This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has renewed an expired executive order to cover any loss of salary by state employees called to active duty by the National Guard or the Armed Forces Reserves. The measure requires government agencies and departments to extend military leave to state employees. It also requires those agencies to provide offsetting pay when the active-duty wages of their employees are less than their normal salary. Haslam’s order extends a policy first put in place by then-Gov. Don Sundquist in response to state workers being called into active duty after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
First Lady Crissy Haslam today hosted approximately 60 3rd grade students from Crieve Hall Elementary School in Nashville at the Tennessee Residence to begin planting in the newly constructed Kitchen and Cutting Garden. Students joined Mrs. Haslam in the garden to read the September Read20 Book of the Month, Janet Steven’s Tops and Bottoms, a folktale about gardening and vegetables. Following the reading, students participated in 3 activity stations to kick off planting in the garden: a guided tour of the Tennessee Residence, a farm-to-table cooking lesson with Residence Chef Stephen Ward, and a garden station to plant the first vegetables in the new garden.
The Tennessee Ethics Commission has voted to dismiss a complaint filed against Gov. Bill Haslam that said he failed to disclose how much he has paid his former chief campaign strategist for political advice in the years following the 2010 election. An attorney for the governor told the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/17rr0M9 ) that the commission voted Wednesday in a closed-door meeting to dismiss the ethics complaint brought by former state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester David Smith, a spokesman for Haslam, said “We are satisfied with the result.”
The Tennessee Ethics Commission declined to fine political adviser Tom Ingram on Wednesday for failing to disclose a lobbying relationship with a coal miner and dismissed a complaint over Ingram’s work for Gov. Bill Haslam. Commissioners refused to penalize Ingram and partner Marcille Durham for not filing paperwork in 2012 and 2013 showing they had been hired to lobby for Hillsborough Resources, a firm hoping to win permission to mine on public land on the Cumberland Plateau.
The Tennessee Ethics Commission wound up in a stalemate Wednesday over whether to penalize veteran political operative Tom Ingram, one of his colleagues at the Ingram Group and a corporate client for their failure to file lobbyist registration papers for three years. The stalemate effectively means no penalty for Ingram, Marcille Durham and Hillsborough Resources unless the commission decides to revisit the issue at some future date. Each could have faced civil penalties of up to $2,250 each — $750 for each year when lobbyist registration papers were not filed on time.
More than 60 school superintendents have signed a petition calling on Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers to reevaluate the leadership at the Tennessee Department of Education. The letter says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s office “has no interest in a dialogue” with local school leaders, and adds that superintendents’ efforts to improve their schools are being thwarted by low teacher morale because of policy changes on the state level. “It has become obvious to the signees that our efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile,” according to the petition.
In an unprecedented move, school directors across Tennessee are calling for the governor and legislature to put the brakes on Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and his reform ideas. The superintendents are tired of being treated like stumbling blocks on Huffman’s road to reform and want their opinions to be heard, according to a letter that about 60 of them signed this week and will deliver to state officials. Dan Lawson, author of the letter and director of Tullahoma City Schools, stopped short of calling the document a vote of no confidence but said many of Huffman’s moves are “counterproductive and hurtful” to the educators on the ground in local schools.
School superintendents across the state are backing an attempt to call out Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and his policies that have drastically reformed the state’s public education system. Dan Lawson, superintendent of Tullahoma City Schools, said his letter to the governor and general assembly criticizing Huffman has gained signatures from 63 superintendents — or about half the state’s superintendents. In the letter, he asks state leaders to “consider carefully and prayerfully the future of free public education.”
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission is meeting next week to discuss and vote on the state’s 2014 commercial fishing proposals. The meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19-20 in Nashville. The commission says final changes to the commercial fishing proclamation will be presented to the commission for any discussion and final approval at the meeting. Other topics will be discussed at the meeting. The dove hunting season is underway in the state and a report on the opening of the season will be given.
A Wilson County man is charged for a second time with doctor shopping for controlled substances, using TennCare benefits as payment. The Office of Inspector General and Metro Nashville Police arrested Christopher R. Bailey, 31, of Lebanon Wednesday after a Davidson County grand jury indicted him on two counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance by doctor shopping for drugs, using TennCare to access healthcare benefits. Bailey was arrested just last month after an indictment in Wilson County charging him with three counts of doctor shopping for prescription drugs, using TennCare as payment.
