This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee lawmakers are headed into their final day of the 108th General Assembly on Thursday. The House and Senate are scheduled to meet in floor sessions to complete their calendars. Members will also be meeting in conference committees to hammer out differences on key legislation, like Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to limit the sale of cold and allergy medicines used to make meth. Other pending bills include measures to allow Tennessee to electrocute prisoners if lethal injection drugs are unavailable, a compromise on Common Core education standards and related testing and an effort to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Through an 84-8 vote, the House signed off Wednesday on a negotiated deal on Common Core that proponents say will delay testing tied to the controversial standards and perhaps lead to substituting another test. Officially known as a House-Senate Conference Committee report on HB1549, negotiators said the agreement also gives a stronger voice in any future moves to expand Common Core standards into school subjects beyond math and language arts, where they are already in place. Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, was the most strident critic of the agreement, calling it “nothing more than lipstick on a pig.”
The state House has voted to adopt the report of a special committee that recommends the testing component of Tennessee’s Common Core education standards be delayed a year. Lawmakers voted 85-8 in favor of the conference committee report on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to vote on the report Thursday. Last month, Republican and Democratic House members passed a bill that sought to delay further implementation of the new standards for two years. It also sought to delay the testing component for the standards for the same amount of time. The committee’s proposal would only affect the testing component.
Gov. Bill Haslam this week signed legislation by two Hamilton County lawmakers that ends Tennessee cities’ ability to annex by ordinance. Legislative records show Haslam signed the bill with little fanfare on Tuesday. The law requires cities annex by consent of a landowner or through referendum votes approved by a majority of the landowners to be annexed. To protect farmers, land used primarily for agricultural purposes can’t be annexed unless the farmer agrees. “This was truly a movement by the people and would not have occurred without the teamwork of many making their wishes known to state government,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, in a news release.
With the state legislature just short of finishing a bill targeting Nashville’s high-profile bus proposal, known as the Amp, and session poised to end Thursday, a potential compromise has emerged from talks with lawmakers and the governor’s office. Two conflicting versions of the bill have passed, but still have to be reconciled to become law. The House agreed to simply call for oversight of the project, but the Senate’s version (backed by Americans For Prosperity) would torpedo the Amp’s design outright.
Reelfoot Lake State Park is going to have indoor lodging again, possibly by late next year. The State Building Commission on Wednesday approved design plans for eight or nine new cabins at the park in northwestern Tennessee famous for its fishing, cypress trees, nature hikes, boating and winter eagle tours. The cabins will be built in the narrow strip of land between the lake and Tenn. 21 at the southern edge of the lake on both sides of the old spillway. David Benton, facilities management director for Tennessee State Parks, said the agency hopes to have the cabins open in late 2015.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is moving its Tennessee Career Center from 1295 Poplar Ave. in the Midtown Medical District to 3040 Walnut Grove Road near the Benjamin Hooks Central Library. The new Career Center will open on April 28. The Poplar office will be closed on April 24 and April 25 to prepare for the move. The Career Center staff helps those looking for a job link up with potential employers. Applicants can use the web, particiapate in job training programs and work on applications and resumes.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will halt interstate construction for Easter starting Thursday evening. Crews will stop work requiring lane closures at 6 p.m. Thursday, according to a TDOT release. The construction is set to start again at 6 a.m. on Monday. “Because the Easter holiday is a time when many families travel, we have elected to suspend interstate construction in Tennessee to allow traffic to flow freely and to lessen possible delays,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said in a release. Some long-term lane closures may stay in place through Easter weekend, the release said.
The House on Wednesday refused to go along with the Senate version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to set tighter annual limits on the amount of cold and allergy medicines used to make meth that can be bought without a prescription. The lower chamber voted 80-10 to reject the Senate version, meaning the legislation is likely headed for a conference committee to try to work out differences. The House version would set an annual limit of 28.8 grams, or a five-month supply, without a prescription. The Senate bill would set the limit at half that amount. Several House members responded angrily to an attempt by bill sponsors to conform to the Senate version calling for 14.4-gram annual limit.
