This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Knox County will soon be home to a new state park, but it’s a place that’s been preserved for some time. Governor Bill Haslam officially announced the state of Tennessee would take control of Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge and make it Tennessee’s 56th state park by July 2014. The 360-acre property sits next to the French Broad River in East Knox County. Plans to transfer Seven Islands from Knox County to the state of Tennessee have been in the works for little over a year. Local group Legacy Parks said they believe Friday’s state park designation will build upon Knox County’s growing reputation as an outdoors destination.
A Knox County wildlife refuge is going to be turned into the state’s first birding park. The 400 acre Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge is located just off Kodak Road on Kelly Lane along the French Broad River. In front of the Legacy Parks Foundation sixth annual luncheon on Friday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Seven Islands will become the 56th state park effective July 1, 2014. The Seven Islands State Birding Park would be the first state birding park in Tennessee.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey encouraged the owner of a conveyor belts manufacturing company Friday to build a new production facility in Bristol. “I want you to come to Northeast Tennessee ,” Ramsey said. “I want to do everything to help you out to make sure you bring that manufacturing facility to North America . If you bring it to North America, you bring it to Tennessee .” Ramsey, Gov. Bill Haslam and local leaders were at Cobra America , which is in the Bristol Industrial Park , for a ribbon cutting ceremony. One of Cobra’s affiliated companies, Goro, manufactures conveyor belts. Cobra is the distribution and marketing arm of the company in the U.S.
Think there’s not enough ice cream in the world? Unilever’s got your back. The Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant on Thursday announced a major addition to its ice cream plant in Tipton County on metropolitan Memphis’ north edge. London-based Unilever will invest $109 million and add 428 new full-time positions over four years. Once the expansion is complete early in 2016, company officials expect the workforce will number almost 1,000 at the plant in Covington, located 40 miles northeast of Memphis.
Tennessee’s roads aren’t paved with money. But Gov. Bill Haslam is spending $21.1 million to make them safer. Haslam, state transportation officials and the Governor’s Highway Safety Office announced the annual funding to support public roadway safety efforts this week. The money was parceled out in 434 grants to 370 agencies across the state. “Having safe roads is critical to our mission of making Tennessee a better place to live, work and raise a family,” Haslam said in a news release.
Tens of thousands of American heroes are missing right now. The Department of Defense reports that more than 83,000 service members, including more than 200 Tennesseans, are missing or unaccounted since World War II. Gov. Bill Haslam said the week of Sept. 20-26 will pay tribute to service members captured by enemies or still missing. In honor of those men and women, the well-known POW-MIA Flag will fly over the Tennessee State Capitol Friday marking the start of POW/MIA Recognition Week.
A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance said Friday that the agency will have a public hearing before controversial emergency rules become permanent that restrict the activities of workers and volunteers seeking to sign people up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Representatives of religious and social service organizations complained Thursday when the state agency issued the emergency rules that require their workers and volunteers to be fingerprinted, make them undergo background checks and limit the advice they can give to people.
A year after a public records request by The Tennessean, attorneys for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services on Friday handed over the final set of records detailing the deaths and near-deaths of children who have had brushes with the state child welfare system since 2009. The 42 partially redacted cases handed over in Davidson County Chancery Court on Friday signal the newspaper’s ongoing public records lawsuit against the embattled agency could be coming to a close. Yet both sides indicated there are unresolved issues — mainly involving costs — still being negotiated.
Welding program to get some funds Pellissippi State Community College plans to use its $4.57 million grant to create a welding program and expand other engineering technology fields. The school received its largest-ever grant as part of a $474.5 million investment by the Department of Labor in community colleges across the country. The money will be spent on new technology, equipment and faculty, said Ted Lewis, vice president for academic affairs at Pellissippi State.
A Wilson County woman was charged in an indictment with TennCare fraud for apparently reporting falsely her income in order to appear eligible for the state’s health care insurance program. The Office of Inspector General, with assistance from Wilson County sheriff’s deputies, charged Wanda June Williams, 53, of Mt. Juliet, with one count of TennCare fraud and two counts of theft of services for falsely reported her resources to the state to access health care benefits through TennCare.
Senate Education Committee members expressed concerns Friday about Tennessee’s Common Core standards during a hearing on the issue. The Common Core provides a set of standards for reading and math that are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed to prepare them for college and the workforce. The standards have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states. Tennessee adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 and began a three-year phase-in the following year.
