This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
One of the offshoots of improving the U.S. manufacturing base for clean energy is supposed to be jobs creation, and nobody appreciates that more than Rick Chambers, a technician at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s new Carbon Fiber Technology Facility… On Tuesday, Chambers was beaming as he told his story to Gov. Bill Haslam and a host of other VIPs attending the ribbon-cutting at the manufacturing test-bed, which is supposed to demonstrate the ability to efficiently produce carbon-fiber composite materials at reduced costs.
Advocates and opponents of expanding Medicaid are eagerly awaiting Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision on whether Tennessee will participate in a key facet of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Lawmakers are expected to formally invite Haslam to address a joint session of the General Assembly about potential Medicaid decision Wednesday morning. Haslam canceled his weekly breakfast with legislative leaders, and his press office advised reporters to attend the House floor session at 9:30 a.m. CDT.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to announce his decision today regarding an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, under the federal health care law, according state Capitol sources. Haslam spokesman David Smith declined to answer questions late Tuesday afternoon, other than to say, “All I can do is encourage you to be in the House Chamber tomorrow morning or watch it online.” Legislative officials are planning a joint convention of the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
With Gov. Bill Haslam’s self-imposed, end-of-the-month deadline looming on Medicaid expansion (sources predict tomorrow for the announcement), the state’s largest business organization has come out today in support of expanding the state’s Medicaid program. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, which has remained relatively mum on the matter, has voiced its support for a TennCare expansion, provided the expansion is reevaluated after the initial three-year period, which is when state funding for the expansion would begin to kick in.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee leaders said Tuesday that while they continue to urge Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to expand TennCare, they think the governor’s decision — expected this week — could go either way. “Unfortunately, the governor has a strong fight against this in the Legislature,” said BlueCross CEO Bill Gracey in a meeting with Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters and editors. “We’re trying to help the governor with the fight, but we cannot assure you that we’re going to get there. I hope we do. Right now I’d say it’s 50/50.”
Bring it on, Georgia. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and TVA’s new CEO, Bill Johnson, are indicating that Georgia’s legislative effort to move the state border and divert Tennessee River water to Atlanta is little more than time-consuming fighting words.Haslam, through a spokesman, said he has no interest in going along with Georgia’s latest attempt to get access to the mighty river to help slake the Peach State’s thirst for water. Georgia lawmakers are threatening to march into the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the nearly 200-year disputed state boundary issue if Tennessee won’t grant access to the river in Marion County.
Tennessee’s leaders aren’t reacting well to Georgia’s latest attempt to tap into the Tennessee River. In fact, they’re trying to avoid reacting at all. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga says he has no intention to move the border north and let Georgia build a pipeline to Atlanta. “We’re not going to pass a law to give them the water,” he says. “So if they want to go to court they’re going to have to deal with our lawyers, I guess.” Governor Bill Haslam says in a statement he “will continue to protect the interests and resources of Tennessee.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife, Crissy, will kick off Child Abuse Prevention Month by planting a garden of pinwheels at the Tennessee Capitol. According to a news release from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee, the pinwheels being planted on Wednesday represent happy, healthy children and their bright futures. Haslam and the first lady will speak about their vision for Tennessee’s children, and Jim Henry, the interim commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services, is also scheduled to speak.
A judge recently found the state Department of Children’s Services liable for failing to follow policies that could have prevented a fatal shooting in 2009. Now, a surviving victim and her attorney want the agency to revise policies to protect other families. Last week, a judge’s ruling against DCS became public for the first time, revealing an order for the state to pay $875,000 for the injuries of Susan Randolph and for the fatal shooting of her husband, Todd, and their teenage neighbor Stevie Noelle Milburn in the summer of 2009.
It was just a few decades ago that black bears in Tennessee rarely were seen outside of the Smokies and the surrounding mountains. Today, it’s not unusual for them to show up in suburban backyards. The population is expanding, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wants people to be prepared. This month marks the official launch of “Bear Wise,” a TWRA campaign aimed at educating the public on the ins-and-outs of living in bear country. Montana and other western states already have bear education programs.
