This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has proclaimed March 1 as Arbor Day in Tennessee to recognize the importance of trees to our state. This year’s state celebration will be held in Knoxville, which has been designated a Tree City USA community for 22 years. “Arbor Day is important for reminding us how every community, regardless of size, benefits environmentally and economically from trees,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “We’re committed to improving and protecting our forest resources, both in rural and urban areas and are proud to join the city of Knoxville and their tree board to recognize Arbor Day.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed March 1st as Arbor Day in Tennessee to recognize the importance of trees to our state. This year’s state celebration will be held in Knoxville, which has been designated a Tree City USA community for 22 years. “Arbor Day is important for reminding us how every community, regardless of size, benefits environmentally and economically from trees,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “We’re committed to improving and protecting our forest resources, both in rural and urban areas and are proud to join the city of Knoxville and their tree board to recognize Arbor Day.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to attend an event in Columbia on Tuesday. The Republican governor is expected to speak at the Friends of Scouting Luncheon at First Baptist Church of Columbia. Later in the week, the governor and first lady Crissy Haslam are to be honored at the Boy Scouts Distinguished Citizen of the Year dinner in Knoxville on Thursday. The following morning he’s scheduled to attend a Knoxville Chamber breakfast.
As spring weather approaches in Tennessee, emergency officials and weather forecasters will launch a statewide campaign during the Tennessee Severe Weather Awareness Week to provide important weather safety information. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, along with the National Weather Service and the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters and other groups, are conducting educational activities and drills that started on Sunday and is running through Saturday.
Jenni Teeters is up by $200 after a few lucky spins on the slots. She’s betting the maximum on every pull, which means the rows of oranges, watermelons and cherries are each followed by a long, chiming chorus. Dim overhead lights turn everything a sickly red, save for the palm trees in each corner lit by coils of Christmas lights. Conspicuously absent from this little three-slot casino is the stench of cigarette smoke, but that is easily explained by the fact that Teeters is not in a casino. She’s in a utility-closet sized room at the University of Memphis, where the first-year doctoral student is helping lead a new behavioral study for the Gambling Clinic.
Charter schools have returned to the state legislature’s front burner. A proposed bill that is facing some bi-partisan resistance would allow the state to authorize new charters. Democrats are upset that the bill only applies to schools in Nashville and Memphis. And one Republican lawmaker – a former superintendent – says it violates the GOP’s belief in smaller government and local control. The woman behind the curtain is Beth Harwell, the Speaker of the House who represents a fairly affluent part of Nashville.
Locally elected officials in Davidson County are lining up to oppose a legislative attempt to take away the school board’s power to approve specific charter schools. On the eve of the legislation’s first major committee vote tomorrow, over a dozen officials told reporters Monday the legislation undermines the local school board, unfairly targets Nashville and is unnecessary. “This legislation is, for lack of a better term, horrid,” said Cheryl Mayes, who chairs the Metro Nashville Public Schools board.
Members of the Metro Council, the school board and the state legislature panned a bill that would take away Nashville’s ability to review new charter schools and urged Mayor Karl Dean and House Speaker Beth Harwell to walk away from it. Twenty-two elected officials from Davidson County gathered Monday at Legislative Plaza in an attempt to derail a bill that would set up a state body to review applications for school charters in Nashville and Memphis. The measure, House Bill 702, was introduced last week and is set to be taken up by a legislative committee today.
Ron Ramsey, one of the top gun rights advocates in the Tennessee General Assembly. Ramsey told The Associated Press that the ability to scrutinize the identities of people with handgun carry permits strengthens arguments that gun enthusiasts are worthy of carrying loaded firearms in public. “Having the handgun carry records open actually helps the cause of the Second Amendment,” he said in an interview Thursday. “Because people can go look at those and realize that they truly are law-abiding citizens.”
More than a dozen families claiming mistreatment by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services gathered Monday in Nashville to share their stories with Rep. Sherry Jones, a longtime critic of the state’s child protection agency. The families — mostly mothers and grandmothers — spoke of child custody battles, perceived violations of law by DCS caseworkers, and difficulties navigating what they described as a confusing and sometimes combative state system.
A Hamilton County lawmaker is challenging Republican colleagues to guarantee 1.1 million Tennessee seniors that their Medicare coverage won’t be harmed if they succeed in persuading Congress to grant the state control over most federal health care programs under a GOP bill. “Why do we feel we [state] would be able to do a better job of implementing our Medicare program?” Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, asked last week as the latest version of the controversial Health Care Compact bill came through the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.
Legislation that would create an “Office of the Repealer” remains on track despite getting bumped last week, according to the bill’s House sponsor, Franklin GOP Rep. Glen Casada. Originally placed on the State Government Subcommittee’s calendar for Feb. 13, Casada pulled House Bill 500, saying it was poor planning on his part. “I have three other bills to be heard and didn’t want it to be four. I’ll put it back on notice sometime within the next two weeks,” the House Republican Caucus chairman told TNReport.com Monday.
It’s enough to leave the chairman of the Tennessee Senate’s wrestling caucus tied in knots. Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is one of a growing number of political figures at the state and national levels furious over last week’s secret vote by the executive board of the International Olympic Committee to eliminate wrestling as an official Olympic sport in 2020. “We are outraged,” declared Watson, a one-time champion Baylor School wrestler, Monday. “It’s ridiculous. Wrestling is the oldest known competitive sport.”
