This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The irony of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Friday schedule struck him as he toured Blount Mansion — the place where the Tennessee’s constitution was written. “I was thinking while I was just standing in the office where the Tennessee constitution was written that I had just left a meeting where people were arguing about adding amendments to the state constitution,” he said. “It reminds you that whether you are a governor, mayor, city council member, you do not start from scratch, it is a relay race. Your job is to do everything you can to make your city, county or state a better place.”
Governor Bill Haslam made a stop in his hometown to promote the protection of a local landmark. The Blount Mansion is the 220-year-old home of William Blount, and Friday Governor Haslam announced a $250,000 grant from the National Park Service to help restore and preserve it for future generations. A recent architectural study calls the Blount Mansion one of the most historically important buildings in the state, but the governor says it must be maintained in order for the public to enjoy it.
Gov. Bill Haslam gave an upbeat message to the Carter County Republican Party during its Reagan Day Dinner on Friday. Haslam spoke about the progress the state has made during the past two years under the leadership not only of a Republican governor but also a Republican-led House and a Republican-led Senate. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the leader of the Senate, was in the audience. Haslam reminded the room that when he and Ramsey were competing against each other in the 2010 Republican Primary that they each talked about what a historical moment it would be if the governor, the Senate and the House were in Republican hands.
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. Haslam earlier this month brokered an agreement with the representatives of local governments to break an impasse over the domestic abuse measure.
Fiscal issues and union rights were front and center in many Republican-controlled legislatures last year. But this year, with the nation heading into the heart of a presidential race and voters consumed by the country’s economic woes, much of the debate in statehouses has centered on social issues. Tennessee enacted a law this month intended to protect teachers who question the theory of evolution. Arizona moved to ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks, and Mississippi imposed regulations that could close the state’s only abortion clinic.
Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson, and assistant marketing development commissioner Joe Gaines, launched a new “Listening Tour” by the state agency Thursday morning. The commissioner and a number of his staff members made Bradley County’s Tri-State Exhibition Center the first stop for the tour series. The series began with more than 100 people welcoming the commissioner to the community. The listening sessions this month, and in April, will be for farmers, forest landowners and agribusinesses.
State and local leaders met Thursday morning to discuss how to draw more tourists to Tennessee and start the process of aligning the efforts of everyone with an interest in the industry. “This is a huge opportunity for us because the world is getting much smaller, and airlift is just exponentially growing,” Colin Reed, with Gaylord Entertainment and one of the chairmen of the recently established Tennessee Tourism Committee, said.
Three of TennCare’s top 10 prescribers of commonly abused mental health and pain drugs have been blocked from filling prescriptions through the state’s health-care program for the poor and uninsured. In a 22-page letter and report to a U.S. senator investigating the over-prescribing of prescription drugs in the federal Medicaid program, TennCare Director Darin Gordon outlined the steps under way to cut down on fraud and abuse, including blocking the three prescribers.
A Knoxville bridge is getting earthquake protection as it is rebuilt. The Henley Bridge over Fort Loudoun Lake was closed in January 2011 for a major reconstruction project. The decking and upper structure are being replaced on top of the existing piers and arches, which were sound. The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/HNIswF ) reported part of the project includes devices designed to mitigate the shaking of an earthquake.
After more than a decade of planning and designing, state officials are ready to launch a project for a new, four-lane bridge near the Fort Loudoun Dam. Plans also call for a new bridge over railroad tracks near the dam and building a two-lane bridge alongside the current one over the Tellico canal next to the dam. The portion of U.S. Highway 321 between U.S. Highway 11 and the dam will be widened to four lanes, but will take a different route near the dam. “We’re anxious for it to get started,” Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said Friday.
Most of a three-mile stretch of Interstate 24 downtown in both directions will be closed this weekend. The section of roadway closed will be from the I-24/I-65 split north of downtown to the I-24/I-40 split east of downtown. Isolated areas of that stretch of I-24 will be open. The lanes will reopen Monday at 5 a.m. Drivers can follow detour signs and information on portable message boards that will instruct them to take the west loop around downtown, TDOT spokeswoman Deanna Lambert said.
Tennessee Department of Transportation contract crews will close a three-mile section of Intersate 24 near downtown Nashville this weekend for a major bridge rehabilitation project over Main and Woodland Streets. I-24 eastbound and westbound is expected to be closed from the I-24/I-65 split north of downtown to the I-24/I-40 split east of downtown through Monday, April 23, at 5 a.m., according to a TDOT news release. In addition, Main Street and Woodland Street, from South Fifth Street to Interstate Drive, will be closed to perform bridge repairs.
3-line subhead subhead A gift tag slapped on a sign outside the University of Tennessee nursing building Friday boasts more than $7 million donated to the college over the last seven years. Across the street, next to the Torchbearer statue, students decked out in orange shirts handed out stickers that read “Thank-A-Giver for making UT a greater university.” “We’re just raising awareness and thanking faculty and students and teachers,” said Jasma Turner, a sophomore nursing student who was handing out stickers and Moon Pies.
