This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The commissioner of the state Correction Department said Monday he is looking forward to working with the new chairman of the Board of Parole to enhance public safety across Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed former Republican state lawmaker Richard Montgomery to replace Charles Traughber, who retired last week after serving 30 years as the board’s chairman. Traughber helped Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield implement a legislative measure to move certain functions to the Correction Department.
Gov. Bill Haslam appointed former state Rep. Richard Montgomery to be the new chairman of the Board of Parole on Monday. Montgomery, who was named to the Board of Parole in January, takes over for outgoing Chairman Charles Traughber, who retired last week after more than 40 years on the board and 30 years as chairman. Montgomery, 66, served in the state legislature for 14 years ending in November. The Sevierville Republican chaired the House Education Committee.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday named former state lawmaker Richard Montgomery as chairman of the state’s Board of Parole. Montgomery, former House Education Committee chairman, replaces Charles Traughber, a Chattanooga native, who retired last week after nearly four decades on the board. “I am grateful for Chairman Traughber’s many years of service and dedication to our state,” Haslam said in a news release. “His experience and counsel was extremely helpful as we restructured the board to transition probation services to the Department of Correction to provide a more seamless and accountable process.”
Former state Rep. Richard Montgomery was named chairman of the state Board of Parole on Monday, succeeding Charles Traughber, who held the position for more than three decades. Montgomery, of Sevierille, who lost a bid for re-election last year, was named to a six-year term on the seven-member parole board by Gov. Bill Haslam in January. With Traughber’s retirement last week, he was elevated to the chairmanship. A parole board member is paid $93,732 per year. The chairman’s salary is $109,344, according to a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.
Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he was creating and filling a new job in state government: chief operating officer. That the “CEO Governor” would hire a COO seems appropriate — scripted even. It’s the next logical step in both the Corporatification of Tennessee and the Coronation of Bill Haslam: the smiling, slick star of the squishy, palatable center of the Tennessee Republican Party. If Haslam wasn’t managed so perfectly, the news that longtime adviser and GOP kingmaker Tom Ingram was being shifted from his role in the governor’s office to his more familiar role as manager of the governor’s campaign efforts would have been mere coincidence.
Musty air wafts out of the door of a dark storage room. Boxes sit on wooden pallets, to keep their contents from being damaged in the routine floods that hit the room, said Peter Heimbach, the state’s executive director of real estate asset management. Discolored industrial carpet and brown spots on a back wall testify to the wisdom of the precaution. But on the whole, there’s not much damage to be seen even in this corner of the Cordell Hull Building, Heimbach admits. “We keep it cleaned up,” Heimbach said. “But it costs you money to clean it up. That’s the problem.”
The future of the state’s role as a major employer and user of office space Downtown could become much clearer next month. Proposals are due Tuesday, July 2, for 100,000 square feet of office space that will become vacant when the state abandons the Donnelly J. Hill State Office Building Downtown. A recent request for proposals from the agency that handles state real estate puts the state’s focus entirely on Downtown. The state, following a consultant’s recommendation, said it would vacate the Hill Building in Civic Center Plaza.
Tennessee’s Department of Transportation is supporting Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s push to build a bus rapid transit line. But the state still has questions about how it would work. The city of Nashville is trying to do a direct deal with the federal government to help fund the BRT line that would connect East Nashville and West End. The state may be asked to chip in funding. TDOT would at least have to sign off on the engineering plans, which haven’t been completed. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer points out that the route technically runs on state highways and would reduce the number of lanes for cars as well as restrict some left turns.
A scheduled cut in payments for Tennesseans collecting unemployment benefits has been delayed indefinitely, after state officials were warned the action could trigger a loss of federal funding for other benefits. Jeff Hentschel, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, confirmed late Monday that the scheduled eliminations of dependent allowances of up to $50 a week did not go into effect as planned. “The department is seeking guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the removal of dependent benefits,” Hentschel said in an email response to questions.
