This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty today released the Regulatory Reform Report, an ECD-led review of federal and state rules and regulations impacting businesses. One of the key strategies of the governor’s Jobs4TN economic development plan was to conduct this review with the goal of identifying obstacles to investment.
Already the size of 17 football fields, Amazon’s Chattanooga distribution center is about to get bigger. Fresh off a successful holiday season in which the site became one of Amazon’s busiest in terms of volume of items handled, company officials said plans are to expand operations inside the massive Enterprise South industrial park facility.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday released a plan to increase penalties for certain violent crimes, tamp down on drug offenses and revamp how felons are supervised in the state. The plan focuses on reducing prescription and methamphetamine drug abuse, decreasing violent crime and cutting the rate at which criminals commit new crimes.
Tennessee Board of Education Executive Director Gary Nixon says employees are starting to leave for jobs that pay more. Nixon told The Tennessean that his staff’s salary hasn’t been adjusted since at least 2004 and now their pay just isn’t competitive (http://tnne.ws/AnboS1). Nixon says state board of education members tried to approve raises last fall, but the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration turned down the request.
The University of Tennessee is set to open the first new engineering building on its campus in almost 50 years. Faculty began moving into the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building last week. The state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly facility is named after the co-founder of Garmin, a UT alum who gave $12.5 million for the project. The $37.5 million building, which was under construction for nearly three years, will open this week to students, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/ACyQH4 ).
Of the roughly $30 million in federal stimulus money East Tennessee State University received, about half was used for facility improvements and half was used to alleviate the impact of budget reversions. ETSU Vice President for Finance and Administration David Collins said the facility improvements made possible by stimulus dollars included the major renovation of Ross Hall, HVAC replacements in 12 buildings, vinyl window replacements in 11 buildings, chemistry lab renovations in Brown Hall and the digital upgrade for the campus radio station WETS-FM 89.5.
Lawmakers return to Nashville this week for a legislative session that should be shaped by election-year politics. Republicans hope to build on their nearly two-thirds majority in the General Assembly, but their strategy on how to do that is still being hashed out. Gov. Bill Haslam and leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives have each presented slightly different plans for the year ahead.
Lawmakers face array of issues as session starts The Tennessee legislature reconvenes Tuesday for four months of debate over cutting Hope Scholarships, cutting taxes, altering the public meetings and records laws for local government, broadening gun laws and selling wine in grocery stores. Other top agenda items will include a new $7 million anti-crime initiative proposed last week by Gov. Bill Haslam, how to expand and contract different programs in a $32 billion state budget, and whether to revise some of last year’s major actions on evaluating teachers and requiring photo identification to vote.
Lawmakers return this week for a legislative session that should be shaped by election-year politics. The legislative session will kick off with a once-in-a-decade scrum over redistricting.
Springfield’s Roberts may be odd man out in redrawn districts As none other than Gov. Bill Haslam co-hosted a campaign fundraiser for state Sen. Kerry Roberts in Green Hills on Tuesday, Haslam’s fellow Republicans in the General Assembly were getting ready to roll out a plan that could make all those kind words and big dollars meaningless. The GOP’s Senate redistricting proposal would leave Roberts, a first-term lawmaker from Springfield, with nowhere to go for the next couple of years.
Some East Tennessee legislators outside of official leadership who may play a noticeable role in shaping the course of events during the 2012 session of the 107th General Assembly: Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville. An outspoken critic of the state’s judicial selection system as a “fraud on the voters,” Bell is in a new position this year to put more power behind his voice.
Steve Dickerson, a Nashville anesthesiologist who tried to unseat state Sen. Douglas Henry in 2010, announced his plans to run against another longtime senator — Joe Haynes — shortly after Senate Republicans unveiled proposed redistricting maps Wednesday. Dickerson said he’ll seek the GOP nomination this summer for the District 20 seat held by Haynes, a Democrat, since 1985.
Representatives of the state’s community college system told legislators and other VIPs at Motlow State Community College’s annual legislative breakfast that the Complete College Act passed in 2010 has given community colleges a new focus on student success. They also challenged local governments to consider offering “last-dollar scholarships” that would allow local students to attend community college or technology centers.
Thursday night’s more than three-hour regular session of the Clarksville City Council was rife with debate over charters, budgets and garbage cans. The city charter, which was extensively discussed during a Jan. 3 executive session, was the main topic that council members wrangled with before and even after a resolution to revise the charter passed — but not by the two-thirds majority the state legislature requires to consider such a request.
The Knox County Commission is looking into incentive payments Trustee John Duncan III gave himself and some of his employees over the last two years for participating in a program most have yet to complete. Duncan, son of U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., says problems with the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Services’ computer system are the reason for the problems.
