This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam urged businesspeople Tuesday to step up their lobbying of the Tennessee legislature, particularly in support of Common Core education standards. The Republican governor said in a lunchtime address to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce in War Memorial Auditorium that they could be “three times more effective” than they have been if they would lobby lawmakers personally. “People who don’t have interests that match up with yours are engaged in the process. I can promise you that,” he said. “They’re hearing from a whole lot of folks. It would help if they heard from you as well.
Gov. Bill Haslam stepped up his efforts Tuesday to enlist the business community in his battle to keep the controversial Common Core State Standards and its testing regime in place for Tennessee public school students. “Businesses can be three times more effective in terms of their impact on Capitol Hill than they are now,” he told about 280 members of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “They are hearing from others; they need to hear from you.” Conservatives are waging a fierce battle to kill or delay the standards, which they claim represent a federal intrusion into education.
Governor Bill Haslam is continuing to play defense against state lawmakers targeting the Common Core educational standards. Haslam’s trying to win over skeptical legislators, and asking for help from business leaders. Like dozens of other states to adopt Common Core, Tennessee has put grade-level benchmarks in place for math and language arts. But many lawmakers want to delay or undo the test that goes with it. On Tuesday, Haslam urged the state Chamber of Commerce, which supports Common Core, to lobby the legislature. “I’ve been using that message to business groups for awhile. Obviously right now it feels a little bit more critical.”
The Senate sponsor of a contentious proposal to delay further implementation of Tennessee’s Common Core education standards for two years said Tuesday that a compromise is close on the legislation. Earlier this month, a broad coalition of Republican and Democratic House members passed a bill seeking to delay implementation of the new standards, as well as the testing component for the standards for the same amount of time. The Senate would have to agree to those provisions before the measure would head to the desk of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who has said he’s against delaying the standards, which are mainly new benchmarks for math and reading.
As Gov. Bill Haslam opened up his task force’s first meeting on the state’s education funding formula, he made two things clear: there will always be critics and the focus needs to be on being fair. “It’s important that we do everything we can to have people feel like we’re working to get the formula right,” Haslam told the 12-member Basic Education Program Task Force, which will spend the next nine months coming up with recommendations the governor can take to the legislature in 2015.
U.S. Congressman Scott DesJarlais and Governor Bill Haslam will be in Murfreesboro this Saturday during the National Guard Association of Tennessee conference. DesJarlais and Governor Haslam will address those in attendance at 8:45, Saturday morning. This is the 85th annual “General Conference of the National Guard Association of Tennessee.” The event will be at the Embassy Suites.
The state’s Cordell Hull office building seems to be in better shape than previously thought. Even so, new estimates say it could cost as much as $76 million to repair and keep using it and a neighboring structure. That’s almost twice the initial figures that lead Governor Bill Haslam to ok plans for demolishing both structures. The first study was questioned because the real estate firm that conducted it stood to benefit from closing the buildings. It, and earlier evaluations of the structure, painted a picture of deferred maintenance and shoddy construction. This time, an architectural firm did the examination.
Leaders at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services plan to use the results of a survey of front-line employees to improve the workplace. Vanderbilt University professor Michael Cull, who developed the survey, told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1iwHzfc) that it found caseworkers across the state consistently work overtime and don’t usually recognize how fatigue and stress affect their decisions. Cull said there’s more risk associated with decisions that are made when workers try to “power through” stress and fatigue. DCS Deputy Commissioner of Child Safety Scott Modell says he wants employees to be at their best when making critical decisions to protect children.
First lady Crissy Haslam visited Homer Pittard Campus School Tuesday morning and read to second-graders in support of her Read20 campaign. “I’ve been encouraging them to read 20 minues a day. That’s a message I take across the state because I go into schools and visit children, from the youngest children all the way through elementary school and beyond,” said Haslam, who was invited by second-grade teacher David Lockett. In honor of Women’s History Month, Lockett said Campus School second-graders have studied various women who have made significant contributions to the world.
Medical marijuana legislation was rejected Tuesday afternoon, failing for the year without clearing its first hurdle. The Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act, House Bill 1385, was voted down 6-2 by the House Health Subcommittee after more than a month of testimony. The decision killed the supporters’ slimming hopes of seeing a medical marijuana bill advance in the General Assembly this year. Wearing homemade T-shirts decorated in green, backers packed into the hearing room in Legislative Plaza, even though they had come to expect that the bill would fail Tuesday in the Republican-dominated subcommittee.
As predicted by supporters last week, the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act, H.B. 1385, failed in the Tenn. House health subcommittee on Tuesday in Nashville, going down in a 6-2 vote against moving the bill forward. However, an unrelated caption bill, H.B. 2461, on a barely-related subject, passed unanimously out of the subcommittee to the full committee with an amendment to allow cannibidiol (CBD) oil for use in a clinical four-year study, pertaining to intractable epilepsy only, at universities and some major research hospitals.
