This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Several Memphians are in Japan this week for the SEUS-JAPAN (Southeast United States) Conference, including Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Greater Memphis Chamber leaders Mark Herbison and Ernest Strickland. Through a series of guest blogs, they will share trip highlights as they visit with headquarters of Japanese companies with Memphis divisions. Gov. Bill Haslam and his team joined Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Ernest Strickland and myself for an incredibly productive and interesting meeting with Yoshiaki Nakatani, president of Mitsubishi Electric and his team today in Tokyo.
Governor Bill Haslam appointed Rural/Metro Division General Manager Rob Webb to a second term on the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services Board as a representative for ambulance service operators. This 13-member board oversees the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services Division and is responsible for establishing all rules governing emergency systems throughout the state. “This prestigious board helps ensure high-level care is available in our rural counties as well as our metro areas,” said Webb.
Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons says the state is getting closer to overhauling the state’s DUI statutes, but he doubts the first round of changes will add any new teeth to the laws. Gibbons said down the line he and a committee of state and local officials may consider recommending changes in the law like mandatory rehab for people convicted of DUI. But he said it was too soon whether the group would float that plan with the Legislature next year.
No suspected or confirmed cases of meningitis have been reported at MTSU since the death this week of 18-year-old Jacob Nunley, according to university spokesman Jimmy Hart. Nunley, a Dyersburg, Tenn., native, died early Monday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center of what doctors suspected was bacterial meningitis. The state health department is investigating the cause of Nunley’s death. According to Shelley Walker, assistant director, communication and media relations for the Tennessee Department of Health, the state has “received a report of a positive case of Neisseria meningitidis, or meningococcal disease, from our Mid-Cumberland Region.
No suspected or confirmed cases of meningitis have been reported at MTSU since the death this week of 18-year-old Jacob Nunley, according to university spokesman Jimmy Hart. Nunley, a Dyersburg, Tenn., native, died early Monday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville of what doctors suspected was bacterial meningitis. The state health department is investigating the cause of Nunley’s death. According to Shelley Walker, assistant director, communication and media relations for the Tennessee Department of Health, the state has “received a report of a positive case of Neisseria meningitidis, or meningococcal disease, from our Mid-Cumberland Region.
A Huntsville woman has to repay Tennessee for stolen medical services, pharmacy services and food stamps. 30-year-old Shauntaye Mayo pleaded guilty to three counts of TennCare fraud, one count of theft of services and one count of food stamp fraud. Investigators said Mayo, her mother and aunt made false statements in order to qualify for food stamps and TennCare. Investigators said the women were not eligible for the programs and lied to become eligible.
An Alabama woman is being forced to repay the state of Tennessee for Tenncare services and food stamps that she wasn’t eligible for. According to the Office of Inspector General, Shauntaye Mayo, 30, of Alabama, pleaded guilty to three counts of TennCare fraud, one count of theft of services and one count of food stamp fraud. She’s accused of lying about her residency and other things to become eligible for the benefits, which are open only to Tennessee residents. She was indicted in June of 2011.
Two men in Bradley County have been charged with selling prescription drugs, with one of the men accused of using TennCare to pay for the drugs at the pharmacy. The Office of Inspector General announced Wednesday the arrests of Roberto Veloz, Jr., 44, of Cleveland, and Richard M. Worley, Jr., 64, of Charleston. The arrests are the result of a joint effort with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. Veloz is charged with TennCare fraud, sale of a Schedule III controlled substance, and delivery of a Schedule III controlled substance.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a petition drive by groups trying to recall Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield failed to gather enough dated petitions to force an election and used the wrong process for the recall. Littlefield attorney Tom Greenholtz said the legal team is satisfied with the opinion. “It’s good after two years to have validation from the Court of Appeals,” he said. Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, called the process a learning experience, but said the group will have to discuss whether to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
The group that first complained about improperly programmed technology that led to ballot errors in the August elections now worries that the panel is about to bring the electronic poll books back in November. The Davidson County Election Commission will reconsider the use of electronic poll books during its meeting Thursday afternoon, said Election Administrator Albert Tieche. Tieche has acknowledged that the poll books were improperly programmed, causing an undetermined number of voters to be steered toward the Republican primary by default even when they didn’t express their preference.
