This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at an automotive industry conference in Chattanooga. Haslam and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are expected to attend the Southern Automotive Conference, scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. According to a news release, the conference will bring together executives from all sectors of the industry, including original equipment manufacturers, suppliers, service providers and policymakers.
Gov. Bill Haslam is still mulling workers’ compensation reform, with a key message for business: All options remain on the table. The Republican administration continues to work toward unveiling potentially sweeping reform of the state’s workers’ compensation system, a major cost for businesses that critics say hurts economic development. On Tuesday, Haslam said he still hasn’t made a decision about what exactly the reform will include, but that taking disputes out of the court system is a major possibility.
Gov. Bill Haslam allowed state spending to rise and approved a tax increase on hospitals, factors that earned him a ‘D’ in a libertarian policy group’s new report on governors’ fiscal policies. Haslam oversaw an increase in state general fund spending in his first year in office, the report by the Cato Institute says. He also supported raising the state’s hospital tax. The report awarded more favorable rankings to governors who curbed taxes and spending.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C., has given Gov. Bill Haslam a D for his policies, Nashville public radio station WPLN 90.3 FM reports. In its report, available here, Cato knocks Haslam for, among other things, a spike in the state hospital tax. Haslam told WPLN he was surprised by the score, arguing that Tennessee has relatively low tax rates and debt. “(I) thought that’s what conservative fiscal policy was,” Haslam said.
Gov. Bill Haslam earned a grade of D on a fiscal report card released by a Libertarian think tank this week, the lowest grade for any Republican governor. The report, which grades governors on their taxing and spending records, cited the governor’s recent increase in the state’s tax on hospitals, along with Haslam’s support of charging sales tax on online purchases made in Tennessee. The white paper also commends Haslam for moving to repeal the state’s inheritance tax.
Tennessee tax revenue was up in September by about 5 percent, but the state continues to sound a cautionary note. Overall revenue collections were about $1.1 billion, compared to just over $1 billion for the same time period the previous year. Collections exceeded what the state had budgeted to collect by more than 5 percent. Commissioner Mark Emkes of the Department of Finance and Administration said sales taxes, a particularly important indicator, showed marginal growth that reflects a sluggish national recovery.
A second Massachusetts drug company is shutting down in a widening investigation of tainted spinal steroid drugs that have killed 12 people steroid, had agreed to a voluntary temporary shutdown to allow state and federal officials to inspect the 70,000-square-foot facility in Westborough, Mass. The shutdown of Ameridose LLC was announced in Boston on Wednesday by Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, deputy director for health safety in Massachusetts.
The investigation into the origin of a deadly ten-state outbreak of fungal meningitis has now expanded to a second company in Massachusetts. The meningitis is blamed on injections for back pain prepared by the New England Compounding Center, which did not fall under federal regulation. Now inspectors want to look at other pharmacies run by the same executives. Of 17 thousand back-pain injections believed contaminated, two thousand went to St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, where the national outbreak first appeared.
Antifungal drugs could harm liver, kidneys When moldy medicine is injected into people’s spinal columns, spawning incredibly rare forms of fungal meningitis, doctors have few treatment options and don’t know how to keep people from getting sick. The toll continued to rise Wednesday with 137 cases reported nationwide, including 12 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tennessee had 44 of those cases with six deaths. The CDC also warned that people who got injections of the recalled lots of steroid medicine, methylprednisolone acetate, in their knees and other joints could develop septic arthritis.
The outbreak of fungal meningitis continues to widen from its epicenter in Tennessee, with a dozen deaths nationwide. At-risk patients who’ve gotten tested are finding some relief in negative re sults. At some point, Becky Adams of Mt. Juliet just couldn’t take the wondering. The 42-year-old mother of three came back from vacation to a letter saying she might have had one of the tainted injections. She got a steroid shot for spinal pain last month. “You think tomorrow I’m going to wake up with this horrible headache and not be able to walk or something.”
A compounding pharmacy that “shares principal ownership” with the company at the center of the deadly meningitis outbreak has voluntarily ceased operations, Massachusetts officials said Wednesday, in response to heightened scrutiny of the little-regulated industry. Ameridose LLC of Westborough, Mass., halted manufacturing and compounding operations immediately, pending an inspection of its facilities by Massachusetts health officials. Ameridose shares ownership with New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass., the suspected source of contaminated steroid injections that have now sickened 137 people with fungal meningitis, killing 12 of them, in 10 states.
