This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
It was just a few months ago that Lakeview Elementary School in southwest Memphis was closed by the Memphis City Schools system – part of a shift of school-age students out of the western parts of the city to the eastern parts of the city and Shelby County…Freedom Prep’s current location is symbolic of the non-merger change. As Lakeview Elementary prepared for its last school year in the summer of 2011, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam came to Freedom Prep to sign into law the legislation that eliminated the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.
Governors from four U.S. states with large automotive plants have formed a bipartisan group to serve as a forum for issues that affect the auto industry that they hope will expand to include more states, the governors announced on Wednesday. The founding governors of the “National Governors Auto Caucus” are Republicans Rick Snyder of Michigan and Bill Haslam of Tennessee and Democrats Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jay Nixon of Missouri. Snyder, speaking at the Center for Automotive Research conference in Traverse City, Michigan, said the group will work first on issues related to the auto industry that they agree on and then tackle more divisive issues.
On the day General Motors formally launched production of its Ecotec engine in Spring Hill, Gov. Bill Haslam today joined his peers from Michigan, Missouri and Illinois to launch the National Governors Auto Caucus, a group being supported by the National Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers. The four governors say they will look to be a unified voice for the continued development of the U.S. auto sector. Their states employ a combined 2.1 million people in auto-related jobs.
Gov. Bill Haslam says it’s too early to tell whether the defeat of House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart in last week’s primary will cause lawmakers to usher through a gun bill championed by the National Rifle Association. The NRA poured more than $86,000 into the Maggart race, claiming she was instrumental in blocking legislation to guarantee employees the right to store weapons in vehicles parked at work, regardless of businesses’ wishes. Haslam has said he supports the measure, but only with exceptions built in for large employers.
The days of ordering goods from your Memphis home with no tax impact could be coming to an end soon and it’s going to cost you. If the U.S. Congress adopts a national sales tax law, which would require Internet retailers to collect sales taxes on all purchases, it would cost the average U.S. consumer an extra $167 by 2016, according to Forbes and Forrester Research. As Forbes reports, Congress didn’t take testimony from any opponents of a national sales tax collection law at a hearing last week.
Flood damage assessment and cleanup continued Wednesday in the Dry Creek community of Washington County as homeowners scrambled to recover belongings before mold growth sets in. Washington County highway workers took down Doug Wilson’s house that was ripped from its foundation by the floodwaters and ended up lodged partly in the road. Doug Wilson was not at the scene Wednesday, but his brother, David Wilson, was there. “I was born in it, I’m watching it go,” he said. “It hurts.”
The Tennessee attorney general and Tennessee Housing Development Agency have created a mortgage hotline for struggling homeowners. The development comes after attorneys general across the country reached an agreement with the nation’s top five mortgage services that will provide an estimated $140 million in relief to Tennesseans. Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said the idea behind the hotline is to make sure the state’s homeowners get the help they deserve.
The state has launched a toll-free hotline for Tennessee homeowners who are either in or on the brink of foreclosure. Homeowners can call the state’s Mortgage Servicer Settlement Hotline at 855-876-7283 to learn about various housing assistance programs and to be directed to free foreclosure-prevention counseling. The hotline is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central time) Mondays through Fridays. “This hotline will put struggling homeowners in touch with free counselors who can explain the housing options available to try to keep Tennesseans in their homes,” said Ted Fellman, executive director of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.
But ‘design-build’ cost concerns critics On the surface, the work under way to widen a stretch of Interstate 40 in Wilson County is like any other road construction project. Add lanes to help boost capacity and ease traffic congestion. But the $56 million project is more notable. It marks the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s largest design-build project to date, a type of contracting that puts the design and construction work into the hands of a single firm. Design-build moves projects along more quickly, backers say, by allowing construction to begin before the final design is complete.
After eluding authorities for the past year, an Anderson County woman has been arrested and charged in Williamson County for alleged TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” a state press release said. The Tennessee Office of Inspector General announced the arrest of Melissa Ann Adkins, 28, of Oliver Springs, on Wednesday. Adkins was indicted by a Williamson County grand jury on Aug. 8, 2011, on two counts of TennCare “doctor shopping” for the painkiller Oxycodone, the release said.
