This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A line of strong storms is pushing eastward across Tennessee, triggering tornado warnings and producing strong downpours of rain. The leading edge of the storm front contains strong straight line winds, which have knocked out electrical power to thousands of customers. A few minor injuries were reported before dawn Wednesday in northern Middle Tennessee as the storms raced through. Farther west, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for all or parts of 10 counties in West Tennessee as heavy rain continued to fall.
One person was killed in Bordeaux when a tree fell on the shed the person was trapped in during an overnight storm, according to a Metro Police communications supervisor. The call came in at 3:13 a.m at 3848 Abernathy Road. A line of strong storms is pushing eastward across Tennessee, triggering tornado warnings and producing strong downpours of rain. The leading edge of the storm front contains strong straight line winds, which have knocked out electrical power to thousands of customers.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced his priorities for the 2013 legislative session, building on momentum from his past proposals focused on attracting and growing Tennessee jobs, pursuing meaningful education reform, managing an efficient and effective state government, and strengthening public safety. “In working together over the past two years with the Legislature, we’ve accomplished a lot for the people of Tennessee, and I look forward to working with the 108th General Assembly in the same way,” Haslam said.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday said the state is implementing several new initiatives aimed at improving education on all levels and helping to prepare students for the work force. Haslam outlined his plans for education at a meeting of the Jackson Sun Editorial Board. Overall, Haslam said that while the state continues to grapple with challenging issues on many fronts, “good things are happening to Tennessee.” Some of those things include Tennessee’s unemployment rates continuing to fall, family incomes continuing to rise, Tennessee being ranked the second state in cost of living and being ranked the fourth most generous state.
Gov. Bill Haslam submitted his legislative package for the 2013 year, a run of 59 bills that would change state laws governing education, workers compensation and taxes. Largely sticking to the ideas that he has signaled would be his priorities for the year, Haslam offered up legislation to create a voucher program for low-income students in poorly performing schools and to revamp how the state handles workers’ compensation claims. But his plan also contained a few surprises, including a proposal to cap enrollment in virtual schools.
Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing legislation that would place stricter enrollment requirements on online public schools established in Tennessee. The administration bill would cap student enrollment at a so-called virtual school at 5,000 students, and initial enrollment would be limited to 1,500, depending on the school’s performance. According to the bill, if a school meets state guidelines for “student achievement growth,” then it may exceed the initial enrollment limit. The measure would cap enrollment at Union County’s rapidly growing online public school run by K12 Inc., the nation’s largest publicly traded online education company.
Gov. Bill Haslam is moving to rein in enrollment at Union County’s rapidly growing online virtual public school after students at the privately operated academy performed poorly on state achievement scores last year. Haslam’s bill caps student enrollment at the Tennessee Virtual Academy at 5,000. The school accepts students from across the state and now has 3,200 K-8 students after an initial enrollment of 1,800 in the 2011-12 academic year. The academy is run by the for-profit company K12 Inc. under contract with Union County public schools.
A proposed voucher program would be restricted to students poor enough to get free or reduced lunch and attending a school in the bottom five percent in the state. School voucher legislation from the Haslam Administration has been filed for consideration by the General Assembly. The bill says private schools that take the state money must accept it as payment in full, even though their total tuition may be more. The number of participants is also capped at 5,000 in the first year. Majority Leader Gerald McCormick will shepherd the legislation through the House, and says he intends to keep the restrictions Governor Bill Haslam laid out.
Top officials from Tennessee’s embattled publicly funded online virtual school faced sharp criticism from members of the state House Education Committee Tuesday over its abysmal test results, with lawmakers delivering a clear message: You’re on notice. “We’ve done a lot over the last five years in education reform in this state, and this is a setback,” Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, told representatives of Tennessee Virtual Academy and its for-profit, Virginia-based parent company K12 Inc., who testified before the committee Tuesday. “I would just admonish you to pay attention.”
An online public school enrolling thousands of students across Tennessee once again faced scrutiny from state lawmakers yesterday (Tuesday). The virtual school, based in Union County, uses curriculum developed by a for-profit company called K12 Inc. The school’s standardized test scores have been some of the lowest in the state Math has been a particular problem. K12 official Megan Henry says her “number one priority” is to bring math scores up.
