This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam put on a cowboy hat and carried an acoustic guitar to the podium, as if he were about to break out into song. But instead, Haslam joked to his fellow governors on Friday that he would refrain from singing if they would promise to come to Nashville for next year’s National Governors Association summer meeting. Milwaukee is host to this year’s meeting and Nashville has it in 2014. Haslam, a Republican, says Nashville will offer the governors a chance to see the Country Music Hall of Fame, Andrew Jackson’s home and even some whiskey.
Gov. Bill Haslam has recommended 19 Appalachian Regional Commission Grants to help state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations with infrastructure improvements in an effort to boost economic development. The announcement comes a day after President Barack Obama visited Chattanooga and laid out an economic plan, which includes putting people to work on aging infrastructure. He recommended that Hamilton County get $46,000 for the construction of an educational greenhouse, according to a news release.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman continues to spend time calming fears about national Common Core standards. Today he told county officials from around the state how to disarm those who – in his words – may be “misinformed.” “The easiest way to demystify the Common Core state standards is just to actually read them. And think when you read them, it’s pretty much just a list of the kind of things you want your kids to be able to do.” Under Common Core, fourth graders should no longer confuse words like the number two and the word “t-o.”
Steve Cates, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of General Services will step down from his position, effective Aug. 20. No replacement has been named. Cates, who is responsible for managing the state’s assets and liabilities, has been with the Bill Haslam administration since Jan. 2011. He originally intended to serve in the position for two years. “Steve has put a lot of work into bringing state government into the 21st Century,” Haslam said in a statement.
General services chief oversaw controversial state building contract The state commissioner who oversaw a controversial outsourcing effort will step down this month, the latest in a string of people to leave Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration this year under fire. Haslam’s office announced Friday that General Services Commissioner Steve Cates will leave Aug. 20. Cates, 50, plans to return to his Williamson County real estate company, CK Development. Cates has been in the spotlight frequently since joining the administration in 2011.
Steve Cates, the state’s commissioner of General Services who engineered an unprecedented privatization of much of state government’s office space, will leave Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet Aug. 20 to return to his Nashville real estate business, the governor’s office announced Friday. The privatization plan includes moving state offices and their employees out of the 46-year-old Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in Downtown Memphis into leased space elsewhere Downtown. State officials are negotiating leases.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today Steve Cates will be leaving his position as commissioner of the Department of General Services and return to the private sector. As commissioner, Cates has focused on the state’s assets and liabilities through a comprehensive review of state-owned properties across Tennessee, and as a result he has worked to ensure that space is being utilized and facilities are being maintained in the most efficient and effective way for the taxpayers of Tennessee, according to a news release announcing the move.
The man who led the charge to outsource big chunks of Tennessee state government to private business has called it quits. The governor’s office announced Friday that General Services Commissioner Steve Cates is leaving to return to the private sector. It comes just three weeks after the commissioner’s spokesperson told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that the commissioner had no plans to resign. The governor’s office now claims that this resignation had been planned for a long time. In the announcement, Gov. Bill Haslam said that Cates helped with “bringing state government into the 21st Century.”
A decade ago, the state’s relocation of several agencies to MetroCenter business park helped to stabilize an office submarket that had nearly 40 percent of the space vacant. Now as officials reassess the state’s space needs and make plans to move offices from private buildings to vacant space in state-owned properties, some landlords in the park north of downtown are bracing for the fallout. Among affected buildings, Lakefront Office Park, which is co-owned by Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, would go from being 75 percent full to only 20 percent occupied after the state’s departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs leave.
Tennessee and Arkansas shoppers will get some relief when stocking up on school supplies this weekend. Tennessee’s sales tax-free weekend begins Aug. 2 and will continue through Aug. 4. In Tennessee, school supplies or clothing items costing $100 or less and computers $1,500 or less are exempt from sales tax. For more details on items that may not be exempt, click here.
