This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
HomeServe USA, a provider of home repair service programs, plans to add to its Chattanooga call center operation and create 120 jobs, officials said today. With the additions, HomeServe’s head count in Chattanooga is to reach almost 300 people in the city, according to the company. The Chattanooga facility, located at 1232 Premier Drive, services the Continental U.S. and Canada. “We have placed a renewed emphasis on helping existing industries grow right where they are, as this is essential to reaching our goal of becoming the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs,” said Gov. Bill Haslam in a statement.
A proposal that seeks to amend the state constitution to change the way appeals judges are selected passed the Senate on Monday night The resolution sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was approved 21-9. It would give voters three options for selecting judges: contested elections, a federal-style plan, or a plan similar to the current one. Under the current Tennessee judicial selection method, a commission nominates judges, the governor appoints them and voters cast ballots either for or against keeping them on the bench.
Last night, the Tennessee Senate approved a proposal for naming state judges – a first step in making a change to the state constitution. And it was the one that most resembles the current system. Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris says his resolution would give lawmakers leeway to set up a system much like today’s method – the governor appoints judges, they later stand for retention in an unopposed, yes-no vote by citizens.
The House passed a bill that would make it a felony to make or sell synthetic drugs often called bath salts that imitate controlled substances The bill passed unanimously during the House floor session on Monday. Sponsor Rep. Jon Lundberg, a Republican from Bristol, said the drugs have hit his district in northeast Tennessee hard after Virginia banned the drugs and people have been crossing state lines to purchase the drugs in stores in Tennessee.
State and local officials will take part in the 38th annual Tennessee Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday morning. It will start at 7 a.m. at Allen Arena at Lipscomb University. Each year, organizers said 500 to 800 guests attend from around the state representing government, business, education, and churches. Among the participants will be Governor Bill Haslam along with First Lady Crissy Haslam. The Prayer Breakfast, formerly known as the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, is Tennessee’s version of the National Prayer Breakfast.
Gov. Bill Haslam has issued a proclamation announcing April as Tennessee Safe Digging Month. The proclamation reminds Tennessee homeowners to call 811 before starting any outdoor digging projects. April marks the start of spring digging season, so Middle Tennessee Natural Gas, Tennessee811 and Gov. Haslam are encouraging homeowners to call 811 before they dig to prevent injuries, property damage and inconvenient outages.
A trade mission to China and South Korea, underway this week by state economic development officials and nearly a dozen health care-related companies in Tennessee, looks to build on the state’s already productive trade relationships with east Asian countries. Through the mission, which will be led by Bill Hagerty, commissioner for the Department of Economic and Community Development, the state intends to help increase exports by small- and mid-level businesses in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs is moving its Cookeville field office to the state Department of Labor’s Career Center, the third location where the two offices have been merged. The new consolidated center will open on Tuesday in Cookeville and officials say in a news release that the relocation will make it easier for veterans to access resources from each department. VA Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder said in a statement that moving the veterans center into the career center will be more effective and efficient. Veterans’ services will include assistance with employment, filing for service-connected or pension benefits, filing for home loan guarantees, education resources and information on burial benefits.
Tennessee has yanked the emergency brake on the downtown half of the U.S. Highway 27 construction project. State transportation officials have planned for five years to spend about $80 million to widen the Olgiati Bridge and rebuild the aging highway between the bridge and Interstate 24 by 2016. But the state has sent those blueprints to planning purgatory until local and Tennessee officials can agree on the details. “We don’t build roads unless we have consensus with local leaders,” Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said.
Original bid winner gets job after all The state giveth and the state can taketh it back. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has reversed a decision made last week providing an emergency job to repair a sliding slope along Interstate 75 near the Stinking Creek interchange in Campbell County. The lowest of the six submitted bids was $9,334,340.21 from Elmo Greer and Sons LLC of London, Ky. For a couple days, Elmo Greer and Sons appeared to be the winner of the bid opened April 10. But on April 12, TDOT officials noted the Kentucky firm did not have a certificate of authority to operate in Tennessee.
