This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The state Capitol will be illuminated in purple Friday in honor of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Governor Bill Haslam will join with DHS officials Friday to mark the occasion. Last year, there were nearly 13,000 reports of adult abuse, neglect and exploitation across the state. Investigators said that number only represents part of the problem. Many times cases of elder abuse go unreported because victims feel they cannot speak for themselves, or are embarrassed particularly if their abuser is a family member.
Tennessee tourism officials say they are surprised but delighted that a strong surge in visits to the Volunteer State is leading economic recovery. Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker spoke to the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association on Thursday and said vacation spending usually lags in times of improving economic conditions. Whitaker said a stifled itch to travel is apparently propelling the uptick in tourist spending in Tennessee.
A new report from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville says hopes for strong economic growth in 2012 have been dashed, but the state economy is in better shape than the country as a whole. This week, UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research issued its spring business and economic outlook for the state. The report noted that national job creation slowed dramatically in March, April and May, and cited future economic risks including European financial woes, domestic political gridlock and the U.S. debt ceiling.
Tennessee education officials are considering changes around some of the same areas identified in a recent study requested by the governor, the education commissioner said Thursday. Commissioner Kevin Huffman spoke to reporters before speaking at a summit for elementary school teachers at the Legislative Plaza. Earlier this week, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, released its study, which addressed educators’ concerns about student testing data.
Students may pay up to 8% more Students in the University of Tennessee system may pay 4 percent to 8 percent more in tuition this fall, depending on their school. The system’s board will vote Thursday at the members’ annual meeting in Knoxville. President Joe DiPietro said the Tennessee Higher Education Commission recommended increases of 4 percent to 6 percent for UT-Martin and UT-Chattanooga and 6 percent to 8 percent for UT-Knoxville.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals has sent a lawsuit over road access at Barrett Enterprises near the Buchanan exit back to a trial judge to determine if state road work could affect the case’s outcome. The court was asked to overturn an October 2010 decision by Circuit Court Judge John D. Wootten that Ronnie Barrett breached a contract with neighbor Brenda Benz by not building a road to her property in front of his plant. Wootten ordered Barrett to pay Benz $850,000 for breaking the agreement.
Tennessee Republicans this year had a window of opportunity to trim $23 million from the budget’s pork-barrel buffet that’s annually lain before them in the late hours of the legislative session. But as often happens, the home-cooked political victuals proved too toothsome to pass up. They opted instead to heap their plates and hand taxpayers the tab in advance of hitting the exits and heading for yonder hills, dales and campaign trails.
Republican leaders say the failed recall election in Wisconsin bodes well for GOP lawmakers here, who will face voters for the first time since overhauling hiring practices for teachers and state workers. If anything, it says Tennessee is headed in the right direction, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “The takeaway that I have is that the general public understands that we can’t be giving away the farm, so to speak, to public employees and expect to balance our budget,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville.
3 Democrats are only contenders in 58th District Two years after longtime state Rep. Mary Pruitt held off an upstart Steven Turner by 167 votes in a primary election, both Democrats are running again for the same seat against the son of another tenured lawmaker. The primary race among Pruitt, Turner and the Rev. Harold M. Love Jr. will determine the outcome for the district. No other candidates, Republican or independent, are running to represent the majority African-American 58th District in the state House.
Shelley Breeding will ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to hear the residency issue that is keeping her off a Democrat primary ballot for the new 89th House District seat. Lawyer Jon Cope said a brief will be filed today, requesting the court to hear her case, and if it agrees to do so to hear it on an expedited basis. Knox County Chancery Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals have held that Breeding is legally a resident of Anderson County and, therefore, cannot run for the 89th District seat, because the district lies entirely in Knox County.
Bill Frist says he believes “education” can still boost Tennessee’s poor rankings in childhood obesity, even while places like New York City are banning big gulps. The former Senate Majority Leader was part of an obesity forum in Nashville Friday. Frist sees obesity going the way of smoking, which has been cut in half since the 60s in part by using regulations and taxes. “It comes back to changing the culture, giving incentives for people to change, and then in some cases using sticks, not just carrots, but sticks. The real question and where we are with obesity is how far can we go with the carrots.”
Americans can end their obesity crisis if they’ll change a long series of decisions they make every day, a panel of doctors and health executives concluded Friday. For most people, that’s choosing to eat well and exercise, but for business and government, the choices include how to reward employees for doing the right thing or where to put housing and parks. The Partnership for a Healthy America is holding a nationwide series of roundtable discussions on childhood obesity, and Nashville’s included the group’s honorary vice chair, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
A Metro Councilman has proposed an alternative budget to the mayor’s spending plan. It includes cuts across Metro Government, including a pet project of the mayor, but does not lower the proposed property tax increase. In total, the cuts represent $8.6 million, a tiny part of the overall $1.7 billion budget. Nearly half would come from Metro Schools, which far and away gets more tax dollars than any part of Metro Government. The most dramatic cuts would completely ax subsidies for Municipal Auditorium, the state fair and the Farmers’ Market.
