This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Phillip Robinson has been named judge of the Third Circuit Court for the 20th Judicial District. Robinson, who earned his juris doctorate from the University of Tennessee College of Law, replaces Barbara Haynes who retired last year. He was considered the frontrunner to replace Haynes. “Phillip has practiced law in Davidson County his entire career, and he will bring that extensive experience to the bench,” Haslam said in a release. The Third Circuit Court will likely be designated a new family law court for Davidson County.
With his first Nashville judicial appointment, Gov. Bill Haslam named Nashville family law attorney Phillip Robinson to the Davidson County Circuit Court on Thursday. In the coming months, however, voters will have the final say on who gets the job until the next regularly scheduled judicial elections in 2014. The first step in that process is the March 6 Democratic primary election, in which Robinson is facing off against Nashville attorney Stan Kweller, who also was under consideration by Haslam for the temporary appointment. Robinson said he was thrilled to be chosen and he thinks it will help at the ballot box. “It’s the biggest compliment that could be paid,” Robinson said.
Governor Bill Haslam has named Phillip Robinson as judge of Third Circuit Court for the 20th Judicial District in Davidson County. The 61-year-old replaces Barbara Haynes, who retired last year. The Court will likely be designated a new family law court for Davidson County as Robinson spent 25 years of his 36-year legal career practicing exclusively domestic relations. “I am honored to receive the appointment from Gov. Haslam, and I appreciate the opportunity to serve the people of Davidson County in the Third Circuit Court,” Robinson said.
Last year, Connie Sanders, director of the Austin Peay State University Child Learning Center, became concerned about the preschool-aged children under her care. Many of them brought sack lunches with junk food and sugary treats, and she knew they weren’t getting enough exercise at home. Obesity and diabetes loomed in their future, so Sanders and her staff decided to do something before it was too late. “We completely revamped our menus,” she said. “We don’t serve sugar at all. We serve fresh fruits as often as we can. We also do more than 30 minutes of physical activity with the children every day, in addition to the time we spend outside.”
Nearly two years after the Tennessee Investment Small Business Company Act began investing in small businesses around the state, officials with venture capital companies that received funding say the program has created a great environment for startups in the state. Representatives from Nashville-based Limestone Fund and Tri-Star Technology Ventures, as well as Memphis-based MB Venture Partners and Innova, addressed the investment strategies during a luncheon Thursday hosted by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation the Memphis University Club. “There has never been a better time to be a startup entrepreneur in the state,” Gary Stevenson, co-founder of MB Venture Partners, said.
The administration of Gov. Bill Haslam has flagged a bill that would name a perimeter trail around the Bicentennial Mall in Nashville in honor of a former governor’s wife. Haslam is a Republican and his predecessor Phil Bredesen is a Democrat, but bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Naifeh said he thinks the issue isn’t politics, but money. It would cost an estimated $6,000 for signs to designate the trail to honor Andrea Conte — Bredesen’s wife. Naifeh — a Covington Democrat — said he can raise the money if the state can handle the signs. Naifeh noted his request has precedent.
Votes in the state legislature were delayed Thursday on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to close records used to make economic development grant decisions, as some lawmakers questioned why ownership details should be sealed. The state House of Representatives put off a decision on the bill for a week, and the state Senate sent it back to its Commerce Committee. Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, acknowledged the ownership portion of the proposal has become the “fundamental issue around the bill,” and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he does not expect the bill to be brought back to the Senate floor until it has been rewritten so that the owners of companies that receive grants are made a matter of public record.
The Tennessee state Senate today delayed taking action on a bill that would keep information secret about companies seeking state grants. The idea is that if the state Department of Economic and Community Development would keep certain information secret about companies applying for state money, they could make better decisions about handing it out. The original version would have made a great deal of information secret, even who owns the company. Democrats fought the idea, and some prominent Republicans weren’t happy either, including Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
A bill requiring that Occupy Nashville protesters break camp on War Memorial Plaza passed the Senate Thursday, 21 to 9. The legislation is in need now of only one more formalizing vote in the House before heading to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam. Known as the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012, the proposed new law states that camping will be prohibited on any state-owned public property not designated as a campground. It also defines camping as erecting any temporary structure, or laying down bedding materials for the purposes of sleeping.
Ramsey: Warning should come first Tennessee lawmakers moved closer to removing the dwindling Occupy Nashville encampment at the state Capitol, but the leader of the state Senate said Thursday that he does not want Gov. Bill Haslam to move quickly against the protest. Senators voted 21-9 for a measure that would make camping without permission on government land a crime punishable by up to a year in jail, overcoming arguments that the bill is too broad and is meant to punish a single protest. A second vote will be needed in the House of Representatives, where it passed by a wide margin last week, before the bill goes to Haslam for his signature.
