This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tyson Foods is investing up to $7.7 million in its Goodlettsville plant, according to a company news release, creating as many as 100 jobs. According to the release, the expansion is part of a $40 million push at four plants. Tyson’s Goodlettsville facility cuts and packages beef and pork products. “These are major investments we believe will help us maintain our position as a leader in the case-ready business at two strategic locations, and in chicken and steaks with some of our key foodservice customers,” Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, said in the release.
Gov. Bill Haslam wants more answers from the federal government before he decides whether Tennessee should expand its Medicaid rolls as part of the national health care overhaul. But his Republican colleagues in the Legislature may not let him get to that point. Republican bills before both chambers would prohibit the governor from pursuing an expansion to TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Haslam told reporters last week that the maneuvering in the Legislature hasn’t stopped him from closely evaluating the prospect of taking up the federal government on increasing eligibility to 138 percent of poverty.
On a random Friday afternoon in January, Carnton Plantation’s gravel parking lot had cars with plates from Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and even Manitoba, Canada. While nationally historic homes are struggling to attract visitors and stay solvent, Williamson County’s Civil War sites continuously buck the trend, pulling in a steady stream of visitors from near and far. Historians and tourism officials expect their numbers to continue a steady climb beyond 2014, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin.
The Department of Children’s Services will charge $55,584 to provide records of children who have died or nearly died after having some interaction with the agency since 2009. On Monday, state lawyers filed a notice in Davidson County Chancery Court of the time and cost it will take to turn over their files to The Tennessean and a dozen other media outlets around the state that had filed suit to open the records and learn more about the lives and deaths of children under DCS care.
State transportation officials will try “a pillar within a pillar” solution to address deteriorating piers on the Henley Bridge, but the new work will extend the closure until February 2014. Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said the reopening date has been extended from June 30, 2013, to Feb. 28, 2014. The contractor, Britton Bridge, LLC, faces daily penalties of $1,000 for missing the new reopening date. Schroer said that while the bridge will be open to traffic in February 2014, the contractor has until June 3, 2014, to finish the project.
University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek defended himself Monday as faculty members asked pointed questions about why the administration refused to work toward providing health care and other benefits to unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Members of the Faculty Senate pressed Cheek on why he wouldn’t lobby the Legislature to change current laws, why the school couldn’t offer financial compensation for faculty whose partners aren’t eligible for health care, and why the school couldn’t offer other benefits, such as tuition compensation, for employees’ partners.
During his state-of-the-state address Jan. 28, Gov. Bill Haslam dropped some tantalizing hints to supporters of Obamacare that he’s leaving the door open on the possibility of Tennessee at some point agreeing to a Medicaid expansion as proposed under the controversial federal health care law. Many legislative Republicans, however — including the GOP supermajority caucus chairmen of both the House and Senate — remain adamant that nothing of the sort happen. They’ve signed onto bills introduced to prevent the Haslam administration from yielding to the allure of the federal government’s Medicaid-expansion enticement.
The state Senate is scheduled to hold its first hearing Tuesday on a gun bill that dominated last year’s legislative session and caused aftershocks in the ensuing election season. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville says he wants lawmakers to quickly approve the measure to guarantee people with handgun carry permits to store their firearms in their cars even if parking lot owners object. The measure backed by the National Rifle Association failed last year amid property rights arguments made by business community.
Measure would violate women’s privacy, critics say Women in Tennessee soon may have to get an ultrasound before an abortion, under a bill filed in the state legislature. State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, has filed a measure that would require women to undergo a “transabdominal ultrasound” and wait at least 24 hours before going forward with an abortion. Tennessee does not now require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, in part because the state constitution has its own privacy clause.
Two Middle Tennessee lawmakers hope to use the government to slash the size of government. State Rep. Glen Casada and state Sen. Jack Johnson, both Franklin Republicans, have filed a bill that would create an Office of the Repealer, whose job would be to identify potentially unnecessary rules and regulations. The repealer would offer recommendations to the governor, the state legislature and the secretary of state. “We’re using bureaucracy to cut bureaucracy,” Casada said. “We’re using government against itself.”
