This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy will receive $40,000 in grant money from the federal Recreational Trails Program. Shelby Farms will use the grant to restore 6.1 miles of unpaved trails on the Tour de Wolf Trail system. Gov. Bill Haslam and Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau awarded 12 Tennessee parks and greenways more than $1.6 million in the Recreational Trails funds, according to the Memphis Area Association of Governments.
Delivering keynote remarks at the annual luncheon of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, Gov. Bil Haslam championed the city’s hospitality and said it had “become a model” for collaboration between government and business to maintain a thriving tourism economy. The governor offered brief comments, totaling approximately 13 minutes. During his speech, Haslam praised the $989 million generated by tourists visiting Chattanooga last year, which was able to support about 8,500 full-time, nonseasonal jobs in the area. “People are starting to take notice,” Haslam said.
Each night while Mike Maquet’s 2-year-old and 5-year-old sons sleep, he attends school from the comfort of his home. Maquet, 31, an Army helicopter pilot, is working on his Master’s in Business Administration through Western Governors University Tennessee, which launched statewide in July. WGU Tennessee is an online, competency-based university geared toward working adults that allows students to test on skills they may already have and progress at their own pace. The school is set up to allow working adults to obtain accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in any of 50 programs in four career fields: business, K-12 teacher education, information technology, and health care.
Often criticized as too prescriptive and all-consuming, standardized tests have support among parents, who view them as a useful way to measure both students’ and schools’performances, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. Most parents also say their own children are given about the right number of standardized tests, according to the AP-NORC poll. They’d like to see student performance on statewide exams used in evaluating teachers, and almost three-quarters said they favored changes that would make it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers.
The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners has taken disciplinary actions against doctors in Portland and Thompson’s Station for overprescribing narcotics. Dr. Lou Ponce of Portland had his license placed on probation for five years and was fined $8,000. The board found that he had prescribed pain medications to patients without taking an appropriate history, performing a physical or making a diagnosis. Dr. Bill G. Sekulovski of Thompson’s Station had his license reprimanded and was fined $5,000. The board ruled that between 2008 and 2012 he had prescribed controlled substances to multiple patients without performing appropriate diagnostic tests or documenting their medical histories to justify the distribution of the drugs.
Despite opposition from the public and local officials, state transportation officials are poised to announce their decision to continue the construction of the $104 million extension of the James White Parkway. Tennessee Department of Transportation regional spokesman Mark Nagi said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer “will make a decision in the next two weeks.” Others, however, think Schroer’s decision regarding the build or no-build options has already been made. Only the specific route — red, blue or green — remains unclear.
Pension reform is on the horizon as Memphis faces a $642 million gap in the city’s fund for employees. But union leaders are lacing up their gloves for what they promise will be a fight on the issue. In its first, massive bite, the recession swallowed nearly $450 million from the pension plan for Memphis city employees. And while the bleeding has been persistent since then, many say the wound needs a home remedy not an emergency room. Investors, markets and businesses across the country have recovered from the recession, but public pension plans are still struggling to get back to pre-crash funding levels.
Returning to Chattanooga on Saturday from a weeklong trip to the Middle East, Sen. Bob Corker offered several comments on political and security issues pertaining to the region. Corker, who is ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Turkey, Jordan and Iraq during the trip. The senator and former Chattanooga mayor also visited two refugee camps, one in Turkey and the other in Jordan, which are hosting Syrian citizens who have fled the ongoing violence in their country.
Johnny Drake’s business is losing 2.3 percent of everything it makes because of the Affordable Care Act. He’s the president of Pathfinder Technologies, a small company in Nashville with fewer than 20 employees, which got hit with an excise tax this year because it makes medical devices. Medical device manufacturers are among the federal health law losers, those that will have to pay up to cover the cost of implementing the law. Others include high-wage earners, tanning salons and, in some cases, working parents and folks with big medical bills.
