This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam’s veto this week of HB 1191/SB 1248, christened the “ag gag” bill by its opponents, is yet another indication that Haslam may be getting more comfortable in the role of chief executive and more able to act independently of the General Assembly and the key Republican figures there. Haslam’s progress toward self-assertion has been an uneven one. His long vacillation this year on the issue of extending Medicaid benefits and accepting additional federal funding under the Affordable Care Act was seen in many quarters as evidence of irresoluteness or even of kowtowing to the legislature, a majority of whose members were opposed to any vestige of what they call “Obamacare.”
As ABC’s “Nashville” looks toward a new season and a new producer, a key question remains: Will the series be filmed in Music City next season? The filming this year was estimated to have a $40 million impact on the local economy, and state and city officials say they are open to a deal to keep the production in Nashville this fall. “While it’s premature to begin discussing season 2 before the finale of season 1 has even aired,” said John Valentine, vice president of TV strategy and business operations for Lionsgate, which produces the series.
One baby had a fractured skull when she died. Another was found dead in a car seat in a criminal case Clarksville detectives continue to investigate. But the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services investigative team closed both cases months ago, marked as “unfounded” any allegations of child abuse and returned surviving siblings to the homes where the children died. The cases, part of 42 files recently turned over to The Tennessean after a public records lawsuit, raise questions about whether the state agency did everything possible to investigate whether those deaths were the result of abuse or neglect, particularly when autopsies didn’t provide an exact cause.
A federal judge has ruled that a former top state Labor Department official can proceed with his suit charging that the former head of the state agency conspired with top aides to fire him and other longtime employees because they are white. In a 20-page ruling, U.S. District Senior Judge John T. Nixon rejected arguments by the state that Donald B. Ingram, the former administrator of the Division of Employment Security, had failed to provide sufficient evidence of reverse discrimination. Ingram was fired a year ago by former Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis.
A cleanup process is under at the Radnor Lake State Park after Piedmont Natural Gas reported a drilling site spill that leaked about 300 gallons of clay and water, according to initial assessments. A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman said Piedmont first reported the incident Saturday morning, adding that TDEC personnel responded to the scene at that time. TDEC is overseeing the cleanup as well as the investigation into what happened.
Piedmont Natural Gas officials vowed Wednesday to take additional precautions to prevent spills as it constructs a pipeline beneath Radnor Lake State Natural Area. The move comes after a mixture of bentonite clay and water spilled into Otter Creek on Saturday, prompting a cleanup effort that involved as many as 50 workers scraping mud out of the creek using buckets and hand tools. “This is an event that we do regret. As we go forward, we are going to do our best,” Piedmont spokesman David Trusty told reporters outside Radnor Lake’s visitors center. “We understand our responsibilities and commitment to the community.”
Piedmont Natural Gas says it’s cleaned up a spill near Radnor Lake that happened over the weekend, but still has work to do reaching out to nearby homeowners. The company spent the last year reassuring people of its plan to build a new pipeline south of Nashville, right through a highly protected park. Drilling horizontally under Radnor meant pumping clay and water into the 20-inch tunnel, to lubricate and cool the drill and carry cuttings away. But apparently the tunnel went past a crack or hole in the rock, letting some 300 gallons of the mixture seep out into Otter Creek, where it flows into Radnor Lake.
Boss promoted her from assistant’s job Peers called Jenny Wright “very professional,” “diligent” and “hard-working,” records show. Her boss at the University of Tennessee referred to her as “an incredible asset to the division and the university.” And two months before she was ousted amid a probe into whether she had inappropriate relationships with athletes, Wright was offered a $4,500-per-course adjunct position in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. Records released by UT on Wednesday portray Wright, 32, as a well-connected over-achiever and model employee.
A Henry County registered nurse has been charged with defrauding TennCare of nearly $10,000. Gene Gaylor Dougherty, 31, of Paris was arrested by the state’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). That agency was assisted by the McKenzie Police Department. Dougherty allegedly dispensed illegal medications while working at a Carroll County hospital. The arrest was announced this morning. According to the OIG, the crime allegedly occurred while Dougherty worked as a nurse at McKenzie Regional Hospital.
A state Senate Republican who pushed unsuccessfully to expand student eligibility for Tennessee Lottery-funded HOPE scholarships plans to take up the cause again next year. Doug Overbey of Maryville, along with Democrats Jim Kyle of Memphis and Lowe Finney of Jackson, couldn’t overcome opposition by GOP Senate Finance Committee members in the closing days of General Assembly last month. Republicans on the committee argued that spending more from the lottery reserves may cripple the state’s ability to fund education initiatives from that revenue source in the future.
Town Mayor Tony Dover asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to veto an annexation bill that town officials contend could make it harder for Smyrna to attract jobs along West Jefferson Pike: Governor Haslam, On Friday April 19, 2013, on its final day in session, the Tennessee Legislature passed SB0279 / HB0475 regarding annexation by ordinance. It was with great disappointment that I watched the TN House floor debate where several members of the House stood to support the bill by declaring that county commissions can opt out of the moratorium with a simple majority vote.
Kane wants a piece of Ron Ramsey: Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is being challenged to a debate on the Internet Sales Tax by professional WWE wrestler and anti-tax activist Glenn Jacobs. In a blog post today Glenn Jacobs (stage name Kane) criticized the Lt. Governor for pushing the Internet sales tax and called for a debate on the topic at the Lt. Governor’s convenience. “Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey claims that the Internet sales tax mandate is not a new tax. Nor, according to Ramsey, is it an unfair tax. Ramsey is wrong on both counts.” Glenn writes.
Longtime Sen. Douglas Henry said Wednesday that his health and the high cost of campaigning were factors in his decision not to seek re-election next year, even though he believes he could win if he did run. The 86-year-old Nashville Democrat officially met with reporters about a week after his campaign manager sent an email to Henry’s supporters last week announcing his decision. Henry, who turns 87 this month, said he had been disregarding his doctor’s request that he not run again but finally decided to heed his advice.
The changes that have taken place over state Sen. Douglas Henry’s long career in the Tennessee legislature are easy to catalog. The Nashville mainstay has seen his state swing from solidly Democratic to just as solidly Republican. The civil rights movement has ended segregation. Henry’s home city has evolved from Hollywood punchline to media darling. Henry, a Democrat first elected to the legislature in 1954 and a state senator since 1970, now says he will retire from the General Assembly next year, putting an end to a storied career that spanned the last half of the 20th century.
Longtime State Senator Doug Henry today confirmed his retirement plans and took a look back at his political career, which began in the mid-1950s. The Belle Meade Democrat served one term in the Tennessee House, then took office as Senator in 1970. The 87-year old will not seek reelection next year. Henry helped establish the State Museum, Bicentennial Mall and Radnor Lake State Natural Area. He’s especially proud of work he did to set up a rainy day fund for the state, and to pass laws protecting children and senior citizens.
After more than 40 years representing parts of Nashville in the state’s Capitol, state Sen. Douglas Henry said the reason he won’t run for re-election next year is because it’s financially and physically costly. Henry, the longest-tenured member of the Tennessee General Assembly, turns 87 years old this week and said he will retire from serving the 21st District at the end of his term in November 2014. “[I will] be digging my own grave if I keep this up. And beside that, if I told you all how much money it cost to get elected last time, you’d never believe me. Obscene, I think’s the word for it. Obscene,” he told reporters during a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell on Wednesday recommended a proposed property-tax rate of $4.38 that would include a tax rate adjustment of 30 cents to offset declines in property tax revenue along with a six-cent tax increase to be used for schools. His budget adjustments would raise $20 million in additional school funding and takes into account the $11.6 million in unexpected additional revenues from tax collections. Luttrell made the presentation on Wednesday to the Shelby County Commission’s budget and finance committee.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is proposing a $4.38 county property tax rate for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. That along with several other fiscal moves would give the consolidated school system the nearly $35 million in extra funding in the school system’s still tentative budget. Luttrell presented his proposal to Shelby County commissioners Wednesday, May 15, during committee sessions. The other elements of the proposal include increased revenue projections for the new fiscal year of $11.6 million.
U.S. senators, both Republicans and Democrats, introduced legislation Wednesday intended to prevent another public health crisis caused by compounding pharmacies operating as medicine manufacturers. The Pharmaceutical Compounding Quality and Accountability Act clarifies oversight responsibilities. The legislation is in response to the fungal meningitis outbreak and related illnesses stemming from contaminated medicine made by New England Compounding Center that has sickened 741 people in the United States, with 55 deaths.
The Senate on Wednesday passed a water and transportation bill that could resume construction at the unfinished lock at Chickamauga Dam. “This legislation helps ensure that about 6.7 million tons of cargo can move through the lock, keeping 100,000 heavy trucks off Interstate 75,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. But the Water and Resources Development Act must pass the House, where anything could happen. Committee members there plan to draft their own version of the bill.
The IRS subjected the Chattanooga Tea Party to “unnecessary” questioning and “significant processing delays” in the group’s request for nonprofit status, according to an inspector general’s report and documents obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The federal agency’s foot-dragging delayed the Chattanooga Tea Party’s request to be tax exempt by more than three years and two election cycles. The group was among dozens singled out by the IRS because of their titles and perceived political leanings, putting a local face on a scandal sweeping the nation.
Haslam will speak at Indiana seminar Jimmy Haslam will take questions from trucking executives from around the country today, one month after the federal raid on his company’s Knoxville headquarters and in the midst of more than a half-dozen lawsuits filed by trucking companies. Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, the largest travel center operator in the country, plans to speak this morning to the Scopelitis Transportation Seminar in Indianapolis, where leaders of the trucking industry had the chance to submit written questions for him in advance.
The economic recovery this year is proving less powerful for industry in the Tennessee Valley, at least in the consumption of electricity by the biggest manufacturers in the region. While the stock market is climbing to record highs, industrial power sales are falling in the seven-state region served by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The unexpected decline in industrial power sales has sparked an appeal from big industry for TVA to revamp its electricity rates to make the region more competitive for major power users.
