This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and several major employers in the state are looking to put veterans to work. Governor Bill Haslam signed a proclamation, announcing October 25th as Paychecks for Patriots Day. The initiative kicks off Thursday at 10:00 a.m. and lasts until 2:00 p.m. at all locations. It includes hiring fairs in 13 career centers throughout the state, including Chattanooga.
Tennessee was one of nine states with a double-digit jobless rate for veterans last year. In response, state officials have scheduled more than a dozen job fairs on a single day. Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville and 10 other cities will host simultaneous hiring events. Labor Department spokesman Jeff Hentschel says companies have jobs to fill with former service members. “There are a lot of vet-friendly employers in Tennessee – people who are willing to hire vets and take advantage of the skills they have to offer.”
An elementary school teacher in Memphis has been named Tennessee Teacher of the Year by the state Education Department, the city’s first teacher to win the state’s top honor in 30 years. Allyson Chick teaches second grade at Richland Elementary School. She was recognized this week during a banquet in Nashville. State officials noted that she connects with students and parents “by setting goals together,” regularly posts information on a classroom website, and provides translation for Hispanic families.
The discovery of new fungal meningitis infections has slowed down considerably here in Tennessee, where the disease was first identified. An end to the outbreak is in sight, according to the state’s top doctors. The state Department of Health has been tracking more than a thousand people who received epidural steroid injections. Three-quarters of them are now beyond the danger window given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner says fewer people are at risk of developing fungal meningitis by the day.
Two weeks from today, most of the danger will have ebbed for people who were injected with moldy medicine in Tennessee — but until then, the 250 patients who remain at greatest risk need more-aggressive monitoring, health officials said Wednesday. For the first time, state officials named a date, Nov. 8, for when the crisis is most likely to subside — “the light at the end of the tunnel” for the 1,009 patients treated with potentially contaminated steroid in Tennessee, according to Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol sergeant has resigned rather than be fired after an investigation revealed misconduct that included having sex while on duty. The THP announced Wednesday that 45-year-old James Sells resigned following an internal affairs investigation that also found he misused state property and equipment and was negligent in performing his duties. Sells worked in the criminal investigations division in Cookeville.It’s one of several recent misconduct incidents involving the THP.
A fourth individual was charged with TennCare fraud in a Dyer County undercover operation. The round-up of suspects started last week, with most charges involving prescription drug fraud. A total of 57 people were indicted. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) today announced the additional arrest of Misty Marie Buckner, 31, of Dyersburg. She is charged with TennCare fraud and sale of a Schedule II controlled substance. Buckner is accused of using TennCare to obtain the painkiller Morphine at a Dyersburg pharmacy, later selling a portion of the drug to an undercover agent.
A fourth individual is charged with TennCare Fraud in a Dyer County undercover operation. The round-up of suspects started last week, with most charges involving prescription drug fraud, according to a news release. A total of 57 people were indicted. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) today announced the additional arrest of Misty Marie Buckner, 31, of Dyersburg. She is charged with TennCare fraud and sale of a Schedule II controlled substance. Buckner is accused of using TennCare to obtain the painkiller morphine at a Dyersburg pharmacy, later selling a portion of the drug to an undercover agent.
An undercover operation in Dyer County in connection with TennCare fraud saw a fourth person charged. Investigators said Misty Marie Buckner, 31, of Dyersburg was charged with fraud and the sale of a scheduled two controlled substance. Buckner is accused of using the state health insurance to obtain the painkiller morphine from a local pharmacy and later selling a portion of the drug to an undercover agent. If convicted, Buckner and 56 others indicted in the case could face a sentence of six years in prison.
Jefferson County’s state 17th House District isn’t what it used to be after it was redrawn earlier this year to now include a sizable portion of Sevier County as well. Vying for the seat in the Nov. 6 general election, Republican candidate Andrew Farmer and Democrat Mike Dockery both stress the need for job growth on either side of the new district’s county line as the area’s defining issue. And each man claims he has the career experience necessary to deliver. A Sevierville lawyer, Farmer, 32, says his work in private practice would give him the edge in elected office.
