This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is opposed to at least 22 bills that have been proposed in this year’s state Legislature. In response to a recent request from the Knoxville News Sentinel, the governor’s office provided copies of all “philosophical flag” letters that have been sent to legislators as of last Friday. According to Haslam spokesman David Smith, the Republican governor this year is not issuing formal “flag letters” to legislators except when there are “philosophical” objections to the measure. The form letters don’t explain reasons for opposition, but state that an administration representative will seek a meeting with the lawmaker for discussion.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has formally expressed its opposition to 22 bills in the Tennessee Legislature this year, Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The administration issues “philosophical flag” letters in response to legislation it does not support. The News Sentinel requested copies of all the letters the administration sent to lawmakers this year, and found opposition to bills on the state’s motorcycle helmet law, arming teachers with weapons and increasing the penalty for driving without a seat belt.
Gov. Bill Haslam has quietly voiced disagreement with nearly two dozen bills introduced by Republican members of the General Assembly this session, a Knoxville News Sentinel report shows. Although Haslam has issued “fiscal flag” letters to lawmakers in the past, the governor is also objecting to proposals where “philosophical” differences exist this year, according to his office. Specific reasons for disagreement aren’t given, but the governor’s office usually will commit to meeting with the lawmaker to discuss.
Tax collections for the state of Tennessee exceeded the state budget by $5 million in February, according to a news release from Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration commissioner Mark Emkes. Overall revenue for the state was at $744.3 million in February. Tennessee’s general fund was over-collected by $12 million while four other funds were under-collected by $7 million. Year-to-date tax collections are $94.0 million more than the budget estimate. The general fund has been over-collected by $106.2 million and the four other funds fall short of estimates by $12.2 million.
A Washington-based logistics company has decided to open its first facility in Robertson County and create nearly two dozen new jobs in White House. Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced this week that the expansion by ProPack is estimated at $1 million and is expected to create 22 new jobs. The third-party logistics company specializes in order fulfillment and freight forwarding services. State officials say the company chose White House because of its central location and access to many of the major markets.
State lawmakers are preparing to conduct their own investigation into the troubled Department of Children’s Services this week, beginning with a three-hour special hearing called for today. Lawmakers also will tackle the agency’s request for a $15.8 million budget increase in two separate hearings Wednesday and Thursday. “I am hoping these hearings will give us the opportunity to have some questions answered by the department, and ensure that we are doing everything in our legislative power to provide them with the tools and resources they need to successfully protect our children’s health, safety and welfare,” House Speaker Beth Harwell said in announcing the hearings, after pointed requests by Democratic leaders for the legislature to investigate DCS.
The TennCare Standard Spend Down program will again open enrollment by giving people a chance to call in for an application at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. Central Daylight Time) on Thursday, March 21. The call-in is an opportunity for people to get an application to be covered by a specific category of TennCare. Standard Spend Down is available through a waiver to the Medicaid program for a limited number of qualified low-income individuals, or for those with high, unpaid medical bills who are aged, blind, disabled or the caretaker relative of a Medicaid-eligible child.
Republican legislatures in several states are finding it difficult to stick to one of their mantras: the government closest to the people governs best. In Tennessee – where the GOP now holds a supermajority – the state is making power plays on issues ranging from charter schools to property rights. Increasingly, the state believes it knows best. Weapons control is a hot topic when it comes to who is in charge. Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) wants to legalize carrying knives of any shape and size, even if some cities ban them.
The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday night that makes secret virtually all information about Tennessee handgun-carry permit holders except non-identifying statical reports. If the Senate also approves the bill, individuals and media organizations would be unable to identify any of the 370,000 Tennessee residents with the state-issued licenses to carry guns in public. In the previous four years, lawmakers have been expanding the number of public places where permit holders may legally carry guns, including public parks and bars and restaurants serving alcohol.
