This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam Memorializes Six Fallen TN Veterans (TN Report)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Major General Terry “Max” Haston of the Tennessee Military Department to pay tribute to six Tennesseans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including a service members previously missing in action for several decades. Haslam presented surviving family members with the Honor and Remember Flag and an Iris which is the official state flower. Warrant Officer One Sean W. Mullen of Adams was killed on June 2, 2013 by an improvised explosive device (IED) while conducting combat operations in the Nimroz Province of Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Governor Honors Fallen Service Members At Memorial Day Ceremony (WTVF-TV)
Six Tennessee service members killed in the line of duty were honored at a Memorial Day ceremony in Nashville. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Tennessee Military Department Major General Terry “Max” Haston were on hand for the ceremony at War Memorial Plaza on Friday morning. Governor Haslam presented surviving family members with the Honor and Remember Flag as well as an Iris, the official state flower. “As we pause to remember these six brave fathers, brothers, sons and husbands, I would ask that we also remember the families they left behind,” Haslam said.
TN governor honors Tenneseans killed in service (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam paid tribute Friday morning to six Tennesseans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. A ceremony was held to celebrate their lives and the sacrifice these service members made. The governor presented their surviving family members with the Honor and Remember Flag and the official state flower, which is an iris. Some of those who were honored are service members who have been missing in action for several decades. Those honored Friday include: Warrant Officer One Sean W. Mullen, of Adams, was killed on June 2, 2013, by an improvised explosive device (IED) while conducting combat operations in the Nimroz Province of Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
State honors six fallen soldiers (Tennessean/Cass)
Gov. Bill Haslam and state military leaders honored six Tennesseans on Friday who gave their lives for their country in combat, including two who were missing in action for more than 40 years. During a somber, 25-minute ceremony under clear skies on War Memorial Plaza, Haslam thanked family members and friends who supported and sacrificed alongside the six fallen warriors, including five soldiers and one airman. “I can promise you that the state of Tennessee will never forget their sacrifice,” the governor said.
TCAP scores are ready after all, state says (Tennessean/Garrison)
A heavily scrutinized delay on releasing end-of-year state test scores was reversed Friday afternoon, but the results still might not affect final grades of students in more than 100 school systems. The Tennessee Department of Education released scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program Friday after “external experts” signed off on the validity and accuracy of the results seven days earlier than the state had anticipated. Nevertheless, waivers will still be honored for districts that had asked because of the delay to be exempt from a state requirement that TCAP scores account for 15-25 percent of students’ final grades, a spokeswoman confirmed.
Haslam says state is looking into ‘last minute’ aspects of TCAP grading (WATE-TV)
6 News asked Gov. Haslam how the state is responding to the failure to grade TCAPs in time for many school districts, leaving report cards delayed for students across the state. The state announced Friday the TCAP quick scores are ready, but they still missed the deadline for many counties, including Knox County. In a letter to Tennessee superintendents, Assistant Commissioner for Data and Research Erin O’Hara said external experts signed off on the accuracy and validity of the results and they wanted to get them to the schools systems as quickly as possible. When questioned, Haslam did not specifically direct the blame for the delay on any one agency or one person but said the state is looking into how the failure happened.
TCAP Scores Delay Costs Williamson $113, 617 (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Friday, the State Board of Education notified school directors that TCAP results are finally available. The delay was not as long as expected, but in one Middle Tennessee county, it’s still too late. The delay will cost Williamson County Schools $113,617, which they plan to ask the state to reimburse. “We’re frustrated at a district level,” Director of Schools Mike Looney said. “But at the end of the day our responsibility is to the families of Williamson County and that we’re truthfully reporting student progress.” By law, TCAP scores will factor into up to 20 percent of student’s grades. The delay lead to more than 100 districts asking for the law to be waived.
Extra TWRA patrols out for Memorial Day weekend (WATE-TV Knoxville)
Memorial Day weekend means a lot of people will be out boating, but Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers say that also leaves room for potential accidents. They’ll be out patrolling the waterways in East Tennessee like Douglas Lake starting Friday up until Monday. David Walker considers himself an expert on the water. He says being on a boat has become his second home. “I’ve been on a boat ever since I was old enough to crawl in a boat. matter of fact, I’m 49 years old and I’ve been around boating my entire life,” said Walker. Walker says he takes all the necessary precautions when going out on the water.
