This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
New York Times stats whiz Nate Silver suggests that when it comes to Republican governors, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is the standard blend of conservative and moderate. Last week, Silver posted an analysis of the country’s 30 GOP governors to his FiveThirtyEight political blog, scoring them on a scale of conservativeness. The popular prognosticator—who correctly predicted all 50 states in last year’s presidential election—decided to examine the group after noticing a trend suggesting Republican-controlled state governments were more popular than those ran by Democrats, bucking a pattern seen in federal races.
James C. “Jim” Martin has changed “the face and the future” of East Tennessee State University and the arts in the region, says ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland. Five years after his first gift to ETSU and the arts in Upper East Tennessee in memory of his wife Mary B. Martin, Jim Martin is receiving Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts. The Governor’s Arts Awards will be presented to nine recipients on Tuesday by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam in a special ceremony in Nashville, produced by the Tennessee Arts Commission.
The gymnasium of Vine Middle Magnet Performing Arts Academy was turned into a barbershop on Monday afternoon to allow students to get a free hair cut. The cuts, done by Rooster’s Men’s Grooming Center located in Turkey Creek, were to help the young men get ready for this week’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAPs. “One of the things I was thinking about is this would be a great motivator for our kids. I’m a true believer that when you look good, you feel good,” said Clarence Swearengen, the school’s administrative assistant principal.
With stagnated growth and half of the student body testing at basic levels in math and reading on state tests, Arlington Elementary School started an after-school camp aimed at pushing students to proficient levels. During TCAP Camp on April 11 in Lisa Van den Bosch’s fifth-grade classroom, about a dozen students reviewed how to fix run-on sentences and deciphered an author’s purpose after they read a sentence. TCAP stands for Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program and is an annual test that measures student achievement and growth in math, reading and language arts, science and social studies.
Overall crime in Tennessee continued to decline steadily in 2012, even as reported murders and aggravated assaults ticked up across the state. The annual “Crime in Tennessee” report was released Monday, showing overall crimes dropping 2.8 percent since 2011. “It doesn’t seem like very much, but when you’re seeing small percent (drops) year after year after year, that really adds up,” said TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm. Crimes against property, which include burglaries and car theft, made up for more than 57 percent of reported crimes.
In 2012, the Memphis Police Department recorded fewer crimes than the previous year and also solved fewer, based on numbers found in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s annual “Crime in Tennessee” report. Last year, MPD reported 113,710 crimes, ranging from homicide to arson to burglary to gambling. Of those, 27,426 were cleared, for a rate of 24.12 percent. The city recorded 133 homicides in 2012, and the police department cleared 70 of them, for a rate of 52.6 percent. In 2011, MPD reported 113,793 incidents and cleared 28,808 of them, for a clearance rate of 25.32 percent.
Johnson City had slightly more criminal offenses reported in 2012 than the previous year while Washington County experienced a decrease, according to crime statistics released Monday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The number of crimes committed in 2012 in Johnson City went up a little more than 1.5 percent from 2011 — 83 actual incidents — and the statistics showed more crimes against society, such as drugs, gambling and weapon possessions, but fewer property crimes and crimes against a person.
Officials at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation say the Volunteer State now leads the nation in meth use, and if you think the state’s meth problem doesn’t affect you, think again. TBI officials said the drug is costing Tennessee taxpayers more than $1 billion a year, and Tennessee counties may soon end up carrying the brunt of the state’s meth tab. “We’re No. 1 in something we don’t want to be No. 1 in,” said Montgomery County Sheriff John Fuson. Tennessee has ranked among the top three states for meth use since 2007 but has now passed Missouri for the dubious top spot.
The University of Tennessee has given up on a proposed partnership with a proton therapy center in Knoxville that university officials had hoped would bring in millions for new academic and research programs. Proton therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses a beam of protons to irradiate tumors without harming surrounding tissue. UT’s deal with the Provision Center for Proton Therapy depended on the Legislature’s allowing the university to guarantee up to $98 million of the project’s costs in exchange for a 30 percent interest in the company, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported.
