This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
WGU Tennessee holds first commencement as part of “Drive to 55” (WBIR-TV)
An online university set up by Gov. Haslam celebrated a big milestone this weekend. Western Governors University Tennessee held its first commencement on Saturday. Nearly 150 graduates from all over the state were recognized during the ceremony at the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville. The state-based, nonprofit online university launched as part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative. It’s Haslam’s push to get 55% of Tennesseans with degrees earned after high school. Since it began last summer, more than 1,100 students joined Western Governors University Tennessee.
Tennessee recognizes June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (C. Online)
Each day the state’s elderly population grows, and with it, the heightened risk of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation upon this vulnerable group. In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has issued a proclamation acknowledging the day and urging Tennesseans “to work to prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation of elderly Tennesseans and to raise awareness and prevention around all people affected by this devastating crime.” Sunday, June 15th, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and the Tennessee Department of Human Services is working to do its part to raise awareness toward preventing abuse of the elderly.
Growing jobs: West Tenn. unemployment rates improve, companies are hiring (JS)
With unemployment figures dropping to their lowest in six years, it makes some wonder where the jobs are coming from in West Tennessee. In April 2013, unemployment in Madison County stood at 8.2 percent, and one year later, the rate had dropped to 6.1 percent. Neighboring counties have followed suit, with Chester County’s 2.6 percentage point drop to 6 percent unemployment registering as the lowest in the region. Gibson County’s previously double-digit unemployment has dipped to 9.1 percent, down from 12.4 percent in April 2013. “Our existing industry continues to add jobs,” Kyle Spurgeon, president of the Jackson Chamber, said.
Tennessee faces epidemic of drug-dependent babies (Tennessean)
No one who hears it ever forgets the sound. When newborn babies begin to withdraw from powerful drugs, they shriek at a high, telltale pitch. Cut off from the substances they ingested through their mothers, they convulse, projectile vomit or writhe from skin-scorching diarrhea. Their tiny bodies shudder violently. They cannot be consoled. The urge to help is overwhelming. But the debate over how to help has consumed Tennessee doctors, researchers and politicians alike — and has led them to wildly different conclusions in their efforts to speak up for these infants.
Bodies of missing teen swimmers recovered at state park (Tennessean/Wilson)
The bodies of two 13-year-old swimmers who went missing in the waters of Cummins Falls State Park on Friday were recovered on Saturday afternoon. Crews recovered the remains of the teenagers around 1 p.m. after restarting a search early Saturday morning at the Jackson County state park, said Kelly Brockman, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The boys were reported missing Friday around 2 p.m., Brockman said. Authorities have not yet released the identities of the teenagers.
Knox College’s environmental issues started more than a year ago (N-S/Boehnke)
Hitched to the back of Daygo McBee’s Jeep Cherokee was a trailer hauling a 50-year-old laboratory instrument that would, in a year’s time, trigger a federal intervention at a rundown college just west of downtown. But first, it triggered an alarm. At least three police cruisers, three unmarked police cars, a hazmat truck, a fire engine, a bomb squad and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation all responded when McBee’s load tripped a radiation detector at a North Knoxville scrap yard last year. McBee, a 35-year-old out-of-work Mechanicsville resident, said he and his cousin joined some other men to help Knoxville College clean out a science building on its 39-acre campus.
‘Anomaly’ allows probation for drunken drivers who cause crashes (CA/Warren)
A person pulled over driving drunk in Tennessee could face more jail time than a drunken driver who kills someone in a crash because of a loophole in an antiquated state law, an investigation by The Commercial Appeal has found. Tennessee has among the nation’s toughest drunken driving laws that send first offenders to jail for a mandatory 48 hours, or 30 days if a passenger is under 16. But intoxicated drivers who kill on the state’s roadways benefit from one of the most lenient punishments in the nation, potentially not serving a single night behind bars.
