This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A bill aimed at cutting meth production by limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine Tennesseans can purchase in a 30-day period is the best remedy to a costly problem that is destroying families and draining resources, some of the state’s top public safety officials said Monday. As part of his public safety legislative package, Gov. Bill Haslam proposes to allow consumers to purchase 2.4 grams of pseudoephedrine, or about a 10-day supply. For those who need more pseudoephedrine for cold or allergy symptoms, pharmacists would have the leeway to increase the amount to 4.8 grams per month.
Addicts can’t make methamphetamine without it, but law-abiding consumers don’t want to give it up. Gov. Bill Haslam says he hopes to find the middle ground. The same ingredient in some cold and sinus pills that relieves a stuffy head serves as the chemical foundation for meth cooks. Tracking sales of pseudoephedrine at the drugstore counter hasn’t stopped the spread of meth, but allergy sufferers across the state have balked at the prospect of moving the decongestant to the prescription vault. The Tennessee Anti-Meth Production Act, backed by Haslam, would lower the legal limit for pseudoephedrine sales from three or four boxes a month to about a box a month.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s public safety legislative package for this session extends beyond coming up with a way to cut production of methamphetamine. The package includes proposed bills to tackle criminal gangs, allow judges some flexibility in sentencing repeat DUI offenders; and boosting fines for seat belt violations. Members of the governor’s public safety team discussed these items Monday with the Times Free Press. The Community Safety Act would use existing public nuisance laws to target criminal gang members and create zones or areas where gang members could not meet in groups.
Public safety leaders within Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration urged state lawmakers Monday to get behind his anti-meth legislation that would limit access to pseudoephedrine or ephedrine products. Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn are traveling the state selling Haslam’s proposal to establish new 30-day purchase limits on the cold and sinus relief medications. They contend Haslam’s bill will target so-called “smurfers, ” who buy large quantities to manufacture meth, while not affecting people who normally use the medications.
Research being released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Program shows Tennessee fourth-graders made some of the largest gains in reading in the nation over the last decade. The research compares National Assessment of Educational Progress scores from 2003 to 2013. The percentage of students testing below grade level in fourth grade decreased 11 points. Only six other states — Alabama, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia — and the District of Columbia showed more progress.
Topping the priorities of a Bill Frist-led education advocacy group in its latest report is the item it has trumpeted for months in Tennessee: stay the course on Common Core. “Tennessee’s commitment to high standards ensures that we’re putting our students on the path to success,” Frist, former U.S. Senate majority leader and founder of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, told a crowd in Nashville Monday for the release of his group’s 2013-14 report. Frist is aligned with fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who has remained steadfast in support for Common Core and its companion Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career test.
The state education reform think tank founded and chaired by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist said Monday that Tennessee “must push forward” with its implementation of the controversial Common Core national academic standards. Frist delivered the 2013-14 State of Education in Tennessee report issued by his State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, at an event in Nashville. While noting the work of educators, policymakers and “stakeholders” in helping Tennessee become the fastest-improving state in student achievement (as measured by the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress), the report said Tennessee is still below the national average on NAEP and only 15 percent of the state’s 2013 public high school graduates met all four college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT test.
In a State of Education in Tennessee report delivered Monday by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Common Core standards topped a list of state public education priorities. And the directors of Rutherford County Schools and Murfreesboro City Schools said they can see why. “It took me awhile to get here,” said RCS Director Don Odom. “I am for continuing with the standards because they’re rigorous, and we’ve seen results from what we’ve implemented. What really pushed me to this decision is that when we really started teaching Common Core in math, we saw an incredible increase in student achievement.” Odom noted a 5.6 percent increase in students receiving a proficient in math testing in grades third through eighth.
SCORE has lauded practices of Kingsport City Schools and McPheeter’s Bend and Mount Carmel elementary schools in Hawkins County in the 2013-14 State of Education in Tennessee report. Released Monday during a conference in Nashville by SCORE (the State Collaborative on Reforming Education), the report said KCS helps grow future administrators and has implemented districtwide rigor, especially in math, as well as assigning central officer personnel to work with specific schools. It also said that McPheeter’s Bend uses technology to support intervention and that Mount Carmel engaged families and the community.
