This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam says for-profit charter schools are worth giving a look. He says a legislative proposal ending the state’s ban snuck up on him, but he’s open to the idea. “There are some really good for-profit charter operators,” Haslam. “If they can come in and do that in an effective way for school systems, they should be considered.” The proposal is being pushed by National Heritage Academies of Michigan, which has hired lobbyists in Tennessee. It would still require non-profit entities to govern the charter school, but under these rules it could now farm out day-to-day operations to an investor-owned company.
Governor wants a say on any changes Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam appears to be keeping an open mind when it comes to a potential sale of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In a statement issued Thursday, Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said TVA is critical to Tennessee, providing power and recreational opportunities and playing a major role in economic development. He added that “it is important for the governor to be part of any conversation or process to change what TVA looks like in the future.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam appears to be keeping an open mind when it comes to a potential sale of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In a statement issued Thursday, Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said TVA is critical to Tennessee, providing power and recreational opportunities and playing a major role in economic development. He added that “It is important for the governor to be part of any conversation or process to change what TVA looks like in the future.” In the 2014 budget submitted to Congress, the Obama administration said it “intends to undertake a strategic review of options for addressing TVA’s financial situation, including the possible divestiture of TVA, in part or as a whole.”
Brad Carver, a Georgia lobbyist, is thirsting for a small patch of land just north of the line now dividing Georgia from Tennessee. Two centuries ago, surveyors from Georgia and Tennessee marched through the region’s mountains and hollows to mark the official border between the two states. They were supposed to follow the 35th parallel, according to an agreement approved in 1802 by Congress…Tennessee says Georgia’s proposal is all wet. “The governor will continue to protect the interests and resources of Tennessee,” a spokesman for Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in an email.
Tennessee officials have declared a state of emergency after reports of a possible tornado and damage in Monroe County The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency issued the declaration at 9:25 CST Thursday. A spokesman said the agency had received reports of a possible tornado in Monroe County, including Madisonville in the far-southeastern part of the state, where authorities received reports of damage. A strong spring storm that socked the Midwest with ice and heavy, wet snow made its way east, raking the South with tornadoes Thursday, with three deaths blamed on the rough weather and thousands of people without power.
Severe weather damage from a possible tornado Thursday has forced the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) to issue a State of Emergency. According to the TEMA website, officials issued the State of Emergency just before 10:30 p.m. “due to a possible tornado and report of damage in Madisonville.” On Thursday, the State Emergency Operations Center was activated to level III. The state has received no requests for assistance from local governments at this time. A spokesman said the agency had received reports of a possible tornado in Monroe County, including Madisonville in the far-southeastern part of the state, where authorities received reports of damage.
A powerful spring storm that brought tornadoes, hail and high winds to the Deep South after socking the Midwest was making its way toward the Carolinas early Friday, with three deaths blamed on the rough weather and thousands of people without power. The storm marched from Louisiana to Georgia on Thursday, causing major damage to parts of Mississippi, where a twister was spotted and one person was killed. Tennessee authorities late Thursday declared a state of emergency after a tornado was reported in Monroe County, in the southeastern part of that state.
Steady rain soaked Middle Tennessee and left more than an inch and a half of accumulation Thursday afternoon. The system, which caused a handful of severe storms in Arkansas and Missouri, weakened as it passed through Middle Tennessee. In West Tennessee, the storm dumped 4 inches of rain in some areas and downed trees and power lines, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Richards. “This was an iffy storm for us,” Richards said. “We expected the severe weather to be south of us.”
When it rains, Leon Cottner finds himself living in the middle of a temporary rainwater lake. The creek behind Cottner’s home often floods and washes its excess water into his yard, his neighbors’ yards and the street on which he lives. After the storms that came through West Tennessee on Wednesday and Thursday, floodwater several feet high could be seen in his backyard. The water wrapped around to the front of his home. North Kentucky Street in Bemis, where Cottner lives, was partially closed.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has grants available to help groups clean up streams.cThere are five grants of $1,000 each available to schools, youth groups, civic organizations and other nonprofits. The money can be used to buy rakes, work gloves, trash bags and the like to use in cleanup and planting projects along creeks and rivers in Tennessee. TWRA will accept project proposals through June 15. The funds must be used and a report submitted within the next fiscal year.
State officials are urging Tennessee residents to verify the licenses of potential home contractors to avoid possible scams. Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak said in a statement this week the state has had stormy weather in recent days that may cause damage and draw the attention of “unscrupulous” contractors. She advised homeowners to verify the licensure of purported contractors by using the department’s license database at verify.tn.gov.
