This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam hopes to continue to funnel money to university building projects this year, and told University of Tennessee trustees that he’s still looking for ways to advance higher education across the state. The governor’s months-long review of the state’s college system may not result in an overall blueprint, but could instead be incremental policy and funding changes. “As we see changes that need to happen — like being more strategic on how we fund capital, like making sure our schools are more tied into employers — we will go ahead and implement those instead of wait for nine months from now to have a 10-step plan,” he said following the board of trustees meeting Friday at the Institute of Agriculture.
Volkswagen officials in Chattanooga on Friday called for more highly skilled workers and better efforts between companies and government to fill future slots at its plant and other businesses. “We don’t want in the future to have skill gaps,” said Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for Volkswagen in the city. Jagla said an enhanced partnership between the business sector and government could help. “What we’re trying to do with education is secure the future,” he said in an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
An eight-month review of how the executive branch responds to requests for public records has resulted in Gov. Bill Haslam deciding not to make any major changes. The Republican governor said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that his initial fears about the potential abuse of open-records laws had been allayed. Haslam said he has instructed his Cabinet to expedite records production to the public and the media and to try to keep costs as low as possible.
The clock is ticking for Gov. Bill Haslam, who will have to finalize his decision next week regarding building a state-run health insurance exchange to comply with a critical portion of the Affordable Care Act. Haslam is one of a handful of governors who opted to wait for the results of Tuesday’s election before making a move on the exchange question. With the new law ensured for survival with the re-election of President Barack Obama, Haslam was given less than two weeks to weigh the decision for creating an online marketplace for individuals and small businesses to shop for and purchase health insurance—or handing the task over to the federal government for creating an exchange.
Another person has been sickened with a fungal infection in Tennessee, bringing the number of illnesses to 81, the Tennessee Department of Health said Friday. Nationwide, the toll now stands at 438 illnesses with 32 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most deaths from fungal meningitis — 13 — have been confirmed in Tennessee. But Michigan has the most fungal infections with 128, and its death count rose to eight in Friday’s CDC report.
Proximity and trust matter most when people with kidney failure choose a dialysis center. They either go to the one closest to their home or the one their doctor recommends, said Teresa Davidson, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Kidney Foundation. Information on safety records is not readily available for the public, and the federal government has yet to set up a system for tracking bloodstream infections at dialysis centers, which can be one of more common complications. Tennessee has begun that process.
Program’s graduates get their lives on track In 2008, Scot Brewer was homeless and unemployable. “I didn’t think highly of myself at all,” Brewer said. “But then Drug Court gave me the structure I needed and held me accountable.” Brewer shared his story Friday during the city of Jackson’s Drug Treatment Court annual graduation ceremony at the Carnegie Center. The celebration is held to recognize those who completed the 12-month program. Since its creation in 2003, 95 people have graduated.
MTSU President Sidney McPhee and United Campus Workers agree on one thing: They’re both concerned about the ratio of part-time instructors to full-time professors on campus. Local members of the higher education union held a “teach-in and speak out” session recently called The Real Economy of MTSU where they addressed how decisions made at the state and college level are affecting the quality of life and education at MTSU, specifically how outsourcing, temporary, part-time faculty and student labor impact the university’s mission.
A new chapter of First Ladies for Healthy Babies is starting up in Knoxville. The effort has been organized by Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam. The program aims to educate women in the church, from pastor’s wives to church leaders, on healthy eating practices and the brain development of young children. They hope to start conversations and create mentorship opportunities for young parents. “We’ve learned so much about brain development in the last five to ten years, and a lot of parents don’t understand what they can do at home, simple things they can do with their children. And a lot of these young parents, where do they go for information? They go to their church,” said Haslam.
Overdoses are believed to have caused the death of a Sullivan County jail inmate and resulted in the hospitalization of another, Sheriff’s Office officials said Friday. Marlina Kindle, 34, died Thursday. At around 4:45 a.m. that day, jail officers were called to her cell, where Kindle was found not breathing, said Leslie Earhart, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful and Kindle died at Bristol Regional Medical Center. Another woman in Kindle’s cell, Jessica Parks, 30, soon complained of chest pains and was taken to the hospital, too.
Top state education officials are wrapping up a task force over the next few days that’s been discussing school vouchers. Such a program would divert public-school dollars to parents paying private-school tuition. A new Nashville lawmaker wants to back a small trial-run. Republican Steve Dickerson was just elected to the district (PDF) running from Belle Meade up through Joelton and back around the city to Donelson. Dickerson says a school voucher program should start out with a relatively small pool.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey has filed a constitutional amendment to ban a Tennessee income tax, a measure which could become a ballot initiative for voters in 2014. Daily News reports the Germantown Republican saw the same amendment approved in the state House and Senate last year by a two-thirds majority. If it passes again with a similar majority, it should go on the ballot.
