This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he is setting off on a mission to re-examine higher education. On Thursday, in front of the University of Tennessee system’s board of trustee, Haslam said he’ll launch the initiative July 10 and the statewide effort will include understanding the cost structure of the higher-ed system, how much a student pays, how much the state pays and what is the real cost of educating that student. There also will be a statewide “tour” in which an appointed committee will meet with employers to determine how to better prepare students for the workforce.
Gov. Bill Haslam told University of Tennessee trustees Thursday he wants to spend the coming months examining the cost of college and ways the state could help make it more affordable. “This is a critical time around higher education. I think we all know the status quo will not hold,” Haslam said during his remarks to the board. “The old model of higher education, I think everyone is saying — from academic circles to business circles across the country — that it won’t look the same 10 years from now.”
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he doesn’t believe Democratic lawmakers’ request for a special session to discuss using surplus state revenues to halt tuition increases is “wise planning for the state.” The legislators told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that lawmakers would like a session to be held in August, possibly before students return to school. They also want to uses the state surplus to drop the sales tax on groceries below 5.25 percent. Haslam included funding in his budget to reduce the sales tax from 5.5 percent.
Trustee says goal is no increase in 2013 The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees approved tuition hikes that range from 8 percent at the Knoxville campus to 3.5 percent at the university’s College of Law. Trustee Doug Horne said he’d like to see a year when there’s no increase. “We have goals,” he said. “Let’s have a goal of not having a tuition increase next year.” The board also approved a five-year strategic plan for the university, as well as a new tuition model that would be implemented in the fall of 2013.
Tuition at every University of Tennessee campus will cost more this fall. The Board of Trustees voted today to raise fees and tuition by eight percent at UT Knoxville and six percent at Martin and Chattanooga. The UT system’s smaller programs and campuses will see increases as low as four percent or as high as ten. While all the trustees seemed to be resigned to the idea that this year’s tuition hike was inevitable, there was some discussion of setting a goal to hold it in place next fall.
A six to eight percent tuition raise was approved for all University of Tennessee campuses at the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday. Gov. Bill Haslam, chair of the board, said that while over a 30 year period the contributions from the state to the University have diminished, putting more pressure on students and parents, he is concerned that the University and state not add to the burden. “I hope you find this to be an exciting and challenging time,” Haslam said.
The city’s first town center is expected to get a sweeping facelift courtesy of a state grant and a city match, and the governor is scheduled to officially announce it this morning. Gov. Bill Haslam and lawmakers will be in Jackson Square for the “special announcement concerning a major enhancement project,” according to a media advisory from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Oak Ridge City Council last October approved a resolution seeking such a TDOT grant to support the revitalization of Jackson Square, which was the commercial hub of this formerly secret city when it was involved in building the world’s first atomic bomb.
Good news for Montgomery County’s future veterans’ nursing home also is good news for Bradley County, veterans officials said Thursday. In a letter to Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder said the recent state legislative session in Nashville was good news for Bradley County’s future veterans’ nursing home. Gov. Bill Haslam’s $31 billion state budget was approved with $23 million in state funding for the proposed home here.
UTC is closer to becoming the fifth university nationwide and the only public school in Tennessee to offer a doctorate in occupational therapy. The University of Tennessee board of trustees approved the program Thursday during its annual June meeting. The proposal now goes to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to be reviewed in a July 26 meeting. “It’s very important for us to bring the clinical doctorate and add it to the doctorate in physical therapy. It creates a very nice synergy on our campus,” said Mary Tanner, dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies at UTC.
State board accused of secretly meeting to ruin university A professor at Tennessee State University, his wife and three other people have sued the Tennessee Board of Regents, claiming it systematically set out to destroy the historically black university and hinting that its motivations were racial. The lawsuit was filed by five members of a group called the Save TSU Community Coalition, which has routinely opposed decisions made by current university leadership, now headed by TSU interim President Portia Shields.
The Memphis metro area saw its unemployment rise in May to 8.8 percent, according to data released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development . In April, the metro area’s unemployment rate was 8.4 percent. Shelby County’s rate also was 8.8 percent in May, up from 8.3 percent in in April. The vast majority of Tennessee’s counties — 87 of 95 — recorded unemployment rate increases last month. Tennessee’s unemployment rate for May rose to 7.9 percent, up from the April revised rate of 7.7 percent.
Most Tennessee counties saw their unemployment rates increase in May, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. In a month in which the state’s overall unemployment rate increased to 7.9 percent, up from 7.7 percent, 87 Tennessee counties saw their individual unemployment rates go up. Lincoln and Williamson counties now have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, at 5.4 percent. In Williamson County, unemployment is up from 5.3 percent in April.
