This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
County selects tnAchieves for Tennessee Promise (Elk Valley Times)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s vision to provide a tuition-free opportunity for every Tennessee student to earn a college credential is now a reality beginning with students graduating high school from the Class of 2015. In Lincoln County, Mayor Bill Newman has designated tnAchieves to serve as the local partnering organization to help organize and support Tennessee Promise here. Tennessee Promise offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college to Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015. “Tennessee Promise and its impact on our students, families and communities can be a real game-changer as we prepare more of our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Newman.
SW TN Community College and TN State University enter transfer agreement (MBJ)
Southwest Tennessee Community College is expanding its student transfer partnership agreement to include Tennessee State University in Nashville. In an official signing that will take place on Southwest’s Macon Cove campus Sept. 11 at 1 p.m., Southwest students who complete two years at the school will be accepted to TSU and their credits will count toward a baccalaureate degree from the school. Students attending Southwest beginning next fall under the Tennessee Promise Scholarship will also be eligible for transfer to TSU The terms of the agreement include the awarding of 10 two-year full TSU scholarships with tuition and room and board beginning in fall 2015.
Books from Birth making local stop (Ashland City Times)
The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation will make a stop in Cheatham County as part of the “Books from Birth 10th Anniversary Tour.” The foundation will be traveling the state in a 45-foot decorated touring coach. The Cheatham County visit is set for Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. at Riverbluff Park in Ashland City. The “Books from Birth 10th Anniversary Tour” is being made possible in part through the support of the program’s bus tour partner, Delta Dental of Tennessee. The purpose of the tour is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee and the more than 20 million books mailed to children since the program began.
Security audit set for Tennessee juvenile jails (Associated Press)
A security audit will be performed on all three of the state’s youth development centers after a recent breakout and violence at the facility in Middle Tennessee, according to a preliminary report sent to the governor. The Department of Children’s Services sent the report to Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday after 32 teens escaped from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville on the night of Sept. 1. Just two nights later, two dozen detainees broke into the yard wielding sticks and spraying a fire extinguisher. “We wanted to give the governor an idea of where things stood,” DCS spokesman Rob Johnson told The Associated Press on Monday. “We’re focusing on how we can make the facility more secure and more safe.”
DCS will audit security at centers for delinquent teens (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
The Department of Children’s Services will conduct a security audit at all three of its centers for delinquent teenagers in response to a mass escape and riot at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center last week, according to a plan submitted to Gov. Bill Haslam. The plan calls for a review of cameras, doors, locks and fences, the reinforcement of fencing at two of the facilities, and developing contingency plans for crisis situations with the Tennessee Department of Correction and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The department will also consult with outside experts and assess the mental health status of all youth in the facilities to determine whether more services are needed. Haslam, who toured Woodland Hills Monday morning to get a firsthand look, will weigh the draft proposal.
Father Of One Of Teens Who Escaped Speaks Out At DCS Public Forum (WPLN)
At a public forum held at a YMCA in North Nashville, Department of Children Services Commissioner Jim Henry spent more than an hour telling a crowd of around 300 what has changed since 32 teens broke out of the Woodland Hills facility. Henry said DCS failed by not making sure the detention center was better secured. He also said state law places constraints how far they can take security measures. For instance, guards are not allowed to be armed at juvenile detention facilities, and the teens’ room doors must stay unlocked. Henry said since the escape, the facility’s weak spots have been addressed. He recently showed Gov. Bill Haslam some of the improvements, including stronger fencing, which encircles the building.
Be prepared for enterovirus (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)
As a growing number of children in surrounding states show up in hospitals with severe respiratory problems from a rare virus strain, Tennessee health officials say it is likely just a matter of time before the virus arrives up in the state. “We will eventually see this enterovirus in Tennessee,” said Dr. Mark Rowin, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee. “We’re surrounded by it right now, and it’s going to cross the border.” Enterovirus is a very common virus, with hundreds of strains that usually appear during late summer and early autumn. But the strain going around this year, Enterovirus D-68, is more rare and has been more severe. “When it [the virus] first appears, it is much like the common cold,” Rowin said. “But then there’s a rapid progression of respiratory distress.”
