This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
When it comes to education, Gov. Bill Haslam and his administration are ardently committed to improvement. As first lady, for the past year I have had a front-row seat to learn from many great educators in Tennessee. I have met with countless teachers, administrators and families in schools all across the state, and I’ve been consistently encouraged by their dedication. One of the most frequent comments I hear is that many of our problems in education could be prevented or diminished with greater involvement from parents or guardians at home. Every school and every teacher does best with strong support from families and communities.
With the new semester beginning at Austin Peay State University comes the construction of the growing campus. Construction projects have been ongoing during the summer months to meet the growing needs of Austin Peay. In the next few months, the process will begin in developing a new facilities master plan. The plan likely will include goals noted in the current plan, which focuses on the campus to grow academically to the east and residentially to the west, according to Melony Shemberger, assistant director of communication.
The Tennessee Supreme Court will decide if Davidson County’s sheriff has the power to investigate inmates’ immigration status. But Metro doesn’t want to leave it up to the courts to decide what else he can do. Metro’s Law Department is proposing an amendment to the Metro Charter that would explicitly spell out the various duties the sheriff began performing after the formation of the charter. The 1963 charter largely stripped the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office of most of its policing power. But a lawsuit challenging Sheriff Daron Hall’s 287(g) immigration program prompted discussion about what exactly the charter allows.
State lawmakers in both parties are worried about the flood of independent expenditures by outside groups during Tennessee’s Aug. 2 legislative primaries. They see it as the first wave of a trend that could transform elections in Tennessee. “It kind of perverts the system,” said state Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. He was caught in a crossfire in his Senate primary by PACs run by the National Rifle Association and the Humane Society of the United States. The two groups, often at each other’s throats, attacked Niceley for different reasons. Niceley survived and won his East Tennessee GOP primary.
Out-of-state organizations may have achieved their goal in some state legislative races this summer, Frank Niceley says attacks by two Washington-based groups against him backfired and likely helped his state Senate campaign. Direct mail attacks on Niceley by one group, the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), may also have run afoul of state law. And a post card from the NRA that accused him of lying, Niceley says, has transformed him from a friend of the gun owners group to an enemy.
Common sense changes will save millions Seeking to improve Chattanooga’s reputation as an environmental city, the mayor is mandating that city departments and offices reduce energy use by 25 percent by 2020. In an executive order, Mayor Ron Littlefield set up goals and standards for energy efficiency that have been used by the city for years, but the order also requires new construction to be energy efficient and requires installation of technology-controlled lighting and temperature systems.
Once considered the degree that guaranteed you a job, registered nurses are experiencing a slightly tighter job market in the Chattanooga area recently, experts say. Tennessee has added more than 10,000 registered nurses in the last five years and — with four nursing schools in the Chattanooga area — local hospitals say they have no problem filling their empty nursing spots. But even though nurses may not see their resumes snatched up immediately and newly licensed nurses might get stuck with third shift or weekend shifts, a nursing career is still a solid job choice that offers numerous opportunities.
A new organization could be in place soon to help Washington County residents recover from a flood last week that devastated much of the Dry Creek community, but also wreaked widespread havoc on numerous homes across the area “We need an entity that can serve all of Washington County in the event of a disaster at any point. Again, its purpose would be to aid in the recovery effort,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said on Friday.
Today marks the eighth day of what promises to be a months-long recovery process for hundreds of Washington County residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by a widespread flash flood during a heavy downpour of rain. The disaster — which destroyed at least nine homes, damaged more than 100 others as well as one county bridge, — basically comes on the heels of several tornadoes that swept through another area of Washington County last year.
The answer is yes. If the city’s roughly $30 million long-range flood mitigation plan been in place, downtown Johnson City would have been spared the nightmarish Aug. 5 flooding — that’s any flooding, according to Phil Pindzola, Public Works Department director, who repeated that prediction when quizzed about his confidence. Pindzola talked this week about the recent deluge and the city’s present and future plans to deal with the chaotic surges of water that blast through city streets when torrential rains hit hard and fast.
