This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Students weighing Tennessee Promise of free college (Tennessean/Hall)
Juniors walking out of Tennessee high schools for the summer have a big decision for the fall: Will they take the path to free associate degrees laid out in Tennessee Promise or stick with the plans they already had? Signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam this month, the new statewide program offers “last-dollar” scholarships to ensure free two-year degrees or certificates from the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical schools. Participants must meet with volunteer mentors, take at least 12 credit hours each semester, maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher and put in eight hours of community service per year.
Haslam Defends Decision to Delay Assessment Scores (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam says state education officials were simply being cautious when they initially decided to delay the release of students’ assessment scores. The Department of Education had informed school superintendents that the delay in TCAP scores was needed because of a change in assessments. The scores are used in the calculation of final grades for students primarily in grades 3 through 8. However, the department decided to release scores last Friday after experts signed off on the validity and accuracy of the results. Haslam told reporters after a speech in Nashville on Wednesday that the state wanted to err on the side of caution and not send out wrong information to districts. “I think the importance of getting those numbers right is critical,” he said.
Haslam defends education commissioner in TCAP flap (C. Appeal/Roberts)
Gov. Bill Haslam defended Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman Wednesday against a tide of lawmakers, educators and union leaders seeking his ouster, this time over tardy TCAP scores. On May 20, the Department of Education notified superintendents the scores would be 10 days late, due to an analysis of the results. On Friday, the department sent a memo saying the scores would be in their hands that afternoon. State law says TCAP must count for 15 to 25 percent of students’ final grades. More than 100 districts received permission to exclude the scores, including Shelby County Schools, so they could get their report cards out in time.
TCAP Blunder Arms Critics? (Metro Pulse)
Will the screwed-up mess of late TCAP scores give critics more ammunition to further delay or kill the Common Core curriculum and the introduction of a new testing program? Critics, like the TEA and Common Core opponents, say problems with a test that has been administered in state schools for 20 years does not bode well for a new test scheduled in 2016. After all the uproar, cramming for the test and the practice tests, the TCAP scores for Knox County will not be used to compute students’ grades. The late arrival of the scores made the state Board of Education give Knox County a waiver from the requirement that the TCAP scores be averaged in. The school system couldn’t wait to use the scores in the fall for a variety of reasons.
Gov. Haslam encourages future leaders at Boys State (Herald-Citizen)
Perhaps it’s only fitting that the most notable leader in the state of Tennessee spoke about leadership to a delegation of future leaders. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam had a simple message for the more than 600 Boys State delegates on Tuesday afternoon at Tennessee Tech — leadership matters. The state’s 49th governor addressed the large group of rising seniors who are spending the week at TTU learning about government and creating a mock 51st state. Gov. Haslam spent almost 45 minutes talking, listening and answering some tough questions presented by the Boys State delegates.
RC for the governor, Moon Pie for Collie (Times-Gazette)
Gov. Bill and Crissy Haslam will help celebrate the 20th RC Cola / Moon Pie Festival June 21 in Bell Buckle, along with noted country singer Mark Collie. Crissy Haslam, who was in Shelbyville on Tuesday for the groundbreaking of a new library, told the Times-Gazette she was looking forward to the event. In the past, the festival has crowned an RC Cola King and a Moon Pie Queen. This year, it will have two sets of royalty, with the Haslams crowned “King and Queen of the RC Kingdom” while Collie and original Moon Pie Queen Florence Hall will be “King and Queen of the Moon Pie Kingdom.”
A new chapter: Now library work starts (Times-Gazette)
There has actually been heavy earth-moving equipment at the site for a couple of weeks now, but for ceremonial purposes, ground was broken Tuesday for a new library to serve Bedford County. Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam was among the dignitaries participating in the ceremony. “I’m happy to see all these children here today,” said Haslam, who visited Argie Cooper Public Library in 2012 to promote the Imagination Library program and her own “Read20” initiative, which encourages parents to read with their children for 20 minutes a day.
State approves $1.8M TriStar expansion (Nashville Post)
TriStar Summit Medical Center announced it has obtained state approval to add eight surgical beds as part of a $1.8 million expansion. The state’s Health Services and Development Agency approved the plan, which will increase the Hermitage hospital’s bed count to 196. The expansion is due to growth in cardiac and neuroscience service lines, according to a release. Construction is scheduled to begin in August with an expected completion in November. “The additional beds will allow us to meet the growing health care needs of Davidson, Wilson and surrounding counties,” said Jeff Whitehorn, TriStar Summit CEO.
