This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslams will visit city to promote program Nicole Perkins, 27, figured her 5-year-old daughter must have been making progress when she read the box some cable TV equipment arrived in and asked her mom to define “transport.” Perkins was convinced of it when a permission slip arrived home with Aniaya from her preschool teacher at Grandview Heights Elementary last month. The teacher wanted to know if it was OK for Aniaya to spend some time in the kindergarten class… That’s one of the reasons Gov. Bill Haslam and wife Crissy will be in Memphis today for a news conference with Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Mayor A C Wharton and others to spread the word about Books from Birth.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam made several concessions Tuesday on his proposal to end most civil service protections for state employees, including restoring hiring preferences for veterans. But the move failed to mollify a Senate Democrat who charged the overall impact of the bill would plunge Tennessee back into the “old days” when new governors routinely fired existing workers and replaced them with campaign supporters. “Well, that’s what you’re setting up to happen,” Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, admonished administration officials during a sometimes-tumultuous debate in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
Randy Hedgepath, the state naturalist, will present a program on the 75th anniversary of Tennessee state parks at 7 p.m. Thursday at Radnor Lake State Park Visitor Center, 1160 Otter Creek Road. He’ll show slides from many of the state’s 53 parks and 82 natural areas. There’s a state park with an hour’s drive of almost every community in Tennessee. The parks system began in cooperation with federal programs, with Depression-era recovery programs giving a boost.
More than 40 White County residents have been charged with dealing drugs, most of the cases involving prescription medicine, officials said. And six of those charged are also accused of using TennCare benefits to obtain drugs they later sold. With help from the 13th Judicial District Drug Task Force, the TBI, the FBI, and many other area law enforcement agencies, White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe and his deputies fanned out on February 22 to serve 52 sealed indictments in “Operation Pill Head,” as they called their investigation. “We told the drug dealers we were coming and apparently they didn’t believe us,” the sheriff said.
The Tennessee Department of Health has lifted a suspension of admissions at Appalachian Christian Village. The suspension was imposed earlier this month following an investigation of abuse of a patient that revealed deficiencies the department said placed all the nursing home’s residents with dementia in immediate jeopardy. The DOH suspended admissions at the nursing home Feb. 8 based on a federal surveyors’ report that the nursing home was aware of alleged incidents of abuse of a resident with dementia by three nursing assistants and placed all its residents with dementia in jeopardy by failing to stop and immediately report the abuse.
Local officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said a search in Decatur County last weekend did not lead to new evidence in the case of missing nursing student Holly Bobo. John Mehr, special agent in charge with the Jackson office of the TBI, also said rumors of a body found in Decatur County last weekend were untrue. Mehr said Sheriff Jimmy Harris in DeKalb County, Ala., sent out incorrect information in a news release, which incorrectly stated that evidence in the case was found by DeKalb County’s mounted search team. Mehr said Harris was supposed to send out a correction. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Mounted Unit completed a three-day search on horseback in some wooded areas near Natchez Trace State Park on Sunday.
The University of Tennessee’s solar-powered house is visiting Nashville. The 750-square-foot home will be on display at Nashville’s Centennial Park from Wednesday to April 1. It showcases how solar technology can maximize energy efficiency and sustainability. Several educational events about the project are being held in conjunction with tours of the home. The house, called Living Light, was completed by the UT College of Architecture and Design in collaboration with nine UT academic disciplines. Collaborators include the Tennessee Valley Authority and other corporate and alumni partners.
Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced his appointment of a replacement for Judge Barbara Haynes on the Davidson County 3rd Circuit bench. His choice? Veteran Nashville attorney Phillip Robinson, a local domestic-relations specialist who was the top choice of the Nashville Bar to succeed Haynes, especially since it’s widely expected the 3rd Circuit will be designated a family law court. OK, sure, but why make the appointment now? Early voting in the primary that will choose the candidates for the August election, which will in turn choose Haynes’ permanent replacement, began last week. Robinson is up against Jocelyn Stevenson and Stan Kweller in the Democratic primary.
The last in a series of civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Memphis and negligence by the Catholic Diocese of Memphis came back to life Monday, Feb. 27, with a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling. The ruling in the 2008 case of Norman Redwing v. The Memphis Catholic Diocese reverses a state appeals court ruling and allows attorneys for Redwing to at least pursue discovery in the case as it returns to Circuit Court. Redwing alleged the late priest Milton Guthrie sexually abused him in the early to mid-1970s when Redwing was a teenager younger than 18. His lawsuit is against the Catholic Diocese and claims church leaders knew or should have known Guthrie was a “sexual predator.”
