This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released the following statement regarding HB 1191/SB 1248: “Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Tennessee. Farmers play a vital role in our state’s economy, heritage and history. I understand their concerns about large scale attacks on their livelihoods. I also appreciate that the types of recordings this bill targets may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong,” Haslam said. “Our office has spent a great deal of time considering this legislation. We’ve had a lot of input from people on all sides of the issue. After careful consideration, I am going to veto the legislation.”
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday vetoed a bill that would require images documenting animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours, saying his main concern is its constitutionality. State Attorney General Bob Cooper last week said in a legal opinion that the measure would be “constitutionally suspect” because it could violate Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination and for placing burdens on news collection. Haslam said the opinion is among at least three reasons he’s vetoing the bill.
Using his veto power for only the second time since taking office, Gov. Bill Haslam rejected the Livestock Protection Act on Monday. In a statement, Haslam said that Attorney General Robert Cooper found the act to be “constitutionally suspect” and that he was concerned about a number of issues within the bill. Explaining the decision to the business community in Williamson County, he couched the issue as balancing the need to address a dying understanding of animal agriculture with legal concerns of restructuring animal abuse laws.
Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have compelled investigators into animal abuse to turn over their footage within 48 hours, saying it might be unconstitutional. The Tennessee Republican said Monday that so-called “ag gag” legislation would make it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases and would repeal part of the state law that lets journalists protect confidential sources. He also agreed with state Attorney General Robert Cooper’s assessment that the bill is constitutionally suspect. But the governor also called on state lawmakers to revisit the issue.
The agriculture industry is disappointed in Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision Monday to veto legislation that would have put new requirements on turning in evidence of animal abuse. Blackman farmer Brandon Whitt of Batey Farms said Monday that groups such as the Humane Society will be able to keep storing pictures and videotape, without turning them in to authorities, to raise funds. “Principally, it allows organizations to continue making money in the state of Tennessee off animal abuse,” said Whitt, a board member of the Farm Animal Care Coalition of Tennessee.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today said he is vetoing a controversial “ag gag” bill that would require intentional documentation of animal abuse be handed over to law enforcement within 48 hours. Haslam, who has wrestled with the issue for days, cited last week’s legal opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper, who said the bill’s provisions are “constitutional suspect” as regards the First Amendment. The governor also voiced concerns that it repeals part of Tennessee’s “shield law,” which protects journalists’ ability to collect information.
Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill that would require images documenting animal abuse to be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours. In a statement released Monday morning, he said his office has carefully considered the bill, but decided to veto it due to “a number of concerns.” First was the State Attorney General’s opinion that the measure would be “constitutionally suspect” because it could violate Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination and for placing burdens on news collection. Second was that it appeared to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so.
Gov. Bill Haslam will veto a bill that would have required animal activists to turn over footage of livestock cruelty to police. The legislation passed the General Assembly by just a one-vote margin. A statement from his office gives three reasons, the first being the Tennessee Attorney General opinion calling the proposal “constitutionally suspect.” The bill also appears to repeal parts of the Tennessee shield law for journalists. “If that is the case, it should say so,” Haslam says in a statement.
Advocates for animals and the First Amendment praised Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto on Monday of a bill that required anyone “intentionally” documenting livestock abuse to hand the video over to law enforcement within 48 hours or face criminal fines. Sponsors of the so-called “ag-gag” bill, meanwhile, said they’re “disappointed” but plan to come back next year with a new version addressing constitutional and other concerns raised by Haslam and Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper.
The two West Tennessee lawmakers who sponsored the “Ag Gag” bill vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday said they will work with supporters and opponents to draft a new bill next year rather than attempt a veto override. In his veto message, the governor cited last week’s advisory opinion by state Attorney General Robert E. Cooper that the measure is constitutionally suspect. Senate Bill 1248 would require anyone who records video of abuse of or cruelty to livestock to turn the recordings over to local law enforcement within 48 hours.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that placing a satellite campus for Columbia State Community College in Franklin remains a high priority, linking it to his administration’s efforts to increase the number of college graduates. In a lunchtime appearance with the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce, Haslam said he could not say when the project will begin but said he believes it would be a good investment for the state. “We are going to get that done sooner rather than later,” Haslam said.
