This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has sign two bills from his 2012 legislative agenda that make structural changes to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) and 21 boards, commissions and licensing programs. More than 200 of these organizations exist within state government, and many have independent hiring and spending authority with limited oversight. Haslam announced a review of state boards and commissions during his 2011 State of the State address, and after a comprehensive evaluation, he proposed reforms to improve performance, accountability and efficiency.
After graduating high school, Kim Benson escaped a dysfunctional home life by moving into an apartment with her older best friend — a mistake that still haunts the Cordova woman decades later. The two soon went to a house party, where Benson, 18, who had never drank alcohol, tried to impress a cute guy by downing several drinks. She ended up passing out in the bathroom, awaking to find herself alone and naked on the floor beside a dozen used condoms.
Polluter it planned to sue was once represented by TDEC chief Tennessee regulators have taken a West Tennessee plastics manufacturer to court over violations of the state’s clean water act. But an environmental group is raising questions about the action because Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau once represented the company. The Tennessee Clean Water Network, a Knoxville-based environmental group, said it notified regulators of the pollution problems at Teknor Apex in Brownsville.
The impact of a law that gives Tennessee court clerks a powerful tool for collecting unpaid court costs will soon be felt when thousands of people begin losing their driver’s licenses. The law says defendants have a year to pay all court costs in misdemeanor and felony cases or the Department of Safety will automatically revoke their licenses. It took effect last July, and the one-year grace period to pay is beginning to come to an end for some defendants.
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones wants another pay raise for his employees — six months after they got one. Most of them are woefully underpaid, he argues. He’d like for the workers to get a 3 percent bump as well as a step increase. It would cost taxpayers an additional $2.9 million a year. Even without the raises, though, the Sheriff’s Office is set to receive a 5 percent overall increase in its operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, something that’s become the norm as the department continues to cost more each year.
For decades, funding for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has continued to jump, but so, too, have contributions to other areas. Dollars that go to a category dubbed “general administration” and another called “other general government” also have increased. In the meantime, budget cuts have hit a number of departments during the past 10 years. Some officials in them say they’ve been able to make do with what they have. But others haven’t. “I asked everyone to look hard and make cuts,” county Mayor Tim Burchett said.
U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn announced last week they will join 22 other female Republican lawmakers to form the Women’s Policy Committee. The group is meant to raise the profile of Republican women as lawmakers. “Make no mistake, these aren’t just leaders on so-called ‘women’s issues,’ these are women leaders on all issues,” Speaker John Boehner said in support. U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California was elected chairman; Blackburn and U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle were elected vice chairmen.
“Sustainability” — the concept celebrated in a United Nations policy paper/global conspiracy — may not be popular among statehouse Republicans, but it appears to be an idea Tennessee’s senior U.S. senator is comfortable with. According to Bloomberg, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander used an anecdote last week to show the breadth of support for sustainability. Alexander said his daughter, an environmental management major at Duke University, frequently slings the term around.
The United States Postal Service said late Friday that it was offering buyouts to about 45,000 mail handlers, part of the financially troubled agency’s efforts to cut its staff and reduce its operating costs. The mail handlers, who work in processing centers, will be offered $15,000 each. The Postal Service has said it will close 48 of the centers starting this summer, reducing the need for staff. Full-time mail handlers wanting to sign up for the buyouts must do so by July 2 and agree to leave or retire by Aug. 31, according to the agreement reached between the Postal Service and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.
Olan Mills Inc. was one of Chattanooga’s biggest successes, going from a woodshed darkroom 80 years ago to a multimillion-dollar network that became the nation’s largest family portrait company. But the company — hit by the rise of the digital age and a shaky economy, and just a fraction of the size it was two decades ago — was sold last year with a majority of the proceeds plowed into an employee pension fund that still has a $41.2 million shortfall, records show.
We won’t have the brouhaha of last year’s start of school, Cash and Wharton predict A payment plan is not yet in place for what will likely be the city of Memphis’ last annual contribution to the funding of Memphis City Schools. But there is little fear around City Hall or MCS that the drama that preceded the start of last year’s fall semester will get a second act. The city’s $65 million to $68 million obligation for fiscal 2012-13 is expected to be met with monthly installments similar to those that are in place for the recently ended 2011-12 school year, when the figure was set at $68 million, MCS Supt. Kriner Cash and Mayor A C Wharton confirmed Friday.
