Monthly Archives: July 2017

Haslam sees no change in fluctuating cattle prices

Gov. Bill Haslam’s response to the first question posed – on cattle prices – during his appearance Friday at the Washington County Farmer’s Co-Op, as reported by the Johnson City Press:

“I don’t think we’re going to see a world where that fluctuation (in beef prices) goes away,” Haslam answered. “I know that makes it incredibly hard for your all’s business and I’d love to tell you different. If I could be the king instead of the governor, I could make it different, but my sense is the price fluctuations we’ve seen in all different products is probably not going to change.”

The JCP reports the governor was “sporting a clean pair of blue jeans, polished cowboy boots and a white plaid shirt” at the event and:

Before making his way to the Grainger County Tomato Festival, the governor made sure to purchase one of the Washington County Farmers Co-Op’s signature red hats, worn by many of those in attendance, to take back to Nashville.

McQueen to DeVos: Fed education budget cuts will hurt ‘some of your biggest supporters’

In letters to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is opposing the proposed elimination of a federal program for teacher training and retention that sent $38 million to Tennessee last year, reports The Tennessean.

McQueen wrote two letters – the first in June, saying the budget cut would hurt students in public schools across the state, especially in rural areas where President Donald Trump had strong support in the 2016 election. A second letter sent Friday says 42,000 students in private schools would be hurt, too, by the elimination of Title II, part A funds in the upcoming federal budget. DeVos has been an active supporter of charter schools and school voucher programs.

She emphasized her point in an interview Friday with the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee.

“Our tone here is: We want to make sure you understand, this is going to be very impactful for our rural counties in ways that maybe you haven’t thought through,” McQueen said. “We are at a point where these decisions will probably impact some of your biggest supporters.”

…The state recieved $38 million in Title II funds from the federal government in 2016-17, according to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. That money also goes to the recruitment and retention of educators.

DeVos’ office responded (to the first letter) by saying that states had not used those funds well in the past, McQueen said.

“We would disagree with that because in Tennessee we don’t believe we have misused that by any stretch of the imagination,” McQueen said in the interview.

State Board of Education gives final OK to new social studies standards

News release from State Board of Education

NASHVILLE – Today, the State Board of Education voted unanimously on final reading to approve new, Tennessee-specific academic standards for social studies.

The new Tennessee Academic Standards for Social Studies will be implemented in classrooms in the 2019-20 school year. This multi-year, comprehensive review involved teams of Tennessee educators, subject matter experts, higher education faculty, state history and geography organizations, and multiple public comment opportunities, ensuring that all Tennesseans had a voice throughout the process.

“These new social studies standards provide a strong foundation for our students, due in part to incredible participation from educators and Tennesseans across the state in the review process,” said Dr. Sara Morrison, executive director of the State Board of Education. “Standards point the way for high-quality instruction in the classroom, which is our ultimate goal.”

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Black bashes Senate for failure to pass Obamacare repeal bill (a ‘slap in the face’ to voters)

News release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black

Washington, D.C. – House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black released the following statement after the Senate’s failure to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare:

“After seven years of promising the American people that we would save them from Obamacare, the Senate last night broke their promise. After months of debate, they failed to find even a single piece of health care legislation that they could support, including the same bill they passed in 2015, and then they gave up. This is unacceptable.

The House has done its work. We passed a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered health care system almost three months ago. The Senate’s failure to even continue the legislative process is a slap in the face to the voters that trusted and elected them. They deserve better. I urge my colleagues in the Senate not to quit and to keep fighting to keep their promise and save the American people from Obamacare.”

Harwell, Stevens back Rep. Sanderson — criticized for tax vote — in reelection bid

House Speaker Beth Harwell and state Sen. Ed Jackson praised state Rep. Bill Sanderson at a luncheon held in his honor Thursday, reports the Dyersburg State Gazette. Sanderson, facing a prospective challenger in the House District 77 Republican primary, said he’s under attack for supporting a package of tax legislation this year that included an increase in fuel tax levies.

