This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
More than 13,000 teachers across the state begin training this week in what education officials describe as the largest program of its kind in Tennessee history. They will be trained in math curriculum standards to be implemented in grades 3-8 during the coming school year. They will be coached by more than 200 fellow teachers selected earlier this year for their role. Training sessions last three weeks at 16 schools across Tennessee. Similar training will be done a year from now in English/language arts.
The head of the Tennessee Hospital Association says hospitals throughout the state are going to suffer if TennCare is not expanded under the new federal health-care law. While the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, justices struck down a mandate for states to expand their Medicaid programs. The court gave states the choice of opting into the Medicaid expansion in 2014. “We’re going to have to sit down with the administration to see what we can do about it,” Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Owners of local scrap metal businesses say they will benefit from new regulations stating that all scrap metal dealers and any locations the dealers use must be registered by the state’s Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Scrap Metals Registration Program. Dale Nelson, owner of Dale’s Recycling of Jackson, said the law has been in existence since 2008. Nelson said everyone who deals scrap metal in the state must have a government-issued license for their business and regularly pay their fees.
Communication, logistics and mass care in the event of a major earthquake will be practiced throughout the state in a drill this week in conjunction with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Jeremy Heidt, a spokesman for TEMA, said all areas of the state west of the Tennessee River are at a high risk for earthquakes because of their proximity to the New Madrid fault. He said about 2 million people live in West Tennessee, including 1 million in Memphis and Shelby County. Heidt said about 200 small earthquakes affect West Tennessee during a six-month period.
Sometimes grass is greener on the other side. Especially if it’s native, drought-resistant and indifferent to summer heat. After little water in the past month and some fairly intense summer heat, the field of gamagrass at the University of Tennessee’s East Tennessee Research and Education Center in Blount County is a breath of spring in a dry July. A healthy shade of green and standing more than two feet high, the large clumps of grass grab the ground with vigor, sending down roots 5 to 10 feet where the depth of soil allows.
When jurors are sent to their deliberation room to decide a case, the judge gives them a thick set of legal instructions that are meant to be a layman’s guide to the law for the case. But the legal language still can leave jurors scratching their heads. So when a 12-member Criminal Court panel got stumped recently while considering a case of attempted murder, a few decided to turn to the Internet for guidance, according to the defendant’s attorneys. They want their client’s convictions thrown out, and they hope to bring jurors back to court to ask them who Googled what during deliberations.
The National Rifle Association wants Tennessee legislative candidates to declare whether they will back Republican leaders or the NRA next year if that’s what it takes to put a controversial guns-in-parking lots bill up for a full vote. In a gun-issues survey sent to Republican and Democratic candidates, the NRA devotes two of 27 questions to the Safe Commute Act, which cleared most committees but never came up for House and Senate floor votes this year.
Renovations at the state Capitol are giving workers the chance to restore some of the original features of the 150-year-old building including arched ceilings and other detail work. Peter Heimbach Jr. of the state Department of General Services told reporters during a tour last week that while mechanical upgrades are the main object of the overhaul, the state will also have a chance to restore vaulted ceilings and to seal doors that weren’t original to the building. “We’d like to preserve some of the history of the Capitol and its construction,” he said.
When Edward and Mary Weidenbener went to vote in Indiana’s primary in May, they didn’t realize that state law required them to bring government photo IDs such as a driver’s license or passport. The husband and wife, both approaching 90 years old, had to use a temporary ballot that would be verified later, even though they knew the people working the polling site that day. Unaware that Indiana law obligated them to follow up with the county election board, the Weidenbeners ultimately had their votes rejected — news to them until informed recently by an Associated Press reporter.
In the beginning was the Moral Majority. Then came the Christian Coalition. Now there’s a new incarnation of politically active conservative Christians — the Tea Party Evangelicals. Or, as David Brody nicknamed them, the Teavangelicals. “The Moral Majority of the 1970s and early 1980s has morphed into a fiscally disciplined, tea party conservative, evangelical movement,” said Brody, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network and author of the new book “The Teavangelicals.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., sat in an editorial board meeting Monday with the Chattanooga Times Free Press and was asked a simple question: Why should he be re-elected? He said his position in the Senate can sometimes be frustrating — even more frustrating than during his tenure as Chattanooga mayor. “Unlike when I was mayor, the other 99 folks just don’t do what I tell them to do,” he said, tongue in cheek. But he said the reason he is running for a second term is because it is an honor to serve. “I realize it’s a tremendous privilege,” he said.
