Category Archives: Bill Haslam

Mental Health Commissioner Varney retiring

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Doug Varney will retire next month.

Varney has served as commissioner since 2011. Under Varney’s leadership, the department completed a major transformation in the mental health system in east Tennessee, better serving long-term patients by transitioning them into community-based programs. The department has also improved medical and business operations of state hospitals and made significant progress addressing the prescription drug epidemic.

“Doug’s passion for helping those with mental health and substance abuse issues has made a tremendous impact on the state. As a member of my Public Safety Subcabinet, I especially appreciate all he has done to help fight prescription drug abuse and expand and strengthen drug recovery courts in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “Doug has helped change the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens, and for that I am grateful.” Continue reading

Haslam hosts private fundraiser for Rubio at executive residence

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam hosted a private fundraiser for Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign for reelection at the state’s executive residence Monday, reports The Tennessean.

The event, which Rubio attended, was co-hosted by Tennessee’s Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Corker was present for the fundraiser, but Alexander had to return to Washington D.C. from East Tennessee on Monday and was not in attendance, said an aide for the senator.

Haslam and Alexander endorsed Rubio’s Republican presidential primary bid days ahead of Tennessee’s March primary, just as Donald Trump had started to solidify himself as the GOP frontrunner. Their help fell short, however, as Rubio won only one of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Trump won the state in a landslide.

Rubio, after losing his presidential bid, opted to run for reelection and is now looking to stave off Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, a two-term Florida congressman.

The Rubio fundraiser marks the second campaign fundraiser that Haslam has held in recent months at the governor’s mansion, which is located in Nashville’s Oak Hill neighborhood.

Haslam in July hosted a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, ahead of her primary election against challenger Joe Carr.

Tennessee state Democrats criticized the governor for holding that event, arguing that the taxpayer-funded governor’s home is not a place where campaign events should be held.

Haslams relocate Knoxville residence

Gov. Bill and Crissy Haslam are moving from their longtime home in old Westmoreland on Sherwood Drive in Knoxville back to the house where the governor lived as a young teenager on Lyons Bend Road adjacent to the Tennessee River, reports Victor Ashe in his Shopper News column.

The Haslams will still be city residents as both homes are in the city. They will continue to be represented on City Council by Duane Grieve and on County Commission by Hugh Nystrom. Martin Daniel is their state representative. Grieve is a Democrat, while Nystrom and Daniel are Republicans.

Bill Haslam is moving into the house that was occupied by his father for over 40 years before he and Natalie Haslam moved to Craigland Court this past year. Prior to the Haslams moving to Lyons Bend Road in the 1970s from Scenic Drive in Sequoyah Hills, the house was owned by the governor’s maternal grandmother, Hazel Lou Van Deventer, and her husband, James Van Deventer.

Reportedly, the Haslams are adding a swimming pool and renovating the kitchen area of the Old English brick home. The Lyons Bend house is not visible from the road as the Sherwood Drive house is.

Feds OK revised TN DUI law for juveniles

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The National Highway Traffic Administration has confirmed that Tennessee is back in compliance with federal zero-tolerance standards for drunken drivers under the legal drinking age.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hastily called a special legislative session last week to repeal a new state law that threatened to cost the state 8 percent, or $60 million, in federal road money.

The repeal of the law means that the state no longer stands to lose the money starting on Oct. 1.

Sponsors of the original legislation said it aimed to give tougher penalties to all drivers over age 18. But the law also sought to set the maximum allowable blood alcohol content at 0.08 percent for those drivers. The federal standard for drivers under age 21 is 0.02 percent.

Harwell, Haslam back new rules on investing campaign funds

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s having legislation drafted to put some rules in place for legislators investing campaign funds in private companies, reports The Tennessean. Gov. Bill Haslam says he’d support additional disclosure of investments.

This comes as the Registry of Election Finance is investigating former state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s investment of campaign money in a company owned by Andy Miller, a well-known GOP donor who’s given money to Durham in the past.

