Monthly Archives: November 2015

Former Gibson County sheriff and employees indicted

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
JACKSON – A joint investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and investigators with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury has resulted in the indictment and arrest of the former Gibson County Sheriff and several of his former employees on charges including theft and official misconduct.

At the request of 28th District Attorney General Pro Tem Rachel Sobrero, on January 28th, TBI Special Agents joined investigators with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury to investigate a report that when current Sheriff Paul Thomas took office in September 2014, items were missing from the Sheriff’s Department. During the course of the investigation, an audit was performed and the results showed several discrepancies between the dates of July 2013 through September 2014, in the areas of employee pay compensation, drug fund accounting, and distribution of prescriptions made out in inmates’ names.

Through the investigation, TBI Agents learned that former Sheriff Chuck Arnold and former Chief Deputy Jeff Maitland allowed employees to be paid for regular and/or overtime hours they didn’t work. Special Agents also developed information that Arnold, Maitland and Renea Terrell, a nurse practitioner who contracted with the Sheriff’s Department, were involved in writing and filling prescriptions for controlled substances in the names of inmates who never received the medication. The investigation further revealed that Arnold removed money from the drug fund for his personal use, and forged documents using another individual’s name.

On Monday, the Gibson County Grand Jury returned indictments charging 12 individuals on a variety of charges. This evening, those individuals were arrested, and at the time of this release, were being booked into the Gibson County Correctional Complex.

The list of those charged is as follows:
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AG says TN can’t refuse refugees

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State Attorney General Herbert Slatery says in a legal opinion that federal law prevents Tennessee from refusing entry of Syrian refugees.

In the opinion released Monday, Slatery notes that through the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal law pre-empts any rules the state seems to put into place on refugees.

But Slatery said that nothing prevents the state from communicating its preferences and concerns about the refugee resettlement program to the federal government.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam asked the federal government to place a moratorium on Syrian refugees being placed in the state.

The legal opinion was requested by state Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville, who said he wants to prevent “unconstitutional legislation” from being drafted in the General Assembly.

Note: The full opinion is HERE.

On the divided loyalty of of Randy Boyd (and a couple of other TN GOP donors)

Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, who hosted a Knoxville fundraiser for Jeb Bush in October, said he still supports the former Florida governor though he and wife Jenny also have contributed to Carly Fiorina’s campaign, reports Georgiana Vines.

The Boyds each gave the former businesswoman $2,700 in August, federal election disclosure forms show. Randy Boyd is an at-large delegate for Bush in the March 1 presidential primary.

“I am still 100 percent behind Jeb but have met Carly and admire her and wanted to help keep her in the race,” Boyd said in an email. “I made the donation to her sometime ago. I’m hopeful we can narrow the race to serious, legitimate candidates very soon.”

Former U.S. ambassador to Poland and former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe, previously a Bush supporter and long-time friends with the Bush family, is now supporting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and is seeking to be an at-large delegate for that candidate.

…Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J and the owner of the Cleveland Browns (also brother of Gov. Bill Haslam), and his wife, Dee, each have contributed $2,700 to Bush and to Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

On Bob Corker’s ‘very, very somber’ trip to Paris

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker journeyed to Paris and placed a wreath decorated with red, white and blue ribbons next to the stack of bouquets and candles that have been piling up on the sidewalk beside Le Carillon, a pub-café where terrorists had gunned down more than a dozen people as part of the recent murders.

So reports Michael Collins. A further excerpt:

“It was just very, very somber,” the Tennessee Republican said of the mood outside the café, one of various sites in Paris that terrorists hit on the night of Nov. 13. “To be there, to see the bullet holes in the windows and the walls and to know just a few days before that people were just mowed down — it was very sobering.”

Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added the stopover in France to an already planned trip to the Middle East after terrorists killed 130 people and wounded another 368 in their coordinated strike on Paris. The attacks have stoked fears all over the world and have left Americans wondering whether the U.S. is at risk of a similar assault.

Corker was in Paris less than 24 hours, but while he was there, he received a briefing at the U.S. embassy, talked with the FBI and met with French security and intelligence officials to discuss U.S. cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Part of the conversation focused on what needs to be done collectively to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

“It was a very beneficial 24 hours,” Corker said. He would not provide any details about what he learned.

Note: A related Corker press release posting (he talked with CNN about it) is HERE.

Haslam: Hall tax repeal ‘fundamentally unfair’ to TN’s poorest areas

In perhaps his harshest criticism yet of proposals to repeal the state’s Hall income tax, Gov. Bill Haslam has suggested the move – as proposed most recently by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown – would take from the poorest parts of the state and give to the richest parts of the state.

