This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
It has been a week since Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled his Tennessee Promise plan to provide tuition-free community college to all Tennessee high school graduates. The proposal caught many people by surprise. If the plan is approved by the Tennessee General Assembly, it would usher in sweeping change to higher education in Tennessee. But making it work will be as much a responsibility of parents as it will be of the state and of higher education professionals. The Tennessee Promise eliminates the majority of excuses for high school graduates not pursuing post-secondary education.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has vowed to make education a priority in Tennessee, and Franklin County Board of Education members say he is on the right track. Haslam back up his vow with a pledge last week to allow any graduating high school senior to attend a two-year higher learning institution for free. He made the announcement during his State of the State address, which included details of his $32.6 billion state spending proposal and a rundown on some of his top legislative priorities in the year. The new education plan, called “Tennessee Promise,” is an addition to his so-called “Drive to 55” initiative, with a goal to improve Tennessee’s graduate rates from colleges and universities from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
Tennessee community colleges have been getting a lot of calls in the past week, ever since Governor Bill Haslam announced plans to offer free tuition to high school graduates. The Governor’s proposal received a lot of praise from lawmakers and national education experts, but now questions are being raised. WPLN’s Bradley George talks through some of those questions with Andrea Zelenski, reporter for the Nashville Post and Nashville Scene.
This past Monday Governor Bill Haslam announced a major new education initiative during his annual State of the State presentation. Haslam proposed offering a free community or technology college education to every graduating Tennessee senior who wants it, an initiative he’s calling the Tennessee Promise. Dr. Scott Boyd heads the Faculty Senate at Middle Tennessee State University. He says the educators he’s spoken to applaud any measure that helps students get a degree. He notes that college tuition rose dramatically in recent years as the state’s contribution to higher education fell sharply.
National groups may be pouring money into the fight over school vouchers, but don’t overlook the impact local groups can have on the debate. More specifically, those in three key Senate districts. Parents, educators and private school operators — just to name a few — are weighing in. And among lawmakers for whom personal relationships can be as important as campaign war chests to winning elections, those constituencies may decide the outcome in the voucher fight. For a year now, Gov. Bill Haslam has maintained that vouchers should be available only to low-income students assigned to the state’s worst public schools.
While there was plenty of attention surrounding Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to send kids to two year colleges for free, there was much less fanfare for other items in his 2014-2015 proposed spending plan. One agency that could see increased funding is the Department of Children’s Services. DCS has a proposed budget of $695 million, which does include some reductions. It also includes a $13.6 million increase, of which almost half would come from state funding. Gov. Haslam’s recommendation is exactly in line with what DCS requested.
Kathy Northington’s No. 1 priority for her 25-year-old son with intellectual disabilities is for him to live in a safe environment where staff members are fully prepared to deal with his complex needs — something that has not always been the case at private agencies the state pays to care for him. “I am happy where he is now, but there needs to be training for staff that these people are not inmates. They are not kids to be baby sat. They are human beings and they should be treated with respect,” Northington said.
The latest Middle Tennessee State University poll released Monday shows Gov. Bill Haslam’s job approval has dropped since last spring. The poll shows the Republican governor slid from 61 percent in the last poll rating to 47 percent. Poll director Ken Blake said the decrease occurred primarily among the state’s Democrats and political independents. Approval among Democrats fell from 52 percent to 42 percent, while independents dropped from 69 percent to 41 percent. Democrats have heavily criticized the governor for declining $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 140,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms that the money was offered by the federal government.
A new marriage between Chattanooga’s universities and Taiwan’s National Pingtung Institute of Commerce could open a three-year exchange program between the two schools that potentially would add jobs and boost tourism in the Chattanooga area. Chattanooga State Community College, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Southern Adventist University each intend to court new students and faculty from abroad and send students back in return. Terry Olsen, a Chattanooga-based immigration attorney, has been working to promote such a deal since 2005, he said.
The extremely cold temperatures have been blamed on the increased number of potholes on Interstates in and around the Nashville area.In order to avoid rush hour traffic, crews with the Tennessee Department of Transportation can only work overnight, or between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Those time periods just aren’t long enough to conquer a workload that seems to never end. Sometimes crews have as many as 100 potholes to fill on the interstate in Davidson County alone. Burel Tidwell with T-DOT said this has been one of the worst winters for potholes he’s ever seen.
The latest version of the state’s Blue Book is Tennessee orange. The Blue Book is the Tennessee’s guide to state government. It includes information about state history and government, and contains biographies of all members of the Tennessee General Assembly. This year’s book is dedicated to Pat Summitt, the coach emeritus of the Lady Volunteers basketball team at the University of Tennessee. The Blue Book is published every two years by the secretary of state’s office, and the new edition was delivered to the Capitol on Monday.
As legislation makes its way through the state Capitol that would allow wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores, there’s a growing movement to do the same for high-gravity beer. “If you want to buy a high-gravity beer in Tennessee, you have to buy it in liquor stores,” said Linus Hall, owner of Yazoo Brewing Company. By state law, a beer is considered “high gravity” if it has more than 6.2 percent alcohol by volume. While high-gravity beer is not included in the so-called “wine in grocery stores” legislation, two bills currently in the works are giving brewers new hope to get their craft varieties in more places.
