This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Just because the state is privatizing management of almost every government building doesn’t mean more jobs will be cut. That’s according to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who has been defending an outsourcing contract that led to 126 layoffs. Real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle will do what was a function of the Department of General Services. It’s also overseeing a major overhaul to state office space, which includes renegotiating leases and moving some departments to new buildings. Haslam says it will save the state $100 million over time.
With pressure from some Tennessee conservatives mounting against Common Core school standards, Gov. Bill Haslam says he is standing strong in his decision to implement them in the state. During a press conference Tuesday, Haslam told reporters that he believes joining 44 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the federal classroom benchmarks will help Tennessee stay economically competitive. “I feel strongly in this sense: Common Core is about raising the standards and defining the standards so that everybody knows what a third grader should be able to do in math or an eighth grader,” said the Republican governor.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he is unconcerned that a company seeking coal mining rights on public land in Tennessee is managed by a board member of Pilot Flying J, the truck stop chain owned by the Haslam family. Hillsborough Resources, a subsidiary of the Vitol Group, has been negotiating to mine coal within the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area near Crossville. The president and CEO of Vitol’s North and South American operations, Mike Loya, serves on the Pilot board. Haslam, who owns an undisclosed stake in Pilot, told The Associated Press this week that he doesn’t know Loya personally.
Several cities in West Tennessee are getting grants for downtown improvement projects. Gov. Bill Haslam and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer announced the grants for Brownsville, Halls, Humboldt, Milan and Trenton this week. Brownsville is to receive $506,556, Halls will get $411,471, Humboldt will get $396,248, Milan is to receive $392,052 and Trenton will get $525,469. The grants are made possible through a federally funded program and are administered by the state Transportation Department.
State officials say steel tubing manufacturer United Stainless Inc. plans to invest $3.4 million in the expansion of its facility in Selmer. Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty says the expansion will include a 30,000-square-foot building addition that will house cutting and fabricating equipment, along with more efficient storage and handling. United Stainless is expected to add 25 manufacturing jobs over the next two years as part of the expansion.
A Nashville judge suggested on Wednesday that someone from the Department of Children’s Services should go to jail for making extensive redactions to the records of children who died. Judge Carol McCoy earlier this year ruled that the department had to release to the media the records of children who died or nearly died after DCS was supposed to be helping them. She authorized some redactions, but a recent batch of 44 files blacked out a lot of other information as well.
The Department of Children’s Services made serious blunders and violated a court order by removing information in the files of children who died or nearly died, before giving the records to media organizations, a judge said Wednesday. Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy said her “confidence has been shaken” by the state agency’s actions. In fact, McCoy said she intends to pinpoint whomever should be held responsible for the unauthorized redactions. “You find this court a commissioner or assistant commissioner, someone big enough to tell me they are the ones who didn’t follow the order,” McCoy said.
Nine teenage girls slipped from state custody early Wednesday morning after overpowering an employee at a Department of Children’s Services facility in Donelson, an official confirmed. Six had been apprehended less than three hours later, and three remained on the run Wednesday. Police said the girls escaped from G4S Academy for Young Women on Stewarts Ferry Pike at about 1:45 a.m. An employee at the academy found the girls walking along Interstate 40 soon after their escape, but two of the girls assaulted that employee, police said.
Child support payments have become so impossible for some parents that they cannot pay, even if they want to, Tennessee state Rep. JoAnne Favors said. “I would like to see what we could do to try to make it a little easier as far as getting the payments appropriate,” she said. Favors is hosting a meeting today to inform parents of child support laws and hear their concerns. Favors, who was divorced after five years of marriage and four children, said she understands how hard it is to raise a child without getting the child support that should be available, but that meeting child support demands is becoming “unrealistic.”
When Parole Board Chairman Charles Traughber steps down this week after working with offenders for more than 40 years, he says his fondest memories will be of those he helped work their way back into society. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Traughber said he’s often stopped by ex-offenders who want to express their gratitude. “Twenty years ago, y’all gave me a chance,” he recalled one person saying. Traughber has been working with offenders and ex-offenders since 1969, when he was a prison counselor at the then-Tennessee State Penitentiary, which closed in 1992 after the opening of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.
State officials touted their pending bridge over Broad Street project Wednesday, but one business owner doubts the plan will be good for the city. “It’s an eyesore,” said Henry Huddleston, whose family owns and operates gas stations and a wholesale gas business with an office on Old Fort Parkway, near where the bridge will link to Memorial Boulevard and bypass the congested intersection at Northwest Broad Street. Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer noted that 60,000 autos pass through the intersection per day and that number will rise to 72,740 by 2034.
