This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Three of Governor Bill Haslam’s most important bills are heading for the House floor. The bills include the civil service overhaul known as the TEAM Act, a reduction of the sales tax on food, and a measure lowering the inheritance tax. WPLN’s Joe White reports yesterday the House Finance Committee gave all three bills its blessing. The TEAM Act redefines Tennessee civil service. Added to the bill were earlier notification to employees being laid off, a reapplication process for those laid off if a similar job opens up, and some salary adjustments for job upgrades.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s civil service reforms are heading for a vote by the full House of Representatives, a day after the governor announced he had agreed to a compromise with state employees. The House Finance Committee passed Haslam’s TEAM Act on to the House floor Tuesday largely intact, after accepting a handful of changes involving pay, seniority and layoff procedures. The amendments won the support of the Tennessee State Employees Association, which had criticized the bill as reopening the door to political patronage.
In an amendment to his budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Bill Haslam has suggested $25 million in changes to the $30.2 billion plan. The changes, revealed Monday, help restore a total of $110 million to the $160 million in cuts to “core services” first identified as reductions in last year’s budget that had been delayed to this year because of the use of one-time federal money. In a news release, Haslam said he was pleased to be able to restore funding to several programs.
Governor Bill Haslam is defending his plan for how to spend excess tax revenues, admitting that he is “adding to the size of government.” Last year, Governor Haslam could say he was shrinking state government, even if out of necessity. Uncertain tax collections and the end of stimulus money meant fewer employees and smaller budgets across the board. Not this year. Revenues are up by a quarter of a billion dollars.
Although Gov. Bill Haslam sees it as part of his job to rein in exceedingly controversial or notably weird bills the Legislature may be pushing, Haslam said Tuesday he’s actually rather hesitant to veto legislation that doesn’t seem imminently harmful to the state. The governor pointed out that regardless of his views on any particular piece of legislation, if the Legislature is of a mind to make something law, it is going to happen with or without his approval.
The Haslam administration is opposing a last-ditch effort by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to keep Gov. Bill Haslam from shutting down the state’s Taft Youth Development Center. Sexton has a budget amendment that would provide nearly $12 million to continue the Bledsoe County center for criminal teens. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes said Tuesday the administration opposes the move to preserve the 96-bed facility.
With the first quarter behind us and this year’s legislative session in full swing, I wanted to give you a quick update on the progress we’re making as a state… Most importantly, we’re seeing continued improvement in the state’s economy… In fact, February marked the seventh consecutive month the state’s unemployment rate has declined — it’s now at 8.0 percent — the lowest it’s been since November of 2008.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will lead a conversation with Tennessee college and university leaders Tuesday about the future of postsecondary education and workforce development. Haslam will join higher education leaders Tuesday morning at the spring 2012 Tennessee College Completion Academy at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs. The academy is part of an initiative announced last summer by Haslam for college and university presidents and their senior management teams to join forces in developing strategic plans for increasing student graduation and retention rates throughout the Volunteer State.
Tennessee, where the nation’s first big legal battle over evolution was fought nearly 90 years ago, is close to enacting a law that critics deride as the “monkey bill” for once again attacking the scientific theory. The measure passed by the Tennessee General Assembly would protect teachers who allow students to criticize evolution and other scientific theories, such as global warming. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said this week he would likely sign it into law.
A Montgomery County woman has been charged with TennCare fraud in nearby Dickson County in a case involving prescription drugs. The Office of Inspector General, with the assistance of the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office, on Tuesday announced the arrest of Jessica Lynn Perry, 24, of Southside. She’s charged with one count of TennCare fraud and one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, according to a news release.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has released the 2012 application for the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program. Applications must be postmarked or hand delivered June 1st – 7th. Do not postmark prior to June 1st. An important change for this year is that requests for funding will now be approved based on applicant determined priorities instead of on a first come, first serve basis.