Diana Reed tried massage and acupuncture, but neither eased her neck pain. She may have injured herself while helping her husband, Wayne, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, in and out of his wheelchair. “Diana kind of became Wayne’s arms, legs and voice,” her brother, Bob Bergeson, said. Mrs. Reed, 56, a healthy, vigorous woman who ran or swam every day, decided to try a series of epidural steroid injections for her neck trouble. She had been laid off from her job at a nonprofit group and wanted the treatments before her health insurance ran out.
Department of Children’s Services chief Kate O’Day appeared before a state commission examining cases of severe child abuse on Wednesday to give context to a report that her agency had provided inaccurate statistics for the group to examine. “I know you’ve been reading all about us including in this morning’s paper,” O’Day said, addressing members of the Second Look Commission, a panel of lawmakers, police officers, district attorneys, child advocates and others who review how child abuse cases are handled.
East and westbound traffic on Tenn. 76 was stopped Wednesday morning as representatives from the Tennessee Department of Transportation stood to celebrate the completion of a widening project with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The $43.2 million project expanded the highway from two to four lanes, increased the width of its bridges and improved its railroad crossings. The project widened a 4.3-mile section of the highway in the Gibson County area, officials said. State Route 76 runs concurrent with U.S. 79 from Brownsville to Clarksville.
The University of Tennessee has named Stephen L. Magnum as the next dean of the College of Business Administration. Magnum, currently the senior associate dean at the Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business, will start his new position on March 1, 2013, UT announced on Wednesday. He will replace Jan Williams who has served as dean since July 2001 and is retiring. “Dr. Mangum brings a broad range of administrative experience and a strong track record for leadership,” UT Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Susan Martin said in a statement.
A Hawkins County couple face charges of TennCare fraud after allegedly attempting to use benefits to obtain Subutex, an opioid used in the treatment of heroin addiction, then sell a quantity of the drug. The Tennessee Office of Inspector General reports Bradley Scott Neal, 28, and Christine Thacker Neal, 24, both of Church Hill, are each charged with two counts of TennCare fraud. The offense is a class E felony, carrying a sentence of up to two years in prison per charge.
For at least two decades, voters in the 18th state Senate district had always seen their incumbent representative on the ballot. But that changed in 2010, and for the second time in less than two years, the 18th is an open seat. After winning a four-way Republican primary in August, retired longtime Gallatin pharmacy owner Ferrell Haile will face former Sumner County Democratic Party Chair and Hendersonville resident Maria Brewer in November. Voters in the district were subjected to a special election in early 2011 after the seat was vacated by former state senator Diane Black following her election to the U.S. House of Representatives.
An advocacy group for the more than 500,000 allergy and asthma patients in Tennessee says something as simple as going to your local pharmacy for relief is becoming burdensome. Popular 12- and 24-hour release cold and allergy medicines that contain pseudoephedrine are available over the counter in Tennessee, but consumers are now limited in how much and how often they can buy the medicine. And it has to be requested at the pharmacy counter rather than just picked up off the store shelf. The reason for these restrictions is a law passed to curb the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine.
It will help coordinate transit, land-use needs Local officials can no longer make transportation and land-use decisions in a vacuum and must coordinate with cities and nearby counties as the region grows, Nashville area planners said this week. To that end, the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is embarking on a study of southeastern Davidson County and neighboring counties. It will cover all of Rutherford County and parts of Wilson and Williamson counties. The study will help leaders plan for growth and make recommendations on future transportation needs.
With less than a month before voters in Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County decide if there will be a countywide half-cent sales-tax increase, supporters of the referendum are preparing to launch an aggressive informational campaign to sell the idea. It offers voters a carrot – a promised city property tax reduction – and a stick – a possible county property tax increase, though it’s not described that way. The core message behind the campaign, said Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz, is: Help the County Commission help the school board fund an optional prekindergarten program.
Monday was one of those rare days when, at least for a while, the Shelby County Commission seemed to be setting off more fireworks outside the commission chambers than inside them. It wasn’t that this week’s regularly scheduled meeting was tame. It had the usual number of acid-tinged exchanges and cross-purposes, and at least one important matter — that of the commission’s long-delayed reapportionment — was buttoned down for good. When the commission, after a spirited but relatively brief debate, voted 8-5 to drop any potential appeal of Chancellor Arnold Goldin’s decision on upholding Plan 2-J for 13 single-member districts, that chapter seemed finally to have concluded.