Gloomy report echoes pessimism of Fed The sluggish job market is weighing on the U.S. economy three years after the Great Recession ended. And the signs suggest hiring may not strengthen any time soon. A measure of the number of people applying for unemployment benefits over the past month has reached a six-month high, the government said Thursday. The increase suggests that layoffs are rising and June will be another tepid month for hiring. Sales of previously occupied homes fell in May. And manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region contracted for the second straight month in June.
Repairs began Thursday on a sinkhole that opened up near U.S. Highway 127 north of Pikeville, Tenn., on Wednesday, officials said. The gaping hole exposed at least one water line, an apparent underground stream and could have threatened the roadway if it had grown, officials said. The repair work consists of filling in the bottom of the hole with large rocks, then “continue filling the hole with rock that will get progressively smaller until the sinkhole is completely filled and shored up,” Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.
Construction could get under way next month to build a new, four-lane bridge at the Fort Loudoun Dam and widen a part of U.S. Highway 321 leading to the new structure. State officials on June 15 opened two bids for the project that has a May 31, 2015, completion date. A bid of $69,361,720.70 was submitted by Charles Blalock and Sons, Inc, of Sevierville. C.J. Mahan Construction Company, LLC, of Grove City, Ohio, submitted a bid of $77,432,500.54.
State boating officers will saturate high traffic areas through Sunday as part of a national safety initiative. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is participating in Operation Dry Water, which is designed to reduce alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities. The focus will be on boating under the influence to give enforcement high visibility during the peak boating season. A TWRA news release said officers will be out in force night and day.
A state appeals court has ruled that River City Co. and two associates will not have to pay Chattanooga for millions of dollars in repairs at the Passage on the downtown riverfront. Judge John McClarty’s ruling supported the trial court’s decision throwing out the case because it the statute of limitations had expired. “Chattanooga had constructive and actual knowledge of the construction defects and damage regarding the project,” McClarty wrote. “The evidence supports the determination of the trial court.”
In an abrupt about face, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is giving prosecutors a second shot at arguing he should step down in the 2007 torture-slaying case of a young couple. Blackwood issued an order Thursday in Knox County Criminal Court in which he set an Oct. 8 hearing on the state’s bid to force him to step down as judge over the trials of the defendants in the killings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23. Blackwood last week said he would not step aside from his decision to grant new trials to the defendants in the case.
Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley kicked off his re-election bid for a third term in office Thursday night with testimonials from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, other state lawmakers and local officials. Shipley, R-Kingsport, is again seeking the 2nd House District seat in the GOP primary and faces a challenge from former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote. Neither Shipley, nor the elected officials endorsing him, publicly mentioned Mallicote at the downtown event held inside Korner-Copia. “My opponent is certainly entitled to hold a rally, but the voters of the 2nd District are also entitled to hear the candidates engage in a substantive debate about the issues,” Mallicote said in response to Shipley’s event.
Bids on a project to expand the overcrowded Anderson County Jail and do a significant redesign of the existing lockup came in within the expected price range, Anderson County Mayor Myron Iwanski said. Rouse Construction Co. of Knoxville had the apparent low bid of $9,660,000. Six quotes were opened Thursday afternoon. County officials budgeted $10 million for the project. “This bid allows us to cover the cost of utility line relocation and parking lot improvements that were not part of the base bid,” Iwanski said.
Rep. Phil Roe, along with Reps. Jeff Miller and Bill Johnson, is seeking to reform the Veterans Administration and protect veterans. They introduced the Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2012 this week. The legislation institutes an appeal process for veterans who believe they are not being served properly by the VA. “Too many veterans have been poorly treated under this program by the very people entrusted to protect them,” Roe said. “It is clear that VA has lost control of the program, its employees and there is no accountability or leadership.”
The federal government says Tennesseans are due more than 28 million dollars in refunds from their health insurers. Some will get checks, but most will see their refund in other ways. A provision in the federal healthcare law requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of the money they get in premiums on patient care. If they spend less than that, they’re supposed to issue refunds. If you’re in an employee-based plan, that money goes to your company. They can decide to give all or part of it to you. Or the company could use it to lower your premium.
