This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Rachel Farris bought more than she usually would this weekend. Farris, 37, was finishing her back-to-school shopping at Target with her husband and two youngsters Sunday during the final day of Tennessee’s tax-free weekend. Farris said she bought a little more than normal because of the tax break. “We usually buy [the kids] clothing in the fall, but we’re probably going to purchase more than we normally would now because of the tax-free weekend,” she said.
Heavy rains pounded northeast Tennessee Sunday, including downtown Johnson City, where emergency crews in inflatable boats rescued people trapped in their homes and in their cars on flooded streets. Johnson City Schools announced their start on Monday is postponed because of the storm damage. The Johnson City Press (http://bitly.com/Qvp7GW) reported that the city’s garage complex flooded and several were buses under water, leading the city to cancel transit service for Monday. Streams throughout the region overflowed across roads and into homes.
A slow-moving storm dumped a deluge of rain on East Tennessee Sunday afternoon that crippled parts of Johnson City and Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties. The storm tapped every available emergency response resource in the area, forced numerous residents from their homes and shut down some Johnson City services for today. Officials also opened several shelters in Unicoi County and one in Washington County to assist residents. According to the National Weather Service in Morristown three to four inches of rain fell within an hour’s time across Upper Northeast Tennessee during the height of the storm.
The National Weather Service has now issued a flood warning until 3:15 am for Washington, Carter, and Unicoi Counties. According to Washington County, TN Mayor Dan Eldridge, the county has opened a shelter at Lamar Elementary School due to flooding. “It’s unclear who, if anyone will need it, but just in case,” Eldridge said. “We have had upwards of four to six inches of rains in some parts of the county. Luckily, the Nolichucky River is not a concern at this point. It is up just one foot.”
By one recent calculation, much of the money that state government paid in recent past years to create jobs through “FastTrack” grants for training or infrastructure improvements soon disappeared. The most prominent example came in 2009 when $17 million was paid through the Department of Economic Development for training of workers at the General Motors’ plant in Spring Hill. The effort was designed to retrain workers and preserve their jobs when the company stopped making its Saturn model and shifted production to the Traverse.
Tennessee Department of Transportation officials are suspending construction on Interstate 24 this weekend, making it easier for those heading to East Nashville’s annual Tomato Art Fest. The festival is expected to draw about 30,000 people to the trendy Five Points merchant district on Saturday. But organizers feared Interstate 24 closures from TDOT’s bridge replacement project would have deterred people from attending. “This is a huge deal, and I’m really grateful the roads are open, as it will make it a lot easier for people to get here,” said Meg MacFadyen, the event’s organizer and owner of Art & Invention Gallery.
A search is under way for a new dean of the University of Tennessee College of Business Administration — again. The first search yielded five finalists – three external and two internal – who were interviewed by students, faculty, staff and the college’s advisory board on campus in February. The search committee forwarded its recommendations to UT Provost Susan Martin, but she requested the process be restarted, said Margie Nichols, UT vice chancellor of communications.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee Space Institute say a new laser technique they developed has the potential for advancing medical imaging and surgery. The Tullahoma News reports that Dr. Christian Parigger and professors Jacqueline Johnson and Robert Splinter worked together to develop ultra-short, femtosecond laser radiation that has accuracy on the molecular level. “A femtosecond is one millionth of a nanosecond, which is one billionth of a second,” Parigger said, “so in other words, a femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second.”
Tennessee Republican leaders say they are confident the party quickly will put last week’s divisive state GOP primaries behind it and get on to the main event this fall. “We have the primaries behind us, and we’re now looking forward to November,” state Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said Sunday. He said a major focus is “building our majorities in the General Assembly” and added, “I believe we can do that.” Devaney said he sees the party’s goal of winning two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate as “attainable.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision ruling on the Affordable Care Act should put to rest the question of whether the law is constitutional. But some East Tennesse congressmen fear that the court’s reasoning may impact Americans in other ways for years to come. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said Americans could not be penalized for failing to buy health insurance under the commerce clause of the Constitution. But Roberts went on to say the penalty for not buying insurance is in essence a tax — and thus constitutional.
Security high after breach at weapons plant Dark clouds have been hanging over the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant — figuratively — for the past week, ever since a trio of peace protesters broke through the plant’s vaunted security barriers in the middle of the night and went unchallenged until after they’d applied their anti-war graffiti and poured their blood on a facility used to store the nation’s stockpile of bomb-grade uranium. On Sunday, the dark clouds returned — this time, literally, bringing rain throughout the late afternoon and evening — as activists again used the Oak Ridge site as a backdrop to spread their messages against production of nuclear weapons.
The government’s Oak Ridge payroll appears to be shrinking gradually after a decade of extraordinary prosperity and growth, thanks, in part, to Recovery Act spending, which is starting to wind down.It’s not a uniform decline, mind you. Employment at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has remained virtually the same over the past year despite all the budget-cutting talk in Washington, D.C., and the push from some quarters to de-emphasize spending on nuclear defense.
