This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, during his stops Wednesday at local schools and the University of Tennessee, called for increasing teacher pay, expanding preschool programs and raising school performance standards. Duncan also praised Tennessee’s education reforms, including implementing rigorous teacher evaluations and a performance-based funding model for the state’s colleges. The state should be commended, he said, for increasing standards on statewide assessment tests, even though it made scores drop and exposed even bigger gaps between students here and their peers around the country.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan paid a visit to East Tennessee Wednesday. Duncan visited Knox County Schools to take a look at how educational reforms have worked in the county and to discuss new goals for American schools, including President Obama’s State of the Union proposal to train more high schoolers for high-tech jobs. On Wednesday morning, Duncan made classroom visits and took part in a roundtable discussion at West High School that also included Gov. Bill Haslam and Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sounding more receptive to his alternative to expanding the state’s Medicaid program, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Last week Haslam turned down billions in federal money to expand TennCare, and instead proposed “a third way” that would use the government’s money to help those newly eligible for Medicaid to join private insurance plans through a health exchange. Haslam refuted the idea that his alternative is a “fool’s errand.”
Last week Gov. Bill Haslam announced that he would not accept federal money to expand Medicaid, but he added a big qualifier. He’ll take those federal funds, all right, but only if he can work out a deal with the Department of Health and Human Services that would allow Tennessee to use the money to buy private insurance for those who can’t afford it (most likely from the forthcoming federal health-insurance exchanges).
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill to do away with the state’s leash law for dogs and cats while being transported in vehicles. The governor’s office announced Wednesday that he had signed the bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville and fellow Republican Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown. The proposal was greeted with howls by House members when it came up for a vote there. It passed both chambers unanimously. The new law nearly eliminates a little-known leash or restraint requirement for any dog or cat in transport. That rule will now only apply to animals that might have rabies.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Servpro Industries Inc. officials announced today a $6.7 million expansion of the company’s corporate headquarters on Industrial Boulevard in Gallatin. The expansion is expected to create 90 full-time jobs in Sumner County. “SERVPRO has been a valued corporate citizen of Gallatin for 25 years, and the company illustrates how existing industries provide a solid foundation for all job creation in the state,” Bill Hagerty, TDEC commissioner, said in a release.
ServPro, a provider of fire and water damage restoration services, is expanding its corporate headquarters in Gallatin with a $6.7 million investment that will add 90 jobs. ServPro’s Gallatin headquarters includes corporate offices, a national call center, a warehouse, a manufacturing facility and a franchisee training center.
Disaster cleanup company Servpro is planning an expansion of its corporate headquarters in Gallatin that will create 90 new full-time jobs. The company plans to invest $6.7 million on the project, which includes the expansion of a building off Industrial Boulevard and the conversion of warehouse space into additional office space. , the expansion will result in more than 150 offices, a new dining area, fitness area and additional training classrooms. Servpro qualifies for a $90,000 job training grant from the state as a result of the expansion.
Many Tennessee business owners say an audit released last week that showed the state overpaid $73 million in unemployment benefits validates their longstanding complaints about the state’s unemployment program. Now they hope it leads to reform. State auditors found several troubling issues for Tennessee employers, including: • The state may be charging some employers higher premiums than are warranted. • Many employers have been unable to challenge unemployment claims because they did not get adequate or timely notification from the state that the claims had been approved.
Almost three years and millions of dollars in fixes later, the state’s computer system to track abused and neglected children may finally be up to snuff. Federal monitors charged with ensuring the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is protecting the state’s most vulnerable kids filed a new report this week detailing the agency’s progress in fixing its computer system. That $27 million system, called the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System, or TFACTS, has been plagued by problems from its inception in August 2010.
Crime on Tennessee’s college campuses has dropped slightly, but a new report by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows the number of assaults to be increasing at the state’s institutions of higher learning. The report released Wednesday by the TBI shows that overall crime on campus decreased by 4.1 percent in 2012 from the previous year. The report says assaults increased by nearly 14 percent last year. The report shows drug crimes went down slightly and sex crimes dropped by nearly 20 percent.
Overall crime was down by 4 percent on college campuses last year, but the number of violent crimes jumped dramatically, according to data published by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Assaults increased by 13 percent, and aggravated assaults increased from 46 incidents statewide in 2011 to 75 in 2012, said Kristin Helm, a spokeswoman for the TBI. “We don’t know why it’s happening,” said Helm. Still, campuses in and around the Chattanooga region look relatively safe on paper.
