This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a measure making the first major revisions in more than a decade to the state law governing the process of placing state residents under the control of a court-appointed conservator. The new statute, which will take effect July 1, was the product of a series of hearings held across the state by the Tennessee Bar Association. It sets out for the first time uniform procedures for placing a person in a conservatorship on an emergency basis. “The intent of this law is to clarify the process, to make sure people aren’t being taken advantage of,” said Rep. Andrew Farmer, the House sponsor of the measure.
Tennesseans will pay a little less for groceries under legislation signed into law Monday at a Monroe County grocery store by Gov. Bill Haslam. The bill, which goes into effect in July, reduces the state portion of the sales tax on groceries from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. The legislation helps all Tennesseans, Haslam said. “In six weeks you will be paying less every time you go to the grocery store,” Haslam told the crowd of shoppers and employees at Sloan’s Grocery in Vonore. Passage of the bill marks the second time in as many years that grocery taxes have been cut.
Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation Monday to reduce the sales tax on groceries. Haslam signed the bill in a ceremony at Sloan’s Grocery in Monroe County. The bill reduces the current tax from 5.25 percent to five percent. The tax has seen a steady decrease. In 2012, The General Assembly passed and Haslam signed a bill which reduced the previous tax from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. “We’re lowering taxes and balancing the state budget by managing conservatively, making strategic investments in our priorities and finding new ways to make government more efficient and effective,” Haslam said.
Tennessee’s sales tax on groceries will drop from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. Governor Bill Haslam was in Monroe County for a ceremonial bill signing at Sloan’s Grocery in Vonore, Tennessee. The bill is one of two tax cuts passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Haslam this year. There is 23-million dollars in next year’s state budget to fund the legislation. The lower rate goes into effect July 1, 2013. It does not apply to prepared foods such as a meal at a restaurant, candy, alcoholic beverages or tobacco.
Gov. Bill Haslam will administer the oath of office Tuesday to the state’s newest Court of Appeals judge, Thomas R. Frierson II. Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary R. Wade will also be at the ceremony in Morristown. Haslam appointed Frierson in February to fill the seat left vacant when Judge Herschel P. Franks retired last year. Frierson has since 1996 been a chancellor in the Third Judicial District, which is composed of Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a one-year ban on municipal annexation in Tennessee, a move that gives researchers time to study how cities bring new territory into their jurisdiction. Haslam signed the measure on Thursday. The ban lasts until May 15, 2014, and applies only to city-initiated annexation of residential and agricultural land. Cities can continue to annex commercial and retail areas, and residents petitioning to join a city still can do so. During the one-year ban, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs will study the issue and report to lawmakers with recommendations.
A 13-month partial moratorium on property annexations by Tennessee towns and cities is now in effect after Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure brought by two Hamilton County legislators. The law, signed last week, halts forced annexations of residential and farm property already in progress prior to April 15 until May 15, 2014, unless a city can persuade county commissions to approve them. New annexations of such property are banned during the same time frame unless property owners want to become part of a city.
New law limits cities’ regulation powers Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last week a bill that allows distilleries to sell the alcohol they produce on premises and limits the ability of local governments to regulate the growing industry. The new law includes a provision eliminating a city’s ability to set distance requirements between distilleries or put a cap on the number of licenses it approves. That section was added after the city of Gatlinburg denied a developer’s proposal to build a new moonshine distillery there.
After exciting a surprisingly less-than-overflow crowd at this year’s annual Lincoln Day dinner by recounting the Republican Party’s successes in Tennessee — including the possession of two U.S. Senate seats, 7 or 9 U.S. House seats, and super-majorities in the state legislature — Governor Bill Haslam cautioned his listeners with a qualifier, preceded by a warning. The “national situation” was different, he noted. “At the end of the day we have to get better at winning elections,” Haslam said, noting the GOP’s failure in the two most recent presidential elections.
Heavy weekend rains that continued into Monday closed schools, roads and left some people homeless across the tri-state region before finally relenting. Schools were closed Monday in Bledsoe and Rhea counties in Tennessee and in Walker County, Ga., but they were drying out by Monday afternoon, and all were expected to be in session today. In Tennessee, several mobile homes were damaged Sunday, and two were swept off their foundations by raging waters in the Cold Spring community, according to Ricky Seals, investigator with the Bledsoe County Sheriff’s Office.
A Spring Hill pediatrician says she has some sympathy as the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services tries to sort through claims about children’s welfare. Dr. Shontae Buffington serves as the fellow-at-large representing Middle Tennessee for the Tennessee chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. But Buffington also told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/10PY0YX ) she is irritated that DCS caseworkers without apparent medical expertise sometimes challenged her medical opinions.
The state granted the University of Tennessee approval Monday to purchase and demolish three historic Queen Anne-style Victorians on White Avenue as part of the school’s plan for a science building. UT is in talks with two of the three homeowners but has not decided whether to raze the late 19th-century houses once they are purchased, said Chris Cimino, vice chancellor for finance and administration. Cimino insisted the university did not want to use its power of eminent domain and would do so only as a last resort.
The state comptroller on Monday issued a stern warning to Memphis officials about the city’s fiscal condition, focusing on concerns about a debt refinance plan the city wants to undertake that defers debt to about 2025. State Comptroller Justin P. Wilson called such fiscal moves “scoop and toss” because they defer debt years down the road. The comptroller late Monday released copies of a letter and financial report he sent to Mayor A C Wharton and City Council members earlier in the day that reveal officials have been in discussions with the state’s chief fiscal compliance officer for several weeks about Memphis finances.
With entrepreneurs and start-up companies credited with the creation of 65 percent of all new jobs, LaunchTN president and CEO Charlie Brock is spreading the work across the state of Tennessee. From Chattanooga, Brock told a gathering in the home of Kirkland’s founder Carl Kirkland on Monday that he was excited about what is taking place in Hamilton County, but equally excited about what is going on in West Tennessee. Brock is part of a Chattanooga angel group — created to provide seed capital for the best graduates from an accelerator program.
Women’s overall health in Tennessee improved to a grade of C, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, according to the Tennessee Women’s Health Report Card. The biannual report card, which is a collaborative effort of the Vanderbilt Institute for Medicine and Public Health, Meharry Medical College, East Tennessee State University, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the Tennessee Department of Health, provides a comprehensive look at the overall health status of the state’s more than 3 million women over a five-year span.
Reversing his initial budget recommendation, Mayor Karl Dean has agreed to spend an additional $6 million to give 5,000 to 6,000 Metro employees additional pay raises in the next fiscal year, officials said Monday. Qualified employees are generally supposed to receive so-called increment raises regularly as they move through a pay grade, but they haven’t gotten them for the past four years. When Dean’s administration unveiled its plan for the 2013-14 budget year on April 30, the raises — which are typically about 3 percent — were missing again, though the mayor did propose a regular 1.5 percent increase for all employees, effective Jan. 1.
Chattanooga budget is going to be delayed for two months because of Mayor Andy Berke’s restructuring of city government and the shuffling of money for new departments. “Basically, we took a meaningful comprehensive approach to reorient city government around key priorities, and so we want to take an equally meaningful comprehensive approach to a budget that will focus on those key priorities,” said Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Berke. A timeline provided to the Chattanooga City Council shows the administration plans to deliver the 2013-14 fiscal year budget by July 30.
Despite her years behind the bench watching lost causes transform into new people, even Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern shook her head when she heard his name two years ago — Jonas Richardson Jr. The 46-year-old man had hovered in Hamilton County courts for decades. Court officials can count at least 96 times he’s been arrested and sent to jail, mostly for theft charges. Fishing money out of Republic Parking cash boxes was his specialty. The money fueled the drugs; the drugs kept sending him back to jail.
Three out of the four county jails in his judicial district are overcrowded, 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson said, and a big part of the problem is a growing population of women being locked up for pain pill-related crimes. That trend became starkly evident to him during a drug roundup in Loudon County in February, Johnson said. He said he looked around the room of suspects, and the vast majority of those being booked for pain pill cases were women. Women, he said, “are fast becoming addicted and drawn into this horrible pain pill epidemic.”
Four months after Red Bank’s traffic cameras were removed, city officials say they aren’t missed. Accident rates have remained steady, fewer tickets have been issued and, while no official numbers are in, preliminary reports indicate traffic counts are on the rise. That’s something businesses were hoping would happen. “We’ve seen a little bit of [traffic] increase on Dayton Boulevard,” Red Bank Mayor John Roberts said. People continue to tell him they’re happy the cameras are gone, he added. “Just the other day a woman came in and said to me, ‘Thank God you got rid of those red-light cameras,'” he said.
