This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Most of the nation’s oldest population is now clustered in the Northeast and growing rapidly, according to Census data, straining medical, housing and transportation budgets and forcing lawmakers to look for new approaches. And legislators and governors are reaching the conclusion that the way to pay for the elderly is to cater to the young. That’s because younger residents just beginning their careers make up the foundation of a tax base that can support older workers who have retired or will soon do so. And a decade of dramatic internal migrations away from Northeastern states and toward the Sun Belt and the Mountain West is putting shrinking those tax bases into the spotlight.
The focus was all on reading Thursday in Sullivan County and Kingsport. Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam helped kick off United WE READ, a program of the United Way of Greater Kingsport. It is a collaborative partnership seeking to have all Kingsport and Sullivan County school system third-graders reading proficient or advanced on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test by 2018. In Tennessee, the most recent statistics show 46 percent of third-graders are at least proficient in reading, compared to 50.8 percent in a combination of Kingsport and Sullivan County.
Sixty third-graders from Crieve Hall Elementary School in Nashville got to help Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam begin planting in the Tennessee Residence’s new kitchen and cutting garden. Students first read Janet Steven’s “Tops and Bottoms,” a folktale about gardening and vegetables, with Haslam. They took a guided tour of the Tennessee Residence and learned about farm-to-table cooking from residence chef Stephen Ward. Tours of the garden can be arranged at www.tn.gov/residence.
Education leaders from a dozen state organizations have sent a letter to the governor supporting a new set of benchmarks for math and reading. The letter sent this week says the common core standards provide students with critical thinking, problem solving and strong writing skills they need to help prepare them for global competition. One group supporting the new standards is the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Jamie Woodson heads the organization and says she believes students will achieve more if they are challenged.
State officials Thursday announced the purchase of 1,050 acres in Rhea and Bledsoe counties to add to the state’s Justin P. Wilson Cumberland State Park. The acquisition of the Soak Creek and Wendell Wilson tracts on Brady Mountain connects existing Tennessee parks lands and state natural areas along a proposed 300-mile route. The property will protect seven miles of “high quality streams” and provides “a lush forest landscape for the construction of ten new miles of the Cumberland Trail,” according to a news release from the Department of Environment and Conservation.
Among the children whose deaths were investigated by the Department of Children’s Services between 2009 and mid-2012, there were at least three dozen infants who died in their sleep. In many cases, they were put to bed somewhere other than a crib or bassinet. One 11-month-old Bradley County boy suffocated after falling face forward from a baby pillow on which his foster parents had placed him to sleep. A 2-month-old Wayne County boy was found dead after his father fell asleep with him on the family sofa. A 10-month-old Hamilton County girl born with Down syndrome was found dead after being left to nap in a baby swing, covered in a blanket.
Honorably discharged veterans may now obtain specially designated driver’s licenses in Tennessee. The licenses recognizing veterans’ military service were authorized under a 2011 state law, but the designation could not be included until a recent redesign of Tennessee driver’s licenses. The new licenses feature an image of the state Capitol and a skyline of other recognizable structures such as the Pyramid in Memphis, the Sunsphere in Knoxville and the skyscraper known as the “Batman Building” in Nashville.
A former patient at a Burns drug rehabilitation facility says she was threatened for cooperating in a lawsuit against the facility over another patient’s death, according to court documents. In an affidavit filed recently in a pending lawsuit in Dickson County, Heather Montgomery, a former patient at New Life Lodge, alleges that she was told she would be barred from ever getting treatment again unless she withdrew an authorization she had signed to release her treatment records to the lawyer for Lindsey Poteet, a patient who died at the facility.
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman makes no apologies for a sharp-elbowed approach that now has nearly half of Tennessee’s local school directors up in arms about his management style and policies. “We can either decide that we’re going to stay in the bottom 10 states in the country in educational outcomes or we can decide we’re going to do the things that will make Tennessee be a competitive state when it comes to educational results,” Huffman, a former top official with Teach for America, said Thursday.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman reacted Thursday to a sharply worded petition about his job performance from Tennessee’s local school superintendents, saying the decisions he makes are in the best interests of students. The petition, drafted by the superintendent of Tullahoma City Schools, is circulating among Tennessee’s 137 school districts and has been signed by about half so far. It says the superintendents believe the commissioner “has no interest in a dialogue with” school system leaders, that he views teachers, principals and superintendents as “impediments to school improvement rather than partners,” and that their “overtures have been met with scripted messages and little interest.”
