This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
First Lady Crissy Haslam is preparing to celebrate the children’s awareness campaign of Governor’s Highway Safety Office. The Tuesday event will commemorate mascot Ollie the Otter making a presentation to the 400,000th child in the program’s history. The character-driven program aimed to increasing booster seat and seat belt usage has visited more than 23,000 classrooms in the last five school years. More than 1,000 volunteers in the fields of law enforcement, emergency repose, education and community health have been trained in the program. Tuesday’s event is scheduled to be held at the New Hope Academy in Franklin.
Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services has been trying to improve the care of children in state custody since a lawsuit filed in 2000 triggered numerous court-ordered changes. But more than a decade later, some of the mandates still have not been met. Until the department meets every requirement of the federal lawsuit settlement, an independent team of child-welfare experts will continue to watch and evaluate DCS staff. In late 2010, DCS had met so many goals that officials and the experts said the department might soon be released from the court-ordered monitoring.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day concedes that the news there were 31 DCS-related child fatalities in the first six months of 2012 is shocking and tragic. Data shows that four children died in DCS custody, 10 died while a DCS case file was open and 17 died after a case was closed. But a closer look at the numbers and the circumstances behind the deaths and investigations, reveals some of the monumental societal challenges facing the state — and ultimately, DCS.
Patients say hospital was too vague, too slow in communicating news; Saint Thomas improves processes Some patients possibly exposed to a contaminated batch of steroids say they are angry that they weren’t clearly told what was happening as a fungal meningitis outbreak unfolded in Tennessee. Today, a week after news first broke of the outbreak that has now infected 91 people in nine states and caused seven deaths, officials at Saint Thomas have improved the communication process and are providing clearer details to patients and their families.
The number of people sickened with fungal meningitis from tainted epidural steroid injections has now risen to 91 in nine states, including seven deaths, federal officials said Sunday, as investigators try to home in on the precise source of contamination at a compounding pharmacy tied to the widespread outbreak. Investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state officials are probing the Framingham, Mass., facility where the New England Compounding Center made the 17,676 potentially tainted steroid injections, which were then shipped to 75 clinics in 23 states, according to federal and state officials.
Monday is the last day to register to vote in Tennessee. Even though it’s Columbus Day, state elections officials say elections offices will be open in all but two of the state’s 95 counties. They will be closed in Lewis and Hickman counties, but residents there can bring their forms to a neighboring county to be registered. Early voting begins on Oct. 17. Election Day is Nov. 2. Voters will need government-issued photo identification to cast ballots under a new state law.
Notices are going out in the mail to an estimated 37,000 Tennessee borrowers who may be eligible for payment under a $25 billion national mortgage foreclosure settlement. Eligible borrowers will be receiving claim forms in the mail this month and Attorney General Bob Cooper of Tennessee urged residents to complete the forms and return them by the Jan. 18, 2013 deadline. Those eligible include people who lost their homes to foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2011 to five of the nation’s largest mortgage services, which is Ally/GMC, Bank of America, Citi, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo.
Two departments win new vehicles Kendell Poole, director of the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office, presented the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department and the Brownsville Police Department with the keys and titles to new, fully equipped police vehicles on Friday as an award for involvement in two state enforcement programs. The Brownsville Police Department won a vehicle after participating in the Combined Messaging Enforcement for Tennessee Program, and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department won a vehicle after participating in the state Law Enforcement Challenge Program.
Ben Claybaker and Jason Powell each seeking his first elected office At first glance, the two candidates running for the state House seat in District 53 look strikingly similar. Republican nominee Ben Claybaker and his Democratic opponent Jason Powell are in their mid-30s with young families. Both are former college athletes. Claybaker owns a small commercial real estate firm while Powell dabbles in residential real estate on the side. They’ve both held teaching jobs and worked in positions involving drug-control policy.
