This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Democrats made a provision to give $500,000 for construction of a museum in Virginia the focus of last-minute criticism of a $31 billion state budget Monday as their attempts to make alterations were voted down. After heated debate, the final, Republican-drafted version of the budget was approved 63-27. The Senate followed later with approval of the spending plan — mostly prepared by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration — on a 31-2 vote with virtually no discussion.
The House and Senate gave final approval Monday night to a compromise on the state’s $31 billion budget, sending the annual spending plan to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. House Republican majority lawmakers batted down four alternative Democratic proposals. The plan, which includes some $50 million in tax cuts, passed the chamber on a 64-28 vote. Senators largely dispensed with debate, approving the majority Republican conference committee report on a 31-2 vote.
The Tennessee Legislature has approved the state’s more than $31 billion annual spending plan and sent it to Gov. Bill Haslam. The House voted 64-28 to adopt the budget proposal agreed to in a rare conference committee late last week following disagreements over local projects. The Senate passed it 31-2 shortly afterward with little debate. In the House, the Republican majority quickly dispatched four Democratic proposals that sought to restore regional projects, add funding for higher education to curb tuition hikes and make a further reduction in the state’s sales tax on groceries.
Governor Bill Haslam’s staff has declined to release some records about the administration’s legislation to overhaul the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. According to records obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the governor’s office solicited advice from nearly a dozen regulated utilities or industry associations about the administration’s legislation. The paper reports Haslam and his legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, have refused to divulge some of the opinions they received or who provided them, on grounds some of it is protected by attorney work product and deliberative process privilege.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s staff has refused a request from the Chattanooga Times Free Press for records revealing advice the administration received about legislation to restructure the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. The Chattanooga daily reports that records it did obtain show that the governor’s staff sought input from regulated utilities and industry associations about the administration proposal.
Motorists have begun seeing a daily fatality count and safety tips on overhead message boards along Tennesseen highways. The state decided to post the information because the number of highway fatalities is climbing. Preliminary reports show 288 people died on Tennessee roadways from January through April 27 — an increase of 27 over the same time period last year, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Tennessee is spending more than $1 million to build roads to Barrett Firearms Manufacturing just off Interstate 24 at the Buchanan exit in south Rutherford County. The Tennessee Department of Transportation recently awarded a contract worth $974,148 to Hoover Inc., for construction of an access road to the plant owned by Ronnie Barrett, maker of the famed .50-caliber rifle. Work is set to begin in a couple of weeks, according to Deanna Lambert, TDOT spokeswoman.
Hiking into the Laurel-Snow State Natural Area, it’s not just the scenic beauty that grabs your attention. From the parking lot, the trail follows Richland Creek, a mountain stream that flows off the eastern slope of the Cumberland Plateau. At the lower end of the main gorge are the remnants of the Dayton Coal and Iron Co., a British-owned company that operated here from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Poking out of the hillside are the ruins of coke ovens where mountain coal was converted into industrial coke, a product used to smelt iron ore into steel.
Dickson County Sheriff’s personnel assisted state officials by arresting and charging two suspects accused of abusing TennCare for prescription painkillers. “Tennessee has zero tolerance for abuse of TennCare,” Inspector General Deborah Y. Faulkner said in a press release. “We’re especially focused on prescription drug fraud in TennCare.” DCSO personnel cooperated with the state Office of Inspector General and local agencies to indict women from Humphreys and Montgomery counties.
The majority of states that followed Georgia’s lead in creating lottery-funded state scholarships now are coming up with policies to deal with increasing demand and declining revenues. “The South has experienced huge growth over the last two decades. When states run with a surplus in lottery revenues, the tendency is to increase the amount of the award or the number of scholarships,” said Thomas Sanford, director of research for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
A proposal to set up a state fair commission is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Haynes of Nashville was approved 32-0 by the Senate on Monday. The companion bill passed the House 90-2 last week. The proposal creates a state fair and exposition commission within the Department of Agriculture. The commission will be appointed by the governor and will be charged with administering a state fair and exposition.
