This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Michael Tarmack of Cookeville said he was led astray by a woman and began taking drugs and cooking meth four years ago, when he was 38. Robert Fritts, 27, of Athens, Tenn., said he succumbed to peer pressure and got hooked on pain pills and morphine. They both wound up behind bars. But now they say they are putting the shattered pieces of their lives back together, thanks to the nation’s first statewide residential Recovery Court. Gov. Bill Haslam, three of his commissioners, a judge and a state senator were among the dignitaries officially launching the court Tuesday.
A long-term residential treatment facility is now open for non-violent offenders convicted of drug-related felonies. State leaders and officials celebrated the opening of the residential recovery court Tuesday morning. It is the first statewide program of its kind in the country. The 100-bed program is located within an existing annex on the Morgan County Correctional Facility. The program will allow the state to divert people in need of substance-abuse treatment. The program could last from nine months to a year.
The state Health Department is promoting World Breastfeeding Week by reminding mothers that there are designated breastfeeding experts available in all of Tennessee’s county health departments. According to the department, many mothers get off to a good start with breastfeeding but drop off in the weeks and months after delivery. Traditionally family members have provided support for breastfeeding mothers, but as our society changes, that support often is not available. Numerous studies have found that peer counselors improve breastfeeding rates.
Asian carp soon may finish the job kudzu began years ago. The invasive fish are coming in waves to Tennessee, and they are taking over the state’s waters, much like the reviled “vine that ate the South” has taken over landscapes. Bill Dance, host of NBC Sports’ “Bill Dance Outdoors,” is a Tennessee native and has made a life fishing the Volunteer State. Areas he fished as a kid are totally overrun by the “nasty fish,” he said, and there are places where the carp gather in the hundreds and feed on plankton and phytoplankton.
A tradition of hand-drawing duck blind permits will be carried out Saturday at sites across the state. Registration will be from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and the drawings begin at 10 at most locations. More information is online at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website, http://www.tnwildlife.org . There will be computerized drawings later for blind sites in the Bogota (buh-GOH’-tuh) and Thorny Cypress Wildlife Management Areas in Dyer County and the four units of the Chickamauga Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Tennessee.
A local lawyer could lose his license if a state review board finds that he missed deadlines and misled clients. Madison-based attorney Paul Walwyn already spent two days in jail for contempt of court after he missed court deadlines. He also is under attack for several instances in which former clients say he promised services that never happened. Now, Walwyn is attempting to subpoena the emails of the regulatory body seeking to suspend his law license. In one instance, a former client, James Hunt, wrote to the Board of Professional Responsibility that Walwyn said he planned to appeal Hunt’s conviction, although the appeal was never filed.
A Dyer County landowner has become the first participant in a program that accepts direct gifts of agricultural commodities. The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture said Matt Fennell donated 150 bushels of wheat to the endowment program called Commodities for Communities. It is run by the University of Tennessee Foundation. The wheat Fennel donated will be sold and the money realized will go into the Dyer County Extension Endowment for Agriculture. Money raised locally will be used locally for extension services, education and research.
As the Tennessee legislature prepares for its most substantial review of municipal annexation law in 15 years, state Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper has issued an advisory legal opinion that residents have no constitutional right to vote on the annexation of their property into nearby towns and cities. The opinion issued Monday says the Tennessee Constitution gives the state legislature exclusive authority to develop the process for creating and altering municipal boundaries in the state and the legislature has given municipalities authority to annex by ordinances approved by their city councils without public referendums in most circumstances.
Opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque took their case to the Tennessee Supreme Court Monday, filing a petition to appeal against an earlier judgment in favor of the building’s construction. The application for appeal attempts to overturn a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion that reversed a June 2012 Rutherford County Chancery Court ruling that the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission erred in their approval for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro under the Open Meetings Act. The Court of Appeals ruled that there was adequate notice of the approval of the ICM site, but Monday’s suit takes issue with several facets of the notice procedure and site preparedness processes.