Dickerson says incumbent lacks ‘discernment’ Democratic candidate Luke Dickerson said Republican state Rep. Rick Womick lacks “discernment” in making legislative decisions during their Wednesday debate at City Hall. “He didn’t ask about the online charter school,” said Dickerson, who contends the Tennessee General Assembly should never have funded the private education company’s request. “He has voted along party lines quite a bit.” Womick defended his record representing the 34th District as well as the accomplishments of the Republican-controlled Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate, as well as Gov. Bill Haslam.
A Davidson County election training session held earlier this month included a segment on how poll workers could challenge the right to vote of those they believe may not be U.S. citizens and reminded them that citizenship requires the ability to read, write and speak basic English. The practice is not common. At least three neighboring counties — Williamson, Wilson and Sumner — steer clear of such instructions to poll workers. But in Davidson County, in a computer slideshow, poll workers were reminded that only U.S. citizens and Tennessee residents may vote.
Nashville’s elections administrator says poll workers should be trained to handle citizenship challenges. Critics argue the training aims to exclude people who don’t read or speak much English, but can vote. Registering to vote in Davidson County includes checking off a box to say you’re a U.S. citizen. Mary Mancini, with Tennessee Citizen Action, says that’s when questions over citizenship should be resolved – not right outside the voting booth. But County Elections Administrator Albert Tieche argues poll workers should know the law if a voter’s citizenship is in question.
A languishing job market is bad news for college graduates looking to get out from under accumulated student loan debt, yet more than half of Tennessee graduates are faced with that scenario. Tennessee’s 2011 undergraduate class graduated with an average debt of $20,703, according to new data from the Institute for College Access & Success. Tennessee unemployment still tops 8 percent and 53 percent of the state’s graduates will leave college with a diploma and with some student loan debt.
Two Tennessee governors, a one-time congressman and a host of business leaders are backing an effort to pressure Washington lawmakers to reduce the federal debt. Former Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn, former Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis and two members of former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s cabinet appeared at the Tennessee Capitol Wednesday to announce their support for “Fix the Debt,” a national campaign to get Congress and the White House to embrace the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission.
Even though it’s been nearly a year since they’ve been removed from Legislative Plaza, the Occupy Nashville protesters are not going away quietly. More than a dozen Occupy Nashville protesters, including 13 that were arrested, filed a lawsuit against the state in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee on Wednesday. The lawsuit names Gov. Bill Haslam, Department of General Services Commissioner Steven Cates, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and the Tennessee Highway Patrol officers who carried out the dispersion of protesters on War Memorial Plaza last year.
Ostensibly, the agenda for this week’s public meeting of the Shelby County Commission lacked the sturm and drang that both members and the public at large have come to expect of this contentious body. But the heat was still on, though perhaps at a low simmer, and it manifested itself in ways that betokened an interesting trend. Namely, the commission’s former partisan lines are dissolving, yielding to other kinds of configurations — some of them, reflecting the continuing differences of opinion over the issue of municipal schools, conforming to a basic urban vs. suburban division, while others are more ad hoc in their nature.
When the countywide school board votes next week on a resolution to endorse a half-cent countywide sales tax hike, the vote will not be unanimous. And the resolution that backs the tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot will not guarantee that the $30 million from the tax hike that goes to local education will be used for pre- kindergarten access for all children. “This is simply additional resources to make tough decisions,” school board member Kevin Woods said Tuesday, Oct. 23, as the school board had a lively debate over his resolution at its work session.
A few hurdles stand between U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and his latest legislative attempt to resume construction at Chickamauga Lock. The biggest may be elbowing the Senate minority leader and convincing fellow Republicans — including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann — to raise taxes. At a news conference Wednesday atop the 72-year-old lock, Tennessee’s 72-year-old senior senator promoted a new-lock financing plan but declined to name the “bipartisan group of senators” behind it. The proposal calls for a 50 percent tax increase on barge operators and takes on a long-entrenched funding mechanism.
