This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Williamson County has become a flashpoint in the debate over the Common Core State Standards, adopted three years ago in Tennessee but now gaining attention as they begin to be implemented. Tennessee students will be tested on the new standards beginning in spring 2015. Forty-five states have adopted the standards, which supporters say means Tennessee students will be learning on a higher level and at the same rate as their peers across the nation. Opponents fear the process centralizes education instead of leaving decisions up to individual states and will result in lower performance.
Less than three out of four Davidson County educators believe parents and guardians carry weight at their school, according to a new survey. This year, 58.4 percent of licensed school-based educators here reported that parents are “influential decision makers” at their school, according to the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Tennessee Survey released Tuesday. Educators across the state felt much the same way. According to the statewide survey of more than 61,000 educators, fewer than seven out of 10 agreed that parents and guardians are influential decisions makers.
State health officials want to get a head start this year on diseases caused by ticks and mosquitoes to prevent a repeat of 2012. West Nile infections in humans rose 83 percent last year, while Rocky Mountain spotted fever infections increased 162 percent. The Tennessee Department of Health is asking state residents to help the agency prevent and monitor illnesses this season through efforts ranging from removing mosquito habitats around the yard to reporting dead birds, which can be harbingers of West Nile.
It all started with a letter from the Robertson County Detention Facility. Tellis Williams, who was eventually convicted of armed bank robbery, penned a handwritten note to U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell in 2009 about the conditions at the RCDF. Williams claimed he lost 20 pounds in his first few weeks as a pretrial detainee awaiting a federal court trial. “I know that both the diet and the way that they feed the inmates here at Robertson County jail are not healthy because I no longer feel healthy,” Williams wrote. “My ribs are visible and I am constantly hungry!”
Ron Maffei didn’t realize traffic would be such an issue when he moved to Lenox Village two years ago. “It’s not just the traffic during rush hour, but on Saturdays it’s hard to get from Old Hickory to Lenox Village because it’s always gridlocked,” he said. The proposed widening of a major thoroughfare in Davidson and Williamson counties has the potential to ease traffic woes for Maffei and his neighbors while keeping up with the area’s booming population growth. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is proposing a reconstruction project on Nolensville Road, starting near Old Hickory Boulevard and stretching south of Burkitt Road into Williamson County.
Regional transportation officials want the public to offer ideas for improvements or new services provided by the Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency at a hearing set for May 15 in Dunlap, Tenn. “This is something we do annually,” SETHRA Executive Director Bill Harmon said Friday. The agency must submit the results of each year’s hearing to the state before funding is doled out, he said. “Sometimes we get good comments where we can improve our service, and sometimes we get comments where the grantor just will not let us do all the things the public would like to see us do,” Harmon said.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wants to hear from people with concerns about the state’s hunting regulations. The TWRA is asking the public for comments on proposed regulations for the 2013-2014 hunting seasons. Officials say it’s an opportunity for citizens to share their concerns with the agency. Proposed regulations can be found on the TWRA website at tnwildlife.org. Members of the public can also send comments by mail to: 2013-2014 Hunting Season Comments, TWRA, Wildlife Management Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN, 37204.
After a short, sunny break Sunday, the weekend’s soggy weather is expected to continue through tonight and maybe even Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. “I don’t think we’ll have any more storms, though” said Nick Austin, meteorologist for WRCB-TV Channel 3. As of 9 p.m. Sunday, the Chattanooga area had received 4.29 inches of rain since the downpour began early Saturday morning. The weekend’s deluge puts the year-to-date total at 31.77 inches, beating the average by more than 12 inches.
After a tumultuous end of this year’s legislative session with both GOP speakers butting heads, House Speaker Beth Harwell said the Senate has decided to end joint fundraising efforts for Republicans in the two chambers. The decision to halt fundraising for the House and Senate’s “Tennessee Republican Caucus” political fundraising account, as first reported by the Tennessee Journal, serves as evidence of a shift among GOP members who rule the legislature with supermajorities. “The Senate made a decision to end the joint fundraising efforts.
Most folks didn’t notice, but the Tennessee General Assembly imposed a new tax on some Tennessee businesses during its recently-completed 2013 session and raised taxes on a few others. The state Department of Revenue spearheaded a bill that did both under the title Uniformity and Small Business Relief Act of 2013 (SB183, as amended). Meanwhile, a tax on companies producing solar energy products was raised with the passage of SB1000. Those measures were ignored in lawmakers’ post-session news releases, most of which boasted of reducing the state sales tax on grocery food from 5.25 percent to 5 percent and exempting more people older than 65 from paying the Hall income tax.
The Memphis City Council voted last year to stop funding a vehicle emissions program, but with less than two months left before inspections stop, neither the county nor the state seems willing to take over. According to the Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/117UbEG ), when emissions inspections began some 30 years ago, the city was considered the problem and testing was only required there. But recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said all of Shelby County violates federal ozone pollution standards.
The man who has successfully helped Republican candidates in Tennessee bring in donations for more than four decades is stepping away from the prominent role. The Tennessean newspaper reports that 79-year-old Ted Welch, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year, will no longer play the fundraiser extraordinaire for the dominate political party in the state. Prominent Republicans helped by Welch’s fundraising prowess include U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker — as well as former office holders like Sens. Howard Baker, Bill Brock, Bill Frist and Fred Thompson.
Known as an elder statesman among Tennessee politicians, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander easily snatched up all the House members he wanted to support his 2014 re-election campaign. But many of those same conservative allies are ambivalent or even critical of the former governor’s top legislative priority. Alexander is shepherding an unusual bill for a keep-taxes-low Volunteer State Republican. The Marketplace Fairness Act would allow states to force Internet retailers to do what brick-and-mortar businesses have done for ages: Collect sales taxes on every transaction and give the money to state and local governments.
