This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has spent the last few months trying to convince voters to re-elect Republicans to the Legislature, but now he’s urging people to cast another vote — that Tennessee is the best for business. The election is part of CNBC’s Top States Twitter Battle which asks people to weigh in on which states have got it going on for business. “Buying American-made products often means buying something made in Tennessee,” said Haslam, who bragged that the Volunteer State “never gave up on manufacturing and our skilled workforce.”
CNBC on Tuesday will reveal the results of its sixth annual look at “America’s Top States for Business.” New this year is a Twitter Battle — featuring short videos from the states’ governors. All 50 guvs were invited to submit videos detailing what makes their state the best for business. In less than two minutes, Gov. Bill Haslam makes the case for Tennessee. He mentions, among other things, the state’s growing automobile manufacturing sector and a wide variety of consumer products made in Tennessee — M&Ms, solar panels, chemicals, Jack Daniels and more.
In this video Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam reveals why he thinks his state is a top state for business. To vote for Tennesse tweet your vote to #TopStateTN.
Gov. Bill Haslam will begin a review of the state’s college and university systems at his residence on Tuesday. The meeting will include business, legislative and higher education leaders. Among those to speak will be the deputy director for policy development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a research professor and senior economist at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Haslam will moderate discussions after each presentation. The meeting comes after the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents voted last month for tuition and fee increases of as much as 8 percent for the fall.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will bring together post-secondary education officials and statewide business leaders on Tuesday to discuss the importance of a comprehensive and coordinated focus on the issues of affordability, the quality of our Tennessee colleges, universities and technology centers, and how to do a better job of matching the skills state institutions are teaching with the needs of employers. The meeting will feature presentations by three leading post-secondary education policy experts, and the governor will moderate discussions after each presentation.
Millions of kids simply don’t find school very challenging, a new analysis of federal survey data suggests. The report could spark a debate about whether new academic standards being piloted nationwide might make a difference. The findings, out today from the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank that champions “progressive ideas,” analyze three years of questionnaires from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national test given each year.
A new report shows efforts to improve the way Tennessee takes care of children in state custody have slowed down. Under a settlement agreement between the Department of Children’s Services and an advocacy group called Children’s Rights, the state is supposed to reduce its reliance on institutional facilities like group homes. Instead, the goal is to put more children into stable family settings, and to cut down on the amount of time it takes to get them there. Ira Lustbader led the case against the state a decade ago.
Today marks the thirteenth air quality alert for the Nashville area due to higher temperatures and dry weather conditions. “And if you remember back to high school chemistry that the more heat you add to most reactions, the more they react.” John Finky with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation says the heat from the sun reacts with gasoline, car exhaust, and even paint to create ground-level ozone, making it difficult to breathe. TDEC uses a six-color-coded system called the Air Quality Index.
The 2012 directory of hay producers in Tennessee is ready, and agriculture officials say it is coming just in the nick of time for some livestock farmers. The drought and heat wave are making the annual publication even more useful this year. Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said many farmers are already feeding hay to cattle, horses and other livestock at a time they normally would be putting away bales to use next winter. The directory is produced in tandem by the state Agriculture Department and the Tennessee Farm Bureau and available online.
State agriculture officials are urging farmers with hay to sell to list their crop on Tennessee’s online database. They say supplies are short and livestock producers are already looking to buy the feed for their animals. Normally at this time of summer, what hay has already been cut is destined for storage, while cattle live primarily off pasture land. But right now, those forage plants aren’t fresh, green and plentiful—instead, they’re dry, brown, and quickly thinning out. So farmers like Charles Head of Cheatham County have to supplement.
Michael Williams, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service out of Murphy, N.C., had a hot job Monday. He was setting a fire to stop a fire along the historic Ocoee Scenic Byway in the Cherokee National Forest. The idea was for Williams’ fire line — set with a drip torch — to reach the road and stop, while down the hill on the other side of its ignition point, the set fire would continue to find fuel until it meets the wildfire rising from U.S. Highway 64 up the ridges of Chilhowee Mountain.
