This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Despite reports Tennessee Promise has already fallen short, officials with Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 said quite the opposite. Nearly 60,000 high school seniors across the state applied for the free community college program. A third of them were dropped for missing deadlines. Some 20,000 applicants either missed the first mandatory meeting or failed to fill out the federal financial aid forms as required. Program director Mike Krause said 38,000 seniors met the requirements. He called that a success. “We know that of that initial applicant pool, there were always students who were perhaps going to pursue a 4-year education or join the military,” Krause said.
One of Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s questions to about 40 educators gathered in the Stratford STEM High School library was if they feel valued. Thanks to the hour-long roundtable discussion hosted by McQueen many felt the answer was obvious. “It’s great to know she is willing to hear what we have to say,” said Brian Harrell, a science and research teacher at the school. “You feel very valued when someone in her position comes to talk about education.” While Monday’s visit is partly to meet teachers — 20,000 in the state to be exact — it’s also a way for McQueen to learn about the state of education in Tennessee in the hopes that there can be fixes.
A state initiative to expand GIS development will soon begin collecting 3D mapping data in the Upper Cumberland region, which will help mitigate natural hazards and address land restoration goals. “This will give decision makers better information to plan for and mitigate floods and flood risks,” said Dennis Pedersen, director of state GIS Services. “And in terms of the byproduct we create … that’s used to help public safety, for when people call 911, and that there’s an accurate map that displays their location and [so] officials can respond to emergencies more effectively.” Tennessee GIS Services, part of the Office for Information Resources in the Department of Finance and Administration, recently announced a $670,000 federal grant to collect new data to further develop GIS mapping of the Cumberland Plateau, including the 14-county Upper Cumberland region.
State officials say driver license reinstatement centers in Memphis and Nashville will be open during extended hours on Saturdays for the next several weeks. In a Monday news release, Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said the Driver Services and License Reinstatement Center on East Shelby Drive in Memphis and the Driver License Reinstatement Center on Murfreesboro Road in Nashville will open for service from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 14, 21 and 28, April 11 and 18. Officials say the two centers are currently experiencing a high volume of customers seeking to reinstate driving privileges.
Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed cuts to mental health funding through TennCare that could impact tens of thousands of people. The possible 2016 budget cut would take 10 percent of funding away from TennCare’s case managers. Kelley Osborne is a client at the Helen Ross McNabb Center in Knoxville who wouldn’t have a case manager anymore if such cuts are approved. Throughout her life, Osborne has endured depression and bipolar disorder. “I do rely on case management. I rely on it quite a bit. And I don’t rely on it consistently, I have it there when I need it,” said Osborne. The Helen Ross McNabb Center is fighting proposed budget cuts. The proposed cuts would lower TennCare’s budget by 10 percent. That’s $10.5 million in state money and $30 million total.
The ice and snow may have melted this weekend, but the damage it left behind on middle Tennessee roads is easy to find. Tennessee Department of Transportation crews headed out Monday to patch up potholes. “We’re a little overwhelmed,” said Burel Tidwell with TDOT. “We patched all weekend and we’re going to be patching all week.” The damaging potholes are all over the Midstate, ranging from the size of a basketball to a small car. “You could bend a rim, bust your tire,” Tidwell said. Three crews a day will be out every day this week shoveling and spreading asphalt to temporarily patch the potholes. The job is a dangerous one. “You’ve got semis doing 70 mph in the lane right next to you, and we get hit quite often,” Tidwell said.
Many people are still dealing with the aftermath of winter, even with the arrival of warmer weather. Potholes are still a big problem and all that salt could be an issue, as well. A crew from the Tennessee Department of Transportation was on Briley Parkway Monday morning filling potholes with a cold patch mix of asphalt. The heavy rain forecasted for this week will slow down down those crews, but it will not stop them from filling potholes. “We’re doing everything we can to patch today, but for the rest of the week we’re going to be at a little bit of a loss. We’re going to try and do some cold patching. Even during the rainy moments, just because it’s so bad out there we want to get as many filled as possible,” said TDOT spokesperson Heather Jensen.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the government must show that it complied with state forfeiture laws — both procedurally and substantively — if it is going to seize someone’s property. Tennessee law says the state may seize land, homes, cash, cars or other property if they were used in the commission of a crime. The decision involved a Cumberland County man who was convicted of possessing child pornography on his home computer. The state issued a forfeiture warrant for the home of Charles Sprunger after his 2008 arrest. The opinion overturned the forfeiture of the home, saying the state didn’t follow the law.
