This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Mayor Karl Dean and Gov. Bill Haslam did far more than meets the eye when they announced the second-largest economic development project in Nashville history. Granted, this is a big hairy deal. Adding 2,000 jobs on West End Avenue in two new office towers is huge. But the deal means more than just jobs. First, it was what went unsaid. Dean called it a “win” to get HCA to land its new headquarters in Nashville. What he was really thinking was probably “Nana nana boo boo!” He has watched a string of companies pick Williamson County over Davidson, so this had to feel good.
A special commission appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam is about to begin drafting its final recommendations on how a Tennessee school-voucher program would operate, including who would be eligible for taxpayer dollars for private school tuition. The voucher issue returns to the state legislature in January after a year’s hiatus. The state Senate narrowly approved a voucher bill in 2011, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, that allowed students whose family incomes were low enough to qualify them for free or discounted school lunches to take half the taxpayer money spent per-pupil in their school district to pay private school tuition.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he expects the question of using taxpayer dollars to fund private school vouchers will be a major issue in the General Assembly come January. But the horses already are out of the barn in several Southeast Tennessee legislative races where a full-fledged debate over vouchers is under way. Some Republicans argue vouchers are necessary to advance school-choice initiatives already under way with public charter schools. Democrats counter that any redirection of funding undermines support of public education, which they say is already too little.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer announced more than $18.1 million to support highway safety in Tennessee. Among those funds, are four grants allocated to Meigs and Polk Counties. Meigs County Sheriff’s Department will receive $20,086 for “DUI Enforcement Programming”; Benton Police Department will receive $5,000 for “High Visibility Law Enforcement Campaigns”; Benton Police Department will receive $14,999 for a “Network Coordinator”; and Benton Police Department will receive $18,900 for “Impaired Driving Enforcement.”
The earning power of graduates from Tennessee public colleges and universities varies according to career field and school of completion, according to a study from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and College Measures. College Measures is a nonpartisan organization that provides data and analysis on higher education. College Measures is a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research and the Matrix Knowledge Group. The study was funded by the Lumina Foundation. Mark Schneider, author of the report, said the goal of the study is to equip students and parents with important information.
Sheriff, DA, child advocates will present findings Wednesday The Dickson County sheriff, district attorney and child advocates — equipped with examples they say show that the Department of Children’s Services has not been properly intervening in cases of severe child abuse — will head to Nashville on Wednesday to present their allegations in a face-to-face meeting with agency head Kate O’Day. The group includes Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe, District Attorney Dan Alsobrooks, Executive Director Kim Stringfield-Davis of the Child Advocacy Center in Dickson and state Sen. Jim Summerville.
Workers’ comp rates rising, but fewer claims being awarded Nashville truck driver David Scales was walking toward a shipping office in a warehouse to complete a delivery at the end of a long day when a forklift backed up and rolled over him. The machine ripped tendons in multiple places along his arm and damaged his neck and back, among other injuries. Scales, 48, who was employed by MS Logistics, a local trucking company, when the accident happened in the fall of 2010, has been at war with the company for nearly two years over tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Striving to maintain a substantial presence in the Tennessee General Assembly, Democrats appear more aggressive than Republicans do in attacking their opponents in legislative races across the state as campaigns enter the final stage. “We are holding a lot of incumbents accountable for their reckless actions … and some non-incumbents,” said Brandon Puttbrese, communications director of the Tennessee Democratic Party. He described the state GOP as “a political party that flaunts the law and believes in accountability for everyone but themselves.”
Sept. 6 arrest is Nashville’s first under 2002 state laws Amal Abdullahi is the first person in Davidson County to be arrested under the state’s anti-terrorism laws. But the charges have rarely been upheld when applied in other cases elsewhere in Tennessee. Abdullahi, 29, was arrested Sept. 6, on the charge after a co-worker at CEVA Logistics accused her of saying that America was full of unbelievers who should die and that she should pick up a gun and shoot everyone. She’s one of only nine people The Tennessean has been able to identify in the state as having been arrested on terrorism-related charges since the laws went into effect in 2002.