Tennessee has received approval to demolish Stokely Athletics Center, the former home court of its men’s and women’s basketball teams. The State Building Commission approved demolition plans for Stokely and the Gibbs Hall dormitory during its Thursday meeting in Nashville. The university issued a release saying it hopes to have both buildings removed by next summer. Plans currently call for a 1,000-space parking garage, a 33,000-square-foot residence hall and the expansion of football practice fields to fill the space left by Stokely and Gibbs.
The State Building Commission approved plans Thursday to demolish Stokely Athletics Center and Gibbs Hall to make way for a new dormitory and parking garage and expand the football practice fields. The commission is set to review plans and budgets — a combined estimated $100 million project — for the new facilities at its October meeting. UT hopes to begin demolition early next year, and have Stokely and Gibbs completely removed by summer 2014. The 1,000-space garage will go up first and is expected to be completed by summer 2015.
University of Memphis interim president Brad Martin wants to build a high school with the Shelby County Schools system. Martin’s specific idea is to create a high school for students who want to be teachers, allowing those students to use dual enrollment to earn college credit toward a teaching degree. Martin said Wednesday, Sept. 11, he has been talking the idea over with Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson for several weeks. “We think it is a very big idea, and the university wants to be at the heart of making it happen,” Martin said after moderating an education reform forum organized by the New Memphis Institute.
A 17-member presidential search advisory committee for Cleveland State Community College’s next president will meet at the school Monday to review potential candidates. The new president, who is expected to be named by the end of the year, will succeed Carl Hite. Hite has been president for 17 years. “Cleveland State’s president is very important,” said Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gary Farlow, who is the business representative on the panel. The committee will be looking for candidates with significant experience in community college and higher education, he said.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Office is sponsoring a program to encourage teenagers to wear safety belts. The program is called Click It and Ticket, giving teens tickets they can use to win prizes as a reward for wearing their safety belts. Participating schools are Milan High School, Fayetteville High School, Cookeville High School and Dickson County High School. Volunteers will conduct seat belt observations at the schools this month, giving tickets to students found wearing their belts. The tickets can then be entered in a drawing. Winners will receive gift cards worth $10, $50 and $100.
A construction project that already has bedeviled traffic on the busiest stretch of interstate in Memphis now is about to complicate matters on one of the city’s main arteries. The westbound Poplar Avenue bridge over Interstate 240 in East Memphis will be closed to traffic beginning at about 5 a.m. Saturday and lasting through the weekend to allow for work to deal with recently discovered structural problems with the span, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Detour signs and electronic message boards will reroute traffic to the Park Avenue or Walnut Grove spans crossing I-240.
State Attorney General Robert Cooper this week issued an opinion declaring that Tennessee’s charter school law is consistent with the state constitution. The opinion was delivered in response to requests made by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and state Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, asking that the state’s top lawyer weigh in on whether the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act of 2002 imposes unconstitutional financial burdens on local school districts. Cooper’s response, delivered Sept. 9, said the law does not unduly encumber local school boards.
Tennessee Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told The Chattanooga Times Free Press that Gov. Bill Haslam may have offered additional incentives to Volkswagen to head off unionization plans at the carmaker’s Chattanooga plant. According to the Times Free Press, Turner has filed an open records request for correspondence between Haslam and Volkswagen officials. Officials from Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers are currently in discussions about forming a European-style works council at the plant, which Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker have spoken out against.
Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is making no apologies for his controversial 9/11 Twitter post that accused Democratic President Barack Obama of aligning with al-Qaida in Syria’s civil war. Ramsey noted in a statement that ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the anniversary has been one of remembrance for “those who died, those who served and those who carry on. “But,” he added, “we must also remember those who attacked us and why. The Syrian rebels’ connections to al-Qaida are well-established and well-known.”
