This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed a slew of recently passed bills this week into law, including a measure that allows Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond to designate a representative to serve on the county’s Emergency Communications District Board (911). The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, was introduced at Hammond’s request. It also affects the Knox County sheriff. When explaining the bill last month, Carter said in passage of a previous statewide 911 bill sheriffs from Hamilton and Knox counties were excluded for some reason.
Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey believes it is unlikely Tennessee will expand TennCare, its Medicaid program, this year, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, states that expand Medicaid programs will receive additional federal funding. Hospital companies have been lobbying in Tennessee for the expansion. Ramsey said he has told Gov. Bill Haslam that he doesn’t “think the votes are there right now for a complete expansion,” WPLN reports.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to take a case that could determine whether police can arrest people suspected of driving drunk after they pass field sobriety tests. The case involves a 2009 DUI charge in Sevier County that was dismissed because driver David Dwayne Bell passed six field sobriety tests. So far, three Tennessee courts have found that police lacked the probable cause to arrest Bell and order a blood-alcohol test, which showed he was drunk. When police have probable cause, it means they must have enough evidence to show that it is more likely than not that a person committed the crime.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a conviction and 18-year prison sentence for a 37-year-old Chattanooga man in kidnapping case dating to 1998. Chattanooga police arrested Jereme Dannuel Little on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping in 2005, nearly six years after an incident in which the victim said he was kidnapped and tortured by Little. Demetrius Grayson confessed to police that he robbed Chris Rogers but fled when he thought Little was about to kill Rogers.
With the clock on his freedom ticking, a disgraced former Knox County judge is continuing to fight his conviction on federal charges of lying to protect his pill-supplying paramour. Defense attorneys Donald A. Bosch and Ann Short are urging Greeneville U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer to toss out convictions against former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner on five counts of misprision of a felony. As part of that effort, the pair recently filed new motions specifically attacking two of those five convictions.
Backers say levy is convention lure Sales tax on certain goods sold in downtown Nashville would effectively increase by a small fraction under state legislation Mayor Karl Dean’s administration supports as a way to generate new funds to recruit conventions to the Music City Center. The proposal, which originated with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau and a handful of Lower Broadway merchants looking for new ways to attract large conventions, would institute a new 0.025 percent fee on goods and services within Nashville’s downtown business district.
Legislators critical of the upcoming Sex Week UT say University of Tennessee officials moved in the right direction by cutting state funding to the event. But they would like to go further. Campus events planned in April Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said that UT’s withdrawal Wednesday of $11,145 in state funds previously allocated to the weeklong campus program on sex and sex behavior topics was “a half-step.” About $6,700 in student fee monies are still being channeled toward the events, and Campfield said that should be eliminated, too.
Bradley County, Tenn., Sheriff Jim Ruth fired back late this week after a long-distance tongue-lashing from state lawmakers in Nashville. Members of a House subcommittee smacked Ruth around Wednesday over a column he wrote earlier this month. Ruth is supporting a bill that would require a doctor’s prescription for drugs such as Claritin D or Sudafed, which contain pseudoephedrine. The drug is a key ingredient in methamphetamine. In the column, Ruth wrote, “The politicians, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and meth dealers that are blocking a new, effective law have made for some strange bedfellows.”
Efforts by local governments to require online websites like Hotwire.com to remit more hotel-motel sales taxes to them died in the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Members voted 7-1 against the bill. The websites buy hotel reservations at discounted prices and sell them for higher prices online but still often below what hotels and motels charge. The amount of tax the websites remit to local governments is now based on what they pay for the rooms, not the amount they charge to customers.
J. LaLonde, a Brooklyn standup comedian and former Knoxville radio station disc jockey, and state Sen. Stacey Campfield, a New York-bred Republican who is part of the Knox County legislative delegation, will debate issues here next month in the name of an Oak Ridge charity. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has agreed to be the moderator. “They’re both New Yorkers so I will have to be their translator,” Burchett quipped Friday. The debate originally was to be next Saturday night but the date has been changed to April 20 because of a conflict Campfield has.
The U.S. hasn’t done much to improve its well-being over the past five years, according to Marketwatch. Tennessee ranked fourth for unhappiness on the most recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a survey of 1.7 million Americans. The Index accounts for life expectancy, median household income, education level and overall physical and mental health. Tennessee had the eighth-lowest life expectancy, the seventh-highest obesity rate and the twelfth-lowest adult population.
Memphis City Council member Bill Boyd on Friday told members of a committee that will recommend new names for three formerly Confederate-themed city parks that they should get acquainted and establish rules at their first meeting. “We want to get through this as fast as we can and avoid any bad publicity for our city,” Boyd said in a City Hall council committee room, where a New York Times reporter was among those watching.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) proposed a budget amendment Thursday that would repeal a 2.3 percent federal tax on medical devices, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The tax stems from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In February, Jim Cloar, CEO of Pathfinder Therapeutics, told the Nashville Business Journal that the device tax “takes money out of the system that would be used for research and development and jobs.”
