This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced on Thursday a $793,534 enhancement grant for the second phase of Milan’s downtown revitalization project, as well as a $330,831 grant to complete the Battle of Parkers Crossroads Trail Project. The Milan downtown revitalization money will go toward resurfacing a section of Main Street and adding new sidewalks, crosswalks and curb and gutter. The project also will add benches, trash receptacles, bicycle racks and raised stone planters, as well as install pedestrian lighting.
Governor Bill Haslam today announced an executive order in response to drought conditions and extreme heat impacting Tennessee farmers that allows haulers of hay to carry larger loads as long as they observe other safety requirements The order allows for an increase in gross vehicle weight to 95,000 pounds, not exceeding 20,000 pounds per axle load, for semi-truck/trailers. The order also increases the height of trailer loads to 13 feet, 6 inches and the width to a maximum of 14 feet during daylight hours.
Tennessee is ranked No. 16 in CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business. CNBC scored all 50 states on 51 areas of competitiveness, getting advice from groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness. Those 51 areas are sorted into 10 categories: cost of doing business, quality of the work force, quality of life, overall economy, transportation and infrastructure, technology and innovation, education, business friendliness, access to capital and cost of living.
The percentage of young adults earning a college degree has increased slightly but still remains far below the level needed to reach the president’s goal of having the U.S. rank first worldwide in college graduates. Tennessee’s percentage of degree holders stayed at about 33 percent from 2009 to 2010, but the state slipped a spot from 40th to 41st because other states added more. Data released Thursday by the Education Department tracked adults ages 25 to 34 who held an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree in 2010 — 39.3 percent of Americans, up half a percentage point from 2009.
Tax collections in Tennessee exceeded budgeted expectations in June for the 11th consecutive month. Total June tax revenue was $1.2 billion, $125.4 million more than the state budgeted. For the past 11 months, total tax revenue has been over-collected by $553.9 million. (June is the 11th month of Tennessee’s 2011-12 fiscal year.) June sales tax collections were up 4.7 percent, or $26.6 million, over budget while corporate tax collections were up 35.5 percent.
Tennessee’s elementary and middle school math classes will sound more like philosophy, even debate practice, starting this fall. Under the new Common Core standards being adopted locally and nationally, students in grades 3-8 will be encouraged to work problems in ways that make sense to them. “Our classrooms are going to be like those you walked by and wondered why they were so loud,” said Almond Fraction, fourth-grade teacher at Klondike in north Memphis. “We thought they can’t possibly be learning anything.”
The First Lady of Tennessee made a stop at Fort Campbell this week. First Lady Crissy Haslam stopped to visit some 125 military personnel, family members and children and take part in her Read 20 Family Book Club event. First Lady Haslam read to the children, visited with families and gave out free copies of July’s Book of the Month “Judy Moody Declares Independence Day.” The Read20 Book Club encourages Tennessee families to read together for at least 20 minutes each day.
Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services is trying to take stock of how much work is left to meet the terms of a decade-old settlement agreement. A report out earlier this week says right now the state is having a hard time even tracking its progress. The case known as Brian A. was meant to get more kids in state custody out of big group homes and into foster families. A few years ago Tennessee looked to be in the “home stretch” of the needed reforms.
The Roane County, Tenn., veterans clinic has been closed temporarily because of staffing problems. Chris Alexander, public affairs officer for the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs, said the closing does not affect Chattanooga’s veterans clinic or any of the nine other clinics across the state. “This has no impact on Chattanooga at all,” Alexander said. “The Roane County clinic is staffed by a contractor. The Chattanooga clinic is staffed by VA personnel.
Early voting starts Friday for next month’s primary. Secretary of State Tre Hargett said some voters may face challenges because of redistricting, but he said the state is making every effort to direct them to the right places. Early voting ends July 28. The state primary and county general elections are Aug. 2.The general election is in November.
