This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Editorial: Kudos to DCS getting ‘back on track’ (Tennessean)
The Department of Children’s Services appears to have turned a corner in its long struggle to meet its commitments to Tennessee’s young people. For the first time in years, the department has shown substantive progress across a range of factors. A report prepared by the Technical Assistance Committee, which is tasked with monitoring DCS, credits the department’s new leadership particularly for getting the foster care system “back on track.” The good news is made more crucial because the number of children in state custody has increased by about one-third in just a few years, to more than 8,000. These kids need the care and accountability of an agency that is hitting its marks.
Prescription for Success beginning (Jackson Sun)
On Tuesday afternoon, state leaders kicked off their Prescription for Success campaign at Jackson City Hall to raise awareness of Tennessee’s prescription drug problem. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began its seven-city tour in Jackson. According to a study by the department, prescription opioids have become the primary substance of abuse for state-funded treatment centers, overtaking alcohol abuse. Across the state there were 1,094 deaths from drug overdoses in 2012, up from 342 in 1999. In Madison County, there were nearly 800 drug-related arrests for adults 18 and older in 2012 alone.
Higher education officials in nation, Tenn. back Common Core (TFP/Cobb, Hardy)
The battle over the Common Core State Standards has waged for months as the nation debates what education is best for its elementary, middle and high school students. Now the debate is making its way to colleges and universities. “Higher education has a clear and compelling stake in this debate,” said John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents. The Board of Regents oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 technical college campuses. Morgan and other higher education leaders went on the offense Tuesday as Common Core faces continued criticism.
Public Safety Panel to Partner With Advocacy Group (Associated Press)
The Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet is partnering with a national advocacy group to review Tennessee’s sentencing and correction policies. Officials say the partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice is aimed at improving public safety for all Tennesseans. Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield, a member of the subcabinet, led the charge in putting the partnership together. He says the department is actively engaged in adopting best practices that are suitable and sustainable in Tennessee because a “cookie cutter” approach to public safety will not work.
Toppled trees, power outages left in severe storm’s wake (News-Sentinel/Coleman)
A fast-moving storm hit much of East Tennessee with damaging winds Tuesday evening — snapping trees, bringing down power lines and ripping off a few rooftops — but sparing residents any serious injuries, according to various reports. Anderson County appeared to suffer the brunt of the system, with several trees falling on houses and widespread power outages. The county E-911 center in Clinton was forced to switch to backup generator power as operators continued to field the influx of callers reporting sparking power lines and roads blocked by fallen trees.
High water leaves damage behind in Perry County (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Memories of the historic May 2010 flood are on the minds of many people in Perry County this week as rain continues to fall and the creeks rise. Water began covering roads in Perry County last Thursday as about seven inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours. It seeped into the Dollar General and other stores on Main Street in Lobelville, but a lumber yard was probably the hardest hit. There, water washed away about 80 units of lumber and caused damage to a building. “We had in the yard probably 3 1/2 feet of water, and by 8 o’clock, it was nothing,” said Greg Koehn, with Quality Metals in Perry County.
State preparing major move out of Cordell Hull building (Tennessean/Ward)
Several high-profile downtown office buildings are in the running to provide the more than 100,000 square feet of space the state is seeking to relocate two major state agencies now at the Cordell Hull office building. As of Monday’s deadline, owners of the UBS Tower and Bank of America Plaza had submitted proposals for both requirements, according to people familiar with the matter. The state’s search for nearly 70,000 square feet of space for the Department of Children’s Services and more than 40,000 square feet of space for the attorney general’s office come as Cordell Hull’s future is under review.
Mosquito-borne chikungunya fever may be in Tennessee (Tennessean/Wilemon)
A disease that just emerged in the Americas may have made its way to Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health said Tuesday it is investigating the first potential cases of chikungunya virus in the state. It is a mosquito-borne disease that is circulating in the Caribbean. Tennesseans who traveled there are showing symptoms of the disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning in December about chikungunya when it was first reported detected on Caribbean islands — the first confirmed cases of the virus being contracted in the Americas.
Health officials warn of painful mosquito-borne illness starting to show up (TFP)
Tennessee health officials are warning about a painful mosquito-borne illness that is beginning to show up in the state. The Tennessee Department of Health is investigating the state’s first potential cases of chikungunya, a virus transmitted by daytime biting mosquitoes. Tennesseans showing symptoms of the disease so far have been limited to people who recently traveled to the Caribbean, where the illness is an epidemic with more than 100,000 suspected cases, health officials said. Deaths are rare, but those at most risk include the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and those who have high blood pressure, diabetes and/or heart disease.
