This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam this week gave a pep talk to the state House’s huge 22-member class of incoming freshman lawmakers in which he encouraged them to choose good public policy over playing politics. “There’s a way to be about good government versus a way to always be about politics,” the governor told the freshmen during their orientation. Conceding there are “times when you have to come up with a political answer — that’s just the reality,” Haslam added, “but I really hope that we’re always driven by getting to the right answer.”
In a basement of Union Avenue Baptist Church, the Memphis Teacher Residency program turns out a slate of teachers each year itching to get to work in inner-city schools. They get better results in math and social studies than teachers who have been in the field for years and outperform those just starting out, according to the annual report card on teacher training programs compiled by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In a state steadfastly trying to improve public schools, these are the sort of results that get the governor’s attention.
Governor Bill Haslam spent the day in Memphis talking with teachers involved in the Memphis Teacher Residency program. This teacher effectiveness program prepares educators to teach in urban cities like Memphis, a school district that will now officially merge with Shelby County now that Federal Judge Hardy Mays ruled forming municipal schools in the suburbs is unconstitutional. “I think it was a fairly clear decision. I think at this point and time I want to be encouraging everybody let’s leave the courtroom behind and lets go sit down and have the conversations that we need to prepare,” said Haslam.
If Shelby County’s suburbs intend to convert their schools to charter schools, they have a complicated process in front of them that under current law will be nearly impossible to finish before school starts. The suburbs first have to get approval from the unified Shelby County school board — which is divided in its sympathy toward the suburbs — and then immediately ask the same board to let them open the schools in the fall of 2013 instead of 2014. But if the Republican super majority in Nashville can get a law change signed early in the session, it’s possible the local school boards could be taken out of the charter-approval business and the process turned over to a state authorizer.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam will host their second annual “Tennessee’s Home for the Holidays,” an Open House event available to all Tennesseans to tour the holiday decorations at the executive residence during the first two weeks in December. This year’s holiday décor theme, “Tennessee Music,” was accomplished through partnerships with the Museum of Appalachia in East Tennessee, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Middle Tennessee, and Stax Museum in West Tennessee.
Filming for “The Identical,” a movie about a musical family in the 1950s through 1970s, wrapped up last week and generated abut $8 million in Tennessee spending, according to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. The movie, starring Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta and Seth Green, employed 113 crew members, 101 of whom are Tennesseans, and 48 cast members, 40 of whom are Tennesseans, the department said. Howie Klausner, writer of “Space Cowboys,” wrote the drama, and Yochanan Marcellino is the executive producer.
Andarius Frye wasn’t sure he wanted to be adopted. He just didn’t like the idea of being the youngest in the household. It took two placements in the same foster home before he was convinced he should stay. The first time around, he misbehaved, argued and pestered the other boys in the family. So he left for another foster home. About a year and a half ago, Andarius was facing residential care because no other family would take him. Ervin Frye told the agency he’d given the teenager another shot. The second time around was different.
Tennessee counties have been spending more than they take in, according to a report released this week by the state comptroller’s office. The report shows Tennessee counties were nearly half a billion dollars in the red for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011. The state’s counties brought in approximately $11.65 billion that fiscal year, according to the report, but spent about $12.14 billion during the period. “County governments have seen sluggish growth in revenues over the last five years, as expenditures have exceeded revenues in each year over this time period,” the report reads.
U.S. lawmakers and state financial regulators on Thursday called on federal officials to revamp proposed rules that would force financial firms to hold much more capital, asking them to consider the impact on small banks and insurance companies. U.S. bank regulators are writing rules to implement an international accord known as Basel III. The agreement is seen as one of the key reform efforts after the 2007-2009 financial crisis to make the global banking system more resilient.
Lawyers for the drug compounding firm blamed for a deadly nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis are moving forward with a strategy to get the growing number of lawsuits consolidated in federal court and want a Boston-based judge to preside over all of them. Federal court records show that a total of 37 cases originally filed in state and county courts have been transferred to federal courts across the country at the request of lawyers representing the New England Compounding Center.
An objective by Tennessee State University’s new president to tackle internal issues at the historically black university may present an opportunity for legislation that could benefit other educational institutions, a Democratic lawmaker says. The Tennessee Board of Regents on Tuesday unanimously approved Glenda Baskin Glover, who takes over a university that has been plagued by internal problems, including a lack of cohesion among its leadership. Earlier this year, a vocal faculty member who opposed university leadership was taken away from a campus meeting in handcuffs.
