This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Eight Tennessee counties officially received disaster aid from the federal government on Friday evening after the snow and ice that fell in the state between March 2 and March 4. Gov. Bill Haslam had requested the aid after the winter storm wreaked havoc across the state. Carroll, Cheatham, Dickson, Haywood, Houston, Madison, Shelby and Tipton counties are the areas that will receive the federal funds. The assistance, approved by President Obama, allows the impacted counties to apply for reimbursement for specific expenses related to response and recovery from the disaster.
Commuters and motorists who have enjoyed a respite from delays and rolling roadblocks on Interstate 26 may be in for some disappointment. On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced that two rolling roadblocks will occur Tuesday afternoon between exits 10 and 17 along I-26. In a release, TDOT Community Relations Officer Mark Nagi said the roadblocks would be put in place at 1:30 and 3 p.m. Tuesday as crews will be pulling power lines across the interstate. Nagi added that traffic will be held to speeds of around 5 mph, and that, between the roadblocks and congestion, delays could last anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes.
The Tennessee Supreme Court appointed James M. Hivner, chief administrative officer of Shelby County Chancery Court, as clerk of the state’s appellate court system Monday. Hivner, 47, of Barlett, replaces retiring clerk Mike Catalano on June 3. He will oversee a staff of 29 at clerks’ offices in Jackson, Nashville and Knoxville serving the state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals. Hivner had a solo law practice in Alabama before returning to Tennessee, where he worked with several Memphis law firms.
Gov. Bill Haslam will help a Williamson County lawmaker face a challenge from gun rights activists with an appearance Tuesday night in Franklin. The Republican governor is scheduled to speak to supporters of state Rep. Charles Sargent as he kicks off his re-election campaign at 5 p.m. at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant. State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, also will appear as a musical performer; he plays guitar. “Charles Sargent is a strong and effective representative for Williamson County,” said Jeremy Harrell, Haslam’s campaign manager.
The Democratic leader of the state Senate is urging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to veto his own legislation to limit the purchase of cold and allergy medicines used to make illegal methamphetamine. Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis on Monday said the bill passed by the Legislature did not go far enough to put a dent in makeshift meth labs around the state. The bill awaiting the governor’s signature would require a prescription to obtain more than 28.8 grams of pseudoephedrine per year, which is the equivalent of about five months’ worth of the maximum dosage of medicines like Sudafed.
U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch, introduced the Senate version of the Songwriters Equity Act, which seeks to increase royalty payments to songwriters and music publishers. The senators made the announcement in front of an applauding crowd of music industry members at the iconic Bluebird Cafe. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, initially introduced the bill in the U.S. House in February. The legislation would allow the federal rate court to factor in the fair market value for a song when determining the rate that songwriters and publishers must be paid when their songs are played.
Tennessee’s U.S. senators introduced legislation Monday that would make changes to the royalties songwriters receive when their songs downloaded and sold digitally. The bill, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker alongside Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, is a companion to legislation already in the House. It would direct the Copyright Royalty Board to set compensation rates on songs based on “fair-market value.” “Italy has its art, Egypt has its Pyramids, Napa Valley has its wines and Nashville has its songwriters,” Alexander said in a news release.
