This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper says the state will receive $1.1 million for participating in a multistate agreement with drug maker Pfizer Inc. over promotion of its products, Zyvox and Lyrica. Tennessee is receiving part of a $42.9 million agreement between Pfizer and 32 states and the District of Columbia. The states claim that Pfizer used unfair and deceptive practices in promoting Zyvox, an antibacterial agent, and Lyrica, which is used to treat fibromyalgia. Under the settlement, Pfizer does not admit wrongdoing but says it will change how it markets Zyvox and Lyrica.
The state’s senior jail inspector, Bob Bass, said he wasn’t “the jail police” and repeatedly stressed that his purpose wasn’t to tell the county it needed to build a new jail. “I hope you don’t have to build a jail,” said Bass. “I’d rather build schools than a jail.” But Bass’s presentation Tuesday night to Bedford County Board of Commissioners stressed design flaws and overcrowding at the existing 25-year-old county jail, certainly making it seem as if a new facility is needed at some point. He said the recent transfer of some state inmates out of the facility was “a stopgap measure” rather than a long term solution.
A pair of vacant downtown office buildings will be restored as apartments next year to house up to 90 students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Walk2Campus, a Rock Hill, S.C.-based real estate company that has already bought a half dozen downtown apartment structures, plans to spend nearly $4 million to convert both the Francis Willard building on Lindsay Street and the former women’s hospital on McCallie Avenue into more rental housing units. The plans were supported Thursday by Hamilton County commissioners.
A judge whose docket will be dedicated solely to juvenile cases was sworn in Wednesday, marking a first for Williamson County courtrooms. Sharon Guffee is scheduled to begin hearing cases Jan. 1 as the first and only juvenile court judge to ever serve in the suburban district. Guffee is a longtime juvenile court magistrate who, for years, has helped the court’s two General Sessions judges manage juvenile cases alongside the court’s civil and criminal caseload. The position was created earlier this year amid concern that juvenile cases were growing in volume and complexity, thus exhausting the lower court’s resources.
There is renewed conversation in Tennessee about the possibility of wine sales in grocery stores, but not so fast, says alcohol beverage law attorney Will Cheek. Although the idea is popular among Tennesseans and two top Republican state legislators recently said they support it, “there are also lots of reasons why the will of the people may be doomed — again,” writes Cheek, an attorney Bone McAllester Norton, which has clients on both sides of the issue. Many of the bigger hurdles that have blocked wine from supermarket shelves in the past still exist, Cheek writes.
It may play well on the Internet, but nine out of 10 Tennesseans are turning their thumbs down to the state’s seceding from the United States, according to a Vanderbilt University poll. Ninety percent of the 829 registered voters surveyed said they don’t support the idea of Tennessee becoming an independent country. Seven percent said Tennessee should be independent. One percent indicated they hadn’t given the idea much thought. Another 2 percent said they didn’t know, and 1 percent refused to say.
Tennessee’s business climate is often cited as among the best in the country, often due to its lack of an income tax. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, Site Selection magazine said Tennessee’s business climate is the 8th best in the country. A new business-climate ranking from Forbes, however, puts Tennessee firmly in the middle of the back at No. 24, sandwiched between No. 23 New York and No. 25 Arizona. The Volunteer State scored well in the business costs and regulatory environment rankings, at No. 14 and No. 13, respectively.
If Senate Democrats carry out a dramatic maneuver to change one of the institution’s most revered traditions, the filibuster, it will be “the end of the United States Senate,” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says. By that, Alexander explained in an interview Thursday, the Senate “will become just like the House,” where a simple majority vote wins every time and the chamber loses its historic function of acting as a brake on popular proposals to give them more judicious consideration.
While it’s critical that a new budget deal be reached to avoid a “fiscal cliff” scenario next month, it’s equally important that Congress not rush to approve a poor plan that doesn’t address the urgent need to cut federal spending, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said Thursday. “I have no idea whether we’ll come to a solution right now,” Roe said regarding the negotiations between the Obama administration and Congress on a revised budget plan to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – a series of deep spending cuts and tax increases that will automatically take effect if no agreement is reached before Jan. 1.
