This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam: Free Community College Has 4-Year Universities Trying Harder (WPLN)
The prospect of free community college in Tennessee has increased competition with universities, who have ramped up recruiting preemptively. “The four-years are really worried about what the economics are going to look like for them if we take away some of their more profitable students,” Gov. Bill Haslam said at a New York Times conference on modern community colleges. Freshmen and sophomores often take classes with more students in them, making them effectively cheaper to educate. The Tennessee Promise program funds free tuition at 2-year schools – in part – by reducing lottery scholarships for freshmen and sophomores at universities.
Haslam reappoints John Foy to UT board (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has reappointed retired Chattanooga businessman John Foy to the University of Tennessee’s governing board of trustees. Foy is among a number of appointments announced Thursday to the boards of the UT system, Tennessee Board of Regents and Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which coordinates the state’s institutions of higher learning. A retired vice chairman of the board of directors and treasurer of CBL & Associates Properties Inc., Foy holds a slot on the board reserved for Hamilton County, home of UT-Chattanooga. He is a graduate of the UT College of Law. He was first appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen to the board in 2008.
Haslam appoints 15 to higher education boards (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam appointed 13 new members and reappointed two others to Tennessee’s higher education governing boards Thursday. New members of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees: Shannon Brown of Memphis, senior vice president/chief human resources and diversity officer for FedEx Express, as well as board chairman for United Way of the Mid-South and member of the boards of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis, the March of Dimes and the Lausanne Collegiate School. Bill Evans of Memphis, faculty member at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and its president and CEO from 2004-2014.
DSCC grad to serve on Tenn. Board of Regents (State Gazette)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday the appointments of 13 new members and two re-appointments to Tennessee’s higher education boards. Bill Lee, Pam Martin and Alex Martin will serve as new members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). Shannon Brown, Bill Evans, Julia Wells, Rhedona Rose, R.J. Duncan and David Golden will serve as new members of the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees. Barbara Prescott, Leigh Shockey, Dyersburg State alumna Rebecca Reeves and Dottye Webb will serve as new members of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR). “We want to thank the new and current members for serving and the important work they do for higher education in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
Record rainfall causes evacuations, prompts rescues by boat (CA/Roberts)
Rescuers plucked motorists from submerged cars, dozens of residents fled their homes, and water rushed into businesses and public buildings Thursday as intense, roof-rattling thunderstorms engulfed Greater Memphis with the area’s worst flooding in three years. From the predawn hours and lasting until around mid-day, as much as 9 inches of rain saturated some areas, falling at rates of up to 3 inches per hour. Flooding menaced communities from Lauderdale County to DeSoto County, with Bartlett, Horn Lake and Southaven among the hardest-hit areas. Flooding problems continued in some areas late Thursday, including on Lamar, which was closed just west of Willett. In Memphis alone, about 25 homes were evacuated and police and fire crews conducted 30 rescue missions.
Neighborhoods evacuated, cars underwater due to flash flooding (WREG-TV)
Flash flooding caused dangerous conditions across the Mid-South Thursday. In excess of seven inches of rain fell since early Thursday morning. MLGW reports more than 1500 accounts without power as of 11:00 a.m. Evacuations took place near Mountain Terrace and Durham after the neighborhood flooded. MATA buses brought more than 40 people to a temporary shelter at the Ed Rice Community Center. At least 30 people were rescued from cars in that same area. A flash flood emergency was declared for much of the metro area Thursday morning. There were numerous flooded roads and rescues from cars. The Bartlett Library was closed due to flooding.
Flooding Causes Headaches For Bartlett Residents (WHBQ-TV Memphis)
Massive flooding soaked most of Bartlett Thursday morning. Parts of the city got 7 inches in about 2 and a half hours. From Broadway to Brother Avenue, what was once a calm stream that runs under the road turned into a raging river early Thursday. Trees fell, got carried down stream, and smashed into the bridge buckling the sidewalk. Now, Bartlett Public Works said the bridge is structurally unsound. “We have to get the engineers out to confirm exactly what’s going on with that bridge,” Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said. McDonald has lived in Bartlett for 40 years.
Treasurer to make college savings announcement (Associated Press)
State Treasurer David Lillard Jr. is scheduled to make an announcement that could affect students saving for college. The announcement will be made Friday at Stewarts Creek Middle School in Smyrna. According to a news release, the announcement is about a National College Savings Month promotion that will benefit Tennessee families. The announcement comes as the state provides a series of web-based seminars on saving for college. The seminars started earlier this week and include information about the state’s program that allows people to save money for children’s college expenses with tax advantages.
