This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Theresa Carl president of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. A former strategy consultant at Solutions Simplified, Carl brings more than 20 years of experience in fundraising, relationship building, resource connecting and creative marketing to GBBF. She will focus on developing strategies for promoting and strengthening the statewide Imagination Library program, established in 2004 in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed the state’s more than $31 billion annual spending plan. The budget includes funding for reducing the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent, increasing the exemption for the inheritance tax from $1 million to $1.25 million and enhanced penalties for gang and gun crimes. The House voted 63-27 to adopt the budget proposal agreed to in a rare conference committee following disagreements over local projects.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis today announced a new jobs database to help connect job seekers with Tennessee employers. Jobs4TN Online is a virtual recruiter, automatically notifying job seekers when jobs they may qualify for are posted and notifying employers when candidates who fit their needs register. The online database contains positions from job orders placed directly by Tennessee employers, from corporate Internet sites, and from major job search engines.
A proposal in Tennessee that seeks to crack down on the tattooing of minors has been signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam. The measure, signed by the Republican governor this week, unanimously passed the Senate 31-0 and was approved 86-6 in the House. The law makes it illegal for anyone who is unlicensed to possess tattooing paraphernalia. The measure also encourages reporting incidents of underage tattooing to the Health Department.
Nursing homes across Tennessee are planning a variety of events in honor of National Nursing Home Week, which began on Mother’s Day, May 13, and continues through May 19. Gov. Bill Haslam also has proclaimed May 13-19 Nursing Home Week in Tennessee and encourages all Tennesseans to join in celebrating this special week.The 2012 National Nursing Home Week theme, “Celebrating the Journey,” honors the lives of nursing home residents and those who care for them.
Tennessee is one of six states that will share in more than $181 million in federal health care grants. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the grants Wednesday, saying Tennessee will receive $4.3 million to use in establishing Affordable Health Care Insurance Exchanges. The funds are part of the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are designed as “one stop shops” to find and compare affordable, quality private health insurance options.
Tennessee is getting another $4 million to plan an insurance exchange as part of the politically uncertain federal healthcare overhaul. The grant is the fourth and so far biggest for planning Tennessee’s exchange, which would be a state-run marketplace online, like Expedia for people choosing insurance plans. The healthcare requirement could be undone by a Supreme Court decision this summer, or by this fall’s election. If it stands, Governor Bill Haslam has said Tennessee ought to be ready to set up its own exchange.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced today that Tennessee and five other states received $181 million in grants to help establish insurance exchanges, as mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Starting in 2014, the exchanges will help consumers and small businesses choose a private health insurance plan. Tennessee will receive $4.3 million as part of today’s award.
With the federal health care reform law awaiting a Supreme Court decision due by the end of June, Tennessee officials continue to hedge their bets as they move to implement a key part of the law. On Wednesday, the state accepted an additional $4.3 million in federal funds to establish a state-based health insurance exchange, bringing the total the state has received to more than $9 million. However, lawmakers adjourned their session earlier this month without passing legislation to implement an exchange where consumers can shop for health insurance.
A federal health care grant will help Tennesseans find an insurance option that’s right for them. The Department of Health and Human services awarded Tennessee $4.3 million. It’s part of $181 million distributed between six states as part of the Affordable Care Act. The money will be used to establish affordable health care insurance exchanges which will provide consumers with ways to find and compare affordable, quality private health insurance options.
The Obama administration on Wednesday made a fresh bid to coax reluctant governors to work with the federal government to help enact the health-overhaul law. The move centers on new marketplaces that sell health insurance, a key plank of the law that states are supposed to open by 2014. Republican governors, who lead 29 of the 50 states, are divided over whether to set up the exchanges, which would allow consumers to shop for insurance plans if they don’t receive affordable coverage through an employer.
Truck drivers have a unique perspective that local law-enforcement officers believe will help them curb crime on the state’s highways. “Operation Safe Highways” was held Wednesday as a one-day, simultaneous effort across the state, said Dalya Qualls, spokeswoman with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, during a press conference at the tractor-trailer scales complex on Interstate 40 at mile marker 372. “We’re encouraging commercial vehicle drivers to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity while on the road,” she said.
