This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam had a ceremonial bill signing for a reduction in the Hall Income tax for senior citizens on Tuesday, a press release said. Haslam signed the legislation during a visit to Crossville. It’s the second piece of legislation cutting taxes in the governor’s 2013 legislative agenda, the press release said. The release said the bill, HB 192/SB 198, raises the exemption level of the tax to single filers 65 years old with an income of less than $33,000 and to joint filers with at least one spouse at least 65 years old with an income of less than $59,000.
Governor Bill Haslam is touting a tax cut for seniors who get tens of thousands of dollars a year from investments, signing a bill Tuesday to cut the Hall Income Tax. He says the move will make Tennessee a more inviting place for wealthy retirees. Haslam technically signed the bill a week ago, but saved the ceremony for a stop east of Knoxville, in Fairfield Glade, a retirement area that’s as much golf course as neighborhood. For seniors who file jointly, the measure would exempt nearly $60 thousand in interest or dividends.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Larry Martin interim commissioner of the Department of Finance and Administration. The 65-year-old Martin will succeed Commissioner Mark Emkes, who retires May 31. Larry Martin joined Haslam’s staff as a special assistant a year ago. He worked alongside Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter to implement civil service reform. From September 2006 to December 2011, Martin served as deputy to the mayor in Knoxville for both Haslam and Mayor Daniel Brown. The search for a permanent replacement is ongoing.
Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Larry Martin will become the interim commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration when Mark Emkes’ retirement takes effect Friday, May 31. The search for a permanent replacement to Emkes is ongoing. A year ago, Martin began work as a special assistant to the governor, teaming with Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter to oversee the implementation of Haslam’s civil service reform — the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act — and reviewing state employee compensation.
Commissioner Mark Emkes retiring Gov. Bill Haslam has named his long-time adviser Larry Martin to lead the Department of Finance and Administration temporarily. Haslam’s office said Tuesday that Martin will become interim commissioner when Finance & Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes officially retires from state government on Friday. Martin led a review earlier this year of the Department of Children’s Services, advised on the governor’s overhaul of the state’s civil service laws last year and served as Haslam’s deputy when he was mayor of Knoxville.
Larry Martin has been named interim commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, effective June 1. Martin will fill the role while Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam searches for a replacement for Mark Emkes, the current commissioner, who is retiring at the end of the month. Martin has been on Haslam’s staff for a year, previously working as a special assistant to the state’s Department of Human Resources commissioner. He was also Haslam’s former chief of staff during Haslam’s time as mayor of Knoxville.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday named Larry Martin, a former First Horizon Corp. executive, as the interim commissioner of finance and administration, effective when Haslam’s first finance czar, Mark Emkes, retires on Saturday. Martin, 65, worked for First Horizon/First Tennessee Bank in Memphis from 1969 to 1987 when he transferred to Knoxville as president of First Tennessee Bank in Knoxville. He left the bank in 2006 to join Haslam’s Knoxville mayoral staff, where he worked as deputy to the mayor — including with Haslam’s successor — through 2011.
Tennessee should stick to the “status quo” on its gun laws and make no additional changes for now, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday. Haslam also told incoming high school seniors at the Volunteer Girls State conference in Nashville that when it comes to the federal government, “I do think the idea of more extensive background checks makes sense to me.” But the issue, the Republican said, is “how can we do that without infringing on Second Amendment rights?” The governor’s comments came in response to a question posed by a student and in responses to questions from reporters later.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce has announced the United States Department of Labor awarded the state $697,963 for exceeding all performance goals that were set for the state’s workforce development and education activities. Tennessee is one of only 15 states in the nation to qualify for the incentive grant, and the amount of Tennessee’s award is the fifth highest in the qualifying states. “This achievement is significant because it demonstrates how we contribute toward the governor’s vision of making Tennessee the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs,” said Labor and Workforce Development Acting Commissioner Burns Phillips.
The state Health Department has named the clinics in Tennessee receiving suspect medication from a Newbern pharmacy. Vials of injectable methylprednisolone acetate may be linked to skin infections in Illinois and North Carolina. The drug is the same one that caused an outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis last year, but so far no cases of meningitis have been linked to this batch of medicine. Three of the clinics receiving the suspect medication are in Jackson. They are Quality Care, Getwell Family Clinic and Walker Pain Management Center.
Tainted medicine similar to what caused last year’s meningitis outbreak was shipped to a clinic in White House, just north of Nashville, state officials say. The drug also went to six other clinics in Tennessee, all in the northwest part of the state, where it was packaged. State and federal officials worked over the long weekend to investigate the Main Street Family compounding pharmacy near Dyersberg, north of Memphis. They now think a bad batch of the steroid, which is used to treat back pain, went to 14 states in all, after they found some was shipped to Kansas.
