This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Speaking for the first time to the state’s overwhelming Republican General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam Monday night reiterated calls for bipartisanship while calling for a limited school voucher program, further tax cuts and more focus on higher education. “I believe we have to begin this evening by addressing the elephant in the room, or I guess I should say, the elephants in the room,” Haslam said from the podium in the House of Representatives, pointing out that two-thirds of the General Assembly is now made up of Republicans.
Gov. Bill Haslam touted his education initiatives on Monday night in his annual State of the State address at the Tennessee State Capitol. Speaking to a joint session of the state legislature, Haslam called for spending increases for higher education and buying new computers and technology for elementary, middle and high schools. Haslam also endorsed a “limited” school voucher program but said it would not come at the expense of spending on traditional public schools. “Some have said that this administration and General Assembly aren’t committed to public education, but that could not be further from the truth,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan for spending $32.7 billion in the next year — more state money than this year, but less in federal funds — encompasses expansion in some areas, reductions in others and two small tax cuts. The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, outlined in Haslam’s third “Stateofthe State” speech to a joint session of the House and Senate on Monday evening, provides housing for prisoners and technology for education as perhaps the most notable areas for increased spending as compared to recent years.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday night that his budget proposal seeks to enhance education performance in Tennessee with more than $300 million for improvements on the campuses of the state’s colleges and universities, as well as funding for higher teacher salaries. In the Republican governor’s third State of the State address to lawmakers, improvements to colleges and universities topped the proposed capital outlay for next year at a little over $307 million. The proposal also includes $35.5 million to reward higher education institutions that improve graduation rates, $18.6 million to increase higher education salaries and $16.5 million to improve the state’s technology centers, which are graduating nearly 79 percent of their students.
Governor Bill Haslam devoted roughly a third of this year’s State of the State to education, and he wasn’t just talking about children. Right now, 32 percent of Tennesseans have an college degree of some sort; Haslam set a goal of making that figure hit 55 percent by the year 2025. He also wants to set up an endowment for certain scholarships, to invest in new technology for local schools, and allocate more money for teacher salaries. The speech did not flesh out any details of how a school voucher program would work in Tennessee.
Tennessee’s governor laid out a budget proposal last night that’s primarily filled with moderate investments here and there. Most of the state’s added revenue will be taken up by rising costs in health care and education. But Governor Bill Haslam did propose a small raise for state workers and an injection of cash for the Rainy Day fund. The governor’s budget includes a 1-and-a-half percent, across the board raise for state employees. He also said its time to rejigger the salary scale so jobs that have become more complicated get more compensation.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says now is not the time to expand the state’s Medicaid program. But in his State of the State address Monday night, Haslam did not close the door to opening up Tenncare in the future. The federal government’s Affordable Health Care Act offers hundreds of millions of dollars if the state broadens the guidelines for who can get Tenncare. But over time, the state would have to pick up part of the bill, and even without expansion, Haslam says Tenncare will cost an additional $350 million next year.
Governor Bill Haslam laid out a plan in his third state of the state address to cut taxes, pay state employees more and still save money for a rainy day. Hot button policy proposals were mentioned, but far from fully fleshed out. “Tennessee is different” – Haslam’s theme for the night. Different from other states in a low cost of living and relatively low unemployment. Different from Washington D.C. because Tennessee has made cuts instead of raising taxes.
Governor leaves some blanks, which he fills with fun facts and feel-good sentiments. Governor Bill Haslam, ever adept at walking political tightropes, managed several versions of the feat during his 2013 State-of-the-State address before a joint legislative session in the state House chamber and before whatever political junkies might have tuned in to a statewide multi-media simulcast. On several key issues the governor expressed himself with studious ambiguity — notably on the still pending matter of Medicaid expansion under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam used his annual State of the State address Monday night to defend his plan to implement a limited school voucher program next fall that would allow impoverished children in 83 low-performing public schools to use tax dollars to attend private institutions. “Some have said that this administration and General Assembly aren’t committed to public education, but that could not be further from the truth,” Haslam told members of the Republican-run House and Senate meeting in a joint convention.
Gov. Bill Haslam covered portions of his $32.7 billion budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year and attempted to rally support from state lawmakers, delivering his third annual State of the State address Monday. The governor’s $32.7 billion proposal for the 2014 fiscal year is an increase from last year’s financial plan, which was passed at a total of $31.5 billion. Appearing before a joint session of the General Assembly, Haslam took an optimistic tone toward issues facing the state, suggesting Tennesseans have “a lot to brag about.”
