This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Despite a controversy over his outsourcing of state building operations, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to continue looking at privatizing state government operations where he believes it is practical. “I think our job is to deliver the very best service at the lowest price, and I’ve said that from the very beginning,” Haslam said last week, adding, “I think particularly this case with the real estate space is a great example of that.” Haslam was referring to a contract with Chicago-based real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle to manage state office space.
The group that helps pick the judges who sit on Tennessee’s appeals courts faces an end-of-the-month deadline to fill three vacancies. The Judicial Nominating Commission, 17 lawyers who review applicants and send suggestions to Gov. Bill Haslam, is reviewing nominations before June 30, after which it will cease to exist legally. The commission is screening 25 applications to replace two judges who will retire next year. Those retirements, and a third announced this month, have been timed to give the group a chance to suggest successors.
Exactly what is in a 5-Hour Energy shot? That question has been at the center of a series of lawsuits and counter-suits throughout the country, and it has now made its way to a Davidson County court. Makers of the popular energy drink 5-Hour Energy are asking a Tennessee judge to make state regulators back off in their request for the company’s closely-held recipe, citing state law that protects trade secrets. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and the Attorney General’s Office are insisting that 5-Hour Energy’s manufactures hand over the exact ingredients used in the company’s energy shots — a request that was part of a 33-state investigation into the drink maker’s allegedly misleading advertising claims.
The days of “Thank God for Mississippi” are no more. For the first time in decades, Mississippi no longer ranks as the worst state in which to be a child, according to the newest “Kids Count” data released today by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. The numbers evaluate child well-being through 2010 and 2011. Mississippi’s perpetually low rankings for health and education became a bane for state officials while sparing other low-ranking states from the shame of being the worst. That distinction now falls to New Mexico.
Even though child poverty rates keep climbing in the wake of the Great Recession, there are some bright spots for the nation’s youth in health and educational achievement, an annual study of child well-being shows. Close to home, the bright spot is a full-blown spotlight on a dramatic, 66 percent fall in births to Hamilton County teens between 2006 and 2010, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count study. “That is great news on so many fronts,” Julie Baumgardner, executive director of Chattanooga’s First Things First, said Friday.
Tennessee bars and restaurants have been warned to stop infusing alcohol with fruit, herbs or any special ingredients because of a 2006 ban that the state alcohol commission is going to start enforcing. The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission recently sent a letter to businesses that says drinks like sangria, or cocktails made by infusing or blending with other flavors is prohibited and enforcement on the little known law is going to start on July 1. TABC director Keith Bell told WSMV-TV in Nashville (http://bit.ly/13YE2Pw ) that infused bottles often don’t have labels with ingredients or dates of expiration.
Restaurateurs are concerned about the potential impact on their businesses after the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced it will issue penalties to those that infuse fruit or herbs into alcohol. It wouldn’t affect cocktails mixed and served immediately, like sangria or margaritas, said Keith Bell, director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. But beginning July 1, any establishment found infusing fruit or herbs into alcohol for an extended period of time will be violating the commission’s new interpretation of a 2006 state law. The restaurant industry disagrees with the commission’s interpretation of the law.
State auditors give the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force a clean bill of health in the agency’s 2012 audit, released today. “Our review disclosed no material findings and recommendations in this district,” auditors in the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office wrote of the task force, which covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties. That’s a change from past years, when the state comptroller’s office slammed the task force for tens of thousands of dollars in improper or undocumented spending under former director Mike Hall.
On Alcoa Highway, just five miles south of the University of Tennessee’s Agricultural Campus, is the East Tennessee Research Education Center-Plant Sciences Unit, a 212-acre field laboratory dedicated to research in plant and soil sciences. In one corner of the property is a small grove of trees that resemble eastern black walnuts. The leaves on these trees are similar to black walnut, but the bark is ash-gray and fairly smooth — not dark brown and deeply furrowed like black walnuts. And unlike the rounded fruit of the black walnut tree, the fruit on these trees are oblong, with dense, sticky hairs.
