This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee held steady at #4 in a ranking of the states for their business climate by Chief Executive magazine, which conducts the annual survey of business leaders. Texas, Florida and North Carolina bested the Volunteer State. The magazine singled out this comment from a respondent: “Recently moved from New York state to Tennessee. Differences in ambience/climate/cost of living/attitude of government towards business are outstanding!”
Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s getting “some” grief over his call to veto a bill that would have targeted Vanderbilt University’s discrimination policy imposed on student clubs. But he says he stands by his call that the legislation was meddling in the business of a private organization. “I think when we explain to folks, ‘Hey, if the Legislature wanted to impose their will on a private institution that you didn’t like, how would you feel about that?’” he told reporters after a groundbreaking ceremony for Middle Tennessee State University’s Science Building Thursday.
Governor Bill Haslam ordered that flags fly at half-staff across the state of Tennessee Friday in honor of Specialist Jason Edens. Edens was a soldier from Middle Tennessee who died last week of injuries he received from an attack in Afghanistan. His body was flown home to Middle Tennessee on Thursday. A visitation was held at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home in his hometown of Franklin on Friday evening.
A Cocke Co. woman is facing TennCare fraud charges for allegedly doctor shopping, according to the Tennessee Office of the Inspector General. Desiree McIntyre, of Newport, faces two counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain controlled substances. The twenty-three year-old case up to 2 years for each count. “The mission of the Office of Inspector General is go after anyone who commits fraud and abuse of the TennCare program especially as it relates to prescription drugs,” Inspector General Deborah Faulkner said.
The $20.5 million that the state is projected to save from closing Lakeshore Mental Health Institute on June 30 will be reinvested in community-based mental-health services, rather than being returned to the state’s general fund, said Grant Lawrence, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health. In addition, Lawrence said, “We are allowed to carry over any monies left over from (Lakeshore) funds to cover expenses associated with the transition from” Lakeshore into community services.
Nashville State Community College officially enrolled its first student at the new campus in Clarksville this week. Tyreco Nolton completed the admissions process Tuesday and enrolled in classes, which begin Aug. 25, according to an NSCC news release. “Tyreco was very diligent in getting his information to the college in order to start classes this fall. He is clearly excited about beginning his education at Nashville State,” Kathy Ragan, the Nashville State admissions representative at the campus, said in the release.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol will increase its highway traffic safety enforcement efforts on Saturday, May 5, to coincide with Cinco de Mayo celebrations. During the 24-hour holiday period, State Troopers will focus heavily on seat belt safety and DUI enforcement. The 2012 Cinco de Mayo holiday period begins at midnight Saturday and ends tat 11:59 p.m. One person was killed on Tennessee roadways during last year’s Cinco de Mayo period. The only fatality was wearing a seatbelt and alcohol was not involved.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on Friday said three Hardeman County girls who have not been seen for a week have been with a man in Mississippi. Kristin Helm, a spokeswoman for the TBI, said late Friday afternoon authorities are trying to locate the three sisters. She said there is no evidence of a crime. An endangered child alert issued for 14-year-old Adrienne Bain, 12-year-old Alexandria Bain and 8-year-old Kyliyah Bain said they may be accompanied by their mother, Jo Ann Bain.
Republican leaders coordinated in the recent legislative session to pass new laws that spotlight Tennessee’s business-friendly reputation, while a spurt of social issue measures from lawmakers have critics arguing the state looks so backward it will hurt economic development. In 1999, Tennessee made national news with the so-called “road kill bill” that allowed highway carcasses to be taken home for dinner. Talk show host Jay Leno mocked the measure, saying the state’s motto should be changed to “fender-licking good.”
Legislators may have fled Capitol Hill this week for the friendly confines of their home districts, but many of them face election opponents who’ll be looking to cast their leadership and voting records in as unflattering a light as possible. Twenty-six out of 33 legislative primary races this year are match-ups between GOP incumbents. Ten sitting Democratic lawmakers also face primary elections — and as a result of redistricting, in four races against fellow incumbents. The primary election is Aug. 2.
