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 held a ceremonial bill signing at the Bartlett Criminal Justice Center to highlight three pieces of public safety legislation. The bills were a result of his administration’s multi-agency, comprehensive public safety action plan aimed at curbing violent crime, lowering the rate of repeat offenders, and significantly reducing drug abuse and drug trafficking in Tennessee. “One of the key roles of state government is to keep citizens safe,” Haslam said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a trio of anti-crime measures into law during a Wednesday, June 6, visit to Bartlett. The laws include an increase in mandatory jail time for repeat domestic violence offenders and a second law upping sentences for convicted felons with guns that include some specific circumstances for longer sentences. The third law makes aggravated assault, robbery and aggravated burglary a higher class of felony with a longer sentence when committed by groups of three or more people.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today traveled to Luckey Family Farm in Humboldt to highlight the second of three tax cuts passed during this year’s legislative session and signed by the governor. Haslam held a ceremonial bill signing of HB 3760/SB 3762, which phases out the state inheritance tax during the next three years before it is completely eliminated starting January 1, 2016. The bill was introduced by the governor as the state continues its work toward providing the best customer service at the lowest possible cost to Tennesseans.
Gov. Bill Haslam is weighing both an increase in funding for the state’s public pre-kindergarten program and creating a school voucher system in Tennessee, though the Republican says he doesn’t consider the two proposals linked. The governor told The Associated Press after a recent groundbreaking ceremony outside Nashville that while both measures face heavy opposition among various factions of lawmakers, he doesn’t see one as providing political cover for the other.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is working on a free smartphone app using the traffic data it already collects. According to WPLN, it’s tentatively set to be available later this year. The state already watches traffic congestion through a system of highway cameras, posting estimated drive times on interstate signs. Gov. Bill Haslam says a smartphone program is meant to customize that information and put it in one place. WPLN said the state has not publicized how much it will cost taxpayers.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced that two communities, one water authority, and one water/wastewater authority have been approved to receive a total of $25.5 million in low-interest loans for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. “These projects will help address critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements, as well as foster healthy communities as they continue to grow,” Haslam said.
The agency Keep Tennessee Beautiful has unveiled a new logo and website, www.keeptnbeautiful.org . The new site features a fresh design and showcases the new logo, which is designed to mirror the three grand divisions of Tennessee. Since 1983, the group has been a state resource center for litter prevention, community greening and beautification, and recycling and waste reduction education. It is affiliated with the University of Memphis through a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Keep Tennessee Beautiful has a new Web address and a new logo, Executive Director Sutton Mora Hayes and area affiliates announced Thursday. The new address is www.keeptnbeautiful.org, and the new logo shows a river, a green field and mountains at the top. “It reflects the three grand divisions of Tennessee,” said Joanne Maskew, executive director for the Cleveland/Bradley Keep Tennessee Beautiful affiliate.
Schools in the University of Tennessee system are coming up with plans to improve lagging compensation for faculty and staff. If raises are approved by the UT board of trustees, every employee in the University of Tennessee system will get a 2.5 percent across-the-board increase, with a $1,000 minimum for those making $40,000 or less. The increases would take effect July 1. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga also is proposing using $400,000 for market and merit pay adjustments, said Richard Brown, vice chancellor of finance and operation.
During the past few months, investigators have been busy cracking down on alleged TennCare misuse or fraud. Doctor shopping is described as an individual illegally soliciting area medical or pain treatment centers to obtain multiples of prescription drugs, typically to resell the drugs for a profit. According to the Office of the Inspector General, a Marion County man was the most recent area resident charged with “doctor shopping.”
The wait is over, localvores. Despite a late cold snap that proved disastrous for some fruit crops in patchy spots across Tennessee, the three-week warm spell that came before has farmers markets filling up with summer produce earlier than usual. Tennessee Department of Agriculture Agritourism and Farmers Markets Coordinator Pamela Bartholomew reports that summertime favorites like yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage and cucumbers are already being picked. Homegrown tomatoes and sweet corn are not far behind.
