This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Judicial Nominating Commission has recommended three candidates to Gov. Bill Haslam for the Tennessee Court of Appeals Eastern Section vacancy. The vacancy was created by the retirement of Court of Appeals Judge Herschel P. Franks, who will step down at the end of December. The Eastern Section serves 13 judicial districts in East Tennessee. The nominees are: 10th Judicial District Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant, 3rd Judicial District Chancellor Thomas R. Frierson and former state Sen. Michael A. Faulk, of The Faulk Law Office.
Tennessee’s network of foster homes for abused and neglected children has grown in the past year, but it’s still not enough to meet the demand. After a decade in which fewer and fewer Tennessee kids were in custody — down to fewer than 6,600 — the trend has reversed. More than 8,000 kids are under state care today. Now, the Department of Children’s Services is trying new ways to recruit foster families and persuade them to stay in the program. That hasn’t always happened.
Millions of dollars in needed local road projects — from fixing the Interstate 75/24 split to the downtown phase of the U.S. Highway 27 rebuild — depend on funding guarantees that aren’t there. State Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, speaking last week in Chattanooga, compared state and national infrastructure needs to a house with a leaky roof: A small drip, ignored, can bring down the structure given time. “We’re at that stage in our national infrastructure,” Schroer said.
On May 10, 2011, long before the current deadly meningitis outbreak, an official in the FDA regional office in Denver sent an email to a colleague in Boston detailing allegations that a Massachusetts drug compounder was illegally shipping drugs to Colorado hospitals. The information came from Colorado state inspectors who had then passed the concerns along to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But there the information stopped. The allegations, congressional investigators have concluded, were never passed along to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy, the agency that licensed the New England Compounding Center in the first place.
But university wants to raise tuition, replace adjunct, nontenured faculty As state universities are forced to cut costs and staff, more students are being taught by instructors who have fewer connections to their schools and live under the threat of losing their jobs at semester’s end. Groups at Middle Tennessee State University are pushing for a plan that would give temporary faculty members greater job security. Some want longer contracts for adjunct faculty and part- and full-time instructors who have been at MTSU for years but aren’t on the tenure track.
Inmates, others, confused over sentencing reduction formulas Untold scores of inmates serving time in county-run detention facilities across the state may be spending excessive time behind bars as a result of local interpretations of the state’s sentencing laws. The issue stems from complexities behind Tennessee’s sentencing laws and the different ways those performing inmate sentence computations for various county facilities across the state interpret those complex laws.
Rita Webb has paid taxes to the city of Knoxville for nearly three decades without realizing it. That’s, in part, because she lives in Portland, Tenn. — 187 miles northwest of Neyland Stadium, where Webb has owned a pair of season tickets since the early 1980s. In addition to the donations she has made for the right to purchase University of Tennessee football and women’s basketball season tickets, the face value of those tickets and the more than 9 percent sales tax she pays each year, Webb has been forking over a 5 percent amusement tax.
As U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais finished his third day without discussing the latest details to emerge from his personal life, top Tennessee Republicans deflected questions about whether he has stained his credibility as an anti-abortion advocate. The Volunteer State’s Republican governor, senators and House members are as silent as DesJarlais on the physician-turned-politician’s sworn testimony about sleeping with patients and supporting his ex-wife’s abortions. Their reticence belies their rhetoric.
Statewide conservatives filled a void as elected Tennessee Republicans shied away from the latest on U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. On Friday’s edition of WTCI’s “Tennessee Insider,” former GOP congressional candidate Weston Wamp said DesJarlais “clearly misled voters” during a family-values campaign. “This is, I think, much more evidence that he is frankly kind of a creepy guy,” the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp said. He unsuccessfully opposed Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in this year’s 3rd District campaign.
As more damaging information is released from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ divorce records, many folks here wonder if a local Rutherford County leader will emerge to challenge for this congressional seat. Will state Sen. Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican who represents much of Rutherford’s east side, be willing to run for Congress again? “I’ve been encouraged to run for the 4th Congressional District, but I have been focused on being re-elected,” said Tracy, who in 2010 came in third in a close GOP primary to U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin and Murfreesboro resident Lou Ann Zelenik.
