This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The state House of Representatives approved a plan to replace the court that reviews complaints of judicial misconduct, sending the bill to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature. The House voted 86-7 Monday night for a bill that terminates the Court of the Judiciary, which critics say has been too lenient with judges. The court would be replaced with a new Board of Judicial Conduct, appointed in part by the governor and leaders in the state legislature.
Court of the Judiciary abolished, new board created After years of sometimes heated argument, the House sent to the governor Monday night compromise legislation that puts into place a new system for disciplining judges for misdeeds on the bench. Final approval came on an 88-5 House vote without any debate. The Senate had approved SB2671 unanimously earlier. Though the votes came with virtually no discussion, the debate over the past three years has included repeated charges that the present Court of the Judiciary ignored judicial misdeeds and operated in unwarranted secrecy.
Governor Bill Haslam hinted today he might back an incumbent Congressman who’s facing a tough Republican primary fight in East Tennessee. But Haslam stopped short of full-on endorsement for Chuck Fleischmann. In the district that includes Chattanooga, the freshman Fleischmann is hoping to fend off several challengers. One is the 25-year-old son of Zach Wamp, who held the seat for more than a decade before Fleischmann. Another is Scottie Mayfield, a dairy executive who says he raised almost a half-million dollars in his first seven weeks running.
Although the views of 3,200 Tennesseans urging him to veto a controversial bill on the teaching of evolution are important, Gov. Bill Haslam said, so is the fact that an overwhelming number of lawmakers voted to pass the measure. “Sure, one of the things we do is we weigh input of all kinds,” Haslam said Monday after a 3,200-signature petition opposed to the recently passed measure was delivered last week to his office. But “it’s also worthy of note it didn’t just barely pass the House and the Senate. It passed 3 to 1,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday it would probably be close to the signing deadline before he decided whether to sign a bill to protect teachers who allow students to criticize evolution and other scientific theories, such as global warming. The deadline is today. The Republican governor can also veto the measure or let it become law without his signature. He has said he would probably sign it. Last week, Haslam was handed a petition with more than 3,000 signatures urging him to veto the legislation, which encourages critical thinking by protecting teachers from discipline if they help students critique “scientific weaknesses.”
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that although he is “disappointed” Volkswagen is using a national ad campaign to attract some of the additional professional and skilled technicians it needs from outside Chattanooga for its expansion, he understands why the company is doing so. “We’ve actually had those discussions with Volkswagen, and they told us they were going to advertise in those places,” Haslam told reporters.
Volkswagen is conducting a national search to fill some of the 1,000 new jobs at its Chattanooga plant. The German automaker told The Associated Press on Monday that it is using a national print and online advertising campaign to fill specialty positions, including maintenance technicians, manufacturing engineers and logistics supervisors. Officials stress that VW seeks to hire locally as much as possible, but the specialized experience needed for the new jobs requires casting a wider net. The ads seek to make the Chattanooga location a selling point.
Tennessee is home to some of the most scenic areas in the country, and that’s why this week has been declared Tennessee Natural Areas Week by Governor Bill Haslam. Fourty-one years ago, the general assembly signed the Tennessee Natural Areas Preservation Act. Today, more than 120,000 acres of land have been saved from development so future generations can enjoy the beauty of indigenous wildlife and plants. One of those protected areas is the Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area and hiking trail near Roan Mountain.
Spaghetti. Tango. Washington. Pearl. Buckeye. And let’s not forget Project Dark, named after the Bruce Springsteen music video, “Dancing in the Dark,” where Springsteen pulls Courtney Cox onto the stage. The names — though rather innocuous on the surface — each represent what officials consider a critical piece to the economic development process: keeping the names of companies that might expand or relocate here secret.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced today that it would delay the implementation of a new set of hospital codes. Conversion to the International Classification of Diseases 10th Revision, or ICD-10, has been pushed back from Oct. 1, 2013 to Oct. 1, 2014. ICD-10 will replace the current ICD-9 system, which has been in place for 30 years and has about 16,000 procedure and diagnosis codes, which are shorthand means of referring to an injury. By comparison, ICD-10 has roughly 155,000 codes.
