This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
National Weather Service storm surveyors have confirmed that an EF1 tornado with winds around 90 mph caused damage along a 4.5-mile path in Eagleville Wednesday morning. According to the weather service, the 150-yard wide tornado touched down west of Horton Highway around 3 miles west of Eagleville. “Two farm buildings were heavily damaged on Horton Highway and a couple of homes had minor roof damage on Allisona Road,” NWS storm surveyors reported.
A planned $33.2 million emerging technologies building at Northeast State Community College “really touches all the things we are trying to do in K-12 and higher education,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told about 150 business leaders Friday. Haslam, a Republican, was at Northeast State to tout the 120,000-square-foot structure scheduled to replace two existing buildings on its main campus within three years. He announced funding for the facility when submitting his $32.6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year to lawmakers last Monday.
Going into his third year as Tennessee governor, Bill Haslam has redrawn some political lines as he has worked toward an ambitious restructuring of state government and the way it works. And they don’t necessarily follow partisan lines. The first two years of his Republican administration saw aggressive moves to change state employee seniority rights and “bumping” rules that allow the movement of those employees among parts of state government. And Haslam spearheaded changes to the tenure process for teachers.
Gov. Bill Haslam has a little more than $2 million in his 2014 re-election campaign fund, of which nearly $1.3 million was raised at a Knoxville fundraiser prior to the opening of the Tennessee Legislature on Jan. 8. The information is included in a financial disclosure filed Thursday with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance that covers a period from July 2012 through January. The money raised in Knoxville was the kickoff to the Republican’s re-election bid. It was held at Scripps Networks Interactive, whose president, chairman of the board and CEO is Ken Lowe.
Whether wearing the hat of Tennessee governor or the hat of a longtime University of Tennessee football follower, Bill Haslam recognizes that the Volunteers can’t experience too much more of the same. “They can’t be average, and you hate to say it that way, but financially it just doesn’t work,” Haslam said Thursday afternoon. “They have to fill that stadium up. They get the benefit of being a part of the SEC and all the TV money that comes with that, but at the end of the day, if they can’t fill that stadium up and sell concessions, then not just the football program but all the other sports that benefit from a strong football program suffer.”
Veteran teachers with multiple degrees do no better at helping Tennessee children learn than those with less experience and education, the State Board of Education was told Friday. Armed with new research showing that teacher effectiveness is related to neither experience nor advanced degrees, the board asked for a plan that would instead tie teacher salaries to student test scores. “I think we’ve got to ask the department to take a look at this data and come back to us with a better alignment of pay and performance — a pay system that is based more on performance than some of these other factors,” said board Chairman B. Fielding Rolston.
With the Motlow College Smyrna Center’s expansion project in its final months of construction, Motlow President MaryLou Apple recently took time to thank all who supported the project’s fundraising campaign, which closed with a total of more than $3 million in contributions. “The new classroom building at our Smyrna Center represents the amazing generosity of Rutherford County citizens and is a testament to what can happen when people work together,” Apple said in a news release.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently named Judge Charles D. Susano Jr. of Knoxville as presiding judge, officials said. Susano succeeded Judge Herschel P. Franks of Chattanooga, who retired at the end of 2012, according to a news release from the State Court of Appeals. With Susano’s election, the three Tennessee appellate courts — the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals — all are headed by individuals whose chambers are located in the Historic United States Post Office and Courthouse on Main Street, officials said.
A bill barring the state from expanding the number of TennCare enrollees under the federal Affordable Care Act has 16 Republican sponsors, one vote shy of the 17 votes needed to pass the bill on the Senate floor. But Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he wants to delay action to give Gov. Bill Haslam, a fellow Republican, more time to study the issue and see whether it makes financial sense for Tennessee to participate. “I think we’ll hold up until we get the proper data,” Ramsey said, adding it “takes a lot of analyzing.”
Nearly half of the Tennessee Senate has signed on to a bill that would ban Tennessee from expanding TennCare, its Medicaid program, as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Gov. Bill Haslam, in his recent State of the State address, said he is still considering his options to expand the program. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he will not sign on to the bill and “will encourage the sponsors of this to hold off and let’s get the facts in front of us first,” according to WPLN.
Two-thirds of the states could be restricted in how they spend some federal highway funds this year because they haven’t complied with mandates to combat drunken driving. A combined $539 million would have to be spent on anti-drunken-driving programs or highway safety improvements instead of on general road and bridge construction in those states. That’s the penalty for not having sufficient laws to restrict open alcohol containers in vehicles or to crack down on repeat drunken-driving offenders.
A nasty email that state Sen. Stacey Campfield fired off to several critics has drawn yet another round of notoriety for the Knoxville Republican. The firebrand lawmaker told at least three people who wrote his office that they should consider therapy and medication after they expressed opposition to legislation he has filed this session. “You seem to have some serious, deep anger issues,” read the identically-worded messages. “Have you ever thought about therapy? I hear they are doing some wonderful things with medications these days.”
