This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A lack of information from the White House is delaying a decision about whether the state should run its own health insurance exchange under the new federal health care law, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday. Haslam told reporters that President Barack Obama’s administration has refused to address a series of questions about the health insurance marketplaces raised by Republican governors, including whether states would be able to create wellness-based incentives to encourage healthy behavior.
Republican Governor Bill Haslam aimed more frustration Monday at the Obama Administration for about not getting questions answered about health insurance exchanges called for by the new federal health care law. “Governors representing 60% of the country, including some Democrats, have major questions we went to sit down and discuss, and we have been told, ‘No that’s not right,'” said a clearly exasperated governor when reporters brought up the question.
Gov. Bill Haslam thinks U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais ought to weigh whether he can continue to be effective in Congress, but the governor has not been part of any “official” conversations about asking him to resign, he said Monday. “I think the congressman’s decision is, can I effectively represent the people who elected me?” Haslam told reporters after a public appearance in Nashville. “It’s not my call. It’s his decision.” Criticism of DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, has sharpened since a Marion County court released official transcripts from DesJarlais’ divorce proceedings that contradicted his account of what happened after a patient he had slept with told him she was pregnant with his child.
Gov. Bill Haslam weighed in on the controversy that continues to swirl around Rep. Scott DesJarlais on Monday, indicating he has no plans of rebuking his fellow Republican or suggesting he step down from the Tennessee delegation. According to a Tennessean report, Haslam told reporters in Nashville that he had not taken part in any “official” conversations regarding DesJarlais, who overcame scandal and was re-elected on Nov. 6—only to be greeted by more scandal.
Some Republican activists want an explanation from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais as he approaches a week of silence on court records showing he supported his ex-wife’s two abortions before declaring himself “a consistent supporter of pro-life values.” “He lied. That’s about all you can say,” said Liz Holiway, a Tennessee Republican Party state executive committeewoman who represents portions of DesJarlais’ 4th District. “Not saying that a lot of other politicians haven’t. But I think something should be done.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer have announced Safe Routes to School funding for the cities of Medina and Milan. Medina will receive $173,306 for improvements at Medina Middle School, and Milan will get $101,960 for improvements at Milan Middle and Elementary schools. The Safe Routes to School Program is a statewide initiative designed to make bicycling and walking to school a safer, more appealing and healthier alternative for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, according to a news release.
Shelby County is home to the worst performing driver’s license station in the state, according to the agency in charge of license renewals. But state officials want to change that, by rolling out self-serve iPad stations, outfitting stations with more equipment, and improving the training for workers at the 51 driver’s service centers across the state. They’re also trying to make it easier for residents to never enter those centers, by completing simple transactions over the Internet and visiting in-person only for more complex issues.
Millions of people recycle at home and at work, but travel recycling has always been a challenge until now. Tennessee state agencies have joined the effort. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the state Tourist Development department have started providing recycling services for cans and bottles at welcome centers, including those at I-75 Chattanooga and I-24 Tiftonia. “Recycling away from home is one challenge that all recyclers face,” said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau in a news release.
Tennessee State University expects to make one of its alumna the school’s next president. Glenda Baskin Glover got the nod from the chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees TSU. The full board could sign off on the recommendation next week. Glover would replace interim president Portia Shields, who’s been in charge of TSU for the last two years. Glover was dean of the College of Business at Jackson State in Mississippi. She earned her bachelor’s degree in math at TSU, and had the backing of the school’s national alumni association.
Nearly 40 years after graduating from Tennessee State University, Glenda Baskin Glover is expected to return to the university as its president pending Tennessee Board of Regents approval next week. TBR Chancellor John Morgan officially recommended Glover, a dean at Jackson State University in Mississippi, to the Board of Regents in a statement released Monday.The full board will consider the recommendation during a conference call meeting Nov. 27. If approved, Glover will become president in January and replace interim President Portia Holmes Shields, whose controversial two-year tenure at the historically black college divided students and alumni.
The number of fungal infections nationwide from tainted medicine produced by New England Compounding Center rose by 21 over the weekend, and one more person died, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday. But no new cases or deaths were reported in Tennessee. A total of 490 fungal infections have occurred nationwide, with 478 of them being meningitis or stroke cases, the CDC said. The death count now stands at 34. Tennessee still has reported the most deaths at 13, followed by Michigan with nine and Indiana with five.
The Sullivan County Commission went on record Monday in favor of four-laning State Route 126 across Chestnut Ridge, between East Lawn Cemetery and historic Yancey’s Tavern — and ultimately all the way to Exit 66 of Interstate 81. But comments and questions from commissioners made it seem not all of them were clear on exactly what they were voting for — or maybe against. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced last week that it has scheduled two public hearings regarding planned improvements to the 8.2-mile section of SR126 between Center Street and Interstate 81 for Dec. 11.
