This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is launching a new school leadership program he hopes will create a pipeline of highly trained principals for Tennessee schools. The state will work with Vanderbilt University and local districts to nominate, select and train up to 30 participants a year in the program. Officials say the program is aimed at closing achievement gaps in lower performing schools and maintaining high levels of achievement for all students. Haslam says one way to meet those goals is to have each school “led by a great principal.”
The state has enlisted Vanderbilt University’s top-ranked education school to create a program to train up to 30 principals per year to become more effective leaders of their schools, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday The program is aimed at closing achievement gaps in lower performing schools and maintaining high achievement levels for all students, the governor said. The state will work with local school districts and Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development to nominate, select and train the principals.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a new preparation program to build a pipeline of highly-trained principals for schools across the state. The state will work with Vanderbilt University and local districts to nominate, select and train up to 30 participants a year in the school leadership program. The program is aimed at closing achievement gaps in lower performing schools and maintaining high levels of achievement for all students. “Principals are responsible for hiring and retaining great teachers, being the instructional leaders of their schools, creating positive learning environments and managing complex operations within their buildings,” Haslam said.
Eastman Chemical Company held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new 300,000-square-foot corporate business center Tuesday, with Gov. Bill Haslam praising Eastman as being the very model of what a corporation should be in a community. The five-story business center is an expansion of Eastman’s corporate campus and will be located on the site of its existing ballfields on South Wilcox Drive. It is the first major project of Eastman’s “Project Inspire” — a $1.6 billion reinvestment plan announced earlier this year, focusing on safety and environmental projects, warehouse capacity and building renovations.
Eastman Chemical Co. will be transformed into a 21st century company with construction of a new corporate headquarters here, chairman and CEO Jim Rogers said Tuesday. The company broke ground on the 300,000-square-foot facility and plans to invest $1.6 billion in a larger, multi-year expansion. Dozens of political leaders – including Gov. Bill Haslam — and a number of community officials were on hand for the ceremony. The corporate headquarters will be in the Eastman baseball field, which is across the street from the current corporate headquarters.
The Woodbridge Group’s new manufacturing plant in Chattanooga will employ 70 full-time workers, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday. The international automotive supplier is investing $8.5 million to add a new formed plastics facility to the two plants the company already operates in Chattanooga. The new plant, Woodbridge Formed Plastics, was announced in April, but the company has been working with Hamilton County and city officials for months to nail down what incentives Woodbridge will earn.
With little fanfare, the GED (General Education Testing) is getting a facelift from its new owners, Pearson-Vue, a for-profit company that now owns the GED brand and projects the changes could mean a boost for employment in Tennessee. December is the last month that the existing paper tests will be available in Tennessee. The new tests, which will be taken on computers, will nearly double the cost of the old test, and those who don’t successfully complete their GED testing in December will have to start over again — from scratch.
Tennessee made significant progress last year caring for foster children who “aged out” of state custody when they turned 18, and a funding boost could accomplish even more in the coming year. Teens who grow up in foster homes nationwide face notoriously tough challenges transitioning into their adult lives. As many as a quarter end up homeless, and twice that number are unable to find jobs. After a childhood spent “in the system,” many refuse additional government assistance once they’re adults. And Tennessee, like other states, has struggled to help older foster children find their way.
Parole officers didn’t worry about Jacob Allen Bennett blowing off the terms of his release from prison until four bodies turned up in Renegade Mountain. They didn’t revoke the longtime felon’s parole when he flunked a drug test in April — his second month out of prison. They let it slide when he didn’t pay his court-ordered fees. And they didn’t even look for him when he went absent in August, a month before he would be hauled in as a suspect in a quadruple homicide…Tennessee’s supervision of released felons has been under fire for more than a decade.
