This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Burns Phillips as the new commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Phillips had been serving as acting commissioner of the department, after coming over from the Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) where he was managing director of customer-focused government initiatives administration-wide. “I am very grateful to Burns for taking on this role, and,” Haslam said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has named Burns Phillips the new commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The 64-year-old Phillips had been serving as acting commissioner of the department. He came over from the Finance Department where he was managing director of customer-focused government initiatives administration-wide. Haslam says Phillips is a good fit for the department because he has “both public and private sector experience and has served in multiple departments at the state level.”
Burns Phillips has been named commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, after serving as acting commissioner. Phillips replaced Karla Davis, who resigned from the position in March. Burns was previously managing director of customer-focused government initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. He also worked in the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration’s budget office.
Gov. Bill Haslam named interim commissioner Burns Phillips the permanent head of the Department of Labor of Workforce Development on Wednesday, three months after placing him temporarily in the spot. Haslam said Phillips, 64, had agreed to stay on after replacing Commissioner Karla Davis in March. The move came a day after a committee of state lawmakers lauded Phillips’ performance during a presentation on the department. “I am very grateful to Burns for taking on this role,” Haslam said in the announcement.
Governor Bill Haslam has officially named Burns Phillips as the new commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Phillips had been serving as acting commissioner of the department since Karla Davis resigned from the position in March due to family reasons. Phillips had previously served as managing director of customer-focused government initiatives administration-wide with the Department of Finance and Administration. “I am very grateful to Burns for taking on this role,” Haslam said in a statement.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced he has named Burns Phillips as the new commissioner of the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “I am very grateful to Burns for taking on this role,” Haslam said of Phillips, who had been serving as acting commissioner after the abrupt departure of then-chief Karla Davis shortly before an audit critical of the department’s operations was released.
On May 13, 2013, Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a reduction in the state sales and use tax rate on sales of food and food ingredients. Effective July 1, 2013, the state sales and use tax rate on sales of food and food ingredients will be reduced from 5.25% to 5%. With the change, food and food ingredients will be subject to a reduced state sales and use tax rate of 5% plus the applicable local sales and use tax rate. Prepared food, dietary supplements, candy, alcoholic beverages and tobacco continue to be subject to the general state sales and use tax rate of 7% plus the applicable local sales and use tax rate.
Students attending Nashville State Community College can now turn their associate degree in to a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University without the commute. The two schools have announced a transfer agreement that will allow Nashville State students with associate degrees in criminal justice-related programs to advance their studies to earn an MTSU bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration and liberal studies.
The Tennessee Board of Pharmacy says it has adopted new regulations for compounding pharmacies licensed by the state following recent outbreaks of illnesses associated with tainted medicines created at these specialty pharmacies. The Pharmacy Board said in a news release that the new rules will improve safeguards for public health while also ensuring that drugs in short supply will be available. Compounding pharmacies mix custom formulations of drugs based on doctors’ specifications.
After months of deliberating new rules for compounding pharmacies following the fungal meningitis outbreak that began last summer, the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy has approved new regulations for the drug makers. The new rules allow the state to take quicker action against a compounder’s license when a serious safety issue arises, create a separate licensing category for medicine manufacturers, require proof that a manufacturer is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and require special registration whenever any pharmacy — whether retailer, manufacturer or wholesaler — performs sterile compounding.
State regulators said they are taking further steps to protect you from tainted medication, specifically, drugs made at compounding pharmacies. Officials said this comes after serious problems at two compounding pharmacies including one in Tennessee. The Tennessee Board of Pharmacy announced Wednesday that it is increasing its efforts to make sure the drugs produced by compounding pharmacies licensed by the state of Tennessee are both safe and sterile. Last month, there was an outbreak caused by tainted medicine from the Main Street Pharmacy in the west Tennessee town of Newbern.
An inquiry into contract outsourcing for the management of the state’s motor pool to Enterprise Rent-A-Car has left one state representative with more questions than answers. And those answers may not come for another month Mark Pody, who sits on the legislature’s Joint Fiscal Review Committee, told TNReport.com. Rep. Pody had said on Monday that he’d been told by state Department of General Services staff to expect more specific answers Tuesday. However, that didn’t happen, he said.
Youths in Tennessee juvenile correction facilities are at greater risk of being sexually victimized than the national average, according to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report estimates that 9.5 percent of youths in state and private correctional facilities across the nation, or just more than 1,700 youths, were sexually victimized in 2011-12. The rate for Tennessee facilities was 13 percent. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics compiled the numbers through surveys of 326 facilities across the country.