A bill that effectively would end tax-free online shopping appears to be sailing smoothly toward Senate passage Monday but will hit choppier waters in the Republican-controlled House, where antitax sentiment is stronger. Opponents portray the bill as a tax increase and say it would burden small online businesses with complex tax-collection responsibilities. Supporters say the bill would enable states to collect sales taxes that already are owed, not create a new tax or raise tax rates. “It’s probably more complicated in the House,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.), the chief House supporter of the bill.
The U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately decide whether President Barack Obama legally appointed three people to the National Labor Relations Board. In the meantime, congressional Republicans are moving ahead with legislation that would keep the board in limbo until the legal dispute is resolved. Leading the charge are two Tennessee Republicans — U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. “This is a constitutional issue for both parties,” said Roe, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe spent some time at the Remote Area Medical Clinic at Bristol Motor Speedway this morning. He talked with RAM founder, Stan Brock, about the struggles surrounding healthcare in America, and with doctors and patients at the free medical clinic about their views regarding healthcare. It was Roe’s first visit to RAM, he said. For more about Roe’s visit, and his thoughts on the clinic, check back to Tricities.com and read Monday’s Bristol Herald Courier.
Private U.S. colleges, worried they could be pricing themselves out of the market after years of relentless tuition increases, are offering record financial assistance to keep classrooms full. The average “tuition discount rate”—the reduction off list price afforded by grants and scholarships given by these schools—hit an all-time high of 45% last fall for incoming freshmen, according to a survey being released Monday by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
The Obama administration appears ready to allow Arkansas — and a handful of other states — to pursue a market-based approach to fund health care for the poor in place of conventional Medicaid expansion under the new federal health care law. An announcement from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services spells out exactly what states need to do to qualify. Called “premium assistance,” the alternative plan would allow states to use federal Medicaid money to buy private insurance for low-income people from new state or federal health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act.
Oak Ridge was a secret city during World War II when it was developing components for the atom bomb. But a group from the Chattanooga area last week eyed ways to unlock the vast technology and resources of Oak Ridge National Lab and Y-12 National Security Complex. The aim is to leverage those into business ventures and other money-making opportunities. “There is something really, really big going on here,” said Tom Rogers, ORNL’s director of industrial partnerships and economic development.
Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed have told their story many times over the past nine months, in forums large and small. They’ve shared details of their July 28, 2012 intrusion at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant at potluck dinners with friends and supporters, before church and school audiences, in countless interviews with the news media. This week, the actions of the three protesters — who call themselves the Transform Now Plowshares — will be scrutinized in a court of law.
The new deputy lab director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory won’t arrive until June 1, but ORNL chief Thom Mason said Ramamoorthy Ramesh is a “natural fit” for the job. Ramesh is a materials scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, where he’s done significant research. He also has spent some time in Washington, D.C., where he worked directly for Energy Secretary Steven Chu and directed the SunShot Initiative — a solar project — before returning to Berkeley.
The opening of Music City Center this month is expected to increase traffic at Nashville International. So airport officials are looking for ways to keep the influx of convention-goers flowing, like remote check-in for bags. This is something already done in big convention cities such as Orlando and Las Vegas. Visitors can check their luggage at the convention hotel or the convention center itself. Their bags are kept secure and handled by TSA agents. The owner doesn’t see them again until they arrive at baggage claim back home.
LaToya Franklin, a single working mom and part-time college student, is among hundreds of parents on tight budgets here frantic after Memphis city schools made deep cuts last week in free prekindergarten classes. If any slots exist in private centers, they could cost upward of $6,000 to $8,000 a year. “I have a mortgage, groceries, utilities, things I can’t cut back on,” Franklin said after anxiously researching options for her daughter, who turns 4 in September. “We’ve missed Head Start open enrollment so there’s probably already lots of people before us. I have no idea what I am going to do.”
As the nation celebrates Nurses Week (today-Sunday), we recognize the contributions of all nurses as compassionate caregivers, clinicians and leaders whom Tennesseans historically have relied on for high-quality health management and prevention. We also celebrate the opportunities for nurses to contribute even more significantly to the transformation of health management by improving access to affordable care. We have an access to care problem in Tennessee, and nurses can help. The Update to the Health Care Safety Net Report, prepared by the Tennessee Department of Health, provides an assessment of health care resources including “the array of services, adequacy of services and access to care.”
Knox County Schools has held its outgoing security chief accountable for his interactions with the system’s former security contractor. The school district must now make sure that similar conflicts of interest don’t occur in the future and again go undetected. Steve Griffin, whose retirement was effective May 1, will lose 15 days of pay in addition to losing his job. He had been on administrative leave with pay since February and filed for retirement March 28. Griffin might have chosen to resign, but it appears his departure was anything but voluntary.
The unauthorized use of prescription medications can lead to an urgent visit to a hospital emergency room or to an early grave. Of the 92 drug-related deaths in Shelby County in 2010, 79 were attributed to prescription drugs such as methadone, the opioid pain killer oxycodone, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, morphine or the pain reliever hydrocodone or Lortab. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called prescription drug abuse the fastest-growing drug problem in the country, reporting that more than 15,000 a year die from prescription painkiller overdoses. Scores of other prescription-drug abusers end up in emergency rooms across the state.
Sixty-five million Americans have criminal records that might cause them to be denied jobs, even for arrests or minor convictions that occurred in the distant past. Last year, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reaffirmed a longstanding ruling that it was illegal to screen out employees unless the offense was directly related to the job. The problem, however, has become so acute that a growing number of states and municipalities have explicitly prohibited public agencies — and in some cases, private businesses — from asking about an applicant’s criminal history until the applicant reaches the interview stage or receives a conditional job offer.