Report: DCS funding cuts could be ‘devastating’ to children, families (TN/Gonzalez)
The state agency that looks out for kids and families raised pointed concerns about funding at juvenile detention centers in the days before a mass escape from one Tennessee facility. In an Aug. 29 letter to Gov. Bill Haslam, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth said the state “critically needs additional funding to improve staffing and programming within the youth development centers.” The letter about funding echoed warnings of safety concerns at detention centers raised in a separate report the commission issued Aug. 27 after two teenagers committed suicide in an East Tennessee juvenile facility this summer.
DCS reviews transportation procedures after 2 teens escape (WKRN-TV Nashville)
The Department of Children Services is reviewing the transportation procedures of one of its largest private contractors after two teens escaped during transportation in two separate incidents. First, a 17-year-old escaped September 2 in Bellevue after asking to use the restroom. He was caught about an hour later. Then on Wednesday, Bruno Valencia, 17, escaped at a rest stop also in Bellevue. His escape prompted a massive manhunt and the lockdown of two nearby schools. Valencia was in DCS custody after a probation violation in August. Omni Visions, a Nashville based private contractor for DCS, provides foster care placement, therapeutic services, treatment centers and other services for children in DCS custody.
State approves 10-year leases for UBS Tower (Tennessean/Ward)
The State Building Commission has approved 10-year leases for two state agencies that will be moving into office space at UBS Tower. Nearly 300 employees with the Department of Children’s Services and about 130 staffers for the Tennessee attorney general’s office will be involved in the move to the former Regions Center. Both offices are now housed in space at the state-owned Cordell Hull office building, which is expected to undergo renovations. The Department of Children’s Services will occupy 85,260 square feet of space at UBS Tower and the attorney general’s office will take up 55,141 square feet. The 10-year leases are expected to run from June 1, 2015 through May 31, 2025.
State Contractor Pockets $1.3 Million For Two Leases (WTVF-TV Nashville)
The state of Tennessee’s real estate consultant will pocket $1.3 million for helping to negotiate just two leases for state government. The State Building Commission approved the 10-year leases Thursday to provide space for 430 state workers who are being moved out of the Cordell Hull, a historic building on the grounds of the Capitol. Employees of the Department of Childrens Services and the Attorney General’s Office will be moved to the UBS Tower in downtown Nashville. Under those lease agreements, Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL) will receive commissions of $1,345,808 for assisting the Department of General Services in analyzing the state’s needs and evaluating the competing bids.
I-65 to close most of next week for bridge removal (Tennessean/Williams)
Interstate 65 will be closed most of next week for crews to remove the new Highway 248/Goose Creek Interchange bridge at Exit 61, which was destroyed by a gasoline tanker explosion Aug. 15. The interstate will be closed in both directions from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday and then will be shut down again Sept. 19 before reopening at 5 a.m. Monday, Sept. 22. Workers will dismantle and remove the bridge, one of two destroyed at the interchange when the tanker crashed and burned underneath them. No traffic has been allowed to cross I-65 at the interchange since the crash. State and local officials say motorists should find alternate routes because the shutdown is expected to create a massive traffic jam, even though vehicles will be able to exit I-65 at Peytonsville Road and re-enter on the other side.
TN Supreme Court to pick attorney general Monday (Tennessean/Haas)
The Tennessee Supreme Court plans to announce its choice for attorney general 11 a.m. Monday. Current Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. is among six candidates who made the first round of cuts for the job after a hearing on Monday. That day, the full Supreme Court heard from eight applicants for the job, cutting two before the day was over. It was the first time in state history such a public hearing was held. The justices then met privately with the remaining candidates the following day.
Tennessee attorney general selection coming Monday, justices say (TFP/Sher)
Tennessee’s Supreme Court will name its pick for state attorney general on Monday, the office announced late Thursday afternoon, while the state’s lieutenant governor and a former Knoxville mayor complained that the process lacks transparency. The five justices interviewed the initial eight applicants for five hours Monday in public and then held further talks behind closed doors with six finalists Tuesday. Sitting Attorney General Bob Cooper, a Chattanooga native and Democrat, is vying with five other applicants, mostly Republicans. The list includes Herbert Slatery, legal counsel to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Bill Young, chief administrative officer of the courts. Tennessee is the only state whose attorney general is named by the state Supreme Court.
