This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam this week signed a little-noticed executive order that puts control of financial accounting for three state departments in the Department of Finance and Administration. Executive Order No. 13 transfers the financial accounting duties and staff of the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the General Services Department to Finance. In his order, which takes effect Sunday, Haslam said the move “would be in the interest of a more economical and efficient state service.”
Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday defended including his support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his official statement about the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold much of the new federal health care law. In a four-paragraph statement released to the media and posted on YouTube after the high court’s decision, Haslam concluded that “by electing Mitt Romney, we can be sure that the entire law will be repealed.” Haslam told reporters after an event at the governor’s mansion that he included the language because “people want to know what you think about things.”
Governor Bill Haslam lent his support to State Rep. Richard Montgomery at a recent rally More than 200 supporters and dignitaries appeared at a rally in support of State Representative Richard Montgomery and to meet Governor Bill Haslam who lent his support to Montgomery.The campaign kickoff was held at the home of Margit and Earl Worsham. Haslam praised Montgomery for the work he has done serving the people of Sevier County in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Those interested in applying to work at Amazon.com’s new fulfillment centers in Lebanon and Murfreesboro can begin doing so July 2. According to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, jobseekers can apply at Tennessee Career Centers. Directions and contact information for those centers is available here. Amazon is seeking to fill 1,500 jobs as it prepares to begin operations at the facilities in the fall. Starting pay ranges from $11 to $13 per hour, according to a news release.
A website debuting today will make it easier for the public to see some of the economic incentives the state has given to companies doing business here. But the move is only a first step toward full transparency regarding the jobs actually created by those firms at a time when economic pressures are making elected officials especially willing to use incentives and subsidies, according to an accountability group that advised state officials as they developed the site.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is debuting a website today that aims to make more information about the economic incentives it provides available to the public, The Tennessean reports. ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty told the newspaper the website grew out of Gov. Bill Haslam’s desire for greater transparency. Click here to access the Open ECD website.
The investment fund that fuels state employee’s retirement plan will likely take a small second quarter loss. The news follows two strong quarters in a row, with overall gains of roughly 13 percent. But thanks to a sluggish market in the last three months, the fund is expected to be down 1 or 2 percent at the end of trading today. Still, officials say the retirement system is outperforming 98 percent of similar funds.
The Cumberland Trail soon will become six miles longer, and will connect the park to lands managed by the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy. Gregory Vickrey, North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy’s executive director, and W.A. Bryan Patten finalized the significant land deal on Walden’s Ridge to protect nearly six miles of frontage along North Chickamauga Creek and provide a prime corridor to lengthen the state’s Cumberland Trail. The agreement allows for the conservancy’s immediate transfer of ownership to the state, and the 194 acres will be managed by the State Parks Division of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The Tennessee Board of Regents has approved tuition hikes that will result in a 7 percent increase for the University of Memphis and a 4.8 percent increase for Southwest Tennessee Community College. The new tuition rates are effective for the 2012-13 school year. Students taking 15 hours at the University of Memphis will pay $4,117 per semester, while Southwest students will pay $1,858, according to the Board of Regents. Students at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will see a 7.3 percent tuition increase this fall to $8,357 per semester.
Tuition will rise 7 percent this fall at the University of Memphis, one of the largest hikes in the Tennessee Board of Regents system where increases are down from last year but still up 3 to 8 percent. Students at Southwest Tennessee Community College will pay nearly 5 percent more for a total of $3,716 for the year. Tuition at the U of M Law School will rise 8 percent. “Nobody enjoys raising tuition,” TBR Chancellor John Morgan said Friday after adjourning the regents’ quarterly meeting, held at Southwest Tennessee’s Macon Cove campus.
The Tennessee Board of Regents approved Friday, June 29, a tuition increase starting with the fall semester at the 46 state higher education institutions it governs. The board, which governs all state universities except the University of Tennessee system, approved tuition and fee rate increases between 3.4 percent and 7.2 percent during a meeting at Southwest Tennessee Community College. The tuition hike includes rates at the University of Memphis, which will go up 7 percent.
East Tennessee State University employees will definitely get a raise this year now that the Tennessee Board of Regents has approved a tuition hike at the school of 7.2 percent. The tuition and fees next year for undergraduates who take 15 hours of class per semester at ETSU will be $3,498.50, an increase of $234 per semester. That would be $6,997 for a year of classes. The full Board of Regents, which governs ETSU, met Friday and approved the school’s request for a tuition increase that would help fund operations, accreditation and raises for the school’s employees.