Nearly 60 parents crammed into the school board conference room at the Jackson-Madison County Schools Board of Education office Monday to learn what exactly the Common Core will mean for their children. Common Core is a national set of standards for educators to use in math and language arts that has been adopted by Tennessee schools. The workshop, held from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., was meant to explain to local parents the principles of the curriculum, why the state adopted it and what the implications will be for the students.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been named policy chairman of the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. The group is the policy arm of the Republican Governors Association. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is the chairman of the 29-member national association, in a release called Haslam “a true pioneer in the public policy sphere.” Haslam said states are flourishing while the federal government is unable to implement its own policy priorities. The governor stressed his own accomplishments in overhauling civil service rules in Tennessee and reducing what he called the government footprint in the state.
The Republican Governors Public Policy Committee (RGPPC) announced today that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will serve as its Policy Chairman for 2014. “Governor Haslam has emerged as a true pioneer in the public policy sphere over the course of his first term in office,” said RGA Chairman Chris Christie. “Under his leadership, Tennessee is thriving. The state’s economy is strong, job creation is up, taxes are down, the workforce is growing, and more than ever, a great education is within reach for all Tennesseans.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he understands critics of his decision so far not to accept a federally funded expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee. But Haslam said the terms of the increased funding wouldn’t provide better outcomes for users or providers. “It’s all this federal money. It will help hospitals and it will give people better health coverage. All of that is true,” Haslam said in an exclusive interview on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “The flipside is Medicaid already takes up a huge portion of our budget. As we expand that, that will make a bigger issue. The expansion didn’t provide a way to have better health outcomes. It just increased the number of people we covered. I honestly think we can do it better.”
Friday’s announcement about the creation of the Mid-South Manufacturing/Distribution Training and Education Institute by Southwest Tennessee Community College and West Memphis-based Mid-South Community College will result in the eventual development of a dedicated training facility in Memphis. The institute, which allows the schools to create programs that provide specific training of potential employees for current and future employers, will take existing advanced manufacturing programs at the schools to a new level, said Nathan Essex, president of Southwest.
The number of fatal work-related injuries in Tennessee declined for the second straight year in 2012 to the lowest amount in the last decade, according to a workplace safety report released Monday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Fatal work injuries in Tennessee fell to 100 during 2012, down from 120 the year prior, according to preliminary data collected by the Tennessee Department of Labor and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2012 worker fatality figure was the lowest for Tennessee in the past ten years, and below the ten-year average of 133 fatal occupational injuries per year.
An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered questions about one of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s pet projects and his claim of incredible savings. That investigation discovered what could be an $80 million mistake in the governor’s numbers. Two years ago, the Haslam administration convinced lawmakers to write a check for tens of millions of dollars to consolidate state offices, saying it would — in turn — save $100 million. But, after digging through thousands of pages of emails and other records, we discovered internal documents that suggest those claims may be inflated. “This is a contract that’s going to save the state $100 million over the next 10 years,” the governor told reporters at an event last year.
A stinging audit of the Department of Children’s Services drew stern questions Monday from state lawmakers, who demanded a follow-up audit of the department in six months. Lawmakers then took the unusual step of voting for a three-year reauthorization of the agency, instead of taking a routine vote to authorize the agency for another four years. The audit by the state comptroller cited poorly handled child abuse investigations, a failure to follow the law in reporting child deaths to lawmakers, a failure to perform background checks on some foster parents and a failure to adequately supervise some juveniles on probation.
An audit of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services finds that the state child-welfare agency is plagued with numerous problems including its failure to report the deaths of children in its custody. The audit also found that DCS conducted sloppy child-abuse investigations and was not adequately tracking juvenile delinquents put on probation. The audit, which was conducted by the state comptroller’s office, was released on Monday. It found that the agency needed to do a better job of investigating child abuse and neglect complaints. It also found that the agency had violated a state law requiring it to report the deaths of children in its custody to the legislature.
