This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam spent the weekend in Washington where he and other governors asked the president and cabinet officials for more freedom from federal mandates. In a question and answer session, the president told governors he wants to give states more autonomy, which many Republicans say is just lip service. But Governor Haslam praised the president for allowing states to have more flexibility under the rigid requirements of No Child Left Behind. Now Haslam says he’d like that freedom when it comes to implementing the nation’s new health care law, which he’s highly critical of.
Gov. Bill Haslam called Monday’s meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama “encouraging,” saying the president expressed a willingness to give states more flexibility in enacting certain federal programs. Monday’s session at the White House marked the end of the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association. The Obamas hosted a black-tie dinner for the governors on Sunday night. Topics included education and high gas prices, but the governors’ biggest concern is the high cost of Medicaid, Haslam said. He said governors pushed Obama to give states more control over Medicaid spending.
Wrapping up a four-day trip to Washington D.C., Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to join his fellow governors to discuss policies in a meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House Monday. The meeting comes a day after Haslam attended a black-tie dinner with Obama and the first lady at the White House. The governor made the trip to the capital to attend the annual winter meeting of the National Governor’s Association, which allows top executives of states to share ideas on policies and practices.
Nashville-based HCA, the nation’s leading provider of healthcare services with 163 hospitals and 111 surgery centers in 20 states, plans to build a new data center in Antioch, Tennessee 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, an HCA official said…”HCA played a key role in establishing middle Tennessee as the national healthcare hub it is today,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said. “We appreciate the company’s continued investment in our state.”
Three people in Trousdale County were arrested for TennCare fraud, bringing the total number of arrests to 1,601 since the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was formed and given authority to pursue fraud cases. Agents arrested: • Melissa Wright, 40, of Lebanon, charged with one count of TennCare fraud for willfully making a false statement regarding her medical condition in order to obtain medical assistance benefits she was not entitled to.
The Office of Inspector General hit a new milestone when it comes to TennCare Fraud on Monday. The arrest of 3 people in one mid-state county pushed the total number of arrests to 1,600. Melissa Wright of Lebanon, Jessica Scruggs of Hartsville and Elizabeth Graves of Lafayette are all charged with TennCare Fraud. Officials said each woman were involved in prescription drug fraud with TennCare benefits used as payment. “Many people are now using prescription drugs instead of ‘street drugs,’ making our efforts more critical to keep fraud out of the TennCare program,” Inspector General Deborah Y. Faulkner said.
A Roane County woman has been charged in Rhea County with TennCare fraud for allegedly filling prescriptions and using her son’s TennCare benefits to pay for it. The state Office of Inspector General, Rhea County Sheriff’s Office and Rockwood Police Department today announced Amanda C. Roberts, 33, of Rockwood has been arrested and charged with six counts of TennCare fraud. She is accused of obtaining the drug Adderall — prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy — by willfully giving false statements, using impersonation and concealment of material facts, according to authorities. Illegally obtaining TennCare medical benefits is a Class E felony that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison per charge.
An audit by the state comptroller’s office has turned up deficiencies that auditors say Lauderdale County has had before. The report was released Monday on the fiscal year that ended in June. Auditors faulted the county for having no centralized accounting system and for not correcting practices found faulty in earlier examinations. The report noted a sheriff’s office incident that led to the firing and indictment of a former deputy. Auditors said that led to a cash shortage of about $4,000, but the total could be higher. The school system spent $150,000 more than budgeted on renovations, and auditors found the county didn’t keep its records secure enough.
The Tennessee Departments of Health and Agriculture have confirmed that rabies has been diagnosed in two Middle Tennessee horses, including one in Rutherford County. One horse, submitted for testing in January, died in rural Rutherford County, and the other was submitted this month from Marshall County, according to a state news release. Both horses had a type of rabies virus found in skunks in Tennessee, although it is not known how they were infected. “The deaths of these animals serve as a somber reminder of the importance of rabies vaccination. Our pets, often including horses, are more likely to come into contact with wild animals than people are.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a man who claims to have been sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the 1970s may proceed with his lawsuit against the Diocese of Memphis. It’s not clear how significant the ruling could be for some older victims of sexual abuse. Normally victims have until one year after their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. Norman Redwing filed a lawsuit against the diocese in 2008 claiming that he was abused as a teenager by now-deceased priest Milton Guthrie and that church officials knew the priest was a “dangerous sexual predator.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Monday, Feb. 27, that allegations of child sexual abuse 40 years ago involving the Catholic Diocese of Memphis can go forward. The ruling in the case of Norman Redwing vs. The Memphis Catholic Diocese reverses a state appeals court ruling and upholds the original ruling by Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey. Bailey ruled and the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decision that Redwing’s claims were not barred by the statute of limitations at least at this point.