Traffic at Murfreesboro’s busiest intersection is going to become much worse before it gets any better. Transportation officials announced a complete rerouting where Broad Street, Memorial Boulevard and Old Fort Parkway converge. How could it be that three thoroughfares come together at one spot? Downtown Murfreesboro’s streets run primarily in a grid pattern. But Memorial Boulevard cuts diagonally. And now 60,000 cars pass through each day. The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s answer is to raise Memorial over Broad.
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder will step down from her post at the end of August 2014, 17 years after she joined the state’s highest court. Holder, the first woman to serve as chief justice of Tennessee’s highest court, has notified Gov. Bill Haslam of her plans not to seek re-election in a year and change. She was appointed to the Supreme Court of in December 1996, elected in August 1998, and then re-elected in 2006 to her current eight-year term. (Holder was chief justice from September 2008 to August 2010.)
Justice Janice Holder, the first woman to serve as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, announced Wednesday that she will retire next summer, becoming the fourth appeals court judge to announce plans to step down. Holder said she will resign Aug. 31, 2014, after 17 years on the state’s highest court so Gov. Bill Haslam can appoint a successor. Holder’s announcement comes after appeals court judges Patricia J. Cottrell in Nashville, Alan E. Highers in Jackson and Joseph M. Tipton in Knoxville also announced plans to retire next year.
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder of Memphis announced Wednesday she will retire from the court at the end of her term Aug. 31, 2014, raising more legal questions about how appellate judge vacancies will be filled. Holder, 63, was the third woman to serve on the state’s high court and was the first woman to serve as the court’s chief justice, from 2008 to 2010. She was elected Circuit Court judge in Shelby County in 1990, where she served until then-governor Don Sundquist appointed her to a vacancy on the Supreme Court in December 1996.
The first woman to head the state’s highest court is retiring. Janice Holder will not seek reelection to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Holder was appointed 17 years ago by then-Governor Don Sundquist. She won retention elections in ‘98 and again in 2006. The title of “chief justice” is now a rotating position on the five-member panel. Holder held the moniker from 2008 to 2010 – becoming the first woman chief justice in Tennessee. The 63-year-old judge says in a letter to Governor Bill Haslam she will serve out her current term, which ends in August of next year.
Voters in state Sen. Stacey Campfield’s district have been bombarded this week with automated phone calls asking their opinion of him, but both the Republican lawmaker and his primary challenger say they had nothing to do with the survey. Campfield and Richard Briggs, a physician and Knox County commissioner who has declared himself a candidate for the 7th Senate District seat in the 2014 Republican primary, said they have heard from people unhappy with the calls. In many cases Tuesday night, for example, there were repeated callbacks.
State and local governments wasted $511 million in taxpayer money in the past year, according to a “pork report” from the Beacon Center. The Beacon Center, a Nashville-based, free-market nonprofit that tends to emphasize low taxes, pointed to $95 million spent on the Hemlock Semiconductor plant that cut 300 employees this year, $73 million that went toward “erroneously paid” unemployment benefits and the recently announced $13 million spent on incentives for the ABC “Nashville” show, as examples of wasteful spending.
A small-government group says Tennessee “squandered” $511 million over the past year through a combination of overpayments, subsidies and other practices deemed wasteful. The Beacon Center of Tennessee took aim in its 2013 “Tennessee Pork Report,” released Wednesday, at $8.5 million in incentives for the “Nashville” television show, $101 million in state spending on the shuttered Hemlock Semiconductor plant near Clarksville and $73 million in erroneous unemployment payments.
Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond is again pushing the county’s law department to go after a former Trustee’s Office employee who overpaid himself years ago and then became the catalyst for a state criminal investigation into the department. Hammond said he wants officials to get whatever money they feel John Haun, who worked in the county’s tax collecting office for 20 years before his termination in early 2009, owes. The plan would be to seize his $150,000 county retirement account, which is currently frozen, and then have him make up any difference.
Attitudes that shaped the Memphis city budget vote Tuesday night didn’t need the evening’s nine-hour meeting to blossom, they were there when the council members first took their seats. Council budget chairman Jim Strickland didn’t want a tax rate increase. Council member Janis Fullilove didn’t want any layoffs. Council member Shea Flinn said they couldn’t have it both ways and urged “reality” in their problem solving. Council member Harold Collins said compromise, creativity and courage would help the council thread the needle between taxes and layoffs.
