This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam hates meth. Continuing his statewide effort to combat the use and manufacture of methamphetamine, the governor announced Wednesday an update to his statewide campaign to inform Tennesseans about the consequences of violating the I Hate Meth Act, which went into effect last year. The act, which established a statewide electronic log to track the sales of over-the-counter drugs used to make meth, also made it a felony to manufacture meth in front of children.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced a statewide campaign today designed to increase awareness of the penalties for violators of the I Hate Meth Act that took effect last July. The campaign addresses the portion of the anti-meth law that increases penalties for making or using methamphetamine in the presence of children and for purchasing pseudoephedrine products for non-medical uses. The announcement took place in conjunction with the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Nashville.
Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a statewide campaign designed to inform Tennesseans about the consequences of violating the “I Hate Meth Act,” which took effect on July 1, 2011. The announcement took place in coordination with the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Nashville. “The goal of this campaign is to communicate the harsh consequences of violating our anti-meth law,” Haslam said. “We want to deter people from making and using meth in our state, which will save lives, protect children, save taxpayer dollars, and make Tennessee safer overall.”
Gas pumps in Tennessee will soon feature ads with the slogan “new law, no escape” as part of a statewide campaign against meth. The federally-funded awareness effort will also include billboards, a website, bumper stickers and radio. This ad targets so-called “smurfs,” who gather the cold medicine dealers use to make meth: “Guess what happens when you try to buy a lot of pseudoephedrine. A statewide tracking system will block the purchase and alert the police.” (knocking) “Police! Open up!” “Because in Tennessee, there are strict limits on how much pseudoephedrine you can buy.”
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposals to crack down on the sale or manufacture of certain drugs are headed to him for his signature. Both bills are part of the Republican governor’s crime package and have been unanimously approved in the House and Senate. One proposal that was sent to the governor on Wednesday after passing the House 98-0 would add and remove certain substances from the list of controlled substances in order to put it in compliance with the federal schedule.
The fight to make synthetic drugs illegal in Tennessee took another step forward Tuesday. State Representative Tony Shipley says legislation passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee with no dissenting votes. The bill would make possessing, manufacturing, or selling bath salts, K2, and other synthetic drugs a felony in the volunteer state. Shipley says Governor Bill Haslam has also approved funding for the bill, and it should become law sometime next month.
As bills that outlaw sagging pants or guide the teaching of evolution await the governor’s signature, Bill Haslam says lawmakers should be spending time – in his words – on “things that really matter to a state.” On Wednesday, Haslam asked for a hand from one of the most influential lobbying groups at the capitol – the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of people wanting the ears of our legislators and those of us in the executive branch, and what you can do is help us keep our focus.”
In an interview with WPLN 90.3 FM, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam defended his plan for spending some of the state’s higher-than-anticipated revenue and admits that he’s “adding to the size of government.” “There are some real needs out there to fund,” Haslam told WPLN. “You know, I’m a conservative Republican, and I don’t apologize for that, but I don’t think government is evil. I don’t even think it’s a necessary evil. I think it’s a critical way that we provide needed services.”
Legislation requiring jail times for repeat domestic offenders passed a House subcommittee Wednesday morning. The bill, part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s crime initiative, would impose mandatory minimums that currently don’t exist for repeat offenders. If passed, a second domestic violence conviction would bring a 45-day sentence and a third conviction would require 120 days in jail. The legislation now needs approval from the full House Finance Committee before it reaches the entire House for a vote.
Tennessee has one of the lightest tax burdens in the country, according to new research from the non-partisan Tax Foundation. The group calculates how far into the year people must work to pay off their federal and state taxes. The average this year is mid-April, three days later than in 2011. In Tennessee, the so-called “tax freedom day” came March 31st, the earliest in the country. Governor Bill Haslam is already trumpeting the results.
Imagine the horror when members of the Haslam family opened their Wall Street Journals to discover that Bill was being attacked in an editorial as an impediment to a tax cut. Arthur Laffer, author of the Laffer curve, is the darling of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. He famously proposed the Republican mantra that cutting taxes increases revenue. He was invited to speak to the Tennessee House Republican Caucus by Speaker Beth Harwell and he made the case for repealing the state inheritance tax—or as Republicans call it, the death tax.
