This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Career Centers will accept applications Monday for more than 1,500 full-time warehouse jobs at Amazon in Lebanon and Murfreesboro. The jobs offer starting pay between $11 and $13 an hour and involve packing and shipping customer orders. The facilities are expected to begin operations this fall. The career centers are in Dickson, Franklin, Gallatin, Lebanon, McMinnville, Nashville and Murfreesboro. Amazon already operates centers in Chattanooga, Cleveland and Lebanon, employing more than 2,500.
Tennessee’s colleges and universities are getting a mixed review in a new national report. The Commercial Appeal reports that the state-by-state “Leaders & Laggards” study prepared by a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives Tennessee a grade of F in one area because of burdensome state regulations for accreditation of schools. However, the report says Tennessee leads the country in policies that promote funding based on outcomes and a common course numbering system that allows students to transfer credits from one campus to another.
The University of Tennessee spent $2,200 to bring two finalists for police chief to the flagship campus for interviews although reference checks had revealed questionable backgrounds. The Knoxville News Sentinel obtained hundreds of emails, memos, resumes and other documents about the effort to find a new chief. The university eventually hired Troy Lane from the University of Wyoming, and he started at UT on Monday. The former chief, Gloria Graham, left to become assistant chief at the University of Chicago.
He remembers the case well. Seven killers. A man drowned over an $800,000 insurance scam. An initial investigation deemed the 1988 Norris Lake drowning an accident. But after a push from the victim’s mother and a little further investigation, 8th Judicial District Attorney General Paul Phillips was able to charge and successfully prosecute the seven men for first-degree murder in the death of Hugh Huddleston. The case is one of Phillips’ most memorable during his more than three decades of service in the district comprising Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties.
One bad decision can tarnish an otherwise clean record, but some people might qualify for a second chance. A new law in Tennessee will allow state residents convicted of certain crimes to have that infraction expunged from their public records. The law took effect July 1. “The whole idea was, there’s a certain number of people who in their youth at one time showed bad judgment and now have shown themselves to be good citizens … to have their record cleaned,” said Barry Staubus, Sullivan County’s District Attorney General.
A measure to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare and the reduction of the sales tax on groceries are among new laws that took effect Sunday in Tennessee. The welfare 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 will be drug tested. The proposal differs from an original version that would have required blanket testing.
The notion of carrying water for Gov. Bill Haslam has come up for discussion in a Sevier County campaign for a state House seat this summer and perhaps serves to illustrate the differences between candidates Richard Montgomery and Dale Carr. “Mr. Montgomery said, ‘I’ve carried the governor’s water and I’d be happy to carry it all the way to the White House,” says Carr, 57, an auctioneer and Sevierville alderman. “If I’m elected, I’m not going to be one to carry anybody’s water,” Carr said.
The Tennessee Education Association’s political arm has endorsed three East Tennessee Republican legislators facing contested primaries this summer while declining to take sides in incumbent-versus-incumbent Democratic primaries. Republican incumbents receiving TEA support while facing primary challengers on Aug. 2 include Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville, Rep. Dale Ford of Jonesborough and Rep. Bob Ramsey of Maryville. On the other hand, the TEA is backing Phil Morgan Jr. of Newport, the challenger to Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Grady Caskey, challenger to Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville.
Tennessee hospitals say they’re going to bleed if Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly don’t agree to expand TennCare under the federal Affordable Care Act. “We’re going to have to sit down with the administration to see what we can do about it,” said Craig Becker, Tennessee Hospital Association president. “It’s pretty clear that that is absolutely our Achilles’ heel right now.” While the U.S. Supreme Court last week upheld most of the health care law, justices struck down a mandate for states to expand their Medicaid programs.
With John Arriola no longer occupying the county clerk’s office, let the deluge begin. While the Metro Council will appoint an interim clerk in August, the office will appear on the November ballot and candidates are beginning to line up for the spot. Brenda Wynn, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s director of community outreach, and former Metro Councilman Sam Coleman have submitted their names to the Davidson County Democratic Party, which has scheduled a special meeting on Monday, July 9, at 7 p.m. to name their candidate for the November ballot.
