This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam and the Senate and House speakers want to narrow the scope of proposed legislation that lets workers keep guns in their vehicles on public and private employers’ parking lots. The National Rifle Association has dubbed the bill the “employee safe commute” act. The Tennessee Firearms Association also backs the legislation. “The current bill that’s out there we feel like is a little overly broad, and we’d like to see it addressed some more, which I think is in the process,” said Haslam, a Republican.
As the StartUp America Partnership rings in one year of existence, its Tennessee chapter is nearing several key milestones of its own The partnership, a nonprofit that aims to connect entrepreneurs with mentors, investors and other resources, is now in 17 states. StartUp Tennessee, which Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced in the summer, made the state the second in the country to join the initiative.
When it comes to safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say it’s all about monitoring from the time a physician writes a prescription to when it’s filled. News 5 learned Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is proposing a registry for doctors and pharmacists to check before writing or filling a prescription. The goal, to stop abusers and curb the rise in overdoses. Bottled up, prescription medications, are supposed to be a first line of treatment but those potent drugs can be addicting. The number of overdoses is way up over the past few years and that’s one reason Governor Bill Haslam wants to make it more difficult to get drugs they don’t need.
There could be significant future demand for transportation professionals, a good sign for the Mid-South. The 2010 Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Annual Workforce Report showed more than 600,000 Tennesseans are employed in trade, transportation, and utilities. The report predicted an increase of approximately 218,000 new transportation jobs in the state by 2018. For the transportation field, there are growing opportunities in the business, government, commercial and military sectors, according to Larry Jenkins, program chair of transportation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Hamilton County Schools likely will apply for a state grant to start a special district within the school district aimed at improving some of the county’s lowest-performing schools. Board members met to discuss an application for the state’s School Innovation Zone with Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman on Thursday after his address to the Chattanooga Rotary Club. During his address, Huffman said he hopes Hamilton County will apply for the grant, which would offer $30 million to $40 million. Schools within an innovation zone would have much wider flexibility in how they operate.
The state will again offer certain qualified individuals a chance to enroll in TennCare — if they can get through by phone during a short, specific “call-in” period. TennCare Standard Spend Down is available, through a Medicaid waiver, to a limited number of qualified low-income applicants; those with high, unpaid medical bills who are elderly, blind or disabled; or caretaker relatives of children eligible for TennCare. The only way for these groups of people to request an application — which doesn’t guarantee TennCare coverage — is to call, toll-free, 1-866-358-3230, at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Takeover would be part of $250M national effort Corrections Corporation of America has expressed interest in buying a state-owned prison southwest of Nashville as part of a strategy it’s pitching to most state governments as a partial cure to their budget shortfalls. The private prison operator has set aside $250 million to embark on the national effort. In informal conversations with state corrections officials in Tennessee in recent weeks, Nashville-based CCA cited South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tenn., as a possible target.
The state House of Representatives passed a bill solidifying Gov. Bill Haslam’s sales tax deal with Amazon today. House Bill 2370 creates requirements for when a business has a “nexus” or physical presence for taxing purposes. It codifies a planned scenario in which Amazon will begin collecting sales taxes in Tennessee starting in 2014 if the federal government doesn’t pass legislation establishing a national standard. Leadership in the House called it a top priority after Haslam, a Republican, negotiated the deal.
Ownership records of companies seeking economic development grants should be available to the public, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday. The Blountville Republican spoke to reporters about Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal that would seal off information about those companies. Haslam has called for the public records changes as part of his plan to offer more cash incentives for companies to invest in Tennessee. The bill closes off information regarding “business processes, organizational structure and ownership, financial statements, budgets, cash flow reports or similar materials.” A Senate vote on the proposal was again delayed Thursday from earlier in the week.
Top legislative leaders want to rewrite Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation that would keep the public from seeing the names of owners of companies receiving taxpayer-funded economic incentives. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said citizens should know the ownership interests behind companies getting state Fast Track development grants, tax incentives and tax credits. A bill sought by Haslam, a fellow Republican, and Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty seeks more detailed information from companies receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
The bill sought by Tennessee economic development officials to keep secret the names of business owners getting taxpayer-funded grants, tax credits and other aid appears headed back to the drawing board. Top legislative leaders said Thursday the bill is being retooled because taxpayers have a right to know who is getting state economic incentives, including the owners of privately held companies. A bill sought by Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and his boss, Gov. Bill Haslam, would keep confidential certain information given to the state by businesses seeking public incentives, including “business processes, organizational structure and ownership, financial statements, budgets, cash flow reports or similar materials.”
