NASHVILLE — Since beginning his term as governor by ordering a 45-day freeze on implementation of any new state government rules and facing questions about one frozen proposal, Gov. Bill Haslam has used less direct means of impacting the bureaucratic regulatory process.
In the state Legislature, which under state law must give its approval to all new rules, an effort is afoot among members of the Republican supermajority to end the practice of rubber-stamping the plans promulgated by state departments, boards and commissions, says Sen. Mike Bell, who chairs a committee reviewing all rules.
Tennessee’s bureaucracy has continued to generate scores of new rules since Haslam’s freeze ended, but there have been 33 rules repealed — recent examples include the Department of Agriculture’s elimination of requirements that makers of milk and ice cream keep extensive records of the prices they charge and a whole system for certifying tomato, broccoli, cabbage and pepper plants.
Also eliminated — with approval of a legislative committee last week — were rules dealing with strawberry plants, Irish potatoes and a quarantine on bringing camellia flowers into Tennessee from some areas.
Five years after University of Tennessee student David Kernell made national headlines when he was charged with perusing through the personal email account of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, then a 2008 vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, in search of politically damage material he never found, Kernell is a free man — truly free.
So reports the News Sentinel. More: Although Kernell wrapped up a year in federal prison in November 2011, he remained under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office through November 2014. But earlier this month, in one of his last acts before retiring in August, U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips freed Kernell from that final requirement.
Phillips’ ruling came after Kernell’s defense attorney, Wade Davies, filed a motion in which he stated Kernell had paid an adequate price for what Davies’ has long termed a youthful prank, has now completed his degree at UT and qualifies for the extraordinary move to release him from supervision.
The U.S. attorney’s office did not resist the move.
And Phillips did not tarry long in making his decision.
Although Phillips is a Republican appointee and Kernell is the son of a longtime Democrat (state representative from Memphis), Phillips did not want Kernell to go to prison in the first place. When a federal jury rejected all but one felony charge filed against Kernell in the case, Phillips ordered Kernell to spend a year and a day in a Knoxville halfway house. But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons refused and instead sent Kernell, by then 22, to prison. Judges can recommend at which facility a defendant should go, the bureau makes the final call.
Although the case has been dubbed the “Palin hacker case” in the media, this was no sophisticated computer hack, testimony showed.
After reading reports that Palin may have used her personal account for official business in her role as Alaska governor, Kernell, the son of longtime Memphis Democratic state lawmaker Mike Kernell, decided to go surfing the Web in search of the answer to her password security question.
After successfully guessing the password, he changed it and posted it online along with screenshots of some Palin family photographs and a few email messages.
He declared on the 4 Chan discussion board that he had found nothing politically damaging in the account.
In his latest campaign finance disclosure, state Sen. Stacey Campfield lists former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale as providing an in-kind contribution valued at $1,000 to Campfield’s re-election campaign.
That’s because, Campfield said in an interview Wednesday, Ragsdale was reported as giving $100 to Richard Briggs, who has announced he will oppose the incumbent senator in next year’s Republican primary. In-kind contributions are those made other than in cash or check. Typically, they involve things like furnishing food for a reception or providing a room rent-free for a campaign event. Campfield says he believes Ragsdale, by donating to Briggs, effectively made an even bigger contribution to his campaign.
“I think it was a gift to me that he was endorsing my opponent,” Campfield said. “I’d honestly say that’s worth $1,000 to me. … Most people know the things that Mike Ragsdale represented and supported when he was in office … (and) that’s a clear distinction between my opponent and me.”
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Mike Faulk as circuit court judge for the Third Judicial District, replacing Judge Kindall T. Lawson, who retired effective June 1.
“Mike will bring vast experience to the bench,” Haslam said. “He has served his state well in the past, and I know he will serve the citizens of the Third Judicial District well in this new role.”
Faulk, 59, has worked in The Faulk Law Office in Church Hill since 1982. He served as a Tennessee state senator representing Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties in the 106th and 107th Tennessee General Assemblies. While serving as a state senator, he was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, among other duties.
“I am deeply humbled by the Governor’s confidence in me, grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of East Tennessee and privileged to work with the other judges and court personnel of Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins and Hancock counties,” Faulk said.
Amid questions brewing for months over bias and accuracy in student textbooks in Williamson County, state lawmakers are beginning to mull whether they should tweak how a state panel reviews textbooks, reports the City Paper. The Tennessee Textbook Commission is now overwhelmed with the volume of the task at hand, and lawmakers are hoping to hold hearings in the fall to consider how to address the problem.
“Am I concerned about what I think is bias in the textbooks and factual errors in the textbooks? Yes,” said Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), the chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “My biggest concern is that we get somebody in this process who is specifically looking for factual errors and bias, but there are many more problems besides that.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed the Textbook Commission is overwhelmed during a joint Government Operations subcommittee hearing Wednesday. Bell said he plans for lawmakers to come back in the fall to consider methods of alleviating that stress.
