This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
KINGSPORT — Jeff Francis looked over a packed Eastman Board Room inside the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce and uttered what he called the “scariest words” employers will ever hear. He borrowed an often repeated quote from the late President Ronald Reagan: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Francis is an assistant administrator in the Workers’ Compensation Division of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD), who recently addressed about 50 human resource managers and health-care providers.
UnitedHealthcare is giving $600,000 to support a new foundation launched in August by Gov. Bill Haslam to help Tennessee residents live healthier lives. The money will go to Healthier Tennessee, the first initiative of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness. It’s a program to encourage physical activity, better diets and reductions in tobacco use. “UnitedHealthcare’s mission of helping people live healthier lives is very much in line with the goals of Healthier Tennessee,” said Scott A. Bowers of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee.
Employers are just beginning to learn the financial ironies of the federal health law. Small nonprofits that pay no taxes can get tax credits. Some businesses that currently provide generous insurance may stop. And organizations could fork over more money covering part-time workers than full-time workers. While the Affordable Care Act will provide access to insurance for millions more Americans, it is not a law of equality for employers. The impact differs according to how an employer’s workforce is structured and the generosity of its health benefits.
Three multimillion-dollar retail developments on Interstate 81 are making plans to enter the Tri-Cities market in the coming years. Each developer claims his proposal has regional significance, will draw millions of visitors to the area and generate millions in tax revenues. Each project has received varying degrees of public funding and is in a different stage of completion. Only time will tell if the shopping centers will be gold mines, enticing new businesses and entertainment opportunities, or ghost towns, leaving behind more empty storefronts and unfulfilled promises.
More Tennesseans are getting licensed to carry a handgun. The number of applications to the state has more than doubled since last year, according to the Department of Safety. The spike comes as the identities of permit holders are no longer public record. There are now more than 430,000 permitted handgun carriers in the state – up 80,000 from the start of last year. Since that time, the General Assembly passed a law keeping private the names, birthdays and addresses of licensed gun owners. Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons says he wouldn’t necessarily make a correlation.
KINGSPORT — Annexation by ordinance is constitutional, according to a recent opinion issued by State Attorney General Robert Cooper. “Absent invidious discrimination or an intent to circumvent the ‘one person, one vote’ principle, annexation by municipal ordinance is constitutional,” Cooper wrote in his July 25 opinion. “Neither the United States Constitution nor the Tennessee Constitution recognizes a right for a person to retain his or her real property in a particular unit of local government.” This most recent opinion came in response to a request made by Rep. Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport), who asked Cooper if annexation by municipal ordinance violated the rights of an affected real property owner under the state or federal constitutions.
ELIZABETHTON — It is almost a year until the 2014 General Election, but Kent Williams’ announcement Thursday that he will run for the Carter County mayor’s job instead of seeking a fifth term as representative from the 4th District shook things up in both races. It is too soon to know how many candidates are reassessing their plans based on Williams’ announcement, but the temptation of an open House seat and the transfer of Williams’ $20,000 war chest to the mayor’s race will lead to plenty of thought. One candidate that will not change his mind is Jerome Cochran.
About 200 gay marriage supporters called for local same-sex benefits and national marriage rights at Public Square Park Saturday afternoon, the day state lawmakers specifically set aside to recognize traditional marriage. The demonstration was part of six events statewide that were sparked after the Tennessee General Assembly passed a resolution in April recognizing Saturday as “ido4life Traditional Marriage Day,” said Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project. “We thought that instead of fighting this in the legislature, we would rename the day and hold rallies across the state,” Sanders said.
On the one hand, a clenched rainbow fist: solidarity for gays in Hamilton County. In another, a scythe. Death is for those who hate God. That was outside Chattanooga City Hall on Saturday in blistering heat, the last and hottest day of August. “We don’t believe the state should discriminate against its citizens,” said Marcus Ellsworth, one of the organizers of the rally for equal rights. Area gay rights activists and leaders rallied outside City Hall to say equality is for everyone and that the “Traditional Marriage Day” resolution passed by the state Legislature in April is discriminatory.
WASHINGTON — Middle Tennessee lawmakers universally applauded President Barack Obama’s decision Saturday to seek congressional authorization before striking at Syria for apparently using chemical weapons against its own people. Whether lawmakers will approve military action is another matter. Obama says congressional leaders have agreed to debate and vote when they return from their summer recess Sept. 9. Republican Sen. Bob Corker called the president’s plan to make his case to Congress “absolutely the right decision.”
A handful of Memphians gathered on the corner of Poplar and Highland Saturday, protesting President Barack Obama’s desire to attack Syria. “War is not the answer,” said protester Joseph Davis. The President believes an assault that killed nearly 1,500 Syrians, many children, was a chemical attack by Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. But Davis doesn’t buy it. He thinks the US should stay out of Syria. “We’re out here fighting for our future. My brother is in the air force. I don’t want to see him go to another pointless war,” said Davis. U.S. Congressman, Democrat, Steve Cohen doesn’t take going to war with Syria lightly. “I’m war weary. We spent too much money in Afghanistan and didn’t get anything out of it,” said Cohen.
