This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee appears to be improving as a state for small businesses, according to a national survey. The Volunteer State improved its grade from B- in 2011 to B+ in 2012 in a small business survey conducted by Thumbtack.com and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The rankings are based on a survey of more than 7,700 small business owners nationwide. Tennessee earned a pair of “A” grades from small businesses for the ease of hiring employees and for its business-friendly labor laws.
Small business owners gave Tennessee good marks for supporting small businesses in a new national survey. Tennessee earned a B+ in the “Small Business Friendliness Survey” released Tuesday by Thumbtack.com, a website that offers to connect consumers and businesses. That’s up from a B- in last year’s survey. “Tennessee ranked among the top states for its support of small businesses,” Sander Daniels, co-founder of Thumbtack.com said in a news release. “Our research points to the importance of clear and consistent regulations in creating a friendly environment for entrepreneurs, and this is exactly what Tennessee delivers.”
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s likely to sign into law a bill updating the state’s 2009 liquor distillery statute despite questions raised about two real estate investments he has with a Knoxville developer who helped push the bill. “It was passed by the Legislature,” Haslam said. “I don’t see any constitutional issues. I don’t think there’s a lack of clarity. I don’t know at this point and date why I wouldn’t [sign it].” The bill was sent to Haslam on May 6. Governors have 10 days to decide what action to take. The governor can sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is vetoing a bill passed by the state’s General Assembly that requires people who film others committing acts of animal cruelty to hand those images over to law enforcement within 48 hours. In a statement released Monday that made a point to declare his support for Tennessee agriculture and livestock producers, the governor suggested he’d like lawmakers to reexamine issues raised in the public storm of criticism that kicked up after the bill was passed last month.
Supporters of contentious animal-cruelty reporting legislation took in stride the news that Tennessee’s governor is vetoing the bill. They issued statements Monday declaring their intentions to regroup and rework the mandate into a more politically palatable and constitutionally acceptable form next year. Sponsored in the state House by Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham in the Senate, the legislation would’ve required that anyone who films instances of animal abuse, for purposes of public exposure, deliver the images to law enforcement within 48 hours.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam teamed 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 met with a group of kindergartners and pre-K students at Buena Vista Enhanced Option School in Nashville on Tuesday and read the Sesame Street’s book “Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget.” It teaches kids the difference between “sometimes food” and “anytime food.”
More than half of the files released last week by the Department of Children’s Services show that caseworkers did not stick to a policy meant to keep records up to date, a failure that experts say could have jeopardized child safety and criminal investigations into their deaths. Twenty-five of the 42 files released under a court order Friday contain records that were created more than 30 days after the events they note, a violation of DCS’ guidance to caseworkers and child welfare best practices. In a few cases, months-long investigations were not documented until their conclusions.
Piedmont Natural Gas is cleaning up after a spill at Radnor Lake State Natural Area, just four months after reassuring the public it was taking steps to minimize the environmental impacts from the construction of its new Nashville pipeline. A mixture of clay and water spilled into Otter Creek on Saturday as company contractors worked to drill the pipeline through a section of the Radnor property, state officials said Tuesday. A Piedmont representative reported the accident on Saturday to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which is working to investigate and oversee the cleanup, department spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said.
State transportation officials have let an emergency contract to clear a rockslide in Smith County. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it awarded the work to Lojac Enterprises Inc. to clear debris from state Route 25 in Carthage. The bid was just under $117,000. The contract specifies the work must be completed by May 22 to avoid daily penalties. Both lanes of the highway will remain closed during the work, which is taking place near the Cumberland River Overlook.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has awarded an emergency contract for repairing the rockslide that occurred last week in Carthage. Lojac Enterprises, Inc. was awarded the rockslide repair contract with a low bid of $116,987. The contract states that all repair work must be completely by Monday, May 22. If repairs are not completed, TDOT will fine the contractor $2,500 a day. Once the rockslide repair is complete and cleanup is done, TDOT crews will pave the road that was damaged.
