This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A recent report from the Brookings Institution research organization puts Tennessee in the driver’s seat when it comes to being a leader in automotive manufacturing. But to sustain the state’s momentum and take advantage of its unique position, state economic development officials, higher education and local communities must work together to meet manufacturer and workplace demands. Tennessee’s central location, outstanding transportation infrastructure, and three decades of courting the auto industry have made it a leader in Southern auto manufacturing. The auto industry accounts for nearly 100,000 jobs in Tennessee, and about one-third of all manufacturing jobs in the state.
The Haslam administration’s plans to demolish the historic Cordell Hull building are still under review, the governor said recently. “The evaluation is to decide whether we’d be better off to use that and reconfigure it or to use it in some other way,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters at state economic development conference in Nashville Friday. “Regardless, that building is going to have to be reconfigured,” he said. In the spring, the administration sought approval to demolish the 59-year-old building after a real estate firm was hired by the administration to study the condition of the state’s buildings.
Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly appear to be at odds about who will be blamed for the shutdown of the federal government. The Republican caucus in the state Senate on Tuesday sent a letter to President Barack Obama, claiming that the president and his Democratic allies in the U.S. Senate are behind the “maneuver” to close down parts of the federal government to protect the new health care law. The letter was signed by all but two of the chamber’s 26 Republicans. Haslam said last week that he expects people will assign at least partial blame to Republicans for the shutdown, and that the focus on the issue has prevented the GOP from capitalizing on the early stumbles of the president’s health care plan.
Lawmakers here are weighing in on the blame game in Washington, and Governor Bill Haslam is taking a different stance from state House Republicans. The Republican caucus sent a letter to the president Tuesday. They blamed the president and his Democratic allies in the Senate for supporting a maneuver to shut down the government to protect part of the Affordable Care Act. All but two of the chamber’s 26 Republicans signed the letter. Governor Bill Haslam took a different approach and criticized federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus questions whether there really has been a shutdown of the federal government. In a letter addressed to President Barack Obama released Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and 23 other Republicans in the state Senate accuse his administration of hyping “a slowdown” in federal services in an attempt to make GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives look bad. The group says Obama has tried to maximize the shutdown’s visibility by closing public places, such as the World War II Memorial in Washington and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France.
Most candidates for a teaching license in the United States have to pass written exams testing their knowledge of teaching theory and specific subject areas, such as English or biology. Now, a growing number of states and teacher preparation programs are focusing more on how an aspiring teacher performs in the classroom. The goal is to ensure that teachers are able to translate book learning into effective instruction. “This is what a beginning practitioner must know and be able to do,” said Sharon Robinson, head of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Tennessee’s addiction to prescription painkillers has reached the womb. The majority of drug-addicted babies in the state’s hospitals these days are not crack babies. They are babies dependent on drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and methadone. And withdrawal from these drugs can be excruciating for the infants. The babies cry inconsolably. They may be wracked by tremors, cramps and seizures. They don’t eat, or they eat too fast. They vomit, and they have diarrhea.
An attempt to resurrect the James White Parkway extension failed Tuesday, but supporters have one last chance to restore the project to a long-range transportation planning document. By a vote of 16-2, the technical committee of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization killed a bid to restore the $104 million extension to the four-year Transportation Improvement Program. “I look forward to a similar vote for the executive committee,” Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said after the vote.
It’s the moment every officer trains for and the one every officer hopes never comes. A report released this week by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation suggests training and procedure can make the difference when officers find themselves forced to draw their guns and fire. The study of deadly force in Tennessee spans 234 officer-involved shootings statewide from 2007-11 — the agency’s first such effort ever. “It’s always good to understand what law enforcement is doing across the state,” said Margie Quin, assistant special agent in charge of the TBI’s Fusion Center, who oversaw the study.
State officials are encouraging Tennesseans to test their homes for radon. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that can enter homes through foundation cracks or openings. It’s invisible and odorless and high concentrations can cause health problems including lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 70 percent of Tennesseans live in areas with high or moderate risk of radon. State officials recommend testing for radon during consistently cold weather.
Raumesh A. Akbari won the Democratic Primary Tuesday night for the House of Representatives District 91 seat left empty by the death of Lois DeBerry. Akbari defeated Democratic nominees Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, Joshua R. Forbes, Terica Lamb, Clifford Lewis, Kermit Moore and Kemba Ford. Ford is the daughter of former state senator John Ford and also ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in 2011. Akbari received 502 votes, or nearly 28 percent of the 1,812 votes cast. Lamb came in second with 399 and Ford was third with 355. Bryan Carson, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, said before the numbers were in that all the nominees would serve as viable candidates.
Sen. Bob Corker said he won’t vote for legislation to extend the nation’s debt ceiling unless it’s packaged with fiscal reforms such as continued spending cuts or changes to entitlement programs. The sequestration spending cuts that took effect last year under the Budget Control Act should be maintained, the Tennessee Republican told reporters Tuesday. The law calls for chopping $109 billion a year, evenly divided between defense and non-defense programs, through 2021. And as part of any deal extending the debt ceiling, Corker wants to see steps to reduce the growth of spending on entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) by nearly $1 trillion in the next decade to improve the programs’ solvency.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1 st , is one of 80 House Republicans who pushed House leaders to link defunding the Affordable Care Act to funding the government, which ultimately led to a federal government shutdown. As first reported last week, freshman North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, who has been called the “architect” of the shutdown, circulated a letter in August. The letter was sent to House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and asked House leadership, “to affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill.”
