Tennessee

Tennessee’s junior U.S. Senator is asking the White House to provide arms to certain groups within the Syrian opposition.

Republican Bob Corker wrote a letter to President Obama this week, urging him to allow lethal aid to vetted elements within the opposition who aren’t hardline Islamists.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Corker, the ranking member of the GOP on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued in his letter that providing arms to secular elements in the Syrian opposition would “shift momentum away from radical Islamist groups, the Assad regime and its militias toward more moderate elements and could help alter the balance of power on the ground at a time when negotiations over a political settlement have stalled.”

Some senior U.S. officials told the Journal that Corker’s proposal would have little more than symbolic value at this point, given that arms are already widely available inside Syria.

A recent report on the welfare of children in Tennessee highlights the importance of public programs.

State health and child welfare experts have released the latest Kids Count report, which this year examined challenges to raising children in Tennessee, and whether state programs are doing enough to help them.

Among the report's findings was that nearly half of the state's pregnant women don't receive adequate prenatal care, and less than a third of teens from poor families are finding work.

Linda O'Neal is executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth and was among those discussing the report.

According to The Tennessean, O'Neal said the poor economy has hurt the welfare of children in Tennessee, which "highlights the importance of public programs" like the one that provides in-home visits for families with newborns.

Haslam Signs Into Law Tennessee Grocery Tax Reduction

May 17, 2013

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed into law a reduction in the state's sales tax on groceries.

Starting July 1, Tennessee shoppers will pay a 5% sales tax on retail food items. That's a reduction from the current 5.25% tax and down from 5.5% in the previous budget year. The regular sales tax is 7%, while local governments can add an additional tax of up to 2.75%.

he reduction in the sales tax on groceries was part of Haslam's legislative agenda and was approved in tandem with cuts to the state's taxes on inheritance, gifts and income from interest and dividends.

Media organizations in Tennessee are balking at the amount the Department of Children’s Services is charging for copies of records related to DCS cases.

The media outlets have for months been seeking records for children with prior DCS contact who died or nearly died in the months leading up to July, 2012. After a judge ordered copies of 50 such cases to be handed over to journalists, the DCS tried to charge $9,000 for the records.

The Tennessean newspaper reports its attorney, Robb Harvey, has filed a complaint with the judge point out that the amount the DCS is seeking is nearly nine times what the judge had previously said was reasonable.

DCS attorneys say the extra costs are necessary so that paralegals can be hired and trained to review the case records that are being released to media.

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services is reviewing its actions after a 17-year-old boy the agency was supervising gunned down a fellow high school student.

The Tennessean reports the teen was released from the DCS's Woodland Hills Development Center for delinquent youth in December. He was required to have regular monthly phone calls and visits with a caseworker, but at the time of the April 11 shooting no one at the agency had been able to make contact with him for nearly two months.

Interim DCS commissioner Jim Henry said he believes the agency acted appropriately but is assessing its actions. Henry said there was little in the teen's past to suggest he was capable of murder.

The teen is in juvenile detention awaiting a June 28 hearing.

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has been ordered to provide media outlets with case files involving fatalities and near-fatalities of children under the group’s watch. A Davidson County judge say the DCS has until May 3 to turn over the initial batch of records being sought by Tennessee media organizations.

The Tennessean reports the state must provide the 50 most recent cases involving 2012 deaths and near-deaths of children under the supervision of the DCS. Initially, several media groups had sought 200 records.

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy says the case files will include information on how and why a child may have died or suffered critical injuries. McCoy also greatly decreased the cost the state wanted to charge the media groups for copies of the files.

State lawyers had initially set the price tag at over $55,000. That has been decreased to a little over $1,000.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he was as surprised as anyone that FBI and IRS agents locked down the headquarters of his family’s company Monday. He says all he knows is that they were looking for “certain records.” 

The governor remains a primary shareholder in Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J, though he has never disclosed the level of his investment. He stepped down as company president in 1998. Brother Jimmy has returned as CEO after leaving his post briefly last year when he bought the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

Gov. Haslam was asked by reporters Tuesday if he was worried about any appearance of impropriety.

“Well sure. To say you didn’t would not exactly be honest. That’s a business that my family is involved in, people I care a lot about. So to say that it doesn’t feel like a big deal is wrong," said the governor.

A bill is gaining steam in Tennessee that would allow teachers and other staff members with a background in policing to carry guns in schools. The Tennessean reports the measure is a compromise between those who want all teachers to be allowed to carry guns, and those who want to increase the number of armed security guards in Volunteer State schools.

The bill would allow school personnel who have worked as police officers to get certification allowing them to bring their weapons to work. Gov. Bill Haslam backs the plan, saying it strikes a good balance between cost considerations, school safety, and local control.

House Bill 6 is moving its way through legislative committees in Nashville and could reach the floors of the state House and Senate before the session adjourns next week.

Tennessee is making progress in fixing problems with the computer system that is designed to track abused and neglected children. The $ 27 million system, known as the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System, or TFACTS—has been wracked with problems since it was introduced in 2010.

The Tennessean reports federal monitors filed papers this week detailing progress made by the Department of Children’s Services in getting those issues fixed.

The statewide computer system was supposed to be able to handle the majority of DCS cases, including suspicions of abuse and neglect, as well as adoption and foster care cases. But the system has been blamed for numerous problems, including a failure to produce reports regarding children who died while in agency custody and an inability to pay Tennessee foster parents.

DCS caseworkers say TFACTS is difficult to navigate and frequently kicks them out of the system halfway through writing reports.

A proposal meant to put more armed guards in Tennessee schools has begun moving forward in the General Assembly. It offers money for schools to hire retired police officers and allows teachers with law enforcement backgrounds to carry a gun to class.

Whether a retired officer hired part-time as a security guard or a teacher already on the payroll, both would have to go through at least 40 hours of special training.

The legislation has the backing of Governor Bill Haslam and has trumped other proposals aimed at more broadly allowing teachers to go armed to class.

Some Republicans still want to mandate armed guards in every school, but others say the only reason they support this bill is because it doesn’t. Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville says schools aren’t as dangerous as they’re made out to be.

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