This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Crockett County lawyer Brandon O. Gibson to the western section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In a Thursday news release, Haslam says Gibson will replace Judge David R. Farmer when his term expires Aug. 31. The 38-year-old Gibson has been in private practice at the Pentecost & Glenn law firm in Jackson since 2003. Her practice there has focused on governmental entity defense, employment defense, commercial litigation, civil rights litigation and transactional services. Her work for the firm has included its satellite office in Crockett County.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Brandon O. Gibson of Crockett County to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section. She will replace Judge David R. Farmer upon the expiration of his term on Aug. 31, 2014, according to a news release. Gibson, 38, has been in private practice at the Pentecost & Glenn law firm in Jackson since 2003. Her practice there has focused on governmental entity defense, employment defense, commercial litigation, civil rights litigation, and transactional services. Her work for the firm has included its satellite office in Crockett County. “Brandon Gibson will be an excellent judge on the Court of Appeals,” Haslam said.
Davidson County’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent in November, according to new data from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, down from 6.7 percent in October. The new data shows that unemployment decreased in 93 counties in November, increased in one and remained flat in one. Davidson County posted the eighth-lowest unemployment rate in the state in November, and the lowest of the state’s major metropolitan areas. Williamson County posted the state’s lowest unemployment rate, at 5 percent, down from 5.7 percent in October.
Unemployment declined last month in most Chattanooga area counties to the lowest level in more than five years. State employment data released Thursday showed that the jobless rates in metropolitan Chattanooga and neighboring Cleveland, Tenn., fell during November below the U.S. average for the first time this year. In metro Dalton, unemployment dipped to its lowest mark since October 2008. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said joblessness in the 6-county Chattanooga metro area decreased in November by eight-tenths of a percent to 6.8 percent — 0.2 percent below the U.S. rate of 7 percent last month.
The unemployment rate in the Memphis metropolitan area dipped in November, compared with October, but remained higher than it was a year ago, according to state estimates released Thursday. The metro area’s unemployment rate stood at 8.8 percent in November, down from 9.5 percent in October, according to Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development preliminary statistics. One year ago in November, the rate was 8.1 percent. In Shelby County, the jobless rate declined to 9.4 percent in November, from a revised 10 percent in October.
November saw unemployment fall back below the 8 percent mark in the Clarksville area, as retail hiring began ramping up for the Christmas season. The new jobless rate for Montgomery County is 7.8 percent, down from 8.6 in October. The new November rate is slightly higher than the November 2012 rate of 7.4 percent, according to latest figures from the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development. A total of 6,020 people were unemployed in Montgomery County last month, out of an estimated countywide labor force of 77,080. That new Clarksville rate is below the seasonally adjusted statewide rate of 8.1 percent, but higher than the nationwide 7 percent jobless rate.
Tennessee was named one of only three states selected to receive a grant valued at $1 million to increase on-time college completion rates, according to a news release. The grant supports the state’s higher education reform efforts that help students finish a degree in two years from a community college and in four years from a university, saving time and money, and ensuring a higher rate of success. The award enhances Governor Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative to encourage more Tennesseans to earn a college degree or workforce certificate.
Tennessee is one of seven states that will receive more than $43.4 million to continue efforts to turn around persistently low-achieving schools. The funds — Tennessee will receive about $9.2 million — are part of the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant program. Tennessee’s funds, as well as those for Missouri, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, will be used to continue the third year of programs already now operating with help from the money. The other two states, Arkansas and Kentucky, will receive funds to establish new competitions for previously unfunded schools in their states.
The Tennessee Department of Human Resources has earned the Commitment Award in the annual Excellence in Tennessee recognition program administered by the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (TNCPE). TNCPE is the only state-wide quality program and is patterned on the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, the national standard for recognizing organizational excellence. The Tennessee Department of Human Resources will accept the award at the 21st annual Excellence in Tennessee Awards Banquet on February 19th, 2014. “Earning the Commitment Award from the TNCPE award program holds special meaning for the Department of Human Resources,” said Commissioner Rebecca Hunter.
Tennessee Highway Patrol plans a “no refusal” enforcement campaign in several counties across the state during the New Year’s Eve holiday period. 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 checkpoints for seat belts, sobriety and driver’s licenses. It begins at 6 p.m. Monday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. The aim is to deter impaired driving and fatal crashes. According to the Highway Patrol, nine people were killed in fatal crashes on Tennessee roadways during last year’s 78-hour New Year’s Eve holiday period.
A state hearing on the proposed redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds has been delayed until Jan. 9, said Robert Lipscomb, Memphis director of housing and community development. Lipscomb is championing a plan to turn the fairgrounds into a new destination for tourism and youth amateur sports. A key part of the plan to raise money for the project is to have an area around the Fairgrounds declared a Tourism Development Zone, an arrangement that would allow some sales-tax dollars to pay off bonds issued to fund construction. The State Building Commission would have to approve the creation of a Tourism Development Zone.
