This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Less than 24 hours after he delivers his annual State of the State address in Nashville, Gov. Bill Haslam will participate in a summit to discuss school safety practices in Tennessee. The summit will take place in Franklin on Tuesday morning. Along with the governor, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and officials from the departments of Homeland Security, Mental Health and Emergency Management will participate in the event, along with representatives from state school districts.
Americans are getting more advanced college degrees. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of U.S. adults with a doctorate degree grew by 1 million, or 45 percent, while the number of a master’s degree climbed by 5 million, or 43 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Adults with only a bachelor’s degree grew by 25 percent to 41 million during that time. The number of adults without a high school or GED diploma decreased by 13 percent and fell to 25 million, the Census Bureau said.
Rogues are running a scam in Tennessee, sending mail that resembles an official state document asking businesses to pay $125, a state official said on Friday. Complaints first surfaced Jan. 22 about scammers going by the name Corporate Records Service confusing legitimate business operators into thinking a large fee is owed to the state, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett reported. The scam letters are appearing in the mail at a time when Tennessee corporations usually file their annual report with the Tennessee secretary of state.
Lawyers still unsure of child deaths A federal judge on Friday said he has become impatient with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services’ inability to accurately count child deaths and issued firm deadlines for officials to make improvements. Judge Todd J. Campbell ordered DCS to give child fatality records to a child advocacy watchdog group within seven days and to overhaul the department’s child fatality review process within 90 days. And the judge again questioned the reliability of department data and said time is running out for DCS to fix the computer system it uses to keep records.
Tennessee has declared a state of emergency as a precautionary measure to get emergency operations under way as the eastern portion of the state continues to see significant icing. An ice storm warning was issued from the Smoky Mountains, northward through Knoxville, Cumberland Gap and well into Kentucky. The National Weather Service said ice accumulations up to 0.10 inch per hour were expected into the afternoon Friday. Forecasters cautioned that driving was treacherous and that icing could bring down tree limbs and power lines.
Though a 2011 study reported more than 100 people were victims of human trafficking in Hamilton County, as of this week a statewide hotline had received 28 phone calls. “We don’t get a whole lot of calls on the hotline, frankly, because nobody knows about it,” said Margie Quin, assistant special agent in charge of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the study. The hotline was set up in October 2011. Quin was among state and local officials, including Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who participated Friday in a town hall-type meeting on human trafficking in Tennessee.
East Tennessee’s law enforcement community mourned Friday when a veteran Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper died after his cruiser slid off an icy Corryton road. Trooper Michael Slagle died from what appeared to be natural causes after he crashed on Longmire Road in northeast Knox County shortly before 7 a.m., according to a THP news release. Slagle at 6:51 a.m. reported his cruiser had slid off the road near the intersection with East Emory Road. He lived in the area. Emergency workers had trouble reaching the injured trooper because of icy roads.
Complex state insurance plans, constitutional hurdles and political consequences have all kept the University of Tennessee from delivering health insurance and other benefits to unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples, leaders told faculty members in a letter delivered earlier this month. In the letter, Chancellors Jimmy Cheek and Larry Arrington acknowledged that the school’s biggest challenge is a conservative Legislature that could react with a heavy hand — particularly when it comes to funding — should the school attempt to offer benefits for same-sex couples.
One local state lawmaker has filed legislation in hopes of better protecting Tennesseans online. On Friday, Germantown representative Brian Kelsey filed legislation to protect the privacy rights of readers who comment on online news articles. The bill, Senate Bill 106 shields news organizations from having to reveal any identifying information about folks who post comments online. The bill comes after the Shelby County Commission filed a subpoena in federal court asking for the names of those who commented on an article posted by the Memphis Commercial Appeal. A judge later denied that request.
A bill that could exempt planning commission members in some East Tennessee counties from disclosing their financial interests has been introduced by state Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Kent Calfee. Calfee, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Kingston, said HB15 was introduced at the request of Roane County Mayor Ron Woody. The measure also would apply in Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Rhea and Scott counties, which are included along with Roane in Yager’s district. Yager said the other counties were added because of a “communications error.”
State Rep. Rick Womick has joined a push to end payments for lodging for legislators who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol for time they spend overnight on the hill. Womick, R-Rockvale, reaped more than $13,800 in per diems last year, but is ready to give that up in support of a measure with state Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, who said the bill is a “big step” toward reforming Tennessee’s per diem system. Legislators who live within the 50-mile radius shouldn’t receive per diems for hotel stays, they say.
The group representing more than 1,000 Hamilton County physicians is dismayed that a bill proposed by state lawmakers to restructure Erlanger’s board of trustees won’t promise a doctor will serve as a voting member. “We think it’s important to guarantee there will always be at least one voting position for a physician,” Rae Young Bond, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society and Medical Foundation of Chattanooga, said Friday. But her argument met with little sympathy from Rep. Gerald McCormick, House majority leader, head of the delegation and the man who’s writing the bill to restructure the public hospital’s board.
Party’s dysfunction underlies fracas at holiday gathering When dozens of the region’s most prominent Democrats gathered for a holiday party at Metro Councilwoman Megan Barry’s Belmont-area home last month, what began as an evening of top-notch hors d’oeuvres and tasty cocktails quickly became a reminder that old political grudges die hard. In the case of Nashville school board member Will Pinkston and leading Democratic fundraiser Bill Freeman, such grudges seem to be thriving.
