State efforts to close down Taft Youth Development Center and transfer some of Tennessee’s toughest teen offenders to other state facilities are creating a flow of delinquents into some county lockups, reports Andy Sher.
“All I’m hearing is the detention centers are holding them until there’s an opening [at state facilities] and it’s piling up and bottlenecking,” said Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, who was among area lawmakers opposed to closing the 95-year-old center in Bledsoe County.
Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth denied in an email that there are problems related to shuttering Taft. It houses offenders ages 16 to 19 with at least three prior felony convictions, or those convicted of violent crimes or who have proven difficult to manage in other state facilities.
“We aim to place all Youth Development Center-eligible youth within 30 days of their commitment,” Sudderth said in the email. “On June 14, 2012, the average length of stay for a youth waiting in detention before being placed in a Youth Development Center was 14 days.”
A year ago, it was 22 days, she said. Area lawmakers also pointed out that the final closure has been delayed from July 1, the start of the new budget year, to July 13. But Sudderth said, “We would argue that there is no delay.”
…Richard Bean, superintendent of Knox County’s Richard L. Bean Juvenile Detention Center, said the state has been sending more teens there since Taft’s closure began. The state contracts with Knox County to hold delinquent juveniles.
“We had very few state kids, three or four [before]; you stay a few days,” Bean said Friday. “We’ve been running 30 a day … but we’re down now to 22 state kids. They don’t have anywhere to put the kids.”
He noted that many counties, including Hamilton, don’t contract with the state. In his immediate area, he said, “we’re the only guy in town.”
“They call and say, ‘Can you hold this kid until we find him a bed” either in a detention center or a foster home or group home. “As soon as they have an opening, they come get them.”
Bean said the state pays $132.88 per day per teen, but he doesn’t want to take in more than 25 at a time.
“They’re sending the good ones to someone else and the mean ones to me,” he said.
Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green said Saturday that it’s taking longer for state officials to pick up some of the teens she sentences.
“They’re staying a long time,” said Green, who was commissioner of the Department of Youth Development, DCS’ predecessor, back in the 1990s.
Green said two teens she knows of are “well beyond 30 days.” She didn’t know if they are headed for a youth center or other care, but said if the state is prioritizing those destined for the centers, “what about the ones who aren’t getting out because the others are getting preference?”
News release from Beacon Center:
NASHVILLE–Nearly 60 percent of Tennessee voters support school vouchers, or opportunity scholarships, according to a survey released today by the Beacon Center of Tennessee and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. This comes as a task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam meets next week to analyze how such an initiative fits into Tennessee’s overall education agenda.
The Beacon/Friedman poll found voucher support was highest among parents, urban voters, Republicans, young and middle-age voters, and African Americans. Overall, just 31 percent oppose the idea, while 59 percent support it. When asked what led them to choose their response to vouchers, voters’ most frequent answers were “choice,” “flexibility,” or “freedom.” Support for vouchers was nearly identical to that for charter schools, which have a 61 percent approval rating.
Vouchers allow parents to use a percentage of the funds apportioned for their children’s public education on private school tuition. Vouchers gained fame in 1990 when Milwaukee, Wisconsin adopted a voucher program for low-income students, an idea that has since spread to other states.
Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who once was New Jersey governor and then EPA administrator, made a pitch for the new political movement Americans Elect in a Knoxville speech, reports Georgiana Vines. She said people are growing increasingly disillusioned with the two-party system and concluded that neither the Republican nor Democratic parties deserve their support anymore.
“That is why I agreed to serve on the board of an organization called Americans Elect. It’s a nonpartisan effort to hold America’s first-ever online presidential nominating convention and to secure a place on the ballot for its presidential ticket in every state in the nation,” she said.
She said more than 2.5 million signatures have been amassed on petitions and earned a place on the ballot in 25 states.
Ileana Wachtel, Americans Elect national press secretary, said Friday the group is awaiting certification from the secretary of state for its candidates to be on the November ballot in Tennessee.
“We filed nearly 80,000 signatures (in Tennessee),” she said.
