This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
While the Connecticut school shooting tragedy was reviving the national debate about gun control, Tennessee’s legislative leaders were set to consider expanding the rights of gun owners. The contentious issue of whether employers and other property owners in Tennessee can continue to ban guns from their parking lots was on the state’s agenda well before Friday’s slaying of 20 first graders and six teachers and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. But Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that the shootings will lead to a “national discussion about guns, and I think it will be part of how we talk about that bill in Tennessee.”
Preventing a repeat of the Connecticut school shootings may be better addressed through mental health services than new gun laws, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday. Haslam said he was sickened by the Connecticut slayings and expects them to trigger “a national debate (on guns) over the next three or four months.” But he was cautious about saying what his position would be in any such discussions. “I don’t know that a lot of (gun-related) legislation I’ve seen so far could have stopped what happened there,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he expects the Connecticut elementary school massacre to stir new debate in Tennessee about gun laws, as well as better ways to help those with a mental illness. The Republican governor spoke to reporters a few days after 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School were slain by a gunman packing a high-powered rifle. Haslam said he doesn’t know if there will be any changes to gun laws in Tennessee, but he does expect heavier debate on a contentious measure that would give employees the right to store weapons in vehicles parked at work.
Legislation that would make it easier for gun owners to carry their weapons appears to be on track in Tennessee even after last week’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Backers of “guns-in-trunks” bills that would require employers to allow firearms in their parking lots say they plan to move ahead with the measures, even after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. The shooting could even lead to bills that would let teachers, professors and administrators carry handguns into schools and universities, they said.
Gov. Bill Haslam said the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last week that left 27 people dead made his stomach turn, but he doesn’t see “a big need to change things” in Tennessee’s gun laws. The massacre killed mostly children, sparking a national conversation about gun laws and resources for mental health. Haslam said he still expects conversation about a controversial guns-in-parking-lots legislation come next year. “That’s not the first horrific incident we’ve had in America, and there’s a recent poll in Tennessee that showed most people would be in favor of letting employees keep their weapons locked in cars on business property. So, I don’t know yet how that would change America’s minds,” he told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he doesn’t think Tennessee needs tougher gun laws after last week’s Connecticut school massacre but does believe the tragedy could impact debate about a guns-in-parking lots bill in the Legislature. The Newton, Conn., shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at the school by a lone gunman have spurred a national debate over gun regulation. However, Haslam, a Republican, said he expects the debate to largely stay at the national level and added he doesn’t “see a big need to change things” like pushing a ban on assault-style weapons in Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Haslam said today that he did not think that the “horrific” bloodbath in a Connecticut elementary school last week would move Tennesseans to think differently about gun laws. He dismissed any suggestion that he is interested in pushing for any new state-level gun control legislation. “I think if you look at Tennesseans, they’re fairly comfortable with where our laws are now,” Haslam told reporters. “I think they mainly want us to go focus on what are we going to do bring more jobs to Tennessee and to address education and that’s what you’ll see us talking about.”
As the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting fuels debate about gun control, some of the attention is circling around to Tennessee. And it’s a debate Nashville businesses will recognize. The wave of media coverage is taking many forms, but a portion of it touches on the broader issue of guns in the workplace and other zones where they’re commonly not carried. Tennessee is one of a handful of states expected to debate yet again proposals by the National Rifle Association for citizens to be able to have guns in their cars at work.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. — whose 2008 re-election campaign collected $9,900 from the NRA — partially blamed “violent video games and movies” rather than guns for Friday’s massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school. “We should ask the leaders of the entertainment industry whether they would want their children — or those who might harm their children — to watch the increasingly violent video games and movies that they pour into our culture,” Alexander said Monday.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he will run for re-election in 2014 and already has planned a pair of fundraisers, his first steps toward a second term. “I’ve always intended, regardless of the circumstances, to do this,” he said. “We worked hard to be here, we’ve worked hard, and I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot while we’ve been here, and I can promise you we’ll work hard to be re-elected.” Haslam’s comments are the first formal indication that he will run again, though the bid has been widely expected.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said today he doesn’t intend to take his 2014 re-election effort lightly and intends to run a “vigorous campaign.” “I’ve always intended regardless of the circumstance to do this,” the governor told reporters. “I felt we worked hard to be here, and we’ve worked hard and we think we’ve accomplished a lot while we’ve been here, and I promise we’ll work hard to get re-elected.” State House Minority Leader Craigh Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said he is considering running against Haslam, but he acknowledges it won’t be easy to beat him.
