This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee advanced in the Senate on Wednesday, even though lawmakers still have to work out differences in eligibility requirements before the measure eventually heads to his desk. The legislation was approved 8-1 in the Senate Education Committee. It differs slightly from the companion bill that was withdrawn from consideration in the House Finance Committee. The Republican governor originally sought to limit the vouchers to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools.
Legislation that would set up the state’s first school voucher program took a major step forward Wednesday as a Senate committee approved a plan favored by Gov. Bill Haslam. The Senate Education Committee voted 8-1 to pass a bill that would issue vouchers for private school tuition to up to 5,000 low-income students this fall and to as many as 20,000 students in 2017. The move came after the Haslam administration made a concession to committee members by agreeing to expand the pool of students who could qualify for the vouchers.
The governor’s school vouchers proposal is back in gear in the state Senate. The bill had stalled amid confusion over which students it would affect, and where in Tennessee. A vouchers program would divert public education dollars to help certain students afford private school instead. Lawmakers and the governor have been treading cautiously on the idea, with good reason, says Memphis Democrat Jim Kyle: Kyle warns even when some students leave for private schools, it won’t make running public schools cheaper.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to combat meth production by limiting sales of a cold medicine advanced after one of the top Republicans in the state House of Representatives promised to take a firm stance against prescriptions for all purchases. A measure that would stop individuals from buying more than 48 tablets a month and 240 tablets a year was approved on a voice vote Wednesday by the House Criminal Justice Committee. Members of that panel had blocked the governor’s meth bill earlier this month, stating fears it would keep legitimate cold and allergy sufferers from buying the medication.
While two competing versions of a bill to combat the state’s meth problem simmer, the House passed their less restrictive version after hearing vows that the administration will support it. “We’ve gone a long way on this doggone bill,” said Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Tony Shipley who fought for less restrictive limits on how much cold medicine with the methamphetamine precursor people can buy per month and year. Shipley (on the left in our photo and seen below) said he originally planned to vote the bill down Wednesday as members feared the agreed-on limits would later be replaced with more stringent ones.
With the Haslam administration’s approval, a House panel on Wednesday passed a weaker version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill limiting sales of pseudophedrine-based cold medicines used to “cook” illegal meth. House Criminal Justice Committee members approved the measure on a voice vote. Approval came only after Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, promised panel members he would “blow” up the bill if it is changed, as some senators want, to require prescriptions for all psuedoephedrine-based remedies.
A watered-down version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-meth legislation is advancing in the House, though significant differences remain with the Senate bill. The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved the measure that would set an annual cap of 150 days’ worth of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without prescription. That’s double the amount envisioned under Haslam’s previous proposal that has been adopted in the Senate. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said it could require a conference committee between the two chambers to reconcile their differences.
State lawmakers congratulated each other Wednesday on a compromise to limit the sale of cold medicine used to make meth. The bill is not as tough as Governor Bill Haslam’s previous proposal—itself derided by some as a half-measure. Hours earlier, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director Mark Gwyn had told senators the meth problem is “drowning” police, pointing to problems like cleaning up toxic labs, as well as gangs: “We’re seeing gangs getting involved. I’m seeing in smaller counties in west Tennessee where crack-cocaine was the drug of preference, now they’re looking at meth, and why shouldn’t they?” Gwyn has made no secret he’d like to clamp down on meth by requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine.
The Tennessee Main Street generated $59.8 million in public and private investment and helped add 646 new jobs in 2013, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced Wednesday. The 23 Tennessee communities involved in the program also combined to create 182 net new businesses, the department said. “Tennessee’s Main Street communities are some of the state’s most valuable and treasured resources,” Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said in a news release.
A new report says the state of Tennessee could be on the hook for $36.7 million or more to repair the Cordell Hull Building, a figure that could lend weight to efforts to tear down the building next to the Tennessee Capitol. The 60-year-old state building and an adjoining annex appear to need major work on their windows, roof and foundation to deal with leaks, and its stone veneer may need to be removed so that metal pins used to hold it firm can be replaced. Centric Architecture, the firm hired by the state to assess the building, also recommended upgrading stairways to meet current fire codes and installing new electrical meters as it prepares to turn the building over for new users.
