This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam, ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, joined HCA officials on Feb. 22, to announce HCA plans to build a new data center at The Crossings in Antioch, Tenn. and expand its existing IT locations in the Nashville region. The construction and expansion plans represent a total investment in excess of $200 million and the creation of approximately 155 IT jobs during a five-year period.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today announced Phillip Robinson as judge of the Third Circuit Court for the 20th Judicial District, replacing Barbara Haynes who retired last year. Robinson received his J.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Law and has spent the entirety of his 36-year legal career practicing in Nashville. “Phillip has practiced law in Davidson County his entire career, and he will bring that extensive experience to the bench,” Haslam said. “I appreciate his willingness to serve.”
Gov. Bill Haslam has introduced an act that will provide a new way of hiring civil service employees. The Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act was created to “establish a system that will attract, select, retain and promote the best applicants and employees based on performance and equal opportunities,” according to the TNForward website. It will also create a system that will be free from coercive political influences and provide technically competent employees, the governor said. Haslam said in his state of the state address the state has a hiring system that’s broken.
Since opening five years ago, the Tennessee Fusion Center has become the state’s centralized database for criminal information and records that aids analysts in discerning patterns in criminal activity throughout the state. Fusion centers like the one in Tennessee were created after 9/11 to address gaps in communication about potential criminal and terrorist activity between law enforcement agencies on the local, state and national level. Agents who oversee the center say the information they gather is leading to the prosecution of criminal gangs, the recovery of abducted and missing children and increased awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee.
State officials will hold a public hearing on proposed rules that will decide how people can use War Memorial Plaza. The notice of the hearing comes as lawmakers are voting on a measure to evict Occupy Nashville from the plaza. The group has been camping on War Memorial Plaza for nearly five months. Lawmakers want to make it a misdemeanor to camp on state-owned property without permission. The House is scheduled to vote on the measure Monday. Some of the proposed rules ban camping on the plaza, playing music or amplifying sound that can be heard more than 50 feet away and outline procedures for reserving the space.
In one middle Tennessee County six people have been arrested and charged with TennCare Fraud and in each case investigators say every single person planned on selling at least part of the prescription drugs they got to others. Authorities said each of six people got the prescription drugs by using TennCare to pay for them. Police arrested 51-year-old Allan Henry, 29-year-old Gaines Lewis, 42-year-old Michael Gonzalez, 27-year-old Dana Yearwood, 31-year-old Crystal Dillon and 18-year-old Zachary Young. “Prescription drug abuse is a concern of communities large and small across Tennessee,” Inspector General Deborah Y. Faulkner said.
The University of Memphis will receive $1.5 million from the Office of Naval Research to develop digital tutoring software for a math and science teacher training program. The Science Technology Engineering and Math program trains future math and science teachers through a partnership with the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University . The Office of Naval Research has selected four academic and industry teams — including Arizona State University , the University of Massachusetts and Raytheon BBN Technologies — to participate in the $8 million program, which is designed to create digital tutors that will teach according to the individual needs of students.
When roadwork to widen U.S. Highway 27 between the Olgiati Bridge and the Signal Mountain exit is done, the new stretch could be dubbed the “hundred-million-dollar” mile. The 1.6-mile passage through narrow breaks in the folds of Stringer’s Ridge is budgeted to cost $102.5 million and probably will go over that budget, according to Ken Flynn, the regional construction manager for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Because the now four-lane road is in a valley between unstable hills lined with condos, widening it to six lanes and adding adequate acceleration and deceleration space for three sets of on- and off-ramps means moving up the ridge on both sides.
Mark Patey, a prominent local attorney, announced Friday that he will seek the Circuit Court judge’s seat vacated by Judge Roger Page after his appointment to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. A native Jacksonian, Patey has practiced law for nearly 25 years within this district and throughout rural West Tennessee. The 26th Judicial District includes Madison, Henderson and Chester counties. Patey attended Jackson Central-Merry High School and graduated in 1980, then continued his undergraduate education at Union University on an athletic scholarship and graduated with honors. He finished his law degree at the University of Memphis, then returned to Madison County to begin a regional law practice.
Legislation that would ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students may be stalled, as Republican lawmakers discuss whether they should proceed with the bill. House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters during her weekly press conference in her office Thursday that she and her colleagues are reviewing the current curriculum “to see if this bill is necessary or if we have unintended consequences with this.” The legislation, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, limits all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade. Harwell said there’s concern the measure could inadvertently open the doors to “sex education at an inappropriate age bracket” in public schools.
An East Tennessee legislator is again trying to get approval for commercial deer farms after a similar effort failed last year. Rep. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains, has accused opponents of his bill of spreading disinformation. However, the measure has raised alarm among hunting groups and wildlife conservation advocates, according to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/xT3W9v). When Nicely crafted the bill this year, he steered it to the House Agriculture Committee, which he chairs. A similar measure last year received little support before the chamber’s Conservation and Environment subcommittee. The Tennessee Wildlife Federation says deer farms open the state to the possibility of chronic wasting disease.
