This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced a $377,600 transportation enhancement grant to the city of Sweetwater for the Visitor Center and Trailhead Project. The proposed facility site is located in Sweetwater’s historic central business district, and will feature racks and kiosks to provide information about nearby attractions. These attractions include the Cherokee National Forest, Cherohala Skyway, and historic trails.
‘His skills are more on the analytical side,’ Haslam says Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam first met Mitt Romney six years ago, when the Republican presidential nominee was weighing his first run for the White House. Haslam says he was impressed off the bat with the former Massachusetts governor, business executive and Olympic organizer. Romney appeared to have the right experience, the right skills, the right mindset to lead the nation. Haslam stands by his initial judgment. But he says Romney has been less successful at getting those attributes across to the American voter.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced his endorsement of Mark Green for state Senate District 22 at a private event in Clarksville last week. “Camie and I are extremely grateful for the support of Gov. Haslam,” Green said in a campaign news release on Thursday. “Tennessee and this community face big challenges in the coming years, and I’m committed to bringing my skill set to Nashville to focus on creating jobs for this area.” “I’ve known Mark for a while now, and I know he has the qualities and the experience that Tennessee needs in the State Senate,” Haslam said in the release.
Disease sickens 25 Tennesseans; more cases discovered in other states All of the patients who received epidural steroid injections at three Tennessee pain clinics from July 1 to Sept. 28 are believed to have been treated with recalled medicine, state health officials said Thursday. However, that does not mean every vial of medicine was contaminated or that all of the more than 1,000 Tennessee patients who received the pain treatment will get sick, said Dr. John Dreyzehner, state health commissioner.
Another Tennessean has died of a rare kind of meningitis. The total number of deaths now stands at 5, mostly in this state. Some 35 people nationwide have gotten sick so far, after receiving injections evidently contaminated with fungus. Federal officials say a Massachusetts pharmacy sent the tainted shots to 23 states. Now they’re rushing to find patients who could’ve been exposed. Nashville was a kind of “sentintel site” in the rare meningitis outbreak, after hundreds of patients being treated for back pain at a St. Thomas outpatient clinic received the tainted injections.
A meningitis outbreak that has now killed five patients and sickened 35 is focusing renewed attention on the little-regulated world of drug-mixing pharmacies, after injections made by a Massachusetts facility were tied to the illnesses. The New England Compounding Center surrendered its state license to operate on Wednesday, the state health department said. Officials urged doctors and hospitals to avoid the pharmacy, which prepared steroid injections for lower back pain that are being investigated for possible contamination.
The nation’s growing outbreak of meningitis, linked to spinal injections for back pain, was a calamity waiting to happen — the result of a lightly regulated type of drug production that had a troubled past colliding with a popular treatment used by millions of Americans a year. The outbreak, with 5 people dead and 30 ill in six states, is thought to have been caused by a steroid drug contaminated by a fungus. The steroid solution was not made by a major drug company, but was concocted by a pharmacy in Framingham, Mass., called the New England Compounding Center.
Agency’s follow-up on ‘severe’ cases has been criticized Department of Children’s Services chief Kate O’Day said Thursday she would review how reports of severe child abuse are being categorized in response to allegations from law enforcement and child advocates that her agency isn’t properly intervening in cases of severe abuse. DCS also will work with a statewide network of Child Advocacy Centers to create a way for child welfare officials, district attorneys and others to alert the agency if severely abused children are being overlooked by the department, she said.
State Correction commissioner orders investigation into audit’s findings Tennessee’s top correction official ordered a top-down investigation of the state’s parole system, a day after lawmakers upbraided the parole agency and one of its top administrators resigned. “This is about accountability and our commitment to the public. We want the citizens of Tennessee to have full confidence in our ability to supervise offenders,” Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said in a prepared statement.
A Tennessee Department of Correction assistant commissioner has resigned in the wake of a state audit report released earlier this week. Gary Tullock submitted his resignation, effective immediately, following Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing. TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield also directed the department’s Office of Investigation and Compliance to investigate the audit’s findings related to the probation and parole supervision of dead offenders.