Regents adds to MTSU tuition rate MTSU sophomore Erin Rowland, a full-time student with two jobs, fears a 6.8 percent increase in tuition could jeopardize her ability to finish school. “As a student, I am not in favor of these increases. I need to go to school, so I’ll have to deal with it, won’t I?” Rowland, who also works summers, said Friday after finding out rates would go up again this fall. Following a Tennessee Board of Regents vote, she and other MTSU students will see their costs increase $237 per semester to $3,746 for 15 credit hours, $574 for an entire year, marking a 22.2 percent increase over three years.
An online petition from students is pressuring the chancellor of the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus to forgo a raise of more than $22,000. The university president on Friday defended Chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s nearly $400,000 salary as below the median for leaders of similar colleges. By midday Friday, there were 860 signatures on the petition at www.change.org, a website that allows people to create online petitions seeking social change. The petition was started by Andrew Doss, an electrical engineering student from Goodlettsville.
More than 900 people over the past week have signed an online petition asking University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek to forgo a $22,356 pay increase approved by the board of trustees. The UT president, however, says the raise is well-deserved. Trustees approved Cheek’s hike during their annual meeting last week. At the same time they endorsed an 8.5 percent tuition increase for Knoxville students. “The petition isn’t really about the tuition increase or Cheek’s job as chancellor. It’s really just the principle,” said Andrew Doss, a UT electrical engineering senior.
Backpage.com is suing Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper along with the 31 district attorneys general across the state in an effort to put the brakes on a law set to go into effect next week. The suit — filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville on Wednesday — seeks an injunction against a looming state law that would make criminally liable any person or company selling ads involving commercial sex with anyone appearing to be a minor if they don’t make a reasonable attempt to verify the individual’s age.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a Washington County court ruling that the county was justified in denying the Clerk and Master an equal raise in pay to that of the Circuit Court clerk two years ago in an opinion filed in Knoxville Thursday Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd sued Washington County in 2010 after the County Commission denied her a 10 percent raise the panel voted to give Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn. “I’m not surprised, but I’m disappointed,” about the opinion, Sneyd said late Thursday.
Several Republican state lawmakers plan to renew their push next year for a multistate “health care compact” that, if approved by Congress, could lead to Tennessee taking over most federal health programs, including Medicare, operating in the Volunteer State. Citing this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal health care law, the lawmakers said the time is ripe for the bill, which failed on the last day of this year’s legislative session.
Members of the local real estate and health care industries gathered at the Doubletree Hotel, 5069 Sanderlin Ave., on Thursday, June 28, for a luncheon and panel presentation called “The Changing Face of Health Care Real Estate.” The event, sponsored by The Daily News, was hosted by CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Memphis, an organization offering educational, professional, philanthropy and networking opportunities for women in the local real estate industry.
Millions of poor people could still be left without medical insurance under the national health care law if states take an option granted by the Supreme Court and decide not to expand their Medicaid programs, state officials and health policy experts said Friday. Republican officials in more than a half-dozen states said they opposed expanding Medicaid or had serious doubts about it, even though the federal government would pick up all the costs in the first few years and at least 90 percent of the expenses after that.
By most measures, state Rep. Joshua Evans does not look like a candidate who would face a primary challenge. With two terms under his belt, ample funding and a voting record that’s solidly Republican and pro-life, Evans would seem like a lock to secure the GOP nomination for the 66th House District in August. But he faces a potentially stiff challenge from Lee Harrell, a veteran of the state Capitol who now works as a lobbyist. No Democrat appears on the ballot in November, giving the winner a straight shot at representing the 66th District in the 108th General Assembly.
Last year, Wendy Askins was living the dream on taxpayer dollars. Now the former development agency official is winning prizes for it, too. Askins used funds intended for the needy to support her own life of luxury, winning her the “Pork of the Year” title in an annual report by the Beacon Center. The Mediterranean-style mansion that Askins purchased in rural Putnam County with money from the Upper Cumberland Development District was supposed to house poor senior citizens.
Dry conditions persisted across the region Friday, prompting the state to issue burn bans in several Tennessee counties. Nineteen counties and four cities have bans in place with officials warning residents not to burn anything. Weary firefighters across Middle Tennessee continued answering grass fire calls and urged residents to be mindful of the tinderbox conditions. In Davidson County alone, the Nashville Fire Department fought 197 grass fires from June 1-28. Last year, the department handled only 27 for the entire month of June.