Crime incident numbers at Austin Peay State University during 2012 rose compared to a year prior, according to a report released Wednesday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. According to the report, the most violations come from theft, which can include anything from pocket picking to theft of motor vehicle parts. In 2011, APSU had 72 theft offenses. In 2012, there were 117. APSU Police Chief Terence Calloway said the higher numbers are not because the campus is unsafe, but rather an indication that there is more of a presence of officers on campus.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals this week reversed a Rutherford County Chancery Court opinion that would have awarded a former Middle Tennessee State University worker $3 million. Jim Ferguson, an ex-maintenance worker, sued MTSU more than a decade ago for racial discrimination and other claims of employment discrimination. Ferguson was injured on the workplace and filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against MTSU while he was off work. After he returned to work at MTSU, he filed a lawsuit in Rutherford County Chancery Court. F
The Republican leader carrying Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to create school vouchers in Tennessee said he’s decided to let it die this session because he’s tired of the “gamesmanship.” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris put the measure on hold Wednesday in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee chairwoman obtained by The Associated Press. Norris said he doesn’t want the committee to advance the bill. The administration proposed to limit vouchers to 5,000 students in failing schools next term, a number that would grow to 20,000 students by 2016.
Gov. Bill Haslam abruptly withdrew his proposal for school vouchers Wednesday after he and the bill’s sponsor in the state Senate failed to get guarantees from fellow Republicans that they would not try to expand the measure. Haslam and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Memphis, asked the Senate Education Committee not to hear Senate Bill 196 at its final meeting Wednesday afternoon. The move came because committee members planned to pursue amendments to the bill. Haslam has said he would not entertain changes. “If they won’t run their own bill, they shouldn’t try to hijack the administration’s,” Norris told reporters.
Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has axed his own school-vouchers proposal for the remainder of the legislative session. Sen. Mark Norris, who was carrying Haslam’s “Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act,” told reporters Wednesday that the governor decided not to move forward with Senate Bill 196 because some GOP lawmakers refused to back down from their plan to amend the administration-backed measure. Some Senate Republican have said they’d like to expand the number of students eligible for taxpayer-funded school-choice vouchers beyond what the governor’s legislation offered.
The governor and the second-ranked Senate Republican have agreed to give up on a push for a limited voucher program this year as a result of a faceoff between lawmakers wrestling for a more expansive program. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said he would abandon the governor’s proposal to create a limited voucher program, also known as “opportunity scholarships” to send as many as 5,000 low-income students at the state’s worst schools to private ones courtesy of taxpayers.
Gov. Bill Haslam pulled the plug on his limited school-voucher proposal Wednesday as fellow Republicans on the Senate Education Committee prepared to spring their plan expand the program by amendment despite the governor’s warnings. “I have just by letter, hand-delivered to the chair, advised the committee that the bill will not advance this year,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who was sponsoring the bill for Haslam. But a leading voucher proponent, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, later said he intends to press forward with an expanded plan, telling reporters there are other bills available that can be used.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to introduce school vouchers for low-income Tennessee students has been shelved. On Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, announced he was putting the bill on hold, according to an Associated Press report. The plan, which would have initially created a voucher program for 5,000 students next year, was snagged after Haslam became at odds with GOP senators, many who wanted to see the program’s size expanded. Haslam’s voucher plan was one of the more controversial items put forward as a part of his legislative package this year.
Governor Bill Haslam has sacrificed his own bid to start a school voucher program in Tennessee. He had been threatening to pull his proposal if anyone tried to tinker with it. Many Republicans wanted a broader voucher bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says they wouldn’t stand down. “This is not meant to be a political football,” he told reporters. “There was sort of too much brinksmanship.” Governor Haslam had proposed limiting school vouchers to poor students attending failing schools, and capping the number of vouchers to 5,000 in the first year.
A measure that would create a special panel to authorize charter school applications for failing schools is advancing in the state Legislature. The measure was approved on a voice vote in the House Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee. Currently local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are 48 charter schools in Tennessee. Under the new legislation, the nine-member panel would be appointed by the governor and speakers of the House and Senate. Failing, or priority, schools would apply directly to the panel.
Legislation creating a new state panel that could approve charter schools in Tennessee’s largest cities cleared a House Subcommittee Wednesday after Republicans defeated a Democrat-backed amendment to add “financial guardrails” — protections the Metro school board has sought. Moments earlier, the Senate Government Operations Committee voted 7-1 to give the bill a neutral recommendation, signaling lingering questions over the proposal, though not stopping its movement in the legislature.
