This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A measure to crack down on domestic violence is headed for a vote on the Senate floor. The proposal, which is part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s package, was unanimously approved 11-0 on Tuesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the House floor. The legislation carried by Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville adds fines and jail time for second and subsequent convictions of domestic assault. It originally would have cost local jails about $8 million, but Overbey amended the proposal by decreasing jail time, and the cost is now roughly $4 million. Haslam has appropriated close to $600,000 in his budget for the legislation.
This week state lawmakers are debating a phase-out of the estate tax, which could be followed by a bill to do the same to the state’s tax on cash gifts. While the state’s gift tax brings in way less money than a levy on million-dollar estates, Governor Bill Haslam says it makes sense to get rid of both. North Carolina repealed its gift tax in 2009, leaving only Tennessee and Connecticut. “We’re not typically in Connecticut’s neighborhood when it comes to tax policy, so I think all of us can say that’s probably not something that Tennessee wants to have.”
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he doesn’t expect bills doing away with public and private employers’ right to ban firearms on their parking lots will pass the Legislature, although the measures were approved by a House committee. “I know it’s not acceptable to me and I don’t think it is to the [House] speaker or the lieutenant governor, as well,” Haslam said. “I just don’t think it will make its way through the committees and get voted on and approved on the floor.”
Legislation that would allow gun owners to store weapons in their cars at work is advancing against the wishes of the state’s top elected officials. It passed a House committee Tuesday. Still, Governor Bill Haslam says he doesn’t expect the bill to reach his desk. Governor Haslam disagrees with extending gun rights into the workplace. Some of the state’s biggest employers are right there with him. Volkswagen officials held a reception for the governor this week and made clear they’re concerned about the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill.
Two bills allowing registered gun owners to leave guns in their cars at work passed a House committee Tuesday despite strong statements from the governor and lieutenant governor that neither has a chance. The legislation is now headed to the House Calendar and Rules committee, which is the last step before they would be scheduled for a vote in the full House. The companion Senate legislation would need to be scheduled for a floor vote, primarily by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
Gov. Bill Haslam is expressing reservations about a bill seeking to cap the number of foreigners working at Tennessee charter schools. The Republican governor told reporters after a prayer breakfast at Lipscomb University in Nashville on Tuesday that he is concerned about the measure headed for his consideration after passing both chambers Haslam noted that the state is trying to promote more science, technology, engineering and math classes in the state, and that he doesn’t want to close off a potential pipeline of teachers with expertise in those subjects.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he is “concerned” about a just-passed bill capping the number of foreign nationals teaching at public charter schools. After a prayer breakfast Tuesday at Lipscomb University, Haslam said he is trying to promote science, technology, engineering and math in public education and foreign-born teachers are an important part of the education system. “History has shown us that, if you look at a lot of technical innovations, a lot of those have come from folks who were born other places beside the U.S. and then they brought their talents here and used that to create good ideas that help Americans and create capital,” Haslam said, according to a recording of his remarks by Nashville public radio station WPLN.
A proposal that encourages school districts to develop parental involvement contracts with students’ parents has been signed by the governor. Under the proposal, parents would agree to, at a minimum, review their student’s homework and offer assistance when needed, sign report cards, ensure that their student is not truant, attend school functions, and make every effort to attend parent-teacher conferences. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, legislation is similar to a proposal passed in Michigan in 2001.
State education officials are urging Tennesseans who have not earned their GED diploma to take the test soon That’s because effective Jan.1, 2014, the test will cost more, must be taken on a computer and will have major content changes. According to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, the 2014 test will be more rigorous in general and require higher level math proficiency. The current test fee averages $65. In 2014, the fee will be a minimum of $120.
Tennessee has blocked three medical professionals from billing the TennCare program after they prescribed excessive amounts of psychiatric drugs and addictive painkillers, officials said. In a March 1 letter to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, TennCare officials said they recently prohibited the prescribers from future billing after a review revealed high prescription rates for painkillers such as Oxycontin and Roxicodone.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s $8.7 million construction project on Interstate 24 near downtown Nashville will no doubt provide much-needed repairs for the 1961-era bridges that cross over Woodland and Main streets. But many East Nashville business owners fear a stark reality: For 13 weekends beginning Friday, TDOT officials plan to close I-24 in both directions from the I-24/I-65 split north of downtown to the I-24/I-40 split east of downtown.
A $5,800 daily federal fine has been imposed against Bristol Nursing Home and admissions suspended until conditions deemed “detrimental” to residents have been resolved. The state also imposed a one-time $3,000 fine. According to a Monday afternoon news release, the Tennessee Department of Health suspended admissions to Bristol Nursing Home, 261 North St., Bristol, effective April 13, and imposed the $3,000 fine. The federal fine of $5,800 was to be imposed until violations discovered in March have been corrected.
