Thursday, January 10

Gov. Haslam attends UT-Martin Advisory Board, says “Tennessee’s future is in education” (Jackson Sun) Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam might only have a little over a week left in his term as governor, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be working until the very last day. On Wednesday, Haslam was in West Tennessee to oversee the first-ever University of Tennessee Martin Advisory Board meeting. “Tennessee’s future lies in public education,” Haslam said in his opening remarks. “Each piece of the UT system has an important role in making the system whole. These boards were created to make sure each campus got the attention I feel it deserves.” LINK

University of Tennessee at Martin creates new advisory board (WBBJ-TV) Outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam visited the University of Tennessee at Martin Wednesday afternoon to meet their new advisory board. “I will be moving from the sidelines to the stadium seats, but I can assure you that I will be cheering just as hard for what happens here,” Gov. Haslam said. “For the governor, who has to be in a million places at once, to take time out of his day to come to UT Martin, it reassures me and probably everyone else in Martin that UT Martin is a priority of the state,” advisory board student representative Devin Majors said. LINK

Video: UT Martin Advisory Board meeting (Jackson Sun) The University of Tennessee Martin Advisory Board met for the first time, Wednesday, Jan. 9. Governor Bill Haslam attended the meeting with them. LINK

Haslam believes he made ‘right call’ by granting clemency to Cyntoia Brown (WKRN-TV) Two days after granting clemency to Cyntoia Brown, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam spoke one-on-one with News 2 after his decision. The governor said everyone he spoke to about Brown called her “the real deal – a story of rehabilitation and redemption.”  In one of his last interviews before leaving office later this month, Haslam told News 2 why he thinks his decision on granting Brown clemency was the right thing to do. “Our job was to kind of separate all of the publicity from celebrities and activists, etc., and say, ‘thanks.’ We got a lot of phone calls around here, but still to say, that’s all fine, but our job is to look at it on the legal merits on her case and treat it just like every other one,” Haslam said. LINK

Tennessee Gov.-elect Bill Lee steps down from Lee Company, places assets in blind trust (Tennessean) Gov.-elect Bill Lee has stepped down as chairman of Lee Company and placed his company holdings into a blind trust, his office announced Wednesday. He resigned from Lee Company, the Franklin-based family business where he had worked more than 35 years, on Dec. 21. The company specializes in HVAC, electrical, plumbing and other home services. The board of directors signed a resolution removing Lee as chairman, which is set to become effective at the close of business Wednesday, at which time Lee’s stock enters a blind trust. LINK

Governor-elect Bill Lee steps away from Lee Company (WKRN-TV) Governor-elect Bill Lee announced his departure from Lee Company Wednesday. According to a release from the Governor-elect’s office, Lee will be stepping down as Chairman of Lee Company and he will place his holdings of the company in a blind trust. “As I said I would do on the campaign trail, I have officially stepped away from my company and placed all of my company holdings into a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest,” said Lee. “I look forward to this new chapter of public service and I leave knowing that Lee Company is in good hands with CEO Richard Perko and the Board of Directors.” LINK

Governor-elect leaves family company (Nashville Post) Lee Company stock goes into blind trust starting today. Governor-elect Bill Lee’s stock in his family company enters a blind trust, effective today, according to an announcement from his transition team. Lee resigned as chairman of the Lee Company last month after his November election as governor and more than 35 years with the mechanical contracting and facilities and home services company founded by his grandfather. Some of Lee’s critics had questioned the appropriateness of Lee’s involvement with a company that held millions of dollars’ worth of government contracts, including with the state. LINK

With Bill Lee about to take office, here’s what will happen with his company (Nashville Business Journal) Bill Lee has placed his majority ownership stake in Lee Co., his family’s Franklin-based business, into a blind trust, the governor-elect said Wednesday. Lee’s decision to move his share of the company into a blind trust answers one of the biggest questions looming over his transition into public office. Lee will be sworn in as Tennessee’s 50th governor next week. “It’s certainly an honor to be in the place that I am, but it’s also been a profoundly important thing in my life to be at Lee Co. for those 35 years. And I find myself in a very fortunate place and a very honored spot,” Lee said in an exclusive interview with the Nashville Business Journal. LINK

