This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Joined by state employees, legislators and members of his Cabinet, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act into law on the Tennessee Tower plaza across from the State Capitol in Nashville. “State government’s role is to provide services that Tennesseans aren’t able to get on their own, and I believe it is my job to make sure we’re providing them in the most customer-focused, efficient and effective way,” Haslam said just before signing the bill into law.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday signed his plan to overhaul state civil service rules that make it easier for executive branch employees to be hired and fired, and allow merit raises for high-performing workers and pay decreases for poor ones. The Republican governor put his name to the legislation in a ceremony across from the state Capitol. He was joined by state employees, legislators and members of his cabinet.
The state is overhauling how it hires and fires state employees, a move Gov. Bill Haslam contends “might be the most important” task his administration has undertaken since he took office. Haslam signed HB2384 into law Tuesday, a bill that stresses employee performance over seniority, creates a worker evaluation system and paves the way for merit pay among top-performing state employees.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed his overhaul of civil service into law today, saying that, of all the things he’s done so far in office, “I honestly think this might be the most important.” “It helps us to have employees that we need and want to give great customer service in Tennessee state government, and I also think it’s a great example of how good government should work,” Haslam said. Haslam said that for decades, employment decisions in Tennessee government have been “based solely” on seniority.
New hiring rules come month after workers rally Gov. Bill Haslam signed his plan to rework the state’s civil service rules into law in an outdoor ceremony near the state Capitol on Tuesday morning. With his Cabinet, legislative leaders and representatives for state workers looking on, Haslam signed the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management, or TEAM, Act, which gives managers in state government more power to hire, fire and promote whom they wish.
In a ceremony outside the state capital Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation aimed at reforming Tennessee’s civil services into law. The bill, called the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management, or TEAM, Act, is designed to provide more flexibility for state agencies in the selection, retention and termination of government employees. Along with streamlining the process for hiring, retention and firing, the bill allows for merit raises and pay decreases for both high- and low-performing workers.
Governor Haslam today signed into law the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act. Haslam said the “TEAM Act” aims to transform state government by encouraging a performance-based government workforce rather than one driven by seniority. The final version of the bill came after the governor and state workers reached a compromise. “Seniority was very critical in making this bill work for us to be able to agree on it,” says Lisa Moffett, District 1 Field Representative with the Tennessee State Employees Association.
Legislation that completely reworks how the state hires, fires and promotes its employees was signed into law Tuesday. Republican lawmakers believe it could transform how state government works. Many state employees remain skeptical of whether the civil service overhaul will function as advertised or just make way for departments to hire friends of the administration. The law ends a sole reliance on seniority to determine who gets laid off or promoted.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s more than $31 billion spending proposal is headed for a vote on the Senate floor. Members of the Senate Finance Committee approved the plan 10-0 Tuesday night. It’s expected to be voted on Wednesday. The plan seeks to phase out Tennessee’s inheritance tax and lower the state’s sales tax on groceries. The inheritance tax currently applies to estates worth more than $1 million, and was paid by 845 estates in the last budget year.
Governor Bill Haslam may be considering the legislative session’s first veto. He says this week he received the final version of a bill that limits the number of foreign workers that a charter school can employ. The legislation was pushed through the General Assembly by the same organization that tried to ban the practice of Sharia Law in Tennessee. Charter schools would have to disclose any ties to or financial support from foreign governments.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s reviewing legislation that would make the embryo of a woman who is assaulted a victim. The measure passed the Senate 28-2 on Monday evening and the companion bill was approved 80-18 in the House last week. Under current law, the fetus is included as a human being. The legislation includes an embryo or fetus. Sponsors say the measure is necessary to punish a person for two counts of homicide or two counts of assault.
New legislation is being reviewed in Tennessee that would make the embryo of a woman who is assaulted a victim. Tennessee governor Bill Haslam says he’s reviewing the legislation. It passed in the senate on Monday and the companion bill was approved in the house last week. Here are the facts — under current law, the fetus is included as a human being. The new legislation includes an embryo or fetus. Sponsors say the measure is necessary to punish a person for two counts of homicide or two counts of assault.
As area students continue, start or soon begin TCAP tests, student grades, teacher evaluations and ultimately principal evaluations are riding on the results for the first time. The grades 3-8 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test results account for 15 percent to 20 percent of student grades and at least 35 percent of teacher evaluations statewide. Kingsport City Schools are holding TCAPs today through Friday, then will finish up Monday.
