This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
More than $26 million in TVA settlement funds will help the state buy electric cars and rework several buildings to reduce energy costs and air pollution. A new Clean Tennessee Energy Grant Program, also, is available to local governments, businesses and other groups for amounts of up to $250,000.
Automotive injection molder Century Mold Inc. will invest $4.2 million to expand its Shelbyville, TN plant, a move that ultimately will create 58 new jobs. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty today joined with representatives from Century Mold to announce the investment on Jan. 13.
It’s easy to get lost in Nissan’s Tennessee powertrain plant. The Japanese automaker began building engines here in 1997 with just a few hundred thousand square feet of covered space in this small Franklin County town. It’s now the home of the largest forging press in Tennessee, and is set to become the first site in North America to produce Mercedes-Benz engines, starting in 2014.
Tennessee scored above the national average, with a grade of C+, in Quality Counts 2012, the 16th annual examination of issues and challenges facing America’s public schools by Education Week magazine. The examination compiles school data from a variety of sources and surveys.
What began 11 years ago as a small and simple event hosted by a local law firm to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision has become a large gathering with a consistent, unifying message. About 400-450 people attended the 2012 Fellowship Breakfast on Monday at the Hutton Hotel on West End Avenue to reflect on King’s life and how his legacy can move forward.
Volkswagen’s luxury brand Audi may be leaning toward Mexico for a North American assembly plant, according to WardsAuto, an automotive industry website. The report cited Mexico’s lower labor costs and also said a facility there would allow Audi to export vehicles to South America and even to Europe if necessary, without paying excessive import and export tariffs.
Change could save Tennessee millions A change that Tennessee made to its Medicaid program two years ago that helps families care for elderly and disabled relatives has proved so successful that the state is making it available to more people. TennCare wants to expand the number of slots. Between 11,000 and 15,000 TennCare beneficiaries could be receiving care outside of a nursing home after July 1 — significantly more than the currently approved range of 8,500 to 11,000.
Tennessee’s highway deaths in 2011 stayed below 1,000 for just the third time in 48 years, according to preliminary figures. The state had 947 traffic-related deaths last year, in what may be the safest 12 months on Tennessee roads in nearly a half century, according to the numbers released by the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The head of the Tennessee Lottery says players in the state will like changes to the Powerball game because of the larger jackpots. Rebecca Hargrove says there are both bigger prizes and better odds under new rules that just took effect.
Ban leaves students, staff in their cars to smoke The calendar has turned from 2011 to 2012, and spring semester is under way at MTSU. A new day has dawned on campus.
Rules could require more testing, make it easier to lose license After more than four decades on the road, Evelyn Herndon, 83, thinks it might be time to give up her car keys. Herndon fortunately has not had any accidents that led her to that conclusion, but there have been scares.
A bill to penalize people who visit the wrong public restroom was both introduced and withdrawn in the Legislature last week, creating some controversy in the process. Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, told Nashville’s WTVF-TV that he introduced HB2279 after reading news reports of a department store sales clerk being fired in another state for telling a transgender person who was “very much a man” to leave a women’s dressing room.
Tennessee state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he wants to press ahead with legislation “to make sure that we’re drug testing practically everyone getting any kind of government benefits.” And when questioned on the matter, he also said tentatively that it’s “fine with me” if corporate executives whose businesses are awarded millions of dollars in state taxpayer cash as incentives to create jobs in Tennessee are subjected to the same drug tests as the recipients of welfare and food stamps that he wants tested.
State senator Bo Watson of Chattanooga says Tennessee is leading the country in education reform. That was one of his topics in a talk before the Chattanooga Pachyderm club at noon.
State Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, would prefer her constituency read more about the bills she has sponsored and less about her personal activities. Either way, she wants the people who voted for her to know that she’s a genuine conservative.
Even as a possible criminal charge of legislative misconduct was hanging over his head, Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley was making moves to change the state nursing board he had fought with for nearly two years. “On the one hand it is a nuisance to know something is floating around out there,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, said of that possible criminal charge.
The Tennessee General Assembly’s new redistricting plans for state and congressional seats clean up gerrymandering the Democrats have engineered for the last 100 years they were in control, state Senate Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said Monday. Watson gave an example of gerrymandering — the drawing of district lines to favor one party over another — saying a sliver in his own district ran from south to north up to Soddy-Daisy.
They’ve worked together for years, sometimes sat side-by-side at the state Capitol and often stuck together despite party on economic development and other issues affecting Southeast Tennessee. But now, six area lawmakers could be duking it out over three legislative seats as a result of newly drawn district boundaries approved Friday by the Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly.
There was one very important change to the new district lines for the Tennessee State Senate as the week ended in Nashville with the legislature taking final action on the once a decade redistricting process. State Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis has a district once again in the new set of district lines for the legislature that won final approval Friday, Jan. 13, in the Tennessee State Senate.
Some Shelby County Commission members who oppose Commissioner Terry Roland’s stance on redistricting say they’ll show up tonight when Roland speaks to the Collierville Republicans at La Hacienda restaurant. “As long as he’s out doing it, spreading these half-truths, I’m going to be out there refuting what he says,” said Commissioner Wyatt Bunker. Commission members Heidi Shafer and Chris Thomas also said they planned to attend Roland’s talk.
The Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitor’s Bureau could soon see a name change — to the Smoky Mountain Tourism Authority — and with it a change in how spending decisions are made in marketing tourism for Blount County. The change will bring more representation from throughout the county and make it more of a countywide tourism board, said County Commissioner Gary Farmer.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Monday pledged to use the full force of the Justice Department to defend the Voting Rights Act, one of the keystones of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Speaking in Columbia, S.C., on the federal holiday honoring the birth of assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Holder defended the goals of the Voting Rights Act.
The loss of federal funds to help offset costs to start charter schools in Tennessee will cause a “significant strain,” some education officials say. Until this year, new charter schools could get between $600,000 and $700,000 in federal grants to help lease facilities and pay teachers for the first three years of operations.
Conservative critics call COPS program wasteful Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen says his department would be “in dire straits” without the nearly $1.8 million it has received through the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program. The program has allowed Lebanon to hire or keep 15 officers since 1995. That accounts for more than one-fifth of the city’s 72-member police force. But funding cuts mean COPS grants won’t be easy to come by this year.
Orreco Lyons received an early Christmas present last month when a federal judge reduced his crack-cocaine trafficking sentence from 71/2 years to just over six years. Since his incarceration began in August 2005, the 31-year-old Raleigh man was released just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Finally, some good news about one of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s most vexing environmental problems. UCOR, the U.S. Department of Energy’s cleanup manager in Oak Ridge, announced that workers had successfully excavated Tank W-1A — an underground waste tank responsible for radioactively polluting the groundwater in ORNL’s historic central campus.
A fast-growing industrial area in Murfreesboro is poised to lure more development as officials move forward on an extension of Joe B. Jackson Parkway just off Interstate 24. A city official announced last week that Wal-Mart has committed to opening a store on South Church Street near County Farm Road by 2014, near where the city plans to extend the parkway.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell met yesterday with Electrolux Home Products officials. WMC-TV reports the meeting was not open to the public or media, but it was in regard to a perceived lack of local and minority participation in construction of Electrolux’s new manufacturing facility, which is expected to employ 1,240 people in Memphis.
Cuts and executive restructuring at Erlanger Health System aim to make the hospital — which has struggled financially in the last six months — more profitable, according to its interim CEO. On Monday, the hospital announced six out of 15 executive positions had been cut, and one of its vice presidents was sent to head Erlanger at Hutcheson as part of a restructuring plan.
CNN Correspondent Samantha Fisher will join WKRN-TV this month as a co-anchor. Fisher will join veteran anchor Bob Mueller on Nashville’s News 2 at 10, Nashville’s No. 2 late news program, on Jan. 23.
Bartlett has the legal authority to start its own school system and should receive the public school buildings within its boundaries at no cost, according to a consultant’s feasibility study. The 181-page study, which looked at fiscal, operational and legal and regulatory issues, also cited state Board of Education rules requiring a minimum amount of local funds for school operation — in Bartlett’s case an amount equal to a 15-cent increase on its $1.49 property tax rate.
The disastrous Southern drought, which led to $10 billion in crop and agricultural losses in 2011, is forecast to continue through at least the next three months, government scientists report. The drought is also forecast to worsen and expand across the water-sensitive western USA. However, a powerful winter storm, after dumping snow in the Northwest, is forecast to bring some relief to the snow-starved Sierra Nevada in California this week.
Weeks before Alabama’s legislative session is scheduled to begin, Governor Robert Bentley has sparked debate among legislators about a proposal to use money earmarked for education to fill other holes in the budget. The Republican governor, entering his second year in office, plans to ask the legislature to approve a constitutional amendment to combine the state’s Education Trust Fund, drawn from income and sales taxes, with the separate General Fund, which pays for other government services.
With the start of a new session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam has spelled out a series of important issues he would like lawmakers to take up, ranging from education to efficiency in state government. One of the most vital subjects he wants to see addressed is taxes.
The seniority system and political cronyism are the opposite poles of how state employees could be paid and promoted. Tennessee state government should find some compromise, or else a third way. Gov. Bill Haslam wants to change the state’s “broken” civil service system, created as a reform measure after the Great Depression, when state jobs were awarded primarily as political patronage.
The state Supreme Court and Gov. Bill Haslam each took steps recently to prevent a reprise of the debacle caused by ex-judge Richard Baumgartner’s prescription drug abuse. The court revised ethics rules to require judges to report their colleagues’ suspect behavior, while the governor has proposed measures to catch addicts who obtain prescriptions for painkillers from multiple doctors.
When I was growing up in Donelson, getting a job after high school was considered more of a priority than going to college. There was a popular phrase used by many, who sought the safety of “getting on with the government.”
It is certainly welcome recognition that the United States Chamber of Commerce has named Tennessee No. 1 among the 50 states for low taxes and limited regulations. That positions our state for further job creation, on top of recent economic development victories such as the Volkswagen plant and a huge distribution center for Internet retailer Amazon at Chattanooga’s Enterprise South industrial park.
We believe a new ethics code for Tennessee judges will help ensure that justice is blind in this state. The revamped Code of Judicial Conduct, recommended by the Tennessee Bar Association and approved by the state Supreme Court, offers the first major revisions in more than 20 years. Perhaps the most significant change in the new code, which takes effect in July, is more specific guidance on when a judge should step down from a case.
A Federal District Court late last month wisely upheld a 2010 Maryland law that counts prison inmates as residents in their home communities for purposes of redistricting, rather than at the prisons where they are incarcerated. The practice of counting inmates as local “residents” — even though they lack the right to vote — has been used to inflate the power of mainly rural areas where prisons tend to placed.