October 24 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Deadline approaches for Tennessee Promise (Times-News)

Northeast State Community College will offer several sign-up sessions as a last chance to apply for Tennessee Promise before the Nov. 1 deadline and get the first two years of their college education paid in full. According to a news release, Northeast State will host four sign-up sessions from 3-6 p.m., Monday through Thursday at the main campus in Blountville, Northeast State at Elizabethton, and the Kingsport Center for Higher Education in the Academic Village in downtown Kingsport. Northeast State admissions representatives visited several local high schools during the summer and fall to advise applicants about Tennessee Promise. Tennessee Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program.

Haslam: Common Core Review Doesn’t Signal Retreat (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday insisted that his decision this week to hold a public review of Common Core doesn’t signal a retreat from the education standards in view of heavy criticism from teachers and tea party groups. Haslam, in a luncheon Rotary Club meeting at a Pulaski bank, said he wants to clear up what he called misconceptions about Common Core, but stressed that he’s not backing off more rigorous math and language requirements. “My commitment is to say we’re not moving on standards,” Haslam said. Common Core is a set of English and math standards that spell out what students should know and when, and they are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce.

Governor Haslam: Common Core comes under review (Business Clarksville)

Common Core. The new standards in education for English and Mathematics will come under public review in a process laid out by Governor Bill Haslam. Normally K-12 standards are reviewed in six year cycles but the growing controversy over the new standards has prompted officials to review them now. While Tennessee has made great strides in improving its educational standards, it still lags behind national averages. Common Core was designed to improved critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills required for post-secondary education and the workplace. Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday laid out a process for a public review of the state’s K-12 academic standards in English and math amid continuing discussion about Common Core.

Governor announces review of education standards (Nooga)

The governor’s office released details for an upcoming public review of Tennessee’s K–12 standards in English and math. The review typically occurs every six years, according to the announcement. Current standards have been in place for four years. But with growing apprehension about the state’s implementation of Common Core standards, Gov. Bill Haslam thinks it’s the “appropriate time to take a fresh look.” “One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “This discussion is about making sure we have the best possible standards as we continue to push ahead on the historic progress we’re making in academic achievement.” Part of the review process will include a website where citizens can review current standards and comment on them.

Haslam announces public review of Common Core (Tennessee Chalkbeat)

Four years after their Tennessee roll-out, the Common Core State Standards will undergo a period of intense review by the public and committees of educators, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today. “With these standards now in their fourth year, and with the discussion happening in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core state standards, Haslam believes this is the appropriate time to take a fresh look,” a press release from the governor’s office said. Standards are typically reevaluated every six years, putting this review two years ahead of schedule. The discussion around the Common Core, which are used to determine which skills students should learn for math and English, has been volatile.

Haslam makes campaign stop with Wirgau in Paris (Paris Post-Intelligencer)

Gov. Bill Haslam toured Henry County Medical Center and talked to local civic and business leaders as part of a visit to Henry County Tuesday. Joining him for the visit were State Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan, and State Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon Haslam and Wirgau both spoke at an informal reception at Paulette’s Casual Dining at 200 S. Market St. in downtown Paris. The visit was part of a series of campaign stops in West Tennessee, including one earlier Tuesday in Carroll County. “We’ve campaigned hard for about a year,” Haslam told the crowd of about 50. The governor said he was concerned at the low voter turnout so far in this year’s election.

Davidson sees unemployment rate drop to 5.5% (Nashville Post)

Davidson County saw its unemployment rate at 5.5 percent in September, down from 6.3 percent recorded in both August and July. According to statistics the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released today, Knox County (Knoxville) registered the lowest September unemployment rate (5.4 percent) of the state’s four major metropolitan areas. Of note, Davidson County had consistently enjoyed the lowest jobless mark of Tennessee’s “Big Four” counties for many months prior to now. Knox County saw its July jobless rate drop from a 6.3 percent mark in August. Hamilton County (Chattanooga) had a rate of 6.6 percent, down from 7.4 percent. The Shelby County (Memphis) rate was 8.4 percent, down from 8.9 percent. Tennessee’s unemployment rate for September was 7.3 percent, down from the August revised rate of 7.4 percent.

Chattanooga’s jobless rate drops to 6.4 percent (Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Unemployment fell to a seven-month low in the Chattanooga area last month, although household surveys by the Bureau of Labor Statistics continued to show a lack of job growth in the region. State agencies in both Tennessee and Georgia on Thursday reported lower jobless rates across Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia during September. But the decline was largely because of a decline in the number of people seeking jobs, rather than gains in overall employment. In the 6-county Chattanooga metropolitan area, unemployment fell in September to 6.4 percent, down from 7.3 percent the previous month. Joblessness fell even more in the 2-county metropolitan area of Dalton, plunging by 1.7 percentage points to 9 percent.