Blake Fontenay with the secretary of state’s office said a little more than 37,000 signatures have been verified and they need a little more than 40,000. They have until Aug. 16 to get on the ballot.
Whitman said the ticket will include a presidential candidate from one party and a vice presidential candidate from the other.
House Republicans soundly defeated a raft of Democratic attempts to revise their plans for state spending of $31.4 billion in the coming year Thursday and, by a closer margin, put down rebellion against closing a Taft Youth Center.
The end result was a 66-39 vote for HB3835, the budget bill submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam. It includes virtually everything that Haslam wanted along with some additions.
The additions, however, are in conflict with Senate plans and leave uncertain the prospects for enactment of the budget in time to adjourn the 107th General Assembly this week as leaders had planned.
The Senate will take up the budget today. As approved in committee, it includes several special projects that the House has axed.
The longest debate in the House – if not the most heated – came on an effort led by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to block Haslam’s plans to close the facility for juvenile offenders in Bledsoe County.
The Haslam administration is opposing a last-ditch effort by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to keep Gov. Bill Haslam from shutting down the state’s Taft Youth Development Center, reports Andy Sher. Sexton acknowledges winning his effort will be “extremely difficult.” Sexton has a budget amendment that would provide nearly $12 million to continue the Bledsoe County center for criminal teens. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes said Tuesday the administration opposes the move to preserve the 96-bed facility.
The administration, which hopes to save $8.5 million annually through Taft’s closure, already is moving Taft’s residents to the state’s four other facilities. “I think Taft was studied very carefully and we can offer the same service at a lower cost somewhere else,” Emkes said. “We’re trying to spend taxpayer dollars wisely.”
He said many Taft employees will be able to work at the soon-to-open adult Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, which is located near Taft. Sexton acknowledged getting colleagues to agree to the amendment in the face of administration opposition “will be extremely difficult.”
Tennessee got a grade of “C” last week in a “state integrity” national rating of state governments, an averaging of some areas wherein our fair state warrants an “A” and others wherein it warrants an “F.”
The review was conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. No state got an overall “A” (eight got an overall “F”) and Tennessee’s numerical score of 77 was actually eighth best in the nation.
(Note: National overview HERE; Tennessee scorecard HERE; Tennessee narrative story HERE.)
Employees at Taft Youth Development Center soon will be getting 90-day termination notices in anticipation that the new state budget won’t have any funding for the Bledsoe County facility, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said Friday that officials have met with Taft staff pending the release of the notices to about 150 employees remaining at the center in Pikeville, Tenn., that holds some of the state’s toughest young offenders. A new prison for adults — Bledsoe County Corrections Complex — has been built within eyeshot of Taft, and some Taft employees could get jobs there, she said.
“There is an administration amendment to the budget that, if the budget passes, then the Department of Correction would have the money to employ 168 people for the Bledsoe County Corrections Complex beginning July 1,” Sudderth said.
Hiring at the new prison will be accelerated if Taft is closed, she said. The prison is expected to create up to 400 jobs, officials have said. State inmates will be moved into the new state prison in early 2013. Passage of a Taft-less budget would shutter the 90-year-old facility on July 1, Sudderth said. Meanwhile, in Mental Health...
Facing expected closure this summer by the state Department of Mental Health, some 60 employees of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute already have left for other jobs, according to the News Sentinel. The remaining 314 on Monday will receive notice that their jobs will be terminated in 90 days, with the countdown to start April 1. Tennessee Department of Mental Health Director of Communications Grant Lawrence said the notice is to comply with labor law, contingent on the General Assembly’s approval of the department’s plan that includes closing the facility June 30, with “limited staff” still present.
“We don’t want to overstep the boundaries of the General Assembly,” Lawrence said, “but we have to comply with” the 90-day notice policy. He said the state’s human resources department has been working out severance packages for remaining employees, though he didn’t have details.
Job fairs at Lakeshore have connected potential employers with Lakeshore staff as well. Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney in November announced his plan to overhaul East Tennessee’s mental health support system.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Once upon a time in Congress, compromise between Republicans and Democrats was the norm. And a witty GOP senator named Bob Dole was one of the best practitioners of the art, preferably on a West-facing balcony of the Capitol where he could get sun on his face while lawmaking.
