This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
State officials will open a 3½-mile section of newly four-laned U.S. 64 east of Bolivar Monday, another link in a 28-year-old project to improve the highway that links Memphis to Chattanooga and 10 county seats in between. The new section runs from Margin Street in Bolivar east to Hornsby Loop Road and cost $37 million. When it opens, U.S. 64 will be four lanes from the Mississippi River at Memphis to the Tennessee River at Savannah, except for a railroad underpass in South Memphis, 11 blocks through Bolivar’s business district and at the entrance ramp to the U.S. 64 bypass at Selmer.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says efforts by fellow Republicans to put off Tennessee’s Common Core standards face problems because of money: a two-year delay is estimated to cost $10 million, atop a looming budget shortfall that could hit $275 million. Still, the powerful speaker said that doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in finding some remedy to address concerns raised by Common Core critics. “I think we can reach a compromise on this somewhere,” Ramsey said. Earlier this month, House critics commandeered a Senate bill on the chamber floor and inserted a two-year delay in the Common Core math and English standards as well as the accompanying student assessments.
More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads establishment voices — such as possible presidential contender Jeb Bush — who hail the standards as a way to improve student performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers. Many archconservatives — tea party heroes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them — decry the system as a top-down takeover of local schools.
The delays continue to add up, compounding the larger controversies that have dogged the state’s efforts to shut down Clover Bottom Developmental Center, Tennessee’s oldest and once largest institution for people with intellectual disabilities. The wrong beds were sent to four new homes built to accommodate former residents. Bathtubs were installed only to be removed. Then came a late realization that some walls needed a coat of epoxy. Newly purchased lifts, used to transfer people from bed to bathtub to wheelchairs, needed a retrofit. And fire safety measures had to be taken after families, alarmed the state had not installed door magnets to automatically close bedroom doors during a fire, asked officials to add them.
Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers’ advocacy machine are taking on Tennessee Republicans — including the governor himself. Their sin? Opposing a bill to repeal investment taxes. The no-tax preachers at Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and Americans for Prosperity are pushing hard against the unexpected roadblock of GOP Gov. Bill Haslam and a small group of Republicans who say now is not the time to go cutting taxes. The intraparty skirmish is about to get ugly, with the Washington heavyweights gearing up to put their substantial resources and national policy clout to work ahead of a pivotal vote next week.
For many Tennessee property owners in flood-prone areas, a move by Congress to soften steep increases to subsidized insurance policies may come as little comfort. A law signed by President Barack Obama last week dials back some of most dramatic hikes in the price of national flood insurance. But Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics reviewed by The Associated Press show that 7,780 flood insurance policies in Tennessee still face soaring insurance rates. About 5,550 polices covering mostly primary residences could be hiked by up to 18 percent per year, while another 2,300 businesses and vacation homes will see their rates go up 25 percent per year.
Many Internet cafes that have popped up in suburban strip malls and gas stations offer something more than coffee and access to the Web and email. Known as Internet sweepstakes cafes, they sell time on computers that can have the look, sound and feel of slot and video poker machines, sometimes with cash payouts for winners. State and local authorities say the operations are illegal gambling, but shutting them down hasn’t been easy. More than $10 billion in revenue a year is the incentive to stay in business for these storefronts, numbering in the thousands. For some gamblers, the allure of cybercafe gambling is that the facilities are as near as the local mall or service station.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is set to discuss progress in updating the utilities long-range energy resources plan along with more than 1,100 comments from the public. The forum is scheduled for Wednesday, March 26 at 7 p.m. EDT at TVA’s Missionary Ridge office building in Chattanooga, and through a simultaneous online webinar link. The 2015 Integrated Resource Plan is being revised to help TVA determine power generation resources that will continue to balance the region’s energy supply among a variety of sources, including nuclear, coal, gas, hydroelectric, renewables and energy efficiency.
Sporadic outbursts of reasonable legislating erupted in Nashville last week, with lawmakers advancing a few beneficial bills while killing or blocking some misguided ones. This year’s fast-paced session of the General Assembly is far from over, but several recent actions, particularly in the Senate, offer cautious optimism for moving the state forward. The Senate derailed an effort to freeze implementation of the Common Core State Standards and delay the companion student assessments. The bill, which passed the House after a slick parliamentary move attached it to another education measure, was sent to the Finance Committee because of a fiscal note that estimated it would cost the state at least $14 million over two years. Bills shuffled off to the committee typically die there.