They stand before a judge as a defendant but with no right to a lawyer. Tennessee law guarantees the right to legal representation to all defendants accused of crimes — unless they’re kids accused of skipping school. A new bill seeks to change that. State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and state Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, are sponsoring legislation that would grant children involved in truancy cases the right to counsel. “The legal system is complex and doesn’t always help the kid get to the right place,” Berke said. “They’re facing fines and other consequences. By having an attorney, we’re going to encourage kids to cooperate and get back in school so they don’t have to suffer those consequences.”
There’s a new political action committee on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill and it’s playing big time. Tennessee Parents/Teachers Putting Students First gave $117,000 to state lawmakers, leadership PACs and legislative caucuses from December and Jan. 15. The PAC is the creation of StudentsFirst, a group pushing its version of education reform. The group was created by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school system. Rhee is the ex-wife of state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, whose boss is Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. All of the PAC’s $126,000 in funding comes from StudentsFirst.
A majority of Tennessee voters support education reform and think the state is heading in the right direction, a recent poll found. A memo to state lawmakers last week from Mike Carpenter, Tennessee’s director of nonprofit StudentsFirst, showed its poll backed teacher tenure changes, new teacher evaluations and more charter schools. The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 600 likely voters on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, and had a 4 percent margin of error.
One in every eight Tennessee children is growing up in a high poverty community, according to data snapshot released this week by the Annie E. Casey Kids Count project. “The concern is there are reduced opportunities they have to be successful in school and in life,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “I think it’s important for us to realize we have be strategic to help families and children to be successful.” The report — which highlights newly available national, state, and city data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — found that one-fourth of Tennessee children live in poverty.
Servers, stores can face risk A handful of recent and tragic accidents have raised the question of who else — in addition to the driver — is responsible when an intoxicated person causes an accident that results in the injury or death of others. Police investigators want to know where 22-year-old Rebecca Benson had been before she got in her car early Wednesday and drove south in the northbound lanes of Interstate 65. Benson, who police believe was drunk, collided head-on with Steffanie Leonard, 29. Leonard died. Her family will bury her today. Benson has been charged with vehicular homicide. Anyone who sold her alcohol also could face legal problems of their own.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett looking for firm figures An audit is imminent for the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said Friday the county is close to an agreement with Pugh and Company to have accountants audit the nonprofit KTSC and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. “I don’t put a lot of faith in the facts and figures coming out of the KTSC,” Burchett said, adding that he wants the audit done by May, before the county negotiates a contract with KTSC. The Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. is doing its own review of a pre-existing $4 million account that could be used to purchase the Hall of Fame from Knox County.
Crews responding to a suspicious letter at U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Nashville office decontaminated one person who came in contact with the letter and have sent it to the state lab to be analyzed further. The FBI, along with Metro police and fire crews, responded to a call of a suspicious package around 2 p.m. Thursday at 3322 West End Ave., the building that houses Capitol Records and the local offices of Alexander and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Fire department Deputy Chief Kim Lawson said crews responded to Alexander’s office, isolated the letter and decontaminated a woman who worked in the office.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., gave his stamp of approval to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday morning. Alexander, who was in town to speak at a naturalization ceremony at Maryville College, made a quick mid-morning stop at the Blount County Election Commission to vote in the Republican presidential primary. After casting his ballot, Alexander, a Republican serving in his second term, revealed that he believes Romney has the best shot at unseating President Barack Obama. “I learned a long time ago that Tennesseans didn’t elect me to tell them how to vote, but I voted for Gov. Romney,” Alexander said.
George Flinn, the Memphis radiologist/radio magnate who has increasingly turned to politics in recent years, will very likely do so again, sources tell the Flyer. This time Republican Flinn, who served six years on the Shelby County Commission and made races for County Mayor in 2002 and for the 8th District Congressional seat in 2010, apparently is aiming at Congress once more. Only now it’s the 9th District seat, the one currently held by Democrat Steve Cohen. There’s already a Republican running — Charlotte Bergman, making her second consecutive try — but she’s on a shoestring budget, and Flinn, who is independently wealthy and spent more than $3 million in his 2010 race, would clearly be able to match war chests with Cohen, who is said to have close to $1 million on hand himself.
About $16.1 million is awaiting Tennesseans who have not yet filed their 2008 tax returns, the Internal Revenue Service is reporting. But time is running out. Nationwide, the agency said it has more than $1 billion for about 1 million people who still haven’t filed their 2008 returns. About 18,400 Tennesseans didn’t file, the IRS said. The deadline to file in order to collect refunds is April 17. For those expected to get money back, there is no penalty for late filing, the agency said. By law, most taxpayers get a three-year grace period to claim refunds. The one caveat: If taxpayers haven’t filed their 2009 and/or 2010 returns, those refund checks could be held until those are filed, too.
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.
