tennessee

Biden grants clemency to 78, including 5 with Tennessee ties

Democratic President Joe Biden has granted clemency to 78 people. Here are the details on five with ties to Tennessee:

Jose Luis Colunga – Juniata, Nebraska

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 240 months of imprisonment, 10-year term of supervised release (July 13, 2010).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on October 26, 2023, leaving intact and in effect the 10-year term of supervised release.

Virgil Goodman, Jr. – Lexington, Tennessee

Offense: Possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute (Western District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 262 months of imprisonment, six-year term of supervised release (June 30, 2005).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on August 24, 2022, leaving intact and in effect the six-year term of supervised release.

Brandon Jermaine Huguley – Chattanooga, Tennessee

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 235 months of imprisonment, five-year term of supervised release (August 20, 2012); amended to 188 months of imprisonment, five-year term of supervised release (May 22, 2017).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, leaving intact and in effect the five-year term of supervised release.

Bethel Cheyenne Mooneyham – Spencer, Tennessee

Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture and distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 240 months of imprisonment, 10-year term of supervised release (June 13, 2011).

Commutation Grant: Sentence to expire on August 24, 2022, leaving intact and in effect the 10-year term of supervised release.

Jesse Alan Trimue – Burton, Michigan

Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 5 grams of actual methamphetamine and 50 grams or more of methamphetamine mixture, a schedule II-controlled substance (Eastern District of Tennessee).

Sentence: 120 months of imprisonment, eight-year term of supervised release (June 6, 2016).

Commutation Grant: Sentence commuted to expire on April 26, 2023, with the remainder to be served in home confinement, leaving intact and in effect the eight-year term of supervised release.

Here’s who is in the mix for the Tenn. Supreme Court vacancy

The deadline to apply for the Tennessee Supreme Court vacancy was noon Friday. The Tennessee Journal has learned 11 people applied. They are:

  • William Blaylock, chief hearing officer on the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s unemployment appeals tribunal.
  • Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to the state attorney general.
  • Kristi M. Davis, state Court of Appeals judge.
  • Timothy L. Easter, state Court of Criminal Appeals judge.
  • Kelvin Jones, Nashville circuit judge.
  • W. Neal McBrayer, state Court of Appeals judge.
  • Doug Overbey, former U.S. attorney and state senator.
  • Robert F. Parsley, Chattanooga attorney in private practice.
  • Jonathan T. Skrmetti, chief deputy state attorney general.
  • Gingeree Smith, Smyrna attorney in private practice.
  • Jeffrey Usman, Belmont University law professor.

White House details how Biden plan would affect Tenn.

The White House is outlining how President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better program would affect Tennessee.

Here’s the full release:

President Biden’s Build Back Better framework will bring down costs that have held back families in Tennessee for decades by cutting taxes and making child care, home care, education, health care, and housing more affordable. These investments will provide new learning opportunities for children, help parents and especially working parents make ends meet, and position the economy for stronger growth for years to come. The framework will create good- paying jobs for residents of Tennessee, combating climate change, giving our kids cleaner air and water, and making America the leader in global innovation and 21st century manufacturing.

The Build Back Better framework will:

Deliver the largest investment in child care and early education in history.

• Provide access to affordable child care. Child care is a major strain for families in Tennessee, where the average annual cost of a child care center for a toddler is $9,998, meaning that a Tennessee family with two young children would on average spend 24% of their income on child care for one year. The lack of affordable options also makes it difficult for parents, and especially mothers, to remain in their jobs, contributing to the 21% gender gap in workforce participation between mothers and fathers in Tennessee. The Build Back Better framework will enable Tennessee to provide access to child care for 421,870 young children (ages 0-5) per year from families earning under 2.5 times the Tennessee median income (about $191,121 for a family of 4), and ensure these families pay no more than 7% of their income on high- quality child care.

• Provide universal, high-quality, free preschool for every 3- and 4-year old in America. Today, only 11% of the 165,717 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee have access to publicly-funded preschool, and it costs about $8,600 per year for those who can’t access a publicly-funded program. The Build Back Better framework will enable Tennessee to expand access to free, high-quality preschool to more than 148,048 additional 3- and 4-year-olds per year and increase the quality of preschool for children who are already enrolled. Parents will be able to send their children to the preschool setting of their choice—from public schools to child care providers to Head Start—leading to lifelong educational benefits, allowing more parents to go back to work, and building a stronger foundation for Tennessee’s future economic competitiveness.

Address the existential threat of climate change.

• Make the largest effort to combat climate change in American history. From 2010 to 2020, Tennessee experienced 40 extreme weather events, costing up to $20 billion in damages. The Build Back Better framework will set the United States on course to meet its climate targets—a 50-52% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030—in a way that creates good-paying union jobs, grows domestic industries, and advances environmental justice. The framework represents the largest ever single investment in our clean energy economy—across buildings, transportation, industry, electricity, agriculture, and climate smart practices in our lands and waters. And the framework will create a new Civilian Climate Corps that will enlist a diverse generation of Tennesseans in conserving our public lands, bolstering community resilience, and addressing the changing climate, all while putting good-paying union jobs within reach. In clean energy and in other sectors, the Build Back Better framework will also strengthen domestic manufacturing and supply chains for critical goods, benefiting American businesses, workers, consumers, and communities.

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Rate the Plate: Lee adminstration puts four proposed tag designs to a vote

Gov. Bill Lee’s adminstration is putting four proposed plate designs to a vote. The winning design will be introduced in January.

A Tennessee tag from 1940.

We think each of the four has merits, but we lean toward the ones with the throwback state outline on the top. But if we had our druthers, the clutter of the state’s web address and slogan would eliminated.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee invited Tennesseans to “Rate the Plates” and help choose the state’s next standard license plate by selecting their favorite design at tn.gov/ratetheplates. Under state law, the license plate is redesigned every eight years if funds are approved in the General Assembly’s annual budget.

“As Tennessee celebrates 225 years of statehood, it’s a perfect time to redesign our license plate and feature the Tri-Star that represents each of our state’s unique grand divisions,” said Gov. Lee. “We welcome all Tennesseans to cast their vote and play a role in choosing this piece of our state’s history.” 

Voting begins today and will conclude at 11:59 p.m. CT on Monday, September 27. The winning design will be announced later this fall and available to the public January 2022. 

Tennessee statute requires the display of “Tennessee,” “Volunteer State” and “TNvacation.com” on the plate, as well as county name and expiration year decal locations. Statute provides that Tennesseans may select an “In God We Trust” plate option.

The new license plate design will replace the current plate that launched in 2006 with modifications in 2011, 2016 and 2017.

High-resolution license plate designs are available here.

Amazon to hire 6,600 in Tennessee

Amazon announced plans to hire 6,600 full- and part-time workers in Tennessee. That’s on top of the 25,000 jobs the online retailer has created in the state since 2010.

Here’s the release from Amazon:

NASHVILLE – Amazon continues to provide opportunities for full-time and part-time jobs in logistics as it expands its footprint to better serve customers in communities where they live. Today the company announced that it is providing an additional 6,600 local employment opportunities throughout Tennessee on top of the 40,000 corporate and technology jobs recently announced. The roles in fulfillment and transportation offer an average starting wage of more than $18 per hour—and up to $22.50 per hour in some locations. The company also provides full-time employees comprehensive benefits from day one, worth an additional $3.50 per hour. They include health, vision, and dental insurance, 401(k) with 50% company match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave, and Amazon’s Career Choice program, in which the company will pay full college tuition for its front-line employees as part of $1.2 billion investment to expand education and skills training benefits for its U.S. workforce.

“Before Amazon, I was at a car wash making nine dollars an hour. Then I came to Amazon and I started earning $15 an hour—it was life changing for me,” said Leonardo C, an operations employee at an Amazon fulfillment center in Miami. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve had dental insurance, visual insurance, life insurance. And now that I have it here, I feel really good.”

Hiring for the new roles is already underway. Interested candidates can visit www.amazon.com/apply to learn more and apply.

Tennessee is home to more than 30 Amazon facilities – from delivery stations to a book store. These are investments that can unlock opportunity, helping to revitalize cities and neighborhoods. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon has hired over 450,000 people in the U.S., and one-in-10 hourly employees who have been with the company six months or longer have been promoted. Amazon is now the largest job creator in the U.S. and was recently named by LinkedIn as the No. 1 company where Americans want to work and develop their careers.

“We are proud to offer opportunities for people from a range of backgrounds, from furloughed workers to former military personnel,” said Dave Clark, CEO Worldwide Consumer at Amazon. “We take our responsibility as an employer seriously and want our employees to succeed and thrive. That’s why we offer an average starting wage of over $18 per hour, provide a great range of comprehensive benefits—including health care coverage, parental leave, career training, and ways to save for the future—and have a team of thousands working to build a safe and inclusive work environment. Whether you’re looking for a short-term job to make money for the holidays or a long-term career, you’re welcome here, and we look forward to having you on our team.”

Jobs are available across the state. Interested candidates can see all the regions with open positions at www.amazon.com/apply.

In addition to hiring employees for its operations, Amazon is also supporting the growth of small and medium-sized businesses and helping to create tens of thousands of additional jobs, including many in Tennessee. Amazon works with more than 2,500 Delivery Service Partners, enabling these aspiring entrepreneurs to build their own delivery companies by leveraging Amazon’s experience in operations and logistics. These partners plan to hire more than 50,000 delivery associates by the end of the year. Interested applicants can find out more information here.

To help job seekers around the country, Amazon is hosting a Career Day—America’s biggest recruiting event—on September 15. The free virtual event will offer 20,000 individual career-coaching sessions with Amazon recruiters to help participants land their next job, as well as thousands of additional sessions for Amazon employees looking to transition to higher-paying roles within the company or elsewhere. Attendees will have access to personalized career coaching, insights, advice, and learning opportunities from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and industry-leading experts, and tactical training through coding workshops and breakout sessions. The event is open to all, regardless of their level of experience, professional field, or background. Register for free here.

Emissions testing to end in 5 Tennessee counties in January

Emissions testing will no longer be required in Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, and Wilson counties starting in January. Davidson County has elected to retain its testing requirements.

Here’s the full release from the state Department of Environment and Conservation:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) announced today that vehicle emissions testing in five Tennessee counties will end on Jan. 14, 2022 now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a revision to the state’s air quality plan.

EPA’s approval, which was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 17, 2021 and becomes effective on Sept. 16, 2021, means vehicle emissions testing will end on Jan. 14, 2022 in five counties – Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson. Davidson County has chosen to continue its testing program.

“This decision by EPA is a major step that means an end to mandatory tests of vehicles for many Tennesseans,” TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said. “It’s a recognition of the improvement of our state’s air quality and demonstrates the diligence Tennesseans have shown toward achieving and maintaining this goal.”

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill in 2018 that eliminated vehicle emissions testing in the state 120 calendar days following EPA approval. In February 2020, the state submitted to EPA its revision to the state’s air quality plan requesting removal of the vehicle emissions testing program.

“Emissions testing has been an unfair burden not only on Tennessee taxpayers, but particularly our poorest residents who are forced to remedy auto issues they can’t afford,” Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said. “The testing no longer served a purpose as most modern vehicles are aligned with emissions standards. This long-awaited decision is a tremendous win for the people of Tennessee. My only regret is Rep. Mike Carter, who also worked relentlessly to end this now needless government program, did not live to see this day.”

“Emission testing is not only time-consuming for taxpayers, but also completely unnecessary,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said. “Today’s vehicles are environmentally cleaner than ever before and Tennessee’s air quality is exceptional.  I’m very proud we have finally eliminated this obsolete test that put a terrible burden on lower income families and small business owners by forcing them to pay for needless repairs.”

“I am pleased to learn that the vehicle emissions testing program is finally coming to an end,” Rep. Joan Carter, R-Ooltewah, widow of Rep. Mike Carter, said. “More fuel and energy efficient vehicles meant the program had largely outlived its usefulness, yet the financial hardship on the very Tennesseans who could least afford it remained in place. Thanks to Senator Watson, Leader Lamberth, TDEC, and all the great people across Tennessee who worked so hard to make this happen. Mike would be proud.”

“Finally we will see an end to the unnecessary stress, long waits and financial burdens placed on hardworking families in Williamson, Sumner, Rutherford, Hamilton and Wilson counties where emissions testing is required,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said. “This action puts in motion the legislation our General Assembly passed in 2018 to end emissions testing and I appreciate the efforts of all of our legislators and state officials who have worked hard to end this burdensome requirement.”

