This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Since the launch of a 2012 agreement with Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in China, a group from Middle Tennessee State University has discovered 37 plants that may have the potential to treat cancer and other diseases. “We want to take the first couple of drugs to clinical trials in the fall,” said Elliot Altman, MTSU biology professor and director of the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research in Murfreesboro. The botanical partnership between MTSU and China is a two-way street. China provides the plants to create a sample, and MTSU examines the pharmaceutical value.
Tennessee’s Judicial Nominating Commission, which will cease to exist at the end of this month, is moving to play its role in naming successors to three appeals court judges who have announced they will retire more than a year from now. The commission’s farewell performances will come in meetings June 27, 28 and 29 to select nominees to succeed Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Cottrell of Nashville, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Joseph Tipton of Knoxville and Court of Appeals Judge Alan Highers of Memphis. All three have announced an intention to retire effective Aug. 30, 2014, when the terms of all sitting state judges will expire following retention elections for new judicial terms on Aug. 7, 2014.
Glass walls and glowing UT orange light boxes have taken over the former circulation desk on the ground floor of Hodges Library. On Monday, the University of Tennessee will open One Stop, a new express service center that combines the tasks of multiple departments to keep students from having to visit the bursar, registrar and financial aid offices separately. Staff are cross-trained to help students both by phone and in person with tasks like making payments, viewing their academic history, adjusting course schedules and determining scholarship and loan eligibility.
“The Daily Show” aired a much-anticipated segment on TennCare expansion and the Standard Spend Down call-in program Wednesday night. Framing the program as a health care lottery, correspondent Jessica Williams interviewed a “lucky winner” named Jerry Kemp; a woman named Jina Luther who failed to call in because she was in surgery; and a representative for FreedomWorks, the tea party organization. The satire was biting at times. “You snooze you lose, Jina,” Williams admonished Luther. “Well I know that,” Luther responded. VIDEO HERE.
StudentsFirst, a national education reform group that landed in hot water after it named a Tennessee legislator as its Reformer of the Year, said Wednesday that it has rescinded the honor and will support several anti-bullying laws. In a posting on the organization’s website titled “StudentsFirst Stands With Marcel,” CEO Michelle Rhee announced that her group will back the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act, as well as similar bills in state legislatures.
Tennessee state Rep. Timothy Hill insists his legislation to shut down Bluff City’s two speed enforcement cameras on Highway 11-E isn’t dead. Hill’s bill — which was opposed by Bluff City officials — was advancing and closing in on a House floor vote when he took it off notice last April. The freshman lawmaker recently told a Greater Kingsport Republican Women’s luncheon that he plans to put the legislation back on notice with the House Finance Committee in 2014. There was no attempt to advance the bill in the state Senate by its Senate sponsor, state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
State Rep. Dawn White learned a valuable lesson during her first legislative session this year: How a bill begins is usually not how it finishes. “I always tell people … that how the bill is written (will determine if) I will support it or not, because I learned that one amendment can change the entire face of the bill,” White said. White won election in 2012 after the General Assembly created a fourth House seat in Rutherford County, stretching from La Vergne through eastern Smyrna and Walter Hill into downtown Murfreesboro. The Murfreesboro Republican recently sat down with The Daily News Journal to reflect on her first legislative session.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield, who kept up his personal blog while traveling recently through Azerbaijan and Turkey, had several interesting posts last week on the protests in Istanbul. The Knoxville Republican generally sympathized with local authorities, describing the protesters as “kids protesting to protest.” He compared them to Occupy Wall Street. “Really what I hear and see is that most of it is just sour grapes of political minorities looking for some political opportunism,” Campfield wrote. Those interested can read his thoughts on Turkish politics and much, much more at lastcar.blogspot.com.
After furnishing the east bank of the Cumberland River last year with a new water-themed play park, Mayor Karl Dean’s administration says its next emphasis in the slow-moving redevelopment of Nashville’s riverfront is the west bank. The primary focus: transforming highly coveted, city-owned real estate, where a thermal plant south of Broadway burned more than a decade ago, into a combination of green space and, probably, an outdoor amphitheater. That pivot seemed to cloud the sequence of future projects along the once-neglected river — but Dean’s administration insists the plan is to still complete unfinished work on the east side as planning across the Cumberland concludes.
An 18.51 cent property tax increase for Cleveland is on the table in the city’s proposed 2014 budget, which provides for more police officers and a cost-of-living raise for city employees. On Monday, the City Council will vote on final passage of the budget during its 3 p.m. meeting at the Cleveland Municipal Building. The tax increase will be in addition to an estimated 6 cent increase from a state-mandated property reappraisal. That increase is intended to prevent loss of revenue because of the reappraisal.
