This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam warns federal spending cuts looming at the end of this week would affect not just the state’s budget, but also Tennessee’s economy as a whole. The sequester would furlough some federal workers in places like Fort Campbell and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, potentially setting back local economies. Haslam is careful to say he believes the federal government should spend less money, but he sees the sequester as the wrong approach, pointing to across-the-board cuts in places like Oak Ridge.
Tennessee is making the largest gains in the nation in high school graduation rate. At its current pace, it is among 18 states poised to achieve 90 percent by 2020, a national goal. Vermont and Wisconsin are already at goal, according to a report released Monday by a collaborative of researchers, including Johns Hopkins University. Between 2002 and 2010, Tennessee’s rate rose 20.8 percentage points to 80.4 percent. It posted it most significant gains, 2.45 percent a year, in the last four years.Nationally, in the same period, the rate increased 6.5 percent to 78.2 percent.
State lawmakers raised several reservations but ultimately passed Governor Bill Haslam’s school voucher program in its first test. Two members of the House Education Subcommittee voted no, including one Republican. The former school superintendent says he doesn’t believe public money should be diverted to private schools. Democrat Joe Pitts of Clarksville voted no after asking if private schools would be forced to still provide a free lunch. Only poor students could qualify for vouchers under the plan.
Tennesseans remain split on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to spend state money on private schooling for poor children in failing public schools, but views differ sharply by race, according to a new poll from Middle Tennessee State University. A phone poll of 650 random Tennesseans conducted earlier this month found 46 percent opposed to the voucher plan while 40 percent in support of it — a statistical “dead heat,” according to a news release from MTSU. Another 12 percent of Tennesseans said they did not know, and the remaining 2 percent declined to answer.
Tennesseans remain divided statewide on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to spend state money on private schooling for poor children in failing public schools through a voucher plan, but views differ sharply by race and region, the latest MTSU Poll shows. Conducted Feb. 11-19, the telephone poll of 650 randomly selected Tennessee adults found 46 percent opposed to the plan but 40 percent in support of it — a statistical “dead heat,” given the poll’s four-percentage-point error margin. Another 12 percent of Tennesseans said they did not know, and the remaining 2 percent declined to answer, according to a news release from the university.
Hosting the nation’s governors at the White House Monday, President Barack Obama singled out Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, as an example of a governor who had been able to compromise, prioritize and make “smart choices.” Obama praised Haslam for maintaining a balanced budget in Tennessee without shorting funding for key areas like education. The president, locked in partisan debate over automatic cuts set to go into effect Friday, challenged the governors to view compromise as “essential to getting things done.”
A total of 802 children died in Tennessee in 2011, with a third of those deaths a result of abuse, murder, drowning, suicide, suffocation or other preventable causes, according to new data released Tuesday by the Department of Health. State health officials note it is the fewest number of child deaths they have had to report in the past five years. Still, the new data are unlikely to shake Tennessee’s grim foothold on the top 10 list for states in the country with the highest child death rates.
The death rate for children in Tennessee dropped by 20 percent over the five years between 2007 and 2011. According to a report by the Tennessee Department of Health, factors in that decrease include a sharp decline in the number of sleep-related infant deaths due to suffocation or strangulation. But Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said there are still too many children dying from preventable causes. Of the 799 deaths in 2011 that were reviewed for the report, 26 percent were due to injuries from things like motor vehicles, weapons and fires.
National reports highlight state’s reforms, policies Tennessee reduced its jailing of teens more than any other state between 1997 and 2010, drawing praise for efforts to rehabilitate young offenders in two national reports to be released today. The 66 percent reduction in youth incarceration — from more than 2,100 youths in lockups to fewer than 800 — was the steepest drop, landing Tennessee among the 10 states with the lowest rate of incarceration, according to reports by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Justice Policy Institute.
Hours before death in early January, a patient at a Madison nursing home was grimacing in pain with eyes shut. The family, in tears, pleaded with health care workers to administer the painkillers ordered by the doctor. But workers at the Imperial Gardens Health and Rehabilitation Center told them that the drug, Roxanol, was not available, even though the family members said they had earlier personally delivered some of the medication to the facility. Finally, about an hour before death, a single dose was administered.
Change has swept across the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for years. Over a decade, the campus has crept into the city, building by building, becoming more residential. Enrollment has swollen to 11,660, a 36.7 percent increase. Tuition jumped more than 35 percent in five years. And now another change. A new chancellor. On Tuesday, University of Tennessee System President Joe DePietro announced that the group of three finalists for the job of UTC chancellor had been winnowed to one: Steve Angle, senior vice president of Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio.
