TSEA hires former Harwell aide as new lobbyist

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee State Employees Association has hired Paul Overholser as Government Affairs Director.

“I had the opportunity to work with Paul for 10 years when he worked as legislative assistant to Speaker Beth Harwell,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Paul’s experience working with legislators on policy dealing with State Employees, combined with the respect he has on the Hill, will help TSEA better serve our members into the future.”

Overholser worked for Tennessee General Assembly as Speaker Beth Harwell’s Legislative Assistant from 2006-2010. More recently, Paul served as Policy and Research Analyst for the House State Government and Local Government Committees from 2010-2014.

“As a former state employee, I understand firsthand what it means to be a civil servant and the challenges that all of us face,” Paul Overholser said. “I am very excited to work for TSEA. I really appreciate the loyalty, enthusiasm, and pride I’ve witnessed just from my first week and I look forward to using my contacts and experience to help all state employees.”

Paul Overholser holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Austin Peay State University.

Apparent Armstrong successor owes child support

Rodney “Rick” Staples, who has been chosen to replace Rep. Joe Armstrong as the Democratic party nominee in House District 15, is involved in a legal dispute over child support payments, according to Nashville Post Politics (crediting much of the Post post to a Knoxville Mercury story).

Armstrong is barred from running for public office because of his conviction earlier this month on a felony charge of filing false income tax return. Staples defeated former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown to become successor nominee in the executive committee vote and he now needs only defeat perennial candidate Pete Drew, running as an independent with no Republican on the ballot, in the November election.

An arrest warrant was issued for Roderick “Rick” Staples in March after he failed to show for court in a case involving more than $8,200 in past-due child support, court records show. The warrant was rescinded in June, when Staples’ court-appointed attorney issued a $3,000 check on his behalf. A new court date was set for Oct. 5.

“I know I missed a court date. I just had the wrong date,” Staples says. “I look forward to serving the 15th District as their state Representative, and one great aside to that is, I’ll have an assistant to help manage my schedule.”

… Knox County Democratic Party Chairman Cameron Brooks says he was aware of Staples’ ongoing child-support case. He says he thinks everyone on the 15-person committee considering the House nomination was also aware, though it wasn’t discussed openly during a meeting and vote on his appointment on Thursday, Aug. 18. Staples beat out two other top contenders for the nomination, including Knoxville City Councilman Daniel Brown and LeTonia Armstrong, who is Joe Armstrong’s wife.

“We’re standing behind him as a party and we’re looking forward to the November election and to seeing him elected to the Legislature,” Brooks says.

Staples expects the court case to be resolved next year when his estranged son — whom we’re not naming because he’s a minor — turns 18 and graduates from high school.

TVA cuts budget, raises electricity rates

The TVA board on Thursday approved a 1.5 percent retail rate increase estimated to cost the typical residential customer $1.50 more per month on electric bills, reports the News Sentinel.

Meeting at TVA headquarters in Knoxville, the board also approved a $10.37 billion budget — $330 million less than last year.

“This budget is in keeping with TVA’s long-term financial plan, which has helped us manage our business to a lower cost structure as businesses and consumers use less energy,” TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said in a statement. “It reflects a modest, incremental rate increase that ensures we make necessary investments in the power system and manage down debt.”

TVA’s rate increases are applied to its power distributor customers, such as the Knoxville Utilities Board, which usually pass the increases along to their customers. The $10.37 billion budget compares to a $10.7 billion budget approved in August 2015. That budget also included a 1.5 percent rate increase, said to be driven by capital needs such as completing the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor, and others.

Haslam ‘not a fan’ of decriminalizing marijuana

Gov. Bill Haslam says he doesn’t like the idea of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, as proposed in pending Nashville and Memphis city ordinances, reports WATN-TV in Memphis.

“I’m not a fan,” he says. “While I do think we’ve had some people who have spent more time in jail than they need to for that. I’m not in favor of decriminalizing that.”

…”I think we have enough of an issue around substance abuse now,” he said. “You can debate whether it’s a gateway drug and all this. I’m not the expert. But I just don’t think its a helpful step for our society given the struggles we have right now with substance abuse.”

Nobody is talking about making it legal. It would still be against the law to be carrying around half an ounce of marijuana, only if decriminalized, you wouldn’t go to jail, you’d pay a fine. The Memphis City Council is scheduled to give the decriminalization plan the first of three readings on Tuesday, September 6th.

TN congressmen plead for $60M fed funding

All 11 members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation have signed a letter asking U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to help the state keep $60 million in highway funds that are in jeopardy because of a new state DUI law, reports Michael Collins.

“Based upon our review of both the state and federal laws and the purpose behind both laws, it seems that both the State of Tennessee and the federal government have the same objective of penalizing impaired driving and that the common sense thing to do is to resolve this matter promptly,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are available to assist in any way that would be helpful.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informed the state last week it’s in danger of losing the highway money because of the DUI law passed earlier this year.

The law, which took effect July 1, changed the impaired-driver threshold from a blood alcohol content of 0.02 to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 for drivers between 18 and 20.

