This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has named Gov. Bill Haslam his campaign chairman in Tennessee. The Romney campaign also announced Tuesday that it has gathered a full slate of 48 delegate candidates on the Tennessee ballot, led by former Gov. Winfield Dunn. Haslam said in a statement that the delegates represent the statewide strength of the Romney campaign in Tennessee.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney named Gov. Bill Haslam his statewide campaign chairman Tuesday just as a new poll showed the former Massachusetts governor trailing Rick Santorum in Tennessee. “I’m pleased to have so much support in Tennessee,” Romney said in a news release. “Voters in the Volunteer State have been hit hard by the Obama economy.” In the same news release, the Romney campaign said it has rounded up “a full slate” of 48 delegate candidates on the Tennessee ballot, including Wayne Cropp, of Hixson, and Oscar Brock, of Lookout Mountain. Haslam said the number of delegates “represents the strong support Mitt has from Memphis to Mountain City.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Tuesday that Gov. Bill Haslam will serve as state chairman for his campaign in Tennessee The announcement comes one month after Haslam announced he would support the former Massachusetts governor in his bid for the White House. Haslam’s support came as no surprise, considering his brother and father’s involvement with the Romney campaign and a previous endorsement received from Romney during Haslam’s gubernatorial bid.
Early voting for Tennessee’s Republican presidential primary gets under way today. Voters can cast ballots from Wednesday through Feb. 28. Tennessee is among 10 states holding their presidential primaries on March 6, which is known as Super Tuesday.
Early voting in Tennessee’s Presidential primary begins Wednesday, and state officials are trying to remind voters that they’ll need something new this year – a photo ID. The state department in charge of elections has tried raising awareness of the new voter ID law for months, including town hall meetings in every county. But this will be the first statewide election since the law took effect in January. This week, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett released a pair of public service announcements. “This law helps verify that the people who are casting ballots are who they claim to be, so if you don’t have a valid ballot ID, please get one.” Voters without a photo ID can still get one for free through mid-March.
Early voting starts Wednesday in Tennessee’s primary and a number of local races. It will be the first time voters go to the polls since the state’s new voter photo ID law took effect. Knox County election administrators held a training session Tuesday afternoon to prepare poll workers. The state estimates about 126,000 registered voters in Tennessee could be affected by the new law because they don’t have a photo ID. Opponents say the change has left the poor, many seniors and the disabled with a good reason not to make it to the polls.
Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Occupy Nashville protesters plan to leave the Capitol complex after spending more than five months encamped there. Gibbons told The Associated Press that the protesters informed a state trooper patrolling the area that they plan to leave sometime Tuesday night. The protesters had said they were going to make a decision at a general assembly meeting Tuesday evening. Protesters have camped at the plaza since early October.
Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday scheduled votes on legislation that would authorize the removal of Occupy Nashville’s camp at the state Capitol, as protesters considered other options. The state House of Representatives says it will vote Thursday morning on legislation that would punish unauthorized camping on public grounds with a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.
A class action lawsuit challenging TennCare’s treatment of children will be sent to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a federal judge removed a 1998 consent decree against the state. John B., et. al vs. Emkes was filed roughly 14 years ago, claiming TennCare failed to provide adequate treatment to children under its coverage. Earlier in the case, Judge Thomas Wiseman put forth a consent decree that TennCare had to abide by and ordered that the state had to meet those decrees — and standards of care — and before the case could be dismissed.
U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr. ruled Tuesday that TennCare now meets its coverage obligations to children, dismissing a 14-year-old class-action lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Justice Center. The legal advocacy organization said it will appeal the judge’s decision. Wiseman in his opinion wrote that TennCare had met the requirements of a 1998 consent agreement between it and the Tennessee Justice Center. That agreement required TennCare to do early and periodic screening of 750,000 Medicaid-eligible children and to provide them with needed treatments. The goal under the agreement was to make sure that 80 percent of the children got regular checkups and dental care.
A Chattanooga woman has been arrested after state officials said she tried to use the state’s public health care insurance program to pay for a forged prescription. Detrice Ann Moon, 42, has been indicted on one count of TennCare fraud and one count of attempting to obtain a controlled substance by fraud, according to a news release from the state’s Office of Inspector General.