The Fourth of July is just around the corner. With temperatures hovering near 100, state and local fire officials are urging people to ensure the holiday isn’t an inflamed one. “We are having unusually hot weather, even for summer, and it’s been a while since we’ve had rain,” said Rural/Metro Fire Chief Jerry Harnish. “That combination has made materials such as grass, brush, mulch, even siding on houses, more flammable than usual.” “In urban areas, with so many things close together, there is even more potential for a building or structure fire,” said Knoxville Fire Chief Stan Sharp.
Expenditures for two checks written by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s wife during the 2010 election are now correctly recorded as required by state campaign finance law. And, the mayor said Friday, he’s looking into amending more finance statements to account for other undisclosed payments from the Elect Burchett account. “We just corrected an error. It happens,” Burchett said. “When you’re in a campaign you get hundreds of checks and you’re going 100 miles an hour.” At issue were eight checks written by Allison Burchett between March 16, 2010, and Jan. 9, 2012.
When the 4,900 residents of South Cordova wake up Sunday morning, they will be Memphis residents. “We’re planning on delivering services July 1,” said Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little. Fire and police protection in the 650-acre area of mostly residential land will begin immediately, he said. Memphis City Council member Bill Boyd, who represents Cordova, said the area contains 1,700 households. “We plan on going door-to-door to deliver information on the transition,” said Boyd.
The Madison County Commission voted Friday morning to approve its 2012-13 budget, which amounts to $178.41 million in expenditures. The budget passed on a 23-0 vote, with Commissioner Claudell Brown absent. The board voted to stay with the same property tax rate: $2.15 per $100 of assessed value, a figure that has not changed in 20 years, said Madison County Finance Director Mike Nichols. “We could find no other county that has done that,” Nichols said at the meeting.
Countywide school board member Tomeka Hart talked with The Memphis News editorial board this month about her candidacy in the Aug. 2 Democratic Congressional primary – a challenge of incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen in the 9th District. Hart’s challenge comes as Cohen seeks a fourth term after impressive victories over aggressive challengers in three past primaries, including former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in the 2010 primary.
Majority-party lawmakers in the Tennessee Legislature are still trying to get a sense of what Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court federal health-care overhaul ruling means for the state going forward. But while the particulars of the knotty legal reasoning and conflicting viewpoints are still being deconstructed, Republicans are pretty confident the decision isn’t at all what a majority of voters in Tennessee or the nation wanted to hear. And that, they maintain, bodes well for the GOP’s political fortunes this fall.
Andy Marshall plans to open more restaurants this year, including another of his signature Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant locations, this time in Columbia, Tenn. But Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act has Marshall rethinking expansion. Like many other small-business owners, he worries about the cost of mandated employee health insurance and whether he’ll be able to afford to provide it to his workers. “This clearly is yet another hit by the government on small business,” Marshall said.
Memphis Democrats haven’t had a lot to cheer about recently. They are a blue dot in a red state. They got swept in the 2010 countywide elections. And party leaders as well as candidates in the August elections have had their concerns about a large Republican turnout in the suburbs for the municipal schools issue. And those experienced in campaign stops by presidents, vice presidents and their spouses knew they might be waiting a while for the campaign stop in Memphis Thursday, June 28, by first lady Michelle Obama.
Congress emphatically approved legislation Friday preserving jobs on transportation projects from coast to coast and avoiding interest rate increases on new loans to millions of college students, giving lawmakers campaign-season bragging rights on what may be their biggest economic achievement before the November elections. The bill sent for President Barack Obama’s signature enables just over $100 billion to be spent on highway, mass transit and other transportation programs over the next two years, projects that would have expired Saturday without congressional action.
While it’s blazing hot outside, the temperature is cool in TVA’s systems operation center as a room full of weather and power technicians work to match the utility’s electric output to demand in this record June heat wave. But cool is relative on a record-breaking energy consumption day like Friday when the “average system temperature” for Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Huntsville and Memphis was 104. As the mercury rose, so did the hum of air conditioners, and power demand in the Tennessee Valley neared its all-time record.
The hottest day of the year got quite a bit hotter in Hawkins County Friday night as a switch yard fire at the John Sevier Fossil Plant in Rogersville knocked out electricity throughout Hawkins County and surrounding counties. The overall extent of the outages wasn’t known late Friday night. At 7:21 p.m. Friday, three Hawkins County fire departments were dispatched to a fire in what Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Scott Brooks called a “potential transformer” about 200 feet from the actual power plant.
Republic Plastics expands Republic Plastics held a ribbon-cutting Friday for an expansion of its second Forks of the River Industrial Park facility, which is expected to add 100 jobs. The company is already planning a second expansion that will add about 100 more jobs in 2013. Altogether, the size of the 98,000-square-foot, $3.55 million building at 5428 N. National Drive will about double, said Terry Kirksey, operations manager.
