This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has named Abbie Hudgens as the head of the state’s new Workers’ Compensation Division. Hudgens, who had already been focusing on injured workers issues within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, begins her six-year term on Monday. The Workers’ Compensation Division was created as a part of a new law introduced by Haslam this year to remove injured workers claims from state trial courts and instead create a special panel appointed by the governor to hear claims and appeals.
Gov. Bill Haslam has named former state Sen. Mike Faulk, a fellow Republican from Kingsport, as circuit judge in northeastern Tennessee. Faulk retired last year after a single four-year term in the Senate, where he sponsored legislation seeking to allow legally possessed firearms to be stored in vehicles parked in any parking lot and to encourage slaughterhouses for horses in Tennessee. Both measures failed, but a less expansive version of the guns-in-parking-lots law was enacted this year.
Mike Faulk, a Church Hill lawyer who represented several East Tennessee counties in the state Senate from 2008 to 2012, was named a circuit court judge Thursday in Tennessee’s 3rd Judicial District. A Republican who served one term, Faulk opted not to run for re-election last fall, citing business and family reasons. He has pursued appointment to the bench since last year and was one of 15 people who applied for the vacancy in East Tennessee on the Court of Criminal Appeals.
A nationwide analysis of contributions to political causes indicates that the Haslams are the leading family of “elite donors” in Tennessee. The Sunlight Foundation last week released a list of the “1 percent of 1 percent” — 31,385 people nationwide who represent just .01 percent of the nation’s population but who made 28 percent of all political contributions involving campaigns for president and congressional offices in 2012. In Tennessee, 430 individuals made the list, contributing almost $17.3 million as a group.
The East Tennessee chemical company that scored $30 million in economic development incentives from the state in May has a history of fines for air pollution violations. Eastman Chemical Co. has been fined $340,250 since the beginning of 2009 for a variety of violations, including releasing volatile organic compounds into the air. Of the top 20 penalties categorized by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as high-priority violations for Tennessee companies in the past five years, eight were assessed to Eastman Chemical.
A measure that allows people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked is among a number of new state laws that take effect today. The gun law will go into effect despite questions about what it means for employment law in Tennessee — the measure allows workers to store guns in cars while parked in their employers’ parking lots. The state attorney general said in a legal opinion released in May that under the law, employers still would be allowed to fire workers who violate gun bans.
Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel could get some local competition if the Shelbyville city council allows small beer or liquor distilleries to operate in the city limits. The Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/12vLhdF ) that the city council is scheduled to hear a resolution on Tuesday that would permit small distilleries within the city. Jack Daniel’s distillery is in Moore County and George Dickel is made in Coffee County, both neighboring Bedford County. A bill passed this year in the Tennessee General Assembly amended state law to set up requirements for setting up new distilleries in the state.
The Chicago-based company that holds a controversial multimillion-dollar contract to manage state government buildings and leases has hired a lobbyist who formerly worked for House Speaker Beth Harwell and the state Republican Party. Gregory Gleaves registered June 18 as lobbyist for Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission website. That was about the time media reports emerged on how the company’s dealings with the state expanded from an initial $1 million study of state buildings into a contract worth up to $330 million.
Debt and reserves became a central issue in the final deliberations on this year’s Memphis city budget and while some say leaders didn’t go as far as they should on the issues, others say they took the first steps and that there’s still plenty of time. Memphis City Council members got the first bitter taste of the city’s debt reality in an April budget hearing when finance director Brian Collins showed them debt payments would skyrocket in coming years. They could take out the steep inclines in the payments if they agreed to pay a flat rate of $31.5 million each year for nearly the next decade.
Heard all about U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s efforts on immigration reform? As the path-to-citizenship debate shifts to the House, don’t count on anything near the same level of passion among the former Chattanooga mayor’s fellow Tennessee Republicans. All seven issued harsh statements or stayed mum on the question of 11 million undocumented immigrants already in America. “The Senate amnesty bill is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,” U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn said bluntly, hours after the Senate passed its reform bill by a margin of 68-32.
