This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam is pushing for more college graduates in the state and he’s using technology to do it. Western Governors University Tennessee launched this summer; it’s an accredited, non-profit online university It’s part of Governor Haslam’s “Drive to 55,” an effort to increase the amount of graduates from 32% to 55% by 2025. WGU Tennessee student George Julien, 44, is working to finish his bachelor’s degree in information technology security. Julien works as a senior network administrator in Oak Ridge.
On a rainy Friday afternoon this month, the library at Shady Grove Elementary School was bustling with activity. Teachers Vanessa Wheeler and Erin Pauly walked among the tables to see how the different groups were working together. But there weren’t any children in the East Memphis school building. Thirty teachers sat in five groups at child-sized tables and chairs on a day off for students, learning more about the Common Core state standards to which they are teaching. At times, Wheeler and Pauly called upon their habits and tactics for calming classroom discussion – raising a finger to her lips with one hand, Pauly raised her other hand.
The Tennessee House chairman who cast a deciding vote against a bill seeking to allow supermarket wine sales in the state said Thursday that he’s willing to reconsider the measure next session. State Rep. Matthew Hill, a Jonesborough Republican who chairs the House Local Government Committee, told The Associated Press that he is willing to take the parliamentary steps needed to reverse the vote as long as proponents commit to a full debate about the bill and proposals to amend the measure. “I don’t want to start all over,” Hill said. “I think the prudent thing to do is to start from where we are right now.”
A high-powered group of Tennessee commissioners, judges and lawmakers agreed Thursday to work together in the next year on a series of projects to better protect children and improve the juvenile justice system. The panel, known as the Three Branches Institute because leaders from across government participate, used the past year to set common goals and create a wish list of improvements. In the next year they hope to break down how the Department of Children’s Services investigates abuse, create uniformity across juvenile courts, collect more useful data about children in foster care and develop alternatives to juvenile incarceration.
The unemployment rate ticked up in Davidson County in August, according to new data from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The county’s unemployment rate increased to 6.9 percent, up from 6.7 percent in July. Davidson County’s unemployment rate was still the lowest of any major metropolitan area. Unemployment decreased in 77 counties in August and increased in nine. Lincoln County posted the state’s lowest unemployment rate, at 5.9 percent, down from 6 percent.
Davidson County saw its August unemployment rate of 6.9 percent increase from the July rate of 6.7 percent, according to statistics the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released today. The county continues to maintain the lowest unemployment rate of the state’s four major metropolitan areas. By comparison, Knox County’s August rate stayed unchanged at 7 percent. Hamilton County decreased to 8.2 percent from 8.5 percent, while Shelby County was 9.7 percent, down from 9.8 percent in July.
After 50 weeks working on the loading dock at the Volkswagen plant, Justin Secall thought he was building a career when it abruptly ended in July. “There was no warning, but when I went to swipe my badge to get in the plant that morning it wouldn’t work and I was out of a job,” the 25-year-old laborer said Thursday while looking for another job at the Tennessee Career Center. “I loved that job, but I’ve got to move on.” Secall was among 500 temporary workers who lost their jobs with Team 3 Logistics and other temp agencies at the VW plant in Chattanooga this spring and summer after VW sales fell short of initial projections.
Unemployment in the eight-county Memphis Metro area declined slightly to 9.4 percent in August, from July’s revised rate of 9.5 percent, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced Thursday. The Shelby County-only rate dropped from 9.8 percent in July to 9.7 percent in August, and the rate in the city of Memphis dropped from 11 percent to 10.9 percent. The state agency released county-by-county jobless rates. Tennessee’s overall seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged from July to August at 8.5 percent, but the unadjusted rate dropped from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent.
Erlanger hospital and the University of Tennessee are starting talks to “modernize” their affiliation and eventually shift the management of faculty physician practices from the hospital to a joint corporation with the university’s College of Medicine. Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel said Thursday the update mainly concerns Erlanger’s academic relationship with UT as a teaching hospital, but added that “there will be language in the agreement that really lays the foundation for a joint practice plan.”
The United Auto Workers is denying allegations that it misled and coerced eight Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga to forfeit their rights in the union’s card-signing campaign. The UAW said the charges, filed on Wednesday with the National Labor Relations Board, are a “frivolous and baseless” attempt to delay negotiations between the union and VW, according to Reuters. Gary Casteel, regional director in the Southeast for the UAW, said the cards signed by the workers clearly state the workers are supporting the UAW’s effort to represent them.
