This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to overhaul the Tennessee Regulatory Authority passed the House on Tuesday despite criticism that it’s unnecessary. The measure carried by Republican Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville was approved 60-28 on Tuesday. Voting for the bill were 58 Republicans, one Democrat and one independent. Twenty-five Democrats and three Republicans voted against the proposal, including Rep. Matthew Hill, son of TRA Chairman Kenneth Hill.
The Tennessee House of Representatives voted to reorganize the state’s top utility regulator, one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s top priorities for the year. House members voted 60-28 for Senate Bill 2247, which replaces the four-person Tennessee Regulatory Authority with a new board made up of five part-time members. Supporters say the TRA, which has its roots in the New Deal era, no longer has enough work to justify a full-time board and would save utilities — and by extension rate payers — about $300,000 a year.
An overhaul of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority passed Tuesday in the waning hours of the 107th General Assembly and is headed to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. The House dropped a provision senators objected to and gave final approval 72-11 to the measure, which Haslam proposed and is expected to sign. Haslam’s bill changes the current structure of the TRA, which regulates utilities such as Tennessee American Water and Chattanooga Gas.
Legislation repealing Tennessee’s gift tax has been sent to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has endorsed the idea and adjusted his state budget plan to cover the anticipated $15 million per year in lost revenue. The bill (SB2777) was approved 30-3 in the Senate Monday evening…. The House granted the governor’s wish for restructuring of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority Monday as Republicans rebuffed Democratic contentions that the overhaul is unnecessary and unwise.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he was led to run for governor by his faith, which gave him a sense of responsibility. “Not in the sense that I think God said, ‘You should be the governor,'” Haslam said Tuesday after the Leadership Prayer Breakfast in Chattanooga, “[but] I have the responsibility, I think, to serve in a way that reflects what he’s called me to do.” More than 1,500 gathered in the Chattanooga Convention Center on Tuesday morning to pray, read Scripture and discuss the role of Christianity in the work place.
Gov. Bill Haslam is weighing whether to veto a pair of bills passed in the waning days of the legislative session that have pushed social issues to the forefront at the Capitol. Haslam is facing calls from Democrats to strike down a sex education bill that has drawn national ridicule for its focus on “gateway sexual activity” and legislation meant to pressure Vanderbilt University into dropping an antidiscrimination policy opposed by campus religious groups. Haslam says he has not yet decided whether to sign the two bills.
Governor Bill Haslam says he hasn’t decided if he’ll veto a bill which singles out Vanderbilt University over the school’s anti-discrimination policy. Conservative lawmakers targeted the policy because they say it drives Christian groups off campus. Republicans argued the bill sends Vanderbilt a message, while also barring state colleges from similar policies. The measure has drawn heavy criticism, with some calling on Haslam to veto it. The governor says he’s not yet sure what he’ll do.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald and his fellow suburban chief executives can apparently rest easy about the prospect of Governor Bill Haslam’s interposing himself against HB1105/SB1923, the bill just passed by both chambers of the legislature authorizing referenda this year on creating municipal school districts. In a valedictory meeting with the Capitol Hill press corps following the General Assembly’s adjournment late Tuesday afternoon, Haslam, who had frequently expressed the hope that the Transition Planning Commission could finish its labors on school merger before any legislation was passed, was asked his attitude toward the bill, which was relentlessly pushed by state Senate majority leader Mark Norris of Collierville.
Gov. Bill Haslam said tonight “it’s doubtful” he will veto the bill allowing the Memphis suburbs to proceed with referendums this year on creating new municipal school districts next year when the state’s ban on new districts is lifted in Shelby County. The governor said it’s important to him that the Transition Planning Commission be allowed to finish its work before the suburbs make their decisions, and that will apparently occur: Referendums are likely to be on the Aug. 2 ballots in the municipalities and the Commission is scheduled to deliver its recommendations for the unification of Memphis and Shelby County schools in June.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said he would have preferred some other outcome. But on his desk this week awaiting his decision is the bill that sets the stage for referendums this year in Shelby County’s suburbs on forming municipal school districts. The legislation won final approval Monday, April 30, by the Tennessee state Senate. The state House approved the bill the week before. Haslam’s choices are to sign the bill into law, let the bill become law without his signature or veto the bill.
