This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
For the eighth year in a row, Tennessee saw more inbound migration than outbound migration, at least according to numbers from a national moving company. Atlas Van Lines reported this week that in 2012 the state saw 1,904 inbound moves by the company, compared to 1,467 outbound moves. According to a news release, Tennessee was one of only eight states — plus the District of Columbia — in which more than 55 percent of total shipments were inbound.
It will soon be possible to report suspected cases of fraud, waste and abuse of public funds in Tennessee over the Internet. Beginning today, you may electronically alert the state Comptroller’s office about suspected government misuse of public funds by visiting: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/shared/safwa.asp The Comptroller’s office has provided a toll-free telephone hotline for reporting fraud, waste and abuse of government funds and property since 1983. During that time, the hotline has received more than 17,000 calls.
Tennesseans suspecting fraud, waste or abuse of public funds in state government can now report their suspicions using an online form. The state Comptroller’s office has provided a toll-free telephone hotline for reporting suspected fraud, waste and abuse since 1983. During that time, the hotline has received more than 17,000 calls. Last year, the General Assembly expanded the Advocacy for Honest and Appropriate Government Spending Act to allow online reporting as well. Comptroller Justin Wilson said in a news release about the new service that it is “another tool to help ensure that public money is being spent properly in Tennessee.”
Tennesseans can now electronically report suspected cases of government fraud, waste and abuse of public funds to the state comptroller’s office. “In this day and age, it makes sense to give people the option to send us fraud online,” state Comptroller Justin Wilson said in a news release. The comptroller’s office has operated a toll-free hotline to report fraud and abuse since 1983 and has received more than 17,000 calls. The Tennessee General Assembly in 2012 widened the Advocacy for Honest and Appropriate Government Spending Act so residents and government employees could report alleged governmental fiscal misconduct online.
Interested in reporting cases of fraud, waste and abuse of public funds in Tennessee? Starting today, would-be whistle-blowers can use the Internet to alert state Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office about suspected state and local government misuse of public dollars. Since 1983, the comptroller’s office has maintained a toll-free telephone hotline for reporting problems. Officials have received more than 17,000 calls. But Tennessee lawmakers last year expanded the law to let government workers and citizens voice their concerns more easily online.
Tennessee residents will continue to get federal extended unemployment benefits for at least another year. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development had warned late last month that the benefits were about to expire. But the agency announced this week that they have been extended through Jan. 1, 2014. Congress created the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in 2008 to provide unemployment benefits to workers who had exhausted their state benefits.
Tennessee’s long term unemployed won’t miss a single benefit check after the state’s Department of Labor spent weeks warning that the end was near. The deal to avert the fiscal cliff kept federal money flowing to the unemployed who had exhausted their 26 weeks of state-funded benefits. There was a similar last minute extension a year ago. Labor department spokesman Jeff Hentschel says the 30,000 Tennesseans who were being cut off should keep getting their average $240 a week.
A court hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday for a Davidson County judge to consider the request from The Tennessean and a dozen other news organizations to make public Department of Children’s Services records on child deaths. The media coalition filed a lawsuit Dec. 19, alleging that DCS is violating the law by refusing to provide the records of children who died after being brought to the agency’s attention. The Tennessean had made requests over a three-month period. The lawsuit asks that DCS immediately give those records to the court so Chancellor Carol McCoy can review them and redact any confidential information, and for the records to then be opened to the public.
A report from the state Second Look Commission cites what members called “gaping holes” in the child welfare system. According to The Tennessean, the annual report looked into what the commission termed the worst incidents of child abuse in Tennessee. The report stated there were missed opportunities to protect children, even in cases where authorities knew families were abusive. The commission recommends more training for not only Department of Children’s Services caseworkers, but also police and mental health providers.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that it will display fatality messages on a weekly basis rather than daily. TDOT will now display the fatality numbers on its overhead message signs on Fridays. The messages first went on display in April 2012, after an increase in traffic-related fatalities during the first quarter of the year. “We feel the fatality messages have been extremely successful in increasing awareness about highway deaths across the state this year, and may have helped us stop the dramatic increase we saw early in 2012,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer, in the news release.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will only display the state’s highway fatality rate on Fridays starting this year after months of running the numbers daily on digital message boards across the state. State officials started displaying the running daily tally last April after seeing a sharp increase in fatalities in the first quarter of 2012. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said he believes the public message campaign was successful, although the state still had more than 1,000 deaths on the highways in the past year.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation warned motorists that a section of Interstate 40 westbound will be closed this weekend for repairs to a damaged bridge. The section of interstate is at the I-40/I-24 split in the southeast corner of the downtown loop. I-40 West at this junction will be closed from Saturday, Jan. 5, at 5 a.m. through Monday, Jan. 7, at 5 a.m. In September, a tractor-trailer hauling a large piece of equipment cracked a steel beam on the I-24 East ramp bridge that crosses over the I-40 West ramp.
