Tag Archives: Bill Haslam

Haslam calls Sept. 12 special session on DUI foulup

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he will call an “extraordinary session” of the 109th General Assembly to consider legislation preventing the loss of $60 million in federal highway funds after the U.S. Department of Transportation deemed the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute.

“We are disappointed in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision. The state made clear to federal officials that while it disagrees with the interpretation that Tennessee is out of compliance, any such perceived impact of the law was inadvertent and could be fixed in January 2017,” Haslam said. “To avoid any negative impact to the state, I will ask the General Assembly to convene in a special session and clarify state law in this matter.”

Last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notified the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that 2016 Tennessee Public Chapter No. 1030, which passed overwhelmingly during the 2016 legislative session, signed by the governor, and actually strengthened penalties for DUI offenders aged 18 to 20, puts the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute that conditions certain federal highway funding on compliance with its provisions.

The NHTSA indicated Tennessee would permanently lose $60 million if it remained out of compliance as of October 1. In separate letters to NHTSA, 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 of the General Assembly, the state told federal officials it would take up a remedy in January 2017, but the state was notified today it needs to be in compliance by October 1 or face the loss of these federal highway funds.

Haslam will issue an official proclamation calling for a special session in September in the coming days to clarify Tennessee Code to remove any question of compliance with the federal requirements relating to federal-aid highway apportionment.

UPDATE/Note: Subsequent to the press release, Haslam issued a proclamation declaring the special session will begin Sept. 12. Copy of Haslam’s letter to legislators is available by clicking on this link: Extraordinary Session Proclamation. The proclamation itself is HERE.

Further, from The Tennessean:
Haslam said discussion over whether to expel embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham would not be part of the call for a special session.

“We’re meeting because this issue has come up and we need to address this,” Haslam said.

When pressed on the decision to not include Durham’s expulsion in the special session call, Haslam said, “That’s not our role.”

Haslam said if members of the legislature wanted to add Durham to the call, he would not get in the way. “If they want to do that, that’s their decision,” he said.

Haslam said the length of the session is unknown but any legislation would need three readings. When lawmakers introduce bills they typically allow one day for each reading. “We’re looking to see if there’s any flexibility,” he said.

Lois Riggins-Ezzell, TN State Museum director, retiring

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Lois Riggins-Ezzell, the longtime director of the Tennessee State Museum, is retiring at the end of the year.

Riggins-Ezzell first became the museum’s director in 1981, when it had a staff of six people working in a basement of the War Memorial Building. She oversaw the museum’s transition into its current space in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where it employs 42 employees and has an annual budget of $3.8 million, not counting private donations.

The retirement comes as the state is spending $120 million to build a new museum north of the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville, with another $40 million being raised from private sources.

A state attorney general’s opinion issued last week found that the Tennessee State Museum Foundation that is raising the private money is not required to disclose its donors under the state’s open records laws.

Riggins-Ezzell had previously said she wanted to remain in charge of the museum until the new facility is complete in 2018, and raised eyebrows around the state Capitol when she declared to a reporter last year that “I am the museum.” Continue reading

Haslam touts record tourist spending

News release from Tennessee Department of Tourist Development
SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Kevin Triplett today announced Tennessee tourism’s direct domestic and international travel expenditures reached an all-time high of $18.4 billion in 2015, up 3.7 percent over the previous year, as reported by the U.S. Travel Association. The announcement took place at the Sevier County Courthouse near the iconic Dolly Parton statue. Mountain Rukus from Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede provided music.
Continue reading

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.

Educationally, Haslam says Trump talking ‘bogeyman;’ Clinton going backward

Gov. Bill Haslam says the presidential candidate’s aren’t talking enough about education issues and are off base when they do bring up the issue, reports the Times-Free Press.

“There’s very little conversation about education” by Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat hopeful Hillary Clinton, said Haslam at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.

The Republican governor called education “a really hard problem.” But, he said, that’s not an excuse to “back up” on the issue.

“We won’t fix poverty issues until we address education issues,” said Haslam, who was introduced by former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

In the 25 or more presidential debates so far by both the political parties, there has been “a minute and a half of conversation about education,” Haslam said.

Trump has talked about doing away with Common Core standards and removing federal intervention from local schools, Haslam said. But, he said, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., led efforts to make it unlawful for such intervention in the schools.

“There’s no such thing as Common Core to worry about anymore,” Haslam said. “That’s a boogeyman that has gone.”

Meanwhile, Clinton has taken a step backward on what Haslam said was a bold move by President Barack Obama to make sure teacher evaluations are tied to student assessments, contrary to teacher unions.