The Tennessee Board of Regents is questioning the logic of legislation that prevents public colleges from enforcing nondiscrimination rules on religious student groups. The bill responds to an ongoing dispute at Vanderbilt University, even though private institutions are excluded. The legislation would prevent administrators from requiring student groups to drop faith requirements for membership or leadership positions, as Vanderbilt has done. TBR Chancellor John Morgan says he doesn’t know exactly how the proposed law would affect MTSU, Austin Peay or Tennessee Tech, but he doesn’t see a need.
Transportation officials will shut down a segment of Interstate 24 east of downtown for a series of 13 weekends beginning next week. The Tennessee Department of Transportation outlined plans for the $8.7 million bridge-rehabilitation project to replace the decks of the two I-24 bridges at Woodland and Main streets. The first of the weekend closures — set between 9 p.m. Fridays and 5 a.m. Mondays — is scheduled to begin Friday, April 20.
Part of Interstate 24 near downtown to shut down weekends through Aug. Weekend jaunts into downtown Nashville will be complicated for several months as the Tennessee Department of Transportation replaces two bridges on Interstate 24 near LP Field. TDOT plans to close I-24 in both directions between the I-40 and I-65 splits for 13 weekends starting April 20. TDOT is specifically replacing the bridges that pass over Main Street and Woodland Street. Drivers will find that section of the interstate closed for nearly every weekend until Aug. 31.
A crucial stretch of Interstate 24 in Nashville will be shut down for repairs nearly every weekend this summer. Officials say they’re trying to overhaul two bridges while keeping I-24 open on weekdays, as well as for a couple of big weekend events. Along the east side of the city near LP field, I-24 will shut down nearly every weekend through August. A pair of 50-year-old bridges need new concrete, but officials are trying not to disrupt rush-hour traffic. And they’ll leave the road open for big events like the Music City Marathon and CMA Music Festival.
An alarming rise in traffic fatalities in Tennessee for the first three months of this year and a federal demonstration project are helping to fuel a renewed crackdown on traffic and safety violations. Kendell Poole, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office in Nashville, said that traffic fatalities in the state for the first three months of this year jumped to 238, up about 28 percent from 186 for the first quarter of 2011.
The National Eye Institute has awarded Tonia Rex, an assistant professor in the departments of Ophthalmology, and Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center a $1.8 million grant for glaucoma research. The award from the from the National Eye Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health , will fund the five-year study on glaucoma. It is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S., affecting almost 3 million people Rex’s research will focus on a neuroprotective therapy that could control red blood cell production in the eyes.
Dennis Stevens was leaving work when he saw the trooper’s car ablaze. “It was scary,” Stevens recalled. “Fire was shooting all around the car. I could hear those shells inside going off. He was still stuck in the car.” The Tennessee Highway Patrol honored Stevens and four others Monday in a ceremony at the Knoxville district headquarters for their efforts that saved the life of THP Sgt. Lowell Russell in a fiery interstate crash last month.
The Tennessee attorney general is questioning the embattled Currey Ingram Academy in an inquiry focused on the school’s finances, on which the academy’s nonprofit status hinges. Experts say how a nonprofit uses its resources is not only a function of public trust, but can also carry deep consequences for the organization, from fines and penalties to revoking its tax status. Attorney General Bob Cooper’s office is reviewing documents that stem from parental allegations surrounding how the school uses its resources.
Despite two unfavorable opinions from the state’s attorney general — and litigation surrounding similar measures in other states — a Republican initiative to require drug testing for welfare applicants is continuing to gestate in the state legislature. A bill that would have required drug testing for those seeking unemployment benefits was withdrawn last week. The idea to test welfare applicants cropped up last year as well, with the support of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, but eventually failed.
The state Senate approved a bill Monday paving the way — if the House also approves it — for the Memphis suburbs to hold referendums this year on creating municipal school districts. The House put the bill on its agenda for Wednesday morning. Because the House has already approved the base bill, which deals with annual evaluations of local schools directors, its members will be deciding only whether to concur with the Senate amendment on referendums.
Another bill aimed at synthetic drugs is moving through the General Assembly. Half a dozen bills are taking on so-called designer drugs. Two Republican lawmakers are moving down separate paths to outlaw drugs that can be bought in convenience stores with labels such as “plant food” or “bath salts.” Rep. Tony Shipley’s bill outlaws synthetic drugs that produce similar highs to existing controlled substances. Shipley is also a co-sponsor of Rep. Ryan Williams’ bill, which passed the state House last night.