State transportation officials have decided to rebuild three sets of piers that support the Henley Bridge rather than try to repair extensive deterioration of the concrete pillars. But authorities won’t know until later this month how much money and time that decision will add to the $24.7 million project that already has closed the bridge for two years. Construction was slated for completion by June 30, 2013. “We should have a very honed estimate by the middle of the month,” said Wayne Seger, director of the bridge division for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Drug shortage brought executions to a halt No death row inmates are scheduled to die in Tennessee anytime soon. The state’s entire stock of a key lethal injection drug was confiscated by the federal government in March 2011 amid questions about whether it was legally obtained, and the state hasn’t yet figured out how — or when — it plans to execute inmates. But Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the state’s lethal injection protocol is a top priority and he is pursuing alternative drugs.
House Republicans are exploring what they hope can provide a compromise in the ongoing fight between businesses and gun-rights groups over restricting employers from banning guns in vehicles parked on their property. One idea, offered by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, would still let businesses ban guns from vehicles on their property. But it prohibits them from searching employee vehicles for the sole purpose of checking for guns. “I call it the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell for guns,'” Campfield said Thursday.
With guns virtually certain to be a hot topic in the legislative session that begins next week, Sen. Stacey Campfield has becoming something of a point man on two firearm fronts. A University of Tennessee official, meanwhile, acknowledged that Knoxville Republican is correct in one of his recent contentions related to the gun debate: A little-noticed provision of state law, enacted decades ago, already allows weapons to be kept by many people in locked cars on campus parking lots.
The Southwest Tennessee Development District office in Jackson, Tenn., today hosted more than 100 leaders from across the region who expressed their support for various economic initiatives to state legislators. Known as the Regional Economic Development Initiative, or REDI, the wish list for 2013 includes not only proposals for continued support of industrial and work force development, but also for education. “The primary goal of the REDI program is to impact the educational attainment levels in this region and thus positively impact the economic base of this region,” Joe W. Barker, executive director at the Southwest Tennessee Development District, said in a release.
Tennessee had more tornadoes than usual in 2012, but they caused fewer deaths. Data from the National Weather Service shows 34 recorded tornadoes statewide last year — 20 of them occurring in March. NWS meteorologist Bobby Boyd in Nashville said the average year brings 21 tornadoes in Tennessee, based on data from 1981-2010. There is an average of five tornado-caused deaths per year. In 2012, three people were killed. The year with the largest number of tornadoes was 2011, when 113 of them struck, killing 34 people.
Many ballots were cast in the Nov. 6 Pigeon Forge referendum on liquor by the drink by ineligible voters, and the election should be voided, a poll worker said in a sworn statement “I am 100 percent sure” that votes were cast by people who were not entitled to vote in the referendum, poll worker Sarah Ownby said in a deposition taken in connection with a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the election. Her deposition was one of many that were recently placed in the court file.
Back when she was a freshman, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn worked with then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee to permit Tennesseans and other filers in states without income taxes to deduct sales taxes on federal returns. As recently as Nov. 16, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was calling Blackburn “the leader in restoring the deduction in 2004 and she’s the leader now in an effort to ensure it is extended again.” But on New Year’s Day, when the extension was made part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff, Blackburn and every member of the Tennessee congressional delegation except U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., voted against it.
The U.S. Constitution puts no limits on who can be a candidate for speaker of the House, so Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, decided he wouldn’t, either, when the race for that job took place Thursday during the opening of the 113th Congress. Cooper cast his vote not for Nancy Pelosi, as some might have expected, but for Colin Powell, 75, who was the first African-American to serve as secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Nashville’s Democratic congressman voted for a Republican to be Speaker of the House (today/yesterday), though not Rep. John Boehner. In a roll call vote of all 435 members of the U.S. House, Rep. Jim Cooper split with the party line. Instead of voting for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, he called out the name of a retired four-star Army General. CLERK: “Cooper…Colin Powell.” In a written statement after the vote, Cooper points out that the speaker does not have to be a member of the House.
As many states open their 2013 legislative sessions this month, they still don’t know how much money to expect from Washington for the coming year. The deal that Congress and President Obama reached in early January to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” halts the most severe tax increases that were slated to take effect without an agreement. But it postpones action on spending cuts—a crucial question for states since the federal government provides about 30 percent of their revenue. “They left uncertainty on the table,” says Michael Bird, senior federal affairs counsel at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In a newly released report, Federal Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley Jr. recommends that a motion to dismiss charges against three Y-12 protesters be denied. Attorneys for three Plowshares protesters, Greg Boertje-Obed, Michael Walli and Sister Megan Rice, argued for dismissal of charges in a Nov. 20 motion hearing before Shirley in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. A superseding indictment was returned in early December, elevating the earlier charges brought against the protesters — who face up to 35 years in prison if convicted on all three felony charges.
