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Press Releases

Kyle to Address Women’s Issues at Women’s March on Capitol

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; January 12, 2015:

Kyle: Democrats may be in minority, but women are a strong voice

NASHVILLE – State Sen. Sara Kyle will address women’s issues, including equal pay and abortion rights, at the Women’s March on the Capitol in Nashville Tuesday.

“Democrats may be in the minority, but women are a strong voice,” state Sen. Sara Kyle said. “We’re expecting an unprecedented attack on women this year, with Republican legislation aimed at the private medical decisions women have to make, while ignoring the economic health of their families.”

The Women’s March on the Capitol is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 13, the day the 109th General Assembly begins its 2015 session.

For more information, click here.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Quality of State’s Workforce Questioned

One of the messages that came out of Gov. Bill Haslam’s education summit last week was a complaint from employers that’s not entirely new: It’s hard to find good help these days.

Amid discussion about the state’s education system, a few attendees said issues preventing a labor-ready workforce ran a little deeper than what the reforms of the past few years have been getting at. In a nutshell, there’s a significant element of Volunteer State’s workforce, especially at the entry levels, that can’t do basic high school math, don’t communicate or take directions very well, have trouble passing drug tests and oftentimes exhibit a general aversion to hard work.

Greg Martz, a Tennessee Chamber of Commerce board member and plant manager at DuPont, said the problems facing employers are fairly straightforward. The younger generation, in particular, lacks “interpersonal skills,” which he in part blames on their overuse of texting and other modern phone technology. And they also tend to have trouble solving real-world problems, which he theorized might have something to do with an overemphasis in public-school classrooms on rote memorization rather than critical thinking.

Ken Gough of Accurate Machine Products in Johnson City agreed.

“Math skills are very weak, analytical skills are very weak, the ability to solve problems, very weak. Drug testing? It’s a real problem with the entire workforce,” said Gough, a voice for Tennessee’s small business community at the governor’s “Progress of the Past Present an Future” conference. “Just the understanding that they have to show up every day for work, on time and ready to go to work, those are things that quite literally have to be taught.”

He added that while some of these problems are “not primarily a school problem,” schools could help provide solutions.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, said he’s heard it all before. A year ago, Gardenhire told the crowd of conference attendees, he made inquiries among representatives of Japanese-owned companies doing business in the Southeast as to what could be done to encourage the hiring of more Tennesseans.

While he had expected to hear issues with infrastructure and taxes, Gardenhire said it came to a “unanimous three things” that weren’t those at all.

“Number 1 was your workforce can’t do ninth grade math. Second, your workforce can’t pass drug tests. And third, your workforce won’t work. They don’t have a work ethic,” Gardenhire said he was told.

Gardenhire said all those are components of what he’s telling kids around Chattanooga when he goes on local motivational-speaking tours. He said he informs students that what they need to do to achieve success in life is “learn math, stay off drugs and show up on time for work.”

The invitation-only education forum was called by Haslam and the Republican speakers of the General Assembly, and featured several presentations on the reforms enacted over the past several years and discussion of the state’s education system by all of the major stakeholders in education, including lawmakers, teachers, administrators, parents and business leaders.

Haslam said that the plan was not to come out with some statement from the group at the summit, but that this was just the “beginning of a discussion” about what issues face Tennessee, how we got to where we are and what some “potential paths” are for the future of the state’s education system.

During one of the summit’s discussion periods, Randy Boyd, chairman of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, emphasized the need to focus on “talking about K to J, not K to 12,” in order to “be at the point where high school graduation equals college readiness.”

“Our alignment needs to be aligned with the workforce needs, not necessarily with anything else,” Boyd said.

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Press Releases

Norris: Congressional Reauthorization of Debbie Smith ‘Critical’ to Processing Rape Kit Backlog

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 19, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN, September 19, 2014 – – Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) said today congressional reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act will be of tremendous help to accurately assess and reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence from open rape cases in Tennessee. The U.S. Senate passed the bill yesterday, which had already received approval in the House of Representatives, sending it to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

“The funds provided through the Debbie Smith Act are essential in providing state and local governments with the resources to work through the backlog of evidence in untested rape kits,” said Senator Norris, who is Chairman of the Council of State Governments. “That is the first step in getting the perpetrators off the street so that justice can be served for the victims and survivors. I appreciate our congressional leaders for supporting this legislation which will greatly help in our efforts to identify and prosecute offenders in Tennessee.”