Shelbyville’s airport has received a $45,000 aeronautics grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for grounds maintenance equipment. The grant, which will be combined with a $15,000 local match, was recommended earlier this week through the Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics. Needed upgrades City manager Jay Johnson said that Shelbyville has had a lot of limitations on its ability to buy equipment for the past several years due to budget constraints.
The Tennessee Housing Development Agency announced it has received another infusion of federal dollars to be used for foreclosure counseling. The $659,511 allocation from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program is the sixth such infusion for the Tennessee agency, which intends to use the money to continue providing foreclosure prevention counseling services. The THDA is the same agency that administered the Tennessee Hardest Hit program in 2011.
Crime on school campuses across Tennessee slightly increased in 2011, according to a report released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Wednesday. Violent crime, however, rose 20 percent for the second year in a row. According to a release from the TBI, its “Crime on Campus 2011” report shows the increase follows after a decrease in reported offenses for 2010. Since 2004, the TBI reports have shown decrease each year except for another slight increase in 2009.
Crime on Tennessee’s college campuses rose in 2011 for the second time in the past eight years, with drug and sex crimes seeing a startling spike. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday released its annual report detailing crime at the state’s colleges and universities, as mandated by state law. The results showed about a 4.2 percent increase in overall crime across the state and a 20 percent increase in violent crime.
But illegal drug use down across campus Crime on the MTSU campus was up more than 10 percent overall in 2011, according to the most recent Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime on Campus report. Released Wednesday, the report summarizes crime at all of Tennessee’s universities and colleges into nine major categories and several more subcategories. Reports of crime are submitted to the TBI by law enforcement through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System program.
Crime on college campuses in Tennessee saw a slight overall increase last year, with drugs to blame for most of the upswing, according to a state report released Wednesday. Colleges and universities around the state reported 7,493 total crimes in 2011, a 4.2 percent increase from the year before, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s annual “Crime on Campus” statistical report. The uptick continues a trend that began in 2009.
Crime activity is up. That’s according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Their most recent report shows crime on college campuses across the state in 2011, up 4.2 percent from 2010. In 2011, the TBI reports 7,493 offenses compared to 7,190 in 2010. Violent crime was also up nearly 20 percent for the second year in a row. So are local colleges reporting the same increase? Etsu’s public safety director Jack Cotrel says numbers going up one year, and then down the next can be normal.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations released its annual Crime on Campus report Wednesday, revealing that Austin Peay State University saw an increase in some crimes and a decrease in others. A significant decrease in the number of thefts was reported. In 2010 there were 91 thefts. In 2011, there were 72, a 20.8 percent decrease. Statewide, there was a 3.3 percent decrease in larceny thefts. The category accounted for 37.1 percent of all 2011 offenses reported with “theft from a building” being most often reported.
Chattanooga State Community College will offer “Maymester,” a condensed and accelerated semester scheduled between the end of the spring semester and the beginning of the summer term. Maymester is scheduled for May 9-30. Classes will meet Monday through Friday for three weeks. All classes earn three credit hours and meet three hours per day. The one exception is the physical education walking for fitness class, which is a two credit-hour class that meets for two hours per day.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the death of an inmate who suffered a severe head injury just hours after being booked into the Washington County Tennessee Detention Center. Today – a TBI spokesman confirmed officers booked Charles Williams into the jail in Jonesborough on January sixth. He was charged with public intoxication. He died in the Johnson City Medical Center five days later. Williams’ daughter told us her father suffered a severe skull fracture.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol has placed a captain and a sergeant on discretionary leave with pay pending an internal investigation into possible procedural violations. The THP, in a news release Wednesday, did not specify the possible violations. The two are Capt. David Allred of the Cookeville district and Sgt. Keven Norris, a member of the THP’s critical incident response team in Putnam County. The news release said the two notified officials about the matter.
Travelers are being advised to seek alternate routes through East Tennessee over the holiday weekend as backups are anticipated along Interstate 75 from Kentucky into Tennessee. The interstate is currently reduced to one lane at Mile Marker 144 at Jellico due to a landslide that occurred last month. The Tennessee Department of Transportation warned that during holiday and peak travel times, major delays and traffic backups in excess of 20 miles are expected along the stretch of the roadway.