“The governor believes it is good policy to disclose campaign investments just like personal disclosures made annually to the Tennessee Ethics Commission,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals. The personal disclosures require public officials to report any investments worth $10,000 or more.

Harwell, R-Nashville, state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Marvylle, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said separately there should be more transparency and regulations when Tennessee public officials invest their campaign funds.

“I do not personally believe campaign contributions should be invested in private companies. I have directed our legal staff to research these issues and work with the Registry of Election Finance to identify the best remedy, so that legislation can be introduced to address it,” Harwell said in an email Monday.

“I believe in and support full disclosure and transparency in our campaign finance reports, and will always support legislation to that end. We should always strive to keep up to date on best practices, and I will be supportive of legislation seeking to address increased transparency or regulations on gift-giving or investments.”

…Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, agreed there should be more transparency but didn’t go as far as to suggest legislation.
“I think it is entirely appropriate that we require full disclosure of a campaign’s investments and interests, just as we do for personal interests and investments,” the retiring lawmaker said.

“While investments in campaign accounts should be permissible, they should be limited to investments that are public and available to all — publicly-traded stocks, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, etc. — to eliminate even the appearance of undue influence.”

Truck rules eased with gas pipeline shutdown

ATLANTA (AP) – The governors of three Southern states are lifting restrictions on the number of hours that truck drivers delivering fuel can work, hoping to prevent shortages in both states after the shutdown of a pipeline that spilled at least 252,000 gallons of gasoline in rural Alabama.

Governors can suspend federal transportation regulations during emergencies. (Note: Gov. Bill Haslam’s news release on his executive order is HERE.)

Colonial Pipeline has said most of the leaked gasoline is contained in a retention pond near the city of Helena and there’s no public safety concern. The spill was first detected on Sept. 9, but it’s not clear when it began.

The company increased its estimate of the spill’s size on Friday, saying it was between 252,000 and 336,000 gallons. Colonial doesn’t expect to fully reopen the pipeline until next week. The pipeline runs from Texas to New Jersey, supplying fuel to states in the Southeast and on the East Coast.

Colonial said that supply disruptions would be felt first in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Continue reading

Haslam OK with more Syrian refugees in TN

Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he has confidence in the vetting process for Syrian refugees and and has no objection to more settling in Tennessee, reports the News Sentinel.

His comments come a day after the Obama administration announced it plans to sharply increase the number of refugees accepted by the United States to 110,000 in fiscal 2017.

During an appearance at a luncheon in Anderson County, the governor said he recently met with U.S. State Department officials and Catholic Charities and is convinced “they’re doing a good job” vetting refugees coming to Tennessee.

The Republican governor said there aren’t many times he trusts the federal government, “but I do think they have all the right controls and procedures in place” regarding background checks and vetting for resettlement.

The Obama administration said the additional refugee intake is necessary to help stem a migrant crisis gripping Europe and the Middle East. The new target is a 29 percent increase over the 85,000 refugees accepted this fiscal year and a 57 percent hike over the 70,000 allowed in each year between 2013 and 2015.

More than 10,000 Syrian refugees have been allowed into the country this year, and new figures released Thursday provide a clearer picture of where they’re resettling.

Some 240 have resettled in Tennessee, according to the State Department Refugee Processing Center. Of those, 124 are in Nashville, 112 are in Memphis, three are in Germantown and one is in Spring Hill.

…Resettlement has proven controversial in many states, including Tennessee, where the Legislature voted earlier this year to instruct Attorney General Herbert Slatery to sue the federal government for noncompliance with the Refugee Act of 1980.

Proponents argued the legal proceedings were necessary because the federal government didn’t consult with the state on the resettlements.

Haslam allowed the resolution calling for the lawsuit to take effect without his signature. Slatery, however, declined to file the suit, saying the state was unlikely to succeed.

Haslam happy with foul-up fix

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today applauded members of the 109th General Assembly for preventing the loss of $60 million in federal highway funds.

The governor thanked the General Assembly for an efficient special session to pass legislation that modifies a state drunk driving statute after the U.S. Department of Transportation deemed the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” law.

