This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Like weary boxers entering the 12th round of a hard fight, Tennessee lawmakers return today for what members hope is the final week of their annual legislative session. They still have dozens of bills and battles to slog through to wrap up three months of work that started Jan. 14. Still, said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, “I think we can finish up Tuesday or Wednesday.” One bit of leverage? Now that they’ve performed their only constitutional duty and passed the $32.4 billion 2014-2015 budget, lawmakers can adjourn anytime they can get 50 yes votes in the House and 17 in the Senate.
She was raped at knifepoint at age 16, but brave enough to endure the uncomfortable and intrusive process of giving police in Memphis evidence through a rape kit. For Meaghan Ybos’ bravery, that rape kit sat untested for nine years and her rapist lived freely. “I feel like I lost nine years of my life,” said Ybos, 27, who gave The Tennessean permission to use her name and share her story. “I’m lucky that I didn’t kill myself. I didn’t want to live the life that I was living.” Across the state, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says about 20,000 rape kits were never submitted for testing by police. In November in Memphis, police revealed that up to 12,000 kits had gone untested, some dating back 30 years.
In the winter of 1990, a group of law enforcement and medical experts descended on a Memphis asylum where hundreds of babies, children and adults — people who used to be called mentally retarded — were warehoused in barrack-style housing. What they found shocked the conscience: widespread abuse, mistreatment and in some instances outright depravity directed at both the elderly and the very young that went on unseen by the general public but was seemingly accepted as routine behind closed doors for decades.
Free speech, for some at least, soon will require sponsorship on University of Tennessee system campuses. Though no one ended up in handcuffs like a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student did in November, a group of controversial street preachers returned to the UTC campus recently and reignited the discussion about whether taxpayer-backed universities should be a forum for public demonstration. The issue is divisive. But the UT board of trustees already has weighed in. A policy passed by trustees at their February meeting will require parties unaffiliated with UT to obtain the endorsement of a campus organization, faculty member or university faction before coming to any campus in the UT system to spread their message, regardless of what that message is.
State lawmakers are considering compromise legislation that would delay the testing component for Tennessee’s Common Core education standards for one year. Last month, a broad coalition of Republican and Democratic House members passed a bill seeking to delay further implementation of the new standards for two years. It also seeks to delay the testing component for the standards for the same amount of time. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports legislative leaders are discussing a compromise that would delay testing for a year. As things now stand, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests are scheduled to begin statewide in the school year that begins in August.
In an unusual maneuver, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has apparently used state legislative procedures in a move to kill a bill that would allow Tennesseans to carry handguns openly without a permit. Spokespersons for the administration acknowledged that Haslam opposes the bill but declined to respond directly to contentions by a gun owner advocacy group that tactics used against the bill amount to providing the Legislature with “false or misleading information.” The administrative move revolves around the “fiscal note” for SB2424, approved by the Senate on a 25-2 vote Tuesday.
Access to preventive care at no charge to the patient is a key tenet of the federal health law. But questions about what qualifies as “preventive” are causing discord between doctors and patients, particularly when it comes to the traditional annual checkup. Some patients, anticipating free visits to address all their health issues—past, present and potential—are upset to find that only some of that qualifies as preventive care, exempt from deductibles and copays. “Patients are scheduling ‘physicals’ because physicals are free,” says Randy Wexler, a family-medicine physician in Columbus, Ohio.
When Murray Hastie returned to New York in January 2006 after two tours of duty in Iraq, he hoped to use the GI Bill to complete his college education. Denied admission to two state colleges, Hastie came upon DeVry University. The day after he filled out an online request for information, a representative from the for-profit university visited him at his home and encouraged him to enroll in a biomedical informatics program in New Jersey. DeVry said he would receive in-state tuition and that his GI benefits would cover all of his educational costs, and helped him apply for loans, Hastie said.
The budget Shelby County Schools board members are selling for next year got such a positive reception last week at the Shelby County Commission, it’s safe to say they’re looking forward to their next visit in late April. And the SCS budget stands a good chance of a makeover to include funding for pre-K. In a budget that dedicates nearly 20 percent of resources to boosting skills in K-3, the district is also proposing to eliminate 47 pre-K classes, affecting 940 of the poorest 4-year-olds in the county. That’s on top of cuts that eliminated 45 pre-K classes last year. Restoring to the 214 classes the district had in 2012 would cost $9.3 million.
The upcoming fiscal year could be tough for the city of Jackson and better for the Jackson-Madison County School System, but much still hangs in the balance. Jackson is one of 42 Tennessee cities, according to Mayor Jerry Gist, that will be required to pay their local school system money received from past liquor sales. This would mean the city of Jackson owes Jackson-Madison County Schools about $3.3 million, $2 million of which Gist said the city had intended to pay to the schools in the next fiscal year.
The public colleges and universities that educate more than 70 percent of this country’s students were burdened by rising costs and dwindling state revenues long before the recession. They reacted by raising tuition, slashing course offerings and, sometimes, by cutting enrollment. They also cut labor costs by replacing full-time professors who retired with part-time instructors, who typically have no health or pension benefits and are often abysmally paid, earning in the vicinity of $3,000 per course. The part-timers are often considered “invisible faculty,” because they rarely participate in academic life and typically bolt from campus the moment class ends.