Tennesseans could be a bit more discreet about carrying a handgun under a bill approved in the state House Monday night. The legislation would close carry permit records to the public. The bill gives just one exception. If someone is suspected of being a felon or illegal alien – precluded from having a carry permit – the person’s information could be released. But there has to be some sort of evidence to show the Department of Safety in the form of a government document, such as a warrant or a restraining order.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has unveiled his proposal for redrawing Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984. The Blountville Republican’s plan would affect just eight of the existing 31 judicial districts. Ramsey said the plan had drawn the support of the association representing the state’s trial judges, who as recently as last week had opposed changes. The proposal would create separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two of Tennessee’s 31 district attorneys will be out of a job if a plan from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey gets approval. The redistricting proposal eliminates a pair of judicial districts. Most of the reconfiguring is in Middle Tennessee. It means two district attorneys – both Democrats – will have to run against each other in Coffee and Warren counties. This makes way for Rutherford and Williamson counties to have their own standalone judicial districts instead of being lumped in with other counties.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey presented a scaled-back plan Monday to reorganize Tennessee’s judicial system, saying it would save money without disrupting long-standing ties between judges, lawyers and other court officers. Ramsey, R-Blountville, unveiled a proposal to eliminate two of the state’s 31 judicial districts and give Williamson and Rutherford counties their own judges. But he stepped back from a plan circulated in the fall that would have redrawn nearly half of Tennessee’s districts, a disruption that critics said would have thrown the judicial system into disarray.
Two small judicial districts in the Chattanooga region will become one under a redistricting plan unveiled Monday by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey. The scaled-back redistricting plan, the first since 1984, will cut the number of judicial districts across Tennessee from 31 to 29. One reduction would be accomplished through merging the 14th Judicial District (Coffee County) and the 31st Judicial District, which is comprised of Warren and Van Buren counties. Cannon County, now in the 16th District, would be added to the proposed reconfigured 14th District.
Two judicial districts in Northwest Tennessee will be combined into one under the state’s first judicial redistricting since 1984. In a plan unveiled by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Monday, the current 29th Judicial District comprised of Dyer and Lake counties will be merged into the 27th District, currently Obion and Weakley counties, to form a new, four-county 27th Judicial District. The plan must be approved by the state legislature before it would go into effect at the start of the next judicial term on Sept. 1, 2014.
The state House gave final approval Monday to a statewide referendum in November 2014 on the question of amending the Tennessee Constitution to allow the governor to directly appoint judges of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal, subject to confirmation of the Legislature. The proposed constitutional amendment would also provide for a yes-no retention election for the appointed judges when they seek a new term every eight years. In that respect, it is similar to the system now in place.
The Tennessee House of Representatives on Monday completed the final legislative step necessary to give the electorate an opportunity to weigh in on how high-level judges are picked in the Volunteer State. On a 78-14 vote, with no discussion offered by any of the members, the lower chamber passed Senate Joint Resolution 2. The measure easily garnered the necessary two-thirds or 66 “yes” votes necessary to send it to the voters in 2014. The proposal passed the Senate 29-2 on Feb. 21. In accordance with Tennessee’s lengthy process for amending the state constitution, SJR2 already passed both chambers last legislative session.
Tennessee voters will decide in 2014 whether or not to change how judges are seated to the state’s highest courts to a way that mirrors the federal government’s practice. The state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Monday to ask voters to amend the constitution and allow the governor to appoint candidates the Legislature would then have to approve. Those judges would then face retention elections to renew their eight-year term. “I think it clears up the constitutional question that we’ve had and talked about for a number of years and puts it back in the voters’ hands,” said Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) who sponsored the bill.
Tennessee voters will get to decide in 2014 whether to give the General Assembly the power to reject a governor’s appointee to appeals courts after final action was taken by the House on the proposed constitutional amendment Monday. Members voted 78-14 in favor of the resolution. Senators approved it last month. The resolution also settles once and for all lingering questions among some about the constitutionality of the state’s current process. It enshrines current law in which appellate judges are initially appointed by the governor and later run in yes/no retention elections instead of competitive contests.
The beer industry has swung its support behind a bill to allow Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine as long as the measure also allows places to sell strong beer. Tennessee Malt Beverage Association President Rich Foge confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that his board decided to drop its long opposition to changing the law. In return, the beer makers want a provision allowing grocery stores to sell high-gravity beer, which has higher alcohol content and is currently only allowed to be sold in liquor stores.
A plan to ban lawmakers living close to the Capitol from receiving a daily lodging allowance for each day on the Hill won approval in the House of Representatives easily Monday, although its future is still uncertain. House sponsor Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale) said he will not accept any changes to his bill, including plans from the Senate that require lawmakers who live outside a 50-mile radius of the Capitol show a receipt to be reimbursed for their lodging expenses. “My word is my bond. It will not change, otherwise it won’t become law,” said Womick, who drives 38 miles to Legislative Plaza for session four days a week.
A bill recently filed in the state legislature would enable Tennessee optometrists to inject local anesthetic for certain procedures, but ophthalmologists argue the law blurs the distinction between the professions and could expose patients to risk. The Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology issued a statement in opposition to SB220/HB555, stating the bill “would create an unnecessary risk to patients.” “Any time a needle is placed near the eye, there are serious risks to the patient that require clinical experience and expert judgment,” Ben Mahan, president of the Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology, said in a release.
A proposal to tighten enrollment requirements at online-only schools in Tennessee is expected to be up on the Senate floor Monday evening. The administration bill proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam would allow beginning online schools to start with an enrollment of 1,500 and continue to expand as long as they meet performance requirements. The measure originally sought to cap online school enrollment at 5,000. Critics of virtual schools have sought to limit their enrollment or do away with the ones operated privately after reports of the low performance of Tennessee Virtual Academy, the state’s only privately operated virtual school.
Guidance counselors, teachers and principals may be limited to giving only career and educational advice to students under the latest version of a bill that deals with discussion of homosexuality in schools.A measure in the works in the Tennessee legislature would bar school personnel from advising students on “mental health issues, ‘lifestyle’ choices or other conditions or activities outside career and educational counseling” unless they have been licensed as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.
The organization representing state workers is opposing an overhaul of the pension system that would reduce the guaranteed benefits. But the way the changes would be phased in is making the pension reforms hard for the rank-and-file to resist. Because only new hires would be affected, the Tennessee State Employees Association has had a tough time convincing workers they should be concerned. There have been no rallies or protests against the changes. Executive director Bob O’Connell argues it will be harder to recruit state employees without such a generous pension, and these are people who will soon be colleagues of his members.
The $500,000 pay package of the state lottery’s CEO is holding up approval of the agency’s annual budget. Rebecca Hargrove is one of the highest-paid lottery executives in the country.Hargrove is an industry superstar. But Tennessee’s lottery – which raises money for college scholarships and pre-K – doesn’t even break the top 10 compared to other states. In a budget hearing, Senator Stacey Campfield suggested Hargrove’s salary is out of line with performance.
Members of Bradley County’s legislative delegation aren’t taking kindly to Sheriff Jim Ruth’s recent scolding that they’re not serious about fighting Tennessee’s methamphetamine problem. In a March 3 column on the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office website, Ruth called the state’s system of tracking sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth, “a failure. He supports legislation that would require a doctor’s prescription for any such medicine, including Sudafed, Claritin-D and other cold remedies now sold over the counter.
Both supporters and naysayers of a statewide charter school authorizer are taking their pleas to the streets and asking for support. The Tennessee Charter Schools Association on Monday began circulating a petition in favor of the authorizer by email. On Tuesday, the Metro school board is expected to join a campaign against the authorizer. Usually, the charter association keeps a quiet profile, said Matt Throckmorton, executive director. However, he said he and others have been frustrated at the lack of media coverage they have received while supporting the statewide authorizer.
With the contentious question of serving liquor by the drink in Pigeon Forge set for a vote Thursday, the pro-liquor group Forging Ahead had not filed its mandated pre-election campaign financial disclosure as of Monday. The report, which is supposed to detail amounts of money raised and spent in connection with the campaign, was due March 7. The opposition group Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge (CCCPF) was one day late, filing its report on Friday. Additional reports are required to be filed after the election.
Says agencies have flexibility that could avert furloughs With 8,000 civilian employees at Fort Campbell and about $47 million a year in military contracts to local businesses, the sequestration budget cuts are not mere political fodder in Clarksville. The series of automatic budget cuts that went into effect March 1 threaten residents’ pocketbooks and schedules in real ways, including a forecast of 20 percent pay losses for employees and four-day weeks for students at Fort Campbell schools.