TennCare Fraud Arrest (WDEF-TV Chattanooga)
A Hamilton County woman faces TennCare drug fraud charges. Officials say 38-year-old Tonya Goode from Ooltewah presented forged prescriptions to a local pharmacy on four separate occasions, and using TennCare to pay for the drugs. She’s charged with four counts of TennCare fraud, four counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and four counts of forgery.
Gov. Haslam failed to sign 79 bills in required time (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Mistakes in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office caused 79 bills to become law without his signature and an additional 67 measures to be backdated to meet constitutional deadlines. The governor must either sign or veto bills within 10 days of receiving them from the legislature, or they become law without his signature. Haslam’s top legal adviser, Herbert Slatery, in a memo dated May 13 — nearly a month after the end of the legislative session — blamed a “clerical error” for the signatures to be dated after the window had passed for 67 bills. Slatery, who is among six finalists for an eight-year term as Tennessee attorney general, said that a review of internal documents and interviews confirmed Haslam had approved the 67 bills within the 10 days, but that a staffer had incorrectly dated the signature on the day the measures were filed with the secretary of state.
911 texting still not available in Tennessee (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)
In an emergency, you can text your spouse, parents, best friend, neighbor or just about anyone else with a cellphone and ask them for help. But in Tennessee, you can’t text 911. No city or county in Tennessee currently accepts text messages to 911, even though the Federal Communications Commission has been trying to get emergency call centers to embrace text messaging, and advocates for deaf people, domestic violence victims and others have been pushing for the service for years. The FCC took steps last month to accelerate text-to-911 service across the country. The federal agency ordered that text message providers that aren’t already making the service available must do so by the end of the year in jurisdictions that can handle such messages.
Feds step up efforts to combat prescription drug abuse (Tennessean/DuBois)
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is making it easier for people to get rid of excess prescription drugs. This is an incremental, but important, step toward alleviating the country’s staggering problem with abuse of controlled substances, particularly opioids. The issue hits particularly hard in Tennessee, which is one of the worst states in terms of painkiller abuse, with the second-highest prescription rate of opioid pain relievers in the country. More than 1,000 Tennesseans die each year from overdoses, the agency said. Under the new rules which take effect next month, the agency provides guidance about how certain organizations, including distributors, treatment programs and pharmacies can regularly collect unwanted narcotics.
TN should seek federal prekindergarten grants, ed secretary says (TFP/Omarzu)
When U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Chattanooga Tuesday as part of his back-to-school bus tour through the South, he talked about something he encounters often: Waiting lists to get kids into prekindergarten classes. “There’s not a state that I go to that does not have a waiting list,” Duncan told an audience of about 1,000 parents, educators and officials gathered in the gymnasium of the Chambliss Center for Children off Germantown Road in Brainerd. Duncan would like to fix that. He said federal grant money is available to boost the number of prekindergarten classes around the country. “Hopefully, Tennessee is going to participate in that,” Duncan said. “Applications are due in another month. It could mean as much as $70 million [over four years].”
Eyeing Revenue, States Try to Predict Billionaires’ Moves (Stateline)
The wealthiest Americans can move markets at home and abroad with their business decisions. When they sell massive quantities of stock, receive huge bonuses or suffer crushing losses, those events also can have a significant impact on state finances, especially in small states that collect taxes on income or capital gains. The problem is that billionaires don’t typically telegraph their financial moves, let alone to state officials. That leaves revenue estimators guessing whether they can count on a windfall in the upcoming fiscal year, or whether they have to figure out how to plug a gaping hole. To eliminate some of the uncertainty, revenue estimators in many states interview financial planners and economists to help them predict what billionaires might do, and what the tax consequences of those moves might be for their states.