State officials say the expansion of a company in Lewisburg is expected to create close to 100 new jobs. Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced this week that Teledyne Electronic Manufacturing Services will expand its manufacturing facility to accommodate a new product line. The company manufactures and services products for the aerospace, computer, governmental, industrial, medical and telecommunications markets.
How large will the Tennessee state budget be next year? That remains an open question. A parade of experts with sometimes conflicting views appeared before the Tennessee Funding Board Friday to provide information to the board officials who will estimate how much money the state will bring in from taxes to spend next year on programs ranging from prisons to road building to health and social services. But an answer may come as early as this week. “It is extraordinarily difficult because we’ve heard a variety of estimates and a variety of views and they differ,” state Comptroller Justin Wilson told TNReport.
Tennessee has seen another death from the fungal meningitis outbreak that has sickened 620 people across the nation. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 people have died in Tennessee from the disease caused by contaminated steroid injections. In all 124 people have been sickened in Tennessee. At least 76 here have contracted meningitis. The state Health Department recently began a new round of letters and phone calls to people who received the tainted injections.
With another life lost, Tennessee continues to be the state with the most deaths from the fungal meningitis outbreak. Updated numbers released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 14 deaths — one more than last week — having occurred among people who received steroid epidurals in Tennessee with moldy medicine. Michigan has the second-most deaths with 10, followed by Indiana with seven. The death occurred last week, said Woody McMillin with the Tennessee Department of Health.
It could costs tens of millions of dollars for Tennessee school districts to upgrade outdated technology infrastructure in time for new online assessments in the 2014-15 school year. But so far, no one is quite sure who will pay for the mass purchase of thousands of new desktops, laptops or tablets. Tennessee committed to moving to new, more universal state exams through its Race to the Top application and its waiver from No Child Left Behind. The state then chose to join the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, a consortium of 23 states working together to create common assessments in reading and math.
Trees make for clean water. To that end, state forestry and environmental officials are embarking on another year of a tree-planting program along Nashville’s urban creeks and waterways. Through a $300,000 federal grant, public and private landowners can receive free native trees to plant in exchange for maintaining them until they reach maturity. So far, the state has worked with a dozen organizations and more than 400 volunteers to plant 2,716 trees at seven sites throughout Middle Tennessee.
Tennessee homeowners facing possible foreclosure can call a free hotline for help. According to the state attorney general’s office, Tennessee’s Mortgage Assistance Hotline offers reliable information and referrals to free foreclosure prevention counseling. The hotline is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Callers can get free counseling over the phone or get a referral for in-person counseling at a local nonprofit. The hotline is a partnership between the state of Tennessee and the Homeownership Preservation Foundation — a nonprofit that has been operating a national hotline for the past five years.
A Giles County man has been charged with TennCare fraud involving doctor shopping, or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General, with the assistance of the Giles County Sheriff’s Office, announced the arrest of Lonnie R. Miller, II, 38, of Pulaski. He is charged with two counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain the pain medication Hydrocodone. TennCare fraud is a Class E felony, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison per charge.
A Lincoln County woman is charged for the second time with “doctor shopping,” with TennCare, which is the crime of going to multiple doctors in a short period of time to obtain the same or similar controlled substances and using TennCare as payment. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), with the assistance of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshal’s service, Thursday announced the arrest of Amber L. Watkins, 32, of Dellrose.
A Loudon County man has been charged for a second time with “doctor shopping,” or going to multiple doctors in a short period of time to obtain controlled substances, and using TennCare as payment. The Office of Inspector General, with the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, on Monday announced the arrest of Eddie Vance Walden, 52, of Philadelphia. He has been indicted by a Loudon County grand jury in connection with “doctor shopping” for Tramadol, a pain medication, with the physician office visits being paid for by TennCare.
Lila Statom didn’t waste any time. The 14-year prosecutor got a call at 3:45 p.m. Friday from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, notifying her that she had been selected as General Sessions Court judge to fill in for Judge Ronald Durby, who went on leave due to illness in October. At about 9 p.m. Saturday, Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck got a call. It was Statom, asking if she could be sworn in first thing Monday morning. At 9 a.m. a crowded courtroom awaited Shattuck and Statom. After a few comments, Shattuck read the oath of office, which Statom repeated.