Proponents of revamping education laws in Tennessee cite a recent report that ranked the state’s students tops in the nation in academic improvement as proof that recent reforms are working and more should be considered. The report released in November by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed Tennessee’s fourth- and eighth- graders had the largest growth in reading and math of any state from 2011 to 2013, with a 22-point growth across all subject areas. State education officials said the results were partially because of reforms put in place over the years.
A Tennessee gun-rights group is firing at top Republican leaders for displaying insufficient enthusiasm for major changes to the “guns in parking lots” law enacted earlier this year. Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris, in a recent letter to members, called it “shameful” that “the Republican establishment leadership plans to continue ignoring the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding gun owners, including the right to defend themselves and their families against criminals.” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said earlier this month they did not intend to take the lead in revisiting the Safe Commute Act, although they expect the issue to emerge.
A multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed in the death of a 29-year-old woman while under treatment at an area drug and alcohol treatment facility has been settled in a confidential agreement. While the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, both sides acknowledged Thursday that the suit filed on behalf of the estate of Lindsey Poteet and her daughter, Arwen, had been resolved. “The legal matter involving the loss of Lindsey Poteet has been resolved by agreement between New Life Lodge and the Estate of Lindsey Poteet,” the Burns treatment facility reported in an email response to questions.
Gene Folgers didn’t know much about U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais when the doctor from South Pittsburg, Tenn., first ran for office three years ago. The retired Army training instructor has met him only a few times since then, and doesn’t know much about him still. But he has been watching DesJarlais’ voting record, and that has persuaded him to get behind his re-election bid. “I know a lot of people in the district didn’t trust him,” Folgers said. “But you go by their votes. … When a person has done a good job and is improving on the job, that’s how I’m going to vote.” Now, all DesJarlais needs is about 40,000 more voters just like Folgers.
Tennessee residents can expect to hear a lot more about the federal health care law from the White House in the coming weeks. The Obama administration is planning a blitz of positive information about the Affordable Care Act and the law’s various impacts in the state. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported (http://bit.ly/K08y6x ) that the move comes as the president tries to drive up enrollment in the online health insurance changes, which kick in Jan. 1. The move also seeks to counter attacks by Republican opponents of the law and rising public doubts about the troubled roll-out of the exchanges included in the process.
A month after President Barack Obama announced people could keep insurance policies slated for cancellation under the federal health overhaul, the reversal has gotten a mixed response from insurers, state regulators and consumers. Many consumers complained in October and November after insurers notified them that their plans were being canceled because they didn’t cover pre-existing conditions, hospitalization, prescription drugs or seven other basic benefits required under the law. In pitching the overhaul, Obama had long promised people who liked their policies could keep them. Then Obama announced Nov. 14 that companies could continue existing policies that don’t meet the minimum requirements if state regulators approved
Despite the improving job market, one of Chattanooga’s biggest and best-paying employers plans to cut its staff in the new year. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which employs nearly a third of its 12,612 employees in the Chattanooga area, is expected to announce in January the next steps the agency will take to help trim $500 million in operating and maintenance expenses from its annual budget. In a meeting with TVA employees earlier this month, TVA President Bill Johnson hinted that the agency will ask for voluntary resignations and retirements, probably in January, in selected organizations at TVA.
One of the embarrassing parts of the July 28, 2012, security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was the relative ease with which three protesters were able to cut their way into the high-security Protected Area and reach the plant’s storage facility for bomb-grade uranium. A slew of security improvements have been made since then, including construction of new barriers at the fence line near the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. In response to a long-standing request from the News Sentinel, the Y-12 contractor recently released a photograph that shows the bales of concertina wire that have been put in place to stall the entry of anyone approaching the sensitive area on the ground.
A locally owned steel fabricating plant in Dunlap, Tenn., is poised to move to a new building and potentially double its workforce, city leaders said. The city’s industrial development board is set to meet Dec. 30 to approve a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for Benton Steel Fabricating. The company will get a 10-year break on city and Sequatchie County property taxes in its new 40,000-square-foot facility. Office manager Carol Swafford said Thursday the company specializes in components for industrial equipment and cabinets and racks for electrical backup power products.
Several lawmakers are working to ensure there will be further discussion over laws concerning methamphetamine during the legislative session that begins in January. Tennesseans should hope the discussions are focused on the depth of the problem. It is too easy to shoot from the hip on this issue, which for a long time has bedeviled law enforcement authorities as well as lawmakers. Sen. Doug Overby, R-Maryville, and Rep. Joe Carr, R-Sevierville, are proposing a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to charge parents who make meth with child abuse and neglect, even if the child has suffered no noticeable harm. This could work as a deterrent and provide additional punishment for meth-making parents.
If knee-jerk opposition among some Tennessee lawmakers to expanding prekindergarten were not so serious, the creative ways they come up with to explain themselves would be entertaining. Despite the chance to take advantage of up to $64 million in federal funding for pre-K expansion with only $6.4 million in matching funds, the idea appears to be doomed. “It’s always been our priority to provide pre-K for the neediest of children, those that perhaps do not receive in their homes the necessary instruction at home to enter school on Day 1 and be ready to learn,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters last week. Last year, the Memphis City Schools pre-K program served about 30 percent of eligible children.