This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Another state spending plan, another set of dire predictions of budget cuts. In each year of Gov. Bill Haslam’s term in office, the Republican has warned that budget cuts are necessary to cope with projected shortfalls. And yet, each year, state spending has increased. The low-end projection for the state’s share of the upcoming spending plan is $12.2 billion. That’s $1.65 billion, or about 16 percent, more than the state collected under the last spending plan of Haslam’s predecessor, Phil Bredesen, in 2011. But a sluggish state economy has caused revenue projections to be adjusted downward, and Haslam has once again asked each of his departments to prepare for spending cuts in the upcoming budget year.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will be seeking a second term as governor, and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will be running for re-election – both starting with the Aug. 7 statewide primaries that open for filing Friday, Jan. 3. Friday is the first day candidates in the state and federal primaries as well as contenders in the nonpartisan judicial races can check out qualifying petitions for the ballot. That includes races for all 99 seats in the Tennessee House and a third of the 33 seats in the Tennessee Senate, including three of the five state Senate districts that include, or are entirely in, Shelby County. Meanwhile, Memphian Sara Kyle announced Thursday that she will not be running in the Democratic primary for governor.
Tennessee had 36 tornadoes in 2013 with no fatalities. According to National Weather Service Meteorologist Bobby Boyd, in the Nashville office, 25 of the state’s tornadoes took place in January. March and June saw four tornadoes each, and November had three tornadoes. It was the first time since 2007 that there were no deaths reported from tornadoes in the state. On average, Tennessee has 19 tornadoes each year with five fatalities.
ArcelorMittal, one of the world’s biggest steel and mining companies, announced Thursday it will reopen its facility in Harriman, Tenn., which closed in 2011 due to poor market conditions. The steel manufacturer expects to resume production by April and will hire 61 new employees over the next two years in Roane County PS Venkataramanan, chief executive officer for ArcelorMittal Long Carbon North America, said the company will ship billets from its sister facility in LaPlace, La.,to the Harriman facility where they will be reheated and rolled into light structural shapes and merchant bars for the construction market.
Two years after closing its Harriman plant, steel giant ArcelorMittal is reopening the operation and will hire 61 workers over the next two years. The company announced Thursday it planned to have the plant fully operational by April. The facility will produce various steel forms used in construction. Darrell Williams, vice president of business development for the Roane Alliance, said it’s a happy day for Roane County. “We are very excited to get ArcelorMittal back,” he said. “For one thing, we know there are former workers there who have recently lost their long-term unemployment so this will help get them back on the payroll.”
When a military veteran from rural area dies, the family often has to make a choice. Burial in a veterans cemetery is free, but can be too far away to visit easily. The other option is to pay for a plot and headstone close enough to lay out flowers each Memorial Day. But Tennessee is on track to make things a little easier by locating new cemeteries closer to the tens of thousands of veterans who don’t live in the state’s cities. The last time the state made a point of establishing cemeteries was the early 90s. Back then, the point was capacity—and just in time. Three older, federally-run burial grounds are now so full they can only accept cremated remains.
State Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons says Tennessee is “moving in the right direction” with preliminary figures showing Tennessee traffic deaths last year fell 2.7 percent, dropping from 1,015 in 2012 to 988 in 2013. The figure represents just the fourth time in 50 years that vehicular fatalities have dropped below 1,000, officials say. In 2012, deaths increased over 2011. At 937 traffic-related deaths, 2011 represented the lowest number in traffic-related fatalities since 1963. The 2013 improvement came after officials publicly voiced concerns earlier this year as the number of deaths on state roads and highways began running neck and neck with 2012.
Maybe those highway message boards giving us the grim statistics on Tennessee traffic deaths got our attention. State officials announced Thursday that the number of deaths on Tennessee’s streets, roads and highways declined from 1,015 in 2012 to 988 in 2013 — only the fourth time in 50 years that the death toll has been under the 1,000 mark. The preliminary year-end figures from the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security indicate a 2.7 percent decrease in traffic deaths in 2013 from the previous year. But the 2013 tally was still higher than the 937 deaths recorded in 2011, the state’s lowest figure since 1963.
Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson is reminding the state’s farmers to maintain their eligibility for some state cost-sharing grants by taking advantage of new continuing education opportunities offered by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture’s Extension program. “Agricultural leaders recently unveiled a strategic plan to grow and develop our industry over the next decade,” Johnson said in a news release. “Education and research were recognized as key components for helping us achieve our goals, and these continuing education opportunities will be important for producers to maximize efficiency in their operations and to increase farm profitability.”
The Tennessee Highway Patrol has recovered two pieces of stolen construction equipment worth more than $100,000. According to the THP, a 2007 Kubota Mini Excavator was reported stolen in Murfreesboro on Nov. 26. When Murfreesboro Police entered the excavator’s information into state and federal crime databases, it activated a LoJack transponder concealed in the equipment. A THP aviation unit on a separate assignment nearly a month later detected a signal from the stolen excavator, which was discovered at a homeowner’s construction site.
Tennessee Highway Patrol officials recovered two pieces of construction equipment last week that had been stolen from Rutherford and Williamson counties. Authorities raided a Putnam County property on December 26 to find the two construction excavators days after they recognized a signal produced from one of them. While on a search and rescue check days before, officers from the THP Aviation Unit found the signal that was activated when the excavator was reported taken, according to an organization release. One of the excavators was reported stolen from a Rutherford County resident in late November, while the other one was taken from Williamson County in early December.
Austin Peay State University President Tim Hall said the reasons he’s leaving for Mercy College in New York are much the same ones that brought him here in 2007. Hall said Mercy and APSU are much alike in that it serve many first-generation college students, low-income students, as well as many minority college students, which are the type students he and his wife “have a heart to serve.” “Like many colleges that serves the kind of students that Austin Peay serves, it has many challenges helping more of them actually cross the finish line,” he said.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has publicly censured McMinn County attorney Paul Donald Rush for his conduct during a triple murder case that ended in a mistrial. Rush, assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District, had faced three ethics allegations brought by the Board of Professional Responsibility, the disciplinary agency for lawyers in the state. The board filed a petition for discipline against Rush on July 6, 2012, alleging that he committed ethical misconduct in the prosecution of a criminal case. A hearing panel determined Rush intentionally solicited a statement from a prosecution witness that had been prohibited by a court order prior to trial.
After a string of defeats at the Tennessee General Assembly last year, out-of-state education reform groups have reloaded as they look for wins that proved elusive even in a Republican-controlled legislature thought to be receptive to their policies. The renewed activity — along with expected financial plays during the 2014 election season — has only strengthened an already-booming education lobby in Tennessee, evident by its growing numbers in the hallways and committee rooms of Legislative Plaza. Inter-Republican politics last spring derailed legislation to create a new school voucher system that would allow families to use public money on private schooling and stalled a proposal to allow the state to authorize the opening of new charter schools in certain counties, including Davidson.
When Tennessee lawmakers return to the state Capitol for their annual session on Jan. 14, they’ll be missing yet another longtime colleague. Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, officially resigned his House seat on New Year’s Day, ending a 19-year career that began with his 1994 election. He served stints as chairman of the Commerce Committee as well as the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee when Democrats held sway. The 66-year-old pro-business Democrat, a religious conservative, announced in October that he would not seek re-election to House District 43, which includes Grundy, Warren and White counties.
Memphis Democrat Sara Kyle announced Thursday that she won’t run for governor this year, after four months of exploring a potential candidacy. Kyle, a former Tennessee Regulatory Authority commissioner, said last August she was considering challenging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s re-election. But after weeks of silence on her deliberations and no movement toward a race, such as fundraising or setting up a campaign operation, Thursday’s announcement came as no surprise. Her announcement leaves Democrats without a candidate so far to challenge Haslam’s election to a second term in November.
Democrat Sara Kyle made it official Thursday, saying she won’t run against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in 2014. In a statement, the former Tennessee Regulatory Authority commissioner said, “After much deliberation, I have decided not to run for governor in 2014. I have been so blessed to receive support and encouragement from thousands of my fellow Tennesseans.” Kyle had explored a candidacy during the summer, traveling the state and speaking with fellow Democrats. But little had been heard from her in recent months and one of the leaders of a draft-Kyle effort called “Run Sara Run” recently told the Times Free Press that he believed it was too late for her to mount a serious effort.