State environmental officers are making preparations to remove some of the radioactive waste at a bankrupt company’s Oak Ridge facility. Meg Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said TDEC is working with contractor Science Applications International Corp. to develop a plan for removing low-level waste from the IMPACT Services plant on the west end of the East Tennessee Technology Park. IMPACT Services filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May, and since then TDEC has monitored the site to ensure that limited operations taking place there are safe and protective of the environment.
State and local emergency officials are holding a drill this week to test their response to a catastrophic earthquake in Tennessee. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says the drill began Monday morning with a simulated 7.7 magnitude earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone near Memphis. Officials say that an earthquake of that magnitude near Memphis would affect thousands of Tennessee residents and cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The drill continues through Wednesday, focusing on managing the process of transporting life-saving supplies into the affected area.
Tennessee State University is cutting out-of-state tuition in half for current and incoming students who take a full course load and post high grade-point averages. All current out-of-state students with a 3.0 grade-point average automatically will receive the tuition discount, paying around $3,500 a semester — instead of about $7,000 — plus fees. In-state students pay about $3,200 in tuition and fees for 15 hours. The reduced tuition rate, which the school calls the Scholar Tuition Rate, is part of a pilot program granted by the Tennessee Board of Regents.
All non-English-speaking crime victims will now be provided state-funded translation services in Tennessee court proceedings. A federal mandate ordered states to extend free translation services to all litigants — plaintiffs and defendants — or risk losing billions in federal aid. When the Tennessee Supreme Court solicited comments about the proposed changes it heard from a group not mentioned by the federal government: victims. After hearing from victims advocates, including a Nashville prosecutor who had dealt with victims who couldn’t understand court proceedings, the high court expanded those translation services.
State legislative candidates get their initial chance to answer questions today in the first of three public forums set for this month. At 6 p.m. today a forum will take place at the Dixon Center on the Lee University campus. Candidates from the 10th Senate District, the 22nd House District and the 24th House District have been invited. A second forum, also at the Dixon Center, is set for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and will feature candidates for the Cleveland City Council and the Bradley County School Board. The third forum is set for July 17 at 6:30 p.m., in the Johnson Theater on the Cleveland State Community College campus.
Tennessee Right To Life’s political action committee gave incumbent state Rep. Tony Shipley a 100 percent grade on its 2012 scorecard but did not endorse him in his 2nd House District re-election bid. TRL’s PAC, the pro-life group’s political action arm, endorsed no one in the Aug. 2 Republican primary race between GOP challenger Ben Mallicote and Shipley, R-Kingsport. In an e-mail, TRL President Brian Harris said the lack of an endorsement should not be interpreted as opposing Shipley’s re-election but simply a position of neutrality.
When construction workers tore away walls in the Tennessee State Capitol for a major renovation of the 153-year-old structure, they uncovered several original design features from the 1850s that visitors will be able to see when the historic building reopens late this year. On the ground floor — originally the basement but carved up into offices decades ago — architects found the structure’s original brick groin vaults, arches designed in Roman times and a sturdy staple of construction ever since. The arches were hidden behind false ceilings and plaster walls added over the years.
Nashville Democrats nominated Brenda Wynn as its party’s nomination for county clerk Monday, making the U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper aide a heavy favorite to capture the seat in Democratic-leaning Davidson County come November. Wynn, director of community outreach in Cooper’s congressional office, collected 27 votes from the Davidson County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee, which convened Monday to nominate a candidate to replace John Arriola, who resigned last month amid controversy over his systematic practice of collecting wedding-ceremony fees.
New Memphis library cards that include a photo have become a challenge to the new state law requiring certain state-issued photo identification in order to vote. The Memphis library system unveiled the move to the photo library cards last week with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. saying the new library cards could be used to vote starting with the upcoming Aug. 2 elections. Early voting begins Friday, July 13. Less than 24 hours later, Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins contradicted that, saying the new library cards are not valid for voter identification.