The latest salvo in a battle over how to tax the growing solar energy industry in Tennessee could set the stage for a legislative battle in 2013. In an opinion issued last week, and reported in MBJ affiliate publication Nashville Business Journal, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said the low tax on solar installations, which amounts to the salvage value of the equipment, was “of doubtful constitutionality.” The opinion was based on one in 1986 that supported smaller taxes on facilities that controlled pollution.
State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is seeking a second term in the House’s No. 2 spot. In letters to fellow GOP Caucus members, McCormick asks for their votes when they meet in several weeks. “Hopefully I’ve earned your confidence as my commitment to you and our members remains the same: Provide the best and most consistent information, accessibility, and support possible,” McCormick says in the letters, sent the day after Tuesday’s general election.
In early January, country singer Eric Church took to his website to let fans know about the summer start of his first arena tour. Days after Church’s announcement, tickets for his May 17 show at the Target Center in Minneapolis were available for purchase on dozens of websites, tour manager Fielding Logan said. The problem: Church hadn’t yet put any tickets up for sale. He hadn’t planned to do so for another few weeks. The sites had been set up to resell, presumably at a profit, tickets that brokers would buy when they came available, Logan said.
Karl Dean today will file legislation authorizing a buyout program for Metro employees, according to an email sent from Metro’s Human Resources Department to Metro Council members. “As designed, the program is similar to one adopted in 2004 and would provide eligible employees a retirement incentive equal to $700 for each year of credited service with the Metropolitan Government,” wrote Rita Roberts-Turner, director of Metro Human Resources.
Mayor Karl Dean on Friday proposed a voluntary buyout program for nearly 1,600 eligible Metro employees as the city looks to reduce long-term costs five months after raising taxes. Employees who qualify for the program, which needs Metro Council approval, would receive $700 for each year of credited service. They would not be eligible to return to full-time employment with the city. Dean’s office said the plan would be “cost neutral” for the short term but would eventually allow Metro to save money as positions are eliminated or filled with junior-level, lower-paid workers.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean wants to create a voluntary buyout program for Metro workers. Under the plan, employees who are eligible to retire would get the usual benefits, plus $700 for each year of service, if they make the choice to step down before mid-January. That deadline is extended until June for departments that deal with public safety, like Police and Fire. Before it can go into effect, the Mayor’s plan must be approved by Metro Council and the Civil Service Commission.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced today a voluntary buyout program as part of efforts to “reorganize and streamline operations,” according to a Metro news release. About 1,590 current Metro employees would be eligible for the early retirement program, which will go before the Metro Council Nov. 20. Some 440 employees accepted a similar incentive program in 2004. Under Dean’s proposal, eligible employees would receive $700 per year of service to Metro.
A month removed from a highly criticized reappointment process, members of the Knox County Ethics Committee on Friday said they want to work with other officials in what will probably lead to an overhaul of the local government watchdog panel. The discussion came as the Knox County Commission on Tuesday plans to create an ad hoc committee to evaluate the composition, structure and terms of the ethics panel and, more than likely, reconstitute it. Committee members, though, said they would like the board to accept their input.
Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission are asking the judge overseeing the ongoing legal battle over the county’s public schools to force The Commercial Appeal to release some website comments and the identifying information for some commenters. The Commission is arguing that the information could potentially help it prove, in a case to be heard at trial on Jan. 3, that the passage of laws allowing the statewide ban on new municipal school districts in suburban Shelby County municipalities “was motivated, at least in part, by an intent to achieve … disparate racial impact.”
He concedes the Democratic party in Tennessee is in a superminority at the state legislature, but state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester says he put in place a plan to march the legislature back to Democratic control. Even so, Forrester, the longtime leader of the state Democratic Party, says that won’t happen overnight. “We’re very, very excited about the four victories we had in the House,” Forrester said. “To defend all of our incumbents, which we did … we’re very excited about those victories.”
As Memphis voters were going to the polls on Election Day last week, attorney Lewis Donelson was talking about the modern day Tennessee Republican Party he was instrumental in forming 60 years ago. And he was flying the banner of the party’s presidential nominee Mitt Romney about 12 hours before a stunned Romney would concede the race to President Barack Obama. “He knows what to do about the economy,” Donelson told the Memphis Rotary Club luncheon. “And he knows what to do to get it straightened out again.”
It has been almost two years since former Gov. Phil Bredesen watched Bill Haslam take the oath of office to succeed him. Now almost, but not quite, 69 years old, Bredesen tells Knoxville News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey he’s still considering what his next career will be. “I’ve got another career in me,” he told the News Sentinel. “I’ll figure out what it is in a while.” In the meanwhile, Bredesen has continued to write — the 2011 book “Fresh Medicine” dealt with the nation’s health system, and a 2013 book will cover the national debt and its interplay with health care — though Bredesen is not ruling out a return to politics.
Rep. Diane Black said she doesn’t like the word “compromise” because “it suggests compromising your principles.” But the Gallatin Republican said GOP lawmakers are willing to “negotiate” when all sides bring ideas to the table. As Tennessee lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week, a fiscal time bomb awaits them, one that could plunge the nation back into recession and sharply increase unemployment unless diffused. That’s the opinion of many economic analysts, business leaders and politicians from both sides of the political spectrum about the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the combination of tax increases and government spending cuts that will occur automatically beginning Jan. 1 if no legislative change is made.
With many states lagging far behind schedule, the Obama administration said Friday that it would extend the deadline for them to submit plans for health insurance exchanges, the online markets where millions of Americans are expected to obtain private coverage subsidized by the federal government. The original Nov. 16 deadline will be extended to Dec. 14 — and in some cases to Feb. 15, the administration said. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that 25 million people will obtain coverage through the new online shopping malls known as insurance exchanges.
The Supreme Court will consider eliminating the government’s most potent weapon against racial discrimination at polling places since the 1960s. The court acted three days after a diverse coalition of voters propelled President Barack Obama to a second term in the White House. With a look at affirmative action in higher education already on the agenda, the court is putting a spotlight on race by re-examining the ongoing necessity of laws and programs aimed at giving racial minorities access to major areas of American life from which they once were systematically excluded.
How do you like the sound of Jack Daniel’s Music City Center? A name like that could help book the $585 million convention center opening next spring, said Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.”You know you’re going to have a good time,” Spyridon said. “We are selling fun. I’m sure churches won’t like me saying it, but Jack Daniel’s is a global brand and associated with Middle Tennessee.” There has not been much serious discussion about selling the naming rights to Music City Center, according to Rich Riebeling, the city’s finance director.
A 3-year-old Nashville charter school marred by academic woes may have to close by the end of this school year. Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register’s administration has recommended revoking the charter of Smithson Craighead Middle School effective May 24, a scenario the nine-member Metro school board is set to consider at its Tuesday meeting. “The reason for the recommendation is the school’s poor academic performance,” Metro schools spokeswoman Olivia Brown said, noting that the recommendation apples only to Smithson Craighead Middle School, not its companion elementary school.
By most accounts, it’s not easy to become a National Board Certified teacher. Considered the highest teaching credential in the country, the certification requires teachers to complete multiple assessments and submit several portfolios, including videotaped lessons, examples of student work and evidence of their accomplishments. It can take up to three years as teachers critique their own lessons, perfect their portfolios and retake exams if necessary. Hamilton County got its first National Board Certified teacher six years ago.
Charlie McVean drops into the after-school tutoring program he funds at Whitehaven High School, and 60-some students, all in Peer Power T-shirts, hush like the court in front of the king. In a second, they are chanting — no, cheering — the creed the Memphis-born commodities trader wrote. When they get to the part that says, “Life is a competitive sport; I want to be somebody, someday,” the room explodes in a sea of jumping kids and jabbing fists. Seven years after McVean created Peer Power — a student-to-student tutoring program where tutors are paid up to $10.50 an hour — at East High, his alma mater, he’s out to double the schools in the fold and export the notion nationwide.
Several suspects are being held in the Dyer County Jail after recent arrests by the Dyer County Sheriff’s Dept. on meth-related charges. On Nov. 2, Erin Fowler, 29, 1843 Harris St., Dyersburg, Tenn., was charged with initiating methamphetamine manufacture. On that date, sheriff’s deputies went to her residence to enquire about a wanted subject and the alleged production of methamphetamine. Fowler answered the door and was asked by the deputies if they could search the residence for the wanted subject.
It is hard to imagine the government-centered Civic Center Plaza on the Main Street Mall’s north end without Tennessee state government in the mix. The state General Services Office is proposing to sell the 44-year-old Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building rather than spend an estimated $9.2 million to renovate it. That amount has to be considered in the context of this question: Will taxpayers get more value out of spending $9 million-plus to fix up a building that old, or spending an estimated $15 million to construct a new one? The practical answer may be to build a new one and avoid years of potential frequent, expensive repairs and updates the older building will likely need. That is looking at the situation from a purely economic standpoint, and there are those who will argue that is the only way it should be viewed.
The Supreme Court decided on Friday to review Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which has been crucial in combating efforts to disenfranchise minority voters. The justices should uphold the validity of the section, which requires nine states and parts of several others with deep histories of racial discrimination to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to their voting rules. The case, Shelby County v. Holder, was brought by an Alabama county, which contends that Section 5 intrudes unconstitutionally on the sovereign authority of states and that federal review of proposed voting changes, once needed to end legal segregation, is no longer required. Nothing could be further from the truth.