Denies responsibility for latest revelations Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis says he regrets a 2010 ad attacking his successor, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. But the Pall Mall, Tenn., Democrat said he should not be faulted for speaking with a reporter about a conversation in which DesJarlais urged a patient with whom he’d had a romantic relationship to carry out an abortion. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Democratic Party moved to unseal DesJarlais’ Marion County divorce record, suggesting it would reveal more information voters should know before they cast their ballots.
Former Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis regrets using ads about Republican Scott DesJarlais’s divorce. Davis was trying to hold onto his seat in Congress two years ago. Now he wants to distance himself from new attacks on DesJarlais, which tear at the doctor for telling a patient he slept with to get an abortion. The freshman DesJarlais is facing a challenge this fall from Democrat Eric Stewart, whom Davis says he supports. When asked why he didn’t pursue the line of attack Stewart is using now, Davis pointed to ads his campaign did run two years ago, about DesJarlais intimidating his ex-wife with a gun.
State Democrats asked a Marion County chancellor on Wednesday to unseal portions of Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais’ 2001 divorce records, arguing voters should know full details of revelations that have rocked the Jasper physician’s campaign. Democrats filed the motion, arguing “time is of the essence” so voters can “evaluate the full court record regarding allegations that Congressman DesJarlais had extra-marital affairs, violated medical ethics standards by engaging in sexual relations with patients and/or asked at least one woman with whom he had an affair have an abortion.”
The Tennessee Democratic Party asked a Marion County judge Wednesday to make public records of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ 2001 divorce related to his “unethical sexual relationship with his patient,” the party says in a news release. Gerard Stranch, chief legal counsel for the state party, filed the motion in Marion County Chancery Court to unseal the records. “Citizens and voters have a right to know whether their congressman has honored the law and his professional code of ethics,” Stranch said.
George Flinn, in his new television ad, is accusing incumbent 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen of missing “over 130 votes” while going on junkets at taxpayers’ expense. Democrat Cohen has scheduled a press conference at his home on Kenilworth in Midtown for Thursday morning to address what he says are “misleading and false” charges. In a phone interview from Memphis Wednesday evening, Cohen said he’s never missed a vote because of foreign travel and has not traveled at taxpayers’ expense in the past year.
The value of the government’s economic stimulus program has been a hot topic of debate, particularly during this political season, but — not surprisingly — the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act gets warm reviews in Oak Ridge. The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office received about $1.9 billion from the 2009 Recovery Act. About $1.2 billion of that windfall was designated for projects — ranging from environmental cleanup to construction of new research facilities — to be carried out in Oak Ridge.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is accepting public input on $1 billion worth of pollution controls it plans for its coal-fired power plant in Gallatin. But the Sierra Club, which argues TVA should instead invest in energy efficiency programs, is calling for a longer comment period, public hearings and more documentation from the utility. “The TVA has a responsibility to evaluate the full public health, environmental and customer costs of this expensive decision,” Gallatin resident and Sierra Club member Michelle Haynes said in a prepared statement.
The recent spiking of the proposed Nashville Medical Trade Center has spurred various under-the-radar discussions and proposals for the existing Nashville Convention Center. Included in the uncertainty of the center’s future is whether some of its space rises to “Class A” level — or, at the least, will be maintained as such. Joe Hall, president of Hall Strategies and spokesman for Renaissance Nashville Hotel that adjoins the convention center, said hotel representatives and Nashville Convention Center officials are in talks related to the hotel’s contract between the two parties.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has abandoned plans to open its first retail location in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. BlueCross’ plans were first reported in January, with officials saying a retail location would prepare the insurer for a wave of consumers that are expected to shop for insurance on their own through new state exchanges. Now, The Tennessean reports, BlueCross BlueShield is opting instead to focus on reaching new customers digitally.
