This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam brought a message of thanks to the Arnold Community Council (ACC) Thursday night during the group’s annual fundraising dinner at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center. Speaking to a group of roughly 300 military and business guests, Haslam thanked the council for “the way this base and the whole Arnold Engineering Complex has served our country.” Having traveled recently to Afghanistan, Haslam said he’d had the privilege of seeing a place that “despite all the difficulties” was a “very, very different country” compared to a visit he’d made there a few years before. “When we were there before, there were about 800,000 children in school (equivalent to our K-12); today there’s about 8 million.
More than 2,000 educators plan to swarm Nashville this week as the state Department of Education kicks off its largest conference of the year. The annual Tennessee Educational Leadership Conference, or LEAD, runs from Monday to Wednesday at the Music City Center. “LEAD is an opportunity for school and district leaders to reflect on progress, lessons learned, and priorities for the year ahead. It is designed to support and celebrate Tennessee education leaders,” said Ashley Ball, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. While there are dozens of workshops planned during the course of the event, the theme of the conference is “Tennessee Promise.”
After a worrisome day that left many jumpy Memphians wondering if Ebola had reached the Bluff City, good news hit Sunday night in the form of a negative test. The concerns surfaced early Sunday morning, when physicians at Methodist University Hospital quarantined a man who presented some symptoms of Ebola. At the time, hospital officials said they were acting out of an “abundance of caution,” but the news still caused concern among many Memphians. Hospital officials sent the man’s blood to the state department of health for tests. The good news came back just after 8:30 p.m.
As Ebola fears continue to fester, health officials say the fixation on the disease is distracting Americans from a virus that poses a far greater threat: “Flu represents a clear and present danger, and every year too many Tennesseans unnecessarily die from this common illness,” warns Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner. “We need to put things in perspective. Every year the flu can result in the deaths of roughly 35,000 people. It can hospitalize a couple hundred thousand,” adds Jennifer King, spokeswoman for the North Georgia Health District. “Flu can kill you, too,” says Connie Buecker, communicable disease program manager at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
Lisa Epps, a campus ministry assistant at Double B Boys Ranch in Millington, doesn’t ask much from the state of Tennessee for taking care of children in need of a good place to live. Donations to Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes pay for their food, lodging, school supplies and other needs. But for 15 years, she has relied on TennCare — the state’s Medicaid program — to cover the cost of physicals, eyeglasses, dental appointments and medications. She says she can’t count on TennCare anymore. “Nobody wants to do anything,” Epps said. Staff at the organization’s Brentwood campus are encountering the same problems, said Kelly Campbell, regional vice president for Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee is urging lawyers across the state to use their influence with other residents to promote passage of Amendment 2, drawing protests and a call for her resignation from opponents of the proposed change to the state constitution. In a letter sent via email to all members of the Tennessee Bar Association, Lee said that her high school math teacher and “many others” have contacted her seeking explanation and advice on how to vote on Amendment 2, “once again illustrating that voters do listen to lawyers and judges for guidance on issues relating to the law and our court system.” “With two weeks remaining in this election, it is important to remember that your opinion matters to your friends, neighbors, clients and colleagues who will be going to the polls,” she wrote.
GOP state Rep. Mike Sparks and Democratic challenger Mike Williams are taking similar approaches to a state House election that’s not new to either of them. The two Smyrna residents are vying to represent the state House’s 49th district, which includes La Vergne and parts of Smyrna, for the second time in a row. Sparks, a two-term incumbent, defeated Williams with 58 percent of the vote in November 2012. Sparks, a small business owner, said he wants to continue to serve the district to highlight the issues he and his constituents want addressed. If re-elected, he said he wants to focus on what he sees as a need for mass transit in Rutherford County and the cost of college textbooks at state universities.
Spurred by reports that some poll workers in Monroe County have provided “misleading” information to voters on the proposed abortion amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has demanded state officials make it clear to all 95 local election commissions that such activity is unacceptable. In her letter on Friday to Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the organization is “very troubled about reports that poll workers are distributing misleading and clearly partisan information” on all four of the proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution. That includes Amendment 1, which would change the state constitution and hand new powers to state lawmakers to enact new laws on abortion.
Democrat Lenda Sherrell’s campaign plunked down nearly $200,000 for television ads during the 15 days leading up to early voting in her Nov. 4 challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, filings show. The expenditures accounted for the bulk of the retired CPA’s $253,785 in spending from Oct. 1-15. Filings with the Federal Election Commission on Friday also show Sherrell outspent DesJarlais more than 3-to-1 during the period in the 4th Congressional District race. DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician, disclosed spending $76,468 during the 15-day period. The bulk of DesJarlais’ expenditures — $47,391 — went to direct mail during the Oct. 1-15 period. He didn’t start running television ads until after the report ended.
Good weather and a bad economy helped, but Memphis and surrounding areas have cleaned up smog so effectively that federal regulators could soon declare the region in compliance with the Clean Air Act — a move that would make it much easier to recruit manufacturing jobs. With this Friday marking the end of the reporting season for ozone pollution, Shelby County officials say data over the past three years indicate the area met the strict standards enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2012. If the federal agency agrees, an area encompassing Shelby, Crittenden and part of DeSoto counties would be reclassified from “nonattainment” to “attainment” of air-quality standards. The change would do more than affirm that local air is cleaner and healthier than it’s been in decades.
Kingsport’s public school system and Vincent Gould, one of its middle school students, are hoping to SCORE wins Monday. Kingsport City Schools is in the running for the SCORE Prize for most improved school district the second year in a row. The system will compete with two other districts, one of which has won the prize in the past and both of which competed in the past. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, known as SCORE, will announce the winner for the 4th Annual SCORE Prize starting 6 p.m. central time (7 p.m. eastern time) Monday, Oct. 27, at Laura Turner Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, in Nashville. More information on SCORE and the SCORE Prize is available at www.tnscore.org.
Tennessee legislators recently heard testimony that encouraged them not to let political expediency drive state policies in regard to criminal justice administration. The advice came from an official with the Heritage Foundation, which describes itself as a “conservative research think tank.” John G. Malcolm, senior legal fellow for the organization, last month told the state Senate Judiciary Committee that “criminal justice practices and reform efforts should be data-driven with meaningful performance-based measures.” The legislative committee held two days of hearings as state officials are trying to address several issues: • increases in the prison population in the state • increases in the number of state prisoners that local jails are holding • effects of “truth in sentencing” law • alternatives for incarceration that include community-based diversion programs and use of drug, mental health and drug courts.