This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Harlow Sumerford will join the governor’s staff as East Tennessee field director. In this position, Sumerford will serve as a liaison for the Governor’s Office to East Tennessee constituents. “Harlow is a great addition to our team,” Haslam said. “I appreciate his willingness to serve and know he’ll do a good job in representing our office from Mountain City to Chattanooga.” Sumerford, 35, most recently served as deputy press secretary and legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr., working in his Knoxville District office since January 2011.
Responding to a Wall Street Journal opinion article that criticized him for wanting it “both ways” on school vouchers, Gov. Bill Haslam said he disagreed with the writer’s assessment and pinned the proposal’s demise on “infighting among advocates” in the General Assembly. Haslam, who opted to hold off on introducing a voucher program in 2012, put a plan forward earlier this year to begin a platform in Tennessee. The limited program would have begun with a cap of 5,000 students and be expanded up to 20,000 over four years if it proved to be successful.
A recent wave of backlash against new academic standards for Tennessee’s schoolchildren has state officials so concerned that they talked twice this week about how best to show their support for the standards. The State Board of Education discussed newly organizing criticism against the Common Core State Standards at meetings on Thursday and Friday before deciding to officially renew its support for the standards. The board plans to vote on a resolution reaffirming its faith in the standards at the next meeting, set for July 26.
The state agency responsible for finding jobs for Tennesseans is cutting 125 of its own jobs as part of a budget-cutting move. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Friday it is closing 34 career centers, including offices in Rockwood, Lenoir City, McMinnville and Vonore, Tenn. Since 2004, the state’s career centers have been operating at a deficit. When federal funding ran out, the state put $5 million in the budget last year to keep the centers open. But the new state budget will have no such funds, and the 34 offices will close in the next month or two.
About 125 employees of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development have been told their jobs are being eliminated and career job services will no longer be provided at 34 locations across the state. Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the agency, said most of the affected employees were told of the layoffs in a meeting today. A budget deficit is being blamed for the layoffs. Hentschel said that not all 34 offices will be closing because they are shared with other agencies, but career services will no longer be available at those so-called satellite offices.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today it will close 34 of its career centers in a cost-savings move. Burns Phillips, the department’s acting commissioner, said the restructuring of the career center network will allow a more economically effective service to Tennessee citizens. The move comes as federal dollars that funded the centers dried up. Since 2004, career centers were operating at a deficit, and more than $32 million in one-time federal funding was used to supplement the program.
125 employees alsowill lose their jobs There are 125 employees at Tennessee Career Centers who soon will be looking for jobs themselves. The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced on Friday that 34 career centers throughout Tennessee will be closing no later than July 1. Jeff Hentschel, communications director for the department, said civil service employees will work through June 18 and part-time employees will work until the end of the month. “Their last paycheck must be on this fiscal system,” he said.
34 Tennessee career centers will close this summer, and 125 state workers will lose their jobs. Federal money ran out last year for the centers to help people look for work. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development notified the workers today their jobs will be gone in two months. Roberta Brazier worked as an interviewer in the Pulaski career center, and says she worries for the people she would be helping find jobs, and for her younger coworkers who now need one.
Three of five career centers in Shelby County will be closed as the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development shuts down 34 statewide for lack of funding, officials announced Friday. By June 30, career centers in Raleigh at 2850 Old Austin Peay and at the Memphis Area Transit Authority Terminal at 444 North Main will close, as will one in Collierville at 942 West Poplar, officials said. That will leave two, at 1295 Poplar in Midtown and 4240 Hickory Hill to serve Shelby and Fayette counties.
State officials are reviewing the Davidson County Election Commission’s management of last year’s elections — apparently an unprecedented move — and the county election administrator said he’s hired his own attorney to help him respond. Meanwhile, Metro government might move the commission’s headquarters out of downtown Nashville, which Election Administrator Albert Tieche said would be a bad idea. The five-member election commission met Friday for the first time since state lawmakers appointed four new members and a day after Metro released an audit that generally gave Tieche and his staff high marks.
State agriculture officials are expecting an excellent crop of strawberries across the state this year. Pamela Bartholomew is a marketing specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. She told the Daily News Journal (http://on.dnj.com/11kPhAF) that Tennessee’s cool, wet spring has prolonged the growing process. The cold has thinned out some strawberries, but that means the remaining berries will get more nourishment. Steve Pearcy at P&P Farms in Lascassas said he’s expecting one of the best crops he’s seen in years.