The enforcement effort is called Operation Dry Water. The title has a lot more to do with the boaters than the lakes. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers will saturate reservoirs across the state this weekend, looking particularly for operators boating under the influence. The fifth annual Dry Water event is aimed at reducing accidents during the next weekend, which is just after the Fourth of July. TWRA will also be checking for use of life jackets and other safety practices. In 2012, 135 TWRA officers participated in the Operation Dry Water weekend, logging more than 1,700 hours.
The state’s top labor union is changing how it endorses candidates, and it could cost at least one veteran Democratic legislator its longstanding support. The Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council will focus on voting records, and not on political labels, as it evaluates candidates in coming state races. The council approved the change in March, President Gary Moore said. “We’re going to look at and endorse candidates who support labor regardless of party affiliation,” he said. That’s a shift for the council, which represents about 300 unions and affiliates with 60,000-plus members in Tennessee and has a history of heavily favoring Democrats.
Tuesday’s Memphis City Council meeting is expected to yield a final budget for the city and is expected to be a more focused deliberation as the budget started taking shape during the council’s meeting last week. Since Mayor A C Wharton proposed his first budget in late April, City Council meetings have been awash in numbers — tax rates, property values, average salaries, debt refinancing plans, purchase options on police cars and much, much more. Adjust one set of numbers, and everything changes in other areas.
Doug Bailey, a Republican political consultant who helped U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander come up with the idea of walking across Tennessee during Alexander’s first successful run for governor in 1978, died this month in Virginia. He was 79. In his book, “Coup,” which covers how Alexander took office three days early in 1979 as a pardons scandal engulfed outgoing Gov. Ray Blanton, author Keel Hunt writes that he and other political advisers, including Bailey, started talking in 1977 about how to reinvigorate Alexander’s image.
The Tennessee Valley Authority in coming months will start building a new 30-year power generation plan — one that puts more emphasis on nuclear power and less on coal — and environmental groups are urging openness at the start. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the federal utility made great strides toward transparency in its 2011 Integrated Resource Planning process, and he hopes that trend continues. “It is very important that TVA makes this process as open and transparent as possible and makes sure they have good involvement from stakeholders,” Smith said Friday.
A decision about production of the new model could come as soon as the quarter that begins in July, and local and state officials hope the company decides to double down on the plant that currently employs about 2,500. A delegation of local officials traveled to VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, earlier this month to make the case for expanding the Chattanooga plant, which began making the Passat sedan in 2011. “We are always looking for ways to work with them and encourage their growth in Chattanooga,” Mayor Andy Berke, who was on the Germany trip, said in an email.
The Franklin Special School District is for the first time seeking peer role models — typically developing children — to learn alongside children with special needs in special education preschool classes for the fall. This program is based on the concept of inclusion, where children with special needs learn alongside, and from, their typical peers, and vice versa. There will be one special education preschool class in each FSSD elementary school, with a limit of four peer role models in each class.
A basic premise of health care is to first, do no harm. Our mission as the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. A recent partnership among the Health Department, the March of Dimes, the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care blends these ideas into the “Healthy Tennessee Babies are Worth the Wait” campaign to improve health outcomes for babies by reducing early elective deliveries. Research shows it may not be enough just to make it to term (traditionally 37 weeks of gestation). The last few weeks of gestation are so important for the growing baby — the baby’s brain grows by 50 percent in the last five weeks of pregnancy alone.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has stepped out front in an effort to finally get something rolling in the Senate, at least, on immigration reform. The Republican senator has co-authored with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., an amendment to an immigration reform bill moving through the Senate that would bolster security on the nation’s border with Mexico. The military-style border-security surge has turned into a key point in getting the bill passed in the Senate, and maybe in the House, before any thought can be given to providing undocumented immigrants with a pathway toward citizenship.