An embattled Knoxville defense lawyer has won some vindication — albeit measured — in the battle over his ability to practice law. A three-member hearing panel rejected a move by state Board of Professional Responsibility Chief Disciplinary Counsel Nancy Jones to revoke a probationary sentence meted out to veteran defense attorney Herbert S. Moncier in what has become a years-long battle over his ability to practice both federal and state law. The key bone of contention in the latest round in this war was whether Moncier should fork out hefty fees to pay a pricey law firm selected solely by Jones to “monitor” Moncier’s legal practice and just how much access that monitor should have.
Tennessee lawmakers spent nearly an hour during a committee budget hearing last week praising the state’s business development agency for refocusing on homegrown companies. But no one acknowledged the department’s ongoing disagreement with the Legislature: The Department of Economic and Community Development wants to collect the names of owners behind companies applying for millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded business grants — but the agency doesn’t want to share the information with the public. The move is drawing criticism from legislators who say there needs to be less secrecy in government, not more.
Tennessee lawmakers say they’ll file a number of changes this week to Governor Bill Haslam’s sweeping revamp of civil service rules for state employees. Last week, Republican leaders handed out a thirty-five page rewrite to the governor’s bill to remove civil service protections from state employees. Within hours though, lawmakers reported they had already begun making changes to that draft, in private meetings between senators and state representatives. Some of those changes will define what performance standards state workers will be held to. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he met a week ago with 120 or more state employees in his East Tennessee district – and as many as half of them favored making job decisions based on a worker’s performance, not his seniority.
An effort by the Haslam Administration to close records regarding cash grants to private companies is being reworked after hitting a snag in the state senate last week. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey repeated what started as an argument from a few Democrats, that the state should at least make public who owns a company seeking state incentives. Capitol hill reporter Joe White joins WPLN’s Blake Farmer to discuss.
A proposal designed to evict Occupy Nashville protesters is headed to the governor for his consideration. The legislation passed the House 68-21 on Monday evening after lawmakers agreed to a change by the Senate, which approved the bill 20-10 last week. The measure makes it a crime to camp on any state-owned land that is not specifically designated for camping. Those violating the proposed law could have their belongings seized and be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by nearly a year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500 or both.
Bill bans camping on public grounds without approval State lawmakers sent a bill authorizing removal of the Occupy Nashville encampment to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature Monday, despite questions about the severity of its penalties. The House of Representatives voted 68-21 to concur with the Senate version of a bill that outlaws unauthorized camping on public grounds. The measure had already cleared the House once before, but a second vote was needed because the Senate added wording last week to protect the bill from a court challenge. Debate was short.
A group of Democratic-leaning Memphis elected officials and labor organizations are fighting a bill in the Republican-controlled Tennessee legislature that would end local prevailing wage and living wage laws. Opponents say it will harm workers, while sponsors of the bill say it could create jobs. A state House subcommittee is scheduled to review the bill later this week. At a news conference outside the county building Monday, Shelby County Commission member Steve Mulroy, who pushed for the county’s living wage ordinance, charged that “Nashville overlords” already have interfered in local affairs, citing the school merger, collective bargaining rights for teachers and Memphis annexation rules.
State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, announced Monday he will not seek re-election to his Senate District 10 seat, but the lawmaker isn’t ready to drop the other political shoe just yet. That would be whether Berke will run to become Chattanooga’s next mayor. “I’m not running for re-election” to the Senate, Berke told the Chattanooga Times Free Press during an interview in his Senate office in Nashville. “I’ve enjoyed my time in the state Senate. I think there are other challenges that await me, and I look forward to working on jobs and education in other capacities as time goes by.”
Along with next week’s Presidential primary, voters in Maury County will be deciding on consolidating into a Metro Government similar to Nashville. Under the proposal, the city of Columbia and Maury County would combine into a single government. The towns of Spring Hill and Mount Pleasant would remain separate. It’s a big deal—departments merging, creating a single county commission—but Michael Chester says some residents are unaware of the vote. He’s with SOCM-Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment. “Just this week I brought up in a conversation with someone and they had no idea. Never heard of it.”