Three Republican senators sat on the small stage of Nashville’s Bluebird Café Monday morning flanked by some of the biggest songwriters in town. The lawmakers flew in to show support for legislation that might help hit-makers get paid more. “Italy has its art, Egypt has its Pyramids, Napa Valley has its wines and Nashville has its songwriters,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said. “Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City, and their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs.” The bill would make two seemingly subtle changes to the Copyright Royalty Board, removing what supporters call “government price controls.” It would set the rate for songwriters based on “fair market value” when music is downloaded.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has been doing his best to avoid saying he supports Common Core education standards. The controversial benchmarks for what students should learn in each grade have become a campaign issue in several races, including Alexander’s. In recent months, Alexander has appeared alongside Governor Bill Haslam as a show of solidarity for Tennessee’s use of Common Core. But the standards are also a political liability in the current climate, even for someone like Alexander who is expected to have a fairly easy time keeping his seat. “I always choose my words carefully,” Alexander said Monday – with a laugh – when asked if he was being careful how he talks about Common Core.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said Monday an investigation into alleged unnecessary veterans’ deaths involving a Phoenix Veterans Administration facility needs to play out amid calls for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Roe, a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, insisted all the information from an inspector general’s probe of the matter should first come out. “There’s an allegation right now, and obviously if those allegations are true, that’s a very serious problem,” Roe, R-Tenn., said during a stop at Holston Manor to observe National Nursing Home Week.
In the midst of all the turmoil in health care these days, one thing is becoming clear: No matter what kind of health plan consumers choose, they will find fewer doctors and hospitals in their network — or pay much more for the privilege of going to any provider they want. These so-called narrow networks, featuring limited groups of providers, have made a big entrance on the newly created state insurance exchanges, where they are a common feature in many of the plans. While the sizes of the networks vary considerably, many plans now exclude at least some large hospitals or doctors’ groups.
The Sequoyah Nuclear Plant’s unit 2 reactor in Soddy-Daisy is offline for scheduled refueling and maintenance. The Tennessee Valley Authority took the reactor offline on Monday after it had completed 438 consecutive days of operation. Unit 1 is expected to continue operating while unit 2 is down. The two units at Sequoyah each produce 1, 160 megawatts of electricity when operating at full capacity. Combined, they produce enough electricity for more than 1.3 million homes. According to the utility, one of the Sequoyah units is taken offline every 18 months so that fuel can be replaced and maintenance can be safely performed.
While Volkswagen still has not made an expansion announcement regarding its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says he is as hopeful as ever. The former Chattanooga mayor promised the company would add an SUV assembly line if workers rejected unionization, which they did in February. “I have no indication that things are different than we thought before the election. It does take a while to get everybody back together and moving ahead, but there is more happening than meets the eye.” – Bob Corker Quoting an unnamed source, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported a decision on where to build an SUV could come as early as Monday.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Monday that a decision on where Volkswagen will build a new sport utility vehicle is due “in the very near future.” “I’m not going to put a time frame, but it’s moving in the right direction,” the Tennessee Republican said on VW’s pending decision on whether to add a second line of production at the auto manufacturer’s Chattanooga plant. Tennessee had offered VW officials, who are also considering a SUV line in Mexico, a $300 million incentive package to put the vehicle in Chattanooga.
The County Commission approved a capital spending plan for Shelby County Schools Monday that carved out an additional $4.8 million for schools that will soon be part of the new municipal districts. By a vote of 8-3, the commission approved a proposal from Commissioner Mike Ritz in which a total of $52.2 million will be spent on capital requests out of the current fiscal year budget. That’s $47.4 million for current and future SCS schools — almost all that the system asked for in its original $51.6 million request.
County property owners could be looking at a 12.6 percent property tax increase to cover school operations next year unless reserves can reduce the burden, officials reported. “All funds are OK except for schools,” County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said during an interview in her second-floor office at the County Courthouse on the Public Square in Murfreesboro. She noted how the Rutherford County Board of Education had to use $10.4 million in reserves to operate this year’s $302 million budget for a fast-growing district. By depleting what had been in savings, the County Commission was able to avoid an even higher property tax increase than the 4.1 percent hike adopted for this year.
Not long ago, people in Tennessee came together around the proposition that all students deserved a first-rate education. The bipartisan coalition of leaders, the Tennessee Education Association, school boards, parents, community leaders and students that made Tennessee one of the first Race to the Top winners was built on four simple ideas: • Student achievement matters, and students whose achievement grows each year are much more likely to enjoy great opportunities for higher education and rewarding work throughout their lives than those whose achievement lags.