Press Releases

January 13 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Haslam discusses 2012 agenda (Jackson Sun)

Improving the employment rate, education and tweaking the state employment system are just some of the things Gov. Bill Haslam hopes to accomplish in his second year in office. Haslam met with The Jackson Sun editorial board Thursday afternoon to further explain the legislative agenda his administration presented Tuesday.

Haslam: Memphis-Shelby County schools merger on track (C. Appeal/Roberts)

Gov. Bill Haslam is impressed with the “good-faith” work being done to merge city and county schools and doesn’t want legislative bills filed this session that would interfere with that effort. “The merger of these two districts is incredibly difficult and fraught with all sorts of tension, racial issues and everything else,” Haslam told The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board Thursday.

Tennessee and Georgia climb in education quality ranking (TFP/Hardy)

Tennessee and Georgia each moved up in a national ranking of overall education quality, with Tennessee placing 21st and Georgia seventh. But those figures came in well above other measures of statewide student success such as the ACT college entrance exam and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test that compares states’ performance on math and reading.

Tenn. seeks businesses for China, S. Korea trade trip (C. Appeal/Dowd)

Committed to growing Tennessee’s export industry, state officials were in Memphis on Thursday to promote Gov. Bill Haslam’s TNTrade initiative that targets small and midsize companies. Speaking to a couple dozen business leaders at the Greater Memphis Chamber offices, Will Alexander, a top official with the state Department of Economic and Community Development, touted an upcoming trade mission to China and South Korea as part of the statewide plan that was formally launched in Memphis last month by ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty.

Haslam says separate governing board for UM ‘makes sense’ (TFP/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that he’s trying to figure out how to carve out a separate governing board for the University of Memphis — with authority to hire and fire the university’s president — in a way that’s fair to other large Tennessee Board of Regents schools. The governor said he’s in discussions about how to accomplish the longtime goals of the U of M’s supporters and advocates for greater autonomy but also set up guidelines for how other schools might follow suit.

UM Lambuth campus deed transfer celebrated with ceremonial raising of flag (JS)

University of Memphis Lambuth students Eyan and Ivon Wuchina were glad Thursday to be back on the campus they once called home. The twin brothers watched as state and local officials raised the University of Memphis flag in the historic quadrangle on the former Lambuth University campus.

Greeneville expansion brings dozens of new jobs (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

J&J Warehousing & Storage, Inc. plans to create dozens of new jobs over the next three, the company announced on Thursday. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Commissioner Bill Hagerty joined local and company officials to announce the expansion. “When our existing Tennessee industries expand, they are paving the way for us to reach our goal of becoming the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and I applaud J&J Warehousing for their additional investment in Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Greeneville business expanding (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

The expansion of a Greene County business will bring 37 new jobs over the next three years. J&J Warehousing & Storage, Inc. has announced plans to expand their operation in Greeneville. The company manufactures and assembles welded components for the automotive industry.

Tennessee to Study Workers’ Compensation System (Insurance Journal)

Tennessee state officials, business groups, labor leaders and legal experts are lining up to study the state’s workers’ compensation system, although it may be 2013 before any legislative deals are struck. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has decided that for now, the state legislature is best served by continuing to study the workers’ compensation as part of his goal to make the state more business-friendly.

TEA officials express concern over Haslam education proposals (Times-News)

Tennessee Education Association officials have some strong concerns over Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to ease grades K-12 class size limits. The same goes for his plan to move teacher compensation away from education levels and years of service, instead shifting it to evaluation results.

Springfield woman faces more TennCare fraud charges (Tennessean)

A Springfield woman was charged in Sumner County with multiple charges related to obtaining prescription pills illegally just weeks after being charged with TennCare fraud, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Ann Margaret Choate, 30, was indicted by the Sumner County Grand Jury on 11 counts of obtaining drugs by fraud, nine counts of forgery and one count of identity theft.

TN business tax revenue up in December (Associated Press)

Tennessee revenue collections in December were $965.7 million, $123 million more than the budgeted estimate, but the state finance commissioner said revenue in future months may not show the same growth. Finance and Administration commissioner Mark Emkes said in a news release that business tax collections were $114.5 million above the budgeted estimate in December.

State says new bald eagle nests showing up (Associated Press)

State wildlife officials say new bald eagle nests are showing up across the state, including one within the city of Franklin. Additionally, they say there are many other nests that may have been around for years that are not included in the statewide database.

