This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he will rely on prayer and advice from experts when he is faced with last-minute appeals from death row inmates facing execution. The Republican governor stressed at a forum hosted by the Christian group Q Ideas on Wednesday that he has yet to be confronted with death penalty decisions because of court-ordered delays. “So I can’t honestly answer when it comes down to 11 o’clock the night before exactly what that would feel like and look like,” Haslam said.
Facing up to nine executions in the next two years, Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he’s assembling a team of experts to consult about upcoming death penalty cases, the first of his time in office. He will also pray. The governor, who supported the death penalty as Tennessee law during his 2010 campaign, was asked about the issue during a discussion at “Q Ideas,” a national series of forums on religion, culture and politics underway in Nashville this week. The Republican governor and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, discussed several issues prompted by a moderator before about 1,100 attendees, many affiliated with churches across the country.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to rely on a panel of experts plus some advice from above when deliberating the fates of 10 convicted murderers with scheduled execution dates in the next two years. The Republican governor’s comments came during a discussion Wednesday at the Q Ideas conference, a gathering of church leaders from across the country. The moderator asked Haslam how he, as a “Christian man,” would approach the “super difficult” decision for the state to carry out an execution.
Gov. Bill Haslam said at a religious conference in downtown Nashville that he “can’t honestly answer” how he’ll handle executions until one of the 10 scheduled cases lands at his doorstep. Responding to a question at a “Q Ideas” conference held this morning in War Memorial Auditorium, Haslam said he would assess each capital case individually as he weighs whether to exercise his power to grant clemency to death row inmates. His approach would include consulting with mental health providers, law enforcement and district attorneys, the Nashville Scene reports.
Political bickering in Washington has left the Highway Trust Fund near bankruptcy and forced Tennessee to review the “archaic system” it uses to raise money from fuel taxes. “We get paid by the gallons of fuel people burn, and they’ve been burning less,” Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer on Wednesday told members of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization. He deemed that method an “archaic system.” “We have to have some sort of usage fee using how many miles you travel and how much does your vehicle weigh.”
Potential job creators are fleeing the region because of poor scores in air quality, and it may be years before the area’s rating improves, leaders say. The problem, according to Director of Knox County Air Quality Management Lynne Liddington, is the Knoxville region’s inability to meet federal standards on particulate matter. Exacerbating that issue, Liddington explained Wednesday to the Knoxville Region Transportation Planning Organization, are apparently tainted state Department of Health laboratories that had been analyzing air samples for Knox County.
Dead people and state employees are still getting jobless benefits. But a new group is reaping the rewards of Tennessee’s broken unemployment system — felons behind bars. For the second year in a row, state auditors found numerous problems with the state’s unemployment system. An audit last year found that at least $73 million in jobless benefits were improperly paid out. But this year’s version found that the amount had ballooned to $181 million. And it found new problems with ineligible people — dead and alive — drawing benefits.
A special state Supreme Court panel has refused to rehear a case that challenged the constitutionality of the way Tennessee selects its judges. John Jay Hooker, a former Democratic candidate for governor who has long been a foe of the way Tennessee picks its judges, asked the court to rehear the case after it ruled against him last month. Hooker has argued that the state constitution calls for judges to be chosen by contested popular election. Tennessee has a system that calls for the governor to pick someone to fill a judicial vacancy from a list of nominees submitted by a commission.
A specially-appointed Tennessee Supreme Court has denied a challenge to the state’s selection process for judges. It’s yet another failed lawsuit filed by activist attorney John Jay Hooker. In this instance, the sitting court recused itself since it has an inherent conflict of interest in how judges are chosen. Five attorneys were appointed as a “special Supreme Court.” But they didn’t buy Hooker’s argument that the state constitution mandates direct elections. Appellate judges are currently appointed by the governor and only sit for retention elections. The 83-year-old says the ballgame isn’t over.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander was in Memphis on Monday for a variety of purposes — one of which, perhaps coincidentally, was to see and be seeen on a day when his chief Republican primary opponent this year, state Representative Joe Carr, was the beneficiary of a Germantown fund-raiser. Among other things, the senator made a pitch at a noon-time press conference at the University of Memphis area Holiday Inn for his bill to simplify student-aid applications and subsequently helped preside over the presentation of the Dunavant Public Service Awards (to Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft and Collierville town administrator James Lewellen).
