This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam will receive an award for his work to address domestic violence in Tennessee during a luncheon in Knoxville. The Community Coalition on Family Violence will present the 16th Annual Anita Gregg Memorial awards on Friday. Anita Gregg and her son, Dwayne Kesterson, died as a result of domestic violence in 1996. The agency said in a news release that this year’s award recipients include Haslam for legislative leadership for putting domestic violence front and center during his State of the State address and working to pass mandatory sentences for repeat offenders.
Army veteran Christopher Wells, in less than four months, has experienced the highs and lows of the local job market. After spending a year in Iraq, the married father of two passed the city’s new Industrial Readiness Training course, and landed a job in June with the up-and-coming Blues City Brewery. In September, he lost his job in a layoff at the brewery On Thursday, Wells, 26, was among several hundred veterans seeking work from one of the 18 employers represented at the state’s “Paychecks for Patriots” event at the Tennessee Career Center, 1295 Poplar.
Unemployment rates decreased in almost every Tennessee county last month, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. Unemployment decreased in 94 counties and increased in one. Williamson County tied (with Lincoln County) for the lowest unemployment rate in the state, at 5.2 percent, down from 5.9 percent in August. Twenty-seven counties had September unemployment rates in excess of 10 percent, led by Scott County, where unemployment stood at 16.1 percent.
The Memphis metropolitan area saw its unemployment rate dive again in September, falling half a percentage point below August levels. The Memphis metro had a jobless rate of 8.4 percent last month compared to 8.9 percent in August, according to data released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The metro — which includes Shelby, Fayette and Tipton counties in Tennessee as well as portions of Arkansas and Mississippi — had a jobless rate of 9.6 percent in July.
Unemployment in the eight-county Memphis metropolitan area was 8.4 percent in September, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday afternoon. The rate represents a decrease of one-half a percentage point from the August rate of 8.9 percent. The unemployment rate for Shelby County, the biggest county in the Memphis metro area was 8.5 percent, down from a month-earlier rate of 8.9 percent. Among other major metropolitan counties in Tennessee, Knox (Knoxville) again had the state’s lowest jobless rate, 6.2 percent, down from 6.9 percent in August.
After some of the worst pain of her life, Joan Peay is home from the hospital At first, the steroid shot that Joan Peay received for her chronic back pain was like all the others she’s had before. The Nashville woman’s pain subsided within days of the early September injection at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center. But over the next three weeks the 72-year-old grandmother of 10 experienced odd, and increasingly frightening, symptoms: an aching tailbone, a throbbing back and “killer” headaches.
Stargazing will no longer require a sky — at least not at the University of Tennessee campus. The physics and astronomy department is installing a 20-foot planetarium in a high-ceilinged classroom in the Nielson Physics Building. The roughly $200,000 project, an ambition of the department for several years, was approved by the State Building Commission in September, according to meeting minutes. “It’s an impressive sort of learning because you become the center of the universe in a planetarium because you can go anywhere you want. It’s always fun when you take off and go somewhere and in a blink of an eye you’re in another galaxy,” said Paul Lewis, space outreach director at UT.
The presidents of Middle Tennessee State University and Jackson State Community College have signed an agreement that will make it easier for students in Jackson to transfer to the Murfreesboro university. The agreement that was signed Thursday in Jackson creates dual admissions, concurrent enrollment and reverse transfer options between the two institutions. MTSU president Sidney McPhee said in a statement that these pacts are a priority for MTSU because they are the top destination of transfer students in Tennessee.
It seems fitting, somehow, that Mary Pitner’s first student was sitting by her side Tuesday night as she was named Teacher of the Year by the Tennessee Department of Education for the mid-state grand division. In June, Pitner, three-time Bedford County Teacher of the Year, became one of nine statewide finalists. Her grandmother taught in a one-room school many years ago, and she grew up wanting to follow in those footsteps. Her sister, Peggy Stubblefield, proved to be an always-willing student and was there to see all those playtime moments come full circle.
A Sequatchie County woman is charged with TennCare “doctor shopping” for the second time in less than a month. The Office of Inspector General, along with Hamilton County Sheriffs’ officers, announced the arrest of 32-year old Christy Lynn Stewart of Dunlap. She is charged in Hamilton County with three counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain a controlled substance by “doctor shopping,” or going to multiple doctors in a short period of time in order to obtain prescription drugs.
Cards issued by the Memphis Public Library are acceptable identification for voting purposes, the state Court of Appeals determined in a ruling today that also upheld Tennessee’s photo ID law. The 18-page opinion was a partial victory for the city, which had pushed to have the new law declared unconstitutional but, if it was upheld, to force election officials to accept the library cards, which include a photo. The court determined that the city of Memphis qualifies as “a branch, department, agency or entity of this state,” the standard written into law in 2011 by the Legislature.
