This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee loses $400 million annually in sales taxes to online purchases involving out-of-state merchants who face no requirement to collect them, Gov. Bill Haslam told a congressional panel Tuesday. Haslam represented the National Governors Association in testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of giving states the power to require out-of-state online vendors to collect and remit sales taxes on such items. “This discussion isn’t about raising taxes or adding new taxes,” Haslam said. Instead, he said, it’s about “collecting taxes already owed.”
Once again the topic of collecting sales tax on online sales has raised its head in the United States Congress. The last time Congress brought up this issue was two years ago with the Main Street Fairness Act and it failed to gain momentum in either the House or Senate. The main difference this time from other times that politicians have tackled this issue is that it now has the backing of the largest e-commerce entity on the Internet. Over the last few years Amazon has made headlines with their battles against several states on whether or not they should be collecting sales tax on any e-commerce business conducted in that state.
Renovations will continue along Main St. to East Walnut Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday at Dickson City Hall that the city would receive a nearly $630,000 grant to further revitalize downtown. The grant will go toward phase II of the city’s downtown improvement project, which will continue on Main Street, from Railroad Street to East Walnut Street. “We thought this was a particularly worthy proposal, and on behalf of the state we are excited to do it,” said Haslam about the $627,782 Transportation Enhancement Grant.
Governor Bill Haslam says he has not spoken with the Muslim woman whose job with the state has drawn the ire of several county Republican parties. But Haslam has strong praise for the state’s international director in Economic and Community Development, Samar Ali. Some county Republican groups have passed resolutions against Haslam, saying they worry Ali is an inroad for spreading Sharia law in state government. Haslam defended her at an event in Dickson.
An annual report that ranks the well-being of children in each state places Tennessee 36th in the nation. That’s three notches better than last year, partly because the report used new methodology. Tennessee fared best in the area of child health, ranking 16th. That category looks at low-birth weight, child and teen deaths, teen substance abuse, and the number of kids that are insured. There’s been a steady rise since 2008 in the number of children covered by health insurance in the state. This isn’t all good news, though.
Tennessee State Board of Education Executive Director Gary Nixon has recommended overturning the Nashville school board’s prior charter application denial of Great Hearts Academies. Nixon, however, says state statute allows the authorization of only one charter school at a time — four fewer than the five the Phoenix-based charter group is hoping to open in Nashville. The recommendation, made public Wednesday, is nonetheless a major boost for Great Hearts’ appeal with the state board to open a school off unidentified property on White Bridge Road in West Nashville.
Allegations of grade-fixing at Tennessee State University could make it harder for the school to recruit a new full-time president. That’s one concern from the state senator who will lead a hearing on the matter next month. TSU officials say they were following new state guidelines and trying to give fewer incomplete grades. They’re accused of changing hundreds of incompletes to ‘C’s. Jim Summerville heads the state senate’s subcommittee on higher education. Summerville says the matter could hurt TSU’s credibility
As the search begins for a new president at Tennessee State University, students and some faculty don’t see the outgoing administration in quite the same way. Several members of the faculty have demonized the outgoing president, Portia Shields, for running a dictatorship that shuts out much of the university community from the school’s decision-making process. Talk to students, on the other hand, and a portrait emerges of a president who has made the university a better place.
Tennessee State University has recruited a dean for its School of Graduate Studies and Research from Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. Michael E. Orok has been associate provost for academic affairs and graduate studies at Alabama A&M, where he also was interim dean of its School of Graduate Studies. He has more than 25 years of experience in higher education both as faculty and administrator. “Dr. Orok comes to the University with a wealth of administrative experience and a dynamic vision that will move our School of Graduate Studies and Research forward,” said Dr. Millicent Lownes-Jackson, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs.
