This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the state’s new overhaul of the workers’ compensation system into law this week. The law moves disputed case into a new state agency overseen by an governor-appointed administrator, the Tennessean reports. Currently, disputes are resolved in the courts. The new law also creates a set of medical treatment guidelines and changes the calculations on disability payments.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he is not swayed by the number of celebrities opposed to a bill that would limit the use of undercover video of suspected animal abuse, according to The Associated Press. The so-called ag-gag bill was narrowly passed by lawmakers, but has yet to make it to Haslam’s desk. Once it does, the governor will have 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature. A number of celebrities — including Ellen DeGeneres, Emmylou Harris and Carrie Underwood, among others — have urged Haslam to veto the bill.
Chattanooga played a significant role in the state’s business development last year, according to a new report. LaunchTN—a public-private partnership focused on supporting the creation and development of high-growth companies in the state—released its 2012 report on entrepreneurship and innovation Tuesday. LaunchTN operates several programs and activities, such as coordinating the state’s nine business accelerators that provide mentorship and other support for budding entrepreneurs.
Proponents of a new set of uniform benchmarks for math and reading say they’re needed to better prepare students for college and the workforce, but critics of the measures contend they don’t know enough about them and are concerned about the federal government’s involvement. About 500 people registered to attend a panel discussion Tuesday night that highlighted concerns ranging from the cost to implement the common core state standards to how involved the federal government will be in developing them.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has increased the reward for information leading to the arrest of a fugitive wanted in the killing of a Franklin County man. David Gordon Jenkins, 46, the fourth and final fugitive sought in the death of Corey Nathaniel Matthews is believed to be in the Tennessee-Southern Kentucky area, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said. “We are concentrating our efforts here,” she said. Authorities in New York, however, continue to search for Jenkins in Steuben County.
State health investigators have accused nursing staff at Bristol Nursing Home of patient abuse, according to a report obtained by the Bristol Herald Courier. As a result, the Tennessee Department of Health reports levying a $3,000 fine against the home and on Monday blocked new residential admissions until conditions are corrected. Bristol Nursing Home is a 120-bed building located at 261 North Street.
Melissa Murray was worried that she would lose her job for speaking against her employer, the University of Tennessee. “We need definite changes,” said the custodian with five years’ experience at the school. “We feel totally humiliated.” She joined a panel with other members of the custodial staff to air grievances Wednesday before a group of roughly 70 in the University Center’s Shiloh Room. The Knoxville campus custodians said they felt disrespected by new management that was quick to punish and slow to listen.
Less than three weeks before its star-studded grand opening, Music City Center was dealt a blow that could jeopardize the project’s ability to stay within its budget. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed on Tuesdaya lower court’s decision that Metro vastly underpaid for a key piece of property the city took from a private developer to build the 1-million-square-foot building south of Broadway. The court-ordered higher price puts Music City Center about $16 million over its original $57 million land budget.
When the Legislature failed to extend the life of the Judicial Nominating Commission, it effectively ended merit-based selection of judges in Tennessee. It also left open the question of whether there is any mechanism to replace a Tennessee judge who steps down, retires or dies. Voters will decide in November 2014 whether they want to amend the state constitution to change the way judges are chosen in Tennessee. The amendment would give the governor the right to appoint appellate court judges, including those who sit on the Tennessee Supreme Court, followed by confirmation of the Legislature.
Ken Childress and his wife, both retirees, live in a Brentwood neighborhood where expansive floor plans are the norm, police regularly patrol the streets and they and their neighbors enjoy an overall sense of security. But during a recent weekend in late March, Childress was at a gun range learning how to safely handle a pistol. He has two weapons now and wants to carry one for protection. “Protection is important,” Childress said. “It’s important for me and for my wife and for my property.”