50 percent drop could indicate lower interest in presidential candidates If fundraising numbers are any indication, Tennesseans are about half as excited about the field of presidential candidates this year as they were in 2008. Tennessee contributions to presidential candidates reached $3.65 million by the end of March, down from $7.3 million at the same time four years ago, according to a Tennessean Washington Bureau analysis of campaign finance data.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett got an earful Friday on the need to get parents behind children and schools when he took his budget message to the “fellowship” breakfast hosted by former Knox County Commissioner Paul Pinkston at Shoney’s in South Knoxville. Some of the two-dozen attendees also had questions on why schools continue to sell coupon books and have other fund-raising programs when the Knox County school system continues to get increased money even if it isn’t the amount the superintendent and the school board wants.
State Sen. Andy Berke will announce he is running for Chattanooga mayor on Tuesday, a source close to the campaign said. Berke, an attorney and Democrat, will have an announcement about “Chattanooga’s future” at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. He becomes the first of several potential candidates to take official steps to get into the race.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, delivers the Weekly Republican Address, calling for pro-growth tax reform to broaden the tax base, lower rates for everyone and provide Americans the opportunity to succeed. Senator Corker says “families and state governments are making tough decisions every day in order to make ends meet. And businesses are crying out for clarity on tax rates and regulation. This uncertainty is what’s weighing down the recovery and preventing the investment needed to create jobs…”
Vice President Joe Biden will be in Nashville Monday to attend a private luncheon fundraiser at the home of businessman and longtime Democratic Party activist Bill Freeman. The visit comes six months after Biden came to Nashville for a fundraiser at the Belle Meade residence of Andrew Byrd and three weeks after First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a downtown Nashville fundraiser for her husband’s re-election campaign.
Vice President Joe Biden plans to visit Nashville on Monday for a fundraiser at a private residence. Road closures and delays are expected late morning through midafternoon for security purposes. They include: Interstate-40 around Nashville International Airport, I-24 near I-440, I-65 southbound, Old Hickory Boulevard west of I-65 in the Brentwood area, and Hillsboro Road. Roadways will be reopened once the vice president’s motorcade has passed. Exact details of the visit are not being disclosed for security reasons.
With a net loss for the second quarter and a projected loss for the budget year, TVA officials said the utility’s “diet and exercise plan” involves trimming about 1,000 jobs and delaying some capital projects — including work to complete Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant. The 1,000 eliminated positions will include about 700 TVA workers and 300 contractors, according to an announcement made Friday to TVA employees after the utility filed its earnings statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Executives of the Tennessee Valley Authority say they won’t be wooed by cheap natural gas and a new power plant that was built for less than expected. The federal utility reviewed results from the first half of the fiscal year Friday. One of the few bright spots is the completion of the John Sevier Combined Cycle natural gas plant in upper East Tennessee. It was finished ahead of schedule and $30 million under budget.
The Tennessee Valley Authority announced Friday that it lost $94 million in the last quarter as electricity sales slumped during an unusually warm winter and it faces an over-budget project to finish building a nuclear reactor in Tennessee. TVA officials said they would seek to cut fewer than 1,000 positions in an effort to trim spending, but didn’t immediately offer details. The electric supplier brought in nearly $2.6 billion in revenue during the three-month period ending in March, a drop of more than 12 percent compared to the same period last year, according to federal filings.
Saks Fifth Avenue will kick off hiring Monday for its new La Vergne distribution center, where it hopes to fill 250 jobs before the center opens in July. Saks is taking over a 564,000-square-foot warehouse that was previously occupied by Borders. Applicants are invited to apply Monday at one of two Tennessee Career Centers between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.: 2200 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. in Nashville and 1313 Old Fort Parkway in Murfreesboro.
Dr. Cy Huffman resigned the post of chief medical officer of Erlanger Health System on Friday, according to interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson. “I plan to name an interim CMO in the next few days,” Woodard-Thompson said in an email. “Erlanger will continue to remain strongly focused on physician relationships and physician engagement, as well as quality initiatives. We feel well prepared to address Dr. Huffman’s departure, and fortunate to have a number of talented individuals who can have a positive impact on quality and physician oversight.”
The Metro schools rezoning case currently on trial in federal court has grown costly. So far, the case has racked up a $950,000 tab, said Saul Solomon, Metro schools’ legal director. A year ago, the district had spent about $200,000 in fees. “Obviously it’s a very complex case, and we are doing it as inexpensively as we can,” he said. The case has required hiring at least two national experts on desegregation, rezoning and school choice. It also has required the district to retain an attorney from Washington skilled in trying similar cases.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre has appointed two principals for next school year — Jessica Birdsong at Pleasant Ridge Elementary and Gina Byrd at Farragut Primary School. Birdsong joined Knox County Schools in 2006 as a special-education teacher at Northwest Middle School. Before her time in Knox County, she taught in Montana and New Hampshire. In 2008, she accepted a leadership position in the district’s special education department.