As travelers frequent the roads during the start of the holiday season, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is working to implement safe travel conditions along state highways with the “No Refusal” campaign. Enforcement of the “No Refusal” law will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday and end at midnight Sunday. The law, which enables law enforcement officials to seek search warrants for blood samples of presumed intoxicated drivers, previously has gone into effect over Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends.
A group of grocers, consumer advocates and researchers wants the state to help invest in supermarkets in food deserts around Tennessee. The Grocery Access Task Force says doing so could create jobs and make the state healthier. Food deserts are places where lots of people lack easy access to affordable, healthy food. They can happen in both cities and rural areas. David Smith of Associated Wholesale Grocers says many food deserts could sustain a store, but getting the money to start one is difficult.
A top Republican strategist says his party won big in Tennessee because voters are “gravitating to the message” Volunteer State GOP politicians communicate. Now, Republicans in Tennessee couldn’t really ask to be in a better position to execute the policy measures they say will propel the state along a path of economic prosperity, fiscal responsibility and social conservatism. “Tennessee, I think, is a shining light and an example across the country for what we can do,” Chris Devaney, chairman of Tennessee’s Republican Party, told TNReport.com.
Rutherford County Election Commission Chairman Ransom Jones pledged that a “lesson learned document” will be created to improve on the office’s service following the Nov. 6 presidential election. “We don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” Jones said during an Election Commission meeting Monday night in which results of the Nov. 6 election were certified. “We need to have the early votes counted when the polls closed. We don’t want to get caught again. We got caught way off guard.”
The city of Memphis and the federal government are working on an agreement that would bring the aging Liberty Bowl into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to a settlement agreement obtained Monday, the federal government would promise not to file a lawsuit against the city if certain corrections and additions are made to bring the 47-year-old stadium into compliance. If both parties sign the agreement, it could bring to an end an issue that has plagued the city for years, stretching back to the administration of Willie Herenton.
Four years after voters shrank the size of the Knox County Commission from 19 to 11, members on Monday agreed to form a task force to look into increasing it. Nothing, however, could be brought to the ballot boxes until the next election, which isn’t until 2014, and even then it would take another four years to actually enact any approved changes, because a sitting commissioner’s term by law cannot be shortened. Still, the board, in a 10-0 vote, agreed to study the issue. Commission Chairman Tony Norman was absent.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has asked the Justice Department to respect Colorado and Washington state referendums making marijuana possession legal, saying it would be “a mistake for the federal government to focus enforcement action on individuals whose actions are in compliance with state law.” Voters in Colorado and Washington passed laws Nov. 6 that make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana legal for individuals 21 years old or older, going beyond laws in other states where cannabis is legal for medical purposes.
Researchers at Vanderbilt are taking time away from their labs to lobby congress, albeit informally. PhD candidates are worried the impending fiscal cliff will leave them without money to keep working. The NIH is slated for an across-the-board eight percent cut, and Vanderbilt is one of the agency’s top grant recipients. This year the university hauled in nearly $320 million, funding thousands of positions on campus, some of which are now at risk. Neuroscience grad student Andrew Hardaway organized a phon-a-thon to ring lawmakers in Washington, asking them to protect NIH funding.
Teaching Introduction to Sociology is almost second nature to Mitchell Duneier, a professor at Princeton: he has taught it 30 times, and a textbook he co-wrote is in its eighth edition. But last summer, as he transformed the class into a free online course, he had to grapple with some brand-new questions: Where should he focus his gaze while a camera recorded the lectures? How could the 40,000 students who enrolled online share their ideas? And how would he know what they were learning?
The Tennessee Valley Authority expects to spend $55 million to fix a design flaw at its Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Facility and may have to delay scheduled closings of some of its oldest coal-fired units while such repairs continue until 2014. But TVA’s chief generation officer says the costs could have been far greater if cracked rotors in the hydroelectric station had not been identified and an accident occurred. “This is a situation that could have been devastating,” TVA Executive Vice President Kim Greene told the TVA board last week.
A federal judge has ordered mediation between the Tennessee Valley Authority and Roane County residents suing over a massive coal ash spill in 2008. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/SMJfSL) that on Monday, U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan gave the two sides 120 days to reach a settlement. Varlan said he would consider allowing more time for mediation if needed. If issues remain after mediation, the case will proceed to trail. Varlan already found TVA liable after the Kingston Fossil Plant dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge into the Emory River and surrounding land.
A federal judge on Monday gave TVA and plaintiffs suing the agency over the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill 120 days to reach a settlement through mediation. U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan ordered both sides to agree on a mediator within the first 30 days and report that to the court. Varlan said he expects the parties to “mediate the case until they meet with complete success or at least with partial success.” Varlan said he would consider more time for mediation if warranted.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is again home to the computer system capable of handling the most data of any in the world. The fastest supercomputers are: 1. Titan Cray XK47 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 17.59 petaflops per second 2. Sequoia BlueGene/Q at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 16.33 petaflops per second 3. Fujitsu’s K computer at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan, 10.51 petaflops per second.