A Chattanooga woman could face up to six years in prison for TennCare fraud. A release from the Office of Inspector General says Detrice Ann Moon is accused of forging a prescription for painkillers, and using the State-managed insurance to pay for it. In addition to a possible two-year prison sentence for the alleged fraud, 42-year-old Moon could face up to an additional six years for attempting it.
A Hamilton County woman is charged with trying to use TennCare to pay for a forged prescription. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) today announced the arrest of Detrice Ann Moon, 42, of Chattanooga. A Hamilton County Grand Jury indicted Moon on one count of TennCare fraud and one count of attempting to obtain a controlled substance by fraud. The indictment accuses her of altering a doctor’s prescription by adding the painkiller Lortab to the prescription, and attempting to use TennCare to pay for the drugs.
State officials have upheld the firing of a Tennessee state trooper who pursued a suspect but then failed to stop and give aid at the fatal crash that ended the chase. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security did an internal investigation of former trooper Charles Morgan’s actions after the Nov. 26 crash in Knox County. The crash killed 20-year-old Gordon Kyle Anito when he slammed into a tree. Investigators said following the chase, Morgan failed to stop and give aid when Anito’s car crashed. Morgan was later fired but appealed.
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons has approved the firing of a THP trooper accused of not helping the victim of a fatal car crash. Investigators discovered that at approximately 3:32 a.m. on November 26, Trooper Morgan was in pursuit of a 2005 Subaru Impreza when his in-car video showed he came up on the crashed vehicle, slowed down and did not stop. Trooper Morgan drove past the crashed vehicle, terminated the pursuit and then pulled over.
The decision to terminate the Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper involved in a deadly pursuit has been upheld by the Tennessee Dept. of Safety and Homeland Security (DSHS) Commissioner Bill Gibbons. An investigation by the Inspectional Services Bureau (ISB) determined Trooper Charles Van Morgan failed to stop and help after the car he was chasing crashed early in the morning in November. “Trooper Charles Van Morgan’s conduct in the early morning hours of November 26, 2011 was a poor representation of the honorable men and women who serve on the Tennessee Highway Patrol,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said.
6 News received a number of complaints about a merge lane on Pellissippi Parkway where it crosses over Interstate 40. Many are concerned about a traffic pattern which causes motorists traveling west on I-140/Pellissippi Parkway to merge left to avoid traffic coming off of I-40 west. The pattern has caused a headache for drivers already on Pellissippi who have to move into the left lane to avoid the merging traffic. TDOT Spokesman Mark Nagi said plans are in the works, but it may take a while to see any changes.
The TBI is investigating allegations of patient abuse at a Johnson City nursing home where five employees were fired. The Tennessee Department of Health suspended admissions to Appalachian Christian Village on Thursday after federal officials said the home failed to stop and immediately report allegations of the abuse of a dementia patient, according to The Johnson City Press. Attorney Eric Ebbert, who represents the nursing home, said the facility investigated and reported the incident five days after it was reported to have occurred. Ebbert said nursing home officials also reported it to local law enforcement.
Macey is a 9-year-old yellow Labrador retriever with a full-time job. During a recent training session, handler Campbell County wildlife officer Ken Cutsinger followed Macey through the woods as she tracked a set of footprints that led to an empty shotgun shell buried in the leaves. Next, Cutsinger removed Macey’s tracking harness and had her locate a spent 30-30 rifle cartridge along the edge of the dirt road. Some law enforcement dogs alert by barking or scratching. When Macey finds what she’s looking for, she simply lies down.
The Tennessee Supreme Court shouldn’t enter the legal dispute over Fisk University’s Stieglitz art collection because it lacks jurisdiction, the school said in court papers Tuesday. New York law governs the case because Georgia O’Keeffe lived there when she donated the collection to Fisk in 1949, the school argues. That prevents Tennessee’s highest court from taking the case because any decision it made would not settle any issue of Tennessee law or policy, Fisk argues. The Tennessee Attorney General’s office has asked the court to review an appeals court decision that upheld Fisk’s art-sharing deal with an Arkansas art museum.
