This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam came to Parsons on Monday for what he described as not only a great day for the University of Tennessee Martin and the community of Parsons, but a great day for the state of Tennessee. Haslam spoke Monday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the expanded facility of UT Martin’s Parsons center, which will house the full bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) program upon its completion in the fall of 2014. He said the new facility and BSN program at the Parsons center will address a great need within the state.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder announced an innovative new online pre-registration form which will allow veterans and their families to be pre-approved for burial in the state veterans cemeteries. Traditionally, funeral directors contact the nearest state veterans cemetery when they receive a request to bury the remains of a veteran or dependent who previously expressed interest in burial at one of the four locations. In many cases, family members are unable to locate the veteran’s discharge papers which must be used to determine eligibility.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder announced an innovative new online pre-registration form which will allow veterans and their families to be pre-approved for burial in the state veterans cemeteries. Traditionally, funeral directors contact the nearest state veterans cemetery when they receive a request to bury the remains of a veteran or dependent who previously expressed interest in burial at one of the four locations.
State officials today announced what they call a new “innovative” online pre-registration form allowing veterans and their families to get pre-approval for burial in one of Tennessee’s veterans cemeteries. “Our goal is to do all we can to assist and support veterans and their families,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a news release. “This online resource is a proactive and efficient way to offer them assistance before they face a crisis situation when delays can add to the trauma of loss.”
As he stood before a crowd of politicians, health care professionals and journalists, Jim Henry, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, recounted a story of a recent ride-along he took with a department case worker. His story took his listeners outside the walls of the J. Walter Barnes Conference Center at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital on Monday morning and into a public housing complex in Dickson County. Two weeks ago, he tagged along with a DCS case manager there and found himself on a couch holding a 5-week-old child in a dirty apartment, tended by drug-using adults.
Another sales tax-free shopping weekend has been set by the state of Tennessee. State Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, announced last week that Tennessee’s ninth annual sales tax holiday is scheduled for Aug. 2-4. During the three-day tax holiday, shoppers can save almost 10 percent on tax-free clothing, school and art supplies, and computerpurchases, according to a news release from the state. “It is once again that time of year for the citizens of our community to participate in our state’s annual sales tax holiday,” Eldridge said.
The National Association of Secretaries of State has elected Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett as its new president. According to a news release from the association, Hargett most recently served as the group’s treasurer. He has been Tennessee’s secretary of state since 2009. Prior to that, he was a member of the Tennessee General Assembly for 10 years and later the chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Hargett said in a news release that citizens are counting on the national group to lead the way in developing best practices for running honest and efficient elections, increasing voter turnout and civic awareness, and protecting people and businesses from unnecessary federal laws and regulations.
How much it costs for students to attend a public college in Tennessee depends more and more on the individual campus. The state’s largest public college system is now approving tuition levels school-by-school. In 2010, the difference in attending any of the six Board of Regents campuses was just a couple hundred dollars. Tuition increases were generally across the board – but not any more. This fall, East Tennessee State University is raising tuition and fees by nearly $550, while Tennessee State is keeping the increase to just $72.
A new state study shows Tennessee must improve its response to victims of human trafficking for recent changes in law to be effective. The state Legislature passed a series of statutes aimed at harsher punishment of people convicted of coercing adults and children into sexual servitude. Effective July 1, a dozen anti-trafficking statutes took effect. There are stronger penalties for traffickers and a longer period of time during which offenders can be charged. But The Tennessean reported the study finds services to victims of trafficking are disjointed.
East Tennessee State University President Dr. Brian Noland announced Monday how the university plans to continue growth despite a $3.7 million budgetary shortfall expected in the fall, which is the result of a 3 percent decline in enrollment. Noland described the actions the university plans to take as “short-term” initiatives that will help in the long term. “It is not an effort under way that is a series of cuts,” Noland said. “It is not an effort that’s under way that’s a point of panic. It’s an effort under way by an institution to strategically align its resources and its expenditures.”
During the summer heat, everyone is looking for a good place to cool off. If you don’t own a swimming pool or a boat, most spend the summer months near an air conditioner, unless they know about Tennessee’s “natural” air conditioner. Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee’s best kept, “beat the heat” secrets. It’s is one of Tennessee’s best kept, “beat the heat” secrets. Every summer, Tennesseans hit the falls. “Once you’re here in Tennessee, and you’re actually here, there is nothing else like it,” said Jordan Holliday, a visitor.
The public doesn’t need to know what else lies hidden in the still-secret portion of ex-Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner’s Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file, a judge has ruled. “While the common law and constitutional right of access to our courts are due great respect they do not outweigh the law enforcement privilege codified by our Legislature,” Senior Judge Walter Kurtz of Nashville wrote in an order filed Friday. The ruling might not be the final word on the file but bars public scrutiny of its contents for now. Lawyer Herbert S. Moncier wants the judge to reconsider.
