This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The population of people over 65 is growing in Tennessee. To address the needs of this group of people, Governor Haslam formed a special task force on aging. On Wednesday, the task force met in Knoxville to get ideas from residents about problems they face. The task force is focusing on three specific problems facing seniors, including creating livable communities, supporting family caregivers, and promoting healthy aging. The last one, promoting healthy aging, had a lot of people talking on Wednesday. From a belly dancing class, to a class called “Humor and Health,” more than 200 seniors come to the O’Connor Senior Center to get healthy.
Gov. Bill Haslam recently launched a workforce development initiative called “Drive to 55” to address the growing gaps between the needs of local industry and the skills and readiness of Tennessee’s workforce. The initiative was developed after a series of meetings between the state’s manufacturing and education leaders to determine how to fill these gaps. “Currently only 32 percent of Tennesseans have certificates or degrees beyond high school, and studies show that by 2025, that number must be 55 percent to meet workforce demands,” Haslam said.
There’s a new test coming to Tennessee schools, and it’s already making some parents angry. The state department of education says about 10 percent of Tennessee kids will take a common core practice test at the end of this school year. Some districts have said no, but others are embracing it. And some parents are vowing to not allow their kids to take another test. It’s called the common core field test, and it will overlap with some of the schools’ TCAP testing. Two vocal parent groups say the newest test in Tennessee only benefits the company that is developing the common core curriculum.
INCITE Co-Investment Fund, a public-private investment program that funds early-stage companies in Tennessee, has opened a new $9.7 million round of capital. The investment round is the third for INCITE, which has invested about $19 million of the $29.7 million originally provided by the federal government in 2011. The fund matches portions of private investments and has leveraged $50 million in private capital, bringing a total of $69 million to 29 Tennessee-based companies. In this latest round, LaunchTN, which administers the INCITE fund, will decrease the match percentages it offers to accompany private investment.
Have two state appellate judges from Memphis, both women, fallen victim to politics? That’s a question that may not be fully answered until later this year or next, if ever. The two judges are Camille McMullen, a member of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, and state Supreme Court justice Janice Holder. McMullen is one of three state appellate judges (out of 24 evaluated) whose retention was recently advised against by the nine-member state Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. Holder, a former chief justice of the state high court, had earlier decided against seeking reelection in next year’s retention elections, in which the state’s appellate judges are subject to yes or no votes by the state’s electorate.
The Department of Children’s Services is defending the actions of its investigators after the deaths of two young children. The children’s mother, Samantha Harper, was arrested back in August for leaving her children, ages 2 and 3, inside a hot car in Smyrna. The Channel 4 I-Team first revealed DCS had investigated the family in the past. Now, new documents show DCS investigated two prior complaints about the children but closed the case, saying no services were needed. The reports indicate Harper kept changing her story about what happened, and her own mother told investigators the car her grandchildren died in wasn’t working.
Endangered crayfish have altered the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s construction plan on a major road widening project in Brentwood along Concord Road. The Nashville Crayfish lives in the waters of Mill and Owl Creeks, which is located near the road project. Officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency told News 2 Williamson and Davidson counties are the only place in the world this particular type of crayfish exists. TDOT officials said crews will not begin bridgework at the site until June since the crayfish’s reproductive season is from October to May.
A Rutherford County man is charged with TennCare fraud for selling prescription drugs paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, officials said. The Office of Inspector General has announced the arrest of Dylan J. Wade, 18, of Smyrna after a joint investigation with the Smyrna Police Department. Wade is charged with two counts of TennCare fraud in connection with twice obtaining prescriptions for the anti-anxiety medication Adderall, using TennCare benefits as payment while planning to sell a portion of the drugs.
Skeptical about cops whose salaries depend on seizing money from motorists, some Tennessee lawmakers think it’s time for more transparency and accountability in the state’s judicial drug task forces. After a hearing Tuesday in Nashville, members of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee found their statutory authority, their governance and their oversight all lacking, and several said they expect to file legislation in January to impose tighter controls on the task forces. The subcommittee, headed by Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, was following up on allegations raised in the Times Free Press and elsewhere about problems in some of Tennessee’s 24 drug task forces that amount to “policing for profit.”
