This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is starting the annual state budget hearings for the fiscal year 2013-14 this week in Nashville. Haslam, Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes and David Thurman, the state budget director, will preside over the hearings that begin Tuesday and will last through next Tuesday. Proceedings can be viewed online at http://www.tn.gov . The first day of hearings will cover several different departments, including safety, tourist development, military, veterans affairs, agriculture, health, education and environment and conservation.
Gov. Bill Haslam will begin annual budget hearings for state agencies today in Nashville. Beginning with eight agencies on Tuesday, the hearings regarding Tennessee’s $31 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year will continue through Nov. 13. All hearings are open to the public and will be streamed live and archived on the state website. According to a Tennessean report, Haslam has requested agencies draft plans for reducing their spending costs by 5 percent.
With just hours left until the polls open on election day both Tennessee Republicans and Democrats worked to win over voters. Inside a store in Nashville’s Lenox Village two of the state’s highest ranking Republicans rallied supporters on election eve. Governor Bill Haslam and House of Representatives Speaker Beth Harwell both spoke to the crowd, surrounded by several local legislative candidates. “What we are stressing are the local legislative races because they do make such a big difference,” Governor Haslam told reporters after the rally.
Tennessee Republicans are poised to get their first super majority — or more — in both chambers of the Legislature on election night. Currently in the Senate, Republicans have a 20-13 advantage. The margin is 64-34 in the House, with one independent. To get a super majority, Republicans need to claim two seats in each chamber. The last time there was a super majority in both chambers was during the 90th Tennessee General Assembly when Democrats controlled the Senate 23-9 and the House 66-32, according to legislative records.
Although the United States no longer leads the world in educational attainment, record numbers of young Americans are completing high school, going to college and finishing college, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available census data. This year, for the first time, a third of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. That share has been slowly edging up for decades, from fewer than one-fifth of young adults in the early 1970s to 33 percent this year.
Puzzled health officials are investigating reports that some fungal meningitis patients in Tennessee and elsewhere have developed new health problems, knocking some back into the hospital just when it seemed they were recovering well from the brain infection. Some patients reportedly have developed epidural abscesses, or pus-filled infections of the spine’s epidural layer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. Other patients reportedly have been diagnosed with arachnoiditis, a painful compression of spinal nerve roots.
How come Republican candidates are listed first on election ballots across Georgia and Tennessee, when adherence to alphabetical order would give Democrats top billing? Turns out that both states have rules that determine a party’s placement. In Georgia, the party that controls the governor’s office is listed first on the ballot. In Tennessee, the party that has the most representatives and senators in Nashville gets the primo position. “It’s an advantage the Democrats enjoyed for many years, and now that’s changed,” said Blake Fontenay, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of State. Fontenay works for Secretary of State Tré Hargett, a Republican.
Changes made last year to a state law governing restaurant licenses is being blamed for the closing later this month of the Valarium, a concert venue under the Western Avenue viaduct. News that the Valarium and adjacent Cider House at 112 Ramsey St. would cease operations Nov. 25 was posted on the Valarium’s website Friday. Management said it was not selling enough food to meet gross sales demands as required by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Two Giles County residents are charged in separate cases with TennCare fraud involving prescription drugs. The Office of Inspector General announced the arrest of 56 year old Shirley M. Stone, and 38-year old John Kilgore, both of Pulaski. The arrests are the result of a joint investigation with the Pulaski Police Department. Stone is accused of using TennCare benefits to obtain the prescription pain medication Lortab, while intending to sell a portion of the drugs. Kilgore is charged in connection with using TennCare benefits to obtain a prescription for a similar pain medication, Ibudone, while planning to sell a portion of the prescription.
Two of the state’s highest-ranking Republican leaders have collectively raised more than $282,000 to aid GOP legislative races in a year the party hopes to land supermajority status in both chambers. The donations came from a mix of businesses and individuals in donations as large as $10,000, according to a list of donors the Tennessee Republican Party provided to The City Paper. “The Republican caucus typically helps existing incumbent members, but we wanted to help in races for new members as well,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a get-out-the-vote rally at Republican House Candidate Ben Claybaker’s campaign headquarters Monday.
Two years after McGavock High School served as an evacuation site during the 2010 Nashville flood, dozens of residents gathered there Monday evening to talk about a flood-prevention plan for the city. The preparedness plan city officials presented includes an emergency notification system already online and a closer look into how the city could better protect each of Nashville’s 22 flood zones. The online notification system called the Nashville Emergency Response Viewing Engine, or NERVE, is a website accessible through the Office of Emergency Management that provides information ranging from evacuation sites and road closures to directions to the nearest shelter during a disaster.
How Nashville prepares for another big flood will hinge on cost. Last night Metro officials unveiled a shortlist of possibilities they’ve been compiling since the deadly flood of 2010, as a step toward trying to get federal funds. The potential projects include a removable six-foot floodwall along the Cumberland River near First Avenue downtown, which could cost tens of millions. Several neighborhoods hit by the flood could also see more home buyouts – or, for many others in places where damage wasn’t as bad, home elevation is a possibility.
