This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The House on Wednesday passed Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to require mandatory jail time for people with repeat domestic violence convictions. The chamber voted 98-1 to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett, despite objections from some lawmakers that the measure could be seen as an unfunded mandate for local governments. “This cost is going to be passed on to local governments, and I don’t know about y’all, but I told my people that I won’t do them like the feds do the state,” said Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, who voted against the bill.
House passes measures for tougher penalties The state House of Representatives approved tougher penalties for domestic violence, including a minimum of 30 days in jail for second-time offenders. House Bill 2389, a measure put forward by Gov. Bill Haslam in January, passed the House Wednesday morning on a 98-1 vote. Lawmakers generally supported stricter punishments for domestic violence, and the only concerns raised about the bill dealt with the cost to local jails and that it did not require first-time offenders to receive counseling.
The House has passed Governor Bill Haslam’s bill to require mandatory jail time for people with repeat domestic violence convictions. The chamber voted 98 to 1 in favor of the measure. The only representative who voted against the bill argues the measure should not go into effect until the state pays local governments for the entire cost of the increased jail time. The bill’s sponsor says Haslam’s budget includes about $5 million in direct and indirect funding for local governments, which is about half of the projected cost of the added penalties.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he may go along with GOP lawmakers’ effort to eliminate the state’s tax on gifts. “I think there are a lot of things to be worked out here in the last couple of weeks,” the Republican governor told reporters Wednesday. “I think it’s something that all of us look at.” Haslam noted that Tennessee and Connecticut are the only states that apply taxes to large gifts. “And we’re not typically in Connecticut’s neighborhood when it comes to tax policy,” Haslam said.
The price for taking the GED-the high school equivalency exam-is about to double. State officials are worried that many who need to take the test won’t be able to afford it. For decades, the GED was a pencil and paper test, administered by a non-profit. Now, it’s about to become a computerized test from a for profit company. As a result—come 2014—the price of the test will jump from 65 dollars to 120. The GED will also get tougher, especially the math portion. That’s supposed to reflect stronger high school standards adopted by many states.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Bill Hagerty, his Economic Development Commissioner, support Mitt Romney and stumped for him in the primary. What people are wondering in Nashville is whether Hagerty will be around the capital much longer. Hagerty worked with Romney at Bain Capital and has been a longtime adviser. He served as National Finance Chairman for Romney’s presidential bid in 2007 and 2008. Most people expect him to have a post in a potential Romney administration.
Alexia Poe, director of communications for Gov. Bill Haslam, will receive the 2012 Donald G. Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award at the spring commencement ceremony for the University of Tennessee College of Communication and Information.at 8:30 a.m. May 10, in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Donald G. Hileman Award is named for the first permanent dean of the College of Communications, the forerunner to the College of Communication and Information.
State conservation and wildlife officials are investigating just how many fish were killed this week in Third Creek as a result of runoff from the Shamrock Organic Products mulch fire, and they say local officials will have to determine who is responsible. Rob Lindbom, an aquatic habitat protection biologist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said 1.7 miles of the creek look like “a pot of coffee” because of the thousands of gallons of runoff. Runoff from the fire continues to flow into Third Creek, according to fire officials.
Responding to public criticism, Randy Greaves is “confounded” about what started the massive fire that swept through his mulch business and has kept Knoxville firefighters working for four days running. The owner of Shamrock Organic Products noted two inspection reports by the Knoxville Fire Marshal’s Office — both in response to anonymous complaints within a month of the April 15 blaze — that found no violations at his Ailor Avenue operation.
Officials of Tennessee’s federally funded health care program have blocked three professionals from billing the system. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/I4urc9 ), all three are from Knoxville and were banned from TennCare after they prescribed large amounts of psychiatric drugs and addictive painkillers. TennCare spokeswoman Alyssa Lewis said Tuesday they are licensed physician’s assistant Thomas Esser, Dr. Allen Foster and nurse practitioner Maimoune Wright.