A proposal to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores has scored its first legislative victory after years of frustration. The Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday voted 5-4 to advance the bill. The measure would allow cities and counties to hold referendums next year to decide whether to expand wine sales beyond the state’s 600 licensed liquor stores. The proposal has the support of two of the heaviest hitters in the Legislature in Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.
After hesitating for a moment, Sen. Reginald Tate cast the deciding vote on the bill that paves the way for wine sales in grocery stores, pushing it further than it’s ever been on Capitol Hill. With Tate’s vote, the measure passed on a 5-4 vote. The legislation, which would allow a public referendum to decide whether or not to allow wine sales in food stores, still has a long way to go for a chance to become law. “It’s a war and they won the battle today,” said Chip Christianson, who serves on the board of the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association and argues the move would cripple local liquor stores.
Supporters of a proposal to let local voters decide whether grocery and convenience stores should be allowed to sell wine squeezed out a major victory Tuesday in a dramatic committee vote in the Tennessee Senate. Members of the Senate State & Local Government Committee voted 5-4 Tuesday to send along Senate Bill 837, a measure that would let grocery stores sell wine if approved in local referendums. The vote marked the first time wine-in-supermarkets legislation has cleared the Senate committee since the most recent push began in 2007.
A Senate committee popped the cork on a bill allowing wine sales in grocery stores, giving the years-long effort its first real movement even in the Tennessee General Assembly. Senate State and Local Government Committee members approved the bill on a 5-4 vote. That came after narrowly batting down an amendment permitting liquor stores to sell other items if a referendum passes allowing grocery stores to sell wine. The bill still faces substantial hurdles in the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate floor and in the House.
Legislation allowing the sale of wine in Tennessee grocery and convenience stores on Tuesday won committee approval for the first time, after seven consecutive years of failure. But the bill still has several hurdles before it can become law. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the measure on a 5-4 vote after voting down an amendment that would have allowed liquor stores to sell other items — including beer, cigarettes, corkscrews and mixers — to make up for potential losses in wine sales.
A measure allowing wine to be sold in Tennessee grocery stores is now closer to becoming law than ever before. The legislation was approved on a 5-4 vote in a Senate Committee. After years of debate, some members say their decision was only made a few hours prior. Senator Reginald Tate of Memphis tipped the balance. Personally, he says he’d rather not make liquor stores compete with supermarkets. But he says his constituents seem to favor the added convenience. “The only way I could resolve it was to let them vote on it themselves.”
After hearing close to two hours of public testimony the previous evening, members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee narrowly approved a bill Tuesday morning allowing local communities to vote on the ability to purchase wine in supermarkets. The final committee vote tally was 5-4. Voting in favor of moving Senate Bill 837 along to the chamber’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee were the measure’s sponsor, Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, Memphis Democrat Reginald Tate, Tullahoma Republican Janice Bowling, Franklin Republican Jack Johnson and Clarksville Republican Mark Green.
A bill allowing local communities to vote on whether to expand wine sales has narrowly cleared a subcommittee in the Tennessee Senate, according to media reports. The bill was approved 5-4, and marks the first time a bill concerning wine in grocery stores has advanced beyond a committee vote. The bill would let communities vote on whether grocery stores and convenience stores should be allowed to sell wine. In addition to the full Senate, the bill must also be approved by the House.
For the first time in history, a Tennessee Senate committee has voted in favor of a bill allowing wine sales in grocery stores. The State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 Tuesday to advance the bill, which would allow cities and counties to hold referendums next year to decide on expanding wine sales beyond the state’s nearly 600 licensed liquor stores. “I worked hard to make sure this came out of committee,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said Tuesday. Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, is the primary sponsor of the bill in the House, which held hearings Tuesday before the Local Government Subcommittee.
Most grocery shoppers interviewed Monday by The Daily News Journal are in favor of wine being sold in supermarkets. Some do not want liquor stores to be hurt by the move, however, and one woman said she didn’t want wine to be sold near churches. “I’m retired military and have lived all over. Most every place we lived, grocery stores had a nice wine supply,” said Phil Barnett after shopping at Jr’s Foodland Monday. “My concern is only for the liquor store owners.” The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 Monday to allow local governments to hold referendums next year to decide whether to expand wine sales beyond licensed liquor store sales.
Anti-discrimination student policies similar to one at Vanderbilt University would be banned under a bill that passed its first legislative test last night. The sponsor says just because public colleges haven’t adopted all-comers policies doesn’t mean they won’t. Requiring that any student can join any campus club and even hold leadership positions has become popular among elite, private schools. Vanderbilt began enforcing an all-comers rule after a gay student was kicked out of a Christian organization.
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved a bill that would make it harder to rename or move war monuments, including those commemorating the Civil War. House lawmakers voted 69-22 in favor of legislation that forces local governments to get permission from the Tennessee Historical Commission before moving or renaming any memorial, park, building, street, school or other monument to the state’s war dead or heroes. They also rejected a Democratic-led amendment to protect monuments to the Civil Rights Movement by a similar vote.
