This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is among the expected guests at Thursday’s Peelin’, Pickin’, and Politickin’ shrimp boil, sponsored by the Knoxville Chamber. The annual event is aimed at giving local business leaders an opportunity to interact with political candidates and lawmakers, and is happening six weeks before the Aug. 2 state primary. The shrimp boil will take place from 5 to 7:30 at The Pavilion at Hunter Valley Farm, 9111 Hunter Valley Lane.
Tennessee education officials are revising the freshly implemented teacher evaluation system following criticism that it fails to adequately grade teachers who instruct in subjects not tested at the state level. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says he expects to reveal by mid-July how the department wants to assess teachers of subjects like art or younger age groups not subject to standardized testing. He declined Wednesday to comment on the changes, saying it was still subject to “internal discussion.”
The state’s top school leaders are due to issue report to the legislature in a few weeks on Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system. A press release from the state’s largest teacher’s union says it will likely contain a new plan for handling grievances. State officials won’t get into that kind of detail, but some degree of change is expected. Although he says the specifics are still a matter of discussion within the department, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says next month’s report to the legislature will include tweaks to the way teachers are graded.
Is Tennessee testing student writing skills or typing skills? Beginning this next school year, the writing assessment tests for eighth grade students will be done online instead of with pencil and paper. There are some issues, as they say. Keyboarding isn’t taught until ninth grade and most eighth-graders’ typing skills consist of phone texting with their thumbs. Due to the number of computers available, the writing tests will be done over a week-long period instead of the current practice of giving all the tests on the same day.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam recently launched the Read20 Family Book Club with the goal of promoting early child literacy and parental engagement in their children’s academic lives. Haslam is encouraging families this summer to read 20 minutes daily. Each month a book will be featured on the website (www.tn.gov/read20). Children and families can participate and find family engagement ideas, reading activities and tips. “I am very excited to launch the Read20 Family Book Club,” Haslam said in a news release.
Move over “Memphis Beat.” “Nashville” is ready to take the Volunteer State to the small screen. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has approved a grant for up to $7.5 million for production on “Nashville,” a scripted television drama that will air on ABC this fall. The show — reportedly about country music, love, politics, family and sex — combines the film and music sectors of the state’s economy into one production, a factor that makes it worth the attention of economic development, according to ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty.
ABC’s new TV series about the Nashville music scene will receive up to $7.5 million in cash through the state of Tennessee’s incentive program for the film industry. The Department of Economic and Community Development announced Wednesday that it had approved a grant for Nashville, an hourlong musical drama co-produced by ABC Studios, Lionsgate and Gaylord Entertainment. The show, which debuts in the fall, is currently in pre-production. Principal photography is set to begin in mid-July, economic development officials said.
Tennessee is formally launching a statewide site certification program, which proponents hope will spur corporate recruitment and expansions in the state. More information on the program is available at a new website. The following are excerpts from the state’s announcement: The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced today that it is launching a new, statewide site certification program. The Select Tennessee Certified Sites Program helps Tennessee communities prepare available sites for investment and expansion.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development said Wednesday that it is launching a new site certification program. According to a news release, the initiative will help communities prepare available sites for investment and expansion, and sets a consistent and rigorous standard that will help companies make location decisions. “In our day-to-day work with site selection consultants and corporate officials, we hear over and over again the importance of demonstrating our readiness for new business investment and expansion,” ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty said in the release.
The University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote Thursday on tuition increases of as much as 8 percent at one of its campuses. 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. According to documents on UT’s website, the proposed hikes range from 8 percent at the Knoxville campus to 4 percent at the Health Science Center.
UTC students may come back this fall with a higher tuition sticker price and a wide array of fee increases. Under proposals being voted on today by the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees at their annual meeting in Knoxville, a full-time in-state freshman will pay a total of $7,212 a semester, up from $6,718. The vote affects all UT system campuses. Fee increases proposed for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga include raising the athletics fee by 33 percent, from $360 to $480. If approved, athletics fees will have increased 81 percent since fiscal 2009.
The University of Tennessee board of trustees tentatively approved plan Wednesday that would charge future full-time students for an additional three hours each semester at the Knoxville campus — beginning with the freshman class of 2013. Following an hourlong discussion, the plan to charge full-time students for 15 credit hours unanimously passed out of committee and will go before the full board of trustees, including Gov. Bill Haslam, today.
