This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday the money it costs to permit Tennessee young people to stay in foster care until age 21 is money well spent. “This is a wise investment in terms of cutting costs to the state, but also doing the right thing,” he said. “We want to help wherever we can. I really think thousands of kids over the next years will have a different life because of this (legislation).” The governor traveled to the Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College to sign a bill that allows the Department of Children’s Services to continue “Tennessee’s Transitional Youth Empowerment Act of 2010” and removes the program’s June 30 termination date.
Gov. Bill Haslam came to Blount County Tuesday to hold a ceremonial signing of the “Tennessee’s Transitional Youth Empowerment Act of 2010.” Speaking in the auditorium of the Pellissippi State Community College’s Blount County campus, Haslam praised the recently enacted law, which allows foster children to continue participating in the state system until their 21st birthday. “This is a wise investment in not only cutting costs to the state but in doing what is right,” Haslam said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today a grant for the final link in a pedestrian and bicycle route between downtown Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. The $423,833 transportation enhancement grant to the city of Sevierville is for Phase II of the Hospital to East Gate Greenway Project, which includes a 10 foot paved multi-use trail for pedestrians and bicyclists to be constructed parallel to Middle Creek.
The city is on the path to finishing its system of greenway walking trails thanks to a big contribution from the folks in Nashville. The ceremony announcing a $423,833 grant from the state for the final phase of the effort was as high-profile as it gets, with Gov. Bill Haslam flanked by state lawmakers as he passed on an oversized check. The money will be used to complete Phase II of the network, which will connect the Eastgate area to LeConte Medical Center via a 10-foot-wide paved trail for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The Tennessee Department of Education is joining a new network focused on career preparation for high school students. The Pathways to Prosperity Network is a multi-state, multi-year initiative promoting school partnerships with public and private sector leaders in Tennessee, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri and North Carolina. The network aims to address unemployment among students without high school or college diplomas by combining academics with technical education needed in the labor market.
The Tennessee Department of Education announces the state’s involvement in a pioneering new network focused on career preparation for high school students, created in collaboration with national education nonprofit Jobs for the Future and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. The Pathways to Prosperity Network is a multi-state, multi-year initiative promoting school partnerships with public and private sector leaders in six states: Tennessee, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri and North Carolina.
Public higher education is earning more F’s than A’s when it comes to preparing students for the workforce, according to a report released Tuesday. The report, from the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, grades each state on how well its public colleges and institutions prepare students for postgraduate careers. Tennessee’s grades ranged from an A in policy environment to an F in innovation: openness to providers. The institute, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called the results of its study “sobering.”
Students in the University of Tennessee system will find out this week how much their tuition will be in the fall. The finance committee of the UT Board of Trustees is scheduled to make the tuition projections on Wednesday and the full board will vote on them Thursday. The university system has an enrollment of about 50,000 students at campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Martin; the Health Science Center in Memphis; state Institutes of Agriculture and Public Service; and the Space Institute in Tullahoma.
Rep. Debra Maggart insists she’s a shoo-in to win her GOP primary against retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers. But that’s not stopping the House Republican Caucus chairwoman from asking party bigwigs like Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to take the time to campaign locally on her behalf. While Haslam has indicated he’d probably be inclined to support any GOP incumbent this election season, Maggart in particular was “critical” to the administration’s legislative efforts this year — “really helpful,” the governor told reporters recently.
Knoxville’s state Reps. Joe Armstrong and Bill Dunn drew no opponents to their re-election this year when the normal qualifying deadline passed for legislative candidates in April, but both could now wind up with challengers from the Green Party. The Green Party of Tennessee last month nominated candidates for several offices in accordance with a federal judge’s decision in February — including Calvin Cassady of Knoxville as an opponent to Democrat Armstrong in the 15th House District and Bryan Moneyhun as an opponent to Republican Dunn in 16th House District.
A state lawmaker hit back Tuesday at critics of a YouTube video she posted of her dog Pepper being held outside a moving car for what she called an “air swim.” Freshman Rep. Julia Hurley said in her legislative office that her Chinese crested named Pepper enjoys being held out into the wind. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Hurley’s short video titled “Pepper Air Swims” was pulled two days after being posted on YouTube. Hurley, a Republican, said she removed the video because she “didn’t want to deal with” criticism she calls politically motivated.
Mayor Karl Dean’s two-month sales pitch for continued government investment ended in victory Tuesday as the Metro Council voted by a commanding 4-to-1 margin to approve Davidson County’s first property tax hike in seven years. The council voted 32-8 to approve a Councilman Sean McGuire-sponsored $1.71 billion substitute budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year that includes the primary pieces the mayor laid out in his original budget in May, including a 53-cent increase on the city’s $4.13 property tax rate.
The Metro Council voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to raise property taxes for the first time in seven years to fund a $1.71 billion operating budget, despite significant opposition from Nashville residents. The council voted 32-8 for a substitute budget that largely mirrored the plan Mayor Karl Dean first presented during his State of Metro address on May 1. The margin of victory, coming as the nation remains mired in an unstable economy, even surprised Councilman Sean McGuire, who chaired the Budget and Finance Committee and authored the substitute legislation.
