This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam wants to spend some time examining the cost of a college education and what the state can do to make it more affordable, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Haslam announced his intentions to the University of Tennessee trustees. After his comments, the trustees unanimously approved an 8 percent tuition hike. The Tennessee Board of Regents is also recommending a 5.6 percent tuition hike at its member schools, which include the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College.
Gov. Bill Haslam plans to approach reforming higher education the same way he has everything else since he took office last January — with a top-to-bottom review of the state’s colleges and universities. Haslam in an hourlong meeting with the News Sentinel editorial board Friday said he planned to examine colleges’ cost structure, completion rates and whether graduates are prepared to do the jobs Tennessee employers need.
Gov. Bill Haslam presented the city of Oak Ridge a check for $798,687 Friday morning during a special celebration in historic Jackson Square. Oak Ridge was awarded a Tennessee Department of Transportation Enhancement grant to help revitalize the city’s original Townsite. “Places matter,” the governor said in presenting the check to Mayor Tom Beehan. “This check is for Phase I of redevelopment of the original Townsite,” Haslam said. “This will help restore the integrity of the area.”
A rejuvenation of the city’s original town center got a major boost Friday when Gov. Bill Haslam announced a $800,000 grant for parking lot and sidewalk construction in Jackson Square, as well as bicycle racks and benches. “The Jackson Square project will further Oak Ridge’s efforts to enhance its historic downtown area and provide increased mobility and improved access to small businesses and cultural activities,” Haslam said. The governor presented a $798,687 symbolic check to Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan during a Friday morning ceremony.
Amid much fanfare and a nod to the area’s history, a grant to redesign the city’s historic Jackson Square was formally announced Friday by Gov. Bill Haslam. But it may be as long as two years before the redo of the city’s first town center actually begins, City Manager Mark S. Watson said. He said since grant funding involves both federal and state government approvals, there are several bureaucratic hoops through which the city must jump.
Historic Jackson Square in Oak Ridge will be getting a major facelift, thanks to a nearly $800,000 grant. Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer were in Oak Ridge Friday for the announcement. The $798,687 transportation enhancement grant is for Phase I of the Jackson Square Townsite Reconfiguration Project, which includes major modifications to the parking lot on Broadway Avenue. The project will transform this area into an attractive, landscaped plaza and parking area.
With school out and more people looking for work, unemployment rose last month across most of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. The jobless rate in metropolitan Chattanooga last month rose by 0.3 percent to 7.4 percent. Although still below the state and national unemployment rates, unemployment in Chattanooga jumped by one of the biggest monthly amounts since the local job market hit its bottom three years ago. “Employment continues to grow, but it’s at a more sluggish pace,” said Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee.
The county’s jobless rate rose to nearly nine percent for the month of May, according to preliminary numbers released by the state’s department of labor and workforce development. Bedford County’s unemployment jumped 0.6 percent to 8.9 percent for last month, however, it still not as high as the jobless rate was this time last year, when it was at 10.4 percent. Estimated figures from the department showed an estimated labor force of 22,190 for the county, with 20,220 employed and 1,970 without work.
A Roane County woman has been charged for a third time in the past month with “doctor shopping” — going to multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for the same or similar controlled substances and using TennCare as payment. Crystal G. Farrar, 33, was arrested eariler this week in Bedford County, according to jail records, and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced she had been indicted by a Bedford County grand jury and charged with one count of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance by doctor shopping.
The father of a 37-year-old man who drowned last year says he’s grateful authorities pursued the case for almost a year in order to file charges against a suspect. “[The investigators] gave me more comfort than anybody did,” said 80-year-old Billie Hess, father of Jimmy Hess, who died last year after falling out of a sailboat on Chickamauga Lake. “I think about [him] regularly. Sometimes it’s worse than others,” Billie father said. “I just hope something comes of this. … I don’t think [his drowning] was accidental.”
A warning issued by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Forestry comes after five wildfires ignited in East Tennessee over the past four days. Due to dry conditions, anyone participating in outdoor activities that involve fire are encouraged to take extreme precautions. Firefighters say regular summer activities such as outdoor burning of debris, campfires, grilling or fireworks should be monitored very closely or even put off until the area gets some rain.
A woman who complained about an undercover officer who cursed at her during a traffic stop has prompted an internal investigation into the officer’s actions. TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm confirmed on Friday the TBI would begin an investigation into the agent’s actions as early as next week, though she would not identify the agent by name. “Internal investigations go through the Professional Standards Unit at TBI and the case will be assigned to a supervisory agent or retired agent on contract from another part of the state,” she said.
