This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Four Tennessee governors, including the state’s current chief executive, were honored at Saturday night’s appreciation dinner hosted by the Henry County Republican Party. “I’m having a great time working as governor,” Gov. Bill Haslam told his supporters during the event at the Don Ridgeway Conference Center at Paris Landing State Park. Haslam said one of the things he enjoyed most about his job was working with the men and women of the state’s National Guard. Haslam also took the opportunity to quiz the crowd about what they think a governor is supposed to do. Balancing the budget was the first response Haslam got to his question. He replied by saying that this year’s budget is almost $1 billion less than last year’s budget.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he wants to avoid arresting Occupy Nashville protesters unless there is a flagrant violation of a new law intended to evict them from their camp near the state Capitol. The law, signed by the Republican governor, prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it. State troopers had an opportunity to arrest 24-year-old Christopher Humphrey early Monday morning. He was maintaining his vigil at the group’s camp on War Memorial Plaza. Humphrey said he was asked to come out of his tent. When he did, he said he stood in front of the tent and extended his arms to be handcuffed. “The officer very carefully grabbed my arm, walked me about four paces … and said that I wasn’t being arrested,” Humphrey said. “That was disappointing to me because I knew that I was going to be arrested.”
Girl Scouts surveyed by Vanderbilt University students said they not only feel the group helps them develop personal and leadership skills for life but it also fills their time with fun activities and learning new things. The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee released the findings Monday in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the national organization. Scouts met with Gov. Bill Haslam and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. As part of a class project, students and researchers at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College interviewed about 700 girls on topics such as what they’ve learned, who their role models are and why, and how they’ve demonstrated leadership.
Hamilton County is making plans to move ahead with a high school focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) this fall at Chattanooga State Community College. Officials said Monday they expect an announcement from Gov. Bill Haslam next week about a $1.85 million grant for the proposed new STEM school. “We believe we’ve been successful in that. We’ll hear how strong our proposal was,” County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said, speaking to the board of the city’s Enterprise Center, which pushes high-tech economic development in the area. Kelli Gauthier, the Tennessee Department of Education’s communications director, declined to comment on whether the county would get the grant.
More workforce training and college access will soon be available in East Knox County, Pellissippi State Community College officials said Monday after finalizing purchase of the former Philips Consumer Electronics building. The 223,000-square-foot building on Strawberry Plains Pike just off Interstate 40 will open this fall with general education courses and eventually expand to include degree programs like nursing and specialized training for local industries. “For folks in that part of the county, having this campus in this new location allows us to do important work in terms of providing access to education in East Knoxville, and it also allows us to do some work-force partnerships,” said Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise.
Blackman High opened its doors Monday to members of the state Department of Education and General Assembly to see what students are doing in Career and Technical Education classes. Visitors heard student-led presentations in the concentrations of entrepreneurship, Virtual Enterprise, marketing, radio/TV, graphic arts, personal finance, health science and information technology. “We’ve been talking a lot in Nashville about CTE and what the kids are doing,” said Sen. Jim Tracy, who represents part of Rutherford County and serves on the Senate Education Committee. “For most of us, programs like this didn’t exist when we were in school.”
Performance evaluations of Tennessee’s 64,000 public school teachers could be made public as early as this summer. However, the state’s Department of Education is doing what it can to keep the information from becoming water-cooler gossip. While the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have recently published teacher performance numbers in online databases, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says news organizations should lay off. “We wouldn’t publish it ourselves, but we may have to give it over and my hope is that actually newspapers would think pretty carefully about what really is in the public interest when it comes to evaluation records.”
Problems with an expensive new computer system used by the Department of Children’s Services have led to some foster care parents getting paid too much or not enough. The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/wmPj7b ) that more than $2.5 million in duplicate and missed payments have been identified by the department, which is hurrying to address the problems with the system. The software system, called the Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System, was rolled out in 2010 for $37 million to streamline DCS operations and better track services provided to children in state care. The newspaper also reported last year that foster parents started experiencing problems with the system shortly after it was rolled out.
The Department of Children’s Services is working to recoup duplicate payments sent to foster parents and providers due to a glitch with its computer system. The $37 million system called “TFACTS,” or the Tennessee Child and Family Tracking System, was rolled out in the fall of 2010. However, since its launch there have been problems. “There’s a lot of frustration about TFACTS. Expectations were very high. This is an expensive system and people want a lot out of it,” said Commissioner Kathryn O’Day. The main problems were that many foster families were not getting paid the way they should have been.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced $19.2 million in aeronautics grants statewide and Memphis made out well, garnering $2.75 million. Memphis International Airport received $1.5 million in state and local grants for access control and CCTV system replacement. Charles W. Baker General Aviation Airport and General DeWitt Spain General Aviation Airport each received a $500,000 state and local grant for airfield lighting replacements and upgrades. General DeWitt Spain Airport also got a $250,000 state and local grant for a flood control pumping system.
State highway officials are hoping that the construction of a crossover lane on Interstate 75 in Campbell County will help with traffic flow after the collapse of an embankment last week. Both lanes of I-75 were closed last Friday after the collapse near mile marker 144. Motorists are currently using detour routes until the crossover lane is in place. Tennessee Department of Transportation officials say that when the crossover lane is complete, one southbound lane on I-75 will be shifted into a normal northbound lane. The crossover lane is expected to be in place by Friday. Officials say they don’t know when I-75 South will re-open to normal traffic patterns.
A large pothole has forced crews to close part of northbound Interstate 65 near the Rivergate area. Officials say the pothole was reported just before 6 p.m. near mile marker 96, at the Two Mile Parkway/Goodlettsville exit. It is not clear whether any vehicles have been damaged as a result of the hole in the road. At least one lane will be blocked as crews work to repair the pothole, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation estimates the roadway will be fully re-opened by 3 a.m. Tuesday.
The Tennessee Department of Correction is holding a series of career fairs to fill an assortment of jobs. They’re looking for more than 400 employees for the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, opening in January. Career fares are being held in Sparta tomorrow, at the Sparta Career Center and at the National Guard Armory in Crossville next Tuesday. For more information about the career fairs visit the TDOC web site.
Governor Bill Haslam is reiterating his opposition to a controversial bill nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay.” The proposal is scheduled to come up in legislative committee again Tuesday. Haslam has repeatedly told reporters he thinks the bill is a distraction, and that lawmakers have more important things to work on. Haslam says he’s also talked a few times with Hohenwald Representative Joey Hensley, the proposal’s sponsor. HASLAM: “He knows and understands that, as I’ve said before, is not something I think is particularly helpful or needed right now. Again, I think the state already has rules in place about what can be taught.” Despite Haslam’s concerns, Hensley says he’ll continue to push the measure.
Tennessee lawmakers are gearing up for what could be an intense debate about police tactics. Two separate bills tackle serious questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates about a practice that critics call “policing for profit.” Our exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation exposed how some Tennessee police agencies routinely target out-of-state drivers for traffic stops, looking for large sums of cash that their agencies can keep on the suspicion that it’s drug money. “The intent of the bill is to make sure that all of those funds stay within law enforcement, just not specifically with the specific drug task force that is out seizing those funds,” said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
A bill up for debate in the Legislature would allow gun owners to keep their fire arms in their car at work , as long as they have a permit and keep the gun locked up. But in a Senate committee last week, some of the state’s largest employers spoke out against the bill. They say their rights as property owners trump the Second Amendment rights of employees.
The Senate has voted to delay for three weeks a vote on a proposal to halt mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee. The decision came despite the objections of the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester, who called for a vote Monday evening. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said the delay is aimed at finding a compromise on the measure, and not an effort to kill the bill by holding it until relevant committees finish their business for the year. The measure seeks to deny permits that would alter any ridgeline more than 2,000 above sea level.