Court to announce AG appointment Monday, criticized for deliberations (CA/Locker)
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who led the failed campaign to oust the three Tennessee Supreme Court justices on last month’s ballot for re-election, criticized the court Thursday for deliberating out of public view over their appointment of a state attorney general for the next eight years. Speaking for the first time publicly in Nashville since the Aug. 7 election, Ramsey also said he doesn’t have a favorite among three Republican state officials being considered by the court for state attorney general. He said all three — state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville; the governor’s Legal Counsel Herbert Slatery; and Bill Young, administrative director of the state court system — “could do as good or a better job” than incumbent Atty. Gen. Bob Cooper, also a candidate for reappointment to the office.
Senate speaker lauds 3 Republican AG candidates (Associated Press/Johnson)
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says there are at least three Republican candidates for the next state attorney general he believes can do as good a job or better than the Democrat they would replace. The Blountville Republican spoke to reporters following a State Building Commission meeting on Thursday. Tennessee Supreme Court justices are trying to decide which of the six candidates, including incumbent AG Bob Cooper, will hold the post. Three of the high court’s justices are Democrats, and two are Republican. The Democratic justices won their retention elections last month following a contentious campaign spearheaded by Ramsey to defeat them and give Republicans control of the state’s highest court.
MTSU economic report says layoffs decline (Daily News Journal)
Unemployment claims continue to decline as new layoffs become less of a problem, the MTSU Business & Economic Research Center reported today. • Other findings from the Middle Tennessee State University center: • Seasonally adjusted initial claims for Tennessee declined in July, falling to 4,608 claims per week, nearly equaling the trend. • Permits issued for single-family home construction for Tennessee posted a substantial gain in July, rising 6.6 percent from June. The less volatile trend also increased in July.
Veteran suicides on the rise in Tennessee (Leaf Chronicle)
Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Douglas Varney and Tennessee Department Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced the number of suicides by Veterans increased from 197 in 2012 to 214 in 2013. September is National Suicide Prevention Month which is an initiative to raise awareness about the tragic trend and the resources available to offer support. “Sadly, our brave men and women who once served in uniform may struggle with thoughts of suicide and thoughts of giving up,” Varney said. “They must always know they are never alone.” “The wounds of war are not always visible, but can at times manifest under the surface for some Veterans who may not realize how quickly depression can become a critical situation,” Grinder said.
Lundberg claims legalizing marijuana would be ‘horrific door to open’ (T-N)
Marijuana dominated much of the discussion when a local legislator visited the Sullivan County Anti-Drug coalition at their monthly meeting on Thursday. This year marked the fourth annual dialogue between legislators and members of the coalition. State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, discussed with the group legislation regarding drugs from the past session and what bills, if any, might come up in the new legislative session starting in January. Lundberg started out his talk by discussing legislation regarding Sudafed. The new law went into effect on July 1 and caps the amount of pseudoephedrine purchases without a prescription at 28.8 grams a year. The state representative readily admitted this law would not stop people cooking methamphetamine. Then the conversation quickly shifted to marijuana and the legalization of it. “Frankly there are a lot of moves by the people to legalize marijuana in Nashville,” he said. “If you are like me, you’re thinking that’s silly, that’s ridiculous.”
Roe looks for well-defined plan to authorize force (Times-News)
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe insisted Thursday that Congress needs a well-defined plan to authorize use of force against the Islamic State (ISIL) terrorist group in Iraq. “You have to see what you’re authorizing…There’s nothing as serious as putting your men and women in harm’s way…The debate needs to be out in the open where the American people understand what we’re agreeing to,” Roe, R-Tenn., said in a conference call with reporters. In a nationally-televised speech on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called for airstrikes against terrorist positions in Iraq and Syria. He also said the U.S. will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq to support Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.
TN case prompts judge to call for overhaul of sentencing rules (AP/Barrouquere)
A federal appeals court judge on Thursday called for an overhaul of federal sentencing rules after upholding the 15-year prison term of a Tennessee man convicted of possessing seven bullets. Lawmakers need to reconsider the Armed Career Criminal Act, which “over-criminalizes” certain conduct by imposing mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, said Jane Branstetter Stranch of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Stranch’s comments came in a concurrence to an opinion by the appeals court upholding the sentence of Edward Lamar Young of Hixon, Tenn. Young pleaded guilty in January 2013 to being a felon in possession of ammunition after being found with the shells, which he acquired helping a neighbor dispose of her late husband’s belongings.