Voters in Memphis can use a photo ID card issued from the public library system there to vote, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. Legislators and political interest groups across the spectrum have mixed feelings about the ruling, which overturned a lower court’s decision on the validity of library identification cards but upheld an earlier decision that the state’s voter ID law is constitutional. “While allowing library cards clearly violates the legislative intent of this law, the court rightly affirmed the law’s constitutionality,” said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, a Blountville Republican.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the state’s new voter identification requirement, but it also agreed to let voters in Memphis use new library cards at the polls — splitting the difference on the divisive issue less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election. The three-judge panel said Thursday that the state legislature has the right to pass laws that protect “the purity of the ballot box,” and ruled that asking for photo ID at the polls does not add a new requirement to voting. The court also said the requirement does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on poll taxes.
The state Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of Tennessee’s voter-photo identification law Thursday afternoon but also ordered that new photo library cards issued by the Memphis Public Library be accepted for voting by otherwise qualified, registered voters. order is at least a partial victory for the City of Memphis, which originally filed a lawsuit in July asking that its new photo library cards be accepted for voting purposes by qualified registered voters. The city filed the lawsuit after the Shelby County Election Commission denied the cards as unacceptable under the law because they are not issued by a “state entity.”
Photo library cards the city of Memphis began issuing this summer can be used as valid identification for the Nov. 6 elections. The Tennessee Appeals Court ruled Thursday, Oct. 25, that city of Memphis photo library cards are a valid form of state issued identification for voting under terms of a 2011 Tennessee that requires photo identification in order to vote. The court accompanied the ruling with a one-page order that directs Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins “to immediately advise the Shelby County Election Commission to accept photo library cards issued by the city of Memphis Public Library as acceptable evidence of identification” under the 2011 state law.
At least for now, Shelby County registered voters may use new photo identification cards issued by the Memphis Public Library to vote — but only on provisional ballots that may or may not be counted on election day. State election officials will ask the Tennessee Supreme Court Friday to overturn Thursday’s state Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the state’s new voter-photo ID law but ordered acceptance of the Memphis library cards for voting purposes, in addition to the state-issued ID cards — like driver’s licenses — the law specifies.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton released a statement Thursday expressing gratitude that the state Court of Appeals had found for the city in its appeal of a prior ruling that had invalidated city library cards as proper IDs for voting under state law. “It was our intent to make voting easier, not more difficult,” Wharton said. “In so doing, we knew that we were fighting this battle not just for the citizens of Memphis, but for every city and community across Tennessee where you have seniors, the disabled, and people in general in need of greater access and flexibility in obtaining a valid ID for voting.”
A legal challenge against the state’s new voter ID requirement has gotten part of what it asked for. An appeals court did not overturn the law as unconstitutional. But it did say a Memphis library card with a photo is acceptable to vote in Tennessee. Opponents of the requirement argue getting a state ID isn’t always easy, and could exclude some voters, like college students, minorities and the elderly – hence the lawsuit from two Memphis women. Attorney Doug Johnston helped argue their case.
Tennessee election officials are turning to the state Supreme Court to back up their interpretation of new voter ID requirements. Yesterday an appeals court said the law is constitutional, but that people can also vote using IDs issued by cities. The state appeals court just ruled people are allowed to vote using a Memphis library card. But State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins wants the state Supreme Court to weigh in, and to put the ruling on hold for the time being.
The pill-supplying mistress of a disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court judge is either a victim or a vixen. Those were the lines drawn in the sand for a female-dominated jury Thursday tapped with deciding the fate of ex-judge Richard Baumgartner, who is accused of lying to various officials and private citizens on seven different occasions to cover up a drug conspiracy, of which his mistress was a part. Deena Castleman certainly appeared a victim when she took the witness stand in U.S. District Court on Thursday with a chain wrapped around her waist and hooked to handcuffs — an apparatus that jingled so loudly as she nervously fidgeted that U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer asked her to calm herself so the noise wouldn’t drown out her testimony — while Baumgartner sat in a suit and tie with a smile on his face.
Thrust into the legal chaos of one of Knoxville’s most high-profile criminal cases following the demise of one of its most high-profile judges, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood did his best to be fair but ultimately raised too many questions about his objectivity, an appellate court ruled Thursday. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday ordered Blackwood removed from the helm of the cases of three of four defendants in the January 2007 torture slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23.