State: Montgomery County shows significant jobless decline (Leaf Chronicle)

Montgomery County’s monthly unemployment rate took a healthy dip between August and September, according to new figures released Thursday by the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development. Joblessness in Clarksville fell back below the 7 percent mark last month, declining 0.7 percentage point to the current 6.6 percent. The decrease was reflected in 5,000 Montgomery Countians categorized as unemployed by the state, out of an estimated countywide labor force of 75,290 people. For the four-county Clarksville, Tennessee-Kentucky Metropolitan Statistical Area, the declining trend held true as well. The new MSA jobless rate for September is 7.1 percent, down from 8 percent in August.

Tenn. Magazine names ‘best’ state parks (Associated Press)

Several Tennessee State Parks have been named “Best” in Tennessee by readers of The Tennessee Magazine. The publication announced the winners of its annual Best of Tennessee Readers’ Choice Awards earlier this month. In East Tennessee, Roan Mountain was named the best state park and Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park was named the best outdoor adventure for rafting the Ocoee. In West Tennessee, Chickasaw State Park was named the best state park, the best camping spot and the best hiking trail and Reelfoot Lake State Park was named the best outdoor adventure. And in Middle Tennessee, Fall Creek Falls State Park was named the best state park, the best camping spot, the best hiking trail and the best outdoor adventure.

Chatt. State Community College faculty delivers blow to Catanzaro (TFP/Hardy)

The larger-than-life college presidency of Jim Catanzaro took a major blow Thursday, as a faculty vote overwhelmingly cast doubt on his ability to lead. The vote by Chattanooga State Community College faculty capped weeks of questions on campus, which has become the subject of investigations from both the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. At issue is Catanzaro’s hiring of Chief Innovations Officer Lisa Haynes. Catanzaro was attending a scholarship fundraising event Thursday evening and could not be reached for comment. During a specially called meeting of about 75 members of the college’s Faculty Senate, professors expressed concern over Haynes, who was hired without a college degree and earns $108,000 annually.

Early voting numbers down over 2010 (Tennessean/Boucher)

Almost 225,000 people have voted since early voting opened, but that’s nearly 84,000 fewer than the number of votes cast at the same point leading up to the 2010 election. The office of Secretary of State Tre Hargett announced Thursday that 224,721 people had participated in early voting since it opened Oct. 15. At the same point in 2010, nearly 309,000 people cast early ballots. Early voting totals were down in all but three of the state’s 95 counties. “Each election is different. It could be there’s just less interest this time than there was in the 2010 election,” said Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for the secretary of state. “Or there could be other factors at work.” Fontenay said poor weather at the start of this year’s early voting period may have kept some people away from the polls.

Ballot language vexes voters in Hamilton County (Times Free-Press/Brogdon)

Local election officials say confusing ballot language has been the only hiccup during early voting for the Nov. 4 election. And local party heads say that, despite months of preparation, they are still looking for ways to educate their members. Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said while confusion about the four amendments on the ballot is “not pervasive,” it has been “the most common concern vocalized this election.” The four amendments, which cover abortion, income tax, judicial appointments and veteran fundraising, include arcane legal language. Further, they reference changing parts of the constitution without saying what is being replaced, and, in the case of Amendment 4, don’t give voters any indication of what the amendment aims to accomplish.

Voters report issues at Maury County polls (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Early voting is well underway, but several people in the same county said they cast “no” votes that were changed to “yes.” Several issues on this year’s ballot beg a simple question: yes or no? “I honestly sort of slapped my head and said, ‘Why me? Why did this happen to me?'” said Bernie Ellis, of Santa Fe. Ellis said he voted “no” on Amendment One Thursday. Before he submitted his ballot, he noticed a problem. “Sometime between when I cast my vote and when I got to the review page, the machine had changed my vote to a ‘yes,'” Ellis said. Beverley Turner, of Columbia, experienced the same issue last Friday when she tried voting “no” on the same position. Both Ellis and Turner voted at the Maury County Election Commission.

Alexander lays out three keys for Tennessee’s automotive industry (NBJ)

While sharing anecdotes on bringing Nissan’s first manufacturing plant to Tennessee during his time as governor, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander outlined Thursday three keys for the state to maintain its position in automotive manufacturing. Alexander, who was speaking at AutoConnect 2014, an auto industry conference hosted by Frost Brown Todd law firm at the Music City Center, first pointed to preserving Tennessee’s right-to-work status. “Defend the right-to-work law. That’s important and it’s under attack,” Alexander said, adding that union actions before the National Labor Relations Board “can send a real chill to efforts to recruit a tier-two supplier to Tennessee.

