This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the appointments of 165 Tennesseans, including several from Southeast Tennessee, to a variety of state boards and commissions. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Haslam’s recommended reforms to many of the state’s boards and commissions, and most of those changes take effect between July and October, according to a news release from the governor’s office. “Tennessee will be well-represented on these boards and commissions, and I look forward to continuing our review to make sure Tennesseans have a government responsive to them,” Haslam said in the news release.
Revamped TRA needs Haslam, leaders to act The state agency responsible for setting rates and service standards for privately owned utilities is lacking an executive director and board quorum. Among new laws that took effect July 1 is a statute that revamps the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Gov. Bill Haslam backed the legislation that created a part-time board and requires a full-time executive director. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported the director has not been appointed and three of the five board seats are unfilled.
As if a mid-week break weren’t enough cause to celebrate, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center announced individual awards of a grant and a donation totaling $1.2 million just before the Independence Day holiday. Kui Li, an associate professor in the school’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry, received a grant of $299,317 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health .
After five years as chief at the University of Wyoming, Troy Lane felt pretty content. Then he learned the University of Tennessee was looking for a new top cop. “When I saw the UT opening, I decided this was one I wanted to take a hard look at. I really liked what I saw, and my wife loved it. When the offer was made, it didn’t take long to convince me to move,” he said. “This means a lot. It is a big step up.” Lane, 43, sworn in formally Thursday as chief, praised the members of the UT Police Department and said he looked forward to working with Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones, who attended the ceremony at the UT police headquarters.
Ayres Hall, with its stand-out Gothic Revival design, has always been recognized as the flagship building for the University of Tennessee. After a $23 million, two-year renovation project, the building stands as majestic as ever — and more “green” than ever before. The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the building a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification at the silver level. UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, in a statement, said UT was proud of the building and the recognition.
Last week’s Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act left Tennessee and other states with a choice—expand Medicaid, or don’t. If Tennessee chooses to expand TennCare, the federal government will foot the entire bill for three years. Then, after three years, the federal government will pay for 90 percent of the expanded coverage. “It’s a very good deal,” said Dr. Cyril Chang of the University of Memphis. If the state accepts the deal, Chang estimates more than 200,00 uninsured people, more than 25 percent of the uninsured people in the state, will gain coverage.
With 18 years on the Circuit Court bench behind him, Judge Don Ash is set to move up in the judicial world after the Tennessee Supreme Court appointed him as senior judge. Ash will step down from the 16th Judicial District position, effective Sept. 1, to take the post, making him one of four standing senior judges in the state assigned on a temporary basis to hear cases statewide. Ash will continue serving on the Circuit Court bench here until Gov. Bill Haslam appoints a successor to fill the remainder of his term until 2014 when the office will be placed on the ballot.
Ex-senator ousted as nominee after ‘uncertain’ primary win Former state Sen. Rosalind Kurita on Thursday lost a federal appeal of her ouster as the Democratic nominee in her 2008 bid for re-election to the Tennessee General Assembly. In a brief ruling, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s refusal to reinstate Kurita to the ballot after Democratic officials declared her 19-vote primary win as “incurably uncertain.”
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper is warning consumers about the risks of “geotagging.” A news release from his office says GPS applications allow others to use personal information for unwanted marketing “or other nefarious purposes.” The release said a woman’s photo on a dating site might give a stalker information about her home or work address. A home movie of a child’s birthday party posted to a video sharing site might reveal location information to child predators.
The Memphis public library has begun issuing new library cards that can double as official photo ID for voting and other business. The driver’s license-size plastic card calls itself “Your Passport to a World of Opportunity.” Mayor A C Wharton agrees. “This ID is going to bring people more knowledge and experience than what is found here at the library,” Wharton said. “From this day on, no one can use the excuse ‘I can’t afford a valid ID’ because this one is free.” He said the card can be an empowering civic force.
U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays has bestowed his judicial sanction on the legitimacy of an effort by Shelby County Commission appellants seeking to block scheduled August 2 referenda on municipal school districts. The petition in question was filed a week ago by seven members of the County Commission, all representing portions of the City of Memphis. Formally, the petition was a “third-party response” to litigation initiated more than a year ago in a suit originally filed by the then Shelby County Schools board and later joined in or contested by various other litigants.
Scottie Mayfield told supporters to expect “false/negative” television advertising from his Republican primary opponents in the coming weeks, but declined to identify the source of that information or describe the content of the ads. “Republican leaders and voters report that we’ll be attacked on TV soon,” the Athens, Tenn., dairy executive wrote on Twitter. “False/negative ads have no place in [Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican] primary.” Joe Hendrix, a spokesman for Mayfield, said, “Scottie committed to not going negative in any way.”