Vocational-technical schools experience growth as learning alternative Rudy Williams always knew she wanted to work in a hospital, but after a short stint in community college and a few years in the workforce, the path to her goal was looking like a long haul. So a little more than a year ago, she gave it another try, enrolling in the 60-week medical assisting program at Vatterott Career College’s campus near her home in Bartlett. Now, she’s getting ready for an externship in a local clinic that could lead to a job in her field.
Mary Elizabeth Kakales has been grappling with school reform concepts like how to scale reforms so that they can prevail in different schools in different communities. And she has thought through teacher accountability standards. She’s talked with those leading reform efforts in private schools, charter schools and conventional public schools. And Kakales has spent a lot of time in different classrooms as well as the ones she knows so well at Hutchison School, where she is a student.
When the people who know and work with Bill Taylor speak of him, they describe the president of St. George’s Independent School in a variety of ways. Colleagues say he’s a hard-working man of character. Parents of some of the school’s students refer to him as a motivating and supportive educator. But despite the different contexts of their relationships, there’s one quality they all emphasize: He’s not one to back away from a challenge.
Billy Orgel was no stranger to the ways of an elected legislative body by last year when he was appointed to become a member of the countywide school board. For years, getting the approval of the Memphis City Council or the Shelby County Commission to locate a cell tower has been part of his business, Tower Ventures. Orgel contributed to political campaigns and some of those who considered running for office even sought his advice on immersing themselves in the sometimes roiling water of local politics.
A week after Supreme Court arguments over Arizona’s illegal-immigration law, the arrest, detention and subsequent release of an undocumented woman following a traffic stop added a real-world example to the courtroom debate about how the statute could play out. Araceli Mercado Sanchez, who is married to an American soldier and is in the process of legalizing her U.S. residency, was pulled over Tuesday for making an illegal turn, and sent to immigration authorities when she couldn’t produce a driver’s license or Social Security card requested by a sheriff’s deputy.
Massachusetts is laying the groundwork for an ambitious new effort to rein in health spending that would be closely watched nationally in a state that’s become a health-policy bellwether. Key state legislative leaders unveiled a bill Friday that proposes setting a target for the rate at which overall health spending should rise—a step that would once again put the state in the forefront of efforts to remake the American health-care system. Massachusetts draws unique scrutiny because its high-profile health coverage law, which was enacted in 2006 and extended health insurance coverage to virtually all residents, was the main model for the national health overhaul.
Finally. By the time MTSU broke ground on its new science building Thursday, it had taken about 18 years to push shovels into the dirt. The long-awaited, much-needed building has been discussed for about two decades. And while they may have gotten discouraged, the administration at MTSU and local lawmakers never stopped fighting to get the project started. The beginning of this new building marks an exciting new chapter in an already thriving school’s story.
On April 22, The Tennessean printed a major investigative report on recycling. BURNT (Bring Urban Recycling to Nashville Today) would like to add some lessons we have learned in 23 years working on solid waste. The real issue is the vacant storefronts and unemployed voters across Tennessee. Landfilling 10,000 tons creates one job. Recycling and composting 10,000 tons creates four to 10 jobs, which are multiplied as the products move into the economy.
Your lawnmower won’t start. You’re paying more for a wide range of groceries and for eating out. Your car gets poorer mileage than it once did. While a range of factors can be behind any one of these problems, a common thread runs through them: They all can be linked at least to some degree to the federal government’s multibillion-dollar subsidies for ethanol. The 46-cent-per-gallon subsidy for ethanol made from corn ended this year, but subsidies for ethanol made with other ingredients remain on the books, and large quantities of ethanol still are required by law to be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply.
Neglecting repairs to the nation’s aging roads and bridges carries a risk. No, talking about rusting bridges isn’t as exciting as rehashing the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Debating whether President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is the tougher cowboy when it comes to taking down terrorists is a topic that raises hackles and stirs emotion. Rusty bridges? Not so much. But allowing the integrity of the nation’s infrastructure to languish as one of those important but boring issues that nobody talks about has created a potentially dangerous situation.