This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam was supposed to be at a financial literacy event in Nashville today but instead is in Washington, D.C., likely touching base with officials about how he wants to go about expanding Medicaid. Satisfying Republicans in the legislature, Haslam announced last month he would pass on expanding the state’s TennCare rolls using federal dollars under the Affordable Care Act, but instead try to find a third option that would allow using that money toward private insurance.
Gov. Bill Haslam is open to the idea of letting for-profit companies manage public charter schools in Tennessee. Currently, charter schools in the state can only contract with non-profit school operators, but a bill working its way through the Tennessee Legislature would remove that restriction. Speaking to reporters Monday, Haslam said he thinks “the idea has some merit.” “There are some really good for-profit charter operators,” said the Republican governor. “And if they can come in and do that in an effective way for school systems, they should be considered.”
In Joy Sanders’ first-grade classroom at Thelma Barker Elementary, four groups of students worked on a phonics lesson to identify words using the combination “or” in fiction and nonfiction text. “I don’t think that’s a word,” one student said to another as they lay on the floor, coming up with words that contained “or.” “It can be a nonsense word or a real word,” Sanders explained. “The goal is to get them to become word detectives and determine these things for themselves.” A second group of students played an interactive computer game, which required them to identify “or” words.
Tennessee Finance and Administration commissioner Mark Emkes announced that March revenue collections had exceeded expectations. According to the Chattanoogan, overall March revenues were more than $936 million, about $33 million more than the state expected. Total tax collections in March were more than 2 percent above the 2012 levels. “March collections continued to reflect strong corporate profits from last year, but also reflect very modest retail activity for the month of February, when spending occurred,” Mr. Emkes said to the Chatanoogan.
The Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency has approved a proposal by Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. to build a 49-bed inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Germantown, according to state filings. The project is estimated to cost about $33.2 million and is planned for construction at 1238 and 1280 South Germantown Parkway, the original site Baptist had planned to build its Baptist Center for Cancer Care. When complete, Baptist will transfer existing inpatient rehab services from Baptist Rehabilitation Germantown at 2100 Exeter Road to the new facility.
A recent audit of Tennessee’s unemployment insurance program found that $73.4 million in overpayments were made over the past six fiscal years, but just $11.3 million of that was recovered from those who wrongly received the money. Now, though, the state has stepped up collection efforts, using a new tool made possible by the U.S. Treasury Department: snatching the federal income tax refunds of people who got unemployment benefits to which they weren’t entitled.
Thunderstorms are expected to push into Middle Tennessee overnight Wednesday along with a strong cold front. Forecasts from the National Weather Service suggest the storms could be severe, with damaging winds. Tornadoes are possible. Showers will creep into the area starting Wednesday, but in the Nashville area, the threat of severe weather appears to be the strongest starting Thursday morning. “It doesn’t look like this is going to be a major outbreak, but it does look like we will have a possibility for severe storms,” Weather Service meteorologist Bobby Boyd said.
Former Knox County judge Richard Baumgartner faces a possible federal prison sentence for lying to cover up a scheme that provided him with painkillers and sex. Baumgartner is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on Wednesday in Greeneville federal court for his conviction on five counts of misprision of a felony. Baumgartner avoided jail earlier when he agreed to a plea deal in 2011 on a state charge of official misconduct after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe found he was addicted to painkillers and was having sex with probationer who was supplying him with pills.
A bill that would make it easier for electric utilities to raise their rates is heading to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. An initiative of Haslam’s administration, the bill would allow local for-profit utilities to automatically pass along some costs, such as increased fuel costs, to customers. Attorney General Bob Cooper has expressed concern over the bill, claiming it would remove protections for consumers from monopolies. According to Cooper’s office, some utilities have overstated their rate requests by as much as 60 percent over the past 10 years, according to the Free Press.
A bill tying some welfare payments to a child’s grades in school is advancing despite a veto threat from Governor Bill Haslam. The legislation passed another House committee Tuesday on a party line vote. Republicans signed off even after the governor’s legislative staff asked them not to. The proposal would reduce benefits by 30 percent if a child is failing in school and a parent still won’t go to teacher conferences. Roughly 52,000 Tennessee families receive the $185 per month.
