This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is visiting schools in each grand division of Tennessee on Tuesday to drum up support for Common Core education standards. The Republican governor starts the day at Cedar Grove Elementary in Smyrna, followed by a visit to Indian Trail Intermediate in Johnson City. He wraps up the tour at Lexington Middle School in Henderson County. The governor is trying to shore up support for the curriculum and testing standards that he has called crucial to improving education in the state. A broad coalition of Republican and Democratic House members last week passed a bill seeking to delay the implementation of the new standards by two years.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will visit Indian Trail Intermediate School in Johnson City Tuesday to meet with principals and educators who have implemented the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core State Standards is a set of expectations for student outcomes in math and English that were developed by states, including Tennessee, in hopes of ensuring that every student graduates high school prepared for college or the workforce.
Governor Bill Haslam is working to get support for the Common Core State Standards. Gov. Haslam is making three stops across the state Tuesday, including one in Rutherford County, to discuss the issue. The governor will “meet with principals and educators who have successfully implemented the Common Core State Standards,” according to a statement from Haslam’s office. Gov. Haslam is seeing rare bipartisan pushback over Common Core. House members on both sides of the aisle voted last week to delay further implementation in Tennessee schools. Republican and Democrat House leaders think common core is moving too fast.
Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has no interest in following the House’s path on delaying Common Core in Tennessee, a hopeful sign for Gov. Bill Haslam and others looking to stave off a full-on revolt over the education standards. The Tennessee Senate took actions Monday to express the state’s sovereignty over education standards, ensure data collected from its new testing isn’t shared and overhaul the state textbook commission. All are aimed at Common Core — but each is less sweeping than the House’s stunning move last week to suspend further implementation of Common Core and postpone its companion test for two years.
Legislation that would require any data collected under Tennessee’s Common Core standards only be used to track the academic progress and needs of students was approved by the Senate on Monday. The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville was approved 31-2. The House version was overwhelmingly approved 81-9 earlier this month. The standards are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce.
State lawmakers showed no sign of letting up Monday night on new educational standards they’ve been taking pot shots at, known as the Common Core. Senators passed a bill aimed at concerns over the use of student data, while tensions mounted more broadly over the new educational benchmarks. The Common Core standards are already in effect in Tennessee and most states, but with a new test currently set to begin next school year, lawmakers are suspicious. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has tried to assure them student information will be protected, but even so, Sen. Dolores Gresham brought a bill to make sure.
While the status of Common Core faces an uncertain fate in the state Senate, a series of amendments delaying implementation of the education standards sailed through the House last week. The vote signaled, amongst other things, the governor’s loosening grip on his legislative agenda. Two days prior, Gov. Bill Haslam told business executives that Tennessee should not “back up” on the Common Core standards. But that’s exactly what the House tried to do. The honeymoon is over from the 2010 election in which Republicans seized control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion.
From allowing students to lock in tuition rates for five years to funding student resources like a dedicated writing center, The University of Memphis needs to invest more in helping students leave with a degree in hand, Provost M. David Rudd told faculty and students Monday. The university in November announced it would not support a tuition boost for 2014-15, marking a critical shift after 22 straight years of rate hikes. That decision ultimately rests with the Tennessee Board of Regents and not the university, however.
Unemployment rates fell in 43 U.S. states — including Tennessee — in January as more Americans began looking for work and most quickly found jobs. The Labor Department said Monday that the unemployment rate rose in just one state — Iowa — where the rate increased to 4.3 percent from 4.2 percent. Still, that’s far below the national rate of 6.6 percent that month. Rates were unchanged in six states. Tennessee’s unemployment rate stood at 7.2 percent in January, down 0.9 percent from January 2013’s rate of 8.1 percent. The data demonstrate that the steady decline in the unemployment rate nationwide has been broad-based, occurring throughout much of the country.
People are flooding the state’s Medicaid program – known as TennCare. They’re trying to get coverage to avoid a penalty under the Affordable Care Act. State officials were expecting people who were already eligible for government-funded health care to sign up – just not this many. TennCare budgeted for between 45,000 and 50,000 new enrollees this year. The program surpassed those projections at the first of March. And the biggest rush may be on the horizon. The deadline to avoid a federal penalty comes at the end of the month. It’s not like TennCare has been out recruiting as Medicaid programs in other states have.
Commuters will soon have a new way to travel between Sumner and Wilson counties when the Tennessee Department of Transportation moves traffic to the new State Route 109 bridge. Beginning 7:30 a.m. Saturday, TDOT will open the first two lanes of traffic on the bridge, said TDOT spokeswoman Deanna Lambert. There will be a 10 a.m. Friday ribbon cutting with TDOT Commissioner John Schroer and representatives from both counties. “This is an extremely large bridge that was built over very deep water, which are factors that aren’t common with your average bridge project,” Lambert said.