Legislation to change Tennessee’s civil service law would make sure that military veterans get more than just an interview. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and Democratic leaders disagreed on his proposal that would guarantee that veterans would receive an interview but no preference in hiring. But the version of the bill that passed the Senate State and Local Committee on Tuesday would require that if everything else is equal, a veteran’s service be the deciding hiring factor. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House State and Local Government Committee.
If equally qualified with other applicants for a state position, a veteran would get the job under a change to Gov. Bill Haslam’s civil-service legislation approved Tuesday by a Senate committee. As originally drafted, the governor’s bill (SB 2246) would have only guaranteed a veteran the right to be interviewed for a state job, eliminating the preference points awarded veterans under current law. The bill also abolishes the point system and makes scores on an evaluation the most important factor in hiring and promotion. The elimination of a veterans’ preference had inspired a round of protests from Democrats and some Republicans last week.
The governor’s proposed Civil Service overhaul tested the patience of some state senators today. A committee ultimately moved the measure out with a party-line vote, after some three hours of talk. The governor’s proposal is to streamline how the state hires and fires workers, and the committee chairman insisted the bill wouldn’t wait another week for approval. That drew the ire of a couple Democrats, who, after barreling through a thick pile of amendments, complained they weren’t getting a chance to spell out their concerns. Joe Haynes, who’s set to retire after this year, argued the measure paves the way for state officials to kick good workers out and replace them with political allies.
Governor Bill Haslam has made a quick about-face on a proposal critics charged would hurt veterans’ chances of landing a state job. Lawmakers had seized on that part of Haslam’s Civil Service overhaul, with one Republican calling it “almost an insult” to veterans. Haslam wants to simplify the way Tennessee hires workers, and a draft of that plan would’ve erased a state preference for hiring vets, instead only guaranteeing them a job interview. That drew fire in a House committee last week, while the governor then argued the new system could not do more. Now the senator carrying Haslam’s bill has added an amendment saying if a veteran and another job applicant are equally qualified, the vet trumps
The district of a Tennessee senator critical of Gov. Bill Haslam’s economic development incentives bill has received roughly $9 million in state grants, potentially under the same level of secrecy he’s been criticizing. Counties falling within Sen. Roy Herron’s District 24 have received about 50 FastTrack grants for infrastructure and job training since 2004, often tied to projects involving limited liability corporations whose investors are not typically subject to public disclosure, according to data obtained by the Nashville Business Journal in a public records request.
Gov. Bill Haslam wants to strengthen the Economic and Community Development department’s ability to scrutinize government grant applicants. But he’s lately run into opposition from critics who said the process isn’t transparent enough. On the other hand, two ranking House Democrats are uncertain any kind of departure from the status quo is needed. “I’m having trouble figuring out what they’re trying to accomplish,” Craig Fitzhugh, the House minority leader, said of the administration’s legislative push. “We’ve been very successful in what we’re doing, and I want us to continue to be even more successful, so it bears another look over,” added Fitzhugh, a lawyer and banker from Ripley.
The push to allow motorcyclists to ride helmet-free in Tennessee has been set aside for another year. The proposal would have ended the requirement that adults must wear helmets to ride, but it was idled today in a state House committee. Cyclist argue that when states make motorcycle helmets optional, they make money from the influx of motorcycle enthusiasts who want to ride free. State Representative Judd Matheny, a Coffee County Republican, has tried to get that bill passed for years. But he took it off the table today, saying the message is just too difficult to get across in what’s left of this year’s legislative session.
Similar bills from two Northeast Tennessee GOP lawmakers to quash synthetic drugs advanced out of a House Health subcommittee Tuesday. Legislation filed by state Reps. Tony Shipley and Jon Lundberg would create felonies for manufacturing and distributing synthetic drugs and prohibit the drugs’ controlled substance-like effect on the central nervous system. But a key amendment to declare synthetic drug sellers a public nuisance and close their businesses for 60 days has been added to both their bills. That amendment came from the Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference (TDAGC).
