This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced this week the award of a $756,846 transportation enhancement grant to the town of Collierville for Phase I of the Center Connect Project. Phase I of the Center Connect Project includes the creation of a gateway entrance corridor from US 72/SR 86 to Collierville’s historic downtown area and connects several existing greenways. Phase I covers the intersection of Center Street and South Rowlett to the intersection of South Street.
A measure to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare and the reduction of the sales tax on groceries are among new laws taking effect today in Tennessee. The welfare legislation — which passed the Senate 24-9 and the House 73-17 — requires new welfare applicants to undergo a special screening process. If suspicion is raised after the screening, then the applicant will be tested for drugs. The proposal differs from an original version that would have required blanket testing.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has announced new regulations aimed at controlling the transport of wild-appearing hogs into the state. The order is in support of legislation passed this year by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam that makes it illegal to bring wild-appearing hogs into the state without proper documentation. The new law goes into effect July 1. State veterinarian Charles Hatcher said the new regulations are aimed at preventing the spread of diseases such as pseudorabies and swine brucellosis that are prevalent in wild hogs.
Students at Middle Tennessee State University will see a $237 tuition increase per semester after a vote Friday by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which increased tuition and fee rates for its six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 technology centers. The MTSU increase is 6.8 percent — third highest of the TBR schools.
In the midst of Independence Day celebrations and upcoming elections, offenders at Tennessee’s county jails know firsthand the freedoms they have lost. Everything from an inmate’s right to shower and shave to his right to vote are affected once the iron-clad doors of justice slam shut behind them. Order becomes the word of the day — everyday. “It has to be about order inside a correctional facility,” explained Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, who himself started off at the county jail as a detention officer several years ago.
The Rutherford County Commission on Friday approved a $442.5 million budget for the next fiscal year — without a property tax increase. “Every budget is tough,” Commissioner Steve Sandlin said. “We may have to raise taxes next year.” All commissioners present but one voted for a budget balanced by using $17.9 million in available reserves. The commissioners were able to blend what Commissioner Robert Peay Jr. called “rainy day money” with better-than-expected sales tax revenues to cover the spending plans for government, schools and subsidies for nonprofits.
The Murfreesboro Post has appealed a ruling that its free paper was not sufficient for a public notice about a mosque. The business is the latest to challenge Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s decision that voided approval of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s site plans for a mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike. Post attorney David LaRoche took issue with Corlew’s ruling that states, “We continue to have serious questions whether the Post qualifies as a newspaper of general circulation within Rutherford County.”
Four members of three faith traditions say the Hamilton County Commission should be able to reach a middle ground regarding prayers before weekly meetings. “We appreciate the work of our elected officials,” said Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Cultural Center of Greater Chattanooga. “And, with such diversity in Chattanooga, we encourage the inclusiveness of all faiths and cultures.” Local residents Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones sued the County Commission last month, saying the commission’s invocations, which often close with the phrase “in Jesus’ name,” violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause against the government endorsing any particular religion.
A $95 million Chattanooga capital budget will begin addressing such projects as fixing the 21st Century Waterfront and an upcoming decree from federal and state agencies concerning the city’s sewer system. More than $38 million is being set aside for sewer fixes, records show, while another $8 million will pay to repair the erosion and cracking along the hard edge of the riverfront. Daisy Madison, the city’s chief financial officer, said it is not a standard year with these large, pricey projects, but “if you pull out the extraordinary expenditures, it’s similar to last year’s budget.”
The Westin Hotel, a landmark in Downtown Memphis’ renaissance, hasn’t paid a penny in property taxes since opening in 2007. But the nine-story luxury hotel across from FedExForum will face a huge tax assessment if Shelby County Assessor of Property Cheyenne Johnson wins a battle with the property manager and Memphis city government. The 203-room hotel was built on tax-exempt city land as part of a redevelopment plan initiated by then-Mayor Willie W. Herenton.