Everybody predicted that the Apple Stores would be busy as tax-free weekend kicked off Friday. And they definitely were. But the traffic in other stores was mixed, seemingly determined by the strength of the various stores’ promotions on top of the tax exemption. Opry Mills stores Polo Ralph Lauren, where everything in the store was 30 percent off, and J. Crew, which was offering 40 percent off, were popular stops. And at H&M, where nearly everything in the store qualifies for the tax-free status, crowds of people poured in looking for deals. Stores such as Kohl’s, which are known to be highly promotional, were bustling with shoppers.
Jennifer Reeves browsed through the clothing section in Target on Friday to find school clothes for her three elementary-aged kids and hoped to save a little extra money. She made the shopping trip this weekend to capitalize on Tennessee’s sales tax holiday and is thrilled she won’t have to pay the 9.25 percent sales tax for items on her shopping list. “It gets expensive,” she said at Target on Gunbarrel Road. “I’m not much of a shopper, but with three — you try to save where you can.” All in all, the sales tax break will save her about $20. Maybe $30.
April Bunning had a lengthy list and some inspired help Friday as she and her two sons took advantage of tax-free weekend shopping. Both Virginia and Tennessee declared this weekend tax-free for a wide range of back-to-school supplies and clothing. The Tennessee program also covers the sale of computers. Bunning and several other parents busily filled their shopping carts at the Target store in the Highlands shopping center. “They’re my chaperones,” Bunning said of sons, Ryan and Aiden, who will attend first-grade and pre-school, respectively, at Sullins Academy. She chose Friday because of the tax-free promotion.
This weekend, thousands of parents in Tennessee and Arkansas will pack into shopping malls and stores to take advantage of this weekend’s tax holiday. School supplies, clothes and computers are all tax free. There are some exceptions. You can buy folders, pencils, school glue, and writing tablets. But not all paper is tax free. Printer paper is not tax free. And as backpacks are tax free, briefcases are not. The same goes for any computer, but accessories like paper and ink are not tax free.
The sales tax holiday kicks off today in Tennessee. Now through Sunday night, you wont be charged sales tax on clothing items $100 or less, school supplies under $100, and computers priced under $1500. In case you’re wondering, calculators, backpacks, and tablets — like an iPad or Nexus 7 — are tax free. Many stores have extended hours this weekend to accommodate early and late shoppers. For example, Hamilton Place Mall is open 9am to 10pm on Friday and Saturday and 11am to 7pm on Sunday.
A federal bankruptcy judge in Massachusetts has authorized the Tennessee Health Department to release the names of patients who were injected with fungus-tainted steroids at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center and two other facilities, but the information will not be publicly available. In an emergency order issued late Friday, U.S. Judge Henry Boroff approved the emergency order sought earlier in the day by lawyers for the Nashville clinic and the Tennessee Health Department. Under the order, the names will be released regardless of whether the patient became ill.
State officials are asking for public review and comment on the state’s application for its latest federal Community Services Block Grant. The grant provides funding to local service agencies that work to combat poverty through programs such as job development and adult education. The hearing is scheduled for 8 a.m. Thursday at the Department of Human Services office at 400 Deaderick St. in downtown Nashville. Comments also can be made until Aug. 14 via email to DHS Community Services Program Director Mamawah Hill at Mamawah.Hill@tn.gov.
Saving 9.25 percent on khakis might make stores and shoppers happy this weekend. But tax policy advocates say it’s time to put a stop to the state’s sales tax holiday, which lasts until 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The following are excerpts from a press release from the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit focused on tax reform. “Political gimmicks like sales tax holidays distract policymakers and taxpayers from genuine, permanent tax relief,” said Tax Foundation Vice President Joseph Henchman. “If a state has to offer a ‘holiday’ from its tax system, it’s a sign that there’s a problem with the system itself. If politicians want to save money for consumers, then they should cut the sales tax rate year-round.”
Former Vice President Al Gore plans to attend state Rep. Lois DeBerry’s funeral today in Memphis, his office confirmed Friday. It’s unclear if Gore will speak at the services for DeBerry, who seconded the nomination of Gore for the presidency at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. A family graveside service for DeBerry will be held at 10 a.m. today at Elmwood Historic Cemetery in Memphis. A public legacy celebration will follow at noon at First Baptist Church-Broad, 2835 Broad Ave.
A judge said he will read copies of emails that the News Sentinel is seeking through a lawsuit against Knox County. Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan on Friday said that after reading the emails sent to and by county officials, including Mayor Tim Burchett, he will contact attorneys for the News Sentinel and Knox County to ask questions. Clarifying roles of individuals sending and receiving the emails could provide context, according to Duggan. “There might be a given email that might have a different significance if I know who it’s going to,” he said.
The nation’s most active political donors aren’t just in New York City, Palm Beach and Hollywood. They can be found across Tennessee as well. The Volunteer State boasts 430 of them. They include business executives, entertainers, lawyers and ex-politicos, and their financial imprint is growing. A recent study by the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation found that a tiny fraction of America’s population – “one percent of one percent” – collectively gave nearly $1.7 billion of the roughly $6 billion that federal candidates and political action committees, including super PACs, received from identifiable sources in the 2012 election cycle.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., along with Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo, reintroduced legislation Thursday that would create an independent advisory panel to oversee the government’s sick nuclear workers compensation program. According to a release from Alexander’s office, the advisory panel would help Cold War-era workers at Oak Ridge and other nuclear weapons sites “get the help they need to treat cancer and other illnesses they developed as a result of exposure to radiation.”
The Postal Service takes pictures of every piece of mail processed in the United States — 160 billion last year — and keeps them on hand for up to a month. In an interview with The Associated Press, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the photos of the exterior of mail pieces are used primarily for the sorting process, but they are available for law enforcement, if requested. The photos have been used “a couple of times” to trace letters in criminal cases, Donahoe said Thursday, most recently involving ricin-laced letters sent to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The U.S. labor market’s long, slow recovery slowed further in July—and many of the jobs that were created were in low-wage industries. Employers added a seasonally adjusted 162,000 jobs in July, the fewest since March, the Labor Department said Friday, and hiring was also weaker in May and June than initially reported. Moreover, more than half the job gains were in the restaurant and retail sectors, both of which pay well under $20 an hour on average. “These jobs count as jobs in the jobs reports, but there’s very little attention paid to the kind of jobs these are,” said Arne Kalleberg, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of the book “Good Jobs, Bad Jobs.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority released 2.5 megawatts of solar space in the Green Power Providers program Thursday, and it took less than a day before it was acquired and exceeded by 20 percent, according to a news release from a group advocating for more capacity. Launched by TVA last year, Green Power Providers pays for solar power generated as part of a 20-year contract, providing $1,000 in incentive payments to help offset costs for projects with a size of up to 50 kilowatts. Earlier this year, TVA had a capacity of 7.5 megawatts for new systems.
No matter how an administrative battle over new environmental regulations for coal-powered utilities ends in Washington, the Tennessee Valley Authority says it already is cleaning up its act. A coalition of national environmental groups blasted TVA and hundreds of other coal-burning power producers last week in an effort to get tightened federal rules for toxic coal ash contamination in waterways. The report was produced by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Integrity Project, Clean Water Action, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
Nashville health care providers looking for a way to meet federal requirements related to electronic health records have a new option. The Tennessee Health eShare Direct Project rolled out statewide this week, following pilot programs in Chattanooga, Memphis and Hickman County that launched in March. The initiative uses Direct Technology, an email-like service that allows health care professionals to send and receive encrypted electronic medical health information. Providers who use Direct will receive a financial incentive of $500 per participant per account, in addition to any federal incentives related.
A decision made in the spring by the Shelby County Board of Education hit home with the school district’s teachers Friday when some of them accessed an online portal for employees and learned that their salaries for the new year were the same as they were before. “There was no warning,” said Houston Middle School math teacher Carla Templeton. “These single moms out here who budgeted and planned, they’re in tears. I hurt for them, because this is not right.” Interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson explained in an afternoon news conference that “throughout the budget process it was clear we couldn’t afford to do step increases for anybody. This year’s budget did not include step increases for anyone. We had a three- or four-month discussion about all the cuts, and that was just part of the cuts.”