A former Pellissippi State Community College employee fired after coolant from the Blount campus was deliberately and improperly discharged into the Maryville city sewer system is suing the school, calling himself a “whistle blower.” Alan C. Carpenter’s attorney, Richard Collins of Knoxville, filed the lawsuit this week against Pellissippi State in Blount County Circuit Court. Carpenter wants to be reinstated to his job and be awarded back pay and attorneys fees as well as unspecified punitive damages.
Five tenured Knox County teachers deserved an independent hearing before their superintendent suspended them, a Knox County chancellor has ruled. The teachers — Mikel Burns, Ken Davis, Janlynn Moody, Danny K. Sanders and Jennifer Willoughby — filed separate complaints in Knox County Chancery Court after being suspended without pay on various grounds. Each teacher argued Superintendent Jim McIntyre lacked the authority to place teachers on unpaid leave as punishment.
21st Century Living Services still faces lawsuit after fatal fire Sumner County company that serves traumatic brain injury patients was told by state health officials to get licensed or shut down after a resident died in a fire in one of the homes it operates. Instead, the company, 21st Century Living Services, succeeded in lobbying for a state law that creates a new health license category that allows it to continue operating with few changes. The law, approved by Gov. Bill Haslam, becomes effective July 1.
It’s a political website hijacking in which the culprit may never be known. Nevertheless, state Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, said she’s infuriated that visitors to the website known as hurleyforhouse.com are immediately directed to the website of Kent Calfee, her opponent in the August Republican primary. Both candidates said they were unaware of the website redirect until informed Friday by the News Sentinel. Local blogger Brian Hornback noted it on his site, Shock and Awe.
Party sees primary challenges as sign of strength Two dozen Republican incumbents face challengers in legislative primaries, but party leaders say those bids signal enthusiasm — not dissatisfaction — with the way the GOP has run the Statehouse. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga called it a “a sign of a healthy system to have primary opponents,” even though the caucus has to raise more money to defend incumbents. “Having opponents makes you a better legislator, so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from running,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
Tennessee is among the 10 states that are most vulnerable to the European debt crisis, according to a study from the California-based Milken Institute. Although less than one-fifth of all U.S. exports are tied to Europe, there are still several states in which European experts count as a considerable share of their GDP. Exports to Europe account for 2.35 percent of Tennessee’s GDP and 21 percent of the state’s total exports. The automotive industry plays a significant role in Tennessee’s exports, and is an industry that has already witness significant sales declines in the European Union.
The Knox County Commission on Monday will look at adopting a written policy regarding prayer before board meetings, a move officials hope will protect them against lawsuits, like the one recently filed in Chattanooga. Commission Chairman Mike Hammond said he will add the resolution to Monday’s agenda. He said it’s in response to a June 15 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against the Hamilton County Commission. “Right after I became chair two years ago, I had a meeting with a group of individuals who asked me if I would consider having a moment of silence instead of regular prayer. I told them no,” Hammond said.
The county government filed a request Thursday for Chancellor Robert Corlew III not to enforce his ruling that voided approval of a mosque while the case is appealed. Corlew is scheduled to hold a hearing about the request at 9 a.m. July 2 in his third-floor courtroom at the Rutherford County Judicial Building. The county filed the request and an appeal Thursday, about a week after the County Commission voted to appeal Corlew’s ruling. The chancellor’s decision voided the mosque approval by the county’s Regional Planning Commission because he determined there wasn’t adequate public notice prior to the meeting in question on May 24, 2010.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann testified in a deposition that he never saw some of his own campaign ads before they hit the airwaves, despite a federally mandated voiceover joined with each ad: “I’m Chuck Fleischmann, and I approve this message.” In a separate deposition, Chip Saltsman, the freshman congressman’s former campaign consultant and current chief of staff, testified that he approved a Fleischmann ad that included a “created” computer image featuring Tennessee’s state seal superimposed over a nongovernment document.
Repairs to the Cumberland River’s Wolf Creek Dam reached a milestone this week. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the protective concrete embankment wall is now complete. That’s a six foot wide, 3800 hundred foot long structure that will hold the earthen embankment in place while a new main barrier is constructed. The Corps has been working on the dam since 2008, due to water that was seeping through the structure, putting it at risk of failure. Officials say there’s still another year and a half of work left to be done.