The stereotype that all college faculty are full-time researchers may no longer be true. Research on part-time and nontenure track faculty indicates nearly 70 percent of instructional faculty at colleges and universities now are either part-time adjunct faculty or non-tenure track faculty, according to data from the Coalition on the Academic Workforce. The coalition is a group of higher education and faculty associations that studies issues related to faculty working conditions and student success. What impact that has on students isn’t clear, according to the coalition study.
Knox County accounted for the third most Powerball tickets sold in Tennessee counties during the frenzied run-up to the $587 million jackpot drawing held this week, according to figures released Friday by the Tennessee Lottery Corp. The state’s four most heavily populated counties combined to account for nearly 40 percent of all statewide sales of the tickets. The ranking of sales figures for those counties matched their order of population size, based on the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures. But in some other Tennessee counties, lottery ticket sales did not even come close to reflecting population figures.
Senate Democrats have re-elected Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis as minority leader and Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson as caucus chairman. Democrats earlier this month lost six seats, leaving them with seven of 33 members in the upper chamber of the General Assembly, Kyle was elected Wednesday to his fifth two-year term as leader and Finney to his third as caucus chairman. Senate Democrats also reappointed Sens. Douglas Henry of Nashville and Reginald Tate of Memphis to the fiscal review committee and named former Sen. Bob Rochelle of Lebanon to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, will be in Washington, D.C., Thursday for a conference hosted by Vice President Joe Biden’s office on the “epidemic” of human sex trafficking across the country. Watson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, joined more than two dozen officials from other states to discuss how they are cracking down on such criminal activity. He spoke about challenges facing Tennessee as well as how state and local law enforcement agencies have worked together to prevent such trafficking, Watson said in a news release.
A federal appeals court on Friday ordered a lower court to reconsider whether Tennessee law makes it too difficult for third parties to get on the ballot. In February, U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. struck down state rules requiring third-party candidates for high-level offices to be selected through a primary. He also struck down a requirement that the parties and candidates collect about 40,000 signatures and turn them in seven months before the election. After that decision, the General Assembly changed the law to make it easier on third parties.
Perhaps on a bipartisan basis, state legislators are moving toward repealing Tennessee’s limits on political campaign contributions while requiring more rapid and complete disclosure. Rep. Glen Casada, elected House Republican Caucus chairman last week, said Friday that concept is at the core of a “comprehensive” revision of state campaign finance law that he and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron hope to introduce in the 108th General Assembly that convenes Jan. 8. U.S. Supreme Court decisions, along with the ever-increasing expense of campaigns, mean that contribution limits are no longer needed or desirable, said Casada.
Debbie Smith said she remembered seeing a few more voting machines at her polling place in the last presidential election. The Knoxville resident had about 20 minutes to mull the thought while waiting in line just after lunchtime this Election Day, on Nov. 6. “I work nights,” said the nurse, “so I went there during the day.” She figured going after the lunch rush would mean shorter wait times at Christenberry Community Center in North Knoxville. Wrong. “There were three voting machines,” Smith said.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais may have acknowledged he is “human” and used “very poor judgment,” but image consultants and congressional experts say that falls way short of what’s needed to repair a political persona as damaged as any they have ever seen. And while some are willing to advise the Jasper Republican about dealing with revelations about his past sexual relationships, many more continue to be brutal in their assessment of his character and his fitness to remain in public life.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., says God has “forgiven me” and asked “fellow Christians” and constituents “to consider doing the same.” In a radio interview, the anti-abortion Republican addressed a past that included supporting his ex-wife’s two abortions and, as a physician, sleeping with patients, including one he also urged to undergo an abortion. The freshman 4th District congressman told Nashville conservative talk show host Ralph Bristol on Friday that he doesn’t intend to resign and will seek re-election in 2014.
Congressman Scott DesJarlais asked for forgiveness from his constituents this morning, during an appearance on a talk radio program. The Republican from Jasper has been on the defensive, since transcripts were released of divorce proceedings from his first wife. Conservative talk show host Ralph Bristol took DesJarlais to task, asking if he misled people about his history with abortion. DesJarlais is pro-life, he’s denied pressuring his mistress to have an abortion, but divorce transcripts reveal his ex-wife had two during their marriage.
When the Tennessee Republican Party’s executive committee meets tomorrow, there will be an elephant in the room, and it’s not the GOP mascot. The party’s jubilation over gaining super-majorities in the state legislature is tempered by the scandal that unfolded around incumbent Congressman Scott DesJarlais. Asked if DesJarlais will come up when party leaders meet, one Republican lawmaker said quote, “I hope not.” Some worry he could sully the party’s brand. But Franklin Representative Glen Casada, a prominent GOP fundraiser, says that’s not what he’s hearing.