The West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation has committed $1 million to the expansion of the registered nursing program at the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Parsons Center. UT-Martin offers West Tennessee’s only basic baccalaureate program in nursing at a public institution outside of the Memphis area, and construction on a 10,000-square-foot addition to the school’s current nursing facility is expected to begin this summer. The addition will include classrooms, a skills laboratory and a high-fidelity computerized simulation laboratory.
Tennessee wildlife officials are spreading the word about staying safe on the water this summer. They say scenes like the image to the right are all too common on Tennessee waterways. Last year, there were 189 boating accidents with 18 fatalities. So far in 2013, there have been 49 accidents and 10 fatalities. TWRA Officer Jeff Roberson worked eight of those accidents in East Tennessee. “Last weekend, I worked two accidents – one here up on Fort Loudon Lake, a minor property damage accident, and one swamping that resulted in a sinking of a boat,” said Roberson.
Officials are warning Tennessee’s seniors about a scam involving recorded phone calls promising free or low cost personal emergency or medical alert systems. Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability Executive Director Jim Shulman says seniors and people with disabilities have been receiving phone calls that say they are recipients of free emergency and medical alert services. The message says someone has ordered this system for the caller and the call is to confirm shipping instructions.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is cautioning parents to never leave a child unattended in a car. With temperatures reaching the 90s this week, THP Colonel Tracy Trott said heat can build to intolerable levels inside a vehicle in a few minutes. There were 32 children who died in hot cars last year nationwide. Five of those deaths occurred in Tennessee. Last June, 5-year-old Leland Bates and his 3-year-old brother, River Bates, died in Cleveland. The younger child’s core body temperature was measured at 109 degrees.
The state constitution says the governor can appoint a judge to a vacant position. What’s a little sticky right now is what constitutes a vacant position. Three appeals court judges have announced they will retire at the end of their terms next year. They did so because the Judicial Nominating Commission that will pick their successors goes away at the end of this month. The Legislature did not see fit to reauthorize the group so they are “sunset” and cannot be replaced until the next session of the Legislature, if at all.
A federal judge has ruled in favor of members of the Occupy Nashville movement who claimed their free speech rights were violated when they were arrested while protesting in 2011 on War Memorial Plaza. U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in an order issued on Wednesday that the seven plaintiffs’ rights to engage in constitutionally protected free speech activity was violated when they were arrested based on a hastily written rule that banned camping on the plaza.
U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger issued a 45-page opinion on Wednesday lambasting the actions of the state officials during Occupy Nashville protests in 2011. Trauger wrote that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to free speech was violated “when they were arrested … based on a ‘law’ that, under Tennessee statutory law, had no actual legal effect.” The original complaint filed in the fall of 2011 followed weeks of protests from Occupy members in which they camped out on the War Memorial Plaza beginning in early October 2011.
State Rep. Charles Curtiss suggested this week the state could be doing more to encourage unemployment-benefits recipients to re-enter the workforce more quickly. The Sparta Democrat raised the issue Tuesday during a Fiscal Review Committee meeting at the state Capitol, part of which included testimony from the interim head of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Management, the agency that handles unemployment claims. The way he sees it, Curtis said, laid-off workers who receive consistent weekly benefits don’t have enough incentive to seriously look for a job.
There will be a “huge push” next year to require nasal decongestant medicines like Sudafed to be prescription only, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told a Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors legislative luncheon Wednesday. “That’s going to be tough,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said. “That’s pushing government down on the people. All of us are going to have to balance that with what’s best for society.” Medicine that contains pseudoephedrine — such as Sudafed, Actifed, Contac and Claritin-D — currently can only be sold in pharmacies and must be kept behind the counter in Tennessee.
Many pharmacists in East Tennessee are already making big efforts to keep meth out of their community by policing to whom they sell pseudoephedrine. But a new proposal by Republican State Senator Mike Bell of Riceville would ask pharmacists to take on more responsibility. “There are a narrow group of drugs right now that pharmacists can write a prescription for. I’m looking at adding pseudophedrine to that group of drugs,” said Bell. Tuesday afternoon, a group prosecutors and law enforcement officers gathered in Kingston for a drug task force meeting, including Bell.
