This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
State legislators’ decision to approve the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act still awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s final signature, but the president of Cleveland State Community College is already looking at ways to ensure the college is ready for it to take effect. Tennessee Promise, which Haslam proposed during his “State of the State” address on Feb. 3, would provide extra state funding for college tuition as part of the state’s “Drive to 55” initiative to ensure 55 percent of Tennesseans have college degrees by 2025.
It’s official. Tornadoes — not straight-line winds or powerful downdrafts called microbursts — struck the region on the night of April 28-29, according to on-the-ground surveys by National Weather Service experts. The overnight storms caused two deaths and destroyed a number of homes and buildings in Tennessee and Alabama. “We look at patterns of debris and damage. Trees, if they’re lying in different directions, that’s one indication,” said senior meteorologist Andy Kula of the Weather Service’s Huntsville, Ala., office. The strongest tornado was one in Lincoln County, Tenn., that claimed the lives of husband and wife John and Karen Prince, who died when their mobile home was blown away south of Fayetteville.
An EF1 tornado hit Bradley County on Monday, according to the National Weather Service, part of a broader system of severe storms that affected East Tennessee. No injuries were reported from the Bradley tornado. According to the NWS, the twister had an estimated peak wind of 105 mph, and its path extended for half a mile. It first touched down just east of Cohutta, Ga., and moved into southern Bradley County in Tennessee, the weather service says. The tornado caused a home to shift off its foundation.
Gov. Bill Haslam will speak at Wilson Habitat for Humanity’s annual Houses of Hope fundraising dinner at 6:30 p.m. May 8 at the Capitol Theatre, 100 W. Main Street in Lebanon. The fundraiser supports the work of Habitat for Humanity in Wilson County, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first house. Wilson Habitat has built 59 houses and renovated three. The next new home build is scheduled to start May 31 at 410 Alydar Dr. in Watertown. Haslam was a founding board member of Habitat for Humanity in Knoxville. A request for financial support will be made at the end of the program.
It was a fitting farewell for President Tim and Lee Hall as hundreds of well-wishers gathered to honor Austin Peay State University’s “first couple” for their extraordinarily successful seven years of campus and community leadership. The Halls were treated to more than 90 minutes of non-stop adoration, congratulation, standing ovations and celebration Thursday evening by an array of university and community leaders. The Morgan University Center overflowed with a unified expression of love, affection and respect generated by Hall’s transformative leadership.
A Dyer County man is charged with TennCare fraud involving doctor shopping, or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the arrest of Donald K. Buckner Sr., 54, of Dyersburg. He is charged with three counts of fraudulently obtaining controlled substances through TennCare by doctor shopping for the painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine and morphine. He used TennCare benefits to pay for the clinical visits. “Prescription painkillers are strong, addictive drugs that can be physically harmful to an abuser, especially when obtained outside the care of a doctor,” Inspector General Deborah Faulkner said.
With the General Assembly staying the course on implementing Common Core education standards, both the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry say that this year’s legislative session met the workforce development concerns of the Nashville and state business community. The Nashville Business Journal sat down with the heads of each chamber to look at how their respective legislative agendas performed in the General Assembly this year. Most prominent on that list, of course, was Common Core.
A charge has been dismissed against a Knoxville woman charged earlier this year with stealing money and property from the home of her former boss, state Sen. Stacey Campfield. The felony theft charge against Kali Melina Bales, 23, was dismissed Friday morning by General Sessions Judge Andrew Jackson, according to Bales’ attorney, Stephen Johnson. “Upon a discussion with all the relevant witnesses, it was determined that the best course of action was an agreed-upon restitution amount,” Johnson said. He said Bales, a former Campfield campaign worker, paid the restitution, and the judge dismissed the charges.