Tennessee cast its official electoral college ballot today. “For President of the United States, the electors of the state of Tennessee cast 11 votes for Mitt Romney.” As a winner take all state Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes go to Mitt Romney, who won the state in landslide despite losing nationally. It took only a few minutes for the Electoral College members to vote and then sign a certificate, which will be presented to a joint session of Congress on January 6.
The Lenoir City Housing Authority could lose federal funding if it can’t straighten out the issue over whether or not the organization’s board of commissioners was legally appointed. Representatives of the authority and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development met with Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens on Monday to discuss the recent appointment and dismissal of authority commissioners. In November, Aikens appointed three new commissioners to the five-person board and dismissed two others.
The county sheriff has submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that, if approved later this week, would allow jailers to enforce federal immigration laws while receiving federal funding to do so. It’s a move that has drawn the ire of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and the support of those such as State Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas).
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is targeting what he calls a “massive bed tax gimmick” that states use to fund their Medicaid programs, including Tennessee’s TennCare, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. As part of proposed legislation to cut federal spending, Corker is proposing to phase out state taxes and fees used in 47 states to secure additional federal money for state Medicaid programs. States use the taxes on hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers to draw matching federal dollars for indigent care.
For the first time, the Census Bureau is giving households a chance to respond to government surveys over the Internet, part of an effort to save money and improve sagging response rates. The online option will supplement the census mail-out operation. Beginning this week, more than 3.5 million households that are randomly selected each year to participate in the American Community Survey will be sent letters asking them to respond online. If households do not respond within two weeks, the Census Bureau will send out paper surveys and follow up with interviews by phone or in person.
The Memphis-Shelby County Industrial Development Board meets Wed., Dec. 19, to consider a request from International Paper Co. for government tax incentives to support an expansion of its headquarters here. Part of the presentation the company will make will include the millions of dollars spent and the significant amount of hours and resources IP commits to volunteer and charitable efforts in the Memphis area. On one hand, there is a financial incentive for local economic development officials to green-light the company’s request for incentives.
The Tennessee Department of Education never warned Metro that state education funds were at stake if it were to reject the controversial charter school proposal of Great Hearts Academies, Director of Schools Jesse Register told members of the Metro Council on Monday. “We did not anticipate that,” Register said, adding that he learned of the financial repercussion on the same day The Tennessean first reported the state’s decision to withhold $3.4 million. This came days after the school board voted 5-4 to defy a state order to approve Phoenix-based Great Hearts on Sept. 11.
Nashville’s Chamber of Commerce released its annual Education Report Card today, with a lot of talk about charter schools. The business group wants Metro Schools to seek out charter groups whose approach might be a good match for the district’s students, rather than waiting for organizations to make the first move. The report also calls for the school board to offer more assistance to charters, particularly by letting those schools tap into the infrastructure that takes care of things like transporting students and operating cafeterias.
Nashville’s public schools are “moving in the right direction,” but improvement is not coming fast enough, according to an annual education report card by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “While we have seen incremental progress over the past few years, we are concerned about the pace of improvement,” Ron Corbin, co-chairman of the chamber’s Education Report Card Committee, said in a news release Monday. “It’s time for bold action. We can no longer be satisfied with small steps forward; we must aim for dramatic gains.”
Charter schools took center stage in the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual education report card that found district reforms heading in the right direction but that progress improving student performance is at a crawl. District, city and business officials at the report’s unveiling Monday treaded carefully around talk about the emphasis privately run but publicly funded charter schools should have in the district at a time when the issue of charter schools has become a political lightning rod.
As the sides in the schools talks prepare to meet again Tuesday, there is a question of whether the negotiations fall under the state Open Meetings Law since three county commissioners are involved in the negotiations. Commission Chairman Mike Ritz and fellow commissioners Walter Bailey and Steve Mulroy were present in Friday’s five-hour session between the parties trying to reach a compromise on the configuration of schools in Shelby County. Under the state Open Meeting Law, if “two (2) or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration” meet to discuss matters, they are considered a governing body and subject to the meeting being open to the public.
Parents and students smiled and nodded Monday at Humes Middle as the Memphis City School’s head of arts education outlined plans for an arts school so strong, “the football team would play during intermission of band performance.” Actually, there would be no football at the arts school, planned now as optional school for middle school students. After-school practice time would be devoted to piano, ensembles, dance and other art forms, led by artists trading their teaching skills for free office and performance space in Humes.
