This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee legislators are debating whether to change state law in order to collect more taxes from online travel companies. Proponents say the move will level the playing field between brick-and-mortar hotels and online booking agents while pumping more dollars into local economies. But opponents are calling the bill a misguided effort that will eventually backfire on local officials. State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville, are co-sponsoring the bill. Online travel companies work by buying rooms from hotels in bulk at a lower price, then reselling those rooms to the consumer at a higher price, Overbey said.
NASHVILLE — When Tennessee lawmakers passed a guns-in-parking-lots bill Thursday, they refused to address an existing, little-known state law allowing a “non-student adult” to have a firearm in a car on the property of a public or private school or college — regardless of school policy — if the gun isn’t handled. That provision, added in 1996 as an exemption to Tennessee laws that generally prohibit weapons on all school property, surfaced weeks ago as the state legislature prepared to debate this year’s gun bills.
If the General Assembly agrees to let local voters decide whether grocery stores can sell wine, Nashville voters should be able to make their choice late next year, a Metro councilman and state representative said Friday. Bo Mitchell, who represents Bellevue in the Metro Council and District 50 in the state House of Representatives, said he would push for a referendum on wine in grocery stores in November 2014 if controversial legislation makes it through the General Assembly this year.
Agriculture in Virginia and Tennessee will see reductions in millions of dollars of research funding and direct support to farmers because of the mandated federal government cuts called sequestration, officials at those states’ land grant universities said this week. The mandated cuts went into effect Friday, and require the federal government to trim $85 billion from its budget this year and $1.2 trillion over the next decade. When land grant universities and cooperative extension offices were established to support agriculture across the country, they were funded through a collaborative effort among federal, state and county governments.
The Tennessee Valley Authority addressed concerns about how the automatic federal spending cuts could impact the energy provider. The U.S. sequester went into effect Friday at midnight. Since congress failed to reach a deal, the government will have to allocate $85 billion worth of federal spending cuts. These cuts will impact the defense department, government agencies, head start programs, unemployment benefits and airport checkpoints and towers. According to experts, the full impact of those cuts will likely not hit until April.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are moving forward with plans to close three campsites and cut staff, even with Friday’s uncertainty on how scheduled across-the-board budget cuts will play out over the next few weeks. Sequestration calls for the National Park Service to take a 5 percent, or $134 million reduction, in funding over the remaining seven months of the 2013 fiscal year.
Bill Malkes wrote the business plan for Aldis Corp. at the end of 2006 and attracted outside investment the following May. Fast-forward six years and the company he co-founded has 15 employees, with 1,500 of its GridSmart traffic-monitoring cameras deployed at locations in 21 countries. For Aldis, the secret sauce is a system that can detect vehicles and manage traffic signals to reduce congestion, using a single fish-eye camera per intersection rather than multiple cameras.
OAK RIDGE – A man was detained Saturday afternoon by Y-12 security after officers found him riding his bike on a patrol road. It happened just after 2 p.m. on Y-12’s North Patrol Road. Security officials say the man did not enter the high security area of the plant. Officials say the man crossed a fence clearly marked for no trespassing. He was detained and turned over to the Oak Ridge Police Department. As a precaution, Y-12 entered a heightened state of security.
Shortly after a dawn that has broken gray and chilly, travelers straggle out of Downtown Memphis’ Central Station, bags in hand, toward the “City of New Orleans” as an Amtrak employee checks the waiting room for other passengers. “Anyone else boarding the train south?” asks the employee, who declines to give his name. “This is your train.” Among those heeding the call is Donna Derryberry, who is about to embark on one of her regular trips to visit a sister in Covington, La.
MURFREESBORO — From the Global War on Terror in the Middle East to stateside assistance during floods or tornadoes, the Tennessee National Guard has responded to the call, serving their state and country. And thousands of Rutherford County men and women have been among them throughout the history of the Guard, including units based in Murfreesboro and Smyrna.
Jamie Woodson, former state senator and president/CEO of the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education: “Collaboration leads to sustainable change.” Q: Describe your philosophy of leadership in 140 characters or less. A: When I think about leadership it’s really about collaboration, about vision, and about really inspiring a culture where you’ve got a highly optimistic environment, very creative environment, and it’s very team-oriented, where folks are working together, focused on a common vision to accomplish common objectives.
Team work is the reason Knox County has fewer juveniles incarcerated than other large municipalities across the state, according to Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin. When asked about statistics by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that the percentage of juveniles incarcerated in the state had dropped 66 percent between 1995 and 2010, Irwin said he wasn’t surprised. “The amazing thing is, Knox County has always been very low when compared with the rest of the state,” he said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that Corrections Corporation of America’s legal settlements are subject to the state Open Records law. In a ruling filed on Feb. 28, the court said it disagreed with CCAs assertion that the company shouldn’t have to turn over settlement-related records because they aren’t part of the “official business” of running a prison. The request for settlement agreements from CCA was part of a public records request made in 2007 by Alex Friedmann, the editor of Prison Legal News.
WASHINGTON — She was a bookkeeper at the former Bank of Friendship in Crockett County and attended the town’s United Methodist Church, but little more is known about Donna Kaye Wright except Friday she got a presidential pardon. Wright, 63, who was sentenced to serve just 54 days on federal charges she embezzled and misapplied bank funds, was given the rare presidential clemency in an announcement late Friday afternoon by the White House. Sixteen others, including people from Athens and Chattanooga, in Tennessee, got pardons.
