This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tenn, led by Lipscomb, stands out in report on best teacher training (TN/Garrison)
Tennessee, led by Nashville’s Lipscomb University and a new online school, is a silver lining in an otherwise scathing new report on the quality and effectiveness of higher education teacher training programs in the United States. While the National Council on Teacher Quality’s second annual teacher review reveals what its president called “deplorable” results, Tennessee is one of three states — along with Ohio and Texas — that boast the most top-ranked programs. Lipscomb’s College of Education, part of the Church of Christ-affiliated university on Belmont Boulevard, is among 10 institutions to have top-ranked programs at the elementary and secondary levels, according to the privately funded, Washington, D.C.-based organization’s new report released Tuesday.
Teacher training called ‘deplorable’ (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Hardy)
Tennessee has some of the best teacher training programs in the nation, according to a new analysis of more than 1,500 schools. They’re just not in Chattanooga. In its second annual review of the nation’s teacher preparation programs, the National Council on Teacher Quality gives high praise to Lipscomb University, the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt and Austin Peay for their job of getting future teachers ready for the classroom. But the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga — a major training ground for our local public schools — finished closer to the bottom. Several Tennessee programs finished among the top 50 in the nation.
Haslam officials spill some details of Asia trip (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has released more details of economic meetings in Japan and South Korea amid criticism from transparency advocates about lack of details about the seven-day trip. The governor’s office initially announced in its public schedule that Haslam was traveling to Asia on an economic development trip, but spokesman David Smith declined to elaborate, saying “we don’t talk about private meetings.” Department of Economic and Community Development spokesman Clint Brewer in an email tonight said five employees from the department and a member of the governor’s security detail were joining Haslam on the trip.
Human trafficking is target of TBI, TDOT campaign (Tennessean/Farris)
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Transportation have rolled out a new campaign this week to combat human trafficking in the state. TBI and TDOT worked with the Tennessee Department of Tourism to reach out to interstate travelers who notice any suspicious activity. “This initiative is just one part of a multifaceted state approach to this particular issue,” said TBI spokesman Josh Devine. “The governor has established a task force to address human trafficking which is developing resources, outreach efforts and (innovative) approaches in an attempt to lead the nation in a comprehensive approach.” The campaign will feature posters of women with captions reading “You see a girl who can do anything. He sees a girl he can force to do anything.”
Why Timing Is Terrible For Tennessee Arrival Of Chikungunya Virus (WPLN-Radio)
Tennessee has the kinds of mosquitoes that could transmit the Caribbean virus. And it also happens to be peak season for group mission trips to nations hard-hit by chikungunya, such as Haiti. “Of particular concern is travel back to the southeastern U.S. – states like Tennessee – where we have the Asian Tiger mosquito, which is very good for transmitting the virus,” says Dr. Abelardo Moncayo of the Tennessee Department of Health, adding that the mosquitoes are “very active right now.” The first case of chikungunya virus was confirmed Friday. The state now has 22 suspected infections, according to TDOH.
Some students face tuition hike close to 9 percent (Associated Press)
Some Tennessee college students could see a nearly 9 percent hike in tuition this fall. The Tennessee Board of Regents oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. It’s proposing up to a 6.9 percent tuition increase for its universities, 5.8 percent for community colleges and 8.5 percent for its technical institutions. Board members are scheduled to vote on the hikes this Thursday. Most students in the University of Tennessee system could see a 6 percent hike in tuition.
Students, parents brace for tuition hikes on Tenn’s public campuses (CA/Locker)
The governing boards of Tennessee’s two public college and university systems meet this week to consider tuition and fee increases of between 4 and 9 percent when students return to campus in August. For the first time in decades, the University of Memphis is not requesting a tuition increase, but a $307 per year increase in mandatory fees paid by all full-time students means an effective hike of 3.5 percent. Memphis is the only public campus not requesting a basic tuition increase but the $307 fee hike will push the bill for a student taking at least 15 credit hours to $8,973 for the 2014-15 school year (two semesters), excluding housing, dining and specific course fees.