Some Knox County commissioners want to reinstate the group’s discretionary account, a fund that members for years used to dole out money to the community. “We should think about putting that back in our budget,” Commissioner Mike Brown said during Monday’s commission luncheon. “There’s some things in our district that need to be done, and I think we should be able to do them. There’s a lot of small things going on, and I think $200 to $300 would help tremendously.” For years, commissioners each received $6,000 to spend on projects and initiatives that helped residents and neighborhoods in their districts.
Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret told commissioners this afternoon it is not witin the county’s power to regulate firearms in the unincorporated areas. That’s after several constituents recently approached commissioners with concerns over gunfire in their neighborhoods. Commissioners discussed the idea during a meeting Monday afternoon. Jarret told the group that state law does not permit Knox County to regulate the discharge, transfer, or ownership of guns. Commissioners say they’ve received several complaints from county residents about neighbors firing guns too close to their homes.
Sen. Lamar Alexander has become the eighth sitting senator to endorse former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president. Alexander’s endorsement came Friday, when he told reporters in Blount County that Romney was his pick after participating in early voting. The senator, a two-time former presidential candidate, said his decision to choose Romney came down to his executive experience. “We’re electing a commander in chief who knows something about creating jobs, not a legislator in chief,” Alexander said in a release distributed by the Romney campaign.
Super Tuesday is only a week away, and for Tennessee, it could be an opportunity to steal some of the national political spotlight. For the first time in a long time, the Volunteer state could play a big role in determining who gets the Republican Presidential nomination. Candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have scheduled campaign appearances in Tennessee this week, and all of the candidates are vying for the state’s important delegates. Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris DeVaney said the situation has energized voters and the entire party.
Early voting comes to a close Tuesday for Tennessee’s presidential primary on March 6. More than 121,500 people had voted through the weekend, with about 80 percent of ballots cast in the hotly contested Republican primary. But without a contested Democratic primary, overall participation has been down 10 percent from the same point in 2008. Republican voting has been highest in Knox County with more than 6,400 votes cast, followed by Hamilton, Rutherford and Shelby counties. Nashville’s 1,684 Republican votes ranked 15th in the state, despite being located in Tennessee’s second-largest county. Six counties — Hancock, Moore, Lake, Perry, Van Buren and Clay — had registered fewer than 100 votes in the GOP primary.
Today is the final day to vote early in Tennessee’s presidential and local primary elections. Polling places in Davidson County will be open until 7 p.m. at the Election Commission’s 2nd Avenue office and at Metro libraries in Bourdeax, Green Hills, Hermitage, Madison and on Edmondson Pike. Election Day will be March 6.
Early voters trickled in a few at a time Monday afternoon at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, one of several local voting sites showing low turnout for the Shelby County primaries. Voters waited only briefly in line, holding their state- or federal-issued photo IDs, which for the first time are a requirement to vote. Jean Moss, who voted Monday, is one of only 2 percent of registered county voters (about 610,000) to cast an early ballot in the primaries, which include the race for the Republican presidential nomination. “I’ve voted ever since Eisenhower,” said Moss, 81, on her way out. “I don’t think I’ve ever missed.”
Early voting could top 10,000 ballots if the voting in advance of the March 6 Election Day continues at last week’s pace. The last day to vote early at 21 locations across Shelby County is Tuesday, Feb. 28. A list of locations and their hours is at www.shelbyvote.com, the website of the Shelby County Election Commission. Voter turnout statistics from the commission through Feb. 24 show 8,115 citizens have cast either absentee or early vote ballots since the early voting period began Feb. 15. The total is 1.3 percent of Shelby County’s 610,920 voters. The largest daily early voter turnout was Friday, Feb. 24, when 2,002 voted. Turnout jumped dramatically Feb. 21, the first day that early voting expanded from election commission headquarters Downtown to the 20 satellite sites across the county.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has called for alternatives to President Barack Obama’s health care law, kicking off a day of campaigning in a Southern state key to his struggling presidential campaign. Gingrich said he would repeal Obama’s health care law if Republicans win congressional majorities. He said at a health care forum Monday that Republicans should think of this time as “the beginning of the replacement debate rather than just the anti-Obamacare debate.” Gingrich hopes to win his home state of Georgia and have a strong showing in Tennessee on contests held on Super Tuesday on March 6. The former Georgia congressman has been courting voters in his home state and in the South, hoping to revitalize his bid.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Monday slammed rival Rick Santorum as a “big labor Republican,” accusing him of siding with unions over Memphis-based FedEx when the Senate grappled with a labor dispute in the 1990s. Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman and House Speaker, is hoping to revive his struggling campaign in the South, and he tailored his message Monday to Republican voters in Tennessee. Although polls show a close race between Santorum and Mitt Romney, Gingrich challenged the former Pennsylvania senator and his conservative credentials.