Six years ago this month, Bob Corker was huddling in a limousine in Memphis with President George W. Bush and Bush adviser Karl Rover, glumly eyeing polling showing Corker losing the U.S. Senate race to Democrat Harold Ford. “We got in this long, black limo, and we all knew I was going to lose the race, and you talk about a depressing ride,” Corker recalled last week to Nashville Chamber of Commerce members. But instead, the Republican former Chattanooga mayor eked out a 51-48 percent victory over Ford in Tennessee’s most expensive Senate race on record — the two candidates raised more than $33 million all told, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Nashville health care companies examining the impact of so-called Obamacare seem to agree on one thing: The industry is favoring partnerships and joint ventures over “going it alone” as they deal with the new legislation. So said many of the merger-and-acquisition evangelists who gathered recently at the Gaylord Springs Golf Links for the fifth annual Health Care Deal Making Summit. The confab discussed, vetted or otherwise attempted to draw some conclusions about the impact of the Affordable Care Act and the nation’s budget crisis — which many folks say is essentially a Medicare crisis — on an industry not used to waiting for government to take action.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Varlan will be the new chief judge for federal courts in the Eastern District of Tennessee. WBIR-TV reports (http://on.wbir.com/RH0x68 ) Varlan, who presides in Knoxville, will take over on Monday as the administrative judge for the district that includes 41 counties and serves 2.5 million people. Varlan succeeds Judge Curtis Collier of Chattanooga. The position of chief judge is rotated through the active judges in the district every seven years.
Residents in Houston County size up the campaign Christian bookstore owner Bonnie Martin is fairly new to Houston County — and still somewhat curious about its Democratic ways. Martin, a Republican, didn’t expect President Barack Obama’s infamous line from earlier this year, “You didn’t build that,” to go over well in the county of about 8,300 people. “They built this town, these people here,” she said on a recent Wednesday afternoon in the shop she and her husband, Steve, own on the Court Square in the heart of Erin, about 65 miles northwest of Nashville.
When investment markets tanked in 2008 and TVA’s pension fund took a nearly $2 billion dive, the tab for making sure there was enough money to cover commitments to 24,000 retirees fell to electric ratepayers. Fully funded, TVA’s retirement plan should total $11.5 billion. Instead, it now stands at $7 billion. TVA has infused it with almost $1.3 billion since 2009 — ratepayer money. But this year, the federal utility didn’t add money, and Chief Financial Officer John Thomas says the fund’s $3.5 billion gap could be made up through market gains in 10 to 15 years.
While TVA’s half-century-old Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis continued consuming piles of coal to make electricity, agency officials gathered on the other end of the state last week to dedicate a sleek, $775 million facility that represents a quantum shift in how the Mid-South gets its power. With the new John Sevier Combined Cycle plant near Rogersville, Tenn. – and several other recently added facilities burning natural gas – the Tennessee Valley Authority now is producing only one-third of its power with coal-fired generating units.
Still reeling from a host of education reforms and new job mandates, the Memphis Education Association is bracing for more difficult battles ahead on such issues as how teachers are evaluated and libraries are staffed. Last month, the unified Shelby County school board swiftly approved recommendations from the Transition Planning Commission with the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, a school reform measure that, among other things, raises the bar for teachers seeking tenure or trying to retain it.
Grainger County deputies announced the arrest of Steven Lyle Cochran, 58, of Bean Station during a raid on a suspected methamphetamine lab on Sept. 28. Officers were responding to a domestic disturbance call when they noticed a strong odor that they believed to be the smell of methamphetamine. At that moment, they saw Cochran walking across the yard of the residence carrying a plastic bottle with a hose coming out of it. According to the report, Cochran was seen placing the bottle next to a metal storage shed, further drawing their interest.
For sale: a college education for $10,000 or less. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is renewing his call for such lower-cost undergraduate degrees, in what he hopes will be the state’s signature response to the national problem of rising college tuition and student debt. “A $10,000 degree provides an opportunity for students to earn a low-cost, high-quality degree that will get them where they want to go in their careers and their lives,” the Republican governor said in a statement last week. The governor has repeatedly urged schools to find ways to teach students more efficiently.
It’s easy to assume your right to vote is safe. We all treasure the right to vote. You might think, “Of course the poll workers will have my information right. Of course I will get the right ballot. And of course everyone has some form of photo of ID.” Right? Unfortunately, in Tennessee, in 2012, you can’t assume your vote is safe. With nine days until early voting begins and 29 days until Election Day, our state’s two largest cities are grappling with errors from the August primary and discovering new ones that could affect November elections. Errors at the ballot box documented in Davidson and Shelby counties last August meant several thousand votes went uncounted. Many of those same errors could happen again.