A Robertson County clinic is among seven Tennessee health facilities that received drugs from a West Tennessee compounding firm suspected in a cluster of infections, the state Health Department said Tuesday. Axis Medical Clinic in White House was the only Middle Tennessee facility to receive the steroid methylprednisolone acetate from the Main Street Family Pharmacy in Newbern, Tenn. The other six are in West Tennessee. State and federal regulators first disclosed Friday that they had discovered a cluster of infections among patients treated with a preservative-free steroid produced at Main Street Family Pharmacy.
Move could save state $50 million The state is outsourcing the management of its portfolio of its office properties, a move that will require about 125 employees to apply for jobs with the vendor taking over that work. Officials expect to save roughly $50 million over the next five years from Chicago-based real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle taking over facilities management for 10.5 million square feet of state-owned and leased office properties statewide starting July 1.
The TennCare Office of Inspector General says there have been more than 1,700 arrests for fraud against the state health care system since 2005. The inspector general’s office, which is separate from TennCare, began full operation in February 2005 and has investigated cases leading to more than $3.5 million paid in restitution to TennCare. The latest arrest reported was announced Tuesday and was that of a Gibson County woman, charged with using TennCare benefits to pay for pain medication and then selling pills.
A Grainger County woman is charged with TennCare fraud after misrepresenting her income to appear eligible for TennCare. The state Office of Inspector General on Tuesday announced the arrest of Brenda S. Singleton, 48, of Washburn, after an inspection conducted in conjunction with the Grainger County Sheriff’s Department. Singleton is charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services amounting to over $10,000. Authorities say she inaccurately reported her household income to be eligible for TennCare benefits.
TennCare fraud charges are lodged against four people in Wilson County who are part of an undercover operation that netted approximately 46 individuals, all for drug-related crimes. The operation involved the Lebanon Police Narcotics Unit, Office of Inspector General (OIG), Wilson County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the TBI. All the charges involved people selling prescription drugs.
Legal battle leads family to TN Supreme Court Neal and Norma Jean Lovlace bring one idea to home decor: the more photos of their granddaughter the better. The little girl looks out from dozens of photo frames of all shapes, from atop the fireplace mantel and all over the fridge in their Centerville home. The images capture Norma Jean with the newborn at the hospital, the grandparents with the girl at gymnastics class and the girl trying some finger-painting — on Grandpa’s face. Yet for almost seven years, the Lovlaces have depended on a court order to allow them to visit each week with her — now age 10 — in a legal battle that has now led the family to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Deciding whether to approve Medicaid expansion will be the most important decision Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee legislators will make in probably 20 years, state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said on Tuesday. Several rural hospital officials met in Ripley to discuss the effects on health care in Tennessee if Medicaid expansion is not approved. Fitzhugh and state Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, who are both for the expansion, where there to hear their comments. Finney said if Medicaid expansion does not happen, many hospitals likely will have to close or discontinue parts of their service, creating more unemployment.
The number of Americans receiving Disability Insurance from the Social Security Administration more than doubled over the last 20 years and Tennessee is helping to lead the way. In 2001, about 5.2 million U.S. citizens were on disability roles. In 2011, the number had increased to 11.7 million, according to 24/7 Wall Street. Tennessee has contributed significantly to that tally. Tennessee had more more than 6.5 percent of its working age population drawing disability payments. The state had more than 260,000 Social Security disability beneficiaries between the ages of 18 and 64 at of the end of 2011.
The Knox County Commission publicly rebuked one of its own Tuesday, agreeing to censure Jeff Ownby a little more than two weeks after the first-term commissioner pleaded no contest to public indecency for engaging in oral sex with a man at Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park. The vote was 7-1, with commission Chairman Tony Norman dissenting, and Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith and Ownby declining to vote. Commissioner Amy Broyles was not at the meeting. Ownby, who declined to comment, also entered a written apology into the meeting’s minutes.
City Council in a 6-1 vote late Tuesday passed on final reading a $20.2 million general city budget that leaves the property tax rate unchanged at $2.39 per $100 assessed value. The decision came after a special meeting May 16 in which members for four hours reviewed proposed additions as well as cuts to the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. While residents won’t see a tax increase, the budgets for the city and its schools prompted grumbling by school officials and belt-tightening by two groups hit by budget cuts.
