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Tax and Budget Uncategorized

State National Guard Workers Furloughed

Tennessee’s Department of the Military this week sent home 103 National Guard employees, who are funded by the U.S. government because the state is uncertain whether it will be reimbursed for their services once the federal shutdown ends.

Workers, based in Nashville, Smyrna, Memphis and Knoxville, were placed on leave.

“We simply cannot assume the risk that the federal government will reimburse the state for these employees’ wages,” said Max Haston, Tennessee National Guard adjutant general.

Every department in the Tennessee state government has employees who are funded either fully or partially by the federal government, which has put some jobs on shaky ground as the shutdown continues.

Some posts are funded by grants at the beginning of the fiscal year, like the 27 Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development workers who were furloughed from the Labor Market Information and Statistics unit at the beginning of the shutdown Oct. 1.

The workers are funded through federal contracts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been delayed because of the shutdown, said Jeff Hentschel, communications director for the state labor department.

“The state is going to continue to operate programs and services over which we have control. However, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has direct impact on the federal funding and support of the department’s Labor Market Information Research and Statistics section,” Hentschel said.

The furlough means all statistical data related to Tennessee’s economy and recovery will be delayed indefinitely. LMI gathers information, like unemployment rates, job growth, industry growth, wage rates and more to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hentschel said Tennessee isn’t the only state affected. North Carolina, Nebraska, Illinois, Washington, and Arizona have furloughed LMI staff.

While statisticians are at home with no pay, other department officials are worried.

Tennessee’s Department of Human Services, for example, is 90 percent federally funded, DHS Communications Director Christopher Garrett said.

“We have conducted a preliminary analysis of the potential impact for DHS overall. Federal funds will expire within 10 weeks from the shutdown’s start in most cases, with some variations,” he said.

As of Friday, the cessation of nonessential federal functions was 11 days old.

“We do anticipate an impact to that program very soon. We are analyzing this day by day, and we have informed our DDS employees of that. We will keep them informed as details emerge in this challenging time,” Garrett said.

Within DHS, the Department of Disability Determination Services is 100 percent federally funded to the tune of more than $62.9 million annually and it has very little money to continue paying its 463 employees.

Other departments, like the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, received grant funds and reimbursements in time to continue business as usual.

The TBI, which receives millions in federal grants, was able to meet the U.S. Office of Justice Program’s Oct. 4 deadline so the state’s law enforcement agency is fully funded.

“We do not foresee any state employees being furloughed or working without pay because of the shutdown,” said Kristin Helm, TBI public information officer.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has few employees that are entirely funded by the feds, but many partially funded jobs, Communications Director Kelly Brockman said.

The only fully federally funded TDEC jobs are with the Bureau of the Environment in Oak Ridge, but she doesn’t expect them to be furloughed in the future, she said.

“There are employees that are partially funded, but they have not been affected at this time,” she said, adding they could be if the shutdown continues for an extended period.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said since the shutdown began state government and employees will begin to see problems as the problems in Washington drag on.

“I’ve said before the longer it goes, the bigger the potential impact would be,” he said.

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections Uncategorized

Nashville’s Mary Mancini Announces State Senate Candidacy

Progressive Mary Mancini, the former executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, will run for the Democratic nomination for state Senate’s District 21 seat.

Nashville Democrat Douglas Henry, the Tennessee Legislature’s longest serving member, is retiring next year.

“It’s been an incredible experience to lead Citizen Action because it is such a well-respected organization whose mission aligns so completely with my personal values and priorities,” Mancini said. “But the work we did made me realize that Tennesseans need a principled progressive voice to represent them at the legislature.”

She added, “I know that I can be that voice because for almost a decade I have been at the Capitol – shining a bright light onto our elected representatives and holding them accountable for their destructive and divisive lawmaking.”

During her time at Citizen Action, Mancini has been an advocate for safe and healthy work conditions, accessible and affordable health care, government accountability and participatory democracy, and equitable living conditions for the poor, elderly, disabled, and those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

Mancini joins fellow Democrats Metro Councilman Jason Holleman and attorney Jeff Yarbro.

Holleman’s plank positions are improving public education, fiscal responsibility, preservation, social justice, health insurance reform and responsible growth.

Yarbro also wants to focus on public education, health insurance reform and social justice issues.

In 2010, Yarbro ran unsuccessfully against Henry.

Henry, who has held the seat for more than 40 years, narrowly won after a Yarbro-requested recount.

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News NewsTracker Transparency and Elections Uncategorized

ESPN Tackles Haslam Family, Pilot Oil Investigation

ESPN has recently tackled the fortunes of the Haslam family with two articles detailing its struggle with an FBI investigation and Jimmy Haslam’s purchase of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

A story from Oct. 9 outlines the FBI’s investigation into Pilot Flying J and Jimmy Haslam’s role in the scandal.

Although Haslam insists that he is “making it right” with his customers who were shortchanged on their rebates, the FBI investigation continues. Agents and prosecutors are sifting through what one lawyer involved in the investigation said are “literally millions of pages of emails and documents.”

