This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam will begin his review of the state’s college and university systems next week. The Commercial Appeal reported Haslam will assemble business, legislative and higher education leaders for a meeting at the governor’s residence on July 10. An invitation sent from the governor’s office to members of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, Board of Regents and others says the meeting will also feature presentations by three leading higher education policy experts and that Haslam will moderate discussions after each presentation.
Gov. Bill Haslam will assemble business, legislative and higher education leaders for a meeting at the governor’s residence next week to kick off his review of the state’s college and university systems. The meeting, set for Tuesday, comes days after the University of Tennessee board of trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents approved tuition and fee increases on the state’s campuses. The hikes are as high as 8 percent for the 2012-13 school year, which opens next month.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam was on hand to say “thank you” today to Nissan North America – a major corporate statewide sponsor of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) – at an event held at Glen Leven Day School in Nashville. Nissan North America contributed $100,000 to the GBBF for the fiscal year ending July 2012, furthering the company’s legacy of commitment to the cause of early childhood literacy in Middle Tennessee. Since the inception of the GBBF in 2005, Nissan North America has provided grants totaling over $700,000 to the non-profit foundation.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam was on hand to say “thank you” this week to Nissan North America — a major corporate statewide sponsor of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation — at an event held at Glen Leven Day School in Nashville. Nissan North America contributed $100,000 to the GBBF for the fiscal year ending July 2012, furthering the company’s legacy of commitment to the cause of early childhood literacy in Middle Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s newly reorganized Tennessee Regulatory Authority is off but not running since the governor and legislative leaders failed to appoint an executive and a quorum of directors by July 1. Meanwhile, a six-month clock is already ticking on Tennessee American Water’s June 1 request to hike Chattanooga’s water rates by nearly 25 percent. The TRA must decide on the request no later than November or the $10.5 million increase automatically will take effect.
The new Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct will begin its work on the weekend. The board that replaced the old Tennessee Court of the Judiciary effective July 1 holds an organizational meeting Saturday, July 7, in Nashville. As the Fourth of July holiday neared, the new group that hears allegations of ethics violations by judges was almost complete. The final two appointments were still to be made by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to make a board of 16. The old court, established in 1979, had been appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Tennessee has received an $18 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prepare for health care emergencies. Tennessee’s portion comes from a total of $971 million awarded by HHS.The funding awards include a total of approximately $352 million awarded for the Hospital Preparedness Program cooperative agreement. Of that, $7.04 million has been awarded in Tennessee. Of the more than $619 million awarded for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement, $11.4 million has been awarded in Tennessee.
The police chief in Columbia, Tenn., has been appointed to a post in the Tennessee Department of Correction. Joseph Bishop, a 32-year veteran of law enforcement, will become director of the Office of Investigations and Compliance. He will oversee the department’s law enforcement, special operations and compliance units. He has been police chief in Columbia since 2008. He is former deputy chief with the Metro Nashville Police Department where he spent 27 years on the force.
Three teenage girls who escaped overnight from Department of Children’s Services custody at the Clover Bottom facility by assaulting a staff member, were apprehended. Two of the juveniles, ages 17 and 15, were spotted walking on Gallatin Pike near Madison Square at 8 a.m. by a Metro police officer on patrol. Both were taken into custody. The third escapee, Porsha Phillips, 18, had split from the other two and called the Emergency Communications Center to surrender.
The state Supreme Court has clarified its ethics rules for judges and posted them on its website effective this week. The wide-ranging policy makes it clear that if you are an attorney or judge, and you know of a judge who is using drugs and alcohol and is not fit to hear cases, you really ought to report them. The rules also say a judge may not retaliate against a judge or attorney who reports their alleged misconduct. The rules also cover campaign dos and don’ts, and detailed instructions on when and how judges are to be recused.
Even though Republicans are lately focused primarily on the federal health care ruling, a top House Democrat expects education will again emerge as the most contentious political issue in next year’s Tennessee Legislature. Debate about college tuition, charter-school expansion and school choice will be among the hottest of hot-button issues come dead of winter 2013, minority-party caucus chairman Mike Turner predicted this week during a conversation with reporters in Nashville.
Some legislators are drooling at the prospect of having an extra $225 million to spend next session, but look for the Supreme Court ruling last week to instead lead to a sharp reduction if not elimination of the Hall Income Tax. The Supreme Court said states do not have to follow through with a significant expansion of Medicaid (TennCare in Tennessee) in the omnibus health care bill called Obamacare. Former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said it was “the mother of all mandates.” He and current Gov. Bill Haslam have accumulated $225 million in a special reserve fund within TennCare to pay for the expansion in benefits.
