This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s bold initiative to provide free community college education to Tennessee high school graduates appears to be making progress in the General Assembly. If it succeeds, it will put Tennessee among the top states that are committed to provide higher education opportunity for all, prepare a high quality workforce and ensure every student who is willing to study has the opportunity to build a sound future. Haslam’s plan has met some resistance because it changes how students access Tennessee Education Lottery Hope Scholarship money. Currently, students who attend four-year colleges and universities can receive $4,000 per year in lottery scholarship money.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to create a community college program for all high school graduates is advancing in the Senate. The “Tennessee Promise” legislation advanced out of the Senate Education Committee 8-1 on Wednesday. It’s similar to one moving in the House. The proposal would cover a full ride at two-year schools for any high school graduate, at a cost of $34 million per year. The measure was amended to change lottery scholarship amounts. Initially, the bill sought to lower the current $4,000 lottery scholarship amount at four-year colleges to $3,000 for freshmen and sophomores, but increase it to $5,000 for juniors and seniors.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam wants every high-school graduate in his state to be able to attend a community or technical college free of charge, a goal he says will strengthen the workforce and attract investment. To fund the “Tennessee Promise” plan, estimated to cost about $35 million a year when fully implemented, the governor wants to trim the money Tennessee spends on scholarships at four-year colleges. That part of the proposal has prompted pushback from private colleges, which worry the lower scholarship awards will hurt their enrollment. This week, the governor moved to ease the colleges’ concern by restoring half of the proposed cut in scholarships for freshmen and sophomores.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to sign a bill to allow supermarket wine sales into law today. But that doesn’t mean your neighborhood grocery store will be able to stock your favorite merlot or chardonnay any time soon. The measure passed after years of legislative debate requires voters to first approve supermarket wine sales in a referendum. And even after that, the earliest wine could be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores would be in the summer of 2016 — or a year later if they are located near an existing liquor store. The measure also allows liquor stores to begin selling items other than booze.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday urged state officials to follow through on Common Core education standards despite what he called an “avalanche” of criticism from those who oppose them. Bush said at an education forum with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that the standards are key to improving educational achievement around the country. “This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have,” said Bush, who later brushed off reporters’ questions about his presidential aspirations. “And it’s been mired in politics. “Trust me I know,” he said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is urging state officials to stay the course on Common Core education standards despite what he called an “avalanche” of criticism from those who oppose them. Bush said at an education forum with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Wednesday that the standards are key to improving educational achievement levels around the country. “When I’m out recruiting jobs for Tennessee, the one pushback I get from folks is about the depth and quality of our workforce. And they say that in two ways: the specific training – and that’s why we’re pushing the Drive for 55 and more Tennesseans with college degrees – and secondly the ability to think critically,” Haslam said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush defended the Common Core test to a group of lawmakers and business people on Wednesday at the Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville. The focus of the event was to bolster Gov. Bill Haslam’s push for Tennessee to adopt the new standardized math and reading tests. As Haslam moderated the talk between Sen. Lamar Alexander and Bush, one point was emphasized: Common Core should not be seen as federal overreach. “I think, unfortunately, people get too confused about the federal role and the national priority and then it gets stuck And we just kind of get back to the local control mantra without advocacy of better results,” Bush said.
Efforts to roll back Common Core have begun to stall in the week since opponents scored a surprise victory in the state House of Representatives. The Senate has declined to take up a measure that would delay the tests that go with Common Core for two years, and a House subcommittee has killed legislation that would repeal the national education standards in Tennessee. The Senate Education Committee also has quietly dropped another bill that would have repealed Common Core.
The Senate sponsor of a House-passed bill that would impose a two-year delay on Tennessee’s Common Core education standards says he’s worried about “shenanigans” on a fiscal analysis that will send the measure to the Senate Finance Committee. He questioned the $10 million fiscal note on the bill, saying it doesn’t account for what he believes is $50 million in savings to local school systems if implementation of the standards is pushed back. “I think it’s almost some shenanigans. Everybody talks about the shenanigans on the House floor,” Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said Wednesday, chuckling over the word’s use when conservatives and Democrats coalesced to take over the bill on the House floor. “I’ve never a seen a shortage of shenanigans down here.”
Shelby County Schools could seek a waiver from the state to continue using Common Core state education standards if the Tennessee Legislature suspends the use of the standards. “As our world changes … this is really where we need to be,” Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson told school board members Tuesday, March 18. “If this is where the country is going – 45 of the states are going – and ultimately all states are going there, I think it really sets our kids back if we say, ‘Well, not you kids. We’re going to wait for a couple of years.’”
The Senate Health Committee voted 9-0 Wednesday to send legislation limiting purchases of pseudoephedrine to the full Senate. Members of the panel made no changes to Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to cap sales at 4.8 grams a month, enough for a 20-day supply of the cold and allergy medicine, and 14.4 grams a year. Many House lawmakers favor higher limits, but Majority Leader Mark Norris, Senate Bill 1751’s sponsor, said he hopes to stick with Haslam’s plan. Pseudoephedrine is the key ingredient in making methamphetamine.