Jazmin Ramirez wants to open a small business one day, but for now that hope is on hold. Ramirez left Zacatecas in central Mexico when she was 7 years old, joining her mother and a sibling as they moved to Minnesota and then to Nashville. Last year, she graduated from Glencliff High School in Nashville with the goal of enrolling at Austin Peay State University. Instead, the 19-year-old South Nashville resident helps her family make ends meet by baby-sitting familyfriends. “I want to help people in my community by offering jobs,” she said.
A Nashville judge has thrown out a 3-year-old defamation case filed by a former state GOP staffer against Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and one of his longtime aides. Former Tennessee Republican Party official Mark Winslow filed the suit in January 2011 against the state party, Fleischmann and Chip Saltsman. The suit claimed Fleischmann obtained confidential documents from the state party related to Winslow’s severance pay and then used the information in television ads aimed at defeating Winslow’s former boss, Robin Smith, who challenged Fleischmann in the 2010 primary.
Most employers won’t face a fine next year if they fail to offer workers health insurance, the Obama administration said Monday, in the latest big delay of the health-law rollout. The Treasury Department, in regulations outlining the Affordable Care Act, said employers with 50 to 99 full-time workers won’t have to comply with the law’s requirement to provide insurance or pay a fee until 2016. Companies with more workers could avoid some penalties in 2015 if they showed they were offering coverage to at least 70% of full-time workers. The move came after employers pressured the Obama administration to peel back the law’s insurance requirements.
A conservative anti-tax group labels the union trying to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga as the “United Obama Workers,” and warns that a union victory this week by the United Auto Workers could sow the seeds of a more liberal, Democrat-leaning Tennessee. Union supporters counter that “right-wing Republicans” are trying to keep the UAW out of the South for political gain. On the eve of the biggest union election in Chattanooga in a generation, the battle lines are being drawn for many along partisan lines.
The days leading up to a big union vote at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant are filling with name-calling and threats, and not inside the Chattanooga factory. “The only drama that I can say that is persistent is actually outside the plant,” VW employee and union supporter John Wright said Monday. Wearing a gray VW sweatshirt and leather work boots, he was dressed for the overnight shift as he spoke in a Chattanooga union hall. The United Auto Workers has signed union cards from a majority of Volkswagen’s 1,550 hourly workers, including Wright. Some employees have come out publicly against the union.
Republican lawmakers in Tennessee on Monday threatened that the state could turn off the spigot of incentives for Volkswagen if workers at the German automaker’s plant decide this week to approve union representation. State Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson in a news conference in Chattanooga called the United Auto Workers campaign at the plant “un-American.” “Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate,” he said.
State legislators dueled Monday over the pending union vote by workers at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, with state Sen. Bo Watson saying the automaker has conducted a labor campaign that’s “unfair, unbalanced and, quite frankly, un-American.” Watson and state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said potential financial incentives on any factory expansion are at risk if the United Auto Workers is accepted. However, state Rep. JoAnne Favors termed the incentives remark “coercion and intimidation” of employees.
Republican leaders in the Tennessee legislature called Volkswagen “Un-American” Monday morning for the way the German automaker is welcoming a union organizing effort. VW’s 1,550 workers in Chattanooga will vote through a secret ballot later this week. Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixon), whose district includes the plant, said “it has been widely reported that Volkswagen has promoted a campaign and has been unfair, unbalanced, and quite frankly Un-American in the traditions of American labor campaigns.”
House Democrats expressed astonishment Monday that Gov. Bill Haslam and other Tennessee Republicans would threaten to pull economic incentives for Volkswagen if its Chattanooga factory seeks union representation for its workers. “It’s almost unprecedented in this country,” said Mike Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “This is a very bad precedent to set.” Turner and other Democratic lawmakers called a press conference Monday to say they were “stunned” that Republicans in government would attempt to interfere with agreements made involving private businesses.
A new report shows over the last decade more students are taking Advanced Placement courses in Tennessee. But the College Board report released on Tuesday shows the state is below the national average of students in the class of 2013 who scored a 3 or higher on an AP exam. The national average was 20 percent, where Tennessee was 10 percent. A 3, 4, or 5 are the scores typically accepted by colleges for credit and placement. Over the past decade, the report said the number of students who graduate from high school having taken rigorous AP courses, like world history and physics, has nearly doubled.
If the state of Tennessee has its way, it will put 10 people to death in a period of 18 months between April 22, 2014, and Nov. 17, 2015. The federal public defender’s office in Nashville has doubts that any of the 10 are solid cases for the death penalty — if there is such a thing as a solid case for institutionalized cruelty. “They each have different stories of ineffective counsel, of evidence that was suppressed by the state, stories of trauma and mental abuse that were never presented to a jury or a judge,” says Kelley Henry of the public defender’s office. But let’s assume for a moment that all 10 did, in fact, commit the heinous crimes they have been convicted of.
Don’t do it, VW workers. Don’t open a box you may never be able to close. By now, the lines have been drawn in an epic struggle for control — and people are watching from around the world — at an automobile plant in Chattanooga. It comes down to this: Volkswagen workers — nearly 1,500 of them — will vote Wednesday through Friday whether to be represented by the United Auto Workers union in helping set up what VW refers to as a works council, or they will vote to continue the union’s shutout by foreign automakers in the South. What happens if the box is opened? First and foremost, the UAW enters the room.