This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam supports anti-abortion amendment (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam says he will work this fall to pass a controversial amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would grant state lawmakers more authority in regulating abortions. But the Republican governor couldn’t say what restrictions he thinks are appropriate for state lawmakers to consider should voters in November approve Amendment 1. “I don’t know,” Haslam said. “As I understand it, basically, what it would do is just put [the state’s ability to regulate abortion] back to how the law works in the United States, how the federal law works now.” If approved, the amendment would overturn a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that the Tennessee Constitution provides greater protections on abortion than the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
UT study sees healthy economic growth in 2014 (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Winter was hard on the economy in the first quarter, “but a dip in unemployment rates and expected increases in housing investments signal stronger gains for the remainder of the year,” University of Tennessee economists said in a report released Friday. Nationally, the gross domestic product should rise to 2.4 percent this year, compared to 1.9 percent in 2013, according to the spring 2014 Tennessee Business and Economic Outlook The report, prepared by UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research, looks at a wide range of factors to predict the direction of the national and state economies.
Tennessee could lead way on disability services (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
A new plan to overhaul the way the state cares for people with intellectual disabilities could make Tennessee first in the nation to specifically gear services toward independent living and employment as the “first and preferred option.” The plan, released Friday afternoon, represents a sharp shift in state priorities for the expenditure of about $860 million each year — a mix of state and federal dollars that has largely gone toward paying for around-the-clock residential care for thousands of people. Instead, the state would provide more limited and less costly services, such as personal assistance and transportation — largely minus the housing component — while offering vocational training, job coaching and job support to new enrollees.
Tennessee foster care families featured in short film (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Tennessee foster children and families appear in a new seven-minute short documentary created by a soon-to-be state social worker and students at Middle Tennessee State University. The movie, “Fostering Hope,” shows foster kids talking about what family means to them, and foster parents discussing why they decided to step forward to take in vulnerable children. Tennessee has a high demand for foster parents because there were 8,096 kids in state custody as of this week. That number has grown in recent years, up from fewer than 6,000 a few years ago.
State official says Unicoi County’s jail facilities not near expiration date (JCP)
In April, Tennessee Corrections Institute Detention Facilities Specialist Bob Bass visited Unicoi County’s jail facilities to compile a “snapshot” look at the jails. On Thursday, Bass returned to Erwin to share what he had gleaned. The recently formed county Jail Committee met Thursday to hear from Bass and other TCI officials as they shared information and recommendations regarding the jail in downtown Erwin and the jail annex. At the beginning of the meeting, Bass praised the county for its proactive approach in forming the committee.
GOP can, needs to broaden base, Christie tells Germantown audience (CA/Veazey)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, touting U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign for re-election, told an audience Friday in Germantown that the Republican Party must broaden its base without compromising its principles. “His career has been a testament to that,” Christie told a crowd of Alexander volunteers and local Republican officials at the opening of the Alexander campaign office in the Carrefour at Kirby Woods shopping center. Christie came to Germantown in advance of his headlining appearance Friday night in Nashville at the Tennessee Republican Party’s annual fundraising Statesmen’s Dinner.
In Tenn., Christie lists U.S. problems, proposes cures (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Gov. Christie laid out a vision Friday for restoring the United States’ role as the world’s unquestioned leader, saying the country needed to clearly define its commitment to its allies abroad and move past partisanship in Washington to address a series of intractable problems, such as what he called entitlement costs. In a keynote speech at the Tennessee Republican Party’s 2014 Statesmen’s Dinner, Christie lamented what he described as the nation’s retreat from the world stage and inability to come together at home to reform agencies, fix the tax code, and forge a new energy policy.
Alexander, Corker angered American Legion with VA votes (Tennessean/Barton)
Tennessee’s two Republican senators angered the American Legion with recent votes against expanding veterans’ benefits. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker explained their votes in different ways Friday, but each said the legislation they opposed would not have solved the problems in veterans’ care that have come to light recently. In February, the Senate considered a $21 billion proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, that would have expanded a wide range of veterans benefits — touching on issues such as college tuition, pension benefits and job training — while also calling for 27 new VA medical facilities nationwide.
Heat Stays on Veterans Affairs Department After Eric Shinseki’s Exit (WSJ)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday, but his departure did little to solve entrenched problems over access to care at the VA or to relieve pressure on the Obama administration. After presenting President Barack Obama with an internal VA assessment of improper appointment-scheduling procedures and efforts to hide long wait times across the VA health system, the retired general offered to resign so his role wouldn’t be a distraction from the need to fix problems at the VA, Mr. Obama said. Mr. Obama said he accepted Mr. Shinseki’s resignation “with considerable regret,” and moved to take charge of VA problems saying, “This is my administration. I always take responsibility for whatever happens.”
U.S. Veterans Affairs chief out amid scandal, scrutiny (Times Free-Press/Harrison)
After hearing that U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki had resigned from his post amid deepening revelations of problems in the VA health system, there was a part of veteran John Inman that felt disappointed. After all, Shenseki, like the 69-year-old Inman, had fought in Vietnam and been injured there. Inman had long respected Shenseki as someone who helped restore dignity and attention to Vietnam veterans. But like veterans across the Tennessee Valley and the nation, Inman sees the need for major overhauls in the VA health system. “If we’re supposed to have the best for serving our country and risking our lives, we should have better care,” the Lookout Valley veteran said.