Online retailer Amazon.com has begun emailing Tennessee customers, telling them they might owe taxes on their purchases. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported the notification follows the signing of a law about a month ago by Gov. Bill Haslam. The law requires Amazon to begin collecting sales tax on items sold to Tennessee residents, beginning in 2014. In the interim, Tennessee consumers are liable for a “consumer use” tax that applies to goods purchased online from a company that doesn’t collect the sales tax.
Amazon.com isn’t to begin collecting sales taxes from Tennessee customers until 2014, but it has begun emailing notices to Tennessee customers that they owe taxes on previous purchases. Amazon.com agreed to begin collecting Tennessee sales taxes in 2014, assuming national legislation is not enacted first, while it planned for several new distribution centers in the state. Though not widely known, that agreement also required Amazon to issue sales tax notices to Tennessee customers until the collection requirements kick in in 2014, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.
A couple of days ago, Travis Dalton used Amazon.com to purchase a CD by the indie-rock band Fun. Like most Tennesseans, the Knoxville resident didn’t realize that he may be required to submit a tax payment to the state after buying from the giant e-retailer. That lack of awareness may be changing, though. Over the weekend, Amazon began sending email messages to customers in Tennessee, informing them of their total purchases in 2011 and highlighting their possible tax liability on those purchases.
Tennessee Department of Transportation project manager Jason Farmer has seen it all when observing motorists driving through road construction zones — cell phone calls, texting and make-up application to name a few. “The biggest thing is people not paying attention to their surroundings,” Farmer said. TDOT wants to draw more attention to that problem this week, which is National Work Zone Awareness Week.
Nearly $4 million worth of bridge replacement work will begin later this year over the Duck River, with another important safety project kicking off this week. State Sen. Jim Tracy informed the city of the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s current project status list, which shows that bids for the Sydney “Bud” McGrew Memorial Bridge over Duck River on State Highway 130 were recently awarded to Concrete Structures, Inc., at a price of $3,821,199.68.
A state board granted Lincoln Memorial University’s law school a five-year extension Tuesday in its bid to achieve national accreditation from the American Bar Association, meaning its students can sit for the Tennessee bar exam through at least December 2017. “What it really means, to me, is a stamp of approval by the legal community in East Tennessee, and it certainly points out there is a real need for another law school in East Tennessee and they’re supporting us on this,” said Pete DeBusk, chairman of the LMU board of trustees.
Rules don’t prevent hearing of cases A state Court of Criminal Appeals judge can continue hearing cases, including those related to driving under the influence, despite his own arrest Monday night on a DUI charge, court officials said. Although the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Code of Judicial Conduct states that judges “shall respect and comply with the law,” nothing in the rules precludes them from hearing cases when facing a misdemeanor charge.
A drunken driving charge filed Tuesday in Knoxville against a judge who sits on the state Court of Criminal Appeals won’t impact his ability to hear cases for now. Jerry Lynn Smith, 58, of Nashville was arrested shortly before midnight Monday on charges of drunken driving and violating the implied consent law, said Knoxville Police Department spokesman Darrell DeBusk. Police Sgt. Ray Offenbacher stopped the silver 2010 Subaru Forester that Smith was driving in the 1800 block of Cumberland Avenue, records show.
House committee tables Democrats’ spending plan Republicans in the legislature on Tuesday night voted down a Democratic budget proposal that would double the cut in sales taxes on food, reduce college tuition increases this fall and restore other health and education spending the governor has proposed to cut. The House Finance Subcommittee tabled the $212 million plan that House Democrats proposed as an amendment to the $31 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam.
After more than two hours of debate, the House voted 58-38 on Tuesday for a “loser pays” lawsuit system that Democrats contended will intimidate average citizens from going to court against big corporations. Under HB3124, if a judge grants a defendant’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit as having “no basis in fact or law,” the plaintiff who brought the lawsuit would have to pay the defendant’s attorney fees of up to $10,000. Sponsor Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said the bill would help “small businessmen and farmers trying to defend against frivolous, bogus lawsuits” and who otherwise would have to pay their own lawyers “thousands of dollars.”
