This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam spent last summer crisscrossing the state in an effort to brainstorm ideas about improving higher education in Tennessee. As a result, Haslam is pushing a state partnership with Western Governor’s University, a private, nonprofit online school. WGU has received national accolades for its forward-thinking ways of administering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Instead of degree completion focusing on the time spent in class, WGU has “competency-based” course completion.
Shunning the partisan rancor surrounding the nation’s latest budget battle, President Barack Obama on Monday praised Tennessee’s top Republican as a model for a stubborn Congress. Hosting the nation’s governors at the White House, Obama singled out Gov. Bill Haslam as a flexible leader House and Senate Republicans should imitate. The mention came right after the president slammed fiscal hawks for refusing to bend on $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to begin Friday. Nine congressional Republicans call Tennessee home and consider Haslam an important political ally.
President Barack Obama sought to recruit the nation’s governors Monday in his sequestration battle with Congress, telling them that $85 billion in automatic budget cuts will cripple economic progress in their states. Set to start Friday, the sequestration cuts will lead to fewer teachers, reduced medical care, and idle defense workers in all 50 states, Obama told members of the National Governors Association at the White House. “The longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become,” Obama said.
First lady Crissy Haslam is hosting a book reading on Tuesday to commemorate Black History Month. Haslam is expected to read to about 60 third-grade students in the children’s theater at the Tennessee State Museum. The book she has chosen is “Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America.” Students will also have an opportunity to tour “Discovering the Civil War,” a museum exhibit featuring documents and artifacts relating to African-American history. As first lady, Haslam is working to promote early literacy.
A new retirement system being contemplated by the Tennessee legislature would require new state employees and school teachers to potentially work more years. And their guaranteed money would be cut by roughly a third. State Treasurer David Lillard says change is necessary because any new hires are adding to the state pension’s unfunded deficit. His plan would move to what’s known as a hybrid pension system, which has been adopted in states like Georgia and Virginia. It shifts more of the responsibility of saving for retirement to individuals in an effort to decrease the state’s exposure to volatility in the stock market.
Middle Tennessee State University leaders have narrowed down to three the candidates for the next dean of the Jennings A. Jones College of Business. The candidates are as follows: • James Hoffman, professor and former director of the Health Organization Management Program at Texas Tech University • Allen Amason, chair of the Department of Management at the University of Georgia • David Urban, executive associate dean of Virginia Commonwealth University. The trio are in the running to succeed Jim Burton, dean of the college for the past 13 years, who will step down on June 30.
The Tennessee Supreme Court hopes to galvanize attorneys to provide more pro bono services to clients across the state who cannot afford legal services. The court announced recently it has created an “extensive” recognition program that will honor attorneys who perform 50 or more hours of charity work in a given year. Figures from the high court estimate 45 percent of the more than 17,000 licensed attorneys in Tennessee do pro bono work; the Supreme Court wants to increase that nnumber to 50 percent.
The search is on for a new judge in Shelby County after the death of W. Otis Higgs. The Judicial Nominating Commission says it is accepting applications for the vacancy in the 30th Judicial District’s Criminal Court. Higgs died at his home Feb. 15. He was 75.To be considered, an applicant must be an attorney who is at least 30 years old, a resident of Tennessee for five years and a resident of the district for one year. Applicants must complete the form found at http://www.tncourts.gov .
Supporters and opponents of a bill that would let grocery and convenience stores sell wine undertook one final push to sway Tennessee lawmakers Monday ahead of a make-or-break vote in the state legislature. Liquor store owners, grocery store operators, wine shoppers, a sheriff, an addiction specialist and a minister were among the people allowed to testify at a special hearing held a day before the Senate State & Local Government Committee is to vote on the biggest rewrite of Tennessee’s liquor laws in decades.
A measure to allow grocery stores to sell wine begins working its way through the state legislature this week. A Senate committee has set aside two hours this afternoon to hear from supermarkets which want the change, and from liquor stores which currently have control of all wine sales in Tennessee. Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro is sponsoring the controversial legislation, which in past years has had trouble getting through the upper chamber. “After about four or five years of debate, discussion, etc., it’s been voted on in the House, but this will be the first time that it’s ever been voted on in the Senate.”
The committee room was stuffed to the gills and visitors wore their opinions on their lapels Monday afternoon as state senators met to gather input on a bill that could pave the way for many of Tennessee’s grocery stores to start selling wine. Members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, including bill sponsor Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, heard nearly two hours of testimony on whether or not to allow local Tennessee citizens to vote if supermarkets, big-box stores and convenience stores in their towns and counties should be able to sell wine.
After nearly two hours of testimony on both sides Monday, a state Senate committee plans to vote Tuesday on whether to allow wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores, subject to approval by voters in local referendums. Supporters of wine in grocery stores hope that the inclusion of the local referendum requirement in this year’s bill will help break a seven-year logjam on the issue. Failed efforts in previous years simply lifted the ban on wine in grocery stores statewide wherever retail liquor stores are located, without any vote in the local communities.
The bill to change the Tennessee law that restricts wine sales reaches a critical junction this week, according to the Tennessean. After months of lobbying, Tennessee lawmakers in both House and Senate committees will hear a bill that will allow wine to be sold in supermarkets. The bill could hang on a single vote. “It could fall either way at this point,” Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman told the Tennessean. Yager is chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee which meets Monday to hear from both sides of the bill.
Opponents of a proposal to allow communities to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores argued Monday that the votes could do more harm than good. The Senate State and Local Government Committee heard from opponents and supporters during a nearly two-hour meeting. The measure would leave it to voters in cities and counties to decide whether to expand wine sales beyond liquor stores. A full committee vote on Tuesday will decide whether the measure advances or fails for yet another year.
The leader of the largest Christian denomination in the state begged state lawmakers not to expand what kinds of stores can sell wine. Until now, this year’s debate over wine in grocery stores has been about economics and fairness, not morality. The legislation would ultimately leave it up to each city to vote on whether to allow wine in supermarkets. It’s similar to the way towns can vote on sales of liquor by the drink, and Randy Davis of the Tennessee Baptist Convention says such policies involving alcohol divide families.
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved a bill that would make it harder to rename or move war monuments, including those commemorating the Civil War. House lawmakers voted 69-22 in favor of legislation that forces local governments to get permission from the Tennessee Historical Commission before moving or renaming any memorial, park, building, street, school or other monument to the state’s war dead or heroes. They also rejected a Democratic-led amendment to protect monuments to the Civil Rights Movement by a similar vote.
The state House of Representatives on Monday night approved the bill that prompted the Memphis City Council to hurriedly rename three Civil War-themed parks in the city. It now goes to the Senate for final approval. The bill would prohibit any “statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, plaque, historic flag display, school, street, bridge, building, park, preserve or reserve” erected for or named or dedicated in honor of any historical military figure, event, organization located on public property from being renamed or redicated.
The fuss about Forrest Park et al. continues to get noticed in Nashville, even after state Rep.Steve McDaniel (R-Parker’s Crossroads) allowed as how his bill, designated the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013 and designed to prevent name changes, won’t apply retroactively to three newly renamed downtown Memphis parks. The Nashville Scene is insisting that, as the headline of an article by their Bruce Barry says, “Hey Memphis, You’re Doing This Parks Thing Wrong.”
Legislation that would prevent the renaming or moving of war-related monuments in Tennessee passed the state House last night. The bill comes as city officials in Memphis have renamed three Confederate-themed parks. Democrats tried to get the bill’s sponsor – Republican Steve McDaniel – to admit he was responding to the name changes in Memphis, which he denied. Rep. Johnnie Turner asked what if Jews hadn’t been allowed to tear down Nazi statues.
A private act restructuring Erlanger Health System’s governing board is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration. “I wish them well,” said Sen. Todd Gardenhire, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, which passed the legislation 29-0 without discussion. “We’re going to do all we can to support them and make that thing hum and be the jewel of the city that it ought to be.” The House passed the bill earlier this month. Local lawmakers hope the legislation will help cure a variety of financial and other ills they see plaguing Erlanger in recent years and a way to allay concerns the University of Tennessee’s College of Medicine was engaged in a power play to control the hospital.
The state’s upper chamber voted unanimously to penalize people who spend their taxpayer-funded welfare benefits on drinking alcohol, gambling or visiting strip clubs. The Senate voted 30-0 on new rules that came after an investigation from a free-market think tank that found the electronic debit cards carrying government funds for low-income people were swiped at places like bars, strip clubs and tobacco shops. The proposal would make it illegal for people collecting welfare benefits to knowingly use the card or draw money off of the card from an ATM at a liquor store, gaming establishment or adult cabaret.