A total of 38.9 percent of registered voters in Shelby County participated during the early polling period, according to the Memphis Daily News, which indicated the volume of early votes cast was down from the last general election cycle in 2008. But it’s still higher than any other county in the state. Thursday was the last day of early voting and drew the most voters of any day during the early voting period.
If recent voting trends and 2008 presidential election hold as reliable indicators, more than 60 percent of votes in Tuesday’s election in Shelby County have already been cast. But the tight race nationally for president and a host of significant local races are likely to draw another 125,000 to 140,000 voters to their assigned precincts. Depending on where a voter lives, the ballot may contain only a few competitive races, especially since Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is widely expected to carry Tennessee comfortably over President Obama.
Cleveland and Bradley County leaders have agreed to a name for a proposed 108-bed living facility for veterans. On Monday, the Bradley County Commission endorsed naming the facility the Cleveland/Bradley County State Veterans Home in a 14-0 vote. The Cleveland City Council approved the name last month. The name was chosen in lieu of titles with regional appeal or those associated with a particular benefactor. “A private donor, who is providing $3 million for the project, has made a condition that the home not be named after anyone,” said Commissioner Mark Hall, who serves on the veterans home panel.
Knoxville is a finalist for a grant in the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge for a detailed idea on food production in the city. “That would be a connection of jobs, transit, land, food and composting,” said Susanna Sutherland, manager of Knoxville’s sustainability office. Knoxville will compete with 19 other cities for the $5 million grant or one of four prizes of $1 million each. Sutherland, who authored the grant application, said the issue of self-reliance for food production is one that cities are facing across the country.
Two years after upsetting the incumbent Democrat, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is the only Tennessee member of Congress facing a serious challenge in Tuesday’s general election. Democrats were unable to field credible candidates against two other freshmen Republicans who won House seats previously held by Democrats. And a concentrated Democratic effort against DesJarlais isn’t guaranteed to provide a boost to the party in a state that has turned decidedly Republican — despite revelations that the congressman, who opposes abortion rights, years ago urged his mistress to get an abortion.
Hamilton County judge ruled that most of the records from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ messy divorce could be made public, but the release of a potentially embarrassing transcript was delayed until Election Day or later. After a high-stakes hearing on the morning before the election, Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton ruled that a transcript of the 2001 trial should be released. But she also agreed with an attorney for DesJarlais that its release would come only after it had been completed, dealing a setback to Democrats who had hoped to see it published as soon as possible.
A judge ordered the release of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ divorce trial transcript on Monday, but attorneys said it’s unlikely that 4th Congressional District voters will see its contents before polls close today. The freshman Republican lawmaker spent several hours of election eve holed up at the Hamilton County Courthouse as attorneys haggled over what should be public and what shouldn’t from DesJarlais’ explosive divorce case settled more than a decade ago. Democrats gained little new ground Monday, despite an 11th-hour effort designed to expose what the state party referred to as specific details of DesJarlais’ infidelity and alleged professional misconduct as a doctor.
Voters across West Tennessee Tuesday will settle several key battles for state legislative seats that will help determine how large of a majority Republicans will hold in the statehouse. The focus is on two West Tennessee races for state Senate. One is for District 26, immediately east of Shelby County, where Democrat Meryl Rice of Whiteville is challenging Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham’s bid for a second term. The other is in the northern half of West Tennessee, where Republican John Stevens of Huntingdon and Democrat Brad Thompson of Union City are running for the District 24 seat being vacated by Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden.
The latest effort on Republican challenger George Flinn’s behalf in the 9th District congressional race is an appeal to Cordova residents that incumbent Democratic congressman Steve Cohen regards as a “conflict of interest.” Dated October 25 and received in some households as late as this past weekend, it’s a letter from Gene Bryan, who identifies himself as “your neighbor and President of the Cordova Leadership Council.” The Council is the organization that for several years has functioned as a civic club and lobbying group on behalf of the sprawling East Memphis/suburban community of Cordova.
Hamilton County Schools will no longer invite family and community members to school cafeterias for holiday meals. A favorite tradition at many elementary schools, the holiday meals will only be offered to teachers and students as the school system seeks to stay in compliance with new federal meal regulations. The change appears to be an unintended consequence of new rules in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which requires school lunches to meet strict daily and weekly guidelines on calories, fats, grains and meats.
Time is running out for Tennesseans who bypassed early voting. Polls open at 7 am close at 7 pm. The presidential race has created a difficult decision for some. The latest polling suggests Mitt Romney may win the state by an even greater margin than Sen. John McCain did four years ago. But the GOP nominee isn’t necessarily the favorite among Republicans. Rick Santorum won the primary here. Larry Jones of Gallatin says Romney wasn’t his first choice. “Lesser of two evils, because he made his living being a venture capitalist. And that’s what put me into retirement early was because of people like Romney shifting jobs offshore.”
The theft of tax information from a South Carolina computer system appears to have been the largest cyberattack ever on a state government and has put other states on high alert, computer security experts say. The state announced late last month that an international hacker had stolen 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers. Now tax departments across the country are inspecting their own security systems.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s board has chosen a former energy chief from North Carolina, who was ousted from his previous company earlier this year, to succeed retiring Tom Kilgore as the chief executive of the nation’s largest public utility. Bill Johnson was CEO of Progress Energy and had been slated to lead Duke Energy when the two companies combined to form the nation’s largest investor-owned utility in July. But within hours of the merger Johnson was out, replaced by Jim Rogers, who had been Duke’s CEO but was slated to become executive chairman.
Bill Johnson, the tall, incoming president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, walked through the halls of the Knoxville and Chattanooga headquarters buildings Monday to meet employees and shake hands. Just hours earlier, as he was introduced via streaming video from the Knoxville TVA auditorium, he told listeners that his values as a utility leader are simple. “People are important. How we treat customers, how we treat employees, how we treat each other really matters,” he said.
Johnson no stranger to challenges William D. Johnson, who faced no lack of challenges when he was head of Progress Energy Inc., said Monday that he looks forward to the test of running TVA when he becomes its new president and CEO in January. Some of the challenges are even similar. Johnson was president and CEO of Progress Energy when the utility shut down its Crystal River nuclear reactor in Tampa, Fla., three years ago because of problems with repairs to the reactor’s containment vessel. The reactor is still offline, and completion costs for repairs could exceed $3 billion, according to an Oct. 2 Wall Street Journal story.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has picked former Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson as its new chief executive. Johnson was ousted from his position when North Carolina-based Progress merged with Duke Power, after serving as chief executive of the merged company for just one day. At a press conference in Knoxville this morning, Johnson was reluctant to talk about his exit from the company. “Duke decided they didn’t want me as the CEO. My view of that is that it was their right to do that. I’ve testified about this publicly. I’ve said everything I know about it, and I don’t think there’s any new news there.”
William “Bill” Johnson has been chosen to succeed Tom Kilgore as CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Johnson was ousted as CEO of North Carolina-based Progress Energy two months ago, when the company merged with Duke Energy. Kilgore, who also worked at Progress Energy, plans to retire at the end of this year, following six years on the job. Johnson was slated to lead Duke following the merger, but the company’s board replaced him within a day of the merger concluding, according to the Times Free Press.
Submitting a school choice application to Metro schools is becoming a little easier this month with the launch of an online process designed to get more children enrolled in the school they want, an education official said. The biggest change in the application process is that it can be done completely online for students who are already attending a Metro school, said Meredith Libbey, assistant to the director of schools and part of the communications team involved in designing the process. In the past, parents had to physically obtain information from one school and deliver it to another.
Thirteen Tennesseans are dead and more than 60 others are suffering from life-threatening meningitis. Survivors face an unimaginably painful, months-long or years-long battle against the dangerous fungus that is burrowing into their tissue and bones. In most cases, the killer fungus was injected into their bodies — directly into their spinal columns — by for-profit medical clinics. These clinics bought cheap drugs from an out-of-state corporation that reportedly had no license to make and sell the drugs as they were doing. Each day, new disturbing reports emerge: The out-of-state drug manufacturer had problems with unclean facilities as early as 10 years ago; there was “greenish black foreign matter” in vials of drugs made by the company; and there was visible filth in the factory, including mold, bacteria, “yellow residue” and “green residue” in supposedly sterile areas in its drug factory.
During every election, activists and partisans from both sides of the aisle solemnly declare the upcoming election the most important election of our lifetime. It is an axiom of civilization. Mothers love their children, the sun rises in the east, and every two years people shout from the rooftops that the coming election is like no other before it. It is with that recognition and at the extreme risk of being cliche that I must tell you that this election truly is, in fact, one of the most important in recent memory and, yes, possibly the most important of our lifetime. At a national level, the evidence is clear. President Barack Obama took a country in serious debt and teetering on recession in 2008 and plunged it deeper in debt. It is no exaggeration to assert that Obama has presided over one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression.
“People who do not vote have no line of credit with people who are elected and thus pose no threat to those who act against our interests.” — Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, from “My Soul Looks Back, ‘Less I Forget: A Collection of Quotations by People of Color.” I was visiting a friend in Atlanta recently when I was introduced to a man who was doing some electrical work at my friend’s house. “Every black person who does not vote in the Nov. 6 presidential election and other races should go jump off a cliff,” James Price said. “Too many people have sacrificed their lives for us not to go vote.” Price, a retired Ford Motor Co. employee, started telling me about 1958, when he was a senior in high school at David T. Howard High School in Decatur, just outside Atlanta.
The meningitis scare sweeping the nation hit our family when we found out Sunday a cousin in Michigan is fighting for his life after contracting the illness. Doctors are running different tests on him daily, he said, to figure how to combat the deadly disease that grew out of a shoddy drug compounding center in Framingham, Mass. Apparently the state slept as the company sent out dirty drugs across the country in steroid epidural shots. A Smyrna man already died from the complications, one of 12 in Tennessee and 29 nationwide, and some 400 more contracted fungal meningitis across the country. Hospitalized for seven days already, my cousin said 13 people on his floor alone are suffering from meningitis, and he didn’t know how many more in the hospital have it.