This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Standing at a podium before a few dozen people at a downtown insurance conference last week, Gov. Bill Haslam couldn’t help but crack a joke about why people are so interested in talking to him. “Most people knocking on our door want more money,” he quipped. But the state’s money situation is serious business. The governor was meeting last week with high-ranking officials trying to craft next year’s roughly $31 billion budget proposal at a time when tax dollars are rolling in, along with higher estimates for government costs.
Gov. Bill Haslam has quietly raised the annual salary of TennCare Director Darin Gordon to $256,000 while leaving other top administration officials with only the 2.5 percent salary boost given to all state employees this year. “Tennessee is fortunate to have Darin in this role. He is well-respected across the country and has saved the state millions by keeping the program’s growth trend below national averages,” said Haslam spokesman David Smith in an email response to a question on Gordon’s salary increase.
At Amazon’s Chattanooga distribution center, military veteran Scot Newport is using his leadership skills developed over 27 years in the Army to help run the busy distribution center during the annual holiday busy season. “It’s a very exciting time of the year for Amazon,” he said.Newport told The Chattanooga Times Free Press he joined the nation’s No. 1 retailer, which has been named among the nation’s top military friendly employers, because of the company’s openness to veterans. He’s a former U.S. Army colonel who now serves as senior operations manager for outbound shipping at the Chattanooga facility.
If jail is the worst place to be in Putnam County, then Ghina Robinson’s bed in the medium security lockup is probably the worst place to sleep. Her bed, a small, green vinyl mattress, sits on the floor, her few belongings — soap, shampoo, a book of word searches — kept wedged between that mattress and the wall. “It sucks — people walking all over you, you wake up you’ve got everybody else’s hair on you, it’s nasty,” said Robinson, who was in jail on a violation of probation charge. “I mean, it’s the floor.” Tennessee’s jails are bursting at the seams.
The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is holding boot camps to help people who sell farm products at farmers markets be more effective. The seminars are aimed at helping vendors better understand how to market their produce and how to address certain business issues. The curriculum is a collaboration of the UT Center for Profitable Agriculture and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The Center for Profitable Agriculture is a joint effort of UT Extension and the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.
A string of bomb threats against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has emptied first responder resources, taxpayers’ pockets and buildings during final exams. After three threats in two weeks and four total this semester, university officials and law enforcement agencies say they have ratcheted up a criminal investigation and are taking extra security measures to try to quash what the university’s police chief has called a “plague.” “We’ve had bomb threats through the years, but this has been bad,” said Chief Robert Ratchford.
Visitors wanting to see the original Emancipation Proclamation at the Tennessee State Museum in February will be able to make reservations for a small fee beginning on Monday. The famous document is part of the Discovering the Civil War exhibition from Washington D.C.’s National Archives. The proclamation is making its only southeastern U.S. stop in Nashville and will be here for only 72 hours, spread over seven days Visitors may obtain a reservation through the ticketing office of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, plans to hold a public fact-finding forum to learn more from noncustodial parents about their experiences with Tennessee child-support laws, policies and interventions. “I’ve had so many complaints,” the lawmaker said, adding some noncustodial parents have told her that after finally finding a job they have been arrested a short while after being at work for previous nonpayment of child support. “I’ve been approached by so many people I could not deal with them individually,” Favors said.
Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist hopes new legislation that targets nightclub nuisance cases is well received in Nashville during the 108th Tennessee General Assembly in January. “I hope officials across the state will embrace this legislation because it is well-intended,” he said. “I appreciate Sen. (Lowe) Finney for introducing this legislation.” Over the past year, the city of Jackson has taken action against at least five bars that officials feel pose a nuisance in the community. Finney, D-Jackson, plans to present at least two bills to tackle the issues of declaring a business a public nuisance and improving communication between state and local officials during investigations of liquor and beer license violations.
Looking at the big issues facing Nashville and Tennessee at large, there is hardly a single one on which Phil Bredesen cannot speak from personal experience. In two terms as mayor and two as governor, he spent 16 years immersed in the policy and politics of state and local government. Throughout his time in office, whether at the Metro Courthouse or on Capitol Hill, Bredesen grappled with health care, education and tax incentives and economic development. And as it happens, those are perhaps the biggest challenges currently facing the city and the state, a relationship on which he also has a unique perspective.
Postelection disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission have pushed total spending in campaigns for Tennessee’s nine U.S. House elections — all won by incumbents — to about $15.3 million, though the congressmen collectively still have more than $6.8 million cash on hand. Embattled 4th Congressional District Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a doctor who has dealt with controversy during and after the election over his involvement in abortions and sexual relations with patients, had the lowest cash-on-hand balance of any incumbent: $15,661.