State senators are weighing how tough a law they can realistically hope to pass targeting meth. They want to make it harder to get the drug’s key ingredient—the cold medicine pseudoephedrine. The Senate has looked at all kinds of ways to limit pseudoephedrine—some a good bit more restrictive than the governor’s. In a meeting of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, Sen. Randy McNally signed off on the Haslam administration’s proposal only reluctantly, saying he wished it could be tougher: “This is about the bottom threshold that I’m willing to go. It is an improvement, but it’s not what some states have done such as Oregon and Mississippi.” Those states have simply required prescriptions.
When the state Department of Health was created in 1923, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in Tennessee. In 2013, TB here reached a record low, public health officials said: 143 cases statewide. Knox County had eight cases. The 15 counties around Knox had five cases: two in Blount, two in Monroe and one in Hamblen. But those few cases are often much more complex. “Many of the individuals we have identified in Tennessee with active TB and treated in recent years have other medical conditions that need to be controlled in order to make the TB treatment more effective,” said Dr. Jon Warkentin, state TB Control Officer and medical director of the Tennessee Tuberculosis Elimination Program.
Dunbar Cave has been closed to the public for so long that some may have forgotten it once was open for guided tours by flashlight. Those tours could resume soon; Dunbar Cave is one of a limited number of closed Tennessee caves now under consideration for reopening. Shannon Ashford, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, confirmed to The Leaf-Chronicle on Wednesday that reopening Dunbar Cave is under consideration by park rangers and state staff, and they could reach a decision within a month or two. Dunbar Cave State Natural Area sprawls 110 acres of trails, woodland, a lake and the cave, all in the center of Clarksville.
In Tennessee the number of suicide deaths are twice that of homicides, but within the last three years the number has been decreasing. For many people the beginning of spring is a time to get outside and enjoy life, but for the mobile crisis team at the Mental Health Cooperative, it a time to help save lives. “They often think the Christmas or the holiday times is the increase in suicide rates, but what we have found is the spring and summer months, we tend to see a spike in that,” said Amanda Myatt Bracht, Chief Clinical Officer with Mental Health Co-op. The organization handles crisis situations for Davidson County.
The University of Memphis on Wednesday announced two finalists to run its Lambuth campus. One of those is the former president of Hopkinsville Community College, who asked to be reassigned within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System after the system launched an ethics investigation. The vice provost will be responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the Lambuth campus in Jackson, Tenn., and will report directly to U of M Provost M. David Rudd. The former Hopkinsville Community College president, James Selbe, is currently special assistant to the chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in Versailles, Ky.
It looks like Governor Bill Haslam will keep appointing members of the state school board. But a failed proposal to take that power away reveals the motivations behind a legislative power grab. The state school board is widely viewed as a rubber stamp for the governor. So Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains thinks members should be elected, just like local school boards. The East Tennessee Republican contends the current process keeps people outside the mainstream from populating boards and commissions. “I kinda like running for election here. If I had to wait to be appointed, I’d never be down here.” While Niceley’s legislation failed, other efforts to wrest appointment power from the governor have gotten traction.
As at least one Republican leader appears to have feared would happen, opponents of Common Core in the state House of Representatives have proposed several potential riders to a popular bill to encourage schools to teach cursive writing. Five amendments meant to block Common Core and one that would break the link between teacher licenses and test scores have been filed to House Bill 1697, a measure sponsored by state Rep. Sheila Butt. The bill sailed through committees, with Republicans and Democrats saying they liked the idea of saving the dying art of handwriting, but leadership sensed a potential Trojan horse.
As promised, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, pushed legislation forward this week that would let voters decide for themselves whether they want to be annexed into municipalities, despite a public plea from Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin on March 6 for the senator to pull the bill. Crowe’s bill was one of three annexation bills to go forward. SB 869, a companion to the bill passed in the House sponsored by sRep. Micah Van Huss R-6th, won approval Tuesday in the Senate State and Local Government Committee in an 8-1 vote, with Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, voting in opposition.
State lawmakers will wait until the end of session to take on a proposal that would let people carry guns in any park across the state, without exceptions. The bill has already passed the Senate, but was postponed Wednesday in the House. Supposedly, it will cost some money for signage, but that isn’t paid for in the planned budget from the governor—who argues cities should keep the ability to ban guns in parks. So the House Finance Committee essentially voted to put the bill off until after the budget is passed, and then see whether there’s loose change left to pay for it. There rarely is. Asked whether the move amounts to a kiss of death for the bill, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said often it would be, but in this case, not necessarily.
As it approached 6:30 p.m. Monday night, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris made the motion to adjourn the Tennessee Senate’s ongoing session. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and lawmakers had long ago scheduled dinners with mayors and local officials who were in Nashville Monday night for the Tennessee Municipal League’s legislative conference day. The adjournment also came as senators were set to consider legislation, Senate Bill 0830, that would give the state new authority to approve charter schools in Davidson and four other counties — a much-debated bill pushed by House Speaker Beth Harwell and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean that grew out of the Metro school board’s refusal to approve Great Hearts Academies in 2012.