Eager to gain political ground in an election year, state Democrats criticized Republicans on Thursday for opposing legislation that would give Tennessee companies the first shot at working on state projects. Four state representatives and two Metro councilmen who hope to join them in the General Assembly held a news conference to promote the Tennessee First Act, which would give preference to Volunteer State firms if their bids for public contracts are within a certain percentage of the lowest bids.
Frank Turner Jr. has turned his life around. The longtime felon is a volunteer with Men of Valor, a Nashville-based nonprofit that ministers to people in prison. He’s written a book about his struggles with drugs and crime in the hope that others will learn from the mistakes he’s made. He also started his own masonry business. Even though he’s come so far, there’s one thing that has eluded him: the right to vote. “I’ve been wanting to do it for the last couple of years,” Turner said.
Two camera enforcement companies have lost a bid to overturn a state law that prohibits fining drivers for improper right turns on red if the only evidence is photographic. And despite predictions that the law that went into effect last July would cause an increase in wrecks, statistics in Knoxville refute that contention. Knox County Chancellor Michael W. Moyers’ 27-page decision signed May 30 addresses a multitude of arguments brought by American Traffic Solutions, Inc., and Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., asking him to declare the law unconstitutional.
There may be a reprieve for some Memphians whose vehicles failed inspection because of the “check engine” light. The City Council is considering a measure that would allow those with financial hardships who failed the test to get a one-year extension to have the problems repaired. The measure is facing its second reading before the City Council on June 19. The final reading and public hearing is planned for July 3. “If someone fails the test, and wishes to declare a financial hardship, we will grant that to them. We will give them one year,” city Chief Administrative Officer George Little said.
Metro Councilman Steve Glover has organized a pair of “roundtable” discussions at his office this weekend to pore over Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed budget with council colleagues and perhaps identify ways to reduce the mayor’s proposed 53-cent property tax increase. “If you knew me on the school board, I’m obviously always looking at ways we can try to be a little more efficient and operate more efficiently,” Glover, who recently wrapped up a term as a Metro school board representative, told The City Paper.
A group of Metro Council members will hold open meetings Saturday and Sunday to talk about Mayor Karl Dean’s budget and property tax increase proposals. The group will meet at 1:30 p.m. each day at 1101 Kermit Drive, Suite 610. Councilman Steve Glover, who is organizing the discussions and holding them at his office, said he wants to look at the potential repercussions and unintended consequences of Dean’s plan and discuss any alternatives.
The City Council approved a $117 million budget without a property tax increase Thursday despite complaints from some firefighters and police officers over their pay and benefits. “Some of our police officers qualify for food stamps,” said Matthew Roe, a Murfreesboro patrol officer who is president of the local Fraternal Order of Police Hendon-McClanahan Lodge No. 54. “Some work part-time jobs to make ends meet. I qualified for WIC (Women, Infants and Children assistance for baby formula and food from federal government) last year when my wife and I had a newborn.”
Shelby County teens lead the state by far in sexually transmitted diseases. They have the highest rate of school suspensions, expulsions and dropouts, and one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy among the 95 counties in the state. And nearly one out of every three Shelby County residents under age 18 lives in poverty. This portrait of troubled area youths emerges from a report, “KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child in Tennessee 2011,” released Wednesday by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.
A group opposed to a new mosque in Rutherford County has filed for an injunction to halt construction at the site. Last week, Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was approved at a planning commission meeting without adequate public notice. He did not order that construction be stopped, but attorney Joe Brandon says it should. He represents opponents of the mosque, who have focused their legal challenge on how the project was approved.
War-weary Fort Campbell is being tapped to send more than 5,000 troops back to Afghanistan. The Department of Defense has announced deployments later this year from the 101st Airborne Division. The Rakkasans of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team first deployed to Afghanistan more than a decade ago. The unit’s most recent deployment was part of President Obama’s surge in 2010. Soldiers patrolled along the violent border with Pakistan. Sixteen men were killed.
The InterOrganization Network (ION) has opened a national headquarters in Nashville, ION and Nashville CABLE announced today. ION, led by President Sarah Meyerrose, has a number of gender diversity initiatives aimed at increasing the number of female board members in U.S. public companies. ION’s new headquarters is located at 4322 Harding Pike, Suite 417, Nashville 37205.