A proposed state panel for approving charter schools initially rejected by local boards is again limited to just a handful of districts. The charter authorizer was going nowhere when it applied statewide. Republican lawmakers were pulling their support when there was a possibility state-approved charters could pop up in their backyard. “No one could vote for this bill when everyone was included,” Rep. Joe Armstrong (D-Knoxville) said. Like most Democrats, Armstrong opposes the state charter authorizer, which has morphed again to include only districts that have one or more the state’s 83 lowest-performing schools.
Legislation paving the way for new municipal school districts in the Shelby County suburbs advanced in both the House and Senate Wednesday and are headed to virtually certain passage within the next two weeks. Education committees in both the House and Senate approved the bill that originally would have increased the number of school districts permitted in any one county six to seven, but which was amended in both committees it to simply repeal the numerical limits altogether. State law currently allows no more than six school systems in counties above 25,000 people and no more than three in counties smaller than 25,000.
A proposal meant to put more armed guards in Tennessee schools has begun moving forward in the General Assembly. It offers money for schools to hire retired police officers and allows teachers with law enforcement backgrounds to carry a gun to class. Whether a retired officer hired part-time as a security guard or a teacher already on the payroll, both would have to go through at least 40 hours of special training. The legislation has the backing of Governor Bill Haslam and has trumped other proposals aimed at more broadly allowing teachers to go armed to class.
The Tennessee Senate approved a measure Wednesday that would let the state cut payments and other incentives to companies that fail to live up to promises to create jobs. Senators voted 32-0 in favor of Senate Bill 605, which authorizes the commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development to withhold economic incentives when companies fail to hit their targets. The legislation comes after several companies, including Hemlock Semiconductor Group, announced that they would not meet their goals after receiving millions in subsidies and tax credits from the state.
Tennessee Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the state to be reimbursed for any government subsidies that went to a project that failed to produce the economic impact promised less than a month after Hemlock Semiconductor announced that their $1.2 billion Montgomery County facility will lay dormant and 400 employees will permanently be laid off. The bill, proposed by Sen. Lowe Finney, D – Jackson, allows the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development to reduce the amount of taxpayer-funded incentives it distributes to companies if those companies fail to deliver the jobs they said they would create.
If you often wonder how new laws being debated in the Legislature might affect Tennessee business and industry operating costs, you might have a designated place to look in the future. Senate Bill 116 and House Bill 220 would both require a statement of “impact on commerce” for proposed new legislation heard in certain committees. The full Senate has already passed its version of the idea this year, while HB220 is still slogging through lower-chamber committees. “From a fiscal standpoint, when we pass a bill down here, our communities back home really need to know what is going to be that impact,” Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, told the Senate State & Local Government Committee last month during a hearing on the cost-to-business bill he’s sponsoring.
There’s an old word that’s been getting a workout more in the last four years than it has since before the Civil War, especially here in Tennessee. Nullification is the doctrine that a state can “nullify” any federal law it disagrees with, canceling the implementation and enforcement of the objectionable law within the sovereign state. Surveying bills and newspaper accounts, one of the nation’s hotbeds of 21st-century nullification would seem to be Knoxville. Our area’s most famous state legislator, Sen. Stacey Campfield, is a standard bearer.
One state legislator said it will be another year before lawmakers tackle the methamphetamine problem that is a “scourge” on communities. House Bill 617 would’ve reduced the amount of pseudoephedrine cold medication that can be purchased as part of the fight against meth. It unanimously passed out of a House Health Committee on Wednesday, but was stopped in the Senate when it was sent to the General Subcommittee, officials said. State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who sponsored the bill, expects it to pass the House.
Property owners across the state will have a two-year reprieve from forced annexation – and the tax increases that come with it — if a bill moving in the Tennessee Legislature becomes law. The original intent of Senate Bill 279 was to require a majority vote for annexation by qualified voters before a city could annex their land. The amended bill unanimously passed the Senate State & Local Government Committee Tuesday. Sen. Bo Watson, who has brought some version of the legislation for six years, said the bill “seeks to remedy an obvious flaw in the current law, a flaw that has been addressed by 47 other states.
After a lengthy and passionate debate, a House committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would reduce welfare benefits for families whose children are failing school. The House Health Committee voted 10-8 in favor of House Bill 261. The measure would cut Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments if a child fails a grade and a parent does not take an action such as attending two parent-teacher conferences, arranging tutoring, enrolling the child in summer school or taking a parenting class.
A hot-button proposal in the state legislature would link some welfare benefits with the report cards of their children. It finally began moving forward in the state House Wednesday and is scheduled for a vote in the full senate Thursday morning. Condemnation from across the country has been raining down on Sen. Stacey Campfield’s bill, which he says is based on a program in Brazil. It cuts cash payments to poor families by 30 percent if one of their kids is flunking. A parent could earn back the money by going to parenting courses or teacher conferences.
