the outreach,” said Littlefield, who was at the state Capitol last week to observe developments on the legislation.
Passage of the qualifying deadline for legislative candidates last week leaves Republicans well-positioned to achieving their goal of making Democrats politically irrelevant in the 108th General Assembly that convenes next year. In part, that’s because 11 incumbent Democrats — seven representatives and four senators — are voluntarily not seeking re-election. At least four more incumbent Democrats — three representatives and one senator — are certain to be ousted later because of Republican-controlled redistricting leaves incumbents running against one another in the same district.
Mayor Tommy Bragg sent two letters to state Rep. Rick Womick in March challenging “misstatements” he made in the General Assembly about city codes enforcement to garner support for a resolution against United Nations Agenda 21. Bragg sent the first letter March 19 “to correct” several things Womick said on the House floor about the city’s dealings with Papa’s Butts and BBQ Hot Sauce Store on Old Fort Parkway.
Former state Rep. Ralph Cole, who represented Carter County in the Tennessee General Assembly for more than a decade, died Friday. He was 85 years old. His daughter, Carol Scruggs, said Saturday that he died at home in Elizabethton and will have a private funeral. The Johnson City Press reported (http://bit.ly/I57J5t ) that Cole had been suffering from cancer in recent weeks. Cole served in the 97th through the 102nd General Assemblies and was defeated in the 2002 Republican primary election by Jerome Cochran.
Former State Representative Ralph Cole, 85, died on Friday, sources confirmed to 11 Connects. Friends said he had cancer. Cole, a retired automobile dealer from Elizabethton, rose through the ranks to hold considerable power in the Tennessee General Assembly during his decade of service in state government. The Republican represented Elizabethton and Carter County, the state’s 4th district during the 97th through the 102nd General Assemblies.
Former state Rep. Ralph Cole, 85, who represented Carter and Johnson counties in the General Assembly for more than a decade, died Friday. Cole had been suffering from cancer in recent weeks. The Elizabethton Republican served until 2002, when he was defeated by Jerome Cochran in the Republican primary election. Cole was an influential member of the House Finance Committee during his time in Nashville, and was noted for working hard for his district during the administrations of Govs. Ned McWherter and Don Sundquist.
Sheriff hopes other counties house their inmates in Davidson Sheriff Daron Hall walks the hallways of the Offender Re-Entry Center, past empty cells, unused tables and vacant guard stations. His voice echoes as he recalls just two years ago, when this place was full to the brim with low-level suspects awaiting trials or serving out misdemeanor sentences. “On a normal day there would be 100-plus people running around,” he said.
Another round of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn vs. Google broke out Wednesday when Blackburn, a Brentwood Republican, announced she had sent Google chief executive Larry Page a letter questioning whether the Internet giant is doing enough to prevent “sexually exploitative advertisements” from appearing on its websites. Blackburn and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., told Page they grew concerned after some 40 human rights organizations asked the National Association of Attorneys General to investigate Google’s “adult services” ads, which the groups say promote illegal sex trafficking.
It’s a happy Easter in the land of milk and money. Dairy executive Scottie Mayfield said he raised $450,648 in the first seven weeks of his inaugural run for office, setting a quarterly fundraising record in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District and positioning himself as a serious challenger to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. The president of Mayfield Dairy shattered the previous three-month record — $321,230 — on an abbreviated time frame. Mayfield’s congressional campaign began Feb. 3, 34 days after the fundraising quarter started on New Year’s Day.
As anti-terrorism grants dwindle, local governments asked to step up Federal anti-terrorism grants have given Tennessee cities and counties emergency response equipment that, a decade ago, they couldn’t have tried to buy in their dreams. But they didn’t have to. The money was real: $192 million given to Tennessee by the Department of Homeland Security, in the name of fighting terrorism, which paid for remote-controlled bomb-handling robots; special equipment for collapsed building rescues; high-tech surveillance cameras; all sorts of boots, masks and body armor; and food for police dogs.
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. Such statistics are based on a single night of counting each year.
How well does a college teach, and what do its students learn? Rankings based on the credentials of entering freshmen are not hard to find, but how can students, parents and policy makers assess how well a college builds on that foundation? What information exists has often been hidden from public view. But that may be changing. In the wake of the No Child Left Behind federal education law, students in elementary, middle and high schools take standardized tests whose results are made public, inviting anyone to assess, however imperfectly, a school’s performance.
