This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Haslam attended a black-tie dinner with President Obama and the First Lady at the White House Sunday night. Haslam went to Washington for the National Governors Association meeting, which started Sunday. This year, Governors from all over the country will be focused on a new issue. Instead of dealing with tough times, there’s a little extra money to possibly spend. “I think we are seeing some encouraging signs in Tennessee. Our sales tax revenue is up. We are seeing some manufacturing growth. So I, by no means, think we are out of the woods, but I am a lot more encouraged than I was six months ago,” explained Gov. Bill Haslam (R) Tennessee.
The nation’s governors are going to the White House on Monday to discuss ways to bolster job growth and improve their partnerships with the federal government. The gathering is scheduled for the final day of the National Governors Association winter meeting. Governors dined with President Barack Obama at a black tie dinner Sunday, where he pledged to work more closely with them in the coming months. Democratic governors met with the president on Friday to discuss improving the manufacturing sector in their states.
The White House drug czar described the prescription drug abuse epidemic that’s ravaging the Appalachians as “simply heartbreaking” in a meeting with governors from the region on Sunday. National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske met with Govs. Robert Bentley of Alabama, Steve Beshear of Kentucky, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Beverly Perdue of North Carolina, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, and Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia. “The devastation wrought by prescription drug abuse on Appalachian communities is simply heartbreaking,” Kerlikowske said in a statement.
On the sidelines of the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington that wraps up on Monday, Republicans are skeptical that the reemergence of social issues in the political landscape is net positive for the party, and it’s clear they’re more comfortable steering the discussion toward the economy. “Anything that distracts the campaign from President Obama’s policies and the effect of those policies is less beneficial than when we are talking about [them],” said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Even as the economy remains the primary political focus of both Democrats and Republicans, in recent weeks, social issues have reemerged in state and national politics.
His critics argue it will return Tennessee to the corrupt era of political cronyism. But Gov. Bill Haslam insists curtailing state workers’ civil service protections is essential to modernize the government and free personnel policy from bureaucratic red tape. Haslam thinks so much of the importance of civil service reform that he has made the issue one of the centerpieces of his speeches around the state. He points out that all 22 of his commissioners — “coming from diverse backgrounds and having a wide variety of responsibilities” — say it’s “the most critical thing we can do.”
State Comptroller Justin Wilson says his report criticizing the state’s civil service system as “fundamentally flawed” was not issued to support Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to overhaul the system, but may have helped inspire it. Groundwork on the report, issued last week, actually began in 2004 when Democrat John Morgan was comptroller, according to Republican Wilson. It was largely complete when Wilson took office in 2009, he said, except for some updating. In 2010, after Haslam won the governor’s race, Wilson said he sent the governor-elect a copy of the report. “I thought it had already been issued,” said Wilson in a brief interview.
Getting a new science building open at MTSU was somewhat of an item on the bucket list for Tom Cheatham, the dean of Basic and Applied Sciences at MTSU. However, he and three of his department chairs will have left the university or be working in different roles by the time it’s completed in 2015. Cheatham is completing his last year as dean of the Colllege of Basic and Applied Sciences and will be become the new director of the STEM center, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. Earl Pearson is stepping down as chair of Chemistry at the end of this academic year. “Three or four years ago, all the plans were ready to go and we were all set for funding. I really wanted to be chair in the new building, so I hung around,” Pearson said.
State plans to cut costs by shifting state felons from local jails back to prisons are being stymied by an influx of new criminals, officials say. The state last year announced efforts to help alleviate overcrowding in local jails by releasing up to 2,200 inmates 60 days early through more liberal sentencing credits. Doing so would open up more prison beds, allowing counties to transfer more state inmates being housed in local jails back to state prisons. Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction, said that the release plan has seen some success in cost savings and in moving felons to the state, but she acknowledged that the number of felons moving into the system has been increasing faster than the system can take them. In January, there were 4,675 state felons waiting for a state prison bed.
