This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam praised adult Boy Scout volunteers Tuesday during a fundraising lunch event for local Scouts at World Outreach Church. The caring adults are affecting the lives of children who need input besides what comes from teachers and parents, suggested Haslam, noting that people cannot rely on government to provide this. “Government doesn’t do a good job with issues of the heart,” Haslam said. “We can’t legislate that.” Boy Scout volunteer Michael Bickford of Murfreesboro was pleased with the governor’s message. “I thought he was spot on,” said Bickford, who is involved with Boy Scout Troop 538 that meets at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Murfreesboro.
It’d be easy to conclude that all governors say the same things in every state of the state address. “It’s jobs, it’s the economy, and then transportation and education,” said Tucker Martin, who helped write the annual speeches for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell… Some gubernatorial proposals focused on revising the current school system. For instance, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who wants to encourage high school students to take college-level courses, proposed letting students to take one college-credit course for free, followed by discounts on other such courses.
Despite Volkswagen workers’ voting down union representation last week at the company’s Chattanooga plant, Tennessee’s chief economic recruiter says more needs to be done to persuade the German manufacturer to bring a new line of SUV production to Southeast Tennessee. “I think we’ve got some work to do to make it happen,” state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said Tuesday. “I’m not taking anything as a given. And our plan is we review every project. We’re going to put our best foot forward and be as competitive as we can.”
A plan by Gov. Bill Haslam to pay for two years of community college for Tennessee students has been met with questions over its potential costs and criticism that it erodes a successful scholarship program. Haslam proposes to pay for the program, called Tennessee Promise, by setting up a $300 million endowment with lottery funds and reducing the amount freshmen and sophomores receive from the HOPE scholarship, from $4,000, to $3,000, while increasing the amount to $5,000 in the final two years of college. In unveiling the program during his State of the State address, Haslam described it as “a bold promise” and said it would be the only such state program in the country.
A year off of floating Gov. Bill Haslam’s name as a potential candidate for national office in 2016, Politico has the Tennessee Republican on a shortlist of potential aspirants for the presidency in two years. A brief history of governors and the presidency by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato gives the Washington insider website an opportunity to float a few names for 2016. Haslam appears along with recognizable figures like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and some perhaps-less-recognizable leaders like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
First lady Crissy Haslam is using her book club to pay tribute to Olympic legend Wilma Rudolph. As part of her Read20 Family Book Club, Haslam will read the February book of the month, “Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman,” at Tennessee State University on Wednesday. Haslam is also hosting Girls on the Run, a youth development program for girls in third through eighth grades. Following the program, the girls will tour TSU’s athletic facilities and perform drills with the school’s women’s track and field team. Haslam launched the Read20 Family Book Club about two years ago.
Matthew Baker’s mother is frantic. On Thursday, Marianne Webster got a text from her 22-year-old son saying he was “free.” He had just been allowed to sign himself out of a Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities residential program in Cookeville, was given $100 in cash and simply walked away. Baker has an IQ of 60 — a mind approximately equivalent to that of an 8-year-old. He has a history of violence toward himself and others, including multiple suicide attempts. He can speak well and appear charming, his mom said. But he once held a woman hostage for five hours.
A former state employee challenged a pair of the government’s lawyers in court on Tuesday to argue that she was forced out of her job based on race. Annie Hendricks, who is white, came to court to represent herself in an employment discrimination trial after twice fending off attempts by state lawyers to dismiss her claim. Hendricks charged that her duties as a human resources claim investigator were given to two black employees within the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development in late 2011. She was left at a front desk to answer phone calls and do little else for months.
Gov. Bill Haslam would have to get state lawmakers’ approval before expanding TennCare under legislation sent to the floors of the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives. House Bill 937, a measure that keeps the governor from acting unilaterally on TennCare, was approved on a voice vote Tuesday by the House Finance Committee. Companion legislation also was approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. The bills stop short of tying the governor’s hands on TennCare expansion. But they nonetheless are meant to ensure lawmakers have the final say on whether to offer TennCare to approximately 175,000 more Tennesseans.
