This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to continue his annual budget hearings on Monday. The hearings with agency leaders began last week at the Capitol. They are scheduled to start again on Monday with the Department of Children’s Services. It will be followed by TennCare, Tourist Development and Economic and Community Development. The last hearing is scheduled for Nov. 25 with the Transportation Department.
Tennessee’s innovative Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow program — known as T3 — may seem an out-of-the-box idea, but anyone familiar with Bill Haslam’s tenure as Knoxville mayor recognizes it as a business-minded concept right out of our governor’s management playbook. T3 is the strategy developed by Gov. Haslam and the Department of General Services to reduce state expenses through more effective management of its office properties, reducing underutilized office space and updating office standards to achieve a more productive environment for state employees.
The State Building Commission has unanimously voted to name Peter Heimbach as Tennessee’s new state architect. The state architect oversees the state Capitol and its grounds, along with the state’s other building and land development projects. He also develops design standards for state agencies. Heimbach succeeds Bob Oglesby, who was named commissioner of the state Department of General Services in August. Heimbach is a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s architecture program and spent 12 years at the architectural firm Beeson, Lusk and Street Inc.
One long-awaited Memphis-area highway project could be completed this week — just in time for another one to start causing complications for motorists. State and local officials on Friday will cut the ribbon on the final section of Tenn. 385 between Macon Road and Tenn. 57 in Collierville. At about the same time, motorists could start noticing some shifts in traffic lanes as construction begins in earnest on the final phase of the Interstate 40-240 interchange in East Memphis. The nearly 8-mile stretch of Tenn. 385 cost $53.47 million and will fill the last gap in a interstate-quality highway route extending from Millington through Arlington and Collierville and winding back to Interstate 240 in Memphis.
The Tennessee Board of Regents has chosen the members of a panel to help in the search for a new president of the University of Memphis. The Search Advisory Committee will meet for the first time at 12:45 p.m. Dec. 4 in the University Center’s Bluff Room. Campus members and the public are also invited to an open forum to discuss the criteria and search process for the new president from 11 a.m. to noon, prior to the meeting, in the UC’s River Room. The committee’s charge is to identify three to five finalists who will visit the campus for interviews.
An independent study of the need for judges in Tennessee was created to get politics out of the process of creating judge positions. But it might take a dose of politics to actually add judges in the Volunteer State. The 2013 Tennessee Trial Courts Judicial Weighted Caseload Study was released last month by the state’s comptroller office. The study showed that area judges are working slightly more than what is recommended by the National Center for State Courts. But at least one judge in the region said the local need wasn’t as high as elsewhere in the state. “We’re doing the best we can,” said Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Graham, who presides in the 12th Judicial District. “We’re sure glad it didn’t show us as being slackers.”
Knox County Circuit Court Judge Bill Swann, who has handled domestic relations cases almost exclusively for the past 31 years, is not going to seek another eight-year term in 2014. “I decided many weeks ago not to run for re-election. I shared that decision only with my wife (Diana) and a couple of close supporters. I will have more to say soon about how I reached that decision,” he said in a statement for release today. Swann, 71, a judge in the 4th Division of the Circuit Court system, won the Republican nomination in a contentious re-election battle with lawyer David Lee in 2006.
A small lobster-like creature once again is affecting a big development project. The Nashville crayfish, which was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1986, will force changes to construction schedules for work on two bridges that go over Mill and Owl creeks as part of an effort to widen Concord Road. Though the widening project won’t be delayed due to the state’s only federally endangered crayfish, construction crews will have to change the order in which they work on some tasks on those bridges to allow the crayfish time to hatch and rear their young as part of their annual reproductive cycle, which lasts from October until the end of May, said Dennis Crumby, a biologist with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which is widening the road that runs through Brentwood.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron says the state should implement new conflict-of-interest rules after a recent audit by the state comptroller. Herron said Friday that state contractors should be barred from profiting from their own advice, a rule already in place at the federal level. The call comes after the comptroller’s office criticized the Department of General Services for expanding the scope of a contract with Jones Lang LaSalle from an initial $1 million agreement to review the state’s real estate needs to a $7.65 million deal that also made the Chicago firm Tennessee’s agent in lease negotiations.
U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and John McCain participated in a Purple Heart ceremony at Fort Campbell on Sunday. McCain, an Arizona Republican and five-term senator, awarded the Purple Heart to Capt. Perry S. Cloud, who was wounded in Afghanistan. “The men and women serving at Fort Campbell demonstrate every day the unwavering dedication and professionalism of our armed forces,” McCain said. “I was deeply impressed and inspired to spend time with our men and women in uniform, who represent our nation’s finest.” The two lawmakers also toured the military base and were briefed by Brig. Gen. Mark Stammer.
The primary aim of the Affordable Care Act is to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. Even if the new federal health law accomplishes that goal, states still must grapple with the relatively high cost and low quality of U.S. health care. Per person, the U.S. spends far more than any other country on health care—and yet it gets relatively poor results for its money. It lags behind other countries on many health measures, and according to a recent report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, about one-third of the $2.6 trillion Americans spent on health care last year paid for unnecessary procedures and avoidable hospital admissions.
Nearly two years after shutting down its biggest hydroelectric plant to repair a cracked rotor blade, TVA expects to have at least part of the Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant generating power for the coldest part of the winter. But most of the idled units at the plant probably won’t be back on line until next spring. Tennessee Valley Authority President Bill Johnson said last week that building and installing replacement equipment for the German-designed facility has taken months longer than expected. The hydro facility shut down in March 2012 when inspectors found cracks in the rotor blade.
A combination of more poor families in Dickson County and the adoption of rigorous new Common Core State Standards for education could lead to precipitous drops in reading and math proficiency, one education official warns. That’s only if measures aren’t put in place now to stem the declines, according to data from Scholastic Inc. Dr. Paul Ezen from Scholastic Inc. addressed school and community leaders earlier this month, saying the school district should be prepared to implement a “robust district academic improvement and communication plan” in preparation for Common Core.
The state of Tennessee’s Department of Revenue has done a shoddy job making sure companies receiving tax credits for creating jobs are living up to their end of the bargain, an audit has found. The audit, conducted by the office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, found that the Department of Revenue failed to document tax audits related to the credits and could not provide evidence of compliance. Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration must do a better job tracking how companies comply with the rules governing tax credits and hold them accountable for meeting the state’s requirements. Job tax credits are given to companies as incentives to locate in Tennessee.
Germantown officials are getting a hard lesson in the reality of how what you say and write can come back to haunt you. That fact is playing out in the suburb’s efforts to convince the Shelby County Schools Board of Education not to hold onto Germantown Elementary, Germantown Middle and Germantown High schools. Germantown and the county’s other suburban municipalities are in the process of creating their own municipal school districts. The other districts have indicated that children who live in unincorporated Shelby County can continue to attend schools in their cities.
Even as Americans struggle with the changes required by health care reform, an international survey released last week by the Commonwealth Fund, a research organization, shows why change is so necessary. The report found that by virtually all measures of cost, access to care and ease of dealing with insurance problems, Americans fared poorly compared with people in other advanced countries. The survey covered 20,000 adults in the United States and 10 other industrial nations — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain, all of which put in place universal or near-universal health coverage decades ago.