Tag Archives: News

AP’s list of Tennessee’s top news stories in 2014

Here are the top Tennessee stories of 2014, as selected in voting by subscribers and staff of The Associated Press:

1 — Tennessee voters amend the state constitution to make it easier for lawmakers to restrict abortions. The amendment, approved by 53 percent of voters, nullifies a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that said abortion was protected by the state constitution.

2 — Lawmakers approve Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to offer graduating high school seniors free tuition to the community colleges. About 58,000 of Tennessee’s 62,000 high school seniors apply, although officials expect only about 13,000 to actually enroll.

3 — Three years after she goes missing, two men are charged with the kidnapping and murder of Holly Bobo. The nursing student was 20 years old when she disappeared from her West Tennessee home in April 2011. Her remains were not found until last September.

4 — The truck stop chain owned by Gov. Bill Haslam and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam agrees to pay a $92 million penalty for cheating customers out of rebates and discounts. In return, federal attorneys agree not to prosecute Pilot Flying J as long as the company meets certain conditions.

5/6 (tie) — United Auto Workers narrowly loses a union vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. But the German automaker later adopts a new labor policy that grants the union access to plant facilities and meetings with management.

5/6 (tie) — Dozens of communities approve wine sales in supermarkets after the Legislature budges on allowing public votes.

7 — The 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals upholds Tennessee’s ban on gay marriage along with restrictions in three other states. The ruling runs counter to a string of victories for the gay rights movement and sets up a likely showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court.

8 — Three Democratic Tennessee Supreme Court justices withstand a conservative effort to oust them in retention elections.

9 — A Nashville youth detention center sees a mass breakout by 32 teens followed by riots on the grounds and another breakout by 13 teens, all in the same month.

10 (tie) — Legendary journalist and civil rights leader John Seigenthaler dies. He edited The Tennessean newspaper, helped shape USA Today and worked for civil rights during the John F. Kennedy administration. Later, he founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt with a mission to create a national dialogue around First Amendment issues.

10 (tie) — Former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker dies. He became known during the Watergate hearings for asking then-President Richard Nixon: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” By the time Nixon resigned in 1974, Baker was a household name with a reputation for fairness and smarts that stuck throughout a long political career.

