This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tourism leaders from across the state gave Gov. Bill Haslam a couple of standing ovations and an original jacket designed by Manuel on Thursday during the 2013 Tennessee Governor’s Conference on Tourism. More than 375 tourism professionals, in addition to local Williamson County officials, filled the Marriott Cool Springs ballroom to hear Haslam relay his thanks and to reiterate tourism’s importance to the state in terms of revenue, jobs and telling the state’s story. Haslam last year committed an additional $8 million, doubling the budget for promoting Tennessee tourism. That move had attendees saying the governor clearly understands the power of the industry.
Gov. Bill Haslam has officially proclaimed September 15-21, 2013 as “Imagination Library Week” in Tennessee. During this week, local Imagination Library affiliates in all 95 counties will work to boost enrollment across the state by bringing awareness of the book program to communities. This year’s events will celebrate the 215,000 Tennessee children under the age of five who currently receive one, high quality and age appropriate book delivered to their homes each month at no cost to the family, as well as the fact that more than 18.5 million books have been delivered to Tennessee children across the state since 2004.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced the appointments of 172 Tennesseans to 70 boards and commissions, according to a press release. The appointments include five Maury County residents and one from Lewis County. “I appreciate the commitment of these men and women to serve their fellow Tennesseans, and I want to thank them for their willingness to give their time and effort to these issues,” Haslam said in the release. “Tennessee will be well-represented on these boards and commissions.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer and the Governor’s Highway Safety Office (GHSO) Director Kendell Poole today announced $21.1 million in grants to Tennessee agencies to support highway traffic safety efforts. The grants included Austin Peay State University Police Department, High Visibility Enforcement, $ 5,000; Clarksville Police Department, Alcohol Countermeasures, $ 100,881.07; Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department Selective Traffic Enforcement, $ 76,616.20; and Tennessee District Attorney General, 19th Judicial District, DUI Abatement/Prosecution Enhancement, $ 192,519.20.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced September 20-26, 2013 as POW/MIA Recognition Week. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Defense announces the identification of Major Howard V. Andre, Jr. of Memphis who has been missing in action since July 8, 1969. Major Andre and Major James E. Sizemore of Illinois were on a night armed reconnaissance mission when their A-26A Invader aircraft crashed in Xiangkhoang Province, Laos during the Vietnam War.
In a surprise policy shift, the state Department of Children’s Services will release at no cost to the public all records from July 2012 going forward of children who died or nearly died while in its custody, saying it is part of the agency’s “renewed emphasis on transparency and accountability.” DCS previously had resisted releasing any records of child fatalities or near fatalities, prompting The Tennessean to lead a coalition of 12 news organizations in filing a lawsuit to gain access to the files. While DCS this week agreed to release records from July 1, 2012, to now free of charge, the cost of records from January 2009 to June 2012 that triggered the lawsuit is still being contested in court.
Representatives of organizations seeking to help the uninsured sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act reacted with dismay, anger and disappointment Thursday when Tennessee issued emergency rules restricting their activities. The rules require their employees and volunteers to be fingerprinted, undergo background checks and limit the advice they can give to people. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance said the agency is protecting consumers from fraud, but religious and social service leaders question the motive.
A little over a week before uninsured people can start signing up online for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee officials have signed off on rules tightening oversight of the counselors who will help them get coverage. The rules are “aimed at protecting Tennesseans” who are seeking coverage through the new health insurance marketplace, where people can shop for private coverage starting Oct. 1. The rules will require “navigators,” the federally funded guides, and certified application counselors, the community workers and health care providers also offering guidance, to register with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
University of Tennessee economists predict modest improvement in the Tennessee and national economies in 2014, according to fall 2013 Tennessee Business and Economic Outlook released Thursday. “While growth is subdued due to reduced federal government spending and a global slowdown, the expansion has shown a much-welcomed resilience,” said Matt Murray, associate director of UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research and the report’s author. “The outlook for 2014 is encouraging, but the economy continues to confront a number of domestic and international challenges,” Murray added.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for August was 8.5 percent, unchanged from the previous month. Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips said it’s the third consecutive month that the rate has not changed from 8.5 percent. The national unemployment rate for August was 7.3 percent. State figures show that nonfarm employment increased by 2,200 jobs from July to August.
For the third straight month, Tennessee’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.5 percent in August, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That remains above the national unemployment rate of 7.3 percent. In the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has climbed from 8.1 percent.
Job growth has slowed this year from last year’s pace and remains above the U.S. average across Tennessee and Georgia. But unemployment figures released Thursday showed that the jobless rate still edged lower last month in Georgia and remained unchanged in Tennessee. “By all measures, the economy is growing, but not as fast this year,” University of Tennessee Economist Matt Murray said. “We expect unemployment to go down from here, but there have been some headwinds from the budget sequestration, the increase in payroll taxes and the uncertain fiscal outlook.”
