This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to increase the amount of cash grants available to companies looking to invest in Tennessee has passed the Senate. The measure carried by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was approved 29-1 on Thursday. The companion bill passed the House 96-0 last month. The legislation would allow the state to provide Fast Track grants for retrofitting, relocation, office upgrades or temporary space for companies investing in Tennessee.
The state Senate passed two tax bills – lowering the sales tax on food and raising the exemption on the inheritance tax – and sent them to the governor, who proposed them in the first place. The inheritance tax exemption, SB 3762 Norris/ HB 3760 McCormick, phases out the so-called “death tax” paid by those who inherit properties worth more than $1.25 million. The food sales tax bill, SB 3763 Norris/ HB 3761 McCormick, lowers the tax on grocery items by a quarter of one percent.
A bill phasing out the state’s inheritance tax by 2016 is on its way to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam after GOP lawmakers tabled a Democratic critic’s effort to limit the levy to estates valued at $5 million and above. Senators also voted 32-0 to reduce the state’s sales tax on food a quarter cent, sending that measure to the governor as well. Haslam included provided for both proposals in his budget amendment.
The House joined the Senate Friday in giving unanimous approval to legislation aimed at reducing abuse of prescription drugs, sending it to Gov. Bill Haslam for his assured signature. The governor had made SB2253 part of his legislative “anti-crime” package for this year, citing statistics that show illicit trafficking in pain medications is a major problem within Tennessee. The bill requires doctors, or someone acting under their direction, to check the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database when initially prescribing some types of medication and to make follow-up checks at least every six months thereafter.
The state inheritance tax — now levied on estates greater than $1 million — will be phased out by 2016, and the state sales tax on food will be cut by a quarter of a percentage point July 1. The state Senate gave both tax cuts final legislative approval Friday and sent them to Gov. Bill Haslam, who proposed smaller cuts and negotiated with Republican legislative leaders for the final versions. GOP leaders pushed for total repeal of the inheritance tax, which Haslam initially resisted.
The Tennessee General Assembly this week passed a pair of tax cuts and the central component of a major unemployment insurance overhaul. Senators followed the House this week in passing a repeal of Tennessee’s inheritance tax by 2016. Legislators also gave the nod to an increased cut in the food tax and passed an unemployment insurance reform that increases enforcement on behalf of employers on a range of fronts.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to increase the amount of cash grants available to businesses relocating to and expanding in Tennessee was approved in the Senate by a vote of 29-1 Thursday. Under the legislation, the state’s FastTrack grant program would be expanded to include money for activities beyond traditional job training and infrastructure needs The plan allows loans and grants to be given to companies – first filtered through local economic development agencies – for things like retrofitting, relocating equipment, repairing buildings or finding temporary office space.
At least 10 buildings damaged Thursday This small unincorporated community in Chester County was rattled Thursday night as a short-lived EF-2 tornado blew through the area, damaging at least 10 structures. National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Husted said at the time of the storm the county was under a severe thunderstorm warning but not a tornado warning. “It wasn’t a classic day for tornadoes, and it didn’t look like a big outbreak day,” he said. “It was a strong storm with baseball-sized hail.”
Unemployment dropped in 89 Tennessee counties in March. Several in Middle Tennessee have the lowest unemployment. New figures from the state Department of Labor show Davidson, Wilson, Rutherford, Sumner, and Williamson counties in the top ten for low unemployment. Williamson has the state’s lowest jobless rate, at 5.2 percent. In Davidson County, the unemployment rate in March was 6.6 percent-almost two points lower than the same month last year.
Hate crimes in the state increased nearly 51 percent last year, according to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report released Friday. There were 261 hate crimes in 2011, up from 173 in 2010, according to the TBI. Hate crimes are defined as bias motivated offenses. The majority of hate crime victims knew their attackers. About one-third of hate crimes last year were racially motivated. The TBI also has released statistics that showed a 2.4 percent decrease in the number of Tennessee law enforcement officers who were killed or assaulted last year.
After a steady decline, hate crimes in Tennessee spiked in 2011, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s analysis of state crime statistics. “Bias motivated” offenses — TBI’s term for hate crimes — jumped nearly 51 percent to 261 offenses reported in 2011, compared with 173 in 2010, according to the study. “It’s really difficult for us to pinpoint the ‘why’ when we’re just looking at statistical data,” said TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm about the increase.
They’re often cases of vandalism, a “certain word spray-painted on the side of the wall,” says Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristen Helm. Or it could be a crime committed because of racial or sexual bias. Hate crimes are on the rise in Tennessee. They jumped about 51 percent in 2011 over the year before, according to TBI figures released Friday. There were 261 hate crimes last year, up from a five-year low of 173 in 2010.