The Tennessee Supreme Court judges have chosen Solicitor General Bill Young to be the next administrative director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Young will take over from Libby Sykes later this year. Young has served as solicitor general in the Tennessee attorney general’s office for more than two years. He returned to the AG’s office in the spring of 2011 after working as general counsel and chief compliance officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee for eight years.
Bill Young, a former general counsel for Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, was named Wednesday by the Tennessee Supreme Court as its next director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Young has been serving as solicitor general for Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper for more than two years. He will head the courts’ office later this year. “Bill Young’s years of experience in the attorney general’s office, especially as solicitor general, and in the private sector, as general counsel for Blue-Cross BlueShield, place him in good stead to lead the administration of the judiciary for years to come,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade in a news release.
Maybe the coincidence of a 9/11 anniversary and the day after a major foreign policy address by a Democratic president was too much for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to resist. Ramsey, a Republican who ran for governor three years ago and has led the state Senate since 2007, created a firestorm Wednesday with a tweet accusing President Barack Obama of siding with the same terrorist group in Syria that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people. “As the President attempts to ally w/ Al-Qaeda in Syria’s civil war, we must always remember who attacked us on our soil 12 years ago,” the @RonRamsey Twitter account posted around 9 a.m.
Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s tweet Wednesday charging President Barack Obama with attempting to “ally” the U.S. with al-Qaida in Syria’s civil war is generating demands by Democrats that he apologize. Ramsey, the Senate speaker, earlier tweeted that “as the president attempts to ally w/ Al-Qaida in syria’s civil war, we must always remember who attacked us on our soil 12 years ago.” Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron condemned Ramsey’s message and said Ramsey, the state Senate speaker, “should fire whoever wrote such an outrageous, dishonest, misleading, incendiary, unpatriotic and dangerous attack on our nation’s president and on Republican leaders like Senators [Bob] Corker and [John] McCain and House Speaker [John] Boehner and even the military Leaders working with them.”
A 9/11 tweet by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey saying the president is attempting to ally with al-Qaida has prompted denunciations by state Democratic leaders. Ramsey, R-Bristol, tweeted Wednesday morning: “As the President attempts to ally w/Al-Qaeda in Syria’s civil war, we must always remember who attacked us on our soil 12 years ago.” Ramsey’s spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the tweet on Ramsey’s Twitter feed, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, is apparently a reference to news reports that some of the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad are linked to the terrorist group al-Qaida.
State Democrats are criticizing Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey over a Twitter post that said President Barack Obama was trying to become an ally with al-Qaida in Syria. Ramsey, a Blountville auctioneer, said in the tweet that “we must always remember who attacked us on our soil 12 years ago.” State Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron called on Ramsey to fire whoever wrote the tweet, noting that Republicans U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and House Speaker John Boehner agreed with the president’s call for a limited strike on Syria because of a chemical weapons attack.
During a late-August visit to the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander pledged to continue work to ensure that federal fish hatcheries recently threatened by budget cuts would remain open. When it came to Alexander’s attention that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may now be studying federal hatcheries, which include the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery in Celina, for closure, the senator took action to live up to the commitment.
Dr. Marilyn Brown is returning to the Tennessee Valley Authority board nine months after her presidential reappointment as TVA director was held up by Tennessee’s U.S. senators. The U.S. Senate late Tuesday confirmed Brown to fill the last remaining vacant seat on TVA’s nine-member board. Brown, a Nobel Prize winner who serves as a professor of American geography at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, previously served for two years on the TVA board. President Obama nominated her for another five-year term last year.
A onetime powerhouse Detroit union struggling to gain a foothold in the South’s auto industry could be representing Chattanooga’s Volkswagen employees by the end of the year. After months of organizing efforts, the United Auto Workers claimed Wednesday that a majority of the plant’s employees have signed cards requesting union representation and a works council, the German-style labor board common in VW’s plants worldwide. “We’re interested in bringing a new labor model to the U.S.,” said Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director.
A top House Democrat is demanding copies of correspondence between Gov. Bill Haslam and Volkswagen officials, saying he has learned the governor may have offered additional incentives to the German automaker in an effort to head off unionization efforts at VW’s Chattanooga assembly plant. Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he’s “concerned” Haslam is “possibly interfering with [Volkswagen’s] internal decisions.” If true, Turner said, “it’s almost like he’s trying to bribe them if they don’t bring the union in.”
