This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to reform Tennessee’s civil service system passed the state House of Representatives Wednesday morning, gaining bipartisan support for a compromise with the state workers’ association. House lawmakers voted 74-19 for the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management, or TEAM, Act. Nine Democrats voted for the measure, several of them saying they did so because of a compromise reached last week with the Tennessee State Employees Association, which represents most state workers.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s civil service reform bill passed the GOP-controlled House on Wednesday with some Democratic backing. The changes came as a result of last week’s compromise between the administration and the Tennessee State Employees Association. The Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act was approved 74-19 with nine Democrats voting yes
Today, the state House passed one of Governor Bill Haslam’s signature initiatives on a bi-partisan vote. The TEAM act would relax restrictions on the pay, hiring, and firing of state workers. When it was first introduced, the TEAM Act drew fire from the Tennessee State Employees Association, who said the measure would end protections for state workers and revive an era of political patronage.
After years of study and public hearings, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has finally reached a decision on what steps can be taken to improve traffic flow on Elk Avenue and Broad Street. In a decision announced Wednesday, the “Northern Widening” alternative for the Tenn. Highway 91 Improvement Project was approved. The proposed project will consist of adding a center turn lane along the four-lane undivided portion of West Elk Avenue from Holly Lane to North Roan Street.
What some call a dangerous road will soon see big improvements in Elizabethton. The Tennessee Department of Transportation says a portion of State Route 91 needs to be made safer. That’s the main four lane through Elizabethton. The plans to widen a portion of West Elk Avenue signal the state’s formal abandonment of plans for a long-talked about Northern Connector by-passing the city.
Upcoming gang forum will be one of several community discussions The University of Memphis Lambuth campus and the Papasan Public Policy Institute are expanding their urban research offerings into West Tennessee with an upcoming forum on crime, gangs and neighborhoods. “We’re bringing our best and brightest to West Tennessee to offer our services,” said Kevin Roper, executive assistant to U of M president for government relations.
The Justice Department and 15 states, including Tennessee, sued Apple Inc. and major book publishers Wednesday, alleging a conspiracy to raise the price of electronic books they said cost consumers more than $100 million in the past two years by adding $2 to $5 to the price of each e-book. Attorney General Eric Holder said executives at the highest levels of the companies conspired to eliminate competition among e-book sellers.
Tennessee has joined 15 other states and the U.S. Department of Justice in an antitrust lawsuit that claims Apple Inc. and five large book publishers conspired to fix e-book prices. The book publishers named in the case include Hachette SA, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group and HarperCollins settled their suits today, Bloomberg reports.
Tennessee is among 15 states that filed suit Wednesday against Apple Inc. and three giant publishing companies, alleging they colluded to fix the sales prices of electronic books, thus violating state antirust laws and the federal Sherman Antitrust Act. “As a result of the conspiracy, consumers nationwide, in aggregate, paid substantially more than one hundred million dollars in overcharges on e-books,” the suit reads.
Tennessee’s attorney general jumped into the Apple vs. Amazon e-commerce fight, a move that might refund some cash for readers irked by rising prices on electronic books. Three major publishers conspired with Apple Inc. in 2009 to push prices of new e-books over Amazon.com Inc.’s $9.99 level, argues a joint lawsuit filed in Texas on Wednesday by attorneys general from Tennessee, 14 other states and Puerto Rico.
Tennessee is joining fourteen other states and Puerto Rico in a lawsuit over e-book pricing. The suit claims that all but one of the nation’s largest publishers conspired with Apple to change the way electronic books are sold to retailers, a move that allegedly served to raise and fix the price of ebooks throughout the market. According to the suit, that’s a violation of federal and state laws, including Tennessee’s antitrust statute, the Tennessee Trade Practices Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
Lawsuit Says Apple, Publishers Colluded to Raise Prices; Three Will Settle The U.S. accused Apple Inc and five of the nation’s largest publishers Wednesday of conspiring to raise e-book prices, in a case that could radically reorder the fast-growing business. In a civil antitrust lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that CEOs of the publishing companies met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting of their e-books by Amazon.com Inc., a practice they disliked.
The government’s decision to pursue major publishers on antitrust charges has put the Internet retailer Amazon in a powerful position: the nation’s largest bookseller may now get to decide how much an e-book will cost, and the book world is quaking over the potential consequences. As soon as the Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it was suing five major publishers and Apple on price-fixing charges, and simultaneously settling with three of them, Amazon announced plans to push down prices on e-books.
If a judge’s decision Wednesday to toss out the conviction of an accused baby killer is a portent — and legal observers believe it is — new trials for a child rapist, mall shooter and domestic batterer will soon follow. Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood on Wednesday opined he had no choice but to grant a new trial request by attorneys Donald A. Bosch and Ann Short for Paul Jerome Johnson Jr. in the July 2008 beating and strangulation death of 18-month-old Joseph De’Jon “Jo-Jo” Manning.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to close off public access to company information used to decide economic development grants was withdrawn Wednesday. Republican Sen. Bo Watson of Hixson said that the decision followed a failure to reach a compromise. “I just don’t think we could get the language right to satisfy everybody’s needs,” Watson said.
A high profile part of the Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative package, and one of the most important to state business interests, has quietly faded away this session. The governor wanted a law to make secret, the information filed by private companies asking for government grants. That bill was buried today in a Senate Committee that isn’t scheduled to meet again.
The House voted 72-21 on Wednesday to send President Barack Obama a resolution condemning his “rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline” while rejecting the idea of sending a similar message to the governor of Nebraska. The resolution, sponsored by Republican Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro, says President Obama “demonstrated that job creation is not a high priority for his administration, despite the nation experiencing an unacceptably high unemployment rate and an ailing economy.”
As the battle brews over how to pick the state’s most powerful judges, plans to make them earn their seat on the bench through popular elections narrowly failed in a House committee Wednesday. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-7 on a plan to elect Supreme and appellate court judges, one vote shy of the majority vote necessary to advance the plan in the Legislature. “I’m disappointed, to say the least,” said bill sponsor Rep. Glen Casada, who contends the current practice flies in the face of the Tennessee Constitution.
The state Senate refused today to choose between competing constitutional amendments on how Tennessee names appellate judges. If state senators continue on this path they may push a final decision off for another year. It’s possible that both proposed state Constitutional amendments will pass this year, meaning next year’s General Assembly will have to choose which plan goes before voters in 2014.
Lawmakers have a wish list up to $500 million in projects and programs long — a pipe dream they’ll have to whittle down to about $5 million, says Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. The governor included $5 million in legislative expenditures in his budget, and now lawmakers are clamoring for a piece of that available money. The proposals include projects specific to lawmakers’ districts and attempts to fund favored bills or existing state programs.
Legislators hope changes help measure stand up in court Tennessee lawmakers are revising a bill that would require welfare recipients to take drug tests in an attempt to improve its chances of holding up in court. The bill’s sponsors are working to limit the circumstances in which applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would have to submit to a drug test following two opinions from the state attorney general that across-the-board testing would not stand up to a court challenge.
The House has delayed a vote on a bill to give the state’s education commissioner the power to waive state laws to grant public schools more flexibility. Republican Rep. Art Swann of Maryville said Wednesday that his bill is designed to emulate the leeway granted to charter schools. But he agreed to put the measure on hold after members of both parties raised concerns about a provision in the bill to give an unelected official the ability to ignore statutes enacted by the legislature.
Suburban Shelby County lawmakers say they believe a bill will be worked out allowing the suburbs to hold referendums this year on new municipal school districts, despite its setback Wednesday in the House of Representatives. The House declined to concur on a referendum amendment added by the Senate on Monday to an education bill.
The names of those applying for the top jobs in Tennessee’s colleges and universities could be kept confidential unless they become a finalist under legislation poised for final passage today. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who is sponsoring the SB3751 at the behest of officials with the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems, said that confidentiality could lead more highly qualified people to seek jobs as university presidents and college campus chancellors.
The sponsor of a state Senate proposal that seeks to encourage the commercial slaughter of horses in Tennessee withdrew the measure Wednesday, but said he likely will revive it if a similar bill makes progress in the House. Republican Sen. Mike Faulk of Kingsport took the legislation off notice in the Senate Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee.
Tennessee lawmakers are eyeing what some see as a tax hike on solar panels in the state. Wrangling over the measure comes as officials are cutting the ribbon on a state-owned solar farm visible from the Interstate in West Tennessee. Today officials are championing the state as a serious contender in the world of solar, at an array of government-owned panels outside Memphis. Transportation Commissioner John Schroer says the site provides an “educational opportunity.”
After reaching a compromise on legislation that would require businesses to pay tax on solar arrays, the state comptroller’s office has acknowledged that the law could affect more businesses than originally anticipated. According to a story in Nashville Business Journal, Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson’s office and other proponents of legislation on the taxation of green energy had said that only “net” power producers, or those generating more than they use, were relevant to a change in the tax code.