As Metro Council holds a final vote on a county budget tonight, the council’s finance committee has voted in favor of an alternative. The substitute passed yesterday on a unanimous voice vote. Finance committee chair Sean McGuire’s budget raises Davidson County’s property tax by 53 cents–the same amount as the Mayor’s proposed budget. However, McGuire’s spending plan makes cuts in funding to Metro Schools by about 3 and a half million dollars. Municipal Auditorium, the Farmers’ Market, and transit would also see reductions.
The Chattanooga City Council is still torn on what to do about $3 million of a $209 million budget. The Chattanooga City Council approved 7-2 Tuesday night the 2012-13 fiscal year budget, but did so with reservations. The council has yet to decide on how to divvy up $3 million in city employee salary increases and will have a week to decide when the budget ordinance comes up again for its second and final reading.
The Memphis City Council on Tuesday ushered along two tax-related referendums that could have large implications for property taxes and city services. A proposed referendum asking voters to levy a 1-cent tax on every gallon of gasoline purchased in Memphis was approved by a council committee. The full council also approved on the first of three readings a proposed referendum ordinance asking voters to increase the local sales tax rate by half a cent.
Senator says he still backs EPA rule Sen. Bob Corker said this week that he supports the underlying policy behind a new Obama administration clean-air rule that would curb the amount of pollutants spewed from coal-fired power plants. But Corker said the Environmental Protection Agency is not giving utilities enough time to meet the new standards and he is co-sponsoring legislation aimed at extending the time period from three years to five.
After spending the past two days being honored for founding a support group for people living with oral, head and neck cancer, Jeanna Richelson meets today with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker to discuss the rare forms of cancer. “I just want to tell about my journey with oral cancer and that there’s not enough awareness,” she said. Richelson said there’s still a lot of mystery behind the disease. Even people like her who don’t smoke can be diagnosed with oral cancer. She also said she’ll emphasize that it takes doctors only three minutes to check for the disease.
A Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate who is charged with solicitation of a minor had a “severe mental disease” at the time of his alleged crime, according to a mental evaluation. Authorities say a 7-year-old girl riding her bike in front of the Johnson City apartment of Thomas K. Owens one day in May 2011 was invited inside. According to authorities, the 36-year-old then allegedly hugged the girl, unzipped his pants and asked her to perform a sex act. The girl ran home and told her mother, who notified police, authorities added.
The U.S. Department of Labor has released an additional $2.1 million National Emergency Grant to aid in the retraining of 960 workers that were affected by the shutdown of the Union City (Tenn.) Goodyear plant last summer. Goodyear had operated the plant since 1968. Last November, the Department of Labor announced the grant, which totaled $3.4 million, releasing $1.3 million initially. “When a large employer closes its doors, it impacts not just employees but the entire community,” Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, said in a statement. “
The city of Memphis has received a $14.9 million federal grant which will go toward making the Harahan Bridge project a reality. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s office announced the city won a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) IV Discretionary Grant for the Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project. In March, the Downtown Memphis Commission approved $2 million in grant matching funds for the $30 million project that would repair portions of Main Street in Downtown Memphis, add pedestrian access to the Harahan Bridge (or ‘the old bridge’) and connect that to West Memphis’ improved Broadway Avenue.
Memphians could be bicycling and strolling across a specially designed boardwalk over the Mississippi River within about two years, now that federal officials have approved a critical piece of funding for the project. The city has been awarded a $14.94 million Transportation Improvement Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen announced Tuesday. The money from the federal Department of Transportation will cover roughly half the cost of a $29.8 million public-private initiative called the Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project.
The Internal Revenue Service announced Tuesday that 7,000 Tennessee tax preparers must take an IRS competency examination by Dec. 31, 2013 or they will not be able to prepare tax returns for compensation. So far, 54 tax preparers in Tennessee have passed the competency exam and, as a result, have been given the new credential of Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP), according to a news release. Enrolled Agents, CPAs and attorneys are not required to take the exam because they already have testing requirements.
House and Senate leaders are making a last-ditch effort to revive stalled legislation to overhaul federal transportation programs – Congress’ best bet for passage of a major jobs bill this year – but prospects for passage before the November election are dimming. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as two key committee chairmen, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., are scheduled to meet Tuesday to try to reach an agreement on how to handle a collection of sensitive policy and financing matters still in dispute.
Companies have been slowly adding workers for more than two years. But pink slips are still going out in a crucial area: government. In California, the governor is threatening to eliminate 15,000 state jobs. When school begins in Cleveland this fall, more than 500 teachers probably will be out of work. And in Trenton — which has already cut a third of its police force, hundreds of school district employees and at least 150 other public workers — the only way the city will forestall the loss of 60 more firefighters is if a federal grant comes through.
