This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Although Gov. Bill Haslam is not yet ready to declare his legacy in office, apparently he wants that legacy to be that he helped bring the state’s workforce into the 21st century. Haslam’s Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise initiatives and support for Common Core standards are components of establishing that legacy, even with the battle he faces over Common Core. The battle over Common Core seems closely akin to the current Republican Party rift between business-minded party members and those who espouse the viewpoints of the tea party. Haslam appears aware that the workforce of the 21st century cannot be the workforce of the 19th or 20th centuries.
A week can be a long time in politics — long enough to get the fortunes of the Tennessee governor back on track. Last Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam faced the prospect of losing not one but two major legislative battles. The state House had passed a bill to freeze Common Core, the national educational standards that Haslam says are integral to improving Tennessee schools. Meanwhile, a legislative committee was delaying his plan to combat meth production by limiting sales of pseudoephedrine, a cold medicine that also serves as the drug’s key ingredient. By Thursday, the governor appeared to have taken back the upper hand.
Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips have awarded $21,270 to Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, dba KMC Musicorp, in Portland, said a news release from the state Capitol. The grant will provide 65 Fender employees with “Lean Continuous Improvement,” manufacturing skills, computer skills, and business leadership skills training. “Incumbent worker grants provide critical training and education to employees across the state in the continued effort to have a workforce that meets current marketplace demands,” said Haslam in prepared comments.
Kevin Huffman says he had always believed student results “trump all” in public education. Now, he’s not so sure. Tennessee’s lightning-rod, reform-minded education commissioner delivered that message Saturday during his version of an 18-minute “TED talk” in front of a sold-out crowd at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, site of TEDxNashville 2014. Huffman said it “honestly felt like we had won the Super Bowl in education” after Tennessee in November boasted historic gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “But then a really funny thing happened,” the former Teach for America executive told the crowd.
Hundreds of people visited Tennessee’s state parks on Saturday for guided hikes on the first weekend of spring, events that coincided with officials beginning to consider whether to cede control of some of those parks to private contractors. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation started looking into the possibility of privatizing state parks when they filed a request for information to potential contractors in February. Department spokeswoman Shannon Ashford said the study is still in its infancy and that no timeline has been given for any proposals to be made or studies to be completed.
Field trips to the Tennessee governor’s executive residence have resumed, offering students a history lesson and hands-on tour. First Lady Crissy Haslam hosted 40 students from Springfield this week on a vist that included a chance for students to work in the garden and learn about sustainability and healthy meal preparation from Tennessee Residence Chef Stephen Ward. The three-story home was completed in 1931 and became the governor’s home in 1949. Nine governors and their families have lived there. Tours of the mansion, at 882 Curtiswood Lane South, must be scheduled at least two weeks in advance.
As state higher education funding has slumped, urban research universities like the University of Memphis have increasingly relied on student tuition and fees to keep their doors open. But that revenue source also has dwindled in recent years. Fewer enrolled students, compounded by diminishing state appropriations, have left the U of M with a $20 million budget hole in the university’s $478 million annual operating budget. At the U of M, less than half, or about 44 percent, of the students that enroll as freshman will leave the school with a diploma in hand six years later.
The state of Tennessee doesn’t want you to know how it will kill the condemned. It doesn’t want you to know who will flip the switch, sending a lethal dose of pentobarbital through the veins of death row inmates. And it doesn’t want you to know how it obtained that pentobarbital — which isn’t available from any legal drug manufacturer — as well. State correction officials have even banned the media from visiting inmates on death row. As Tennessee makes an unprecedented push to set execution dates, it is doing so in the shadows, cloaking its plans in secrecy. Legislators passed a bill a year ago that allowed the state to withhold all information about the drugs it plans to use to execute death row inmates.
Over the course of the current legislative session, a number of Tennessee Republican and Democrat lawmakers came to believe Common Core education standards are rotten to the core. Although the state is in the third year of enacting the standards, a bipartisan group of legislators recently got behind altered state House legislation to delay Common Core implementation and its assessment component for another two years. They used politicized language to make their point. State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, called Common Core an “unfunded mandate” combined with an onerous evaluation system to threaten teachers if they refused to use Common Core standards.