New billboards are going up across the state promoting the toll-free Tennessee Tobacco Quitline that helps people seeking to end their tobacco habits. The billboards are being funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are located in eight cities. They are Morristown, Columbia, Cookeville, Clarksville, Dyersburg, Lexington, Johnson City and Cleveland. The billboards feature a young mother cuddling her infant while holding a cigarette. The text reads, “Jenny smokes two packs a day. So does her mom.”
A bust of its namesake sits outside the new Confucius Institute at the University of Tennessee and scrolls featuring Chinese calligraphy adorn the walls. The art is courtesy of the Chinese government and UT’s new partner school there, Southeast University. “We’ve been talking about a Confucius Institute for several years, and the idea was originally brought to us by one of our Chinese faculty members as a way to facilitate research exchanges,” said Provost Susan Martin. “It is an entity that will offer credit and noncredit language courses, but also sponsor cultural activities,” she said.
Tennessee State University plans to break ground on a new agriculture teaching and research facility. The university says the $4 million facility will be located at the Agricultural Research & Educational Center on the main campus in Nashville. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the facility will include a field research support building, an agricultural education building, an equipment shed and a pesticide storage facility. The groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday. Construction is expected to be completed in September.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Noura Jackson, an East Memphis teenager convicted in a highly publicized trial of stabbing her mother to death in 2005. The high court grants only a very small percentage of appeals and usually does so, according to legal experts, only when some or all of the five justices want to re-evaluate a lower court’s legal reasoning, conclusions or a combination of both. So far this year, the Supreme Court has granted only nine of 237 appeal requests for review.
After defeating several attempts by Democrats to dial back the proposal, the House on Thursday approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to change the way the state considers injured workers’ claims. The chamber voted 68-24, almost entirely along party lines, to approve the bill. The Senate would have to agree to minor changes before the measure can head for the governor’s signature. A major feature of the measure is that it would remove workers’ compensation cases from the state’s trial courts and instead create special panels appointed by the governor to hear claims and appeals.
Governor’s overhaul seeks fairness but is blasted for favoring insurance companies Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers’ compensation overhaul easily cleared its last major legislative hurdle on Thursday, as Republicans pushed it through the House after rejecting Democrats’ last-ditch efforts to blunt or delay it. The House dropped its own version of the bill in favor of the Senate’s, then slightly amended the proposal before approving it 68-24 along party lines. It now goes to the Senate for its concurrence, considered a formality as the measure sailed through that body last week.
Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers’ compensation reform legislation passed the state House of Representatives Thursday, 68-24. The bill now heads to his desk to be signed into law. The House moved to concur with Senate Bill 200, where the bill passed by a vote of 28-2, with little discussion earlier this month. Only one Democrat – Rep. Charles Curtiss of Sparta – broke rank with the House minority party in voting against the legislation that expands the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to oversee a process formerly handled by the courts.
The sponsor of a proposal to dock the welfare payments of parents whose children fail school refused to listen to a little girl opposing the measure Thursday, saying she was being used as a prop. The 8-year-old was among several protesters who greeted Sen. Stacey Campfield as he emerged from an office at the legislative office complex. The girl, Aamira Fetuga, handed Campfield a petition of names against the measure, which the sponsor later withdrew on the Senate floor to be studied over the summer.
It’s back to the lab this summer for lightning-rod state Sen. Stacey Campfield and his contentious welfare-for-grades bill. The Knoxville Republican faced hecklers with signs as well as singing children and clergy gathered outside the state Senate chamber Thursday, there to show opposition to Campfield’s Senate Bill 132. The atmosphere inside the upper chamber was more subdued, but Campfield still received pushback from lawmakers, including several GOP senators, who said they could not get behind the bill in current form.
A plan to tie welfare benefits to student performance is off the table in the General Assembly, for now. The sponsor of the legislation — which has drawn the attention of late night TV shows and criticism across the country — has agreed to put the plan on hold to study the issue over the next year. “I thought a lot of people were caught up in the misperception of what this legislation actually did and didn’t want to make a bad political move, necessarily, for something that they truly believed in as a good piece of legislation,” said Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) who sponsored the bill.
After a confrontation with an 8-year-old girl and other activists, along with mounting opposition from fellow Republicans, state Sen. Stacey Campfield dropped his effort to tie welfare benefits to grades, asking that the legislation be held for further study. Campfield withdrew his proposal to reduce payments to families whose children are failing in school before a vote could be taken on the Senate floor Thursday. But the measure appeared to be headed toward defeat after several senators — including a few former supporters — expressed doubts.
