This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has sign two bills from his 2012 legislative agenda that make structural changes to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) and 21 boards, commissions and licensing programs. More than 200 of these organizations exist within state government, and many have independent hiring and spending authority with limited oversight. Haslam announced a review of state boards and commissions during his 2011 State of the State address, and after a comprehensive evaluation, he proposed reforms to improve performance, accountability and efficiency.
Hundreds packed the Hilton Hotel to celebrate the accomplishments of a group working to bring jobs to the area, improve education and control crime A fancy luncheon at a swanky hotel is the backdrop for what some say is right about Memphis The group effort is called Memphis Fast Forward. Since 2007, crime has decreased, more companies have located here to bring jobs with them and the education is improving.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell held a joint luncheon to mark the end of the five-year Memphis Fast Forward plan at the Memphis Hilton today. The Memphis Fast Forward agenda was a collaborative effort between private partners and the Memphis and Shelby County government creating a four-point plan for addressing several key issues. The Fast Forward portfolio did not lack for ambition, attempting to improve education through the People First initiative, job creation with the Memphis Economic Development plan (MemphisED), crime with the Operation Safe Community and government efficiency.
As Shelby County’s suburban cities prepare for Aug. 2 referendums to create municipal school districts, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says those communities may not realize how much it will cost to run a school system. Haslam has said he wanted the Transition Planning Commission to complete its work to merge Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools before the suburbs decide on municipal districts. However, he signed the new legislation that allows the municipalities to hold referendums this year.
It’s two state legislative sessions down and counting as a buoyant Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam came to Memphis on Wednesday for a business luncheon. By now he’s familiar with having to field questions about the educational turmoil taking place in Memphis and Shelby County. His answers were all too familiar. “There’s a lot of muddy water, if you will, Memphis, right now with all the reform changes happening as well as the merger.”
Hundreds of people from around the Upper Cumberland flocked to Cummins Falls yesterday for the celebration that officially opened the 211 acres of the falls and surrounding lands to the public as Tennessee’s 54th state park. The event thanked the countless individuals responsible for the saving of the land and served as an introduction to the fall’s beauty for many who had not yet visited. It also marked the 75th anniversary of Tennessee state parks.
Governor Bill Haslam plans to spend part of the summer campaigning for Republicans in the General Assembly. The governor says he’ll help his “friends” during the primary season as well as the general election. To Haslam, it’s not about retribution toward GOP lawmakers who tried to block parts of his agenda. He says he wants to return the favor to Republican colleagues who’ve aided his administration “I don’t know that I had anybody that left the friends list, but I think anybody…it’s just natural. You’re going to work harder for people who helped you more.”
Tennessee has some of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the nation In spite of efforts to crack down on the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, a new report shows nearly 18 million prescriptions for controlled substances such as OxyContin and hydrocodone were dispensed in Tennessee last year — a 23 percent increase from the previous year. The surging figures in the report to the General Assembly are a setback for those fighting on the front lines of the prescription drug problem.
A Roane County woman has been charged in Cumberland County with TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” which involves a person going to multiple doctors in a short period of time to obtain prescription drugs, and use TennCare as payment. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), with the assistance of sheriff’s deputies in Roane and Cumberland counties, announced the arrest of Crystal G. Farrar, 33, of Harriman.
Tennessee’s ranking as a bike-friendly state moved up one spot this year, to 26th in the nation, on a new list released Tuesday by the League of American Bicyclists. The state has been as high as 24th, back in 2009, when Tennessee rose dramatically from 43rd. The league evaluates states based on bicycle legislation and policies, funding, planning, and safety education efforts. “We’ve seen a pretty vast improvement,” said Jessica Wilson, coordinator of the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s bicycle and pedestrian program.
Tennessee ranks third lowest nationally in placing children in the foster system with other family members, with only 8 percent of foster children placed with a relative, according to a national report released Wednesday. Alabama and Georgia had only slightly better numbers, with 12 and 14 percent placed, still only about half the national average of 26 percent, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported. “It has been a challenge for Tennessee,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director for Children’s Rights, a national watchdog group dedicated to reforming government child welfare services.
Wednesday morning started like any other at the iconic diner in downtown Murfreesboro, according to Scott Perkins, owner of the iconic City Cafe. Just after 9 a.m., however, diners and employees were asked to vacate the business and a sign was posted on the window, designating that it had been closed by issue of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, Tax Enforcement Division for uncollected taxes.
Despite efforts to improve the pathway between Tennessee’s community colleges and public universities, many students still have trouble making the transition, according to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. A recent state performance audit found that the state still needed to make progress on efforts to create better “pathways” for students to transfer from community colleges to the state’s four-year universities.
Law enforcement officers will staff more than 70 checkpoints in Tennessee over the long Memorial Day holiday weekend. State troopers will work around the clock with a special emphasis on enforcing seat belt use as part of the national Click It or Ticket campaign. They also will be looking out for impaired and aggressive drivers. Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said using seat belts is an effective way to save lives.