What are the most business-friendly cities in Tennessee? The answer, of course, depends on a number of factors, some of which have been analyzed by the Beacon Center of Tennessee for its annual assessment of the most business-friendly cities in the state. The annual study examines Tennessee’s 50 largest cities, assessing factors such as property tax rates, sales taxes, job growth, population growth, violent crime, household income, cost of living and high school graduation rates.
Tennessee is generally known as a business-friendly state, but is itself a patchwork of varying local tax policies and other criteria that are important to businesses. As part of its annual look at the state’s most and least business-friendly cities, the Beacon Center of Tennessee recently examined the state’s 50 largest cities, assessing factors such as property tax rates, sales taxes, job growth, population growth, violent crime, household income, cost of living and high school graduation rates.
Tennessee manufacturing jobs increased about 1 percent over the past year, according to the 2013 industrial directory published by Manufacturers’ News Inc. The state gained 3,368 manufacturing jobs from September 2011 to September 2012, bringing total employment to 377,662 workers at 7,150 manufacturers. “Tennessee continues to see its manufacturing sector improve,” Tom Dubin, president of the Evanston, Ill.-based publishing company, said in a statement. “Its business-friendly environment and solid infrastructure have made it easier for manufacturers to do business, drawing major companies to the state.”
An East Nashville mattress manufacturer – dating back to The Depression – is saying so long. The Capitol City Mattress Company, better known as the folks who make Fluffo, is coming to an end. The company started in 1930 as a refurbisher of mattresses, eventually evolving into a manufacturer on Main Street. Owner Horace Bass bought the business from a widow in 1985, primarily so his daughter – who is deaf – would have somewhere to work. “I have a lot of sentimental feelings about closing down. Sometimes I just want to sit down and cry. But I’m not sorry, because I’m 83 years old.”
The Capitol City Mattress Co., better known as the maker of Fluffo mattresses, is going out of business, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Owner Horace Bass told WPLN he has been unable to find a buyer for the business, which now churns out 25 to 30 mattresses a day — down from 200 in its peak. The company, which began in 1930, will head to a liquidation auction Dec. 11, WPLN reports. Bass has already sold the property to the same developer who owns the Fat Bottom Brewery building next door.
The primary parties involved in the ongoing legal battle over the reorganization of Shelby County’s public schools met Monday for mediations aimed at reaching a settlement in the dispute over whether to allow new municipal school districts in the suburbs. U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays presided over the mediations, shuttling between four different rooms to discuss possible resolutions. The Shelby County Commission, city of Memphis and Memphis City Council are aligned as plaintiffs in a third-party complaint filed against various state officials and agencies, all of whom are aligned as defendants with Shelby’s six suburban municipalities.
Tennessee has about the same number of methamphetamine labs as it did two years ago, despite new laws and a new system for tracking the drug’s main ingredient, pseudoephedrine. Authorities expect the statewide total to reach nearly 1,800 busts for the year. State law limits consumers to about three boxes of pseudoephedrine per month. But that doesn’t stop meth cooks from recruiting other people to buy it, often using fake IDs. Police have reported finding buyers with 75 or more fake IDs.
The people who work for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services often see the worst humanity has to offer: The boy who was brutally beaten by his drunken father, the girl raped by a trusted uncle or neighbor, the children removed from the homes of meth-making parents.The state has a responsibility to these children, but DCS has failed in key aspects of its mission. This is inexcusable and must be corrected. Gov. Bill Haslam and the state Legislature must address the systemic problems that have plagued the department in recent years. One legislator has called for the head of the agency’s commissioner, but that is premature at best. State officials should first focus on evaluating DCS operations and providing the resources needed to protect some of the most vulnerable Tennesseans.
Perhaps state officials were too zealous in their determination to bring jobs to Tennessee. The TNInvestco Program was created in 2009, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron at the request of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. The program offers tax credits to spur the creation of jobs through new companies and entrepreneurship. Those tax credits are offered to investment companies that then sell the credits and use the money to infuse start-up companies with capital. The idea was admirable, especially at a time when credit markets were tight and venture capital firms were struggling to raise money. “Who knows?” pondered Matt Kisber, the state’s economic and community development commissioner at the time. “The next Google might come from an investment here in Tennessee.”
The Memphis and Shelby County unified school board is weaving its way through approving the 172 recommendations laid out by the Transition Planning Commission as the foundation for creating a world-class school system that is scheduled to begin operation next summer. As Commercial Appeal education writer Michael Kelley outlined in a story Sunday, the school board and school staff have accepted 42 of those recommendations. Those recommendations, though, are basically low-hanging fruit; other recommendations that already have raised community anger and angst still have to be accepted, modified or rejected.