This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Forbes: Nashville’s winning the battle for information jobs (Nashville Biz Journal)
Nashville is one of the best cities in the country for growth in information jobs, according to a new list from Forbes. Nashville ranks 10th on the list, outpacing major metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles with 2.9 percent growth in the tech information sector between 2005 and 2013, and 1.2 percent growth from 2012 to 2013. Traditional players like Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Austin lead the list, however, with Raleigh and Atlanta also coming in ahead of Music City.
Haslam shares thinking on electrocution (Tennessean/Sisk)
Gov. Bill Haslam avoided stating his personal views about execution when Capitol Hill reporters questioned him last week about his decision to sign a bill expanding use of the electric chair. But he couldn’t escape saying more when confronted Tuesday by the young women who attended the American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls State conference in Nashville. Responding to a high school student who pointedly described the death penalty as “inhumane” and an inefficient use of taxpayer money, Haslam conceded that moral and economic arguments could be made against capital punishment.
Meth still a pressing danger locally (Wilson Post)
Educating others regarding the dangers of methamphetamines – producing and using – is one of the top methods authorities use to warn hotel owners and landlords who often bear the costs when a meth lab is discovered. A recent meth lab discovery at a residence on Hartsville Pike in Lebanon on May 14 resulted in the arrests of four people, the initial clean-up of the site, probable loss of income to the owner of the home which was rented and additional costs to further decontaminate the structure and get the OK from authorities to perhaps rent it again. The costs can add up to thousands of dollars.
Home safety experts converge on Nashville (Tennessean/Brown)
More than a thousand health and safety experts from around the country will be in Nashville this week for a conference examining ways to improve homes and housing conditions for families. The National Healthy Homes Conference, taking place Wednesday through Friday, will feature speakers from public agencies and private firms who are showcasing the trends in a range of topics from lead safety to energy efficiency. The conference, held roughly every three years, is hosted this year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit group focused on improving living conditions for low-income homeowners.
U.S. seeks to fund Alcoa’s bet on automotive aluminum (Automotive News)
The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed lending money to Alcoa Inc. to expand aluminum production at a Tennessee factory, setting the stage for the first loan to a supplier under a dormant $25 billion fund. The loan would help the largest U.S. aluminum producer expand a 100-year-old factory in Alcoa, Tenn., according to an environmental permit form signed in early May by Alcoa and DOE representatives and obtained by Automotive News. Alcoa spokeswoman Lori Lecker said the company has applied for a loan and is in the “due-diligence” phase with DOE.
TCAP flap fuels detractors of ed chief Kevin Huffman (Tennessean/Garrison)
Scores from end-of-year tests are in the hands of Tennessee schools, but their late release has some still wanting a more thorough explanation. Critics of Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, meanwhile, are emboldened by a blunder that has put pressure on the Department of Education. Tea party sympathizer Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, one of his loudest detractors, called for the resignation of Huffman on Monday, pointing to the delay — and subsequent release last Friday — as speaking to an issue of “incompetence.” “It’s the one thing he’s supposed to do, and he can’t even do that,” Womick said.
Metro Schools won’t include TCAP scores in final grades (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Metro Nashville Public Schools has decided not to include TCAP scores in the final grades for students in grades 3-8 this year. The district announced the decision Tuesday morning. “We already notified our teachers, principals and parents that we would not use TCAP in calculating students’ final grades,” said Dr. Jesse Register, Metro’s director of schools, in a press release. “After consulting with some affected principals, we decided not to make another change this late in the year.” Metro schools received a waiver from the state after the Department of Education initially announced last week that scores would be delayed until after most school systems had ended school.
Metro Schools Will Not Include TCAP Scores In Final Grades (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Officials with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools said they will not include TCAP scores in final grades– even though those results were released Friday. Metro Schools was one of more than 100 districts that applied for a waiver to bypass state law and not factor the scores into students’ final grades. TCAP exams, taken in the third through eighth grades, are supposed to test what students have learned during the entire year. It’s so important that state law requires them to be factored into students’ grades, up to 20 percent. The Department of Education had initially informed school superintendents that the scores would be delayed, but the scores were released Friday—a week earlier than expected.