At the 34th annual Eastern Coal Council conference, two Republican speakers laid the blame Monday on President Barack Obama’s administration for being anti-coal. “The energy policy of this administration is A-B-C — anything but coal,” U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., told coal operators and contractors attending the conference held at the MeadowView Marriott. U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., recalled walking down the street at a local festival in a coal-friendly county and people yelling: “Tell the president to stop shuttering the coal business. Tell the president we want jobs…Tell him you can’t replace coal with windmills.”
Tea party activists will rally in downtown Nashville as part of a national day of protest against allegations the Internal Revenue Service targeted them leading up to the 2012 election. Ben Cunningham, a longtime conservative activist, said that an assortment of tea party groups have agreed to take part in a demonstration at noon today in front of the Federal Building on Broadway. The protest is meant to show tea party activists’ anger at the IRS for holding many of them up to intense scrutiny after they filed for tax-exempt status.
A former top Internal Revenue Service official said Monday that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan stretched the truth when the former vice presidential candidate mentioned a Chattanooga nonprofit to bolster the idea the IRS favors liberal groups over conservative groups. In an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Marcus Owens, who oversaw tax-exempt groups at the IRS between 1990 and 2000, said the Wisconsin Republican overplayed the facts to score political points. “It’s different rules, different activities, different applications,” said Owens, now a Washington-based attorney.
A federal civil lawsuit claims that Dr. Raymond Sean Brown, of Cleveland, Tenn., has committed money laundering, wire, mail and Medicare fraud. As part of the filing on May 13 by a Knoxville prosecutor, federal agents seized nearly $6.8 million from the local doctor’s bank accounts. At the end of the day Monday, no criminal charges had been filed. A call to staff at Brown’s 1065 Peerless Crossing NW office in Cleveland was deferred to his attorney, Jerry Summers. Summers declined to comment about specifics of the case except to emphasize that this is not a criminal indictment.
TVA executives will hold their first face-to-face meetings with the Obama Administration Tuesday about possibly privatizing the public utility. The idea was floated in the President’s budget plan. It came as a total surprise to people at the Tennessee Valley Authority. But senior vice president of policy and oversight Joe Hoagland says he presumes the possible sale of the country’s largest public utility was well thought out. “We’re going up there to understand what they need and figure out what we need to support the activity. I mean, I assume they were serious since they put it in the administration’s budget.”
Sony/ATV Music Publishing confirmed today it is moving some of its offices to Fifth Third Center and increasing its Nashville staff size by more than 40 percent in administrative services. About 50 or 60 new jobs will be added to administrative departments in Nashville, including global administration, royalties, copyright, finance and human resources, according to a news release. The company bought EMI Music Publishing in 2012 and is consolidating its administration business in Argentina, Hong Kong, London and New York. “
Another 40 jobs are coming to Knox County as Gerdau (gair-DOW’) expands its steel reinforcement bar plant. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development says the new facility to apply finishing services to rebar now made at the company’s Lonsdale mill. TDEC Commissioner Bill Hagerty and Gerdau officials announced the expansion on Monday, saying the new facility will have the capacity to finish about 120,000 tons of steel per year. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said it was good to see a vacant building in the WestBridge Business Park be put back into industrial use.
Officials with Music City Center have hit their goal of booking events that will generate more than one million room nights for downtown hotels, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced Monday. A total of 123 meetings, representing 1.06 million room nights, have been booked for the new center, Dean announced at a ribbon cutting today. The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. had set a goal of booking one million room nights by the center’s opening. “The bookings to date reflect the excitement in the industry around this project,” Dean said in a news release.
He waited until the very end, but Butch Spyridon met his goal. Before the Metro Council’s 2010 vote to bankroll Tennessee’s most expensive municipally financed project ever, the president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. made a pledge: By the time Music City Center opens, there would be more than 1 million nights booked in Nashville hotel rooms as a result of future conventions and trade shows. For project boosters, it became the primary way — arguably, a symbolic one — to measure the center’s progress.
Erlanger Health System found better financial footing in April than it did in months prior, but the hospital still fell short of its budget — reporting a $249,000 loss at its monthly budget and finance committee meeting Monday. The numbers looked significantly better after a disappointing March, when the hospital reported about $5 million in losses. Last year, the hospital lost $717,000 during the month of April. Chief financial officer Britt Tabor told the committee that April’s margin was “pretty much break even,” though he acknowledged it was still not where the hospital wanted to be.
