This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Tennessee Transportation Department commissioner said Monday that the state won’t be able to start any new highway projects if it loses federal funding next year. Gov. Bill Haslam wrapped up his annual budget hearings with the department at the state Capitol. Commissioner John Schroer told Haslam that money from a measure President Barack Obama signed in 2012 to extend federal highway and transit funding will end on Oct. 1, 2014. If Congress doesn’t extend it, then that would mean a loss of over a billion dollars for Tennessee.
State transportation officials are asking local governments to scale back their plans, an effort that could make it harder for Metro Nashville to win state dollars for the Amp bus rapid transit project. Commissioner John Schroer said Monday that the state department of transportation hopes to reduce its nearly $8.5 billion backlog of projects by working with local governments to come up with less ambitious alternatives. The effort is meant to get long-delayed projects off the ground at a time when the state faces less revenue from gas taxes and the possible loss of some federal funding for highway maintenance.
Tennessee stands to lose $850 million in federal highway money for one year, followed each year by about $300 million less than current funding levels if Congress fails to renew the federal transportation act when it expires next Oct. 1, the state’s transportation chief said Monday. If that occurs, Tennessee would be able to maintain its existing highway and bridge system but could not start any new projects — out of an $8.5 billion backlog of projects that are already committed and in the pipeline, Transportation Commissioner John Schroer told Gov. Bill Haslam in the last of the governor’s budget hearings for the state’s next fiscal year.
Neither Governor Bill Haslam nor his top transportation official has shown much enthusiasm for Nashville’s new bus proposal, known as the Amp. But at a state budget hearing today, neither would fully rule out helping pay for the project, either. State funding for the Amp faces a tug of war, with Metro hoping Tennessee will pay for 20 percent, and opponents trying to make a case against it. Several wearing red ‘Stop Amp’ stickers sat in the audience, but neither the governor nor Transportation Commissioner John Schroer talked about the proposal until reporters brought it up.
Launch Tennessee has relaunched it’s Phase 0/00 Program, a competitive process to help small businesses apply for Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants or contract funding. “Commercializing research is a great way to increase the number of high-growth startups in our state. The Phase 0/00 Program helps small businesses apply for and win grants that can help them turn their innovative work into a commercial success,” Launch Tennessee CEO Charlie Brock said in a news release.
The winner of an annual “food fight” between Gov. Bill Haslam and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is scheduled to be announced Tuesday. The competition, which ran from Nov. 6 through Friday, pitches the two officials’ staffs against each other for who can donate the most food to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville. The mayor’s office last year collected more than 13,000 pounds of food to win the competition, after Haslam’s office won it in 2011. Metro Nashville government workers last year collected more than 127,000 pounds of food, which is enough to feed 99,000 families.
Mayor Karl Dean’s plan to build a new ballpark for the Nashville Sounds at the historic Sulphur Dell site north of downtown took a key step forward Monday as a group of state officials approved a $23 million land transfer to the city. The State Building Commission’s executive subcommittee approved the transfer after a brief, one-sided public hearing in which the public spoke only to praise the plan, not to bury it. Secretary of State Tre Hargett said he and other members of the subcommittee, which voted unanimously, were acting on behalf of the full building commission.
The proposal for a new Nashville Sounds ballpark and surrounding development in Sulphur Dell continued to move along today, as state officials gave the green light for an integral part of the $150 million project. Acting on behalf of the entire State Building Commission, the body’s executive subcommittee approved the $23 million land sale agreement with Metro for property on the future ballpark site. The state currently owns land on the proposed ballpark project site, designed to redevelop the Jefferson Street location in North Nashville.
The plan for a new ballpark near downtown Nashville got the blessing today of a panel of top Tennessee officials. As part of the fast-moving deal, the state is trading some land with the city, which is also giving it millions of dollars to build two new parking garages. Speaking on behalf of North Nashville businesses and residents who she says felt overlooked for decades, Sharon Hurt praised the deal for bringing badly needed jobs. “I’m excited about it. It’s been a long time coming for us to get some development on Jefferson Street, and this brings an opportunity that’s never been presented before, and I think the timing of it is just awesome.”
