This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A tornado tore through businesses and stores in Mount Juliet early Wednesday and a man was killed by a tree in Nashville as a strong storm system moved through the state. Vernon Hartsell, 47, died when wind uprooted a large tree and blew it onto a storage shed where he was sleeping in the Bordeaux area, north of downtown, said police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford. Across the state, thousands lost electricity as strong winds blew down trees and limbs onto power lines. There were also reports of injuries, most of them minor, over a broad area.
A Nashville man was killed and the National Weather Service has confirmed a tornado touchdown in Mt. Juliet after a storm front pushed through the region early Wednesday. In Bordeaux, a 47-year-old Vernon E. Hartsell died after when a tree fell onto a structure where he was taking shelter. According to Metro police, Hartsell lived in a detached building on family property at 3848 Abernathy Road. The NWS confirmed an E2 tornado with a peak gust of 115 mph touched down in Mt. Juliet starting at Glenwood Drive and cutting about a 4.6-mile-long path that was about 150 yards wide at its maximum before the tornado lifted around Cooks Church Road.
At least eight tornadoes plowed through Middle Tennessee in the dead of night, killing a Nashville man, damaging hundreds of homes, cutting power to thousands and throwing lives into disarray throughout the region Wednesday. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency after the tornadoes, straight-line winds and heavy rains ripped away roofs, turned trees into battering rams, flattened homes and businesses, knocked over an 18-wheeler and sent a couch racing down Lebanon Road at 25 miles per hour.
A line of severe storms and possible tornadoes slammed Middle Tennessee overnight, killing one man in Nashville, NewsChannel5 reports.A 47-year-old man was killed in the Bordeaux area when a tree fell on the shed in which he was staying. According to NewsChannel5, winds in excess of 100 mph were reported as one cell moved through downtown Nashville (A short video of damage downtown, recorded by State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, is available below).
Officials across Middle Tennessee are starting to assess the damage from last night’s storms. In Nashville, police say a Bordeaux man was killed while trying to seek shelter in a shed. There are numerous reports of damaged buildings in Mt. Juliet, where police say a possible tornado knocked the top floor off a three story building. Although a tornado hasn’t been confirmed there, the National Weather Service says wind gusts in Mt. Juliet reached 105 miles an hour.
Mayor’s home among those damaged; cleanup begins Elm Street residents woke to a nightmarish scene Wednesday, one where most residences had no power, several had trees down in their yards and a few more with trees actually through their roofs or shingles ripped off. Chris Rankin said he, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter were first awakened by storms around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. “All of a sudden, the wind started rushing through real hard,” he said. “I went and got my wife and daughter out of the bedroom and into the center hallway and covered them up with blankets.”
Straight-line winds did not play favorites when they swept across Holly Springs Road Wednesday morning. “It seemed to happen so fast,” Tosha Grissom said. “How long it lasted? I don’t know, but it seemed like a blur. “We have tons of help, but there’s not much we can do, yet,” she said. Tosha and her son Bryce, 13, took shelter in a bathtub, while husband Chris decided to take a look at what was headed their way. After the storm, a 33-foot-long recreational vehicle was in the family swimming pool and a 16-foot trailer was wrapped upside down around some trees about 200 yards away.
The home Greg Aaron left in the middle of the night still stood on Tenn. 22 South in Lexington at daybreak Wednesday. But a building he owns less than 30 yards away was nearly leveled after straight-line winds ranging from 90 mph to 110 mph raced through Henderson County after 1 a.m. “It was a shop, a welding shop,” Aaron said. “The shop was about 50 by 48, but it’s been reduced to rubble, and it’s gone.” But Aaron, an employee with Lexington Electric, seemed to take the moment in stride as family and friends helped pick up the pieces before they could be put together again.
Patricia Jackson’s white Keds sank into her rain-soaked burgundy carpet as she stepped into her den Wednesday afternoon. The early morning wind storm ripped the roof off her home and exposed Jackson’s furniture, electronics and other precious items to the elements. Jackson covered what she could with white plastic. Her patio cover is missing, and her lawn furniture is in her den. She hadn’t slept and said she was still “shaken up.”