A sign unveiling showed how what used be part of the city’s old hospital re-emerged Friday as “Middle Tennessee State University Bell Street Building.” MTSU’s new building tis part of an $11.1 million purchase from Middle Tennessee Medical Center and will be used for academic purposes, with classrooms possibly for graduate level courses, university spokesman Andrew Oppmann said after the unveiling ceremony. “It’s got to be the right fit for this area,” Oppmann said.
The 108th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on Friday, the first time in 45 years that lawmakers have finished as early as April in the first year of a session. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey had set an adjournment goal of April 18, but he didn’t seem upset finishing a day later. “We set a goal at the very beginning of session and we worked toward that goal,” the Blountville Republican said. “I think that’s what the people want. It’s about setting goals and working toward those goals.”
The GOP-run Tennessee Legislature called it a year Friday, closing up shop on the earliest date in over two decades. And in typical fashion, the ebbing hours of the session were a whirl of harried debate and last-minute spatting between the House and Senate. One of the big items on the Tennessee General Assembly’s education agenda for the year was unceremoniously tossed aside in the waning hours of the session with signs that the proposal failed as a result of a legislative game of chicken between chambers.
A plan to redraw Tennessee’s judicial districts and a proposal to give chartering authority to the State Board of Education both died Friday, casualties in a last-day political standoff in the state legislature. The Tennessee House of Representatives rejected Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s plan to eliminate two judicial districts statewide and reorganize six others, dealing a rebuke to the powerful leader of the state Senate. Hours later, the Senate responded by sending the charter authorizer bill closely identified with House Speaker Beth Harwell back to committee, in a tit-for-that exchange that derailed the two leaders’ top legislative initiatives for the year.
The 108th General Assembly adjourned for the year on Friday with the Senate refusing to proceed with a major charter school bill after the House earlier shot down a Senate-backed judicial redistricting plan. But as senators and representatives wrapped up their annual session at the earliest date in 23 years, they did give final approval to two Hamilton County lawmakers’ proposed 13-month moratorium on municipal annexation. “I do think we had a successful General Assembly,” Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey, of Blountville, later told reporters, citing passage this week of the state’s $32.7 billion budget and success earlier in the session on Gov. Bill Haslam’s overhaul of workers compensation and other measures.
The Tennessee Legislature adjourned for the year Friday after going down to the wire with several contentious issues: a major charter school bill failed and a limited moratorium on municipal annexation passed. Lawmakers also failed to extend the life of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which will go out of business June 30, leaving no mechanism to fill vacancies in state judgeships. But they approved new restrictions on the use of drones by state and local law enforcement.
The state Senate will shortly adjourn for the year without passing the Charter Authorizer bill (HB702/SB830) that easily cleared the state House on Thursday. The reason? A tit-for-tat response to the House’s killing of a bill, favored by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), to revise the state’s judicial districts. That bill (HB0630/SB0780) was defeated 28-66, with House members of both parties rebelling and expressing defiance against what several members referred to as dictation by the Senate. One result: Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Senate sponsor of Charter Authorizer, will apparently not even bring it to the floor.
After working for a little more than three months, the Legislature left the Capitol Building for good Friday after finishing up the year’s business. The body’s Friday adjournment represents the earliest exit in more than two decades. In 1990, the legislature went home on April 12, an exit only 10 other members in the legislature were around to see at the time. Here’s a breakdown of what the General Assembly accomplished this year: Animal cruelty reporting: The so-called “Ag Gag” bill would require anyone snapping pictures, shooting video or capturing any other media showing animal abuse to report it within 48 hours — a move critics said is aimed at discouraging the long-term documentation animal rights advocates compile over months to build a case.
Here is a look at some of the top pieces of legislation that passed or failed during the first session of the 108th Tennessee General Assembly. WINNERS: — GUNS IN PARKING LOTS. Allows people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked. SB0142. — VIRTUAL SCHOOLS. Tightens enrollment requirements at privately run online schools. SB0157. — WORKERS COMP. Changes the way the state considers injured workers’ claims. HB0194. — MEMPHIS SCHOOLS. Clears the way for cities to begin forming municipal school systems.
Applause and cheers went up in both the House and Senate Friday afternoon when Senate Bill 279 dealing with annexation passed by a vote of 59-32, sending the legislation to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. Sent to a conference committee earlier in the day because of the differences between amendments filed by the sponsors in the Senate and House – Speaker Pro Tempore Sen. Bo Watson in the Senate and freshman Rep. Mike Carter – the House spent almost 35 minutes debating the conference committee report before approving it.
