This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam led Johnson City’s Christmas Parade Saturday afternoon, cruising through downtown on a bright red tractor, shouting “Merry Christmas” to the thousands of people lining the streets. He was followed by a line of other politicians on tractors, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, Congressman Phil Roe, and Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brockin, who was wearing a Santa Claus outfit, topped with a big cowboy hat. The floats and displays that followed with the parade were equally impressive. Swag bags were handed out ahead of time in anticipation for the candy and trinkets passed out by paraders.
Even though it was a chilly afternoon, crowds still lined the streets of downtown Johnson City as the annual Christmas parade kicked off. Governor Bill Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, and Congressman Phil Roe led the parade as Grand Marshal. The parade marched down a different route this year, beginning at State of Franklin, and ending near ETSU on Walnut Street. Parade goers got to see many different floats, the Science Hill High School marching band, and even Santa Claus.
Christmas will come a little late for Tennessee tax collectors in 2013, but come it will beginning Jan. 1 with officials expecting a multimillion-dollar revenue boost as online retailing giant Amazon.com starts collecting state sales taxes on items it sells. This holiday season is the last tax-free spree for state residents to purchase books, music, clothing and other items on Amazon without having to pay state and local sales taxes. That’s because under a 2012 state law that goes into effect with the start of the new year Amazon is required to collect Tennessee’s 7 percent state sales tax and an average 2.5 percent local option sales taxes on items sold by the online retailing giant.
Methadone clinics aren’t just for heroin addicts anymore. Every day, Americans hooked on painkillers are lining up for methadone, a synthetic version of morphine that gained acceptance in the 1960s as way to wean addicts off heroin. Now the drug has found a new mission in the fight against opioid-based prescription painkillers, the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. “We treat mainstream America,” said Ed Ohlinger, the regional director for 10 private, for-profit addiction treatment centers in the Southeast owned by CRC Health Group, including the Volunteer Treatment Center in Chattanooga. In Tennessee, methadone clinics now mainly treat prescription drug addicts.
A move by Democrats to change a Senate rule that requires a 60-vote majority to end debate on judicial nominations was a pure power play and completely unjustified, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Friday. The decision pushed through by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada ensures yes-or-no votes on presidential nominees for federal courts or to Cabinet departments and agencies. Republicans would not be able to block the moves with a filibuster. “It is not really about the filibuster,” said Alexander, R-Tenn., who is seeking re-election next year.
When Dena Hughes learned about the Affordable Care Act’s passage, she rejoiced. Ms. Hughes, who has tested positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, has struggled to find insurance coverage, because H.I.V. is considered a pre-existing condition. But even under the new law, Ms. Hughes said her care providers had advised her not to enroll in the federal health care exchange yet. It is unclear, they said, how the law will affect H.I.V. care when marketplace coverage begins Jan. 1. “Right now we get good care, and I’m not interested in having my stuff all shifted around,” she said from her Houston home. Ms. Hughes and her husband, Daniel, also infected with H.I.V., receive some health coverage under the Ryan White Care Act, a federal health care program for H.I.V. and AIDS patients.
Pity the municipal bondholder. Between Detroit’s bankruptcy and the rising concerns over unfunded pensions in Illinois and elsewhere, it has been a rough year for many muni bond investors. While the Standard & Poor’s municipal bond index has recovered from its September lows, it is still off 2.7 percent for the year. A big problem for investors in this $3.7 trillion municipal market — mostly individuals — is that financial disclosures by states, cities and other issuers of tax-exempt debt can be decidedly inadequate. Securities laws require issuers of municipal debt to provide the information investors need to make informed decisions when buying or selling these instruments.
Charter school pioneers willing to go where Metro wants them to go could soon be offered a boost: public money to help them turn old malls and stores into new schoolhouses. Under a preliminary proposal discussed by school board member Will Pinkston, Metro would establish a new fund — the first of its kind here — that charter operators could tap to secure facilities in exchange for opening in parts of town where the district’s public schools are the most overcrowded. That area is southern Davidson County. And taking a cue from a new charter school plan adopted by the Metro school board in November, the district already has asked for charter proposals there next spring.
School administrators and board members say an audit showing more than one in five pieces of taxpayer-funded equipment missing from Shelby County Schools suggests the district needs to fine-tune its internal communications and issue primers to employees on how to be more meticulous in executing large-scale projects like the $1 million audit. Beyond the 56,290 pieces of equipment the auditors, Maryland-based ProBar Associates, could not account for over the summer and fall, thousands of other pieces could not be verified because some district storage places were not listed in the job description sent out in the bidding process.
Gov. Bill Haslam is strategically positioning Tennessee for the 21st century by creating a business-friendly environment through educational attainment programs, workforce development efforts and economic development. Tennessee higher education institutions, both public and private, are effectively collaborating in support of the governor’s efforts. The Tennessee Board of Regents, its colleges of applied technology, community colleges and universities, along with the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association are working together to ensure a bright economic future for our state.
Maybe it’s too early to declare a trend, but it is striking that a half dozen of the state Legislature’s most conservative members already find themselves facing serious Republican opponents nine months before the August 2014 primary election. In all cases, the challengers seem to be establishment/business Republicans who think their opponents have been a bit too extreme and that Gov. Bill Haslam is a great role model. And in an interesting contrast to the 2012 scene, so far there also seem to be no clear cases of tea party-oriented challengers to incumbent Republicans legislators who have been attacked as too moderate.
As the dust settles from the $800 million Hankook Tire deal – one of the biggest industrial announcements in Clarksville and middle Tennessee history – Clarksville-Montgomery County now finds itself without much industrial-zoned land and no speculative building inventory to show corporate prospects. So it’s time to look ahead, and take advantage of an opportunity to help keep job growth on track. A 150,000-square-foot building at the corner of Dunlop Lane and International Boulevard, currently owned and under liquidation by Wextrust Capital Corp., is being considered for purchase by the Montgomery County Commission as the community’s next spec industrial building.
The Knox County Board of Education and Superintendent Jim McIntyre have a full-fledged teacher revolt on their hands that presents a leadership crisis for the school system. More than 100 teachers, clad in red as a sign of solidarity, filled the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building on Wednesday to air their grievances over teacher evaluations, student testing, state education standards and more. Some called for McIntyre’s dismissal, which could make Monday’s school board meeting about his job performance and contract a debate about his future. McIntyre cannot succeed in transforming Knox County Schools into a top-flight system without teacher support.
The $1 million the Shelby County Schools board spent for an independent audit was a sound investment for two reasons. It makes sure the new SCS superintendent, Dorsey Hopson, will not be held responsible for what happened in the legacy Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools districts before the two systems merged last summer. And it is a crucial, although expensive reminder that a behemoth organization like Shelby County Schools has to have systems in place to account for every piece of equipment purchased, placed in storage, donated or discarded. The audit, performed by auditors from ProBar Associates in Maryland, said more than 54,000 pieces of equipment valued at more than $48 million could not be accounted for.