There was stunning testimony Wednesday before a state Senate committee as a local drug task force found itself facing tough questions. The director of the 23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force responded to those questions — about whether his agency was “policing for profit” — with new claims that agents are really taking money out of the hands of terrorists. While there’s absolutely no evidence that the terrorism claim is true, the task force director ended up inadvertently conceding that interstate interdiction units do indeed have a profit motive.
Some legislators are going back to school this week as part of American Education Week, and one local teacher said it’s important for lawmakers to go out and experience what it’s like to be in a teacher’s shoes. “They can’t possibly know everything about the wide arena they are expected to know about,” said Elena Burgess, a kindergarten teacher at McFadden School of Excellence. “So when they’re voting, are they asking the guy next to them?” Burgess said she encourages legislators to take trips to local schools or ask educators questions about what they do each day.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday that he will vote to confirm Janet Yellen to be the Federal Reserve’s next chair, setting aside his earlier skepticism toward her nomination to lead the central bank. The Tennessee Republican sits on the Senate Banking Committee, which is scheduled to vote Thursday on Yellen’s nomination. Yellen needs five Republican votes, plus the support of all 55 Democrats in the Senate, to win confirmation. Corker voted against Yellen’s nomination as vice chair of the Fed in 2010, but he said he had changed his mind after her confirmation hearing and a meeting this week.
The U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has begun an investigation into the Memphis VA Medical Center after an inspector’s report found three patients had received substandard care and died. A letter from the committee chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, to the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday mentions three patients who died in the hospital’s emergency room. The Florida Republican’s letter requests information from the department including action plans related to the patients, along with peer reviews, performance reports and disciplinary actions for the medical professionals involved in their treatment.
Tilda Elias had reason to be optimistic when she opened the HealthCare.gov website on Monday, ready to help her first client of the week find health insurance. Technicians had made fixes to the online insurance exchange over the weekend. Even more promising, her client, Giovanna Romano, had managed to complete an online application at home with no problems. But after Ms. Romano logged in, the system made her reconfirm everything in her application, a process that dragged on for 40 minutes. Then came the screen message that tens of thousands of people shopping for insurance under President Obama’s new health care law have come to hate: “Sorry, our system is temporarily down.”
Many people whose existing health-insurance policies were canceled due to the new federal health law won’t be able to extend them, despite President Barack Obama’s request that insurers allow them to do so. Some carriers say they may not or won’t reinstate canceled policies because of a lack of time to make changes and other obstacles. Others say the one-year extensions would come with higher rates. At least five states—New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island—have rebuffed Mr. Obama, meaning insurers can’t reinstate policies there even if they do so elsewhere.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says it provided $547 million in tax equivalent payments in fiscal year 2013 to states and local governments where it sells electricity or has power properties. TVA says it makes tax equivalent payments annually in the eight states where it sells electricity or owns generating plants, transmission lines, substations and other assets. It also makes tax equivalent payments to 146 local governments where it owns power facilities. The electricity provider says this year’s payments were $32 million less than the $579 million distributed in 2012.
Falling fuel prices may be benefit ting consumers with cheaper electric bills, but the decline in power sales is projected to cost state and local governments in the Tennessee Valley another $25 million this year from one of its biggest taxpayers. TVA projects it will pay state and local governments in its 7-state region $522 million in the current fiscal year, down 4.6 percent from the $547 million paid in fiscal 2013 and nearly 10 percent below the $579 million TVA paid out in fiscal 2012. Governments in Tennessee, where TVA has nearly 63 percent its sales and assets, will be paid $328 million this year, or $9 million less than last year and $26 million less than two years ago.
A group promoting German trade and investment in the United States is opening a chapter office in Chattanooga. Martina Stellmaszek, the president and CEO of the German-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern United States, said the office will serve as a contact for businesses seeking information and assistance. The office will be run by volunteers. Chattanooga is home to German automaker Volkswagen’s lone U.S. assembly plant. Friday’s office opening is scheduled to be attended by Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who played a role in persuading Volkswagen to build the plant there.