There was a tit for tat as the state legislature finished business for the year. As a result priorities of speakers in both chambers went down to defeat. The so-called state charter school authorizer was unceremoniously scrapped this afternoon. “It’s really disappointing,” said Matt Throckmorton of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association. “We’ll just keep working on it.” Charter school advocates had been pushing for a way to give the state authority to open charter schools, even if the local school board opposes them.
As the Tennessee legislature continues its breakneck pace in Nashville this week, Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, won approval in the Senate for an amendment that removes a ban on giving for-profit companies the authority to manage public charter schools. The ban has been in place since 2009, the Commercial Appeal reports. The amended House Bill 315 amendment will now have to be reconsidered by the House. consider the amendment. The bill is one of two arge charter school bills currently on the docket.
Legislation awaiting Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature aims to more clearly define the work performed by compounding pharmacists, and there may be opportunity in the pending legislation as well as another recent rule regarding painkillers. Brett Wright, founder of Benevere Specialty Pharmacy & Diabetic Supply in Collierville, said SB 0582 “further clarifies and defines what a compounded drug is and who is responsible for it.” The bill “revises the definitions of ‘compounding’ and ‘dispense’ in the Pharmacy Practice Act” to establish responsibility for compounded, or specially formulated, prescription drugs.
A bill out of Williamson County that would exempt cars that are 3 years old or newer has cleared both chambers of the state legislature with overwhelming support. But concern over how such a change might impact air quality scores prompted them to place a speed bump in the proposal’s path. Before it can be enacted, state environmental officials are being asked to show what other air quality measures might be needed to offset the exemption. Only a small fraction of new vehicles fail their emissions test, giving House sponsor Rep. Jeremy Durham confidence the measure will become law.
Lawmakers turned down Friday what would have been Tennessee’s first judicial redistricting since 1984 and it’s uncertain whether they’ll be able to enact one next year in time for 2014’s judicial elections. It won Senate approval 28-3 on Tuesday but failed to win approval in the House on Friday on a 28-66 vote. The plan was pushed by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and was the part of a dispute between the House and Senate that also resulted in the failure of charter school legislation. House members whose districts were directly affected by the plan argued loudly against it and persuaded a majority of their colleagues to join them in voting it down.
Animal protection groups are putting on a full-court press encouraging Gov. Bill Haslam to veto what’s become known as the “Ag Gag” bill requiring video recordings of horse and livestock abuse to be turned over to police within 48 hours of the recording. The bill, which won legislative approval Wednesday, is seen as an effort to thwart groups like the Humane Society of the United States from going undercover and secretly recording animal abuse over time to document patterns of abuse at factory farms and horse stables.
The Tennessee House on Friday voted to join its Senate colleagues and review the TBI’s four-month investigation into 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb’s office. The House voted 75-10 to name six members of two House panels to review the file. Later, Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said a committee of House lawmakers that includes Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, will begin reviewing the files as soon as practicable. Lawmakers adjourned their session for the year Friday, but the special House committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee can meet during the recess, lawmakers said.
The Knox County Election Commission on Friday unanimously reappointed Clifford Rodgers as the county’s administrator of elections. He will serve a two-year term and oversee a $1.64 million budget that will include two city elections and a county primary during the next fiscal year, which begins in July. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve been able to accomplish, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to help ensure the integrity of the ballot box,” said Rodgers, 59.
A 19-year-old Massachusetts college student wanted in the Boston Marathon bombing was captured hiding in a boat parked in a backyard Friday night and his older brother lay dead in a furious 24-hour drama that transfixed the nation and paralyzed the Boston area. “CAPTURED!!!” the Boston police tweeted in news that set off celebrations across the metropolitan area and finally broke the tension. “The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
The organizers of Nashville’s upcoming marathon say they’ll be stepping up security at the race, following this week’s explosions in Boston. 150 private security guards have been added to the roster of police and private officers who will be stationed at the start and finish lines. Vehicles used for storing and transporting racer’s gear bags will be monitored. Everyone in attendance-runners, volunteers and spectators-will be subject to random bag checks. Certain restricted areas will only be accessed with photo ID and an inspection of any bags, containers or equipment.
The two Chechen brothers suspected of planting bombs at the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon hail from a region of Central Asia known for its political conflict, religious tensions and strong anti-American sentiment, local experts said Friday. The nuanced background of the brothers — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who was taken into custody by police Friday night, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who died in a police shootout — casts confusion as to whether the attack was politically motivated, an act of religious extremism or an outlet of some other kind.