On Tuesday, Fisk University filed legal opposition in an effort to stop an appeal from the State Attorney General regarding the prized Stieglitz Art Collection In November, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that Fisk could co-own and share the collection with an art museum in Arkansas. The Stieglitz Art Collection donated by artist Georgia O’Keeffe has been the center of controversy at the University for several years. The Attorney General has argued that the no-sale condition imposed by Georgia O’Keeffe cannot be violated and that’s why it wants permission to appeal the Tennessee Appeals Court ruling.
The Tennessee Lottery says they’ve just had their biggest week of ticket sales ever. Total gross sales were $37,426,806 for the week ending Feb. 12, setting an in-state record and shattering the previous mark set the first week of the lottery’s operation in January 2004. The lottery attributes the big week to several factors, including a giant Powerball jackpot of $336 million and the new $3,000,000 Mega Cash instant game. Powerball was recently redesigned to offer bigger jackpots and better odds of winning. “What an incredible week for lottery players and for education in Tennessee!” said Rebecca Hargrove, President and CEO of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation. “We work to add innovative features to our line of games, which keeps the Lottery fun for our players and benefits our mission of assisting students and their families.”
A proposal to crackdown on domestic violence is advancing in the Senate despite its financial impact on local governments. The measure, which is an administration bill, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-0 on Tuesday. It adds fines and jail time for second and subsequent convictions of domestic assault. The cost to local governments would be over $8 million because those convicted would serve their time in local jails. Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville, who is carrying the bill, said Gov. Bill Haslam has appropriated close to $800,000 in his budget for the legislation.
A bill that would make information secret when a company seeks money from the state was cleared by the Commerce Committee in the Tennessee House Tuesday. The bill passed easily with minimal discussion. That’s in striking contrast from what happened in the state Senate Monday night. The proposal was delayed in the state Senate after Democrat Roy Herron questioned how taxpayers would know who got money from the state. The legislation is a high profile proposal from the governor. It would make application information off the record when a company applies for tax incentives, grant money, or money for what’s called “Fast-Track” training.
The sponsor of a bill seeking to guarantee workers’ rights to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots has delayed a committee vote on the measure until next month. Republican Sen. Mike Faulk said in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday that he wants supporters of the measure to speak to the panel next week, and opponents to voice their opinions before a vote on March 6. Proponents say the bill is necessary so workers who want to be armed on their commutes have a place to keep their firearms while on the job. Opponents say the measure tramples on businesses’ property rights.
State lawmakers have called synthetic drugs a deadly epidemic. There’s now a number of new pushes at the Capitol to get the dangerous drugs off the streets. While the drugs sold in convenience stores as potpourri, herbal incense, or bath salts sound harmless, many Tennesseeans have died using these products “There have been instances in which these synthetic drugs have triggered severe mental reactions which have resulted in hospitalization,” said Nashville State Representative Mike Stewart. State lawmakers have been getting an earful about the issue.
A newly proposed law could change the age that children start school. The new bill is called House Bill 2566 and it would require all kindergarten students to have turned five years old by the end of July. Currently a child has to have his or her 5th birthday by September 30th to be eligible for kindergarten in the fall. Representative Glen Casada said he proposed the new age after talking to lots of teachers. He said too many kids are starting school before they are ready, which sets them up for problems down the road.
If you ride a motorcycle in Tennessee current law requires you to wear a helmet, but that may soon change. House Bill 26-61 would make helmet-wearing optional for bikers 21 or older if the bill is passed. “If you want to wear a helmet wear a helmet, and if you don’t you know it should be your choice,” said motorcyclist Billy Gosnell. “People seem to really know the importance of a helmet, but they really want to be able to choose if they wear or don’t,” said Jason Smith, owner of Smith Brothers Harley Davidson in Johnson City. Choice is what this controversy over the Tennessee helmet law boils down to for motorcycle owners, and on the side of the helmet issue is AAA of Tennessee.
A legislative impasse that threatened existence of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission was potentially eliminated Tuesday with House committee approval of a bill that would change the commission’s name but not its basic functions. The House Conservation Subcommittee approved the measure sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, after amending it to comport with a deal Matheny said was endorsed by Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell. The panel rejected attempts by Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to change the Matheny measure. He contended that “broad language” in some places would increase the commission’s powers.