Republicans express objections State Sen. Stacey Campfield rejected personal appeals from an 8-year-old girl and Gov. Bill Haslam, among others, to drop his quest for passage of legislation that could reduce welfare benefits paid to parents of children who are failing in school. He was also unfazed by critical national media attention to the measure, including a joke by Jay Leno and a declaration by “Comedy Central’s” Jon Stewart that Campfield was trying to “turn Tennessee education into the actual ‘Hunger Games.’ ”
A proposal tying welfare payments to a child’s report card has been pulled from consideration for the year. The bill lost support before coming to a vote on the floor of the Tennessee Senate. Majority Leader Mark Norris said the legislation made him “queasy.” “You can say withholding benefits doesn’t harm the child, but you’re fooling yourself,” he said. While lawmakers commended Sen. Stacey Campfield’s (R-Knoxville) effort to increase parental involvement, they voiced concerns about unintended consequences.
Faced with a barrage of skeptical questions from his Republican colleagues, State Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) took the hint on Thursday and agreed to refer his SB 09132 (referred to by opponents as “Starve-the-Children”) to a “summer study” committee. The first hint of serious trouble for Campfield camp during floor debate when GOP majority leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) pronounced himself “queasy” about the bill, which would reduce state aid to dependent families whose children were experiencing grade trouble.
Around 100 parents, clergy and kids were at the Tennessee State Capitol Thursday morning to successfully protest a bill that would cut temporary state assistance to recipients whose children have failing grades. The measure, which is believed to be the first of its kind, was pulled by Republican Sen. Sponsor Stacey Campfield so it could be studied over the summer after a 40 minute debate on the Senate floor. Prior to the debate, one of kids gave a petition with 2,500 signatures opposing the bill to Campfield.
Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation meant to restrict the use of drones by police, laying down what a supporter described as the first ground rules for the emerging technology. Senators voted 32-0 Thursday morning to approve Senate Bill 796, named the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act. The House of Representatives passed the measure hours later on a 91-0 vote. The bill classifies the use of drones as a “search” subject to a warrant, with exceptions granted in the event of terrorist activity, hostage situations and searches for fugitives or missing people.
For years, Nashville has had a love-hate relationship with state government. Although the two would have their quarrels, the state and city government generally shared some of the same ideology, and political stripes, making the relationship between the two symbiotic. But over the past decade, the dynamics of that relationship have changed. The formerly Democratic Party-led legislature is now packed with Republicans after a series of elections swept in waves of conservatives, turning the state from light blue to crimson.
Rep. Richard Floyd is willing to do most anything to sink a pending bill in the Legislature that expands a 2009 whisky distillery law to Chattanooga as well as other places excluded under the original statute. But would the Chattanooga Republican and well-known opponent of alcohol really be in cahoots with an established moonshiner already making good ol’ corn liquor legally in downtown Gatlinburg? Floyd says no, but a Knoxville businessman who is fighting to open a new distillery to compete with the existing Ole Smoky Moonshine operation in Gatlinburg questions whether amendments Floyd has filed on the bill side with Ole Smoky.
The the percentage of Tennesseeans who receive health insurance through their employers has fallen significantly in the past decade — from 67.1 percent in 2000 to 57.4 percent in 2011, according to a report released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Approximately 190,000 fewer Tennessee residents received health coverage through their job, or a family member’s job, in 2011 than in 2000. The trend isn’t local to Tennessee; nationally, 1.5 million fewer Americans get their insurance through the workplace than did in 2000.
Mayor Karl Dean is looking to get the city of Nashville out of the nursing home and assisted living businesses. Dean’s administration and the Metro Hospital Authority have hired an investment banking firm to help them look at options for selling two of the city’s three health care facilities, Bordeaux Long Term Care and Knowles Assisted Living & Adult Day Services, Metro officials said Thursday. The city’s main hospital, Nashville General Hospital at Meharry, would not be affected, though discussions about its future size and mission continue.
Investigators may not know who stole nine $100 bills from the Knox County mayor, but on Thursday Tim Burchett talked more about its origins and what he was doing with it in the first place. “I made a loan to a friend and they paid it back when I wasn’t here,” the mayor said. On Tuesday he would say only that the money was part of his earnings. Burchett said he asked his chief executive assistant, Diana Wilson, to deposit the cash into his credit union account on April 1, because he was out at the time.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell isn’t happy that the countywide school board hasn’t sent a budget proposal to the county yet. And Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz isn’t happy that Luttrell’s administration didn’t come out and say it would take 33 cents more on the county property tax rate after the 2013 reappraisal just to produce the same amount of revenue the county gets from the current $4.02 tax rate. So begins county government’s budget season with the political undercurrents present for a while now closer to the surface.