Wacker has tapped the brakes on its $1.5 billion plant under construction in Bradley County, citing too much production capacity for polysilicon in the marketplace. But company officials pledged to continue the massive project — the biggest-ever manufacturing investment in Southeast Tennessee. “The project is going to move ahead on a continuing basis for sure,” said Bill Toth, Wacker Chemical’s director of corporate communications. Wacker officials said the plant will start producing polysilicon, a key ingredient in solar panels, in mid-2015, or about 18 months later than the prior schedule.
The board of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis on Wednesday approved a plan to acquire buildings near its main campus as it expands Downtown, while also establishing a new satellite location in the suburbs. Hospital officials plan to demolish the Adams Building, which sits at the northeast corner of Jefferson and Dunlap, and build a new women and infants building on the site. Details of the demolition and new construction plan were not yet available. Clinical services in the Adams Building, one of the oldest buildings on the public hospital’s campus, now are being moved to the hospital’s Turner Tower that fronts Madison.
We are excited about the opening of the Entrepreneur Development Center in Jackson. The center celebrated its opening Tuesday during an event at the Aeneas Building in downtown Jackson and will soon open its office a few blocks away in the Elks building on Baltimore Street. The center represents a new weapon in the economic development arsenal of West Tennessee. It is not designed to compete with other business development organizations, but to complement them by bringing a new dynamic to the situation. The center is designed to provide education, mentoring and direction to entrepreneurs. Its mission is not to provide handouts in the form of grants but to help connect qualified entrepreneurs with investors.
The state Registry of Election Finance sent a message Tuesday to anyone running for office in Tennessee: “Don’t worry — your campaign finance records don’t have to be accurate.” The regulatory board voted unanimously to drop its inquiry into Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s election finances, even though members acknowledged the campaign cannot account for $15,537. The mayor blames his then-wife, who managed the account, for the discrepancy, alleging in a sworn statement that she took the money for personal use. His ex-wife, Allison Beaver, has said everything she did was with the knowledge and blessing of her husband. State law, however, is crystal clear that the candidate ultimately is responsible for a campaign’s finances.
Student progress measurements, teacher evaluation implementation and planning for the future must all be well in hand in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Otherwise why would its elected school board continue to focus on vindicating its September vote on the Great Hearts charter school application? State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman held back $3.4 million in state funds this month in response to the vote, which he said violated a state Board of Education directive to approve the charter application for a West Nashville charter school.
Memphians got a disheartening glimpse recently into how tough it will be to bring the city’s and state’s worst schools up to par. Early test results showed students in the state’s Achievement School District are performing at the 16th percentile in the nation in reading and math. The results stunned Chris Barbic, ASD superintendent. One ASD principal called the results a kick in the stomach. The Achievement School District was created to take schools in the bottom 5 percent in the state to the top 25 percent over the next five years. Every year, the quest will increase as the number of schools assigned to the ASD grows.
Being the contrarian that I am, I made a sucker bet on the presidential election. I didn’t bet on who would win, but I bet that the winner would do so by a margin of 10 percent in the popular vote. The amount of money spent on polling this campaign season is astronomical. It will be interesting to see after the election if they had any validity in this era of cell phones, multi-generational households, and saturation media coverage. The polls have showed little variance for months, a tight race is predicted. So why am I making a stupid bet? I cannot believe that we have become two countries.
Students who finance their educations through private lenders often wrongly assume that private and federal loans work the same way. In fact, they do not. Most federal student loans have rates of 6.8 percent (or less) and offer broad consumer protections that allow people who lose their jobs to make lower, affordable payments or to defer payment until they recover financially. Private student loans — from banks and other private institutions — typically come with variable interest rates and fewer consumer protections, which means that borrowers who get into trouble have few options other than default. Many borrowers did not learn about the differences between private and federal loans until after they became deeply indebted. And because of confusion about variable rates, they are sometimes shocked to learn what they owe when that first bill arrives.