A free program that offers cancer screenings and treatments to uninsured and under-insured women in Tennessee will not face cuts this year after all. In his budget, Governor Bill Haslam pushed for full funding of the program that pays for breast and cervical cancer screenings. The American Cancer Society tells us lawmakers kept that money intact. Earlier this year, the program faced the possibility of losing half of its funding from a $1 million to $500,000.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials will help break ground Thursday for MTSU’s $147 million science building. The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday at the site for the new building just west of the James E. Walker Library where the old Wood, Felder, Gore and Clement dorms were located. In the event of rain, the ceremony will be moved to the foyer of the Walker library. The event is open to the public and will be broadcast live on MTSU’s public radio station, WMOT-FM (89.5) and MT10-HD, the university’s student TV channel (Comcast Channel 10).
The state’s more than $31 billion annual spending plan is headed to the governor after Republicans rejected Democratic efforts to make further changes to the compromise legislation. 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.
Tennessee lawmakers closed out the year’s session at the capitol Tuesday after resolving several last-minute squabbles and letting a few others drop. One sticking point was a bill to make people prove their legal status in the country before getting government services. It passed in the session’s waning hours amid reassurances from the sponsor it is constitutionally sound. Also approved was a tax on roll-your-own cigarettes.
Tennessee’s 107th General Assembly wrapped up its annual session Tuesday after racing through dozens of bills and giving final approval to several controversial measures including suspicion-based drug testing for welfare applicants. But two contentious bills failed to make the final cut. One was a measure that would have allowed Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law. It died on a 45-26 vote, failing to get the necessary 50 votes for passage.
State lawmakers approved a bill to test welfare recipients for drugs and revamped the state’s top utility regulator, but they dropped plans to rewrite the state’s campaign finance laws on the final day of the legislative session. Members of the state House of Representatives voted 73-17 Tuesday for Senate Bill 2580, which calls for testing welfare recipients who fail a psychiatric screening meant to find indicators of drug use.
Tax increase on ‘roll-your-own’ passes Legislators voted to require drug testing of welfare recipients and shied away from a bill laying the groundwork for a Tennessee takeover of federal health care programs Tuesday on the final day of the 107th General Assembly. Lawmakers also sent Gov. Bill Haslam bills raising taxes on “roll-your-own” cigarettes and repealing the current state tax on gifts of more than $13,000 in value.
The Tennessee legislature approved a slate of bills before adjourning its 2012 session Tuesday night, including one requiring new welfare applicants to undergo drug testing if suspicions of drug abuse arise in a new screening process. Lawmakers also repealed the state’s gift tax, which generated about $16 million a year in revenue. Supporters argued that with the earlier-approved phase-out of the state inheritance tax by 2016, the gift tax is no longer needed because it was designed to tax transfers of wealth prior to death to avoid the inheritance tax.
A proposal that would require agencies to verify that applicants for public benefits are legal residents is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure was sent to Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday after the Senate voted 29-0 to concur with minor changes made by the House. The legislation was delayed in the House last year because the cost of the measure was a little over $1 million. But House sponsor Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, told The Associated Press earlier this week that the tab has been reduced to around $100,000.
A proposed requirement to drug-test some welfare recipients is headed to the governor for his signature. The measure comes as a compromise, because it would only test those deemed suspicious. An earlier proposal would have drug-tested welfare recipients across the board, but the attorney general says doing so would be unconstitutional. The reworked version passed the House 73 to 17, but drew ire from members like Memphis Democrat Joe Towns, who accused colleagues of singling out people who need help.
Lawmakers have given final approval to a bill seeking to rescind Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy, which requires school groups to allow any interested students to join and run for office. The Senate approved its version of the bill sponsored by Republican Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet on a 19-12 vote on Monday. The House later followed suit on a 61-22 vote. Voting yes were 57 Republicans and three Democrats and one independent. Voting no were 21 Democrats and one Republican.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says the General Assembly’s approval of his anti-gang crime bill will let police and prosecutors “cut the heart out of some of the worst gangs” in the city. “I’m very pleased,” the mayor said Tuesday after the House passed the bill on an 86-2 vote. It passed the Senate unanimously Monday. “It was a long slog to get through all of the committees and such.” The mayor said he spoke with Gov. Bill Haslam, who was in Chattanooga Tuesday, and is optimistic he will sign the bill.
A proposal that would allow Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law has failed in the House. The chamber voted 45-26 along partisan lines to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon. But that was five votes short of the majority needed to pass measures in the 99-member chamber. The legislation would provide a waiver for each participating state to create its own health care system.
Several Republican members of the Tennessee House refused to vote on a Health Care Compact bill Tuesday night. And without a 50-vote majority, the bill died – after two years of partisan maneuvering to pass it. The idea of a health care compact is that states would provide public health services, like Medicare, within their own boundaries – using money which the federal government would hand over. It has been described as a “message” that the state opposes the federal health care overhaul started by President Obama.