Officials in Sumner County will consider tonight whether to raise taxes or shift money from elsewhere in the budget to get children back to school. The school board voted 10-1 Thursday to delay the start of school over a budget impasse of $7.6 million. The first full day of school was originally scheduled for today. County Executive Anthony Holt called emergency meetings tonight of the County Commission and its Budget Committee. “Not starting schools is totally unacceptable,” Holt said. “We’ve got to get our heads together and solve this. We don’t want to be viewed as a county that is not functioning properly.”
Hawkins County students are back in the classroom this week for a new school year, and despite a new statewide achievement accountability format, the goals for teachers and administrators remain pretty much the same. The annual “back to school” district-wide teacher in-service meeting was held July 31 at Volunteer High School, where Director of Schools Charlotte Britton identified the goals for 2012-13. One goal is “data driven decision making.” A second goal is “improving teaching and learning.”
The Jackson-Madison County School Board has a full agenda for tonight’s work session meeting and will discuss Superintendent Buddy White’s annual evaluation, recent state test scores and the status of the former Pinson School building. White said he plans to review with board members the district’s performance on state tests and the district’s plans to address the declining performance of the students with disabilities subgroup. Jackson-Madison County Schools was not the only school district to experience an increase in the achievement gap between that subgroup and the total population.
Eastern Williamson County, which faced some of the most stringent water restrictions of the summer drought, is easing back to normalcy after recent rains. Nolensville/College Grove Utility District, which serves much of eastern Williamson County, including Nolensville and portions of eastern Brentwood, was one of the last water companies to move from mandatory to voluntary restrictions. Water levels in eight storage tanks with a combined capacity of a little more than 11 million gallons are now high enough to ease back on the restrictions. But customers are still asked to keep their watering limited to three days a week to continue to conserve.
Missouri’s long, divisive Republican Senate primary draws to a close Tuesday, but after all the intraparty fireworks, it is the incumbent Democrat, Senator Claire McCaskill, who remains in deep trouble. As the three Republican candidates have battled it out, Ms. McCaskill has had to buckle down as well. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, David and Charles Koch’s Americans For Prosperity, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the 60 Plus Association have dumped as much as $15 million into the state since July 2011 to keep her on her heels.
Our Republican majority in the state legislature has reached many of our goals these past two years. I’m very proud of our accomplishments. But there is still much left to do. One example is education reform. Some might find this surprising. After all, Tennessee won the federal government’s Race to the Top grant because of our willingness to reform. And reform we have. Tennessee has made truly great strides in education in recent years. We have clearly stayed true to my goal of striving to put a great teacher in every classroom. But there is much more to do.
The week of July 23 marked a noteworthy moment in Tennessee when major education decisions and policy directions were debated, contested and appealed. School districts and state legislatures across the country were watching, waiting and learning — dialed in because that week’s events involved racial diversity, school choice and parent voice. First, the Tennessee State Board of Education overturned a decidedly local school district decision in the case of Great Hearts charter school. Local education leaders argued that the Great Hearts proposal lacked a transportation plan and a commitment to diversity — key principles of school choice policy in the district.
One of the most galling undercurrents of contemporary U.S. politics is the partisan effort by Republican legislators in many states to suppress voter turnout by implementing extremely questionable voter ID requirements. Indeed, many states now have ID requirements that make it difficult for certain groups — usually the poor, the elderly and minority groups — to vote. It is hardly an accident that those targeted by such requirements tend to vote for Democrats. Those who promote and pass such restrictive laws, of course, couch their actions in lofty terms. ID requirements, they say, are necessary to preserve the purity of the election process and to prevent fraud. That’s political jargon of the worst kind. There’s no need for such legislation.
Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton intends to make one of the seven charter schools he wants to open next year an educational haven for teens serving probation through Juvenile Court. The court is endorsing the plan. There is definitely a need for such a facility as a way to help youngsters complete their education and avoid the negative influences that got them into trouble in the first place. The concept certainly meshes with collaborative efforts under way to reduce the youth-offender recidivism rate. Before serving 4½ terms as mayor, Herenton was superintendent of Memphis City Schools. He was a lightning rod for criticism in both positions, and some people are questioning his motives for wanting to operate charter schools.
There is a certain ebb and flow to the placement of political signs in yards, in front of retail and commercial establishments and along public rights-of-way and neighborhood intersections across the region. They begin to appear early in the campaign season and then multiply quickly as Election Day approaches. They disappear when voting is concluded. Unfortunately, many candidates and their supporters are far more eager to place the signs in public view before an election than they are to remove them after voting has occurred. That, fortunately, is not always the case. Shortly before midnight Thursday, a Times Free Press staff member reports, a man was removing political signs at an intersection on Signal Mountain. That is, to say the least, getting an early start on cleaning-up post-election clutter.