Some independent gas stations hope the Federal Trade Commission will revisit an acquisition Pilot Flying J, then known as Pilot Travel Centers, made four years ago in light of questions about alleged fraud at the chain, The Tennessean reports. Competitors of Pilot Travel Centers hoped the FTC would block Pilot’s purchase of Flying J, the chain’s biggest competitor, four years ago, but to no avail. Pilot Flying J is currently under investigation for alleged rebate fraud. No charges have yet been filed.
Another truck driver is suing Pilot Flying J over allegations that the nation’s largest diesel fuel retailer bilked customers out of rebates. Mike Campbell, of Holmes County, Miss., filed the class-action lawsuit last week in federal court in Jackson, Miss. The lawsuit, which is at least the eighth filed against the company, refers to an FBI affidavit for several pages. The FBI alleges members of Pilot’s sales team deliberately withheld rebates to boost Pilot profits and pad sales commissions. No criminal charges have been filed.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Tuesday that the nation’s economic recovery and ongoing success depend on aggressively addressing its fiscal problems and creating better policies to deal with China and intervention in the Syrian crisis. “The biggest issue our nation faces, in my opinion, still is our fiscal issue,” Corker told members of the Rotary Club of Cleveland. “As I go around the state … we’ve been talking about it for so long, I almost feel like there’s a fiscal fatigue.” Despite a rise in revenues and an economic upturn, Corker said the country’s management of its debt ceiling is crucial.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Tuesday called on Tennessee’s congressional delegation to get behind legislation that he termed “a huge step” toward building a new Chickamauga Lock. Alexander, R-Tenn., in remarks prior to a Better Business Bureau of Greater Chattanooga meeting, also said there’s no chance TVA will be sold as proposed by the Obama administration. “Overall, I’d be afraid a sale might mean higher electric bills and industrial rates,” he said.
Wilcox Tunnel is getting the old college try as Chattanooga tries a second time for a federal grant to fix the old passage through Missionary Ridge. The Chattanooga City Council voted 9-0 to apply for a $25 million federal grant that could allow building a second tunnel with two lanes and improving the existing tunnel. The council previously tried, and failed, in spring 2012 to get a grant for the work. Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said Tuesday during a Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting that the time for action is approaching fast.
Bucking the trend of states scrapping their death penalties, a handful of legislatures are trying to amend their capital-punishment systems to speed up the process and help ensure that more executions take place. Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott is currently considering a bill the Legislature passed in April that would mandate that the state execute a prisoner within 180 days after the governor signs a death warrant. The ‘Timely Justice Act’ would create tighter time frames for judges considering death-penalty appeals, and make some types of post-conviction motions harder to bring, including whether a defendant should get a new trial as a result of lawyer incompetence.
With a declining demand for hospital services in Gibson County, West Tennessee Healthcare announced changes that will affect two of the county’s three hospitals by January 2014. Gibson General Hospital in Trenton will be replaced by a medical center offering primary care with walk-in after-hours care, post-discharge follow-up patient care, screenings, on-site lab and X-ray. Humboldt General Hospital will be transformed into an emergency center and will operate as a north campus of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.
Facing about $17.7 million in cuts from the school district’s wish list budget, Metro Nashville Public Schools district board members are beginning to question whether officials are overlooking fat to cut elsewhere. The school board heard a second round of revisions to the district’s new scaled-back $746 million budget plan at its regular work session meeting Tuesday. The reductions would include lowering raises, hiring fewer new teachers and laying off some staff in the district’s central office. “The proposed budget is still heavy on the administrative side,” said Madison-area member Jill Speering in a statement she read to the school board.
The Metro Nashville school board looked at possible budget cuts Tuesday that include laying off several central office staff members but no teachers. The cuts suggested by school system staff members include eliminating 21 central office positions. Some of those positions are currently occupied by people who will be let go, but some of those positions are open. Officials were not able to immediately say Tuesday how many of the 21 jobs are currently occupied.
In Hamilton County, there are parallel worlds — with crime, with health, and with schools. There are the inner-city streets ridden with gangs and drugs. And there are the neatly appointed homes in peaceful subdivisions. There are urban neighborhoods with short life expectancies and high rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. And there are affluent areas where preventive care and insurance are within reach. With education, it’s a similar story. A child’s shot at success in Hamilton County Schools is largely based on where he gets on the bus each morning.
After several months of back-and-forth with administrators, the teachers union in Memphis City Schools applied for a preliminary injunction Tuesday with the federal judge overseeing the schools merger to stop a new process that allows principals to get rid of tenured teachers without cause. The Memphis Education Association said new rules the school board adopted this winter about how teachers are “excessed” when enrollment drops or courses change denies teachers their 14th Amendment rights and run contrary to years-old collective bargaining agreements.
