This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam is trying to avoid kneejerk reactions to the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. He wants to hear more before committing additional state money for armed law enforcement officers in elementary schools. Haslam says everyone from business owners to school principals are rethinking safety and security this month. Williamson and Sumner county schools have proposed putting armed school resource officers in lower grades. In most districts, the SROs are limited to middle and high schools.
Gov. Bill Haslam will get a chance to appoint another Court of Appeals judge. Judge Lynn W. Brown in upper East Tennessee is retiring and the Judicial Nominating Commission is taking applications to replace him. The applicants will be interviewed and three names will go to Haslam for him to make the choice. The commission has already sent a list of three names to Haslam to replace Judge Herschel Franks who is also retiring.
As he nears the two-year anniversary of taking office, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s done “what we’ve said we’d do,” citing victories in controlling spending, cutting taxes and overhauling civil service and teacher tenure laws. “We said we would attack issues that we thought were things people cared about and made a big difference,” the governor told reporters last week. “So we’ve done that.” But while Haslam touts his record of getting things done, the Democrat who may challenge him in the 2014 election faults him for not always standing up to his fellow Republicans who run the General Assembly.
Gov. Bill Haslam stayed busy this year and has a timeline to prove it. For the second year in a row, the governor has posted an “interactive timeline” featuring videos, photos, press releases and event summaries of key moments from his second year in office—from his introduction of a comprehensive safety plan to his recent decision to opt against a state-run health care exchange. Moving chronologically, users can scroll over items and click for more information.
Trying to find traffic accidents on your morning route through Nashville? There’s now an app for that, just don’t use it while driving. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has integrated the state’s SmartWay cameras and traffic information network with a smartphone application. The app is now available for download. It locates a driver’s position and pinpoints nearby incidents, road conditions and construction work. But a TDOT app does not give drivers permission to stare at their smartphone while in route.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has launched a mobile app version of its SmartWay navigation tool. According to TDOT, the app helps drivers plan their routes with maps that show traffic speeds, crashes, road construction and road conditions. Users also can set up customized alerts for any problems that develop along a certain route, like their daily commute. The TDOT SmartWay App is free and available for download at the Apple Store or the Play Store for Android.
Drug overdoses are the single-largest cause of accidental deaths in Tennessee, but state health officials hope a new law requiring doctors to check a database before prescribing certain drugs will help change that. The state’s controlled substances monitoring database has been around for several years, but its use has not been mandatory. As of Jan. 1, doctors and others who prescribe drugs will have to be registered with the database. With limited exceptions, they will have to start checking it every time they prescribe opioids (such as Vicodin or Percocet) and benzodiazepines (such as Valium) by April 1.
Tennessee Board of Regents administrators want to give community college students fewer choices when it comes to class offerings. While limiting choices may seem counterintuitive, this initiative could prove key to increasing the state’s number of college graduates. The TBR is continuing to promote the implementation of Structured Learning Communities — tight-knit programs that come with predetermined, strict class schedules. Instead of taking two years to complete an associate’s degree or general education core, some students can do it in a year through an SLC.
New year’s event welcomes all ages To help ring in the new year and continue its 75th anniversary celebration, every Tennessee state park will host free, guided hikes next week. The First Hikes program will run Dec. 31-Jan. 2 and include hikes for all ages an abilities, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced Wednesday. Some hikes will be as short as a mile, while others will be longer and are geared for experienced hikers, parks officials said.
Starting Tuesday, newborn babies in Tennessee will be screened for congenital heart defects with a device called a pulse oximeter. Although few newborns in Tennessee have heart defects, they can be fatal if not treated. Dr. Stuart Shapira is a pediatrician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She told WPLN-FM the pulse oximeter is a painless way to measure the amount of oxygen in a baby’s blood. Tennessee’s new law mandating the test is based on recommendations from federal health officials and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Pregnant women considering inducing labor to have a New Year’s Day baby may want to reconsider. The Tennessee Department of Health warns that inducing labor to make the delivery date arrive more quickly for special days, such as holidays or birthdays, can cause birth defects. Dr. Michael Warren is head of the department’s maternal and child health. He says babies born earlier are at risk for respiratory distress, jaundice, hypoglycemia and other conditions. He says 39 weeks of gestation is the recommended time for most women.
