This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Online universities have popped up everywhere during the past decade, and while each program offers something different, they all appear to have the same goal: getting more nontraditional students to the finish line. Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Haslam launched a competency-based, online university called Western Governors University that looks to increase access to higher education for Tennesseans. He was joined by WGU President Robert W. Mendenhall to sign the memorandum of understanding that officially establishes the university in Tennessee. WGU already had agreements in Indiana, Washington, Texas and Missouri.
Since beginning his term as governor by ordering a 45-day freeze on implementation of any new state government rules and facing questions about one frozen proposal, Gov. Bill Haslam has used less direct means of impacting the bureaucratic regulatory process. In the state Legislature, which under state law must give its approval to all new rules, an effort is afoot among members of the Republican supermajority to end the practice of rubber-stamping the plans promulgated by state departments, boards and commissions, says Sen. Mike Bell, who chairs a committee reviewing all rules.
Internet giant Amazon plans to add dozens of full-time jobs at its Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., distribution centers as part of more than 5,000 slots it is creating nationally. The Chattanooga center, which President Barack Obama will visit Tuesday, will add about 12 management and information technology posts and shift “dozens” of positions from part-time to full-time, the company said today. More full-time jobs will be added in Charleston, as well, though that number wasn’t immediately known.
Amazon.com Inc. says it is adding 7,000 jobs in 13 states, beefing up staff at the warehouses where it fills orders, and in its customer service division. The company says it will add 5,000 full-time jobs at its U.S. distribution centers, which currently employ about 20,000 workers who pack and ship customer orders. The world’s largest online retailer has been spending heavily on order fulfillment, a strategy meant to help the business grow, but one that has also weighed on profit margins. The company said last week that it lost money in the second quarter, even as revenue increased.
Navigators, people receiving about the same amount of training as a U.S. census worker, will be given the task of explaining choices on the federal insurance exchange to Tennessee’s uninsured. It’s an outreach mission that requires contacting people who might otherwise miss out on health coverage — people who live in remote, rural areas or who may be just as disconnected living in urban apartments. The job is supposed to begin Oct. 1, when the Health Insurance Marketplace begins accepting applications for coverage.
The B.B. Comer Bridge over the Tennessee River at Scottsboro, Ala., is the focus of a meeting set Thursday between those who want to save the bridge, lawmakers and state Department of Transportation officials. Lallie Dawson Leighton, one of 3,200 members of the Friends of the B.B. Comer Bridge, says the group wants the 1931-era truss-style bridge to be saved for use as a pedestrian walkway or for cyclists and other activities. But the time line is very short. “The contract has already been let for demolition,” Leighton said.
If the past few years are any indication, the upcoming back-to-school-shopping edition of the Tennessee Sales Tax Holiday should find area stores jammed and shoppers seeking big-time bargains on clothing, school supplies and computers. This year’s tax-free holiday weekend begins at 12:01 a.m., to be exact, on Friday, Aug. 2, and ends Sunday, Aug. 4 at 11:59 p.m. In Clarksville-Montgomery County alone, many retail purchases will be exempt from the combined state and local sales tax rate of 9.5 percent. Comparable savings will be experienced all over the state as shoppers seek bargains to get ready to start a new school year.
Stores in the Tri-Cities area are stocking their shelves, hiring additional employees and posting school supply lists in preparation for this year’s annual sales tax holiday. The three-day holiday will be held from 12:01 a.m., Aug. 2 until midnight Aug. 4 in both Tennessee and Virginia. The Tennessee General Assembly created the event in 2006 to assist families with the cost of back-to-school shopping. The Virginia General Assembly followed suit in 2007. In Virginia, school and office supplies that are $20 or less are tax exempt.
Northern, like several other young people, soon will be aging out of Tennessee’s Department of Children Services system. Connected Tennessee, its Computers 4 Kids program and DCS presented computers to foster children from the region who have either graduated from high school, like Northern, or are on track to graduate. Each student who received a laptop has held high grades and has been well behaved. “This isn’t a hand out, it’s a hand up,” said Deanna Ward from Connected Tennessee.
Tennessee Rep. Lois DeBerry, one of the longest serving female lawmakers in the nation and a powerful influence in state politics, died Sunday after a nearly five-year bout with pancreatic cancer. She was 68. Her nephew, Gary DeBerry, told The Associated Press the Memphis Democrat was surrounded by family and friends when she died at a Memphis hospital. First elected in 1972, DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives and second-longest in the entire Tennessee General Assembly.
