This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed the workers’ compensation reform legislation his administration pushed through the state’s General Assembly. Haslam on Monday put official gubernatorial endorsement to Senate Bill 200, “The Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Reform Act.” The bill swept through both chambers of the General Assembly, largely following a GOP-dominated party-line trek. The American Insurance Association was quick to issue a press release applauding Haslam after the signing of the bill.
Tennessee’s latest overhaul of its workers’ compensation system became law with Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature on Monday. The law moves disputed cases from the courts to a new state agency, overseen by an administrator appointed by the governor. The law also authorizes the creation of medical treatment guidelines and changes how disability payments are calculated, among other things. Supporters said the changes will make the system more fair, certain and efficient. Critics slammed it as taking money away from injured workers.
Gov. Bill Haslam has quietly signed into law a bill that eliminates a Tennessee requirement that pharmacists have a patient-specific prescription before dispensing a specially compounded drug. The measure, which was backed by the Tennessee Pharmacists Association and sponsored by two legislators who are licensed pharmacists, comes in the wake of a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak blamed on a Massachusetts drug compounding firm. Alexia Poe, spokeswoman for the governor, said state Health Department officials worked with legislators to put in safeguards to ensure patient safety.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that after two years of rapid change, Tennessee educators reported improved work environments in a broad range of categories, all shown to correlate to increased student achievement. The results from the second statewide TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Tennessee Survey are now available, and more than 61,000 educators, or 82 percent, in the state responded, a five percentage point increase from 2011. Across Tennessee, 1,627 of 1,774 schools, or 91 percent, reached a response rate of at least 50 percent.
But fewer like new process of evaluations Tennessee teachers are generally pleased with their jobs, but more of them worry about evaluations now than in 2011, according to a survey released Tuesday. While state officials proudly promoted the positive results Tuesday and touted them as proof that their education reform plans are working, the Tennessee Education Association had some disagreement. Two questions asked about the teacher evaluation process showed a drop in confidence that the system is fair, said Carol Schmoock, assistant executive director of the association.
Though Tennessee educators have faced significant change in the past few years with the state’s adoption of a new evaluation system and Common Core State Standards, Katie Milliken said she couldn’t have gotten through it without the support of her colleagues and administration. “What’s helped is that this school is that we have a really strong ‘professional learning community.’” Everyone helps everyone,” said Milliken, now in her seventh year of teaching.
A growing percentage of Davidson County educators note support in key aspects of their jobs, but fewer teachers here say their school is “a good place to work and learn,” according to a recent survey. The percentage of licensed educators — public and private — who agreed their school is a good place to be at dropped 4.1 percent in the last two years, according to the TELL Tennessee survey released Tuesday. Seventy-nine percent of teachers in Davidson County attest their school is a good place to work and learn, compared to 83.4 percent statewide.
An exhaustive survey completed by most public school teachers in Tennessee – more than 61,000 educators – finds more are satisfied with their principal, their school building and the demands on their time. The broad results show teachers are feeling better about their work. This is a survey that’s been conducted in 20 states. Most – like Tennessee – received Race to the Top grant money from the federal government. Overall, the state’s marks improved a few points from 2011, and 4th grade teacher Jennifer Secrest says she believes the new stats.
Tennessee’s education leaders are playing defense as goals for students known as “Common Core” are under fire Opponents who paint Common Core as a federal overreach into the classroom are expected to draw a crowd of hundreds at a panel discussion in Cool Springs tonight. Last week, a Rutherford County school board meeting was crowded with parents angry about the changes. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman contends much of the criticism is based on misinformation. For one thing, he says the standards are just goals for what students should know at the end of a course.
Conservatives came from far and wide Tuesday night to rail against Common Core standards, calling them academically weak and a threat to parents’ control over their children’s education. More than 400 parents, community members and out-of-town guests gathered in the Cool Springs Embassy Suites for a second round of panel discussions on the standards, adopted here and in 44 states for what children are expected to know as they progress through school. Kevin Kookogey, who led the “Confronting Common Core” event, entered to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”
As more classrooms across the country roll out universal math and reading standards, a growing group of critics are pressing officials to slow their implementation or dump the learning goals entirely. This is the first school year that most states are using voluntary academic standards known as Common Core, which lay out what students should know from kindergarten through 12th grade. Written by a group of governors, state school officials and other experts with the goal of better preparing students for college and careers, the standards have been adopted entirely by 45 states and the District of Columbia since 2010.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he is no closer to making up his mind on whether to veto a bill that makes it a crime to video record animal abuse if it isn’t turned over to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours. Haslam told reporters after an event at a Smyrna elementary school on Monday that he is considering philosophical arguments and constitutional questions about the bill. Opponents call it the “ag gag” bill, arguing that it would put an end to extended undercover operations like the one that exposed how trainers subjected Tennessee walking horses to beatings and caustic burns.
