This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t appear to be spending much time working on the “what if’s” of a fiscal cliff. He’s counting on a compromise. According to Tennessee’s budget director, more than $100 million of direct federal spending would vanish if automatic cuts take effect next year. Asked what department posed the greatest concern, Haslam said he wasn’t sure, mentioning special education is largely funded by the feds. A necessity like that, he says, the state would just have to cover. But less essential programs might get dropped altogether.
Gov. Bill Haslam said the key to reaching an agreement on a bill to allow employees to store guns in their cars at work is to exclude college campuses, The Associated Press reports. A bill in the previous session of the Tennessee General Assembly was supported by the National Rifle Association, but was blocked by the state’s business lobby, which said such a law would infringe on property rights. Some of Tennessee’s most prominent companies spoke against the bill, including Bridgestone Americas, FedEx and Volkswagen.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says the exclusion of college campuses is key to an agreement on a bill to allow employees to store their firearms in vehicles parked at work. The governor told reporters after a speech to a Nashville Republican group on Tuesday that he expects lawmakers to craft a compromise on the measure that was the subject of much discord earlier this year. The business lobby opposes the measure backed by the National Rifle Association on the basis that it would intrude on their property rights.
The Guns in Parking Lots bill, pushed by the NRA, is thought to be a major agenda item for the legislative session beginning next month. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he has already had the bill written. The bill will easily get a House sponsor, but which senator will carry the bill? Any senator that steps up to handle the legislation will automatically be hammered by the business community on one side, which hates the bill, and the NRA on the other. At issue is what will be in the bill and whether a compromise between the business lobby and the NRA is possibility.
Those who can’t afford it won’t be turned away, state says Children covered by TennCare and children without insurance that covers the flu vaccine can get vaccinated at county health department clinics for only a small administrative fee. The Tennessee Health Department says children will not be turned away if parents cannot afford the fee. The flu vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for serious illness or death from influenza, which includes young children. Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner warned in a news release that it is very important for people who have not yet received an annual flu vaccination to get one right away.
Putting a new bridge across the Tennessee River in North Hamilton County will require the state to break its longtime “pay as you go” habit, state Transportation Commissioner John Schroer told local leaders Wednesday. With a tight squeeze on road money, the state would have to enter “uncharted territory,” selling bonds or partnering with private investors to build the bridge and connector roads and repaying them with toll revenues, he said. “If tolling is not an option, this bridge probably won’t be built — I won’t say forever, but for a long, long time,” Schroer said during a briefing for the county’s toll committee.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has begun releasing more than 90,000 rainbow trout in Middle and West Tennessee waterways. The stocking takes place from December through March and provides numerous close-to-home trout fishing opportunities for Tennessee anglers. The fisheries also provide a great opportunity to introduce children or first-time anglers to fishing. According to the Wildlife Resources Agency, the trout will average about 10 inches in length.
Former Sullivan County Highway Commissioner Allan Pope has petitioned the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal in his theft case, Pope’s attorney confirmed Wednesday. Attorney Dan Smith said he filed the paperwork with the state Supreme Court Tuesday. The Supreme Court can decide not to hear the case, and Pope’s conviction would be upheld. If it agrees to an appeal, a hearing will be scheduled before the court. Pope was convicted in 2010 of theft of service over $1,000, official misconduct and using public equipment for private purposes.
Shelbyville’s city council voted unanimously to appeal an ongoing lawsuit over a proposed rock quarry to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Following an attorney/client meeting, the council chose to authorize city attorney Ginger Shofner, together with the Tennessee Municipal League’s Risk Management Pool and outside counsel Farrar & Bates, to file the appeal in the matter of Wright Paving vs. the City of Shelbyville. Last month, the city lost a state appellate ruling in the matter dealing with the efforts of Wright Paving Co. Inc., and Custom Stone LLC to place a quarry on L. Fisher Road, which has been the topic of lawsuits since 2005.