Memphis leaders received another scathing letter from the State Comptroller on Wednesday about the city’s finances, warning that if the Memphis City Council doesn’t get the city’s financial priorities in order “someone else will.” The letter was sent at the request of Memphis City Council chairman Edmund Ford Jr. and contains, he said, the content of a phone call he had Wednesday with State Comptroller Justin Wilson. Ford said he wanted other council members to be aware of the call and the warning from Wilson, who is a Nashville-area Republican occupying a politically-appointed role.
The Memphis City Council has received another letter from the Tennessee State Comptroller warning lawmakers that they must lower city debt or face dire consequences. The mayor initially received a letter from the comptroller in late May warning the city is in poor financial shape and demanding that the city get several accounts out of the red. The mayor also received a letter from another state agency requesting financials for the city’s pension fund. City leaders said the city is under scrutiny for its “scoop and toss” practices, meaning they are scooping up debt and tossing it into the future.
Prosecutors going after former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe say one of his so-called ghost employees, a worker he allegedly paid to do little if any work, also participated in a property title search scheme in which his company bilked taxpayers for possibly as much as $392,500. The accusation, according to court records, suggests that Ray Mubarak and Lowe obtained and controlled fraudulent payments to Tennessee Residential Services, a business set up by Mubarak, and whose sole purpose was to sell title abstracts to Knox County at higher than usual rates.
Blount County Schools could lose up to 84 positions, officials say — from teachers, counselors and teaching assistants to an assistant principal, janitors and maintenance technicians — after voters Tuesday shut down an effort to create a wheel tax by a two-to-one margin. The vote was 4,087 in favor and 8,885 against, according to the Blount County Election Commission. Residents would have paid $35 per vehicle and $17.50 per motorcycle had the wheel tax passed. The measure would’ve raised $2.4 million for schools.
Before the Shelby County Commission’s budget and finance committee voted Wednesday on second reading to increase the county’s property tax rate, Commissioner Terry Roland offered a modified version of what he said was an old saying. “It’s two things you can’t get rid of, that’s HIV and a house in Shelby County,” Roland claimed, although the Memphis Area Association of Realtors report released Saturday shows home sales and prices rising substantially in 2013 across Shelby County. The committee, despite Roland’s warnings, voted 5-4 to approve the new tax rate of $4.38 as recommended by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
Shelby County Commissioners are one step closer to raising property taxes. A majority of commissioners are in favor of the nine percent hike. Some of the money is because of lower home assessments, and some is for the Unified School System. Critics are getting louder and angrier. There is a very vocal minority of commissioners who are against any tax increase, and they’re letting everybody know about it. The piercing noise of a locomotive horn echoes as it rumbles across Stage Road in Bartlett.
A budget that keeps the city of Kingston’s property tax stable for a second year breezed through first reading Tuesday with a 6-0 vote by City Council and advances to final reading next week. The tax rate will remain $1.1734 per $100 of assessed value. “We’re very pleased in this day and time to be able to provide the same level of services and perhaps a little more at the same property tax rate,” Mayor Troy Beets said Wednesday. Kingston Finance Director Carolyn Brewer said the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 totals $5,536,930.
Michele Johnson has been named the new executive director of a Nashville group that supports greater access to Medicaid.nJohnson will succeed Gordon Bonnyman at the Tennessee Justice Center at the end of the year. Bonnyman and Johnson co-founded the organization 17 years ago to advocate for Tennessee’s vulnerable population, particularly those struggling to find access to health care. Johnson is nationally known for her legal work with children who have special health care needs.
A man who made his name being a thorn in the side of Tennessee governors and suing the state is taking a less public role in advocating for TennCare patients. Gordon Bonnyman co-founded the Tennessee Justice Center 17 years ago with Michele Johnson. He’s led the legal organization since then and says it’s time to turn over the reins. “With the Affordable Care Act taking effect, there are enormous changes that affect our clients. And I just think Michelle has a lot more fresh ideas.”
The Tennessee Justice Center today announced that managing attorney Michele Johnson will succeed Gordon Bonnyman as executive director at the end of this year. Bonnyman will continue to serve clients as a TJC staff attorney. Bonnyman and Johnson co-founded the public interest law and advocacy nonprofit 17 years ago to advocate for Tennessee’s vulnerable populations, particularly those struggling to find access to health care. Johnson, a Nashville native, is nationally known for her legal work with children who have special health care needs.
The Tennessee Justice Center announced today that Managing Attorney Michele Johnson will succeed Gordon Bonnyman as executive director at the end of 2013. Bonnyman and Johnson co-founded the organization 17 years ago to advocate for Tennessee’s vulnerable populations, focusing mainly on access to health care. Bonnyman will continue to serve clients as a staff attorney with the center. The following are excerpts from today’s news release: Johnson, a Nashville native, is nationally known for her legal work with children who have special health care needs.