Two bills to enable gun-permit holders to leave firearms in their vehicles were voted out of a state House Committee today after only ten minutes of testimony against, and ten minutes for, the controversial issue. In the face of some high-profile opposition, the bills are now on the way to be scheduled for a House floor vote. Employers like Volkswagen and Federal Express have argued the proposed law would infringe on their constitutional property rights, that they can bar employees from leaving guns in their locked vehicles on company property.
Two guns-in-parking-lots bills sailed out of a House committee Tuesday after a National Rifle Association lobbyist declared that FedEx’s opposition is “the reason this bill needs to pass.” One of the bills allows handgun-carry permit holders to keep guns in their locked vehicles on most parking lots in the state — including public and private schools, colleges and universities — and forbids most employers and business property owners from banning them.
A proposal that would ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students is once again advancing in the House even though opponents insist it’s unnecessary The measure, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed the House Education Committee 8-7 on Tuesday. In a confusing sequence of events, the proposal initially failed on a voice vote, but a roll call vote was requested and the measure advanced. The legislation limits all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Tennessee’s elementary and middle school teachers could face more pressure not to talk about homosexuality with their students next year after the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill cleared a House education committee Tuesday. Some Republican leaders have questioned the need for House Bill 229, which prevents the teaching of alternative lifestyles, noting that it is already illegal under state law to teach sex education in grades K-8. House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, voted against the measure, but it passed on an 8-7 vote and goes to the calendar committee before a floor vote.
A state Senate committee has approved a proposal to raise taxes on cigarettes from “roll-your-own” tobacco shops. Right now raw tobacco is taxed less than cigarettes, and shop owners worry such a measure could put them out of business. Some smokers save money on cigarette taxes by buying cheaper pipe tobacco and using a machine in the shop to roll their own. Now state lawmakers have a proposal to tax using such a machine.
A proposal that increases the penalty for drunk driving when a child under 18 is in the car, is now on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. The House unanimously approved the bill today. It passed the Senate last month. Under current law, a person arrested for DUI with a child under 18 in the car must serve 30 days in jail and pay a $1,000 fine. The new proposal requires that jail time to be served consecutively with any sentence for convictions of DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide.
The week that two solar farms located in Haywood County and Memphis were dedicated, a bill that would increase property taxes on owners of solar production facilities like the two arrays was undergoing more changes in Nashville and encountering increased opposition from the state’s solar industry. The proposal by the Tennessee comptroller’s office would not affect the Haywood County facility because the University of Tennessee owns it. Silicon Ranch LLC of Nashville owns the Agricenter International array.
A lobbyist’s email was sent under state Rep. Bob Ramsey’s name, using his legislative office computer, to urge that all state representatives vote against a bill on taxing roll-your-own cigarettes, those involved said Tuesday. The episode Monday led Ramsey, chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee, to send a follow-up message to colleagues saying the email “was sent out from my email account without my knowledge” and “in no way reflects my opinion of the matter.”
Although Rep. Kent Williams has included an $11 million amendment in the state budget to fund a long-discussed fish hatchery on the Watauga River at the Cherokee Industrial Park, he does not believe it will be passed this year. “We are still fighting for it,” Williams said Monday. “I don’t think it is going to come this year.” Williams said if the Legislature were going to be in session longer, the amendment might have a chance this year, but he said the leadership is expediting the session and a vote on the budget is expected as early as next week.
Project executives with the Cates Landing port on the Mississippi River in northwest Tennessee are optimistic that spring flooding will not affect the construction. Work on the multimillion-dollar riverport in Lake County has been going on since 1999. According to the Union City Daily Messenger (http://bit.ly/HFASXo ), only a few key details are left to be handled. Mike Sanders, of Forcum-Lannom Contractors of Dyersburg, told the port authority the project “is starting to look like something.” He said forecasts show a normal risk for spring flooding, and that “everything is tracking along pretty good.”
As expected, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton issued a forceful call Tuesday for a one-time, 47-cent property tax assessment to cover the cost of court-ordered school funding, but his budget plan called for no layoffs of city employees. “There’s no such thing as a good tax increase, even for the lofty purpose of funding schools,” Wharton said, acknowledging the fierce debate a steep tax hike is likely to set off with the City Council in the months ahead. If the council were to approve Wharton’s proposal, the city property tax rate would increase to $3.66 per $100 of assessed value, up from the current $3.19.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. took a $628.3 million city operating budget proposal Tuesday, April 17 to the Memphis City Council with a 47-cent property tax hike proposed to meet the city’s obligation to fund Memphis City Schools. But Wharton also included in the budget address options short of the full 47-cents that the council might consider. And several council members said immediately that they could not support the tax hike. Wharton said for now the budget proposal includes no layoffs but was quick to add that he couldn’t guarantee that would remain the case except for his vow to avoid any layoffs of police officers and firefighters.