County Commissioner Robert Stevens was unsuccessful in calling for cutting $11,626 from the county’s budget by merging two commission committees: Property Management and Public Works & Planning. Stevens said a $150 per meeting stipend and payroll benefits for committee members should be reduced when the monthly committee meetings sometimes only last 15 minutes. “I don’t see a justification for keeping both committees, (when the county has an) $18 million deficit,” Stephens said.
A product of recent redistricting is arriving in mailboxes of many Hamilton County residents. The election commission is sending out 202,444 new voter registration cards with information about new polling places and, for many, new political districts for the Aug. 2 state primary and county general election. “That’s everybody that has had a change,” said Hamilton County Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan. She estimated the number of new cards is higher than the total number of Hamilton County residents who were registered to vote during the last redistricting process.
Every morning for the last four months, Tonya Ransom has opened her front door to brokenness. She has had to look at the gouged landscape on the hillside across from her Harrison home where hundreds of scraggly trees are piled haphazardly, still resting where they landed when an EF3 tornado hit March 2. When she drives along Short Tail Springs Road to the grocery store, she must pass the wreckage of dozens of homes, some untouched since the storm. Many — including Ransom’s — have blue tarps stretched across the roofs and boards covering gaping holes where windows and doors once were.
Knox County Commissioner Mike Brown doesn’t care what the law says. As far as he’s concerned, if you want to get a beer permit in this county, you’d better be able to speak English. Or he’ll vote against you. “Yes, it’s not right. If you can’t understand English, then you can’t understand the law,” said Brown, who represents the 9th District, which encompasses the southern part of the county. Brown, because he is a commissioner, sits on the county beer board, which regulates beer permits in the county.
The Shelby County Commission’s move last week to block the suburban referendums on new municipal school districts returns the polarizing issue to federal court where both sides had assumed that it would ultimately be decided. That’s because U.S. District Court Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr. made it clear last August — when he upheld other key provisions of the 2011 “Norris-Todd Act” creating a planning and transition process for merging Memphis and Shelby County Schools — that he was not settling the municipal school-district question at that time.
The 20 brightly colored tents look like a carnival midway tucked into a corner of the Civic Center Plaza. Except for phones and laptops, a propane tank in the “kitchen tent” is one of the most modern conveniences reminding people that Occupy Memphis has not given up. It’s not like Boy Scout camp. There is anger. People have been laid off. Some can’t find new jobs. Some were bankrupted by the recession and espouse the mantra of the movement’s “99 percent,” including them. “There is no us in U.S.,” one camper wrote on a dry-erase marker board on the edge of the encampment just across the trolley tracks from City Hall.
The Jackson City Council will consider a proposal on Tuesday to change the city’s traffic camera vendors from American Traffic Solutions to Redflex, allowing the city to make more money per paid violation and giving police clearer, real-time footage of traffic violations. The city and ATS’ contract, which gives the city $18.50 per paid violation and ATS $37.50 per violation, runs out this month. Mayor Jerry Gist asked to renegotiate in January for the city to receive more money per violation, as well as to do away with speed zones and the “robo cop” mobile speed detection unit.
GOP candidates U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp scheduled 663 political ads between June 21 and Tuesday on local affiliates for ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, documents show. While that may seem like a lot — more than 50 ads a day for two weeks across four channels — saturation and style vary for the Republicans seeking Tennessee’s 3rd District seat. And it’s only the beginning. Fleischmann is airing 220 repetitions of two ads within the 13-day span, while Wamp is rotating his own trio 352 times in the same timeframe.
The Supreme Court decision upholding the federal health care law quickly worked its way into Tennessee’s 4th District congressional race between Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Eric Stewart, a Democrat. DesJarlais’ campaign on Friday demanded to know Stewart’s position, noting the congressman, a Jasper physician, opposes the law and backs its repeal. “The people of Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District deserve to know where Eric Stewart stands on Obamacare,” said DesJarlais’ campaign manager, Brandon Lewis.
The number of people receiving food stamps hit a record high during the recent recession and remains high. But that has not been the case for welfare. In some states, welfare participation rates have actually decreased over the past few years. Equally surprising is the fact that less than one-third of the federal and state money currently spent on welfare is actually given to people as cash assistance. The rest is spent on specialized services such as child care, child welfare and teen pregnancy counseling, but the government really doesn’t know how these funds are used and who benefits.
