This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Halsam has signed several bills into law, including one that allows judges to compel blood tests from motorists arrested on drunken driving charges. Another measure he signed allows parents to sue teachers or outside groups working in schools that promote or condone “gateway sexual activity.” The pro-abstinence bill has been derided, and critics say it’s so vague that kissing and holding hands might trigger a lawsuit.
Some Tennesseans could find it harder to get or maintain unemployment benefits under three bills that Gov. Bill Haslam signed last week. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and GOP colleagues say the changes help employers create jobs and also protect the state’s unemployment trust fund. It does that by tightening what proponents say are lax rules, discouraging abuse and spurring jobless workers already in the safety-net program to get new jobs more quickly.
GOP Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed a controversial bill in regards to sex education. The bill bans teachers from condoning what they call “gateway sexual activity,” like touching. The law, according to critics is too vague, and could possibly hinder discussion about safe sexual behavior. Huffington Post states that the bill has stirred nationwide controversy, and even appeared on comedian Stephen Colbert’s show.
State consumer use tax collections were up 108 percent this April over last, an increase that appears to be related to a law that Amazon.com notify Tennessee customers that they owe sales taxes. Another part of the law requires Amazon to begin collecting sales tax in Tennessee in 2014. For now, customers must pay them on their own. Amazon recently built two distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties, creating about 3,500 jobs.
Amazon.com won’t begin collecting sales tax from its customers in Tennessee for two more years, but until then the state wants people to still pay a similar tax on their online purchases. Amazon is in the process of building distribution centers in Murfreesboro and Lebanon. The two sites are expected to create a combined 1,300 new jobs. As part of the deal, the Tennessee Department of Revenue says Governor Bill Haslam signed a law in March requiring Amazon to collect sales tax from customers beginning in 2014.
Unemployment pay granted A state appeals tribunal that oversees unemployment benefits found that Rutherford County Property Assessor Bill Boner retaliated against two women by firing them after they complained about inappropriate comments, documents show. The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development initially rejected requests by fired assessor’s office employees Kathy Dumm and Janie Zumbro for unemployment payments.
A recent federal appeals court ruling that found Tennessee Tech’s policy limiting speech on campus violated the First Amendment could have ramifications for public colleges and universities throughout the region. Tennessee Tech’s policy requires anyone who wants to speak on campus to give two-weeks notice and tell the school what they are going to speak about. Kentucky resident John McGlone sued after he was asked to leave the campus when he tried to share his beliefs about Christianity.
Third of Republicans in state House face challengers in August Republican lawmakers expect to hold a substantial edge when Tennesseans go to the ballot box in November to elect the next state legislature. But first, they’ll have to beat back members of their own party. Nearly a third of the Republican members of the state House of Representatives are facing primary challengers in August — a sign of the party’s new dominance in Tennessee politics and possibly also grass-roots dissatisfaction with the lawmakers who benefited from it.
‘It’s just a really big number,’ critics say of property tax hike When Bruce McNeilage thinks about a 12.83 percent property tax increase, he sees himself paying Metro thousands of extra dollars each year — and passing along some of that cost to his many tenants. “Two or three months ago, I wasn’t escrowing money for this,” said McNeilage, a financial planner and real estate investor who lives in Spring Hill but owns three apartment complexes and 10 other rental properties in Nashville.
Sen. Lamar Alexander took in the Tennessee River Gorge on Saturday behind the wheel of the Blue Moon, a 70-foot Chattanooga charter boat. As Alexander looked out over the river, the captain pointed out an osprey nest on a river day marker — the waterway equivalent of a highway mile-marker post. For Alexander, a Tennessee Republican long a supporter of conservation, it was a way to bring added attention to the accomplishments of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust.
On the campaign trail, most politicians grip, grin and act like it’s not too big a favor: “Appreciate your vote!” Yet some 3rd Congressional District hopefuls who are pleading for civic responsibility in the Aug. 2 primary are sporadic voters themselves. Democratic candidate Bill Taylor confronted his record of missing 10 elections in 10 years. “Obviously I think voting’s more important now than I did in 2002 or whatever,” he said.