Norris sponsored legislation this year requiring all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage, and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The reporting of untested kits is required under the new federal act.

“With this report, we are already positioned to move forward in our application for funds after the bill is signed by the President,” added Norris. “DNA evidence has revolutionized the way we both apprehend and prosecute rape cases. Courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt.”

The TBI report showed 44 police agencies had a combined total of 9,062 untested rape kits statewide. The highest number was 6,942 by the Memphis Police Department, followed by 394 untested kits at the Knoxville Police Department, 249 at the Jackson Police Department, 200 at the Metro Nashville Police Department, 179 at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, 126 at the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, 104 at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and 99 at the Chattanooga Police Department.

Norris also passed major legislation this year to repeal the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. The new law pertains to acts committed on or after July 1, 2014 or offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired.

“We made significant progress this year in working to identify rapists and bring them to justice, as well as providing the tools for law enforcement to prosecute cold cases. This should help in our efforts to provide justice for the victims of this heinous crime,” he concluded.

Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States, with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests.

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Press Releases

TN Senate Holds Hearings on Criminal Justice Reform

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 16, 2014: 

(NASHVILLE, TN), September 16, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is presiding over hearings today on reforming the criminal justice system in Tennessee.

“We must keep the public safe and hold offenders accountable in a way that protects taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Kelsey. “Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated the criminal justice system in over twenty years. We can learn from other states that have successfully used data to reduce costs and increase safety.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Kelsey, is currently conducting hearings on criminal justice reform during its annual summer study committee. The subjects of the session are: 1) How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) What other states have done, and 3) Suggested changes for Tennessee. Expert witnesses and Tennessee participants are discussing such topics as truth in sentencing, pretrial release, reentry programs, probation and parole reform, community-based corrections, and reducing recidivism rates.

The scheduled participants for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Deputy Tennessee Attorney General Amy Tarkington
  • District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District, Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Tipton Counties
  • Paige Edwards, Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference
  • Rebecca Silber and Nancy Fishman, VERA Institute of Justice
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • John Summers, Executive Director, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • James Musice, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
  • Richard Montgomery, Chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Justin Owen, President/CEO, Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • David Raybin, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Justyna Scalpone, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender
  • Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Christopher Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • Thomas E. Tique, Chief Deputy Attorney, Tennessee General Assembly Office of Legal Services
  • Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee
  • Charles White, Director, Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents
  • Judge John Everett Williams, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Press Releases

Ketron Receives Nat’l Security Award for Work to Prevent Homegrown Terrorism

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 11, 2014:

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2014 – – State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) will be awarded the National Security Eagle Award by ACT! for America at an event tonight in Washington DC. Ketron is set to receive the national honor at the organization’s fifth annual national conference which will be attended by members from 875 chapters from across the nation, in addition to 9-11 family members and American wounded warriors.

ACT! for America is the nation’s largest national security movement with over 280,000 active grassroots members from various political parties and religions. It is an issues advocacy organization dedicated to effectively organizing and mobilizing the most powerful grassroots citizen action network in America.

Ketron sponsored Tennessee’s “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” to cut off the support for terrorists who are planning to commit acts in Tennessee and curb the incidence of homegrown terrorism. He filed the bill in the wake of homegrown terrorist shootings at Fort Hood, Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas, which targeted U.S. soldiers.

Recently it was reported that as many as 300 Americans are fighting alongside ISIS, the most radical group of jihadists who claimed responsibility for the beheading of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Homegrown terrorism remains a tremendous threat to the U.S.,” said Senator Ketron. “Recent developments continue to show that this threat is not only real, but can happen in any state, any town and any community. I appreciate this recognition from ACT! and will continue to work for the safety and security of our citizens. The 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack should continue to serve as a reminder to all Americans that we can never let our guard down as there are those who are willing to hide behind innocent citizens to reign down terror on this nation.”

Ketron will also attend a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Pentagon’s 9-11 Memorial on Friday.

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Press Releases

Harper, DCS Chief to Hold Forum on Woodland Hills Escape

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; September 5, 2014:

NASHVILLE – State Sen. Thelma Harper and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry will host a community forum to discuss public safety concerns following the escape of 32 teens from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center.