The state’s driver services center in East Nashville will reopen Thursday after being closed temporarily because it lacked air conditioning. The Tennessee Department of Safety said its station at 624 Hart Lane closed around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday after a unit servicing the main reception area broke down. Personnel from the Department of General Services, which manages the building, were on able to repair the unit Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. The center will reopen at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is probing complaints about challenges Republican election officials have made of some Rhea County voters seeking to cast ballots in the Aug. 2 GOP primary. But Rhea County Election Administrator Theresa Snyder said she is “very confident” the investigation will show she and others acted legally in blocking Democratic voters. She charged there have been orchestrated efforts by some Democratic officials to get Democrats to cross over and vote in the GOP primary. The ballot includes a heated state House District 31 primary between Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and GOP challenger Ron Travis, a Dayton businessman.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed Wednesday that it has launched a probe into whether Rhea County election officials illegally blocked voters believed to be Democrats from voting in the Republican primary election. Theresa Snyder, the county election administrator, said she and other officials did nothing wrong and were following state law. They took an active stance to block known Democrats from voting in the GOP primary because of an orchestrated campaign for crossover voting in the 31st House District primary, she said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are looking into a blogger’s post that criticized Tennessee lawmakers for their support of legislation banning synthetic drugs. A T.B.I. spokesperson said State Senator Mae Beavers contacted the agency with concerns about the blog post.A T.B.I. agent met with Sen. Beavers, the spokesperson said. It’s not clear if an official investigation is underway. The blog post also mentions State Representatives Tony Shipley and Jon Lundberg.
A nearly three-month-old Internet blog posting taking Tennessee GOP state Reps. Tony Shipley and Jon Lundberg to task for passing legislation outlawing synthetic drugs and shutting down area head shops has been turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into, Shipley said Wednesday. “I got a call this morning that someone said something was out there, looking like it was a life threat, and it was forwarded to TBI, and they do whatever it is they do,” Shipley said.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is using new technology to remove unsafe large trucks — including those with failing brakes or under- or over-inflated tires — from state highways. On Wednesday, the THP demonstrated a new mobile command and inspection center at the Jenkins Road location of U.S. Xpress trucking service. The vehicle, about the size of a small bus, contains equipment that can perform roadside truck inspections, including a scale, an infrared scanner and readers for license plates and state Department of Transportation numbers, which give prior inspection data.
State transportation officials have unveiled a pilot program intended to coordinate local and state planning for the state Route 60 corridor through Bradley County. Tennessee Department of Transportation representatives met Monday with Bradley County commissioners to discuss a proposed agreement between local government and state planning agencies regarding the future of the road. The purpose of the management agreement is to get all involved bodies to talk more about property zoning and development, traffic signal placement and roadway improvements along Route 60, said Marshall Elizer of Gresham, Smith, and Partners, the firm assisting TDOT with the program launch.
A judge has upheld a Tennessee statute that restricts the possession of firearms in a case involving a Williamson County man who carried a pistol at a state park. Chancellor Russell T. Perkins on Monday ruled against Leonard S. Embody of Brentwood, whose loaded AK-47 pistol was seized by a park ranger at Nashville’s Radnor Lake State Park in 2009. The ranger, Steve Ward, said Embody posed a threat to others by carrying the pistol across his chest while walking around the park. Embody earlier lost rulings in federal court on the same issue.
The man whose penchant for challenging state gun regulations by walking around public places armed with a loaded gun has lost another legal challenge. In granting a motion for summary judgment by state Attorney General Robert Cooper — named as a defendant in the case — Chancellor Russell T. Perkins dismissed Leonard S. Embody’s claims on Monday, concluding they were without merit and that Embody failed to show his rights had been infringed upon.
Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill, effective July 1, that states any unclaimed property that is in a sheriff’s custody can be disposed of after 90 days, which is a decrease from six months, as the law previously allowed. Under the law, unclaimed property includes confiscated, abandoned, stolen, and recovered property. The sheriff department says if a person wants to reclaim property that was used as evidence, he/she must speak with Lt. Janice Hale. The person must have a receipt or proof of ownership.
Two years after longtime state Rep. Mary Pruitt held off an upstart Steven Turner by 167 votes in a primary election, both Democrats are running again for the same seat against the son of another tenured lawmaker. The primary race among Pruitt, Turner and the Rev. Harold M. Love Jr. will determine the outcome for the district. No other candidates, Republican or independent, are running to represent the majority African-American 58th District in the state House.
The city of Memphis has cashed in on their promise to challenge Tennessee’s newly minted voter ID law. Daphne Turner-Golden, a Memphis resident, and the city of Memphis sued Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins for disallowing library cards as an acceptable form of photo ID. According to the Memphis Daily News, Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. and city attorneys were simply waiting for a citizen to be affected by the law before they filed suit. Memphis enacted a program earlier this year to help citizens obtain library cards with photos on them to serve as acceptable forms of ID.