After months of dispute and a round of negotiations, the House and Senate are now poised for floor votes on bipartisan compromise legislation dealing with when and whether women should be prosecuted for abusing drugs while pregnant. Gov. Bill Haslam is among those expressing dismay at an “epidemic” of babies being born addicted to drugs used by mothers during pregnancy with a surge in use of methamphetamine and illegally obtained prescription drugs along with long-standing use of cocaine and other narcotics. The state Department of Health says a record 921 infants were born with drug and narcotic addictions last year in Tennessee, or about one in 86 of all births statewide.
The Tennessee Senate rejected a proposal to elect the state’s attorney general for the second time this year. Senators turned down Senate Joint Resolution 123 on a 16-15 vote last week. Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which its top lawyer is chosen by its highest court. Forty-three states elect their attorneys general, and the governor or legislature chooses them in the remaining six. The resolution is one of two proposed constitutional amendments dealing with how the attorney general is selected. Last year, the Senate approved a plan that would give the General Assembly the power to choose the attorney general.
The biggest mistake Justin Jones made when imploring a legislative subcommittee to let college students vote using their student IDs? He assumed the political process was designed to work for him. Last week, the House Local Government subcommittee, chaired by Republican Joe Carr of Lascassas, thoroughly disabused the Fisk University freshman of that notion. Jones is only 18, so he must be forgiven. No mercy should be extended to Carr or subcommittee member Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin. They both know full well that voter ID restrictions that disenfranchise thousands of black, poor or disabled Tennesseans will remain law, thanks to the death grip the GOP has on the Legislature and a governor who might otherwise lean toward the center.
As Americans race to sign up for health insurance in the final days of open enrollment, many consumers and consumer advocates say the names of plans are unhelpful, confusing and in some cases misleading. A number of insurers sell their plans under names like Select, Preferred, Premier, Exclusive, Enhanced, Essential, Essential Plus, Prime, Ultimate and Deluxe. Multiple offerings from one company may have the same benefits and cover the same share of a consumer’s costs, but go by different names. “Sometimes the names are downright deceptive,” said Betsy M. Imholz, a lawyer at Consumers Union. “Calling a plan ‘exclusive’ makes it sound super-duper, but it may mean that you have a very limited choice of doctors or hospitals.”
Let’s just go ahead and start planning now for the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural parties for Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. With state primary voting less than five months away and the general election less than eight months out, there is still no credible Democratic candidate stepping up to challenge Haslam’s re-election bid. And with the string of positive news the governor has received lately, you’d think the Democrats would take a pass and save their campaign money for another day. Not yet, says Roy Herron, state Democratic Party chairman. The party is still recruiting viable gubernatorial candidates, and Herron believes Haslam is vulnerable on health care and education. But Haslam looks invincible.
Gov. Bill Haslam seemed to be having a good week for a while there. The state Senate had pushed back at members of the House who had diluted the governor’s bill to restrict over-the-counter medicines used to make meth. And after a special guest appearance in the state by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is a Common Core supporter, senators refused to take up House proposals to delay or repeal the Common Core State Standards. But then on Thursday came the sucker punch: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey announced that he is talking to House Speaker Beth Harwell about calling the General Assembly back for a one-day session later this year. The reason: to override any vetoes that the governor may issue after adjournment, which is expected in about a month.
A seeming inconsistency in the new normal of the Tennessee General Assembly is the urge to assert more legislative power while spending less time and energy in exercising the legislative power. The Republican supermajority has been moving to assert more control over local government in matters ranging from knives to discrimination based on sexual orientation. There has been a growing movement to limit the powers of the governor of the executive branch and the judges of the judicial branch. And, goodness, today’s legislators really, really think the federal government has grown too big for its constitutional britches. There’s a flood of bills and resolutions, not to mention almost daily speeches, that rail about federal intrusion into state legislative turf.