We Care Cannon wins governor’s honor (Cannon Courier)
First Lady Crissy Haslam joined Miss Tennessee 2013, Shelby Thompson, to honor volunteers from 39 counties at the Sixth Annual Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards ceremony in Franklin on March 10, 2014. The awards celebrated the efforts of 71 volunteers statewide who strive to improve their communities through service. “I am thrilled to recognize Tennesseans who give of their time and resources to improve the community,” Mrs. Haslam said. “Setting an example for service can be one of the very best ways to be a leader.” One youth and one adult volunteer were selected from participating counties to receive this prestigious award.
Vaughn becomes a new state trooper (Ashland City Times)
Fifty Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers earned their badges on Friday at Hermitage Hills Baptist Church. Among the graduates was Sara Vaughn, who will be assigned to Cheatham County. Tennessee Department of Transportation commissioner John Schroer served as the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony for the THP trooper cadet class. “Congratulations to the graduates of Cadet Class 614 and to your families who have supported you through the 19 weeks of training. Being a state trooper is a great honor, and an even greater responsibility,” Schroer said in a news release. Seventy-two prospective troopers reported to the THP Cadet Academy on Feb. 2.
Tennessee lays off 121 state workers (Tennessean/Sisk)
The state Department of Human Services has laid off 121 workers responsible for administering food stamp and welfare payments in Tennessee. The department said Monday that the workers were fired Friday as part of an effort to rethink how the state administers its Temporary Family Assistance programs. Officials also said in a press release that caseloads had decreased. All of the workers who were laid off were probationary employees, meaning they had been in their positions fewer than 12 months. They were given 10 days’ severance pay. DHS said it also had eliminated 256 vacant positions. The 2014-15 budget approved earlier this year by the General Assembly calls for eliminating 154 vacant positions in the Department of Human Services and none that were filled.
Old Hickory Woman Charged with TennCare Fraud (WZTV-TV Nashville)
A Davidson County woman was charged with TennCare fraud, according to a Tuesday release from the state. April S. Bartlett, 24, of Old Hickory, is accused of “doctor shopping,” or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances. Bartlett was charged with five counts of doctor shopping for prescriptions for controlled substances, with the clinical visits or the prescriptions being paid for by TennCare. “We intend to eliminate drug fraud in the TennCare program, including doctor shopping for drugs as well as any effort to get prescription drugs to sell to others,” Acting Inspector General Robert White said.
20-year-old running for Tennessee House is youngest ever (WKRN-TV Nashville)
Most young people reject the idea of politics but not Joshua Rawlings. At 20 years old he’s not only interested in politics, he’s running for political office. Rawlings is the youngest candidate in history to run for the Tennessee General Assembly. He hopes to fill the seat currently held by District 51 State Representative Mike Turner, who has decided not to seek another term. District 51 is made of Old Hickory and parts of east Nashville. Rawlings, who is a Republican, has spent the past several weeks knocking on doors trying to drum up support. “It’s been such a learning experience and it’s a path that I love going down. It’s the preferred way of life for me,” Rawlings told News 2.
TSEA names Stamps new government affairs director (Associated Press)
The Tennessee State Employees Association has named former state Rep. Randy Stamps as its new government affairs director. Stamps, a Republican, represented the 45th District for five terms, from 1988-1998. He also served as political director for the Tennessee Republican Party from 2003-2009. Most recently, he served as policy and research counsel to the state House of Representatives. Last month, the association named former Nashville Councilman John Summers as its executive director.
Political Strategist Files Ethics Complaints Against Three Justices (WTVF-TV)
A self-described political and media strategist is taking his campaign against three Tennessee Supreme Court justices to a new level, filing ethics complaints against them. George Scoville has written numerous blog postings in support of a Republican effort to oust the three Democratic appointees. Now, he has filed a complaint with the board that regulates Tennessee judges, accusing the three of engaging in improper political activity as they try to defend themselves. He faults the justice for allowing NewsChannel 5 into the Supreme Court chambers to shoot video about the plan to attack them.