Nursing homes in Tennessee were cited for more than 800 deficiencies in recent inspection reports, an average of more than 2.5 per home, according to new federal information. Georgia and Alabama racked up similar numbers on the Nursing Home Compare website of the U.S Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In the Chattanooga area, several nursing homes were cited for some of the most serious violations, including a patient who fractured his leg in a fall but wasn’t given medical treatment for several days, and a patient who sat in a disengaged electric wheelchair in a room without a call light for 12 hours after cursing the staff.
Will state opt to expand Medicaid? It’s possible 240,000 more Tennesseans could be eligible for Medicaid coverage for the first time in 2014. But it’s unlikely they’ll know for sure until 2013. Part of the national Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act calls for states to expand the number of people eligible for Medicaid — in Tennessee’s case, TennCare — to include anyone whose income is 133 percent or less of the federal poverty level. That would shrink the state’s number of uninsured people, now more than 900,000, to an estimated 350,000 or less, according to a report earlier this year from the University of Memphis and the Methodist Le Bonheur Center for Healthcare Economics.
Regardless of who wins the presidential election in November or what compromises Congress strikes in the lame-duck session to keep the economy from automatic tax increases and spending cuts, 160 million American wage earners will probably see their tax bills jump after Jan. 1. That is when the temporary payroll tax holiday ends. Its expiration means less income in families’ pocketbooks — the tax increase would be about $95 billion in 2013 alone — at a time when the economy is little better than it was when the White House reached a deal on the tax break last year.
Six years ago, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Act, aimed at setting up a uniform national registry to track known sex offenders as they move around the country. The law offers states federal funds to complete their part of the job, and 16 have secured Justice Department approval for doing it successfully. But most states have struggled to implement the law, and several have essentially abandoned efforts at compliance and left the federal money on the table. States that did not implement their registries by July 27, 2011, face a 10 percent loss in federal justice assistance grants, which fund courts, crime labs, corrections and other law enforcement programs.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is upgrading its emergency siren system at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in East Tennessee to extend its range. TVA said contractors will begin work this week to replace 108 sirens and add four more in its nuclear plant emergency zone in Bradley and Hamilton counties. Each siren will be tested after installation and people living within 10 miles of the plant can expect to hear multiple tests of 20 seconds or longer for six days a week over the next two months.
Public school teachers in Memphis and Shelby County are asking a federal judge to protect their interests if he allows formation of municipal school districts. The education associations of the merging city and county school systems have filed a request with U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays. They want to file a third-party complaint against Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, according to The Commercial Appeal.
The Cleveland Board of Education will vote today on an extended-learning contract plan for teachers. The contract will allow more time for teachers to work with students who may need remedial help, according to Dr. Martin Ringstaff, city schools director. “This proposal represents the most effective and efficient use of our extended contract resources in meeting the highest priority needs of our students,” according to the printed plan. Fifteen retiring teachers and central office staff members also will be honored by the board, which meets at 5:30 p.m. at George R. Stuart Elementary School instead of its usual central office location.
Let no one doubt that tourism is big business in Tennessee. And on Gov. Bill Haslam’s watch, the industry is likely to become even bigger. The big news about tourism was announced last month. The economic impact was a record $15.36 billion spent by visitors coming to our state. The figures represented an increase of 8.7 percent — $1.2 billion — from 2010. It was the largest single year-over-year increase. Moreover, it was the sixth consecutive year that tourism businesses generated more than a billion dollars in state and local sales tax revenue. The increase was pervasive; all 95 counties gained, including 23 that topped 10 percent. In Knox County, the increase was 8.8 percent. The state also returned to the top 10 for the number of visitors.
The cover of a recent issue of Newsweek asks, “Is College a Lousy Investment?” The subsequent article, ironically written by a college graduate, details a litany of complaints about the rising costs of posh colleges allegedly more interested in providing students with credentials than with educating them. It describes students who fritter away their time in college and graduate with debts they cannot easily pay for jobs that they cannot readily get. Colleges and universities, especially those in the business of making a profit, are not beyond criticism, but it is important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. A good education is still one of the best predictors of lifetime success and lifetime earnings.
Before the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools is completed next August, questions will arise about things that most unified school board members, school administrators and the municipalities planning to start their own school districts assumed would not change. One of those issues is whether the municipal school districts will be required to grant the same rights, privileges and benefits to teachers they hire from either Memphis City Schools or Shelby County Schools. That question is one of those uh-oh moments that could have serious labor-costs consequences for the municipal districts. It is a question that needs to be answered.