Maybe the kid can get it done. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who often makes it known that he’s frustrated with the other adults elected to deal with the big issues in Washington, welcomed the Kid President to his Capitol Hill office today. Robby Novak of Henderson, Tenn., became a big hit on YouTube (32.5 million views and counting) last year with the “pep talk” he delivered to the nation as “Kid President.” “If life is a game, aren’t we all on the same team?” the 10-year-old says in the three-minute video. “I mean, really, right? I’m on your team. Be on my team. This is life, people. You got air coming through your nose. You got a heartbeat. That means it’s time to do something!” Corker seems to agree.
When the Commerce Department recently announced it wanted to move a key function of Internet administration over to international “stakeholders,”’ Rep. Marsha Blackburn, like a number of House Republicans, went ballistic. “We cannot let the Internet turn into another Russian land grab,” the Brentwood representative said. “America shouldn’t surrender its leadership on the world stage to a ‘multistakeholder model’ that’s controlled by foreign governments. It’s imperative that this administration reports to Congress before they can take any steps that would turn over control of the Internet.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority said Friday that its newest reactor under construction at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant remains on schedule to begin generating power by the end of next year as the first new nuclear power plant of the 21st century. With 3,200 contractors now working around the clock to finish the Unit 2 reactor near Spring City, Tenn., TVA Vice President Mike Skaggs said Friday the project remains within its $4.2 billion budget for completion and is moving toward power generation by December 2015. The focus of work on the Watts Bar Unit 2 has shifted from large-scale construction to completion and testing of individual plant systems, TVA said in a new quarterly update on Tennessee’s biggest construction project.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says work on the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant has moved from large-scale construction to completion and testing of individual plant systems. The federal agency announced a target completion date for the plant’s Unit 2 reactor of December 2015. The update issued Friday covered the period from November 2013 to January 2014. The facility is on course to become the nation’s first new nuclear generating plant of the 21st century. About 3,200 workers are on the Watts Bar 2 project, which will be TVA’s seventh nuclear unit. Watts Bar 2 will add 1,100 megawatts of electricity, providing enough energy for approximately 650,000 homes.
United Auto Workers opponents and the union continue to spar weeks after the worker vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, even as the state and VW talk about restarting meetings over a possible factory expansion. “We’ve talked to the company about a meeting, but nothing is scheduled at this point,” Clint Brewer, a state Department of Economic and Community Development spokesman, said Friday about re-engaging VW. The state earlier proposed a nearly $300 million incentive package if VW put a new sport utility vehicle and 1,350 production and “headquarters” jobs in Tennessee.
With his contract as director of Metro Nashville Public Schools set to end in little more than a year, Jesse Register still won’t say whether he wants to stay at the helm or retire when that time arrives. In the meantime, his school board is already preparing for the possibility of replacing him, with plans to redraft a decade-old board policy that outlines what it wants out of a director of schools. That process, though, is showing signs of a conflict brewing between the superintendent and the board that hired him. Register said he believes parameters in the district’s recently adopted five-year strategic plan — a document he engineered — should instead be the “driving force” in expectations of the director.
A Bartlett mom kept her third-grader home from school this week. Her child hasn’t been feeling well. She’s had stomach aches, headaches. Her throat feels tight. The mom knows exactly what’s wrong. Her eldest daughter, now in sixth grade, had the same symptoms a few years ago. “Our pediatrician calls it standardized test anxiety,” said Jennifer Proteus, mother of two and PTA president at Rivercrest Elementary in Bartlett. “They both worried themselves sick about taking the TCAPs.” The dreaded TCAPs — the annual Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program — began Tuesday, the day the instructional year in Shelby County Schools effectively came to an end, especially for high school students.
Another botched lethal injection occurred Tuesday, this one of an Oklahoma death row inmate. The man died anyway, of a heart attack, 30 minutes after the execution was halted. Some who support the death penalty say such failures are isolated incidents; others say it does not matter as long as the convicted killers die. To the first group, we suggest that this is just the latest botched execution of many that have occurred in this country over the years, regardless of method. To the latter, we say that is not the attitude we should be adopting as Americans in a modern society that values life and rejects brutality.