A federal judge says prosecutors have what appears to be a strong case against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s former chief of staff, who is facing child pornography charges. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola said in court papers filed on Tuesday that the supervision program in which he has placed Jesse Ryan Loskarn, 35, reduces the risk that he will continue to download child pornography. Facciola freed Loskarn from jail on Dec. 16 and allowed him to stay at his parents’ home in Maryland under high-intensity electronic monitoring while he awaits prosecution on the charges, which involve downloading child pornography from the Internet and attempting to distribute it.
Supporters of President Obama’s health care law had predicted that expanding insurance coverage for the poor would reduce costly emergency room visits because people would go to primary care doctors instead. But a rigorous new experiment in Oregon has raised questions about that assumption, finding that newly insured people actually went to the emergency room a good deal more often. The study, published in the journal Science, compared thousands of low-income people in the Portland area who were randomly selected in a 2008 lottery to get Medicaid coverage with people who entered the lottery but remained uninsured.
Consumers began test-driving insurance coverage under the federal health-care law Thursday, seeking care at pharmacies and clinics, and in some cases running into hiccups as their policies took effect. Doctors’ offices, hospitals and pharmacies said they saw a limited number of people with the new insurance, which kicked in at the beginning of the year. Long Beach Memorial Medical Center has had a “steady stream” of patients with plans purchased through the new California online marketplace, including a few emergency-room visits and a number of appointments with primary-care doctors, said Diana Hendel, chief executive of the hospital in Long Beach, Calif.
URS-CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR), the U.S. Department of Energy’s environmental cleanup manager in Oak Ridge, received performance grades of “excellent” and “very good” and earned a total fee of more than $3.1 million for the six-month period that ended Sept. 30. That was out of a maximum available fee of about $3.43 million for the last half of Fiscal Year 2013. The results were contained in a Dec. 20 fee letter from DOE Environmental Manager Mark Whitney to UCOR President Leo Sain. “During this six-month performance rating period, UCOR has done a very good job executing the scope under the East Tennessee Technology Park contract,” Whitney wrote.
The nation’s factories finished the year on a high note and looked to be building momentum heading into 2014. The Institute for Supply Management’s monthly index, which is based on a survey of purchasing managers, hit 57 in December. That was down slightly from 2013’s high of 57.3, registered in November. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. Manufacturing has expanded for the past seven months, according to ISM surveys, after slowing last spring. “I don’t see any weaknesses,” in the December survey, ISM Chairman Bradley J. Holcomb said Thursday.
A development group with plans for a Hyatt Regency Hotel on prime downtown property has let key contracts on the land purchase expire. Doug Hirt, whose wife is a member of one of the family partnerships that owns the Lower Broadway land between Second and Third avenues, confirmed Thursday that joint venture group IA Nashville Hotel LLC didn’t go forward with its contracts. “Right now, if somebody makes us an offer, we’ll be glad to consider,” he said. IA Nashville Hotel, which included affiliates of Swerdling & Associates of Denver, Inland Pacific Cos. and Maker Properties, planned the 450-room, $135 million hotel. It was one of two projects to which Metro committed to providing tax-increment financing worth up to $3.3 million.
A proposed reading assessment for Nashville elementary and middle school students has given pause to the Metro school board amid concerns from a member who spent more than three decades as a teacher. Aimsweb, a product of the education publishing giant Pearson Inc., is one of a growing number of tests used nationally in public schools today to screen children for early academic intervention. But the Metro school board voted 5-4 this month to defer voting on contracting Pearson Inc. to use the assessment in mathematics, reading and writing.
The new year always ushers in a host of new laws in Tennessee, and 2014 is no exception. Some, such as Amazon’s agreement to begin collecting sales tax on sales to Tennessee residents, have immediate economic impact. Others represent fine tuning of existing laws. A few chart new territory. Here are two that we believe fit into that category, and represent good common sense. The first requires Tennessee schools to adopt guidelines to educate coaches, school administrators, student athletes and parents about the symptoms and dangers of concussions. There is mounting evidence that athletic-related concussions can have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on athletes.