Lee places family HVAC and plumbing business in blind trust (TN Journal) Gov.-elect Bill Lee is stepping away from the Lee Co., placing his holdings in a bind trust while he runs the state. Here’s a release from his transition office: Today, Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Lee announced his departure as Chairman of Lee Company as he places his holdings of the company into a blind trust. “As I said I would do on the campaign trail, I have officially stepped away from my company and placed all of my company holdings into a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest,” said Lee. “I look forward to this new chapter of public service and I leave knowing that Lee Company is in good hands with CEO Richard Perko and the Board of Directors.” LINK

Tennessee’s Gov.-elect Bill Lee announces blind trust (AP) Incoming Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday he’s giving up control of his large heating, cooling, plumbing and electric business and the company is promising not to contract with state government as long as the Republican is in political office. “As I said I would do on the campaign trail, I have officially stepped away from my company and placed all of my company holdings into a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest,” Lee said in a statement. The Franklin-based Lee Co. employs more than 1,200 employees, generates $225 million a year and operates throughout middle Tennessee, northern Alabama and southern Kentucky. LINK

Gov.-elect Lee to depart as chairman of Lee Company (Daily Memphian) Gov.-elect Bill Lee announced Wednesday he will leave his post as chairman of Lee Company, one of the state’s biggest mechanical contractors, and put his company holdings into a blind trust. “As I said I would do on the campaign trail, I have officially stepped away from my company and placed all of my company holdings into a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest,” Lee said in a statement Wednesday. “I look forward to this new chapter of public service, and I leave knowing that Lee Company is in good hands with CEO Richard Perko and the board of directors.” LINK

Gov.-elect Bill Lee asks lawmakers for prayer, stresses his views on separation of church and state (Tennessean) Gov.-elect Bill Lee on Wednesday asked a group of lawmakers to continuing praying for him and his wife, Maria, as he prepares to take office and reiterated his stance on the separation of church and state. “The separation of church and state is never intended to keep people of faith out of government, but to keep government out of the church,” Lee told members of the Tennessee Legislative Prayer Caucus. He asked those gathered to continue praying for him as he prepares to be sworn in as governor Jan. 19. “And I can tell you we are praying for the nearly 7 million people who live in this state,” Lee said. LINK

Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans, Steven Curtis Chapman to perform at Bill Lee’s prayer service (Tennessean) Some of the Christian music industry’s top artists will perform at a worship service ahead of Gov.-elect Bill Lee’s Jan. 19 inauguration. Lee’s transition team announced Wednesday that Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans, Steven Curtis Chapman, Nicole C. Mullen, Matthew West and other performers will headline the worship service, which will be held at Ryman Auditorium. The limited number of tickets to the 8:30 a.m. service are free, but are required and available at Those attending are encouraged to arrive early and be seated for the start of the service. LINK

Educators combat chronic absenteeism in Tennessee’s state-run school district (Daily Memphian) Nearly one in three children in Tennessee’s state-run turnaround district were chronically absent from school last year. Until recently, Armani Fleming, an eighth-grader in Memphis, risked being among them. Armani struggled with attendance until a student support specialist with Communities in Schools, a Memphis nonprofit focused on wrap-around services for children, worked with him to identify and resolve barriers keeping him from class at Humes Middle School, a part of the Frayer Community Schools charter network. LINK

Disgraced Tennessee doctors conspired to sell opioids prescriptions for $300 each, state records say (Tennessean) State officials have suspended the medical licenses of two troubled East Tennessee doctors who conspired to sell opioid painkillers and anxiety medication, even though one of the doctors had already lost his ability to prescribe addictive medications. Dr. Charles Brooks, of Maryville, and Dr. Michael Lapaglia, of Knoxville, both had their licenses suspended by a vote of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners on Wednesday. Lapaglia already pleaded guilty to federal drug crimes and awaits sentencing. Brooks, who does not appear to have been charged criminally, was identified as Lapaglia’s accomplice for the first time in state documents made public this week. LINK

Campaign finance officials show leniency to Memphis Democrats after disclosures filed late (Tennessean) Campaign finance officials showed leniency to two freshmen lawmakers Wednesday, opting to eliminate a recently imposed fine against one and significantly reducing the penalty another faced. The Registry of Election Finance opted to eliminate a $5,000 fine it imposed in November against Rep. Jesse Chism, after the Memphis Democrat appeared in front of the panel and asked for forgiveness. Chism failed to file a campaign finance report for more than two months after it was due, resulting in the initial fine. LINK