Bills in the Tennessee legislature that attempt to block the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state are unconstitutional. That’s according to a just-released opinion from the state’s top lawyer. The Tennessee Attorney General memo says the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause trumps state statutes, making it unlawful to nullify firearms laws made on the national level. He goes on to say the state legislature also can’t take a backdoor route and criminalize the enforcement of gun laws in Tennessee, which is exactly what a bill from Senator Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet does.
On a day when the Republican-led state of New Jersey moved to expand it’s Medicaid program, hospitals and Democrats see an opening in Tennessee. The Tennessee Hospital Association released a poll showing a majority of residents want expansion. Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the hospital association’s poll said the state should accept federal dollars to expand it’s health insurance program for the poor as envisioned in the Affordable Care Act. THA president Craig Becker says he’s also seen a softening among state lawmakers.
A battle is under way in the General Assembly over your cable television and electric bills, and regardless of who wins, it could mean higher costs for you. The fight is over how much Tennessee’s municipal and cooperative electric utilities, such as Nashville Electric Service, charge cable providers like Comcast to attach communications gear to their power poles. Tennessee lawmakers now must decide between competing measures regulating the rates utilities can charge. With tens of thousands of power poles throughout the state, millions of dollars are at stake.
Cable companies say they will have to raise prices if the costs for attaching their equipment to power poles go up. Legislation introduced at the state capitol proposes a so-called “shared cost rate.” It would allow utilities to charge cable providers based on how much space is available on their poles. Currently, the charge is based on how much space the cable company uses. Comcast says this bill could double the cost for the some 600,000 poles they use state-wide. Spokesperson John Gauder says they would be forced to pass this cost along to consumers. “
The Senate Judiciary has voted to send a bill to lift Tennessee’s ban on switchblades to a full floor vote. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was advanced on a 7-1 vote on Tuesday. It would also end restrictions on carrying blades longer than 4 inches. Bell said his research shows that the ban on switchblades is not based on criminal activity with spring-loaded knives. The bill would set statewide rules for knives, meaning that local governments would no longer be able to set their own restrictions.
A majority of state residents favor Tennessee expanding its Medicaid program to accept federal funding, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Tennessee Hospital Association. The release of the poll is the latest move by hospitals in a high-stakes campaign to convince the state’s Republican-controlled government to participate in one of the main tenets of the Affordable Care Act. Hospitals, many of them already losing money, are counting on income from an expansion of the state Medicaid program, which is called TennCare in Tennessee, to offset cutbacks of other federal funding sources.
A new survey of insured Tennesseans shows a majority want the state to accept federal dollars to expand TennCare coverage. The Tennessee Hospital Association released the findings of a statewide survey as the trade group continues to urge Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the GOP-led Legislature to expand TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Such expansion would be made possible through the Affordable Care Act. The survey, commissioned by THA and funded by the American Hospital Association, shows that 59 percent of 600 insured, registered voters believe Tennessee should expand Medicaid.
Sparks flew Tuesday as Republican Sen. Bob Corker confronted Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, about monetary policy, accusing him of “throwing seniors under the bus.” Corker unleashed criticism of the Fed’s efforts at “quantitative easing” —expanding the nation’s money supply — while questioning Bernanke during a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Corker complained that the Fed’s policy of buying new government debt, part of quantitative easing, keeps interest rates so low they hurt savers, especially the elderly.
Five Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama senators helped an old Republican colleague become Secretary of Defense on Tuesday. Yet only one went all the way for Chuck Hagel. Two Tennesseans, two Alabamans and one Georgian voted to stop a seven-week limbo and allow a confirmation vote for the former senator from Nebraska. But only U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said “yes” to the big question. He was one of four Republicans to endorse Hagel. “I would worry about who might come if you rejected him,” Shelby said after the final vote.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is an important player in the world of science, and scientists from more than 100 foreign countries visited the Oak Ridge campus last year, led — once again — by a large contingent from China. Nearly a fourth of ORNL’s 7,706 foreign visitors in 2012 came from China. The 1,760 guests from China were more than twice as many as the next country, India, and far more than any other country — a situation that has existed for at least five years, perhaps longer.
It’s been over a year since it was filed, no hearings have taken place, but the “zombie” lawsuit against TVA is not dead. In fact, the case is shuffling toward its first hearing. On March 12, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell will hear a TVA motion to dismiss the case that six protesters filed against TVA for ejecting them from a TVA board meeting for wearing zombie costumes. Citing legal restrictions, neither side had much to say Tuesday about the impending hearing. TVA does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Scott Brooks.