A state senator has announced plans to file legislation that would freeze tuition rates for state colleges and universities. Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, said in a news release that his bill would keep tuition rates at their current level “for several years” but did not offer specifics. It also will include recommendations for reducing higher education costs, he said. In June, the Tennessee Board of Regents and The University of Tennessee both raised tuition between 3 and 6 percent for each of the campuses they oversee.
A Republican state lawmaker wants to freeze tuition at Tennessee’s colleges and universities. Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson says he plans to file legislation during the next session to keep tuition at the current rates. The Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee systemrecently adopted tuition hikes ranging from 3 to 6%. Summerville says the hikes cause students to take out more student loans. TBR Chancellor John Morgan says the freeze would restrict the ability of colleges and universities to fund needed programs.
The lone Democrat to voice interest in running against Gov. Bill Haslam for governor said he’ll stick to running for re-election to his West Tennessee House district instead. “I’m committed to continuing as leader and trying to run for my representative position again. That’s what I’m going to do, I believe,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told The City Paper. “I certainly hope that we can find somebody who will step forward because I do think some of the things that are happening in our state are not going the way that they could,” he said.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said Monday that he will not run for governor. Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said that he will seek another term next year, rather than stand as his party’s standard-bearer against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. The Ripley lawmaker’s name was first floated in December. “I think my position is as it has been,” he said. “I’m committed to a run for re-election and hopefully for leader of the caucus again.” Fitzhugh has represented the 82nd House District since 1994.
State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, took the opportunity to visit with state jobs officials while in England to participate in a conference for political and business leaders at Queens College in London. While there, Finney paid a visit to Regents University in London, a four-year institution with a partnership with the University of Memphis Finney met with Dr. Supti Sarkar and Colm Reilly, of PA Consulting Group, Tennessee’s London-based affiliate designated to help identify, engage and recruit potential economic development projects from throughout the United Kingdom.
Local laws to tamp down on methamphetamine production may get some Tennessee cities into legal trouble. A state attorneys group is warning cities they may have gone too far. Seven small cities, clustered west of Chattanooga, have passed laws requiring a prescription for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient in meth. Ironically, some of the towns don’t even have a drugstore. Still, officials there say to combat meth they need to be on the same page. Now, a group of lawyers which offers legal advice to cities says the requirements may be for naught.
As the Coffee County town of Manchester fights the war on methamphetamines, it has unlocked a debate over who has the right to make laws restricting the sale of some cold medicines. The controversy has developed over the sale pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth. Manchester city officials said they want to restrict sales of cold medicines containing the drug to people with doctor’s prescriptions only. A recent opinion from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service said only federal or state laws can regulate pseudoephedrine, not city ordinances.
The Tennessee Republican Party has launched an effort to extend its reach to the local level, a move that could create more contested elections in Davidson County and beyond. A state GOP program, Red to the Roots, was devised to persuade more Republicans to stand for county and court positions, one of the few bastions of strength left to Democrats in Tennessee. Chairman Chris Devaney began touting the effort at the GOP’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner earlier this month, and party leaders hope to have a slate of candidates ready in time for next spring’s county primaries.
In a final vote Monday, the Shelby County Commission raised the property tax rate from $4.02 to $4.38, with Commissioner Justin Ford switching sides a second time in the rate debate. Ford had voted in favor of the tax increase on the first two readings of the ordinance, then opposed it July 8. The ‘no’ votes by Ford and Commission Chairman-elect James Harvey helped the tax increase to fail that day. Ford switched back on Monday, as the commission voted 7-5 to set the certified tax rate at $4.32 per $100,000 assessed value, with an additional 6 cents designated to raise $9.6 million for schools.
Shelby County Commissioners approved a $4.38 county property tax rate Monday, July 22, ending a budget season that spilled into the first 22 days of the new fiscal year. The key to the 7-5 vote on third and final reading of the ordinance was Commissioner Justin Ford changing his “no” vote earlier this month back to a “yes” vote and Commissioner Sidney Chism announcing he would no longer abstain from voting on the matter because of a day care center his family operates. No further readings are necessary on the tax rate because it is the original rate proposed by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, who has been abstaining on all prior votes on the 2013-14 tax rate out of consideration for a possible conflict-of-interest situation, made the dramatic announcement at the beginning of Monday’s meeting that he would be voting, and explained why. Chism would be recorded in favor. The final vote, in favor of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s $4.38 tax rate, was 7-5-1, with the lone absentee being Commissioner Heidi Shafer, a tax-rate opponent. The other major conversion was that of Commissioner Justin Ford, who made an equally dramatic announcement that he would be changing his vote from “no” at the last Commission meeting to “yes.”
