This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced December 7, 2012 as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. On December 7, 1941 more than 3,500 Americans serving in the United States military stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, were killed or wounded in an unprovoked attack by the Air and Naval forces serving Japan. Images of burning battleships and the grief of lives dominated the entire country and American allies.
Gov. Bill Haslam has proclaimed Dec. 7 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day for Tennessee. The proclamation aligns with the national designation of Dec. 7 as a day of remembrance for when more than 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded in an unprovoked attack by Japan on military stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a day which will live in infamy,” the attack set the U.S. on a course for entering World War II, the most widespread war in history.
Gov. Bill Haslam is designating Dec. 7 “Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day” in Tennessee. On December 7, 1941, more than 3,500 Americans serving in the United States military stationed at Pearl Harbor were killed or wounded in a surprise attack by Japan. Twenty Tennessee service members on the USS Arizona were killed during the attack. State Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder is scheduled to present the governor’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance proclamations to several Pearl Harbor survivors at a ceremony on Friday.
The state is encouraging those saving for a college education — your own, or that of loved ones — to sign up this month for the Tennessee Stars College Savings Program. Enacted by the state earlier this year, the program offers a tax-advantaged college savings plan. Anyone can contribute to a fund for a loved one, and businesses can allow payroll deductions to encourage employees to take advantage of the plan. Those who act this year also can receive a $50 match for the first $50 they contribute.
To keep a building that predates the Civil War running, eventually you have to gut it. The Tennessee State Capitol will reopen Dec. 17 after a $15.7 million reconstruction, its most serious facelift in more than five decades. With improvements that range from better lighting to beefed-up security, state officials hope the project will keep the seat of Tennessee government in commission for years to come. “The big thing is, the building will be more comfortable,” said Steve Cates, commissioner of the Department of General Services.
After six months and $15.7 million worth of renovations, Tennessee’s iconic hilltop state Capitol building will reopen to the public later this month. The bulk of work on the 153-year-old building included updating heat, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems, which were last updated in the 1950’s. The wireless Internet capabilities were also upgraded in the building, according to state officials. “The big thing is the building will be more comfortable now for the public and the visitors,” said Steve Cates, commissioner of the Department of General Services, which oversees state buildings.
The most significant renovation of the state capitol building in decades is nearing completion. Close to $16 million was spent since work began in May. In a previous renovation, the basement of the capitol was reworked to house office space and meeting rooms. But apparently, the drop tile ceiling covered up Roman-inspired brick arches. General Services Commissioner Steve Cates gave reporters a tour Friday. “When we pulled all the ceilings out and found these old structural vaults, we decided that it would be great to expose that so you could see some of the original construction which does date back to the 1850s.”
Tennessee’s 153-year-old State Capitol reopens Dec. 17 after its most substantial renovation since the 1950s. The structure, one of the nation’s oldest fully operating state capitols, has been closed since mid-May for the $15.7 million project. Its occupants — including Gov. Bill Haslam — have worked in the sleek Tennessee Tower across the street while the Capitol’s mechanical, water and electrical systems were replaced and other work proceeded. Some of the move back began Friday, as officials conducted a tour of the building where colorful Victorian-era carpets made in England were installed and some of the original 1850s structural elements long covered by drop tile ceilings and extra walls were left exposed and incorporated into the décor.
Tennessee is one of five states in the nation with the highest rate of influenza cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has spread mostly locally and early in this flu season, health experts have said. Earlier this week, three schools in Madison County — Trinity Christian Academy, University School of Jackson and Whitehall Pre-Kindergarten Center — were closed due to widespread cases of the flu. In an effort to help prevent more flu outbreaks, the Tennessee Department of Health is offering free seasonal flu vaccines at county health departments across the state.
UTC police on Friday released a photo of a man investigators say is a person of interest in connection with a string of recent bomb threats at the university. The university police, along with the Chattanooga Fire Department and Chattanooga Police Department, want the public’s help in finding this person, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga officials said in a news release. A string of bomb threats this week disrupted semester final exams. Dozens of students will spend today taking tests they should have completed earlier this week, but academic buildings were evacuated after two bomb threats.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association was declared the functional equivalent of a state agency Friday and declared to be subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act. Responding to a lawsuit filed by The City Paper earlier this year, Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman granted the newspaper’s motion, agreeing that the TSSAA is the state’s de facto regulatory body for high school athletics and therefore subject to records requests. As part of an investigation into recruiting violations at Montgomery Bell Academy, The City Paper requested documents from the TSSAA in January but was denied by the organization.
Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled on Friday that the Tennessee Secondary Athletic Association is a public entity and subject to open record laws, according to an attorney representing the City Paper, which sued the organization over the matter. The motion follows City Paper’s February lawsuit in which the weekly newspaper invoked the state’s open records law for access to information that the association refused to hand over. In particular, the paper sought records about the association’s financial aid and eligibility requirements for a story about Montgomery Bell Academy possibly running afoul of recruiting rules.
Recently elected state Sen. Janice Bowling is fighting her removal from the Tennessee Republican Party’s executive committee for having missed three consecutive meetings. State Republicans said the removal was automatic after Bowling missed a dec. 1 executive committee meeting. The Tullahoma lawmaker said that while she was unable to attend called committee meetings in March and June, she thought she had avoided a problem by securing “valid proxy” for purposes of constituting a quorum and voting.
Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than 10 percent of Tennesseans lacked health insurance in 2011. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 86.7 percent of all Tennessee residents had some form of health insurance coverage in 2011. That’s an improvement over 2010, when slightly more than 85 percent of Tennesseans had coverage. Of those with private health plans, about 53 percent were employment-based.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker is spending a lot of time lately talking to Democrats. The lawmaker from Tennessee unveiled his own 10-year, $4.5 trillion solution for averting the end-of-year, double economic hit of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts and then spoke briefly last week with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Deficit-cutting maven Erskine Bowles had forwarded Corker’s proposal to White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew. Corker also was on the phone with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a 15-minute conversation about Libya and other issues.
While Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais may have persevered through a series of damaging revelations to win a second term in Congress, he all but exhausted his campaign account. DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who had sexual relationships with patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion, spent $1.25 million on his campaign to defeat Democratic challenger Eric Stewart and was left with just $15,660 on hand when the dust settled. DesJarlais has been left largely isolated in Congress following his victory.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., overcame damaging personal revelations to win re-election last month, but the effort largely emptied his campaign war chest even as four fellow Republicans consider challenging him in 2014. The Jasper physician, who had admitted having sexual relationships with at least two patients and pressing one to seek an abortion in 2000, spent $1.26 million to beat back a challenge from Democrat Eric Stewart. While DesJarlais won handily, he reported having just $15,660 in cash as of Nov. 26, according to his Federal Election Commission filing this week.
Tax hikes for the nation’s top earners and reforms to programs such as Medicare are dominating talks in Washington.But with the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases for all Americans and across-the-board spending cuts looming in January, more is at stake than tax rates and political posturing. The nation’s national parks, battlefields and historic sites could face major cuts without a deal, a move that could mean reduced park hours, fewer staff and an increased backlog in needed maintenance, a leading parks conservation group said.
The Tennessee Air National Guard on Friday dedicated a $7.3 million civil engineering building that completes the 164th Airlift Wing’s base at the southeast corner of Memphis International Airport. All told, it took nearly a dozen years to negotiate, plan and carry out relocation of a World War II era base from a Democrat Road site that has since been folded into the FedEx Express world hub. The dedication came a week after the unit’s first C-17 Globemaster III arrived in Memphis on a loan from an air guard unit at McChord Field outside Seattle.
“Nashville” producer Loucas George said he is advocating for a second season of the ABC show to be filmed in its namesake city. Filming in areas such as California with robust infrastructure already in place reduces the budget needed for big expenses such as housing and travel for cast and crew. In Nashville, George said he spends $200,000 monthly on their housing. “There are certain things here that cost me more,” George said, adding that incentives help offset those costs. But the look and feel of the city is vital to the show’s success as well, George said at today’s Nashville Business Breakfast, presented by the Nashville Business Journal and Lipscomb University.
Five “Nashville” songs have landed on iTunes’ Top 5 and, according to label partner Big Machine Records, 702,000 digital downloads have been purchased as of Dec. 3, generating $1 million for the label, according to a recent Hollywood Reporter article. Actors Hayden Panettiere, Connie Britton, Clare Bowen, Charles Esten and Sam Palladio have recorded songs for the show, whose soundtrack is due Dec. 11.
The sides in the municipal/unified schools controversy have scheduled a meeting for next Friday to continue discussions in hopes of reaching a settlement. Details of the talking points were sketchy Friday afternoon as well as who will attend. All six of the suburban mayors are expected to be there. Those connected to the negotiations declined to comment the last two days, some not even confirming the meeting is scheduled. However, one suburban mayor’s calendar for Friday shows a 9 a.m. “settlement” meeting at the First Tennessee Building per Nathan Bicks, one of the attorneys for the six cities seeking municipal schools.
Knoxville had one of the driest Novembers on record this year, tying with 1937 at No. 10 on the list, with just over an inch of rain. The city received measurable rain on six days last month, and only one of those — Nov. 12 — had more than a quarter of an inch of rain. A total of 1.06 inches of rain fell in Knoxville all month, which is 2.95 inches below average. Despite a brief warm spell late in the month, temperatures also came in three degrees below normal for November, averaging 46.7 degrees in Knoxville.
Gov. Bill Haslam is being pressured by right-wing Republicans to join the parade of partisan Republican governors refusing to have state government build and operate the health insurance exchange envisioned by “Obamacare.” Right-wing politicians and pressure groups all across America are still mad about the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” and Republican governors in many states announced they won’t build the exchange — basically, a website where insurance companies will compete to sell coverage that meets the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. In states that decline to build an exchange, the federal government will build it and operate it.
With the talk of sharp tax increases coming from Washington, Tennesseans received a break from bad news recently when the Tax Foundation announced that the Volunteer State has the third-lowest tax burden in America. In its annual “State-Local Tax Burden Ranking,” the nonpartisan tax research group found that only Alaska and South Dakota residents pay a lower portion of their incomes in combined state and local taxes than do Tennesseans. The Tax Foundation determined that, thanks to a lack of state income and property taxes, Volunteer State residents shell out a comparatively reasonable 7.7 percent of their income for state and local taxes. That amount is still both more than most Tennesseans would like and more than the government realistically needs to adequately provide appropriate services.
The University of Memphis Faculty Senate has calmly, and rightfully, voted to advance a proposal to offer gay and lesbian faculty and staff the same family benefits as other university employees. On a vote of 30-3, the senate authorized a faculty committee to draft a resolution saying that employees in same-sex relationships should be able to have their partners covered by university insurance and family-leave policies, and those partners should be eligible for university educational assistance, among other things. These are the same benefits that the spouses and partners of heterosexual faculty and staff are eligible to receive. And recognizing the value and fairness of this benefits adjustment will help keep the university competitive in recruiting new faculty and staff.