If you see bald eagle nest, TN asks for a call (Tennessean/Paine)

TWRA wants reports on eagle nests statewide Bald eagle nest sites in Tennessee are sought in a survey being taken this year by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The birds, known to have raised young in Cheatham, Williamson and several other Middle Tennessee counties, can change nest sites, and many new nests are showing up each year, said Scott Somershoe, TWRA ornithologist.

Tennessee records fewest traffic deaths since 1963 (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee recorded the fewest traffic deaths in 48 years during 2011, according to preliminary figures released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. There were 947 traffic-related deaths last year on Tennessee roads.

Retrial dates set in Knoxville torture-slayings (Associated Press)

A special judge in Knoxville set dates for four murder retrials that he ordered in response to the trial judge being addicted to pain pills. Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood on Thursday set June 11 for the retrial of Lemaricus Davidson.

GOP Leaders Eating Their Words? Now Say They’ll Support Food-Tax Cut (TNR)

State lawmakers have yet to pick through Gov. Bill Haslam’s list of priorities going into the legislative session, but so far many favor his plan to ever-so-slightly cut the food tax. That group of fans includes Republicans who not so long ago scoffed at the idea of taxing groceries at a lower rate.

Tenn. House approves GOP redistricting plan (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The state House on Thursday approved a Republican plan to redraw the chamber’s 99 districts, overriding Democrats’ objections that it placed five African-American incumbents into three seats, ensuring that at least two of them would be forced out of office. The chamber voted 67-25 to approve the map that ultimately included changes from the original map to spare three other Democrats from having to face other incumbents this year.

1-2-3, Go! Redistricting Maps Advance (TN Report)

Tweaks to the lines on redrawn Democratic districts in the state House came down to something like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. House lawmakers approved the new maps 67-25-3 Thursday.

TN House passes redistricting plan (Tennessean/Sisk)

The state House of Representatives cleared a redistricting plan Thursday after Republicans agreed to a few changes, including one that will separate a pair of Nashville Democrats into their own districts. Lawmakers voted mainly along party lines to accept a largely Republican plan that reconfigures all 99 House districts, as well as a proposal to redraw the borders of Tennessee’s nine congressional districts.

House OKs plan merging districts of Brown and Favors (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The state House on Thursday approved a Republican redistricting plan that draws two black Chattanooga Democrats into the same district and does the same to two black lawmakers from Memphis. Democrats fought the measure, which redraws all 99 House districts, but it passed on a 67-25 vote with the support of seven Democrats, including three black lawmakers from West Tennessee.

State House Passes New Districts for Self, Congress (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

It took only an hour this afternoon for the Republican majority in the Tennessee House of Representatives to approve some of the new voting lines for the next decade of elections. The House passed a new congressional map, and one for its own chamber.

On New District, Cooper Says Balance Is Priority (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The state House of Representatives agreed today on new lines for Tennessee’s Congressional districts. But the Democrat, who’s not part of the redistricting process, says he’s glad to see the county whole again. “

Lines Still Blurred for Memphis Redistricting (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is expressing concern over representation for the city of Memphis in the three levels of redistricting plans now pending – county, state and federal. Wharton wasn’t specific about his concerns, but he told the Memphis Kiwanis Club Wednesday, Jan. 11, that he will have an announcement soon on the issue.

Amendment would keep Maury Co. in 4th District (Columbia Daily Herald)

A Democratic state senator who intends to run for the 4th Congressional District seat has filed an amendment that would keep a Republican proposal from moving part of Maury County out of that district. Eric Stewart of Winchester, whose 14th State Senate District includes Coffee, Franklin and four other counties, said he filed the amendment Thursday afternoon. The Senate will take up Congressional redistricting in its Friday session.

Lawmakers push science bldg. (Daily News Journal)

Tracy expects funding OK in Legislature State Sen. Jim Tracy is predicting MTSU’s science building will be funded this session, as lawmakers sponsor legislation to construct it amid concerns the university will be required to provide matching funds. Tracy said Thursday he believes he has enough legislative backing to fund the project this year.

Local politicians cautiously optimistic on state revenue (Crossville Chronicle)

As legislators return to Nashville for the 107th session of the Tennessee General Assembly, they’re going with some good news on the state’s finances. Tax revenues have come in slightly higher than projected and the state has a healthy rainy day fund.

Bill affecting transgender use of restrooms, dress rooms loses sponsor (TFP/Sher)

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, on Thursday withdrew the Senate version of a controversial House measure requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms and dressing rooms that match their birth gender. Watson, who is chairman of the Hamilton County legislative delegation, said he sponsored the bill as a standard courtesy to local House members.