As the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen prepares for public hearings Monday on the suburb’s budget and property tax ordinances, several groups are mobilizing backers or raising questions about the financial plans. Arts groups want to know why their funding was cut. Supporters of the Bobby Lanier Farm Park, which had a well-attended opening of its farmers’ market on Thursday, question slicing the $1.2 million previously earmarked for improvements in the capital budget.
Middle Tennessee got socked by outside instigators who “hijacked” a public meeting last week, turning what was meant to be a step toward harmony into something more akin to a KKK rally, according to a member of the Muslim panel that sponsored the event. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian and representatives of the American Muslim Advisory Council faced a barrage of hostile comments Tuesday in Manchester, Tenn. Dorothy Zwayyed, East Tennessee coordinator for AMAC, said they were mostly out-of-towners who derailed an assembly of fellowship and learning.
Katie Hill, the press secretary for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper for the past 18 months, is leaving the Nashville Democrat’s staff to take the same role with Gabby Giffords’ new political action committee on gun violence prevention. Hill, a Nashville native and University of Virginia graduate, worked as a senior account executive for public relations firm McNeely Pigott & Fox before joining Cooper’s office in December 2011.
For more than a decade now, Americans have lived with the uneasy knowledge that someone might be watching. Now, paranoia has come face to face with modern reality: The technology of our age has opened the door to a massive domestic surveillance program by the National Security Agency. Torn between our desires for privacy and protection, we’re now forced to decide what we really want. “We are living in an age of surveillance,” said Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University’s School of Law in St. Louis who studies privacy law and civil liberties.
When American analysts hunting terrorists sought new ways to comb through the troves of phone records, e-mails and other data piling up as digital communications exploded over the past decade, they turned to Silicon Valley computer experts who had developed complex equations to thwart Russian mobsters intent on credit card fraud. The partnership between the intelligence community and Palantir Technologies, a Palo Alto, Calif., company founded by a group of inventors from PayPal, is just one of many that the National Security Agency and other agencies have forged as they have rushed to unlock the secrets of “Big Data.”
As the region waits to learn whether Chattanooga’s VW plant will expand to include a cool new SUV on assembly lines here, few need the recent University of Tennessee report to understand what a boon Volkswagen has meant to this local economy. Anyone doubting that should try to picture what Chattanooga’s job climate might have looked like through the recession that snapped a vise on the rest of the country in 2008 — the same year VW threw us a lifeline. While many of our neighbors and most of Tennessee fought through more than a year of double-digit percent joblessness, Chattanooga mostly tracked snug in single digits. But UT’s new report does add tasty icing to this region’s anticipation of more good news.
Listening to the annual squabbles over budget proposals that Memphis City Council members and Shelby County commissioners have among themselves, and with their respective mayoral administrations, it quickly becomes clear that both bodies lack consensus about the local governments’ future direction. Consensus does not mean that everybody should be in complete agreement on every issue related to revenues, spending and taxation. But there should be some way to concur on common goals — both short- and long-term — that can help guide and shape their budget discussions from the start.
On the surface, defending free speech seems noble and necessary. But when you get down to it, it’s a task that can be distasteful, no matter how strongly you believe in it. The problem is, some of the statements made in the name of free speech are patently offensive to many people. Or a statement is abhorrent and ignorant to some and enlightened and informed to others. Free speech, something journalists hold dear, is a messy business. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian learned that last week when he headed to Manchester, Tenn., to talk, in part, about the First Amendment.
In 2002, the Royal Butler related a conversation in which Queen Elizabeth warned him about what might happen because of his close relationship with Princess Diana, two months before she died in an auto accident in Paris. “There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge,” she allegedly cautioned him. Well, Americans have an inkling of what they don’t know now, as we are seeing glimpses of the powers we unleashed after the 9/11 attacks. As these agencies have interpreted their directives, they have determined that, in the name of safety and security, we apparently will condone anything.
In April, some 1.2 million New York students took their first Common Core State Standards tests, which are supposed to assess their knowledge and thinking on topics such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and a single matrix equation in a vector variable. Students were charged with analyzing both fiction and nonfiction, not only through multiple-choice answers but also short essays. The mathematics portion of the test included complex equations and word problems not always included in students’ classroom curriculums. Indeed, the first wave of exams was so overwhelming for these young New Yorkers that some parents refused to let their children take the test.