This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Assistant Commissioner David W. Purkey has been appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to the Tennessee Medical Examiner Advisory Council as a Board Member. The appointment is effective immediately and runs through June 30, 2014. “I am honored by this appointment and look forward to serving on the advisory council. I hope to bring my public safety and emergency medical experience to the council as it makes recommendations pertaining to the death investigations in Tennessee,” Purkey said.
A national publication ranks Tennessee No. 1 in automotive manufacturing strength for the third straight year. Business Facilities’ July/August issue cited the state for economic growth potential, job growth, business and education climate, transportation infrastructure, data center hubs and other factors. In a statement issued through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Business Facilities editor-in-chief Jack Rogers said the state’s assembly lines and supplier networks continue to get bigger and better.
Tennessee has earned top honors for automotive manufacturing from a national economic development publication for the third year in a row. Business Facilities named Tennessee the No. 1 state for “automotive manufacturing strength” for the third time, in addition to other top 10 mentions for economic growth potential, job growth and categories related to business climate, education reform and infrastructure. The automotive honors tie back to Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen locations around Tennessee, in addition to other companies.
For the third consecutive year, Business Facilities magazine ranked Tennessee as the top state for automobile manufacturing strength. “VW is ramping up production at its new plant in Chattanooga, Nissan is rolling out the all-electric Leaf in Smyrna and General Motors has given a new mission to the former Saturn plant in Spring Hill,” said Jack Rogers, editor-in-chief for Business Facilities magazine. “The Volunteer State is putting the pedal to the metal as our undisputed automotive king.” Kentucky is No. 2, followed by South Carolina.
Deals pushing for the collection of online sales taxes — a signature issue for Gov. Bill Haslam and other Tennessee Republicans — are gaining steam nationally, and at a politically momentous time. The list of Republican governors supporting deals in which online retailers like Amazon.com collect sales taxes is getting longer, and more prominent. As The Wall Street Journal reports, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a national personality often floated as a vice presidential candidate, has joined a growing string of Republicans backing the concept.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed July 15th-21st, 2012 as Probation, Parole and Community Corrections Officers week in Tennessee and is encouraging all Tennesseans to recognize the contributions of these law enforcement professionals. “By providing effective community supervision for more than 74,400 adult offenders, the men and women who work tirelessly to uphold the laws of our state assume great risks each day but serve valiantly and with honor.” Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield said.
A skeptically high three-fourths of Tennessee teachers earned exemplary classroom observation scores — a key area of inaugural state-mandated teacher evaluations — leading state education officials to question whether local administrators are adequately identifying poor instructors. “While these scores dispel the myth that teachers cannot receive high scores on the observation rubric, when considered alongside student achievement results, they demand reflection and thoughtful consideration,” reads a Tennessee Department of Education report released Monday on the first year of the controversial state’s teacher evaluation system.
Tennessee’s Department of Education is recommending changes to the state’s system for evaluating teachers. Such job reviews affect whether teachers get or keep tenure, and many have complained the new system is unfair. One of the main criticisms of the year-old system is that not all subjects have statewide tests, which are supposed to make up a big part of a teacher’s job review. Instead, in areas like Kindergarten and gym, that part of the teacher’s evaluation depends on their school’s performance overall.
Classroom observations fail to catch problems, state saysTennessee’s new way of evaluating classrooms “systematically failed” to identify bad teachers and provide them more training, according to a state report published Monday. The Tennessee Department of Education found that instructors who got failing grades when measured by their students’ test scores tended to get much higher marks from principals who watched them in classrooms. State officials expected to see similar scores from both methods.
Tennessee’s seventh annual Sales Tax Holiday is scheduled for Aug. 3-5, according to the state Department of Revenue. During the designated three-day weekend, consumers will not pay state or local sales tax on clothing with a price of $100 or less per item, school and art supplies with a price of $100 or less per item, and computers with a price of $1,500 or less. “As in years past, last year’s tax-free weekend was very successful, providing Tennessee taxpayers nearly $9.6 million in tax savings,” Richard Roberts, revenue commissioner for Tennessee, said in a statement.
A dustup earlier this year between a Murfreesboro man and the Tennessee Department of Revenue over taxes on a home-built boat has led one lawmaker to consider reforming the state’s tax laws. The problems began for Johnathan King, 39, when he attempted to register a 14-foot boat, which he had built in his garage for personal use, with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Association. The boat, made of plywood, fiberglass overlay and epoxy, had been built with materials purchased locally, a motor purchased in Hermitage four years ago, and plans purchased over the Internet, King said.
The Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. reached record-high totals for fiscal year 2012, including $323.4 million raised for state education programs. The increase reflects a jump of 10.2 percent over last fiscal year’s then-record total of $293.4 million for education, and the totals include about $30 million more to be used for education-related funding in Tennessee, according to a spokeswoman for the lottery The FY 2012 — covering July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012 — total sales of $1.31 billion surpassed last year’s previous sales record by $124.6 million.
Sales of lottery tickets set a record, rising 11 percent in part because of March’s record Mega Millions jackpot. The lottery brought in more than $1.3 billion in the 12-month period that ended June 30, setting a record for the eighth consecutive year, the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. said Monday. The lottery’s contribution for state education programs rose slightly less, by 10 percent. The $323.4 million contribution was also a record, beating last year’s amount by about $30 million.
New games, big jackpots and higher prices have all played a part in ramping up Tennessee lottery sales to record levels, and officials say a $30 million increase in education funding will pull the state out of two years of scholarship shortfalls. Employees at local lottery retailers say doubling the price of Powerball tickets to $2 last January hasn’t turned off too many customers. “Most people are going to buy it no matter what,” said Johnny Hargis, assistant manager of Lotto Mart in South Pittsburg, Tenn. “A lot of people are still out of work, trying to get some money.”
Tennessee lottery officials announced Monday that the lottery has raised more than $323 million this year for state education programs, the eighth consecutive record-setting year. The figure is a 10.2 percent increase — or roughly $30 million — over last year’s then-record of $293.4 million, officials said. Data from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp., which oversees lottery-funded programs, show more than 600,000 scholarships have been awarded to in-state education institutions since the lottery’s inception in 2004.
Powerful prescription narcotics sold on the street are often paid for with your tax dollars. And the profit for dealers is big money with total sales topping those of crack, methamphetamine and even marijuana. “The majority of the prescription medicine sold on the streets is paid for by TennCare,” said Officer Mike Dunn with the Office of the State Inspector General. News Channel 5 was granted unprecedented access and join state and local drug agents on undercover stings to catch people selling TennCare drugs.
A Cocke County woman has picked up her second TennCare fraud charge for allegedly going to multiple doctors to obtain the same or similar controlled substances and using TennCare as payment. The state Office of Inspector General, with Cocke County Sheriff’s Office, Monday announced the arrest of Desiree Larea McIntyre, 23,of Newport. She was indicted by a Sevier grand jury and charged with two counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain a controlled substance by “doctor shopping” for the painkiller Hydrocodone.
A Decherd, Tenn., man has been arrested and charged with one count of TennCare fraud and two counts of obtaining a controlled substance from a local pharmacy by means of fraud, a news release states. Alfred Hill, 54, of Decherd, was arrested after a joint investigation by the Office of Inspector General and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. “Tennesseans are committed to eliminating prescription drug abuse, especially when the TennCare program is being defrauded,” Inspector General Deborah Faulkner said in the release.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam visited McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday to encourage children and their parents to read together. As part of her drive to encourage participation in the First Lady’s Read20 Family Book Club, Haslam visited with a group of about 100 military personnel, their family members and children. During July, Haslam has been visiting military families throughout the state to recognize their service and sacrifice, and to encourage their participation in her Read20 Family Book Club.
Monday morning, Tennessee’s First Lady made a stop in East Tennessee to read to children. Crissy Haslam read to more than a dozen kids at the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base. The First Lady wants kids to pledge to read 20 minutes a day with their families in her Read20 Book Club. She has been traveling the state this month visting with military families to recognize their service and sacrifice. She read Judy Moody Declares Her Independence. Each month the First Lady picks a new book.
State Rep. G.A. Hardaway Sr. owes Memphis and Shelby County $39,000 in taxes and weed-cutting fees on three local properties, according to records. Hardaway says his mother died in 2007 and left several properties to her four children, and that there’s confusion over who’s responsible for them. “Well, from my understanding all of the (children’s names) should be on all of the properties,” Hardaway said. He also said he believed his former attorney had made arrangements to pay the taxes.
Rank-and-file Republicans, including some in the party’s suburban Nashville stronghold, have condemned Gov. Bill Haslam for policies that include the hiring of gay individuals, Democrats and a Muslim-American lawyer. At least two western Tennessee chapters of the Tennessee Republican Party — and possibly as many as eight statewide — have passed resolutions saying Haslam has shown “a consistent lack of conservative values” and calling on state party leaders to sanction the governor.
