This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam to swear in Lee as Tenn. chief justice (Associated Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam plans to preside over an investiture ceremony for Sharon Lee as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court in Knoxville next week. Lee will be the third woman to head the five-member high court, taking over from Justice Gary Wade. The Supreme Court elects its chief justice to one-year terms. Lee, Wade and Justice Connie Clark won retention elections to another eight-year term on the Supreme Court bench last month despite a concerted effort by conservatives to oust the justices appointed by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. Their victory means Democrats continue to hold a 3-2 advantage over Republicans in the Supreme Court, which will decide the state’s next attorney general. Lee was an appeals judge before her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2008.
Education Summit could offer taste of Common Core fight (Tennessean/Garrison)
Gov. Bill Haslam has billed a special-called Education Summit next week as a wide-ranging review of the “past, present and future” of Tennessee’s public schools. Some, though, are looking squarely at Common Core. Ahead of a legislative session that could offer round 2 of a fight still brewing over Common Core, critics of the academic standards are rallying their troops outside the summit, organized by Haslam, who has pressed forward with Common Core and has felt heat from tea party conservatives as a result. Fellow Republicans Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell are co-hosts for the summit, set for Sept. 18 at Nashville’s downtown Sheraton Hotel.
Montgomery County seeks mentors for Tennessee Promise (Leaf Chronicle)
Montgomery County Government is seeking community volunteers to mentor students taking part in the Tennessee Promise program. Tennessee Promise allows any Tennessee high school graduate the opportunity to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology, tuition free. Mentors are assigned to students within their county and help students eliminate the barriers of accessing post-secondary education. Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett states, “In 2011, only 32% of individuals in Tennessee, age 25-64, had a college degrees. Unfortunately, this ranks us near the bottom nationally. Tennessee Promise is an incredible opportunity for today’s high school graduates! With the help of our community stepping up as mentors, we can turn those numbers around.”
UT trustees consider future of higher education funding (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
Enrollment at the University of Tennessee could grow by 400 students each year over the next four years — or by even more students, over an even longer period of time. It may also increase its proportion of out-of state students, who pay a premium tuition to attend the Knoxville campus. UT’s other campuses are also looking at ways to raise revenue and cut costs. Across the system, it could mean re-sizing departments, consolidating programs or shifting research programs to areas where outside funding is more prevalent. But all of these proposals are still in the brainstorming stage, cautioned UT President Joe DiPietro during a board of trustees workshop Wednesday.
Woodland Hills teen arrested by feds; 2 still at large (Tennessean/Wilson)
U.S. Marshals arrested one of the last Woodland Hills escapees at large at a Murfreesboro apartment complex on Wednesday, Metro police said. Tajhiee Cockerham, 17, was taken into custody at The Grove Apartments in Murfreesboro, police said in a statement. He was one of 32 teenage boys who escaped from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center by crawling under a fence on Sept. 1. Only two teens remain at large, police said.
Teen captured after escape during transport (Associated Press)
A teen in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services was captured after he escaped for a short time while being transported from Memphis to Nashville. According to media reports, 17-year-old Bruno Valencia fled during a bathroom break Wednesday morning at a convenience store in a suburb of Nashville. He was being transported by a private contractor. Police say he was captured around 11:30 a.m. outside a Hardee’s fast-food restaurant. DCS spokesman Rob Johnson told The Associated Press in an email that the teen was on his way to a routine status conference with family and social workers. On Sept. 1, 32 teens escaped from a DCS facility in Nashville.
Teen From Woodland Hills Taken Into Custody In Murfreesboro (WTVF-TV Nash)
A teenager has been taken into custody in Rutherford County after escaping from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center last week. Two others remain on the loose. Officials with the Metro Nashville Police Department said 17-year-old Tajhiee Cockerham had been apprehended in Murfreesboro. Police said Cockerham was taken into custody around 7:30 p.m. by a U.S. Marshal’s Task Force at The Grove Apartments, not far from the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. Cockerham had apparently been living in a vehicle. He was booked in Nashville on a charge of felony escape.
Murfreesboro gets $670K to widen Middle Tennessee Blvd. (Daily News Journal)
The city of Murfreesboro has been awarded nearly $700,000 to improve a .8-mile section of Middle Tennessee Boulevard near MTSU. Tennessee Department of Transportation has awarded a $670,488 federal Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality grant earmarked for the Middle Tennessee Boulevard Improvement Project to complete the work betwee Greenland Drive and Main Street, along the western edge of MTSU’s campus. “We are delighted to receive the necessary grant funding for this important part of the Middle Tennessee Boulevard Improvement Project,” Transportation Director Dana Richardson said in a news release.