State lawmakers killed a proposal Tuesday to allow medical marijuana. But a bill moved forward that would permit a limited study of medical uses for cannabis oil. The proposal would let universities research ways cannabis oil can be used treat recurring seizures. It might not seem like a huge deal compared to Colorado, which this year started allowing recreational marijuana use. Health Subcommittee Chairman Bob Ramsey argues it is, though: “I think it is a big deal. I think it’s a signal that the legislature is taking seriously the humanity needs of those citizens who have illnesses that this may address.”
Despite a last-minute plea from a Nashville resident, a House committee has effectively killed a measure aimed at regulating some of the drugs used by hospice care providers. The bill was set aside Tuesday by the House Health Committee as its sponsor, Rep. Bo Mitchell, a Nashville Democrat, promised to work with the panel to bring an improved proposal back in the next session. The deferral followed a brief presentation by Shalynn Womack, whose 90-year-old mother died nearly two years ago while getting respite care at Alive Hospice in Nashville.
A bill that would have exempted Tennessee from daylight saving time failed in the House after some confusion and frustration among lawmakers. The sponsor of House Bill 1909, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, amended his bill so that only the parts of Tennessee in the Central Time Zone would not participate in the nationwide time change. But it narrowly failed in the State Government Committee. Under Todd’s amended version, East Tennessee would have sprung forward in March and fallen back in November, negating the hour difference between time zones in the spring. For eight months out of the year, the entire state would observe the same time.
A bill to make daylight saving time permanent in Tennessee was defeated in a House committee Tuesday after it was amended to exempt the eastern part of the state. In the final vote, five members of the House State Government Committee backed HB1909 by Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, while six opposed it. After that vote, the Senate sponsor Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, decided not to put the measure to a scheduled vote in a Senate committee. Under the bill, Tennessee would have remained on daylight saving time permanently — not returning to standard time this fall with most of the rest of the nation.
After a discussion that left almost everyone wondering what time it was, a House committee on Tuesday turned down a bill by Rep. Curry Todd that would have either placed Tennessee in or out of daylight saving time, depending on what part of the state you’re in. The discussion can only be described as wacky, with Todd, R-Collierville, offering verbal amendments on the fly to address various concerns raised by colleagues. Ultimately, the State Government Committee voted 5-6 on House Bill 1909, which closed for the year and thus keeps it bottled up there unless Todd can turn at least one “no” vote to a “yes” and persuade the committee to reopen.
The latest effort to get rid of Tennessee’s motorcycle helmet requirement has failed in a Senate committee. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted 6-5 against the measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville. Bell’s bill would have allowed motorcyclists at least 25 years old to ride without a helmet if they could prove they had at least $200,000 in medical insurance and $100,000 in liability coverage. Hospitals providing head trauma care have long been opposed to the perennial bill.
A Senate panel rejected legislation Tuesday that would have let motorcyclists ride without a crash helmet in Tennessee. The Senate Finance Committee voted 6-5 to defeat Senate Bill 548, which would have let riders with at least two years of experience apply for a sticker to ride helmet-less. The legislation also set minimum insurance requirements. Proponents cast the bill as a matter of personal freedom. Opponents, led by hospitals and medical experts, said it would increase traumatic brain injuries.
Legislation requiring some insurance companies to cover proton therapy cancer treatment in their medical policies got a favorable recommendation on a 6-4 vote in a joint state House-Senate legislative committee on Monday. The bill (SB435) was the subject of lively debate in both the Council on Pensions and Insurance and, later, the Senate Commerce Committee. Much of it centered on excluding TennCare and state employee insurance policies from the mandated coverage and on the cost effectiveness of the treatment. Under legislative rules, the council is required to review all legislation with a potential impact on pension and insurance programs. It cannot kill a bill, but it’s recommendation carries some weight with regular committees that can.
Legislation that would allow the state’s attorney general to investigate public corruption has likely failed this session. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was defeated 13-12 on Monday when it failed to get the 17 votes needed for passage. Under the measure, concurrent jurisdiction would have been granted to the attorney general over criminal investigations in cases involving corruption of a public official and misuse of public office by a public official. It would have also allowed the AG to appoint an assistant district attorney to conduct specific criminal proceedings, including grand jury proceedings.
A proposal that makes changes to the process for selecting books for state schools is advancing in the House. The measure was approved on a voice vote in the House Education Committee on Tuesday. The Senate approved the companion bill 29-2 earlier this month. 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. Criticism of the content of some books led to calls for a stronger public review process. The House and Senate proposals address that but differ in the appointment process of the panel.
Sponsors of House legislation aimed at limiting the University of Tennessee’s “Sex Week” pulled their bills from consideration after receiving a letter from University of Tennessee President Joseph DiPietro agreeing to re-assess how the university uses student fees. The move appears to end a debate that has simmered in the state legislature for the past month. Conservative lawmakers have criticized university officials for allowing activity fees to be used for the student-organized event earlier this month, but student leaders have fought back, saying they have a First Amendment right to choose and run their own programs.
State lawmakers on Tuesday decided not to rewrite the legal definition of Tennessee whiskey this session, meaning the rules supported by Jack Daniel’s will govern other distillers in the state for at least another year. House and Senate committees voted Tuesday to consider efforts to rewrite or repeal the law in summer study panels after the legislative session ends. Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett, who has heavily lobbied lawmakers to uphold the current law, welcomed the decision to put off suggested changes like removing a requirement to age whiskey in unused oak barrels.