Children in Tennessee could become the first in the nation to determine whether their families receive full welfare benefits — they fail a grade, and the state yanks 30 percent of their cash payouts under a bill the state Senate will take up Thursday. The bill’s sponsor says it’s actually aimed at parents, who can regain benefits after their children fail. They would do that by attending parenting classes or teacher conferences or by enrolling their kids in tutoring or summer school. But in the end, the folks who make pass-or-fail decisions are students and the teachers who grade them.
Opponents have already been vocal about how HB261/SB132 could unfairly target low-income children, but now they’re also worried how the move could impact teachers. “What kind of a burden is this going to put on our teachers who really need more time to teach and less time to do paperwork, tracking and that sort of thing,” said Metro Nashville Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Fred Carr. The bill would impact families after a child fails a grade and their parents don’t attend at least two parent-teacher conferences.
Teachers with a background in policing would be allowed to carry a gun in Tennessee schools under a bill making its way through the state legislature. In a measure gathering momentum among state lawmakers, school staffers who have worked as police officers could be certified to bring their weapons with them to work. The bill is meant to serve as a compromise between those who want all teachers to be able to carry guns and those who want to expand the number of police officers in schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December in Connecticut.
In the legislative wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, many state lawmakers filed bills to prevent such a thing from happening in Tennessee, but the question remains what is going to pass as this year’s session winds down? A measure to arm some school personnel took a step forward last week when it received Governor Bill Haslam’s blessing after an amendment was added that any staffer carrying a weapon must be a certified police officer. That bill came with a previous provision that local school districts would have the final say so.
State lawmakers are not mincing words when it comes to the national debate over gun restrictions as they vow to protect the rights of Tennessee gun owners at all costs. “We’re pushing the other way. We’re pushing back,” said State Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains. And they’re doing it by sponsoring several bills, including a resolution that says Tennessee lawmakers intend to oppose any effort made by the federal government to restrict gun rights. “The states created the federal government. We’re the parent, they’re the child, and they’re getting out of hand,” Nicely said.
Lawmakers questioned a proposal to create a special panel to authorize charter schools in several Tennessee counties during debate at the state Legislature Tuesday, while a nonprofit group criticized the governor’s decision to withdraw his school voucher program. The measure to create the panel was delayed in the Senate Finance Committee after members expressed concern about the new entity that would pay its executive director more than $100,000. Lawmakers questioned the need for the panel that would oversee five of the state’s lowest performing counties: Davidson, Hamilton, Hardeman, Knox and Shelby.
A push to give charter schools a way to open over the objections of a local school board is hitting legislative resistance. The Tennessee General Assembly’s fiscal committees are reviewing the bill and raising concerns about the cost and wisdom of creating an all-new state agency. “We’re setting up a new panel and a new executive director making over $100,000 to hear appeals – at this point – from five counties,” Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) said in a hearing Tuesday. The bill as currently written only applies to districts with the state’s 83 lowest performing schools.
The Senate sponsor of legislation to make cock fighting a felony says he believes his bill failed Monday evening because of strong support for the practice in rural parts of Tennessee. The proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro received a vote of 15-8, short of the 17 votes needed to receive a majority. Under the bill, a first offense for cock fighting would have remained a misdemeanor. But a second offense would be considered a felony punishable by six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.
A bill that would allow Tennessee’s district attorneys to prosecute serial child sexual abusers with a single trial even if the abuses occurred in multiple judicial districts is now on it’s way to the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee. On Tuesday, HB 1293 passed through the House Criminal Justice Committee and SB 1362 passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rep. Vince Dean (R-Chattanooga) said the bill is meant to protect child victims from the trauma of multiple rape and sexual abuse trials.
Pass the State Law pon the left hand side. Senator Frank Niceley is considering following in Kentucky’s footsteps and legalizing industrial hemp as the state’s next big cash crop. Our neighbors to the north became the first in the country to bring back what once was a leading crop for America’s farmers. Citing the economic possibilities Kentucky made the decision after setting up strict guidelines to make sure Hemp’s criminal cousin Marijuana is not grown.
Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday directed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to let them view files of the agency’s probe into allegations involving 10th District Attorney Steve Bebb of Cleveland. Seven members, including Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted in favor of the resolution. Two members, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, abstained. A similar effort in the House stalled at least temporarily after Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, blocked approval of nine bills and resolutions on various matters, only one of which involved Bebb, by the three-member Delayed Bills Committee.
State Rep. Lois DeBerry is undergoing treatment for a recurrence of pancreatic cancer. The Memphis Democrat was first elected in 1972 and is the longest-serving current member of the House of Representatives and second-longest in the entire Legislature. The 67-year-old is also the first female speaker pro tempore in the House. DeBerry was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 after suffering from stomach pain. The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/10Kli31 ) reports that earlier this week House Speaker Beth Harwell appointed Democratic Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis to temporarily replace DeBerry on the House Finance Committee and its finance subcommittee.
The Wall Street Journal has compiled an interactive story taking a state-by-state look at per capita health care spending, and the results may surprise you. Despite the general perception that the population of Tennessee and the South in general is less healthy than in other parts of the country, personal health spending per capita in the Volunteer State is among the lowest in the country — the 13th lowest, to be exact. Hospital care in Tennessee ranked as the No. 10 least-expensive, and dental services were even less costly when compared to other states.
Metro Nashville school board members approved a $764 million budget request Tuesday that includes small raises for employees and accommodates increasing costs for insurance and pension plans. The proposed budget now goes to Metro Mayor Karl Dean, who will meet with school officials on Friday to discuss it. After Dean, the proposal goes to the full council for consideration. The proposal is about $44 million, or 6 percent more than the school system received last year, and includes a 1.5 percent salary increase for employees.
A small salary bump, shifting expenses and five new charter schools are a few reasons that the Metro Nashville Public Schools district wants the city to add $44 million dollars to its budget next school year. The $765 million budget represents a 6 percent increase over the current school year’s budget, a bump district officials expect Mayor Karl Dean will be open to. “We’re just going to make the ask and have a discussion about it,” said board member Will Pinkston who chairs the board’s budget committee.
Plan calls for $13M funding increase The Knox County school board unanimously approved Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s budget proposal to seek a 3 percent budget increase for 2013-14 that would include adding two instructional coaches to the district’s Gifted and Talented program. The proposal would increase the school’s budget from $406.47 million to $419.86 million and address the areas of teacher compensation, continuing classroom instruction, instructional technology and school security.
The Knox County School Board voted unanimously in favor of Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s $418 million budget, an increase of $13.3 million over this fiscal year’s budget. It includes measures to increase teacher pay, new additional school resource officers, new technology and new security cameras and building entry controls at every school. Around $3.9 million of the school system’s capital budget for 2014 will be used to begin implementing a number of security enhancements, including the addition of video cameras, camera/buzzer systems, secure vestibules and keyless entry cards at every school.
The Shelby County Commission opens its budget season Wednesday, April 10, starting down a road of pivotal decisions for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The process begins Wednesday with an overview of county finances from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. The fiscal year is a first in several ways. It is the first fiscal year in which county government will be the sole local revenue source of tax funding for the consolidated Shelby County Schools system. It is also the first fiscal year in anyone’s memory in which the existing county property tax rate is expected to be adjusted up in order to produce the same amount of revenue the existing tax rate now produces for county government.
Bradley County officials will review options for amending policies on taxation of private roads. Earlier this week, Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg presented the Bradley County Commission with examples of how a mixture of a lack of property taxpayer awareness and tax assessor software limitations can spiral a $40 tax assessment into a $1,200 delinquent tax bill. Such issues have resulted in a substantial number of tax delinquency cases, she said. “We need to figure out how to fix the ones that are already out there and then also how we want to proceed in the future,” said Freiberg.
A wheel tax targeted to fund Blount County schools in the coming year has started to roll. The Blount County Commission Agenda Committee on Tuesday night approved placing the tax proposal before the full commission at its meeting April 18. The County Commission will be asked to place the wheel tax on a June 11 ballot so voters can weigh in on it, but since the Agenda Committee comprises the entire commission, Tuesday’s 15-4 approval seems unlikely to be reversed.