Brad Martin, the newly appointed interim president of the University of Memphis who once hired Gov. Bill Haslam as an executive at Saks Inc., was named Wednesday by Pilot Flying J to oversee an internal investigation into FBI allegations of fraudulent business practices involving rebates to trucking customers. Martin is a board member of Knoxville-based Pilot, a private company owned mostly by Haslam family members. The country’s largest diesel fuel retailer is run by CEO Jimmy Haslam, the governor’s brother and owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
The man hired as Pilot Flying J’s special independent counsel has a track record of high-profile cases and a list of clients ranging from Hollywood directors to ex-U.S. cabinet officials. Pilot’s board of directors announced today the appointment of Reid Weingarten to investigate accusations of fuel rebate fraud of trucking company customers. Weingarten, a partner in the Washington-based Steptoe & Johnson LLP firm, previously worked as a deputy prosecutor in Pennsylvania and as a trial lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, which prosecutes public officials accused of corruption.
A Coffee County commissioner under fire for a Facebook post suggesting the best way to wink at a Muslim is from behind a shotgun barrel issued a public apology Wednesday. Commissioner Barry West can be heard apologizing in an 11-second audio clip on the Facebook page of the American Center for Outreach, a Tennessee-based, nonpartisan organization created to inform, educate and empower Muslims. “I want to issue a heartfelt sincere apology to anyone that I have offended or hurt in my sharing of a Facebook post,” West says on the audio clip.
Following a more than two-hour hearing, a 67-year-old Nashville resident has won a partial victory in her battle to win release from a conservatorship dating back to 2009. Probate Judge David Randy Kennedy told Shannon Hill Wednesday he would order an increase in her monthly allowance from $200 to $300, but he declined to dissolve the conservatorship due to concerns expressed by one of her doctors that her condition could deteriorate if she did not adhere to her medication requirements.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell refers to county government as “wholesale level government.” He used the term again Tuesday, April 30, in a state of the county speech to the Memphis Rotary Club at the University Club. Luttrell said the wholesaler that provides services to Memphians and those living in the six suburban towns and cities as well as unincorporated Shelby County is about as lean as it can get. “Folks, there comes a time when you can only cut so far without impacting essential services of government,” he told the audience of 100 as he again said there is likely to be a county property tax hike before the budget season ends sometime in June.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) is crafting a proposed 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution aimed at protecting citizens’ right to vote, he told the Nashville Bar Association Wednesday. The Nashville congressman told the legal community he wants its help drumming up support for the amendment, pointing to voting discrepancies in Davidson County. “Remember that Lincoln told us that government was supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people. He did not mean some of the people,” said Cooper at the bar association’s “Law Day” luncheon, working off the theme of “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All.”
Convinced that the right to vote for all citizens isn’t fully protected under law, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, is planning a long-shot proposal to add a 28th amendment to the United States Constitution. “What it would do is grant, for the first time in American history, a constitutional right to vote,” Cooper said Wednesday after announcing the proposal at a Nashville Bar Association luncheon during a strikingly personal speech that evoked race, discrimination and equality. “Many people think we have this already,” he said. “We do not. Some states have a right to vote. But we do not have it nationwide.”
Nashville Democrat Jim Cooper is skeptical of arming some rebels in Syria. The White House is said to be mulling the approach championed last week by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. To keep control of Syria from falling to violent extremists, the hope is to vet and back more moderate rebel groups. But Rep. Cooper, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, is urging caution, saying it’s hard to tell exactly who in Syria is a moderate the U.S. might think about arming. “Our human intelligence on the ground is very weak. You can’t tell this from satellites and things like that. So we really should be careful. Look before you leap,” Cooper says.
Six months after proposing a new funding path to finish building the $693 million lock at Chickamauga Dam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander returned to the stalled project Wednesday to tout a Senate vote next week he hopes could get work started again. Alexander said construction could resume within two to four years if Congress adopts a funding formula he is pushing for lock and dam projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If there’s no change, the new lock may not be finished before the present 73-year-old structure must be shut down because of problems caused by “concrete growth” in the lock’s rock aggregate.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told a personal and very public story Wednesday to illustrate the importance of lawyers and their work. He was speaking to a crowd of nearly 250 lawyers and guests in the Chattanooga Convention Center during the Chattanooga Bar Association’s Annual Law Day Celebration. Alexander recounted a momentous day just before his swearing-in as Tennessee governor in January 1979. The outgoing governor, Ray Blanton, had pardoned 52 state prisoners, including some murderers. Alexander got a phone call from then-U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin telling him the FBI believed Blanton would issue more pardons on the eve of his leaving office.