Roughly 1,000 low-rated teachers in the Metro Nashville Public Schools system are teaching without a formal plan from the district to turn around their performance, officials said Tuesday. System-wide, 87 out of the district’s roughly 6,000 teachers have a written “plan of assistance” outlining how to improve their performance. Teachers are graded on a five-point scale where a “five” reflects a high-performing teacher. District-wide, 3 percent of teachers walked away with a score of “one” last year, and almost 18 percent received a “two” — both scores that require intervention.
A review of alarm and monitoring systems in Knox County’s public schools revealed a variety of problems, from malfunctioning keypad entry devices to failing motion detectors. The News Sentinel on Friday reviewed inspection reports by SimplexGrinnell, a security firm that replaced Professional Security Consultants on Design. PSCD came under fire when a comprehensive outside audit ordered up by the Public Building Authority showed a host of problems, including shoddy workmanship and missing motion detectors.
Countywide school board members had plenty to say Tuesday, Feb. 26, about a Memphis Federal Court status conference a day earlier that included the idea of Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays appointing a special master to oversee some aspects of the schools merger. But the board voted to file no response to Mays’ call for positions on whether he should appoint the master and if so, whom he might consider for the job. The board’s decision was the recommendation of interim Memphis City Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson.
When U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays summoned attorneys from all sides in the schools merger case to his conference room Monday, Feb. 25, there was someone else in the room. Mays specifically invited Valerie Speakman, attorney for the countywide school board, to the status conference even though the school board as an entity is not a party in the 2-year-old lawsuit. Mays, quizzed Speakman according to those present, about what steps the school board has taken toward the scheduled Aug. 5 date when classes begin for the consolidated school system.
Clearly, ensuring the trained, skilled workforce of tomorrow begins with equipping teachers and their students with a sense of how what they learn in the classroom is applied in the workplace, and that’s the basis for ongoing externships that the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System is promoting. CMCSS continues to research local businesses to identify those that have some practical compatibility with the school system’s Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) training initiative.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked a 2011 state law requiring applicants to undergo a drug test in order to receive public assistance. Gov. Rick Scott called the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit “disturbing” and said he would appeal. “Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive,” said Mr. Scott, a Republican. The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision in 2011 to temporarily block drug testing because it most likely violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches.
Republican and freshman state lawmaker Mike Carter, of Ooltewah, found a way to make headlines last week with his all-you-can-eat anti-annexation bill. Rep. Carter says he brought the bill because of Chattanooga officials’ previous efforts to amend its state-required growth plan in order to — in Carter’s words — “cherry pick” affluent suburbs. He calls the bill “Ryan’s buffet rule” after the all-you-can-eat restaurant chain, and says it would require cities to “clean” their “plates” by annexing everything in their current urban growth plans before seeking to amend them. What it really amounts to is giving counties all the buffet deserts: The good roads into town for the jobs here, the amenities of good shopping malls, theaters, parks and the riverwalks; and the police protection along the way.
Billboards! Yard signs! Print ads! Social media! Television! Free food! Free drink! Free transportation! All to get out the vote. Is this Chicago? Is Jim Messina, the mastermind of President Barack Obama’s campaigns, behind this? Nah, fair reader, this is Pigeon Forge, where all the women are strong supporters, all the men are good campaigners and all the children will be above average — if liquor by the drink passes on March 14. To dispassionate observers, the vote result must look like a done deal. Forging Ahead, the pro-liquor advocacy group, is leaving no highway un-billboarded, no byway un-yard-signed, no Facebook page un-posted in its efforts to get liquor in restaurants in Pigeon Forge once, for all and forever.
Give us the Falcons. Or St. Simons Island. Build us a Chattanooga-drivers-only lane through the unholy land that is I-75-through-Atlanta. Apologize for Newt. Admit your aquarium isn’t as good as ours. Resurrect Lewis Grizzard. Georgia Legislature, if you want our water, you’ve got to sweeten the pot. Don’t just dust off some forgotten history about where the state boundary was supposed to go (ask the Creeks and Cherokees how that story ends) and expect us to give you part of the Tennessee River. At least get Jimmy Carter to negotiate talks or something. Foreshadowing what many thinkers call the coming wars over resources (local and global), the Georgia legislature is trying to offer a trade with Tennessee in order to gain more access to the Tennessee River.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about sequestration and the potential impacts, but Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason indicated one thing was for sure: Lab employees will report to work on March 1. “No matter where sequestration ends up, come March 1, we’ll all report to work,” he said in a message to employees. “We’ll continue to operate as safely and efficiently as possible, and to focus resources on our scientific missions.” Mason asked ORNL employees to remain focused on their work during what’s likely to be a time of distractions. He said there are bound to be spending constraints if the sequestration takes effect, but the details probably won’t be available for a while.