The President’s federal health care revamp has led some states to set up a ‘health care compact’ that would allow a group of states to take over public health care within their borders. Now both the Tennessee Senate and the House have approved the idea – but in different versions. The House passed the measure with an amendment that that says the new health system won’t be used to expand abortions. While he voted for the anti-abortion language to be added, Rep. Mark Pody – a Republican from Lebanon – eventually said the idea was out of place in legislation that’s not meant to create policy.
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 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.
The 107th General Assembly has adjourned, and the long-awaited Clarksville city charter cleanup is now on its way back to the City Council with a state stamp of approval. The Tennessee House approved the charter revision private act Monday, following state Senate approval last week, Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said Tuesday. The measure does not require the governor’s signature. “The process worked and worked well this time,” he said.
A local bill enabling Chattanooga to potentially purchase AT&T Field won’t be passing the General Assembly this year. Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said he discussed the issue with House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Hixson, and the decision was made not to go ahead the legislation. “It’s just not going to run this year,” Watson said. The bill would allow the city issue state sales tax-funded bonds in order to buy the stadium.
When Tennessee’s 107th General Assembly adjourned for the year Tuesday night, two veteran West Tennessee lawmakers — House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh of Covington and Sen. Roy Herron of Dresden — headed out on westbound Interstate 40 for the last time as lawmakers. Naifeh, 72, a Democrat first elected in 1974 and who served as House speaker longer than anyone in Tennessee history — 18 years — gave a brief farewell to his colleagues and received an ovation on both sides of the aisle.
Saying he wants to head off “harmful cuts” and invest in Nashville’s education and public safety, Mayor Karl Dean today proposed a 53-cent increase in property taxes — his first ever — while laying out his broader agenda In his fifth State of Metro address and outline of the $1.71 billion budget for fiscal year 2012-13, Dean said that after four years of cuts to avoid tax increases in the depths of the recession, Nashville must now invest.
Saying Nashville has a choice to make that will guide its trajectory “for decades to come,” Mayor Karl Dean proposed a 53-cent property tax increase Tuesday to fund his $1.71 billion Metro budget proposal. The tax increase would generate about $100 million in new revenue, Dean said. It would raise the tax rate to $4.66 per $100 of assessed value in the Urban Services District — 3 cents below the rate when Dean took office in 2007, before a countywide reappraisal — and $4.09 in the General Services District.
Painting a dire picture of “draconian” cuts as the undesirable alterative, Mayor Karl Dean Tuesday proposed a 53-cent property tax increase above the current $4.13 tax rate in what would be the city’s first tax hike in seven years. Dean, tasked with selling his plan to both the public and the Metro Council in the weeks ahead, delivered the proposal at his annual State of Metro address Tuesday morning, declaring that the decision is one that allows Nashville to “continue our momentum forward.”
Property taxes would go up an average of nearly $200 a year for families in Davidson County under a plan outlined by Mayor Karl Dean Tuesday. The city’s top elected official warns of doom and gloom without the tax hike. While Metro Schools and the police department are in line for budget increases next year, Dean said in his annual State of Metro address that the rest of city government would be cut by $3 million. That’s if the Metro Council passes the proposed $0.53 tax hike.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on Tuesday gave county commissioners his proposed budget, leaving them to figure out whether to pay for the county school system’s spending requests and possibly raise taxes. Some school officials and business leaders declared the plan a let down. Burchett as expected declined to fully sign off on an additional $48 million sought by the Knox County Board of Education. Of that, $13 million is for natural growth, something he did cover.
Up to seven city libraries would be permanently closed and community centers could be closed on Saturdays under Memphis Mayor AC Wharton’s proposed budget. “Our hope is we don’t have to do that, but under the fiscal constraints we’re operating under, those are options we’re having to consider,” said Parks and Neighborhoods director Janet Hooks. The libraries identified so far as targets for closure are the Cossitt, Poplar-White Station, Levi and Gaston branches.
Like most of his neighbors, retired pharmacist Jay Dickerson didn’t have flood insurance when flooding overtook the River Plantation subdivision in Bellevue two years ago. After having to spend more than $100,000 to rebuild his condo and replace his lost belongings, Dickerson considers the $360 he now spends a year for flood insurance through a federal program a bargain. “I keep one eye on the river,” said Dickerson, 69, whose policy provides coverage up to $250,000 for a structure and $100,000 for personal possessions inside that building.
He’s not debating, speaking or even appearing in public anytime soon, but Scottie Mayfield’s congressional campaign rejected rumors of its own demise five days after police said the dairy executive’s 33-year-old son slashed a rival aide’s tire at a campaign event. “We’re moving forward,” spokesman Joe Hendrix said Tuesday. Mayfield is challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.
