This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today the award of a $447,776 transportation enhancement grant to the city of Harriman for Phase I of the Riverfront Greenway Project. The greenway trail is part of the city’s Riverfront Property Development Plan, which seeks to improve the overall development of property along the Emory River. Phase I will consist of nearly 1500 feet of ten foot wide asphalt trail beginning at a new trailhead area near Roane Street.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today the award of a $118,071 transportation enhancement grant to White County for the DeRossett Railroad Section House Site Improvement Project. The DeRossett Railroad Section House Site Improvement Project will add Americans with Disability Act compliant walkways, paved parking to include improved access for handicapped persons, and lighting.
Escalating talk about the future of the state’s TNInvestco program highlight’s a balancing act the administration of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is trying to pull off. Call it in with the new, not quite out with the old. TNInvestco, which created a pool of venture capital through $200 million in tax credits, was championed by Haslam’s predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, with support from legislative Republicans at the time. Now Haslam is administering that program — a role he appears committed to for the time being — while continuing with the roll-out of his own publicly fueled venture capital fund, INCITE.
Tennessee’s pioneering TNInvestco venture capital program is hitting a pivotal point financially and politically: Early results show the proportion of private investment fell by 30 percent in 2011, and state lawmakers are gearing up for sharper scrutiny. In its second annual report, TNInvestco — which generated a pool of venture capital through $200 million in state tax credits — continues to show surging amounts of public and private investment in an array of companies. But that growth comes as the public dollars take up a larger share of the investment pool than in 2010.
State officials announced plans Thursday to open eight driver service centers, including one in Memphis, on the first Saturday of October and November to give citizens more opportunities to get photo identification cards required for voting in the November election. Also Thursday, the City of Memphis filed a motion in Davidson County Chancery Court for an expedited hearing next week on its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the voter-photo ID requirement.
When you cast your ballot in November, you’ll need to remember one very important item: a photo id. Tennessee and Virginia both require photo identification at the polls. And, if you are a Tennessee resident and you don’t have one – the state is offering you the chance to change that. It’s opening eight of its Driver Service Centers on the first Saturday of October and November. One of the locations is right here in our region is the Washington County Drivers Service Center on Lake Park Drive in Johnson City.
It’s costly, unnecessary and unjustified. That’s the opinion of the NAACP and Michael Scarver regarding the nation’s and states’ new voting laws that could keep an estimated 11 percent of U.S. citizens, 25 percent of whom are black, from voting this November, Scarver said. Voter laws in most states now require people to present an official federal or state government-issued identification card at the polls when going to vote. The ID can be a passport, driver’s license or other government-issued ID. But Scarver said many U.S. residents don’t have access to birth certificates and other necessary documents to prove they are legal residents, or sometimes their identities, that are needed to acquire the cards.
When the Tennessee Department of Transportation first approached Memphis architecture firm Renaissance Group about renovating its facility on White Station near Sam Cooper Blvd., the firm’s principals were anticipating a simple upgrade of an aging facility. TDOT also wanted to consolidate three offices into that one facility, which would mean about 60 people would be housed there. However, once the firm’s architects began examining the 50-year old building, they soon realized the job would be more complicated than originally anticipated.
Report: Gibson County shelter not operational, computer in wrong location The Wo/Men’s Resource and Rape Assistance Program has been asked to establish a corrective action plan after a state agency found the local organization may not have properly used some federal grant money. WRAP was asked to establish the plan after the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs Grants Monitoring Unit released a report of an on-site review that occurred May 22-24. An additional site review was conducted on July 9 to interview WRAP program staff.
A special meeting of the Tennessee State University Faculty Senate was canceled for the second time in two days, leaving it unclear who exactly is in charge of the group. English professor Jane Davis, who was elected chair of the faculty in April, sent out an email Thursday canceling the meeting. Davis was arrested on Aug. 20 during a meeting with TSU interim President Portia Shields.The school says that after the arrest, Davis was voted out of office by other faculty senators. But Davis said that vote is invalid.
State Rep. Curry Todd is scheduled to arraigned on drunken driving and weapons charges in Nashville on Friday. The Collierville Republican was arrested in October after failing a roadside sobriety test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found stuffed in a holster between the driver’s seat and center console. Todd has been charged with drunken driving, possession of a firearm while under the influence and violating the state’s implied consent law for refusing a breath alcohol test. Nashville police said they stopped Todd for swerving and going 60 mph in a 40 mph zone.
Joe Wauford was about an hour away from being released from the Charles B. Bass Correctional Complex after spending half of the last decade in prison. “I’m a 14-time felon, so I’m blessed they didn’t put me away,” said Wauford, 44. Tennessee’s prisoners have had some of the shortest stays in prison over the past two decades when compared with other states, according to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States. The report, which measured average length of stay for people sent to prison in 35 states, found that Tennessee had the fourth-lowest average prison stays in the nation in 2009, behind only South Dakota, Illinois and Kentucky.
