This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam announced that he would not sign a controversial science education bill, allowing it to pass into law without his endorsement. Although effectively insignificant, it was an unprecedented move for the governor, who has signed every other piece of legislation to hit his desk since he took office in 2010. In explaining his decision, and in the week leading up to it, the governor said he doesn’t believe the bill, which ensures teachers will be permitted to teach the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of scientific theories like climate change and evolution, changes anything about the state’s scientific standards or its curriculum.
Tornado, hurricane or flood, nursing homes are woefully unprepared to protect frail residents in a natural disaster, government investigators say. Emergency plans required by the government often lack specific steps such as coordinating with local authorities, notifying relatives or even pinning name tags and medication lists to residents in an evacuation, according to the findings. That means the plans may not be worth the paper they’re written on.
The state’s strawberry crop looks to be the best in years, despite recent frosts. The Agriculture Department’s Tammy Algood says the mild winter and warm spring mean the fruit is closer to being ripe than in a typical year. That means it has increased sugar levels which make it more cold tolerant. Algood also says growers are used to close calls and are set up to react to cold weather. Strawberry lovers can find a directory of strawberry patches and farmers markets at www.picktnproducts.org.
An appellate court is paving the way for executions of death row inmates, including two from East Tennessee. The Tennessee Court of Appeals last week issued an opinion affirming the decision of Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman to uphold a new procedure set by the state Department of Correction to try to ensure a death row inmate is unconscious before fatal drugs are administered under the state’s three-drug lethal injection process.
Tennessee is about to adopt a new method for disciplining judges that supporters say contains more accountability and should help restore the public’s faith in the judicial system. “We got a lot of things in it that we wanted,” said state Sen. Mae Beavers. “I think it ended up being a fairly good piece of legislation. There’s more accountability than there is at the present time.” The Mt. Juliet Republican has long been an outspoken critic of the Court of the Judiciary, which she said has dismissed too many citizen complaints against judges accused of serious misconduct.
Parents would sign contracts or receive ‘report cards’ Proposed legislation that would hold parents responsible for their level of involvement with their child’s education is moving closer to reality. Tennessee is among a few states enacting or considering legislation that aims to spur parents to get involved in their child’s classroom performance. One bill advancing in the General Assembly would encourage school districts to develop a parental-involvement contract, while another proposes what are commonly referred to as parent report cards, which are mostly used in charter schools.
A bill awaiting floor votes in both the House and Senate was apparently inspired by a controversial Vanderbilt University policy prohibiting student groups from discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation. But, as things now stand, HB3576 wouldn’t apply to Vanderbilt or other private colleges and universities — only to state universities, where officials say there is no such policy. That could change under pending amendments. Religion-oriented groups such as Vanderbilt’s Christian Legal Society, which ran afoul of the rule by ousting a gay student from membership, say the “all comers” policy is unfair and discriminates against them because many require a profession of faith as a condition of membership.
Imagine you are involved in a serious car accident and are knocked unconscious. First responders arrive on the scene within minutes, pry open the door of your smoking vehicle, and begin administering life-saving treatments as they load you into the back of an ambulance. But what those first responders don’t know could potentially hurt you. As it turns out, you are allergic to one of the medications being administered to you in an attempt to save your life or prevent further injury.
Spring Hill leaders see trouble with this form of government Most city officials here were glad when Maury County voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to form a Maury County metropolitan government. But Spring Hill’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen tonight will consider whether to ask the state legislature to make the approval of a metro government even harder to accomplish. Mayor Michael Dinwiddie wants an amendment to state law regarding metro referendums to require approval by at least 50 percent of all registered voters in a county.
Madison is No. 38 on list of Tenn. county health rankings While some progress has been made, West Tennessee still has a lot to do to improve overall health, according to a county health rankings survey released this month. The information was part of the third annual County Health Rankings report, which was released by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Madison County resides in the middle of the rankings this year, sitting at No. 38 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Three Republican Tennessee lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, used campaign donations to pay salaries to their family members during the last two election cycles, according to a new report. For almost a year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington scoured House financial disclosures, office budgets and campaign ledgers for financial connections between lawmakers and their families. They found that the families of more than half of all House lawmakers have received payments or otherwise benefited from ties to a lawmaker in the past two election cycles.