Next January, the Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a master’s degree in computer science through massive open online courses for a fraction of the on-campus cost, a first for an elite institution. If it even approaches its goal of drawing thousands of students, it could signal a change to the landscape of higher education. From their start two years ago, when a free artificial intelligence course from Stanford enrolled 170,000 students, free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have drawn millions and yielded results like the perfect scores of Battushig, a 15-year-old Mongolian boy, in a tough electronics course offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
‘We haven’t skipped a step’ on West Knoxville site, Tennova exec says The undeveloped 107-acre tract rests along a stretch of Middlebrook Pike surrounded by residential neighborhoods and a growing development of medical offices. Deer, foxes and red tail hawks have found an unusual home on the West Knoxville property, which once housed a horse stable. An old barn is all that remains. There are trails, a creek and a KUB gas pipeline. Tennova Healthcare has an option on the land where it wants to build an estimated $250 million replacement hospital for its 83-year-old flagship Physicians Regional Medical Center.
School system officials to sheriff: We need more school resource officers. Sullivan County school leaders are calling on Sheriff Wayne Anderson to hire additional school resource officers or other officers to be in county schools. During a Board of Education work session Thursday afternoon, BOE Chairman Dan Wells said the letter that he and Director of Schools Jubal Yennie wrote on July 22 to Anderson basically asks him to spend some of the $400,000 in new money the County Commission’s Administrative and Budget committees have earmarked for the Sheriff’s Office on SROs, particularly at the middle school level.
Eighty percent of child abuse calls now get answered by a human being in less than 20 seconds. Every employee must experience a day in the field checking complaints about children being neglected or abused. Every investigator must pass a stringent three-week class that covers everything from forensic science to mock court trials. Those are just some of the sweeping changes being brought to the state Department of Children’s Services by Commissioner Jim Henry after his first six months in office. In a candid session with The Tennessean’s editorial board, Henry made it clear there are no magic bullets to fix the beleaguered, dysfunctional department.
There are a lot of elected politicians in the Memphis metropolitan area who seem to make hating on Memphis part of their policy platforms. It is a stance that plays well with their constituents, many of whom moved out of Memphis looking for greener residential pastures. Economic development officials in those communities, while competing to get their slices of the economic development pie, understand the importance of regional cooperation when it comes to economic growth. The Memphis and Shelby County Regional Economic Development Plan that has grown out of the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Business Planning Initiative emphasizes that regional cooperation, but also the importance of first building up a consensus for the growth initiative in Memphis and Shelby County.
Tennessee’s U.S. Senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, successfully pushed for a change that will make college students and their parents pay more for education loans. It’s a hard sell, of course, but their argument largely was: “Take this, because the crazy House Republicans wanted something even worse.” It’s a bit like welcoming people to take a kick to the shin because the alternative was a kick to the groin. Parents and students, quite rightly, might be wondering if there weren’t some alternatives that didn’t involve being kicked at all. There were, but this Congress and its banker benefactors were having none of that. Congress initially took no action, and thus on July 1 interest on a specific type of loan, subsidized Stafford loans, jumped from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
It’s mid-August, and Chattanooga already has seen a year’s worth of rain in 2013. Just a fluke, you think? One of those cyclical teases by Mother Nature? Think again. Late last year, the University of Tennessee released a first-of-its kind study to predict climate-change induced heat waves and rainfall for the top 20 cities in the eastern United States. The findings put the Tennessee Valley in the cross hairs of climate craziness — more intense heat waves and drastically wetter weather — over coming decades.
The Great Recession was devastating on many levels, from millions of jobs and homes lost to a slashing of personal worth. And we can point to the players whose bad decisions and general misconduct sent the U.S. economy over a precipice. But was this downturn also a signal of other changes that were coming, whether or not some people engaged in wrongdoing? The reason for this question is that the recovery from this recession is so different from previous recoveries — in one area in particular: employment. Housing, banks and consumer spending are back, or nearly back. But the nation’s unemployment is stubbornly high, officially at 7.4 percent (a healthy rate is considered to be about 5 percent).