Older motorcyclists would have the option of riding without a helmet under a bill Tennessee lawmakers plan to take up this week. The legislation, dubbed the “Motorcyclist Liberty Restoration Act,” would allow riders 21 and older to ride without a helmet. The bill goes before key House and Senate committees starting today. Currently, Tennessee is one of 19 states nationwide, including most southern states, that require a helmet for all motorcycle riders. Twenty-eight states require helmets for only younger riders.
Republican Sen. Bo Watson, of Chattanooga, said Monday his bill establishing a framework to handle pole attachment issues between the public power distributors that own them and investor-owned cable companies is an attempt to resolve the years-long fight. But the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which represents cable operators such as Comcast, charges the bill will result in a “new, outrageously high fee on broadband providers across the state.” The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, is scheduled to come before a Senate committee today.
With a brief explanation and no debate, the Senate on Monday voted unanimously to end a requirement that AT&T and other telephone companies fund a program that helps an estimated 93,000 low-income Tennessee households with a $3.50 monthly credit on their landline phone bill. The AT&T-backed bill, which also is moving in the House, would prohibit the Tennessee Regulatory Authority from mandating companies “continuing to fund a social program,” Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, told colleagues.
In stark contrast to the Senate, the House voted 92-3 Monday night to confirm embattled Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission member William “Chink” Brown’s nomination to serve a final two years. The bill was presented by Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, with Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, standing beside him. There was no discussion on the bill, which stalled in the Senate last week after Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, bumped the companion confirmation bill from a package of bills.
The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce is opposing legislation that would allow gun permit holders to take their weapons to work, putting it at odds with the likely votes of Rutherford County legislators. “We’re not unlike any other business organization in the state,” Chamber of Commerce President Paul Latture said. Latture noted that the Chamber supports the Second Amendment rights of people to bear arms, but he explained that companies believe they ought to be able to control whether employees bring guns onto their property.
With a plan to lease space at the existing Nashville Convention Center to the Renaissance Hotel headed toward likely approval from the Metro Council, Mayor Karl Dean’s administration is getting out of a jam. Less than five months after plans for a medical trade mart at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway fell through, Dean has struck a deal that would lease the old convention center’s ballroom and meeting space rent-free to the Renaissance, which is located next door. In exchange, Metro would be freed of a contractual obligation to operate a convention center at the site through 2017.
With a March 1 deadline looming, the White House this weekend outlined how the sequester — $85 billion in automatic spending cuts — will impact each state. The following are some of the sequester’s expected impacts on Tennessee in 2013: • Tennessee will lose $14.8 million in funding for primary and secondary education, threatening the jobs of 200 teachers and aides. • Tennessee will lose more than $600,000 in funds meant to upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats.
A looming fiscal crisis in Washington, D.C., is cause for deja vu these days. But the sequester — a group of federal spending cuts totaling $85 billion this fiscal year — is set to take effect Friday, and experts say the cuts are almost certain. Conversation around the sequester has been cloaked in politics, but attorneys at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz say the cuts have real consequences and implications for business owners and employers. Skip Hindman, who handles government contract work at the Nashville office of Baker Donelson, said sequestration is going to impact government contractors “most directly and immediately,” but will impact everyone who uses a government agency or is a taxpayer.
New hardwood floors are on tap for Carl Grammatico’s house, thanks to a nice profit-sharing check coming his way later this week. He’s among more than 2,000 workers at General Motors Co.’s Spring Hill manufacturing complex who will receive bonuses of $6,750 each on Friday, a move by the automaker that will pump more than $13.5 million into the local economy. Co-worker Cathy Busbee plans to spend her bonus on her house, too, but not for improvements — she’s trying to pay off her mortgage in preparation for retirement within the next five years, she said.
Erlanger Health System ended January on solid financial footing, posting over a half-million dollars in profits for the month. The public hospital bounced back from a December in the red and is continuing to recover from last year’s rocky financial performance. At this time last fiscal year, the hospital was down more than $12 million. This year, the hospital has tightened that number to just under $2 million. “We’re about $10 million dramatically ahead of where we were last year, and we’re still doing some wonderful work at getting closer to that $4.5 million number that we have budgeted,” Britt Tabor, the hospital’s chief financial officer, told the hospital’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday night.