Registry of Finance lowers fines against three Memphis representatives (Daily Memphian) The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance reduced or dropped fines Wednesday against two freshmen representatives and a veteran House member, all from Memphis, telling them to “go and sin no more.” The Registry dismissed a $5,000 assessment against Democratic Rep. Jesse Chism for late filing of a pre-primary fundraising report. Chism, who is entering his first year in office, has only $33 in his account and told the board he was his own treasurer for the campaign. “I made the terrible mistake of trying to do everything on my own,” Chism said.  LINK

What the Tennessee legislature did on its second day of session (Tennessean) The Tennessee General Assembly gathered for its second day of session Wednesday morning, conducting brief business and without debate electing two state constitutional officers. Members of the legislature met for a joint convention Wednesday morning to vote for a state comptroller of the treasury and state treasurer, reelecting Tennessee’s existing officers to their posts. The House of Representatives and Senate jointly voted for Justin Wilson to continue as comptroller and David Lillard Jr. as treasurer. Both are elected by the General Assembly to two-year terms and were first appointed in 2009. As treasurer, Lillard oversees state investments, such as the pension fund, and manages state employee benefit programs, like the retirement system. LINK

Comptroller, treasurer reappointed (Nashville Post) The Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday voted unanimously to reappoint both the state’s treasurer and comptroller of the treasury. David Lillard and Justin Wilson, respectively, will continue in those positions. Wilson assumed the office in 2009, after stints as a partner at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conversation and deputy governor for policy under Gov. Don Sundquist. The comptroller’s constitutional duties include auditing state government agencies and local governmental bodies. LINK

Tennessee lawmakers re-elect treasurer, comptroller (AP) Tennessee lawmakers have re-elected the state treasurer and comptroller to their sixth two-year terms. The GOP-led House and Senate voted during a joint session Wednesday to retain Treasurer David Lillard and Comptroller Justin Wilson. Lillard and Wilson were both first elected in 2009 after Republicans gained control of the Legislature. Wilson is a Nashville tax attorney and a former aide to then-Gov. Don Sundquist who was a prominent supporter for a failed effort to impose a state income tax in 2002. Lillard, of Germantown, is a former member of the Shelby County commission and a financial and tax attorney. LINK

McNally, others sworn in at state (Oak Ridger) Tennessee lawmakers have officially voted in their top legislative leaders to oversee the House and Senate for the next two years. On Tuesday, House Republicans and a small handful of Democrats elected Rep. Glen Casada as the chamber’s next speaker. He replaces outgoing Speaker Beth Harwell. Casada says it’s his goal to make the House more involved in the state’s budget-setting process. Over in the Senate, Randy McNally was elected as speaker. By statute, the Speaker of the Senate holds the title of lieutenant governor. The Oak Ridge man has served as Speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor since January 2017. LINK

House restructuring committees, giving chairmen more bills (Daily Memphian) The Tennessee House of Representatives is to consider a new set of rules Thursday restructuring its committee system and allowing committee chairs to exceed a yearly limit on legislation. Most House members are held to 15 bills each year, except for those who carry the governor’s legislation and committee chairs who deal with operational procedures. But under a new rule passed this week by an Ad Hoc Committee on Rules, chairmen of standing committees will be able to file five extra bills on topics relating to the committee they chair. “I don’t have a problem with it. I think that’s great,” said House Minority Leader Karen Camper, a Memphis Democrat. “We used to not have limits.”  LINK

Void and “Absurd” (Memphis Flyer) GOP challenges Shelby County’s take on new immigration law. Shelby County officials said last week that a new state immigration law that went into effect on January 1st doesn’t apply here, invoking a disapproving response from some Tennessee GOP leaders. The law prohibits local government entities from adopting sanctuary policies that interfere with the enforcement of federal immigration laws. This means local law enforcement agencies aren’t required to have a warrant or probable cause to comply with federal immigration detainers. It also stipulates that governments that don’t abide by the law will be ineligible for grants from the department of economic and community development until the sanctuary policy is repealed. LINK

Video: The 111th Tennessee General Assembly is underway in 2019 (Tennessean) There are 32 new lawmakers, including 28 in the state House, this year (Tennessean) LINK

Works in Progress (Memphis Flyer) The candidates for the District 32 state Senate special election are already in high gear.”Nine days! That’s all we’ve got!” Thus did George Chism exhort the supporters gathered around him last Wednesday for a meet-and-greet/fund-raiser at the Bank of Bartlett branch on Highway 64. The reference by Chism was somewhat obscure, since voting in the special-election primaries for the vacant District 32 state Senate seat, which he and four others are seeking, won’t end until primary-election day on January 24th. LINK

