This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Launch Tennessee, a five-year, public-private partnership designed to encourage the creation of high-growth startup companies in the state, has hired Chattanooga investor and entrepreneur Charlie Brock as its new CEO. It also named Stuart McWorther, co-founder of Brentwood-based venture capital firm Clayton Associates, as the group’s vice-chairman. Most recently, Brock was a general partner of the angel investment group Chattanooga Renaissance Fund and CEO of CO.LAB, a business accelerator.
Charlie Brock, the 48-year-old co-founder of FourBridges Capital Advisors, the CoLab and the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, is heading to Nashville at the end of the month to lead Tennessee’s biggest public-private partnership to boost startup businesses. Brock was chosen Tuesday as CEO of LaunchTN, the nonprofit agency created last year by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Commmunity Development and the former Tennessee Technology Development Corp.
Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership focused on supporting the creation and development of high-growth companies in Tennessee, today announced Charlie Brock as its new president and chief executive officer and Stuart McWhorter as its vice chairman. Brock (on right in photo) most recently served as a general partner of the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, a Chattanooga-based angel investment group, and as the CEO of CO.LAB, a Chattanooga accelerator that provides advice and mentoring services to entrepreneurs and runs the summer Gig Tank program.
Investor and entrepreneur Charlie Brock has been named president and CEO of Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership focused on supporting the creation and growth of Tennessee startups, according to a news release. Stuart McWhorter, president of Brentwood-based Clayton Associates, has been named as the organization’s new vice-chair. “Charlie’s experience as both an entrepreneur and investor will be critical in advancing our state’s rapidly growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, over time helping create jobs and economic prosperity for Tennesseans,” said Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Chairman of the LaunchTN board of directors.
Orange and white barrels were part of the New Year’s decorations at the Interstate 40 and Appling Road interchange last week as crews began work on improvements to the junction. The work, scheduled to last until late-April, includes widening the interstate’s eastbound exit ramp to add a second right turn lane. A traffic signal for the westbound exit ramp from the expressway also is in the project. Crosswalks will be added, along with ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Nichole Lawrence, the regional communications relations officer for the state Department of Transportation, said.
When Julie Wade’s grandmother first planted the seed for what is now a gigantic Douglas fir tree at her home at 711 W. Maple St., she probably didn’t imagine that it would get so tall, or that it would be among three trees in Johnson City to be named state champions by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division. Joining the Douglas Fir among the city’s three Champion Trees was a pin oak and a southern catalpa, all ranking No. 1 among their species.
Tennessee Department of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Jai Templeton joined local and company officials in Lexington on Tuesday to present a $1,000 scholarship to Caywood Elementary student Presley Goff as the state winner of the 2012 Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. Each year, national plant grower Bonnie Plants of Union Springs, Ala., provides Tennessee third-graders with cabbage plants to take home, care for and grow in order to spark an interest in agriculture and to foster greater understanding of our food system, according to a news release.
A legislative bill passed two sessions ago is catching up with students who have lottery scholarships, and many find their funding severely cut. A 2011 statute limits HOPE Scholarship funding to the minimum hours required for a degree program. The change affected students who were already in college as well as those entering higher education. According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, this quarter is when the limits are becoming apparent to students. Nearly 3,000 students are expected to run out of scholarship funding over the next two years, before the end of their fourth year in school.
The Tennessean newspaper and a group of Tennessee news organizations have asked a judge to open records from the Department of Children’s Services, arguing that the public needs information that would reveal how the state handled cases where children they had investigated died or nearly died. First Amendment attorney Robb Harvey argued Tuesday in Davidson County Chancery Court that Tennessee’s public records law requires the agency to disclose its files on 151 children who have died since 2009. The DCS had investigated the children and confirmed neglect or abuse in 47 cases.
The Tennessean and the state Department of Children’s Services took their public records feud to Davidson County Chancery Court Tuesday morning, but both will have to wait for Chancellor Carol McCoy’s ruling. The Tennessean and a coalition of other media outlets from across the state have asked DCS to turn over records on child fatalities from 2009 to 2012. But DCS maintains that the state’s records should remain confidential due to laws that prohibit the release of records related to juveniles.
State lawmakers convened Tuesday for the 108th Tennessee General Assembly that is expected to take up measures ranging from allowing wine in supermarkets to permitting teachers to be armed in school. For this session, Republicans have added to their already substantial advantages in both the Senate and House, gaining supermajorities in both chambers after the November election. New members in both chambers were sworn in Tuesday, as were the Senate and House speakers. Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville was re-elected on a 29-4 vote, and Rep. Beth Harwell was unopposed for a second term and re-elected unanimously.