Work underway to make Middle TN interstates safer (WSMV-TV Nashville)
The frequent crashes, road construction and congestion on Interstate 24 can make getting around Middle Tennessee difficult. The Tennessee Department of Transportation completed a study in January, identifying ways to make I-24 safer, and crews are already hard at work. But some drivers say it’s not moving fast enough. “The traffic is just ridiculous. It’s always bumper to bumper,” said driver James White. Hundreds of thousands of vehicles travel the interstate every day. Cab driver Kenneth Shields is one of them, and he says somebody always does something that brings traffic to a standstill.
THP, TDOT increase safety for Memorial Day weekend (News-Sentinel/Jones)
An estimated 774,000 Tennesseans will be traveling during the Memorial Day weekend this year, according to AAA. To accommodate for the increase of drivers on the road, Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Transportation are teaming up to make sure the roads remain safe for travelers. TDOT will stop all construction lane closures during the weekend beginning at noon on Friday and ending at 6 a.m. Tuesday. It will also use dynamic messaging boards to show safety tips as drivers continue to their destinations. THP will set up seat belt, sobriety and driver’s license checkpoints statewide and implement its “No Refusal” policy beginning at 6 p.m. Friday through 11:59 p.m. Monday, said THP Sgt. Bill Miller.
Concern over off-ramp to Campbell Station from I-40 (WATE-TV Knoxville)
6 News viewer Paul recently sent us an email asking about an off-ramp in Knoxville. He asked if there any plans to reduce some of the congestion on the off ramp from Interstate 40 West to Campbell Station Road. The Tennessee Department of Transportation says there is what they term a “ramp queue safety improvement project” for this area already in development. In other words, construction plans are being finalized. The problem is traffic headed for a number of residential areas as well as for shopping with Turkey Creek and Kingston Pike just a few minutes away. Basically, the plans ultimately call for the widening of this ramp.
We’re worst for DWY: Hamilton County ranked highest in Tennessee (TFP/Cobb)
Hamilton County residents concerned about the danger from young drivers may want to start shopping for real estate near Pikeville, Tenn. Bucking a state trend of improving safety for youngsters behind the wheel, Hamilton County drivers ages 15-25 crashed at a higher rate than their counterparts in any of Tennessee’s other 94 counties in 2013, statistics from the Governor’s Highway Safety Office show. Though the local youth crash rate dipped slightly from 2012 to 2013, Hamilton County has spent the last several years going the opposite direction of the state’s other major municipal areas in Shelby, Davidson and Knox counties.
ABC agent resigned after accusations of drinking, driving state car (WSMV-TV)
A special agent in charge at the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission resigned after accusations he twice drank alcohol before driving a state vehicle, avoided a sobriety checkpoint after drinking and used his state vehicle to drive to spend the night with a woman. In a statement to the Channel 4 I-Team through his lawyer, Matt Larkins denied improperly using his state vehicle and that he “chose to resign rather than continue to confront mean-spirited office politics and bureaucratic infighting.” A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found this isn’t the first time Larkins has faced disciplinary action for allegedly repeatedly misusing his state vehicle on weekends and holidays.
Haslam defends signing law reinstating use of electric chair (C. Appeal/Fretland)
As states across the country have struggled to carry out the death penalty, Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday defended signing a law that allows the electric chair to be used for executions in Tennessee if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. He signed the bill into law Thursday night after it passed the state Senate 23-3 and the House 68-13 in April . “I think the legislature felt very strongly we needed to have some sort of back up, in case the drugs for lethal injection weren’t available,” he told reporters after a Memorial Day ceremony on War Memorial Plaza, near the State Capitol. “The Supreme Court has looked at the electric chair and said it meets its definition of not being cruel and unusual punishment so we made the decision to sign it.”
Gov. Haslam Says Legislature And Courts Prompted Electric Chair Signing (WPLN)
Tennessee governor Bill Haslam says he considered the will of the legislature and past court rulings when he signed off on the electric chair as the official backup method for executions in Tennessee. The new measure had already passed overwhelmingly in the state legislature, and the governor pointed to legal precedent. “A supreme court has looked at the electric chair and said it meets its definition of not being cruel and inhumane punishment, so we made the decision to sign it,” he says.
TN governor says electric chair could serve as execution backup (WSMV-TV Nash)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is speaking out about his decision to sign a bill reviving the electric chair. Haslam says the Supreme Court does not consider electrocution to be cruel or inhumane, and he says it’s a necessary backup if the supply of the state’s lethal injection drug begins to dwindle away. For years, prisoners on death row in Tennessee could expect lethal injection, but they also had the right to choose if they wanted the electric chair. Under the bill signed into law Thursday, the choice is now up to the state, which says it will automatically use electrocution when drugs aren’t available.
