This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today unveiled additions to the Fisical Year 2013-2014 budget to be considered by the Tennessee General Assembly in the coming weeks. The governor presented his original budget for FY 2013-14 on January 28th, and the supplemental appropriations amendment to SB 502/HB 507 includes additional funding. “Our budget proposal is the result of a thorough review of the programs and services state government funds,” Haslam said.
Approval of revised standards for social studies in Tennessee would mean that all public school kindergartners would be required to know about Elvis. And David Crockett, Sequoyah, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson, Alvin C. York and Wilma Rudolph. They would have to explain why we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. High school students would have to wade into the “major ideas of philosophers and their effects on the democratic revolutions in England, the United States, France, and Latin America including but not limited to John Locke, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Simón Bolívar, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and Thomas Jefferson.”
State Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes says federal spending cuts and tax hikes are to blame for a dip in consumer confidence in Tennessee. Emkes in a release Friday said March sales tax collections, which reflect spending activity in the previous month, came in $2.8 million below estimates. That’s a growth rate of just 0.1 percent, well below the 1.8 percent growth rate posted through the first eight months of the budget year. Emkes said the 2 percent hike in the federal payroll tax in January and budget cuts have caused “temporary erosion in consumer confidence.”
Tennessee’s long-term unemployed — those out of work for more than 26 weeks — will get smaller benefit checks beginning next week due to automatic federal budget cuts. The reduction, due to the federal sequester that took effect March 1, will impact an estimated 30,000 people in Tennessee, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and as many as 1.8 million workers nationwide. After receiving a maximum of 26 weeks of state-funded payments, the long-term unemployed can apply to receive payments for an additional 37 weeks through the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
Environmental advocates in the region worry that the State Building Commission’s approval of the University of Tennessee’s request to seek natural gas drilling bids on UT property sets a bad precedent for publicly owned land. If the UT school of forestry can shop hydraulic drilling, known as fracking, bids for its Cumberland Forest, perhaps the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation could seek drillers for areas of Fall Creek Falls or Cumberland Trail State Park. Or maybe the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency could seek profits from wells on Aetna Mountain’s wildlife management area.
Gov. Bill Haslam has dropped his bid to start a state school voucher program, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. A voucher program would have diverted public money to help children whose parents cant afford private school tuition. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who carried the bill on behalf of the governor, said the bill was pulled due to Republicans’ desire to expand the bill. Haslam had threatened to pull the bill if it was modified. “There was sort of too much brinksmanship,” Norris told reporters Wednesday.
With a near party line vote of 23-7 in the Senate Thursday, all that remains to block state-funded college IDs as valid identification for voting in Tennessee is the governor’s signature. With no explanation, Senate Bill 125 sponsor Bill Ketron rose and simply said he would “move to concur” with House Bill 229 as amended. The Republican senator from Murfreesboro noted that one of the amendments from the House “retains the present law prohibition on the use of student identification card to veria person’s identity.”
State legislators are noted for concentrating on legislation that impacts various constituencies in a particular district — or they can focus on broader issues. State Rep. Roger Kane, a Republican in his first term representing the new 89th District, seems to be putting his energies into the first category. These are some examples of initiatives he has sponsored or co-sponsored to date: Allowing homeschoolers to participate in interscholastic sports at local high schools. This was proposed as much as 15 years ago by now House Speaker Beth Harwell and never adopted, he said.
On the heels of news that lower property values for the first time in memory could trigger a higher property-tax rate in Memphis, city Finance Director Brian Collins directed the City Council to a report that many Memphians would find hard to believe. Among the largest cities in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., the estimated tax burden in Memphis ranks near the bottom, 48th. Only Jacksonville, Fla.; Anchorage, Alaska; and Cheyenne, Wyo., had lower tax loads in 2011, according to a nationwide comparison of tax rates and tax burdens issued last September by the District of Columbia government.
It took Chris and Tosha Grissom six months to build their four-bedroom, four-bath home in Chester County on Holly Springs Road in 1992. It took 35 minutes to demolish it three weeks after a storm ravaged a four-county area in January. “That was the hard part,” Tosha said. “Watching them take it down.” What straight-line wind could not complete on Jan. 30, Shane Harwell and Triple H Backhoe Service did 21 days later. “It was the saddest feeling I’ve had since my daddy died,” Chris said.
Senator distancing himself from president As some on the right demand more proof of his conservatism, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander hasn’t wasted opportunities this year to speak out against President Barack Obama and his policies. “A complete failure of presidential leadership,” Alexander said when the White House and Congress failed to find a way around budget sequestration at the end of February. Why was there “no plan from the president” to reign in entitlement spending? he thundered a few weeks before at a Senate hearing on budget matters.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said economic polices of President Barack Obama were at the root of lackluster jobs numbers released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor, which showed the economy adding only 88,000 jobs last month. Hiring numbers for March were far from economists’ predictions, many of which suggested a figure of 200,000 or more. In a news release, the congressman said the numbers proved the president’s prescriptions for the economy were “simply not working.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority has hired the chief operating officer of Exelon Generation to its No. 2 job in charge of TVA’s power generation. Charles G. “Chip” Pardee, a 30-year utility veteran, will fill the job vacated when TVA Executive Vice President Kimberly Greene left the federal utility last month to return to the Southern Co. Pardee will be responsible for TVA’s nuclear, coal, gas, hydroelectric and renewable energy generation, along with oversight of the agency’s river operations, fuel procurement and power trading operations.