The U.S. Senate immigration reform bill approved last week will now be considered by the House of Representatives. The bill offers hope to the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in America while vowing to step up efforts to secure the Mexican border. The Daily News Journal asked U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg and two of his Republican primary challengers, state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas and state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, to provide statements about their positions on the Senate bill and what they’d do if they could craft legislation on immigration.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen says two Memphis organizations will receive $2.1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Labor. Cohen says in a statement that the City of Memphis Youth Build Program will receive $1.1 million for workforce development programs. The Memphis Leadership Foundation will receive $1 million for programs to help juvenile offenders. Memphis Youth Build provides education and hands-on experience in the construction industry for youths 16 to 24 years old.
Healthy consumers could see insurance rates double or even triple when they look for individual coverage under the federal health law later this year, while the premiums paid by sicker people are set to become more affordable, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of coverage to be sold on the law’s new exchanges. The exchanges, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s health-care law, look likely to offer few if any of the cut-rate policies that healthy people can now buy, according to the Journal’s analysis.
The local airport opened with a new name this morning, as well as new marketing tagline to better identify it’s mission. Clarksville Regional Airport also has a new logo that includes the catchy “Connecting People” slogan. Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Airport Authority, which oversees airport operations, initiated the rebranding effort based on recommendations in the airport’s 10-year strategic plan, which was completed last year. “We want everyone to know that Clarksville is a key aviation services provider in the region’s transportation matrix, and the intent of updating our name to Clarksville Regional Airport is to boost that image,” Airport Authority Chairman Sammy Stuard said in a news release.
Baptized in political controversy that spanned the better part of a year, members of the Metro Nashville school board are trying to reset the conversation. Members indicated this week a desire to shift their attention from the politics of charter schools to looking at where the board ultimately wants to go — including zeroing in on teacher-focused issues like recruitment and training. “I think this past year has been a particularly trying year for the school board, and a new board,” said Amy Frogge, an attorney and board member in her first year. The Metro Nashville Public Schools board is days away from seeing the district’s new Strategic Plan, a document expected to lay out a blueprint for reaching the district’s goals.
No ribbon cutting, no speeches, no ceremony of any kind is planned Monday to mark the birth of the unified Shelby County Schools, as Memphis City Schools officially goes out of business in a merger with its county counterpart. The consolidation has dominated the public education story in Shelby County since March of 2011 when Memphis voters ratified the Board of Education’s decision less than three months earlier to surrender the MCS charter. But employees are too busy making the transition a reality and preparing for schools to open on time, Deputy Supt. David Stephens said Friday after emerging from a meeting of top staffers.
A rash of expensive issues with state government computer systems is leading to an effort approved by the Haslam administration to offer training to 1,600 employees and require them to reapply for their jobs. The unusual steps, coming after a consultant reviewed the 1,600 positions and reclassified them, caught the attention of Governing magazine, which recently interviewed Mark Bengel, chief of the state’s Office of Information Research. Bengel told the magazine Tennessee has “increasingly had issues” with newer technologies and “challenges with some of our legacy modernization.”
It’s not sexy science (although it can be at times) and it’s not weapons production, but environmental cleanup continues to be a big part of Oak Ridge’s economic impact on the region and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Back in the 1980s and even into the 1990s, folks thought the cleanup of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge reservation might be completed by now. But, perhaps, that might have been a little wishful thinking, a lack of understanding about the extent and breadth of contamination, or an overly ambitious view of the government funding that would be available to do the work.
President Barack Obama last week outlined a long-overdue plan to address climate change. In a speech at Georgetown University, he said the nation must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, use more clean energy and increase efficiency. At the center of Obama’s initiative are new rules to be formulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would regulate carbon emissions at new and existing power plants for the first time. The Tennessee Valley Authority is ahead of the game, which should make the transition easier. “We think the direction we are headed is aligned with his plan,” John W. Myers, TVA director of environmental policy and regulatory affairs, said in a conference call with reporters.
BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a common measure in assessing health status. It is a very simple equation comparing height to weight that gives a number supposedly estimating body fat. A score of 18.5-24.9 is deemed healthy, 25-29.9 is overweight, 30.0-39.9 is obese, and scores of 40 or higher are called morbidly obese. Many arguments exist against this measurement. Heavily muscled individuals will have overweight or obese scores. Some obese people are perfectly healthy while some normal weight people are not. The truth is, the BMI equation was developed by a mathematician studying the size of human populations. He never intended the number to be applied to health.