While Shelby County and city of Memphis government leaders have grappled with the loss of property value and its impact on the property tax rates for both governments, suburban leaders have a different reality. The county’s six suburban towns and cities are more reliant than Memphis on sales tax revenues as they also deal with the same property value loss in the 2013 property reappraisal. All had property tax hikes this budget season to at least generate the same amount of revenue as their old rates factoring in the property value loss.
Commission chooses Knox County insider Craig Leuthold is familiar to Knox County politics. He’s held political office or bureaucratic jobs since 1995, working for the county trustee, property assessor and held two terms on Knox County Commission. On Monday, commissioners named him trustee, filling the seat vacated when John J. Duncan III resigned July 2 after pleading guilty to a low-level felony for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn. Leuthold said he would open the bookkeeping.
At 11 p.m. CDT on July 10, a local landmark Chance Road residents have looked at all their lives was gone. “The bridge” is the only name it has ever been given, and it is five families’ only means to cross a little brook that comes down from the Cumberland Plateau into Richard City, Tenn. On the night of a devastating flash flood, that bridge was demolished by fast water and tree limbs. “[Debris] all got caught on the backside of the bridge, and water started backing up until it finally broke loose,” Kenneth Frame said last week.
Though the warm weather and low cost of living have been attracting retirees to the South for a long time, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta may have some seniors rethinking their retirement plans. According to the study, a 65-year-old woman can expect, on average, to live an additional 20.3 years while men can expect about 17.7 years. Compare that to the state with the longest lifespan, Hawaii, whose over 65 population can expect another 21 years. In Tennessee, however, men can expect about 16.5 years once they turn 65 and women about 19.2 years.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis told a national television audience Monday, July 22, that he wants to “get back to doing important work.” Cohen made the comment during a live interview on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe,” in which he talked more about the DNA tests results showing he is not the father of Victoria Brink, the woman Cohen said earlier this year was his daughter. The interview was the first chronology the Memphis Democrat has offered of the personal story that became a national one when Cohen tweeted Brink during the State of the Union address in February.
Governors hold the most glamorous title in state government, but they don’t always get the fattest paycheck. State executives overseeing solid waste management, education or public utility regulation have higher salaries than their governors in some cases, according to a survey by the Council of State Governments. Only the chief executives of Nevada, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington are the highest paid administrators in their states, the survey found. Governors’ pay ranges from $70,000 in Maine to $187,256 in Pennsylvania, but top state administrators’ salaries soar from a range of $117,104 to $525,000.
When you put over 4 billion dollars into a project you hope it stays on budget and on time. Jim Hopson TVA,”The turbines, steam generation system, unit two generator are practically complete, so overall the project is right on target” Unit two of Watts Bar is right now undergoing systems tests as the majority of majority construction is complete. Billy Ray Patton,Mayor of Spring City TN,”I jokingly tell TVA officials that I hope the plant doesn’t reach a completion stage that they are targeting for, the longer they are working on that the more jobs we are having created here.”
A bureaucratic breakdown in TVA’s quality assurance program at the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor project resulted in no audits being done on commercial-grade materials for four years, according to a report by the TVA Office of Inspector General. TVA has taken steps to address the problem, according to the same report, which was posted to the OIG website Wednesday. In May, the lapse in audits played into the Tennessee Valley Authority’s receiving three violations and a proposed $70,000 fine from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission related to TVA’s commercial-grade dedication program.
Halfway through its four-year job-growth campaign, Chattanooga’s chief economic development group says it’s on target to meet most of its goals even if Volkswagen’s new SUV project goes to Mexico. The only lagging category so far is capital investment, officials said, but the VW plant landing another vehicle to produce could push the needle off the dial. “It would move all the needles in wonderful ways,” said Ron Harr, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive, citing other targets such as direct jobs, number of new slots created using a multiplier, and added payroll.
Employment at Memphis’s new Electrolux plant has climbed to 374 as the operation continues to test the high-end ovens it’s making before selling them to the public. “That number continues to grow as we gear up for production,” Jack Truong, the Swedish company’s North America president and CEO, said in a phone interview on Friday just after reporting his division’s strong, second-quarter sales figures. Show time may start in September. “We are slated to have production scale up in the beginning stage (near) the end of the third quarter,” he said.
Ga. attorney wants to hear from Haslam A Georgia attorney’s bid to take depositions from Pilot Flying J’s top executives is “entirely premature and improper,” according to a motion filed by the company late Friday. Pilot, the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops, is facing a lawsuit in Knox County Circuit Court by several trucking firms who allege they were shorted on diesel-fuel rebates. Earlier this month, Savannah, Ga., lawyer Mark Tate — who represents those companies — said he wants to take videotaped depositions of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam, President Mark Hazelwood and former Vice President of Sales John Freeman.
