This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republicans touted their ability to run Tennessee’s state government efficiently during a Sullivan County GOP Reagan Day Dinner Thursday night. “We want to give you every cents’ worth that you pay in taxes,” Gov. Bill Haslam told about 675 Republicans at the MeadowView Marriott. Only days ago, state lawmakers passed a $32 billion budget plan for the coming fiscal year with no new taxes and enough budget reductions to cover about $200 million in declining revenue. But neither teachers nor state employees got raises in the budget.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill that will prevent student growth on tests from being used to revoke or not renew a teacher’s license — undoing a controversial education policy his administration had advanced just last summer. The governor’s signature, which came Tuesday, follows the Tennessee General Assembly’s overwhelming approval this month of House Bill 1375 / Senate Bill 2240, sponsored by Republicans Rep. John Forgety and Sen. Jim Tracy, which cleared the House by a unanimous 88-0 vote and the Senate by a 26-6 vote.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer announced today the award of $9.9 million in Multimodal Access Fund Grants to 13 communities across the state. The grants will fund infrastructure projects that support the transportation needs of transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists by addressing gaps along the state highway network “These grants are about creating transportation options for people across Tennessee,” Gov. Haslam said.
Cleveland and Athens, Tenn., have been awarded grants to improve local transportation, according to the state Department of Transportation. Commissioner John Schroer said in a news release that the state has distributed a total of $9.9 million in Multimodal Access Fund grants to 13 communities in Tennessee. The release said the grants will fund infrastructure projects that support the transportation needs of transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists by addressing gaps along the state highway network. Cleveland was awarded $961,624 for sidewalks and bus shelters along State Route 311/74.
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education is being recognized for its advocacy of the value of using education data to enhance instruction and improve student learning in Tennessee. The advocacy and research institution was recently named the winner of the Data Quality Campaign’s 2014 Advocacy Award. The campaign awards policymakers, district leaders and advocates who have demonstrated a focus on using education data to support families and educators in their efforts to improve student achievement in four categories.
When Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey visit Innovation Academy this morning, they will see the nation’s best STEM middle school. Or at least that’s the opinion of a Purdue University official. She opposes Sullivan County’s plans to move Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee to a school within a school at Holston Middle School near Tri-Cities Regional Airport, saying it will hurt the STEM platform school, while Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie and school board Chairman Dan Well maintain it will benefit the school.
Along with decreases throughout much of Tennessee, the unemployment rate in Davidson County fell slightly in March. Davidson County’s jobless rate declined to 5.5 percent last month, down from 5.6 percent in February, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. Unemployment rates fell in 86 Tennessee counties in March, increased in four and were flat in five. Williamson County, which maintained the lowest unemployment in the state, saw its jobless rate fall to 4.6 percent in March, down from 4.7 percent in February.
Davidson County saw its unemployment rate in March drop to 5.5 percent from the 5.6 percent mark in February. According to figures the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released today, Davidson continues to have the lowest jobless rate of the state’s four major metropolitan counties. The Knox County (Knoxville) March rate was 5.6 percent, down from 5.7 percent. Hamilton County (Chattanooga) was 6.8 percent, down from 6.9 percent. Shelby County (Memphis) was 8.4 percent, the same as the February mark. Tennessee’s March unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, as compared to the February revised rate of 6.9 percent.
Greater Memphis’ jobless rate plunged in March to the lowest level in five years — 8.2 percent, down from 9.4 percent a year earlier. It is the metropolitan area’s lowest jobless rate since December 2008, when the recession was heating up. But the dramatic fall does not mean more people work. Indeed, employment has declined. In March, 543,270 residents of metropolitan Memphis were employed full- or part-time — 5,170 fewer than were employed in March 2013, Tennessee’s Department of Labor & Workforce Development reported Thursday.
Although state officials have known about problems in the state’s unemployment insurance program for more than a year, outside observers say it could take them at least two more to straighten things out. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development says it already has begun to address mistakes raised in an audit of the program, some of them coming up for the second time. Those include improper payments to felons behind bars and the dead, as well as the difficulties unemployed Tennesseans have faced in applying for benefits. But the department’s problems may not be fixed until 2016, when 4-decade-old mainframes are scheduled to be replaced with state-of-the-art computer systems.
County and municipal officials in Sevier County are lauding a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation decision to lift water restrictions on the Little Pigeon River downstream of Sevierville. “I think it is a great thing,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said. “Our idea in all this is the environment is our primary business; the better we can make it, the better it is for all residents and visitors. So, we think it will be a positive.” City of Sevierville spokesman Bob Stahlke said so many groups needed to be involved to make a difference.
