This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam will be the keynote speaker for the 33rd annual Superintendent’s Honors Banquet in Chattanooga on Tuesday. The celebration is sponsored by the Hamilton County school district’s Fund for Excellence. It recognizes the top 10 percent of each graduating class at Hamilton County’s 17 high schools. According to the school district, participants are selected based on their grade point average at the end of the first semester of their senior year. This year 262 students, along with their parents, will be honored.
Gov. Bill Haslam will present a revised budget plan Tuesday that will likely eliminate his earlier plans for a 1 to 2 percent pay raise for state employees and teachers and an increase he had planned for higher education If that occurs, students at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities may face tuition rate increases approaching double digits this fall, instead of the 2-4 percent hike originally envisioned by higher education officials or a slightly higher range projected when the governor presented his original budget plan on Feb. 3, for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1.
When the doors of Nashville State Community College opened in Fall 2012, the halls were sparsely scattered with a little more than 200 students. Now more than 500 students walk the halls that see an influx during night classes. The growth proves the positive impact NSCC has had in the community and the need it is meeting for a large population. “A community college in this community is good,” said Steve Conklin, campus director. “It gives people who may not have attended college an opportunity to go to college. … It’s smaller class sizes, and you get to know your instructors on a personal level. It’s quality education for a great price.”
Tennessee taxpayers spent more than $600,000 to keep mass murderer Paul Dennis Reid alive so they could execute him. But they never got the chance. Instead, one of the state’s most notorious killers died Nov. 1, not strapped to a gurney on death row, but in a bed at Nashville General Hospital at Meharry. Cause of death? Complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. It was a death that brought no relief to some of the survivors of Reid’s victims, seven people he killed in a 1997 Middle Tennessee murder spree. Connie Black’s daughter Michelle Mace was one of seven people Reid killed during three fast-food restaurant shootings.
The sister of a severely disabled man who has lived nearly all his life in a state-run institution fears he has been abused at least twice in the past year with no one held accountable — and said she is desperate to find him a new home. Last May, Tim Barnes, 50, suffered fractures to his leg and middle finger and bruises to his hip and toes at Clover Bottom Developmental Center, a facility for people with intellectual disabilities. Barnes cannot speak and is paralyzed from the waist down. An investigation by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities found that Barnes had been neglected by “unknown persons.”
After two local legislators began moving a “sledgehammer” of a bill in the General Assembly as an attention-getter, officials say Tennessee American Water Co. now is working closely with Hamilton County officials on resolving issues over local sewer fee billing. The measure would require the for-profit water utility that serves Chattanooga and nearby areas to resume sewer billing for the city and the Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority. Tennessee American had included sewer bills with its monthly water bills for years, but it dropped the practice at the start of 2013 after giving the two publicly owned wastewater utilities 18 months’ notice.
Supermarkets and grocery stores authorized to sell wine in the future will also be able to sell high-alcohol beer under a transformed bill approved by the House State Government Committee amid some contentious debate. The new version of HB47, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, also will increase the alcohol content of beer that can be legally sold in other stores. As originally introduced last year, the bill would have decreased the length of time a person must live in Tennessee before obtaining a liquor sales license. Earlier this year, it was transformed into a backup bill for wine-in-grocery-stores legislation that could be used if the main wine bill was scuttled.
In a radio ad running on Knoxville and Nashville stations last week, Americans for Prosperity declared that Sen. Doug Overbey “is blocking tax relief that would help those who need it most.” Overbey, R-Maryville, says that’s not true at all and he is “not losing any sleep” over the ad, which he first heard about from a friend who sent a joking text message: “Why do you hate old people?” “It does point out how little these outside groups understand about what our situation is here in Tennessee,” he said in an interview. The ad was inspired by Overbey proposing in a Senate Tax Subcommittee to put off until next year any action on a bill to repeal the state’s 6 percent Hall income tax on investment income over a period of years.
Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Vance Dennis, who last year pushed a controversial bill that could have reduced welfare payments in Tennessee to parents whose children performed poorly in school, have a new proposal they say should increase parental involvement in education without any benefit penalties. As amended before approval last week by committees in both the House and Senate, the bill (SB1851) will modify the “personal responsibility plan” that parents receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program must sign.
While Republican lawmakers in some states may have benefited from congressional redistricting, the changes had little effect in Tennessee. Republicans were able to give themselves a built-in advantage in House elections by doing well in the statewide elections in many states, then gerrymandering congressional districts in key states after the 2010 census. The strategy may prove to be advantageous going into the 2014 midterm elections and beyond, regardless of the political climate in November. In Tennessee, for the most part, the redistricting solidified the Republican stronghold. The GOP occupies seven of the nine congressional seats.