This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee’s economic prospects have improved, but its government needs to work more efficiently, Gov. Bill Haslam said in a speech to the General Assembly on Monday night. He unveiled a $31 billion spending plan that would raise pay for state workers by 2.5 percent, fund a new science building at Middle Tennessee State University and cut more than 1,100 state jobs across Tennessee.
Having completed a “top-to-bottom review” of more than 200 arms of state government, Gov. Bill Haslam is moving to assert more direct control over their operations and reduce their numbers. His move has stirred some bipartisan unease among legislators and outright opposition from representatives of some professions and industries regulated by the boards and commissions impacted.
UT educators to push for approval of Haslam’s budget plan University of Tennessee officials last week praised a budget proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam that would net about $19 million in recurring funding for the system, which comes as a relief after four straight years of cuts totally $115 million. “This budget is a real breakthrough, in terms of what we’ve been through the last few years,” said President Joe DiPietro in his office on campus Thursday.
A Bradley County woman has been charged with TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” a crime involving the use of TennCare benefits to go to multiple doctors in a short time period in order to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General announced the arrest of Michelle Hicks, 24, of Cleveland.
Before, public had to request state inspection reports With a prod from the federal government, the state Health Department has posted on its website thousands of pages of inspection reports on licensed nursing homes across the state. The posting marks the state’s effort to come into compliance with a little-known provision of the new federal health-care reform law, known formally as the Affordable Care Act.
The future veterans home here is not a nursing home, but rather a living center, donors and veterans say. “It’s not a nursing home,” Korean War veteran Bill Norwood said.
Both local governments are standing behind resolutions authorizing their shares of construction costs for a new veterans home in Cleveland. Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said Friday they are committed to contributing approximately $2 million each for the required 35 percent local shares. Davis said he is 100 percent behind moving forward with the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home.
Governor’s plan may hurt kids’ performance State legislators say a proposal by the governor that could raise the average classroom size in Tennessee schools is getting a cool reception in the General Assembly. State Sen. Jim Tracy told members of the Murfreesboro Education Association and Rutherford Education Association “the brakes” have been put on that legislation because of lawmakers’ concerns it could negatively affect classroom performance.
A state House bill that would allow law enforcement to check the immigration status of someone pulled over or detained was put on hold last week, at least for the moment. The Lawful Immigration Enforcement Act was moved behind the budget by a House finance subcommittee Wednesday morning.
The state Senate was scheduled to take up a bill Wednesday that would waive background checks for gun purchases by people who already have a permit to carry a handgun in public, but the sponsor pulled it at the request of the TBI. Senate Bill 306, a holdover from last year sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, would exempt the more than 300,000 Tennesseans who have a current permit to carry a gun in public from the standard background check performed at the time they purchase a gun.
Most of the action at the state Capitol last week was in committees, but the full Senate took a very important step: It added Cocke County to the 2009 state law that allows “micro-distilleries,” the modern term for moonshine stills, in Tennessee. Thirty-five counties were covered in the initial law, which has fostered a boom in legalized moonshining.
A representative of the American Association of People with Disabilities visited the Capitol on Tuesday to complain that the state’s new voter identification law is unfair to the disabled because it raises hurdles to their casting ballots in person. “The state, counties and federal government have spent a lot of money making polling places accessible,” said Jim Dickson, vice president of organizing and civic engagement for the Washington-based organization.
The Tennessee primary is a little more than a month away and a new law went into effect this year that requires voters to present federal or state photo identification before voting. Officials at the Washington County, Tennessee Division of Motor Vehicles office says, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security projected issuing more than 24,000 photo I.D.’s to people who didn’t have them.
The first signs that HOPE scholarship changes made last year are hurting some Georgia students and colleges are starting to crop up just as Tennessee considers imposing even tougher academic requirements of its own. Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s enrollment is down about 10 percent — from 6,407 to 5,777 — and school officials said the lottery-funded program is largely to blame.
With less than a year before state legislation must be in place to implement a critical part of national health care reform, Tennessee and Georgia, along with 18 other states, have not made substantial progress toward meeting federal deadlines, according to reports from several nonpartisan organizations. In states with conservative leadership, such as Georgia and Tennessee, the deadlines have put state leaders in a Catch-22.
Tennessee’s system faces strain when everybody gets covered, U of M says Health care reform will reduce the number of uninsured Tennesseans by more than half and cut uncompensated care and bad debt by $2.3 billion, but the newly insured could put a strain on the state’s health care system. Those are among findings of a new University of Memphis study designed to help public and private health officials navigate the complicated world of health care reform.
There’s a good chance that the United States could go to war with Iran, and the words spoken by both political parties in the months leading up to the presidential election probably will be the deciding factor, a Tennessee State University political science professor told a handful of Occupy Nashville members at Legislative Plaza on Saturday. “During an election year, there’s all this political rhetoric because both parties are trying to outdo each other,” said professor John Miglietta.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett says Trustee John Duncan III should resign “if all the allegations are true.” Duncan, son of U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., is under fire for bonuses he gave himself and others under his supervision for completing certified public administrator coursework they didn’t actually finish. Duncan gave himself and his employees $42,000 in incentives the last two years for participating in the work, though few finished the program.