Asked about a GOP state senator’s bill to require public school employees to inform a student’s parents if alerted the child is possibly engaging in homosexual activity, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey sided with those who say it’s a government intrusion into family matters. “There are some things that should be left inside the family and some things don’t need to be in public,” Ramsey said. He added that the issue is nowhere near a priority to him. “It’s not even on my radar screen right now,” said Ramsey.
The main House sponsor of a bill seeking to guarantee handgun permit holders the right to store firearms in their vehicles says he misspoke when he suggested that he routinely breaks the law. Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, told WPLN-FM that while he has never obtained a state-issued permit, he has “carried a gun all (his) life.” “One day I’ll probably get caught if I don’t get a permit, and I’ll get in trouble,” he told the public radio station. Faison told The Associated Press on Monday that what he meant to say was that he transports a gun inside his car, which does not require a permit as long as ammunition is stored separately.
Memphis City Council members take the first step toward a fall referendum on a citywide half percent sales tax hike Tuesday, Feb. 4, as they vote on the first of three readings of the referendum ordinance. The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. Also on the agenda is a companion resolution that would set in stone what the estimated $47 million in revenue from the tax hike would be used for. Of the total, $27 million would be used for pre-kindergarten programs via a trust fund with a board appointed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
All six members of the Tennessee congressional delegation — Republicans and Democrats — who responded to a survey said they own guns, bucking a trend in Congress in which Republican members are much more likely to be armed than their Democratic colleagues. Republican Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, along with GOP Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg and Phil Roe of Johnson City all said they own guns. But so did the state’s two Democratic representatives, Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must restrict boating and fishing access near Cumberland River dams to meet a nationwide policy and improve safety, the agency’s commander in Nashville said Monday. But U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has urged the Corps to reconsider. He and other lawmakers are expected to meet today with agency leaders in Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue. And the Corps has scheduled a public information meeting tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at the McGavock High School Auditorium.
Officials at Arnold Engineering Development Complex in Tullahoma, Tenn., and military installations around the world are preparing for a projected $1.8 billion shortfall in Air Force funding as the battle over the federal budget continues in Washington, D.C. Actions that could begin as soon as April include a civilian hiring freeze; cancellation of nonessential travel, flying activities and studies; limitation of coming-year supply purchases; deferred sustainment, restoration and modernization projects; and to “de-obligate or incrementally fund” service contracts, according to officials.
With studies suggesting that long lines at the polls cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes in November, party leaders are beginning a push to make voting and voter registration easier, setting up a likely new conflict with Republicans over a deeply polarizing issue. White House officials have told Congressional leaders that the president plans to press for action on Capitol Hill, and Democrats say they expect him to highlight the issue in his State of the Union address next week.
Williamson County education leaders will review their first charter school application, a development triggered by a Tennessee law change that allows charters even in wealthy districts. At the same time, leaders in charter school mecca Nashville will consider 10 new applications, including one from former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton’s group that would educate jailed teens and one from Todd Dickson, a California operator recruited by Mayor Karl Dean. In all, school districts across Tennessee received 39 letters of intent from charter school groups.
Records show Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre was given the heads up over shoddy workmanship and improprieties between an employee and the firm responsible for that work as early as November 2009. Yet, it would be August 2011 before McIntyre informed the Knox County Board of Education of what he termed “some deficiencies with the work that was done on security cameras and infrastructure at Hardin Valley Academy and Powell Middle School.”
Even after laying off 170 central office employees, closing schools and rolling back some employee benefits, the preliminary 2014 budget for the unified school district is still short by some $80 million. District administrators on Monday shared the draft budget, outlining revenue challenges and rising costs at Shelby County and Memphis City Schools. Their presentation was followed by a round of protests from parents, teachers and others who filled every seat in MCS Teaching and Learning Academy auditorium, clapping and cheering the succession of speakers.