Like most Tennesseans, Remziya Suleyman was outraged at the news of the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon this week. She’s been watching the news since, worried about the victims as well as her friends who live in that city. “It’s a horrible moment for all of us in America,” she said. Suleyman is director of policy and administration for the Nashville-based American Center for Outreach, which does political advocacy for Muslims in Tennessee. She heard this morning that the suspects are from Chechnya and condemned them as terrorists.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented Congressman Scott DesJarlais with the annual Spirit of Enterprise Award for his support of pro-jobs, pro-growth policies during the second session of the 112th Congress. “In the face of high-stakes politics and difficult choices, Congressman DesJarlais provided America’s job creators with a strong voice in Congress,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber. “This award recognizes Congressman DesJarlais for consistently demonstrating his support for pro-growth policies.”
One day after federal authorities released an affidavit that linked him to an alleged corporate fraud scheme, Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam on Friday denied personal wrongdoing and said his company is run the right way. Haslam’s comments came amid a rapidly developing criminal investigation into Pilot, a revelation that has sent ripples through Knoxville’s business and political circles — and beyond. On Monday, federal agents raided Pilot facilities including its headquarters on Lonas Drive.
Trucking company operators in Tennessee and beyond expressed surprise and disgust Friday about revelations that the Pilot Flying J truck-stop chain may have deliberately cheated its customers on rebates they were supposed to have earned on their diesel-fuel purchases. Accusations of fraud over the rebate program, suggesting that millions of dollars were withheld from the trucking companies, were outlined in an affidavit released by the FBI on Thursday. Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J, the nation’s largest truck-stop operator, is majority-owned and controlled by the family of Gov. Bill Haslam, whose brother, Jimmy Haslam, is chief executive officer.
Government regulators revealed more details of their investigation into Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J Thursday, with new documents accusing the gas station giant of withholding millions of dollars in rebates from trucking companies with the knowledge of company executives, Knoxville News Sentinel reports. According to an affidavit from an FBI special agent, an employee with Pilot said the fraud occurred with the knowledge of President Mark Hazelwood and CEO Jimmy Haslam, brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
New developments in this week’s FBI and IRS raid on Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville suggest that Jimmy Haslam, CEO of the company and brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, was aware of rebate fraud taking place within the multibillion dollar truck stop company. On Thursday, a 120-page FBI affidavit was released, including details of how Pilot Flying J sales representatives had been shorting customers on rebates guaranteed for diesel fuel sales. Since federal agents locked down the company’s headquarters Monday, Jimmy Haslam, who is also owner of the Cleveland Browns, has maintained that his company is “built on its integrity” and added that “any willful wrongdoing” by employees of Pilot Flying J is intolerable.
In the wake of a federal raid and criminal investigation, Pilot Flying J has retained prominent white-collar defense attorney Aubrey Harwell, Jr., of Nashville. Tom Ingram, a spokesman for the company, said Friday that Harwell was retained by Pilot after Monday’s raid, and “has brought a team in with him.” Harwell was seen leaving Pilot’s Lonas Drive headquarters prior to a news conference on Friday afternoon. According to his bio, he has represented clients including Bridgestone and former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann.
The American economy has generated 30 straight months of job growth. But for millions of people looking for more work and greater income, that improvement provides little solace. In March, 7.6 million Americans who want more hours were stuck in part-time jobs, about the same as a year earlier and three million more than there were when the recession began at the end of 2007. These almost invisible underemployed workers do not count toward the standard jobless rate of 7.6 percent. A broader measure, which includes the involuntary part-timers as well as people who want to work but have stopped looking, stands at 13.8 percent.
If the mother of all Tennessee Valley floods had occurred last year, results at Watts Bar or Sequoyah nuclear plants could have been catastrophic, nuclear regulators and TVA officials say. This year, the plants have a better chance against rising water. And in the next two years, Tennessee Valley Authority officials say, the seven reactors at all three nuclear plants built on the Tennessee River should be monster-flood proof. Come Monday, they have to convince the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of that.
A federal judge has ruled a lawsuit against TVA over its policy forbidding costumes at board meetings may proceed. A 1:30 p.m. May 2 scheduling conference in the case has been set before Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley. U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell issued an order Wednesday denying a TVA motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ case. She ruled that the case met standards for stating a claim of violation of First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Keith Edgar Lowe, could not be reached for comment.