After eluding authorities for a year, an Anderson County woman has been arrested and charged in Williamson County for TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors in a short time period to obtain controlled substances. The state Office of Inspector General on Wednesday announced the arrest of Melissa Ann Adkins, 28, of Oliver Springs. On Aug. 8, 2011, Adkins was indicted by a Williamson County grand jury on two counts of TennCare “doctor shopping” for the painkiller oxycodone.
After a year on the run, an Oliver Springs woman was arrested and charged in Williamson County for TennCare fraud involving doctor shopping. Melissa Ann Adkins, 28, was indicted Wednesday by a Williamson County Grand Jury on two counts of TennCare doctor shopping for oxycodone. Adkins was arrested in July while she was in custody in the Roane County Jail on unrelated charges. After those charges were dealt with, she was taken to the Williamson County Jail.
Attorneys for former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner have filed motions seeking to get federal charges against him thrown out. The defense motions were filed Monday in U.S. District Court. Baumgartner earlier pleaded guilty to state charges of official misconduct after it came to light that he was addicted to prescription painkillers, which he was buying from a graduate of a drug court he helped found. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported the new motions are aimed at heading off a scheduled Oct. 23 trial on seven counts that charge Baumgartner did not report the commission of a felony.
Two years after local attorney Judson Phillips failed to lure tea party activists to a rally in Las Vegas, a judge is ordering him to pay the bill for a slew of hotel rooms he booked for the event. Phillips, the founder of the for-profit corporation Tea Party Nation, owes the Venetian Casino Resort more than $748,000, according to the ruling. The hotel alleged Phillips reserved 1,637 room nights for a July 2010 event but then canceled the gathering just a few weeks prior. A claim was filed against Phillips in July of last year.
Republican Beth Harwell won’t have to worry about a renewed challenge from the man she defeated to become the first female House speaker in state history. Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin told The Associated Press that he won’t make another run at the chamber’s top job despite the defeat of seven Republican House incumbents in last week’s primary races. “Beth’s done a good job, and I will be supporting Beth for speaker next year,” Casada said in a phone interview. Casada was considered the favorite for the speakership after Republicans picked up 14 seats in the 99-member chamber in 2010.
Four state legislators who announced plans to retire earlier this year, along with two who were defeated in their bids for new terms last week, signed up for taxpayer-funded trips to a national legislator convention in Chicago this week. The six were among 22 Tennessee legislators approved for travel to the National Conference of State Legislators, which is under way in Chicago, according to a list provided by Connie Ridley, director of the Legislature’s Office of Administration.
The city of Memphis is now mounting a direct challenge to the state’s voter photo identification law claiming the law adds “a qualification for the right to vote” beyond what is required in the Tennessee Constitution. Attorneys for the city filed a motion Tuesday, Aug. 7, in Nashville Federal Court, seeking to amend the city’s original lawsuit. The original lawsuit sought a court order allowing photo library cards to be used as valid voter identification. The city began issuing the photo library cards in June.
After losing its case for photo library cards, the City of Memphis has amended its federal court lawsuit to attack the constitutionality of Tennessee’s new law requiring voters to present a state-issued photo identification card before they can vote. An amended complaint was filed Tuesday by attorneys for the city and for two Memphis voters without state-issued ID cards whose provisional ballots in last Thursday’s election were not counted. The complaint charges that the voter photo ID requirement adds a new qualification for voting beyond the four listed in the Tennessee Constitution and is therefore an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote under both the federal and state constitutions.
Tea Party of Bradley County members are warning the Cleveland City Council not to interfere with their right to free speech. On June 18, the City Council voted for a resolution supporting a city police investigation into the distribution of leaflets in South Cleveland. The anonymous leaflets, left on doors and porches, warned that a city renewal plan meant taking over about 300 homes in that area and tearing them down. Alarmed people who contacted City Hall were told that was not true.
Will you debate or won’t you? It seems an easy question for nominees as the primary election season draws to a close and the matchups become “Democrat vs. Republican,” veering away from the infighting that erupts during primary battles. But clarity never comes easily in politics, and one Democratic nominee still doesn’t know if he will ever debate the Republican whose office he desires. Another local challenger knows she will share a stage with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, but maybe only once.