Republican leaders say they expect some problems may arise from recent changes in electoral procedures when early voting starts Friday in Tennessee, but they hope to have the wrinkles ironed out by the general election in November. Over the last few years, GOP lawmakers have pushed measures they say are needed to prevent voter fraud and “protect the integrity of the ballot box.” Ignoring objections from Democrats and voter advocates, they have purged voter rolls and enacted a photo identification requirement for voters.
Early voting begins across Tennessee today, and election officials project as many as half the votes in the Aug. 2 election could be cast in the 15-day period. “I would expect 40 to 50 percent [of the overall number who vote] to turn out this time,” State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said Thursday. Early voting runs through July 28. Goins said it’s difficult to guess at turnout for early voting and on election day, given the lack of hotly contested statewide primaries.
A three-mile section of Interstate 24 near downtown Nashville will be closed in both directions at 9 p.m. Friday through the weekend for continued work on a bridge rehabilitation project. The section of I-24 to close is from the I-24 and I-65 split to the I-24 and I-40 split in the eastbound and westbound directions on the east side of downtown. The road will open no later than 5 a.m. Monday. Detour signs will instruct drivers to take the west loop around downtown. Main Street and Woodland Street from South Fifth to Interstate Drive also will be closed.
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says the Tennessee Firearms Association’s involvement in GOP primaries may hurt future chances for a compromise on the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill. The measure to allow gun permit holders to keep firearms in their cars at work, regardless of the workplace’s policies, pitted business lobbyists against gun rights advocates during this year’s legislative session. The state legislature attempted to hammer out a compromise, but ultimately pushed the matter off until next year.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says the state’s revenue surplus of more than a half-billion dollars should stay in the bank despite calls from Democrats to use it to offset tuition costs. The Blountville Republican spoke to reporters following a meeting at the Legislative Plaza on Thursday. He says it’s bad policy to spend the money at this time because of future costs that may arise, such as expenses resulting from the new federal health care law.
The state Senate will hold hearings into allegations that officials at Tennessee State University changed more than 100 students’ grades without instructors’ permission. Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham agreed Thursday to hearings that would delve into whether TSU administrators changed “incompletes” into letter grades for students in two introductory-level courses. Faculty members complained that the changes were unethical, but the school’s provost and other officials say the changes were meant to clarify confusion over the course requirements.
Tennessee Republicans think they can turn yet another state House seat their way this year in a district stretching from Goodlettsville to Bellevue. But Democrats believe they have a strong candidate to keep the District 50 seat in Metro Councilman Bo Mitchell, who will face one of three relative newcomers from the GOP ranks. Democratic state Rep. Gary Moore, a union advocate like Mitchell, is retiring after representing the district for eight years. Early voting starts today. Mitchell, 41, is running unopposed on the Democratic side.
Three Tennessee 3rd House District GOP candidates addressed jobs, tourism and K-12 education during a Bristol Chamber of Commerce forum Thursday night. Blountville businessman Timothy Hill, former Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons and Bluff City Republican Thomas White fielded questions drawn from a glass bowl during the event held at Bristol Motor Speedway. All three are seeking to win the Aug. 2 GOP primary, defeat Democrat Leah Kirk in the November general election, and take the state House seat held by retiring state Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City.
The Hamilton County Commission’s Legal Committee will not support a Tennessee General Assembly amendment that would boost the Erlanger Health System board from 11 to 12 members. The amendment to the private act would add the hospital’s medical chief of staff to the largely politically appointed board. “I don’t have a problem with the chief of staff being a member of the board,” committee Chairman Jim Fields said Thursday. “I have a problem with an even-numbered board. We’ve had firsthand experience with this.”
Poll workers won’t be shuffling through papers to verify voter registration information at many Davidson County precincts during August’s election. New electronic poll books will do the work for them. The Davidson County Election Commission, following a $777,000 purchase, is making the transition from paper poll books to electronic versions at 60 of the city’s 160 precincts beginning this election cycle. Early voting for state primaries and Metro school board races begins Friday, but the commission won’t roll out the new machines until the Aug. 2 election.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond hired his son this week as the department’s full-time webmaster at a salary range of $44,236 to $66,354 a year. Several Hamilton County commissioners aren’t happy about the job for Jimi Hammond. Last month, seven commissioners refused to give Hammond extra money to fill his second consecutive annual budget gap. Jimi Hammond first was hired in June 2010 as part-time webmaster at $35 an hour. The position was not listed in the sheriff’s 2012 or 2013 budget requests.
