This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A task force formed by Gov. Bill Haslam met Wednesday to examine Tennessee’s sentencing structure and look at ways to reduce the state’s high recidivism rate. The group held its second meeting since being formed by Haslam earlier this year. In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of the task force was the next step in that collaboration. “What we’re really looking at is ways to change our sentencing laws and to tackle our high recidivism rate with the ultimate goal of reducing crime,” said Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who is helping to head up the group.
Saturday is the last day for eligible Tennessee high school students to file the online application for the Tennessee Promise scholarship. The new program provides full tuition at one of the state’s community colleges for colleges of applied technology for students who meet the program criterion. As of earlier this week, Gov. Bill Haslam said more than 47,000 of the state’s roughly 60,000 students had signed up for the program. After filling out the online application, students will meet with a mentor to help them submit the necessary financial aid requests and college applications.
She was a shining beacon in an unfortunate era in the country’s history, and her memory is being burnished by improvements to a city park named in her honor. Gov. Bill Haslam and local officials Wednesday celebrated a $250,000 state grant for facility upgrades at the four-acre Gertrude Porter Park in the Greenwood community of Kingston. Porter, who died in 1998 at age 85, was the principal and teacher at the former Greenwood Colored School, where black children attended elementary school when segregation was the law of the land. Some 40 students in grades 1-8 went to the school each year.
Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam cast their ballots early on Wednesday. The Haslams voted this morning at the Downtown West early voting Precinct in West Knoxville. Haslam faces democratic challenger Charlie Brown from Oakdale in the November election. Early voting runs through Thursday. Election day is November 4.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration intends to award North Carolina-based manufacturer Measurement Inc. with a more than $100 million contract to develop and produce standardized tests for the state’s public schools. But it could be all for naught as lawmakers have indicated they have plans themselves to weigh in on the high-dollar business of testing in Tennessee after the state legislature reconvenes in January. The state notified five companies Wednesday that Measurement Inc. had the best evaluated proposal of companies that bid to create assessments for English language arts and math.
Tennessee’s top health department official is recommending that Fort Campbell use the state lab facility for testing for specific diseases, including Ebola. Dr. John Dreyzehner, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, told a round table at the military post on Tuesday that the state lab is close to Fort Campbell and could provide assistance. Some Fort Campbell troops recently deployed, as the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) assumed a role Saturday as the headquarters unit for the military mission in Liberia. The troops joined soldiers from all five services who are providing engineering, health care training and logistical support to USAID, the Armed Forces of Liberia, and the Government of Liberia.
Tennessee’s highway director has delayed $400 million in road projects until fiscal 2016 because of uncertainty over future federal funding. John Schroer, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, notified state lawmakers in a Friday letter that the 12 construction projects and 21 right-of-way acquisitions were supposed to be finished in fiscal 2015, which ends on Sept. 30 next year. “While these projects are only delayed and not canceled, they represent almost $400 million in transportation investments that could be helping to modernize our transportation network and reducing congestion and making Tennessee a more attractive destination for economic expansion,” Schroer wrote Friday.
In an apparent rebuke of the Memphis City Council’s efforts to roll back seismic building codes, the State Fire Marshal’s Office has notified local officials that recently amended standards for new homes fail to “afford a reasonable degree of safety to life and property.” The letter, dated Oct. 23 and sent to the Shelby County Department of Construction Code Enforcement, gives local officials 30 days to submit a “plan of corrective action,” which would have to be approved by the Fire Marshal’s Office. Although it doesn’t specify the actions prompting the directive, the letter follows City Council measures to suspend and amend seismic design and construction provisions to the 2012 International Residential Code, which the city and county adopted nearly two years ago.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is reminding Tennesseans to change the batteries in their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when they set back their clocks Saturday night for daylight saving time. Officials say the early warning of a smoke alarm can double the chances of survival by increasing the amount of time a person has to escape a fire in their home. Seventy percent of the fire fatalities in Tennessee last year occurred in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. For fire prevention tips, visit: www.tn.gov/fire .
The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to settle a dispute over whether the state must reveal the names of the workers who carry out executions to attorneys for 11 death row inmates. The question is part of a lawsuit by the inmates over whether the state’s lethal injection and electrocution procedures are constitutional. The lawsuit came to a standstill earlier this year after the state refused to turn over the names. Attorneys for the inmates say they need the information in order to determine whether the workers are qualified. Inmate Billy Ray Irick’s Oct. 7 execution was postponed last month in order to give the case time to work its way through the courts. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Dec. 18.
State lawmakers took questions from the Sevier County community on Wednesday about how they’d address some of the counties problems in the coming year. In attendance were state senators Doug Overbey and Steve Southerland along with State Representatives Dale Carr, Andrew Farmer and Art Swann. The first topic, education funding, a question brought up by Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters. Waters asked the panel if there was going to be a change in BEP funding. According to Waters Sevier County is out millions for education because of how much tax revenue is generated through tourism. Overbey offered a solution of including how much people actually make in the county to the formula or raising the base level from the state. The formula doesn’t consider that 60% of the county’s kids are on a free or reduced lunch.