Hardeman County Sheriff John Doolen uses one word to describe conditions in the area after Wednesday morning’s wind storm — lucky. “No one was killed, and no one was injured,” Doolen said. “We’re very fortunate.” The storm damaged a total of 12 structures in Hardeman County, three homes and nine businesses. One of the businesses, the Tony Hooper Sawmill in Toone, had several of its buildings and offices destroyed. Hooper gave his 50 employees Wednesday off, according to Sandy Hooper, who is his sister and works as a secretary at the business.
A massive storm system raked the Southeast on Wednesday, spawning tornadoes and dangerous winds that overturned cars on a major Georgia interstate and demolished homes and businesses, killing at least two people…One other death was reported in Tennessee after an uprooted tree fell onto a storage shed where a man had taken shelter. In Adairsville, the debris in one yard showed just how dangerous the storm had been: a bathtub, table, rolls of toilet paper and lumber lay in the grass next to what appeared to be a roof.
East Tennessee spent much of Wednesday bracing for the worst as forecasters issued a tornado watch for Knox and surrounding counties, which was followed by a flood watch and a flood warning as well. Several East Tennessee schools are closed or opening late. See our list. The line of strong storms that moved through the area poured nearly 3 inches of rain on Knoxville, coupled with unseasonably warm temperatures in the upper 60s. Knoxville got 2.67 inches (the record for Jan. 30 is 2.92 inches in 1950), according to the National Weather Service.
File claims soon, homeowners urged Property insurers were already taking damage claims on Wednesday after storms caused widespread destruction in Middle Tennessee. The storm that spawned at least two tornadoes cut a path of destruction across the region in the early hours of the morning, knocking down power lines and and leaving hundreds without power. Now, property owners are dealing with the aftermath. It was too early to tell how much total damage was caused by the storm, said Kip Diggs, a spokesman for State Farm.
Jabbar Lewis was asleep in the wee hours of Wednesday morning when his cellphone alerted him to the threat of severe weather near his Madison home. He quickly turned on the television, caught a few seconds of a newscaster giving a severe weather update and then his screen went dark. In the place of the local news report was an Emergency Alert System message — with its signature muffled voiceover — warning of tornadoes in a neighboring county.
Gov. Bill Haslam has submitted his legislative package for 2013, a run of 59 bills that would change state laws governing education, workers’ compensation and taxes. Largely sticking to the ideas that he has signaled would be his priorities for the year, Haslam offered up legislation to create a voucher program for low-income students in poorly performing schools and to revamp how the state handles workers’ compensation claims. His plan also contained a few surprises, including a proposal to cap enrollment in virtual schools.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s new budget proposal includes closing the state’s Donnelly Hill office building on Civic Center Plaza in Downtown Memphis, but the workers aren’t expected to abandon the area entirely. Memphis Daily News reports Haslam intends to keep the office building’s 900 workers Downtown.”It’s our intention that those folks will stay Downtown,” he said in a speech at the University of Memphis. “We just don’t think that building is economical for the state and its taxpayers.”
Tennessee’s top health official today described the steroid contamination that lead to a meningitis outbreak as preventable. But when it comes to tightening regulations on the kind of facility that made them, he urged state legislators to leave those changes to national groups. Knowing what he does now about the New England Compounding Center, Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner says it’s amazing that only three lots of injections were bad. The job of catching those mistakes belonged to Massachusetts regulators, since that’s where the NECC is located.
Tennessee pharmacists would be willing to pay higher licensing fees so that the state pharmacy board could hire more qualified inspectors to inspect drug stores across the state, an industry representative told a state Senate panel Wednesday. “Yes, we are willing to pay for quality,” Baeteena M. Black, executive director of the Tennessee Pharmacists Association, told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. She made the comments as the Senate panel wrapped up a 90-minute hearing on the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak that has taken the lives of 45 people nationwide, including 14 who were treated in Tennessee.