ION, the InterOrganization Network, and Nashville CABLE today announced the opening of ION’s national headquarters office in Nashville. It will oversee ION’s efforts to increase the number of women on the boards of U.S. publicly traded companies. ION President Sarah Meyerrose will oversee the office, located at 4322 Harding Road in Belle Meade. ION had operated from Fort Washington, Penn.
Hamilton County school board member David Testerman came out Thursday night against a three-way land swap that would trade away East Brainerd Elementary for property to build a new stadium at the Howard School of Academics and Technology. Testerman released a statement, saying he was surprised by the deal Superintendent Rick Smith offered to be part of in March, which affects part of his district. In the deal the city would trade Dogwood Manor Apartments to the Chattanooga Housing Authority. CHA would give up the former Poss Homes site to the schools. The city and CHA would divide the schools’ East Brainerd Elementary site.
The Kingsport Board of Education voted 4-1 Thursday night to close a $2.4 million budget gap and balance its 2012-13 budget. The BOE used some increased revenue projections to close the gap, but the bulk of the budget balancing — about $2.1 million — was through cutting proposed expenditures. And the bulk of that was cutting positions that included 11 proposed academic coaches and eight proposed teaching positions, although the budget leaves in five “discretionary” teaching positions that may be needed to cover an expected enrollment increase.
The Madison County Budget Committee voted to recommend approval of nearly $3 million in capital improvements for Jackson-Madison County Schools during a meeting held Thursday afternoon. Initially school and county officials were considering spending capital funds to add an additional lane to Liberty Technology Magnet High School’s track and building a gym at Madison Academic Magnet High School, but both items were removed from recommendation.
North Dakota voters on Tuesday will decide the fate of a ballot initiative that would make the state the first in the country to end property taxes. If any state is going to take such a dramatic step, North Dakota would seem to be a likely candidate. North Dakota is generally a conservative state, and fiscal conservatives generally support lower taxes. The state is also experiencing a surge in tax revenue unrivaled elsewhere. The property tax is often described as the least popular of the taxes that fund state and local government.
Overhauling a state government, facing down a union machine, beating back a recall—Scott Walker hasn’t exactly been a slacker. Yet hidden among the Wisconsin governor’s reforms has been another significant success: He’s helped change the education paradigm. Conservatives have pushed education reform for decades, with notable successes. But the debate had also become predictable. Republicans argued for systemic change; Democrats argued for more money. The fight was largely confined to the education sphere, with conservatives arguing education reform for education’s sake. The Walker breakthrough was to integrate education into the broader fiscal and structural dispute.
We live in an increasingly complex world. Today, people have more choices than ever about key financial matters such as investment options, which home or car loan makes the most sense and which credit cards to use. To make good decisions in these areas and others, we need to be financially literate. Unfortunately, though, too many of us are not. Consider these statistics: • According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald and Associates, two-thirds of American workers have saved less than $50,000 toward their retirement, and more than a quarter have saved less than $1,000.
Commission can clear up mess, stop bias Opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro seem bent on wasting Rutherford County money. We hope they will simmer down and let the process proceed. On June 1, Chancellor Robert Corlew, in a ruling that has implications far beyond the Islamic Center for Rutherford County projects, said that the county’s approval of the ICM project on Veals Road just outside the city limits of Murfreesboro was improper based on inadequate public notice. The chancellor followed that ruling by saying that construction on the project did not have to stop during the window for appeals, which lasts until June 30.
If you look up the definition of “bait and switch,” you will find a reference to ObamaCare. OK, you won’t really find mention of ObamaCare. But it would be perfectly understandable if you did. Its supporters used a series of cynical accounting tricks to make it seem as if the health care reform law would reduce, rather than increase, federal budget deficits. That isn’t likely to pan out, as noted in a devastating recent study by Charles Blahous, a Medicare trustee, and by countless other observers. And now, more and more small businesses are discovering that ObamaCare’s lure of supposed tax credits for companies that provide medical insurance to their workers was a mirage — or at least requires such a complicated application process that it isn’t worth the aggravation.