A Texas man has been indicted for threatening to bomb a planned Muslim community center in Murfreesboro. Law enforcement say Javier Alan Correa, 24, of Corpus Christi, called the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro on Sept. 5, 2011, and said there was a bomb in the building that would explode on the anniversary of Sept. 11. He has been charged with intentionally obstructing a free exercise of religion by threat of force and with using an instrument of interstate commerce to threaten to destroy a building with explosives, said Jerry Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.
A federal grand jury in Nashville has indicted Javier Alan Correa, of Corpus Christi, Texas, on two felony counts for allegedly threatening to bomb the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro last fall in a profanity-laced cellphone call. Correa is charged with interfering with the religious freedom of members of the mosque by threatening to use force against them as well as threatening to use an explosive device to interfere. U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin announced the indictment at the mosque construction site Thursday.
Call told of 9/11 bomb plot in Murfreesboro, feds say A federal grand jury Thursday indicted a 24-year-old Texas man on charges of making a bomb threat against the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro — within days of the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Javier Alan Correa of Corpus Christi is accused of violating the civil rights of Murfreesboro mosque members by obstructing their right to practice their religious beliefs. The indictment accuses him of leaving a profanity-laced phone message with the bomb threat last year, just six days before the Sept. 11 anniversary.
Javier Alan Correa, 24, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday and charged with violating the civil rights of members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Department of Justice officials announced. Correa is charged in the Middle District of Tennessee with one count of intentionally obstructing by threat of force the free exercise of religious beliefs and one count of using an instrument of interstate commerce to communicate a threat to destroy a building by means of an explosive device.
A Texas man has been indicted for calling in a bomb threat last year against a mosque in Murfreesboro. In announcing the indictment Thursday, the U.S. attorney for Middle Tennessee said he would not tolerate attacks on religious freedom. The two-count indictment charges Javier Alan Correa of Corpus Christi with phoning in the bomb threat, as well as trying to intimidate members of the mosque. U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin says that’s a violation of the constitutional protection for religious freedom.
A local woman who supports a court ruling that declared a mosque approval void questioned federal authorities on whether they’d back the judge’s order. “What about the mosque building without a permit?” Millie Evans asked during a press conference Thursday when federal officials announced a grand jury indictment of Javier Alan Correa, a 24-year resident of Corpus Christi, Texas, who faces charges of making a bomb threat to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro last September. “That’s a question for the county attorney,” U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin answered.
In this small city about an hour from Manhattan, pregnant teenagers, laid-off professionals and day laborers without insurance receive care at a community health center that has been part of the social fabric here for nearly four decades. Because of the sweeping federal health care law passed two years ago, the center, part of the Hudson River HealthCare network, received a $4.5 million grant last month to expand. It plans to add six more medical and seven more dental exam rooms, allowing it to see as many as 5,000 additional patients, many of whom are without insurance, on Medicaid or have limited coverage.
TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant vice president told the Nuclear Regulatory Agency on Thursday that the plant still is not ready for a third and final special inspection to clear a reactor’s “red” safety rating. “We agree that [the red finding] is where we should be right now,” said Keith Polson. “We want to reduce the risk at the plant and improve our performance, but that has to be sustainable. This is an exercise to improve our process.” NRC placed Browns Ferry in a red rating last year after it was determined in October 2010 that a valve intended to help cool the Unit 1 reactor in emergencies had not been functional in the previous 18 months.
Tennessee Valley Authority police officers are increasing their patrols at a popular area lake. The announcement comes just after police arrested a man for indecent exposure. That arrest happened at South Holston Dam in SullivanCounty. According to TVA police, during a recent surveillance operation, they charged 39 year-old Darrell Williams of Bristol,Tennessee with indecent exposure. Officers said Williams allegedly exposed himself after following an investigator into a wooded area near the dam.
A sports testing lab named after Olympic legend Wilma Rudolph will have its grand opening Friday in Nashville. The facility, to be operated by Nashville-based Aegis Sciences Corp., will have forensics, life sciences and research and development labs. More than 200 jobs will be created by the business. Rudolph, of Clarksville, overcame polio to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome while running for Tennessee A&I, now Tennessee State University.
New facility’s name honors Wilma Rudolph Aegis Sciences Corp., a national drug testing operation, plans to add roughly 400 new jobs by year-end, including some already filled at a new lab set to officially open in Nashville today. Roughly one in four of those jobs will be at the new Wilma Rudolph Sports Testing Laboratory at Nashville’s MetroCenter business park, where the company is based. Another 100 will be at Aegis’ other Nashville-area locations, plus 200 more at facilities the company operates elsewhere in the United States.