Handful of firms across the state are leading by example Being green has moved to a more sophisticated level — well past corporations proclaiming their alleged commitment by handing out free stuff emblazoned with their brand on Earth Day. At least a few companies in Tennessee are increasingly emphasizing “sustainability” and going beyond preliminary steps such as cutting a sliver of waste. What’s required is a willingness to be innovative and build momentum and buy-in among suppliers, employees and the public.
Several weeks into discussions over a rezoning plan proposed for schools in east Hamilton County, parents fear they’re nearing a deadlock with school administrators. After parents criticized the initial rezoning proposal, the Hamilton County Board of Education formed a parent committee to study administrators’ plan to combat overcrowded schools. The matter could go to the school board in less than two weeks for a possible vote, but it’s unclear whether parents will have much influence in shaping the final zoning plan.
As Knox County’s mayor and county commission prepare to debate funding for Knox County Schools, two questions loom: Is the public system’s overall payroll for administration and staff too high, and can the system boost student performance if given millions more? Some county leaders say school officials have yet to prove their request for an additional $48 million, including $35 million for targeted, ambitious goals, will be used in the classroom.
Elections for contested positions won’t stop current progress, members promise When Shelby County’s 23-person unified Board of Education gets together for its next full meeting, on April 17, several members will be sitting down together with their officially certified rivals. Thursday’s deadline for filing for the Aug. 2 elections produced a school-board ballot that includes three districts where one current member will be running against another current member.
Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed using the state’s unexpected revenue windfall from the recovery to speed up a reduction in the food tax, distribute more money for local jails and restore cuts to some social services. The governor’s decisions on how to spend up to $30 million in added revenue demonstrate a firm grasp of Tennessee’s priorities. The Legislature will have to sign off on the $31 billion spending plan. The additional money allows Haslam, a Republican and former Knoxville mayor, to accelerate from three years to two his planned reduction on the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5 percent.
Gov. Bill Haslam wants to be known as an education governor, and he is in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things to be remembered as such. But it will be the seemingly innocuous things that will slime that reputation. One of those little things sits on his desk now, and as an aspiring educational leader he should veto the “evolution” bill that has been thrust down the throat of our state by legislators pretending to be in favor of “open debate” in the classroom.
We urge Gov. Bill Haslam to sign legislation on his desk that makes state public officials ineligible for pretrial diversion for criminal acts committed in their official capacity. It is an important law that should have been on the books long ago, and it raises the personal integrity and accountability bar for public officials. Pretrial and judicial diversion are processes in criminal law where an accused criminal offender can plead guilty and can later have the charges wiped clean from his record following a period of probation.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Turner summed it up last week: This legislative session has been tough “if you were gay, a teacher, state employee or a horse.” Add to that list a scientist, sick person with chronic pain, and anyone who so much as smells like a Democrat. We’re nearing the end, folks, and the annual legislative shark feed is fully under way. So, let’s check the score so far. Is the state winning or losing under the current General Assembly? Well, some of both.
One curiosity in the new normal of Republican rule in the General Assembly seems to be a role reversal of the House and Senate in institutional attitude. In the old normal, senators would harrumph at length on a bipartisan basis about being members of a “deliberative body” of ladies and gentlemen while viewing the House with some disdain as a bunch of chest-thumping, lock-stepping good ole boys and girls. Representatives, in turn, regarded senators disdainfully as something of an elitist debating society, foolishly dithering away hours and days in arcane arguments over the minutia of mundane matters.
Saggy pants in schools are such a menace to society that school boards will now be forced to outlaw them. Yep, that’s what our state legislature decided last week, by passing a “nanny state” bill introduced by Memphis’ own Rep. Joe Towns Jr. The law requires local school districts to create and enforce a ban on “clothing that exposes underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment.” It covers girls’ sports bras, and was a weakened version of what Towns proposed three years ago.
Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in March was engaged in his own version of March madness, a publicity push for a dubious proposition. Corker put out a blast email, posted on his website and put out a news release, all trumpeting a report by Fitch Ratings that a $26 billion dollar settlement over bank foreclosure misdeeds could mean lowered performance by pension funds and even the overall performance of the housing market. The too-cozy relationship between ratings firms like Fitch and the entities being rated came to attention after the financial collapse of 2008.
The federal government must do a lot more to protect college students and their families from falling into crippling debt. At the very top of that list is improving oversight of private student lenders. Too often, these lenders rush families into taking on risky, high-priced loans — even when students are eligible for safer, more affordable federal loans. Colleges must also be pressed to do a lot more to fully inform and protect their students. They often fail to explain the costs of loans and the dangers of choosing the wrong ones.