Men in Tennessee die differently (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Guns are more deadly for white men in their own hands and for black men when held by someone else. That’s just one of the disparities in the Tennessee Men’s Health Report, which reveals men in this state die differently depending upon the color of their skin and where they live. The biannual report by Meharry Medical College, the Tennessee Department of Health and Vanderbilt University looks at several aspects to determine how well men are taking care of themselves and uses a simple A-to-F scoring system. “The biggest thing to me that came out in the 2014 Tennessee Men’s Health Report Card was the need to think about the disparities among men within this state,” said Vanderbilt Professor Derek Griffith, who chaired the report committee.
Dhaliwal named interim grad school dean at U of M (Memphis Business Journal)
Jasbir Dhaliwal has been named interim dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for Academic Affairs at the University of Memphis. Dhaliwal will replace Karen Weddle-West, who was recently named interim provost. Dhaliwal has been with the University of Memphis since 2005 as a tenured professor and chair of the Department of Management Information Systems. He was named associate dean for research and academic programs in the Fogelman College of Business and Economics in 2009.
GOP lawmakers laud Realtors’ legislative role (Times-News)
Northeast Tennessee Republican lawmakers acknowledged the political clout of Realtors Tuesday during the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) annual legislative luncheon. “A lot of times the most important things you do are keeping bills from passing as opposed to passing bills,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, himself a Realtor, told about 80 Realtors at NETAR’s headquarters. “I am (a Realtor). I understand these personal relationships.” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said legislation requiring a surveyor review on every piece of sold property, in addition to “several bad” landlord-tenant bills, were either put on hold or turned away by the Tennessee Association of Realtors (TAR).
Chattanooga Wine Enthusiasts Recieve Support (WDEF-TV)
It’s so much trouble to have your cart full of groceries and you’ve got to stop at another store and it’s hot and your ice cream is melting” Sue Lowery of Chattanooga Wine Club has campaigned to legislators, elected officials and supermarket managers in the hope she can buy wine in her local Bi-Lo or Publix by next year. “People don’t understand that we have to get this one the ballot to be approved. In order to do that, each municipality and the city of Chattanooga need a target number of signatures” The petition deadline is the first of August and dozens have already signed on at Publix on Brainerd Road. Food Lion thinks shoppers should be allowed to vote and are supporting the campaigns led by both Sue and non-profit Red White and Food.
Tennessee Democrats Hire Abortion Amendment Staffer (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Democratic Party has hired a new staffer to work against a proposed constitutional amendment to give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion in the state. Lisa Carter, who most recently worked for former Orlando, Florida, mayoral and congressional candidate Val Demings, will lead the party’s efforts to defeat the constitutional amendment at the polls in November. Party Chairman Roy Herron cited a recent Vanderbilt poll that showed wide opposition to granting state lawmakers more power over abortion laws in the state.
Jim Tracy, Rep. Scott DesJarlais spar over who’s really ‘conservative’ (TFP/Sher)
In their first paid outreach efforts to Republican primary voters in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, GOP challenger Jim Tracy and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais are talking a lot about “integrity” and “trust.” State Sen. Tracy, R-Shelbyville, went up with his first television ad on Tuesday, a 30-second spot on which he is spending nearly $22,000 in Chattanooga aimed at the sprawling congressional district’s eastern half. In the ad, former school teacher and coach Tracy tosses a baseball to his teenage son as an announcer describes him as “conservative” and the candidate himself talks about “integrity,” seen as a jab at DesJarlais although the South Pittsburg physician’s name is not mentioned.
Rep. Roe: Vietnam ‘looking to the future,’ not at the past (News-Sentinel/Collins)
To get to Vietnam, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe first had to get beyond the past. Roe, an Army medic in Korea during the Vietnam War, harbored such strong feelings about the Southeast Asian nation where more than 58,000 Americans lost their lives that for years he wouldn’t buy anything stamped “Made In Vietnam.” So it was with conflicting emotions that he agreed to join other Congress members on an official trip to the land that for many Americans will always be associated with war and death. “For me personally,” the Johnson City Republican said, “I had to get over a lot of demons.”
Cohen sets procurement fair (Commercial Appeal)
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s annual Federal Procurement Fair will be held 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. June 30 at the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis. Cohen, D-Memphis, has organized the fair since 2010 to help Memphis-area minority-owned businesses, small businesses, and entrepreneurs compete for contracts with the federal government. It will feature representatives from the General Services Administration, Small Business Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Minority Business Development Agency, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, Tennessee Procurement Technical Assistance, and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center. Last year’s fair was attended by about 150 business owners.
