This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that the U.S. Small Business Administration granted his request for a disaster declaration for Henderson and its contiguous counties as a result of severe storms, tornadoes and flooding that occurred on Jan. 29. “I’m glad we have good news on our SBA declaration request, and I hope all those who sustained damage to their homes and businesses from these terrible storms will find a measure of relief as they rebuild,” Haslam said in a news release.
The University of Tennessee wants to use $8 million — some of it from the state — to increase its engineering graduates by 25 percent over the next five years. Most of the money will create 30 new faculty lines to keep up with the growth the college has already been experiencing, said Dean Wayne Davis. The rest would go toward hiring lecturers and support staff, growing the graduate teaching assistant program, raising the salary of existing faculty to market value and hiring lecturers.
With an eye toward upgrading its office operations in Memphis, the state of Tennessee has cast a net aimed at bringing back options for more than 300,000 square feet of space from across the city. Earlier this month, the state issued two separate requests for qualifications, one for 100,000 square feet in the city core and another for 200,000 square feet outside the core. “We’re in the very preliminary phases of this,” Kelly Smith, assistant commissioner of communications with the Tennessee Department of General Services, says.
Toyota Motor Corp. will hand Tennessee about $700,000 as part of an agreement to resolve consumer protection claims. Tennessee was among 30 states on Wednesday that announced a $29 million agreement settling allegations that Toyota concealed unintended acceleration issues in its vehicles. The agreement filed in Knox County Chancery Court awaits a judge’s approval. SBA offers free course of executive training Memphis again will host a national entrepreneurship program sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Tennessee has joined 29 other states in a $29 million agreement with Toyota Motor Corp. over allegations the company concealed safety issues related to unintended acceleration. The agreement was filed on Thursday in Knox County Chancery Court and is pending court approval.In a complaint filed along with the agreement, the states allege Toyota engaged in unfair and deceptive practices when it failed to timely disclose known safety defects with accelerator pedals. State officials say Tennessee will receive about $700,000 as part of the agreement to resolve consumer protection claims.
The Senate voted Thursday to place proposed constitutional amendments to ban a state income tax before Tennessee voters. The chamber approved the measure on a 26-4 vote, and if the House concurs, it would be placed on the ballot in next year’s general election. The political fallout from failed efforts to impose a state income tax more than a decade ago has already made renewed efforts exceedingly unlikely. But Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown said his proposal is aimed at eliminating any uncertainty about the measure in the future.
Tennesseans are a legislative floor vote away from getting to say whether they think governments in the state should be prohibited from enacting income taxes on the citizenry. On a 26-4 vote Thursday morning the state Senate passed a resolution explicitly banning elected officials in Tennessee from taxing payroll or earned personal incomes. If two-thirds of the members of the state House of Representatives approves the measure later this session, it will go before Tennessee voters in the 2014 general election.
The gun bill that would guarantee permit holders the right to stow guns in their cars while at work is proceeding through the House, but its sponsor concedes there is one thing the bill won’t do: prevent employers from firing those who legally keep guns in their vehicle, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The bill, which has already been approved by the Tennessee Senate, was approved by a House subcommittee Wednesday. In response to a question at Wednesday’s hearing, sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said employers will maintain the right to fire employers, as Tennessee is a so-called “at-will”state, which allows companies to fire employees for any reason, with or without cause.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey disputed assertions Thursday that his bill making it legal for workers to store firearms in vehicles at work leaves them vulnerable to being fired by unhappy employers. “I think if it’s legal for them to have it in their car, they [employers] couldn’t terminate them based on doing a legal act,” the Blountville Republican told reporters. “There’s nothing illegal about having them there.” He said it is “not my intent at all” to leave workers unprotected.
There is confusion among the sponsors of so-called ‘Guns-in-Trunks’ legislation. They disagree on whether employers could fire a worker for keeping a gun in their car at the company parking lot, even though it could soon be legal. During a hearing in the House, Rep. Jeremy Faison said he believed a business owner could still terminate someone storing a weapon in a vehicle. The legislation doesn’t specifically address the issue, but Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he believes gun-carrying employees will be safe from their bosses.
Abortion advocates say legislation to require an ultrasound prior to an abortion has no real medical purpose, and may not even achieve the intended effect. The proposed state law would force the mother to listen to the heartbeat, and have the development of the pregnancy described to her if she chooses not to look at the image. The head of Middle Tennessee’s Planned Parenthood says the bill is only meant to “shame women.” He says very little can be seen through an ultrasound so early in a pregnancy.