Five people killed in TN crashes during holiday weekend (Associated Press)
State highway officials say preliminary figures show five people were killed in vehicular crashes across Tennessee during the Memorial Day weekend and holiday. Tennessee Department of Safety officials say the figure is down from 10 fatalities last year during the same 78-hour period. Officials say one of the five fatalities involved a rider on an all-terrain vehicle, and another deadly crash was alcohol-related. Figures show the Tennessee Highway Patrol arrested 153 people on suspicion of drunk driver, and troopers cited more than 1,500 people for not wearing seatbelts.
Fifty percent fewer deaths occurred on roadways Memorial Day weekend (Nooga)
Preliminary reports released today show that traffic fatalities over the holiday weekend were down 50 percent compared to the same time period in 2013. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced that five people were killed in vehicle crashes during the 78-hour enforcement period. Ten people were killed in vehicular accidents over Memorial Day weekend in 2013. Four of the victims were killed in vehicle crashes; one person was killed on an ATV. Only one of the crashes was alcohol-related. None of the accidents happened in Hamilton County.
THP symposium helps investigators study crashes better (WSMV-TV Nashville)
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is hosting a four-day crash symposium, and part of the instruction included crash demonstrations at the Smyrna Airport. Police say when people see how powerful the wrecks actually are, they might pay a little more attention. “When it looks as violent as it does, I think it makes people stand up and take notice that ‘I may need to pay a little more attention while I’m on the interstate and not worry about my email, iPhone or eating my hamburger,'” said THP Col. Tracy Trott.
Girl who lost ‘books from Dolly Parton’ gets surprise gift (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Mackenzie Tinker lost all her belongings when her family home in La Vergne burned down two months ago. What the second-grader couldn’t stop talking about in the days after the disaster was what she missed the most: her books. “She had books everywhere,” said her dad, Jeff, who dislocated his shoulder and suffered burns trying to save the home. “After the devastation we realized, just about every room, she had some books.” The bookworm — known to walk through the house reading aloud — had so many books because, as she put it, they came “from Dolly Parton.”
3 state parks among popular places to boat, fish (Associated Press)
Three Tennessee state parks have been listed among the Top 100 family friendly places to boat and fish in the United States. Paris Landing State Park, Pickwick Landing and Tims Ford were selected by Take Me Fishing, a national campaign started by the nonprofit organization Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation to encourage participation in recreational boating and fishing. Criteria for the top places included having a public body of water within an hour of a major city and good fishing opportunities.
State report: Forged checks defrauded Philadelphia, Tenn., of $5,476 (N-S/Willett)
The results of a special investigation by the state comptroller’s office reveal details of how a former East Tennessee city recorder and others allegedly used forged checks to defraud the town of more than $5,000. The report also pointed to what investigators termed nonstandard practices in Philadelphia, Tenn., including pre-signing of checks, unaccounted-for city property and the former mayor’s use of his car trunk to store the town’s financial records. A May 14 letter from Stephanie S. Maxwell, deputy general counsel for the state comptroller’s office, to the mayor and members of the city of Philadelphia Board of Aldermen, said the investigation covered selected records of the city from Jan. 1, 2013, through Nov. 30, 2013.
Lawyers push back on effort to oust justices (Tennessean/Haas)
Attorneys here in Nashville and across the state have begun fighting back against Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s efforts to oust three Tennessee Supreme Court justices in August. On Tuesday, the Nashville Bar Association put out a resolution urging members to vote to retain Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee in the Aug. 7 judicial election. The resolution follows a May 14 fundraiser by a group of influential local attorneys who raised $100,000 for the trio of justices. And the Tennessee Bar Association, for the first time, has put out a poll to member attorneys asking them to rate the justices on their competency.
Senate candidate signs opponent’s nominating petition before running (WATE-TV)
A candidate for State Sen. Stacey Campfield’s seat signed Campfield’s nominating petition before deciding to run himself. Campfield has been a controversial figure in East Tennessee. Last month, Campfield was under fire for comparing Obamacare to the Holocaust. 6 News found that Mike Alford, a candidate for State Sen. Dist. 7, signed Campfield’s nominating petition which was picked up March 21 and submitted March 28. According to the Knox County Election Commission, Alford’s petition was picked up April 2 and submitted April 3, the deadline for submitting petitions.
