This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam joined Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Command Sergeant Major George Holland of the Tennessee Military Department to pay tribute to seven Tennesseans killed in action, including two soldiers previously missing in action for several decades. Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Carson Vaughn of Troy was killed in a helicopter crash with 29 other Americans including 22 Navy SEALs in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011.
Veterans from many conflicts The state of Tennessee honored seven fallen servicemen, from an Army specialist who died last month from injuries sustained in Afghanistan to Korean and Vietnam War soldiers whose remains were recovered decades later, Thursday on War Memorial Plaza. Gov. Bill Haslam presided over a brief service that recognized Tennessee servicemen who were killed or interred in the past year and their families.
In a solemn ceremony at the front of the state’s War Memorial Building, Bill and Crissy Haslam began the Memorial Day weekend by handing flowers and medals to survivors of seven Tennesseans who were killed fighting for their country. One of those receiving a Tennessee Fallen Heroes Medal and an iris — the state flower — from the governor and first lady was Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Lowell Russell, who had raised Lance Cpl. Franklin Namon Watson of Vonore.
In observance of Memorial Day, Governor Bill Haslam presented state flags to the families of seven who died at war. Five of the deaths occurred in Afghanistan since last Memorial Day. One service member was part of the elite Seal Team 6. Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder says the West Tennessee native enlisted shortly after 9/11. “Aaron Vaughn was killed when the helicopter carrying him and 29 other Americans – including 22 Navy Seals – was shot down in Afghanistan on August 6th, 2011.”
The office of Gov. Bill Haslam has released this statement regarding a tribute to a Clarksville soldier killed in Afghanistan earlier this month: “By order of the Governor, flags over the State Capitol and all State office buildings shall be lowered to half-staff in observance of Memorial Day and also in honor of Sgt. Jacob ‘Jake’ Schwallie, who recently made the ultimate sacrifice while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Flags shall be lowered at sunrise and raised back to full staff at noon on Monday, May 28, 2012.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law legislation that changes nearly two dozen state boards and commissions within state government. The two laws were passed during the legislative session in Nashville that ended earlier this month. “You almost have an unofficial fourth branch (of government) with all of these boards and commissions that oversee a lot of different things in the state,” Haslam said Wednesday, May 23, during a stop in Memphis. “A lot of those didn’t report to anyone who was elected. I think as much as we can we want to minimize that.”
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a proposal to help Tennesseans get off unemployment and find a job. The legislation sponsored by Democratic Sen. Andy Berke, of Chattanooga, and Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, of Ripley, is called the “Tennessee Works Act.” It unanimously passed the Senate 33-0 and 91-0 in the House. The bill creates a pilot program to provide employers with grants to pay for training expenses for recently laid-off workers or workers whose jobs have gone overseas.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a proposal that allows parents to grade themselves on how involved they are in their children’s schooling. The measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis and Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 94-2 in the House and unanimously passed the Senate 27-0. The four-year pilot program will initially apply to two struggling schools.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a measure that requires agencies to verify that applicants for public benefits are legal residents. The legislation – which passed the Senate 29-1 and the House 64-18 – was delayed in the lower chamber last year because the cost of the measure was a little over $1 million. But House sponsor Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, said the tab has been reduced to around $100,000. He said every applicant won’t have to be verified because there are other processes in place to prove legal residence.
A measure to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare has been signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The legislation – which passed the Senate 24-9 and 73-17 in the House – requires new welfare applicants to undergo a special screening process. If suspicion is raised after the screening, then the applicant would be drug tested. The proposal differs from an original version that would have required blanket testing.
Governor Bill Haslam has signed a measure that requires some welfare recipients to pass a drug test. The Administration was initially concerned with whether the state could put such restrictions on a federal program. All new recipients of government assistance would go through a screening process, and those who raise suspicion would have to pass a drug test that they pay for. Governor Haslam says he understands questions of fairness, that poor people – even those who pass – would be out the testing fee.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a measure that allows college professors to teach high school courses. The measure allows the Department of Education to issue a teaching license in grades nine through twelve to individuals who have taught as full-time faculty members or adjunct faculty members at two-year and four-year post-secondary institutions. A full-time faculty member has to have taught at least two years, and an adjunct professor is required to have a minimum of three years.
A measure that requires roll-your-own cigarette retailers to pay a licensing fee and tax and adhere to certain restrictions has been signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. Pipe tobacco, a popular product of roll-your-own retailers, is not listed on the state attorney general’s directory of tobaccos. The legislation requires tobacco the retailers use in their machines to come from the directory. It also requires the retailers to pay a cigarette tax and an annual $500 licensing fee for each roll-your-own machine used.