Officials in the next week or so will begin accepting proposals that could lead to outsourcing Knox County’s internal audit department, a $251,000-per-year operation that investigates financial transactions and reports directly to the Knox County Commission. Although the matter previously had been discussed, it’s for the most part been put on the back burner as other issues have arisen and other services have needed the attention of the county’s purchasing department — which will oversee the bidding process.
The state’s poverty rate dropped slightly last year, even as the national rate jumped to 46 million people. Tennessee still has some of the highest poverty numbers in the nation. According to new numbers from the Census Bureau, about 77-thousand fewer Tennesseans are living in poverty. However, the number is still higher than before the recession. In the last year, the state’s jobless rate has fallen. Also, some of the state’s poorest communities have announced new efforts to tackle poverty.
It’s not clear why the percentage of African-American youths referred to the juvenile court system in Shelby County is 3.4 times the rate for white juveniles. Do they commit more crimes? Or does the way police apply their discretionary powers play a role? Neither is it obvious why black kids taken to Shelby County Juvenile Court are 1.6 times more likely to wind up in secure confinement and 3.4 times more likely to be referred to adult court for prosecution. And those figures are particularly puzzling considering the fact that the odds that criminal proceedings will be initiated for a child taken to Juvenile Court are roughly equal for African-American and white children.
On Aug. 8, Republican state Senate nominee Todd Gardenhire pledged at least two debates with Democrat Andraé McGary, saying 10th District voters deserve a chance to examine their choices. Since then, Gardenhire has skipped several opportunities to fulfill his promise. A radio talk show host, a Libertarian group and the Chattanooga Voter Empowerment Movement on Wednesday said Gardenhire refused or ignored their separate debate requests while McGary quickly accepted all three invitations.
More than 17,423 health care and related jobs could be lost in Tennessee by 2021 as a result of the 2 percent cut in Medicare spending mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, according to a new report. Tennessee’s job losses could include 11,279 positions in 2013 alone, according to the report, released today by the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association. Researchers measured measured the anticipated effect of the cuts in Medicare payments to health care providers and other industries.
Congressional agreement on a stalled farm bill seemed increasingly out of reach on Wednesday, as a few hundred farmers gathered near the Capitol to press for its passage. They were greeted by an unusually bipartisan group of lawmakers pushing for action in the House, where Republican leaders have declined to pursue legislation. “Americans want us to work together to get it done for rural America,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to the farmers’ cheers.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats harshly scolded the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday for a security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in which three peace activists evaded guards and cut through fencing to infiltrate the facility’s highest-security area. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called the break-in appalling: “Not only did you have a security breach,” she said, “you had a breach of public trust.” U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the Y-12 infiltration was “a wake-up call if ever there was one.”
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn expressed incredulity at the shoddy security recently exposed at an Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear facility as the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing Wednesday morning on plant safety. “We are appalled,” she said. The Tennessee Republican was referring to the July 28 security breach made by an 82-year-old nun, a gardener and a house painter who slipped into the Y-12 National Security Complex near Oak Ridge. The intruders splashed blood and paint and raised banners protesting the facility before being arrested.
Problems with cameras and other security equipment at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex near Oak Ridge, Tenn., were widely known but went unattended for months before three peace activists recently breached plant security, a congressional panel heard Wednesday. And several lawmakers – including Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood – said they weren’t buying Energy Department assurances that the management and oversight changes needed to prevent a future breach were being put in place.
Greg Boertje-Obed, the last of three Plowshares protesters to be released from jail, said Wednesday that the peace activists had been planning the break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant for many months — using publicly available maps and other resource materials to help guide their efforts. Despite the planning, he said, “We didn’t really know where we were going. We knew we had to go up the ridge and down the ridge.” Boertje-Obed said he considered it “quite miraculous” after cutting through a boundary fence and crossing Pine Ridge that the three ended up in view of their actual target — the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility — which they’d previously identified on a map of the sprawling installation.
One day after running into another round of resistance at the Metro school board, Great Hearts Academies announced late Wednesday it would no longer be pursuing authorization of its proposed Nashville charter school. “It is evident at this point that, with this hostile board as the charter authorizer, a successful school opening would be impossible for Great Hearts even if we were able to obtain a charter,” Great Hearts’ leadership team said in a statement. “Great Hearts may decide to apply for a charter in the future when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.”