Programs that allow developers to destroy a wetland or move a creek if they pay for mitigation elsewhere have members of the environmental and business communities complaining. The latest controversy erupted after the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation placed a bill before the state legislature to codify the programs in state law. They have been in operation for several years, and TDEC has called the bill a mere housekeeping matter. But it has unleashed a storm of questions about where the money goes, whether the environment is served and whether property owners downstream suffer. The state’s policing of the changes that the program allows is under challenge, too.
Fueled by ads on the Internet, the sex trafficking industry in East Tennessee is alive and thriving at some truck stops, businesses, and maybe a house near you, according to law enforcement and nonprofit groups working to combat the crime. Most sex trafficking victims in Tennessee are teenage girls or young women, forced into prostitution and Internet pornography. “There is no ‘typical’ victim, however, I can say that our intelligence and investigations support the fact that the majority of victims of sex trafficking crimes are undocumented, Hispanic females ranging in age from their late teens to their late 40s,” Stacie Bohanan, public affairs specialist with the FBI’s Knoxville office, said in an email.
The Tennessee State Museum in Nashville is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 with a new exhibition. “Becoming the Volunteer State: Tennessee in the War of 1812” includes the sword presented to Andrew Jackson by the Tennessee legislature for his victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Jackson became a national figure during the war and later became president. So many Tennesseans volunteered for military service during the war that the state became known as “the volunteer state.” The free exhibit runs through June 24.
Tennessee correction officials say a proposal to transfer certain services from the Board of Probation and Parole to the Department of Correction will save thousands of dollars and improve public safety. The legislation would move certain functions relating to probation and parole services and the community corrections program, which assists victims and offers more options to local courts, to the Correction Department. The transfer is expected to “result in increased stability, increased efficiency and continuity of supervision delivery and rehabilitative efforts,” according to the proposal, which passed the Senate 32-0 earlier this month.
Where do private property rights end and gun rights begin? That’s the central question Tennessee lawmakers and Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration are attempting to answer in legislation filed by state Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill. Faulk’s so-called “guns in parking lots” bill would ban employers from prohibiting an employee from keeping an unseen locked-up weapon inside their parked on-premises vehicle. Haslam, a Republican, believes Faulk’s bill is too broad because it applies to private and public parking lots. “We’re trying to balance the interests of business with those folks who would like to carry and keep a gun locked up in their car,” Haslam recently told Capitol Hill reporters.
A proposed bill could change information required when applying for a job. If passed, the bill would no longer allow private and public employers to ask applicants if they are a convicted criminal. Employers would only be allowed to ask after an applicant has received a conditional offer of employment. Representative David Hawk of Greeneville is not sponsoring this bill, but says he doesn’t believe the bill will make it very far. “It’s important to know that that’s something as a business owner you really need to know at the beginning,” Hawk said.
A new iPhone app billed as the first of its kind in Tennessee allows users to connect with members of the current Legislature. The app, just released, contains searchable contact, staff and committee information for state representatives and senators. It was developed by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the Nashville-based Bass Berry & Sims law firm. For the past 30 years, the cooperative has produced a print directory of the Legislature. A version for the iPad and Android devices will be available soon.
A trio of Republican-backed state development bills, pushed as efforts to “restore” property rights, has alarmed Metro Council members who allege the legislation would “gut” Nashville’s community-led zoning overlays that guide growth along corridors and in neighborhoods. Mayor Karl Dean opposes the state bills, suggesting they threaten local control, a stance that has positioned him opposite of a usual ally: the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying for the anti-regulatory land use legislation. Metro government provides the chamber $300,000 annually for economic development services. But on this issue, the chamber is pitted against Metro.