Just as student-loan debt has reached a record $1 trillion, need-based student loan interest rates will double to 6.8 percent July 1 if Congress doesn’t act. Millions of students nationwide and thousands in the Chattanooga area who borrow for college would face thousands of dollars in additional interest. Dalton State College student Hilary Hicks already has two outstanding student loans and expects to borrow more before she graduates in about 18 months. She tries not to worry about the loans, telling herself she’s going to find a job upon graduation and everything is going to be fine.
Claxton community resident William Banks is caught between an existing TVA coal ash landfill at the Bull Run Fossil Plant and a proposed expansion into his neighborhood. Given the chance to sell out and relocate, Banks said he took it. “It’s just progress, I guess,” Banks said of what looks like a done deal on the controversial expansion. Banks, who lives on Old Edgemoor Lane, said he received a “fair deal” on his existing property and has been told he needs to move within six months.
His parents pose the questions around the coffee table as Andrew St. Vincent builds a Lego city. They want to know about the room. “So you were in there by yourself?” his mother asks. “When would you be in that room?” his father wants to know. Michael and Elizabeth St. Vincent have never seen the room. Andrew, their autistic child, told them about it months after they took him out of the Williamson County School District. He went into the room when he threw tantrums, he said.
The national director for the Office of Head Start will visit Nashville to discuss early childhood education. Yvette Sanchez Fuentes will be at the Susan Gray Head Start facility in Nashville on Tuesday. She will tour the center, read to the children and meet with staff, parents and community partners. She will also discuss the Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families and will explain the Head Start Roadmap to Excellence.
There is almost universal agreement on the need for parental involvement in the education of their children, but how to make it happen has been an issue that has eluded teachers and administrators for years. We are wary of lawmakers trying to micromanage public education, but if they can provide some answers for greater parental involvement in the state’s schools, more power to them — relatively speaking. Tennessee is one of a few states that has enacted or is considering enacting laws that would require parents to be more involved with their children’s education.
Forcing parents to be engaged: Bills would sanction parents who refuse to participate in their children’s academic endeavors. Bills are awaiting votes in the Tennessee House and Senate that will require parents to be actively involved in their children’s school lives. Sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the bills require mandatory family counseling, which the parents would be responsible for paying for — unless they are indigent. There has been some discussion about whether mandatory counseling could survive a legal challenge.
Eighty-seven years after Tennessee was nationally embarrassed for criminally prosecuting the teaching of evolution, the state government is at it again. This time it has enacted a law that protects teachers who invite students to challenge the science underlying evolution and climate change. The measure is a transparent invitation to indulge pseudoscience in the classroom and a transparent pandering to a vocal, conservative fringe. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, wrung his hands, warning that good legislation should bring “clarity and not confusion.”
When Benjamin Franklin wrote to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy in November 1789, he expressed his hope that the U.S. Constitution would last, but conceded that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Astute tax planners take advantage of every loophole. Others are grateful when their payroll tax deductions cover their income tax liability. Some rejoice that they are receiving an income tax refund, even though this means that they have overpaid their tax liability. Like it or not, April 15 (this year April 17) comes once each year.
Metro Schools Director Jesse Register has gone and done the right thing, and he should be commended for it. After he was thoroughly spanked by the media, employees union, taxpayers and Mayor Karl Dean, Register is requiring 21 of the highest-paid public school administrators to disclose potential conflicts of interest, including any gifts and travel they’ve received. And Register finally filed a complete list of the free trips he was given. This man, who is so extraordinarily important as Nashville continues to struggle to improve public schools, deserves kudos for this.
The school year has seen unprecedented changes for the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) support staff — drastic changes that are demolishing employees’ morale and jeopardizing our students’ learning environment. Chief among them are policy changes to the MNPS Support Staff Handbook made unilaterally by Jesse Register, the director of MNPS. These changes were made without consultation of the school board or support staff members, who include educational assistants, food service workers, campus supervisors, secretaries and bookkeepers.