A controversial bill originally called “Don’t Say Gay” got out of a state House subcommittee Thursday night, potentially clearing the way for the bill to be enacted into law. Opponents had argued that the original bill would have barred teachers from even acknowledging questions about alternative lifestyles that might have affected their lives – students with gay parents, for instance. The House Education Subcommittee adopted an amendment that softens a lot of the language. State Representative Joey Hensley says the changes will make it easier to get the bill passed.
A Republican-backed proposal aimed at stopping Occupy Nashville protesters from staying overnight at the Capitol complex passed the House on Thursday despite opposition from Democrats who say the legislation’s penalty is excessive. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland was approved 70-26 after a lengthy debate on Thursday. All 26 votes against the bill came from Democrats. Seven voted for it. The companion bill was to be heard on the Senate floor, but it adjourned before hearing the legislation. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters later that the measure will likely be heard next Thursday.
Protesters plot next move after Senate postpones debate on anti-camping bill Occupy Nashville protesters received an unexpected reprieve Thursday, but the group nevertheless said it is prepping for another confrontation that would challenge the state’s power to oust its camp from the grounds of the Tennessee Capitol. The state House voted 70-26 Thursday to approve a bill that would ban unauthorized camping on public grounds, but debate over the measure lasted long enough that state senators opted not to take it up, creating a one-week holdup for the legislation.
House lawmakers OK’d a measure Thursday that would oust tent-living Occupy Nashville protesters from the Capitol Hill grounds. The bill would prohibit people from pitching tents on state government property where camping is not expressly permitted. For example, the bill could be broadly interpreted to forbid, say, camping outside rest stops along I-40 to lobby for better vending machines, as well as any overnight demonstrations to bring attention to the state flower at this state-run iris garden. Most assuredly, there would be no 24-hour vigils at the cosmetology board for tougher standards for state-licensed manicurists. The Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 still has a little ways to go before it lands on the governor’s desk.
The state House of Representatives fought for more than an hour before passing a bill today to clear the Legislative Plaza of the Occupy Nashville campers. Occupy Nashville activists have camped on the Plaza since October, protected by a federal court that treated the occupation as a legitimate form of protest. Republican sponsor Eric Watson of Cleveland denies the measure is aimed at silencing the protesters. “It does not prevent the use of state land for any authorized or constitutional purpose, but only prohibits the activity of camping in areas that are not designated as camping areas.”
Gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Tennessee General Assembly is available statewide on public television. AT&T is sponsoring the coverage on the “Tennessee Channel.” The broadcasts include live and taped-delayed proceedings, with committee meetings, floor sessions and other joint conventions. Such broadcasts were introduced statewide for the first time last year. The General Assembly is responsible for feeding the broadcast to the Tennessee Channel. It will then run through the state’s six public TV stations.
While still keeping future political aspirations under wraps, District 10 Sen. Andy Berke plans to make an announcement regarding his future in the next couple of weeks, he said at a town hall meeting Thursday. “I’ve said that I’m seriously considering running for mayor, but my goal is to work on the issues that affect the lives of my neighbors,” he said. “I care deeply about the economic future and the standard of life in this area. I want to make sure that I’m in the right job to do that.” Instead, Berke addressed unemployment, crime and education, calling them “major issues” at both a local and state level.
Judge grants preliminary injunction as case continues U.S. District Judge William Haynes granted a preliminary injunction Thursday to halt the state’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee. The organization had used the state money to test for sexually transmitted diseases and to run infection prevention programs. Haynes issued the order after hearing oral arguments in Memphis federal court. “This ruling is a victory for the thousands…who rely on Planned Parenthood for HIV and STD testing and prevention counseling,” said Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood offices in Tennessee got a favorable ruling in federal court Thursday. U.S. District Judge William Haynes granted a preliminary injunction, effectively restoring state money to the organization. Planned Parenthood sued the state last month after grants for HIV and syphilis testing were revoked without warning. Jeff Teague, who is CEO of the Middle and East Tennessee offices, accused state officials of making a political decision since Planned Parenthood also performs abortions. These specific grants totaled $170,000.
Metro officials will give an update tonight on what safeguards Nashville could add to handle another big flood. The Army Corps of Engineers just put out its final report on the May 2010 disaster. The report (link) details the flood two years ago, when more than a foot of rain fell and 18 people were killed in the Nashville area. And it tallies up more than two billion dollars in damages. Tonight Metro kicks off a round of progress updates (link) at McGavock high school, on a holistic plan for dealing with future floods.