Summit High School senior Jacob Bell likes to call the group of rising seniors he has been working with this summer “hope dealers.” Rather than leave a park bench or plant a tree in memory of the Class of 2014, the spin-off group of the Williamson County Schools student advisory council is attempting something bigger: Helping every senior in the class of 2014 achieve a composite score of 21 or higher on the ACT. For their efforts, they want to give those students free laptop computers. Bell described the group of students as a “hidden church” and told local legislators and community leaders last week that as a freshman, he didn’t really think about the future.
Officials say they’re making right the wrong done by last week’s payroll snafu that left thousands of school employees without their usual paycheck. Today, officials will give teachers procedures for seeking reimbursement for any fees they incur as a result of the error. On Friday, routine direct deposits of paychecks didn’t show up for some 3,700 school teachers, assistant principals and classroom aides in what officials called a three-way communication issue among the school system, the county trustee and the bank.
There were few students in the building, but other than that Monday could have passed for the first day of classes at Midtown’s Snowden School, where teachers were rushing in through a morning monsoon to get ready for the opening bell just two weeks away. Fourth-grade teacher Michelle Brown, wearing a bright green “Write on, Snowden” T-shirt, stopped by the first-grade classroom of Kathleen Holloway, where she and kindergarten teacher Katie Thomas were checking the results of last week’s carpet cleaning effort.
The discovery of two single-pot meth labs at a Blount County motel Monday marked the second visit there by a drug task force this year, authorities said. Blount County’s Fifth Judicial Drug Task Force found the methamphetamine labs in a trash bin outside the Princess Motel on U.S. Highway 411 South on Monday afternoon, according to a Blount County Sheriff’s Office news release. Investigators found evidence that meth was cooked there very recently, and quarantined one room in the motel.
Georgia has withdrawn from a consortium tasked with creating standardized tests aligned with Common Core curriculum, state officials announced Monday. The state withdrew from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers mainly because of the cost associated with administering the tests, State School Superintendent John Barge said. Based on the number of students in grades three through eight who took Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in 2012, administering the consortium’s math, reading and writing tests would cost Georgia about $27.5 million.
One of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s goals is to save taxpayer money through more efficient operations and the outsourcing of some administrative functions. That’s a laudable goal; Tennesseans should want their governor to be a good steward of taxpayer money. But the means Haslam has been using to achieve those ends are troubling at times. A couple of high-profile contracts his administration has inked highlight a disturbing trend of avoiding public scrutiny. Haslam needs to commit himself and his administration to greater transparency or risk undermining his accomplishments as governor.
No doubt about it. Tennessee children must be prepared to perform the jobs of the future, if the state is going to be competitive in recruiting new, better-paying jobs. To that purpose, public schools are following the new Core Curriculum program that puts emphasis on practical applications of math and reading. The promise is a generation of critical thinkers able to perform the more complex tasks the future is certain to require. But the responsibility for educating a new generation of higher-skilled thinkers cannot all rest on the shoulders of Tennessee teachers. That’s why we are pleased the annual Tennessee Early Childhood Summit held this past week in Nashville focused on families, schools and communities working together for the success of the state’s children.
Is education in Tennessee really about jobs? According to Gov. Bill Haslam, that is the case. Quoted in the online July 8 edition of the Nashville City Paper, when asked about education in the state, he said: “I have talked to five different businesses — literally, in the last week — and every one of them have said the same thing: ‘We love being here (in Tennessee), but the prepared workforce that we need is lacking.’ ” However, if you take into account the actions of the state Department of Education and the State Board of Education, you get a different story.
It is important for the University of Memphis to continue to recruit talented students but perhaps it is more important to recruit those potential college graduates from the surrounding area. University officials are working on a plan to recruit hundreds of capable students from the Mid-South and the nation by offering full scholarships paid in part by local corporations. U of M interim president R. Brad Martin, who succeeded longtime U of M president Shirley Raines on July 1, is pushing the idea, which if successful could enhance efforts to make Memphis one of the top 25 most educated cities in the United States.
Sequestration — the acting out of congressional impotence — is really just beginning to be felt by the public. The across-the-board cuts to most federal programs are just starting to shift into high gear from talk to reality as fiscal 2014 has just begun. In Chattanooga, and across the country, Head Start classrooms are closed. Meals on Wheels in Southeast Tennessee was forced to drop 200 of its 1,000 clients in 10 counties. Nationally, 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs are making similar adjustments. In Eastern Tennessee, federal court cases are slowing down and some may be dismissed because a decrease in proposed budget funding for federal community defenders means far fewer court-appointed attorneys or investigators for those accused of crimes.