Lax oversight of felons out on parole has led to a high-profile resignation in the Tennessee Department of Correction. A recent audit found falsified paperwork showing officers were supervising parolees who had already died. Assistant commissioner Gary Tullock resigned Thursday after defending himself to a special legislative hearing on Wednesday. “The fact is, it’s our policy and it’s our intent to verify those sorts of things 100 percent of the time.”
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is tightening the standards for those receiving unemployment benefits. If a beneficiary refuses a “suitable” job offer based solely upon the rate of pay, they will lose their benefits, according to a state press release. Previously, the proposed job had to be approximately the same rate of pay and hours as the claimaint’s most recent work to be considered a suitable offer. Under the revised law, claimaints must decrease their salary and wage demands the longer they receive unemployment benefits.
Dyer County residents will soon have to travel temporarily to Trenton, Jackson or Union City to address their driver’s license needs. The county’s current driver’s license facility located on James H. Rice Road will close at the end of this year with construction beginning on a new state-of-the-art facility at the corner of Highway 51 and Forrest Avenue in the very near future. Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Assistant Commissioner Lori Bullard of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security met with Dyer County Mayor Richard Hill, Dyer County Clerk Diane Moore and State Rep. Bill Sanderson last week to discuss the new driver’s license office and the temporary kiosk that they would like to put in place to assist residents.
First break in record student count in years For the first time in 15 years, the number of students enrolled at MTSU has fallen. According to figures released Thursday, MTSU’s fall head count is 25,394, a 3.96 percent decrease from fall 2011’s overall enrollment. Undergraduate enrollment was 22,371, a 4.46 percent loss from fall 2011’s 23,415 mark. It is the first break in record yearly fall enrollment at MTSU since 1994. MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said the university is not surprised to see the drop in numbers.
The Tennessee Supreme Court says Davidson County’s sheriff does have some law enforcement power. The question was at the center of a case challenging an immigration enforcement program known as 287(g). The state’s high court heard arguments over Metro’s 50-year-old charter, which named the police chief – not the sheriff – as the “principal conservator of the peace.” But in an opinion released Thursday, the Supreme Court says the sheriff retained some law enforcement functions. The lawsuit was intended to stop the controversial 287(g) program, which has put thousands of immigrants arrested in Nashville on a path toward deportation.
Voters also may honor military Andrew Dodd, elections attorney with the state Division of Elections, said there are various acceptable photo IDs that people can use to comply with the state’s new photo ID law. According to the law, all voters must present a state or federally issued photo ID before voting. Dodd explained the law at a session hosted by AARP Tennessee on Wednesday in Jackson to remind voters of the requirement before the Nov. 6 election. People can use any of the following: a driver’s license with a photo, state-issued gun carry permit with a photo, Department of Safety and Homeland Security photo ID, U.S. military photo ID, U.S. passport or other forms of government-issued photo identification.
There are no city police in the city of Calhoun. All three officers were “indefinitely” let go this week because of budget problems, Mayor Faye Parks said Wednesday. The city police — three officers including the chief — already were off the job before Monday’s city commission meeting at which Parks made her announcement. “It is a problem of complacency we have had for several years” in the city administration, said Parks, who was elected to her first term in 2010. “We do not have a reserve fund. There is no capital outlay fund. Our tax base is very small.”
The city Fire Department is the recipient of a $266,400 Department of Homeland Security grant. The money will be used to buy radio communications equipment that will meet new Federal Communications Commission standards, said Fire Chief Bob Barnes. The new standard, Project 25, dedicates the 700 MHz frequency range to public safety radio communication and enables interoperability between agencies. It also requires radio systems to be efficient within 12.5 kHz instead of the current 25 kHz, which permits more public safety channels to be accommodated within the dedicated spectrum, Barnes said.
recommend putting Y-12 under UN control The three Transform Now Plowshares protesters who broke into the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant July 28 and face multiple federal charges have vowed not to plea-bargain in the case. The three — Greg Boertje-Obed, Sister Megan Rice and Michael Walli — collaborated on a seven-point statement that they said was in response to an offer of plea bargaining from the U.S. government.