Reports show staff cleaned up scene, removed murder weapon Officials of the Madison assisted living facility where a man was beaten to death with a cane violated multiple state regulations by failing to notify police of the assault and investigate the attack. Police and state reports on the 2011 Christmas Eve incident show employees of the facility also cleaned up the crime scene and removed the murder weapon before police arrived.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Lowell Russell is enjoying a welcome change of scenery today. The trooper, who was critically injured in a fiery collision along Interstate 40 early on March 13, was discharged from the University of Tennessee Medical Center this afternoon, exactly three weeks since the crash, according to family members. He was transferred to an undisclosed inpatient rehabilitation facility in Knox County to continue what, so far, has been a strong recovery.
Governor Bill Haslam’s latest update to the budget covers the cost of a bill that would make designer drugs illegal to make and sell. The legislation had been stopped cold because of the added cost to incarcerate more offenders.Rep. Tony Shipley’s bill got a new lease on life when the governor’s latest budget included $250,000 to fund it. Shipley says the so-called “analogs” – sometimes packaged as bath salts or plant food – would become illegal because they affect the human body just like outlawed drugs.
Two bills that would criminalize the sale and use of synthetic drugs and define them as analogues of controlled substances are moving forward in the Tennessee General Assembly, state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said Tuesday. Senate Bill 3018 passed the judiciary committee Tuesday and will move forward to the fiscal review committee, where an identical house bill is already under review. “It’s not a question of finance, it’s just a question of moving it through,” Shipley said of the bills.
State Rep. Curry Todd has decided to go public about being diagnosed with cancer. The Collierville Republican informed colleagues about his condition during a House Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday on a proposal to require insurance companies to pay for oral chemotherapy treatments. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin is opposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and the insurance industry on the basis that it creates a government mandate.
State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, had confided to close friends that he has a rare, slow-growing form of cancer. He decided to go public Tuesday during a House Commerce Committee debate about a bill that would require health insurance companies to provide the same level of benefits for oral anti-cancer drugs as they do for injected chemotherapy. Todd, 64, spoke just before the committee voted on House Bill 1087 when it appeared a majority would vote to kill it.
State Representative Curry Todd told fellow lawmakers today he is battling a rare form of cancer. His admission came during debate over a new, simpler chemotherapy treatment. The House Commerce Committee was arguing over a bill to require insurance companies to pay for oral chemotherapy, pills, in their cancer treatment coverage. Many lawmakers wanted to defer the measure for further study. Enough study, says Memphis Republican Curry Todd — this is personal.
A bill repealing legislation that keeps local governments from implementing certain non-discrimination policies failed in a state Senate committee Tuesday morning. The bill, which has come to be known as the non-non-non-discrimination bill, would have allowed local government to create policies requiring people doing business with that government not to discriminate in hiring and firing based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Despite a House committee’s deferral till next week of a bill allowing new municipal school districts, the mayors of three Shelby County suburbs said Tuesday they’re optimistic that it will eventually pass. They and other proponents said they see the delay as part of the state legislative process. Senate Bill 2908 won approval Monday night in the state Senate. The House version, HB 3234, was up for review Tuesday in the House Education Committee.
The lobbyist for the countywide school board took no position Tuesday, April 3, on state legislation that would lift the statewide moratorium on creation of municipal school districts in January. And the House Education Committee chairman Richard Montgomery of Sevierville, Tenn., delayed action on the bill for another week after announcing there was a late amendment to the legislation. Montgomery didn’t say what the amendment was and no amendment had been filed with the bill summary Tuesday afternoon.
A Senate panel has rejected efforts to roll back a bill barring local governments from enacting stricter anti-discrimination standards than those held by the state. The State and Local Government committee on Tuesday voted 6-2 against the bill sponsored by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis. Gov. Bill Haslam last year signed into law a measure voiding a Nashville ordinance that barred companies that discriminate against gays and lesbians from doing business with the city.
Legislation recognizing six self-identified Indian groups as official state tribes passed a Senate committee Tuesday, but not without a last minute tiebreaker from the lieutenant governor. It took the last-minute affirmative vote from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey after the bill split the Senate State and Local Government committee 4-4. Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, passed on the bill. While this bill is now headed to the Senate floor, its House companion was delayed for a week in committee after not being discussed Wednesday afternoon.
