This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A three-county grant awarded earlier this month will help Hawkins County Schools start new vocational programs at both main high schools, as well as new workforce training programs beginning as early as middle school. Gov. Bill Haslam announced earlier this month that Hawkins County has been awarded a “LEAP Program” grant as part of the three-county Lakeway Area Group, and will share $988,000 in partnership with Hamblen County Schools, Grainger County Schools, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT), Walters State Community College and several local industries. LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) is a state effort focused on increasing opportunities for Tennessee students to obtain postsecondary certificates or degrees aligned with the needs of the business and industry in their communities.
The Tennessee Board of Regents is trying to do away with undecided majors. According to the data, officials say, students who choose a college major right away are more likely to graduate. “What we know is, a student who makes no choice has made a bad choice,” says TBR chancellor John Morgan. Without a major, he says, students end up taking extra classes that don’t count toward their degree. Morgan told a group of policy makers, including the governor, that the TBR system would no longer have students with undeclared majors, by the end of December. Morgan wasn’t implying that schools would kick the students out, just that they wanted students either in a program of study or a focus area, like social science. But this change makes Katie Fults skeptical. Fults is a recent MTSU graduate with a degree in organizational communication.
The changes are only just beginning at Chattanooga State Community College. The college will see three presidents in the coming months as Jim Catanzaro’s 24-year tenure ends on Wednesday. And while many faculty and staff members are relieved by Catanzaro’s departure and the recent release of a 47-page state report outlining his missteps, they still see plenty of personnel and policy issues that need addressing by new administrations. “We are anticipating changes in personnel and over time some structural changes or realignment,” said Faculty Senate President Kenneth Goldsmith. “But no one knows what the specifics are.” He said the audit revealed some people and issues that warrant corrective action. But there also are other problems brewing on campus that will need addressing once Catanzaro leaves.
The seasonal scourge of the flu has claimed the lives of three children in Tennessee, the state’s Department of Health has revealed. Two of the deaths were reported by hospitals in Middle Tennessee and the third was in East Tennessee, according to Shelley Walker, assistant director of media relations for the department. Walker said privacy regulations prevent her from revealing even what county the deaths occurred in, but all were in December. These bring the childhood flu death toll for calendar year 2014 to six, she said. A sampling of local hospitals indicates flu activity has been exceptionally heavy this season, and several schools closed temporarily because of pupil absences prior to the holiday break. The state does not require hospitals to report adult flu deaths, Walker said, only those in children and pregnant women.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol will conduct a “no refusal” traffic safety enforcement campaign over the New Year’s holiday period. The state statute regarding “no refusal” allows law enforcement officials to seek search warrants for blood samples in cases involving suspected impaired drivers. The enforcement period will begin at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and conclude at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. State troopers will perform saturation patrols; seat belt, sobriety and driver’s license checkpoints; and bar/tavern checks during the holiday. During last year’s New Year’s holiday period, officials say 16 people were killed in traffic crashes on Tennessee roadways. Of the 16 vehicular fatalities, 15 were vehicle occupants and one was a pedestrian. Alcohol was involved in six of the traffic deaths, while seven individuals killed were not wearing seat belts.
Tennessee has imposed a $45,000 civil penalty against NSPIRE Outreach after the state says it falsely represented itself. State Secretary Tre Hargett said the Georgia-based organization, also known as Hope House or Hope for Domestic Violence, misrepresented itself by saying it works with other organizations in which it has no affiliation. Additionally, numerous individuals have filed complaints with the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming because they continued to receive calls requesting donations even after requesting removal from the group’s call list. “It’s very important for charitable organizations not to misrepresent themselves when dealing with potential donors,” Hargett said in a press release. “They should be who they say they are and deliver the services they promise to deliver.
Most legislation in Tennessee comes with a price tag, and the state House of Representatives wants to make sure that price tag is accurate. In late November House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told representatives she is working with the National Conference of State Legislatures to examine the fiscal review committee and fiscal note process, according to an email obtained by The Tennessean. In the email, she tells representatives the NCSL “has agreed to conduct a thorough review and analysis of Fiscal Review to determine if best practices are in place to ensure accurate and independent fiscal notes.” The fiscal review committee consists of members from both state legislative chambers. It looks at proposed legislation and attaches an anticipated price tag for local or state government if the bill becomes law, known as a “fiscal note.”
A rally scheduled for the opening day of the legislative session aims to put Tennessee lawmakers on notice that legislation concerning women’s rights will be closely scrutinized in the new year. A coalition of women’s advocacy groups has called for the demonstration in the wake of the passage of Amendment 1, which allows lawmakers to propose new regulations on abortions. “Women’s fundamental rights are in greater jeopardy this legislative session than any other time in recent history,” the Nashville-based Advocates for Women’s And Kids’ Equality said in a statement promoting the rally. Lawmakers have proposed several abortion regulations. The first would require doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion. Others in discussion include a mandatory waiting period, new inspection requirements on abortion clinics and mandatory counseling known as “informed consent” before the procedure.