It was pitched as a way for Beale Street to raise money to promote itself: a 50-cent “historic landmark preservation fee” tacked on to every $50 on a customer’s tab anywhere in the Beale Historic District. It would be collected by the merchants, sent to the city of Memphis and put in a special account for Beale preservation, tourism and improvements, spent only with approval of a new board. Those are the key provisions in a mystery bill filed in the state legislature and set for review Wednesday in a Senate committee. Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, said he was asked by lobbyist Melissa Bast to sponsor the bill on behalf of Beale Street merchants. He did, filing SB 3508 with Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, in late January.
Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis filed a federal class-action lawsuit Monday against Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and two other top state officials seeking voting rights restored to him and others he says were wrongfully purged from the rolls. The lawsuit, which was filed in Nashville, comes days after the Democrat was not allowed to vote in the primary because of a registration mix-up. Speaking at a news conference at Legislative Plaza Monday, the former four-term congressman said he thought it was a simple mistake and no one deliberately tried to keep him from voting. “But if we’re talking about a person’s right to vote, those mistakes should not be allowed to be made,” he said.
Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis showed up at his Fentress County polling place on Super Tuesday to cast a vote but was turned away because his name was no longer on the voter roll. Today, Davis filed a class-action lawsuit against state officials, accusing them of violating federal voting laws, including the 14th Amendment. According to the lawsuit, Davis was “unlawfully purged” from the Fentress County voter roll without explanation or notification. He was told by several election officials, including state coordinator of elections Mark Goins, that he could register to vote at the polling place, then cast a provisional ballot. However, Davis said he understood that to be a violation of Tennessee voter law, which requires residents to register 30 days before voting.
Former U.S. representative claims he was wrongly denied chance to vote Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis is suing the state, claiming that he and thousands of other Tennesseans were illegally taken off voter rolls in a recent purge of old registrations. Davis filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court Monday that says state election officials broke the law by not requiring more than 70,000 voters to be notified that their registrations had been canceled. Davis decided to sue after he and his wife were turned away at the polls when they attempted to vote in the Fentress County Democratic primary last Tuesday. “We’re seeing what I believe (is) an attack on individuals’ opportunity to be able to vote,” Davis said.
Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis filed a federal class-action lawsuit Monday against three Tennessee officials, alleging his voting rights were violated when he was turned away at the polls on Super Tuesday. Davis, a Democrat who represented the state’s 4th Congressional District from 2003 to 2011, was told he couldn’t vote at his Pall Mall, Tenn., polling place after an election worker could not find his name on the list of registered voters on March 6, the suit alleges. Davis never received notice from the government that his name had been purged from the rolls and never requested removal, the suit said. “This lawsuit is not about me,” Davis said in a statement. “Rather, I’m taking this action to ensure that the State of Tennessee is required to restore all Tennesseans to the voting rolls whose names were improperly removed.”
Former Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis is suing state officials he says denied his right to vote last week. Davis doesn’t think the state does enough to notify people who have been purged from voter rolls. Voters are typically purged from rolls if they move away, or die. In Davis’s case there was a mix-up over where he was registered because he also had limited voting rights in a different county where he owns property. “I don’t think there was malicious intent. I don’t think anyone meant to harm me. I think there was a mistake. Obviously a mistake, not thinking there was a mistake that was made. But if we’re talking about a person’s right to vote, those mistakes should not be allowed to be made.”
A former congressman says he was denied the right to vote, and he thinks thousands of other Tennesseans may have been, also. Now, Lincoln Davis is taking the battle to court. The Tennessee Election Commission calls it a clerical mistake that only happened to Davis because he owns property in two different counties. Davis says he has voted in Fentress County since he moved there in 1995, but on Super Tuesday, when he and his wife went to cast their ballots at their local Pall Mall precinct, they weren’t listed on the voter rolls. “For the first time in my life. I was denied the right to vote, last Tuesday in my home precinct where I live,” Davis said.
The last remnants of the Occupy Nashville encampment are now gone after state troopers removed three tents and a table from War Memorial Plaza early Monday morning. Although protesters were present at the time of the action by officers of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, no arrests were made and no citations issued. The troopers were enforcing a new law that makes it illegal to camp on the plaza. After signing the legislation just over a week ago, Gov. Bill Haslam issued a warning to the protesters, giving them one week to clear the plaza.
Six months after the Nashville version of Occupy Wall Street began on the State Capitol’s War Memorial Plaza, state troopers cleared the only remaining protester’s tent before dawn Monday, but organizers said their protests will resume without overnight camping. Troopers did not arrest or charge the last tent’s occupant, Christopher Humphrey, a homeless man who had remained on the site after others had gradually cleared out, to test a new state law banning encampments on most state property. State officials posted signs warning of the new anti-camping law March 2. Humphrey stood by watching while state workers cleaned the marble-floored plaza with pressure washers.
Chancery Court Judge Arnold Goldin said earlier this year that he didn’t want to get involved in the Shelby County Commission’s long-running debate over drawing district maps for the 2014 elections and beyond. But after commissioners voted 7-5 Monday in favor of a single-member district plan, the issue appears to be headed back to Goldin’s court. For months, the 13-member commission has operated under the assumption that nine votes are required to pass a new district plan. However, when seven voted in favor of a plan known as “2J,” Ronald Krelstein, a lawyer who has been hired to represent the county in a redistricting lawsuit, said he will argue in court that state law says seven votes are enough to set the district lines. County Atty.
While some prominent lawmakers in Washington are calling for the U.S. to help overthrow the Syrian regime through arms and airstrikes, Tennessee lawmakers say that’s currently a dangerous proposition. Senator John McCain is calling for arming the opposition and airstrikes on the Bashar al-Assad regime. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee says he’s more concerned about stopping the slaughter of the Syrian people than who replaces the current government. But Nashville Democrat Jim Cooper says it would be brash to arm fighters that are still being studied by U.S. military and intelligence officials.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann on Monday said he would return nearly $80,000 in unused office funds to the U.S. Treasury, capitalizing on a campaign promise to cut federal spending. “I challenge other members of Congress to do this because it’s the right thing to do,” Fleischmann said during a lunchtime speech at the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club. “It’s the people’s money.” Fleischmann promoted the occasion as a practice-what-I-preach moment, encouraging media coverage and flashing a massive $79,693.90 mock check as he made the announcement. The money represents 5 percent of Fleischmann’s annual office budget, which is about $1.4 million. Still, Fleischmann didn’t cut everything.
Tommy True and Steve McBay stare at the four story building standing in front of them with fixed eyes. Their feet are planted on the corner of the street, their minds are somewhere else completely. The sounds of an ambulance racing to the emergency room finally breaks their concentration. Dozens of people walk in and out of the Harriman Hospital now but in a year it will be starkly different. In 2013 the building will be empty, management moving to a brand new hospital. McBay and True have a plan. Why not invite the VA into the city, and turn what would be completely vacant building into a place where veterans can get much needed health care. Something that, right now, is a two and a half hour drive.
Fifty million people in America lack health insurance and the law says most of them must soon be provided coverage. But how to deliver? The Obama administration Monday finalized an ambitious blueprint for new state-based markets that will offer consumers one-stop shopping along the lines of amazon.com. It may sound simple enough, but getting there will be like running an obstacle course. The rule comes just two weeks before the Supreme Court takes up a challenge to the constitutionality of the law in a case brought by states. Many governors and legislators are on the sidelines awaiting the outcome, even as time is running out to act. Starting Jan. 1, 2014, new health insurance markets called “exchanges” must be up and running in every state, the linchpin of a grand plan to make health insurance accessible and affordable to those who now struggle to find and keep coverage.
States are moving to cut jobs and other spending to close budget deficits, even though their protracted fiscal crisis is easing a bit in an improving economy. State governments are confronting a combined $47 billion gap between projected revenue and costs for the fiscal year that starts in July, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. While that figure is high historically, it is less than half the budget shortfall that states confronted a year ago and down from $191 billion three years ago. For the coming year 29 states have projected deficits; that is down from 42 a year ago and 46 the year before. Tax receipts in many states have risen in recent months as companies post higher profits and more people find jobs.
More than five years after real estate prices began to tumble, Americans are finally starting to get property tax breaks on their devalued homes, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Cities, counties and school districts today collect 20% more in property taxes than they did in 2006, when home values were one-third higher than now, but the tax tide is slowly starting to recede. Last year, property tax collections rose just 1.2% — and actually declined 0.9% when adjusted for inflation, according to data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s the first time property tax collections have fallen below the inflation rate since 1995 and only the third time in 40 years.
When fires or medical emergencies beset this rural county in the Appalachian foothills, the volunteer fire department races to the scene—seemingly free of charge. But residents can’t take their fire service for granted much longer. Declaring it needs a hefty cash infusion to continue to operate, the Bell County Volunteer Fire Department this year started asking residents and businesses to pay a voluntary, annual subscriber fee, ranging from $60 to $150. Without the help, “we’ve got two years, max,” said David Miracle, assistant fire chief. A growing number of volunteer fire departments, most of them in the rural South, are asking residents to pay an additional fee for firefighting service, though not for such things as responses to medical emergencies, which make up most fire-department calls.
TVA and the Environmental Protection Agency are hosting a series of workshops on restoring the river system affected by the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill. The workshops will be held at Roane State Community College, 276 Patton Lane, Harriman, and each one will start at 6:30 p.m. Information will be provided on the River System Evaluation and Cost Analysis Report on the effort to clean up the Emory River and surrounding countryside.
Jeff Smith, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s deputy lab director for operations, confirmed Monday that layoffs notices were issued to employees in the lab’s neutron sciences directorate. The layoffs are the latest in a series of actions to cut costs and optimize lab operations for tights budgets in the years ahead. The possibility of layoffs had been on the horizon for a while as lab management evaluates the impact of previous cost-cutting measures, including a series of voluntary departures. About 250 employees applied for the voluntary program last year and most were off the lab’s payroll by year’s end.
Tennessee may be in the Bible Belt, but its taxes on beer — among those typically referred to as sin taxes — are among the lowest in the country, according to The Tax Foundation . According to a map the Washington, D.C.-based group recently shared, Tennessee’s state excise tax on beer is 14 cents per gallon, the 11th lowest rate in the country and the lowest in the South, home to many of the highest rates. Alaska features the highest excise tax on beer, at $1.07 a gallon, followed by Alabama ($1.05), Georgia ($1.01), Hawaii (93 cents) and South Carolina (77 cents). The lowest beer tax rate is in Wyoming, at 2 cents a gallon, followed by Missouri (6 cents) and Wisconsin (6 cents). You can view the Tax Foundation’s complete map here.
Simon Property Group , owner of Opry Mills mall, today announced a series of events to celebrate the grand reopening of the regional shopping destination, which has been closed since the flood of May 2010. “For nearly two years, local residents and Nashville visitors looking to enjoy the true Music City experience have been eagerly awaiting the return of Opry Mills,” said Gregg Goodman, president of Simon subsidiary The Mills, in a news release. “Opry Mills is coming back strong with an impressive list of stores, restaurants and entertainment venues, enhancing the local economy through new job creation and increased tourism.”