Utility’s ruling that new status violated nepotism policy found ‘arbitrary’ by appeals court Gary Clarke lost around $30,000 in annual pay and was demoted by Nashville Electric Service after he married his longtime girlfriend. Clarke’s new father-in-law was an employee at NES, where Clarke worked as a cable splicer. When the public utility determined that his 2007 marriage to Sabrina Ragan violated its nepotism policy, Clarke was moved to a lesser job in a different department.
Advocates believe that 2013 could be the year that Tennessee approves a bill allowing wine sales in grocery stores, The Commercial Appeal reports. 2013 marks the seventh year in a row that such a bill will be considered, and though advocates see an uphill battle, they believe their chances have never been better. According to The Appeal, “a consensus is building among wine-in-grocery store supporters for a bill to allow voters in local communities to decide the issue through referendums, rather than a blanket statewide approval.”
Will the state Legislature listen to the public this time around and approve wine sales in grocery stores? Liquor lobbyists have been successful in “bottling” up such legislation in years past and keep wine sales limited to liquor stores. But Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell seem inclined to see that the measure gets to a vote this session. The problem with passing the measure is that it may get lost in the shuffle, however, as the session will likely be preoccupied with several controversies.
For the seventh year in a row, the Tennessee legislature will consider allowing wine sales in grocery stores, and supporters say they believe it has its best chance of approval. But that doesn’t mean passage is a certainty, or possibly even likely, in the 2013 legislature that opens Jan. 8. Both sides have powerful backers and agree it will be an uphill battle for approval. A consensus is building among wine-in-grocery supporters for a bill to allow voters in local communities to decide the issue through referendums, rather than a blanket statewide approval. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.
Says beer boards should act if markets caught with items State Rep. Mike Sparks is making it a personal mission to visit beer boards in an attempt to halt sales of drug-related paraphernalia at local markets. Sparks, R-Smyrna, a leader in combating synthetic drugs across Tennessee, met with the Rutherford County Beer Board a couple of weeks ago to bring attention to an issue he believes is costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year. “I told them that we should be going to these market owners and saying, ‘If you are selling crack pipes, then we are going to pull your license,’” Sparks said.
Parents, teachers balk at Carr’s proposal Despite the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 students, teachers and administrators dead, many local parents, teachers and students aren’t sure about allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, said recently he would consider introducing legislation to give school districts the right to allow teachers to keep guns in the classroom, as long as they are properly trained. “I’m torn. I believe a good teacher will do all they can to protect the kids, but I’m just not sure if that’s the way to go,” said Crystal Wolfe, who attended a walk Dec. 21 in memory of those killed in the Newtown shooting.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the national discussion has focused largely on gun control and access to firearms. The other side of the issue, though, is mental health. Much of the conversation surrounding mental health issues at the state level begins with a 1975 Supreme Court decision — O’Connor v. Donaldson — that resulted in the massive deinstitutionalization of mental health patients nationwide. As a response to this, Congress passed the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Marty Von Schaaf said Wednesday he won’t seek a second term when the party elects new officers early next year. An influential nominating panel composed of past chairmen will recommend Unum financial risk consultant and WGOW-FM radio host Tony Sanders as Von Schaaf’s replacement. But the county party’s full executive committee has the final vote, and other nominations could emerge at the convention, creating a floor battle.
One hundred thousand Tennessee homes lack easy access to high-speed Internet, mostly in rural areas. And many of those who could get on the web don’t bother. In Middle Tennessee, several of the least connected counties are west of Nashville, and have struggled with high or even double-digit unemployment. Meanwhile, roughly a third of households could get online but don’t, says Corey Johns of Connected Tennessee. Johns says a lot of folks just don’t see the need. “And another barrier is affordability. Folks who can’t afford personal equipment or can’t afford the ongoing monthly broadband service on a month-to-month basis.”
