By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services has adopted a new plan for investigating child deaths that it says will be faster and more effective.
DCS recently faced months of criticism for failures that included not knowing how many of the children in its care had died. That culminated in the February resignation of the agency’s commissioner.
The department is involved in two lawsuits seeking more information about how it deals with child deaths and whether the current reviews are effective. The Associated Press is a party to one of those suits.
Tom Cheetham, who has been appointed to the newly created position of deputy commissioner for child health, said recently the child death reviews are of vital importance in figuring out what went wrong and preventing future deaths.
However, 2012 meeting minutes obtained by AP with a public records request, showed that most reviews by the Child Fatality Review Team at that time didn’t discuss caseworkers’ actions or make recommendations for improvements. Some employees involved in the reviews have said they were nearly useless.
The new protocol requires a rapid response to ensure the safety of siblings or other children who could be at risk.
Following that, a review must be conducted within 90 days of a death. The review also takes a “safety systems” approach used successfully in hospitals and the airline industry. That approach looks for weaknesses in the system, rather than just individual wrongdoing, and tries to put safeguards in place.
DCS is required by law to review the death or near death of any child in its custody. It also must review deaths or near deaths where there was abuse or neglect.
The new protocol adds two new categories for review — where allegations or abuse or neglect had been investigated by DCS in the previous three years and where the commissioner makes a special request for a review.
Interim Commissioner Jim Henry said recently that the nonprofit Children’s Rights, which is involved in a longstanding lawsuit with the department over its treatment of foster care children, has praised the new process, saying that it could become the “gold standard” for the nation.
The overhaul of the child death review process was ordered by the federal court in the Children’s Rights case. The new protocol was filed with the court on Thursday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Monday gave his proposal for redrawing Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984.
The Blountville Republican’s plan would affect just eight of the existing 31 judicial districts. Ramsey said the plan had drawn the support of the association representing the state’s trial judges, who as recently as last week had opposed changing the current judicial map.
“We respect above all else the prerogative of the General Assembly to decide the judicial districts,” said Gary Wade, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. “In one regard we are in perfect harmony, and that is to deliver to the people of Tennessee an accountable judiciary, one that works as efficiently as possible.”
The proposal would create separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two judicial districts in northeastern Tennessee made up of Lake, Dyer, Obion and Weakley county would be merged into a single district. Meanwhile, Coffee County would cease to have its own district and instead be folded into one with Cannon, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Ramsey said the plan was limited by not wanting to hurt grants and working groups like drug task forces that are based on the judicial districts.
“If you look at the plan we have here, I think it has minimal disruption,” he said. “There was an aggressive plan that we began with, but that was just a working blueprint.”
Ramsey said the changes are not expected to affect the positions of existing judges, but that the elimination of two judicial districts will eliminate the positions of two prosecutors and public defenders.
Ramsey estimated the cost savings of eliminating those four positions would be more than $600,000. A complete analysis on the overall cost or savings of the changes has yet to be conducted, he said. Note: Ramsey news release below
Tennessee may be contributing much less to state employee retirement accounts in the future based on a state plan to convert to a defined contribution plan, reports the Commercial Appeal. State Treasurer David Lillard will unveil details of his proposed revisions to the state pension plan Monday, and the state legislature will consider the changes with bills sponsored by Rep. Steve McManus, R-Memphis, and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.
Lillard’s proposal will change — for future hires only — the pension plan from a defined-benefits plan to a hybrid plan that includes elements of defined-benefits and defined-contribution programs.
Defined-benefits plans guarantee retirees a fixed pension benefit based on their years of service and earnings, while defined-contribution plans do not have guaranteed payment levels but rather specified contribution levels by the employer. The benefit payments may rise and fall with their underlying investments.
The state’s pension plan is part of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, established in 1972 and which today covers state government workers, employees of the state’s public higher education system, local public school teachers statewide and employees of about 485 towns, cities, counties, utility districts and other local entities that choose to participate in the state-run plan. All nonstate entities pay their own costs.
By limiting the scope of his plan for launching a school voucher system in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam finds himself facing legislative critics who think he hasn’t gone far enough and others who think he has gone too far.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, for example, is in the camp of those who think the governor’s plan is too restrictive. He predicts that the Senate will amend the Haslam bill, filed as SB196, to make it “more universal.”
