This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam will give his annual State of the State address Monday evening at the State Capitol. The speech will made in front of a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Gov. Bill Haslam will deliver his third annual State of the State address and unveil his $30 billion-plus state budget proposal to the General Assembly and a statewide public television audience Monday night. The governor will use the speech to outline his legislative agenda for the year — his top priorities that require legislative approval. He’s expected to unveil more details of his school voucher proposal, which will allow public school students to take some portion of taxpayer funding for education to pay tuition at private schools.
Main Street could use a shot of good news, but state officials wouldn’t tip their hand last week about prospects for another big vacancy, the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building on Civic Center Plaza. On the heels of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s announcement it’s leaving Downtown for Minneapolis, the state office building’s fate is expected to play out in the budget plan Gov. Bill Haslam will roll out this week. Downtown Memphis boosters and commercial real estate agents said they hoped Haslam would overrule his General Services commissioner and a consultant that advocated selling the building and finding space elsewhere.
Don’t be troubled by that dip in the southbound lanes of Interstate 75 in Campbell County where the road slid off the mountain last year. State officials expected the dip to develop and have already patched the area twice because of settling of the reconstituted mountain at the project. They expect to patch it again in March, and hope that’s the last time. The problem, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation regional spokesman Mark Nagi, is the base upon which the roadway was built.
Five Nashville-area state troopers with the Tennessee Highway Patrol were in the nation’s capital last week to assist District of Columbia police with the presidential inauguration. The officers were five of 40 state troopers who represented Tennessee and were sworn in as deputies to the U.S. Marshal Service for the event. The delegation was assigned to the Washington, D.C., convention center, where the inaugural balls took place. This is the second consecutive inaugural where the state highway patrol helped with security.
A proposal to redesign the Lebanon Public Square was put on hold by the Tennessee Department of Transportation after business owners voiced concerns about it. Officials wanted the overhaul to improve safety on the square, but some business owners are worried that there are not enough parking spaces in the new plan.TDOT would fund construction of the redesign and the city would be responsible for upgrades to include lighting and landscaping, Lebanon Public Works Commissioner Jeff Baines said.
Whitney North didn’t go to Motlow College in Smyrna solely to get an education. “It’s important to connect Motlow to the community. When you better educate the community, you get a better quality of life,” said North, who will graduate this spring with an associate’s degree in physical therapy. She cherishes the time she’s spent at Motlow and the relationships she’s developed. “With the instructors, you’re not just a number or a face. You get to build personal and professional relationships with them. Knowing that professors really do care about you and your goals makes the transition to a four-year college easier,” North said.
Teachers across the state, including thousands in Shelby County, could have a job evaluation that better reflects their work, if a bill now in the draft stages passes this legislative session. It would allow teachers in subjects not covered by state tests — music, art, philosophy to name a few — to use their principal’s observation of their classrooms for a larger portion of their evaluation. Right now these teachers, including everyone who teachers kindergarten through third grade, take an average of their school’s test scores for the 35 percent of their review that state law says must be tied to student achievement.
Tennessee General Assembly committees will be in full swing on Tuesday and Wednesday. Between the House and Senate, 16 separate full committees will meet in the two-day period.
Former State Sen. Roy Herron of Dresden on Saturday at the state Capitol was elected and sworn in as the next chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Herron defeated Dave Garrison, who served as party treasurer under Chip Forrester, the outgoing chairman, by 12 votes with a final tally of 39 to 27. Only 68 of the 72 executive committee members were present. “We’ve gone from common-sense proposals and bipartisan work to nonsense proposals,” Herron said of the current state of Tennessee politics. “
Former state Sen. Roy Herron became the Tennessee Democratic Party’s new chairman Saturday, winning a solid majority of executive committee members’ votes despite criticism he is too conservative on some issues such as abortion. The 59-year-old Dresden attorney outpolled Dave Garrison, a Nashville attorney, 39-27. Garrison was backed by the state’s two Democratic congressmen along with House and Senate Democratic Caucus leaders and the mayors of Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, as well as labor unions.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero is one of three mayors in Tennessee’s four largest cities who back U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s call for universal background checks for gun purchasers. She also wants to see legislation limiting availability of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, which was introduced in Congress on Thursday. “My dad didn’t need those when he went hunting,” Rogero said, adding that there is a need for rational conversation on protecting rights on all sides of the issue at local, state and federal levels ” … so that we don’t just dig in and take sides and demonize each other, but that we have a real dialogue on how we balance those interests.”
Funds were cut during recession Dozens of states have slashed spending on mental health care over the past four years, driven by the recession’s toll on revenue and, in some cases, a new zeal to shrink government. But that trend may be heading for a U-turn in 2013 after last year’s shooting rampages by two mentally disturbed gunmen. The reversal is especially jarring in statehouses dominated by conservative Republicans, who aggressively cut welfare programs but now find themselves caught in a crosscurrent of pressures involving gun control, public safety and health care for millions of disadvantaged Americans.
When Sandy Beall founded Ruby Tuesday 40 years ago, the restaurateur made the decision to provide health benefits to all of his employees, even as the chain has grown to some 35,000 workers worldwide.”That’s one thing that sets us apart from others. Sandy has always believed everybody should take care of their own, so we always have. But we think all companies should be on an even playing field,” said Belinda Sharp, vice president of human resources for Ruby Tuesday.