Legislative Plaza, the state Senate today joined the state House in passing a bill to make such camping illegal. Sponsors of the bill to clear off the Legislative Plaza of unwanted tents say it’s a matter of protecting state land – not silencing Occupy Nashville. Senator Dolores Gresham of Somerville says her bill addresses unauthorized camping, not free speech. “This bill does not have anything to do with right of protest, right of assembly, right of redress of grievances. It has to do with public management…of private …of, of state property.”
A proposed bill that sponsors say guards the First Amendment rights of students actually reworks anti-bullying legislation and would protect those who harass and put the victim in more harm, an equal rights advocate said Thursday. Ben Byers, Knoxville committee chair for the Tennessee Equality Project, which is a statewide organization that supports and lobbies for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, was among the panelists at the University of Tennessee College of Law for a discussion the so-called “license to bully” bill that has been proposed in the Legislature.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said today he expects a compromise on economic development legislation to end with the state disclosing ownership of any company receiving incentives. The Republican head of the Tennessee Senate said he thinks any company asking for incentives — even those with an ownership structure that is currently private — should be prepared for that information to become public after the deal is done. He cast it as a political reality that the bill would need to go that far to pass the Legislature, and also said he believes it’s the right level of disclosure.
The announcement that a proposed Southeast Tennessee veterans nursing home here is now fully funded was premature. A new list of federal funding priorities released this week shows the Bradley County veterans home pushed down the rankings by three late adds from Virginia. Now the area’s state lawmakers are appealing to their federal counterparts for help. State Reps. Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson, both of Cleveland, and state Sen. Mike Bell, of Riceville, wrote to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DeJarlais, who will represent part of the area after redistricting.
Knox County commissioners want officials to release the entire state investigation into disgraced Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner so they’re turning to the governor and the Tennessee General Assembly for help. On Monday, they’re expected to adopt a resolution that asks state leaders to first request the case files. From there, commissioners say, they hope officials will enact legislation that removes exemption for closed Tennessee Bureau of Investigation files “in matters considered to be of great public importance.”
Relying on a disputed interpretation of state legislation, the six suburban mayors are asking the commission planning the transition to a unified Memphis and Shelby County School District to include municipal school districts in its plan. In a letter addressed to Dr. Barbara Prescott, who chairs the Transition Planning Commission, the mayors asked the TPC to decide where children who live outside their municipal boundaries but attend schools within the city limits will be educated should new municipal school districts be created. The mayors said they believed those children should continue to attend their same schools.
The group drafting the blueprint for the structure of a consolidated countywide public school system got several dozen PowerPoint slides and a briefing Thursday, Feb. 23, on the idea of a two-track school system that includes a “path to autonomy.” Between now and the transition planning commission’s next meeting in a week, those in the group of 21 will look over the specifics including generally similar models in other school systems before a possible vote at the commission’s March 1 meeting. The decision would be the first toward a consolidated school system structure.
Two new candidates have filed papers to enter the race for the 3rd District Congressional seat. Barry Kidwell, an Independent from Hixson, and Zach Hiatt, a Democrat also from Hixson, are listed as candidates on the most recent list from the Hamilton County Election Commission. Multiple attempts by Nooga.com to reach both Kidwell and Hiatt for comment were unsuccessful. Along with Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, candidates to have already filed papers for the 3rd District campaigns include Republicans Weston Wamp, Scottie Mayfield and Ron Bhalla.
Tennessee’s Republican primary is a little more than a week away, and both voters and some campaigns are still trying to get ready ahead of Super Tuesday. For candidates, that might mean booking an event or two in the Volunteer State on relatively short notice. For voters, it means having to finally make a decision, after watching the race for months. When it comes to presidential primaries, Tennessee doesn’t usually carry much sway. But of the ten states holding contests on Super Tuesday, it’s third down the list in terms of delegates at stake. And early voting is well underway.
Chattawhat? Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign confirmed a Tuesday morning fundraiser at an iconic Scenic City spot. One problem. “Chattahoochee Choo Choo Hotel,” said a copy of an invitation obtained Thursday by the Times Free Press. “Crystal Room … $1,000 per person.” Susan Meyers, southeast communications director for Gingrich, clarified the Republican presidential candidate’s position on the city’s world-famous venue. “The Chattanooga Choo Choo is one of Newt Gingrich’s favorite spots in the South, and especially in Tennessee,” she said. The invitation-only Choo Choo “VIP Roundtable” for the former House speaker begins Tuesday at 8 a.m., according to the invitation, which encourages supporters to give up to $2,500.
