This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam returned to Tennessee Saturday after taking his first trip to Japan as governor. Haslam went to Japan as a part of the Southeast U.S./Japan Association. The group, which includes governors and local officials from other southeastern states like Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina, meets with Japanese business leaders to discuss potential partnerships and opportunity. The meetings have taken place for 35 years, each one swapping between locations in Tokyo, Japan and Mississippi.
Tennessee officials are expected to announce a new college savings plan. Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to be joined by state Treasurer David Lillard and the state’s legislative speakers in making the announcement on Tuesday. Tennessee partnered with Georgia about four years ago to start the “Path2College 529 Plan,” which allowed families to put away money for their children’s higher education expenses. The new plan will be called the “TNStars College Savings 529 Program.”
TNStars succeeds earlier plan that closed in 2008 The state is about to launch a revised college-savings plan.Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials will unveil the plan, called TNStars College Savings 529 Program, at the Sudekum Planetarium at Adventure Science Center on Tuesday. The plan allows parents to save money and gain tax benefits for their children’s college education costs. Such plans are named after the federal tax code section that created them. TNStars succeeds an earlier program that the state closed in 2008.
Tennessee is launching a new college-savings plan, replacing a previous one that was scuttled after drawing little interest and poor reviews. State officials say the TNStars College Savings 529 Program, to be unveiled today, will be easier and more attractive for Tennessee parents to save for their children’s higher education. It also will end Tennessee’s distinction of being one of only two states not offering a college-savings plan. “We believe it will be a very competitive product,” said Steve Curry, the state’s deputy treasurer, whose department will administer the program.
A new study examines the average first-year earnings of graduates from two-year and four-year institutions across the Tennessee. The report released Tuesday was a collaboration between the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and College Measures, a nonpartisan organization that provides data and analysis on higher education. According to the study, graduates with bachelor’s degrees in health, business and engineering earn more than graduates with liberal arts degrees. For instance, graduates in the health professions programs at the University of Tennessee at Martin earned nearly $60,000 in their first year in the work force, while those who graduated from the school in history earned about $25,000 annually.
A study of college graduates’ earnings released today uncovered a surprising finding: A year after graduating from Tennessee’s public colleges and universities, students receiving associate degrees tend to earn roughly $1,400 more than those who receive a four-year degree. Nationally, bachelor’s degree recipients tend to earn more during their lifetimes, and the study’s authors emphasized that four-year degrees “remain an excellent investment for most students.” But at a time when the state is putting more emphasis on community colleges, the study’s findings show that two-year degrees can provide an immediate return for graduates, particularly for those with degrees related to health care, engineering and technology.
MTSU graduates in recent years with bachelor’s degrees made less in their first year than the combined average of others finishing Tennessee’s public universities and community colleges, a new study shows. MTSU graduates from 2006 through 2010 earned an average of $36,465 in their first year starting nine months after graduation, according to “The Earning Power of Graduates From Tennessee’s Colleges and Universities,” a study completed by CollegeMeasures.org on behalf of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
There’s always been anecdotal evidence that one college’s nursing program was better than another, for instance, or that jobs weren’t as plentiful for people with degrees in medieval language as, say, in business. The veil lifts Tuesday with the launch of a website collegemeasures.org/ESM/Tennessee that shows first-year earnings of graduates in every field of study, allowing taxpayers (and their college-bound offspring) to see which majors are most lucrative and compare first-year pay across state-sponsored schools.
A 16-million dollar expansion project at Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton is underway. When complete, the Herman Robinson campus will merge with the existing campus located across from the Elizabethton Airport. Tennessee Technology Center officials expect enrollment to double from the current one thousand students attending classes at the center. The projected completion date: January 2014.
As of today, Tennesseans can download Ready TN, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s (TEMA) popular smartphone preparedness application, to iPhone and iPad devices and access the application’s information and resources on hazards and how to be ready for emergencies. “It is incredibly important Tennesseans take time to prepare for emergencies, and this new app from TEMA is designed to be responsive to our customers, the taxpayers,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said. “Citizens are relying increasingly on their mobile devices for relevant and timely information, and the ReadyTN app delivers critical tips and resources to Tennesseans so they can be prepared the next time a disaster strikes.”
The Tennessee Department of Education is expected to announce as early as today that it will withhold more than $3 million in education funds from Metro Nashville Public Schools in response to the board’s decision last week to reject the Great Hearts Academy charter school application. The withheld money will come from the Basic Education Program formula, which the department uses to send state dollars to local public schools. The Nashville school board voted 5-4 last week to reject Great Hearts’ application, despite a directive from the state board that the application must be approved. Great Hearts subsequently said it was withdrawing its application, but the department has elected to take action against MNPS.