After being on the run for nearly a year, a Madison County man faces TennCare fraud charges out of Crockett County. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), with assistance from Jackson and Crockett County officers, today announced the arrest of Dall T. Coleman, 47, of Jackson. Coleman is charged with two counts of TennCare fraud and one count of theft of property in connection with submitting false claims to TennCare for reimbursement of services he was not entitled to receive. “It is particularly troubling when someone who’s not eligible for TennCare tries to find a way to abuse the program,” said Inspector General Deborah Faulkner.
The state Supreme Court has reinstated a medical malpractice lawsuit that had been thrown out by lower courts because the plaintiff failed to file paperwork to confirm it had met notice requirements. Richard Thurmond, who is suing Mid-Cumberland Infectious Disease Consultants, followed a state law that requires 60-day written notice that he intended to file the lawsuit. But he did not meet another requirement to file an affidavit with his complaint confirming he had sent the letters. The judge in the original case in Montgomery County Circuit Court “reluctantly” dismissed the lawsuit, and the Court of Appeals agreed with that ruling despite calling it “harsh.”
A Tennessee World War II veteran will finally be able to collect his benefits now that a federal agency has dropped claims that he couldn’t handle his own financial affairs. In a decision issued this week, officials of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs dropped challenges to the competence of Millard W. Sells, an 88-year-old Byrdstown veteran who has been battling for benefits for nearly two decades. Sells, whose service in the Marine Corps included the Battle of Iwo Jima, had been scheduled to face an agency hearing this week on the competency issue.
About 1,100 employees at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant were informed Thursday that they’re eligible to apply for an incentive package to leave the payroll voluntarily, but it could turn into a competition because the plan is to eliminate only about 140 positions. B&W Y-12 announced that the National Nuclear Security Administration had approved the Voluntary Separation Program, which offers some financial incentives to those who agree to leave the payroll by June 30. The jobs reductions are being carried out by B&W Y-12 to help prepare for the staffing plans of Consolidated Nuclear Security — the Bechtel-led contractor that is replacing B&W at Y-12 and its sister plant, Pantex, in Amarillo, Texas.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander called on Volkswagen on Thursday to build its new sport utility vehicle in Chattanooga and “put all the fuss about the United Auto Workers election behind us.” “There’s no reason in the world Volkswagen wouldn’t want to add its SUV here,” he said in Chattanooga, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Tennessee Republican for re-election despite him facing a primary challenger. Alexander, speaking after a tour of steel distributor LJT Tennessee at Centre South Riverport, said VW has stated it wanted to greatly expand in the U.S., and he hopes the German automaker makes what it sells in America.
Judge Tim Fox of Pulaski County Circuit Court struck down the state’s new voter ID law on Thursday, saying it violated the State Constitution by adding a requirement that voters must meet before casting a ballot. He voided the measure in a lawsuit over the way absentee ballots are handled under the law. A separate lawsuit was filed last week directly challenging the law, which requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. The Republican-led Legislature approved the law last year, overriding a veto by Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat.
The staff of Oregon’s troubled health-insurance exchange on Thursday recommended the state switch to the federal government’s system for next year’s open enrollment. Alex Pettit, acting chief information officer for Cover Oregon, recommended using the U.S. government’s HealthCare.gov technology at a meeting Thursday. The recommendation, which is backed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is set to be discussed Friday at Cover Oregon’s board of directors meeting. Oregon is one of 14 states that ran its own insurance exchange for the first enrollment year of the Affordable Care Act, and it has experienced some of the deepest problems. Cover Oregon has never fully functioned.
To the conservatives who want to kill Common Core State Standards and the liberals who want to dismember educational reforms here in Tennessee, one word: Stop! Just stop! A recent survey of adult skills with words and numbers by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows why the Common Core standards, teacher evaluations, testing, etc. are needed to arrest America’s alarming educational decline compared to the rest of the developed world. “Low ‘basic’ skills (literacy and numeracy) are more common in the United States than on average across (the 24) countries (surveyed),” the OECD wrote.
It is another example of our “whack-a-mole” social safety net policies, in which each solution seems to reveal another problem with no readily discernible solution. As the 2013 legislative session ended, an amendment was tacked onto the bill that revised and improved Tennessee’s conservatorship laws, creating a process for hospitals to discharge patients who are incapable of making decisions about leaving. Hospitals can now petition the court to appoint an “expedited limited healthcare fiduciary” to make decisions about discharging a patient who no longer needs hospital care. The law was in place on July 1.