Lawyer Gordon Ball plans ad blitz for Senate seat (Tennessean/Sisk)
An East Tennessee lawyer plans a massive advertising blitz in the race for the U.S. Senate. Gordon Ball, a Knoxville attorney seeking the Democratic nomination, said Friday that he plans to spend $400,000 or more of his own money in the hope of winning the Aug. 7 primary. The ad campaign will begin June 30 with spots in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville. “I’d like to be able to say I can do it cheaper, but I don’t think I can,” he said. Four Democrats are vying for the Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who also faces seven challengers in the Republican primary. Ball told reporters he had supported the two-term senator in the past, even agreeing to lend his name to a “Democrats for Lamar Alexander” endorsement. But he said he has grown disappointed with the incumbent.
Common Core, in 9-Year-Old Eyes (New York Times)
He could have written about the green toy truck he kept hidden in his room, a reminder of Haiti, a place he did not yet fully understand. He might have mentioned the second-place trophy he had won for reciting a psalm in French at church — “le bonheur et la grâce m’accompagneront tous les jours de ma vie…” — his one and only award. He could have noted his dream of becoming an engineer or an architect, to one day have a house with a pool and a laboratory where he would turn wild ideas about winged cars and jet packs into reality. But on a windy April afternoon, as the first real sun of spring fell on Public School 397 in Brooklyn, and empty supermarket bags floated through the sky, Chrispin Alcindor’s mind was elsewhere.
New nonprofit aims to help public schools in Chattanooga area (TFP/Hardy)
Out of the classrooms and onto the streets. Organizers of a new local nonprofit aimed at improving public education say their work will focus on igniting the public through grass-roots organizing. State and national educational reforms have sought to improve the quality of public education by changing school accountability systems, altering teacher tenure rules and switching to more rigorous standards, among other efforts. Locally, the Public Education Foundation has more than two decades of experience working with local schools to help new teachers, train principals and work with students on college and career goals.
Editorial: Law jailing drug moms is based in ignorance (Tennessean)
Tennessee’s crisis of drug-dependent babies has been completely mishandled by the General Assembly and Gov. Bill Haslam in 2014, and with the start date for a new law criminalizing mothers just weeks away, there is precious little time to avert the human damage. As of July 1, conflicting statutes will be in force for mothers who give birth to babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The year-old Safe Harbor Act seeks to protect these women from seeing their child taken away based on addiction alone. Under a new law starting July 1, mothers will go to jail and could see their children taken away from them. Is this just what these uncaring, drug-addicted women deserve?
Editorial: Congress answers call to duty in passage of VA bills (News-Sentinel)
Congress acted with startling speed and rare bipartismanship last week in response to an audit of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operations, with both chambers passing bills that would allocate more money for veterans’ care. The audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found the agency’s 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was impossible to attain. The VA has abandoned that goal, acknowledging it is overwhelmed by a rising tide of patients caused by a decade of warfare and the aging of veterans from previous conflicts. Mountain Home VA Medical Center near Johnson City had the ninth-longest wait times for patients seeking specialty care — more than two months.
Times Editorial: Finally — the missing piece to improve public education (TFP)
Public education in Hamilton County is paramount to our community’s future. That’s actually an extreme understatement that often gets nods, but then short shrift. And, yes, we have many education support groups: PTAs and teachers’ groups; PEF (Public Education Foundation) and regional groups like the MEF (Mountain Education Fund). We have so many education groups that identify themselves with acronyms that sometimes our news pages look like alphabet soup. What we don’t have is any group to pull it all together. “What’s missing is the community,” said Elizabeth Crews, the new executive director of the new organization UnifiEd. If Crews and UnifiEd have anything to do with it, that’s about to change.
Free-Press Editorial: Unified to seek more unity in public school community (TFP)
If a new advocacy organization succeeds in making Chattanoogans more aware of and more involved in their public schools, it will have done a great service. That’s what UnifiEd organizers, a group of civic, business and community leaders with the backing of the Benwood, Footprint and Maclellan foundations, say they want to do. They’re not pushing a curriculum or a platform, and are nobody’s mouthpiece, said executive director Elizabeth Crews and deputy director Lakweshia Ewing. Instead, they said, the bipartisan, nonprofit organization was created to increase transparency, accountability, effectiveness and engagement in the schools. UnifiEd is trying to be the catalyst for a grassroots movement, the organizers said.