Local Muslims may be able to move into a new mosque sooner than expected despite a lawsuit appeal if local planning officials have their way. “We have to do the right thing,” Rutherford County Regional Planning Commissioner Mike Kusch said after Monday night’s meeting. Kusch and the other planning officials in June voted to appeal Chancellor Robert Corlew’s ruling that voided their approval of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s long-term plans to build 52,960 square feet including a mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike.
Want to report a pothole or problem property to the city? Now there’s an “app” for that. Mayor A C Wharton on Monday unveiled a smartphone application, or app, that allows residents and the city to interact electronically. “It’s amazing what we’ll be able to do,” said Wharton. The free app features one-touch dialing to a host of city divisions and services. It will offer alerts from the city, including police and fire. “We can shoot notifications out,” said Ashley Mooney, CEO of Memphis-based Geospace, which developed the application for the city for free.
Tenth Senate District Republican primary candidate Todd Gardenhire says he backs the National Rifle Association’s “guns in parking lots” legislation, but two candidates running in the Democratic primary, Quenston Coleman and Andraé McGary, say they oppose it. Meanwhile, Gardenhire’s Republican opponent in the Aug. 2 GOP primary, Greg Vital, finds himself in the middle on a dispute that has the NRA and businesses at one another’s throats. And the third Democratic candidate, David Testerman, questions why lawmakers ever placed limits on where handgun-carry permit holders can go armed in the first place.
No 3rd Congressional District candidate, not even the two Democrats running for the seat, fully endorsed President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at a health care forum Monday night at Erlanger hospital. Instead — and despite the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling on the constitutionality of the law — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and a bipartisan panel of five challengers suggested immediate repeal or major modifications, saying 2010’s Democratic-controlled Congress either overstepped its authority or didn’t go far enough to treat the nation’s uninsured.
The wait times for people who need a liver transplant are about to become longer in Tennessee. The federal government is poised to end a long-standing share arrangement that has given transplant centers in Tennessee first priority for in-state liver donations. This rule change has pitted different parts of the state against each other in a battle for livers. Instead of sharing livers, the two hospital systems in Tennessee that do transplants — Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis — will get first priority only for those livers that come from the organ procurement organization in their area.
A U.S. Department of the Interior report says the agency’s activities in Tennessee contributed more than $2 billion to the state’s economy last year and supported nearly 17,000 jobs in fields ranging from energy and mineral development to tourism and outdoor recreation. The report released Monday also highlights the impact of the department’s role in land and water management, wildlife management and scientific research and innovation.
Kmart is closing its oldest remaining store in Chattanooga at the end of September. Sears Holding Co., which said last year it will close up to 120 of its least profitable Sears and Kmart locations as part of a companywide cost reduction plan, is not renewing the lease on its 35-year-old Kmart store on Highway 58 in Harrison. “The lease is up at this location and we’re liquidating the merchandise (valued at $3.5 million),” said Kimberly Freely, director of communications for Sears. The closing is among eight stores Kmart is closing in its latest round of cutbacks. Freely said the closings are cutting from 40 to 80 jobs at each store.
Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre hopes to have a proposal for new school zones in the county’s southwest sector as soon as November, he told the school board at its meeting Monday night. The rezoning is a result of the new elementary school, which has yet to be named, being built near the intersection of Northshore Drive and Interstate 140. “In the coming weeks, we will finish the potential school zone options that we’ll present to the board and the community in the early fall,” McIntyre said during his superintendent’s report.
Among the 23 lawyers proceeding into the courtroom of U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays on Monday evening were several representing four suburban municipalities in Shelby County to argue against a County Commission request to stop referendums on whether to create new municipal school districts. Mays, who has been overseeing litigation in the fight over the structure of the county’s public schools, had granted the suburbs’ request to jump into the fray.
Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays will hold a hearing Thursday, July 12, that could determine whether early voting starts the next day as scheduled on municipal school district ballot questions in the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County. But the hearing will be only on issues that the state laws setting the terms for municipal school districts violated sections of the Tennessee Constitution. The hearing will not deal with a third claim by Shelby County Commissioners that the establishment of the districts violates U.S. Constitutional claims of equal access.
The County Commission is considering a fast-tracked request to set aside $15 million for computer infrastructure to make sure that staffers receive paychecks when the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools merge in the fall of 2013. This proposal will likely be controversial because it represents a major adjustment to the county’s financial plan for the fiscal year that began July 1. The county would take the additional $15 million out of reserves, according to documents filed online. In May, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell signed a $1.2 billion operating budget that added nearly $1 million in additional spending.
Hours before U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel ‘Hardy’ Mays was expected to consider whether suburban governments could intervene in the federal lawsuit regarding municipal schools, Lakeland officials were debating whether it was worth their money to add their voice to the argument. Some wondered if they should pay when there were other suburbs already willing to pay to fight suburban interests. Others questioned the cost of the litigation. And, then there was the question of whether — if they lost — Lakeland could be stuck with a substantial legal bill, including the costs for the prevailing side.
Some 33,000 people work in the Atlanta neighborhood near Emory University. Besides the school, it is home to a children’s hospital, a senior center, a veterans hospital and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the neighborhood has no direct access to the area’s public rail system or to an interstate highway. Driving in and out of the congested streets is a frustrating experience that is all too common for commuters. But on July 31, voters will decide whether the latest plan to “untie Atlanta” is worth billions of dollars in new sales taxes.
The Republican governor of Ohio, the Democratic mayor of Cleveland and the local teachers union have united to overhaul how teachers are hired, fired and paid, a rare example of cooperation in education that some critics warn could still face challenges in the implementation. The overhaul, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich this month, will allow the district to link teachers’ pay, in part, to student test scores, and to lay off teachers based on performance instead of seniority. It will also let the district fire teachers after two years of poor performance, based in part on test scores.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to initiate improvements to the state’s higher education system reflects the important goal that every college or university campus must improve the quality of education it offers to students who entrust their future to postsecondary education. Admittedly, the necessary changes will be very difficult, given the history and structure of the current governance model. Yet Haslam has already demonstrated in several ways his awareness of the needs. During the last six months the governor has suggested that the University of Memphis have a board with designated authority, proposing to end the current model that gives the Board of Regents complete control of the university.
The recently formed Northwest Tennessee Rural Education Collaborative involving the University of Tennessee Martin College of Education, Health and Behavioral Sciences and 23 rural school districts is a good way to spur innovation in public education by sharing information and resources. The challenges faced by Tennessee public schools are enormous, and smaller rural school districts can benefit by working together with others to implement projects they would have a difficult time attempting on their own. Education reforms under way in Tennessee are raising standards and placing more emphasis on education outcomes in areas such as increasing ACT scores, graduation rates and teacher performance data.
The fact that the new Memphis public library photo card will not be accepted as a valid form of identification at voting precincts offers another reason why Tennessee’s voter photo identification law needs to be tweaked. The city introduced the new card last week, contending that it meets state requirements as a photo ID for voters. Mayor A C Wharton said the new card would double as a valid photo ID for voting and other business requirements. But state and local election officials blocked the city’s effort on the grounds that a 2011 state law says only photo IDs issued by the state or federal governments are valid identification to vote.
I vehemently disagree with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the President’s health-care law. This flawed decision sets a dangerous precedent for the reach of the federal government’s power. But one thing this decision does not change is the need for Congress to repeal Obamacare — immediately. In fact, this week on July 11 the House has scheduled a vote to once again fully repeal Obamacare. I will proudly be casting my vote in favor of full repeal. President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, Obamacare, is a tax hike on middle class Americans. And it is lethal to our economy, health care and future.