At the other end is House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who said a state near the bottom nationally in public school funding should not be diverting any money at all to private schools. The Tennessee Education Association takes a similar stance.
As introduced, Haslam’s bill would limit vouchers to the students enrolled in schools ranked in the lowest-performing institutions in the state, called “priority schools” by the state Department of Education. There are 83 on the “priority school list” — 69 in Shelby County, six each in Davidson and Hamilton counties, one in Knox County and one in Hardeman County.
The State Building Commission has approved spending $800,000 on updating a master plan for the future use of the old Tennessee State Prison on Cockrill Bend in West Nashville, reports The City Paper. The castle-like structure, which was used in the movie The Green Mile, has sat vacant since 1992. The state-approved money will help piggyback off a 2007 study regarding the building and surrounding properties
One of the options for the building includes a $27 million renovation, according to a commission agenda. But Tennessee Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield said abandoning the property wasn’t out of the question either.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says he’s developed a plan to reform taxes and balance the federal budget, but he’s not planning to release details until after the election.
He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/MsHQTd) on Monday that his plan will both cut entitlement spending and raise more money.
Corker said he intends to keep his “soup to nuts” plan private until after the presidential election is settled but he’s submitted a draft for review by congressional budget staff. The Chattanooga Republican said he thinks his proposal can provide a path to compromise between Republicans who want to cut spending and Democrats who want to raise taxes.
Corker is seeking re-election but doesn’t face a strong challenge in the Aug. 2 primary or Nov. 6 general election.
— UPDATE: Corker’s latest campaign TV ad makes reference to the secret plan. Watch it HERE.
Text of Corker’s remarks in the commercial: “I’m working hard to change the way Washington does business.
Putting a stop to endless deficit spending, a stop to all the unnecessary regulation.
We need a simpler, pro-growth tax system that encourages job creation, giving every Tennessean a chance to earn a good living or create a great business in an America that always lives within its means.
We don’t really have a choice.
That’s what we have to do.
I’m Bob Corker, and I approve this message.”
The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System bills itself as “one of the best-funded pension plans in the nation,” but some local governments have been pulling their new hires out of the plan, reports Hank Hayes. The city of Kingsport did. So did Johnson City and Tri-Cities Regional Airport. The reason: These cash-strapped political entities have found their contributions into TCRS to be too costly.
“Fifty-four (governmental entities) were at or above 15 percent of payroll (with TCRS employer contributions). … Speaking as a former county commissioner, that tells me they are under a bit of funding pressure,” said Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard Jr., who oversees TCRS.
For instance, TCRA’s TCRS contribution expense is almost 18 percent of payroll. The airport decided to go with a different defined contribution plan that would have a maximum 9 percent of payroll cost.
Kingsport’s and Johnson City’s TCRS pullout, in particular, got Lillard’s attention.
“These are all issues of concern to us because these are significant-size local governments, and they are entities participating in the system for many, many years — some going back to 1948,” he noted.
So Lillard hit the road last fall and did listening sessions with more than 200 local government officials about their future with the state’s pension plan.
Proposals from those meetings resulted in legislation passed this year to create three less costly investment options.
TCRS says the bill, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, would not apply to current local government hires, state employees, K-12 teachers or higher education workers. No local governments are required to make any changes. The provisions are only effective if adopted by local governments, according to TCRS.
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester tells Steven Hale that the party’s present strength in the Legislature could be reduced to as few as 24 seats in the House (versus 34 now) and eight in the Senate (versus 14 now). That’s “the line” of solidly Democratic seats after retirements, redistricting and such.
On the other hand, there’s a new plan for the fall campaigns: The hole is deep, but Forrester said Democrats have a new plan. Over lunch just a few blocks from the party’s midtown offices, he laid out what’s called the New Path Forward. It’s a strategic plan, produced with the help of the Ohio-based consulting firm summoned last year to aid a political party on life support. If a Democratic resurgence is to occur any time in the next decade, party leaders say this is the roadmap.