The disabled husband of a woman who died in the fungal meningitis outbreak has filed the first in what is expected to be a series of suits against the Nashville clinic where she and hundreds of others were injected with a tainted spinal steroid. Lawyers for Wayne Reed of Nashville filed the 35-page complaint against the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center and its owners, including Saint Thomas Health, Saint Thomas Hospital and the Howell Allen Clinic, late Wednesday in Davidson County Circuit Court.
State and national fiscal policies will be the topic when Mark Emkes, Tennessee commissioner of finance and administration, speaks at the Knoxville Economics Forum meeting next week Emkes is expected to talk about the state fiscal situation and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The forum meets Feb. 7 at 7:30 a.m. at Club LeConte on the top floor of the First Tennessee Building, 800 S. Gay St.. Emkes oversees all of state government’s budgeting and finance operations. He previously spent 33 years with the Bridgestone Firestone Corp., retiring as chairman and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.
Tennessee landed in the middle of the pack in a new ranking of online transparency – whether public information like contracts, lobbying costs, and meeting minutes were available online. The state scored 70 percent, or a B, on the 2013 Transparency Report Card, a national study put out by Sunshine Review, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit. That put Tennessee 24th among the states, coming in behind Hawaii but ahead of Alaska. California, Washington and Illinois topped the list. Pulling down Tennessee’s overall ranking were school districts, whose websites scored a paltry 51.5%, or C-, on the group’s scale.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga announced Wednesday that its search committee narrowed its list of chancellor candidates to three people. Dr. Diane Allen, Dr. Steve Angle and Dr. Harold Jones are finalists for the position, and they will take part in follow-up interviews starting Monday. The three will meet with Gov. Bill Haslam, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and Chattanooga-area members of the board of trustees, among others. Allen is provost and a senior vice president of academic affairs at Salisbury University. Angle is a senior vice president at Wright State University.
The multitude of cruisers from in-state and out-of-state law enforcement agencies seen in the funeral procession for Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Slagle on Wednesday was a testament to how respected he was, said one colleague. According to Berry Funeral Home staff on Chapman Highway, where Slagle’s funeral was held, more than 200 cruisers were seen in the procession to Woodlawn Cemetery on Woodlawn Pike. Law enforcement personnel from as far away as the Missouri State Police and the Georgia State Patrol were on hand. Firetrucks and rescue vehicles were also seen in the two-mile procession.
Tennessee Court of Appeals judge Charles Susano Jr. has been elected presiding judge of the court. He succeeds Herschel Franks, who retired at the end of last year. Susano has been a member of the Court of Appeals since March 1994 when he was appointed by former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. He was elected to the post later that year and re-elected in 1998 and 2006. Before being appointed to the court, Susano worked at Knoxville firms Susano Sheppeard Giordano & Swanson and Bernstein Susano & Stair.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to further reduce the Hall income tax for seniors was a victory for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has been pushing for Hall tax reductions for years — and he wants to keep the cuts coming. The Hall income tax is a state tax on income from investments. The governor’s proposal would cut the Hall income tax by raising the exemption level for people over 65 from $26,000 to $33,000 for individuals and from $37,000 to $59,000 for joint filers. Ramsey said he was pleased that Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes, when making his presentation about reducing the Hall income tax, used the language that the lieutenant governor had been using for years.
As expected, a bill that would guarantee employees the right to stow a gun in their vehicles while at work will again be debated in the Tennessee General Assembly this session. Nashville public radio stationWPLN 90.3 FM reports that Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has filed the legislation, which stalled last year in light of strong opposition from some of the state’s biggest business interests, including FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) and Volkswagen. Ramsey said he wants the bill resolved quickly.
Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell today sits at the pinnacle of legislative power, overseeing a House Republican majority of better than 2-1. And she knows she has her work cut out for her. Harwell must move her Republican members – almost six dozen of them, with divergent views and different agendas – toward consensus on key issues she believes are important. “It will be a challenge,” Harwell says, “but I think we’ll get there.”
This year’s push to have wine sold in Tennessee grocery stores formally begins Thursday. Two key lawmakers will host a press conference to detail plans allowing each county and city to vote on wine in grocery stores for themselves. Wine in grocery stores has been a perennial issue. And again last year, the liquor stores successfully defended their turf and defeated the proposal. This year’s legislation from Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol is a compromise of sorts, giving each jurisdiction the option through a ballot referendum as early as next year.