Veteran Nashville lawmaker casts image of himself as a reformer U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper has been in Congress all but eight of the past 30 years, spending most of his working life there. One might see the Nashville Democrat as an insider, part of the problem with an institution most people don’t think too highly of. Yet Cooper, a mild-mannered man known for his folksy comments and Rhodes Scholar brain, has positioned himself as something entirely different: an outsider — a grown-up among children — doing everything he can to “fix” Congress.
The Supreme Court’s decision upholding President Obama’s health care law but potentially limiting its scope has created a stark political divide among the nation’s governors. A 50-state survey by USA TODAY shows only Republican governors are refusing to expand Medicaid and only Democrats are vowing to expand it following the court’s ruling that states cannot be penalized for failing to enlarge the program. More than half the governors are undecided. The partisan gulf exposes problems for the law as it staggers from the 5-4 court decision, past GOP efforts to repeal it in Congress and toward a November election that could decide its fate.
The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office has received approval to move forward with a new plan to process stocks of fissile uranium-233 stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and complete a long-running project that’s now expected to cost $511 million. While the price tag is higher than earlier estimates, DOE spokesman Mike Koentop said it’s less than half of what the previous plan would have cost — about $1.1 billion — if it had been carried out under the current $40 million-a-year budget guidelines.
Keeping pace with plans for more vehicle production at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, two suppliers are aiming to bring on 100 more full-time workers. About half of the jobs will be filled right away, according to Zach Brewster of staffing firm MAU Workforce Solutions. He said most of the jobs are related to Chattanooga Seating Systems, which supplies seats to VW for its midsize Passat sedan. Brewster declined to name the other company. The employees, doing assembler work, would start at between $10 and $11 per hour, the staffing company said.
Magazine gives Gateway lowest score of 37 Tenn. Hospitals A national report ranking hospitals all around the country deemed Gateway Medical Center the most unsafe hospital out of the 37 evaluated in Tennessee. Gateway scored a 31 out of 100 points, according to a Consumer Reports article titled “How safe is your hospital?” The highest scoring hospital was St. Thomas in Nashville, with a score of 63 out of 100. Gateway was also noted for having a mortality rate greater than the average but scored average for the number of complications.
U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays gave many suburban leaders and residents what they wanted Thursday by refusing to stop the municipal school referendums on the Aug. 2 ballot. Mays determined that the Shelby County Commission had not proven a “strong likelihood” that a statute allowing the referendums this year was unconstitutional, nor that Shelby County would suffer “irreparable harm” if the referendums were allowed to continue. Further, he agreed that substantial harm might be suffered by the suburbs if he enjoined, or stopped the elections and later determined the statute allowing them was valid.
“Not to enjoin the election but to second-guess it!” That was one way that U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays described his answer to a request from the Shelby County Commission to halt forthcoming referenda in six Shelby County suburbs on whether to create independent municipal school districts. But Mays’ next guess is likely to be no more comforting to opponents of such school-system fragmentation than Thursday’s all-day hearing was.
Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays ruled Thursday, July 12, the set of referendums on forming suburban municipal school districts will go ahead as scheduled starting with the early voting period that opens Friday, July 13. Mays also refused a request by attorneys for the Shelby County Commission to delay certification of the results at least for the time being, but said he might be open to the possibility later as he wades into an actual trial on the issues.
Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner perhaps summed up the emotions of his fellow suburbanites Thursday afternoon, after a judge ruled that they can move forward with a vote on creating their own school districts: “Guardedly optimistic.” Joyner offered that reaction after U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays Jr. said the suburban cities can hold their planned Aug. 2 referendums on creating municipal school districts. While Mays’ decision was a clear victory for Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington, it was by no means the last shot to be fired in this war between urban and suburban over who will educate their children.