The debate on school choice is underway in Tennessee Legislature and one measure, supported by Gov. Bill Haslam, is working its way forward. Last week the Senate Education Committee approved the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, sponsored by Chattanooga Republican Todd Gardenhire, on a vote of 8-0. nate Bill 999 would provide scholarships for private-school tuition t0 low-income students in the state’s worst-performing public schools. The total number of vouchers the state would award would gradually increase from 5,000 available scholarships in the 2015-16 school year to a peak of 20,000 from the 2018-19 school year forward. The fiscal note on the legislation indicates a cost of $125,000 for the Department of Education to implement the policy.
Legislation that would require all of Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies to ban racial profiling has passed the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 28-0 Monday evening. Previous efforts to require racial profiling policies have fallen short in the Legislature over the years. Lawmakers in 2005 ordered a comptroller’s study on the role of ethnicity in traffic stops by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. That study released two years later found that troopers were more likely to stop, search and arrest Hispanic drivers than whites or blacks.
Tennessee police agencies would be required to implement written policies banning racial profiling under a bill approved Monday by the state Senate. The “Racial Profiling Prevention Act,” sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, a white Republican lawmaker from Germantown, passed 28-0. It is one of several proposed bills introduced in the Legislature this year in response to last summer’s shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., as well as additional incidences of deaths involving unarmed black suspects by officers across the country. “Racial profiling has no place in law enforcement in this state,” Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told colleagues. “Senate Bill 6 would ensure that is the case. This is an idea whose time has come.”
The state Senate approved a bill Monday night that requires local law enforcement agencies across Tennessee to enact policies prohibiting racial profiling. The bill is still awaiting committee review in the House. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said the Legislature a few years ago passed a law encouraging law enforcement agencies to adopt such policies and since that time 37 agencies have. His Senate Bill 6, the Racial Profiling Prevention Act, requires them to adopt such policies before Jan. 1, 2016. The bill defines racial profiling as the detention or interdiction of an individual in traffic contacts, field contacts, or asset seizure and forfeiture efforts solely on the basis of the individual’s actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity or national origin.
Guns — where you can carry them, permit fees, what kinds you can own, etc. — will dominate discussion at the General Assembly this week. But there are several other measures that could spur debate if they come up in committee. Guns It’s gun week at the General Assembly. The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to take up 27 bills related to handgun permits, exploding ammunition and a vast array of Tennessee gun laws during its 3:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee is set to debate 22 gun bills at its 3 p.m. Wednesday meeting. One bill in a different committee would make someone who sells a gun or gives a gun to a minor or someone who’s intoxicated criminally liable for any crime committed with the gun. But most ease restrictions on where and when people can have guns.
A number of bills addressing gun use are set to be discussed this week in the state General Assembly. WBIR It’s “Gun Week” at the Tennessee Legislature. Subcommittees of the General Assembly will come together Tuesday and Wednesday to look at a number of different bills and proposals. Some of the bills aim at loosening gun policies here in Tennessee. Others look to tighten current restrictions. Guns in trunks and guns in parks – if the carrier has a permit – have been on the radar for a long time, but there’s one proposal that could bring big changes. Should Tennessee do away with the permits required for handguns? “The way I read it is anyone who doesn’t have a felony conviction can carry a weapon either concealed or unconcealed,” said Mark Coffey.