Shipley Wants TBI to Release Records in Probe of Lawmakers (TN Report)

State Rep. Tony Shipley said he plans to push for a House committee to subpoena the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s files in the recently concluded inquiry into legislative actions by Shipley and Rep. Dale Ford. Shipley and Ford were subjects of a TBI probe into whether they had exerted improper influence over a state nursing board that had disciplined three nurses from their East Tennessee area. This week Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson announced that he had found no evidence of any crime and would not pursue charges against the two lawmakers. Shipley, R-Kingsport, said he would use the House Government Operations Committee, on which he serves as secretary, to seek the files.

Fleischmann talks FEMA money and redistricting with Bradley leaders (TFP/Carroll)

More than eight months after a tornado devastated Bradley County, the local government still is awaiting cleanup money from Uncle Sam. “Any FEMA people in the room today?” Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis asked during a transportation and infrastructure roundtable hosted by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. Nobody said anything, so Davis leaned across a crowded boardroom table and plowed ahead, simultaneously thanking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance and wondering where the agency’s reimbursement was.

Cooper talks online sales taxes, other issues (Nashville Business Journal)

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper is watching how online sales tax legislation shapes up in the House of Representatives before weighing in on a debate that has put Tennessee in the national spotlight. In a wide-ranging talk that included federal budget woes and local issues, Cooper, D-Nashville, said he agrees that brick-and-mortar retailers are at an unfair advantage in the absence of online retailers like having to collect sales tax.

Bradley awaits Veterans Admin’s 2012 construction priority list (TFP/Higgins)

The Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council is waiting anxiously to hear the Veterans Administration’s new construction priority list for 2012. This time last year the list was out and Montgomery County/Clarksville ranked high on the list with Bradley County close behind.

ADHD med shortage puts squeeze on parents (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Jason Greene can easily predict which customers ask for Ritalin or Adderall. Their faces are new to him, but their anxious looks have become familiar.

At last, a state budget year when the sky is not falling (Stateline)

During the depths of the Great Recession, states had to do many unsavory things to balance their budgets. But few things left a more bitter taste than Arizona’s decision to sell off the office space of its state Capitol complex.

More States Decide to ‘Buy Veteran’ (Wall Street Journal)

After two deployments in Iraq, U.S. Army reservist Josh Cuddy returned to New Brighton, Pa., to open a gourmet-waffle restaurant. Business is good, the 33-year-old veteran says, and he hopes it might get better: His state and nearby Pittsburgh are trying to boost contracts awarded to small businesses owned by veterans.

Music City Center loses two conventions (Nashville Business Journal)

Earlier this week, the Nashville Convention & Visitor’s Bureau announced a milestone: The group had booked more than 600,000 room nights for the Music City Center. In a few weeks, you might hear the exact same announcement again.

Music City Center loses at least 2 conventions (Tennessean/Marsteller)

As many as three groups that had planned to be among the first to use Nashville’s Music City Center convention hall when it opens in 2013 will meet elsewhere because of concerns the massive building may not be ready by their meeting dates. The Southern Baptist Convention has moved its June 2013 annual meeting from the Music City Center, while the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association will do the same with its March convention that same year, said Butch Spyridon, the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau president.

Dr. Nita Shumaker chosen as new Erlanger Health System trustee (TFP/Martin)

After weeks of delay in naming a replacement trustee to the board that oversees Erlanger Health System, the Chattanooga City Council approved the appointment one day after the board narrowly voted to give its outgoing CEO a hefty severance package. Dr. Nita Shumaker, who was recommended by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, will replace Dr. Charles Longer on Erlanger’s board of trustees.

1,100 jobs lost in Food Lion closings in Tennessee (Associated Press)

The closing of 25 Food Lion grocery stores in Tennessee and greatly reducing operations at a distribution center in Clinton is displacing about 1,100 workers. Food Lion spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said a severance package is being offered to eligible employees affected by the parent company’s decision to close underperforming stores.

Hundreds to lose jobs in Food Lion cuts (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/O’Neil)

When Spike Brackett went to bed Wednesday night, he still had a job. When he woke up Thursday morning, he found out he didn’t. Brackett is part of a Food Lion product reset team responsible for changing store layouts.

Mayors urge Electrolux to bump up tally of local, minority workers (CA/Maki)

A report set for Tuesday will update local elected officials about suppliers and local and minority participation in the Electrolux project. “There will be a substantial progress to report,” Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said Thursday following a meeting with Electrolux officials, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Electrolux’s general contractor and local economic development officials.