Memphis pulled out the biggest plums in Gov. Bill Haslam’s capital investment proposals this year, including $45 million for new construction on the University of Memphis Park campus and $62 million to renovate the core of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. If Haslam’s budget is approved, Memphis institutions will also receive $15 million as a match for the $15 million St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital put up to fight childhood obesity and genetic diseases. Sustained, spontaneous applause broke out several times at the university on Tuesday as Haslam outlined plans for investments in programs with both high demand and return on investment.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam Monday night delivered his 2013 State of the State address before a joint session of the General Assembly, contrasting Tennessee with Washington, D.C. and other states across the country that have struggled to keep their fiscal houses in order. “Unlike the news coming out of our nation’s capital and so many other states around the country, good things are happening in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
Closing the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building and finding other office space Downtown for its 900 workers is the right thing to do for Tennessee taxpayers, Gov. Bill Haslam said in Memphis Tuesday. A day after proposing to sell the 44-year-old landmark rather than overhaul it, Haslam said, “Our real estate advisers don’t feel like it is smart for us to keep investing more dollars into that building, but it is our wholehearted intention to stay Downtown.” “It’s one of those roles we have to play, where we have to look out for the state’s taxpayers and say, ‘Is it smart for us to have to keep renovating and maintaining and operating this building or to go somewhere that’s a lot less expensive?'” added Haslam.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has included funding in his budget proposal for a $62 million renovation at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center 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 capitol in Nashville. Not in the speech but in his budget proposal is a move of state offices and workers out of the Donnelly J. Hill Office Building in Downtown’s Civic Center Plaza.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is expected talk more about his planned strategic education investments when he visits Northeast State Community College Friday for a 10:30 a.m. speech at the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts. Haslam, a Republican, delivered his State of the State message to lawmakers on Monday, and his upcoming talk at Northeast State was described by his communications office as a “State of the State follow-up.” In his message on Monday, Haslam insisted lawmakers must address the rising cost of college tuition.
Partnership of Tennessee Technology Center, Nissan would expand at new Smyrna facility A $35.4 million Nissan Education and Training Facility proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam in his fiscal 2014 budget further cements Tennessee’s standing as America’s new auto manufacturing center. If approved by the General Assembly, the facility would replace the automaker’s 30-year-old training center and offer auto manufacturing education for a 10-county area as an extension of the Tennessee Technology Center at Murfreesboro.
Thanks to Curtis Johnson, Tristen Denley and military verterans, Clarksville captured a well-deserved share of the limelight Monday night during the governor’s State of the State speech to the Legislature. Rep. Johnson, R-Clarksville, had a large role in the proceedings as part of his new job as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives. Johnson, beginning his fifth term representing the 68th District, was chosen by the Republican caucus to the number two House leadership position behind Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.
Gov. Bill Haslam told participants in a school safety summit on Tuesday that the state is committed to doing what it can to provide better security at Tennessee schools. The event was organized to discuss current safety resources and practices, as well as to hear from leading state and national experts on safety, law enforcement and mental health. Montgomery County Sheriff John Fuson, Schools Director B.J. Worthington, CMCSS Safety Coordinator Tommy Butler and Chief Communications Officer Elise Shelton attended the all-day summit.
Communication. Preparedness. Training. Drills. These words surfaced repeatedly during a Safety Summit held Tuesday in Franklin and are cornerstones for action in a crisis that, with any hope, can prevent tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. Converging on the summit were Gov. Bill Haslam and more than 400 representatives from all 136 Tennessee school districts, law enforcement, mental health agencies and emergency management from across the state, there to discuss best practices to improve school safety.
Law enforcement and first-responders should be actively involved in school safety planning long before a 911 call is ever placed, school security experts said Tuesday. School district leaders, law enforcement officers and experts on mental health and emergency preparedness gathered at a school safety summit to discuss current safety plans and the need for possible improvements in the wake of last month’s Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 20 students and six adults dead. More than 120 of the state’s 137 school districts were represented here, though officials from Hamilton County Schools were not at the table.