Probation and parole officers in Tennessee will soon be armed as a result of changes implemented by the state’s Department of Correction. “We’re at peril from their actions if we don’t arm ourselves and take ourselves seriously,” East Tenn. District Director for Probation and Parole Bob Henshaw said. Henshaw told 6 News he has worked in probation and parole for 36 years and said he knows firsthand of the dangers that come along with the job. “Everybody we deal with is basically a convicted felon, anywhere from murder down to class E felony theft,” Henshaw said.
A private college in northwest Georgia is suing Tennessee’s higher education commission in a dispute over billboard advertising. Berry College says in the federal lawsuit that the Tennessee agency has threatened to sue the school if it continues to advertise in that state without registering and paying fees of more than $20,000 a year. The Rome, Ga.-based school says it competes with Tennessee colleges and has advertised on at least one billboard in the state. It depicts two students in front of a college building with Berry’s name, website and the phrase “26,000 acres of opportunity.”
Tennessee officials say they fired Jenny Wright as director of the school’s office of student judicial affairs for refusing to cooperate with a university investigation into whether she had inappropriate relationships with student-athletes. Wright’s lawyer said there were no inappropriate relationships to investigate. “She categorically denies having any inappropriate contact with any students,” Robert Kurtz, the lawyer representing Wright, said Tuesday. “She didn’t do anything wrong.” Wright was fired Monday after failing to appear at a meeting to discuss the allegations against her.
A bill that could reignite one of Chattanooga’s biggest infrastructure projects may pass the Senate as early as this morning. But, as with nearly everything that may clear the upper chamber these days, the latest Chickamauga lock fix faces delay in the House of Representatives. Senators today are scheduled to pass their version of the Water Resources Development Act, a massive public works bill that authorizes funding for the nation’s $18 billion inland-waterway project list. The bill includes language that insiders believe could allow engineers to resume work on an unfinished replacement lock at Chickamauga Dam.
Dozens of conservative groups — including three in Tennessee — said they were targets of the IRS and placed under extra tax scrutiny. Kevin Kookogey said he lost a $30,000 grant because agents with the IRS office in Cincinnati kept dragging their feet when he applied for tax exempt status, and said he has proof the responsibility for their inaction goes farther up the chain of command inside the IRS. Kookogey said two years ago he tried to start an educational foundation focused on teaching conservatism.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 15-5 to send a five-year, $955 billion Farm Bill to the floor with some concessions to producers of rice and peanuts that weren’t in last year’s effort. The House takes up its version of a farm and nutrition programs blueprint on Wednesday. The Senate bill eliminates direct, counter-cyclical and other traditional subsidy programs for a savings of $16 billion over ten years. It also makes people with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000 ineligible for payments for commodities programs and caps those payments at $50,000 per farm entity.
Thousands of people are killed or injured every year by drivers who have not reached the legal standard for being drunk but who have a reduced ability to see, make decisions or operate a vehicle, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday, and it recommended that the states reduce the allowable blood-alcohol concentration by more than a third, to 0.05 percent from 0.08 percent. The current standard was established a decade ago at the instigation of Congress, and progress has stalled, the board said, with about 10,000 fatalities a year.
One of the intriguing stretches of last week’s federal trial of Y-12 protesters was the back-to-back testimony of Sgt. Chad Riggs and (former) Security Police Officer Kirk Garland. Garland was the first security guard to respond to the scene near the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where the protesters — Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed — huddled in the predawn after cutting through four fences, splashing blood on the building and performing other acts to protest the production of nuclear weapons.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is offering retirement incentives to employees of some of its coal-fired power plants. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/15INGK5 ), TVA wants to cut some of the 2,400 jobs in the fossil plant division. The government-owned utility is talking with workers at its 11 coal-fired plants about retirement options. TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said the number of staff cuts and when they will occur is still being decided. He wouldn’t give details of early retirement incentives to be offered.
The cleanup of a run-down river barge across from Ross’s Landing should be finished by week’s end, but the city’s top tourism official called for the developer to move ahead with his plans for a restaurant. “Anything less than a first-class restaurant is unacceptable,” said Bob Doak, the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau president. Barge owner Allen Casey said Tuesday the barge, which holds a couple of structures, will be cleaned up and won’t be an embarrassment while he continues to put together financing for his project.