What Tennessee lawmakers are saying about Trump’s Oval Office speech on border wall (Tennessean) President Donald Trump doubled down during a televised plea in an Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday night for his long-promised border wall for the “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border. The president made his case for providing funding for a wall, the point of contention at the center of the second-longest government shutdown. He placed the blame for the now 19-day impasse on congressional Democrats. “This is a humanitarian crisis — a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” Trump said. “Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis, and they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation.” LINK

Government shutdown causes delay in federal aid for Tennessee college, university students (Tennessean) Tennessee college and university students are facing delays in the release of federal aid money due to the federal government shutdown. One University of Tennessee student said she was dropped from her classes Monday as a result, but learned she was added back on Wednesday after the News Sentinel reached out to her. “Nobody at UT has been dropped from their classes because of the shutdown,” said Katherine Saxon, coordinator for student communications at UT. Saxon said there are “a handful of students who filled out their FAFSA during the shutdown,” but they were not dropped from their classes in the process. LINK

Be prepared for more robocalls until government reopens (WSMV-TV) The government shutdown is having a bigger impact on more than just federal workers, it’s also impacting the number of potential robocalls you get. The Federal Trade Commission’s website states that due to a lack of government funding, it’s unable to offer robocall registry services and goes on to say it will resume normal operations when the government is funded. “The simple call of the registry being down or the call being illegal isn’t going to stop them anyway,” said Nashville resident Donald Page. Page says he gets three to four telemarketer calls per day. “They are a nuisance,” said Page. “I wouldn’t mind so much if they were honest.” Barbara Daane, also a Nashville resident, has it even worse. She tells News4 she gets as many as 10 robocalls per day. LINK

Government shutdown impacting some Tennessee homebuyers (WTVF-TV) The Nashville housing market is booming, but while the government shutdown continues, some Tennessee homebuyers are being shut out. “The government is highly involved in the mortgage business so there’s a lot more hoops to jump through now,” OneTrust Branch Manager Matt Helton said. Many of those ‘hoops’ impact homebuyers in rural counties, looking to get help from the USDA home loan program. The program provides a no-money-down loan for people buying in certain rural areas who meet income requirements. “That’s a really great loan that’s not available at this point,” Helston said. It’s not available because the USDA workers who process those loans are now on furlough as the shutdown enters its third week.LINK

East Tennessee nonprofits could be affected if government shutdown drags on (WATE-TV) Day 19 of the government shutdown and with negotiations still stalled, local non-profits are eyeing what’s next and what it could mean for the services they provide. Organizations in East Tennessee telling us while there are unknowns, what’s clear is that any challenges that may come up will be happening in a few months. “People are going to need us for sure,” said Elaine Streno, Executive Director for Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. Streno says right now the organization is outlining strategies. The federal government plans on providing full benefits for those relying on SNAP, the nation’s food stamp program, for all of February. One strategy Second Harvest is considering is purchasing more food. LINK

University of Tennessee working with students affected by government shutdown (WATE-TV) The University of Tennessee says it is working with students who cannot get federal forms related to their financial aid because of the government shutdown. UT officials say the US Department of Education provided guidance on Wednesday afternoon and they are now communicating with affected students. “The university is committed to supporting students who are unable to obtain necessary federal documents to ensure their coursework isn’t disrupted,” read a news release from the university. Students with questions are asked to call One Stop Student Services at (865) 974-1111.  LINK

Concerns arise in Jackson after federal government remains shutdown (WBBJ-TV) “The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only. Because Democrats will not fund border security,” said President Donald Trump. “So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President: reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now,” said Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader. Since the federal government has remained shutdown, some people in Jackson said they’re beginning to worry. LINK

Government shutdown has impact on plane search in Chickamauga Lake (WRCB-TV) The government shutdown is impacting the investigation of the recent plane crash on Chickamauga Lake. Former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall says the shutdown isn’t fair to the families involved. “Our government reflects our culture. And it reflects how we live. This is shameful,” said Hall. Follow this story to get email or text alerts from WRCB when there is a future article following this storyline. Jim Hall served as Chairman for the National Transportation and Safety Board for six years. He experienced a government shutdown during that time, but says it did not impact operations like this shutdown has. LINK

Volunteers needed for effort to help clean up GSMNP during shutdown (WATE-TV) With the shutdown affecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Keep Sevier Beautiful is hosting a volunteer cleanup event. Visitors are still able to go to the park, but without staff. That cleanup is set for Thursday, Jan. 10 from 9 a.m. to noon, at 1011 Banner Rd. in Gatlinburg. Volunteers are meeting at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center at 8:30 a.m. to sign in. LINK

Troubled Tennessee Hospital Chain Says It’s On The Way Out Of Rural Areas (WPLN Radio) In a pitch to leery investors, Cool Springs-based Community Health Systems says the company has urbanized. The company has been selling off or closing poorly performing rural hospitals for the last several years. The selling spree is primarily meant to pay down the company’s outsized debt load left over from when Community Health was growing as fast as it could. But the hospital chain was also strategically pulling out of small towns, including several in Tennessee. CEO Wayne Smith told investors gathered at this week’s annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco that it’s almost entirely left communities with fewer than 50,000 people — once its calling card compared to competing hospital chains. LINK

TDEC fines Bristol tire dumping operation nearly $500K (Times News) The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has assessed a civil penalty of more than $492,000 against the owner of a tire dumping operation. The state wants the money in about 30 days. TDEC says RRI VT Bristol LLC is the owner of the 100-acre Vance Tank Road tract used for the tire dumping operation. Ted Cox of Bluff City is listed as the “sole representative speaking and acting” on behalf of RRI, according to TDEC. TDEC has ordered that no more solid waste be accepted at the site, that the owner remove more than 33,000 tires from the property every 30 days and that all tires be removed within a year. LINK


Otis Sanford: Haslam’s decision to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown reflects his governing style (Daily Memphian) With one notable exception, I don’t have any photographs of politicians – either neatly framed or as a dartboard bull’s eye – on display in my office at University of Memphis.That exception is an autographed 8-by-10 glossy shot of a smiling Gov. Bill Haslam surrounded by a group of journalists, including David Plazas of The Tennessean and me, at a Tennessee Press Association luncheon in 2017. This week, as I sat at my desk to write a column about Haslam’s highly-publicized and celebrated decision granting full clemency to Cyntoia Brown, the governor’s photo was in view. And then it hit me. Haslam is the personification of Bush 43’s description of compassionate conservatism. LINK

Clint Cooper: Why no anti-tobacco funds? (Times Free Press) Since Tennessee received $422 million in revenue in 2018 from the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) and from tobacco taxes, we believe it still makes sense for the state to support tobacco control efforts in each county. However, no money was requested for the Tennessee Department of Health’s Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program in 95 counties for fiscal 2019. It’s unclear why the program was zeroed out — from $6.2 million in fiscal 2018 — except a vague explanation that priorities are being re-examined and that Gov.-elect Bill Lee’s administration deserves to have a hand in how the money is spent. LINK

Guest column: A tax on sweet tea? Tennessee needs to start taxing sugary beverages. (Tennessean) It is time for Tennessee to put a “sin tax” on soda, sweet tea and any other sugar-sweetened beverage. Tennessee is now top in the country for overweight or obese children.  While there are many complex reasons for childhood obesity, excess sugar consumption is a major cause.  Soda is the largest source of sugar in children. Tennessee is second only to Mississippi in soda consumption. An excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is needed to reduce sugar consumption in children and reduce the continuing rise of obesity in Tennessee’s children. LINK

TN Sen. Shane Reeves: 7 things you can expect from the 111th General Assembly in 2019 (Elk Valley Times) The 111th General Assembly will convene on Jan. 8 to begin an exciting year in our state’s capitol. Below are seven things that you can expect to see over the next 4-5 months. A joint convention of the General Assembly will convene on Jan. 19th to inaugurate Tennessee’s 50th governor, Bill Lee. If you want information about tickets, go to The 2018 election brings forth the most dramatic changes in the makeup of the Tennessee General Assembly in many years. The 99-member House of Representatives has 28 new members, and the 33-member Senate has four new members (with two more to be elected this spring). Expect lots of new ideas and fresh energy from these new members. LINK

Guest column: Tennessee Democrats need a new leader. This is who it should be. (Tennessean) On Saturday, the 72-member Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee will vote on the next chair of the TNDP. I ran for county commissioner in Williamson County as a Democrat and as a first-time candidate this year. Holly McCall is my county Democratic Party chair and I witnessed first-hand her leadership and vision for Tennessee Democrats.  I was one of 12 Democrats vying for a Williamson County Commission seat which, in turn, brought record-breaking turnout at the polls. The last time a Democrat ran for Williamson County Commission was in 1994. LINK


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