Craft beer makers in Tennessee want legislators to rework a state tax on their product. They want to get rid of a 17 percent tax on beer sold to wholesalers, and replace it with a flat fee. A couple hundred people turned out Wednesday night at the downtown taproom of Nashville beer-maker Yazoo, which is leading the campaign, called ‘Fix the Beer Tax.’ Sponsoring the proposal is Germantown Senator Brian Kelsey, who framed it as a matter of cold ones versus taxes. “We don’t like taxes, do we like taxes?” “NO!” “Do we like beer taxes?” “NO!!!” “Are we gonna fix the beer tax?” “YES!”
Immediately following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre held a press conference to assure Knoxville parents their children were safe. “We want to reassure parents we focus on school safety already every day,” he said, and added that the school system would take a look at what it could do to make schools safer in the wake of the Sandy Hook investigation. Knox County Sheriff J.J. Jones and Knoxville Police Department Chief David Rausch were also at that press conference, and KPD posted an officer at every school in the city for a week.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield has filed a bill that would discourage talking about homosexuality in schools, reigniting one of the Tennessee Capitol’s most heated debates of recent years. Campfield, R-Knoxville, has introduced a measure that would prohibit elementary and middle school teachers from bringing up homosexuality, and it would require guidance counselors to report to parents some conversations about their child’s sexuality. The bill, which Campfield has titled the “Classroom Protection Act,” builds on the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that failed in the state legislature last spring.
Sen. Stacey Campfield’s new version of legislation that critics have called the “don’t say gay” bill in past years allows counseling of students on homosexuality, but calls for notification of a youth’s parents when counseling occurs. Campfield, R-Knoxville, has entitled the new bill — SB234 — “Classroom Protection Act.” It generally prohibits in grades kindergarten through eight “classroom instruction, course materials or other informational resources that are inconsistent with natural human reproduction.”
“The general assembly recognizes that certain subjects are particularly sensitive and are, therefore, best explained and discussed within the home. Because of its complex societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications, human sexuality is one such subject. Human sexuality is best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp its complexity and implications….” That pseudo-philosophical paragraph is the introduction to the latest bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly by one Stacey Campfield, the former state representative and freshly minted state senator from Knoxville who seems determined that his name will forever more be synonymous with the term “gay-bashing.”
State legislation known as “don’t say gay” has been revived. The bill now includes a requirement that school counselors notify parents if they learn of students – quote – “engaging in or at risk of engaging in” injurious behavior. The intent of the proposal is to keep school teachers from incorporating gay issues into sexual education. The new bill makes more allowances for classroom discussion of homosexuality. But it requires a school nurse, counselor or administrator to tell parents about discovering any “urgent safety issues.”
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference’s legislative agenda for the new session of the Tennessee General Assembly includes a focus on children, sentencing guidelines and the fight against drugs. The conference represents the state’s 31 district attorneys. It’s pushing for items including increased sentences for aggravated child neglect and the most serious attempted first-degree murder cases, as well as proposed law changes to facilitate prosecution of serial child sexual abusers. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said money for staffing – especially in Shelby County – also is needed “This year, as compared to years past, we are asking for money for staffing,” she said.
Senator Lamar Alexander, a longtime critic of the National Labor Relations Board is ratcheting up his rhetoric. The Tennessean Republican says two members of the NLRB should resign immediately, after a court ruling found their appointment unconstitutional. A federal court ruled last week that the president exceeded his authority when he appointed three members to the board, while Congress was in recess last year. One has already resigned, now Alexander says the remaining members need to go now.
Could Ohio, New York or Pennsylvania be the next North Dakota and “frack” its way to budget surpluses? The United States is on track by 2020 to become the world’s largest oil producer and a net exporter of natural gas, a reversal of fortunes with huge consequences for many state budgets. But it depends on what kinds of taxes the states want to impose. States as varied as Pennsylvania and Louisiana have already lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars from the energy boom because of their tax policies, while Texas and North Dakota continue to cash in.