An effort to dramatically change the commission which oversees the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency failed yesterday. The panel that regulates hunting and fishing is due to expire this summer after coming under fire recently for new rules on hunting wild hogs. Republican Frank Nicely of Knoxville says the restrictions made hunters angry. He says they think it is unreasonable to ban what species they hunt or how they hunt it. “I went to a meeting the other night with 600 bear hunters, bear and hog hunters, and they’re mad at the commission. They want to have something that’s more responsive. They feel like they’re trying to do away with hunting with hounds.”
A bill that would require working carbon monoxide detectors in leased recreational vehicles comes out of tragedy last fall in Clarksville The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts, of Clarksville, was advanced in a House subcommittee on Tuesday. Christine and Ed Watson, both of Clarksville, showed a picture of their daughter, Kathryn Over, and her husband, Jonathan, who were among the five killed last September during a Bikers Who Care event “I said we have got to do something,” Christine Watson told Nashville’s News 2 shortly after the bill moved out of the committee “We just don’t want this to happen again,” is the message she and her husband Ed have spread since the weeks following the deaths of their daughter and four other adult victims.
State Sen. Ophelia Ford told a Senate committee Tuesday that a bill to increase penalties for assaulting health care professionals is “ludicrous,” and said she was treated by “mean and hateful nurses” in recent years. “I’m not telling it all, because it was so horrible you could not even believe it,” said Ford, D-Memphis. She added later that she was restrained during a hospital stay during which “I didn’t even know where I was.” She said that “there are kind nurses too, and usually they know how to handle themselves.” Senate Bill 2658, proposed by the Tennessee Nurses Association, would enhance penalties for assault and aggravated assault against health care providers acting in the discharge of their duties.
Some Tennessee state lawmakers want judges to consider a person’s legal status before setting bail. They said too many times illegal immigrants are leaving the country instead of facing punishment. This plan would only affect cases in which an illegal immigrant is involved in a car accident that causes injury or death. It would require judges to take into consideration that person’s legal status as a possible flight risk, which could lead to higher bail.
Should higher bails be set for illegal immigrants involved in crashes that result in serious injuries or death? One state lawmaker says, yes. State Representative Joe Carr wants to automatically treat illegal immigrants in those situations as flight risks, which would lead to higher bail amounts. Carr said he hopes the bill would ensure that suspects don’t bond out and leave the country and instead force them to face justice for their actions.
A state senator and a former congressional candidate are embroiled in a legal dispute over an investment in a small community newspaper. The lawsuit, in progress in Wilson County Chancery Court, raises questions as to whether state Sen. Mae Beavers properly disclosed sources of income with the Tennessee Ethics Commission. On Monday, she filed new statement of disclosure of interest forms, accounting for what was either an investment or loan — the sides are disputing which it was — as a source of income, nearly two years after the fact.
The publisher of the Macon County Chronicle in court documents is disputing assertions made by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, that she owes the lawmaker principal and interest on a $50,000 loan used to purchase the newspaper. Rather, Kathryne Belle alleges in her Wilson County Chancery Court response there was no loan and that Beavers had joined an investors group and “invested” the money in the newspaper on May 26, 2010. “This investment was funded through a cashier’s check issued by Cedarstone Bank, payable to Main Street Media LLC from Choice Community Newspapers LLC,” Belle’s attorneys state in their response, filed Tuesday. “Co-plaintiff Mae Beavers delivered said cashier’s check to Defendant Belle for the specific purpose of investing in the venture and to make payment of the May 21, 2010 installment [payment] due to Main Street Media for purchase of the Macon County Chronicle,” the filing says.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is engaged in a court dispute over the purpose of $50,000 the powerful senator and her husband provided to the publisher of a newspaper. Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, contends in a Chancery Court lawsuit that the money was a loan, proper payments have not been made and Kathryne Bell, publisher of the Macon County Chronicle, should be required to return the money with interest. But Bell contends in a response to the lawsuit that the $50,000 was an investment in the newspaper, not a loan, and Beavers received an interest in the enterprise in return.
State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, has picked up papers to run for the Senate District 10 seat, currently held by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. Berke is weighing a race for mayor of Chattanooga. Meanwhile, Republican Larry Grohn has picked up papers to run in the House District 30 seat now represented by Dean. Also picking up qualifying papers to run for the 28th Legislative District House seat are Democratic Reps. Tommie Brown and JoAnne Favors, whose districts largely were merged in redistricting recently passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Candidates have until April 5 to file qualifying petitions.