“We want to be sure that we are doing everything we can at Woodland Hills to ensure not just the well-being of the young men in custody, but also safety of the neighbors who are concerned by recent events,” state Sen. Thelma Harper said.

Commissioner Jim Henry will answer questions from members of the community.

“We want the neighbors to be safe, and we want them to understand the work we do,” Commissioner Henry said. “It is just as important for us to hear what the neighbors have to say.”

The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9 at the Northwest YMCA at 3700 Ashland City Highway.

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Press Releases

Haslam, General Assembly Speakers to Convene Education Summit in Nashville

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; September 2, 2014:

Review of Tennessee’s progress, update on current status and discussion on future success

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell today to announce that key stakeholders of K-12 education from across the state will come together in Nashville on Thursday, September 18 for Tennessee’s Education Summit: Progress of the Past, Present and Future.

“There is nothing more important to the future of our state than getting education right,” Haslam said. “We are making historic progress in Tennessee, and as part of that progress there has been a lot of change and discussion. This is a chance to review where we’ve been, take a look at where we are today, and make sure we’re planning for where we want to go.”

“The progress our state has made in education over the past few years has been nothing short of remarkable. As the cause of reform continues, it is important to take stock and reflect on our past successes with an eye towards mapping our future progress,” Ramsey said. “It is now more important than ever to ensure we provide our students with a strong, world-class education rooted in Tennessee values. I look forward to this opportunity to listen, learn and discuss how Tennessee can build on its historic gains in education.”

“We need to ensure that Tennessee students are getting the very best education possible, so that they can compete on the global stage,” Harwell said. “One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is facilitate discussions with those stakeholders who are working with our children every day, and determine what progress we have made, and where we can do better. We have made significant progress, but there is more that can be done.”

Participants of the meeting will be educators, administrators, elected officials, business leaders, higher education officials and representatives from advocacy groups including the following:

Achievement School District
Drive to 55 Alliance
Professional Educators of Tennessee
State Collaborative on Reforming Education
Superintendent Study Council
Teach Plus
Tennessee Association for Administrators in Special Education
Tennessee Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
Tennessee Board of Regents
Tennessee Business Roundtable
Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Tennessee Charter School Center
Tennessee County Services Association
Tennessee Department of Education
Tennessee Education Association
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association
Tennessee Municipal League
Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents
Tennessee Parent-Teacher Association
Tennessee Principals Association
Tennessee School Boards Association
Tennessee State Board of Education
University of Tennessee

Four senators appointed by Ramsey and five House members appointed by Harwell will also participate in the summit.

Categories
NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

AG Issues Opinion on Kyle Senate Seat Vacancy

Tennessee’s top lawyer has waded into the issue of how to pick nominees for November’s general election to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Kyle.

Unless the executive committee members are selected at large, the candidates for Senate are to be “nominated by the members of the party’s county executive committee who represent the precincts composing Senate District 30,” according to Attorney General Bob Cooper’s opinion. The Shelby County Democratic Party’s website says that county executive committee members are “elected from each state House District in Shelby County.”

The executive committee for the county’s Republican Party has members elected both at-large and by district, according to the Shelby County GOP.

The AG released the opinion Thursday morning in response to a request from Kyle, who won a Shelby County Chancery Court judgeship on August 7, and is leaving the General Assembly after 31 years in the Senate. Kyle has said he’ll resign by the end of August.

Kyle was joined in making the inquiry to Cooper’s office by Memphis Democratic Reps. Antonio Parkinson and G.A. Hardaway, who, along with Kyle’s wife, Sara, and former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, have shown interest in filling Kyle’s chair.

On the Republican side, former U.S. Senate candidate and Memphis millionaire radio station owner Dr. George Flinn has indicated he’s considering a run. Barring a significant upset, though, the seat is expected to stay in Democratic hands.

According to the attorney general’s opinion, any House member currently running for reelection who has won their primary, but also wishes to run for the Senate vacancy, must withdraw from the House race before the party’s executive committee meets to make their selection. However, Cooper also wrote that if the candidate withdraws from that race, the party won’t be allowed to nominate another candidate.

