This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
State officials hope that a new online-only university will boost the number of Tennesseans completing college degrees. Gov. Bill Haslam last month announced an effort to create a Tennessee branch of Western Governors University, an online college that advances students based on their mastery of coursework — not just credit hours. And a new agreement between WGU Tennessee and Chattanooga State Community College should make it easier and cheaper for Chattanooga State students and staff to finish bachelor’s degrees or go on to master’s degrees.
The Governor’s Children’s Cabinet has given 137 children’s computers to public libraries and family childcare programs in 47 counties across the state. The AWE Early Literacy Stations feature more than 60 educational software titles focused on supporting early learning in children. The programs use engaging graphics to draw young children to learning. Computer station recipients were chosen through a competitive process run jointly by the Children’s Cabinet, the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and the state Department of Human Services.
Store managers at the Old Hickory Mall in Jackson hope new technology and back-to-school sales will allow them to take advantage of the expected crowds.bBut some shoppers hit the mall Thursday to do their last shopping before school starts and swarms of people likely fill stores and form long lines. Michael Rhodes, manager of the JCPenney department store in the mall, said he expects customers to pour in this morning when his store opens at 9 a.m. and keep coming until the store closes its doors at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Since 2006, the state of Tennessee has been observing designated “sales tax holidays.” It’s seen by lawmakers as a way to ease the financial burden on households at a time when they have to make expensive purchases of computers, clothing and school supplies for back-to-school. But in some circles, the idea of a sales tax holiday is being met with resistance. Some say it’s regressive in approach and doesn’t address the need for more comprehensive and permanent sales tax reforms. Christopher Koopman, a researcher from George Mason University, is watching consumer spending trends associated with various states’ sales tax holidays.
The state of Tennessee will receive $768,890 as its share of a $490.9 million dollar False Claims Act settlement reached between the federal government and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a pharmaceutical company acquired by Pfizer, Inc. in 2009. The investigation resulted from whistle blower actions filed under the federal False Claims Act and various state false claims statutes. The settlement resolves allegations of off label marketing of Rapamune, an “immunosuppressive” drug that prevents the body’s immune system from rejecting a transplanted organ.
Jan Singletary Pettis knew better than most that things needed to change. She watched as gangs here began robbing banks, holding up residents and firing guns recklessly. And she watched as her son was loaded into an ambulance last year, dying of a gunshot wound. It took her son’s death to get the city’s attention, but Pettis said change has finally come. “It’s just like a fire,” she said. “It takes a little bit to get the flames to grow bigger.” A year after Springfield joined the ranks of other Middle Tennessee communities battling a growing small-town gang problem, Crime Stopper tips are way up.
Local environmental groups upset about the University of Tennessee’s proposal to lease university-owned land to an oil company have asked to make a presentation to the system’s governing board. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents nearly a dozen other green groups, sent a letter to the UT Board of Trustees on Thursday to request time to speak at the October meeting in Knoxville. University officials, when asked after business hours Thursday, could not confirm whether trustees had received the letter.
Despite neighbors voicing fears of traffic gridlock, lights glaring into their homes and undesirables following students there, the Collierville Planning Commission by a 7-0 vote Thursday night approved a preliminary site plan for a new University of Memphis satellite campus. Town Administrator James Lewellen also said town officials are proposing to spend $2 million to renovate the Historic High School building for the town’s municipal school district administrative offices on the nine-acre campus.
Despite being nudged into an early retirement by the settlement of an ethics complaint, longtime Circuit Court Judge Kay Robilio said Thursday she has no regrets and feels a little like former New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig. Robilio, 72, who has been on the bench since 1990, will officially step down Sept. 1, though she will hear no cases this month and her docket will be handled by other judges. “I look forward to serving the community, my church and my family as long as I live, but in a different capacity, perhaps,” said Robilio.
A vote to scuttle penalties against prominent Republican operative Tom Ingram fell short Thursday in the state Ethics Commission. The panel on Thursday voted 3-1 to drop the cases against Ingram, his colleague Marcille Durham and client Hillsborough Resources for failing to register to lobby for three years on behalf of a coal company seeking to mine on public lands. But that was one vote short of the minimum needed to drop the cases, so members agreed to hear the cases again at next month’s meeting.