Mayor Michael Dinwiddie’s move to make voter referendums on metropolitan government more difficult to accomplish is dead. Dinwiddie had proposed an amendment to state law regarding metro referendums to require approval by at least 50 percent of all registered voters in a county. The law now requires a 50 percent majority of those who actually vote. Spring Hill’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday night instead decided to consider an amendment by Alderman Allen Hall, who proposed increasing the amount of petition signatures needed to get a referendum on the ballot from 10 percent of registered voters to 20 percent.
The Tennessee State Comptroller’s Office mandated in December 2010 that counties and municipalities adopt a debt-management policy that would reflect the following four principles: * Understanding the transaction * Explain to citizens what is being considered * Avoids conflicts of interest * Discloses costs and risks According to the state comptroller’s website, the policy was required to be in place by Jan. 1, 2012 prior to counties or municipalities incurring debt.
Michelle Obama makes trip to Nashville for fundraiser First lady Michelle Obama brought her husband’s pitch to be re-elected by the American people to Nashville on Tuesday, preaching to a choir of enthusiastic donors who paid at least $500 each for the chance to hear her speak. Speaking for about 25 minutes to a lunchtime crowd, Obama did what politicians and their best advocates generally do at election time. She tried to make the election about the future, about “our sons and our daughters … our grandsons and our granddaughters.”
There are two worlds in Tennessee’s newly reconfigured 3rd Congressional District. Consultants, strategists and aides inhabit the first world — the one where the political animals play. Creating color schemes, adjusting the podium and making sure the candidate’s hair is combed are all part of the day-to-day operations. The sharper tools emerge behind the scenes. There, aides use polling, focus groups and, in at least one local case, “targeted database marketing” to study where we live, what we buy and what we care about.
Workers are looking underground for unexploded munitions in the woods at Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee. Similar work last year was done above ground. Now mortars, projectiles and rifle grenades are being found between 4 and 12 inches under the surface, topped by a layer of clay. The munitions date back to the 1940s when Arnold was the site of the U.S. Army’s Camp Forrest. They have been found in areas that were used as impact areas or practice ranges.
The national director of the federal Office of Head Start was in Nashville Tuesday to discuss talk about the benefits of early childhood education and attend the National Head Start Convention. During her visit, Yvette Sanchez Fuentes visited the Susan Gray Head Start Center on Nolensville Pike, the newest facility in the city for the federally subsidized pre-school program. Sanchez Fuentes toured the facility and also read to a class of children at the center, which she noted for its diverse students and staff.
Ushered in amid promises that it would save taxpayers money and deter drug users, a Florida law requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data. “Many states are considering following Florida’s example, and the new data from the state shows they shouldn’t,” said Derek Newton, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which sued the state last year to stop the testing and recently obtained the documents.
Washington — To understand how tough Tom Craig’s job is, you only have to take a look at the sign in the window of the store he manages: “NO SALES TAX—We Pay It For You.” Craig is the president of Sparks Home Furnishings in downtown Vancouver, a city that’s often overshadowed by its counterpart in Canada with the same name and by Portland, Oregon, which is directly across the Columbia River. In Vancouver, the combined state and local sales tax rate is 8.4 percent. Oregon has no sales tax at all.
Only 2 members vote against break for $50M water-snow park Plans for a $50 million water and snow park will start moving ahead quickly after the Metro Council approved a 60 percent property tax break Tuesday for the hospitality companies developing it. The incentive, which applies only to the land where Gaylord Entertainment Co. and Dollywood Co. plan to build the attraction, is good for 12 years. “We look forward to being here for a long, long time to come,” said Gerald Rakestraw, Dollywood’s vice president of development.
A noted conservative economist casually told state lawmakers this week that FedEx CEO Fred Smith had said he would leave the state if Tennessee’s estate tax wasn’t repealed. Smith denies making any such statement. Arthur Laffer is the economist who invented the idea of “supply-side” economics, and he’s a favorite of conservative policy groups. Testifying to a legislative committee on Monday, he dropped the name of Memphis businessman Fred Smith, reporting that Smith said he’d leave Tennessee over the estate tax.
ConAgra Foods Inc. announced late Tuesday that it has agreed to acquire Odom’s Tennessee Pride, the Madison-based maker of frozen and refrigerated breakfast sandwiches and sausages. The agreement includes the purchasing of Odom facilities in Little Rock, Ark., and Dickson as well as the headquarters office in Madison. Terms of the transaction, expected to close within the next 45 days and subject to approval, were not disclosed. Odom’s Tennessee Pride has about 750 employees and annual revenues of more than $190 million.
