This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Eight local lawyers have submitted an application to fill Knox County Circuit Court Judge Wheeler A. Rosenbalm’s seat when it becomes available following his retirement at year’s end. Wheeler announced his intention to retire on Oct. 4 in a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam. A nominating committee, chaired by Nashville lawyer Thomas Lawless, will convene a public meeting Dec. 14 to hear from lawyers and members of the public about the eight applicants. The applicants are William T. Ailor, J. Elaine Burke, Kristi M. Davis, William A. Fox, Ray Jenkins, Mary E. Maddox, Glenna W. Overton and Deborach C. Stevens.
Two of the three finalists to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, have a Hawkins County connection. Among them are District 8 State Sen. Mike Faulk, who chose not to seek re-election this year. Faulk is a Hawkins County native who also previously served on the Hawkins County Commission and has a law office in Church Hill. The second finalist is Third Judicial District Chancellor Thomas Frierson of Morristown. Frierson serves Hawkins, Hamblen, Greene and Hancock counties.
After a decade in which fewer and fewer children were in state custody, the trend has reversed. The state Department of Children’s Services is having some success at growing its network of foster homes for abused and neglected children, but the need is growing faster. The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/UAyYJk) one of the state’s largest private providers is Youth Villages. They collected demographic data on the type of person who makes a good foster parent and recruited through a massive radio campaign, and later through TV.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is halting all lane closures during the Thanksgiving holiday. Officials say all construction-related lane closures will be stopped beginning at noon on Wednesday until 6 a.m. on Monday. They say there will also be increased law enforcement on the roads. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer says about a million Tennessee travelers are expected to drive to their destinations over the holiday. According to AAA, about 44 million motorists nationwide will travel 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Tennessee State Parks is offering special winter rates for 360 villas and cabins. The discount, which also includes six state park inns, began last Thursday and lasts through March 15, 2013. The special rate allows park visitors to stay at one of Tennessee’s six state park inns for $54.95 a night, excluding tax. The inn discount can be used seven days a week and applies to both individuals and groups. A 50 percent discount also is being offered for villas and cabins with a two-night minimum stay.
The dust may have settled on this month’s election, but others are just getting started. The catch is these elections don’t call for the public’s input. Beginning next week, the state’s 132 lawmakers on the largely Republican Capitol Hill will start electing — from their ranks — the people who will be some of the most powerful figures in the state. “Ultimately what the caucus is concerned about is we want to be a unified voice,” said Rep. Ryan Haynes, one of 70 voting in the Republican caucus elections.
Most Bradley County voters skipped the polls on Election Day and instead cast their ballots during early voting — part of a statewide trend. About 67 percent of Bradley County voters hit the polls early, Bradley County Election Commission employee Mimi Angel said. That’s up from 65 percent in the 2008 presidential race. Such a high percentage of early voters is a bit unusual, Angel said. “From what I’m looking at, we would be one of the highest, percentagewise, for early voting,” she said.
A Rutherford County woman who is refusing to return to a correctional work center has brought attention to discrepancies in the way sentences are calculated at the local level. The federal courts have appointed attorneys to help Sharonda Renee Taylor, who believes employees charged with calculating sentences at the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center are doing it wrong. The Daily News Journal found that administrators at the work center and those at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center each perform sentence computations differently, according to their own interpretations of Tennessee’s sentencing and sentence credit laws.
A special task force is trying to encourage independent grocers to locate in low-income areas in Tennessee. The Tennessee Grocery Access Task Force is a coalition of more than 50 private and public sector groups. They have a news conference scheduled for 11 a.m. CST Monday at the Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to announce efforts to create a financial incentive program encouraging independent grocers to locate in so-called food deserts. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food desert is a low-income census tract in which a substantial number of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.
The remaining unknown details of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ tumultuous 2001 divorce were made public last week by way of nearly 600 pages of transcripts from the proceedings. Though new facts were revealed, the theme was the same — affairs and abortions attested to by the anti-abortion, family values congressman himself. Nevertheless, a congressman he remains. DesJarlais cruised to re-election on earlier this month, besting his Democratic opponent Eric Stewart by nine points.
Every week, Stephanie Davis fills out papers to prove she is looking for work. She bought a car with the little money she and her husband could save between his paycheck and her $275 a week unemployment check so she could drive to interviews. But in eight months of searching — since she was let go from her position at a retailer in the Eastgate Town Center because of her medical related absences from work — she hasn’t found any takers. Last week, after she had surgery to remove four teeth, she was notified that the government help would be running out very soon, she said.