Sen. Bob Corker expressed dissatisfaction after President Barack Obama’s announcement nominating Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Corker, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said he “could not be more disappointed” in the nomination. “This gives new meaning to the adage that the fox is guarding the henhouse,” Corker said in a news release. “The debate around this nomination will illuminate for all Americans why Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac] failed so miserably.”
Congressmen Morgan Griffith and Phil Roe shared the stage at the Paramount Center Wednesday night to field questions during a town hall event. Topics given to the two lawmakers during the forum included sequestration, Obamacare, the handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last September and the decision to allow women on the battlefield. Roe, R-1st, who also has a medical practice in Johnson City, says from the time the Affordable Health Care Act was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, businesses and individuals have been preparing for the fallout and subsequent insurance rates for planning purposes.
U.S. Reps. Phil Roe and Morgan Griffith addressed everything from Obamacare to the federal sequester’s effects during a joint town hall-style meeting Wednesday night at the Paramount Theatre. Roe, R-Tenn., led off with a short slide presentation showing the federal budget is mostly consumed by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the national debt. “What we have to do to balance this budget is talk about the entire budget. … The problem is not revenue. Spending is the problem,” Roe told the small gathering at the Paramount.
State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, is expected to formally announce today he is challenging embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the state’s 4th Congressional District Republican primary next year, Republicans say. Carr, who in December formed an exploratory committee to test the waters for a bid, has scheduled a news conference in Murfreesboro at noon CDT. When he announces, he will join state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, in challenging DesJarlais, a Jasper physician seeking his third U.S. House term.
With nearly $200,000 in his war chest already, state Rep. Joe Carr could be on the verge of making the 2014 GOP congressional primary a three-man race. Carr, R-Lascassas, is set to hold a noon press conference today at Gateway Village, 870 Thompson Lane, to announce whether he’ll seek Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District seat. In his third term as a state House member, Carr would join incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, and state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.
Residents in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District will find out today if they’ll have another candidate to vote for in next year’s primary. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who has been actively raising funds and speaking about a possible bid against Rep. Scott DesJarlais, will make an official announcement regarding his decision Thursday in Murfreesboro. State Sen. Jim Tracy is already a candidate in the Republican primary. Carr, a business consultant and farm owner, handily outraised DesJarlais in the first quarter of the 2014 campaign fundraising cycle, netting more than $205,000.
Is Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett considering a run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Lamar Alexander? Rumors are swirling that Burchett has been urged to run. When queried, the county mayor did not reject the idea. He merely said that he is focused on passing his county budget and would not be thinking about anything else until that is accomplished. Not exactly a firm denial. Alexander, like some of his Senate colleagues, has been watching for a potential opponent from the right in his Republican primary.
Three friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been charged with conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to investigators. None are suspected of having advance knowledge of the plot or participating in the planning of the April 15 bombings, according to a law enforcement source. Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both 19 and from Kazakhstan in the U.S. on student visas, are accused of obstruction of justice and conspiring to conceal evidence, including Tsarnaev’s backpack and laptop computer.
Republican lawmakers in several states are blunting plans by GOP governors to reduce or eliminate income taxes, putting the legislators at odds with figures many in the party see as leading voices on reshaping government. Friction over tax policy within the GOP has flared in states such as Louisiana, Nebraska, Kansas and Ohio, as Republican lawmakers raise concerns over projected revenue losses from income-tax cuts. Three of those states shelved big income-tax cuts that would be paid for by broadening the sales tax, and in Kansas, legislators will return next week to a continuing debate over the size and speed of proposed cuts.
Solar energy proponents are taking TVA to task for announcing a cap on buying electricity from solar generation systems of a certain size this year. The action will mean that many of the mid-sized solar systems used by small businesses, farms and homeowners won’t be eligible for TVA programs that provide incentives for such systems, the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club Repower America Committee and the Tennessee Environmental Council said in a statement Wednesday. TVA spokesman Bill Sitton, said the agency has bought the amount of renewable power it agreed to buy this year in two of its programs.
A Nashville-based company that designs and installs solar-power systems claims TVA is hurting the fledgling industry by the way it administers its solar-incentive program. LightWave Solar, which recently opened a Memphis office at 6349 Summer, says much of the solar-power capacity TVA has said it is willing to buy is not being tapped despite ample interest from residents, business and institutions that want to generate it. “The fact is this: They are bragging about their program and it’s not working and it’s restricting private citizens in Tennessee who want to install solar plants,” said Steve Johnson, president of LightWave Solar.
An iPad issued by Oak Ridge National Laboratory to an employee, stolen Tuesday while the worker was shopping, didn’t contain any classified information but has nevertheless been wiped clean remotely, an ORNL spokesman said. Bill Cabage, a computer security officer at the lab, said the missing iPad “is basically a doorstop now.” He said such lab-issued portable devices are encrypted and password-protected as standard procedures. Gregory Chitwood, in the lab’s quality management department, told Clinton police the iPad was stolen from his vehicle Tuesday afternoon while his vehicle was parked at the Dollar General Store in Clinton.
Memphis medical device maker Medtronic Spine will cut about 60 jobs in Memphis as part of a restructuring of worldwide operations, a company spokesman said Wednesday. Workers, warned earlier that the restructuring would trim jobs, learned of the layoffs across Medtronic Spine business units on Wednesday, said Victor Rocha, a spokesman in Memphis. Medtronic Spine has a total workforce of about 1,300 in Memphis, Rocha said. The tech firm is cutting back amid a slowing national economy that has burdened Greater Memphis with a jobless rate in excess of 9 percent for 48 of the last 51 months.
The countdown has begun for the end of the first season of ABC’s “Nashville,” and Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., is not leaving a second season to chance. The corporation recently sent an email requesting members to encourage friends and family to watch the show and complied a “social kit” offering sample tweets and Facebook postings to remind people to tune in. “‘Nashville’ is doing great things for this city, as we see so many Nashvillians with jobs on the production and so many visitors excited to explore the real city portrayed in their favorite show,” the corporation said in an email.
After another long meeting Tuesday night, members of the unified Memphis and Shelby County school board now point to the processing of 172 recommendations for the merger of city and county school districts as evidence that the board hasn’t been sitting on its hands since recommendations landed in its lap last summer. “The criticism we get is from people taking cheap shots,” said Jeff Warren, who holds one of the nine Memphis City Schools seats on the 23-member merger board.
A new round of talks about the schools merger and municipal school districts is about to begin. And this time, the countywide school board may be at the table. Countywide school board attorney Valerie Speakman told school board members Tuesday, April 30, that attorneys for the leaders of Shelby County’s six suburban municipalities have sent her a letter about possible talks on issues that go beyond the consent decree governing the merger. “The letter that we received goes far outside what was discussed in the consent decree and really talked about where do we go from here after the General Assembly passed the legislation,” she said, referring to the state law that lifts the statewide ban on establishing the municipal school districts suburban leaders favor.
To say I’m frustrated with the school board is an understatement. They have done us a disservice,” said Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell on Tuesday, addressing the Memphis Rotary Club luncheon. As Luttrell noted, his dissatisfaction has several causes, the most immediate of which is the Unified School Board’s failure to come to grips with items on its agenda that impact the county budget as a whole. Only last week, in two meetings, the board — deadlocked between contrary points of view held by holdover members of the erstwhile Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools boards — failed to make headway on school closures or whom the new system should hire for cleaning purposes.
Well into the sixth hour of a unified School Board meeting that had started at 5:30I Tuesday, Board member David Reaves cast his vote with the Board majority for a hybrid transportation plan, exulted, “This was a great meeting,” and promptly moved for immediate adjournment. Wilted and/or giddy, most of the 23 membersof the crazy-quilt, mixed city-and-county Board probably agreed wiith his sense of the moment.