A federal judge said he agrees with Memphis officials’ concerns that Tennessee’s photo-identification requirement makes it more difficult to vote but said he’s “not convinced that the city fixed the problem” by having the public library issue photo ID cards. U.S. District Court Judge Kevin H. Sharp on Wednesday denied the City of Memphis’ request for a temporary order compelling the Shelby County Election Commission to accept the library’s new photo ID cards as valid photo IDs required for voting under a new state law, if the holder is properly registered to vote.
Three election commissioners from the Nashville area have made campaign contributions this year to Republican legislative candidates from their counties, raising questions about their ability to deal with election disputes objectively. Each of the three — including two who chair their county election commissions — gave $500 or more to a single candidate, according to state campaign finance records. Critics said the practice makes it difficult to trust that the people charged with certifying elections and regulating campaign issues will do it impartially, though they already wear their partisan hearts on their sleeves.
When Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was a state senator in Nashville, he learned about New York’s Kendra’s Law shortly after a shooting at a Knoxville restaurant. The woman the law was named after was killed when a man suffering from untreated mental illness pushed her in front of a bus. The law provided a way for people who are trying to deal with mental illnesses to get treatment without being committed to a hospital or facility full-time. Similarly, it was determined the man involved in the Knoxville shooting suffered from mental illness.
The pro-property tax increase group that called itself a “grassroots coalition” supporting key investments for Nashville’s future received $26,000 from Mayor Karl Dean’s campaign coffers, his mid-year financial disclosure reveals. Moving Nashville Forward — which rallied support for the mayor’s 53-cent property tax hike in advance of the council’s final approval on June 20 — collected donations from others as well, former Metro Councilman Erik Cole, who led the organization’s efforts, told The City Paper. But the mayor’s contribution was the largest.
Two men plan to enter the U.S. Courthouse in Chattanooga today and ask a judge to temporarily halt Hamilton County Commission’s regular prayers during meetings. Neither Brandon Jones, 25, nor Tommy Coleman, 28, imagined themselves doing so two months ago when they decided to ask commissioners to hold a moment of silence instead of a prayer. “We really didn’t know what our end game was,” Jones said. “We just knew this had to stop.” Their attorney, Robin Flores, is seeking a preliminary injunction against the county until Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice can rule in the case.
A proposal to close the Knox County Sheriff’s Office pension plan will head to the November ballot. The Knox County Charter Review Committee in a 19-0 vote Wednesday evening signed off on the second and final reading of a proposal that could bring the end to a multimillion retirement plan voters initially passed in 2006. Under the proposal, voters will be asked whether to close the Uniformed Officers Pension Plan, or UOPP, to anyone eligible who is hired on or after Jan. 1, 2014.
Challenges to the conduct of the Aug. 2 election may have reached a peak Tuesday, July 24. The Shelby County Election Commission admitted a “limited number” of voters in some precincts got early voting ballots that included the wrong district races. Their work on their voter database to include the new boundaries for state legislative and congressional districts approved in Nashville in February began just four days before the end of the early voting period in advance of the Aug. 2 election day.
Collierville mayor Stan Joyner, described in the opening paragraph of this week’s cover story as an attendee who was presumably well pleased by U.S. district judge Hardy Mays’ recent ruling permitting suburban referenda on municipal school systems, may have experienced some off-setting dismay upon the advent of early voting on Monday, July 16th. It quickly developed that some 568 households in a newly annexed portion of Collierville had not been taken into account on ballots, including the referendum issue, designated for that city’s voters.
One 3rd District Republican congressional challenger was asked to leave a commercial mall and questions are being raised after another was a guest at a city reception. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Weston Wamp campaigned during four days this month at Northgate Mall, where an early voting poll is located. Mall owner CBL & Associates Properties heard complaints and asked the Hamilton County Election Commission to intervene. The commission asked Wamp to leave and he did. Later, Wamp said mall management should expect “to forego some type of property rights so the public can come and vote.”