Fourth Congressional District Republican hopeful Joe Carr recently sent out a fundraising letter to potential donors. While it doesn’t mention the name of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., whom Carr is thinking of challenging next year, some speculate it works in a subtle dig at the Jasper physician and his abortion controversy. “And let me be clear,” Carr says in the letter. “I’m not a better or worse person than anyone running for this seat. I am not morally superior, nor will I be portrayed to be morally inferior. That judgment is reserved only for our Creator.”
Jackson, Millington towers to shutter The Smyrna airport’s control tower will not be closed because of federal budget cuts, airport officials were told Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration. But towers at the airports in Jackson and Millington, Tenn., are on the list of 149 contract control towers that will close as the FAA deals with $637 million in cuts required by the budget sequestration process. Smyrna was spared primarily because of its proximity to Nashville International Airport, which is just 12 miles away, and keeping it open was determined to be “in the national interest,” the FAA said in an email to John Black, executive director of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority.
The town’s airport air traffic control tower will remain open in spite of earlier federal sequestration plans to close it, John Black, executive director of the Smyrna-Rutherford County Airport Authority, announced Friday. The news came to him in an email from David Grizzle, chief operating officer of the Federal Aviation Administration. “What a relief,” Black said. “The email said they basically reviewed each airport (that would be affected by the air traffic control closures) and consulted with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and conducted operational assessment of each potential tower closure on the national air transportation system.
New TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson is beginning to talk about the days that will follow his self-described “100-day plan” of listening and learning. On Friday, day 84, the self-professed “staunch nuclear proponent” acknowledged in a meeting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press that TVA’s nuclear “performance is not where it needs to be.” He cited past delays and cost overruns at the still-under-construction Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor near Spring City, Tenn., and the continuing “red” safety flag at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in North Alabama.
Orchard Knob students playing a game of “Jeopardy!” hosted by a teacher in camouflage pants may become a more common occurrence for the middle school. “We are doing school differently,” Principal Crystal Sorrells said. Orchard Knob’s TCAP Boot Camp is one of the innovative strategies the school is trying. Boot Camp ran Wednesday through Friday, and during these days students answered questions about forms of government, photosynthesis and Isaac Newton’s first law of inertia in a place other than their traditional classrooms.
Schools turn focus to recruiting new crop of idealistic instructors There was a time not too long ago when teacher residency programs in Memphis were exercises in isolation. The new teaching recruits in and out of those programs often talked of being overwhelmed in their new school and career environments. But in the larger maelstrom of changes to the face of local public education, the residency programs are growing across all the different types of public schools emerging in advance of the August merger of city and county schools.
Maybe most of the work of the schools merger has been done by the countywide school board. That’s a big maybe. Even with that assumption, it is still hard to put a happy face at the top of this assignment that counts for most of a critical grade our elected leaders should get. The merger was going to be tough to pull off even under the best of circumstances. Very little about this has been “the best.” So less than five months before the first day of classes for the consolidated school system about the best we can hope for is that what had been two school systems will begin the school year much as they were before the merger.
The fate of the proposed merger of Sullivan North and South high schools won’t be decided March 28 as originally planned. The Sullivan County school board’s scheduled vote on the recommendation of Director of Schools Jubal Yennie has been postponed, Yennie announced Friday afternoon. That means there will be no called board of Education meeting that day. However, a Monday, March 25, community meeting on school closing and rezoning proposals in the North zone is still to occur.
Rep. Joe Pitts said it best this week: “The very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result. I believe the bill before us repeats the same mistakes we are currently making in our education policy.” This legislative session is full of public education “reform” bills that do significantly more harm than good for our students. Pitts could have been talking about a number of bills, but this day was about the private school voucher bill (HB 0190), the “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act.” The fact that the bill gives taxpayer dollars to private entities should be a huge red flag, but even worse is the proposal’s intent to leave many students behind.
Tennessee’s Legislature and its ruling Republicans rely far more on the rich corporate collaborators that fund and guide ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — than most Tennesseans will ever know. As in most of the nation’s GOP-controlled legislatures nowadays, most of the Tennessee Legislature’s business-friendly giveaways, cash incentives for development, partisan and anti-worker reforms of worker compensation and insurance laws, and school voucher and charter school legislation, is concocted or driven by ALEC’s deeply partisan, pro-business backers.
The return on investment justifies the commitment by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration to find a way to invest $15 million toward the renovation of the Sears tower in Crosstown at Watkins and North Parkway. The historical nature of the building, the jobs the project will generate, the economic development potential it offers the Crosstown neighborhood, along with the possibility that the project could also impact distressed North Memphis neighborhoods, all mean that the money will be well spent. The group spearheading the renovation of the tower, abandoned since 1993, already has raised $25 million in donations toward the $175 million renovation project.