This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Just days after our own Tennessee State Sentator Doug Overbey announced his plan to make pseudoephedrine a prescription-only item in the state’s drug stores as a way of limiting meth-maker’s access to the cold medication, Gov. Bill Haslam introduced his own plan. It was a sign the governor has placed a high emphasis on taking the fight to the methamphetamine problem, but is open to taking a more measured approach. Haslam’s plan would not require a prescription, but lower the maximum amount of the drug —commonly found in Sudafed decongestant another other decongestants — that could be purchased each month from behind a pharmacist’s counter.
Tennessee’s lack of a qualified and skilled workforce is becoming the business community’s “strongest concern,” the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) advised lawmakers during a regional legislative breakfast on Friday. “Tennessee businesses have experienced drastic changes in technology and innovation,” TCCI said in its policy agenda distributed at the breakfast. “The education of our workforce has not kept up with these changes. … To ensure that Tennessee is a premier destination for business, our state’s citizens must possess the skills needed for the workplace of the 21st century.”
Flags in Nashville were lowered half-staffed Saturday in honor of a Crossville soldier who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. The Office of Governor Bill Haslam confirmed that Staff Sergeant Daniel Tyler Lee, of Crossville, was killed while on patrol in the vicinity of Wazghar Parwan Province, Afghanistan on January 15. The Governor declared Saturday a day of mourning and ordered flags at half-staff from sunrise to sunset in honor of Staff Sergeant Lee’s ultimate sacrifice. The 28-year-old was posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Some have dubbed 2014 as the year of marijuana legalization. Voters in Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives that legalized the sale this year of recreational pot. A recent Gallup poll found for the first time that a clear majority of Americans — 58 percent — say marijuana should be legalized, and President Barack Obama was quoted this month in a New Yorker magazine article as saying, “I don’t think [marijuana] is more dangerous than alcohol.” Twenty states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana, and about 10 other states have medical marijuana laws in the works — including Tennessee and Georgia.
Oftentimes, soccer players head the ball intentionally. But this time, Dane Piazza didn’t expect it. An opposing player kicked the ball as hard as he could as Piazza approached, and the ball smashed into Piazza’s head. Piazza staggered, then regained his balance and tried to keep playing. His face was numb, his lip was bleeding and his head hurt. “It was just like, ‘Ugh, let’s get this half over with,’” he said. Piazza is a member of the U18 Jackson Futbol Club Wolves team, which was playing a game in Memphis in October. After halftime, Piazza sat out for a couple of extra minutes before his coach sent him back into the game. He didn’t stay in long.
When health insurance costs reached the breaking point for Clinard Home Improvement, the Nashville company stopped offering the benefit and helped its workers obtain coverage on the federal exchange. Its 25 employees are among the nearly 2.2 million people who chose a plan last year on the health insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov. But people who already had coverage through their employers weren’t the primary target of the Affordable Care Act. The year 2014, which was supposed to have marked the full implementation of the federal health law, has begun more like a soft opening.
President Obama will visit Nashville as part of a national tour after Tuesday’s State of the Union address. According to a White House news release, other stops include Prince George’s County Maryland, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. The tour will take place in the week following the speech. Afterward, Obama will return to the White House to outline new efforts to help the long-term unemployed. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper issued a statement welcoming the president and hoping “we will all treat him with Southern hospitality.”
President Barack Obama plans to visit Nashville on Thursday as he tours the nation after his State of the Union address, the White House announced Saturday. “With some action on all our parts, we can help more jobseekers find work, and more working Americans find the economic security they deserve,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, wrote to the White House’s email list. “That’s why, in the week following the speech, President Obama will travel to communities across the country — including Prince George’s County Maryland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Nashville, before returning to the White House to outline new efforts to help the long-term unemployed.”
Knox County teachers in a recent survey showed a range of frustration, anger and stress in comments. Many teachers were pleased with their schools but unhappy with the school system. Others said the way in which they’ve been graded has been harsh, and the tests they’re asked to administer are taking from valuable class time. The survey, conducted by Knox County Schools, was a response to mounting frustration since fall 2013 and government-mandated changes to the education system, but some say it goes further back. Knox County Schools officials said they responded as quickly as possible when complaints began publicly in October.
The Tennessee Plan has bigger problems than a constitutional challenge. Tennessee’s 40-year-old plan that transferred the power to directly elect the state’s appellate judges from the people to a convoluted system of nominating commissions, gubernatorial appointments, evaluation commissions and up-or-down retention elections has been challenged over its constitutionality. A special supreme court, which has been deliberating for more than six months, should rule soon. And that ruling may become moot when voters take up the constitutional amendment to rationalize the current system to the state constitution in November.
Scribblings in a notebook while lost in Legislatorland: Given that legislative leaders seem dedicated to making the 2014 session a model of speed, efficiency and rapid adjournment, it might be noteworthy that legislators did nothing much at all last week that was open to the public arena — except, of course, filing a few hundred bills. Part of the apparent inaction may be attributed to the need to go through various procedural formalities too boring recount here. Well, OK, maybe one example: The state constitution officially requires that every bill, before becoming law, must be considered on three occasions by the House and Senate.
The Tennessee General Assembly apparently is doing its best to audition for the next redneck reality television show. Last week, State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, refiled a bill he says would protect our right to say “Merry Christmas” and protect Christmas celebrations in public schools. Of course, those rights haven’t been endangered, but never you mind. Pretending there is a war on Christmas has helped Sarah Palin sell her new book, and stirring the fear pot has helped Fox News get more clicks on the Fox Nation opinion website. Campfield said last fall he planned legislation to reassure students and staffers they can celebrate Christmas in schools without “fear of lawsuits” from the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union.
They just can’t leave well enough alone, can they? Trigger-happy Tennessee legislators are again searching for ways to make everyone follow their edict for carrying handguns in public. Every legislative session, these lawmakers, who seem to exist solely to do the bidding of the all-powerful gun lobby, introduce bills aimed at expanding gun rights. This year is no different. Chief among the new bills is one that would strip away local control of regulating guns in city- and county-owned parks. State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville (it would be him, wouldn’t it?), introduced the bill that would fundamentally change a state law enacted in 2009 allowing handgun-carry permit holders to take their weapons into state and local parks.