Governor Bill Haslam says he will review the 1,600 pages of child death records released late Friday by a Nashville judge, who called them a “very hard” read. The 42 cases of death or near-death range from kids killed in a house fire to a two-year-old shot by her toddler brother. Some of the stories have been printed in The Tennessean over the last few days, and Governor Haslam says he can see some value in more people knowing about the tough job the Department of Children’s Services has.
Records released by the state Department of Children’s Services showing 42 cases where children died or nearly died after the agency had some type of involvement with them shows that half of the children were under 1 year old. Some of the records didn’t even include the child’s age. A Nashville judge ordered the files released Friday after a group of media organizations, led by the Tennessean and including the Associated Press and the Chattanooga Times Free Press, sued to get access to them.
The medical examiner’s report declared the child’s death an accident. In some instances, that would have been the last word. But in “Case #21” the last utterance belonged to the Department of Children’s Services caseworker: “The autopsy was classified as accidental suffocation; therefore this case is being classified as unfounded,” a file in the report reads. “However, concerns are noted on this investigation.” The case is one of 42 records released by the Department of Children’s Services outlining interaction between the agency and children who died or nearly died in Tennessee in 2012.
One of the most well-connected lobbyists in Tennessee is also a personal advisor to the governor. Those ties are under scrutiny as Tom Ingram’s lobbying firm is questioned for not registering on behalf of a client that wants to mine coal on state-owned land. Governor Bill Haslam says Ingram is paid out of his own pocket for political advice, though he declines to say how much. “I’m not sure what difference that would make. I’m paying him personally. Is there some reason that would make a difference? He doesn’t lobby me, period.”
Tennessee Ethics Commission members voted Monday to hold a hearing to see if legendary political operative Tom Ingram, along with the president of the firm that bears his name and a company they represent, violated state lobbying laws by failing to register. Ingram and Marcille Durham, president of The Ingram Group, have acknowledged going two years without registering on behalf of one of their clients, Hillsborough Resources Ltd. The Ingram Group, a lobbying and communications firm, is registered to lobby for a number of interests.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam is teaming up with Grover, the loveable Muppet from Sesame Street, and United HealthCare to teach kids the benefits of eating healthy and getting in shape while helping them learn to love reading. The First Lady will meet with a group of kindergartners and pre-K students at Buena Vista Enhanced Option School in Nashville on Tuesday and read to the children Sesame Street’s book “Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget.”
A final state report underscores the criticism of Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche, who was fired last week. The 26-page review lists problems like understaffed polling places, glitchy machines and a botched early-voting schedule. Download the state’s final report here (pdf). In addition to Tieche, most of Nashville’s top election officials are already gone: Four of the county’s five election commissioners have been replaced since last year. With the county primary set for May of 2014, the commission is expected to quickly hire and start training a replacement for Tieche.
Four days after the Davidson County Election Commission fired its top administrator, the State Election Commission accepted the final version of the blistering review that led to his termination. The panel approved State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins’ report with little discussion Monday afternoon. Chairman Kent Younce said he didn’t see “any useful purpose” in dissecting the report after the Davidson County Election Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to fire Election Administrator Albert Tieche.
An expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is supposed to cover more of the working poor and balance out cuts that were made to already-struggling hospitals. But Republican-led states like Tennessee have been opting out or at least holding out, and outlying areas may be the hardest hit. Amanda Smith is just off the clock from her manufacturing job assembling car doors at the M-Tek factory in Manchester, Tenn. Clear safety glasses are still perched on her head. “What it boils down to is I’ve got problems as a woman,” she says.
The state of Tennessee should have a better handle on where its new Memphis offices will be by the end of the week as the deadline for proposals is Thursday. The state is looking for approximately 100,000 square feet of office space for employees currently working in the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building. It is currently planning to sell the building after a Jones Lang LaSalle study said the property was obsolete. The state employs 911 people in the Donnelley J. Hill building through 12 agencies. Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials have stated repeated the offices would remain Downtown.
Tennessee has fired Jenny Wright, the director of the school’s office of student judicial affairs, for failing to cooperate with a university investigation into whether she had inappropriate relationships with student-athletes. The dismissal was first reported by Knoxville radio station WNML. Wright submitted a letter of resignation on Thursday, according to emails provided through a public records request. Matthew Scoggins, an assistant general counsel for the university, wrote that the school wouldn’t accept her resignation because it wanted her to cooperate with the investigation and respond to the allegations against her.
