This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Columbia attorney Russell Parkes has been appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to the position of Circuit Court Judge for the 22nd Judicial District, Haslam’s office announced Monday afternoon. Parkes replaces Judge Robert Holloway, whose seat has been vacant since Sept. 1 due to his appointment to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Parkes was one of three candidates selected in October by the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments. The commission presented the three candidates to Haslam, who selected Parkes from among the three candidates. The other two applicants selected by the commission were Patrick A. Flynn of Columbia and William M. Harris of Lawrenceburg.
Gov. Bill Haslam told local school board members Monday that the next state legislative session will have plenty of discussion about education issues, including “some you’ll be frustrated about — and me, too.” Haslam didn’t say so, but one of those issues may be a bill filed Monday that would set up a new commission to review all state education standards and cancel agreements with multi-state agencies over Common Core State Standards. The bill filed by Senate Education Committee chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Government Operations Committee chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would establish a new “standards commission” to recommend to the State Board of Education “all standards to be used in Tennessee’s K-12 public schools.”
In a process that began just 10 days ago, more than 15,000 comments have been submitted as part of a review of Common Core State Standards. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he really does intend to listen. The recently re-elected Republican told hundreds of school board members gathered in Nashville that people may have legitimate improvements to Common Core and that he isn’t just putting on a show. “I would not waste everybody’s time doing that,” he said. Haslam points out, however, that the standards are highly specific, like prescribing when students should learn to multiply fractions. He says he hopes focusing on the details might cut through the political debate. “When you talk about what you don’t like about the standards then tell me what you don’t like and what you’d like to see instead,” Haslam told reporters.
Amazon is looking to hire hundreds of workers in the next coming weeks to work at its Middle Tennessee fulfillment centers. Representatives from the online retailer will be at Goodwill Career Solutions centers in Franklin and Columbia, which will be hosting job fairs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday through Dec. 3. Amazon plans to hire for warehouse positions in its Murfreesboro and Lebanon centers. The job will pay up to $13 per hour, with transportation to and from work provided, full-time shifts, paid training and benefit options. Job seekers should dress for success and bring resumes, as well as a photo ID, Social Security card or birth certificate.
A new University of Tennessee report says that an estimated 472,008 Tennesseans, about 7.2 percent of the state’s nearly 6.5 million residents, are without some form of health insurance coverage, the lowest percentage in a decade. It’s a 25 percent decrease in the number of uninsured from last year. The report says 2.4 percent of children in the state are without health insurance, down from last year’s 3.7 percent. The uninsured rate for adults fell from 11.4 percent to 8.7 percent. The reduced numbers coincide with the startup a year ago of the Health Insurance Marketplace, or exchanges, under the Affordable Care Act, the UT study says. The ACA also has increased enrollment in the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, which has experienced the third highest new enrollment in its 20-year history.
A study released by the University of Tennessee Monday found that Tennessee’s uninsured population has decreased by 25 percent from last year, marking the lowest percentage of uninsured Tennesseans in a decade. The report found that 7.2 percent of Tennessee’s 6.5 million residents are uninsured. The state has also seen a 35 percent decrease in the number of uninsured children. The uninsured rate was helped by the establishment of the health insurance marketplace through the Affordable Care Act, the report said. The national conversation around health reform encouraged many uninsured people to evaluate their eligibility for Medicaid or federal subsidies to obtain insurance through the marketplace. Last year, TennCare experienced the third-highest new enrollment in its 20-year history.
Despite Tennessee’s decision not to expand Medicaid, the number of uninsured people in the state has shrunk by nearly a quarter in the first year since the new health insurance marketplace launched under the Affordable Care Act. That brings the percentage of uninsured Tennesseans to its lowest level in a decade, a University of Tennessee at Knoxville report released Monday found. “It’s a significant decline, but not necessarily unexpected given the implementation of the ACA this year,” said the report’s co-author, Dr. LeAnn Luna. Last year, the university reported that out of the state’s 6.5 million residents, about 611,000 were uninsured — a rate of about 9.6 percent. But over the course of one year, that rate fell to 472,000, or 7.2 percent– the biggest single drop since the university began collecting such data 20 years ago.