The Memphis metro area’s unemployment rate dropped again in April to 8.4 percent, down from 8.8 percent in March and 9.8 percent in April 2011. Shelby County’s unemployment rate fell even further to 8.3 percent last month from 9.1 percent in March, according to data released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development . The county’s rate was 9.6 percent a year ago.
Knox County’s jobless rate edged higher to 5.8 percent in April, up from 5.6 percent in March, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. Despite the increase, Knox County had the lowest rate among the state’s major metropolitan areas and the third lowest county rate. Only Williamson and Lincoln counties had lower jobless rates last month at 5.3 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively.
Local unemployment rate down by 0.8 percent Expectations of sustained economic recovery were bolstered Thursday afternoon by word that the unemployment rate for Clarksville-Montgomery County dropped steeply between March and April. According to newest figures released by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, the jobless rate for the Clarksville area is now 7.1 percent, down substantially from the 8 percent rate in March.
A state advisory council voted Thursday to recommend a 5.1 percent overall reduction in average rates that play a large role in determining what businesses pay for workers’ compensation premiums. The unanimous vote was based on an analysis by actuaries including from the Boca Raton, Fla.-based rate advisory group NCCI Holdings Inc., which cited expected decline in medical payments to doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers as a key factor in recommending the decrease.
State geotechnical engineer Saieb Haddad said he got “sick in my mind” when he first saw cracked pavement on the southbound shoulder of Interstate 75 in Campbell County. The Tennessee Department of Transportation employee saw more than a crack; he saw an entire hillside in the process of failing and taking the southbound lanes with it. “When I first saw it, I got sick my mind,” Haddad said. “We are dealing with the most complicated situation I’ve seen in my 32 years of service.”
There’s a simple message local and state law enforcement want to send to motorists — wear your seat belt, don’t drink and drive, and don’t commit hazardous moving violations. The Tennessee Highway Patrol kicked off the 2012 Click It or Ticket seat belt enforcement on Monday, but added the 100 Days of Summer Heat mobilization just in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. “Seat belts, impaired driving, hazardous moving violations … that’s what we target.
Road construction won’t slow motorists down as they travel Tennessee’s highways this Memorial Day weekend. The Tennessee Department of Transportation will suspend all construction-related lane closures on interstates and state routes beginning at noon today through 6 a.m. Tuesday. This will provide maximum roadway capacity for motorists expected to travel in the state this Memorial Day weekend, according to TDOT Commissioner John Schroer.
The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has completed a fundraising campaign with $113.7 million in gifts. The campaign goal was originally $55 million and then was revised to $85 million. Buddy Mitchell, vice chancellor for development, said the figure shows that the university has outstanding faculty, loyal clientele, satisfied alumni and a strong external presence across the state and country. Many of the funds were designated for specific programs rather than unrestricted for general use.
There will not be a new trial for those convicted of the first degree murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, the Supreme Court ruled today. The state asked the court to review the new trial judge’s decision to grant new trials to three of the four defendants in the Knoxville case. The judge said new trials were warranted after the judge who oversaw the trial, former Judge Richard Baumgartner, admitted that he had a prescription drug problem.
The Tennessee Supreme Court is overturning a special judge’s decision to order new trials for three murder defendants after the judge in their original trial pleaded guilty to official misconduct. The court ruled Thursday that the order for new trials for Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas must be vacated because the defendants had not shown that former Judge Richard Baumgartner’s misconduct outside the courtroom affected their trials.
The Humane Society of the United States asked Tennessee’s attorney general Thursday to investigate the role horse show management plays in allowing sored horses to compete. Soring, an abusive practice aimed at producing a higher gait among walking horses, is illegal under federal and state law. In a letter to Attorney General Robert Cooper, the Humane Society said state law imposes a duty on show management to disqualify anyone showing a sored horse and to report the violations to local prosecutors.
Thousands of defendants in Tennessee owing court costs totaling in the millions from criminal cases resolved last July are on the verge of losing their driver’s licenses. A state law calling for that mandatory license revocation was passed last year and went into effect in July. The law states that defendants have a year to pay all of their court costs in misdemeanor and felony cases or the Department of Safety will automatically revoke their licenses.
Mayor Karl Dean provided specifics Thursday on his proposed $297.7 million capital-spending plan, which he plans to officially file in the form of a bond resolution on Friday. “This plan takes care of the basics of the city, such as renovating and expanding our schools, repairing roads and building sidewalks, and improving our fire halls and police infrastructure,” Dean said in a statement. The Metro Council will consider the capital plan –– along with a proposed 53-cent property tax increase and a $1.71 billion operating budget –– in June.
