Blake Farmer

Commissioner Kate O’Day ran Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services for two years. She quit last week a day before she was set to testify in front of lawmakers about child deaths.

The Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is responsible for more than 8,000 minors in state custody and the operation of Tennessee’s foster care system. The agency has been sued for keeping too many children in group homes. Matthew Madlock, an 18-year-old from Nashville, experienced that problem first hand when he was placed in a group home before aging out of the foster care system.

In his third State of the State address last night, Governor Bill Haslam laid out a plan to cut taxes, pay state employees more, and still save money for a rainy day.

“Tennessee is different,” Haslam told members of the Tennessee General Assembly, his cabinet, and the public gathered on the floor of the state Legislature. The governor said that Tennessee is different from other states because of its low cost of living and relatively low unemployment, and different from Washington D.C. because Tennessee has made cuts instead of raising taxes.

Tonight, Governor Bill Haslam will give his State of the State address in front of lawmakers in Nashville. The speech is expected to be largely about money and policy. Over the past year, tax revenues have increase in Tennessee and the governor is expected to outline his plans for a budget surplus.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a momentous Thursday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're expecting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to make an announcement today. From now on, women will formally be allowed to serve in ground combat.

INSKEEP: To sense just how dramatic this change is, consider how many other milestones the military passed before reaching this one. The move for women comes 65 years after the Armed Forces ended racial segregation.

The Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care left Governor Bill Haslam with a big decision—expand Medicaid to include more low-income Tennesseans, or don’t. If the governor chooses to expand coverage, the federal government will foot the entire bill for three years. Then, after three years, the federal government will pay for 90 percent of the expanded coverage.

When the Tennessee General Assembly convenes this week, they’ll be many fresh faces in the crowd in Nashville, especially among the majority party. Half of Tennessee’s House Republicans have fewer than two years of experience. Among the new lawmakers, there are lawyers, military veterans, and even a preacher, but many describe themselves as small business owners. “That’s on both sides of the aisle,” said Blake Farmer who is covering the state Legislature for WPLN in Nashville.

The U.S. Army has been ramping up instruction in the languages of Afghanistan, even as troop levels in the country decrease in preparation for the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2014.

This year, key installations have added several hundred speakers of Pashto and Dari to their ranks, more than doubling the number of soldiers trained in the Afghan languages.

But it's not just the country's languages that are foreign to U.S. soldiers — it's the culture, as well.

Tennessee ECD

An effort by the Haslam administration to close records regarding cash grants to private companies is being reworked after hitting a snag in the Tennessee Senate last week. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey repeated what started as an argument from a few Democrats, that the state should at least make public who owns a company seeking state incentives.

The Tennessee Economic and Community Development Department says it needs this confidentiality bill to compete for business with other states.

Wildlife officials don't usually base hunting policies on how the public feels about an animal. But the black bear seems to be different. The revered king of the forest has bounced back from near-extinction to being a nuisance in some areas. Some states are trying to figure out if residents can live in peace with bears, or if they'd rather have hunters keep numbers in check.

Fotolia

There’s a cardinal rule for corporations under criminal investigation – say nothing, at least publicly. But Nashville-based Gibson Guitar took off the mute button this year in a big way. It’s been publicizing its plight under an environmental law known as the Lacey Act. The PR campaign has gotten members of Congress talking about changes. But Blake Farmer of WPLN in Nashville reports Gibson’s strategy could still backfire.

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