Some Middle Tennessee counties are fighting the state to keep an anti-meth law they say is working. The problem is the law, which makes some cough medicine prescription-only, violates Tennessee code. Now one state lawmaker is working to make the law constitutional through a new bill. Meth had become such a burden in Franklin County, local leaders did something about it. “There’s a $50 fine if a pharmacist sells a bottle of cold medicine with pseudoephedrine in it without a prescription,” said State Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester. Pseudoephedrine is found in many common cold medicines like Sudafed, but it is also a necessary ingredient in making meth.
A proposal to protect wedding-related businesses from lawsuits if they refuse to provide services to same-sex couples is dead for the session after being withdrawn from a Senate committee on Tuesday. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was pulled from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the measure, a person or group wouldn’t have to provide services for a domestic partnership or marriage not recognized by the state if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Tennessee does not recognize same-sex marriages. Bell had said he wanted to protect shop owners in Tennessee, noting that those in other states have been sued for refusing to do business.
A Tennessee lawmaker dropped a bill that would have let wedding vendors turn away same-sex couples after activists in Nashville and beyond waged an intense, weeklong campaign against the measure. State Sen. Mike Bell announced at a hearing late Tuesday that he would delay consideration of Senate Bill 2566 until at least next year, saying that there was no need for the measure immediately. The bill would have let cake makers, photographers and other vendors refuse to work on same-sex ceremonies, even if courts strike down the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Sen. Mike Bell on Tuesday shelved his bill aimed at protecting wedding-related business from lawsuits for refusing service to same-sex couple if it violates owners’ religious beliefs. The Riceville Republican, who took over as lead sponsor of the controversial “Religious Freedom Act” last week, said the legislation isn’t necessary: Tennessee law already protects them. Gay advocates, several dozen of whom showed up at Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee to object to the measure, applauded the move. “We are glad that the senator will not push a bill that says here’s a class [of people] you can discriminate against,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender residents.
The bill shielding people and businesses from lawsuits for refusing service to same-sex couples was shelved Tuesday by its new sponsor, who said current Tennessee law is adequate. The bill generated controversy across the state two weeks ago when it was filed by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Less than a week after issuing a news release touting his sponsorship of the bill, he withdrew his name from the measure last Thursday and transferred sponsorship to Sen. Mike Bell, R-Athens. Opponents labeled it the “Turn Away the Gays” bill.
Rep. Richard Floyd says he is sponsoring a resolution condemning the University of Tennessee’s “Sex Week” because “people in my district are fed up with the perversion.” The Chattanooga Republican’s comments came following House Education Committee members’ approval of the measure, which attacks the festivities organized by a student group at the UT Knoxville campus as “an outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies.” “If those people who organize this thing want to have it, hey, let them get off campus,” said Floyd in an interview after the committee voted for the bill with no discussion.
State workers are pushing for a bill that would require the governor to inform lawmakers any time a significant number of public employees are laid off. An estimated 200 members and supporters of the Tennessee State Employees Association were lobbying legislators Tuesday morning to support House Bill 1748, a measure that could require the governor to file reports on layoffs made when the legislature is out of session. Backers say the measure is needed to slow actions taken while the legislature is out of session, such as a decision last fall to merge employment offices.
School buses in Tennessee must be replaced when they hit a certain age, but many school districts don’t have the budget for it. Now, some lawmakers are pushing for changes that would keep aging buses on the road even longer. Money and safety are at the core of the question lawmakers are expected to take up Wednesday. “Currently, a school bus can run 17 years, or up to 200,000 miles in the state of Tennessee. And the bill that is being talked about [Wednesday] will take all of those limitations off,” said Steve Benefield, general manager of Mid-South Bus Center. “If the bus has too many miles on it, that’s just a driving hazard,” said parent Connie Hardy.