The University of Tennessee has fired the director of the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and hired a local lawyer to investigate whether she had improper relationships with student-athletes. Jenny Wright, an office employee since 2008, tried to step down from her position Thursday, but UT refused to accept her resignation. Instead, Provost Susan Martin sent Wright a pre-termination letter Friday. “Based on information we have received to date, and based on your refusal to cooperate in an investigation into allegations regarding your actions, the university has reason to believe that grounds exist to terminate your employment for unsatisfactory work-related behavior,” Martin wrote in an email Friday.
Dr. Jerald Ainsworth, dean of the graduate school at UTC, has been named provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, it was announced Monday. Ainsworth will assume his new responsibilities on June 1, a news release from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga states. He will work with interim Provost Mary Tanner on a transition plan for graduate school leadership. “Dr. Ainsworth has an impressive record of outstanding teaching, administrative leadership, and scholarly research to bring to the provost’s role,” said UTC Chancellor-elect Steven Angle in the news release.
A drug round-up in West Tennessee resulted in the arrests of two people charged with TennCare fraud. According to a news release, the TennCare fraud charges involve people trying to sell their prescription drugs, paid for by TennCare, to an undercover informant. The two people charged with TennCare fraud are: Jaime Denise Ramos, also known as Jaime Denise Walker, 35, of Trezevant, charged with TennCare fraud, sale of the painkiller Oxycodone, a Schedule II drug, sale and delivery of Dihydrocodeinone, a Schedule III drug, which was paid for by TennCare and allegedly sold to an undercover agent.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam may sign off this week on a proposal to spell out when police are allowed to use small surveillance drones without a warrant. The bill sponsored by Republicans won broad support across party lines, and would mean unmanned aircraft can’t just peek into apartment windows for evidence of crimes. Without a warrant, police would need a reason like a specific terrorist threat, or “imminent danger to life.” Other exceptions are for watching a hostage situation, or looking for a fugitive or missing person.
Roy Herron is tired of seeing Tennessee politics as the go-to joke for late-night TV hosts. “I remember when Tennessee was the leading state for economic development in the South and one of the top 3 in the United States of America,” the newly elected Tennessee Democratic Party chairman said Monday. “Now we rank No. 1 in the country for references and time on Colbert and late-night television.” The talk Herron gave at the JFK Club’s May meeting was his first formal address in Chattanooga since being elected as the state party’s chairman in January.
Jody Freeman won’t specify the deeds she watched vagrants doing 12 years ago on the benches of Knoxville’s Cradle of Country Music Park. It was an ugly scene, she said. “We first moved here, we saw things happening in public that shouldn’t happen there,” said Freeman, president of FMB Advertising at 145 S. Gay St., and secretary of the 100 Block Association. But after she moved in across from the park, Freeman said she and other tenants on the 100 block of Gay Street took “ownership” of the neighborhood.
Although City Council passed in a 5-2 decision Monday night a new budget on first reading that keeps the tax rate unchanged for the next fiscal year, details of the proposal remain in sharp dispute. One council member, Trina Baughn, offered a multi-point plan that makes severe cuts to programs ranging from the library to travel expenses to the city’s parks and recreation program that would see the current $2.39 tax rate reduced. But council member Chuck Hope offered a drastically different version that boosts the city budget by $500,000 in order to replenish the capital outlay fund, boost economic development and begin studies of a relocated fire station to serve the city’s southeast quadrant.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker wants more answers from the Obama Administration on last year’s attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It’s a dramatic shift on the issue from the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Just last week, Corker told MSNBC that he was satisfied with the White House’s response to questions surrounding the attacks. But that was before a marathon six-hour hearing chaired by House Republicans, where a State Department employee testified that he was demoted for questioning the administration’s actions following the terrorist attack that killed four Americans.
Another day, another controversy surrounding health care reform. Tennessee’s senior senator Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee overseeing health policy, is calling on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to stop her fundraising efforts for the health reform law, saying it may be illegal. If you missed it on Friday, the Washington Post first reported that Sebelius is asking health industry officials to donate to nonprofit coalitions and advocacy groups that are focused on boosting health insurance exchange enrollments, after Congress has denied increased funding for implementing the law.
Several Tennessee and Georgia Republicans in Congress will be digging as two House committees investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s alleged targeting of right-leaning political groups, including the Chattanooga Tea Party. Closest to home is U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Jasper Republican and junior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The GOP-dominated panel was among the first to announce hearings on actions the IRS acknowledged were “inappropriate” in challenging the tax-exempt status of tea party groups.
When Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, supporters sold the idea partially based on new tax revenue estimates that ranged as high as $2 billion over five years. But recent reports and analyses offer some advice: Don’t spend that money yet. “Nobody has any idea (about revenue),” said Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist and analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute. “There’s only one good way to find out what the revenue would be, and that would be for all levels of government to legalize it and then we see what happens.”
As the Tennessee Valley Authority retires some of its oldest coal-fired power plants, the agency is trying to entice some of the older workers at its fossil plants to also retire. TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said Monday the federal utility is talking with employees at TVA’s 11 coal plants about a retirement option designed to cut some of the 2,400 jobs in TVA’s coal division. “For environmental and economic reasons, we are making some strategic decisions about idling or retiring some of our coal units,” Bradley said.
Officials at plastics manufacturer RCTENN said Monday they plan to invest $1.3 million in their Gallatin facility and add 45 jobs to their operation. The expansion will be the second locally for RCTENN, which moved to Gallatin in 1997 and was formerly called Colson Tennessee. The company produces refrigerator components as well as various construction and consumer products such as plastic toolboxes, housewares and cleaning accessories. Officials said they are expanding after being chosen as the Southern manufacturing plant for a maker of storage totes found at a number of national retail chains, including Dollar General and Lowe’s.
Plastics manufacturer RCTENN is planning a $1.3 million expansion at its Gallatin plant, adding 45 jobs. “Everyone here at RCTENN is excited about the new business coming into our company,” RCTENN President Rob Coleman said in a news release. “We greatly appreciate the GEAR organization in Gallatin for facilitating the process and bringing the state to the table. We also appreciate the incentives offered by the city of Gallatin. These programs were invaluable, enabling us to expand our facility and add these positions.”
Pfizer recently released about a fifth of its remaining local workforce, following a second recall of the drug Levoxyl. About 25 full-time workers at the company’s Fifth Street facility were released in early May, company spokeswoman Joan Campion said Monday. Levoxyl is used to treat hyperthyroidism and is manufactured at the former King Pharmaceuticals site. “This is in response to a loss of manufacturing,” Campion said. “There was a recent recall of Levoxyl — which represents a significant portion of the work at the Bristol facility — and production won’t start up again until 2014.”
Government, tourism and film leaders welcomed the renewal of ABC’s “Nashville,” touting job and branding opportunities for a second year “They spent a fortune producing that show,” said Curt Hahn, CEO of Nashville’s Film House production company. “Every time they promote that show, they are promoting our city, too.” The show’s first season was expected to bring $75 million in overall spending to the area and brought job security to local film workers.
Williamson County Schools could be free of some state regulations as soon as July 1st. The suburban system pushed the “High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act” through the legislature, and it was signed into law late last week. “We certainly meet the requirements under the law, and we will be seeking some flexibility in the year ahead,” WCS director Mike Looney says. Looney knows the law better than anyone; he wrote it and spent many days at the state capitol lobbying for its passage.
More minorities, tougher curriculum are wanted Inside a historic school building tucked into the middle of a West Nashville neighborhood, gifted preschool children are being coaxed into higher-level problem solving through a drama lesson presented by professionals from the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. The 3- and 4-year-olds quickly identify unusual animals such as meerkats and numbats. They take only seconds to think about how the animals would communicate. In no time, the little actors figure out how to open packages with no hands and explain the use of goggles, flippers and inflatable arm bands with no words. Problems solved.
The countywide school board should have a budget proposal ready for the Shelby County Commission by the end of this week. And as it stands now, it would require just under $36 million in new funding. The budget will be for the first fiscal year of the merger of Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools. School board members are scheduled to get a budget draft proposal presentation from interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson and his cabinet Tuesday, May 14, at a 5:30 p.m. budget information session.
A federal judge in Memphis sentenced a longtime Memphis educator Monday to seven years in prison in a test-taking fraud scheme. Clarence Mumford Sr. pleaded guilty in February to leading a 15-year scheme that helped teachers cheat on qualification exams. The passing scores were then used to help people get jobs in public schools. Prosecutors say teachers in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas paid Mumford $1,500 to more than $3,000 to have ringers take the Praxis certification tests for them.
