This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee’s effort to teach financial literacy skills to young people has gotten it a top grade among the states. According to the state treasurer’s office, the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., recently ranked every state on its efforts to provide financial literacy education to high school students. Tennessee was one of only seven states that received a grade of A. The center is a partnership among financial institutions, nonprofit organizations and government agencies to promote financial literacy.
A study from Fitch Ratings shows that Tennessee has the lowest debt ratio in the nation, The Associated Press reports. The study measured tax-supported debt and unfunded pension liabilities against each state’s personal income level. Tennessee’s ratio of pension and debt liabilities to personal income was 1.8 percent. No other state had a ratio below 2.2 percent, while four had ratios above 20 percent, according to the AP.
What the state is calling the first statewide drug recovery court in the nation will open next month in Wartburg, Tenn., seat of Morgan County and site of the Morgan County Correctional Complex. In Tennessee, drug courts operate largely within judicial districts and offer alternatives to jail time for nonviolent drug offenders through recovery centers. The centers are designed to rehabilitate drug abusers and help reincorporate them into society. Candidates for the Wartburg facility potentially can come from as far away as Memphis, a department of corrections representative said Tuesday.
A full house is expected at a workshop today called by the Tennessee Department of Health to address the state’s prescription drug epidemic. Teams of three to five people from communities across Tennessee will be tasked with developing local plans to address the problem. The conference, which has full registration, is at the Upper Cumberland Regional Health Department in Cookeville. Subjects on the agenda include neonatal abstinence syndrome, suicide related to drug use, the prescription drug monitoring program and how community initiatives can address the epidemic.
A lot has changed under the tenure of Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman – from teacher evaluations to new testing technology to Common Core standards – and he emphasized on Wednesday that these changes are critical to the future of education in the state. Many of these changes have drawn the ire of teachers, of parents, of county leaders. But that’s to be expected. “When you change a lot of things, there are people who don’t appreciate the importance of the changes,” Huffman said in a meeting with Leaf-Chronicle editors.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is launching the next phase of the state’s Qualified Energy Conservation Bond Program for energy saving capital projects. The bonds were created by Congress in 2008 and expanded the following year by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Tennessee’s total allocation for the program is approximately $64.7 million. More than $18.1 million has been, or is currently scheduled to be issued for qualifying projects by jurisdictions automatically eligible under the federal legislation.
The state’s seventh annual sales tax holiday is coming up, and it evokes a range of emotions from excitement about good deals to panic about crowds that will surely swarm every store in town. Ringgold resident Jason Jones said via Twitter that the lure of not paying taxes on certain items isn’t enough to draw him to area stores. “People as a whole are crazy enough,” he said. “Tax-free day is akin to throwing blood in the water at a shark convention.” But others take advantage of the savings. Chattanooga resident Rob Branham said his wife goes shopping for the couple’s children’s school supplies and clothes during the holiday, which is scheduled for Aug. 2-4.
Memphis area state Sen. Jim Kyle took representatives from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency to task Wednesday over what he sees as their failure to address abandoned housing and urban blight issues in his district. While many lawmakers from less populated districts commended the agency’s work in their areas during a Government Operations Joint Subcommittee meeting, Kyle expressed frustration that the THDA hasn’t taken a more active role in repurposing abandoned homes, which he said encourage crime and contribute to poverty because they drive down property values in already poor neighborhoods.
In the last legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers introduced nearly a half-dozen bills aimed at curbing the power of local governments that wanted to use eminent domain to seize private property. One bill would have required local governments to provide property owners with more information about the eminent domain process. Another would have given a landowner the ability to repurchase property if a government agency doesn’t use it within five years. None of them passed. But the proposed legislation still may spur change. Murfreesboro has drafted a “landowner rights” notice in response that it hopes to begin sending out to property owners in advance of eminent domain proceedings.
County Commissioner Richard Briggs said his nomination of Craig Leuthold for Knox County trustee was not a conflict of interest, though Leuthold’s father is Briggs’ treasurer for a Tennessee state Senate bid. “If it is a conflict, it’s a conflict by second degree,” Briggs said. “I don’t have anything to gain by Craig being in the office or not being in the office.” Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said there was no conflict in Briggs’ action under county policy. “He’s got a guy who has volunteered to run his campaign who happens to be Frank Leuthold,” Armstrong said.
A ruling rejecting a bid to unseal Tennessee Bureau of Investigation records on a disgraced former Knox County judge runs afoul of a state Supreme Court decision, a petition filed Wednesday states. Attorney Richard Hollow filed on behalf of the News Sentinel a petition to — for the third time now — intervene in Knox County Criminal Court litigation related to the TBI investigative file on Richard Baumgartner. In his petition, Hollow says Senior Judge Walter Kurtz got it wrong in a recent ruling on the file when Kurtz opined that law enforcement files are exempt from the Tennessee Open Records Act.
So finally it’s over! Shelby County commissioner Sidney Chism, who had been abstaining on all prior votes on the county’s 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 on a repeat third reading of the once-rejected tax rate and explained why. Previously, said Chism, he had been legally advised that, as proprietor of a South Memphis day-care center which received some of its funding from Shelby County government, it might be a conflict of interest for him to vote on a budget that authorized such funding.
Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz said Tuesday, July 23, the commission is unlikely to increase funding to the countywide school system in the near future. Ritz spoke at the Memphis Rotary Club the day after the commission approved a $4.38 county property tax rate that includes $20 million in new funding for the schools – the first increase in county funding to public education since 2005. But Ritz said there will probably be pressure from suburban citizens and leaders if the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County form their own districts.
Sullivan County isn’t likely to have a budget — or property tax rate — in place for the fiscal year that began three weeks ago for at least another month or six weeks, based on comments made during a called meeting Wednesday of the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee. The group met for about 2½ hours, including roughly one hour of comments from audience members voicing support or opposition to proposed funding for particular programs or services — and a “break” of about 30 minutes.
A U.S. Senate panel today split largely along partisan lines today to send President Barack Obama’s two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to the Senate floor. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Democratic-led Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, voted against confirming Nancy Schiffer, a former AFL-CIO associate general counsel, and Kent Hirozawa, the NLRB’s Democratic chairman’s chief legal counsel.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais says he will officially kick off his 4th District campaign on Aug. 7. DesJarlais, a two-term Republican physician from South Pittsburg, has had a tough time fundraising, mainly because of revelations about his personal life. He won re-election last year despite disclosures that he had affairs with patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion. In May, he was fined $500 by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for two counts of unprofessional misconduct. He didn’t contest the findings.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who weathered disclosures about his personal life to win a second term in November, announced Wednesday that he’ll officially launch his re-election campaign next month in Winchester. The two-term incumbent, who trails his Republican challengers badly in fundraising, said he will hold a kickoff rally at 1 p.m. on Aug. 7 on the steps of the Franklin County Courthouse. The event comes 12 months before the primary. “My first priority has always been to do my job in Congress, representing the people of Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District,” DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, said in a press release.
With two Republicans already running against him, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., says he will kick off his 4th Congressional District campaign on Aug. 7 in Winchester, Tenn. The announcement will come exactly a year before the 2014 Republican primary. The South Pittsburg physician faces challenges from Jim Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville, and Joe Carr, a state representative from Lascassas. “My first priority has always been to do my job in Congress, representing the people of Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District,” DesJarlais said Wednesday in a news release.
Barack Obama will visit Chattanooga on Tuesday for the first time as president to pitch his vision of helping expand middle-class jobs. Obama will tour the 1 million-square-foot distribution center Amazon opened in the Enterprise Industrial Park two years ago. The fulfillment center in Chattanooga employs 1,800 full-time workers and is among five facilities Amazon has built in Tennessee since 2011 that collectively have added more than 5,000 full-time and seasonal jobs in the Volunteer State — the biggest job addition in the state by a private company in the past decade.
Borrowing for tuition, housing and books would be less expensive for college students and their parents this fall but the costs could soon start climbing under a bill the Senate passed overwhelmingly Wednesday. The bipartisan proposal would link interest rates on federal student loans to the financial markets, providing lower interest rates right away but higher ones if the economy improves as expected. The measure was similar to one that already had passed the Republican-led House and leaders from both chambers said they predicted the differences to be resolved before students start signing loan documents for fall term.