Prospects for Medicaid expansion in Florida, which was embraced, improbably, by the state’s Republican governor in February, are all but dead this year. With the Republican-dominated Legislature preparing to leave town on Friday, time has run out to draft a compromise bill between the House and Senate that would expand Medicaid with the help of billions of federal dollars. House Republicans voted last week to reject the Senate plan, which would take the federal money and use it to add low-income Floridians to private insurance plans.
Georgia is turning over management of five state parks with upscale lodges and golf courses to a private company — and 141 park employees are losing their state jobs and benefits. Park employees, who learned Monday of the dismissals, should be able to reapply for their old jobs through Coral Hospitality, the Coral Gables, Fla., hotel and resort management company that will run the parks. “Coral will restaff with hopefully as many of our people as they possibly can,” Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites Director Becky Kelley said.
When Gov. Bill Haslam ran for the state’s top post in 2010, he bolstered his credentials as a successful businessman by touting the family company. In fact, for TV political ads he used pictures of himself and brother Jimmy Haslam as they built Pilot Travel Centers into the sixth largest private company in America after their father started with just one service station decades ago. With the FBI now investigating allegations that Pilot salesmen defrauded trucking companies out of millions in promised rebates, the luster might have worn off the Haslam business and, subsequently, the governor’s political future.
What does it mean to be an elected representative of the people these days? Too often in Tennessee, it has (S(nothing to do with treating people fairly and with dignity, or simply acting professionally. We refer, of course, to state Sen. Stacey Campfield, who seems to enjoy using his legislative power to intimidate vulnerable groups of people. But it isn’t just the Knoxville Republican. Add now the Coffee County commissioner who apparently thinks it’s funny (or perhaps macho) to suggest that Muslims’ place is at the end of a gun barrel. That’s the image suggested by a meme that Commissioner Barry West of Manchester posted on his Facebook page.
For Clarksville’s signature institution of higher education, there have been a lot of great moments, but perhaps none greater than the events of this week. Two landmark announcements this week at Austin Peay State University will dramatically transform the depth and breadth of its already vital role in educating tomorrow’s workforce and strengthening ties with the greater Clarksville community and surrounding areas. The biggest landmark event is obviously an eight-figure donation to APSU from Lars Eriksson, owner of Crankshaft Rebuilders, Inc. in Florida, made in honor of his late wife, Martha Dickerson Eriksson, a 1962 education graduate of Austin Peay.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has long been a home away from home for academic researchers from universities around the globe. Researchers in neutron science come to conduct experiments at the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor. Scientists use the world’s fastest supercomputer to make calculations for climate models. Research topics run the gamut from nanophase materials to improving the nation’s power grid. Renowned for academic research, ORNL is moving to expand its role helping industry research and development efforts bring advanced technologies to the factory floor.
You Can’t Graft Obamacare onto Existing Business Models Politico reported last week that the Congressional leadership is having secret talks about how to exempt Capitol Hill staffers from the insurance exchanges required under the Affordable Care Act—aka Obamacare. No, they wouldn’t be exempt from Obamacare, as some conservatives allege, they just wouldn’t have to join an insurance exchange where they would have to pay 100 percent of the premium for health insurance. But it was interesting to hear the reasons given for giving staffers the exemption. They fear a “brain drain” as staffers leave to get other jobs or an outflow of senior aides who would retire because they can’t afford the insurance.
Twenty-one years is a long time to wait. But that is how long local retailers have waited for Congress to undo a 1992 Supreme Court decision that exempted many online retailers, like Amazon.com, from collecting most state sales taxes. The exemption has given online sellers a 5 percent to 10 percent price advantage over Main Street stores. The wait, however, may soon be over. Next week, the Senate is expected to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, a bipartisan bill that would authorize states to require out-of-state sellers with more than $1 million in sales to collect sales taxes. The states, in turn, must simplify their sales-tax codes and give retailers free software to calculate the taxes — steps already taken by most states.