This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A Nashville think tank is hosting a discussion about education reform between Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Monday’s event is hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, which was founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and is run by former state Sen. Jamie Woodson. The discussion comes as Tennessee lawmakers prepare to decide over proposals to create a state-wide charter authorizer and a school voucher program.
Now that the all-electric Leaf has begun rolling off the assembly line at Nissan’s Smyrna complex, which also makes the batteries that power the vehicle, the automaker faces a huge challenge: finding enough buyers to keep the line moving. U.S. sales of the Leaf totaled just 9,819 units in calendar year 2012, about half of what Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn had predicted. Since introduction of the Leaf in December 2010, the No. 2 Japanese automaker has sold only 19,500 of the cars in the United States and about 50,000 worldwide.
Having degree offers potential in bad economy An analysis of federal data shows that as a group, young adults with bachelor’s degrees are faring much better than their less-educated counterparts. Findings, which complement multiple studies showing that a college degree significantly increases a young adult’s chances of gaining economic security, suggest that the advantage held true through the recent economic recession. “Despite the recession and the labor market outcomes that individuals experience, the college degree still offers a great deal of potential,” said Diana Elliott, research manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts project on economic mobility.
Agency took more than a year to act The Department of Children’s Services failed for more than a year to respond to recommendations by statewide Citizen Review Panels created to examine the state’s efforts to protect children, according to the panel’s statewide coordinator. Federal law requires that DCS respond within six months. On Tuesday, the group received DCS’ response, addressing two years of recommendations from the group of pediatricians, police officers, social workers, teachers and other experts who serve on the Tennessee Citizen Review Panels.
A special team within the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services fell behind in reviewing child deaths and ignored its own policies, according to DCS records and staff interviews.The information was given to The Tennessean on Friday by department spokeswoman Molly Sudderth. The newspaper is among a number of news organizations — including The Associated Press — suing DCS to obtain more detailed records the agency refuses to release. The organizations argue the public needs information that would reveal how the state handled cases where children DCS had investigated died or nearly died.
It’s been three years since Tennessee put an inmate to death, and problems with obtaining lethal injection drugs make it unlikely executions will resume anytime soon. The state’s supply of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in lethal injections, was turned over to the federal government in 2011 over questions about how it was imported. The short supply of sodium thiopental in the U.S. has led many states with the death penalty to seek out other drugs.Arizona, Idaho and Ohio already have carried out executions using a single drug, pentobarbital.
Influenza activity is widespread across most of the United States, including Tennessee, with intense activity in some regions of the state and more flu activity overall than in recent flu seasons. The Department of Health urges all Tennesseans who have not yet received a flu vaccine to get one now to help protect vulnerable people around them, their families and themselves from the flu virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that people who have had this year’s vaccine are about 60 percent less likely to have to visit a medical provider for treatment of influenza illness than unvaccinated people.
The “squeaky wheel” either got the grease or got fired. So says the state Court of Appeals in its recent decision to send back to Knox County Civil Court Judge Wheeler Rosenbalm his decision to toss out the case of James Edward Phelps against the University of Tennessee and employees Jacqueline Ann Newman, Nick Coffee, Brenda Ford and David Elliott. “This is a classic case of the squeaky wheel,” said Phelps’ defense attorney David Hamilton. UT declined to comment. According to the opinion authored by Justice Charles D. Susano Jr., Phelps and Newman had an affair while working as part-time events employees.
On a recent Saturday morning, the Williamson County Agricultural Expo Park was a microcosm of the gun universe. A line of bundled-up firearms enthusiasts stretched from a parking lot filled nearly to capacity, up a concrete walkway, and through the doors of the arena-like facility. Among the crowd were men and women (and quite a few children) who seemed to represent every gun-owning demographic: Some carried hunting rifles or shotguns, while others stood waiting with handguns in holsters, visible on their hips; others walked up to join the crowd, clad in fatigues and toting military style rifles on each shoulder.
