This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Supporters of the Boy Scouts of America’s Duck River District donated $129,000 to local scouting efforts Tuesday — the single largest amount raised in one day in the district’s entire fundraising history. A number of dignitaries from the local and state level advocated for the Duck River District, including Gov. Bill Haslam, who delivered the keynote address at the 10th annual Columbia area Boy Scout Patron Luncheon. A community would be an entirely different place without all the leaders that were groomed from a childhood in the Scouts, Haslam said.
A panel charged with studying the inequity in education funding in the United States recommends wholesale changes, including a true tally of what classroom instruction costs at the local level. The report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy For Education Equity and Excellence” was released Tuesday, two years after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan appointed 27 experts from education, public policy and teachers’ unions to recommend how federal policy could address funding disparities in education.
A Tennessee Department of Transportation official said shortly before noon Tuesday that the Epps Mill Road Bridge at the Buchanan exit on Interstate 24 is open to traffic after inspection Tuesday morning, but, as a precaution, has been narrowed from 12 feet to 10 1/2 feet without a shoulder. “This will allow traffic to pass while keeping traffic off the damaged beam. The beam is damaged or bent, but is not jeopardizing the integrity of the bridge,” said Deanna Lambert, community relations officer for TDOT.
Case to be sent back to local circuit court The Tennessee Appeals Court dealt the city of Clarksville a legal loss when it reinstated the right for the Durrett Investment Company to sue the city over a building moratorium the city instated in north Clarksville. The Circuit Court for Montgomery County dismissed the suit in March of last year, but the Durrett Investment Company appealed the case and the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reinstated the company’s right to sue in a judgment filed last Friday.
A measure that would have allowed Tennessee to approach Congress about forming the state’s own health care system has failed a second consecutive year after opponents said Tuesday it’s unnecessary and could hurt the state’s other health initiatives. The proposal was developed last year as a challenge to the federal health overhaul championed by President Barack Obama and would have sought waivers for each participating state to create its own health care system. A group of 10 states proposed the compact before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act last summer and Obama was re-elected last November.
The nation’s largest seniors’ group is applauding the failure of legislation that would have let Tennessee join with states and ask Congress for permission to run most federal health care programs in their states. “We are thrilled that our representatives recognized the potential problems with this legislation,” AARP Tennessee Advocacy Director Shelley Courington said Tuesday. Republican Rep. Mark Pody’s Health Care Compact legislation failed on a 9-9 vote in the House Insurance and Banking Committee.
Tennessee lawmakers stepped back from a controversial proposal to create a new state authorizer for school charters after a backlash from officials in Nashville and Memphis. The House Education Committee put off debate Tuesday on a bill that would have given a state authority the power to approve or revoke applications for school charters in Tennessee’s two largest cities. The decision came after an intense campaign against the measure led by some members of the Metro Council, the Metro school board and the state legislature.
A plan that would let state officials overrule local school board decisions about charter schools in the state’s two largest cities is being sharply criticized. The Tennessean reported members of the Metro Nashville Council, the board of the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and opposing state legislators gathered Monday at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, where school board chairwoman Cheryl Mayes derided the bill as “horrid.” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat elected in a non-partisan mayoral race, supports the bill as does House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican.
A bill to create a state charter authorizer has been delayed. The sponsor now says he’s listening to critics, who say the legislation unfairly singles out Nashville and Memphis. As written, the bill would give privately run, publicly financed schools a way to open in Tennessee’s two largest urban areas without asking the school board – officially known as the local education authority or LEA. Rep. Mark White is the sponsor and says he could be on-board with a true statewide charter authorizer if local school boards do the initial vetting.
New research by an education professor at Vanderbilt may shed some light on the debate among state lawmakers over whether to create a state-level charter authorizer, which could open the door to more charter schools in Nashville and Memphis. Whether charter students go to a school approved by their local district or by the state makes little difference in terms of their test scores, according to research by Vanderbilt’s Ron Zimmer. After comparing four years of data from Ohio, Zimmer says the results might suggest it doesn’t matter if the state can give charters approval in place of local districts.
Despite serious questions, guns-in-trunks could pass as soon as next week The year’s most watched piece of gun legislation appears to be on the fast track to the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives, even though both sides say serious questions remain about it. A bill that would give nearly 400,000 gun owners in Tennessee the right to carry their weapons in their vehicles anywhere they want — including school and workplace parking lots — could be passed as soon as next week despite widely shared doubts about its scope and effectiveness.
Despite an accusation it’s “setting up a platform for only rich folk to serve in the Legislature,” Rep. Rick Womick’s bill to discontinue per diems for local lawmakers sailed through the House State Government committee Tuesday. The Rutherford County Republican wants to eliminate the $107 daily lodging allowances for legislators who reside within 50 miles of the Capitol in Nashville. “This is the right thing to do,” Womick, a second-term Republican, said. “If we’re not using a hotel, then we shouldn’t be reimbursed for something that we’re not receiving.”