State lawmakers are close to passing a penalty for frivolous lawsuits. Critics complain it would unfairly discourage poor people from going to court. The proposal would punish people who file a lawsuit if it’s dismissed as groundless. A judge could make them pay up to $10 thousand to cover court costs and the other side’s attorneys’ fees. Memphis Democrat Joe Towns told fellow state House members the measure could turn away low-income people who have valid cases.
Seeking to pit Republicans against one another and to force them to choose between key conservative-leaning constituencies, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle attempted Monday to suspend the chamber’s regular rules and place the controversial guns-in-parking-lots bill directly on the floor. “I’m in somewhat of a quandary on this bill — I can’t vote against it if it is not brought to the floor,” quipped the Memphis lawmaker, garnering a few chuckles from both Republicans and Democrats.
A House committee voted Tuesday to kill a guns measure that has pitted firearms advocates against business groups. The bill backed by the National Rifle Association would allow anybody with a state-issued handgun carry permit to store loaded guns in vehicles parked on company lots — regardless of their employers’ wishes. The House Calendar Committee voted 15-8 to send the measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect to a study committee after the Legislature adjourns for the year.
The dispute over controversial guns-in-parking-lots legislation turned into a running, daylong firefight in the Legislature on Tuesday, starting with the Tennessee Firearms Association chief’s call for the political crucifixion of a top Republican who opposes the measures. The remarks drew angry denunciations from other Republicans, including House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who described Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris’ behavior as “bizarre.”
Threats tinge gun bill debate A senior House committee voted to delay guns-in-trunks legislation until at least next year, despite a day of heated debate that included a call for the political crucifixion of a top Republican leader. The House Calendar & Rules Committee recommended further study of a pair of bills barring employers from punishing workers who leave firearms in their cars, a move that denied a floor vote on the legislation.
The hardball legislative battle over the guns-in-parking-lots bills has turned even nastier, with lawmakers of both parties denouncing an e-mail alert Tuesday from a gun lobbyist calling for the political “crucifixion” of a top House Republican. The action came on a day when a committee moved to kill one of the bills for this year, but gun-rights advocates vowed to keep fighting to bring the bill to a floor vote.
Tennessee’s Senate is calling for the state to have more control over its own commerce. The legislators passed a bill Tuesday declaring the 20th century view of the federal Commerce Clause to be unfair to Tennessee. The ‘Commerce Clause’ of the U.S. Constitution was originally supposed to keep the 13 ex-colonies from charging each other customs duties. Senator Mae Beavers says that, beginning with New Deal legislation, Congress has used the Commerce clause to impose its will on the states.
A proposal that calls for the rejection of a United Nations agenda on the environment and poverty has passed the Tennessee Senate. The resolution, which “recognizes the destructive and insidious nature of United Nations Agenda 21,” was approved 19-11 on Tuesday. The House passed the measure 72-23 last month. The agenda came out of the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 following discussions on “sustainable development.”
The Tennessee Senate added its voice to the state House in condemning the United Nations’ ‘Agenda 21’ on Tuesday. The program is an environmental initiative meant to encourage sustainable development. A majority of Tennessee lawmakers now describe it as destructive. The United Nations Agenda 21 has never been endorsed by the U.S. as a treaty, but it has become a hot button issue among grass roots conservatives who see the United Nations as the first step to so-called one-world government.
Doctors performing abortions in standalone clinics will have to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals under a bill that has passed the state Senate. Republican Senator Mae Beavers says the bill will ensure that when an abortion procedure goes bad, the patient can more quickly be checked into a hospital. “They should have hospital admitting privileges so that a woman that has complications will know where to call, where he will be available to treat her.”
Nashvillians object as House passes bill A bill that would establish a board to run the Tennessee State Fair and potentially move it outside of Davidson County passed the full state House and a Senate committee Tuesday. The legislation overwhelmingly passed the House after an extended debate and is now set to go before the full Senate. It would create a “state fair and exposition commission” that would include the president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau and the head of the University of Tennessee Extension office.
A spokesman for the Senate Democrats says veteran state Sen. Douglas Henry has been taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for tests. Colby Sledge said the 85-year-old Nashville Democrat began to experience high blood pressure and felt dizzy in a caucus meeting after the Senate floor session ended Tuesday. Sledge said Henry was lucid and talking and even tried to discuss a bill with Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro as he was leaving for the hospital.