School for the Deaf eyes new building, technology in $22M plan Minimizing between-class travel and maximizing productive instruction time are two improvements Tennessee School for the Deaf officials hope to witness with a new high school building on the nearly 90-year-old South Knoxville campus. With Gov. Bill Haslam appropriating $22 million to the school as part of his state budget proposal for next year, TSD administrators have begun planning a modernization project.
Tired of public bickering, finger-pointing and overall antagonism, a group of top Knox County officials will meet today to figure out just how to fix whatever security shortcomings exist inside the school system and put aside any blame for what may have caused the problems. The move comes as private and public talks among local leaders — such as the county mayor’s office, the Public Building Authority and the school administration — have turned combative with each side at times accusing one or the other of lying about how safe system schools are.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays plans to move ahead with appointing a special master to oversee the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems. That’s what he told attorneys Monday, Feb. 25, during a one-hour closed status conference in his conference room Downtown. Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade said after the conference that Mays plans to appoint the special master called for in a 2011 consent decree sometime after Wednesday.
Concerned about the pace of schools merger, a federal judge Monday ordered all parties involved to make recommendations about appointing a special master who could have broad authority to insure operations of Memphis and suburban schools are combined by this summer. U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays, after a one-hour meeting Monday morning on the status of merger plans, called for activating a provision contained in the 2011 consent decree that is guiding the transfer of Memphis City Schools to suburban Shelby County Schools.
Memphis City School teachers may not be exempt from a Shelby County residency rule, after a vote on Monday by the Shelby County Commission killed an amendment that would have excluded them. The commission approved on second reading an ordinance that gives MCS employees who live outside of the county five years to comply with charter residency requirements. It waives that rule for workers who joined MCS before Sept. 1, 1986, the exemption date stated in the charter for current county workers.
The most important number at a weekend Shelby County Commission budget retreat was not the $145 million in new funding the countywide school board has asked for. It was a percentage – the projection by Shelby County Assessor Cheyenne Johnson that the 2013 property reappraisal by her office will likely reflect a 4.63 percent loss of value on property for taxation purposes. The projection is below the 5 percent drop that Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and other county leaders expected would be the low side of the property tax revenue loss from the declining property values.
Gov. Nathan Deal removed six members of the DeKalb County School Board on Monday, trying to save the state’s third-largest school system by exercising a relatively new power in Georgia that allows him to supersede the choice of voters. “I feel it’s my responsibility to act,” he said at a news conference announcing his decision Monday. “This is a matter of urgency.” But whether his decision will stand rests on legal challenges to his move. Judge Richard W. Story of Federal District Court on Friday is expected to review the governor’s action, and a constitutional challenge is being mounted this week in a state court.
Books from Birth and Read to Succeed may just be the spark to a bright future for Tennessee’s children. And they are bad news for boredom. For all of the highly structured educational programs that Tennessee is banking on to raise educational attainment, simply reading a good book, or many good books, is an incomparable development experience for the young mind.Our state in the past either took books for granted, or in some smaller communities schools and libraries lacked resources, but that seems to be changing. Books from Birth, a publicly and privately funded program, provides a new book a month to every child in Tennessee from birth to age 5.
Maybe it’s the dreary, damp weather of late. Maybe it’s a dose of pre-spring funk. Maybe it’s drug-related irritability, the side-effect of precancerous skin cell treatments I’ve been taking on my face. Or maybe — much more likely, actually — it’s just my three-inch, East Tennessee redneck streak. Whatever the cause, it peeves me royally whenever I pull behind, or alongside of, a dump truck at a traffic light and see its tailgate sign stating “Not responsible for broken windshields.” My first reaction is to holler, “Like hell you aren’t!” Well, OK; so maybe I don’t holler. It’s more of a mutter to myself. My neck may be red, but perched atop it is a brain intent on self-preservation.
During a joint Shelby County Commission-Shelby County unified school board budget retreat Saturday, county Mayor Mark Luttrell succinctly zeroed in on the hard-edge dividing line between those wanting a big funding increase for schools and those who say that is not going to happen. Luttrell said disagreement between some county commissioners and some school board members over how much money will be needed to fund the new school district reflected the “polar opposite value systems that you see in this community” — one that is very fiscally centered and one that is globally centered around the children and the impact school cuts will have on their schools, communities and families.