Tennessee transportation officials are shutting down highway construction for the Easter weekend. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has told contractors and its own crews to knock off work no later than 6 p.m. Thursday, in anticipation of increased holiday travel. Transportation Commissioner John Schroer encouraged travelers to download the department’s SmartWay Mobile App to get current traffic information as they travel. It’s available at the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store for Android devices.
Financial assistance has come pouring in to a University of Tennessee student organization that saw its state funding for controversial Sex Week activities axed by campus officials. One offer, a potential large contribution from a national online dating service that pairs co-eds with sugar daddies, was rejected by student organizers. Sex Week, a weeklong series of events and panel discussions scheduled to begin April 5 at UT, had its state funding pulled by UT administrators last week amid mounting criticisms from some legislators.
The city of Brentwood library should be forced to accommodate the Williamson County Election Commission as an early voting polling place, according to a Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling issued on Friday. The Brentwood library refused an election commission request to hold early voting during the Republican primary in 2012, citing interference with previously scheduled community group events. The Williamson County Election Commission sued the city of Brentwood last year to clarify the issue.
The House has given final approval to a bill requiring public notices to be published on newspaper websites, sending the measure for the governor’s signature. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville would maintain a requirement for public notices to be published in the print editions of newspapers. It would also create a statewide online clearinghouse for all notices. The measure was approved on a 94-1 vote on Monday evening. The Senate approved its version of the bill on a 31-1 vote earlier this month.
A few dozen people, including members of the Tennessee AFL-CIO and other labor groups, gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon to express their opposition Gov. Haslam’s proposed changes to workers’ compensation. The ralliers, waving signs and chanting “Save Workers’ Comp,” were joined by Democratic leaders from the state House of Representatives who address the crowd and promised to continue to oppose the reform measure, House Bill 194, sponsored by Republican Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.
Tennessee liquor stores would be allowed to be open for business on Sundays under changes to a supermarket wine bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. The panel voted to make several changes to the measure seeking to allow cities and governments to hold referendums on whether to permit supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine. The changes included ending a ban on liquor stores operating on Sundays and holidays, and linking supermarket wine sales to the hours they are currently allowed to sell beer.
Liquor stores could open on Sundays, and they would be allowed to sell items other than alcohol under a wine-in-grocery-stores bill now being weighed in the state Senate. The Senate Finance Committee approved amendments Tuesday that would loosen restrictions on liquor stores in a bid to break the impasse over new alcohol legislation. But the committee put off a final vote on the bill for a week amid signs that the changes still were not enough to get the measure to the Senate floor.
A proposal to give security clearance to certain lawmakers is dead this session.The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Rick Womick of Murfreesboro failed on a voice vote in the House State Government Subcommittee on Tuesday. The legislation would have allowed the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to give clearance to no more than 10 members during a General Assembly. Under the proposal, the lawmakers would have access to briefings on certain national and state security information on the same level as the governor and speakers of the House and Senate.
Legislation that would increase the fine for not wearing a seat belt is scheduled to be heard by lawmakers next week. Versions of the bill were to be heard in the Senate Finance Committee and the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday. However, they were delayed in each committee until next Tuesday. Currently the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is $10. Under this proposal, the fine would be $50. Sponsors say the measure is simply to encourage people to buckle up.
A state Senate committee passed an amended version of a bill reducing federal welfare benefits for families with students who fail a grade in school. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, would reduce a parent’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments by up to 30 percent for students who fail a grade. It was amended to limit maximum penalties to parents who do not attend parent-teacher conferences, enroll their child in tutoring or attend a parenting course. Special needs students would be exempt from the law.
State lawmakers are having next-to-no luck with even symbolic proposals meant to show disdain with potential gun restrictions coming out of Washington D.C. Several bills are almost identical and – one way or another – aim to stop the enforcement in Tennessee of federal firearms regulations, such as limits on high capacity magazines. One comes from Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), who wants to prevent public officials or firearms dealers from complying with either a ban on semi-automatic weapons or registration requirements.