Top local VA healthcare officials to address wait time issues (WKRN-TV Nashville)
As more reports come out about some of the longest wait times in the country at Middle Tennessee Veterans Administration hospitals, the top local VA healthcare officials announced late Tuesday they will address the issues Wednesday in a news conference. VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System (TVHS) spokesperson Jessica Schiefer told News 2 late Tuesday afternoon that Health System Director Juan Morales, Interim Chief of Staff Dr. Roger Jones, and Chief of Medicine Dr. Brian Christman will take questions at 2 p.m. on the Nashville campus of the VA TVHS.
States Move to Plug Shortfall as Federal Highway Fund Dwindles (Wall St. Journal)
The bridge on Route 70 near the state fairgrounds in Little Rock, Ark., has no shoulder for its four narrow lanes and has been rated “structurally deficient.” Dating to the 1930s, the bridge was due to be replaced this year, but the project was put on hold as Arkansas, like many other states, grapples with an imminent problem: the federal Highway Trust Fund could soon run out of money. The dwindling fund, the main source of federal cash to build and maintain roads and transit systems, could mean a delay in payments to states as soon as August unless Congress agrees on a solution.
Teacher Tenure Dealt Legal Setback (Wall Street Journal)
A California judge declared the state’s strong teacher-tenure laws unconstitutional in a rebuke that promises to spur similar challenges around the country. The student plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state and two teachers unions successfully argued that statutes protecting teacher tenure, dismissal procedures and “last-in, first-out” layoff policies serve more often to keep ineffective instructors in the schools—hurting students’ chances to succeed. In Tuesday’s decision in Vergara v. California, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu cited the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education “separate but equal” ruling, writing that the laws in this case “impose a real and appreciable impact on the students’ fundamental right to equality of education.”
TVA to study value of small providers like solar (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority is studying the value of electricity produced from small, dispersed sites, such as solar, wind or small gas turbine installations. According to a news release from the utility, the initiative will develop methods to set the value of distributed generation to the electric grid and the value of the grid to the small energy producer. TVA will undertake the study with the help of local power companies and other stakeholders. Solar energy will be the first resource investigated. The process is expected to last through the end of 2014.
Health care cybersecurity even worse than retail (Tennessean/DuBois)
Health care lags behind other major industries when it comes to keeping consumers’ digital information safe and secure, according to a new report. Health care even trails retail, which has suffered a string of large data breaches, including Target’s massive data loss late last year, which ultimately affected tens of millions of consumers nationwide. The issue is of critical importance in the Nashville area, which counts health care as its largest industry. “I don’t necessarily feel (the data issues are) for want of attention,” said Colbey Reagan, a Nashville lawyer and partner at legal firm Waller. “The big hospital companies really do actually take this very seriously.”
Nashville school board approves Hillsboro cluster rezoning (Tennessean/Garrison)
A closely scrutinized student assignment plan for elementary schools in the Hillsboro High School cluster received the final go-ahead Tuesday, overcoming concerns about sufficient feedback, splitting the Hillsboro-Belmont neighborhood and student diversity. The Metro Nashville school board voted 5-3 to sign off on a rezoning plan that clears the 2015 opening of Waverly-Belmont Elementary School in the gentrifying 12South neighborhood, transformation of Carter-Lawrence Elementary into a new countywide magnet school and new options for families throughout one of Nashville’s most booming areas.
Metro Schools to offer free meals to all students (Tennessean/Garrison)
Free school lunches and breakfasts will be available to all Metro Nashville students when school reconvenes this fall, under a new federal program. According to Metro’s Chief Operating Officer Fred Carr, Nashville’s public school district meets thresholds outlined in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision program, which is available to predominantly low-income districts and schools nationwide beginning July 1. The department calls the program an “alternative approach for offering meals” rather than collecting and processing individual applications for federal free and reduced lunches.
Editorial: Judicial ouster plan shows worst of politics (Daily News Journal)
Judicial retention races often seem mere ballot clutter, but not this year. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who also holds the title of lieutenant governor, has launched a campaign to oust three state Supreme Court justices whose primary offense appears to be that former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed them to the high court. Retention votes are on the August ballot, and Ramsey, a Blountville Republican, is working on an ouster campaign that identifies the justices, Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee as “soft on crime” and anti-business. This campaign comes despite the fact that the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission that Ramsey helped to appoint found them qualified to retain their posts.