Miscellaneous TN Political News and Opinion Notes

Legislature Inspires Prayer
Robert Houk recalls the Rev. Will Campbell, the civil rights activist and colorful Baptist preacher, who died June 3, delivering a prayer before a floor session of the Tennessee House of Representatives that included a line something like: “Oh Lord, please don’t let these legislators mess up Tennessee any more than it already is.” The same sentiment applies, he writes, in the current Medicaid expansion debate.
On Electing Scandal-Plagued County Officials
The opening line of Frank Cagle’s latest: I have always opposed taking away the people’s right to vote and have long advocated that Tennessee elect more people to office–a state attorney general and school superintendents, for example. I still think it is a good idea to elect the department heads down at the courthouse–the so-called fee offices like trustee, county clerk, register of deeds. But it’s getting harder and harder to defend.
On Electing Judges (or not)
From Frank Daniels III, writing on the Judicial Nominating Commission’s push to choose new appellate judges for vacancies that don’t exist yet:
The unseemly rush to selection by the panel is forced because next year Tennessee voters will get a chance to decide, after 40 years, whether they agree with the petite bargain forged in the 1970s that took away their right to choose who sits in judgment and replaced it with a wax-and-bailing-wire version of a judicial election process politely called the Tennessee Plan. Tennesseans had previously directly elected all their judges, but after the unthinkable happened in 1966, when Republican Howard Baker won a U.S. Senate seat, and in 1970, when Winfield Dunn, another GOP in the Democratic bastion of Tennessee, beat John Jay Hooker, the state’s political leaders feared what would happen if voters suddenly began electing all kinds of people who were not properly vetted in the backrooms and boardrooms.
John Jay Hooker ‘Right on Every Count’
Beginning of a Chattanooga Free Press editorial on the judge selection plans:
Tennessee officials are on the verge of violating the law, ignoring the state Constitution and disregarding logic, and no one seems to be putting up much of a fight. No one, that is, except for John Jay Hooker Jr., a Nashville lawyer and former Democratic candidate for governor. HERE.
Lawmaker Against Road Project Before He Was For It?
Hank Hayes chronicles the email exchanges between state Rep. Tony Shipley and Transportation Commissioners John Schroer, who had differing notions about a Kingsport area highway project. TDOT rejected Shipley’s advice and chose another option… though the lawmaker is now praising the project in speeches. HERE
Remenberiing Gay Bashing
Betty Bean recalls “what has come to be remembered as the ‘gay-bashing meeting'” of the Knox County Commission 20 years ago and how things have changed. HERE.
On UT Begging for Money, Giving Pay Raises
From Sam Venable on the University of Tennessee’s financial status: I find it astounding that UT’s brain trust can miraculously produce money to lavish on the execs, but then must go hat-in-hand to pay for routine operations.
Comptroller Can Control Cities
State Comptroller Justin Wilson tells Jackson Baker that, yes, he has authority under existing state law to take over Memphis’ budget – or that of any other city with bonded indebtedness – but he doesn’t want to do so.
“It’s pretty strong, and there’s absolutely no question that I’ve got to approve the budget. If the budget doesn’t balance, I can bring it into balance. There’s no question I can raise taxes. I want to be real clear about this. I hope we never get there. I do not anticipate that we get there. It’s the last thing in the world I want to do. This is not what I’m about. I don’t want to argue about my authority and all that kind of stuff. “

Miscellaneous TN Government and Political Tidbits

TennCare Drawing Lampooned on Daily Show
Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart has lampooned Tennessee’s “health care lottery,” otherwise know as the TennCare “spend down” drawing wherein 2,500 people with huge medical bills get to apply for TennCare benefits via telephone call. Video HERE.
Paul Wants to Raise Kane
Former Congressman Ron Paul has been urging professional wrestler Glenn Jacobs, whose stage name is “Kane,” to run against Lamar Alexander in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary, according to Matt Collins, who was on Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign staff. So reports Reason.com.
Dawn in the Legislature
Freshman state Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, tells the Daily News Journal in a Q-and-A story that she learned a valuable lesson during her first legislative session: How a bill begins is usually not how it finishes.
“I always tell people … that how the bill is written (will determine if) I will support it or not, because I learned that one amendment can change the entire face of the bill,” White said
Cooper’s PR Person Exits
Katie Hill, the press secretary for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper for the past 18 months, is leaving the Nashville Democrat’s staff to take the same role with Gabby Giffords’ new political action committee. HERE.
Lazy Headline Writing Denounced
Frank Cagle’s weekly column begins with this line: It’s not an Internet tax, dammit, no matter how many times lazy headline writers call it that.
You Could Say Hill’s Bill Just Hit a Speed Bump
State Rep. Timothy Hill backed off on his bill to prohibit Bluff City from using traffic cameras to ticket speeding motorists during the past session, but says he’ll put the measure on notice for another try in 2014. HERE.
Quiz on a State Senator
Robert Houk poses the question: How much do you know about Rusty Crowe?
On the UT Fracking Front
The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees has not been involved in plans to drill for oil and gas on UT land in Morgan and Scott counties. The Southern Environmental Law Center thinks they should be. HERE.
Meanwhile,t UT is now taking bids from those interested in drilling on the 8,600 acres. HERE