The percentage of uninsured Tennesseans is at its lowest point in a decade, according to a University of Tennessee study. But many in this region still lack health care coverage and seek help because they can’t afford it, the director of a local community health clinic said Monday. “A lot of people are calling and say they can’t afford” insurance or a doctor’s visit, said Helen Scott, director of the Healing Hands Health Center. People also ask for help with dental services and eye care, Scott said, both of which are typically not covered under medical plans in the federal health insurance marketplace. The study released Monday, “The Impact of TennCare: A Survey of Recipients 2014,” reports that 7.2 percent of Tennessee’s 6.5 million residents are uninsured, a 23 percent decrease from a year ago.
Tennessee’s school board members are hoping for a new education commissioner who might be more receptive to their views. Kevin Huffman, who announced late last week he’s stepping down, was seen – at times – as dismissive of local districts. The relationship got so icy that half of the superintendents in the state signed a letter of no confidence, saying Huffman had no interest in dialogue and rushed his changes without bothering to consult local officials. “I really want to see the new upcoming commissioner to really focus in on mending fences,” said Allena Bell, a board member in the Franklin Special school district. She says, however, she can’t argue with Huffman’s results, which include higher level performance for both teachers and students.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has reached the pinnacle of crime-lab testing now that it has received the highest accreditation possible. For the first time, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors upgraded the TBI’s accreditation from “legacy” to “international” for its forensic facilities, which now include crime-scene processing. TBI laboratories already held accreditation for drug chemistry, toxicology and biology. “These are no small accomplishments,” Dan Royse, assistant director of the TBI’s Forensic Services, said in a press release. “They convey to the public a measure of assurance that the quality of work that we produce is second to none.”
Every Tennessee state park will offer free guided hikes the Friday after Thanksgiving. “The after Thanksgiving hikes are a perfect way to spend time with family and friends while working off that holiday feast,” Brock Hill, state park deputy commissioner, said in a press release. “Enjoy the beautiful fall scenery that Tennessee has to offer at one of our great state parks.” The hikes are designed for all ages and abilities. Some hikes will be a mile and tailored for novice hikers, while others are lengthier and geared toward more experienced hikers. Tennessee has 55 state parks, and one is within an hour’s drive of just about anywhere in the state. For more information, visit www.tnstateparks.com.
Tennessee ranks near the bottom among states when it comes to child homelessness, with more than 28,500 children homeless at some point throughout the year. The state comes in 41st out of 50 in a new report from the American Institutes for Research, a national nonprofit that oversees the National Center on Family Homelessness. The report notes the number of homeless children in Tennessee was down slightly in 2012-13, at 28,789, compared to 29,365 children in 2011-12. However, the state’s work on child well-being and state policies and planning to address the problem lag behind almost every other state in the country, according to the report. “Living in shelters, neighbors’ basements, cars, campgrounds, and worse — homeless children are the most invisible and neglected individuals in our society,” said Carmela DeCandia, head of the National Center on Family Homelessness.
The driver’s license reinstatement center in the Hickory Ridge Mall will be closing on Nov. 26, state officials announced Monday. Instead, those needing to have their license reinstated after it was suspended or revoked will be directed to the center at 3200 E. Shelby Drive, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said. State officials indicated that the volume of business at the Hickory Ridge location wasn’t sufficient to keep it open while the Shelby Drive location had unused space. “We’re saving the lease costs at Hickory Ridge by merging with that center,” Safety Department spokesman Jennifer Donnals said. The East Shelby Drive facility will continue to handle standard transactions including license renewals and new licenses.
Tennessee Department of Agriculture investigators have determined there was no wrongdoing in an incident involving a dead calf discovered in a dumpster behind a Unicoi County school, according to county Director of Schools Denise Brown. The calf was discovered Sunday inside a dumpster shared by the county CTE School and Unicoi County Intermediate School. County Animal Shelter Director Jessica Rogers said someone walking on school grounds saw the calf in the dumpster, and she was contacted Sunday regarding it. Rogers said a county animal-control officer was sent to the school to document the incident in case the dumpster was emptied. “We didn’t want it to just disappear and no one ever know that it was there,” Rogers said. “We just went out to collect documentation because that’s all we could really do.”
Two Republican state senators filed legislation Monday to repeal the state’s Common Core standards even though Gov. Bill Haslam has called for a public review of the higher benchmarks in English and math. The proposal would set up a Tennessee Standards Commission that would recommend to the State Board of Education new standards to be used in the state’s K-12 public schools. Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell said the move is designed to ensure Tennessee students continue to improve by applying the highest standards while exerting state control over education. “It is the next logical step that will take us into the future and ensure that we as Tennesseans have control over our education system,” Gresham told The Associated Press.
