This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Glenn I. Wright as Criminal Court Judge in the 30th Judicial District, which serves Shelby County. Wright is filling the vacancy created by the death of Judge W. Otis Higgs in February. “Glenn has a distinguished career with 30 years of experience in Shelby County, and I know he will make an outstanding judge,” Haslam said. “I am grateful for his willingness to serve the people of the 30th Judicial District.” Wright, 57, has been in private practice in Memphis since 1992, in the Law Office of Glenn I. Wright since 2009 and at Stokes, Wilson & Wright from 1992-2009.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s point person on the workers’ compensation reform package that passed through the legislature this spring has been tapped to head the new division for the state of Tennessee. Abbie Hudgens will become administrator of the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Division, effective Monday. “(She) has experience in both the public and private sectors and at the state and local levels, giving her an incredible depth of knowledge of the system,” Haslam said in a statement.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he was returning to the roots of his predecessor Friday during a visit to Sycamore Shoals. He said Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier, led the Overmountain Men from Sycamore Shoals to the Battle of Kings Mountain, which he called a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Haslam was in town because of that history. He came to dedicate the new $500,000 interpretive center at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area. The governor said this was one of the more enjoyable trips he has made as governor.
If job growth is a good way to grade a state’s governor, Bill Haslam is getting high marks. Haslam ranks 4th in the U.S. in job creation among all current U.S. governors during their respective tenures, according to a new report from On Numbers. On Numbers, an online affiliate of the Nashville and Memphis Business Journals, analyzed private-sector employment levels using seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The score for each governor is based on a comparison of the annual job growth rate for his/her state and the corresponding figure for the other 49 states.
A judge on Friday ruled that a discrimination lawsuit against the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development can move forward, despite the government’s effort to stop it. Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman said former Labor employee Annie Hendricks proved her job responsibilities were “significantly diminished” last year, which is enough to allow her case to continue. Hendricks, of Nashville, sued the state in November on grounds of discrimination, saying her duties were given to two less-experienced black employees.
Unemployment in both Memphis and Shelby County increased in May, according to recent data from the Tennessee Department of Labor. Metro Memphis saw its rate climb to 9.5 percent in May an increase over the May 2012 mark of 8.9 percent. Tennessee’s overall rate was 8.3 percent , an increase from 8 percent in April. The Shelby County rate also increased from 9.2 percent in April to 9.7 percent in May.
Opponents of a new Tennessee teacher pay plan are taking their fight to social media and asking for the ouster of the man they blame — Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. Two Facebook pages created just after the State Board of Education approved pay plan changes last week call for Huffman’s firing, and a Change.org petition calling for the same action has more than 800 signatures. The petition appeared to be growing Friday afternoon. No one stepped up to claim authorship of the Facebook pages after The Tennessean posted interview requests, but one page administrator sent an anonymous message saying he or she did not want to be known.
A month after a nationwide recall by a Tennessee drug compounder, 19 health facilities in three states have not yet notified all patients who were injected with a steroid that may have been contaminated with bacteria, fungus or both. In a report issued Thursday, officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the 19 facilities received methylprednisolone acetate from the Main Street Family Pharmacy in Newbern since Dec. 1, 2012. Though the facilities lagging behind in notification were not identified, the CDC said that 10 are in Louisiana, eight in Texas and one in Arkansas, and that they either haven’t begun notifying patients or haven’t neared completion.
A Kingsport man was arrested on narcotic charges and Tenn Care fraud as part of an ongoing investigation, according to the police report. Paul Carrier, 53, 1320 Oak Street Apartment 3, was arrested and charged with sale/delivery of schedule II within 1,000 feet of a school, maintaining a dwelling where narcotics are sold, used or stored, simple possession of schedule II and IV narcotics and Tenn Care fraud. On June 27, detectives with the Kingsport Vice Unit served Carrier with a search warrant as part of an ongoing investigation, the police report stated.
Metro will seek to appeal a court ruling that said the city must pay a property owner more than twice as much as it offered for land that’s now part of the Music City Center, the city’s convention center authority announced Friday. A Nashville jury ruled in 2011 that a 5.66-acre parking lot owned by Tower Investments was worth $30.4 million, considerably more than the $14.8 million Metro offered through eminent domain. Tower purchased the property for about $14.6 million in January 2007. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling on April 30, putting Music City Center about $16 million over its original $57 million land budget.
