This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A quarter-penny reduction in Tennessee’s state sales tax on groceries goes into effect July 1, state Revenue Department officials are reminding businesses. The cut, enacted by the General Assembly last month, trims the current sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. That comes to an average saving per person of about $3.40 a year. The bill was formally sent today to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who proposed the reduction and is expected to sign it. The state is giving up $22 million in revenue through the move.
Governor Bill Haslam has issued a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case of a man suspected of killing a Tennessee woman and her teenage daughter and fleeing with her two younger girls. Heavily-armed FBI agents and authorities from Mississippi and Tennessee continued to search Wednesday for 35-year-old Adam Mayes. The bodies of 31-year-old Jo Ann Bain and 14-year-old Adrienne Bain were found last week behind the mobile home in northern Mississippi where Mayes lived.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a reward for information in the Bain Family kidnapping case out of Hardeman County, Tenn. Haslam is offering $15,000 for information leading to the apprehension, arrest and conviction or the person or persons who have committed, attempted to commit or conspired to commit the kidnapping of JoAnn Bain and her three children Kyliyah, Alexandria and Adrienne Bain. In addition, should another party issue a reward for information leading to a conviction; the state will match the reward up to $5,000.
This morning Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam issued a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case of a man suspected of killing a Tennessee woman and her teenage daughter and fleeing with her two younger girls. Kidnapping suspect Adam Mayes was caught by a convenience store security camera just three days after Jo Ann Bain and her three daughters were last seen. The bodies of 31-year-old Jo Ann Bain and 14-year-old Adrienne Bain were found last week behind the mobile home in northern Mississippi where Mayes lived.
Thursday, Governor Bill Haslam will sign a bill into law that gives Tennessee schools a way around the No Child Left Behind rules. President Obama granted 10 waivers to a total of ten states, including Tennessee. No Child Left Behind set benchmarks for schools to become completely proficient in reading and math by 2014. Governor Haslam says the law had good intentions, but it set the bar too high too quickly.
Three measures tightening eligibility standards for people to receive state unemployment benefits was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam Wednesday. The series of bills, centered around a bill called the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act, makes it more difficult for individuals fired with cause to receive benefits. It also requires unemployment recipients to apply for at least three jobs every week or go to a local career center and then submit detailed information to verify these applications.
Governor Bill Haslam has signed off on an overhaul to jobless benefits in Tennessee. The package tamps down on possible abuses from people collecting unemployment. The new law wants to make sure people getting unemployment checks aren’t passing up chances for a new job. It will require them to prove they’re looking for work each week, while auditing thousands of claimants a month Jim Brown is state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law the bill paving the way for Shelby County suburban cities to hold referendums this year on creating new municipal school districts. House Bill 1105 also allows the cities to hold school board elections for the new school systems if voters approve them in the referendums, which are likely to be scheduled on Aug. 2, the day of the statewide primary election and local general elections.
The Family Action of Tennessee group, headed by former state Sen. David Fowler, is continuing to ask its members to write, call, and e-mail Gov. Bill Haslam, asking him not to follow through on his plan to veto an anti-Vanderbilt University piece of legislation as he has promised. Since the Legislature is no longer in session, a veto kills the bill and it cannot be overridden. The conservative group objects to Vanderbilt’s policy of requiring all organizations on campus to allow “all comers” to join and participate.
For the past year Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam has been traveling to 10 elementary schools across the state to encourage third-graders to read more. On Wednesday, she made a final visit to Happy Valley Elementary School to remind the students to keep reading during the summer. Her visits to elementary schools during the past year have been in support of the Read 20 campaign, that encourages children to read 20 minutes per day on their own.
With the school year coming to a close for students in Carter County, the 3rd grade class at Happy Valley Elementary School received a special visitor to congratulate them for reading over 50,000 books this year. Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam paid a visit to the school Wednesday afternoon to speak to the students and to read a portion of one of her favorite children’s books. Earlier in the year, Haslam traveled to Carter County to speak with teachers, students and parents.
The Tennessee Film Entertainment and Music Commission is anticipating an extra $2 million for the state’s film incentive program thanks to changes in the film funding grant formula. The changes were made to foster a friendlier environment for local film productions. They include an incentive for projects with budgets over $200,000 that will allow filmmakers to receive grants for up to 25 percent of the money the productions spend in Tennessee.
A Stewart County man is charged in Montgomery County with TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” or going to multiple doctors in a short time-frame to obtain prescription drugs. The Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, announced the arrest of William B. Singleteary, 39, of Big Rock. He is charged with three counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain a controlled substance by “doctor shopping,” in this case, for the painkillers Oxycodone and Morphine, with the physician office visits paid for by TennCare.