The Republican sponsor of a proposal to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students said Tuesday that he’s not backing off the legislation despite concerns from GOP leaders. The proposal was scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee. But Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald said he plans to delay the measure for up to three weeks to work out its language. The legislation, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would limit all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Businesses told of chamber’s stance Conservationists stymied for several years in efforts to pass a bill to ban the dynamiting of Tennessee’s ridgetops for coal have taken a new tack. They wrote to Nissan, Gaylord Entertainment, TVA, FedEx, the University of Tennessee and a slough of other members of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, asking if they know about the chamber’s “ardent opposition” to the bill. The conservationists appealed to the fact that many of the chamber supporters promote care for the environment.
Tennesseans with toothaches end up in hospital emergency rooms because so many of the state’s residents do not have dental insurance and cannot afford preventive care, according to a report released Tuesday by The Pew Center on the States. State residents made more than 55,000 visits to emergency rooms because of problems with their teeth or jaw disorders in 2009. TennCare does not provide dental coverage for adults. Many employer plans do not either. Nationwide, visits to emergency rooms because of dental problems increased 16 percent from 2006 to 2009, the Pew report stated. The cost for treating the patients in 2006 was nearly $110 million.
Hotel booking sites including Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz have prevailed in court against 129 Tennessee counties and municipalities that accused the companies of shortchanging them on hotel tax collections. U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger granted the online travel companies a summary judgment last week. Trauger ruled that Tennessee’s “tourist accommodation tax” should be levied on the rate hotels charge, not the rate consumers ultimately pay if they book through an online travel company. “This is another important victory in favor of the online travel companies,” said Jeffrey A. Rossman, a Chicago attorney representing Orbitz who said the case is one of several similar ones across the country.
For the first time since 1903, Millington’s power structure will change. At a special called meeting, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 6-1 Tuesday to change Millington’s charter to transfer control of the city’s day-to-day operations from a full-time mayor to a full-time professional city manager. They also approved several other charter changes that include providing a recall provision, establishing a procedure for filling vacant positions, creating a vice mayor position, allowing future boards to opt for staggered terms and providing the option to establish a school system.
For Rep. Stephen Fincher, the high point of his first year in Congress occurred when he was sworn into office on his first day with his wife and three children at his side — an experience he called “so cool.” But that sentiment didn’t last long. The next day, Fincher remembers watching from the House floor as Republicans and Democrats bickered over which portions of the Constitution should be read aloud to kick off the legislative session. “I said, ‘This is not going to be a fun year,’ ” Fincher, a Republican from Frog Jump, recalled during a recent interview at the Capitol Hill Club, an exclusive GOP hangout located steps from Fincher’s Washington office.
Tennesseans cast 40 percent fewer ballots going into the last day of early voting Tuesday compared with the presidential primary in 2008. Nearly 153,000 people had voted through Monday, with 79 percent of ballots cast in the Republican presidential primary. But without a challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama, voting totals are far off the state record set in 2008. Turnout is 73 percent higher than during Republican President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004. Early voting has been heaviest in Knox County, where more than 11,000 people have voted in the Republican primary, compared with only 878 Democrats.
The final day of early voting comes as candidates in the GOP primary are becoming more active in the state. Turnout has been picking up in most counties since polls opened nearly two weeks ago. Voting is lopsided toward the GOP in many counties. Of the nearly 4,000 early voters in Williamson County, only 122 had cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, in which President Obama is the only choice. Voting early in Montgomery County, real estate agent Leah Colclasure says she’s not in love with any one candidate, but former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is her pick.
Early and absentee voting in this year’s presidential primary and other races ended Tuesday, and the number of those voters was far below the record turnout of 2008. A total of 2,380 voters cast early or absentee ballots in Madison County, said Kim Buckley, administrator of elections for the Madison County Election Commission. There are a total of 62,956 registered voters in Madison County and 3.8 percent of them voted early. The presidential primary election is Tuesday.
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is scheduled to hold a public rally at Belmont University on Wednesday at 8 p.m., according to his campaign. The rally at Belmont’s Curb Event Center will mark the second visit to Nashville by a Republican primary candidate this week, as the March 6 Super Tuesday looms. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich held a public rally on the State Capitol’s east lawn on Monday. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, is currently the frontrunner of the four-man race for Tennessee Republican delegates, according to the latest Vanderbilt University poll.
It’s time to worry about spring flooding in West Tennessee. There will be a flood water field exercise Thursday along the lower Mississippi River in Memphis. The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting the exercise and has invited several non-Coast Guard agencies to participate. Last year, the Mississippi flooded in Memphis and elsewhere in West Tennessee, displacing dozens of people. Spring thawing in the Midwest traditionally causes flooding along the Mississippi.