Local lawmakers are working on a bill that temporarily would increase Erlanger’s board of trustees from 11 to 12, adding a trustee who would be either a medical doctor appointed by the local state delegation or Erlanger’s chief of staff. “We are trying to give a voice to physicians and bring them back to the hospital,” state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said Tuesday. “This would be a quick fix to try to get immediate physician engagement on the board.”
Legislation making it a crime for motorists to drive with a dog in their lap in Tennessee was brought to heel, at least temporarily, in the Senate Finance Committee The bill, which sponsor Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, passed Monday night in the House on a 58-30 vote, drew growls from senators on Tuesday. Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, joked that dog-related bills can arouse strong “passions” and “often come back to bite you.”
It’ll be legal to drive in Tennessee with your dog or any other animal in your lap for at least another two weeks. A bill making it a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $50 and up to 30 days in jail, to “operate a motor vehicle in motion with an animal in the driver’s lap or between the driver and driver’s door of such motor vehicle” won approval in the state House of Representatives Monday night — but stalled Tuesday in a Senate committee.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, announced Tuesday he will seek re-election to the House District 26 he’s held since 2004. Calling it a “privilege” to serve the people in the district and “proud” of their encouragement, McCormick pledged to continue focusing on jobs-related issues. “I hope to keep working on bringing jobs to Southeast Tennessee, and I think I’ve had a small part of having some good things happen,” McCormick said.
State Rep. Sheila Butt on Tuesday announced plans to seek re-election to a second term in the 64th Tennessee House District, which includes most of Maury County.The Columbia Republican said she wants to continue efforts to stoke the economy and reform state government. “Tennessee is on the right track when it comes to job growth, saving taxpayer money, and cutting wasteful spending. That said, I know we can do better,” Butt said in a press release.
A new analysis says that Tennessee will be among the states hardest hit by so-called “bad debt” provisions passed in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The report from Avalere Health states that more than $3 billion will be cut from skilled nursing facility payments and that Tennessee is among the top 10 states that will absorb the bulk of those cuts. For fiscal 2015, the negative impact on Tennessee will be approximately $17.5 million.
Mosque case set for April 25-26 The plaintiffs accusing the Rutherford County government of failing to provide sufficient public notice before approving a mosque will first have to defend a motion to dismiss their case. The county attorney’s office recently filed a motion asking Chancellor Robert Corlew III to make a summary judgment to end the case rather than to proceed with an open meeting trial scheduled for April 25 and 26.
Fuel arose as a major spending magnet during the first day of hearings that aim to help the Montgomery County Budget Committee construct the county’s budget for the next fiscal year. Tuesday, the Budget Committee, along with County Mayor Carolyn Bowers and other county brass, reviewed eight departments’ budget requests, which excluded personnel expenses and most capital projects. Money for fuel was a prominent source of increases in the requests, especially for emergency medical services, which cut operating expenses aside from fuel by 10 percent.
A bill making it easier for small businesses to raise capital, which includes ideas championed in legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., will be signed into law on Thursday. Fincher, who is back in Tennessee for the Passover-Easter recess, will not return to the nation’s capital for the signing by President Barack Obama, his office spokeswoman, Jennifer Cook, said Tuesday. Fincher introduced some of the main elements of the JOBS Act, which passed both the House and Senate late last month in a rare show of bipartisanship.
The Chuckabee strategy is back. Last week, about 7,000 3rd Congressional District households in Tennessee received a letter signed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. In the letter, he asked voters to “make an immediate donation of $10, $25, $50, $75 or $100 or more today” to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s re-election campaign. “In 2010, I endorsed a young, conservative newcomer for Congress in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District — Chuck Fleischmann,” the Huckabee letter states.
King College student Charles Boatman didn’t let the congressman off easily. He wanted U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s opinion on the Obama administration’s use of a drone strike to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. “He is a bad guy, but I have a problem with that,” said Roe, a Republican who represents the 1st District. “We have rights.” Alwaki was a Muslim cleric who preached to several of the 9/11 bombers and the Army soldier who participated in the Fort Hood shooting, according to published reports.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and King College students deliberated America’s role in the world Tuesday and whether that role has been good or bad. Although Roe talked about the struggle over federal spending, defense cuts and things like student loans, U.S. foreign policy was the hot topic in his Memorial Chapel discussion with students. When asked about the drone killing of American-born and -raised Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a major figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Roe advocated military tribunals for enemy combatants.
