This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
America’s governors have long used their semi-annual gatherings to lock arms in opposition to dreaded unfunded federal mandates and emphasize a pragmatic approach to problem-solving in stark contrast to a hyper-partisan, even dysfunctional Washington. But the makings of a real divide loomed over the summer meeting of the National Governors Association here, as state leaders grappled with the fallout of the Supreme Court ruling that granted unexpected leeway with regard to a key component of President Barack Obama’s landmark health law: whether to accept billions of federal dollars in return for expanding coverage for the poor through Medicaid.
The nation’s governors are unnerved by the course that’s being set in Washington, and many dread that neither party will be able to fix what’s broken after November. The anxiety is bipartisan in scope, with deep worries about sequestration and ‘taxmageddon,’ the shorthand for federal spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to automatically go into effect at the end of the year. There’s confusion about what federal education standards will look like when Congress finally reauthorizes No Child Left Behind and hesitation about whether to expand Medicaid — one of the biggest expenses in every state’s budget — in the wake of the Supreme Court’s health care decision that gives governors the choice.
Tennessee will begin taking bids this week for a chance to participate in the state’s fourth annual managed elk hunt. The eBay auction begins Thursday and runs for 10 days with proceeds to benefit the state’s elk restoration program. Since the hunt was implemented in 2009, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has issued five permits each year. Four winners are selected by lottery and the fifth permit is sold to the highest bidder. The hunt is scheduled for Oct. 15-19 at the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.
A mixture of high-profile stories, increased emergency room visits and reports of startling psychotic effects have forced synthetic drugs into the public lexicon over the past year. And the increased attention has led officials to crack down on “designer drugs” that mimic the effects of marijuana and other illegal substances. The General Assembly has passed laws aimed at curbing synthetic drug usage with both specificity and generality. Older laws forbid certain chemical compositions, while recently passed legislation deems all “imitation controlled substances” illegal.
Political action committees, businesses and legislative leaders placed $1.4 million in bets on races for the Tennessee General Assembly between April 1 and June 30, campaign finance filings show. The money is helping fuel the campaigns for the Aug. 2 party primaries and the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Among dozens of groups giving money, the No. 1 position goes to a PAC operated by StudentsFirst, a national education reform advocacy group, according to Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance records.
Summer is prime time to get out, meet voters; but hold the speeches For elected officials and those who hope to be, summertime in rural Williamson County is anything but lazy. Almost every weekend from June through August is filled with homemade ice cream, grilled burgers and chats with neighbors. It is a down-home style of campaigning — the flip side of direct mail and candidate forums. Judges, commissioners and legislators generally hit two or three community or church events on any given Saturday, whether it’s their election season or not.
Belle Morris Elementary School, a key Democratic precinct in what has been state Rep. Harry Tindell’s 13th House District, has been combined with the Larry Cox Senior Recreation Center to the dismay of Democrats. Tindell, one of two Democrats in the 10-member Knox County legislative delegation, is not seeking re-election after the GOP-dominated General Assembly reapportioned state House and Senate and congressional districts this year. Gloria Johnson, chair of the Knox County Democratic Party and the only Democratic candidate seeking Tindell’s seat, said Belle Morris was her precinct and she didn’t know the change was coming.
It might seem like déjà vu all over again for Lenoir City voters who notice that two initiatives on the Aug. 2 ballot look familiar. Both of the proposals involve changes to the town’s charter and both were defeated at the ballot four years ago, one by a wide margin the other by only a few votes. The first initiative asks voters to amend the town charter so that the City Recorder/Treasurer is changed from a popularly elected position with a four-year term to a position appointed and approved by the City Council.
Three months after Scottie Mayfield said his 33-year-old son’s tire-slashing incident “has no place in campaigns,” an audio captured the dairy executive saying, “I’m not ashamed of why he did it.” The remark conflicts with a public apology Mayfield issued April 26 after his son, Michael Mayfield, confessed to slashing a tire belonging to an aide of the man his father wants to beat in Tennessee’s 3rd District GOP primary — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. In a written statement released the day the Kingston (Tenn.) Police Department charged his son with vandalism under $500, Mayfield apologized, called the slashing regrettable and said, “This kind of activity has no place in campaigns.
While the “individual mandate” and the “guaranteed coverage” aspects of the Affordable Care Act have received wide attention, few people know about a provision of the law that has a much wider impact — the “essential health benefits” provision. The aim of this provision is to protect people from being under-insured. Tennessee is holding the first of six public hearings on Tuesday at Vanderbilt University as it goes about defining the essential health benefits for insurance plans in this state.
A federal order that could cost Chattanooga hundreds of millions of dollars for sewer fixes will be made public this week. It will involve work to revamp the city’s wastewater treatment plant and hundreds of miles of underground sewer lines and alleviate system failures that have plagued the city for nearly a decade. “We anticipate it will be filed on Tuesday, and it will be open to the public at that time,” City Attorney Mike McMahan said Friday. The negotiated agreement will place the city on a strict timetable stipulating when changes must be implemented, said Jerry Stewart, director of the city’s waste resources division, which oversees the sewage treatment plant.
Republican governors, eager for new revenue to ease budget strains, are dropping their longtime opposition to imposing sales taxes on online purchases, a significant political shift that could soon bring an end to tax-free sales on the Internet. Conservative governors, joining their Democratic counterparts, have been making deals with online retail giant Amazon.com to collect state sales taxes. The movement picked up an important ally when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—widely mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate—recently reached an agreement under which Amazon would collect sales taxes on his state’s online purchases in exchange for locating distribution facilities there.
After loosening their coffers to help families cope during the recession, some colleges now are cutting back on grants and scholarships, aid that students don’t have to pay back. The move—prompted in part by the colleges’ own financial troubles—is prompting students and their families to borrow more to close the gap, raising the already-heavy debt load many graduates will face. Grants and scholarships fell 15% during the just-completed academic year, according to a study to be released Monday by student-loan provider Sallie Mae.
While the Knox County Education Association plans to survey teachers in the near future, school and county officials have decided to table the issue for now. The idea of surveying teachers came out of conversations during this year’s budget process, but making them anonymous has become a major point of contention. Knox County Law Director Joe Jarrett has issued an opinion that the surveys can be done anonymously if there are no identifying questions, like a teacher’s name or employee ID number, included.
When 200 angry parents from the east Tennessee town of Maryville attended a public hearing last year on the closing an elementary school, city government and school officials took the heat from the crowd. Had the same thing happened in nearby Oak Ridge, city officials likely would have stayed away because of the autonomy of its school board. It’s unclear whether the proposed municipal school districts in Shelby County would operate largely in autonomy like Oak Ridge or would share some services with their city governments like Maryville, but Shelby County’s suburban cities already have laid the groundwork for their school systems.
Both sides in the combustible “guns-in-parking-lots” debate in Tennessee are right. Both are also wrong. A bill that cleared most committees in the Tennessee General Assembly but never came up for full House and Senate votes this year would prevent companies from barring workers or others who have handgun-carry permits from storing firearms in locked vehicles parked on company property. The guns would have to be stored out of sight. Here is where most opponents of the measure are wrong: They seem to believe that the bill, if passed, would spawn some sort of Wild West bloodbath and compromise the safety of workers and others at businesses around the state. The evidence indicates otherwise.
Recently, I attended a National Governors Association Conference which focused on innovations for states across issues of education, technology, and more. A CEO from one of the country’s largest corporations said that given the rapidly changing economy it is very likely that what workers are doing today will not be what they are doing tomorrow. Therefore, to be competitive a worker must be adaptable and creative. Technological advancements and the sheer quantities of available goods call for a different kind of worker. Modern employers are looking for people who can think holistically and make connections among unrelated sets of information to originate new ideas. People who can imagine will be relevant in this creative workforce, and fostering the skill of imagination best begins with the student.
Two Tennessee doctors are none too pleased with the prospects of the Internal Revenue Service having access to your health care information and serving as the enforcers to collect the new Obama Tax for those who don’t purchase a government approved health care plan. These two doctors also happen to be members of Congress — Phil Roe (TN-1) and Scott DesJarlais (TN-4). When Obamacare was passed and signed into law, it allowed state health exchanges to award tax credits for the purchase of premiums for coverage. These state health exchanges would be operated independently through each state, under each state’s own regulations and laws governing the insurance industry.
A century and a half ago, the Civil War raged across the American landscape, forever changing our country and its people. As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War in 2012 and beyond, members of Congress, and specifically our senators and representatives from Tennessee, have a remarkable opportunity to support legislation that will help protect lands that are critical to telling stories of defining moments in American history. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Tennessee’s Congressional delegation must act now to protect and preserve these sacred places for our children and grandchildren for the next 150 years.