The University of Memphis’ Bengal tiger mascot, Tom III, watched from his trailer with quiet curiosity as students, faculty and alumni gathered around his mobile den. The big cat was the guest of honor as a 1,000-pound bronze statue in his likeness was unveiled Friday on the university’s alumni mall, the kickoff to the school’s alumni weekend and part of its yearlong centennial celebration. More than 725 supporters of the university — whom U of M president Shirley Raines said epitomized the school’s “Dreamers, Thinkers, Doers” motto — donated money to commission the statue.
In Tennessee, House Speaker Beth Harwell told Governing that she has had preliminary discussions with Gov. Bill Haslam about holding a special session if the law stands. An ad hoc committee for the exchange has been established, the governor’s office has continued to explore its feasibility and Harwell said the legislature could easily be recalled. “It’s on the table,” she said. Alexia Poe, Haslam’s director of communications, said there is a belief among the governor’s staff that the executive branch can do enough preparation before the next official legislative session to gain conditional approval from the federal government in January without a special session, but confirmed the possibility had been raised.
State lawmakers are thinking about setting up a special court for Tennessee veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Vets can struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries and addiction. So if they land in court for a minor offense, lawmakers want to steer them into treatment instead of jail. The state estimates it would cost millions of dollars a year to set up veterans’ courts in Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts.
A slate of unemployment insurance reform measures got closer to full passage by the Tennessee General Assembly this week. The Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2010 passed the House Thursday, and is poised for a vote in the full Senate. Legislation mandating an online system for tracking claims has also passed the House and is approaching the Senate floor, while another reform creating a “seasonal employer” has advanced but faces several more votes.
This could be the week that the Tennessee Legislature decides the timing of the rise of suburban municipal school districts in Shelby County. The issue is an amendment to a Senate bill on school bullying that would permit the suburbs to call referendums this year on forming such school districts. A Tennessee attorney general’s opinion in March held the intent of the 2011 Norris-Todd law governing the terms of the schools merger was that the suburbs could make no move toward municipal school districts, including referendums, until after the merger in August 2013.
‘Incorrect calculation’ also shows Davidson owed $16M from state, official says Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush claims state finance officials have been misinterpreting state law regarding funding for the public defenders in Shelby and Davidson counties for 20 years and that the offices are owed $45.2 million — $28.4 million for Shelby and $16.8 million for Davidson. The public defenders, who appeared before a state legislative committtee this week, are asking the state legislature to restore that funding and fix the error going forward.
These days you can barely hear the cows over the interstate traffic breezing past what’s left of the farm where Billy Pearson grew up. He’s now lived in Murfreesboro longer than he lived on his father’s farm in southeast Rutherford County, but he’s held onto the family property for more than a decade — looking for the right time to sell. He wants to build a small subdivision on 5 acres not far from Interstate 24, near the Christiana community.
The budget season is under way in Shelby County government, but there will be few signs of it Monday, April 23, as the County Commission meets. The commission meeting at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building begins at 1:30 p.m. The short agenda featuring several appointments and the sale of some tax delinquent parcels is the ideal lead-in to what is normally the most complicated time of the year for the commission.
The projected $64 million budget for Johnson City Schools will be in the black as long as the City Commission approves a list of needs totaling more than $5 million. The Johnson City Board of Education met Friday afternoon in a special called meeting to discuss the 2012-13 budget, which will be the subject of a first reading next month. The grand total for next year’s budget based on total expenditures and ending reserves comes in at $64,421,948.
U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleischmann secured re-election endorsements Friday from a top Republican in the U.S. House, but only DesJarlais got the nod from Fleischmann’s hometown senator, a former Chattanooga mayor. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., spoke to about 35 people at a $500-a-head breakfast fundraiser for DesJarlais at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.
Businesses, utilities, government agencies and research organizations in Tennessee will be watching closely next week as Congress considers a slate of bills to combat cyberattacks. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano calls cyberattacks “the most quickly evolving and most troubling set of threats” that her department sees, and technology experts say those threats could hit close to home in Tennessee.
Fewer U.S. states reported job gains in March, reflecting slower hiring nationwide. The more sluggish job growth coincides with more people seeking unemployment benefits in the past month. The trends suggest that hiring could slow in coming months. Job gains were reported in 29 states last month, the Labor Department said Friday. That’s worse than February, when 42 states added jobs. Nationwide in March, employers added only 120,000 jobs, half the pace of the previous three months.
Well before online bill paying was popular, the Postal Service in 2000 began operating a secure system that would have allowed it to remain the primary conduit for most Americans’ monthly payments. But the Internet industry objected, and Congress successfully pressured the Postal Service to abandon it. The same pattern has repeated several times over the last decade, with the Postal Service identifying a way to cope with the decline of traditional mail, only to have companies — and ultimately Congress — object. The agency’s troubles, which could result in the closing of thousands of post offices and hundreds of mail processing centers as early as next month, have many sources.