Tennessee has the highest combined state and local sales tax rate of any state, the Tax Foundation reported today. The 7 percent state sales tax rate in Tennessee, combined with an average 2.45 percent local sales tax rate across the state, boosts the Volunteer State’s sales tax rate to the highest among the 50 states with an average tax levy on purchases of 9.45 percent. The other states with the highest combined state and local sales tax rates, in order, are Arizona (9.12 percent), Louisiana (8.85 percent), Washington (8.80 percent), and Oklahoma (8.66 percent). According to the Tax Foundation, five states do not have a statewide sales tax: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon.
As Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spent weeks savaging each other across the country with thousands of negative TV ads, rival Rick Santorum managed to remain unscathed — and found himself soaring on a winning streak. But as the campaigns turn their attention to Tennessee and nine other Super Tuesday states, Santorum’s time for a harsher turn in the spotlight might have arrived. “Gingrich and Romney have both brought each other down, and Santorum has benefited,” said John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University who specializes in the study of negative political ads. “I suspect that the next two to three weeks are not going to be kind to him.”
Early voting begins today at four sites in Hamilton County, and local officials remind those headed to the polls to remember their photo IDs. The early voting ballot will be for the March 6 primaries, including the U.S. presidential race, two county special elections — one for commission District 3 and another for county mayor — and county property assessor. “Early voting offers a convenient way for voters to cast their ballots without worrying about making it to the polls on Election Day,” said Hamilton County Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan. “The added flexibility allows individuals to work voting into their already busy schedules.”
Early voting in the Tennessee presidential primary begins Wednesday, Feb. 15, but the Republican presidential contenders have Arizona and Michigan on their minds. The early voting period in advance of the March 6 Election Day also includes a set of Shelby County primaries for General Sessions Court clerk, Shelby County district attorney general, property assessor and one Shelby County Commission seat. The winners in those primaries advance to the August county general election ballot. The Arizona and Michigan primaries are Feb. 28, with Tennessee one of several Super Tuesday states holding primaries March 6.
Early voting for March 6 party primaries gets under way today in Tennessee. Voters in Sullivan County have a choice of three early voting locations: • Sullivan County Election Office, 3258 Highway 126, Blountville. • Kingsport Civic Auditorium, 1550 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport. • National Guard Armory, 611 Bluff City Highway, Bristol. Early voting in Sullivan County will be: Feb 15-17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. to noon; Feb. 21-24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Feb. 25 from 9 a.m. to noon; and Feb. 27-28 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Voters who go to the polls may cast a ballot in either the Democratic Party primary or the Republican Party primary — not both. Voters are not registered by party in Tennessee.
Folks participating in early voting that starts today have lots of Republican choices and three uncontested Democrats competing in the March 6 primary. The voters will choose their party’s nominees for president and two Rutherford County offices: property assessor and road superintendent. When it comes to property assessor, the Republicans candidates are incumbent Bill Boner, Lance Jenkins and William C. Austin II. The lone Democrat seeking to be property assessor is Rob Mitchell. Austin sees the Republican candidates bringing out far more voters who agree with them on the issues.
The Tennessee State Employees Association said Tuesday it has ended discussions with Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration about legislation that would eliminate most civil service protections for state workers. Robert O’Connell, the group’s executive director, said in statements that several weeks of discussions have ended because the “governor’s people were unwilling to remove or compromise on the provisions most harmful to state employees.” Haslam’s proposal would eliminate rules that allow bumping and retreating, which association officials say removes seniority as a prime protection for state employees when layoffs are deemed necessary. The proposal would also strip the right of a person who is laid off to be called back to work if the economy improves.
Tennessee’s biggest public employees association broke off talks with Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday, saying the administration would not yield ground on planned reforms to the state’s system for hiring and firing government workers. The Tennessee State Employees Association said the administration would not bend on provisions that it believes will dismantle the state’s civil service system. The group met with Haslam aides four times and made several concessions, said TSEA spokesman Chris Dauphin. But the administration would not bend on Haslam’s proposals to change how layoffs are handled, his plan to give department heads more flexibility on who they hire or his plan to strip career government employees of “due process” protections.
