This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Folks waiting for the neighborhood grocery store to stock their favorite merlot or chardonnay may have to wait a little longer even though Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a law to allow supermarket wine sales in Tennessee. The legislation signed Thursday grants authority to cities and counties that have package stores or liquor-by-the-drink sales to hold referendums on whether to allow wine sales in supermarkets. Even so, the earliest wine can be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores is the summer of 2016 — or a year later if they are located near an existing liquor store. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters Thursday that lawmakers may consider moving the date up.
Gov. Bill Haslam formally signed legislation Thursday that will let grocery stores sell wine, starting in 2016. In a ceremony at the state Capitol, Haslam approved Senate Bill 837/House Bill 610, perhaps the most comprehensive overhaul of the state’s liquor laws since the end of Prohibition in the 1930s. Flanked by House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and several of the bill’s sponsors, Haslam signed the measure into law. The 10-minute ceremony in the Capitol’s ornate Old Supreme Court chamber capped a seven-year effort to put wine in grocery stores “Congratulations,” Haslam said simply to the packed room as cameras clicked and the crowd applauded. “It’s done.”
Seven years and one week after Memphian Shea Flinn, an interim state senator at the time, presented a bill allowing Tennessee food stores to sell wine — renewing an old battle always won by liquor retailers — Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Thursday an updated version of that bill. But wine drinkers still have to wait two years and three months before they can buy wine with their groceries in Tennessee. The new law requires approval in local referendums in cities or counties that have liquor stores or liquor-by-the-drink in bars and restaurants.
Before more than 100 lawmakers, lobbyists and even a few spectators, Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill Thursday that allows wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores and makes major changes for the state’s liquor stores. It was a light mood for a bill that took seven years of debate to pass, primarily because of heavy opposition from the state’s liquor businesses who feared they would lose jobs. One of the House sponsors Rep. Ryan Haynes even joked that it was “an infamous bill.” Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said he always saw the measure as a “commerce bill” because it would keep tax dollars in Tennessee.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law Thursday allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores. However, the bill explains it is up to your vote before grocery stores can expect to see wine on the shelves. Tommy Bartholomeu was headed home Thursday after picking up a case of beer from the market. He may soon be able to add wine to his grocery list. “I think it’s a great idea,” Bartholomeu said. The whines over wine are over. “About 82 percent of the people polled said they wanted wine in grocery stores and the ability to purchase wine in grocery stores,” Rep. Antonio Parkinson said. Rep. Parkinson, also known as “2 Shay,” voted yes on the bill, but explains the ball is still in the public’s court despite the governor’s actions.
Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law Thursday that allows wine in grocery stores. The controversial legislation allows cities and counties to vote to allow wine in supermarkets or not. Voters have mixed opinions. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing because folks that wants it are gonna get it regardless whether it’s in the grocery stores or in the liquor store,” Niecy Pearson said, of Jackson. “I don’t drink and I don’t believe in drinking,” William Taylor said, also of Jackson. The Madison County Election Commission says voters would have to petition to get it on the ballot.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law legislation to allow supermarket wine sales in Tennessee. Haslam was joined by the measure’s sponsors and Senate and House speakers at the signing on Thursday. The legislation passed after years of legislative debate requires voters to first approve supermarket wine sales in a referendum. And even after that, the earliest wine could be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores would be in the summer of 2016 — or a year later if they are located near an existing liquor store. The measure also allows liquor stores to begin selling items other than booze.
Thursday was a big day for supermarkets across Tennessee. Move over beer; soon, wine could also fill the shelves at supermarkets like Food City. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the ‘wine in grocery stores’ bill into law Thursday. “I think at the end of the day, it’ll be a big benefit for us and our customers,” says Food City assistant store manager Jason Morrell. Across the street from Food City, Vintage Collections owner Michael Hilton couldn’t be more opposed to the bill. “It simply makes getting drunk more convenient for more people, and it discriminates against small business owners like myself,” he said.
As expected, Gov. Bill Haslam signed the wine in grocery stores bill on Thursday and now it’s up to Tennessee voters. Municipalities can now begin petitioning for a referendum on allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores but it will be at least two years before the local Kroger will be carrying Chardonnay. However, liquor stores will be able to sell beer and other items as soon as this summer. Allowing liquor stores to sell beer was a compromise to allow those retailers to continue to compete with grocery stores. That portion of the law will not require a referendum.
A proposal allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores got special treatment at the state capitol today. Governor Bill Haslam held his first public bill signing of the year. He primarily let legislators take the spotlight. People like State Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro have been working for years to get wine in grocery stores. Haslam says he hasn’t had a strong opinion on the matter. “At this point in my life, I’m not spending a whole lot of time in grocery stores anyway. I eat at a lot of banquets.”
With a scrawl of ink on paper, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam passed the wine-in-grocery-stores bill into law Thursday, making way for bottled wine to be sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and big box retailers across the state. The passage of the long-proposed bill was heralded as a victory for the lawmakers and lobbyists who supported it through the arduous process, but it will be several years before residents can purchase vino at their local food outlets. First, the law permits wine sales at the earliest on July 1, 2016, more than two years from now, although Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, hinted after the signing ceremony that the date specified in the law could be amended to be soon in a subsequent session of the General Assembly.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” plan for tuition-free community college won Senate Education Committee approval Wednesday after a discussion about whether it could dilute the existing Hope Scholarship program. That’s also a concern of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who pushed for enactment of the Tennessee Lottery and the lottery-funded Hope Scholarships as a state senator before his election to Congress. Cohen predicted in a telephone interview that the governor’s plan to move $302 million from the Hope program’s reserve fund into a new “irrevocable trust” endowment for the free tuition at two-year schools — plus channeling all future lottery surpluses into the trust and away from the Hope reserve — will eventually kill the Hope scholarships.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell in February, marking the sixth-straight month of declines. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development today announced that the state’s unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent last month, down form January’s adjusted rate of 7.2 percent. With the decrease, Tennessee saw its unemployment rate move closer to the national average, which increased to 6.7 percent in February, up from 6.6 percent in January. According to the Department of Labor, there are currently 209,800 unemployed people in Tennessee, the lowest total since July 2008.
Nineteen months after Metro’s refusal to approve a charter school proposal for West Nashville ignited a bitter confrontation with state officials, a bill giving the state final say over authorization in Davidson County and elsewhere is on track to become law. Despite objections raised over circumventing local control, the Tennessee Senate voted 20-13 on Thursday to approve Senate Bill 0830, legislation that House Speaker Beth Harwell and Mayor Karl Dean pushed after the Metro school board in 2012 defied a state order to approve Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies’ charter proposal.
The state Senate on Thursday approved the controversial legislation that allows the State Board of Education to approve local public charter school applications that have been rejected by local school boards. Critics argue the measure removes virtually all control over what are essentially local public schools that receive the bulk of their funding from local governments. Supporters say it provides a stronger appeal to the state for charter organizations that have been denied authority to open schools by local school boards. The bill won House approval last year, 62-30, but was held over to this year in the Senate, which approved it 20-12 Thursday.
Like a teacher punishing the entire class after one student acts up, Tennessee lawmakers edged a step closer Thursday to creating a statewide “authorizer” for some public charter schools in five school systems, including Hamilton County. Senators approved the bill on a 20-13 vote. The House passed the bill last year with active support from Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, following a 2012 dustup among Metro Nashville schools, a charter operator and the Haslam administration. Charter schools are privately operated public schools paid for with taxpayer dollars and free of many rules applying to traditional schools.
Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam spoke to hundreds of child advocates Tuesday, announcing that the state’s Books from Birth Foundation, partnered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, will mark 20 million free books given to children next month. The library will also celebrate its 10-year anniversary in September. For information on receiving free books, call 1-877-99-BOOKS or visit www.governorsfoundation.org.
Tennessee’s largest teachers’ union is suing Gov. Bill Haslam and his education commissioner. The Republican governor and Commissioner Kevin Huffman are included in the latest Tennessee Education Association lawsuit, which also includes the Knox County Board of Education as a defendant. It’s the second lawsuit this month the agency has filed against the Knox County board. Both claim the student test scores used to assess two teachers’ performances were flawed and cost them bonuses. TEA President Gera Summerford says the governor and commissioner were included in the lawsuit because “this really is a state issue.”
A second Knox County teacher has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that a miscalculation of his student growth data resulted in him missing out on bonus pay, not once but twice, from Knox County Schools. It is the second lawsuit filed in the last two months by the Tennessee Education Association against what TEA says is the unconstitutional use of Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS, in the decisions about teacher pay. In addition to the Knox County school board, the second lawsuit names Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Gov. Bill Haslam.
Tennessee’s largest teacher union is suing the governor and state’s education commissioner over the use of student assessment tests increasingly tied to pay decisions. The suit is part of the union’s larger strategy to kill the practice before it becomes more widely adopted. It is the second such lawsuit the union has filed this month, but the first against top state officials. The lawsuit claims that an eighth grade science teacher in Knoxville didn’t get a bonus based on the test scores of just 16 percent of his students. The teacher is represented by the Tennessee Education Association.
For several years, spending for research funded by outside grants and contracts hasn’t changed much at the University of Memphis. The institution has said it hopes to reverse that trend by doubling research expenditures from about $50 million, to $100 million over a 10-year period. But the U of M will be hard-pressed to reach that goal by relying on traditional funding sources like the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, Guy Bailey, former president of the University of Alabama and a current professor, told U of M faculty and students Thursday. “I mean, how many NSF grants can you propose?” he said.
Four people in Wilson County are charged with TennCare drug fraud after a roundup charging 83 people with prescription drug-related crimes. The arrests came after an undercover investigation involving the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of Inspector. The four charged with drug fraud involving TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, were trying to sell prescription drugs that were paid for by TennCare.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that GOP majority lawmakers should consider holding their first veto override session in 13 years in the event fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam vetoes any bills. Stressing “it’s nothing personal,” the Senate speaker said lawmakers in the past held one-day sessions 30 days after winding up their annual business so they could act in the event a governor vetoed one of their bills. “I think it’s something that ought to be done,” Ramsey said, calling it a “good government” move to schedule one at the end of every two-year General Assembly. He noted the Tennessee Constitution provides for a veto override. If a governor vetoes a bill during lawmakers’ first annual meeting, they can always come back and override it the following year.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey is looking to keep his options open, in case lawmakers want to override a veto from Governor Bill Haslam. Ramsey wants to schedule a special veto override session, just in case. The governor has ten days after a bill passes to decide to block it. For one passed near the end of session, just before lawmakers leave town, a veto can be the end unless lawmakers return for an override vote. Ramsey, the speaker of the state Senate, says he’s mentioned the idea to House Speaker Beth Harwell: “Definitely needs to be thought about ahead of time. I think it oughta be something you do every year.
A proposal to alter the state constitution to make the Tennessee attorney general a popularly elected post has once again failed to pass in the state Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 123, sponsored by Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers, already came up short once this session. On Feb. 5 those who voted “aye” outnumbered the noes, 15-14. However, that wasn’t enough support to meet the 17-vote minimum “constitutional majority” of the body required for passage. On Thursday, SJR123 actually did worse than the first time. Like the vote last month, 15 senators voted in favor, but 16 voted against it this time.
For the second time this legislative session, a proposed constitutional amendment calling for the popular election of the state’s attorney general failed to pass in the Tennessee Senate. Introduced by Sen. Mae Beavers (R – Mt. Juliet), the amendment sought to change the selection process for the position, which is currently appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Beavers argued in favor on the amendment much as she did in February, calling the position “twice removed from the people.” Sixteen senators voted against the measure Thursday, with 15 in favor. A vote last month did not garner the majority needed to pass.
Legislation that would strongly restrict access to any information related to the victim of a sexual assault after a trial moved out of a House subcommittee Wednesday evening. House Bill 2361, sponsored by state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, would make any court documents, photos or videos used in a sexual assault trial unavailable for public use without consent of the victim. Littleton and supporters of the bill focused less on media outlets than on individuals who might use information put into public record to “re-victimize the victim.” Frank Gibson, chairman of Tennessee Press Association, testified that the law was overbroad.
After more than a year of negotiation, compromise has been reached to end Tennessee’s special tax on professional athletes. The so-called “jock tax” is considered the highest in the nation and applies to both home and visiting players. While the revenue is collected by the state, it goes directly to the Nashville Predators and the Memphis Grizzlies to subsidize operation of their respective arenas. Under the agreement, hockey players would be free of the roughly $7,500-a-year privilege tax immediately. The NBA would be given another two seasons before the repeal takes place. Franklin Senator Jack Johnson says Grizzlies management put up more of a fight.
The move to rename Lake City as Rocky Top moved unevenly down two legal paths Thursday. The proposal advanced in the state Legislature while an effort to stop the name change was postponed in federal court. Lawmakers in the state House by voice vote in the Calendar and Rules Committee gave the green light to a full House vote on March 31; that’s when schoolchildren from the Lake City area will be in Nashville to witness the balloting while on a field trip. And in Knoxville, U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan postponed a March 27 hearing on an injunction to block the name change.
After months of seeming momentum and polls showing as high as 75 percent support for medical marijuana in the state of Tennessee, Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act author Bernie Ellis sent out a message to supporters on Wednesday that began, “It’s over, at least for now.” Ellis had just finished talking with Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) and reported that she had said that with no possibility of action on the senate version of the bill and with several of the necessary committees having closed for the session, the bill had ground to a halt for 2014. “Since our bill can go nowhere in the Senate,” Ellis wrote, “they are likely to drop our bill from further consideration in Health sub next week without a vote.”
Private groups often provide members of the Tennessee congressional delegation with free trips to far-off destinations, travel records for 2012 and 2013 show. A compilation of records by Political MoneyLine shows Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, led other Tennessee members in accepting such trips during those years, taking seven that were worth a combined $50,108. The two-year total for the state delegation was $102,728. But Cooper and other Tennessee members say the trips are anything but play. They say they’re traveling to valuable policy conferences, benefiting their work in Congress. Cooper went to Madison, Wis., for a discussion of clean air policy, and to Istanbul, Turkey, for discussions about foreign policy that Cooper says related to his seat on the House Armed Services Committee.
As the appeal of Volkswagen’s union vote extends at least into April, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday the carmaker likely won’t finalize bringing a new vehicle to the Chattanooga plant until the election dispute is settled. “We had a VW representative in our office last week. They made us aware that until the clouds disappear, a decision likely won’t be made,” he said after speaking to the downtown Chattanooga Rotary Club. The Tennessee Republican said that an April 7 date for a National Labor Relations Board hearing over the United Auto Workers election appeal is “tentative” and could be pushed back to April 21.
A proposal for the state to assume regulation of coal mining has been filed under the category of “legislative issues better postponed until another year.” That is where the proposal belongs. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was to vote on the measure last week. Instead, the bill was abandoned for a year — apparently with no objection from the Tennessee Mining Association, which drafted the legislation. This is a proposal that could benefit from additional discussion about the real benefits to Tennessee as well as the potential immediate and long-range costs to taxpayers and the serious environmental concerns.