Several individuals, including members of the Save Tennessee State University Community Coalition, filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Board of Regents on Wednesday, claiming the board failed to comply with open meeting laws. Ray and Ellie Richardson of Old Hickory, Gertrude Scruggs of Memphis, Celestine Lowe of Memphis, and Neal McAlpin Jr. of Nashville claim the TBR didn’t let them make public comments during a June 24, 2011, meeting. The Save TSU Community Coalition has been outspoken about what they perceive as the mishandling of TSU, governed by the TBR.
University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek stands to make an additional $22,356 next year — raising his salary to $394,956 — should trustees approve a compensation plan that would also make Knoxville employees eligible for a 2.5 percent merit pool raise. Employees across the Knoxville campus, including Institute of Agriculture and system administration, will be eligible for the merit pool raise in addition to the 2.5 percent across-the-board raise approved by the Legislature.
Circuit Court Judge Robert L. Holloway Jr. of Columbia has been installed as incoming president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference. He succeeds Criminal Court Judge James C. Beasley of Memphis. The conference is made up of members of the Tennessee Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals along with trial judges across the state. The mission of the conference is to enhance the professional and personal development of all Tennessee judges, encourage proactive efforts to preserve and improve the justice system, implement alternative ways to resolve disputes and develop visionary judicial leadership.
Democrats are urging the governor to head off college tuition hikes by calling lawmakers back to Nashville this summer, though their plea is not likely to prompt action. They say lawmakers should freeze college tuition rates as officials at the state’s Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees contemplate increasing college costs. “You could call it a tuition increase. But what it really is, is a tax increase,” said Jim Kyle, the leading Senate Democrat, at a Capitol Hill press conference.
Party wants summer session Democrats in the state legislature asked Gov. Bill Haslam to bring lawmakers back to Nashville for a special session this summer to implement a freeze on college tuition and another cut to the sales tax on food. With tax dollars beating expectations, Democrats reiterated previous calls to block a planned tuition increase at the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents schools. They also said the state should speed up plans to reduce the food tax by one-quarter of a percentage point.
Senate and House Democrats today called on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to convene a special session of the Legislature and use state revenue surpluses to offset planned higher education tuition hikes and cut the sales tax on groceries further. “The money is there,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said at a news conference. “The issue on the table is what are we going to do with the taxpayers’ money? Are we going to help the folks who are trying to go to school, who are buying food, or are we going to hold it?”
Metro Council and Sports Authority members will be briefed on Friday about proposed changes to the Nashville Predators subsidy in which the city pays the Predators to operate Bridgestone Arena and gives it other incentives. News of the briefing suggests that Mayor Karl Dean and the hockey club have reached an agreement on the framework of a new deal. Dean declined to provide many details during a brief interview Wednesday, but he said the agreement fulfilled his priorities of reducing the city’s upfront payment to the Predators while giving the National Hockey League franchise more incentives to book other events at the arena.
Two people who sued Hamilton County commissioners in federal court for holding regular Christian prayers during meetings led a small rally Wednesday morning and later addressed commissioners. Eight people gathered outside the County Courthouse at 8:45 a.m. to hear plaintiffs Brandon Jones and Tommy Coleman explain why they’re challenging the prayers.
Mayor Ron Littlefield’s administration proposed Wednesday that no salary increases be given to police officers after a police union representative made some comments about the raises during a City Council meeting. “This is an option,” said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Littlefield. The administration sent an email Wednesday afternoon to the City Council and media titled “Response from Administration.” It listed a series of what it called inaccuracies made by police Sgt. Craig Joel, a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond’s $275,000 deficit might be closer to $675,000. That prospect prompted a county commissioner to call Wednesday for an in-depth review of Hammond’s spending. “I’m shocked,” Commissioner Joe Graham said. “I think an audit may be in line for answers.” Last week, Hammond asked commissioners to dip into his office’s $1.3 million reserve fund for $275,000 to cover overspending for expenses such as fuel and overtime. Commission Chairman Larry Henry asked then about possible effects on the fund balance.
Bradley County emergency service officials are worried about current and future budgets on the eve of the new fiscal year. Joe Wilson, director of Bradley County 911, and Danny Lawson, director of Bradley County Emergency Medical Service, both expressed dismay this week over the County Commission’s refusal to give $173,745 to the 911 department. The amount, part of $350,000 requested by the county, Cleveland and Charleston, was intended to stave off a third straight year of budget shortfalls in the Bradley County 911 district.
Shelby County government might do away with rules that require businesses it works with to hire a certain percentage of workers from racial minority groups. Proposed new rules would evaluate the efforts the contractors are making to hire minority workers, without setting a percentage. The potential new rules would affect every contractor with 15 or more workers who wants to win Shelby County business. Commissioners reviewed the rules Wednesday but didn’t vote. The next discussion is set for July 25.
Six hundred thirty-three people died in Tennessee in 2010 because they did not have health insurance, according to a new study released Wednesday by health care consumer advocate Families USA. In the five years from 2005-2010, 3,483 Tennesseans died because they lacked health insurance, the study said. The number of uninsured Tennesseans rose from 482,353 in 2005 to 604,222 in 2011, according to the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research. “The numbers don’t surprise me one bit,” said Dr. Scott Morris, executive director of the Church Health Center in Memphis.
Hey, renters: Some Sullivan County commissioners think it’s time you’re given a way to “participate” in funding county government. Their answer: Impose a new tax on any and all for every car, truck, motorcycle and camper registered in the county. During an “emergency” meeting of the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee on Wednesday. Commissioner John Crawford of Kingsport raised the issue of a wheel tax as a new way to raise revenue for county coffers.
The city of Dyersburg is facing some tough budget decisions as the finance committee met once again on Wednesday, June 20 to come to an agreement on a balanced budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The committee held its first meetings on the coming-year budget on Wednesday, May 30 and Thursday, May 31. During those meetings, the original proposed expenses by various department heads exceeded projected revenues by $3.5 million.
A scant six weeks before some key voting on August 2nd, and a mere four months in advance of a presidential election, questions continue to be raised about matters relating to the roster of registered voters. State Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle who, because of redistricting, is running for reelection against another Democratic incumbent, Beverly Marrero, in District 30, is one among many Democrats expressing concern about efforts by Republican-dominated election commissions, statewide as well as locally, to purge voter rolls.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has television ads attacking him, criticizing him for not opposing EPA regulations on coal-fired plants and air pollution. Alexander has toured the state arguing that he is not anti-coal, but cannot support an effort that leads to more air pollution. Alexander got a boost in Chattanooga when an air-quality official there pointed to the new multi-million dollar Volkswagen plant and said if it were not for efforts to clean up the air it wouldn’t be there.
If you watch cable news, odds are you’ve seen U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn discussing her views on the economy, the presidential election or other hot-button topics. Since she was elected to Congress in 2002, Blackburn has become a bona fide cable-news star, acting as a GOP spokeswoman on Fox, MSNBC and CNN. Her national visibility has boosted her public profile and helped her collect campaign contributions from special interests around the country, political experts say.
The first hurdle for actress Park Overall in her race for the U.S. Senate will be to get Democrats to vote for her. She needs a good vote in the Democratic primary to give her some credibility in her race against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker—and though she is the best known, she also as to win the primary. But in many counties around the state the only hot races on the ballot will be in the Republican primary. There are state House Republicans who have primary challengers and in most cases the Democratic candidate is unopposed or non-existent.
Supreme Court Ruling Will Affect a Wide Range of Firms Beyond Health Sector Leigh Anne O’Connor, a lactation consultant in New York, is anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on President Barack Obama’s health overhaul. She is worried that if the court strikes down the law, it would wipe out a provision requiring larger employers to give women time and a private space to pump breast milk. It isn’t just large employers, medical businesses and constitutional scholars who are invested in the court’s decision.
Glenn Prager used to be a Medicare fraud fighter for the federal government. Early this year he switched to Medicaid, taking a job as Arizona’s inspector general. His primary task is to keep crooked health care providers out of the state’s $9 billion Medicaid system. If they slip in under the wire, he says, the goal is to catch them before any claims are paid. But six months into his new role, Prager is frustrated that he can’t get his hands on the Medicare data he used when he was a federal investigator.
A federal judge has turned down a bid by homeowners suing TVA to force the federal utility to place its tree-cutting policy on hold while the lawsuit progresses. Don K. Vowell, attorney for the plaintiffs, said it is disappointing that U.S. District Court Judge Tom Varlan did not grant a preliminary injunction that would halt TVA’s tree-cutting efforts, but Vowell saidthe judge could approve such a request later. “Although we were very disappointed, it doesn’t mean that the case is over,” Vowell said.
Tennessee’s healthcare sector, particularly its hospitals, will be watching warily as the U.S. Supreme Court readies its decision on the federal health care law. Craig Becker of the Tennessee Hospital Association says he wants the Supreme Court to take an “all or nothing” approach. He fears that if the requirement for individuals to have insurance is struck down, but the rest of the law is not, Tennessee hospitals will be in trouble.