A proposal to open enrollment within Jackson-Madison County public schools will be evaluated in the upcoming months and is scheduled to launch in the 2013-14 school year. Initiated by School Board member George Neely, the district’s open enrollment plan would allow a student from within the county’s public school system to attend a different school if there is space available. “We put it off for next fall to give everyone time to think about it and make it work well,” Neely said.
Although it’s the traditional start of swimming and boating season, Memorial Day will find the beaches empty at Arkabutla Lake in North Mississippi. “There’s no water,” said Ernie Lentz, resource manager for the Corps of Engineers at Arkabutla, explaining why all three beaches on the lake are closed. With Memphis and much of the Mid-South experiencing what meteorologists call a “moderate drought,” area lakes have shriveled to levels low enough to put a crimp on recreation.
Here’s a sweet thought for your holiday weekend: Fewer people are out of work in Clarksville-Montgomery County. As the state reported Thursday, the jobless rate for our community continued its downward trend. In April the local rate dropped to 7.1 percent, down from 8 percent in March, and down from 8.8 percent a year ago. The steep drop in unemployment, coupled with continued strong retail activity as reflected in growing sales tax collections, fuels expectations of sustained post-recession economic recovery here and throughout much of Tennessee.
In an interview last week, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick remarked that the Legislature doesn’t have enough lawyers these days. “We need more attorneys in the House of Representatives. We need more attorneys in our (Republican) Caucus,” he said. McCormick’s comment came while talking about state House races this year. He made it in saying he supports Rep. Linda Elam, a lawyer, over former state Rep. Susan Lynn, a nonlawyer, in this summer’s Republican primary clash between the two. Coincidentally, a fundraising solicitation sent out the same day by Phillip North, a Democratic lawyer who is running for the state Senate in Nashville, made a similar point.
The contentious, frantic annual ritual to approve a city budget is not in the best interests of taxpayers or Memphis. Memphis City Council members Jim Strickland and Harold Collins have offered city budget proposals that, if approved, would reduce the property tax rate. That should make owners of residential and commercial property happy. But here’s the catch. Both plans propose using significant amounts of money from the city’s reserve fund to balance the budget. Some who are involved in the discussions believe that could hurt Memphis’ bond rating. And both plans basically rely on nonrecurring revenue streams to meet the city’s budget obligations for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that begins July 1.
The concept of giving more county school boards taxing authority is an idea that needs thorough investigation to determine if it’s the right move for Rutherford County. It’s not unheard of in Tennessee, either, with some special school districts holding taxation authority. Most public school systems are held hostage, however, by a moratorium that merely allows school boards to request funding and for county commissions to approve or deny it. Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold contends that very system puts his department at a disadvantage because the education of children will always win out over crime-fighting efforts and housing prisoners, leaving the sheriff’s office and jail struggling for funds.
Many Americans are rightly frustrated by political gridlock in Washington. Instead of working together to move the nation forward, too many lawmakers are guided by political ideology and are unwilling to compromise. This is especially troublesome when it comes to major national issues. A good example is the stalemate over passing a federal transportation funding bill. We urge lawmakers to find middle ground and approve this vital legislation. It is safe to say that nearly every American is affected by the transportation bill. America’s roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure represent a vital link in people’s everyday lives, and are major issues when it comes to public safety and public spending.
After final exams, most can remember heading to that summer job. Landscaping, umpiring at the local recreation league fields, working retail at the mall, and any number of temporary jobs kept us occupied with a bit of income for the summer and one more bullet point on our resumes. So, how’s the job market for the student population? It depends. If you’re a white teen 16 to 19 years old, the April unemployment rate for your age group was 22.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’re a black teen of the same age bracket, the ranks of the unemployed swell to a rate of 38.2 percent.
The Destination ImagiNation Global Finals once again made the University of Tennessee its ultimate destination For the 12th straight year, the university hosted the international student creativity and problem-solving competition. Opening ceremonies were held Wednesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena, and according to organizers more than 17,000 people attended. A total of 1,275 teams from 12 countries, seven Canadian provinces and 45 U.S. states tackled seven challenges each prior to last night’s closing ceremonies. The problems confronting the teams involved science, technology, engineering, math, theater and community services.