After Jessica Grubb transferred from Austin Community College to Texas State University, she put off taking math, a requirement for graduation. She had failed or dropped out of remedial-level math classes at Austin several times. The 23-year-old special education major then took an intensive remedial math program at Texas State, known as Fundamentals of Conceptual Understanding & Success, and not only conquered the college math course but learned vital study skills that helped propel her to the dean’s list.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says bad timing and operator error led to a shutdown of one its nuclear plants in Alabama in December 2012. The utility defended itself today in Atlanta, at a meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A worker at Browns Ferry Unit 2 inadvertently turned off one of the reactor’s key safety systems, leading to a complete shutdown. The reactor was off the grid for almost a week. NRC officials pressed the utility on if there’s risk of similar events occurring in the future TVA managers say the shutdown only occurred because of an unrelated problem, as workers were trying to bring diesel generators back up to full speed after a routine test.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is planning to partner with the Regional Medical Center to build and operate a game-changing women’s and infant’s hospital adjacent to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, a university official said Wednesday. UTHSC executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer Kennard Brown said that the university’s strategy is that world-class quality will attract expectant mothers of all types from the Mid-South to the Memphis Medical Center area near Downtown.
After 13 years, The City Paper will cease operations with the publication of its Friday, Aug. 9, issue. Chris Ferrell, CEO of SouthComm, made the announcement to employees this morning. “In the last few days, we made the difficult decision to stop publishing The City Paper,” he said. “After years of being subsidized by our investors and other publications, we finally determined that there was not enough advertiser support for the free newsweekly model we were trying to sustain. The model proved very popular with readers, but in publishing the revenue doesn’t necessarily follow the readership.”
After 13 years, The City Paper will cease operations with the publication of its Friday, Aug. 9, issue. Chris Ferrell, CEO of SouthComm, made the announcement to employees this morning. “In the last few days, we made the difficult decision to stop publishing The City Paper,” he said. “After years of being subsidized by our investors and other Southcomm publications, we finally determined that there was not enough advertiser support for the free newsweekly model we were trying to sustain.
The City Paper will cease operations Aug. 9 amid declining advertising revenue, according to an article on the publication’s website. Some staff members will be laid off and others will be “redeployed” to other SouthComm publications, including the Nashville Scene and Nashville Post. Chris Ferrell, CEO of SouthComm, made the announcement to employees Wednesday morning, according to the article. “In the last few days, we made the difficult decision to stop publishing The City Paper,” he said in the article.
The City Paper will be no more come Aug. 9. Owner SouthComm says the free online and print publication has been losing money for too long. In a statement, SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell says The City Paper was popular with readers, but the ad revenue never followed – even after 13 years in operation. “Several of our more financially viable publications have been subsidizing it for some time,” Ferrell said. SouthComm owns alt-weeklys and niche publications around the Southeast, including Nashville Scene and NashvillePost.com.
Volkswagen team leader Shannon Fossett said that if the United Auto Workers gains the right to represent Chattanooga plant employees, he sees paying union dues as sort of like buying insurance. “You don’t need insurance — until you need it,” he said. “It’s like car insurance. You don’t need it until you need it.” But Ronald Nafus, who said he used to work at a UAW-represented plant near Niagara Falls, N.Y., said workers at the Chattanooga factory ought to think twice about joining the union. “Their money is going out the door,” he said. “[The UAW’s] main interest is to get the money.”
The truck-stop company owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has revised a class-action settlement that some trucking companies had criticized as a bad deal. The original settlement, given preliminary approval last week, required Pilot Flying J to reimburse trucking companies cheated out of fuel rebates for all the money they are owed with interest. But it covered only overcharging that occurred between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 15, 2013. The revised settlement covers overcharging as far back as Jan. 1, 2005.
An update to last week’s settlement of more than a dozen lawsuits against Pilot Flying J pushes the date of diesel-rebate shortfalls back by more than three years, court records filed Wednesday show. More than 4,000 customers of Pilot and Pilot Travel Centers could qualify to receive compensation under the settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Arkansas. The lawsuits stemmed from accusations that the company, which ranks as the nation’s largest truck stop owner, shortchanged trucking clients on promised fuel rebates.
So far, parents are leaning on the Metro Nashville school district to shorten the two-week fall and spring breaks next school year in favor of longer summer breaks for their children, but they’re not necessarily sold on building extra days into the school calendar. That’s what many of the roughly 30 parents and some teachers told Director of Schools Jesse Register Wednesday during an open mic event at the district’s Central Office to solicit feedback on two proposed configurations of the 2014-15 calendar.