Memphis City Council approves hard budget cuts (C. Appeal/Connolly, Veazey)
The Memphis City Council voted 7-5 Tuesday in favor of a budget that includes Mayor A C Wharton’s proposal to cut retiree health insurance subsidies, a move that helps stabilize the city’s finances for now but could result in a lawsuit from outraged former employees. The move will free up money for the city’s troubled pension fund. Voting in favor were Kemp Conrad, Shea Flinn, Edmund Ford Jr., Reid Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery, Bill Morrison and Jim Strickland. Voting against were Bill Boyd, Joe Brown, Janis Fullilove, Wanda Halbert and Lee Harris. Harold Collins was attending an out-of-town conference and absent.
County Budget Season Not Over Yet (Memphis Daily News)
The Shelby County Commission defeated two competing versions of the county property tax rate for the new fiscal year on the second of three readings Monday, June 16. But they both advance to third and final readings when the commission meets in July. The votes on second reading come two weeks after the commission approved both versions of the tax rate on first reading. “If you are for the first version, you might not want to vote for the second version,” commission Chairman James Harvey said at the outset of the two votes Monday.
Bradley County cuts health department funds (Times Free-Press/Leach)
Bradley County’s proposed $33.7 million budget for 2014-15 has seen only tweaks so far, but it has generated much discussion among commissioners about possible cuts to departmental travel expenses. On Monday, the County Commission voted 13-0 to cut the budget of the Bradley County Health Department by $5,000, which will eliminate a part-time position. The cut, proposed by Commissioner Ed Elkins, will come from the department’s requested $67,470 for paraprofessionals and reduce some efficiency in addressing off-site community needs, health department Director Eloise Waters said. Home visits to sick and elderly clients as well as health screenings for juvenile offenders at county detention facilities may be affected, she said.
Black’s wealth leads TN delegation (Tennessean/Barton)
Rep. Diane Black and her husband held assets in 2013 potentially worth $147 million, according to a financial disclosure form made public this month. Black, R-Gallatin, listed 115 assets held by her and her husband, David Black. They were valued between $32 million and $146.9 million. That compares with their 2012 range of $34.4 million to $142.19 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group. Members of Congress have to disclose assets and liabilities only in broad dollar ranges. They also don’t have to list the value of their primary residence or automobiles.
Roe praises Mountain Home, condemns federal VA dept. (Johnson City Press)
One day after announcing his candidacy for a fourth term, Republican Phil Roe, the representative for Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District, visited the Johnson City Press to offer his opinions on a few key issues. Earlier this month, the congressman, and House Veterans Affairs Committee member, blasted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for what he described as a “blatant disregard for the lives of those who served their country honorably and earned timely access to quality health care.” Roe has actively participated in an investigation of the VA scandal since the news first broke about wait lists in Phoenix.
Ride Services, Room Sharing Targets for Taxes (Stateline)
Ronald Reagan once famously derided the outlook of Big Government as: “If it moves, tax it.” As America’s economy turns from goods to services, state and local governments are taking the former president’s bromide to heart in their hunt for new revenue. From short-term room rental services like Airbnb and FlipKey and rides in private cars like those coordinated by Uber and Lyft, governments are trying to bring new services into the taxable fold. While the so-called “Amazon tax” on Internet purchases led the way, state and local governments are now moving into taxing room rentals, bowling, yoga classes, barbershops and gym memberships.
Uncompensated Care Dropping Fast in Medicaid Expansion States (Governing)
Early evidence shows a dramatic drop in uncompensated care for hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid, according to a report released earlier this month by the Colorado Hospital Association. But it’s unclear whether the savings will be enough to offset cuts from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The study, which provides the most comprehensive view yet of Medicaid expansion’s impact on uncompensated care, analyzed data from 465 hospitals in 30 states in the first four months of Medicaid expansion. It found that unpaid care decreased by 30 percent in expansion states and remained essentially unchanged in non-expansion states.