The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing rules to let drone aircraft fly in the same air space as manned aircraft. But meantime, drones can still fly at lower elevations. And one state representative wants to make sure police in Tennessee don’t use drones for illegal spying. If a cop were on board, Rep. Vance Dennis says flying over someone’s house with a camera could constitute an illegal search. “There are currently limitations placed on manned aircraft, where you can use them in law enforcement, how you can use them.
The state Senate approved a bill Monday night that allows Tennessee’s higher education governing boards to keep confidential the names of and information on all applicants for presidents and chancellors of state colleges and universities except for the three finalists. The bill was set for a House floor vote as well but was postponed to Wednesday. Its Senate sponsor, Sen. Jim Tracy, D-Shelbyville, said the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents requested the bill to “encourage more qualified applicants.
The state House of Representatives approved a new Millington City Charter on Monday night. It now goes to the Senate, but no vote has been scheduled. The 32-page governing document for the city was drafted by the Millington Board of Aldermen. After it wins final state legislative approval and is signed into law by the governor, it must be approved by two-thirds vote of the Board of Aldermen within 60 days of its signing. The charter replaces the city’s current charter first adopted in 1903 and amended several times over the years.
The House gave final legislative approval Monday night to a bill allowing local governments to create grant programs to homeowners and developers who buy blighted property to help stabilize and increase property values in blighted areas. Sponsored by Rep. Johnnie Turner and Sen. Beverly Marrero, both Memphis Democrats, Senate Bill 3424 seeks to encourage the repair, rebuilding and renovation of existing structures in neighborhoods whose stability depends on the elimination of blight.
State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, recently was named the Northwest Tennessee Development District’s Legislator of the Year, the fifth consecutive year he has been honored, according to a news release. “Our development districts across the state are often the first point of contact for many of our seniors and local government officials when they need guidance regarding programs and services,” Finney said in the release.
The developer of a $100 million, 190-acre Hixson development says he’ll improve roads and spur the area’s economy. But traffic is a top concern among city planners and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission voted 10-3 Monday to recommend against the rezoning request from developer Duane Horton. Planning Commissioners Barry Payne, Jon Bell and Kenneth Jordan voted in support of the project, which is more than twice the size of Northgate Mall a few miles down the road.
Most inmates at Knoxville area jails can keep their pants on — at least for now. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling permits jailers to strip search all inmates regardless of their offense, and Tipton County has decided to do just that. But law enforcement in East Tennessee is not following suit. “The Supreme Court ruling is under evaluation right now, and we haven’t changed our policy while this is under evaluation,” said Martha Dooley, spokeswoman for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
County planners hear passionate pleas for, against update County planners heard passionate arguments Monday night both against and in favor of a proposed zoning resolution that calls for limiting development to one house per acre in the outer rural areas. “Our liberty is at stake here,” Milton resident Robert Latimer said during a public hearing before the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission inside the County Courthouse. “I feel like our rights are being trampled on.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is scheduled to visit mortgage bankers in Nashville and community leaders in Franklin on Tuesday. Corker’s office says the Republican member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee is expected to discuss reform of government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with members of the Tennessee Mortgage Bankers Association in Nashville. Later Tuesday, Corker is scheduled to meet with community leaders involved with “Franklin Tomorrow,” an initiative designed to create a shared vision for the future of the city.
Two Republican lawmakers from Tennessee say they’re concerned that advertising policies at certain Internet companies may contribute to sex trafficking, even as advocates blame Republicans for delaying action on an anti-trafficking law. Sen. Bob Corker and 18 other senators wrote Jim Larkin, chief executive of Village Voice Media Holdings, last month asking him to shut down the “adult services” section of the company’s classified advertising site, Backpage.com. “It took only minutes on Backpage.com’s adult services section for us to find posts that present clear advertisements for prostitution of young girls,” the senators wrote.