“I am grateful to the General Assembly for quickly convening and passing legislation that clarifies our drunk driving law to remove any question of compliance with federal requirements. Although we disagreed with the interpretation that Tennessee was out of compliance, this special session was necessary to avoid any negative impact to the state,” Haslam said.

The legislation passed Wednesday, sponsored by Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), modifies Pub. Ch. 1030, which the legislature passed overwhelmingly during the 2016 legislative session and the governor signed into law. While the law actually strengthened penalties for DUI offenders aged 18 to 20, last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notified the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that the law put the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute. NHTSA indicated Tennessee would permanently lose $60 million if it remained out of compliance as of October 1. The bill passed today includes minor alterations that more directly track the wording of federal law.

“I especially want to thank Sen. McNally and Rep. Lamberth for their leadership and dedication to making Tennessee safer. The intent of their original legislation was to save lives, and I appreciate their willingness to help clarify that law and prevent the state from losing federal highway funds,” Haslam added.

Prior to the special session, both TDOT Commissioner John Schroer and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery agreed that Tennessee continues to meet the requirements of federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute.

All 11 members of the bipartisan Tennessee congressional delegation urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to work with Haslam and state officials to find a solution to avoid a special session.

Administration asks 2 percent budget cut plans

Despite a growing government budget surplus in Tennessee, Finance Commissioner Larry Martin has asked all department chiefs to submit proposals for cutting their spending by 2 percent in the next fiscal year.

In a memo to department and agency officials, Martin acknowledges “strong revenue growth” but cites enactment of a law earlier this year that cuts the Hall tax on investment income from 6 percent to 5 percent immediately and mandates full repeal in six years.

“At a minimum, reductions will be necessary to offset the phaseout of the Hall Income Tax,” the memo says. “In fiscal year 2014-15, collections for the Hall tax totaled $303.4 million. Because certain areas of the budget tend to outpace our average revenue growth, it would not be prudent to address tax cuts with revenue growth alone. It’s also important that we continue to look for savings and efficiencies throughout state government and bend the curve on government spending.” Continue reading

Ashe, Haslam differ on museum donation disclosure

Though a recent state attorney general opinion says donors to a $40 million fundraising campaign for the Tennessee State Museum can be kept secret, Gov. Bill Haslam — who is leading the campaign — says the names should be made public, but not the exact amount of each contribution.

The governor’s position, relayed through spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals, is criticized as “a half-baked disclosure” and likened to “being a little bit pregnant” by Victor Ashe, a former Knoxville mayor and U.S. ambassador to Poland who is a member both of the board overseeing museum operations and the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, which advocates transparency in governmental operations.

It is the latest spinoff in a long-running series of clashes over museum management and tangential issues between Ashe and fellow members of the museum oversight board, officially known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission. It does appear to be a first in that Ashe is directly differing with the governor, who is also a former Knoxville mayor.

The clashes continue otherwise, though the initial objective of Ashe’s two-year crusade on museum matters — replacement of Lois Riggins-Ezzell as the museum’s executive director — was apparently achieved last week.

Haslam and the commission’s current chairman, Thomas S. Smith of Nashville, announced Thursday the retirement effective Dec. 31 of Riggins-Ezzell, 76, who has served 35 years in the position. Ashe had accused Riggins-Ezzell of mismanagement, favoritism toward friends in acquiring museum exhibits and other faults.

Haslam said last week that “Lois has given her heart and soul to telling Tennessee’s story and showcasing its rich history” during her tenure, which has seen the museum expand from basement housing with six employees to a 42-employee operation with a $3.8 million annual budget and housing on three floors of the James K. Polk State Office Building, located a block from the state capitol.

At Haslam’s request, the Legislature has authorized construction of a new $160 million museum in a stand-alone building, scheduled to open in December of 2018. The money will come from $120 million in taxpayer funds with the remaining $40 million to be raised in private donations, with the governor spearheading the fundraising efforts. Continue reading