This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Norma Lester, one of two Democratic members of the five-member Shelby County Election Commission, has been appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to fill a vacancy on the state Registry of Election Finance. The board oversees and enforces state election laws. Lester, a longtime Democratic activist, is a retired nursing administrator. Her appointment, announced Thursday, fills a position that has been vacant on the six-member board since last year. Lester was one of three names submitted to Haslam by the state Democratic executive committee.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday appointed Norma J. Lester of Memphis, a retired nurse and Democratic member of the Shelby County Election Commission, to the state board that administers Tennessee campaign finance and ethics laws. She fills a seat on the six-member Registry of Election Finance that has been vacant since April 2011, for a term that runs through 2016. The governor has two appointments to the board — one from a list of three nominees submitted by the state Democratic Executive Committee and one from three nominees of the state Republican Executive Committee.
Norma Lester, a Democratic member of the Shelby County Election Commission, was appointed Thursday by Gov. Bill Haslam to fill a vacancy on the state Registry of Election Finance, which enforces campaign finance laws in Tennessee. Lester, 70, a retired nursing administrator who was named to the county election commission last year, will fill a seat on the six-member state board that has been vacant since April of 2011. “I am a stickler for compliance with the rules and regulations and the law,” Lester told the Commercial Appeal.
More jobs could be on the way for Nissan’s Smyrna plant, which already has seen a boom in hiring this year. Although the automaker won’t confirm it, the top business newspaper in Japan says production of the Murano midsize crossover utility vehicle will move to Nissan’s Middle Tennessee assembly plant in 2014. It would be another in a long series of production moves to North America for Nissan and other Japanese automakers, which are struggling to deal with the low value of the U.S. dollar versus the Japanese yen.
Officials visit 4 project areas in Madison Co. The Tennessee Department of Transportation completed its Region Four 2012 Projects Bus Tour on Thursday morning with a stop at City Hall in Jackson. The bus tour included stops in Henry, Carroll, Gibson, Fayette, Shelby and Madison counties from Monday through Thursday. TDOT officials visited four project areas in Madison County, two included in the three-year Statewide Transportation Improvement Program and two under development but not included in the STIP.
Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff will be in Nashville to announce new funding that officials say will improve air quality and transit service in the city. Rogoff will be making the funding announcement Friday morning along with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer and other state and local officials. Nashville transit authorities have proposed a bus rapid transit project that would run from east Nashville to west Nashville.
Fall enrollment at the University of Memphis declined about 2 percent from fall 2011, according to numbers compiled by the school and the Tennessee Board of Regents. Fall enrollment at the U of M is 22,365 students this year, compared to 22,864 students in the record-setting fall 2011 semester. This is the first year since 2008 that fall enrollment declined. Betty Huff, vice provost of enrollment services at the University of Memphis, said the decline may come from general economic conditions, changes to federal financial aid, more stringent admissions standards and the increase in tuition.
Team aim: Stronger material Recyclable car tires and thinner surgical gloves are just some of the products that University of Tennessee chemistry professor Jimmy Mays wants to see his new innovation, superelastomers, used for. The invention, which has earned Mays a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Innovation program, has the benefit of strength and the ability to be reused. “The big advantage of our material is that you can stretch the material a lot further before it breaks,” Mays said.
A Blount County woman has been sentenced after pleading guilty to TennCare fraud, and a court ordered her to be removed from the state’s health care insurance program. Renee Annette Moore, 43, of Maryville, pleaded guilty to one count of felony TennCare fraud and four counts of prescription fraud. Moore was accused of posing as an employee of a doctor’s office and calling in prescriptions to a pharmacy in Alcoa to obtain the addictive painkiller Hydrocodone. She used TennCare benefits to pay for the prescription.
TennCare is opening limited enrollment Thursday night for the Standard Spend Down program. The program helps low income Tennesseans pay for medical bills. TennCare has set up a special call in line for applicants that will be open from 6:00 to 8:30 P.M. Applicants must call 1-866-358-3230. There are only 2,500 spots available for qualified applicants with low incomes and high unpaid medical bills. Operators will close the lines at 8:30 or until when the slots are filled. In the past when TennCare opened enrollment callers the state’s phone system with calls.
Craig Fitzhugh strikes a calm tone when talking about the prospects for the Democrats in the November election, even as new district lines drawn by the GOP point to a more diminished role for the minority party. “We’re trying to claw back in with some positive people,” the House minority leader said. “We’ll just let the numbers fall where they are.” We’re “certainly optimistic about holding our own, at least.” The House is made up of 64 Republicans, 34 Democrats and an independent. However, seven Democrats are not running for re-election this year, leaving the seats open for Republican challenges in newly drawn districts that favor the GOP.