Amid Blanton bribery scandal, Alexander knew he had to take office early Three days before the official start of his term as governor of Tennessee, Lamar Alexander had a decision to make. That afternoon, he was told by U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin that Gov. Ray Blanton was planning to continue a “pay for pardons” scheme that had already allowed 52 criminals and many felons to be set free in exchange for bribes. Hardin told Alexander he needed to take the oath of office on Jan. 17, 1979, and assume the governor’s office three days early.
Millions of New Yorkers are stuck on an energy-finance treadmill. They manage to meet their monthly expenses, but they can’t afford home upgrades that would save energy and lower costs. For those living in New York’s poorest 450,000 households — those that earn below half of the federal poverty level — energy payments have in recent years eaten up more than 40 percent of income, according to a 2011 report commissioned by the state. “Home energy costs threaten not only the ability of New York households to retain energy services,” the report notes, “but also threaten access to housing, food, medical and other necessities of life.”
Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., a subsidiary of Xerox, is hiring more than 60 people at its Nashville call center. Positions include customer service representatives, quality assurance analysts, technical analysts and service center managers. To apply visit acs-inc.com or xerox.com/businessservices. The new call center at 545 Marriott Drive is needed to handle new client growth, according to a company news release. Last year, ACS acquired Nashville-based CredenceHealth, which provides software that captures and analyzes patient data to assist hospitals and health plans.
Athens Distributing Co.’s Memphis branch is on the grow, adding a substantial amount of warehouse space and investing in more modern equipment. Construction began April 1 for an additional 53,700-square-foot warehouse adjacent to the wine and spirits wholesaler and distributor’s warehouse at 905 James St. Athens’ 905 James site already includes a 91,568-square-foot warehouse built in 1973 and improved in 1997. The Nashville-based company is privately held and has been run by four generations of family members.
National report finds too few in state prepared to meet greater expectations Kindergarten used to be considered a place kids learned how to learn, with simple lessons on how to sit still and recognize shapes and colors. Today, by age 5, they’re expected to count to 100, know whether shapes are two- or three-dimensional, and read most pronouns, according to state standards. In Tennessee, too many are showing up without those skills, causing alarm for early education officials as the state moves its curriculum forward in leaps.
Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash is one of three finalists for superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system, according to a report in the Charlotte Observer. Cash, along with a current Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrator and the superintendent of Washoe County Schools in Nevada have been identified as finalists, according to the newspaper report. Cash came to MCS in 2008, and his future with the pending unified school system hasn’t been addressed, but he has expressed interest in the job.
With board members and those planning the transition to the new unified school system divided over who should lead the district, Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash may have made the decision easier with his potential move one state to the east. Cash, who is earning $276,500 annually, emerged Monday as one of three finalists out of 89 applicants for the job of superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, a 140,747-student district where the last superintendent earned $150,000 a year plus bonuses.
Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash is one of three finalists to be superintendent of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools system. He and the other two will be in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday and Thursday for a series of public and private meetings with parents, school board members and the media. The CMS board expects to pick one of the three some time in May. Cash was recommended by the search firm PROACT along with Ann Clark, the CMS chief academic officer, and Heath Morrison, superintendent of the Washoe County Schools district in Reno, Nev.
The idea that the consolidation of Shelby County’s two school systems will involve a choice between what one of the existing school systems has over what the other has is an oversimplification. But there are some choices to be made by the consolidation planning commission. The commission is weighing the idea of freezing school attendance zone boundaries for several years into the schools merger that starts in August 2013. Such boundary freezes have been attempted before mainly as a reaction to annexation.
Fewer Williamson County students are receiving International Baccalaureate degrees this school year, causing school officials to worry about the viability of the program. This year 22 students are scheduled to receive the diploma, which is down three students from last year, the highest amount the 11-year-old program offered at Franklin High School has ever produced. Although that’s not a dramatic dip, Director of Schools Mike Looney and school board members want to see more bang for their buck in the coming year, and already IB coordinators say they have generated more interest in the world-renowned, academically rigorous program.
Loss of fed money could cost jobs City Schools officials will have to draw more than $200,000 out of reserves to balance the budget for the 2012-13 school year. The $54.95 million budget calls for $1.425 million more in expenditures, said Gary Anderson, the district’s administrative and financial services director. The budget was prepared based on a projected enrollment of 7,185 students. “We grew this year by 200. The building of homes, mostly on the west side of the city, has been strong the last two months,” he said.