There was no late inning drama on Tennessee’s Legislative Plaza Monday morning for the state portion of the Nashville Sounds deal to build a new minor league ballpark. The State Building Commission, which oversees state government property, approved turning over some land for the proposed stadium site next to Bicentennial Mall to Metro Nashville Government. In exchange, the state will be paid $23 million to build two parking facilities near the ballpark site. The land being given to Metro contains parking facilities for state workers.
The state building commission approved a deal Monday that will allow Nashville to purchase state land for its proposed new ballpark, but it comes with some conditions. The Sulphur Dell stadium project is clearing so many hurdles so quickly, in part, because of the support of community leaders who believe this will revitalize the area near Jefferson Street. “We are thrilled about what is happening on Jefferson Street,” said state Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville. Harper was one of several elected officials urging the state building commission to approve the deal with Metro. “It will impact all of Jefferson Street all the way down to TSU, so we’re excited,” she said.
Most days one stretch of Jefferson Street smells like tailgating before a big football game. Frederick Waller hopes Ooh Wee Bar-B-Q, which he opened just a few months ago, becomes one of the smells of minor league baseball. “I know that where people are you can do well in a business, especially a food business,” he said. It’s a hope that moved closer to reality Monday when a subcommittee for the State’s Building Commission heard why people think a new Sounds stadium could restart the area rich in history. They approved it unanimously.
Tennessee plans to move all the state employees now working in the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in Downtown Memphis a few blocks away into the One Commerce Square Building. State officials had indicated that some workers or departments may move to other state office spaces around Shelby County. But late last week General Services spokesman Kelly Smith confirmed that all 596 employees in the Hill Building will be moved to One Commerce Square. The relocation is to occur by June 1. Tennessee is leasing 104,673 square feet in the One Commerce Square tower, at Main and Monroe.
State officials are giving Tennessee residents an online option to access driving records. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced this week that it has launched an online service that allows people to download or print copies of their official driving records by going to http://www.tn.gov/safety . Officials hope the online option will reduce the wait time at driver services centers. A $2 convenience fee will be assessed to each online transaction, in addition to the $5 state fee set by the Tennessee General Assembly for a copy of a driver record.
The Tennessee Electronic Library is a free resource to help people prepare for the GED high school equivalency test. Many people who started the test are hurrying to finish before the format changes at the beginning of next year. People who have already taken some sections of the test this year but haven’t completed the entire test will have to start over beginning on Jan. 1. The Tennessee Electronic Library is a collection of online databases providing access to hundreds of thousands of periodicals and reference materials. Its test preparation section includes practice tests, self-paced courses and study guides for the GED exam.
The Chattanooga region’s interstates and major U.S. and state highways will be flooded with state troopers and safety messages over the Thanksgiving holiday under a state and national effort to minimize traffic fatalities. In the national traffic campaign called the “I-40 Challenge: The Drive Toward Zero Fatalities” announced Monday in Nashville, motorists will see state troopers posted every 20 miles from the mountains and plateaus of North Carolina and Tennessee to Arizona and California along Interstate 40. The challenge targets the two busiest 12-hour travel periods, noon until midnight on Wednesday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
If you are driving on I-40 this Thanksgiving weekend, expect to see a state trooper every twenty miles on your route, from North Carolina to California. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott announced the “Interstate 40 Challenge: The Drive toward Zero Fatalities” effort on Monday. THP announced last week that they would station a state trooper every 20 miles along I-40 in Tennessee last week, and then challenged seven other states to take part.
Records show a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper has retired after being disciplined for not allowing the state’s only black female appellate judge into the Supreme Court building. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported the discipline memo from Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons says Trooper Brent Gobbell was reprimanded and docked one day’s pay due to the incident. The paperwork said he turned away Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Camille McMullen, who was trying to drop off paperwork for another judge on June 14. Gobbell allowed McMullen to give the paperwork to a clerk, who passed it along.
A Tennessee state trooper has been placed on leave pending an investigation into hunting violations. Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency agents began investigating Barry Qualls on November 19 after he allegedly shot and killed a deer on a 46-acre privately owned tract of land located on Highway 64 West in Bedford County. The department’s internal investigation focuses on whether Qualls, 38, violated Tennessee Highway Patrol polices and procedures during the alleged incident. Qualls, who is assigned to the Lawrenceburg district, has worked with the THP since 2002 and remains on discretionary leave with pay.
