This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam cast some doubt last week on the political consensus that the state legislature is all but certain to pass a school voucher program. “I don’t think it’s a done deal,” he said. “That’s a political observation, not a personal observation. I think there’s still questions about that. “What we have to be convinced of is that it’ll make enough difference — it can’t just be an incremental difference — and it has to work academically and financially. … And so, getting that balance right, I think, will be the biggest challenge.”
Prior to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announcing the enhancement grant Thursday on the RiverWalk he met with State Representative, Curtis Johnson and Mark Green, Republican State Senate Candidate at Moss’ Cafe on College Street. “I’m honored that the Governor took time out of his busy schedule to have breakfast to discuss business and the future of Clarksville, Green said. We discussed the growth of our great community, but that Clarksville needs attention in areas such as, strengthening our schools, creating jobs, and standing up for taxpayers.”
According to a record obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request, Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins sent a letter to the Davidson County administrator of elections on Friday after receiving a complaint that a voter was given an incorrect primary ballot. Davidson County Administrator of Election Albert Tieche informed the state that the county would be switching from paper poll books to electronic poll books this election year, according to the letter.
Four out of 10 Tennessee doctors say they do not accept new Medicaid patients. The percentage is lower than the national average of nearly 70 percent and the fifth lowest in the nation, according to a study released this month in the journal Health Affairs. Nationally, doctors accept Medicare, privately insured and self-paying patients at much higher rates than Medicaid patients, the study found. The low figure for Medicaid patients puts at issue the capacity of the health care workforce as states consider expanding their Medicaid rolls under federal health care reform, Sandra Decker wrote in the article.
Murfreesboro City and Rutherford County schools will collect additional funds from the state Department of Education due to growth in new students, but not as much as in years past. The funding comes from the Basic Education Program, which the state defines as sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. BEP funds fall into three major categories — instruction, classroom and non-classroom. Each area has its own components related to the basic needs of students, teachers and administrators within a school system.
Nashville State Community College, the first community college in Clarksville, opened its doors Thursday and will begin classes on Aug. 27. Dozens of local officials, students, faculty and supporters were present to show their support for the new educational asset in the growing community of Clarksville-Montgomery County. The new school is expected to have rapid growth in its student population and a big effect on Clarksville‘s economic development. “Our programs should place a lot of students in the job market,” said NSCC President George Van Allen.
Judd Matheny’s opponent this fall — no, no, not Speaker Beth Harwell; Democrat Scott Price — is urging Matheny and Tennesseans not to forget about him. Price issued a statement last week that said Matheny, R-Tullahoma, was being presumptuous by telling The Associated Press that he’s unhappy with his role in Republican leadership and might challenge Harwell for the gavel. “This premature action on his part is just one more example of how out of touch with local voters Mr. Matheny has become,” Price said.
Knox County is about to bid out its ambulance service contract, a multimillion-dollar deal for whichever company gets it. Officials, though, hope to avoid a repeat of 10 years ago. That’s when the nation’s two largest emergency rescue providers held a high-profile battle and allegations flew that county commissioners engaged in backroom politics and consultants played dirty tricks to thwart their competitor. Officials say this time around they want to take the politics out of it and make sure everything is on the up and up.
At 15, Onzie Horne Jr. stood in his back yard on Mississippi Boulevard, sling blade in hand. The grass was taller than he was, with debris and brush mixed in. His father had told him to have the yard cleared by the time he returned. “That was the day I decided I had to make something of myself because I couldn’t do that for a living,” Horne said. As deputy director of Public Works Neighborhood Improvement for the city of Memphis, Horne, now 63, ended up clearing lots for a living anyway, but on a grand scale.
A proposal to enact a county wheel tax, with the proceeds to go exclusively to schools, will be discussed Tuesday night by Bedford County Board of Commissioners’ rules and legislative committee. Commissioner and former educator Jeff Yoes attempted to suspend the rules at last week’s commission meeting to consider such a tax, saying that it should go only to schools, but failed to get the needed votes for a rules suspension, forcing the tax to wait for a month and go through the regular agenda process.
The Madison County Commission will vote Monday on whether to give $20,000 to the Hands Up! early childhood program for 3- and 4-year-olds. The program, which targets at-risk children from low-income families, is trying to raise money for its operating budget of about $120,000. The city has given the program $5,000. Hands Up! Executive Director Donna Agnew said the school is set to open Sept. 4 at the building at 185 Greenfield Drive, the former location of Sacred Heart of Jesus High School.
Mark Clayton, the Democratic Party’s unconventional, disavowed candidate for the U.S. Senate, didn’t push the button for party nominee Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. He said he voted for Constitution Party candidate and preacher Chuck Baldwin, a personal friend from his days in Pensacola, Fla. “I used to go to his church,” Clayton said at a news conference last week. “If you have a friend that’s running for president and you like them and you agree with a lot of the things that he says … I did that as a supportive friend.”
Mark Clayton shouldn’t expect much help from the guy just below him on the ballot. State Sen. Eric Stewart, the Democratic nominee for the 4th Congressional District, feigned never to have heard of his fellow candidate when asked before an event in Murfreesboro earlier this week how he’ll vote for Senate. “Who?” he quipped to reporters when Clayton’s name was mentioned. “Who? Who?” Stewart at first claimed he plans to write in the name of his outgoing state Senate colleague, Chattanooga mayoral candidate Andy Berke, on the November ballot.
Tennessee Republicans who have voted for Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal twice in the 112th Congress see no reason to back away from it now, despite speculation it could cause trouble for the party’s presidential ticket. Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee since January 2011, authored a proposal to reshape federal spending over the next decade and beyond with major cuts in non-defense spending — including safety-net programs such as Medicare — along with further income tax reductions.
Amelio Moreno knows what’s at stake with immigration policy. The 20-year-old undocumented immigrant has grown up in Nashville under the threat of being sent back to Mexico, a country he never really knew — but knows would not provide the schooling or job prospects of America. Last week, he became one of an estimated 800 young undocumented immigrants in the Nashville area rushing to gather school transcripts, birth certificates, bank statements and phone bills needed to apply to a new federal program promising to provide two-year work permits and protection from deportation.
For proponents of carving new municipal school districts out of a proposed unified Shelby County school district, an argument has been increasing in frequency and volume. It goes like this: Now that the suburbs have voted overwhelmingly in favor of creating municipal school districts, the Shelby County Commission should heed their wishes, put down their legal weapons and let education officials figure out how to best navigate an educational future that one way or another will include some number of autonomous municipal school districts. Those opposed to what they call “secessionist” suburban school districts have their own answer — what part of “illegal” and “unconstitutional” do you not understand?
The possibility of locating a charter school on Nashville’s affluent west side has emotional hooks that reopen old wounds while creating new ones. Black leaders who still see the lingering effects of white flight fear a taxpayer-funded school that functions more like a private academy for white students. A predominantly white group of charter school supporters argues that it wants the best opportunity for its children and shouldn’t be denied it. And, finally, the school board, fresh from being sued over racial balance in schools — the district won that suit last month — doesn’t believe the charter school, Great Hearts Academies, is doing enough to ensure racial balance.
Bradley County’s newest school features a convenient location for students: wherever their computer happens to be. Bradley County Virtual School began its very first semester a week ago with 39 students representing elementary grades through high school. It has eight teachers who work part time after their regular teaching day is done, in addition to Principal Zoe Renfro. When Tennessee’s General Assembly approved legislation last year enabling virtual schools in local school districts, Renfro immediately was interested.
STEM schools — with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math — can’t leave out history and English, according to the principal of Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee. And above all, Sandy Watkins said the hands-on style of STEM must include collaboration of students and individualized instruction from teachers if it is to work. And she’s throwing in a good dose of community service to boot. Innovation Academy, a joint effort of the Kingsport and Sullivan County school systems, finished its second week of operation Friday.
Just a few years into a landmark set of educational reforms, the state of Tennessee still cannot agree on when formal education for its children should begin. A Tennessean report on Aug. 12 cast light on the difference in opinion between educators, parents and the fiscally minded state legislators over whether it would be worth it for Tennessee to fund pre-kindergarten for all kids. A report 17 months earlier expressed similar views from both sides, and while it’s not uncommon to have this sort of debate, the apparent lack of movement in the conversation is frustrating at a time when some children in Tennessee have access to state-funded pre-K and others don’t. It is not for lack of effort.
It’s been a wacky election year in Tennessee so far, and the big contest — the presidential election — is still to come. Republicans and Democrats alike had primary contests in August that have lawmakers looking to change the system. The Democrats nominated a U.S. Senate candidate, Mark Clayton, whose policy stances align more closely with the GOP. He even held a joint press conference last week with Republican lightning rod Stacey Campfield, the state senator from Knoxville who seems to court controversy. Some Republican lawmakers are so upset about crossover voting in Tennessee’s open primaries that they are contemplating a measure that would close primaries and require party registration.
Everybody who wants wine sold in Tennessee grocery stores got all excited when a federal judge ruled Kentucky’s law banning those sales is unconstitutional. I didn’t get that excited. Tennessee’s problem is not a badly worded law like Kentucky had. It is just bad liquor laws, period. And Tennessee lawmakers have never been willing to say no to the well-paid liquor lobbyists who pad their campaign war chests. The push by Red, White and Food, an organization backed by grocery stores and grass roots, to allow wine sales in grocery stores has been going strong and hard for five years. Yes, the Kentucky ruling gives that effort an emotional boost. But so far, they’ve yet to get a bill out of committee, despite polls that show Tennesseans overwhelmingly want the convenience of buying wine where they buy food.
In our state’s most populous county, Shelby, Republican-controlled redistricting this year left legislative Democratic incumbents — one black, one white — to run against each other in two state House districts. In both cases, the black incumbent won on Aug. 2. As Otis Sanford observed in a recent Commercial Appeal column, this has left white Democratic state legislators an endangered species in the Memphis area. There’s only one now — Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, who was left by redistricting to run in the Democratic primary against an incumbent colleague, Sen. Beverley Marrero, who is also white. White Democrats are otherwise endangered in Legislatorland, not because of competition with black Democrats, but because of competition with white Republicans.
It’s 9 p.m.; I just finished up in the operating room. Two of my three patients were victims of high-speed motor vehicle accidents, each having major life-changing orthopedic trauma injuries — the first with a major injury to the pelvis after being ejected from a car, the second having fractured both legs. As I drive out of the hospital and pull up to the stop light, I notice the gentleman across from me in the driver’s seat talking on his cellphone without a seat belt, the woman behind me texting while patiently waiting for the light to turn green. How many times have we all been guilty of the same thing? The Tennessee Department of Transportation recently released that more than 600 people have been killed on Tennessee roads this year, a sharp increase from the same time last year.
The Regional Medical Center at Memphis and Methodist University Hospital are planning to make significant investments to improve their Medical Center facilities. That is great for maintaining the vibrancy of the Medical Center and great for residents who find it more convenient to obtain their medical care without having to travel east or northeast. And, that means both hospitals have to convince those health care consumers that the care they receive and the facilities they receive it in are just as good as the care they would receive at Baptist Hospital’s major facilities in East Memphis, Collierville and Southaven and at Saint Francis hospitals in East Memphis and Bartlett.
Republican attacks on President Obama’s plans for Medicare are growing more heated and inaccurate by the day. Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan made statements last week implying that the Affordable Care Act would eviscerate Medicare when in fact the law should shore up the program’s finances. Both men have also twisted themselves into knots to distance themselves from previous positions, so that voters can no longer believe anything they say. Last week, both insisted that they would save Medicare by pumping a huge amount of money into the program, a bizarre turnaround for supposed fiscal conservatives out to rein in federal spending. The likelihood that they would stand by that irresponsible pledge after the election is close to zero.