This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
In the spring of 2012, Gov. Bill Haslam announced a new collaboration between the state Dept. of Economic and Community Development and the Tennessee Technology Development Corp. designed to boost entrepreneurship in the state. Known as Launch TN, the five-year initiative is charged with promoting entrepreneurship through the nine regional business accelerators and by developing events to encourage interaction among entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and supporters.
The wait time at driver service centers in Tennessee decreased slightly for the first six months of this year over the same period last year. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the average wait time from Jan. 1 to June 30 was 31 1/2 minutes. That is down 2 ½ minutes from the same period in 2012. The reduction comes despite an increase in customers served of nearly 5,000. Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in a news release that reducing wait times is a priority for the department.
Residents in low-lying areas of Southeast Tennessee are keeping their eyes on the skies this week as heavy rain has the potential to create more localized flooding around the region. Scattered thunderstorms Sunday dumped anywhere from a quarter-inch to 1 inch of rain in nearby counties, according to the National Weather Service. McMinn and Meigs counties each had at least .44 inch of rain Saturday. Rhea County was under a flash flood watch from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, and Polk County was under a flood advisory until 6:45 p.m. And the weather service said more rain is on the way.
It was less than five months ago that Politico was calling Gov. Bill Haslam “the GOP star you’ve never heard of.” So it was somewhat surprising to see Tennessee’s rising star called one of the nation’s worst governors in a report released last week. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — the folks who filed a medical ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais — listed Haslam as one of the worst governors in the country based on his ethics and transparency practices.
Tennessee ramped up its criminal penalties for human traffickers this year with an unprecedented slate of law changes, but rehabilitative services for survivors remain disjointed and reliable incident data remain elusive, a new state study finds. A year in the making, the new 97-page report puts on paper what advocates have been observing for years: that Tennessee communities don’t have sufficient services designed specifically for trafficking survivors. They often need housing, relocation assistance, transportation and legal aid.
Forty years ago the librarians at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville began an ambitious and arduous task. As the library collected books full of biographical information on famous and not-so-famous Tennesseans, the staff began creating a printed index of everyone mentioned in the books as a reference tool for researchers, scholars and anyone interested. Their efforts, which began as a paper index and includes more than 30,000 entries from over 90 books, have been transferred into a searchable index available online for the first time beginning this month.
The University of Tennessee-Martin has installed two electric car chargers on campus. One of the users of the service is Dr. Stan Dunagan, who said a recent full charge for his Nissan Leaf cost about $3. Dunagan said his cost for charging the vehicle at home was about $20 for April. UT-Martin and ECOtality, the provider of the charging stations, split the revenue from them. The chargers are in the parking lot of the university’s stadium. The University of Tennessee’s main campus in Knoxville also has charging stations.
The University of Tennessee Center for Native Grasslands Management is hosting a twilight forage tour in Louisville. The tour will feature tips on using native grasses such as eastern gamagrass, big bluestem and switchgrass as livestock forage. According to Center director Pat Keyser, the drought tolerant native grasses are long-lasting perennials that can produce high yields of hay. They also produce excellent animal performance when grazed during the summer. The tour takes place on July 30. The event is free but participants must register by Wednesday.
Improvements to Exit 13 on Interstate 26 now include the replacement of the bridge that spans the interstate and new lighting to better illuminate the ramps. Originally, the changes planned for this exit included adding dual turn lanes and a new exit ramp and widening the bridge, which is part of Tenn. Hwy. 75, also known as Bobby Hicks Highway. This road also is referred to sometimes as State Route 75. Back in 2012, Tennessee Department of Transportation officials said the project was to begin this month; however, it was determined the bridge needed replaced.
With state-level elective offices firmly in its control, the state Republican Party is now ready to move on to local-level offices with a new “Red to the Roots” program, says Tennessee Republican Chairman Chris Devaney. The idea is to encourage county Republican parties to designate nominees for city and county elective offices where they can. Currently, most cities and counties have nonpartisan elections for local office, though state law generally allows county parties to designate party nominees if they wish — exceptions including cases in which a city or county charter specifies bipartisan elections.