A prominent state senator says taxpayers should not have to pay late medical bills submitted by a Tennessee hospital involving the care of state inmates. The Regional Medical Center in Memphis, a county-owned hospital, has submitted bills up to six years late, for as much as a million dollars, to the Tennessee Department of Correction. The chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the bills are outrageous. “Six years old and they can’t explain why they’re that old. I don’t think we should pay them,” McNally said.
A law meant to save first responders on Tennessee’s busiest roadways is largely being ignored by thousands of drivers everyday and emergency personnel are worried it’s only a matter time before one of them gets hit. “You never expect them to get run over on the interstate, you expect people to have more sense than that but people just don’t pay attention,” Vera Dedman said on a cold fall day standing at her daughter Christy’s grave site in Hickman County. Vera’s daughter, Christy Jo Dedman, was 34 years old when she was struck and killed by a semi-truck driver along the side of Interstate 40 while trying to help a stranded motorist on July 18, 2004.
The Anti-Smurfing Campaign kicked off in an attempt to slow the purchase of medicine with pseudoephrine in it for cooking meth. Smurfing is the practice of purchasing cold and allergy medicines with pseudoephrine and selling it to methamphetamine cooks. Dr. Terry Forshee, a pharmacist and owner of Cherokee Pharmacy in Cleveland, Tennessee, is faced smurfing and wants to stop it. “We see it every day,” Forshee said. “We are on the front lines of this activity.” He is very proactive in his stance against meth cooks. He has installed an implex system forcing anyone who buys ingredients for meth will have to swipe their driver’s license.
Issues ranging from health care to the overall health of the country were discussed when U.S. Sen. Bob Corker spoke to members and guests at the Jackson-Old Hickory Rotary Club luncheon Monday at the DoubleTree Hotel. “I know people in general are turned off,” Corker said. “But it’s still a privilege to wake up every day and come to the (U.S.) Capitol on your behalf. If you have a problem, you don’t want to partially solve it, you want to solve it.” On health care, Corker said he never thought the problems would have magnified as quickly as they have.
As the Obama administration’s health overhaul sputters in its opening weeks, insurers and advocacy groups are pursuing a new strategy in the quest to get millions of young people to sign up for health insurance: They’re appealing to their mothers. In one cheeky campaign, AARP is urging mothers to send e-cards to their children reminding them to sign up. One e-card reads, “As a reward for signing up for health insurance, I’ll defriend you on Facebook.” Another group, Organizing for Action, is seeking to steer holiday conversations toward health care by encouraging parents to have “the talk” with their adult children. And a Colorado group is promoting an ad featuring a hapless young man who calls his mother from the golf course: “Yo, Mom, do I got insurance?”
Nashville tourism reached a new pinnacle in October, breaking the city’s record for hotel room nights in a single month and leading the nation in terms of occupancy rate growth. Without the aid of major conventions last month, industry leaders said the record-breaking month is largely attributable to an increase in leisure travel, which is typically high in October. According to the Convention and Visitors Corp., there were 603,087 room nights booked — the first time Nashville has eclipsed 600,000 for rooms booked in a single month. And Nashville showed year-over-year tourism gains for October to place the city atop many industry categories.
Company to buy six natural gas wells Knoxville-based oil and natural gas company Miller Energy Resources said Monday it will invest nearly $65 million in cash and stock to expand its natural gas production and transmission operations in Alaska. The publicly traded company said its wholly-owned subsidiary Cook Inlet Energy LLC, will acquire the North Fork Unit and all affiliated assets from Armstrong Cook Inlet LLC and other owners for $59.9 million plus $5 million in Miller stock. The deal, which is subject to governmental and regulatory approvals, includes six natural gas wells, 15,464 acres, and production and processing equipment.
A federal judge Monday gave a major boost to Pilot Flying J’s efforts to get past a financial scandal, even as the Knoxville-based truck stop chain faces legal fights on other fronts. At a hearing just blocks from the Arkansas State Capitol, U.S. District Judge James M. Moody gave final approval to a nearly $85 million settlement between Pilot and hundreds of trucking companies that allege they were shorted on diesel fuel rebates. Under terms of the deal Pilot will pay approximately: * $56.5 million in principal owed to customers; * $9.75 million interest; and * $14 million in attorneys’ fees for the settlement class counsel.