Three weeks after promising to abstain from “negative” campaign advertising, Scottie Mayfield this week launched an attack ad condemning U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s voting record — a record Mayfield praised as recently as May. On July 5, after warning on Twitter “that we’ll be attacked on TV soon,” Mayfield spokesman Joe Hendrix told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that “Scottie committed to not going negative in any way.” But Mayfield is the first 3rd Congressional District candidate to use television to target a rival, and opponents say the dairy executive’s latest ad proves he broke a campaign pledge to stay positive.
People are inventing so many new ways to get high that lawmakers can’t seem to keep up. Over the past two years, the U.S. has seen a surge in the use of synthetic drugs made of legal chemicals that mimic the dangerous effects of cocaine, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants. The drugs are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items such as bath salts, incense or plant food. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country.
Into the maelstrom of debate over whether Medicaid should cover more people comes a new study by Harvard researchers who found that when states expanded their Medicaid programs and gave more poor people health insurance, fewer people died. The study, published online Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, comes as states are deciding whether to expand Medicaid by 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s health care law. The Supreme Court ruling on the law last month effectively gave states the option of accepting or rejecting an expansion of Medicaid that had been expected to add 17 million people to the program’s rolls.
TVA officials told nuclear regulators Wednesday that they continue to try to get things right at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in North Alabama. “We are not here to contest the violation,” Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Vice President Keith Polson told the NRC about Browns Ferry operators and trainers failing a simulation exercise on safe shutdown in the event of a fire. In June the NRC gave Browns Ferry a new “white” safety finding and violation noting that TVA had had five months to learn a set of new procedures.
With its marbled floors and soaring columns, Nashville’s newest charter school looks more like an office, but the 140 middle school students who started classes there Wednesday didn’t appear overly impressed. Knowledge Academies opened its doors on the second floor of posh office space at 5380 Hickory Hollow Parkway, giving Antioch its first charter school option. The school’s plans could be considered just as elaborate as the decor. Students will receive 200 days of instruction instead of the 180 usually found in traditional public schools.
Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court officials say a charter school proposed by former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton for juvenile offenders including those accused of the most serious crimes would provide those children with a critical continuity they need. Juvenile Court chief administrative officer Larry Scroggs said Herenton’s W.E.B DuBois Academy would dovetail with the Hope Academy School that juvenile offenders in custody currently attend for a shorter period of time. Hope Academy is operated by the Memphis City Schools system.
Thousands of farmers from across the country will find their way to Milan, Tennessee, Thursday at an annual event that began decades ago as a way to share the latest research to prevent soil erosion. It’s called “No Till” farming. It happens to also be an effective method to protect row crops like corn and cotton from the effects of heat and drought, like the conditions still plaguing the Midwest. Instead of plowing under last year’s crop, farmers plant the seeds right under the leftover foliage. It does require the use of more weed-killing chemicals. But Blake Brown – director of UT’s research center in Milan – says it’s better for the plants.
On Wednesday, for the first time since 1963, the Harpeth River was flowing freely between its banks in Franklin. After years of planning, advocacy and nearly $1 million in costs, demolition of the city’s 6-foot-tall metal and stone weir, or lowhead dam, marks a milestone for local and state river advocates. The structure was the sole dam on the Harpeth and only the second on a main river in Tennessee to be removed, according to state records. Only 25 dams from 8 to 160 feet tall have come down in the past 40 years. Originally built to impound water for Franklin’s use, the dam had become outdated.
Helicopters circled above a mile-stretch of the Harpeth River today as excavators ripped out a 6-foot-high sheet-metal dam that was constructed more than 50 years ago. The low head dam was created to supply Franklin with drinking water decades ago. Now the city has other options, which led to the push to return the Harpeth to a free-flowing river. Dorie Bolze, Executive Director of the Harpeth River Watershed Association, says the dam has had an ecological impact on fish habitats. Now a lower natural structure will be put in its place.
We agree with Gov. Bill Haslam that it’s time to enable states to require vendors to collect state sales tax on purchases made over the Internet. It has become a matter of state fiscal responsibility as well as a matter of retail business fairness. Haslam, representing the National Governors Association, testified before a congressional panel on Tuesday in support of the Marketplace Equity Act. If passed, the act would empower states to require vendors to collect sales tax on items sold to resident over the Internet. The act would not require states to collect the tax, only enable them to do so. Under current law, upheld in 1992, only vendors with a “nexus” in a state can be required to collect sales tax.