Some excerpted quotes:

Jackson: “I believe in Bill so much, I have written a check to Bill Sanderson for his re-election in the amount of $2,500. We’ve got to keep Bill in Nashville. He does great work for this district.”

Harwell: “Bill Sanderson is one of the finest, highest-quality individuals you can send to Nashville to represent you…. There was no doubt who I wanted to chair one of my most important committees and that was Bill Sanderson. He is that high of quality legislator. You are blessed to have him. I want to extend my appreciation for you.” (Note: Harwell appointed Sanderson as chair of the House State Government Subcommittee.)

Sanderson: “I work hard every day up there, but now this group basically wants to send me home. And some say, ‘Well, don’t take it personal’. Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way, but I do take it personal. Speaker Harwell, you know, we helped pass the largest tax cut in the state of Tennessee’s history this year. We’ve had industry locate to Dyer County solely because we lowered the franchise and excise tax in Tennessee… But yet, I’m being judged because I voted for the largest tax cut in the state of Tennessee’s history. That one element, a lot of folks said, ‘We don’t need it’. But that’s not true. We do need it.”

Note: The newspaper had an earlier story on Jerry Wright, mayor of Newbern, saying he’s considering a run for the Republican nomination against Sanderson. Wright contended Dyer County and Lake County (also part of the House district) have been shortchanged as compared to other areas in road funding and declared “the bottom line is people want someone that’s going to Nashville and fight for them, and what they want.” Jackson, whose district includes Dyer and Lake counties, faces a primary challenger who has criticized his vote for the tax bill. (Previous post HERE.)

Long-running lawsuit over TN phone bills and 911 fees set for trial in 2019

A lawsuit contending that telephone companies shortchanged Hamilton County 911 and nine other Tennessee communities of millions of dollars in fees they collected from consumers is now scheduled for trial in 2019, reports the Times Free Press.

Apart from the date, attorneys had little else to agree on during a status hearing Thursday in Chattanooga’s U.S. District Court.

“I’m not suggesting bad faith, your honor, but the strategy is to delay,” said attorney Rick Hitchcock, who has represented Hamilton County 911 since 2011. Hitchcock wants AT&T, BellSouth and other companies to turn over decades of billing information so he can prove the telecom giants knew they were pocketing fees in violation of a 911 law.

“The simple calculation is, how many lines were in service and how many 911 charges did they collect to distribute?” Hitchcock asked. “It’s A minus B. And if it equals zero, then they have nothing to worry about. But it doesn’t.”

But company attorneys rejected that equation, pointing to the enormous amount of data.

“We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of bills in more than a dozen counties going back to 1984,” said attorney Misty Kelly. “We would have to identify what historical records exist for several companies.”

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Senate GOP’s last ‘skinny’ try at Obamacare repeal fails; Alexander and Corker vote yes

Start of a Politico report:

The Senate Republicans’ push to dismantle Obamacare collapsed in dramatic fashion early Friday morning, when two centrist GOP women and Sen. John McCain of Arizona teamed to sink an already scaled-back effort to dismantle the 2010 health care law.

McCain and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sided with all 48 Democrats to reject the Republicans’ so-called skinny repeal plan, tanking the measure by a vote of 49-51. The Senate GOP had already pretty much shunned the proposal, viewing it mostly as a route to go into negotiations with the House.

Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who had split with each other and the GOP majority in a couple of earlier votes on different versions of health care legislation, were thus together in voting yes on the final attempt (just as they were on the first procedural vote to hold debate).

An Alexander statement via press release:

“I voted to take the next step toward what I believed was our best opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Senate’s failure to do this leaves an urgent problem that I am committed to addressing: Tennessee’s state insurance commissioner says our individual insurance market is very near collapse. Unless Congress acts, many of the 350,000 Tennesseans who buy health insurance in that market—songwriters, farmers, the self-employed—face the real prospect of having zero options to buy insurance in 2018 and 2019.”

A Corker statement via press release:

“My strong preference was for Congress to advance legislation I supported earlier this week to repeal Obamacare after a reasonable transition period,” said Corker. “I sincerely believed that was the best path forward and would have taken us back to a level playing field where, by a date certain, all sides would have had incentive to work together to develop a health care replacement that would generate broad support and stand the test of time. Unfortunately, that amendment failed to achieve the votes necessary to advance.”

