This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s press secretary says the governor plans to sign legislation requiring drug testing for some welfare applicants, despite calls from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee to veto the measure. “The governor is expected to sign the bill,” Alexia Poe said in an email. She said state Department of Human Services officials “will work on the rules to implement the law and will work with the attorney general who will have to approve them.”
For the second straight year, Chief Executive magazine named Tennessee the fourth best state for business. For all eight years the magazine has produced the list, the first and last place states — Texas and California respectively — have remained unchanged. Other states in the top five were Florida, North Carolina and Indiana. The list was based on the responses of 650 CEOs, who graded states in which they do business based on tax and regulation, quality of workforce and living environment.
Tennessee will receive $1.95 million coming from a multistate settlement between a giant pharmaceutical company accused of deceptively marketing the anti-seizure drug Depakote. The state’s cut was part of a $100 million agreement between 45 states and the District of Columbia and Abbott Laboratories. The agreement is the largest consumer protection-based pharmaceutical settlement ever reached.
TN gets $1.95M in deal over marketing of anti-seizure drug Tennessee will get a small portion of a massive $1.5 billion penalty agreed to by drug maker Abbott Laboratories on Monday in connection with how it marketed a major anti-seizure drug. Abbott has pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $1.5 billion — including $1.95 million to Tennessee — over allegations that it promoted the anti-seizure drug Depakote for uses that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Tennessee and 44 other states reached the settlement with Abbott on Monday.
Abbott Laboratories will pay $1.6 billion to settle federal and state claims that it improperly marketed the neurologic medication Depakote for off-label uses, the company said Monday. Abbott will pay $800 million to resolve civil allegations split among federal and state governments, $700 million in criminal penalties and $100 million to states to resolve consumer protection matters, the Chicago-based company said.
Funds sought for merit, other increases Faculty and staff in the University of Tennessee system could receive merit-based salary increases above the 2.5 percent across-the-board raise outlined in the state budget that passed last week. Chancellors at each campus are examining their budgets in search of extra money to create a pool of about “a couple percent” for merit raises and market-adjustment increases, President Joe DiPietro said.
The Tennessee Department of Education confirmed Monday that it is investigating a “potential breach of security” that may have occurred during TCAP testing at a Hawkins County school two weeks ago. Neither the state nor the Hawkins County School system will confirm the circumstances of the security breach or at which school it may have occurred. “I don’t know the circumstances,” Director of Schools Charlotte Britton said.
Budget cuts could mean fewer lake patrols in Sullivan County, but the same amount of enforcement is expected. Sheriff Wayne Anderson announced lake patrol cuts last week as a cost-saving measure. The Bristol Herald Courier reports the Tennessee Valley Authority also ended uniformed patrols and instead opted for contract security guards to patrol. But that does not include lake boat patrols. The only option: patrols by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency.
In the legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly last week allowing suburban referendums this year on forming municipal school districts there was another part of the bill. And it completes some important terms for the Nov. 6 school board elections that would follow the planned Aug. 2 referendums on forming school districts and levying a half- cent local option sales tax rate increase if voters approve both questions.
Tennessee’s law against online bullying is getting a partial rewrite to make sure it holds up in court. The lawmaker behind this year’s update says it’s a necessary step toward dealing with an evolving problem. Murfreesboro Senator Bill Ketron says the need for a law is clear. He points to two teenage suicides close to Nashville in the last six months, blaming cyber-bullying for both. What’s less clear is how to tamp down on hard words, without stepping on free-speech rights. Ketron says the problem evolves with technology.
The thrust of sex education classes taught in Tennessee schools will stay the same under a controversial bill awaiting the governor’s signature, according to the Department of Education. The so-called “gateway sexual activity” bill seeks to punish teachers and third-party groups that promote “sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior” and rewrite state code to emphasizes abstinence education — both issues that caught the national spotlight this year.
Flashing red lights and a quick trip to an emergency room could one day come courtesy of a Franklin city ambulance, not Williamson County. Franklin leaders are exploring changes to an agreement with Williamson County that allows Franklin’s city paramedics to respond to medical emergencies but prevents them from taking patients to the hospital. That leaves more than $1 million annually on the table in insurance money that Franklin could potentially collect if the city were to begin its own emergency medical services transport.