Campfield’s ‘Pressure Cooker’ Joke Draws National Media Attention

Sen. Stacey Campfield is drawing national media attention again, this time for a blog post joke calling for “pressure cooker control” after pressure cookers were fashioned into bombs for the Boston marathon explosions that killed three people.
The unapologetic Campfield had an interview/argument with CNN’s Piers Morgan on Thursday, saying he was “just pointing out the hypocrisy of the left” and comparing gun control as a curb to violence to “spoon control” to curb obesity.
He also got in a few digs at Morgan, such as: “When are you going to move back to England? People in Tennessee are dying to know.” (Video HERE)
And here’s an excerpt from an ABC News story, which notes the blog post had a photo of a pressure cooker with “Assault Pressure Cooker (APC)” printed below it.:
The photo had labels and arrows pointing to all of the pot’s “dangerous” features including a “muzzle break thingy that goes ‘up'” and a “tactical pistol grip.”
It’s also described as “large-capacity, can cook for hours without reloading” and the color was “evil, black.”
The blog post was titled, “Here comes Feinstein again,” an apparent dig at Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the leading proponents in the battle for gun control. The image implied that pressure cookers might be her next target.
Two pressure cookers were turned into bombs in the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260 people.
Campfield dismisses the criticism.
“I think it’s tasteless when Obama will drag everybody he can up to Capitol Hill and try to pass gun control,” Campfield told ABCNews.com today. “I think that was classless and tasteless. I don’t hear them complaining about that too much.”
“I was showing the hypocrisy of Diane Feinstein, the gun grabbers, of their inability to realize that it is a person that does activity, not an inanimate object, be it a gun or a pressure cooker,” he said.

Miscellaneous TN News and Opinion Links

The Chattanooga Times-Free Press has an update on the Georgia Legislature’s push to tap into Tennessee River water. Seems the bill has stalled in the Senate after passing the House and there’s talk of a new approach – take water from Georgia streams that flow into the Tennessee instead.
In his weekly column, Robert Houk reports “a troubling feeling of déjà vu whenever I read about the exploits of the Tennessee General Assembly. Maybe it’s the fact our legislators grapple with many of the same bills year after year.”
The Jackson Sun has a long analysis article that says 54 rural hospitals in the state could be closed without Medicaid expansion. A Boliver hospital is the focus.
About 100 people showed up at Progressive Baptist Church in Nashville for an hourlong “town hall meeting” organized by AhealthyTN.org, a coalition of community volunteers formed about six months ago to support Medicaid expansion, according to The Tennessean.
The Chattanooga Free Press editorializes against a U.S. Postal Service rule that has lead to hundreds of new children’s books – purchased by taxpayers through the Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation” – being “tossed in the garbage every month.”
From a Frank Daniels’ opinion piece on the proposed judicial selection amendment to the state constitution: It is a sham the way the Tennessee Plan works. We should either correctly amend the state constitution, which, despite any opinion from the attorney general (who is appointed by the very judges whose status is in constitutional question), SJR 0002 does not do, or we should return to the what the framers of Tennessee’s constitution stipulated: that qualified voters should elect judges.
Never tire of reading about wine in grocery stores? The Johnson City Press today has an article quoting Northeast Tennessee liquor store owners and supermarket operators under the headline, “All Eyes Are on Wine Measure.”
Otis Sanford says “a rare case of reasonableness has seeped into the minds of a couple of lawmakers. Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Lebanon, are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow the use of a student ID issued by state colleges and universities for voting in Tennessee.”