Tennessee Justice Center co-founder Michele Johnson will rise to the top leadership position in January, just as major portions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect nationwide. Johnson and outgoing director Gordon Bonnyman created the group in 1996 and plan to address the potential problems their clients could see in the upcoming year. The group is closely watching how Gov. Bill Haslam will handle Medicaid expansion and insurance for Tennesseans. “I am grateful to be taking on new responsibilities at a time when health reform provides exciting new opportunities for TJC to help working families across the state,” Johnson said.
The wardrobe choices of some female attorneys who frequent Rutherford County’s courts are causing a bit of a stir. Attorneys in the county have groaned to their colleagues and judges that certain female attorneys are showing up in attire that pricks the sensibilities of a profession long known for its conservative dress code. Some female lawyers, according to many in the local legal community, are appearing in court in revealing blouses, miniskirts and, in at least one instance, sweatpants. The sartorial hubbub has made its way to Circuit Judge Royce Taylor, who said he has received a number of attire complaints from attorneys in the county.
In his first wide-ranging public discussion since becoming the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker sold his vision of America’s role in the world, pushing an active path in Syria and promising tough scrutiny of future entanglements overseas. Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of congressional staffers, military officials and defense consultants, Corker described his trips to “a lot of yucky places” and vowed to modernize America’s 9/11-era standards for going to war.
Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District will be well-represented at tonight’s annual congressional baseball game at Nationals Park. Blasting in from the past will be former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, the eight-term Chattanooga Republican and newest inductee to the CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame. He’ll throw out the first pitch as his left-handed successor, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, readies for time at second base. Also a Republican, Fleischmann has a complex history with his predecessor.
The director of the National Security Agency vigorously defended once-secret surveillance programs as an effective tool in keeping America safe, telling Congress on Wednesday that the information collected disrupted dozens of terrorist attacks without offering details. In his first congressional testimony since revelations about the top-secret operations, Army Gen. Keith Alexander insisted that the public needs to know more about how the programs operate amid increasing unease about rampant government snooping and fears that Americans’ civil liberties are being trampled.
Nowhere has the red/blue divide between the states been more apparent than on contentious social issues such as gun control, abortion, gay marriage, and immigration.With 37 states under one-party control, lawmakers responded aggressively to national events and political developments in Washington. After the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Democratic states such as New York, Connecticut and Maryland passed sweeping new gun laws. “Nothing focuses your attention like 20 babies being killed,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his state.
The number of Americans graduating from college has surged in recent years, sending the share with a college degree to a new high, federal data shows. The surge follows more than two decades of slow growth in college completion, which caused the United States to fall behind other countries and led politicians from both parties, including President Obama, to raise alarms. Last year, 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Unpaid internships have long been a path of opportunity for students and recent grads looking to get a foot in the door in the entertainment, publishing and other prominent industries, even if it takes a generous subsidy from Mom and Dad. But those days of working for free could be numbered after a federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority is cutting 530 jobs and trimming millions of dollars in spending on a project to complete an unfinished nuclear plant in Alabama. A senior vice president, Mike Skaggs, said Wednesday that the utility’s budget for the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Station will fall from $182 million to $66 million. That’s a reduction of nearly 64 percent. A total of 530 TVA employees and contractors assigned to the project will lose their jobs. Some of the TVA employees may be reassigned to other roles within the utility.
For the third time since construction began at the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant nearly 40 years ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority is scaling back work on the North Alabama facility. TVA announced Wednesday it will phase out nearly three-fourths of the 540-person staff at Bellefonte this summer and trim its spending at the twin-reactor plant next year by more than $100 million. TVA Senior Vice President Mike Skaggs said the utility needs to husband its resources in the face of stagnant power demand and will focus its nuclear construction activities almost entirely upon finishing work on a second reactor at the Watts Bar plant near Spring City, Tenn.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is slashing its workforce at the Bellefonte Nuclear facility in North Alabama. The plant’s reactors have never been completed. And with natural gas prices down and people generally using less power recently, the utility says there’s no need to rush. Construction on the Bellefonte site began back in 1974. There have been several starts and stops along the way. At one point, TVA even cannibalized useful parts that could be put to work at other plants. Then in 2011, TVA decided to finally finish Bellefonte, approving nearly $5 billion for the job.