A former state trooper assigned to the Cookeville district was charged Wednesday with sexual assault, authorities said. Wade Williams was charged with two counts of aggravated statutory rape, sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, all felonies. Officials said the minor is a female under the age of 15. Williams, 38, resigned when faced with termination earlier this year. He became a trooper in 2000.
Residents can get first glimpse of drawings at public meeting today A road notorious for its hills, blind curves and fatal accidents may be closer to getting safer. Employees of the Tennessee Department of Transportation plan to meet with area residents today to discuss a project that could affect anyone who regularly drives, lives or works on Jefferson Pike between state Route 840 and Nissan Drive. According to TDOT, a preliminary design that includes making Jefferson Pike a four-lane road will be unveiled at its informational meeting, planned for 5 to 7 p.m. at the Smyrna Town Centre at 100 Sam Ridley Parkway.
Tennessee Department of Transportation contract crews will close a three mile section of I-24 near downtown Nashville this weekend for a major bridge rehabilitation project over Main and Woodland Streets. I-24 eastbound and westbound will be closed from the I-24/I-65 split north of downtown to the I-24/I-40 split east of downtown beginning at 9 p.m. Friday and reopen no later than 5 a.m. Monday. All work is weather dependent, but this weekend’s forecast of rain should not impact construction activities.
A state trooper from north of Cookeville was arrested today for having sex with an underage girl while he was off duty. State officials say they’re reacting strongly, in part out of concern for the reputation of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The 11-year THP veteran’s arrest for alleged statutory rape and exploitation marks a second blemish for troopers in the Cookeville area this month. THP Colonel Tracy Trott called the latest case “embarrassing,” and says he wants to move the Cookeville office past it.
Today, the Tennessee Department of Health lifted the suspension of admissions at Bristol Nursing Home. The Department of Health says the facility returned to compliance for state licensing purposes. According to a news release, federal and state authorities approved Bristol Nursing Home officials’ plan of correction.
A proposal to make lowering the sales tax on groceries contingent on whether there’s a surplus in state revenue has failed. The measure sponsored by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis failed to get a majority vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in a House subcommittee. Under the legislation, half of the surplus would go toward student assistance awards.
House bill would extend last year’s fetus-protection law to earlier stages of development The state House of Representatives approved a bill allowing homicide and assault prosecutions for the death of embryos in the earliest stages of development, in a vote tinged by the decades-long fight over abortion. House lawmakers voted 80-18 for a measure that would extend criminal punishments for killing a fetus to the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Supporters said the bill would clarify a law passed last year that made it easier to prosecute people for harming fetuses.
The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to amend the state guardianship law to require disclosure of any criminal record by individuals seeking to become conservators. The bill was prompted by the case of Jewell Tinnon, 82, of Nashville, who was placed in a conservatorship after a request by two of her grandchildren. Her story was featured in Sunday’s Tennessean as part of an examination of conservatorships, which are intended to protect those no longer able to care for themselves.
Parents could stop their kids from joining extracurricular groups in public schools under a bill that passed today in the state Senate. As The proposed law would give parents veto power in advance. The proposal would require each school to publish a list of approved student clubs and organizations in a student handbook. Parents could then notify the school if they want to bar their child from belonging to any of the groups. Opponents have argued that the bill targets student groups like “The Gay-Straight Alliance.”
Tennessee public school students can express their religious beliefs through homework and art in “permissible” subjects under legislation approved Wednesday in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, passed on a 29-0 vote. The House version is awaiting a final vote. Roberts’ bill prohibits schools from discriminating against a student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student in an otherwise permissible subject such as history or English.
The Tennessee Senate approved a bill today to allow students to cite their religious beliefs in doing schoolwork and to allow prayer groups to be formed as easily as a chess club. Senator Kerry Roberts of Springfield says students should be allowed to express their “religious world view” in doing school work. His bill also sets up a right to form religious clubs. “Under this bill, a student may organize student prayer groups, religious clubs, or other religious gatherings to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities and groups.”
Students, alumni and a handful of state legislators are voicing their opposition to Vanderbilt University’s controversial “all-comers” nondiscrimination policy in advance of key Vanderbilt Board of Trust meetings on Thursday and Friday. A meeting by the full board on Friday will be the first time it has convened since Vanderbilt expounded on its all-comers policy at a town hall meeting in January. The policy requires that all university-recognized student organizations, including religious groups, must be open to all students.
Video details dislike of non-bias plan Christian groups opposed to Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy are ramping up their efforts as the school’s Board of Trust gathers for a two-day meeting in Nashville today. Commercials urging Vanderbilt alums to stop donating began airing late Wednesday on local cable channels, funded through groups with ties to the tea party and an anti-Islam organization. State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and other lawmakers sent the Board of Trust a letter with legislation attached, threatening to block the policy because Vanderbilt receives state funds.
Earlier this spring,student groups at Vanderbilt University fought back against a requirement that they accept “all comers.” Christian groups said if they couldn’t require potential leaders to be Christian, they’d leave the campus. The rule upset some Tennessee lawmakers, too, and they can vote on Thursday for a bill to essentially express their disapproval. But one is asking for an opinion on whether the bill passes legal muster. The lawmakers can’t overturn the Vanderbilt rule, since it’s a private school.
Tennessee veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems stemming from military service could soon have their own special courts should they find themselves facing prosecution in the state’s criminal justice system. The House unanimously passed a bill today, HB3394/SB3222, which directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to study whether it’s feasible for the state to establish specialized courts for veterans. The bill also passed the Senate unanimously on April 12.
It’s clear that reports of the guns-in-parking-lots legislation’s death have been greatly exaggerated, but the proposed law’s long-term chances for survival are still in question. Bills that would add legal protections to Tennessee law safeguarding the right of employees to keep guns stored in their own vehicles while parked on their employer’s property — even if the business owner disapproves — are currently parked in the calendar committees of both the Tennessee House and Senate. Typically, bills that reach that stage are virtually assured a vote on the chamber floor.
An outside vendor that promotes sexual activity in “family life education” curricula taught in schools could be sued by a parent under legislation that advanced Wednesday in the House. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Gotto of Hermitage passed the House Education Committee on a voice vote. The Senate approved the companion bill 29-1 earlier this month. The measure seeks to ban the teaching of any type of sexual activity in schools.
With the 2012 legislative session winding down, lawmakers on Wednesday scrambled to tune up a proposal requiring drug testing of welfare applicants so it doesn’t run afoul of the Constitution. Members of the Senate Finance Committee wanted to know whether all recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds would be required to take drug tests. The sponsor of SB 2580, Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said they would, prompting his peers to debate an amendment to require testing of only those recipients who raise a reasonable suspicion of using drugs.
A controversial bill on the taxation of solar installations will go to a summer study committee, effectively killing the bill for this session, with proponents opting to regroup on a complex debate. The Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office, which had initiated the legislation, made the announcement this afternoon. Jason Mumpower, the comptroller’s chief of staff, said proponents decided to delay the issue for study, rather than try to ram it through in the last days of session with so many questions lingering.
Legislation would have raised property taxes on equipment A controversial bill that would have raised the property taxes on solar equipment is being dropped for this legislative session, the state comptroller’s office said Wednesday. “While there has been a good discussion during this session about how solar businesses should be assessed, it is not advisable to seek a quick resolution of the concerns that have been raised during the session’s waning days,” Jason Mumpower, chief of staff in the comptroller’s office, said in a written statement.
The state will pay for a “pilot project” to put 10 people suffering from “mental illness or severe emotional disturbance” into outpatient treatment instead of a psychiatric hospital under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate. The House, meanwhile, gave final approval and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that makes Knox County part of a larger “pilot project” on enforcing laws governing the sale of alcoholic beverages.
There was a time, back during the heyday of Boss E.H. Crump in Memphis, when A) Shelby County’s various political arms observed an imposed unity that was virtually complete; B) the county itself was indisputably the most populous and influential in Tennessee; and C) as a result, Shelby County could and did exercise a power over state government that was nigh onto total. Historians can argue over the ebbs and flows of this power and the exact dates of its prevalence, but arguably it lasted, to one degree or another, from early in the 20th century, when Crump, who served as mayor and congressman and, finally and most memorably, as puppet-master, began hitting his stride, until 1954, when the Great Man died.