The Department of Energy’s top safety officer in Washington, D.C., has issued a special alert on contaminated respirators in the wake of problems at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. The three-page document was sent to senior managers at DOE field offices around the country, as well as agency headquarters in Washington. It provides a series of recommendations to help avoid the problems experienced at Y-12 — where about 10 percent of the plant’s recycled respirators had unacceptable levels of radioactivity — and two other government sites.
With a year of operation on the books, Volkswagen’s facility in Chattanooga is boosting employment and capacity to meet demand, moving up plans to export the vehicle to Asia and becoming a blueprint for the German automaker’s future plants. Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of the Tennessee plant, said in an interview with The Associated Press this week that running the sprawling facility on the site of a former ammunition plant has had its share of challenges, but the overall experience has been “fantastic.”
A bachelor’s degree isn’t what it used to be. A new analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press has found that nearly 54 percent of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest level in more than a decade. The rates were highest in the Mountain West — roughly 3 in 5 — followed by the Southeast, including Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.
With surveys set to affect payment by Medicare, hospitals hone focus At StoneCrest Medical Center in Smyrna, pharmacists visit patients’ rooms to help those who are hospitalized understand why they’re taking a particular medication and the potential side effects. Vanderbilt University Medical Center is preparing to reduce noise levels on patient floors by dimming lights at night and giving patients eye masks and earplugs.
Tennessee’s biggest health insurer expects to refund some of the increased premiums it charged nearly 90,000 individual plan members last year because of new requirements of the health care reform law. In annual filings with state regulators last month, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee estimates it may have to refund up to $13.5 million. That’s because, under new federal standards, it didn’t pay out enough of a record $5.1 billion in premium income to medical providers from its individual plans.
TVA and Eastman Chemical are among three Tennessee companies named semifinalists for the 2012 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award is the highest recognition given by the Department of Defense to employers for their support of employees who are members of the National Guard and Reserve. Nationwide, 133 employers were selected as semifinalists from more than 3,200 nominations, according to Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Defense Department agency.
An application to create Jackson’s first charter school was denied by the Tennessee Board of Education on Friday. State board members voted to uphold an earlier decision by the Jackson-Madison County School Board to deny the application that would have allowed the creation of Connections Preparatory Academy in East Jackson. The proposed school was expected to have only first-graders in its first year and add grade levels incrementally.
Six years, that’s how long investigators have tracked a crystal meth transporting case that spans the country. Carter County Sheriff’s Department arrested a Jonesborough man who they say, transported the drug to Carter County from California. The arrest happened early Thursday morning. The Carter County Sheriff’s Department, the First Judicial Task Force, and the Johnson City Police Department arrested Robert Wayne Stanley parking lot on South Roan Street in Johnson City.
The Kentucky legislature approved a bill Friday to crack down on prescription-drug abuse in a state with a growing problem of addiction to painkillers and where more than 1,000 people die annually of overdoses. But a key measure that would broaden access by prosecutors and police to patient information was voted down. A showdown between politicians, law-enforcement officials and physicians over the bill was viewed as a testing ground for how states will confront escalating prescription-drug abuse.
Employers not allowed to seek log-in data Maryland is poised to become the first state to ban employers from demanding applicants or workers hand over their log-in information for social media sites like Facebook. The measure, which handily passed the legislature earlier this month, keeps managers from snooping on password-protected content, a practice advocates of the bill say violates privacy and intimidates job seekers and employees.
The state will not surrender a drug used in executions to the Food and Drug Administration because it believes that the court order requiring it to do so is flawed, the state attorney general’s office indicated Friday. James Smith, an assistant state attorney general, suggested in a letter to the agency that it should appeal the ruling by Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court, who found that the agency was wrong to allow the drug, sodium thiopental, into the country.
In recent months, there have been numerous national reports identifying improvements in the job market, showing slight improvements in the housing market or remarking on the climbing stock market — all to give some evidence that the economy is improving and the nation is in fact turning that hardest of corners and better days are on the horizon. Unfortunately, this scenario is not playing out in small businesses and in homes across the country and particularly here in Tennessee.
In the instantaneous digital era of social media and YouTube’s ubiquitous online stage, anything political candidates say can go viral in a heartbeat — especially their gaffes. Scottie Mayfield, one of several GOP candidates trying to oust incumbent Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the Republican primary, got a full dose of the Youtube gotcha’ treatment Wednesday when he was filmed stumbling for an answer to the basic question he was asked by one of the college students to whom he was speaking.
As assistant superintendent for human resources of Metro Nashville Public Schools, I have the opportunity to work with some of the finest people in Nashville: Our employees. We have great employees throughout our district. We treat people fairly and equitably and employees know they have several levels of reviews if they ever feel they have been treated unfairly, as well as a grievance procedure. If you read the union op-ed in Monday’s paper, you may be surprised to learn district employees have these reviews, which is more than most Tennesseans have in their jobs.