Governor Bill Haslam has presented to lawmakers the spending plan that includes a staffing shakeup at the troubled Department of Children's Services, a heavy investment into construction projects around the state and a large deposit into the state's cash savings fund.
The Governor also formally introduced his proposal to create a limited school voucher program in Tennessee to allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools. According to legislation filed in the Senate on Monday, the program would be limited to 5,000 students in the school year that begins in August, and grow to 20,000 students by 2016.
Haslam acknowledged the proposal will be "hotly debated" and Democrats issued a statement before the speech to criticize the plan.
A Tennessee judge has ruled that the state’s Department of Children’s Services must make public more information about the deaths of young people known to the agency.
A group of Tennessee media outlets, led by The Tennessean newspaper, filed suit against the Department of Children’s Services, alleging the department violated the law by refusing to provide records concerning children who died after being brought to the agency’s attention. At first, the DCS said it would make more records available, but then cited state and federal confidentiality laws as a reason to withhold the documents.
Two high-ranking Tennessee Republicans, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, recently announced they would seek legislative hearings into DCS practices.
The media outlets seek records related to 31 Tennessee children who died in the first half of 2012, as well as the cases of 206 young people involved in fatal or near-fatal incidents dating back to 2009.
Both supporters and opponents of Tennessee’s voter ID law are pointing to newly released statewide data to bolster their positions. Nearly four out of five provisional ballots cast in the Volunteer State last November were tossed out.
The Republican-backed voter ID law was passed in 2011. Supporters say it’s an effort to ensure voter integrity and prevent election fraud. Opponents say it’s an attempt to suppress voting among traditional Democratic constituencies, including the urban poor who sometimes don’t have a government-issued photo ID.
Under the Tennessee law, those who experience trouble at the polls on Election Day are allowed to cast a provisional ballot which will be counted later if election officials determine the person casting the ballot is a legitimate voter. According to the data released this week, a little over 1,600—or 23%--of the more than 7,000 provisional ballots cast in Tennessee last November were ultimately counted.
A Nashville civil rights lawyer told The Tennessean those numbers show some voters were disenfranchised.
Two high-ranking Republicans say they’ll hold legislative meetings to examine the state’s troubled Department of Children’s Services. The Tennessean reports House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey plan to announce meetings to be held later this month when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes in Nashville.
The DCS has come under intense criticism recently for refusing to share details about the cases of 31 children who died in the first six months of 2012. Those 31 children had previously been brought to the attention of the DCS, leading to questions about whether more could have been done to place the children in a safer environment.
Democratic Rep. Mike Turner has previously called for a legislative investigation into how DCS protects vulnerable young people in the Volunteer state. The New-York based group Children's Rights is also pressing Tennessee to get the DCS to release case records.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he wants to set Tennessee on a path toward boosting college graduation rates from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
Haslam has appointed Randy Boyd, chairman of wireless pet fence maker Radio Systems Corp., to help further that goal as his top higher education adviser.
Haslam said Boyd will join a working group tasked with finding ways to tackle what the governor called the "iron triangle" of affordability, access and quality issues for public colleges and universities in Tennessee.
The panel is made up the governor and the heads of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee systems.