Attorneys general for more than a dozen states have ordered several for-profit education companies to turn over information on the firms’ business practices. ITT Educational Services Inc., Corinthian Colleges Inc., Career Education Corp. and Education Management Corp. disclosed Friday and Monday that they had received subpoenas or civil investigative demands from a group of state attorneys general. The inquiries are broad, covering student lending, advertising and recruitment, graduate certification and licensing, and graduation and job placement rates, according to the companies’ filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Lawmakers want to know why prison inmates are taking so many selfies from behind bars. “I was really shocked by what I saw,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, describing recent news stories about prison contraband. “There were cellphones, drugs, money. … Some of them were being posted on Facebook from inside prison. How could this happen?” The question was put to Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield Monday afternoon at a state Senate subcommittee meeting. Lawmakers, having seen pictures of grinning prison inmates on Facebook, wanted to know how bad the problem is and how to tackle it.
A Tennessee legislative hearing Monday tackled an issue first uncovered by the Channel 4 I-Team: photos, videos and text messages showed Tennessee inmates using social media to communicate with criminals in other prisons and showed how they’re living it up while they’re locked up. “I was really shocked by what I saw,” said state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. “My biggest concern was what I saw on television – just a flagrant violation of the law.” Lawmakers wanted to know how it is possible Tennessee inmates were able to have such a good time in prison. Lawmakers wanted to know how it is possible Tennessee inmates were able to have such a good time in prison.
The Tennessee Senate is slated to take up a measure Monday that would change the selection process for the state’s attorney general. As introduced, the bill proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would establish a popular election for the attorney general for a term of four years, and limit eligibility to two terms. Sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, the legislation would replace the existing system where the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the attorney general. Proponents of the change have noted the state constitution states that Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”
The wine-in-grocery-stores bill is set for its first committee hearing of the year Tuesday as talks among liquor retailers and wholesalers, grocery stores and others aimed at a compromise continue. The buzz in the Capitol hallways Monday evening was that “big box” retailers like Walmart and Target are back in the bill, allowing them to sell wine like more traditional grocery stores if the bill is approved. When reports surfaced last week of a possible compromise agreement, big box stores that sell groceries but not as their primary business and convenience stores were reportedly excluded, not allowed to sell wine.
A local convenience store leader criticized state lawmakers and lobbyists Monday for shutting out his and hundreds of other business owners’ interests from the negotiations centered on an anticipated wine bill that he said could significantly cut into sales. The latest amendments expected to the sweeping wine in supermarkets bill could allow liquor stores to sell cigarettes, one of convenience stores’ top-selling items, but would keep convenience stores from being able to sell wine, Roadrunner Markets President Ryan Broyles said Monday at a quickly called news conference at the company’s Bristol Highway fuel center in Johnson City.
There’s a new face in the fight to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee as a mother and father appealed to state lawmakers on Monday to improve the quality of life for their little boy and others. Brian and Sandy Bush traveled from Knoxville with their 18-month-old son, Cameron, to join the push on Capitol Hill for what they consider common-sense change for the sake of their son. “He’s on his third medication right now. And he’s still having anywhere from five to 60 seizures a day on this medication,” Brian Bush said. “Medical marijuana could be something that could help him.”
At 18 months, most children are beginning to run, talk and play with toys, but Cameron Bush’s mind remains in infancy, the effect of the spasms that wrack his body 20 times a day or more. Doctors already have tried three different medications to try to control the damage being done to his mind. A steroid that must be injected twice a day left him moody and gave him a ravenous appetite. Another drug caused his appetite to disappear. The latest might leave him partially blind. None of those drugs has stopped the spasms, and his parents, Sandy and Brian Bush, are eager to try a drug derived from marijuana.
Marijuana advocates in Tennessee hope full legalization in other states will create a new opening here. But so far, they’ve failed to get anyone in power on board. Efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes have been ongoing for several years. And this year’s bill sponsored by Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) in the state legislature is practically identical, though it does add post traumatic stress disorder to a list of ailments for which patients could be prescribed pot. On Monday, a series of informational events will be held at the state capitol and Vanderbilt University.
