This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
An important piece of law enforcement legislation proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam has been sidetracked in a House subcommittee, allegedly because it lacks sufficient support on the subcommittee to pass. That is more than unfortunate, it is downright shameful. Are Tennessee lawmakers serious about controlling the methamphetamine epidemic plaguing the state or not? Lawmakers have pussyfooted around this issue for years while the human and financial costs of meth in Tennessee have skyrocketed. It is time to take decisive action, and that is what Haslam’s proposal would do.House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, replaced Haslam’s proposed legislation with his own bill that is far less restrictive than what Haslam’s would require.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he is standing by his anti-meth proposal despite the bill being sidetracked in a House subcommittee earlier this week. The Republican governor told The Associated Press that his proposal to limit sales of cold and allergy medicines used to make the illegal drug will do more to combat meth production in Tennessee than a rival measure with lesser restrictions. “If you talk to most law enforcement officials, they would say that the limits we set are a lot more likely to make a big difference to what’s a big problem in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
The Haslam administration has directed the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to explore the possibility of hiring private-sector vendors to operate some state park facilities. Contracting the management of the parks themselves is not on the table, but TDEC has issued a request for information from firms interested in the management of inns, restaurants, marinas, golf courses and other facilities within the parks. Such an arrangement is not unusual, and state officials certainly have a responsibility to explore options that make operational and financial sense for the taxpayers.
Government incentives for a third season of the show “Nashville” are up in the air as stakeholders wait to see if the ABC drama will be picked up for a third season. “Nashville” is expected to receive $13.5 million in incentives from the state, Metro and Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. to film its ongoing second season. A report by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development put the anticipated budget for season 2 at $106 million, with $69 million of that total expected to be spent directly in Tennessee. Officials say the show has been a boon for tourism in Nashville, and a study released last month showed that many visitors chose to come to Music City because of the show.
A revised school voucher proposal advanced in the House on Wednesday after Speaker Beth Harwell broke a tie on an amended bill, improving the prospects for a compromise that would allow public dollars to fund private schooling. The altered version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher bill received a statement of support from Sen. Brian Kelsey, who has been pushing for a more expansive plan than the governor’s. The Republican speaker from Nashville cast the final vote in support of House Bill 0190, allowing it to escape the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee by a 7-6 vote.
House Speaker Beth Harwell stepped in to save a slightly revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher bill from defeat in a subcommittee Wednesday, indicating prospects are poor for a broad expansion of the governor’s proposal as national education reform lobbies want. With Knoxville Republican Rep. Bill Dunn acting as sponsor, the Haslam bill (HB190) passed the House Finance Subcommittee on a 7-6 vote with two Republicans joining all four Democrats on the panel in voting no. Harwell, authorized by House rules to vote on any committee whenever she wishes, attended the meeting and cast the deciding vote.
A school vouchers proposal that moved ahead Wednesday in the state legislature may affect some rural districts in addition to Tennessee’s cities. A voucher program would help students in failing public schools pay for private tuition instead. The House version is not as narrow as the governor wanted, or as expansive as a rival Senate proposal. The bill’s focus is still on the bottom 5 percent of schools, in the state’s major cities. It’s limited to 5,000 vouchers, but if some are left over, eligibility then opens up to students in a handful of low-scoring schools in more rural districts.
A proposal to strip local government control over whether to allow people with handgun carry permits to be armed at parks, playgrounds and sports fields has cleared its first legislative hurdle in the House. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee advanced the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Tilman Goins of Morristown on a voice vote. The companion bill passed the full Senate on a 26-7 vote last month. The measure has advanced despite the misgivings of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who as Knoxville mayor in 2009 supported a city council vote that kept in place a ban on handguns in some of the city’s parks.
Republican leaders in the state Senate are warning that new funding for the University of Tennessee could be threatened over the use of student fees for a weeklong program about sex. Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Government Operations Chairman Mike Bell of Riceville in a letter to university leaders Wednesday took issue with the use of fees for the student-run Sex Week at the state’s flagship public university in Knoxville. “Certainly, the university must understand that Tennessee taxpayers are not anxious for their legislature to appropriate new funds to this university when they see abuse of monies being used for this purpose,” the letter said. UT President Joe DiPietro disagreed with the criticism.
Conservative state lawmakers have turned to money for leverage as they try to keep University of Tennessee leaders from allowing Sex Week activities on the system’s Knoxville campus. Failure to rein in the program could put state funding for the university in jeopardy, two Senate Committee chairmen warned top university administrators. “We are writing to express our disapproval and dismay at the lack of leadership at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville regarding the events of Sex Week,” wrote Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in the letter.
Some state lawmakers fed up with what they say is unbridled federal spending are pushing through a resolution asking for a convention of states to force a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A balanced budget amendment would prevent the federal government from spending more than it takes in. “[Federal spending] is out of control, and asking the U.S. Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment that requires that they spend within their means, well, it’s practically impossible,” said Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a co-sponsor of the resolution.
Legislation moving through the Tennessee House and Senate could set aside an age limit for school bus use, permitting them to run so long as inspections show they’re meeting safety standards. Tennessee’s current law allows the vehicles to be used for up to 17 years and requires at least two inspections a year. State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, has proposed a bill allowing buses to run regardless of their years of service or mileage if they pass regular inspections. An amendment calls for two annual inspections after a school bus has been in service for 15 years and allows the state’s Department of Safety to charge a fee to districts for the reviews.
High-achieving high school students who do not have legal U.S. residency should be able to pay in-state tuition, said interim University of Memphis President Brad Martin. “We think there are a lot of successful, hard-working high school graduates who do not have access to higher education,” Martin told The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board Wednesday. “We have been thinking about what we can do to serve that population, and we think it is very important.” Martin and Provost David Rudd are backing plans to bolster U of M enrollment and retention by abolishing out-of-state tuition, and by enabling successful students without legal U.S. residency who live in Tennessee to pay in-state tuition rates.
State Rep. Mike Sparks of Smyrna captured subcommittee support Wednesday for his bill calling for referendums for local-government property tax increases that exceed 25 percent. Sparks, a Republican who is a former member of the Rutherford County Commission, told the subcommittee that his goal is to stop “what I call catastrophic tax increases.” Sparks persuaded the majority of the House State and Local Government Subcommittee to send his bill to the full Local Government Committee to consider when it meets at noon Tuesday in Room 30 at Legislative Plaza.
Tennessee’s speaker of the house had a reminder this week for one state lawmaker after two Nashville women said he plopped a gun on his desk in the middle of their conversation: Guns aren’t allowed in the Capitol. Rep. Rick Womick, one of three lawmakers involved in an odd string of meetings with Moms Demand Action members last month, said he’s exempt from the policy because he works in law enforcement, a stance backed up in state law. But accounts of what happened Feb. 4 from both the moms and the lawmakers involved show how strongly both sides feel on gun issues — and particularly about Tennessee’s proposal to keep cities from banning guns in parks.
Rocky Tallent, a retired construction worker from Knoxville, buried his 27-year-old son, Michael, after a work-related accident claimed his life on New Year’s Eve in 2012. On Wednesday, Tallent testified before a Tennessee legislative committee about proposed workplace safety requirements that he says could have helped save his son’s life. The elder Tallent worked in heavy construction for more than 30 years, and he testified before legislators Wednesday that his son was killed because of the negligence of the construction firm that hired him through a temporary employment agency.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. doesn’t believe the Obama administration’s plan to sell off the Tennessee Valley Authority is a serious proposal. Even if it were, he said, Congress would never go along with it. “I don’t believe the support is there,” the Knoxville Republican said. “They’ve shown no benefit from it.” A year after it first suggested selling TVA, the White House pitched the idea again Tuesday when it released its budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The Office of Management and Budget suggested Congress consider selling the federal utility to state or local governments, power cooperatives or other energy companies to mitigate the risk to taxpayers.
According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of adults in Tennessee with jobs fell last year by the largest amount of any state. In 2013, the largest employment-population ratio decrease was in Tennessee as the state saw a 1.1 percentage decrease, Arkansas followed its neighbor with a 1 percent decrease, while North Dakota also posted a 1 percent decrease. Five states remained at about the same levels as in 2012, while the remaining states posted improvements in the employment-population ratio.
Congressman Phil Roe stated his case Wednesday on the importance of maintaining the operations of facilities within the National Fish Hatchery System, particularly those of the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, at a Wednesday hearing of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs. The subcommittee met in Washington, D.C., to hold an oversight hearing on the report “National Fish Hatchery System: Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the report in November.
Federal officials have announced that construction will begin this summer on a $4.3 million archive of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Mountain Press reports U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and acting park Superintendent Pedro Ramos made the announcement earlier this week saying that the project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2015. The Joint Curatorial Collections Facility near the Townsend entrance to the park will house nearly 900,000 historical artifacts and archival records about the park and region, including photos, operating records, clothing and weapons.
The proposed budget for Shelby County Schools shows how Supt. Dorsey Hopson intends to manage a district that will include 117,000 students next year, including 40,000 of the poorest in the state, while still motivating teachers and principals to push harder. For starters, he proposes using about $15 million to reward teachers for their classroom performance or for taking on more responsibility. He intends to do it with money traditionally set aside for built-in raises teachers received for moving up on the seniority ladder. He also proposes applying cost-of-living increases to the teacher pay fund, using them as rewards, not automatic increases.
Allowing graduates of Tennessee high schools who are high achievers but who do not have legal U.S. residency to pay in-state tuition at public colleges is the right thing to do, from a moral and practical standpoint. These are young people who, because of the actions of their parents, were illegally brought to the United States. They have attended elementary and secondary schools here and performed well academically. Requiring them to pay out-of-state tuition and fees — $23,024 a year at the University of Memphis, compared with $8,312 for in-state students — is unduly punitive and places a financial blockade in the path of these young residents earning a college degree.
The leaders of the state House and Senate have decided not to appoint a conference committee to try and modify the one-sided wine in grocery stores bill. The bill gives liquor store owners a two-year head start to start selling cigarettes and other items before groceries get wine, and also prevents groceries and big-box stores from selling wine at a discount. Rather than risk the bill being derailed in an up or down vote, the Senate was set to conform to the House version this week, pass it, and send it to the governor. The thinking is that once wine in groceries is passed, and legal, it can be “fixed” later.
Selling TVA to state and local owners is not only a bad idea, it’s highly unlikely. Unless … First, let’s examine the “unlikely” part. Try to imagine Gov. Bill Haslam having oversight of an electric power utility with three nuclear plants and a den of aging coal power plants. Remember, this is the same man who turned down the federal government’s complete funding of TennCare for three years and 90 percent of its cost thereafter. He heads the same state government that is so far behind on the Volunteer State’s own rollout of a HealthCare.gov-like website for TennCare that state officials won’t even estimate a completion date.