The Booksellers at Laurelwood sells P.D. James’ latest crime novel, “Death Comes to Pemberley,” for $20.76 ($18.17 for those in the preferred customer program). Amazon.com and Apple’s iBooks both sell the e-book version for $12.99. The price gap likely will grow wider if the government’s antitrust lawsuit against a group of major book publishers and Apple succeeds. They are accused of colluding to raise prices of e-books sold on Apple’s iPad. Some publishers have settled, but others contend the real conspiracy involves giant Amazon undercutting prices to control the market.
The new unified school system will increase the property tax rate for all Shelby County residents about 26 percent, County Commissioner Terry Roland said Tuesday. But Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s administration quickly questioned the figures, saying there still are too many variables involved with school funding that could affect the figures. Harvey Kennedy, the county’s chief administrative officer, described the 26 percent as a “worst-case scenario,” adding that such calculations are premature.
Seeks classroom space in exchange for collaboration At this point, former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has little hope of opening his seven charter schools by fall. But he is circulating a plan for how he would like to partner with the school board in exchange for free classroom space. School leaders say he’s onto something worth studying. “Charter schools are part of the mandate from the state. We need to find every way to work with good, high-performing charter schools,” said Billy Orgel, chairman of the unified school board.
Full state board to consider application on Friday Connections Preparatory Academy Chairwoman Helen Owens said the proposed charter school’s board will not give up hope, despite a recommendation Tuesday from Tennessee Board of Education Executive Director Gary Nixon to deny the school’s application. Nixon’s recommendation was posted on the state’s website on Tuesday and will be discussed during the state Board of Education’s meeting at 9 a.m. Friday in Nashville.
School Board by unanimous vote chooses longtime CMCSS administrator Cheers rang out at the school system’s Central Office when an internal candidate was chosen as the next director of schools Tuesday night. The Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board voted unanimously for B.J. Worthington, the school system’s chief academic officer. “I’ve got a whole lot of work ahead of me,” Worthington said after his selection, surrounded by a jubilant group of colleagues who surprised him with a trio of key lime pies.
Turnabout is fair play for some Loudon County residents who argue they have the right to file a lawsuit to keep prayer in their schools. A letter to the Lenoir City school board from Loudon activist James Raucci poses the question: “What if Loudon County Churches and student families threatened a class action lawsuit for re-instituting prayers?” The letter mimics the style of letters sent to the Lenoir City board from secular organizations such as the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation that have threatened lawsuits if prayer is not removed from school activities.
Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit took several suspects into custody on Monday afternoon, after deactivating a meth lab that was inside a residence on Allen Avenue. James Franklin, 30, 155 Allen Ave., Dyersburg, Tenn. and Jeffery Franklin, 28, 208 College St., Dyersburg, Tenn. were charged with initiation to manufacture methamphetamine. Erica Epperson, 28, 155 Allen Ave., Dyersburg, Tenn., was charged with promotion of manufacture methamphetamine.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday upheld Arizona’s requirement that voters show identification at the polls, but struck down its requirement that they show proof of United States citizenship to register to vote in federal elections. The court said the “photo identification requirement is not an invidious restriction” but concluded that the national Voting Rights Act superseded the law’s requirement that anyone registering to vote in a federal election show “satisfactory evidence” of citizenship.
Tennessee officials are fond of saying education is the key to creating high-quality jobs and cutting unemployment. But for our young people to obtain an education, they must be able to afford it. Legislation approved Monday by the Senate cutting HOPE scholarship money runs counter to that philosophy. Under current guidelines, students can qualify for $4,000 annually at a four-year institution if they obtain a 3.0 grade-point average in high school or score 21 on the ACT.
What the teacher survey is telling us: So much of reform is being put on the backs of teachers that it’s easy to see why they’re unhappy. Were survey results showing a majority of Memphis City Schools teachers have little or no confidence in Supt. Kriner Cash really a surprise? We ask that question not in the context of Cash and his administrators being terrible bosses. The question is asked in the context of MCS’s education reform effort that is putting a tremendous amount of the reform on the backs of teachers.
Conflicts over the design of a long-sought modernization of Highway 27 from Olgiati Bridge to Interstate 24 have stalled the project and tested the city and the Tennessee Department of Transportation for years. There’s virtually no elbow room to spare between buildings on the slope of Cameron Hill and those at its downtown foot for a remodeling of the curvy highway that would simultaneously make it safer, straighter, more efficient and more pedestrian friendly at the key interchanges at Fourth Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.
I’ve been writing about Y-12’s plans to introduce microwaves into the weapons program for so long that it seems like old news. But it’s still a work in progress. A problem with the initial production unit was referenced in the Y-12 contractor’s 2011 performance evaluation, and a federal spokesman recently confirmed that the microwave project team didn’t achieve its readiness milestone by the end of September as scheduled. Steven Wyatt of the National Nuclear Security Administration said B&W Y-12, the government’s contractor, did reach the readiness goal in October.