This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
For his second year as top executive for the state of Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam began 2012 by revealing his legislative agenda—a mix of bills targeting jobs, education, taxes and crime. Throughout the year, the governor would see various components of his agenda enacted and face important decisions for the state’s future. Giving his State of the State address in January, Haslam touted gains made through various jobs initiatives, but did not mention hundreds that would be eliminated in his budget for the year—including 170 resulting from the closure of the Taft Youth Development Center in Pikeville.
Chattanooga was the fastest-growing major metropolitan area in Tennessee for job additions during 2012. With major additions in the automotive, appliance and transport industries, the six-county Chattanooga region added 3,900 jobs in the most recent 12-month period tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chattanooga’s 1.7 percent annual employment growth was nearly double the statewide growth of 0.9 percent during 2012. Despite job cuts in health care, financial services and wholesale trade last year, employment gains in construction and manufacturing pushed the jobless rate down at the end of last year to the lowest rate since before the recession hit in 2008.
New medical centers, retail stores, a crematory, curbside recycling, a city election and a new park are coming to Spring Hill this year. Meanwhile, a massive pet food innovation center and a corporate insurance headquarters are being built in Thompson’s Station, which expects to see continued housing and business growth because of it. The area also is expected to reap the benefits of the recent completion of the full stretch of State Route 840 into Williamson County. Here’s a look at some of the top issues and developments to follow in Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station in 2013.
Between the governor’s first veto and wild political backlash against Republican leaders, this was a year of firsts on Capitol Hill. It all started in January when Republicans took control over legislative redistricting for the first time. State lawmakers are charged with redrawing district lines every decade following the U.S. Census, and with Republicans in full control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office, they had little problem approving maps that lumped eight Democrats into four districts and drew others in the minority party into Republican-heavy districts.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has been awarded a $10 million “State of Good Repair Grant” by the Federal Transit Administration, according to a news release. TDOT collaborated with 15 transit agencies to submit a joint application to FTA for the replacement of transit vehicles that have exceeded their useful life based on years in service or mileage. TDOT is one of only five departments of transportation to receive a statewide State of Good Repair Grant, the release states.
Doctors who treat TennCare patients are getting a big New Year’s pay raise. Starting today, practitioners in family medicine and some other subspecialties, including pediatrics, will be reimbursed at Medicare rates — on average, more than 25 percent above what they’re paid now, state figures show. TennCare officials calculate that the boost will put $55 million in physicians’ pockets this year and next and help to keep them in the state’s version of Medicaid, the health care program for 1.2 million disabled people, pregnant women and poor children.
Doctors who treat TennCare patients are getting a New Year’s pay raise. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that practitioners in family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics or a related subspecialty will start to be reimbursed at Medicare rates. On average, that is more than 25 percent above what they are paid now. TennCare officials say the boost will give qualifying Tennessee doctors an extra $55 million over the next two years. Providing doctors an incentive to treat TennCare patients is important because health experts expect the rolls to expand a lot next year.
An effort to reduce opposition to supermarket wine sales has so far failed to change the minds of the liquor store owners who stand to lose the most out of the proposal. Under the bill taking shape before the legislature convenes next week, local referendums would determine whether wine could be sold alongside beer in grocery and convenience stores. In exchange, sponsors say liquor stores could branch out to sell items like beer, mixers, ice and snacks. The measure could also end the current law that allows owners to operate only one liquor store in the state.
One year ago, a dozen tents were clustered on the front lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse. For six months, members of the Occupy Chattanooga movement dug in their heels, stuck out bitterly cold nights and derision from local officials as they protested corporate influence on politics and economic inequality. They would stay until they saw change, they said. Today, the courthouse’s resodded lawn and carefully edged flower beds show no trace that the group was ever there.
The infant mortality rate for Shelby County dropped in 2011 for the first time to below 10 deaths per 1,000 live births, the lowest ever for the county, and officials credited a countywide collaborative effort to help babies see a first birthday. The rate of 9.6 deaths per 1,000 live births marks a 35 percent decline from 14.9 per 1,000 births in 2003. African-American infant deaths went from 21 per 1,000 births in 2003 to 13 per 1,000 births in 2011. County statistics go back to 1930, when 98.9 infants per 1,000 died, a number that by 1960 had fallen to 29.9.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said he received two reports of children wounded by gunfire on New Year’s Eve and then had to tell his house guest to expect to hear gunfire at midnight as people celebrated the new year in his neighborhood. “That should not be in a city like this and we are not going to resign ourselves to that,” Wharton said Tuesday at City Councilman Myron Lowery’s New Year’s Day Prayer Breakfast. “We are going to hit that head-on as we go into the coming year,” Wharton said. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell also addressed the issue of guns as both top government executives looked back on 2012 and ahead to 2013.
Jim Tracy has officially announced his candidacy for U.S. Congress. In a release sent to the media on New Year’s Day, Tracy threw his hat in the ring and took a dig at the current congressman representing the district he is vying for, Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Tracy is a Republican state senator and former candidate for the 6th Congressional District who, due to redistricting, now lives in the 4th. He said he is running for Congress “because our government is both financially and morally bankrupt and in order to get America back on the right track we need leaders of character and integrity with a core belief in conservative principles serving in Congress.
State senator plans announcement launching 4th District campaign on Wednesday State Sen. Jim Tracy will announce today that he plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in 2014, becoming the first Republican to launch a formal campaign for the seat held by the embattled Jasper physician. Tracy, a third-term state senator from Shelbyville, has scheduled an official announcement for 11 a.m. in Murfreesboro, where he will begin his second campaign for Congress. Tracy finished a close third in the 2010 Republican primary for the 6th Congressional District.
After surviving a tough re-election fight in November, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., now faces a 2014 GOP primary challenge from a fellow Republican who trumpets his “Tennessee values” over the Jasper physician’s troubled past. State Sen. Jim Tracy, 56, of Shelbyville, plans formally to declare his 4th District candidacy today in Murfreesboro, the largest city in the sprawling 16-county congressional district. In a statement, Tracy, an insurance agency owner and eight-year legislative veteran, said, “It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to challenge the incumbent from my own party. For the good of the people of the 4th Congressional District, who hold our Tennessee values dear, a change in leadership is a must.”
House passes bill to avert possible economic crisis Weary lawmakers passed emergency legislation to avoid a national “fiscal cliff” of major tax increases and spending cuts in a New Year’s night culmination of a struggle that tested divided government to the limit. The bill passed by a vote of 257 to 167. All of Tennessee’s House members except Democrat Steve Cohen of Memphis voted against the measure. The measure goes to President Barack Obama for his signature and hands him a political triumph less than two months after he secured re-election while campaigning for higher taxes on the wealthy.
The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab was named the fastest in the world in November. And now it’s being recognized for being one of the most efficient machines on the planet. In a ranking of 500 supercomputers, Titan came in as the third-best in number of calculations made per watt of electricity used. Oak Ridge associate director for computing Jeff Nichols says the Titan leans on graphics processing units or GPUs found in video game systems. “We took advantage of the gaming industry to give us 10 times more powerful processors and we only increased energy costs by half of what we were spending on specific systems today.”
Private talks aimed at settling the federal lawsuit over municipal school districts are expected to resume with the end of the holiday season. All sides in the legal matter had met behind closed doors at least twice after U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays ruled in late November that all moves taken in 2012 toward forming municipal school districts were void. He ruled the 2012 state law allowing leaders in Shelby County’s six suburban towns and cities to move ahead with their plans immediately violated the Tennessee Constitution.
As Illinois lawmakers head back to work this week, Gov. Pat Quinn is seeking to use the practical advantages of a lame-duck legislative calendar to fix the state’s pension systems — the most underfinanced in the nation — in a matter of days. Over the years, leaders here have fretted over the shortfall even as they watched it grow and grow, now reaching, by some estimates, $96 billion. Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, has come to describe the situation as the state’s “rendezvous with reality” and Illinois’s own “fiscal cliff.”
In 2012, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback succeeded in winning large income tax cuts for individuals and small businesses, a victory that conservatives nationally hailed as a model for fiscal and economic policy. In 2013, Brownback might well ask for a tax increase — or at least something that looks a lot like one. Brownback hasn’t changed his small government philosophy. Instead, he has indicated he wants to make up for some of the revenue that last year’s tax reductions will cost the state.
Doctors, others now must registerwith database when prescribing opiates A new Tennessee law complicates procedures for physicians and pharmacists, but it may help to save lives. The problem is deaths from drug overdose, which are all too common in our state. Last year, the Associated Press reports, Tennessee had 1,062 such deaths. That was the single largest cause of accidental death — more than from vehicle crashes, murder or suicide. To help cut into that toll, a law that took effect on Tuesday requires doctors and others who prescribe opiates like Vicodin or Percocet, or benzodiazepines like Valium, to register with a state database.
The New Year began as the old one ended here in D.C. Drunk on debt, politicians in Dysfunction Central staggered into 2013 seeking another shot of revenue to feed their spending addiction. Washington’s not the only place elected officials have indulged their debt habit to the detriment of their constituency. We’ve written enough lately about Pigeon Forge’s liquor referendum to make even the most consistent consumers of this column a bit woozy. At risk of upsetting the equilibrium of some longtime readers, we (royally speaking) preach neither abstinence nor indulgence. Rather, we advocate an accurate election, where only eligible voters decide Pigeon Forge’s alcohol actions.
A federal judge has signed off on mediators who will determine damages to be awarded plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Tennessee Valley Authority over the December 2008 Kingston coal ash spill. By going through mediation, the parties will sidestep court proceedings in determining damages suffered by 872 plaintiffs who sued TVA over the spill. A failure to come to agreements would prolong the legal battles. U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan late last month approved attorneys Pam Reeves of Knoxville and Rodney Max of Florida as mediators for the cases. Both are excellent choices.