State wildlife officials say they’re getting closer to a day when anglers could reel in a huge lake sturgeon. They’re trying to restore a population of the giant fish, which hasn’t been found naturally in Tennessee since 1960. This morning home school students from Mt. Juliet released 30 baby sturgeon – already three-feet long – into the Cumberland River. Since 2000, 48,000 fish have been released into Tennessee rivers. But biologists doubt they’re self-sustaining at this point.
The Tennessee Senate has passed its version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s more than $31 billion spending plan, making nearly $60 million in cuts to a number of programs. The chamber voted 32-1 Friday to pass the bill that was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville. The House passed its version 66-30 Thursday. The two chambers will have to reconcile differences on projects before the measure can head for Haslam’s signature.
A small group of state lawmakers chosen to work out discrepancies between budgets passed in the House and Senate plan to start work Friday night. The House spending plan cut money that the Senate had approved for what are considered “local projects.” The Senate sent the House a budget with proposed cuts to Radnor Lake, the Nashville Folk Festival and Meharry Medical College. As the General Assembly attempts to wrap up its work for the year, the House is scheduled to reconvene Sunday night.
Day of high-stakes haggling ends with $31B budget deal Negotiators for the Senate and House of Representatives backed off threats to slash funding for Meharry Medical College, Radnor Lake and more than a dozen other projects after a day of brinksmanship over the $31 billion state budget. A conference committee appointed to resolve a dispute between the Senate and House over pet projects recommended resetting the budget to its form before the two chambers, both controlled by Republicans, began warring.
House and Senate leaders met in a budget conference committee Friday night where they fought over cuts the respective chambers had made on $30.8 million worth of earmarks for projects or programs in the proposed $31.1 billion state budget. After 90 minutes of occasional confusion and wrangling, majority Republicans finally reconciled their differences, declared success and cleared the way, they hope, for the expected passage of the state’s $31 billion budget on Monday.
The Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $31.4 billion state spending blueprint, setting the stage for a possible standoff between the two General Assembly chambers. Both the House and the Senate are dominated by Republicans, however in the past couple days rifts have emerged over how many “pork barrel” projects ought to be funded in the next fiscal year — and whether the projects in question are “local” or in fact ostensibly serve regional or statewide interests.
House and Senate Republican leaders settled their differences over earmarks in a $31 billion state budget during a special conference committee meeting Friday night, leaving the two chambers to meet in full session Monday and sign off on a deal that would end the 107th General Assembly. Democrats vowed to file an alternative plan to the Republican agreement proposing more money to community colleges.
The House and Senate can’t seem to agree on the state’s $31 billion budget and will likely form a smaller group to work out the differences. The upper chamber passed a spending plan for next year before noon and within 90 minutes, the lower chamber voted not to go along. Thursday the House passed a version of the budget that cut out $1.7 million of mostly local projects that had been in the Senate plan. Friday the Senate sent back options, says Bo Watson of Chattanooga.
The state House Friday approved the bill allowing the Memphis suburbs to hold referendums this year on creating new city school districts, and if approved, to elect school board members later this year. The Senate will act on the bill early next week, probably Monday, before the legislature adjourns for the year. But the House vote was the critical one, because the Senate has approved virtually the same measure and is certain to approve the new version and send it to the governor.
The Tennessee State Senate will vote Monday, April 30, on the bill that would permit suburban towns and cities in Shelby County to hold referendums this year on forming their own municipal school districts. The amended bill permitting suburban leaders to hold the referendums before the August 2013 merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems was approved Friday, April 27, by the Tennessee House.
Legislation banning teachers from promoting or condoning “gateway sexual activity” is headed to the governor’s desk after approval by the state House of Representatives on Friday. The bill, which passed the full Senate earlier this month, would require all state sexual education classes to “exclusively and emphatically” promote abstinence while banning teachers from promoting any form of “gateway sexual activity.” The latter term, which has garnered national media attention and been lampooned by comedian Stephen Colbert, is not specifically defined in the bill.
New guidelines for how sex should be taught in school are on their way to the governor for his signature. The sex-ed overhaul came forward this spring as an alternative to a bill known as ‘Don’t Say Gay’ that sparked protests last year. Some lawmakers snickered about the nine-page measure, which is heavy on abstinence, and was recently skewered by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. But Memphis Democrat John DeBerry Jr. defended the bill, saying it addresses a problem the state can’t ignore.
Conflict over bias, beliefs drives some off campus After a year of conflict over Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy, the university’s 30 Christian groups are going their separate ways. Seventeen decided to comply with the policy, which bans groups from requiring their leaders to hold specific beliefs. Two Catholic organizations will become off-campus groups rather than comply but will continue to hold Mass on campus. Eleven conservative groups remain in limbo.