A bill that would establish a board to govern the State Fair passed unanimously in the Senate Monday and is headed to the governor’s desk. Under the legislation, a board under the state’s agriculture department would be established and be solely responsible for administering the State Fair and setting rules about its operation and management. The state House passed the same legislation last week.
The Senate gave final legislative approval Monday to the bill letting the Memphis suburbs hold referendums this year on creating municipal school districts, despite charges that it’s “part of a growing trend … of apartheid in Shelby County.” The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who said earlier that he wanted the panel planning the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools to complete its work before the suburbs decide on new municipal school systems.
The Tennessee State Senate gave final approval Monday, April 30, to legislation that sets the stage for referendums this year in Shelby County’s suburbs on forming municipal school districts. With Senate approval on a 22-9 vote, the bill that was approved by the State House last week goes to the desk of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The provision permitting the referendums this year is an amendment added to a 2011 bill dealing with school bullying.
Many living in Memphis suburbs are hoping Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will see things their way when it comes to schools. They want the governor to sign a bill allowing municipalities to form their own district. Both the Senate and House have passed the bill. That’s a change form earlier this legislative session, when the municipal districts were ruled unconstitutional. With the City of Bartlett being a step closer to forming its own school district, mom Laura Lee Martin is pleased, “As citizens we have te right to decide on the community level where we’re taking our families.”
In flurry of activity, they OK budget, tackle campaign finance law, VU policy Tennessee legislators scrambled to rewrite the state’s campaign finance law, attacked a Vanderbilt University antidiscrimination policy and passed the state budget in a marathon session of last-minute lawmaking Monday. Legislation moved to the floor of the House of Representatives that would let insurance companies doing business with the state donate to political campaigns, would delete a requirement that candidates report last-minute contributions in the days before elections and would give corporations more freedom to fund campaigns.
A change to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority Act is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration. State senators took final action on the bill, which adds Erlanger Health System’s medical chief of staff to the public hospital’s board of trustees. The vote was 30-0. The House approved the bill last week on a 96-0 vote. “Obviously, Erlanger has been struggling financially,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, the bill’s Senate sponsor.
Groups at privately run Vanderbilt University and public colleges and universities could refuse to accept individuals who don’t share their beliefs under a proposal that has passed the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet was approved 19-12 on Monday. The bill takes aim at Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy, which requires school groups to allow any interested students to join and run for office.
Vanderbilt University is back in the legislature’s sights over its “all-comers” policy. The state Senate today passed a bill that would to tell Vanderbilt to reconsider its non-discrimination policy – which Christian groups have complained is pushing them off campus. The Senate bill has been amended to serve as a message, essentially threatening Vanderbilt with a loss of state contracts if it doesn’t change its policy in the coming year.
The state could soon make it easier for corporations to donate money to political campaigns. The proposal is on its way to a floor vote in Tennessee’s House, and another version already passed the state Senate last month. Right now, for corporations to contribute to races, they have to register as Political Action Committees. Franklin Republican Glen Casada wants to get rid of that requirement. Critics see the move opening elections up to more corporate influence, but Casada defends the measure, saying money isn’t everything in a campaign.
A proposal that would make cutting some students’ lottery scholarships in half contingent on lottery revenues has likely failed this session. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville was withdrawn from consideration in the House Finance Subcommittee on Monday. Brooks told reporters outside the committee that he didn’t think he had the votes. An original proposal sought to reduce by 50 percent the award for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.
A controversial bill that would have slashed lottery-funded Hope scholarships in half for about 5,000 students appears dead for the year. Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, took the bill off notice Monday in the House Budget Subcommittee, later acknowledging that the Senate-passed bill had no chance of passing the House. “I think the thought is we don’t need to do it right now,” Brooks said. The bill, initiated by the Senate, originally sought a 50 percent reduction in the $4,000 award for students who do not achieve both a 3.0 grade-point average and a 21 score on their ACT college entrance exam.