Today’s Tennessee Democratic Party chairmanship race appeared to be pretty close late Friday afternoon, according to party observers. The contest to replace current Chairman Chip Forrester is between party Treasurer Dave Garrison, of Nashville, and former Sen. Roy Herron, of Dresden. The state House Democratic Caucus, which endorsed Herron on a 14-12 vote a few weeks ago, was revisiting the vote Friday afternoon, according to party insiders. Herron is a relatively late entry in the race.
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith barred reporters from attending the party’s monthly board meeting Thursday, violating a national bylaw that promotes transparency. The Chattanooga Times Free Press later obtained a recording of the meeting at which members criticized Smith for endorsing mayoral candidate Andy Berke without board approval. And it emerged that District 8 City Council candidate Moses Freeman has been paying rent for the Democratic headquarters — about $675 per month, he said in an interview — in exchange for advertising space.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton used his state-of-the-city address Friday to renew his call for a half-cent sales-tax increase, saying the city needs the funds to support a prekindergarten program. “As I have said for many years, there is not a better investment we can make in the future of our community than to support early childhood education,” Wharton said. The mayor delivered a “candid but upbeat” address, laying out his accomplishments along with an ambitious agenda to tackle some of the city’s most intractable problems, including poverty, workforce development and blight.
Specifics of sweeping reform at local Juvenile Court become clearer One at a time. That is the most noticeable change so far at Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court as a result of a landmark settlement in November with the U.S. Justice Department. The children before the court come before the court magistrates one at a time. No more groups of juvenile defendants waiting for their case to come up as other cases are being heard. And at two recent hearings to determine if a juvenile should be transferred for trial as an adult, magistrates denied the request by the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office after victims of the juveniles said they did not believe they should be tried as adults.
Sen. Lamar Alexander supported President Barack Obama’s positions on Senate bills in 2012 more frequently than any other Republican senator from the South, an independent voting analysis shows. A study by Congressional Quarterly shows that on bills where Obama had a clearly stated position, Alexander voted with the president 62 percent of the time. Only Republican senators from Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska and Indiana had higher “presidential support” scores. Alexander’s presidential support scores in recent years include 63 percent in 2011 and 52 percent in 2010.
Republican 4th Congressional District candidate Jim Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville, this week announced new members of his leadership team. Among them: state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton. Watson’s appearance is interesting because state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, is eyeing running in the 2014 GOP primary, as well. But Brooks has made no final decision. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, is testing the waters.
Volkswagen said Friday it will build its best-selling Golf hatchback in Mexico, starting next year, as part of its efforts to build sales and production in North America, the weakest market for Europe’s biggest car maker. VW will build the Golf at its factory in Puebla beginning in the first quarter of 2014. The Golf vehicles will be sold in North and South America, and the production will be in addition to output of the model at VW’s home base in Wolfsburg and in Zwickau in eastern Germany.
Williamson County school officials want some relief from state budget requirements — to have similar freedoms that charter schools have — but county officials are not sure they want to relinquish those controls. The county school board this week endorsed legislation drafted by county schools’ attorney Bill Squires, called the High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act, which would allow a qualifying district certain freedoms, including the ability to reappropriate funds between major categories of its budget and use any unused fund balance in its budget without approval from its local funding body.
After weeks of complaints about Cornerstone Preparatory Academy in Binghamton, the state NAACP will ask legislators to pass a law allowing charter schools to be closed for more than financial instability and poor academic performance. “There needs to be some other options for the ways we hold charters accountable,” said Rev. Keith Norman, president of the Memphis branch of the NAACP. The issue is on the state NAACP agenda and will be presented to lawmakers in February, Norman said. “You can’t allow charters to exist in our community, to come in and set up shop and not be accountable beyond fiscal and performance-related issues.”
Teachers at three Seattle schools are refusing to give students district-mandated standardized exams, one of the most dramatic moves in an escalating fight nationwide over using test scores to evaluate teachers and schools. The Seattle boycott, which began in one of the schools and spread in recent weeks, comes after the district decided to make the tests part of Seattle teachers’ evaluations this year. But it follows long-standing complaints by the teachers that the computerized exams take up too much instructional time and force schools to close off computer labs for long stretches to administer the exams.
We are approaching the time of year for college application deadlines, when high school seniors must decide between pursuing a college education or a full-time job. Despite what skeptics might say, a college education not only increases the chances of being employed, but it also provides other advantages. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, college graduates have a far better chance — up to 68 percent better — of finding employment than their peers who did not obtain a college degree. And college graduates have a wider array of employment options. In addition, your knowledge about the world will expand dramatically by taking courses in subjects you would otherwise never read and learn about.
So now we know: Pinnacle Airlines Corp. is abandoning Downtown Memphis for Minneapolis. Given the state of the U.S. airline industry and the dire financial challenges for feeder passenger carriers like Pinnacle, the airline’s bankruptcy and its move to the frozen North are indeed a “punch in the gut,” as a partner in the One Commerce Square building said Thursday — but not a total surprise. The decision was made to relocate despite the best efforts of city and Downtown development officials to keep the airline’s headquarters in Memphis. Now it is time to put Pinnacle in the rearview mirror and move forward with other initiatives to keep Downtown vibrant.