Gov. Bill Haslam is raising questions about plans by two state Senate Republicans to repeal Tennessee’s controversial Common Core education standards and create a new panel to make recommendations on their replacement. The bill from Haslam’s fellow Republicans, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham and Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, comes in the midst of the governor’s own recently announced public review of Common Core standards for math and English. The legislation poses yet another challenge to Haslam by his own party on the standards. “It [Gresham/Bell bill] talks a little bit about setting up another review board for standards, which I’m curious how that works in terms of the State Board of Education,” Haslam told reporters on Monday. “Do we have two boards that do that?”
Tennessee lawmakers would have more input in the state’s K-12 classrooms and do away with controversial Common Core standards under a bill filed Monday by two top Republican state senators. The measure is sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Committee Operations chair Mike Bell. The bill would establish at Tennessee Standards Commission that would recommend to the State Board of Education all standards to be used in the state’s K-12 public schools. Click here to read the bill in full. It would also cancel what the two sponsors say is a “memorandum of understanding concerning Common Core standards entered into with the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers for English Language Arts and Math.”
Tennessee standards? Volunteer State standards? Anything but Common Core standards. Separate Republican-led efforts to pull the plug on Common Core — one in the Senate, the other in the House — are in the works in moves that would pre-empt Gov. Bill Haslam’s preferred process to publicly review the controversial standards. There’s a clear theme: Make them Tennessee’s and brand them accordingly. Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell filed legislation Monday that would establish a Tennessee Standards Commission that would later recommend changes to the State Board of Education. It would also “cancel” Tennessee’s memorandum of understanding regarding Common Core standards in English language arts and math.
Legislation filed in Nashville by two prominent committee leaders Monday would, if successful this coming session, cancel Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards. Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, are sponsoring legislation establishing a Tennessee Standards Commission that would recommend the State Board of Education adopt all standards to be used in the state’s K-12 public schools. The legislation would nullify the state’s current memorandum of understanding concerning Common Core entered into with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers for English, language arts and math.
Legislation was filed Monday to discontinue Tennessee’s participation in Common Core State Standards, despite a process launched by Gov. Bill Haslam to review the academic program. Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell filed legislation to form a Tennessee Standards Commission that would later recommend changes to the State Board of Education. Under the proposal, Tennessee’s current memorandum of understanding for Common Core standards in English language arts and math would be negated. “First and foremost, this legislation is committed to the highest standards to keep our students moving forward,” Gresham said in a statement.
Two Tennessee Republicans have introduced legislation that would stop Common Core education in the state. Mike Bell, Chairman of the Senate Government Operation Committee and Dolores Gresham Chairman of the Senate Education Committee introduced their bill Monday. Senate Bill 4 would set up a Tennessee Standards Commission and void the memorandum of understanding for Common Core State Standards for English and Math. A nine member commission would be appointed to six-year terms after going through a confirmation process and being appointed by governor or speakers of the House of Representative and Senate.
Democrats in the state Senate — their numbers cut to five in this year’s elections — were supposed to elect new leaders Monday for the next two-year term of the General Assembly. But only the three freshmen members showed up, and they still have no leaders. In a 121-second meeting, Sens. Lee Harris and Sara Kyle of Memphis and Jeff Yarbro of Nashville rescheduled the caucus leadership votes for Tuesday in hopes that veteran Sens. Thelma Harper of Nashville and Reginald Tate of Memphis will be present. Harper, the Democratic Caucus’s longest-serving member, had called Monday’s meeting. But Harris, a law professor at the University of Memphis, said Harper told him she had “private family obligations” and couldn’t attend. They said they didn’t know where Tate was. He did not return a reporter’s call. All three freshmen are said to be interested in a leadership position. And two years ago, after the 2012 legislative elections, Tate challenged then-Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis for the top Democratic leadership position but lost.
