This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee has narrowly improved its percentage of college graduates, moving from 43rd overall to 42nd, according to a report released today. The study, “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education,” released by Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, comes just days after the Tennessee General Assembly approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to offer free community college tuition to Tennessee high school graduates. Haslam has a goal of boosting the number of college graduates to 55 percent by 2025. According to the Lumina Foundation, 33.3 percent of working-age adults (ages 25-64) hold two- or four-year college degrees in Tennessee as of 2012, the most recent year for which data are available.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law to ban the shredding of Imagine Library books delivered to the incorrect addresses. The governor’s office announced Tuesday that Haslam signed the measure sponsored by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley and fellow Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson last week. The bill directs the U.S. Postal Service to instead donate the books to pre-kindergarten or other programs. The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation is a partner to the Imagination Library, which was created by country singer Dolly Parton in 1996. The program provides a book every month to children from birth to age 5 at no cost to the family, regardless of income.
Tennessee’s courtroom interpreter program has been ranked sixth in the nation by Cardozo School of Law’s National Center for Access to Justice. In Tennessee, the Administrative Office of the Courts assists in finding interpreters for any court participant who has a limited ability to speak or understand English. According to the office, the interpreter program includes a new pilot project in Sumner County in which interpreters provide language assistance by video conference rather than traveling to the courtroom.
A little-noticed bill that passed the General Assembly last week is seen by detractors as an attack on free speech. But proponents, including business interest groups, say it’ll help bolster criminal trespassing prosecutions. Starting next year, businesses can pay a fee to register protests with a database, controlled by the Tennessee Secretary of State. What does this mean? Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say PETA protests at Wal-Mart, which joins the state database by paying a fee. If PETA protests again, the police response will be quicker, swifter and will be conducted with less fuss. At least that’s what the bill’s backer, Rep. Andy Holt, hopes.
House Democratic leaders said Tuesday that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision not to expand Medicaid in Tennessee eclipses his signature plan to cover tuition at two-year colleges. The Democrats held a news conference to discuss the recent legislative session. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said Haslam’s legislation to create a program that would cover tuition at two-year colleges for any high school graduate could have been his legacy, but “I think it’s going to be overshadowed by … not expanding Medicaid.”
Tennessee legislative Democrats said Tuesday that their biggest disappointment in the 2014 legislative session was the failure to expand Medicaid to cover more of the state’s uninsured working poor. House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the $1 billion a year in new federal health care money that expansion would have sent to Tennessee would have resolved some of the budget problems that Gov. Bill Haslam and the legislature struggled with. He said the money would have filtered through the economy, generating business and sales tax revenue to offset at least some of the $270 million downturn in tax revenue that had to be slashed from the budget.
Three state legislators representing Williamson County will host a Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station town hall meeting Thursday. State Reps. Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station, and Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, along with state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, will hear from constituents on any state issues of concern to the community. The event, which is free and open to the public, is set for 6:30 p.m. at Longview Recreation Center, at 2909 Commonwealth Drive in Spring Hill. “The input of constituents is an invaluable resource that we all use on a daily basis in making key decisions within the state legislature,” Casada said.
It was originally supposed to open last fall. Then in February. Now, the new 212-bed addition to the Anderson County Jail is likely to finally open by the end of May, Sheriff Paul White said Tuesday. County commissioners received an update Monday, and one commissioner, Dusty Irwin, said he was not comfortable and “a bit disappointed” because there wasn’t a “well documented timeline” for opening the new facility. Final change orders are being made, said Jay Henderlight, with the firm involved in oversight of the project. Some daunting logistical problems have to be resolved, County Law Director Jay Yeager said Tuesday. The current women’s area is overcrowded, and officials plan to relocate female inmates into a larger area of the current jail.
Among the crowd of 500 who gathered Monday, April 21, for the 11th annual Dunavant Public Servant Awards were fourth- and fifth-graders from White Station Elementary School. Although they were by a wall on the far side of the ballroom at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis, they drew the attention of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the keynote speaker for the Rotary Club of Memphis East event sponsored by The Daily News and the University of Memphis. Alexander remembered being about their age the first time he saw a politician in person. His father took him to the courthouse square in Maryville to meet U.S. Rep. Howard H. Baker, the father of future U.S. Sen. Howard Baker.
Rep. Jim Cooper wants Congress to get off the dime when it comes to immigration reform. Cooper, D-Nashville, not only co-sponsors a major immigration proposal, he recently signed a discharge petition to try and force House Republican leaders to move it out of multiple committees — several have jurisdiction over parts of it — onto the House floor for a vote. He is one of 191 Democrats to sign the petition so far. However, it needs the backing of more than half of the members of the House — at least 218 — to take effect.
Both U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and his Republican opponent, state Sen. Jim Tracy, oppose national Common Core educational standards but dispute when the senator took his stance. A physician from South Pittsburg, DesJarlais contends that Tracy changed his position on Common Core from Jan. 13, 2010, when the senator from Shelbyville voted to approve Race to the Top legislation to accept federal government stimulus money to improve public education through a bill that included a fiscal note that mentions Common Core.