Lillard to be president of state treasurers group (Associated Press)
Tennessee State Treasurer David H. Lillard Jr. has been elected president of the National Association of State Treasurers. The association provides advocacy and support for state treasurers and treasury staff throughout the United States and its territories. Lillard was elected on Monday at the group’s annual conference. When he takes over on Jan. 1, it will be the first time a Tennessean has served as the association’s president. Lillard has said one of his top priorities is preserving the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. These bonds help pay for schools, libraries, parks and other essential public infrastructure. In a statement, Lillard said that “increasing the financing costs on those projects does not serve the public good.”
Ooltewah woman charged with four counts of TennCare fraud (WRCB-TV Chatt.)
A Hamilton County woman has been charged with four counts of TennCare fraud for using forged prescriptions on four separate occasions to a local pharmacy and using TennCare to pay for the drugs. The Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Marshall’s Office said that Tonya Goode, 38, of Ooltewah has been arrested, the agencies said in a news release. Goode is charged with four counts of TennCare fraud, four counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and four counts of forgery. TennCare Fraud and forgery are Class E Felonies, carrying a penalty of up to two years in prison per charge. Obtaining a controlled substance by fraud is a Class D Felony, which carries a penalty of up to four years in prison per charge.
East Ridge Man Charged With Elder Abuse And TennCare Fraud (WTVC-TV)
A Hamilton County man is charged with TennCare fraud and elder abuse in connection with taking an elder woman’s assets so the state would pay for her nursing home care. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) today announced the arrest of Jack Carl Riggins, 67, of East Ridge. He was charged in White County, which is about 80 miles north of Hamilton County. The Hamilton and White County Sheriff’s Offices assisted in the arrest. In a three-count indictment, Riggins is accused of transferring an elderly woman’s assets and resources to himself, using a durable power of attorney. This transfer of assets made the woman eligible for TennCare healthcare insurance benefits, which includes nursing home care. Riggins is charged with TennCare fraud, theft of services over $60,000 and elder abuse by means of exploitation.
Tennessee delegation: U.S. must strike Islamic extremists (Tennessean/Collins)
Tennesseans in Congress agreed Wednesday the United States must take action against Islamic extremists, but suggested they were reserving judgment on President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism strategy in Iraq and Syria. U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, said a limited number of airstrikes is one appropriate response to the beheadings of two American journalists and said he hopes special operations will be deployed to find those responsible, just as they were against Osama bin Laden. But, “there are limits to American power, and there really is not an American military solution to the problems of the Middle East. … I certainly do not want to commit thousands of U.S. ground troops into the Middle East once again,” Duncan said.
Tennessee Republicans Prepared To Support Plan To Combat ISIS (WPLN-Radio)
Tennessee’s congressional delegation is ready to hear President Barack Obama’s plan for combating militants in Syria and Iraq. Republican Congresswoman Diane Black of Gallatin says she’s prepared to support further military involvement, but she’d like details. “You just ask for the money but you don’t show us what your plan is? You don’t tell us how you’re going to do it, how long you plan on being in there, how many troops you plan on putting in there, and so on?” Congressman John Duncan says he doesn’t have to know everything about what the president is doing in the Middle East. The Knoxville Republican says he’d be fine if special forces are already working in the region.
Chattanoogans split between limited action, none at all (Times Free-Press/Smith)
Hours before President Obama was scheduled to address the country regarding his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, Chattanoogans were divided on what the president should do to stop the terrorist group that has seized control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Despite two beheadings carried out by the group on camera and a rising concern about the Islamic State militants that has been reflected in the media worldwide, a number of people downtown who were asked about the situation said they didn’t know much about it. But those who did expressed a general feeling that the nation needs to do something to protect our country and citizens in ISIS-occupied nations.
Roe bill passes Veterans Committee, heads to House for consideration (H-C)
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs included Phil Roe’s bill, H.R. 3831 the Veterans Dialysis Pilot Program Preview Act of 2014, in a package that was passed unanimously. The package will now be sent to the full House of Representatives for consideration. “I am grateful that Chairman Miller included my bill in the package that passed the Committee today,” Roe said. “The recent scandal at the VA has reminded us that the VA is not always the best choice for providing care, particularly when the private sector is already capably doing so. When the VA dialysis pilot program was started, it was billed as an opportunity to show that the VA could provide the care more efficiently and at a reduced cost.
TVA to lower water at Pickwick Reservoir, test dam (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority is lowering the water level at Pickwick Landing Reservoir to test the soundness of the dam there. According to the utility, a recent dam inspection showed the possibility that an earthen portion of the dam could be damaged by a large earthquake. The reservoir is located about 120 miles east of Memphis with portions in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. TVA normally lowers the lake level for the winter, but this year it will reach the winter pool level by mid-October. That’s about six weeks earlier than normal. The lower lake levels will let TVA conduct more testing and determine what needs to be done to strengthen the 1930s-era dam.