A bill seeking to put controls on the secondary ticket market has been withdrawn amid what its sponsor called fierce lobbying on both sides. Republican Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville said he expects to bring back the measure backed by Ticketmaster parent Live Nation Worldwide Inc. next year. Opponents of the bill, like eBay Inc. subsidiary StubHub, argued it would affect the legitimate transfer of tickets to sporting events and concerts by individuals and organizations. Supporters said it targeted online hoarding, price gouging and forgeries.
After appearing to flounder recently under the weight of growing opposition from conservative leaders, a proposal to impose greater restrictions on the event ticket resale market died Wednesday in a House committee. The bill’s author, state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, said the measure suffered “some of the harshest” lobbying he had experienced, making it impossible to continue. “They’ve done an excellent job maligning what the bill actually does and that’s just something I haven’t been able to overcome just yet,” Haynes said of the bill’s critics.
A resolution calling for a comprehensive study of lawmaker allowances has been killed in a House committee after unanimously passing the Senate. Republican state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, made the motion in the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to delay consideration of the measure until after the legislature adjourns next year. The resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers calls for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study the allowances paid to lawmakers when they are conducting business at the Capitol.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, has one word to describe the state’s proposed school voucher system: rip-off. The vouchers, as proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam, would allow lower-income students from poorly performing schools to go to any school of their choice. Favors, the vice chairman of the House Democratic caucus, represents a largely African-American district. Her constituents might benefit. But that’s not how Favors sees it. Rather, she believes the proposal will take badly needed money from the public schools to fund private education.
Local state legislators say they back Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey’s move to obtain documents from a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe of allegations against 10th District Attorney General Steve Bebb. The effort comes after Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper last week released his long-awaited report on his requested TBI investigation on Bebb and alleged misconduct in the 10th Judicial District. Kelsey, R-Germantown, said Wednesday he intends to bring a resolution to the committee next week, which if approved would require the TBI to release the file.
In Davidson County probate court, lawyers typically line up on Friday morning to get their fee requests approved in conservatorship cases. With more than 1,900 cases of disabled adults in conservatorships in Judge Randy Kennedy’s court, that can represents thousands of dollars each week. Traditionally, Kennedy approved the lawyer fees on the same day. Now, citing concerns over the costs and expense of conservatorships, Kennedy says he will hold fee requests for at least three days “to allow the court a greater period of time to examine and scrutinize all such unopposed motions.”
Sequestration has a silver lining, according to Sen. Bob Corker. Rolling back spending has created extreme circumstances in Washington, which in turn created a new atmosphere of cooperation between the White House and Congress, the Tennessee Republican said in Memphis on Wednesday. The automatic spending cuts came last month as President Barack Obama and Congress failed to seal a budget deal. The cuts will close air traffic control towers in Millington, Olive Branch, Jackson, Tenn. and Tupelo, Miss. Further cuts are promised for other Mid-South organizations that rely on federal funding.
The efforts of the Southwest Human Resource Agency continue to pay dividends in the eight counties it serves. And the efforts were rewarded when U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, presented a $1.1 million grant for construction and rehabilitation of properties in Madison, McNairy and Hardin counties. Blackburn was in attendance when the Resource Agency held its Workforce Investment Act Area-11 Job Skills Development Forum in Henderson on Wednesday.
More than 575,000 Tennesseans may be eligible for premium tax credits to help cover health insurance bought on the state’s federally run exchange, according to a new report from Families USA, a national health consumer group. Statewide, about 88 percent of those eligible for the tax credits will be in working families, and 12 percent are not employed. The largest age demographic of those eligible for the tax credits statewide is 18 to 34 year olds, who will account for about 35 percent of those eligible Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, premium tax credits will take effect January 2014, following an enrollment period that begins this October.
Following news from sister publication Nashville Business Journal that 575,000 Tennesseans may be eligible for tax credits to offset the cost of health insurance coverage purchased on the forthcoming state exchange, that figure includes approximately 75,600 Shelby County residents, a detailed report(2) from Families USA indicates. Those eligible for tax credits are fairly evenly split between those earning between zero and 199 percent of the federal poverty level — about 48 percent — and those earning 200 to 399 percent of the federal poverty level.
Pennsylvanians love to complain about their state’s tangled system for alcohol sales. Consumers can’t buy wine at grocery stores and have to go to a state-run store if they want to purchase that or hard liquor. Bars and restaurants are the only outlets authorized to sell six-packs of beer, while beer-specific stores, licensed to sell only by the case or the keg, are the go-to source for variety and volume. Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania House voted to privatize wholesale and retail liquor sales, bringing the state closer than it’s ever been to overhauling a system put in place just after Prohibition.