TVA has settled on the method it thinks would be best to protect several of its dams in case of a rare “worst-case” flood event. The federal utility has filed a draft environmental impact statement on the issue and is looking to add public comments to the statement. TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said the public will have until Nov. 19 to add comments. Also, a public meeting will be planned for some time in November, said TVA spokesman Bill Sitton. The dams involved are Fort Loudoun, Cherokee, Tellico and Watts Bar.
Cost-cutting efforts at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will result in the elimination of about 100 jobs across the state and will leave 100 more positions unfilled through 2013, the company has announced. According to a news release, the measures span the gamut of employment, including executive positions, with 25 percent of cuts affecting management-level positions. Bill Gracey, CEO-elect for BlueCross, called the choice “tough,” but characterized it as unavoidable. “The health insurance industry is undergoing tremendous changes,” he said in a release.
Bill Gracey will take control of Tennessee’s biggest health insurer in January with a smaller staff than his predecessor. Gracey, a former HCA executive who is succeeding retiring CEO Vicky Gregg as head of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said the company will cut 100 BlueCross jobs by the end of the year and leave another 100 positions vacant next year. Gracey said he wants to cut the company’s 4,500-person staff at least 2 percent by 2014 when new health care taxes and rules are set to begin.
New convention center’s first-year deficit expected to double The cost to run the Music City Center in its first fiscal year of operation will be about $4 million more than previously projected, according to a budget approved by Convention Center Authority members on Thursday. The increase is linked to the expected doubling of the Music City Center’s projected utility bill, which is estimated to total $5.3 million from July 2013 to June 2014. The authority had been working under the assumption that it would pay about $2.5 million in utilities in that one-year period, based on a demand and feasibility study of the Music City Center project generated by hospitality consulting firm HVS in 2010.
Metro’s first intersession offers opportunities for enrichment, remediation The age-old sarcastic question of whether someone is a rocket scientist is best left unasked around fifth-grader Kyra Thomas. She will study that very career next week when she participates in a program offered during Metro Nashville schools’ pilot fall intersession. Kyra, a 10-year-old student at Isaac Litton Middle School, will spend three half-days of her fall break next week at Rocket Camp, an enrichment program offered during intersession, which will run Monday through Wednesday.
Four Metro Nashville schools are among 56 in Tennessee that received state grants this week to help fund programs designed to close achievement gaps between groups of students. The schools are Amqui Elementary in the Hunters Lane cluster, Carter-Lawrence Elementary Magnet in the Hillsboro cluster, Ruby Major Elementary in the McGavock cluster and the Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School on 26th Avenue. The winning schools will be awarded $100,000 to $300,000 during the current year and also during the 2013-14 school year.
Shantell Shaw acknowledged Thursday that she was the lady in the pink ball cap who left a classroom abruptly in June 2009 when she nearly got caught taking a certification test for another teacher. The proctor at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro remembered Shaw had taken the test in the morning under another name and the suspicions led to unraveling of what federal authorities say was a long-running scheme involving Mid-South teachers hiring others to take their licensing exams.
Safety of children; safety of the public at large — there aren’t any responsibilities that are greater. Tennessee state government is revealing the strain of trying to live up to those commitments. Lately, the Department of Children’s Services has faced criticism over delays in reporting deaths of children either under state custody or who were on DCS’ radar. Now, it’s been reported that officers for the Board of Parole have been “supervising” dead felons and may have falsified files. More importantly, case files of a much larger segment of the probation and parole population are not getting the reviews necessary to monitor their status. Regardless of whoever is ultimately to blame, every Tennessean should expect better performance by its public servants.
Thanks to our feckless federal government, as of Oct. 1, we the people — all 311,591,917 or so Americans — owed $16,159,487,013,300 in national debt. Every man, woman and child in the United States owes $51,861.06. And climbing. On top of those trillions, state-level debt stands at more than $4.6 trillion, another $13,425 in debt on every man, woman and child in these United States. So, on average, per capita American debt — federal and state, but not including local government borrowings, credit cards, car loans, mortgages and such — totals $65,286.06. While our football Vols stagger and we’re now known for obscene methods of insane intoxication, Tennessee has not gone crazy with debt. In fact, Tennessee is recognized for its fiscal sobriety.