This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam will assemble business, legislative and higher education leaders for a meeting at the governor’s residence next week that will kick off his review of the state’s college and university systems. The July 10 meeting comes days after the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents approved tuition and fee increases on the state’s campuses ranging up to 8 percent for the 2012-13 school year that opens next month.
Gov. Bill Haslam defended including his support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his official statement last week 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the high court’s decision, Haslam concluded that “by electing Mitt Romney, we can be sure that the entire law will be repealed.”
Former state employees who still get their retirement benefits in the form of paper checks will have to make a change in the next year. The board of trustees for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System has voted to go entirely paperless. The vast majority of the state’s 108-thousand retirees already use direct deposit, but just under four percent still get their checks in the mail. Officials say there’s too much overhead with checks-beyond the cost of the benefits, the state has to buy the actual checks and pay workers to process them.
More of us are working, but we’re making less. That’s the mixed snapshot of Tennessee shown by recently released government data, which say the state — led by a pair of Middle Tennessee counties — was among the national leaders in job growth but also saw wages fall by more than most during a recent one-year period. Economists and local economic officials couldn’t readily pinpoint the causes of the unusual contrast, offering several possible culprits.
Tuition increases for the fall approved last week by the Tennessee Board of Regents come as years of tight funding by the state for colleges, universities and community colleges may be about to ease. The first indication came this winter in Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State budget address in which he devoted a large portion of the speech to higher education, outlined new capital spending for higher education and cautioned universities to keep tuition hikes to a minimum.
The recent record-setting heat wave has prompted the Tennessee State Parks system and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area to impose a temporary ban on all backcountry campfires. Campers still will be able to build campfires and use charcoal to cook their meals so long as they use fire rings and designated grill areas in selected campgrounds — not in backcountry areas. The campfire ban will remain in effect until further notice. “Until we get regionwide rain, the risk is just too high,” said Big South Fork ranger Howard Duncan.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will suspend all construction-related lane closures on interstates and state routes from noon Tuesday through 6 a.m. Friday to accommodate heavy traffic on the July 4 holiday. Some workers may still be on site in construction zones and reduced speed limits in work zones will remain in effect. TDOT reminded travelers they can dial 511 to get information about travel conditions. AAA estimates about 754,000 Tennesseans will be on the roadways over the holiday period.
With the Fourth of July holiday falling in the middle of the week, the Tennessee Department of Transportation reminds holiday travelers that one Southbound lane of Interstate 75 in Campbell County remains closed. To help holiday traffic flow around the state, TDOT has suspended as many lane closures as it safely can, between noon today and 6 a.m. Friday. But the one lane closure of I-75 South between mile markers 141 and 144 is not one of them.
Motorists suspected of driving while impaired will not be able to just say no to Tennessee Highway Patrol when asked to take a blood test this week. The “No Refusal” enforcement period begins at 6 p.m. today and ends at midnight Sunday, according to a news release issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Tennessee Highway Patrol and Governor’s Highway Safety Office. This special enforcement will take place in selected counties where impaired driving and fatal crashes have increased in 2012, specifically, Anderson, Bradley, Davidson, Maury and Warren counties.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency is investigating the alleged slaughter of geese at the Farms subdivision. The incident is said to have occurred on Friday afternoon at Pioneer Lake No. 5 off of St. Andrews Cove, located on the greens of the Dyersburg Country Club at the Farms. According to reports, two men used shotguns to shoot a number of geese as they were floating in the water. The geese were left dead or to die in the water. TWRA Capt. Buddy Brien stated his agency began investigating the incident after it was reported to his office.
Tennessee will receive $13.5 million as part of a $3 billion settlement with drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline. The state will receive funds from the settlement to resolve allegations that GlaxoSmithKline unlawfully marketed certain drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration , according to a statement from Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper. The settlement with several states and the federal government includes $2 billion in damages and civil penalties, as well as a $1 billion criminal fine.
Tennessee will get at least $13.5 million from a $3 billion health care fraud agreement involving drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, state Attorney General Bob Cooper announced Monday. Under the agreement, believed to be one of the largest in U.S. history, the company agreed to pay the money to the federal government and participating states to resolve allegations it engaged in various illegal schemes related to the marketing and pricing of drugs it manufacturers, the attorney general’s office said in a news release.