It was easy for the winners to smile last Thursday night, and there were lots of smiles on display — ranging from the laid-black smile of satisfaction affected by George Flinn after the radiologist/radio magnate, a former Shelby County commissioner, easily won the GOP nomination for Congress in the 9th District, to the whoop of joy that exploded on the face of Unified School Board candidate Chris Caldwell when he learned he’d edged out Freda Williams and Noel Hutchison in District 1. It had to be more difficult for the losers.
“If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.”So spoke Mike Brown at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Knox County Charter Review Committee. And enough of his fellow committee members agreed with him to thwart an effort to place on a referendum ballot a proposal to redesignated a number of governmental offices as “charter offices,” instead of constitutional offices. When the committee’s legal adviser, David Buuck, was asked to give a comment on the proposal that combined his legal opinion with his personal views, he repeated Brown’s phrase, verbatim, word for word.
True to his word, Rutherford County Property Assessor Bill Boner turned himself in last week on a vandalism charge connected to the removal of a political banner of his opponent Rob Mitchell. Boner reported to the Rutherford County jail last Friday where he was booked in around 10:50 a.m. for vandalism less than $500 and released without bond, according to sheriff’s office records. The Republican property assessor, who was defeated 57 to 43 percent by Democrat Rob Mitchell, told The DNJ before Thursday’s election he would be turning himself in — and filing a false arrest lawsuit.
Tennessee has been named to a new Top 20 list, but not one for positive accomplishments. The Natural Resources Defense Council has dubbed Tennessee a member of the “Toxic 20,” the states with the worst rates of toxic air pollution from electric power plants. All of Tennessee’s neighbors, except Arkansas, also landed on the list. This is the second annual listing of the “Toxic 20” states. Tennessee also made the list in 2011, with the generating of electric power contributing 35 percent of air pollution.
The embattled Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate says he doesn’t understand why the head of his party refuses to welcome him to the party ticket. In a press conference outside the Metro Nashville Courthouse, presumptive nominee Mark Clayton told reporters that Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester took no issue with him in April when he dropped off his filing petitions to run for office. “Chip Forrester is, despite reports to the contrary, not the Democratic Party. He just has a job. He just needs to stay at his office and do his job,” said Clayton, who prevailed as an underdog candidate in a crowded field.
The 2010 health care law gives Medicare and Medicaid more authority to track and reject payments for medical procedures believed to be overused, such as those involving hospital giant HCA and its alleged overuse of stents in heart patients, records and interviews with health care experts show. Also, the law and 2009 stimulus act will change payment incentives and allow physicians to use electronic records to limit unnecessary medical testing. Private insurers will also be able to work with government agencies to combine billing data to spot trends in overused procedures.
Over the past few years, Kansas has worked to streamline government and reduce the size of its workforce through hiring freezes, retirement incentives and layoffs, and by leaving vacancies open when employees depart. But now some of the state’s agencies are beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as too much streamlining. They find themselves lacking the ability to compete with the private sector for skilled workers. Corrections officers, health care workers and engineers are among those proving difficult for the state to recruit and retain.
In another response to the embarrassing security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, the government has changed the contracting arrangements and clearly put B&W Y-12 — the managing contractor at Y-12 — in charge of security. WSI, the protective forces contractor, will now become a subcontractor to B&W. Heretofore, both B&W and WSI were prime contractors, reporting to the National Nuclear Security Administration, and were assigned to work together in carrying out the security-related activities and response to potential threats.
Carmaker General Motors has begun manufacturing its new Ecotek automobile engine in Tennessee. Production began Wednesday at the former Saturn auto assembly plant, about 30 miles south of Nashville. GM is adding about 500 jobs to make the engine, which will initially power the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu sedan. The same power plant will eventually be used in a variety of General Motors vehicles. The Tennessean reported the line was started at a ceremony Wednesday morning. GM earlier announced it will also begin assembling the midsize crossover Chevrolet Equinox at the Spring Hill Plant.
Today’s formal announcement of new engine production at General Motors Co.’s Spring Hill plant was full of lots of things: applause and cheering for jobs, accolades for all parties involved and proclamations about the facility’s cutting-edge status, to name a few. Among them were some striking numbers demonstrating just how big of an impact the announcement will have — and has had already. Put simply, it marked an event that will ripple through the economy in many ways, said Ben Freeland, owner of Freeland Chevrolet in Antioch.
