This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he does not believe Tennessee’s gun laws should be changed in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., even as he acknowledged the massacre will affect the debate over guns-in-trunks legislation. Haslam said he still believes schools and universities should be able to bar their employees from bringing guns to work.
Ray H. Jenkins, who resigned as chairman of the Knox County Republican Party in October to apply for the judgeship being vacated by retiring Circuit Court Judge Wheeler Rosenbalm, didn’t make the list of nominees sent to Gov. Bill Haslam for the job. The Tennessee Judicial Nomination Commission has recommended three candidates — all women — with Knoxville law firms: Kristi M. Davis, partner, Hodges, Doughty & Carson; Mary Elizabeth Maddox, partner, Frantz, McConnell & Seymour, and Deborah C. Stevens, president/managing shareholder, Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop.
Tennessee has recovered more than half a million dollars in overpaid unemployment benefits and overdue taxes since joining a federal anti-fraud program in July, officials said Friday. The $540,000 recovered so far will help lower employers’ unemployment insurance tax payments, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said. Tennessee joined the federal Treasury Offset Program in July. The program allows states to intercept tax refunds, military pay and other federal payments to those who received more state unemployment benefits than they were eligible for or owed unemployment taxes.
A former UTC lecturer has filed a new lawsuit against four professors, alleging they retaliated against her and eventually pushed not to renew her annual contract after she had worked at the school for eight years. Paige Keown first filed a lawsuit against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the four professors, all supervisors to her or her superiors in the English Department, in August. That lawsuit was dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas III in November because it did not state a claim of “gross mismanagement” “gross waste” or “gross abuse of authority,” as required under the law.
More people in Maryland were exposed to medicine linked to the fungal meningitis outbreak than in Tennessee, but illnesses here easily quadrupled those reported from the Chesapeake Bay State. An article published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Monday showed wide variations in attack rates, but provided no firm conclusion as to the reason. Tennessee had an attack rate of 10.9 infections per 100 people, compared with just 2.4 for Maryland. The national attack rate was 4.7. Tennessee and Michigan had attack rates more than double the national average.
Three people in Dyer County are charged with TennCare drug fraud, after last week’s roundup that netted almost 40 drug-related arrests. The suspects were rounded up after an undercover investigation coordinated by the Office of Inspector General and the Dyersburg Police Department. The three are all charged with trying to sell prescription drugs, which were paid for by TennCare. The most common drug involved was the painkiller morphine.
Two mid-state residents have been arrested for allegedly abusing their TennCare by doctor shopping for controlled substances. Kimberly Besner, 38, of Murfreesboro, and William K. Bryant, 46, of Woodbury, were charged with doctor shopping for controlled substances earlier this week by the Tennessee Office of Inspector General and the Woodbury Police Department. Besner is charged with three counts while Bryant is charged with two counts “We’re very grateful for the assistance we receive from local police as well as pharmacies and providers who all want to bring an end to the abuse of TennCare, especially in the area of prescription drugs,” Inspector General Deborah Faulkner said.
A legal tax battle between satellite TV providers and the state continued on Wednesday when Dish Network sued the state for nearly $2.3 million. Dish and competitor DirectTV have been wrapped in a decade-long lawsuit with the state after the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that gave cable providers a tax exemption on the first $15 of each subscriber’s bill. The satellite providers claim that law amounts to unlawful protectionism of the cable industry and violates the Commerce Clause.
Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is joining the advisory board of a conservative political group that recruits and trains Republican political candidates. The Blountville Republican announced this week that he will be part of the 2013 Legislative Leaders Advisory Board of GOPAC. Ramsey became the first Republican Senate speaker since Reconstruction when he was elected to the position in 2007. He says GOPAC was crucial to his early success in the Legislature. GOPAC was formed in 1978.
Fears that new gun control laws might be on the way in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting seem to be driving a spike in gun and ammunition sales both across the nation and in Knoxville. Even considering increased holiday sales, several Knoxville area stores report that business has been unusually heavy. “Between the shooting and the election and Christmas, it has been incredibly busy,” said Steven Bowman, who runs Randy’s Guns & Knives, 5703 N. Broadway. “Manufacturers can’t seem to keep up.”
Local leaders continue to grapple with a proposal to enlarge the size of the Knox County Commission, the latest discussions coming this week as officials appear ready to put some type of recommendation on the August 2014 ballot. Commissioners on Monday spent part of their monthly board luncheon discussing the pros and cons of their current size and just who should be on a task force to study the matter. They’re still working on the details, but board members tentatively agreed they would tackle the issue in earnest next summer after they get through the annual budget season.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday, Dec. 18, an agreement with Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court that will put the Shelby County Public Defenders office in the role of defending juveniles who cannot afford to hire an attorney for court proceedings. But as the agreement was announced, it was unclear how the major shift in court operations would be funded. The agreement also sets up strict procedures for the appointment of such legal counsel before probable cause or transfer hearings and better documentation of how court decisions are made.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., was among Republicans prepared to vote against legislation crafted by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to avoid the nation’s “fiscal cliff” to reduce the deficit. “Unfortunately, today’s legislation does not contain anywhere near the sufficient level of spending cuts the overwhelming majority of my Fourth District constituents demand,” DesJarlais said in a statement. “The only way to end our yearly trillion dollar deficits is to institute serious reforms and prioritize our spending,” DesJarlais said.