Construction continues on improvements to three intersections on Madison Street and Riverside Drive. The Clarksville Street Department, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, is reworking Riverside and Cumberland Drive, Madison and Richview Road and state Highway 76 and Madison. Chris Cowan, the traffic engineer for the Street Department, said most of the construction at Richview and Madison has been finished.
After Monday night’s fourth meeting with community members, UTC officials are preparing to seek government approval for the university’s new master plan that will provide an outline for its real estate growth in the next 10-15 years. The plan aims to introduce more housing and parking for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s growing student population, centralize academic buildings on the campus, increase grounds for non-varsity sports and reduce campus carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030.
Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, has suspended new admissions of residents to Bristol Nursing Home effective April 13, 2012, and imposed a one-time state civil monetary penalty of $3,000. The federal civil penalty has been imposed at $5,800 a day until the violations are corrected. A special monitor has been appointed to review the facility’s operations. Bristol Nursing Home, a 120-bed licensed nursing home located at 261 North Street in Bristol, was ordered not to admit any new residents based on conditions found during a complaint investigation and annual survey conducted March 26 – March 31, 2012.
The Tennessee Lottery raised a record $89.9 million for education in the third quarter. It exceeded the old record of $79.6 million in the third quarter of 2006. Lottery officials credited a world record Mega Millions jackpot of $656 million on March 30 and increasingly popular instant games. Keith Simmons, chairman of the board for the 8-year-old lottery, said the games are on track for a record year.
Last week, the House approved Governor Haslam’s plan for a modest cut in the state’s grocery tax. They also passed the Governor’s proposal to raise the exemption level on the inheritance tax. The Haslam Administration pushed for these tax cuts because the state has been bringing in more revenue than projected. But lawmakers have their own designs for the excess revenue, and they hope to get some of them into the budget. WPLN’s Bradley George talks about those ideas with Capitol reporter Joe White.
A proposal that would make cutting some students’ lottery scholarships in half contingent on lottery revenues passed the Senate 20-10 Monday evening, despite criticism that the increase in revenues may not be consistent. The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville, was approved 20-10. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House Education Committee. An original proposal sought to reduce by 50 percent the award for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.
The state Senate approved a plan to reduce lottery scholarships for some students, which Republican lawmakers said was needed to keep the program from eventually becoming insolvent. The Senate voted 20-14 for a plan to halve HOPE scholarships to students who do not meet both of the program’s ACT and grade-point average requirements. The change still has to pass the state House of Representatives. If it is signed into law, about 5,200 students a year would receive awards that had been reduced to $2,000 from the current $4,000.
The Senate approved legislation Monday that could slash lottery scholarships in half for several thousand college students in 2015 if proceeds from the games don’t exceed this year’s record-breaking net profits. The Republican-sponsored bill passed on a mostly partisan 20-10 vote with Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and other Democrats questioning why the legislation even is needed. The House version remains in committee and would have to pass both chambers in identical form before going to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to consider.
Despite a scholarship reserve fund of nearly $400 million, Republicans in the state Senate approved a measure tonight that will make it more difficult for students to win a full $4,000-a-year Hope Scholarship starting in 2015 if the lottery doesn’t produce record proceeds in each of the next three years. The House version of the bill is awaiting committee review, and bills must pass both chambers in identical form before they become law.
The Tennessee Senate voted tonight to cut some lottery scholarship awards in order to build up lottery reserves. But the measure has an escape clause that leaves the scholarships untouched, if the lottery continues to bring in additional money each year. With lottery revenues showing a ten million dollar uptick this year, state senators agreed to a trigger clause– if lottery proceeds continue to grow at that ten million dollar rate for the next three years, the planned cutback doesn’t take affect. Otherwise many students will have their award cut in half, from $4,000 a year to just $2,000.
A bill seeking to limit the number of foreign workers at Tennessee charter schools is on its way for the governor’s consideration The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma passed the House on a 63-29 vote on Monday. The Senate passed its version last week on an 18-13 vote. Under the bill, a chartering authority would not be allowed to approve a charter school application if the school plans to hire 3.5 percent of foreign workers from H1B or J-1 visa programs.