State officials are hoping to devise a “strategic plan” to better ensure schools are safe, although Gov. Bill Haslam said arming teachers in the classroom probably won’t make the cut. In reaction to an elementary school shooting in Connecticut that startled the nation, state lawmakers have begun pitching ideas that would require some school personnel to be better armed, such as by plugging in more school resource officers to guard buildings, and allowing teachers or administrators to carry guns on school grounds.
Governor Bill Haslam again voiced misgivings Tuesday about a proposal to arm some teachers in case of a school shooter. But he stopped short of condemning the idea altogether. At least one bill is already on file to let teachers carry guns, and other lawmakers have floated similar ideas. Haslam says he’s heard from sheriffs who worry about it: “They said ‘Our problem with that is, when we come into a school, we’re looking for the adult with the weapon.’” If some of the armed adults could be teachers, Haslam says taking down a gunman could be more complicated.
Since the horrific school shooting in Connecticut last month, officials in Tennessee have reviewed and drilled campus lockdown plans, talked about arming teachers, and rushed to hire more guards. Yesterday hundreds of administrators and police gathered to discuss how to keep the state’s 900 thousand students safe, at a summit announced just days after the Newtown massacre. Experts flew in like former New York City school safety director Gregory Thomas, who urged officials to “market” the idea “that schools continue to be the best place for children to be while parents are at work or at home.”
Governor Bill Haslam continues to defend the Department of Children’s Services for its refusal to release certain case files last year. The agency is now under a court order to hand over the information. The documents in question concern children who died even after investigations found problems like physical abuse and medical neglect. A coalition of media groups sued the state for access to the files. Court records show the agency only volunteered a brief, two-page spreadsheet. Haslam says multiple legal offices advised DCS administrators that handing over any more than that would violate privacy laws.
Not all the Dems are thrilled, of course, but many in the minority praised Gov. Bill Haslam’s $32.7 billion spending plan, pointing to more cash for university construction projects, a 1.5 percent raise for state employees, and, in particular, more money for elementary and high school education. “I thought he gave a great speech, I really did,” said Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, who serves as the House assistant Democratic leader. “Heretofore, the Republicans weren’t really supporting K through 12.” The man in charge of shepherding the budget proposal through the General Assembly is Finance & Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes.
Now is not the time to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program, Gov. Bill Haslam said in his State of the State address Monday night, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. The Affordable Care Act offers hundreds of million in dollars in funding for states that expand their Medicaid programs, though states will have to pick up more of the bill over time. According to WPLN, Haslam left the door open to expanding Tenncare, the state’s Medicaid program, at a later date. Even without an expansion, Haslam said Tenncare will cost an additional $350 million next year.
Kids came to Nolan Elementary School’s auditorium giggling softly and wearing hats and gloves. All of them were third-graders dressed in winter wear in anticipation of Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam coming to read the award-winning “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Their chatter came to a halt when Assistant Principal Alisan Taylor told the students that Haslam had arrived. “She is here because she thinks reading is so important,” said Taylor. “She wants you reading at grade level or above.”
Ex-employees say more pay, staff may help department The governor’s proposal to raise salaries and hire more child protective services workers at the Department of Children’s Services drew praise Tuesday for addressing underlying staffing issues that affect the state’s dealings with vulnerable kids. Former DCS employees were among those who said hiring more front-line child abuse investigators could help address the department’s longstanding struggle with burnout. The stressful work makes it difficult for the state to recruit and retain workers.
Razing of building could spell end for other sites One of the state’s first products of urban renewal may be about to come under the wrecking ball itself, according to a plan developed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. The Department of General Services is calling for the demolition of the Cordell Hull Building, a Truman-era state office building at the foot of the Tennessee Capitol. The plan has some local historians alarmed, as it could be the beginning of the end of the complex of state government buildings that have shaped downtown Nashville since the mid-20th century.
In a report released Monday, Tennessee state comptroller Justin Wilson released a report damning the more than $7 million in incentives given to the film and television industry. In his report, Wilson says “auditors could find little to no evidence the incentives have led to new film producing facilities or permanent film jobs in Tennessee.” In 2006, the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission was given permission to finance incentives to attract film and television productions.
