This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies will conduct a special “no refusal” DUI enforcement campaign in several counties across the state this holiday weekend. Tennessee’s “no refusal” law allows officers to seek search warrants for blood samples when they suspect a driver to be impaired. The special enforcement includes saturation patrols, bar and tavern checks and sobriety checkpoints. It begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Monday.
Clergy from across Tennessee called on Gov. Bill Haslam and other state leaders to embrace the Affordable Care Act and expand TennCare, casting the decision as the Christian thing to do. Nearly 70 ministers gathered for a brief rally on War Memorial Plaza, where they said state leaders have a moral obligation to offer TennCare to the 175,000 poor Tennesseans who are not currently eligible for the program. Singing hymns and taking turns at the microphones for a succession of quick homilies, the group argued that leaders’ Christian faith should compel them to expand the state’s Medicaid program.
Several of the approximately 25 people who gathered for a vigil in Krutch Park Thursday night had trouble keeping their candles lit due to a balmy breeze that kept blowing. They no doubt hope the winds of change blow strongly as well regarding the possible federal government expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee. “By our faith, we are called to care for the most vulnerable,” said Jim Sessions, a local United Methodist minister and vigil participant who supports the expansion.
When Forestine Haynes retired at age 59 after more than four decades of work, she felt confident she had enough savings to make it until her Social Security benefits began at age 62. But what the retired planner and nonprofit-organization head didn’t count on was that Medicare health benefits would not be available until she turned 65, and buying individual health insurance at her age was unaffordable. “I’m one of the faces of the thousands of uninsured in Chattanooga who are just one major medical emergency away from financial devastation,” Haynes told members of the Clergy Koinonia on Thursday during a program on the new Affordable Care Act.
A nonprofit tax watchdog group says Tennesseans pay the highest combined state and local sales tax rate in the country, with Arkansas, Louisiana, Washington and Oklahoma trailing behind — but that might be a recipe for economic success. According to a new report by the nonprofit Tax Foundation, the Volunteer State’s combined average 9.44 percent state and local sales tax rate tops the charts. But other foundation reports show Tennessee’s actual tax burden ranks third-lowest in the nation — $2,707 per person in 2010 — and Tennessee ranks 15th among states for business tax climate.
The smiles were big as faculty, staff and construction workers busily moved through the new Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT). For 13 years, there has been a needed expansion at the former Tennessee Technology Center, a trade-based accredited institution, and expectations have come to fruition as the school gears up to begin their first semester in their newly constructed 65,000 square foot building. In 2000, the request was made to the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Tennessee’s Department of Transportation says 18 airports will get $14.2 million in federal and state grants. The grants are made available through the department’s Aeronautics Division, which administers funding to help in the location, design, construction and maintenance of Tennessee’s public aviation system. Airports receiving grants include the Tennessee Wing of the Civil Air Patrol in Alcoa, Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Lovell Field in Chattanooga, Mark Anton Airport in Dayton, Dickson Municipal Airport, Elizabethton Municipal Airport and Greeneville-Greene County Municipal Airport.
Tennessee will be able to reduce the costs of advanced placement test fees for low-income students with a U.S. Education Department grant of more than $340,000. A total of 42 states are receiving $28.8 million for the effort. The grants are based on the expected number of students who will take the tests and other factors. The department says it expects the grants will pay all but $10 of the cost of each test. States may require students to pay part of the costs.
State Rep. Kent Williams, whose 2009 election as House speaker shocked and infuriated fellow Republicans, announced Thursday that he won’t seek a fifth term and instead will run for Carter County mayor next year. Republicans were still giddy from gaining their first majority in the state House since Reconstruction in the 2008 elections when the House convened for its leadership vote the following January. But a one-seat advantage in the 99-seat chamber proved the GOP’s undoing, when all 49 Democrats struck a secret alliance with Williams to elect the little-known restaurant owner from Elizabethton as speaker.
The list of candidates who met Thursday’s filing deadline for a special election in state House District 91 indicates that name identification may play a major role in determining the winner. The seat was held for some four decades by the late, revered former House speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry, and the surname DeBerry is represented twice in the field of 11 candidates. Dwight DeBerry, a political newcomer, is a cousin of Lois DeBerry, while Doris A. DeBerry-Bradshaw is the sister of District 90 Rep. John DeBerry (no relation to Lois).
A $14 million boost from the University of Tennessee’s institutional reserves has helped the school’s athletics department return to a balanced budget. Figures released by the university on Thursday show that the school gave its athletics department $11.4 million in cash and took on roughly $3 million in expenses during the 2012-13 school year to pay for the high cost of football coaching changes. That $14 million was the first installment of what will be a three-year, $18 million reprieve in academic contributions that Chancellor Jimmy Cheek will grant the athletics department since it failed to balance its budget last year.
The board that has been in place since October 2011 as one of the first moves toward unification of Shelby County’s two public school systems becomes a seven-member board effective Sunday, Sept. 1. The 16 members of the old Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools boards who cast their last votes Tuesday, Aug. 27, as school board members left a body that they have changed and that has changed them in the almost two years it was around.
Early voting opens Friday Downtown at the Shelby County Election Commission for citizens in Arlington and Lakeland in the only regularly scheduled elections of 2013. The two smallest towns in Shelby County find themselves linked on several issues including the coming move to suburban school districts. Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman and Lakeland Mayor Scott Carmichael have sketched out a proposed seven-year contract in which their respective school districts would share some operating costs and have attendance zones that allow students from the one town to continue attending schools in the other town.