While Gov. Bill Haslam has been swamped with thousands of phone calls and emails urging him to veto a so-called “ag gag” bill, the Republican said Tuesday they won’t influence his decision on whether to sign the bill into law or kill it. “Believe me,” Haslam told reporters, “people think we just get phone calls and tally up results, etc. I actually try to go beyond that and find the argument.” The bill, passed last month by the GOP-led Legislature, makes it a crime to video or record cases of animal cruelty unless the material is handed over to law enforcement within 48 hours.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s been learning from both sides about a so-called “ag gag bill” since it was passed by the Legislature two weeks ago, but it hasn’t reached his desk yet and he hasn’t decided whether or not a veto is in order. The bill has generated thousands of email messages, telephone calls and letters to the governor’s office — more than on any legislation that has come up during Haslam’s term as governor — and most have been calling for a veto, a gubernatorial spokesman says.
Animal cruelty legislation dubbed the “ag gag bill” has lit up the phones and overflowed the inboxes of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. But the veto campaign has failed to speed up the process. The bill requiring activists to turnover footage of livestock abuse has yet to reach the governor’s desk. Once Haslam has the physical bill in his hands, he has roughly two weeks either to veto, sign or let it go into law without a signature. Celebrities from country music to daytime TV have chimed in.
About 200 Tennessee startup companies raised more than $210 million of venture capital in 2012, with more than 60 percent of the investments made in Middle Tennessee, according to a report from Launch Tennessee. The state’s nine business accelerators helped support more than 125 early stage companies, and those companies raised more than $17 million and created 185 jobs last year, according to the report. “As these companies continue to grow, they will produce increasing economic prosperity for the state,” LaunchTN said in the report.
At events held Thursday in Lynchburg and Fayetteville, First Lady Crissy Haslam and Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) President Theresa Carl recognized the impact and success of the Imagination Library program in Moore and Lincoln counties. After a stop at the Moore County Public Library in Lynchburg, where they greeted and thanked Imagination Library volunteers and supporters, Mrs. Haslam and Ms. Carl attended a luncheon at Shoney’s Restaurant in Fayetteville hosted by the Retired Teachers of Lincoln County.
Three high-ranking employees in the Department of Children’s Services were disciplined for failing to keep track of child deaths and for giving out incomplete records when an advocacy group and The Tennessean asked for the information. Internal memos document the reprimands, including: • the demotion of Lisa Lund, a team coordinator, who appealed the penalty and was reinstated with a two-day suspension without pay; • the two-day suspension without pay of Lund’s supervisor, Director of Child Safety Marjahna Hart; and • a written warning to Carla Aaron, executive director of child safety, who oversees Hart and Lund.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday it will begin work this week to restrict boating and fishing access near the 10 dams it operates on the Cumberland River and its tributaries. Shortly after the Corps sent out a reminder that the barriers were going up, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency released a reminder that it would not enforce the restrictions. The TWRA patrols the Cumberland River and its lakes and the agency took issue with language in a Corps news release saying the Corps would coordinate enforcement with the TWRA.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has confirmed a new fishing record catch for spotted gar. The record is for the largest fish of the species taken by a method other than rod and reel. The agency said Jim Ulerick of Kokomo, Ind., took a 12-pound gar by bow and arrow in Reelfoot Lake on April 14. The gar was 39 1/2 inches long. The old record, also on Reelfoot, was 10 pounds, 8 ounces from April 2009.
The Tennessee Economic Council on Women is holding a hearing in Crossville, Tenn., Friday as part of a study to assess the impact that domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault have on the state’s economy. Chattanooga District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz, who is vice chairwoman of the council, said the study takes an in-depth look at what it costs when state and local authorities fail to addresses these issues. “What we’re looking at [is] the cost with the court systems, the education, the health care system, the business community, and it’s in the millions of dollars,” she said.
Nine state legislators — including two from Knoxville — have signed up for a trip later this month to Turkey and Azerbaijan that a Nashville television station says is financed by groups that have ties to a Muslim leader who operates a network of charter schools in the United States. The Knoxvillians making the 12-day trip this year are Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Roger Kane, both Republicans. Two other Knoxvillians, Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong and Republican Rep. Harry Brooks, made a similar journey last year.
