This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The House on Monday approved two key pieces of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-crime package and sent the bills for the governor’s signature. The chamber voted 91-0 to increase penalties for violent crimes committed by groups of three or more people. A bill to enhance penalties for gun possession by people with previous felony convictions was approved on a 95-0 vote with no debate. The companion bills were approved earlier by the Senate. Haslam included the estimated $6 million cost of the enhanced penalties in his budget proposal, but did not include funding for other parts of his crime package.
The House approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam two anti-crime bills Monday night that he and law enforcement officials have sought for several years. One enacts tougher sentences for gun possession by people with prior violent felony convictions. The other enhances penalties for additional crimes committed by gangs, defined in the bill as three or more people. The governor is certain to sign them into law. The two bills are part of a public-safety package of legislation he presented to lawmakers in January, and he included funding for both in his budget proposal working its way through the General Assembly: $4.8 million for the gang-crime measure and $271,000 for the gun bill.
Two key pieces of Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-crime package are now headed to his desk for a signature. The House voted unanimously Monday to increase penalties for violent crimes committed by groups of three or more people. It also approved a bill to enhance penalties for people with previous felony convictions who possess a gun. The Senate already approved the bills. Other measures in Haslam’s anti-crime package have stalled, including a bill to require mandatory jail time for people with repeat domestic violence convictions, and a proposal to create a prescription drug database.
Expect a tax cut, Tennessee’s high-ranking lawmakers are telling the public. In fact, expect as many as four. Capitol Hill leaders are all but promising that Tennesseans should expect to pay less taxes on everything from their groceries to inherited multimillion-dollar estates. “The important thing is we are sticking to the basic philosophy of our party, which is when additional revenue comes into the state, we look for ways to return it to the taxpayers instead of spending it,” said House Speaker Harwell, R-Nashville. In past years under Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, lawmakers had considered raising taxes, such as by removing the local sales tax cap on high-priced items like boats and furs.
Amazon’s distribution center here, which already can hold enough goods to fill an estimated 67,000 full-size pickup truck beds, soon will have space to handle even more. Starting today, Amazon will begin work to add about 150,000 cubic feet of storage as it tries to meet growing demand at its massive facility, officials said Monday. As part of the expansion, Amazon already has added 100 more full-time jobs, converting them from seasonal slots. Michael Thomas, the center’s general manager, said the 1.2 million-square-foot facility now has a little more than 450 full-timers.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill last week that will require Amazon to collect sales tax by 2014. At the end of the year, retailers said they weren’t totally satisfied with the deal that lawmakers and Amazon created. “It’s not a good thing for Tennessee retailers,” Mike Cohen, spokesman for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, said in October. “It’s too long a period before Amazon begins to pay.” The new law will ensure that Amazon will pay Tennessee sales tax if federal leaders don’t approve a national online sales tax law by 2014. A
Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder delivered Governor Bill Haslam’s proclamation to Barry Rice, President of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 240 on Saturday. Haslam declared that March 29th, 2012 will be Vietnam Veterans Day. The 110th Congress established a “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” to be acknowledged nationwide at the end of March each year. The United States Armed Forces completed the withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam on March 30th, 1973.
Saturday morning, TDVA Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder presented a proclamation honoring Vietnam veterans signed by Governor Bill Haslam. Commissioner Grinder presented the proclamation declaring March 29 as ” Day, Vietnam Veterans Day,” to Barry Rice, President of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 240. The proclamation was declared at the “Thank You Day to All Veterans” event in Sumner County. The event was hosted by Vietnam Veterans of America, VFW Post 9851, 73 New Shackle Island Road in Hendersonville.
Tennessee’s Department of Human Services is asking a Davidson County Chancellor to shutter the operation of a “child welfare agency” in South Nashville after the facility failed to meet standards during an inspection. Kid’s 1st Kiddie Kollege #2, located at 237 Hermitage Ave., continued to operate as a daycare after a license application was denied on March 8, prompting the DHS to file a temporary injunction lawsuit against the daycare in Davidson County Chancery Court last week. The license was denied based on a state investigator’s reported observation of several violations.
All four corners of McClung Tower will need to be repaired after a 7-foot slab of exterior concrete separated from the second-floor overhang late last month, University of Tennessee officials said Monday. UT does not yet know how much the repairs will cost but it is considered an emergency project, which could expedite the bid process, said spokeswoman Karen Simsen, based on information from Associate Vice Chancellor Dave Irvin. If the cost is between $100,000 and $500,000, the repairs would be approved by the state architect.
The Southwest Tennessee Development District, an area agency that helps the elderly and disabled and offers grants to aid economic development in eight counties, has relocated to Downtown Jackson. Joe Barker is the executive director of the district. Barker said the Jackson office serves 35 cities in eight counties, including Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Madison and McNairy. “We’re excited about being here,” he said. Barker said the Southwest Tennessee Development District has relocated to 102 E. College St. from its former location on 27 Conrad Drive in Jackson.
Chester County attorney Lloyd Tatum is the third candidate to qualify in the race to fill the 26th district Circuit Court Judge position. The seat was left vacant when Judge Roger Page was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Tatum, 55, qualified on Monday, according to the Chester County Election Commission. A native of Henderson, Tatum has practiced law for 26 years. He began his career as a prosecutor in Madison County. “As a small-town lawyer, we have to do everything,” Tatum said. In his career, Tatum said he has experience in criminal, domestic and personal injury cases.
Legislators in the General Assembly have taken up a raft of bills dealing with social issues. They include a proposal to let teachers take part in worship at school. Another would change how school districts teach sex education. Yet another would require the state to publish demographic information on women who receive abortions. In almost every case, public outcry has led to the bills being scaled back. The final product doesn’t go as far as first proposed. WPLN’s Bradley George talks about these bills with Capitol reporter Joe White.
A proposal that would protect teachers who allow students to criticize scientific theories like evolution is headed to the governor for his consideration. The House moved the measure on after voting 72-23 on Monday evening to approve minor changes by the Senate, which approved the legislation 24-8 last week. The measure says neither the Tennessee Board of Education nor local education officials will prohibit public school teachers from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”
Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill that would encourage classroom debate over evolution, sending it to Gov. Bill Haslam for signature. The state House of Representatives voted 72-23 on Monday night to concur with Senate Bill 893, which calls on schools to create an environment that helps “students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories,” including evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning.
A controversial bill that protects teachers who discuss with students “weaknesses” in evolution and other scientific theories is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is under pressure from prominent scientists to veto it. Scientists in Tennessee and across the nation charge the measure is a “backdoor” attempt to allow discussions of religion-based views such as “creationism” and “intelligent designs” in science classrooms. The House approved the bill Monday night on a 72-23 vote that included changes made last week by the Senate bill’s sponsor, Bo Watson, R-Hixson.
A House vote Monday night sends to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that has inspired a controversy the governor says he knows little about. The legislation — HB368 — sets guidelines for classroom discussion of evolution and other scientific theories and declares that teachers cannot be disciplined for permitting such discussions. Sponsors say it will encourage development of “critical thinking skills” by students. Critics say it encourages discussions of creationism as an alternative to evolution. Haslam was asked his views on the bill last week after announcing plans to use federal funds to build three new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools in the state.
A bill to allow more questioning of scientific theories in the name of “critical thinking” got the final vote of approval from the state House of Representatives last night. Proponents say the bill is intended to keep teachers from being disciplined if they allow discussion on scientific controversies in their classrooms. The House approved language added by the Senate. In a preamble, the bill now lists subjects that the General Assembly feels are up for disputation: “biological evolution, the chemical origin of life, global warming and human cloning.”
Physical anthropologist and evolution expert Eugenie C. Scott emphatically believes the Tennessee state legislature should drop bills allowing religious and politically motivated statements on creationism in public middle- and high-school classrooms. But because politics is involved, Scott looks for the legislature to pass them. “These bills are a bad idea pedagogically. They’re a bad idea legally,” said Scott, who was at MTSU Monday to deliver the keynote address for Scholars Week. “The best thing would be for these bills to be withdrawn and forgotten about. But it looks like they’re going to pass.”
A proposal that would allow public buildings to display such “historically significant documents” as the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was unanimously approved 30-0 by the Senate on Monday evening. The companion bill unanimously passed the House 93-0 last week.
The state Senate has approved bill meant to outflank the controversy that erupted when the General Assembly required voters to show photo IDs. The measure passed last night does away with the exemption from photo IDs for drivers licenses of Tennesseans 60 and up. Opponents say the bill sets up a sharp change for older Tennesseans, who for years have been able to carry a drivers’ license with no photo. Nashville Democrat Doug Henry, cited a little history on the issue. Former governor Lamar Alexander, a Republican, actually vetoed a similar bill, as Henry tells it.
Employers have solidly opposed letting their workers keep guns in their cars while at work. But legislation known as “guns in trunks” has gotten a boost from the state Attorney General, who says it would probably stand up in court. Senator Mike Faulk, a Republican from Hawkins County, says his proposal to let employees bring their guns to work – at least as far as the parking lot – has been defined as pitting gun rights against property rights. So he was encouraged by the state attorney general’s opinion, and says the question should be simply about workplace safety.
Tennessee legislators are considering legislation that would require pharmacists to provide certain tamper-resistant pain pills. The point of the bills: to help curb the prescription drug abuse problem in the state. “They reformulated OxyContin a few years ago to cut down on patients crushing the tablets and snorting them, or they would dissolve the medication and inject it into their veins,” said Ronnie, Danner, retail pharmacy manager at Wilson Pharmacy in Boones Creek. If you go to the pharmacy with a prescription for the pain killer OxyContin, the pills you leave with will be tamper resistant.
A conservative group that has warned of the growing influence of Islam is promoting a bill that would limit how many legal immigrants charter schools can hire, drawing opposition from charter school and immigrant groups. The Tennessee Eagle Forum, an organization that has criticized U.S. immigration policy and last year pushed for passage of the so-called “Shariah bill,” is pressing Tennessee lawmakers to pass legislation that would cap the number of foreign workers charter schools can hire.
The House on Monday passed a bill declaring that Tennessee wouldn’t enforce federal regulations governing child labor on family farms. The chamber voted 70-24 to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby in response to rules being considered by the U.S. Labor Department. “I believe it’s incumbent on us as legislators to stand up against big D.C., big government and say enough is enough,” Faison said in remarks on House floor. “And I’m hoping other state will join in and say you’ve gone far enough.”
Conservationists try varied tactics to ban practice Conservationists supporting a bill to prohibit mountaintop removal in Tennessee are launching a second round of television ads, but this time photos of ridges in Tennessee that have been blown off are included. The first ad that the Tennessee Conservation Voters launched showed pictures from other states. Opponents of the bill, called the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Act, had slammed the campaign as deceptive, saying that mountaintop removal doesn’t happen in the Volunteer State.
Some Tennessee residents that are members of various American Indian tribes across the nation said they’d be protesting in front of Rep. Mark Pody’s office right now in Lebanon. The tribe members say they are protesting HB 2284, which would allow lawmakers to recognize three groups as legitimate tribes. The bill goes before a House and Senate committee Tuesday. It was tabled aftre a hearing last week left some legislators saying they wanted more time to study the measure.
A familiar name throws his hat in the ring for JoAnne Favor’s old House District. Mike Carter spoke to the Pachyderm club today…after he officially turned in his qualifying papers for Tennessee’s District 29. The former lawyer and judge now has several small businesses. He ran to replace former Hamilton Mayor Claude Ramsey back in 2009 when Ramsey joined Governor Bill Haslam’s administration. Now Carter wants to represent the newly re-drawn District 29. He told pachyderm members he’s ready to work hard, put the time in and do a good job.
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said Monday that he favors a proposal to close public access to teacher evaluation data because of the lack of confidence many educators have in the new evaluation system. The measure is headed for a full Senate vote, and the companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House State and Local Government Committee today. Sponsors say access to the data should be limited to school officials and not available to the general public.
A solution to the Shelby County Commission’s months-old redistricting fight remained elusive Monday, and the next significant steps will likely come in Chancery Court. Commissioners have spent months debating district maps for the 2014 commission elections and beyond. They were unable to agree in time for a Dec. 31 deadline. Some commissioners filed a lawsuit, and a court now appears likely to make the final determination. Seven commissioners had voted March 12 on final reading in favor of a single-member district map called 2J.
The mayor asked city departments to consider reducing their budgets in the coming year, but Nashville’s police and fire agencies say they need more money. Metro budget hearings began Monday morning. During the hearings, departments recap how they fared last year and make a pitch for what they will need to operate in the next year. Mayor Karl Dean had asked each department to consider the effects of an across-the-board 2 percent cut to funding, but Metro’s public safety agencies said that such cuts would drastically diminish their ability to function.
The Cleveland City Council voted 4-3 Monday to appeal a 1967 agreement with Bradley County on how local option sales tax revenue is shared. “That’s the most important vote we as a City Council will ever make,” said Councilman David May, casting an approval vote. He was joined by Avery Johnson, Charlie McKenzie and Bill Estes. Councilman Richard Banks, who with George Poe and Dale Hughes voted against filing the appeal with the Tennessee Court of Appeals, said city officials have “been fighting with the county too long.”
A large-scale emergency preparedness drill will bring together first responders from Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Wilson and Williamson counties on Wednesday at LP Field. Officials said it will be the largest exercise since April 2006, with dozens of volunteers acting as injured patients. Some roads on LP Field property, as well as the pedestrian bridge, will be closed that morning from 9 a.m. to noon. The Department of Homeland Security drill will evaluate capabilities in responding to catastrophic events, as well as training emergency crews, city managers and policymakers.
Knox County in the upcoming fiscal year will need to contribute an additional $1.6 million combined to the Sheriff’s Office retirement program and two others that have been closed for decades. The county’s pension board actuary, USI Consulting Southeast President Bob Cross, told board members Monday that investments continue to under perform and that the extra money is needed to keep the plans healthy. Officials assume a 7.5 percent rate of return for the three plans — one for the deputies, one for county employees and another for school teachers who were under the city’s old plan before the county assumed it.
For most Americans, the milestones of youth happen at 16 (driving), 18 (voting) and 21 (drinking). For Weston Wamp, 25 is a bigger deal. Federal law requires members of the U.S. House to live at least a quarter-century before taking office, so the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp celebrated his 25th birthday Monday with a fundraiser designed to bankroll his quest to win his father’s old seat. “This kind of lays to rest the question of whether I’m too young because the Constitution says you’ve got to be 25, and today I’m 25,” Weston Wamp said in an interview.
If the Obama health-care law ultimately is struck down by the Supreme Court, the reason could be the absence of a single word: tax. The high court long has recognized broad congressional authority to levy taxes, and both supporters and opponents say the law would be on firmer ground if the penalty for those who refuse to carry health insurance were labeled a tax. In fact, a House version of the bill did just that, explicitly establishing a “tax on individuals without acceptable health-care coverage.” But many supporters feared that already shaky support for the law would crumble if opponents could characterize it as a tax increase.
Today, the Supreme Court will hear two hours of oral argument on the central issue in the case against the Obama administration’s health law — whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to make people either purchase health insurance or pay a fine. It is this question — corresponding to a provision of the law known as the “individual mandate — that has been the primary focus of intense political opposition and public outcry ever since the law was proposed. It has been the focus of numerous lower court lawsuits as well.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will lower water levels in the West Sandy Dewatering Project on Kentucky Reservoir in Henry County. The work will be done during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 winter waterfowl hunting seasons. TVA officials said the pumping station at the project needs repair and the water levels need to be lowered during the winter months. Available waterfowl for hunting may be minimal. The dewatering project consists of about 6,400 acres, which are managed jointly by TVA and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has hired the communications director from NCR Corp. in Atlanta to serve as vice president of communications. Janet Brewer, who has previously served in key management posts for LexisNexis and The Reynolds and Reynolds Co., fills the vacancy created last June when former communications vice president David Mould left TVA. She will be based at TVA’s headquarters in Knoxville and be paid a base salary of $235,000 a year, TVA officials said.
When Dolly Parton walked into the room to meet with Gaylord officials about a joint venture a few months ago, she had a confident stride that hadn’t been there before. As the majority owner in Dollywood, she wasn’t just an entertainer who wanted to dip her toe in the business world. She was someone with a track record, unlike the scenario in the early 1980s when she approached the Herschend family of Branson, Mo., about launching a theme park in Pigeon Forge that eventually became Dollywood. “I’m already proven now,” Parton said of her business savvy.