Middle Tennessee State University’s new science building is still under construction, but new video and images illustrate what the building’s interior will look like once complete. Final completion on the $147 million project on the Murfreesboro campus is scheduled to be ready for faculty and staff to move in by the fall of 2014. The first classes will start in the 2015 spring semester. The university has released a video and renderings of the interior spaces, including a lab, the courtyard and aerial images.
The Humane Society of the United States is trying to ratchet up pressure on Gov. Bill Haslam to veto legislation that would require people catching animal abuse on camera to hand those images over to law enforcement within 48 hours. The group has begun running television commercials featuring undercover video of abuse of horses, images that were key in a recent investigation targeting walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell that took about a year to stockpile.
The Humane Society of the United States has launched a six-figure ad campaign to try to persuade Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill that requires witnesses to turn over evidence of animal abuse immediately. The Washington, D.C., animal welfare group has stepped up a campaign to defeat so-called “ag gag” legislation with a 30-second spot that highlights abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses. Wayne Pacelle, the group’s president and chief executive, and others said at a news conference Monday in Nashville that Senate Bill 1248, which passed the state legislature last week, is meant to stifle secret-camera investigations like the one that led a prominent West Tennessee trainer to plead guilty to violating the federal Horse Protection Act.
The Humane Society of the United States, lawmakers and two media groups held a State Capitol news conference Monday to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill they say would end undercover investigations of animal abuse in the state. In addition, HSUS began running television ads in Knoxville and Nashville on Saturday encouraging Tennesseans to contact the governor’s office to encourage a veto of what opponents call the “Ag Gag” bill passed by the legislature last week. HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said his group is spending $100,000 on the TV ads initially.
Opponents of so-called “ag-gag” legislation held a media event Monday at the Tennessee State Capitol, calling for a veto from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. The bill, sponsored in the state House by Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and in the Senate by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, requires anyone who films or photographs animal abuse to hand the material over to law enforcement within 48 hours. The Legislation passed both chambers last week. Supporters contend that the measure is meant to encourage whistleblowers to come forward and stop illegal treatment of animals as quickly as possible.
The Humane Society of the United States has wasted no time since the passage of an animal cruelty bill aimed at their undercover work. The group is running ads to urge the veto of legislation that narrowly passed the Tennessee General Assembly. The TV spots, running in Nashville and Knoxville, show video of convicted walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell clubbing a horse across the face. It asks viewers to call Gov. Bill Haslam. “Tell him to veto this bill and stop the animal cruelty cover up,” the ad says.
A Nashville private investigator is questioning the motive behind proposed Tennessee legislation on animal cruelty and abuse. Mitch Davis has spent many hours investigating animal abuse, while being undercover. He was behind the lens during an investigation that exposed animal abuse in Sumner County in 2007. “It took over four months to collect that video and assemble that case,” Davis said. The investigator is confused by the fact the so-called “ag bill” has made it so far in the Tennessee House and Senate.
The chaotic final days of the legislative session highlighted fractures among Republican lawmakers that sank many of the GOP’s biggest initiatives for the year, their Democratic foes said Monday. As legislators sprinted to finish last week before a self-imposed deadline, they stumbled over bills that would have given the State Board of Education the authority to approve applications for school charters and a plan to redraw Tennessee’s legislative districts. They also couldn’t come together on a plan to offer school vouchers and a proposal to let charter schools contract with for-profit operators.
A Tennessee lawmaker is not backing down from a blog post that joked about “crock pot control” in reference to the use of pressure cookers in the Boston Marathon bombings. Over the weekend, State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, posted a photo that has been circulating on many gun rights websites, showing what is titled as an “assault pressure cooker” and includes labels such as “tactical pistol grip” and “can cook for hours without reloading.” Campfield said he’s already received a few calls about the post, and some commenters on his blog said the image was “tasteless” and “unbelievably inappropriate.”
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson on Monday unveiled a no-tax-increase budget proposal that includes 1 percent raises for city employees and slashes the city’s allocation to the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. His plan, which he presented during a City Council workshop, is the first step in the annual process of passing a financial blueprint for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. “It’s a very, very, very tight budget,” he said. Through what he earlier Monday called a “reshuffling of the economic development fund,” Watson’s plan shrinks the annual allocation to the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce to $125,000.
