This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam didn’t mince words in July when he testified before Congress about the revenue Tennessee was losing from consumers who didn’t pay taxes for online purchases. “That money could fund critical programs that vulnerable citizens rely on,” Haslam said. “It could help cover federal mandates that states face, or it could go back to the taxpayers in the form of further tax relief.” To demonstrate just how widespread unpaid Internet sales taxes are, the governor could have used his own gubernatorial campaign as an example. As he testified before the House Judiciary Committee, his campaign had hundreds of dollars in unpaid taxes for purchases with Amazon.com stretching back to the summer of 2009, according to campaign disclosure reports.
Sullivan County’s public school system last week was honored with five Reward School designations by Tennessee, more than any other system in Northeast Tennessee. And with Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., each getting a Reward School designation, the countywide total was seven Reward Schools. Sullivan County had Sullivan North High School on the list. It was one of two high schools in the region on the list, the other being South Greene High School in Greene County.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is calling last year’s student performance at Union County public schools’ new, privately run Tennessee Virtual Academy “unacceptable.” “Its performance is demonstrably poor,” Huffman said in an interview last week about the online academy, which under a 2011 law passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly began operations in the 2011-2012 school year, enrolling 1,783 students from across the state. The school is operated by K12 Inc., the nation’s largest publicly traded online education company, under contract with the tiny Union County Public Schools system.
Parents counting on a state scholarship to help pay their children’s college tuition need to keep a sharp eye on report cards, because some school districts’ versions may conflict with what HOPE Scholarship officials actually see. The difference is created by the common practice of giving additional weight — or points — to grades earned in more rigorous honors and Advanced Placement classes. That conflicts with requirements of the state’s uniform grading policy, which sticks to a 4.0 scale.
One of Tennessee’s leading conservation organizations is taking drastic action to combat a fast-spreading epidemic that is wiping out bat populations across eastern North America. The Nature Conservancy is putting the finishing touches on an artificial cave designed to safeguard bats from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that causes hibernating bats to develop irritating skin lesions and leave the cave in search of food before insects are available. Built of precast concrete culverts, the artificial cave resembles an elongated dome.
Three of the five special Supreme Court judges selected by Gov. Bill Haslam to serve in deciding a challenge to Tennessee’s judge selection system have decided they won’t serve after all. William M. “Mickey” Barker of Chattanooga, George H. Brown Jr. of Memphis and Robert L. Echols of Nashville recused themselves Friday from hearing a lawsuit brought by John Jay Hooker. Barker and Brown have served on the state Supreme Court in the past and Echols is a former U.S. District Court judge. The impartiality of all three was questioned by Hooker, who noted they all have been involved in a group called Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts, which supports the present system for picking the state’s top judges that is under attack in the lawsuit.
After Davidson County election officials last week acknowledged problems with some voters getting the wrong ballots during the Aug. 2 primary election, attention turned to whether anything can be done to fix the election results. The answer is neither clean nor pretty. “There’s no good solution here,” said Jim Blumstein, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School. “There’s just least-bad solutions.” New electronic poll books, which were used in 60 of the county’s 160 voting precincts, were defaulting to the Republican primary if voters didn’t express a preference.
When Marion County made the switch from Grandview Medical Center to Puckett EMS for ambulance services in March, the County Commission was required to buy Grandview’s five remaining vehicles.At its recent meeting, the board voted 10-3 to donate one of the ambulances to the county’s Disaster Animal Response Team and voted 12-1 to accept the highest bids for the remaining trucks. Giving DART one of the ambulances amounted to a $4,500 donation to that organization, officials said.
Requests for documents explaining how Lenoir City decided to donate $5,000 this summer to a non-profit entity that was also a registered political action committee have yielded as many questions as answers. Lenoir City officials have provided some documents explaining what led to the city donating to the Committee of 100. Within days of the city’s approval of the donation, the organization registered as a PAC and took out advertisements supporting several local ballot initiatives in the August election. Some documents that should have been filed before the approval, according to Municipal Technical Advisory Service guidelines, were not available.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to close the Cheatham Lock for a month starting in October to conduct $3.5 million worth of repairs and maintenance. That means all upstream river traffic to Nashville and beyond will stop. No barges or boats will be able to pass. The closure has business owners who depend on the river for their economic livelihood stockpiling raw materials. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Gallatin Fossil Plant burns 13,000 tons of coal a day. It all arrives by barge.
118th awaits switch from C-130s The Tennessee Air National Guard’s 118th Airlift Wing based in Nashville has flown all types of aircraft during its long history — from fighter planes to transport and cargo planes. But its new mission signals a larger shift in the Air Force toward unmanned aircraft and cyber security. Under a restructuring plan announced by the Air Force earlier this year, the unit’s C-130 transports would be replaced by MQ-9 Remote Piloted Aircraft, known as Reaper drones. The plan also calls for the 118th to get a cyber-security unit and expand its intelligence squadron.
Experts predict USPS will be privatized Rain, snow and dark of night aren’t the issues for the U.S. Postal Service. It’s that Americans just aren’t communicating through traditional mail much anymore. Low-cost telephone service, e-mail, social-networking websites, electronic birthday cards, automatic bill-paying options, digital tax-return filing and other options have siphoned away its core business. The challenges are immense. Beyond increasing Internet use, it must deal with fierce competition from other delivery services, an inflexible business model, high labor expenses and mounting pension and retiree health costs.