More than 1 million people in Tennessee work for employers offering workers’ compensation benefits that meet state law, but some employees could find themselves navigating new rules if companies get the chance to create individual policies. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, want employers that meet certain financial requirements to be able to craft individual, self-funded injury benefit programs rather than offer insurance coverage under the state’s law. There are 84,942 employers in Tennessee reporting to Tennessee’s workers’ compensation division, covering 1.06 million employees.
A state proposal to ban county employees, like teachers, from serving on county legislative bodies in the future has one Sumner County group questioning the motives of the lawmaker behind the bill. Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, is the lead House sponsor for the bill and a member of a “small faction” of Republicans in Sumner County, argues Sibyl Reagan, co-creator of local advocacy organization “Strong Schools.” Reagan said Rogers is pushing the plan as political retribution after several members of Rogers’ faction lost county commission races to candidates backed by Strong Schools.
The state legislature is working on a bill that would make it illegal to fly a drone over a concert, football game or other ticketed event without permission from the venue’s owner. The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Harrison (R-Rogersville) says he’s isn’t trying to look out for property interests or people’s privacy. He says it’s all about public safety. “I’ve got three or four friends that have drones and all three of them have had crashes. It’s one thing to crash in a tree out in the middle of a field. But if you crash in a football or baseball stadium, someone could possibly get hurt.”
A Hamilton County circuit court judge ruled Monday that Tennessee’s $750,000 cap on certain civil jury awards is unconstitutional, possibly triggering a Tennessee Supreme Court review of Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2011 tort reform initiative. “I must admit, when [the law] passed, I wondered by what authority” it was done, Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, an attorney and former Hamilton County General Sessions judge, said Monday. “I’ve never studied [the statute],” Carter added. “That was all done before I got here. I’d be interested at looking at it. But I haven’t studied it.” Monday’s ruling is the latest step in the complicated and long-running fight over tort reform, which in Tennessee was last tweaked in 2011 as part of the Civil Justice Act. That act decreed that doctors and other businesses are limited to personal injury lawsuit payouts of $750,000.
By Tennessee law, a handgun carry permit is an acceptable form of identification for voting, but a college student ID is not. Hedy Weinberg, American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee executive director, does not see the exclusion of student IDs for voting as a good thing for democracy in the state. “It creates a burden and obstacle on young people and those with lower incomes. It challenges their ability to vote,” she said. “We should be celebrating the opportunity to cast a ballot.” Other acceptable forms of ID include driver’s licenses, United State passports, photo IDs from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security or federal or state government, or military IDs.
Sen. Lamar Alexander said today that a bipartisan deal to overhaul the No Child Left Behind education law is nearly complete and will be ready for a vote in committee April 13. Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, has been working with the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. “We are making significant progress in our negotiations,” the pair said in a joint statement this morning. The current K-12 education law expired in 2007 and has grown increasingly unpopular for its focus on high-stakes standardized testing and the strong role played by the federal government.
After barely squeaking through his 2014 GOP primary last year, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee may have a new 4th Congressional District challenge next year. Grant Starrett, who worked for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and last year headed a group that fought against a proposed Tennessee constitutional amendment regarding judicial elections, has been sounding out fellow Republicans about a bid, sources say. “I’ve just heard that he’s thinking about it, exploring it,” said one Republican strategist. Another GOP strategist thinks it’s further along than that and that the 27-year-old Starrett, a Vanderbilt University law graduate, has been talking with Mark Braden, another GOP operative who worked in the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in 2014, and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in 2012.
President Barack Obama has chosen Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis as partner cities for a new initiative that seeks to build more tech talent nationwide. The $100 million program, called TechHire, will be carried out in 21 U.S. regions, bringing together businesses and schools to address the need for more software developers, cyber security experts and information technology engineers. The Nashville Technology Council will be involved in carrying out the initiative locally, as it corresponds with many of its efforts underway to support the Middle Tennessee tech sector. “It’s us working together as a community to help solve and address the talent gap problem,” said Bryan Huddleston, CEO of the Nashville Technology Council, who is in Washington, D.C., for the announcement of the program and a reception at the White House.