Attorneys for Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center and one of its owners are asking a federal judge to quash subpoenas issued by the plaintiffs in a suit stemming from the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak, which has now claimed 61 lives. In motions filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, attorneys for the neurosurgical center and the Howell Allen Clinic charged that the subpoenas issued by attorneys for the meningitis outbreak victims seek privileged information and fail to give the parties sufficient time to respond.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol will conduct “no refusal” DUI enforcement in 16 counties over the Fourth of July weekend. The practice allows troopers to get search warrants for blood samples in cases involving suspected impaired drivers. Stepped-up traffic enforcement begins statewide at 6 p.m. Wednesday and lasts through midnight Sunday. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security said 21 people were killed in 17 traffic crashes over the Independence Day holiday weekend in 2012, at a rate of about one death every six hours. Half of the crashes involved alcohol and nearly 40 percent of those killed weren’t wearing seat belts.
The state fire marshal’s office is asking folks to let the pros handle the fireworks this July Fourth. Fire Marshal and Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak is encouraging Tennesseans to attend organized fireworks displays. She says countless people are seriously injured each year when they try to handle fireworks on their own. According to the National Fire Protection Association, far more fires are reported on July Fourth than on any other day of the year in the United States. Two out of five of those fires are caused by fireworks.
A 26-year-old West Memphis, Ark., woman has been charged in Shelby County on TennCare fraud charges. Monique Jones was picked up by deputies Friday after she allegedly gave a phony address so she could receive the benefits. Jones was the 46th arrest for the month of June on charges related to TennCare fraud.
Recent state and national changes to how evidence is collected in drunken-driving cases could mean as many as 3,000 more DUI convictions in Tennessee each year. And that will mean safer roads, said the state’s lead prosecutor who works on traffic and DUI training for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. “More convictions, less fatalities,” said Tom Kimball, traffic safety resource prosecutor for the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference. Of the 1,014 traffic fatalities on Tennessee roads last year, 355 involved alcohol, drugs or both, according to Department of Safety data. Effective Monday, streamlined state laws governing how police and attorneys handle DUI cases went into effect.
A citizens group is seeking help in raising money to build a home for veterans who need long-term care and rehabilitation services. West Tennessee Veterans Home Inc. is seeking to build a $60 million dollar, 144-bed State Veterans Home in Fayette, Shelby or Tipton counties. The federal government will cover 65 percent of the cost. But the group must raise the other 35 percent, or about $23 million, to build the residential-style home and pay for the first year’s operating costs. Holly Swogger, president of West Tennessee Veterans Home Inc., says building the home is the right thing to do for the 70,000 eligible veterans in West Tennessee.
Discussion expected in coming year Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said Monday he wants to cut the $36-per-vehicle wheel tax — even if it’s only by $3 or $4 dollars a year.“Little knickknack taxes they’re putting on people hurt the working people more than it does everybody else,” Burchett said by phone. “$25 here and $25 there is the difference between getting by and not getting by.” The tax revenue is expected to generate $12.5 million for the county in the current 2013-14 fiscal year, which started Monday.
Meeting for a third consecutive Tuesday, Memphis City Council members take up a few budget leftovers Tuesday, July 2, but also get to some items delayed because of the unusual budget deliberations. The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. Follow live Tweets from the council session at twitter.com/tdnpols. Council members get an update on loose ends with the fiscal year 2014 budgets and tax rate including a 4-cent tax hike they approved last week during a 1:30 p.m. executive session.
When most of the 13 people on the Memphis City Council began their service in 2008, the city’s property tax rate was $3.43 and rolling back that rate was a priority of a voting majority on the body. That changed last month when the council approved a property tax rate of $3.40 that includes a four-cent tax hike. And there were a lot of factors that played into the decision. “For the first five years we were on the council, we all sort of agreed that we need to reduce taxes, and we have,” council budget committee chairman Jim Strickland said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”
The Tennessee Republican who represented Chattanooga in Congress in 1996 and supported the Defense of Marriage Act says he would vote against the very same bill today. “The whole issue of same-sex marriage has evolved,” former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp said in a recent phone interview. “We didn’t have 17 years of states adopting it. You can’t compare 1996 to 2013.” On July 12, 1996, Wamp, a Republican finishing his first of eight House terms, cast one of 370 “yea” votes that helped define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Claps, cheers and approving nods were ever-present from about 20 volunteers with Tennessee’s Organizing for Action group on Monday afternoon on Market Square. The nonprofit organization held a rally to commemorate the U.S. Senate last week passing a milestone immigration reform bill. Backers hope to push the bill through the House of Representatives next. “You can tell that the mood in the country is shifting from a few years ago,” said Bill Owen, a former state senator and current East Tennessee representative on the Democratic National Committee.
Former U.S. Sen. James R. Sasser has donated his papers to Vanderbilt University. Sasser, who also served as U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, and his wife, Mary Sasser, have made gifts of their documents and photographs to the university’s Special Collections. James Sasser said Vanderbilt was the logical repository for his papers, noting that he and his wife met at the university as students in the 1950s and his law degree serves as the basis for his public service career. The Sassers now live in Washington, D.C.
Three-term U.S. Senator Jim Sasser, who also served as China ambassador under President Clinton, has donated his papers to Vanderbilt University. He met his wife as an undergrad, going on to get a law degree. “We felt Vanderbilt was a fitting repository for our papers and our memoirs and hopefully they will be of some help and assistance to future scholars and students.” The materials include photos from Sasser’s time in China. He recalls a particularly tense period after NATO mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
In 2006, Glenn Barber spent a few months gathering more than 10,000 signatures from residents who were demanding the construction of a hospital. The city that straddles the border of Williamson and Maury counties was growing rapidly, and with the nearest hospital a half-hour drive away, many residents were eager to see the construction of a TriStar 56-bed hospital and emergency room. Ultimately, plans for the TriStar hospital were shelved after a three-year battle between the company and medical centers in Williamson and Maury counties, who opposed the project as a duplication of services.
Memphis CBS-affiliate WREG-TV Channel 3, which has dominated local broadcast news coverage during recent sweeps periods, is set to become part of The Tribune Co. in a multibillion dollar deal. Describing the move as an effort to create a “content and distribution powerhouse,” Tribune officials on Monday announced a cash deal with Local TV Holdings to acquire 19 Local television stations in 16 markets including WREG for $2.725 billion. The deal adds strong regional performers to Tribune’s network, including the Memphis station that has been a ratings juggernaut for broadcast news in recent years.
Once again, Tennesseans are seeing a renewed effort by local officials to restrict safe and effective medicine containing pseudoephedrine. As state senator for Tennessee’s 17th District, I witnessed the same effort at the statehouse during our last session. Proponents tried to explain how a prescription mandate for popular cold and allergy medicines like Advil Cold and Sinus, Allegra-D, Claritin-D and Sudafed would solve Tennessee’s methamphetamine problem. Yet the many glaring holes in their argument practically guaranteed the failure of the proposal. Maybe it’s time for a refresher course as to why prescription legislation is a terrible policy for Tennessee. Prescription legislation for pseudoephedrine places a massive burden on law-abiding citizens.
Four and a half years after unleashing an environmental nightmare from its Kingston Fossil Plant, the Tennessee Valley Authority has finished the removal of coal ash from the largest spill of its kind in American history. The collapse of a coal-ash holding pond at the plant in December 2008 sent 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge roaring through the Swan Pond Community in Roane County. Since that time, under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, TVA has removed the bulk of the ash. Some was shipped to a landfill in Alabama; the remainder has been put into a cell on the plant property. TVA is well on its way to restoring the area.
Jackson-Madison County school Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin moves into her new role as the head of our school system this week. We join with others in the community in welcoming her and offering support as she guides our school system and our students into the future. One of the biggest challenges she faces is to plan for our school system’s technological future. We believe technology is critical to the long-term success of our school system and our students. Getting the move to more technology right is crucial if it is to lead to better education outcomes and students better prepared for higher education and the modern workplace.