This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is wrapping up his annual budget hearings as he prepares to assemble his annual spending proposal. The Republican governor will hear from the Tennessee Department of Transportation at the state Capitol on Monday. Haslam has warned that much of the modest growth in state revenues will be consumed by cost increases in TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program. The governor has asked all departments to present potential spending cuts because of the state’s sluggish economic performance. The state’s annual transportation budget is about $1.8 billion.
On the ninth floor of a state building on Nashville’s James Robertson Parkway, Tennessee’s much-celebrated yet much-maligned education commissioner doesn’t work from his own office. Kevin Huffman sits at a desk on one end of a large room, with Capitol Hill visible from a row of windows. He’s stationed alongside his cohorts at the Tennessee Department of Education, a deliberate arrangement he says that’s about collaboration. “Everybody thought they were going to hate it because of noise, but I actually don’t think it’s very loud,” Huffman said.
Downtown business owner Barbara Wall isn’t sure how her customers will find her antique store FunTiques on Murfreesboro’s town square after construction starts on the proposed bridge at the corner of Broad Street and Old Fort Parkway. “I have a lot of customers from surrounding counties who come specifically to my store,” Wall said last Thursday morning at a meeting of the city’s Only Downtown Business Association. “I want to make sure there is adequate signage and directions on how to get downtown.” Many members of the business association were also concerned about access to Murfreesboro’s historic downtown district during construction of the estimated $30 million bridge and after, when access through College Street will be cut off.
Elizabethton’s Summers-Taylor has secured a nearly $14 million contract with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to complete a project aimed at keeping infrastructure improvements in step with growth at the Interstate 26/Tenn. Highway 75 interchange in Gray. The company’s offer was about $500,000 under the only other bidder, Bell & Associates Construction, headquartered in Brentwood. A start date has not been established, but the estimated completion date is on or before Aug. 31, 2015. The pre-construction meeting for the project will be held Dec. 5.
Thousands of scientists have been working to determine the ultimate effect of carbon on our climate, but a University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor just got $880,000 to find out what it’s doing in the dirt. Look in any eighth-grade science class and you’ll likely find a poster illustrating the carbon cycle. Arrows of carbon lead from cartoon trees up to a cartoon sky. The arrows swirl around in the air until finally leading back down to the surface. What carbon does in the air — in the form of greenhouse gas and ozone — has been the topic of much research and debate. But it’s when carbon hits the dirt that scientists scratch their heads, according to Aimee Classen, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper disciplined in 2009 for sending a racist message through the state’s email system has retired after being disciplined again for refusing to allow Tennessee’s only black female appellate judge to enter the state Supreme Court building, according to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Trooper Brent Gobbell, who had four prior disciplinary actions on his record, was reprimanded and docked a day’s pay for turning away Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Camille McMullen when she tried to deliver paperwork for a judicial colleague on June 14, according to the official discipline memo from Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons. He has since retired, a department spokeswoman said.
The battleground over abortion is shifting to Tennessee, where campaigns are heating up on a referendum that is a year away. The referendum, pushed by anti-abortion groups for years, would add an amendment to the state constitution stating, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.” The amendment would apply to all abortions, including those stemming from “circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
Appearing on Fox News on Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker said he would urge Congress to hold the Obama administration’s “feet to the fire” over an interim agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons to ensure it does not become permanent. Late Saturday night, President Barack Obama held a news conference to announce that an accord had been reached among Iran, the United States and five other world powers for a six-month halt to Iran’s nuclear program until a more comprehensive, long-term pact is reached. In return, the United States agreed to ease up on sanctions against Iran.
Backers of an international treaty on disabilities hope to persuade U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to join their side. Just before a Senate hearing last week, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and others urged Corker to rethink his stance on the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Senate is debating legislation that would have the United States sign on to the pact, which “would serve as a framework for creating legislation and policies around the world, modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act,” according to the U.S. International Council on Disabilities.
The skies above Shaw Air Force Base in central South Carolina and the fields across Fort Campbell have been a bit quieter in recent months. Budget cuts to the military have forced installations around the country to alter training exercises and daily routines to save money. For airmen and pilots, that means fewer flights. For soldiers and Marines, it means fewer drills or delaying them until a deployment nears. The automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, come as the military is in the midst of a drawdown in Afghanistan and shrinking its overall size. The Army has retooled training regimens to focus on soldiers deploying to Afghanistan and Korea — those who will be in hostile areas soonest, said George Wright, a civilian Army spokesman in Washington.
Companies are bracing for an influx of participants in their insurance plans due to the health-care overhaul, adding to pressure to shift more of the cost of coverage to employees. Many employers are betting that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance starting in 2014 will bring more people into their plans who have previously opted out. That, along with other rising expenses, is prompting companies to raise workers’ premium contributions, steer them toward high-deductible plans and charge them more to cover family members.
In a back room at the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph, one of the largest homeless shelters in Chicago, a social worker named Sheena Ward guided Terry Cannon through a Medicaid application. A wet cough punctuated Mr. Cannon’s often wry answers to Ms. Ward’s questions about his disability status, military service and marital history. “I have glaucoma, I’m going blind. I have lung disease, I’m dying,” he said. “How can they deny me? If they do, give me a couple years and I’ll be gone.” Today, most state Medicaid programs cover only disabled adults or those with dependents, so Mr. Cannon and millions of other deeply impoverished Americans are left without access to the program.
Earlier this month, Tennessee’s students were recognized as tops in the nation for academic improvement. To our students, to teachers and to lawmakers, offers of congratulation came from across the state, and the praise was certainly well-earned and much-deserved. I would also like to offer my congratulations to the businesses, community organizations, individuals and parents whose concern for, and engagement in, our schools has been vital to the dramatic improvements of our schools. What has happened in Tennessee schools is certainly remarkable, but what we are witnessing is not just a shift in our schools, it’s a change in our communities, in our businesses and in our homes.
In 1987, former Williamson County, Texas, District Attorney Ken Anderson, who later became a Texas judge, withheld exculpatory evidence in the murder trial of Michael Morton. Anderson’s evidence-tampering was a crime, and in that case it was a crime that resulted in Morton serving 25 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. DNA evidence eventually proved Morton’s innocence. For his crime Anderson was sentenced to 10 days in prison, was fined $500 and was required to do 500 hours of community service. Outrageous? Absolutely. Isolated incident of prosecutorial misconduct or wrongful conviction? Unfortunately not.