This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A master plan outlining development options for the old Tennessee State Prison could be complete this summer, the architect leading the work said Friday. The prison, off Centennial Boulevard in West Nashville, opened in 1898. It housed inmates for nearly 100 years before closing in 1992 and is a Gothic Revival landmark for the city. Not only did it once house some of Tennessee’s most notorious criminals, but it served as a movie set for films including “The Last Castle” starting Robert Redford and “The Green Mile” with Tom Hanks.
The Tennessee Housing Development is expanding and making permanent what had been a pilot program that gives a 1/2-percent reduction in the agency’s already discounted mortgage interest rates for active military personnel, Tennessee National Guard and veterans. That could save military families more than $100 a month on a typical THDA mortgage of $110,000, the state agency’s executive director, Ralph M. Perrey said. The “Homeownership for the Brave” program also waives, for those eligible, THDA’s regular requirement that participants be first-time home buyers.
The nonprofit group Scenic Tennessee is promoting an anti-litter campaign that combines music, scenic photography and community cleanups with online videos and social networking. The effort begins June 1 with a month-long Pickin’ Up Tennessee tour designed to drive home the campaign’s message: Love the land. Lose the litter. Pickin’ Up Tennessee has enlisted musicians in 20 tour locations to provide a soundtrack for the campaign. Organizers are now seeking volunteers for the cleanups.
Official: City agreeable to turning over 4.1 miles of road University of Tennessee officials are looking to take over all 4.1 miles of city-owned streets in the heart of campus — and the city of Knoxville appears willing to let them. The proposal, which includes major roads like Volunteer Boulevard, Andy Holt Avenue and Lake Loudoun Boulevard, will go before the university Board of Trustees at its meeting in Knoxville next month. The plan then will have to be approved by the State Building Commission before going to the Metropolitan Planning Commission, likely in phases.
Two Tennessee appellate court judges have notified Gov. Bill Haslam that they will not run for another term on the bench in the August 2014 retention election. Patricia J. Cottrell, a judge on the Court of Appeals, and Joseph M. Tipton, who sits on the Court of Criminal Appeals bench, will both leave after September of next year. The announcements come after the state legislature left Tennessee without a way to replace judges who step down or die when a commission expires at the end of next month.
A state ethics board has filed formal charges against longtime Circuit Court Judge Kay Robilio for alleged misconduct in a domestic relations case she handled last year. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct said in the complaint that Robilio violated judicial rules of impartiality by investigating facts surrounding a post-divorce child custody matter in her court in February of last year. “Judge Robilio undertook an independent investigation of the conditions present at the residence of the father by making a personal visit to the residence of the father, inspecting the home of the father and later utilizing her personal observations in making rulings and referring to matters concerning the parenting issues,” chief disciplinary counsel Tim DiScenza said in the six-page complaint.
One of the state’s most prominent political consultants and two of his associates lobbied state lawmakers this year to eliminate Tennessee’s privilege tax on professional athletes, but you wouldn’t know it from what they disclosed about their efforts publicly. The lobbyist registration forms that Tom Ingram and his colleagues at The Ingram Group filed with the state only mentioned another lobbying firm, giving the public no indication of the special interests they were really representing in an unsuccessful bid to kill the so-called “jock tax.”
Lawmakers have passed new rules for mining natural gas in Tennessee — with rare blessings from the industry and environmental groups alike. But while the two groups agreed the regulations were a good step for the natural gas industry, conservation groups say some aspects of the regulations are full of hot air. The Tennessee Joint Government Operations Committee on Wednesday approved new rules for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, drafted by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Knox County leaders are looking to put a bigger value on the sick day. To increase productivity and reward long-tenured workers, officials today will talk about a proposal to pay retiring employees as much as $10,000 for unused accumulated sick leave. “The main thing is that it will encourage the folks who are retirement eligible not to abuse sick leave at the end of their careers,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. “I’ve looked at the numbers and apparently that does occur. You’re paying them for a full week and they take off a Monday and Tuesday and you lose that productivity.”
As the fourth item in the Shelby County Commission’s budget and finance committee agenda on Wednesday, it takes up barely three lines. But the first reading of the ordinance to fix the tax rate for Shelby County for 2014 will officially begin the conversation among commissioners in a year when some say the rate needs to go up because property-tax revenues have gone down. On Wednesday, commissioners will debate and vote in committee on an amended budget from county Mayor Mark Luttrell that includes a 30-cent rate increase, that would set the certified tax rate at $4.32 per $100 of assessed value.