“Clinton has basically said ‘I don’t believe that,”‘ the governor said. He said the Democrat nominee has indicated she’s not sure about end-of-the-year assessment.

“Both national parties are not focusing on one of the key issues,” Haslam said.

Haslam: Special DUI session may be necessary to save $60M fed funding

Gov. Bill Haslam says he doesn’t want to call a special September session of the legislature to fix the state’s drunk driving laws, but the possibility of losing $60 million if Tennessee doesn’t might just force him to do so.
Further from WPLN:

The problem is the state’s limit for blood alcohol content for 18- to 20-year-olds. Federal highway authorities say it has to be .02, but Tennessee lawmakers raised it to .08 earlier this year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told state officials last week that it will dock Tennessee’s highway funds if the state doesn’t bring the limit back down by Oct. 1. Haslam says the warning has his attention.

“One way or another, we’ve got to figure out a way to not do that. I mean, $60 million is a lot of money.”

State lawmakers say they didn’t know about the federal government’s policy when they raised the blood alcohol limit for young adults. They were actually trying to toughen the penalties for underage DUIs by adding jail time.

Haslam hopes to convince federal authorities to hold off until lawmakers reconvene in January. He says Tennessee’s infrastructure needs are too big to punish the state for an oversight, but he would go along with a special session if that’s what it takes to keep the money.

Haslam was also asked by reporters Wednesday whether a special session, if one were called, could include a debate over expelling state Rep. Jeremy Durham… Durham lost in the primary earlier this month but remains in line to receive a state pension if allowed to serve out his term.

The governor said he favors limiting the scope to transportation funding, but no decision has been made about whether to include discussion about Durham. Continue reading

Haslam defends private prison operations

The federal government may be moving to end operation of its prisons by private companies and the Tennessee State Employees Association may be calling for the same at the state level, but Nashville Post Politics reports that Gov. Bill Haslam thinks Tennessee’s four private prisons are working just fine.

“[The feds] make the decisions that they would,” Haslam said when asked if Tennessee should phase out private prisons. “I think if you talk to Tony Parker, who’s our commissioner of corrections, he would say we provide supervision and oversight to private prisons just like we do to ours.”

All four state private prisons, along with Davidson and Hamilton Counties’ jails, are operated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.

…When asked if he had read Shane Bauer’s lengthy investigative story for Mother Jones, in which he went undercover as prison guard in a CCA prison in Louisiana, exposing appalling conditions for prisoners and guards alike, Haslam shook his head.

“No, but my experience with Mother Jones is that they’re not exactly a level playing field, in terms of private interest and private enterprise. But I would say this, our corrections folks are confident they provide the same level of oversight and the same accountability to private operators as we do in our own facilities,” Haslam said.

Also, in response to a previous post (HERE) of a TSEA press release, Department of Correction Public Information Officer Alison Randgaard has sent via email the following departmental statement and Parker comment:

Statement: The Tennessee Department of Correction works closely with CCA and currently has no plans to end our contract with CCA or any of the counties that contract with CCA.

Quote from Commissioner Tony Parker: “While I have no direct knowledge of the specific circumstances surrounding the Deputy Attorney General’s directive, this decision does not unilaterally affect prison operations for Tennessee. Currently the Department of Correction is satisfied that CCA managed facilities are being operated in accordance with state policies and Correctional Standards. TDOC has many policies and procedures in place for monitoring and inspection of all of our prisons, including the privately managed facilities. The CCA managed facilities are held to the same high-standards as all of the TDOC managed facilities.”

Tom Ingram’s pay for UT ‘communications strategies:’ $240K

Veteran political operative Tom Ingram will be paid up to $240,000 for a year’s work “developing communications strategies” for the University of Tennessee in connection with a lawsuit contending UT was a “hostile sexual environment” for women, reports the News Sentinel.

If paid to the maximum, that would be more money than the highest-paid communications executive for the university.

While the one-page agreement, a letter from UT to its outside legal counsel, doesn’t identify the specialist, Tom Ingram confirmed he continues to work for the Nashville-based Neal & Harwell law firm, which represents the university in Title IX matters.

Even though the lawsuit is settled, work remains to be done on media inquiries to UT President Joe DiPietro on the forming of an independent commission that will review the UT system’s policies and programs to address sexual assault, Ingram said.

He said issues like Title IX get “so complicated and so multi-dimensional” that the settlement, which looks like an end, really isn’t the end of the follow-up work.

Ingram said there is no set time frame for when that work will end.

A paid consultant for Haslam until last July, Ingram is the founder of Nashville-based public relations and lobbying firm the Ingram Group. (Note: He’s also been a longtime political aide to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.)