About two dozen people listened and commented Wednesday in two meetings as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission explained the process it will use to decide whether to extend Sequoyah Nuclear Plant’s operating license until 2041. If so, the plant by then will have operated 60 years — 20 more than its designed life. NRC’s Mark Yoo and Emmanuel Sayoc, project managers for the Sequoyah license renewal environmental impact statement, assured listeners that the federal regulator would do a thorough safety and environmental review.
The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop federal officials from blocking access to an area at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant that’s been traditionally used for protests. According to Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the peace group, OREPA and 19 individuals filed a lawsuit late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. The legal complaint asks the court to order the National Nuclear Security Administration to open up the “public forum area” at Y-12 for a planned demonstration that’s scheduled for Saturday.
Nike Inc. has scheduled a ground-breaking for April 9 of its new Memphis distribution facility. The facility, located on New Frayser Boulevard in North Memphis, is expected to add 250 local jobs. When it is completed, the 2.8 million-square-foot facility will support the distribution of Nike footwear, apparel and equipment across North America. As first reported in Memphis Business Journal, Nike also plans to give its 1.3 million-square-foot facility at 5151 Shelby Drive a $25 million retrofit and upgrade.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is warning members that insurance premiums will go up beginning in January 2014, and they’ve launched a website to explain why. The state’s largest private insurer, which covers about three million people across the state, launched www.KnowTheCostTN.com today — a website geared toward informing members about health care costs and insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, which they say will increase premiums.
The unified school district expects to cut at least 225 central office jobs, and hundreds of staff were told this week they will need to reapply for their jobs as administrators focus on paring duplication in the merged district’s hub. Many of the people who will be affected are mid- and upper-level management employees whose assignments, since the city schools charter was surrendered two years ago, have included planning the merger that would eventually cost their jobs. The first round of positions — executive directors and directors — will be posted by mid-April. A second round of postings is expected by mid-May.
We support Gov. Bill Haslam’s hard line on his school voucher legislation. The governor is right to go slow on testing whether school vouchers are a good way to help some Tennessee students get a better education. Like many supporters of public education, we are not sold on school vouchers. While some students might benefit from a voucher program, we believe the state and local school districts must focus on improving public education for all students, not just benefiting a few. That being said, we are not opposed to innovations in public education. There could be a place for vouchers, and Haslam’s approach could be a reasonable test of whether a voucher program would be worthwhile.
Haslam Needs to Ignore Anti-Obama Legislators and Do What Needs to be Done When your health insurance premium goes up this year—and it will—you can thank Gov. Bill Haslam and his Republican majority in the Legislature. But you can take comfort in the fact that they showed President Obama who’s boss by rejecting over $1 billion in federal funds. I guess we get to pay for their thrills. Two things have happened: The feds have offered 100 percent funding for three years to expand Medicaid (TennCare in Tennessee) to cover more people. At the same time they have cut the federal funds that normally go to hospitals that take a disproportionate share of poor people without insurance.
Legislation that would close public access to gun carry permit records threatens to put Tennessee on a slippery slope toward state secrecy. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure Tuesday, sending it to the Senate floor after its companion bill passed the House 84-10 in March. State lawmakers appear to be acting in revenge to the posting of Tennessee’s conceal-carry permit listing on newspaper web sites. Yet even though The Daily News Journal has no plans to publish such a listing, we believe these public records should remain open for anyone to review. Supporters of this legislation say legal permit holders are being punished and likely targeted when this list is made public.
A bill that would keep the public from obtaining information on Tennessee handgun carry permits has passed in the state House of Representatives and encountered no resistance in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill pits privacy concerns against the principle that government records should be open for review. As a news organization, we lean heavily in favor of openness. We cherish open government laws because they enable us — and all citizens — to monitor our local, state and federal governments. Providing readers with accurate, complete information about matters of importance is central to our mission, and we can only achieve that if we have access to information.
No matter how much state officials try to prettify their decision to lease the 8,600-acre UT-owned Cumberland Forest for fracking for natural gas, their lame excuses for pillaging and profiteering from a public asset fall apart. They can’t assure that this wonderful 13-square mile piece of state property will continue to be a pristine asset for future generations of Tennesseans once the roads, trucks and mining infrastructure over-runs the forest, and once the mining spews slag heaps, gas flaring and toxic waste water ponds that wreck the landscape and taint air and water quality.