This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
WKNO-TV in Memphis will air live coverage of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address Monday, Feb. 3, on Channel 10. Coverage of the event on public television begins at 6 p.m. The broadcast is funded under an agreement with the Tennessee General Assembly and support from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, donors to public television and several credit unions from across the state, including First South Financial Credit Union, Kimberly Clark Credit Union and Memphis City Employees Credit Union in the Greater Memphis area.
Gov. Bill Haslam will be the featured speaker at the 22nd annual Friends of Scouting Dinner that will be held on Thursday at the Carl Perkins Civic Center, according to a news release. Dinner will start at 5:30 p.m. and the program will start at 6:30 p.m., the release said. Reservations are required, and more information is available by calling (731) 668-3787. The release said the purpose of the Friends of Scouting Dinner is to communicate the mission of the West Tennessee Area Council to the community at large and to kick off the Friends of Scouting campaign. The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam starts his re-election year with more than $4.5 million on hand. The Republican governor reported raising more than $2.9 million in the second half of 2013 and spending about $572,000. His campaign has collected more than $5.2 million to date. Haslam, who has yet to draw a serious opponent from either party, spent about $796,000 on campaign activities last year. The top expense was $233,000 to fundraising consultant Kaegi Resources. Staffers were paid $184,000, while pollster Northstar Studios received $85,000. The Ingram Group, headed by longtime campaign adviser Tom Ingram, was paid $30,000.
With his only potential opponents for now an outraged raccoon-loving Republican and a 1960s-era Democratic warhorse, Gov. Bill Haslam’s campaign on Friday reported raising more than $5.2 million for his re-election effort. Some $2.93 million of the total was raised between July 1 and Jan. 15, according to his filing with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Haslam, who is seeking a second term, has more than $4.5 million still in the bank and is in a fine position to rake in more. “Crissy and I are humbled by the support and encouragement we’ve received from so many Tennesseans, and honored by the trust the people of Tennessee have placed in us to continue doing that work,” Haslam said in a campaign news release.
The near-term outlook for Tennessee’s economy is as good as it has been since the recession, according to a new study. In its latest report to the governor, the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research projected that the state’s unemployment rate will fall from an average of 8.2 percent in 2013 to 7.5 percent in 2014. That would mark the first time since 2008 that unemployment dipped below 8 percent, although it would still be above pre-recession levels, such as the 4.8 percent rate in 2007.
The University of Tennessee has been named among the 75 public schools offering the best value to students across the nation by the Princeton Review. UT-Martin was also named a “Best Value College,” while Vanderbilt University and Rhodes College were among the private schools named to the list. The schools were selected from more than 2,000 colleges and universities, while examining the cost, financial aid, academic rigor and campus life. The Princeton Review, an education company known for its test-prep courses and admissions services, publishes this list and other rankings annually.
More than 7,000 people across the state are waiting to receive services from the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which has experienced significant budget cuts in recent years. Family members of those with intellectual disabilities, defined as an IQ of 70 or less, who are on the waiting list or those already receiving DIDD services in West Tennessee got the opportunity to express their concerns and hopes during a forum with DIDD and TennCare Friday afternoon. Representatives from TennCare said some have been on the waiting list for DIDD services since 1994.
Bristol, Tenn., General Sessions Court Judge William Watson plans to temporarily step down from the bench for medical reasons and he’s asking for a replacement. In a January letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Watson is requesting medical disability under a little used state statute. This allows Watson to keep his judgeship while seeking medical treatment. “For medical reasons, I have not been able to perform my duties as judge since early October 2013 and I certify that my medical disability status will prevent me from performing my duties for at least ninety (90) more days based on representations from my medical doctors,” Watson said in the letter.
A bill to allow wine sales in Tennessee’s grocery, convenience and big box stores easily vaulted another hurdle Thursday in its sprint to being signed into law during this session of the General Assembly. The state Senate approved the so-called wine-in-grocery-stores legislation by a 23-8 vote, leaving the bill in the hands of the House. Similar bills, aiming to allow supermarkets to sell wine, have been proposed for more than a dozen years in the legislature but has yet to succeed, a laborious trial alluded to by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Ketron.