A Tennessee Democratic Party committee is recommending three candidates for the state party chairmanship. In a Monday news release, the committee recommended outgoing state Rep. Gloria Johnson, former state Senate candidate Mary Mancini and former U.S. Senate candidate Terry Adams. Mancini is a Nashville resident who formerly headed the advocacy group Tennessee Citizen Action, where she helped organize large-scale voter registration drives, among other things. Johnson is a Knoxville resident who recently lost her seat in the state House of Representatives in the general election. Adams is a Knoxville attorney who had never held office before his long-shot bid for U.S. Senate earlier this year. The candidates will meet with executive committee members and county party chairs before the election for the chairmanship in January.
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson will visit Tuesday the VA hospital in Nashville, which has reported some of the longest wait times in the nation for patients needing to see doctors. But he has no public events scheduled, said Jan Northstar, regional public affairs director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Gibson will meet with the leadership of the VA’s Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, hospital employees, staff members for local U.S. members of Congress and representatives of veterans service organizations. “This is not going to be a town hall meeting,” Northstar said. “As a matter of fact, they have already directed all the local medical centers to do town hall meetings.” Veterans packed a September meeting at the VA hospital in Nashville to detail their complaints.
Health insurance open enrollment started this past Saturday and lasts through Feb. 15. Citizens are required to have coverage in 2015 or they will be forced to pay a penalty, which can amount up to 2 percent of your 2015 income. While that sounds scary, open enrollment is also a time when health care consumers can save a lot of money by changing to a health plan that is a better match for their needs. Insurance companies and Nashville-area hospitals have made a lot of changes for 2015, which means more options. Following are five things for the health care consumer to know when starting to evaluate options this year. 1. The exchange now has five insurance companies, up from four The five insurance companies available to Tennesseans on the exchange this year are BlueCross BlueShield, Community Health Alliance, Humana, CIGNA and Assurant. This is up from four carriers last year, with Assurant being the newest to the party 2.
College students are increasingly spending federal financial aid and taking on debt for high school-level courses that don’t count toward a degree, despite mounting evidence the courses are ineffective and may contribute to higher dropout rates. The number of college students taking at least one remedial course rose to 2.7 million in the 2011-2012 academic year from 1.04 million in 1999-2000, federal data show. During the same span, the amount of federal grants spent by undergraduates enrolled in at least one remedial course rose 380%, after inflation, Education Department figures show. There was also a drastic rise in remedial students taking on student debt The trends reflect a sharp rise over the past decade in enrollment at community colleges, which disproportionately serve low-income, minority and older populations.
Maybe it was Tony Stanley’s furrowed brow that was keeping him from getting a job. Or maybe it was his work history in many fields instead of just one. Or maybe it was that he was aiming too high, or maybe too low. The 50-year-old Norwalk resident has worked in a mental health center and as a security company employee, but has been unemployed for almost a year, nearly six months longer than what the federal government defines as “long-term unemployment.” Imposing, athletic and impeccably dressed, Stanley picks up pocket change by refereeing high school basketball games, but he doesn’t have a full-time job. The overall unemployment picture has improved consistently since the end of the Great Recession, but the plight of the long-term jobless has proven difficult to address.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s top executive says more nuclear plants could be in the works in the coming years following the completion of the Watts Bar nuclear reactor, which is expected to be finished by the end of 2015. After a a spate of cost over-runs and delays, the Watts Bar nuclear reactor near Spring City will have cost $4.5 billion. It’s expected to be the first reactor to come on line in almost two decades. When asked if the TVA plans on re-starting any other nuclear reactors, or building new ones, after Watts Bar, Bill Johnson, who leads the utility, said: “I can imagine building a new plant, restarting one that’s partially finished,” Johnson said, adding a caveat. “Our focus on the moment is finishing the one we are working on.”
A week ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, TVA employees are getting an extra reason to be thankful as they receive an average of nearly $11,400 each in year-end bonuses for helping the federal utility surpass all of its major goals in the past year. The Tennessee Valley Authority is distributing $131 million in “winning performance” payments to its 11,500 employees this week. The bonuses for the average TVA employee, equal to what the typical Tennessee worker takes more than three months to earn, come just six weeks after TVA boosted average wage rates for its white-collar employees by more than the wage gains given to most U.S. workers in the past year. TVA CEO Bill Johnson said the performance incentives reward “the extraordinary efforts of our employees” in improving plant performance and reliability while cutting operating costs and accident rates.