The head of the United Auto Workers is sounding an upbeat note on a future union presence at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, even as others question the prospects and the wisdom of such a move. UAW President Bob King said in an interview with a Detroit auto industry media outlet that VW is successful globally, in part, because all of its plants — except in Chattanooga — are represented by labor unions and employees share in decision-making through works councils.
The first visitors to explore the 1.2 million square feet of Music City Center this week are gawking at its sheer size. But as convention centers go, it’s relatively small potatoes. Exhibit space has been the key measurement for to get an apples-to-apples comparison. And Nashville has 350,000 square feet. The largest convention center in the country – Chicago’s McCormick Place – has 2.7 million. “We are still talking about what is not a very large center in the great scheme of things,” says Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas San Antonio who studies the convention business.
Colin Reed sees site as good for city and company Conventional wisdom says the arrival of a brand-new and larger potential competitor should make Colin Reed nervous. Reed is chairman, CEO and president of Ryman Hospitality Properties Inc., which owns the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The sprawling complex off Briley Parkway has been a pillar of Nashville’s convention industry for more than two decades, generating as much as a third of Metro’s bed-tax revenues — despite having just a tenth of its hotel rooms — and often overshadowing the downtown Nashville Convention Center But the Music City Center’s arrival is set to change the dynamics of Nashville’s meeting market.
A review of security systems at 28 Knox County schools revealed that many of the cameras were in need of maintenance, while others were not working. The audit, conducted by school security contractor SimplexGrinnell, examined security alarms and video-monitoring systems and tested each keypad and/or proximity-card reader at each of the 28 schools. In a memo to school board members, schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said that on average three video cameras per school were identified as needing maintenance, which included the need to clean, refocus or adjust a camera’s direction.
Two years after the state mandated a stricter evaluation process, Memphis City Schools plans to fire 97 teachers and is vetting the case against 46 others, the longest teacher termination list in district history. “This year, we have two years’ worth of data,” said Joe Hettler, spokesman in the district’s office of Strategic Teacher Recruitment and Staffing. “We can look at this year’s TEM and last year’s. It helps build the decision.” Shelby County Schools plans to fire six teachers. Those who have tenure are suspended without pay until their tenure hearings.
Municipal school districts aren’t a reality yet in suburban Shelby County, but they’re almost surely on the horizon and that’s informing some of the crucial budget decisions being made for the new unified Memphis and Shelby County schools. One of the more obvious adjustments to the reality of a fragmented public education effort in the county arose during a question-and-answer session for unified school board members Wednesday in its review of a proposed $67 million capital improvement plan that would, in large part, fund projects benefiting breakaway municipal school districts.
When countywide school board members begin considering changes Thursday, May 16, to the $1.18 billion budget proposal before them, there will be few easy choices. First reactions and questions from school board members Tuesday at the first of three board sessions this week revolved around ways to shift funding in order to expand pre-kindergarten to more schools. School board member Tomeka Hart said she couldn’t vote for $16 million in “coaches” for teachers as part of the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative over using at least some of the funding for a pre-K expansion.
The 19th Judicial Drug Task Force discovered several one-pot methamphetamine labs inside a home on Bob White Drive Wednesday morning. According to Jamie Dexter, public information officer for the DTF, several hours were spent at the home dismantling the meth labs and cleaning the scene. “We executed a search warrant on the home and found several methamphetamine lab components,” said Captain Jesse Reynolds, director of the 19th JDDTF. Bob White Drive, a dead end street off of Britton Springs Road in West Clarksville, was blocked off by Clarksville Fire Rescue for several hours as the investigation continued.
On May 8, during Teacher Appreciation Week, the Tennessee Department of Education announced a new program to provide $7,000 signing bonuses and $5,000 retention bonuses for high-performing teachers willing to teach in “Priority Schools” — the schools performing at the bottom of the state in academic outcomes. Most of these schools — 69 out of 83 — are in Memphis. The money, which in the past would have been spent on consultants, vendors or administrators, represents a historic effort to help struggling schools turn around student performance by investing directly in proven, superstar teachers.
As the curtain is gradually pulled back on the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, a tableau is revealed that contains mixed images. The Tennessean and other news organizations around the state are examining 42 DCS files released under court order last week. Among them, there are cases of children’s deaths or near-deaths that are thoroughly documented; others have no documentation until months after the events in question. Some cases saw involvement of multiple investigators and caseworkers; others appeared to have received scant attention while being juggled by lone, overwhelmed caseworkers.
Jim Henry, the interim commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, is taking some long-overdue steps to fix the broken agency. He says he is committed to giving more training to DCS investigators and case managers, which is a welcome need considering the details being uncovered about the deaths of children either in DCS custody or whose situations prompted a DCS investigation. Henry also has promised more openness. We think a good start would be dropping the legal challenge to a media coalition’s request to review records of 200 children who died between 2009 and mid-2012.