This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Politics took center stage on Monday as Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam rolled into town for a luncheon at the Leslie Town Centre. Gov. Haslam, who has been in office a little over a year, outlined his legislative agenda as a capacity crowd listened intently to issues pertinent to the Highlands as well as the rest of the state. “It’s really a great opportunity for the Governor to come here. It’s an honor to host him,” said District 42 representative Ryan Williams.
Both Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey say raising the state’s 21.4 cent per gallon gas tax isn’t the answer to pay for fixing aging highways. At an event with Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce members last Friday, both indicated they’re still searching for a way to step up road building and maintenance.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty joined with representatives from Century Mold Co., Inc. to announce plans by the company to expand its Shelbyville facility located at 508 Blue Ribbon Parkway. The company will invest $4.2 million and create 58 manufacturing jobs. “When an existing Tennessee company chooses to expand right here in our state, it reinforces the business friendly climate we are working hard to maintain and improve.
The Tennessee Department of Education hopes to be more equipped to provide school districts with better and faster analysis of test scores and other data, thanks to a dose of the Ivy League. Two department staffers were chosen for a two-year fellowship at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.
More than 50,000 student data inquiries are being pulled each month by Metro Nashville teachers and other personnel from the school district’s new data warehouse. Vicki Philpot, the district’s director of enterprise data systems, says test scores, attendance, discipline and other information for each Metro student dating back from the 2007-08 school year through this school year are now stored by the district.
Many people dread the legendary wait times that come with any trip to the DMV, but officials have promised change is on the way. The Department of Safety has a list of 20 things they plan to do to make a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles more convenient and quicker.
The executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education has recommended that the board vote against a proposed charter school in Knox County. The Knox County school board twice denied the charter school application of the New Consortium of Law and Business.
Mining regulators responding to a discharge of partially treated coal cleaning wastewater in the New River in East Tennessee have sent a notice of violation letter to Premium Coal Inc. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued the Monday letter in response to a Jan. 3 discharge of partially treated coal process wastewater and coal slurry that includes chemicals used in the washing operation in the Devonia community of Anderson County.
The state on Monday issued a water quality permit violation notice to the coal company that discharged more than 1.4 million gallons of black water into the New River earlier this month. A “pollution plume” of fine particles of coal, shale and other rocks from the discharge was seen nearly 29 miles downstream, a state official said.
Wildlife officials don’t usually base hunting policies on how the public feels about an animal. But the black bear is different.
In a true collaborative effort, the city of Dyersburg has been awarded a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation under their Safe Routes to Schools program totaling $239,535. The project will fund the construction of sidewalks and crosswalks to Dyersburg Middle School.
Stretch will run along Walton Ferry Hendersonville has been awarded state funding in the amount of $192,555 for sidewalk improvements near Walton Ferry Elementary and Hawkins Middle schools. Friday it was announced the city would receive the funds as part of Tennessee’s Safe Routes to School Program, “a statewide initiative designed to make bicycling and walking to school a safer, more appealing and healthier alternative for students in kindergarten through eighth grade,” according to a Tennessee Department of Transportation press release.
The College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis is in the last stages of its extensive, national search for a new dean, and has narrowed the list down to three finalists. The search for a new dean began in August after Donna Hathaway, who had served as dean for 11 years, stepped down to return to a faculty position. Dr. Susan Jacob, executive associate dean at the College of Nursing, has been serving as interim dean during the search.
A Hawkins County attorney who also works as a juvenile court and general sessions judge has been formally charged with violating the state’s judicial code of conduct for taking money from clients for his personal benefit and for claiming payment for services that he didn’t perform. According to the charges filed Tuesday by the disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary, Judge James Taylor is accused of five counts of misconduct.
Those who thought the question was long ago settled as to whether state and local governments in Tennessee possess the legitimate power to levy taxes on income look to have thought wrong. The state House of Representatives, following the Senate’s lead, recently backed a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitutional specifically banning earnings taxes.
Proposals that seek to crack down on drug production have advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both measures that passed unanimously on Tuesday are sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet.
Tougher penalties for trafficking in synthetic drugs won approval Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. A bill that would equate drugs manufactured to imitate illegal narcotics to their controlled substance counterparts must now pass the Finance Committee and both houses of the General Assembly in order to become law.