Local schools welcomed increased police presence, reviewed safety protocol and kept more doors than usual locked on Monday. While the Hamilton County school system made no broad changes, principals and teachers did take extra steps to ensure school safety and reassure families on the first day of school since Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn. Superintendent Rick Smith said schools reviewed their lockdown procedures and strategized whether and how to discuss Friday’s mass shooting as police and sheriff’s officers upped their presence at several county schools.
Loudon County parents and school board members are expressing their concerns about school security following last week’s school shooting in Connecticut. Early in the school year, the city of Loudon decided to pull its police officers out of county schools located in the city limits. Former Loudon City Councilman Lewis Garner spoke out against the cuts when it came up for a vote. “I thought it was wrong at the time,” he said. “In light of what has happened, I still say it was wrong not to put the safety of our children first.”
Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre spent Monday morning at Farragut Primary School opening car doors and greeting students for the last week of classes before winter break begins. “I wanted to be with children and I wanted to reassure our parents that we are here and doing everything we possibly can to make sure that your children are safe,” he said. “I go back and forth between sadness and resolve to make sure that we do everything in our power to make sure our kids are safe.”
Student safety is on the minds of local school officials in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead. While the events that took place Friday in Newtown, Conn., didn’t seem to affect student attendance in Johnson City or Washington County schools Monday, officials were prepared to deal with questions regarding student safety. “Anytime you’re dealing with a tragedy of this nature, you have to be cautious about raising the anxiety level of children, so we have a lot of professionals that do an exceptional job of diffusing and calming children,” Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said.
At 68, Maureen Smith has short, blonde hair, fashionable dark-framed glasses, and a soft, measured way of speaking that is the aural equivalent of comfort food. The last is a particularly valuable trait because Smith frequently finds herself on the opposite end of the telephone with someone at the edge of desperation, if not a good deal beyond it. It might be a mother distraught after her teenage son has been rushed to an emergency room following a suicide attempt and her insurance carrier balks at paying for his hospital admission.
Representative Tim Scott of South Carolina, who arrived in Congress two years ago on the wave of the Tea Party movement, was appointed on Monday to succeed Jim DeMint in the United States Senate, an elevation that makes him the first black senator from the South since the late 19th century. When he is sworn into office on Jan. 3, Mr. Scott will be the sole African-American in the Senate and only the fifth to serve since the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. He must seek election to the seat in 2014, a contest that will be viewed through a historical lens in the state that became the first to secede from the union after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860.
It looks like quite a few Tennessee counties have been taking budgeting lessons from the federal government — and that might ultimately mean bad news for many Southeast Tennessee taxpayers. A report released in late November by the state comptroller found that many counties have been consistently spending more than they are collecting in revenue. Tennessee’s 95 county governments brought in more than $11.6 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. Meanwhile, the counties collectively spent more than $12.1 billion. That means, as a whole, Tennessee counties spent about $490 million more than they could afford last year. This trend of deficit spending by counties is getting worse.
As the people of Newtown, Conn., begin to lay to rest the 20 children and six adults cut down at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week, this newspaper grieves with the families and friends. The veneer of detached emotions that is traditionally applied to newspaper journalists goes out the window in the face of such horrific events. The nation mourns. And people want answers — as they did after the slaughters at the shopping mall in Portland, Ore; the Sikh temple in Wisconsin; the movie house in Aurora, Colo. Those all occurred in 2012. There are so very many more. As if the shootings are not bad enough, every such senseless event is followed by the same angry debate over the Second Amendment.
Addressing a crowd of bereaved parents, students and residents of Newtown, Conn., in the wake of Friday’s horrific massacre of school children and teachers, President Obama spoke eloquently Sunday of the nation’s need to do more to protect children. “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” The sentiment is there, and so are the facts: America has far higher rates of gun violence and murder than any other rich western nation. But to foster change, we need to see political leadership, and a specific agenda. At the top of the list should be a renewed ban on the sale and purchase of semi-automatic assault rifles — a ban stronger than the one that existed from 1994 to 2004, until President George W. Bush allowed it to expire.
The nation has been traumatized by last week’s mass murder at a Connecticut school, and East Tennesseans are not immune. In fact, sorrowfully similar shootings at East Tennessee schools, churches and hospitals in recent years give many regional residents a bond of despair with the people of Newtown, Conn. Our thoughts and prayers have gone out to the families of the victims — 20 schoolchildren, six teachers and staff, plus the assailant’s mother and the shooter himself — since the news first broke of the atrocity on Friday. We mourn the dead and console the living. Inadequate as it is, tears are all we can offer in the immediate aftermath of such a horrendous event.