This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee high schools and colleges are trying to demystify the way students apply for financial aid. The new year is the kickoff for the application process, known as the FAFSA, which is required to get lottery scholarships. The FAFSA can intimidate newcomers wrestling with jargon like ‘adjusted gross income.’ If a student’s parents aren’t together, just knowing which one to put down can be a tough call, says John Doerge of the accounting firm Deloitte. “This form can be stumbling block to people getting into college.
TDOT commissioner discusses work in Northwest Tenn. Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer discussed development of a major highway as well as local projects within the city of Martin and Weakley County this week during a luncheon with Martin’s Rotary Club. More than 100 people attended the luncheon, which was held Thursday at the University Center in Martin. Schroer said one of TDOT’s major projects is working toward the completion of Interstate 69 in the northwest and southwest parts of the state.
A short section of Interstate 40 westbound will be closed today-Monday, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Officials will close part of the highway at the I-40/I-24 split just east of downtown to repair a bridge beam that was damaged in September by a tractor trailer. It will close at 5 a.m. today and reopen at 5 a.m. Monday. Westbound traffic will be routed onto I-24 then to I-65 southbound and back to I-40. Motorists also can use I-440 westbound to I-65 northbound or I-40 westbound, or Briley Parkway northbound.
16 counties part of DUI initiative The Tennessee Highway Patrol arrested 96 people on suspicion of impaired driving in counties participating in the “No Refusal” enforcement effort over the New Year’s holiday period, according to a news release. The holiday period ran from 6 p.m., Dec. 28 through midnight on Tuesday. Two suspects refused to take a breathalyzer test, resulting in warrants for a blood sample under the “No Refusal” law, the release said. The “No Refusal” law allows law enforcement officials to seek search warrants for blood samples in cases involving suspected impaired drivers.
U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon issued a temporary restraining order against the state of Tennessee yesterday, preventing them from enforcing a law aimed at websites — specifically Backpage.com — which sell ads that critics say promote child sex trafficking. The law, known as Tennessee Public Charter 1075, makes it illegal to sell advertisements that “would appear to a reasonable person” to include a “commercial sex act … with a minor.” Backpage.com sued state attorney general Robert Cooper Jr., claiming that the new law violating the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the First and 14th amendments, and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A state law passed last year targeting online sex advertisements is under threat after a federal judge agreed with a popular classifieds website that the law infringes on free speech rights. Backpage.com, which publishes millions of advertisements every month, filed a lawsuit in June against State Attorney General Bob Cooper and Tennessee’s 31 district attorneys alleging that the new law violates the First Amendment, and other federal protections. Although the law’s purpose, protecting children from sex trafficking, seems “laudable,” it actually hurts the business of online service providers, the lawsuit contends.
With the Tennessee General Assembly returning to session next week, state Republicans are exploring compromise legislation regarding guns in workplace parking lots, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. One proposal, from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, would let companies ban guns from vehicles on their workplaces. However, it would also ban companies from searching a car solely to check for guns. “I call it the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ for guns,” Campfield said Thursday, according to the Times Free Press.
Tennessee’s cancer-fighting advocates want to hang onto funding for screening and smoking cessation, do a better job educating residents and – after a crushing defeat on this last year – force insurers to cover oral chemotherapy at the same rate as intravenous treatments. What’s not on their list is raising the cigarette tax, the nation’s sixth-lowest, an effort shown to discourage smoking, raise revenue and, ultimately, save on healthcare costs. That effort failed last year too, said Nancy Hauskins DuBois, an advocacy specialist for the American Cancer Society, so her group is putting it on snooze and waiting for a better time.
Local government leaders have a hefty proposition to spawn new roads and jobs in the Tri-Cities. They want Tennessee lawmakers to give them a local-option gas tax that could fill their coffers with up to five cents from every gallon at the pump. Friday’s annual wish list presentation from Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City leaders to representatives and senators headed to Nashville next week includes a variety of policy objectives, but the gas tax was an eye-opener to one Bristol lawmaker. “I just can’t see that working in today’s current economic environment,” said State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, one of the lawmakers at the meeting at the Millennium Centre.
Tri-Cities municipal governments backed legislation allowing wine in grocery stores during an annual meeting with Northeast Tennessee lawmakers today. The legislation, supported by the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, is expected to be filed again this year by state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. It has been blocked in past years by the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Association, which represents liquor stores in the state.