Some Tennessee lawmakers are considering a push to cut off water and electricity to facilities run by entities like the National Security Agency, which they see as spying unconstitutionally. It’s not even clear Tennessee has an NSA facility. Some claim there’s one at the federal complex in Oak Ridge, but a spokesman there couldn’t say for sure. Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) concedes there’s not a ton his proposal can do about federal surveillance. “If the federal government does it, we can’t stop them. But we’re not going to subsidize it. We’re not going to fund, we’re not going to be supportive of things that are doing those activities.”
Pushback to Common Core State Standards has been led primarily by conservatives until now. This new organization calls itself Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE). Judging from the audience at its first public event, supporters include teachers unions, Democratic lawmakers and more liberal-minded parents. So their complaints don’t exactly mirror those of some conservatives who fear the Obama Administration is driving an agenda through Common Core, which has been adopted in most states.
Opposing sides to a school voucher program in Tennessee are holding a series of events this week as Republican lawmakers and the governor try to reach a compromise on voucher legislation. Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, a grass-roots organization opposed to vouchers, held a news conference on Monday in the Legislative Plaza across from the state Capitol. And the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank that is advocating for a broader voucher program, has an event scheduled for Tuesday.
A group of Republican state Senators is proposing a “stopgap” measure as an alternative to expanding Medicaid to the working poor. It comes as Governor Haslam says he’s still trying to negotiate an expansion and hospital are getting antsy over whether it will happen. Andrea Zelinski writes about the senators’ proposal in the Nashville Post: “The lawmakers say they want to build “a community safety net as opposed to the ER safety net” they say is now used by people below 138 percent of the federal poverty level who lack health care coverage, said Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville.”
Tennessee has ranked last in providing government benefits to its residents, according to a ranking by USAToday-affiliate 24/7Wall Street. Often people think first of the federal government when considering assistance programs, but the states also carries a burden for its employees and residents in need. States pay all or some part of — among other benefits — public pension plans, unemployment insurance, education, Medicaid and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. When it comes to these kinds of pay-outs, Tennessee is the stingiest of the lot, just beating out Mississippi.
A second lawsuit has been filed against Tennessee’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, saying that the body’s actions have been invalid since it was declared unconstitutional two weeks ago. On Jan. 14, Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Hamilton “Kip” Gayden ruled that the body was unconstitutionally seated because its members didn’t “approximate the population of the state with respect to race and gender,” as Tennessee law dictates. The board consists of seven white men, one white woman and one black woman.
The Tennessee Firearms Association today expressed disappointment in Governor Haslam’s continuing anti-Second Amendment rhetoric regarding the upcoming guns-in-parks bill pending in the Tennessee Legislature. “The fact that Governor Haslam is aligning himself with liberal Democrats such as Nashville Mayor Karl Dean on this issue is troubling” said Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris. “But this should come as no surprise given Governor Haslam’s record of being against the rights of law abiding gun owners and more consistently siding with Mayor Bloomberg’s fights oppressing basic human rights.”
Senator Lamar Alexander, who served as secretary of education under President George Bush in the early 1990s, plans to introduce a bill on Tuesday that would give 11 million children from low-income families federal money to spend on any kind of schooling their parents choose, as long as it is in an accredited institution. Although the bill is likely to face strong opposition from the Democratic majority in the Senate, it is another sign that Republicans are staking out school choice as a significant rallying point in an election year and promoting it on the day President Obama delivers his State of the Union address. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, has spoken out repeatedly about his support for vouchers and an expansion of charter schools.
An Islamic Center of Murfreesboro official questions why U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais on Facebook criticized the ICM for obtaining permission from the county to have a cemetery. “Republicans in particular call for smaller government and the local government to manage itself,” said Saleh Sbenaty, an ICM board member for a center on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike. “So now here he is interfering with a local process that has been following all rules and regulations according to the Board of Zoning Appeals chairman (Zane Cantrell) and (Rutherford) County Planning Director Doug Demosi.”