Families, friends help celebrate ‘festive’ occasion House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey were re-elected Tuesday in a festive first day of the 108th General Assembly. Harwell unanimously won a second term, and Ramsey was chosen for a fourth term by a 28-4 vote, as Tennessee lawmakers adjusted to Republicans’ large majorities in the state Senate and state House. “It’s just as much of an honor,” Harwell said of winning another term. “And really — I don’t mean this to be hokey — this is really humbling to have this responsibility.”
Harwell, Ramsey re-elected speakers The Tennessee legislature opened its two-year term Tuesday by re-electing House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville as the legislature’s presiding officers. Harwell won election to a second term as speaker with the votes of all 99 House members, including the 28 Democrats. Ramsey won a fourth term by defeating Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis 28-3, including the votes of two of the Senate’s seven Democrats, Sens. Reginald Tate of Memphis and Charlotte Burks of Cookeville.
The State Senate today re-elected Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today as Tennessee’s 33 senators met at noon on the first organizational day of the 108th General Assembly. This will be Ramsey’s fourth two-year term as Tennessee’s Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate, according to a statement. “I want to thank you once again for placing your trust in me,” Ramsey told senators and onlookers after being elected. “It has been the honor of my life to serve Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Senate.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell’s attempt to reel in the number of bills introduced each legislative session was met with resistance among some of her Republican colleagues as the legislative session got under way on Tuesday. Harwell has proposed a cap of 10 bills per lawmaker each year. There are no current limits on the number legislative proposals that can be introduced each year, and Harwell said the annual flood of legislative proposals is expensive and inefficient. “This is not what Republicans stand for,” she told colleagues at a Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol. “We believe in less government.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell has increased her limit on legislative proposals per lawmaker. The move is in response to grumbling from members of her own party. A compromise gives each representative 15 bills instead of the original 10 and includes many exceptions. Even at the higher limit, there will still be far fewer laws proposed than in any General Assembly in recent history. Speaker Harwell says that was what she wanted to see. “My overall goal was to limit the number of bills. What that number ultimately is, I’ll live with the will of the body.”
A new limit on how many laws can be proposed by each state representative may change how lobbyists do business in the state capitol. At this point, a 10-bill cap is still up for discussion. The possible cap is a big change for any returning lawmaker, as almost no one carries fewer than 10 bills. It’s an even bigger change for lobbyists, who often ask legislators to propose laws that are little more than blank sheets of paper that can be amended quickly if a client has need. They’re called “caption bills,” and Rep. Steve McDaniel, a Republican from Parkers Crossroads, says the practice could end altogether.
Less than an hour before Tennessee state lawmakers swore themselves into office, representatives in the lower chamber embarked on their first official debate of the year: what rules should they govern themselves by? Members of all political stripes voiced concern over an effort to limit the number of bills each lawmaker could propose. House Speaker Beth Harwell, who was reelected to her post unanimously Tuesday, wants to cap lawmakers at 10 bills per year. “This is the absolutely wrong way for our state government to go,” Rep. Vance Dennis, the Republican floor leader, said in a GOP Caucus meeting before the chamber was called into session.
Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell agreed to alter her proposed cap on the number of bills each representative can introduce annually after some representatives objected the original limits were too harsh. Instead of just 10 bills, the cap would now be 15 under an agreement approved by the bipartisan Rules Committee late Tuesday afternoon. Various exceptions could allow individuals to file more. Still, if the full House approves the rule on Thursday, it will be the first known instance of bill limits on members.
A top Democratic leader is calling on Republicans in the state Senate to make their caucus meetings public. Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis wants the Open Meetings Act to apply to the Senate. During the first day of session on Tuesday, Kyle made a motion to amend Senate rules to apply the act, but he withdrew the motion after Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris agreed to take up the issue at a rules committee meeting on Wednesday. Kyle says he’s just trying to create more transparency in government.
The Tennessee House for the first time has two brothers serving at the same time. Freshman Rep. Timothy Hill of Blountville on Tuesday joined his brother and fellow Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough in the lower chamber of the General Assembly. Tennessee State Library and Archives research found rare occasions of siblings serving in the House and the Senate at the same time. It also identified examples of brothers who served in the same chamber, but never at the same time. Tennessee political history also includes an instance of brothers Alfred and Robert Taylor running against each other for governor in 1886.
The 108th Tennessee General Assembly convened in Nashville on Tuesday as lawmakers took their oath of office, including District 77’s Rep. Bill Sanderson (R). Sanderson, who was re-elected to the position in 2012, will serve his second term as state representative for Dyer, Lake, and a portion of Obion County. A sophomore legislator, Sanderson said 60 percent of the lower chamber of the Legislature has four years or less in experience and many senior legislators would not be returning after the previous elections.