Tenn. Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Bristol Chamber of Commerce Friday during the group’s annual awards luncheon at the downtown Foundation Event Facility. Ramsey, a Blountville state senator who also serves as Tennessee’s Speaker of the Senate, was among several honored by the Chamber during the awards luncheon. The event drew a sellout crowd of nearly 400 people. “Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Nashville, and thank you for being my friends,” Ramsey, a Republican legislator, told the Chamber crowd.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean filed a $110 million capital spending plan today. The two largest items in the plan are the city’s stormwater program ($50 million) and the new Lentz Public Health Center ($28 million) at 26th Avenue N. and Charlotte Avenue. The spending plan also calls for $7 million in renovations to Bridgestone Arena for upgrades the arena’s south entrance, across from Music City Center. According to a Metro news release, “Exterior improvements will include a new entrance and plaza area. Glass will replace portions of the current concrete structure to make the area more inviting and open.”
Mayor Karl Dean has submitted a mid-year capital spending plan including $110 million in proposed spending, his office announced Friday. A majority of the funds in the plan will go to the city’s stormwater program and the new Lentz Public Health Center, the mayor’s office said. The plan also includes funding for improvements to the Bridgestone Arena, and a new police Central Precinct, which is currently located inside the arena.“This capital spending plan continues the momentum in our city and invests in essential improvements such as sidewalks and paving,” Dean said, in a release.
The backside of Bridgestone Arena fronting the new Music City Center is poised for a dramatic makeover that includes street-level restaurants and retail under a $110 million capital-spending plan Mayor Karl Dean’s administration submitted to the Metro Council Friday. The arena project accounts for $7 million of the mayor’s capital-spending spree, and is part of a plan to improve the aesthetics and compliment the heightened activity at Demonbreun Street and Fifth Avenue after the new convention center opens in May.
Members of Tennessee’s newly sworn-in congressional delegation will maintain many of the same committee responsibilities in Washington, D.C., in the next two years, with a few upgrades. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is stepping up as vice chairwoman of the House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Committee while Sen. Lamar Alexander is expected to advance to “ranking” Republican member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Rep. Diane Black will again be serving on the House Committee on Ways and Means, and Rep. Jim Cooper’s office has yet to hear whether he will be renewed to serve on a second committee.
Embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., told a Nashville television station Friday that state Health Department investigators have already spoken to him about complaints that he had sex with at least two patients, one of whom he urged to get an abortion in 2000. DesJarlais acknowledged in the interview with WKRN-TV reporter Chris Bungaard that officials are actively investigating the complaints, one of which was filed during his 2012 campaign by the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Republican from South Pittsburg, took his oath of office Thursday as a member of the 113th Congress from House Speaker John Boehner, DesJarlais’ staff announced. Speaker Boehner conducted the ceremonial swearing-in for Rep. DesJarlais and the Tennessee Congressman’s family following the official oath of office on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.
Nation’s health care system marches forward to sweeping changes in 2014 The Obama administration recently took the next step in implementing the new health care reform by laying out more specific guidelines regarding the health insurance market reforms. The Department of Health and Human Services published the new regulations on Nov. 20. Currently between 250,000 and 1 million Tennesseans do not have health insurance, but beginning in January 2014, health insurance companies will be required to sell coverage to anyone who applies, and renewal of health care coverage will be guaranteed each year.
As the Achievement School District added six low performing Memphis schools in December for the new school year that begins in August, the leader of the state-led district was in Memphis to deal with backlash in the community around one of the six existing Memphis Schools that have been part of the district since last August. Parents of some students and even NBA and University of Memphis basketball player Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, an alum of Lester School, showed up at the countywide school board meeting this month to complain about how charter school operator Cornerstone Prep is running the school.
New laws to strengthen state control of compounding pharmacies were proposed on Friday by Gov. Deval Patrick, in hopes of preventing another public health disaster like the current outbreak of meningitis caused by a contaminated drug made in Massachusetts. The laws will be among the strongest in the country, said Kevin Outterson, a law professor at Boston University and a member of the expert panel that advised the state on how to curb abuses by companies like the New England Compounding Center, the Framingham pharmacy that made the tainted drug responsible for the nationwide meningitis outbreak.
Nearly a million low-wage workers in 10 states will get a modest raise this year. In Rhode Island, a new law has raised the state’s minimum wage by 35 cents an hour, to $7.75, which will work out to an average annual raise of $510 for 11,000 Rhode Islanders. In nine other states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — laws that peg the minimum wage to inflation will result in increases of 10 cents to 15 cents an hour, for hourly wages ranging from $7.35 in Missouri to $9.19 in Washington. By contrast, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009.