Former Johnson City Commissioner Phil Carriger said Thursday he is seriously considering taking on incumbent state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, for the 7th House District seat, beginning with an entrance into the May Republican primary. Carriger said he has been approached by a number of people about running for the spot and that he is the process of “doing the groundwork” before he makes an official decision. “I haven’t made a firm decision yet, but I’ve been doing some research,” he said. “The guy in there’s an incumbent, and it would be a tough spot to fill. If I do decide to run, I’ll likely announce sometime in October.”
Sara Kyle, the wife of state Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) and a public figure in her own right from a once powerful Tennessee political family, just may be on her way into the political limelight again — as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014. Without doing anything more than attending last Saturday night’s annual Jackson Dinner for statewide Democrats in Nashville, Kyle was a dominant personality at the event. The longtime former member of the now sunsetted Tennessee Regulatory Authority was hailed from the dais by state Democratic chairman Roy Herron and others as a probable party standard-bearer next year, and responded to the crowd’s chant of “Run, Sara, Run” with a smile and broad waves.
U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both R-Tenn., will host a roundtable discussion on TVA power rates and economic competitiveness at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center on the University of Tennessee campus. Alexander, Corker and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Knoxville), will deliver brief remarks before questioning roundtable participants.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker’s remark that President Barack Obama “seems to be very uncomfortable being Commander-in-Chief of this nation” drew a sharp response from the White House Thursday. “I would simply say that when it comes to being Commander-in-Chief, I think that the American people, at least in my assessment, appreciate a Commander-in-Chief who takes in new information and doesn’t celebrate decisiveness for the sake of decisiveness,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said in the daily briefing for reporters.
In just a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of uninsured Tennesseans will be eligible to sign up for private insurance and tax subsidies to help pay for it. And many will need help to do it. That’s where “Navigators” step in — guides trained to help people understand their new options in the shifting world of health coverage. The Navigator programs, which were announced in Tennessee just last month, have been scrambling to train their staff and get education efforts ramped up as the Oct. 1 start date looms. But last-minute rules pushed by state officials could drag out that process.
House Republicans took another stab Thursday at undoing part of the 2010 health care reform law, but this effort — like the 40 before it — isn’t expected to get far. On a largely party-line 235-191 vote, the House passed a bill sponsored by Tennessee Rep. Diane Black that would bar federal subsidies for people participating in newly created health insurance exchanges until the Obama administration sets up a system to verify those people are eligible. Democrats called the Gallatin Republican’s proposal unnecessary and obstructionist.
Federal authorities are continuing to boost their efforts to investigate health care fraud, especially as the government prepares for the next major phase of health care reform. The Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act will provide $350 million over 10 years to support anti-fraud efforts. Over the past four years, the Obama administration has recovered more than $14.9 billion in health care fraud judgments, settlements and administrative impositions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic say the education reformation underway locally in Shelby County can lead and influence the national discussion about education reform. “Every parent in 2013 has got a choice about where they send their kids,” Barbic told an audience of 600 Wednesday, Sept. 11, at a New Memphis Institute Forum at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. Barbic joined Hopson in a discussion moderated by University of Memphis interim president Brad Martin.
How often is it that a company comes to your town, builds a $1 billion state-of-the-art facility, hires 2,700 people, provides a market for support businesses that employ another 1,300, and spins a payroll and purchasing net that generates more than $50 million in state and local tax revenue every year? And how often is it that the same company — following a business model that works well for it at 61 other plants around the world — insists that its workers be partners in determining business practices. And how often does any company invite a union participation to help create that partnership and make its business better? Volkswagen is that one single company.
Apparently Volkswagen aspires to be like General Motors. VW, through its Mach 18 initiative, hopes to overtake GM in total global car sales by 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported recently. But rather than catching the world’s leading car seller, the German automaker is ignominiously tracking the pre-bailout GM — Volkswagen sales fell 1.6 percent last month. Toyota sales were up 23 percent while Honda sold 27 percent more cars in August. VW is down 1.3 percent for the year. VW’s sputtering sales led to 500 contract workers being let go at its $1 billion Chattanooga plant.