“I am disappointed that the Senate failed this morning to advance legislation that would allow us to continue our work to repeal and replace Obamacare, which is driving up costs and limiting choices for families in Tennessee and across our country,” added Corker. “It is my hope that we will expeditiously move to a process that will generate an outcome that is better for the American people than what is in place today.”

Mayors clash over Bible-quoting plaque at Knoxville police headquarters

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero are at odds over a city decision to take down a plaque quoting a Bible verse that now hangs inside a Knoxville police department building.

From the News Sentinel report:

Burchett, a Republican, made the comments in a rare public critique of Rogero, a Democrat, Thursday morning, a day after she announced the city would remove the plaque hanging in the department’s Safety Building.

The plaque quotes Romans 8:31 and includes, “If God be for us, then who can be against us?”

The city is planning to take down the plaque during a Friday morning ceremony and move it to a Hall of Inspiration inside the building that will be a place where multiple quotes and sayings will be displayed.

The East Tennessee chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint about the plaque and threatened a lawsuit if the city did not remove it.

Burchett said the Constitution protects his Christian views, adding the city should allow the group to take them to court.

“Mayor Rogero is my friend, but I would fight this one. I wouldn’t yield to extortionists,” he said. “Ultimately, I have to answer to God not some outfit from out of town who make their living just suing people … “What I don’t understand is with atheists if they don’t believe in God, what do they care? It just doesn’t make much sense to me,” he said.

“At some point folks that follow my belief systems are just going to be legislated out of existence and to me it is discrimination against me and my beliefs,” he said.

… Rogero issued a statement in response to Burchett’s comments Thursday afternoon.

“I’m happy to clear up some misunderstanding and overreaction to this issue. My friend Mayor Burchett will be glad to know the plaque is not being removed, it is merely being moved from one side of the doorway to the other, where it will share a room with other inspirational quotes,” Rogero said in the statement.

Note: Burchett, a former state senator, is considering a run for the 2nd District Congressional seat now held by Rep. John J. ‘Jimmy’ Duncan Jr.

Hagerty takes oath as U.S. ambassador to Japan

Nashville businessman Bill Hagerty, a former Tennessee commissioner of economic development, Thursday took the oath of office as U.S. ambassador to Japan in a ceremony at Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House, reports Michael Collins.

His wife Chrissy and their four children were by his side… Vice President Mike Pence introduced Hagerty, who was greeted by the crowd with loud cheers and a double thumbs-up. Pence then administered the oath.

“I look forward to the challenge before us,” Hagerty said in brief remarks afterward.

… Pence said Hagerty has spent a lifetime working to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Japan, including a stint living in Japan on a three-year assignment as a consultant.

President Donald Trump’s choice of Hagerty as ambassador demonstrates the ties between the two countries remains strong, Pence said.

… To Hagerty, Pence said: “Bill, given your integrity, your very good leadership and your distinguished history, the president and I are confident you will excel in this new role to help make the extraordinary friendship and alliance between the United States of America and Japan even stronger.”

 

Judge ends offer of reduced jail time for vasectomies, blames state Dept. of Health

White County General Sessions Court Judge Sam Benningfield has rescinded his controversial offer to reduce the jail sentences of male prisoners who get vasectomies and female prisoners who get contraceptive implants, reports WTVF-TV. He blames the state health officials for the decision.

The contraceptive procedures were offered free by the state Department of Health when the judge in May issued an order authorizing 30-days off jail times for inmates who undergo the procedures. He issued a new order rescinding the offer for new inmates, saying officials have advised him the department “will no longer offer free vasectomies… and will not provide the free Nexplanon implant” to White County inmates who get a sentence reduction.

The judge said in his order that those who had already signed up – at least 32 women and 38 men, according to an earlier report — will still get the 30-day sentence reduction without going through the procedures. The order says these inmates have “demonstrated to the court their desire to improve their situations and take serious and considered steps toward their rehabilitation.”

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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