Billy Joe Griggs Jr. said he expected to be ripped off. Griggs, owner of a furniture company in Pulaski, Tenn., designed and patented a ready-to-assemble sofa that takes less room to ship than a factory-assembled one. After licensing it to a U.S. furniture manufacturer, he began negotiating a similar arrangement with a Chinese manufacturer. But he claims the foreign company ignored a confidentiality agreement, copied his design to make its own sofas and attempted to sell them to his U.S. retail customers.
Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. held a grand opening of its $200 million, 350,000-square-foot transformer facility for city and company officials today, a year after construction began and two years after the project was originally announced. The finished product, which Brian Heery, president of Mitsubishi’s North American operations called “a transformer factory for the 21st century,” is expected to be at full production by 2015. “We’ve got a factory in Japan and this is far ahead of it in the adoption of the newest technologies that are currently available,” Heery said.
The “made in Memphis” list of products got a giant boost Friday with the grand opening of the Mitsubishi Electric Power Products plant. The Japanese company showed off its $200 million facility that will make huge transformers. Even as dozens of officials took the highly organized, self-guided tour of the 350,000-square-foot building in Rivergate Industrial Park, a construction crew in front of the plant laid a rail spur to transport the massive, 400-ton transformers to Mitsubishi’s utility customers.
A group of 200 dignitaries marked the formal opening Friday, April 19, of the Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. plant in Southwest Memphis. The crowd included representatives from Southern California Edison and Dominion Virginia Power, the first two customers to order transformers from the $200 million plant. They, along with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and executives from parent company Mitsubishi Electric Corp. of Japan, donned ceremonial jackets and wooden mallets for the opening of several wooden saki barrels at a luncheon that featured sushi and barbecue.
Volkswagen is laying off 500 workers at its Chattanooga plant, ending the facility’s third shift, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Volkswagen blamed slower-than-expected sales growth for the Chattanooga-made Passat sedan. The cuts, set to take effect at the end of May, will apply to contract employees provided by Aerotek, a staffing agency. Some 2,700 workers will remain employed at the plant following the cuts, according to the Times Free Press.
An assistant principal in Texas has been hired as the new principal of 700-student Robertsville Middle School, and the interim principal of the Oak Ridge Preschool has been named to the post full-time. James Hundertmark, for the past four years employed as lead associate principal of the 3,500-student Klein High School in Klein, Texas, will begin his new duties July 1 at Robertsville. Hundertmark replaces Laurie Campbell, who has been serving as the middle school’s interim principal.
Karen Bobo told investigators on Friday that a pink purse that was found Wednesday in Decatur County did not belong to her daughter, abducted nursing student Holly Bobo. Neighborhood dogs brought a tattered purse to a home in Parsons on Wednesday that resembled the purse witnesses said was last seen with Holly Bobo the day she disappeared, on April 13, 2011. The discovery of the purse sparked a large-scale search effort on Thursday in hopes of finding evidence in the case.
When two state legislators who raise livestock push through legislation that cripples animal cruelty investigations it is natural to question whether their action is for the public good or to protect a special group of which they are a part. It certainly looks as if Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, were more interested in protecting those who raise farm animals and horses. An animal abuse bill sponsored by the pair was sent to Gov. Bill Haslam Wednesday after one of the longest debates of the 2013 session.
Businessman Brad Martin is a good choice to serve as interim president of the University of Memphis when Dr. Shirley Raines retires June 30 after leading the university for 12 years. A 1976 graduate of the then-Memphis State University and a member of the U of M’s Board of Visitors, a high-level advisory group for Raines, Martin has a valuable understanding of the financial and educational challenges and opportunities facing the university. Like Raines, he understands and supports the university’s role in collaborating with local governments, health and research organizations, urban planning entities, nonprofit and social service agencies in making Greater Memphis and West Tennessee a safe, healthy and prosperous place to live, work and play.
While police were pursuing the surviving suspect Friday in the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the story emerged of Jeffrey Bauman. Within minutes of awakening from surgery that took both his legs beneath the knee, Bauman scribbled a note to his brother asking to see the police. He had looked into the eyes of the man who dropped the backpack that exploded near him a few minutes later, and he could identify the bomber. Assistance from Bauman and other spectators was precisely what the FBI was seeking. After intensive scanning of footage collected by the city’s security cameras near the explosions, authorities were quickly able to post pictures of suspects.