The idea of trying to gauge a state’s “innovativeness” strikes some as a flawed exercise. The word innovation seems to connote success, but as everyone knows, some innovation leads to failure. Critics question the validity of crediting a state for being innovative just because it’s quick to jump on a new idea, regardless of the policy’s particular merits. Still, the issue of state innovation has long interested political scientists and the subject is experiencing a resurgence among scholars. The underlying question is why some states are quick to adopt new policies while others usually hold back and let their neighbors test the waters.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is upgrading warning sirens at all of its nuclear power plants. TVA spokesman Ray Golden told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the sirens at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant at Soddy-Daisy, near Chattanooga, have been in place for three decades. The federal utility is replacing 108 sirens, which cover a 10-mile radius around the plant. Four new sirens are being added because of spreading development and slight shifts in prevailing winds over the years. Wooden poles are being scrapped in favor of steel standards, and the sirens will have battery backup.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s new Cray XK7 system known as Titan has already been anointed as the world’s fastest supercomputer, but it may be months before the lab completes the acceptance testing, officially takes ownership and completes payment to Cray for a machine that’s estimated to cost $100 million. “I think our current schedule for (completing) acceptance is … something around the end of February or sometime in March,” said Bronson Messer, who’s managing a lab team to speed the transition from Jaguar, Titan’s predecessor, which once held the No. 1 spot on the Top 500 list of the world’s fastest computers.
$66 million incentive package on table for West End Summit The nation’s largest private hospital chain is close to landing Metro’s third-most-generous financial incentive package ever, totaling a projected $66 million, in exchange for filling a prominent midtown eyesore with headquarters offices and bringing 1,750 new jobs to Davidson County. Metro Council is set to consider the arrangement between Nashville-based HCA and Metro — one of Mayor Karl Dean’s signature economic development proposals — with a vote Tuesday on a trio of bills outlining tax breaks and incentives key to the proposed office towers dubbed West End Summit.
Countdown to holiday travel rush For the four and a half years Gina Brown has lived in Nashville, she has always hit the road for Thanksgiving. Not this year. This time, her parents will visit her here, saving her the hassle of fighting traffic and getting her dogs ready for the trip to Chattanooga. “I love my parents’ home, and I do love the memories I have there,” said Brown, 35, who works for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “But things are different now. I have two dogs that go with me everywhere. I also drive a lot for my job.”
A peer tutoring program that has seen success at schools in Tennessee and Mississippi is planning to expand. Charlie McVean started Peer Power seven years ago at his Memphis alma mater, East High School. The program pays students willing to tutor struggling underclassmen up to $10.50 an hour. Since its beginnings, the program has spread to seven schools in Memphis and Mississippi and reaches about 1,000 students who need help with classwork. McVean, the chairman and CEO of McVean Trading & Investments, announced this month plans to double the number of schools participating and expand the idea around the nation.
The time is right for Gov. Bill Haslam to go for it. The numbers give him unprecedented power since he took office. First, he has a GOP super majority in both the state House and Senate — more than enough votes to push through any legislation he supports. Second, he’s wildly popular. A Middle Tennessee State University poll found that 68 percent of the state’s active voters, from both parties, approve of the job Haslam is doing. In other words, we like our leader. Now he needs to lead. It’s time for Haslam to quit waffling on whether he wants the state or federal government to run the federally mandated health insurance exchange. It’s time for Haslam to tell us how he plans to fix the broken Department of Children’s Services.
Those who live and work in Chattanooga and Hamilton County do not need surveys or dry statistical analyses to authenticate the fact the community and the region that surrounds it remain a wildly popular tourist destination . Incontrovertible evidence is available every day. There is a steady stream of traffic at downtown and area attractions. Hotels and motels often are full. Shops and stores in areas with heavy tourist traffic are busy and the roads — sometimes to local motorists’ temporary chagrin — are filled with vehicles bearing a wide assortment of out-of-state license plates. That anecdotal evidence is backed up by a recent survey that shows that tourism spending in Hamilton County grew by more than 10 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Here we go again. Tennesseans who rely on the sales tax deduction when they pay their federal income tax must cross their fingers in hopes that Congress will act to preserve the deduction. This has to be one of the most unfair and unnecessary rules of the federal income tax code that average Tennesseans face. Fortunately, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, representing Tennessee’s 7th District, are working to get legislation passed to ensure the deduction will be available next year and beyond. It is time to permanently fix this IRS filing uncertainty. It’s as if Tennesseans are being punished because their state is fiscally conservative and won’t pass a state income tax. It is past time to fix this problem.
In an interesting twist, the privacy rights of those who comment anonymously on this newspaper’s website have been protected by a judge, while the private e-mails of Gen. David Petraeus went public — and cost him his job as CIA director. You recall the Shelby County commissioners’ legal fishing expedition of a few weeks ago. The commissioners tried to compel The Commercial Appeal to release the names and e-mail addresses of commenters at commercialappeal.com who posted critical remarks about the merger of Memphis and Shelby County school districts.The commissioners believed this private information could show that certain politicians and suburban leaders in Greater Memphis were trying to influence the writing of new state laws that would allow the suburbs to form their own school districts and circumvent the merged district.
For hard-core users, methamphetamine addiction, with its brutal physical ravages, is almost like a backward trip through evolution. But even after the addict moves on, the residue from meth use or, worse, its manufacture, lingers silently with toxic levels of contamination, according to a special report from Scripps Howard News Service in Sunday’s Commercial Appeal. Exposure to a meth-contaminated residence or car can cause severe medical problems, particularly in children. The Drug Enforcement Administration maintains a registry of more than 21,000 addresses that were once meth labs, but at the current state of public awareness this is not a check the typical homebuyer thinks of making.