At least 11 former Pilot employees already are cooperating with the FBI and offering evidence against Pilot. Seven of them have entered guilty pleas to fraud charges, and four have obtained immunity from prosecution in return for their cooperation. Late last month, federal prosecutors, in a major signal, arranged to postpone the sentencing of the seven to allow the FBI to continue its probe. The delay shows that the investigation is growing beyond earlier expectations, say lawyers and an investigator involved in the probe who spoke to ESPN.com on condition of anonymity. The court cases are now scheduled for a report to the judge on Feb. 3.

And:

Western is one of 27 trucking companies that have sued Pilot and demanded payment of the discounts they were promised. There’s also a class-action lawsuit filed in Little Rock, Ark., on behalf of all Pilot customers in which Haslam and Pilot have made a major settlement offer. But as enormous as his problems with his customers might be, Haslam’s biggest problem is the FBI’s continuing investigation.

According to the sworn FBI statement filed in federal court in Knoxville, the probe began when an individual known only as Confidential Human Source 1 (CHS1) told the FBI that an employee of Pilot had described to CHS1 a vast scheme in which Pilot officials “had been intentionally defrauding” Pilot customers by withholding amounts due to customers in the form of monthly rebate checks. Instead of sending the promised rebate on the fuel purchased by the customer, Pilot employees reduced the amounts of the rebates to increase company profits and to increase their sales commissions.”

The sports website then published another story that digs deeper into the Haslam family.

The Haslams are one of the most powerful families in the South. Jimmy’s younger brother, Bill, is the governor of Tennessee and is considered a potential Republican candidate for the White House in 2016. They don’t like to talk about that, of course. One store at a time, one election at a time. Their father, “Big Jim” Haslam, is a regular Horatio Alger story, taking Pilot from a tiny gas station to an American interstate institution.

And:

When (Bill) Haslam was elected governor in a landslide in 2010, Big Jim swelled with pride. He filled his office with pictures of his boy on election day. A February 2013 article in Politico called Haslam “the most important Republican governor you’ve never heard of,” a man who makes government work. The article said Haslam had a 68 percent approval rating at the time.

But he has his share of critics. They bristled when Haslam refused to disclose his personal ownership stake in Pilot. They wondered why one of Haslam’s advisers has also been working with Pilot’s public handling of the FBI investigation.”The Haslams have done some wonderful things in the community,” said Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson. “[Bill] might be a nice family man and all of that. But unfortunately as governor, he’s appointed Pilot board members to high-powered government jobs and given preferential treatment to businessmen and lobbyists with ties to Pilot.

When taken together the articles imply the FBI may still indict Jimmy Haslam.

In which case the Haslams are rumored to have a contingency plan; the reins would be handed to Big Jim Haslam, who refused to comment on the rumor.

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NewsTracker Uncategorized

State Rep. Watson Not Seeking Re-Election

State Rep. Eric Watson announced he will not seek re-election to the seat he has held since 2006, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Friday.

Watson, a Republican from Cleveland, currently serves as chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee. He said he’ll instead run for Bradley County sheriff, the Times Free Press reported:

Watson told an overflow crowd at his annual lawmaker luncheon that he will not seek re-election to the District 22 seat he has held since 2006. Instead, he said, he intends to challenge incumbent Jim Ruth in the May Republican primary.

“I’m proud of my accomplishments in Nashville, but I will not seek another term,” Watson told an audience of supporters that included state House and Senate colleagues, other elected officials and prominent Bradley County Republicans.

“More and more, I’ve realized we have problems closer to home – problems that cannot be properly addressed from Nashville,” he said in a 20-minute speech interrupted more than a dozen times by applause.

Watson worked for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years.

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Press Releases Uncategorized

Beavers: Meth-Making Down as Result of New Regs on Cold Meds

Press release from Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus, Oct. 4, 2013;

NASHVILLE — Tennessee State Senator Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, today issued the following statement in response to the recent results achieved by the real-time, stop-sale system in Tennessee.
Data released by the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) shows that during the first six months of 2013, electronic technology in the Volunteer State blocked the sale of more than 17,749 boxes of medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) preventing more than 26,000 grams from potentially being diverted by meth criminals. Meanwhile the meth-offender registry, which prevents previously convicted meth criminals from purchasing any medicines containing PSE, contained barely more than 4,500 entries.

Beavers was the original Senate sponsor of anti-meth legislation that implemented NPLEx in Tennessee in addition to the meth-offender registry and strict penalties for meth-related crime. The system, which allows retailers to block unlawful attempted purchases of certain cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), has been fully operational in Tennessee since January 2012.

“These block numbers prove conclusively that NPLEx is doing exactly what it is designed to do; prevent the illegal sale of pseudoephedrine, and in turn, the illegal production of methamphetamine. It is a system that provides law enforcement with an invaluable intelligence-gathering tool, helping officers make more meth busts and arrests,” Beavers said. “Reports like these emphasize the importance of finding innovative, effective and sensible solutions to help in Tennessee’s fight against illegal drugs. They also point out the importance of utilizing all of the resources at our disposal. Figures associated with our state’s meth offender registry, for example, indicate that it is drastically underutilized by Tennessee law enforcement officials. This is unacceptable. Law enforcement officials and court clerks have had eight years since the passage of the Combat Meth Act to figure out how to properly make use of the Meth Offender Database. If we are serious about winning the fight against meth, then we need to be serious about following through with our policy objectives. We should not be concerned with passing new laws until we fully apply those which are already on the books.”