Waiting in line to update a Tennessee driver’s license shouldn’t take quite as long now, thanks to a series of new self-service kiosks recently installed in Knoxville and throughout the state. The kiosks allow citizens to renew or replace a non-commercial driver’s license or identification card, and could reduce wait times at state service centers to no more than 20 minutes on average, according to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The applicant can pay with a credit or debit card. There is no additional fee to use the kiosks.
Environmental groups around the state are outraged that the University of Tennessee is proposing to lease more than 8,636 acres of public land in East Tennessee to an energy company looking to do hydraulic fracturing for oil or gas. The publicly owned property in Scott and Morgan counties would be leased for 20 years or as long as paying quantities of oil or gas are being produced. The land is known as the Cumberland Forest. What’s more, the quietly talked proposal — which surfaced as a UT research effort in December — has now been fast-tracked with little public discussion, and it now is on Thursday’s agenda of the executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission.
“It was only a matter of time before copyright trolls filed a bit-torrent lawsuit in Tennessee,” wrote Nashville attorney Stephen Zralek in a Nov. 29 blog post. Zralek, of the firm Bone McAllester Norton, noticed the first flare-up in a rash of copyright infringement lawsuits to hit Middle Tennessee, a particular variety of suit in which the plaintiffs come armed with the Internet Protocol addresses of alleged online pirates who had shared, at least in part, copyrighted files — in this case, videos, pornographic or otherwise.
One of the fiercest debates at the state capitol last year has been revived. Bills allowing gun owners to legally keep firearms in their car while at work have been filed and set to be fast-tracked. Last year, Republican leaders and Governor Bill Haslam sided with big businesses like Volkswagen and FedEx who didn’t want guns kept in their parking lots. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he’s not preoccupied with allowing guns to be stored in cars. But he has filed legislation allowing a person with a valid handgun carry permit to do so.
Republican lawmakers are planning to redraw the map of Tennessee’s court system, raising fears of gerrymandering and politicization ahead of major judicial elections next year. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other top Republicans in the state Senate are launching an effort to cut some of Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts and realign those that remain, in what would be the first redistricting effort since 1984. Redistricting could shift the balance on Tennessee’s courts, which Republicans have long complained are too liberal. The effort comes as judges, prosecutors and public defenders across Tennessee prepare to run for new eight-year terms.
An influx of fishing tournaments will attract oodles of anglers and create a trickle-down effect for businesses in Rhea County, a Dayton city councilman said this week. Hosting 12 fishing tournaments this year will have “quite an impact” on the city and county, Councilman Gary Louallen said at a meeting of the Rhea Economic and Tourism Council. He told the group of more than 20 economic leaders that there is a new website for the tournaments at www.fishdayton.com. Also at the meeting, County Executive George Thacker announced 50 new available jobs at International Automotive Components.
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and other proponents of reducing the national debt urged a crowd of 50 students and business people to pressure Congress to take action in a breakfast panel at Lipscomb University. The Tennessee Democrat said he and other members of the national Fix the Debt effort are trying to create an “artificial crisis” that would force Congress to bring the $16 trillion federal debt under control. He said the nation’s economic health depends on debt reduction. But it should not be done by slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election campaign today announced four Tennessee events that state finance chairman Steve Smith predicted will raise more than $3 million. The first finance event will be held in Chattanooga in April at the home of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Later that month, Alexander will hold an event in Nashville that will be “A Salute to Ted Welch,” the former Republican National Finance Committee chairman who will serve as Alexander’s Honorary Finance Chairman. Other events are scheduled for May in Knoxville and Memphis.