Great Hearts Academies’ decision to pull out of Tennessee until state law creates an impartial charter school approval process is setting the stage for a legislative battle over who will grant approvals in the future. After the Metro Nashville school board denied a charter to Great Hearts for the third time, the Arizona-based charter school company released a statement Wednesday saying it was withdrawing from the state. However, Great Hearts said it might apply for a charter “when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.”
Great Hearts Academies is done trying to open a charter school in Nashville for now. The Arizona-based organization says in a statement that at this point “a successful school opening would be impossible.” Tuesday night the Metro school board rejected the organization for a fourth time, defying a state order to approve a new West Nashville charter school. Great Hearts says it has met all the requirements to open a charter, including on the issues of diversity and transportation. But Metro school board members argue the school inappropriately caters to the affluent.
Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton will open a charter school next fall — likely at Northside High — for juvenile offenders. Herenton and Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash announced plans Wednesday, with praise from Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person. Thurgood Marshall Academy will be open to students serving probation through Juvenile Court. Herenton and Cash expect 250 students in grades 6-12 in the first year. Enrollment could expand to other campuses in the future.
As Bartlett aldermen approved additional legal expenses Tuesday, Sept. 11, in the Memphis federal court fight over municipal school districts, countywide school board members elected in the Aug. 2 elections and two new board members appointed Monday by the Shelby County Commission took their oaths of office. The seven elected members make up the school board that will remain in office in August 2013 after Shelby County’s two public school systems are merged. The merger date is when the seven seats on the former Shelby County Schools board and the nine seats on the former Memphis City Schools board are phased out.
Bedford County Board of Commissioners failed to approve a school budget amendment Tuesday night that school system officials had said was needed to hire new teachers in order to deal with an increase in student population and maintain state-mandated pupil-teacher ratios. “I am disturbed by the lack of understanding of our county commission and their role in not approving a simple budget amendment, already approved by the full [school] board and the budget and finance committee,” said School Supt. Ray Butrum this morning in a text message to the Times-Gazette.
For hundreds of thousands of families here, ordinary life has turned upside down. As Chicago public schoolteachers on Wednesday spent a third day on picket lines, their students could be found in contingency programs at schools, in churches and in costly day care centers. Some slept late, stayed home alone, then wandered their neighborhoods as if there were one more chapter of summer. Others found themselves headed to their parents’ jobs at laundromats, restaurants, libraries, offices.
By the end of the week Gov. Bill Haslam plans to appoint three replacement judges to a five-member special Supreme Court to address the constitutionality of Tennessee’s judicial selection scheme. The new appointments became necessary when three of the original judges Haslam chose to hear the case wisely recused themselves on Aug. 31. The recusals came after it was discovered that all three men — including former Chief Justice William “Mickey” Barker of Signal Mountain — have ties to a special interest lobbying group called Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts. The outfit has lobbied the General Assembly heavily to uphold the current system of judicial appointment, which is patently unconstitutional.
Noting that the position of chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court rotates among the five jurists, Gary R. Wade correctly described his ascension earlier this month as being “first among equals.” Wade, with wife Sandra standing by his side, was sworn in as the newest chief justice on Sept. 1 at the historic Sevier County Courthouse in his hometown of Sevierville. Justice Sharon Lee, a colleague on the court, administered the oath to Wade. A couple of hundred citizens proudly watched. Wade succeeds Cornelia Clark, who began her tenure as chief justice two years ago. In a statement on the Tennessee Courts System website, Wade praised those who had preceded him, adding, “I have big shoes to fill.”
She is the epitome of an efficient, effective Republican. Straightforward. Willing to work with others. Humble enough to know she doesn’t have all the answers. That’s Rep. Beth Harwell of Nashville, the speaker of Tennessee’s Republican-majority House of Representatives. On a visit to Memphis this week, the highest-ranking woman in the Tennessee legislature demonstrated a genuine interest in learning about Memphis. Always, she was clear about her political philosophy: The best government is closest to the people; the party’s focus should be on creating jobs; and the General Assembly’s job is to listen to constituents and get things done.
Parents and policy-makers share two broad concerns when it comes to young children from infancy to age 5. The first is the care and nurturing of the children, ensuring their health and well-being. The second has to do with developing their minds and preparing children for kindergarten and elementary school. For a variety of reasons, families in the U.S. face a fragmented system of care and an often confusing array of preschool options. Young children from low-income families are at the greatest risk of getting off to a poor educational start, and educational researchers will tell you that we still lack a theory of change for how best to prepare children from impoverished environments for long-term school success.