Poll: Tennessee abortion amendment faces skepticism (Tennessean/Sisk)
Backers of a constitutional amendment that would give state lawmakers more power over abortions have some selling to do. The same appears to be true of those who support a proposal that would lock in the governor’s power to appoint judges. Tennesseans said in a recent poll that their first instinct is to reject proposals that would give lawmakers “more power to regulate abortions” and the governor the ability to “choose judges” — the main implications of two proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot this November.
Judge won’t grant injunction barring Rocky Top name change (N-S/Fowler)
Tiny, impoverished Lake City in Anderson County has been given the green light to change its name to Rocky Top. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan in a 32-page opinion Wednesday denied a motion seeking a temporary injunction to stop the switch. The motion was filed on behalf of House of Bryant LLC of Gatlinburg, which consists of the two sons of the late husband-and-wife songwriting team that penned the wildly popular bluegrass song. It contended that allowing the municipal name change would erode and dilute the value of current trademarks held by House of Bryant.
Power plants put Tennessee among top 25 air polluters (Tennessean/Brown)
Tennessee power plants have landed the state on a list of the top 25 producers of greenhouse gas emissions from carbon dioxide, according to a report released Wednesday. The state ranked No. 21 for the emissions of the greenhouse gas that has been under scrutiny in recent months by federal regulators, according to the report by Ceres, a sustainable energy advocacy group. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected next week to release new guidelines to curb carbon emissions at existing power plants. It’s part of a two-step process that the Obama administration is taking to stem climate change.
Tennessee Ranks 43rd for Senior Health (Memphis Daily News)
Statistically, you will be a far healthier senior citizen living in Minnesota than in Tennessee. That’s according to America’s Health Rankings 2014 Senior Report. The report, which examined the health of people 65 and older, ranked Tennessee 43rd. Minnesota finished first in the rankings. The analysis reflects the health of seniors on 34 measures of health, including prevalence of obesity, chronic health conditions, level of physical activity, food insecurity and poverty. Tennessee’s low rank can be attributed to multiple factors, including the second-highest rate of smoking in the country, at 12.5 percent or 110,000 seniors who smoke; and ranking 46th for preventable hospitalizations, with 80.8 preventable hospitalizations per 1,000 Medicare discharges.
Feds to invest in Tennessee’s auto manufacturing sector (Tennessean/Williams)
A huge swath of Tennessee is among 12 designated “manufacturing communities” identified by the U.S. Commerce Department to take part in a federal economic development effort intended to boost manufacturing jobs. These 12 areas were chosen from among 70 applicants for the program, which initially has $1.3 billion in federal funds earmarked for qualifying projects. The goal is “to make targeted investments in demonstrably strong public-private partnerships to strengthen regional manufacturing,” the release said. “In addition, each designated community will also receive a federal liaison and branding and promotion as a designated Manufacturing Community to help attract additional private investment and partnerships.”
Tennessee Valley, NW GA on list of Obama manufacturing communities (Nooga)
President Barack Obama’s administration is designating the first of 12 manufacturing communities in an effort to spur investment and create jobs, and the Tennessee Valley and Northwest Georgia are on the list. The White House sent out a news release and fact sheet about the effort Wednesday afternoon. It said, in part: America’s middle class was built on the strength of our manufacturing sector. Today, five years after we pulled our economy back from the brink of collapse, manufacturers have created 647,000 jobs. But there’s more work to do to create more of these good jobs making things the rest of the world buys, and President Obama has focused on boosting U.S. manufacturing by rewarding companies that create jobs here, rescuing the U.S. auto industry and expanding exports.
Efforts to Curb College Costs Face Resistance (Wall Street Journal)
Obama administration initiatives intended to help restrain soaring college costs are facing resistance from schools and from a bipartisan bloc of lawmakers looking to protect institutions in their districts. Groups representing colleges and universities this week formally opposed the administration’s plan to more tightly oversee programs that officials say leave students in steep debt but with weak job prospects. The new rules cover for-profit schools along with career-training programs—those that lead to certificates, but not degrees, in a given field, such as mechanics or cosmetology—at public schools and nonprofits.