“Moreover,” Beavers continued, “with fall around the corner, it is more important than ever to support policies that strike a balance between punishing meth criminals and maintaining access to popular cold and allergy relief for honest consumers. Last week I saw the release of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s 2013 Fall Allergy Capital list and, much like last year, Tennessee cities are featured prominently. Out of 100 cities nationwide, Tennessee has four in the top 25 for ‘worst fall allergies.’ As elected officials, it is our duty to make sure that residents who suffer from seasonal allergies can still access the cold and allergy medicine they need for relief.”

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Press Releases Uncategorized

Leader Norris Welcomes Brookings Report on Tennessee Workforce Development

Press release from Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus, Oct. 4;

NASHVILLE – Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) welcomed a report by the Brookings Institution released at the Governor’s Economic Development Conference in Nashville today.

The report, part of Brookings’ Advanced Industries Series, recognizes LEAP — the Labor Education Alignment Program, sponsored by Norris and enacted into law this year, as the type of recent advance needed to meet the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements.

“This ‘upskilling’ is creating new challenges for the state’s workforce training system which…has yet to debut a cohesive, statewide workforce development system capable of meeting the changing needs of (Advance Industries) now and in the years ahead,” according to Brookings’ Executive Summary released early Friday.

“LEAP provides the pathways we need to enable Tennesseans to work, earn and learn,” said Norris. “Brookings confirms this and suggests strategies to implement action between the public and private sectors designed to maintain competitiveness and move Tennessee forward.”

“As an author and prime sponsor of the LEAP legislation, I spent considerable time observing and researching much of what the report has now documented,” said Norris. “Gov. Haslam appointed me to the Workforce Development Board in July. I appreciate the strategies and actions recommended, particularly those relating to development of the AI (Advance Industries) workforce pipeline by industry, state and federal sectors. I hope to encourage the Board to support such strategies, and I am confident the Administration will be able to work with the General Assembly to support some of the key strategies recommended.”

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Press Releases Uncategorized

House Republicans Offer Partial Solutions to Government Shutdown

Press Release from the Office of Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Oct. 4;

WASHINGTON − Over the past two days, the House of Representatives has passed a series of bills that will begin funding vital government services in an effort to end the shutdown.

Among the bills passed is legislation that will reopen our national parks, support cancer research, and honor our promises to America’s veterans. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann released the following statement.

“As part of our continuing efforts to propose reasonable solutions to the President and Senate Democrats, we have passed a series of funding bills intended to bring this government shutdown to an end. These bills will reopen our national parks, continue to fight for children with cancer and make sure that our brave veterans receive the benefits and care they were promised. While Democrats have continued to refuse to negotiate, I am hopeful they will at least consider these proposals to ensure critical funding is in place for sick children and our veterans.”

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TN Supreme Court Adopts Changes to Attorney Discipline Rules

Press release from the Tennessee Courts System; August 30, 2013:

The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted substantial changes to the rule that governs the discipline of attorneys in this state.

Supreme Court Rule 9 is one of nearly 60 rules that the Court enforces regarding everything from how court records are kept to rules of professional conduct. The changes to Rule 9 come about after more than two years of work that included input from attorneys and professional organizations from throughout the state.

The changes are so substantial that the Court is adopting a new 56-page rule in its entirety, rather than amending portions of the previous rule, which is the customary practice.

Some of the more notable changes to the rule include:

  • Reinstatement from all attorney suspensions, administrative and disciplinary, now requires an order of the Supreme Court.
  • A separate reinstatement fee is now imposed for reinstatement from an administrative suspension.
  • The rule contains comprehensive provisions regarding the appointment of a receiver attorney for attorneys who become unable to practice law.
  • The new rule clarifies procedures for the selection of and duties of practice monitors assigned as a condition of public discipline.
  • Procedures have been clarified for assessment of costs of any disciplinary proceedings to an attorney who has been the subject of the discipline.
  • The new rule spells out more clearly provisions regarding confidentiality of documents related to disciplinary proceedings.
  • The selection process for board members and recusal standards for both disciplinary hearing panel members and board members have been clarified in the new rule.
  • Also, Supreme Court Rule 9 references several other Supreme Court Rules, some of which will be amended to reflect the changes in Rule 9.

What the new rule does not change is grounds for attorney discipline and the forms of discipline that attorneys are subject to, such as private reprimand, public censure, suspension, and disbarment.

The rule regarding administration of discipline to attorneys was last revised in 2006. The new Supreme Court Rule 9 goes into effect January 1, 2014.

Click here to read a copy of the Court’s Order and the new Rule 9 in its entirety. The updated rule also includes an appendix that cross references the old rule to the revised provisions in the new rule.

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