Early voting for the Nov. 4 election comes to a close Thursday amid light turnout for races including the U.S. Senate, governor and four proposed constitutional amendments. According to data collected by the Secretary of State’s Office, voting through the first 12 days of early voting this year has been down by nearly 104,000 ballots, or 19 percent, compared with 2010. Forty-six counties have seen an early voting rates drop of at least 25 percent. The highest decreases have been in Crockett, Scott and Bledsoe counties, which have seen 50 percent fewer earlier voters. And Johnson and Fentress counties have seen 44 percent drops.
The most hard-fought of four constitutional amendments on the Tennessee ballot Tuesday pits two red state values against each other: disapproval of abortion and dislike of big government. And a new poll released Wednesday found the outcome is too close to call. In essence, Amendment 1 would give the state Legislature more power to regulate abortions. A Vanderbilt University poll of registered voters taken in May found 71 percent of respondents opposed to that idea. But while Tennesseans may not like the idea of giving politicians more power over their lives, many also oppose abortion. In a different question in the Vanderbilt poll, 39 percent of respondents said they were “definitely pro-life,” while only 25 percent labeled themselves as “definitely pro-choice.”
A poll showing a narrow margin of support for Amendment 1 in Tennessee has pushed local abortions rights and anti-abortion groups into action with less than a week left before Election Day. The amendment would grant the state Legislature greater power in regulating abortions in this state. In a seeming contradiction, both sides of the issue say their position protects women. And both sides say the other has presented inaccurate information. “To say ‘make clinics safer for women,’ they already are very safe and very regulated,” said Corinne Rovetti, co-director of Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health. “We don’t need politicians passing laws on issues that they have no idea what they’re talking about.”
Middle Tennessee State University’s annual poll is likely the first in the state to take a look at potential outcomes regarding the Tennessee’s proposed constitutional amendment on abortion. Partial results of the poll, released Wednesday, indicate a close vote may be in store for the amendment, popularly known as Amendment 1 because of its listing on the Nov. 4 ballot. If approved, it would specify that Tennessee’s constitution does not include a right to an abortion. The recent poll of 600 registered voters, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Results of the poll showed 39 percent of participants plan to or have voted for the measure, while 32 percent are against.
Saying he speaks for the unborn, Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Steve Gaines urged voters Wednesday to approve the hotly contested Amendment 1 abortion measure on Tennessee’s ballot — a conflict increasingly characterized by faith leaders’ dueling views. “We speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves,” Gaines said at an event at St. Michael’s Catholic Church that was organized by the pro-Amendment 1 group. “We speak for their civil rights. We feel like very few people do speak for their civil rights.” Some three dozen clergy members joined Gaines. They said approving Amendment 1 would allow the state legislature to enact “common-sense” abortion regulations and correct a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision they believe is in error.
Twelve area pastors gathered at Johnson City’s Westminster Presbyterian Church Wednesday to profess their favoritism for Amendment 1 in an announced press conference. If approved, the amendment to the Tennessee Constitution would add a new section to Article 1, inserting constitutional language empowering the legislature to enact, amend or repeal state statutes regarding abortion, including pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to protect the mother’s mortality. The measure would prohibit state funding for abortions. Though the amendment reads “The people retain the right,” any change to abortion laws would have to be generated by elected officials and passed in both the state Senate and House before voters could choose for themselves.
Ads dominating the airwaves for and against Tennessee’s Amendment 1 still may find a receptive audience. A sizeable share of voters haven’t made up their minds about the measure the gives the legislature more leeway to restrict abortions. An MTSU poll finds 15 percent of voters remain undecided. That block of uncommitted voters could be big enough to sway the outcome given that 39 percent of respondents supported the proposal, and 32 percent opposed it. Pollsters read the actual language of the amendment — instead of just summarizing it— to 600 registered voters and asked them if they would vote yes or no.
The Rutherford County Election Commission recorded 2,645 more early votes Tuesday for the Nov. 4 election. Early voting will continue today through Thursday. When counting the Monday and Tuesday votes to the total reported through Saturday, the new total reached 19,870. The election commission office serves as a polling place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during today through Thursday at 1 S. Public Square in Murfreesboro.
With a week to go until Election Day, Democrat Lenda Sherrell on Tuesday released a new television ad that seeks to counter Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ efforts to link her to President Barack Obama and also challenges the congressman to “come clean” about his voting record. “Sorry to disappoint you Congressman DesJarlais, but I’m not Barack Obama,” Sherrell, a retired accountant from Monteagle, says in the 30-second spot that began running Monday. “Now that I’ve come clean, why won’t you? Tell the truth.” Sherrell then takes the 4th Congressional District incumbent to task, charging, “you voted to turn Medicare into a voucher system and to raise the retirement age. Admit that you rejected a pay raise for soldiers but voted for retroactive pay for yourself and your Washington buddies.”
Only one state has reduced its unemployment more than Florida has over the past four years. And by a host of measures, Colorado’s economy now outpaces nearly every other state in the U.S. Yet Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, are both battling voter skepticism as they campaign for a second term. Their re-election challenge shows the limits of upbeat economic news among many voters who either haven’t seen much improvement in their own household finances or consider the recovery too weak to trust. In a two-steps-forward, one-step-back economy, bragging rights elude incumbent governors in both parties. Unemployment is down and consumer confidence is up, but wages have fallen or flatlined for many Americans.