The health care advocacy group Families USA recently proclaimed at least 575,000 Tennesseans will qualify for tax subsidies next year to help them buy the individual health insurance policies mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Many conservatives, meanwhile, grow increasingly confident the system of tax credits and penalties the 2010 act calls for will not apply in Tennessee or other states refusing to create their own special health insurance marketplaces or “exchanges.” In fact, they say, the tax subsidies may be struck down in the courts before 2014 arrives.
Rejecting the Medicaid expansion in the federal health care law could have unexpected consequences for states where Republican lawmakers remain steadfastly opposed to what they scorn as “Obamacare.” It could mean exposing businesses to Internal Revenue Service penalties and leaving low-income citizens unable to afford coverage even as legal immigrants get financial aid for their premiums. For the poorest people, it could virtually guarantee they remain uninsured and dependent on the emergency room at local hospitals that already face federal cutbacks.
The White House sums up the central idea behind the health care exchanges in the new federal health law with a simple motto: “more choices, greater competition.” But even some stalwart supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that in many states, people won’t have a lot of health insurance choices when the exchanges launch in October. Health economists predict that in states that already have robust competition among insurance companies—states such as Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon—the exchanges are likely to stimulate more.
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam on Monday acknowledged a massive hit to the credibility of the family-owned Pilot Flying J truck stop chain following FBI allegations of a widespread fraud of customers at the country’s largest diesel retailer. Haslam announced at the company’s Knoxville headquarters that he has suspended several members of the sales team after an affidavit filed in federal court disclosed secretly recorded conversations in which Pilot staff boasted about taking advantage of less-sophisticated trucking company customers.
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam says he has suspended several members of the sales team at Pilot Flying J, the family-owned truck stop chain that is under a federal fraud investigation. FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents last week raided the Knoxville headquarters of the country’s largest diesel retailer. An affidavit filed in federal court alleges a widespread scheme to defraud customers. Haslam, the privately held company’s CEO and brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, on Tuesday didn’t name the people placed on administrative leave.
Even the purses and trash cans weren’t safe. Federal authorities filed a second partial inventory Monday afternoon of records seized during the April 15 search at Pilot Flying J headquarters on Lonas Drive in West Knoxville. FBI agents filed the first such inventory Friday and continue to sort through evidence seized from throughout the corporate complex, the Pilot data center and the homes of various Pilot executives. Court records placed the haul at nearly 30 evidence boxes Monday, with more on the way.
A week after federal agents raided his fuel business, Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam on Monday announced that several sales employees have been placed on leave, one of a series of actions aimed at addressing the developing scandal. In a press briefing at Pilot’s Lonas Drive headquarters, Haslam said several members of the company’s diesel fuel sales team were placed on indefinite leave Sunday. Haslam, who didn’t answer questions, didn’t identify the employees or say how many had been placed on leave.
One week after federal agents raided the headquarters of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, CEO Jimmy Haslam announced the company had put an undisclosed number of sales staffers on administrative leave and planned to hire an outside investigator with U.S. Justice Department experience to conduct an independent review. “We make mistakes like any company does but there is absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior,” Haslam said in his third appearance in six days before reporters at Pilot’s headquarters in Knoxille.
Pilot Flying J is suspending members of its sales team and taking other steps after a federal raid on its Knoxville headquarters last week. The truck stop company is owned by the family of Governor Bill Haslam, whose brother is its CEO. An affidavit unsealed last week claims Pilot Flying J intentionally ripped off trucking companies by holding back rebates and in turn boosting compensation for sales people. CEO Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns, told the Tennessean the next two days were his most painful in business, and he barely slept.
The National Football League “is very, very concerned” about the investigation into possible fraud at Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J, USA Today reports The travel center chain is led by CEO Jimmy Haslam, the new owner of the Cleveland Browns. USA Today attributed the comments to an unnamed person “with key business dealings with the NFL.” An NFL spokesperson told USA Today the league has no plans to ask Haslam to step aside during the investigation.
