This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam applauded the Tennessee General Assembly for making April the Month of the Military Child. The Legislature adopted Senate Joint Resolution 848 before adjourning earlier this month. “We are grateful to the many Tennesseans who serve our country often far away from home, and it is important to remember the sacrifices their families make,” Haslam said. “Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line for us, and their children are impacted in a number of ways. We honor our soldiers, their families and their children.”
There seemed to be an awkwardness and tension about Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s visit Friday to the Innovation Academy. Last week, the Sullivan County Board of Education voted to relocate the award-winning school from the former Brookside Elementary School here into Holston Middle School next school year, making it a school within a school. “I don’t know about the future of the Innovation Academy,” academy Principal Sandy Watkins acknowledged to the news media after the visit. The academy was founded two years ago when Kingsport’s school system.
Former Tenn. Gov. Phil Bredesen will join current Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday in a bid to build support for a constitutional amendment on the selection of judges. The Democratic governor, who sparred over the state’s judicial nomination process during his time in office from 2003 to 2011, will speak at the kickoff of the “Vote Yes on 2” campaign, an effort to convince Tennesseans to vote for a constitutional amendment meant to clarify how appeals court judges are picked in the state. The complicated amendment essentially lets the governor choose members of the Tennessee Supreme Court and appeals courts, with state lawmakers reviewing his selections.
Tennessee’s Department of Health is working with the EPA to salvage three years of Knox County air sample results that have been questioned because of unstable conditions at the state laboratory in Knoxville. Also, officials discovered in January that the Nashville state laboratory has a similar problem, despite a renovation completed last year. That revelation, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Reagan, has prompted the state to outsource air sample testing until a humidity issue is resolved.
University of Memphis provost M. David Rudd will be the university’s next president — though the decision won’t be official until Thursday. Tennessee Board of Regents chancellor John Morgan recommended Rudd on Friday over three other finalists, but the regents still need to approve the hire, which they are expected to do May 1. Historically, the TBR has approved the chancellor’s recommendation for president. Rudd, 53, became provost at the U of M in March 2013, replacing longtime provost Ralph Faudree. Before that, he served as dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science and scientific director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.
A Kingsport woman who falsely claimed to be pregnant in order to obtain TennCare benefits has received a second charge of TennCare fraud, this time in Washington County. Kristy Dawn Kindle, 37, was picked up from the Sullivan County Jail on April 16 , where she was serving time on an unrelated charge, and transported to the Washington County Jail and charged in a second indictment with claiming to be pregnant in order to obatin TennCare benefits. Without this claim, she would not have been eligible for the state’s Medicaid program, a press release from the Office of Inspector General stated.
The number of attorneys and hours of free legal services provided in Tennessee has doubled since the state’s highest court began pushing such work in 2010. A report released Friday showed that only 18 percent of the state’s attorneys performed pro bono work when the Tennessee Supreme Court first brought up the initiative nearly four years ago. Numbers from 2013 show that more than 42 percent of the Volunteer State’s 21,645 attorneys did pro bono work. Tennessee attorneys averaged nearly 74 hours a year. The court’s goal was 50.
A petition hand-delivered to Gov. Bill Haslam’s office Friday includes the names of 10,500 people asking him to veto legislation that would allow women to be criminally charged for drug use during pregnancy. Haslam has until Tuesday to act before the legislation becomes law. He hasn’t said what he will do, and a spokesman said he’s still collecting information. In four legislative sessions, Haslam has vetoed two bills and allowed one to become law without his signature. The petition arrived amid a national wave of attention on state lawmakers’ approval of a criminal penalty against pregnant women — a move this session to bring back the kind of criminal charges they eliminated two years ago as the state shifted toward encouraging women to seek addiction treatment.
Lawyers and others disagree on whether a bill that passed in the Legislature could legally force death row inmates with older convictions to die by electric chair if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. The Tennessee Legislature passed a bill that would allow death by electrocution if drugs aren’t available. Gov. Bill Haslam has yet to sign the bill into law. An amendment on the bill said the law would apply to all condemned prisoners, regardless of conviction date. Current law gives inmates who committed crimes before 1999 the choice of whether they want to die by electric chair or lethal injection. Some lawyers say the government can’t change the method of death for inmates who were already convicted.
April is the cruelest month for tornadoes in eastern Tennessee. Records dating to 1883 show that April brings a huge spike in tornado activity in the 40 counties in eastern Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Southwest North Carolina covered by the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn. But so far, so good. April 2014 has shaped up as a dud, as far as tornadoes go. “We haven’t had any, yet, and this is the peak tornado season,” said Anthony Cavallucci, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Morristown office.
The Obama administration announced on Friday that it was developing ratings of teacher preparation programs to make them more accountable for their graduates’ performance in the classroom. Teacher training programs have frequently come under attack as ill-conceived or mediocre, and teachers themselves have often complained that such programs do not adequately prepare them to handle children with varying needs and abilities. “We have about 1,400 schools of education and hundreds and hundreds of alternative certification paths, and nobody in this country can tell anybody which one is more effective than the other,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said at a town-hall meeting at Dunbar High School in Washington on Friday.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason all expressed optimism Friday that a solution to modernizing the uranium operations at Y-12 in a timely and affordable way is in the works. But they offered few details about a Red Team review, which Mason headed, and how the results may change the course of a project — known as the Uranium Processing Facility — that the Government Accountability Office and other analysts said had reached a cost of $10 billion or more and was basically out of control.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam appeared to offer a new explanation Friday for the sudden withdrawal of a $300 million offer to Volkswagen, citing “the state’s revenue situation.” Now, the state’s top Democrat is calling for a legislative investigation. The question at the center of the controversy is whether the governor used taxpayer money to try to keep the United Auto Workers out of the VW plant in Chattanooga. First, the Haslam administration had claimed that the incentives offer had simply expired. Then, this week, NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained a confidential email where an administration official told Volkswagen in January that the multimillion-dollar deal was being pulled because “circumstances had changed.”
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron called Friday for a legislative investigation into the Haslam administration’s withdrawal of its $300 million offer to Volkswagen to help pay for the expansion of its Chattanooga plant. Herron said emails reported by a Nashville television station contradict previous administration statements and suggest that the governor pulled the incentives package when Volkswagen signed a neutrality agreement with the United Auto Workers. Gov. Bill Haslam has maintained that the offer was pulled because Volkswagen failed to respond in due time.
Volkswagen warned Tennessee officials during difficult negotiations over incentives to expand the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant that the company has already secured offers to build a new SUV elsewhere. Volkswagen attorney Alex Leath said in a Jan. 27 email to the state Department of Economic and Community Development that the Volkswagen board would be presented options to build the new vehicle at the Chattanooga plant and or “alternative sites outside of Tennessee.” Tennessee’s $300 million incentive offer to expand the plant has been complicated by Republican politicians’ opposition to the United Auto Workers campaign to unionize workers there.
They’re staying together. Coca-Cola Bottling and Chattanooga. A 115-year-old relationship, renewed Friday morning. Coke officials stood at the 44-year-old Coke facility on Amnicola Highway that has been outgrown and officially told the city that the company will build its new distribution center at the old Olan Mills site off Shepherd Road, preserving 270 local jobs, creating 43 more and repurposing vacant industrial land inside the city. With that, speculation that had mounted over the past few months — would Coke go to Dalton? Cleveland? — was put to rest.