The closing of a Knoxville mental hospital is already having a drastic effect on Woodridge in Johnson City. In November, Lakeshore Mental Health Institute announced its closing, saying its part of a new initiative to improve mental health care for patients across Tennessee. The closing means patients will remain at Woodridge instead of being transported to Lakeshore for care. 11 Connects spoke to a Mountain States Health Alliance spokesperson today and they say Woodridge’s population has doubled since January. But the spokesperson adds the closing of Lakeshore isn’t the only reason for the spike in patients. Bath salts are another contributing factor, with a quarter Woodridge’s patients recovering from the drugs.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., raked in another $1 million during the last three months of 2011, swelling his campaign balance to nearly $7.4 million. This being an election year, you might think he needs it to fight off a well-funded Democrat. Nope. At the end of 2011, Larry Crim, a Nashville businessman and Democratic challenger, had $3 on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings. On Dec. 13, records show Corker’s campaign spent more than 22 times that amount, $67.09, at a Knoxville establishment called Cachepot. The purpose? “Flowers for event,” FEC filings show.
When Tennessee joined forces with other states to create “Super Tuesday” in 1984, they hoped for a primary like the one coming up March 6. The idea was that by bunching primary elections in a single day, all the states would gain increased relevancy. But the Republican primary in Tennessee has historically lacked drama. It was a tight race in 2008, when Mike Huckabee edged John McCain — but McCain already had a convincing lead after a win in Florida. This year, though, the fight for the Volunteer State delegates — which are awarded proportionally — is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested primary races in recent history.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, he famously took on what was then seen as the main drag on his candidacy — his membership in the Roman Catholic Church — in a speech that helped him win the White House. Will former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have to make a similar declaration if he becomes the first Mormon nominated by a major party to the presidency? Probably not to win over Tennessee voters — as long as his opponent in November is President Barack Obama. One in five registered voters in Tennessee believes Mormonism is a “cult,” a description that could suggest deep-seated prejudice against Romney.
Because of its place on the calendar, Tennessee’s March 6 Super Tuesday contest is expected to winnow the field of Republican presidential contenders down from the current Big Four and could prove more decisive than it has historically, close observers are saying. The Volunteer State is one of 10 primaries or caucuses that day, splintering the resources and time commitments of perceived front-runners former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is hoping for a two-for in Tennessee with an expected victory in his neighboring home state of Georgia.
The Obama administration’s health care reform efforts may provide positive results for millions of Americans. But for many health insurance brokers, particularly independent agents and those working at smaller operations, there are concerns. Simply put, many brokers are seeing reduced commissions, creating for some the need to move into, say, property or auto insurance — or to leave the insurance sales business altogether. In the Nashville market, some within the industry are worried. “On individual health insurance policies, we’ve seen commissions cut up to 50 percent,” said Jeff Zander, president and partner with independent insurance brokerage agency Zander Insurance Group.
Coming soon to Bradley County’s public schools: More than $243,000 worth of exercise equipment. The school system is using some money from the federal Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant to make the purchases. The money was awarded last year. The shopping list includes 65 stationary bicycles, at $1,021 each, for the county’s two middle schools and two high schools, and 40 bicycles, $672 each, for the two high schools. Including a maintenance contract, the total is $75,878. The school system also is using $37,000 from the White grant to buy a ropes course for Ocoee Middle School.
Two people were arrested Sunday when Blount County authorities attempting to serve a warrant discovered evidence of a methamphetamine lab. According to Blount County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Marian O’Briant, a deputy was dispatched to a residence on Payne Hollow Road to serve a warrant on an individual at the home. The deputy then discovered meth-making precursors and evidence of a meth lab. Investigators determined there were two separate one-pot methods in the residence, and meth was cooked there as recently as Saturday night, O’Briant said.
A man from Thorne Hill, Tenn. – about 20 miles northeast of Morristown- was arrested this weekend in Hawkins County after police say they received a tip that he was in town and was making methamphetamine. The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department narcotics unit arrested Russell Leroy Greene of Thorne Hill, Tennessee on charges of promoting the manufacturing of methamphetamine and the possession of a schedule 2 controlled substance The narcotics unit received information that Greene was parked behind D&R Market in Hawkins County. Officers say they responded to the scene where Greene attempted to flee on foot.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of his Chevy Cavalier, Chris Burns gripped a 20-ounce soda bottle and waited for his “shake and bake” methamphetamine to cook. Then came the explosion and fire. Burns and passenger Bobby Joe Joyner fled as blazing chemicals scorched their skin. When police caught up with the pair, they admitted to cooking meth and causing the explosion while sitting at a stop sign on a rural Fayette County road. But it was months before either faced criminal charges. To have charged the men en route to the hospital would have shifted the burden of paying for their care to the Fayette County Sheriff’s department.