Hoping to move Nashville further along what he has called its “path to greatness,” Mayor Karl Dean plans to file a $297.7 million capital spending plan today, including $97 million for building and expanding schools. The proposal, which Dean’s administration will submit to the Metro Council, also would build, renovate or repair roads, sidewalks, parks, fire halls, bus lines, riverfront projects, a DNA crime lab and a Bellevue library.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has finalized his $300 million capital spending plan, a third of which will go into school renovations. It’s the largest budget for building projects since Dean took office. There’s $22 million for the police and fire departments, money for a new library in Bellevue and sidewalk plans for Trinity Lane and Whites Creek Pike. The mayor has been touring the city this week to highlight the need for his proposal. He’ll file the capital spending plan Friday.
Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols is endorsing the school system’s request to add $35 million to its operating budget for targeted objectives. “Some people will say, Well, why would the district attorney wish to put his big nose into somebody else’s business? This is my business,” Nichols said Thursday. The longtime elected prosecutor noted Tennessee spends more than $600 million a year to incarcerate people, and Knox County spends more than $100,000 a day.
Shelbyville’s city council will be busy crunching numbers next week as they made their first move into the annual budget process Tuesday evening. The council passed the first reading of the document, and set a public hearing date of June 14. Two sessions are set to be held next week — on Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m., to go over the numbers in more detail and to make any changes. ‘Important item’ City manager Jay Johnson called the budget “the single most important item that the council does each year.”
The 2012-2013 county budget sat in the black after Wednesday’s meeting with revenues exceeding expenditures by $28,176. However, the success came at a cost as several organizations had their funding reduced by 25 percent. The county spends $84,841 annually on contributions to 21 programs. By reducing their charitable contributions by 25 percent, the county was able to save $21,210.
Tennessee Republican Bob Corker’s GAIN Act has passed the Senate. As WPLN’s Nina Cardona reports, it’s a plan to spur development of new antibiotics that work on drug-resistant “superbugs.” Corker calls the measure a way of improving health without spending federal dollars. It creates incentives for drug companies by extending the period before generics can go on the market and easing some of the red tape involved in the approval process.
Political and business leaders showed signs Thursday of mounting pressure to combat high fares and shrinking service at Memphis International Airport. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, suggested the business community would be the best advocate for more competition, most likely by Southwest Airlines. During a news conference at his Midtown home, Cohen said he has called on the Greater Memphis Chamber to organize a community forum to discuss the economic impact of costly, diminishing air service.
The growing discontent over high airfares at Memphis International Airport has become part of the August Democratic primary election contest between incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and challenger Tomeka Hart. Hart took to the “Delta Does Memphis” Facebook page Wednesday, May 24, to criticize Cohen without mentioning him by name and Cohen responded.
When it comes to life’s realities, Republicans aren’t fond of death, but they despise taxes. But in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary, nuance exists: Two candidates say they’ll never raise taxes while two others refuse to speak in absolutes. At a debate Monday night, challenger Ron Bhalla described any tax increase as “a no-no thing” and the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, said he’s one of more than 270 members of Congress to sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, promising never to vote to raise taxes.
A fast-growing insurance agency with a retail-oriented approach plans to open 30 Middle Tennessee locations in the coming years as part of an aggressive regional growth push. Jacksonville-based Brightway Insurance plans to open up to 72 franchised stores across Tennessee. In the Nashville area, its planned footprint would be home to almost 300 agents. The company, which runs more than 100 locations from Florida to Texas, rang up 2011 revenues of $168 million.
Employers, employees save on health costs; productivity improves When Brooks O’Brien burned his arm with hot cooking oil during a weekend at home, he went to work for medical treatment. He drove to Opryland, where Gaylord Entertainment opened a health clinic for its 4,500 employees this year. “It’s super-duper convenient,” he said. O’Brien didn’t have to pay for anything. Even so, Gaylord saved money.
Town manager remains optimistic Town Manager Mark O’Neal found it sad to learn a small factory that has built windows and doors by the airport since the 1970s will close in July and cut 103 jobs. “Any time it impacts 103 citizens of our community it’s devastating to them,” O’Neal said during a Thursday phone interview. MI Windows & Doors Inc. operation in Smyrna will close and cut 103 jobs by July 21, said Jeff Hentschel, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Once again, Metro’s Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School and Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School are among the top 100 high schools in the nation, according to Newsweek magazine. Hume-Fogg is listed as the 36th best high school in the magazine’s 2012 list of “America’s Best High Schools,” while MLK sits at the 90th. They represent the only schools in Tennessee ranked in the top 100. Hume-Fogg and MLK, both lottery-based schools that have academic requirements for admissions, consistently make the magazine’s rankings.