The sparse crowd that showed up Wednesday for a public forum on changes to the Metro Nashville school calendar mostly was opposed to the current balanced calendar and wants a return to the traditional school year. About 30 parents in all attended the hour-and-a-half-long meeting where they could comment and ask questions about proposals for the 2014-15 school year. The school system is already committed to continuing the balanced calendar into the upcoming school year for its 81,000 students.
The school districts merger cost nearly 150 Teamster drivers their jobs, the biggest driver drawdown here in more than seven years and part of a larger reduction in union jobs caused by school board cost-cutting. The list of union casualties also includes 600 AFSCME-represented custodial workers who lost their jobs when the board outsourced cleaning in the city schools to Knoxville-based GCA Services. Janitors who were hired back lost roughly 25 percent of their pay. Three hundred more AFSCME workers were out of jobs when the school cafeterias were restructured.
A decision involving Jefferson County students schooled in a Christian setting sans any proof of actual proselytizing could set the stage for the barring of any outsourcing of public education functions to religious institutions. U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips has issued a groundbreaking ruling in which he contends it doesn’t matter if the Jefferson County Board of Education was simply trying to save money — not souls — when it turned to Christian-based Kingswood School for teaching its troubled students to run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The Carter County Sheriff’s Department reported another dump site for methamphetamine activity was discovered Monday morning. A 20-ounce plastic bottle with tubing come through the top was discovered on Weaver Hill Road by a resident checking his mail. The bottle was left next to the mailbox. The contents of the bottle were neutralized by Capt. Mike Little. The bottle was then turned over to the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force for disposal.
Plenty has been said, written, and debated in the political arena, about the need for more higher education opportunities in Tennessee. Today’ workforce must be better technically prepared than at any time in the past. Nowhere is that demand for technical competence greater than in the health care field. Health care also is where the jobs are, and where they likely will be for years to come. That’s why we are encouraged by the expansion of the University of Tennessee Martin campus in Parsons to include a full bachelor of science in nursing degree program beginning in the fall of 2014. The demand for nurses has never been greater.
As I trust you know, I have long admired and respected you. I endorsed you when you ran for mayor despite the objection of most of Metro Pulse’s editorial staff, who favored your opponent. I also saluted your accomplishments as mayor and your superb appointments, especially Bill Lyons, Larry Martin, and Madeline Rogero. I also enthusiastically supported you for governor. And when Zach Wamp, then Bill Baxter, spuriously attacked you, I went after them with tongs in my column to set the record straight. When you were mayor, you were always good about returning my calls and making time for informative, candid meetings.
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry believes that the quality and availability of a skilled and ready workforce is vital for Tennessee’s economic success. We hear this concern often from the businesses we serve. One of the most certain ways to accomplish success with workforce preparation is to comprehensively prepare students for careers — for the world of work. In order to equip our students for the real-world skills necessary to support business, we need to help them master the skills that businesses need, while also providing them with valuable life skills. These skills are basic and include: reasoning, problem-solving, the ability to write, to work in a team and to be able to apply this knowledge at the workplace.
For a school board whose members emphasize making decisions based on solid data it is baffling that some of its members still cannot let go of the notion that paddling students is still a viable disciplinary option. The 23-member Shelby County Schools board has been trying to decide whether to abolish corporal punishment as a disciplinary option in the newly merged city-county school district. Memphis City Schools, which went out of business July 1, abolished corporal punishment in 2004. The legacy Shelby County Schools district had corporal punishment as an option, but officials said it was rarely used. Paddling remains an option under the new Shelby County Schools district.
Can Government Have Affordability and Quality? Until now, the federal government’s response to rising college costs has been to spend more on grants, loans and tuition tax breaks. But that is increasingly expensive and does little to assure that taxpayers’ and students’ (increasingly borrowed) money is well spent. So President Barack Obama is on the hunt for alternatives. “Families and taxpayers can’t just keep paying more and more into an undisciplined system,” he said Wednesday at Knox College in Illinois. “We’ve got to get more out of what we pay for.” In one way, the federal approach has worked: It has shielded students and families from even-more-rapid increases in tuition.