Broadband adoption in Tennessee jumped from 43 percent of households in 2007 to 72 percent of households in 2013, according to data released today by Connected Tennessee. The figure surpasses the national broadband adoption rate of 70 percent, according to a release from the public-private partnership. The national figure also has seen a sharp increase from 2007, when 47 percent of households had adopted broadband Internet. “In 2007, Tennessee trailed the national average for broadband adoption and was recognized as a technology-challenged state. Today’s announcement that our state has now led the national average for three years running serves as validation that we are on the right track and moving more Tennesseans online,” Corey Johns, Connected Tennessee executive director, said in a news release.
Americans’ reliance on food stamps has declined for the first time since 2007, with a better economy reducing the number of people who turn to the government for help in buying food, according to newly released data. In Tennessee, about 13,000 fewer people were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrion Assistance Program, or SNAP, in January compared to the year before — a decline of 1 percent. Nationwide, the drop in enrollment was much a steeper 2.6 percent, leaving a million fewer people enrolled. “Our hope is that this is going to continue,” said Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed disavowed candidate Mark Clayton’s bid to get on the Democratic ballot for governor. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp threw out a suit filed by the Nashville flooring installer and the 2012 Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. Clayton had alleged the Tennessee Democratic Party violated state law by keeping him off the ballot this August. But Clayton could not show at a hearing held Tuesday why the case was a matter for the federal courts, Sharp said. “Although the Court repeatedly inquired into the basis for its subject matter jurisdiction at the hearing,” Sharp wrote in the four-page order, “a cogent answer was never provided.”
First lady Michelle Obama urged soldiers here Wednesday to talk up their skills and service as they trade weaponry for resumes — and offered a new tool to help them do it. In a speech that was the kind of pep talk you’d expect for new college graduates, Obama offered a twist: the notion that soldiers who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can probably handle a job interview at Xerox or UPS. “You’ve been focused on completing the mission,” she said. “You’ve been focused on being there for your fellow soldiers. Well, today we need you to start thinking and talking about yourselves for a change.”
The state of Tennessee has approved a $25 million renovation of St. Thomas Midtown that will allow the hospital to perform joint replacement procedures more efficiently, company officials said. The renovations, which should be complete late this summer, will affect a 94,000-square-foot building on campus. Renovations will streamline joint replacement care at the hospital so that it all happens on one floor. St. Thomas plans to build out a total of eight operating rooms that are specialized to handle joint replacement surgery.
As part of their plans for safety and security, the new municipal school districts are hoping to hang on to the Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies they have patrolling their schools. But if they want them, they’re going to have to pay for them. The opposite is true for Shelby County Schools, which is not required to cover most of the costs of the deputies in its schools. Separate police presence in the municipal and county schools is paid for by the cities. Chuck Fox, chief administrative officer of the sheriff’s department, said his office currently supplies 47 deputies for all of Shelby County Schools.
Tennessee residents may be a little confused about the spending philosophies of their legislators after the end of the 2014 legislative session. Legislators approved a proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam to provide for high school graduates two years of higher education free at the state’s community colleges and centers for applied technology. Legislators again failed to approve a proposal from the governor to create a voucher program in the state because some legislators want a more extensive program than the governor favors. Legislators approved measures to require any agreement about expansion of Medicaid through the federal Affordable Care Act to receive legislative approval.
Once again we are disappointed in Gov. Bill Haslam’s failure to lead on the issue of Medicaid (TennCare) expansion. The recently concluded Tennessee General Assembly offered Haslam and other state leaders an opportunity to put the issue on the table and act in the best interest of Tennessee’s uninsured, financially stressed hospitals, endangered health care jobs and Tennessee residents and taxpayers, and they failed. What Haslam and other state leaders are failing to acknowledge is that Tennessee’s refusal to expand TennCare is costing taxpayers millions of dollars a day.