This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is awarding more than $1.6 million in grants to improve Tennessee parks and recreational areas. The Recreational Trails Program is a federally funded program established to distribute funding for diverse recreation trail projects. Twelve grants are being awarded. Haslam said the grants assist local governments and organizations in improving community amenities such as trails, greenways and recreational facilities. Funding for the grants is provided by the Federal Highway Administration.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has announced the appointments of eight new members and five re-appointments to Tennessee’s higher education boards as well as the selection of the chair of Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and vice chair of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR). Robert Fisher, Pam Koban and Keith Wilson will serve on THEC. Brad Lampley, Bonnie Lynch, Sharon Pryse and Thaddeus Wilson will serve as new members of the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees.
Two Hawkins County men were officially sworn in as state judges by Gov. Bill Haslam during a ceremony in Church Hill Wednesday afternoon. Around 1,500 visitors, students and elected officials from across East Tennessee gathered at Church Hill Middle School to witness the investiture ceremony of Circuit Court Judge Mike Faulk and Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins. Both judges were appointed by Haslam earlier this year and will serve in the Third Judicial district, which is comprised of Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties.
As part of his whirlwind tour of East Tennessee Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam headed over Clinch Mountain to view the results of a $1.41 million grant to fund an expansion at Kiefer Manufacturing in Sneedville. The state fast-track grant, which was a partnership between a number of agencies, required no county match. The funds were used to add a 30,000-square-foot addition to the existing building, doubling the size of the facility and enabling the company to increase it’s product line — aluminum horse trailers.
A new ferry will soon be put into service across the Cumberland River between Stewart and Houston counties. Chrissy Haslam, the wife of Gov. Bill Haslam, will christen the vessel Friday at the Marion County yard where it was built. The ceremony at Serodino Shipyard in Guild begins at 11 a.m. CDT and will also include Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, along with other state and local government officials.
Support for education and those in need were common themes during Thursday’s First Ladies’ Luncheon presented by the United Way of West Tennessee. The event was held in the Jack Morris Ballroom on the University of Memphis Lambuth campus. Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam spoke about her involvement in education issues. “We’ve been working on how to engage parents more in their child’s academic lives,” said Haslam during her remarks. “More students have to be able to read on their grade level.”
Adult obesity still isn’t budging, the latest government survey shows. The national telephone survey found 13 states with very high rates of obesity last year. Overall, the proportion of U.S. adults deemed obese has been about the same for years now. “A plateau is better than rising numbers. But it’s discouraging because we’re plateauing at a very high number,” said Kelly Brownell, a Duke University public policy expert who specializes in obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does the survey each year, and recently released 2012 results.
A new study focused on low income preschool children discovered more evidence that Tennessee is losing its battle with childhood obesity. “Obesity in most cases is more energy in and less energy out, so we have an imbalance,” explained Pediatrician Dr. Lindy Fenlason. She continued, “If our environment is such where were are not doing a lot of physical activity, if we are not walking, we are driving, we are not active, if we do not have access to healthy foods, that is going to put us at a higher risk for imbalance.”
Tennessee has once again received a national award for its annual state budget document. The Government Finance Officers Association presented the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award to the Division of Budget in the Department of Finance and Administration for fiscal year 2013-2014. It’s the 21st year the state has received the award. To receive the award, Tennessee satisfied guidelines that assessed the budget document as a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide and a communications device.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today the state’s unemployment rate for July was 8.5 percent, unchanged from the June revised rate and up from the July 2012 mark of 8.2 percent. The national unemployment rate for July was 7.4 percent, down 0.2 percent from the previous month’s mark.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate was stuck at 8.5 percent in July, unchanged from the month prior, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced today. Tennessee’s elevated and unchanged employment rate contrasts with the national rate of 7.4 percent, down 0.2 percent points from June. A year ago, Tennessee’s unemployment rate was 8.2 percent.
Tennessee’s preliminary unemployment rate for July is 8.5 percent, unchanged from the June revised rate, Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced Thursday. The national unemployment rate for July 2013 was 7.4 percent, down two tenths of one percentage point from the previous month. Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased from 8.2 percent to 8.5 percent. Total nonfarm employment decreased 2,500 from June to July. The largest decreases occurred in administrative/support/waste services, state government, and accommodation/food services.
Unemployment rose in Georgia and was unchanged in Tennessee last month despite a decline in the U.S. jobless rate during July. Government job cuts in both states more than offset gains in private-sector jobs, keeping Tennessee’s jobless rate at 8.5 percent in July and boosting Georgia’s unemployment rate last month to 8.8 percent. Unemployment nationally averaged only 7.4 percent in July. “The rate increased primarily because there was a significant number of new layoffs, and non-contract school employees remained unemployed because of the summer break,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.
Forty-five Tennessee school districts would have appealed and corrected demographic accountability data related to the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program this year had it been an option. That’s according to the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents in a letter sent to Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman on Wednesday asking him to reopen the appeals window to allow school systems to review and correct TCAP coding errors — one week after the state released accountability designations for the state’s 136 school districts.
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons made a stop in Jackson on Thursday to talk with the West Tennessee district officers of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The purpose of Gibbons’ visit was to talk with local troopers about various concerns and discuss the priorities for the Highway Patrol. Gibbons said given the recent traffic fatalities in the Jackson area, the timing was right for his visit. “One priority that we are going to talk to the troopers about a lot today is the importance of really taking the lead in the state in reducing traffic fatalities,” Gibbons said.
TDOT is letting the public weigh in on what a new bridge in Dandridge should look like, but some residents say officials are ignoring the community’s wishes. TDOT wants to tear down the State Route 92 bridge that stands over the French Broad River and build a new one. At Thursday’s meeting, TDOT let community members share their thoughts on the color, lighting, and the bridge rail, but the main worry for residents isn’t getting a new bridge, it’s tearing down the old one. They admit the current bridge isn’t fit for cars, but they say the historic bridge built in the 1940s should not be destroyed.
A Cheatham County man is charged with TennCare fraud for using the taxpayer-funded healthcare insurance program to pay for a fraudulent prescription for a painkiller. The Office of Inspector General, along with assistance of the Ashland City Police Department and Cheatham County Sheriff’s Department, announced on Friday the arrest of Daniel Lee Pritchett, 25, of Ashland City. Pritchett is charged with one count each of TennCare fraud, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and identity theft, according to a news release.
So many students are seeking housing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that some are temporarily being put up at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel and convention center. It’s the fourth consecutive year that students overflowed the dorms and spilled over into the hotel, but the problem has existed for longer than that. And UTC is waiting for the state to show it the money. The university has to demonstrate a need for new housing to receive additional state funding. UTC administrators have wanted a building capable of housing between 600 and 1,000 Mocs for the past six years.
State Representative Stacey Campfield has filed a bill that he says would assure students and teachers they could wish others Merry Christmas. The Knoxville Republican says his bill would stop what he called silly lawsuits. “The ACLU is always freaking out about that stuff,” Campfield said. Campfield told the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1cD6LRf ) he was not aware of a specific case in which the holiday greeting became an issue in any Tennessee school. Campfield said, however, he knows people who are afraid they would be sued and passage of the bill would reassure them.
The former head of the Tennessee Democratic Party filed ethics and campaign finance complaints against Gov. Bill Haslam, saying he broke state laws by not disclosing payments to adviser Tom Ingram. Chip Forrester, who stepped down as party chairman earlier this year, said in a pair of filings that Haslam should have to state how much he paid Ingram for advice between the end of his 2010 campaign and this summer’s launch of his re-election bid. “Haslam thinks he should get to play by a different set of rules,” Forrester said at a press conference Thursday.