General Motors has officially begun full-scale production of a new four-cylinder engine for the newest Chevy Malibu. The plant in Spring Hill showed off its new $460 million engine line Wednesday. Spring Hill has always made efficient four-cylinders, starting with the days it was only a Saturn plant. To build the new Ecotec engine, GM spent half a billion dollars on what is effectively a new plant within the existing plant. Maury County Mayor Jim Bailey sees GM’s investment as a vote of confidence in the Tennessee workforce after years of uncertainty as the company fended off bankruptcy.
An official at Wacker Polysilicon said about 1,000 construction workers per day are involved in the building of a new plant in Charleston. The company said in a news release that officials on Wednesday gave an update on construction of the plant in Bradley County to members of the community at Chattanooga State Community College. Dr. Konrad Bachhuber, vice president and site manager for Wacker Polysilicon North America, said he expects to see between 2,500 and 3,000 construction workers at the peak of construction.
Southeast Tennessee’s biggest-ever manufacturing project is about to get more crowded. Wacker Polysilicon could have up to 3,000 builders at its Bradley County plant by early 2013, site manager Konrad Bachhuber said Wednesday. That’s up from 1,000 workers currently constructing the $1.8 billion factory slated to open in late 2013 near Charleston, Tenn., to produce polysilicon for the solar power industry. Despite spot prices for polysilicon dropping to a decade low this summer, Bachhuber said the company isn’t slowing down on the project.
At least one Hamilton County employer is offering employees the chance to switch to another insurance plan as the stand-off between Memorial Health Care System and BlueCross drags into its second week. Other employers urged the two companies to find a resolution, saying employees are being hurt by the deadlock. Officials with Hamilton County Schools and Chattanooga said they have heard from numerous employees who use Memorial and are concerned about the issue. Hamilton County Schools officials said their 5,000 employees have the option to switch from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to Cigna, a more restrictive plan that includes Memorial.
No start date in sight as school board meets tonight The problem in Sumner County is evident with a single look outside. It’s midmorning Wednesday, and school-age children are walking around Memorial Park in the middle of Hendersonville. The parking lot of nearby Ellis Middle School is nearly empty, but there’s a football practice in the side yard. At lunchtime, retirees suddenly pressed into day-care duty lead their grandkids into restaurants.
The rash of records requests associated with the ongoing schools debate in federal court is not a one-way street. On Wednesday, Shelby County commissioners were alerted that the suburbs are making a broad request for commission records in the ongoing legal battle regarding schools in Shelby County. “I just wanted each of you to be aware of this request so that you would be ready to assist staff in responding to this request should they need your help,” Lori Patterson, an attorney with of Baker Donelson, which is representing the county commission, said in an e-mail to commissioners shortly before noon Wednesday.
Student Social Security numbers are no longer being requested by the school system, a shift that comes months after hackers exposed personal data of about 4,300 current and former students and about 4,900 current and former employees. In many of those cases, Social Security numbers were exposed. Now, spokeswoman Elise Shelton said, the school system will generate its own PowerSchool identification numbers for students.
Tennessee Democratic Party leaders have been barricaded since their series of blunders were revealed Friday, asking that questions to chairman Chip Forrester be submitted in writing before determining whether to respond. Had the party taken such a precaution with its candidates, Forrester’s life might be a bit easier. The Democratic Party slot for the Senate race this fall will be filled by Mark Clayton, disavowal by the party leadership notwithstanding. The party chairman had seven days after the April 5 qualifying deadline to question whether Clayton was a bona fide member of the Democratic Party. After that date, party and state officials had no legal grounds to block his candidacy, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told Democratic candidate Larry Crim.
The tragic and unnecessary deaths of 2-year-old Savannah Marise and her 3-year-old brother Daniel Marise highlight a real problem in the state of Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services website, DCS responds to more than 37,000 cases of abuse and neglect in the state every year. According to a report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal in July, more than 10,000 children remain under state care. Those numbers are far too high to be acceptable and must severely challenge agencies charged with keeping children safe. However, we believe children’s safety and welfare should be everybody’s responsibility and not just relegated to a government agency.