This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
If your neighborhood coffee shop lacks a few of its regular faces this morning, you can probably thank (or blame) the inaugural Governor’s Innovation Conference, a two-day venture capitalist and entrepreneur schmooze-fest that starts today in downtown Nashville. Actually, the term “inaugural” is a bit of a curveball. This will be the fourth such conference hosted by the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 by legislative fiat to broker economic ties between educational institutions, startups and investors.
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.
The state Senate gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill enhancing penalties for repeat domestic-violence offenders. The bill was part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-crime legislative package and his administration helped draft a compromise that led to its passage, so he will sign it into law later. SB 2251 provides at least 30 days in jail and a fine ranging from $350 to $3,500 for those convicted of a second offense of violence involving a family member when bodily injury occurs.
State senators took final action today on Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed increases in penalties for repeat offenders of domestic assault. The bill, part of Haslam’s anti-crime package, was approved on a 33-0 vote and is now headed to the governor for his signature. It passed the House last week on a 97-1 vote. The legislation boosts jail time and fines on second and subsequent convictions for domestic assault, imposing a mandatory 30-day minimum sentence for second offenders in domestic assault cases and mandatory 90-day minimums for third and subsequent convictions.
As part of marathon end-of-session meetings Wednesday, the Senate passed separate bills requiring select people to take drugs tests as a condition for receiving welfare and elevating penalties for repeat domestic offenders. The drug testing bill must still pass the full House and its Finance committee, while the domestic violence legislation has passed in the House and is headed to the governor’s desk. The drug testing legislation, which passed 24-9, would require those receiving benefits and suspected of drug use after a screening process to take a drug test as a condition of receiving welfare benefits.
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.
Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, recently cited a statistic he wants to help change. Tennessee is among the top 10 states nationally for research and development expenditure, but among the worst in the country when it comes to related output. “Where we’re focusing on now is sowing the seeds of long term growth and opportunity,” he said in a recent interview with the MBJ affiliate publication Nashville Business Journal.
A proposal that would prohibit students from dressing in an “indecent manner” at school has been signed by the governor. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure this week. The legislation prohibits students from exposing “underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment.” A stricter version of the proposal failed to pass the legislature three years ago. That measure targeted individuals who wear pants below the waist-line and imposed a fine of up to $250 and 160 hours of community service.
Lipscomb University announced a dual admission program with Nashville State Community College Tuesday, marking the first private school-community college program in the state. The program allows students at Nashville State to apply for the program and be admitted to Lipscomb upon completion of an associate’s degree. “With the student being enrolled in both places, it allows us to monitor the student’s academic progress together to help ensure they are on track to continue their education after they complete their associates degree at Nashville State,” said Aaron Burtch, director of transfer recruiting at Lipscomb, in a press release.
More than 60,000 pages of Tennessee newspapers dating from 1850 to 1876 are now online at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Through a project called Chronicling America, selected papers from cities and towns across the state are being converted to digital format and made available for free searching online. Dozens of Tennessee newspaper titles have been scanned, indexed and posted on the Internet, with focus on the Civil War era.
A Memphis road project that has been a source of disagreement since Richard Nixon was president is again generating objections. The group operating Shelby Farms Park has sent a letter to the Tennessee Department of Transportation saying it “cannot at this time agree” that the design of the proposed Shelby Farms Parkway will cause only minimal harm to the 4,500-acre park. In response to the Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement for the road, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy said the project could disrupt access into the park and “connectivity” within it.
A Court of Criminal Appeals judge charged with drunken driving will not hear any cases pending the outcome of his criminal case, the court’s presiding judge said Wednesday. “Given that he has been charged in Knoxville with driving under the influence of an intoxicant, Judge Jerry L. Smith has requested, and I have agreed, that he will not hear or be assigned any cases coming before the Court of Criminal Appeals pending resolution of the charge,” Presiding Judge Joseph M. Tipton said in a statement.
State senators signed off today on a bill to punish someone who brings a lawsuit that gets dismissed as groundless. The proposal would force the loser to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees and court costs, up to $10 thousand. Backers say the measure will cut down on pointless lawsuits. But opponents have complained it could scare people away from suing, even if they have a valid case. A few Democrats also argued it could add more work for some judges.