State and local governments are keeping the tightest lid on spending in three decades, even though tax revenue is rising again and powerful interest groups are asking for more money. The tight budget controls represent a sharp reversal from several years ago when states struggled to control spending, despite a drop in tax collections, and got a $250 billion bailout from the federal government. Today, both Republicans and Democrats are rejecting spending requests even from traditional allies — police, businesses, teachers, doctors and others — and keeping budgets balanced as federal aid recedes.
The U.S. Department of Energy has issued a “final” Memorandum of Agreement to historic preservation groups, detailing a plan for meeting legal obligations and historical interests at the K-25 uranium-enrichment plant — one of the iconic structures of the World War II Manhattan Project. DOE is hoping that signatories of a 2005 agreement, in which the federal agency promised to save a part of the original K-25 building for future generations to visit and better understand the work on the first atomic bombs, will agree to sign the new pact.
Divided members vote against nonrenewal for Supt. Aitken The Memphis and Shelby County unified school board was anything but unified Tuesday night as it voted to not renew the contract of Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash. The touchy topic of who’s going to lead the district when it opens its doors in September 2013 created a pitched battle between Cash supporters and members who favor Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken.
As the Unified School Board of Shelby County prepared late Tuesday afternoon for what was billed as a showdown meeting on the selection of a superintendent for a new era,sides were being chosen both inside and outsidethe Teaching and Learning Academy building on Union Ave. Chanting and carrying placards on the front grounds of the building, a large was supportive of the candidacy of Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken, who, just before the Unified rwas formed last year, was gifted by his carry-over SCS board with a contract extension until 2005 – two full years into the planned merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools in August 2013.
The countywide school board voted Tuesday, June 19, not to renew the contract of Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash past August 2013 when it is scheduled to run out. The 14-8 vote came during two back-to-back school board meetings covering five hours in which the board also agreed to talk more about a process for selecting the superintendent of the consolidated school system to come at a meeting next week. The board also voted down a similar contract non-renewal motion involving Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken whose contract runs through August of 2015.
A new government report shows that charter schools are not enrolling as high a portion of special-education students as traditional public schools, despite federal laws mandating that publicly financed schools run by private entities take almost every disabled student seeking to enroll. The report, published Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is the first comprehensive study focused on charter schools’ enrollment of special-needs students, which has been a central issue in debates over those schools’ rapid growth in the U.S. The report showed that special-education students—those with diagnosed disabilities from Down Syndrome to attention-deficit disorder—made up 8.2% of charter school students during the 2009-2010 school year.
Five years have passed since “Black Wednesday” entered the Knox County political lexicon, and awareness of the importance of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act continues to expand. An opinion issued June 6 by state Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. is one of the latest clarifications of the law. Though nonbinding, the AG’s opinion is a common-sense application of the law to routinely encountered situations, with a caution about where officials can cross the line. State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, asked Cooper for the opinion at the request of officials in Sullivan County. “My county commissioners were concerned they couldn’t even go to lunch together, and I told them I don’t think that’s the intent,” Shipley told The Association Press.
The lights stayed on, the doors were open and unlocked, and everyone who wanted to follow what was going on could. Congratulations, Metro Council. A proposed property tax was handled legally, with no secret, unannounced meetings. The public has a right to see the public’s business conducted. Whether you agree with the tax increase that passed last night or not, no one can say the 40-member council did anything but conduct its business in a methodical, clear way. There was no violation of the state’s open meetings law this time around. It’s refreshing. Over the years, this has been a rare experience. From day one, when Mayor Karl Dean announced a 53-cent property tax hike to fund the city budget, council members conducted themselves with class and open dialogue.
If convicted of killing Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin, then Jesse Mathews deserves to die. The pain and black-hole suffering weighing down on the Chapin family should fall on no one’s shoulders in this lifetime. No one, not once.On Tuesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman’s courtroom, as pretrial motion hearings ended, Chapin’s father had to be helped up out of the second-row pew, barely able to walk on his own, as if the family’s grief was made manifest in his body. So it bears repeating: If found guilty, then Jesse Ray Mathews, 27, deserves to die. But Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox should not seek the death penalty. And Tennessee should not execute him. Because doing so will put the Chapin family on a long and difficult road that may get even worse before it gets better.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander should be commended for standing firm to keep EPA regulations requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce poisonous emissions such as mercury. Alexander’s position may run counter to his Republican Party, but his willingness to stick with an issue he believes is important to the future of Tennessee — and the nation — is refreshing and honorable. Too often, elected leaders on both sides of the aisle simply go with the party vote, which is one reason Washington remains in constant gridlock. By opting to vote today to uphold the federal clean air rule, Alexander will demonstrate foresight and courage rarely seen in politics.
Earth’s axis didn’t shift or anything like that, but there was a change in the federal order of things this week involving the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. The National Nuclear Security Administration officially launched its combined (yet geographically dispersed) federal oversight office for the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons facilities. Those plants, about 1,000 miles apart, will come under the same management contract after the NNSA selects a winner later this year. Teams competing for that newly combined contract submitted their bids in March, but the procurement process is a long one and the NNSA (a part of the U.S. Department of Energy) has acknowledged that it will announce a winning contractor “no sooner than September,” and many folks think it won’t come until after the elections in November.