An Islamic Center of Murfreesboro leader Tuesday questioned why plaintiffs opposed to government approval of mosque construction continue to appeal their case. “We have already wasted enough energy and money on this issue,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a board member with the ICM and a 20-year professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “We have been here for over 30 years. This is our home. We are productive members of our community. We have no other place to go.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said some of his fellow Republicans are engaging in a “silly effort” to oppose any new spending bills that include money to finance the 2010 health care reform law. Corker is no fan of the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. He voted with every other GOP senator in March to bar the government from allocating any money to implement the law as part of a fiscal 2013 appropriations bill, though he later voted for the spending bill that included the money.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said today he’s not trying to be inhospitable to the president by not accompanying him to Corker’s hometown of Chattanooga. But with a number of key nomination votes in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today as Congress prepares to wrap up for its August recess, Corker said he thought he better stay in Washington D.C. “I actually thought about calling an audible this morning and run over the the White House lawn to jump on Marine One to accompany the president when he came on down,” Corker said today in a telephone interview from his Washington D.C. office.
On the same day President Barack Obama flew to Chattanooga to talk about jobs, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann released his own five-point jobs plan to get the economy moving. “I think it’s very important that when I say no to the high-tax, high-regulation, no-growth policies of the Obama administration, I have an alternative,” Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, said Tuesday. Fleischman’s jobs program touches on many of the same themes Republicans have been pushing for years, including regulatory reform, tax reform, free trade, more energy exploration and other conservative tenets, such as more local control of education and a more flexible work schedule for families.
President Barack Obama came to a massive Amazon distribution center here Tuesday to lay out a new plan to create jobs and put struggling middle-class Americans back on their feet. Comparing the work of growing the economy to the discipline of diet and exercise one must maintain to lose weight, the president called for “a steady, serious, long-term American strategy.” He accused congressional Republicans of blocking earlier economic proposals but said he thinks they might accept a “grand bargain” in which the federal government would cut the corporate tax rate but close loopholes and pump more money into infrastructure.
President Barack Obama came to Republican-leaning Tennessee on Tuesday to pitch a new fiscal deal to cut corporate tax rates in exchange for more government spending on jobs, education and infrastructure. Obama was warmly greeted by nearly 2,000 employees and their guests at the Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga — a 1 million-square-foot distribution center the president hailed as an example of America’s economic rebound. But GOP lawmakers generally spurned Obama’s offer of a “grand bargain,” claiming the president was simply repackaging proposals already rejected by Congress.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday took his message of strengthening the middle class to East Tennessee, where he challenged Republicans to work across the political aisle to create “a grand bargain” that would create jobs and help the economy. In the first of a series of meetings planned across the country, Obama stood on stage at Chattanooga’s massive Amazon.com distribution center among some 2,000 workers and supporters and called for simplifying the tax code and raising the minimum wage.
A White House proposal to pair a corporate tax overhaul with new domestic spending elevated the contentious issue of tax policy to the fore in budget negotiations and appeared to give a shot of momentum to changes long supported by some of the largest U.S. companies. The proposal, laid out Tuesday in a speech by President Barack Obama, raised the prospect that corporate taxation would now be high on the list of items under discussion as the White House and congressional Republicans negotiate federal spending levels for next year and the terms for raising the debt ceiling, both of which must be resolved within months.
President Obama came to a cavernous Amazon distribution center here Tuesday and backed a cut in corporate tax rates in return for a pledge from Republicans to invest in more programs to generate middle-class jobs. The proposal, an effort to break a stalemate with Republicans over budget policy, comes as Mr. Obama and his Congressional opposition are headed toward a showdown in the fall over taxes and spending. With a sea of cardboard boxes serving as a backdrop, Mr. Obama described a “grand bargain” for the middle class that he said would stimulate the economy while giving businesses the lower tax rates they have long sought.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday quipped that Amazon’s 1 million-square-foot Chattanooga distribution center is “the North Pole of the South,” noting he saw everything from Kindles to dog food to beard trimmers during his tour. Top Amazon officials said they are gearing up for more growth in both Chattanooga and its nearby Charleston, Tenn., center with plans to hire added employees at each facility. “We love being here,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy. Misener said in an interview after Obama’s visit to the Enterprise South industrial park site that the facility is up to 2,700 people.
Safety officials would take a hard look at the thousands of bridges in the Chattanooga region under a proposal President Barack Obama outlined in a Scenic City speech on Tuesday. As part of Obama’s two-pronged plan to lower corporate taxes and increase infrastructure spending, he highlighted Chattanooga’s ongoing U.S. 27 road-widening project as an example of what he’d like to encourage. “Congress should pass my “Fix-It-First” plan to put people to work immediately on our most urgent repairs, like the 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare,” Obama told attendees.
President Obama told a crowded Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga Tuesday that he was glad to be back in Tennessee. He’s made public appearances in the state only a time or two since taking office. He veered off script during his speech about the economy to concede his lack of popularity in an overwhelmingly Republican state. “You know, look. I know the politics for Obama aren’t always great in Tennessee,” he said. “I understand that.” The latest Vanderbilt Poll finds President Obama’s approval rating has sunk to just 40 percent, and he hasn’t come close to winning Tennessee in either of his elections.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined “a grand bargain for middle-class jobs … a deal that simplifies the tax code for our businesses and creates good jobs with good wages.” Speaking at an Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga, Tenn., Obama offered a ‘framework that might help break through the political logjam in Washington” and get “proven ideas” for job creation moving. Those ideas include investing in infrastructure, improving education and job-training, boosting scientific research, and developing new energy resources.
From the Amazon distribution center where President Barack Obama gave his speech on Tuesday, he could look outside and see row upon row of brand new Volkswagen Passats, which are made here at the $1 billion plant that many see as the touchstone of Chattanooga’s economic renaissance. Volkswagen announced the Chattanooga plant at the height of the recession in 2008, shortly before General Motors idled its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant because of the rough economy. Recent debates over whether workers ought to unionize the Volkswagen plant, in line with the factories belonging to the Detroit automakers, have spurred interest from outside political groups.
President Obama said Tuesday he is willing to entertain ideas from Republicans and Democrats to stimulate the economy. But in his speech to Amazon workers Obama singled out only Tennessee Democrats. With Congress in session in Washington, D.C., this week, no Republican members of Congress appeared with the president. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Tuesday “I almost called an audible” and joined the president on Air Force One. “I hated for the president to come to my hometown and not accompany him, especially because it would have provided an opportunity for us to talk more about our country’s fiscal challenges,” Corker said.
There aren’t too many democratic politicians in East Tennessee, but Chattanooga’s Mayor happens to be one of them. Mayor Andy Berke was able to get up close and personal with President Obama. “I simply said, welcome to Chattanooga. I talked with him a little bit about being here and what was going on. I also let him know I had met him years ago when I was in law school and he was a professor there but I hadn’t taken his class. So we talked through that a little bit,” says Mayor Berke. You now can add riding with the President to Mayor Berke’s list of things accomplished in his first few months in office.
College-educated but jobless due to the tough economy, Chattanoogan Lydia Flanders took a job at the city’s Amazon distribution center in 2012 keenly feeling the need to “make something happen.” On Tuesday, amid whoops and hollers, she introduced President Barack Obama to nearly 2,000 of her fellow workers and a contingent of political and business dignitaries. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. He signed my remarks,” Flanders said after the president’s 30-minute speech at the company’s Enterprise South industrial park center.