A bill that originally would have restricted conversations about homosexuality in grade schools and required guidance counselors to report such talks to parents died quietly Tuesday in the state legislature. The Classroom Protection Act, House Bill 1332, failed in a House subcommittee without any discussion when members refused to take it up. The measure’s sponsor, state Rep. John Ragan, expressed disappointment, saying he planned to present an amendment that turned the bill into a plan to deal with schoolhouse shootings — not homosexuality.
Tennessee labor groups urged Gov. Bill Haslam to stop the proposed workers’ compensation reforms. During a rally Tuesday in Nashville, labor leaders said the changes could cut insurance payouts on injuries, remove cases from impartial courts, ease the dismissal of injured workers and create a new bureaucracy under the governor’s control, said Jerry Winters of the AFL-CIO of Tennessee. Winters’ group participated in the rally with groups including the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council, Tennessee Citizen Action, the Jackson Central Labor Council, the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle-Tennessee.
Tourism officials behind a proposed sales “fee” to benefit convention recruitment at the new Music City Center hope to apply it to shops and restaurants in the Gulch as well as the main part of downtown. Andrea Arnold, spokeswoman for the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, confirmed the idea is not only to attach the quarter-cent increase on sales of certain goods sold around Lower Broadway — where merchants helped start the conversation for the fee — but also in the growing Gulch area nearby.
Mayor Karl Dean squashed any speculation that might have been lingering around the Metro Courthouse Tuesday morning, as he kicked off the year’s budget hearings. “Let make it clear at the very offset, take whatever suspense there may be out of this,” Dean said during his opening remarks. “We will not be asking — we will not be asking — for additional revenue this year to help cover budget needs. We will not be proposing — we will not be proposing — an additional property tax increase.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais greeted constituents and defended his conservative positions on health care and other issues during an open house at his 305 W. Main St. district office Tuesday. Some in attendance opposed his positions. “I’m here because he had a rally at the state Capitol and spoke against Gov. (Bill) Haslam accepting the federal funds for expanding Medicaid in Tennessee,” said Rebekah Majors-Manley, a Bell Buckle resident who supports the Affordable Care Act that’s also called Obamacare.
A new state veterans cemetery will be located in the Henderson County town of Parkers Crossroads. According to The Jackson Sun (http://bit.ly/14loGa1 ), cemetery steering committee chairman Chris Dangler said the first burial there is expected in August 2016. Parker’s Crossroads is about halfway between Jackson and the Tennessee River and convenient to Interstate 40. Dangler said the new cemetery is needed because space is being rapidly used in veterans cemeteries in Memphis and Nashville.
Tennesseans are bracing for a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that will either support the nation’s marital status quo or lead to increased recognition of same-sex unions. Justices heard arguments Tuesday on the Prop 8 case, which seeks to overturn California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and today they will hear a case seeking to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Rulings aren’t expected until June. Tennessee has a double ban on same-sex marriage — put into state statute in 1996 and added to the state Constitution by voters in 2006.
Knox County may not have an industrial megasite, but it now has a smaller digital equivalent. The Tennessee Valley Authority announced last week that a 10.6-acre site near the Pellissippi Parkway has been approved as a primary data center site. That approval, performed in conjunction with Deloitte Consulting, is aimed at luring companies to use the site for a data center, a collection of computer servers used to store massive amounts of digital information.
Health insurance premiums for individual policies will jump by more than 30 percent and small businesses will face double-digit rate hikes for their health plans next year when most of the health care reform known as ObamaCare becomes effective, insurers and actuaries estimated Tuesday. “There is going to be a rate shock for a lot of people,” said Bill Gracey, president of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state’s biggest health insurer. “Unfortunately, our young and healthy people may opt out of coverage because their rates are about to go way up — as much as 62 percent for some healthy, younger males,” he said.