Tennessee has the 12th-highest rate of injury-related deaths in the nation — and two organizations say it would be higher if not for certain state laws. The report, “The Facts Hurt: A State-by-State Injury Prevention Policy Report,” said 75 of every 100,000 Tennesseans of all ages have deaths related to injuries, higher than the national rate of 57.9 per 100,000. But Tennessee scored fairly high on “key indicators” the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health, the organizations that released the report, identified as 10 steps states can take to prevent injuries.
The future of how top judges in Tennessee are assigned to the bench is in limbo now that a plan asking voters to formally endorse the status quo died on Capitol Hill this year. Despite vocal support from the state’s three most powerful elected Republicans, lawmakers abandoned a plan to run the current judicial selection process by voters. Instead, the Legislature at this time appears to favor giving itself a confirmation role on judicial appointments, as is done at the federal level.
Tennessee companies could see a reduction in workers’ compensation premiums later this year, The Tennessean reports. Whether that happens depends on the outcome of complex maneuvering at the state levels regarding the rates at which doctors are compensated for treating workers’ compensation patients. Several business groups support the measure, saying that an overall rate reduction would help make Tennessee more competitive with neighboring states.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is urging boaters to be cautious in low-water conditions at Lake Barkley, Center Hill Lake and J. Percy Priest Lake this Memorial Day weekend. Lake Barkley is 1.6 feet below normal for this time of year, Center Hill Lake is 3.7 feet below normal, and J. Percy Priest Lake is 3.8 feet below normal, the Corps said. Boaters on these lakes should be on the lookout for any obstructions that may be exposed or just beneath the water.
Losing 200 police personnel would be “very devastating,” Metro police Chief Steve Anderson said Wednesday, but it would also be the only option if the department’s budget is not increased next year. “We’re a very tight police department,” Anderson said. “We’d just have to shut down a lot of our areas –– our drug enforcement, our gang enforcement.” In painting the dire picture, Anderson reiterated one of the chief points Mayor Karl Dean has made in his pitch to sell a 53-cent property tax increase to the public and Metro Council.
Knoxville City Council members admonished the budget plan from Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, saying that the county needs to pull its weight on funding homeless programs and other joint efforts. Their criticism came Wednesday at the end of two days of presentations on the city’s $180.5 million budget proposal from Mayor Madeline Rogero. Burchett defended his actions by phone later in the day by saying that they were offset elsewhere, planned, or reflect a shift in policy.
Residents will have a chance to vote on some proposed changes to Knox County’s charter in August — several months earlier than what was initially believed. The 27-member committee charged with reviewing and refining the county’s governing documents on Wednesday agreed to put eight items on the Aug. 2 ballot rather than the November one. Officials said that they expect resident may end up facing dozens of proposed amendments and they want to get some out of the way.
Memphis City Council members heard from and saw a lot of opponents of plans to close five Memphis public libraries Tuesday, May 22, during an hour and a half of comments from the public. “I was going to suggest instead of cutting libraries that you improve them,” said Kaye Veazey. “Don’t continue to emasculate the Memphis public libraries,” said Herman Markell referring to cuts in library hours across the city from earlier budget years.
After three weeks of listening to budget presentations and understanding what the county’s financial position looked like, the county budget committee rolled up its sleeves and began the process of trimming costs to create a balanced budget. The morning started out with good news as Director of Budgets Nancy Broadstone announced that funding was higher than expected for the commodity food program. The increased revenue reduced the county’s deficit for the year down to $70,787.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander today questioned a delay for changes to the missions of Air National Guard units in Nashville and Memphis. Nashville is set to take on an unmanned aerial guard program. In Memphis, older C-5A aircraft are supposed to be replaced by C-17s. But military leaders say budget concerns may push those changes back until 2013. Alexander voiced his concerns to Air Force Lt. General Harry Wyatt during a hearing of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
Tennessee had three congressman leave office last year but they were prevented from becoming lobbyists by the “cooling off” rule that prevents newly departed members from lobbying their colleagues. The deadline has now passed and The Hill newspaper found 30 members who left last year who have signed on with lobbying firms or firms that employ lobbyists. But only 10 of them have registered as a “lobbyist.”
Although it seems to have gone largely unsuspected, even among many in the Tennessee press corps who followed the 2006 senatorial campaign of then U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr., the onetime Memphis congressman has, almost from the beginning of his political career, harbored a conservative streak, especially — but by no means only — on matters relating to financial policy.
The 1/50th-scale model of the International Space Station looks other-worldly, like an over-the-top Tinkertoy creation. All that’s missing is a tiny reproduction of the SpaceX capsule Dragon, which is expected to rendezvous Friday with the space station 230-plus miles above the Earth. The NASA-funded model is nearing completion in a Downtown Memphis workshop, capping more than two months of work by Scale Models Unlimited.