State Rep. Curry Todd’s arraignment on drunken driving and weapons charges is scheduled for Friday morning after a one-week delay. The Collierville Republican was arrested in October after failing a roadside sobriety test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found stuffed in a holster between the driver’s seat and center console. Todd was scheduled to be arraigned last week on charges of drunken driving, possession of a firearm while under the influence and violating the state’s implied consent law for refusing a breath alcohol test.
Libby Miller was rejected as a voter for lack of proper photo identification and in a subsequent attempt to get one was told that the supposedly free card would cost $17.50, according to her parents. At least 284 people statewide were stopped from casting a ballot in the Aug. 2 election because they had no photo ID, officials reported. But that figure doesn’t include people like Miller who did not request or receive a “provisional ballot.” No record is kept of those who were simply turned away without a provisional ballot.
Despite expressing confidence in the reliability of electronic poll books, the Davidson County Election Commission on Thursday stuck with its decision not to use the devices in the November election. The poll books, which recently replaced paper poll books in 60 of the county’s 160 voting precincts, have been at the center of criticism the past few weeks because some voters received the wrong ballots during the Aug. 2 primary. The commission had planned to use the new poll books in all 160 precincts for the Nov. 6 general election.
Prompted by recent action in the General Assembly, the Tennessee Bar Association is set to begin a statewide series of hearings on possible reforms to the two-decades-old law governing conservatorships. Association President Jacqueline Dixon said the goal is to get a wide variety of opinions from the public. “And not just lawyers. We hope to get some good evidence,” she said. Among the items most likely to be addressed are measures to ensure that those placed in a conservatorship retain as many of their rights as possible. In a conservatorship, a person’s right to control everything from his or her health care to finances is turned over to a court-appointed person.
A Metro Council committee will consider a proposal Thursday night to shift local elections to Presidential years. The move would require a change to the city’s founding document. At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard wants Metro’s odd-year elections moved to save money. Each election costs as much as a million dollars, according to the Davidson County election administrator. The Charter Revision Commission is appointed to vet potential amendments, and earlier this week it unanimously disapproved. Chairman Dewey Branstetter says local, non-partisan elections would be swallowed up by national politics.
There was a sign of peace Thursday morning in the battle between the Hamilton County Commission and the county school board. While some county commissioners made it clear they’ve still got issues with the school board’s management of money, others said the board’s recent draft of a new agreement with the county is enough of a compromise to move forward. In an act of concession, the school board voted last week for a agreement between the two bodies that puts money from school property sales back into the county’s hands, where it is set aside for future building projects or improvements.
When Lamar Alexander stepped down from Republican leadership one year ago, he relinquished a powerful bullhorn. In its place, Tennessee’s senior Republican senator is taking more risks, many of them pivotal to Tennessee businesses, and appears to be catching an adrenaline buzz as the stakes rise. “I’m enjoying my work,” Alexander, 72, said, laughing with staff about his improved demeanor. “I feel liberated in my present role.” Just how liberated he remains depends upon the political winds.
Sen. Lamar Alexander’s contention that rising Medicaid costs drain money away from public colleges and universities drew a challenge Thursday from Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. The issue arose at a hearing of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee on the affordability of higher education. Alexander, a Republican on the committee, repeated his argument that spending on Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, deprives states of funds they could use to support their higher education systems and reduce costs for students and their families.
Rep. Diane Black and Sen. Bob Corker, both Tennessee Republicans, are among the wealthiest members of Congress, according to the Roll Call political blog. Black, who represents Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District, ranks No. 14 on Roll Call’s list, with a minimum net worth of $24.79 million. Black, whose husband David Black is president and CEO of Nashville-based Aegis Sciences Corp., ranked just below Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who has a minimum net worth of $26.42 million. Sen. Bob Corker ranked at No. 17, with a minimum net worth of $19.63 million.
Two House members introduced legislation Thursday to strengthen laws against soring of Tennessee Walking Horses, but supporters warned that the bill would not be easy to pass. While soring — inflicting pain on horses’ legs, joints and hooves so that their gait becomes more high stepping — is already against the law, Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said their bill would amend the Horse Protection Act of 1970 to: • Put the Agriculture Department in charge of licensing inspectors and have it assign an inspector to any show that requests one.
To stop the soring of Tennessee walking horses, two congressmen from Tennessee and Kentucky today introduced legislation to end the use of chains, most pads and the industry’s self-policing. The proposed amendment to the 40-year-old Horse Protection Act also would make it a felony to sore a horse — or abuse it to get a “big-lick” gait for a ribbon or sale. “How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Thursday as he introduced the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012.