Tennessee Rep. Lois DeBerry, a trailblazer in state politics who was beloved by colleagues and constituents alike for her affable demeanor and dedication to helping the downtrodden, died Sunday after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 68. The Memphis Democrat was first elected in 1972 and had been the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives. Renowned as a powerful influence at the Capitol, Mrs. DeBerry was the first female speaker pro tempore in the House and the second African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly, preceded only by the late Dorothy L. Brown, who was elected in 1967.
State Rep. Lois M. DeBerry, a top advocate for Memphis and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, died Sunday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 68. The Memphis Democrat died about 12:30 p.m. attended by family and friends at Methodist University Hospital near the South Memphis district she represented in the statehouse since her first election in 1972. She was the first black woman elected to the General Assembly from Shelby County and the second statewide. She won re-election 20 times straight.
Tennessee lawmakers react to the death of state Rep. Lois DeBerry, one of the longest-serving women lawmakers in the nation and a powerful influence in state politics. She died Sunday at a Memphis hospital at age 68. First elected in 1972, DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives. She also was the second African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly and the first female speaker pro tempore in the House.
Former Vice President Al Gore: “A tireless public servant, Lois served the people of Tennessee with integrity and dedication for over four decades. Lois was highly respected by her peers for her ability to forge consensus amongst ideologically divided political communities. With Lois’s passing, Tennessee lost one of its great leaders and visionaries. I will miss her tireless efforts on behalf of Tennesseans, her steadfast support and our longtime friendship.” Republican Sen. Bob Corker: “Lois DeBerry will be remembered as a tireless advocate for her community, and as one of the longest-serving women lawmakers in the nation and the first African-American female speaker pro tempore in the House. Lois’ legacy will be remembered in Memphis and across our state for generations to come.”
Fresh off a win in the state legislature with a new youth sports concussion law, the state athletic trainers association is embarking on a long-term effort to require all schools to have trainers. The Tennessee Athletic Trainers Society is taking an incremental approach by pushing for high schools to have a trainer on hand at varsity football games beginning in 2014. The most recent survey by the organization found that 119 schools, about 32 percent of the membership in the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association, don’t have athletic trainers.
Georgia’s long-standing fight with Tennessee over water and borders is gaining another ingredient from TV’s “The Daily Show” — which state has better barbecue. A crew from Comedy Central’s late-night fake-news show was at Sugar’s Ribs on Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga on July 17 to film a dozen diners squaring off. “Basically, they had a bunch of people from Tennessee and Georgia talking about the water dispute and also talking about barbecue,” Sugar’s chief operating officer, Jesse Rogers, said. “It was absolutely hilarious,” said Cal Haywood, general manager of Sugar’s Downtown and son of the restaurant owners Lawton and Karen Haywood.
Tennessee Republicans have a greeting for Democratic President Barack Obama’s visit to Chattanooga on Tuesday — an ad touting what they say are the state’s strides under GOP leadership. “Welcome to Chattanooga, Mr. President — welcome to America,” says the ad, which the state Republican Party says it plans to run on local television stations starting today. “We’re succeeding in Tennessee, not because of your liberal policies but in spite of them.” Over images of Tennessee, including an aerial shot of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, a narrator says the state was fourth in job creation nationwide, in the top five for business and the third “freest,” “thanks to Republican leadership.”
When Air Force One’s wheels slap down at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Tuesday, Democratic President Barack Obama will find himself in a state where his party is nearly shut out. With a black man the top of the national ticket in 2008 and 2012, state Democrats were drubbed. In 2010 midterm elections, Republicans took the governor’s office and in 2012, after the GOP controlled redistricting for the first time, the party swept to supermajorities in the House and Senate, making Democrats essentially irrelevant. Now two House Democratic leaders are hoping for gains in the 2014 midterms and are pinning their real hopes on 2016, when Obama is no longer on the ballot.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said the Republican Party must expand its base if it’s going to succeed in future national elections. Paul, a Kentucky Republican who is considering a run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, sowed some neighboring-state good will at a fundraiser in Franklin for state Sen. Jack Johnson on Sunday afternoon. Paul used his speech to pick out examples of government waste, criticize the Obama administration and preach the need for a more inclusive Republican Party. “I think things like liberty, things like your privacy, things like defending the Fourth Amendment, I think these are important things and they can help us grow the party,” Paul said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, will be the featured speaker at the Knox County Democratic Party’s Truman Day celebration at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Foundry at World’s Fair Park. “He’s got a good track record. He’s one of the more progressive congressmen in the country. It’s exciting,” said Cameron Brooks, the party’s vice chairman. Cohen has been in Congress since 2007. He was in the state Senate 1982-2006 and is known as the “father” of the Tennessee Education Lottery, for which he led a 20-year effort to get it approved in a referendum.