Republicans who laud government that stays close to the people are finding themselves in a pickle now that a local school board has bucked state law. Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Board of Education ignored orders by the Tennessee Board of Education to usher the charter school Great Hearts Academies into the district last week — the second such rebuff in a month. The Metro schools board contends that the first of five schools, run by a Phoenix-based charter school operator, would lack diversity and pander to an affluent Nashville neighborhood. The Great Hearts dispute has exposed Republican leaders to criticism that they espouse local control only when it suits their aims.
Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services is in the midst of a surge of calls to report concerns over child abuse or neglect. It’s typical for DCS’ call volume to spike each year as students return to school. The main DCS intake number gets upwards of ten thousand calls each month. The count tends to dip by a couple thousand in summer, and come back strong in August. That’s when teachers start reporting things that may have gone unnoticed over the break. Child Safety Executive Director Carla Aaron says in some households, kids spend about as many hours with teachers as with their parents.
Dickson County sheriff, child welfare group say DCS skirts law; commissioner vows to investigate The sheriff of Dickson County and the executive director of a child welfare agency in that county have accused the state’s Department of Children’s Services of not following the law in severe child abuse cases, according to correspondence obtained by The Tennessean. Severe abuse cases are being miscategorized as lesser offenses, and opportunities to intervene to protect children are being lost, said Jeff Bledsoe, sheriff of Dickson County.
A study of the state’s TennCare program found the number of uninsured Tennesseans has dropped to 9.2%, the lowest percentage since 2005. The number of uninsured adults decreased from 12% in 2011 to 11.2% this year. The number of uninsured children increased slightly from 2.4 to 2.7%, but still remains low. The telephone survey of 5,000 heads of household by the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found 93% of TennCare recipients are satisfied with the program.
The percentage of uninsured Tennesseans fell this year to its lowest level since 2005, according to a new University of Tennessee report. An estimated 9.2 percent of the population or 577,813 people don’t have insurance, UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research says. That compares to last year’s 9.5 percent rate. It was the lowest number of people since 2008. The number of uninsured adults, meanwhile, decreased from 12 percent in 2011 to 11.2 percent or 537,113 this year. The number of uninsured children inched up slightly from 2.4 to 2.7 percent.
Annual survey looks at TennCare A University of Tennessee survey of the TennCare program suggests the number of uninsured Tennesseans could be at its lowest in seven years. The random phone survey of 5,000 TennCare residents, conducted this summer by UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research, estimates the percent of uninsured residents at 9.2 percent, its lowest estimate since 2005, when the rate was at 8 percent. Most years since then, the survey has found the rate around 10 percent, though it was at 9.3 percent in 2008 and 9.5 percent in 2011.
After the Marion County Commission and Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to provide tax relief for a local company’s expansion project, Jasper city leaders are pushing to get state grant money for it, too. Last week, the board voted unanimously to ask that the state allow Tennessee Galvanizing’s $2.25 million centrifuge project to begin before the state approves grant funding to help with infrastructure improvements. County and city administrators approved a 10-year tax abatement plan for the company’s expansion last month.
Grady Bogue, a retired University of Tennessee professor and longtime university administrator, has been appointed interim chancellor of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Bogue, a Knoxville resident who writes a column on leadership and accountability for the Greater Knoxville Business Journal, succeeds Chancellor Roger Brown who announced his decision to retire Sept. 30. Bogue was a professor of leadership and policy studies at UT’s Knoxville campus from 1991 until his retirement earlier this year.
University of Tennessee officials have received a letter from a national organization asking the university to stop prayer before UT football games. The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent the letter to the chancellor’s office last week. However, the original complaint about prayer before Vol football games came from an alumnus in August. After forcing prayer out before UT-Chattanooga events, students in Knoxville teamed up with the Freedom from Religion Foundation to accomplish the same goal.
A national organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation is trying to change one of UT’s pregame rituals. In a letter written to the university last week, the foundation asked Chancellor Jimmy Cheek to stop public prayers before the kick-off of each Vols game. Before each home game, the announcer asks the crowd to stand for a public prayer. The foundation says the pastor often times references Jesus, which the foundation claims doesn’t belong at a public university. Their main argument is that the prayer violates the constitution.