Five Signal Mountain Middle/High School staff members disciplined for drinking alcohol on a senior trip may appeal to the state to keep their teaching licenses after the Tennessee State Board of Education recommended their licenses be suspended for one year. Those five members and two others were suspended without pay in April after the county schools’ central office staff investigated their behavior during the five-day cruise to the Bahamas in March.
Tennessee Department of Transportation representatives will meet with “other resource agencies” next week to talk about potential improvements to the 8-mile section of State Route 126 between Center Street and Interstate 81, a TDOT spokesman told the Times-News Monday. TDOT will propose some design changes to “further minimize impacts” to East Lawn Cemetery, TDOT Region 1 Community Relations Officer Mark Nagi said. “Those changes, of course, will involve other regulatory agencies,” Nagi said.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is re-assessing its design for safety improvements to State Route 126 in Kingsport. After years of discussions, the state is still trying to decide if it should improve an eight-mile stretch of 126 between Interstate 81 and Center Street. If the state decides to move forward with the project, a draft environmental impact study revealed the two options currently on the table could displace 126 to 241 homes, 30 to 43 businesses, and 90 to 350 graves at East Lawn Cemetery.
The combination of student spending, employment opportunities and activities in the community offered by East Tennessee State University contributes close to $620 million to the regional economy, according to a study released Wednesday by the university’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The study was done by Steb Hipple, a professor of economics at ETSU. It measured the economic impact of ETSU and the Medical Education Assistance Corp., the physician practice group for the James H. Quillen College of Medicine.
Consumers who bought sneakers with rounded soles thinking the shoes might improve their health and appearance may be eligible for a partial refund. The Tennessee Attorney General helped lead a national investigation into advertising claims about “Shape-ups.” Footwear manufacturer Skechers has not admitted wrongdoing. But Jeff Hill with the Tennessee Attorney General says the company hasn’t been able to back up its advertising.
Skechers USA Inc. has reached a $45 million settlement regarding allegations of unsupported health claims about Shape-Ups and other “rocker-bottom” athletic shoes. Following an investigation led by the Federal Trade Commission , the Tennessee and Ohio Attorneys General Offices led a multistate investigation including 42 states, according to a news release from Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper. The settlement resolves alleged deceptive advertising complaints against Skechers USA.
A Chattanooga judge has promised a quick decision in the Shelley Breeding residency case — if he first decides he has the jurisdiction to do so. At the start of Wednesday’s hearing on the Democrat hopeful’s qualification to run for the new 89th House District seat in Knox County, Hamilton County Chancellor W. Frank Brown gave lawyers copies of a Tennessee Supreme Court decision that raises the jurisdiction issue. Lawyers have stipulated a number of facts and exhibits in the case.
Tennessee businesses, professional and trade groups as well as other organizations spent at least $458,000 on legislative receptions during this year’s General Assembly, records show. Expenditures ranged from breakfast, luncheon and dinner receptions to an ice cream “social,” heart health screenings and the opportunity to ride in a Nissan Leaf electric car. All told, there were 67 such events by the time lawmakers adjourned May 1. It’s all legal provided all 33 senators and 99 representatives are invited and the spending is disclosed publicly.
Process is long, confusing, costly The cavernous conference room was nearly empty except for Maria Evans, silently occupying a seat near the end of the second row, trying not to look nervous. On one side sat her husband, Robert, a native-born American citizen. On the other side, her sample citizenship test booklet, meticulously wrapped in red Christmas paper, offering what she hoped would be a gift of family stability, her dream job and the chance to vote.
A handful of Metro Council members –– led by those campaigning for higher offices ––made it clear Tuesday they don’t want their fingerprints on Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed property tax hike. But other than that, the council’s 30-4 vote, with three abstentions, Tuesday to approve the mayor’s property tax increase on the first of three required votes amounted to very little. The same can be said for the 30-3 vote to sign off on the mayor’s $1.71 billion budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
City has to fund officers or repay grant money Mayor Karl Dean warns that he may have to lay off 200 police officers if his proposed budget and tax increase fail to pass. His $1.71 billion budget proposal, which would be funded partly by the first property tax increase in years, includes $6.3 million in increases dedicated solely to public safety. The increase would fund a new police DNA forensics lab and 50 police officers hired under a federal policing grant.
