This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam plans to decide whether to expand TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, by the end of the current legislative session, The City Paper reports. Forty-two Republicans in the House and Senate have signed on to bills that would ban Tennessee from expanding Medicaid, but Republican leadership has said they want to slow down those efforts to give Haslam more time to evaluate the issue.
A new Tennessee Hospital Association study projects a $13.3 billion negative economic impact from Medicare cuts in the state over the next decade, according to the Nashville Business Journal. Officials with the hospital association hope the figure will help convince Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican Legislature to expand Medicaid.The study estimates that the state could lose more than 90,000 jobs over the next decade.
Testing deadline reveals districts are far from ready Tennessee is a long way from putting a laptop in the hands of every one of its nearly 1 million public school students, but it is embarking on a technology plan that might change the classroom as much as the Internet changed the workplace. Officials want parents, who will ultimately foot the bill for millions of dollars in computers, infrastructure, ongoing Internet access and staff, to focus on the touted benefits of technology — personalized learning and immediate feedback.
Hamilton County Schools will receive more than $10 million in federal funds to help boost the prospects at five of its worst-performing schools. To keep the money, the school system has one year to show gains on test scores at the five inner-city, mostly poor and mostly black schools. The Tennessee Department of Education is granting the system about $3.5 million annually over the next three academic years to its school innovation zone, an effort to improve performance at Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary.
Tennessee’s sales tax collections dropped slightly last month, even though those figures reflect holiday shopping that took place in December. Sales tax revenue came in 15 million dollars below estimates for this year and 2 million less than what the state got in the same month last year. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes says that’s probably because aggressive marketing on Black Friday spurred people to make more purchases in November instead of waiting until closer to Christmas.
State Health Department workers visited multiple hospitals daily during the early weeks of the recent deadly fungal meningitis outbreak, picking up stacks of printed patient records to be entered into databases by hand. But it was taking too long as the number of patients rapidly grew. So for the first time during an ongoing public health emergency, agency leaders decided they needed the hospitals to allow them to access the records from their computers.
Weary over the “guns-in-parking lots” controversy, House Speaker Beth Harwell indicated this week she could support a bill sponsored by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey that gives gun-rights advocates much of what they want. “My prediction is this bill’s going to pass,” Harwell said this week at a forum sponsored by the Tennessee Press Association and The Associated Press. The issue “is not a priority of this General Assembly, or it’s not a priority of the Republican Caucus,” Harwell said. “So I think as soon as we get this out of the way the better we’re going to be. We can focus on some important issues.”
So-called “guns in trunks” legislation is up for a vote of the full Senate Monday night, and it now appears set for smooth sailing in the state House. Speaker Beth Harwell says it will likely pass in her chamber. The bill is revised from last year, when Harwell and other Republican leaders prevented it from coming to a vote at the wishes of big employers. “By limiting it to gun carrying permit holders put some safeguards in place. And the liability issue, we just had to address that. That’s just something we had to do for business.”
More gold bars could be headed to Tennessee if one Republican lawmaker from Rutherford County has his way. A bill introduced last week would repeal the state’s sales tax on precious metals. Gold investors range from savvy stockbrokers to seniors convinced by infomercials that precious metals will keep them safe from economic calamity. If they just receive a certificate and keep the physical gold in a tax-free state, they can avoid the sales tax in Tennessee. Rep. Joe Carr says he visited one of the country’s largest depositories in Connecticut, where there’s a tax exemption.
Calling Tennessee’s beer tax the highest in the nation, beer industry spokesmen and state Sen. Brian Kelsey told a Young Avenue Deli crowd on Friday they hope to change the tax structure that has been in place for 59 years. Kelsey (R-Germantown) sponsored a Senate bill two weeks ago to change the law passed in 1954. As it is, Tennessee’s beer tax is a combination of three taxes. Federal and state excise taxes are calculated by volume, then a 17 percent local wholesale tax is calculated on price.
Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs has filed paperwork to challenge Sen. Stacey Campfield in next year’s GOP primary. According to WBIR-TV, Briggs, a cardiac surgeon, says he wants to take District 7 “in a different direction.” Campfield, in his first term as senator, has made headlines for some of his bills. One, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, sought to ban classroom instruction or discussion of homosexuality. A new version proposed this year would force schools to tell parents if their children have talked to a teacher or counselor about being gay.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield chuckled Friday over comedian Stephen Colbert’s satirical characterization of him as a potential Republican presidential candidate — the latest example of the Knoxville lawmaker gaining national celebrity status through his legislative pursuits. “It was funny,” said Campfield. “You can take anybody out of context and have fun with it. That’s what he (Colbert) does for a living, and he’s good at it.”
Acting on a tip that state Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville had logged time for DUI last weekend in Madison County, we checked: Indeed, he had. Todd was incarcerated from Thursday, January 31, to Saturday, February 2, at the Madison County Penal Farm. Since Rep. Todd was, rather famously, convicted last year of a DUI in Nashville, this circumstance had us checking into whatever dire fate might await him, as the perpetrator of what looked to be a second offense.