The Tennessee State Employees Association said Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration refuses to compromise on the “most harmful provisions” of a Haslam bill the group says damages workers’ civil service protections. “Unfortunately, the governor’s people were unwilling to remove or compromise on the provisions most harmful to state employees and to the people of Tennessee, leaving TSEA no choice but to announce our strongest opposition to the bill,” TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said Tuesday.
The Tennessee State Employees Association is walking away from talks with the governor regarding plans to overhaul civil service rules. Once complimentary of the Haslam Administration’s openness to input, the TSEA now says it has “no choice” but to announce its “strongest opposition.” A key sticking point for the employees association is the proposed elimination of rules that allow state workers – if their positions are cut – to take the jobs of less senior employees. Governor Haslam has described the system – called “bumping” – as “antiquated.” State workers dispute claims that bumping causes complicated chain reactions. And TSEA president Phil Morson says scrapping seniority would waste what he calls “the considerable investment” that’s been made in experienced employees.
After spirited debate, the Chattanooga City Council approved a $3.2 million project to clean up the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant in an attempt to curtail sewer stench downtown and in North Chattanooga. Not all council members were anxious to spend the money, however. “Let us not think of this as the panacea to cure all that ails us in the downtown area,” said Councilwoman Deborah Scott. “We have to consider our alternatives,” agreed Councilman Andraé McGary. Both opposed the project and suggested other ways to combat the smell such as retrofitting catch basins downtown. Councilman Jack Benson countered, saying, “We pay our engineers good money, and I think it’s a failing on our part not to listen to them.”
The Hamilton County Jail has the highest percentage of corrections officers arrested in the past year out of the state’s four largest metro areas. From the beginning of 2011 to date, six corrections officers out of about 157 jail employees at the local jail have been arrested. In 2010, only one corrections officer was arrested. While more jail employees in Nashville and Memphis were arrested in the same time period — 10 in Nashville and 12 in Memphis — those cities have much larger staffs, leading to a lower percentage of employees who violated the law. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said the higher numbers at his jail are not a poor reflection on the department’s hiring procedures and, in fact, show that they’re doing their job well.
1963 act gives option if suburban towns seek to raise funds for local schools If any suburban government approves holding a referendum for a half-cent bump in the local sales tax rate to help fund municipal schools, the county would have 40 days to supersede the move by seeking a similar increase countywide. The 1963 Local Option Revenue Act gives the county commission that length of time to consider passing its own resolution asking that voters throughout the county consider a referendum affecting all of Shelby County.
Newly released audit reports call into question large entertainment reimbursements the Southaven Chamber of Commerce paid Mayor Greg Davis without receipts or other documentation. The reports released Tuesday by the chamber to The Commercial Appeal include a statement by auditors saying they “were unable to examine sufficient documentation” involving $75,800 in expenses incurred in 2008 and 2009. Overall, Davis is believed to have received as much as $123,807 from the chamber between 2008 and 2010 for expenses incurred while promoting the city to prospective businesses.
President Barack Obama revealed his $3.8 trillion budget for 2013 Monday, and if Republican lawmakers from Tennessee have anything to do with it, it stands no chance of passing. Congressmen and senators immediately issued scathing responses to Obama’s proposal, within hours of its announcement. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann called it “unacceptable,” and he said he would be introducing legislation later this week geared at reforming the budget process “in a way that significantly reduces discretionary spending.”
Weston Wamp’s bid for Congress is audacious, and he knows it. Wamp, the 24-year-old Republican candidate for Tennessee’s 3rd District, made the case to a full room of Hamilton County Pachyderm Club members Thursday for why he’s seeking to unseat Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and what he would do should he find success in his first pursuit of office. The ideas include eliminating pensions for members of Congress, cutting corporate tax rates and instituting a 5 percent across-the-board cut on the federal government. During his 24-minute speech, Wamp refused to shy away from criticisms regarding his youth.