The state budget is back on track after being put on hold for three hours Wednesday while House Republicans and Democrats negotiated out some “local projects–” sometimes called “pork barrel projects-” that the Senate had slipped in. Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh asked the House Finance Committee to kill five projects added by the Senate. After some Republicans voted with the minority Democrats, GOP leaders shut down the committee and took the issue behind closed doors.
State budget dispute appears to be tied more to principle than actual money Final votes on the state’s $31 billion budget were put off Wednesday after a revolt by some Republican House members over spending on pet projects by their counterparts in the Senate. Tennessee lawmakers delayed floor debates on the budget until at least today after a move initiated by Democrats to strip out half a dozen local projects that quickly drew the support of some rank-and-file Republicans.
The Tennessee Legislature’s $31.4 billion budget train came to a screeching halt Wednesday when a chasm opened up between House and Senate Republican leaders over a previously cut deal. The cause? About $2.25 million in Senate Republicans’ amendments for projects, some of them attacked by House minority Democrats in the House Finance Committee on Wednesday as local “pork barrel” spending. Problems began when House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, pushed an amendment deleting a $200,000 grant for a higher education building in the hometown of Senate Education Commissioner Delores Gresham, R-Somerville.
Democrats’ contentions that Senate Republicans had slipped “pork barrel” projects into the state budget derailed plans for passage of the $31 billion plan Wednesday after House Republicans at least partially agreed with them. The House Finance Committee voted to strip $1.5 million in Senate-approved spending amendments from the budget — including $300,000 for Knoxville’s E.M. Jellinek Center — after a two-hour, closed-door GOP conference triggered by House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
Republicans threw a bone to opponents of Tennessee’s new voter ID law by allowing retired state employees to flash their old work IDs at the polls to vote. But the GOP-led Legislature — which passed a law last year requiring all voters to present a photo identification card before casting a ballot — easily swatted off attempts from the minority party and other critics to fully repeal the law. The General Assembly has been considering three bills that would open up the new voter ID law.
The House has voted to approve a Republican bill aiming to require children to be older before they can enroll in kindergarten over Democrats’ arguments that the measure is aimed at laying off teachers. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin was approved on a 68-30 vote on Wednesday. Currently children must be 5 years old by Sept. 30. The measure would move that cut-off to Aug. 31 in the school year beginning in 2013, and to Aug. 15 the year after that.
The state House of Representatives passed legislation moving up the age cutoff date for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten by six weeks, a change that could affect thousands of parents annually. The House voted 68-30 for House Bill 2566, which changes the eligibility date for starting school from Sept. 30 to Aug. 15. The change is meant to reduce the number of 4-year-olds who start kindergarten. “The trend is to start children older,” said the measure’s sponsor, state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin.
The Tennessee House on Wednesday approved a measure that would mean most kids turning 5 after Aug. 31 would have to wait a year before entering kindergarten in public schools in 2013. The cutoff date would move to Aug. 15 beginning in 2014. The House approved the bill on a 68-30 vote, and it awaits a vote in the Senate. Currently, children may enter kindergarten if they turn 5 on or before Sept. 30 of the school term they’re entering.
Thousands of Tennessee parents may be affected by a proposal to require their children to turn five a month earlier in order to start kindergarten. But the measure also includes a “maturity” test that would allow four-year-olds to enroll. Under the proposed system, a youngster could start kindergarten if he or she shows the maturity of a five-year-old on a standardized test. Representative John Forgety says that makes more sense than requiring a child be past his fifth birthday on a particular date.
A proposal that would allow parents to grade themselves on how involved they are in a student’s school performance has passed the Senate. The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 27-0 on Wednesday. The companion bill passed the House 94-2 earlier this week. Kelsey says the measure will allow parents to do a self-evaluation of how involved they are in helping their child or children with things like homework, or how often they attend parent/teacher meetings.
The Senate has approved legislation that would increase taxes on cigarettes made with “roll-your-own” machines to more closely align with taxes on packaged cigarettes. The sponsor of SB1738, Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin, said it is a “matter of simple fairness” to the manufacturers and sellers of regular cigarettes. As things stand now, he said, a 10-pack carton of roll-your-own cigarettes, processed in about eight minutes with a machine, goes for about $25 compared with about $50 for manufactured cigarettes.
Cigarettes from roll-your-own tobacco shops could soon be taxed at a higher rate under a bill approved yesterday by the state Senate. Roll-your-own shops sell raw tobacco, which is taxed at a lower rate, and then let customers make their cigarettes using a machine in the store. Republican Jack Johnson held up a pack of Marlboros on the Senate floor, and told members there’s little difference compared to roll-your-own cigarettes, before passing out some of both to colleagues.