For the Tennessee congressional delegation, the idea of giving 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship remains a political question stamped “handle with care.” While it lies at the core of the immigration reform proposals unveiled last week by President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of eight senators, the idea remains divisive for interest groups and politicians alike, especially those who don’t want to be seen as rewarding illegal behavior with glorified amnesty.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ first Coffee with the Congressman here erupted into an argument over gun control Friday with constituents shouting at each other inside the venerable City Cafe. Florence Tolbert of Murfreesboro and Rebekah Majors-Manley of Bell Buckle butted heads toward the end of DesJarlais’ visit over the rights of Americans to use high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons. The heated discussion was spurred by requests from Murfreesboro resident Sara Mitchell, a veteran, who told the congressman she doesn’t believe civilians should have access to high-capacity magazines and that a better background check is needed for weapons purchases, in addition to improved mental health care.
The National Nuclear Security Administration and its primary contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge are refusing to release information on who’s managing the government installation, which conducts national security missions and has a billion-dollar annual budget. The NNSA earlier this month awarded a new contract for the combined management of Y-12 and the Pantex warhead assembly/disassembly plant in Texas. Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC, a team that consists of Bechtel National, Lockheed Martin and other corporate interests, was named the winner.
All three automakers with Tennessee assembly plants on Friday posted higher January U.S. sales, with Volkswagen’s Chattanooga-made Passat up 40 percent over a year ago. “We’re as strong as we were in 2012,” said Frank Trivieri, Volkswagen of America’s executive vice president of sales. VW reported it sold 29,018 vehicles, up 6.7 percent over the same month a year ago. While VW has been reporting double-digit percent gains, officials said monthly comparisons will narrow because of earlier sharp sales hikes.
It didn’t take long for the new owner of Viking Range Corp. to make some cost-cutting moves. Middleby Corp. — which purchased the Greenwood, Miss.-based manufacturer for $380 million in early January — laid off about 140 of Viking’s 700 employees Thursday, The Associated Press reports. Most of the layoffs occurred in Greenwood and are effective immediately. The new owner also will close Viking-branded cooking schools in Memphis and Ridgeland, Miss., the AP reports. The Memphis cooking school is located in East Memphis’ Park Place Centre, at Ridgeway Road and Park Avenue.
Knox County Schools’ chief security officer admitted Friday that he twice went on trips with the president of a security system firm under fire for shoddy workmanship. Chief Security Officer Steve Griffin initially denied in an interview Friday afternoon — at which School Superintendent Jim McIntyre was present — that he had ever traveled with Mike Walker, who is president of Professional Security Consultants and Design. Griffin said the pair had lunched together a few times after Walker and his firm were awarded a contract to install and monitor school security systems for Knox County schools but denied they were pals or the relationship unduly influenced his push to have that same firm carry out work that is now the subject of a lawsuit.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on Friday called for an independent audit into the security systems used by local schools. In addition, he took a number of shots at the county’s schools superintendent and said officials need to even further scrutinize how the school system spends its money, particularly if it asks for more funding during the upcoming budget cycle. The request, which was made to Knox County School Board Chairwoman Karen Carson, comes a day after the News Sentinel published an article detailing the flaws in what was supposed to be a state-of-the-art system designed to keep children safe.
Administrators and school board members are preparing for public presentations next week on a preliminary general fund budget for the new unified school district that is $80 million to $90 million in the red — a figure that could change considerably as the rollout continues. Administrators from Memphis City and Shelby County Schools met with individual school board members Thursday and Friday, as well as the editorial board of The Commercial Appeal, to discuss the financial challenges facing the district and some possible solutions.
Once countywide school board members finished Tuesday, Jan. 29, posing for a picture with outgoing Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash, the board quickly got back to the emerging details of the coming schools merger. They approved Memphis City Schools attorney Dorsey Hopson as the interim superintendent of the Memphis City Schools system effective Friday, Feb. 1, through the end of June. And the board set July 1 as the effective date of the transfer of Memphis City Schools into the Shelby County Schools system – the merger date.
Fifteen years ago, Motlow State Community College’s campus in Rutherford County was a few classes crammed in Riverdale High School. By the time the fall semester starts, it will be two buildings that total more than 50,000 square feet. The growth at Motlow’s Smyrna site is so incredible that enrollment here — which has hovered around 2,000 for the past couple years — is on pace to eclipse the enrollment at the main campus in Moore County. Motlow is so popular here that it is MTSU’s No. 1 feeder school. The Smyrna site offers classes seven days a week: during the day, at night, in the summer and online. And still, the school has to turn some students away due to lack of space, particularly in the nursing program.