Federal officials were in Nashville today announcing new funding for the nation’s community health centers. The Obama Administration has made community clinics a focal point, setting aside more than 11 billion dollars in funding. United Neighborhood Health is getting a little over a million dollars in federal funds to renovate its East Nashville facility and offer medical, dental, and vision care all under one roof.
The city of Oak Ridge faced what could have been $4 million to $5 million in fines and penalties for violations of the federal Clean Water Act, City Attorney Ken Krushenski said. Instead, after talks, a settlement proposal of $171,000 has been reached. It will be considered by Oak Ridge City Council during its May 7 meeting.The federal Environmental Protection Agency compiled a list of about 200 incidents where the city’s wastewater collection system overflowed during a five-year period before September 2010, Public Works Director Gary Cinder said.
The First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, operates in a dilapidated building that was converted from a junior high school in the 1970s. Wastebaskets line the hallways to collect water when it rains. Over the years, inadequate security has left the court vulnerable to multiple escapes and attempted escapes, and one shooting. “Inmates have to be escorted through the public areas and private offices of staff to the courtrooms from the holding cells,” says Barbara Vigil, the district’s chief judge.
Effect on schools’ diversity debated A Metro Nashville administrator in charge of turning around the city’s lowest-performing schools will be back on the stand this morning in a federal trial over the district’s hard-fought, 3-year-old rezoning plan. Alan Coverstone, executive director of Metro’s Office of Innovation, won a seat on the school board representing parts of West Nashville soon after board members passed the plan in 2008. He resigned that seat and took an administrative job with the district within the first year of his term.
Cities hammer out August for referendums on districts, November to elect boards State and local election officials worked with suburban leaders Tuesday to set Aug. 2 as the date for the suburbs to hold referendums on whether to break away from the merged school system and form their own districts. Additionally, for the suburban cities that approve their own school systems, there will be a Nov. 6 election to pick school board members for the new districts.
The Jackson-Madison County School Board’s budget committee met Tuesday evening to discuss changes to its 2012-13 budget request, which will be reviewed by the full board on Monday. The total budget requested is more than $98 million. The draft budget proposal includes the elimination of 19 teaching positions, mostly through retirements and resignations, a research and accountability specialist and secretary, an assistant principal position at Andrew Jackson Elementary and elimination of two bus routes and two driver positions.
Gov. Bill Haslam quite likely saved some women from dying this week. As the legislature wrapped up, Haslam’s proposal to impose mandatory jail sentences of 45 days for anyone sentenced to a second domestic violence offense is on the way to his desk to be signed into law. Three or more offenses and the convicted would serve at least 90 days in jail. Victims rights groups and battered women’s shelter officials are rejoicing.
The annual $31.5 billion budget the Tennessee Legislature finally passed on Monday, after a weekend of squabbling with the Senate over earmarks, did reduce the sales tax on groceries, from 5.5 cents to 5.25. And it helped quench the pay-raise drought for state employees’ and teachers with a 2.5 percent increase. Unfortunately, that may be the extent of the good news. The bad news has gotten less attention.
Tennessee lawmakers voted to join a number of other states that include drug testing to determine eligibility for temporary welfare benefits. This is one of those “feel good” legislative efforts that is more hype than help. Many people applaud the concept of not paying welfare benefits to drug users, but the reality of this legislation is a long way from the theory. While we support this measure with some reservations, it is important for the public to understand the details. To begin, the law won’t take effect until July 1, 2014.
What will the end of the story be? We ask ourselves that question daily as we make progress toward Tennessee’s bold goals in public education. It is a question we must answer collectively as we visualize a day when all Tennessee children graduate from college and are prepared for the workforce. The story thus far is promising and the work has engaged communities across Tennessee like no other efforts to date. Heroes and heroines have emerged in this real-life story of education reform, but two of the most dramatic champions for education are already well-known for dedicating their lives and resources to improving education for all.
As expected, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett proposed a budget Tuesday with no property tax increase and little additional funding for education. The plan does not come close to providing the $35 million in new spending requested by Knox County Schools. Now it is up to members of the Knox County Commission to show vision and leadership by fulfilling more, if not all, of the school system’s request. Burchett’s proposed budget for 2012-13 totals $673.7 million, which is $20 million more than is currently being spent.
The newly released report by the National Park Service, which strongly recommends saving a piece of the historic K-25 uranium-enrichment facility, gave new energy to some preservationists who thought salvaging part of the original World War II-era structure was pretty much a dead issue. “I think their report was masterful. It was beyond anybody’s expectations,” said Cindy Kelly, president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation in Washington. It remains to be seen, however, how much influence the NPS report will have.