This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced last Monday that 169 schools were singled out for their students’ performance on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP tests — and among those recognized for performance was Fairview’s own Westwood Elementary. “The faculty is honored to know that hard work gets rewarded,” shared Westwood principal Nancy Simpkins.
Tennessee’s bonded indebtedness fell from $6.118 billion to $5.861 billion during a six-month period ending June 30 — a difference of $257 million, according to officials. “This report contains good news for the taxpayers of Tennessee,” state Comptroller Justin Wilson said in a news release. “Our state has low debt, high credit ratings and well-managed finances.” Wilson noted that refinancing of some debt also “created a present value savings of $61 million. And the state maintained high bond ratings from the country’s three major rating agencies.”
State health officials and members of the restaurant industry plan to ask the legislature to update Tennessee’s 1976 food safety law. “Our rules are so old they don’t even address sushi,” said Hugh Atkins, who oversees restaurant inspections for the Tennessee Department of Health. The Tennessee Food Safety Task Force first considered tweaking compliance rules but finally decided the law itself needed a complete overhaul.
The state of Tennessee says it will hold special Saturday office hours this fall to issue photo identification cards to voters. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced last week that it will open eight driver service centers across the state from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 6 and Nov. 3. The driver service center at 6604 Centennial Blvd. in Nashville is among those that will be open. Personnel will take requests to issue voter photo IDs and to convert non-photo driver’s licenses into licenses with photographs.
Tennessee Appeals Court Judge Charles Susano has voted at Deane Hill Recreation Center for about 40 years and half of that time it has been in a wheelchair. As a person who is handicapped, he looks for parking places that have striped lines beside them so he can put down a ramp from his car and drive his motorized chair out easily. Then he looks for a way to get on the sidewalk so he can get inside the center. At Deane Hill, parking places with striped lines are present. There is an elevated ramp to the sidewalk which he must take to the center. He can negotiate it with his motorized wheelchair. But when he voted there at first after becoming a paraplegic and using a manual wheelchair, he said he had two choices: “Go backward — (and) it’s not easy — or get someone to push me up.”
Posetta Mayo sits in her sunroom, lamenting the roses that need tending outside her window while looking at the surgically created clump under the skin of her left arm. The roses have to wait, and so does she. Mayo’s name just got added to the long list of people in Tennessee needing a kidney transplant. The mass on her arm is a fistula, an access point for dialysis. She had worried about a stroke after being diagnosed with high blood pressure, never realizing the threat to her kidneys. “A simple blood test at random found this,” Mayo said.
Knox County finance leaders are almost done closing out the books for the recently wrapped-up fiscal year, and officials are predicting at least $24.2 million surplus. Most of the money, however, is already committed, including more than half of it for the school system. Still, that’s not stopping some Knox County commissioners from doing two things: working to spend at least some of the remaining dollars on pet projects, and asking the administration for more accurate revenue projections each year.
A year ago, city administrators voted to take the fight to bats that had invaded two municipal buildings. So far, the bats have won the battle. In September 2011, the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to pay $3,300 to Lookout Pest Control Inc. in Rossville for the removal of the bat infestation in the Kimball Fire & Rescue Hall and the town’s maintenance building. Kimball Vice Mayor Rex Pesnell said the original contract with the company called for the town to pay an additional $300 per year starting this month to “guarantee they’ll keep the bats away.”
TN congressional members sign on to variety of causes. If it’s true that lawmakers define themselves by the bills they sponsor, then count members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation as favoring parental rights, abortion restrictions, old-fashioned light bulbs, traditional cigars, Christmas and a weaker United Nations. Those are among the thousands of subjects taken up in bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Middle Tennessee lawmakers that get little attention and stand only a microscopic chance of becoming law.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker will host a fundraiser with first lady nominee Ann Romney in Chattanooga later this month, according to an invitation received by The Tennessean last week. With Democrats distancing themselves from Corker’s challenger in November, the senator and his wife will host a $10,000-per-person dinner at their home this Friday. Budget-conscious Republicans can choose to attend a reception and photo op prior to the dinner for $5,000 a person or couple, or they can go to the reception only — without the photo op — for $1,000 a person or $2,000 a couple.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, has been named one of four sophomore lawmakers to watch in the next Congress by National Journal, a Washington magazine that’s focuses on national politics. Black was tabbed because she is a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, which could deal with health care and tax reform in the upcoming Congress. As a former nurse, Black can be “an authoritative figure when the committee deals with health care legislation,” the magazine says. Black joined South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, New York Rep. Tom Reed and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — all Republicans — on the National Journal’s short list.
Tennessee may be an afterthought in this year’s presidential race, but Republicans are not taking the state for granted. The Davidson County GOP announced last week that they were opening Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan offices in Green Hills and Goodlettsville. The locations supplement two offices that the campaign had opened previously in Bellevue and Donelson. The locations will help the campaign distribute materials — yard signs, bumper stickers, hats, T-shirts — and to coordinate volunteers, Republicans said.
Hospital adds staff to aid flood of mental health cases Patrick Crowder rarely sleeps, but when he does the nightmares flow — taking him back to the killing zones and closer to the brink of suicide. “It’s just a battle. It’s a battle every day,” the 43-year-old Air Force and Army veteran says of his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Crowder, of Ripley, Tenn., is among some 8,200 veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have sought help at the Memphis VA Medical Center, with more than half of them getting treatment for mental-health issues.