For a candidate who had been called just about every name in the book by his own political party, Mark Clayton did awfully well in the state’s two biggest cities on Election Day. Clayton was disavowed by the Tennessee Democratic Party less than 24 hours after winning the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat in August. Party leaders urged voters to write in anyone else’s name, and The Washington Post went so far as to suggest last month that the man with the anti-gay views and the conspiracy theories about “FEMA prison camps” might just be “America’s worst candidate.”
After months of work by the Transition Planning Commission and school administrators, the unified Memphis and Shelby County school board is laying the foundation for a new countywide school district set to open next fall. The low-hanging fruit harvested by the board last week accelerated what is going to be a long and arduous process. So far, 42 recommendations by the TPC, including 28 last week, have been given the green light by the school staff and school board. Ten more recommendations are slated for approval in a special called meeting Tuesday night following the conclusion of the board’s monthly work session.
Nearly two years ago Tennessee marked down more than 2,000 reported methamphetamine labs amid cries for reform, crackdowns and a revised approach. Today the state stands ready to log almost as many labs by year’s end. Despite new laws and a new system for tracking the drug’s main ingredient, law enforcement officials around the state say they’re little better off than before. “It’s about the same,” said Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jim Leinart, who oversees drug investigations in the county that leads Tennessee for meth lab seizures for the year.
Jessica Stafford barely passed her first two years of college. She failed history three times and had a D average for all her classes. So she took a break from school to contemplate what held her back. She returned to college two years later in a fury of determination. In her senior year, she took 18 credit hours one semester and 24 the next. She graduated from Austin Peay State University in May with an A average. But Stafford had illegal and potentially dangerous help. The answer to her academic malaise, she said, was the amphetamine-based stimulant Adderall, which requires a prescription from a doctor.
Gov. Bill Haslam has concluded his initial review of budget requests for the 2013-14 fiscal year. And once again it appears the state’s college students will be facing higher tuition to get the post-secondary education they need to meet modern workplace demands and secure good-paying jobs. The constantly rising cost of higher education is counterproductive to the state’s long-term economic development goals and the hopes and dreams of Tennesseans. Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Richard Rhoda has asked for a $33.5 million increase in higher education operation funding for next fiscal year. If the request survives the governor’s final budgeting process and action by the General Assembly, it would mean tuition hikes at state four-year universities of 6 percent, and an increase at state two-year colleges and technical schools of 3 percent.
Thanksgiving approaches, the contradictions regarding food in Tennessee are unsettling. Nearly 400,000 people in Middle Tennessee don’t know where their next meal is coming from; yet Tennessee ranks 15th among states in percentage of the population that is overweight or obese. In Nashville/Davidson County, 17 percent of residents face the threat of hunger daily; yet about 25 percent of all food is thrown away and ends up in a landfill. In a region that prides itself on being a great place to raise a family, one in four children goes hungry. The coming holiday only emphasizes a year-round problem: Food security in Tennessee, the United States and around the world is getting more unstable. And there is no sense that any government or aid organization has a handle on the problem. Much of that is because the factors that contribute to hunger and to overconsumption are variable.
Last month, the Metro Council voted that new city employees, when they retire, will have to pay 75 percent of their health care premiums, depending on their years of service. The council is about to vote to restrict pension benefits for city employees with less than 20 years of service. Yet, shamelessly and self-servingly last week, the council overwhelmingly reaffirmed they are eligible for health care for themselves and their families for the rest of their lives. That’s right. You and I will pay for health care for council members and their spouses who opt in until the day they die. Eight years of council service equals health care for life, at a cost to them of only 25 percent of the premiums. Taxpayers pay the other 75 percent, which can amount to $1,000 a month per former council member.
In 2011 the state Legislature passed a compromise anti-meth bill that included a privately run tracking system for sales of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine. That tracking system, used in 24 states, is under fire from members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, who want a federal inquiry into whether the system’s operator is living up to its agreements with state governments or if it actually hinders police efforts and violates federal law by using data for marketing purposes. The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Justin P. Wilson, is required to issue a report on the law’s effectiveness, but that study is not due until Jan. 1 and a congressional review is appropriate given the interstate activities of the company running the database.