A meeting called to to sort out concerns about Cornerstone Preparatory Academy broke into two camps Saturday: Those wanting to talk about the harsh treatment they say their children are suffering and dozens of others trying to be heard long enough to say Cornerstone has changed their lives. Two hours later, with police at the doors, former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton called for peace and a meeting with Gov. Bill Haslam. “I am going to respectfully request a meeting with the governor of our great state, and if he should oblige me a meeting, I am going to convey to him what is really going on,” Herenton said.
At the end of any shift, School Resource Officer David Reasonover could have worn a half-dozen hats. He’s cop, counselor, adviser, community outreach coordinator, family therapist and, most often, a father figure to 650 kids at a time. Reasonover, one of 70 Metro Nashville police officers assigned to the school system, has counterparts in middle and high schools all over Middle Tennessee, but not usually in elementary schools. Conventional thinking says younger children don’t get into enough mischief to warrant a full-time police officer on the premises and aren’t quite old enough for the classes taught by resource officers.
Hamilton County hopes to transform some of its worst-performing schools by building its school innovation zone. And the change also could deliver a financial boon to teachers, both on their paychecks and in their pensions. Teacher pay in the five i-zone schools could far outpace that of any other county schoolteacher because of extended work days and bonuses for signing, retention and performance. If the district receives its multimillion-dollar grant, the i-zone will offer the largest opportunity for teacher salary advancement outside moving into an administrative role.
What does Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointment of right-hand man Larry Martin to look into practices at the Department of Children’s Services actually accomplish? Certainly the choice of Martin, who has no expertise in this area, doesn’t engender confidence that the department will be able to turn a corner anytime soon. Perhaps, if Gov. Haslam had appointed a person qualified in children’s welfare, or even who is qualified to assess the performance of a $650 million government agency, there would be hope. Martin is a former banker and city finance director. Perhaps, if children were like stocks and bonds, it would make sense.
As Peter Drucker wrote, “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” Gov. Bill Haslam is facing the most significant leadership challenge since his election with the ongoing travails of the Department of Children’s Services. His administration inherited a mess, and, thus far, seems to have spread it around instead of cleaned it up. His appointment of Kate O’Day raised no eyebrows, as she brought experience working as a youth counselor and proven ability to straighten out a struggling agency, as she did in her 10-year career at Child & Family Tennessee, a Knoxville-based not-for-profit organization that serves vulnerable children and families in East Tennessee.
A judge’s ruling in favor of a lawsuit filed by The Tennessean is not just a victory for the media, open records and government transparency. It’s a victory for every child in Tennessee. Children are vulnerable. They depend on grownups to feed and shelter them, take care of them when they are sick, and keep them from harm’s way. But when the adults in their lives don’t do that, state government has its most serious task: stepping in. Is Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services doing a good job at that? No. That’s why The Tennessean, joined by a dozen media organizations, filed a lawsuit Dec. 19 in Davidson County Chancery Court to force DCS to make public the files of children who died last year either while in its care or after having some kind of contact with the state agency.
Thirty-five years ago, Tennessee voters went to the polls and approved 12 of 13 amendments to the state constitution that had been proposed by the Constitutional Convention of 1977. Next year, Tennessee voters will go to the polls and, probably, approve two amendments to the state constitution presented them by the state Legislature. Much more uncertain is whether the Legislature in 2013 will decide to present voters with an amendment revisiting the subject of the amendment rejected in March 1978 and, if so, what the voters will do about it. In the past and in the future, the subject was a restructuring of the way we select Tennessee’s top judges.
Gov. Bill Haslam confirmed that, in his annual State of the State address tomorrow, he will introduce his own proposal to create a program in Tennessee to transfer more public money to private hands, beginning with a school voucher system. He declined to elaborate about which private concerns he would make eligible for taxpayer dollars. The Republican governor told reporters that the tentative title for his plan is the Money Officially Obligated to the Citizenry Hijacked as Earmarks for the Right Schemes (MOOCHERS) program. “Our MOOCHERS bill is similar to what we did last year with the Business Recruitment Incentivization with Banknote Enticements (BRIBE) system, which allows my administration to fast-track bundles of cash to private businesses that might relocate to Tennessee,” he said.
Two major universities in the state are in the middle of First Amendment issues, the outcome of which might help point the way to greater clarification of constitutional rights on college campuses. At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the issue is an “all-comers” policy that takes freedom of association to an unusual level for campus organizations. The policy requires all groups receiving university support to accept all students as members, even in one controversial case where a Catholic organization was told to accept an atheist as a member. The policy, according to an article last fall in The New York Times, was meant to prevent student organizations from discriminating against other students who might be a member of a minority.
For 14 years, Curry Todd has been an outspoken — some would say intractable — Tennessee lawmaker. Before that, he was a Memphis police officer, though he soon discovered he was more comfortable making law enforcement policy than making arrests. But for perhaps the first time in his long public career, Todd has an opportunity to make a genuine and long-lasting public service contribution. Through an embarrassing encounter with the other side of the law, Todd now has a chance to spread the word about the perils of DUI and the added danger of taking a loaded gun along for the ride. From the moment when Todd, a Republican representative from Collierville, was arrested in 2011 in Nashville on DUI charges, his critics have harshly ridiculed him for failing to practice what he’s preached — that responsible gun owners can be trusted to carry loaded weapons into places that serve alcohol.