As taxpayers prepare their income tax returns for 2011, the Internal Revenue Service is still holding millions that are owed to Tennessee residents from 2008. IRS spokesman Dan Boone said the funds can’t be refunded because more than 18,000 Tennesseans it should go to haven’t filed returns from three years ago. Refunds totaling $16,130,000 await 2008 filings in Tennessee. Nationally, the estimate is more than $1 billion for people who have yet to file for that year. Boone said the late filing can still be done without penalty if a refund is owed, but only until April 17. After that, the money is turned over to the U.S. Treasury.
After working for the U.S. Postal Service for 24 years, Mark Lawrence is left with a choice — move away from his family or find a new career. Lawrence is one of 110 employees at the Shallowford Road Mail Processing and Distribution Center facing displacement or unemployment after the Postal Service announced the plant likely will be shut down sometime after May 15. Lawrence and his wife, Maribeth, love Chattanooga because they can continue to live with their daughter, a junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. They have a house, friends, a whole life here.
Postal processing facilities in Jonesboro, Ark., Jackson. Tenn., and Tupelo, Miss., will cease operations and be consolidated in Memphis if a proposal announced Thursday passes congressional muster. The U.S. Postal Service announced that 223 postal processing facilities would close under the plan, which is expected, with other consolidations, to save $20 billion. It was unclear whether the increased volume being sorted in the Bluff City will actually increase Memphis hiring. The Postal Service has seen a 25 percent decline in first-class mail service since 2006, making some response inevitable.
The U.S. Postal Service says it is closing 10 mail processing operations across Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, rerouting mail from three of those centers to Memphis facilities. Memphis will now handle postal operations for centers that are being closed in Jackson, Tenn., Tupelo, Miss., and Jonesboro, Ark. No processing centers in Memphis are slated to close.
As a result of studies begun five months ago, the Postal Service has made the decision to move all mail processing operations from: Chattanooga, Tenn. Processing & Distribution Center (P&DC) to the Nashville TN P&DC and Atlanta GA P&DC. Jackson, Tenn. Processing and Distribution Facility (P&DF) to the Memphis TN P&DC. Johnson City TN Customer Service Mail Processing Center (CSMPC) to the Knoxville, Tenn. P&DC. Once the transfers are completed, the mail processing operations at the closing sites will cease. There will be no change to any of the retail units, business mail entry units or vehicle maintenance facilities at these locations at this time.
The US Postal Service has decided to move Johnson City’s mail processing operations to Knoxville, despite what had been described as a five-month moratorium on such changes announced in December. “Once the transfers are completed, the mail processing operations at the closing sites will cease,” the USPS said in a news release. “There will be no change to any of the retail units, business mail entry units or vehicle maintenance facilities at these locations at this time.” Also in Tennessee, mail processing operations in Chattanooga will be moved to Nashville, and those in Jackson will be moved to Memphis.
Like rock stars on tour, America’s second lady and the U.S. Department of Labor secretary rolled into town Thursday on an unmarked, black luxury bus. Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are on a three-day, five-state publicity blitz touting community colleges and their roles in training the unemployed to land jobs in a changing market. “We’ve finally recognized that not only can community colleges change lives, they can change our country,” said Biden, a longtime community college educator.
From samurai swords to hatchets to snow globes, the Transportation Security Administration collects tons of unusual objects each year that passengers try to carry onto planes. The objects are what the TSA deems weapons or other threats to flight security. They’re surrendered at checkpoints by forgetful or harried passengers who would rather give them up than miss a flight or return to the check-in counter and pay extra to put them in a checked bag. Among the most common: Swiss Army knives or similarly sharp multiuse pocket tools, though the gamut runs to swords or even fuzzy handcuffs that are more for bedroom use than law enforcement.
TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore told Chattanooga area engineers Thursday that sooner or later nuclear operators will be able to mine fuel to make electricity from their own spent fuel wastes. “I’ll make a prediction,” he said to a questioner who asked about spent fuel recycling. “One of these days we’ll go out there and start mining those dry casks,” he said of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s onsite storage areas for used and highly radioactive nuclear waste. “France does it now. We just don’t have the political will to do it,” Kilgore said. Kilgore was the keynote speaker at the Chattanooga Engineers Week 2012 banquet, and his primary message was to explain “why we still need nuclear power.”
The average monthly electric bill from Jackson Energy Authority will be 52 cents smaller starting March 1. The energy authority is cutting the electrical rate it charges customers because of lower supply costs from the Tennessee Valley Authority. The average residential customer bill will be $112.68 per month after the rate change. This is the third consecutive month the local utility has lowered its electricity rate. The lower rate is now 3.99 percent lower than it was last March.
The Hamilton County Board of Education received two lower-than-expected bids for the now-closed 21st Century Academy, each proposal with very different visions for the vacant school. Locally based Emerson Russell Management Corp. offered $12,500 for the 74,000-square foot building, which sits on about eight acres at 4201 Cherryton Drive. Company officials said they hoped to renovate the building to house corporate offices. The other bid from Helton and Associates came in at $50,000, with a plan to use the building as a business incubator and community space.