New accounting rules are likely to show that public pension plans could face hundreds of billions of dollars in additional liabilities, putting new pressure on state and local governments to act. The revamped rules expected to be approved Monday by an accounting-standards group will force governments to record pension costs sooner than they did before and disclose shortfalls more prominently. The changes also will force some public pension funds to calculate retirement benefits using more conservative assumptions.
Nashville-based Aegis Scienfitic does drug testing on everyone from corporate employees to NASCAR drivers and college athletes. Now it’s expanding its operations with a new laboratory. Aegis has been doing drug testing for over two decades. In its new lab, not far from the Titans practice facility, they’ll also try to identify new performance enhancing drugs used by athletes. Dr. David Black is Aegis’ CEO.
The National Folk Festival set to happen in Nashville this September is cancelled. One official blamed what she called “timing problems and acts of God” for sabotaging the event last year, and leaving it in debt. Now the festival hopes to regroup for 2013. The National Folk Festival moves from city to city in three-year stints. Nashville beat out dozens of competitors when it won rights to host the festival from 2011 to 2013. But barely a month after that announcement, the city flooded. Organizers say the result was a huge setback for planning and fundraising.
A proposed change to the city’s agreement with the Nashville Predators will reduce Metro’s obligation to the team by more than $1.5 million. Unveiled Friday, the changes cut the $7.8 million subsidy to $6.1 million in a deal that puts more value on performance incentives for Bridgestone Arena’s manager. “The city’s goals were to lower the subsidy, establish a mechanism to finance capital improvements at the arena and preserve the franchise and incentivize improved arena operations,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said.
In a deal that cements the Nashville Predators’ future in Music City for the next several years, Mayor Karl Dean agreed to pay the hockey club up to $8.4 million annually in subsidies and incentives to operate Bridgestone Arena. The deal also includes higher ticket surcharges to pay for improvements at the arena, such as new seats and a revamped entrance on the building’s south side, and a promise from the city for a new youth hockey rink that also could become a practice facility for the Predators.
Memorial Health Care System’s contract with the state’s largest health insurer expires in six weeks, and the hospital is asking the public to help in the dispute over reimbursement rates. Memorial executives say their reimbursement from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee “significantly lags the market,” but BlueCross counters that Memorial has asked for a reimbursement increase four times the rate of inflation, as the two sides jockey for advantage in ongoing negotiations.
Bedford County Board of Education is holding its ground, deciding Thursday night to resubmit its original budget request rather than reduce it to fit a six-cent cut in the tax rate approved last week by county commissioners. Chairman Barry Cooper raised the possibility that the state might force an increase in the budget, rather than a decrease, in order to meet the state’s maintenance of effort law.
Vinny Borello was so excited to spread the Boys and Girls Club mission to the Oakhaven schools neighborhood that he had to peek at his recently acquired Tchulahoma property one last time before the weekend. But when he returned to the site, a former church, on Monday, June 4, excitement turned to heartache. “The place was ransacked. Anything with copper and has value, they took,” Borello, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Memphis, said. “These were not children. These people knew what they were doing.”
The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty law on Friday, faulting a provision that permitted the Corrections Department to select the fatal drugs used in an execution. The court ruled 5 to 2 that the Legislature must set the quantity and type of drugs in a lethal injection. The 2009 law left those decisions to the director of the Corrections Department. The court sided with 10 death row inmates who challenged the law’s constitutionality. Prison officials across the nation are grappling with a shortage of an anesthetic called sodium thiopental that is one of three drugs used in a lethal injection.
This past week in the U.S. House of Representatives was Energy Week. I joined my colleagues on the House floor to continue the fight for a true all-of-the-above American energy strategy that will end our dependence on foreign oil and create thousands of good-paying jobs here at home. One of the best parts about the energy proposals in the House is that they reach for the stars and imagine the impossible — they don’t require a single government mandate or regulation from the EPA. As I was working with my colleagues to support American energy production here at home, the U.S. Senate was voting to support the EPA’s Utility MACT regulation, which has been characterized as the most expensive rule ever imposed on our nation’s power sector and designed to kill the U.S. coal industry.
If you’re a lawmaker committed to reducing the size of the federal government, it isn’t hard to find wasteful and bloated programs to cut. In fact, I’ve already introduced legislation to reduce a wasteful government program. My Stop Green Initiative Abuse Act would end the Home Weatherization Assistance Program, a program found by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to be ripe with waste, fraud and abuse. Elimination of this program would save the U.S. taxpayers approximately $2 billion. Although cutting bad government programs is critical to our nation’s fiscal health, there are legitimate federal agencies that waste billions of tax dollars.