Old reactor pool leaking at ORNL; no radiation threat reported (N-S/Munger)
The reactor pool is leaking at one of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s old research reactors, prompting an urgent response by the U.S. Department of Energy and its cleanup contractor — although the contractor said Thursday the leak is being collected in a basin and poses no safety or health threat. Allen Schubert, communications chief for URS-CH2M Oak Ridge, said water leaking from the reactor pool — where pieces of irradiated equipment are stored — is only slightly radioactive. The pool at the Oak Ridge Research Reactor is leaking at a rate of about 100 drops per minute, according to correspondence from those working on the problem. “Obviously, this thing shouldn’t be leaking, and we’re going after it pretty hard to find out why it’s doing that,” Schubert said.
Tennessee businesses made $37B online in 2013 (Tennessean/McGee)
Tennessee businesses generated $37.1 billion in online sales in 2013, according to a survey from Connected Tennessee. Eighty-one percent of businesses in Tennessee use broadband, up 5 percent from last year. “Today’s research confirms that, just as broadband Internet is increasingly becoming a part of our everyday personal lives, it is also becoming an essential tool for many Tennessee businesses, enabling greater productivity, access to wider markets and increased revenues,” Connected Tennessee Executive Director Corey Johns said in a prepared statement. Connected Tennessee, a public-private partnership focused on enhancing Tennessee’s technology, conducted the survey as part of the State Broadband Initiative grant program, funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Thousands of students no-shows in Memphis (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)
In the last two years, Shelby County Schools has made many decisions to preserve resources closest to students. After days of calculation and rearranging staffing counts, Supt. Dorsey Hopson Thursday said he expects a net loss of five jobs in a wild downswing in enrollment that continues to baffle district number-crunchers. Tuesday, district leaders said they had identified 220 total jobs, including 166 teachers, that would have to be cut because SCS has 4,000 fewer students than it projected. By allowing principals to put excess positions in a pool for other principals to draw on and using unspent federal funds to add 37 tutors and other “interventionists” for struggling students, it now expects to eliminate five positions, although Hopson said Thursday he was still looking at “one-off cases” involving several extra assistant principals. “If it’s a matter of the numbers being off by 20 students or something like that, we’ll see what we can do,” he said.
Feds Pitching Expanded Pre-K in TN (TN Report)
Arne Duncan wants more children to have access to taxpayer-financed early education programs. During a stopover at Chattanooga’s Chambliss Center for Children on a three-state Southern swing, the U.S. secretary of education talked up pre-kindergarten as a key component of later student development. He said on the federal Department of Education blog that he was trekking through Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee to get a first-hand look at government-funded early-childhood-learning programs in action, and “discuss progress, promise and results.”
Editorial: MTSU-TEMA partnership benefits state (Daily News Journal)
Although “synergy” has become something of a hackneyed term in recent years, the sum of the collaboration between Middle Tennessee State University and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency does seem to be greater than its parts. This week MTSU and TEMA unveiled in Nashville the Multi-Agency Joint Information Center to help kick off National Preparedness Month. The center not only reflects collaboration between MTSU and TEMA but also on-campus collaboration between the electronic communication department in the College of Mass Communication and the Center for Educational Media in the College of Education.
Columnist: Attorney general secret selection process is wrong (Tennessean)
A little light reveals nothing but the darkness in which we live. With its process to select the next attorney general, the Tennessee Supreme Court continues to show its disdain for the citizens of Tennessee. Monday, the court threw the public a bone with the state’s first public hearing to introduce and hear the petitions of eight applicants for the chief legal officer of the state. One of the applicants was current AG Robert Cooper, who was elected over 13 other applicants in 2006 in a process that had no open meetings or discussions. There are no more open meetings contemplated as the five-person court considers which of the six finalists it will bestow the $177,000-a-year job upon.
Columnist: Nonpartisan pledge looking like a sham (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
With the world gone wild, Washington weird, the Tennessee Legislature out of session and Gov. Bill Haslam steering the ship of state calmly toward re-election, gloom, despair and, well, a bit of boredom might beset us. Ah, but juicy judiciary doings provide some escapist entertainment. The big show is the drama of the Tennessee Supreme Court doing its unique duty in selecting an attorney general. Tennessee’s Supremes are the only black-robed ones in the country that get to pick the state’s top lawyer. The three Democrats on the court — Chief Justice Sharon Lee, Justice Connie Clark and Justice Gary Wade — initially were appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and won their “non-partisan” retention elections while being advised by Democratic operatives. Now Democratic Attorney General Bob Cooper wants to keep his job, too.