The sun was shining so brightly at the dedication of a new solar array at the Agricenter Wednesday that it temporarily muddled U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. Cohen, speaking off the cuff, attributed the classic Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” to John Lennon. But it was George Harrison who wrote and sang it. That brain kink can be forgiven, though, since that same sunshine promises to generate 1 megawatt of energy through the array over the course of a year, according to officials Wednesday.
U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander are poised to vote against a proposal by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats that would force the wealthiest Americans to pay a higher percentage of their income than middle-class families. The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which would require that Americans who earn more than $1 million or more per year in wages and investments pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal taxes.
Congress has a 12 percent approval rating, but two area incumbents seem happy to be linked with its most powerful leaders. U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia is expected to make same-day fundraising appearances this month for Republican U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais, first-term lawmakers with serious re-election fights ahead. Fleischmann already has gotten a leg up from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who spoke at a $1,000-per-plate dinner in Chattanooga seven months ago.
So is Park Overall the new Fred Thompson? A Tennessee-born actor on the way to the U.S. Senate? Democrats hope so as they have put Park forward as their challenge to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Park is from Greene County and her father was a federal magistrate and her mother an English professor. Ironically, Park made it big in the Empty Nest sitcom as a slow-talking redneck nurse with a Southern drawl so thick you could cut it with a knife.
If a budget proposal adopted March 29 by the U.S. House of Representatives is put into effect Tennessee could lose more than $73 million by 2022 and an additional 628,000 Tennesseans could be uninsured, according to a report by Families USA. The nonprofit consumer health care advocacy/lobbying organization on Tuesday released the report, which broke down state-by-state the impact of the proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
Louisiana’s New Statewide Program Will Expand the Concept to Apprenticeships Louisiana is poised to establish the nation’s most expansive system of school choice by adopting a package of vouchers and other tools that would give many parents control over the use of tax dollars to educate their children. The initiative would effectively redefine vouchers, which have typically helped lower-income public-school students pay for private schools.
States could cut costs by millions of dollars a year if they took full advantage of a computerized matching system that can determine whether people are getting welfare, food stamps and other public assistance in more than one state at a time. States that have used the system in recent years have collectively saved more some $400 million, according to federal figures. But here’s the rub. The arrangement is still largely voluntary
A new TVA policy to cut — not trim — all trees from its 16,000 miles of transmission tower rights-of-way in the Tennessee Valley has run into a buzzsaw. The utility says a federal energy regulatory group has a new guideline that states a utility can have zero outages because of vegetation. To ensure reliability, TVA has decided to cut any tree that is or can ever grow taller than 15 feet in its 100-foot, 150-foot and 200-foot rights-of-way, according to TVA spokesman Travis Brickey.
With homeowners watching in dismay, TVA workers cranked up chain saws Wednesday and began removing 60 Leyland Cyprus trees from a power line easement that runs the boundary between Summit Medical Group’s Wellington Drive location in Bearden and homes to the south. Workers hired by Summit Medical Group will begin the job Friday of replacing the trees with Schip Laurels, said Jennifer Lawson, Summit Group spokeswoman.
The first question asked whenever a bill is introduced at the state legislature is, “is it good for business?” But let’s be clear, by “business” legislators don’t mean the general store on Main Street. They mean large corporations backed by the 21st-century robber barons of Wall Street. We’ve heard the rationale, especially during last year’s fight for Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Civil Justice Act of 2011,” which placed caps on damage awards in civil lawsuits.
It is unfortunate that a controversy — again — has erupted in the Tennessee Legislature concerning public school teaching of the subject of “evolution.” We recall the unfortunate so-called “Tennessee monkey trial,” or Scopes trial, in nearby Dayton, Tenn., in 1925. Now a bill has passed the Tennessee Legislature that protects teachers in classroom discussions about evolution, which some think of as just gradual development in life but others think of as “men descended from monkeys.”
Early last month, when the news hit that the Tennessee Department of Education intended to publicly disclose teacher evaluation scores, I got an anxious e-mail from a teacher named Meredith, asking: Is this really happening? Meredith was just the first of many teachers to voice concerns about the decision to publicize the evaluation scores. Recognizing this, the Tennessee legislature has since passed and sent to the governor a bill that will prohibit public disclosure of the scores.
It is a chilling thought, stopped for not wearing a seat belt and finding yourself strip-searched on your way into jail. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on April 2 in Florence vs. Freeholders of Burlington, N.J., that a visual strip search violates no right to privacy regardless of the reason why the person is to be detained in the general jail population. Whoa! What happened to the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (which was reaffirmed in the 14th Amendment)?”