An effort to lower daily expense accounts for some state lawmakers is running into more resistance, even as it advances in the General Assembly. Those who live within 50 miles of the state capitol would no longer be eligible for the $173 a day meant for hotels and meals. In a House committee, Democrat Johnny Shaw of West Tennessee told the sponsor he was making it nearly impossible for a working person to hold office. “That’s what you’re doing. You’re setting this up so that only people with money can serve in the legislature.”
Stunned lobbyists for Tennessee cities are trying to regroup after Rep. Mike Carter’s bill upending the state’s 15-year-old urban growth boundary law barreled through the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday despite their concerns. The freshman Ooltewah Republican says he brought the bill affecting annexation because of Chattanooga officials’ previous efforts to amend its growth plan in order to, in Carter’s words, “cherry pick” affluent suburbs. But he says the problems extend well beyond Chattanooga, and so does his bill.
State legislatures from Arkansas to New York are trying to make records about who has a handgun permit off limits to the public. A bill in Tennessee – as currently written – would keep permit information from being released for any reason other than law enforcement. Legislators nationwide are responding to a newspaper in New York that – following the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut – published a map revealing homeowners with handguns. In Tennessee, several bills are in the works. Rep. William Lamberth of Sumner County says he’s concerned about the safety of gun owners, saying their homes could become targets.
Tennessee law enforcement agencies are eager to put military drones to civilian use, though it may be awhile. The Air National Guard’s 118th Wing based at Nashville International Airport is transitioning to a new mission involving unmanned aircraft. The Tennessee Guard already lends its helicopters to help police with surveillance and drug stings. Maj. Gen. Max Haston told a panel of lawmakers it would make sense to use the drones – known as Reapers – too. “When you’re trying to keep observation on a meth lab, if you put an unmanned aerial vehicle over it, it would not put local law enforcement or any of our soldiers assisting at risk.”
American firms that make drones are aiming their sights on the U.S. market as the next frontier for the controversial technology. With a declining defense budget expected to limit spending on the vehicles, used primarily to monitor and target combatants on foreign battlefields, manufacturers are seeking opportunities on the domestic front, where universities, police departments and border patrol agencies—as well as commercial enterprises— could use unmanned aircraft, known as drones.
Nearly 3,700 people — probably more than half of Pigeon Forge’s entire population — are registered to vote in the March 14 referendum to decide the contentious issue of liquor by the drink in the city. Census Bureau figures estimate a city population of 5,975 in 2011. Sevier County Election Commission records now show 3,666 registered city voters: 3,295 are listed as residents, 371 as nonresident property owners. The exact numbers can be adjusted up until five days before the election, should questions arise about the validity of an address, or if a currently registered voter reports a change of address, either moving into or out of the city, said Deputy election Administrator Ed Kuncitis.
A majority of voters support more taxes for schools in Knox County, according to a survey conducted through the Knoxville Chamber. The results of 900 people interviewed across the county also showed that 90 percent of respondents said they believe that education is “very important” in improving the county’s economy. The information could be used as support for school proponents who want more tax dollars for schools in budget requests to Knox County Commission.
Members of the Knox County school board and the Knox County Commission hope that a newly formed joint education committee can help the two bodies work better together in the future. School board Chairwoman Karen Carson said there will always be issues that put the two bodies on opposite sides, but they have to figure out ways to set some ground rules. “It gives us a better opportunity to find the common ground and a solution as opposed to being embedded in our stances. The way to do that is to get to know each other,” she said during the committee’s first meeting Tuesday.
Although Hawkins County Adult Education is uniting with Hancock County as part of a statewide administrative merger, there is still ample opportunity for adults in both counties and across the state to earn a diploma. Hawkins County Adult Education director Martha Stooksbury told the Board of Education earlier this month that the administrative merger was mandated by the state as a cost cutting measure. In addition, Stooksbury said the cost of the actual GED test is also increasing as of Jan. 14.
After meeting with local officials Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann faces three main goals: Find a key for Chickamauga’s $693 million lock, keep grant money flowing toward Hamilton County and protect local governments from costly federal regulations. Fleischmann, R-Tenn., met with elected officials from the county and its 10 municipalities Tuesday at the EPB building in downtown Chattanooga for a roundtable discussion about what locals need from the congressman’s office.
Up for re-election last year, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann campaigned as “a proven conservative.” U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais pushed his “conservative approach to solving our country’s problems.” And U.S. Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. made news this week when he said he may oppose an anti-domestic violence bill because of its price tag. But who is the only Tennessee Republican to crack a widely-read rundown of the Top 25 House conservatives? U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of the Nashville suburbs. For the last 30 years, the Washington-based National Journal has annually named the most liberal and conservative in Congress, announcing the Top 25 before ranking all members. Short lists emerged Tuesday, and Blackburn captured the No. 3 spot in the House.
