This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Motlow College is preparing for an influx of students this fall by hosting an open house for potential faculty members. College President MaryLou Apple previously told The Daily News Journal that she expects “thousands” of college-bound seniors to enroll at Motlow because of Tennessee Promise. The program offers Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015 a chance earn an associate degree or technical center certification at no charge. The Smyrna site will host its open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, at the campus, located at 5002 Motlow College Blvd. Instructors in nearly 30 disciplines are needed, including math, music, speech and foreign languages.
A new state report reveals signs of economic growth in Tennessee. More new businesses filed paperwork to register with the Secretary of State’s office during the third quarter of this year, compared with the previous quarter. That’s according to the office’s latest quarterly report on business and economic indicators. The report was produced jointly by the Secretary of State’s office and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Center for Business and Economic Research. Statewide, there were more than 7,800 business entity initial filings with the office during the third quarter of this year, an increase of 4 percent over last quarter. The report also showed a 4.1 percent increase in Tennesseans’ personal income for the year-to-date and a 4.7 percent increase in total tax revenue collections for the quarter.
At Launch Tennessee, we strive to be as enterprising as the entrepreneurs we serve, which means continually creating new programs that support the formation and success of high-growth businesses in Tennessee. In that vein, we launched the Blackstone Specialist Program with a grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation this past summer. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation provides funding for new programs that support innovation and entrepreneurship in an ecosystem. Now, we’re taking a look at the results from the first program — and looking forward to the next chapter this spring and summer. The specialist program brings college students and recent college graduates from across the country to Tennessee to work in our regional accelerators.
The old Bobby Hicks Highway bridge that stretched across Interstate 26 is no more, but the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Summers-Taylor Inc. construction crews made sure it went out with a bang. At around 10 p.m. Saturday night, TDOT closed the section of I-26 around Exit 13 in Gray as Summers-Taylor crews blasted the remnants of the previous four-lane bridge that once stretched across the interstate. Before blowing the old bridge, Summers Taylor crews constructed two new lanes — one stretching north and the other stretching south — to permit passage over the interstate. According to TDOT District Engineer Dexter Justis, the four lanes that previously spanned the interstate were demolished to make way for four new ones to create a six-lane bridge.
Federal officials say two minor earthquakes this weekend have shaken areas in the North Carolina mountains and east Tennessee. The United State Geological Survey website says an earthquake in North Carolina around 8:30 Saturday night was a 2.4 on the Richter scale. It was centered about 7 miles north of Mars Hill and 22 miles north of Asheville. The earthquake in North Carolina could be felt in the Wolf Laurel area, but the Madison County Sheriff’s office says no damage was reported. To the west, a separate earthquake earlier Saturday shook an area about six miles north of Grimsley, Tennessee in Fentress County. It was 2.5 on the Richter scale.
Three months after Tennessee Republicans’ fractious summer primaries, the state GOP’s civil war between establishment and hardline conservative factions is again in full swing. State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, a Tea Party-style lawmaker who recently denounced Republican Gov. Bill Haslam as a “traitor” who had meddled in August GOP legislative primaries, announced last week he was challenging state House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, a Haslam ally, for the House’s No. 1 job. Meanwhile, former state Rep. Joe Carr, who ran unsuccessfully against Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the August GOP primary, confirmed to the Times Free Press over the weekend that he is strongly considering challenging Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney of Lookout Mountain for the party’s top post.
A week before the end of his term in office, former Sen. Stacey Campfield emptied his taxpayer-funded “constituent communications” account by spending $2,248 on a farewell letter to 7th Senate District residents and transferring smaller amounts to three senators still in office. The Campfield letter begins with a “thank you for the great privilege of serving you,” expresses a wish to “share some thoughts and triumphs with you” and then outlines “some of my personal highlights” as a senator before being defeated in a bid for re-election by Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs in the Aug. 7 primary. Those benefiting from Campfield’s last-minute transfers were Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who got $500, and Sens. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, who each received $250, records at the Legislative Office of Administration show.