As Congressional Republicans grilled State Department officials Wednesday over the consulate attack in Libya, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee used a much softer touch, including Nashville’s Jim Cooper. Rep. Cooper didn’t exactly defend the Obama Administration’s response, which initially blamed a YouTube video for causing a spontaneous revolt. But Cooper did try to put the four American deaths into perspective. He spent five minutes listing – by name – 56 military personnel killed in terrorist attacks in the 1980’s.
A freshman congressman running for re-election on a pro-life platform urged his pregnant mistress to get an abortion a decade ago, according to a transcript of the recorded conversation. The undated phone recording appears to have been made before Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ divorce from his wife, Susan, was finalized in 2001. According to the transcript, DesJarlais tells the unidentified woman that he is concerned that she hadn’t taken steps toward terminating the pregnancy.
Transcript indicates pregnant mistress U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais discussed an abortion after possibly impregnating a patient, according to a report Wednesday that cited a sealed divorce record. DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, purportedly urged an unnamed woman to find a “solution” so that he would not have to inform his wife that the woman was pregnant, the Huffington Post said Wednesday, citing a transcript of a telephone conversation that the website had obtained. DesJarlais, a doctor, also asked the woman for proof that he was the father and urged her to make a decision quickly as to whether to keep the child.
Allegations that Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who describes himself as pro-life, once pressured a woman with whom he’d had an affair to get an abortion drew condemnations from the lawmaker’s Democratic opponent Wednesday. Fourth Congressional District candidate Eric Stewart called the freshman lawmaker’s actions “disgusting” and charged that DesJarlais, a physician, is a hypocrite. DesJarlais “has proven over and over again that he cannot be trusted and this latest revelation is absolutely disqualifying,” Stewart told reporters at a news conference following a Murfeesboro, Tenn., campaign event.
Revelations that Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais had affairs outside his marriage and pushed a pregnant mistress to get an abortion were branded “disgusting” and “disqualifying” by his Democratic opponent Wednesday. DesJarlais, seeking his second term as representative in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, did not deny the validity of a transcript of a conversation 12 years ago between himself and the pregnant woman. He refused requests for an interview. DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson sent members of the media an email in which the reports are described as “gutter politics” and “character assassination.”
Local conservative voters questioned why past accusations that pro-life medical doctor and incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais urged a mistress and patient to get an abortion should matter now. “You have to let people go on with their life and not hold accusations or sins of the past against them whether it’s true or not,” Mary Anne Maulbeck said while enjoying a hot dog roast at Old Fort Park with her Wednesday night Bible study group. “What you have to look at is what good has he done for the community.”
While disappointed that the first design effort for the Uranium Processing Facility didn’t work, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., offered a positive outlook on the problem. “I wish we didn’t have to have a redesign, but I’d much rather have a redesign before we start (construction) than to tear the building down after we start because we made a mistake,” Alexander said Wednesday. The National Nuclear Security Administration last week acknowledged that the UPF will have to be redesigned because the design in the works didn’t have enough space to accommodate all the necessary equipment.
Nashville’s tourism industry is making the most of the city’s new primetime spotlight. The ABC show bearing Music City’s name premiers Wednesday night. Tourism officials say they couldn’t have written a better script themselves. If it weren’t enough that the show is spending $4 million per episode to shoot on location here, local songwriters are penning the soundtrack and the opening footage rolls like a set of glamour shots – aerial views of the Nashville skyline, hilltop mansions and the winding Cumberland River.
Nashville’s Select Specialty Hospital wants to spend $3.5 million to add 13 long-term acute care beds to its hospital, according to a public notice filed Wednesday. The hospital, located at 2000 Hayes St. and owned by Pennsylvania-based Select Medical Corp., provides care to chronically and critically ill patients. The company plans to file a certificate of need application with the state by Oct. 15th, according to the notice.
Recreation equipment maker Brunswick Corp. is closing its last Sea Ray Boats plant in a Knoxville industrial park, ending 225 jobs by the end of the year. The company plans to consolidate domestic boat building at its plants in Vonore, Tenn., and Palm Coast, Fla. In 2009, Brunswick closed two other Sea Ray plants in the same park, ending 540 jobs. Brunswick Chairman and CEO Dustan E. McCoy said in a prepared statement that while U.S. sales of fishing boats and pontoon boats have increased, demand is still weak for cruisers and larger boats.