Weston Wamp, a candidate in the August Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District, named the first members of his campaign staff on Monday, according to a news release. They include: • Corky Coker, finance chairman. Coker, president and CEO of Coker Tire, has been active in local politics since the early 1980s. He will lead fundraising efforts, the news release stated. • Marshall Brock, finance director. Brock started Clumpie’s Ice Cream 14 years ago and more recently co-founded Chattanooga Football Club with other local businessmen. He is nephew of former U.S. Senator Bill Brock.
Don’t expect many Republicans to share the rostrum with President Barack Obama when he appears this week at a Donelson high school. Many of the Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation have other commitments. After years of largely bypassing Tennessee, Obama plans to make his second appearance in the state in six months Thursday, when he plans to give a speech at McGavock High School. Details on the event are so sketchy that they haven’t even been shared with the state’s political leaders, but most of Tennessee’s top Republicans plan to be elsewhere when he touches down.
Thirteen states are stepping up an investigation into the for-profit education industry, demanding documents from four colleges about financing and recruitment practices. State attorneys general sent subpoenas last week to Career Education Corp., Education Management Corp., Corinthian Colleges Inc. and ITT Educational Services Inc., said a spokesman for Jack Conway, Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general who is leading the effort. The states are focused on representations made by the colleges to prospective students about graduates’ employment rates and student loans, according to Mr. Conway’s office and regulatory filings.
At Ally School in the Defense Depot area, after the school closure meeting wrapped up Monday in the crowded school cafeteria, children from the elementary school started receiving trays filled with the district’s free suppers. At Vance Middle School, near Downtown, pizza and sodas came before a similar school closure meeting with district officials in that school’s library. Supporters at each school came armed with a similar message — schools provide so much more to their neighborhoods than just reading, writing and arithmetic. One of the public comments submitted at Alcy stated simply, “You take Alcy, you take the community.”
In the last year, Tennessee authorities seized nearly 1,700 meth labs across the state and removed 300 children from homes where someone was making the dangerous and illegal drug. Meth is made with a common, over-the-counter cold and allergy medication — ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. The problem — and the addicts it creates — costs Tennessee taxpayers $7 million dollars a year, officials say. And the stakes are getting higher. What once was largely a rural addiction and manufacturing process is increasingly moving into cities and inner-cities.
It is puzzling that while public education reform throughout the United States is an important priority, a key weapon in improving student performance is facing determined opposition. That is what is happening with Common Core standards in state legislatures and local communities across the nation. Yet, as education and business leaders advocate for more high school graduates who can fill 21st century jobs and compete with students globally, the objections seem shortsighted and, in some cases, amount to fear mongering. On average 16 other industrialized countries scored above the United States in science, and 23 scored above the U.S. in math, according to a recent study.
State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, has carved out a niche for himself as one of the Legislature’s constitutional originalists and an advocate for better civics education in Tennessee. For example, he has supported legislation that would give party caucuses within the Legislature the authority to appoint candidates for the U.S. Senate, a nod toward how senators were selected prior to the 1913 passage of the 17th Amendment. So it is puzzling to find him sponsoring a bill that would violate the separation of powers doctrine and give unprecedented authority to the state attorney general.
The Tennessee General Assembly already has let the horse out of the corral in passing laws that pretty much let gun carry-permit holders take their guns anywhere they want. We have consistently argued that the proliferation of measures expanding gun carry rights is not in the best interest of the general public’s safety. We were relieved, however, that some of the laws gave municipal governments and some businesses and institutions the option of banning guns from certain areas. Those opt-out provisions are now under attack in the legislature and, frankly, state interference in these kinds of local preferences is not good public policy.
While we support the new law in Tennessee regarding handling of concussions in youth sports, a review of the law’s details raises concerns about accountability, enforcement and lack of penalties. Nevertheless, the law raises awareness of youth sports-related concussions and provides a framework for program directors, coaches and parents to follow. The essence of the new law requires a player who suffers a concussion to be removed from the game, and not be allowed to play again until cleared by a medical professional. The law also applies to a broad range of sports activities and programs, including high school sports, club sports and community-sponsored and organization-sponsored leagues and programs.