This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has granted his disaster declaration request for Washington and its surrounding counties after severe storms and flash flooding occurred Aug. 5, 2012. The declaration includes Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties, and an SBA disaster declaration makes homeowners and businesses affected by the disaster eligible for low-interest loans.
Some financial help is on the way for victims of this month’s floods in East Tennessee. Governor Bill Haslam announced a U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Declaration for several counties after severe storms and flooding damaged homes and businesses on August 5. The declaration includes hard-hit Washington County as well as Greene and Hawkins counties. It makes homeowners and businesses affected by the disaster eligible for low-interest loans.
Gov. Bill Haslam is still hesitant to say whether there are parts of the federal health care law Tennessee should refuse to implement if the law sticks. But he says he’s so far unswayed by other Southern governors who’ve vowed to have nothing to do with putting into action parts of Obamacare states are granted discretion to control. “It’s interesting how it’s broken down. Governors that I respect and am close to have said, ‘No, we’re not going to do it. No way, I don’t want anything to do with Obamacare,’ to others who say, ‘Well, if we’re going to have them, then we ought to run them ourselves,’” Haslam told reporters Tuesday.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today a $626,360 transportation enhancement grant to Clarksville for a project that extends a trail along the Red River and completes a walkway in the downtown River District. The grant funds Segment I of the Clarksville River Trail, the first of two sections of a multi-use, north-south trail segment extending from the merge of the Cumberland and Red Rivers and continuing north along the Red River for approximately 1,500 feet.
A salmonella outbreak linked to cantaloupes grown in Indiana has sent three people in Tennessee to the hospital, and three other people are infected. The identified cases are spread randomly across the state, not clustered in any one county or region, according to Shelley Walker with the Tennessee Department of Health. The salmonella strain, which has caused illness in several states, has been linked to cantaloupes grown on one farm in southwestern Indiana, according to a news release from the health department.
The Tennessee Department of Health says six people in Tennessee have been sickened by Salmonella-laden cantaloupes. The outbreak has hit several states, with 50 sick and two dead in Kentucky. Tennessee officials have been coordinating across state lines. They’ve traced the contaminated cantaloupes back to southwestern Indiana, though not to a particular farm. Tennessee deputy epidemiologist John Dunn says it’s not necessarily the flesh of the melon that’s tainted, but people still get sick.
Owners say new road won’t hurt business Residents in Northwest Knox County can see signs of progress on the widening of Emory Road in Powell from a two-lane road to a four-lane road with a center turn lane. Concrete pillars to support a future bridge are rising out of farm land. A dirt path stretches through the fields between Beaver Creek Drive and Emory Road as it heads toward it’s Clinton Highway destination. The $15.6 million project, started in March, includes a new 2.4-mile road through pasture land west of Gill Road to Clinton Highway and bypassing the current configuration of Emory Road through Powell.
The Secular Student Alliance at UTC on Friday advanced the debate about public prayer on the school’s campus and in Hamilton County. The group urged its members to contact UTC administrators after learning about a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that challenges Christian prayers at university events such as football games. “This is definitely an issue where religious minorities feel excluded because of the explicitly and only Christian nature of these prayers,” said Bryan Barkley, a 23-year-old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior and a founding member of the Secular Student Alliance.
An English teacher who worked for UTC for the past eight years has sued the school and named four professors in a $4 million lawsuit alleging slander and a conspiracy to oust her when her contract was not renewed this spring. Melinda Paige Keown filed the lawsuit in Hamilton County Circuit Court Wednesday and named professors Verbie Lovorn Prevost, Joe Wilferth, Susan North and Chris Stuart as defendants along with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
It took 12 rounds of secret ballots before three candidates received the minimum required nine votes, but Smyrna Municipal Judge Keta Barnes, magistrate of the Rutherford County Juvenile Court Keith Siskin and long time Murfreesboro attorney Howard W. Wilson were selected as candidates for the 16th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge seat being vacated by Don Ash. “I’m tired,” said Keta Barnes, 36, after a grueling standoff for the final candidate to be sent to Gov. Bill Haslam.
Across the country, big government has gotten a bit smaller over the past year — but not in Tennessee. According to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, total employment for all federal, state and local government jobs dropped by 162,800 positions between the midpoints of 2011 and 2012, a decline of 0.7 percent.Tennessee, however, added 10,800 government jobs, reaching 428,400 government positions. That growth — in both raw and percent change is the second-highest in the country, according to On Numbers, a Nashville Business Journal affiliate.
The Knox County Election Commission meets Monday with nothing on the agenda about reinstating Belle Morris Elementary School as a voting precinct in the November election, but Democrats plan to force the issue one way or another. Election Commissioner Dennis Francis, one of two Democrats on the five-member body, said he requested that such an item be placed on the agenda on Thursday. Cliff Rodgers, elections administrator, told Francis in an email on Friday that the agenda had been set and public notice provided since Monday.
One of the two Knoxville clinics that provide surgical abortions closed last week, and its longtime director blamed a new Tennessee law. Deb Walsh, director of Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic on Concord Street, said in a letter to the Abortion Care Network that her clinic, licensed as an ambulatory surgical treatment center by the state, had been unable to provide abortions since July 1, when Tennessee’s “Life Defense Act of 2012” took effect. The law requires doctors performing abortions at clinics to have hospital privileges.
Sen. Bob Corker seems to be going against the political grain these days. With highly partisan gloom and doom speeches in vogue, Corker brought a positive, bipartisan message to the Carter County business community on Friday as part of his campaign for re-election to the Senate. Corker told business people and local government leaders that he believes the nation’s largest problems are solvable and predicted that improvements in some seemingly intractable problems may be seen in the next six months to a year and a half.
The tri-state area is missing out on nearly $70 million the federal government is releasing from unused earmark money in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. East and West Tennessee; Huntsville and Gadsden, Ala., and several Georgia cities will receive money for road widening, sidewalks and bike paths, but no projects in the immediate area were on the list released by the White House on Friday. It’s part of $473 million being released across the U.S. for infrastructure projects and job creation, according to the White House news release.
The Obama administration announced Friday it will release $7 million to Tennessee and $15.2 million to Mississippi in unspent transportation funding for projects earmarked between 2003 and 2006. The money for Tennessee includes $3,947,856 for restoring the cobblestone landing on the Memphis riverfront and $2,990,000 for improvements to the interchange at Plough Boulevard and Winchester Road. Mississippi would receive $762,260 of the $1.6 million Congress originally allocated for improvements to Holly Springs Road in DeSoto County, as well as $2.5 million for improvements to Miss. 6 between Batesville and Clarksdale among 18 projects statewide.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, worries that too many people are on food stamps, and they are becoming dependent on government handouts. His solution, posted on his personal Facebook page, is to follow the advice of the National Park Service: “Do not feed the animals.” “Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves,” Fowler wrote in the post. “This ends today’s lesson.”
Darrel Kohlhorst, who was removed from his leadership role at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant following the July 28 security breach, said Friday he believes the Oak Ridge plant will emerge stronger as a result of the problems. “Well, I think it did show us we had some weaknesses. We had some deficiencies,” Kohlhorst said in a brief interview. “The team has really attacked those things and corrected them, and I think we’re actually going to be a lot stronger coming out of this thing.” Kohlhorst was president and general manager at B&W Y-12.
No matter how difficult the public says details of the school merger are to understand, they are clear on the value of pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds and want more Advanced Placement and college-level courses in the high schools. Based on surveys completed by more than 8,300 parents and mostly school employees, 57 percent urge the school board to adopt universal pre-kindergarten, even if there is not outside funding to pay for it, and 78 percent want more International Baccalaureate programs and Advanced Placement courses.
The ad hoc committee to recommend a process for selecting a single superintendent for the coming Shelby County Schools merger is complete. It took countywide school board members about 45 minutes and 10 rounds of balloting at a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 16, to pick six citizens to join the seven school board members on the committee. The citizens selected are: Veronica Collins, a parent and leader of several parent organizations. Sharon Farley, past president of the Shelby County Schools PTA Council.
Plan emerges to untangle complex schools situation while unanswered questions remain As 400 supporters of municipal school districts rallied just off the Arlington town square in July, conversations about the ballot outcome turned to one question – how Federal Judge Hardy Mays would rule in the legal challenge to the state law governing the establishment of a municipal school district. The possibility remains that Mays could wipe clean the results of six sets of referendums in the six suburban towns and cities approving the establishment of such districts.
By the time our two public school systems merge, it is possible everyone in every part of the county will have voted. But it has been on different parts of an end game that becomes more complex the closer we get to the August 2013 merger and debut of the suburban municipal school districts. The ability to vote on specific but not the same parts of a scenario that affects all of us is being confused with a vote on the merger itself or on the formation of the suburban school systems. And we believe the confusion is intentional.
At the beginning of every school year, Hedy Bernstein of Nashville sends her kids to school with a backpack full of school supplies. She also sends a list of Jewish holidays, so that teachers will know in advance when her children will be absent. For an Orthodox family such as Bernstein’s, that list includes about a dozen days off for religious reasons. “We don’t pick and choose which holidays to observe,” she said. “I have to say the schools have been great to work with.” Fifty years after the United States Supreme Court banned official prayers in public schools, religion remains alive and well on school campuses.
Accidental drug overdoses are killing more of our fellow Tennesseans than automobile crashes, and the number is rapidly rising. Each death represents an additional 35 “near miss” hospital emergency department visits where the person survived the overdose. In Tennessee and in America, we are facing a large-scale epidemic of opioid painkiller misuse. As a result, 20,000 people die each year in the United States (more than two each hour), and the number of babies being born addicted has tripled in the past 10 years. The cost of treatment and just the pain and suffering of addiciton are more than numbers can express.
Nearly three weeks ago in West Tennessee, a wreck on Interstate 40 killed three men. If our state government had acted, they might have lived. A tire on the pickup truck the men were riding in blew, sending the westbound truck hurtling across the median into an 18-wheeler that was heading east. A simple safety barrier in the median could have saved the three men. Crossover crashes are far more dangerous than other types of traffic accidents. In an examination of 135,198 crashes on divided highways in California, the National Transportation Safety Board found that crossover wrecks were more than five times deadlier than non-crossover accidents. In North Carolina in 2006, interstate crossover crashes alone caused 32 percent of the traffic fatalities.
Most of the 70 Memphis city schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide are in neighborhoods that have long-running issues dealing with poverty, blight and, to varying extents, crime. Those are factors that in study after study presage poor academic achievement in schools from first grade through high school. There are students who are able to overcome these obstacles, of course, but too many children are not making the grade in school and that does not bode well for Memphis’ attempts to become what Mayor A C Wharton calls a city of choice. The latest rankings are based on spring test scores. The obvious question to ask is: How did the schools do this year compared with last year? But the comparison is no longer apples to apples.