Love her or hate her, Michelle Rhee is an icon of the education reform movement. She’s pushed to hold teachers more accountable for students’ performance, busted open the doors of school choice and shaken up the education establishment. She’s also thrown a few elbows and drawn criticism for her style. A Tennessee transplant, she is turning her attention to schools in her new state. The polarizing former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor heads up Students First, an education reform organization she founded just as she began setting roots in the Volunteer State.
Intrigue at a hospital, whiskey, criminal gangs and a very crowded cemetery. Sound like a plot ripped from the pages of some thriller? Maybe so, but in this case they’re part of the script of real-life local issues facing Hamilton County’s legislative delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly. And that’s not even counting statewide issues like health care, education and the budget.
Knox County’s two newest legislators have different reactions to committee assignments they got from House Speaker Beth Harwell when the General Assembly opened last week. A longtime Democrat wonders why his experience in health care wasn’t considered now that Republicans dominate. Rep. Roger Kane, a Republican, said he was pleased to be put on the Insurance and Banking Committee, which he said was his first choice since he’s in the insurance business. But Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, said she was disappointed not to be on the Education Committee.
Two Shelby County suburbs are hiring lobbyist Nathan Green at $6,000 apiece to monitor any local schools-related matters that arise in the upcoming session of the Tennessee General Assembly. Green already serves as the lobbyist for Bartlett. Arlington and Lakeland are making the move for him to represent their interests based on the array of schools issues that have arisen during recent legislative sessions. “With education on the forefront, we want to make sure we are well aware of anything that will affect us,” Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman said.
While it’s been only days since Timothy Hill officially became a member of the Tennessee House, the District 3 representative said it’s not too early to begin fulfilling a campaign promise he frequently made during last year’s successful candidacy. “I said [during the campaign] that I would always be accessible to my constituents,” Hill said. “And I can’t think of a better time than right now to go home and hear what’s on their minds.”
The move by Tennessee’s two U.S. senators to block the reappointment of Georgia Tech professor Marilyn Brown to the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors threatens energy efficiency efforts that could save ratepayers billions of dollars, some clean-energy advocates contend. Brown, appointed in 2010 to fill out the last two years of a vacated term, is widely recognized for her expertise in energy efficiency and other “sustainable” energy policies. She teaches in Georgia Tech University’s School of Public Policy after formerly working for the Department of Energy at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The day will belong to President Barack Obama, of course. But for much of the day, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will be at his side. The Maryville Republican and a handful of other Congress members will begin inauguration day by sharing morning coffee with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Afterward, they’ll ride in the presidential motorcade to the U.S. Capitol, where the president and vice president will be sworn in for a second term and Obama will deliver his inaugural address.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker says he thinks the issue of “overall temperament” will come up during former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing to be defense secretary. Corker, a Republican, says the issue is whether Hagel is “suited” to run a big government department such as the Pentagon. Corker isn’t saying that he has questions about Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska. Corker tells ABC’s “This Week” that he thinks there are “numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais made waves this year when he was one of 67 House Republicans to vote against $9.7 billion in federal aid for Hurricane Sandy victims. But Friday, the Jasper Republican proudly likened that decision to his prior vote against emergency disaster funding after tornadoes killed hundreds across the Southeast in April 2011. DesJarlais supported House legislation that would have provided tornado relief to Tennessee and Georgia residents, but opposed the final version because it included disaster spending without offsetting cuts.
Work to repair the massive Wolf Creek Dam in southern Kentucky is slated for completion later this year, and the project manager says things are going “smoothly.” Don Getty told the Commonwealth Journal that the project, which began in 2007, is about 85 percent complete. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deemed the project urgent because a failure of the nearly mile-long dam would flood communities along the Cumberland River all the way to Nashville. Officials lowered the level of Lake Cumberland by 40 feet in 2007 to ease pressure on the structure.