Camp David is known for its spacious mountaintop grounds, for its heavy security and for hosting historic Middle East peace talks 35 years ago. Maybe one day it will add a new distinction: the place where a Democratic president and a Republican lawmaker from Middle Tennessee, divided on most every pressing issue, came together to shoot — or fail to shoot — clay targets whizzing by at about 45 mph. After President Barack Obama said in an interview published last weekend that he and his guests “do skeet shooting all the time” at the presidential retreat, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn issued a challenge Monday on national television.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander in Nashville warned his superiors that any arbitrary change in boating and fishing access below Cumberland River dams would receive little public or congressional support. “It will be extremely difficult to maintain any credibility when trying to convince the public that something has suddenly changed that now makes these areas unsafe,” wrote then-Lt. Col. J. David Norwood. That was in April 1995. Now, nearly 18 years later, the Corps of Engineers in Nashville is engaged in that very battle, with public opposition mounting to its plan to restrict access to the tailwaters below the 10 Cumberland River dams it operates in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Countywide school board members appointed Memphis City Schools attorney Dorsey Hopson as the interim superintendent of the Memphis City Schools system at the board’s Tuesday, Jan. 29 meeting. The meeting was the last for Kriner Cash who becomes an advisor to the school system through the end of July under terms of his resignation after four and a half years heading the school system. Hopson begins his tenure as interim superintendent Feb. 1 and the posting ends July 1. Meanwhile, the board also set July 1 as the effective date of the transfer of Memphis City Schools into the Shelby County Schools system – the merger date.
In Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State speech on Monday, he had a lot of good things to say about Tennessee, and they are worth saying. He also struck a note of optimism about the state’s future and plans to take advantage of Tennessee’s assets and opportunities, including long-range planning for major issues such as health care, education and long-term economic development. On Tuesday, The Jackson Sun’s editorial board had an opportunity to visit with Haslam during his visit to Jackson. Thanks to good, conservative leadership in recent years — including Haslam’s first two years in office when he faced significant budget challenges — Tennessee has weathered the depths of the Great Recession, and once again is beginning to prosper.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget presentation Monday night included initiatives that boost higher education and research in Memphis. The Republican governor’s $36.6 billion budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $56.8 million for a new health building for the University of Memphis and $66.5 million to renovate a four-building complex at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Haslam said the state also is supporting a partnership between UTHSC and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to recruit “leading researchers from across the country to address the critical issues such as childhood obesity.”
Tennessee’s Republicans have long claimed that, if they were in control, they would cut hundreds of millions of dollars of waste from the state budget. With a supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature and a bloated budget before them, they now have the chance to prove it. The $32.6 billion budget that Gov. Bill Haslam proposed during Monday’s annual State of the State address is easily the largest in state history. That mind-numbing figure is equal to $13,281 in state spending for every household in Tennessee. To say that all of the $32.6 billion will be spent well would be a lie. In fact, a closer look at the state budget shows taxpayers’ money supporting programs that are proven failures, funding outrageous pork projects and subsidizing programs that should not be the business of state government.
Every night, a couple of dozen Middle Tennessee lawmakers get to go home and lay their heads down on their own pillows in their own beds in their own houses. But every day, taxpayers give them $107 to pay for a hotel room. How ridiculous is that? Now, a handful of forward-thinking legislators want to change that. A bill has been filed by state Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, that would do away with the lodging portion of lawmakers’ per diem if they live within 50 miles of the state Capitol. State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, is sponsoring it in the House. Lawmakers, mostly Republican, are lining up in support, including House Speaker Beth Harwell.
The more we learn about the project to build new offices for Clarksville-based Workforce Essentials Inc. and the Tennessee Career Center, the more we are sold on it. Perhaps most importantly, we are now assured that this project will not come at local or state taxpayers’ expense. These agencies have managed their revenues well, it appears, and therefore they can afford to do this vital project. It begins with demolition of the Madison Street Church of Christ building, which is expected to occur around late February. The Design Review Board of the downtown and riverfront design group Two Rivers Company has approved the demolition, after it was decided that building new offices there from the ground-up would be more feasible than trying to extensively renovate the church building as was first considered.
It is perplexing, to put it mildly, when parents do not see to it that their children are in school every day, unless there is a legitimate reason for an absence. Too many parents are falling down on the school attendance front, unfortunately, and the result has been stepped-up efforts by the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office to hold parents accountable for not making sure their children are in school. Dozens of students at Shannon Elementary School in North Memphis missed so much school in the first semester that 66 of their parents were called to court for failing to comply with mandatory school attendance laws. Another 25 parents at Westwood Elementary in Southwest Memphis were hit with the same consequences.