A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments over whether a Knoxville student should have been allowed to read and discuss Bible passages during recess. A three-judge panel from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will consider a case brought by Samuel and Tina Whitson, who sued Knox County Schools in 2008. The couple claims that Karns Elementary School Principal Cathy Summa infringed on the rights of their son, Luke, by telling him he could no longer hold Bible study with his friends on the playground. School officials argued that school policy banned adult-led Bible classes during school hours but allowed students to study the Bible on their own.
Pulling all-nighters in research labs and subsisting on little more than ramen noodles has long been a rite of passage for graduate students. But some are now looking to unions for help setting limits on the austere lifestyle and extreme working conditions that pursuing an advanced degree often requires. They argue that state universities have made a habit of plugging budget holes by asking them to shoulder more of the teaching and research work in the place of regular, full-time faculty and staff — making it difficult for them to complete their degrees on time.
Metro Government is offering one of its largest private employers a 7-year tax break for expanding in Davidson County. Last week HCA announced it would build a data center in Antioch. Legislation filed with the Metro Council would discount the company’s property taxes at the site by 60 percent. There are milestones HCA would have to hit. Each year the company must make progress toward investing the total $200 million in the facility as well as reach benchmarks toward ultimately creating 155 new positions.
Regal Entertainment Group CEO Amy Miles remains the only female chief executive of a Tennessee-based public company, according to an annual report by Lipscomb University and Nashville CABLE, a diverse network of professionals. The report “shows little progress toward gender diversity” in corporate boardrooms across the state in recent years. Since 2007 when the university first researched the issue women have held between 7.9 and 8.3 percent percent of the board positions for Tennessee public companies, the report says.
When Mars Petcare opens its $88 million facility in Thompson’s Station this year, the small town of 2,100 may see a tremendous growth spurt, similar to the one Spring Hill saw in the mid 2000s when General Motors came to town. Mayor Corey Napier expects a variety of new retail to pop up around town, including restaurants and possibly a hotel. “I definitely see growth in and around the area,” he said. “The facility is going to be a cornerstone of corporate development for our part of the world. With the profile of the company and the types of jobs they are planning to bring to town I see the area building out in and around the campus. It will be something that supports the professionals who get out and do errands at lunch.”
Consultants to study teacher pay; audit due Education reform comes with a price tag, and efficiency does, too, at least on the front end, which obliges the Memphis and Shelby County unified school board to spend some money as it prepares for consolidation of the city and county systems next year. The board spent some time debating but ultimately approved spending $2 million of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation money for a study by the Towers Watson consulting firm aimed at developing a “compensation reform” proposal as part of the district’s Teacher Effectiveness Initiative. Plans call for a pilot program at Memphis City Schools with the full program to be rolled out after the 2013 merger, if the board likes what it sees.
A group of six Memphis city elementary and middle schools are about to change substantially in the next year as the state has announced it will step in to run them. The changes announced this week as part of the state-run Achievement School District underscore larger changes to education across the country along the lines of charter school reforms. Lester and Gordon elementary schools will be converted to state-run charter schools under the state’s achievement school district. The state-run district also will operate Corning and Frayser elementary schools and Westside Middle as achievement schools.
District has offered few answers on intersessions Metro Nashville parents trying to schedule their fall vacation or nail down next year’s spring break plans will be in limbo until summer. The school district’s 2012-13 calendar, passed after weeks of debate last year, includes intersessions Oct. 8-10 and March 18-22, followed by breaks. District leaders designed the intersessions to help struggling students catch up through remediation while high achievers enjoyed camplike activities. But since the balanced calendar’s adoption last fall, parents have questioned whether the intersessions are mandatory and what they would offer. The district has offered few answers.
Changing course after an unwelcome national uproar, the Virginia Senate adopted a revised bill on Tuesday that still requires doctors to perform an ultrasound on women before they have an abortion, but also says that women cannot be forced to have an invasive vaginal ultrasound. Gov. Bob McDonnell demanded the revisions last week, and their acceptance on Tuesday all but assured the state’s adoption of the ultrasound requirement. The original bill set off protests from women’s groups and others. Some critics called it “state rape,” and the plan was mocked on television comedy shows.
“I’m not in favor of mountaintop removal, OK? I’m not. But I’m also not willing to say that we’re not going to mine coal in Tennessee anymore.” — Bill Haslam Tennessee’s then-candidate for governor made this statement during a 2010 campaign debate. But now, as the General Assembly takes up a bill that would ban mountaintop-removal mining in Tennessee, would be the time for Gov. Haslam to throw solid support behind the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. The governor is right on both counts. The state should not legislate away coal mines, but it should stop the practice of devastating our scenic heritage. This act bans only the mountaintop removal method of surface mining.