The Knox County Commission today will attempt to bring stability to an embattled tax collector’s office that just last week was denied insurance on the grounds that there has been too much turmoil. On the agenda for the commission’s regular 1:45 p.m. meeting is an item likely to bring hours of discussion among commissioners — appointing a trustee, the county’s public banker. Complications in the Knox County Trustee’s Office have been difficult, commissioners agreed, and the process of selecting a new trustee doesn’t appear to be simple either.
Pump a gallon of gas into your car. Since you can’t see it, how do you know you really got a gallon? Tracy Harwell and Richard Lewis know. And if they left one of their black-and-white stickers on the pump, you can be assured that the gallon you pumped was really a gallon. Harwell and Lewis are inspectors with the Memphis weights and measures department. They are two of five city inspectors who check the accuracy of gas pumps, grocery store scales, taxi meters and more. If their inspections check out, then the device gets that approval seal from the city.
With the news that the already approved funding for Shelby County Schools can’t be reduced, it may now be even more difficult to get seven votes from the Shelby County Commission to approve a 36-cent property tax rate increase on Monday. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell proposed the tax rate of $4.38 per $100 of assessed value that would have raised the certified tax rate to $4.32 along with a six-cent tax rate increase for schools. So, when the commission failed on July 8 on third and final reading to approve that tax rate for the 2014 fiscal year, there was concern that officials were not willing to adequately fund the newly merged school system.
Roll Call stirred up something in Washington when it reported Thursday morning that U.S. Sen. Bob Corker swore — yes, used foul language — during a meeting with his sorta-boss, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Witnesses say Corker called “bull-” followed by a synonym for cow chips when McConnell said in a meeting that he could have cut a better deal than one brokered by U.S. Sen. John McCain to allow the confirmation of some Obama administration nominees and avert a showdown over Senate filibuster rules.
Tennessee Tea Party groups and some other hard-right groups are all dressed up and raring to have a go at toppling U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the 2014 Republican primary. But even as 200 of the senator’s critics rallied over the weekend in Smyrna outside an Alexander event and denounced his voting record as insufficiently conservative, it’s not just who’s going to be their prom — or primary — date. Several would-be favorites, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, already have declined the honor. World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Glenn Jacobs, a libertarian, was talked up recently but hasn’t ruled a bid in or out.
On Monday, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker reintroduced the Tennessee Wilderness Act to Congress, which would permanently protect 20,000 acres of biologically rich land within the Cherokee National Forest and create the first new wilderness area in Tennessee in more than two decades. It’s the third year that the bill has been introduced to Congress, but advocates are hoping that the third time’s a charm. “This is unfinished business that needs to get done,” said Jeff Hunter, director of Tennessee Wild, a coalition working to protect the Cherokee National Forest.
Meals On Wheels has delivered weekday and weekend meals to low-income elderly residents for more than a decade, but this year weekend meals have been eliminated and the number of seniors receiving meals this month compared to those served in December has been cut by more than 200 people. The program stopped serving congregate meals to residents at the NAPFE (National Association of Postal and Federal Employees) Tower on Highway 58 and has more than 670 low-income seniors waiting to receive meals. It’s the largest waiting list the program has ever had, said Stacie Smith, program manager.
Calvin spends almost as much time commuting to her job — on a bus, two trains and another bus — as she does working part-time at a day care center. She knows exactly where to board the train and which stairwells to use at the stations so that she has the best chance of getting to work on time in the morning and making it home to greet her three children after school. “It’s a science you just have to perfect over time,” said Ms. Calvin, 37. Her nearly four-hour round-trip stems largely from the economic geography of Atlanta, which is one of America’s most affluent metropolitan areas yet also one of the most physically divided by income.
Gentlemen, ladies and kids with driver’s licenses: Start your engines. Five state legislatures voted this year to raise speed limits on some divided highways in their states. They’re following the lead of Texas, which last year bumped the speed limit on one stretch to 85 mph, the highest in the nation. Ohio and Utah are going full speed ahead with implementing their higher limits. Maine and Illinois officials are studying when — and whether — to raise their newly approved speeds, while New Hampshire’s new law takes effect in January.
