This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is spending next week in Japan to take part in a trade mission with delegations from other Southeastern states and to meet with businesses with current or potential investments in Tennessee. Haslam said after a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new Saks Inc. distribution center in Rutherford County that the trip underscores the importance that Japanese companies have within the state economy. The 133 Japanese companies operating in Tennessee account for $14 billion in capital investment, and they employ 33,000 people.
Gov. Bill Haslam will attend a trade conference in Tokyo next week organized by a group that promotes exchange between Japan and the Southeastern United States. Haslam will lead a delegation of business leaders and economic development officials on a trip in which he will visit Japanese companies that have invested in Tennessee, and he will attend the 35th annual meeting of the Southeast U.S./Japan Association. The trip is Haslam’s first to Japan as governor.
Gov. Bill Haslam makes his first official trip to Japan next with a delegation of business leaders and economic officials from across Tennessee. Haslam and others will be in Japan for the Southeast US-Japan Association’s 35th annual meeting. “Tennessee has had a successful and growing relationship with Japanese companies for nearly three decades,” the governor said, noting . “I look forward to honoring and reinforcing the meaningful, lasting relationships between our state and Japan.”
Gov. Bill Haslam intends to put a special state Supreme Court back in action soon after three of his five appointees disqualified themselves last week from hearing a constitutional challenge to appellate judge selections. The governor said Friday he is working to find “three great replacements” for retired state Supreme Court Justice William “Mickey” Barker, of Signal Mountain; former Supreme Court Justice George H. Brown; and Robert Echols, a former U.S. District Court judge.
The state Democratic Party has nominated three people to fill a vacancy on the Registry of Election Finance board, and Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to pick one of them to serve by the end of September, officials said Thursday. The new member could bring the board up to its allotted six members by the panel’s next meeting on Oct. 23, when a hearing is scheduled on whether civil penalties should be levied against Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett for alleged violations of state campaign finance law.
By November, Tennessee residents needing to renew or replace their driver’s licenses could be going to their local library, police precinct or county clerk’s office and using a self-service kiosk instead of one of the driver service centers.State officials are even in talks with a national retail outlet chain where some kiosks may be located. The negotiations are still in the works and state officials declined to name the retailer until the deal is finalized “We want to give customers more options and easy access as opposed to them coming to the driver service centers,” said Michael Hogan, director of the state’s Driver License Issuance office.
The state’s TNInvestco venture capital program is undergoing an independent audit at the request of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s top economic development chief. TNInvestco, which creates a pool of venture capital through $200 million in tax credits, is a 10-year program passed by Republicans but designed by the administration of Haslam’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. Commissioner Bill Hagerty, head of the Department of Economic and Community Development under Haslam, has asked that a standard state audit pay particular attention to processes and controls surrounding the program.
Tennessee business will get to pay less into the state’s unemployment trust fund, at least for a little while. It’s first time there’s been a decrease in three years. Payments are going down about one percent, but the decrease could be short lived. Danny Burk is with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “It’s certainly conceivable, if not likely, that rates would change again on January 1.” The amount of money in the trust fund can fluctuate wildly. Just two years ago, the amount was so low the state needed loans and federal stimulus money to pay out benefits.
Without fanfare, work on a project that has been years in planning — a major expansion of Roane State Community College’s Oak Ridge campus — has begun. That construction project has been launched as other improvements to the campus are being completed, officials said in a news release. The site for the college’s new three-story, 64,000-square-foot Health Sciences and Technology Building has been cleared, and drilling for geothermal wells has started. The building will have geothermal heating and cooling and be LEED-certified for energy efficiency.
A judge on Friday tossed out the results of a Lebanon Special School District board race in August that was decided by one vote. Johnie Payton defeated incumbent Steve Jones 1,468-1,467 on Aug. 2 to win the seat on the three-member board. Chancellor C.K. Smith voided that result and ordered the race added to the November ballot after Jones filed a lawsuit alleging not everyone eligible to vote in the board election had the race listed on their ballot. “I had two or three people tell me they tried to vote and they couldn’t,” Jones said.
Tennessee’s attorney general, not a special prosecutor named by the Tennessee District Attorney General Conference, would handle any criminal case against 10th Judicial District DA Steve Bebb that might arise from an ongoing TBI investigation. “Our office and the DA’s Conference have met and are in agreement on how to proceed,” attorney general spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair said in a statement Friday. “The TBI is conducting an investigation at the request of the attorney general and, under the statute, any decision in regard to the district attorney will be made by the attorney general.”
To accommodate an increase in registered voters, voting locations have changed for the Miller and Fairhaven precincts in Olive Branch and Greenbrook North in Southaven. “New voter registration cards were mailed to every active voter in those precincts,” said Dale Kelly Thompson, DeSoto County Circuit Court Clerk and Registrar. “The new card will have the address of the new polling place and should be used as a reference for future elections. If you’re an affected voters, you need to discard your previous voter registration card.”