TennCare eats up most of increase in Haslam budget Gov. Bill Haslam said he would hire more agents to investigate child abuse claims, set aside more money for local jails to house state inmates and fund demolition of a downtown landmark, all as part of his budget for the upcoming year. Haslam unveiled a $32.7 billion spending plan Monday that calls for increasing the 2014 budget for the Department of Children’s Services by $6.7 million, money that would be used to hire 62 more caseworkers and investigators while increasing pay for those already on staff.
Gov. Bill Haslam will deliver his budget and third State of the State speech to state lawmakers tonight, but Nashville’s largest industry, health care, most likely will remain in the dark. Tennessee Hospital Association President Craig Becker said that as recently as last week, Haslam indicated he was not ready to make a decision on expanding TennCare. “I doubt if he will comment tonight,” Becker said. “Even as recently as last week, he mentioned there are a lot of unanswered questions out there that he needs answers to.”
In his third State of the State speech, Gov. Bill Haslam presented to lawmakers a nearly $33 billion annual spending plan that includes a staffing shakeup at the troubled Department of Children’s Services and a heavy investment in higher education, but he sidestepped for now a decision about expanding Medicaid that could affect hundreds of thousands of Tennessee. The Republican governor also introduced a limited school voucher program in Tennessee to allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools, but he offered few details in his speech.
The future of one of downtown Nashville’s most well known government buildings is uncertain, the result of budgetary concerns. Gov. Bill Haslam Monday night was set to give his State of the State address, in which he will present an overview of his proposed budget. The budget is expected to address expenses related to the Cordell Hull Building, a limestone-clad modernist structure that sits in the shadows of the Tennessee State Capitol at 425 Fifth Ave. N. Haslam’s budget calls for relocating current occupants, paying off outstanding debt and demolishing the building at a cost of nearly $25 million.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed $32.7 billion budget for 2014 calls for a 500-bed prison expansion in Bledsoe County, tax relief pegged at $41.8 million, money for schools and universities and continued reductions in Tennessee government’s work force. At the same time, Haslam, a Republican, wants to spend $577 million on capital construction, repair and maintenance for dozens of state-owned buildings across Tennessee. But none of the money will be spent on two major state-owned buildings in Chattanooga.
Gov. Bill Haslam presented lawmakers a $32.6 billion state budget proposal Monday night that includes a new $56.8 million health building at the University of Memphis, $66.5 million to renovate three buildings at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and the planned closure of the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building Downtown. The governor also proposed another cut in the state sales tax on grocery food — from 5.25 to 5 percent — and raising the exemption levels for the personal income tax on interest and dividends for taxpayers 65 and older, meaning that about 7,400 fewer seniors will pay the tax.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has included funding in his budget proposal for a $62 million renovation at the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis and a $45 million center for the University of Memphis’s nursing and audiology programs. The higher education funding notes were part of an emphasis on k-12 and higher education in Haslam’s state of the state address delivered Monday, Jan. 28, in the Tennessee capital in Nashville.
Gov. Bill Haslam is making an estimated $38 million state technology center in partnership with Nissan’s Smyrna plant part of his fiscal 2014 budget. The Republican governor made the announcement Monday night before the General Assembly in the House Chamber of the State Capitol during his State of the State speech. The governor did not give a dollar figure for the center, but state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and state Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, said they had both heard the amount of $38 million.
Citing the need to provide more support to under-funded agencies, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday he wants additional money allocated for locally controlled jails that house state inmates, as part of his proposed $32.7 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year. “In this (proposed) budget, we are spending $48 million to compensate our local jails for housing more state prisoners,” Haslam said, during his third State of the State address before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is proposing changes to the state’s workers’ compensation laws that would create an independent agency to oversee the system, including appeals now heard by the courts, The Tennessean reports. It’s one of the major changes Haslam is considering for a system that he has called bureaucratic, litigious, inconsistent and costly. Critics, however, contend the proposals would unfairly curtail injured workers’ rights and compensation.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday proposed a limited school-voucher program for students from poor families who attend failing schools. The program would be capped at 5,000 students this year and grow to 20,000 students by 2016. Here are some responses to the proposal: “I think he has made it clear that it is a very limited program for failing students in failing schools. … One of the things I respect about the governor is that it’s part of his trademark to phase it in.” — House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.