Everyone agrees the state’s Cordell Hull office building is old and leaky. But just how extensive its damage is and whether it’s worth saving continues to be a matter of contention. Before officials make up their minds whether to fix the structure or tear it down, they want to reconcile the differences between two conflicting reports. The first report came from a real estate firm. It called the Cordell Hull building and another next door “functionally obsolete,” both due to extensive damage and an outdated design. It’s conclusion: both building should be demolished. But that firm also stood to benefit from moving state workers into leased space. Concern over that conflict of interest lead officials to order a new evaluation.
State Department of Commerce and Insurance officials are cautioning uninsured Tennesseans that they may find it challenging to get health insurance if they wait after the March 31 deadline for open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act. Insurers say one of the reasons for the deadline is to make sure people don’t wait until they get sick to purchase health insurance. Open enrollment ends March 31, but people who have started an application but were not able to finish enrolling will be given a short amount of extra time. People who lose job-based insurance or have other life-changing events may be able to enroll after the deadline.
Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner has suspended new admissions to two West Tennessee nursing homes because of alleged inadequate conditions at the facilities. A news release from the Tennessee Department of Health says Dreyzehner has suspended admissions to Oakwood Community Living Center, a 50-bed licensed nursing home in Dyersburg, and Ripley Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, a 144-bed licensed nursing home in Ripley. Department investigators found violations of administration, performance improvement and nursing services standards at Oakwood.
Six states, including Tennessee, have joined to provide 1,786 miles of law enforcement blue lights along the length of Interstate 75 this weekend. Law enforcement officers in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan are participating in the three-day effort beginning Friday, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Authorities call the joint effort “Staying Alive on I-75” in support of an initiative by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to reduce traffic fatalities by 15 percent. Law enforcement officers especially will be on the alert for distracted driving, but also for aggressive driving, speeding, seat belt use and commercial vehicle safety, according to THP.
The intersection of two busy Knoxville arteries is about to see some changes thanks to a fat check the city just received. A million dollar grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation is going toward improving the intersection of Merchant Drive and Clinton Highway. It’s a popular intersection with no shortage of traffic. Businesses, drivers and people walking can be found up and down the area. “Because I ride the bus and I walk across the street sometimes it’s very hard just crossing the streets,” says Charles Webb. The intersection stays busy, not only making it difficult for drivers like Dwaine Love who says, “Especially in the evenings during rush house traffic, it really gets bogged down a lot.”
The University of Memphis Faculty Senate on Tuesday wrestled with whether to back a plan to overhaul the university’s budget to fix a $20 million shortfall. Provost M. David Rudd and interim U of M President R. Brad Martin proposed a budget model that allocates funds based on incentives and how well each college or unit is meeting its performance goals. Andrew Laws, managing director of Huron Consulting Group, has been hired to work with a 16-member steering committee to develop the new plan. The university is in the earliest stages of an 18-month process to create a budget model that will help drive recruitment, instruction and research fundraising, Laws told the Faculty Senate in February.
A bill that would allow the Tennessee Department of Correction to use electrocution as an alternative means of executing criminals who have committed capital offenses is headed to the floor of the Senate. Senate Bill 2580, sponsored by state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, won approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, It would allow the commissioner of the DOC to petition the governor to use the electric chair if the department is unable to carry out an execution by lethal injection. Companion legislation, HB 2476, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, won approval in a House subcommittee on the same day.
A bill that would disqualify future county and city employees from serving on government legislative bodies in the county where they work advanced in the state legislature Wednesday. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, was approved in a voice vote by the House Local Government Subcommittee. It will now move to the full House Local Government Committee for further consideration on Tuesday. Local governments now have the authority to allow city or county employees to hold an elected office. Mt. Juliet and Metro Nashville prohibit it. “We’re trying to do the best thing for our state,” Faison said.
A proposal that would allow parents to decide the fate of a struggling school is advancing in the Senate. The so-called parent trigger legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 8-1 in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Sponsors say the measure, which failed last year, gives parents a say-so at the table and another option to better educate their children. Under the proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 10 percent of failing schools believe a drastic change is needed, they can then select from several “turnaround models.”
A new legislative strategy in the eight-year fight to get tough on cock fighting in Tennessee is ruffling feathers. A bill focusing squarely on spectators rather than the fighting itself took wing and flew through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday despite the opposition of two Southeast Tennessee lawmakers. And it did the same in the House Civil Justice Committee. The measure raises penalties for attending a cockfighting event from a minimum of $50 to $500. Senate Judiciary Committee members approved it on a 7-2 vote with only Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, voting against it.