In a fractured decision that revealed deep divisions over what role the judiciary should play in protecting racial and ethnic minorities, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in admissions to the state’s public universities. The 6-to-2 ruling effectively endorsed similar measures in seven other states. It may also encourage more states to enact measures banning the use of race in admissions or to consider race-neutral alternatives to ensure diversity. States that forbid affirmative action in higher education, like Florida and California, as well as Michigan, have seen a significant drop in the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in their most selective colleges and universities.
Union negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on a one-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and rank and file will vote on ratification May 1. If approved, about 1,200 hourly workers at Y-12 would receive a 2 1/2 percent wage increase and a $250 signing bonus. Steve Jones, president of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council said the tentative agreement was reached with B&W Y-12, the contractor at Y-12 since 2000. The reason for the one-year extension, however, was to give more time for Consolidated Nuclear Security — the incoming contractor, which takes over management of the Y-12 on July 1 — to get to know union officials before negotiating a long-term labor agreement.
After two years of union organizing at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, a hard-fought worker vote and a bruising appeal cut short on Monday, the automaker was urged to refocus on assembling and selling cars. “If you look at VW sales, they’re lackluster at the moment,” said Cars.com chief analyst Jesse Toprak. “There has been more talk about organized labor than making cars people want to buy.” Sales at VW are lagging. Through March, Volkswagen of America reported the company sold 10,855 fewer vehicles than the same period a year ago, down 11.1 percent. The Chattanooga-made Passat’s sales are off 6.3 percent, even with increased advertising for its clean-diesel version.
Nashville moved a step closer to hosting the Democratic National Convention in two years, making the shortlist of 15 cities organizers are considering. Chicago, New York City, Miami and Las Vegas also made the cut to host Democrats as they gather from around the nation to choose their party’s nominee to succeed President Barack Obama in the summer of 2016. More than 30 potential sites were invited in February by the Democratic National Committee to submit applications for the nearly week-long event. Local officials have until June 6 to submit their proposals — or not, if they decline — about how the city would partner with the DNC to stage the massive and costly event.
Nashville is one of 15 cities the Democratic National Convention has asked to submit official bids to host the party’s 2016 Convention, according to CNN. The cities that received the DNC’s “RFP” are: Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City. Nashville was one of three dozen cities the DNC was eying early on to host the convention, and in late February, city officials decided to move ahead with exploring the bid, as reported by the Nashville Business Journal.
The first large-scale study of the impact of adding sales tax to Amazon.com purchases shows that the added tax results in a decline of online purchases. Researchers at Ohio State University found that in states that introduced the sales tax, Amazon sales dropped by about 10 percent. The drop was even more pronounced for purchases above $300, which dropped by 24 percent, Bloomberg News said. Amazon began collecting sales tax in Tennessee this year. The study, called “The Amazon Tax,” tracked the habits of 245,000 households. “There is no ambiguity,” said Brian Baugh, one of the authors of the report. “It has been their competitive advantage.”
Shelby County Schools board of education Tuesday approved a budget with $16 million less in revenue than it expected even a month ago, taking a toll on teacher raises and completely ruling out later bell times and hopes world language cuts could be restored. Instead, the $15.6 million the district had set aside for teacher pay gradations dwindled to $6.2 million, largely because state tax receipts are down and Gov. Bill Haslam can no longer afford the 2 percent pay hikes he had promised. The board will also buy $4 million in laptop computers out of savings in the current year’s budget instead of spending $5.9 million out of next year’s.
Shelby County Schools board members approved a $946.9 million operating budget proposal Tuesday, April 22, that now goes to the Shelby County Commission for review and from there to state education officials. The 6-0 school board vote includes a $248.6 million reduction in revenue available to the school system for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the first fiscal year of Shelby County’s demerger of public education into seven school districts. As a result of the demerger, Shelby County Schools will see an estimated $16.4 million less in Basic Education Program funding from the state.
General sessions are courts of “limited jurisdiction,” which hold preliminary hearings on felony cases; hear misdemeanor cases in which a defendant has waived grand jury investigation and jury trial rights; and hear civil cases that have monetary limits. With a number of good candidates sometimes making our choices between better and best, we want to remember that the qualities that make a good judge seem to emerge once he or she begins deciding cases. The best lawyer may not make the best judge, and life experiences outside his or her legal life can be an excellent guide. More than knowing the law, judges must bring common sense and abiding patience to the job every day.
The United Auto Workers on Monday dropped its appeal of the recent vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, ending — for now at least — a bizarre unionization struggle. UAW’s withdrawal, coupled with Tennessee politicians’ extraordinary vocal opposition to the union that VW had all but embraced, illustrates the difficulties in dealing with the culture clashes that come with globalization. For the time being, state officials now can focus on persuading VW to add an assembly line in Chattanooga to build a new sport utility vehicle. But glancing back in the rearview mirror, this was not your grandfather’s workplace struggle.