After receiving $1.5 million in funds from the state of Tennessee earlier this week, Southwest Tennessee Community College is receiving three more grants worth an excess of $8.4 million. The funds will help the school expand its industrial readiness training program and also allow Southwest to take part in two separate research programs. The first grant, worth $2.6 million, will go towards increasing enrollment in Southwest’s IRT program. It will connect enrollees with potential employers and provide on-the-job training.
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper is suing to remove the Lewis County trustee after an audit found he took $45,000. According to the attorney general’s office, state comptroller’s office auditors found that Clark Carroll failed to deposit property tax payments on numerous occasions between October 2011 and June 2013. They also found that Carroll wrote checks to himself from the county’s bank account. And they found Carroll fabricated information on check memos, check stubs and receipts for deposits. The suit was filed Wednesday.
Supporters and critics of a new set of benchmarks for math and reading are getting their voices heard this week, as a state Senate panel holds hearings on the Common Core standards that have been adopted to some degree by 47 states and the District of Columbia. The meetings Thursday and today before the Senate Education Committee are mainly an opportunity to shed more light on the standards, described as a state-led effort to provide students with critical thinking, problem solving and strong writing skills they need to help prepare them for college and global competition in the workforce.
Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday kicked off two days of hearings that could help determine what students should learn and read, but they mostly worked to curb the volatile emotions the issue has provoked. The apparent first-day strategy: bore them to death. The Senate Education Committee opened testimony on the state’s new Common Core education standards, which have drawn fire from a wide array of activists ranging from tea party conservatives to those who oppose tying teacher pay to test scores.
A much-anticipated legislative hearing over Tennessee’s use of Common Core began with an afternoon-long recitation of the Common Core math and reading standards. Two officials from the Education Department took turns flipping through a three-inch binder, ticking off the benchmarks by grade. They drove many in the standing-room-only crowd to clear out early. “Not exactly riveting,” Senate Education Committee chair Dolores Gresham said. “But very important we hear what the standards are.” Committee members have so far stayed away from politics, only asking a few questions, like, “why isn’t cursive writing part of Common Core?”
State lawmakers begin two days of hearings over Common Core in Tennessee Thursday afternoon. With critics on both the left and right, supporters of the new education standards are rallying at the state capitol ahead of time and planning to pack the hearing room. Corporations, school systems and education advocacy groups say they favor Common Core. But the standards have come under intense public scrutiny in recent months. The concerns range from data privacy to federal intrusion in education. Cicely Woodard is a math teacher at Nashville’s Rose Park Magnet and has also trained Tennessee teachers in the new standards, which are supposed to promote understanding over memorization.
The state Senate Education Committee opened a two-day review of Common Core education standards for K-12 public schools Thursday by listening to staffers read the standards, one by one, as a prelude to more a broad range of testimony on Friday. But before the review began, a group of educators and parents voiced their support for the new standards, which they said are essential to preparing Tennessee’s public school students for success after high school. The group of about two dozen was assembled by Tennessee SCORE, State Collaborative On Reforming Education, which backs the standards.
The Tennessee Senate Education Committee held its first day of hearings Thursday on the controversial new nationwide Common Core Standards reform initiative. Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, a Somerville Republican, said her aim with the hearings is to sort through the worries people of various ideological perspectives have been increasingly expressing about Common Core, which was conceived in 2009 by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. “Over the course of the last several months, many legitimate concerns have been raised about the Common Core State Standards, and many have arisen to praise the standards,” Gresham said.
The Hall Income Tax will end in Tennessee, according to state Rep. Ryan Haynes, though Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is fighting to keep money flowing locally. “It’s going away,” Haynes, a 14th District Republican, told a group of Knox County elected officials Thursday. “That’s going to happen.” Haynes and other members of the Knox County delegation to the General Assembly held a dinner with Burchett, school board members and county commissioners to discuss upcoming state policy issues.
An East Tennessee jury on Thursday convicted state Rep. David Hawk of reckless endangerment stemming from an incident in which his ex-wife alleged he had struck her. The Greeneville Sun (http://bit.ly/18EcLRn ) reported that Hawk was found guilty of the misdemeanor charge in Greene County Criminal Court after the jury spent about 10 hours deliberating over two days. The jury deadlocked on another misdemeanor assault charge. The case was the result of an encounter between Hawk and his then-wife, Crystal Goan, in March 2012. Their divorce was finalized last week.
As she awaits confirmation from the U.S. Senate, judicial nominee Pamela Reeves has met with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Corker’s office confirmed Thursday the senator met last week with Reeves, whom President Barack Obama nominated in May to replace retiring U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips in the Eastern District of Tennessee. “Sen. Corker meets with all nominees from Tennessee and enjoyed meeting with Pamela Reeves last week,” said Corker’s spokeswoman, Laura Herzog. A date for Reeves’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee has not been set, Herzog said, “but we expect the confirmation process to move forward.”
Less than two weeks before the launch of insurance marketplaces created by the federal health overhaul, the government’s software can’t reliably determine how much people need to pay for coverage, according to insurance executives and people familiar with the program. Government officials and insurers were scrambling to iron out the pricing quirks quickly, according to the people, to avoid alienating the initial wave of consumers. A failure by consumers to sign up online in the hotly anticipated early days of the “exchanges” is worrisome to insurers, which are counting on enrollees for growth, and to the Obama administration, which made the exchanges a centerpiece of its sweeping health-care legislation.