Two final legislative pieces creating new felony offenses for synthetic drug sellers, makers and distributors unanimously passed in the Tennessee Senate Wednesday. The state Senate conformed to House-passed versions of the synthetic drug bills sponsored by state Reps. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. Shipley said he expected Gov. Bill Haslam to sign the bills immediately, with the legislation going into effect in 14 days.
“As I said back in the very beginning, we’re in this for the long haul!” That was Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald in Nashville last week, responding to a question as to how he would react if his city was forced to remain within the confines of the Shelby County Unified School District for at least a year before it could legally take steps to create its own municipal school district. McDonald, along with Arlington mayor Mike Wissman, Collierville mayor Stan Joyner, and other suburban officials had just patiently sat through hearings of the House finance ways and means committee, which ultimately would clear House Bill 3234/Senate Bill 2908 for passage.
The National Rifle Association’s point man in Tennessee favors putting the state’s Republican leadership on the spot for all to see regarding controversial gun-rights expansion measures in the General Assembly. “This is an issue that has been pending for four years,” NRA lobbyist Darren LaSorte said of legislation designed to ensure employees can keep a firearm in their vehicle parked on their employer’s property during work hours, even if the employer doesn’t approve. Another bill bars a company or business owner from requiring that prospective employees disclose if they own or carry a gun.
‘Crucifix’ email clarified, criticized Gun advocates are envisioning the end of a top Tennessee House Republican’s career after she helped scuttle a bill that would have allowed employees to bring guns to work as long as they kept them locked in their cars. They’re still hoping lawmakers will bring the bill directly to the floor — which would take a two-thirds vote — after Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, blocked it in the calendar committee.
New restrictions on abortion are sweeping through legislatures from Virginia to Arizona, and voters in some states could see proposed constitutional amendments on November ballots that would define life as beginning at conception. The 2012 anti-abortion push is not as heavy as last year, when legislators in 24 states, many elected in the 2010 Republican tide, passed a record 92 laws restricting abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that conducts sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education.
State Sen. Douglas Henry has returned to the Legislature. The Nashville Democrat was in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. The 85-year-old lawmaker was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Tuesday for tests after he experienced high blood pressure and felt dizzy in a caucus meeting. Henry has been a state senator since 1970. His District 21 seat represents southwestern Nashville, including some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
The Tennessee Senate paid tribute to country music legend Charlie Daniels Wednesday morning. Daniels sang the national anthem before being honored with a resolution. Daniels is best known for his 1979 hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” The Charlie Daniels Band earned a Grammy for best country vocal for the song. Daniels suffered a mild stroke while snowmobiling in Colorado in 2010. The 75-year-old told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s glad to be honored by his state and that he’s feeling “real good.”
A $9.3 million construction permit has been issued for interior rehab work at the Tennessee State Capitol. Hardaway Construction Corp. is leading the work, according to the Metro permit. The work includes plumbing, heating and cooling and electrical upgrades to property at 600 Charlotte Ave. Meanwhile, Metro Nashville has also issued a $3.7 million permit for construction of a 26,700-square-foot, three-story administration building for Harpeth Valley Utilities District R.C. Mathews Contractor is leading the work at 5838 River Road.
A battle has been won in a Nashville courtroom for the manufacturers of synthetic drugs. On Monday, a local market owner won a four month delay after questions arose over the chemistry of a product sold at a Lebanon market. Something police called synthetic marijuana, but a defense attorney said was just potpourri. When an undercover Metro Police officer bought what he believed to be an illegal synthetic drug at this market on Lebanon Pike he probably never thought he’d run into a legal battle.
Map will show evacuation routes, emergency shelters Whenever a weather emergency or some other kind of disaster hits Nashville from now on, residents will have an online tool to help them navigate the situation, Mayor Karl Dean announced Wednesday. Dean said the Nashville Emergency Response Viewing Engine, or NERVE, will allow residents to type in an address and see where roads and schools are closed, how to evacuate an area and where emergency shelters and food, water and clothing distribution centers are located.
