This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee promises free college to all high school grads (CBS News)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law Tuesday promising free community college tuition to every high school graduate in the state. Michael Steele is principal of Stratford STEM Magnet High School in Nashville. More than half of the seniors here applied to college. “Most of our students live below the poverty line,” he says. “Many of them don’t have parents directly involved in their lives, many of them live with guardians, many of them live in state foster homes and some are homeless.” The Tennessee Promise would use $34 million a year from lottery funds to cover tuition for a two-year degree at a community college.
Haslam signs Tennessee Promise legislation into law (Memphis Business Journal)
The Tennessee Promise is now a reality. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law that commits to providing two years of community college or a college of applied technology free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors on a continuing basis. The bill, which Haslam first announced during his State of the State address in February, will use surplus lottery reserve funds to create an endowment to fund college tuition for students. Through the program, students who want to complete their bachelors degrees at four-year schools would start as juniors and pay tuition for two years instead of four.
Will Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise Work? (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will be touring the state celebrating his signing of a bill creating the Tennessee Promise. Starting next year, high school graduates of 2015 will receive free tuition at the state’s community colleges and vocational schools. There are no test or grade requirements. Morgan Matthews is working to get her associates degree at Volunteer State Community College. Tuition there is $1900 per semester and she will face thousands in students loans after graduation. “I really wish this was there for when I wanted to go to college, and I made it and I found my way, but it still would have been so nice to go, ‘Wow, I have nothing to worry about,'” said Matthews.
With little historical data, hard to measure success of TN film incentives (NBJ)
The renewal of “Nashville” has energized the debate over whether the state and Metro should offer incentives for local filming and production projects, but in Tennessee, little historical data exists to shows how the incentive program is working. Operated through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission (TFEMC) incentives are, in part, meant to “ encourage job growth and infrastructure in the state.” But historically, the department hasn’t tracked key measures that would indicate growth of a robust, sustainable film industry, such as new permanent jobs or total economic impact since the program started.
By the numbers: Breaking down Tennessee’s film incentives (N. Business Journal)
We don’t yet know how (or if) the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission (TFEMC) incentive program has helped build a more permanent and sustainable film industry, but we do know how much has been doled out. Here’s a look at state filming incentives, according to data provided by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development: As of 12/31/2013: Unobligated funds: $1,437,233.00 Obligated funds: $22,980,854.14 Funds paid out to productions: $12,534,470.84 Number of productions participating: 44
State crash deaths decrease (Jackson Sun)
Deaths from vehicle accidents in Jackson have decreased by 40 percent due in part to the Drive to Zero Fatalities initiative, said Bill Gibbons, commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security for the state of Tennessee. “We call it Drive to Zero simply because we don’t think that any traffic fatality is acceptable,” Gibbons said. “That’s why we call it Drive to Zero, because at the end of the day, we want to make sure every life is saved as much as possible. And again, every life that is lost on our highways and our interstates is too many.” The Drive to Zero initiative launched at the beginning of 2014 in each state across the country, said Col. Tracy G. Trott with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Briggs leads state Sen. Campfield in fundraising nearly 7-to-1 (N-S/Vines)
Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs has nearly $158,000 in his campaign to unseat state Sen. Stacey Campfield in the Aug. 7 Republican primary, with plans for more fundraisers in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville, he said Tuesday. The surgeon’s campaign manager, Bonnie Brezina, said the latest controversy over Campfield’s remarks in a blog that compared Democrats bragging about the mandatory sign-ups for Obamacare to the Germans’ boast of “‘train rides’ for Jews in the ’40s” has added interest to the race, although it’s not a defining issue.
Alexander, Fincher question wind-energy project (News-Sentinel/Collins)
Two of Tennessee’s Congress members are raising concerns about a Houston energy company’s proposal to build a $2 billion, 700-mile transmission line that would carry wind power from Oklahoma and connect to TVA’s grid in West Tennessee. In a letter, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Maryville and U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump asked TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson on Tuesday to respond to nearly a dozen questions about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project.
Carr questions Sen. Alexander’s stance on Common Core (N-S/Humphrey)
Asked if his support for controversial Common Core standards is less now than previously, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander had a carefully worded response that brought new criticism Tuesday from state Rep. Joe Carr, one of his Republican primary opponents. “I always choose my words carefully,” said Alexander, with a laugh, after a reporter for Nashville Public Radio station WPLN suggested he tries to even avoid using the words “Common Core” despite appearances with Gov. Bill Haslam, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and other ardent backers of the benchmarks for student educational achievement.
Jim Cooper Defends Embattled VA Secretary, But Still Wants Answers (WPLN)
Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper says he is waiting for answers from the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. Vets groups are calling for Shinseki’s resignation after a CNN investigation alleged that the VA kept a secret list of patients at its hospital in Phoenix. The list was meant to hide the fact that thousands had to wait months to see a doctor. The CNN report says up to 1,600 vets were on thet list, and at least 40 patients died while waiting to been seen by a Veterans Administration doctor . The VA has since ordered audits at all of its clinics. Cooper says he’ll be listening to Shinseki’s testimony at a Senate hearing on Thursday.
Nashville, Murfreesboro VA facilities audited for wait times (Tennessean/Roche)
Audit teams from the Department of Veterans Affairs are reviewing records at health facilities in Nashville and Murfreesboro this week as part of an effort to ensure that those veterans needing health care are getting access on a timely basis. The reviews were ordered last month by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki following disclosure that veterans at an Arizona facility died awaiting care. The Phoenix facility also maintained a secret waiting list to hide the fact that delays were so lengthy. Jessica L. Schiefer, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, said, the reviews are also being conducted at a VA facility in Chattanooga.
TVA’s Watts Bar Unit 2 is on track for 2015 power generation (TFP/Leach)
The Tennessee Valley Authority is in the homestretch of building its newest nuclear reactor — and the first new nuclear unit to be built in three decades. On Tuesday, TVA officials led a tour of the Watts Bar Unit 2 construction site for Cleveland Utilities and city officials to get a rare glimpse of how a nuclear plant works from the inside out — and how one is built. “It’s important that the public understand the scope of the Unit 2 project and what it means,” said Nancy Mitchel, customer service manager for TVA. “Sixty years from now, people will still be using its power.”
Volkswagen’s CEO: New SUV key to VW growth in U.S. (Times Free-Press/Pare)
Volkswagen’s chief on Tuesday pegged a speed-up in U.S. sales to a new sport utility vehicle that may be assembled in Chattanooga, calling the SUV a key part of the carmaker’s foundation for growth. VW CEO Martin Winterkorn didn’t name Chattanooga, or any location, as the SUV production site. But he said the automaker must grow in the Americas if it is to reach its 2018 goals, which include selling 10 million vehicles annually worldwide within four years. “One thing is clear: the Americas are an essential element of our Strategy 2018,” he told VW shareholders during the company’s annual meeting in Hanover, Germany.
Hundreds of Shelby County Schools teachers’ jobs in limbo (C. Appeal/Roberts)
About 850 teachers in Shelby County Schools had gotten word by noon Tuesday that the jobs they have will not be available next year, due to declining enrollment and budget cuts primarily, but also because the district is closing 10 schools and losing others to the Achievement School District. Tenured teachers who have not secured other positions in the district by June 30 will be on the district’s “preferred-hire” list but will no longer be employees. If they reject four comparable offers, they are off the list. “We think we have identified all of the employees,” said Sheila Reddick, SCS director of human capital.
Schools Funding Compromise Avoids Legal Complications (Memphis Daily News)
Don’t expect to see construction work begin immediately at a school near you. But the Shelby County Commission’s approval Monday, May 12, of $52.1 million in capital funding for all seven of the public school systems in the county breaks the two-year intermission on schools construction funding that began with the 2011 move to a schools merger in Shelby County. It also taps into capital funding Shelby County government had set aside and it came with some surprises. Shelby County Commissioners said they didn’t realize the $5 million they approved in March as the last piece of public financing for the Crosstown redevelopment project came from the $55 million in schools construction funding the county was holding in reserve.
Editorial: Keep politics, big money out of state judicial races (Jackson Sun)
Our national and state governments are divided into three branches: Executive, legislative and judicial. The branches are intended to operate independent of each other to create a system of checks and balances that would help ensure government fairness and prevent the emergence of what essentially could end up being little more than a dictatorship. That approach has served our nation well. Unfortunately, things appear to be getting out of balance as partisan politics threatens to invade the judicial branch of Tennessee government. Voters should not let that happen.
Editorial: Spend the schools money where it’s needed (Commercial Appeal)
It seems like the distribution of capital improvement funds to school districts in Shelby County has been a troublesome issue since the inkwell days. How about a fresh new approach? Spend money where it needs to be spent. The County Commission’s final decision on the matter this week — a capital spending plan for the coming year that puts $47.4 million into current and future Shelby County Schools and $4.8 million into schools that will be part of new municipal districts — wasn’t strictly based on needs, but it represented a step in that direction.