Tennesseans who break into vehicles to rescue endangered children — as when temperatures rise — will be protected from paying for damage costs. State senators and representatives unanimously passed legislation to protect good Samaritans who pull kids from cars, as long as the vehicles are locked, there’s no other way to rescue the child and harm is imminent. They also must call 911 or law enforcement before forcing their way in. The bill is awaiting Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. The new legislation pairs with the state’s existing law that makes it a misdemeanor to leave children unattended in vehicles.
Tennessee would be ready to electrocute death row inmates should lethal injection drugs be unavailable under a bill approved Wednesday by the House. Representatives voted 68-13 for the measure. The bill was previously approved by the Senate, but a minor amendment added by the House sends it back to the Senate. If senators agree, it goes to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Under the bill, lethal injection would remain the preferred method of execution. But in the event the drugs needed were unavailable or lethal injections were found unconstitutional by a court, the state would have a standby. Not everyone was happy with that.
The legislative push to abolish Tennessee’s Hall income tax on some investment earnings has ended in failure for this year. The bill (SB1427) was amended in Senate Finance Committee, where it has been debated for days and revised twice, to abolish the tax’s revenue stream to cities and counties as well as the state over a period of years. But that move prompted Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, the bill’s sponsor, to declare he wouldn’t proceed with the bill because he said it would break promises he made to local officials in his district that the state would keep paying local governments even if the tax were abolished.
The legislative push to abolish Tennessee’s tax on certain interest and dividend income — called the “Hall income tax” after the legislator who sponsored its enactment in 1929 — has ended in failure for this year. The bill was debated for days in the Senate Finance Committee, which amended it Wednesday to also abolish the tax’s revenue stream to cities and counties as well as the state. But that move prompted Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, the bill’s sponsor, to declare he wouldn’t proceed with the bill because he said it would break promises he made to local officials in his district that the state would keep paying local governments even if the tax was abolished. “As amended I can’t push the bill forward. This kills the bill,” Green said.
It took five weeks, dozens of applications and one rejection after another for convicted felon Jennifer Cunningham to find a low-paying job in a restaurant. The Spencer, Tenn., woman is hoping that a bill that was just passed in the legislature might give her the opportunity for a better job in the future. “I don’t want to be working in a burger joint for the rest of my life,” said Cunningham, during an interview at the Davidson County Drug Court, where she is being treated for methamphetamine addiction after being convicted of bringing drugs to jail after being arrested for shoplifting.
Flash mobs that create property damage could be charged as a crime under a bill that’s passed both chambers in the General Assembly. It’s now on its way to the governor. Although the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, calls it “retail vandalism” instead of “flash mob” in the legislation, the discussion on the floor of the House of Representatives repeatedly focused on flash mobs. Why exactly a new category needs to be created to prosecute this type of behavior remained unclear. In particular, Rep. Bo Mitchell asked: “I just wanna know one of these organizations that’s such a menace to society that we have to add this to the code.”
Both the Tennessee Senate and House have agreed on a change in state law that would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp. The legislation, sponsored by Republicans Frank Niceley in the Senate and Jeremy Faison in the House, directs the state Department of Agriculture to develop a system for licensing farmers who want to grow strains and varieties of the cannabis plant family that contain no more than trace amounts of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive element in marijuana that produces an intoxicating effect.
The post-election fight over the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant’s union vote hit high gear Wednesday, as anti-United Auto Workers activists challenged subpoenas ahead of a federal hearing while Democratic congressmen sought an investigation.U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., joined others in battling the UAW subpoenas for the planned National Labor Relations Board hearing on the union’s appeal of the February worker election at the plant.”Everyone understands that after a clear defeat, the UAW is trying to create a sideshow so we have filed a motion to revoke these baseless subpoenas,” said Todd Womack, Corker’s chief of staff, in a statement. “Neither Sen. Corker nor his staff will attend the hearing on Monday.”