There’s some uncertainty at the state election commission of who county election administrators work for. The panel has asked for help from the legislature. A lawsuit in Benton County has brought the issue to a head. The election administrator there in Camden has been sued by a voter inadvertently purged from the rolls. According to members of the state election commission, county officials are refusing to defend the administrator. But so is the state. Tennessee’s 95 election administrators do have more direct oversight from the state than most county employees. And they’re hired by a local body that’s appointed by the state election commission.
Three positions in the Anderson County Zoning and Public Works Department have been eliminated, a restructuring expected to save more than $102,000 annually, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank announced Monday. The position of planner has been phased out, she said. That work will be done through a contract with East Tennessee Development District. Also dropped will be the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) coordinator’s job. Those mapping services will be provided through a cooperative agreement between the offices of mayor and property assessor.
The Memphis City Council’s final vote on a city nondiscrimination ordinance is set for Tuesday, when a ban on discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity is expected to be added. “My hope is those who have supported us in the past will continue to do so and Memphis employees will wake up Wednesday with a new ordinance protecting them,” said Jonathan Cole, vice president of the Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide organization that supports gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.
Memphis City Council members should have a full chamber Tuesday, Sept. 18, as the council takes a vote on third and final reading of a non-discrimination ordinance. The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. The ordinance prohibits hiring or job promotion and demotion discrimination by the city of Memphis government because of religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability or other “non-merit” factors. The ordinance sponsored by council member Lee Harris also specifies that the intent is not to create any “additional protected classes” or “interfere with or in any way affect the hiring of personnel policies” of vendors, grant recipients and other entities that have a contractual relationship with city government.
A recommendation approved by the Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee Monday would require all future expenditures from the county’s undesignated fund balance to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the full commission. The recommendation proposed by Commissioner Virgil Mallett would require future expenditures to receive 14 votes for approval instead of the current 11-vote simple majority on the 21-member commission. The county’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget was approved during the Aug. 27 meeting, but that same night the commission also approved $26,000 in additional spending to be taken from the county’s projected $1.98 million undesignated fund balance.
The Madison County Commission voted at its meeting Monday to not allow new, non-certified school employees back under the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System in a 18-5 vote, with one abstention. The vote affects employees hired after July 1 in jobs that do not require a state teaching certification. Employees hired before July 1 will remain under the state retirement plan. Jackson-Madison County Schools Superintendent Buddy White said the group of employees includes bus mechanics, custodians, non-certified instructional assistants and others.
Rep. Jim Cooper said Monday that he has signed a pledge vowing not to lobby Congress once he leaves office. The Nashville Democrat became the first lawmaker to sign a pledge being circulated by Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard Law School professor who writes and speaks often about what he says are corrupting influences on Congress and American politics. It asks members to vow they will not profit from lobbying Congress for at least 10 years after leaving office. Cooper said he agreed to the 10-year pledge but had “no plans to lobby in my lifetime.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., announced Monday he has become the first elected official this election cycle to pledge not to lobby once he leaves Congress. The Nashville Democrat, who is seeking re-election to the House, said in a statement that “the power of money is overwhelming in Washington. I’ve said for years that Congress has become a farm league for K Street.” Washington’s K Street, where many lobby firms have their offices, has become a symbol of lobbyists who seek special favors from Congress on behalf of their clients.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has agreed to debate his Democratic challenger in one of the most conservative parts of Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. Fleischmann and Dr. Mary Headrick will square off Oct. 8 at the public library in Bradley County, where Republicans outvoted Democrats 9-to-1 in the August congressional party primaries. The announcement seems to fulfill the freshman Republican’s pledge to debate his Democratic opponent at least once before the Nov. 6 election.
Health care providers statewide are bracing for drastic cuts to reimbursement that will affect every community in Tennessee. The Tennessee Hospital Association, an organization that represents health care workers, hospitals and health systems in Tennessee, said in a release Monday that the changes would start taking effect October 1. They include a $93 million cut imposed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an $83 million reduction approved late last year as part of a nationwide deficit reduction plan, reductions of up to 25% in Medicare reimbursement to 20 hospitals, and cuts to funding that has allowed hospitals to bring in new electronic records equipment.
The Nickajack and Guntersville locks on the Tennessee River and the Barkley Lock on the Cumberland River will quit operating around the clock next year as part of the spending cuts in the budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To help maintain funds for lock maintenance work, the corps said it will not operate the two locks on the Tennessee River from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. daily, starting Jan. 7.