Tennessee lawmakers plan to trip up manufacturers and retailers who have until now sidestepped efforts to outlaw “designer” drugs mimicking the effects of stimulants and other substances. Gone are the detailed descriptions of complex chemical chains of organic compounds. Instead, sponsors of a bill use a strategy that bans “analogue” substances having the same effect of the stimulants, depressants or hallucinogens.
Several state lawmakers want the commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services to reconsider a proposal to close a juvenile detention center in Bledsoe County. Taft Youth Development Center takes in the state’s hardest cases and currently houses about 100 juveniles.
Last night a state senator gave up on a proposal to take a key power away from Tennessee courts. The bill from Mount Juliet Republican Mae Beavers would’ve barred courts from overturning state laws.
An 1897 Tennessee law keeping horses off public sidewalks has become a vehicle for the state legislature to settle a current $6 million dispute between Memphis and Shelby County governments. The House of Representatives approved a bill Monday night — on a mostly party-line 64-29 vote — to settle a long-running squabble over $6 million in payments in lieu of taxes from Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division that Shelby County says the city owes it.
State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, filed a bill in Nashville on Tuesday that would transfer county school buildings to new municipal school districts for free. The legislation, which has not yet started through the review process, calls for any indebtedness on the buildings transferred to the municipality to remain with the countywide system.
A Tri-Cities lawmaker wants to make it make legal for local governments to display the Ten Commandments in county courthouses or on public grounds in Tennessee. Republican State Representative Matthew Hill of Jonesborough co-sponsored the bill that would authorize cities and counties to display historical documents in public places.
A recurring fight tied to abortion rights cropped up today in the state legislature. It deals with whether a fetus is a person. As WPLN’s Joe White reports, now a lawmaker wants to spell out that a fetus’s death is something you can sue over.
Steven Turner, a 28-year-old small-business man who unsuccessfully tried to unseat longtime state Rep. Mary Pruitt in the Democratic primary two years, is giving it another shot. Turner announced intentions Tuesday to run as a Democrat for the state House District 58 seat in August. In 2010, Pruitt defeated Turner by 167 votes in the heavily Democratic district.
An overwhelming majority of Tennesseeans say driving drowsy, distracted or too fast is risky and unacceptable, yet many of them admit they continue to engage in those very behaviors, according to a University of Tennessee survey of residents across the state. Drivers seem to realize the behaviors “could end in disastrous results, and somehow we rationalize it’s OK to take the risk,” said Jerry Everett,research director of UT’s Center for Transportation Research, which conducted the survey.
The Rutherford County Driver Service Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 4 for those needing to secure a voter ID. The center is located at 1035 Middle Tennessee Blvd. The General Assembly passed a law last year requiring a photo ID in order to cast a ballot at the polls.
Three small-business owners have won the first round of a federal lawsuit challenging a Metro law that regulates non-taxi vehicles for hire. The car service operators say the new regulations — which, among other things, require sedan and limo services to charge a $45 minimum fare, ban them from using leased or old vehicles and require that they dispatch only from a fixed place of business for prearranged appointments — are anti-competitive and unconstitutional.
The dust hasn’t completely settled on the differences Shelby County Commissioners are having with each other across party lines and on a number of other fronts. “We’ve outed a civility gap on this commission,” commissioner Steve Mulroy said. “It’s existed for a while.”
Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander is getting creative in his effort to rake in the $236.2 million local taxpayers owe in 2011 property and other taxes. Among other plans, he is accepting partial payments and planning special hours to accommodate more taxpayers before the 2011 taxes become delinquent on March 1.
Local typeface designers have begun raising funds to finance a font specifically for Chattanooga. According to WRCB-TV, supporters would like for the font to be used in places such as the city website, signage and brochures (http://bit.ly/w4YqAf ).
The chairman of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp.’s board said Tuesday that when it comes to compensation for President and CEO Gloria Ray, he has to look at what’s in the best interest of the organization. “I don’t believe, in my experience, that there are many (convention and visitors bureau) heads out there now that can bring (Ray’s) skill set to the table at KTSC,” David Duncan said. Duncan and Ray met with News Sentinel reporters and editors Tuesday to discuss the agency’s operations.