DOE reviews tritium production at TVA (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)
The government agency responsible for maintaining America’s nuclear arsenal wants to continue to use a TVA nuclear power plant to produce bomb material even though tritium leaks from the the process have been nearly four times what was originally projected. The head of a three-year environmental assessment done by the National Nuclear Security Administration said studies indicate that bomb-grade tritium has been safely produced at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant since 2003. “We determined that tritium releases (outside of the plant) would have an insignificant impact on the health of the plant workers or on the general public,” Curtis Chambellan said during a public hearing here Tuesday night.
Amazon’s Bradley Co, distribution center gets ready for holiday hiring (TFP/Pare)
Online retailer Amazon, which already has created 100 more full-time jobs at its distribution center here, will start a holiday seasonal hiring push next month that could double its head count to about 1,000 workers. The 1 million-square-foot Bradley County distribution center now has more than 500 full-timers as it also has converted over all of its part-time staff. Keith Stevens, the facility’s general manager, said Tuesday the Christmas holiday season is a peak time for the Internet giant. “We look forward to getting people involved,” said Stevens, who opened up the Bradley center for the governor’s Books from Birth Foundation bus tour. Seattle-based Amazon this year has given $25,000 to the foundation, which provides books to Tennessee children.
Shelby Co. Schools enrollment off by 3,900 students; staff cuts likely (CA/Roberts)
Shelby County Schools’ best estimates of how many students it would have this year were off by nearly 4,000. That means it has dozens of teachers it cannot afford, based on official counts last week. Staff were expected to get an email from district officials late Tuesday, outlining the process for how the reductions will be made and why the district is in this position. It’s not clear yet how many teachers will be “excessed,” the term SCS uses when it cuts staff due to declining enrollment. At first count last week, it had 220 extra teaching positions, based on state-mandated staffing ratios. “Since that time, we have been working to reduce that number to get it where it will have the least amount of negative impact on students, learning and of course, employees,” said Sheila Redick, director of human capital. By Tuesday, it had identified 140 excess positions. “Our goal is to get it under 100, preferably 75,” said Trinette Small, director of employee services. On Thursday, principals will begin alerting teachers they have selected to excess. If a school has several teachers in a subject or grade that needs to be reduced, the principal is directed to excess the lowest performer, based on evaluation scores.
Columnist: State services suffering with understaffed offices (Jackson Sun)
Last week, WSMV in Nashville aired surveillance video from Woodland Hills showing overwhelmed officers in an arguably out-of-control and dangerous environment. Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, 32 of 78 teens placed at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center escaped during an overnight shift change. Two days later, another violent riot broke out at the facility. The Tennessean in Nashville recently reported that two officers at Mt. View Development center, a state-run facility, were fired and a supervisor resigned as a result of an investigation into two recent suicides at the facility. And, a recent editorial also in the Tennessean questioned the available resources at detention centers for Department of Children’s Services’ employees caring for teens who require constant oversight and attention.
Editorial: TennCare slow walk costs state (Leaf Chronicle)
What is it about Tennessee officials and lawmakers that makes this state so dedicated to saying no to smart policy and yes to spending our dollars stupidly? Last week, we saw yet another federal court ruling — this one on a TennCare lawsuit — that will force us to spend many more millions of dollars that we knew from the get-go we would spend. Now we’ll spend more — including untold millions on litigation and a final, more expensive fix. A federal judge ruled Sept. 2 against Tennessee’s Medicaid agency, granting class action status to a lawsuit filed against the state agency by 11 patients who alleged months-long delays getting TennCare coverage. The ruling means that potentially hundreds of Tennesseans can join the lawsuit against the state.
Frank Munger: Local industry, lab ties recommended (News-Sentinel)
A new study by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., recommends that the Department of Energy’s national labs, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, open up more to small- and medium-size businesses and take other measures to increase their relevance and impact on regional economies. While the report notes that many of the 17 national labs remain focused on national research missions and largely confine their activities “behind the fence,” ORNL and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado got some kudos for tilting toward change. “Traditionally, despite its global leadership in R&D, the (Oak Ridge) lab has struggled to match its scientific expertise with the needs of key industries in East Tennessee,” the report noted.