BlueCross BlueShield to open Nashville center (Tennessean/DuBois)
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will soon open its first brick-and-mortar center in Nashville. The company hopes this new “Consumer Information Center” will help educate Middle Tennesseans about health insurance in general, and, of course, BlueCross plans. While the insurer maintains its commitment to building its digital profile, it has received feedback that some customers want face-to-face interactions with people when reviewing health insurance options, according to Carla Raynor, BCBST’s vice president of strategic marketing. This realization came to the company, in part, through its effort this year to enroll Tennesseans in individual plans on the federal exchange — 88 percent of Tennesseans who signed up for Marketplace plans bought BlueCross products.
ElementAL Holdings to close plant; 39 employees to lose jobs around July (J. Sun)
Metal Exchange Corp., which bought ElementAL Holdings LLC out of bankruptcy in 2009, is closing its Jackson location. ElementAL, which has 39 employees in Jackson, converted prime and recycled aluminum into precision “slugs” used in the production of packaging items including aluminum bottles and components for the automotive and defense industries. “This is just unfortunate,” Jackson Chamber CEO Kyle Spurgeon said of Wednesday’s announcement. “Team Madison County has worked with ElementAL very close the past few years, and market conditions led to this closing.”
Michigan: Michigan Joins Move to Increase Hourly Wage (New York Times)
For several years, Republicans in states such as Michigan have steered clear of raising the minimum wage. That shifted this week, as the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature approved a gradual increase in the state’s wage, to $9.25 an hour. The change reflects a national conversation about income inequality, worker pay and economic growth that is bumping up against the reality of practical politics, pollsters and economic analysts said. In Michigan, where a coalition of labor and community groups had mounted an effort to put a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour on the ballot in the fall, Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to pass a more modest measure.
Editorial: Electric chair makes bad system worse (Tennessean)
Gov. Bill Haslam, the General Assembly and Attorney General Bob Cooper have decided to double-down on Tennessee’s ability to put convicted killers to death at a time when a growing number of states are moving away from capital punishment. With Tennessee’s preferred method of execution, lethal injection, in doubt, the state’s leaders plan to adopt a Plan B: electrocution. It’s the very method that the state set aside (though never completely abandoned) years ago because they feared the lawsuits that might be brought on behalf of death-row inmates because of the electric chair’s innate cruelty.
Editorial: Politics has no place in Tennessee courtrooms (Jackson Sun)
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s campaign to unseat three state Supreme Court justices for political reasons is just what Tennessee’s judicial system doesn’t need. Ramsey wants all five justices to be selected by Republican Gov. Bill Hasam. Underlying Ramsey’s political campaign against the justices also is his desire to have a Republican-fueled court appoint the state’s next attorney general. Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee all are up for retention elections in the Aug. 7 election. All three have been recommended for re-election by the state’s Judicial Evaluation Commission.
Editorial: MTSU’s trip to China brings home opportunities (Daily News Journal)
Middle Tennessee and the Middle Kingdom are continuing to build productive connections that cross not only geographical boundaries but also cut across disciplines of the arts and sciences. The Middle Kingdom is a traditional name for China, and a delegation from Middle Tennessee State University this week is completing a successful tour of the Asian nation that continues to expand as an economic power in the world. University officials have reached agreements with five Chinese universities in regard to the exchange of students, faculty and research. Four of these agreements are new, and the fifth is the renewal of the pact that brings the Confucius Institute to the campus along with a $500,000 grant.
Tre Hargett: Summer reading keeps kids’ minds sharp (Tennessean)
Summer vacation for Tennessee’s students is upon us! It’s a time when children can enjoy being outdoors, playing video games or doing any of the other fun things that they like to do. It’s also a time when they often forget a significant portion of what they learned in school the year before. That’s right. Research has shown that, on average, students lose the equivalent of one month of instruction time from the academic year preceding summer break. For some students, the loss may be even greater — in some cases, up to three months. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to by educators as “the summer slide” or “summer setback.”
Frank Cagle: National Disgrace (Metro Pulse)
Another Memorial Day has come and gone, another Veterans Affairs scandal unfolds apace. Meanwhile, at least 22 veterans a day commit suicide. It should be obvious by now that Veterans Affairs is not equipped to deliver adequate health care to the nation’s former soldiers. From the scandal at substandard Walter Reed Hospital a few years back to waiting lists and inadequate care today, Congress should finally get the message. The agency needs to get out of operating a health-care business. Close the hospitals and sell them off. Issue every veteran a card, like a Medicare card, and allow them to go wherever they need to go to get the best care.