This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The number of community college students is expected to surpass the number of students enrolled at four-year universities for the first time in the South. Community college enrollment has grown from about 500,000 in 1970 to 2.8 million in 2010, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. Four-year college enrollment has grown from 1.2 million to 2.8 million over the same period. When data from 2011 are compiled and analyzed, it’s likely that two-year college enrollment will exceed four-year enrollment in the South, according to Joe Marks, director of education data services for the board.
Wildfires in state at lowest level in 50 years The fall wildfire season is back, and the state has designed a new system to allow residents to apply online for permits to burn brush and leaves. The season runs Oct. 15 through Dec. 31 and marks a traditionally dry period when Tennessee’s lands are more susceptible to fires burning out of control. John Kirksey, fire chief with the Tennessee Division of Forestry, said that despite an unusually dry and hot June and July, the state is on pace with last year to remain below normal in terms of wildfires.
Union University and the University of Tennessee at Martin both have been named to America’s 100 Best College Buys, a listing compiled by Institutional Research & Evaluation Inc. Union is on the list for the eighth consecutive year, and UT Martin for the seventh consecutive year. UT Martin is among three public Tennessee higher education institutions to be listed, according to a news release. Other Tennessee schools included on the list were Belmont University, Tennessee Tech University and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
A congressional report on regulation of drug compounding firms concludes that state pharmacy boards have been inconsistent and generally ineffective in ensuring the safety of an industry now being cited in a nationwide fungal meningitis epidemic. “This analysis makes clear that state regulators are not or cannot perform the same sort of safety-related oversight of compounding pharmacy practices that FDA has historically undertaken,” the report states.
Concerns about regulation of compounding pharmacies grew wider Sunday as Massachusetts said sterility issues and rule violations have led to the shutdown of a third firm, and an official on the state’s pharmacy board refused to step down. Mold-contaminated drugs from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy are blamed in a nationwide epidemic of fungal meningitis that has sickened 344 people and killed 25 in 18 states. The death toll has been highest in Tennessee, where 10 people have died.
Massachusetts shut down another compounding pharmacy after a surprise inspection last week found conditions that called into question the sterility of its products, state officials said Sunday. The pharmacy, Infusion Resource in Waltham, voluntarily surrendered its license over the weekend, said Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality at the Massachusetts Public Health Department. Inspectors who visited Infusion Resource on Tuesday found “significant issues with the environment in which medications were being compounded,” Dr. Biondolillo said during a news conference here.
Infectious disease doctor Thomas Kerkering has spent part of his career researching ways to treat fungal meningitis, which has given him more experience than most doctors on the front lines of the current outbreak linked to contaminated steroid shots. But even Dr. Kerkering can’t give definitive guidance to the 25 fungal meningitis patients he’s overseeing at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital here. He says he can’t predict how long Nancy Ann Goodfellow, a 76-year-old who contracted the disease from a tainted shot, will remain in the hospital on intravenous medicine or for how long she will need oral medicine once discharged.
George Martin* has been getting up early every day this week to make phone calls to the unemployment office. Gainfully employed earlier in the year, Martin was laid off in March and suffered a medical setback in April, making the task of finding another job difficult. One of millions of Americans without a job, Martin depends on the benefits to cover his living expenses. The problem is, like many Tennesseans he is experiencing a problem connecting with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is once again stepping up safety measures for Halloween. THP Colonel Tracy Trott says in a news release that troopers will be conducting increased patrols and using other enforcement techniques to look for aggressive or impaired drivers because of the increased number of people that will be out. According to the highway patrol, last year in Tennessee no one was killed on Halloween between midnight October 31 through 6 a.m. November 1.
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey wouldn’t mind one bit having a super majority in his chamber, but the Blountville Republican acknowledges governing the group may be tough. “No doubt about it, my leadership skills will be challenged,” he said. He might want to start prepping. With a financial advantage in their legislative campaigns, and a near dead heat in the presidential race, Tennessee Republicans in both chambers are poised to get a super majority — or more — on Nov. 6. Currently in the Senate, Republicans have a 20-13 advantage.
If the devil is in the details, then Will Pinkston is Satan’s right-hand man. After a decade working behind the curtain of state government, Pinkston is now one of the Metro school board’s newest members, a title that moves the political operative from backstage into the limelight. It’s a spot he never wanted to be in before. But it’s one he is uniquely qualified for as the school board considers whether to wage a legal war with the Tennessee Department of Education over a controversial charter school while weathering the onslaught of education reforms the state legislature continues to fire out from Capitol Hill.
