This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Law enforcement officials, on Monday, signaled their support for Gov. Bill Haslam’s meth bill if the legislature agrees to dramatically tighten controls over the sale of over-the-counter medicines, increasing the chances that a compromise is in the offing. Haslam’s bill would require Tennesseans to get a pharmacist’s or doctor’s permission before buying more than a 10-day supply of medicine containing pseudoephedrine in a month. An amendment backed by law enforcement would further tighten regulations, requiring Tennesseans to get a doctor’s permission to buy more than six boxes in a year.
Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman preaches the truth to his lost flock every week in Nashville, evangelizing with a style that recalls a little of the Old Testament and a little of the New: Do right and you will be praised. Do wrong and he’ll let you know. “If you think I believe you, you’d better go jump over the moon because I don’t believe a word you’re saying,” he chides one young woman. “Not one word.” His flock, some 200 people squeezed into a gymnasium every Tuesday evening, are current and recovering drug addicts in the Davidson County Drug Court program. When he demands the truth, it’s no idle threat.
A majority of Tennesseans and law enforcement officials may favor requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, but the idea is still a tough sell in the state legislature. Part of the reason could be lobbying. Drug companies have spent at least $5.9 million — and perhaps as much as $15.2 million — lobbying theTennessee legislature the past five years, more than doubling the financial firepower of police groups and their allies. More than 100 professional lobbyists have been hired since 2009 to press the cases of pharmaceutical makers and their suppliers.
Frustrated that state lawmakers were not doing enough to curtail methamphetamine production, 18 Tennessee cities took steps to limit the sale of pseudoephedrine in 2013. The drug, found in cold and sinus medicine, is the key ingredient used to make meth. Then a December curveball from the state attorney general threw those cities into a legal gray area Law enforcement from across the state has long lobbied the legislature to pass a law that would require a prescription for cold medicines containing the active ingredient for methamphetamine. After state lawmakers killed the effort last year, Winchester police Chief Dennis Young pushed his city to take it on alone.
For years, Missouri has been the reigning king of methamphetamine use in the United States. But thanks to a crackdown at the local level in that state, Tennessee could be poised to pass it by. Law enforcement officials in Missouri say laws in dozens of cities and counties making pseudoephedrine available only to customers with a prescription are changing the drug landscape there dramatically. Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner, commander of the Franklin, Mo., County Narcotics Enforcement Unit and vice president of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, has helped lead the charge to prescription-only pseudoephedrine.
In a bid to alter the funding mechanism of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal for free tuition at community colleges, a top official representing Tennessee’s private colleges met with governor’s office aides on Monday to push a counter plan they say would protect the state’s four-year universities. Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, called the meeting with Haslam’s chief of staff Mark Cate and others “productive but very preliminary” as he lobbies to tweak Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” funding proposal.
The share of Tennessee adults with jobs fell last year by the biggest amount of any state in the country, according to a new federal report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 55.6 percent of those over the age of 16 in Tennessee had jobs in 2013, down 1.1 percent from the 56.7 percent with jobs in the previous year. Georgia also saw a slight dip last year in its employment-population ratio, falling 0.1 percent to 57.9 percent, BLS said. Nationwide, an estimated 58.6 percent of adults had jobs in 2013, unchanged from the previous year.
A recent report shows that more than 8 million visitors to national parks in Tennessee spent $541 million in 2012. The most recent figures from the National Park Service show the hundreds of millions of dollars supported nearly 8,000 jobs in the state. Nationally, the report shows more than $15 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. The spending supported 243,000 jobs and pumped about $27 billion into the U.S. economy. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park accounted for 9.6 million visitors who spent $741 million in communities near the park in 2012, with more than half of the visits attributed to Tennessee and the remainder to North Carolina.
Another morning of sub-freezing temperatures means crews will be out again Tuesday working to ensure roadways in the mid-state have been cleared of any potential icy patches. Crews from the Tennessee Department of Transportation spent Monday cleaning ice off roadways. The biggest concern Tuesday is black ice patches along with snow and ice refreezing on bridges and overpasses. TDOT crews continued putting down salt on the road around midnight. As long as temperatures stay below freezing, officials said roads could be hazardous. “This is really going to be problematic when these damp spots that are still out here refreeze,” said TDOT spokesperson Deanna Lambert.
A kind of power struggle is playing out right now, among Governor Bill Haslam and Republican lawmakers. It’s a battle over boards. The Governor has the power to appoint 3,500 people to all sorts of boards and commissions. You haven’t heard of most of them, but a few hold a lot of power to shape the direction of state government, especially in education. GOP lawmakers want to have their say on who sits on bodies like the State Textbook Commission and State Board of Education. WPLN’s Bradley George talks the “battle over boards” with Andrea Zelenski, who covers state government for the Nashville Post and Nashville Scene.
Legislation allowing wine to be sold outside Tennessee liquor stores is headed to the governor for his consideration. The Senate on Monday approved minor changes made by the House when the lower chamber passed its version of the bill 71-15 last month. The proposal would grant authority to cities and counties that have package stores or liquor-by-the-drink sales to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. It also allows local votes to take place as early as this fall but would not allow supermarket wine sales until July 2016 at the earliest.
Wine drinkers moved closer to being able to pick up a bottle of their favorite at their neighborhood supermarket, as state lawmakers agreed Monday night to lift restrictions on sales in food stores. The Tennessee Senate voted to send wine-in-grocery stores legislation to Gov. Bill Haslam for signature, capping an often difficult seven-year debate that pitted grocery stores and their wine-loving customers against small business liquor store owners and the powerful distributors who have controlled alcohol sales in the state since the end of Prohibition. Senators approved House Bill 610 with relatively little debate in a late-day legislative session. They had approved a nearly identical version of the bill in late January.
State senators on Monday popped the cork on a bill giving local voters the power to decide whether to allow wine sales in grocery stores. Senators quickly concurred to minor House changes to the bill, voting 23-4 to send it to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign it into law. “The governor will review the legislation in its final form before taking action on it, but I anticipate he’ll sign it,” said Haslam spokesman David Smith. “This bill has been a long time coming,” Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, of Murfreesboro, the bill’s sponsor, told colleagues.
The state Senate gave final legislative approval Monday night to a compromise bill authorizing local referendums to decide whether wine can be sold in some retail food stores, capping an eight-year effort in the General Assembly. “I think members of this body and the house listened to the people who wanted to be able to buy wine in grocery stores,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, in a brief Senate floor speech. “Now they can vote it down or they can vote it in.” The last legislative step was the Senate’s concurrence in a series of three votes with amendments adopted in the House.
After seven years of efforts by supporters, the state Senate gave final legislative approval Monday night to the bill authorizing wine sales in Tennessee food stores wherever local voters approve it in referendums. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam. “The governor will review the legislation in its final form before taking action on it, but I anticipate he’ll sign it,” said his press secretary, David Smith. If he does, referendums can be held starting this November in any town, city or county with liquor stores or liquor by the drink in bars and restaurants.
The bill letting Tennessee grocery stores sell wine is now on its way to the governor, who is expected to sign it. One of the first changes to reach consumers will actually be a piece letting them buy beer in liquor stores. It’ll take a local referendum before corner stores can sell wine in Tennessee–in summer of 2016, at the earliest. Not so, for part of the deal to make liquor stores happy, since they’re effectively losing a monopoly on wine in the state. The measure’s main Senate backer, Bill Ketron, says for the first time liquor stores will be able sell more than just liquor–and that list includes beer.
After more than seven years of debate, legislation that would let grocery stores sell wine is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature. A spokesman for Haslam said Thursday night that he is likely to sign it. Here are some of the highlights: • Voters in cities and counties that allow bars or liquor stores could hold referendums starting this fall on whether to let grocery stores sell wine. • If those referendums pass, about 2,000 supermarkets, big-box retailers and convenience stores could qualify to sell wine beginning July 1, 2016. • Liquor stores can start selling snacks, mixers, novelty items and other merchandise starting July 1, 2014. They also can block grocery stores located within 500 feet from selling wine until July 1, 2017. • Sunday sales of wine still would be forbidden, even in grocery stores. “High-gravity” beer will continue to be sold only in liquor stores.