Knox County officials, elected or otherwise, will no longer have a vote on the ethics committee under a proposal that will be further discussed today. In addition, officials are expected to study the scope of the committee’s investigative powers. The nine-member panel, which is designed to serve as a government watchdog, came under fire late last year after it reappointed two of its own without appearing to give consideration to 23 other applicants. The Knox County Commission in November then appointed a four-member ad hoc committee, comprised of commissioners and ethics committee members, to determine whether the panel needed an overhaul.
When Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced a wide-ranging tax plan last month, he said that the changes would net the state $2 billion over the next two years. That number wouldn’t exist, however, if it weren’t for a flourish of ingenuity from analysts in the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Currently, clothes are exempt from Minnesota’s sales tax, but Dayton wants to eliminate the exemption for any item of clothing that costs more than $100. There was just one problem, says Susan Von Mosch, assistant commissioner for tax policy in the Department of Revenue.
J.M. Smucker Company has reversed its decision to close its Memphis plant, announcing Monday — after receiving a 12-to-15-year tax break worth up to $6.3 million — it will stay to make peanut butter. The Memphis operation will continue to scale back its production of jams and jellies, most of which has moved to a new Smuckers facility in Ohio as the company announced it would in 2010. Smucker will add 65 jobs to the current 60 and invest $55 million in new equipment.The company expects to start making peanut butter in Memphis by summer 2014.
J.M. Smucker Co. is staying put in Memphis. The company has walked back the decision it announced in 2010 to close its Memphis plant and lay off employees by this year. That’s because Smucker is getting a tax break for a $55 million expansion it’s planning. The city-county Economic Development Growth Engine Board Monday, Feb. 18, approved a 12-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes benefit for the company, including the option for an additional three years. That would save the company several million dollars in taxes, and in return the company would keep 125 jobs in Memphis.
Erlanger hospital’s board of trustees voted Monday night to name Kevin Spiegel as the hospital’s new CEO, finishing a nearly yearlong search in 16 minutes, with no public discussion about the candidates. Five of Erlanger’s 10-member board approved Spiegel, who has been CEO at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis for the past five years. Three trustees dissented, Chairman Ron Loving did not vote, and trustee Jennifer Stanley was absent — though she named Spiegel as her top pick in a letter to the board.
Plan to merge geography, history classes to make time for language divides TN educators, state officials A state plan to move geography lessons into history classes to create more time for teaching the language skills measured by standardized tests has some teachers worried that students will lose out. Geography educators think combining the two subjects will cheat Tennessee students of information that’s increasingly important — a grasp of the geotechnical systems that create intelligence maps for the military, keep FedEx packages moving and create the mapping systems used in smartphones and cars.
The schools merger issue is moving again on several fronts less than six months before the first school year of the consolidation begins. The movement began with the release of a preliminary schools budget for the first year of the merger that shook many county and city schools parents out of the mindset that the merger would mean few changes at the school level. What shook them was a look at the staffing models for the consolidated school system and the elimination in county schools of vice and assistant principals as well as teaching assistants at some schools.
Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre wants the security systems at all of the district’s 88 schools to be reviewed by the end of the summer. McIntyre, in presenting his proposal Monday night to school board members, said the work would cost about $50,000 and would be done in two phases. SimplexGrinnell, the current security contractor for the district, in the next several days would begin with 27 schools, including Hardin Valley Academy and Powell Middle School.
Pandering for votes is never a good reason to sponsor legislation that will have a major impact on lives of constituents. And, of course, politicians should never meddle with the relationship between a doctor and a patient. And unnecessary procedures are potentially harmful to the medical profession. With one fell swoop, state Sen. Jim Tracy, who wants to be U.S. Rep. Jim Tracy, has succeeded at all of the above. Apparently, Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican, has as little regard for women in Tennessee as the man he wants to replace. Call the Republican primary for the Fourth Congressional District a race to the bottom. Current U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper — also, currently a physician — wants to keep his seat despite lying to his constituents about an improper relationship with a patient.
A move is under way in Tennessee to make the concept of “diversity” the favorite whipping boy for those caught up in the backlash rhetoric against efforts to promote equal opportunity in education. Such a move is not only misguided in trying to solve a problem that does not exist, it will set back efforts to open more doors in education for a range of disadvantaged individuals. Witness to this is that no less than 12 bills are pending in the Tennessee General Assembly seeking to stamp out any possibility that race, ethnicity, gender, past discrimination or lack of diversity can ever be factors in addressing the educational or public employment needs of our state.
Local school board elections long have been nonpartisan affairs in Tennessee, and we believe they should stay that way. But some state lawmakers want to change state law and add political partisanship to school board races. Even worse, there is another effort to elect school superintendents. Both ideas only would set back public education progress in Tennessee. Legislation has been filed by state Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville and state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, that would authorize county commissions, by a two-thirds vote, to convert school board elections to partisan affairs. One of the great stumbling blocks to school board operations has been board members pushing personal agendas.
Between emails and online bill pay, the U.S. Postal Service has been caught in a downward financial spiral. In the last budget year, USPS recorded a $15.9 billion loss. In response, postal workers will stop delivering mail on Saturdays, except for packages, which will still be delivered six days a week. With a proposed cost savings of $2 billion annually once fully implemented, we think the plan is a solid one and say it’s about time. In the plan, which goes into effect in August, mail will be delivered to homes and businesses only from Monday through Friday. Post offices open on Saturday would remain open and mail still be delivered to post office boxes.
Stanford University ratcheted up interest in online education when a pair of celebrity professors attracted more than 150,000 students from around the world to a noncredit, open enrollment course on artificial intelligence. This development, though, says very little about what role online courses could have as part of standard college instruction. College administrators who dream of emulating this strategy for classes like freshman English would be irresponsible not to consider two serious issues. First, student attrition rates — around 90 percent for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes.