This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s public safety legislative package deals with three issues that have serious consequences that impact most Tennesseans, including a measure that has the potential to put a dent in the street-gang violence that permeates some urban neighborhoods. Bill Gibbons, Tennessee commissioner of public safety and homeland security; E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of mental health, and Mark Gwyn, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director, outlined the bills and their importance during a meeting with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board Thursday.
Legislation aimed at reducing a growing problem of methamphetamine production in Tennessee has officials barnstorming the state to combat an issue that’s sweeping the nation. “In 2013, we removed almost 300 (266) children from their homes at a cost of $2 million,” Bill Gibbons said. “Taxpayers are spending a lot of money … but it’s not just the money; it’s the misery it’s putting a lot of communities through.” Gibbons is the commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
Tennessee ranks among the top four states in the nation for policies that support effective teaching, according to a new state-by-state report on teacher quality released Thursday. Tennessee earned a grade of B — up from B- in 2011 and C- in 2009 — as the National Council on Teacher Quality released its seventh annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Only Florida scored higher, with a B+. Louisiana and Rhode Island also earned B’s. The state’s education reform efforts over the past few years — which eliminated contract negotiations and automatic annual raises for teachers, then linked their tenure and licenses to student test scores — have been unpopular with teachers but won praise from the NCTQ.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is asking GOP governors for ideas on how to replace ObamaCare and its “worst rules, regulations and mandates.” In a letter Thursday, McConnell and two colleagues asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) to solicit healthcare policy ideas from his peers. Haslam is the Policy Chairman of the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. “ObamaCare must be replaced with reforms that Americans support,” McConnell wrote, along with Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). McConnell is facing a primary challenger in his reelection campaign.
Nashville’s unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent in December, down from 5.8 percent the month prior, according to new data from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Davidson was among 51 counties that saw their unemployment rates drop in December. Unemployment was flat in 15 counties and increased in 29. Williamson County posted the state’s lowest unemployment rate, 4.8 percent, down from 4.9 percent in November. Unemployment was highest in Scott County, at 15.6 percent, flat compared to November.
The unemployment rate in the Memphis metro continued to inch lower in December, despite a slight increase across Tennessee. Metro Memphis’ rate decreased to 8.6 percent in December from 8.7 percent in the same month of 2012, with 50,840 unemployed out of a labor force of 593,860, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported today. Shelby and Fayette County’s rates both increased in that time period while rates in Tipton County and the parts of the metro in Arkansas and Mississippi all improved, with the largest decrease in Mississippi.
The Chattanooga area ended last year with unemployment 0.5 percent below a year earlier, but the drop was due to fewer people in the workforce, not more people on the job. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday that the unemployment rate in the 6-county Chattanooga area was 6.8 percent in December, unchanged from November and down from the 7.3 percent jobless rate in December 2012. Chattanooga’s jobless rate was 0.5 percent below the rest of Tennessee but 0.2 percent above the U.S. rate last month.
In a month when temporary retail hiring is typically at its yearly peak, Montgomery County enjoyed another significant decline in unemployment, according to latest figures from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The new jobless rate for December 2013 is 7.4 percent, down 0.4 percentage point from November. State officials said in their monthly report issued Thursday that a total of 5,610 people were unemployed in the Clarksville area last month, out of an estimated labor force of 76,190.
Simple and restrained in its design, the Tennessee Supreme Court building could soon be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1936 and 1937 in the shadow of the Tennessee state Capitol, the building that houses the state’s highest court was nominated this month for recognition. The building was one of eight nominated from across the state this year and the only one in Middle Tennessee. The 77-page application celebrates the court’s important civic standing and its significance as a New Deal project partially funded by the Public Works Administration.
Local governments could hold votes on whether to allow wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores, under a bill the state Senate passed on Thursday. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro was approved on a 23-8 vote after the companion bill was revived in the House this week. Five Republicans voted against the measure, along with three Democrats. Ketron said the bill reflects a shift away from liquor laws that been in place in the state since Prohibition. “Things have changed in our world,” he said. “The people of Tennessee want this opportunity.”
The Tennessee Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would let grocery stores, big-box retailers and convenience stores sell wine, largely following a plan put forward by the state House of Representatives earlier this week. After seven years of debate, the vote suggested a law letting grocers sell wine may be rolling toward passage. The measure passed 23-8, indicating wide approval within the Republican-controlled legislature for a bill that most Tennesseans support. Senators agreed Thursday to legislation that would let voters in 49 counties decide as soon as November whether to allow wine on their grocery store aisles.
Voters in Chattanooga and many other Tennessee cities or counties could authorize wine sales in supermarkets, big-box retailers and convenience stores under a bill passed Thursday by the state Senate. The vote was 23-8. Similar legislation is moving in the House. The measure stalled there last year, but leaders are confident the measure will pass this session. Should the bill become law, local votes on the issue could be on November ballots. But under an agreement struck with powerful lobbies for liquor package stores and wholesalers, wine sales couldn’t start in the new venues before mid-2016.
The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill to allow voters to decide whether wine can be sold in grocery stores in their communities, and legislative leaders were predicting that some form of the bill will also pass in the House. The bill approved 23-8 in the Senate would not allow wine sales in Tennessee food stores until July 1, 2016, and not until mid-2017 for grocers located close to liquor stores. The measure is “loaded up like a Christmas tree,” said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, with concessions favoring liquor wholesalers and retailers, who would get to sell beer, tobacco, food and other items starting July 1 of this year.
The Tennessee state Senate voted 23-8 to approve a bill that could lead to wine being sold in grocery stores if approved by local referendums. Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro sponsored the bill. He noted several polls, including one conducted by Middle Tennessee State University, show that as much as 69 percent of Tennessee residents favor the measure. “The people of Tennessee want this opportunity,” Ketron told The Daily News Journal following the vote. The bill must be approved by the state House of Representatives and signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam before becoming law.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey knows not everyone is pleased with the bill that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores, but he said compromise is needed to get the legislation approved. On Thursday, the bill cleared the Tennessee Senate and a companion bill will now be considered by the House. “It’s been a long, seven-year battle to get to this point,” said Ramsey, of Blountville. “No one is 100 percent happy. The bottom line is the public will be able to vote on a referendum.” In Tennessee, wine is only sold in state-approved liquor stores.
A proposal to let grocery stores sell wine in Tennessee is now within a few key votes of becoming law. While many legislators are glad the measure is almost through, they say the compromise is not simple—and its effect will be a couple years out. The measure passed the state Senate 23 to 8, and backers say the House could sign off in a matter of weeks. Melissa Eads represents 122 Kroger stores in Tennessee. The key has been a kind of trade: Let businesses like Kroger sell wine, and in return, for the first time, liquor stores can sell ice, chips, cigarettes, even beer.
The Tennessee Senate passed a bill to allow municipalities to hold referendums on the sale of wine in grocery stores today. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, passed on a 23-8 vote. The companion bill was passed in the House earlier this week. Though there remains significant challenges, the Senate vote is key to moving the bill forward. There are some differences between the House and Senate bills, which will need to be resolved. Among them, the Senate bill requires convenience stores to have at least 1,200 square feet to qualify for wine sales. The House bill sets the limit at 2,000 square feet.
State Sen. Bill Ketron captured Senate support Thursday for his compromise offer to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores if approved by local referendum. “The people of Tennessee want this opportunity,” Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican, told his fellow senators before they voted 23-8 in favor of the bill that also would allow wine to be sold in convenience and big-box stores if approved by referendum. In addition to eight senators opposing the legislation, state Rep. Mike Sparks is against the House of Representatives supporting the bill as it works it way through committees. “To me, DUI arrests are at an all time high from what I’ve been seeing,” Sparks, a Republican from Smyrna, said at his office at the Legislative Plaza building next to the state Capitol.
The time for growing hemp in Tennessee has come, according to leaders of the state legislature who have recently opened their minds to the agricultural potential. The cousin to cannabis has been legalized for industrial use in nine other states. Just a few months ago, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey didn’t know the first thing about hemp. He has since been convinced that it could become Tennessee’s next cash crop. “Farmers out there need something to make money, and hemp is one of them,” he says. “So I’m 100 percent there.” Hemp – which has long been used for rope making – can also be spun into fabric, processed into soap or even turned into biodiesel.
President Barack Obama said during a whirlwind trip to Nashville on Thursday that school districts across the country should follow the city’s “simple but powerful” career academies model for high schools. “I want to encourage more high schools to do what you’re doing,” Obama told the crowd of about 1,600 people packed inside the gymnasium at McGavock High School. But the president, while praising Metro Schools’ innovations and singling out a student who benefited from them, also had another mission: comforting a grieving family. Obama met privately with the family of Kevin Barbee, a McGavock sophomore who police say was shot and killed by a fellow McGavock student Tuesday night.
Metro schools have sometimes struggled with a reputation, but they got a big lift Thursday when President Obama came to Nashville. In a speech at McGavock High, Obama said he wants to “encourage more high schools to do what you are doing.” Mr. Obama said Tennessee’s schools are the fastest improving nationally. And he pointed to Metro’s graduation rate, up sharply over the last decade, as well as to the Academies program, which urges students to develop career specialties in high school.
B&W Y-12 received only 58 percent of the available fee for managing the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Fiscal Year 2013, but it’s performance report — belatedly released this week — was not as harshly critical as might be expected for such a low score. In fact, the National Nuclear Security Administration had a lot of good things to say about the Oak Ridge contractor. “Throughout 2013, B&W Y-12 demonstrated leadership supporting the current NNSA mission direction, responding appropriately to issues and sought opportunities for continuous internal improvement backed with the parent company’s commitment,” the report states.
Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers may be closing in on a potential election at the carmaker’s Chattanooga plant, and observers said the stakes are high for not just the workforce but the union and other employers in the South. Dr. John Raudabaugh, who teaches labor law at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla., said how such an election is conducted will strike at the heart of American democracy. “It will be interesting to see if VW steps up and allows equal access” to workers by union and anti-union parties, he said.
Instead of drumming up more business with big-name doctors, stand-alone emergency departments and high-tech equipment, Maryland hospitals this year will do the unthinkable: strive to admit fewer patients. The federal government earlier this month approved a first-of-its-kind regulatory scheme in Maryland that aims to reduce spending on hospital services, which are the most expensive form of health care. The plan uses financial incentives to push hospitals to work with doctors outside their buildings to keep people healthier.
Gov. Bill Halsam’s law enforcement agenda for this legislative session centers on Tennessee long-running and largely unsuccessful battle against methamphetamine abuse. With meth use continuing to rip its path through the state’s communities and families, the governor’s focus on making its production more difficult is appropriate. But there are other law-and-order bills the administration is pushing this year that deserve some attention as well. Foremost among them is a bill that would expand the state’s nuisance law to prevent identified criminal gangs from congregating in certain public places. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor.
Each legislative session of the Tennessee General Assembly brings with it an effort by the governor and law enforcement agencies and officials to strengthen state laws to reduce crime. One proposal this year that deserves support is the Community Safety Act (SB1634/HB1430). The current nuisance law addresses illegal activities at specific properties. We have seen the nuisance law used in Jackson in such cases as closing of the Karma Ultra Lounge nightclub in downtown Jackson, and other venues where ongoing criminal activity was taking place. The proposed legislation expands the state’s nuisance law in a way that will help communities combat gang activity.