Sex, purchases from felons revealed A Tennessee judge was so addicted to prescription drugs during his final two years on the bench, he was having sex and buying pills during courtroom breaks, at times purchasing from convicts he had previously sentenced, an investigation found. His behavior has called into question many of the cases he presided over, including one of Knoxville’s most notorious murders.
Legislators approved a compromise Wednesday on a bill that would phase out a Bredesen-era renewable energy tax break, despite previous warnings of devastating the state’s solar industry. The House Finance Subcommittee agreed to amend the bill and send it on to the full finance committee by voice vote, approving a deal that the Nashville Business Journal told full subscribers on Friday was underway.
State Rep. Jim Cobb withdraws proposal without comment Legislation that would have required drug testing for jobless Tennesseans seeking unemployment benefits has been pulled, likely killing the bill for this year. State Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, withdrew his bill from the House floor without comment on Wednesday. He did not immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment. The measure would have required anyone applying for unemployment benefits after Jan. 1, 2013, to submit a urine sample to test for controlled substances.
A measure to legalize medical marijuana has failed this session despite testimony from supporters that the legislation would benefit hundreds of chronically ill people and generate roughly an added $34 million for the state. The Government Operations Committee voted 5-4 Wednesday to send the proposal to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which has closed for the year unless its chairman decides to reopen it.
Supporters of a bill to legalize marijuana for medical use ended their late-session push Wednesday after winning a hearing for the measure before a key committee. State Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, withdrew the Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act after testimony on behalf of the legislation in the House Health and Human Resources Committee. The hearing capped a surprising week for the bill, set in motion by an unexpected vote in its favor in a Republican-led subcommittee.
A bill to make marijuana legal – as a prescription drug – died a legislative death today, but backers say they’re more optimistic than ever that Tennessee will eventually have medical marijuana. The bill made it all the way to standing committees in both chambers before it was snuffed out. Memphis Democrat Jeanne Richardson, who has carried the bill for several years, urged fellow lawmakers to talk to their constituents about the issue while on the campaign trail.
A proposal that would allow teachers to qualify for tenure if they “meet expectations” on their evaluations is likely dead this session. The measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jimmy Naifeh of Covington failed 7-5 in the House Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Education Committee. Under the state’s new teacher evaluation system, teachers can gain tenure only if they score in the top two ratings two consecutive years.
The bill to lift the statewide ban on creating municipal school districts will be back in the Tennessee House Education Committee next week after more last-minute developments including an amendment. The Tennessee Senate passed the legislation without the amendment this week. A House amendment would mean a conference committee to reconcile the different versions late in the 2012 legislative session.
The state House of Representative spent more than a half hour today debating a resolution with no practical effect – it would tell the federal government that Tennessee doesn’t approve of mandatory coverage of contraception the national health care plan. There’s no guarantee that anyone in Washington will pay any attention to the memorializing resolution – but Republicans used it to quote scripture against the president’s health care plan.
In a scenario which almost seems appropriate for a TV drama, state Representative Curry Todd (R-Collierville) made a dramatic announcement Tuesday in a legislative committee about his private bout with cancer and halted efforts in that committee to kill a bill affecting treatment for his illness. Todd, a former Memphis policeman who has been an active advocate for numerous positions favored by the current Republican administration, stopped one such n its tracks when he told colleagues at a Commerce Committee hearing that he has a rare form of cancer that could benefit from oral chemotherapy treatments.
Former state Sen. Mike Williams has joined a crowded field seeking the GOP nomination in the race for the renumbered 8th Senatorial District. Williams is among five people who have filed petitions to compete in the state GOP Primary and want to succeed state Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, who recently announced he would not seek re-election. Williams’ filing with election officials listed his address as Corryton. Others who have filed include state Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, and Rogersville Republican Cynthia Jackson.
Although Washington has become the target of abuse in recent years, it still has a role to play, Sen. Lamar Alexander told several hundred people at a 100th birthday celebration for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. “Washington, D.C. can help Tennessee, and Tennessee can teach Washington, D.C.,” said Alexander, the keynote speaker at the chamber event. Alexander laid out a broad plan to improve the economy, mainly by improving education and making government more business-friendly.