Todd Womack said Monday he would not run for Chattanooga mayor at this time. “It’s humbling that people would encourage you to serve and we’re certainly open to considering a run for mayor down the road,” said Womack, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, is expected to announce his mayoral campaign bid today. He plans a meeting at 11 a.m. at the Chattanooga Theatre Center. Womack said he and his wife, Katie, had discussions about his potential run for mayor.
Mayor pledges balanced budget, staff raises Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess proposed a $1.6 million pay raise plan for county employees without taking more from the taxpayers. “We think there’s enough money to fund this without a property tax increase,” Burgess told members of the County Commission’s Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee Monday night. The county expects 1,023 employees to go into the new pay plan that’s supposed to bring them up to market value for Middle Tennessee, but County Register of Deeds Heather Dawbarn said she will not have her staff participate.
Thirty-six members of Congress are urging Vanderbilt University to exempt religious organizations from its “all-comers” policy, saying it discriminates against faith-based groups. Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus said Monday they have sent a letter pressing Vanderbilt officials to exempt campus religious organizations from the policy, which requires that university-recognized groups allow any student to join and run for office — even if a student doesn’t share the group’s central beliefs.
Thirty-six members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, including four Tennessee lawmakers, are urging Vanderbilt University to modify its “all-comers” nondiscrimination policy that has nearly a dozen religious groups complaining the private school has forced them to choose between their beliefs or leaving the campus. “We are deeply concerned that Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy is being applied in a manner that targets religious student organizations, creating an environment that’s hostile to their existence on campus,” says the congressmen’s letter to Mark Dalton, chairman of the university’s board of trustrees, Chancellor Nicholas Zeppo and other trustees.
Several members of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation are calling on Vanderbilt University to change an anti-discrimination policy for campus groups. Congressmen Stephen Fincher, Chuck Fleischmann, Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn all signed a letter (PDF here) to Vanderbilt officials. The four Republicans say the policy is driving away religious groups, because they can’t require members or leaders to share their beliefs.
Vanderbilt University’s non-discrimination policy has once again drawn the attention of Congress. The Congressional Prayer Caucus has sent a second letter to the Nashville University, accusing the school of being hostile to religious groups. The letter urges Vanderbilt to amend its so-called “All Comers” policy which allows any student to serve in a leadership position in a student group, even if that student does not share the group’s beliefs.
Vice President Joe Biden touched down in Nashville for the second time in six months Monday to rev up a few dozen Democratic Party stalwarts and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. On his way out of town, Biden surprised a group of home-schooled children with an impromptu motorcade stop along Old Hickory Boulevard. Biden was the headliner at a $10,000-a-head fundraiser at real estate executive and Obama “bundler” Bill Freeman’s Green Hills home.
If Americans continue to pack on pounds, 42 percent may end up obese by 2030, and 11 percent could be severely obese, adding billions of dollars to health-care costs, according to new projections released Monday. As of 2010, about 36 percent of adults were obese, which is roughly 30 pounds over a healthy weight, and 6 percent were severely obese, which is 100 or more pounds over a healthy weight.
Barbecue capital reputation done to a turn by ranking With nearly a third of its population considered obese, Memphis is the fattest city in the nation, according to Newsweek magazine. It’s the city that turned barbecue into an art form and bought a special ambulance in March to transport super-sized patients. The ambulance is already broken, but Memphis is trying to fix the obesity rate that has landed it atop list after list as fat and unfit.
A peace activist group waged its growing campaign against the Uranium Processing Facility on two fronts Monday. Members of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance hand-delivered a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Knoxville office, asking the Republican senator to help slow work on the multibillion-dollar project until safety issues raised by a federal review board have been resolved. In a separate action, the group sent a letter to Gregory Friedman, the U.S. Department of Energy’s inspector general, and urged Friedman to investigate the project’s work to date, with more than $500 million spent designing the new production facility, for evidence of government waste and possibly fraud.