Teachers believe a bill filed Thursday by Jonesborough state Rep. Matthew Hill seeking to reverse a recent State Board of Education policy change will be passed easily by the legislature. The bill, titled the Educator Respect and Accountability Act of 2014, would do away with the state board’s not-yet-implemented policy to tie the granting and renewal of professional teaching licenses to in-class assessments and growth scores calculated using student’s standardized testing scores.
Maybe one day we’ll find out that President Barack Obama’s visit to Nashville made the difference for a Metro bus rapid transit project that needed $75 million in federal funding. We might also discover that Gov. Bill Haslam missed a golden opportunity to convince the president that Tennessee has a better plan to tackle Medicaid expansion — a plan that needs federal approval. Haslam, a Republican, and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat in a nonpartisan office, took different approaches Thursday to Obama’s quick trip to Music City — even if Dean didn’t want to talk about his.
The disappearance last year of a tax incentive for farm preservation could accelerate the disappearance of farmland in Tennessee and around the nation. That worries Kenneth and Sandra Bracy, who fret every time they see a new subdivision sprout near their home on the Kentucky border. New roads that slash through prime farmland aren’t reassuring either. They don’t want that to happen to land they have worked for the past four decades. So back in December, the couple donated conservation easements on more than 500 acres to the Land Trust of Tennessee.
Federal regulators have removed their harshest finding against TVA’s biggest nuclear plant after nearly three years of corrective actions by the federal utility. But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will maintain heightened inspections of the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama due to lingering concerns about operations, maintenance, work planning and equipment reliability at the three-reactor plant. The NRC issued a “red” finding against TVA in May 2011 after discovering a blocked valve to a key emergency system had been undetected for months at Browns Ferry.
The National Nuclear Security Administration confirmed Friday night there was a recent incident involving a “small amount” of uranium oxide at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. The incident apparently was serious enough that Acting Administrator Bruce Held is coming to Y-12 on Tuesday to meet with plant officials and to hold an all-hands meeting with employees. The incident was first reported by Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor, a Washington-based subscription newsletter. “NNSA is aware of an incident involving a small amount of uranium oxide (U308) at the Y-12 National Security Complex earlier this month,” federal spokesman Steven Wyatt said via email.
Metro Schools’ career academies already have the public endorsement of President Barack Obama. Now, the district is looking to emerge a winner in his administration’s $100 million national competition to reward that same type of high school overhaul. Obama, as he spoke glowingly about Nashville’s career-focused Academies of Nashville model during his speech at McGavock High School on Thursday, discussed a new U.S. Department of Labor-led competition intended to encourage high schools to prepare students for high-tech career paths.
They have tried and failed to loosen tenure rules for teachers in contract talks and state legislatures. So now, a group of rising stars in the movement to overhaul education employment has gone to court. In a small, wood-paneled courtroom here this week, nine public school students are challenging California’s ironclad tenure system, arguing that their right to a good education is violated by job protections that make it too difficult to fire bad instructors. But behind the students stand a Silicon Valley technology magnate who is financing the case and an all-star cast of lawyers that includes Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general of the United States, who recently won the Supreme Court case that effectively overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
As a father and longtime education advocate, I know that children are our most important resource. Because it takes a village to raise a child, our community must be responsible for nurturing and providing support for the generation that follows. Part of this task means ensuring that our kids get access to a quality education. The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress — also known as the Nation’s Report Card — recently released scores on fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math assessments. Tennessee students posted record gains in student improvement. These scores, combined with the meaningful education reforms put in place by Gov. Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, present further proof that Tennessee is moving in the right direction.
Finally, with state Senate passage of a bill this week, we’re on the cusp of being allowed to buy wine in grocery stores, just as consumers do in 36 other states, including six of the eight states that surround Tennessee. But don’t raise your glasses just yet. The bill passed this week is only to allow local governments to hold referendums on the matter. (Nothing in the bill, for example, stops dry Stewart County from continuing to ban all alcohol sales.) So, in Montgomery County, there would have to be a countywide vote, as early as this November. If the measure passes, wine sales in supermarkets could begin July 1, 2016. One often overlooked element of the law allows liquor stores to sell beer. So, just as consumers won’t have to make two stops to buy steak and merlot, they won’t have to go to different places for bourbon and beer. This is overall good news for free markets. But dig deeper in this bill, and it appears special interests have muddled things up with more regulations.