Democratic leaders in the state legislature criticized provisions in Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget proposal and State of the State address Monday night, including what they call a lack of focus on creating jobs and on his plans for a school voucher program. “We want to see a focus on jobs,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said in a “prebuttle” issued before the governor’s speech. “As of this morning, 235,700 or 7.6 percent of Tennesseans are without a job. These are not people who want to be unemployed; they are our friends and neighbors who get up each and every day and look for a job.”
Gov. Bill Haslam and state education officials will participate in a school safety summit on Tuesday. Officials say the one-day event is designed to discuss current safety resources and practices, as well as hear from leading state and national experts on safety, law enforcement and mental health. The summit follows one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults last month at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. In Tennessee, school districts and local governments are starting to take or recommend more safety measures.
More than 400 school, emergency and law enforcement officials from across the state will gather today to address safety concerns in Tennessee’s schools. The Tennessee Department of Education, along with Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District, will host the Safety Summit at The Factory at Franklin to discuss safety practices and procedures and how to make them even better, said Mike Herrmann, executive director of state operations for the Department of Education.
Report says programs may not have given TN best bang for bucks spent The state comptroller’s office took aim Monday at the departments charged with overseeing public incentives handed out to filmmakers on location in Tennessee. According to an audit report, the agencies failed to properly administer two state film incentive programs or provide adequate evidence that Tennessee was getting the most bang for its buck in the deals. Overall, auditors also found that 66 percent, or about $25 million, of items accepted for reimbursement through the programs actually should have been deemed ineligible, according to state guidelines.
A new audit is highly critical of the incentives the state gives to the film and TV industry. The comptroller’s report questions more than $25 million dollars in payouts and how that money was distributed. From 2006 until last year, filmmakers could apply to have some of their production expenses reimbursed, as long as they used Tennessee vendors. But the audit found that the state handed out more than $ 25 million dollars in expenses that didn’t qualify.
The Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission and two state departments failed to ensure that public film incentives were properly administered, according to an audit released today from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. The Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Revenue “exercised poor management and administrative oversight of the state’s headquarters film incentive program,” the auditors said in the report.
When Water for Elephants and “42” were filmed in Chattanooga, state officials rolled out the red carpet with nearly $1 million in incentives and tax credits. The two films are among more than two dozen across the state that have been awarded more than $20 million in three years. Now a state comptrollers report is questioning how state officials administered the awarding of filming incentives since June 2006. “The Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Revenue have disregarded their statutory responsibility and exercised poor management and administrative oversight of the state’s headquarters film incentive program,” states a performance audit released Monday by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.
A Nashville court issued specific instructions Monday on how the Department of Children’s Services must redact the case files of children who died or nearly died before the files are made public. Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy last week ruled in favor of The Tennessean and a coalition of media organizations that filed a lawsuit to make public the records of children who died after having some contact with the state’s $650 million child welfare agency. The state has until Feb. 6 to produce records for four sample cases.
A Cumberland County couple were arrested on pickup indictments — meaning they had not been in court on the new charges — relating to a TennCare fraud investigation, according to arrest reports and court documents. Jamie Dawn Huff, 29, 839 Chestnut Hill Rd., and Nathan Scott Huff, 29, of the same address, were arrested last Wednesday, according to Deputy Greg Green’s report. Nathan Huff was placed under $45,000 bond and Jamie Huff was placed under $10,000 bond. Nathan Huff is charged with three counts of prescription fraud and one count of TennCare fraud, according to the records.
Lawmakers say many in areas lacking package sales don’t want more access In his six years in the Tennessee General Assembly, Sen. Jack Johnson said, no other issue has stirred as much fervor as the question of whether wine should be sold in grocery stores. That’s probably not so for legislators from the 27 counties where wine can’t be purchased at any retail outlets, he said. And that is what continues to slow momentum of a proposal that proponents paint as the will of the people. “There are a lot of rural counties out there that … don’t care, or they don’t want package (sales),” Johnson said.