Tennessee ‘Ready’ To Use Electric Chair If Need Be (Associated Press)
Tennessee is “ready as needed” to use the electric chair if it can’t get the drugs used for lethal injections, the state’s top prisons official said Friday. A corrections spokeswoman added later in the day while the state doesn’t have a supply of the drugs, authorities are confident they could acquire some. The chemicals have become scarcer following a European-led boycott of drug sales for executions. Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law Thursday that allows the state to electrocute current and future death row inmates if it can’t obtain the drugs. It’s the first such law in the country.
Electric chair law could create new hurdles (Tennessean/Sisk)
A law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam to remove roadblocks to executions in Tennessee by expanding use of the electric chair could instead create new legal hurdles, experts on the death penalty said Friday. The Capital Punishment Enforcement Act, a measure that would allow electrocutions if lethal injection is found unconstitutional or the drugs are not available, is essentially a backup plan for the state. But it’s likely to spur new court challenges on behalf of the condemned. Those cases mean it could be months or even years before Tennessee starts using the electric chair again — if it ever does at all.
What Could Go Wrong? Electric Chair Poised to Make a Comeback (NBC News)
A shortage of lethal injection drugs has prompted lawmakers in several death-penalty states to make noise about bringing back more primitive methods of execution. This week, Tennessee became the first one to actually do it. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, signed a law late Thursday that would make the electric chair the backup if the state can’t obtain the chemicals for its injection protocol. Prison officials say they are confident it won’t come to that, but the prospect sent shudders through some death-penalty experts. “There have been a lot of horrific electrocutions,” said Fordham Law School Professor Deborah Denno, who has studied the electric chair extensively.
Funds to to expand UT online: Lawmakers OK $1 mil. for pilot program (TFP/Cobb)
After a revenue shortfall of more than $270 million, Tennessee lawmakers opted not to increase funding for higher education as a whole during this year’s legislative session. But they did find enough cash to double funding for an online learning experiment that University of Tennessee officials say is giving universities a fresh way to reach students. Legislators approved the allocation of an additional $1 million to a pilot program using platforms developed by two education technology leaders that use tools such as video lectures to put a different spin on even the most basic courses.
Cooper says immigration reform can still happen (Tennessean/Cass)
It’s not unusual for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper to lament the wrongheadedness of the group he’s been a member of for the past 11 years, but he was even pithier than usual Friday. “Congress is crazy, but I’m not,” Cooper told a conference that focused on immigration’s role in Nashville’s success. It sounds like Cooper may have finally boiled his political manifesto down to its purest essence. But he also sees a chance for Congress to be sane, not crazy, when it comes to immigration. The Nashville Democrat said Congress has failed to pass major immigration reform legislation since 1986, and the House of Representatives has been “missing in action” since the Senate voted for a comprehensive reform bill last June.
VA’s Budget, and Rolls, Have Boomed (Wall Street Journal)
The Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency caught in a political firestorm over its medical care for veterans, has seen its funding grow faster than any other government department in recent years. Since 2000, annual spending has tripled to $63 billion to meet a surge in health-care and other costs. That is on top of the more than $85 billion the VA is set to receive this year for automatic payments such as disability benefits and pensions, a tally that has more than tripled since 2000. Despite the strong funding from Congress, the agency is under fire for allegations that patients have faced excessive waits at some VA hospitals, and that employees have kept secret lists to try to cover up the delays.
Volkswagen workers withdraw lawsuit against UAW (Times Free-Press/Pare)
Three Volkswagen workers on Friday voluntarily withdrew their federal lawsuit challenging what they said was “a backroom deal” between the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen to bring about a union shop at the Chattanooga plant. The National Right to Work Foundation, which represented the workers, said the withdrawal was prompted by VW and UAW attorneys’ concessions in legal papers that the union cannot seek another election until sometime next year. Mark Mix, the foundation’s president, said the workers and the group successfully defended the result of the February election, in which the UAW lost an organizing vote at the Chattanooga plant by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
Chattanooga Volkswagen Workers Withdraw UAW Lawsuit (WDEF-TV Chattanooga)
Today, Volkswagen workers voluntarily withdrew their federal lawsuit challenging the United Autoworker (UAW) union officials’ backroom organizing deal with company management during the union’s highly-publicized push to unionize the workers at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee facility. The withdrawal was prompted by VW and UAW’s attorneys’ concessions in legal papers filed with the court that, having lost the election at the Chattanooga plant and dropped its objections to the result, the UAW cannot seek another election until sometime next year. The case was initiated in March by the workers with free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.