Tennessee voters recently re-elected a GOP senator and seven Republican House members, but a new Vanderbilt University poll shows everyone is out of sync on key “fiscal cliff” issues. Of 829 registered voters, 57 percent say they’re willing to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire Jan. 1 for families earning more than $250,000 per year. Sixty percent support reducing the value of itemized tax deductions for the same income bracket. And a little more than half — 51 percent — oppose a federal spending freeze on nondefense domestic programs.
A 747 carrying more than a hundred soldiers touched down at Fort Campbell Thursday after a nine-month tour in Afghanistan. The homecoming ceremony occurred as other units on post are making final preparations to deploy. Families rang cowbells and held signs as their loved ones arrived. Wives like Sarah Curry have been through this before. Her husband has now completed six tours in their 13-year marriage. “He’s been deployed for almost four of the years, we counted it up. It’s always hard. I think we get better at doing it.”
In a combat zone, the ultimate mission in the back of nearly everyone’s mind is getting home safely, and on Thursday morning, it was “mission accomplished” for 116 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. They were greeted at the Campbell Army Airfield with raucous cheering, tears, waving signs and cowbells. The soldiers were returning from what is being heralded as a successful start to a new kind of Afghanistan mission, as U.S. forces transition from a combat-intensive role to one aimed primarily at helping Afghan forces secure their own country.
In a combat zone, the ultimate mission in the back of nearly everyone’s mind is getting home safe, and on Thursday morning, it was “mission accomplished” for 116 “Strike” soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. As they walked through the door into the terminal at Campbell Army Airfield, the feat was acknowledged with raucous cheering, tears, waving signs and cowbells. The soldiers were returning from what is being heralded as a successful start to a new kind of Afghanistan mission, as U.S. forces transition from a combat-intensive role to one aimed primarily at helping Afghan forces attain self-sufficiency for the task of securing their own country.
After years of budget cuts and sluggish recovery, states expect to see their revenues climb back to prerecession levels this year for the first time since the financial crisis hit. But even as some states hope to restore some of the deep spending cuts they have made, they face a new threat. Washington’s efforts to tame the federal deficit, state officials fear, could end up further whittling away the federal aid that states depend upon and weakening the economy as it slowly mends. Those worries cloud a year that should be a turning point of sorts for the states.
When Danny Bigel was a film producer, one of his biggest headaches had nothing to do with pampered actors, finicky directors or the fickle movie-going public. Instead, it was finding anyone who would pay a good price for his state tax credits. Over the last decade, states have entered into a fierce competition for the highly mobile movie business. Today, about 30 states offer tax credits to try to lure moviemakers. In using these tax credits as an incentive, however, states face a complication: Since most film production companies spend only a few weeks shooting in a state, they don’t usually owe much in state taxes.
Americans who didn’t vote in last month’s presidential election have some ideas about what could encourage them to cast a ballot next time: Make it easier. In a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll of nonvoters, 28 percent say being able to vote on the Internet would encourage people like them to participate in the election, the top item cited. By double digits, they endorse the idea of making voter registration easier, allowing same-day registration and permitting voting by mail. “I’m interested if I have the time,” says Lauryn Pyke, 25, of Pocatello, Idaho, a graduate student at Idaho State University and mother of two young children who was among those surveyed.
Some call it the Edifice Complex. Others have named it the Law of More, or the Taj Mahal syndrome. A decade-long spending binge to build academic buildings, dormitories and recreational facilities — some of them inordinately lavish to attract students — has left colleges and universities saddled with large amounts of debt. Oftentimes, students are stuck picking up the bill. Overall debt levels more than doubled from 2000 to 2011 at the more than 500 institutions rated by Moody’s, according to inflation-adjusted data compiled for The New York Times by the credit rating agency.