Grundy County Schools netted 13 applicants to replace retiring Director of Schools Jody Hargis. Officials in the system’s central office said the number of applicants jumped by 11 last week, with responses from as far away as Texas and Alaska, while four were from within the county. Board of Education member Willene Campbell said she was pleasantly surprised by the response. “I thought it was a good turnout, and I was surprised at how far away applicants came from,” Campbell said Monday. “You know, the old saying is the more the merrier.”
Forty-eight teaching positions would be cut from the Shelby County Schools workforce, contributing to a net loss of 92 jobs in the system next year, under a preliminary budget discussed by the unified Memphis and Shelby County school board Monday night. Officials stressed that the numbers could change significantly, however, because of uncertainty over state funding and a proposed pay raise for teachers. Budgets for SCS and MCS will not be ready for final approval until April or perhaps beyond.
After a race to call special referendum elections in May, suburban leaders this week may be in a race to get to Chancery Court in a legal challenge of the Tennessee attorney general’s opinion that last week stopped the referenda move. “We are moving toward, at least in Bartlett, some legal action,” Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said Friday on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.” “I’ve said all along we’re going to hit some bumps.” The Bartlett Board of Mayor and Alderman will discuss the latest bump Tuesday, March 27, at its regular meeting.
A new STEM platform school operated by Sullivan County and Kingsport will open serving grades 6 and 7 — not 6, 7 and 8 as originally planned — the school’s governing body decided Monday. However, the group talked about the science, technology, engineering and math school adding grades 8 and 9 during year two of the school in 2013-14 instead of just adding a grade a year as originally planned. In addition, group members said the school may utilize an alternative calendar, the so-called “year-round school” calendar, when it opens in August.
Drug agents have arrested two Humboldt residents and two Bradford residents on drug charges after a Wednesday visit to a Humboldt trailer park, according to a news release issued Monday. Agents of the West Tennessee Violent Crime and Drug Task Force of the 28th District along with officers of the Tennessee Probation and Parole Enforcement Unit went to the Humboldt Trailer Park on Wednesday to check on Troy Sollis, who is on parole from prior meth-related charges, according to the release. When approached by parole officers, Sollis and Brittany Nicole Patterson tried to escape on a motorcycle driven by Sollis, the release said.
Plans to extend the Pellissippi Parkway to U.S. 321 in Blount County have been on the drawing board for decades, with a final decision on the environmental impact a year away. That gives supporters and opponents of the project another 12 months to debate and discuss the controversial highway that connects to Interstate 140 on one end and will provide a more direct route to the “Quiet Side of the Smokies” on the other. Opposition to the project is understandable. Highways — especially the four-lane, interstate kind — take land and private property.
The Tennessee Legislature’s Republican bent to favor the wealthy and appease racists has rarely been so obvious. Consider the Legislature’s actions last week on two specific bills — one to dismantle the inheritance tax on estates of more than $1 million, the other to block the merger and integration of Memphis City and Shelby County school districts. Helping Tennessee’s most affluent residents by phasing out the state’s inheritance tax was originally proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam, but Republic lawmakers seem equally eager to please the well-heeled crowd — no doubt, in part, because that’s where the bulk of their campaign donations originate.
I’ve been trying to get Congress to behave better, and that’s a frustrating job. There are so many areas for improvement that it’s hard to know where to start. So I thought I’d start simple, real simple. Congress should pay its bills on time. That principle should be obvious but, at least on Capitol Hill, very few people believe it. Many colleagues in Congress think that deadlines don’t apply to them. They act like they are above the law, because they write the laws. In fairness to my colleagues, their disdain for deadlines used to be harmless.
When Congress passed the health reform law, known as the Affordable Care Act, was it a “necessary and proper” (in the words of the Constitution) response to the national health insurance crisis? That is the question now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The answer will affect all of us. Few people deny that there is a national health insurance crisis. Without insurance, health care has become unaffordable for most Americans. But many people cannot get insurance, either because it is too expensive or because they have a pre-existing medical condition.
Many college presidents met recently in Washington, D.C., to discuss strategies and best practices for helping their institutions thrive. Session topics ranged from marketing to fundraising to government relations and everything in between. The elephant in the room, however, was tuition. Long before President Obama urged college leaders to get a handle on rising tuition costs, college and university presidents have lost sleep thinking about this issue. Long-term solutions to alleviate the problem have been elusive for most schools. Part of that elusiveness is beyond our control.