The Metro school board could finalize charges Tuesday against the McGavock High School teacher whose bizarre and scary classroom outburst 18 months ago generated national attention and more than 180,000 hits on YouTube. If charges were found true, Wood would face termination and dismissal from the district. “It’s one step in the process,” Metro attorney Mary Johnston said. On Oct. 8, 2010, McGavock High Algebra II teacher Donald (Brian) Wood unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at students, threw chairs and knocked over tables, forcing his exit from the school via ambulance after an apparent nervous breakdown. The episode (a portion of which can be seen via a msnbc.com report here) went viral, creating a firestorm, after Wood’s students recorded the outburst and posted it on the Internet.
A Metro Nashville teacher who was recorded yelling, flipping over tables and then chasing students down a hallway a year and a half ago will face steps to fire him at tonight’s school board meeting. Director of Schools Jesse Register is asking the school board to certify incompetency charges against Donald Brian Wood so the district can move forward to fire him. Wood became a YouTube sensation in October 2010 after McGavock High School Algebra II students mocked him and then recorded his outburst. A relative said he had a nervous breakdown during the incident. A dismissal letter from the district to Wood, dated last month, said Wood asked his students to video his outburst on their phones, which eventually drew 180,000 YouTube hits.
The Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors is against the recently proposed school rezoning in eastern Hamilton County. In an open letter to school board officials, Hamilton County commissioners and the county mayor, the Realtors board called the plan “arbitrary” and “hastily prepared without public input.” “Plans don’t need to be made knee-jerk,” said association President Mark Hite, who added that association board members have been attending school board meetings to understand the issue better. The letter urged government officials to “step back, study the problem, work with the community and craft a long-term solution.” It maintained that rezoning would cause property values to drop, disrupt family life and dissuade businesses from moving to the area.
Knox County school board members are fully on board with Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s proposal to increase the school system’s budget by 18.9 percent over the next five years. Now, they said at Monday’s board workshop, the task will be getting the community on board to support it, too. “The 10 of us are going to the best ambassadors to explain this to the community,” said Indya Kincannon, who represents the 2nd District. “If the community understands it, I think, they will be 100 percent behind it.” McIntyre’s proposal, which he publicly introduced for the first time Monday, would take the current budget of $384.67 million to an end budget in 2017 of $457.55 million.
Three separate cases have seven people facing methamphetamine-related charges in Williamson County, according to the sheriff’s office. A 21-year-old Franklin woman was arrested Feb. 24 after deputies served a search warrant at her home on Trinity Road. The SWAT team and deputies raided her home during the early-morning hours and found evidence of recent meth cooks and safely removed the dangerous substances from the property. Chelsea Ladd was arrested and charged with promotion to manufacture methamphetamine. She is currently out on bond. March 2 arrests Deputies arrested four people March 2 after they answered a burglary in progress call on Bending Chestnut Road.
Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday he would appeal the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial of assistance to homeowners affected by the southern Illinois tornado. Mr. Quinn says Illinois is doing everything it can to help communities hit by storms on Feb. 29, including Harrisburg, where seven people died and 98 homes were destroyed. FEMA says there is enough private insurance and other resources for Illinois to recover. Missouri was also denied FEMA aid, and Gov. Jay Nixon said he was disappointed. Homeowners hit by the storm in parts of Indiana and Kentucky were approved for FEMA help.
The U.S. Justice Department on Monday blocked Texas from enforcing a law that requires voters to show state-issued photo identification at the polls, saying it would disproportionately affect Hispanics. The agency’s move is likely to fan the flames around the issue nationally, as state legislatures consider toughening voter-ID laws in an election year. Republicans argue that requiring voters to show IDs will help combat fraud; Democrats claim the measures are designed to make it harder to vote for minorities, the elderly and other groups who tend to back Democrats. Texas is one many jurisdictions, mostly in the South, required to get permission from the Justice Department or judges in the District of Columbia federal court before making changes to voting laws.