Knox County commissioners, looking to avoid a major conflict in next year’s budget discussions, want to form an education committee to act as a liaison between board members and school leaders. The proposal, led by commission Chairman Tony Norman, is expected to be discussed during next month’s work session. “The purpose would be to have better communication all the way through the year,” he said. “I don’t expect us to solve all the issues, but it might be a place where we can filter the complex ones.
A national political action committee is buying $180,000 worth of television ads criticizing Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais over revelations that he once urged a mistress to seek an abortion. The House Majority PAC’s ads begin running Monday in the Nashville and Chattanooga markets which reach population centers on both ends of the 4th Congressional District. The group associated with Democratic congressional leaders had previously spent $100,000 on ads in the race. “The bottom line is this: Scott DesJarlais shouldn’t be in Congress,” Alixandria Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
State Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville told the Times-Gazette his sights right now are on his re-election campaign, including two new counties he hasn’t represented until now, and on supporting other conservative candidates. A source has told The Associated Press that Tracy is considering a run for the 4th District U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Scott DesJarlais, but Tracy said “I haven’t even really thought about that.” New areas Tracy and DesJarlais are both Republicans.
On Friday, the government will release its monthly estimate of how many Americans are working and how many are looking for work. But another number in the report may have greater long-term significance: the declining share of the population that is doing either one. As of September, the share of the adult population that either had a job or was trying to find one—a measure known as the labor-force participation rate—stood at 63.6%, close to a 30-year low. Other measures of job-market health, such as hiring and the unemployment rate, have shown slow but relatively steady improvement over the past two years.
It is Titan’s time at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the results could be breathtaking. Titan is ORNL’s new Cray XK7 supercomputer, a transformed version of Jaguar with a hybrid architecture and at least 10 times the number-crunching power of its predecessor. The budding superstar is now fully installed, loaded with a futuristic combination of central and graphics processing units — including NVIDIA’s latest Tesla GPUs — and undergoing around-the-clock tweaks and checks and tests to get it performing like it should.
A new supercomputer is ready to go to work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Department of Energy facility announced Monday that its new Titan system can handle 20,000 trillion calculations a second, which in computing language is referred to as 20 petaflops. ORNL says that makes Titan 10 times more powerful than the laboratory’s Jaguar supercomputer. Titan gets its speed from a family of processors called graphic processing units, which were first developed for computer gaming, combined with traditional central processing units.
A debt-collection company in Jackson is planning to hire more than 100 people before the end of the year. According to The Jackson Sun (bit.ly/TKZsY6), Portfolio Recovery Associates is looking for collection agents, managers and Internet technology workers. Michelle Link, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, says it recently purchased a company-record $447 million in debt, and needs more people to help collect that debt. The company plans to have a job fair next month.
The death of the Nashville Medical Trade Center was hardly a surprise. Now comes the bigger question: What do you do with the space? The exterior of the Nashville Convention Center was essentially rendered obsolete within a handful of years of its 1987 opening. As with many big-box convention facilities that opened during the ’80s and ’90s, the monolithic beast — its innards surprisingly useful, if not attractive, courtesy of a highly professional staff — was an instant eyesore to those design advocates who placed as much emphasis on aesthetics as on functionality.
Last week the state of Idaho signed a $180 million contract with Hewlett Packard to provide laptops to all high school students by the fall of 2015. It was an ambitious move. The one thing that makes it problematical is that on November 6, the entire state could repeal the law under which the contract was authorized. In fact, Idaho voters will decide whether to repeal a whole package of education measures signed by Governor Butch Otter last year. The laptop provision is just one of them. Others restrict collective bargaining for teachers, do away with teacher tenure, tie some teacher pay to student performance, and require online classes.
“Our common enemies … who sow the seeds of discord that they may reap the harvest of destruction.” — Edward Gibbon, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” The Tennessee State University Presidential Search Advisory Committee has selected four qualified candidates for further consideration to become the next president for TSU (“4 vie for top TSU job,” The Tennessean, Oct. 20). After the finalists are fully vetted, I’m confident Chancellor John Morgan will recommend the most qualified finalist to the Tennessee Board of Regents. I have served as a faculty member and administrator at leading universities. I also have served on advisory committees to select leaders for higher education institutions. Therefore, I know that the finalist appointed as president of a college or university faces a significant challenge.
In February, Sequatchie County voters convincingly shot down a half-cent sales tax increase by a 3 to 2 margin. That obvious display of the will of the people didn’t prevent Sequatchie County leaders from sneaking another half-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot. The proposed tax increase amounts pilfering $500,000 a year out of the pockets of folks who buy groceries, clothes and anything else in Sequatchie County. Despite the county commissioners’ insistence that the tax increase is necessary, a closer look at the budget shows that there is no legitimate justification for a tax hike at all. In fact, it’s one of the most disingenuous tax increase scams perpetrated on a county’s taxpayers in recent memory.