This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A petition with more than 9,000 signatures supporting Tennessee’s Common Core standards was released Tuesday amid efforts by some lawmakers to do away with them. A statewide alliance of more than 400 business, community and education organizations in Tennessee released the online petition, which was to be emailed to members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Hard copies of the petition were presented to members of the House Education Subcommittee that was to hear proposals addressing the new benchmarks for reading and math. Proposals to do away with the standards or restrict them were delayed until the final meeting of the subcommittee, which faced a room packed with Common Core supporters.
Common Core supporters packed a House committee room on Tuesday for what was supposed to be a spectacular fight to keep academic standards that are facing resistance from the right and suddenly the left. Instead, they watched eight bills targeting Common Core get pushed to the back of the House Education Subcommittee’s calendar, possibly meaning they won’t be heard until the end of the legislative session — raising doubts about the bills’ prospects to advance. Some lawmakers critical of Common Core failed to show up Tuesday. Others requested the delay in advance.
The prospects seemed to dim somewhat Tuesday for several proposals meant to slow Tennessee’s path toward Common Core school standards and PARCC, the new standardized test that comes with them. Many of the bills were not killed outright, but postponed—kicked to the bottom of a long committee agenda, where they may not got another hearing until late in the legislative session. One that was actually brought up effectively died because it would cost Tennessee millions of dollars to stop in its tracks and stick with the current statewide test.
A line of storms that produced a strong EF2 tornado early Friday in Northeast Alabama also produced EF1 tornadoes in Coffee and Franklin counties in Tennessee the night before, underlining the importance of paying attention to weather watches and warnings, officials say. In Franklin County, a twister touched down late Thursday west of Winchester and left a trail of damage northeast across Tims Ford Lake, officials said. The damage path “starts at Riley Lane and goes over Highway 50 and hits a barn there and then goes across the lake to Bible Crossing and Old Estill Springs Road,” Sheriff Tim Fuller said Tuesday.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is among 16 speakers set to talk at the fifth annual TEDxNashville on March 22. The event, held at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Polk Theater, is sold out. TEDx Nashville is part of a national set of idea-centered conferences that take place across the country. The website for Nashville’s TEDx bills the event as being for “curiously-minded, educated Middle Tennesseans who are influencers in their fields.”
Prince Bradley speaks only a few words, occasionally smiles and walks with a lumbering gait. At 24 years old, he has the appearance of a gentle giant, a 6-foot-1, 280-pound man who has been profoundly disabled since birth, severely autistic and unable to live on his own. At times he can be aggressive, breaking things and lashing out. He requires two caregivers to keep him safe at all times. On Sept. 23, Bradley was beaten, allegedly by one of those caregivers, in an incident captured on a cellphone camera. In a span of about 15 seconds, the video shows the man striking Bradley repeatedly.
The University of Tennessee and Alcoa Inc. will be part of a $140 million national advanced manufacturing effort announced Tuesday by President Barack Obama. The initiative could lead to more fuel-efficient cars and decreased costs for shipping and air travel, the university said in a news release. Suresh Babu, UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing, will help lead UT’s research effort as part of a Detroit-based facility called the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or LM3I — one of two centers announced Tuesday.
The University of Tennessee is now offering online training for people who want to be certified through the Tennessee Master Nursery Producer program. The program covers topics including field production, fertilization, irrigation and pest management. Amy Fulcher, a professor of sustainable ornamental plant production in the university’s plant sciences department, said online course offers convenience and savings to students. The curriculum was designed by the UT Institute of Agriculture, Tennessee State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Tennessee lawmakers lent a sympathetic ear Tuesday to legislation that would qualify the children of undocumented immigrants for in-state tuition — even if the children themselves are not legally in the United States. A House committee approved a bill extending in-state tuition to high school graduates whose parents are undocumented immigrants, and a subcommittee opened debate on a second measure that would let any undocumented immigrant who has attended school in Tennessee for at least five years go to college as an in-state student.
Two proposals in the state legislature are testing how far Tennessee Republicans are willing to go in cases involving undocumented immigrants, when it comes to charging in-state tuition to public universities. The more controversial of the two bills would let undocumented immigrants in Tennessee pay the in-state rate for college, which is thousands cheaper than out-of-state tuition. It’s a tough issue for Republicans: Some see it as being too nice to people who came to the U.S. illegally. “This is hard for me! Let me tell you something—You think I’m not taking heat back in my community about that?” Chattanooga Republican Richard Floyd, the bill’s main backer, made an emotional appeal to colleagues, apparently holding back tears during a House subcommittee meeting Tuesday: “And I’m asking you guys, just do the right thing.”
The battle over Tennessee’s annexation laws now moves to the state Senate after the House this week overwhelmingly approved a bill requiring referendum votes before cities can legally take in new territory. “It sounds like we just got a good shot in Senate State and Local [Committee],” observed Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, the measure’s Senate sponsor, after the House’s 87-8 approval Monday night. But, Crowe said, “I guess it depends on Sen. [Ken] Yager, right? He’s chairing the State and Local Committee.” He noted Yager, R-Harriman, has been reluctant to embrace the legislation.
Residents of areas proposed for annexation into nearby Tennessee towns and cities could ratify or reject the annexation in referendums under a bill approved by the state House of Representatives. The bill is awaiting review in a Senate committee and must win approval by the full Senate before it becomes law. But its fate is less clear there than in the House, where it won an easy 78-8 approval Tuesday. House Bill 590 would require referendum approval by a majority of voters in areas to be annexed before the annexation can occur if the municipality initiates the annexation on its own, by ordinance.