Pickwick Dam to undergo tests, TVA lowers water early (Jackson Sun)
The Pickwick Landing Reservoir will have its annual drawdown a few weeks earlier than normal to prepare the dam for a “health check” inspection from the Tennessee Valley Authority, according to a press release from the TVA. The earthen embankment south of the concrete portion of the dam that crosses the Tennessee River could be damaged by a large earthquake, the release said. The dam sits a few hundred miles away from the New Madrid Seismic Zone along the Mississippi River, the release said. “Public safety is our top priority,” John McCormick, TVA vice president of River Operations, said in the press release.
Pro-, anti-UAW parties vie over support (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)
Volkswagen’s global works council is backing the United Auto Workers’ newest effort to organize employees at the carmaker’s Chattanooga plant, while UAW opponents have created an online petition to fuel its own unionizing initiative. Frank Patta, general secretary of Volkswagen’s global works council in Germany, said the UAW was best placed to establish the “time-proven practice of co-determination at Volkswagen,” Reuters reported on Wednesday. Also, Germany’s IG Metall union and global union umbrella group IndustiALL are siding with the UAW. But, VW workers opposed to the UAW said that the online petition will offer employees a new way to sign up for the independent union they want to form under the American Council of Employees banner.
Educators push for more parent involvement (Tennessean/Humbles)
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants “honest conversation” about test requirements for public schools moving forward, but the message at his town hall meeting Wednesday in Nashville was directed to parents. Oliver Middle School was the host for Duncan’s Nashville stop on his three-day bus tour through Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. He stopped in Chattanooga on Tuesday and headed to Memphis from Nashville on Wednesday. Duncan advocated for better prekindergarten opportunities and stressed the importance of directing students to postsecondary education and making it less costly. He also encouraged voters to consider education when voting in local elections.
‘Partners in Progress’ tour stops in Cleveland (Times Free-Press/Leach)
Walker Valley High School received a visit from U.S. Department of Education officials as part of the agency’s “Partners in Progress” Back-to-School bus tour on Wednesday. In a round-table discussion, the federal officials discussed the importance of partnership initiatives with local education, business and public representatives. “[The goal] is to respond to the needs of students, business and industry,” said Dr. Johan Uvin, assistant secretary of career, technical and adult education of the U.S. Department of Education. The Department of Education encourages core principles in building partnerships between school systems and community stakeholders, including alignment of needs, collaboration, results-minded accountability and innovation, said Uvin.
Duncan shines light on school achievement in Memphis (C. Appeal/Roberts)
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stepped off his “Partners in Progress” tour bus into a hero’s welcome at Cornerstone Preparatory Academy in Binghamton Wednesday. Children in shirts that said “Proving the Possible” waved pompons and roared when he came into sight. “You are proving every single day what is possible,” Duncan told the crowd, standing in the heat and wiggly with adrenaline. “A lot of people might try to tell you what you can’t do. Don’t ever listen to that. Use that as fuel to drive you to keep going.” Duncan wrapped up a three-day tour across Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee at Cornerstone — the former Lester School — to highlight each state’s commitment to school reforms that he says are designed to help every child succeed. He visited several Nashville schools Wednesday morning.
Massachusetts: After CA., Mass Voters Could Mandate Paid Sick Leave (Governing)
Massachusetts may soon become the third state to require employers to pay their workers for taking time off while sick. A statewide ballot measure in November would give one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, with an upward limit of 40 hours for the year. The proposed law would require employers with more than 10 full-time employees to pay for sick time. For smaller businesses, workers would have the right to take time off while sick but wouldn’t collect payment. The measure would protect workers who take their earned time off from retaliation by employers. “This is a small, but very significant step in the [economic] recovery that has missed a lot folks,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director at Family Values at Work, a national group advocating for paid sick days this year.
Columnist: Experienced educators should drive reform (Tennessean)
When it comes to education, our focus has become skewed. We have lost sight of what children truly need to develop into healthy, happy, productive adults. The education policy debate, increasingly fueled by corporate interests and profit motives, has strayed from evidence-based practices. With the current national fixation on standardized tests, which come at a high cost to schools, our focus has been diverted from best practices to a competitive gaming of the system. This threatens to create a tiered educational system that serves some children well and leaves many others behind. We should refocus our efforts on research-based solutions and find ways to implement healthy practices across the system so that every child in Nashville has access to an excellent education.
Guest 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.
Metro Pulse: Pig in a Poke (Metro Pulse)
If Amendment Two passes this November then the governor will appoint Appeals Court justices, including members of the state Supreme Court. There is no criteria and no screening process unless the governor sets up something. But he doesn’t have to. It’s called the Founding Fathers plan because it’s modeled on the federal system. The president nominates and the Senate confirms. Here, the governor nominates and the entire legislature confirms. But the U.S. Congress meets year round. The Tennessee Legislature meets in the spring then goes home. Under Amendment Two, once the appointment is made, what happens then? The amendment says the appointment stands unless the Legislature rejects the nominee within 60 calendar days. That’s 60 calendar days during a legislative session.