This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is responding to what it calls “confusion” about the role of a Muslim staffer and a council that has advised two state departments on Islamic affairs. The Republican governor was criticized this summer by several GOP groups over what they perceived as the growing influence of a version of the Islamic code called Shariah in state government. Claude Ramsey, the deputy to the governor, sent a letter distributed to the state GOP’s executive committee last week seeking to quell concerns.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is in the middle of a growth spurt. The university is expected to have its highest enrollment numbers ever this year, with about 12,100 students expected to begin classes today, according to Chuck Cantrell, associate vice chancellor for communication and marketing at UTC. That’s a 12 percent increase since 2010. Plans are under way to accommodate a total enrollment of about 15,000 students over the next 10 years. Right now, however, the university’s enrollment is outpacing its physical growth.
After 10 years of asking drowsy drivers to get off the road, Kathi Wright of Cordova saw her message flash across Tennessee interstate message boards last week. “Please, Don’t Drive Drowsy,” the state has joined her family in asking drivers on highways in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. The local story behind the new message is of Kyle Kiihnl, a 17-year-old at Houston High School who was killed by a somnolent student driver on May 5, 2002. “After 10 years it was like: Now there’s a reason,” said Wright of her nephew’s death.
TennCare officials say it is getting more difficult for low-income seniors to qualify for nursing homes and other services. Officials say under old rules, elderly people could qualify for up to $55,000 to pay for a nursing home, adult day care or assisted living if they weren’t able to groom themselves. Under rules that began on July 1, TennCare will take an overall assessment of a person’s need before that level of funding is allocated. Being able to groom oneself is just one measure that TennCare uses to assess a person’s ability to handle activities of daily life.
Just weeks after House Republican Caucus chair Debra Maggart’s primary defeat, Tennessee’s GOP leadership is facing the prospect of another challenge from the party’s right wing. State Rep. Judd Matheny told the Associated Press last week that he’s considering a challenge to House Speaker Beth Harwell for the chamber’s top spot. Matheny is currently the House speaker pro tempore, a position that, like speaker, is voted on by all members of the chamber. Harwell faced opposition from the party’s conservative wing in 2010, when she defeated Rep. Glen Casada to become the first female House speaker in state history.
If the political winds shift and candy-apple-red Tennessee has enough appeal to Democrats or Republicans in 2016 or beyond, Nashville will be ready and able to host a presidential nominating convention, city officials say. But is the city willing to deal with the costs and headaches of bringing in tens of thousands of visitors and the international spotlight?As Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., prepare to host the Republican and Democratic national conventions, respectively, in the next three weeks, Nashville is considering making a pitch for a future convention. “We’re clearly at a position as a city that we could do it,” Mayor Karl Dean said.
It’s one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, with a high percentage of young families, yet it has the least amount of park space compared with similar-sized Tennessee cities. It’s a deficiency city officials recognize, but one they say has been hard to address in the face of a continually tight budget, the lack of a tax increase and greater infrastructure priorities that outweighed parks during the city’s peak growth years. Spring Hill — population 29,036, as of the 2010 U.S. census — has only two city parks and 52 acres of parkland.
Encamped on opposite sides of North Main Street, occupants of Memphis City Hall on the west and their neighbors at the Shelby County Commission on the east have been competing for the right to a referendum seeking voter approval for a half-cent sales-tax increase. While Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell ponders the use of his veto power on the County Commission’s resolution to include a county-wide sales tax increase on the November ballot, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and City Councilman Shea Flinn have been lobbying their county counterparts hoping to recover the tax referendum for the city.
The unified school district may need a lot more revenue when it’s time to propose its first budget next spring, but not all board members are enthused about the manner in which the Shelby County Commission wants to raise those dollars. The decision to ask voters on Nov. 6 to approve a countywide sales tax increase — a measure that might have to survive a potential veto by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell — has some support on the 23-member Shelby County school board. “However they want to raise money to educate the children successfully in Shelby County, I’ll leave that up to them,” Chairman Billy Orgel said.
In the midst of the Chester County Commission passing a property tax increase, a Chester County wheel tax referendum is on the November ballot, with petitions circulating for liquor referendums in Chester County and the city of Henderson. After county commissioners passed a $29.65 wheel tax increase, citizens collected the 397 signatures necessary to put a wheel tax referendum on the ballot. Voters will decide now whether to vote down or approve the wheel tax hike. Chester County commissioners approved a 35-cent property tax increase last week by an 11-7 vote.