TVA boosted its net income and employee pay while paying down its debt in fiscal 2014. But for all its financial success, the federal utility failed to close a $4.8 billion shortfall in the pension program for nearly 36,000 current and retired TVA employees and their families. In fact, under an updated calculation made in 2014 to reflect the lower interest rate environment, TVA’s underfunded pension plan appears to have gotten even worse in the past year. “Most companies are increasing their pension funding levels, and it is very disturbing that TVA is going in the other direction,” said Dan Pitts, a TVA retiree who works as an independent financial services broker in Knoxville.
Saying foreign union groups appear to be conspiring with the United Auto Workers to force workers into its ranks at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, a right to work entity is seeking federal action. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation said officials from the German IG Metall union, VW’s Global Group Works Council, the UAW, and VW in Germany have taken part in “high profile public activities…that trigger Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act reporting requirements.” “As it stands now, American employees of Volkswagen do not know what inside arrangements exist among UAW, IG Metall, Global Works Council, and VW…,” said Mark Mix, the foundation’s president. He cited activities such as “bounties and future dues sharing.”
Milan Express plans to expand its operations in Jackson, according to Stan Pilant, director of the Jackson Planning Department. The Madison County Commission unanimously approved the rezoning of property on Monday to allow for the project. Milan Express is a trucking, warehousing and distribution company with facilities in Milan, Jackson and Nashville, according to its website. Pilant spoke about the project at the commission meeting. The County Commission rezoned a total of 271.34 acres in the area of Interstate 40 and Highway 70, south of Love’s Travel Stop, to allow for the project and other future development. Milan Express has a facility in that area now at 51 E.L. Morgan Drive. The Jackson Sun contacted Milan Express President Jeff Stinson on Monday night.
The NCAA is not bringing the Women’s Final Four back to Nashville. At least not in the near future. Music City was not among the sites announced Monday when the NCAA awarded its 2017-20 championship hosts. But earlier in the day, the NCAA awarded Nashville the first- and second-round men’s basketball tournament in 2018. Last year, Nashville Sports Council president and CEO Scott Ramsey and Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner Beth DeBauche submitted bids for the men’s tournament and the 2018-19 Women’s Final Four. They made their final presentations at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis on Thursday. The 2014 Women’s Final Four was played at Bridgestone Arena.
The Road to the Final Four will pass through Nashville in 2018. The NCAA announced today that Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena will host first- and second-round games of that year’s men’s college basketball tournament. The NCCA made the announcement as it revealed the host cities for the Final Four between 2017 and 2021. In 2018, the Final Four will be held in San Antonio. Nashville last hosted the men’s tournament in 2012. This year, Music City hosted the women’s Final Four. According to an NCAA news release, Nashville will host teams on March 16 and 18, 2018.
The road to the NCAA Men’s Final Four will once again come through Memphis — in 2017. After hosting the South Regionals in March, the Bluff City will be the host again in three years. The 2017 Final Four and National Championship will be held in Phoenix, with Memphis, Kansas City, San Jose and New York City hosting the regionals. The South Regionals will be held March 24-26, 2017. The University of Florida Gators came out of the South regionals at FedExForum this year before falling in the Final Four to the University of Connecticut Huskies, from the American Athletic Conference, who eventually won the National Championship. The 2015 Final Four will be held in Indianapolis, with the regionals held in Cleveland, Syracuse, Houston and Los Angeles. Indianapolis will also host the Final Four in 2021.
In 2 1/2 academic years, the state-run Achievement School District has had greater success in terms of student achievement with charter organizations that take over a grade or two at a time instead of all at once. But Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the “co-locations,” as they are called, don’t work well for students and teachers in the conventional part of what is a divided school. The difference is part of a continuing evolution in the relationship between Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District that has become a point among those seeking to stop or slow the ASD’s move into more Memphis schools next academic year.
Tennessee’s government, business and civic leaders work hard to strengthen our state’s economy by attracting businesses and investment capital here. However, they are fighting an uphill battle against our tax code. We’re missing the mark in the way we levy business taxes, particularly with Tennessee’s franchise and excise taxes. The approach taken by many states is to tax business that is generated within the state. Not so in Tennessee, where franchise and excise taxes are due when income is received within the state, even if the transaction that produced the revenue takes place outside of Tennessee. While a number of tax exemptions are available, many are too ambiguous in their language for even the most seasoned lawyers to comfortably advise investors and owners as to how they can take advantage of these exemptions, particularly for owners of closely held businesses.