This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
House Republicans insist their vote last week for a plan to expand a state economic development incentive program does not conflict with their mantra that government can’t create jobs. The chamber voted 96-0 for the measure proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and carried by Republican Rep. Tim Wirgau of Paris, who said the expanded cash grant program would help spur investment in economically distressed areas of the state. “Let me make it very clear that we’re not going to be standing on the Capitol steps and just doling out checks,” Wirgau said.
The Wall Street Journal has accused Gov. Bill Haslam of intransigence in repealing Tennessee’s estate tax, and the governor seems a bit miffed. In a March 24 editorial, the Journal’s editorial board said Haslam is the “main obstacle” to reforming Tennessee’s estate tax law — a curious accusation considering the governor has made rolling it back a central part of his agenda for this year. The Journal cited some contradictory statements from Haslam to back its claim.
This spring Tennessee State Parks and the Tennessee Titans are partnering in a number of unique ways as part of the NFL Play60 effort, encouraging kids to stay active, eat healthy and become more physically fit – all while enjoying one of Tennessee’s great 53 state parks. Tennessee is the first state park system to participate in the NFL Play60 campaign, which features outreach into local schools and communities to engage children with messages and activities that promote outdoor experiences, the natural world, healthy lifestyles and fun.
State government has stepped up to assist Olin Chlor Alkali Products in north Bradley County. State Rep. Eric Watson, at Friday night’s Lincoln Day Dinner at Cleveland High School, announced the Tennessee legislature passed a bill on Friday providing Olin a $160 million loan for a new state-of-the-art membrane cell manufacturing facility. The construction will allow Olin to meet federal guidelines on eliminating the use of mercury in its manufacturing process.
Tennessee has more than 300 species of fish, with bass, crappie and catfish awaiting hungry anglers. The Smoky Mountains and the Appalachian Trail offer scenic spots for ambitious hikers. Or, you can shoot the rapids on the Ocoee River, or go camping just about anywhere across the state, including backcountry camping at 12 state parks. So it’s no wonder that the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development is promoting the state’s plentiful outdoor opportunities this spring. Elvis, Dollywood and the Grand Ole Opry are not Tennessee’s only attractions for the travel dollars.
A newly released TDOT review of the Shelbyville bypass makes a number of recommendations to make the new highway safer for motorists. The best part about the report is that it won’t cost the city a dime for improvements to State Route 437, but the city manager said the deal is not yet done. The city of Shelbyville received the road safety audit review this week from Steve Allen, director of TDOT’s project planning division. According to city manager Jay Johnson, the recommendations from the state safety team will now go to TDOT’s engineering division, “then to their finance people,” but cautioning at the same time that “it’s not a done deal.”
State Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, expressed wariness Saturday of efforts in the state Legislature to toughen penalties for gang crimes. The Tennessee General Assembly is considering whether to include gang violence in crimes that may be prosecuted under the state’s Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. Speaking at the 28th Legislative District Assembly’s extraordinary session at Howard School of Academics and Technology, Brown said she’s cautious because she doesn’t think everyone affiliated with gangs is a criminal.
Intent in posting biblical laws debated To state Rep. Matthew Hill, his legislation authorizing local governments to display the Ten Commandments along with other historical documents is not about religion. It’s about history. Just look around his office, he said. There’s an original Tennessee state flag. A framed copy of a Davy Crockett letter. A painting of historic Jonesborough, his hometown. “We’re not talking about holding a church service. We’re not talking about having a Bible study at the courthouse,” said Hill, R-Jonesborough.
Robert Mortensen, a Green Hills business executive, announced his candidacy for the 20th Senate District on Thursday, becoming the latest in a string of Republicans to run for the open seat. Mortensen is the head of Camelot Care Centers of Tennessee, a company that provides counseling services for families with special-needs or at-risk children. His opponents include Steve Dickerson, a Green Hills doctor who lost to Sen. Douglas Henry in the 21st District two years ago, and David Hall, a Goodlettsville home renovator who lost to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper in a bid for the 5th Congressional District in 2010.
Gov. Bill Haslam will release his budget amendment this week, an annual rite that usually signals the beginning of the end of the legislative session. But not everyone at the Capitol is happy with Republicans’ plan to adjourn before the end of April, a stated goal of the GOP leadership since lawmakers convened in mid-January. Democrats say the rush to finish has resulted in some slapdash lawmaking. “In the Senate, it seems to me that at least once a week we’ve got to send a bill back to committee, or we’ve got to adopt an amendment on the floor to fix some error,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, said last week.
Tennessee Democrats gathered to charge up the faithful at the Bicentennial Mall on Saturday evening, in an event that honored the past as it tried to stir up the troops for the future. In an event that had a strong pro-union flavor, the Tennessee Democratic Party hosted around 700 people at its annual Jackson Day dinner, mixing shots at Republican candidates for president with cries for more pride in what Democrats believe in. Chairman Chip Forrester led the call for “A New Path Forward,” calling for an “all-inclusive values party” that better incorporates the Latino, black and female contingents of the party.
The Tennessee Democratic Party selected its 5th Congressional District delegates to the Democratic National Convention on Saturday, picking a state lawmaker, a Metro councilman and five other party activists. The delegates to the convention, which will be held the week of Labor Day in Charlotte, N.C., are: • State Rep. Brenda Gilmore • Metro Councilman Walter Hunt • Freda Player, a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union
But birth rate exceeds deaths, so population rises anyway His company moves 3,000 to 4,000 households a year, so Jay Cooper has a pretty good idea where Memphis-area residents tend to go when they’re relocating outside the region. “Nashville, Atlanta, even Dallas — they’re going to the cities,” said Cooper, president of Memphis-based Cooper Moving. Wherever they’re heading, more people are moving out of Shelby County than into it, according to census estimates.
The departure of Sullivan County’s top finance officer shouldn’t cast doubt on the county’s ability to develop a yearly budget, at least not any more slowly than what has become normal in the past few years, outgoing Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said last week. In fact, the development of the county budget is further along in its annual process than it was, relatively speaking, when he first took on the job about 16 years ago, Bailey said.
County officials doubt they’ll be able to balance next year’s budget with reserves again, a reality made clear during a recent discussion about staffing. “Right now that’s not critical in the scheme of things we have facing us, and that’s the property tax increase that we need to get our arms around,” Mayor Ernest Burgess told members of the Rutherford County Commission’s Public Safety Committee this past week. Since becoming the mayor in 2006, Burgess has presided over a commission that raised property taxes by 4.9 percent in 2008 and by 6.8 percent in 2009.
He may have been speaking on an education panel, but Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander still managed to squeeze in a few jabs at President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law Tuesday. At an education event hosted by The Atlantic, Alexander said the 2010 law — which was argued in the Supreme Court last week — will indirectly reduce funding for education. That’s because starting in 2014, the law will force states to spend more on Medicaid, the joint federal/state health insurance program for the poor, which he said means funding for education will fall and tuition at public universities will increase.
On the final day of a political fundraising quarter that included a $2,500-per-plate dinner for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., Democratic challenger Bill Taylor invited donors to shoot guns for 100 times less. Taylor hosted his “Candidate Shootout Challenge” Saturday at Shooter’s Depot in Chattanooga, daring people to fire eight rounds with him in exchange for a $25 campaign donation. The gist of the Second Amendment agreement: If Taylor hit the bull’s eye more often than his donor, the donor owed the campaign an extra $10.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is ranked No. 3 on The Washington Post’s list of the top 10 House incumbents who could lose their primaries this year. In a Friday article examining what could be “one of the most anti-incumbent years in decades,” the newspaper noted that the Chattanooga Republican won a tough 2010 primary after former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp vacated Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District seat to run for governor.
The public got a healthy dose of the health care reform law that was argued before the Supreme Court last week, and a ruling is expected in June. But whether the two-year-old Affordable Care Act is struck down or parts are reworked by Congress, it has already fundamentally changed health care in Memphis, many local health industry officials agree. Some here say it’s been a frustrating time full of uncertainty and others say that the bill hasn’t much affected their day-to-day operations because many provisions won’t take effect until 2014.
Conservative Christians say mandate tramples on their rights Jessica Sanford wants President Barack Obama to keep his hands off her church. A Missouri Synod Lutheran from Clarksville, Tenn., she wore a blue “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirt to the recent Stand Up for Religious Liberty rally that drew more than 500 people to the state Capitol. Sanford is angry about a mandate from the Obama administration that would require church-run schools, colleges, hospitals and other agencies to provide contraception coverage for their employees.
Changes made to TVA programs raise concerns Sitting in a side yard off Middlebrook Pike, soaking in the sun on a bright March day, the solar system at the offices of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a testament to the economic potential of the solar industry to Tennessee, said Stephen Smith, executive director of the organization. The panels in the 9.36-volt array were made by Sharp at a facility in Memphis. The system itself was designed and installed by Knoxville-based Green Earth Solar LLC.
Tammy’s essentially abuts Memphis International Airport and the FedEx hub. The adult bookstore sits at the dead-end of Brooks Road, which slices through the airport office submarket. Heading west on Brooks from Tammy’s through the office district, the next business is another adult shop, Airport Bookmart. Next door at Brooks and Airways stands the vacant Executive Inn, a property so shattered and ugly that it suggests Doomsday. Next is a new government-built oasis, the sleek Airways Transit Center for Greyhound and MATA buses.
Bad weather means good business for some entrepreneurs in Middle Tennessee. The area was hit with tornadoes in late February that were followed by severe storms, golf-ball size hail and more tornadoes. Afterward, National Storm Shelters in Smyrna couldn’t answer phone lines quick enough. Meanwhile, waiting rooms at Lyk-Nu Collision Centers in Donelson and Lebanon were full as customers waited to get their cars repaired.