A new law and the death of a local doctor have made the availability of abortion in Knoxville uncertain. In April, the Tennessee Legislature passed the Life Defense Act, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. While the bill’s sponsors never demonstrated a real need for the regulation, which was originally suggested by Tennessee Right to Life, the consequences are turning out to be profound.
After a decade working behind the scenes as a political adviser to Gov. Phil Bredesen, Will Pinkston is stepping out from behind the curtain to run for public office himself. Pinkston is running for the vacant District 7 school board seat and relying on his background as a newspaper reporter and political communications director to guide his own campaign. Pinkston enjoys the backing of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Nashville Education Association, which acts as the local teachers union.
Without any open discussion, Hamilton County commissioners unanimously approved a new policy Tuesday, formalizing their long-standing practice of allowing public prayer at meetings. The new policy has county staffers compiling a central database of religious congregations “with an established presence in Hamilton County.” From that list, religious leaders will be invited to lead prayers before weekly commission meetings. Slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Officials said the policy will ensure diversity of religious representation.
The Chattanooga City Council approved a first reading of the 2012-13 fiscal year capital budget 5-2 Tuesday. But it still has a gauntlet to go through next week. Mayor Ron Littlefield amended the budget suddenly Tuesday, throwing in money for a new indoor firing range for police. Councilwoman Deborah Scott laid down concerns ranging from repairs to the 21st Century Waterfront and more money needed for road paving.
A persistent myth holds that Strother Martin’s line in Cool Hand Luke, “What we got here is failure to communicate,” was the origin of that well-worn phrase. It wasn’t, of course. Martin, who played a beady-eyed old chain-gang captain in that 1967 movie, was assigned the line for ironic effect, changing its impact forever. The line was originated by social clinicians back in the ’50s and couldn’t have been played straighter. It knocked around for years as a cliché of what the critic Lionel Trilling (playing it equally straight) called “the liberal imagination” before being liberated and repurposed by scriptwriter Frank Pierson in the shake-’em-up ’60s. As a description of a Saturday afternoon event sponsored by an organization called the Voting Rights Coalition, the phrase would apply both ways.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says he’s developed a plan to reform taxes and balance the federal budget, but he’s not planning to release details until after the election. He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday that his plan will cut entitlement spending and raise more money. “We’ll have it ready for prime time later this year,” Corker said. “Having one piece of legislation that would put this fiscal crisis in our rear-view mirror would allow us to focus on making our country great again.”
Just maybe this U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the federal health care law might generate some energy in the presidential race, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said in a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board. “It’s just been like dead air,” the Tennessee Republican said of the race between presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney and incumbent Democrat Barack Obama. While the GOP-controlled House plans a vote next week to repeal the health care law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, Corker said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell “will figure out a way” to force a Senate vote on the issue.
Regardless of what happens at the ballot box in November, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker thinks changes are coming to health care. If Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wins and Republicans retain a majority in the House and gain a majority in the Senate, President Barack Obama’s legacy health care law will be repealed, Corker said during an editorial board meeting at the Johnson City Press Tuesday morning. The repeal of the law would not mean that health care reform would be abandoned, though.
An environmental group is launching a statewide television ad campaign in Tennessee to thank Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander for his opposition to an effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting the first federal standards to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants. The Environmental Defense Fund said Tuesday it is spending about $200,000 to air the ad in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, Jackson and Memphis this week. The groups said the ads are meant to applaud Alexander for what it calls taking “a courageous stand for the people of his home state.”
If Scottie Mayfield wins Tennessee’s 3rd District congressional race, he would be the first non-Chattanoogan to capture the post since the 1890s. With that in mind, some of the Scenic City’s public officials have wondered whether the dairy executive would keep Chattanooga’s congressional office or open an office closer to his Athens, Tenn., home. The answer may be both. In an interview Saturday at the opening of his Chattanooga campaign headquarters, Mayfield smiled, hesitated and said he hadn’t considered the congressional office question.
The hot and dry summer weather continues to affect both the water levels of area lakes and the demands on electric power, Tennessee Valley Authority officials said Tuesday. Last weekend’s record, 100-plus-degree temperatures ushered in what is historically the hottest season of the year. But weeks of diminished rainfall and high temperatures are beginning to impact area lakes, said Tom Barnett, TVA’s manager of river forecast center operations.