Nashville Schools Refuse To Include TCAP Results In Final Grades (WPLN-Radio)
The largest school system in Middle Tennessee won’t include standardized test scores in final grades this year, even though the results are available now. Metro Schools officials say the so-called TCAP test doesn’t match up very well with what students are learning anyway. Like most districts in Tennessee, Metro Schools asked for a waiver last week when a delay in grading the TCAP tests was announced at the state level. Turns out, the delay was only four days. And while surrounding school districts in Williamson and Rutherford counties are going to use the standardized test results on report cards, Metro is not.
Rutherford County report cards to use TCAP scores (Daily News Journal)
Report cards issued Thursday by Rutherford County Schools will include scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program for students in grades 3-8, school officials confirmed Tuesday. Last week, the state Department of Education told school systems that the data wouldn’t be ready, as the scores needed additional scrutiny. Because of moves this year to eliminate portions of TCAP tests not aligned with Common Core standards, state officials had said they needed 10 more days to thoroughly review the assessment, administered a few weeks ago, to make sure it was comparable to previous years’ exams.
Metro Nashville won’t include TCAP scores in final grades (Tennessean/Garrison)
Metro Nashville has decided not to apply late-arriving scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program to the final grades of students. MNPS was one of 104 school districts that applied for a waiver from carrying out a statute that requires 15 percent to 25 percent of a student’s grade be determined by TCAP after the state Department of Education delayed the release of scores. Late Friday, however, education officials notified districts that the scores were ready one week earlier than expected, opening the door for districts to back off prior waiver requests.
White named APSU president (Leaf Chronicle)
The wait is over as Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan has submitted his recommendation for the next Austin Peay State University president. Alisa White has been selected as the candidate to be APSU’s next president. Former APSU President Tim Hall began his tenure as president of Mercy College in New York several weeks ago. White will replace Interim President Tristan Denley, who agreed to serve a temporary appointment after Hall left. White is currently the provost and senior vice present for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Tyler. She will join APSU on June 30.
TWRA: Aquatic invasive species ‘wreak havoc’ on ecosystems (News-Sentinel)
Aquatic nuisance species are becoming a major concern for Tennessee waterways as they spread into new areas across the state, officials warn. To help prevent the spread, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency partnered last weekend with the Maryville High School Rebels bass fishing team to raise awareness about the growing problem. Put simply, such species are organisms introduced into new habitats that harm aquatic natural resources and impact human use of those resources. There are over 55 such invasive species throughout Tennessee, but the two that are getting the most attention are zebra mussels and Asian carp.
Protesters oppose new Tenn. electric chair law (WKRN-TV Nashville)
Members of the United Methodists Opposed to the Death Penalty assembled across the state capitol Tuesday to voice opposition to a measure Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed into law to allow use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The roughly 50 protesters on War Memorial Plaza prayed, sang songs and held signs. “The electric chair is a particularly barbaric and brutal form of capital punishment that many states supreme courts have ruled to be cruel and unusual punishment,” said Rev. Matthew L Kelley who is against the death penalty and took part in the peaceful demonstration.
Protesters Oppose New Tennessee Electric Chair Law (Associated Press/Johnson)
Protesters at the state Capitol voiced opposition Tuesday to a new law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam allowing the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable to execute condemned prisoners. The roughly 50 protesters on War Memorial Plaza prayed and sang songs. Some held signs. One read: “Execute Justice, Not People.” The protest came a few days after last week’s signing. While much of the focus was on the new law, the protesters said they would also like to see the Republican governor and state lawmakers scrap the death penalty in Tennessee altogether.
Methodist demonstrators protest death penalty bill (Tennessean/Bryant)
About 50 Methodist leaders and congregation members gathered at Legislative Plaza today to protest the recent bill approved by Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers to allow the execution of death row by electric chair when lethal injection chemicals are not available. The demonstration, however, drew a lively response from a death penalty advocate and a more measured rejoinder from Haslam, who was asked about it in a separate appearance across town. Amid signs that read “Where’s the Grace?” and “United Methodist Clergy Against the Death Penalty,” the group sang hymns and prayed.
Mid-South clergy concerned about use of electric chair in Tenn. (WSMV-TV Nash)
Last Thursday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation reauthorizing the use of the electric chair in carrying out the death penalty when drugs are unavailable for lethal injection. This decision has some Mid-South United Methodists concerned. Bishop Bill McAlilly is urging the governor and legislature to call together leaders to examine if there is a better way to exercise justice in Tennessee. Several clergy members are traveling to Nashville on Tuesday, May 27 for a prayer vigil to speak out against the electric chair mandate.