WASHINGTON — Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said he would support a “surgical” strike against Syria for apparently using chemical weapons against its own people. In a statement after a classified briefing with senior administration officials Thursday night, Corker, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said he could back only a measured response at this time. “While I’m opposed to American boots on the ground in Syria, I would support surgical, proportional military strikes given the strong evidence of the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical warfare,” he said.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says he remains supportive of what he calls “surgical, proportional military strikes” in Syria. As the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was part of last night’s congressional conference call. He says in a statement he has also received classified briefings from the White House outlining intelligence about alleged chemical attacks in Syria.
NASHVILLE — Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign released a television ad Thursday aimed at bolstering the two-term lawmaker’s conservative credentials as an opponent of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The 60-second ad, Alexander’s second television spot, began running statewide Thursday. “Lamar Alexander led the conservative fight against Obamacare,” a narrator states. “Voted 23 times against it. Stood up to the president at the White House health care summit.”
Jerry Lewis and his wife, Anna, packed up their RV Thursday to make the drive from Georgia to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for a Labor Day camping trip. They’re meeting friends from Ohio and plan to do a little fishing, a little shopping, a little sitting around the fire. “We’re just going to socialize and sit around the campground,” Lewis said, adding that the week’s spike in gas prices didn’t change his plans. “You just try to go somewhere and then stay there for a while.”
A group of fast food workers, joined by supporters and community activists, walked off the job and rallied at the Civil Rights Museum on Thursday to demand a $15-per-hour wage, more than double the Tennessee minimum wage earned by most. The local workers were part of a wave of nationwide protests in which thousands of employees in 58 cities staged protests this week. A group that eventually swelled to about 60 people formed at AFSCME Local 1733 downtown, where eight people shared their experiences of working long hours for low wages.
The statistics showing high health care costs and wasted dollars piled up Thursday as Memphis-area employers were urged to push for new ways of paying doctors and hospitals for their services. A knee replacement that would cost $8,500 in Sweden would cost $26,000 for someone in the United States covered by a company’s health plan, Francois de Brantes, executive director of the Health Care Incentives Institute told those attending the Memphis Business Group on Health annual conference.
Scions of three familiar Memphis families associated with entrepreneurship — Hyde, Williams and Wilson — on Thursday encouraged local business leaders to support local innovators to spur economic development. AutoZone founder Joseph R. “Pitt” Hyde, investment banker Duncan Williams and Kemmons Wilson Jr., vice president of Kemmons Wilson Companies, were keynote presenters at “Titans of Industry: Lessons in Innovation, Scale and Leadership.” The event was sponsored by the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum and held at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
Nashville beat out Boston to host Nerve, the annual East Coast regional conference for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, in 2015, leaders of the group’s Nashville chapter announced Thursday. The event will bring more than 500 entrepreneurs from around the U.S. to Music City Center from Sept. 16-18, 2015. “Nashville has a long history of being an entrepreneurial community and increasingly is receiving national recognition as one of the best places in the United States to start and grow a business,” Mayor Karl Dean said in a news release.
Nashville reached a record in fiscal year 2013 for hotel occupancy tax collections, a source of funding for the new Music City Center, according to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. Collections climbed 8.6 percent to $36.9 million in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according to a news release. In June, when the city hosted the CMA Festival, revenue totaled $4 million, the highest collections in one month, and exceeded the previous monthly record in June 2012 by 8.3 percent. The occupancy tax broke monthly records in 11 out of 12 months.
SMYRNA — The Town Council praised the leadership of Tony Dover after he resigned as mayor a couple of hours before the start of the Thursday workshop. “Tony did a wonderful job moving the town of Smyrna forward for 12 years,” Vice Mayor Mary Esther Reed said in presiding over a meeting that had no one seated in the mayor’s position and three council members flanking each side.
The mayor of Smyrna is resigning due to changes at his day job. He made the announcement Thursday afternoon and he officially left office at 4 pm. All of Smyrna’s elected offices are part-time positions, paying a few hundred dollars a month. According to the town’s website, Tony Dover’s other position is directing the IT department of Medical Reimbursements of America.
Interim University of Memphis president Brad Martin’s thoughts about continuing to push the transition of the university into a revenue-based management system surely raised a lot of academic eyebrows within the university. The push was part of eight major initiatives recently announced by Martin in a message to the U of M community. The transition activity puts the U of M in the national debate over whether, given the changes and skills needed in the present and future job markets, a college degree is worth the investment. Given the rising costs in tuition and fees, it is a good debate to have.
In today’s economy, good-paying jobs often require some sort of postsecondary credential after high school. But, as Gov. Bill Haslam noted in his State of the State address this past January, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have an associate’s degree or higher. To meet Tennessee’s college completion goals, there should be more college-ready students. Currently, only about 60 percent of Tennessee’s high school graduates enroll in college — the same percentage of students enrolling in a two-year college needing remedial courses. In 2010, Tennessee policymakers began making important changes to higher education, such as adjusting the funding formula to reward institutions for degree completion instead of just student enrollment.
Jenny Moshak had been with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for 24 years when she decided earlier this month to take early retirement rather than continue working in what she believed were the untenable conditions of sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title IX and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Equal Pay Act of 1963. When she left, Moshak was associate director of sports medicine for the UT Athletic Department. She had previously been associate athletics director for sports medicine for women’s athletics. In her new post, she had to answer to Jason McVeigh, who she believed had less experience than she did as well as less national prestige.