Bonnaroo, the four-day camping festival held in Manchester, Tenn., every June, has generated an economic impact totaling more than $50 million into the city and state, according to a new study released Monday. The festival, co-produced by Knoxville-based AC Entertainment, had direct expenditures from attendees of $36 million and an additional $15 million in indirect and induced economic activity including increased sales, income and jobs. The study, performed by Greyhill Advisors, reports that festivalgoers spend on average $86 per day during Bonnaroo.
A new report released Monday provided insight into the local and state economic impact of Bonnaroo; last year, the music festival brought more than $51 million to the state. “Bonnaroo set out to be part of this community, and this study helps us verify that we are having a positive economic impact on the community and the state,” festival partner Rick Farman said in a prepared statement. The annual festival is in its 11th year in Manchester, Tenn., which is about an hour away from Chattanooga.
The Tennessee Achievement School District has authorized the creation of GRAD Academy Memphis, a new-start transformation high school recently that will open for the 2013-14 school year. GRAD Academy Memphis is part of Project Grad USA, which opens schools in low-income areas to help prepare students for college. Since it was founded in 2008, the organization has opened more than 200 schools across the country. Grad Academy Memphis is the first Project Grad School in Tennessee, and will be housed in Southside Middle School.
The state-run Achievement School District ventures into high school territory in August with the start of its second school year. Most of the ASD schools for the lowest 5 percent in the state in terms of student achievement are in Memphis. And so far, those schools, either run directly by the district or through charter school operators, are in elementary and middle schools. Starting in August, GRAD Academy will open at South Side Middle School, 1880 Prospect Ave., in South Memphis with 175 ninth graders.
Three Shelby County suburbs approved separate ordinances on final readings Monday for July 16 referendums to establish municipal schools in the respective cities. The special meetings for Arlington, Collierville and Millington kicked off a week in which all six suburbs will consider such ordinances. Lakeland’s Board of Commissioners will have the final reading on its measure Tuesday, while the Bartlett and Germantown boards of mayor and aldermen have meetings scheduled for Thursday. The final readings Monday all were approved by unanimous votes.
Citing a school calendar that leaves little time for families to adjust to any change for 2013-14, a policy committee on Monday voted to recommend that the unified Memphis and Shelby County school board keep existing school dress codes in place for the merged school district’s inaugural year. Meaning that students at Memphis schools will continue with uniforms, although the official phrase used by the district is “a standardized dress policy.” Suburban students would continue to follow the suburban Shelby County Schools general dress code, which has some restrictions on what students may wear — no halter tops, for example — but does not determine colors, fabrics and the like, as has been the case under Memphis City Schools policy.
Six people have been taken into custody following the discovery of two methamphetamine labs next door to each other in Blount County on Monday, authorities said. The first site was uncovered after the Blount County Sheriff’s Office responded to a reported robbery at a residence on Equestrian Circle in Seymour about 3 a.m., according to a BCSO news release. Investigators found methamphetamine in the residence. Soon after, deputies found four people hiding in the woods behind the home.
Emergency crews and volunteers continued to work through the early morning hours Tuesday in a frantic search for survivors of a huge tornado that ripped through parts of Oklahoma City and its suburbs, killing at least 91 people, 20 of them children, and flattening whatever was in its path, including at least two schools. Much of the tornado damage appeared to be in the suburb of Moore, where rescue workers struggled to make their way through debris-clogged streets and around downed power lines to those who are feared trapped under mountains of rubble.
Jennifer Clark is a good comparison shopper and a bad gambler. Clark and her husband took a risk when they opted out of group family insurance at work, and then she developed a kidney stone. The sticker price for her emergency room visit, follow-up and lithotripsy to break up a kidney stone was just over $17,000 — the price of a new compact car, or a down payment on a home, or the difference for some between solvency and bankruptcy. Here’s where the comparison shopping comes in: It showed this family, and all of us, what an impossible and ridiculous nightmare maze our health care system — or lack thereof — already is, from caregivers to hospitals to insurers.
A push in Congress to give private employers the option to offer their employees compensatory time instead of paid overtime is billed as an effort to increase flexibility in the workplace. The legislation would let employers offer comp time in lieu of overtime wages, which are paid at a rate of time and a half. Employees would be allowed to cash out unused comp time within specified periods. The comp time would be offered at a rate of 1½ hours per hour of overtime worked, and both the worker and the employer would need to agree in writing to the comp time arrangement. It is likely that most workers would prefer to see the overtime money in their paychecks.