Three peace protesters are seeking a delay in their trial on federal charges over their intrusion at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge. Federal court records reviewed by The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/SYMY2m) show that 82-year-old Megan Rice, a Roman Catholic nun, and Greg Boertje-Obed are arguing they need more time to prepare for trial. It is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 10. The two plus Michael Walli are charged with illegally entering the nuclear complex grounds and spray painting the building that holds the nation’s supply of bomb-grade uranium.
A vote that changes the landscape of public education in Tennessee’s largest county is being challenged in federal court, and the trial will begin today. A lawsuit seeks to invalidate an Aug. 2 vote by suburban residents who approved referendums to form separate public school districts in six Shelby County municipalities.The suburbs of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington are currently part of the Shelby County Schools system. But parents and elected officials in the suburbs say they want to break away and avoid the merger between the larger, struggling, majority-black Memphis school system and the smaller, more successful, majority-white Shelby County district.
Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays begins two days of hearings Tuesday, Sept. 4, that are pivotal to what happens next in the coming merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems. Mays will specifically hear arguments on claims by the Shelby County Commission that the state laws creating suburban municipal school districts violate the Tennessee Constitution. Mays will hear another part of the argument later alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution and claims that municipal school districts are intended to promote racial segregation.
In a July hearing on the constitutionality of laws allowing referendums for new municipal school districts, an attorney representing suburban municipalities talked about his connection to a place 100 miles from Memphis that has become central to legal arguments over how Shelby County public education should be structured. “Being an alumnus of Milan High School, this has been dear to my heart,” said Burch Porter attorney Tom Cates. When Tuesday’s trial over municipal school districts opens before U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays, attorneys on all sides will try to prove that the peculiar circumstances of Milan, Tenn., and the Milan Special School District in Gibson County mean the laws allowing municipal school districts in Shelby County are — or are not — constitutional.
As its books close for the 2012 fiscal year, Knox County Schools finds itself with more money in the bank — about $13.94 million — than previously projected. The funds are a result of additional revenues from local sales and property tax collections and Basic Education Program funds, said Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre. “I think the good news is that we’re seeing the revenue picture continue to improve,” he said. “Revenues that fund Knox County Schools … continue to see a strong growth and that is a terrific dynamic and one that is actually a fairly substantial change from just a short time ago.”
Williamson County Schools teachers can earn up to $500 extra a year — just by showing up to work every day. In a move to motivate teachers not to miss work, the district and the Williamson County Education Association have agreed that teachers who are employed full-time for a full nine-week grading period are eligible to receive a stipend of $100 each grading period, if sick, bereavement or uncompensated leave goes unused. Director of Schools Mike Looney said the district spends more than $2 million each year on substitute teachers. He compared teacher absences to a “J” curve, meaning they tend to take off Mondays and Fridays.
The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office will study a court ruling that struck down the Texas voter identification law to see if it might have an impact on Mississippi’s law. Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, tells the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that officials in Hosemann’s office, who have been monitoring Isaac, will look at the ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A Mississippi law that would require people to display a government-issued photo identification to vote is pending before the U.S. Department of Justice.
Virginia is issuing a rising number of concealed-carry gun permits to people who live in other states in a trend that may be helped along by online gun classes. The commercial courses allow applicants to seek a permit from Virginia that is valid in their state, but without having to meet tougher requirements their home states may impose, such as firing a gun with an instructor. Virginia State Police issued 1,632 concealed-carry permits to nonresidents through the first half of 2012, topping the previous year’s total of 1,321 nonresident permits.
Hard work is its own reward. But the teachers and students at Bradley Academy recently received a little more for their efforts. The school was taken off the list of High Priority schools and recognized as one of the state’s 169 Reward Schools. Seven other local schools also achieved Reward status, and we couldn’t be prouder. Reward Schools are made up of the top 5 percent of schools in the state for performance — as measured by overall student achievement levels — and the top 5 percent for year-over-year progress — as measured by gains in student achievement. These 10 percent of schools receive recognition for their success under the state Department of Education’s accountability system.
If you have a loved one, someone you care about, or if you are approaching that time when you may have to select a care home to effectively and humanely see you through your later years, this item is relevant. If not, well, clip and hang on to it until you do. Aging has that way of creeping (or more likely, racing) up on all of us who live long enough. It’s difficult — at best — for many folks to choose a capable and caring nursing home when they need it. Ones that look pretty and neat sometimes can have the worst records of care. But, man, is choosing a good one an important decision, especially here in Tennessee with some of the dubious history we have enjoyed over the years.
After years of legal wrangling, the dispute over costs associated with construction of the $549 million Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility was finally settled out of court. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, because the parties pledged their confidentialty as part of the agreement. The construction team, headed by the Caddell/Blaine Joint Venture and including a slew of subcontractors, had filed claims for more than $60 million for work that was performed but not compensated. B&W Y-12 counter-sued in U.S. District Court and sought $17 million in damages. Regardless of the settlement terms, one can’t help but wonder if there’ll be some after-effects of the years-long dispute.
Congress has a lot to do and little time to do it. The agenda for the next few weeks: Revisit defense cuts that some analysts warn could cripple the military. Decide whether to renew tax cuts passed when George W. Bush was president. Approve short-term legislation to keep the government running for another six months. Hit the campaign trail and try to get re-elected. Ah, yes. The election. Washington is a place where partisanship makes it hard to get anything done even in the best of times. But throw in the specter of an approaching national election, and you can almost guarantee that crucial decisions on important issues will have to wait.