State Senator Doug Henry has been hospitalized. The Nashville Democrat is the longest-serving current member of the state legislature. A spokesman for senate democrats says the 85-year-old was experiencing higher-than-normal blood pressure, and was lucid and talking with a colleague about the state budget when he left the capitol.
A veteran legislator is running for the newly-created 28th Senate district, which would in part represent Maury County, and he said creating jobs will be his main focus. Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, made the announcement last week and said his most important campaign issue will be making the 28th district more business-friendly to help stimulate job growth. Hensley has been a family physician for 26 years and currently represents District 70, which includes Lawrence, Lewis and Wayne counties.
Tennessee state House candidate Basil Marceaux Sr. will spend the next 10 days at the Hamilton County workhouse facility after deriding a judge during a court appearance. Marceaux was in Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern’s courtroom Monday on charges of failure to maintain lane and not having insurance, both of which were filed Jan. 6, according to court records. While standing before Stern, Marceaux became disorderly, according to the court order.
A legal battle over public notice in Rutherford County’s approval of a mosque site could affect how and where governments can advertise their meetings. In a two-day trial that starts today, plaintiffs will argue that the county government failed to provide adequate public notice of its May 2010 Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission meeting, where officials were to vote on a site plan for a new mosque for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
County administration building one of many requiring renovation The Shelby County Trustee’s office is out of the Vasco Smith County Administration Building and in the county government building across Second Street at 157 Poplar Ave. The last workers and their boxes were moved the week before Easter. “We’re all under one roof now. We do have signs at our old location and signs at our new location,” Trustee David Lenoir said of the switch, which affects not only employees but also citizens.
Time and time again in recent years, Sullivan County officials have pointed to the lack of layoffs from the county’s payroll as an accomplishment in what has been a lean economy. Now, after years of refusing to consider a tax increase — and depending on fund balances to balance the yearly budget — some county officials say the accomplishment will be just meeting payroll for the next few months. Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey has issued a memorandum to all county department heads requesting they curtail all but “emergency” purchases until at least July 1, when the next budget cycle begins.
Rep. Stephen Fincher and other freshman Republicans have touted the ban on congressional earmarks that passed after they took office last year as a step toward reducing wasteful government spending. But Fincher, Tennessee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and 63 other first-term Republican lawmakers now stand accused of betraying that spirit of fiscal restraint by pushing for consideration of a tariff measure loaded with breaks for specific imports.
Congressional candidate Weston Wamp declined Tuesday to say whether his younger sister recorded or posted online a video titled “Scottie Mayfield Struggles to Answer Basic Questions.” “The origin of the video is unimportant to us,” Wamp campaign manager Bonnie Brezina said in an emailed statement. “The substance of what Mr. Mayfield said is important to voters.” Wamp and several of his advisers declined to answer several yes-or-no questions about whether Coty Wamp attended the relevant meeting, filmed the video or uploaded it to YouTube.
The Senate on Tuesday defeated a Republican attempt to block a vote on a bill to save the struggling Postal Service. The vote was 62 to 37. The Senate had hoped to have a final vote on the legislation on Tuesday, but Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, raised a point of order to try to derail the bill. Now a final vote could come Wednesday on the wide-ranging measure, which would allow the Postal Service to study the elimination of Saturday deliveries and to provide a broader range of potentially lucrative services like delivering beer and wine for retailers.
About 55 percent of hospitals are bracing for a decline in revenue because of health care reform, according to a new survey. Twelve percent, meanwhile, anticipate an increase in revenue, and 28 percent don’t know what to expect, according to research by Woburn, Mass.-based benefits management firm HighRoads and Detroit-based human resources consultant Sullivan Cotter. The survey included responses from 178 participants, including 126 health systems.
The world’s largest live entertainment company wants to build a new music venue downtown, with the space currently slated for the long-delayed Nashville Medical Trade Center as a leading site. California-based Live Nation Entertainment Inc. wants to bring House of Blues – a music venue that seats 1,000 to 2,000 people – to Music City, and the company is trolling downtown for viable sites, according to various entertainment and commercial real estate professionals.
Buzz grows as developer works to get tenants Is the proposed medical mart complex on Lower Broadway about to be replaced by rock ’n’ roll? Alternatives appear to be emerging for other possible uses for the longtime Nashville Convention Center site downtown, if plans for a medical trade center fizzle there. One buzz in Nashville real estate circles centers around concert promoter Live Nation shopping the concept of using part of the space for a music and restaurant venue under its “House of Blues” brand.