As Metro school officials defend their move to limit charter school growth, the other side of a raging debate — not surprisingly — says the district should do more to embrace the model. A report released Wednesday by the Tennessee Charter School Center, the state’s primary charter lobbying and advocacy group, says 43 percent of public school seats in Metro are “low quality” and only one in seven is “high quality.” On the other hand, it claims more than one-third of charters in Nashville are high quality. Among its five recommendations for the district: Bring in more high-quality charters to the most underserved communities.
The Arlington Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Wednesday night unanimously approved an agreement with the Shelby County Schools board that will lead to opening municipal schools in the town. There was little discussion on the agreement — approved by the SCS board Tuesday — which calls for the town to pay almost $4 million over the next 12 years to settle the legal dispute over establishing its municipal school system. That settlement also includes the transfer of the four school campuses within the town’s borders under a $10 quitclaim deed.
Two and a half years ago Metro Pulse ran a story, “The War on Teachers: How did Tennessee’s educators become the new public enemy?,” which looked at legislation designed to reshape the teaching profession in Tennessee. Almost all of it passed. Under Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s leadership, teacher unions were stripped of their right to collectively bargain. Tenure was made harder to get, while being rendered essentially meaningless at the same time.
We’ve long heard about how Tennessee state government would be soon operating with efficiency and following the best business practices, so it’s puzzling to see how little stock the Haslam administration puts in audits conducted within the state government. In the latest case, the state comptroller has turned the lens on the Department of General Services and its ambitious program Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow (T3), and found it lacking. Under T3, the administration says, it will save the state $100 million over 10 years by reducing the amount of leased state office space and selling or demolishing outdated state-owned buildings.
Here is some potentially good news for University of Memphis students. The school issued a news release this week stating it will not recommend or support a tuition increase for the 2014-15 school year. This is the first time we have noted any Tennessee public college or university taking such a strong position in calling for a freeze on student tuition. Let’s hope other state schools join U of M and create a “no tuition increase” movement in Tennessee higher education. Note that we said this was “potentially” good news for students. That’s because the final decision in such matters rests with the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools received three A’s and one B on its 2013 student achievement report card released last week by the Tennessee Department of Education. The system’s results included three B’s and one A in student growth scores. These results mark an all-time high in both achievement and growth since the transition to the Tennessee Diploma Project standards. The graduation rate for CMCSS was 94 percent, a slight drop from the all-time high of 95.2 percent achieved in last year’s report, but still strong in comparison to the state’s overall graduation rate of 86.3 percent.
The Shelby County Board of Education’s agreements adopted this week with Arlington and Lakeland should provide the assurances that the Shelby County Commission needs Friday to dismiss all legal claims against the two suburban communities. The deal with Lakeland, approved by the board Tuesday night, calls for the city to pay Shelby County Schools $676,044 in 12 yearly installments. The city will receive Lakeland Elementary School, the only SCS facility in its borders. A similar arrangement would require Arlington to pay SCS $3.99 million in 12 yearly installments. It would receive four schools.
The first numbers are in, and they are ugly. The Affordable Care Act’s central promise of expanding access to health coverage is under threat as millions of Americans across the country are receiving notices that their existing policies are being canceled, while only about 106,000 have enrolled through the exchange websites. In Tennessee, only 992 people have selected plans through the federal exchange, yet so far at least 94,000 Tennesseans across our state are at risk of being dropped from their existing plans. This is in direct contrast to President Obama’s famous promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it — period.”
The ObamaCare train wreck is plowing through the White House in super slow-mo on screens everywhere, splintering reputations and presidential approval ratings. Audiences watch popeyed as Democrats in distress like Senators Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor decide whether to cling to the driverless train or jump toward the tall weeds. The heartless compilers of the Washington Post/ABC poll asked people to pick a head-to-head matchup now between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Mitt won. This is the most amazing spectacle of mayhem and meltdown anyone has seen in politics since Watergate. No question, it’s tough on Barack Obama. But what about the rest of us?