Hamilton County corrections officer Jonathan Walker says he knew he might be laying his job on the line Wednesday when he appeared before county commissioners to ask for a raise for the department’s officers. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond’s budget, which seeks an extra $1.85 million next fiscal year, doesn’t include a salary increase for staff members who haven’t had a raise in four years.
On duty since December, Rockwood City Administrator Jim Miller will be out of a job by July in Mayor Jim Watts’ proposed new budget. The spending plan also calls for a 25-cent property tax hike — from 75 cents to $1 for each $100 of assessed value. Miller, former Crossville city manager, said Watts “has some bizarre ideas” when it comes to budgeting. “He’s using the excuse of the financial plight of the city as a reason,” Miller said of his proposed ouster, “yet he’s also proposing giving the newly hired city recorder an almost 30 percent pay increase.”
In budget discussions Wednesday, Shelby County commissioners voted to increase spending by $872,000, including an additional $450,000 to house the homeless. The changes came over the objections of county Mayor Mark Luttrell’s administration, which had given commissioners a balanced budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and wanted to keep it that way. The administration has said its $1.2 billion spending plan includes no property tax increase, no layoffs and a 1 percent pay raise for employees.
In a community where head-on collisions in the public sphere are becoming commonplace, a new one is about to occur. We can designate it as Strickland vs. Wharton — a term that is both shorthand metaphor for a more complicated conflict and a literal foreshadowing of a likely political contest to come. In a nutshell, Memphis mayor A C Wharton has proposed a 47-cent tax increase in order to pay for the last year of the city’s liability to Memphis City Schools and to provide what the mayor describes as a streamlined version of essential services.
This week’s discussion by the Memphis City Council about raising the hotel-motel bed tax sprouted wings and was bound early on for the much larger and emotional topic of high airfares at Memphis International Airport. The council voted down the proposed 2.7 percent tax increase proposed by council member Edmund Ford Jr., which he said amounted to an additional 75 cents a night on an average daily room rate in Memphis of $74. “Seventy-five cents on a room average,” Ford said, holding up three quarters.
It’s budget time for the city of Shelbyville, with a series of meetings set for over the next few week to look at the numbers. City manager Jay Johnson said he was “fairly pleased where we are” on the numbers, which were made public Tuesday. He also said that the figures amassed so far are “just preliminary, there will be changes from now until June 30 … this is just the starting point.” The council will hold a special called meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. for an overview and first reading of the budget, with a public hearing set for June 14.
Schools expected to need more, threatening workers’ raises Next year’s Rutherford County budget could turn into a showdown between pay raises for government workers or an estimated 4.5 percent property tax hike for schools. County Commissioner Steve Sandlin said Tuesday it would be misleading to suggest that most of the government’s 1,023 employees would be getting an average 1.75 percent raise July 1 when tax increases could be possible.
Republican congressional candidate Scottie Mayfield called Medicaid recipients “non-taxpayers” in a position paper released Wednesday. “Social Security and Medicare are programs we’ve promised to older Americans and they are entitled to them,” Mayfield wrote. “Medicaid is not an entitlement. Welfare is not an entitlement. These and many other programs are charity, taking from one taxpayer and giving to a non-taxpayer.”
U.S. Senate candidate Brenda Lenard said Wednesday that she has been urged to leave the race and endorse another of incumbent Sen. Bob Corker’s opponents in the Republican Party primary because of a bad check felony conviction and bankruptcies in her background. Lenard, a Tea Party activist and single mother working on a doctorate in political science at the University of Tennessee, said she will “absolutely not” do so and believes that her life experiences — including the 1990s financial problems — make her a better person and a better candidate.
The Regional Transportation Authority is rounding out its express bus service with a new route from Clarksville. The money to pay for it comes from a federal grant meant to air quality. With ridership at record levels, RTA officials say they’re asked to add routes all the time. They just don’t have the money to do it. The new Clarksville service still required matching money for the federal grant. That funding comes from city coffers and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
In 1993, in what was called Denver’s “summer of violence,” high-profile gang warfare attributed to youth “super-predators” seemed to overtake the city. Drive-by shootings were a common occurrence. Then-Governor Roy Romer called a special session of the Colorado legislature and rolled out his “iron fist” plan to address the violence, which included giving prosecutors the full authority to transfer youths under 18 directly into adult court.
CareSpot Express Healthcare is the new name for the urgent-care chain (formerly Solantic) that moved its corporate headquarters from Florida to Brentwood late last year. The company plans to add 70 employees in the Nashville area to bring its local total to 100. Its billing operations will remain in Jacksonville, Fla., with about 500 workers in that city. CareSpot operates 29 urgent-care centers in Florida. It plans to expand beyond Florida and double its locations within the next six months, said Mike Klein, the CEO.
The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass festival is leaving Nashville in favor of Raleigh, N.C., The City Paper reports. Citing multiple media reports in North Carolina, The City Paper reports that the festival will be held in Raleigh beginning in 2013. An official announcement is expected this afternoon. This year’s festival is still scheduled to be held in Nashville from Sept. 24 to 30. In 2011, the festival’s Fan Fest attracted just under 4,000 unique visitors on each of three days.
The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass festival and conference is moving from the Nashville Convention Center to Raleigh, N.C., in 2013. NBC-17 reported Tuesday afternoon that Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane was expected to make the announcement Wednesday. The World of Bluegrass includes a business conference, the IBMA Awards show and Fan Fest, which included more than 60 acts last year.
High school graduations in Nashville begin tomorrow, but some of the diplomas handed out will just be empty placeholders. Metro Schools officials say there’s been a delay in the results for End of Course exams. For seniors whose spring schedules include classes that are subject to the state-run tests, those scores are part of the calculation to determine whether they’ve passed, and therefore, whether they can graduate.
Up to 150 Memphis City Schools teachers could be fired over performance issues, officials say. The Commercial Appeal reported many teachers have begun receiving notices they were being terminated. Under a contract, teachers must be notified by June 15 if they are not being retained for the next academic year. The number is three times as many teachers who were fired for any reason last school year, when principals recommended about 60 terminations.
Proposed municipal school districts will cost more than suburban leaders think and voters need better information before deciding in the Aug. 2 election, Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz said Wednesday. Ritz, a retired banker and investor, made those claims in a report distributed during the Commission’s Education Committee meeting Wednesday. Ritz challenged the financial assumptions suburban leaders have been using that were included in reports delivered early this year by Southern Education Strategies LLC, hired by the suburbs to conduct feasibility studies.
Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz said municipal school districts could cost suburban towns and cities much more in expenses and taxes than initially estimated. Ritz rolled out his critique of the numbers in the reports from earlier this year by Southern Educational Strategies LLC for each of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County. And he added some numbers of his own that the reports didn’t include, like the cost for each suburb of buying the existing Shelby County schools within their borders and the annual cost of operating those schools.
Desegregation consultant says Metro offers choices; ruling in case expected in June or July Metro Nashville’s school zoning plan promotes integration by offering choice, national desegregation expert Leonard Stevens testified Wednesday in the final day of a trial over whether the district unfairly moved black students. The district fought for magnet school grants to recruit white students to six predominantly black schools, and gave North Nashville families choices to be bused across town or attend neighborhood schools after the 2009 rezoning.
Are Knox County schools too good to get more money? No, we aren’t talking about County Commission and the school board request for a $35 million increase in its annual budget. The state of Tennessee announced pass-through federal grants for schools this past week and Knox County was alone among metropolitan school systems in getting none of the money. The grants totaled $14.8 million for Memphis, $12.4 million for Nashville, and $600,000 for Hamilton County (Chattanooga).
Are county residents ready to fund an iPad for every student in Knox schools? The topic of the morning in Dexter Murphy’s fifth grade class at Pond Gap Elementary School is recognizing the difference between facts and inferences. On a big computer screen, he displays an article about prairie dogs accompanied by four short statements—two of which are drawn directly from the text and two of which draw conclusions from it.