A Wilson County judicial magistrate and his wife have been arrested and charged by police with failing to report the sexual abuse of a child. Givens Phillips and his wife, Tonya, were booked into the Wilson County jail Thursday afternoon, according to WTVF-TV in Nashville (http://bit.ly/A9Tmih ). Police said that both were aware that a 6-year-old child was being sexually abused and did not report the abuse to police. They were both released from jail on their own recognizance after booking. They are scheduled to be in court for arraignment March 23. His attorney in Lebanon did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday evening.
The past payouts to Knoxville’s top tourism official have gotten plenty of attention, but today the focus will be on her future. The Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. board is scheduled to meet this afternoon to discuss the employment situation of CEO Gloria Ray, who has drawn heavy scrutiny in recent weeks because of a compensation package that exceeds $400,000, including incentives. Under pressure from elected officials, the board voted earlier this month to accept her retirement, and KTSC’s executive committee subsequently placed Ray on administrative leave with pay. Ray’s retirement is contingent upon the two sides reaching an agreement about its terms.
On the floor of the United States Senate Thursday morning, Sen. Lamar Alexander pitched the Marketplace Fairness Act, which he said will “close a 20-year loophole that distorts the marketplace.” Along with a group of lawmakers from both parties, Alexander, R-Tenn., is co-sponsoring the bill that would require businesses, such as Amazon, to charge sales tax for online purchases. “We strongly believe that now is the time for Congress to act,” he said.
Responding to the $3.8 trillion budget plan released by President Barack Obama earlier this week, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann announced his introduction of legislation that would cap federal discretionary spending for the next nine years. The four-page bill, called the Freeze Government Spending Act of 2011, would set a limit of $949 billion per year for nonmandatory items in the government’s budget until 2021. Fleischmann said the move would save American taxpayers $1.66 trillion compared to Obama’s proposal—which has yet to be brought to a vote.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is planning an appearance in Chattanooga next weekend. Santorum led a poll of “likely” Republican voters in Tennessee earlier this month, and plans to speak at a tea party forum. Meanwhile conservative rival Newt Gingrich has scheduled a fundraiser at a Franklin home the week after, charging $2500 for a photo opportunity. Earlier this week Mitt Romney picked Governor Bill Haslam to chair his Tennessee campaign. Haslam told reporters yesterday Romney hasn’t yet scheduled anything in the state. Early voting is underway now; election day is March 6th – Super Tuesday.
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum will visit Chattanooga next week, just 10 days before Tennessee’s March 6 “Super Tuesday” primary. Santorum will headline the Chattanooga Tea Party’s Liberty Forum on Feb. 25 at Abba’s House in Hixson. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania has surged recently in national and state polls. Santorum hat-tricked elections in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri one day last week, and a recent poll shows him beating Mitt Romney in Tennessee by seven percentage points. However, he wasn’t the local tea party’s first choice.
Rick Santorum first candidate to schedule public event The hurricane surrounding the GOP presidential race is about to make landfall in Tennessee. Along with residents of nine other states, Tennesseans will go to the polls on March 6 to cast votes in the largest collective primary election of 2012, known as “Super Tuesday. Along with Tennessee, primaries will be held in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont and Virginia. Although early voting is already underway in Tennessee, candidates are continuing to lay the groundwork to sway voters across the state.
The need for revenue to partly cover the extension of the payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits has pushed Congress to embrace a generational shift in the country’s media landscape: the auction of public airwaves now used for television broadcasts to create more wireless Internet systems. If a compromise bill completed Thursday by Congress is approved as expected by this weekend, the result will eventually be faster connections for smartphones, iPads and other data-hungry mobile devices. Their explosive popularity has overwhelmed the ability, particularly in big cities, for systems to quickly download maps, video games and movies.
Natural gas has been good to Wyoming. The discovery of large shale deposits in the early 2000s put Wyoming at the center of a new energy boom in the West, bringing enough jobs to keep unemployment low through the recession and causing tax revenues to skyrocket. Thanks largely to natural gas money, Wyoming invested millions of dollars in upgrading roads and schools, while socking away more than $1 billion in its rainy day fund. But the boom is over for Wyoming, at least for now. A precipitous drop in the price of natural gas has sent state lawmakers scrambling to make budget cuts.
TVA board members heard a long explanation at their meeting Thursday as to why a nuclear reactor construction project is going to be overdue and over budget. Utility officials blame leadership problems and their own rush to start construction. It will be another few months before TVA officials have a new estimate for the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor in Spring City. But they know it’s going to go well beyond the original $2.5 billion estimate. And they are no longer shooting for completion by 2013. Mike Skaggs is vice president of the Watts Bar plant and says work estimates were based on other nuclear reactors that turned out to be poor comparisons.