Haslam’s ‘State-of-the-State’ News Release

News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam tonight delivered his 2013 State of the State address before a joint session of the General Assembly, contrasting Tennessee with Washington, D.C. and other states across the country that have struggled to keep their fiscal houses in order.
“Unlike the news coming out of our nation’s capital and so many other states around the country, good things are happening in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “We have a long history of fiscal restraint that crosses party lines. We have been deliberate about not spending money we don’t have and in making a concerted effort to save for the future…And now we are well-positioned to continue to invest in a thoughtful, strategic manner.”
The governor reiterated his priorities and progress in the areas of attracting and growing Tennessee jobs, the importance of a customer-focused, efficient and effective state government, improving public safety, and making significant progress in education.
“We had the second largest increase in state K-12 expenditures of all 50 states in fiscal year 2012,” Haslam said. “The average increase was nearly 3 percent. Ours grew almost 12 percent in state education funding. Education is another example of how in Tennessee we’re distinguishing ourselves as different from the rest of the country.
“We are literally putting our money where our mouth is, even when other states haven’t done so through tough budget times,” Haslam continued. “Our administration’s three budgets have certainly supported our commitment to public education, but I also think it is important to note that we’re not just throwing money at it. Dollars alone don’t lead to improvement. There has to be a plan. Along with strategic investments, we’re pursuing real reform in education that is producing results.”

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Odds and Ends of News on Legislatorland

A Trickle of Bills (so far)
Only 29 bills were filed in the House during the opening week of the 108th General Assembly, according to the Legislature’s website – a relative trickle compared to past years. Fifty-six bills have been filed in the Senate.
Last year, 134 bills were “pre-filed” in the House before the session began. This year, no bills were pre-filed in the House and only 11 in the Senate.
Legislators apparently were waiting to see what happened with House Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to limit the number of bills that can be filed in the House. She proposed a general limit of 10 bills per year. The final version, not approved until Thursday, has a 15-bill limit with several exceptions.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey did not seek a bill limit in the Senate, but noted that the House limit effectively reduces Senate filings as well since a bill cannot become law unless introduced both in the House and Senate.
Next year, Ramsey said he will push to repeal the deadline for filing bills, which falls on Feb. 14 this year. As a practical matter, he said legislators will still have to file their bills early enough for them to be considered by committees before the session ends. Ramsey and Harwell hope to wrap the 2013 session up by the end of April.
Ramsey on Lifting Bill Deadline
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says the 15-bill cap per lawmaker was not his preference, reports WPLN. He says next year he’ll propose dropping the deadline for making proposals, so there’s no rush to file before legislation is game-ready.
“I like the no bill filing deadline. That way you won’t have the duplication because people can look in the hopper and see if something has been filed an sign on with somebody else.”
Getting rid of the filing cutoff would allow lawmakers to respond to current events. Ramsey says it would also stop the use of so-called “caption bills” that can be amended to do just about anything.

Harwell Elevating Profile
Changing the way business is conducted at the Tennessee Capitol, the avowed purpose of recent rule changes including a 15-bill limit, could elevate Beth Harwell’s profile, observes Chas Sisk in a profile story on the House Speaker… and that could be helpful if she opts to run for higher office.
Harwell ‘Putting the Brakes on Crazy?’
Columnist Gail Kerr thinks House Speaker Beth Harwell’s 15-bill limit will “put the brakes on crazy” at the Legislature.
Harwell does not suffer fools gladly. And she’s been none too pleased that, during her first two years in charge, the Tennessee legislature has became the laughingstock of the nation.
…With an unlimited number of bills, lawmakers have been known to file just about anything to make one or two voters happy. With only 15 choices, the thinking goes, they’ll be far more selective about what they decide to draft and file.

Committee Assignments: Dems Disappointed, Repubs Happy
Georgiana Vines talks with Knox County House members about committee assignments. Democratic Rep. Joe Amrstrong, former chair of the Health Committee, got no seat on the Health Committee. Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, a teacher, got no seat on the Education Committee. Republican Rep. Roger Kane, an insurance agent, got his first choice seat on the Insurance and Banking Committee.
On Statewide Charter Authorizer
CA education reporter Jane Roberts takes a look at pending legislation to let a statewide “charter authorizer” approve a charter school even if a local school board rejects it.
“Ultimately, what we support is an independent state authorizer,” said Matt Throckmorton, the charter association’s executive director. A bill, he says, will be before legislators soon and is designed to take the “politics” out of getting approved.
The impetus is several much-publicized school board actions in Memphis and Nashville that either flat-out denied charter applicants or so delayed the process that the operators couldn’t staff schools in time to start school.
…Of the 42 states that have charter school laws, 13 and the District of Columbia have some kind of a statewide authorizer. In about half, charter operators can appeal decisions only after applications have been denied locally.
Lobbyist Gets 2 Shelby Suburb Clients
The Shelby County suburbs of Arlington and Lakeland are hiring lobbyist Nathan Green at $6,000 apiece to monitor any local schools-related matters that arise in the upcoming session of the Tennessee General Assembly, reports the Commercial Appeal. He already represents Bartlett.