“It’s a shame that they (the university) were in that situation,” said Williams, whose lobbying organization focuses on government accountability. “How much difference it was having Tom (Ingram) do that? I don’t know.”

He wonders what the university received that it couldn’t get from its communications staff.

…The letter confirming Ingram’s hiring, dated May 2, doesn’t include specifics of the “communications strategies” he was hired to execute. His services, however, are on top of the more than $424,500 in combined salary for communications leaders for the system and campus, Vice President Tonja Johnson and former Vice Chancellor Margie Nichols.

Ingram and his employees, through the law firm, are helping with “inquiries about the Title IX case” and “providing communications support for follow-up efforts that are part of the settlement,” Johnson said in an email.

Those efforts include the president’s commission and more, such as employee training.

Haslam outsourcing review, implementation tied together

Critics of Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to privatize most state building management services say the administration should complete a promised independent accounting review of claimed cost savings before engaging with potential bidders in an experimental process for developing government contracts, reports the Times-Free Press.

082116charlie (Cartoon by Charlie Daniel.)

Instead, beginning Monday, the Republican administration is doing both at the same time. Democratic lawmakers and a higher education union official say that’s putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

“We’re still waiting on a promised ‘audit’ from the governor’s office that will prove that the claims they’re making about savings could happen and [which] are not already being done efficiently and effectively by folks in-house who are public workers,” Thomas Walker, a coordinator with the United Campus Workers union, said last week during a conference call with equally critical Democratic legislators.

The administration’s Office of Customer Focused Government claims the state can save $36 million a year by outsourcing 90 percent of building management in general state government and higher education.

The state’s real estate portfolio comprises more than 7,500 structures totaling 94 million square feet. Cleaning, repairing and operating them costs an estimated $550 million a year.

…While critics question why the KraftCPAs review and negotiations are occurring simultaneously, Michelle Martin, spokeswoman for the Office of Customer Focused Government, said officials are simply “gathering information through a multi-step, procurement process.”

Participants include representatives from the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Board of Regents, legislative and “general government leadership,” Martin said.

UT and Board of Regents officials are skeptical that contractors can operate more efficiently than they do already and have questioned some of the administration’s figures, including energy cost savings.

Regarding the simultaneous processes of the independent review and discussions with qualified companies on how to fashion the privatization contract, Martin emphasized that “conducting information gathering activities concurrently does not mean a decision has been made nor does it obligate the state to pursue a final arrangement.

“It simply allows the state to continue to gather critical data needed to make informed decisions as good stewards of taxpayer resources,” she added.

Haslam board shifts costs from gas stations to taxpayers

Under Gov. Bill Haslam’s aministration, the Underground Storage Tank and Solid Waste Disposal Control Board has been shifting the financial burden of cleaning up toxic spills at gas stations and truck stops from business owners to taxpayers, http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/environment/2016/08/20/haslam-environmental-changes-shift-cleanup-costs-taxpayers/88906192/.

The 14-member board, 12 of whom are appointed by the governor, sets rules for the $50 million environmental fund overseen by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC. The fund has been paying to clean up spills since 1990. It is financed by a combination of a gas tax paid by consumers at the pump and an annual fee paid by owners of petroleum tanks.

Since the board has been reconfigured, members representing consumers have been eliminated.

The board, which retained its four petroleum industry members, has voted in favor of a resolution to increase the state dollars available to private companies for environmental spills caused by failures or accidents from $1 million to $2 million. That became law in 2015.

This year, a new law gives the board the power to give all gas stations and truck stops a big break — suspending their annual fees to the cleanup fund entirely. Some board members have signaled their support for eliminating those fees this year — despite hearing from the man in charge of the state’s underground storage tank program that a “historically high burden of this funding has shifted onto the public.”

Suspending the industry’s financial contributions would leave taxpayers, who haven’t gotten the same breaks as gas stations and truck stops, bearing full financial responsibility for toxic spills.

Tennessee drivers continue to shoulder most of the cost of petroleum spills at Pilot Flying J, Chevron, Exxon and other companies, large and small, through a one-fourth of a cent per gallon gas tax that added up to about $18 million last year. Companies contribute about $2 million in fees each year.

The fund has paid out millions to private petroleum companies since it began operating in 1990, including $10 million to Pilot Flying J, the Haslam family truck stop chain worth an estimated $33 billion. The governor continues to hold an undisclosed financial stake in the company.

A spokeswoman for Haslam noted that the governor took steps to consult with counsel before restructuring the board to ensure there was no conflict of interest. The new structure was proposed by TDEC, said Jennifer Donnals, the spokeswoman.

Even before the reconstitution of the board, members who had been appointed before Haslam took office voted to cut industry fees, Donnals noted.