Tennessee could be on the hook for $716 million in 2014 to cover uninsured citizens under the Affordable Care Act, according to The New York Times. At the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that each state could choose whether to extend Medicaid coverage to all adults living within 133 percent of the poverty line. That expansion could add as many as 17 million previously uninsured people to the Medicaid rolls. The federal government could cover most of the new costs, but states would have to contribute as well.
In just five months, the Obama administration has freed schools in more than half the nation from central provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law, raising the question of whether the decade-old federal program has been essentially nullified. On Friday, the Department of Education plans to announce that it has granted waivers releasing two more states, Washington and Wisconsin, from some of the most onerous conditions of the signature Bush-era legislation. With this latest round, 26 states are now relieved from meeting the lofty — and controversial — goal of making all students proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014.
Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton wants to open a charter school that draws its students from those youths in the custody or care of the Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court. Herenton talked about the still forming proposal for a charter school under the name W.E.B. DuBois Academy this week as he returned to City Hall. He sought City Council support for a Memphis City Schools collaboration with charter school operators offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. MCS leaders declined to participate last year.
After the second-driest June on record, two-thirds of the state — including all of Middle Tennessee — is now in a severe drought, according to a report released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The unusually dry weather has the state nearly 8 inches in the hole for total rainfall. Percy Priest Lake stands at its lowest elevation ever for this time of year, and some water utility managers called for water restrictions. And the timing of the drought, much earlier than normal, has farmers scrambling to salvage what few crops they can. Others already are calculating their losses.
The drought and heat wave that has stretched across the country has not spared West Tennessee farmers from damaged crops. Agricultural experts believe the effects on local producers might be so far-reaching as to cost consumers more money in the long run across a wide array of market products. Some experts believe the absence of rain for the past three months has been detrimental enough to late-planted corn crops so as to completely demolish their yield. Local farmer Randy Williams doesn’t need an agricultural expert to tell him how his crops are dying.
Voters here will decide this month whether to increase their sales taxes by a penny to raise billions of dollars for improved roads and mass transit in a city notorious for its grinding congestion and dysfunctional train and bus service. Political and business leaders conceived the referendum—for a tax of one cent on the dollar, in addition to any other taxes in a given county—several years ago and got the proposal through the state legislature in 2010. They estimate that the tax would raise $8.5 billion within the next decade for projects they say are desperately needed to help Atlanta heal its battered economy and improve its quality of life.
Gov. Bill Haslam rightly celebrated educational improvement last week when the state Department of Education released the 2012 results of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program. “The continued success of students is a testament to how much work Tennessee teachers have done in the classroom,” Haslam said. “We’re so proud of our students, teachers and parents for supporting statewide efforts to improve education, and it is exciting to see gains for a second year in a row.” Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman also celebrated, but a bit more circumspectly.
Tuition increases at Tennessee’s public postsecondary schools have become so routine that they’ve come to be expected. But that doesn’t lessen the financial blow to parents and students trying to muster their financial resources so the students can stay on track to graduate in a timely manner. The Tennessee Board of Regents recently approved tuition and fee increases for the six public universities, 13 community colleges and 27 technology centers it governs. They noted that the rates of increase are lower this year than in previous years. But that’s little comfort. Tuition will rise 7 percent this fall at the University of Memphis.
With their adoption of a new prayer policy, members of the Hamilton County Commission might believe that they’ve resolved the issues — and addressed the federal lawsuit — arising from their long-standing practice of allowing public prayers before each meeting. They have not. They merely have muddled the issue. The lawsuit and often venomous debate about the legality and necessity of prayer that endorses a specific religion at a public meeting should and will continue. The issue arose publicly in May when a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out that “every 2012 prayer so far [at commission meetings] has been given ‘in Jesus’ name.'”
Defenders of Obamacare — yes, they exist — say its requirement that virtually all Americans buy federal government-approved medical insurance will end the freeloading by some people who could afford insurance but choose to do without and show up in emergency rooms for “free” care when they get sick. Now, so far as it goes, it is repugnant that some individuals who can afford insurance choose to spend their money in more frivolous ways and let the burden for their care fall on others. But the answer to that isn’t to create a massive boondoggle of a federal program that will balloon budget deficits and penalize the responsible and the irresponsible alike.
By coincidence on June 28, the day the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, I had a long-awaited appointment with a specialist for my bum knee. I hobbled into the office, conferred with the nurse practitioner and got a steroid shot When I headed out I was pleased that there was a sound medical treatment plan in place that, if all goes well, means no surgery until at least 2014. By then the portion of the Affordable Care Act kicks in that mandates everyone have health insurance and requires insurance companies to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions, so the financial aspects of surgery, a complete knee replacement, will be more manageable.