Maybe Frank Nicely knows what he’s talking about! Nicely is the state Senator from Strawberry Plains who wants the party caucuses in the General Assembly to do the nominating for U.S. Senator, not the voters, and says that in such a case Tennessee’s two U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, are likely too moderate to be renominated by the state’s Republican legislators. Nicely would probably get some agreement from an outfit called Conservative-Daily.com, which, in the “daily sanity”newsletter it distributes to its network, takes dead aim at Alexander, Corker, and 14 other Republican senators with the vow, “We Will Not Rest Until They Are Removed.”
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has raised more than $1 million for his 2014 re-election campaign in the first quarter of the year. According to a news release from his campaign, Alexander’s priorities include reducing the nation’s debt by controlling spending on entitlements. Alexander also says he wants to move more decisions out of Washington and back to states and communities. The 72-year-old Tennessee Republican is in his second term in the senate.
Offical says no time line for moving 42 beds to Nashville The patients sitting on benches outside York VA Medical Center want to see their services be efficient for them at a time officials are reviewing consolidation proposals. Leroy Edmiston of Lebanon favors getting all his treatment at York in north Murfreesboro off Memorial Boulevard, he said. He worries what could happen if that hospital handles all of the mental health treatment while sending the acute and intensive care to Nashville along with 42 beds, according to a Tennessean story stating that the proposal calls for most of the changes to be completed in 2014.
First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to visit Nashville next month to speak at the graduation ceremony for Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School. Metro Nashville Public Schools officials were hush-hush about the details earlier in the week before making the announcement at an assembly at the school. Several school board members said they, too, were in the dark about the announcement Wednesday. Congressman Jim Cooper, a Democrat from the fifth district which includes Nashville, took credit for inviting the first lady to speak at the graduation, according to a letter which was released.
Rumors were circulating among students at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School about a week before kids were told Thursday that first lady Michelle Obama will attend their graduation ceremony. Students whispered about the possibility of everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Obama, student Mustapha Williams said. Williams, 18, was thrilled to hear Obama is the famous woman who will give the commencement address at his graduation ceremony May 18 at Tennessee State University’s Gentry Center. “
The rumors are true: First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at next month’s graduation for Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School in Nashville. WPLN’s Daniel Potter was there for the official announcement this morning. First Lady Obama was originally floated as a possible speaker last fall, when the school and Congressman Jim Cooper sent letters inviting her. Calling the news ‘surreal,’ Senior Sam Klockenkemper says the rumor she would come picked up a few days ago.
Higher education leaders have proposed a way to make it easier for universities to offer online courses across state lines. The proposal would replace a cumbersome patchwork of rules and fees that make it costly for universities to offer online courses to students in different states. With some seven million students enrolled in online college courses for credit — a number that is growing rapidly — higher education officials say it is crucial to simplify the system.
After a speech in Nashville in October, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said he often worried that the federal government would one day destroy the Tennessee Valley Authority. “No administration cares about TVA,” the Republican lawmaker said. “It is just not on the radar screen.” It is now. President Obama surprised many in Tennessee and across the Southeast on Wednesday when he suggested in his budget proposal that TVA could be sold and privatized. The news — one paragraph on Page 51 of his budget — set off a renewed debate about the New Deal-era agency and the role it plays providing electricity to more than 9 million people.
Pro-business Southern Republicans in Congress slammed President Barack Obama’s proposed TVA overhaul, calling it misguided, vague and unrealistic. “That’s just one little part of the budget,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. “It’s not going to go anywhere. I don’t want to have a big fight over it.” In several Capitol Hill interviews Thursday, Tennessee and Georgia lawmakers criticized the president for keeping them in the dark on what U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., called “a major, major decision.”
The idea of selling the Tennessee Valley Authority is continuing to get bad reviews from Republicans in Tennessee’s Congressional delegation. In the 2014 budget submitted to Congress, the Obama Administration said it “intends to undertake a strategic review of options for addressing TVA’s financial situation, including the possible divestiture of TVA, in part or as a whole.” In a written statement, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday that “While unfortunate but true, TVA as a going concern today is probably worth less than its debt and its rates have become increasingly less competitive, so if the goal is deficit reduction, I doubt this idea gains much traction.”