Ruthie Kuhlman has tried to ignore those disgruntled that she was elected chairman of the Knox County Republican Party a week ago by declaring that if she had to worry about rumors over her election, “I wouldn’t get anything done.” Some observers at the reorganization of the GOP Executive Committee a week ago apparently felt some technicalities weren’t handled properly such as whether a quorum had been declared or whether she was legally elected. But they didn’t file an appeal of the results by Thursday, five days afterward, as required, said Brent Leatherwood, Tennessee Republican Party executive director.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said this week that 13 former Tennessee Republican Party chairmen are serving as honorary co-chairmen of his statewide re-election committee. Alexander said in a news release he “is grateful for the support from men and women who have helped the Tennessee Republican Party grow from a minority of voters to our state’s dominant political party.” The senator and his supporters are working hard to avoid a primary or at least a challenge from any tea party-style candidate with enough stature or money to gain traction.
T-Mobile insists its proposed merger with Metro PCS will strengthen its competitive position against bigger rivals to create more business at its call centers in Chattanooga, Nashville and 15 other communities. But a labor union trying to organize T-Mobile call centers wants regulators to make the companies guarantee they won’t ship telemarketing operations out of the country, if the merger is approved.
Suburban leaders notified attorneys for the Shelby County Commission and the Memphis City Council on Friday afternoon that negotiations on schools have reached an impasse, and they will not participate further in the discussions. Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said Friday afternoon that suburban mayors are “in agreement; we’re finished. “As far as I’m concerned, they are over,” McDonald said. Several of the suburban leaders said they had long believed the talks were not fruitful and that the Commission, in particular, was not negotiating, but rather trying to impose its will on the suburbs.
Private talks between the Shelby County Commission and the county’s six suburban mayors on suburban school districts have ended, according to Shelby County Commission chairman Mike Ritz and Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald. Ritz said he has instructed the commission’s attorneys in the Memphis federal court schools case to tell Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays that talks have ended and Mays should rule on the remaining issues in the case that was filed two years ago Monday.
Metro school board members expect to approve a diversity plan developed largely due to last year’s high-profile clash with Great Hearts Academies charter school operator. An eight-page draft of the plan, which can be found here, identifies goals and objectives to managing the district’s diversity going forward, but is short on specific details on how those standards will have bearing on groups applying to open new charter schools. “It’s unfortunate we had to have a meltdown over a single charter school to accelerate this work,” said board member Will Pinkston.
Emails between the Public Building Authority and a firm tasked with installing security systems in two Knox County schools show an increasingly hostile relationship that ultimately led to a lawsuit. The PBA, responding to a public records request by the News Sentinel, on Friday made public a series of emails between PBA project manager Jeff Galyon and others involved in the construction of Hardin Valley Academy and remodeling at Powell Middle School and security firm Professional Security Consultants and Design.
The Phillip Phillips tune filled the Clayton Homes headquarters gymnasium Friday as educators, parents and public officials gathered to celebrate the start of construction on a Maryville STEM academy. “Know you’re not alone, I’m going to make this place your home,” from Phillips’ “Home,” carried the day’s message as Clayton Homes and nonprofit Innovative Education Partnership Inc. revealed plans to offer a new choice for education for Blount County. The new Clayton-Bradley Academy — to be within Innovation Valley on Clayton Homes’ 200-acre property — will be the first private STEM school in Tennessee, backers said.
Lebanon High School was in a “soft lockdown’’ Friday afternoon because of threatening comments made on Twitter, Wilson County Schools Director Mike Davis said. During a soft lockdown, no one can enter or leave the school, but activities inside go on as planned. School dismissed at its regular time, because the timeline for the threat had expired, Davis said. Police are investigating the comments.
As professional educators at Vanderbilt University, we oppose Senate Bill 234, The Classroom Protection Act, which requires teachers to report students who they believe might be gay to these students’ parents (except when teachers suspect that parents are abusive). We strongly encourage you to oppose it, as well. The act erodes the professional expertise of teachers, limiting their ability to support, educate and protect their students at critical developmental times and undermining our shared goals for high-quality, rigorous and effective public education. Research consistently demonstrates that the best learning environments are ones in which students feel safe to engage in rich, rigorous, intellectual work.
It seems that bomb threats at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus have become a tradition. Several university buildings were yet again evacuated last week after a bomb threat was received. The threat, as usual, resulted in canceled classes and swarms of emergency personnel rushing to campus to search and secure evacuated buildings. It is the fifth time in almost as many months that such an event has occurred, and the constant distraction is taking a toll on students. But the students aren’t the only ones who should be irritated. Taxpayers are facing a hefty payout as a result of the accumulating cost of responding to each incident.