Monday’s face-to-face between Johnson City commissioners, city school officials and state legislators was largely about restoring equity to the city in light of new annexation laws and growing concerns about education funding. State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, and state Reps. Micah Van Huss R-6th, and Matthew Hill, R-7th, sat across the table from city leaders about two weeks before the opening of this year’s 109th General Assembly. Van Huss headed legislation last year that halted municipal annexation by ordinance unless initiated by property owners. But the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has come up with recommended amendments, and commissioners asked for help in making those changes.
As soaring college costs saddle more students with debt, colleges are increasingly earmarking aid for students who can fall through the cracks of existing programs: those who aren’t from poor families, can’t necessarily maintain a 4.0 GPA or hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. California started a scholarship program this school year to help such middle-class students whose families earn as much as $150,000 a year. Pennsylvania rolled out the Ready to Succeed Scholarship, offering as much as $2,000 in aid for residents whose families earn up to $110,000, while Minnesota added money to its state grant program last year to provide up to $5,000 to an additional 2,200 students whose families earn between $60,000 and $120,000.
Over the past four years, the Tennessee Valley Authority has decided to shutter more than half of the 59 coal-fired power generators it once operated within its 7-state service territory to cut air pollution and comply with stricter environmental regulations. But TVA directors today are expected to vote to keep operating a pair of 60-year-old coal units in Kentucky, even though the generators are no longer in TVA’s service territory. The TVA board has called a special meeting today at 10 a.m. to be conducted via a webcast among the eight directors to consider the future of units 1 and 4 at the Shawnee Fossil Plant in Paducah, Ky. The two generators are among 18 that TVA agreed in a 2011 consent order with EPA to either shut down or clean up by 2018.
The TVA board of directors will meet Tuesday to decide whether to retire two coal units at the Shawnee Fossil Plant near Paducah, Ky., or to install pollution control equipment on them. The board will conduct the meeting at 10 a.m. through a webcast open to the public. Under a 2011 agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and other parties, TVA must decide by Dec. 31, 2014, whether to retire or install pollution controls on Units 1 and 4 at Shawnee. On Dec. 23, TVA released a Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact on its potential actions with the Shawnee plant. In the report, TVA concluded that neither retiring the coal units nor installing additional pollution control equipment would have any significant impact on the environment, and that an environmental impact statement is therefore not required. In producing the environmental report, TVA took public comments during a three-week period in October and November.
For Leann Crane, Christmas continued Monday. The Chattanooga-area mother who had worried for weeks that her daughters may not have access to the area’s only children’s hospital after the New Year. But UnitedHealthcare and Erlanger Health System announced Monday evening that they reached a new three-year agreement that will make Erlanger physicians and facilities accessible to people enrolled in all of United’s main plans: TennCare, commercial and Medicare Advantage. “This [agreement] is actually a Christmas present,” said Crane, whose family is insured through the UnitedHealthcare plan offered through her employer, T-Mobile. “It takes a huge worry off my shoulders,” she said.
In many ways, Kentucky, a poor state with a starkly unhealthy populace, has become a symbol of the Affordable Care Act’s potential. Largely because the state chose to expand Medicaid, the drop in the uninsured rate has been among the sharpest in the nation. Hospital revenues are up, health care jobs are multiplying and far more Kentuckians are getting preventive checkups and screenings, according to state officials. Amanda Mayhew is one of the beneficiaries. She earns little enough to qualify for Medicaid under the new guidelines, and she enrolled in August. She has been to the dentist five times to begin salvaging her neglected teeth, has had a dermatologist remove a mole and has gotten medication for her depression, all free. “I am very, very thankful that Medicaid does cover what I need done right now,” said Ms. Mayhew, 38. “They ended up having to pull three teeth in the last three weeks, and I would have been in a lot of pain without it.”
It is good to see that the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is waging a two-pronged effort to curb violence at its troubled youth detention centers, which house some of the state’s most incorrigible teen criminal offenders. While two of the three centers — Woodland Hills in Nashville and Mountain View in East Tennessee — have had issues, Woodland Hills made national headlines Sept. 1 when more than 30 teenagers escaped. All eventually were recaptured. The escape was the first of three major issues at the facility that month, which also included a riot and another escape by 13 teens. DCS has increased security at Woodland Hills and is adjusting its behavior-modification program with the aim of preventing future rioting and escapes. We hope it works. Although the centers house some of the state’s worst teen criminal offenders, every effort should be made to ensure their safety and the safety of staff.
The whole point of the Tennessee General Assembly passing legislation to create charter schools was that charters would give students attending poor-performing public schools a better shot at succeeding academically. The basic promise of the charters? Give us greater autonomy and flexibility than regular public schools are allowed, and we will adequately educate your children. Depending on the state, charters have been a mixed bag when it comes to making sure students are mastering core subjects. Tennessee is no exception, and within Shelby County Schools four charters are scheduled to close after they showed up on the state’s Priority List. According to a new state law, they will close in the spring. They are a middle and upper school operated by Omni Schools, Southern Avenue Charter Middle School and City University for Liberal Arts.
Note: The news-clips will resume on Friday, January 2, 2015.