Saying he was taking an opportunity to “look out for our four-legged friends,” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen co-sponsored a bill Thursday that would make injuring a Tennessee Walking Horse to exaggerate its gait a felony. The Memphis Democrat joined Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield in introducing amendments to the 1970 Horse Protection Act that also tighten the definition of soring, the practice of putting irritating chemicals or chains on a horse’s front ankles to make it step higher in a gait known as “the Big Lick.”
Tenn U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-1st District) Thursday received a Guardian of Small Business award from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the nation’s leading small business association. Roe, seeking his third term this November, was honored because of a strong voting record in supporting small businesses, according to the NFIB. Roe was among the 292 members of Congress receiving a Guardian award.
It’s not all green pastures for Tennessee-based hospital systems that have facilities in states that choose to opt into the Medicaid expansion. In fact, those states could face future financing pressures, enrollment headaches and increased regulatory scrutiny — all of which require time and money to accomplish. Claire Miley, a health care attorney for Bass Berry & Sims in Nashville who focuses on regulation, said those three factors could impact hospitals in states that choose to accept billions of dollars in federal funds to help cover more sick and poor patients.
The government’s most recent performance evaluation of its security contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant gave no hint of the broad security failures that were to be revealed a short time later by the July 28 break-in and subsequent investigations. In the report for the six-month period ending March 31, WSI-Oak Ridge — also known as Wackenhut and G4S Government Solutions — received good marks in all performance categories. The review, which was used to determine WSI’s fee for the period ($1.44 million out a maximum possible $1.55 million), identified eight “significant positive performance indicators.”
A committee of countywide school board members and community leaders is recommending that the school board hire a search firm and conduct a national search for the superintendent of the merged school system. The ad hoc committee made that first decision and several others on the process at a meeting Thursday, Sept. 13. The group also voted to begin as soon as possible through the staffs of both school systems to get the qualifications of search firms in a request for qualifications process.
A memorandum of understanding is still to come. And there are the details of curriculum not to mention funding and a budget. But former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton will open the first of what he plans to be several charter schools in August, probably at Northside High School, for children in grades 6-12 who are in Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court custody. “Some of you look at me as a politician,” Herenton, also a former Memphis City Schools superintendent, told reporters at this week’s announcement of Thurgood Marshall Academy.
A traffic stop lead Jonesborough police to two shake and bake meth labs. Officers arrested Jonny Barnett Tuesday afternoon after they say they found several meth related items in his car during a traffic stop. Officers later searched his apartment and discovered two one pot meth labs. The neighboring apartments had to be evacuated while the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force decontaminated the area.
Meeting behind closed doors into the evening, leaders on both sides of this city’s teacher strike voiced optimism on Thursday that a deal could soon be reached, bringing an end to a walkout that has halted classes for 350,000 students in the nation’s third-largest school system. The upbeat tone marked a major shift from contentious days past, when Chicago Public Schools officials had deemed talks close to resolution while union officials declared the sides “miles apart.” As recently as Wednesday evening, the sides had sparred publicly over whether formal talks were really taking place at all.
Pennsylvania is scheduled to execute Terrance Williams on Oct. 3. The state has sentenced more than 400 people to death since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 and has executed three who gave up on their appeals. But he would be the first person in 50 years to be put to death there while still fighting his sentence. That should not happen. On Friday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Mr. Williams’s lawyers are scheduled to explain why a state trial judge should stay his execution and why the Philadelphia district attorney should agree that his sentence be commuted to life without parole.
A proposed ordinance banning discrimination in hiring should be approved by the City Council. We agree with Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris that an ordinance banning discrimination in city employment because of age, ethnicity, national origin and disability would add more weight to the city’s nondiscrimination employment policy. The council is scheduled to take a final vote on the ordinance, sponsored by Harris, on Tuesday. City policy prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, political affiliation or non-merit factors.” With such a comprehensive policy, it would appear that the ordinance is redundant. It some ways it is.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais was extensively quoted in an interview published in The Daily News Journal on Sunday Sept. 2. Much of what he said was vague and misleading. Since he is seeking re-election, someone needs to expose the real meaning of his remarks and put them in historical context. He said that he backs Romney for president because of Obama’s “failed policies” and because “we need somebody with a business background.” He did not mention the “failed policies” of the Republican Bush-Cheney administration that created the mess that Obama, against the lock-step obstructionism of Republicans like DesJarlais, has been trying to clean up. And I challenge him to name a single notable U.S. president with a successful background in business. He can’t.