Chattanooga candy plant Farley’s & Sathers cuts 95 jobs (Times Free-Press/Pare)
The Farley’s & Sathers candy plant in Chattanooga is cutting 95 jobs as some production is shifted to other factories in the second major downsizing here by the company in the last couple of years. Ferrara Candy Co., the Chicago-based parent of Farley’s & Sathers, is moving manufacture of chocolate and maple nut goodies products from its Jersey Pike plant to facilities in Forest Park, Ill., and Bellwood, Ill., said company spokesman Bryan Darrow. “Unfortunately, this will impact some positions,” he said in an email. “While this is a necessary step for the company, decisions that impact people are never easy.”
Shelby County Schools teachers will get bonus, not raise (C. Appeal/Roberts)
Teachers in Shelby County Schools won’t be getting raises this year, but they will get a bonus early in September, their consolation prize for being public servants in a tight economy. They will also notice that for the first time what goes in their pockets will reflect their value as a teacher. Teachers at the top of the five-level performance scale will get a $1,250 bonus. Those at the bottom will get $250. Going forward, they can expect less or nothing as the district moves to a merit-based pay system for teachers. The district budget this year originally included about $14 million for raises based on teacher skill.
Guest columnist: Shorter lives, poorer health in Tennessee (Times Free-Press)
Tennessee has remained among the worst states for overall health since America’s Health Rankings began ranking the states in 1990. The most recent edition ranked Tennessee as 42nd among the states. While this is an improvement over the state’s ranking of 48th in 2008, it continues a decade’s long trend of dismal ratings. Many of the state’s issues identified in the rankings, such as high rates of violent crime, low birth weight infants, and infant mortality, also characterize health in Hamilton County. These, along with obesity, smoking, and the percentage of children living in poverty, were identified as issues in the Ochs Center’s 2013 State of Chattanooga Health Report.
Editorial: UT trustees should lobby for support from Legislature (News-Sentinel)
The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees begins a two-day session today to approve budgets for its campuses and institutes that include tuition increases ranging from 3 percent to 6 percent. Though tuition continues to climb at the state’s higher education institutions, UT remains a bargain, thanks to lottery scholarships and other sources of financial aid. State support, however, continues to shrink as a proportion of the budget, a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed. The trustees should approve the tuition increases when they vote on Thursday and use the occasion to publicly make the case for more support from the state Legislature.
Editorial: Probation should not be an option for drunken drivers who kill (C. Appeal)
In 2012, the latest numbers available, 295 people died on Tennessee roadways in alcohol-related accidents, 29 percent of the traffic fatalities in the state that year. That is a sobering number of victims. And not only did they have their futures yanked away; their family members and friends also have been sentenced to years of sorrow. A special report by Beth Warren published in The Commercial Appeal Sunday and appearing on the newspaper’s website, commercialappeal.com, noted that Tennessee has one of the toughest drunken-driving laws in the nation, one that sends DUI first offenders to jail for a mandatory 48 hours or 30 days if a passenger is under 16.
Editorial: Stress accountability in Senate’s VA solution (Tennessean)
Congress is working to end the long waits for care in the Veterans Affairs medical system, but its prescription might carry side effects for the entire country. As an audit released last week showed, more than 57,000 veterans nationwide have had to wait at least 90 days for initial appointments for medical care. An additional 64,000 vets over the past 10 years asked for appointments and never got them. In Tennessee, vets wait an average of 65 days for initial appointments at the VA’s Nashville and Murfreesboro hospitals, the longest waits of any in the nation. Nationally, some patients and potential patients died waiting, and it appears some VA workers falsified appointment schedules to hide the problem, leading to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation.