This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
While traveling through the Upper Cumberland last week, Gov. Bill Haslam made a stop at the Herald-Citizen. During that visit, H-C Managing Editor Buddy Pearson, Business Editor Laura Militana and Schools Editor Bailey Darrow had a chance to ask the governor some questions submitted by readers and some questions of our own.
Dollywood has a new roller coaster. Elvis has a different side to see. And you can prepare to take a nip at the Jack Daniel distillery. Those are just three of the lures this year as Tennessee’s summer tourism season gets under way. The peak of the travel year falls as gasoline prices are high, but going down. For the state’s busy $14 billion tourism industry, which employs more than 170,000, there are signs that business is picking up. The sprawling Great Smoky Mountains National Park already is seeing a 15 percent increase in visitors over last year.
Tourism officials, attractions hope to continue big year More Tennesseans and Americans are expected to travel this summer, and that has Nashville-area tourism officials and attractions hopeful that an already strong year will continue. Several attractions are reporting higher or even near-record attendance, bed-tax collections are running ahead of last year’s pace and ticket sales for next week’s CMA Music Festival — the region’s largest single tourist event — are outpacing last year.
Copperhill’s foundations rest on copper slag, but today townfolk are looking for tourist gold. A generation ago, the towns of the Copper Basin were famous for the red desert that surrounded them for 50 square miles. The red hills, with no green in sight, were the result of clear-cutting the timber for fuel to burn in open-air smelters and the resulting acid rain. The desert hills were featured in national magazines, including National Geographic, and photographed from space by NASA.
About 160 people attended a three-day Trafficking in America Conference in Nashville where police, prosecutors, clergy and child advocates gathered to bring awareness and find solutions. The conference, which concluded on Saturday, reflected the sense of urgency that many state and federal officials feel about the need to stop trafficking in the United States, the Commercial Appeal reported.
On June 20 the sun will reach its farthest point north of the equator resulting in the longest day of the year. Officially, it’s the first day of summer, but never mind the calender. For a lot of people, summer started Memorial Day weekend with the opening of public swimming pools. Traditionally, Tennessee State Parks have provided swimming opportunities almost as routinely as they have hiking and volleyball.
State officials have offered tips for guarding against fake health insurance. They include asking hard questions, reading all materials and scrutinizing websites. Coverage that boasts low rates should be alarming. Be skeptical of ads for insurance via spam emails or blast fax. Make sure insurance agents are selling a state-licensed insurance product. Deal with reputable agents. According to a news release from the Department of Commerce and Insurance, unlicensed companies defraud consumers by collecting premiums for bogus insurance policies with no intention of paying claims.
UT among best in teaching how to grow crops that meet organic standards After just five years in existence, the Organic Crop Unit at the University of Tennessee has been ranked among the six best programs in the nation for teaching students how to grow crops that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture organic standards, according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif. UT’s program was the newest one to be named the best by the foundation’s first-ever Organic Land Grant Assessment.
The University of Tennessee is receiving more than $1.7 million for nuclear industry training and research. The money comes from the U.S. Department of Energy for scholarships, a fellowship and research grants. Forty-six colleges and universities nationwide received money under the department’s Nuclear Energy University Program and Integrated University Program. According to a news release from the university, UT students were awarded more scholarship money that any other institution.
In the most generous terms, the Tennessee Democratic Party is a fighter on the mat, just beginning to see straight after a near-knockout punch. If the arena stops spinning, they can start thinking about standing up again. After some 150 years as the state’s dominant political party, Democrats have become a mostly marginalized minority in state politics. While party officials describe the fall as having occurred slowly over the past decade, a critical moment came in 2008.
Diploma in hand, Johnny Garcia walked off the stage at McGavock High School’s graduation and left behind a sparkling academic record. A 3.8 grade point average placed him in the top 10 percent of his senior class, earning him the title “distinguished scholar” from Metro. “I tried my hardest in school,” Garcia, who graduated May 20, told The City Paper. “I want to make it so where my parents struggles and efforts some day pay off.”
Since the beginning of the recession, area colleges and universities have held the line on what they pay their top leaders, data show. But school presidents say that must change if the state wants to attract and retain those leaders. Presidents at the four area public schools — Chattanooga and Cleveland state community colleges, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Dalton State College in Georgia — all earn below the national median except for James Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State. His base salary is right on the median at $170,568.
Each year, an estimated 1.7 million U.S. college students are steered to remedial classes to catch them up and prepare them for regular coursework. But a growing body of research indicates the courses are eating up time and money, often leading not to degrees but to student loan hangovers. The expense of remedial courses, which typically cost students the same as regular classes but don’t fulfill degree requirements, runs about $3 billion annually, according to new research by Complete College America, a Washington-based national nonprofit working to increase the number of students with college degrees.
A month after he lost the primary for the governor’s seat in August 2010, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., dialed up Chip Saltsman. A campaign consultant, Saltsman was the senior political adviser for Chuck Fleischmann, the Republican nominee in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District race and the likely winner of Wamp’s newly vacated seat in November’s general election. Saltsman was the man to call if, as Wamp said in a written statement, you were a departing eight-term congressman looking “to help the Republican nominee” politically, financially and logistically.
Hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans are receiving their final unemployment checks sooner than they expected, even though Congress renewed extended benefits until the end of the year. The checks are stopping for the people who have the most difficulty finding work: the long-term unemployed. More than five million people have been out of work for longer than half a year. Federal benefit extensions, which supplemented state funds for payments up to 99 weeks, were intended to tide over the unemployed until the job market improved.
An unprecedented bid to let states experiment with the unemployment insurance system has gotten off to a bumpy start.As part of a deal reached in Washington earlier this year, Congress approved a plan to let up to 10 states develop demonstration projects in which businesses could hire unemployed workers and essentially pay their salaries with money from the unemployment insurance fund (UI). Typically states can’t use UI funds to pay for wages, but only unemployment benefits.
Spring Hill plant’s revival brings some home When Bill Weber got word in the spring that he was being sent back to GM’s Spring Hill assembly plant, it was all he could do to hold back his emotion in front of other GM workers at the Lansing, Mich., plant where he had been working for eight months. Weber didn’t want to seem too celebratory because there are hundreds of Tennessee workers there biding their time until they can be relocated back to the Spring Hill plant and their homes in Middle Tennessee.
Stiffer graduation requirement makes districts adjust faculties Tennessee school districts will be rounding up more high school math teachers than ever this year. This year’s rising seniors must take four years of math in high school, a stiffer graduation requirement than the three years demanded of previous grads. For Wilson County schools, it has meant cutting out more electives and career and technical courses to make room in the schedule for math.
Votes for municipal school referendums across Shelby County reach a conclusion tonight as all six suburbs consider final readings on school-related ordinances. From Collierville to Arlington to Millington, the various legislative boards will decide on ordinances to hold Aug. 2 referendums on establishing separate school systems. In addition to the referendum question, the cities also will vote on holding school board elections Nov. 6, provided the school system referendums are adopted in August.
Businessmen form PAC to get preferred candidates elected to school board A trio of wealthy, politically connected businessmen with past ties to the for-profit education industry and a history of supporting local private schools has launched a political action committee aimed at stocking the Nashville school board with members favorable to bringing more charter schools. Townes Duncan, who is CEO of the local investment firm Solidus Co., joined with longtime charter school advocates Bill DeLoache and John Eason to create the Great Public Schools PAC on April 26, according to documents filed with the election commission.
Having already taken several steps to reduce its electric bills countywide the Hawkins County Board of Education is now considering partnering with a group that promises $6.4 million in utility savings over 10 years. The BOE has already approved energy efficient lighting districtwide, the installation of revenue generating solar panels, and a TVA program that calls for schools to turn lights off and adjust thermostats during peak energy times.
The recent arrest of three people in East Tennessee for selling the opioid Suboxone is a reminder of the tough fight law enforcement has trying to stop the illegal sale and abuse of prescription drugs. Gov. Bill Haslam said the misuse of prescription medication is the leading cause of accidental drug overdoses and accidental deaths in the state. Earlier this month, Haslam signed a new state law requiring all drug prescribers and dispensers in the state to register with state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database.
The dangers of illegal drug use have been present for decades, but those dangers have been amplified and complicated in recent years with new threats. These are threats that parents must take into account as they seek to protect their children. These are threats that potential abusers of drugs need to take into account when they consider the substances they may put into their bodies. We’re talking about the abuse of prescription drugs and the proliferation of synthetic drugs. Both can kill.
In a welcome display of city-county cooperation, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett have issued a combined request for information from entities interested in taking on the job of promoting Knoxville and Knox County to tourists. The request for information, issued Friday, follows a report critical of the operations of the current contractor, the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp.
One of the sticky wickets in the schools merger deliberations is out in the open. The unified Shelby County School Board will hold a special meeting June 11 to decide whether it will renew the contract of Supt. Kriner Cash, who has led the Memphis City Schools district since 2008. “We want to be very respectful of Dr. Cash and ensure that as he seeks other positions … we make sure he has a favorable exit, ” board chairman Billy Orgel said last week.