This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
An amendment to Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed bill aimed at eliminating methamphetamine production in Tennessee will allow consumers to purchase a limited amount of pseudoephedrine, the primary ingredient for meth, before requiring a prescription. The tweak came a couple of weeks ago after Haslam met with the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition, said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch. That group — comprised of chiefs of police, sheriffs and district attorneys general from across the state — met Friday with Johnson City Press staff members to discuss legislation it hopes to get passed this session.
Sullivan County students are blurring the line between high school and college, with high school students earning college credit across the county. The programs vary in cost, although many are free or have scholarship opportunities. Bo Shadden, who oversees career technical education (CTE) for the system, told the county Board of Education at a Thursday work session that 2,465 CTE students in the system this year are taking 5,822 CTE courses. That represents about 70 percent of the high school population.
Gov. Bill Haslam is supporting a nomination for a national historic preservation award for a project converting the Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge into an assisted living center. Knox Heritage and East Tennessee Preservation Alliance have nominated the hotel for the 2014 The National Trust/Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation. In a Feb. 25 letter, Haslam said he supports the nomination. The letter was sent to Stephanie Meeks at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. The Alexander Inn was built during World War II, when Oak Ridge raced to help build the world’s first atomic weapons as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project.
Normally the state’s encyclopedic guide to all things Tennessee bears the color blue. On Friday, the state honored University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt by turning the Tennessee Blue Book a bright shade of orange. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett dedicated the 2013-14 volume in a ceremony at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, noting Summitt’s achievements both on and off the court. “It is a book about Tennessee history, and if you want to talk about a Tennessee history-maker, Pat Summitt is one of those,” said Hargett.
It’s a familiar sight on Interstate 65 between Nashville and Williamson County: one person driving alone in a vehicle in the high occupancy vehicle lane. Seemingly undaunted by the threat of a $50 ticket, commuters regularly flaunt the HOV lane rules on heavily traveled I-65. Violations are so prevalent between Nashville and Franklin that state officials estimate as many as 85 to 90 percent of drivers using the HOV lanes during morning and evening rush hours violate the two-or-more-occupants-per-vehicle rule, records show. Calling that 18-mile stretch of I-65 the worst in the nation for HOV lane violations, state Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said these violations must be addressed.
The latest attempt by state lawmakers to nullify federal gun laws likely violates the United States Constitution, the attorney general said in an opinion released Friday. Senate Bill 1756, a measure that attempts to block federal laws within Tennessee, would violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, state lawyers said in a terse, two-page opinion signed by Attorney General Robert Cooper. State lawyers note they reached the same conclusion on a similar bill a year ago. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sought the opinion.
Tennessee prosecutors want to move the way search warrants are issued out of the 20th century. But, in the 21st century, some state senators who sit on the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee are standing in the way. At issue is a bill that would allow a magistrate or judge to issue a search warrant by telephone or “other reliable electronic means.” Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said the bill originated from his office, is backed by state district attorneys general and is in response to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that does not give law enforcement the right to draw blood without a search warrant in drunken-driving investigations.
With both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly passing their respective bills permitting voters to decide on wine sales in grocery stores, the Senate will take another look at the legislation Monday evening. There are slight differences in the House and Senate versions. The House addressed one prior to its vote last Thursday, lowering the minimum size for stores selling wine from 2,000 square feet to 1,200 square feet, which matches the Senate’s version. Additionally, the Senate bill has an annual licensing fee of $850, while the House’s fee is $1,250.
Tennessee lawmakers are catching up to what’s been a regulatory gray area—electronic cigarettes. Proponents of vaporizing nicotine, or “vaping,” want a new bill to make sure the state doesn’t treat it like tobacco. Among those backing the proposal is Nija Walker, who runs the LifeCig Electronic Cigarettes store in Knoxville. Walker says he smoked real cigarettes for more than a decade, but now gets his nicotine fix the vapor way—no more setting tobacco on fire and breathing in. “It’s still nicotine. It looks like smoke, it feels like smoke, but it’s not smoke. That’s why it can be tolerated indoors and other places like that where a smoking ban might prevent you from smoking a cigarette.”
Tennessee lawmakers may not have uttered their final word on Sex Week just yet. A resolution filed Thursday in the state Senate again condemns the University of Tennessee’s upcoming safe-sex programming and asks the school to begin letting payers of student activity fees “opt in” to programming that could be controversial or objectionable. The measure comes days after the state House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution criticizing Sex Week, six days of lectures, games and other events on UT’s Knoxville campus centered on topics such as domestic violence, sexual identity and hookups.
In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots — the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. The first election is March 4 in Texas, followed by nine other primaries running through early September that will set the ballot for the midterm elections in November, when voters decide competitive races for governor and control of Congress. The primaries will be closely watched by both sides of the voter ID debate, which intensified in 2011, the year after
A long-simmering movement to scale back the use of standardized tests in K-12 education is beginning to see results, with policy makers and politicians in several states limiting—or trying to limit—the time used for assessments, or delaying the consequences tied to them. In recent months, officials in Missouri have cut back on allocated testing time while New York capped it. Connecticut agreed to let districts delay, for a year, linking teacher evaluations to state test scores. Tennessee officials rescinded a plan to deny teacher licenses based, in part, on their students’ growth on state tests.
Friday marked the end of the two-week period within which U.S. Sen. Bob Corker promised Volkswagen would announce another line at its factory in Chattanooga if workers there rejected representation by the United Auto Workers union. So far, there’s little sign of any pending announcement. Workers at the VW plant ended up voting 712-626 against the UAW, in an election the union claims was tainted by threats and intimidation from Republicans like Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers. The UAW last week filed a challenge with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking to have results voided and a new election to be held.
Shelby County School employees have known since the school year started that there would be cuts when the municipal districts peeled off, taking nearly 35,000 students with them. On Friday, in an email to school employees, Supt. Dorsey Hopson said revenue for next year would be down $220 million from last year’s $1.1 billion budget and reiterated that job cuts were coming. “Because the majority of our dollars are spent on salaries, a reduction in workforce is necessary in order to balance a budget for a district that will ultimately serve fewer schools and students,” he said. He was not available to answer questions.