The conundrum known as the city’s employee pension shortfall may be put before voters in November. The Great Recession left the pension with $460 million in funding, not enough to sustain future benefits the city has promised to its employees. In 2002-12 that gap was filled at an $11 million expense to taxpayers, and that amount is only expected to grow.
Occupy Nashville plans to start a new phase today by working to defend homeowners against foreclosure, the group announced in an email Friday. The housing campaign will start with a news conference at 2:30 p.m. at 3109 Stokers Lane in North Nashville, the home of 78-year-old Helen Bailey, who has fallen behind on mortgage payments “through no fault of her own,” Occupy Nashville said.
U.S. Rep. Black stresses needs over wish lists Folks here love federally funded assets such as the Stones River Greenway, but future grants may be harder to obtain as Congress confronts a $15 trillion debt and competition for funding becomes fiercer. And that’s how it should be, according to U.S. Rep. Diane Black, the Gallatin Republican who represents Rutherford County.
Mitt Romney, who finished third in Tennessee’s 2008 Republican presidential primary, has established a solid lead in organizing to win the state this year — if that will still matter on March 6. And some of the state’s leading Republicans think that the political dust to be stirred in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and elsewhere will not be settled on that “Super Tuesday” two months from now.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. likes all of the Republican candidates for president and says he would have no problem supporting any of them. But he has made his choice: He is endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The first of nearly 3,000 159th Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division returned to Fort Campbell on Friday from a yearlong deployment to southern Afghanistan. Early Friday morning, families and friends waited anxiously on the flight line at Campbell Army Airfield as their soldiers descended the ladder of a commercial airliner. Jonathan Webb waited patiently to see his fiancee, Sgt. Jillian Lopez, a human resources NCO for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force Thunder.
The No Child Left Behind education law was cast as a symbol of possibility, offering the promise of improved schools for the nation’s poor and minority children and better prepared students in a competitive world. Yet after a decade on the books, President George W. Bush’s most hyped domestic accomplishment has become a symbol to many of federal overreach and Congress’ inability to fix something that’s clearly flawed.
Trustees of Chattanooga’s only public hospital still appear deeply divided on paying a large sum of money to outgoing CEO Jim Brexler while Erlanger Health System is struggling financially. Board members will meet Monday morning to discuss details of a severance package for Brexler. Trustees rejected a severance package in a 4-4 vote last month.
Tuesday’s ‘listening session’ first of many When members of Shelby County’s schools merger Transition Planning Commission meet with the public in Collierville on Tuesday night, it will be six days ahead of an important deadline for suburban residents interested in opting out of a consolidated Memphis-Shelby school district. The TPC is calling Tuesday’s meeting at Collierville United Methodist Church the first of many “listening sessions” it plans to hold throughout the county. It comes ahead of the promised Jan. 16 delivery to Memphis’ six suburban cities of a study on the feasibility of establishing and running municipal school districts.
As the Florida Legislature sprints into action on Tuesday for its annual two-month session, lawmakers will face the politically volatile task of redrawing the electoral map (sure to attract a court challenge) and devising new ways to plug a $2 billion deficit in the state budget. But it is the “do we, don’t we” battle over whether to allow resort casinos into the state that has the state capital’s adrenaline pumping.
As a public school parent, I’m keeping an especially close eye on the efforts being made here to transform our education system. And, as a parent and someone who thinks about education policy daily for a living, I am so encouraged by the steps taken so far.
Law as written has no upside The first chance for Tennesseans to vote in 2012 is less than two months away, and the heat is on for election officials, sitting legislators and, of all things, driver’s license centers. Driver’s license centers are where Tennesseans who are registered to vote, but do not have “acceptable” photo identification under a flawed new state law, must go to take a number and wait for hours to receive said photo ID.
As we approach the first elections under Tennessee’s voter photo ID law, I am spending my time implementing the new law. I continue to work with election officials across the state to inform the public about the new law.
As our state prepares to implement its new voter ID law, the Tennessee League of Women Voters is active with plans to monitor and report its effects. While we hope state education efforts to ensure no voter is left behind are successful, we are aware of the hardship this law imposes on minorities, people with disabilities and those without transportation.
The Republican redistricting mantra, recited repeatedly before and during the unveiling of the official state House and Senate maps last week, was declaring the result of the party’s first-ever Tennessee reapportionment would be “fair and legal.” Whether the work product now on display and ready for rocketing through the Legislature this week meets that standard is as debatable as whether Fox News is “fair and balanced” as repeatedly proclaimed by the network — at least on the fairness front.
Let’s face it, we were all smitten. We skipped the fine print and immediately went to the bottom line — 1,250 direct jobs and 2,250 supplier jobs. And we envisioned a precipitous drop in our unemployment rate.
First, the good news: The U.S. unemployment rate is at a three-year low of 8.5 percent and a robust 200,000 non-farm jobs were created in December. Things are looking up, but it’s such a long journey to get back to where the economy once was before the recession of 2007 slapped all of us in the face.