This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Preliminary figures from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security show the state had 988 traffic fatalities in 2013. That’s only the fourth time in 50 years the number has dipped under 1,000. The 2013 number is a more-than-2 percent decrease from 2012, when there were 1,015 traffic deaths. In 2011, there were 937 traffic-related deaths on Tennessee roadways, the lowest figure since 1963. In a written statement, Commissioner Bill Gibbons attributed the decline in fatalities to a focus on data-driven deployment of state troopers to have the maximum impact on DUI and seat belt violations.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency representatives will meet Tuesday with local officials about requested changes to the state’s current wild hog hunting regulations. At least five East Tennessee counties — Polk, Monroe, White, McMinn and Bradley — recently passed resolutions that asked the state to reinstate a “dedicated season” for hunting feral hogs in wildlife management areas and to give private property owners the right to determine whether to use dogs for hunting the animals on their own property. Even if state and local officials don’t agree on how best to control feral hog populations, they all acknowledge the creatures are responsible for extensive damage to agriculture and the environment and that they are widespread in Tennessee.
Growing Tennessee’s economy and keeping state government fiscally strong are top priorities cited by Northeast Tennessee lawmakers for the next legislative session beginning on Jan. 14. But one nagging matter could steal the legislative spotlight. The lawmakers think this will finally be the breakthrough year for legislation that would allow localities to hold referendums leading to the sale of wine at the retail level. State Rep. Jon Lundberg, who has carried the wine-in-grocery-stores bill in the House, continues to tout the legislation as lost revenue going across the state line.
State Sen. Bill Ketron will once again sponsor legislation that could lead to grocery stores selling wine if approved by a referendum. “I think we have a real good shot at passing it this year,” the Murfreesboro Republican senator said during a recent phone interview. “I’ve been carrying it for seven years. They say wine is not good until its time.” Ketron, though, continues to face opposition, including from state Rep. Mike Sparks, a Smyrna Republican. After spending part of today discussing the wine bill with stake holders who represent various industries, Ketron will join others serving in Rutherford County’s six-member delegation in the Tennessee General Assembly to discuss various legislation and state funding with the County Commission Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee.
With less than 10 months to go before Election Day 2014, it appears that Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam may stroll to re-election. In Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal faces a primary fight and a well-funded Democratic challenge this fall from Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. But here in Tennessee, Haslam has no credible Democratic opponent in sight, let alone a GOP challenger. Last week, the lone Democrat who had even thought aloud about running against Haslam, former Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Sara Kyle, dashed fellow Democrats’ hopes when she announced she would not be a candidate.
It was a relatively small part of a big budget deal, but in a community heavy with military retirees, it did not go unnoticed, and for many current and former military personnel, it is a huge issue. The portion of December’s Bipartisan Budget Act that caught immediate attention in the Fort Campbell area was a provision that cut pension increases for working-age military retirees, lowering yearly cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) by 1 percent yearly until the retiree reaches age 62. One percent doesn’t sound like much, but for younger retirees who have spent half their careers at war, the difference in their retirement check over time could be as much as 20 percent, amounting to an average of $83,000 for an enlisted retiree and $124,000 for an officer, according to Tom Philpott of Military.com.
Fire chiefs and lawmakers are working to protect the system of volunteer firefighting that has served rural America for more than a century but is threatened by an ambiguity in President Barack Obama’s health care law. Small and rural fire departments from California to Maine, which has one of the country’s highest percentages of volunteer and on-call firefighters, rely on volunteers to avoid the budget-strapping cost of paying them to be on duty in between fighting fires. The volunteers are considered employees for tax purposes, a classification that grew out of an ongoing effort to attract firefighters by offering them such incentives as stipends, retirement benefits and free gym memberships.
One of the quieter economic contributors in Oak Ridge has been the USEC-B&W manufacturing partnership — with help from Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the research end — for the American Centrifuge Project. The project has teetered amid financial uncertainty for years, waiting for Department of Energy to decide whether it is ready for commercial deployment and deserving of loan guarantees. A few hundred Oak Ridge jobs are on the line and more if the project ever ramps up to full production. Funding is slated to run out Jan. 15, and there’s more than a little intrigue as to future happenings.
Portland’s hospital closed in 2008, but people in the town will soon have a convenient place to go for medical emergencies. The old Portland Medical Center will be rechristened TriStar Portland ER today after a $3.8 million renovation of the old hospital building at 105 Redbud Drive. A public celebration followed by a ribbon cutting is scheduled for 1 p.m. The facility will begin serving patients at 7 p.m. Sumner County could get two to four inches of snow today, according to the National Weather Service. The emergency room will open regardless of the weather, but the ribbon cutting may be rescheduled. People interested in attending the ceremony can call 615-342-1919 to learn whether plans change due to weather.
The intrastate competition — OK, rivalry — between Memphis and Nashville is long held and covers a lot of territory and I don’t just mean the 200 or so miles separating Tennessee’s two largest cities. That contest includes all manner of commerce and in recent years there’s been a fairly tight race for the lead in the total dollar amount of U.S. Small Business Administration loans distributed in each city, with Shelby County regularly coming out on top. That was again the case last year, when Shelby County accounted for some $42 million in SBA-backed loans and earned the top ranking on Tennessee’s SBA list, followed by Davidson County with $32 million.
Should we reduce government spending? Almost everyone would say yes to that. Obviously, we cannot continue our ingrained habit of spending more than we take in. Fiscal sanity demands balance. Where to cut, though, is the problem. One person’s frivolous expense is another’s essential program. No doubt about it, making real reductions hurts. People will suffer as a result. Gov. Bill Haslam took the simplest approach to reducing state spending by ordering across-the-board budget cuts. Every year since taking office, he has ordered all state agencies to reduce costs by 5 percent. Doesn’t sound too painful, does it? Five percent off the top, please. But those are real dollars for real programs; their absence will hurt real people.
Part of any enterprise where competition is involved is knowing the market, meeting the demands of the market, and maintaining a competitive advantage that keeps your company relevant in that market. Businesses and sports teams spend millions in research, training, and talent acquisition to stay competitive. Marketing and advertising comes only after the development. You recognize the need and opportunity. You build it. Then you promote it. And a response by an interested market is given. After years of committed policy development and implementation to attract business in Tennessee, to drive down the burden of excessive taxes and regulation, and to workforce development with skilled and educated individuals within a right-to-work state, the table is set to invite new and expanding manufacturing businesses.
Security at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge facilities has undergone intense scrutiny in the year and a half since three peace protesters infiltrated the Y-12 National Security Complex and defaced the building that houses the nation’s enriched uranium stockpile. The Y-12 security contractor was fired, its responsibilities folded into the overall management contract, and improvements have been made to the nuclear weapons plant’s security infrastructure. The emphasis on enhanced security at Y-12 should help shore up public confidence, which was shaken by the July 2012 breach.