This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced,n March 14, that Harris Research, Inc. (HRI) is establishing a new regional headquarters in Nashville. The company, which offers franchises under the in-home consumer services brands Chem-Dry and N-Hance, will create 30 new jobs and invest more than $1 million in its new 8,500 square foot space in the Braid Building in Nashville’s Gulch area. Chem-Dry, the world’s leading carpet and upholstery cleaner and N-Hance, a revolutionary wood renewal system, have more than 4,200 franchises in 43 countries.
Volkswagen Group of America announced on March 13 that it will invest $40 million to build a warehouse in Roane County for distributing domestic auto parts for the Chattanooga-made Passat. The 400,000-square-foot facility is expected to open by spring 2013 and will employ up to 45 people by 2016. Addressing the need for increased infrastructure, the facility will begin as a redistribution center to service warehouses and will later expand to include a parts distribution center. The redistribution Master Depot will support the US, Canada and Mexico. The parts distribution operation will improve service parts delivery times to over 100 dealers in the surrounding regions.
A national economic development publication has recognized four businesses in Tennessee for their community impact. Amazon, General Motors, Quaprotek USA and MANN+HUMMEL were honored by Trade & Industry Development. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development also was recognized. All were chosen for the magazine’s 2012 Corporate Investment and Community Impact awards. The publication, which focuses on company site selection and facility planning, picked 30 winners.
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said the state needs to provide high school students with better technical and career-oriented classes. The comments, which were reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, came at a Friday meeting of education and business leaders in Chattanooga billed as a “career-ready summit” to align education and business priorities and enhance the workforce. “I think we have a real need to revamp some of the course offerings and an opportunity to do that with the encouragement of the business sector,” Huffman said.
On its own accord, the Tennessee Department of Education won’t publish controversial teacher evaluation scores alongside the names of the instructors, but some of this information could be available via open records requests this summer. Yet until a media outlet in Tennessee follows the formula from other states, cites the state’s open records laws and asks for the updated personnel files of the state’s 65,000 teachers, it’s unclear which areas of the complicated 1-through-5 scoring rubric would be accessible to the public. And that raises an ethics question. Whether a media outlet should actually post evaluation data and teacher names is as contentious as the evaluation system itself.
A look at some findings for Tennessee from the 2012 Building a Grad Nation report released Monday. Tennessee was among a dozen states reported to have made the most progress from 2002 to 2009. The report was sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, a children’s advocacy organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Graduation rate: 77.4 percent in 2009, up from 59.6 percent in 2002. Benefits to Tennessee of a national 90 Percent Graduation Rate: $88 million in increased annual earnings; $16 million in increased annual state tax revenues.
Two Coffee County women are charged with TennCare fraud for selling prescription drugs paid for with TennCare benefits. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the arrest of Monica LeeAnn Dodson, 25, and Melissa Shannon Coker, 41, both of Tullahoma, after a joint investigation with the Tullahoma Police Department. Both women are each charged with one count of TennCare fraud and one count of sale of a controlled substance. The charges say they each used TennCare benefits to obtain a prescription for the pain reliever Hydrocodone, concealing that they planned to unlawfully sell a portion of the prescription.
A sinkhole has left a small dip in the road on State Route 353 in Washington County, according to a press release issued today by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The road is a rural two lane and one lane is closed with traffic being flagged around the dip. County crews are working now to patch the hole and they will re-open the road later today. After county crews patch the dip left in the road, regional crews and supervisors will investigate the situation on Monday to see if excavation and solid rock fill are needed.
Attempts to gut the nursing board and stitch it back together fell apart in the House Thursday after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle asserted the proposal went too far. The Board of Nursing will dissolve June 30 without some sort of nod from the Legislature to continue setting standards for the profession. But the board has become notorious for butting heads with the General Assembly. “In the last two years we’ve been round and round from the abuses of our nurses by that board, period,” said bill sponsor Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who wants to revamp the panel and says some of those issues “have been worked out” in his bill.
With Tennessee Republicans now enjoying the second year of their ascendency, gleeful business leaders expected to spend this legislative session pushing through changes in state law to make their lives easier and less expensive. Among other pro-business goals, they hoped to stamp out living-wage laws once and for all and to make it harder for laid-off workers to collect unemployment checks. Instead, they’ve been forced unexpectedly into a prolonged fight to fend off the latest attempt to expand Second Amendment rights in Tennessee — legislation to let employees tote any legally possessed firearm into their company parking lots and then leave the guns locked in their cars during their workday.
Legislation that critics see as a means of promoting creationism in classrooms was revived last week after a year of dormancy while a so-called “don’t say gay” bill suffered a setback that some supporters say is only temporary. Having drawn national media attention, those two bills are perhaps the best-known and most controversial measures in a broad agenda of social conservative causes pushed by Republican legislators. But they are not necessarily the most significant among the multiple bills with religious, moral and social overtones. The bill on teaching of scientific theories in Tennessee schools — dubbed “the monkey bill” by the National Center for Science Education — passed the House last year.