If you need to take the road skills test to obtain your Tennessee driver’s license, get in line. In some locations, the wait for an opening is several months long. The state allows applicants to schedule their driver’s test up to 90 days in advance, but in places like Davidson and Williamson counties, a massive backlog means there are no openings left before the new year. Segio Valle moved to the Volunteer State from Florida and needs a driver’s license for obvious reasons but he couldn’t get an appointment. “I wait for two months to take the test,” he said. “It’s very important, because I go to work, I go to college for my daughter.”
A Gallatin man is facing TennCare fraud charges after prosecutors say he illegally obtained prescription painkillers in December 2012. James Jeffrey Bond, 29, was indicted by a Sumner County grand jury earlier this month and charged with three counts of TennCare fraud and two counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. “Basically, it’s doctor shopping,” said Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley. “He didn’t advise the second doctor (on Dec. 12, 2012) that he had gotten a prescription on Dec. 7, which was five days earlier.”
Eleven years after a 15-year-old Loudon County girl died from a rare form of bone cancer, there remains no clear legal answer on when a Tennessee parent can eschew medical treatment in favor of faith. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday sidestepped the issue in its latest decision on the case of Jacqueline Pearl Crank, the mother of Jessica Crank. “We have been advocating for Jacqueline Crank’s to exercise her fundamental rights to prayer and parental privacy for the last decade,” Crank’s attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, said Thursday.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker had a blunt message for Republican Ted Cruz on Thursday: Stop grandstanding. During a sharp back-and-forth couched in the language of Senate decorum, the Chattanooga Republican accused Cruz of Texas and fellow tea party darling Sen. Mike Lee of Utah of holding up Senate consideration of a stopgap government spending bill because they wanted the spotlight. Corker accused both men of sending out press releases and emails to “outside groups,” urging them to watch today’s Senate proceedings, when they presumably will continue lambasting the 2010 health care reform law before a national audience.
It turns out many small businesses won’t be able to go online Tuesday and start enrolling in the new health insurance exchanges designed to make coverage more affordable for them. Online enrollment for small businesses won’t be ready by then, at least in the exchanges run by the federal government for states that aren’t operating their own exchanges. Try again in November, or you can print out a PDF and submit your enrollment application by mail or fax. You can also enroll by telephone.
The aging population of aviation mechanics coupled with fewer qualified technicians to replace them will result in a surge of job opportunities for skilled workers over the next two decades and a local college is preparing students to capitalize on that trend. Leaders at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis are boosting their aviation mechanics program that currently is at its capacity enrollment of 30 students. A federal grant will help pay for expanding the program, and a new facility to train dozens of new mechanics is expected to open in 2015.
Many states want college students who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to get academic credit for their military training and experience. The challenge is figuring out how many credits that training and experience is worth. At least 26 states have passed legislation directing their boards of education to develop statewide policies to provide academic credit to the largest influx of veterans since the end of World War II, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based nonprofit organization, says 19 states have enacted related legislation in the last two years alone.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory plans to reduce its workforce — potentially eliminating as many as 475 jobs, although likely lower — to deal with the trend of shrinking budgets and uncertainty about what may happen next. In a Thursday message to staff, ORNL Director Thom Mason addressed the situation and announced a new “voluntary separation program” that provides financial incentives to employees who willingly leave the payroll. ORNL currently has close to 4,500 employees. “We hope the decision-makers who provide our funding view a strong national laboratory system as essential to U.S. competitiveness, with a return on investment far higher than the short-term cost,” Mason said a memo to staff.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry gets it. He understands that complying with the Tennessee Public Records Act is not a favor bestowed on citizens but part of the ordinary functions of state and local governments. DCS announced last week that the agency would begin releasing records free of charge related to the deaths and near-deaths of children who have had contact with DCS dated after July 1, 2012. The policy change does not apply to files dated prior to July 1, 2012, which are at the heart of a lawsuit over their release.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey predicted last week that the Tennessee General Assembly will approve a bill next year authorizing the sale of wine in grocery stores — in other words that logic, finally, after eight years of trying to break through, will finally emerge in this tiresome debate. If the alliance of fundamentalists and liquor wholesalers that has kept wine out of liquor stores is indeed defeated, voters in local communities will have the final say. Making the issue a local option could continue to inconvenience some consumers in some rural areas, but it is probably necessary for political reasons, and presumably in Memphis, Nashville and other urban centers, at least, consumers will be able to eliminate multiple-stop shopping.
In the Labor Day edition of The Tennessean, Gary Moore, president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, urged working people to “counter the power of big money” by demanding that our elected officials work not for “billionaires and corporate special interests” but for “the working people in Tennessee.” Moore apparently is unaware that, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, labor unions spent $1.5 billion in support of federal candidates through their political action committees from 2005 through 2011. Over that same period, reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department reflect an additional $3.3 billion that unions spent on political activity.