After months of repairs and additional testing, the Titan supercomputer has finally passed the “acceptance” process, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s pride-and-joy machine is now fully available for scientific research on climate change and other challenging problems. The 200-cabinet Cray XK7 system was officially certified as the world’s fastest supercomputer this past November, based on early benchmark tests that proved it was capable of more than 17 million billion calculations per second.
A study shows that the Island at Pigeon Forge will bring an $80 million per year economic impact ot the Sevier County area. Owners say phase one on the project is almost finished and allowed WVLT to get an exclusive tour on Wednesday. Phase one has “We’re almost totally complete. The heat and air’s running, the landscaping is going in, We’re training employees at the current time ‘in our restaurant. So we’ll be ready a week from Friday,” said Darby Campbell, Developer of The Island. The Island features the new 200ft wheel that will give people an all new view of the Smokies.
U.S. Solutions Group, Inc. will expand its call center operations on West State Street, invest $117,000 and create 128 new jobs, state officials announced Wednesday. “I want to thank U.S. Solutions Group, Inc. for their continued investment and the new jobs they will create for Tennesseans,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a prepared release. “U.S. Solutions Group is expanding less than a year after locating to Sullivan County, and today’s announcement helps us in our goal toward becoming the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”
The descriptions of week 37 and week 38 of pregnancy aren’t pretty. “Your back aches. You can’t breathe. You can’t eat because of the pressure on your diaphragm. You become more and more exhausted. You just become miserable,” says Traci Josephsen, a mother and clinical resources specialist with women and infant services at Erlanger hospital. Over the last decade, it became common for doctors to schedule inductions and Caesarean sections for the convenience of patients or themselves.
An undetermined number of reporters at The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires have been offered buyouts, two media websites are reporting. Talking Biz News said Wednesday night that a “number of reporters” at both places have been offered buyouts, without giving an exact or approximate amount. JimRomenesko.com quoted an unnamed reporter at the Journal as saying he had just received a buyout, while not addressing the situation at Dow Jones Newswires.
There is still some power left in the line that separates Memphis City Schools from Shelby County Schools with about two weeks left until the two public school systems formally become one. That was evident Tuesday, June 11, as the countywide school board approved a slate of 35 policy decisions for the merged school system whose fiscal year begins July 1. The school board members approved the use of $12 million from the reserves of the two combined school systems to bridge a funding gap in the budget for the first fiscal year of the consolidated school system.
The growing crop of teacher residency programs in Shelby County is being followed by residency programs for school system administrators and leaders outside the classroom. But raising a crop of those further up the management chain isn’t the same as recruiting a crop of new classroom teachers says John Troy, of the group Education Pioneers. “K-12 education as a whole is a $600 billion sector when you look across the country. It’s the second largest workforce in the United States,” Troy said earlier this month.
Nashville’s new school calendar might be changing again, and this time, kids could be in class even more. The intersession program in Metro Nashville Public Schools has been around for only a year, but the director of schools says a different approach is needed. The current school calendar includes 175 school days, with two week-long breaks that include time for voluntary intersessions to get in more learning time. Now, district leaders are considering three options for the 2014-2015 school calendar.
Few places in Memphis signify the change in public education as clearly as South Side Middle School. When the school year ended this spring, the post-World War II structure built for 2,000 students had fewer than 300. When school begins in less than two months, four schools — three charters and the resident middle school — will be at home in the South Memphis campus at 1880 Prospect. In the space of weeks, a school marginalized by declining population could have more than 880 students. It may be the closest thing the city has to an education incubator.
Rutherford County Schools officials denied the application for a proposed charter school looking to open in 2014. The Tracey Darnell Montessori Academy would have been sponsored by Empowering One to D.R.E.A.M. Inc., a startup non-profit group. It would have been led by Terrance Lawless, an adjunct professor at MTSU. The proposal called for serving at-risk youth in north Rutherford County, primarily La Vergne. The application stated the school would serve grades 4-6 during its first five years, starting with 66 students, and add grades 7-8 in year six, with a maximum capacity of 286 students.
Though there are 900 fewer pre-K spots for Memphis and Shelby County children this year, Nicole Burns was able to register her son for the class Wednesday, as she had with two older children. Burns’ son, Darrico, will be attending Crump Elementary as one of 3,380 children the pre-K program will serve for the 2013-14 school year. Registration for the program is open through June 27, according to the Memphis and Shelby County unified school district, and 780 spots remained as of Wednesday.