Bradley County 911 has requested $351,000 in local government funding to help it through ongoing revenue shortfalls. Earlier this week, Bradley County 911 Director Joe Wilson met with the Bradley County Commission regarding money problems facing the county’s 911 communication center. The imminent challenge will be finishing its books in the red for three consecutive years and possibly having to accept state-mandated oversight through Tennessee’s Emergency Communication Board for being a “distressed district,” said Wilson.
After about an hour of what turned out to be little more than “they said, they said,” and nothing resolved, members of the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee and staff from the Sullivan County’s Sheriff’s Office agreed Wednesday to get together again sometime to discuss how to cover a shortfall in county funding for the sheriff’s office and jail. “They” on the Budget Committee were represented largely by Committee Chairman Eddie Williams.
Five patrol deputies were approved by the county Budget Committee Wednesday during a daylong meeting marked by deep cuts to budget requests. The Sheriff’s Office had requested 11 deputies. Requests for 14 other new positions across the county were denied, but the Sheriff’s Office secured added, if truncated, manpower with broad support. “We know that public safety’s priority No. 1,” County Mayor Carolyn Bowers said.
Land that Ronald Todd’s family once farmed for 94 years will soon be home to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s new mosque, but he says the government never told him that. Todd, who still lives nearby and who is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the county Planning Commission’s site plan approval for the mosque, said the government didn’t make an effort to inform him about the mosque the way the county does in sending him a property tax bill every year.
Bedford County Democrats heard a message of encouragement Tuesday night, even in a time when Republicans have dominated statewide and federal races across Tennessee. “I do think there’s a lot of positives to the Democratic Party right now, and there’s a lot we can be proud of,” said local party member Mark Farrar, who emceed the party’s annual banquet Tuesday night at the American Legion center on Kingree Road.
Reaching back to his experience as former national education secretary, Tennessee governor and president of the University of Tennessee, Sen. Lamar Alexander offered his insight on what could be done to stave off increasing tuition rates at the nation’s public schools Tuesday. Alexander’s comments were made on the “Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd,” a political talk show broadcast on MSNBC, the same day as President Barack Obama began a three-state tour of universities, calling on Congress to prevent rates on nearly 7 million student loans from doubling.
A staffer for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann ended up with a damaged tire at a recent campaign event for opponent Scottie Mayfield, and officials said video evidence shows the culprit came from Mayfield’s bus. Mayfield is challenging Fleischmann in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary. Officials said surveillance cameras captured the incident at the Roane County Courthouse, where Mayfield brought his campaign bus tour early Tuesday.
Angel has chilling memories of the domestic violence she says she’s experienced most of her life, beginning with an abusive father and continuing with a husband who beat her and later, a violent fiance. The 43-year-old Nashville woman said that when her fiance’s latest assault broke her neck in four places, she decided it was time to leave. Angel, who asked that her last name not be used because she fears for her safety, called a crisis hotline run by the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and moved into the group’s shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Hotels say measure to add lifts for disabled is too costly Some pools and spas, including the whirlpool at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel downtown, may close rather than comply with a federal rule that all public pools and hot tubs must install an expensive chairlift for the disabled. Hotel operators are crying foul because they say there are less costly fixes that work just as well as the lift equipment federal officials want installed by May 21. They’re seeking a delay of at least six months.
Push to Sell Lottery Tickets on the Web Faces Resistance From Retailers, Casinos The director of the New York State lottery said a few months ago he had cleared hurdles in his quest to sell lottery tickets over the Internet, but now that plan is stalling. When the U.S. Justice Department in December narrowed its interpretation of the 50-year-old Wire Act, saying it banned only sports betting and not other forms of online gambling, the decision sparked hope in state capitals that lotteries could start selling tickets online and lead a charge into online gambling.
Dr. Shawn Jones, an ear, nose and throat surgeon in Paducah, Kentucky, was conducting a routine office appointment when he got a phone call from a worried pharmacist. The pharmacist had just received a prescription from Jones for 90 Percocet pain pills, an unusually large order for a doctor who rarely prescribes more than 20 pills at one time. Jones asked the pharmacist to fax over the prescription, and he immediately recognized it as a forgery. It was for a female patient he hadn’t seen in five years.
Throughout American history, almost every generation has had substantially more education than that of its parents. That is no longer true. When baby boomers born in 1955 reached age 30, they had about two years more schooling than their parents, according to Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, who have calculated the average years of schooling for native-born Americans back to 1876. In contrast, when Americans born in 1980 turned 30 in 2010, they averaged about eight months more schooling than their parents.