With much of their case struck down, plaintiffs suing TVA over its tree cutting policy are waiting to see how a magistrate judge rules on their bid to open more TVA records to scrutiny. In any event, the prospects for success are not encouraging, said Vance Sherwood, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. But from the beginning, plaintiffs felt like they should stand up to TVA whether it was likely TVA would win or not. “We thought we had the right cause, but we did not think we would prevail,” he said Friday.
Union workers at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant have ratified a one-year contract extension, which includes a 2 ½ percent wage increase. Steve Jones, president of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council, confirmed the ratification Friday night but declined to release the vote totals. The agreement was reached with B&W Y-12, the government’s managing contractor at Y-12. The current labor agreement was due to expire June 22, and the federal National Nuclear Security Administration authorized B&W to negotiate an extension in order to avoid problems during the upcoming change of management contractors at the Oak Ridge plant.
Amazon celebrated the grand opening of its fulfillment center here Friday beneath a banner showing downtown Nashville. But local officials didn’t seem to mind. “We’re the best part of Nashville,” Murfreesboro Assistant City Manager Jim Crumley said while glancing at the banner posted behind a lectern while TV news crews from Nashville recorded the celebration in this suburban city. The banner read, “Welcome to BNA3 Amazon Fulfillment.”
The Omni Nashville Hotel has booked more than 250,000 room nights, meeting its quarter-million goal post months ahead of schedule. The bookings are made up of more than 190 meetings and conventions contracted through 2024. The hotel had projected to meet that goal in about four months, according to a news release. “This milestone also reinforces that there is strong local, regional and national interest from meeting and event planners in the Music City,” hotel representatives said in the release.
Erlanger’s new CEO sees opportunity where others see stalemate in a bill to change the hospital’s governance structure. Legislation to revamp the board of trustees, approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, died last month on the floor of the Hamilton County Commission for lack of support from commissioners. Kevin Spiegel, who took the hospital’s helm Monday, offered another option. “I don’t believe the [current] bill is going to go back this year. I think it’s dead-dead-dead,” he said Friday.
Rutherford County will have to provide a quarterly report to the Tennessee Division of Solid Waste Management on efforts to control toxic liquid and improve the groundwater monitoring system at its landfills, according to a state letter. One monitoring well is “compromised” and needs to be replaced, and other wells need to be evaluated to determine if more are necessary “to provide an adequate monitoring network,” according to a letter from Al Majors, field office manager for the Division of Solid Waste Management for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Health care reform now tops economic uncertainty as the biggest concern for small businesses, according to a quarterly survey conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. More than 75 percent of the 1,332 small business owners/executives surveyed by Harris Interactive said health care reform will make insurance coverage for their employees more expensive. More than 70 percent said the law makes it harder for them to hire more employees. The law’s employer mandate also is keeping some small businesses from growing, according to the survey.
A Knox County teacher accused in a lawsuit of twice assaulting a special needs preschooler also faced allegations she had a history of assaultive behavior, including hitting a student in the mouth and pulling another’s hair, her personnel file shows. Knox County Schools on Thursday struck a settlement with the parents of a Cedar Bluff Preschool Center student in a federal lawsuit filed against the school system, Cedar Bluff Preschool Program Director Richard Ward and Preschool teacher Susan “Susie” Peterson over back-to-back incidents in May 2012.
It’s still a work in progress, but the Memphis City Schools pilot model for evaluating teachers whose students don’t have to fill in the bubbles on standardized tests continues to attract attention across Tennessee and beyond. Between a tour of Overton High School and a visit to the MCS ArtsFest exhibit this week, three representatives from the U.S. Department of Education Ambassador Fellowship Program listened to teachers, parents, students and administrators talk about evaluating teachers, particularly those who teach music, art and other creative endeavors.
Tennessee is known for a great many things, including world-class music, a business-friendly climate and beautiful scenery. So, it may come as a surprise as to what exactly keeps our engine running. No, we’re not talking about the barbecue. It’s our intellectual property, also referred to simply as IP. Tennessee’s innovative and creative spirit lies at the very economic heart of our state. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study, almost half of the private-sector employment in the state depends on products generated by copyrights, patents and trademarks belonging to Tennesseans.
Another day, another promise to secure funds to replace the aging lock at the Tennessee Valley Authority-operated Chickamauga Dam. Back in February, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced he will seek funds for the Chickamauga lock project through the American Waterworks Act. While efforts to fix the lock are welcome news, the dismal success rate of prior drives to acquire such funds — followed by our disappointment when results of those efforts fall flat — is beginning to resemble a struggle of Sisyphean proportions.