A deal to lease space inside Nashville’s old convention center to Renaissance Hotel and free up the rest of the facility for redevelopment cleared a hurdle in the Metro Council on Tuesday. The 673-room Renaissance Hotel on Commerce Street anchors the city-owned Nashville Convention Center, built in 1987, which will give way to the new $623 million Music City Center south of Broadway after it opens in May. Metro has a contractual obligation to keep the older facility as a convention center through 2017 –– a stipulation that must be removed for Metro to find new uses there in the short-term.
The name of the new unified school system in Memphis and Shelby County is apparently yet to be determined. Enough members of the board feel the city name should be part of it that they voted it onto a board agenda.“Names are important,” board member Patrice Robinson said. “Your name is important. Your children’s names are important.” Changing the name from the Shelby County Schools would take more than a board vote. The Commercial Appeal reported that Valerie Speakman, the attorney for the county schools, said the Shelby County Commission would have to persuade state lawmakers to pass a special act to enable it.
The countywide school board voted down two attempts to add resolutions to its agenda Monday, Feb. 18, including one seeking a year’s extension of the August 2013 schools merger start date and another seeking to slow the process while still meeting the date. The first proposal by school board member Tomeka Hart would have instructed attorneys for the school system to go to Memphis federal court and “take measures to seek an extension of the merger date.” Hart, who was among the early proponents of the merger, said she sought the extension because legal claims and counterclaims involving suburban municipal school districts beyond the basic question of the merger remain unresolved.
To say we are looking at a great setback for education with the latest Tennessee social studies revision proposal is an understatement. There is no greater gulf of knowledge than that which lies between the public understanding of geography and the reality of what geography really is. Geography should be an essential part of every curriculum, including elementary, middle school and high school, not watered down as subservient to other subject areas. However, geographic education is slowly being eliminated from K-12 curricula in the United States. Geography today includes much more than just memorizing countries and state capitals.
Tennessee has a reputation as a low-tax state, primarily because it doesn’t tax earned income. There are exceptions, however. There’s the high sales tax rate, of course, but the Volunteer State also has the nation’s highest tax on beer. Not only is the tax on wholesale beer a whopping 17 percent, it is assessed on sales price. Other states tax by volume. A bill in the Legislature introduced by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, would change the tax to a volume-based levy that would bring Tennessee in line with other states and level the playing field for beer sellers on the borders with other states. We say “cheers” to the overdue reform.
In a refreshing change of course for Tennessee’s General Assembly, a conservative Republican is breaking ranks with the National Rifle Association. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey made a courageous statement when he said an NRA-backed initiative to close public access to state handgun permits goes too far. “Having the handgun carry records open actually helps the cause of the Second Amendment,” Ramsey said in a recent interview. “Because people can go look at those and realize that they truly are law-abiding citizens.” Furthermore, Ramsey said, he encourages the media to scrutinize records to see if the state is missing something important. He also noted that problems crop up when no light is shining on government.
Sevier Countians have to be wondering, “Was it something we said?” Sunday’s News Sentinel report by Nashville bureau chief Tom Humphrey put in black and white, with tables and tabulations, what Sevier Countians have long known: other counties reap Sevier’s fair share of tax revenue sent to the state. Maybe they’re soul-searching to determine if they inadvertently disrespected someone on Capitol Hill. Humphrey pointed out that Sevier County sends $2,884 per capita to the state and only gets back $1,441 in funding, a net negative of $1,443 or more than double the nearest deficit of $601 the rich folks in Williamson County contribute to the good of the state cause.
With classes for the merged school district scheduled to start in less than six months, the Shelby County unified school board acted prudently Monday in rejecting a proposal to delay the merger for a year. School board commissioner Tomeka Hart’s proposal to delay the merger of Memphis City Schools with the county schools failed when the board voted 6-11 against placing her recommendation on its Feb. 26 agenda. Hart was a member of the old Memphis City Schools board and one of the architects of the MCS board’s charter surrender, which led to authorization of the new unified school district scheduled to begin classes Aug. 5.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out an array of new spending proposals, including a $50 billion plan for highways, bridges and other projects. He wants to attract “private capital” for the plan, but the problem is that federal planners would remain in control of the allocations. America’s transportation facilities need to be continually repaired and rebuilt, but decisions about where and when should not be made in Washington. Outside of the United States, the global trend is to partly or fully privatize infrastructure, which not only attracts private capital but ensures that it goes toward high-return projects. In many cases, infrastructure companies can raise private funds, construct new bridges or highway lanes, and charge drivers directly for their use.