Thousands of DUI results statewide could be in jeopardy after a TBI employee was fired this week for mishandling evidence. Of the 2,800 cases handled by the former special agent, there are 323 cases in Hamilton County alone. All samples obtained in the cases will be retested for blood-alcohol content. Based on those results, convictions could potentially be overturned or pending cases dismissed. The TBI said it plans to add an additional step to its testing process to ensure the same mistake doesn’t happen in the future. Former Special Agent Kyle Bayer was fired on Monday after an internal investigation revealed he mistakenly switched two blood alcohol samples in a vehicular homicide case in Hamilton County.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol says it plans to increase patrols to protect trick-or-treaters on Halloween. The THP says Halloween is one of the top days for pedestrian injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates children are four times as likely to be struck by a vehicle on Halloween as any other day. On Thursday, troopers will conduct bar and tavern checks, sobriety checkpoints, and seat belt saturations across the state. The highway patrol is advising drivers to slow down, watch for children walking on roads, medians and curbs, and avoid drinking and driving.
The Tennessee Historical Commission will start taking grant applications for historic preservation projects for next year starting Friday. Officials say the amount of funds available for grants in Tennessee is expected to be about $200,000. The selection progress will emphasize projects such as architectural and archaeological surveys, design guidelines for historic districts and the rehabilitation of historic buildings that are listed on the National Register and have a public use. The grants will pay up to 60 percent of the costs of approved project work. The grant recipient must provide the remaining 40 percent of the costs as matching funds.
An all-out, hard-line lobbying campaign by proponents of broad-based school vouchers sank a more limited voucher bill proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam last spring, and the proponents of a broader program are now trying to build public support before the Tennessee legislature reconvenes in January. A public relations effort called School Choice Now was to hold its second of three kickoff events Tuesday night in Memphis to build support for vouchers that allow students to take taxpayer-funding for public schools to pay private school tuition.
A state senator who clashed with the governor over school vouchers this year now says he’ll work with the administration’s proposal. Vouchers would divert funding for public schools, to instead help poor students afford private tuition. At issue is how many students should get vouchers, and just how poor they’d have to be to qualify. Senator Brian Kelsey pushed for an expansive approach, and found himself blamed for a dispute that derailed voucher legislation this spring. Now, Kelsey hopes to help pass the governor’s bill when lawmakers reconvene in January. But that doesn’t make vouchers a slam dunk.
Tennessee reportedly has a growing problem with babies born addicted to drugs. The General Assembly is looking at encouraging mothers to receive treatment by way of threatening them with incarceration. As of Oct. 26, 703 babies with “neonatal abstinence syndrome,” or babies born addicted to drugs, had been delivered in Tennessee in 2013 — a projected 33 percent increase over previous years. The state could see 800 drug-addicted babies born by the end of 2013 if the trend continues, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
Pregnant women addicted to painkillers could be charged with assault of their newborn, under a proposal discussed Tuesday by Tennessee lawmakers. Some worry it could spur such women to seek an abortion, but backers argue it’s a way to get them into rehab. A district attorney from Memphis says until a few months ago, she could charge drug-addicted moms with a misdemeanor. But the legal footing changed (PDF here). Shelby County DA Amy Weirich says she lost a useful tool for pulling moms into drug court and treatment.
“Expecting this secretary to be able to fix what she hasn’t been able to fix during the last three and one half years is unrealistic,” Alexander said on the Senate floor. “It’s throwing good money after bad. It’s time for her to resign and for someone else to take charge.” Alexander, who is up for re-election next year and facing a tea party primary challenge from state Rep. Joe Carr, is the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He said at least 1.5 million people would lose health care coverage starting Jan. 1 because their policies are illegal under Obamacare.
Saying “no private sector chief executive would escape accountability after such poor performance,” Tennessee’s senior senator on Tuesday demanded that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resign. “Expecting this secretary to be able to fix in a few weeks what she has not been able to fix during the last three and one-half years is unrealistic,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a speech on the Senate floor this morning. “It is throwing good money after bad.” Sebelius, no stranger to partisan fights as the former two-term Democratic governor of deeply red Kansas, is expected to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday for a grilling over the disastrous rollout of the federal online health care exchange.
Senator Lamar Alexander has joined the growing number of Republicans who want the US Secretary of Health to step down. He says it will take someone other than Kathleen Sebelius to get rid of the glitches with the Health Care Exchange enrollment. Brentwood Republican Marsha Blackburn hinted at Sebelius leaving her post, telling FOX news that she’d like the Secretary to answer questions, quote, “before she’s out the door.” West Tennessee Congressman Stephen Fincher signed a letter last week calling for her ouster. And today, Lamar Alexander stood on the Senate floor to say time’s up.
For nearly three weeks, about three times a day, Muriel Hassell would sit down at her computer, type “HealthCare.gov” into the browser, and click the green button that says “Apply Now.” And each time, she would be met with an error message. Or the screen would freeze. Or she would find herself kicked off the page. She called the 1-800 number as another route to enroll while the site didn’t work — but was told she would have to wait until the website was working. Finally at 2 a.m. one day, Hassell, a 29-year-old working mother of four daughters, was able to log in.
The White House is racing to rebuild confidence in a new health-care system that has so far fallen short of President Barack Obama’s promises, as the mounting uproar threatens to overwhelm his second-term agenda. Just two weeks ago, Mr. Obama seemed to prevail in a face-off with congressional Republicans over the federal shutdown and was seeking to shift the public focus to an immigration overhaul, one of his top priorities. But administration officials have since been diverted by two crises that have dominated public debate—the flawed opening of the online health-insurance marketplaces, and new revelations about National Security Agency spying.
As the nation moves from a tangible goods-based economy to a service-based economy, a few states are trying to keep revenues robust by taxing technological services such as software upgrades and cloud computing. But a backlash from the high-tech industry has quashed most efforts. As a result, the U.S. has a patchwork quilt of state taxes on technological services. Some states that have tried to impose such taxes have failed spectacularly, and most have not tried at all. According to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that studies taxes, only 10 states (Connecticut, New Mexico, Hawaii, South Dakota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia tax all writing or updating of software.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says work on a second reactor to the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant remains on schedule following a revision of completion estimates. The federal agency recently released a fifth quarter update on Watts Bar 2 covering the work accomplished in the 15 months after the TVA board of directors approved continuing with construction of the unit in April 2012. Officials say the plant is 80 percent complete. The estimated completion was projected between September 2015 and June 2016.
About a generation ago, newscaster Walter Cronkite labeled Chattanooga “the dirtiest city in America” because of its staggering air pollution. Tuesday, the city won a top environmental sustainability rating that officials believe will help it attract more jobs and businesses. “Gosh, have we not come a long way?” said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger after the city and county accepted TVA’s platinum ranking in its Valley Sustainable Communities program. Millie Callaway, a TVA senior consultant for economic development, said only 13 communities in its seven-state service area will be cited this year.
Environmentalists predicted Tuesday the first-ever federal regulations for the disposal of coal ash will be ready before the end of 2014 now that a federal judge has ordered the government to say when it will finalize the new rules. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District of Columbia ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to submit within 60 days its timetable for completing its review of the proposed regulations. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by 13 environmental and health advocacy groups that argued the EPA has a legal duty to review and, if necessary, revise its waste regulations every three years.
The debate between the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen at the Chattanooga plant has put unions on the minds of many Tennessee businesses. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry hosted a conference today discussing the effects of unionization. Catherine Glover, president of the state chamber, summed up the event’s cautious mood toward an increased union presence in the state. “You can bet every single state right now is looking at Tennessee to see what’s going to happen,” Glover said.
Some Oak Ridge employees were among the more than 100,000 people who had their personal information compromised by a July cyber theft at the U.S. Department of Energy that turned out to be much worse than originally thought. John Shewairy, the assistant manager for administration at DOE’s Oak Ridge office, confirmed that some federal employees were impacted, although he didn’t have specific numbers and could not say if any Oak Ridge contractors were affected. In a recent message to DOE employees at agency headquarters in Washington and field sites around the United States, chief of staff Kevin Knobloch said the total number of people whose information had been compromised was now set at 104,179.
The White House has issued a clarification. When the president said if you like your insurance plan you can keep it, what he meant was you can keep it if he likes it. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who are getting policy cancellation notices this month can’t be as surprised as they pretend to be. President Obama made it clear at his 2010 health care summit what he thought of their taste in insurance. “It’s the equivalent of Acme Insurance that I had for my car. . . . It’s basically not health insurance,” he explained. “It’s house insurance. . . . “I’m buying that to protect me from some catastrophic situation; otherwise, I’m just paying out of pocket. I don’t go to the doctor. I don’t get preventive care. There are a whole bunch of things I just do without. But if I get hit by a truck, maybe I don’t go bankrupt.”