This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam recently announced he will put off a decision on creating a state health insurance exchange outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but there are strong indications he plans to eventually move forward with a state run exchange, despite the legal prohibition for such a move under the Tennessee Health Freedom Act. In fact, information compiled by the Tennessee Tenth Amendment Center seems to indicate Haslam planned to set up the state exchange all along.
Gov. Bill Haslam encouraged the legislature’s large class of freshman lawmakers to resist falling back on what may be the politically right answer to public policy problems. In a freshman orientation for the state House of Representatives’ 22 first-time state lawmakers Tuesday, Haslam said, “There’s a way to be about good government versus a way to always be about politics. “There are times when you have to come up with a political answer. That’s just the reality,” the governor said. “But I really hope that we’re always driven by getting to the right answer.”
The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Lunch featuring Tennessee’s 49th governor, Bill Haslam, on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Embassy Suites Murfreesboro Hotel and Conference Center. Open to both Chamber members and non-members, the event is designed to give Rutherford County residents the opportunity to hear about Governor Haslam’s plans for 2013. Following his presentation, Haslam will answer questions from attendees. The cost to attend is $30 for Chamber members and $40 for non-members.
Longer sentences, rising admissions to state prisons and a slowing in the number of inmates released are contributing to increased prison costs, the state’s top corrections department official said. One way the state is trying to combat those trends is by developing “solid alternatives to sending somebody to prison,” like drug courts and day-reporting centers, Commissioner Derrick Schofield said during a state budget hearing earlier this month. Gov. Bill Haslam pressed state prison officials for more detail on why the state’s cost of overseeing inmates is increasing.
Five projects across the state have been awarded grants totaling $127,500 to fund green infrastructure and low-impact development projects. Awards from Tennessee’s Green Development Grant Program include $25,000 to install rain gardens for three Memphis schools. A $28,000 award will help Knoxville separate its stormwater runoff from its sewage, remove pollution from the runoff and help it infiltrate the ground. Chattanooga’s $28,000 grant funds its Low-Impact Development Excellence Award program to recognize projects using innovative green technologies.
A task force of state health officials is trying to reverse an alarming rise in the number of babies born addicted to drugs in Tennessee. Babies born addicted suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, often spending many days in the hospital as they go through the painful withdrawal process, experiencing seizures, tremors, fever and vomiting. The Health Department reports that the number of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome increased tenfold between 2000 and 2010. In the last two years alone, more than a thousand babies have been born dependent on addictive drugs.
The Smithsonian Institution’s forensic analysis of a Civil War era metal coffin and the body of Pvt. Isaac Newton Mason is the subject of a live presentation, “Finding Private Mason,” hosted Tuesday by Columbia State Community College’s Department of History at all five of its campus locations via interactive television. The program is live beginning at 3:30 p.m. in Room 101 of the Williamson County Campus of Columbia State Community College, 104 Claude Yates Drive, Franklin. The program is free and open to the public.
What a difference a year makes. The University of Tennessee’s full-time Master of Business Administration program is among the best MBA programs in the country, according to Bloomberg Businessweek’s recently released 2012 rankings. UT’s program is No. 60 overall and No. 26 among U.S. public universities that offer full-time MBA programs. Last year UT did not make the rankings.
Two men seeking to stop public prayer before Hamilton County Commission meetings have filed an appeal of a federal judge’s refusal to issue a temporary injunction. Attorney Robin Flores told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he filed the appeal Monday on behalf of his clients, Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones. The filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals came after U.S. District Court Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice declined in August to issue a restraining order. Mattice said it was too soon to determine whether new prayer rules adopted by commissioners were inclusive of faiths besides Christianity.
Nick Patel punched in Powerball requests as fast as his overworked lottery machine would spit them out Wednesday morning. “I got here about 8 this morning, and it’s just been crazy,” he said. In fact, Patel had to call in extra employees as Powerball mania swept through his Farragut Market at 11104 Kingston Pike. Knoxville, East Tennessee and most of the nation were awash in Powerball fever, as lottery players ponied up mountains of money in hopes of winning the record-setting prize in the face of staggering odds.
All across this recession-weary country on Wednesday, Americans of every rank and station lined up at convenience stores and delis, placed their hard-earned dollars on countertops and took part in a venerated national tradition: trying to get really rich without doing anything. “You want to retire tomorrow?” Vijay Patel asked his customers at Lanzilli’s Groceria in East Boston, where Powerball tickets were constantly being churned out by the lottery machines. “A lot of action today. Good luck.”