A new charter school application from a group turned down by the Metro School board now includes a transportation plan and a proposed location. Great Hearts Academy’s bid for appeal refutes the reasons given for refusing the initial application. The board ruled that the plan put forward by Great Hearts didn’t completely meet the necessary standards. The new letter presents a laundry list of arguments in defense of the first application, even citing email correspondence with district officials. In two areas, organizers are now making certain concessions.
Robertson County school officials found the district’s 1970 desegregation plan, at issue in a federal investigation, but it’s so outdated that many schools mentioned no longer exist. Investigators from the U.S. departments of education and justice plan to visit Robertson County in July or August to study racial balance in school assignments and hiring. They’ve sent letters to the district referencing a “1970 Form 441-B desegregation plan,” a plan Robertson County officials said earlier was lost.The district’s law firm produced the plan this week, but attorney Angie Sanders wrote in an email she didn’t know where it was found.
The Hamilton County Board of Education will consider changes to the school lunch program, funding two school resource officers and budget amendments today. But a controversial land swap proposal doesn’t appear to be up for discussion yet. The school board has yet to discuss a proposed deal to swap the current East Brainerd Elementary School site for the former Poss Homes site near Howard School of Academics and Technology.
The job now before the unified school board is to decide whether it will conduct a search for a superintendent and whether it should be local or national. The issue, like many before the board, is colored by where board members live. Six of the seven members of the former Shelby County Schools board agree a search may be necessary later, but they see no need now while the board is under pressure of executing the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools by August 2013.
The countywide school board got the highly anticipated process of selecting the superintendent of the consolidated school system to come off to a contradictory start this week. The practical effect of the Tuesday, June 19, school board vote not to renew the contract of Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash is that Cash probably won’t be running the transition into and at least the start of the merged school district, which begins in August 2013. Even Cash acknowledged that immediately after the board’s 14-8 vote.
As he nears the two-year mark as Shelby County mayor this September, Mark Luttrell said he continues to be confronted by the “urban and suburban divide.” Luttrell will be a pivotal and recurring figure in the issue that has defined the divide since just after he took office Sept. 1, 2010 – the consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems.The week after the schools consolidation planning commission approved a first draft of a consolidation blueprint, Luttrell is telling citizens to prepare for a “paradigm shift.”
Dyersburg, Tenn., police say a car given away at last year’s Dyer County Fair has been quarantined after a meth lab was found in it. According to the State Gazette (http://bit.ly/PjNntq ) of Dyersburg, the 2011 Toyota Yaris was stopped for a traffic violation and was found to have a meth lab under the front seat. Three people in the car were charged with initiating meth manufacture. The paper said one of the three reportedly is the boyfriend of the woman who won the car, which is awaiting inspection prior to cleanup.
Several stories this week point to a growing problem for communities across Tennessee, and even across the nation. Non-skilled jobs are disappearing faster than ever, and education at all levels is failing to prepare students for today’s and tomorrow’s workplaces. Communities that fail to address these issues are dooming themselves to high unemployment and increasing burdens on social welfare resources and health care services. Inadequate workforce development will drive businesses away, and there will be nothing to replace them.
For the last 25 years (call it the Dark Ages for Tennessee Republicans) the Democrats controlled both the state House and Senate and the governor’s office for 16 of those years. During that time, shut out of real power, there arose a conservative Republican infrastructure that sought influence by other means. Conservative talk radio took off in Nashville, with hosts sending horn honkers to circle the Capitol to protest a vote on a state income tax. Gun owners formed lobbying groups to join the NRA to push expansion of gun rights.
In Tennessee, the majority party in the state Legislature gets control of the election commission in every county, a contrivance with no constitutional basis. Political parties are granted no constitutional powers. In fact, they are not mentioned at all in the state or federal constitutions. Efforts by the Knox County Election Commission to keep Shelley Breeding off the state ballot demonstrate how party power erodes citizenship. Breeding lives in Karns, on a street that nudges against the border of Knox and Anderson counties. Several lots in her subdivision, including hers, are bisected by the county line.
Roane County is not that different from other small Tennessee communities. We care about our families, our community and our economy. Things do move a little more slowly here than in some other places. As a sixth-generation Roane County resident, I’m used to that pace. As a member of the Roane County Commission, I know that taking things slowly means more deliberation in order to make good decisions for the community. But there has to be a limit. It has now been 3½ years since my community was devastated by the largest coal-ash disaster in history.