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met Sunday at the White House to discuss the ongoing negotiations over the impending “fiscal cliff,” the first meeting between just the two leaders since Election Day. Spokesmen for both Obama and Boehner said they agreed to not release details of the conversation, but emphasized that the lines of communication remain open…The comments by Bob Corker of Tennessee — a fiscal conservative who has been gaining stature in the Senate as a pragmatic deal broker — puts new pressure on Boehner and other Republican leaders to rethink their long-held assertion that even the very rich shouldn’t see their rates go up next year.
Americans are living longer, and Republicans want to raise the Medicare eligibility age as part of any deal to reduce the government’s huge deficits. But what sounds like a prudent sacrifice for an aging society that must watch its budget could have some surprising consequences, including higher premiums for people on Medicare. Unlike tax hikes, which spawn hard partisan divisions, increasing the Medicare age could help ease a budget compromise because President Barack Obama has previously been willing to consider it.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is expected to have a special meeting Monday morning to discuss delegating authority to the utility’s new chief executive until it fills several vacancies on its board. The board is made up of nine members and five seats are pending congressional action, including one that’s up for reappointment. Congress is set to adjourn this month. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks told The Associated Press that the new authority, if approved, would allow the agency to operate without the board “in certain critical areas,” such as handling rates and contracts.
A former Tennessee Valley Authority manager filed a $9 million lawsuit Friday after the utility fired him for allegedly falsifying documents, according to court documents. The lawsuit by Marcus Guinn, who worked as a senior project manager in TVA’s Chattanooga office, said TVA suspended him without pay April 30 and investigated claims that he falsified TVA documents. He was fired on May 4. Guinn denies falsifying any documents and said the accusations have led to a loss of future income and future employment opportunities.
Researchers say a lack of data makes it impossible to know whether teacher training programs in Tennessee are having an impact on student learning. The Commercial Appeal reports that a legislative brief from the state Offices of Research and Education Accountability in the Comptroller’s office says there’s not even enough information to evaluate the content or the full cost of the training programs. One issue is that about half of the money allocated for training is managed by local districts.
Sarah Carpenter is what community organizers like to call a live wire. She’s vocal. She’s persistent, and this time, her grandchildren are making it personal. “I live in the midst of failing schools,” said Carpenter, 51. “When I go down Chelsea, I’m going somewhere where I live. I am not commuting to Germantown or Collierville.” For six weeks now, Carpenter’s been spending 10 to 20 hours a week in meetings and on the phone trying to convince people in North Memphis to get on board with charter schools and the Achievement School District.
The lamentable spectacle of witless state legislators and myopic protesters urging Gov. Haslam not to establish a state insurance exchange in accord with the Affordable Care Act is sad enough. But if they shun that responsibility and leave it to the federal government to create the state’s exchange with higher standards and more competitive comprehensive policies, so be it. That might well be better for the huge number of uninsured Tennesseans who need and deserve access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance. The larger risk is that Gov. Haslam will refuse to extend Medicaid to people whose income falls between 100 percent and 133 percent of the federal poverty level, and with that action blow off $7.5 billion in federal grants that would come in the first five years alone to support expansion of Medicaid for the most needy Tennesseans.
Call it a Christmas miracle. Legislation to allow you to buy a bottle of wine in grocery stores may actually have a chance in the upcoming legislative session, after being kicked to the curb for the last five years. Why? Two of the state’s most powerful Republicans, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, have come out in support of it. They have the power to stack the committees in both chambers. Every year, it’s failed by a small margin in subcommittee. Last year, one vote killed the bill. “It’s one of those issues we’ve battled forever,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, told The Associated Press last week. And though he does not drink alcohol, he said: “I think the opponents have held it off for about as long as they can hold it off. That will be a consideration that I will be thinking of when I’m making my committee appointments.”
A familiar sight at the Broadway interchange with Interstate 640 in North Knoxville is a police vehicle with lights flashing while the officer investigates an accident. There are perhaps too many options for traffic, and too many opportunities for drivers to make the wrong decision or become distracted. The Tennessee Department of Transportation recently announced plans for Phase II of work at the interchange. Although the beginning is a couple of years away, the work is extensive. The project plans were initially created in 1996. Phase I was completed about 10 years ago. Business owners in the area understand that TDOT’s plans might jeopardize their establishments but, in a sense of community spirit, most support the work, which aims to improve safety.
Chris Barbic, the superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, and his staff have heard an earful from parents and community leaders who don’t like the state taking over governance of their neighborhood schools. That should not be a surprise. Proposals to close schools, revise attendance boundaries or change school policies, for example, nearly always draw the ire and concern of parents. That is understandable because in many cases, especially in the inner city, schools are the neighborhoods’ most visible and functional community anchors. They are places of stability, safety and nurturing for children. Still, they are not always places where most children are functioning at grade level in reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.