The city of Knoxville has no records of Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. performance reviews before it has given money to the marketing group under the current contract, which has been about $1 million a year since 2008. The contract says that a deputy to the mayor will meet quarterly with KTSC officials to assess the organization’s work before handing over funds, and that a formula be used to determine how much the nonprofit can receive.
Gloria Ray, who has sold Knoxville to athletes, conventioneers and tourists for years, has often called herself a good ol’ girl. But despite powerful connections in local politics, and in the business and athletic worlds, she’s stepping down as the only president of the nonprofit marketing group amid intense public attention to her compensation and the operation of Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. “This has been a matter of reacting to questions,” Ray said Tuesday in an interview with the News Sentinel.
Move from Congress to special-interest ranks is common but raises questions When members of Congress hear from groups hoping to get a law passed or a regulation changed, they often look across the table at men and women they once worked with. More than 300 former House members or senators, including presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, have worked as lobbyists or in very similar roles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Republican congressional candidate Weston Wamp said he would release a formal platform Feb. 13, four months after challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. Wamp announced his candidacy Oct. 2 and raised $307,646 before the end of 2011. In early November he said he would reveal detailed policy positions “by the first of the year.” “When I said ‘by the first of the year,’ what I meant was … ‘at the beginning of the year, we’ll get started with that,’” Wamp said in a Friday phone interview.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week told TVA and other nuclear plant operators to reassess the earthquake risks at each of their reactors. Initial reviews by NRC and the nuclear industry indicate there are increased risks at some plants, including Sequoyah near Soddy-Daisy and 17 miles north of Chattanooga.
Herschend Family Entertainment prides itself on being smart, conservative, profitable Herschend Family Entertainment didn’t take center stage last month when country star Dolly Parton and Gaylord Entertainment unveiled plans for a new water and snow family fun park near the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Instead, the 50-year-old theme park operator based in Norcross, Ga., stayed in the background, intent on making its own splash when the time comes to finish designing and building the new multimillion-dollar attraction here.
Fifty-nine-year-old Pat Lancaster and her 20-year-old grandson were at Whirlpool Corp.’s job fair Saturday applying for production positions at the plant. “There’s nothing out there,” Lancaster said about the tough job market, adding she had earlier retired from Whirlpool predecessor Maytag in Cleveland after a 13-year stint.
Rebecca Sellers, an eighth-grade English teacher at Lester School in Binghamton, looked wary as she walked into the teachers’ lounge on a Monday last fall. The previous week, the school’s assistant principal, Dr. Isaac Robinson, had dropped in, unannounced, to watch Sellers teach as part of Tennessee’s new evaluation system.
When Christopher Chamness entered the third grade last year, he began to get stomach aches before school. His mother, Edy, said the fire had gone out of a child who she said had previously gone joyfully to his classes. One day, when he was bored in class, Christopher broke a pencil eraser off in his ear canal. It was the tipping point for Ms. Chamness, a former teacher, and she asked to observe his Austin elementary school classroom.
Tennessee lawmakers need to remember the victims. Some officials began immediately picking at Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to throw repeat domestic batterers in the slammer and keep them there, arguing it will cost money.
In early January, I called a local high school office and asked if a particular member of the staff was working. “Sir, we just got back from Christmas break,” the annoyed-sounding person on the other end of the line said.
Fisherville’s desire to avoid ever being part of Memphis set off a political thunderstorm last week. Proposed state legislation to make sure that won’t happen drew charges of racism from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and pushed the City Council to start the ball rolling on annexing an area that they had no intention of annexing and, in truth, can’t afford to annex. Wharton has rarely, if ever, cited racism as a factor in disputes during his stints as Shelby County mayor and as Memphis mayor.
Here’s a thought for those folks in Fisherville who are driving the effort in the Tennessee legislature to remove themselves from any connection with Memphis. How about a night class in Memphis 101?
If it weren’t for annexations — lots and lots of annexations — Memphis would probably be just another quiet Southern hamlet no larger than Oxford, Miss., or Jonesboro, Ark. But Memphis’ growth, indeed its economic survival, has always been predicated on its ability to gobble up adjacent territories and the sales and property tax revenue they could provide. Up to now, the city has enjoyed this unfettered power thanks to generous annexation laws passed decades ago by the Tennessee legislature.
Sen. Mark Norris is so heavy handed, it’s a wonder he can lift his mitts at all. He’s never met any part of Memphis’ right to self-governance that he wouldn’t try to thwart. In any other setting — a school, a workplace, a neighborhood — Norris, R-Collierville, would be shunned for such behaviors.
It won’t make the front page of many big papers or lead the nightly news, but Congress is taking real steps forward in reforming the way we spend your tax dollars. For too long the federal budgeting process has been dysfunctional and dishonest.
Gloria Ray, the embattled head of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., agreed Friday to retire in two weeks if lawyers for her and the organization can work out the terms of her departure. The KTSC’s executive committee then resigned Friday during an extraordinary board meeting that delved into Ray’s extravagant compensation package and the executive committee’s confessed ignorance of its provisions.