Tennessee

The interim commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency remains unable to give an accounting of how many children died while under its care. The DCS has been the focus of scrutiny for months over how it kept records in the cases of children who later died.

More than 200 Tennessee children lost their lives or nearly died since 2009 after having some contact with the agency. The DCS has refused to release records related to the cases of the children who died, which led to a lawsuit by several media organizations.

In an interview with The Tennessean, Department of Children’s Services interim commissioner Jim Henry said the $27 million computer system the DCS has used to track children under its care appears to be improving. Henry has said he has full confidence that agency staff will make fixes.

Former DCS commissioner Kate O’Day stepped down earlier this month after the agency came under intense criticism from lawmakers and Governor Bill Haslam.

Lawmakers in Tennessee are watching Florida closely after the state’s conservative Republican governor went along with a major piece of the Affordable Care Act. Governor Bill Haslam is still on the fence about expanding the state’s Medicaid program – known as TennCare.

For the first three years, the federal government would pay the entire cost of insuring thousands of new TennCare recipients.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott said he could not “in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.” Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says having such a conservative leading the way could provide “cover” to lawmakers. But Governor Haslam would still have to sell an expansion, Ramsey says.

WKU Public Radio listeners certainly have heard of Tennesee Gov. Bill Haslam. The 54-year-old Republican from Knoxville has signed into law numerous conservative measures, including tort reform, charter school expansion, and an overhaul of the state's civil service.

But in an online profile, Politico describes Haslam as someone who has largely flown under the national radar, despite putting together "one of the most extensive conservative governing records in the country."

The article says other GOP governors could learn a lot from Haslam this week as the National Governors Association meets in Washington.

A bill to create an authorizing body for charter schools in Tennessee has been delayed. The sponsor now says he’s listening to critics, who say the legislation unfairly singles out Nashville and Memphis.

As written, the bill would give charter schools a way to open in Tennessee’s two largest urban areas without asking the school board – officially known as the local education authority or LEA. 

Rep. Mark White is the sponsor and says he could be on-board with a true statewide charter authorizer if local school boards do the initial vetting.

“If we go back to the LEAs – letting them have first input on this – this will be a statewide application,” said Rep. White.

There is confusion among the sponsors of so-called ‘Guns-in-Trunks’ legislation in Tennessee.  They disagree on whether employers could fire a worker for keeping a gun in their car at the company parking lot, even though it could soon be legal.

During a hearing in the House, Rep. Jeremy Faison said he believed a business owner could still terminate someone storing a weapon in a vehicle.

The legislation doesn’t specifically address the issue, but Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he believes gun-carrying employees will be safe from their bosses.

“I feel confident that if they fired someone and they said that was the reason, that employer would be in for a lawsuit and he would lose," says Ramsey.

A few Tennessee lawmakers are voicing concerns with a bill that aims to end any preference shown to minority groups on public college campuses. The legislation was delayed after a long committee hearing at the state capitol.

The proposal comes from out of state. A former university Regent in California who is an African American has helped pass similarly worded constitutional amendments in a few western states.

Ward Connerly says he’s attempting to re-level the playing field after years of informal affirmative action.

“We have evolved this theory that as long as we’re discriminating for good things, that that’s alright," said Connerly.

Original Emancipation Proclamation On Display in Tennessee

Feb 13, 2013

The original Emancipation Proclamation, a document that changed the lives of countless African-Americans during the Civil War, is on display in Nashville as the fragile historical document makes its only stop in the Southeast on a 150th anniversary tour.

The exhibit opened Tuesday — fittingly on President Abraham Lincoln's birthday — at the Tennessee State Museum and runs through Monday. It's a rare visit outside the nation's capital for the original document Lincoln signed in 1863 declaring "forever free" all slaves held in Confederate states rebelling against the Union.

Because lights are harmful to the papers, the document can only be viewed for 72 hours over the course of the six days. After Feb. 18, a replica of the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display until the exhibit ends Sept. 1.

Someone at the Department of Children's Services redacted numerous pages of information about child fatalities in meeting minutes that were provided to the media.

DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth told The Tennessean the department is still investigating who redacted the information and why.

Because the documents were redacted on a computer, it was impossible to tell that many sentences and paragraphs had been completely removed. These included potentially damaging information about caseworker actions.

The meeting minutes of the department's internal Child Fatality Review Team were requested by The Tennessean and The Associated Press.

The Tennessee Senate on Monday passed a bill to give people with handgun carry permits the right to store their loaded firearms in their vehicles wherever they are parked, brushing aside concerns raised by businesses and higher education administrators in Tennessee.

The chamber voted 28-5 to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville after rejecting Democratic efforts to add potential exclusions for businesses if they were approved by the state Department of Safety.

"If you allow people to come onto your parking lot then they have the right to have that firearm in the car," Ramsey told reporters before the vote.

Ramsey has been pushing for the quick adoption of the bill to avoid a repeat of a drawn out fight last year between gun advocates and the business lobby.

Plant Expansion in Northern Tennessee to Add 70 Jobs

Feb 11, 2013

State economic development officials say auto transmission products supplier U.S. Tsubaki Automotive plans to expand its facility in Portland, TN, adding 70 jobs in the process. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development says the company's expansion in Sumner County represents a $1.9 million investment.

Tsubaki Automotive offers state of the art power transmission products. The company supplies complete chain drive systems for engines and transmissions, including cam drives, balancer drives and oil pump drives. The systems typically include chains, tensioners, guides and sprockets.

Tsubaki's customers include General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Honda. The company plans to host a job fair February 11th at the Sumner County Career Center.

The so-called “guns in trunks” bill is up for a vote in the full Tennessee Senate Monday, and it now appears set for smooth sailing in the state House. Speaker Beth Harwell says the controversial measure will likely pass her chamber.

The bill is revised from last year, when Harwell and other Republican leaders prevented it from coming to a vote at the wishes of big employers.

“By limiting it to gun carrying permit holders put some safeguards in place. And the liability issue, we just had to address that. That’s just something we had to do for business,” said Harwell.

The legislation includes immunity for the property owner if someone is shot with a gun stored in their parking lot. However, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce is still opposed, saying that business owners should have the right to prevent firearms from being brought on to their property, including parking lots.

Tennessee's hospitals are playing out the “what if’s” as lawmakers consider whether to expand Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul. Their study says 90,000 Tennessee jobs could be lost if the expansion does not occur. 

Without expanding who is covered by Medicaid – known as TennCare in Tennessee – hospitals say there could be a “recessionary impact.” Hospitals agreed to cuts that total billions of dollars, believing they would see fewer uninsured. But that assumption is in jeopardy.

State Senator Brian Kelsey is trying to prevent the state from expanding Medicaid.

“Look, my job is not to bail out the special interest hospital lobby. My job is to represent Tennessee taxpayers," said the Germantown Republican.

An education advocacy group in Tennessee is pushing for teacher candidates to face higher academic standards before they even begin taking college classes.

The move by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education comes after Tennessee education officials linked teacher effectiveness to better ACT scores.

It said some colleges and universities admit teacher education students who score as low as 15 on the college admissions test.

A score of 21 on the ACT is considered the standard of readiness for college.

Closely watched legislation in Tennessee that would allow guns to be stored in cars – even on someone else’s private property – is headed for a vote in the full state Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the so-called “guns in trunks” measure against the wishes of some of the state’s largest employers. Bill Ozier, chairman of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, says plans to expand or invest in the state hinge on whether a corporation can still keep weapons out of their own parking lots.

“It is certainly more of a concern than you might otherwise think," said Ozier.

The bill has yet to begin making its way through the Tennessee House.

The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has resigned amid scrutiny of how her agency was handling cases of children who died after investigations of abuse and neglect.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced in a news release Tuesday that Kate O’Day had decided to resign because of concerns that she had become the focus of attention rather than the children the agency is meant to serve.

Haslam last week defended O’Day’s leadership, even after the agency told a federal judge it couldn’t say with any certainty how many children died while in its custody.

DCS had been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 150 children who died after the state launched abuse or neglect investigations.

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