A pair of recent court rulings could slow down state lawmakers’ efforts to increase contributions from current employees to prop up troubled public pension plans. Higher employee contributions were at the center of major public pension changes approved last year in Arizona and New Hampshire, which joined 10 states in boosting the share that current workers must chip in to their retirement plans through payroll deductions. The state government also pays in to the plans from taxpayer dollars, so an increase in worker contributions often means the state can reduce its cost of providing retirement benefits. But district court judges in Arizona and New Hampshire said the higher contributions were unconstitutional because they broke the contract between employees and the state, which guarantees workers that they will not be asked to pay additional amounts after being hired unless they receive improved benefits in return. This legal precept traces to the U.S. Constitution, which bars lawmakers from diminishing or impairing a contract.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is touring the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Nuclear Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub. The hub uses some of the world’s most powerful computers to improve nuclear reactor design and engineering. Chu’s tour will promote the Obama administration’s support for nuclear energy. The Wednesday afternoon tour comes after a morning visit to the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, Ga. That’s the site of the first two new nuclear power units to be built in the United States in more than 30 years.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been highly successful in recent years by winning scientific competitions, and the lab has its sights set on another big prize: a five-year, $120 million project to focus research on advanced batteries and electrical energy storage. ORNL Director Thom Mason confirmed the lab plans to compete for the fourth in a series of so-called Energy Innovation Hubs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
School officials from Kingsport, Sullivan County and Hawkins County are not pleased with Senate Bill 2210, a bill proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam. Those officials say the bill would likely cut state funding even though it is supposed to have a hold harmless clause. Kingsport Board of Education member Susan Lodal, the BOE’s legislative liaison, who is active in the Tennessee School Boards Association, continues to track the bill, which would loosen classroom size mandates by keeping class size maximums but eliminating class size average requirements.
School nutrition, bus drivers and information technology employees working in Metro Nashville schools, along with unions that represent them, dominated Tuesday’s school board agenda, concerned that a employee handbook rewrite is taking away some of their rights. But Schools Director Jesse Register said rumors about district plans to lay off or outsource service employees in June are untrue, and their jobs will remain much the same despite the rewrite. Register said he decided not to renew a Memorandum of Understanding with the unions after an agreement expired last summer.
The Maury County School Board released maps of areas that would be affected by a proposed rezoning plan for the 2012-2013 school year. The proposal calls for 328 elementary and middle school students to be shuffled to different schools to curb overcrowding. A public meeting about the rezoning is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 23 at Horace O. Porter School at College Hill for parents and school board members to discuss the proposal. In the plan, 159 Whitthorne Middle School students would move to E.A. Cox Middle School. Ninety of these students live in the Southside area of town, 40 from the Eastside and 29 from Bel-Air.
The Lebanon Democrat has named Clay Morgan, a longtime community newspaper editor, as the daily newspaper’s managing editor. Morgan also will serve as director of content and audience development for the Lebanon Publishing Company, which also owns the weekly papers the Mount Juliet News and the Hartsville Vidette. In addition to running the Democrat’s day-to-day operations, Morgan will direct the expansion of the company’s footprint in digital content development, social media and mobile content delivery. Publisher Joseph H. Adams says Morgan will provide the journalism leadership needed to develop content across the multiple platforms, including digital, mobile and print.
The Republican-led Arizona Legislature is considering a bill to fund an armed, volunteer state militia to respond to emergencies and patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Gov. Jan Brewer could deploy the volunteers using $1.9 million included in the bill making its way through the state Senate. The militia itself was created by a law signed by Brewer last year. The Arizona Republic reports the bill has a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senate Bill 1083 has already passed one committee along mostly party lines. It would provide $500,000 in one-time funding and $1.4 million a year from a gang task force fund.
As Tennessee continues to build on the momentum for education reform of the last two years, Gov. Bill Haslam has smartly proposed ending state mandates that restrict the ability of school districts and principals to make the best decisions for their schools when it comes to average class size and teacher pay. These proposals are an important step forward. Taken together, they will do much to ensure that our students have a great teacher in every classroom. As a parent with four kids attending Tennessee public schools, I’m glad the governor is taking action. Tennessee state law caps the number of students in a K-3 classroom at 25. The governor’s proposal would do nothing to change that.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to shake up the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation comes as no surprise following a summer-long listening tour in which he heard concerns about the impact of state regulations and bureaucracy on businesses across the state. In his second year, Haslam is following through on promises to run state government more like a business. If he can streamline that department and make it leaner and quicker, the governor is making the right moves, because businesses across the state are screaming for a friendlier climate. But if this means sacrificing the environment and conservation, then it’s a bad move that could haunt Tennesseans for generations to come.