President Barack Obama on Monday unveiled TechHire, an initiative to invest $100 million in training and employing technology workers in 21 cities in the U.S., including Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. Memphis and other cities in 20 regions will compete for $100 million in Department of Labor grants to train and employ “disconnected” young people and low-skill workers with child-care responsibilities, disabilities and English language limitations. The initiative is aimed at helping fill more than 120,000 positions in those regions, according to a release from the White House. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton — who visited Washington, D.C., for the announcement — unveiled his own initiative Monday to pursue the grants.
The recession ended more than five years ago, but the financial squeeze left by the downturn lives on for a majority of states. Government revenues have been slow to recover across the country as sales-tax collections fall prey to many of the same forces buffeting the broader economic expansion, from cautious consumers who have seen scant growth in wages to a downturn in home construction that has sapped sales of building materials and furnishings. At the same time, states are facing down a decades-long shift in the economy to services from goods, leaving them to collect taxes on a shrinking number of purchases. Nationally, sales-tax receipts last year reclaimed levels—on an inflation-adjusted basis—seen in late 2007 as the recession arrived.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which has long relied upon coal and nuclear power to generate most of its electricity, expects energy efficiency and natural gas to meet most of its power needs in the next generation. For the first time in its 82-year history, America’s biggest government-owned electric utility doesn’t expect to start building any major new power plants for at least the next two decades. After finishing the Unit 2 reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant by December, TVA won’t need any more baseload capacity, according to a draft Integrated Resource Plan unveiled by the agency on Monday.
The Unit 1 reactor at the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant resumed power generation Monday, a week after an electricity fault caused the turbine to go offline and shut down the reactor. TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said the Sequoyah unit was restarted about 9:21 a.m. Monday morning and should ascend to full power by today. TVA workers corrected a wiring problem in part of the generator on the non-nuclear portion of Sequoyah. The Unit 1 reactor at Sequoyah near Soddy-Daisy can generate enough power to supply the electricity needs for two cities the size of Chattanooga. The Sequoyah unit tripped on March 2 just as TVA was reactivating the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant following a 9-day outage caused by a reactor trip last month.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has a new supersized 3D printer — perhaps the largest in the world — and plans to shift its research on additive manufacturing over the next few years to emphasize working with metals such as steel and aluminum. The goal is to lower the cost and increase the speed to make 3D printing a viable alternative for large-scale, mainstream manufacturing. The new machine is housed at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility off Hardin Valley Road in West Knox County. It’s capable of printing components up to 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall, according to Lonnie Love, head of the lab’s manufacturing systems research group.
School systems in Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga are already pursuing litigation to demand more state funding. But Nashville’s superintendent argues Metro Schools should stay out of court. In a letter to school board members, Jesse Register says he sees a legal challenge as a last resort. And with the replacement of lightning rod Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Register says now is the time to “work cooperatively.” “I ask that we exhaust every avenue to develop relationships and build partnerships to accomplish our common goals,” Register writes.
A new Volkswagen sport coupe may be produced in Chattanooga as part of VW’s effort to expand its vehicle production in North America. VW also unveiled plans Monday to invest $1 billion in Mexico to assemble a three-row compact sport utility vehicle. The Sport Coupe Concept GTE, a four-door fastback that debuted last week in Geneva, Switzerland, is viewed as replacing the CC and eventually could be built in the U.S., VW executives told Automotive News. One VW source said volumes no longer had to reach the 100,000 mark before it made economic sense to build in Chattanooga. That’s due to the flexibility provided by a new vehicle assembly platform being installed as part of the Tennessee plant’s current expansion.
Despite optimism that problems with provision of medical services to the nation’s veterans were moving toward resolution, one component of corrective action is getting off to a slow start. Access to private medical services is one way to deal with long delays in receiving care at Veterans Affairs facilities, but a recent report indicates that only 27,000 veterans have made appointments for private medical care. That number compares with the 8.6 million “Choice Cards” that the VA has sent out since November. VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald already has begun pushing for diverting of the $10 billion that Congress allocated to the choice program to other VA medical services, but is meeting resistance from Congress.