Alexander says he’ll replace several provisions ofAffordable Care Act (CA/Locker)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander acknowledged Thursday that the Affordable Care Act won’t be totally repealed if Republicans win control of the Senate, but he believes some provisions would be replaced, including a medical device tax that he says is costing jobs in Memphis. He said popular ACA provisions banning insurance companies from denying coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions and allowing young adults to age 26 to remain covered by their parents’ health policies will be left intact. In addition to repealing the medical device tax, the senator said, Republicans would also reduce or eliminate the higher taxes on high-deductible catastrophic care policies — but gave no further indication what other provisions of the ACA he will target for outright repeal.

Alexander responds to plaid-clad chicken (Daily News Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said any candidate who campaigns with a chicken dressed in plaid isn’t trying to run a “serious campaign.” “These are serious times …” he said. “Running around with a chicken is not serious.” The chicken is a gimmick for Democratic nominee Gordon Ball’s campaign and part of a bus tour criticizing the senator for Alexander’s refusal to debate before the Nov. 4 general election. “He won’t come out, he won’t come out and fight. He’ll fight on TV, and he’ll fight through his TV ads, but that’s it,” Ball said. The Alexander camp contends that they did indeed debate issues Oct. 16 at the Tennessee Farm Bureau forum at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.

Ball, others debate without Alexander (Tennessean/Garrison)

A few of them called global warming a hoax. Others are all for the legalization of marijuana. And some are ready to take all troops out of the Middle East. Six third-party and independent candidates staked out a wide range of positions as they joined Democrat Gordon Ball to debate national issues Thursday in a small conference room inside the Sheraton Nashville Downtown. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican incumbent whose seat they would like to take, wasn’t there. Alexander, a heavy favorite to capture a third term, has declined repeated invitations by Ball for televised debates. While the others tangled, he was traveling from Nashville to Murfreesboro to visit a medical supply company. He had just left Music City Center, located just a few blocks away, where he was the keynote speaker at an auto industry luncheon.

Tenn. candidates dismiss federal role on pot during Nashville debate (TFP/Sher)

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball said Thursday the federal government has no business regulating pot. “I believe the federal government should repeal any prohibition concerning marijuana,” the Knoxville attorney said during a Nashville debate with six third party and independent candidates. It appears to be the first time a nominee for statewide office in Tennessee from either the Democratic or Republican Party has said that. Equally unusual was that all six of the other candidates — who ran the ideological gamut from hard left to hard right — pretty much said the same thing. Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., did not participate in the debate, citing previous commitments.

Beyond the ‘Private Option’ for Medicaid Expansion (Stateline)

Less than a year after low-income Arkansans started receiving health coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s controversial Medicaid expansion, the state is declaring its so-called “private option” experiment a success.  Hospitals saw fewer uninsured patients, state coffers were spared millions in health care costs and private insurers reported record-low premium hikes. Most important, Arkansas’ uninsured rate fell from 23 percent to 12 percent, the sharpest drop in the country. But lawmakers in Arkansas have already asked the federal government for adjustments to their groundbreaking plan, under which Arkansans used Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance on the insurance exchange created under ACA.

Y-12 trains thousands to help prevent nuclear terrorism (News-Sentinel/Munger)

The threat of nuclear terrorism is real, perhaps inevitable, but — fortunately — Thursday’s security exercise at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was just a drill. The lessons learned, however, may someday help training participants avert the theft of radioactive source material and put the kibosh on a “dirty bomb” before it can be used to disperse fear and radioactivity across a populated landscape. In addition to its role in manufacturing and refurbishing nuclear warhead parts, Y-12 has become a national — and, to some extent, international — hub for counterterrorism training.

TVA installs free phone charger downtown (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Thanks to a TVA initiative, Knoxville has joined London among cities that offer free mobile device charging by way of solar-powered kiosks. TVA has installed a kiosk on Market Square in front of its downtown headquarters. It plays an informational video about TVA and its mission, but also provides six mobile device charging stations free for public use. “You can charge iPhone, Blackberry and Android devices,” TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said. It will depend on the device and how low its battery is, but the kiosk should be able to deliver a good charge in about 15 minutes, he said. There is no connection, but the TVA effort parallels a green project in London that has earned headlines lately.




Columnist: When Public Employees Won’t Budge on Their Benefits (Governing)

How bad can a school system’s finances get? Probably not much worse than Philadelphia’s, whose near-perpetual fiscal crisis almost prevented the city’s schools from opening on time in each of the last two years. Now a nasty fight over health-insurance costs between the commission that oversees the schools and the city’s teachers’ union is writing the latest chapter in the nationwide effort to rein in exorbitant public-employee benefits. The Philadelphia schools’ financial problems are longstanding The state took over the system in 2001, and it is currently governed by a School Reform Commission (SRC), three of whose five members are appointed by the governor and two by the mayor. Nearly all the stakeholders have pitched in to help address the district’s financial shortfalls.