As the state House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed an overhaul of Erlanger Health Systems’ board of trustees, a local county commissioner continued to press for answers to questions about how the new board will be set up. The private act passed on a 95-0 vote. “It is very time sensitive in our community,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, told the chamber. Local lawmakers are changing the board and its accountability functions, saying the move is needed because of problems and challenges faced by the public hospital.
State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, is pressing legislation aimed at blocking what he calls efforts by Chattanooga to “cherry pick” affluent suburbs outside its current urban growth boundary plan. “I call it the Ryan’s buffet rule,” Carter told House Local Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, alluding to the all-you-can-eat restaurant chain. “We don’t care how much you eat. Just eat all that’s on your plate before you go back and get another plate.” The bill would affect all cities.
The state would sell to the highest bidder the property that was once home to Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, rather than transfer it to the city of Knoxville, under legislation proposed by two Knoxville legislators. The bill filed by Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Steve Hall, both Republicans, was sharply criticized Thursday by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and former Mayor Victor Ashe. Both said a sale of the site could jeopardize the current and heavily used Lakeshore Park, the plans for which have been under way for years.
Shelby County’s suburban Republican state legislators filed new bills Thursday that they hope will remove court barriers to the creation of new municipal school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. The main bill would repeal the 1998 statewide ban on new municipal school districts. The suburban lawmakers said they believe that and three other bills will win legislative approval, including in the House of Representatives where reluctance to allow new school districts outside of Shelby County last year led to passage of a Shelby-only law that was later struck down as unconstitutional.
Tennessee Sen. Mike Bell’s bill banning use of public school property to promote or reject voter referendums is on its way to the Senate floor. The Riceville Republican lawmaker’s bill prohibits public schools from displaying signs and messages or using school video, audio, telephones or other electronic equipment in support of or opposition to ballot measures. Bell said he brought the bill after some Bradley County schools last summer allowed telephones and marquee signs to be used to back a county wheel tax.
Nashville Democrats say they were blindsided this week by a proposal to give the state ultimate authority in allowing charter schools to open. The legislation was rewritten to only include Nashville and Memphis. The talk had been about an authorizer that would give charter schools in any part of the state a way to open, even if the local school board objects. Mike Turner figures some GOP lawmakers are uneasy. “Rural Republican legislators are more than willing to stick it to the big cities, as long as it doesn’t come their way.”
Pretty soon, consumers may not be able to browse Best Buy, find their dream television and buy it on Amazon without paying sales tax. That’s because a bipartisan mix of 53 lawmakers, including both Tennessee senators, reintroduced a tweaked version of a long-sought bill that would “level the playing field” nationwide, proponents say. Known as the Marketplace Fairness Act, the bill would allow states to require online retailers to collect sales tax on all transactions — treatment their brick-and-mortar rivals already endure.
Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen caught flak in the blogosphere this week for his mistakenly public tweets of endearment to a Texas college student half his age as the president’s State of the Union address was ending Tuesday night. Though Cohen, 63 and a bachelor, didn’t own up at first to who she was when the tweets became public, he said Thursday night she is a daughter he didn’t know he had until three years ago. The 24-year-old Texas college student and swimsuit model is Victoria Elizabeth Brink, who used her Twitter account to write that she was watching Cohen on television in the House of Representatives chamber.
The term “breaking news” was made for a situation like this. The world knew, as of last night, that 9th District congressman Steve Cohen had been tweeting a lovely young women on his government-paid Twitter account and then deleting the tweets. The Tennessee Republican Party (most zealous of those who jumped on an apparent political opportunity) put out emailed broadsides denouncing Cohen as “the Weiner of Tennessee” (not meaning Memphis GOP activist Arnold Weiner but former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, who was famously Instagramming pics of his privates to assorted young females last year).
Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen told The Daily News Thursday, Feb. 14, that the 24-year-old woman he was messaging during Wednesday’s State of the Union address in Washington is his daughter. “She is my daughter and I’ve known that for three years,” Cohen said, referring to Victoria Brink. “I was just very thrilled to find out I had a daughter. I’ve been thrilled to start to share experiences with her which has been a slow process. It’s escalated and elevated and that’s good. I’ve been able to bring her to Memphis and show her some things in the city … and get her to see my house and learn more about her father and hopefully she’ll start to appreciate some of the things I’ve appreciated and I can share them with her.”