Public may comment on proposed school A hearing to determine whether the proposed charter school Connections Preparatory Academy will receive approval of its application to open a campus in East Jackson will be held on Tuesday. The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Jackson-Madison County Board of Education, at 310 North Parkway. The hearing is being conducted by the Tennessee State Board of Education. The public will be allowed to make comments during a portion of the hearing following the statements from Jackson-Madison County Schools officials and Connections Preparatory Academy.
With Tennessee showing faint signs of economic recovery, it is perhaps predictable that there would be voices calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to back down from proposed budget cuts to various social service and other programs. But that would be the wrong thing to do, for a number of reasons. It is true — and obviously encouraging — that in the first seven months of Tennessee’s current general fund budget, tax revenue outpaced projections by about $238 million.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Those words of wisdom ring particularly true in Tennessee, where you pay taxes, die, and then pay taxes again. Your Tennessee General Assembly is working to change that by moving forward with two key proposals: phasing out the death tax entirely by 2016 and the complete elimination of the state’s gift tax this year. Tennessee is one of only 19 states in the country, and two in the Southeast, that impose a death tax.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, naturally, got a fair amount of media attention when he declared recently that Republican legislators are “preoccupied with sex” and in a restrictive mode on the subject. “They’ve got a real thing with sex. We’re about ready to put the turbans on, I think, and put the women in burkas here if we keep going at this rate,” he said. There have been, indeed, several pieces of sexuality-related legislation with Republican sponsors in the 107th General Assembly — a rewrite of the state’s school sex education statutes to put more emphasis on abstinence, the much-ballyhooed-by-both-sides “don’t say gay” bill, a repeal of the Nashville city ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by city contractors, etc. But it is absolutely certain that there is no danger of turbans and burkas becoming Tennessee Republican fashion. There has been ample Republican-sponsored legislation arguably promoting Judeo-Christian religious themes generally — display of the Ten Commandments, the “Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act,” for example — and perhaps attacking Muslims, at least if you believe immigrant-rights activist assessments of last year’s “Sharia law” bill and this year’s bill to limit immigrant employment in charter schools.
I believe teacher evaluation scores and Tennessee Value Added Assessment System teacher scores should be made public. It’s not a popular point of view, especially among teachers. But I think their concerns are overstated. Tennessee lawmakers are working to pass legislation to close teacher evaluation records. TVAAS teacher scores already are not public. This short changes the people — taxpayers — who pay for public education. It is important to hold public servants accountable, and we go to great lengths to do so in every other area of public life.
The Knox County Charter Review Committee should look closely at turning a number of independent offices into appointed positions in order to streamline government, strengthen oversight and reduce the number of fiefdoms in the City County Building. If this proposal seems familiar, it is one we supported in a charter referendum in 2008. Voters rejected the effort then, but four years have passed, many of the players then are not involved in the Charter Review Committee and it’s time to re-examine the merits of the issue.
Wanted: A superintendent for what could be one of the country’s largest school districts. The unified Memphis City and Shelby County school system seeks an ambitious, charismatic miracle worker to do what has never been done in the history of urban education: Launch the performance of students from all backgrounds into the stratosphere. The district will serve the 102,000 students currently in Memphis City School system and if the suburbs have their way, not a single one of the public school students in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown or Lakeland.
Around the world cities, including Memphis, are using their airports to promote their municipalities as aerotropolises. It’s a catchy word that denotes an airport is the hub of an economic development wheel which has spokes bringing real or potential economic development to the surrounding area. But as a story by business writer Tom Bailey Jr. on the cover of today’s Viewpoint section makes clear, Memphis has been great at marketing itself as an aerotropolis, but lacks the financial muscle needed to make the concept more than a marketing fad.
Amid the nonstop national debates about health care, reproductive rights, church-state separation, gun laws and what to do about Iran, perhaps it needs to be said at least one more time: The American people are first and foremost concerned about the economy. Although the U.S. is in a recovery, millions more people are out of work than five years ago. We still face brutal economic conditions here, with even more uncertainty looming from Europe. We need congressional leadership to set us on a sound fiscal course … right?
The National Disability Rights Network released its latest report on the continued use of restraint and isolation in schools that has led to physical injury of students with disabilities. Among the examples included in the report are scream rooms in Connecticut and the tragic case of a boy who was stuffed in a duffel bag in Kentucky. These examples show the need for the U.S. Department of Education to be proactive in setting forth policies and consequences of using restraint and isolation since federal legislation continues to be blocked.
It is not necessary for the U.S. Supreme Court to find the individual mandate portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be unconstitutional in order to strike down the entire act, but it would be sufficient. It is also the most visible legal weakness in the act, which is why supporters of the ACA have now suggested that the mandate is severable from the remainder of the act. The ACA’s supporters hope that by sacrificing the mandate they can keep the rest of the act alive.