This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Task Force on Aging, a group charged with creating a plan to improve the lives and care of older Tennesseans and their families through a collaboration of public, private and nonprofit leaders. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 14 percent of Tennesseans are 65 years of age or older, and the national average is 13.7 percent. Tennessee’s number is expected to grow to more than 22 percent by 2020. Haslam has asked the task force to focus on three areas: promoting healthy aging; creating livable communities; and supporting family caregivers.
For the second year in a row, Middle Tennessee State University is on track for a decrease in enrollment, and at least one area student said fear of debt is keeping him from enrolling. “Hearing about student-loan debt and higher interest rates just makes me feel like I want to run away from it and forget about it,” said Mitchell Stem, a 2008 graduate of Riverdale High School. “It seems too much trouble for what it’s worth in the end. I already have a job I like that I know I can move up in.” But enrollment decreases are not only plaguing MTSU, national statistics show nearly every kind of post-secondary institution is experiencing low numbers, according to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Students at the Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online school run for profit, learned less than their peers anywhere else in Tennessee last year, data released by the state last week show, but efforts to crack down on the school have been delayed by heavy lobbying on its behalf. Results from standardized tests show that students in the Tennessee Virtual Academy made less progress as a group in reading, math, science and social studies than students enrolled in all 1,300 other elementary and middle schools who took the same tests.
Two state lawmakers in Tennessee are pointing to Kentucky’s recent approval of hemp farming as they push for a similar measure. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Republican Sen. Frank Niceley, of Strawberry Plains, is drafting a bill with Republican Rep. Andy Holt, of Dresden, and they plan to introduce the measure in next year’s legislative session. Nicely said Kentucky and six other states have passed measures legalizing hemp even though federal law prohibits it. Nicely said there also is support for changing federal laws, notably from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, both from Kentucky. H
Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell has filed a complaint asking an ethics panel to investigate 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that Harwell said in a statement on Friday that she asked the Board of Professional Responsibility to conduct a “thorough, prompt investigation and appropriate action.” Two other lawmakers have filed similar complaints. Bebb did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment. A Times Free Press series published last year detailed wide-ranging allegations of misconduct by Bebb and people he supervised.
The Mt. Juliet City Commission is considering an ordinance to allow city employees with valid handgun carry permits to carry guns at work. It passed the first of two required readings, with a second reading slated for Monday night. Officials are trying to determine potential ramifications for the city’s insurance costs. Mt. Juliet has about 120 employees. That includes more than 40 police officers, who already are authorized to carry firearms on city property. Commissioner Art Giles sponsored the ordinance, initially designed to amend Mt. Juliet’s personnel manual so city employees could leave guns in parked vehicles on city property.
Local authorities say the “cool factor” of dark tinted windows is costing some drivers $100 or more for violating Tennessee’s window-tinting laws. Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies have written 2,110 tinted or cracked window violations since January, and over half were warnings. They were unable to separate the two as both fall under the same county ordinance. Memphis Police ticketed 1,947 drivers for the same period. Similarly, suburban police officers have written 635 such tickets in Bartlett, 138 in Collierville and 32 in Germantown. “People from all walks of life get their windows tinted. It looks cool for some people. The majority aren’t trying to conceal anything,” said Bartlett Police Capt. Marlon Jones.
A series of Republican U.S. House legislative initiatives to execute immigration reform has a “50-50 chance” of passing Congress in September, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe predicted in a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board. Last June, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform measure that would add 20,000 Border Patrol agents and at least 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, plus spend $4.5 billion on surveillance technology and mandate an E-Verify system for all employers.
Two days after a conservative PAC targeted Sen. Lamar Alexander in a radio ad challenging the senator to vote to “defund Obamacare,” the senator’s campaign for re-election is defending his stances against the law with an ad buy of its own. On Friday, Alexander’s campaign announced a statewide purchase of radio airtime to run an ad touting the senator’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature health law. In the 60-second spot, Alexander can be heard challenging Obama on details of the law and its costs on premiums at a White House health care summit.
Going on MSNBC Friday, Rep. Scott DesJarlais continued to defend his answer to an 11-year-old girl’s question about what could be done about her undocumented father, who faces deportation proceedings. After a YouTube video of the congressman’s answer at a town hall in Murfreesboro last week began to go viral, DesJarlais’ comments received national coverage and drew the ire of immigration advocacy groups. Since then, DesJarlais has defended his answer, saying current U.S. immigration policy must be enforced, even if it means difficult answers to tough questions.
Robertson County tobacco farmer David Buntin is in a race against time. An unusually rainy summer has ravaged his crops, destroying about eight of the 21 acres of tobacco he farms with his father and son. “It will be a struggle to get it all back up and save what can be saved,” said Buntin, 46, who has worked on the farm all of his life. “Because of all the rain, we couldn’t get all the crops topped on time. That made them heavier, and when the storms came through, there was nothing to support them.” Buntin isn’t alone.
Sometimes the only thing holding someone back from success is negative energy surrounding their ambition, said the organizer of the second annual “Teaching to Eliminate Negative Stereotypes through Education” Summit. The TENSE Summit is the brainchild of Anthony “A.J.” Donaldson, a 2003 Austin-East High School graduate and public school teacher in Houston. About 150 turned out for the Saturday event at the James Haslam II Business Building on the University of Tennessee campus. Phillip Tucker co-founded the event.
The number of full-time cyberschools serving Texas public school students will double in the coming school year despite a history of lackluster performance and a new law limiting the number of online courses that public school students are allowed to take at the state’s expense. That bill’s sponsor, State Representative Ken King, Republican of Canadian, said its goal was to encourage virtual learning models that blended online classes with a traditional classroom experience.
In what some might consider a bipartisan peace offering, President Barack Obama cited Tennessee as a model for funding and promoting higher education. Obama unveiled his proposal to rank the nation’s colleges and universities by including a cost component that could be tied back to providing federal financial aid. Obama further urged higher education institutions to do more to tie higher education to job opportunities, and to increase college graduation rates. Tennessee already has been working along these lines for three years. State higher education funding takes into consideration graduation rates and student course completion rates.
It’s safe to say that there is one decision no one envies Gov. Bill Haslam for having to make: whether to accept the federal expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee. Not that there aren’t many people who feel they could quickly and easily decide — either to allow the expansion, which would make an additional 400,000 people eligible for TennCare, or to reject it as a costly federal intrusion. But those people aren’t caught between a legislative majority that is hostile to the Affordable Care Act and an Obama administration that still is trying to sort out all the details of how “Obamacare” will work. As difficult as the governor’s decision will be, we look to it as a pivotal moment for our state and for the Haslam administration.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has proposed a modified route for the James White Parkway extension in South Knoxville that reduces its encroachment on the Knoxville Urban Wilderness. The road would be narrower and built to accommodate the area’s trail system, according to TDOT. TDOT also plans to solicit more public comment and hold two public meetings in October before making a final decision on the long-delayed and much-debated South Knoxville roadway. Though we would prefer TDOT and the city make improvements to Chapman Highway and its connecting roads before making a decision on the parkway project, the agency’s willingness to alter the route and design of the extension in response to public concerns is a welcome development.
Voters will vote on three proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution in November 2014. One of these amendments concerns the selection of appellate judges, including the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court. This amendment would allow the governor to nominate appellate judge candidates to be confirmed by the state House and Senate. Tennesseans would then vote on whether to retain these judges in elections. Circuit, criminal and chancery court judges would continue to be subject to direct and contested elections. For the following reasons, Tennesseans should vote “yes” on this amendment.
A new law I worked to help enact lowers interest rates for every new federal student loan this year, making it easier for 11 million borrowers — including 200,000 Tennessee students — to pay for college. Undergraduates will pay 3.86 percent interest instead of 6.8 percent under previous law, graduate students with Stafford loans will pay 5.41 percent instead of 6.8 percent, and parents and graduates with PLUS loans will pay 6.41 percent instead of 7.9 percent. So, every single new loan will have a lower interest rate. This will save tens of millions of dollars in college costs for Tennessee students alone.
Call me Pollyanna. We hear a lot about how broken Congress is, and a review of recent Gallup polls reinforces our collective perception that our elected representatives are more interested in playing mumblety-peg than carving out solutions to the problems besetting our citizens. So, it was interesting to chat with Sen. Bob Corker this week on his view of the subtle shifts he is seeing in Washington. The senator visited with The Tennessean editorial board on Thursday to discuss a range of topics: what he learned from his recent trip to the Middle East; his work on pushing for a sensible solution on immigration reform; his work on addressing the fiscal fix, “our No. 1 problem”; and his decision to skip the president’s speech at the opening of Amazon’s new distribution center in Chattanooga.
If we’re lucky, the recent trend in political discourse calling for the disqualification of elected officials who cooperate with opposing parties doesn’t catch on. The gridlock that has held back progress in Washington could be worse. Perhaps it was the dream that some day America will become a one-party state that inspired 20 tea party and conservative organizations — including several county organizations in Tennessee — to call on Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to resign because he has worked with Democrats. The war on bipartisanship could have consequences. In today’s Senate, a Republican who never made an effort to work with members of the majority party would leave Tennesseans toothless.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has been wisely running scared since announcing a year ago that he would seek a third term, aware that the recipe for unseating old-school Republicans is now public knowledge and most of the ingredients may be available right here in Tennessee. The first line of defense in the apparent Lamartian strategy was to keep any potential challenger with a modicum of credibility out of the race. He boldly cast this building of war chest, assembling of allies and other tactics in military terms of “shock and awe” in one Washington interview — tea party critics call it “intimidation” — while simultaneously engaging in diplomacy.
A marketplace like no other is opening soon. Beginning Oct. 1, people without health insurance can shop for what is promised to be affordable health care coverage. It’s all part of the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010. For the last three years, various parts of the law have been implemented: Young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26; insurance companies are prohibited from imposing lifetime dollar limits on essential services such as hospital stays; people with Medicare get free preventive services.