Hospitality officials are seeking to amend a hotel tax law and require online travel companies to pay more in taxes, a measure that would add more than $1 million to annual tax revenue. The Tennessee Hospitality Association argues that online travel companies (OTCs) have a competitive advantage because they pay taxes on a discounted room rate rather than the retail rate. Following a dismissal of a class-action case in U.S. district court filed by Goodlettsville against Priceline.com in February, the association is seeking to, as they see it, level the playing field by changing the language in the state law.
Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says his focus in January will be on cutting the state’s Hall income tax on investments and not reducing sales taxes on food beyond an earlier agreement. Ramsey, R-Blountville, emphasized he still backs Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s recommendations to cut taxes on groceries from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in the budget that takes effect next July. Lawmakers cut the rate this year from 5.5 percent to 5.25. But to the dismay of critics who say the sales tax on food unfairly hits lower-income Tennesseans, Ramsey said he doesn’t think slashing it further is a good idea.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he will focus on cutting a state tax on investments, not food, when the legislative session resumes, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Ramsey is targeting the state’s Hall Income Tax, which hits retirees pulling money out of investments. Democrats would like to see the state reduce its food tax, which some believe unfairly burdens the poor. Ramsey, however, said the food tax is one of the state’s most reliable sources of revenue, and said the truly poor sidestep the tax with the use of food stamps, WPLN reports.
Senate Democrats have re-elected Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis as minority leader and Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson as caucus chairman. Democrats earlier this month lost six seats, leaving them with seven of 33 members in the upper chamber of the General Assembly, Kyle was elected Wednesday to his fifth two-year term as leader and Finney to his third as caucus chairman. Senate Democrats also reappointed Sens. Douglas Henry of Nashville and Reginald Tate of Memphis to the fiscal review committee and named former Sen. Bob Rochelle of Lebanon to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
Talking about running against your party leader isn’t usually a winning strategy and thus was the case with state House Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny. His colleagues voted him out of his current post in a meeting this week. Matheny accused House Speaker Beth Harwell of not being conservative enough and said he might challenge her for the job this next session. He later walked it back and decided to run for re-election to his current post in the No. 2 spot in the House. Harwell did not have an opponent to repeat as Speaker.
State Rep. David Hawk’s indictment on a felony charge of reckless endangerment by a Greene County grand jury would prevent him from holding any committee officer position or leadership title in the 108th General Assembly under the House Ethics Code that went into effect last year. Hawk, R-Greeneville, voluntarily stepped down as chairman of the House Conservation and Environment Committee last March after being charged with misdemeanor domestic assault against his wife, Crystal Goins Hawk.
By virtue of some Darwinian survival process, state representative G.A. Hardaway has become a political lion of sorts, at least on the local scene. That fact might surprise members of the Nashville press corps, who see Hardaway as an overexposed and under-effective back-bench orator but acknowledge the inner-city Democrat to be a hard worker with the odd habit of actually reading the legislation that comes before the House of Representatives. Hardaway figured prominently as an advocate of city/county school merger in late 2010 after that year’s legislative elections gave Republicans their first big majority in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Brian Stevens is a young and exuberant would-be politician. And he’ll need every bit of that energy because he’s already begun a two-year campaign against one of the most competitive and controversial politicians in the state (and arguably in the country): state Sen. Stacey Campfield. The tall and strapping Stevens embarked on this venture earlier in the year and took advantage of the campaign season to get his message out early to likely voters. He’ll need those two years, he says, if he wants to win the state Senate District 7 seat.
The county wheel tax decals will be disappearing from at least some Tennessee auto license plates. A suggestion that originated with Rutherford County Clerk Lisa Duke Crowell has become state law, and any of Tennessee’s 95 counties can opt in. Reached at a legislative conference in Washington on Wednesday, state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said the idea was logical. “It was just something that made sense and when they (Rutherford County officials) brought it to us, we whipped up a bill quickly to make it happen.”
Dr. Stephen Loyd looked every morning at the pictures of his children, swallowed a handful of pain pills and went out to face the day. “I remember taking it, and I felt normal,” he said. That’s the life Loyd, an internist and associate chief of staff of education at Mountain Home Veterans Clinic in Johnson City, put behind him after years of addiction to prescription drugs. But he hears the same stories from drug users day after day. Loyd shared his story Wednesday at the Metropolitan Drug Commission’s annual legislative luncheon.
News reports and political pundits discussing U.S. Senators who might go for a “grand bargain” that includes tax increases to avoid the “fiscal cliff” include two names of interest—both of them senators from Tennessee. Given that Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are not noted Tea Party members, they usually get lumped in to a list of potential moderate votes for the final package. Corker has long been a proponent of his own bill to reduce federal spending and his ideas are likely to be part of the conversation.