An e-mail alleging misconduct by Kingsport Police Chief Gale Osborne has made its way to multiple city officials, with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation soon to be involved. Meanwhile, Osborne says he was acting on the orders of a judge to protect a juvenile’s inheritance, following the death of their caregiver and dispute over their belongings. Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus says he has reviewed the allegations and spoke with Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied an early hearing to permit a recall election of Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. The court brief states that Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield and the Hamilton County Election Commission should have asked a trial court, rather than the appeals court, to reinstate a recall election. “I guess you can read between the lines and say we won’t have an election in August,” said Jim Folkner, of Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey says Tennessee has not heard the last of a fight over whether workers can keep guns in their cars on company lots. Ramsey thinks a compromise might be hashed out now that the year’s session is over. Ramsey was asked what unresolved issues he thinks will come up again, and immediately pointed to the “guns-in-parking-lots” bill. This spring the measure threatened to make Republicans weigh gun rights against concerns from businesses.
It’s not even noon, yet Stratford High School’s Room 2008 is already uncomfortably warm. About 20 sophomores and juniors fan their gleaming faces with folders and miscellaneous papers, surrounded by giant posters lining the room. On one, cartoon sperm swim around a Venn diagram comparing male and female sex organs. One kid says a friend told him a condom was part of the male anatomy. A few chuckles break out, but by and large the kids are alright.
Bill Haslam is the Governor of Tennessee. But, as the Senate majority whip of the recently concluded General Assembly session, Collierville Republican Mark Norris proved again he is straw “that stirs the drink” as its unmatched legislative powerbroker. When asked about Haslam’s hesitation to sign into law two passed measures to lift the ban on municipal school districts in Shelby County and allow those municipalities to hold their own referendums on whether they want to create their own school systems, Norris dodged any appearance of conflict with the Governor.
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.
A state regulation is preventing Knoxville from returning the popular Corvette Expo to Chilhowee Park, once a successful event at the venue. One of the key elements of the show is the auction of a Corvette. Under a new auction law, passed in 2008, you cannot hold a car auction “off premise.” When the law was passed it did not affect the Corvette Expo—it was grandfathered in and was then located in Sevier County. But to move the event back to Knoxville requires Expo organizers to get a variance from state regulations.
No sooner has one divisive issue on the Shelby County Commission reached something of a consensus than another has sprung up to bedevil the contentious body that, more than any other, represents the diverse points of view within greater Shelby County. When Terry Roland, the Millington conservative who has clashed with his fellow suburban Republicans on redistricting issues, presented Plan 2-J for one more go-around last week in committee, he was explicit about one of his reasons for doing so.
The Dyer County Budget Committee spent day four of its monthlong budget review dissecting the various county court budgets including: the County Clerk, Chancery, General Sessions, Drug, Juvenile and Circuit Court budgets. Also discussed was the budget for the Agriculture Extension Office. The committee has been swiftly moving along this year with each county department head presenting their budget. This new strategy has allowed committee members to ask questions of the department heads as well as offer suggestions on how to trim their budget if necessary.
The House on Wednesday passed a measure by Republican Rep. Diane Black that would prevent the Obama administration from challenging state immigration laws in court. The measure, an amendment to a bill that would fund the Justice and Commerce Departments and other agencies for fiscal 2013, passed 238-173. It would forbid the Justice Department from spending money on lawsuits challenging state immigration laws.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and two of his challengers, Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp, said they will participate in a 3rd Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB Channel 3. Scottie Mayfield rejected an invitation to the May 21 debate. A campaign spokesman, Joe Hendrix, emailed a statement to the newspaper Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and two of his challengers, Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp, said they would participate in a 3rd Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB-TV. Scottie Mayfield rejected an invitation to the May 21 debate. A campaign spokesman, Joe Hendrix, emailed a statement to the newspaper Wednesday. “Scottie believes the majority of those who attend debates have already made up their mind who they are going to vote for,” Hendrix wrote.
Bending to strong public opposition, the nearly bankrupt U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday backed off a plan to close thousands of rural post offices after May 15 and proposed keeping them open, but with shorter operating hours. The move to halt the shuttering of 3,700 low-revenue post offices followed months of dissent from rural states and lawmakers, who said the cost-cutting would hurt their communities most.