A group that advocates for less government and lower taxes issued its annual Tennessee Pork Report this week, charging state and local governments “squandered” $511 million over the past year in overpayments, economic incentives and other programs it considers wasteful. The Beacon Center of Tennessee report likens $95 million in spending for the troubled Hemlock Semiconductor plant in Clarksville to the federal Solyndra scandal. That was enough to earn the group’s 2013 “Pork of the Year” award for Hemlock.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Friday said top Volkswagen leaders aren’t pushing United Auto Workers’ efforts in Chattanooga, and he contended there’s no link between plant expansion and setting up a factory works council. But a UAW official said VW employees won’t be “intimidated by outside forces,” and that the German automaker has “an outstanding track record” of working with organized labor globally. The two sides weighed into the VW issue as a Washington, D.C., group Friday officially launched a summerlong “education campaign” about the UAW and its efforts to organize the VW plant.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais this week introduced a bill that would prohibit all American military efforts in Syria, defying an odd couple in the process. The unlikely allies are President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican, former Chattanooga mayor and GOP leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Ideological opponents in many ways, Corker and Obama agree that America should continue arming “vetted” Syrian rebels without committing troops to a conflict that already has claimed 100,000 lives.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe says he was “disappointed” in the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, but acknowledged “it is the law of the land.” A 5-4 vote by the justices determined DOMA violated the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment emphasizing liberty protected by due process of law. But, Roe noted, the ruling does not impact Tennessee’s voter-approved 2006 Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. “They really kicked it back to the states,” Roe, R-Tenn., said of the justices’ ruling in a conference call with reporters.
Most businesses are well aware of key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, like the mandate for larger employers to provide health care insurance coverage to employees. But attorneys are busy at work on some of the lesser-known aspects of the new health care law. Beginning in January, businesses that employ 50 or more full-time equivalent employees must provide health care plans that meet minimum essential benefits requirements. But the largest employers – those that have 200 or more employees – also must make sure employees are automatically enrolled in a plan by January, said Craig Cowart, a partner with Fisher & Philips.
TVA’s new CEO discarded the “diet and exercise” mantra adopted last year by the federal utility to get the agency into better fiscal shape. In its place, TVA President Bill Johnson talks frequently about making America’s biggest government utility “safer, better, faster and leaner.” But regardless of the terminology, TVA is trying again this year to cut expenses in response to stagnant power sales. After a net loss of $191 million in the first half of fiscal 2013 and the shutdown of its biggest industrial customer last month, TVA managers say they are planning next year’s budget with fewer employees and less operating costs.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s new research chief said the federal lab is like a shopping mall, and he meant that as a compliment. Like other laboratories, ORNL has the scientific staff and wherewithal to carry out basic, fundamental research in its purest form. But, as Ramamoorthy Ramesh noted in an interview last week, Oak Ridge also has the facilities — and the mission support — to work on research applications, develop science and technology for the commercial marketplace, and even demonstrate manufacturing capabilities on a pilot scale.
Cleveland Browns owner and Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam are selling the Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball team. Pilot Flying J is under a federal investigation into alleged rebate fraud. Lauren Christ, a spokeswoman for the company, said the sale of the Smokies wouldn’t affect Haslam’s ownership of the Browns and was unrelated to the investigation. Randy Boyd, the CEO of Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corporation and a top education adviser to Gov. Haslam, is buying the Chicago Cubs’ Class AA Southern League affiliate, the team announced Friday.
Covenant Health will expand its reach into Claiborne and Cumberland counties with pending agreements with two community hospitals announced this week. The Knoxville-based hospital operator has entered into a letter of intent, effective June 24, to merge with Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville. The two organizations have been discussing a potential merger for several months and will next move toward reaching a definitive agreement and necessary regulatory approvals. Covenant has already been working with Cumberland Medical Center, through Thompson Cancer Survival Center, as the manager of CMC Regional Cancer Center.
A lot of Memphians probably are happy that they no longer have to endure long lines at the city’s vehicle inspection stations for safety checks and emissions testing. Over the long term, though, those smiles could morph into expressions of concern if Memphis and Shelby County, and the suburban municipalities, are negatively impacted by the loss of federal highway funds and industrial growth because there is no testing for vehicle emissions. At 3 p.m. Friday, Memphis shut down its vehicle testing stations. City vehicle owners will no longer be required to have their vehicles inspected as a prerequisite to renewing their license tags.
An education partnership between a Midtown middle school and its university neighbor would be a natural match, especially when the emphasis will be on STEM studies. STEM is the acronym for a curriculum that stresses the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The unified Memphis and Shelby school district and Christian Brothers University are closing in on a deal that would convert Fairview Middle School into a STEM laboratory school for the university’s department of education. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Memphis and Shelby County unified school board, interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson rightly described the plan as an “awesome opportunity” to turn the remodeled school at the corner of East Parkway and Central into a “Midtown jewel.”