West Virginia has become the first state to pledge tax revenue to help finance its retiree health care burden, a major development in states’ efforts to pay down their soaring health benefit liabilities. In the session that ended Saturday (March 10), lawmakers approved legislation proposed by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin pledging $30 million a year in personal income tax collections to help reduce the gap between what the state promised to pay its retired employees for health care and what it set aside to meet those obligations. West Virginia’s retiree health care debt, which had reached $10 billion, was one of the highest per capita burdens in the country. Tomblin says the health care obligation was the last big debt confronting West Virginia, jeopardizing the strength of the state’s finances. “We’ve struggled for the last three or four years to find a solution,” he told Stateline.
One of state government’s primary responsibilities is to keep citizens safe, and while we continue to make progress on the public safety front, we certainly are not where we should be. Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation for violent crimes. Domestic violence makes up more than half of all reported crimes against Tennesseans, and prescription drug abuse and trafficking are rampant statewide. Last year, I created a Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group consisting of 11 state departments and agencies that all play a role in public safety issues, including our Health and Mental Health agencies. It is significant that these diverse state departments and agencies have worked together, efficiently coordinating efforts and moving in the same direction, to propose and implement a large-scale plan.
You’ve heard the old saying that perception is reality. If only it were so, at least on the up side. Nevertheless, recently released poll results show that public perception of Tennessee is highly favorable, with the state coming in third, right behind Hawaii and Colorado. This should be welcome news for the state’s tourism industry. But it also suggests a great opportunity for Tennessee in other areas such as economic development. Public Policy Polling conducted a random, automated poll to measure public perception of the nation’s states. The commercial company conducts polls on various issues such as politics and public policy. The poll was conducted during a four month period ending in February and surveyed 700 registered voters. Tennessee earned the third highest rating with 48 percent of responders saying they had a positive perception, 38 percent were neutral and only 14 percent had a negative perception. The state did not request the polling or have any input or involvement.
The standoff between gun-rights advocates and business interests over the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill in the Tennessee Legislature could end if lawmakers come to their senses and take advantage of a compromise measure. A second firearms bill that prevents employers from requiring gun ownership disclosure from employees should be an easier matter to settle. The National Rifle Association drafted both bills and along with the Tennessee Firearms Association is resisting any compromise effort. Law enforcement agencies, educators and some of the state’s largest employers want to halt the bills. The bills face key committee votes this week. The “guns in parking lots” bill would allow employees to bring guns to work, even if a business bans them from its property, as long as the weapons are left in a locked private vehicle in the employer’s parking lot during work hours
The privilege of voting is so fundamental an American right that any attempt to strip an individual of that prerogative undermines the nation’s core values. Highly partisan legislative initiatives to make it difficult or impossible for certain voters — especially the poor and minorities — are currently underway. Fortunately, there are determined individuals and agencies working diligently to halt those heinous actions. The latest voter suppression initiatives include state laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at their polling station. Legislative sponsors and supporters of voter ID laws say that such a requirement would insure the integrity of elections and reduce the possibility of fraud. Nonsense.
The proposed structure of the unified school district contains what suburbanites want. The Transition Planning Commission has set the framework and structure for a unified school district that addresses many of the concerns of those who say bigger is not better. If the state Department of Education and the Shelby County Unified School Board approve the Multiple Achievement Paths model, parents will see their children educated in a district that won’t be micromanaged. It will be a district that will give some schools varying degrees of autonomy in matters such as hiring teachers and instructional programs.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony Wednesday afternoon on Criminal Court Judge John Fowlkes Jr.’s nomination to fill a judge’s seat on the U.S. District Court in Memphis, we hope they act expeditiously to move the nomination to a vote by the full Senate. President Barack Obama nominated Fowlkes in December to replace U.S. Dist. Judge Bernice B. Donald, who became a judge on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 29. The confirmation process for judges can be slow — and sometimes is made even slower because of partisan politics. Fowlkes has a range of experience in the judicial and government sectors, including serving as a Criminal Court judge since 2007, which makes him a worthy candidate for the federal judgeship.