2010 battle was a bitter one Lou Ann Zelenik, who lost a bitter Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Diane Black two years ago, took steps toward striking up a rematch Wednesday. Meanwhile, Park Overall, an environmental advocate and actress from East Tennessee, filed a qualifying petition to run against U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Democratic Party said. Zelenik picked up a qualifying petition in Wilson County to run for election in the newly redrawn 6th District, and said she plans to qualify by today’s noon deadline.
Looks like state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, will have another round of national publicity (imagine that) since he is an elected delegate for Newt Gingrich and the Gingrich campaign doesn’t want him. The issue will likely be resolved before the credentials committee, which meets the week before the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The Tennessee Republican Party told the Gingrich campaign that since Campfield was elected as a Gingrich delegate they do not have the authority to remove him.
Vance Sherwood and his wife, Donna, bought their condominium in Westminster Place subdivision because of the pleasantly shaded backyard. Now, he said, TVA wants to take out four of their trees to clear the path of an electric transmission line that runs through the neighborhood. Residents of the West Knox County subdivision understand the need to remove trees that could get into the power lines, but TVA’s policy is needlessly aggressive, Vance Sherwood said.
A Volkswagen staffing agency is seeking to immediately fill hundreds of more jobs at VW’s assembly plant in Chattanooga by this summer. Aerotek Inc., the Hanover, Md.-based contractor supplying most of the hourly employees for Volkswagen, announced Wednesday it is taking more applications to fill many of the 800 additional jobs that Volkswagen plans to add during 2012. The production and assemby jobs at Aerotek pay from $12 to $13 an hour, but many of those intially hired by th contractor are being transitioned this year to jobs with Volkswagen, which start at $14.50 an hour.
The 1,720-acre West Tennessee Megasite has been renamed the Memphis Regional Megasite to create familiarity with the Memphis market. The site, located along I-40, has access to U.S. Highways 70 and 79, and is located 25 minutes northeast of Memphis. The site is certified by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Megasite Certification Program. It offers large scale manufacturing, as well as 2,100 additional acres through adjoining properties.
Memphis’ growing reputation for economic development — and its push for regional cooperation — got some mega-affirmation from a rural neighbor on Wednesday. The name of the West Tennessee Megasite in Haywood County has been changed to Memphis Regional Megasite. “Memphis is a globally recognized brand, and by focusing around the Memphis brand we will be able to much more efficiently market the assets of the megasite,” Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith said in a prepared statement.
Metro Council members reminisced about the bygone days of Opryland before giving preliminary approval of a $5.8 million tax break to accommodate a new tourist destination for that area: a water and snow amusement park billed as the first of its kind. Arguing job creation trumps tax-break criticism, the council by voice vote approved on the second of three votes a bill that delivers a 60 percent property tax abatement over 12 years to Gaylord Entertainment Co. and Dollywood Co.
Both state and federal attorneys have declined to move forward in a whistleblower lawsuit that says Erlanger hospital made false Medicare claims. Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier released an order Tuesday stating that because the state did not find enough grounds to intervene in the 2-year-old lawsuit, federal attorneys also decided not take further action. The complaint, filed by Lisa K. Stratienko in 2010, had been under seal for two years while attorneys investigated the allegations, in accordance with the federal law governing whistleblower claims.
Recommendations spur debate over patient rights Nine medical societies now say expensive tests and treatments that doctors commonly order aren’t necessary for many patients — an announcement that raised concerns in Middle Tennessee but rang true for some doctors and patients. Unneeded procedures are a primary reason for the skyrocketing cost of health care, the organizations said. They cited 45 instances in which patients and doctors should question a medical decision, ranging from Pap smears for young women to continued chemotherapy for some patients with terminal cancer.
Seventeen charter schools, waiting in limbo for months, got a green light Wednesday to open from the state treasurer who said they pose no significant financial threat to the public school systems here. The proposed charters still must go through a state appeal process, which applicants, including former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, said effectively derails even the soundest plans. “I am going to cautiously say it would be very difficult to open that number of schools in such a short period of time,” said Herenton, who intended to open seven W.E.B. DuBois charter schools by fall.