The state Senate has passed a bill to legalize switchblades and other knives with blades longer than 4 inches in Tennessee. The chamber voted 24-1 on Monday to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville. The measure would make it a felony to use a switchblade knife during the commission of a crime and would increase the maximum fine from $3,000 to $6,000. Legislative analysts project that the measure would lead to one incarceration every 10 years. Under current law, switchblades are included on a state list of weapons that are illegal to knowingly possess, manufacture, transport, repair or sell.
The sponsor of a proposal to give state lawmakers the power to name U.S. Senate nominees has a hold on the measure. Under the bill sponsored by state Sen. Frank Niceley, primary elections would be replaced with caucus votes in the General Assembly. The Strawberry Plains Republican said Monday that he will put off the bill until the last calendar of this year’s legislative session. Niceley has said the bill is an effort to return to the system closer to the direct appointments that were in place before the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he has a “major problem” with the bill and would strongly consider a veto of the measure.
Faculty at the University of Tennessee, displeased with lawmakers’ most recent proposal on Sex Week, mulled Monday a resolution of their own. Without enough senators for a quorum, perhaps because of the weather, the faculty who did attend the group’s monthly meeting at the University Center could not take action. Instead, they spent roughly half an hour discussing Senate Joint Resolution 626, a proposal from Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, that directs trustees to implement a policy requiring students to opt in in order to pay the portion of the student activities fee that could go to “controversial” student programming.
Bob Corker won the endorsement of organized labor when he ran for Chattanooga mayor in 2001, but union leaders Monday night denounced Corker for repeated criticisms of the United Auto Workers in his current job as U.S. senator. Gary Watkins, president of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council, said Corker “is just wrong” in his claim that the UAW would hurt Volkswagen and the community. “These are good people (at the UAW) who are here to help people, but I think they’ve been given a bum wrap in a lot of ways,” Watkins said.
Before Monday, Adam Cowan had been unable to afford insurance for nearly eight years. He used to have coverage through work, but then his job stopped providing it. For a few years, it was no big deal. “But now I’m almost 48 and everything is starting to fall apart. I couldn’t get insurance in 2006 because of a pre-existing condition,” Cowan said Monday at Erlanger Health System. That all changed before he left. “I’m excited. For less than $100 a month, I’ve got health insurance and dental, with no deductible,” he said. “And I got to keep my doctor.”
More than five years and $1 billion after a catastrophic coal ash spill in Kingston, the Tennessee Valley Authority says it has finally contained the spill. The TVA recently completed a 12-mile, four-foot-wide underground retaining wall to surround 240 acres of toxic coal ash. The wall was needed in December 2008, when a dike at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant failed, sending sent 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, polluting the water, destroying three homes and damaging dozens of other homes. The TVA says their new containment system, which used more than 200,000 tons of cement and other materials, is earthquake resistant.
Verizon Wireless plans to hire 74 full-time employees across Tennessee by April 1. According to a news release, the wireless carrier is hiring full-time customer specialists and retail employees. Verizon currently employs 2,500 people in Tennessee. “Verizon Wireless is a growing company in an exciting industry, and we are expanding here in Tennessee,” Jerry Fountain, president of the Carolinas/Tennessee region for Verizon Wireless, said in the news release. “We are committed to offering resources to all our employees that help them enjoy work and grow their careers without sacrificing the things that are most important to their families.”
A bill in the state Legislature aimed at discouraging crossover voting in primary elections is anti-democratic, needlessly divisive and an affront to independent-thinking Tennesseans. As amended, the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, and state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, essentially would require voters to take a loyalty oath to a political party before voting in that party’s primary. Local government committees in the House and Senate are scheduled to take up the bill today. Both panels should reject it. Tennessee has an open primary system that allows voters to cast a ballot in either party’s primary election.
Legislation that passed the Tennessee House and is headed to the Senate would drastically change city annexation efforts by requiring voter approval in the areas targeted for annexation. This legislation is unnecessary and would hamper municipal growth and economic development. Tennessee already has an orderly process for annexation that protects residents and cities. The bill would end forced annexation by requiring a referendum and approval by a majority of voters in areas where cities want to expand. On the surface, that sounds reasonable. But closer inspection of how it would impact municipal economic development changes the picture.