Office chief of staff hires attorney Authorities looking into possible criminal wrongdoing in the Knox County Trustee’s Office have requested documents that detail communication between top employees in the department who received incentive payments for work they never completed, officials said. In the meantime, another high-ranking employee in the office has hired a criminal defense attorney in connection with the investigation into the department, his lawyer confirmed Tuesday.
A top aide for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., declined to delve into whether the congressman would use negative advertising against a top challenger. In a phone interview, Fleischmann chief of staff Chip Saltsman did not directly answer three yes-or-no questions about whether his boss intends to attack Weston Wamp, the 24-year-old son of the congressman’s predecessor, Zach Wamp. Instead Saltsman thrice repeated some version of the following quote: “Our ad campaign plan is to talk about Chuck and his accomplishments and the challenges ahead of us.”
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, has signed onto a bill by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, that would deny congressional pay if Congress fails to pass its budgeted appropriations bills on time. “The No Budget, No Pay Act <http://cooper.house.gov/images/stories/no_budget_no_pay.pdf> ” would prohibit members from receiving pay after missing deadlines for budget and appropriations bills, and it would not allow for that pay to be recouped retroactively.
The federal government has given states until the end of this month to start digitally tracking the health of truck drivers. It’s been a challenge to make Tennessee’s 30-year old computer system comply with the new mandate, but officials here say it is worth the effort.
State of the Union: Promise to middle class must be kept alive. Taxes, reforms proposed President Barack Obama used an election-year State of the Union address Tuesday night to frame the national debate not as a referendum on him but as a pivotal decision on how to save the American dream. He boasted that the nation’s economy has improved, albeit slowly, from the depths of the Great Recession.
East Tennesseans in Congress react to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address: U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.: “I think most Tennesseans have a little different view of the state of the union. We know we’re in the midst of the Obama economy, and we know the country’s in some trouble.
The local reaction from the president’s State of the Union address ranged from skeptical to favorable Tuesday night. Stephen Shirley, 37, of Murfreesboro, is a stay-at-home father of four and a freelance writer who contributes an unpaid bi-monthly column to the Daily News Journal. He does not belong to a political party. “(The address) covered a lot but didn’t really say much,” Shirley said. “I’m very concerned with the financial situation, the financial health of our country, specifically for the future.
Just as Congress can be divided along party lines, a local Republican and Democrat offered different views on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Democrat Tony Pegel was impressed with the president’s remarks, but Republican Gabriel Fancher disagreed. “I thought it was a great speech,” said Pegel, a self-employed engineer who is the first vice chairman for the Rutherford County Democratic Party Executive Committee.
Uncertainty over the fate of health reform, centered on the Supreme Court case and the presidential election, has led some states to adopt a wait-and-see approach that may make it impossible for them to meet Health and Human Service’s timeline for building their own insurance exchanges. With legislatures convening for their 2012 sessions, more states may adopt the same stance, jeopardizing their shot at exercising full control over their new insurance marketplaces when January 2014 arrives.
America’s public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren’t performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Titan Tire plans to create 300 jobs by year’s end at its Union City, Tenn., plant at the location of the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber facility. Titan Tire chairman Bill Campbell told the Union City Daily Messenger that the plant will produce and redistribute materials to other company facilities (http://bit.ly/ADB3TR ).
A company planning new headquarters nearby is constructing a solar farm on a brownfield site next to East Tennessee Technology Park, and it’s calling its project “Brightfield.” Restoration Services Inc., or RSI, purchased the 1.3-acre tract along Highway 58 near ETTP from the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee. CROET is the economic development group seeking new uses of former or underused Department of Energy properties in Oak Ridge.
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) plans to cut thousands of jobs, according to the New York Post. The Plano, Texas-based department store chain is cutting positions that involve re-tagging and putting up temporary signs, the Post reports.
Developer works to address dust, traffic concerns Residents of an Antioch neighborhood say they’re concerned about a new asphalt plant that would replace one already operating on Franklin Limestone Road. The plant is proposed for an eight-acre site on the road, just off Antioch Pike, a location residents say is too close to their homes.