Great Hearts Academy, the controversial charter school operator seeking to bring a school to wealthy West Nashville, will ask the state for approval to open five new K-12 schools in Davidson County following two rejections from the school board. In an email to supporters, Great Hearts Academy CEO Daniel Scoggin and President Peter Bezanson said they would like to open their first of five schools in 2014. Great Hearts will submit its appeal to the state this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald isn’t bashful about touting his support for municipal schools. But he is just as quick to stress that the stance is a personal belief. When it comes to the city’s website regarding public education, he classifies the accompanying documents as informational rather then promotional. To be sure, he checked with the city attorney to make sure everything was in line legally. As Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington continue to push to an Aug. 2 referendum, their get-out-the-vote efforts are becoming more prominent.
Kevin Ward read with deep interest an article in Monday’s Johnson City Press in which Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey recommended there should not be an increase in the property tax rate this year. Monday was Ward’s first day as interim director of the Carter County School System, but as assistant director, he had been working closely with the Board of Education since April to make $1.8 million in cuts to the budget. Now, the suggestions Humphrey was proposing would result in even more cuts.
If you aren’t mature enough to talk about sex, then how can you possibly pass laws about it? Yet somehow our state legislators did just that. We imagine them giggling behind the barn as they search memories of their inner child for words to act as code for body parts and functions. They needed these terms, of course, because they were too embarrassed during floor debate to spell out the exact curriculum they want to impose on our classrooms. The best they could come up with was “gateway sexual activity.” When health teachers in Tennessee classrooms get to the chapter on human sexuality, they will not be allowed to promote “gateway sexual activity.”
The Affordable Care Act is a win-win for those in need, health-services consumers and the business community. The 900,000 Tennesseans who lack health insurance will gain greater access to health care. “The Wall Street Journal” reported, the stock value of Tennessee-based hospital corporations soared more than 10 percent on the day the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Immediately after the court upheld the act, the “Nashville Business Journal” proclaimed the act as a “stimulus for the city’s $30 billion health-care industry” that will encourage technological innovation and improvements in the quality of health care and grow the client base for insurance companies.
Voters, watch your mailboxes. Your new voter registration card has arrived or is on its way. In Davidson County, 84 percent of voters will find something has changed, be it where they vote or the districts in which they vote, said Albert Tieche, Davidson County elections administrator. “They should read it and know what’s on there,” Tieche said. “The card has a letter attached to it. Their precinct information and all of their districts — all of that is printed on the card, as is the name of their polling place. They should sign the card. They should cut out the card. They should put it in their purse or wallet. “ ‘Taking ownership’ is a really good phrase.”
The recent Supreme Court ruling that allows our government to mandate that each citizen purchase insurance as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through the definition of a tax presents a defining moment for states. As a function of Obamacare, states are given the option to independently construct health insurance exchanges with federal grants in preparation for full implementation of the law or to participate in a federal exchange. Of America’s 50 states, 35 have moved forward to ready for the law by working to establish minimal benefit plans. As of May 2012, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Tennessee has received more than $8 million in federal grants, Alabama $8.5 million, and North Carolina over $12 million to take action.
Good morning students, welcome to your biology class for this year. Thanks to the efforts of the Tennessee Legislature, we will be expanding our lessons this year, no longer bogged down in years of formal scientific study, but now being allowed to consider alternative creation theories. No longer are we shackled by the “theory” of evolution. Let free scientific inquiry begin! I will now run down the syllabus for the year, to give you an idea of what is to come. FIRST SIX WEEKS: One theory about the creation of the Earth is the Hindu one. The world is an ocean and Lord Vishnu is a big snake. He has a lotus flower in his stomach and from that Lord Brahma appears. Lord Brahma gets lonely so he splits in two, creating a male and a female. He creates all living things.
There’s a lot taking place on the Oak Ridge security front, or so it seems. The government’s security contractor, WSI-Oak Ridge (also known as G4S and Wackenhut), recently received a “good” performance rating for its work at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant for the first six months of fiscal year 2012. That period concluded March 31. According to a June 14 letter to WSI General Manager Lee Brooks, the National Nuclear Security Administration awarded the company a fee of $1,437,545.64. That was out of a maximum possible fee of about $1.545 million.
The Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of health care reform inadvertently opened a hole in health insurance coverage that could harm some of the nation’s poorest citizens. The problem arises from a mismatch between how the law was framed and how the court’s ruling will affect Medicaid, the joint state-federal health program for the poor. The reform law sought to provide coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans starting in 2014 through two mechanisms. It required states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover virtually everyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (about $31,000 for a family of four) or lose all federal financing for Medicaid. And it established new insurance exchanges through which people without affordable coverage at work could buy coverage.