At a protest last year at New York University, students called attention to their mounting debt by wearing T-shirts with the amount they owed scribbled across the front — $90,000, $75,000, $20,000. On the sidelines was a business consultant for the debt collection industry with a different take. “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent — for our industry,” the consultant, Jerry Ashton, wrote in a column for a trade publication, InsideARM.com. “It was lip-smacking.” Though Mr. Ashton says his column was meant to be ironic, it nonetheless highlighted undeniable truths: many borrowers are struggling to pay off their student loans, and the debt collection industry is cashing in.
When the federal judge refereeing the now-delayed trial over municipal school districts receives the final pieces of evidence and arguments Sept. 20, three words could determine whether he upholds the Aug. 2 referendums in the suburbs — would, could and should. The nonjury trial is focused on state constitutional issues about whether schools merger laws passed in 2011 and 2012 lifting the statewide ban on the creation of new municipal or special school districts violated the Tennessee Constitution by illegally applying new laws to Shelby County that do not affect other counties.
On April 29, when a brokenhearted Memphis couldn’t stop replaying the Grizzlies’ lost 21-point playoff lead to the L.A. Clippers, Chris Barbic was in the Toyota Center in Houston, enjoying a different kind of victory. He was attending the Texas city’s senior signing ceremony, an event that packs the arena with families cheering high school seniors who have been accepted to college. In his mind, it was six or seven years down the road in Memphis. The 10,000 people cheering in his ear were screaming for high school seniors in the city’s Achievement School District as they unfurled T-shirts from the colleges they’d been accepted to attend in a giant NBA-inspired signing ceremony.
Despite enrollment dropping slightly from projected totals, student-teacher ratios for several schools in Scott County saw a small increase over their numbers from last year. As of Sept. 4, the overall student enrollment for Scott County Public Schools came in at 3,660, down from projected enrollment of 3,677 the system’s budget is based on. “Keep in mind that these are projected enrollments, and there are always a lot of factors involved in that,” Scott County Schools Superintendent John Ferguson said.
Severe thunderstorms Friday night and Saturday morning may not have provided the light show and extreme winds expected, but they helped nearly wipe out Middle Tennessee’s rain deficit. And the storms are promising to bring some idyllic weather this week. Most of Tennessee was put on severe thunderstorm watches and warnings Friday night as a strong line of storms from Illinois to Alabama swept eastward, bringing with it cooler weather. Sam Shamburger, meteorologist with the National Weather Center in Nashville, said the storm largely pooped out by the time it reached Middle Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Haslam has made little progress on his campaign promise to raise Tennessee’s profile in the national tourism market, but members of Haslam’s Tourism Committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the governor has a secret weapon to boost Tennessee’s sightseeing appeal: extreme tourism.cBut rather than the standard extreme tourism fare involving travel to dangerous places, Tennessee’s excursions will promise “in-your-face” experiences with the state’s political extremists. So far, Haslam’s only tourism accomplishments are securing regular, annual tourism funding, promising to have marketing proposals by year’s end and replacing the tourism slogan used for the last eight years (“The Stage Is Set for You”) that no one knew existed with a slogan used from 1987-1995 (“We’re Playing Your Song”) that no one knew existed, either.
In politics, sticks and stones may break your bones, though they rarely do in the literal sense these days. But words, especially your own, can really harm you.Or so it sometimes seems. Whether you’re a Republican congressman who mentions “legitimate rape,” a Democratic president remarking “you didn’t build that” or a vice president speculating on people being “back in chains,” national political news seems dominated by exaggeration and extrapolation of rhetorical missteps made by those who stray from scripted talking points prepared by well-paid public relations professionals. Here in Tennessee, we have a long history of entertaining, controversial and seemingly impolitic utterances. Say, for example, Davy Crockett’s famous statement: “The hell with you all, I’m going to Texas.”
Former Vice President Al Gore raised some eyebrows last month when he said that, 12 years after losing the presidential election despite winning the popular vote, he now thinks the Electoral College should be abandoned. Even though he publicly supported the system following his 2000 defeat, his reversal has been received by many as sour grapes because, of course, it was the Electoral College that gave George W. Bush a 271-266 victory. But if you set aside that highly emotional, politically polarizing election and look at the overall system for electing U.S. presidents, there are solid arguments both for keeping the electoral vote and for jettisoning it. And since there have been four times in which the Electoral College outcome has disagreed with the popular vote, there is every reason to think it could happen again.
Many voters take the day off on Election Day, especially during a presidential election year, to go to the polls and cast a ballot. It’s an exciting time in their lives and a time-honored tradition they take seriously. But for those who work factory jobs or drive to Nashville each day, taking a day off or staying in Rutherford County is next to impossible. With that in mind, the Rutherford County Election Commission should vote Monday to extend hours at early voting sites to provide more opportunities for Nashville commuters to cast ballots, especially those in north Rutherford. Democratic Party Chairman Judy Whitehill made the request at the commission’s August meeting and pointed out that rather than early voting hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., those should be shifted to noon until 7 or at least to leave an early voting polling place open in the Smyrna/La Vergne area until 7 p.m. one night a week between Oct. 17 and Nov. 1.
VSO facing surge in requestsfrom veterans seeking help What if you lived in a community that had such a strong reputation among the military that its population was booming with veterans who decided to call it home? What if you lived in a county where, even amid a national economic downturn, new subdivisions were being filled up almost as fast as they could be built, partly because of those veterans? What if you lived next to a military post where a major Army division has gone through about a half-dozen back-to-back combat zone deployments, with tens of thousands of soldiers coming home from war with serious needs for help with Veterans Administration and related benefits?Clearly, that’s us.