Rutherford County Schools Director Don Odom Wednesday night said a three-year estimate of state testing data and teacher turnover were the reasons behind the reassignment of Homer Pittard Campus School Principal Chontel Bridgeman. Several parents and teachers from the school attended the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. Citing data from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, Odom said Campus has gone from an overall growth level of 3.54 since 2009-10 to a growth level of -1.63 during 2011-12, which falls under Bridgeman’s tenure at the school.
An Oliver Springs High School teacher is alleged to have sent someone into her home on an errand after authorities quarantined it because a suspected meth lab had been found inside it. Amelia E. Drennan, 45, was arrested Tuesday and charged with felony reckless endangerment in connection with an incident that occurred May 26. She is a special-education teacher at the school, Roane County Schools Director Gary Aytes said. Drennan’s husband, William Paul Drennan, 48, described by Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton as a “known meth cooker,” remained Wednesday in the Roane County Jail.
A complaint filed Wednesday with the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of students in school districts here and in surrounding suburbs alleges that Texas laws impose “cruel and unusual punishment” for truancy, in violation of students’ constitutional rights. Truants face high fees, hours of community work and sometimes incarceration, according to the complaint filed by Austin-based Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas in Houston and the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland. More than 40 states consider truancy a status offense, a category of conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s education reforms hit a couple of speed bumps this past legislative session, but his reforms may hit a brick wall come next session. A major battle is brewing over the direction of the state’s schools pitting Haslam, Bill Frist, Bill and Melinda Gates, and the state’s business establishment against conservative groups and the legislators who listen to them. It’s about the Common Core Curriculum, a term you may not have run across. But it has begun to rank with Obamacare as a program reviled by conservative groups. Since the nation began universal testing and compiling test scores, problems have become apparent in the validity of the data.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is smart to seek the counsel of longtime Republican political adviser Tom Ingram. Ingram has been involved in the campaigns of just about every successful GOP statewide candidate in the past four decades, including U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, former Gov. Don Sundquist and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson. He knows the state and knows how to win. But Haslam has stumbled by paying Ingram on the side, with no public disclosure of his activities. The payments occupy a legal gray area, but in the interest of transparency Haslam should fully disclose the payments.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s refusal to be fully transparent about his business investments is creating a sideshow in his role as the state’s chief executive. The latest act on that front was produced by state House Democratic Caucus chairman Mike Turner of Nashville, who plans to ask for a legislative review of a five-year, $330 million contract with a Chicago consulting firm to manage state government office space, after learning that Haslam in 2010 had invested more than $10,000 in the company. Is this something state residents should be concerned about? We don’t know because there has been no full disclosure about the governor’s business dealings.
What is a promise worth? When it is contained in the precepts of a statewide law, it should be worth a lot. When it affects people’s lives and livelihoods, it should be absolutely ironclad. If the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was filed this week against the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam are correct, state officials broke a promise to help hundreds of state employees find new positions after being laid off. Some observers may say that this sort of thing happens all the time in the private sector, that no one who is in the employ of someone else can have any expectations other than that, someday, they could lose their job.
Question of the week: How do we make sense of the revelations of domestic spying to thwart international terrorism? Fighting terrorism and preserving privacy have been this week’s hottest topics — touching every one with a phone and a computer. After Edward J. Snowden leaked secret training documents that detailed how the government logs all our telephone calls and collects all our emails and online data from Internet companies such as Google and Apple, pundits and Congress and residents have been asking what it all means. What do we fear more: terrorists or government? Who is Snowden: hero or traitor? Does the surveillance achieve anything?
Although long a trekker, I haven’t yet seen the new movie “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” Based on reviews, I fear the producers are trying to attract an audience that has grown hungry for darkness. When “Star Trek” began, its weekly “morality plays” encouraged viewers to believe we could do great things, even end poverty and war. Capt. James T. Kirk would take us boldly into a world where the standard was not merely law and order but also law and justice. Then, Hollywood gave us Kirk’s opposite: Dirty Harry Callahan. What a choice!
Question of the week: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently called for states to lower blood-alcohol limits from .08 to .05. Do you agree that such a move is an effective way to reduce accidents and deaths on our roads? Are there better ways to curb impaired driving in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama? Drew Johnson Editor of the Free Press opinion page The NTSB’s heart is in the right place (whatever heart a huge federal bureaucracy can have) with its recommendation that states reduce their blood alcohol limits from .08 to .05. After all, it wants to prevent injuries and deaths related to drunken driving. But the push to lower the limits is a step too far.