New data released by the Tennessee Department of Health show that one-third of child fatalities in the state in 2011 could have been prevented. The list of preventable deaths includes those children that died by abuse, murder, drowning, suicide, and suffocation.
The Volunteer State’s annual report on child mortality comes at a sensitive time, as state lawmakers are scrutinizing the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services for its role in investigating child abuse cases where the child later died.
The Tennessean reports children are more likely to die in the state before they reach their 18th birthday than in most other states, surpassing the national average of 52 deaths for every 100,000 children.
Still, Tennessee health officials also noted the 802 children who died in 2011 represent the lowest number of youth deaths reported in the state in five years.
Bills in the Tennessee legislature that attempt to block the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state are unconstitutional, according to a just-released opinion from the state’s top lawyer.
The Tennessee Attorney General memo says the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause trumps state statutes, making it unlawful to nullify firearms laws made on the national level. He goes on to say the state legislature also can’t take a backdoor route and criminalize the enforcement of gun laws in Tennessee, which is exactly what a bill from Senator Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet does.
“I think he has an opinion just like the rest of us have an opinion,” says Beavers.
She says she will continue to push her legislation anyway, arguing that the Tenth Amendment gives states the right to govern themselves.
A new retirement system being contemplated by the Tennessee legislature would require new state employees and school teachers to potentially work more years. And their guaranteed money would be cut by roughly a third.
State Treasurer David Lillard says change is necessary because any new hires are adding to the state pension’s unfunded deficit. His plan would move to what’s known as a hybrid pension system, which has been adopted in states like Georgia and Virginia. It shifts more of the responsibility of saving for retirement to individuals in an effort to decrease the state’s exposure to volatility in the stock market.
However, the new retirement plan would include some guaranteed money, which Lillard says is important.
“We do believe that in order to get an employee a much better opportunity to have a truly sufficient benefit, you need a floor, basically,” says the Tennessee Treasurer.
A new report shows Tennessee with the fastest-improving high school graduation rate in the nation. The Tennessean reports Volunteer State education leaders hope to reach the 90 percent diploma threshold by 2020.
The report shows the Tennessee high school graduation rate has improved by 6.5 percentage points since 2001, with an average annual growth rate of 1.25 points between 2006 and 2010. During that time period, Tennessee improved at nearly double the national rate.
The report is the combined effort of the groups Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.
In Tennessee, 80 percent of high school freshman say in school and graduate as seniors. That’s better than the national average of 78.2 percent.
Nationally, 200,000 more students received high school diplomas than in 2006, a trend driven by big gains in African-American and Hispanic graduation rates.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says Republican losses at the polls last fall were mostly due to poor messaging and problems with mobilization on the ground. He also believes comprehensive immigration reform would be a big boost to the nation's economy.
Speaking at the winter meeting of the Republican Governor's Association in Washington, D.C., Haslam told Politico Republicans lost the argument with President Obama over whether wealthier Americans should pay more in taxes, and the impact that would have on the overall U.S. economy.
The Tennessee Republican says his party needs to do a better job of convincing the American public of the problems created by the country's debt.
“The one message we haven’t gotten by is, we’re not doing any favors by continuing to pass the debt on down, and we have not done a good job for whatever reason of explaining it,” Haslam told Politico.
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.