It’s a small idea, but a good one: Build a van from the ground up that can easily handle a person in a wheelchair. That’s what the Vehicle Production Group of Florida did. And when Jeremy Wexler, director of operations for Wheelchair Express in Memphis, learned about the new van, his company decided to buy one — the first of its kind in Tennessee. There is a textbook example of how small-business expansion can work. Somebody has a good idea. Somebody else learns about the good idea and decides to buy into it. Money changes hands. A new product is introduced. Oh, and one less of an old product is sold — in this case a standard wheelchair conversion van.
Based on the past three presidential preference primaries, less than one in three registered voters in Tennessee is likely to cast a ballot for “Super Tuesday” this year. We have seen the leadership for the 2012 GOP nomination teeter on headlines and on results from even smaller turnouts, and shake our heads at the willingness of citizens to cede their voice to neighbors and strangers with whom they willingly argue over every little thing. In the Republican presidential primary alone, Tennessee could make a statement at a time when four contenders are still competitive nationally. Then there are the primaries for local offices on the ballots in most counties. In a year when so many city and county governments are struggling to meet debt obligations and continue to encourage economic growth, the only real question is: Why would you opt NOT to vote?
As debate rages on Tennessee’s voter ID law, the Pew Center on the States has found that 24 million voter registrations in the United States have serious errors. All told, one in eight registrations is flawed in some way, including almost 2 million dead people who are still on voter rolls. Inaccurate registrations — especially among the dead — can be fertile soil for fraudulent voters to claim a different person’s identity and vote in that person’s name. We can prevent that with a simple requirement of valid photo ID at the ballot box — as Tennessee law now provides. That’s a requirement worth preserving.
It would be a big surprise if FedEx’s application for tax breaks to help the company expand its flight training operations here received a thumbs-down from the EDGE board. The company is planning to invest $141.8 million to consolidate and expand its flight-training simulator operations in Memphis. FedEx is seeking a 13-year tax break on new manufacturing machinery and equipment, and a six-year tax break on real property improvements to retain about 333 jobs. Those jobs pay an average of $76,707 a year. The body that considers tax breaks — the Economic Development Growth Engine board — is scheduled to review the application today.
We can dramatically cut the federal gas tax. States could adjust their gas taxes and make their own construction and repair decisions without costly union regulations. The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that our national debt could nearly double over the next 10 years—to an astounding $29.4 trillion from $15 trillion today—so you might think Washington would be looking to stop the fiscal train wreck. You’d be wrong. Despite all the hyperventilating about a tea party takeover in Congress, the sad truth is that in 2011 Congress increased spending from the year before, raised the debt limit by $2 trillion, and funded ObamaCare. The highway bill is the latest example of Washington’s bipartisan addiction to big spending.
Occupy Nashville is about to get ousted by state and local officials, and frankly, I’ll be glad to see it over with. I’m pretty sick of hearing about it after four months. The idea of camping in freezing rain seems a tad insane to me. But then, my idea of roughing it is walking down the hall to the ice machine. But I have to give the protesters begrudging respect at the same time. They’ve shown a gritty determination not to let the rest of the world forget how many people are losing their jobs and their homes while the rich and powerful get more so. They’ve also, without intending to, underlined the deep-seated need in Nashville for more shelter beds to house the homeless who were drawn to the occupiers’ tent city. The protesters have a constitutional right to protest, as do we all. But city and state officials also have the power to pass laws to limit what those protests can look like.
The Occupy movement is an exercise in the workings of power whether it is social, financial, policing or political. The occupations that began in September spread with an infectious passion in part because the police violence and mass arrests, the tried-and-true methods of state power employed to suppress radical movements, backfired and the movement grew more. By October hundreds of encampments had popped up nationwide with the tacit cooperation and sometimes explicit approval of local officials. For a few heady weeks Occupy Wall Street had the glow of popular legitimacy – social power – trumping whatever fusty laws prohibited camping or a continuous presence in a public space. The inevitable counteroffensive was launched in November.