More people who graduated from Metro Schools are asking for papers that prove it. Officials believe the surge in requests for old transcripts is due in part to the recent change in federal immigration policy. Now undocumented immigrants won’t be deported, if they can prove they finished high school here. Metro says it’s getting twice the usual number of requests for transcripts, sending workers hunting through records that go back decades on microfilm. But officials can’t know exactly how many are from people who need them to avoid deportation and get work permits.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is about to examine county government’s entire approach to air quality issues after the Memphis City Council voted last month to cut all city funding for vehicle inspections at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. The council vote is one of several decisions in recent months and years that have prompted what Luttrell views as a much-needed look at how the county responds to air quality requirements. “I think it’s a fair reassessment of the entire issue of air quality,” Luttrell said. “What’s a federal responsibility versus a state responsibility versus a local responsibility. We’re going to have to sort all of that out.”
The public agency that oversees the Music City Center will pay more than $678,000 in taxpayer dollars to make restitution to two associations whose 2013 conferences at the under-construction convention hall were canceled According to memorandums of understanding approved by the board of the Convention Center Authority of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, the authority has paid $568,153 to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association and $70,000 to the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association to cover costs associated with moving the groups’ meetings to other venues.
Closing the defined benefits retirement plan for Knox County Sheriff’s deputies and opening the way for them to participate in a 401-k retirement program is one of the most important of the six proposed changes voters will decide on in the November elections, said one Knox County commissioner. Commissioner Jeff Ownby said Thursday evening at a town hall meeting at the Bearden branch of the Knox County Public Library that changing the current retirement plan and closing it to new members on Jan. 1, 2014, is a move residents have been asking for to save the county money.
Rhea County commissioners will adopt a wheel tax and a solid waste fee rather than a property tax increase if a plan proposed by the commission’s budget committee is approved. Budget committee members this week trimmed a budget shortfall to about $1.2 million from an earlier estimated $1.5 million, but agreed they did not want to raise property taxes. “We voted 4-1 to take a plan to the full commission to balance the budget with money from our fund balance, impose a $26 wheel tax that will go to restore the fund balance, and a $12 user fee for solid waste centers,” budget committee Chairman Ron Masterson said.
Blount County residents on Nov. 6 will choose whether to raise their sales tax rate one-half of 1 percent as a way of capturing revenue for their school system and highway department. In August, Alcoa city residents voted to raise their local option sales tax from 2.25 percent to the maximum allowed by state law of 2.75 percent. The other 7 percent of a total tax rate of 9.75 percent goes to the state. Alcoa City Schools Director Brian Bell said increase amounts to an additional 50 cents on a $100 purchase.
A study committee, meeting Wednesday afternoon, has recommended that Bedford County adopt a $30 per year wheel tax, with $20 going to make county teacher salaries more competitive with surrounding counties and $10 going to the county highway department for a paving program. The county will miss this Friday’s deadline for putting a tax referendum on the November general election ballot, as some county commissioners had suggested. “We can now move at our own pace,” said committee member and county commissioner Linda Yockey.
Most Tennesseans who rely on what used to be called food stamps will have to wait longer than usual for their benefits next month. The change came at the request of grocery stores. The number of Tennesseans who get help paying for groceries is 50% higher than it was five years ago. In all, more than 1-point-3 million individuals now get those benefits, and right now, all of that money is made available in the first 10 days of the month. Grocery stores say they get hit with too much business into too few days. They asked the state to stretch out its schedule, by staggering the benefit payouts over a period of time that’s twice as long.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Tennessee rural development office is now on Twitter. According to a news release from the department, subscribers to the social media website can get real-time updates on things like funding availability, application deadlines, upcoming events, news releases and project success stories. A Twitter account is free. Users can see the Tennessee rural development tweets at http://twitter.com/RD_Tennessee .
Medicaid has long conjured up images of inner-city clinics jammed with poor families. Its far less-visible role is as the only safety net for millions of middle-class people whose needs for long-term care, at home or in a nursing home, outlast their resources. With baby boomers and their parents living longer than ever, few families can count on their own money to go the distance. So while Medicare has drawn more attention in the election campaign, seniors and their families may have even more at stake in the future of Medicaid changes — those proposed, and others already under way.
After two days as spectators of legal wrangling, objections and challenges, Shelby County’s suburban leaders continued to express confidence in their drive for municipal schools Thursday and said a two-week delay in federal court doesn’t stifle their plans. “We’re moving forward with a November election in mind,” Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said, referring to plans by Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington to hold school board elections Nov. 6. “We’ll continue to move that ball down the field … unless the judge stops us.”
The date to a city-county schools merger in Shelby County is less than a year away and the six suburban towns and cities in the county are preparing for Nov. 6 school board elections for their municipal school districts. Countywide school board members are still trying to come up with a process for selecting a merger superintendent. And there is the real possibility the municipal school districts boards could have their superintendents picked first. The Shelby County Commission on Monday, Sept. 10, will appoint two new members to the countywide school board for one-year terms following countywide school board races on the Aug. 2 ballot.