The Tennessee Legislature has approved a bill limiting the number of non-U.S. citizens any Volunteer State charter school can hire while still maintaining eligibility for public funding. Senate Bill 3345, which passed in the Tennessee Senate last week and in the House of Representatives on Monday night, would also require charter schools to disclose all their funding sources in addition to capping the number of foreign citizens on staff at 3.5 percent of the total number of the school’s employees.
The state Senate on Monday postponed until at least Thursday action on a bill that would allow the Memphis suburbs to hold referendums this year on creating new municipal school districts. Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, agreed to defer the bill to Thursday at the request of Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, to give the Shelby County legislative delegation time to discuss the issue at its weekly Wednesday meeting. Gresham is the Senate sponsor of a bill that requires annual performance evaluations of the directors of local school systems.
The head of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant is speaking out against a bill pending in the Tennessee General Assembly to strip employers of the right to ban firearms on company property. The proposal headed for vote in a House committee on Tuesday morning would allow people to store legally-owned firearms in vehicles parked at work — regardless of their employers’ wishes. “That’s a sort of thing that makes us a bit nervous,” Frank Fischer, the CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.
The sponsor of a bill seeking to attract horse slaughter facilities said the bill likely will not pass this year. Rep. Andy Holt said that chances were not good for the bill to pass, but he remained committed to bringing the industry to Tennessee. The Senate version of the bill was taken off notice last week and Holt took it off the schedule for the House floor on Monday. He said an amendment that would require hefty deposits for anyone to mount a legal challenge to the facilities was removed from the bill, but he was also working on adding animal treatment guidelines.
Controversial bills to bring more horse slaughter facilities to Tennessee and protect religious expression in schools were tabled Monday, leaving no guarantees that either will come up again this year. The sponsor of both, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, asked that the proposals be “held on the desk,” a move that neither sends the bills back to committee nor reschedules another time for a vote. It leaves open the possibility that they can be discussed again but, in the short time remaining this legislative session, makes both long shots for passage.
For about a year Tennessee lawmakers have listened to testimony from people burned by cosmetic lasers, tools used in spas to remove body hair, rejuvenate skin, and erase sun damage. Lawmakers turned down the idea of putting doctors in closer charge of the procedure, but left another route open. Nichol Thompson teaches cosmetic laser operation at a Knoxville school that is part of Tennessee School of Beauty. She was at the state capital last week picketing as lawmakers tried to find an answer to consumer complaints.
Economist Laffer tells lawmakers levy drives rich retirees from state Economist Arthur Laffer urged Tennessee lawmakers on Monday to follow up on their plans to phase out the estate tax with a cut to the state’s tax on gifts, which he said curbs economic growth. Laffer told the legislature’s Joint Fiscal Review Committee that the state’s gift tax should be eliminated immediately. The Nashville-based economist has been pushing for repeal of Tennessee’s estate and gift taxes, which he says cause rich retirees to move to states where they can pass on their wealth to heirs tax-free.
Tennessee 2nd House District GOP challenger Ben Mallicote is showing more campaign cash on hand than incumbent Republican state Rep. Tony Shipley, according to first quarter disclosures. Mallicote’s disclosure also noted he has loaned his campaign $5,000. Shipley and Mallicote are scheduled to face off in the August GOP primary, with the winner facing Democrat Bruce Dotson in the November general election.
The state is seeking comment from the public on proposed rules regarding the use of the War Memorial Plaza across from the state Capitol. The Department of General Services held a hearing on Monday to discuss the rules. The hearing follows the signing of a new law by Gov. Bill Haslam that aims to keep Occupy Nashville protesters from staying overnight on the plaza. The law prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it.
State officials are still pushing the rules-change that Governor Bill Haslam wanted in order to evict Occupy Nashville. It would add another way the state could keep occupiers from planting tents on the plaza outside the capitol, on top of the law Haslam signed last month. Kicking out Occupy Nashville wasn’t easy for the state, since it can’t legally step on free-speech rights in the process. The rules-proposal (pdf) spells out details, like how occupiers and others would need permission to use the plaza’s electrical outlets.
Bradley County commissioners have decided exactly how revenues from a proposed wheel tax will be spent. On Monday, commissioners voted 13-0 to allocate revenues from a proposed $32 wheel tax — assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county — to pay for $32 million in new capital projects for the county and Cleveland school systems. However, any revenues in excess of those required to fund the new projects may be allocated to the county’s existing $67 million in education-related debt.
About $2 million needed to cover a shortfall in the city employees pension fund overshadows any wish list Knoxville City Council members have for the 2012-13 budget. “There’s not going to be new money for new things, but obviously we can shift funding around priorities,” said 3rd District Councilwoman Brenda Palmer. She, like other council members, said codes enforcement and building new sidewalks were high on her list for funding next year.
47-cent hike to cover court-mandated funding Memphis Mayor A C Wharton today will call for a 47-cent property tax increase to cover the cost of court-ordered, state-mandated school funding. “It’s all about the schools,” Wharton said Monday of the proposal he will present to Memphis City Council. “We will not ask for a tax increase to run city government. The budget I present will be clear. We’ll operate city government on the same amount we used last year.”
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. takes his budget proposal to the Memphis City Council at the Tuesday, April 17, council session. Faced with a $37 million gap between expenditures and revenue in the fiscal year that begins July 1, Wharton is expected to do what he has done in past budget presentations – offer the council a menu of options. The meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St., with Wharton’s address at the top of the agenda.
Senator Bob Corker says the recent Wall Street reform needs of a few “technical corrections” that he believes could have bipartisan support. He certainly has the backing of Tennessee bankers. While he negotiated parts of the highly complex Dodd-Frank legislation, ultimately Corker couldn’t pull himself to also vote for it. His original objections aside, the Republican Senator says there are rules that just need some tweaks. The way Corker interprets one provision, even rule-following loan officers could be on the hook when one of their borrowers defaults.
U.S. Representative Jim Cooper complains many in Congress don’t want to take on the messy federal budget until after this fall’s election. Cooper says the conventional wisdom is they’ll work out a deal in the less political lame-duck session afterward, but he warns they shouldn’t wait. Cooper says delaying a compromise until after election day is a move with political convenience in mind, and not much else. “What they’re really saying is ‘We don’t ever want to take responsibility today. We always want the problem to be solved by the next group, the next year.’ – Because, they’re chickening out.”
Now that their latest financial disclosures are filed, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, are turning their attention to more important things. That would be attacking each other. DesJarlais’s campaign Monday issued a release that charged Stewart “gets ‘F’ grade in fiscal responsibility.” The release cites a 2010 state Registry of Election Finance report that, among other things, took Stewart to task for failing to report $1,562.62 in contributions from individuals or groups as well as $12,330.73 in contributions he himself made to his 2008 Senate campaign.
Nearly half the contributions to Scottie Mayfield’s congressional campaign came from individuals living in incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s home county of Hamilton. But four months before Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary, Fleischmann, with the help of $390,874 from industry-backed political action committees, maintains a sizable cash-on-hand lead over Mayfield and two other GOP challengers. The figures emerged from a Chattanooga Times Free Press analysis of newly filed campaign finance disclosures documenting the year’s first fundraising period.
A study by a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit found that three Tennessee Congress members, including Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, used campaign money to pay salaries to their relatives. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the three were among 82 members whose families benefited from their positions in government over the past two election cycles. The numbers come from a report by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
First-term Republican Reps. Stephen Fincher, Diane Black and Chuck Fleischmann are outpacing the state’s veteran lawmakers in fundraising this year, according to new campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Fincher, of Frog Jump, brought in $268,693 during the first three months of the year, while Black, of Gallatin, raised $257,748. Fleischmann, of Ooltewah in East Tennessee, raised $207,048. The delegation’s senior House members raised much less during the first three months of the year.