Just ask Drew Lindsey. “I’d still be out on the streets. Selling drugs. Robbing people,” he said. Before you learn about Lindsey’s past, let’s pause for a little math. According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, it costs $23,000 to incarcerate someone each year in Tennessee, and the average sentence for a criminal with a primary drug offense is six years. So jailing Lindsey for selling drugs would cost about $138,000. If along the way he shoots someone — or a bullet finds him — add in an additional $50,000, which is the estimated cost of life-long care for a gunshot victim. not true, a study by Duke University says it’s about $35,000 per year. Still got room on your paper? Because we still need to multiply in the emotional and psychological violence inflicted on any innocent victim. A family that gets caught up in some drug transaction gone sour. Anyone that gets robbed. Or harmed. How do you put a price tag on feeling safe? How much do we value a place that can deter Lindsey from such violence? Today, Lindsey lives in Lewisburg. He adores his 2-year-old daughter, is interviewing for a factory job and going to college to become a barber. No more drugs, no more robberies.
Supporters of the ObamaCare socialized medicine law are complaining that many states are not moving fast enough to set up the layers upon layers of bureaucracy required by the law, which Democrats alone passed in 2010. At issue are the so-called health insurance exchanges. States must set up those exchanges, or else the federal government will step in. Only 13 states and the District of Columbia have set up the exchanges so far. “An additional 17 states are making headway, but it’s not clear all will succeed,” The Associated Press reported. And 20 more states — including Tennessee and Georgia — are labeled as “lagging.”
One of Tennessee’s proudest assets will be observing its 75th year during 2012, and it is a celebration every resident of the Volunteer State can share. Happy anniversary to Tennessee’s state park system, which stretches from Fort Pillow Historic State Park near the Mississippi River in West Tennessee to Roan Mountain State Park in the northeast. They are two of the 53 parks that dot the scenic landscape of Tennessee. The anniversary dates to 1937, the year the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that established the framework for the state park system.
“Lobbyist” is not a four-letter word. Since the beginning of this nation, those who advocate on behalf of others have been and continue to be an important element in the process of public officials making public-policy decisions based on full and accurate information. Granted, there are a few individuals, who may or may not be registered lobbyists, whose names brings the steamy, underhanded perception of the practice to mind. Jack Abramoff, back in the headlines after completing his prison time for lobbying violations, is now on a rampage against lobbying in an effort to blame the system for his failings.
The Tennessean has focused attention on pain and pain management lately, much of it negative. It’s important to understand that chronic (long-term) and acute (short-term) pain are real medical problems with physiological causes, affecting as many as one in three Americans. Pain management (or pain medicine) is the medical specialty devoted to the treatment of pain. While any doctor can treat pain, board certification in pain management is a rigorous process. After completing medical school, an internship and a residency (usually in a field such as anesthesiology, physical medicine and rehabilitation or neurology), a physician can complete a one-year fellowship in pain management.
We need bold tax reform, but Mitt Romney wants to tinker at the margins. America’s budget process is broken. Our economy and American families are struggling, and the country needs bold reforms and major restructuring, not tinkering at the margins. Obamanomics has left one in six Americans in poverty, and one in four children on food stamps. Millions seek jobs and others have given up. Meanwhile, my opponent in the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney, had a last-minute conversion. Attempting to distract from his record of tax and fee increases as governor of Massachusetts, poor job creation, and aggressive pursuit of earmarks, he now says he wants to follow my lead and lower individual as well as corporate marginal tax rates.