A Tennessee Department of Transportation grant expected to be announced Tuesday will bring 41 bus stop shelters and two sections of sidewalk to Fort Campbell Boulevard in an effort to make the busy highway safer for pedestrians and bus riders. The TDOT Multimodal Access Grant is expected to officially be awarded Tuesday, but it was outlined in a document obtained Monday by Gannett Tennessee and confirmed by Douglas Gunnells of TDOT’s Legislative Services Staff. The project includes construction of two 5-foot sidewalks with wheelchair ramps and 41 bus stop shelters with concrete landing pads on Fort Campbell Boulevard and part of Walnut Street.
A new field trip program at Tennessee’s executive residence will allow students to take a tour of the home and learn about its history. First lady Crissy Haslam will host about 40 students from Bransford Pride Afterschool Program at the residence on Tuesday to launch the program. The students will tour the residence, plant spring vegetables in the Kitchen and Cutting Garden and prepare a garden-fresh recipe with the residence chef. Haslam will also read to the students from her March Read20 book of the month.
A Special Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Monday that holding retention elections for the state’s appellate judges is constitutional. The court, which was put together after the regular members of the Supreme Court recused themselves, ruled that it isn’t necessary to have contested elections when it comes to judges who sit on the state’s various appeals courts. Instead, a simple “yes” or “no” ballot on whether to retain an appellate judge would suffice, the court ruled. The question was raised by John Jay Hooker, a Nashville attorney who has been battling for decades to change the way Tennessee elects higher court judges.
Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives approved a measure Monday night that calls for schoolchildren to learn to read and write in cursive. The House voted 85-6 to approve House Bill 1697, a measure sponsored by state Rep. Sheila Butt that would add handwriting instruction to the state curriculum. Students would not be required to learn cursive, but Butt said the technique promotes brain development and will allow students to read historical documents, such as the U.S. Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation, in their original form. Butt also encouraged grandparents to learn how to text — though she made no attempt to require it by law.
Tennessee school children may soon be required to learn cursive, which has never been mandated. A family from Columbia is responsible for making handwriting a legislative issue. To Steven McCrary, cursive looks like a foreign language. “Uh, Spanish,” the junior at Spring Hill High School says. “Right now, I’m trying to teach myself, but it ain’t working too good.” What McCrary missed as a kid became a problem when one of McCrary’s teachers insisted everyone write in cursive. To avoid falling behind, he ended up transferring schools. His mom took the issue to freshman state Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), and discovered some schools have dropped cursive to spend more time on subjects found on standardized tests.
Tennessee is the 22nd state to call for a convention of the states to propose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The General Assembly’s lower chamber passed HJR 548, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksborough, on a vote of 89 to 2, with three representatives identified as “present and not voting.” The two “no” votes were Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga. The three identified as present and not voting were Memphis Democrat state Reps. Raumesh Akbari, Karen Camper and Barbara Cooper.
A bill in the Tennessee General Assembly aims to enable the state to put people to death by electrocution if the Department of Corrections continues having difficulty obtaining lethal-injection drugs, or if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional. Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman and Rep. Dennis Powers of Jackson, both Republicans, last week got a legal go-ahead from Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, a Democrat, to press ahead with legislation granting the state express authority to start using the electric chair for people convicted of capital crimes in the future. Tennessee hasn’t executed anyone since 2009.
A proposal that makes changes to the process for selecting books for state schools has been approved by the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was approved 29-2 on Monday evening. The 10-member textbook selection panel recommends its selections to the State Board of Education, and local school systems then choose which textbooks to adopt from the official state textbook list. Last year, state lawmakers heard testimony from parents who complained about the content of some books and urged legislators to implement a stronger public review process.
The pursuit of a college education is fueling a renewed fight over illegal immigration. House Bill 1992 would allow undocumented students who have attended Tennessee schools for five years and meet the requirements of the HOPE scholarship to pay in-state tuition rates. “I enrolled in community college,” said undocumented student Cesar Bautista. “After a year and a half, I had to drop out because of the tuition rates.” “I graduated Glencliff High School last year,” said undocumented student Jazmin Ramirez. “I have three younger siblings. My parents cannot afford to help with college tuition at all.”
