This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
It was a year of new faces, new — and old — debates and completely new political dynamics in Tennessee state government. And Gov. Bill Haslam is offering his own guided tour.
Amazon.com Inc. announced the opening of two new fulfillment centers in Wilson and Rutherford counties, creating more than 1,300 new jobs for the state. New facilities will be located in Lebanon and Murfreesboro and are projected to create a $135 million investment in the state, according to a press release. The centers will complement existing facilities in Wilson, Hamilton and Bradley counties and will bring the company’s total to 3,300 jobs and more than $270 million invested in Tennessee.
Raising Tennessee’s estate tax exemption by $500,000 would cost the state about $23 million in lost revenues, according to projections by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. The inheritance tax currently applies to estates worth more than $1 million, and was paid in 845 instances in the last budget year.
Gov. Bill Haslam has misgivings about Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s proposal to postpone any action toward developing a state health-care exchange as envisioned in a federal health-care reform law. Ramsey has suggested that the U.S. Supreme Court may invalidate the federal act in the months ahead or that the election of a Republican president next November could mean repeal of the law.
Students at Cleveland State Community College now can transfer more easily to Tennessee Tech University under a new dual admissions agreement. “It gives students an opportunity to go ahead and commit to transferring from Cleveland State to Tennessee Tech,” said Jerry Faulkner, vice president for academic affairs at Cleveland State.
Pellissippi State Community College is moving forward with plans to bring a campus to East Knox County at the site of the former Philips Consumer Electronics’ North American headquarters. The 221,000-square-foot building that was renovated in 2002 carried a purchase price of $10 million, and another $2 million will go into initial renovations once the sale is finalized in January.
State Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak is urging citizens to take time now to review how their insurance covers mishaps in the home and when traveling. In a news release, McPeak outlined scenarios as a starting point for reviewing coverage limits, whether for the holidays or for every day: What happens if a relative drives your car and gets into an accident? Auto insurance coverage follows the vehicle.
Even though temperatures are set to stay above freezing this week, the Tennessee Department of Transportation wants residents to know it is already stocked up on salt and ready for winter weather. After two years of harsh winters, TDOT has increased its snow and ice budget and added additional salt vendors to replenish salt supplies as the winter season progresses, according to the state road agency.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says a rare Asian hooded crane has been spotted at the Hiwassee Refuge in Birchwood, Tenn. The bird normally is seen only in Southeast Asia, China and Japan.
Tennessee law enforcement officials are using DNA evidence to indict unknown suspects as a way to stop the clock on statute of limitations, but some critics say the approach needs more legal scrutiny. In Memphis, prosecutors are filing indictments that identify the defendant not by a name but by a unique DNA genetic profile, in the hopes that police will eventually find the suspect through a database.
State Rep. Mike Stewart has filed legislation that would prohibit state-level political contributions by large financial institutions that received federal bailout funds and loosen some rules on filing lawsuits against them in Tennessee courts. The Nashville Democrat said the “Main Street Recovery and Wall Street Accountability Act of 2012” targets “too-big-to-fail” institutions — those that received federal aid through the Trouble Asset Relief Program and have assets of more than $100 billion.
State Sen. Randy McNally says plans to spend about $2 billion on higher education capitol projects are “overly ambitious” and could damage the state’s credit rating. McNally was concerned enough about the proposal from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to issue a news release on the subject.
Not to be left out of the would-be American Spring — one that began in New York before sweeping the nation — the discontented members of Nashville’s 99 percent announced their presence with a rally on Oct. 6. On that Thursday afternoon, the crowd on the plaza in the Capitol’s shadow — which, it turns out, is not technically called Legislative Plaza — swelled to more than 300 people.
Group vows to stay at camp ‘until the end’ Members of Occupy Nashville spent time with their fellow protesters at the Tennessee Capitol on Christmas Day in hope of showing continued solidarity for the movement. Casey Jones, 18, was among about 60 protesters set up on the plaza across the street from the Capitol.
Occupy Nashville protesters have been together since October 6 on Legislative Plaza. But on a day that many intended to be full of festivities, quite the opposite took center stage for a time.
“Taxing the rich is not going to fix the economy for middle class America,” U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher said as he looked back on his first year serving in Congress. The Crockett County Republican said it’s been a “trying year,” with the many obstacles facing the country and little cooperation from the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Critics are wary as higher deductibles become common More workers will have to pay higher deductibles before their health benefits kick in next year — and insurance experts say that soon will become the norm. Corporate employers, small businesses and nonprofit organizations are increasingly requiring their workers to spend between $1,200 and $5,000 before filing a health insurance claim. Employers save money on premiums.
Some state lotteries are likely to take steps toward online gambling after a new opinion by the Justice Department that gives states a green light. “We’ve built the system and had it on a shelf waiting for more legal certainty,” said Gordon Medenica, the director of the New York lottery, which is planning to start selling lottery tickets on the Internet next year.
It’s been a year and a half since the U.S. Department of Education issued its first grants from the Race to the Top program. Last week, the department indicated that it’s expecting to see some results.
It’s the little things — copying, stapling, cutting and laminating — that can quickly pile up into hours of extra work for teachers. And it’s those types of tasks that some dedicated parents are completing at East Lake Elementary School to help relieve the burden of busy work so teachers can focus more on teaching. “We just take some of the stress off teachers,” said parent Mendi Catlett.
For more than half a century, Ketron school has been a part of the Bloomingdale community and the Sullivan County school system. The building at 3301 Bloomingdale Road has been a high school, a middle school and an intermediate school, but in its new incarnation will be an elementary school serving grades pre-K through 5.
Evaluating the way teachers are evaluated is the correct response to the flood of complaints. Gov. Bill Haslam’s call for a six-month study of the state’s new teacher evaluation process is an appropriate response to complaints about the process and plans by legislators to let the tweaking begin.
Proponents of wine sales in grocery stores are going to try a new tactic with the 2012 legislature: Get it to let us vote. Just as people in municipalities vote on whether to allow liquor to be sold by the drink, folks with the Red, White and Food campaign will push lawmakers to allow local referendums on wine sales in food stores. “That’s generally how alcohol laws are handled,” said Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association.
What should a household do when its income sharply declines, for whatever reason? The wise course of action is to reduce spending on luxuries and other discretionary purchases — from new cars to vacations to fancy electronic gizmos.
Despite the view of some legislators that the state’s open meetings law is too restrictive, commissioners in Knox and several other East Tennessee counties have publicly said they oppose any changes. We applaud them for their stand. This is an issue of public trust. Voters entrusted elected officials with their support, and the elected officials must reciprocate that trust with transparency in public meetings.
Tennessee Valley Authority Senior Vice President Bob Deacy was on target when he said, referring to the 2008 coal ash spill in Roane County, “It’s been a long three years.” It has been especially long for residents of the Swan Pond community who had to leave their homes and begin anew.