State Sen. Bill Ketron is ready to pop the cork on another bill allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores, and he is promising to let package stores sell mixers and ice to offset losses. Past attempts at the legislation never made it out of subcommittees, Ketron said, but in the 2013 General Assembly session, he plans to offer a measure enabling public referendums in the 33 areas that allow liquor by the drink and package stores. “It’s about free enterprise,” Ketron said Tuesday at the Chamber of Commerce annual legislative luncheon in Smyrna.
Hundreds of Tea Party protesters rallied outside the state capitol Wednesday. One held a sign reading “Haslam-care.” They’re trying to dissuade Tennessee’s governor from setting up a state-based insurance exchange as envisioned in Obamacare. Tracy Sneed of Nashville says Governor Bill Haslam should join nearly two-dozen other Republican governors and do what he can to obstruct Obamacare. Her future support hinges on his decision. “If you’re asking me if it’s a deal breaker, yes it is.”
The federal health care reform law appears to be on its way to becoming a reality, but tea party activists have a message: Just say no. About 250 activists from across the state turned out Wednesday for a rally at War Memorial Plaza to oppose plans to create a state-run health insurance exchange, a key part of the health care reform. Gov. Bill Haslam has not yet decided whether to create a Tennessee version of the online insurance marketplace or leave the task to the federal government. But tea party activists, many of whom have ardently opposed the law since it was proposed more than three years ago, said the decision ought to be simple.
Tea party activists pressured Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday to stand against creating a state-run health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act health reform law. Some 300 activists, conservative talk radio hosts and several GOP legislators attended the rally outside the state Capitol. Speakers and attendees attacked the health care law and some bluntly put Haslam on notice that he’ll pay a political penalty if he proceeds. The insurance exchange is an online marketplace where low-income Tennesseans can find health coverage.
Two arms of government offered little more than a sympathetic ear Wednesday to parents outraged over Hamilton County’s special education programs. State lawmakers and Hamilton County commissioners instead urged parents to take their concerns to school administrators or the Board of Education. Public forums are the wrong venue to discuss individual concerns about a child’s education, schools Superintendent Rick Smith said after parents brought their issues to two meetings. “The best way to solve a problem is at the school level,” Smith said.
A spokesman for Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says that the omission of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., from a list of honorary co-chairman for Alexander’s 2014 re-election campaign was the result of a mutual decision. “Both agreed it would be a distraction,” said Jim Jeffries in an email in response to a reporter’s question. Jeffries did not elaborate. But DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, has been battling revelations he and his then-wife agreed in the 1990s that she would get two abortions.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., made a major move this past weekend to protect his right flank. Alexander made a formal announcement that he will be running for re-election, two years before the 2014 campaign. This precludes anyone trying to raise money over the next two years arguing that Alexander will not be a candidate. But with the “fiscal cliff” looming and a potential vote on some sort of compromise, Alexander also needs to be prepared to withstand a Tea Party challenge. It is significant that Alexander chose U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, R-Knoxville, to chair his re-election effort.
A perennial penny pincher when it comes to policy, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann says he’s “thankfully overwhelmed” about his new role helping to control the federal government’s purse strings. “There’s a lot of waste, fraud and abuse,” he said, “and now I can fight it up close.” It took only one term for the Ooltewah Republican to rise to what congressional insiders call an “A” committee; in January, Fleischmann joins the 50-member House Committee on Appropriations, one of four House panels considered so crucial that most appointees are asked to leave other committees before they begin.
Faced with tight budgets, states have spent less on tobacco prevention over the past two years than in any period since the national tobacco settlement in 1998, despite record high revenues from the settlement and tobacco taxes, according to a report to be released on Thursday. States are on track to collect a record $25.7 billion in tobacco taxes and settlement money in the current fiscal year, but they are set to spend less than 2 percent of that on prevention, according to the report, by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which compiles the revenue data annually. The figures come from state appropriations for the fiscal year ending in June.
As mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper’s signature achievement was persuading more than 30 mayors in the metropolitan area to agree to a new rail transit system. As a candidate for governor, rather than run negative ads against his opponents, the Democrat’s first ad showed him taking a shower to wash away his disgust at negative advertising. Since being elected governor in 2010, Hickenlooper helped negotiate an agreement between energy companies and environmentalists on new disclosure rules for oil and gas drilling. He also collaborated with state workers to overhaul the state personnel system. After making a career out of compromise, Hickenlooper will face a new challenge come January: governing under conditions where compromise may not be necessary.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulators told TVA nuclear officials Wednesday that it is lifting the white safety findings from the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. TVA chief nuclear officer Preston Swafford and Browns Ferry’s plant manager Keith Polson said they will in January ask NRC to schedule a third volley of inspections aimed at lifting the NRC’s most serious safety flag — a red finding that has been hanging over the plant for more than a year. “We’ve done a great deal to improve conditions. I don’t expect your team to be disappointed,” Swafford told NRC regulators.
A federal grand jury has returned a new three-count indictment against the Plowshares protesters who shocked the security world July 28 when they broke into the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and defaced the storage center for bomb-grade uranium with human blood and spray-painted peace messages. The new indictment supersedes a previous one returned in August and includes the most serious charge to date. The felony count of injuring national-defense premises, which comes under the federal Sabotage Act, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The owners of the Nashville Predators have so far soldiered through the NHL lockout without asking the city for leeway under their contract. Federal mediators are now trying to resolve the dispute between hockey players and owners, which has dragged on almost three months. Some Predators fans have given up hope and dumped their season tickets for a refund. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean says owners have not come crying to him. “No, there has not been any request from the Predators ownership or management that I’m aware of. This office and the city – obviously we talk to them periodically.”
Tennessee spends tens of millions of dollars on professional development for its 63,000 public school teachers but has little idea if it makes a difference or even exactly what it costs. The state budgeted $148.2 million of its $500 million in Race to the Top funds for teacher training, $2,352 per teacher over four years. Researchers say there is not enough data to show the effect on student learning or to even evaluate the content, according to a legislative brief from the state Offices of Research and Education Accountability in the Comptroller’s office.
Williamson County Schools parents can learn about school closings because of bad weather or hazardous travel conditions through various outlets, including automated calls, Facebook, email and Twitter. While the local media will also broadcast closing information, school officials say they want parents to know that they will continue to contact them directly, County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney said. The district has nine inclement weather days built into the 2012-2013 calendar. Any additional days missed would be rescheduled.
The Knox County school board unanimously approved a rezoning plan that will affect about 1,785 elementary school students in the southwest corner of the county on Wednesday night. The rezoning is being done to accommodate a new elementary school, which has yet to be named, near the intersection of Northshore Drive and Interstate 140. The school is scheduled to open in the fall with an enrollment of 967 students. As part of the proposal, a total of seven elementary schools are affected by the plan — Ball Camp, Cedar Bluff, Hardin Valley, A.L. Lotts, Blue Grass elementaries and Farragut Primary and Intermediate.
Proud Tennesseans and state history buffs have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this weekend. Beginning today, the state’s three original handwritten constitutions — from 1796, 1834 and 1870 — are all on public display for the first time. On Monday, the three brittle documents were carefully digitized, allowing them to be shared online with future generations. The next day, the priceless constitutions were hand delivered from the State Library and Archives next door to the building that houses the Tennessee Supreme Court. The documents received an escort by a detail from the Tennessee Highway Patrol during the journey — which totaled only a few hundred feet.
Responsible Gun Owners Need to Lead Charge Against Abuse of Gun Rights In recent years, in state after state—including Tennessee—legislatures have: • Installed gun permit programs allowing citizens to carry weapons on their person; • Expanded the concept that a person’s home is his castle to include vehicles, allowing weapons to be carried in a car or truck; • Passed “stand your ground” legislation that says you do not have an obligation to run away from a threat but are allowed to use self defense. Critics argued that these liberalizations of gun laws would lead to a “wild West” atmosphere. Considering the thousands and thousands of gun permits that have since been issued across the country, there have been remarkably few instances of these concepts being abused.