Stewart acknowledges mistakes, blasts DesJarlais State Sen. Eric Stewart said Monday he paid a $100 fine in 2010 for inaccurate campaign finance reporting following a Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finances audit. Stewart, a Belvidere Democrat seeking the 4th Congressional District seat, responded to a statement by his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, that used the state audit to challenge his business acumen. Rutherford County will move into the 4th from the 6th District in 2013.
The U.S. Supreme Court case over Arizona’s latest anti-immigration law, scheduled for a hearing next week, hinges largely on the question of where states’ power over immigration ends and federal power begins. But in a sign of how contentious the case is, many states are supporting the federal government instead of Arizona. Eleven states, all represented by Democratic attorneys general, warned the justices that Arizona’s law reached too far and undermined the immigration policy of the United States.
Infiniti’s first all-electric vehicle, revealed earlier this month at the New York International Auto Show, will likely be built in Smyrna, Tenn., alongside Nissan’s Leaf, according to reports. Infiniti has not named a production location for the vehicle now being called Infiniti LE concept. However, two Nissan spokesmen told The Chicago Tribune that the plant in Smyrna was the front runner for the vehicle, which will go on sale within 24 months.
Spokesman can’t confirm report After the new zero-emissions Infiniti LE Concept made its first appearance at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in New York earlier this month, there have been questions about where the car will be built. Though not expected to be rolling onto showroom floors for about two more years, some have speculated that it would make sense for the car to be built in Smyrna alongside the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which is slated to be produced here starting in December.
Knox County Schools has a plan to put an electronic device — whether it’s an iPad, laptop or tablet — into the hands of every student within the next five years. At the Knox County school board’s mid-month meeting Monday, the system’s chief technology officer laid out the preliminary plan and goals to implement technology into its 88 schools. The three goals, Gail Byard said, are to support instruction both in and outside of the classroom; establish and maintain a robust infrastructure in the district; and provide comprehensive and reliable management information systems.
It’s often referred to as the “unified school board,” so why not make it official: the “Unified Shelby County School Board”? That’s the proposition up for discussion today, if necessary, at the Shelby County School Board’s monthly work session. The 23-member panel is frequently referred to as the “unified board” because it is, temporarily, the governing body for both Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, which are scheduled to merge in the fall of 2013.
Interviews for the three finalists for the Roane County school director…s job are scheduled April 28, Wayne Qualls said Monday. Qualls, hired by the Roane County Board of Education to oversee the selection process, said board members late Friday picked the finalists from a list of 10 semifinalists.
The Rutherford County Board of Education’s search for a new director of schools came to an end Monday night when it unanimously selected Don Odom as the district’s next leader. Odom, a 43-year educator, was selected from a pool of 17 candidates that was narrowed down to four. He currently serves as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for county schools. Shortly after the vote, the boardroom was filled with applause by nearly a dozen principals, several current and retired educators eager to see the outcome of the three-month selection process.
A new legislative session has given Alabama lawmakers an opportunity to repeal the cruel, destructive and embarrassing immigration law they passed last year — the worst in the nation. It looks as if they’re blowing it. The Legislature, with the support of Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the bill into law, seems determined to tinker at the margins. A new bill would remove a few sections of the law that have been blocked in court but hangs on to others. It still seeks to use police as immigration agents, criminalize acts of charity toward undocumented immigrants and nullify contracts the undocumented sign.
State Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, called the House passage last week of a bill that will phase out Tennessee’s inheritance tax by 2016 “an exciting day for everybody.” Really? More people probably would have been more excited if on the same day the House had voted to end the sales tax on grocery food. After all, that would have had a bigger impact on the citizens of Tennessee. Instead, House members voted, 90-0, to cut the state sales tax on grocery food from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent on July 1. The vote on the inheritance tax was 88-8.
Our EPB gets its electricity, of course, from the Tennessee Valley Authority. And TVA has to set its rates to cover all of its expenses. So it is of particular interest to all of us who have light and heat from TVA through our EBP that the Tennessee Valley Authority has announced that it will raise its wholesale rates 2.1 percent in May. That’s to cover anticipated higher expenses from buying more electric power from other utilities that supplement the power the TVA generates. What’s the higher adjustment likely to cost average Chattanooga households?