Add 17 charter schools in Shelby County when the new school year begins in August. Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard ruled Wednesday, April 4, that the countywide school board was wrong in one of its first major decisions when it denied en masse the applications for the charter schools in November. All of the applicants met the standards of the rigorous review process, but the board voted to turn down the applications on the grounds that all 17 being added to the school system in the 2012-2013 school year would pose a financial hardship on the district.
Now free to MCS from city; MLGW could halt Nearly $2.7 million in services provided by city government to city schools may be in jeopardy as Memphis and Shelby County school districts prepare to merge in the fall of 2013. Efforts to resolve the issue got off to a good start Wednesday, however, during a high-level meeting at City Hall, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, a member of the commission preparing a transition plan for the merger, said afterward.
Accreditation review ends with high praise for local schools An accreditation team that spent four days evaluating the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System showered it and its employees with praise at a special School Board meeting Wednesday. “No one anywhere is more committed to continued improvement than Clarksville-Montgomery County (Schools),” said Cheryl Allread, who headed the AdvancED quality assurance team.
Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who once shared lodging when Luna worked for the U.S. Education Department and Otter was a congressman, came together again last year to successfully back a series of education changes in the state. The plan, called Students Come First, increases the role of technology in the classroom and changes how teachers are evaluated and paid, eliminating collective bargaining and tenure and introducing performance pay.
Closing the Taft Youth Development Center in Pikeville, Tenn., was probably a done deal the moment the Haslam administration cut funds for its continued operation in the proposed budget. A reasoned case for keeping the center open or political pressure to do so has failed to reverse the decision. It’s the latest in what increasingly appears to be the administration’s callous disregard for residents of Chattanooga and Southeast Tennessee.
Tennessee is dangerously close to enacting a law that would gut science education in public schools. The “Monkey Bill” sailed through the Legislature and is now on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk awaiting his review. The bill is adapted from a template offered by the conservative, Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design. As a force for moderation, Haslam should veto this legislation.
The legislature should table for now the bill on green-energy production property. HB 3520/SB 3296 would change the property tax valuation and assessment on green-energy production property. The bill proposes to increase the taxable value of that property from 0.5 percent of the purchase price to 33 percent of the total installation cost — effectively a 6,500 percent increase in valuation for tax purposes.
A bill in the state legislature will hurt small businesses, kill jobs and cripple our progress toward energy independence. Interestingly, the Republican sponsors of this legislation are proposing a new tax. Over the past few years, Tennessee has become a leader in clean-energy jobs, particularly in the production and manufacturing sectors. A 2009 report by Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted Tennessee as one of three states in the country with a large and fast-growing clean-energy sector.
Health care in the United States is rapidly evolving in a way that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. As patients have grown increasingly concerned about having access to safe, cost-effective health care provided by qualified professionals, they have become increasingly comfortable with the wide variety of credentials qualified professionals may have behind their names. Tennesseans are no different.
I’m pulling weeds on the east side of Parkridge when I see a kid approaching shyly. “Hey, do you have an Allen wrench to fix my bike handlebars?” he asks, his voice barely above a whisper. “No,” I say, “But I know someone who does. The Bike Collective!” “Where’s that at?” “It’s near Hall of Fame,” I begin. “Hall of Fame? Never mind.” “No, you don’t have to cross it. It’s on your side of Hall of Fame…” But at the mention of this four-lane flanked by steep man-made cliffs, he had stopped listening.
You would think the pension board and a couple of CPAs would be a better vehicle to solve problems with the Knox County Uniformed Officers Pension Plan, but it will instead be resolved by a subcommittee of the Charter Review group. Whoever makes a decision about putting something on the ballot, let’s remember that the problems with the pension fund are not the fault of the sheriff’s department and we would hope the solution does not represent a retreat from promises made to the officers.
Loudon County has become a target for anti-religion groups that seem to believe that God and expressions of religion have no place in government. At all. Period. According to the March 28 News Sentinel, “…the Lenoir City school board temporarily stopped offering prayer before meetings in response to letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the (Appignani) Humanist Association.”
It seems counterintuitive, but the Federal Trade Commission has just decided that a $29 billion merger of two of the three largest companies that manage pharmaceutical benefits for employers and health plans — Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions — would not substantially lessen competition. That judgment deserves credence because of the thoroughness of the F.T.C.’s eight-month inquiry and the willingness of the agency to oppose other mergers when the evidence warrants.