The president came. The president went. It was just a three-hour visit, but it shut down an interstate, closed a million-square-foot factory, incited protesters and aroused the blue voices in a red state. It was ordered chaos. There were thousands who waited for hours to get a peek at the president. But the show rarely abandoned its script. The day started long before Air Force One landed, and the buzz will rattle Chattanooga until the next president finds his way to the Scenic City, whenever that may be.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp began to file out of Amazon after President Barack Obama’s speech with the other special guests, but he took a moment to give his two cents on the content of the President’s message: Less politics and more job creation. After representing the 3rd Congressional District from 1995 to 2011, his remarks offered some insight into a divide within conservative ranks. “We need some kind of grand bargain,” said Wamp, who now runs his consulting business in Chattanooga, Zach Wamp Consulting. “This excessive polarization is a cancer … We have got to come together as a people.”
Jim Brown, Tennessee state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, wasn’t feeling President Barack Obama’s speech at Chattanooga today. Brown issued the following statement Tuesday: “I don’t think the president gets small business. This was a major policy speech, and he said next to nothing about what really drives the U.S. economy. “What concerns our members is that by focusing on tax relief for giant corporations, the president’s going to put an even greater tax burden on the shoulders of entrepreneurs and small, family-run businesses. That might make Wall Street happy, but it’s not going to help Main Street or the middle-class families the president says he’s trying to help.”
A federal judge in Knoxville has found a more aggressive cutting of trees along TVA power transmission lines is legal. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan filed an order of summary judgment on July 23 against a petition by plaintiffs who sued the federal utility. “He pretty much blew us out of the water,” plaintiff Vance Sherwood said of the judge’s ruling. An appeal is being considered, Sherwood said. The lawsuit came after TVA decided to remove any tree that could grow to more than 15 feet tall under power lines in a West Knoxville neighborhood.
Franklin-based Community Health Systems says it will be the largest for-profit hospital company in the US, once it completes the purchase of a rival. Community Health announced today it’s buying Florida-based Health Management Associates in a deal worth $7.6 billion. The new, larger Community Health Systems will have 206 hospitals in 29 states. The firm has grown rapidly in the last decade, buying hospitals located mostly in small cities and rural areas. Even with today’s announcement, CEO Wayne Smith told investors on a conference call that there’s still room to grow.
Nashville’s newest — and Tennessee’s second-largest — hotel is nearing its opening date, and final preparations are on track. The Omni Nashville Hotel will open Sept. 30, about three months ahead of schedule. The 800-room luxury building, under construction for two years, will open adjacent to the new Music City Center. General Manager Dan Piotrowski recently opened two Omni Hotels in Texas, the latest of 14 projects he has participated in, and he said he hopes to create a “four-diamond Nashville experience.”
For tens of thousands of public school families, Tuesday — registration day — was their first in-person glimpse of the new unified district. Emotions ranged from jubilation to utter frustration. At William Brewster Elementary in Binghamton, children danced, twirled and ran into the arms of teachers they hadn’t seen since May. “I read two books this summer,” Clarissa Weatherspoon, 8, told a complete stranger at the door. Her father, Clarence Weatherspoon, held a sheaf of bills and paperwork — tucked neatly in a manila envelope — to prove the family’s residency.
With the number of excessed teachers still without a job trimmed to 149, Shelby County Schools appears to be closing in on the pledge made in April by interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson that “if you’re a good teacher, you’re going to have a job” with the district. About 900 teachers were notified in April that they were being excessed by the new unified Memphis and Shelby County district, creating a misperception in the community that mass layoffs were underway because of the merger.
The Shelby County Board of Education spent little time debating the merits of corporal punishment before banning the practice in a 13-2 vote Tuesday night. Momentum swung decidedly for the ban, which required 12 votes for passage, when board member David Reaves, who had spoken previously for keeping the paddle as a disciplinary option, said he had consulted with educators and become concerned about legal risks. “Quite frankly, I’m scared to use it,” Reaves said. “You could easily wind up in court. I think it’s in our best interests that we eliminate the paddle.”
Less than a week from the start of the first year of the consolidated school district, countywide school board members Tuesday, July 30, approved a series of policy decisions that reconcile differences between the old Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools systems. The changes include banning corporal punishment in the merged school district and doing away with a requirement that every school have a Parent Teacher Association. The changes repeal policies of the old Shelby County Schools system.