AP List of Top Ten Tennessee News Stories in 2012

Here are the top Tennessee stories of 2012, as selected in voting by subscribers and staff of The Associated Press:
1. An outbreak of fungal meningitis and other diseases linked to tainted steroid shots leads to more than 80 cases and a dozen deaths in Tennessee. (October-December)
2. Pat Summitt, winningest coach in NCAA basketball, steps down as coach of the Lady Vols. (April 18)
3. Republicans win a supermajority in the state Legislature for first time since Reconstruction. (Nov. 6.)
4. Tennessee implements election changes, including redistricting and requiring photo identification for voters while a court allows Shelby County to use library card ID for general election. (January-November)
5. U.S Rep. Scott DesJarlais is hit with election-year revelations from his 2001 divorce that showed he dated patients, urged one of them to get an abortion, prescribed another one painkillers and consented when his ex-wife had two abortions. (October-November)
6. (tie) The triple-digit heat wave shatters high temperature records across the state. (June 25-30)
6. (tie) A mosque near Murfreesboro is allowed to open after opponents wage a two-year legal battle to stop it. (Aug. 10)
8. Two West Tennessee sisters, 12-year-old Alexandria and 8-year-old Kyliyah Bain, are recovered alive after their abductor killed their mother and sister and himself. (May 10)
9. Tennessee fires football coach Derek Dooley after his third losing season with the Volunteers (Nov. 18)
10. (tie) The Southern Baptist Convention votes to make the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. its first African-American president and to adopt an optional alternative name, Great Commission Baptists. (June 20)
10. (tie) Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell, three others plead guilty after undercover video show them soring, beating horses. (May)

Haslam on Fox News: Exchange Decision Makes Little Difference in State Control

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday his decision against state operation of a healthcare exchange will not make much difference in the extent of state control over the handling mandated medical insurance in Tennessee.
Asked in a Fox News interview whether he had problems “ceding a lot of control” to the federal government, Haslam replied, “I have a lot of problems with that.
“But the decision on the exchange really wasn’t going to make a big difference there one way or the other,” he said. “Our fear, once we got into it, was that the basic exchange didn’t give us a lot more flexibility or latitude than running it with them would or letting them run it would.”
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states have option of running a healthcare exchange themselves, operating one in partnership with the federal government or leaving all operations to the federal government. Haslam announced Monday that he has decided to leave operation of the insurance clearinghouse to the federal government.

Newspaper Goes to Court for Emails from Political Figures

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Knoxville News Sentinel is asking a judge to decide whether the county must hand over emails it requested under the state’s open records law.
The records relate to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign finance disclosure problems that he has blamed on his ex-wife.
The Knox County Law Department earlier this month refused to release some of the emails, claiming that they were personal and not subject to the open records law.
In a petition filed Thursday in Knox County Chancery Court, New Sentinel Managing Editor Tom Chester asks a judge to review 13 of the emails to determine whether the county can legally withhold them.
The News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/S0nu1N) two of the emails are from state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey to the mayor’s chief of staff. Three are from former county Finance Director Burton Webb’s county email account to his personal email account.
One is from county Communications Manager Michael Grider to himself. One is from developer John Turley to the mayor. There also is one sent from a private account to Commissioner Jeff Ownby that appears to be about Commissioner Amy Broyles.

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