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said Thursday that he strongly supports President Obama’s recent vow to dramatically reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the next 12 months “I agree with the president. … I think it’s time to leave [Afghanistan],” Roe said regarding Obama’s announced plan to withdraw some 34,000 American troops from Afghanistan by February 2014. The cut would reduce the number of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan by more than 50 percent. Currently, there are an estimated 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
Sequestration — automatic reductions in federal defense and non-defense spending — remains on track to begin March 1, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said Thursday. “How it will play out after that when the cuts are really occurring, we will have to wait and see,” Roe, R-Tenn., said in a conference call with reporters. In August 2011, Congress voted for the threat of sequestration as a mechanism to force federal lawmakers to act on deficit reduction. But ongoing spending battles between a politically divided Congress and President Barack Obama haven’t been resolved, thus raising a specter of harmful cuts.
If sequestration takes effect March 1, up to 1,000 workers at Y-12 could be furloughed for six months to deal with the federal spending cuts. That’s according to a report released this week by the House Appropriations Committee’s Democratic members, whose analysis shows broad impacts across the federal landscape — including the U.S. Department of Energy’s operations in Oak Ridge. The report warned that spending cuts at Y-12 could be particularly damaging as the plant tries to shore up security in the wake of last summer’s break-in by Plowshares protesters.
Fort Campbell’s hospital will be cutting a popular medication service and reducing hours at its pharmacy as the hospital prepares for looming military budget cuts. Blanchfield Army Community Hospital said Wednesday that to meet mandatory budget reductions, they had to make changes to extra services that were previously provided to soldiers and their families. One popular program that is being cut is a self-care program that allowed patients to get free over-the-counter medications, like cold and flu medications or aspirin, from pharmacies at the hospital.
The new CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority says he’s moving ahead with a massive project to upgrade the Gallatin Fossil Plant. TVA wants to install scrubbers at the coal-fired plant to cut its emissions, but environmental groups want the utility to walk away from coal altogether. TVA released a draft environmental study on the billion-dollar project late last year, but it hasn’t held a public hearing on those plans. People spoke out against the project at a meeting of TVA’s board in Chattanooga today.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has shut down or announced plans to soon shutter more than a dozen of its oldest and smallest coal-fired generation units to meet federal clean air standards. But environmental leaders appealed to TVA’s new directors Thursday to move away more aggressively from the fossil fuels that have powered most of the Tennessee Valley for the past half century. “The age of coal has passed,” Louise Gorenflo, a member of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, told TVA board members during their quarterly meeting in Chattanooga.
Wacker officials on Thursday restated their intention to start up its massive polysilicon production plant in Bradley County by mid-2015. To staff the $1.8 billion complex, the Germany-based company graduated 44 more new lead chemical operators and technicians from its Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College. “They’ve got to be ready when we prepare for [plant] commissioning,” said Konrad Bachhuber, who is overseeing construction of the factory near Charleston, Tenn., that is to employ 650 people.
International Paper will seek $56.9 million in tax breaks over the next 15 years on Wednesday. In return, the company commits to retain 2,274 high-paying jobs in Memphis, add 101 new ones and invest $115.7 million, including construction of a fourth office tower at its East Memphis corporate headquarters. The company has filed its application for a retention PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes. The Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis & Shelby County is to vote on the application Wednesday.
A company that maintains, repairs, stores and handles intermodal containers and equipment is seeking a five-year tax break in return for adding 94 jobs and investing $3.6 million in a new facility. Container Maintenance Corp., now on 10 acres at 4900 Outland Center and employing 12 people, would move this spring to 30 acres at 4530 Clarke Road. Both sites are in Southeast Memphis. The operation would double in size. The Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis & Shelby County is to vote on the application for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Better Business Bureau offices, 3693 Tyndale.
Rayna James and Teddy Conrad’s relationship is as volatile as ever, but ratings for ABC’s “Nashville” remain steady. Wednesday’s episode had a 4.3 rating, meaning 4.3 percent of households were tuned to the show, and garnered 5.71 million viewers, according to SpoilerTV.com, citing Neilsen Media Research. This compares to a 4.2 rating on Feb. 7, with 5.25 million viewers. The show ranked behind both NBC’s “Chicago Fire” and CBS’ “CSI” in its time slot.
During the past two years, there’s been a lot of fanfare surrounding the $88 million regional innovation center being built in Thompson’s Station by pet food giant Mars Petcare. But throughout the process, very little discussion addressed two burning questions: What exactly takes place at a pet food innovation center? And what about the pet food industry is so competitive that a company would spend nearly $100 million to build one? Mars Petcare U.S., headquartered in Franklin, has 15 manufacturing facilities dispersed across the country.
