This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes praised Gov. Bill Haslam’s methamphetamine bill that was filed in the General Assembly this week. Speaking at a small news conference in his office Friday morning, Mathes thanked Haslam for listening last year when Mathes and four other sheriffs representing the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association met with him. Mathes said he asked the governor at that time for statewide help in dealing with the increasing problems of methamphetamine production. “We are excited the governor listened to us,” Mathes said.
Most Tennesseans might not be thinking about this fall’s elections, but state lawmakers clearly are. The 108th General Assembly got off to a fast start in what is expected to be a quick second session. With lawmakers barred from raising money until the legislature adjourns, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the leader of the state Senate, says he hopes to have members home for good by the second week in April. The early signs indicate he’ll get his way. Gov. Bill Haslam showed last week that he’s caught on.
To this day, Sherman Smotherman doesn’t know what happened to his late brother, Jerry. “Sometimes he ate too quickly. He had to be watched. They knew that,” he said. So why, he asks, did his intellectually disabled brother choke to death while in the state’s care? The Murfreesboro man says he never got an answer to that question. His concerns were echoed by relatives of several other deceased people whose care was entrusted to the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The agency, already faulted for “serious problems” in a recent audit by the state comptroller’s office, came under fire again last month.
When the Clarksville City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 allowing Parks and Recreation to sell beer and liquor at certain parks and city-owned venues for special events, it seemed like a good way to fill a need and to take in a little extra money. Instead, the city recently learned that it can’t legally sell alcohol at all – not even at the two municipal golf courses where it had been selling beer for years. And Clarksville isn’t alone. An opinion handed down this month by the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office at Clarksville’s request could have implications for other cities across the state.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he was pleased with the first week of the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly. “I think it went very, very well,” Ramsey said. “We passed a couple of bills.” The session started Tuesday and Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he expects it to end around April. Gov. Bill Haslam gives his State of the State address in a couple of weeks, beginning the budget process. “I met with the governor a couple times and we talked about the budget,” Ramsey said. State revenues have been less than projected and the General Assembly might have to make $100 million in cuts from the state’s $32 billion budget.
A-Game Sportsplex in Franklin on Saturday hosted information sessions about how parents, athletes and coaches should prepare for Tennessee’s new concussion law, which went into effect Jan. 1. The law’s goal is to help athletes, parents and coaches better recognize all types of serious head injuries. “What used to be called a ‘ding’ or ‘you just got your bell rung’ may actually be a concussion,” said Dr. Leon Scott, a physician and pediatric sports specialist who ran the sessions. The sessions ran every half-hour from 1 to 3 p.m. Six people attended the talk that began at 1 p.m., three of whom were parents.
A consultants’ report lays out a stark vision of the future of Memphis city government: “In short, Memphis is currently providing a level of government that it is not paying for,” the consultants wrote. The report authored by national consulting firm The PFM Group and local contributors says that if the city does not make changes in employee benefits and other areas, it will face a budget gap of $142 million in the fiscal year that starts this summer, and that the gap will grow to $166.9 million by 2018-2019. The PFM report will be the subject of a City Council committee meeting Tuesday and will likely influence discussion over the city’s budget future during the next several months.
On Thursday evening, police say, William Garner III drove his girlfriend’s car to an apartment on Westover Road to pick up Sudafed from someone police knew was acting as a “smurf” in a drug transaction. Garner didn’t realize that investigators with the Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics Unit were standing by, waiting for him to make the exchange so they could apprehend him and charge him with the intent to manufacture meth. Sudafed and other brands of cold and allergy medicines contain pseudoephedrine, which is a key ingredient in meth.
Clarksville-Montgomery County played a leading role in Tennessee earning the coveted title of “2013 State of the Year,” betstowed last week by Business Facilities magazine. The Hankook Tire project, announced here in October, was the state’s top project for new job creation, and was second overall statewide last year in the total capital investment category. Hankook will bring 1,800 new, direct jobs to Montgomery County in an $800 million investment. Tennessee’s top five economic development projects in 2013 created a total of 6,900 jobs, $3.2 billion in capital investment and included seven expansions and three new recruitments including Hankook.
I keep hearing about state programs being cut again this year. What gives? Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, asked state agencies last fall to tell him what they would cut if they had to reduce spending by 5 percent. His Democratic predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen, made a similar request during the recession. Haslam has continued the practice since he took office. But I thought the economy was doing better. Why is this necessary? Haslam mainly wants to force department heads to identify potential fat in their budgets. But state government is bringing in less in taxes than budgeters thought it would — largely because business taxes haven’t hit targets. So does that mean the cuts will happen or not? Some will and some won’t.
There is an undercurrent to the court-ordered annual reviews of how well the state of Tennessee takes care of people with intellectual disabilities, and it can be summed up in one word: disrespect. Not by the agency whose job it is, but by those elected officials who, by their lack of respect, make it impossible to do that job. When adults with an IQ of 70 or less are placed under state care, that does not make them any less of a person. It certainly does not make their family and friends less concerned about their welfare. So for the state not to conduct independent reviews when someone in its care dies unexpectedly is a failure of leadership, of stewardship and of basic humanity.
The Tennessee Legislature is back in session, and some legislators have returned to tilting at windmills instead of addressing the true issues confronting the state. Several bills have been filed that attempt to nullify federal law, a quixotic quest doomed to failure and a waste of the Legislature’s time. Not unlike literature’s Don Quixote, state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, has mounted a metaphorical Rocinante to battle federal firearms statutes — both real and imagined. Beavers is not the only legislator under the delusion that the nullification of federal law by a state legislature is possible, but she is leading the charge.
Those who think Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson’s $269,000 yearly salary is too high should look at the crucial issues facing the reconstituted SCS as it begins its second semester of classes. The merged Memphis and Shelby County school system is facing a $50 million budget gap for fiscal year 2014-2015, which will begin July 1. With the likely loss of an estimated 30,000 students (along with the $8,000 in state education dollars that will follow each one) leaving the district to attend the six new municipal school districts, the new schools in the state Achievement School District or various charter schools, Hopson and his top administrators are facing more staff cuts in the central office.
Note: The news-clips will resume Tuesday, January 21, 2014.