Jackson-Madison County Schools Superintendent Verna Ruffin told a crowd of educators Tuesday morning that they must move forward together under a “unified mission.” “I’m not going to be able to make everyone happy. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting,” said Ruffin, referring to the system’s achievement and growth scores on the state’s annual assessments. On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Education will release the accountability results for each of the districts in the state.
For the fourth year in a row, Tennessee has been ranked No. 1 in auto industry strength. That is continued good news for the state’s long-term economic success. The ranking comes from Business Facilities, a publication that ranks annual national economic development. Tennessee has a long history of growing the auto industry. Nissan has been operating in Tennessee for 30 years. Today, the state also is home to operations from General Motors, Volkswagen, automotive electrics giant Magneti Marelli, and a large number of automotive original equipment manufacturers. Those companies created tens of thousands of good jobs.
We are proud of our local students, teachers, administrators and staff who all contributed to improved district scores on the 2013 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program. In fact, the state Department of Education announced Monday that student performance improved for a majority of school districts across the state. Murfreesboro City and Rutherford County followed the statewide trend with the largest gains in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — subjects. TCAP includes the four-day test taken each spring, with writing assessments for grades 3-8. For high-schoolers, it encompasses end-of-course exams and a writing assessment for juniors.
Knox County public school students overall showed improvement in statewide assessments this year, but the results indicate just how far the school system must go to be considered an elite district. Knox County recorded gains in the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests, or TCAPs, for both elementary and secondary students, according to data released Monday. The biggest gains were in high school, where student scores for Algebra II jumped 6.3 percent. Most other subjects saw more modest improvements, though reading scores for grades three through eight and U.S history scores for high-schoolers remained flat compared to last year.
The progress students in the former Memphis City Schools have made on the latest TCAP test results is encouraging. They show that when good teachers are in classrooms and a concentrated instruction effort is in place, low-performing students can make yearly significant progress toward competency in core subjects. School district officials are rightfully joyous about the progress students have made, but that has to be tempered a bit by the realization that there still is a steep mountain to climb before students in the legacy Memphis city schools catch up on being proficient in those subjects.
President Barack Obama gave a rousing speech in Chattanooga to a crowd that seemed to thoroughly enjoy him at Amazon. His visit, another in the messages he has been taking to the public to increase pressure on a do-nothing, obstructionist Congress, drew smiles and applause as he spoke of improving the lives of middle-class America. But this message was also a serious offer for Congress. President Obama proposed cuts in corporate tax rates — a Republican priority — in exchange for more money for jobs programs, a priority of the president. “I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code — as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs,” Obama told Amazon employees.
In President Obama’s speech at Chattanooga’s Amazon distribution center on Tuesday, he laid out a series of steps that he believes will help create jobs and revive the U.S. economy. Realistically, the overwhelming majority of his ideas were illogical schemes to increase government spending and allow government to hand-select winners and losers in the marketplace. There were, to be fair, a few market-oriented aspects to his proposal that deserve more attention. His declaration of support for natural gas exploration likely made some environmentalists’ heads spin. However, the safe, clean energy source is vital in order to grow the economy while weaning America off of foreign oil.
It was the best of days, and the worst of them, too. • 9:59 a.m., Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport: With one shoe on and one shoe off, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann was making his way through airport security, headed to Washington. “Got to get back to work,” he said.nHe unlooped his belt, passed his bag toward the X-ray machine. Airport security, the great equalizer. “The president and I have fundamental differences about how to approach fixing the economy,” he said. As President Barack Obama prepared to fly into Chattanooga, Fleischmann was flying out. • 10:25, gravel parking lot, Lee Highway: Ben Cunningham, president of the Nashville Tea Party, drove in with a bullhorn in his backseat as big as a tuba. “Takes 10 batteries,” he said.