The state of Tennessee stands to miss out on more than $1.4 billion in federal aid if it does not expand TennCare, according to a recent analysis from the legislature. The General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee, a nonpartisan office set up to assess the costs and benefits of proposed legislation, says expanding TennCare would inject more than $418 million into the state’s budget in 2013-2014 and $1 billion more in the next budget year. The money would cover the cost of offering TennCare to 161,900 more Tennesseans.
Before the big red ribbon was tied across the entrance of the new emergency center at Erlanger East and officials lined up to cut it Monday morning, patients had already checked in for treatment at the new facility on Gunbarrel Road. The high demand for an ER in the East Hamilton County community is what makes the opening of the hospital’s new 22,000-square-foot, $7.8 million expansion so momentous, hospital officials say. “The most special thing about this location is the location,” said Michael Baker, Erlanger facilities administrator.
Rural prosecutors say 11 people have been arrested on methamphetamine-related charges. The U.S. attorney’s office for West Tennessee says the suspects were from Benton, Decatur, Henderson and Madison counties. While making the arrests Thursday, authorities found illegal narcotics, drug paraphernalia and 10 firearms. Charges listed in indictments handed down in February by a grand jury in Jackson include illegal possession and distribution of meth. If convicted, the defendants could face a maximum of 20 to 30 years in prison.
Rebuffing Gov. Rick Scott’s support of Medicaid expansion, a Florida Senate committee on Monday rejected the idea, all but ending the possibility that the state would add more poor people to Medicaid rolls. But the Senate panel debating the expansion proposed a compromise: to accept the federal money but use it to put low-income people into private insurance plans. Accepting the money would please the governor and a number of Floridians, while steering people away from Medicaid, which many lawmakers and residents view as troubled.
For years, Illinois officials misled investors and shortchanged the state pension system, leaving future generations of taxpayers to foot the bill, U.S. securities regulators allege. The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday charged Illinois with securities fraud, marking only the second time the agency has filed civil-fraud charges against a state. But the agency and the state also announced that a settlement had already been reached in which Illinois won’t pay a penalty or admit wrongdoing.
Businesses take many factors into account when determining where to locate, including a state’s workers’ compensation system. Unfortunately, the current court-based process for resolving workers’ compensation disputes in Tennessee has led to inconsistent practices and expensive litigation across the state. At Stites & Harbison, we deal with clients who experience frustration with the existing workers’ compensation system. So, we were pleased when Gov. Bill Haslam called for a comprehensive study in 2011 to identify possible recommendations for improving the program.
Since 1919, workers’ compensation has given hard-working men and women injured on the job the security they need to continue to take care of their families. Workers’ comp has also come to mean security, well-being and peace of mind for their dependents. It is, quite frankly, the only option that gives injured workers the chance to make ends meet until they are able to work again. Fast-forward almost a century, and a simple, yet critical fight over workers’ comp in Tennessee is brewing, pitting big insurance and special interests against hardworking men and women.
One of the most contentious bills making its way through the Tennessee Legislature involves a proposal to permit counties and cities to hold referendums on allowing wine sales in grocery stores. The issue pits the state’s liquor stores, which can sell liquor and wine, against supermarkets and convenience stores, which presently can sell only beer. Supporters of the bill say, with justification, that the ability to buy a bottle of wine while shopping for dinner is more convenient for the consumer. Opponents, also with justification, argue the bill would hurt small businesses. While the idea of having local jurisdictions decide the matter for themselves has its merits, we agree that the bill as written is flawed because it would give an unfair marketplace advantage to grocery stores.
Last month’s Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act served as a reminder of the long history of racial voting suppression in this country. Many of the states covered by Section 5 of the act, particularly in the South, spent decades trying every method they could think of to keep blacks and other minorities from the polls, or to reduce their voting strength. But areas that aren’t covered by the act have no reason to feel smug. Many lawmakers in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also pursued ways to keep selected voters from the polls, using methods like ID requirements or restrictions on early voting.