A nuclear contractor overbilled the Tennessee Valley Authority by more than $1.2 million over three years, according to a TVA Office of Inspector General report. Out of a total of $67.9 million in costs that were audited, Williams Plant Services LLC, which supplied supplemental maintenance, technical support and modifications, charged too much or billed for items it should not have, the report said. These included $714,288 for subcontractor costs for Williams’ sister company, Williams Specialty Services; $279,288 for payroll tax costs on non-manual employees; and $225,463 for labor costs, including $190,804 in fringe benefit costs for non-manual employees who did not receive fringe benefits.
Tennessee Valley Authority board members learned Thursday that the second reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant will not be completed before 2014 and is over budget. “We didn’t understand the complexity of the project as well as we should have,” TVA’s new nuclear chief, Mike Skaggs, told the board, blaming problems on “leadership.” The reactor was initially to cost $2.5 billion and be completed later this year. TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore said it may be April before he can say how late or over budget the plant will be.
A former contractor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant was sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty to falsifying work records at the TVA plant under construction near Spring City, Tenn. John Delk, 40, of Cleveland, Tenn., was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service by U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier. He was the second person sentenced in the case. Delk admitted he “fraudulently and knowingly signed a work closure form certifying that work had been completed when, in fact, the micrometer measurements were not completed and were forged,” according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Bill Killian.
Tasks using respirators suspended Operations involving the use of respirators at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant were suspended last week after it was discovered that some of the plant’s respiratory equipment — including masks and breathing tubes — was radioactively contaminated. The findings were stunning because the equipment had supposedly been certified as clean. An investigation is under way, and every piece of respiratory equipment at Y-12 is being inspected and surveyed for radioactivity, plant spokeswoman Ellen Boatner said Thursday.
Erlanger Health System has begun laying off managers and directors this week in the second phase of a labor management plan to cut costs, employees were told Wednesday. In an inter-office memo to employees, Erlanger officials said they would provide additional information in coming days. The memo did not say how many positions will be affected. “We understand that these departures will be difficult, both for those affected and for their employees,” the message stated. Erlanger has lost $10.3 million in the last six months, primarily because of lower surgery numbers, officials have said.
The intensive care patient told the bedside nurse that he was feeling “really bad” and “quite nauseated.” “You’ll be OK. I’ll get you some food,” Theresa Day, a clinical educator in surgical critical care, responded as she checked his vitals on nearby computer screens. The patient, a life-size human simulator, isn’t real but the scenarios and equipment used are exactly what aspiring health care providers will face as they enter the field, she said.
A delegation of suburban Shelby County mayors on Thursday night assured the commission planning the transition to unified Memphis and Shelby County schools that the “train has left the station” toward breakaway municipal school districts. That was the operative phrase of the presentation by mayors from Germantown, Bartlett, Collierville, Lakeland, Arlington and Millington, most of whose municipal governments are laying the groundwork for referendums in May that would approve separate municipal school districts.
The group drawing up the blueprint for a consolidated countywide public school system will plan for a school system that covers the entire county including the suburban towns and cities. That’s what the chairwoman of the schools consolidation transition planning commission told all six suburban mayors Thursday, Feb. 16, as the planning commission talked with the mayors about their plans to create municipal school districts. The mayors said time is too short to call off their plans as planning commission members expressed concern that the plans aren’t well thought out or realistic.
Can a compromise be reached on the increasingly complicated school-merger issue? The question was sure to get a workout at Thursday afternoon’s session of the Transition Planning Commission — a summit meeting of sorts, with sub urban mayors appearing before the TPC to discuss the shape of things to come. Meanwhile, two of the principals at the meeting were elaborating on their positions.
Managers to ease principals’ work loads A year before the city and county schools are expected to merge, Memphis City Schools plans to spend nearly $1 million to hire 23 business managers to help run its schools. With federal money it set aside to pay bonuses to teachers and principals, the district intends to hire the seasoned business managers as early as this spring. Their job will be to oversee school maintenance schedules, bus routes and cafeteria issues, plus manage non-teaching staff and after-school programs.
Rutherford County teachers are among the most effective in the state based on value-added learning gains, according to a district news release, citing a new state report. The Tennessee Department of Education recently posted the district level Evaluation Composite report on the state’s public website for the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, otherwise known as TVAAS. Districts will begin using the report next school year as part of the new teacher evaluation model, according to the RCS release. On the report, districts can earn a 1-5 for overall teacher effectiveness with a 5 being the highest score.