Former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said Thursday he is filing complaints against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for failing to disclose personal payments the governor made after his 2010 campaign to political consultant Tom Ingram, a registered lobbyist, for advice. Forrester charged in a news conference at the Capitol that Haslam should have reported the payments and that he broke state ethics and campaign finance law by not doing so.
Gov. Bill Haslam is facing serious accusations after being accused of hiding campaign payments and violating the ethics laws. Chip Forrester, the former head of the Tennessee Democratic Party, is calling for an ethics investigation into Haslam’s campaign payments. He claims Haslam has refused to disclose payments to campaign consultant and lobbyist Tom Ingram. Forrester said Haslam continues to show a disturbing pattern of rule breaking and secrecy. Forrester filed a complaint with the Tennessee Ethics Commission Thursday saying the governor has violated state law by failing to disclose campaign expenses for Ingram’s services as a political advisor.
The former chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party has filed a formal ethics complaint against Governor Bill Haslam. Chip Forrester claims the governor violated campaign finance laws by refusing to disclose how much he paid lobbyist and political consultant Tom Ingram. Forrester cited several stories from NewsChannel 5 Investigates in his formal complaint. He was surrounded by cameras as he went to the state Registry of Election Finance to file the complaint. Forrester alleges Gov. Haslam “failed to disclose a campaign expenditure, the services of political advisor Tom Ingram, which is required by state law.”
Commission may offer early retirement A deal to release Knox County Internal Auditor Richard Walls, instead of firing him, will be announced in the next County Commission work session, according to Commission Chairman Tony Norman. Norman confirmed that negotiations on Walls’ release had been underway after the county’s Audit Committee recommended firing the longtime internal auditor. More serious discussions, according to Norman, ramped up about a week ago. The suggestion by the Audit Committee to remove Walls led to tense moments in a public meeting this week and a resignation of an Audit Committee member.
It came as no surprise Thursday that former Knox County Trustee John J. Duncan III garnered a chance to wipe his felony official misconduct charge off the books if he behaves for a year. But one mystery remains: Will Duncan’s confessed turn as an informant lead to more legal surprises? Duncan’s defense attorney, Jeff Hagood, was tight-lipped Thursday when asked if his client’s claim to being a cooperator in an unnamed federal prosecution would indeed produce additional charges and, if so, against whom.
Any consensus pick would face tall order In search of the next Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, tea party activists in Tennessee are launching a series of “vetting” sessions to find a challenger to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in next year’s Republican primary. Yet whether they have the organization, backing and cohesiveness needed to pull off what would be a monumental upset remains a huge question. The monthlong process begins Aug. 31 in Nashville at a still-to-be-determined location. As described by the event’s organizers, tea party supporters will listen as prospective Senate candidates take the podium and then ask them about the issues.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday he wants the Obama administration to work “actively” with countries in the Middle East to reduce tensions and jump start talks on returning democracy to Egypt. After civil unrest that has left hundreds dead, President Obama said his government “strongly condemns” violence in Egypt, and he is canceling U.S.-Egyptian military exercises that had been scheduled for next month.
Phil Roe has traveled the world as a congressman, but in the end, it seems he’s still a small-town doctor. The Johnson City Republican was confronted with that reality Thursday while touring Healing Hands Health Center, a low-cost medical clinic in the Twin City. “You delivered me,” said dental assistant Melissa Lawson as she introduced herself. “You look a little different,” Roe responded with a laugh. He was then met dentist Brenden Webb, whose sister Roe delivered. “You delivered me,” Dentist Josh O’Dell said.
Republicans can’t defund or repeal Obamacare — also known as the Affordable Care Act — because they don’t control both houses of Congress, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe told about 75 constituents at a Town Hall meeting Thursday night. “We can’t get anything through the Senate (led by a Democrat majority),” Roe, R-Tenn., admitted. While Roe was fielding written Obamacare questions from the group, one constituent who asked not to be identified pleaded with the third-term congressman: “Work with Obamacare. Make it better.”
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said Wednesday that threats from fellow legislators to defund the Affordable Care Act are “nigh on impossible” to carry out. “The problem is, anything in the current law that’s mandatory, you can’t just not fund it with appropriation bills unless you change the whole law, get it approved and the president signs it,” Roe said during a visit to the Johnson City Press between scheduled Town Hall meetings. “You’ve got mandatory spending parts of the Affordable Care Act and you’ve got appropriated money each year.
The Tennessee Primary Care Association and Seedco have been awarded navigator grants to do community outreach efforts about the Health Insurance Marketplace, the exchange set up by the Affordable Care Act. Seedco received $1,216,013 to support roving navigators in both Georgia and Tennessee. The navigators, who will receive 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. Seedco, which was established in 1987, is a national organization that works to help low-income people gain economic prosperity.
A cooler and wetter summer is helping produce lower electric bills in the Tennessee Valley. Buoyed by 44 percent more generation from its hydroelectric dams this year, the Tennessee Valley Authority is cutting the fuel portion of its electricity rates next month by an unprecedented 20 percent below the year-ago rate. The September cut will lower the average monthly light bill for residential customers in Chattanooga by nearly $4 next month, 2.7 percent below this month’s rate. “These are the lowest rates since March 2012,” TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said.
Following the news that Nashville is becoming too darn popular — i.e., running out of 615 phone numbers –we couldn’t help but think about the potential headache an area code switch could present for local business owners (not to mention Lightning 100’s “the615” radio show). Redoing everything that has a phone number on it, from printed business cards to signage to websites, could be costly and time consuming. Or so we thought. Turns out some of you are a lot less cynical than we are.
The fate of a proposed raise for Hamilton County’s teachers remains under wraps after school board members discussed the issue in a closed-door meeting Thursday night. In June, the board instructed Superintendent Rick Smith to explore a 3 to 5 percent raise for teachers after Smith got a $25,000 salary bump. And with negotiations wrapping up between administrators and the teachers union, the superintendent met with board members Thursday to discuss what kind of raise, if any, teachers would be offered, and where the funding would come from.
Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton opened seven charter schools Thursday on three campuses, pulling off what detractors said was a pipe dream and launching himself on the road toward a second legacy. About 825 students showed up for the first day of the W.E.B. Du Bois Charter Consortium, about 1,200 fewer than Herenton once predicted but enough to make the former school superintendent confident he has a future in the charter school business. No one in the 11 years charters have been legal has opened more than two schools at once.
The director of transportation for Shelby County Schools resigned on the same day that the first fixes in school bus routes, times and stops took effect. And leaders of the school system say Debbie Rike was not forced out. “Debbie’s been a loyal, hardworking employee for SCS for 33 years. We respect her decision,” said deputy schools superintendent David Stephens. “But this was her decision, and obviously it was a personal decision she made.” The interim transportation director is Hitesh Haria, chief of business operations for the school system.
Our hats are off to a Tennessee House investigative panel that on Wednesday said there is enough evidence against 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb to continue a process to remove him from office. The group has been looking at allegations that Bebb, who oversees prosecutors and investigations in Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, violated the public trust in the way he and people he supervised behaved in recent years. That behavior includes allegations of Bebb accepting taxpayer reimbursement for driving a state-owned car and former 10th District Drug Task Force Chief Mike Hall spending thousands of dollars of public money on dining, travel and motels for himself and a female agent that could not be documented as legitimate task force expenses.
When Attorney General Eric Holder called for sweeping changes to the nation’s mandatory minimum prison sentencing policy, he could have had Tennessee specifically in mind because our prison situation is a textbook case of problems in the criminal justice system. Note these figures from a Tennessean report last December: • The state prison population in Tennessee has risen 4.5 percent in the past 10 years, and county and city jail populations have increased 42 percent. Prison and jail construction is nowhere near keeping up, nor is that likely to change without tax increases. • Because of the inmate boom and because the state pays counties about $37 per day for each state inmate housed in local jails, the state Correction Department went $20 million over budget in 2012.