This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
When the winds ripped the roof off a house Thursday, neighbors in Sevier County suspected the storm was a twister long before the National Weather Service confirmed it the next day. “Based on the trees being twisted and the way the path of the storm went, most residents anticipated it would be confirmed a tornado,” Sevier County Emergency Management director John Matthews said. The weather service pegged the storm as an EF-1 tornado on Friday, the second-lowest classification.
Several trails in the Cosby and Big Creek areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remained closed Friday due to wind and rain damage that occurred during a storm the day before. Gabes Mountain Trail and Snake Den Trail in Cosby and Baxter Creek Trail and Big Creek Trail in Big Creek were closed because of downed trees. Other trails could be closed pending further damage assessment, officials said. Park managers also closed the B Loop of Cosby Campground. “We are in the process of assessing the condition of the trails within the storm-affected area,” Chief Ranger Steve Kloser said. “
Thousands of Tennesseans have been getting checks in the mail this week as part of the largest state and federal settlement of its kind ever. These are people who lost their homes to foreclosure. State and federal regulators went after some of the country’s biggest banks and mortgage companies after discovering they had used wrong information and shady tactics to foreclose on thousands of homes. That has caused some confusion about how much money homeowners are getting and where they’re getting it from.
A $40 million reconfiguring of Interstate 24 exits in Chattanooga is expected to improve traffic flow and gain better access to the south side of the city. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported the Tennessee Department of Transportation will soon be doing design and engineering work on the project. Land acquisition and construction is not yet funded. The plan includes a new parallel connector along I-24 to simplify interchanges at South Broad, Williams and Market streets.
The parents of the victims in the Christian-Newson murders say the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has declined to give them access to files concerning ex-judge Richard Baumgartner. The TBI investigated Baumgartner’s addiction to prescription painkillers. Files related to the investigation played a role in the granting of retrials to the four convicted in the 2007 murders. The families’ attorney has asked for time to respond to the TBI. A court has not ruled.
Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday that a legislative committee should examine the state contract with Jones Lang LaSalle after it came to light that Gov. Bill Haslam was once an investor in the company. Both Ramsey and Harwell expressed confidence in Haslam’s handling of the contracts, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “Just the whole idea of sole-bidding, I think that’s a legitimate concern for us to examine,” said Harwell. “I do not believe anything has been done wrong, but (a review by legislative committees) is appropriate.”
Attorney Gordon Bonnyman has given fits to Tennessee’s political ruling class for decades through his forceful legal advocacy in areas ranging from treatment of state prison inmates to health care access for the poor and disadvantaged. But the executive director and co-founder of the Tennessee Justice Center will be stepping aside next year after 17 years. Taking the helm is the legal advocacy group’s managing attorney and fellow co-founder, Michele Johnson. Bonnyman, 65, will continue to serve clients as a staff attorney, Johnson said.
On the six-month anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, advocates of a universal gun-sale background check rallied here to push for a new law curbing gun violence. Some 25 people gathered in front of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ West Main Street office where they called on the congressman and Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander to support the Manchin-Toomey bill that would, in part, close a gun show loophole. Licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks on buyers, but unlicensed salesmen can bypass those regulations at gun shows.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says he supports President Obama’s decision to arm moderate rebel groups in Syria. It’s an idea the senator has warmed up to only recently. The White House announced yesterday that the US would provide direct support to the opposition, saying there’s confirmation that the Syrian government has chemical weapons. In May, shortly after announcing his support for sending arms, Corker told CBS News that his support came with a caveat. The US, he says, needs to vet who receives weapons.
A defense bill that cleared the House Friday included two programs important to Fort Campbell, Rep. Marsha Blackburn said. A comprehensive bill that authorizes defense spending for fiscal 2014 included moneythat keeps the Flying Hours program at Fort Campbell at “historically appropriate levels,” said Blackburn, R-Brentwood. The program, which provides flight training to both individuals and units at the base, had been threatened by the budget sequester, the automatic spending cuts that took effect in March.
