May 1 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

KHS America adding 67 jobs, expanding in Wilson County (Tennessean)

Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd along with KHS America officials today announced the musical instrument manufacturer and distributor will expand its current operations in Wilson County. KHS America will invest $3.7 million to add onto its location at 12020 Eastgate Blvd. in Mt. Juliet and create 67 new jobs, according to a news release. “It’s always exciting to see our existing businesses expand and find continued success in Tennessee,” Boyd said in a news release. “A decision to stay and expand sends a strong message about the strength of our communities, our quality of life and exceptional workforce. I want to thank KHS America for this investment and the valuable new jobs they’re creating.”

Haslam signs measure for lifetime handgun-carry permit (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows Tennesseans to get a lifetime handgun-carry permit. During the recent legislative session, the House passed the measure 90-3, and the Senate approved it 30-2. Haslam signed it this week. Before the new law, a permit was valid for four years. Now, Tennessee residents at least 21 years of age can pay $500 for a lifetime permit. A criminal record check will be done every five years. The state Safety Department can suspend or revoke a permit if the department finds a person no longer satisfies requirements.

Pyramid arena in Memphis reopens as ‘megastore’ (Rueters)

The Memphis Pyramid, a former sports and concert arena and Mississippi River landmark which has sat largely idle for 11 years, has reopened this week as a retail and entertainment complex which the city hopes will be a major tourist attraction. The outdoors goods retailer Bass Pro Shops opened a “megastore” in the pyramid on Wednesday evening – which includes shopping, a bowling alley, restaurants, hotel and an observation deck. The work was financed with the help of more than $150 million in city and state funds… “Thank you for keeping grinding on this and making it work,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam at the pyramid’s reopening. He called the structure “one of the most symbolic buildings in the state.”

Pyramid Promises (Memphis Daily News)

It took about 25 years for an elevator ride to reach the top of The Pyramid. That’s how long several generations of political leaders – three county mayors and three Memphis mayors as well as a changing group of city council members over seven elections – have been seeking a Pyramid with a ride to the apex. Perhaps that’s why nobody at the Wednesday, April 29, formal opening of Bass Pro Shops’ superstore referred to it as a reopening… “Welcome to The Pyramid,” Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris said in a subdued but firm voice just inside the south entrance Wednesday evening after elected leaders including Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam took a tour.

Bass Pro Pyramid settles down to business (Commercial Appeal/Risher, Lantrip)

Visitors found plenty of elbow room and a more relaxed pace as they shopped and gawked Thursday at Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid. The scene was tame compared to Wednesday’s grand opening, which brought out thousands of people to see the new $132 million-plus tourist attraction for the first time. On Thursday, a smaller crowd moved through the massive store and shared what they thought about the national destination dreamed up by Bass Pro. “It’s really nice, kind of a theme park atmosphere. My grandson would love it,” said Jimmy Smith, 64, a retired sheet metal worker, who drove 115 miles from Oakland, Mississippi.

Bass Pro is here, now what? (WREG-TV Memphis)

Now that Bass Pro has opened, some people wondered what’s next? The retail giant promised to bring hundreds of jobs, millions of tourists and boost overall tourism for Memphis in billions of dollars. WREG learned Thursday the city planned on building a pedestrian bridge that connected the Pyramid to the Pinch District. Who would be responsible for building the bridge has been a question for awhile. “That’s part of the city’s deal and plan and they control that,” said Bass Pros’ General Manager David Hagel when asked about the pedestrian bridge. He said whenever the city decides to build the bridge, he would be on board. When initial plans for the Pyramid were drawn up, the bridge was going to be located where hotel rooms now sit so now things need to be reconfigured.

Downtown Businesses Hoping To Cash In On Bass Pro (WPTY-TV Memphis)

Downtown Memphis is booming with tourists and visitors with the opening of the Bass Pro in the Pyramid.  It is much more than a retail store. It is a tourist attraction. And bass pro reps are hoping to profit from other local events.  “This is the biggest weekend downtown of the year, for sure,” Oshi Burger Bar general manager David Moore said.  Barely open a day, Bass Pro is already booming.  “It’s a completely new market coming to Memphis. The outdoors and sportsmen customer, which Memphis hasn’t had a huge impact in until now,” VP of marketing for Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau Regena Bearden said.

Too much Mr. Nice Guy? Haslam struggles to exert influence (Associated Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was riding high. He swept all 95 counties in his re-election bid, then his peers picked him to be chairman of the Republican Governors Association. But that momentum came to a crashing halt just days into a special legislative session he called in February, when lawmakers unceremoniously rejected Haslam’s signature proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. And Haslam bookended a tumultuous legislative session by reversing his previous opposition to a bill allowing handgun carry permit holders to be armed in all local parks, playgrounds and ball fields. Haslam in his previous role as Knoxville mayor had supported a ban on guns in city parks. To House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, the governor’s failure to veto the guns bill was an “an absolute failure of leadership.” And the Ripley Democrat has urged Haslam to call repeated special sessions to force lawmakers to reconsider the Insure Tennessee proposal.