The state board that regulates lobbyists in Tennessee may waive fines against high-powered political adviser Tom Ingram, his partner and a client, but it doesn’t have the votes just yet. The Tennessee Ethics Commission on Thursday voted 3-1 to let Ingram, partner Marcille Durham and coal mining company Hillsborough Resources go unpunished for not disclosing their relationship before it was uncovered by news media in May. But the vote was not binding under commission rules that require four votes for any action.
Efforts by several state Ethics Commission members to drop possible civil penalties against top Republican strategist Tom Ingram stalled Thursday when the panel failed to muster enough votes to act. Commissioner members voted 3-1 to drop proceedings against Ingram, his colleague Marcille Durham and their client, Hillsborough Resources, for failing to register to lobby for two years. But they needed four votes to take action. The issue is expected to come back before the panel next month. The case has drawn statewide attention.
As the one-year countdown to Common Core state education standards begins today with the first day of school for many systems, Tennessee educators are fending off pleas to stop the clock for a timeout. A group of Democratic legislators is forming an unlikely coalition with tea party Republicans to slow down or derail the launch of the Common Core, a multistate initiative that’s expected to put top-notch test scores even further out of the reach of Tennessee students by setting higher goals.
Proponents of allowing wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores are touting a new study that they say suggests that the change would not be linked to increased crime or traffic fatalities. The study published in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy finds that if the total amount of alcohol consumed remains constant, a higher share of wine consumption would result in fewer traffic deaths. The opposite is the case for beer, according to the authors from Cornell and Colorado State universities.
When considering the premier state legislative primary of the year — make that, next year — there’s no use denying it: We started this. The moment longtime Democratic state Sen. Douglas Henry confirmed in May that he would not be seeking re-election to his District 21 seat in 2014, reporters from this outlet and others started filling up the voicemail inboxes of Jason Holleman and Jeff Yarbro, eager to line up the horses for a race that suddenly had a date. Yarbro, an attorney, had challenged and very nearly defeated the forever-incumbent Henry in 2010, causing most to assume he would make another run at the seat.
With the election a year away, Williamson County School Board member Cherie Hammond says she plans to challenge House Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, in the race for Tennessee’s 63rd House district seat. “I think Tennessee really is America at its best, and Williamson County is certainly among the brightest stars in the state. I believe the time is right for new representation and that I am the right person now,” Hammond said in a prepared statement released Thursday. “I am excited to bring new energy, focus and ideas grounded in honesty, integrity and wisdom to the State House.”
1. How much charter school money will flow into this election? Hundreds of thousands of dollars from charter school advocates flowed into the campaign coffers of education reform-friendly candidates last year, and in some cases, changed the game for local politics. Expect much of the same come 2014, said Brent Easley, Tennessee state director for Students First, which advocates in support of charter schools and other education reforms. “I think the people in Tennessee want to keep the pedal to the floor in terms of the changes that are taking place in education, and we’re going to be supportive in a similar fashion,” he said.
Does preschooling help children succeed in school? New research by Vanderbilt University says yes — but maybe not for long. The highly anticipated findings say more strongly than ever that Tennessee children who make big gains in math, language and reading by attending prekindergarten don’t stay ahead of their peers — perhaps not even through kindergarten. But researchers also have examined whether preschooling helps students learn other behaviors crucial to success in school — and found some benefits that might stick.
Three police precincts Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said earlier might have to close if his department continues to take budget cuts will not close in the current fiscal year or the next. That was the assurance Armstrong and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. gave several hundred Whitehaven residents Wednesday, July 31, in a hastily called town hall meeting at Berean Missionary Baptist Church. The meeting was called after leaders of the church called Wharton last week concerned about rumors that the Raines Station precinct was about to close.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, is no fan of President Obama’s signature health reform. And while he has called Obamacare “a serious pig” that needs to be put on “permanent hold,” Corker does not support the latest effort by several Congressional Republicans to oppose any spending bills that include money to support the law. According to The Leaf-Chronicle, Corker called the push by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, among others, a “silly effort.”
Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant sits at the corner of 27th and Eyre streets in North Philadelphia, occupying one of the many row houses that fill this section of the city. The restaurant’s register is protected by thick walls of Plexiglas, and customers slip cash through tiny slits. Happy Garden is one of more than 600 Chinese takeout restaurants in Philadelphia, many of them also located in low-income neighborhoods populated by minorities, especially African-Americans, who make up more than 40 percent of the city’s 1.5 million residents.
The existing management contracts at the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants have been extended through September, giving the government more time to try to work out a solution to a $22 billion contract squabble and ease the uncertainty for thousands of workers. The National Nuclear Security Administration has been working for years to combine the contracts at Y-12 in Oak Ridge and Pantex near Amarillo, Texas, to add efficiency to the sister operations, eliminate some redundant activities, and cut costs.
A security police officer was “repositioning” his firearm inside a hardened patrol vehicle when the weapon discharged unintentionally early Sunday at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, according to an occurrence report obtained by the News Sentinel. The report indicated that a single round was discharged, striking an interior wall of the vehicle and causing fragmentation. Some of those fragments apparently struck two security guards who were inside the vehicle. Both of the Y-12 security officers were treated at the scene with first-aid and then transported to Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, where they were treated and released.
Nashville-based hospital chain HCA is expanding not just by buying hospitals, but building them as well. The company is building smaller medical centers to serve a younger market. HCA’s newest facility opened yesterday in Draper, Utah. The suburb of Salt Lake City has seen its population jump more than 400 percent since 1990. President of Operations Sam Hazen says the company is also targeting other cities with fast-growing young populations, like Houston and Orlando. “They’re not demanding as much impatient healthcare as you might in a market with a different kind of demographic,” he says.
Months after Hamilton County commissioners pulled the plug on legislation aimed at restructuring the governing board at Erlanger Health System, hospital officials extended an olive branch Thursday. Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel told commissioners at a recessed commission meeting that he was talking with state legislators about a second attempt at reforming how the hospital operates. A first attempt died on the floor of the commission in March, after no commissioner would make a motion to vote on the restructuring of the board of trustees. Many said the commission had been left in the dark about changes to the private act that created Erlanger.
Kellogg Co. is laying off 70 employees at its Memphis manufacturing operation, according to a letter the company sent to Memphis City Mayor AC Wharton. The layoffs include positions that were eliminated as part of Kellogg’s plans to eliminate its bran and retail rice production locally. The letter, dated April 9, said 33 employees would be laid off between June 10-23 and another 37 would be laid off between Aug. 10-23. The layoffs will occur at the company’s 2168 Frisco Ave. plant, which manufactures the company’s Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, Froot Loops and Apple Jacks products.
Kellogg Co. will permanently lay off 37 workers beginning August 10 as it scales back production in its Memphis cereal plant, the company confirmed Thursday. In June the food maker let go of 33 employees as part of a restructuring at the plant, which employed 400 workers in 2011. The employees are members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 252G. A union official could not be reached on Thursday for comment. Kellogg disclosed the layoffs in April in a notice sent to Memphis Mayor AC Wharton.
The Tennessean laid off at least one reporter on Thursday as a round of cuts swept through the Gannett chain. And more cuts may be on the way. Inquiries to The Tennessean were referred to Kurt Allen, the paper’s new vice president of marketing, who did not return calls. A source told The City Paper that today’s layoff was done ahead of a planned vacation and that senior management said more cuts are expected. Courts reporter Bobby Allyn was laid off Thursday, and noted food writer Jennifer Justus confirmed that she had turned in her notice and would be leaving the paper.
Tennessee school children will become taste testers as they return to class over the coming weeks. The state has been chosen for a pilot program to begin offering Greek yogurt in subsidized lunches. Chobani is the young company behind a recent national spike in consumption of tangy Greek yogurt . It has won a $300,000 contract to supply lunches in four states, including Tennessee. Nearly 50,000 pounds of blueberry and strawberry yogurt will soon arrive at cafeterias across the state from kindergarten to high school.