Grundy County Schools’ officials continue work on a January state audit that listed eight findings including more than $29,000 in overspending, a $19,000 overdraft, “questionable compensation” for three employees and unapproved bonuses for seven others, officials said. “A breakdown in communication of our protocol during a six-month period where the director position, and several supervisors, changed positions numerous times caused some of these problems,” Director of Schools Jody Hargis said Thursday in an email.
A meeting called Thursday to spell out the specifics surrounding how the state allocates funds to schools may have yielded more questions than answers as area officials and education leaders work to address the ongoing issue of budget constraints. Officials with the Washington County Commission, Washington County and Johnson City Schools, and representatives from the state legislature met with representatives of the state Department of Education to iron out the details of the Basic Education Program, or BEP, funding formula.
Irving Hamer, second in command at Memphis City Schools, was placed on leave with pay after he was accused of making inappropriate comments to another school employee in Supt. Kriner Cash’s home over the weekend. The woman employee reported to work Monday but was out the rest of the week. Cash hosted a semi-social event at his home in Chickasaw Gardens last Saturday night for key members of his administration. Alcohol was served. Hamer, 66, is accused of making the comments to the woman in the company of others. In a letter to board members, Cash said he received a complaint Thursday that Hamer had “directed inappropriate comments” toward another MCS employee.
Sheriff’s deputies in Maury County, Tenn., say an inmate at the jail was found hiding razor blades in his prosthetic leg. The Daily Herald says 64-year-old Kenneth Sneed of Columbia was charged with introducing a weapon into a penal institution (http://bit.ly/wHB3ea). He was in jail on charges of driving on a revoked license and theft. A report from the county sheriff’s department said Sneed removed the leg during a search and two razor blades were found inside.
Maryland lawmakers approved Thursday evening a law allowing same-sex marriages in the state, but voters will likely get a chance to overturn the decision before gay unions begin in the state. The Maryland Senate passed a bill, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, by a 25-22 vote. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who sponsored the bill, has promised to sign the legislation. It was passed by the state’s House of Delegates last week. The law, which isn’t set to take effect until 2013, will probably face a ballot referendum in November led by groups opposing gay-marriage rights.
Like most southern states, North Carolina has a higher than average rate of infant deaths and premature births. So it made sense to Medicaid Director Craigan Gray, a trained obstetrician, to attack the problem head on. Shortly after taking over in 2009, he began a campaign to create a new kind of program that would identify Medicaid beneficiaries with high-risk pregnancies sooner than before and use proven medical procedures to help prevent problems at birth. Launched less than a year ago, Gray’s program, called pregnancy medical homes, is showing promise.
The Texas Supreme Court wants to help financially strapped couples by offering them fill-in-the-blank legal forms they can use in divorce cases instead of hiring lawyers. Divorce lawyers—whose fees often exceed $100 an hour in Texas—are battling the plan. The fight is a sign of what experts see as a trend around the country: a growing number of people who try to represent themselves when they go to court to dissolve their marriages.
A program created to help insurance-seekers in Texas cut through the complexities of federal health care reforms is shutting down in April, just 15 months after it opened its call center and years before the law goes into full effect. Officials with the Texas Department of Insurance say they plan to help fill the gap, but it is unclear whether they can handle what some health experts call a beast of a policy change: millions of new patients will be required to acquire health insurance, and those first-time policy holders will need help understanding their rights and benefits.
Tennessee has a lot going for it. Our state enjoys the built-in advantages of a mild climate and stunning natural beauty. We also have the hard-earned benefits of solid economic development — despite the recession and the painfully slow recovery nationwide. And we have intangible characteristics such as a strong volunteer spirit and friendly residents. Tennesseans are proud of those qualities and many more traits that set the state apart. But it would be neither honest nor productive to pretend that Tennessee has no room for improvement on the troubling issues of violent crime and the use of illegal drugs.
A so-called compromise that would divulge the business name but not the owners of privately held companies receiving public incentives in Tennessee fails to alleviate concerns about openness and the risk of corruption. Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is seeking a bill that would keep private information about companies receiving grants from the state. The bill is the companion of a measure that would explicitly allow such payments. The governor wants to set aside $70 million to use as incentives.
The announcement Thursday that the U.S. Postal Service will move the sorting and distribution operations currently housed at the Shallowford Road Post Office here to Atlanta and Nashville is hardly a surprise. The Postal Service’s problems — plummeting volume, high costs and regulations that make quick or substantial change difficult in most circumstances — are public record. So are the various plans, including the closure of facilities, put forward to balance the books. Still, Thursday’s announcement is a substantial blow. It is a shock for several reasons.