Nearly 16 years after Dole left the Senate to run for president, the balcony is named for him. And the former Kansas senator is half of a pair of leaders being feted in Washington for their century of combined service and for practicing this thing called bipartisanship that seems lost, for now.
“All I know is I don’t have to make a speech,” Dole, 88, said in a telephone interview before the festivities. He said he’s feeling a bit better lately but still suffers from chronic back pain.
Dole’s predecessor as Senate Republican leader, Howard Baker of Tennessee, also was being honored Wednesday night by the non-profit group they helped found, the Bipartisan Policy Center, dedicated to “great moments in compromise by encouraging civil, respectable political discourse between the political parties.”
That sounds quaint after more than a year of divided government mired in standoffs over the nation’s troubled economy and, lately, a selection of long-settled social issues like access to contraception and the Violence Against Women Act. So polarized is Congress in the 2012 election year that centrists like Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson are fleeing.
In fact, Dole and Baker, both former presidential candidates and veterans of World War II, were at the center of such historic moments of bipartisanship. They could each be conciliators and fierce partisans.
Baker, 86, served in the Senate from 1967 to 1985 and was the senior Republican on the congressional panel investigating Watergate. He is famous for asking the question of his fellow Republicans: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
His calm demeanor was considered key to passage of the 1978 Panama Canal Treaty, which called for the gradual transfer of the canal to Panama. He served as Senate majority leader from 1981 to 1985.
The equally steady and acerbic Dole was his successor as leader of the Senate Republicans. He developed a reputation in the Senate of valuing thoughtful discussion over incivility in lawmaking, and, wounded in World War II, became a leading advocate for veterans and disabled Americans generally. He was a key to passing the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
“I think the Senate operated more effectively then than it does today,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., one of the hosts of the tribute. “But I don’t think it would make much to change it today. It would take a change of behavior rather than a change of rules.”
News release from National Center for Science Education:
All eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences — including a Nobel laureate — have signed a statement (PDF) expressing their firm opposition to House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893. Both bills, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” HB 368 was passed in April 7, 2011, but SB 893 was stalled in committee until March 14, 2012, when the Senate Education Committee passed a slightly amended version.
The scientists object to the misdescription of evolution as scientifically controversial, insisting, “As scientists whose research involves and is based upon evolution, we affirm — along with the nation’s leading scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences — that evolution is a central, unifying, and accepted area of science. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming; there is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals (‘creation science’ and ‘intelligent design’) and there is no scientific evidence against it.”
The scientists also object to the encouragement to teachers to present the so-called scientific weaknesses of evolution, which, they contend, “in practice are likely to include scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution. As educators whose teaching involves and is based on evolution, we affirm — along with the nation’s leading science education organizations, including the National Association of Biology Teachers and the National Science Teachers Association — that evolution is a central and crucial part of science education. Neglecting evolution is pedagogically irresponsible.”
Their statement concludes, “By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools, HB 368 and SB 893 would miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.” The statement is signed by Stanley Cohen, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986, Roger D. Cone, George M. Hornberger, Daniel Masys, John A. Oates, Liane Russell, Charles J. Sherr, and Robert Webster; all eight are members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific organizations.
— Note: As explained by Sen. Bo Watson in committee, his amendment (which had not been posted on the legislative website four days after adopted in committee) deletes the word “controversial” and replaces is with “debated or disputed.” That may well be, as the release suggests, a matter of ‘slightly amending” the original version.
By Kristin Hall, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Since opening five years ago, the Tennessee Fusion Center has become the state’s centralized database for criminal information and records that aids analysts in discerning patterns in criminal activity throughout the state.
Fusion centers like the one in Tennessee were created after 9/11 to address gaps in communication about potential criminal and terrorist activity between law enforcement agencies on the local, state and national level.
Agents who oversee the center say the information they gather is leading to the prosecution of criminal gangs, the recovery of abducted and missing children and increased awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee.