This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Haslam administration’s proposed overhaul of the state agency that sets rates for companies including the Tennessee American Water Co. and Chattanooga Gas passed the Senate Finance Committee today. The 8-4 vote was along party lines, with majority Republicans voting yes and Democrats no. Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Waton, R-Hixson, voted for the proposal. Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation changes the Tennessee Regulatory Authority’s four-member, full-time board into a five-member, part-time board.
Ignoring a plea from the Republican chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and criticism from Democratic legislators, a Senate committee Thursday approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans for a transformation of the agency. “Maybe it’ll work. Maybe not,” said TRA Chairman Kenneth Hill of the Haslam plan. “Why go there and inflict damage to the utilities of Tennessee and to the people of Tennessee … then have to come back and fix it?”
Tourism leaders are confident they can send Tennessee at least $10 for every dollar spent promoting the state. They just need lawmakers to find that same faith. “We can easily spend tens of millions of dollars more before we reach saturation,” said Colin Reed, chairman of the Tennessee Tourism Committee. “We have to have a realistic sum of money to compete.” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam formed the tourism committee in September to find ways to promote tourism across the state.
A proposal in Tennessee 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.
The March unemployment rate in Tennessee has dipped just below 8 percent. Karla Davis, commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development, said Thursday the rate fell a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent. It was the eighth straight month of decline, and the rate is at its lowest level since November 2008. The national figure for March was 8.2 percent, down 0.1 percentage points from February. Davis said the state lost jobs in March, but the number of unemployed declined at a faster rate.
Tennessee’s unemployment fell to 7.9 percent in March, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced today. March’s unemployment rate is down form the revised February rate of 8 percent. Nationally, unemployment stood at 8.2 percent in March, 0.1 percentage point lower than February. “Tennessee’s unemployment rate is the lowest since November 2008,” said Commissioner Karla Davis in a news release.
The Tennessee unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent in March, down one-tenth of a percentage point, marking the eighth straight month of decline. The rate now is the lowest since November 2008, said Karla Davis, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. The national figure for March was 8.2 percent, also down one-tenth of a percentage point from the February rate of 8.3 percent. Davis said the state lost jobs in March, but the number of unemployed declined at a faster rate.
State officials want to know how they can better serve the people and businesses that form the core of Tennessee’s agricultural economy. “The worst thing that agricultural leadership can do, in my opinion, is stay in Nashville, Tennessee,” said Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson. On Thursday, Bradley County’s Tri-State Exhibition Center hosted a “listening session” conducted by Tennessee agriculture officials that drew more than 100 agricultural producers and students.
A new marker will be going up at the East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery. The Blue Star Memorial Marker is being donated by the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs Inc. The marker honors servicemen and women and is part of the Blue Star Highway system, which covers thousands of miles across the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. The memorial marker will be dedicated during a ceremony Friday with Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder.
Crime in Tennessee dropped slightly for the third year in a row, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s “Crime in Tennessee 2011” report, which was released Thursday. Overall, the report showed a 1.7 percent decrease in the number of crimes reported in Tennessee in 2011 compared with 2010. Crimes against people dropped by about 2 percent last year. Domestic violence accounted for 52 percent of the crimes committed against people.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation the overall number of reported crimes in the state dropped in 2011 for the third straight year. Overall, the TBI “Crime in Tennessee” report stated there was 1.7 percent decrease in reported crimes in 2011 when compared to 2010. Crimes against property and persons decreased, while crimes against society increased by three percent. Murders were on the rise in 2011, increasing by more than four percent, according to the report.
Domestic violence cases continue to rise Crime in Tennessee dropped 1.7 percent from 2010 to 2011, with Memphis figures dropping slightly more than the state average, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. TBI said the drop in overall crime is the third year in a row in which reported offenses fell statewide. In Memphis, 82,517 major crimes were reported in 2011 — a 1.9 per cent drop from 2010 when 84,072 crimes were reported.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released its 2011 crime report which shows crime in Johnson City increased overall by 3 percent and in Washington County decreased by less than 1 percent. In Johnson City there were fewer crimes against a person — categorized by TBI as Group A offenses — but more crimes involving alcohol, trespassing, bad checks and disorderly conduct. Those crimes are categorized as Group B offenses.
When the Henley Bridge reopens after getting a $24.7 million makeover, it should be earthquake ready. At each end of the 1,793-foot-long bridge, workers will install 47-inch dampers called lock-up devices designed to absorb the whipping action the rolling ground imposes on structures. “This should protect the bridge in a significant event,” said Wayne Seger, structures director for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
A three-mile section of Interstate 24 will be closed this weekend near downtown Nashville to allow bridge work to be done. 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 until 5 a.m. Monday. Detour signs will be posted, directing motorists to take the west loop around downtown. Overhead message signs will direct motorists around the closure.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will close a three mile section of Interstate 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 tonight and reopen no later than 5 a.m. Monday. In addition, Main Street and Woodland Street, from South 5th Street to Interstate Drive, will be closed to perform bridge repairs.
When the interstate nearest to East Nashville shuts down this weekend, ambulance and fire-truck drivers say they’ll be ready to navigate the detours and traffic. It’s the first of maybe a dozen weekends when I-24 will be closed near downtown for bridge work. Metro responds to 100 thousand emergency calls each year, so Deputy Fire Chief Kim Lawson figures there’s not much her drivers haven’t handled before. Between various GPS devices, help from dispatchers, and responders’ own experience, Lawson says they’re ready.
For several years, state officials have been taking a live game show into high schools. The goal is to help instill good habits in teenage drivers. About 40 schools take part in it every year, but that number is about to double, with financial help from Franklin-based Nissan North America. It’s called ThinkFast. Like any game show, it features a gaudy set and energetic host. On the surface, the questions seem like any other game show, too.
Gov. Bill Haslam this week signed into law the first of two bills crafted to urge parents to get involved and stay engaged in their children’s school and education. Dubbed the “Parental Contract,” the new law encourages school districts to create contracts. The terms include the parents assuring that they are committed to getting their children to school on time, making certain homework is done, attending parent-teacher conferences regularly and generally guiding their children in what it takes to obtain a real education.
Legislation strengthening requirements for receiving and keeping state unemployment insurance passed the state House Thursday, and a full vote from the Senate is set for next week. The bill, referred to as the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012, would require those receiving benefits to apply for at least three jobs every week and include detailed accounts of these applications online or at a local career center. That exceeds the federal requirements for unemployment benefits.
A laid-off worker could lose his unemployment benefit by refusing to take a job paying less than his previous paycheck, under a bill passed by the state House on Thursday. Under the Unemployment Security rewrite, a laid-off worker could collect the entire amount of his benefit for thirteen weeks – but then he must lower his employment standards. After 13 weeks, the worker loses the benefit if he turns down a job paying only 75 percent of his previous pay.
The sponsor of a proposal to drug test people as a condition for receiving state welfare says he believes an amended version of his legislation will withstand legal challenges. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville was approved 8-3 Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee. Campfield’s proposal differs from original legislation that the state’s attorney general opined was constitutionally suspect.
The state senate will soon take a floor vote on a proposal backed by the governor to overhaul the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. The board oversees private rates for utilities like water and gas. The measure would trim the number of full-time members on the board, and pay the replacement part-timers substantially less. TRA gets funding from fees, so whatever money the overhaul saves wouldn’t go back to the state’s main budget.
The National Rifle Association calls state House and Senate Republican leaders’ efforts to block employers from banning firearms in their parking lots a “perversion of the representative democracy.” In a letter distributed to all 99 House members Thursday, the politically powerful gun-rights group said it will grade lawmakers on whether they get behind efforts to bring the legislation to the legislative floor.
The state Senate bounced the municipal school-district referendum bill back to the House of Representatives Thursday, moving the bill a step closer to a conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers on the bill. Technically, the Senate refused to recede from its adoption of the amendment on Senate Bill 1923 that allows the governing bodies of the Memphis suburbs to call referendums this year on whether to establish new municipal districts and, if they are approved, to hold elections for the new districts’ school board members.
As the Tennessee legislature headed toward its intended close next week, the Shelby County school-merger situation was but one of several loose ends needful of tying up. History will surely record it as passing strange that it was only at this eleventh hour that state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville), the GOP’s majority leader in the Senate and the man who has initiated and carried forth every piece of legislation regarding the course of school-merger in Shelby County, should have sat down with members of the county’s legislative delegation to explain his intentions.
The Transition Planning Commission, a 21-member group developing the framework for a unified school district in Shelby County, debated the issue at length but ultimately voted 12-6 Thursday not to lobby the General Assembly against legislation clearing the way for separate suburban municipal systems. A frustrated Commissioner Jim Boyd brought the motion forward, arguing that the process taking place in Nashville would ultimately set back the work of a committee that has tried to focus, despite numerous distractions, on its original task: to plan for a 150,000-student public school system covering every corner of the county.
The schools consolidation planning commission considered Thursday, April 19, but voted down a resolution that would have urged the Tennessee legislature not to pass the bill that would allow suburban towns and cities to hold referendums this year on forming municipal school districts. Some members of the group drafting the blueprint for a consolidated school district favor the legislation, others are opposed to it and still others in both camps opposed the resolution saying it was either beyond the group’s responsibilities or would be misinterpreted.
Shelby County commissioners are hearing budget proposals that include a Health Department plan to battle obesity and other widespread health issues. The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/HW79tt ) reported the overall financial outlook for next fiscal year is positive. County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s administration says the $1.2 billion budget doesn’t call for employee layoffs or a property tax increase. It also contains a 1 percent pay increase for county workers.
A lawsuit that seeks to void the approval of a Rutherford County mosque will go to trial next week in Murfreesboro. On Thursday, Chancellor Robert Corlew wouldn’t dismiss claims that inadequate public notice was given for the May 2010 Planning Commission meeting where the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was approved. State law requires governments to provide adequate public notice of meetings but does not define what is considered adequate.
The Knoxville employees pension helps keep underpaid police officers happy in their jobs, according to the leader of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Whatever you do, be careful how you do it,” Mark Taylor, head of the Knoxville FOP, said to City Council on Thursday. “We deal with it, and it can be bad for us, and it can be bad for the citizens.” His point in the Knoxville city employees pension workshop was that morale can affect how happy a worker is in a job, and the police have the job of dealing with people who can be at their worst.
Hears of $8.8 million in capital project requests After fielding a series of high-price requests Thursday, the Budget Committee discussed the process for cutting all of the requests they have reviewed this month. The committee, along with County Mayor Carolyn Bowers and other county officials, continued to search for potential cuts in an effort to allow for some county pay raises without a tax increase. The details of such a pay plan are still being ironed out.
A video posted online Wednesday shows GOP candidate Scottie Mayfield saying he must get elected to Congress before he elaborates on what he wants to do there. “Until you get on a committee, it’s really hard to get too focused,” he told the College Republicans at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “Quite honestly, I’ve got a file in my file cabinet that’s ‘When I Get There.’ I haven’t really focused on that because I’ve got to get there first.”
Tens of thousands of Tennesseans armed for the first time with health insurance will pour into clinics and doctor’s offices, setting off a statewide boom in medical jobs, says a new report. Hospital emergency rooms will cut back charity care, while clinics and doctor offices will add more than 7,000 jobs in 2014, half of them in Memphis, according to the University of Memphis analysis. U of M researchers studied the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 for Baptist Healing Trust of Nashville and the Memorial Foundation Inc. of Hendersonville, Tenn.
Metro taxpayers spend $7,000; U.S. taxpayers’ share is murkier Metro taxpayers spent more than $7,000 on first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign fundraising trip to Nashville this week. What federal taxpayers spent might never be publicly known. A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee will pay their share of the cost of the first lady’s visit Tuesday for a $500-a-head fundraiser that was expected to raise at least $225,000.
For the first time, states brought in more in quarterly tax revenue than they collected before the recession, but a slowdown in state-revenue growth and persistent pension problems mean that the nation’s continuing budget messes are far from over. States’ tax collections grew 3.6% in the fourth quarter of 2011 from a year earlier thanks to the economic recovery and tax increases, and have now been rising for two years, according to a report released Thursday by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.
State tax collections, which during the recession experienced their steepest and longest drop since at least the Great Depression, have been climbing back for the last two years and finally surpassed their previous peaks as 2011 drew to a close, according to a report issued on Thursday. The total amount of tax revenue collected by the states was 3 percent higher than it was during the last quarter of 2007, when the recession hit, according to the report, by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, in Albany.
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Thursday that it plans to hire about 1,600 additional psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health clinicians in an effort to reduce long wait times for services at many veterans medical centers. The hiring, which would be augmented by the addition of 300 clerical workers, would increase the department’s mental health staff by nearly 10 percent at a time when the veterans health system is being overwhelmed not just by veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but also by aging veterans from the Vietnam era.
After a 2 1/2-month investigation of problems with dirty respirators, officials at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant apparently have opted to scrap an off-site recycling program and use disposable respirators in the future. Ellen Boatner, a spokeswoman for B&W Y-12, the government’s managing contractor, earlier this week confirmed the decision to “move forward” with plans to use disposable equipment instead of cleaning up old respirators worn by some of the plant’s nuclear workers.
Kalenborn Technologies in Soddy-Daisy is aiming for a big year as it swings into full production. “We’ll be employing more,” company President Phil Mitchell said about the modest-sized steel fabrication venture that’s investing about $1.6 million in its factory. When it expands, it’ll join a manufacturing base that, in the past two years, has been the fastest component of job growth in metro Chattanooga, reversing a decline in such jobs since the 1980s.
After two efforts to stall the measure, calls for more information and a plea from parents to hold off, a controversial rezoning package for schools in East Hamilton County was approved Thursday evening. Hamilton County Board of Education members went back and forth on how to best handle overcrowding at East Hamilton Middle-High School and other schools in that area but eventually voted 5-3 in favor of rezoning, with one member abstaining.
Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash has withdrawn as a finalist for superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, according to a report in The Charlotte Observer. MCS officials had no initial comment, but the report stated Cash contacted Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Wednesday to inform them that he was withdrawing. Cash has been with MCS since 2008, and has expressed interest in becoming superintendent of the unified school district when consolidation of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems is completed in August 2013.
Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash withdrew his candidacy for superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools on Wednesday, one day before the job was offered to another candidate. Cash was one of three finalists vying for the job to run the district which has 138,012 students and 159 schools. On Thursday, officials in Charlotte announced that Heath Morrison of Reno, Nev., had been offered the superintendent post. Morrison is now superintendent of the Washoe County School District.
Imagine a school where all students receive an iPad 2 and school e-mail address but need no book bags. There is no physical library, but library books and reference materials are accessed on the wireless device, as well as most if not all textbooks. Science, technology, engineering and math are integrated throughout the curriculum. Teachers, on 11-month contracts instead of 10-month ones, have more time during the summer for professional development and also get during-school professional development for two periods during most regular school days.
Prosecutors, Doctors in Kentucky Spar Over Bill to Curb Prescription-Drug Abuse Politicians, law-enforcement officials and physicians in Kentucky are locking horns over a proposed bill to crack down on the abuse of prescription drugs, in a debate that pits patient privacy against efforts to curb the nation’s expanding epidemic of addiction to painkillers. More than seven million Americans use prescription drugs such as oxycodone for nonmedical reasons, dwarfing the 1.5 million addicted to cocaine, and Kentucky is an epicenter of abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Standing up to a bully is never easy but FedEx should muster the courage to do it with the NRA. What else but bullying do you call the unabashed effort of the NRA to browbeat Tennessee legislators into moving ahead on bills that will force FedEx to give up control of its own parking lots? Outrageous. Clearly the legislators don’t have the gumption to point out vast overreach of these gun proposals. No, the legislators, after first timidly deferring action on the bills, were pressured hard by the NRA to reverse course, and they did — folding up like a cheap backpacking tent in a windstorm.
Private fundraising is more important to Tennessee’s public universities than ever before, and MTSU is making groundbreaking strides in that direction. Andrew “Woody” Miller recently bolstered the university’s academic future with a $10 million donation that pushed the “quiet” phase of the MTSU’s Centennial fundraising campaign to $54 million. With an initial goal of $61 million, MTSU officials apparently felt so confident with Miller’s gift, the largest private donation in the university’s history, that they extended their campaign effort to $80 million.
The word foreclosure has been said so many times in the past few years it’s easy to gloss over it as something that just happens. But as those who are touched by it, work with it and understand those who are going through it will tell you, it’s a long, hard road. And these days, it is most commonly being walked by those who, through no fault of their own, are unemployed. We owe it to ourselves to understand this road and the new turn it is taking. Given that the economy is only slowly recovering and layoffs are still common, many we know and care about — and maybe even ourselves — could be walking it soon, if not already.
In 2010 the U.S. Internal Revenue Service had stopped almost 49,000 tax fraud cases based on identity theft, with refunds of $2.47 million. In 2011, that number jumped to nearly 262,000 claims, with refunds totaling $1.45 billion. As of March 8 this year, numbers were 215,000 and $1.15 billion. One of those cases involves J.J. Stambaugh, a former award-winning News Sentinel reporter from Knoxville, and his wife, Jenna, who filed a joint return in February for their 2011 taxes and expected a $6,500 refund. They need the money to pay medical bills and living expenses.
There’s an atmosphere of grand fragility hanging over America’s colleges. The grandeur comes from the surging application rates, the international renown, the fancy new dining and athletic facilities. The fragility comes from the fact that colleges are charging more money, but it’s not clear how much actual benefit they are providing. Colleges are supposed to produce learning. But, in their landmark study, “Academically Adrift,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that, on average, students experienced a pathetic seven percentile point gain in skills during their first two years in college and a marginal gain in the two years after that.