Nearly every high school senior applied for Tennessee Promise, but a small percentage of them may not be eligible for free community college tuition. Before getting the state funding, students must apply for federal financial aid — which leaves undocumented students behind. Tennessee has about 6,000 high school students who are undocumented, according to the Migration Policy Institute. (Estimates on a grade-by-grade level are not available.) “Within undocumented communities and circles, there was a hope that existed that they would be incorporated, they would be folded in with the Tennessee Promise,” says Josh Henderson, an English language teacher at Antioch High School.
With the dust barely settled on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s election to his second term, the parlor game of speculating about who will run to succeed the term-limited governor in 2018 is already in full swing. A look at some of the Republicans who could be interested in running: — BOB CORKER: The former Chattanooga mayor had been widely expected to consider a run for governor at the end of his second term in the U.S. Senate in 2018. But the GOP takeover of the Senate on Tuesday put Corker in line to become chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, which could make a return to state politics less likely. Corker also hasn’t ruled out making a bid for president. — BETH HARWELL: The speaker of the state House of Representatives is a strong Haslam ally and former chairwoman of the state Republican Party. She has built out her statewide connections since becoming the General Assembly’s first female speaker in 2011.
For six years, Tennessee has had a law making it illegal to use special computer software to buy large quantities of tickets to popular concerts and sporting events. But despite the apparent prevalence of the practice, no one has been prosecuted for this hard-to-prove crime in Davidson County. Everyone from ticketing companies to venue operators and artist managers is aware that organized ticket scalpers use so-called bots to acquire hot tickets as soon as they go on sale and then resell them at inflated rates on the secondary market. The issue especially came to the forefront in Nashville recently when the Foo Fighters announced a surprise show at Ryman Auditorium and then charged just $20 per ticket.
Florida embraced the school accountability movement early and enthusiastically, but that was hard to remember at a parent meeting in a high school auditorium here not long ago. Parents railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning. “My third grader loves school, but I can’t get her out of the car this year,” Dawn LaBorde, who has three children in Palm Beach County schools, told the gathering, through tears.
Louisiana — with its parishes, its Continental system of laws and its Cajun-inflected way of life — has always been unique among American states. But there’s another distinction that makes Louisiana different: It’s the only state that has for centuries maintained a network of public teaching hospitals to treat the poor and uninsured. Now that system could be in trouble, thanks to recent state decisions and federal changes to the way safety-net hospitals are funded. As a result, Louisiana officials must figure out if they can maintain their safety net and still refuse federal Medicaid money. It’s a challenge the 22 other states that haven’t expanded Medicaid will likely encounter in the coming years.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s president and CEO could earn more than $1 million extra this year. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the agency’s board voted unanimously on Thursday to raise Bill Johnson’s salary and performance pay after the 60-year-old attorney met all of TVA’s targets for 2014. TVA nearly doubled its net income, cut its debt, and got its nuclear plants off the regulatory watch list in the past year. TVA Director Barbara Haskew of Chattanooga recommended that Johnson’s $950,000 base salary be raised 4.7 percent to $995,000 and that the board boost performance incentives and longevity. It all adds up to more than $1 million extra in cash benefits Johnson could earn in 2015 over this year’s pay.
Hold on to your hats folks. The 2014 elections were a third consecutive blowout by Republicans in Tennessee, extending the party’s supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, handing the governor an historic margin of victory, and expanding the constitutional powers of both the governor and the legislature. The legislature is wasting no time in flexing its mandate. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, was quick to outline how the legislature would implement restrictions on abortion clinics authorized in Amendment 1. The amendment, which passed with 53 percent of the vote, stripped the constitutional guarantee of privacy for Tennesseans as it relates to abortion and gave the legislature the power to expand regulation of the how and where abortions were provided.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the demise of the Common Core State Standards are greatly exaggerated. The latest misconceptions revolve around a survey, conducted by the Consortium for Research, Evaluation and Development, in which 27,000 Tennessee teachers were asked to answer questions about education in the state. The results, especially as it pertains to the Common Core State Standards, were not encouraging. Undoubtedly, teachers are frustrated by the implementation of Common Core standards in Tennessee, but it would be a stretch to say that the standards themselves are souring in classrooms. In fact, in my experience, the exact opposite is true.
Note: The news-clips will resume on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.