Not since the Cola Wars of the 1980s have we seen such strong feelings erupt between beverage suppliers. However, the brewing (or maybe distilling) family feud between Jack Daniel Distillery and Diageo, parent company of George Dickel may have reached a pre-emptive cease-fire. The Tennessee Legislature voted to create a summer study committee to allow for further discussion and proper industry input on the issue of Tennessee whiskey. The two companies, which both manufacture their product in Tennessee, were at odds over the legal definition of what could be marketed and sold as Tennessee whiskey.
One Tennessee lawmaker is pushing to compensate college athletes if they graduate. The legislation would set up a State Trust Fund for athletes at Division I Universities, such as Vanderbilt University. On Tuesday, the proposal passed the House Education Sub Committee. Representative Antonio Parkinson (D)-Memphis said the bill is necessary because athletic revenue is made by profiting off the work of these students. “It basically sets an opportunity for the state of Tennessee and College and Universities in the state of Tennessee to do the right thing,” said Parkinson. Schools would contribute one percent of its gross athletic profits to the trust.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey needed to win this one for his grandsons. Losing the Tennessee legislature’s annual milking contest to House Speaker Beth Harwell two years running was bad enough. Ramsey didn’t want to contemplate what would happen if the sandy-haired boys saw their grandpappy go down to defeat a third time. “They could be ruined for life,” he said. Ramsey, R-Blountville, had little to fear in the end. Together with Republican Sen. Frank Niceley, a dairy farmer from Strawberry Plains, Ramsey easily defeated Harwell and state Rep. John Forgety, 180 milliliters to 35 milliliters, to take home the Milk Pail trophies.
The Obama administration is extending the deadline to enroll for health insurance this year beyond Monday for certain people who have started but not completed their applications. An official at the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Tuesday that those who are partway through applying for insurance coverage through the new exchanges will be able to finalize their coverage after March 31 if they are stuck. The number of applicants that fit that description could be in the millions. The move was expected. It wasn’t immediately clear how long the extension would last.
Spring has arrived with warmer temperatures, but consumers are still paying the price for the cold winter. The Tennessee Valley Authority will boost its monthly fuel cost adjustment in April as the federal utility catches up for higher fuel costs incurred during the extreme temperatures in January and continued colder than expected weather in February. TVA fuel costs will boost the average electricity rate in Chattanooga by 0.6 percent next month from the current rate, according to EPB. April electricity rates in Chattanooga will be 9.3 percent higher than a year ago. The increases are due to fuel costs that are up 23.5 percent from a year ago, TVA said.
The Shelby County board of education hit the “pause” button Tuesday on its final budget and will spend weeks fine-tuning where the money goes next year, starting with an all-day retreat Thursday. Among the sore spots is the district’s world language program in elementary and middle schools. The board heard an earful from parents in a series of regional meetings it conducted this year for the first time. Parents made it clear they want Mandarin, Russian and Farsi on top of a slate of more common languages. Supt. Dorsey Hopson has asked for stats from the schools and details about how the schools that offer the languages were selected.
Gail Kerr, who captured a changing Nashville, held elected officials accountable and spoke for homeless people, sexual assault victims and neglected children as the local columnist for her hometown newspaper, died Tuesday. She was 52. The cause appeared to be a blood clot, said her husband, Les Kerr. Mrs. Kerr had been battling cancer, a disease she had beaten twice, and was scheduled to receive a blood transfusion when she died. She was still working on Monday. “Gail was a consummate journalist,” said Tennessean Editor and Director of News Maria De Varenne, who edited Mrs. Kerr’s columns.
Did you know that getting a good education can make you healthier? We don’t know the exact link between education and healthful living, but a recent study shows a strong correlation between education and health. We already know that a better education leads to better wages. The more education a person has, the more he or she has to offer an employer. Education in specific fields such as business, health care, education, the sciences and other fields naturally leads people into those occupations and to good job opportunities.
Executing criminals convicted of certain crimes is the ultimate use of a state’s power and should be as open to public scrutiny as decency allows. Because of a law approved by the Legislature last year, however, the state Department of Correction can withhold all information about the drugs it uses to carry out the ultimate punishment. The state does not have to divulge how it will obtain pentobarbital, which is the drug to be used in future executions and is not available from drug manufacturers in the United States. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, the Food and Drug Administration notified the state in 2012 it had to turn over any stockpile of pentobarbital obtained from foreign sources.
Why alter Tennessee’s universal motorcycle helmet law? This year, as in years past, a cohort of our state legislators is seeking to change the current law making motorcycle helmets mandatory for all riders to a new partial helmet law that makes helmets optional for riders over age 25. The rationale behind the proposed legislation isn’t clear. What is without question is that motorcycle helmets save lives and prevent, or at a minimum reduce, the devastating effects of traumatic brain injuries. Unhelmeted motorcyclists are twice as likely to suffer severe head injuries as helmeted riders. At Vanderbilt and hospitals across Tennessee, physicians see the direct benefit of the state’s current universal helmet law in the accident victims we treat.