This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam introduced legislation last week to help law enforcement fight the methamphetamine epidemic in Tennessee. His proposal would tighten restrictions on the purchase of over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in manufacturing meth. We join law enforcement in supporting Haslam’s proposal. If approved by the General Assembly, Haslam’s proposal would restrict the purchase of medications containing pseudoephedrine to 2.4 grams per month, about a 10 day supply. Those needing to purchase more would have to obtain a doctor’s prescription.
Governor Bill Haslam started 2014 not by talking about the budget, or education, but pseudoephedrine. That’s the key ingredient in many cold medicines and it’s a necessary ingredient in meth. Meth labs still flourish in rural areas, and the drug has spread into cities like Nashville and Memphis. Governor Haslam is trying to make it even harder to buy large amounts of pseudoephedrine. WPLN’s Bradley George talks through the Governor’s proposals with Andrea Zelinski. She writes about state government for the Nashville Post and Nashville Scene.
As the Tennessee General Assembly ended its first week of the newly convened 2014 session last Thursday, Governor Bill Haslam called a press conference to announce a proposal for strengthening controls on sale of pseudoephedrine so as to control the spread of methamphetamine production in Tennessee. Haslam would later answer questions about other statewide issues, some of which Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the speaker of the state Senate, would also address later on in Ramsey’s weekly post-session meeting with reporters.
Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen are joining forces in a drive to keep selections of state appellate judges in the hands of governors — and out of the reach of political donors. Haslam’s Republican administration plans to support a campaign to win passage of a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on ballots statewide this fall. The measure would give a constitutional stamp of approval to the controversial “Tennessee Plan,” which allows governors to appoint appellate judges, who then stand for typically routine yes-or-no retention elections every eight years.
The quagmire that has enveloped Tennessee’s judicial system thickened last week, even as Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen formed an alliance for campaigning toward a ballot-box resolution to a multifaceted melee. Herbert Slatery, Haslam’s legal counsel, announced during a joint appearance with Bredesen before a Tennessee Business Roundtable gathering the formation of Yes on Two, an organization that will push for voter ratification of an amendment to the state constitution on appointing judges. Slatery called the Nov. 4 vote “the most important judicial issue of my lifetime,” according to The Tennessee Journal, and said Republican Haslam believes that “we have to pass this.”
The forceps used to bring Michael Claytor into the world caused brain trauma that left him with a lifelong disability. At 43 years old, the Knoxville resident cannot walk. His cerebral palsy mandates he use a motorized wheelchair to get around. He relies on friends to take him places like the barber shop, the doctor and church. His aging mother prepares his meals. He needs assistance to bathe. But Claytor’s disabilities are only physical, not intellectual. If they affected his IQ, perhaps he would receive more services offered by the state.
Since the launch of the Tennessee Education Lottery in 2004, total lottery sales for Knox County had reached $661.9 million at the end of 2013. Include sales from, Blount and Sevier counties and the total tops more than $1 billion since the lottery began in 2004. Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Hargrove said knowledgeable staff and good marketing strategy led to the strong sales performance. “We operate as a corporation and do so very effectively, and we are proud of that,” Hargrove said. “We have a dedicated staff that understands the industry, understands the business and understands what it takes to drive sales.”
Republican lawmakers are putting the final touches on legislation that would delay the implementation of Common Core education standards and the companion test in Tennessee, perhaps setting the stage for the type of fight playing out in statehouses across the country. Around a dozen House Republicans, according to Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, are united behind a bill to take a pause from the controversial curriculum — for up to three or four years — and separate legislation to delay administering its corresponding test, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
Tennessee education officials have been unable to scuttle a push for more teaching about the Constitution in public schools. It’s the first of what is expected to be a series of legislative fights over curriculum this year. One of the year’s first bills to pass the full state Senate did so over the objections of Governor Bill Haslam’s administration. Debate begins in the House this week, and the sponsor says he plans to press on, despite getting a visit from Haslam’s legislative liaisons and a written letter outlining the administration’s formal objections to the bill.
After years of bitter legislative fights over efforts to allow Tennessee grocery stores to sell wine, groups representing liquor stores and supermarkets are nearing an agreement that would give the measure its best ever chances of becoming law. David McMahan, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, told The Associated Press that the two sides are “very, very close” on a deal that would allow cities and counties to vote on whether to allow wine sales in supermarkets. But the measure would maintain the ban at convenience stores and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or Target.
Tennessee’s so-called “guns-in-trunks” or “guns-in-parking-lots” law that was passed in 2013 by the state’s General Assembly took effect last summer. While no test cases have yet made their way into the courts, according to legislative attorneys studying the issue, much uncertainty has been voiced over the past year. One of the biggest questions is whether the law in any way hinders an employer from terminating a worker who, in violation of a no-guns-on-the-premises policy, leaves a gun stored in his or her vehicle while it’s parked on the employer’s property.