Selling Memphis (Memphis Daily News)
Not too long ago, Dudley Boyd, president and CEO of National Bankers Trust, entered a conference room at the Greater Memphis Chamber’s office at the Falls Building Downtown. Boyd was visiting the chamber’s offices to discuss a possible payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) incentive that would allow his company to relocate its headquarters to a new office building inside the city of Memphis. What Boyd saw when he entered the meeting room shocked him. Sitting at the conference table were partners from most of the area’s economic development agencies, including the chamber, the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County, the state Department of Economic and Community Development, the Workforce Investment Network, Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division and anyone else who might be needed to made the idea of a relocation a reality.
BEP formula frustrates Knox County officials (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Witt)
Funding that runs public schools in Tennessee’s poorest counties is built upon a formula Knox County officials blamed for shorting local teacher pay raises. The state’s Basic Education Program collects money from counties with high sales tax revenue and distributes it to those with small tax bases. A May change in BEP distribution took nearly $3 million in expected state revenue from Knox County Schools’ proposed 2014-15 budget of $432.3 million. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s budget proposal doesn’t cover that reduction. On top of that, his $427.8 million budget proposal for schools also left out money that school administrators said would pay for teacher raises across 89 schools.
Editorial: Manufacturing, clean rivers both matter to Tennessee (Tennessean)
Tennesseans want to attract new businesses that bring good-paying jobs to the state. They also love their scenic rivers. They should not have to choose one or the other. As state and local economic development officials press Tennessee’s bid for another major auto plant, their focus is on the designated megasite in West Tennessee, valued for its strategic location along Interstate 40 between Memphis and Jackson and access to rail. Area residents are enthusiastic over the prospects for jobs, as some communities are experiencing 10 percent unemployment. he site plan’s prospects for wastewaster disposal, though, are not so great.
Columnist: A Specter of Past Executions Resurfaces in Tennessee (NY Times)
A man who had shot to death his four young children, for reasons known only to him, sat in the wooden chair reserved for him at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. His body was strapped tight and his head was freshly shaved, to enhance the conductivity. I could see him, but he could not see me. We sat perhaps 30 feet apart, on opposite sides of a one-way glass partition that separated those who would walk away that September night in 2007 from one man who would not. The electric chair had not been used in Tennessee since 1960, a reflection of a nation’s discomfort with a procedure that had come to be seen as gruesome, if not cruel. But the condemned man, Daryl Holton, 45, had been given a choice between lethal injection and electrocution.
David Cook: Kevin Huffman should resign over missing TCAP scores (TFP)
No TCAP scores? The test is belly-up, dead-in-the-water? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, whether this is a nightmare or some sick joke. Our public schools live and die by the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program; state officials have yoked TCAP scores to teacher livelihood and student futures. All year, thoughts and fears of the TCAP dominate classrooms. And now — after having months to prepare — our state can’t finalize test scores in time? Our state can’t ship test results back to schools before report cards go home for summer break? It is a bureaucratic collapse, an embarrassment to the look-at-our-Tennessee-miracle narrative that school officials keep trying to tell the rest of America.
Editorial: Last day of classes begins new day for public education in Shelby (CA)
This has been a whale of a school year for public education in Shelby County. As classes ended Friday for the first year of classes for the Shelby County Schools district, the dream that some public education advocates had for a unified world-class school system was dashed by budget limitations and state legislation and court rulings that allowed Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington to form their own school districts and to begin classes in August. That will be seven school systems, plus the state Achievement School District, which oversees SCS’s worst-performing schools.
Free-Press Editorial: Fleischmann: Water bill could signal new day (TFP)
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act proves bipartisan legislation can be passed by Congress and could be used as a model for future bills, says U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga. We heartily agree. The bill, which has been sent to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature after passing the House on Tuesday and the Senate on Thursday, among other things, fixes the structure of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. That, in turn, could expedite the process to get needed funding for the replacement Chickamauga lock. “This shows the American people we can work across the spectrum of projects, where the systems are flawed, and how you can fight waste, fraud and abuse,” Fleischmann said in an interview.