It’s basically a no-brainer: $200,000 in campaign contributions for an exploratory congressional bid is a boatload of cash. But right now, state Rep. Joe Carr can’t be so sure. Celebrating his political war chest plunder Tuesday, the Rutherford County lawmaker announced he had raised exactly $205,479 in six weeks. It’s all part of his exploratory bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais as the Republican nominee in what could be Tennessee’s nastiest upcoming election. “We’re a step closer to making a final decision on whether to jump in, but I can tell you one thing,” Carr said.
The days of shopping online without paying sales taxes may be ending. States are cracking down and a nationwide system for collecting sales tax on online sales may be coming soon. Several developments in recent weeks show how quickly the landscape is changing on what has long been an important but elusive goal for state officials: collecting sales tax from online retailers. States and localities could reap as much as $11 billion a year, according to one study. Internet shoppers are already supposed to pay the money on their own but rarely do.
Agency to hold meeting in Athens Environmental advocates will be listening closely next week to what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says about TVA’s troubled Watts Bar Nuclear Plant project. “I will be interested in hearing their assessment of the (non-nuclear grade materials) and any other surprises or reports,” Don Safer, chairman of the Nashville-based Tennessee Environmental Council, said Tuesday. The NRC is reviewing possible violations involving TVA’s purchase of thousands of parts not documented as nuclear grade for Watts Bar Unit 2, although the agency has concluded that construction work was done in a manner that met requirements.
Nike Inc. broke ground Tuesday on the 1.3 million-square-foot expansion of its Memphis Distribution Center. When the project is finished, it will give the company a total of 2.8 million square feet in Memphis, and allow the company to ship its footwear, apparel and equipment across the U.S. Hans van Alabeek, Nike’s vice president of global operations and technology, said the new facility, which will cost an estimated $276 million to expand, is the centerpiece of Nike’s distribution machine.
Memphis edged a strong bid by Mississippi to lure Nike’s $276 million expansion of its north-side distribution operation. “The State of Mississippi made us a great offer. It was pretty close,” Willie Gregory, Nike’s Tennessee director of community and business relations, said Tuesday during a ceremonial ground-breaking at Northridge Industrial Park in Frayser. Gregory, his bosses from the Beaverton, Ore., headquarters, Mayor AC Wharton Jr. and other officials pretended to shovel the first dirt, but the real construction has already started and should be completed by next year.
When it comes to a brand of clothing, no one is bigger than Nike. From footwear to apparel to, well you name it, they make it. Moving that much product is no simple task and Memphis has always been a key element in that undertaking. Now a huge expansion at the Nike Northridge Center in Raleigh-Frayser will be another giant leap into the future for Nike and Memphis. “Well, it’s still the distribution center of America but I think we’re going more towards supply chain because that’s what we do,” said Willie Gregory of Nike Memphis.
The trophy has been hoisted. The nets have been clipped. After 17 days of games played across the country, NCAA women’s basketball cheered a new champion last night on the court of the New Orleans Arena. It’ll be 12 months before basketball fans know who will contend for the honor in 2014, but with the game now over in the Big Easy, at least one thing is certain: The ball is in Nashville’s court. Music City is next to host the NCAA Women’s Final Four, a three-game series that ends in the coronation of college basketball’s top women’s team.
Harry Austin, editorial page editor for The Chattanooga Times opinion page, will retire next month after 37 years with the newspaper. The 67-year-old journalist, who has been the Times editorial page editor for the past 14 years, said he will leave the newspaper May 3 to spend more time traveling, riding his horse and enjoying retirement. “I’ve had a great opportunity in this job to talk and write about events around the world, but the time has come for me to move on to the next chapter of my life,” Austin said.
The popular charter school leader who unexpectedly resigned his post Tuesday plans to find another way to be part of the charter school debate. Jeremy Kane, founder and CEO of LEAD Public Schools charter management organization, won’t commit to a run for public office but said he is looking for the right moment to join the political discourse on the future of charter schools. “I don’t see this as stepping away,” Kane said. “I want to jump more into the debate at the right time. This issue is burning very hot. Obviously, I’ve got ideas.”