State arguing for cash police say they wrongly seized (News-Sentinel/Satterfield)

When the Sevierville Police Department learned pills in a woman’s car were antacids and the $11,922 an officer seized as suspected drug money was an inheritance, the agency agreed to drop charges and return the cash. The Tennessee Department of Safety wants it back. In a twist on the national debate over police seizures, the police department that conceded its seizure was a mistake has now been forced to hire its own attorney as the safety department’s top forfeiture lawyer wages a legal war likely costing taxpayers far more than the money at issue and based solely on the agency’s suspicion Kathy Stiltner is lying, records obtained by the News Sentinel show. The case began in July when Sevierville police officer Michael Maddron stopped Stiltner after a complaint she was driving while drunk. She was. After arresting Stiltner, Maddron searched her car and found a handful of loose pills and an envelope full of cash. He seized it and added a drug charge to the DUI.

Sentence stiffened for vehicluar homicide (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)

A bill to increase the minimum prison time that must be served by drivers convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide won state legislative approval. Senate Bill 30 will require convicts to serve at least 60 percent of their sentence, minus any sentence reduction credits earned behind bars, down to a mandatory minimum 45 percent of the original sentence. The current minimum is 30 percent, minus credits. The bill by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville and Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, applies to aggravated vehicular homicide occurring after June 30. It won House approval 94-0 and Senate approval 30-0. Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign it into law.

Norris Says TennCare Review ‘Essential’ (Memphis Daily News)

The majority leader of the Tennessee State Senate says the legislature is not done with a proposed expansion of Medicaid. But Republican Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville is quick to add that the expansion proposed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam should be part of a larger re-examination of the existing TennCare program. “Rather than Medicaid expansion, we really need to be looking at the management of TennCare,” Norris said on the WKNO TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “You need to look at the entire program. How are we managing the TennCare program we’ve got?” Behind The Headlines, hosted by The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes, airs at 7 p.m. Friday, May 1 and at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, May 3.

Despite vow, new GOP leader may delay leaving statehouse (Tenn/Boucher)

The newly elected head of the Tennessee Republican Party is considering keeping his seat in the state legislature until November, despite a promise to resign if elected party chairman. But by potentially delaying his resignation, Rep. Ryan Haynes expects to save as much as $200,000 that would be needed for a special election. “Politically, all of us want to make sure that seat remains in GOP control. But philosophically, I think all of us are interested in minimizing the cost of that transition to taxpayers,” Haynes, R-Knoxville, told members of the Republican State Executive Committee in an email this week. Haynes was elected chairman of the party April 11 after former Chairman Chris Devaney resigned.

Black leads bid to block ban on reproductive discrimination in D.C. (Tenn/Troyan)

A Tennessee lawmaker is leading an effort by conservatives in Congress to block a new District of Columbia law that bans discrimination based on reproductive choice. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, says the law, which takes effect on Saturday unless Congress disapproves, is an affront to religious freedom. She has introduced legislation to reverse it. The House passed Black’s bill late Thursday night, 228-192. Her involvement has drawn criticism from a member of the Tennessee delegation who supports the law. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, said Black’s bill to reverse the D.C. law “treats women like second-class citizens.” The Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act passed the D.C. City Council unanimously and was signed by the mayor in January.

Williamson school budget vote delayed (Tennessean/Balakit)

Williamson County’s budget committee delayed voting on the school district’s proposed budget on Thursday. The committee needs additional information to determine how to pay for capital maintenance needs and how it can possibly reduce the proposed operating budget, Mayor Rogers Anderson said.Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney has said the district’s proposed $290 million budget could be fully funded without raising taxes. Looney also said the budget includes a 5 percent raise for all school employees. The school employee raise dominated a large part of Thursday’s budget meeting. Committee members said the proposed raise is more than the private industry. They also said the school district should consider reducing the pay raise by at least 1 percent.

Metro Schools seeks legal advice over BEP lawsuits (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Metro Schools will seek legal advice concerning Basic Education Program lawsuits against the state after a unanimous vote Thursday. It is a flip from a split vote two weeks ago where the board decided not to seek legal advice concerning the suits. The difference in the motion Thursday was whom the district will use in monitoring the lawsuits. Instead of using an outside attorney, as originally proposed, the board will use Metro Legal to advise on the suits filed by seven Hamilton County-area school districts. It is expected Metro Legal will report to the board on May 26 on what the suits mean to the district and any steps the board needs to take.

Comcast to bring 2-gig Internet service to Chattanooga (TFP/Malek)

The Gig City’s Internet speed is doubling. Comcast announced Thursday that it will offer service at 2 gigabits per second to homes in the Chattanooga area, the fastest residential speed in the nation. But the service won’t be available to businesses, and Atlanta will be getting it first, this month. The cable giant has not disclosed how much the new product will cost. The Chattanooga rollout begins in June and will be available to all Comcast customers and to noncustomers who live where the company’s network can service them, about 200,000 people. The company says it already has infrastructure in place for the fiber-to-home service. EPB officials were unfazed by the announcement. The city-owned utility rolled out 1 gbps service here in 2009. The city’s mayor and local business-technology leaders said Comcast’s move expands consumer choice and bolsters the community.