This is a barroom brawl that we want in on. That is the theme of a court petition filed by Forging Ahead, the group that campaigned successfully for liquor by the drink in a recent Pigeon Forge referendum. According to sworn statements by poll workers, the referendum appears to have been badly bungled by letting about 300 ineligible voters have ballots. Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge fought against liquor by the drink and has filed a lawsuit seeking to have the election voided.
Shortly after he was appointed interim Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk on Oct. 1, Tyler Mayes said he made a list of goals. On that inventory was a suggested new fee tacked onto court costs in criminal cases, with proceeds earmarked for school security upgrades. It’s an idea near and dear to him, Mayes said, because he’s a former teacher and his wife is an educator. The recent massacre of 20 young schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., “pushed this plan into high gear as far as I am concerned,” Mayes said in a letter to Anderson County officials.
A new report involving U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., calls Alzheimer’s disease “one of the leading public health challenges we face in the 21st century.” “A diagnosis is a death sentence,” the report says. The Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released the 97-page report, which explored how Australia, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Corker is the panel’s ranking Republican member. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease will cost the United States $20 trillion over the next 40 years.
Federal legislation that would allow states to make online retailers collect sales taxes has bipartisan support in Congress and among state officials. It even has the support of Amazon, by far the nation’s largest online retailer, in addition to backing from traditional retailers such as Wal-Mart. What it doesn’t have, it appears, is a chance to pass this year as part of any fiscal cliff compromise. The Hill, a publication that covers the federal government, reported earlier this week that lawmakers probably won’t vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act, as the online tax legislation is known, before the 112th Congress adjourns January 3.
Some say Hamilton County Schools took a risk when the district became the first in the state to seek TennCare reimbursement for some special education services. That move now is paying off locally and across the state as more districts join in. Hamilton County Schools has so far collected about $1.6 million by having its contractor, Stellar Therapy Services, bill TennCare for some of its occupational therapy, physical therapy, audiology and speech language pathology services. That money goes back into the special education department, which officials say allows more students to receive more special education services.
Some Knox County commissioners wanted to form an “education” committee to better communication with their school counterparts and keep up-to-date on budget issues. It now looks like the board might just form two committees. Sort of. Commissioners as of last week were still kicking around ideas they hope will create better dialogue with the Knox County Board of Education and help them avoid major budget conflicts like they ran into last year. The idea at this point is to create either an “education” or “finance” committee out of the entire 11-member commission and then break off during monthly work session meetings to spend time going through school money matters.
Methamphetamine lab seizures are on the rise in the nation’s cities and suburbs, raising new concerns about a lethal drug that has long been the scourge of rural America. Data and interviews from an investigation by The Associated Press found growing numbers of meth lab seizures in cities such as Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., and Evansville, Ind. Authorities are also seeing evidence that inner-city gangs are becoming involved in meth production and distribution. “No question about it — there are more labs in the urban areas,” said Tom Farmer, coordinator of the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force.
Sometimes less is more, and we believe Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell is onto something with a plan that could reshape the way the Tennessee General Assembly conducts business. Going into her second year as speaker, the Nashville Republican is proposing sweeping changes that could improve the performance of representatives and save thousands of dollars. Harwell last week proposed a restructuring of committees and a limit of 10 bills per session for each House member. The restriction would not affect bills dealing with local issues such as requests by the Rutherford County Commission or legislators carrying bills for the governor.
The importance to the Chattanooga metro area of a healthy, independent and locally controlled Erlanger hospital can hardly be overstated. As the area’s only major public hospital and Level 1 trauma care provider, Erlanger sets the standard of public care and levels the competitive playing field here with private and greedy nonprofit providers that shun a proportional share for indigent care. Yet it is plainly — and painfully — apparent that Erlanger hospital’s future is in play and, at this moment, unclear. On the one hand, Hamilton County’s state legislators have been involved in a months-long discussion regarding a potential restructuring of Erlanger hospital’s charter, but apparently without formal participation by Erlanger’s board of directors.