The legislative bill to change Lake City’s name to Rocky Top is back on track. That private act was briefly derailed last week at the request of Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, the lawmaker who represents Anderson County and who was asked by Lake City’s City Council to introduce it. But Ragan on Monday said the bill has now been put “back on notice” and will likely be presented to the House’s Calendar and Rules Committee on Thursday. Ragan said he briefly took the private act off notice after learning that lawyers for the House of Bryant Publications LLC of Gatlinburg had filed a federal lawsuit over the proposed municipal name change.
The owner of the Full Throttle moonshine distillery wants to add Tennessee whiskey to his product list. But Michael Ballard doesn’t want to have to make his spirits in the style of Jack Daniel’s, the world’s most famous Tennessee whiskey. Ballard, star of the cable reality show “Full Throttle Saloon,” says a state law enacted last year prevents him from exploring his own style of Tennessee whiskey, and he is urging lawmakers to dial back some of the new regulations. “We don’t want to make our whiskey like Jack Daniel’s makes their whiskey,” said Ballard, who built his distillery in his home town of Trimble in rural northwestern Tennessee. “Why put us all in one box together?”
A Tennessee motorcycle law that has been on the books since 1976 may be about to change. The proposed legislation would make wearing a motorcycle helmet optional for riders 25 and older. The director of the Vanderbilt Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic thinks it’s a simple decision if people should wear a helmet or not. “I think the freedom that we gain by living is better than the freedom we have by dying, and that’s why I would say wear a helmet,” said Dr. Oscar Guillamondegui. In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that Tennessee’s motorcycle helmet law saved 46 additional lives and $94 million in economic costs.
An East Tennessee urology physicians group has come out against proposed legislation that would require insurance carriers to cover proton therapy treatment for cancer patients. Tennessee Urology Associates has questioned its impact on insurance premium costs and the ability of insurance carriers to determine what procedures they want to cover. “We feel like as urologists and the largest practice east of Nashville that we are the prostate cancer professionals and should have a part when it comes to patient care,” said Jim Scothorn, CEO of Tennessee Urology Associates.
State Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville has officially filed to enter the Aug. 7 Republican primary for the 4th District congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg. Tracy has been endorsed by Concerned Women of America and Citizens United, and has been named a Defender of Freedom by the American Conservative Union. Tracy has served in the state Senate since 2004 and is chairman of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee. Previously, he was a science teacher, coach and basketball referee. He and his wife, Trena, have been married 37 years and have three sons.
Two years ago, onetime dairy executive Scottie Mayfield raised a record amount of money as he campaigned in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. Mayfield finished second in the 2012 Republican primary, then largely faded from the public eye. Now his influence — even as a noncandidate — is being brought to bear in the race he once wanted to win. On Tuesday, Mayfield joined Fleischmann’s re-election team, lending his name to the incumbent’s campaign and leaving more of the fundraising and electoral pie available for him. Mayfield said after his 2012 loss that he would be staying out of politics, but Monday he said he was supporting Fleischmann to “set the record straight.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority is improving the timeliness with which is handles complaints from its non-nuclear staff, but a new audit of worker concerns found “some employees feel that concerns are not being adequately addressed and reported experiencing pressure and repercussions from management.” In a report released Monday, TVA’s Inspector General recommends that TVA identify an individual to audit and assess employee concerns after the cases are closed. The IG also thinks TVA needs to do a better job of investigating claims of retaliation by managers against workers who voice concerns.
Several new suburban school systems will hold enrollment nights beginning Tuesday for families whose students will attend one of the municipal systems opening this summer. Information about the enrollment procedures are on the districts’ websites, including the Bartlett site unveiled Monday morning. Bartlett, Arlington and Lakeland are hosting enrollment events this week. Lakeland, with its one elementary school, will hold its enrollment process from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Bartlett and Arlington districts are asking parents with elementary school students and high school freshmen and sophomores to come Tuesday night, while those with middle schoolers and juniors and seniors in high school should attend Thursday night’s sessions.
Gov. Bill Haslam is facing a leadership crisis over the implementation of Common Core State Standards, one of the pillars of the state’s education reform effort. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted last week to freeze the implementation of the standards and delay for two years the use of the assessment designed to test students on their progress. The Senate is to take up the matter later this week. The move to block Common Core is bad education policy, and postponing its companion assessment will cost the state at least $14 million more than continuing to move forward, according to the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee.
As we witness the widening of the gaps in Tennessee’s social safety net, the scope of the problem for people with intellectual disabilities is becoming more and more apparent — stretching from their childhood years into adulthood and compromising their future. Reports over the past six months have noted that about 7,100, or just under half of Tennesseans with intellectual disabilities of the severity of IQs of 70 or under, are stranded on a Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities list, where they can only hope for a chance at state assistance.