Although work on the second reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is 80 percent complete, one of the big challenges in working on it has been meeting new requirements prompted by three meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan, two years ago, according to Mike Skaggs, TVA senior vice president for nuclear construction. In part because Watts Bar near Spring City, Tenn., will be the first new reactor in the United States to be completed in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, TVA is leading the way in making many safety recalculations and retrofits, according to utility officials.
The number of women-owned businesses in Tennessee has grown faster than the national average over a 16-year period, according to a recent report commissioned by American Express OPEN. Tennessee ranks No. 14 in the nation in the growth of the number of women-owned businesses from 1997 to 2013, according to The 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. The number of women-owned businesses in Tennessee grew 65 percent to an estimated 164,600 firms employing 117,800 over the report’s 16-year study period.
Nonprofit groups charged with protecting Nashville students’ educational lives will have a new tool to do that — software that accesses information about school grades, attendance and discipline. The Nashville Promise Neighborhood, a program in the Stratford High cluster funded with a $500,000 U.S. Department of Education Grant, announced this week an information-sharing agreement with Metro Nashville Public Schools. The school district keeps a real-time, state-of-the-art data warehouse in order to track student progress and spot issues that could be interfering with performance.
Policy from President Barack Obama’s administration is hitting the Hamilton County Board of Education’s pocketbook in multiple ways this year. School officials are bracing for increases in health insurance costs as the specifics of the Affordable Care Act continue to trickle down. And the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is hurting the school nutrition department’s balance sheet as fewer students opt in for the healthier meals. Hamilton County Board of Education members heard of both concerns at a budget workshop Thursday evening.
Dress code creates thorny social debate As the unified school board prepares to take up the issue of student uniforms, district administrators began emailing an online survey to parents this week to gauge their preferences on student dress. The survey, being distributed by teachers, parent-teacher groups and the district, asks parents and legal guardians to “indicate which style of school dress requirement you would prefer for your child(ren) in the unified district.”
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is proposing to end competitive building for some large state road construction projects. You read that right. Instead of the traditional approach in which the Tennessee Department of Transportation designs a road project (or pays an engineering firm to design it), then solicits sealed bids from construction companies and hires the lowest bidder, the administration wants to adopt a new contractor selection process known as “CM/GC,” which stands for “construction manager/general contractor.” The legislation is Senate Bill 0189/House Bill 0183. Through this process, TDOT would hire a construction company to help design the project.
Sometimes public policy hits home. It happened in my family last week, when Uncle Arley unloaded on his conservative columnist nephew. A bit of background: Arley appeared on this page last year when I was the enraged one. When President Barack Obama implied government was somehow responsible for individual success — “You didn’t build that!” — I mentioned how my “irascible uncle, Arley Johnson,” helped me pay for college by giving me a job at his business. Lately, though, Uncle Arley, the yellowest of Yellow Dog Democrats, has been giving me the business.
The leadership of the Tennessee General Assembly appears committed to end this year’s session by next Thursday as planned. Why House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, have been so determined to rush through this disastrous legislative gathering is unclear, but what is clear is that the session has been nothing but bad for the people of Tennessee, especially for the poor and for the children. The latest bit of bad legislation is a little bill pushed through by the National Rifle Association that makes secret the identities of the nearly 400,000 Tennesseans who have handgun carry permits and go armed in public.
The success of Middle Tennessee State University’s capital campaign is impressive for a lot of reasons. MTSU launched its $80-million campaign five years ago. For much of the campaign, America has been in a recession, making businesses, organizations and individuals grip their wallets a little tighter. And when people do choose to make donations, they’re more selective than they once were. They have to know their money will be well spent. As of March 25, the campaign had raised more than $61 million, roughly 78 percent of the total goal. In the first three quarters of the university’s current fiscal year, the campaign has pulled in $8.25 million.
“Water wars” has returned. In truth, “water wars” never went away. It merely stayed out of the headlines for a few years while members of the Georgia Legislature and the governor’s office looked to shake down other neighbors to slake the thirst of a burgeoning Atlanta population. For almost 200 years, this feud might have passed as “state boundary wars” because of mistakes and apparently shoddy equipment during an official survey of the Georgia-Tennessee state line in 1818. The southern boundary of Tennessee was supposed to be set at the 35th parallel, but surveyors hired by the two states established the line about a mile south of the intended latitude — and more importantly out of reach of the Tennessee River, which Georgians believe will supply the water needs for the state’s metropolis and surrounding area.