Boat work moving partly to Vonore The planned closure of the Sea Ray Boats plant at Forks of the River Industrial Park later this year ends an era and eliminates 225 jobs, but at least some of those workers will likely get to remain in East Tennessee. Brunswick Corp., parent company of Sea Ray Boats, announced Tuesday it would close its remaining boat production facility at Forks of the River by the end of the year. The move comes as Brunswick concentrates U.S. cruiser production at its facilities in Vonore, Tenn., and Palm Coast, Fla., creating needs there, spokesman Dan Kubera said Wednesday.
Bedford County Board of Commissioners, meeting Tuesday night, unanimously approved a revised school budget amendment which would create three new teaching positions — an English as a second language teacher, and two positions at Harris Middle School — by taking $135,000 out of the line item used to purchase new school buses. Commissioners also formally rejected the original amendment which had been discussed, debated and delayed since August; that original amendment would have created seven new teaching positions.
A man and woman are being held in the Dyer County Jail after Dyer County Sheriff’s deputies discover 18 meth labs inside a residence on Highway 78. Bradley Vestal, 32, 37 Pin Oak, Dyersburg, Tenn., and Laura Buhr, 24, 1063 Sir Lionel, Dyersburg, Tenn., are both charged with initiating methamphetamine manufacture and are being held on a $25,000 bond apiece. On Sept. 28, Dyer County Sheriff’s Dep. Chad Jackson received information about possible drug activity at 6829 Highway 78. Later that evening, Jackson, Sgt. Danny Petrie Jr., and Dep. Matthew Funderburk went to the residence to speak with the occupants.
The more we learn of the problems at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, the more apparent it is that the information is not trustworthy, which begs the question: How safe are these children? Previously, there was a weeks-long delay to fulfill a request that the agency provide numbers on how many children died in the past year under the watch of DCS (it was 31). Now, Commissioner Kate O’Day has admitted that data provided to an oversight panel regarding child abuse cases for 2010 and 2011 was inaccurate.
Washington is notorious for its sanctimonious, philandering hypocrites, but few fall into that category with more chutzpah than Tennessee’s 4th District congressman, Scott DesJarlais. A practicing physician at the time, DesJarlais defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis in 2010 on an anti-abortion, family-values, Tea Party-backed campaign in a newly gerrymandered district. Now it’s clear his righteous persona was a blatant charade. As his marriage was disintegrating in 2000, he was urging his mistress — whom he met as a patient for a foot problem — to have an abortion, according to a conversation with her that DesJarlais’ former wife said he himself taped.
“I have been a consistent supporter of pro-life values.” It’s difficult to read that claim, spoken by Rep. Scott DesJarlais, with a straight face in the wake of the revelation that the representative from Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District had an affair and later encouraged his mistress to have an abortion after he allegedly knocked her up. On Wednesday, the Huffington Post published a damning transcript of a Sept. 2000 phone call between DesJarlais, then a full-time physician, and a patient with whom he was intimately involved. According to the transcript, DesJarlais pressured his mistress to get an abortion by threatening to tell his wife about the affair and revealing the mistresses’ name.
The city of Knoxville is asking residents to revise the municipal employees’ pension plan that currently is underfunded and promises to drain taxpayer dollars for decades to come. Knox County voters will decide whether to close the ill-advised and underperforming Uniformed Officers Pension Plan to new hires. The Tennessee Valley Authority is taking a different tack with its underfunded pension plan — the federal utility is keeping its fingers crossed that market returns will be sufficient to replenish the fund. TVA’s approach does not appear to be a realistic response to nearly $2 billion in market losses the pension fund sustained beginning in 2008. B
A story on the Business page in Wednesday’s edition of The Jackson Sun showed a sad example of the many downsides of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Darden Restaurants Inc., which owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants, says it will put more workers on part-time status in some markets in a test to avoid the penalties that will eventually come with not offering full-time employees health insurance. Other companies, including McDonald’s Corp., are exploring similar tactics. Unfortunately, this is an example of how Obama’s ill-conceived and ill-executed strategy will backfire. In this case, employees will see their paychecks cut because of a loss of hours, and health insurance will be even further from their reach.