A glitch with software that computes Metro elementary students’ grades will mean students get their report cards later than normal. There was an unexpected problem with grade calculations by the district’s online grading software, Gradespeed. Because of the irregularities, the district was unable to send report cards home with students Thursday, a half day and last day of the school year. Metro school officials say now report cards for 33,500 elementary students will be sent out in the mail starting next week.
For the last two school years, Knox County has been piloting a community school at Pond Gap Elementary and it is seeing results. Now the school district wants to expand the concept and is trying to decide whether to move into more elementary schools or into the upper grade levels. “What an expansion looks like will be dependent on what kinds of resources we have to provide that,” said Melissa Massie, the district’s executive director of student support services.
A blend of law enforcement officers, private security guards and school crossing guards to provide safety and security for the unified school district advanced Thursday at a meeting of the Transition Planning Commission. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell repeated his misgivings about what he described as the security plan’s unanswered questions. “Ultimately this will have to be a decision between the superintendent of schools and the sheriff,” Luttrell said.
Those drafting the blueprint for the consolidated Shelby County public school system to come in August 2013 always knew they would come to the point at which they would have to balance the school system they want and the school system the county can afford. The difference between the two was estimated Thursday, May 24, for the first time at approximately $89 million. The scenarios from the finance committee of the schools consolidation planning commission will lead to recommendations and a vote by the full group in June.
Preparing students for jobs: Tennessee is suffering from a dearth of workers who can fill new manufacturing jobs coming into the state. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, representatives of the Greater Memphis Chamber and representatives of Memphis Fast Forward paid recent visits to The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board. While updating the board about their individual projects and goals, one concern came up in each presentation — workforce development. In fact, Haslam pointed out it’s a statewide concern. He said, for example, officials at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga Assembly Plant said a large percentage of their job applicants were unsuitable for hiring.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed the Tennessee Works Act of 2012. The act is a direct link to jobs for many of the state’s unemployed. It offers financial incentives to Tennessee companies to train displaced workers to meet specific company needs. This is a great way to grow Tennessee businesses, get people back to work, take advantage of local education resources and make good use of tax dollars. The Tennessee Works Act provides matching funds to Tennessee businesses wanting to expand or hire new workers, and to companies committed to come to Tennessee. The state will match companies dollar-for-dollar for training displaced workers to fill company jobs.
Whether you drive a truck, an SUV or a hybrid, whether you live in a congested city or sprawling countryside, you either use roads and bridges to get to work, see family and travel, or you rely on the food and other goods that are brought to your town on our roads and highways. In America, it’s very hard to get away from roads. But right now, there’s a growing concern that we are not going to be able to keep them in working condition. Along with most of the major issues that have come before Congress in past few years, authorization of the federal transportation program, which should have been resolved months ago, has become snarled in political bickering.
In a May 15 op-ed in The Dickson Herald, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander tries to pretend he’s a defender of affordable student loans. In doing so, he covers up the truth about how the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) cut out bank profiteering to pay for lower student loan costs. Maybe that’s because the senator voted to put bankers before students and now he’s trying to cover his tracks. Here is what Sen. Alexander voted against when he voted no on health-care reform, as reported by The Washington Post last month: • Ending federal subsidies to private banks for giving out federally insured loans. Now the Department of Education directly administers the loans, cutting out the “middle man” (private banks).
If the social media are any indication, Knox County commissioners are being heavily lobbied this week regarding their upcoming vote on the Knox County School Board’s 2012-13 budget. Within five minutes on Tuesday, I received an email on behalf of the Support Our Schools group politely, almost apologetically, asking me to contact my county commissioner for a vote in support of the full board budget request, and then saw a Twitter update that Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was making robocalls urging calls to county commissioners asking for votes against the school budget.
Hamstrung by state law and a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling, Knoxville is stuck with inexorably greater pension obligations for decades. The city owes an estimated $14 million in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, and annual contributions could grow to $30 million per year over the next decade. Knoxville voters brought this on themselves. In the 1990s and again in 2000, referenda passed that significantly liberalized pension benefits for city workers. The Cold War had ended, the economy was growing smartly and the stock market was booming. There was reason for optimism. No more. Enter reality. Knoxville, as of June 30, 2011, had 3,752 participants in its retirement plan.