This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Not long ago, Advanced Placement exams were mostly for top students looking to challenge themselves and get a head start on college credit. Not anymore. In the next two weeks, 2 million students will take 3.7 million end-of-year AP exams — figures well over double those from a decade ago. With no national curriculum, AP has become the de facto gold standard for high school rigor. States and high schools are pushing AP classes and exams as a way to raise standards across the board, in some cases tying AP to bonuses.
Construction has begun on Middle Tennessee State University’s new $147 million science building, due to open in spring 2015. Gov. Bill Haslam and state House Speaker Beth Harwell joined MTSU President Sidney McPhee at a groundbreaking last week. Haslam said the building had been 18 years in the works and was No. 1 on the state’s higher education capital projects list. He and Harwell commended “relentless” lobbying by Rutherford County legislators for persuading the General Assembly to provide some $126.7 million this year for the project.
Middle Tennessee State University broke ground Thursday on its long-awaited $147 million Science Building, a project that will help the institution produce more college graduates ready for emerging high-tech jobs. The turn of the shovels also was the official construction launch for the building, which is aiming for a spring 2015 opening date. Gov. Bill Haslam said the building will help address the state’s need for more college graduates, especially in STEM areas—science, technology, engineering and math.
“Phoning it in” is not necessarily a bad thing, at least when it comes to putting local foods on the table. “Not everybody can be a farmer, but everybody can find farms, farmers markets and pick-your-own patches nearby,” says Pamela Bartholomew, agritourism coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “Smart phone scanners make finding fresh, local foods so easy, you can literally phone it in!” Savvy cell phone users can now point their phone cameras at a “QR,” or “quick response” code, and launch an application that takes them straight to the Pick Tennessee Products website.
Secrecy seemed to be a common thread running through the session of the Tennessee Legislature that ended May 1. The latest “secret” revealed is that key members of the Legislature met on April 23 at a Nashville restaurant of the session to work out deals on amendments to the governor’s $34.1 billion state budget proposal. The secret session was revealed in an Associated Press story filed the following day. No one in the Legislature or the governor’s office seemed upset that the meeting was held or revealed in news stories.
Tennessee lawmakers this year passed measures to overhaul state civil service, cut taxes and combat crime, but issues like science and sex education, abortion and guns often wound up grabbing headlines. With the governorship, the House and Senate under firm Republican control, long-stymied social conservatives pushed causes dear to their hearts during the 107th General Assembly that ended last week.
In literally the last hour of the 107th General Assembly, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver stood on the House floor to explain some of her recent votes. “This bill has nothing to do with policy,” she said of SB326, which calls for a state takeover of federal health care programs through a Health Care Compact. Introduced on Feb. 3, 2011, it had been the subject of intense debate from the start to the finish of the two-year session.
Oversight panel is boon, some say; others fear loss of event Some supporters of the Tennessee State Fair hope Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto pen will make another rare appearance soon, setting aside state legislation that would put the fair in new hands. But other backers say new oversight is exactly what the fair needs three years after Metro government, which continues to own the fairgrounds as well as the legal rights to the name Tennessee State Fair, decided to stop running the annual event and began contracting with other groups to put it on.
In the final days of the legislative session, it’s not Republican vs. Democrat but House vs. Senate, goes an old adage at the Tennessee Capitol. The expression refers to the last-minute squabbling between the two chambers over which issues to work out and which to kick to the curb before heading home for the year. In this year’s battle, the House gave itself a little edge: It held hostage a project favored by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. The House moved on April 27 to delay a vote creating an ATV park on Johnson County’s Doe Mountain.
Sumner law officers capture license plates to fight crime. Are they violating privacy? Sumner County law enforcement officials are using high-tech cameras to create a detailed picture of the whereabouts of thousands of cars, regardless of whether they are suspected of any link to criminal activity. Police say that this ability to capture license plates is among the most powerful new crime-fighting tools at their disposal, and that it has already led them directly to vehicles used in crimes.
The 53-cent property tax increase proposed last week by Mayor Karl Dean would be Nashville’s first in seven years, but it would be the fifth in the past 15. In 1997, then-Mayor Phil Bredesen requested a 73-cent tax increase, which the Metro Council ultimately pared back to 54 cents per $100 of assessed value. The council vote was 29-9 in favor. A year later, Bredesen was back with another request — which the council granted by a 27-13 vote — for a 12-cent increase to pay for a $206 million school desegregation plan.
Councilman would slice jobs, tap into city’s reserves to fund 10-cent reduction While Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for a 47-cent property-tax increase, City Councilman Jim Strickland has a counterproposal that would reduce the tax rate by 10 cents as it eliminates jobs and makes a large draw on the city’s reserves. “I think our high property-tax rate has been hurting our city, and in the long run if it continues to increase, it will devastate the city through the continued loss of population and businesses,” said Strickland, chairman of the council’s budget committee.
A top Kingston, Tenn., police official denied giving “special treatment” to Michael Mayfield after admitting he changed Mayfield’s initial court date from May to Aug. 27 — three weeks after an election that Mayfield’s father must win to reach Congress. “There’s no special treatment at all,” Kingston Assistant Police Chief Gary Nelson said. “It had nothing to do with the election coming up. It was totally my choice to pick that date.”
Six months after touching down in Nashville to raise campaign money, Vice President Joe Biden will be back to do it again Monday. Biden is scheduled to headline a lunchtime fundraiser at real estate mogul Bill Freeman’s house. Freeman, one of Tennessee’s top fundraisers for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, declined to comment Friday. Biden is not expected to make any public appearances. Some roads will be closed late Monday morning through mid-afternoon for security purposes, the Metro Police Department said.
Mark the recession in Rutherford County officially over: a new Walmart is coming to town. “It’s taken five years,” Murfreesboro City Councilman and Planning Commissioner Doug Young said. “That shows you how hard the recession hit us.” Talk of a Walmart opening off South Church Street has been going on since Camino Real nearby opened four years ago, restaurant manager Ricardo Fonseca recalled.
Opponents: Issue ‘not settled’ Those opposed to the creation of municipal school districts in Shelby County believe significant legal barriers remain even after the state legislature’s passage of a bill last week designed to allow as many as six municipalities to hold referendums for new school systems. They are prepared to challenge the municipalities over what they believe is a fundamental misunderstanding about the ruling in the schools merger lawsuit that U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays delivered in August.
Ten aspiring school principals wrapped up a year of intense training and mentorship as the second class to graduate from the Principal Leadership Academy, a partnership among the Public Education Foundation, the Hamilton County Department of Education, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The program’s training focuses on ways to achieve high academic standards, but also includes business instruction to help principals with finances, human resources and management.
The Connecticut Senate passed a bill on Saturday legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, with tight restrictions intended to avoid the problems that have plagued some of the other states where it is now legal. After nearly 10 hours of debate, the Senate voted 21 to 13 in favor of the measure, which has already cleared the House. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill. Once he does, Connecticut will join 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing the medical use of marijuana.
Gov. Bill Haslam wisely waited until the day after 107th General Assembly had permanently adjourned to announce he was for the first time exercising a right granted by the state constitution to act as judge, jury and executioner of legislative acts. Actually, the governor only rarely is assured of executioner status. But Haslam has it with the veto of a bill that would outlaw Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy. As Haslam has noted in explaining why he didn’t veto other stuff, a gubernatorial veto can be overriden by a simple majority of the Legislature.
New technologies, materials and processes are changing our lives more quickly today than ever — moving information faster, making vehicles safer and more efficient, even adding new words to our everyday speech. If we need information quickly, we “Google” it. That particular innovation is now a company valued at $200 billion, but Google Inc. wasn’t conceived by two Stanford University professors or even two Silicon Valley executives. It began when two Stanford graduate students — Sergey Brin and Larry Page — had the smarts and drive to develop a great idea in their dorm rooms and the confidence to get $100,000 in seed money from Sun Microsystems co-founder (and Stanford alum) Andy Bechtolsheim.