The way to a court challenge of Tennessee’s voter identification law from Memphis takes a few twists and turns away from the polling place. And while Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. as well as several attorneys outside City Hall say they are ready to make the challenge, it will depend on who is willing to not have their vote counted in the Aug. 2 elections after they present a Memphis library card as photo ID to election officials. That could depend on how close the three countywide general election contests on the ballot turn out to be.
Due to ballot problems, the town of Collierville is recommending that residents of Collierville’s newly annexed areas wait “a couple of days” to cast early votes for the Aug. 2 municipal schools referendum. Richard Holden, Shelby County Board of Elections administrator, confirmed that the board’s attempt to include the annexation area in Collierville’s Municipal School District referendum was unsuccessful and did not appear on the ballot. The town of Collierville issued a statement saying it has provided electronic files to the Shelby County Board of Elections with listings for these annexed areas to be distributed to the Early Voting locations.
Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby on Monday said he has effectively killed any plans he initially had to revisit a proposal to let voters decide in November whether to raise the county sales tax by half a cent. Ownby initially floated the plan in late June, but after a newspaper story was published about his interest, he said he received “a lot” of phone calls and emails from residents throughout the county against such a measure. “I wanted to see what type of support there was out there in the other districts and to see what the citizens were thinking, and (the support) is not there,” he said.
The Knox County Commission on Monday appeared determined to find some way — even if an outside party is needed — to survey local teachers about what they’d like to see done in the classroom and what education initiatives they feel taxpayers should fund. The measure, which received some discussion last week from the Knox County school board, was deferred until next month, but not before commissioners weighed in on it. “I feel, absolutely, that a survey should be done … and without a doubt we should do this to where teachers are not afraid of retribution,” said Commissioner Tony Norman, who stressed that whoever conducts the survey must guarantee anonymity for the teachers.
Ballots missing referendums After months of clawing through lawsuits and politics to stop suburban residents from voting to create municipal school districts, some early voters met yet another roadblock Monday, this one on their ballots. Problems with early voting were reported Monday in Bartlett and Collierville, where both longtime and newly annexed residents discovered their ballots didn’t include the referendums for the creation and funding of municipal school districts.
Last month’s Supreme Court decision may have freed Tennessee from having to expand its Medicaid program. But Nashville’s Congressman says the state needs to think twice before opting out. The federal government has no right to essentially force states to expand their Medicaid programs, set up decades ago. That was the high court’s opinion issued last month. At a panel discussion on the topic, Vanderbilt law professor James Blumstein says it was the right call. “It’s bait and switch. The states got into Medicaid thinking it was poverty medicine…and it was being broadened to a whole area that no state could have anticipated reasonably when they opted in.”
Three months ago, Scottie Mayfield announced his record-breaking political fundraising haul a week before anyone else, basking in front-page headlines and the unprecedented 3rd Congressional District glory of raising $450,000 in seven weeks. The dairy executive assumed top-challenger status in the race’s Republican primary, issuing a self-commissioned poll showing him in first place and a news release that said he raised “nearly twice as much as the incumbent,” U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.
Scottie Mayfield’s campaign spent more than U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in running for the 3rd Congressional District Republican nomination during the past three months, but the incumbent has substantially more cash on hand for the race’s final month, according to reports filed Monday. A third candidate in the contest, Weston Wamp, is more or less in the middle of the other two, financially speaking. Mayfield, a dairy company executive, reported receiving $182,696 during the second quarter while spending $380,180.
Democratic congressional hopeful Eric Stewart, of Winchester, edged closer to matching U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in second quarter fundraising, but DesJarlais still holds a better than 3-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage, according to filings. Financial disclosures filed in the 4th Congressional District with the Federal Election Commission show DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, raised $211,628 from April 1 to June 30. Stewart reported raising $148,308 in net contributions. But DesJarlais’ disclosure shows he has $651,693 in cash on hand while Stewart reported $188,813.
So how do you fend off an election challenge from a candidate like Basil Marceaux, whose last political venture and unconventional views on issues such as “gold fringe” flags and illegal police traffic stops left national comedians, radio talk shows and Internet bloggers marveling? For state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, who faces Marceaux in the Aug. 2 Republican primary for House District 27, the answer is very, very diplomatically. “His positions, whether you agree or disagree, you can’t fault his enthusiasm in discussing his issues or promoting them,” said Floyd, who is seeking a third term.