The corner of 8th and Main streets in downtown Boise, Idaho, was jokingly called “the hole” because it had been vacant since a 1987 fire there. No more. Construction began last summer on a new $60-million building that’s now the headquarters of Zions Bank. And a new $70-million convention center called Jack’s Urban Meeting Place is also on track to open in downtown Boise next year. These large-scale projects are helping Idaho’s construction industry recover from its lowest numbers since 1995.
TVA is to begin today replacing 100 emergency sirens within the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant’s 10-mile radius in McMinn, Meigs and Rhea counties. The work follows similar replacements at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Ala., last spring as well as replacements around Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Soddy-Daisy in November and December. The new state-of-the-art sirens have back-up battery power and steel poles. The cost to replace them around all three nuclear plants tallies about $7 million. Tim Cleary, the Watts Bar site vice president, said recent tornadoes and powerful storms in the Tennessee Valley point up the importance of the sirens.
Local school boards in Tennessee decide which charter schools will open and close. That could all change this year with an effort taking shape in Nashville to give the power to an independent group, with state jurisdiction. If the bill, now being crafted by the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, passes, charter operators who previously were denied or are expecting a tough time with local school officials could bypass them altogether and apply directly to the state authorizer. “Ultimately, what we support is an independent state authorizer,” said Matt Throckmorton, the charter association’s executive director.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre will deliver his second “State of the Schools” address to the community this week. The speech — the superintendent’s report card on the schools system — will take place 6 p.m. Thursday at Powell High School, 2136 West Emory Road. Also speaking will be school board Chairwoman Karen Carson, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and businessman Randy Boyd. Carson said the event is a unique opportunity for the district. “This is the one evening, every year, that we invite everyone in the community as well as all of the elected officials to focus on education,” she said.
House Majority Leader Beth Harwell found a way during last week’s opening of the legislative session to put the brakes on crazy. Harwell does not suffer fools gladly. And she’s been none too pleased that, during her first two years in charge, the Tennessee legislature has became the laughingstock of the nation. We’ve made national headlines and been the punchline on TV for legislation to ban “gateway sex” (the “no-hand-holding bill,” as many called it), to allow teachers to question the science of evolution, to let people eat road kill, to protest a United Nations “communist plot” and to dictate the way men can wear their pants. But how do you rein in 99 representatives? Harwell came up with a way: limit the number of bills they can file.
In recent years, the General Assembly has considered amending the way public notices are handled in Tennessee. This is understandable. The communications world is changing, and newspapers, where many public notices historically have been published, are in transition. But the assumption that government could save money and still adequately notify the public by simply posting notices on government websites is flawed. The idea presupposes that web postings would be a cheap and easy alternative to newspaper publication. Yet, many local governments in Tennessee don’t maintain active websites now. Bringing web operations up to speed and keeping them there across Tennessee would entail large hidden expenses that legislators seeking to end newspaper notices largely have ignored. More important, though, is the effectiveness of public notice.
Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash’s resignation probably has some folks jumping for joy and others sorry to see the reform-minded educator give up the helm of the city schools system. The news came during a meeting Thursday night of the Memphis-Shelby County unified school board. Cash will remain superintendent through the end of January and will serve as an adviser to Memphis City Schools through July 31. Then he’ll receive a severance package of about $140,000, which is equal to about six months pay, plus $17,000 in moving expenses. Cash and Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken have been guiding the merger of the two school systems into one countywide school district that will begin operating in August. Cash’s resignation leaves Aitken as the leader of the effort.
What a year it has been for the former Lambuth University and its successor, the University of Memphis at Lambuth. The transition from an historic private university fallen on hard times to a thriving four-year public university in the heart of Jackson is nothing short of remarkable. The long struggle to save the former Lambuth University left many in the community, especially Lambuth alumni, heartbroken when the school closed. Many students were forced to transfer to other schools. The final graduation ceremony was as much a wake as a celebration of academic achievement. Lambuth faculty and employees faced unemployment and financial uncertainty. Too much cannot be made of the potential plight of the historic Lambuth neighborhood in the heart of the city.