This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee might just be the perfect post for the new Japanese consul-general, Motohiko Kato, who took the top position at Japan’s Nashville consulate in October: He’s an Elvis fan and a Civil War history buff. Kato, who represents Japanese citizens and business interests in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana, has already made several trips to Memphis, where he visited Graceland and viewed the rock ’n’ roll king’s grave site. “Elvis Presley was a wonderful musician,” Kato said during an interview at the consulate, on the ninth floor of the Palmer Plaza on West End Avenue.
First lady Crissy Haslam will be in Memphis on Tuesday to promote early literacy. She is scheduled to attend a reading event at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital where she will also stress the importance of parental engagement. Last summer, Haslam launched the Read20 Family Book Club, challenging Tennessee families to read together for at least 20 minutes each day. While in Memphis, Haslam is also scheduled to attend a women’s group luncheon promoting healthy babies.
About 1,000 new teen drivers in Tennessee will be getting fresh driver’s licenses after a printing error fouled up dates put on the cards. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced the error Friday. Officials said the department’s state identity card vendor, MorphoTrust USA, made the printing error on some cards manufactured in December 2012 and January 2013. The cards were issued only to new drivers under age 18 who visited the state driver service centers in Dickson, Gallatin and Springfield.
Midway through Women’s History Month is prime time to learn more about the impact of Tennessee women on the course of history. The Tennessee State Library and Archives, near the state Capitol, has the resources to help. But you don’t have to drive to Nashville to access all of them, thanks to TSLA’s extensive online offerings. Did you know Tennessee cast the decisive vote to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote?
In this era when college students can get information through smartphones or a variety of computers, the University of Tennessee is using an old-fashioned medium to teach some important school history. In recent weeks, two aluminum-cast state historical markers have been erected on campus highlighting the school’s desegregation history and its development as a land grant university. Among those pleased with their recent installation is Theotis Robinson Jr., but not because he is mentioned on the desegregation plaque as one of the first black undergraduate students.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says a group that manages several properties owned by Heartwood Forestland Fund III and IV in Perry County has ended public hunting on several public tracts. Forestland Group has been trying to sell the land for several months. The termination of the agreement became effective as of Feb. 28. Tri-State Forestry Inc. Forester Hugh A. Bullock says the group will fulfill its obligations to 2012-13 permit holders, but will not issue new permits for the 2013-14 season.
In a move that attorneys say will hurt local victims of the fungal meningitis outbreak, a bankruptcy trustee is attempting to consolidate all the cases involving the outbreak — even those that don’t name the manufacturer of the fungus-tainted drug. The consolidation motion is pending before a federal judge in Boston, who has asked all parties to comment prior to a ruling that is expected next month. The cases that could be merged in Boston include three recently filed in circuit court in Nashville against the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center.
An undercover video that showed California cows struggling to stand as they were prodded to slaughter by forklifts led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. In Vermont, a video of veal calves skinned alive and tossed like sacks of potatoes ended with the plant’s closure and criminal convictions. Now in a pushback led by the meat and poultry industries, state legislators across the country are introducing laws making it harder for animal welfare advocates to investigate cruelty and food safety cases.
Plans to phase out the state’s tax on investment income might be a boon for some residents, but would cut into revenues for local government. State legislators warned Collierville town officials recently that the Hall tax — a 6 percent tax imposed on income derived from interest on bonds and stock dividends — likely will be phased out in the next two or three years. In past years, the state has collected $172 million on the Hall tax. Of that amount, the state keeps 62.5 percent. Local governments share the remaining 37.5 percent based on where the taxpayer lives.
Concerned with the prospect of a local government setting up what one leader called a “little people’s republic,” the Legislature’s Republican supermajority is moving on several fronts to assert state authority over cities and counties. Some Democrats and local government officials decry the trend as an assault on local control and incongruous with Republican criticisms of the federal government for dictating to state governments. “The level of contempt that this Republican majority has for local governments and working people is simply disgusting,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory.
Scott Smith’s relationship with wine began when he was a student at Memphis State University and worked at nearby Buster’s Liquors and Wines. Now 48, and the owner of his own wine and liquor store, Smith was relieved when Tennessee lawmakers spared merchants like him and shelved a measure intended to open the way for wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores. While wine merchants were outspoken in opposition to the bill, one aspect has received scant attention: Just why did they get in the business in the first place?