Tennessee lawmakers say teachers and principals need to know it’s alright to talk about religion in school. While federal law already permits it, legislators are working on a proposal to confirm what’s allowed. Some legislators have seen what they consider to be an overreaction. Rep. John DeBerry – a Democrat from Memphis – gives the example of a girl who was assigned to write about someone she looked up to. “She could write about Michael Jackson. But she couldn’t write about Jesus Christ as someone that she admired. The schools have gone so far as to protect those that don’t believe at the expense of those that do.”
A new bill proposed by a Tennessee law marker aims to force police departments to count all of their untested rape kits by summer. The new bill proposed by Senator Mark Norris would force police agencies to count their untested rape kits by this July and send the report to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. By September, the TBI would report the findings to state lawmakers. “The first bill I hope to pass later this afternoon out of committee is the inventory bill,” said Senator Norris. Officials said there is a huge backlog of untested rape kits in the State of Tennessee. In Memphis, there are more than 12,000, some of which date back to the 1980s.
Among the many hopes expressed for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was that it portended to slow the inexorable and exponential rise in health insurance premiums every year. Yet, in many states, it’s still business as usual. According to The New York Times, in California, Aetna proposed rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue Cross 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent in 2013—and there wasn’t a thing that the state insurance regulators could do about it. Other states have seen rates rise by at least 20 percent for some policyholders. These double-digit increases are hitting small businesses and the self-employed particularly hard.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is buying replacement parts for a nuclear reactor that’s not even finished yet. Crews having been working on Watts Bar Unit 2 for the last forty years. TVA says the steam generators at Watts Bar Unit 2 were installed decades ago, as the reactor sat unfinished. The agency’s nuclear power chief, Joe Grimes, says they want to be ready if problems arise once Unit 2 is finally switched on late next year. “Not only is the replacement of these a very challenging activity, the design and manufacturing takes up to four years,” Grimes told the TVA board last week.
An 84-year-old nun was sentenced Tuesday to nearly three years in prison for breaking into a nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium, a demonstration that exposed serious security flaws at the Tennessee plant. Two other peace activists who broke into the facility with Megan Rice were sentenced to more than five years in prison, in part because they had much longer criminal histories of mostly non-violent civil disobedience. Although officials said there was never any danger of the protesters reaching materials that could be detonated or made into a dirty bomb, the break-in raised questions about safekeeping at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.
Japanese companies kept a close eye on the United Auto Workers election at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant last week, Japanese Consul-General Motohiko Kato said at an event at UTC Tuesday. The island nation is the largest foreign investor in Tennessee, with more than 41,000 people employed at 172 Japanese companies across the state. “Right-to-work is one of the important issues for Japanese companies,” Kato said, adding that some Japanese see unions as unnecessary because maintaining positive management-employee relations is already a top priority.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and other local officials welcomed gun manufacturer Remington Outdoor Co. to Huntsville this week. The company plans to take over an old Chrysler building in Huntsville for a new plant that is expected to be operational within the next year and a half and will bring more than 2,000 jobs, company and state officials said. Alabama is a perfect fit for Remington because of the state’s commitment to business and economic development, as well as its conservative politics and unwavering support for the right to bear arms, Bentley said.
Tennessee’s four largest school systems are now all on record calling for Gov. Bill Haslam to provide greater education funding. The Metro Nashville school board in December was first to approve a resolution pointing out that the state’s Basic Education Program 2.0 never has been fully funded since its implementation in 2007. School boards in Memphis-Shelby County, Knox County and Hamilton County have passed similar resolutions. Haslam, whose proposed budget would allocate an additional $63 million for teacher raises, has noted that Tennessee ranks fourth in increasing K-12 spending since he arrived in office.