Robert Thein knows a thing or two about crime in Chattanooga. He’s seen it firsthand. “My son got shot,” Thein said. The family moved to the city a year ago from Arkansas. They hadn’t been here long when an intruder entered their home in Churchville and shot his 20-something son in the shoulder from behind, Thein said. His son is better now, but Thein doesn’t think there’s been much improvement in the crime situation. “I’ve seen one cop over the last four days on my street,” he said.
In the cellblocks of the county jail, suspected murderers, drug traffickers, burglars, wife beaters and rapists wait for hearings and trials. Somewhere among them sits Dennis James’ schizophrenic son. His crime? He’s sick. Like hundreds in the jail at any given time, he’s sick with nowhere to go. He’s so sick that his parents can’t handle him anymore. He’s so sick that the group homes and the halfway houses won’t take him until he’s stabilized. He’s so sick that he won’t swallow his medication.
Question: Whatever happened to plans for the New Consortium School of Law and Business charter school in Chattanooga? Answer: Negotiations are continuing and plans have been made to have a contract signed by the end of March for the school. “We are excited to continue with our plans to open this fall,” said Tommie Henderson, president and executive director of SMART Schools Inc., the Memphis-based company that will operate the school. The Hamilton County Board of Education voted a year ago to allow Smart Schools to open the charter school in Chattanooga.
BENTON, Tenn. — Benton Police Department officials have received an overwhelming response to their recent offer to conduct handgun permit classes, Chief Rocky King said. The first class, scheduled for March 11-12, filled up within a couple of days of the announcement, King said, and so did the second class set for April 18-19. A third class scheduled for May 23-24 is filling up quickly. Each class can take up to 40 students. King, along with Detective Ken Ritenour of the Benton Police Department and state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, will serve as class instructors.
Gov. Bill Haslam is considering whether to recommend expanding Tennessee’s Medicaid program under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known by the law’s critics as Obamacare.A careful look at the negative impact of refusing to expand the state’s health insurance program for the poor and low-income, and the negative impact that such a decision could have on the state’s hospitals, should convince Haslam to ask the General Assembly to fund the expansion. Keep in mind, also, that expanding Medicaid would mean some 430,000 of the state’s poorest residents, who currently don’t qualify for the program, would become eligible for it.
A sliver of sanity has managed to slip into the Tennessee legislature’s most recent effort to pass a law allow guns in the parking lots of private businesses. The legislation recently passed by the state House of Representatives allows any Tennessean who has a permit to carry a firearm to now take that gun into any private business parking lot and leave it in the car — without criminal penalty — if he or she has a valid gun-carry permit. Maybe a “tiny silver” is more appropriate because lawmakers refused to address an existing but little-known state law that allows a “non-student adult” to have a firearm in a car on the property of any public or private school, college or other educational institution — regardless of school policy — as long as the gun is not handled.
The battle over new and stricter seismic building standards is one that shouldn’t be fought. Area home builders, however, have appealed to state legislators for relief from the new codes and lawmakers have responded. Bills introduced in the House and Senate would grant local governments the power to adopt building code amendments that are less stringent than those enforced by the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Under current law, local amendments are supposed to be at least as strict as the state-mandated codes.
By standards of legislative speed of the not-too-distant past, the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill roared through the General Assembly at a breakneck pace, crossing the finish line at just one month after starting. The bill (SB142) was introduced Jan. 28 and sent to the governor Feb. 28. If you subtract the days legislators were not working during that period, just 18 days were involved. That, folks, is warp speed in Legislatorland, especially on a matter of some controversy. It may be an indication of things to come.
We love to follow and debate the legislative progress of “guns in trunks” or “wine in grocery stores,” bills that benefit a few impassioned citizens and raise the ire of others, yet we seem to consistently falter on the crucial, but unsexy, backwaters of our state government. Though we got some good news on those “backwaters” this week. Interim Commission Jim Henry of the Department of Children’s Services said the recalcitrant TFACTS computer system is finally yielding. He said in an emailed progress report on Friday that all major problems have been fixed, and a punch list of 1,700 defects knocked down to 383 minor issues.
Recently, I’ve been teaching my media writing students at the University of Memphis about the importance of good quotes in a news story. Quotes make the story, I told them. They are the difference between a bland article that no one reads and one that’s lively and memorable. Then along came this doozy of a quote from Dorsey Hopson, the interim superintendent of Memphis City Schools who still functions as the district’s legal counsel. “When you invite somebody into your kitchen it’s a recipe for disaster.”
For most people, the day comes when you realize you aren’t going to be rich. No listing in the Forbes magazine billionaires club. No spending on luxuries. That moment often comes with a call from the credit card company when last month’s payment is overdue. That’s what most Americans learn about expenses and finances. It’s easy to run up the credit card. It’s hard to pay it off. And that’s why many people are incredibly frustrated with all this whiny talk about sequestration, and forced cuts to federal, state and local budgets.
The controversy over the renaming of Memphis’ Confederate-themed city parks has produced contentious public hearings, full-page newspaper ads, and the likelihood of future public protests and counterprotests. Unfortunately, the debate has done little to solve the real problems with our city’s historic parks — a one-sidedness in who is memorialized and an utter lack of interpretation at existing memorials. If city leaders are really interested in preserving our history, they will attempt to resolve these problems.