- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Feb. 11

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on house leaning toward common sense on debt ceiling:

In an unusual display of responsible governance, the U.S. House may pass, with a minimum of drama, a relatively clean bill to raise the federal debt ceiling. This would avert another embarrassing government shutdown like the 16 days last October.

Technically, Uncle Sam maxed out his credit limit of $16.7 trillion last Friday. By fancy fiscal footwork, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew can postpone the day of reckoning when the government begins defaulting on its obligations until Feb. 27.

Raising the debt ceiling should be a simple, straightforward proposition. But House Speaker John Boehner says it’s lucky that Mother Teresa is already a saint because he doubts his fractious caucus could deliver the 218 votes to make her one.

In any event, the outlook for raising the debt limit is good. However briefly it lasts, an aura of something like common sense seems to have settled over the House chamber. Even Tea Party Caucus founder Michele Bachmann says, “There is a pragmatism here. You’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. My assessment is that most of us don’t think now is the time to fight.”

Encouragingly, Boehner flatly pronounced, “Look, we don’t want to default on our debt. And we’re not going to default on our debt.”

Hold that thought, Mr. Speaker.




Feb. 10

The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn., on stopping the execution train:

If the state of Tennessee has its way, it will put 10 people to death in a period of 18 months between April 22, 2014, and Nov. 17, 2015.

The federal public defender’s office in Nashville has doubts that any of the 10 is a solid case for the death penalty - if there is such a thing as a solid case for institutionalized cruelty.

“They each have different stories of ineffective counsel, of evidence that was suppressed by the state, stories of trauma and mental abuse that were never presented to a jury or a judge,” says Kelley Henry of the public defender’s office.

But let’s assume for a moment that all 10 did, in fact, commit the heinous crimes they have been convicted of.

The state is ill-equipped to mete out their sentences in a way that would remotely fulfill the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. “Cruel and unusual” will be the order of the day.

The people of Tennessee will become the vile thing that we are trying to extinguish - and we will do so over and over.

Advocates for the death penalty can argue that our capital inmates have had years (years behind bars) added to their lives while the state Correction Department struggled to carry out executions. In the meantime, correction officials have clumsily sought to find a lethal injection protocol as supplies of court-approved drugs ran out and courts rejected the same protocol in other states.

It took unlawful actions by the Correction Department, flouting federal statutes over drug imports, and then changing Tennessee’s own open-records law to keep a shroud of secrecy over new sources of lethal drugs, to bring us to the point where Tennessee feels it is ready to execute so many people so quickly.

Other states are putting executions on hold because lethal injections are proving to be tantamount to torture. Not Tennessee; its correctional system, with the help of state Supreme Court justices who suddenly appear to be worried about job security, can’t wait to start the intravenous drip.

We see how the pursuit of lethal drugs has turned state officials into ruthless lawbreakers. How can these executions come out well for anyone?




Feb. 10

Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on post-secondary education plans credit to governor:

Gov. Bill Haslam’s primary education initiative this year is his proposal to pay for every Tennessee high school graduate to go to a community college or technical school, but there is much more to his post-secondary school improvement plan.

Speaking to News Sentinel reporters and members of the Editorial Board on Friday, Haslam elaborated on his various proposals and provided more details about Tennessee Promise, the ambitious scholarship program intended to provide more opportunities for Tennesseans to obtain a post-secondary education.

The other elements of his plan are not as far reaching, but most play important roles in Haslam’s long-term “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of adults in the state with post-secondary degrees or certificates to 55 percent by 2025.

One of the many challenges in the road to meeting that goal is that seven in 10 college freshman need remedial work when they arrive on campuses. Haslam’s reforms in K-12 education eventually should reduce that number, but in the meantime he is proposing an expansion of the Seamless Alignment of Integrated Learning, or SAILS, program. SAILS bridges the gap between high school and college with summer programs designed to make up deficiencies.

Another initiative would make it easier for students to take dual enrollment classes in high school.

Persuading adults without degrees but with some college credit - nearly 1 million Tennesseans - will be required for the state to come close to the Drive to 55 goal. Haslam wants to create an Adult Student Data System to help public and private institutions across the state identify and recruit adults to return to campuses to finish their degrees.

Haslam told the News Sentinel that the state’s community colleges could handle the anticipated influx of students. Though the amount varies from campus to campus and program to program, the community college system is operating at about 55 percent of capacity, he said.

Just getting students into classrooms will not be enough, however, and the plan would be virtually useless if students do not complete their studies. Haslam plans to tap nonprofits that specialize in providing mentors, such as Knoxville-based tnAchieves, to provide crucial support for students.

While Tennessee Promise is the star of Haslam’s post-secondary education initiative, the other efforts are not bit players. The Legislature has before it a thoughtful, integrated plan that has the potential to dramatically improve the number and quality of Tennessee’s community college and technical school graduates.



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