Advocacy groups including Americans for Prosperity and the Beacon Center of Tennessee have long crusade to jettison the Hall tax, a 6 percent levy on dividends and some interest payments received by Tennesseans with total income above designated thresholds. (Note: A Kelsey press release on his repeal proposal is posted HERE.)

The recent gubernatorial comments are included in a Times-Free Press story on the state’s budget picture looking toward the 2016 legislative session.

Haslam told the (Nashville) Rotary Club last week: “There’s been a lot of folks who have said forever we should do away with [the Hall tax]; I frankly don’t think it’s a good tax. And if we were starting from scratch, I would say we should not have that, there’s other, better ways to do that.

But the state has “a very narrow revenue base” built mostly on sales tax, he said. The No. 2 revenue source is business franchise and excise taxes. The remainder of taxes for the general fund are a mixed lot and include the Hall.

If the Hall goes away, how will the state replace that $285 million, Haslam asked, noting he has cut some $450 million over five years, plowing it back into new needs in other areas.

Moreover, proceeds from the Hall tax are split with the local governments where those who pay the tax reside, he said. To avoid hurting those goverments, the state would have to make up that loss somehow.

“I have a major problem with that,” Haslam said.

“One, that’s more money from us.”

Second, he said, most of the local Hall money goes to city and county governments where a good number of wealthy people live. He cited Oak Hill, a town in Davidson County where the governor’s mansion sits.

“Oak Hill does pretty well from the Hall income tax,” Haslam said. “But if we take that off, we’re going to say all Tennesseans are going to be paying the price to keep the residents of Oak Hill whole. There’s just something fundamentally unfair about that to me.”

He cited rural Scott County, with 12 percent unemployment, whose state tax dollars would be sent to wealthier communities to make up for the Hall losses.

“Until we find a way to address that, I don’t know how to take care of that either,” the governor said.

With revenue surplus growing, Haslam budget-cutting exercise gets underway

With state government building up a large revenue surplus and legislators plotting ways to spend it, Gov. Bill Haslam begins a week-long series of budget planning hearings today asking all departments to present plans for 3.5 percent cuts in spending.

The 3.5 percent cuts are not really going to be implemented. It’s an exercise that Haslam says has helped in bringing $450 million of reductions to state spending over his tenure as governor (accompanied, of course, by increases in other areas). The schedule for this year’s hearings is HERE.

From The Tennessean on the 3.5 percent:

That is only a request: Haslam and the administration are quick to note that this presentation is an exercise to examine potential cuts and in no way means any of those cuts will actually happen. Last year the governor asked departments to prepare their budgets with a 7 percent cut, but proposed a budget with cuts that were generally much lower.

From the Times-Free Press on the state’s money picture:

A major part of the annual revenue game was resolved last week when the State Funding Board lowballed projected revenue growth for the last half of this fiscal year as well as in the FY 2017 spending plan that will come before the General Assembly early next year. The board ignored more optimistic projections by University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox and economists in Haslam’s Department of Revenue and the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee.

The Funding Board comprises Haslam’s finance commissioner, Larry Martin, and three constitutional officers appointed by the GOP-controlled Legislature: Comptroller Justin Wilson, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Treasurer David Lillard.

Funding board members are banking on a current-year surplus of up to $353 million, and revenue growth next year of as much as $348 million. Legislative estimates say the fiscal 2017 budget year could see as much as $662.6 million in new, recurring revenue over and above the $10.4 billion budgeted for the general fund this year.
…Haslam is expected to be on the defensive on at least two major budget fronts during the 2016 legislative session.

The first is transportation funding, where he is trying to make the case that Tennessee needs to raise fuel taxes for road building and maintenance. Highway money comes from gas and diesel taxes, not the general fund, and has been basically flat for several years.

Some lawmakers are demanding the state repay $280 million taken from transportation by two prior governors.

The second is pressure on the state’s Hall income tax of 6 percent on interest and dividends.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has struggled to phase out the levy for several years. Emboldened by the surplus, Kelsey is now calling for outright repeal. That would cost the state some $285 million a year going forward.

Note: See also Andrea Zelenski on the annual “dog and pony show” budget hearings, HERE. The schedule for this week’s budget hearings is HERE.

Hundreds seek Tennessee GOP presidential delegate seats

If you think the Republican presidential candidate field is crowded, a look at the Tennessee Division of Election’s website shows the field of Tennesseans who want to represent them as delegates to the Republican National Convention is even more so.

About 400 people — including more than a dozen state legislators — have already filed petitions seeking election as one of state’s 58 allotted delegate seats. Three party officials are automatically appointed and thus do not run. Of the remaining 55 seats, 27 are chosen at the congressional district level — three for each of the state’s congressional districts — and 28 are “at large” or statewide delegates, half appointed and half elected.