The elected officials on all sides of the schools merger lost one item on their plates last week as the school year ended for Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools students and parents. Those in the systems working on the terms of the schools merger had also been running the two separate school systems as well until last week’s final bell. But the last school year for the two separate systems is hardly the end of the political multi-tasking that is the dominant feature of the series of events now in its third year.
The unified Memphis and Shelby County school board Tuesday night answered the question that has been on the minds of students who plan to attend the new district for months what to wear. By a vote of 13-6, the board approved a recommendation by administrators to leave current school dress codes in place for the 2013-14 school year, with the option to change to a more or less restrictive policy in the future with parental input into the decision. All schools in the Memphis City Schools system and eight schools in the Shelby County Schools district currently observe a standardized dress code that regulates what’s acceptable in terms of colors and fabrics.
Countywide school board members agreed Tuesday, May 28, that for the new school year to come, students will follow whatever uniform or dress code they had last school year in their respective schools. And the school board voted down a resolution that would have recognized existing labor unions as representative of employees short of collective bargaining rights. The two decisions signal the final stages of the transition to the schools merger that begins formally with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year but begins for over 150,000 school children and their parents on the first day of classes Aug. 5.
Murfreesboro City Schools may save more than $2 million on its 13th school if project estimates hold and the school board receives a stormwater credit. The city school board awarded the contract for the 137,555-square-foot project to Robert S. Biscan & Co. of Brentwood during its Tuesday night meeting. Biscan’s base bid of $17.018 million was coupled with the firm’s $60,000 bid for an irrigation system, for a total of $17.078 million. Seven companies obtained bidding documents, and five responded. Schools officials set a project budget of $20.95 million with $19.23 million for construction, engineering and review fees and site work.
The Jackson-Madison County School Board unanimously approved a 2013-14 general purpose budget request of about $96 million during a called meeting held Tuesday afternoon. The school system’s federal, capital and food services budgets were recently approved by the Madison County Budget Committee, which will make its recommendation to the full County Commission in June. The County Commission must approve the school system’s request as part of the county’s overall budget before it becomes final.
How much clearer does it have to be? The laws that are meant to ensure compounded medications are safe are not getting the job done. Last year’s outbreak of fungal meningitis caused by contaminated medicine killed 55 patients, including 15 people in Tennessee. Hundreds more were sickened. And yet, another compounding pharmacy, this one in West Tennessee, has been identified as the likely source of a new spate of infections in North Carolina and Illinois. Facilities in 13 states overall received supplies of the medicine. Main Street Family Pharmacy LLC in Newbern has now recalled all its sterile products. Tennessee health officials on Tuesday released the names of seven Tennessee facilities that received the drug.
Many Tennesseans are unaware of Common Core, a troubling new set of federal education standards, because it was agreed upon without the consent, knowledge or involvement of parents and taxpayers. It might surprise you to know that on recent visits to state legislators in Nashville, they did not know much about Common Core either. Our Race to the Top application was submitted in January 2010 and then-Governor Phil Bredesen agreed to a set of new standards, sight unseen. The first draft of the standards was not released until March 2010. Several of the experts on the Common Core validation committee refused to sign the final standard documents due to their inferior content.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is glad an investigation by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners into his sexual impropriety with patients is resolved. But we take no comfort with the state board’s slap on his wrist. Acting on complaints filed last October by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington during a campaign, the board last week fined DesJarlais $500, plus investigation costs of up to $1,000, and reprimanded him for having sex with two patients more than a decade ago. The matter also will be reported to the Health Integrity and Protection Data Bank.
Shelby County’s budget preliminaries are over and the County Commission begins work Wednesday on setting the property tax rate for the 2013-2014 budget year that begins July 1. Commissioners will begin debating and voting in committee on an amended budget from county Mayor Mark Luttrell, which includes a 30-cent tax rate increase that would set the certified rate at $4.32 per $100 assessed value. That rate would bring in property-tax revenues that match 2012-2013 budget year levels. Luttrell’s administration has said the reduction in property values seen in this year’s property reassessment will mean a $54 million decrease in property tax revenues for the coming year.
The way people read is changing. After centuries of relying on books, people are increasingly turning to computers, smartphones and other electronic devices to view the printed word. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, more than 1 in 5 people 16 years or older have read at least one e-book in the past year. There’s every reason to believe the number of e-book readers will increase: A recent report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers projected that e-books will make up half of the United States trade book market by 2016.