Testing the waters of what is expected to be a turbulent battle over immigration policy next year, the House voted Friday to make green cards accessible to foreign students graduating with advanced science and math degrees from U.S. universities. But even this limited step, strongly backed by the hi-tech industry and enjoying some bipartisan support, is unlikely to go anywhere this session of Congress, dramatizing how difficult it will be to find lasting solutions to the nation’s much-maligned immigration system.
TVA will make its case next week to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the NRC should lower three white safety flags raised earlier this year at Browns Ferry Nuclear plant near Athens, Ala. The plagued plant’s officials hope they may get out from under the NRC’s lowest-level safety concerns — the white flags. But a red finding — the most serious the NRC can raise without shutting a plant down — has been hanging over the utility for more than a year. “NRC has recently completed three supplemental inspections [for the white findings] at Browns Ferry,” said TVA spokesman Ray Golden.
Approximately one in four homeowners in the state faces a “significant” housing problem, according to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency’s latest “Housing Needs Assessment,” but Shelby County residents are particularly hurting. According to the report, one-third of Shelby County households endures some sort of housing problem, defined as paying more than 30 percent of annual income on housing, overcrowding or a lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities. Minority households are especially vulnerable.
Federal prosecutors allege that Cleveland, Tenn.-based Life Care Centers of America has bilked the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars through a systematic Medicare fraud scheme since at least 2006. Court records unsealed Friday detail allegations and a federal investigation that began in 2008 with two whistle-blower lawsuits filed by employees at facilities in Florida and in Morristown, Tenn. Prosecutors allege that top-level Life Care supervisors issued directives to max out unnecessary and often harmful therapies to patients for the highest possible Medicare reimbursement.
Students in Nashville have until the end of Friday to apply for a seat in the ever-growing list of “option schools.” Like other large districts nationwide, Metro has been expanding choice to make the system more attractive to families. But even with a menu of charters, magnets and language immersion programs, Metro still has convincing left to do. At a recent school choice fair – the first of its kind for the district – principal Gary Hughes shakes hands with private school parents interested in hearing about JT Moore.
Countywide school board chairman Billy Orgel warned school administrators that they may be pushed aside if they don’t come up with recommendations that produce more efficiencies and save more money for the soon-to-be-merged school systems. Orgel’s warning came at the end of a busy week in the schools merger. It began with the federal court ruling that scrapped moves toward municipal school districts in the suburbs, at least for the 2013-2014 school year when the merger takes effect.
Thursday night’s special unified school board meeting added an exclamation point to what already has been demonstrated: The board is facing a heck of assault from supporters of schools set to be closed. After impassioned and, sometimes, angry words from opponents of the closings, the board approved a proposal to close Gordon Elementary, which is in the process of being converted to a charter school under the state-managed Achievement School District, in North Memphis’ Smoky City neighborhood. The board also approved the closing of Coro Lake and White’s Chapel in Southwest Memphis; Orleans in the Parkway-Lauderdale area of South Memphis; Norris Elementary near Elvis Presley Boulevard and Norris Road in South Memphis, and Humes Middle near Jackson and Thomas in North Memphis.
Republicans have talked for a long time about needing to be more inclusive but it is difficult to achieve, says Susan Richardson Williams, a former state GOP chair who worked on getting more diversity in the party in the 1980s. Election Day polling and other analyses of the presidential election showed that the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, was overwhelmingly supported by white men, while Democratic President Barack Obama drew substantially from minority groups, particularly blacks and Hispanics, and women. Since then Republicans have been discussing the need to be more diverse. “I would have liked to have seen Marco Rubio with Romney…,” Williams said, referring to the U.S. senator from Florida. “I think that would have been a nice balance. Would have been interesting to see if it would have made a difference.” Instead, Romney made U.S. Rep.Paul Ryan of Wisconsin his running mate.
TVA’s newly designated CEO and president, William D. (Bill) Johnson, is not scheduled to assume his new position until Jan. 1. Yet he already has questions to answer about his transparency regarding a multibillion-dollar nuclear plant repair issue that apparently prompted his termination last July, after a one-day stint as CEO of the merged Progress Energy/Duke Energy electric power companies. The latest memorandum to surface on that issue is an embarrassment for TVA board members, as well as for Johnson, who had previously been CEO and president of Raleigh-based Progress Energy. The TVA board designated Johnson as head of the agency on Nov. 5 in secrecy, in disregard of board members’ own burden for public transparency. Their decision may now be seen also as a failure to do due diligence before appointing Johnson.