Knoxville’s Rep. Harry Brooks abandoned Monday the effort to pass a controversial bill that could have cut lottery-funded scholarship in half for an estimated 5,000 students. “The thought is we don’t need to do it right now,” said Brooks after taking HB2649 “off notice” during the final meeting of the House Finance Subcommittee. The bill, as filed, would have required college students to have both an ACT score of 21 and a 3.0 high school grade-point average to get a $4,000 annual scholarship.
Tennessee’s lottery scholarship probably will not change this year, after House members questioned the need to make the full $4 thousand scholarship harder to get. Projections from last year had the lottery going broke over the next decade. That prompted some lawmakers to look at saving money, by raising the requirements or lowering the payout. The Senate passed such a proposal. But in a House committee members argued improved projections made changes unnecessary.
A bill to require citizenship to be eligible for most state services is still alive in the state legislature. Williamson County Senator Jack Johnson is hoping to pass the measure even if today is the last day of session. The bill takes a federal program for identifying who is eligible for services and brings it down to the state level. It wouldn’t affect public education or emergency health care, but most other agencies could ask for identification proving citizenship or legal alien status.
A measure that would require roll-your-own cigarette retailers to pay a licensing fee and tax and adhere to certain restrictions has passed the House. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads was approved 68-22 Monday night. The companion bill passed the Senate 25-5 last week. Pipe tobacco, a popular product of roll-your-own retailers, is not listed on the state attorney general’s directory of tobaccos.
A controversial bill passed the TN House and Senate that would allow parents to sue teachers and other groups who allow ‘gateway sexual activity’. The bills specifies that family life instruction in schools emphasize teachings on abstinence, it goes further to say parents or guardians can take legal action if a teacher has not complied with requirements of the bill. The bill which has yet to be signed into law by the governor has left a lot people asking questions about what is gateway sexual activity including teachers and students.
Election officials propose saving $500,000 over 10 years on polling places by convincing county commissioners to change eight of their districts to align with Tennessee Senate boundaries. “This really is housekeeping,” Election Commissioner Jimmy Evans said during a Monday night meeting. Evans joined the other four members of the Rutherford County Election Commission in a unanimous vote to urge commissioners to make the change to eight of the 21 districts: 2, 3, 7, 14, 15, 16, 18 and 21.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett this morning will unveil his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a $673.7 million spending plan that increases funding for the school system, public safety and debt repayment. The mayor in an interview Monday said he would reserve discussing specifics about the budget until today, but said the 2013 budget, which will take effect July 1, includes no layoffs. Nor should residents expect to see a decline in services, he said.
Knox County Sheriff’ Jimmy “J.J.” Jones plans to ask Knox County Commission to give his employees a 3 percent raise. The sheriff said he’d like to see a boost in pay for everyone in his department, which includes about 1,000 workers, except for himself. He said he is seeking the raise as well as a step increase for staff. If approved, it would cost the county an extra $2.9 million annually, he said. Percentage increases are used to help an organization become more competitive as an employer.
Memphis City Council members take the first formal votes Tuesday, May 1, on a city budget and tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But the ordinances on the agenda come with no dollar amounts or tax rate at this point. Tuesday’s council session begins at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. The council’s budget committee just began its budget hearings Saturday, April 28, with the hearings continuing Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Budget Committee members began their fourth week of budget hearings Monday by confronting the fact that, despite multiple rounds of cuts, next year’s budget will likely pull millions from the county’s savings. The general fund, which covers operating expenses and personnel for every county department aside from the Highway Department, has more than $62 million allotted to it in the next year, even after cuts from county departments and the committee.
As parks, trails replace flooded houses, Metro acts to ensure tragedy doesn’t happen again Two years after the great flood, pockets of Nashville look sturdier, greener — and maybe even safer. Rows of houses that stood next to rivers and creeks are being replaced by swaths of grass, walking trails, picnic tables, gardens or playgrounds. A riverbank in Old Hickory is being shored up so it won’t lose 15 feet in five days again. Thousands of homes and businesses have been cleaned, renovated, rebuilt or, in some cases, elevated.