U.S. House Democrats today announced an investigation into incentive offers Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration made to Volkswagen while workers at its Chattanooga plant considered a plan to unionize. Democratic members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce today sent Haslam a letter “seeking more information about whether any Tennessee state officials conditioned, or threatened to condition, state aid to Volkswagen on the outcome of workers’ efforts to establish a union and/or a works council at the Chattanooga plant,” according to a news release.
Congressional Democrats are now looking into whether Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam may have broken federal labor laws. Recently-leaked documents show he offered Volkswagen money based on the outcome of a union vote. The incentive deal was worth $300 million for VW to expand its plant in Chattanooga. But the offer clearly stated that the union organizing at the plant had to be worked out to the state’s satisfaction – and the governor has not been shy about saying he does wants to keep the UAW outside the plant. California Democrat George Miller – who is the ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee – penned a letter to Haslam.
After many homeowners paid record high power bills through the winter, electric customers will get a bit of a spring reprieve next month. Cheaper fuel costs will push down the price of electricity generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority by more than 1.5 percent in May, saving the typical Chattanooga homeowner $2.38 on next month’s light bill from the current rate. The Tennessee Valley Authority, the federal utility that generates and supplies electricity in portions of seven Southeast states, is cutting its monthly fuel cost adjustment in May in response to lower demand and cheaper fuel prices compared with those in March and April.
Consolidated Nuclear Security has promised to save the government more than $3 billion over the next 10 years by efficiently combining the management of the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants. The cost commitment was a big reason why CNS — a partnership headed by Bechtel National — won the contract competition for the $22 billion federal contract. But it also generated much anxiety among workers at the sites in Oak Ridge and Amarillo, Texas, who worried that those cost savings were going to come directly at the expense of their jobs and their benefits.
In talking with supporters of Common Core last week in Nashville, what came across is that they are sincere in their belief that we have to raise standards in our schools. No argument there. But convinced of the rightness of their cause, they tend to see any opposition as uninformed, or to suspect ulterior motives. There are certainly many opponents of Common Core who are ill-informed and there are educators who really don’t want to be evaluated based on test scores. But refusing to listen to any criticism, or seek compromise, has both sides talking past each other.
Gov. Bill Haslam has a bill on his desk that deserves his signature. The measure allows courts to issue a certificate of employability to convicted felons who have stayed out of trouble. This is a step in the right direction that could help felons overcome one of the greatest obstacles to becoming productive citizens, getting a good job. It also could help slow the costly revolving door of repeat offenders. It would be up to a judge to decide the merits of a case. Prosecutors also would have an option to oppose issuing a certificate if they believe an offender has not earned it. The bill also offers legal protection from lawsuits to employers who hire someone who has the court-issued certificate.
Even by the standards of the growing Republican assault on the lives and rights of women, a new bill passed by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Tennessee’s Legislature recently stands out for being meanspirited and counterproductive. If signed by the state’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam, the legislation would give Tennessee the dubious distinction of being the first state to specifically authorize the filing of assault charges, carrying up to 15 years in prison, when a fetus or newborn is deemed to be harmed by illegal narcotics. Once the bill reaches his desk, Mr. Haslam will have 10 days to veto or sign it before it automatically becomes law.
People like to say Tennessee has no income tax, but that’s not true. Eighty-five years after it was imposed at the urging of Sen. Frank Hall on the eve of the Great Depression, the so-called Hall Income Tax continues to chip away at Tennesseans’ nest eggs with an onerous tax on dividends and interest. It’s a yearly tax on the good habits of savings and thrift; it keeps retirees, job creators and venture capitalists from coming here; and it is riddled with exemptions that favor politically active corporations over others and distorts the free market. We ought to repeal it.
Note: The news-clips will resume Saturday, April 19, 2014.