The environmental reviews have been completed, sound walls are going up, and design work is nearly complete. All officials need now is federal money to widen the run-down stretch of Interstate 65 between Trinity Lane and Dickerson Road in Nashville. But they could be waiting awhile. House lawmakers are considering revamping a long-awaited transportation bill to lower its price tag. That could push passage of the legislation closer to the March 31 expiration of the temporary measure funding projects across the country. Further delays could prevent new projects from starting until mid-summer at the earliest, state officials say.
If you’re going to Rick Santorum’s speech today in Chattanooga, plan on a long afternoon at Abba’s House. The Chattanooga Tea Party is bankrolling the event at the Southern Baptist church in Hixson, but Tea Party President Mark West declined Friday to publicly release the event’s three-hour agenda. Sources close to Santorum’s campaign said the Republican presidential candidate would speak toward the end. The church’s auditorium holds 3,100 people, and organizers expect a standing-room-only crowd. “I don’t think we’ll have an issue with parking,” said Alicia Montijo, event coordinator at the church.
Hospitals Also Fight Washington State’s Drive to Trim Emergency-Room Visits A plan by Washington state’s Medicaid agency to stop paying for certain emergency-room visits is prompting pushback from hospitals and doctors, who say they will be stuck with bills for vital care they often are legally required to provide. The new cuts, set for April 1, focus on about 500 diagnoses including common infections, mild burns, strains and bruises. If an enrollee comes to an emergency room and is diagnosed with one of these conditions, the Washington Medicaid program won’t pay the hospital and doctors.
Tennessee Valley Authority chief Tom Kilgore predicts the federal utility will one day use its spent nuclear fuel to generate electricity. “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. TVA stores spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors at the sites. Kilgore, president and CEO of TVA, spoke to Chattanooga area engineers on Thursday and noted that the process is already used elsewhere. “France does it now. We just don’t have the political will to do it,” Kilgore said.
If there was a local academy award for “Most Job Announcements” made in a given year, Williamson County would get the nod, few questions asked. Just ask Matt Largen, the county’s director for economic development, who confirmed this morning that Connecticut-based Affinion Group will add 150 jobs to its Williamson County operations. The jobs will be filled before year’s end and will be divided between Affinion’s two Cool Springs sites.
Connecticut-based Affinion Group is adding 150 jobs to two existing locations in Williamson County. The operation and call center jobs will be spread out between offices at Duke Drive and Corporate Centre Drive, according to Matt Largen, head of economic development for Williamson County. The company currently employs 500 people in Williamson County, and is expected to grow to 650 by year’s end.
School officials are bracing for large crowds at two rezoning meetings next week that will kick off the process of reshaping the attendance zone for the overcrowded East Hamilton Middle/High School. At the meetings, administrators will unveil their plan on how to rezone the school as well as how they’ll incorporate two new planned elementary schools — a new Ooltewah Elementary and a new East Brainerd Elementary. Officials have prepared proposed zone boundaries for East Hamilton but won’t release those plans until the meeting, set for Tuesday. They said they want families to attend the meetings to find out if and how they’ll be affected by the proposal.
Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly passed the “I Hate Meth Act,” a landmark bill that implemented tougher penalties for methamphetamine criminals. The new law was also a win for consumers, as it put in place real-time technology that protects law-abiding citizens’ access to safe and effective medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) and stops illegal sales of PSE. Used by 18 million American families each year, PSE is a safe and effective active ingredient found in leading cold and allergy medicines to provide congestion relief, but it can also be used to illegally manufacture meth.
Companies have an interest in keeping certain financial data private, so a state is justified in not divulging that information when it considers granting incentives to a business to get it to build or expand in the state. But lawmakers of both parties are rightly skeptical of legislation backed by Gov. Bill Haslam that would keep not only sensitive financial data but also the ownership of companies getting taxpayer-funded grants confidential.
Much has been made of Nissan’s plans to produce the all-electric Leaf at its Smyrna plant by the end of the year. But for those of us still driving around in cars that run on gasoline, the 2013 Infiniti JX is a pretty big deal. On Monday, autoworkers proudly applauded alongside Nissan execs and elected officials as the first JX off the line rolled onto a stage and was showered with confetti. The all new seven-passenger JX is the first luxury car to be manufactured in Tennessee and it’s the first Infiniti to be made outside of Japan. If that’s not impressive enough, Nissan officials also say the JX — and the Pathfinder, which will be made in Smyrna later this year — should create the need for about 1,000 more jobs at the plant.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith is trying to make the best of a bad situation: the question of students being allowed to transfer out of low-performing public schools and attend better ones. He is stuck between high costs for the transfers on one hand and the prospect of students having to remain involuntarily in poorly performing schools on the other. Until now, the federal No Child Left Behind law has permitted students in many cases to leave weaker public schools and attend better ones. While it has taken awhile for such transfers to catch on locally, it appears they are growing rapidly, as parents seek a better education for their children.