The Affordable Care Act is primarily aimed at insuring more adults, including parents. In the process, a substantial number of uninsured children may also get coverage as their parents learn more about federal and state subsidies. Just how many will depend on whether states maintain their existing Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). “Now, more than ever, it is crucial that states continue or expand coverage of children,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the children’s advocacy group First Focus. Without CHIP, the federal-state health care program for kids, he and others worry about potential harm the ACA may do to children.
General Motors is adding 100 jobs to the engine-production line at its Spring Hill plant. According to a statement from GM, the company is ramping up production of its 2.5 liter Ecotec engine “in response to a forecasted increase in market demand.” “Engine line openings will be filled by current Spring Hill complex employees,” GM said in its statement. “[A]ny additional jobs will be filled with external candidates via a pre-populated applicant pool over the course of 2014. The Columbia Daily Herald, which broke the news of the hires, has more here.
General Motors’ Spring Hill plant will add about 100 jobs at its engine facility to meet increasing demand for the Ecotec 2.5 liter, 4-cyclinder motor, according to a company spokesperson. Kristy Bergstrom, GM Spring Hill Manufacturing spokesperson, said the facility will add a second shift to meet the demand. The production will increase in phases during the next year, Bergstrom said. “Engine line openings will be filled by current Spring Hill complex employees,” Bergstrom said. “Any additional jobs will be filled with external candidates via a pre-populated applicant pool over the course of 2014.”
A second round of parents and teachers sounded off to Metro schools officials Thursday night about a proposal to eliminate the seventh and eighth grades from Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School. Dozens of people attended a public hearing at the North Nashville school’s auditorium and largely criticized the plan, saying it would break a promise to allow some academically eligible Head Magnet Middle School students to attend MLK in the seventh and eighth grades on a designated pathway.
Hamilton County teachers will get their largest raise in five years after the Board of Education approved an across-the-board bonus and pay hike on Thursday. Board members Jonathan Welch and Rhonda Thurman voted against the measure, which passed 7-2. The school system will give all employees a one-time bonus of 1 percent as well as a recurring salary increase of 3 percent, which is retroactive to July 1. Welch said teachers need and deserve a raise. But with so much uncertainty in health insurance looming, he said he’s concerned that the bonus and raise package, which cost the school system about $9 million this year, will set the school board up for future budget problems.
Since this country’s founding, education has been considered the “great equalizer,” offering opportunity for people of all backgrounds and of any class a shot at success. However, for years, Tennessee has consistently ranked near the bottom of the 50 states in academic performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an F for “Truth in Advertising,” calling out the state for having some of the lowest academic standards in the country. While large percentages of students were deemed “proficient” on 2005 state assessments, much smaller percentages of students were proficient on national exams.
There is no denying that the Interstate 40/I-240 interchange in East Memphis is in need of a serious upgrade, and a major step toward the do-over is scheduled to take place Friday when Tennessee Department of Transportation officials open bids for the $100 million project. A major gateway to the city’s eastern fringes and suburbs, the project is expected to take four years to complete and could test the patience of motorists caught in the expected traffic delays. Still, while the upgrade is sorely needed, there is a side effect that many motorists will overlook — the easier flow of traffic will unintentionally contribute to suburban sprawl, which erodes the tax base of the inner city.
As national university rankings go, the University of Tennessee is holding in the upper 40s, one notch higher than last year despite improvements at the Knoxville campus. UT’s slipping of one spot to No. 47 in the rankings from the last two years is not a big drop. The Knoxville school has good company with five other schools in the South and Midwest. And being in the top 50 is better than its ranking four years ago when it was No. 52. Nevertheless, it is a long way to the top 25, a spot to which UT administrators have aspired for the past four years following the challenge from then- Gov. Phil Bredesen. There is no magic bullet to attain that ranking.
About 50 representatives of companies from across West Tennessee attended a workshop in Jackson this week focusing on fitness and health. The companies they work for were wise to participate. We have written a lot in this space lately about the importance of education attainment levels as a factor in industrial and economic development. In the past, economic development often focused simply on land, buildings, property tax rates and grants. No so anymore. If a high-tech company can’t find workers with the skills it needs (read graduates of a quality K-12 program and some kind of higher education or trade program), it won’t care how low the tax rates are when it looks to build a plant or expand an existing operation.
A roundtable at the Tennessee Valley Authority last week circled back to the same old same old: mystifying mantras about “low” rates, a startling lack of alarm at the damage those purportedly “competitive” rates do to economic development and no explanation of why a nonprofit utility cannot produce power cheaper than neighboring for-profit utilities. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., kindly called out TVA when outrage might have instigated urgency. “As a former governor who spent a lot of my time recruiting new businesses to Tennessee, I know how important keeping electricity rates low is to helping businesses get our economy moving again,” Alexander said.