News release from Secretary of State’s office:
ANCHORAGE, AK – The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), currently holding its annual summer conference in Anchorage, Alaska, today inducted its new slate of national officers for the 2013-2014 cycle. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett will serve as president of the professional organization for state officials through July 2014, marking the first time in more than three decades that a Tennessee official has held this position.
“I look forward to continuing the strong leadership that my predecessors have provided to NASS for almost 110 years,” said Hargett of Tennessee. “Now more than ever, citizens are looking for collaborative bipartisan leadership from their state officials. Citizens are counting on us to lead the way in developing and sharing best practices for running honest and efficient elections, for increasing voter turnout and civic awareness and for protecting our people and our businesses from unnecessary federal laws and regulations.”
Hargett added that under his leadership, NASS will continue to serve as a forum where members can learn from each other how best to provide the services their offices are charged with delivering to the public.
Tennessee’s two leading support groups of charter schools are merging, according to The Tennessean. Organizers say the result is the first organization of its kind in the country to both lobby for and create new publicly financed, privately operated charters. The new organization, the Tennessee Charter School Center, combines the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, a longtime charter school lobbying arm, and the Nashville-based Tennessee Charter School Incubator, launched four years ago to help get new charters off the ground.
Leading the center is Greg Thompson, who was incubator CEO. “We hope to be a voice for quality and transparency,” he said in a Wednesday announcement, arguing that parental demand for charter schools is growing.
The Tennessee Charter School Incubator, backed financially by Boston-based Building Excellent Schools, has assisted several Nashville charters as they seek Metro school board approval: Nashville Prep, Liberty Collegiate Academy, Purpose Preparatory Academy and the newly approved Valor Collegiate Academy.
In recent years, the charter schools association has watched the state legislature pass a landmark law that opened charter eligibility to all students, and legislation that lifted the caps on the number of charters that can operate in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s executive director retreated Monday from plans to begin enforcing on July 1 a law he had interpreted as prohibiting restaurants from soaking fruits and juices in alcoholic beverages to create “infused” mixed drinks.
Critics had disputed the legal interpretation and said the prohibition would hurt the business of bars and restaurants that cater to customers with specialty drinks.
In an emailed statement, Keith Bell said the TABC still believes “the process of manufacturing infused alcoholic beverages, not for immediate consumption” by those holding only a liquor-by-the-drink license is a violation of a 2006 law and ABC rules.
“The TABC nevertheless determined it to be in the public interest that the regulatory enforcement of this prohibition be indefinitely suspended,” Bell said.
The retreat came after a Monday morning meeting between Bell and representatives of groups who disagreed with his interpretation of the 2006 law, including the Tennessee Hospitality Association and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There was a full and frank discussion of the matter and what was intended and what was not” by the 2006 law, said Dan Haskell, general counsel and lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association, which represents restaurants and motels.
With enforcement of the ban on infused drinks suspended, Haskell said he now anticipates further discussion on whether the ABC needs to change its rules or the Legislature needs to clarify the law in the 2014 session.
The law in question dealt with distilleries, effectively allowing them to sell products they make on premises that amount to a pre-mixed drink — Jack Daniels Lemonade or Jack Citrus, for example, produced by the whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn.
Bell decided earlier that the language of the law prohibits anyone but distilleries from mixing fruits and juices with alcohol if they are then stored and not consumed immediately. Such storage could raise health concerns, he said.
“I think calmer heads will prevail,” said Haskell, contending the the state Department of Health, which inspects restaurants, would have raised the issue if there were any health concerns. Connoisseurs believe some period of time is needed for the “flavors to marry up,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam is readying plans to lay off about 200 state workers by week’s end after a state judge on Monday lifted her temporary injunction on the planned firings, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Ruling from the bench, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said state officials did not break any laws in their handling of the firings because they had no legal duty to help employees find new jobs within state government.
The judge also found no irreparable harm was done when the state froze hiring for weeks in the midst of a 60-day layoff period in May and June when officials took down their NeoGov online listings for available jobs.
Haslam’s legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, later said the administration is “generally pleased” with McClendon’s ruling lifting of the temporary restraining order she signed June 10 after the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of 15 employees filed suit.
The Human Resources Department said the filled positions in eight departments will be “effective and off the books by the end of the week.”
The state had intended to lay off some 70 state Labor and Workforce Development employees and others June 18 and 19.
Friday is the last work day for dozens of General Services workers in Chattanooga, Nashville and other parts of the state. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of all state-owned buildings.
Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate services firm taking over the oversight of state buildings on July 1, hired only 31 of 126 employees, according to one state filing. Another 10 employees found other positions within state government. Some are retiring.