Tennessee’s congressional delegation remains tight lipped about embattled congressman Scott DesJarlais. Just this week the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington filed its third complaint against the physician-lawmaker. DesJairlais remains undaunted. While other lawmakers leave a Republican conference meeting chatting with colleagues, DesJarlais saunters off alone. Walking in the basement of the Capitol, he’s resolute, even in the face of the latest ethics charge lobbed against him, this one alleging he lied to the public about a past mistress.
If federal officials don’t resolve the so-called fiscal cliff, the impact of tax hikes on consumer spending likely will hit sales-tax dependent states like Tennessee the hardest, a tax expert warned Wednesday. Dr. Stan Chervin said that absent an agreement in Washington, D.C., the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and newer payroll-tax reductions will leave Tennesseans with less cash in their pockets. “So what are you going to do with less? You’re probably going to spend less,” Chervin said.
A straight-A student who loaded up on advanced coursework in high school, 19-year-old Tina Sharma of Goodlettsville had all the academic credentials to pursue her dream career in neuroscience. But she faced an obstacle few realized: Sharma, an immigrant who had arrived in the United States from India a decade ago, lacked documentation to live here legally. She and her sister had come with their father, who wasn’t able to get his work visa renewed. “When I shared my story, my teachers didn’t believe me,” said Sharma, who graduated from Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School last spring.
States deciding to expand their Medicaid rolls in concert with the policy promulgated and the structural provisions already laid out by the Affordability Care Act, will fiscally benefit, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study released this week. Critical aspects of the study, culled from a HealthLeaders report extrapolate myriad findings, including that “some states could net budget savings under the expanded Medicaid rolls as millions of poor and uninsured gain coverage.” Further, the KFF report — which is available here — indicates a state’s current Medicaid spending could decrease if it chose to participate.
Consumers, companies will be affected After a drought-stricken summer when low river levels forced many river transport companies to lighten their cargo loads, the potential closure of a vital 200-mile section of the Mississippi River could have major economic effects that ripple through Middle Tennessee and beyond. Some industry experts say the move could delay shipment of nearly $7 billion in commodities over the next two months, potentially raising prices for consumers and eating away at profits for shipping companies.
Regions Bank’s logo will go on top of One Nashville Place after the bank signed a lease to occupy 100,000 square feet of space and make the building its headquarters for Middle Tennessee and a 10-state region. Starting in May, about 150 employees of Middle Tennessee’s largest banking player will relocate to that building nearly four blocks away from Regions Center. Birmingham, Ala.,-based Regions had been exploring options as the lease at its current namesake building at 315 Deaderick St. is set to expire at the end of July.
Leaders of an attempt by six Memphis suburbs to start their own public school systems are considering how to respond after a federal judge halted their effort. U.S. District Judge Samuel Mays ruled Tuesday that the state law allowing voters in the six Shelby County municipalities to decide if they wanted their own school districts violates the Tennessee Constitution because it applies only to one county. The ruling was a key development in the ongoing battle over the future of public schools in Tennessee’s largest county.
With U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays’ ruling blocking the immediate suburban path to municipal schools, the question now is whether that will coax the outlying leaders to the negotiating table in hopes of reaching an accord on the future of education in Shelby County. But because the Mays ruling sides with those promoting the consolidated school system, opponents of municipal districts may resist any discussions to accommodate suburbs that have sought separation from the unified school system.
A federal judge’s ruling this week blocking the formation of suburban municipal schools in Shelby County allows the unified Shelby County school board to press ahead with more certainty on a number of issues. A school closing proposal on the agenda for Thursday’s special meeting of the board — 4 p.m. at the Memphis City Schools Teaching and Learning Academy, 2485 Union — is among the critical decisions the board must begin to look at. Administrators have proposed starting the school closing process on six schools in northwest and southwest Memphis.
About a half hour before the ruling Tuesday, Nov. 27, by Memphis federal court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays in the municipal school district lawsuit, the chairman of the countywide school board called for his board and the school boards for the six suburban municipal school districts to get together. “We can work out something that works for our communities that stops the legal battle,” Billy Orgel said. “If we don’t start making choices and taking matters into our own hands, we are all doomed to fail.” Orgel acknowledged that the ruling from Mays was expected at any moment.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and other suburban school advocates are weighing options for putting municipal school districts back on track, including a court appeal, a legal settlement and more legislative action. “Something will have to happen to address the court’s concern. What it is, I don’t know. What the General Assembly may be willing to do, I don’t know,” Norris said Wednesday. The Republican leader from Collierville led the legislative effort over the past two years to allow new school districts in the Memphis suburbs after the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools.