Take off work. Take back Memphis with a march to Civic Center Plaza: That is Occupy Memphis’ aim for today’s “day of action.” Protesters are set to meet at 2 p.m. at the corner of Union Avenue and Manassas Street for a march along Union to outside City Hall, where they will hold a “people’s city council” meeting. The starting point for the march — Nathan Bedford Forrest Park — they are calling Ida B. Wells Park, honoring the journalist and early leader of the civil rights movement who was born in Holly Springs, Miss., and lived for a time in Memphis.
Senator Lamar Alexander says he’s ready to throw his weight behind President Obama’s debt reduction commission, which first made its recommendations more than year ago. Another member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation tried the same thing and failed by a landslide. The plan outlined by the Simpson-Bowles commission hit the floor of Congress with a thud in late 2010. The plan makes deep cuts to military and domestic spending and raises the retirement age.
Mild Winter Saved Cities, States Millions on Plowing; Mounds of Road Salt Left States and cities across the northern half of the country saved millions of dollars from a winter that was unusually warm and lacking in snow, providing a rare fiscal bonus and leaving them with surpluses of road salt and other supplies for this year’s season. Ohio spent about half as much on plowing and other storm costs than the winter before.
No state has seen a larger percentage tuition increase in the past few years than Arizona, which nearly doubled its average rates at public universities between 2007 and 2011. But four straight years of double-digit increases are coming to an end in 2012, at least for the state’s two largest universities, with a freeze on tuition and fees next fall at the University of Arizona and Arizona State. “The last few years have been tough for everybody,” says Bob McClendon, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents.
Gaylord Entertainment has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government accusing the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of negligence that led to massive destruction at its luxury hotel in Nashville and damage to the most famous country music venue in the world during flooding in 2010. The company says it sustained at least $250 million worth of damages caused by flooding at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center and the nearly Grand Ole Opry House.
Hotel and resort operator Gaylord Entertainment and Ashland City-based manufacturer A.O. Smith on Monday filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nashville accusing the United States government of negligence and other wrongs for its role in exacerbating the damage wrought by Mother Nature in the May 2010 floods. “It is a simple fact that we incurred millions of dollars in damages because the Corps released so much water into the Cumberland River that it rose above the 100-year flood plain,” said Brian Abrahamson, Gaylord’s vice president of corporate communications, in a statement.
Two Nashville companies sued the federal government today, accusing the National Weather Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of negligence causing at least $326 million in damages during the historic May 2010 floods. The suit, filed jointly by Opryland Hotel owner Gaylord Entertainment and Ashland City water heater manufacturer A.O. Smith, contends the federal agencies “created a man-made disaster” through poor planning, miscommunication and breach of duty.
An attorney representing Gaylord Entertainment and others filed a major lawsuit against two government agencies, claiming negligence made the May 2010 flood worse than it had to be. Heavy rain in early May 2010 pushed flood water into neighborhoods and businesses across Middle Tennessee, forcing evacuations of 1,500 Opryland Hotel guests to McGavock High School just before a foot of water from the Cumberland River came rushing inside.
Project comes amid legal battle between hotel chain, Army Corps of Engineers Never again, says the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The giant hotel and entertainment complex is now protected by a 10-foot flood wall that should shield it from any future floods like the one that inundated the property in May 2010, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Workers are now putting finishing touches on the brick-and-concrete barrier that should withstand the “500-year flood,” said Brian Abrahamson, spokesman for the parent company, Gaylord Entertainment.
American Ordnance will lay off 429 people from the Milan Army Ammunition Plant within the next 90 days, according to an e-mail from the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. The company told members of the Gibson-Carroll Working Group that it had contracted with Iowa-based BEM Lighthouse to help recruit new business to the Milan arsenal to replace the lost jobs. The e-mail states, “BEM Lighthouse has been successful in recruiting 400 tenants to facilities like Milan.”