Federal officials on Friday released a proposed rule to keep millions of Americans who do not have bank accounts from losing out on expanded health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. These are people who qualify for subsidies to buy coverage through the federal exchange, the Health Insurance Marketplace, but have no way for monthly premiums to be deducted from a banking account. Insurance companies are reluctant to take the premium payments from debit cards because of associated fees.
A federal advisory panel said Friday that Congress should move immediately to cut payments to hospitals for many services that can be provided at much lower cost in doctors’ offices. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission said the current payment disparities had created incentives for hospitals to buy physician practices, driving up costs for the Medicare program and for beneficiaries. Hospital buyouts of doctors, turning independent practitioners into hospital employees, have also led to higher spending by private insurers and higher co-payments for their policyholders, the commission said.
The Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Power Plant has been under construction for four decades and still needs another year or two to resolve lingering equipment, flooding and documentation questions. But federal regulators have concluded there are no environmental impacts that would preclude the 1,200-megawatt unit from getting an operating license. TVA’s top nuclear building director said he expects the reactor to generate power by 2015. In a new supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission found no environmental concerns that would prevent it from issuing an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2.
With a major expansion of his company about to begin and another one on the drawing boards, Protomet Corp. CEO Jeff Bohanan is “living the American dream,” Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said Friday. The occasion was the groundbreaking for a $6.25 million project that will more than double the size of the machining company’s manufacturing facility in Bethel Valley Industrial Park. The company also expects to add more than 30 jobs to the payroll over the next three years. Protomet currently has 45 employees.
Unified school district administrators will spend the weekend looking for ways to help employees through the transition to a new payroll plan for Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools employees. Interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson, Deputy Supt. David Stephens and business operations chief Hitesh Haria met with the media Friday to address concerns about the plan. They described the plan as a move toward best practices in business operations that will eliminate the practice in Shelby County Schools of paying employees in advance for hours they haven’t worked. Not everyone sees it that way.
More than 5,000 Shelby County school employees face a month without a paycheck while the accounting systems of the two districts are merged. But when the man in charge of both districts admitted it’s a major screw up, his public relations team tried to shut him and the media down. Thursday night, thousands of employees received an email that said they’d have to make a decision in about two weeks whether to stretch out their July paycheck or go without pay until August 16th. Shelby County school employees are outraged, and so are some Shelby County Commissioners.
It’s a puzzle that will have administrators of the new unified school district working through the weekend. The merger between Shelby County and Memphis City Schools means County teachers could go a month without a paycheck because of the pay-schedule. Yesterday, the letter was sent to about 3-thousand Shelby County teachers by email, explaining a change to the payroll. The new unified system will keep the MCS pay schedule, paying teachers on a current schedule, meaning they’ll receive payment “only for time already worked.”
Punishment finds support in school district Administrators of the Memphis and Shelby County unified school district thought they had a no-brainer this week when they proposed a policy for the district that would ban corporal punishment as a disciplinary tactic. A ban had been in force for Memphis City Schools since 2004. Although it is still listed among the options available to principals in Shelby County Schools, students in the SCS system haven’t been paddled in years, administrators say. Numerous studies reject the tactic.
A year after a harrowing fight began over opening a controversial charter school in West Nashville, district officials are entering a new round of approvals and recommending the school board OK four of six applications for the 2014-15 school year. Three of the four school operators that the Metro Nashville Public Schools district’s Office of Innovation is recommending have an established track record of running other schools, according to district reports. “It’s a strong group of charters that respond pretty well to our needs,” said Alan Coverstone, director of the innovation office.
Though they wield paint brushes, dance on stage and craft sculptures, local teachers of the arts say they can feel somewhat isolated from Chattanooga’s vibrant arts scene. So, to bring those teachers into the fold, the local nonprofit ArtsBuild took about 20 area teachers into the city’s theaters, studios and galleries this week. They met with artists, heard about performance opportunities and learned the nuts and bolts of arts funding. “These teachers are a part of our arts community, yet they are very isolated in their schools,” said Rodney Van Valkenburg, director of grants and initiatives for ArtsBuild.