Nearly 400 show up at job fair for 250 positions Job seeker Latricia McGee searched for work at three places Monday and joined nearly 400 applying for 250 positions with Saks Fifth Avenue’s distribution center in La Vergne. “It’s been a challenge, especially in this area,” McGee said Monday afternoon while filling out the required application through the Tennessee Career Center in her hometown of Murfreesboro. “A lot of manufacturing jobs went to Mexico and other places.”
Also approves first reading to annex Lucy community Millington took its final steps toward a new form of government Monday night, then approved holding a referendum to see if citizens want to boost the local option sales tax rate by a half-cent for education. The two votes send the North Shelby County suburb in a new direction on how it will operate government in the future, and how it might fund a municipal school system. The city also approved on the first of three readings an ordinance to annex the Lucy community in order to bolster the number of potential students in a Millington municipal school system.
The Jackson-Madison County School Board approved its 2012-13 budget request on Monday night. Board members had a lengthy discussion led by Billy Keeton, who advocated to keep some of the eliminated teacher positions. “We need to be adding (teaching) positions, and not taking them away,” he said. Keeton said the district should keep at least 10 of the 19 teacher positions cut in the budget. “We could put them in reading or math classrooms to help get our (achievement) levels where they need to be,” Keeton said.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith announced on Monday reassignments and appointments for several public school principals. Smith did not announce reassignments for Brainerd High Principal Charles Joynes, Dalewood Middle School Principal Rodney Johnson and Woodmore Elementary School Principal Visa Harper. All three of those principals are being moved to comply with a $500,000 state grant to turnaround schools.
After watching Jamal Lett explain his passion for helping underprivileged students, organizers of TEACH/Here, Chattanooga’s teacher residency program, knew the effort was more than just about recruiting qualified educators. Lett, a resident working with a veteran teacher at Orchard Knob Middle School, explains on video how one of his middle school teachers inspired him to want to do better — inspiration that’s stuck with him to the age of 23. Now, he tries to give his students that same gift of inspiration.
Commission looks at board’s budget tonight Knox County commissioners tonight for the first time will publicly pick through the school system’s proposed spending plan, a budget the county mayor declined to fund but one commissioners might be willing to give a chance. Commissioners, however, say they are concerned about one of the proposal’s key elements: Expanding the school year by a week at a cost of almost $7 million.
A two-page oral sex encounter by an awkward teen at boarding school in the coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska was deemed too racy by Sumner County schools last week. The district banned the book from its assigned classroom reading list, becoming at least the second in the state, after Knox County in March, to keep students from reading it together in class. The teen novel is the first in several years to be stripped from Sumner classrooms.
During the legislative session that recently ended, job creation was one of the major themes. Early in the session and with little fanfare, lawmakers approved legislation that has the potential to create many new jobs in communities throughout our state. It’s called the Uniformity in Tax Increment Financing Act of 2012, a measure that gives economic development officials in our cities and counties an attractive incentive to offer businesses.
Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, part of Teacher Appreciation Week, and if you’re in Tennessee, there never has been a more important time to let educators know that you value their work. The “you” we refer to mainly is adults. Students in grades K-12 do, for the most part, appreciate their teachers, and today many of these students are bringing cards and small gifts to their teachers. These kids see firsthand the effort that goes into lesson preparation and keeping a room full of kids focused.
The Knox County Commission will take up today the school system’s request for an additional $35 million in annual operating funds. The request would prompt a tax increase because current revenues would not cover the entire tab. The most straightforward way to pay for the increase would be through a property tax increase of 35 cents per $100 of assessed value. For the owner of a house worth $100,000, that would work out to about 22 cents per day. But some politicians are balking at that notion.
Racial politics and finger pointing won’t move Juvenile Court toward meaningful reform. Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court officials found themselves under a barrage of criticism a week ago during a meeting of the local Disproportionate Minority Task Force. The task force is commissioned by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth to address juvenile delinquency prevention efforts and develop strategies to reduce incidents of minority contact and confinement in the juvenile justice system in Memphis and Shelby County.