Responding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to limit fishing on dams along the Cumberland River and its tributaries in Kentucky, former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin said that the Corps’ plan is not worth the effort. Martin, who just weeks ago would have been responsible with carrying out the Corps’ wishes, said the Tennessee Valley Authority’s siren system, which goes off when water is released from the dams, is enough to ensure public safety. The Corps has proposed barriers along the river that would limit fishing access, citing safety concerns. Detractors say the move could cost millions of tourism dollars every year.
New details about the critical decision to purchase spinal steroids from a Massachusetts drug compounding company have emerged in lawsuits filed on behalf of three local victims of the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak. In a motion filed Monday in circuit court in Nashville, attorneys for the victims charged that lawyers for the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center were maneuvering to delay depositions of the key individuals involved in the decision to purchase methylprednisolone acetate from the now-closed New England Compounding Center.
What’s due but not collected will soon be taken up if the U.S. Senate has its way. Heavy on appeals for equal treatment, the Senate on Monday advanced a bill that would allow states to require online retailers to collect sales tax on every transaction — something their brick-and-mortar rivals already do. As the Senate voted 74-to-20 Monday to bypass committee work and begin floor debate on the Marketplace Fairness Act, lawmakers said the conflict helps define a 21st century driven by online growth. Insiders predicted a weeklong fight over what the Financial Times called “the most incendiary political issue in retail.”
It was a tough start to the week for many air travelers. Flight delays piled up all along the East Coast Monday as thousands of air traffic controllers were forced to take an unpaid day off because of federal budget cuts. Some flights into New York, Baltimore and Washington were delayed by more than two hours as the Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground because there weren’t enough controllers to monitor busy air corridors. It was a better story closer to home.
Chattanooga Airport travelers worried Monday over delays nationally caused by the budget-related furlough of air traffic controllers and security checkpoint workers. “I’ve got a big meeting in New York,” said businessman Paul Ignnella at Lovell Field. “We rely on the airlines. If they let us down, they let the economy and businesses down.” Delays on Monday were felt in airports to which Lovell Field has nonstop flights such as in Charlotte and at Washington’s Reagan National. Chattanooga Airport spokeswoman Christina Siebold said while at least three departures were delayed Monday, all were either equipment- or weather-related.
Flight delays hit Memphis International Airport as a short-staffed national air traffic control system was put to the test on Monday. Memphis logged about 20 late departures and an equal number of late arrivals between midnight and 4 p.m., but some flights were delayed for reasons other than the air traffic control slowdown. The Federal Aviation Administration began furloughing nearly 15,000 air traffic controllers over the weekend to meet a congressionally mandated budget cut. However, the start of the working week was the first opportunity to see how the controller cuts would affect air traffic.
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged by federal prosecutors in his hospital room Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill – a crime that carries a possible death sentence. Officials have said Tsarnaev, 19, and his older brother set off the twin explosions at last week’s race that killed three people and wounded more than 180. His brother, Tamerlan, 26, died Friday after a fierce gunbattle with police. Tsarnaev was listed in serious but stable condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, unable to speak because of a gunshot wound to the throat.
TVA officials were squirming a bit Monday and a few cheeks glowed pink at times as directors and inspectors with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission plied them with questions about protecting Watts Bar and Sequoyah nuclear plants from a future monster flood. TVA spent much of the five-hour Atlanta meeting with NRC acknowledging the utility’s mistakes in making flooding calculations and owning up to a culture of complacency about potential natural disasters. The mistakes have been fixed and the complacency is gone, TVA nuclear operations chief Preston Swafford assured NRC officials.
A big, red, seven-digit number isn’t the best welcome for a new CEO. But it’s the greeting Erlanger’s new top executive received at his first finance meeting Monday night. In its worst month this fiscal year, Erlanger lost almost $5 million in March, Chief Financial Officer Britt Tabor told the hospital’s Budget and Finance Committee. March’s shortfall doubled year-to-date losses from where they were the previous month. After nine months of fluctuating monthly financial reports, Erlanger’s year-to-date losses now stand at $9.4 million.
Applications to start new charter schools in Metro are at their lowest level in three years, and a school board member believes charter operators may be stepping back and reassessing their place in the Nashville market. “I have not looked at the numbers side by side, but I will say I’ve had a couple of people say to me over the past three months that it is an unsettled time in Nashville because of what’s going on in the legislature and because of Great Hearts,” said board member Will Pinkston.