As Georgia prepares for runoffs in primary elections that didn’t produce a clear majority winner, some Tennesseans wonder why their state isn’t doing the same thing. Take Bradley County resident Matt Dillard, a waste management executive who donated $5,000 to Scottie Mayfield’s 3rd Congressional District campaign. Two weeks after election night, Dillard said he still can’t comprehend how U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann edged his man and won the GOP primary with only 39 percent of the vote. “There’s mixed emotions about that,” Dillard said.
Knox County Democrats aren’t necessarily disavowing Mark Clayton, who won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate earlier in the month, but they aren’t embracing him either. The Tennessee Democratic Party did disavow him after the Aug. 2 election, when he led the Democratic ticket among seven candidates, because he is vice president of Public Advocate of the United States, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has said is a “hate group.” “It’s unfortunate. I wish that it hadn’t happened. But I’m not freaking out about it,” said county party chief and legislative candidate Gloria Johnson.
Officials like to refer to the Y-12 National Security Complex as the Fort Knox for highly enriched uranium, which is why an unprecedented incursion by an 82-year-old nun and two fellow protesters has critics mocking the notion that the weapons plant is secure. Operations resumed last week after being shut down over the embarrassing incident 18 days earlier. The Department of Energy has called on the contractor that runs the sensitive facility just west of Knoxville to explain why it shouldn’t be replaced. Y-12 makes uranium parts for every warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, dismantles old weapons and is the nation’s primary storehouse for bomb-grade uranium.
WSI-Oak Ridge, a security contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, confirmed that one of the guards on site during the July 28 security breach has been fired and others have been disciplined. “One (security police officer) has been terminated and appropriate disciplinary action has been taken with the additional individuals,” Courtney Henry, a spokeswoman for WSI, a unit of G4S Government Solutions, said by email in response to questions. The names of the guards and other details of the disciplinary actions were not released.
A proposed major expansion at Tennessee Galvanizing Inc. has city administrators supporting tax breaks for the company. The company recently hosted a meeting about the planned expansion with officials from the state, Marion County and Jasper. At the meeting, Jasper Mayor Billy Simpson said Tennessee Galvanizing requested a five- or 10-year tax abatement to help offset some costs of construction. The tax abatement would apply only to new construction, not existing structures, officials said.
Most Chattanooga-area hospitals readmit fewer patients within 30 days of discharge than state and national averages, which means they will be docked less on their Medicare payments beginning in October. However, as a state, Tennessee ranked ninth-highest in the nation for how much hospitals will be penalized, while Alabama came in 19th and Georgia 24th. As part as an initiative to drive down health care costs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will reduce overall Medicare payments to hospitals with high readmission rates.
Overall, Jim McIntyre is doing a good job as superintendent of Knox County Schools, according to individual evaluations completed by the district’s school board. But, members said, there are places where he can improve. Among those areas is engaging parents and the community better. “Dr. McIntyre has made consistent efforts to enhance parental and community engagement and satisfaction,” wrote Karen Carson, who represents the 5th District. “Too often though, there is a disconnect or breakdown in the communication from central office to the schools, parents and other community stakeholders.
As if starring in a horror movie, students at the Innovation Academy slowly stretch their hands toward Mr. Hurthead, a mannequin with glassy eyes and a laceration across his neck. A representative from Wellmont Health System explains that Mr. Hurthead was injured in a car accident. The students must determine his injuries. Several students touching the mannequin’s head realize he has a crushed skull. “Eww,” one girl exclaims. “Oh, that’s disgusting,” another girl shouts. Opening earlier this month, the Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee has launched a new era in Northeast Tennessee education.
Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell rightly are aligning forces to try to keep Memphis International Airport strong. But they need to focus their efforts with one top priority in mind — keeping Pinnacle Airlines headquartered in Memphis. Other airport-related issues will, in time, need attention from the mayors and the Memphis political and business leadership: attracting a new low-cost airline, working with FedEx to help retain its contract with the U.S. Postal Service, making sure Delta Air Lines doesn’t further gut its service in Memphis. But these important issues pale in comparison to the front-burner challenge: not letting Pinnacle Airlines relocate its headquarters from Memphis to Minneapolis, Detroit or anywhere else. Here’s why this must be a priority. Pinnacle is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.
Most people paying attention to the news are aware of the nation’s obesity epidemic, especially that affecting children. And the nation is focused on the controversy of what to do about the rising cost of health care. The national health care plan passed by Congress, known as Obamacare, is a central focus of this year’s presidential campaign. The reality of these issues is that none will be resolved in the short term. It will take years to change people’s behavior when it comes to living a healthier lifestyle. A good place to start the process is with children. Developing good eating habits at a young age can go a long way toward creating a healthy lifestyle. A big part of this responsibility rests with parents, but, frankly, many parents don’t live the healthiest lifestyle.