The Washington County Commission’s Budget Committee is now into its third month of raking over the county school system’s expenses line by line. Both sides have met at the table numerous times, and always there’s the shifting in the seats, the wrinkled brows and the literal gnashing of teeth. However, County Mayor Dan Eldridge on Thursday eluded to some type of potential action the county might be able to take to stave off further cuts. Eldridge said he was working with County Attorney John Rambo in this process.
Director: ‘breach was far less extensive than previously thought’ About a month after a security breach that potentially compromised the personal data of thousands of current and former students and employees, the school system restored its website Thursday. Clarksville-Montgomery County School System technology staff took many school technologies offline in the wake of the breach. Hackers who publicized the data initially claimed to have accessed Social Security numbers and birthdays for tens of thousands of individuals.
Rain is expected to fall in Nashville through Saturday, but forecasters say it won’t make much of a dent in the drought plaguing Middle Tennessee. “The latest summary shows that we are still 6 inches below normal rainfall,” said Jim Moser, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Nashville. “Our drought situation has improved, but only slightly.” Rainfall amounts have been below normal in Nashville since February. The biggest shortages have been in April, May and June.
Soon now, Tennessee parents will be loading SUVs with a big-screen television, room refrigerator and designer jeans. Brittany and Mason have morning in their faces. They’re off to college! But it’s not only possible — it’s likely — that these youngsters and their folks will spend a lot of money for a degraded bachelor’s degree. In our state’s public colleges today, they’re likely to: • Go intellectually unchallenged. • Spend more time on beer than Moliere or math fundamentals. • Leave with massive amounts of debt from student loans. • Be lucky to get a job interview at the end of it all. What a waste; what a shame!
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced this week the Lone Star State will reject the Medicaid expansion offered under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam stayed mum on whether the Volunteer State will opt out of the expansion of TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, now that the Supreme Court has allowed states to reject new federal monies without losing existing funding. “The bottom line here is that Medicaid is a failed program,” Perry said. “To expand this program is not unlike adding a thousand people to the Titanic.” Perry’s comments echoed a prophetic utterance made three years ago by former Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen: “Medicaid is a poor vehicle for expanding coverage.”
Let them vote. Let suburban residents rush the polls like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday. Let them cast a ballot to create the separate schools systems some seem to want more than life itself. Less than 18 hours before early voting begins, U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays ruled that municipal schools referendums will go on. A dispassionate observer would favor a future in which everyone in Shelby County has skin in the public education game. But as suburban anxiety rises and the merger of the Shelby County and Memphis City schools nears, there are no disinterested onlookers.
Spending $15 million for a computer system for the unified school district will be worth the money. There are sure to be some Murphy’s law moments when the unified school district begins operating at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. Murphy’s law is the adage that states anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Those responsible for making sure the new merged Memphis and Shelby County school district runs smoothly are trying to prevent hiccups before they happen. That why’s the full County Commission should vote Monday to spend $15 million to buy a computer system for the unified school district that will ensure the new school system can pay staffers and carry out other key tasks.
It’s an amazing time at the Achievement School District. We’re preparing for the first day of school on Aug. 6 and we’re incredibly excited about what this year will mean for the families of Memphis. This year, the Achievement School District will have six public schools, each with the freedom and supports to create amazing learning experiences for kids. We believe in putting the power, resources and decision making at the school level. As a district, we are both an “operator” — managing our neighborhood schools — and an “authorizer,” selecting high-performing charter schools. This creates a portfolio of schools focused less on central management and more on people doing whatever it takes — based on what works best for them — to drive results.
A Rutherford County redistricting committee appears ready to start redrawing seven school board and road board districts to create compact and contiguous districts to improve future representation. Unfortunately, La Vergne representatives on the panel were absent from a Tuesday meeting to start this process, and that left some members of the panel scratching their heads. While those who didn’t show up encountered last-minute conflicts, including a funeral, it’s important to remember that La Vergne cried the loudest during redistricting earlier this spring when the Rutherford County Commission opted to stick with a map that left the city’s representation splintered.