Metro Nashville parents could be heard in several schoolyards Thursday morning asking one another why their kids begin school with one half day and then take a day off before returning. It’s because hundreds of students show up unannounced, and school officials need time to readjust teacher and classroom assignments, said Joe Bass, school system spokesman. “Those students have got to go somewhere,” Bass said. “Friday gives the schools a chance to put everything together, and on Monday, a full day, everyone is ready to learn.”
Among the parents registering their children this week for the first year of the consolidated school district were the two men at the top of the organization chart – interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson and deputy superintendent David Stephens. It’s a point Hopson and Stephens have made several times in the last two months as they take a process that began two years and nine months ago to the milestone first day of the new Shelby County Schools’ first year on Monday, Aug. 5. They and others in Hopson’s cabinet have children who are part of a historic merger.
Bennett Says Grade-Rigging Allegations Against Him Are ‘Malicious,’ Unfounded’ Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett abruptly resigned Thursday amid a school-grading controversy tied to his tenure as Indiana’s top education chief, dealing a blow to Gov. Rick Scott’s efforts to transform Florida’s public schools. The scandal became public this week after the Associated Press reported on emails that appeared to show Mr. Bennett and his staff in Indiana scrambling to change the A-to-F grading formula to help boost the mark for Christel House Academy, a charter school run by a campaign donor.
In the past two decades, the city of Nashville has evolved from a sleepy Southern city into one of America’s hottest success stories, thanks to the leadership and contributions of an almost countless number of leaders, entrepreneurs and visionaries in business, government and beyond. In 1960, three years before Nashville and Davidson County merged governments, the population of the area was just under 400,000 people. Today, it’s 1.7 million — and the Nashville region’s population is projected to top 2 million by 2020, just seven years from now. Looking farther down the road — but not all that far — the Metropolitan Planning Organization projects our region’s population will reach 2.5 million, the current size of the Denver metro area, by the year 2035.
There is so much convincing evidence against using cellphones and sending and reading text messages while driving, any motorist who considers the activity should lock the cellphone in the glove compartment until the trip is over. And if accidents caused by distracted driving continue to increase, that might one day become a law. The National Safety Council, which has advocated a national ban on cellphone use while driving, recently ranked Tennessee as the worst state in the nation for cellphone-related accidents. The NSC studied total fatality numbers in 2010 and 2011. In both years, Tennessee had the worst numbers involving the percentage of deaths from accidents caused by the use of a cellphone. The figure for 2010 was 7.6 percent, and for 2011, it was 10.6 percent.
Opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro are taking their witch hunt to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Note to the plaintiffs: Pitchforks and torches are not allowed in government buildings. With a 49-page document filled with fabrications, this group hopes to persuade justices to hear its civil lawsuit, which claims that the mosque, which opened a year ago, is intended to teach and spread Shariah law in Tennessee. The plaintiffs also would have you believe that the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, which for 30 years has been a house of worship in Murfreesboro (although in a much smaller facility), is somehow is connected to Muslim terrorist groups.
Congress has serious, pressing business before it, business that one would assume can’t wait. And most of that business is connected in one way or another to the sequester, the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that Congress enacted in the confident belief they would never come to pass. They did come to pass, and are predictably playing havoc with the budget process. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that further sequestration cuts — such as a $54 billion one scheduled to take effect in January — eventually will reduce the Army and Navy to pre-World War II levels.
Job creation and tax reform are two major challenges that have gone unmet as Congressional Republicans have serially obstructed the Obama administration’s agenda. On Tuesday, President Obama attempted to break the logjam on both fronts. In a nod to Republican wishes, he said he would agree to a stand-alone package of corporate tax reforms. In exchange, he wants to use temporary proceeds from the reform for job-creation programs. The offer is a change from his previous stance that corporate tax reform should be part of a larger plan to reduce the deficit by raising taxes on high-income individuals. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner quickly dismissed the offer as “the opposite of a concession.”