As summarized by Forrester, it sounds like a new political business model. His presentation, replete with the type of jargon that could only come from a political strategy team, includes talk of financial stakeholders, staying on message, metrics-based campaign systems and building the party’s bench.
Some party leaders describe the plan as a return to the basics, which would seem to say something about the state of things before its inception. But it’s also intended to bring the party into the brave new era of political campaigning, inspired by Obama’s digital-era ascent.
“We’ve been doing campaigns this certain way for 10 to 15 years,” Forrester says. “If we run the campaigns in 2012 in the same way that we’ve been running them and expect a different outcome, that’s kind of the traditional definition of insanity.”
With political insanity as an alternative, the New Path has earned a fairly good reception in the opening stages of the rollout. The party recently enjoyed its best fundraising quarter on record, bringing more than $550,000 in three months, and Forrester says the aforementioned financial stakeholders — that is, donors — are very pleased with “the most detailed, goal-oriented, specific proposal they’ve ever seen.” Whatever the merits of the plan, however, that might have reflected a sense of sheer desperation in the Democratic base; it remains to be seen whether the enthusiasm can be sustained.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer have released a 3-year transportation plan for the state.
The $1.5 billion plan includes improvements to the interstate system, such as truck climbing lanes and interchange reconstruction.
It also funds projects along strategic corridors such as U.S. 27 in Roane, Morgan and Scott counties; U.S. 79 in Carroll and Gibson counties; and U.S. 64 in Middle and West Tennessee.
Other priorities include projects aimed at stimulating economic development, such as the reconstruction of the interchange at I-40 and SR 222 to facilitate access to the West Tennessee Megasite in Haywood and Fayette Counties.
The plan also provides funding for local transit agencies and planning organizations, shortline railways and bridges, and airport improvements.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a comprehensive, multi-year action plan designed to improve public safety statewide.
The Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group, which includes commissioners and representatives from 11 state agencies, submitted the plan after months of meetings with more than 300 public safety professionals and stakeholders across the state.
The three goals of the public safety action plan are to significantly reduce drug abuse and drug trafficking; curb violent crime; and lower the rate of repeat offenders. There are 11 objectives and 40 action steps outlined in the plan, all specifically linked to those goals.
“Keeping our citizens safe is one of state government’s primary responsibilities,” Haslam said. “This action plan is a detailed road map that addresses some of our toughest safety challenges head on. I am proud of this group – whose members bring a number of different perspectives to the table – for working together to recommend meaningful solutions. They are coordinating their efforts and moving in the same direction to implement this plan.”
While it is a multi-year strategy, the subcabinet working group expects to launch approximately 20 of the steps in 2012. Several of these steps include:
Making improvements to the current prescription drug data base to make it easier to identify abusers;
Developing regional alliances with other states to tackle prescription drug abuse;
Placing non-violent drug addicts into drug court treatment programs;
Imposing tougher sentences for certain types of gang-related crimes;
Enacting tougher sentences for gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions;
Realigning under the Department of Correction the supervision of adult felony offenders to include probation, parole and community corrections; and
Mandating incarceration time for repeat domestic violence offenders.
Eight of the identified action steps are already underway. Some of those steps include:
Development of a real-time database to track the purchases of pseudoephedrine products (commonly used to make meth);
A statewide meth lab clean-up system;
Development of a new anti-meth communications campaign;
In-depth training of all state road troopers on drug interdiction; and
A pilot effort in Shelby County to create a one-stop shop for assistance and services to inmates returning to the community.
“While we have seen an improvement, Tennessee continues to have a violent crime rate far above the national average and the highest among southeastern states,” Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who chairs the working group, said. “This plan addresses many of the underlying factors that lead to crime in our state and takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the problem.”
The Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Correction, Health and Military along with the chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole, the directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office (Department of Transportation), Office of Criminal Justice Programs (Department of Finance and Administration), Law Enforcement Training Academy (Department of Commerce and Insurance) and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The subcabinet working group has received additional support from the Tennessee Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, and the Center for Non-Profit Management. Note: to see PDF of the ‘Public Safety Action Plan, click on this link: PUBLIC_SAFETY_ACTION_PLAN.PDF