Cash-strapped state governments that are searching every crevice for money have found a new target: computer programs that enable businesses to keep two sets of books simply by plugging a flash drive into their cash registers. The so-called tax-zapper software lets businesses, especially those that deal mostly in cash, underreport taxable sales and pocket money that should go to the government. Five states — Florida, Georgia, Maine, Utah and West Virginia — have enacted laws cracking down on the programs, and about a dozen others are considering similar proposals.
Markets Sour as Central Bank Dashes Hopes of Imminent Moves to Stir Economy The Fed is in no hurry to launch new measures to boost economic growth, minutes from the central bank’s most recent meeting showed, disappointing investors eager for more stimulus. Among the hints dropped in minutes of the Fed’s March 13 policy gathering, Federal Reserve staff concluded that the U.S. economy is a little more susceptible to inflation than previously thought.
Despite the scrutiny of state gun laws following the February shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, state legislators across the country continue to work on scaling back gun restrictions this session. The Kansas House passed a bill last month to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their weapons into any public building that doesn’t have “adequate security,” like metal detectors or security guards, and Oregon pro-gun legislators narrowly defeated a bill that would have banned guns on schools grounds, which included K-12 schools, community colleges and universities.
States hoping to capitalize on their energy booms are running into resistance from local officials who want to be able to police the noise and industrialization that accompany oil-and-gas drilling. The municipalities are fighting laws that bar them from regulating drilling, enacted by state lawmakers who feared towns would stunt job-creation and a stream of tax revenue. Last Thursday, seven towns collectively sued Pennsylvania in state court to overturn a law passed in February that prevents them from using their zoning authority to regulate oil-and-gas development.
A sort of nuclear version of demolition derby takes place daily on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge reservation.Hardly a week goes by without another building biting the dust, creating mountains of contaminated rubble that must be hauled away to a special landfill for wastes generated by the Superfund cleanup projects in Oak Ridge. Many of the old facilities date back to the World War II Manhattan Project or the Cold War period that followed.
Tennessee farmers say they’re planting as much as three weeks ahead of schedule because of unseasonably warm weather. The Nashville farmers market is preparing for the first fruits to come early. Howell’s Produce stand is still stuck selling vegetables trucked in from Florida. But manager Daniel May says tomatoes are already in the ground at the Howell farm in Fairview “It really helps us because it’s an earlier season for tomatoes to come in, and that’s really what people come down to look for is homegrown tomatoes.
A dispute over health care coverage for an inmate has prompted a local hospital system to sue Loudon County for more than $200,000. Covenant Health Corp. filed the suit in Knox County Chancery Court. The suit alleges that in June an individual with the initials J.S.B. was incarcerated in the Loudon County Jail for a violation of probation, and was granted a medical furlough to obtain treatment.
Loosening of law opens door to wide variety of applicants Charter school applicants, no longer limited by law to serve poor students from failing classrooms, brought a record number of proposals this year to Metro Nashville Public Schools. Eleven groups applied to launch charters — schools for adults, schools for teens with Asperger syndrome, schools for families in affluent West Nashville. There were proposals from a college president, a former Wall Street legal adviser, a Goodwill vice president.
Teachers and principals in Shelby County’s two public school systems are focused these days on about a third of the alphabet, the part from A to H and where they are on a number line from one to five. The numbers are the level teacher they are judged to be based on the new teacher evaluation models with five being the best. And A through H are the elements to be included in a specific observed lesson plan that is also a part of the evaluation process.
Five finalists will interview for the top spot in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which handled the search for candidates, announced the finalists during Tuesday’s school board meeting. “This is the most important job that we have,” George Giles, the school board chair, said of hiring the schools director. “It’s important that we get this right.”