A revised list of central school office job openings will go back online Tuesday, more than a week after the unified district posted job descriptions and salary ranges for dozens of administrative positions. This time, there’s expected to be few executive director jobs on the list after district leaders took heat last week for both the number of high-end positions and the salary ranges. “They got feedback from several different areas and decided the best thing to do was review it,” said board member Chris Caldwell.
The still forming central office of the consolidated school sytem will include only one executive director — the executive director of safety and security. Interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has reposted central office positions following his decision last week to eliminate all of one of the executive director positions from the city and county school systems in the front office of the new school system to come. It is the latest move by Hopson as he puts together a budget proposal for the Shelby County Commission.
Two Kingsport women have filed a lawsuit against the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Kingsport Board of Education and the Sullivan County Board of Education, claiming the elected officials have held meetings on school consolidation in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Angie Stanley and Monica Comsa filed the lawsuit in Sullivan County Chancery Court on April 19 naming the BMA and two boards of education as the defendants. The lawsuit was filed by Kingsport attorney Larry Roberts.
Given the riveting national and local news last week, it would be easy to overlook the shake-up in the embattled Tennessee Department of Human Services. Interim Commissioner Jim Henry has reorganized the top staff as part of a renewed focus on children’s safety. “The first responsibility of DCS, whatever happens, should be to make sure the child is safe,” Henry said at an April 15 news conference. Henry, who also is the commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was tapped by Gov. Bill Haslam Feb. 5 to replace Katy O’Day, who resigned amid criticisms of DCS operations and an open records lawsuit.
The Tennessee General Assembly slunk out of the capital last week, having again done more harm than good for the people they supposedly represent. No more egregious example of this can be found than the despicable and unconstitutional Senate Bill 1248 / House Bill 1191. Despicable, because it aims to protect animal abusers. Unconstitutional, because it seeks to intimidate those who try to report suspected abuse. It is a disgrace to our state that such a bill could make it out of a legislative committee, much less get a majority of votes in both houses.
Tennessee’s Republican state lawmakers must think we’re stupid. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have bragged about passing a “balanced budget,” as state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman; state Rep. Kevin Brooks, of Cleveland; and a number of other GOP lawmakers did last week. And they never would’ve implied that new state budget was “thoughtful and strategic” like Gov. Bill Haslam did last Friday. And they certainly would never have called the budget “fiscally responsible” as House Speaker Beth Harwell did with a straight face in a guest op-ed in The Tennessean. Did these Republican leaders think Tennesseans would forget that the State Constitution requires a balanced budget?
The 2013 session of the Tennessee General Assembly began in January with, for the first time, Republicans having a super majority. The session ended last week, the shortest session in decades, after passing a mixed bag of legislation — some good, some bad — that will impact Tennessee residents. If there was a compelling theme, it was that moderation overcame some the most ridiculous and punitive proposed legislation. Republican legislative leaders, for example, helped kill or delay bills that would have reduced welfare payments to parents whose children are failing in school, let legislators choose candidates for U.S. Senate, and criminalize federal officers who try to enforce federal gun restrictions in the state.
We realize it’s in bad taste to speak ill of the dead. The bill proposed by state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that would dock the welfare payments of parents whose children fail school is dead. Good. We just hope no one tries to resuscitate this narrow-minded piece of legislation. The measure sought to cut Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits by 30 percent if a child fails to advance to the next grade. About 52,800 families rely on those benefits. After about a 40-minute debate on the Senate floor, Campfield pulled the bill to allow a summer study.
Would. Everyone. Please. Stop. For. A. Moment. And. Draw. Several. Long. Deep. Breaths? That thought has been paramount in my mind since early last week when federal agents descended upon the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J. The raid has allowed our town to stir itself into conniptions. I can only imagine how much more hysterical the reaction would have been if not overshadowed by the horror of the bombing in Boston. Suffice to say there has been more than enough to gossip about, locally and nationally. Predictably, the public forum of electronic messaging has answered all questions, solved the case immediately and tied it securely in a bright red bow.