This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
During a recent trip to Nashville, I visited the Tennessee Tower, a state-owned building that houses a number of government administrative departments. As a commercial real estate professional, I was immediately impressed by this property, which has been completely transformed over the past year. Until just recently, this structure, which sits near the Capitol, was only minimally occupied and therefore inefficiently utilized and in desperate need of renovation to modern standards. Today, Tennessee Tower is effectively 100 percent occupied and stands as a model for a relatively new strategy by the state to professionalize a portion of its real estate operations.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says case workers can no longer remove children from homes without a hearing in court. The Tennessean reports the agency told employees this month about the change, which comes on the heels of a pair of U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinions that said case workers have to abide by a constitutional amendment that guarantees people the right against searches and seizures without a warrant. The move has received criticism from child advocates and juvenile judges, who say the safety of children is already being affected.
Tennessee caseworkers can remove children from potentially dangerous homes without waiting for an in-person hearing in front of a judge, thanks to a Tennessee Department of Children’s Services policy adopted Friday. It’s a reversal that comes weeks after the agency’s legal staff told caseworkers that they no longer had the authority to remove children from homes without going to court — except in rare cases in which a child is in imminent danger of bodily harm. The change comes a day after The Tennessean reported that juvenile judges and legal advocates for children feared the policy would leave some children in dangerous homes while awaiting a hearing, a process that can take days or longer in some rural parts of Tennessee.
For the third consecutive year, public school teachers getting the highest test scores from students in assessed subjects graduated from Lipscomb University, Memphis Teacher Residency, Teach for America Memphis, Teach for America Nashville, Union University and University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Eight others, including the University of Memphis, continue to produce negative results in terms of how their students do on state tests, according to 2013 Tennessee Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs released Friday by Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).
Gigantic steel girders are going up on the new U.S. Highway 41 bridge over the Tennessee River in Marion County as work resumes on the project that had been delayed for months. The massive girders — one of them weighs as much as 180,000 pounds and is nearly twice the height of a man — might hint at why the plan for erecting them was important enough to stall the project while state Department of Transportation and Britton Bridge LLC officials nailed down an agreement on how they’ll be built. The project started in March 2011 but was delayed this year when state engineers balked at the company’s plan for erecting the steel.
State officials will hire a contractor to build a bridge over Broad Street in a month after examining bids in the $18 million-plus range, a spokeswoman the state Department of Transportation said Friday. “Our construction division is still analyzing the bids received on Oct. 18,” said Deanna Lambert. “They have 30 days to analyze these bids. This is a very complicated project, so these bids take longer to analyze closely.” The state hopes to start construction of a three-year project in early 2014 with a goal of relieving congestion of 60,000 vehicles per day crossing the Northwest Broad Street intersection with Memorial Boulevard on the northeast side and Old Fort Parkway, which is the name of the road on the southwest side.
A Carroll County woman accused of TennCare fraud has been sentenced to state prison after pleading guilty to the charge, Tennessee’s Office of Inspector General announced Friday. Jaime Denise Walker, 35, of Trezevant, pleaded guilty to TennCare fraud and sale of a controlled substance, according to a news release from the state. Walker was ordered to serve two years for TennCare fraud concurrent with three years for sale of a controlled substance, the release said. She also was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine. Walker was charged in May with using TennCare benefits to obtain the painkiller Oxycodone and selling a portion to a confidential informant.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has not provided details to the federal government on his alternative proposal for expanding Medicaid coverage to 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans, Kathleen Sebelius said Friday during a visit to Memphis. “We don’t have specifics from the governor’s office,” the Health and Human Services secretary said during a news conference at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. “There are lots of conversations. I’ve talked to the governor probably three or four times directly. I know that our Medicaid staff is in close communication with the Medicaid staff here at the state.
Shawnna Tipton is a single mom who just wants to feed her family, but she is having a hard time doing that. She is one of 1.9 million Georgians on food stamps who once could visit Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services and find help periodically to reapply for food stamps, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But this year, the office staff was reduced to a receptionist who points clients to computer kiosks to apply for food stamps and gives them a toll-free number if they have questions. Tipton said she spent three hours on the phone recently and still wasn’t able to successfully reapply.
When Johnny Isbell first became mayor here in the early 1980s, Hispanics were a minority in this refinery town, famous as the setting for the movie “Urban Cowboy.” Now the Houston suburb is more than 60% Hispanic and Mexican ballads are sung here as often as “Lookin’ for Love” from the 1980 film. Gilley’s honkytonk bar here burned down more than 20 years ago. Mr. Isbell, again the mayor, believes it is high time for voters to eliminate two of the city’s eight City Council districts, all of which were created to help ensure that Hispanics had a voice in politics, and replace them with two council seats elected citywide.
Ten months later, the National Nuclear Security Administration came to the same conclusion, again selecting Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC — a partnership headed by Bechtel National and Lockheed Martin — to manage the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants. The combined contract award is valued at more than $22 billion over 10 years, and Bruce Held, acting administrator of the NNSA, said the winning team offered the best value to the government. That was evident by the team’s “superior technical and management approach” and its “lower evaluated cost,” Held said in a statement.
A lawsuit filed by two of the nation’s largest railroads challenging Tennessee’s tax on diesel fuel for locomotives could lead to a shutdown of the Music City Star commuter train and a network of smaller railroads that feed tons of cargo from Tennessee companies onto the big carriers’ systems daily, say operators of the smaller lines. A federal judge in Nashville this week sided with CSX Corp. in its suit against the state Revenue Department, prompting the state to freeze the assets in its Short Line Equity Fund, which gets its money from the state’s tax on diesel fuel, leaving operators such as the Nashville and Eastern Railroad Authority without money to pay their bills.
The latest Tennessee Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs was not complimentary of two well-established teacher training programs in Memphis. For the third consecutive year, the teacher-training report card said public school teachers getting the highest test scores from students in assessed subjects graduated from Lipscomb University, Memphis Teacher Residency, Teach for America Memphis, Teach for American Nashville, Union University and University of Tennessee-Knoxville. The University of Memphis, which graduates the bulk the public school teachers in this area, continued to produce negative results in terms of how their students do on state tests, according to the report.