Governments across the country face a significant fiscal dilemma: sacrifice yield on their bank deposits or assume more risk. Still reeling from the financial turmoil over the last few years, banks have recently told governments of all sizes that, because of changing regulatory requirements and business practices, the financial institutions may no longer be in a position to provide the mandatory amount of collateral to protect public deposits. This creates concerns about alternative ways to secure collateral as well as the need to develop new standards to protect taxpayer funds. The yield on many depository accounts is stuck at record lows, yet the cost to financial institutions of collateralizing or otherwise securing these accounts continues to increase.
In Pennsylvania, state agency employees’ email is purged five days after it is deleted. In New York, email is automatically discarded after 90 days unless an employee specifically tags it. And in North Carolina, executive branch email of any kind must be kept for at least five years. Every state has policies governing how long records are saved and when they can be purged—if ever. But those retention policies vary greatly across states. Often employees have to determine on their own whether to keep or delete an email. Many media and open government advocates fear that valuable information may disappear in states that allow email to be disposed of quickly and routinely. They say that states need to do a better job of preserving electronic communications, both for transparency and historical value.
When a group of Northeast Ohio colleges teamed up to help more local residents get their degree, they found that many students were in danger of not graduating because they were short just a few hundred dollars for class fees, books and even repairs to cars they relied on to get to campus. By spreading out small scholarships to students on the verge of giving up on school for such reasons, those colleges helped boost the region’s degree-attainment rate to 31.7% in 2013 from 28.9% in 2009, meaning more than three in 10 adults now hold college credentials. That result still trails those in places like the Chicago metropolitan area, which had a 36.1% rate in 2009 and improved over the past few years with a mix of programs. But the increase in Northeast Ohio is significant for a measure that normally notches up at a glacial pace.
The third problem in the past month and a half has forced yet another shutdown of the Spallation Neutron Source — one of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s prized research facilities — and created more difficulties in scheduling scientific experiments. On Monday morning, just a week after the SNS was restarted, the operating systems were brought to a halt because of the apparent failure of a vessel that holds the mercury target — where neutrons are produced by the constant bombardment of a proton beam. The SNS, which has been mostly out of action since early September, will now be down for at least another 2½ weeks. “It’s a big source of frustration for everybody,” Kevin Jones, director of ORNL’s Research Accelerator Division, said Tuesday. “We’ve just got to work through it, solve the problem and move on. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Charter school operators who are being considered for the next round of schools entering the state-run Achievement School District are facing the most organized opposition effort in the three-year history of the district in Memphis. And some of the opposition that turned the first set of charter school get-acquainted sessions Monday into “save our school” rallies, turned out Tuesday, Oct. 28, as the Shelby County Schools board met. They found a school board and superintendent frustrated by misinformation about the ASD takeover process as well as the existing state laws governing how the Achievement School District selects schools from several dozen that are in the bottom five percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement.
Chuck Fleischmann and Mary Headrick made it crystal clear in their debate Monday night that the people of the 3rd District can’t stand another two years of Fleischmann’s “tirelessly” working to deliver the nothing we’ve gotten — unless you count a Grover Norquist “no-tax” promise as a sign of work. Fleischmann says he got the stalled Chickamauga Lock funding fixed, but he didn’t. The new lock’s completion is still unfunded and stalled, and Fleischmann still won’t completely commit to support a barge fuel tax disguised as a user fee that barge owners have requested as a way to get construction started again. Similarly he opposes Sen. Bob Corker’s proposal to use an increased gas tax to fund the nearly broke highway infrastructure fund. Why? Because the many new electric cars won’t pay that tax. Where does this guy drive?
If anyone had their minds changed from Monday night’s 3rd District congressional debate between Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Democratic challenger Dr. Mary Headrick, they probably hadn’t been paying attention before. The live debate, at the studios of WTCI, lacked the fireworks of the July Republican primary debate in the same place between Fleischmann and challenger Weston Wamp, who came within a whisker of upsetting the two-term incumbent in August. But on Monday, just eight days from Election Day, neither candidate interrupted the other, raised their voice or needed to rebut the other’s words.
Demonstrations by parents and other patrons of Shelby County Schools this week, at American Way Middle School, at an SCS board of education meeting and elsewhere, have demonstrated a level of concern and caring that most school districts would envy. When Yes Prep, a charter school operator from Houston, showed up at American Way to explain what it had in mind for the school it wants to manage, the crowd’s sincere but loud and rancorous reaction left scant opportunity for the operator to make its case. Imminent charter school takeovers leave parents concerned about the future of beloved teachers and the performance of people who are not familiar with their kids. Unfortunately that level of caring has not been enough to overcome test results that have landed the school among the state’s bottom 5 percent in academic performance and thus eligible for takeover by the state-managed Achievement School District, which was authorized by the General Assembly and for all practical purposes remains out of the hands of local officials such as the board of education.