Lamberth: Bill to block ‘harassing’ requests is part of transparency push

Lawmakers gather in Nashville for the first day of the 111th General Assembly. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Majority Leader William Lamberth’s bill seeking to block people deemed to be “harassing” records custodians from obtaining public records is part of what he is calling push for greater transparency in state government.

The Portland Republican’s bill would allow custodians to seek judicial intervention if a member of the public makes three or more annual requests “in a manner that would cause a reasonable person” to feel abused, intimidated, threatened, or harassed.  The same would go for people making multiple requests that are “not made in good faith or for any legitimate purpose.”

A release from Lamberth’s office on Friday makes no mention of the specifics of his proposed legislation other than to say it will “protect record custodians.” But he said an amendment is coming to expand government openness by streamlining requests and increasing online access to records.

Here’s the full release from Lamberth’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) today is calling for greater government transparency that will further serve to protect all records custodians, while expanding public availability of open records through increased online access.

“I am calling on both state departments and local governments to evaluate all records that may be placed online and to explore ways to increase availability,” said Leader Lamberth.

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Legislature reappoints 7 members of State Election Commission

State Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) waits for Gov. Bill Haslam to deliver his final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A joint convention of the Tennessee General Assembly has reappointed the seven members of the state Election Commission.

The Republican appointees are Donna Barrett of Murfreesboro, Judy Blackburn of Morristown, Jimmy Wallace of Jackson, and Kent Younce of LaFollette. The Democrats are Greg Duckett of Memphis, Mike McDonald of Portland, and Tom Wheeler of Clinton. Barrett, McDonald and Wheeler are former state House members.

Here’s the full release from the Secretary of State’s office:

The State Election Commission is composed of seven members: four from the political party holding a majority of seats in the Tennessee General Assembly and three from the minority party. These individuals are elected for a term of four years. This is the only commission in Tennessee state government which is elected wholly by the Tennessee General Assembly.

The seven members elected by the Tennessee General Assembly on February 14, 2019 to serve a four-year term include Donna Barrett, Murfreesboro; Judy Blackburn, Morristown; Greg Duckett, Memphis; Mike McDonald, Portland; Jimmy Wallace, Jackson; Tom Wheeler, Clinton; and Kent Younce, LaFollette.

To be eligible to serve on the State Election Commission one must be at least 25 years old, a resident of Tennessee for at least seven years, and a resident of the grand division of the state from which one seeks election for at least four years preceding the election. No more than any two members may be from the same grand division of the state.

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Lee unveils ‘Future Workforce Initiative’

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks to a Chamber of Commerce event in Memphis on Dec. 6, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s office unveiled a Future Workforce Initiative to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) education training in K-12 schools.

Here’s the full release from Lee’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the Future Workforce Initiative to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training in K-12 schools as part of his first-year legislative agenda for education.

“Our agenda advocates for increased access to career and technical education for K-12 students and a key part of this includes prioritizing STEM training,” said Lee. “The Future Workforce Initiative is a direct response to the emerging technology industry and making sure our students are first in line to be qualified for technology jobs.”

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Lawmakers spend campaign funds on travel, cigar bars

State lawmakers spent campaign cash on items ranging from cigar bars to hotels in France, according to an analysis by The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert.

Ebert reports Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) spent more than $1,000 to stay at hotels in Paris and Verdun during a a visit to France for the 100th anniversary of Sgt. Alvin York’s heroic deeds during World War I. Campaign funds also paid for Bailey’s $900 flight.

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) and Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) used campaign funds to cover expenses at cigar bars. A Hill spokesman said the $110 he expensed at a cigar lounge in Johnson City was a “reporting error,” and that he planned to reimburse his account. A Staples spokesman said the lawmaker spent the money during “constituent appreciation” events at the cigar bar in Nashville.

Sen. Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) dropped about $28,300 to buy a car from Lee Beaman’s dealership. He also used campaign finds to cover the cost of car washes and license plate fees.

“He utilizes the automobile to travel to the Capitol on official state business, which is allowable under state law,” a spokeswoman for Southerland told The Tennessean.

Read more of Ebert’s reports about lawmaker spending habits and problems with disclosures.

 

New FedEx Logistics HQ to add 689 jobs in downtown Memphis

Gov. Bill Lee has announced that FedEx Logistics will consolidate its headquarters in downtown Memphis. The move will involve a $44 million investment in the former Gibson Guitar factory and the creation of 689 jobs.

Here’s the full release from the Lee administration:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and FedEx Logistics announced today that the company will move its headquarters to downtown Memphis, where it will invest $44 million and create 689 jobs.

“With FedEx Logistics creating more than 680 jobs, and investing more than $44 million in Shelby County, they are once again showing that Tennessee is a great place to do business,” Lee said. “FedEx and its subsidiaries have been a true Tennessee success story, and we as a state are proud to see this company continue to grow and call Tennessee home.”

“I congratulate FedEx Logistics on its decision to move its headquarters to downtown Memphis,” Rolfe said. “FedEx Logistics has been located in Memphis since its creation in 2000, and it means a great deal that this company continues to call Memphis home. I appreciate FedEx and FedEx Logistics for choosing to create nearly 700 high quality jobs in downtown Memphis and for its continued commitment to Tennessee.”

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SCORE outlines annual education priorities

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, has released its annual “Priorities for Progress” report.

See the full release below:

NASHVILLE – The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) today released priorities and action steps for improving student achievement in Tennessee in a new report, Priorities For Progress: 2018-19 State of Education in Tennessee.

SCORE, a nonpartisan education policy and advocacy nonprofit founded by Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., each year conducts a series of discussions with educators, policymakers and partners to compile a report that examines recent successes in K-12 public education and identifies research-supported opportunities to continue Tennessee’s recent record-setting progress in academic achievement. The state has been among the fastest improving on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, although the report notes the pace of growth has slowed since 2015.

“Tennessee can have fast student achievement improvement again,” Frist said. “To do that we must work collaboratively toward preparing all students for success after high school by addressing the priorities in the State of Education report. We must be innovative, and we must be bold to help our students be the best in the nation.”

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Lee wants to ‘explore alternatives’ to medical marijuana legalization

Republican Gov. Bill Lee wants to “explore alternatives” before the state takes steps to legalize medical marijuana, WKRN-TV reports.

“I think we ought to expand the use of low-THC CBD oils first to alternative treatments before we go there,” said Lee said.

A renewed effort to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee would establish a framework to license growing and dispensing cannabis. Supporters note  that 33 states representing two-thirds of the national population have already enacted medical marijuana programs. They also argue legalization would lead to a significant drop in opioid abuse.

Recreational use would remain banned under this year’s bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma). The measure would require patients suffering from a specific set of maladies to obtain a cannabis card from a doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner.

Lee to make first economic development announcement in Memphis?

UPDATE: An updated public schedule  has the governor attending an “economic development announcement” in Memphis at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. The location for the announcement is outside the old Gibson Guitar building on South B.B. King Boulevard.

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The Daily Memphian reports Gov. Bill Lee is expected to make his first economic development announcement in Memphis on Tuesday.

Speculation surrounds whether the announcement will have to do with FedEx Logistics and a potential move into the Gibson Guitar building downtown.

Shelby County lawmakers were told Monday by Lee’s office there will be an announcement in Memphis on Tuesday morning, the news site learned.

FedEx’s possible plans for the Gibson building came into discussion after the sold it in 2017. But the company issued a statement in November to say “FedEx Trade Networks can confirm it is no longer considering the Gibson Guitar Factory building as a potential option for relocation of its headquarters.”

FedEx Logistics currently has corporate offices in East Memphis and around the  area.

 

Lee makes vocational education push his first legislative initiative

Bill Lee is inaugurated as Tennessee’s 50th governor on Jan. 19, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s first legislative initiative calls for expanding access to vocational and technical training in Tennessee.

The Lee administration has dubbed it the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education, or GIVE, program.

“We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education,” Lee said in a release.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his first legislative initiative, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) to expand access to vocational and technical training for Tennessee students. 

“I believe that expanding our vocational and technical offerings will be transformational for Tennesseans and the future of our state,” said Lee. “We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education.”

The GIVE initiative is a two-pronged approach that utilizes regional partnerships to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities. Communities will now have the funding and flexibility to build programs that best reflect local needs and work directly with private industry to structure programming. 

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Lee raises pay for 15 members of Cabinet

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is largely paying the members of his Cabinet similarly to predecessor Bill Haslam, but 15 department heads will receive a salary bump compared with the last administration.

The AP’s Kimberlee Kruesi reports that TennCare Commissioner Gabe Roberts is the highest-paid of Lee’s top advisers at $300,000 per year. He and the next seven highest paid commissioners will make the same amount their counterparts did under Haslam.

The next 15 Cabinet members will receive $161,905 per year, an increase of between 2% and 6% from the last administration.