A handful of states are considering only partially expanding their Medicaid programs under the federal health-care overhaul—a new twist on how states are interpreting the Supreme Court’s ruling on the law. Indiana, New Mexico and Wisconsin are among the states asking the federal government to let them omit from the Medicaid expansion residents whose incomes put them just above the poverty level. The states hope to take advantage of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that offer a federal subsidy to help these residents buy private insurance, starting in 2014.
Oak Ridge National Lab has been working on getting rid of power cords for all kinds of chargeable devices. Scientists are now close to commercializing wireless chargers for electric cars. There’s no plug with the ORNL design. Equipment is buried under the pavement. It automatically links up over the air when an electric car pulls into a parking space. Researcher John Miller says wireless car charging is just the first step. Charging on-the-go is the ultimate goal.
The Southwest Tennessee Development District is awarding $70,000 in funding to Lauderdale County government to build a second Regional Economic Development Initiative Digital Factory on the campus of Ripley High School in Lauderdale County. The Digital Factory is a work center that provides office space and training facilities for companies that need to conduct remote or online training courses. REDI built its first Digital Factory in Parsons, Tenn., in summer 2011. The factory helped create 46 new jobs in the area for graduates.
The commander of an army of “smurfers” in a $6 million prescription pill network has inked a deal with federal prosecutors that, if approved, will put him behind bars for 20 years, court records show. Kevin Trent Bussell, 37, of Tazewell, Tenn., has struck a deal to confess to being the leader of one of the largest pill conspiracies to be prosecuted by the Knoxville-based U.S. attorney’s office. In an agreement brokered between Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings and defense attorney Doug Trant, Bussell is expected to plead guilty to charges that include conspiracy to distribute opiates, money laundering and using guns to protect his drug trade and won’t put up a fight to spending the next two decades behind bars for his crimes.
Teachers across the nation’s third-largest city will be poring over the details of a contract settlement Tuesday as the clock ticks down to an afternoon meeting in which they are expected to vote whether to end a seven-day strike that has kept 350,000 students out of class. Some union delegates said they planned to take a straw poll of rank-and-file teachers to measure support for a settlement that includes pay raises and concessions from the city on the contentious issues of teacher evaluations and job security. But many warned the outcome was still uncertain two days after delegates refused to call off the walkout, saying they didn’t trust city and school officials and wanted more details.
A judge declined on Monday to immediately order Chicago public-school teachers back into their classrooms, rebuffing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to end the six-day strike on the grounds that it is illegal. The Chicago school district filed suit Monday morning asking Cook County Circuit Court Judge Peter Flynn to prohibit the union from striking, arguing that Illinois law bars the teachers from striking over noneconomic issues, such as layoffs, teacher evaluations and the length of the school day. It also said the strike, which it called a “weapon,” is a “clear and present danger to public health and safety” by keeping students out of school.
A condemned Ohio inmate who weighs 480 pounds and has a history of difficulty losing weight argues he would face a “torturous and lingering death” if executed in January. Ronald Post, who shot and killed a hotel clerk in northern Ohio almost 30 years ago, said his weight, vein access, scar tissue, depression and other medical problems raise the likelihood his executioners would encounter severe problems. He’s also so big that the execution gurney might not hold him, lawyers for Post said in federal court papers filed Friday.
It sounds like a good idea, at first: Lump Metro Nashville’s mayoral and council elections in with other elections, in even-numbered years. Metro government would save money, and voters would save time. But money shouldn’t always be the determining factor in our decision-making; nor should Metro give voters an excuse to pay less attention to how their city is being run. Tonight, Metro Council may consider Charlie Tygard’s proposal for a referendum in November to amend the Metro Charter to set the next elections for August 2016. Currently, the next mayoral, vice mayoral and council elections are set for August 2015. Councilman Tygard’s recommendation seems practical, based on his estimate that the change would save $1 million every four years.
Sen. Bob Corker is running for re-election. He’s the former mayor of Chattanooga and currently the 17th-richest person in Congress, with a personal worth just shy of $20 million, according to Roll Call. He has raised more than $13 million for his campaign. Most recently, he held a $10,000-a-plate fundraising dinner at his home (for $5,000, donors got to have their picture taken with first lady nominee Ann Romney). This election season, he’s got two opponents. • Mark Clayton, the accidental Democratic nominee, whose anti-gay politics led the state Democratic Party to disavow his campaign. (He’s like Voldemort. The one who shall not be named.) • Angelia Stinnett, a middle-class mom who sometimes cuts coupons to pay for her son’s trumpet lessons and has a campaign warchest that might buy her enough gas to get to Washington.