A week after announcing an executive reorganization that eliminated six vice president positions, Erlanger Health System officials declined to say if two of the executives are still employed at the hospital. In an internal communication sent to hospital employees on Tuesday, interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson listed the six positions that have been eliminated.
All James Brown III wants is a stable job, and an opportunity to retire one day and live out the rest of his days with his wife. But Brown, a telephony technician for Metro Nashville Public Schools, contends that recent moves by MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register are making that dream more difficult to obtain.
Some parents in Franklin’s poorest neighborhoods are preparing to send their children to different schools next year after district leaders voted to spread them out more evenly. Changing housing patterns in the city mean the majority of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches — 40 percent of its 3,700 student enrollment — attend two of five elementary schools.
Metro Nashville school officials say they are reviewing an email sent by a male school nutrition supervisor that could be offensive to women. A spokeswoman with the district, Meredith Libbey, said the incident was forwarded to the district’s employee relations department today.
A Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools official is facing scrutiny after he sent a chain email to female co-workers that included what could be perceived as a sexist comic strip. The comic, sent by MNPS Food Services Director Jay Nelson on Dec. 14, depicts two cavemen under a heading that reads “The Original Sin.”
The leader of the Indiana House Democrats, Rep. Patrick Bauer, conceded Tuesday that his party faces dwindling options to block passage of what would be the nation’s first right-to-work law in a decade, meaning the legislation is likely to be adopted eventually. The House Democrats sat out for at least the eighth day in three weeks on Tuesday, a day after the House Republicans voted down Democrats’ amendment for a statewide referendum on the bill.
For 14 years, Sam Brownback represented Kansas in the United States Senate, a chamber known for its slow and plodding pace. Now governor, Brownback is in no mood to wait.
Gov. Paul LePage set out an ambitious but familiar agenda during his first State of the State address on Tuesday, defending the achievements of his first year while pledging to tackle high energy costs, create more educational opportunities and continue government belt-tightening. He also met his critics head on, particularly those who have opposed his proposed cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, and said in order for Maine to succeed, “we must put politics and gridlock aside.”
Has Opryland risen from the ashes? The news last week that Gaylord Entertainment Co. and Dollywood Co. are joining up to open a water and snow park near the site of the defunct theme park rippled through Tennessee like the chills you get from a roller-coaster ride. Almost as quickly, there were those willing to throw cold water on the announcement.
Two Middle Tennessee gay teens have killed themselves in recent weeks, and friends and family members say both were the objects of persistent bullying in school because of their sexuality. Which is the best reason Tennessee lawmakers need to examine their hearts and put a screeching halt to the “don’t say gay” bill, which would contribute to a toxic atmosphere in schools.
Two-thirds of Nashville inmates are black As Nashville’s public defender, I applaud Jim Todd’s Jan. 18 article about the unfair sentences meted out under Tennessee’s Drug Free School Zone Act (DFSZA), and his call for a legislative remedy to that problem. I write, however, to shine a light on another disparity created by the Act that goes beyond the sentences imposed, and represents a much more serious inequity permeating our American criminal justice system — the mass incarceration and criminalization of minority individuals.
On Friday, Jan. 20, 14-year-old Phillip Parker hanged himself at Gordonsville High School in Middle Tennessee. Phillip’s parents said they reported the bullying to the high school, although the persecution continued and worsened.
Jan 22-28 is Public Notice Week 2012. There won’t be any flag waving, and there won’t be any parades, but there should be. Public Notice Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, protecting due process and promoting public trust.
The Transportation Security Administration denied Rand Paul, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, permission to board a flight from Nashville to Washington after his knee set off a scanner. Paul offered to go through the scanner again, but TSA screeners insisted on a full-body pat-down, “pat-down” being a euphemism for a thorough groping.
The Tennessee Valley Authority took the extraordinary step last week of temporarily idling about 1,000 contract workers at its Watts Bar nuclear plant because of safety concerns. Known as a “stand-down,” the stoppage was designed to jolt workers into following procedures and making safety a priority.
Oak Ridge is a big deal within the U.S. Department of Energy, playing host to a diverse mix of facilities and programs that range from nuclear weapons to science research and environmental cleanup. Because of its importance to DOE, the community has — and expects to have — a certain amount of influence with the federal agency when it comes to local needs and wishes.