A majority of the workers at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant have signed cards signaling they want union representation, according to the United Auto Workers. But so far, the UAW isn’t rushing the global automaker to meet them at a negotiating table. UAW president Bob King said he’s being patient and that he has “deep respect” for VW, which recognizes unions in all of its major plants, except for Chattanooga. “We’re very confident that we’ll work out a process to recognition and then bargaining what we both want, and that’s a works council-type system in the U.S.,” King said in a phone interview from Germany.
Two of the nation’s largest railroad companies — CSX and BNSF — have filed suit against the state of Tennessee in federal court claiming they are being forced to pay millions of dollars in taxes on diesel fuel that their highway- and water-based cargo-hauling competitors don’t have to pay. Both railroads, in separate suits filed by the same law firm in U.S. District Court in Nashville on Tuesday, contend that the state’s 7 percent sales and use tax “on diesel fuel purchased and used for rail transportation purposes is discriminatory and unlawful” under the federal Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976.
The first phase of The Regional Medical Center at Memphis’ expansion plan is nearing completion, with the Firefighters Regional Burn Center set to double in size by the end of the year. The expansion will allow the hospital to better meet the demands of an increasing patient load. “We are seeking to expand the scope of our burn referrals beyond our current numbers,” said Dr. Reginald Coopwood, president and CEO of The MED. “This expansion allows us to have a full complement of services for people in our community and our region that have unfortunately been involved with a serious burn.”
Hamilton County teachers are voting on a proposed across-the-board salary increase of 3 percent, plus a one-time bonus of 1 percent — the same proposal school board members will vote on next week. The school board’s finance committee met Wednesday to discuss the shape of the budget, which had higher-than-expected revenues and lower-than-expected expenses, said Christie Jordan, the system’s director of accounting and budgeting. Administrators have met with the teachers union several times over recent months to negotiate a possible salary hike.
Leaders of the three major suburbs met individually with Shelby County leaders this week regarding the future of education as the cities continue their march to municipal schools. Several suburban leaders classified the meetings as cordial, but most declined to discuss specifics of the meetings — with Collierville on Tuesday and Bartlett and Germantown on Wednesday — citing the sensitivity of the negotiations and attorney-client confidentiality in trying to resolve the schools controversy. “I don’t want to sit down and cut this bird open until it’s done,” Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said Wednesday in declining to discuss specifics.
After one school year watching each other, leaders of the state-run Achievement School District and the countywide school system’s set of Innovation Zone schools got together this summer to compare notes and figure out which low-achieving schools each would take for the 2014-2015 school year. Both work in schools in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement. “If we were trying to do this on our own and attempting to serve 68 schools independently, the time it would take to meaningfully address the needs of students in those schools would be way too long,” said Malika Anderson, chief portfolio officer for the ASD.
Learning must continue even after the school dismissal bell rings. That’s what East Elementary kindergarten teachers are telling parents as they discuss the higher expectations facing early learners under Common Core, which is a nationally aligned initiative of standards for educators to use in math and language arts. Tennessee is one of 45 states to adopt Common Core, and most of the school districts began early implementation of the standards. In the debate about Common Core there is some national and local dissent about the effectiveness of using the standards.
Public education is not immune to the growing emphasis on data we see in other sectors. Many of the education reforms popularized in recent years promote using data to drive decision making at system, school and classroom levels. In turn, much of the data used by educators comes from testing. In 2001, No Child Left Behind installed a new regime of annual testing in schools to demonstrate student gains. More recently, standardized test data has begun to be used to evaluate teacher performance. But wariness about the number and frequency of achievement tests — and the stress they cause in children — has begun to crop up.
America’s bridges are crumbling, and the nation’s leaders lack the will to fund the repair or replacement of these dangerous spans. The collapse in May of a bridge on Interstate 5 over Washington’s Skagit River points to the need to address bridge safety, as does the 2007 collapse of a bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota that killed 13 people. According to a recently released report from Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition that works for transportation reform, more than 66,000 of the nation’s nearly 605,000 bridges — 11 percent — are considered defective. The numbers were tabulated from the National Bridge Inventory published by the Federal Highway Administration.
Why does it matter – more in Memphis than elsewhere – that so few black students pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or math? It matters because Memphis and Shelby County are majority black, the city is horribly poor and the top 10 college majors with the highest median income are all in STEM fields. A study by Georgetown University economist Anthony Carnevale paints a financially favorable future for college students who pick engineering of just about any sort, pharmacy, math or computer science. (Warning: Lots of numbers and percentages ahead.)