Chattanooga’s top economic developer says wooing more Volkswagen suppliers to the area is key as the city’s VW plant fights Mexico to produce a potential new sport utility vehicle. Attracting more suppliers lowers logistics costs for VW by trimming delivery times, said Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development. “That’s one big priority for us,” Wood said at a recent meeting organized by the East Hamilton Economic Development Council.
Kriner Cash views his tenure as successful, rewarding Kriner Cash will spend his last day as superintendent of Memphis City Schools Thursday, confident that he leaves the district in better shape than it was when he was appointed to lead it in 2008 but with plenty of advice going forward. On Friday, Cash becomes an adviser until July 31, when under the terms of an agreement negotiated by his attorney and MCS general counsel Dorsey Hopson, Cash receives half of his $282,481-a-year salary plus $17,000 for moving expenses.
Talk of decreased teaching positions, elimination of vice principals and reductions in clerical staff in the future unified school system is causing consternation among suburban leaders, parents and school officials. “I feel like we’re diluting the (Shelby County Schools) model; one that has worked,” said Arlington mayor Mike Wissman. “Instead of trying to bring Memphis up, we’re taking Shelby County down. That’s where my frustration is. … We are basically becoming Memphis City Schools.”
The mental gymnastics that allow Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers to praise the governor’s proposed limited-voucher program for students in so-called failing schools are staggering. These vouchers would siphon off state education funds to private schools for a limited number of students — 5,000 across the state in 83 high-poverty schools — whose parents want to take them out. That would leave the schools that the governor says need help with significantly reduced state funding and with fewer motivated parents and students. These are precisely the type of students and parents the hard-pressed schools need as models, advocates and leaders.
The Tennessee General Assembly approved what have come to be known as “virtual schools” in Tennessee. The state’s first, and only, online virtual school opened in 2011 in Union County. Its results for the first year have been disappointing, with students earning some of the lowest test scores in the state, especially in math. While this is troubling, it is too soon to close the virtual school door. Radical innovations in public education are needed, and new approaches such as K-12 online learning deserve the time and opportunity to prove what they can do. The Tennessee Virtual Academy currently enrolls 3,146 elementary and middle school students from across the state.
To better serve our customers, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security is making more options available for those who need to renew or replace their driver’s licenses. And the department is helping citizens protect themselves by creating new safeguards to tackle identity theft. Tennesseans must renew driver licenses every five years. New photographs are required every 10 years. If you do not need a new photograph when it is time to renew, you can simply go to www.tn.gov/safety to renew online. You also can renew by mail. If it is time to renew with a new photograph on your license, or if you need a replacement license, we have several new options to make the process more convenient and faster.
You have to give the University of Tennessee credit for a novel approach to stonewalling its critics. The university wants to lease a portion of the 8,000-acre Cumberland Research Forest in Morgan and Scott counties to private companies for extracting oil and gas through the controversial process known as hydrofracturing, or “fracking.” In fracking, drills go vertically down through the shale, then horizontally, and a mix of water or nitrogen and chemicals is forced into the space, fracturing the shale and releasing the oil and gas.
Consumers would like the convenience of picking up a bottle of wine the same place they buy steaks and potatoes. That convenience would lead to increased wine sales and a corresponding increase in state tax revenue. But there is a concerted effort to prevent the Legislature from finally following two dozen other states and allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores. Various reasons are offered. Let’s consider them. We don’t really want to have wine in grocery stores because grocery stores are visited by kids. This is pretty weak. Most supermarkets have a beer case about 50 feet long, without any doors. So put the wine on a shelf behind the beer. Okay?
Students who don’t master the basics in school become adults without the critical thinking skills to make sound decisions. When those adults become politicians, the results could be as horrifying as Sen. Stacey Campfield. The Knoxville Republican wants to cut welfare payments for poor families whose children don’t do well in school. This makes perfect sense because it’s always a good idea to thump poor people in the head when the “takers” don’t give us makers (who are exempt any such responsibility or scrutiny because of the arrogant and foolish belief that we make no mistakes and our relative financial comfort is proof) the results we demand, regardless of how powerless the poor are to control all the variables involved. (And yes, that was a run-on sentence.)