The Bradley County Board of Education wants to begin a $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School by July 1, 2015, and has made a limited-time offer of $1 million if the county commits to the capital project within the next 12 months. The school board recently voted 5-1 to contribute $1 million to the project if the county will commit to a funding plan by July 1, 2014, with construction starting a year later. If the county does not meet the deadline, the offer will be withdrawn. Board member Rodney Dillard cast the opposing vote.
The chairman of the local legislative delegation said a proposal to term-limit Knox County school board members would need state buy-in, and he just doesn’t see that happening. Further, state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, also said he has “no intention” to introduce such legislation when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes in January. “(The state’s) legal staff essentially said we can’t do it unless we want to change general law, meaning we’d have to do it for every county across the state, and I’ve got a feeling that won’t pass,” he said.
Melrose High boosters and faculty say tens of thousands of dollars are missing from the school, including sales from an after-school concession stand and hundreds of dollars reimbursed to coaches and others for food that was free at a holiday tournament. “We’ve been given the royal runaround,” said Claudette Boyd, a retired captain of the Memphis Police Department and a member of the Melrose High School Parent Teacher Student Association. “All I am doing is asking questions that no one will answer, and that’s making me more suspicious.”
Three people have been charged with meth-related activities in Blount County. The Blount County Sheriff’s Office says Michael Hank Haven, Michael James Boling, and Stanley Bentley were arrested Friday following an investigation. The sheriff’s office says a drug task force initiated an investigation after a tip the suspects were attempting to buy pseudoephedrine and other meth-making materials at local businesses. Officers pulled over the suspects’ car on Wilkinson Pike near Old Chilhowee Road.
On May 21, a construction crane involved in a bridge project on Tennessee Highway 109 in Gallatin suddenly went out of control and crashed down on a moving car with two passengers. The driver sustained minor injuries and the passenger was unhurt. Onlookers said it was a miracle that no one was killed. The crane collapse is yet another chapter in the seemingly endless saga of construction site accidents, many involving worker fatalities, associated with Mountain States Contractors and its affiliated company, Britton Bridge, the company that is managing reconstruction of the Henley Bridge in Knoxville.
More than a third of the babies born in 2011 at the 69 hospitals that deliver babies in Tennessee were born by cesarean section, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. The rates are rising for women across categories of race, ethnicity, age and weight throughout the country. As our cover story points out, there is evidence that cultural factors and labor management practices play a significant role in what should be a medical decision. And that is the cause for concern. Is fear of a lawsuit and the ensuing impact on insurance costs for physicians prompting a move to a medical procedure that is not necessary and may not be a mother’s first choice?
‘We’re not the brand for people who eat nuts and bark,” CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder, tells me without apology. “Hell, I’ll walk into one of our stores to get a barbecue chicken sandwich and walk out with a Western bacon cheeseburger. You smell them, and you just get hungry. We’re the ‘young, hungry guy’ brand.” Even those who have never frequented one of Mr. Puzder’s fast-food restaurants—known as Carl’s Jr. west of the Rocky Mountains, and as Hardee’s in the Eastern U.S.—will be familiar with his dude-centric brand. How could anyone forget their Super Bowl ads? This year’s featured 21-year-old Danish swimsuit model Nina Agdal fondling a fish sandwich on a beach in Maui.
The U.S. surveillance state as outlined and explained by Edward Snowden is not worth the price. Its size, scope and intrusiveness, its ability to target and monitor American citizens, its essential unaccountability—all these things are extreme. The purpose of the surveillance is enhanced security, a necessary goal to say the least. The price is a now formal and agreed-upon acceptance of the end of the last vestiges of Americans’ sense of individual distance and privacy from the government. The price too is a knowledge, based on human experience and held by all but fools and children, that the gleanings of the surveillance state will eventually be used by the mischievous, the malicious and the ignorant in ways the creators of the system did not intend.