Disgruntled campers and marina owners who have been at odds with the Tennessee Valley Authority for months over new rules and a new fee structure have filed a lawsuit against the authority. The plaintiffs argue that the Tennessee Valley Authority has acted outside its powers by establishing rules that will force campers to vacate their long-held campsites and by charging higher fees to marina owners based on their revenues. The lawsuit grew out of a campaign waged by the Shoreline Alliance, an unincorporated association of campers and marina owners, earlier this year.
US Foods on Thursday celebrated the opening of its expanded Memphis distribution facility, a project nearly two years in the making. US Foods more than doubled the size of its local distribution operation to about 385,000 square feet. The facility is located at 5900 E. Holmes Road in Southeast Memphis. The company has added more than 150 workers with the expansion, more than the hiring projections the company laid out when it announced the $30.8 million project. US Foods now employs 375 workers in Memphis.
Last spring, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell each received a letter from a law firm representing International Paper Co. The letters informed the mayors that the Fortune 500 company was considering an expansion and wanted the local governments to offer incentives. The notice led to months of negotiations that ended this week when IP and the city and county agreed on a package of tax breaks designed to keep IP’s headquarters in Memphis. “One of the first questions we asked was, ‘Is this a company we feel is critical to keep?'” Wharton said.
The day before “When the Right One Comes Along” by country artist duo Striking Matches was played on ABC’s “Nashville,” show, 1,000 viewers had seen their video on YouTube. Two days later, that number soared to 23,000. “When The Right One Comes Along” was sung by Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen, known on the show as Gunnar and Scarlett. Since the show aired Dec. 5, Striking Matches, made up of Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis, have watched their song hit No. 6 on the iTunes country charts. “For us, it was just in one night national exposure,” Zimmermann said.
There will be plenty to discuss Friday, Dec. 14, when suburban leaders sit down with their attorneys to talk about some kind of agreement on the terms under which schools in the six suburban municipalities will be part of the merged Shelby County public school system. But a few parties essential to such an agreement won’t be at the table. The countywide school board got an invitation to the meeting via a letter earlier this week to board chairman Billy Orgel from Nathan Bicks, one of the attorneys for the suburban leaders.
Gunfire that erupted following high school basketball games the past two weekends has prompted Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith to order additional security in some gymnasiums starting tonight. Player and fan safety has become a major concern after rivalry games involving Howard School ended in gunfire near the Brainerd and Tyner high school campuses. Rivalry games between some schools long have been heated affairs, with tempers sometimes giving way to shoving, even fistfights.
State lawmakers could learn a thing or two about their constituents by taking note of a recent poll conducted for Vanderbilt University. What they would learn is that Tennesseans aren’t all that interested in the social issues lawmakers spend large amounts of time arguing over. What Tennesseans care most about is the state of the economy and jobs. According to the scientific poll of 829 registered voters, Gov. Bill Haslam comes out on top in popularity. That says something about the governor’s management style of sticking to big issues, being cautious and thoughtful in his decisions, and using care in what he says. Haslam enjoys a 68 percent approval rating, including a 60 percent approval from people who identified themselves as Democrats.
The Greater Memphis Chamber’s annual luncheons are effusive affairs, where the year’s accomplishments are celebrated, personal achievements are saluted and talks about the future hold sway. Wednesday’s luncheon did not stray from that theme, and that is a good thing. The chamber’s staff, members and collaborators work hard to make Greater Memphis a prosperous and desirable place to live and work. As the luncheon progressed, though, a couple significant questions arose: Where does Memphis go from here and, once that vision is shaped, who in the business community will help the city get there?
Tennessee and other so-called “right-to-work” states haven’t seen much union-oriented labor unrest in decades, largely because it’s been so long since unions in right-to-work states were emasculated. So the latest union-busting tactics in Michigan, like those recently in Indiana and Wisconsin, recall mostly distant memories, if any, for most area workers. Still, the Michigan fray — pitting thousands of union advocates pressed against lines of helmeted police blocking their path to the halls of a Capitol where Republican legislators were shredding their right to effective unions — is evocative of past battles for workers’ rights everywhere. Unions in Southern states were shorn long ago of their authority to require new employees to join a union if they took a job in a business that had them.