Metro Nashville Public Schools overestimated charter school enrollment next year by 875 students, meaning what was once projected to be a $23 million budget shortfall has been reduced to $15 million, officials say. For months, MNPS and board members have pushed the case that the continued growth of the district’s publicly financed, privately led charter schools is the chief cause of 2014-15 budget strains — drawing a public rebuke from charter proponent Mayor Karl Dean for singling them out. As it turns out, Nashville will have 5,890 students attending charters next year, according to newly updated numbers, instead of the 6,765 predicted last August.
The Bradley County Commission wants Common Core standards out of the classroom. On Monday, the Bradley County Commission voted 9-4 to support Tennessee House Bill 2332, which calls for the state to “discontinue the use of common core standards in English language arts and mathematics” on July 1. “If the state and local governments created their own set of standards, we can take the few good things in Common Core and implement them,” said Commissioner Jeff Yarber, who has repeatedly called for the state to reject the wholesale adoption of those standards.
Shortly after the Shelby County Schools’ online application for student transfers next school year went live Tuesday morning, Akasuki Pettis walked into the Shelby County Schools Technology Training Center on Jackson Ave. to fill out an application for her son, Zachary Waller, who starts kindergarten in the fall. The SCS “General Choice Transfer” process allows parents to choose a school in the district in available space, even if they live outside the school’s boundaries. The application process is open to any student that lives in Shelby County. As Pettis logged into the online system this morning, Tommie McCarter, a SCS district official helped guide Pettis through the application.
When Tennessee secured the title of the nation’s fastest-improving state for student achievement just weeks ago, most of us who care so deeply about student success took a moment to celebrate reaching a difficult yet significant milestone. Tough work by Tennessee educators and students’ historic gains in reading and math moved our state rankings out of the cellar. It was right to savor the success after making many difficult but needed changes to public education, but we cannot let this improvement lessen our sense of urgency. Tennessee still ranks below the average on the Nation’s Report Card.
In a week or so, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire plans to introduce legislation that will take some political bravery. His bill deals with a politically emotional topic — the kind we yell at the TV about — and is not necessarily along party lines. It may not even be the most popular idea — at least just yet — among his constituents. “This won’t benefit Todd Gardenhire one bit,” he said Monday. So why do it? Who does benefit? “Kids,” he said. Gardenhire, wonderfully, is becoming a leading legislator regarding Tennessee’s education policy. He recently introduced a bill that would allow born-in-America-children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition at a public college.
The war on drugs continues in the United States, although in Colorado, for example, one significant battle has been yielded. Marijuana is sold legally there, and not just for medical reasons. While we do not agree with legalization of marijuana for recreational use, we are watching with interest proposed legislation that would make the use of medicinal marijuana legal in Tennessee. The Koozer-Kuhn bill currently being considered in the state Legislature was named for the Koozers, a family who moved from Knoxville to Colorado, so they could use cannabis as part of their daughter’s treatment for seizures.
State and local government officials who lobby legislators on behalf of their constituents would have to register with the Tennessee Ethics Commission under a bill being considered in the General Assembly. Sponsored by state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the legislation aims to make the wheeling and dealing in Nashville more transparent. Identifying those who attempt to influence legislation — whether they represent a private company, industry group, school board, local government or the governor — is in the best interest of the public. Current law explicitly exempts all state and local government officials from registering as lobbyists.
Organizers for the United Auto Workers’ attempt to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga have expressed surprise and disappointment after workers rejected their bid last week. The disappointment is understandable, but if the union thought it had this vote in the bag, then it surely underestimated the lengths to which it had to go to win its argument for a large union shop in Tennessee. The fact that VW management was amenable to UAW representation perhaps lulled the union into a false sense of security.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Last week’s election in Tennessee was not the epochal turning point in the life of the United Auto Workers. For the UAW to win at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen VOW3.XE -1.06% plant so soon after Detroit’s collapse and bailout would have been a near-miracle. Friday’s vote—the union lost 712-626—wouldn’t even have been close if not for oddball circumstances. Though VW management claimed to be neutral in the race and was in fact internally divided over whether it wanted the UAW, workers could easily have thought management wanted a “yes” vote.