Five Memphis City schools received bronze-level certifications Wednesday as Healthier U.S. Schools for increasing student exercise time and adding nutritious choices in the lunch room. The schools, all of them elementaries, are: Brookmeade, Bruce, Caldwell-Guthrie, Oakhaven and Peabody. The certificates were presented at Bellevue Middle School by Tim Hortin, deputy director of USDA’s school and family nutrition division. The federal government began the program in 2004 to recognize schools creating healthier environments for children.
Now that the election is over, it’s time to look forward to January 2013. That’s when the Tennessee General Assembly will convene to start putting into effect the ideas and solutions that were brought up before Election Day. One of the issues that must be addressed in the new legislative session is public education. The economic implications of a well-educated workforce are huge: The United States is slipping down the World Economic Forum’s rankings of competitive global economies, and there is an increasing gap between the skills American workers have and the skills American employers need. In addition to economics, we have a moral imperative to make sure that all students, regardless of their background, receive the best education possible.
The Tennessee Department of Education announced a new initiative this week that will focus on education best practices in Tennessee and share them with school systems across the state. The Reward Schools Ambassador Program is a smart idea that recognizes the work of the state’s best teachers and empowers them to share their knowledge, insight and experience with other educators. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced the new program and identified 15 teachers from across Tennessee who will serve as best practices ambassadors to share their knowledge with other school systems and other teachers. The 15 ambassadors come from 2012 Reward Schools — the top 10 percent of schools recognized for their performance and progress. All received a top score of “5” on their teacher evaluations.
“Nashville,” the ABC television show featuring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere as adversarial county music singers, has provided Nashville, the city, with a healthy bump of notoriety. It goes without saying, however, that the drama hasn’t done much to put Chattanooga — or the rest of the Volunteer State — at the forefront of viewers’ minds. Still, despite getting no economic or tourism benefit as a result of the primetime soap opera, state officials are forcing Chattanooga-area Tennessee residents to pick up part of the tab for the cost of making the show. In June, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that it was bribing the rich companies that produce “Nashville” — Lionsgate, ABC Studios and Gaylord Entertainment — with $7.5 million of state taxpayers’ money in exchange for filming parts of the show in Music City.
Once upon a time, Chapman Highway was the pathway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The road was packed with tourists throughout the summer and during the fall leaf season. State officials in the 1970s came up with a great idea — route through traffic on a new road just to the east of Chapman Highway. So James White Parkway was built. The first phase of construction started downtown and ended at Moody Avenue, but the expectation was that the parkway would extend to Gov. John Sevier Highway at or near its intersection with Chapman Highway. Much has changed in the intervening years, and the rationale for the road’s existence has shifted.
There are probably a lot of residents in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington who aren’t happy with U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays. The jurist issued a ruling Tuesday night voiding all efforts the six municipalities have made in moving toward operating new school districts. While those who support each city being allowed to form its own school system have indicated they are not giving up on the effort, here’s something they need to consider. Mays specifically ruled against the 2012 state law that allowed for the creation of new municipal school districts and school boards. Like it or not, his ruling was based on testimony of witnesses and a thorough review of records to determine how the law came to be.
When does a self-respecting person decide to start making amends? That’s a question for East Tennessee congressman Scott DesJarlais needs to ask himself right now. With every passing day the congressman seems to lose another scrap of his already tattered credibility. Only this week he tried to wiggle off the hook from an ethics complaint filed against him in Congress. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to start an investigation into whether DesJarlais had violated the House Code of Ethics that require all members of congress to act “at all times in a manner that reflects credibly on the House.”
It used to be said that the Tennessee electorate consisted of one-third Democrats, one-third Republicans, and one-third independents. If that is still true, the independents have been spending a lot of time in the Republican camp of late. The question for Democrats these days is whether they can get them back. Will the Democrats regain their old coalition of urban blacks and liberals combined with rural and small-town Democrats, primarily in West Tennessee? Given the pounding Democrats have taken in the past two elections, can Tennessee ever return to a two-party state? Political parties sometimes reach a tipping point, as in the Deep South, where one-party Democratic control has shifted to deep red. State Democrats are reeling from a Perfect Storm that shattered the establishment that has governed the state for decades.
Congressional Republicans are insisting that big cuts to Medicare and Medicaid be on the table in the negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff and deficit reduction. That stance is largely a political move against two programs, which have been critical to the public welfare for the past half-century. Postelection polls show that large majorities of voters for both President Obama and Mitt Romney opposed making large Medicare cuts as a way to reduce the budget deficit. And, the fact is, the Obama administration has already pledged to extract more than $1 trillion in savings over the next decade from these programs. There is not much more that can be cut without hurting the most vulnerable Americans.