Critics took aim at Republican Sen. Bob Corker last month after he called for a hearing to investigate more than $2 billion in trading losses at JPMorgan, then used the occasion to heap praise on CEO Jamie Dimon. Corker called Dimon “one of the best CEOs in the country for financial institutions” and deemed the losses, which the New York Times reported last week could total as much as $9 billion, a “blip on the radar screen.” Those statements have fueled claims by Corker’s challengers from both parties that the senator’s allegiance lies with big campaign donors and not ordinary Tennesseans — a theme they will try to hammer home as elections draw near.
More states are enacting or considering laws that prohibit people who get welfare cash from spending it on liquor, cigarettes, strip clubs, gambling and guns — laws that even supporters say are difficult to enforce. Ten states have passed such laws and at least 14 are considering them, the National Conference of State Legislatures says. Under a new federal law, all states must prevent the use of cash benefits in liquor stores, gambling establishments and adult entertainment businesses by 2014. States that fail to establish policies face cuts in federal support.
As U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays begins hearing arguments over the validity of laws allowing referendums for new municipal school districts in Shelby County’s suburbs, it’s instructive to go back to the first day of the 2011-12 school year. About the time the first afternoon school bells rang on Aug. 8, Mays released the 146-page order that managed to give both sides items of significance: Memphis had properly dissolved Memphis City Schools and forced consolidation with the heretofore suburban-only Shelby County Schools, Mays wrote, but a new state law strongly favoring suburban interests would guide the two-year process of transferring administration and operations of city schools to the county.
With school funding tight, administrators and teachers bear much of the burden Pencils and paper. They may seem like everyday items, but when it comes to getting ready for school, teachers and parents say something that simple can serve as an entry point for achievement. “It makes all the difference in the world between a child being successful when they walk through the door and not,” said Janelle Glover, principal at Smithson Craighead Academy Elementary School.
Tennesseans have griped for decades about the long lines to get or renew their driver’s license. New technology is finally helping fix the problem. Across the state, there are now 72 Apple iPad kiosks inside 26 driver centers in mostly urban areas, where you can quickly renew or replace your driver’s license using a credit or debit card. You also can use the kiosks to pay reinstatement fees or change your address. At the Centennial Station in West Nashville one recent day, drivers were completing their transactions on the three new iPads in six minutes.
Oil and gas exploration in Tennessee is nothing new. It has been happening in this state for almost 100 years. Yet, new technology and the drive to become energy-independent have taken your grandfather’s oil and gas exploration techniques to a new level. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling now make it possible to extract gas from shale that was previously thought to be impossible or impossibly expensive. With this new technology comes risk. We are hearing from states across the country where hydrofracking is years ahead of Tennessee that groundwater and surface water contamination has occurred when exploration and production activities become widespread.
The recent four-part HBO documentary “The Weight of the Nation” has reignited public discourse over how we can reduce obesity rates, along with Coinciding with the film’s release was a nearly 500-page a report from the Institute of Medicine which offered plenty of solutions — most of them governmental. Can the blunt tool of government solve obesity? We have every reason to be skeptical. Obesity is a simple math problem: Eat and drink more calories than you burn off, and you’ll put on pounds. But the causes are much more complex across society. A new study I conducted with Lehigh University’s Shin-Yi Chou found that there’s no one cause of obesity — not by a long shot.
President Obama said last month that America can educate its way to prosperity if Congress sends money to states to prevent public school layoffs and “rehire even more teachers.” Mitt Romney was having none of it, invoking “the message of Wisconsin” and arguing that the solution to our economic woes is to cut the size of government and shift resources to the private sector. Mr. Romney later stated that he wasn’t calling for a reduction in the teacher force—but perhaps there would be some wisdom in doing just that. Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%.