Metro Councilman Sean McGuire released an alternative budget on Friday afternoon, but it didn’t involve lowering Mayor Karl Dean’s originally proposed 53-cent property tax increase. McGuire, who also chairs the council’s budget and finance committee, suggested about $8.6 million — or 4.5 cents per property owner — in cuts from Dean’s budget. However, he recommended transferring the money to debt service, rather than chopping it from the budget.
A ten year project is finally coming to an end for the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, but according to county leaders, some are disappointed with the new Carter County jail. Yesterday, Sheriff Chris Mathes told 11 Connects the 26 million dollar facility has several shortfalls. Commissioner Tom Bowers who says he is greatly disappointed in the outcome of such an expensive facility. He says most of the problems are due to miscommunication.
While it’s illegal to smoke at Miller Plaza, a smoker can walk just 100 yards away and take a drag in Miller Park. Smoking is allowed at all city parks — including Coolidge Park, Renaissance Park and the Riverpark — and there are no plans to change that, said Larry Zehnder, director of Parks and Recreation. “Until smoking becomes an irritant to other people there, I don’t think I want to address it,” Zehnder said. But Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., said the city should ban smoking in all public places, including parks.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who stepped down as head of the Senate Republican Caucus last year, is breaking ranks with his GOP colleagues to support an Obama administration plan to impose stricter pollution controls on coal-fired power plants. Despite a $400,000 television campaign urging him to fight the new rules, Alexander said Friday that the new EPA-ordered pollution controls on coal plants should help the economy and the environment of Tennessee.
The American public loves to chide its politicians, of all stripes, for being a prime source of hot air. But Sen. Lamar Alexander says now is the time for everyone to think about clean air. Alexander, a Republican, was in East Tennessee on Friday to talk about his support for keeping a new Environmental Protection Agency rule. The rule requires utilities in other states to install the same pollution controls that TVA already is installing on its coal-fired power plants. A vote on legislation that would rescind that rule could occur next week.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said the worst thing that could happen in a Supreme Court ruling on Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation would be if the judges say it’s partially constitutional. In a Friday interview with the News Sentinel, and the court’s ruling expected soon, he said that if only parts of it are repealed, “it’s a disaster, the costs will skyrocket.” He said that if the court only removes a requirement from the legislation that says all citizens must have health insurance, then insurers and other groups that pay for health care would not be able to handle how the risk is spread among groups.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe expects the Supreme Court to overturn the federal government’s health care law. “I think they will overturn it,” Roe, a Republican representing the 1st District, said of the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the Affordable Care Act, which became law in March 2010 and will eventually require all Americans to have some form of health insurance. “I think it’s good that everyone should be on health insurance,” Roe added, during a meeting Thursday with the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board.
Democratic candidate for the 9th Congressional District Tomeka Hart wants a debate with incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. But Cohen’s campaign is not responding to the debate call a month before early voting begins in the Democratic congressional primary contest between the two. “I think Memphians deserve a debate,” Hart said Wednesday, June 13, during an interview with The Daily News editorial board.
Immigrants’ children benefit When President Barack Obama eased enforcement of immigration laws Friday, it offered a chance for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and work. The policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and in part achieves the goals of the “DREAM Act,” congressional legislation that would establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who attend college or join the military.
Immigration attorneys from across the country gave President Obama a standing ovation on Friday as he announced administrative changes that will allow many young illegal immigrants to live and work legally in the U.S. The attorneys were gathered in Nashville for the annual meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. As news of the pending announcement spread, organizers quickly put together an informational session that culminated in a viewing of the president’s announcement in Washington on several large screens.
Music, dancing highlight multinational block party Refugees who overcame dire situations and danger to move to Nashville put their struggles aside Friday to celebrate strides they’ve made in their lives. The Nashville International Center for Empowerment, a nonprofit founded by a refugee to help others similarly situated, threw a block party off Nolensville Pike as part of a series of events leading up to World Refugee Day on Wednesday, and to celebrate student graduations from language and continuing education courses.