Cleveland/Bradley Business Incubator entrepreneurs marked 12 years of creating businesses and jobs Friday. From woodworking to massage products, reworked “trash glass” to home loan lending, the diversity of incubator businesses keeps growing, too, said Hurley Buff, incubator director. Hometown Lenders is one of the fast-growing companies. In two years the company has created 28 jobs, owner Ben Phillips said. The company opens a 3,600-square-foot office in Chattanooga next week, he said. There will be 29 employees in Chattanooga and five in Cleveland.
Schools will focus on at-risk students Parents in North Nashville will have two new options for their children’s education beginning in 2013, continuing Metro Nashville’s move toward charter schools targeting at-risk students. Purpose Prep Academy, which serves K-4 students, and a second KIPP Academy middle school are slated to open in 2013 after being approved on appeal to the Metro Nashville Board of Education this week. Michael Stoxstill has sent two sons through KIPP Academy’s existing middle school in East Nashville, and he plans to send his daughter there next year.
Members of the Transition Planning Commission are basking in accolades as they unveil their plan for merging Memphis and Shelby County schools. Tennessee Eduction Commissioner Kevin Huffman had nothing but praise for the diverse 21-member group when he got the plan Thursday. But after six months of volunteer labor, reaching its first big milestone has not been all sweetness and light for the TPC. There have been some uncomfortable moments, as well, during the rollout, foreshadowing what could become a donnybrook when the more politically oriented unified Shelby County school board, whose 23 members battle untiringly over the most minute procedural questions, begins to wrestle with the details.
The plan for a consolidated countywide public school system got overshadowed last week by the federal court motion to stop the August referendums on municipal school districts. But the 200-page plan with 172 recommendations is now formally before the countywide school board and Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman – the two next stops in the process for approving a merger plan. The school board and Huffman differed in their initial reactions to the plan last week after presentations by the schools consolidation planning commission, the appointed group that put together the first draft of a blueprint for the transition to and operation of the consolidated school system.
Shelby County commissioners are in disagreement about what happened when the panel held a private session this week with attorneys handling school merger litigation. Three commissioners representing suburban communities told The Commercial Appeal they have asked the county attorney to review whether a 10-minute closed session Monday violated the state Sunshine Law. The next day the county asked a federal court to stop Aug. 2 referendums on whether to start special school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington.
The Bedford County Board of Education must find a way to cut $438,000 from its budget for the upcoming school year after a split vote by the Bedford County Commission on Thursday night. The commission upheld the tax allocation rate passed at its June 12 meeting. That allocation gives the school system 96 cents, six cents less than the original allocation of $1.02. The county finance committee had recommended an allocation of the $2.27 property tax rate in a May 22 meeting.
Farmers in Middle Tennessee say another week or so without rain could spell doom for many of their crops. Some fear the dry, 100 degree weather is an indicator of an oncoming drought, worse than the one in 2007. That year, Tennessee suffered what’s called an “exceptional drought”; cities had trouble with their water supplies, and the UT agriculture office even had a hotline to counsel depressed farmers on losing their crops. The state hasn’t reached that designation for now, but Cheatham County farmer Walter Weakley says this year already seems different.
Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers have a clear duty to begin planning for the state’s nonprofit, flat-rate insurance exchanges that are required under the law. They also must decide whether to accept or reject the enormous benefit of federal funds to expand Medicaid to low-income Tennesseans, or possibly 200,000 to 300,000, who are now excluded from TennCare/Medicaid coverage because their incomes are just bit above the federal poverty level.
“Do you think that money is going to burn a hole in your pocket?” I think most of us heard our parents say that to us as children when we had extra cash and wanted to spend it as fast as we could. As adults, most of us found our parents’ “think before you spend” advice was very wise. The same principle should apply to state government. In fact, the people of this state have shown their desire for responsible government spending by putting into place a mandate that requires Tennessee government to live within its means. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I can affirm we take this requirement very seriously.
June was National Dairy Month, and I would like to encourage everyone to consider the ways that Tennessee’s dairy farmers contribute to the state and local economies and the overall health of residents of Tennessee. Additionally, while recognizing these contributions it is critical to appreciate the efforts that our dairy farmers make on a daily basis throughout the year to produce milk. From an economic perspective, Tennessee’s dairy farmers produced 806 million pounds of milk in 2011. This translates into approximately 94 million gallons of milk, or 14.6 gallons of milk for every person in Tennessee.