It’s never easy trying to grade accomplishments, or lack of accomplishments, at the end of a legislative session. That goes for the Republican-dominated 107th Tennessee General Assembly, which adjourned its 2012 session Tuesday night. Republicans called the session a “remarkable” turning point for the state. Democrats, as expected, were not as gushy, citing what they labeled a litany of “crazy bills” that brought negative attention to the state. On the “remarkable” front, we think it was remarkable that legislators, especially those who have been proponents of more gun-carry rights, stood up to the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association, and did not let the guns-in-parking-lots bill become law.
Education wasn’t a big focus of the Legislature this year. Still, lawmakers found some time to dabble, and most bills were forays in the ongoing fight over cultural values. Republicans were accused of trying to save money by changing the kindergarten cutoff date. But the sponsor of the measure, Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin, made it clear that his motive was supporting family values. “There is an element in education that wants to get children a universal education from the cradle to the grave,” he said. “I strongly disagree with that. We want those young people at home with their family for the first several years of their life.”
Evolution has been voted down in the Tennessee legislature. School kids there need not be bothered by confusing allusions to homo erectus, homo ergaster, homo antecessor, homo heidelbergensis, homo neanderthalensis and other ancestral contradictions to that Old Time Religion. The Monkey Bill, as it’s known thereabouts, became state law earlier this month without the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam, who disapproved but apparently not enough to exercise his veto pen. Haslam did say he was worried about Tennessee’s reputation. Sure enough, the national media has had a good time remembering Tennesseans acting like anti-science yokels back during the 1925 Scopes trial.
It is far too polite, not to mention naive, to say members of the Tennessee General Assembly have their heads in the sand when it comes to sexual activity among teenagers. Instead, I would suggest these esteemed solons have placed their heads deeply inside a private sector of their own respective anatomies. I shan’t specify the exact orifice by its common name for two reasons. First, in a family newspaper, the word “ass” typically is restricted to archaic names for beasts of burden. Second, I’m afraid that mentioning this or any other private region in the context of Tennessee lawmaking will cause a new round of sweaty palpitations to break out — like what occurred a few days ago as the state House debated the legal definition of “intimate parts.”
Without Dean proposal, education and public safety cuts would be drastic How low can you go, when you are charged with keeping a city of more than 600,000 people running? Nashville Mayor Karl Dean believes the city became very lean by the end of his first term, a period that saw no tax increases, but a budget reduction of $59 million and a loss of 660 city employees. And sure enough, if you concede that, at a basic level, a city needs to have relatively safe streets and adequate schools and must continue to service its debts, then Nashville has little body fat left. As a result, Dean’s call last week for a 53-cent property tax increase in the next fiscal year starts to make sense.
For nearly a week last month, Knoxville firefighters methodically beat down a mulch fire at the Shamrock Organic Products facility on Ailor Avenue. They worked around the clock, shooting more than 25 million gallons of water on the smouldering mounds of mulch and yard waste. Now that the fire is out, city administrators must respond in kind to keep another blaze from flaring up at the nine-acre site at the edge of the Fort Sanders neighborhood. So far, Mayor Madeline Rogero and her staff have come through with sensible short-term measures and prudently are reviewing possible long-term actions.
One of Don Odom’s first tasks as director of Rutherford County Schools could be his most difficult. When he takes the post July 1, he faces the unenviable job of leading the school system in setting new zone lines for the opening of Stewarts Creek High School in southwest Smyrna. The problem won’t be creating a strong student body for Stewarts Creek, which is located in a fairly high socioeconomic area. It will be adopting zones that won’t leave Smyrna and La Vergne high schools a shell of their former selves with high concentrations of low-income students.