The Metro school board’s high-profile Great Hearts Academies denial is motivating lawmakers to approve a plan that would allow parents to send their children to private schools on taxpayers’ dime, said House Speaker Beth Harwell. Parents want options, “and we didn’t give them that. And consequently, where do they go next but to vouchers,” Harwell told The City Paper. “If the Metropolitan school board is concerned about vouchers, then they should have been more conscientious in helping us bring in an outstanding public charter school to this state,” she said.
Embattled Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester has decided not to seek a third term in charge of the state party. Spokesman Brandon Puttbrese confirmed Forrester’s decision on Thursday. The move opens the door to new leadership for the party that has in recent years suffered deep losses in both the Statehouse and among the state’s congressional delegation. Forrester enjoyed strong support from the party’s executive committee and among the more liberal wing of the party, but was strongly opposed by elected Democrats like then-Gov. Phil Bredesen and Democratic congressmen.
After a four-year run that started with a fight with his party’s top elected officials and featured numerous losses at the ballot box, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester plans to step aside in January. Forrester, 57, told The Tennessean he started thinking about the decision last summer and was ready to give way to new, younger leadership. “It’s been a great four years, but it’s time,” he said Thursday. “There’s a slow leadership change taking place in the state. We’re beginning to move on, and there’s this new generation.”
Chip Forrester, who has served as chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party in a four-year period of declining political fortunes, will leave the office when his current term expires in January. Forrester, 57, has said for some time that he likely would not seek a third two-year term. He told the Tennessean and staff Thursday that his decision is now final. The veteran party activist took the chairmanship in January 2009, after Democrats lost control of both chambers of the state Legislature — though down just 50-49 in the House.
The chairman of Tennessee’s Democratic Party says he won’t run for reelection this coming January. During Chip Forrester’s four years in charge, Democrats lost control of the governor’s office, along with numerous seats in the state legislature and in Congress. Even Forrester’s critics say the party’s losses over the last few years aren’t all his fault. But news of his exit comes at an awkward time, less than two weeks before Republicans hope to seize an even bigger majority in the statehouse.
At appearances Thursday, 9th Congressional District incumbent Steve Cohen appeared more miffed at Republican challenger George Flinn’s commercials than concerned there was any reason to doubt voters would deliver another landslide victory for the Memphis Democrat. Turnout patterns through the first seven days of early voting in Shelby County indicate Cohen has reason to be confident about the Nov. 6 election, although he promised to close his campaign with an aggressive push as if he needed to eke out a close contest.
Twelve of the 23 countywide school board members have signed a letter urging voters to approve a half-cent countywide sales tax hike in the Nov. 6 elections. The letter dated Thursday, Oct. 25, refers to using half of the estimated revenue from the extra half cent for an expansion of pre-kindergarten. But it mentions pre-k as one of several possible uses for the $30 million that would go to local education under state law. “We believe it is important to send a signal to the community that we support this referendum in the majority and also intend to use the additional revenue generated by it for essential educational programming,” the letter reads.
Members of Occupy Nashville filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against Gov. Bill Haslam and other government officials over their October 2011 arrests and the new rules governing the use of Legislative Plaza. The Occupy lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the actions of state government officials, as well as of the new rules enacted by the state Department of General Services. It details nine counts against the defendants, including First Amendment violations and attempts at illegal surveillance of the plaintiffs’ activities.
Cuts set to begin in January would slice the budget deficit by $607 billion Chattanoogans could ring in the new year with higher taxes, government furloughs and benefit cuts that threaten to push the economy back into recession. Unless Congress acts in its lame-duck session after the Nov. 6 presidential election, budget cuts and tax hikes agreed to as a last resort during congressional budget talks last year will begin hitting most American wallets. Economists project that the effects are likely to throw the anemic recovery into reverse.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander is again asking federal agencies for answers related to the fungal meningitis outbreak. So far, 70 Tennesseans have been infected due to contamination at a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. Earlier this month, Alexander sent the FDA Commissioner a list of questions about laws governing that kind of pharmacy. Now he and the rest of the Senate’s Health Committee are asking the FDA, state regulators and the pharmacy itself about the distribution system that spread contaminated drugs to clinics in 23 states.
Freshman U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais received just $10,610 in contributions from individual donors in the reporting period following revelations that he once urged a mistress to seek an abortion. The Republican congressman seeking re-election in the 4th District also reported $17,700 in receipts from political action committees for a total of about $28,300 over the course of the 17-day campaign finance reporting period, the last before the Nov. 6 election. DesJarlais spent $304,000 in the period, led by more than $216,000 on TV advertising, nearly $52,000 on direct mail and $7,000 for polling services just days after the news about his abortion discussion emerged on Oct. 10.
About a dozen people huddled into the small banquet room on Thursday evening, chatting and munching on potato chips and barbecue sandwiches. The gathering at a Whites Creek restaurant felt more like an impromptu get-together among friends than a town hall event for the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee. Since Mark Clayton won his party’s Aug. 2 primary, he has faced a long uphill battle in his bid to unseat Republican incumbent Bob Corker in November. Even his own party has disavowed him.
A prominent national free-market critic of the federal Affordable Care Act laid out his vision for “curing” America’s “health care crisis” during a private event in Nashville Wednesday hosted by the Beacon Center of Tennessee. The event was closed to the media, but Goodman spoke with TNReport for a few minutes before the event. “The biggest problem with the health care market, unlike other markets, is that we have completely suppressed normal market forces,” said John C. Goodman, who leads the National Center for Policy Analysis, a group that promotes private-sector alternatives to government programs and regulations.
More watchful eyes will soon be on duty in West Knox County. Officials with security company ADT Corp. said Thursday that the company’s planned expansion at the Pellissippi Corporate Center will add 300 jobs to its workforce and will include a facility expansion. CEO Naren Gursahaney made the announcement during a news conference at the business park near Hardin Valley Road, where ADT already has a customer monitoring center. Gursahaney noted that ADT spun off from Tyco International earlier this month, and company officials rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. “None of that compares to today,” he said.
A debt-collection company in Jackson will hire more than 100 collection agents, managers and Internet technology people before the year’s end. Portfolio Recovery Associates, off Passmore Lane, purchases debt at a reduced price from other nationwide companies and then attempts to collect the debt as its own revenue. The company’s Jackson office is a call center from which customer service representatives work with debtors to pay what is owed. Recovery Associates purchased a company-record $447 million in debt for the trailing 12 months that ended June 30.
Silicon Ranch — the company with ties to former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration — has applied for a solar tax break that is sure to fan the flames of debate over the economic development incentive’s future. The company’s founders include Bredesen and major economic development players from his administration, Matt Kisber and Reagan Farr. They spearheaded the passage of the tax break in 2010 aimed at encouraging the fledgling solar industry. In the 2012 Tennessee General Assembly, some Republicans had planned to alter the tax arrangement in part because they were suspicious after those who put it in place started a solar company.
Wacker Chemie AG is delaying completion of its $1.5 billion polysilicon plant in Bradley County by 18 months, WRCB-TV in Chattanooga reports. The German-based company now plans to begin production at the plant in mid-2015. According to the company’s third-quarter earnings report, weak demand and high inventory levels are pushing down prices for silicon wafer. Hemlock Semiconductor still plans to begin production at its $1.2 billion polysilicon plant next year in Clarksville.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam delivered some good news last week with a bit of information about Nissan’s workforce. The only problem was that his statement was misleading and obviously designed to garner favor during a national economic development convention for governors in Nashville. Early last Friday, the governor issued a statement from the convention that Nissan would be adding 810 jobs and running a third shift for the first time in the plant’s nearly 30-year history. That sounds great. The only problem is that these jobs were announced in mid-2011, and they’ve already been hired. They started running vehicles off the line Oct. 14 on the third shift, which was a historical moment of sorts at the Smyrna plant.
The state Court of Appeals ruling Thursday that the new photo library cards issued by the Memphis Public Library be accepted for voting by qualified, registered voters is a major victory for Mayor A C Wharton and the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County. Despite the fact the court upheld the state’s voter identification law, the library card decision is important because it makes it easier for people to gain a legitimate government issued ID that will allow them to vote. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said an appeal will be filed today to contest the library photo ID provision. We hope the state Supreme Court sees the wisdom in the appeals court’s split decision and allow the library card ID decision to stand.
There is general agreement now that the Chickamauga lock on the Tennessee River here is deteriorating at a rapidly increasing rate, that it requires frequent repairs to keep it operating and that the need for a replacement is pressing. There is highly partisan debate about to pay for repairs, upkeep and a replacement. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, said Wednesday that he has a bipartisan plan that would expedite resumption of currently stalled construction. Given current circumstances, his proposal is reasonable, though it faces considerable and unnecessarily partisan opposition in Congress. The Tennesseean, along with fellow Republic Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., intends to introduce the American Waterworks Act sometime after the November elections.
The Republican Party has made voter fraud the red herring of this election. Now it turns out the party has been forced to cut its ties to a well-paid consulting firm after cases of real voter registration abuse arose in several swing states. A thorough federal investigation of the consulting firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, is needed. Florida law enforcement officials said they were looking into “numerous” complaints against the company, which is run by Nathan Sproul, a well-known Republican campaign operative and former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. Charges of registering dead people, altering and faking registrations and other abuses are being investigated in 10 Florida counties.