Residents of Tennessee who want — need — to save money on back-to-school expenses might consider postponing shopping for a week . The savings could be considerable for parents and others who buy selected clothing, school supplies and computers during the state’s special sales-tax holidays in August. Tennessee will observe its holiday Aug. 3-5. The moratorium allows consumers to purchase the exempt items — within clearly stated and reasonable limits — without paying sales tax. The tax holidays are welcome. Families with kids in school — particularly those with youngsters who seem to outgrow clothing every other week and who go through mountains of school supplies — can save considerable sums.
The State Board of Education should vote in favor of the Great Hearts Academies’ plan for five charter schools in Davidson County when it meets to review the school operator’s appeal. It is the right thing to do for families in Nashville and will signal the state will uphold its law supporting expanded access to charter schools. Nashville public schools have many challenges to lift their students into an acceptable range of performance. Generally, school leaders have done a good and innovative job for the lowest-performing schools and areas, but that focus leaves the families with good and better students to fend for themselves, hoping for a slot at the district’s excellent, but few, magnet programs.
State Sen. Doug Overbey, a Maryville lawyer, has pocketed a passel of endorsements in the 2nd District Republican primary. Newspapers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Tennessee Education Association endorsed Overbey, along with Republican heavyweights Gov. Bill Haslam and, a bit surprisingly, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a tea party favorite. Given his opponent, Overbey needs all the help he can get. Scott Hughes, chief financial officer for a Knoxville church and former pro-life executive, is challenging Overbey at every turn, in every way. Though Overbey maintains an enormous financial advantage, Hughes has loquaciously roughed up Overbey in debates.
A week before an election, I’d normally be haranguing registered voters to go the polls. Then I’d blather on for another 600 words about how important these races are and doing your civic duty, etc., etc. Instead, I will lament the mess the Shelby County Election Commission has made of early voting. On the first day of early voting in the suburbs, some voters there found that the municipal schools referendum — easily the hottest issue on the ballot — was left off some ballots. Then on Tuesday, the Election Commission admitted that analysis by blogger Steve Ross was right: 1,019 early voters got the wrong ballots.
Last month’s Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ruled that the proposed expansion of Medicaid was optional. The option requires states to cover all people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — approximately $31,800 for a family of four. The federal government would cover 100 percent of the costs for the newly eligible, previously uninsured people through 2016; the subsidies would then fall to 90 percent by 2020 and beyond. This left states with a difficult decision: Should they accept the federal government’s offer to expand their Medicaid programs?
Since it’s the 10th anniversary, someone ought to mark the occasion when almost the entire state political establishment, academia, and virtually all editorial writers were impatiently explaining to us Neanderthals that unless we passed a state income tax, the state was headed for financial collapse. We were confidently told by University of Tennessee economists that the state tax structure could not support state government. The year was 2002 and the capitol was surrounded by horn honkers, the sidewalks were paved with radio talk-show hosts and remote television trucks. The atmosphere inside was toxic. I was living in downtown Nashville at the time, a couple of blocks from the statehouse. Arms were being twisted. Money for projects dangled. Everywhere there was gloom and doom.
The Hamilton County school district spends a staggering $9,398 per student, according to the Tennessee Department of Education. The district will devour more than $350 million in local, state and federal taxpayers’ money this year. Unfortunately, all of those dollars do not always produce well-educated kids. In 2011, at the elementary school level, black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and disabled student populations all failed to meet minimum federal benchmarks in reading in Hamilton County public schools, according to TDOE stats. By high school, only 31 percent of black students scored “proficient” or above in reading.
The battle for and against Murfreesboro’s Islamic Center has meant different things for different people. For some, it has been tiring; for others, it has been sad, even tragic; and for some others still, it has been, in the most depressing way, exhilarating. With the permission of occupancy being granted last week to the Islamic Center, some will be so naïve as to assume that the final bell has rung and that both sides of this nauseating “war on whatever-the-antagonists-think-they’re-fighting-against” can head home for a season of peaceable “reconstruction.” I can only pray that it can be so. But alas, the kind of rhetorical, legal, and vandalistic (even arsonistic) blows that have been delivered to our Muslim neighbors has been a little too exhilarating for a few rabble-rousing provocateurs whose contrived “doings of justice” can only be likened to that of a few self-absorbed vigilantes.