Tessa Hyde, 41, a regular at the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry on Main Street, says her three daughters — ages 2, 14 and 18 — know the taste of canned vegetables all too well. Canned fruit cocktail is another staple. A reliance on canned goods helps Hyde stretch her $668 in federal food stamp benefits through the month. She’s also familiar with the multitude of ways ground hamburger and chicken can make dishes go further. “We eat lots of spaghetti, sloppy joes, that kind of stuff,” she said. While she has done warehouse work and office cleaning, Hyde is currently unemployed and lives in subsidized housing.
As millions of baby boomers flood Social Security with applications for benefits, the program’s $2.7 trillion surplus is starting to look small. For nearly three decades Social Security produced big surpluses, collecting more in taxes from workers than it paid in benefits to retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children. The surpluses also helped mask the size of the budget deficit being generated by the rest of the federal government. Those days are over. Since 2010, Social Security has been paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes, adding to the urgency for Congress to address the program’s long-term finances.
Adolescents in states with strict laws regulating the sale of snacks and sugary drinks in public schools gained less weight over a three-year period than those living in states with no such laws, a new study has found. The study, published Monday in Pediatrics, found a strong association between healthier weight and tough state laws regulating food in vending machines, snack bars and other venues that were not part of the regular school meal programs. Such snacks and drinks are known as competitive foods, because they compete with school breakfasts and lunches.
It’s been nearly one year since President Obama first announced the administration’s plan to offer states waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind law, because a reauthorization of the 10-year-old law is stalled in Congress. Since then, two-thirds of all states and Washington, DC have won exemption from some aspects of the education law, most notably its escalating federal proficiency targets for students in math and reading. In exchange, states have promised to beef up standards on their own, develop state accountability systems and incorporate student performance into teacher and principal evaluations.
Most economists surveyed by USA TODAY have little faith a divided Congress will adequately address looming tax increases and spending cuts, significantly hampering economic growth well into 2013. The standoff in Washington, along with the global economic slowdown, threatens a U.S. economy that otherwise would be gaining steam on a strengthening U.S. housing market and improving private-sector balance sheets, economists say. The survey of 50 leading economists was conducted Aug. 3-8. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed don’t think Congress will be able to lessen the impact of $560 billion in tax increases and spending cuts, slated to take effect at year’s end, in a way that avoids significant damage to the economy.
The nation’s parched corn crop is endangered, with the U.S. Agriculture Department estimating yields will be about 17 percent lower than expected, but the drought that has caused some farmers to plow under their crops will not affect the Mid-South Corn Maze. The maze, just south of the Farmers market at Agricenter International, is in a 10-acre field that is irrigated. So the corn planted last month is on track to be ready by mid-September, with stalks at least seven to eight feet tall, said Agricenter farm manager John Tom Williams. Maze co-creator Justin Taylor said this year’s maze will depict a spider in its web.
How would you spend $543 million? That’s the amount of extra tax money the state of Tennessee took in the last fiscal year, which ended in July. It’s great news for the state’s economy: Sales tax collections exceeded projections by $242 million and corporate franchise and excise taxes were over by $308 million. And, it’s welcome news for Gov. Bill Haslam and the state legislature — they get to decide what to do with all that dough. The governor already has included $210 million of it in his current spending plan, but that still leaves $333 million unallocated. Not a shabby little pot of gold.
It probably says something about American college students that, if there is an obstacle to buying alcohol, they will find a way around it — even if they have to look overseas. However, in relying on a China-based website for their counterfeit identification cards, students might have outsmarted themselves, leaving their identities open to theft and getting the attention of senators who see a national security threat. The problem with fake IDs produced by the Chinese website has emerged full blown in Knoxville and elsewhere, and the phonies look so much like the real thing that even law enforcement officers have trouble discerning genuine from fake.