Republican presidential nominee hopeful Newt Gingrich was in town this morning talking health care as part of a panel discussion that took aim at the Affordable Care Act, which has become a key topic this election year. Gingrich was joined by health care executives and physicians at the round table discussion, hosted at the offices of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz . While he’s in stark opposition to “Obamacare,” Gingrich had some of the more moderate comments on the panel “Think about this as the beginning of the replacement debate, and not just the anti-Obamacare debate,” said Gingrich, who is in Nashville today to make multiple appearances as he attempts to stave off competition from other GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who is leading in state polls.
Despite trailing the rest of the candidates in the Republican primary polls in Tennessee, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took on President Barack Obama — and a handful of Occupy protesters — at his campaign stop in Nashville. Gingrich preached mostly about his oil and energy strategy to a crowd of roughly 200 on the east lawn of the State Capitol. Gingrich said he had an “identity” with the setting, which was near the grave of James K. Polk, the only speaker of the house to be elected president. The 30-minute speech mostly focused on Gingrich’s plan to lower gas prices back down to $2.50 — which he said could be achieved by creating more opportunities to utilize oil in the U.S. rather than relying on the “volatile and unstable Middle East.”
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich hope a day of campaigning in Nashville will help boost the candidate’s prospects in Tennessee. The former U.S. House speaker kicked off his day with state lawmakers and religious leaders at the legislative office complex on Monday morning. Gingrich was introduced by Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport, who heads his state campaign, and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster, who began the event with a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” From there he attended a health care forum where he told New2’s Chris Bundgaard that he intends to “win Tennessee,” by emphasizing an energy independence program that would ‘bring back $2.50 for a gallon of gasoline.”
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is campaigning in Nashville today ahead of next week’s Super Tuesday primary. Gingrich is hoping to turn around a campaign that’s been trailing in recent Tennessee polls. Gingrich sneaked in jabs at his rivals in a string of downtown events. He equated the healthcare plan Mitt Romney backed in Massachusetts to what Gingrich called ‘Obamacare.’ And he targeted Rick Santorum as a quote ‘big-labor Republican.’ “I suspect when you get to Memphis and you say to people ‘Gee, this is a guy who wanted to guarantee that FedEx gave in to the unions,’ Santorum won’t be quite as popular the following morning.”
With Super Tuesday rapidly approaching, a new poll of Tennessee voters reveals presidential candidate Rick Santorum leading his Republican rival Mitt Romney by a margin of nearly 2-1. But whether the poll shows Santorum, who campaigned in Chattanooga Saturday, as the current Republican “flavor of the month” or a candidate with staying power remains to be seen. The poll, conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Democratic Institutions between Feb. 16 and Feb. 22, shows that 33 percent of “registered and likely” voters say they supported Santorum, placing the former Pennsylvania senator far ahead of Romney, who garnered 17 percent.
Poll finds general election is what will create turnout Tennessee voters say the Republican presidential race this year has been too negative, and they aren’t especially fired up about the Grand Old Party’s pool of candidates. But, according to a recent Vanderbilt University poll, no matter who their eventual nominee is, Republican voters will coalesce behind him to try to defeat President Barack Obama this fall. In hypothetical matchups between each of the Republican contenders and Obama, “there doesn’t seem to be any real drop-off depending on who the candidate is,” said Josh Clinton, an associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt and co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll.
Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum received cheers on Saturday in Chattanooga after calling President Barack Obama a “snob” for his views that every American child should go to college. Chattanooga Councilman Andrae McGary, who considers himself an independent, was one of the 1,500 people to attend the Tea Party rally. “There is this hard move to the right, and a lot of the statements that are being made are only appealing to that particular demographic, which I find very concerning.” However, Santorum’s message does appear to be resonating with Tennessee voters.