Not long after she moved to Nashville in 1984, Jennifer van Nelson was bicycling near Brentwood and happened for the first time upon downtown Nolensville. The California native marveled at the old-time feel of the city, its quaint homes lining the seldom-traveled main road. The sleepy community was the last place that van Nelson would have thought to start a business. “It was off the beaten path, out far away in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It was really no businesses at that time. It was mostly residential.”
Even though employers now have until 2015 to provide health insurance for employees under federal law, some local business leaders are doing their best to prepare for the mandate, even though they aren’t exactly sure how it will impact their businesses. “There just seems to be so many unanswered questions,” said Mike Monen, who—along with this wife, Taylor—owns restaurants Community Pie, Urban Stack, Taco Mamacita, and Milk and Honey. “I feel like the delay is proof that some people might not be able to sustain through this type of expense. I think it proves the point that there are so many unanswered questions.”
The status quo is a no-go for Hamilton County’s five iZone schools. When school starts on Aug. 8, officials are hoping that everything will look and feel different at those schools, which were grouped together for perpetual underperformance. With an infusion of cash, those schools are preparing to roll out a slew of changes this fall. The days will be longer. Teachers will earn heftier paychecks, and some will compete for bonuses. New staff members, software and programs will fill the halls. And the infusion of iPads and other tools like interactive white boards will be a much-welcomed addition at the mostly poor and mostly black schools.
Some people hired, released already Forty-seven new school security officers will not be considered full time until they graduate from a five-week training academy. “Just being allowed to attend the training does not guarantee them the opportunity to become full time school security officers,” said Gus Paidousis, Knox County Schools’ security chief. “Because there were still some tests that they had to pass, some screening tools that they had to get through and then there are challenges in the recruit school that if they fail to meet … they will be let go.”
Now that suburban residents have overwhelmingly approved the formation of municipal school districts, some suburban leaders are calling their educational experts back in for help. If they continue to pass legal muster, separate suburban schools may open in the fall of 2014. A federal lawsuit by the Shelby County Commission is still pending challenging suburban school districts. The Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to vote Monday night on a $36,000 contract with Southern Educational Strategies.
In the midst of all the issues percolating over the policy and personnel decisions that have occurred and are occurring as the new Shelby County Schools district prepares for the start of classes Aug. 5, it is easy to overlook the reforms in public education taking place here and across the state. The most visible signs of what is happening are reflected in the effort to get effective teachers into classrooms and a coming shift in the way teachers are paid, based on their performance rather than seniority or educational-degree attainment. Chris Barbic, superintendent of the Achievement School District, sees something else occurring in education — more choices for parents to send their children to good schools.
Gray was overwhelmingly the predominant hair color in the small, mostly male crowd. I found my follicles fitting right in as I joined those who had gathered to remember and celebrate the life of our departed friend, William L. “Dick” Barry of Lexington, Tenn. We appropriately gathered on the floor of the House of Representatives in our State Capitol, where Dick was the distinguished House speaker for two terms (1961-65). We all sat mesmerized by his force and eloquence as the recording of his speech accepting his first election soared over the House’s sound system. We were warmed and refreshed by the master of ceremonies, Rep. Steve McDaniel of Lexington, a Republican lawmaker who had befriended his Democratic predecessor.
The Senate, when it rouses itself to do so, does work. Slowly, inefficiently, maddeningly, but it does work. Proof of that was the Republicans’ decision last week to allow quick votes on seven of President Barack Obama’s nominees to top administration posts. Senate Republicans, after a rare closed-door session with their Democratic counterparts, agreed to subject the nominees to a simple majority vote in return for the Democratic leadership forsaking the “nuclear option.” That option would have killed the filibuster, which when deployed — as the Republicans have done with regularity in recent years — required the majority Democrats to round up 60 votes to allow the Senate to proceed on any given issue.