Opponents of the health-care overhaul are seizing on how tax credits to buy insurance are distributed as a new front in their fight against the law. Conservative critics have zeroed in on wording in the law that says state-run programs would be the vehicle for subsidizing the cost of mandatory health insurance for lower-income Americans starting in 2014. People who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level—$44,680 for a single person this year—would be eligible to apply for tax credits to help offset the cost of insurance purchased through online marketplaces, known as exchanges.
President Obama’s health care law is constitutional as a tax — but only a small percentage of Americans will pay more, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data shows. Though the law is projected to raise more than $800 billion in taxes, fees and penalties over a decade, 40% comes from about 3.5 million households with adjusted gross incomes above $200,000. Employers, insurers and health care providers are slated to fork over much of the rest.
Google released information on its impact on Tennessee small-businesses today, part of the search giant’s latest push to focus on the small-business market. According to Google, it provided $529 million “of economic activity” for 28,000 Tennessee businesses, websites and nonprofits in 2011. The data comes from the number of businesses that used AdWords and AdSense in 2011. Google also donated $1 million to 55 Tennessee nonprofits through the Google Grants program.
CareSpot, in venture with TriStar, to hire up to 100 for urgent care HCA’s TriStar Health and CareSpot have established a joint venture to bring as many as 15 urgent care centers to Middle Tennessee, opening throughout 2013. “Urgent care is an important aspect of TriStar’s vision to provide our community with a quality, comprehensive health system,” said Steve Corbeil, president of TriStar Health. “The new urgent care centers will enhance health-care services provided by our primary care physicians and deliver a more rapid, less expensive alternative to emergency room visits.”
The future of South Cleveland is a community decision, Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce officials told MainStreet Cleveland members Monday. Doug Berry, the Chamber’s economic development vice president, said the city has taken no steps toward what will happen after Whirlpool has relocated to Benton Pike from its century-old downtown site. Berry, who has an extensive record of economic development work in Knoxville, said he came here with no agenda of his own.
On Tuesday an Arizona-based charter school operator will try to convince the state to let it expand into Nashville, after it was rejected by the Metro school board. Great Hearts Academies will appeal to the Tennessee State Board of Education. Charter schools are run privately, but still receive public money. Great Hearts wants to set up several around Nashville, starting with one on the affluent west side. The proposal fed concerns Great Hearts would serve mostly wealthy families that could otherwise turn to private schools, while indirectly filtering out many others.
By the morning of June 7, officials at 38 Studios, a video game company started by major league baseball legend Curt Schilling, knew their enterprise was doomed. After a night of conference calls and meetings, executives came to a conclusion: Their task was now a salvage operation. “It got to the point,” the company’s former chief financial officer told creditors at a bankruptcy hearing last week, “where you had to protect what was left.” By that afternoon, an emergency board meeting had moved to file for bankruptcy protection.
At least one entity in the state is reporting boom times. The Tennessee lottery smashed total ticket sales records during the just-ended fiscal year. Officials say total sales reached more than $1.31 billion, an increase of about $124.6 million over the previous year’s sales. Funds now available for lottery-based scholarships and other programs stand at $323.4 million. The money is needed. More than 100,000 students earned scholarships or grants last year. Good as the news about record lottery ticket sales and the number of scholarships the proceeds underwrite might be, there is a downside to the billion-plus take by the Tennessee Lottery.
And the big winners of the Tennessee Lottery are: Tennessee college students. Since its inception in 2004, the Tennessee Lottery has awarded more than $2 billion to fund more than 6000,000 college scholarships. We think that makes the lottery a big winner for students and for Tennessee. took nearly two decades to pass the state’s lottery. Then state Sen. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, spent years introducing legislation to amend the state’s constitution to allow a lottery. Year after year his legislation went down to defeat, but Cohen never gave up. Thanks to his efforts, thousands of Tennessee students have been able to attend college, and many of them have achieved the goal of getting a degree.
The Freeh Report released last week outlined in outrageous detail the long-running sexual abuse at Pennsylvania State University and the inexcusable cover-up by university officials, including legendary football coach Joe Paterno. But one aspect that aided the cover-up was not mentioned in the report — exemptions to the Pennsylvania open records act that allowed officials to cloak former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s crimes from public scrutiny. In a talk at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., last week, the reporter who first broke the Sandusky story and won a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts, Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, told reporters and editors that Penn State’s exemption from the state’s open records law impeded her investigation of the matter.