A special joint offering from Tennessee craft brewers Yazoo and Calfkiller features an unusual sales pitch to beer aficionados: “Now With Even More Taxes!” The new product going on sale this week is the latest effort among brewers to draw attention to Tennessee’s highest-in-the-nation tax scheme for beer, which high-end brewers argue disproportionately affects their ability to compete. The beer is called “The Beacon: A Tennessee High Tax Ale,” and urges consumers to “Cut the red tape, pop the cap, and enjoy this oppressively refreshing ale.”
Firearms sales in Tennessee have slowed, as the topic of gun rights and gun control has cooled somewhat in the national consciousness. But historically speaking, the gun business is still booming. In the first two months of 2013, according to data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, gun sales were well above average. In January and February, 59,716 and 57,003 firearms transactions, respectively, were processed statewide through the TBI’s background check system. (In each month, more than 1,600 of those transactions were denied due to a failed background check.)
Voters in Pigeon Forge last week again approved liquor by the drink — this time by a margin of 154 votes. The Mountain Press reported Ken Maples, who led the pro-liquor initiative, said the election Thursday validated the choice voters initially made on Nov. 6. Results of that referendum were thrown out by a court over confusion about who was allowed to vote. “We wait for the result to be certified, and then we start to work with our opponents to bring the city back together,” Maples said. “We’re going to start the healing process.”
A money order for $40.83 cost Roy Grimes more than he could have ever imagined. After living 52 years as a felon for altering the payee’s name and then cashing a money order he and a friend came across back in 1960, Grimes feels that his debt has been paid. Now, he has the documentation to prove it. On March 1, Grimes was in his Athens, Tenn., home when he received a phone call from his lawyer, Patrick Noel, who informed him that his request for a presidential pardon had been approved.
Congress is poised to tell the Postal Service it must continue all Saturday mail services, but the message hasn’t been delivered just yet. The six-day-a-week service mandate, wrapped into a government spending bill on remaining fiscal 2013 spending, is the same one Congress has had for the past 30 years. The House has already passed the provision. The Senate is expected to follow suit as early as Tuesday. But this time the message is being delivered as the Postal Service looks to stem mounting losses that last year neared $16 billion, and a few Senate Republicans are pushing for a change to the spending bill that they say would give the Post Office the leeway it wants.
It took years for the small special-ed program with a few dozen volatile teenagers to become a bona fide high school in the eyes of the Metro Nashville school district. But less than a year after the school earned that official distinction, the district is planning to dissolve the Johnson School and ship its students with severe behavioral needs elsewhere so another school can use the building. Teens at the little-known high school about a mile south of Broadway on Second Avenue are some of the most challenging kids in the school system for teachers to handle.
As Metro schools officials dig in to halt legislation that would create a new state panel able to authorize charter schools, their final argument is a fiscal one: protecting the purse of Metro government. New charters, plotted in Nashville so sporadically and in bulk by state bureaucrats, could burst the city’s budget even in the short term, they contend. But backers of publicly financed, privately operated charters are fighting back. The very fact Metro Nashville Public Schools can’t find a way to offset the costs speaks to the school system’s rigidity, some suggest.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to change the state’s workers’ compensation system is clearing committees in the Tennessee House and Senate with a few bipartisan votes. When I visited the Legislature on Tuesday and Wednesday with my University of Tennessee public affairs reporting class, we observed two Democrats join seven Republicans in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee in approving a major change in the way the program would be operated. A main feature of the Republican governor’s legislation is to move disputed claims out of the court system and into an appointed commission.
Here they go again. Despite every effort by Republican leaders to urge state lawmakers this year not to go down the “fringe” road, pushing nutty, hateful bills, some legislators just cannot resist. Along with the perennial “don’t say gay” legislation, just rewritten to make it even worse, lawmakers are debating two bills that endorse discrimination. The state Senate, after three minutes of debate, voted 22-4 to approve a bill that would bar schools from disciplining students in counseling, social work or psychology programs who, because of their religious beliefs, refuse to treat a patient. This is a blatantly homophobic bill aimed directly at gays.
Tennessee state Sen. Ophelia Ford and state Rep. Barbara Cooper have introduced legislation that removes the requirement that judges and chancellors be licensed to practice law, effective Sept. 1. Luckily for those interested in having qualified judges presiding over criminal and civil cases, neither bill has emerged out of a committee. And they should not. The last thing this state needs is a Judge Roy Bean ruling on cases that could affect a person for the rest of his or her life. Much of the law is based on precedent. It takes a trained, licensed legal mind — a lawyer — to know what the precedents are and how particular cases fit or don’t fit into them.