Now, four years later, with Pilot even larger but caught in the swirl of a federal criminal investigation, the leaders of a dwindling band of independents are holding out hope the FTC will reopen the case. “I can’t touch what they (Pilot) are giving their customers,” said Jan Van Westrop, who runs The Tennessean, a travel center in Cornersville. (The travel center has no relationship to this newspaper.) Van Westrop said that while he can compete with Pilot, which operates as Pilot Flying J, on food and other goods, Pilot, the largest buyer of diesel fuel in the country, is simply too big for him to be able to compete with on diesel.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is scheduled to make four public appearances this week in Tennessee. Alexander’s office in Washington says he is the keynote speaker at the Better Business Bureau’s annual lunch in Chattanooga on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Alexander is scheduled to appear at an economic and community development event in Kingsport. Later that day, the Republican senator will discuss four principles for a competitive energy future at the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit in Oak Ridge.
Sex, abortions and civil penalties: Sound like the makings of a negative ad? To most politicians, yes. Still, two men in a prime position to stir the pot and produce powerful 30-second TV commercials say they likely will refrain in their campaigns to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais — arguably the federal legislator with the most baggage in Tennessee and possibly the South. State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, are challenging DesJarlais in next year’s 4th District Republican primary.
The federal Earned Income Tax Credit is known as one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty programs, but a University of Memphis researcher estimates that people in two of every three households in the poorest ZIP code in Memphis are not claiming the money they may be due. Elena Delavega, an assistant professor in the University of Memphis Department of Social Work, said working people who are eligible for the tax credit in Memphis and Shelby County may be passing up a total of $30 million to $70 million a year, dollars that would multiply when spent in the local economy.
After cutting spending on public colleges and universities during the economic crisis, many state governments have begun to boost higher-education budgets once again. Lawmakers in Indiana recently approved a $500 million funding increase over two years for state colleges and universities, a 14.6% increase, following four years of cuts. New Hampshire’s governor has proposed increasing the university budget for the coming academic year by $20 million, or 37%. And state lawmakers in Florida recently approved a budget that increases higher-education funding by $314 million, or 8.3%, following seven years of cuts.
Maury County is moving forward with a proposal for a non-traditional school to stem the dropout rate among teenagers. The Columbia Daily Herald reports that Maury County Public Schools board members agreed this month to proceed with the project. Cindy Johnson, who is the supervisor for high school instruction, told board members that a solution to the dropout rate had been sought for years and was within reach. The district’s dropout rate in 2012 was 12.5 percent, according to data from the state.
Principals at nine city-run schools have indicated they’d like to try allowing students to eat breakfast in the classroom next school year, but school board members have expressed reservations about the proposal. Murfreesboro City Schools has offered breakfast to all of its students at no charge this school year. The district sent a few administrators to Clarksville in April to see the process in action, including Hobgood Principal Tammy Grizzard. Due to renovations at the school, Hobgood’s dining room was closed for a few weeks, forcing students to eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom.
Recently, Vanderbilt University released a poll showing that a majority of Tennesseans oppose Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent health care policy decisions. According to the survey, 60 percent of Tennesseans think it was wrong of Gov. Haslam to leave nearly $1.4 billion in federal funds on the table by refusing to expand our Medicaid program. Additionally, a clear majority of Tennesseans thought the state would be better off running the health insurance exchange ourselves, rather than ceding control to the federal government. Tennessee citizens understand something that has eluded the governor: It is simply immoral to put political posturing ahead of the well-being of 330,000 Tennesseans.
Let us observe a moment of silence. We believe that is an appropriate way to start off a meeting of any of our local governing bodies. Currently, the Rutherford County Commission begins its meetings with a Christian prayer, but a case to be heard by the Supreme Court may have commissioners holding their tongues instead. The nation’s highest court agreed to hear a challenge to a lower court that ruled a New York town’s governing body violated the First Amendment by allowing Christian clergy to lead officials in prayer at the start of their meetings.
Earlier this month the Senate passed a transportation bill containing provisions that could jump-start the stalled construction of a new lock at Chickamauga Dam. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee was instrumental in securing passage in the Senate. The measure likely will face stiff opposition in the House, giving U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, an opportunity to demonstrate leadership for his district. Located seven miles north of Chattanooga, the dam was built in 1940, but the 60-foot-by-360-foot lock soon displayed an alkali aggregate reaction problem commonly called “concrete growth.”