Arlington canceled a special meeting Monday night to consider an ordinance calling for a referendum on municipal schools, deciding instead to wait until new legislation clears all of the hurdles in Nashville. That includes the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam after the state Senate passed the enabling legislation Monday afternoon that allows the cities to hold referendums this year. Arlington was scheduled to consider the first of two required readings on the school referendum ordinance.
Sullivan County schools could face a $6 million shortfall in its fiscal 2012-13 budget, according to estimates released Monday. The proposed spending plan tops $91.4 million while revenues are estimated at $84.6 million, Board of Education members learned during an afternoon work session. “On some of these things, we’re going to have to make some hard choices,” Director of Schools Jubal Yennie told board members.
The day before Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett presents his budget to Knox County Commission, education advocates made one last push to drum up support for Knox County Schools’ budget request. Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre is requesting an additional $35 million for the next school year. It would likely require a tax increase. Many people are asking, will more money translate into a better education? The Knox County PTA and The Great Schools Partnership are supporting the school board’s approved budget.
Some members of the Knox County school board said the Knoxville Charter Academy did not meet its deadlines and they are against giving it an extension to open its doors. Thomas Deakins, the board’s chairman, said essentially the school is asking for an additional year to open — six months to find a location with an open date of August 2013. And that’s not something he can support, he said. “You give someone a time window … and then again, it’s we need more time,” he said.
A secular organization has again criticized the Lenoir City school system for putting on a school assembly that the group claims inappropriately promoted religion. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation said in an April 11 letter to the school system that the “Spin-Tacular Basketball Show” on March 12 was overtly religious and the school systems should refrain from hosting those types of assemblies.
About 14,000 students, former students and faculty at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin had personal information placed on a Web server that was not secure. The files placed on the web included names and Social Security numbers, but university officials say there is no evidence that any of that information has been accessed or used inappropriately. No credit card or financial information was included in the files.
100-plus employees affected at Stones River Manor Employees of a local senior living facility are on edge after learning their personal information was likely compromised when the nonprofit’s payroll services system was hacked last week in an attempt to steal $120,000. Kirkland Mason, CEO of Stones River Manor, the oldest non-profit elderly living facility in Murfreesboro, confirmed Monday that someone hacked into the facility’s payroll system, which is serviced by Automatic Data Processing, Inc.
Authorities in Blount County said two men were in custody Monday evening in connection with an assault on two area residents that led to the discovery of a methamphetamine lab and an explosive device. According to a news release from the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, charges are pending against the suspects, whose names and ages have not been released. Maryville Police Department officers were dispatched to a residence on Casey Lane after a 911 caller reported two suspicious men in the condominium’s complex, authorities said.
Beginning in 2014, Tennesseans who don’t have a high school diploma will find it harder to attain a General Education Development certificate. A new, more difficult test is being developed to bring the GED test criteria closer in line with the basic knowledge employers are looking for, and to better prepare GED certificate holders for post-secondary education demands. More than ever, it pays for students to stay in school and graduate.
Two years ago this morning, the rain began to fall in the Nashville area. And it kept falling, until it had changed this city, its major institutions and the way that everyone in it lives their lives. It also changed the way that people outside of Nashville see it. Whereas before “Music City USA” was a quick and easy label to put on Nashville — albeit a valuable one — others now learned that Nashville also was a city of compassion and of commitment to a prosperous future.
The investigative grand jury that passed down indictments last week against former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe and four of his former employees gave the Charter Review Committee a compelling argument for appointing the trustee — and, by extension, other independent, elected officers. The grand jury has accused Lowe and the other former county workers of stealing taxpayer money. Lowe was charged with four counts of theft of property exceeding $60,000.
The 2012-13 Knox County Schools budget request increase of $47 million over the current fiscal-year amount is a bold request. But a bold request is what is needed in order to drastically improve the current student performance of Knox County Schools. Only 19 percent of students in the Class of 2011 hit all four ACT benchmarks (English, math, reading and science). That translates into 2,906 out of 3,588 students exiting Knox County Schools being unprepared to enter college or the work force. Our area community colleges affirm this level of unpreparedness.