This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam plans to sign the wine-in-food-stores bill Thursday in the State Capitol’s ornate Old Supreme Court Chambers. The bill-signing ceremony’s listing on the governor’s public schedule is the first public confirmation that he’ll sign the bill, although through the long legislative debate, he never signaled any opposition to the bill and more or less indicated he would sign it. The event is set for 11:15 a.m. and will mark the shift of efforts to allow wine sales in Tennessee grocery and convenience stores and “big box” outlets like Walmart and Target out of the Capitol and to localities across the state.
With methamphetamine on the rise not only locally, but also at the state level, several bills are currently under consideration in the Tennessee General Assembly to help combat the growing trend. Since the legislature reconvened in January, multiple bills were proposed and passed around committees and subcommittees between the House and Senate, and some could possibly put stricter regulations on meth and its precursors, such as the decongestant pseudoephedrine. At the forefront, a bill from Gov. Bill Haslam would reduce and limit the maximum amount of products containing pseudoephedrine that could be bought from 9 grams to 4.8 grams during a 30-day period. The targeted amount is the same amount contained in 40 12-hour tablets.
Ted Welch knew how to make a sales pitch, whether his product was a Bible or a presidential candidate — or himself. At a celebration of Welch’s life Saturday, businessman Dennis Bottorff spoke of the time some 30 years ago when Colleen Conway, who had recently been appointed dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, went to ask Welch, a commercial real estate investor and pre-eminent Republican fund-raiser, for a donation. Midway through a speech Conway had rehearsed in front of her mirror, Welch said, “Wait a second. How much do you want?” and agreed to the gift…Honorary pallbearers included Alexander, Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, former senators Bill Brock and Bill Frist, and former Gov. Winfield Dunn. Former Gov. Don Sundquist also attended.
Beneath the brim of his black hat, Seth Howe’s eyes track a tyrannical teddy bear. His fingers manipulate his PlayStation 3 controller as he jams his nemesis into a shredder. With a few exceptions, this is how the 24-year-old with autism spectrum disorder spends his days — fixed, inches in front of a flat screen, navigating video games. There are hours when Howe will flex his fingers a different way, compressing the ivory keys on the piano in his parents’ living room. He attends Weight Watchers once a week and occasionally helps in his mother’s office. But those moments do not make a life, his parents say.
The state House has unanimously approved legislation intended to deter what the Democratic sponsor calls “revenge porn” and now moves on to a Senate committee vote under sponsorship of state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. The bill, HB2201, makes it a misdemeanor to distribute a picture or video of an “intimate part” of another person’s body without permission and with an intent to cause “emotional distress.” A typical situation, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said in a floor speech, would come when “some girl makes a mistake and shows an intimate part of her body to her boyfriend, they break up and he sends it out on a cell phone.”
President Andrew Jackson had qualities worth emulating today, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told a Saturday crowd gathered at The Hermitage for the late president’s 247th birthday. Chief among them would be decisive leadership and personal accountability, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee said, useful in dealing with a modern concern such as addressing Russia’s involvement in Crimea. “One of his quotes was, ‘Take time to deliberate, but when time for action arrives, stop thinking and act,’” Corker said about Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, on whose tomb he laid a wreath sent by current President Barack Obama.
Shelby County Schools has a central kitchen large enough to feed schoolchildren in all the surrounding metro counties, plus a nationally recognized special education department. But next year, it will not be serving lunches to students in the six new municipal districts formed in the county, and the verdict is still out on whether it will provide special education services. The news about meals, and the lack of news about special education are blows to the district in the budgeting process. The SCS nutrition service expects to lose $14.2 million in federal revenue and cut 262 central kitchen positions. Special education is more complicated.
Members of the Tennessee General Assembly are undercutting the fundamental principles on which they campaigned for office and on which voters elected them: less intrusive, cost-effective governance. In recent years, certain lawmakers have tried to get between schoolteachers and students (the “don’t say gay” bill), and business owners and their employees (“guns in trunks”). In 2014, the legislature is waging all-out war on local governments — Metro Nashville, in particular. It is a perverse approach for state lawmakers, the majority of whom spend much of their time railing against perceived federal overreach into state affairs.
Last week, the House and Senate Education Committees in the General Assembly deferred votes on Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” proposal. They were right to allow more time to consider the far-reaching consequences of siphoning money from the successful Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship program to create a huge new government program. However, diligent legislative consideration, which includes public input, requires more than a week’s postponement. The General Assembly should create a study committee, requiring perspective from educators and citizens, to ensure that Tennesseans know not only about the “Promise” program but also what its creation will mean for the future of HOPE scholarships.
You’d think that any parent would want to know what the plan is for keeping their child’s school safe. But under a bill lawmakers in Nashville are considering, parents would never find out if a school’s safety plan was adequate. They’d get little to no information about it. The bill would bar the public from any meetings held by school officials about safety plans. And any information and records about safety plans involving emergency response for the district or at individual schools would be confidential. Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said parents and other taxpaying citizens ought to know something about the safety of schools.
The federal government called the other day. It had been awhile. We had some catching up to do. A woman named Angela Barnes, who works for the State Department in Washington, phoned in to respond to a Tennessean open records request — from Feb. 1, 2008. She didn’t call to say the records were ready. She said the identification number on the request didn’t match the program we had named. “It took you six years to figure that out?”