City Schools officials may see the district’s budget grow by about $3.44 million for the 2013-14 academic year, an increase of 7 percent based on estimates for the current year. The Murfreesboro Board of Education met Tuesday for a work session that primarily focused on the budget, which calls for spending $58.277 million. The budget, which goes to the City Council May 1, is based on a total of 7,404 students, excluding the 460 typically served by the district’s pre-K program. Enrollment figures are a projected increase of 219 students over the start of the current school year.
Dyer County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a Dyersburg man on Friday after finding five meth labs inside his residence on Tennyson Street. James Osborne, 31, 131 Tennyson St., Dyersburg, Tenn., is charged with initiating methamphetamine manufacture. The incident occurred on Friday, April 5, around 8:30 p.m. when Dyer County Sheriff’s Dept. Chad Jackson and Sgt. Danny Petrie went to Osborne’s residence to follow up on some information about Osborne possibly cooking meth. Jackson knocked on the front door and after about 10 seconds Osborne opened it.
The Montgomery County Drug Task Force investigated a Methamphetamine lab at an Evans Road home after a hospitalized woman gave a tip that led police to the lab. Clarksville Police notified the 19th Judicial District Drug Task Force that the woman in the hospital had possible information about a meth lab. Agents interviewed the woman, who said people had been cooking meth inside her home, according to a news release from Jamie Dexter, public information officer for the 19th DTF. “She gave us permission to search her home,” said Captain Jesse Reynolds, Director of the 19th JDDTF. “When we got there, we checked the door and the chemical smell was flooring.”
Before Gov. Bill Haslam and his super-majority Republican Legislature restructured the Tennessee Regulatory Authority to make it more “business friendly” — the mantra of the governor and GOP lawmakers — local governments and business groups like the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association were able to mount collaborative legal challenges against proposals for big rate increases by for-profit utilities. In fact, the practice became nearly routine for the rate-hikes proposed by the Tennessee-American Water Co. and the Chattanooga Gas Co., which frequently sought double-digit rate increases, sometimes above 20 percent.
Try starving them out. Forget this meager bill that wants to cut welfare to parents whose kids do poorly in school. That’s not tough enough. Let’s bag all assistance. A total withdrawal. Welcome to the Volunteer State, where no one gets any help whatsoever. No more burdensome poor. No more welfare queens. No more laziness. No more mess. Advancing through the state Legislature is a bill (SB 0132 and HB 0261) that would cut one-third of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to families whose kids make poor grades or skip school too much.
A lot of Memphis baby boomers who attended local public schools probably recall having to take a Tennessee history course in high school. A proposed revision of standards for social studies in Tennessee may bring back that course in a different form. And, in this age of concerns in some education circles that too much emphasis is being placed on students’ ability to pass standardized tests, the revisions could enhance learning. The revised standards would mean that all public school kindergartners would be required to know about Davy Crockett, Sequoyah, James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Alvin York and Wilma Rudolph.
Even though it’s been actively fulfilling orders for more than six months, Amazon’s grand opening celebration this past week was worth the wait. And it’s impact on this community is only just beginning to be felt. The 1-million-square-foot sort center, covering more than 25 football fields off Joe B. Jackson Parkway, is not only impressive in its scope — it’s packed with row upon row of everything from electronics to one-serving coffee cups — but in its reach and in its potential. The facility received its first merchandise Sept. 19 and one week later made initial shipments to customers.
I’m a little confused. Aren’t we supposed to have a representative government? That is, don’t we elect people to go to Washington to make decisions that reflect the will of the people? Or have we fallen into the same elitist quagmire as, say, our legal system, where any day of the week you can hear some lawyer telling his client “it isn’t about justice” and “it isn’t about whether you are guilty or not”? It’s about money. It’s about how the system works. That’s a frightening thought for any democracy, and it’s becoming more and more apparent in politics as well. It isn’t about right and wrong, or about what the people want — it’s how you play the game.
On Thursday, the full Senate is scheduled to take its first procedural vote on a bill designed to keep guns out of criminal hands, more than three months after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. In those few months, much of the urgency has seeped out of the search for solutions to gun violence. That return to complacency is reflected in the difficulty in reaching bipartisan agreement on which bill will reach the floor. Ideally, the Senate would approve a bill to require background checks for all gun sales, which would significantly improve the chances of preventing criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns.