This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday named Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court bench. Bivins, 53, will replace Justice Bill Koch, who is retiring in July to become dean of the Nashville School of Law. Bivins was a circuit court judge for Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties before Haslam named him to the criminal appeals court in 2011. He was an attorney for what is now the Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm in Nashville from 1986 to 1995 and again from 2001 to 2005.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Republican governor announced Thursday that Bivins, 53, will succeed Justice William C. Koch, Jr., who plans to retire July 15. Bivins has served on the Court of Criminal Appeals since 2011 and was a circuit court judge before then, presiding over the 2008 trial of Christ Koulis, a plastic surgeon accused of overdosing his girlfriend. Bivins also served on the Williamson County Commission and as general counsel to the Department of Human Resources under Gov. Don Sundquist.
Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Jeff Bivins, a judge on the state Court of Criminal Appeals for three years, to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Bivins, 53, will replace Justice William C. Koch Jr. on the five-member high court. Koch, 66, is retiring from the court July 15 after seven years there and 23 years on the Court of Appeals, and will become dean of the Nashville School of Law. Bivins is a native of Kingsport, a 1982 graduate of East Tennessee State University and 1986 graduate of the Vanderbilt University law school. He worked in the Nashville law firm Boult Cummings Conners & Berry.
Kingsport native Jeffrey S. Bivins was named Thursday by Gov. Bill Haslam to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Bivins, 53, currently lives in Middle Tennessee and serves on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. He beat out four other justice candidates. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Judicial Conduct and is a member of the Tennessee Judicial Conference, serving on its executive committee as the moving vice president. He is co-chair of the Retirement and Compensation Committee of the Conference and has served as chairman of the ad-hoc Committee on Court of the Judiciary Legislation.
Less than three years after Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Jeff Bivins to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, the governor is tapping him again to sit on the state Supreme Court. “I had the opportunity to appoint Judge Bivins to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and he has served the state extremely well in that role,” Haslam said in a press release. “Tennesseans will benefit from his vast experience as he moves to our state’s highest court.” Bivins, of Franklin, was chosen ahead of Gullett Sanford Robinson & Martin attorney Linda Knight and Larry Scroggs, chief counsel and administrative officer of the Shelby County Juvenile Court.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer have released the state’s three-year, $1.5 billion transportation program. The Haslam administration said the plan unveiled Thursday takes a conservative approach because of uncertainty over future federal transit funding. It contains no money to pay for early engineering work on new projects. The spending plan includes $600 million to maintain, replace or repair roads and bridges around the state. It also envisions interstate projects, including truck climbing lanes, interchanges and capacity expansion on major routes.
The predominantly rural and suburban-style landscape of Rossview Road is about to become industrialized with the arrival of $800 million Hankook Tire, and that means big changes for part of the currently-narrow roadway. Thursday evening at Rossview Middle School, some 50 area residents, many of whom own properties along Rossview Road, heard the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s explanation of how the project to widen the road will transpire. The TDOT leg of the project extends from west of the Interstate 24 Exit 8 off-ramp at Powell Road to the International Boulevard intersection serving Hankook.
WGU Tennessee, an online nonprofit university, is adding a software development degree. The B.S. program offers courses in software engineering, software development, project management and mobile application development. WGU Tennessee is accepting new enrollees, who may begin their coursework as early as June 1. The degree is meant to prepare students for jobs in the rapidly growing technology sector. More than 870 job openings existed in tech-related fields in Middle Tennessee in the fourth quarter, according to a recent report from the Nashville Technology Council.
A death row inmate who was scheduled to die later this month has been given a stay of execution. According to the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, Nickolus Johnson was granted post-conviction relief last month. The 35-year-old, who has been on death row since 2007, was to be put to death on April 22 for killing a Bristol police officer in 2004. The last inmate executed in the state was Cecil Johnson on Dec. 2, 2009. There are 76 inmates on Tennessee’s death row, including one woman.
At the urging of House Speaker Beth Harwell, a bill to authorize for-profit corporations to manage Tennessee charter schools was killed Thursday. “I would just ask us to be very cautious about taxing our citizens to turn around and give a profit to an out-of-state company,” Harwell said in a rare speech to the House Calendar Committee. She also quoted from a letter written by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, an active supporter of charter schools generally: “With so many quality non-profit charter management organizations actively engaged in this critical work, there is no need to open up our charter market to entities with a profit motive.”
A bill that would have let for-profit companies operate charter schools in Tennessee was killed Thursday after House Speaker Beth Harwell made a rare display of public opposition to the measure. House Bill 1693 was defeated Thursday at the urging of Harwell, R-Nashville, who said turning charter schools over to private operators could sink the entire project. Harwell cited concerns about the bill raised by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a supporter of charter schools. “We still are in our infancy in public charters in this state, and I don’t want the financial aspect of for-profits to enter into what I think our ultimate goal is — to provide quality public schooling for our children,” Harwell said.
Efforts to let for-profit companies run public charter schools failed Thursday morning in a House panel after Republican Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, a long-time champion of charters, spoke against it. Harwell told the Republican-controlled Calendar and Rules Committee that she had kept out of the debate until then but was “taking off my hat as speaker” because it was her last opportunity to voice her concerns before the bill hit the House floor. “I have some grave reservations about this legislation,” Harwell said.
Two days after it won a critical vote in the education committee, the controversial bill to allow for-profit charter schools in Tennessee apparently died for the year Thursday when House Speaker Beth Harwell — legislative champion of the charter school movement — expressed “grave reservations about” it. “There are some very legitimate arguments in favor of the for-profit charter groups but I would just ask us to be very cautious of taxing our citizens, to turn around and give a profit to an out-of-state company. I will be recorded as voting ‘no’ on this,” Harwell, R-Nashville, told the House Calendar Committee.
A House committee, spurred on by Speaker Beth Harwell, sunk a bill that would’ve let for-profit corporations oversee charter schools in Tennessee. The contentious bill had narrowly moved out of an education committee on Tuesday after coming under fire from both parties over whether charter schools need the help of for-profit corporations. In Tennessee, charter schools are controlled by non-profits. In a rare gesture, Harwell said she was taking her hat off as speaker to wade into a discussion about which she has been quiet out of “tremendous respect” for the sponsor, Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis — a city where privately-run, taxpayer-funded charter schools are plentiful.
A bill to allow local governments to obtain permits to sell beer is headed for Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk after being approved by the House on Thursday. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Ryan Hayes of Knoxville was passed on 78-8 vote. The Senate voted 27-4 in favor of the bill last month. The bill seeks to codify the wide practice of municipal facilities like golf courses selling beer after a recent state attorney general’s opinion found that state law limited permits to private entities. That opinion was issued after Clarksville officials raised concerns about a 2012 ordinance allowing beer sales at city-owned venues for special events.
Bars in Tennessee might soon be able to be just bars. A bill with wide support would remove a requirement that bars sell some amount of food. If you ever wondered why your favorite bar sells snacks, it might be because they’re trying to be in compliance with an old law. Under the rule, 15 percent of bar sales have to come from food. If a bar’s pretzels and peanuts don’t total that, they can be issued a fine. Rep. Mike Turner says it’s making bar owners over-report food sales. We’re actually forcing bar owners to skirt the law just to be in compliance. Turner, a Nashville Democrat, is the sponsor of a bill that will strike the food requirement.
There was a historic moment today in the State Senate. Douglas Henry, the longest serving member in the legislature’s history, introduced his last bill today. His first was introduced in 1955. The 87-year-old took a moment to dwell on his last contribution to Tennessee law. “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s a pleasure to present this bill. It’ll be my last presentation to you. My first one was in 1955.” And since then, Henry’s been unstoppable. The Nashville conservative Democrat has been elected 11 consecutive times to the Senate.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander raised $614,000 in the first quarter, leaving him with $3.1 million on hand for his bid for a third term. Alexander said he received formal notification on Thursday that he has qualified for the Aug. 7 primary. His eight opponents in the GOP nomination contest include state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro and former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn. Four candidates have filed to run for the Democratic nomination including Knoxville attorneys Gordon Ball and Terry Adams, and Gary Davis and Larry Crim of Nashville. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has three challengers, including perennial candidate Basil Marceaux and Mark “Coonrippy” Brown, who is angry at the state for confiscating his pet raccoon.
Officials from five states, on the defensive at a congressional hearing, said Thursday that their health insurance exchanges had been hobbled by technology problems like those that bedeviled the federal marketplace. But they said their states were recovering. The states — Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon — all have Democratic governors who support the Affordable Care Act. They built their own exchanges with millions of dollars of federal money, but many residents in all five states were frustrated as they tried to enroll online last fall.
The so-called Red Team has reached a “strong consensus” on an alternative to the Uranium Processing Facility and will deliver its recommendations to the National Nuclear Security Administration by April 15, ORNL Director Thom Mason said this week. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory chief was tapped earlier this year to put together an expert team to scrutinize uranium operations at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and come up with an alternative to the super-expensive UPF, which some reports indicated could end up costing more than $10 billion — well above earlier estimates.
Attorneys for Chattanooga Volkswagen workers opposed to the United Auto Workers said Tuesday the union is using “false evidence” in its request to delay an April 21 hearing on an its appeal to a February union vote. But UAW President Bob King sought again Tuesday to lay the blame for what he said was a flawed election on Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other politicians he says violated VW workers’ rights by threatening plant employees. “That Haslam and other Tennessee officials used the power of their elected office to intimidate workers into voting against representation isn’t surprising,” King said in a column on the UAW’s website.
Less Grief, More Explaining Needed No good deed goes unpunished, eh? Gov. Bill Haslam, head of a state where even by the accounting of the left-leaning National Education Association teacher salaries “have increased at double the national average,” is finding all manner of chalk dust raining down on his head after saying a state budget shortfall will cause him to cancel a 2 percent pay hike for teachers and a 1 percent increase for other state employees. If Haslam had seen the shortfall coming or believed the state needed to watch its pennies and protect its rainy day fund, he never would have made such a proposal in the first place. And wind up with egg on his face in an election year?
We have sat for a few long hours trying to figure out why Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam does not accept the expansion of the Medicaid program that is offered by law as a complement to the federal Affordable Care Act. Under the expansion Tennesseans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Estimates are that the state has 140,000 to 300,000 would-be beneficiaries of the expansion. So we began to wonder why Haslam says no. Is it the money, or is it political?
Tennesseans who look forward to gaining back the hour they lost to daylight saving time last month can rest a little easier now. A bill to make daylight saving time permanent in the state has failed in the Tennessee House. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Curry Todd, a Collierville Republican. Five members of the House State and Local Government Committee voted to send the bill to the full House, while six members opposed. An amendment to exempt the eastern part of the state won approval before the vote on whether to move the bill out of committee. East Tennessee is the one grand division of the state that is in the Eastern Time Zone.
What is the Department of Veterans Affairs thinking when it refuses to furnish information about cases of employees committing fraud and waste? With weeks now gone by since it was reported that the department’s inspector general found that an employee in the Nashville office spent more than $140,000 of taxpayers’ money and abandoned his job, VA officials have not even acknowledged the employee’s name. An outraged U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper has demanded a congressional investigation. We fear that the case of Richard Moore may just be the first.