Here come the numbers. Countywide school board members have their first and very tentative look at what revenues and expenditures look like for the first fiscal year of the schools merger. Those numbers are expected to change, perhaps dramatically, as the school board makes critical decisions on staffing ratios, salaries and outsourcing transportation and custodial services. And the decisions the board makes will drive decisions the Shelby County Commission makes later on what is certain to be a need for more funding than the county provided last year at this time for the two separate school systems.
The state writing assessment will be issued this week for fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students, with changes leaning toward the newly adopted Common Core standards and a new way of assessing learning. Fifth-grade students will take the assessment today, while the whole week has been set aside for older students who are required to take the test online. Writing assignments are based on informational text, such as books, articles or other documents. Students will be required to read a passage and cite evidence from the text in the response.
The recurring cost of adding eight more School Resource Officers and a supervisor to help cover elementary schools, as the County Commission is considering, would be approximately 2 cents on the property tax rate. When asked what the cost would be for the new employees for fiscal year 2013-2014, county Accounts and Budgets Director Erinne Hester answered it would be about $660,000, and explained that the cost might be a bit more than subsequent years because the new officers will need more start-up equipment.
Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, said he would seek to expand the Medicaid program in Ohio to cover several hundred thousand more adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Expanding the program is a central goal of President Obama’s health care law, but the Supreme Court ruled last year that it was an option for states, not a requirement. The federal government is supposed to pay the entire cost of Medicaid for newly eligible beneficiaries from 2014 to 2016, and 90 percent or more in later years.
National health care reform being brought about by the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, isn’t very popular in Tennessee, especially among the Tennessee General Assembly’s Republican supermajority. Frankly, we’re not thrilled with it, either. But that shouldn’t mean cutting off our nose to spite our face. And that’s what some in the General Assembly are attempting to do. It is up to Republican leadership in the state House and Senate to corral bills that would prevent Haslam from making an informed decision on whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare. Bills have been introduced in the state House and Senate that would prohibit Haslam from expanding TennCare as part of Obamacare.
Don’t say it. “Don’t Say Gay” is back — and worse. Out of all the issues that the people of Tennessee face, from a sluggish economy to improving the education of our children, state Sen. Stacey Campfield couldn’t think of anything more important to introduce before the new General Assembly than this vile excuse for governance. If Sen. Campfield is trying to set the tone for the legislature this year, we all should be concerned. “Don’t Say Gay” was one of the chief reasons that the last Tennessee General Assembly was regarded as the worst state legislature in the country. But Sen. Campfield was only getting started. The 2011 bill proposed to ban instruction or even discussion of homosexuality in the classroom. The new version seeks to allow schools to notify parents when their children have a confidential conversation about their sexuality with a teacher or school counselor.
The sudden secrecy surrounding the management team of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant is a reversal of past policy and an unacceptable display of disdain for the public. The National Nuclear Security Administration and its primary contractor at Y-12 are refusing to release information on the identities of the managers of the facility, which uses a billion-dollar budget to fabricate nuclear warhead parts, dismantle warheads and perform other national security missions. National security would not be compromised by releasing the names of the people in charge of one of the nation’s most important nuclear weapons facilities, especially one beleaguered by security woes and a disputed management contract.
Legislation filed by state Rep. Joe Carr to allow teachers to carry weapons during school may seem like the obvious thing to do when society is faced with madmen gunning down boys and girls. Carr’s bill would enable school boards decide if they want to let system teachers and administrators be armed if they get a state permit and go through the same extensive training as school resource officers. If a school has a teacher with years of military service and familiarity with guns, why not let that person carry one on campus Carr says? Not so fast. The next question is: Should he (or she) carry it on his hip or in a shoulder holster?
Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken, Memphis City Schools Interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson and the top administrators involved in crafting a budget for the merged city-county schools system painted a grim financial picture for The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board last week. While the numbers the group shared could change considerably before a budget for the 2013-14 school year is finalized, projections are that the new district will be $80 million to $90 million in the red. That’s true even if proposed cost-cutting measures are implemented that would eliminate 170 employees in the central office, close five schools, outsource custodial and transportation services, and modify school staffing formulas.