It was a big day at the state Capitol for Republicans in general, and for Montgomery County Republican legislators in particular as the 108th General Session opened on Tuesday. Tennessee Republicans began the session with the first supermajority in both chambers for their party since Reconstruction. Among the 31-member freshman legislative class – the largest in years – Republicans added 18 members to the House against five Democrats. All eight new senators are also Republicans.
The caricature of a lobbyist is a cigar-smoking fat cat, with a $100 bill as a pocket square. Monocle and spats, optional. But in Tennessee’s Legislative Plaza that clichéd image is threadbare. Today’s lobbyists are, by and large, professionals and experts in their field. The days of lobbyists wining and dining elected officials have largely been replaced by lobbyists making their case through hard facts and Powerpoint presentations. And there is one other thing lobbyists need on Capitol Hill. “The secret for success in my business, first and foremost, is your credibility,” lobbyist David McMahan told TNReport.
Members of the National Federal of Independent Business’ Tennessee chapter overwhelmingly support reforms to the state’s workers’ compensation system, the group announced this week, citing results of its 2013 member ballot. “NFIB will support comprehensive workers’ comp reforms to include a tighter definition of injury causation and shifting the resolution of disputed claims to a purely administrative process,” Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee, said in a news release.
National education reform movement leader and part-time Tennessee resident Michelle Rhee is urging state lawmakers to create a statewide charter school authorizer, adopt a parent trigger law and give vouchers to some students. A day after Rhee and her organization, StudentsFirst, released a national report card grading states on the policies that promote her reform agenda, and the day Tennessee’s 2013 legislative session began, she announced her state wish list. After watching the conflict when the Metro Nashville school board refused to approve a charter for Great Hearts Academies, Rhee believes Tennessee should have a statewide charter authorizer.
For the second time in two months, the Metro Council on Tuesday protected lifetime health insurance benefits for two-term council members after they leave office, a controversial perk that nonetheless continues to survive. Against the will of the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Phil Claiborne, the council voted to indefinitely defer on a third and final reading a bill that would have reduced Metro government’s financial obligation to cover the benefit by approximately two-thirds. The bill died by a voice vote with no apparent objections.
At a recent neighborhood block party, Shay Ashcraft shot fireworks to celebrate the end of 2012 and the controversial red-light traffic cameras surrounding her Mt. Juliet home. On Tuesday, Mt. Juliet stopped using those cameras to issue citations to red-light runners, although they still hover over five city intersections, as they have since 2010. Many citizens, like Ashcraft, are cheering the change, complaining that the cameras sometimes ticketed drivers for legal maneuvers, such as making a right-hand turn on red, and poured money into out-of-state businesses.
The legal fight over the controversial Pigeon Forge liquor by the drink referendum is turning into a not-so-merry- go-round ride. With trial scheduled to start Thursday, there has been a change of lawyers for the pro-liquor group Forging Ahead, a renewed dispute over whether that group will be in the case, and a move to toss a lawsuit because the city of Pigeon Forge itself is not a party. It all began when Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, or CCCPF, which opposes liquor by the drink, sued the Sevier County Election Commission.
Portland knows the feeling. Austin had it once, too. So did Dallas. Even Las Vegas enjoyed a brief moment as the nation’s “it” city. Now, it’s Nashville’s turn. Here in a city once embarrassed by its Grand Ole Opry roots, a place that sat on the sidelines while its Southern sisters boomed economically, it is hard to find a resident who does not break into the goofy grin of the newly popular when the subject of Nashville’s status comes up. Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat in his second term, is the head cheerleader.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee’s seventh district announced that she will introduce legislation to prevent foreign acquisitions of companies that have received taxpayer-funded research. Blackburn, R-Brentwood, intends to introduce the Stop Mergers, Acquisitions, and Risky Takeovers Supplied by American Labor and Entrepreneurship Act of 2013, or SMART SALE Act, when Congress reconvenes on Jan. 14. The act will require companies that receive federal funding from the Department of Energy for innovative research to report if they are being acquired by a non-allied foreign nation, and require the Secretary of Energy to report to Congress about whether the acquisition represents a threat to the U.S.
A team headed by government contracting veterans Bechtel National and Lockheed Martin has been chosen to manage two of the nation’s key nuclear weapons facilities, Y-12 in Oak Ridge and Pantex near Amarillo, Texas. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which announced the award Tuesday, said the new contractor — Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC — has vowed to save more than $3.2 billion in taxpayer dollars over the next decade by eliminating redundancies in the combined organizations and taking other steps to improve efficiency and cut unnecessary spending.