When he began taking money from teachers who wanted stand-ins to take their certification tests, Clarence Mumford would tell colleagues “business is booming.” Over the course of 15 years or more, the former assistant principal and guidance counselor who was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison made up to $200,000 by offering struggling teachers hope for a price. “He’d always say it costs to be ignorant,” said Devin Rutherford, who acknowledged he was paid “a couple hundred bucks” around the year 2004 to take two or three tests for other teachers at Sherwood Middle School.
Gov. Bill Haslam has acted on behalf of all Tennesseans, and everyone who values the U.S. Constitution, by vetoing the “ag gag” bill. The governor deserves credit for getting into this fight against HB 1191/SB 1248, using his veto against a bill that was overwhelmingly supported by lawmakers in his own party. Those lawmakers would be well-advised to accept Haslam’s judgment, which was informed by the state attorney general’s opinion and the indignation of thousands of Tennesseans, who perceived that this legislation would be not only merely unjust but also dangerous. On every level, “ag gag” was a failure.
On Saturday, Gov. Bill Haslam addressed a graduating class at Middle Tennessee State University. In his commencement address, he urged the graduates to stay and work in Tennessee. He emphasized that the state needs them, and he is right. Tennessee workforce development is at a critical juncture. From local school systems to the state’s college and university systems, Tennessee’s economic future will be in the hands of those students, and the demands will be great. Haslam has put a lot of focus on economic development, education and workforce development. He understands the demands that will be placed on today’s and tomorrow’s students when they finish their educations.
It should not be a surprise to anyone who follows the Tennessee legislature that lobbyists spend millions of dollars on events and other activities to make sure lawmakers know the lobbyists’ clients and the interests those clients are advocating. A story in The Commercial Appeal Monday by Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel told how as much as $67 million may have been spent on lobbying state legislators last year, according to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission. That compares to the $38 million taxpayers spent on the total operating budget of the General Assembly.
On Saturday, the newly branded Global Mall at the Crossings in Antioch, formerly Hickory Hollow Mall, will make its official appearance with a daylong grand-opening event. Toward the end of 2012 the mall, at one time among the city’s largest employers, was on life support when a new owner embarked on a mission to revive the empty cavernous facility. The Global Mall would reflect the growing diversity of southeast Nashville while contributing to the area’s economic revitalization. Public authorities and business leaders are searching for ways to stimulate the local economy. The Global Mall can make a contribution to small-business development.
The court-ordered apology issued by Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby on Friday was blunt. It also was long overdue. “I would like to apologize for having Oral Sex in Sharp’s Ridge Park on May 24, 2012,” Ownby wrote in a hastily drafted letter ordered by Blount County General Sessions Judge Bill Brewer. Ownby went on to direct his apology to his wife and family, his friends, his constituents, his commission colleagues and his former employer. He expressed remorse and asked forgiveness. But it was all at Brewer’s insistence. Ownby pleaded no contest to a public indecency charge stemming from the arrest at the park, where Knoxville police watched him and a man perform oral sex on one another.
Why shouldn’t the tea party have to answer questions posed by an Internal Revenue Service charged with collecting the very taxes that tea party folks so vehemently protest? Tea party supporters claim their groups — seeking tax exemption with a 501(c)(4) status — are being politically harassed with extensive questionnaires. Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West said the IRS “stonewalled and delayed” and asked “inappropriate” questions of his fledgling group and others like it in the state and nation. On Friday, the Internal Revenue Service apologized to tea party groups and other conservative organizations for overzealous audits of their applications for tax-exempt status.
In a country where the ability to criticize government leaders and their policies is a sacred freedom of speech right, it is contemptible that the Internal Revenue Service would harass conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. And although there has been no evidence that the Obama administration had a hand in the IRS harassment, the situation still is embarrassing for the president. President Barack Obama rightly called the IRS’s actions outrageous, adding that “there is no place for it.” In 2010, a special unit of the IRS in Cincinnati assigned to screen applications for 501(c)4 status began searching for groups with names that included “Tea Party” and “Patriots.”
“Families who are living in poverty did not spend this nation into debt,” says Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs.” That humane principle will guide the New York Democrat as she seeks to persuade colleagues to resist a proposed $4.1 billion cut in food stamps in an omnibus farm bill heading toward Senate agriculture committee vote. The cut, spread over 10 years, is a lot less than the devastating $20 billion cut over the next decade the Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee is considering. Yet food stamps are already scheduled to take a hit when increases approved in the 2009 economic recovery act expire in November.