The Cleveland Board of Education is juggling a number of maintenance and safety concerns for several city schools. At a recent special city school board meeting, Arnold Elementary, Cleveland Middle and Cleveland High schools took center stage regarding upkeep matters. Air conditioning replacement at the high school has fallen behind its Aug. 1 deadline, Paul Ramsey, energy education specialist for Cleveland City Schools, told the board. However, Ramsey said, the project is nearing completion and the contractor has been paying a $225 penalty each day the work continues past the month-old deadline.
A decision by a federal judge on Wednesday paved the way for the most controversial section of Arizona’s sweeping immigration legislation, requiring the authorities to verify the status of people who they suspect are in the country illegally, to finally take effect. In denying a request by a coalition of civil rights groups to bar the provision, commonly referred to as “show me your papers,” Judge Susan Bolton of United States District Court in Phoenix adopted the same wait-and-see approach suggested by the Supreme Court in June, saying that the measure could be challenged “as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”
Taxes have become a major issue in American politics. Should the wealthy pay more? Should the middle class? Should the tax code be reformed? And, of course, there is the question of Internet sales. Should residents of Tennessee be required to pay sales tax on purchases made online. We believe the answer is yes, and the law is on our side. Amazon has found itself in the middle of this debate. The company does not charge sales tax on purchases and the burden to pay the sales tax to the state falls on the consumer. In April the company began to distribute letters reminding customers in Tennessee that state law — the consumer use tax — does require them to pay sales tax on their purchases.
Tennessee is the most fiscally sound state in the nation. Congratulations to all who made that possible through their hard work, discipline, willingness to make tough decisions and good old common-sense thinking. We have never been shy about holding state lawmakers and public officials accountable for shortcomings. But we also understand the need to recognize success, and this is one of those times. Gov. Bill Haslam said it best when he introduced Tennessee’s 58 delegate votes for Mitt Romney at the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.: “Madam Secretary, Tennessee, the Volunteer State, a state with no income tax, low debt and a budget surplus …”
“M.o.” is an abbreviation for the method of operation of a person. When it comes to implementing education reform in Tennessee, Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman’s m.o. is unmoved by caution or convention. He seems bent on building the plane as he flies it. This practice sets him apart from most prudent reformers in the academic tradition of the United States. As a teacher in Tennessee, I am witnessing firsthand his slap-dash execution of the new TEAM teacher evaluation model, all in spite of the fact that the TEAM method is viewed by outside experts as defying logic. There was enough public uproar that last winter, Gov. Bill Haslam ordered an external re-evaluation of the TEAM model.
Situated in a non-descript strip mall in Southeast Nashville, the Nippers Corner Starbucks looks like many other branches of the Seattle-based coffee shop chain. Throughout the week, teams of young baristas serve a steady stream of customers. Legions of college students from nearby universities spend hours hunched over laptops reading, studying or writing. Many of those students are from Middle Tennessee State University, the large state university situated in Murfreesboro, the city made famous nationally because of the controversy surrounding the building of a mosque and Islamic Center there. But on weekend nights the cafe is transformed into a mini-United Nations. In the many tables outside and inside the cafe, large groups of people of various nationalities congregate.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., made the rounds at the Republican National Convention last week, appearing at breakfasts and luncheons for the Tennessee GOP delegation before discreetly plotting his exit. “I’ve got some important business in the Middle East,” Corker quietly told a small group of convention-goers before taking his leave. Corker surfaced days later in Istanbul, after visiting Turkey’s border with war-torn Syria. “I just visited the border between Turkey and Syria and met with various groups representing the Syrian opposition and refugees,” said Corker in a statement. “Hearing the stories of what is happening every day to ordinary citizens in Syria challenges the most basic American sensibilities.” Some 80,000 refugees have crossed over Syria’s northwest border into Turkey.
Congressman Scott DesJarlais and his Republican pals Romney and Ryan want to lead us down the same primrose path that Republican President Herbert Hoover did during the Great Depression: Take care of business and let business create jobs. Trickle-down policies such as this, and Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, just don’t work. During Hoover’s administration, the soup lines got longer. Bush’s tax cuts created more deficit, not more jobs. It required the vision of Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt to lift the nation from the depths of the depression. He devised government programs that put unemployed people back to work, constructing things such as parks, dams, libraries and museums, projects that we still benefit from today.
“Please don’t feed the animals.” That phrase makes sense when talking about bears and deer, turkeys and elk in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s quite another matter when discussing whether to give food to human beings who need help because circumstances have left them wanting for one the most basic of aspects of life. That is unless you are David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee — ironic, that name. Fowler, a former Tennessee state legislator, posted on his personal Facebook page recently that the National Park Service’s “stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves,” Fowler wrote in the post. “This ends today’s lesson.” Fowler apparently thinks that the 1,341,520 Tennesseans who received food stamps in July, the last month for which statistics are available, are less than human.