Shelby County teachers are worried about what’s going to happen when they report to work Monday. They say there are still problems from not knowing when they’ll get paid, to just now finding out where they’ll teach. “I am to go to Bartlett high school. I am a K-6 certified teacher, so I’m not quite sure what I’m going to be doing,” Genny Kilpatrick said. It’s probably not what you would expect your child’s teacher to say the Friday before school starts, but Kilpatrick was on the teacher excess list, and she says the district just told her where to report Monday morning when the school bell rings.
No pay raises, false hope, and unemployed. 30 mainline teachers were fired today from Shelby County School district. That number is much higher for part timers and substitute teachers. Laid off teachers want to know where did their jobs go. If there are still about the same amount of kids just under a new unified name, why are so many people getting fired? Many experienced teachers losing their jobs. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to my own kids, much less the kids i teach. it’s just a mess,” said a Riverdale Elementary School special education teacher Stephanie Gilmer.
Washington County schools need millions of dollars in upgrades to meet today’s security standards, Director of Schools Ron Dykes said Friday. A recent survey of all county schools conducted by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service and Safariland Security, identified several school security issues in nearly all of the district’s 15 schools. The report, dealing with security vulnerabilities at several schools, is not available for public inspection, Dykes said, but he did speak in general terms about the nature of the suggestions contained in it.
Most of the 14 new school resource officers will have to complete training in the next few weeks or even months before they can report to their assigned campuses, Sheriff Robert Arnold said Friday. “Everybody has to go through the training,” said Arnold, a former SRO at La Vergne High, Roy Waldron Elementary, Smyrna Elementary and Daniel-McKee Alternative schools. “That way it’s standardized. We have to make sure they have the proper training.” If everything goes according to plan, all the new officers working in various Rutherford County Schools will be in place by Nov. 11 or sooner, said Capt. Barry Hendrixson, who oversees a sheriff’s division that has 56 SROs, including himself.
The number of school security officers in Knox County Schools is about to double. 47 new SSO’s graduated Friday evening. It was the first school security officer graduation in the district, marking a time of change. The 47 new officers are a diverse group. Many had former careers in the military or law enforcement. Still, they went through five weeks of rigorous training. This school year there will be a trained and armed presence in every school in the district. Like many other districts in the country, Knox County had a wakeup call after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Television commercials have already run suggesting that buying health coverage through the state’s new insurance market, Connect for Health Colorado, will feel like winning the World Series. The market’s employees are traveling the state to explain how it will work, often in electric yellow T-shirts with the message, “Got Insurance?” In the coming weeks, 400 guides will be trained to help the uninsured sign up for coverage, with some targeting groups like Hispanics, gay and lesbian citizens, and even truckers. This is Colorado, five months before the central provisions of President Obama’s health care law take effect: a hive of preparation, with a homegrown insurance market working closely with state agencies and lawmakers to help ensure the law’s success.
Looking for the new health insurance marketplace, set to open in this state in two months, is like searching for a unicorn. The marketplace, or exchange, being established by the federal government under President Obama’s health care law has no visible presence here, no local office, no official voice in the state and no board of local advisers. It is being run like a covert operation, with no marketing or detailed information about its products or their prices. While states like Colorado, Connecticut and California race to offer subsidized insurance to their citizens, Missouri stands out among the states that have put up significant obstacles.
If you work for Penn State and don’t agree to step on a scale or have your waist measured, it could soon cost you $100 a month. The Pennsylvania State University is joining a growing list of employers penalizing workers who want company-sponsored health benefits but refuse to participate in health improvement programs. University officials say they need to take dramatic steps to reduce health care costs, and getting their workers in shape is one way to do it. Penn State expects to spend $217 million this year for its health plan, which covers about 40,000 individuals (employees and their family members).
First, the good news: The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.4 percent in July, the lowest rate in four years. That’s down from 7.6 percent in June and 8.2 percent in July 2012. Now for the bad news: Part of the reason for that decline is that fewer Americans were looking for work — and thus not counted in the numbers — and there were fewer jobs to look for. Job creation in July was only 162,000 jobs, and the job creation numbers for May and June were lowered by 26,000 on recalculation. The economy has created an average of 200,000 jobs a month since January, a rate that makes real progress on unemployment.