Faced with a public outcry and pushback from Congress, the United States Postal Service on Wednesday backed away from its plan to close as many as 3,700 rural post offices starting next week. “We’ve listened to our customers in rural America, and we’ve heard them loud and clear. They want to keep their post office open,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. The financially distressed agency said it has instead identified 13,000 rural post offices where it can reduce hours or make other changes short of closure—such as forging partnerships between post offices and local gas stations or corner stores—for estimated savings of about $500 million a year.
The United States Postal Service said Wednesday that it would keep hundreds of small post offices open by reducing business hours or offering stamps and packaging in grocery stores, whittling down its ambitious plan to streamline its services and balance its books by closing thousands of post offices. Giving Congress more time to pass legislation to overhaul the financially struggling agency, the service held back from the wholesale closings of mostly rural post offices that it had proposed last year. The Postal Service’s hope is that Congress, given more time, will come up with a plan to overhaul the agency.
For about a year, Pennsylvania wine-lovers didn’t have to go to a state-run Fine Wine & Good Spirits store to pick up a bottle of their favorite cabernet or sauvignon blanc. They could swing by the grocery store, like Americans in most states, with one major caveat: They had to purchase the wine from a state vending machine. To get their bottle out of the machine, they had to blow into a breathalyzer and wait for a state employee in a central office to verify their identity and sobriety.
Coming out of the worst recession in a half century, the Sunbelt has lost some of its manufacturing shine to the Midwest’s Rustbelt, according to a new study of manufacturing trends among metropolitan cities. But Chattanooga remains a bright spot for more manufacturing employment, adding factory jobs in the past two years at the fastest pace of any MidSouth metro area. In the most recent two years for which employment data is available, metro Chattanooga added 3,500 manufacturing jobs for a nearly 13 percent gain in factory jobs.
Nissan is a few shovels-full of dirt closer to building engines for Mercedes-Benz in Tennessee. The Franklin-based automaker broke ground on a new manufacturing facility near its existing powertrain plant in Decherd Wednesday. The plan is to make 4-cylinder engines for Nissan’s luxury brand – Infiniti – that will also be used in a Mercedes model. Vice president of production Mark Swenson says it’s a new chapter for Nissan as well as Mercedes, which has never built engines in North America.
Another German automaker is putting down roots in Southeast Tennessee. Officials for Volkswagen rival Daimler on Wednesday joined Nissan at the ground breaking for a new plant that will create 400 jobs making engines for both companies. The factory, 60 miles northwest of Chattanooga, will build 4-cylinder engines for new Mercedes-Benz cars as well as Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand starting in 2014. The 310,000-square-foot plant to go up next to Nissan’s existing powertrain factory that already employs 1,100 people.
A new engine manufacturing plant for auto giants and partners Nissan and Daimler will create 400 new jobs, officials said today. Officials for the Japanese and German automakers broke ground on the new 310,000-square-foot factory that will go up next to Nissan’s existing powertrain plant that already employs 1,100 people in Franklin County. The facility about 60 miles northwest of Chattanooga will make engines for Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand and Mercedes Benz models.
Shelby County home sales in April saw little change year over year, and more than half of total sales were valued at $100,000 or less. Memphis and its 34 ZIP codes registered 1,116 home sales last month, up 2 percent from 1,094 recorded in April 2011, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com. Year to date, however, residential sales are up 14 percent for the first four months of this year (4,294) compared to the same period last year (3,752).
April was another strong month for home sales, according to the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors. Closings were up 25 percent. GNAR says it’s more than just a seasonal uptick. Closings have improved by nearly 25 percent year-to-date. Last month, prices improved as well. The median home is selling for $165,000, up $6,000 from the same period last year. Condo prices, however, did take a dip. Sallie Simmons with Zeitlin & Co. has been working deals with both buyers and sellers and says she sees stability in the region’s housing market.
Hostess Brands Inc. has sent potential layoff notices, under the federal WARN act, to all 18,000 employees across the U.S., a company spokesman says. Irving, Texas-based Hostess, maker of the iconic Twinkie and Wonder Bread, is currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. “The notices were sent to alert employees that a sale or wind down of the company is possible in the future,” spokesman Erick Halvorson said in a statement.
Hostess Brands’ 251 Memphis employees are among 18,500 nationally who’ve been put on notice they could lose jobs in the company’s bankruptcy restructuring. The Irving, Texas, company filed “conditional” layoff notices Wednesday with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development that the Memphis workforce is at risk. “Last Friday, we mailed conditional WARN notices to all 18,500 Hostess Brands employees around the country,” Hostess spokesman Erik Halvorson said.