Clutching a .38-caliber revolver stashed in her sparkly blue purse makes 36-year-old Nikki Goeser feel more secure when walking back to her car at night. Goeser does not take safety for granted. She feared guns as a child growing up in western Kentucky. “I thought they’d jump right up from the table and shoot me,” Goeser, whose father collected guns, said of her early years. But her life changed after watching a man walk into a Nashville bar on a rain-soaked night in April 2009 and shoot her husband in the head with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
A Caucasian heritage and $75 are the price of entry into next week’s international conference for white supremacists in East Tennessee organized by Stormfront, the oldest and best-known website devoted to the “white pride, white power” movement. Like a Facebook for white supremacists, Stormfront is the virtual gathering space for like-minded people to meet, post and respond to messages, tell jokes and offer political commentary in a variety of labeled discussion groups that range from “fighting white genocide” to poetry.
Democratic congressional candidate Dr. Mary Headrick said this week she would support a barge fuel tax increase to finance repair and construction at Chickamauga lock.“The Chickamauga lock should be replaced,” she said in a statement. “Until replaced, it should be repaired and remain in operation. … I favor increasing the marine diesel fuel per gallon tax, as favored by barge operators.” In doing so, the Maynardville, Tenn., Democrat and acute care physician defied her opponent, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who has rejected a barge tax increase from 20 cents to 29 cents per gallon of diesel fuel.
The federal government is proposing new rules for how old bridges would get repaired in a move that could save $78 million nationwide over the next 10 years. Currently, bridges that need to be repaired or replaced must undergo an individual historic preservation review, a process the Federal Highway Administration says takes time and money. Instead, the agency wants to do a single review of more than 196,000 bridges that are old but not necessarily historic, meaning they were built after 1945, the agency said in a news release.
The federal trial for three protesters accused of breaching security at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has been reset to Feb. 26, giving attorneys an additional four months to prepare. Federal Magistrate Judge G. Clifford Shirley on Friday granted a continuance in the trial, which had been set to begin Oct. 10. Attorneys for the protesters, who proclaimed themselves “Transform Now Plowshares,” had filed requests in U.S. District Court in Knoxville seeking more time to research similar cases, review evidence and file additional motions in the case that has attracted national — and even international — attention.
Eight minutes into the Metro school board’s May 29 meeting came an email exchange between top state education officials. The board had just acted swiftly to reject Great Hearts Academies’ charter school proposal for Nashville — and Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and his upper brass were keeping tabs from afar. “Apparently being denied as I write this,” Stephen Smith, the department’s assistant commissioner of Policy and Legislation, fired off in an email. Huffman, the recipient, replied within the minute. He assumed this would happen: “Bad move by MNPS. School has a strong track record of success and parents want it here.”
Shelby County Commissioners will appoint two new members to the countywide school board at their Monday, Sept. 10, meeting. The commission meeting is at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St. The appointees will fill seats on the old Shelby County Schools board, which is part of the 23-member transitional countywide school board. The transitional board has less than a year before Shelby County’s two public school systems merge. At that point, in August 2013, the board then becomes the seven district members elected in the Aug. 2 elections.
At one point in a two-hour presentation and discussion with the countywide school board last week, Mike Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools warned the board that going with an advisory committee in the search for a superintendent could present problems. If the goal was diversity, Casserly said the 23-member board probably had plenty of that by virtue of its size. Among the board members sat some of the non-board members serving on the ad hoc committee that is in some ways such an advisory group.
Enrollment continues to hold steady for Hamilton County Schools, up 469 students over this time last year. “That’s a really good number for us,” said Superintendent Rick Smith. The school district on Friday released its 20th-day student count, which showed a total enrollment of 42,705, the highest enrollment in at least five years. Total high school enrollment held mostly steady, with middle schools adding 158 students and elementary schools adding 296 since last year’s 20th day.
Harrisburg officials, who have fought bitterly over the city’s debt, have agreed to try to seek common ground and have won a reprieve from a judge’s order for an income tax increase. Judge Bonnie Leadbetter of Commonwealth Court on Thursday agreed to reconsider the 1 percentage point increase in the earned income tax that she ordered last month. The move came after lawyers for the city’s state-appointed receiver, the City Council and Mayor Linda Thompson stated their desire to work toward a solution.
Coming two months before Election Day, the employment report for August is a problem for President Obama. The economy added 96,000 jobs last month, a slow pace that lowered the monthly average this year to 139,000, versus 153,000 in 2011. Even the decline in the jobless rate, to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, was a disappointment, because it indicated a shrinking labor force as people gave up looking for work. But properly understood, the report should not encourage voters to support Mitt Romney. That’s because boosting tepid job growth requires stimulative fiscal policy — including spending to rehire teachers and to rebuild schools, roads and other infrastructure, as well as loan modifications for underwater homeowners. Mr. Obama has proposed all of that, while Republicans have blocked such measures and the Republican agenda rejects them.