The Senate approved a bill that would avert closings of post offices and distribution centers for two years and continue Saturday mail delivery. It also would trigger early retirement for as many as 100,000 postal workers, as part of a plan to save $20 billion a year at the financially distressed U.S. Postal Service. But a congressional rescue of the 237-year-old service remains in doubt as another bill languishes in the House. Senators voted 62-37, on a bipartisan basis, for the legislation, which took shape during months of negotiations.
For all the talk of a nuclear renaissance in the U.S., only one reactor is technically “under construction” right now. Watts Bar has a nearly 40 year history. And the Tennessee Valley Authority’s effort to complete a second reactor on site isn’t going well. Last year’s nuclear meltdown in Japan sent shockwaves through the world of atomic power, but it wasn’t enough to kill the buzz that’s been going since Congress passed new nuclear incentives in 2005.
The board of the Tennessee Valley Authority will be asked Thursday morning to approve a near-doubling of the budget to complete a second nuclear reactor at Watts Bar. TVA has already spent the $2.5 billion originally projected to finish the East Tennessee power plant. Watchdogs plan to comment at the meeting in Greeneville, Tennessee, and basically say “we told you so.” Activists argue that they suspected from the beginning that TVA would need more money and more time to revive the stalled reactor.
Earlier this month, the University of Tennessee received kudos for making the largest purchase of green power in 2011 from the Tennessee Valley Authority. Last year, UT purchased nine megawatt hours of green power. That’s the equivalent of eliminating the yearly greenhouse gas emissions from 1,535 passenger vehicles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Representatives from UT, including sustainability manager Gordie Bennett and students Maria Rosales and Nick Alderson, accepted an award on behalf of the university in Memphis.
Mayor Karl Dean and Sean McKinless, senior vice president of global operations at Asurion Corp., have scheduled an “expansion announcement” for 10 a.m. on Thursday at SoBro’s Ragland Building. The Ragland Building is located at Second Avenue South and Korean Veteran Boulevard. A major renovation of the building, which rises five stories and contains about 42,000 square feet, was completed in 2010.
Nashville-based Asurion plans to expand into downtown’s Ragland Building at 300 Second Avenue South, the company is expected to announce Thursday. Asurion, which provides mobile phone insurance plans for some of the nation’s top carriers, had been scouting Music City for about 100,000 square feet to accommodate an expansion. The company will occupy the Ragland Building and the connected XO Communications building, according to commercial real estate sources.
Chattanooga company Team 3 Logistics will add 150 jobs to meet the needs of the Volkswagen production ramp-up. Team 3 provides warehousing, transportation, packaging and manufacturing support for the automotive industry. “Team 3 will have 350 full-time employees by the end of April,” Don Friddell, director of marketing for the company, said in an email. “We plan to add 150 [more full-time jobs] by July.”
Tennessee was fifth in “clean energy jobs” in the nation in the first quarter, according to a new report. The U.S. Department of Energy highlighted a report today from Environmental Entrepreneurs, which highlights more than 2,500 new green jobs in Tennessee during the first quarter, citing activity by solar manufacturer Wacker Chemie and Nissan North America for its Leaf. Tennessee ranked behind Connecticut, Illinois, California and Indiana in job creation by new or ongoing projects.
Two members of Bedford County Board of Education criticized School Superintendent Ray Butrum and school board chairman Barry Cooper on Thursday night for committing to an educational software package prior to final approval by the board. The board was asked on Thursday night to approve a three-year agreement with Curriculum Advantage Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga., for its Classworks software for grades K-8. The bundle includes practice and review software, assessment, managed services and professional development, and technical support.
Area public school students in grades 3 through 8 are in the midst of taking the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests this week. This is an especially important year for the tests, and we wish each student — and their teachers — the best of luck. This is the first year that TCAP test results will be figured into student grades and teacher evaluation scores. The new rules created a heightened sense of awareness about the importance of TCAP results. They also sets the stage for a higher level of accountability for students and for teachers.
I’ll be the first to admit that some legislators in Nashville and in state capitols across the country have been proposing controversial bills to provide solutions for problems that don’t exist. But I would point out that it is possible for serious people in the Legislature to be doing important work while the clowns are out in the hall getting all the press attention. I rise today, however, to defend a bill that has met with almost universal derision and has often been used as an easy example of frivolous meddling. I’m talking about the baggy pants bill.