The rain was falling hard and fast, hour after hour, soaking marathon runners, fans and anyone else who stepped outside. It was a weekend, and April was about to give way to May. And, perhaps spookiest of all, Jimmy Buffett was set to play a Saturday night concert downtown, just as he had three years earlier. While last weekend’s 3.5-inch downpour didn’t approach the 13 inches of May 1-2, 2010, it did make many people nervous.
Mayor Karl Dean proposed a $1.8 billion budget proposal to Metro Council members Tuesday night, providing a first look at a spending plan that increases funding to schools and public safety and makes a notable withdrawal from the city’s rainy day fund. Dean’s proposed budget represents a 5.86 percent increase or about $100 million over the current budget. The presentation, given by Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, also showed projected revenue growth, mostly from increased sales and property taxes, of about $55.5 million.
Mayor Karl Dean proposed a $1.81 billion budget Tuesday that would add $100 million, including $45 million drawn from reserve funds, to city operations without raising taxes. The budget would increase by 5.86 percent, but most departments would take small cuts. Metro Schools would get an additional $26 million, but that’s a significantly smaller increase than the school board had requested. The Metro Police Department would get an additional $2.8 million to operate the new DNA crime lab and the Madison precinct headquarters, among other needs.
Mayor to unveil $734.5 plan today Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett today will unveil his budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a $734.5 million spending plan that fulfills the school board’s request, maintains tax rates and reinstates some funding to the local planning organization. The proposal, which features a $161.5 million general fund to cover much of the county’s day-to-day operations, includes additional money for the economic development initiative Innovation Valley, more than $1 million for a senior center in Karns and some resources for a number of cultural operations.
A Coffee County commissioner’s Facebook post suggesting Muslims are best greeted from behind a rifle barrel is prompting demands for an apology. Commissioner Barry West’s post follows a string of anti-Muslim acts throughout Middle Tennessee in recent years, including at least four incidents of mosque vandalism. Opposition to a new mosque in Rutherford County was so strong it took federal Justice Department intervention to open it last year. West played no active role in any of those incidents. He just put an image on his Facebook page, which shows a man aiming a shotgun under the phrase “How to wink at a Muslim.”
A number of local and national Islamic advocacy groups are calling for an apology from Coffee County Commissioner Barry West after he apparently posted an anti-Muslim meme on his Facebook page. It shows a man aiming a gun and bears the words, “How to wink at a Muslim.” The American Muslim Advisory Council urged Twitter readers, “Demand Coffee County Commissioner Barry West apologize for his hateful post on Saturday. Call him now,” the Nashville Tennessean reported.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was in Nashville with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper Tuesday to drum up support for Internet sales tax collection and an immigration overhaul. Durbin is an Illinois Democrat who is sponsoring the Marketplace Fairness Act with Tennessee U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and others. He said Internet businesses have an unfair advantage over brick and mortar shops. He said consumers are using local stores as showrooms to pick a product that they then go buy on the Internet. Cooper emphasized that this is not a tax increase.
Several of Tennessee’s Republican Congressmen are up in the air on a proposal to let states collect sales taxes for Internet purchases. Both the state’s GOP senators are supporting what’s being called the Marketplace Fairness Act. But Brentwood Congressman Marsha Blackburn is digging in against the bill, saying in a statement: “There is nothing fair about the Maketplace Fairness Act currently being considered by the Senate. We don’t need the federal government mandating additional taxes on Tennessee families and businesses.”
Although the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant required additional federal oversight in the first three months of 2012 because of excessive unplanned shutdowns and apparent violations pertaining to possible floods, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given the plant a passing grade for for safety performance. At least for now. NRC officials presented that information in a letter last month to TVA and in a meeting Tuesday evening to Soddy-Daisy residents. “The NRC determined that overall, Sequoyah Units 1 and 2 operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives,” states a letter NRC sent to TVA.
Rhea County’s second-largest manufacturer is getting even bigger as Goodman Manufacturing plans to add 200 jobs. The air conditioning and heating equipment maker in Dayton, Tenn., cited higher demand for plowing about $2 million more into its plant and pushing its workforce to about 850, officials said Tuesday. “This is a good, solid local company,” said John Payne, the Rhea County Economic and Tourism Council’s executive director. The company will invest in equipment to make the residential and light commercial products it sells, he said.
ABC’s “Nashville” show has meant solid jobs and regular income for local film crews, according to Peter Kurland, business agent for Local 492, an International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union representing Tennessee TV workers The show, estimated to bring about $75 million to the city in overall economic impact in its first season, has led to more than $6 million in payroll for about 120 full-time studio mechanics, Kurland said, adding that he is hopeful ABC will renew the show for a second season.