Memphis City Council members raised the city property tax rate Tuesday, June 26, by 4 cents above the recertified tax rate and put the rest of a turbulent budget season to rest. The approval of the $3.40 property tax rate and city operating and capital budgets came in a council session that ended at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. “We got a budget. Let it show that the budget is on time,” Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said as the meeting ended. “If you look at what had happened in the past 60 days and look at where we are now, it’s almost a miracle.”
Back in the 1950s there was a spate of science-fiction movies highlighting this or that group of stealth invaders — or sometimes a single, abominably oversized monster — from somewhere else. As often as not, the peril was the result of mutation caused by atomic radiation. The newish science of semiotics would tell us the obvious — that all these creatures from the Black Lagoon or the ones that came from outer space were a mish-mash of the real-world specters that haunted the public imagination: nuclear warfare and invasion by foreign powers.
Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais has introduced legislation that would forbid US military involvement in Syria. It’s the opposite position of a fellow Republican, Sen. Bob Corker, who has been outspoken in support of the idea. DesJarlais’ bill would prohibit the Pentagon, the CIA, and any other agency from funding operations in Syria. He says the US would put its own security at risk, by sending weapons to groups that purportedly have ties to Al Queada. But Sen. Corker is pressing for a more active role in Syria.
A Nashville attorney who married her wife a year ago in Washington, D.C., said she is thrilled with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. Julia Tate watched coverage of the court with Lisa McMillan on Wednesday morning at their home and said everyone should have equality. “Everyone should be treated the same on the federal level,” Tate said. “On the state level, we still have work to do.” Voters in a 2006 referendum passed the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment, which specifies only a marriage between a man and a woman can be legally recognized in the state.
The Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the federal Defense of Marriage Act gave same-sex marriage equal stature in the eyes of the federal government, but it will be awhile before anyone knows what it means for gay couples in Tennessee. The court’s decision rests on the American ideal, embedded in the U.S. Constitution, that one group can’t be favored over another. But as things stand now, same-sex married couples in Tennessee may not be able to file joint federal tax returns, take family medical leave, or get social security spousal benefits because Tennessee’s constitution explicitly bans on same-sex marriage.
The steps were packed, elbow to elbow. Signs jumped up from the nervous crowd as the decision came down from the U.S. Supreme Court and then trickled down through word of mouth, text message and Twitter. And although the decades-long debate over the rights of same-sex couples to marry has been loudly argued left to right, it was hard to find a person who didn’t want to hear this news: We won. It wasn’t the sweeping ruling that would open the door to same-sex marriage nationwide, but it was a victory nonetheless.
Three months after they were legally married, Todd Cramer and Ernie Hoskins sat glued to the TV in their Knoxville home on Wednesday and awaited word on whether the federal government would be forced to formally recognize their union. Finally, the news came. The U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 ruling that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it barred legally wed gay couples from receiving more than 1,100 federal benefits that are available to married heterosexual couples.
The reaction from Knoxville’s gay community was jubilant and proud Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act by a 5-4 vote. But local gay couples still said they would like to see more change in Tennessee, which defines marriage as a union between one man and woman. “I’m thrilled with the way it turned out,” said Robin Bedenbaugh, communication coordinator at the University of Tennessee’s library. For 17 years, Bedenbaugh, 41, has been in a same-sex relationship with Holly Mercer, 44, who also works at the UT library.
It’s only an empty box. But to Derek Norman of Memphis, it is a simple shape that, like a ring, has come to symbolize so much in the five years since he and his husband married. Next year, Norman will be one of thousands of same-sex couples to check the “married” box for the first time on a federal tax form, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision Wednesday to extend federal benefits to same-sex couples. “I think for the first time ever,” Norman said, “I’m actually going to look forward to filing my taxes next year.”
Area residents took to social media Wednesday to voice mixed reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings regarding gay marriage. By 9 p.m. six dozen comments about the issue had been left on the Kingsport Times-News Facebook page (Times-News Online). They ran the gamut from elation to disgust. Some were in support. Some were against. Some said they didn’t see how it would matter in their life either way. Here’s a sampling of the comments as they appeared online, without correcting grammar, spelling or punctuation.
Tears filled Rich Wahl’s eyes as he sat in his dentist’s waiting room Wednesday morning. He’d just gotten the news that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core of the Defense of Marriage Act with its decision in United States v. Windsor. The ruling essentially stated it is discriminatory for the federal government to treat legally married same-sex couples differently than legally married heterosexual couples. “I hoped the people in the office didn’t think I was crazy,” said Wahl, a Rockvale resident.
The Supreme Court ruling opening federal benefits to same sex couples has a local gay rights advocate “feeling a little bit less like a second-class citizen.” But until same-sex marriage is legal in Tennessee, for Clarksville businessman David Shelton the fight is far from over. Shelton compared the Defense of Marriage Act ruling to someone bringing a pinata to a party. “I’m happy there’s a pinata in the room, but it’s still a pinata slightly out of reach for those of us in Tennessee,” he said.
What do Tennessee employers need to know now that the Supreme Court has struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act? Well, for starters, it may not impact anything here immediately. From an employer perspective, the Supreme Court ruling has more impact on states where same-sex marriage is already legal, so not much may change for a Tennessee-based business offering benefits to an employee with a same-sex spouse. But there are more than 1,000 instances in federal laws and regulations that reference marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
A dozen federal lawsuits filed against the truck stop chain run by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam could be consolidated before a single judge. The cases stem from a federal investigation into alleged rebate fraud by the sales team at Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J, the country’s largest diesel retailer. Various plaintiffs have asked for the cases to be shifted to federal courts in northern Ohio, southern Mississippi or middle Tennessee. Pilot wants the cases to be heard in Knoxville, where the company is based and where most of the defendants live.
Since municipalities in Franklin County, Tenn., started passing ordinances to put pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines behind a doctor’s prescription, the idea is beginning to spread. That’s what Winchester Police Chief Dennis Young said is needed for effective local control of cold medicines such as Sudafed-Congestion, Advil Cold & Sinus, Tylenol Cold Severe Congestion, Mucinex-D and other brands that are used to make methamphetamine. An active chemical in these medicines, pseudoephedrine, is the primary ingredient in clandestine meth production and the target of municipal ordinances implementing local control, Young said.
The Common Core State Standards — a set of K-12 education goals for reading and math adopted by Tennessee, 44 other states and the District of Columbia — have suddenly come under attack. Spurred by tea party groups, officials in several states have made moves to halt the implementation of the standards. In Tennessee, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, ripped the Common Core as a federal intrusion into state authority over education, writing in a column sent to news media that “not only have states forfeited their academic standards to unaccountable Washington bureaucrats, they’ve accepted in return, watered down, internationally uncompetitive standards to which to hold our children.”
“You find this court a commissioner or assistant commissioner, someone big enough to tell me they are the ones who didn’t follow the order,” Chancellor Carol McCoy told lawyers representing the Department of Children Services on Wednesday. “I need the name of the person responsible … someone who needs to sit in the pokey.” In a rare example of judicial tongue-lashing, McCoy said in the latest hearing on public access to the records of children who died, or nearly died, after contact with DCS, what many have been thinking as the department reluctantly released records with random, arbitrary, inconsistent and heavy-handed redactions of information that seems designed more to protect the behinds of government staff than to let Tennesseans know what has been happening in the troubled department that is charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable children.
Since the passage of the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977, citizens have been active in voicing their concerns about water pollution in Tennessee. For 36 years, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and its Division of Water Pollution Control has worked with private citizens, grass-roots organizations and watershed associations to address public concerns about water quality and water pollution. The Tennessee General Assembly even passed into law a process for citizens to voice their concerns by submitting “letters of complaints.” For 36 years, this process has worked in Tennessee.
The Memphis City Council, during a marathon session Tuesday, passed a budget and a tax rate that get the Tennessee comptroller off the city’s back for a year, but do nothing to deal long-term with the debt and revenue crisis facing the city. The council meeting, which began at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and ran well past midnight Wednesday morning, also revealed that some council members are unwilling to acknowledge or are blind to the city’s floundering financial situation. The 13 council members, after many twists, turns and compromises, approved a property tax rate of $3.40, up from $3.11. Most of that increase, 25 cents, was necessary to bring in the same amount of revenue because of property value decreases.
There might be sound reasoning behind the Madison County Commission’s Financial Management Committee’s recommendation to hold back $911,000 in the Jackson-Madison County school system capital budget designated for computer purchases. But commissioners should move quickly to resolve their concerns and not balk at improving school system technology. It is a key factor in moving the school system forward. The committee is recommending to the full commission that capital funds for purchasing more than 1,000 new computers be held back. Commissioners say they want to see a more detailed long-range plan for technology.