Dozens of state employees who faced being fired this week by Gov. Bill Haslam will hold on to their jobs until at least next week after a Nashville judge on Monday granted a one-week extension of her temporary restraining order, reports Andy Sher. Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said she was not ready to render a decision in the challenge brought by the Tennessee State Employees Association but expects to rule on the case this coming Monday.
The move came after 90 minutes of spirited arguments and a flurry of court filings by attorneys for the state employees group and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office over whether the Haslam administration did or didn’t violate state law in the layoff process.
State employees’ attorney Larry Woods argued administration officials didn’t follow state law in plans to lay off more than 200 workers because they froze hiring for other positions during the 60-day notice period and on May 9 shut down the state’s NeoGov website, which lists available state job openings.
That was 20 days into the layoff notice for dozens of employees and about a week into it for more than 100 others. It will be back online Wednesday.
That’s too late for some workers whose jobs end today or Wednesday, according to the state employees’ group.
Woods said the 2012 Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act requires job counseling and opportunities to find other jobs within state government during the entire 60-day period.
But Leslie Bridges, senior counsel in the state attorney general’s office, countered the issue “really boils down” to whether the state even has to have job openings and said “the answer is no.”
The NeoGov website, Bridges said, had to be taken down and hiring frozen while new salary schedules were implemented in the state’s Edison payroll system for 37,000 employees.
A Nashville judge issued a restraining order Monday against Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lay off more than 200 state workers this month, acting on a lawsuit filed by state employees.
From Andy Sher’s report: The suit charges top state officials violated provisions in law surrounding a 60-day notice for affected employees.
Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon granted employees’ request for a restraining order and has scheduled a hearing for this coming Monday in the case, said attorney Larry Woods, who is representing the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of individual state workers, including several from Hamilton County.
TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the suit was filed with “great reluctance” after last-minute meetings with state officials, including Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, failed to produce results.
Contacted Monday night, Haslam Communications Director Alexia Poe said by email “it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on potential/pending litigation.”
While the state provided the notices throughout April, officials did not comply with a section that says soon-to-be-fired employees be given “career counseling, job testing, and placement efforts,” the suit says.
That’s because the state’s Department of Human Resources on May 9 took down the agency’s Neogov online service that employees must use to find job openings and apply for them, according to state employees.
Hiring is now frozen and the site doesn’t come back up until June 19 — a day after 72 state Labor and Workforce Development workers are slated to lose their jobs following notices provided April 19.
Another 126 employees in the Department of General Services were given notice on April 25 that they were losing their jobs on June 28. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of state office buildings to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm.
Woods said the suit seeks to enjoin the Haslam administration from dismissing or terminating any state employees in the current reduction-in-force actions “unless they receive 60 days of career counseling, job testing and placement” services.
The suit says Haslam, Hunter, who is a former Hamilton County personnel director, and other state officials are running afoul of protections lawmakers inserted in Haslam’s own 2012 civil service overhaul.
The state employees’ group initially opposed the legislation, saying it would wreck protections and open the way to political patronage. But TSEA’s O’Connell said the group accepted the bill after lawmakers inserted protections including the 60-day notice and the chance to move elsewhere within state government.
— Note: News release from TSEA is below.
Education officials from all over the state are saying they don’t anticipate using the new state law allowing teachers with police training to carry guns, the Tennessean reports, and many are adamant that the proposal won’t come up in their community. “We don’t want any guns in here,” said Michael Martin, director of the small Van Buren County school system. “I know most of the Upper Cumberland directors, and I don’t see us arming teachers.”
The Tennessee School Boards Association also knows of no school system planning to use the new School Security Act of 2013, but it believes conversations may heat up after July 1, when the law takes effect.
“I would anticipate more of those conversations just prior to school starting back,” said association spokesman Lee Harrell.
Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register “has made it pretty clear that is not going to happen here,” system spokesman Joe Bass said Thursday.
Register several times voiced firm opposition to the idea when it first surfaced shortly after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut killed 26 people — 20 of them children.
Tennessee legislators began discussing the idea of arming teachers or other school employees almost immediately after going into session in January. Filed as an alternative to letting any teachers with handgun carry permits bring their weapons onto campus, the measure passed in the state House 82-15 and was approved 27-6 in the Senate. Gov. Bill Haslam signed it into law in May.
Under the law, school systems may hire retired law enforcement officers who meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course. The description could apply to teachers in a school’s criminal justice program, a police officer turned teacher or a volunteer with police experience.
State Sen. Frank Niceley, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, was not concerned about the slow pace of adoption. He said the bill’s primary purpose was to give small districts a cheaper alternative to school resource officers, regular-duty police officers assigned to schools.
“I’m not convinced everybody knows about it yet,” said Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. “It’ll sift down.”
Gov. Bill Haslam has been named co-chair of a National Governors Association task force on “health care sustainability” with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.
Haslam has rejected Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obama- care,” while Oregon was among the first states to accept Medicaid expansion.
But Haslam is still negotiating with federal officials about possibly accepting expansion, if they go along with his notion of using federal money — more than $1 billion in Tennessee’s case — to buy commercial insurance policies. He says recent talks have been “encouraging: and expects a final result by the end of the summer.
Oregon, meanwhile, is operating its Medicaid program under a federal waiver that includes a departure from fee-for-service payments to health care providers in favor of what are called “outcome-based” payments. That is also part of Haslam’s expansion proposal, which he calls the “Tennessee plan.”
An NGA news release says the task force will review and report on “developing innovative Medicaid programs” and declares that governors “must retain flexibility to implement these measures.”
The news release has quotes from both Haslam and Kitzhaber.
“Right now states are looking to change how they do business in order to more effectively serve their constituents,” Kitzhaber said. “This task force will help states sit down together to figure out what’s working and what isn’t and identify how the federal government can best support these efforts.”
“Governors are working in their states to find ways to cut costs when it comes to health care,” Haslam said. “It is our responsibility to examine every possible option in an effort to make sure promising new initiatives can be fully utilized.”
News release from National Governors Association:
WASHINGTON–As lawmakers at both state and federal levels of government look for ways to improve the quality of health care and reduce the costs of public programs, governors are developing innovative Medicaid programs and must retain flexibility to implement these measures.
To assist in these efforts, the National Governors Association (NGA) today announced the members of a new Health Care Sustainability Task Force (Task Force). Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will serve as co-chairs of the Task Force.
Other governors serving include Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, California Gov. Jerry Brown, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. NGA Health and Homeland Security Chair Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vice Chair Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will serve as ex-officio members.
“Right now states are looking to change how they do business in order to more effectively serve their constituents,” said Gov. Kitzhaber. “This Task Force will help states sit down together to figure out what’s working and what isn’t and identify how the federal government can best support these efforts.”
“Governors are working in their states to find ways to cut costs when it comes to health care,” said Gov. Haslam. “It is our responsibility to examine every possible option in an effort to make sure promising new initiatives can be fully utilized.”
The Task Force will focus on state innovations that require the redesign of health care delivery and payment systems with the objectives of improving quality and controlling costs. Through the sharing of state experiences and best practices, the Task Force will work to identify areas where federal legislative or regulatory action is necessary to reduce barriers and further support state initiatives.
The Tennessean reports that the Tennessee Firearms Association plans to give away a Bushmaster AR-15 on Monday, subject to a background check for the winner of a drawing that Executive Director John Harris says has already pulled in more than 10,000 contestants. The promotion started on April 8, more than a week before the U.S. Senate voted down a proposal for expanded background checks that was promoted by the president and supported by 90 percent of Americans, according to most polls.
While Harris said the promotion had been planned for a while, the association’s website (main website HERE, gun giveaway page HERE) says the goal is “to advance the effort to resist Barack Obama, the federal government and even a few in Tennessee state government who are determined to destroy your 2nd Amendment rights!!” Supporters don’t have to give money to the association to enter the drawing, but they’re encouraged to “chip in a few dollars to help support the promotion and TFA!!!”
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, a Nashville gun control activist, said the timing of the promotion is disturbing…. “just four months after Newtown and in the middle of our country’s debate about gun safety is in-your-face insensitive… We have to balance the right to bear arms with the right to be safe. A gun giveaway right now inflames emotions and does not help us achieve that goal.”
…If thwarting federal legislation is the point of the giveaway, (former state Rep. Debra) Maggart said it makes little sense, because Tennessee’s mostly Republican congressional delegation reliably supports the Second Amendment. So do the Republicans who make up a supermajority in the General Assembly, she said.
“This may illustrate perfectly what I’ve been saying all along: They create these issues to raise money. That just stokes the fire to frighten folks.”
Maggart gave Harris credit for “good marketing,” however, after the political backlash against the Newtown massacre led many gun owners to fear it would be tougher to buy an AR-15. The gun actually became more expensive in some places, according to national reports.
“He’s playing into the fear that’s out there that the gun lobby has helped create,” she said.
Harris, an attorney, said many of the state’s Republican politicians aren’t as reliable as Maggart thinks they are. He said Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, Tennessee’s two GOP senators, are “not soundly, consistently pro-Second Amendment.” He called the so-called “guns-in-trunks” bill passed by the General Assembly this year “an abomination” and “a disaster” because it doesn’t explicitly protect people who keep their guns in their cars at work from losing their jobs.