With advocates for immigrant rights protesting outside, the Legislature voted Wednesday to make modest changes to the state’s immigration enforcement law, the nation’s most far-reaching. The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, leaves much of the original law intact but adds a few provisions, like requiring the state to publish detailed information about every case in which an illegal immigrant appears in court for a violation of state law.
Hours after state Sen. Deb Fischer’s upset win in Nebraska’s Republican Senate primary, the campaign battle lines were drawn, with Ms. Fischer stressing her deep roots as a rancher in the state and former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, emphasizing his record of deviating from his party’s orthodoxy. “We don’t need the same type of person who’s supposedly going to represent us in Washington,” Ms. Fischer told supporters Tuesday night. “We need somebody different, somebody who’s tough, somebody who’s effective, somebody who’s a Nebraskan.”
Of all the measures considered this year by the Tennessee General Assembly that drew ridicule from many quarters, perhaps none was as silly as the resolution condemning a United Nations program called Agenda 21. Gov. Bill Haslam prudently declined to sign the nonbinding resolution, a show of restraint that represents the triumph of common sense over the forces of paranoia. The “saggy pants bill” produced chuckles, a bill that would have prevented teachers from discussing homosexuality elicited jokes from comedians around the country and the bill allowing unscientific questioning of evolution prompted comparisons to the Scopes Monkey Trial, but the resolution condemning Agenda 21 conjured images of legislators looking for intergalactic aliens.
As predicted, legal challenges could face Tennessee’s new law requiring welfare recipients to pass a drug screening test in order to receive benefits. Maybe. The uncertainty stems largely from the fact that the law isn’t clear about who’s going to pay for the testing. The law was passed on the legislature’s final day, and Gov. Bill Haslam said he plans to sign it. The latest fiscal note on the measure said recipients of aid from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Family program would foot the bill, which could come to about $30 a person. However, the bill’s Senate sponsor said the Department of Human Services will try to help people pay for screenings and perhaps for drug tests.
There will always be groups of folks who think the only way you can be in favor of a tax increase or in favor of a government spending program is if you, personally, are going to see some of that money go into your pocket. I mean, that’s the only way they would support it, right? So when auto magnate Lee Beaman, radio host Ralph Bristol, tea-party activist Ben Cunningham and commenter Justin Owen banded together to oppose Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed 53-cent property tax, and they picked on the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s contract with Metro government to provide economic development services as the reason why the chamber endorsed a tax increase for Davidson County, we understood where these gentlemen were coming from.
When county school officials received a $1.85 million grant from the state in March to initiate a pilot STEM school on the Chattanooga State Community College campus, the prospects for opening the school by Aug. 1 seemed bright. The state grant provided immediate funds for obtaining and prepping the former Olan Mills building by the campus for conversion into a high school. Additional grants of $500,000 from the business and manufacturing community would be solicited — as stipulated by the state as a condition for its grant — to fund completion of the renovation. The plan for the advanced science, technology, engineering and math school appeared fixed.
I read with some disappointment but not surprise Tuesday of Metro Schools Director Jesse Register’s testimony in a federal court school rezoning case that he’s not in favor of achieving school diversity by forcing black students from Nashville’s urban area on buses to predominantly white suburban schools. Yes, there are probably better ways of desegregating schools than busing — but where are they? In Sunday’s New York Times, there was a news story that said New York classrooms are among the nation’s most segregated. “At a Brooklyn charter school, students and teachers wrestle with the lack of diversity.”
Auto inspection fees: Trying to collect a vehicle inspection fee from frequent visitors to the city isn’t a practical idea. We’ll give Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Jr. a “C+” for proposing ways to increase revenues for the city. But frankly, one of his ideas appears to be flat-out impractical. Ford Tuesday proposed fees for vehicle inspections that would apply to Memphians and non-Memphians who frequently enter the city. And, just how would Memphis identify those frequent visitors? Ford said the city could place license plate readers that are now on Memphis police vehicles at strategic entrances into the city and use red-light cameras that are spread across the city to determine which nonresidents are traveling in the city at least two or three days a week, every week.