Squares off with Shelby lawmakers over municipal districts Memphis lawmakers aired their differences with Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris over suburban school districts Wednesday, at one point comparing the dispute to the Civil War. The Shelby legislative delegation heard Norris outline his efforts on the issue for the first time this year at its weekly meeting, and he defended his work as helping the school unification process.
Montgomery County and Williamson County are among the top 100 fastest-growing counties in the country, according to census data released earlier this month. Williamson ranked No. 67 on the list while Montgomery skirted in at No. 92. No other Tennessee counties broke into the top 100. Between 2010 and 2011, Williamson County added 5,378 people, marking a 2.9 percent increase from the prior year. Montgomery County added 4,283 people, a 2.5 increase over 2010. The benefit? Business investment often follows workers.
Even as he made his case for a 47-cent property tax hike Tuesday, April 17, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. outlined alternatives to the full tax hike. “This is a product in progress,” he said after his annual budget address. Wharton’s formal presentation was followed by comments from several council members who indicated a tax hike is far from a sure thing. When council budget committee hearings begin on April 28, council member Jim Strickland will chair the committee.
The Senate announced a new effort to save about 100 mail processing plants currently slated to be closed or consolidated next month, according to CNNMoney. Lawmakers began debate Tuesday on a bipartisan plan to save the struggling U.S. Postal Service . The bill has the potential to save about 100 processing plants from closing, but it has not been determined which 100 plants could be saved or how many jobs would be impacted by the plan if the measure is passed into law.
U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter is hosting a town hall at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis to talk about providing affordable college educations. Kanter will give remarks and take questions and input from students and educators during the meeting on Thursday afternoon. She will discuss available aid and grant funds, affordable student loan repayment options and other initiatives that the department is taking to make college more affordable.
When the University of Wyoming needed an extra $10 million for renovations to its basketball arena last month, state legislators turned to an unlikely source: a federal fund for cleaning up abandoned coal mines. The fund was set up to pay for things like sealing up old mine shafts and dealing with collapsed tunnels and abandoned surface mines. But, as allowed under law, the university plans to use the money to fix up its Arena-Auditorium, where its Cowboys play, providing an exterior face lift and rotating the court 90 degrees.
Over eight years in the Missouri House, Republican Representative Rodney Schad has gotten numerous phone calls, letters, and emails from registered sex offenders and their families about the damage the registry has caused in their lives — the harassment, persistent unemployment, and community ostracism. Three years ago, Schad decided to start researching the state’s registration policy, and what he found surprised him. “There’s no way to tell who’s dangerous and who isn’t,” says Schad.
Nashville’s construction job market, one of the hardest hit industries during the economic downturn, is getting stronger. Construction employment was up 8 percent in Nashville this February compared to one year ago, according to the Associated General Contractors of Tennessee. In Nashville, the industry employed 29,200 people in February, an increase of 2,400 jobs from the previous year. Nashville ranked No. 49 out of 337 metros in terms of construction job growth. Memphis ranked No. 68, with 7 percent job growth.
Farm boy figure on packaging will survive ConAgra won’t be taking the barefoot country boy off the label of Tennessee Pride sausage products, company officials said Wednesday, even though the giant Omaha, Neb.-based food chain is buying the iconic Nashville brand from the Odom family within 45 days. “You’re kidding, right?” said ConAgra Foods spokesman Dan Hare when asked whether the farm boy figure would survive the transition.
After a bit of drama and intense lobbying, Audi said it has decided to build a new automotive factory in Mexico rather than in Chattanooga where Volkswagen already makes the popular Passat. Audi said it hasn’t decided exactly where in Mexico to put its plant, but the facility will make SUVs starting in 2016. Sister brand Volkswagen has long had a plant in Puebla, Mexico, making cars for both the United States and Mexico.
