This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis recently announced job training grant awards of $16,932 to GKN Hoeganaes Corporation, $19,600 to Servpro Industries, Inc., and $20,000 to Gap Inc. in Gallatin. “If Tennessee is going to become the number one location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, then we must offer a well-trained workforce to employers,” Haslam said. “This kind of training grant not only helps educate workers, but also provides incentive to employers looking to relocate or expand in Tennessee.”
It took four years and $53 million, but construction crews in Southwest Memphis have finished modernizing a crucial interchange and road connection just in time for the major new industries that will benefit from the improvements. Except for routine punch-list items, work has been completed at the Mallory Avenue interchange at Interstate 55 and nearby Riverport Road, said Steve Chipman, project manager for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Launched in late 2008, the project entailed widening I-55 at Mallory from four to six lanes and replacing the outdated interchange entrance and exit ramps, one of which required travelers to use part of Riverside Drive through a residential area.
With a new GOP supermajority in place for the dawn of the 108th General Assembly this week, Democrats find themselves facing irrelevancy except in cases where the ruling Republicans are divided. But there are already issues — some old, some new — where Republican divisions are apparent at the outset. There are others, especially on social policy, where intraparty tension between the most conservative lawmakers and their less ardent colleagues — few like to be called moderates — probably makes clashes inevitable.
Measures that would bring more police officers into schools and allow teachers to be armed appear to be gaining momentum among Tennessee lawmakers in the wake of last month’s shooting in Newtown, Conn. Several Tennessee lawmakers say they have drafted legislation that would encourage school districts to place at least one armed police officer in every school and would allow teachers who have undergone special training to bring their personal handguns into schools. And at least one city in Middle Tennessee is considering paying for teachers to take a gun training course.
A Southeast Tennessee lawmaker hopes that arming some teachers with concealed weapons will give schools at least some form of defense in the face of a massacre such as the December slayings at a Connecticut elementary school. Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, has introduced legislation allowing districts to opt into a program allowing educators voluntarily to receive law enforcement-style training to carry their concealed weapons at school. Watson said he’s pitching his bill at the request of some 60 area teachers who don’t want to go defenseless.
The Knox County legislative delegation is weighing the impact of state Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, with one new House member reporting he’s already being contacted by lobbyists to introduce bills. Roger Kane, the Republican elected in November to the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, said four lobbyists have contacted him about sponsoring legislation and one wants him to sponsor two bills. If Harwell’s 10-bill limit proposal were to be adopted, “that would be half my slots,” he said.
The Tennessee legislature opens its new two-year term Tuesday with its first Republican “supermajority” since the Civil War era and a broad agenda ranging from guns to school vouchers to tax cuts to wine in grocery stores. Two proposed state constitutional amendments — one banning state and local income and payroll taxes, and one for appointment of appellate court judges by the governor — are up for final legislative action to put them on the 2014 statewide ballot for voter ratification or rejection.
Sitting on the broad, screened-in back porch of his pre Civil War-era home, state Sen. Mark Norris fiddled with his iPhone in search of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” He couldn’t quite remember the exact verse. Something about keeping your head about you in times of turmoil, trusting yourself when all men doubt you. The poem hung framed in his father’s boyhood bedroom and is now on the wall of his downtown law office. He reads it often. “Pretty good words to live by,” he said. But it has also become an anthem of sorts in his much-publicized political life.
Local legislators resolve to protect 2nd Amendment right to bear arms Local politicians pledged to protect the Second Amendment right to bear arms while supporters took aim at paper targets at a rally/fundraiser here Saturday. “The Second Amendment is a fundamental right and must be protected,” said state Sen. Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican who announced this past week he will seek the 2014 Republican nomination for the 4th Congressional District seat held by Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg.
A team of experts known as the Second Look Commission recently delivered its annual report on child abuse investigations in Tennessee. The commission will next make the case that its work should continue. The 17-member team, formed by lawmakers in 2010, faces its “sunset” review this year, which will examine how much good it has done. Volunteer lawmakers, judges, doctors, lawyers, police and child advocates on the commission examine cases in which children suffered severe abuse more than once.
The shape of our city is defined by its people. Some with political power and ambition. Some with business muscle and savvy. Others capture our imagination and, like a magnet, draw us into their orbits through music, charisma or infectious passion. Some of them hold keys to our most persistent, thorny issues. The real-life Nashville stage is never dull and there is no shortage of fascinating people who trek across it. We’ll be watching them all in the coming year. But for now, we’ve narrowed that list to 13 who we think are at a particular moment in their public life in influencing our collective one.
When the DeKalb Utility District proposed building a $10.5 million project, including a new water treatment plant, last year, water customers became so upset they started a formal petition to block the project. With the possibility of their water rates increasing by at least 21 percent to pay for it, 1,305 DeKalb County residents signed a petition, which triggered a state review. The state’s Utility Management Review Board will consider their appeal in April. Despite considerable opposition, the five commissioners of the DeKalb Utility District board who approved the project are in no real danger of political retribution.