Frustration, vandalism, protest. The federal shutdown of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is generating a variety of reactions. Fingerpointing in the capital and political agendas aside, everyone seems to agree on one thing: our national parks need to be reopened — and soon. “We’re all anxious for the park to open as quickly as possible,” said Clay Jordan, Smokies chief ranger. “We understand the frustration of those who want to enjoy the park.” Until further notice, however, the fact remains that the entire park is closed aside from the few key roadways of Newfound Gap Road, the Spur Parkway and the Gatlinburg Bypass.
A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute estimates that Tennessee could see a 30 percent decrease among its uninsured under the Affordable Care Act. The report predicts the number of uninsured in Tennessee will drop from 931,000 to 649,000. The findings are part of a national study that examines how a state’s decision whether or not to expand Medicaid factors into eligibility for assistance of any sort among its uninsured. The report found that overall, 67 percent of the uninsured population in states planning to expand Medicaid will be eligible for either Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or federal exchange subsidies, compared to 38 percent in states (like Tennessee) opting out of the expansion.
George H. Coffman, an 88-year-old Nashvillian, hangs up on any telephone caller who makes an “Obamacare” pitch. “They start out that way, but I think they are just trying to get my Social Security number, and I’m not going to give it to them,” he said. Even though he’s got Medicare, Coffman remains uncertain about whether the Affordable Care Act requires him to sign up for a health insurance policy on the federal exchange. Public officials, advocates for senior citizens and insurance experts warn that fraudsters will use confusion about the federal health law to bilk people.
Robyn J. Skrebes of Minneapolis said she was able to sign up for health insurance in about two hours on Monday using the Web site of the state-run insurance exchange in Minnesota, known as MNsure. Ms. Skrebes, who is 32 and uninsured, said she had selected a policy costing $179 a month, before tax credit subsidies, and also had obtained Medicaid coverage for her 2-year-old daughter, Emma. “I am thrilled,” Ms. Skrebes said, referring to her policy. “It’s affordable, good coverage. And the Web site of the Minnesota exchange was pretty simple to use, pretty straightforward. The language was really clear.”
It was supposed to be a time to celebrate the year’s accomplishments at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. But, unavoidably, much of the attention at Tuesday’s all-hands meeting was about the impending shutdown of the plant and the possible furlough of thousands of workers beginning next week. The News Sentinel was not allowed inside the meeting at Y-12’s New Hope Center, but in a brief interview beforehand, General Manager Chuck Spencer praised the resilient Oak Ridge workers and cited some good work — such as exceeding the year’s goal for dismantling old warhead parts — “despite overwhelming odds.”
A Metro committee is moving forward on the city’s first audit of Metro Nashville Public Schools in more than a decade. And it could provide another perspective as the school board points to a $23 million budget shortfall. At the urging of the Metro Council, the six-member Metro Audit Committee voted Tuesday to have the city’s chief auditor, Mark Swann, begin the process of drafting a request for proposals in search of a firm that would conduct the audit. The committee will meet again in coming weeks to further define the scope of the audit and RFP.
Smithson-Craighead, Boys Prep, Drexel Prep get low scores A new Metro schools report released Tuesday warns three Nashville charter schools to improve their performance levels this schools or face possible closure in the future. The three schools — Boys Prep, Drexel Prep, and Smithson-Craighead Academy — were each given the lowest possible school performance score in the district’s Academic Performance Framework report given to the Board of Education during their monthly meeting. The schools’ subpar classification levels will lead MNPS director of innovation Alan Coverstone to notify each institution of its lack of academic progress and the need to produce higher outcomes on standardized tests this school year.
One of Tennessee’s greatest strengths is our status as one of the few states in the country without a state earned income tax. Maintaining this advantage means Tennessee lawmakers must make smart choices to keep government lean and efficient, and passing the Marketplace Fairness Act in Congress is a rare opportunity to do just that. This approach would help create jobs, spur growth and maintain our state budget. Tennessee has the least debt of any state in the nation, and we want to keep it that way. Not only would passing e-fairness legislation allow us to put an end to any discussion of a Tennessee income tax, it would also enable Tennessee to enact further pro-growth policies.
Almost literally. The FBI has released its latest statistics on violent crime in America and the dubious honor of most violent state belongs to — you guessed it — the Volunteer State. Maybe we should blame it on the “Remember the Alamo” mentality. You’ll remember, Tennesseans were the first to go galloping off to help Texas. That might have been romantic then, but Tuesday’s headline in countless papers worldwide was not. Here’s one from as far away as the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom: “Fearful of violent crime? Don’t go to Tennessee, which tops the list of America’s most dangerous states.”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was curiously quiet Saturday morning, and Sugarlands Visitor Center was eerily empty. Next door, on the park headquarters’ lawn, three turkeys wandered aimlessly. I couldn’t tell if they were Democrats or Republicans. Orange cones blocked Little River Road. Yellow tape cordoned off restrooms — like a crime scene. The water fountain worked, but the Great Smoky Mountains Association store was dark. A sign said the sad truth: “Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service facility is closed.” The closure is inconvenient for hikers and bikers and campers and leaf-peepers.