EPA determined that the removal of vehicle emissions testing in Tennessee is consistent with the federal Clean Air Act and all applicable regulations. EPA’s technical analysis concludes that after removal of vehicle emissions testing, Hamilton County and the Middle Tennessee area will continue to comply with all National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Since the NAAQS are set to protect public health and welfare, and EPA’s technical analysis shows that the areas will continue to comply with all NAAQS, public health and welfare will continue to be protected once vehicle emissions testing is removed from Tennessee’s air quality plan.

The approval becomes effective on Sept. 16, 2021, 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Tennessee law states the elimination of vehicle emissions testing is effective 120 days following EPA’s approval. Therefore, the effective end date of the program is Jan. 14, 2022. In counties where vehicle emissions testing is ending, persons registering their vehicles on or before Jan. 13, 2022 will still be required to get the vehicle emissions test. Residents in those counties who register after Jan. 13, 2022 will not have to undergo vehicle emissions testing.

Tennessee law provides an option for local agencies with their own air pollution control program to continue vehicle emissions testing. Davidson County opted to continue vehicle emissions testing.

Those who have questions regarding the elimination of vehicle emissions testing may visit the TDEC website. Tennesseans may also send questions to TDEC via this link

Get your 225th Tennessee birthday posters here

Gov. Bill Lee has unveiled new posters commemorating Tenenssee’s 225 years of statehood.

They are available by request from the state at https://www.tennessee225.com/posters

See details below.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee unveiled three limited-edition posters highlighting each Tennessee grand division to celebrate 225 years of statehood. Tennesseans are invited to share an untold story and request a poster at www.Tennessee225.com.

“From the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains, our grand divisions reflect their own unique character and represent the best of Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I invite Tennesseans to submit untold stories that celebrate every corner of our state as we commemorate 225 years of statehood.”

The limited-edition posters, designed by famed artist Justin Helton of Knoxville, highlight the culture and beauty of each Tennessee grand division.

White House declares major disaster in TN counties affected by February storms

The White House has declared a major disaster in 13 Tennessee counties rocked by a winter storm in February.

Here’s the release:

Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms from February 11 to February 19, 2021.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storms in the counties of Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Moore, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Shelby, and Smith.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Robert J. Fenton, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments. 

Tennessee sports betting jumps 17% in January

About $211 million in sports bets were placed in Tennessee in January, a 17% increase from the previous month. Payouts were $190 million.

The state’s tax haul was $4.3 million, bringing the total to $9.7 million through the first three months since gaming went live in November.

Preliminary figures show $15 million worth of bets were placed on the Super Bowl, though final numbers won’t be available until the February numbers are released late this month.

For the first three months of gaming, Tennessee sportsbooks have taken $524 million in bets and paid out $476 million. While the law requires payouts to be no more than 90 cents on every dollar wagered, sportsbooks have been averaging closer to a 9% hold.

Here are the monthly betting numbers to date:

NovemberDecemberJanuary
Wagers$131 million$181 million$211 million
Payouts$118 million$168 million$190 million
Privilege Tax$2.4 million$3.1 million$4.3 million

State BlueCross stops short of sweeping donation ban

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The national BlueCross BlueShield Association made waves this week by announcing it would suspend political donations to lawmakers who objected to the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president.

“In light of this week’s violent, shocking assault on the United States Capitol, and the votes of some members of Congress to subvert the results of November’s election by challenging Electoral College results, BCSBA will suspend contributions to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy,” the federation of 36 independent BlueCross companies said in a statement.

Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee doesn’t appear to be taking the same blanket approach toward its PAC donations to state candidates.

“An internal committee routinely reviews any potential PAC contributions before they are made. As part of this process, the committee examines the actions and records of elected officials on a campaign-by-campaign and candidate-by-candidate basis to determine whether they’re consistent with our mission, beliefs and goals,” the company said.

“BlueCross, like many other companies, will continue closely scrutinizing PAC contributions. As we always have, we will continue to look particularly close at candidates who take positions that differ from their stated core values, and how their values align with our own,” according to the statement.

The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee PAC made $200,600 in state contributions during the last election cycle, of which $15,500 went to six Republicans who signed a Dec. 30 letter urging Congress to reject the presidential election results. A total of 18 representatives and five senators had signaled their support for the letter.