The House is set to go along with a bipartisan Senate compromise that would link college students’ interest rates to the financial markets and offer borrowers lower rates this fall. The Senate bill hews closely to one the House already has passed, and leaders from both parties and in both chambers expect those differences won’t stand in the way of quick resolution, perhaps as early as Wednesday. House approval would send the measure to President Barack Obama, who has said he would sign it into law “right away.”
Fewer American doctors are treating patients enrolled in the Medicare health program for seniors, reflecting frustration with its payment rates and pushback against mounting rules, according to health experts. The number of doctors who opted out of Medicare last year, while a small proportion of the nation’s health professionals, nearly tripled from three years earlier, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that administers the program. Other doctors are limiting the number of Medicare patients they treat even if they don’t formally opt out of the system.
As car after car is jolted by cracked asphalt on a less-than-1-mile stretch of road connecting Route 39 to the New York border, it becomes clear why state transportation officials grade the pavement of this winding western Connecticut road as being in poor condition. Edges of the two-lane road — where a sign says Col. Henry Ludington passed by in 1777 to repel “British raiders” — are worn and recessed, allowing rainwater to pool.
On the anniversary of the worst security breach in the plant’s history, there was yet another security incident at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. A federal spokesman confirmed that two Y-12 security police officers were wounded early Sunday morning by the accidental discharge of a firearm. The guards received first-aid at Y-12 shortly after the 12:15 a.m. incident and then were taken to the Oak Ridge Methodist Medical Center, where they were treated and released, Steven Wyatt of the National Nuclear Security Administration said via email. Their injuries were described as minor.
While tensions ran high between Metro Nashville Public Schools and the charter school community in the past year, key leaders from both camps were breaking bread behind closed doors. There — not in the school district’s board room nor the public sphere — they were talking about the elephants in the room, namely the growing momentum of the charter school movement that allows for publicly funded, privately run schools, and how the district could embrace that movement.
Reginald Porter Jr. is among a crop of young leaders here who have found both a cause and a following in the heated school merger. This week, Porter takes another step into the upper rungs of public education when he becomes chief of staff to interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson. Porter, 40, will make $136,700 year in a job that puts in him charge of triaging the issues and people — including his former fellow school board members — vying for the superintendent’s attention. Porter will have to resolve a good many of the issues himself, relying on project skills he learned in seven years in FedEx Corp.
In selecting sites to promote, again, your economic recovery policies, Mr. President, why visit a state where 90 of 95 counties voted against you in 2008 flipping control of its state legislature for the first time in its post-Reconstruction history to Republican control of both chambers? Why stand in one of the 91 counties opposing your policies and your campaign of 2012 that saw a super-majority of pro-growth Republicans in the state legislature elected for the first time in our history? Amazon, Volkswagen, Wacker and other businesses have moved to a right-to-work state for nonunion workers, to a non-income tax state allowing more take-home pay for their employees, to an “all-of-the-above” energy state that keeps the cost of doing business lower, and to a state protected from jackpot justice of slip-and-fall trial lawyers through tort reform, just to name a few benefits.
On its surface, the dispute between players for the Memphis Grizzlies and other NBA teams, and the teams’ owners, over Tennessee’s professional privilege tax is another of those seemingly endless money disputes between players and owners that have nothing to do with the rest us. In this case, however, the dispute over the tax has public policy ramifications because revenue from the tax helps pay off the $250 million in bonds issued to build the Grizzlies’ home arena, FedExForum. Under a state law, players for the Grizzlies and every visiting team pay a professional privilege tax of $2,500 per game. The tax is capped at $7,500 per year.
Political consultant Ben Farmer has acknowledged responsibility for an automated phone survey gone awry. Farmer, the owner of Cyragon LLC, told Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents that a “computer glitch” in his telephone survey system caused many of the 2,000 targeted voters in a test to receive multiple calls, his attorney said. Some people reported receiving up to 37 calls in the same night. Farmer’s lawyer, G. Turner Howard III, said Cyragon was testing the effect of a “no opinion” option among persons surveyed. State Sen. Stacey Campfield, the subject of the questions in the survey, has accused Cyragon of conducting the survey to turn voters against him on behalf of Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, who plans to run against Campfield next year in the Republican primary.