A federal judge in Arkansas approved a settlement Monday that pays $84.9 million to 5,500 trucking companies who were cheated out of promised rebates by Pilot Flying J, the nation’s largest diesel retailer. The settlement doesn’t put to rest a federal investigation in which seven company employees have already entered guilty pleas. Attorney Aubrey Harwell Jr. of Nashville said Jimmy Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns and CEO of the truck stop chain, had no knowledge that employees were cheating customers. The company is co-owned by Haslam’s brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has said he isn’t involved with its operations.
Checks will be sent to truckers who sued over rebates A federal judge on Monday quickly approved a growing $85 million settlement of a series of lawsuits charging Pilot Flying J with cheating truckers out of promised rebates. U.S. District Judge James M. Moody signed off on the package following a 30-minute hearing in a Little Rock federal courtroom. The deal settles most but not all of the lawsuits filed after an April 15 raid by federal agents on Pilot’s Knoxville headquarters. A 120-page affidavit filed just after the raid by an FBI agent detailed a scheme by Pilot’s top sales executives to secretly reduce rebates promised to trucking firms.
One of the first companies to locate at Chattanooga’s Centre South Riverport is closing part of its operations and laying off about 30 people, an official said Monday. NA Industries, which has a chemical plant at the site off Amnicola Highway, is moving production of super absorbent polymers from Chattanooga to the Houston area where the business has newer facilities, said Jim Horton, the company’s human resources manager. However, plans are to continue production in Chattanooga of fine chemicals used as detergent additives and to strengthen cement, he said.
In the picture she shows teachers who come to work for her, Tammy Garrett is a third-grader on roller skates, hamming it up for the camera in front of the trailer park where she grew up. Her parents earned their living in factories — neither came even close to finishing high school. Garrett and her brother qualified for free lunches and free dental care, anything her folks could find to defray expenses at home. After school, she’d line up her worn stuffed animals and teach them whatever lessons she’d learned that day. But instead of dreaming about a career in education, Garrett figured she’d become a hair stylist.
If the Shelby County Schools board approves Tuesday night deals, as expected, with three more municipalities aiming to form school districts for 2014-15, the Memphis City Council is unlikely to block them. Council attorney Allan Wade said Monday “we have been in lockstep” with SCS and the Shelby County Commission’s negotiating team and is “in total agreement” with settlements reached now with five of the six municipalities planning to form municipal school districts in time for the 2014-15 school year.
Shelby County Schools board members have schools agreements with suburban leaders in Bartlett, Collierville and Millington on their agenda Tuesday, Nov. 26, a week after approving the same type of agreements with different dollar amounts with Arlington and Lakeland. The school board meets at 5:30 p.m. for its regular voting meeting, followed by a special meeting at which the board will consider the Millington, Collierville and Bartlett agreements. Meanwhile, Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman said his city is already working with the Lakeland school system toward a shared superintendent and other interlocal agreements.
The first dissent from the idea that the suburban schools agreements are a good deal in which no side got everything it wanted began when the six sets of talks, which began in June, went public. It came during the Shelby County Commission’s votes Friday, Nov. 22, to approve the tentative agreements with Lakeland and Arlington. “You are ratifying a plan whereby, in most cases, 81.5 percent of the county’s population that paid for these school buildings will not be able to attend the schools that their tax dollars paid for,” said former Shelby County Schools board member Martavius Jones, referring to Memphis’ share of Shelby County’s population.
As negotiations between Shelby County Schools and Germantown continue, families in south Cordova have no idea where their children will be in school next year. For many who’ve turned out at two community meetings in the last several weeks, every option has a drawback. Depending on the deal Germantown reaches with Shelby County Schools, 580 students in south Cordova could be displaced. Germantown officials have said they want to educate all the children who currently attend the eight schools within the city limits.
How early should students begin to learn the intricacies of computer programming? At least some students in four Jackson-Madison County high schools believe it should begin in high school. Thanks to a new program adopted by the school system, 80 students have signed up for coding clubs that will help them get in on the ground floor of this high-tech trend, and give them a leg up for post-secondary education and, hopefully, landing a good job. Learning to write computer code is the equivalent of learning a new language, one that can be read by computers. Coding is the basis for computer programs, website design, smart phone applications and almost everything else that computer, tablet and smart phone users see on their device screens.