Every time Mariela Cruz heard Congress was voting on a bill that might help her legalize her status, her eyes were glued to the C-SPAN network. And every time the bill failed, her dreams of finishing school and becoming a lawyer were crushed. “You feel you are so close to your goal, you can almost feel it and then ‘puff,’ it was gone,” said the 20-year-old Mexico native who was 8 years old when her mother brought her to Georgia. On Friday, Cruz’ hopes were once again lifted — and this time it might actually happen.
When it’s time to discuss each year’s new budget, Alderman Steve Looney said he wants a detailed request form from each of the city’s department heads long before the debating begins. The Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen this week approved a continuation budget that will be effective July 1 because the new fiscal year’s budget is not ready for authorization yet. “That gives authorization to spend funds on July 1,” Vice Mayor Leon Rash said. “A continuation budget is the same budget as the previous year, and it will suffice until we adopt a new one.”
Two residents took a dispute over prayers at the Hamilton County Commission to federal court Friday. On June 6, two residents asked Hamilton County commissioners to stop holding Christian prayers in meetings. But commissioners didn’t stop and those two residents, Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones, sued the body and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, arguing that the prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed tighter national standards for soot pollution, the latest chapter in a long-running battle between the Obama administration and industry over environmental regulations. Responding to a federal-court ruling, the EPA said it would propose tightening the standard for particulate matter, or soot, to a new level of 12 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter. That is down from the current standard, unchanged since George W. Bush’s administration, of 15 microgramsper cubic meter.
As a construction worker and logger, Bryan L. Mashburn does what he describes as “backbreaking, muscle-pulling work,” laying concrete foundations for water towers and felling 3,000-pound trees. He has no health insurance, and he tried to avoid going to doctors when he crushed a finger on one occasion and metal shavings flew deep into his eye another time. Mr. Mashburn, 39, is exactly the kind of person who stands to benefit from changes in Medicaid scheduled to occur under the new health care law — a vast expansion of the program that is expected to add 250,000 people to the rolls here in Arkansas and 17 million across the country.
Another valve malfunction has been reported at TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. On Thursday, officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority reported to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that a high pressure coolant injection system steam line warm-up valve sprang a leak. TVA’s report to NRC said the valve in the unit 2 reactor containment area “was not capable of performing its intended primary containment isolation valve function.” TVA spokesman Ray Golden said the malfunction was minor.
The E.W. Scripps Co. on Friday announced a change in leadership at The Commercial Appeal. Joe Pepe, president and publisher, and Karl Wurzbach, vice president of sales and marketing, have left the company, according to Tim Stautberg, senior vice president, newspapers, for Scripps. The leadership change was made “with full confidence in the bright future of The Commercial Appeal,” Stautberg said. “This enterprise has been one of the most-decorated news organizations in the Scripps portfolio for decades.
90 tenured instructors begin appeals process More than 30 city school teachers got termination notices Friday, and 90 more are awaiting tenure hearings as the district wraps up the first year of an intense new evaluation process. District officials say fewer than 25 are in jeopardy based solely on their job reviews. The majority were cited for cause — insubordination, neglect of duty or inefficiency — and other reasons outlined in state law.
Chancellor Arnold Goldin ruled that the County Commission can approve a county redistricting plan with a simple majority vote — a decision that clears the way for establishing 13 single-member districts. Currently, the commission is made up of four districts with three representatives each, and one district with a single member. Goldin’s ruling, issued Wednesday, clears the way for a single-member district plan known as 2-J. The new district map will be used for the 2014 elections and beyond.
The plan for a consolidated countywide public school system isn’t finished just yet despite last week’s vote by the schools consolidation planning commission. What was already a complex and unprecedented process gets more complex and involves more people going forward in addition to the 21-member planning commission. Planning commissioner Staley Cates goes to Nashville Wednesday, June 20, to meet with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
Plans for a new East Brainerd Elementary School are moving forward, just days after the Hamilton County Commission moved to halt progress on the new school. Commissioners voted 7-2 on June 6 to stop the architect selection process, which began in May. But on Friday, the architect review committee met to hear presentations from five firms hoping to build the new school. The committee, made of commissioners, school board members, school officials, county employees and a community representative, narrowed the pool of five firms to three.
Earlier this month The Nature Conservancy joined the state of Tennessee in a unique acquisition that is creating a new way to approach conservation in our state. Doe Mountain, an 8,600 acre piece of land near Mountain City, has now been set aside for the long-term of benefit of all Tennesseans. But this story does not end with land acquisition. For too long, all of us have set land aside as if the set-aside was sufficient. We have not asked important questions. Have we connected Tennesseans to the land, or have we disconnected citizens from their heritage? Have we opened a community to its possibilities? Have we made an investment with the potential to pay dividends to surrounding communities?