The state House voted overwhelmingly Monday to support a bill sponsored by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R- 6th, which mandates local referendums and lets property owners decide whether they want to be annexed into established municipal growth boundaries. Representatives in Nashville voted 78-8 with five present but not voting, sending the companion bill SB 869 to the Senate State and Local Government Committee. The term “forced” has been used by opponents of current law, which allows certain annexations if procured by ordinance and involve property contiguous to predetermined Urban Growth Boundaries.
A Tennessee state senator says he’s going ahead with a plan to rename the Human Rights Commission, and call it the Affirmative Action Commission instead. It’s not clear why lawmakers would change the name of the state panel that investigates housing and workplace discrimination. Technically, affirmative action is still part of the Human Rights Commission’s purview, but officials say that’s not their focus, and hasn’t been for decades. Its director worries the name change would make them look bad, with connotations of giving unfair advantages. And there are fears the move could be a step toward de-funding.
Many people have heard of Tennessee’s sex offender registry, but they could soon also have the ability to look up people who have abused animals. Lawmakers have drawn up a bill that would make Tennessee the first state to keep a database for people who’ve committed crimes against household pets. “People that abuse animals, it’s a gateway crime to eventually abusing humans. So we’re trying to catch this on the front end,” said state Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory. House Bill 2007 and its companion, Senate Bill 2162, would launch an online database showing the faces of people convicted of crimes against animals.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last April Public Chapter 300. The measure was enacted in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It was an effort by lawmakers to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Now nearly a year later, are we or our children any safer because of this law? Since the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a lot has been done in an effort to make our schools safer: new security protocols, more locks and video cameras and armed guards. Tightening security is only one element in dealing with the problem of the mentally ill and guns.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen is scheduled to speak at Lipscomb University next Tuesday. He is participating in a conversation series presented by the university’s Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership. Bredesen, an entrepreneur, former governor and Nashville mayor, is the recent author of “Fresh Medicine: How to Fix Reform and Build a Sustainable Health Care System.” Prior to his time in public office, Bredesen started a health care management business that within a decade became a successful public company, traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Tennessee was among the more than two-thirds of states rated as “high risk” for security problems related to its computers tapping into the federal health insurance exchange system. Federal cybersecurity experts worried in advance of the Oct. 1 deadline for new insurance exchanges that state computer systems could become a back door for hackers and identity thieves. But the Obama administration says the issues have been resolved or addressed, and no successful cyberattacks have occurred. The federal data hub is used to check Social Security, Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security records to verify key personal information for determining coverage eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.
Five Chattanooga Volkswagen workers filed a motion today with the National Labor Relations Board to challenge claims by United Auto Workers (UAW) union that Republican politicians tainted the recent vote against UAW representation at VW. The VW workers asked that they be allowed to present their case against the UAW charges that the vote results were unduly influenced by anti-union comments from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.., Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other politicians. The National Right to Work Foundation, which is supporting the workers filing, said the employees should be granted status in the case to ensure that union claims are disputed since Volkswagen as the employer has signed a neutrality pledge not to fight union representation.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., fired back at his union critics Tuesday, accusing the United Auto Workers of trying to unfairly limit what state and federal lawmakers said about organized labor during the recent unionization election at Volkswagen. The UAW has accused Corker and other Republican politicians of creating a climate of fear and intimidation in their anti-union comments before the election in which hourly employees at the VW plant in Chattanooga voted 712-626 against representation by the UAW.
Nashville is one of as many as three dozen cities the Democratic National Committee has reached out to about possibly hosting the 2016 Democratic National Convention. According to CNN’s Political Ticker blog, the mayors of Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus-Ohio, Dallas, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, New Orleans, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa have also also received letters of interest from the DNC.
Riverview will merge; two others spared from chopping block After hearing emotional pleas from communities hoping to keep their schools open, the Shelby County Schools board on Tuesday voted to shutter nine schools and to merge two — uprooting thousands of students in the process. Originally, 13 schools were slated for closure. School supporters turned out in droves, packing the Frances E. Coe Auditorium on South Hollywood, with school supporters lining the perimeter of the room and spilling into overflow spaces in the hallways.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s position on expanding Medicaid is bewildering. He does not want to expand Medicaid under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, making health insurance available to some 330,000 Tennesseans who cannot afford health insurance. He wants U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to grant Tennessee a waiver that would allow a more modest expansion of the program. Yet he has not submitted an official waiver request. Now he has asked Sebelius to come up with a proposal that would give the state more flexibility to expand Medicaid coverage.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s latest tactic on TennCare expansion is disingenuous. After getting nowhere with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on his Tennessee Plan, Haslam is asking her to come up with an alternative. Governor, that’s not her job. Her job is to implement the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress. Asking Sebelius to come up with an alternative speaks to the weakness of Haslsam’s leadership on the most important issue facing Tennessee health care, jobs, and the future of many state hospitals and the valuable community services they provide. Beginning in 2014, 23 states have expanded Medicaid programs under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.
Members of the Tennessee General Assembly all too often use their lawmaking powers for the wrong reasons: to reward their friends, to score political points before an election. But subverting the laws of the state in order to put people to death might be the worst transgression lawmakers could commit. Tennessee’s and other states’ ability to carry out executions has been seriously compromised in the past few years by problems obtaining drugs for lethal injection and by growing public opinion against capital punishment in general. No executions have been carried out in Tennessee since 2009, and officials’ impatience has erupted into action.