Memphis has missed a wave of federal research cash, slowing efforts to spur the city’s tech economy. In an era when science and technology prime the jobs engine, Memphis leaders are trying to fire up innovation. The goal: Land more research grants and create the next Smith & Nephew. Unfortunately, the city has started back in the pack. From 2008 through 2011, the National Institutes of Health handed nearly $100 billion to researchers throughout the nation.
Tennessee officials joined Nissan leaders Wednesday to break ground on a new manufacturing facility in Decherd — located at the existing Nissan powertrain assembly complex — to produce Mercedes-Benz 4-cylinder gasoline engines for Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz models. At maximum capacity, the new operation is projected to create up to 400 jobs. Production of the new engines will start in 2014.
A high-volume natural gas pipeline could wind across a 230-mile gap from South Central Tennessee through North Alabama and Northwest Georgia on its way to link with a pipeline northeast of Atlanta. Officials with Houston, Texas-based Spectra Energy Corp. say that, if a green light follows assessments by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other federal, state and local authorities, the proposed pipeline will connect directly the company’s Texas Eastern system in Columbia, Tenn., to the Transco Interstate pipeline system near Lawrenceville, Ga.
Unable to find work in Memphis fast-food kitchens, Graylon Brown picked up an old guitar and plunked down on a shady step, singing the blues for passersby. On good days, he said, his tip can collects $50. “I’m out here five, six days a week,” said Brown, 52, from his Downtown perch on Main near Madison. “It’s enough to cover a rooming house, but my quality of life has been sucked dry.” Three years after the recession was declared over, jobless Americans in their 40s and 50s like Brown are vanishing from the traditional labor force.
Should city and school officials get their wish, East Tennessee’s state legislators will come when called and sit and listen to the people who put them in office talk plainly and openly about how state mandates have increased burdens and emptied nest eggs. Thursday’s roughly hour-long workshop aimed at getting the City Commission on the same page with Johnson City Schools about the coming 2013 budget was a friendly refresher on the numbers — and they didn’t look good.
A meth lab found in Unicoi County has drug task force officials calling it the biggest bust they’ve ever seen. The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department says after a three week investigation into this property, they made the bust this afternoon at 160 Masters Street. Officers arrested three on charges of promoting, manufacturing and selling meth: Ray English, Joseph Banner, and Autumn McKinney. Investigators say they found the meth in the woods beyond a house.
Three people were arrested Friday night during a methamphetamine drug bust in Unicoi County, Sheriff Mike Hensley said. According to Hensley, Ray English, 30, Autumn McKinney, 25 and Joseph Banner, 33, were all charged after a search of their property revealed 35 methamphetamine sites, 10 of which were still active. The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department also found precursors to make methamphetamine, including liquid fire, cold packs and lithium batteries while searching the property Saturday.
California’s budget deficit has swelled to a projected $16 billion — much larger than had been predicted just months ago. The Democratic governor said the shortfall grew from $9.2 billion in January in part because tax collections have not come in as high as expected and the economy isn’t growing as fast as hoped for. The deficit has also risen because lawsuits and federal requirements have blocked billions of dollars in state cuts.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, a highly infectious respiratory disease once considered doomed by science, has struck Washington State this spring with a severity that health officials say could surpass the toll of any year since the 1940s, before a vaccine went into wide use. Although no deaths have been reported so far this year, the state has declared an epidemic and public health officials say the numbers are staggering: 1,284 cases through early May, the most in at least three decades and 10 times last year’s total at this time, 128.
Gov. Bill Haslam showed stronger leadership, despite tougher opposition, during the recently concluded legislative session of his sophomore year. Haslam’s $31.4 billion budget proposal passed, though not without some additions of pork from lawmakers. The governor fended off efforts to dip deeper into cash reserves, arguing that the state needs the extra money in case the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the federal health care reform law. Haslam’s legislative agenda this year was more ambitious than it was in his inaugural year, which is one reason the ride was a little bumpier.
On Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that replaces many federal No Child Left Behind requirements with a new state law that redefines public education accountability in Tennessee. While NCLB no longer will be the measure of public education progress, Tennessee public schools must meet higher standards if the state is going to compete on a national scale for economic development, jobs and higher education. We long have supported the spirit of NCLB to establish national standards for public education.
Entrepreneurs and startup companies create over 65 percent of all new jobs according to the latest research by the Kauffman Foundation. And according to Startup Tennessee, companies less than five years old have created 75 percent of net new jobs in the U.S. each year for the last three decades. Our challenge is to cultivate entrepreneurship in our communities. In Jackson we are in the process of launching a new Entrepreneur Development Center that will work to accelerate the development of early stage businesses in the Jackson and Southwest Tennessee communities.
Some legislative superlatives from the 2012 session of the 107th Tennessee General Assembly: Bringing Home the Bacon Award: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who in fiscally conservative fashion got two big earmarks in the state budget for his district, $8.6 million to preserve Doe Mountain and $500,000 to help build a “Birth of Country Music Museum” in Bristol, Va. (Well, Bristol, Va., isn’t actually in his district, but it’s really close.) Against the Wind Award: Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who cast the sole no vote against Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation authorizing direct cash grants to companies expanding their business in Tennessee, describing the move as “crony capitalism.”
Secrecy was an open-and-shut case during most of the legislative session. It began with redistricting, a process that the State Integrity Project rated “F” for lack of transparency. Four months later, it drew to a close with a secret Sunday confab in a Nashville restaurant to carve up the pork in the budget bill. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick defended the rendezvous, saying, “There’s been a lot of secrecy for 200 years. I don’t think it’s any worse than it’s always been.” Sadly, that may be true. As they often have done in the past, lawmakers again added exemptions to the Public Records Act, meaning that more public business can be kept private.
Smart growth is important, but so are property rights It’s a battle that you don’t hear much about, even though it couldn’t be closer to home. It inspires a lot of anger and frustration, though it’s unclear how deep the resentment goes. And lately, it’s gotten tangled up with the politics of conspiracy theorists, though in the most unlikely of places. It’s municipal annexation, a practice that is growing more frequent and raising the hackles of rural Tennesseans. The process, whereby a city can widen its boundaries, pulling homes, businesses and privately owned land into its pool of taxpayers, has fewer restrictions on it than all but a handful of states.
The rating system for teachers is an important step in bringing accountability to the classroom. The earthquake of school reform is about to rock the world of teachers in Greater Memphis. In the next few weeks, ratings of every teacher in Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools will begin to be compiled. The ratings are more comprehensive and more uniform than ever before — and yet starkly simple. All teachers in city and county public schools will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 based on observations in the classroom and the results they achieve in a year with their students.
Calling ideas for new revenue and new investment “irresponsible” and “dangerous,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is promoting his “100 percent idea-free” $673.7 million budget as “being stuck in the best kind of rut.” ” ‘New ideas’ is another way to say ‘progressive ideas,’ and no one in Knox County likes progressive ideas,” Burchett said. “Besides, the last idea I had was to hire a good ole buddy as my finance director, and we know how that turned out: People said it was irresponsible, which says to me ideas are dangerous. So, ideas? We don’t need no stinkin’ ideas.”
The allegation that Rutherford County Property Assessor Bill Boner required a former employee to manipulate appraisals to keep assessments high is troubling and deserves a full vetting to determine whether values are calculated correctly. While Boner should be considered innocent until proven guilty, property appraisals are such an important issue that we call on the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to audit the property assessor’s office here. If things are being done correctly, fine. If not, changes need to be made. The accusation comes from Rutherford County resident Robbie Allen, who worked in the property assessor’s office for more than 20 years and held numerous certifications for appraising property.
Tennessee’s former governor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, wrote in an October 2010 editorial for the Wall Street Journal assessing his party’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that “… our recent health reform has created a situation where there are strong economic incentives for employers to drop coverage altogether. The consequence will be to drive many more people than projected — and with them, much greater cost — into the reform’s federally subsidized system.” What does that mean? Like your health care coverage you now have through your employer? You’d better hope the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare is repealed.