Roe says VA Secretary Shinseki’s departure sends ‘strong signal’ to veterans (JCP)
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe. R-1st, released the following statement on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation: “I believe Secretary Shinseki’s resignation sends a strong signal to our veterans that there will be accountability for the failures uncovered on his watch, but I am extremely disappointed that we got to this point. I have worked with and have the utmost respect for General Shinseki, and I am incredibly grateful for his service to our country. With that said, it is time to turn the page and begin a new chapter for our veterans.
Cooper worries Shinseki departure won’t help veterans (Tennessean/Barton)
While most in Congress welcomed the resignation Friday of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, one Tennessee member regretted it. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, says he is plenty angry about problems at the VA but thinks getting rid of Shinseki could make them worse. On Thursday, Cooper expressed concern it could “take weeks and maybe months to get a new secretary confirmed by the Senate and in place.” A “leaderless VA,” he added, “would not be good for veterans.” After the resignation came Friday, Cooper stuck to his position. “I respect Gen. Shinseki’s decision to resign, but that won’t help fix the VA,” he said in a prepared statement.
Tennessee vets have mixed views on VA’s Eric Shinseki (Tennessean/Gang)
Some Middle Tennessee veterans said they have had no major complaints about wait times for health care at the Veterans Administration hospitals in Nashville and Clarksville. They had mixed views on whether embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is to blame for the systematic health care problems at VA facilities across the nation. Richard Brewster, 70, of Clarksville, Tenn., said he fought the VA for more than a decade to get 100 percent disability coverage. But once he was successful, he said he had no complaints with the VA hospitals in Nashville and Clarksville. “As long as you know your place. You cannot come in and demand,” said Brewster, who retired from the U.S Army in 1982 after 20 years of service. “Come in, show respect and do what they ask of you.” Still, Shinseki needed to go, Brewster said, just a short time before news broke of the secretary’s impending resignation. “He should have been fired,” Brewster said. “Everybody in a supervisory role. They should be fired. It is embarrassing.” (SUBSCRIPTION)
On Death Row With Low I.Q., and New Hope for Reprieve (New York Times)
For Ted Herring, who has spent 32 years on Florida’s death row for murdering a store clerk, signs of intellectual disability arose early and piled up quickly: He repeated first grade and got D’s and F’s through fourth grade. He read like a fourth grader at 14 and did not know that summer followed spring. By then, a psychologist in New York City, his hometown, had declared him “undoubtedly functionally retarded.” Life was no less trying in his late teens; he could not hold down a job, and something as simple as transferring buses posed a challenge. His intellectual disability was even obvious to a Florida judge, who found him “mentally retarded” and took him off death row 18 years after his original sentence.
TVA opens community park at Kingston ash spill site (WATE-TV Knoxville)
A new community park opened in Roane County Friday at the site of the 2008 massive coal ash spill. The disaster happened at the TVA Kingston fossil plant almost five and a half years ago. The new park is on Lakeshore Drive right across the water from the TVA plant. Tommy charles and his wife Carolyn are celebrating their 50th anniversary of living on the banks of the Emory River. “I love this place. It’s home,” Tommy said. Their house is the last one standing on Lakeshore Drive. TVA bought up all of the ash-affected property around them, but Tommy wouldn’t sell. “We didn’t have a clue where we’d go, so we decided to stay,” he said.
Nashville hotels set new record (Nashville Business Journal)
March was the best-ever month for Nashville hotels, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. announced today.
Citing data from Hendersonville-based Smith Travel Research, the Visitors Corp. said more hotel rooms were sold in March than in any previous month, topping October’s performance by 7 percent. According to Smith Travel Research, more than 640,000 Nashville hotel rooms were booked in March. “It is fitting that close to the one-year anniversary of the Music City Center opening, we are able to announce the best month ever experienced by our hospitality industry,” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said in a news release.
New special education testing on the horizon (Tennessean/Manskar)
A new standardized test has distressed some students with special needs, but state education officials remain confident it will bring positive change. The National Center and State Collaborative assessment, a new special education program that accompanied the Common Core curriculum, recently completed the first of two pilot tests that asked students questions with the same range of difficulty regardless of cognitive ability. The Tennessee Department of Education will develop a three-tiered test from the results for different ability levels. Some Williamson County students had to stop the test several times due to pain and anxiety, leading Superintendent Mike Looney to call it “harmful.”
Editorial: Shinseki’s resignation should not diminish focus on fixing VA (CA)
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki resigned Friday, falling on his sword amid revelations about wide-scale deficiencies and fraud regarding getting veterans timely medical care. In making the announcement about the resignation, President Barack Obama said he concurred with Shinseki’s assessment that he needed to step down because his continued presence at the helm would distract from the task of fixing the problems. It is hard to disagree with that, but what is happening within the VA calls for action far beyond ousting the head man and firing a few top administrators.
Editorial: Mr. Shinseki Takes the Fall (New York Times)
The resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki from the Veterans Affairs Department was probably unavoidable, under the principle that a leader should accept full responsibility for a great scandal. But the department’s problem was not Mr. Shinseki. It has been broken for years. No one should expect his removal to be anything but the beginning of a much-needed process of change. Time now to tune out the noise from the lawmakers who lately have been baying for Mr. Shinseki’s head. No doubt they will keep heaping abuse on President Obama, on the campaign trail, and at the hearings for whoever is nominated as Mr. Shinseki’s replacement.