This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is in Washington today to talk with federal officials about his “third way” Medicaid expansion. And although he doesn’t expect to come back with a definitive answer or proposal for the state Legislature, Tennessee’s hospitals are factoring in the decision. When asked in a news briefing whether recent layoffs at Vanderbilt University are weighing on his decision, Haslam said, “It’s something we have to take into account, whether it be Vanderbilt, and a big research hospital, or a small county-owned hospital.” Haslam was quick to point out that the financial troubles at Vanderbilt are more than a factor of expanding Medicaid, listing sequestration, Medicare cuts and a reduction in federal disproportionate share payments as other influences.
Mike Carpenter, executive director of the Plough Foundation, has been named to a new Task Force on Aging created by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The group will be charged with building a plan to improve the lives and care of older Tennesseans and their families through a collaboration of public, private and nonprofit leaders. In addition to Carpenter, the 11-member group will be chaired by Charla Long, dean of the College of Professional Studies and the School of TransformAging at Lipscomb University in Nashville.
A fifteen year old master plan for the area calls for a Bicentennial Mall lined with civic structures. One spot is earmarked for a new state library and archives. Next door is a space meant for a freestanding state museum. Currently, the museum is tucked under the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in the bottom of an office building. Curator Jim Hoobler says most of its collection is hidden away in a basement. “The entire twentieth century is in storage here because there isn’t room in this building to do any of it. Tennessee’s 200 years old and half of it is in storage.”
Unemployment fell in most Tennessee counties, including Davidson County, in July, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. Unemployment decreased in 79 counties, increased in 12 and remained flat in four. Middle Tennessee counties ranked among the lowest in the state. Williamson County again posted the state’s lowest unemployment rate, at 5.8 percent, down from 6.1 percent in June. The unemployment rate was 6.7 percent for Davidson County, down from 7.1 percent in June.
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Friday to allow for the first time a limited amount of hunting of the sandhill crane this fall. The 14-member commission voted unanimously to issue 400 permits for a hunting season scheduled for Nov. 28 through Jan. 1, according to a news release. Each permit holder will be allowed to kill three birds, and permits will be awarded by a drawing. The population of sandhill cranes in Tennessee is estimated to be as high as 87,000, with as many as 650,000 of the birds nationwide.
Forget roast turkey or goose. Sandhill crane might be the holiday fowl of choice for 400 Tennessee hunters this December. The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Friday to approve a sandhill crane hunting season from Nov. 28 to Jan. 1, 2014, in Southeast Tennessee and set other waterfowl rules for the 2014 season. Commission members allowed the sandhill crane hunt despite massive opposition from Tennesseans who answered polls — and attended the commission’s two-day meeting in Knoxville.
As students across the state are starting their college careers, freshmen and other new students need to get something else along with their books and backpacks before they head to campus, and it could save their life. New students and other students living in campus housing for the first time at a Tennessee Board of Regents school will have to be vaccinated for meningitis before they can move in. Those are the public universities and community colleges that aren’t in the University of Tennessee system.
R. Brad Martin, the former CEO of Saks Corp. and current interim president of the University of Memphis, sent out an email Friday to all students, staff and alumni setting his priorities for the coming school year. “The university exists to provide learning, research and service. For those of us on the team at the University of Memphis,” wrote Martin, “it is our responsibility to deliver on this promise.” Martin cites a desire to increase enrollment by 1,000 students in the 2014- 2015 academic year and add another 1,000 the following year as well as increase the completion rate for freshmen to 55 percent.
An Overton County man was recently arrested and charged with TennCare Fraud, according to the Office of Inspector General. Roger Bilbrey, 52, of Rickman was arrested Tuesday and is accused of using his TennCare benefits in order to get a Morphine prescription that he would then sell a part of, the OIG said. The TennCare charge is a Class E Felony and could result in him serving a two-year prison sentence. Jointly investigating the case with OIG was the Livingston Police Department.
A Metro councilman has been booked into the Davidson County jail Friday. Court records show Duane Dominy was jailed on a misdemeanor charge related to a boating or towing safety violation. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency handed down the citation. The agency began issuing warrants several years ago to people who don’t pay fines. Details on Dominy’s case haven’t been released. Channel 4 has reached out to the councilman for comment.
Tennessee’s former student affairs judicial director says she was harassed and pressured by university administrators before getting fired for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into whether she had inappropriate relationships with student-athletes. Jenny Wright, who was fired in May, discussed the circumstances surrounding her dismissal this week on her personal website. “I withstood a personal nightmare during my last year at the university,” Wright wrote.
Days after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, lawmakers and civic leaders across the country called for a review of “stand your ground” self-defense laws. President Barack Obama called on at least 22 states to reconsider those laws, voicing concerns similar to those of local protesters demanding change. “If we’re sending a message, as a society, in our communities, that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms, even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?” Obama said in July.
Tennessee’s House speaker has joined lawmakers calling for the state’s attorney ethics board to investigate 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb, and has warned she’ll be watching to see what happens. Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said in a statement she filed a complaint asking the Board of Professional Responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct uncovered by a House oversight committee. The statement did not report any specific allegations.
An attorney for Metro Nashville Public Schools says the decade-old state law that allows charter schools to operate in Tennessee is unconstitutional, perhaps giving local school districts a basis for a major legal fight. That conclusion came from Washington, D.C., attorney John Borkowski this month in a legal opinion that argues Tennessee’s 2002 charter law “seems to impose increased costs on local governments with no offsetting subsidy from the state,” which he said violates the Tennessee Constitution.
A special judge has signed an interim order giving Anderson County Sheriff Paul White the go-ahead to begin hiring 15 jailers in anticipation of the opening of a major jail addition early next year. Knox County Circuit Court Judge Dale Workman’s order also authorizes the sheriff to hire a coordinator for the county’s alternatives to incarceration program. The move comes after county commissioners during Monday’s meeting extensively debated a lawsuit filed by White against Mayor Terry Frank after Frank refused to sign the Sheriff’s Separtment’s salary agreement.
If a Nashville Sounds stadium is built on the Sulphur Dell site, it will have to make sense for taxpayers, Mayor Karl Dean said at a news conference today, declining to offer details on how the project would be financed. “As much as I’d like to see the Sounds in a new home, first and foremost, the deal has to make sense for our taxpayers,” he said, adding the city is further along on a new stadium that it has ever been. The city has been in talks with the state about a land transaction that would allow the city to pursue a new stadium and move the team from Greer Stadium.
Mayor Karl Dean cautioned Friday that a deal to build a new Nashville Sounds stadium has a way to go but said that if his administration helps to build one, it won’t go anywhere but the historic Sulphur Dell site north of downtown. Two days after The Tennessean reported that Dean has pitched an $80 million ballpark development project to state officials — who control the land where it would be built — the mayor held a news conference to try to manage expectations. Dean might have been expected to make a muscular sales pitch to the public.
Two Knoxville country clubs want their reduced property tax rate back and have appealed a decision by Knox County’s property assessor to the state Board of Equalization. The hearing in Knoxville could help define how state greenbelt law is interpreted for years to come. If Cherokee and Holston Hills country clubs don’t get the tax break back, the private clubs want the nearly $400,000 they paid in back taxes returned. A special property tax rate for the golf courses was removed after a News Sentinel report showed the clubs had a tax discount under the state’s Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act.
Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles is facing a $10,000 fine for failing to file campaign finance information with the state. The fine was assessed Wednesday during a show cause hearing held by the Registry of Election Finance in Nashville. “I was not aware of that,” Broyles told a News Sentinel reporter Friday. “I don’t know anything about that. I haven’t been notified.” Broyles hadn’t filed any updates on her campaign finances since Aug. 15, 2012. According to Knox County Administrator of Elections Cliff Rodgers, elected officials or those who have campaign funds in non-election years are required to file mid-year and end-of-year-updates on their balances.
Knox County’s interim trustee filed his first salary suit on Friday. The new budget saves taxpayers thousands of dollars. Craig Leuthold had about a month to put together the salary suit. It cuts spending from his predecessor’s plan by more than $70,000 dollars. But since Leuthold hasn’t filled three open positions, the savings actually add up to about $350,000. Leuthold also cut one full-time position and one seasonal position. This year’s plan doesn’t include travel allowances nor any money for County Technical Assistance Services, or CTAS training.
Hendersonville resident Sally Millsap won’t soon forget the morning of Aug. 8. That’s when heavy rains saturated her Walton Ferry Road home, forcing her and her 13-year-old granddaughter to squeeze through a kitchen window into the arms of waiting firefighters. In less than an hour, nearly 2 feet of water had seeped inside. Water was bubbling through the floor, sewage brewing in the bathtub. Millsap, 65, had just undergone hip-replacement surgery and was terrified she would get electrocuted as the power strips she used to run dehumidifiers for her allergies slowly became submerged.
Exasperated business owners who were affected by the unexpected flood waters earlier this month remain desperate for answers and help. The Madison, White Creek and Buena Vista area all received more than seven inches of rain in just a few hours on the morning of August 8. The quick rising water forced some families to flee their home, while others lost their businesses. Wayne Upchurch’s business, the Madison Decorating Center located on Old Hickory Boulevard, was among those that were flooded by the fast moving waters.
In a four-page letter distributed by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee asks Tennesseans to “pray for Lamar, vote for Lamar and fill out the enclosed envelope and send it back with $10 or $15 or whatever amount you can afford. “I don’t get to vote in Tennessee. But if I did, I wouldn’t hesitate, and I wouldn’t listen to any distractions,” says Huckabee in the fundraising solicitation. The mailing comes a couple of days after state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, announced Tuesday a challenge to Alexander in the 2014 primary and with tea party groups complaining that Alexander has not signed a pledge to “defund Obamacare.”
The Memphis Area Home Builders Association will host Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on Monday, Aug. 26, at the Memphis Marriott East to discuss his legislation to reform the U.S. housing finance system. Corker has introduced legislation — the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayers Protection Act — that would replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a privately capitalized system. The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., would replace the government sponsored entities with the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corp.
Regulators have closed small banks in Tennessee and Arizona, bringing the number of U.S. bank failures to 20 this year. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says it seized Community South Bank, based in Parsons, Tenn., with 15 branches and about $386.9 million in assets and $377.7 million in deposits as of June 30. It also shuttered Phoenix-based Sunrise Bank of Arizona, with six branches, $202.2 million in assets and $196.9 million in deposits. CB&S Bank, based in Russellville, Ala., agreed to assume all of Community South Bank’s deposits and to buy about $121.7 million of its loans and other assets.
While Lincoln Park residents celebrate Mayor Andy Berke’s promise to preserve the neighborhood’s park space, Erlanger hospital trustees say they aren’t ready to make any promises yet. Berke and Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel assured the public Friday that they are committed to going through with plans for the hospital to donate five acres of its land for a city park. But several board members say Erlanger — a cash-strapped public hospital that has been cut from city funding for two years — needs more out of the deal.
Workers for a Volkswagen, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz supplier in Tuscaloosa, Ala., have turned back a bid to join the United Auto Workers union, which is trying to organize VW’s Chattanooga assembly plant. Employees at the Faurecia Interior Systems plant rejected the UAW proposal by a vote of 86-62 on Thursday. But a UAW official said workers were threatened, harassed and intimidated by anti-union lawyers and management. “The workers were bombarded with anti-[union] literature almost daily and forced to attend anti-meetings,” said Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director in Lebanon, Tenn., in an email.
Knoxville-based oil and natural gas company Tengasco Inc. announced recently it has closed the sale of its Swan Creek field in Hancock County, all of its other Tennessee oil and natural gas leases and natural gas pipeline system for $1.5 million. The sale to Swan Creek Partners LLC and its affiliate General Gas Pipeline LLC was previously announced March 1, 2013, according to a news release. Assets of Tengasco’s Manufactured Methane Corp. were not included in the sale. The company used proceeds from the sale to pay off debt.
No charges have been filed against a Tennessee kindergartner or his mother after a gun discharged inside the child’s backpack in a school cafeteria, but the shooting has led to metal-detecting wands being provided to the district’s elementary schools, officials said Friday. Memphis police said the 5-year-old and his mother were released from custody late Thursday, hours after the gun went off as students were waiting for the opening bell in the Westside Elementary School cafeteria. No one was hurt, and school security officers quickly took control of the backpack.
The comments didn’t sit well with Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, who promptly scheduled his own news conference to chastise Hopson and set the record straight. According to Armstrong, in the first call to MPD, logged at 7:53 a.m., a caller named “Williams” said a child was being held in the office because he had brought a gun to school. The caller was “unsure if the gun was a BB gun or cap gun.” All officers in the area were on other calls, Armstrong said, and because MPD did not know it was a “high priority call,” no cars from other precincts were dispatched.
Eleven people, including one former Memphis City Schools board member, applied to the Shelby County Commission to take the vacant District 6 seat on the Shelby County School Board. The commission will appoint a replacement for Reginald Porter, who resigned the board seat to accept a job with the school district.. The County Commission’s general government committee will interview candidates on Wednesday, said Commissioner Steve Mulroy. The full commission will vote on the applicants on Sept. 9.
And the winner is….nobody just yet. In fact, all the parties in the ongoing school-merger litigation, faced with a Friday deadline for status reports from presiding federal judge Hardy Mays, joined together to seek a 60-day extension. In an August 14 order, Mays had “invited” the parties to respond by today, Friday, August 23, to his inquiry as to what — after Act 256 of 2013 apparently resolved the constitutionality issue for new suburban school districts — the remaining issues were that were moot for further litigation.
A judge on Friday gave the parties in the federal case on municipal schools in Shelby County another 60 days to respond to his question of whether the case is “moot.” Attorneys for the County Commission filed the request Friday on behalf of all the parties. U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays granted the extension late Friday afternoon, saying he should be informed if the sides decide they cannot settle the matter before late October. The motion filed by Lori Patterson, one of the attorneys for the County Commission, came on the day Mays had set for the sides to respond to his request of why the case should continue.
The International Baccalaureate flag was hoisted Friday at Oak Forest Elementary, a fluttering amusement for students but a stake in the ground for Shelby County Schools. If the plan goes as worked out, Oak Forest and the new IB program at Balmoral Ridgeway will feed students to the also-new IB program at Ridgeway Middle, which in turn will funnel students to the IB Diploma Program at Ridgeway High. “We are one of five IB primary programs in the state of Tennessee,” Oak Forest principal Karen Joyner told the crowd around the flagpole.
If you’ve been putting off getting your GED exam, now is the time to get it done. That’s the message Adult Education of Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the city of Norton is hoping to communicate to those who have not yet completed their exam before major changes to the tests take effect next year. The GED preparation classes, which are free for adults who are at least 18 or older and not enrolled in public school to prepare, are set to begin Sept. 3 at Adult Education’s 13 class sites located throughout the three counties it serves.
Two Maine groups opposed to new educational benchmarks most states are using for reading, writing and math are working toward a statewide vote to repeal them, a step that is believed to be the first in the country. Maine is one of the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core Standards since 2010 with the aim of better preparing students for colleges and careers and allowing them to be compared among states. The majority of Maine teachers will begin using them in their classrooms this fall. But opponents have pushed back against the standards, saying they strip control from local school boards and will lead to a federal takeover of public schools.
For the past couple of years, Tennessee has been moving toward Common Core, a set of standards that build on each other and are important for children to master for tomorrow’s world. For the past couple of years, there has been a lot of talk about Common Core as a curriculum. It isn’t. There has been a lot of talk about Common Core restricting teaching. It doesn’t. For the past couple of years, there has been a lot of talk. But not a lot of informed talk about why we need Common Core. So here’s the why: • Academic success of the past — being able to memorize information for a test — is not the same as academic success of the future — being able to tackle issues in the real world.
Recently, a Tennessee Republican leader said he opposes extending health insurance coverage to 330,000 Tennesseans because, “It’s kind of like when my daughter says, ‘Hey Dad, we need to buy this dress, because it’s 50 percent off.’ It’s just the other 50 percent I have to come up with.” He’s a good dad and he’s right about dresses, but on Medicaid expansion, he is 50 percent off and 100 percent wrong. The accurate analogy is, “It’s kind of like when my daughter says, ‘Hey Dad, we need to buy this dress because it’s 100 percent off.’ It’s just the zero percent I have to come up with.”
It’s hard to argue with the notion of a popular vote on just about any issue. The idea gives us a chance to express a sense of common purpose. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s endorsement of a vote by residents on annexation proposals — related this week to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations — reflects the feelings of a lot of people in this community and beyond. If Luttrell and other proponents in the General Assembly and elsewhere are successful, thoughtful and well-informed voters will have a lot of factors to weigh, of course, beyond the immediate appeal of independence.