The Board of Judicial Conduct has issued a public reprimand of Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John H. Gasaway III over an incident involving his attorney wife. On Feb. 21, 2012, Gasaway published an order on the Montgomery County Court website denying a motion to recuse himself from all cases heard by attorneys Kimberly Turner, Melissa King and Brian Hill, all former employees of his wife, attorney Carrie Gasaway, according to the reprimand letter by the board.
The notion of carrying water for Gov. Bill Haslam has come up for discussion in a Sevier County campaign for the 12th House District 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,’ ” said Carr, 57, an auctioneer and Sevierville alderman. “If I’m elected, I’m not going to be one to carry anybody’s water. I don’t want to make the governor mad in any case, but sometimes in Sevier County we don’t like people telling us what to do.”
State Capitol renovations revealed some surprising architectural details. Turns out brick, arched ceilings on the ground floor were covered with false ceilings. One floor up, workers revealed original stone walls from the Capitol’s opening in the 1850s. They exposed filled-in fireplaces on the side of the state House chambers, visible for the first time in decades. Many of these historic features will be covered again to keep the building functional, but some will be restored as part of final renovation plans.
A Rutherford County judge refused Monday to suspend an order that blocks a local mosque from getting a certificate of occupancy. Chancellor Robert Corlew turned down county attorneys who wanted him to put his injunction on hold and allow the mosque to be used while they appeal the order to a higher court. Corlew issued the injunction in mid-June after ruling that county officials did not provide sufficient public notice for a May 2010 meeting where the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s construction plans were approved.
Chancellor Robert Corlew declined a Rutherford County request Monday morning that would have allowed it to issue a certificate of occupancy for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro until appeals are exhausted on an Open Meetings Act ruling. Corlew took under advisement a motion by plaintiffs in the case that would require the county to issue a stop-work order on construction on the Veals Road mosque. The chancellor said he will issue a ruling after a 30-day time limit expired Monday night.
A court in Rutherford County continues to block Muslims from occupying their nearly-finished mosque in Murfreesboro. Monday a judge refused to back away while the case is appealed. Chancellor Robert Corlew has ordered the county to withhold an occupancy certificate until the case is resolved. The fix, he says, would be to have another planning commission meeting to approve the project. He says the one in 2010 didn’t get enough public notice. “If that meeting were to occur, I think that would remove all of the appeals.”
If you’re thinking you’ve dealt with too many people already on this Monday morning, it could be worse: new Census Bureau data published by On Numbers indicates that there are just about six times as many Californians than there are Tennesseans. According to On Numbers’ population projections for July 1, 2012, Tennessee held on as the nation’s 17th most-populous state with an estimated 6,462,107 people. California, meanwhile, is estimated to be home to 38,042,853 people — almost 12 million more than Texas, the runner-up.
Ted Rogers remembers riding his bike down rural Apison Pike through Collegedale as a boy, heading to the Trading Post to buy candy. The town center known as Four Corners was just a couple of businesses and didn’t have a stoplight. Rogers, now Collegedale’s city manager, drives down the same street to get to work, but it’s clustered with restaurants, banks, gas stations and shops. And that’s just the beginning. “We are in the middle of some pretty incredible growth in Collegedale, and we’re only on the cusp,” he said.
An attorney representing Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett in his divorce has subpoenaed the News Sentinel to produce building visitor logs and video surveillance recordings. The subpoena, delivered to editor Jack McElroy on Friday afternoon, asks for sign-in sheets for all News Sentinel visitors between May 15 and June 24. It also asks for all videotapes “or other video recorded medium containing surveillance of the front entrance, visitor parking area, and other parking areas adjacent to the visitor parking, and/or lobby” during the same time frame.
Council plans to weigh PILOTs Memphis may join the growing list of cash-strapped cities that ask nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations to make payments in lieu of tax. The City Council will vote Tuesday on a resolution to form a committee to explore the idea. “We want to see if this is feasible, and if it is feasible, how much revenue it could generate,” said council member Janis Fullilove, who sponsored the resolution. Fullilove said the committee, if approved, would focus on tax-exempt and nonprofit entities that gross $15 million or more annually.
Opponents say TN senator is too corporate-friendly Critics took aim at Republican Sen. Bob Corker last month after he called for a hearing to investigate more than $2 billion in trading losses at JPMorgan, then used the occasion to heap praise on CEO Jamie Dimon. Corker called Dimon “one of the best CEOs in the country for financial institutions” and deemed the losses, which the New York Times reported last week could total as much as $9 billion, a “blip on the radar screen.” Those statements have fueled claims by Corker’s challengers from both parties that the senator’s allegiance lies with big campaign donors and not ordinary Tennesseans — a theme they will try to hammer home as elections draw near.
A key congressional vote at the last hour to keep interest rates on student loans from doubling was nothing more than political maneuvering, Tennessee’s junior senator said Monday. “What has happened is that President [Barack] Obama made it a campaign issue and Mitt Romney [the presumptive Republican presidential nominee] quickly agreed,” U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said during an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Monday he has drafted a “soup to nuts” plan to reform taxes and entitlements to cut spending and raise more money to balance the budget. But Corker said he doesn’t plan to introduce the measure until at least this fall and doesn’t expect Congress to take up any more major budget deals until after the November presidential election. “We’ll have it ready for prime time later this year,” Corker told reporters and editors of the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker wants the new health care law to be replaced, and he’s already thinking about what should come next. The Republican senator from Tennessee was in Knoxville on Monday, less than a week after the Supreme Court upheld the core of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama. Opposition to the measure runs high among Republicans and, with his name on the ballot this fall, Corker is no exception.
Opposition to expanding Medicaid under the health-care overhaul is hardening in some Republican-led states, as Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said over the weekend that he will opt out. His decision puts the former hospital executive at odds with state hospitals. Another half dozen Republican-led states—Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin—say they, too, may opt out of widening eligibility for the federal-state insurance program for the poor starting in 2014.
With temperatures soaring to a high of 104 on Saturday, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power system hit record demand during the weekend, causing the utility to issue an emergency electricity conservation request. By 5 p.m. Saturday, TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said the utility met a peak demand of 30,771 megawatts — the highest Saturday and weekend peak ever recorded. The high demand coupled with a fire at the John Sevier switchyard caused the TVA to issue the emergency request for customers to conserve electricity to help ensure enough was available during the high heat.
Board faces tight deadline for Cordova assignments Shelby County unified school board chairman Billy Orgel said Monday he is confident that the board can find a way to allow public school students who live in the newly annexed area of south Cordova to remain in the schools they have been attending for the upcoming school year. Orgel said he discussed the issue over the weekend with Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken and Memphis City Schools chief of staff John Barker after board members heard from parents of school-age children in the area, most of whom are attending county schools in Germantown.
For more than a year and a half, the reformation of public schools in Shelby County has followed a flow chart all sides in the historic movement agreed were likely moves before everything was decided. The legal motion filed last week in Memphis federal court to stop the vote on six August ballot questions to form suburban municipal school districts was one of those expected maneuvers. That doesn’t diminish the controversy surrounding the arguments on both sides of the motion filed by Shelby County Commissioners.
Tennessee’s students have responded to stiffer academic standards by improving test scores, but they remain behind where they need to be to thrive once they leave school. Students statewide showed improved average test scores in 23 of 24 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program categories this year, according to data released last Tuesday. District-level results will be released later this month. “This shows if we set expectations higher, students, parents and teachers will meet them,” state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said when announcing the results.
June 29 marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Furman vs. Georgia, which struck down the nation’s death penalty. In its decision, the high court expressed particular concern over the arbitrary manner in which death sentences were applied, with Justice Potter Stewart likening receiving a death sentence to being struck by lightning. Four years later, when the death penalty was reinstated, new sentencing procedures were supposed to make the system fairer and less arbitrary.
Sen. Bob Corker’s low-key re-election campaign hasn’t drawn wide public attention yet, and there’s good reason for that. He’s built a good reputation by doing a fine job the past five-and-a-half years, and his obscure opponents in the August Republican primary don’t have the money or name-recognition to derail Corker’s bid for a second term. Simply put, he’s earned the status of a shoo-in. His enviable position owes both to his serious study of the most critical problems that confront Washington and his good fortune upon his arrival in the Senate in 2006 to be placed on two of the Senate’s most powerful committees — banking and foreign relations.
For months, people in Memphis, along with the rest of the country, have been waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a decision on the constitutionality of the health care reform President Barack Obama signed into law two years ago. Now we have our answer. The court last week upheld the law of the land. The law before the decision is the law today. Nothing has changed. No one died. The stock market didn’t crash. People still went to work and babies still cried and needed their diapers changed. So what does the Supreme Court decision mean? First, the law is still 2,500 pages long. The interpretation of the law has only begun.