Mayor Karl Dean and his counterparts in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis urged members of the House and Senate transportation committees today to reject legislation that would block Nashville’s bus rapid transit project. “This legislation is redundant and overreaching given the fact that the project has been adopted into the Nashville Area MPO plan and work program, both of which are approved with the Governor’s concurrence,” the “Big 4” mayors wrote in a letter released today. “We ask that you vote against this bill as it could have unintended consequences on our ability to manage growth in all four large cities in Tennessee, which would be detrimental to not only our regions, but our state’s economy as a whole.”
About 30 people from an organization called the Nashville Student Organizing Committee held a brief demonstration in Legislative Plaza on Wednesday afternoon to protest Tennessee’s voter identification law. Representatives for the group — made up mainly by students at Fisk University and Tennessee State University, according to an organizer — testified in favor of legislation that would have rolled back portions of the voter ID law. The measure was filed as an amendment to House Bill 2373, a caption bill filed by state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis. The measure failed, with lawmakers offering to send it to have a study committee look at the question of whether students should be able to use their campus IDs at the polls.
The setting was an intimate venue at the Clarksville Country Club for a meeting of the Clarksville Rotary Club, but the issues were among the biggest going in the nation and the world as U.S. Senator Bob Corker visited the area on Wednesday. Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressed the current situation in Russia and the Ukraine, the failure of U.S. foreign policy in Syria, the strategic importance of U.S. energy policy, and what some in the room saw as a precipitous decline in U.S. military strength at a time when the larger world appears to be getting more dangerous and unstable.
During a Senate Labor Committee hearing last week, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he believed there was a better way with more bipartisan support to reduce poverty than the Democrats’ proposed minimum wage increase. Terry Adams believes the people of Tennessee disagree with Alexander, and the Democratic Senate candidate, who is running against Alexander, stopped in Jackson on Wednesday to share his views on the proposed wage hike. “We are in Jackson today to demand Lamar Alexander’s support increasing the minimum wage,” Adams said.
The Internal Revenue Service says more than 16,000 Tennesseans who didn’t file their tax returns in 2010 are due refunds totaling more than $12.8 million. The IRS says those who are owed refunds have a deadline of April 15 to file their 2010 tax return in order to collect the money. There is no penalty for filing late for a refund. However, in order to get the money, taxpayers have three years to file a return to claim a refund. Nationwide, more than 900,000 people who did not file a tax return in 2010 are due almost $760 million in refunds.
Sheila Hayden put off venturing onto the government’s health-insurance marketplace website for a couple of reasons. She’s a busy student at Pellissippi State Community College, studying business hospitality, and says she usually doesn’t get much of a break between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. But she was also nervous. “I was afraid there would be a possibility I’d have to pay a [high] premium. I was worried about the financial possibilities,” she says. “That was the fear. Am I going to be turned down?” Hayden, 58, had a job with benefits for 16 years before she was laid off during the recession. She tried to buy a COBRA health-insurance policy, but the monthly premium was $600 and just not feasible for her budget.
Fallout from the freakishly cold winter will linger well into spring as states grapple with damage to road budgets. As a demanding pothole season begins, many state legislators are still looking for money to pay the bills for winter work. Snowstorms forced states and localities to spend millions of dollars more than they budgeted for salt, sand, fuel and overtime for employees who drive the plows and fill the potholes. “It’s extraordinarily difficult to budget for the snow and ice season, and we have to do it. It’s not something we can cut back on, because it’s a public safety issue,” said Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Babcock & Wilcox announced Wednesday the company and its bidding team, Nuclear Production Partners, will not pursue any additional challenges to the Y-12/Pantex contract award. The B&W-led NPP team filed three protests with the Government Accountability Office, which recently rejected the third and final protest and paved the way for Consolidated Nuclear Security — a Bechtel-led proposal team — to begin the transition of contractors at the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants. CNS was initially awarded the $22 billion contract to manage the two sites in January 2013, but the National Nuclear Security Administration was unable to implement the contract change because of the ongoing protests.
We should trust Rutherford County Schools Director Don Odom when it comes to his support of Common Core. Odom says he’s a data-driven educator who has seen how 600 more students in grades 3-8 scored proficient in math last year. The director attributes that to the training the district’s teachers had in how to provide instruction in the Common Core standards. He’ll tell you Common Core is all about challenging students with a more rigorous approach through critical thinking and problem-solving skills rather than just memorizing facts to pass a test. Odom is known to be a straight shooter who doesn’t engage in the political rhetoric about the evils of anything. He is not part of Democratic President Barack Obama’s army of bureaucrats when it comes to marching orders on education.
There are any number of things the UT students who organized Sex Week could have done to minimize the reaction of the state Legislature. They could have scheduled the event during fall semester, when the Legislature is not in session. They could have given some of the sessions less provocative names. Did they really need giant penis and vagina suits walking around campus? They didn’t do any of these mollifying measures because the in-your-face event is deliberately provocative. They played conservative legislators like a cheap fiddle. They got what they wanted—attention and media coverage.