State and local officials spent little time lamenting Audi’s decision Wednesday to build a plant in Mexico rather than Tennessee as they look to future growth by Volkswagen. Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said he expects VW’s need to grow its local operations will rival Audi’s plans and do so as quickly. “I’m confident Volkswagen will need or use all the land we’ve set aside for them,” said the mayor, citing the 1,200 acres on which VW has an option in addition to its existing plant at Enterprise South industrial park.
The Regional Medical Center at Memphis nearly tripled the amount it spends with suppliers owned by minorities, veterans, women or small businesses in the two years since it began a diversity spending program. The Med spent $3.48 million with these groups eight months into its current fiscal year. The figure is 3.6 percent of its total supply spending this year, which is projected at around $143 million. The Med spent 1.3 percent of its supply budget with minority-, female- or veteran-owned businesses or small companies after it began its diversity spending program in 2010.
Outsourcing custodial work, transportation and other proposed operational changes could save the new unified school district $70 million a year, according to proposed recommendations that will make their way onto the Transition Planning Commission agenda over the next few weeks. But TPC member Martavius Jones, who also is a member of the unified school board, gave the TPC’s Logistics Committee a taste of what the architects of the new system can expect to hear as some of the more controversial recommendations climb the TPC ladder.
An engineer-turned-educator will lead Chattanooga’s new science, technology, engineering and math high school. Hamilton County Schools officials announced that Tony Donen, principal of Nashville’s Fairview High School, will take helm of the school, which is set to open in the fall on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College. Donen has an engineering degree from Virginia Technical University but has worked in education for 15 years, nine of those as a principal, officials said.
Democratic leader Mike Turner said last week that Gov. Bill Haslam is now the most powerful (Tennessee) governor ever. Hyperbole? Or is there an element of truth in it? Turner was referring to a Haslam administration bill that guts civil service and allows the governor discretion when it comes to layoffs and hiring. In other words, you don’t have to lay off young workers in an economic downturn if there is an unproductive longtime employee on the state payroll. Call it the deadwood elimination bill. This sort of effort led public employee unions in Wisconsin to launch a recall of the governor.
Last week, the Washington Post published an editorial criticizing the Tennessee Legislature’s passage of a law — and Gov. Bill Haslam’s refusal to veto it — that seems designed solely to safeguard teaching in public schools of the pseudo-science theory of creationism as a legitimate counterpoint to science-based knowledge of evolution, and such issues as global warming. Next time, the Post may be writing about the Tennessee Legislature’s willingness to sacrifice the state’s rising job-creation prospects on the NRA altar of gun-carry rights on employer parking lots, and the parking facilities of public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
Recently, you blamed the media for the unfavorable attention being paid to the social agenda of your party. I have held my opinion of your administration mainly to myself. But you have crossed the line with this latest “move.” As a moderate conservative, I supported you during your campaign. There was a time when I thought you might stand up for the best interests of the state. That time has passed. First of all, the legislature is objectively embarrassing. There is no positive way to spin hate. The party mantra of “job creation” not only rings hollow but plainly stinks when compared to the slate of social laws that are pitched every session.
Never count a bad bill out in this session. The House Education Committee overrode the wishes of its leadership and pushed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB229) out on an 8-7 vote; the nay votes included committee chair Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, who you would expect understands what the leadership would like to see. Which is not for us to watch our representatives monkeying around when they should be getting down to business. The bill now sits in the calendar committee which is responsible for scheduling a floor vote.
Our University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has great and positive plans for its next 10 to 15 years. And UTC’s future is very important to us all, not just for the university’s fortunate students, but for all of our people in this wonderful community. The enrollment of students at the university is expected to be about 12,000 next fall — with more in the future. So university officials are planning ahead. UTC is expected to invest more than $300 million in the next five to seven years — and that, obviously, will be positive for our whole community.
Officials are busy untangling the interwoven threads between the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Sports Management Inc., a crucial first step toward restoring public confidence in local tourism efforts. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett might not wait for the unraveling. He is looking at bidding out the county’s tourism marketing job, possibly sending the Tourism and Sports Corp. to the sidelines for good. While that might be premature, defining the roles of each entity once run by former Tourism and Sports Corp. President Gloria Ray is crucial for promoting tourism in Knoxville.