The opinion was sought amidst some confusion about whether or not the caucus process the county party officials wanted to use would meet statutory requirements.

While he had not yet read the opinion Thursday afternoon, the spokesman for the Tennessee Department of State, Blake Fontenay, said the Division of Elections would “defer” to the the decision of the state’s attorney, and “would act consistently with their ruling.”

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Press Releases

Bell, Gresham Call on TN Board of Ed to Review New AP U.S. History Courses for ‘Negative’ Revisionism

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) have called on the Tennessee State Board of Education to conduct a review of the new framework and materials used in all Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) courses taught in Tennessee classrooms. The request was made by the lawmakers in a letter to Board Chairman Fielding Rolston and comes after widespread criticism that the new College Board framework for APUSH reflects revisionist views of American history that emphasizes negative aspects, while omitting or minimizing the positive.

Advanced Placement courses are college-level classes that students can take while still in high school. Most colleges and universities in the United States grant credit and placement for qualifying scores. The exams are produced by the College Board, a private company, which also is responsible for the SAT college admission test.

“There are many concerns with the new APUSH framework, not the least of which is that it pushes a revisionist interpretation of historical facts,” said Chairman Gresham. “The items listed as required knowledge have some inclusions which are agenda-driven, while leaving out basic facts that are very important to our nation’s history. We need a full review of the framework by our Board as to its effects on Tennessee students and our state standards. We have also asked the Board to provide a forum in which parents and other concerned citizens can let their voices be heard on the matter.”

Tennessee law specifies students in the state must be taught foundational documents in U.S. and Tennessee history. It also provides that instructional materials, specifically in U.S. history, comply with this state mandate.

The APUSH framework includes little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and other critical topics which had previously been included in the course. It presents a negative interpretation regarding the motivations and actions of 17th – 19th century settlers, American involvement in World War II, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.

In addition, the APUSH framework excludes discussion of the U.S. military, battles, commanders, and heroes, as well as mentioning many other individuals and events that shaped history like the Holocaust and American icons Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“The APUSH framework appears to differ greatly from Tennessee’s U.S. history standards,” added Chairman Bell. “This interferes with our state law and standards for U.S. history if our teachers focus on preparing their pupils for the AP examination, which is a very important test for college-bound students. We have worked very hard over the past several years to ensure that our students are learning history based on facts, rather than a politically-biased point of view.”

Approximately 500,000 students across the nation take Advanced Placement courses in U.S. History each year. Tennessee has worked diligently over the past several years to push students to take Advanced Placement exams as part of the effort to increase the number of citizens with post-secondary degrees.

Categories
NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Kyle Seeks AG Opinion on Filling His Senate Vacancy

The Shelby County Democratic Party is preparing to select a nominee to fill the vacancy Memphis Sen. Jim Kyle’s departure from the state Legislature will create. But the outgoing upper-chamber minority leader has concerns about how that process will unfold.

On Friday, Kyle, who is retiring after 31 years in the Senate, requested that the state attorney general issue an opinion that sorts out the legal issues surrounding how to select a nominee to run as his replacement to the General Assembly.

Kyle’s request comes on the heels of Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron, a former state senator, telling local party officials that there was confusion about the local caucus process they’ve indicated they will employ to select the nominee. Herron has concerns about the timing of the caucus, who can vote at the caucus, whether the decision would be made by a majority or plurality of votes and whether it would be a public roll-call vote or by secret ballot, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Kyle won a Shelby County judgeship on Aug. 7. and will resign from the Legislature after he’s sworn-in on Aug. 29. However, state law doesn’t provide for a government-run open primary when the timing of a vacancy in the Senate occurs so close to voters going to the polls in November. Instead, officials from the county parties are authorized to choose nominees for the general election ballot.

Democrats such as Sara Kyle, Sen. Kyle’s wife, and former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, who Kyle defeated in the 2012 primary, have expressed interest in the seat. Additionally, current Shelby County Tennessee House members Antonio “2-Shay” Parkinson and G.A. Hardaway, may also be looking to move to the General Assembly’s upper chamber.

Following the GOP-led redistricting in 2011, Marrero and Kyle found themselves opponents in the 2012 Democratic primary. After her primary loss, Marrero told TNReport that she felt “betrayed” by Kyle’s request to Republicans that he be drawn into a race against her instead of State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.