This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tuesday, 66,000 third- through eighth-graders will take their seats for the week of TCAP testing that has come to be the tell-all about how public education works in Tennessee, including which schools are held up as fine or failing examples of what it takes to move the state forward. Next week, 23,500 first- and second-graders will take the SAT 10, a high-stakes exam that will show how they compare with peers nationwide. In both cases, the scores will count up to 35 percent of their teacher’s job review. This is also the final year in three-year data-crunching cycle that determines which schools can be taken over by the Achievement School District, the treatment the state reserves for schools performing in the bottom 5 percent.
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman lauded Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee after spending nearly two hours at the grades 6-8 program Friday. However, in an impromptu news conference after the tour, he declined to take a position on whether the Sullivan County school board did the right thing April 17 in voting to move IA from a free-standing science, technology, engineering and math facility to a school within a school, and not expanding into the ninth grade as originally proposed.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to conduct a road safety audit on a stretch of Fort Henry Drive where four deadly accidents have taken place in the last seven months. Five people have been killed in vehicle crashes since September near the Walmart Supercenter on Fort Henry Drive, with the latest occurring in March when the driver of a 2011 Hyundai Sonata turned into the path of a 1998 Kawasaki motorcycle at the intersection at Atoka Lane. The driver of the motorcycle — 23-year-old Samuel A. Ireson Jr., of Kingsport — was killed in the accident. Kingsport police say Ireson was driving in excess of 100 miles an hour when the accident took place.
Three same-sex Tennessee couples’ marriages — granted recognition last month by a Nashville federal judge — are once again legally void after the state’s attorney general won a stay from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio. One of the plaintiff couples, Johno Espejo and Matthew Mansell, live in Franklin, with the other two in Knoxville and Memphis. Their attorneys, Abby Rubenfeld of Nashville and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, are arguing Tennessee’s statutory and constitutional ban harms the couples, all of whom were married in other states and then moved here.
State Rep. Mike Stewart sees a hidden agenda in a strangely worded bill passed by the state legislature at the end of this year’s session. The Nashville Democrat says House Bill 2029, which purportedly creates new penalties for flash mobs that engage in vandalism, was really meant to reduce the penalties for pollution. He urged Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the measure. The bill was one of two state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, carried through the House this year at the urging of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (The other, House Bill 2030, made it easier to arrest people for criminal trespass.)
Tennessee Republicans have captured the executive and legislative branches of state government, and now it appears they are going after the top tier of the judicial branch — the state Supreme Court. Three Democratic state Supreme Court justices will be on the Aug. 7 ballot to be retained or not by voters, who are likely to be exposed to an advertising campaign this summer telling them to reject the justices. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, says he will play an “informative role” in the retention election. “I would say when we have retention ballots once every eight years, then we need to pay attention who we’re electing,” Ramsey insisted.
In trying to revamp how Americans finance their homes, key to about 20 percent of the U.S. economy, Sen. Bob Corker knows he has stepped into a special-interest minefield. Forces on all sides rank among the nation’s most powerful lobbying interests and campaign contributors. Corker, R-Tenn., has been working for nearly a year to garner support for legislation to make mortgage lending more dependent on private capital and less on the federal government. He would put out of business, within five years, the two government-sponsored entities that fuel most mortgage lending now: the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac).
Inside the sleek hillside headquarters of Valley Health Systems, built with a grant from the health care law, two employees played an advertisement they had helped produce to promote the law’s insurance coverage for young, working-class West Virginians. The ads ran just over 100 times during the recent six-month enrollment period. But three conservative groups ran 12 times as many, to oppose the law and the local Democratic congressman who voted for it. This is a disparity with consequences. Health professionals, state officials, social workers, insurance agents and others trying to make the law work for uninsured Americans say the partisan divisions and attack ads have depressed participation in some places.
Some superlative performances in the 2014 session of Tennessee’s 108th General Assembly: State-based special interest lobbying winner of the year — The Tennessee Education Association. Rebounding from back-to-back losing seasons in Legislatorland, the teachers lobby oversaw legislative rejection of Board of Education moves to tie licensing to test scores and a salary schedule that de-emphasized experience and advanced college degrees; provided a key part of the coalition that derailed new tests tied to Common Core State Standards; and drafted other, more technical bills on topics such as “duty-free” teacher time that lawmakers obligingly approved.
It is disappointing that the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development still has not figured out how to ensure that everyone receiving unemployment benefits is qualified to do so. While it is unreasonable to expect the department — or any department that oversees government benefits — to catch every scammer, it is baffling that a more efficient way to access data systems that would flag cheaters has not been developed. For the second year in a row, state auditors found numerous problems with the state’s unemployment system, including jobless benefits being paid to people not qualified to receive them, along with payments to deceased individuals and felons behind bars.