An electronic tracking system which monitors the purchase of pseudoephedrine — a key component in the manufacture of methamphetamine — has helped net two drug arrests in Sullivan County. On March 15 Sullivan County investigators obtained a search warrant for 5737 Fort Henry Drive in Kingsport. According to a Tuesday morning press release from the Sheriff’s Office, the home was tabbed as potentially containing a meth lab due to high number of pseudoephedrine purchases made by resident Donna Horton, 42.
Several “one pot” meth labs, nearly a pound of marijuana and other drugs were allegedly found in a mobile home near Surgoinsville Sunday morning after police smelled meth and obtained a search warrant. The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit was conducting an ongoing meth investigation late Saturday night related to residents of 114 Ferry Road, Lot 2, off of Route 346 just east of Surgoinsville. Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said that during the investigation narcotics officers detected an odor that is consistent with a meth lab emanating from that address.
All of us eat, so all of us directly are affected by the cost of our groceries — and thus the state sales tax on them. So Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing to increase a planned sales tax reduction on groceries — from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent, beginning July 1. And he wants to cut that sales tax to 5 percent in next year’s budget. So reducing the sales tax on food will affect us all. The governor’s proposals should be pleasantly received by grocery-buying taxpayers.
It’s good news to learn that the Family Resource Agency in Sevierville may be saved from elimination, thanks to amendments to the state budget approved by Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday. The original financial plan would have eliminated all funding for the 104 family resource centers across the state, including the one in Sevier County. That could have meant a loss of services like counseling for at-risk youth and assistance for new parents, That would have been a major setback, since this is an agency that reaches out to those most in need and in danger of not reaching potential.
The concept of the Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act, (HB 294) introduced by Rep. Jeanne Richardson of Memphis, seems sound to many Tennesseans. We need safer, better and more affordable alternatives to the kinds of prescription pain medication Tennesseans abuse every day. And there is no doubt that Tennesseans like to abuse their prescriptions. More people died from prescription drug overdoses in 2010 than from vehicle accidents, homicide and suicide combined.
A curious piece of legislation is set to come before the Tennessee House Consumer and Employee Affairs Subcommittee today. HB 3620 would make it illegal to make unauthorized audio or video recordings while on the premises of an employer and release the recording to a third party. The bill is vague as to its purpose, too broad in its application and would limit access to legitimate evidence of employer wrongdoing.
Nearly 40 percent of K-12 students overweight in TN Obesity has emerged as one of the most challenging health crises that the United States has ever faced. More than two out of three American adults are either overweight or obese, and $147 billion is spent annually on obesity-related medical costs, representing nearly 10 percent of total annual medical costs. Twelve states now have obesity rates greater than 30 percent. Just five years ago, only one state had that distinction.
Today is National Walking Day, which raises awareness for the important role physical activity plays in our lives. Exercising sounds simple — but these days, it isn’t. People are less active today due to technological advances and easier access to transportation. Jobs that are sedentary have increased 83 percent since 1950. Forms of employment involving physical activity now comprise only about 25 percent of the U.S. workforce. This represents a 50 percent decrease since 1950.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett admitted to the News Sentinel last week he made a politically risky move by hiring longtime friend and beleaguered businessman Burton Webb to be his new finance director. Still, Burchett is standing behind his decision to hire Webb, who has closed his log home business and faces lawsuits totaling more than $1.3 million. Burchett has touted fiscal responsibility during his first two years in office, but his decision to hire a college fraternity brother down on his luck on the surface smacks of cronyism.
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Planning Commission occasionally fails to heed the recommendations of its professional planning staff at the Regional Planning Agency. In the case of a proposal for a 190-acre tract that would flatten the large scenic hill toward the north end of Highway 153 above the junctions of Corridor J, Dayton Boulevard and Boy Scout Road, it’s especially important that planning commission members pay close attention to the RPA’s findings.
All of us want everyone to have whatever medical care we need. The problem, of course, is paying for it. The best solution would be for us all to have personal medical care insurance, reasonably financed jointly by us as employees and employers. But when our medical needs and demands are not met that way, there are efforts to require “somebody else” — the government — to pay for them, as though we, the taxpayers, were not the ones who have to pay the huge cost.