Gov. Bill Haslam seems a little out of sync with legislative leaders and, surprise, the differences do not appear to be ideological. During the past few weeks, Haslam has had to reconsider proposals that legislators have found not in the best interest of their constituents or, at least, some of their constituents. Haslam has faced questions about proposals: — to change class-size regulations — to revise procedures for hiring in state government — to revise policies for collection of information in regard to grants for economic development The governor has managed to step on a large number of toes with these proposals, although he indicates that they need evaluation with somewhat larger perspectives.
Part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s latest piece of legislation, entitled the “Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management Act,” would eliminate preference given to military veterans and spouses of deceased and disabled veterans. Currently, a job applicant interviews for a position and based on a variety of measures and preference points, the state decides whom to hire. Currently, a veteran and spouse of a deceased or disabled veteran would be given preference during this process. With Haslam’s new proposal, this system would be eliminated. According to the “T.E.A.M Act” veterans who appear on a referred list will continue to receive preference by receiving an invitation to interview.
The American workplace has never been more stressful. For the employee, the risk of losing a job weighs heavily. For the employer, the pressure of keeping productivity up and costs down is great. But when a classic love triangle erupts in gunfire, as it did recently at a Columbia, Tenn., convenience store, the image is stark. Two people died, one on the spot, and another was left critically wounded. Do we really want to make it easier for something like this to happen? Shouldn’t business owners retain the right to set the rules on their private property? Are we willing to make it harder on our Tennessee employers at a time when we need them to create jobs?
State Sen. Andy Berke’s decision to step down at the end of his term and not seek re-election is understandable, but regrettable nonetheless. It marks a significant loss for Tennesseans’ broad public interests. Sen. Berke has been a uniquely effective and energetic advocate on a wide range of issues — public education, crime reduction, efficiency in government, helping veterans and small businesses, broadening economic opportunity, and generally building bipartisan consensus for meaningful legislation. His leadership in the state senate when his term is up will be missed. Berke’s decision is not entirely surprising, however.
The state chose collaboration over a hammer to work with Kriner Cash to improve the worst schools. The state of Tennessee’s plan to intervene in helping Memphis’ worst failing schools improve was announced Monday. Guess what? It’s not a takeover. Residents viewing it as such are missing the bigger picture. The state, Memphis City Schools and proven charter school companies are entering into an innovative collaboration to fix the city’s worst schools for student proficiency. If it works, the effort could become a national model for how to improve schools.
Most Nashville business owners would agree that we are fortunate to live in one of the best business environments in America, which, combined with the leadership from our city and state officials, creates opportunities for job growth and added investment in Middle Tennessee. Tennessee Bun Co. is a beneficiary of this environment and leadership, and we are proud to be growing and investing in our company and the community. Just last year, we announced an expansion at Nashville Bun Co. that will more than double our current capacity. The expansion represents more than $7 million in investment and an additional 100 employees.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu has a Nobel Prize in Physics on his resume. Enough said. The guy is brilliant. So, it’s difficult enough to ask him a question that’s worthy of his attention, let alone press him for an answer. But that’s what reporters do. Anyway, during Chu’s recent visit to Oak Ridge National Lab to tout nuclear energy and get an up-close look at the computer simulations done via the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, the secretary took a few minutes to field questions from news folks. I tried to get Chu to address the administration’s budget request for FY 2013 that apparently includes about $12 million less than ORNL’s desired amount for the Leadership Computing Facility.
Women could change the outcome of Tennessee’s GOP primary Tuesday if they want to. But it doesn’t look like that will happen. Yes, Mitt Romney has more women than men who support him in Tennessee. But it’s far from enough to pull out an upset on Super Tuesday. Rick Santorum has more support from women, a surprise to some who disagree with his strong stand against access to contraception. A Vanderbilt poll, done with The Tennessean as the media partner, shows Santorum with a 2-to-1 lead over Romney. There is no gender gap to speak of.
On Friday, a federal district judge granted a preliminary injunction against a Montana law, the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, that bans corporations from making independent expenditures in political campaigns. Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court, in a separate case from the state courts, issued a temporary order preventing Montana from enforcing that law. These cases and others in the country show how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has upended important state campaign spending laws. As the Montana Supreme Court has said on this question, “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”