2013 will be a significant year for the Nashville tourism industry. The long-awaited Music City Center is expected to open for business in May, the 800-room Omni Hotel is expected to open in October and new restaurants, including Husk Nashville, will open downtown. But this year will not be the big milestone, said Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau. “2013 will be the year we get everything open,” he said. “You won’t see the dramatic impact in 2013, but 2014 is going to be a home run for the city.”
Some parents would argue it’s better to have a police officer in every school and not need one than to need one and not have one. What Hawkins County taxpayers will have to decide is if they’re willing to pay the estimated $725,000 annual cost of putting a police officer in all 19 Hawkins County schools. Last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., hits closer to home when you consider it’s been less than three years since a Sullivan County school resource officer (SRO) shot and killed a disturbed gunman inside Sullivan Central High School in 2010.
Thursday was the first day back to school from Christmas Break for students around the region. In Unicoi County, Thursday also marked the first day of school for several school resource officers who will be patrolling the hallways of the county’s schools to ensure the safety of students and educators. Full-time, Police Officer Standards and Training-certified officers have been placed in all Unicoi County schools, where they will remain from now through at least the end of this school year. Police patrols around the county’s schools will also be beefed up.
Deputy Nick Andes of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department was attempting to serve an outstanding warrant at a Watauga residence Wednesday morning when he discovered numerous items of drug paraphernalia. An extensive clandestine meth lab was then discovered in the house. Four people found in the house that morning were arrested. They included a resident of the house, Christopher Daniel Hagy, 27, 211 9th St. Extension, Watauga. Two others charged were Steven Lee Hamm III, 31, 187 Hamm Hollow Road, and Shelby Ann Effrick, 119 Rocky Top Road, No. 6, Watauga.
Motorists and their passengers across Tennessee have several reasons to be concerned about their safety. But the use of electronic signs along interstate highways to display the number of traffic fatalities is not one of them. Since April, the electronic billboards, which also warn of traffic obstructions ahead and post Amber alerts for missing children, have informed motorists of how many people have died on Tennessee roads since the start of 2012. By the end of the day on Monday, Dec. 31, the signs told of 1,002 highway deaths in 2012, 69 more than in 2011. And strangely, complaints began to mount that displaying the fatality counts was a mistake because the total went up, not down. Absurdly, some suggested the signs were somehow to blame.
An open question as the opening of the 108th General Assembly approaches is whether the Legislature’s new Republican “supermajority” will make any difference in dealing with various old issues. It’s pretty clear that the super-sized GOP membership will have an impact on some new issues. Some see the supermajority as somewhat divided — with one faction consisting of more moderate folks, who tend to be more focused on business interests, and the other faction more conservative types, who are business-friendly except when that clashes with other interests. If you’re looking for tea leaves to read, consider that the moderates won a couple of contests for lower-level Republican leadership positions recently as top-level leaders were re-elected handily.
Tennessee’s congressional delegation offered up a case of split personality when it came to the melodramatic last-minute vote that approved legislation keeping the economy from falling into the much ballyhooed fiscal cliff. U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both Republicans, stopped posturing and did the right thing, voting with the 89-8 majority for the heavily negotiated bill, which will raise tax rates on incomes of more than $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. Less than 24 hours later, when a heavily bipartisan House of Representatives voted 257-167 to follow the Senate — after a failed attempt to add significant spending cuts to the measure — the only Tennessee representative to vote for the measure was U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis.
The Newtown, Conn., school shooting created national debate about guns, mental health care services and school security. As the shock and outcry from the unthinkable tragedy begin to recede, a number of rational proposals are beginning to take shape. Among them is consideration of placing armed police officers in every school. The idea already is partially implemented in Jackson-Madison County schools. The question is whether the program should be expanded to all schools. The Jackson Police Department and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department each provide officers to four schools. The cost of the program is split between the departments and the school budget.
Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander usually can cite some coherent, if labored, reason for the blatantly partisan positions they sometimes take. But there was nothing sensible at all to justify their irrationally partisan refusal Tuesday to bring the presidential nomination of Dr. Marilyn Brown to the TVA board before the Senate for confirmation. Their rejection of her nomination for a second term on the TVA board — and their infuriating collateral request for the president to find another nominee in place of her — is simply outrageous. Dr. Brown’s widely applauded expertise in the myriad fields of energy use, energy efficiency and energy policy ranks head-and-shoulders above that of most of the board members who have served as leaders of TVA in recent decades.