When word spread in April that Elissa Kim, an executive of Teach for America, was poised to launch a run for Metro school board, emails started to circulate from the city’s foremost charter enthusiasts. They were all abuzz, having found their contender. “We have to make sure she wins!” John Eason, a longtime charter champion and board member of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, wrote of Kim, one of three candidates challenging school board chair Gracie Porter in District 5.
This year’s election for five seats on the Nashville school board is shaping up to be a referendum on Director of Schools Jesse Register, though his name is not anywhere on the ballot. Special interest groups have been galvanized by Register’s direction on expansion of charter schools, tension with the support employees union and student achievement measures like graduation rates. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, organized labor unions and a new group aiming to bring more charter schools to Davidson County are backing school board candidates and offering considerable financial support in hopes of either continuing Register’s work or undoing some of his key initiatives.
Anyone who expected a new superintendent for the unified Shelby County school system to be in place by fall got another letdown last week when the school board delegated the process to a committee. It likely will be late July before chairman Billy Orgel names the committee. “If a majority of the board wanted to hasten the process, we could do it faster,” Orgel said last week, “by calling a special meeting.” The board must approve Orgel’s five picks and then agree on any ad hoc members from the community before the committee goes to work.
Extremely dry June adds to worries over fires, safety, farming Not only is it hot but it’s dry — Dust Bowl dry. Rainfall last month was the second lowest ever recorded for Nashville in June, and with no significant rain expected anytime soon, the region’s drought conditions are only expected to get worse, the National Weather Service reported Sunday. Nashville had just 0.26 inch of rain in June, well below the 4.1 inches normal for this time of year. Since January, Nashville’s precipitation level is 7 inches below normal.
Tennessee is seeing dry conditions that normally don’t develop until late summer and the wildfire danger is increasing. State Forestry Division officials report an increase in the number of fire calls — both those the state responds to and those that volunteer fire departments report to the agency. “The low relative humidity and the high temperatures have caused vegetation to really dry out, both grasses in the open areas and leaf litter on the forest floor, creating an elevated wildfire threat,” said Tim Phelps, information forester for the agency.
After a months-long effort to find state regulations hampering business, Gov. Bill Haslam and his administration have pretty much given up. At a recent event devoted to bashing federal regulations, the governor acknowledged that his efforts at enhancing state government’s “business friendliness” has wound up being “more of an attitude thing” than a repealing or revising thing. Under the Haslam administration, it is more or less declared, state government bureaucrats have had an attitude adjustment to where they now realize they are to help regulated businesses, not harass them.
Gov. Bill Haslam last week signed a bill that would allow foster children in Tennessee to remain in the system until they reach the age of 21. The amended Tennessee’s Transition Youth Empowerment Act of 2010 should ease the transition to adulthood for hundreds of people in the state. It is refreshing to see state government take an action that clearly benefits foster children in Tennessee and should pay dividends for the state’s communities. Of the more than 8,000 children in state custody or foster care this year, about 60 percent are teens. In 2011, 813 had to move out of the program when they reached 18, according to the governor.
With the arrival of July and a new fiscal year in Tennessee comes a host of new laws the public is wise to become aware of and to heed. Of particular interest to us are tougher “driving under the influence” laws. We don’t know of a more basic and preventable public safety hazard than operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The tougher enforcement regulations will help hold those who violate the law more accountable, and likely will save lives as well. Tennessee’s restructured DUI law does two important things: Drivers suspected of driving under the influence no longer have to voluntarily submit to a blood test, and those convicted of a DUI offense while someone under the age of 18 is in the vehicle are subject to additional fines and jail time.
Let’s talk ice storm. I know, I know. It’s hotter than Satan’s fiery furnace outside, with temperatures breaking records and making “swelter” the most-spoken word dripping off tongues. But the ramifications of the Great Ice Storm of 1994 are being felt once again. The Tennessee Valley Authority is under fire for its plan to chop down trees near and under its high-power lines along 16,000 miles in seven states. Meanwhile, Nashville Electric Service has a new campaign to educate people about what trees are safe to plant under its lines. Why? One reason is because of what happened 18 years ago.