The change means the state is no longer in compliance with the federal zero tolerance law, which requires states to set 0.02 as the blood-alcohol level allowed for drivers under age 21.

As a result, federal transportation officials say they must withhold 8 percent of federal highway funding from the state. If the state is not in compliance by Oct. 1, it will forfeit $60 million in highway funding.

Tennessee argues it can enforce the 0.08 standard because another state law makes it illegal for anyone under age 21 to possess or consume any alcoholic beverage. Federal officials are expected to decide by Friday if that qualifies as compliance with the federal zero tolerance law.

If they decide it doesn’t, Gov. Bill Haslam would have to call the General Assembly into special session to repeal or modify the new DUI law or petition the federal government for a waiver until the Legislature begins its regular session next January.

“We hope you will work with Tennessee to find a solution that will allow our state to retain desperately needed highway funds,” the state’s congressional lawmakers said in their letter to Foxx.

CCA faces lawsuit over menstruation strip searches

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America is trying to seal from public view documents in a lawsuit that claim female visitors to a Tennessee prison were forced to undergo strip searches to prove they were menstruating.

Three women have accused the company of violating their rights by forcing them to expose their genitals to guards after they tried to bring sanitary pads or tampons into South Central Correctional Facility, about 85 miles southwest of Nashville. One woman said her three children had to witness the search.

Protective orders in the case allow documents that could pose a security risk to the prison to be filed under seal. Each side is accusing the other of violating those orders. Continue reading

Northeast TN methadone clinic gets state OK

GRAY, Tenn. (AP) — State officials have approved East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance’s application for a methadone clinic in Gray.

Media outlets report that the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency voted 8-0 Wednesday to grant a certificate of need to the addiction treatment clinic.

ETSU and MSHA said in a statement that it is “regrettable” that the need for the clinic exists, but that they have a responsibility when it comes to the health and well-being of the community.

Several local residents and leaders spoke out against the clinic at the meeting, many citing concerns over the clinic’s proximity to three schools.

Next, the Johnson City Commission will vote on a rezoning request for the proposed site’s location before the clinic can open in Gray Commons Professional Park.

TN bonds sell cheap (2.16%) with credit upgrade

News release from state comptroller’s office
The State of Tennessee has just completed the very successful sale of approximately $366 million of general obligation (GO) bonds. This is Tennessee’s first bond offering since receiving an upgrade of its bond rating to AAA from S&P in May 2016.

Tennessee’s top-rated credit sparked demand from investors while keeping interest rates extremely low.

The debt offering was sold in three series of bonds. The proceeds will be used to fund new capital projects and refinance currently outstanding bonds. The refinancing will save Tennessee taxpayers $22.8 million dollars over the next 15 years.

The combined true interest cost for the bonds was 2.16%. Records indicate that this is the lowest interest cost for a negotiated sale in the state’s history and is a direct result of Tennessee’s highly regarded credit and favorable market conditions.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce yet another history-making Tennessee bond sale,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “The Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Haslam have worked hard to place Tennessee in an incredibly strong financial position. Tennesseans are benefiting from the lowest interest rates in state history. It’s good to be a triple, triple-A state.”

Paul Ney named deputy state AG

News release from attorney general’s office
Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III today announced Paul C. Ney, Jr. will join the Attorney General’s Office as Chief Deputy.

In his role as Chief Deputy Attorney General, Ney will coordinate and supervise the substantive legal work of all five sections of the office. Continue reading

Recent TN political junkie reading list

Demise of Shelby County Democratic Party
Jackson Baker has a review of the decertification and pending rebirth of the Shelby County Democratic Party. HERE.

Trump may be ‘Camfielded’
George Korda likens Donald Trump to former state Sen. Stacey Campfield, who “became known locally and nationally for statements and issue positions the news media followed like a deranged stock car spectator yearning for a wreck.” HERE.

McNally shows lack of judgment
Frank Cagle says Sen. Randy McNally’s support of Rep. Jimmy Matlock for House speaker is puzzling. “It’s hard enough herding cats in your own chamber without getting involved in the House Republican Caucus.” HERE. Also, note Cagle’s column last week, wherein he puts Nashville conservative talk radio hosts atop a listing of losers in the Aug. 4 elections.

Boozing at ASD
Sam Stockard eyes the recent audit of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, starting out with a focus on partying with alcoholic beverages but getting into less intoxicating aspects with perhaps more long-range implications. HERE.

Ketron defends voter ID law
Excerpt from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron’s op-ed piece in defense of Tennessee’s voter ID law with similar statutes under court challenge elsewhere: The vast majority of reasonable minds agree with Tennessee’s voter ID law. A Middle Tennessee State University poll determined that 81 percent of Tennesseans support voter ID at the polls. Most people agree it shouldn’t be easier to cash a check or buy cigarettes than to vote in Tennessee. Even the Democratic National Convention has required a photo ID to get in and vote.

Alexander on the Smokies
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander opines that, in many ways, things are better today in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than when it was established 100 years ago. HERE.