The Action Tennessee and Tennessee Citizen Action — yes, those are two separate groups — took U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat who isn’t as liberal as they are, to task for voting against the “fiscal cliff” bill. Justin Wilkins, state director with The Action Tennessee, said the deal was “a huge victory for most Americans who believe the wealthiest among us should chip in their fair share to address our long-term budget challenges and for critical investments that create and sustain jobs. To say Congressman Cooper’s vote against the middle-class tax relief bill is disappointing would be a major understatement.”
Two Republicans representing Middle Tennessee in Congress, Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, announced similar but separate bills Friday to prevent payments of federal Title X money to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. “As a woman, I believe America deserves better than abortion,” Blackburn said in a news release that did not mention any co-sponsors. “America shouldn’t celebrate abortion and our taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, who profit from the destruction of human life with taxpayer money. It’s fiscally irresponsible and morally indefensible.”
Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own. In California, Aetna is proposing rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue Cross 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent for some of those policy holders, according to the insurers’ filings with the state for 2013.
Sequatchie County Schools leaders are looking to add an armed guard at the county’s elementary school, redesign school entrances and reshape school drop-off and pick-up procedures for parents, all in the name of school safety. Sequatchie is among many Tennessee school districts finding ways to amp up security in the wake of the December massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary in which 20 children and six adults were shot and killed.
A teacher for 30 years, Sabrina Transou remembers the exact number of students she’s recommended to repeat a grade level. “Three,” said Transou, who is a first-grade teacher at Pope Elementary. “I have not had to retain a lot of students,” she said. “As a teacher, it is something that you struggle with. You look at all of the variables such as how the student performs on a daily basis, in small-group instruction and whether we’re meeting them where they are. There are no two students alike, and we discuss the problem areas early on with the parents.”
Blount County authorities discovered a methamphetamine lab this afternoon for the second time in as many days, officials said. Maryville Police Department officers responded to the Kmart on McCammon Avenue on a report of a backpack found in some grass just off the parking lot. Members of the 5th Judicial Drug Task Force were then called to the scene and discovered the backpack contained a “one pot” meth lab, according to a Blount County Sheriff’s Office news release. Investigators neutralized and inventoried the ingredients, and the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force arrived to dispose of the lab, officials said.
Clarksville police arrested two individuals at a residence at 14 Tulip Poplar Court on Saturday for the manufacture of an unspecified amount of methamphetamine, among other charges. James Lawrence Willard, 20, was charged with initiating a process with intent to result in manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of a firearm during commission of a dangerous felony and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. Bond was set at $175,000.
Methamphetamine, the illicit drug that much of America has dismissed as a backwoods rural problem and the punchline to “redneck” jokes, has moved uptown. And it’s no joke. Meth is almost as deadly in its production process as it is in its consumption, and for that reason alone, its move into cities the size of Nashville, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., should concern everyone. And as The Associated Press reported last month, law enforcement authorities have found that gangs are getting in on the action. If this trend continues, Americans should brace themselves, as they will be confronted with a drug that kills and maims those who manufacture it; is distributed by gang members who will kill and maim to get their money for it; and will kill and maim the people foolish enough to smoke it. Our state, sadly, is in the thick of this problem.
“The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.” — Longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer from “The True Believer,” 1951 Nashville has had its share of mayors who believed in the city’s future and pushed for the investments necessary to fulfill the belief. These leaders have fostered a city that other people love to visit, and with the completion this year of the $600 million Music City Center on Demonbreun Street, we should see even more visitors bringing their excitement, energy and money to our city on the Cumberland. And though we all complain about the traffic-clogging nature of Nashville’s investment in infrastructure improvements and additions, the centripetal effect of the money spent is welcomed in a city that suffered poorly during this recession.
Just as Congress narrowly avoided the infamous fiscal cliff, the U.S. Senate narrowly avoided the “TVA cliff,” which would have left the federal utility’s board of directors without a quorum heading into the new year. On New Year’s Day, the Senate unanimously confirmed four nominees to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board. They are Joe H. Ritch, an attorney from Huntsville, Ala.; Michael McWherter, owner of Central Distributors Co., a private practice lawyer and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate from Dresden, Tenn.; Vera Lynn Evans, an accountant and board member of the Memphis Gas, Light and Water Division since 2004; and C. Peter Mahurin, chairman of Hilliard Lyons Financial Services in Bowling Green, Ky.
The Affordable Care Act has put Tennessee in a pickle over the question of expanding Medicaid. As doctors, we feel a deep moral obligation towards the uninsured and the poor who would benefit the most from the Medicaid expansion. Yet we are also deeply concerned that the increased state government expenditure may implode the existing Medicaid system (TennCare in Tennessee) and the entire state budget. How do we reconcile the moral with the financial tension in making a decision about Medicaid expansion for Tennessee? Medicaid expansion, a major provision in the new health law, extends health coverage to all individuals with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty level ($30,843 for a family of four).
Local Republican leaders hardly said a word about U.S. Rep. Dr. Scott DesJarlais when news broke last October that he had sex with a patient and encouraged her to have an abortion, according to a court transcript. Later, they found out he had sex with one more patient and several other women when he and his wife went through a messy divorce 12 years ago, then possibly misled the public when confronted about the facts. Testimony also showed he and his first wife agreed she should have two abortions. With the election behind them, though, they are clearly not happy with his actions, even if they came long before he ran for Congress.