This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Since the GOP won control of the Tennessee legislature, some of its leaders have chided “the media” for focusing on gun and social legislation that’s dominated the debate. “I am tired of talking about this. Every year we spend an inordinate amount of time on this and I’d love to get this out of the way in February and start talking about jobs and education,” Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said last month, about his compromise “guns-in-parking lots” bill. Ramsey even criticized the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last year for its opposition to the bill, which forces employers to let workers keep guns in their locked cars on company property regardless of company policy.
Outdoor enthusiasts have a powerful new tool for planning their visits to Tennessee’s 54 state parks and 82 natural areas. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has launched a new Geographic Information System (GIS) website that provides state-of-the-art interactive maps and detailed information about each park and natural area. The new application makes it easier than ever to determine the park’s location and local amenities, and the digital maps — satellite or topographic — provide detailed information regarding hiking trails and the overall lay of the land.
TN is among the worst states for abuse of prescription pain meds Shelly Fisher stood on the stage of the Faith Tabernacle Worship Center in Medon on Jan. 11, looked out at a group of women she’d lived with for the last six months and tried not to cry. Fisher, 26, told the women in the audience that she had “a very good childhood” and that nothing traumatic happened to her, but when problems developed for her in adulthood she tried OxyContin, a type of opiate-based pain medication, which she obtained from her boyfriend to numb her emotional pain.
It was in mid-October that Patricia Martin got the call from her brother Larry. The message was simple: If you want to see our mother alive, you better come now. She rushed to Skyline Medical Center, and the moment she stepped off the elevator a “Code Blue” was called. Mary Neal Martin, 89, had just suffered a stroke in what would become the final blow in a desperate but hopeless battle against fungal meningitis brought on by a tainted steroid injected in her spine.
A so-called “Synthetics 2.0” bill has been introduced by Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley to update measures enacted last year to prosecute synthetic drug sellers and users. Shipley’s legislation is a technical corrections bill clarifying the definition of an “analogue controlled substance” and adds new drugs and compounds to a list of synthetic cannabinoids covered in the law. “We have been working with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation over the last six months, and are confident this drug ingredient update will help us stay ahead of the bad guys,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, said in a prepared release.
Approximately 200 people gathered on the steps of the State Capitol to listen to guest speakers and show support for unborn life at the Right to Life Rally hosted by Tennessee Right to Life. “It was a healthy crowd,” said TRL President Brian Harris. “The Supreme Court certainly didn’t do us any favors making this ruling in the dead of winter, but this crowd shows our commitment (to) take a stand for human life.” The rally coincides with the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
Amy Dobbs said the hardest part for families with missing loved ones is the not knowing. Like the heartbroken father, whose 35-year-old son vanished without a trace in 2004 in Cumberland County and hasn’t been heard from or spotted since. Dobbs, a forensic officer with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, was part of a local team assembled for a statewide DNA Collection Day for families of missing loved ones Saturday. “You can imagine how upset they are, but they want to have answers,” said Dobbs.
With frustrating voting snafus behind it and no large elections scheduled until May 2014, the Shelby County Election Commission has begun taking some steps it hopes will build voter confidence, increase efficiency and decrease hassles associated with voting. At a committee meeting on Wednesday, commissioners unanimously approved a motion from Norma Lester, a Democratic commissioner, to recommend purchasing technology that could greatly reduce lines during early voting, while at the same time upgrading its old DOS-based voter registration software.
It may be the inauguration of a Democratic president, but Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will play a key role in the ceremonies set for Monday. As ranking Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, Alexander will even give a short speech from the inaugural platform before President Barack Obama is sworn in for a second term. Tens of thousands on the grounds near the Capitol will be listening, as well as millions on television.
A stream of political ammunition from the pro-gun lobby accompanies — and perhaps informs — local congressional lawmakers’ resistance to changing weapons policy in the wake of several mass shootings in America. Beyond $109,000 in a decade of contributions to five area Republicans, the powerful National Rifle Association has endorsed favored lawmakers here, providing valuable fodder for campaign ads and websites. Around here, an “A” from the NRA keeps political trouble away; the local delegation consistently makes the grade.
Congressman Scott DesJarlais’ Main Street office should be up and running sometime next week, according to Robert Jameson, spokesperson for the 4th U.S. Congressional District representative. “The congressman plans on having a consistent presence in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County,” Jameson said from his Washington, D.C., office. “(DesJarlais) will certainly make meeting with Rutherford County residents one of his top priorities.”