Jennifer Nagel isn’t buying the statement that Knox County’s school security systems are keeping children safe. “In my opinion, I think that’s almost ridiculous,” Nagel said in an interview. “At Pleasant Ridge Elementary, you can walk right in. At Norwood Elementary, you can walk right in.” At Northwest Middle School, where Nagel is president of the Parent Teachers Association, or PTA, the same is true. But, she said, rather than wait on a school superintendent and a school board to deliver on promises of a greater financial commitment to security systems, Northwest’s PTA is stepping up to fund security equipment.
The Rutherford County Commission approved the idea of providing at least one school resource officer in each county-run school Thursday night, but said Sheriff Robert Arnold’s proposal must go through the budget process this spring.The commission’s Public Safety Committee asked Arnold in December to draft a plan that would provide each elementary school with a dedicated SRO. Most of the high schools have two full-time SROs each, while Central Magnet, Eagleville School, Holloway High and Smyrna West and Daniel-McKee Alternative schools have one full-time SRO each.
Knox County Schools’ acting security chief ran his own private security business and once pitched a deal to get county business on the side. Acting School Security Chief Rodney Beverly has offered three widely different accounts for his proposal to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to garner business for his Security 1 Services firm. Beverly wrote in a May 2011 proposal to Burchett’s office that he was responding to “budget concerns for Knox County” in offering his firm’s unspecified security services.
An old saying in the business world is that you have to spend money to make money. That easily can apply to the state of Tennessee when it comes to investing in tourism promotion. The Tennessee Tourism Committee is making a case for more tourism marketing dollars, with good evidence to back up its request. Gov. Bill Haslam has included an $8 million increase in his proposed budget. But if the extra funds can be found, meeting the committee’s recommended increase of $10 million is worth considering. In 2011, 54 million tourists visited the state, spent $15.4 billion, generated $1.2 billion in state and local taxes and supported 141,400 jobs.
“Horrified” was the word state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, used to describe an email that the Tennessee Virtual Academy vice principal sent in December directing middle school teachers to delete September and October student grades. I couldn’t agree more. Having taught at three universities, a community college and a college preparatory school, it’s taken me two days to be able to talk about the emails without screaming about how the school appears to be cheating both the state and the students. “That is not something I would ever be told in my school — I mean, it’s just not acceptable,” said Johnson, who is a Knox County teacher, in an interview with Nashville’s WTVF-TV.
Legislation that evolved from “guns in parking lots” to “guns in trunks” misses the mark no matter what it’s called. Pitting Second Amendment rights against property rights, this bill appears to be more of a battle between the National Rifle Association, which holds sway over gun votes, and the business community, which wants to maintain control of its property.The bill that sped through the Senate Monday night on a 28-5 vote would enable some 371,800 Tennesseans who hold conceal-carry permits to take their guns to work, provided they lock them in the car. It also gives employers some legal protections in case a shooting or theft occurs. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he wanted to put the matter behind him, in part because he considers it much ado about nothing.
Let’s just point out, right off the bat, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to prohibit boating and fishing below dams along the Cumberland River is a bad idea. From there, can federal and local authorities calmly, coolly proceed to talk over some common-sense solutions? Yes — we know — people seem to have forgotten how to sit down and have a civil conversation. Shouting and threatening is so much more personally satisfying. The only problem is that arguments seldom produce a workable solution. Here, we have a Corps official, Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp, commander of the Nashville District, who seems determined to err on the caution.
When the public opposes a government initiative by a conservative measurement of 99.9 percent, should an agency entrusted with managing a public resource still be allowed to have its way? Does the commander of the Nashville District Corps of Engineers have more leverage than U.S. senators?By virtue of his position, can a lieutenant colonel ignore the requests of congressional representatives? Is a mid-level corps officer more influential than a governor in his own state? Right now, the answer appears to be yes, since Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp, who heads the Nashville District Corps of Engineers, has so far ignored seven U.S. representatives from Tennessee, at least one Kentucky U.S. senator and Kentucky’s governor.
Shelby County unified school board’s ethics committee has decided to take no action against board member David Pickler after another board member accused Pickler of a conflict of interest, but that should not be the end of the matter. In December, board member Martavius Jones publicly alleged Pickler personally profited from a $12 million payment Memphis City Schools made in June to the Tennessee Schools Boards Association retirement fund. Jones said Pickler, longtime chairman of the old Shelby County schools board, failed to recuse himself or disclose that his firm was involved in the transaction. Pickler, who owns Pickler Wealth Advisers, said he had turned the account over to an employee and that no commissions from the transaction were shared with him.