Memphis City Council member and Cordova representative Bill Boyd planned to go door-to-door Saturday fielding questions from South Cordova residents newly annexed to Memphis. Those plans were postponed indefinitely, Boyd saying he and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton decided to prepare more thoroughly for the home question-and-answer sessions. Had they been held as scheduled, Boyd would’ve been met Saturday by several residents concerned about the annexation’s possible effects on area property values and schools.
The smoggiest city in America one day last week wasn’t Los Angeles, Houston or any of the other usual suspects It was Memphis. At an air-quality monitoring station along Frayser Boulevard, ozone concentrations averaged 124 parts per billion — 65 percent above the federal standard — over an eight-hour period Wednesday. The pollution reading — the highest recorded in Shelby County since at least 1993, and possibly ever — triggered the nation’s only “Code Purple” advisory that day, meaning the air was considered very unhealthy for the general population .
A regular meeting to agree on a cleanup amendment to the Bedford County school system’s budget was impeded by the absence of county finance director Robert Daniel. The board, as most county boards do, holds a meeting near the end of the fiscal year to ‘clean up’ line items within the budget and shift funds within categories between line items that have been overspent. The journal entries are made by the county finance department, and the entries are explained to the board before final approval.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican from Ooltewah in his first term representing Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District, is in a close re-election battle in the Aug. 2 GOP primary with two opponents who each have their own name recognition. Actively campaigning for the Republican nomination are Scottie Mayfield, retired executive of Mayfield Dairy Farm in Athens, and Weston Wamp, son of former Congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga. A fourth candidate, Ron Bhalla, a Hixson real estate investor, also is seeking the office although he has disclosed having less than $1,000 on hand in a recent report.
A Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate took aim at Bob Corker during a tour of county courthouses on Friday. While the searing heat kept many from being outside, Zach Poskevich stopped at the Bedford County courthouse to meet citizens and talk about his stand on the issues Self-description Poskevich describes himself as a Christian, a Constitutionalist and a war veteran, saying his solutions are designed to return “power to the people, demand high moral and ethical standards in Washington and remind them that they work for us,” according to campaign literature he handed out.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is asking Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the source of what GOP senators call an “avalanche” of national security leaks. “If there were ever a case requiring an outside special counsel with bipartisan acceptance and widespread public trust, this is it,” wrote Alexander and 30 other Republican senators Tuesday in a letter to Holder. Holder has appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate who leaked information about the U.S. role in cyberattacks in Iran and an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive on an airliner traveling to the U.S. Holder has said he thinks the U.S. attorneys are good choices for the job, but the GOP senators said the U.S. attorneys aren’t neutral because they are under Holder’s supervision.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey calls repealing it the “final battle for our liberty.” U.S. Rep. Diane Black says it is already “a disaster for the U.S. economy.” Her opponent, tea party activist Lou Ann Zelenik, says it will result in rationed care. Republicans immediately amped up the attacks on the Affordable Care Act after Thursday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the health-care reform law, sensing an opportunity to capitalize politically on a legal defeat.
One hundred dollars a month. That’s how much money 49-year-old Rena Freeman thinks she could spend on health insurance and still have enough money left to pay the bills at her hair salon at the foot of Signal Mountain and at her home. Freeman hasn’t had health insurance in nine years; her construction-worker husband doesn’t have insurance, either. She has various health problems — including gynecological issues and migraine headaches — and rarely can scrape together enough money to see a doctor.
Questions. Steve Wagenheimer always has questions. How many square feet of office space is nearby? How many people live within a three-mile radius? What are the nearest shopping mall’s sales per square foot? What is the immediate area’s household income? How many vehicles drive by on a daily basis? Wagenheimer, founder and president of Granite City Food & Brewery, seeks such detailed information when scouting potential new locations for his restaurant chain. And when he checked out Franklin, he liked the answers.
Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Hamilton County students charged a collective debt of more than $70,000 on school breakfasts and lunches last school year. That’s the equivalent of nearly 30,000 lunches at last year’s price of $2.50 for each meal. Because state regulations don’t allow school nutrition programs to carry debt, those student charges will be absolved this month with the school system’s general fund picking up the tab. To combat the growing pile of unpaid meals, officials are looking to a private collections agency to help recoup charges and bad checks.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration wisely had been laying the groundwork for establishing a health insurance exchange in anticipation of Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act. Though he said he has concerns about the health care reform law and would like to see it repealed, Haslam prepared for any eventuality. “I think we’ve played this right, in the sense of being ready either way it goes,” Haslam said before the decision. By a 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld virtually all the controversial law, which will extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 30 million more Americans.
The battle over President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act is far from over, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling handed down Thursday, declaring constitutional the contentious law passed by Congress in 2010. The law, derisively called “Obamacare” by its critics, is sure to become a major campaign issue leading up to the November general election. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, has said he will work to repeal the law and replace it with more practical alternatives.Most of Congress’s GOP members, along with some Democrats, also say they will try to repeal the law.
Many people were disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, and that includes The Jackson Sun. A certain amount of anger and frustration over the ruling is not surprising. But, like it or not, the court has ruled, and that is the law. The question now is: What comes next? And to answer that, cooler heads must prevail. Republicans have vowed to repeal the law. But that will be easier said than done. Democrats have pledged to push forward with implementing the law. But even that is not a sure thing, as the court cast doubt on several aspects of the act, including its impact on state Medicaid funding, which it ruled unconstitutional.
July 1st may not mean much to most Tennesseans, but it’s New Years Day in the world of Tennessee state government. The state’s fiscal year begins anew and the $31.5 billion state budget takes effect. It also means that dozens of bills passed during the most recent session of the Tennessee General Assembly officially become the law of the land. This year, Tennessee’s busybody lawmakers passed a mind-numbing 176 laws that go into effect today A few of the new laws have merit. Most are simply opportunities for lawmakers to tell their constituents they did something, when doing nothing would have served just as well.
We’ve got the best government money can buy. That cliche reflects the cynicism Americans sometimes feel toward a system that seems to favor those with the dough. That’s why campaign disclosure laws are so important. We can exercise our free speech by contributing to political races. But disclosure laws prevent those contributions from becoming outright bribes. As candidates reveal who is giving money and how it is spent, citizens can judge for themselves and vote accordingly. By law, candidates must list all donations and expenditures. But Tennessee operates on a bit of an honor system.
The research is clear: Desegregated schools boost black students’ performance and do no harm to white students. In that context, the Shelby County Commission’s lawsuit to halt the creation of municipal school districts is essential. Think the Memphis City Schools, which are 83 percent black, are segregated? If the county’s suburban cities are allowed to form their own municipal districts, it gets worse. The population left in the unified district, which starts in the fall of 2013, would be more than 90 percent black. Each of the six new municipal districts would be whiter than the Shelby County Schools, which is 37 percent black.
“Shall the city of (take your pick of six) be authorized to create a municipal school district that shall meet the standards of adequacy established by applicable state law and regulation,” blah, blah, blah. That bit of legalese is now printed on the ballot of six suburban Shelby County municipalities for the Aug. 2 county election. Essentially, it asks whether voters in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington are willing to pay the equivalent of 15 cents per $100 of taxable property each year to launch their own school districts. A separate ballot question asks voters in each city to ratify a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for the new schools.
Yeah, if I were king of the world, sugary sodas would be banned in Memphis. Banned today, the weekend before the Fourth of July — when we all celebrate our freedom to be who we want to be with a 64-ounce Mountain Dew, if our hearts desire it. Those giant sodas are killing Memphians in bad ways. Like diabetes or heart disease. Or morbid obesity, where people are so overweight they can’t walk a block — even to get another soda. The science is crystal clear on this one. Dr. Eric Ding of the Harvard School of Public Health calls the health risks a “double rainbow” of evidence, meaning that when you test for the ill effects of too many sugary drinks the results are even worse than imagined.