Nashville’s LEAD Public Schools, a Metro charter organization, is set to receive $3.25 million from the Charter School Growth Fund-Tennessee to support LEAD’s planned growth and future expansion in Davidson County. “This generous investment will help fulfill our promise to our first group of students and meet the demand from parents in Nashville’s most underserved communities to get a rigorous, college-preparatory education for their children,” LEAD Public Schools founder Jeremy Kane said.
The Knox County Charter Review Committee on Wednesday signed off on what members say defines exactly what a term in office actually is. Under the proposal approved on first reading, a term is a “full, elected four- or six-year period, depending on the length of the elected office as provided by this charter or Tennessee law.” The committee must approve each proposed change to the charter twice before it goes to voters in either the August or November election.
The Lenoir City School Board learned this week that the district has been recommended for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The recommendation followed an evaluation of the school systems procedures and practices by a quality assurance external review team. The SACS team, led by Dr. Linda Brown, met with more than 100 individuals in the district — including parents, students, teachers and board members — to evaluate the procedures for raising standards, continuous improvement and quality assurance.
Transition planning team rejects handing issue to Sheriff’s Office Who will oversee school security in the consolidated Shelby County Schools district has turned into a thorny issue in a merger plan growing more complex by the week. On Wednesday, the Transition Planning Commission’s logistics committee voted in favor of the blended security system that exists in both districts today. That means that security officers on the district payroll would continue to report to district officials, and sheriff’s deputies who work in schools would continue to report to the Shelby County sheriff.
Early signs of drought raise concerns over water, wildlife The warm, dry spring has taken its toll on the Cumberland River Basin. J. Percy Priest Lake is 3.7 feet below normal, its lowest level ever for this time of year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported this week. Lake Barkley in Kentucky is 2.8 feet below normal. The low lake levels mean less water flows downstream into the Cumberland River. That could cause problems for power generation, water treatment and river navigation, experts said Wednesday.
Last fall, I traveled the state from Mountain City to Memphis on my Red Tape Tour, looking for ways to make job creation easier. Of all the state rules and regulations stifling job creation, complaints about Tennessee’s unemployment system dominated the conversation. Contrary to the insistence of the left, the vast majority of business owners do not enjoy laying off workers. I’ve done it myself. It is a heartbreaking act for all concerned.
In 2011, three men plunged to their deaths from Summit Towers, the 12-story subsidized apartment building in downtown Knoxville. Two other residents committed suicide by other means last year. The deaths have raised concerns about the adequacy of mental health care in the area, especially in light of the pending closure of the state-operated Lakeshore Mental Health Institute. The rash of suicides underscores the desperate need for the state’s plan for the area’s mentally ill to succeed.
Tax break for affluent Tennesseans: Let’s hope those who benefit from phasing out the inheritance tax will be mindful of sharing the wealth. If you are rich the Tennessee legislature has done a good thing. No more inheritance tax on estates after 2015. That means when you die your heirs won’t have to pay any taxes when they inherit your millions. Even if you are just pretty well-off, having an estate worth, say, $4.5 million at the time of death, your children and spouse will benefit some from the lack of an inheritance tax and the elimination of the state’s gift tax.
Tradition is an essential, core value at Fisk and Tennessee State universities. It also may be their Achilles heel. Nashville’s proud historically black universities — one private, one public — are each on the hunt for a new president at a time when the challenges for these schools are daunting. Fisk and TSU have tended to choose their leaders from longtime alumni and university administrators whose methods were considered tried and true. That’s a reasonable practice for institutions whose roots date to the 19th century.
A first-time candidate for office should grab every chance to promote his candidacy. Not Scottie Mayfield, the Athens businessman who is seeking the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s 3rd District primary election. He’s hiding from the public. First, he turned down the chance to appear at a Chattanooga Tea Party forum. Now, he’s refused an invitation to face incumbent Chuck Fleischmann and challengers Weston Wamp and Ron Bhalla in a May 21 debate sponsored by The Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB-TV.
Tennessee milk and ice cream titan Scottie Mayfield’s “run” to succeed fellow Republican Chuck Fleischmann as the 3rd District’s representative to Congress thus far barely qualifies as a walk, and now it seems he’s leaving the racetrack entirely to take a seat in the bleachers. Mayfield, who in late April declined an invitation to take part in a June 23 candidates’ debate hosted by the Chattanooga Tea Party, now has turned down an invitation to a May 21 debate sponsored by the Times Free Press and WRCB-TV 3.