Government data released for the first time last week showed that hospitals across the nation bill Medicare widely different amounts for the same procedures. St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell, N.Y., charged $29,637 for patients who received a respiratory system diagnosis and remained on a ventilator more than 96 hours, while Stanford Hospital in Stanford Hospital, Calif., charged $929,119. Here in Memphis, those same price swings exist within the market, raising questions about how hospitals set prices and why they vary so widely.
Director of Schools Jesse Register says cutting down salary raises and curbing staff growth are largely how he expects the district will cut $18 million from its budget proposal. The reductions will be difficult to make, Register told Metro school board members Tuesday, but added the district would still come out next school year with more money than it had to work with this year. “It’s not a crisis, but it’s going in the wrong direction,” Register told reporters. Register is proposing the district reduce central office and support positions to the tune of $4.09 million, reduce about $5.35 million worth of new teaching positions, freeze salary step raises for all employees to total $6.47 million, and reduce the state-mandated salary increases by $1.78 million.
Parents and students waited more than two hours Tuesday to tell the unified Memphis and Shelby County school board how critical prekindergarten is to the city’s future and to rally against staffing cuts in the one chance they had to speak publicly about the proposed budget. The 23-member school board is considering using reading books another year, trimming librarians and school counselors to save money in a $1.18 billion budget that is about $75 million lower than the 2012-13 combined budgets of Memphis City Schools and suburban Shelby County Schools.
The funding gap for the still tentative schools merger stands at an even $35 million in new funding. The new total came Tuesday, May 14, after interim schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson told countywide school board members he and his staff had eliminated a “district initiative department” that would have cost $737,366. The changes reflect a still fluid budget proposal that the countywide board votes on Thursday, May 16, and submits to the Shelby County Commission for local funding.
Carter County Director of Schools Kevin Ward kept his promise to deliver a budget for the school system for the next fiscal year that is balanced without an increase in property taxes. Ward presented the school department’s proposed 2013-14 budget to the Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission on Tuesday evening. It includes replacing $425,000 in funds that were one-time cuts in this year’s budget. The previous cuts that must be restored in the new budget include $300,000 for the purchase of textbooks.
For First Time in Over 10 Years, California Will Have Extra Cash; Gov. Brown Wants to Save It, but He Faces Pushback For the first time in over a decade, California’s governor has projected a budget surplus. But that good news raises a question: How will the Democratic-dominated state government spend its money now that it no longer has to worry about closing a deficit? Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he expects a surplus of $1.1 billion as part of his spending proposal for the coming fiscal year, which ends in June 2014. The last time California projected a surplus, in the early 2000s, most of the funds disappeared into higher spending and tax breaks.
Gov. Bill Haslam took a principled stand Monday on the side of free speech and animal rights by vetoing the so-called “Ag Gag” bill. Legislators approved the bill, which would require anyone taking photographs or video of the abuse of livestock to turn the images over to authorities within two days or face charges, during the recently concluded session. Though clothed as a way to fight animal abuse, the bill actually would have had a chilling effect on efforts to uncover abusers. Haslam should be applauded for striking down the unconstitutional bill. Haslam gave three reasons for wielding his veto pen for only the second time since he was elected in 2010.
We are encouraged by Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto of the so-called “ag gag” bill. In typical Haslam style, when it comes to politically difficult decisions, he took his time making up his mind. The “ag gag” bill was widely supported by the governor’s party, so his veto was sure to have political implications. Nevertheless, Haslam relied on the law, wide public outcry, and, we hope, a healthy dose of common sense, before issuing his veto.Whatever the motivations were for this bill, and they were suspect from the beginning when it first was proposed last year, there simply is no need for this legislation.
The ringleader of a scheme to help unqualified teachers pass certification tests is headed to prison for seven years. Clarence Mumford, 59, a former assistant principal and guidance counselor, dishonored his profession and subjected students across the Mid-South to inadequate teachers, some of whom probably never should have been in a classroom. Mumford was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Memphis on Monday. Prosecutors said he made up to $200,000 over 15 years or more by hiring people to take certification tests for desperate individuals who wanted to teach in schools in the Memphis area, or in Mississippi or Arkansas.