Backlash Against TN’s Electric Chair Law Fuels Death Penalty Opponents (WPLN)
A few dozen of United Methodist clergy stood across the street from the Capitol on Tuesday, their heads down in prayer. “Help us to work tirelessly for the abolition of state-sanctioned death,” says Sara Tate, a pastor from Northwest Tennessee. “Amen.” “Amen,” the crowd echoes. The prayer vigil was a response to Tennessee’s new law making the electric chair the backup means of execution, which the governor approved last week. Its goal is for the governor to not only revoke his signature on the electric chair but also to outlaw the death penalty in general.
New rules for wineries take effect (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
New laws for wineries went into effect on Tuesday without fanfare after Governor Bill Haslam failed to sign them into law during the legislative session. Under the new laws, wineries will now be able to open up satellite stores away from the main winery and they can charge for samples. In Sevier County, local wineries say this legislation could help expand their customer base. “Ours are a little different here in Sevier County. It’s very tourist driven. But a lot of the wineries are off the beaten path you know in the middle of the country so what it does is allow them to open a satellite office,” said Jonathan Ball with Rocky Top Wine Trail.
Ads opposing Tenn. abortion amendment criticized (Associated Press)
Newspaper ads opposing a proposed constitutional amendment to give state lawmakers more power over abortions in Tennessee is drawing criticism for its depiction of a man in a turban trampling on a woman. The ads placed in newspapers around the state by a group called Tennesseans for Preservation of Personal Privacy urge votes against the ballot measure, calling it the “Tennessee Taliban Amendment.” Some versions of the ad include the image of the man in a turban labeled Tennessee Legislature with a foot on a woman lying on the ground.
Ad likening Tennessee legislature to Taliban draws fire (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
An ad appearing in state newspapers comparing an abortion referendum to the Taliban has drawn criticism from both sides of the abortion debate, been called “offensive” by Nashville civil rights advocates — and gotten the attention of the state’s top ethics and campaign finance official, who said the organization behind the ad has run afoul of state election rules by failing to register. Tennesseans for Preservation of Personal Privacy bought full-page or nearly full-page ads in the state’s four largest newspapers, including The Tennessean, on Sunday. Under the headline “Vote No on the Tennessee Taliban Amendment,” the ad urges voters to vote against Amendment 1, a ballot measure that, if enacted, would give lawmakers more authority to pass abortion restrictions.
Bell blasts board for dropping complaint against chief justice (Associated Press)
A powerful state senator has written a letter excoriating the board that disciplines judges for dismissing an ethics complaint against the chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Senator Mike Bell’s letter to Board of Judicial Conduct Chair Chris Craft comes in the midst of a campaign to unseat three members of the Tennessee Supreme Court who are up for election in August, including Chief Justice Gary Wade. In the letter sent Tuesday, Bell, a Republican, says he was the one who lodged an unofficial complaint to the board that prompted an investigation of Wade. Bell blasts the board for being “ineffective in disciplining judges and overly secretive in its proceedings.”
Bar association asking members to rate justices (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Bar Association is asking its members to rate three Supreme Court justices who are subject to a retention election this year. The poll asks members of the bar whether they recommend Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee for retention. Polling is by secret ballot. Results will be released in mid-June. According to a news release from the TBA, the bar is conducting the poll because it believes lawyers are uniquely qualified to provide an informed opinion about whether a justice should be retained. The three justices already were recommended for retention by the state’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, but prominent conservatives have targeted Wade, Clark and Lee for removal this August.
Tennessee Bar Decides To Weigh In On Contested Retention Elections (WPLN)
Tennessee’s lawyers regularly conduct straw polls to see which candidate attorneys support – but never for the state Supreme Court, until now. Voters don’t really elect Tennessee’s appellate judges. The governor appoints them, and they stand for what are called “retention elections” every eight years. Only one justice has ever been defeated this way. But this year, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has launched a campaign against three Supreme Court justices who were appointed by Democrats. Tennessee Bar executive director Allan Ramsaur says attorneys aren’t necessarily supporting the sitting justices. He says the legal profession is “uniquely qualified” to offer a middle ground. “We’re going to be neutral,” he says. “We’re simply going to be reporting how our members tell us they’re going to be voting.”
Tennessee, GA facing rising Medicaid costs as enrollment spikes (TFP/Harrison)
Even without expanding Medicaid, both Tennessee and Georgia have seen an uptick of people enrolling in these safety-net health care programs — meaning both states are facing rising Medicaid costs. The increase shows the impact of a phenomenon health experts call the “woodwork effect.” These are not people newly eligible for Medicaid. Instead, they are thousands who were already eligible — but had not enrolled for one reason or another. But with the highly publicized rollout of the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces and the national push to apply for coverage, people in that “eligible-but-not-enrolled” category have entered Medicaid in unexpectedly high numbers.
Loudon Co. likely violated open meetings law, says state comptroller (N-S/Willett)
A meeting of the Loudon County salary and budget committee earlier this month may have been held in violation of the state open meetings law, according to the state comptroller’s office. During the meeting, which was not advertised in a local paper of record in advance nor listed on the county website, the committee deliberated issues and came to recommendations related to the health insurance plan for county employees. In a May 21 letter addressed to county Purchasing Director Joan Lovelace, state open records counsel Elisha Hodge wrote that the office of open records had received and investigated a complaint about the May 16 meeting.
Veterans decry care at VA Medical Center in town hall meeting (CA/Capriel)
Nearly all of the 50 to 60 veterans and family members who attended the veteran’s town hall meeting Tuesday jumped to their feet when Navy Vietnam veteran Randy Wade asked how many of them were dissatisfied with the care they received from the Department of Veterans Affairs or the local VA hospital. Those in wheel chairs, who could not stand, raised their hands. “Ninety-nine percent are unhappy,” Wade said about the veterans who attended the meeting at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. Wade then called on state and city officials to “do what you say and say what you do.”
Congressional candidate Wamp points to needed changes (TFP/Brogdon)
Weston Wamp says some of the country’s biggest problems are its oldest. And Congress needs young, tech-savvy millennials to make government meet private sector standards. Wamp is seeking to beat incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the August Republican primary for Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. The Veterans Affairs hospital system needs an overhaul, Social Security needs a smart phone app and the income tax needs to be replaced, Wamp said Tuesday at a roundtable with 13 Chattanooga allies and entrepreneurs.
VW permit could include ‘Phase 2’ plant expansion in Chattanooga (TFP/Pare)
Volkswagen is seeking another air pollution control permit from Chattanooga regulators that could include “Phase 2” of the plant’s construction, and documents cite another paint shop line and expansion of the factory’s tank farm. The process of providing public notice of the proposed permit application comes as VW officials continue to consider the Chattanooga plant to build a new sport utility vehicle line. While the documents don’t mention the SUV, they say that Volkswagen Group of America sees two phases of construction at the plant, with the second adding “a second painting line similar to the current Phase 1 paint line.”
In Memphis, substitute teacher proposal being reworked (C. Appeal/Roberts)
Supt. Dorsey Hopson still hopes to outsource substitute teaching in Shelby County Schools next year, but after the grilling his proposal got last week, he’s doing a more in-depth analysis. “The board raised great issues last week. The staff is getting answers to those,” he told a reporter after Tuesday night’s meeting. If the snags can be answered to Hopson’s satisfaction in three weeks or less, he said the board could vote in a special meeting and have the contract up and running for start of school in August. Last week, Hopson proposed the board pay up to $11 million to Kelly Services to cover filling the 800 to 1,000 teacher and teacher assistants absent every day.
SCS board pulls outsourcing subs vote from agenda (WHBQ-TV Memphis)
The Shelby County Schools board opted not to vote on hiring a temp agency to take over finding substitute teachers for the 2014-15 school year. Initially, board members were scheduled to vote on the item Tuesday, but instead took it off the agenda. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said after the board meeting we could see a specially called meeting in the coming weeks to vote on a temp agency to provide substitute management services for the district.
Editorial: Administration turn to private care for vets took too long (Jackson Sun)
As the shameful mess at the Veterans Administration continues to unfold, there is new hope that at least some veterans might find easier access to the health care services they need. The Obama administration has acted to allow more veterans to access care at private hospitals and clinics. It is a step in the right direction, but a long way from solving the underlying problems at the VA. So far, 26 VA facilities are under investigation for significant treatment delays, falsified records and employees who covered up treatment delays and appointment records. Accusations of fraud and mismanagement are surfacing at VA facilities nationwide.