A medicinal oil made from marijuana that won’t get you high — but has parents moving to Colorado where it’s used to treat children suffering from hundreds of potentially fatal seizures each week — won’t be allowed in Georgia this year. Georgia lawmakers did not pass legislation meant to make it easier for parents to get the cannabis oil. Meanwhile, Tennessee legislators left the door open a crack. A committee voted down a broad medical marijuana bill Tuesday. But legislators still may approve a four-year study to determine whether oil low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component that causes marijuana’s “high,” is effective at alleviating children’s intractable seizures, under a bill authored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah.
A bill paying graduating college athletes with what could be a $50,000 post-graduation grant won’t be considered this year by Tennessee lawmakers. It failed late Wednesday by the narrowest of margins in the Senate Education Committee. “We have an opportunity to lead,” lead sponsor Rep. Antonio Parkinson told the nine member panel late Wednesday just before it voted 4-4. “We have been working on this [for] three years.” The vote included a “pass” from Nashville Sen. Steve Dickerson, but the tie meant the bill would not advance this year in the Senate, unless five members of the committee vote to reconsider.
A controversial bill requiring insurance companies to cover a specific type of cancer treatment moved forward Wednesday in the Tennessee legislature. The bill would require some private insurance companies to cover proton therapy treatments for most types of cancer. It passed without objection in the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee. NewsChannel 5 Investigates raised questions last week about who stands to benefit from the bill. In January, Dr. Terry Douglass, who is a longtime friend of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, opened the $115 million Provision Center for Proton Therapy Center in Knoxville.
State Sen. Bill Ketron and state Rep. Jon Lundberg were each named “Humane Legislator of the Year” by the U.S. Humane Society this week for their work in increasing penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. Ketron, a Republican from Murfreesboro, and Lundberg, a Republican from Bristol, have created bills regulating “puppy mills” and opposed last year’s “ag-gag” bill, which would have require anyone surreptitiously videotaping animal abuse to turn the recording over within days. It was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam last year. “Representative Lundberg and Senator Ketron exemplify the compassion and tenacity needed to truly make a positive impact for animals in the Volunteer State,” said Leighann Lassiter, director of the Humane Society’s Tennessee Chapter.
Tennessee is among the top 10 states when it comes to being ‘dependent’ on the federal government, according to a new study. To quantify its idea of “dependency,” WalletHub looked at three criteria: return on taxes paid to the federal government; federal funding as a percentage of state revenue; and the number of federal employees per capita. Based on those metrics, WalletHub found that Tennessee is the seventh most-dependent state. WalletHub found that Tennessee receives $1.64 in federal funding for every $1 contributed through taxes and that federal funding represents 41.27 percent of the state’s revenue, among the highest rates in the country.
From his aisle seat in Section 115 of FedExForum Wednesday, Mike Strayhorn stood out. The retiree from Keystone Heights, Fla., wore a bright blue windbreaker trimmed in orange, the bright colors of the University of Florida Gators. He was in town for basketball, watching teams practice before Thursday’s start of the two NCAA tournament South Region semifinal games. He plans to see friends in Memphis Friday, assuming his Gators, the tournament’s top seed, beat UCLA in Thursday’s late game — and he isn’t having to make the 11-hour return trip. “Of course, we are (going to win),” he said, matter-of-factly.
Following three years of implementation, teacher and administrator training and millions invested in upgrading school technology, the Common Core State Standards initiative is in jeopardy of being blown off course. Besieged by wildly uninformed lawmakers’ efforts to undo or delay Common Core, Gov. Bill Haslsam is turning to the state’s business leaders to take up the issue. Despite evidence that Common Core already is having a positive impact on student test scores, a sizeable group of state lawmakers is being swayed by ultra-conservative forces falsely claiming Common Core is a federal government attempt to take over public education.
Given the thumping they’ve received in recent elections, you would think Tennessee Democrats would be united, developing a consistent message and plotting a comeback. You would be wrong. They are Democrats, after all. They are currently engaged in a grudge match for control of the state party. Much has been made of the Tea Party splitting the Republican Party. Conservatives are accused of, and most will concede, that they don’t mind risking losing elections in order to elect candidates with conservative credentials instead of the hated RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). But the split among Republicans is usually about the degree of commitment and priorities.