Excepting a few seeking election as uncommitted delegates, those filing for delegate slots are committed to 11 Republican candidates for president. Aspiring delegates can continue filing petitions until Dec. 10, then withdraw their petitions until Dec. 17. So the numbers may change.

But as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was the most popular presidential candidate among aspiring Tennessee delegates with 97 people signed up as candidates to represent him at the convention. Donald Trump is a close runner-up with 92 Tennesseans filing petitions to represent him.

Five state legislators have filed as delegates for Rubio. Another five want to represent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Three are running as Mike Huckabee delegates and two state senators seek Trump delegate positions.
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Diane Black: Gun permits should be as good as a driver’s license

Tennessee’s U.S. Rep. Diane Black is proposing that handgun carry permits be accepted as an appropriate form of identification for boarding an airplane after her own gun permit was refused as proper ID at the Nashville airport when she had misplaced her driver’s license.

From a Black op-ed piece written for Fox News:

While knives and weapons may make it past airport security all too often, your handgun carry permit – a government-issued form of identification – will not. I speak from personal experience. On a recent flight from Nashville to Washington, I approached the TSA counter only to realize my drivers’ license was tucked away in a pocket of my jeans at home. Unfazed, I pulled out my handgun carry permit to identify myself to the agent. The card bears my picture, my full legal name, my date of birth, and a hologram with the state seal.

Further, as any firearm owner knows, the process of obtaining your handgun license is significantly more involved than obtaining a drivers’ license. It requires completion of a safety course, a fingerprint, and a thorough background check. If that’s good enough to carry a weapon, then surely it is sufficient as a form of identification to board a plane, right?

Wrong. As I handed over my permit, I was met with a look of immediate disapproval. The TSA agent informed me that handgun licenses are banned as a form of identification. After a moment of panic, I showed the agent my Congressional voting card and boarded my flight, but I vowed to do my research on the subject upon returning to Washington.

… One in three Americans own a gun and there is no reason to make them feel like second class citizens when traveling. That is why I introduced the Nondiscriminatory Transportation Screening Act, or the “TSA Act” for short.

This simple, two-page bill would allow Americans to use handgun carry permits bearing a photograph for TSA purposes while maintaining strong protections for gun owners’ privacy rights and prohibiting government tracking of individuals who choose to present this identification at airport screenings.

The legislation is not simply a response to my travel experience; it also reflects the will of the states – such as in Texas, where the state legislature overwhelmingly adopted a bipartisan resolution calling upon Congress to pass a bill such as this.

Note: Hat tip to Jeff Woods, who in a Nashville Scene Pith posting following his recent return to blogging is not supportive of her efforts:

With the threat of terrorism rising, you’d think Black could stop pandering to the NRA for just a little while and focus on larger issues than easing travel headaches for handgun carriers who’ve forgotten their driver’s licenses.

Haslam: Insure TN is still dead

Gov. Bill Haslam says gestures of support for Insure Tennessee since the last legislative session – including resolutions approved by city councils in Chattanooga and Knoxville recently – haven’t changed the hearts and minds of Republican state legislators. So he has no intention of trying for passage of the modified Medicaid expansion plan in 2016.

Gubernatorial quote from the Times-Free Press:

“There’s been a statewide effort to rally the cause, but I haven’t noticed a changing public opinion and definitely haven’t seen a change in our legislature.”

“My sense is there will be a lot of people waiting to see what happens in the ’16 presidential election — just, again, to be as honest as I can — before they’ll do that,” Haslam said. “We would still love it to happen. We still think it’s the right thing to do. Nothing I’ve seen since then (the 2015 session) has changed my mind.”

Ashe switches from backing Bush to backing Rubio

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who earlier this year gave a maximum campaign donation to Jeb Bush, has switched to supporting Florida U.S. Sen Marco Rubio for the Republican presidential nomination, reports Georgiana Vines. Ashe is also seeking to become an at-large delegate for Rubio at the Republican National Convention and has donated $2,700 to his campaign.

This comes after donating $2,700 to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a member of a prominent family of presidents with whom Ashe and his mother, Martha Henderson Ashe, were long-time friends. Ashe served as ambassador to Poland under President George W. Bush, the former governor’s brother, who was president from 2001-09. Martha Ashe was a convention delegate for the father, George H.W. Bush, as early as 1980. He was president from 1989-93.

Rubio is expected to name his official delegate list at a Monday press conference in Nashville.

“I have supported Jeb Bush and wish he were doing better, but he’s not. Of those remaining, Marco Rubio represents the best nominee for the Republicans,” Ashe said.

He said he thought about it long and hard and in the end, “it’s political reality.”

Ashe described Rubio as articulate, attractive and qualified by having served in local, state and national governments. He said he does not know the son of Cuban immigrants personally.