Local revenues to feel resulting pressures Federal funding for the school system will tumble in the next academic year, a shift that insiders said will likely put added strain on local funding. The Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board reviewed projections for five of the six funds that make up the school system’s total budget during a Tuesday meeting. Budget projections for the federal projects, child nutrition, transportation, the extended school program and capital projects funds were presented.
The commission planning the transition in Shelby County to a unified school district is closing in rapidly on its recommendations, its chairwoman told the unified school board Tuesday night. “This has been an arduous process. We actually are kind of pinching ourselves that we’re coming to a point where we can come forth with recommendations,” said Barbara Prescott, whose Transition Planning Commission has been on the school consolidation case since last September.
Holding out hope that the state will soon pass legislation to allow municipalities to proceed with creating their own school systems, Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy spoke Tuesday night about the city’s desire to let voters decide the future of their school systems. Before a crowd of about 50 at the East Shelby County Republican club, the mayor gave a brief synopsis of the issue, dating back to the Memphis School Board’s decision to dissolve its charter and force a merger with the county.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is wrestling with an unusual disciplinary case against one of its own members in which every justice could serve as a potential witness—an ethical bind that could end the matter before it gets to a hearing. The case revolves around an incident last June when a justice placed his hands around the neck of a fellow justice, while other members of the court looked on. “In my view, every member of the Supreme Court is disqualified by law from sitting on the case,” said Justice David Prosser, who has told investigators that placing his hands on the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley was a “reflex” as she rushed toward him in a bid to get him to leave her office.
On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Haslam signed the centerpiece of his 2012 legislative agenda: Civil service reform. This is good legislation that will lead to a better state employee workforce. In a national political environment where little seems to get done because opposing sides on issues refuse to compromise, civil service reform legislation in Tennessee is a good example of how to get things done by working together. Haslam’s proposal initially was met with resistance from the Tennessee State Employees Association and a number of state lawmakers.
Legislation in summer study has anti-consumer provisions Recently, a bill that would have given Ticketmaster an even tighter grip on the sports and entertainment ticket market was not approved by the Tennessee General Assembly. The so-called Fairness in Ticketing Act was instead sent to a summer study committee for much-needed further examination. That was a good thing for Tennessee consumers. I am a former director of the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs, where I spent eight years protecting consumers from unfair business practices.
A secret House Republican vote this week to keep the contentious “guns in parking lots” bill from coming to a floor vote was a cop-out. This measure, which would guarantee workers the right to store firearms in vehicles parked on employer lots, deserves a vote up or down. But instead of dealing with pressure from the National Rifle Association and risking a failing grade from its lobbying arm, the House GOP took the easy way out.
In 2008, state highway officials made a tough, but good, decision. Instead of dragging out weekend repairs to I-40 in downtown Knoxville for more than three years, they shut down the interstate completely and worked straight through. The project was complete in 14 months. So why can’t they do the same thing on I-24 in downtown Nashville? Couldn’t they shut it down and fix the bridge in 26 days instead of 13 weekends? Because it would create complete traffic gridlock, morning and night, Monday through Friday, state officials say.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today over Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The law would allow state and local law enforcement in Arizona to enforce federal immigration statutes, but it has been struck down at the district and appeals court levels. The Supreme Court should do the same — enforcing immigration law is an extension of foreign affairs and is the exclusive domain of the federal government. And it is not necessary anyway.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its updated list of Top 50 Green Power Partnership organizations, which voluntarily use clean, renewable electricity “from resources such as solar, wind and low-impact hydropower.” Intel led the list, followed by Kohl’s and Microsoft. The U.S. Department of Energy was No. 13 on the Top 50 list. The EPA, interestingly, was ranked No. 18 on its own list. I posted this information on my blog, Atomic City Underground, as well as on Twitter, which prompted some interesting comments.
In 2007, President George W. Bush signed a bill that cut in half interest rates on subsidized student loans until 2012. Those low rates will expire on July 1 — going back to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent — and, to prevent college from becoming even more unaffordable for millions of students, the obvious move is to renew them. But nothing is that easy or sensible anymore in Washington, where House Republicans are far more interested in cutting taxes, largely for the rich, than they are in helping low- and middle-income students get a college education.