The problem for U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays is if and how the school board should, after shrinking to seven members post schools-merger, be allowed to expand to 13 members. Lawyers from all the sides in the suit were in Mays’ court Tuesday, pressing their points. The Shelby County Commission says it should be allowed to make the appointments, saving taxpayers more than $400,000 for a special election that the election commission claims could not be held until at least Dec. 5, 2013.
The unified school board suspended its superintendent search Tuesday after the firm doing the work “strongly” recommended a delay. In an update to board members, PROACT Search said it was having difficulty recruiting the “right” candidates with much about the job up in the air, including the number of students and the makeup of the board that will direct the leader’s work. Interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson said he would lead the district until a permanent leader is hired. Board members received the memo from PROACT Tuesday afternoon.
Countywide school board members voted Tuesday, April 30, to move their search for a merger superintendent beyond the August start of the merger. But the board voted down a resolution asking Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to consider delaying the merger itself. The board actions Tuesday also included approving a process to consider closing a dozen schools in the 2014-2015 school year. Public hearings in the affected communities are generally slated to begin in August.
The search for a superintendent to lead Shelby County’s consolidated school system could be put on hold by the countywide school board Tuesday evening. And Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said Tuesday he agrees with a proposed year-long delay in the merger if it is to take into account the impact of suburban school districts. The two developments were the latest in a day of action on several fronts in the schools merger effort. Search consultants with PROACT Search will reportedly recommend the delay in choosing and hiring a superintendent until the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
Simultaneous with published reports that the search firm hired by the unified School Board wants a delay in looking for superintendency candidates, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has said he thinks a year-long delay in school merger itself would be helpful. Luttrell told members of the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday that the likelihood of multiple school systems in Shelby County’s suburbs and the complications stemming from that process would make such a delay desirable.
The special master in the school merger lawsuit told the unified Memphis and Shelby County school board Tuesday that he is “concerned with the progress being made” by the board in its efforts to merge city and county schools before classes start in August. Rick Masson, appointed to the post by U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays, praised the board as being representative of Shelby County, but said, “We want you all to demonstrate that our community can work together, that we have a successful community.”
The Hawkins County Board of Education tabled several spending decisions Tuesday so that they can be discussed in more detail at a budget workshop scheduled for May 9. Board chairman Randy Collier said it’s likely that a special called meeting will be scheduled in mid-May for the board to vote on its proposed 2013-14 budget. The May 9 budget workshop will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the bus shop meeting room. As of last month’s budget workshop Hawkins County was working on reducing a $3 million deficit in the proposed 2013014 budget.
The testing window for the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) across Tennessee has just closed for all students in grades 3-8. Students in kindergarten through second grade are taking the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT10) and high school students take End-of-Course exams for various subjects in May. The Metro Nashville Public Schools website specifies information on the importance of TCAP as “a vitally important part of education.” Schools Director Jesse Register will be measured and evaluated by the community and the board of education relevant to the performance of students on this assessment.
Meaningful geography instruction in Tennessee’s K-12 schools was dealt a substantial blow April 19 when the state Board of Education voted to allow the Department of Education to continue efforts to revise the social studies standards for elementary and secondary students. The Department of Education is attempting to roll the content of the current, stand-alone high school geography course into hybrid courses with the titles of U.S. history and geography and world history and geography. This effort will eliminate the ability of students to take world geography for graduation credit and relegate geography to an elective.
Enrolling young children in quality prekindergarten programs is a proven factor in making sure that they enter school ready to learn. Such programs are especially important in a high-poverty-level city like Memphis, where many children, because of their home circumstances, arrive at kindergarten or first grade not ready to thrive in a school setting. Amid all the talk about expanding pre-K classrooms to serve more eligible children, though, the most recent local news on the pre-K front is not encouraging. City schools have lost $8 million in federal funds through a combination of sequester cuts and expiring stimulus dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The economic statistics show that the U.S. has slowly but steadily dug its way out of the Great Recession, which economists date as officially starting in December 2007 and ending in June 2009. But psychologically the recession lasted a lot longer, until quite recently, in fact, when the housing and job markets began improving. Proof that the recession mentality has passed comes in the form of the 2012 General Social Survey. The long-standing poll has been done every two years since 1972 by an independent research organization based at the University of Chicago and largely funded by the National Science Foundation.
As the battle over Medicaid expansion rages in the states, supporters of expansion have dusted off an age-old favorite in making the case for taking federal dollars. They say: If our state doesn’t take the money, those dollars will go to some other state instead. Happily, in this instance that is not true. When a state declines to expand Medicaid coverage to more people, no other state will receive its share of funds and federal spending declines. Based on figures from the Congressional Budget Office and analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Washington was expected to spend roughly $950 billion expanding Medicaid between 2014 and 2022.