The government is trying to crack down on food stamp recipients who are ripping off taxpayers by illegally selling their benefit cards for cash. The Agriculture Department wants to curb the practice by giving states more power to investigate people who repeatedly claim to lose their benefit cards and then ask for replacements. It is proposing new rules Thursday that would allow states to demand formal explanations from people who seek replacement cards more than three times a year.
UPDATE: Responding to follow-up questions from NashvillePost.com, Market Center Management respresentative Cole Daugherty said the following: “The RHCC agreement totals 80,000-square-feet, which includes all three components. The exact square footage for each will be determined as RHCC plans their optimum use of the space. Each component is being developed in parallel. We expect all components of the showroom to be complete and to open whenthe trade center itself opens.”
The developers of Nashville’s proposed med mart have announced an 80,000-square-foot tenant they say will serve as a major portal to the health care industry through emerging technologies. The RFID in Healthcare Consortium is the latest tenant at the Nashville Medical Trade Center, which Dallas, Texas-based Market Center Management Co. is developing as a new use for Nashville’s current convention center.
The two public hospitals in the Chattanooga area have lost more than $33.5 million since July 1, with both reporting additional losses this week. At a monthly finance committee meeting Wednesday, Erlanger at Hutcheson officials told trustees the hospital lost $1.9 million in April, bringing its losses since July to $15.7 million. The hospital had budgeted to lose $1.7 million in April. Stacey Kaufmann, administrator of physician services and communications with the Fort Oglethorpe hospital, said coming in close to budget — even if it was a loss — is an improvement.
Giselle Fernandez is only 17 but she has had more than 50 operations since she was born with a rare genetic condition. She regularly sees a host of pediatric specialists, including an ophthalmologist, an endocrinologist and a neurologist at UCLA Health System. Her care has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars so far, and she will need special treatment for the rest of her life. While UCLA Health System has long prided itself on being at the forefront of treating patients like Giselle, it is now trying to lower sharply the cost of providing that care.
Teachers, professors, and business representatives went back to class this week – to learn how to better teach science and math. The STEM conference was designed to build connections between regional schools and the East Tennessee State University faculty to better use STEM education and encourage students to pursue careers in the science and mathematics sector. Key topics focused on what studies show doing well in the current educational environment, what areas need additional focus and how the future generation can be motivated to explore the science and math curriculum and catch up with the rest of world.
‘No-frills’ budget proposed for FY2013 still up by $12M Rutherford County residents have dodged a tax increase in order to fund the county schools system’s budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Described as a “no frills” proposal, the plan received a unanimous vote from the Rutherford County Health & Education Committee Tuesday night. The county school board, along with the commission’s Budget, Finance and Investment and Health & Education Committees met to review of the district’s budget plan.
Metro Nashville Public Schools expect to cut more than 100 special education paraprofessional jobs funded by 2009 federal stimulus funds, but they say the reduction won’t come at a cost to students. A Metro mom whose daughter is a rising fourth-grader with autism at Eakin Elementary believes that’s impossible. “For Metro to say that will not impact the services that they’re getting doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Omegbhai Uriri, a member of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Committee Advisory Council for Disabilities.
It is back to the drawing board for the Carter County Board of Education after being asked to cut its requested funding increase in half. The school board will meet in a budget workshop session today to look at further cuts. The board had already cut $1.3 million from its proposed 2012-13 budget and had asked the Carter County Commission to increase funding for the schools next year by $839,619.
Five days apart, the governors of Virginia and Tennessee were in our fair Twin City, ceremoniously signing bills into law. On the Tennessee side, it was legislation outlawing the manufacture and use of synthetic drugs. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bills in front of several hundred Tennessee High School students. On the Virginia side, it was legislation designed to improve access to education. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the bills in front of several hundred Virginia High School students.
With two legislative sessions under his belt, we have learned that when you elect Bill Haslam, you elect a coterie of advisors. In Knoxville he listened to Bill Lyons and Larry Martin, and got sound advice more often than not. Pilot Oil’s corporate interests had limited overlap with the city’s powers, so greed’s tentacles barely tickled Haslam. At the state level, they have gotten a grip. In Nashville he listens to different advice and operates with less disclosure.
We are pleased that despite funding cuts in many areas, MTSU has gotten creative in finding money for improvements and programs that directly benefit students. State-appropriated stimulus money was certainly put to good use with the recent modernization of MTSU’s James E. Walker Library. Emphasis was put on making the facility more technology-friendly. We think it’s wise that before spending the money, library officials polled students to find out what they would like in a library.
The Knoxville area received more good economic news recently when a report from the Brookings Institution took note of the metropolitan area’s growth in manufacturing jobs. The Knoxville metro area — which includes Knox, Blount, Loudon, Anderson and Union counties — has increased manufacturing jobs 9.9 percent over the past two years, more than three times the national average and good enough to rank the area sixth in the nation out of 366 metro areas.