“It’s not just this textbook,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a Williamson County parent has been vocal calling that question and others like it “blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric.” She provided the legislative committee with 17 additional titles of textbooks used in Tennessee with what she described showed similar biases.
— Note: See also the News Sentinel story, which ran a day later, HERE.
While the head of Tennessee’s newly centralized procurement system provided examples to legislators of savings to taxpayers last week, declaring they collectively total $113 million to day, state Rep. Jeremy Faison offered another example that didn’t sound so good.
Chief Procurement Officer Mike Perry’s examples included a dozen “ballpoint stick pens” that previously cost the state $1.55 for a box of a dozen versus 47 cents today and a ream of paper, previously $3.10, now $2.77.
Office supplies counted for $8 million of the projected $113 million in savings, a figure that includes comparing new multiyear contracts with old ones as well as some one-time purchases. The biggest projected savings, $33 million, was on Oracle software through “strategic sourcing,” which involves negotiating with current contract holders.
In the latter case, the vendor initially said that new software needed to bring TennCare computers into compliance with new provisions of federal law would cost $39 million, Perry said. After the negotiation, the price was $6 million.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors in Knoxville say former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe paid employees who never performed work.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/14wTIJO ) reported documents recently filed in Knox County Criminal Court allege Lowe and two former aides conducted a “continuous larcenous scheme” in which ghost employees were on the payroll.
Lowe, Delbert Morgan and Ray Mubarak face multiple theft charges.
A bill of particulars filed by the district attorney’s office alleges Morgan bilked taxpayers out of nearly $197,000 by not showing up for work over four years.
The newspaper said Gregory P. Isaacs, Lowe’s lawyer, and Tom Dillard, Mubarak’s lawyer, declined comment Tuesday. Jeff Daniel, Morgan’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
In April 2012, when indictments were returned, Isaacs said Lowe strongly denied the allegations.
A 13-month partial moratorium on property annexations by Tennessee towns and cities is now in effect after Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure brought by two Hamilton County legislators, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “I very much appreciate the governor signing the bill in that it has the minimum restrictions on the cities and it does not restrict the growth of or development in commercial, industry and retail areas,” Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, the House sponsor, said Monday. “It only protects homes and farm property used primarily for agricultural process. It only protects ma and pa and ma and pa’s farm.”
Carter emphasized commercial, industry and retail property is “specifically exempted.”
But Margaret Mahery, executive director of the Tennessee Municipal League, said towns and cities remain nervous about the moratorium’s impact on cities’ business recruitment efforts.
“My main concern is economic development and opportunities that might come along this year [and the moratorium] prevent a city from helping” make that happen, Mahery said.
Noting that job creation is one of Haslam’s top issues, Mahery said, “There could be some damage done. Don’t know where it’s going to be, but the possibility lies there.”
Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor, “deferred [to legislators] on the legislation, and after reviewing the bill in its final form, he was comfortable with the language,” said David Smith, the governor’s spokesman.
Some of the Legislature’s top leaders were among more than 50 candidates who failed to report 181 political contributions totaling $145,875 when the Registry of Election Finance conducted an annual “crosscheck” review mandated by a current state law.
House Republican Chairman Glen Casada, sponsor of a bill that critics say would undermine the present law, was found to have two unreported $1,000 contributions from political action committees. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who staunchly opposed the bill, had more unreported donations than anyone on the list — 18 totaling $19,875.
Both men expressed surprise when contacted last week after Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, provided a list of the 2012 “crosscheck” results on request. Neither changed his position on the bill (HB643), which fell two votes short of passage on the House floor during the legislative session and which Casada plans to bring back for another try next year.
(Note: For the Registry’s list, click on this link: CrossIndexInfo.ods
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner released the following statement in response to the failure of HB702/SB830, the “state charter authorizer”:
“Earlier today the Tennessee State Senate refused to hear a bill that would have stripped away local control of charter school authorization for five counties in Tennessee.
“The Tennessee Charter Schools Association claimed in a release that “the concept of broadening educational options for Tennessee students has once again become the victim of politics, despite thoughtful consideration over the bill through ten committees and passage in the House yesterday with a vote of 62 to 30.”
“This is absolutely false.
“While hostage taking of legislation is not good governance, the result could not have been better for the people of Tennessee.
“HB702/SB830 was one of the most haphazard and poorly executed legislative packages in recent memory. The bill was significantly altered on at least five different occasions – not to make the bill ‘better’- but simply to gain the support of whatever particular committee was hearing it at the time.
“The House bill was passed on the floor after Republicans called the question and cut-off debate without a single person being allowed to speak on the bill. The legislation itself was brought in a last minute amendment that was not heard in a single House committee.
“House Democrats are grateful to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey for killing this bill this year.
“The highest performing charter schools in this state have been authorized and supported by their local boards of education. This legislation was brought out of spite because one charter school operator was not given a blank check to operate in Nashville.
“We hope that legislators on both sides of the aisle will come back next year with clear heads and realize that this was an unnecessary and damaging proposal for our education system in Tennessee.”