Phil Bredesen’s solar firm to build $90M array in Georgia (Tennessean/Williams)

Solar project has ties to land owned by music executive Steve Ivey The family farm of Nashville songwriter and music executive Steve Ivey would become the largest solar-power production site in Georgia under a plan announced Thursday by Ivey and a company led by former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and two former state department heads. A $90 million, large-scale solar-power array on the Ivey farm near Athens, Ga., would produce 30 megawatts of electricity that would be sold to Georgia Power Co. under a deal expected to get final approval by the Georgia Public Service Commission next week, said Ivey, who also owns IMI, a Music Row publishing and production house.

TN school adds new anti-cyber bullying to new policy (Associated Press)

Maryville schools update anti-bullying policy The Maryville City School board has revised its anti-bullying policy to reflect changes in state law. The measure passed on first reading Tuesday updates the policy to include cyber bullying — the use of telephone, Internet or email intimidation.

Kansas: Gov. Brownback outlines sweeping tax plan (Kansas City Star)

An eager and enthusiastic Gov. Sam Brownback laid out an ambitious agenda for the Kansas Legislature on Wednesday night that includes a plan to cut the income tax rate for roughly 1.6 million Kansans. However, nearly two-dozen tax deductions, including the one for home mortgage interest, would go away.

Maryland: O’Malley springs sales-tax surprise on assembly (Washington Times)

Gov. Martin O’Malley surprised Maryland lawmakers Wednesday by suggesting an increase in the state sales tax, jump-starting the 2012 General Assembly on what was expected to be a largely ceremonial first day. Mr. O’Malley suggested increasing the tax from 6 percent to 7 percent as an alternative to a 15-cent increase in the gas tax that has been widely discussed by legislators but poorly received by many residents.

West Virginia: Jobs dominate Tomblin’s State of the State (Charleston Gazette)

Calling on legislators to help build a “better, stronger and more vibrant West Virginia,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s second State of the State address emphasized efforts to grow jobs, improve public education and mine safety, deal with statewide drug abuse issues, and to pay down the state’s multi-billion-dollar long-term liability for health care for retired state and public school employees. “As leaders of this state, we need to understand that our mission is to create a business climate that fosters job development,” Tomblin told a joint session of the Legislature Wednesday evening.


Editorial: Haslam’s legislative agenda contains bills that deserve support (J. Sun)

On Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam reviewed his legislative agenda with members of The Jackson Sun editorial board, and there is much that deserves support. Each year, Tennessee’s governor submits a series of bills to the General Assembly that reflect executive branch efforts to improve state government and to implement the governor’s vision for the state. Several of Haslam’s proposals deserve support.

Greg Johnson: Haslam strikes chord on taxes, pay, efficiency (News-Sentinel)

Christmas has come and gone. Epiphany just passed. But, lo and behold, Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday gave Tennesseans a gift, a legislative agenda that is quite inspired. On taxes, Haslam astutely packaged a cut in the state inheritance tax with a reduction in the tax on groceries, effectively triangulating Tennessee Democrats.

Editorial: Bold steps taken against drug abuse, judicial misconduct (News-Sentinel)

The state Supreme Court and Gov. Bill Haslam each took steps recently to prevent a reprise of the debacle caused by ex-judge Richard Baumgartner’s prescription drug abuse. The court revised ethics rules to require judges to report their colleagues’ suspect behavior, while the governor has proposed measures to catch addicts who obtain prescriptions for painkillers from multiple doctors.

Pam Strickland: Lakeshore still taking patients (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

We had all been led to believe that Lakeshore Mental Health Institute would stop taking admissions as of the end of 2011, but last weekend the state hospital in Bearden took 23 new admissions as staffing reached critically low levels. Grant Lawrence, public information officer with the state Department of Mental Health, confirmed the weekend admissions to Lakeshore and said updated contracts with the private hospitals had yet to be signed during a telephone conversation on Wednesday.

Times Editorial: What county protest ‘rules’? (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Hamilton County commissioners’ displeasure with the Occupy Chattanooga protesters’ around-the-clock camp-out on the lawn of the County Courthouse has been apparent for some time. Though their actions have been more measured, and more careful to avoid the use of force seen elsewhere against the Occupy movement, they now seem determined to end the camp-out.

Free-Press Editorial: Hamilton commissioners seek to protect safety, property (TFP)

A quick look at pictures in the Times Free Press of the lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse shows why county commissioners are concerned about the so-called “Occupy Chattanooga” protesters who have camped at the site for weeks on end. Tents and chairs are scattered about. A pile of wood sits under a tarp, and an open fire burns nearby.

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