While state House Majority Leader Rep. Gerald McCormick still wants a complete overhaul of Erlanger’s board of trustees, he appears more willing to ensure local physicians have one or several votes on the board. State lawmakers on Monday filed the first draft of a bill to restructure the Erlanger hospital board, after a weekend of fielding phone calls and letters from doctors worried the medical community would have no influence in hospital decisions.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party said Monday that it “technically” ran afoul of its open meetings policy five hours after putting out a statement that said it followed the rules. At a board meeting last week, party Chairman Paul Smith and party Treasurer Stephen Harper implored board members to keep secret the session that followed, with Smith at one point saying, “I’m glad the press wasn’t here” so the party could discuss sensitive matters and avoid “a big brouhaha.” Smith prohibited the media from covering the meeting, describing it as “confidential” to a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter.
The price of bread was under the microscope on Monday as the Shelby County Commission voted to approve a $251,956 emergency bread contract for Head Start, Juvenile Court and the county correction center. The county had an annual contract for $210,841 with Interstate Bakeries, which became Hostess Brands. Since Hostess went out of business in November, the county has been buying bread from Flowers Baking Co. in Batesville, Ark., without a contract at a cost that was 25 percent higher than it paid Hostess.
Countywide school board members make a decision Tuesday, Jan. 29, about the future of the first charter school in the city as well as in the state. The Memphis City Schools administration is recommending the board not renew the charter of the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering for another 10 years. The school opened in 2003 with a seventh grade and is currently a grades 6-12 school drawing several hundred students from across the city. The board’s debate and decision is likely to hinge on the specifics of MASE’s drop in math scores at a time when state student performance standards began to change.
Uncertainty arose in discussions involving hiring of school resource officers to staff every elementary school in the county Monday night, even as a group of commissioners voted to advance a proposal to do so. Members of the county Public Safety Committee voted 4-1 to send a proposal to hire school resource officers to staff all the county’s elementary schools to the county’s Budget and Finance Committee and then to the full commission for a vote if approved. The elementary schools currently share one SRO for every two schools, and it has been projected that the county property tax rate would have to be adjusted by about 1.5 cents to cover the increase.
What makes Tennessee different? According to Gov. Bill Haslam, the Volunteer State is different because it doesn’t operate like Washington, D.C. Haslam spent a substantial portion of Monday’s State of the State address taking shots at the federal government. It was at the same time a cheap ploy and a brilliant stroke. After all, if there’s one thing that unites most Tennesseans, it’s a shared dislike of national politics. Current Congressional approval ratings are barely ahead of clogged toilets, and just behind head lice, and Haslam certainly exploited that fact. When stripped of its legitimate, but overplayed, insults of Congress and the president, Haslam’s third State of the State address offered some encouraging ideas for Tennessee.
A pointed Free Press editorial that appeared in November warned against continuing a ludicrous state welfare program that handed cash to the rich Hollywood executives who produce the ABC drama “Nashville.” At that time, state leaders had already given away $7.5 million in handouts to the producers to film portions of the show in Music City, and the producers were pushing the state for millions more. The editorial argued that state giveaways to movie and television projects did little to benefit taxpayers. It turns out that the editorial wasn’t nearly critical enough of the state’s Hollywood handouts. On Monday, the state’s Comptroller of the Treasury released an audit of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission — the agency that passes handouts from the Departments of Revenue and Economic and Community Development to the entertainment industry. It was one of the most damning state audits in recent memory.
State Rep. John DeBerry’s proposal to adjust Tennessee’s so-called “parent trigger,” making it easier for parents to force education reforms at their children’s schools, appears to be in step with giving parents a greater voice in their children’s education. The statute, which was updated in 2011, allows parents to push education reforms at their children’s schools. However, it requires a 60 percent approval and local school boards must sign off on the effort. DeBerry, a Memphis Democrat, is pushing for a simple majority of parents’ signatures on a petition that would allow a failing school to be transferred into a charter or close. Parents whose petitions are rejected by local school boards could appeal to state officials.
No Budget, No Pay Act started with question from Nashvillian About 90 percent of Americans dislike Congress, and for good reason. We’re less popular than cockroaches. But a funny thing happened on the House floor last week: My colleagues supported an idea that has a 90 percent public approval rating and could start fixing Congress. I’m talking about the No Budget, No Pay Act, which I introduced last year and wrote about in The Tennessean in March. The idea is simple: If Congress doesn’t do its work on time, it doesn’t get paid. The idea came from a Nashvillian who told me, “Congressman, I don’t get paid if I don’t do my job, and do it on time. Why should you be any different?” The answer to his question is No Budget, No Pay.