The E.W. Scripps Co. has named George Cogswell as the new publisher of The Commercial Appeal. Cogswell comes to Memphis from the Ventura County Star in California were he has served as president and publisher since 2007. Before that, he served as publisher for the Abilene Reporter-News in Texas and was the director of circulation and marketing for the Treasure Coast newspapers in Florida, another Scripps property. Cogswell succeeds Joe Pepe who had served as publisher of the Commercial Appeal since 2005.
California Gov. Jerry Brown and the state’s legislative leaders agreed Thursday on a $92 billion budget plan that would close the state’s deficit for the fiscal year starting on July 1. Legislators will meet next week to vote on the budget, which is expected to pass by the time the fiscal year begins, marking the second on-time budget in a row for a state formerly plagued by perpetual budget delays. On-time passage would bolster California’s reputation among the investors who buy its bonds and avert the cash-management emergencies that can result from late budgets.
As much as some may wish otherwise, there is no starting from scratch when rebuilding a city, or a school system. A judge confirmed that here on Wednesday, ruling that the Orleans Parish School Board and the Louisiana Department of Education, in laying the groundwork for a school reform movement that has become nationally recognized, illegally fired 7,500 school employees. The decision by Ethel S. Julien, a federal District Court judge, backed by 45 pages of reasoning and historical narrative, reinforced a long-held counternarrative of the beginnings of that movement.
When the state of Tennessee takes custody of a child, it assumes a huge responsibility for the child’s future. While the state never can replace a parent, it can take responsible steps give a child every opportunity to succeed in life. That’s why recent legislation signed by Gov. Bill Haslam extending foster care services beyond age 18 is the right thing to do. Under Tennessee law, when children in state custody reach age 18, they become adults and are free to move on with their lives. But making the transition from foster care to independent living can be a daunting task. To whom do these young adults turn for support? The legislation signed by Haslam extends the transition period during which foster care services can continue to age 21.
Future University of Tennessee students will have a financial incentive to take enough classes to graduate within four years after the UT Board of Trustees voted in a major change to tuition calculations. Beginning in 2013, incoming freshmen at the university’s flagship Knoxville campus will pay tuition based on 15 credit hours, regardless of how many hours they actually take. The move, approved unanimously at Thursday’s board meeting, should increase both graduation rates and appropriations from the General Assembly under the state’s new funding formula. UT administrators say the new model will make tuition increases more predictable, lower student debt and enable the university to serve more students without increasing enrollment.
Tuition at MTSU jumped 9.3 percent in 2011, and over the last 10 years it went up 84 percent. When are students here going to get a break? Not in the coming year, if the Tennessee Board of Regents passes a 6.8 percent tuition increase that would bump it up another $475 to $7,492 for the 2012-13 school year. The board, which oversees 27 technology centers, 13 community colleges such as Motlow and six universities such as MTSU, Memphis and Tennessee Tech, is set to consider those higher rates later this month Tennessee Democrats are countering by asking Gov. Bill Haslam to call a special session this summer to freeze college tuition and speed up breaks on food sales taxes.
It’s hard to imagine that there aren’t quite a few hard-working employees of Hamilton County government for whom a pay raise would be amply justified, and it’s difficult to begrudge them one even in these tough economic times. But we got a bit of an illustration of the sometimes-puzzling way that government works in the recently proposed pay hikes for county workers. “We’re going to ask for the commission to do a 3 percent across-the-board raise for all employees,” County Mayor Jim Coppinger said. Let us stipulate that local county government is far from the only government body that considers or adopts across-the-board pay increases for employees.
It would be ludicrous to expect government employees to have no personal views on issues such as tax increases for schools. But officials at some schools in Bradley County are expressing those views in inappropriate ways — through the use of presumably taxpayer-maintained marquee signs on school property. For example, under the words “North Lee Elementary/A School of Excellence,” that facility’s sign reads, “Support Our Kids/Vote Yes For Wheel Tax.” North Lee may well be an excellent school, and there may be plenty of room for debate among people of good will about the proposed $32 wheel tax, which is on a referendum on the Aug. 2 ballot. Moreover, no individual need apologize for having or expressing an opinion on the matter.
Earlier this month more than 600 of my fellow uninsured Tennesseans waited overnight to get medical care at Sewanee: The University of the South from Remote Area Medical’s 667th free health care clinic. When it first came into being, Knoxville-based RAM conducted clinics only in developing countries, but in recent years it has been giving free clinics for medical, dental and vision care throughout America. All the while politicians and businessmen have argued over how best to help cash-strapped, working-class people for whom President Barack Obama’s demonized health care reform would be a godsend.