Williamson County Schools – which put up some of the best scores in the state – have opposed opening charter schools. Instead, the entire district wants to act like one. A measure sailing through the state legislature would give charter-like treatment to high-performing districts, allowing them to come up with their own teacher evaluation systems – just as charters do. They could also lengthen the school year. “I think it’s past time that we do something for the schools that are performing,” said Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett), a member of the House Education Committee that passed the bill unanimously Tuesday.
Metro Nashville school board members got their first look at a new school performance measurement system that gives little weight to closing the achievement gap between different groups of students, a point of emphasis with the state. The system isn’t complete but already allows school officials to judge each Metro school. It doesn’t replace the state system, although some of the same information is collected for both. The state program was adopted in 2012 as part of Tennessee’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Teachers in the Oak Ridge school system are requesting that the Board of Education consider 2.5 percent raises in budget deliberations for the 2013-14 school year. Also sought by teachers is the addition of a holiday leave day — the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — and one additional personal leave day. But the top budget priority, board members were told Monday, is full funding of all existing staff positions and programs “that directly impact student achievement and success,” according to the proposal.
The unified Memphis and Shelby County school board Tuesday night rejected the administration’s request to change the way teachers are compensated. The panel split 10-10, with three absent, on the controversial issue. The measure would have required a majority of the board — 12 votes — for passage. During a meeting that also saw Dorsey Hopson, the interim superintendent of Memphis City Schools, given the additional title of interim superintendent of the Shelby County system, the board vigorously debated the pay plan, whose key component would remove the attainment of advanced degrees as a factor in how much teachers in the district are paid.
The city and county school systems have a single school superintendent less than five months from the start of the first school year of the consolidated school system in Shelby County. Interim Memphis City Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson was appointed interim Shelby County Schools superintendent at the first countywide school board meeting since the board approved a buyout last week of county schools superintendent John Aitken. The buyout took effect immediately. Hopson is county schools superintendent until the school board picks a permanent superintendent.
Officers with Bristol Tennessee Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Unit entered a residence on Ester Street Monday night at 10:30 p.m. and found a substantial methamphetamine lab in operation, according to a report from the agency. The couple inside the home, Jerry Keith Ledford, 52, and Penny Darlene Willhite, 42, of Bristol were both charged with one count of initiation of a process intended to produce methamphetamine, possession of schedule II and III drugs with intent to distribute, simple possession of a schedule VI drug, possession of drug paraphernalia, and maintaining a dwelling where drugs are manufactured.
Two people were arrested on drug charges Monday night after Bristol police officers discovered a meth lab in operation. According to a news release, the Street Crimes Unit executed a search warrant at 115 Esther St. Inside the residence, officers located a “substantial clandestine methamphetamine lab.”
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. uncharacteristically waded into state and local politics recently, writing a letter to state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, endorsing a misguided bill that would allow elected school superintendents. In the letter, written at the request of Claiborne County Mayor Jack Daniels, Duncan wrote that most people who have discussed the issue with him want to switch back to electing superintendents. Duncan is a Tennessee resident and American citizen, of course, and can offer opinions on anything he likes. But members of Congress, Duncan included, generally stay out of state and local politics.
We are thankful that Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, withdrew proposed legislation Tuesday that would have allowed county commissioners to meet in private when a quorum is not present. What is disturbing is that he presented a similar bill last year and said that he will study the matter over the summer. There’s nothing to study. Any such bill is a slap in the face of open government. Fortunately, many leaders, including the governor and the leaders in both the House and Senate, expressed their concerns over this bill, which likely led to its withdrawal. Laws that pertain to open government address issues such as open meetings, what elected officials can and cannot discuss in private and the public’s access to records.
State lawmakers helped Tennessee secure its No. 1 ranking as the meth capital of America. Last week, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee delayed, yet again, action on making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug. The effort was killed until 2014. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, stated that there was not enough support for the measure, because, if enacted, it would have made it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to get this common allergy-fighting medication. Meanwhile, meth manufacturing is flourishing in Tennessee as people from other states take advantage of the state’s failed attempt to reduce pseudoephedrine sales.