When it comes to entering kindergarten, do weeks or months matter in terms of age? Is a 51/2 -year-old better prepared than an almost 5-year-old? Some Tennessee legislators think so. Earlier this week the state legislature bumped up the age on when children can attend kindergarten in public schools. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam who is expected to sign the measure. If it becomes law, it would mean that almost 10,000 children turning 5 after Aug. 31, 2013 would sit out a year before entering a public kindergarten in the 2013-14 school year.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s first proposed budget in office includes no tax increase and more money for the city employees’ pension shortfall. Rogero said Friday her $180.5 million operating budget maintains or increases money for most areas of government. The 2012-13 proposal is $8.38 million greater than the current fiscal year budget that ends June 30. “We will ensure that those who lead our city in the future will inherit a city that is fiscally sound, with neighborhoods that are stronger than they are now, and a place where businesses grow and prosper,” she said in a luncheon address at Victor Ashe Park.
Mayor Dover says he’s in no rush to raise taxes As town officials are working out the details of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, department heads here have been asked to make cuts to personnel, programs and projects. It’s likely that will mean fewer employees in the police and fire departments, as those departments make up the bulk of the budget. For the last three years, Smyrna has implemented cost-saving measures such as freezes to merit raises, cutting off travel and training, and even putting an end to free coffee.
Mayor Tony Dover told The DNJ today that he has asked department heads to consider options for cutting expenses as the town prepares its budget for the next fiscal year. Dover spoke to The DNJ via phone, but also sent the following email to summarize his message about the budget: “As the economy began to slow and we started seeing a reduction in sales tax collections and development revenues, we did what any prudent business does and started implementing cost saving measures to cut back on expenses until things improved.
Dr. Mark Green made a “house call” on the U.S. Senate and House on April 26 to discuss Obamacare and its implications for the doctor-patient relationship, health care choice and health care costs. Among the elected officials he met with were Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of the 7th Congressional District for Tennessee who represents the Clarksville area and Rep. Michele Bachmann of the 6th Congressional District for Minnesota and former U.S. presidential candidate for the Republican Party.
The growth of student debt is stirring debate about whether the government should step in to ease the burden by rewriting the bankruptcy laws—again. In 2005, Congress prohibited student debt from being discharged through bankruptcy, except in rare cases, because of concerns that many young graduates—who often have no major assets such as a house or a car—would be tempted to walk away from loan obligations.
Former Tennessee Valley Authority chairman S. David Freeman says the federal utility should “just stop” its nuclear reactor building program. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Freeman’s comment came Thursday, the same day the TVA board voted to continue construction of Watts Bar Unit 2, despite a $2 million cost overrun. Freeman said he thought he was having a bad dream when he first learned of cost overruns and construction delays at the reactor at Watts Bar, near Spring City, Tenn.
Hamilton County commissioners and schools officials often get together before budget season and hash out priorities for the next year. Not this season. Though County Commission Education Committee Chairman Warren Mackey originally scheduled a meeting for early March, the sides canceled it. “We’re not going forward with them prior to budget hearings,” Mackey said Thursday. “I’m not happy with the people from the school board.”
During 35 years as a registered nurse, I cared for many patients suffering from heart attacks and strokes, obesity being a significant contributing factor to their condition. Today, as vice mayor of Farragut, a leader in the Tennessee Municipal League and a volunteer in the outpatient surgical waiting area of Tennova at Turkey Creek Medical Center, I’m concerned by both the physical and fiscal costs of the obesity epidemic in my beloved native state of Tennessee.
“People are voting with their taillights.” A leading businessman in Memphis told me that years ago, and it’s still true. The 2010 Census showed that the city of Memphis loses approximately one-half percent of its population every year. Since 2008, Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division has experienced a steady decline in the number of customers. Yet counties surrounding Shelby County seem to be bulging with population increases.
EARLIER this month state senators in Tennessee approved an update to our sex-education law that would ban teachers from discussing hand-holding, which it categorizes as “gateway sexual activity.” The bill came fast on the heels of a new state law that effectively allows creationism to be taught in our classrooms. Though he voiced misgivings, our governor, Bill Haslam, refused to veto it. It’s election season, and there’s no doubt these politicians are pandering to Tennessee’s conservative Christian majority.
The personal cost that students and their families pay to get a college degree has doubled over the past couple of decades as state governments have shrank their support for higher education. That has forced ever larger numbers of students to take out increasingly higher college loans, leaving the average graduate today carrying a $25,000 education debt when they finish school. And now, if Congress can’t come to an agreement by July, the interest rates on federally subsidized student loans would double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.