School Resource Officer Coleman Murdock likens his patrol car parked in front of a school to a vicious dog guarding a junk yard. “If someone sees my car out front and they’re planning on doing something they shouldn’t, they’ll change their minds,” Murdock said Tuesday afternoon while standing outside Lascassas Elementary’s front office. Now in his 40th year of law enforcement, he’s known to those at Lascassas and Kittrell schools as “Officer Rock.” The nickname comes from his days as a football player at MTSU and carried into police work.
Another Middle Tennessee county is thinking about adding more armed officers to its schools. Rutherford County is weighing the safeguard after last month’s horrific massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut. Right now elementary schools in Rutherford County lack full-time armed officers. The proposal would commit one to each school, adding 11 jobs at a cost of $1.2 million. It’s unclear how commissioners would pay for it. Sheriff Robert Arnold says he’s talked to peers who are considering similar moves.
One suspect is in custody after agents with the 19th Judicial District Drug Task Force dismantled the fourth meth lab in Montgomery County in the last five days, according to a news release from the 19th Judicial District Drug Task Force. “Clarksville Police called us about a possible meth lab in the garage of a home at 562 Skyview Court,” Captain Jesse Reynolds, Director of the 19th JDDTF, said in the release. “We suited up, went in and confirmed the presence of a lab. We then safely dismantled it.”
An early start on setting money aside for college is increasingly critical, given the rate of tuition inflation and the potential millstone of student loan debt. Many parents and grandparents are aware of 529 plans, but until now the choices in Tennessee were limited and savers had to look outside the Volunteer state for optimal results. Thankfully, Gov. Bill Haslam recently unveiled a great new Tennessee 529 plan called TNStars. The plan is a real winner, with top-notch investment options and very low fees, and is open to participants from any state. The state’s less flexible legacy prepaid tuition plan was closed to new participants in 2010.
State lawmakers are safer than our schoolchildren. Guns are strictly forbidden where the Tennessee state legislature works, and metal detector screening is mandatory for all visitors. Security measures just got even more stringent. Yet three lawmakers are hellbent on passing laws so teachers can carry guns in the classrooms. Why is this such a boneheaded idea? Ask the family of 13-year-old Terrance Murray, who was killed in class at John Trotwood Moore Middle School in 1994. He was shot when a gun his classmate brought in accidentally went off. Gun accidents happen. If you arm teachers, even with training, somewhere, sometime, a gunshot is going to happen. Do you want your child in that class?
In an article in the Jan. 5 Tennessean titled, “State pursues new death penalty drug,” the issue of Tennessee’s problematic lethal injection protocol is revisited. The article notes that the state’s stock of one of the three drugs used in the current protocol was seized by the federal government over questions about the legality of how the drugs were obtained. Now, the state says it is pursuing alternative drugs but won’t say much more. As is often the case, the article has a tendency to frame the discussion in terms of simply taking a side, including quotes from me and quotes from those “on the other side.” But this polemical approach to the issue does not get us very far and does not address the concerns that we share.
Among members of the United States Senate, Lamar Alexander is as conscious of being a part of history as his colleagues, perhaps more so. That is why the senior senator from Tennessee said it was an honor to be one of four federal lawmakers to count the electoral vote from the Nov. 6 general election, which pitted Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden against Republican challengers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Alexander, ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, participated in the historic event on Jan. 4, explained in Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution and superseded by the 12th Amendment, which gave tacit constitutional recognition to the existence of political parties.
With the Nashville Predators players practicing in their team jerseys, and at the team practice facility for the first time since September, hockey fans, downtown businesses and Davidson County taxpayers are breathing a little easier. Owners will vote today, and players are expected to vote later this week, on a new collective bargaining agreement that, by all reports, will pass. The first puck could drop for the Predators on Jan. 19, when there was a home game originally scheduled before the lockout. That start date is tentative, and schedules are still up in the air, as the league figures out its abbreviated 48-game schedule. From the emails, events and promotions that flow from their offices, the Predators’ management team has done what it could to keep fans engaged, but there is no substitute for games.
Suburban municipal leaders have finally conceded that the schools in their cities, for at least a year, will be part of the merged Memphis-Shelby County school system that will begin operations in August. That is a big disappointment for suburbanites. But it is a reality that gives the unified school board and the staffs of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems greater clarity on what needs to be done to make the merger succeed. That is a good thing for public education in Shelby County. We have used this space several times to ask the suburban cities to give the merged school system a try for a year or two, in hopes they eventually would realize the merger will not be a calamity for public education in their cities.