BLOUNTVILLE — Health insurance costs for Sullivan County government and its employees are expected to increase dramatically in January. A potential shift in how the cost is shared between government coffers — ultimately funded by taxpayers — and employees’ pocketbooks, could soon be on the table for consideration by county commissioners. Currently, county government foots the bill for 88 percent of premiums for coverage, while employees contribute 12 percent. Some commissioners are looking to increase the employees’ share, up to as much as 20 percent over the course of a few years.
Laws intended to inform the public — and a judge’s order enforcing them — are being scrutinized in Knox County lately. Open meetings issues involving Knox County commissioners in recent weeks have pushed local and state officials to ask whether Commission committees have been skirting the law intended to keep the public abreast on what their elected officials are doing. “They’ve forgotten, even with open meetings law, they’re under stricter rules,” Elaine Davis, chairwoman of the Commission ethics committee, told the News Sentinel on Friday.
More than 100 people gathered at a tea party event Saturday with one clear objective: to find a conservative challenger for next year’s Republican primary against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Republican state Rep. Joe Carr, who announced two weeks ago plans to run against Alexander, joined former chair of the Williamson County Republican Party Kevin Kookogey at the “Beat Lamar” rally and informal debate, held in a hotel conference room near the Nashville airport. “We’re all here for one reason, and one reason alone, and that’s to beat Lamar Alexander,” Carr said.
NASHVILLE — Two would-be challengers to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told tea party activists Saturday they each would step aside for the other if he proved to be the GOP right’s stronger candidate in Republicans’ 2014 Senate primary. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, and former Williamson County GOP chairman Kevin Kookogey made the comments as tea party groups kicked off a series of forums aimed at generating a credible challenger to Alexander. “It’s absolutely critical and crucial, if we’re going to remove Lamar Alexander as the liberal senator from Tennessee, that we all have to coalesce around some candidate,” Carr, an announced candidate, told the crowd of at least 250 activists meeting in a hotel. “I think I’ve already told you I’ve committed to that. It’s that important.”
Long before he came to TVA, Bill Johnson remembers a visit to Neyland Stadium to face the University of Tennessee Volunteers as an offensive lineman for Penn State. It wasn’t one of his more pleasant visits to East Tennessee, which Johnson says he has grown quite fond of since joining the Tennessee Valley Authority as president and CEO in January. On Sept. 16, 1972, Johnson and his teammates faced a challenge in the form of UT quarterback Condredge Holloway. When I was at Penn State, I think we only lost four games in four years, and that was one of them,” he said.
Here’s a score you might find surprising this fine Sunday morning: Austin Peay State 12, University of Tennessee-Knoxville 7. You’re right, this score has nothing to do with the football game between these two universities on Saturday. But it illustrates a great victory for APSU, and strong evidence that Clarksville’s state university is having remarkable success in meeting today’s higher education challenges. APSU is No. 1 among all of Tennessee’s public universities for increased appropriations under the state’s higher-education funding program introduced two years ago. For 2012-13, APSU gained 12 percent, while UT-Knoxville was second, with a 7 percent gain.
The Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization’s Executive Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to kill the proposed James White Parkway extension in South Knoxville, short-circuiting opportunities for public comment. The move delivered a mortal blow to the controversial extension, though the coup de grace will have to wait until the TPO’s final vote on the matter Oct. 16. The amendment, proposed by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, removed the $104 million project from the federally-mandated Transportation Improvement Program for 2014-2017. Federal dollars can be spent only on projects included in the TIP, and the extension would have required more than $80 million in federal highway funding.
Mayor A C Wharton joined 17 other mayors in Washington last week to meet with U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss strategies to reduce youth violence. That same Tuesday in Memphis, thanks to a tip to Memphis Crimestoppers’ Trust Pays program, a gun was discovered in the backpack of a Cypress Middle School student. On Monday a 21-year-old man was fatally shot in the Raleigh area. Last weekend, a 21-year-old man was shot in the leg while leaving the Whitehaven Classic Football Tournament at Whitehaven High. Three alleged gang members, a 17-year-old and two 21-year-olds, were charged with capital murder for the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy who was leaving a North Panola High School football game in Sardis, Miss.
A quick look at the calendar sometimes was necessary last month to be sure that the date was in August 2013 rather than August 2014. What prompted the date check was what seemed to be an unusual amount of political news a year away from party primaries and general elections. Within the past few weeks: • the Rutherford County Republican Party has announced that it will conduct a primary next year to select GOP candidates for the County Commission. • various tea party groups have announced that they are looking for a candidate to oppose incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the Republic primary next year. • State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, announced that he will oppose incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District seat.
The news clips will not appear Monday, the Labor Day holiday. The clips will resume Tuesday.