One day after the collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s plan for resolving the fiscal cliff, two Middle Tennessee members said they would have voted against it if it had come to a vote. Republican Reps. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, said Friday they remain steadfastly opposed to raising taxes and would have opposed Boehner’s “Plan B,” which called for raising tax rates only on those making at least $1 million, if it had reached the House floor. Middle Tennessee’s lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville, said he would have joined their no votes, calling Plan B a “fig leaf for the Republican Party” and a “political sideshow.”
Blaming video games, movies and the media for last week’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, an NRA leader wants Congress “to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation.” What’s unclear is whether Second Amendment-supporting East Tennessee lawmakers will help the nation’s largest pro-gun lobby make it happen. Only Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., answered Friday when the Chattanooga Times Free Press asked area U.S. lawmakers for response to the National Rifle Association’s recommendations.
Congress heads home without a resolution Members of Congress will be home for Christmas — despite the nation’s teetering on the “fiscal cliff.” That’s frustrating for leaders of Middle Tennessee agencies that stand to lose thousands from their budgets beginning Jan. 1 if lawmakers can’t reach a budget agreement. And when tax increases automatically kick in as a result of the Congressional impasse, Americans are likely to give less in donations. If lawmakers do not act by the end of the year, funding for Title I, Head Start and special education programs may dry up, said Kenya Bradshaw, executive director of education advocacy group Stand for Children Tennessee.
Nearly every Saturday morning for four years, Robert M. “Bob” Deacy has gone to a particular spot on Swan Pond Circle to sit with his coffee and watch workers clean up one of the nation’s largest industrial environmental accidents. Deacy is a Tennessee Valley Authority senior vice president and executive in charge of the $1 billion Kingston Ash Recovery Project. His reflection site is ground zero, where four years ago today a 60-foot wall of toxics-laden ash spilled across the Emory River and over nearly 400 acres of a rural residential community.
As it turns out, there’s a little bit of a silver lining to the asbestos problem at the Joe L. Evins Federal Building in Oak Ridge. In June, the U.S. Department of Energy had to vacate the building and relocate more than 300 employees after flaking asbestos was discovered in the heating and air-conditioning system. Despite the hassle of moving employees and equipment into leased space or other government facilities, the DOE is actually saving money. According to DOE spokesman Mike Koentop, the agency normally pays the General Services Administration $120,000 a month for rent at the Federal Building, which has been the DOE’s Oak Ridge field quarters for decades.
Tennessee ranks 12th in the nation for growth in construction jobs over the past 12 months, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Mississippi ranks 41st and Arkansas ranks 49th. In Tennessee, 117,000 people worked in construction in November, up 3.4 percent from the 113,200 who worked in the segment in November 2011. Mississippi construction employment fell 4.6 percent in November. That month, 46,100 worked in construction in the Magnolia state compared to 48,300 a year earlier.
Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, is a Vanderbilt University alumnus, so he’s happy to cheer on the school’s football team against N.C. State in Nashville at the 2012 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. But he’s less excited about the impact on local hotels. “It doesn’t do for us on the room sales what we’d like it to do,” he said. The Music City Bowl is in its 15th year and has generated more than $200 million for the city since its inception. In 2011, more than 55,000 fans filled the stadium, bringing nearly 37,000 out-of-town visitors to Nashville that booked more than 25,000 room nights.
Busy schedule of Grizzlies, Tigers games keeps businesses in the black Historically, December isn’t the kindest month to Downtown Memphis’ economy. That’s compared to the summer months, when Beale Street and its surrounding areas are bustling with people visiting attractions, dining at restaurants and spending money on retail items. “In the winter, it’s really, really difficult down on Beale and Downtown,” said Ty Agee, president of the Beale Street Merchants Association. “Unless you’ve got an Orpheum show or you’ve got something happening at the FedExForum.”
The Nashville Business Journal has named Lori Becker as its new editor in chief. Becker joined the Business Journal in 2008 as managing editor and has been a key member of the journal’s leadership team. She previously worked as a reporter for The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. A Bowling Green, Ky., native, Becker began her journalism career at the now defunct Nashville Banner. She is a graduate of Western Kentucky University.
Some of Nashville’s most expensive private schools would likely decline participating in a state voucher program if the Tennessee General Assembly were to adopt one, while officials at schools with lower tuition rates, often Christian-affiliated, are enthusiastic about the concept. Other leaders of independent schools in the Nashville area are taking a wait-and-see approach in advance of a legislative session in which a state voucher proposal figures to be one of the most fiercely debated education issues.
Families in Binghamton distrust Cornerstone Preparatory School, the charter school that opened this fall for grades PreK-3 at Lester School and that will expand through the sixth grade next fall as a partner in the Achievement School District. Their white-hot anger spilled over earlier this week in a community meeting quickly organized by Marty Merriweather, community leader. Staff at the Lester Community Center set up 150 chairs. Thirty minutes into a session that lasted 3 1/2 hours, there were no seats and 30 or so people were standing.
Every year, about 30,000 young Americans “age out” of the foster care system. It is estimated that, of those in foster care who do manage to graduate from high school, fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25. I am one of the lucky ones. Despite entering foster care when I was 12 years old and attending nine different schools between middle school and high school graduation, I was determined to keep college in my future. Today, as a junior at Vanderbilt University focusing on Latin American studies and political science, it feels great to be on track to achieve my goal.
The Tennessee State House of Representatives will take an important step towards limiting the size and expense of state government when the new legislative session begins next month if House Speaker Beth Harwell has her way. On Thursday, Harwell announced plans to limit the number of bills each representative can file to 10 per year. If the rule is adopted, the state House’s 99 members could propose a maximum of 1,980 bills over the course of the two-year legislative session. During the most recent session, state representatives filed an astonishing 3,887 bills.