The nearly 300 Hemlock Semiconductor LLC layoffs that Clarksville is now confronted with are rooted in global economics, everyone close to the dilemma agrees, and it will likely take a change in the dynamics and trade policies of the worldwide clean energy movement to restore forward progress on the world stage – and the local jobs. On Monday, Hemlock announced that nearly 400 layoffs were coming within the company, most of them being in Clarksville even before the new plant launches production. The layoffs are to begin in mid-March.
High-stakes struggle centers on money, control Behind the flap over who should run Erlanger Health System is fear of a takeover by the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, whose doctors practice and teach there. Some hospital partisans see sinister motives in moves by the UT College of Medicine to seek seats on the Erlanger board and to shift management of physician practices from the hospital to a joint corporation with UTCOM participation. In their view, the fact that a UTCOM associate professor is one of three CEO finalists is a signal to worry.
The unified Memphis and Shelby County school board — officially known as the Shelby County Board of Education — needs to take action soon if it wants to rename the new unified district before it opens next fall. Officially, the district would be called Shelby County Schools if no action is taken by the board. Although for practical purposes, the process that Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools are going through is a merger; technically it is the transfer of administration of Memphis City Schools to the county system.
What some are calling the last major piece of Tennessee’s education reform initiatives could be in place by next fall. Gov. Bill Haslam will include a bill authorizing school tuition vouchers in his legislative agenda this session, starting with students in the lowest-performing schools. If it passes, it likely will be the last big piece of the education reform efforts of the past few years, which already have put into place charter schools, new rules on teacher tenure and evaluations, virtual schools and the Achievement School District, which runs Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools. Tuition vouchers would give students from low-income families or those who attend low-performing public schools a shot at a better education in a private school.
While the Legislature rigorously adheres to the “one person, one vote” rule in drawing new district lines for itself and Congressional seats within the state every 10 years, the principle has been ignored when it comes to electing judges. The legislative rigor, of course, is based on mandates issued by judges at both the state and federal level — starting with the landmark 1962 U.S. Supreme Court case of Baker vs. Carr, inspired by the Tennessee Legislature’s failure to go through redistricting for a half-century or so. Federal judges are not elected, but Tennessee’s trial court judges are. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says it’s ironic that judges have mandated redistricting for congressional and legislative elections, but not for judicial elections.
Rep. Jim Cooper condescendingly said in a statement that he has “great compassion” for the victims of super storm Sandy in New York and New Jersey. But he was the only Democrat in the U.S. House to vote against sending them the $50.7 billion they need to start rebuilding their lives. “Great compassion” doesn’t rebuild houses. “Great compassion” doesn’t remove mold. “Great compassion” doesn’t help a small business washed away. What a different tune Cooper is singing now compared to the days and months after Nashville flooded in May 2010. That wretched weekend cost the state 24 lives and $2 billion. “Congress should make at least some effort to pay for a portion of disaster relief,” Cooper’s statement said after this week’s vote, pointing out that he did vote for $9.7 billion for Sandy victims earlier this month.
This past week was supposed to have been a good one for James Chavez, who heads economic development efforts in Clarksville, Tenn. Earlier this month, Akebono Brake Corp. announced an $82 million expansion that will add nearly 100 jobs in the region. It marks another key expansion of the region’s burgeoning group of automotive suppliers. On Monday morning, Chavez was ready to head to the airport for a flight to Michigan and the Detroit auto show. His goal: Use the show to continue the momentum by courting other potential autosuppliers. Instead, he was called into an emergency 9:30 a.m. meeting with officials of Hemlock Semiconductor, a company that was a few months away from ramping up full-scale operations at its $1.2 billion facility in Clarksville.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett wants commissioners to pledge to spend the proceeds from the sale of surplus land to drive down the county’s debt. Commission Chairman Tony Norman is on board, but others on the panel are more cautious about the initiative. While paying down debt is one component of smart and responsible financial management, the resolution on property sales would limit commissioners’ options and would deprive the school system of money from the sale of surplus school property. The county’s debt stood at $669 million at the beginning of the fiscal year in July, and scheduled payments should drive the debt down to $645.8 million when the fiscal year ends June 30. With debt levels already trending downward, there is no compelling reason to focus entirely on further reductions.
Note: The news-clips will resume Tuesday, January 22.