Common Core detractors have raised concerns about data mining through new tests associated with the standards. Tennessee’s Department of Education is responding by promising to retain control of student information. “I do not trust the federal government with almost any information at all,” state Sen. Stacy Campfield (R-Knoxville) said Friday at a two-day hearing on Common Core. “Our biggest concern is the data,” state Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) said. Roughly 20 states – including Tennessee – are moving to an achievement test known as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Career).
Opponents of new education standards passed by the state three years ago took their best shot at convincing lawmakers to reverse course. Foes of the Common Core State Standards Initiative took a scattershot approach to attacking the effort, offering arguments that ranged from claims that the standards are too low to one suggestion that they could lead to brainwave monitoring of children. Supporters of Common Core countered that the program will produce better students and hold the state accountable for shortcomings.
For 7-1/2 nonstop hours Friday, educators, parents, business executives, a military leader and political advocates testified for and against the Common Core state education standards that Tennessee and 44 other states are deploying in public schools. Two Memphians were among 15 people who testified before the state Senate Education Committee. Both spoke in support of Common Core’s new learning standards for K-12 students. “Everything in my adult life tells me that there is nothing that we can do more important to the future of our students than high standards,” said AutoZone founder and philanthropist J.R. “Pitt” Hyde.
For and against, for and against. Tennessee lawmakers swayed between supporters of Common Core and opponents in a day-long hearing Friday. Many of those testifying have been debating the education standards in other states. Georgia state Sen. William Ligon talked about why his state is ditching the PARCC test associated with Common Core. A spokesperson from the conservative Heartland Institute suggested the standards are a liberal conspiracy. Peg Luksik – who is a politician from Pennsylvania – argued against what she sees as a one-size-fits-all approach.
Gay couples who married in other states but live in Tennessee are running into a fresh legal hurdle — how to get their names changed on driver’s licenses. For straight couples, it’s a matter of going to the nearest license bureau with a copy of their marriage certificate and, if they want, a freshly minted Social Security card with their new name on it. But while the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages for the purposes of ID, Tennessee does not. Its legislators and voters strongly oppose same-sex marriage, banning it first in state statute and then, by a majority vote, in the state constitution.
Dr. Amy Marlow says many parents don’t recognize — or want to admit — their children may be overweight. “Parents don’t have a good indication of what being ‘overweight’ really is. They are desensitized because of the percentage of children they see who are overweight. You’re seeing all these overweight kids and you think that’s the norm,” said Marlow, who is a pediatrician at Mountain States Medical Group Pediatrics. Marlow has a special interest in treating pediatric obesity along with nutritional counseling. Today, a third of U.S. children and teens are obese or overweight, including one in eight preschoolers.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on the nomination of Knoxville lawyer Pamela Reeves to be a U.S. District judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. Her husband, City Law Director Charles Swanson, and their two children, Reedy Swanson, a first-year student at the University of Virginia Law School, and Amanda Swanson, a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, plan to attend. Some of Reeves’ four sisters also plan to attend. Reeves is from Virginia but came to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee, from which she has both bachelor’s and law degrees.
As he did so, talks pivoted to what could become another battlefront for Metro: the state’s formula for delivering state funds to local school districts, known as the Basic Education Program, which Metro has long alleged cuts them short of dollars. “It’s worth investigating whether the BEP is, in fact, equitable, particularly in how it treats urban districts like Nashville,” Washington, D.C.-based attorney John Borkowski said Friday. Borkowski, hired by MNPS, ramped up an already simmering debate when he released a legal memo last month claiming that the Tennessee law that allows the operation of publicly financed, privately led charters imposes increased costs on local governments with no offsetting subsidy from the state.
Some members of Nashville’s school board and the Metro Council want to show state officials the district can’t afford to keep adding more charter schools. They argue it’s unsustainable, and is hollowing out traditional public schools. Metro has added more than a dozen charters in recent years. They run their own way, getting public money like a traditional school, so long as their students show good results. The trouble, says Councilman Steve Glover, is the proliferation of charters is eating a growing slice of the budget, which may close some other schools: “Just because a student leaves a building, you don’t close the whole building, and so the hard costs remain, and it’s putting a financial strain on the taxpayers of Nashville.”