Kookogey: Government has no place in cafeteria As more Williamson County schools begin to serve breakfast to students, the county’s Republican Party chairman, Kevin Kookogey, says it is not the role of the government to feed people. School officials announced in January the goal to offer breakfast at all schools as a part of the National School Breakfast program, which reimburses the district through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for each meal served. Whether students qualify for free and reduced prices for the meal or they pay full price, the district essentially receives money back from the government.
Metro Nashville’s 44 high school academies aren’t just drawing interest from other states. President Barack Obama sent someone from his own staff to take a look. On Thursday, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier toured Hillwood High School’s Health Sciences Academy. There, students whose interests range from diagnosing illnesses to emergency medical services learn some of those skills, along with their core high school classes.
Some truths about Tennessee’s black history are painful. President Andrew Jackson kept slaves at his Hermitage mansion. Pulaski is the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. But they’re truths that the state’s history teachers plunge into candidly, letting students’ age determine when they’re ready to hear about protesters who were dragged from lunch counters or see photos of burnings and lynchings. Black History Month and all year long, they say, it’s a past that must be examined, even if it makes a few students uncomfortable.
The New Jersey Assembly approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Thursday, setting up a confrontation with Gov. Chris Christie, who promised a swift veto and defied the Legislature to put the issue before voters instead. In two hours of passionate debate, Democrats supporting the measure urged their colleagues to make history, comparing the fight for legalization of same-sex marriage to battles for women’s suffrage and against racism.
Thanks to an agreement brokered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York has moved a step closer to carrying out the statewide teacher evaluation system it promised two years ago in return for $700 million from the federal Race to the Top education program. Ending the impasse between the teachers’ unions and education officials will help improve instruction across the state. A deal, announced on Thursday, resolves several points of dispute that led to litigation between the state and the state teachers’ union and held up negotiations between New York City and its union.
One aspect of good leadership is realizing when to fight and knowing when to step back. Gov. Bill Haslam demonstrated that quality this week when he backed away from his legislative proposal to lift average class-size restrictions in public K-12 schools. The governor’s proposal is part of the state’s education reform efforts to, among other things, get better teachers into the classrooms. Haslam has said giving school districts more flexibility on class sizes would free up money to increase pay for better teachers and teachers in hard-to-fill subjects and schools.
On Wednesday after Gov. Bill Haslam abandoned his proposal to do away with average class size restrictions in Tennessee, House Speaker Beth Harwell said it was a credit to the governor as a leader that he would listen to all the interested parties and then take action in response to their concerns. No, he lost all leadership creditability on education when he had the boneheaded idea that it was OK to have unlimited class sizes. And the very idea that the gubernatorial staff and that of Tennessee Education Commission Kevin Huffman didn’t have the willingness to stand up to Sir Has-a-lot with a resounding “Have you lost your mind?” before the idea managed to become a proposal is evidence that leadership isn’t what it should be in the state’s executive branch.
We’re concerned about a bill scheduled to be considered today in the state Senate that would add another layer of secrecy to how the state delivers economic development incentives to companies. The bill (SB2207) would allow certain types of information about companies that receive incentives to remain secret, including the company’s organizational structure and ownership, financial statements, budgets and cash-flow reports. We understand the need for secrecy in certain aspects of these arrangements. A company that could bring needed jobs to Tennessee shouldn’t be forced to make public what is proprietary information that could be of value to its competitors.
Where’s the line between corporate secrecy and open government? Businesses, particularly when they are in an expansion mode, like to play their cards close to the chest. While they’re in the process of negotiating a deal for a new plant, say, they want to keep the details private until everything is nailed down. That’s understandable in today’s highly competitive marketplace, but what if the wheeling and dealing includes a government subsidy? Putting taxpayer money into the pot adds a whole new element. Secrecy, said Frank Gibson, public policy director for the Tennessee Press Association, is a double-edged sword.
If enough people can find a photo ID, Tennessee will finally matter in a presidential primary. According to some, obtaining said photo ID is akin to asking folks to walk across mountain passes (as in Afghanistan) or trek for days while menaced by militia (as in Iraq), but those willing to risk the DMV were able to begin casting votes in the presidential primary on Wednesday. March 6 is the actual primary, and that late date has usually meant presidential nominations were sewn up by then. President Barack Obama will, of course, win the Democratic primary — assuming enough Democrats find cause to participate.
With each new discovery of astounding amounts of natural gas or petroleum derived from shale comes renewed concern for the environmental impact of hydro-fracking (HF). U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu commissioned a committee of state regulators, industry experts and environmentalists to study ways HF can be improved. A subcommittee reported in August that HF itself does not pollute drinking water. Rather, the group blamed faulty pipe or the cement surrounding it. To understand this finding better, we need to review the drilling, cementing and fracking sequence.