Barnes first of 4 finalists for school director Rutherford County Schools’ next leader should lead by example, including setting expectations and maintaining a positive attitude. That’s the feeling of Paula Barnes, the district’s current assistant superintendent of human resources and student services and the first of four finalists to interview with the Board of Education Monday. Chosen from a field of 17 applicants, the top applicants are in the running to succeed outgoing Director Harry Gill Jr. when he retires June 30.
We have mixed feelings about two pieces of education legislation making their way through the Tennessee General Assembly. Both deal with parental involvement, which most educators agree can be an important component in assuring a child gets a good education. While one seems to make good sense, the other is a case of government intrusion. One bill requires the state Department of Education to develop a model parental involvement contract to be used by school districts. Creating a thoroughly vetted model for local education systems to use as a tool to encourage parent involvement makes sense.
The mountains of Tennessee got the short shrift from state legislators this session, and we think that could have big ramifications for our environment. The Scenic Vistas Protection Act would have prohibited mining in Tennessee that changes the ridge lines more than 2,000 feet above sea level, a practice similar to mountaintop removal. But the House Conservation Subcommittee recently sent the bill to a summer panel, effectively tabling it for the year. Representatives of the coal industry, wearing black shirts that read “Legalize Coal,” packed the hearing room as the subcommittee considered the bill.
A bill in the state legislature will hurt small businesses, kill jobs and cripple our progress toward energy independence. Interestingly, the Republican sponsors of this legislation are proposing a new tax. Over the past few years, Tennessee has become a leader in clean energy jobs, particularly in the production and manufacturing sectors. A 2009 report by Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted Tennessee as one of three states in the country with a large and fast-growing clean-energy sector.
Ex-speaker pro tem champions elderly, children The road to success for women in the Tennessee General Assembly has been paved by many women who came before us. They worked hard to break through the glass ceiling and institute change, not only in the status quo but change in how women of power and authority are perceived. One such woman who was instrumental in that change is Lois DeBerry. When she was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1972, she was the first African-American woman elected to the House of Representatives from Memphis and only the second African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly.
It’s like we’ve elected Tommy Hilfiger. The politics of fashion have entered the state House, where Nashville legislators passed with little dissent the “We Don’t Want To See Your Underwear” bill, outlawing sagging pants and visible sports bras in schools. The governor — presumably wearing a coat and tie — will probably sign the bill in the weeks to come. Sagging — the odd teenage practice of wearing pants on the latitude somewhere between groin and ankle — has its history in prison culture, where belts are contraband and thus, prison pants sagged.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s freshman tenure as Tennessee’s 3rd District congressman has been on shaky ground since he squeaked out a victory over Robin Smith in a wildly splintered primary in 2010. Lagging fund raising and a wide perception that House Speaker John Boehner has had him on a voting leash the last 15 months has hurt Fleischmann, as well. So when Weston Wamp, the son of Zach — Fleischmann’s immediate predecessor — rolled up a slam-dunk $250,000 fund-raiser last December to ignite his campaign for his father’s old seat months before he turned 25, the minimum age for a congressman, it was game on.
As Knoxville officials begin sorting through options for dealing with the city’s growing pension obligations, residents would be wise to keep two points in mind. First, no matter which option goes before voters, and no matter which way voters turn, the amount of tax money devoted annually to the pension plan will increase from $11 million this year to roughly $30 million by 2019. Any significant savings from changes to the pension plan wouldn’t kick in until 2024.
Officials should watch out for applicants who are more interested in making a profit than educating students. Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash’s unease over the number of charter schools that could open in Memphis is understandable. Twenty-five charters already are in operation and 14 to 17 could possibly be approved over the next two to three months. Cash thinks the additional schools will drain talented staff and teachers, along with financial resources, from public schools.
For Tennesseans, the current debate on continuing the state solar incentives involves deeper questions than just tax policy. Should we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? Should the government continue supporting the nascent clean-energy industry, as it has done for decades with the traditional energy industries? Do we really even need clean energy in our country? As a military professional with 36 years experience, my answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes!” America’s national security and economic vitality are threatened by our dependence on fossil fuels.