New dietary requirements seek to improve children’s nutrition It’s lunchtime at Rose Park Middle, and students hungrily grab trays filled with hamburgers and french fries, some turning up their noses at the sides of tossed salad and an apple or banana. At the other extreme, some pick their way along the salad bar, using tongs to grab fresh romaine lettuce, bright cherry tomatoes and carrots. For the first group, next fall will bring some unwelcome dietary changes ordered by the federal government. They were adopted to address the nation’s 25 million children and teens who are obese or overweight — 21 percent of kids in Tennessee.
Oxford Diagnostic Laboratories Monday unveiled its new state-of-the-art 35,000-square-foot facility at 5846 Distribution Drive, which is expected to bring a total of roughly 40 new jobs to Memphis within the next year, and as many as 65 new jobs total in the future. Thirteen positions have already been filled, said Dr. Peter Wrighton-Smith, CEO of parent company Oxford Immunotec Ltd., a medical diagnostics company with headquarters in Abingdon, United Kingdom. The company was founded in 2002 based on research at the University of Oxford. Oxford Diagnostic Laboratories, based in Massachusetts, is a national reference laboratory offering T-SPOT testing for tuberculosis.
The state of Tennessee will run three Memphis City Schools in Frayser next fall. Three more, mostly in North Memphis, will convert to or co-exist with charter schools as part of a strategic effort to concentrate on pockets of town where schools chronically under-perform. Corning Elementary, Frayser Elementary and Westside Middle will open in the state Achievement School District, according to a late-afternoon announcement Monday at Ed Rice Community Center in the heart of Frayser. At the same time, the charter KIPP Memphis will open a middle and high school inside Cypress School.
Medina Elementary ranks in top 5 percent of high performers for state Medina Elementary School was identified in the top 5 percent of high-performing Tennessee schools based on 2011 state test scores. The school will earn the “Reward” status under the state’s new evaluation system, which was proposed as an alternative to the federal No Child Left Behind model. Schools receive the status if students achieved high scores or learning gains. Assistant principal Cortnee Wilkes said the status will allow the school to apply for state money to use for instruction and the opportunity to gather best teaching practices from across the state.
Despite a ban on synthetic drugs in Sullivan County the sheriff’s office said it receives a call about a drug overdose involving bath salts nearly every day. Since January 2012 the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department reports two deaths attributed to bath salts, they have responded to 13 bath salt related cases and get this: five of those came just this weekend. Trauma doctors at Holston Valley Medical Center said just last week over a three day time period they treated nearly 20 patients who appeared to be high on bath salts. Doctor Tiffany Lasky said treating that many patients is slowing down response time in the emergency room.
We cannot afford to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law. The “Motorcyclist Liberty Restoration Act” currently before the Tennessee Legislature would put an end to the helmet requirement for motorcycle riders 21 and older. While some with more libertarian leanings claim repealing the helmet law is all about individual rights, we strongly disagree. What gives anyone the right to exercise the freedom to stick taxpayers with the bill for what amounts to a self-inflicted traumatic brain injury? Pennsylvania was the last state to repeal the helmet law, doing so in 2003.
In 2006, the American electorate took a sharp left turn, handing Democrats control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. That led to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., becoming speaker of the House and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., becoming Senate majority leader, and it set the stage for further Democrat congressional gains as well as the ill-advised election of President Barack Obama in 2008. Wisely, Tennessee did not go with the flow in the 2006 elections. Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, a Republican, defeated then-U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in the race for an open Senate seat, and Democrats were denied any additional House seats in this state. Corker has charted a sensible path since he became a senator, being one of the key voices in Washington against the runaway spending that threatens our nation with economic calamity.
In a Republican primary season of constant ups and downs, conservative former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has justifiably charged to a commanding lead in Tennessee and is leading or tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in nationwide polls. Santorum’s strength in the Volunteer State is highlighted by a Vanderbilt University poll of more than 1,500 registered voters. Santorum, who got an enthusiastic reception during a visit to Chattanooga on Saturday, had the support of 33 percent of the respondents. Finishing far back were Romney at 17 percent, Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 13 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 10 percent. About a fourth of respondents expressed no preference, though, so a Tennessee victory for Santorum is not certain.