Tonya Clutts was grateful for a school nurse intervening when her diabetic child was left alone in a room to complete a spelling assignment while the rest of her class went to lunch. “The nurse said, ‘You can’t do that. She’s got to have a glucose check and she’s got to eat at a normal time,’ ” Clutts said. Although she ultimately decided to home-school, the Giles County mom said a school nurse is an important guardian for diabetic children. She and other parents of diabetic children in Tennessee are divided about a proposed state law that would allow teachers and coaches, instead of school nurses, to administer insulin.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, has filed a bill he says would protect Christmas celebrations in public schools. Senate Bill 1425, which was referred last week to the Senate Education Committee, would let schools mark “traditional winter celebrations” with displays such as Nativity scenes, menorahs and Christmas trees, if they include images from at least two religions or one religious and one secular image. The bill would allow greetings such as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy holidays.” Campfield said last fall he planned legislation to reassure students and staffers they can celebrate Christmas in schools without “fear of lawsuits.”
State Sen. Stacey Campfield says a young woman who had been working in his re-election campaign wrote $900 in checks to herself on his campaign account and apparently stole about $400 in cash and some miscellaneous items from his home. Campfield, R-Knoxville, said in an interview Sunday that he confronted the campaign worker — who had access to his home, where campaign work had been done — after discovering the checks with his forged signature and the missing items when he returned from an out-of-town trip over the Thanksgiving holiday. She acknowledged the wrongdoing — apparently attributed to personal problems — and promised to provide restitution, Campfield said.
Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said his organization plans to make rolling back Tennessee’s tax on investment income and blocking worker representation at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga two top priorities, as the group attempts to spread its influence outside Washington. The leader of Americans for Tax Reform told The Tennessean editorial board Monday that it will support long-discussed legislation to scale back the state’s Hall investment tax this spring and might even use its political prowess to pressure lawmakers to pass the cut.
Tennessee gets a C — but ranks sixth in the nation — for policies providing parents choices over where their children attend school and equal funding for all public schools, including charters. To do better, Tennessee needs more high-quality choices and better efforts to empower parents, according to the annual report card issued last week by StudentsFirst, the agenda-minded reform group headed by controversial former Washington school leader Michelle Rhee. “We would like to see more transparency; that’s a theme occurring throughout the report,” said Brent Easley, state director.
State support for higher education is coming back. Slowly. Spending by legislatures on colleges ticked up nearly 6% this fiscal year after four years of recession-related declines. The gains are uneven but widespread: 40 states saw upticks and 10 saw drops, according to an annual survey compiled by researchers at Illinois State University. Despite the broad increases, state support for higher education remains 11% below where it was five years ago in real-dollar terms. “The impact of the recession varied in different states and you can see that reflected in the data,” said Jim Palmer, a professor at Illinois State University, who conducted the survey.
Call it the great “take ‘n’ bake” pizza sales tax dilemma. States are grappling with whether sales taxes should be charged for pizzas or other food assembled uncooked in restaurants and sold to consumers who then cook the food elsewhere. Is that pizza considered prepared food, like that sold by pizza restaurants? Or is it a grocery item, like the frozen pizzas in supermarkets? In most states, food that’s sold ready-to-eat is taxed; food sold in the grocery store and cooked at home is not. That sounds as complicated as the “candy” definition states had to settle. After grappling with that one for years, the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, which attempts to regularize sales taxes among states, decided that candy is defined as something without flour in it, and candy-like items made with flour as an ingredient are defined as “food.”
The man charged with turning around Tennessee’s lowest performing schools says charters can’t be blamed for lacking diversity. He contends any segregation is just a reflection of society. Many in a crowd at Lipscomb University groaned as Chris Barbic, who leads the state’s Achievement School District, basically said it’s acceptable for charter schools to be somewhat segregated. “Yes we want diversity,” Barbic said at the forum. “But we’ve got to be honest about the situation and speak honestly about race and class, which goes way beyond the power of a school.” Barbic founded the Houston-based charter school organization YES Prep, which primarily serves low-income studetns.
Call it the budget preseason. More than a month before the Shelby County Schools board starts the hard work of setting a budget for the de-merged, no-longer-unified system, it nonetheless will confront crucial budget-related issues at Tuesday night’s regular monthly work session. The eAgenda report for Tuesday’s meeting includes copies of audits and financial reports from the 2013 fiscal year, the final year the structure for Shelby County public schools involved two districts — Memphis City Schools and formerly all-suburban Shelby County Schools.
The Tennessee Constitution requires that the General Assembly establish and maintain a free public school system as it sees fit. This year it is apparent that the Legislature sees fit to micro-manage standards and curricula in the state’s K-12 schools. Such delving into classroom matters is not unusual for the Legislature, nor is there anything inherently wrong with it. But lawmakers should place more confidence in the state Department of Education, which deserves credit — along with local school boards, teachers and students — for improved academic performance statewide. The Senate already has passed a bill requiring schools to devote more teaching time to American and Tennessee history.