Mayor Ken Moore and the elected aldermen of Franklin, Tennessee, unanimously approved a resolution last Tuesday warning against overbearing central government. That may not be a surprise, since Franklin is a conservative, reliably Republican city. What is surprising is that the target of Franklin’s concern wasn’t the Obama administration or the federal government. Instead, it was the central government half an hour up the road in Nashville: the Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly. The resolution included a list of 14 bills the mayor and aldermen opposed.
Doctors who perform abortions in Tennessee could see their names listed online, and women who undergo the procedures could be unintentionally identified under a bill pending in the state legislature. State lawmakers are debating a measure that would require the Department of Health to publish more details about abortions, bringing Tennessee into a roiling, state-by-state battle over how to regulate abortion procedures. Supporters say the bill, scheduled to come up Wednesday in a state House committee, only requires state health officials to post information online that they already collect.
Opponents of mountaintop coal mining haven’t given up after Tennessee senators, in what they called “a calculated act of political cowardice,” last week delayed a vote on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. Senators avoided an outright decision on a bill to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee. Instead, they voted 19-14 to delay a floor debate and vote until April 2. Moving an issue to the crowded and hurried last days of action typically signals lawmakers do not intend to pursue it. “[This] vote was a calculated act of political cowardice,” said J.W. Randolph, Tennessee director for the environmental organization Appalachian Voices.
A group of local pastors is calling on state legislators to restore funding for a program that provides home visits to first-time parents. Healthy Start, a program aimed at reducing or preventing child abuse and neglect, is at risk of being eliminated on June 30 if legislators can’t find money to fund it. Pastors and ministry leaders from throughout the state plan to release a report Tuesday to state legislators calling on Tennessee policymakers to support funding for evidence-based programs. “The investment we, as citizens, make in this particular program pays off in the long run,” said Ted Denny, senior pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, near Clarksville, Tenn.
Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, says he will not seek re-election to his House seat and instead run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill. Niceley joins Cynthia Bundren Jackson of Rogersville, who operates a real estate firm and is president of the Hawkins County Republican Women club, and Jeffrey Brantley, a Union County commissioner, as candidates for the Republican nomination. The seat, designated as the 8th Senate District under the new Senate redistricting plan, covers Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties. It previously was designated as the 4th Senate District.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Department has arrested state Rep. David Hawk on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/xpA2hh) that the Greeneville Republican was booked into the Greene County jail on Sunday morning. Sheriff’s Lt. Edward Yokley said Hawk was being detained until his arraignment on the charge until Monday morning. No details of the incident were immediate available, and Yokley said he didn’t have any information on whether Hawk had a lawyer. Messages left for the House Republican Caucus spokesman were not immediately returned late Sunday.
State Rep. David Brian Hawk was arrested this morning on a charge of domestic violence, according to authorities. Hawk, 43, of Greeneville, was arrested by the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, according to a news release. Details of the incident were not immediately available. Hawk, a Republican, represents the 5th House District. He was booked into the Greene County jail at 10:10 a.m. today. His bond was not immediately known.
According to the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, Tennessee State Representative David Hawk was arrested Sunday morning. Sheriff Steve Burns says Hawk was arrested for domestic violence at his home in Greeneville. Hawk remains in the Greene County Jail as of Sunday evening. Because it is a domestic violence charge, Sheriff Burns says Hawk has to remain in the jail until he appears before a judge. Hawk is scheduled for arraignment in General Sessions court Monday morning.
New funds for major projects are unlikely in Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s first budget. “It’s not a year for a lot of major new initiatives,” Rogero said Thursday. She and City Council will begin hearing pitches from city departments to kick off the 2012-13 budget process today. “There’s always a lot of saying no,” she said. A near certain increase is the expected rise in the city employees pension shortfall. That cost could go from $13.06 million in this year’s $172.1 million operating budget to more than $14 million next year. Rogero previously said that she didn’t expect a property tax rate increase in the 2012-13 budget. Police and fire departments will offer their presentations at 1 p.m. today in room 453 of the City County Building.
Memphis and Shelby County officials may soon consolidate programs designed to help prisoners reconnect in society. The city has a program called Second Chance under the direction of Eddie Walsh. The county’s effort is known as the 3R Project — Rehabilitate, Renew & Reconnect — and is run by Stanley Lipford, administrator for the county’s division of corrections. The two programs apparently will soon operate together under county government. “We’re doing some things to put both entities together,” Walsh said. “There’s a move afoot to do an Office of Re-entry.” Lipford said Wednesday he would act as administrator of the merged program, which he described as an effort to transition offenders back into society.
The Madison County Board of Commissioners met last week to review the agenda for their meeting scheduled for this morning. The primary topic of discussion during the meeting was the county budget. All the county departments will turn in their proposed budgets on April 2. Commissioners discussed how much educational capital should be given to the schools, the county’s current pension plan for retirees and how this plan will change for employees hired after July 4. The current costs of prisoner transports also raised concerns.
Promise Neighborhood grant promotes health and success Hundreds of volunteers went door-to-door in East Nashville this weekend to gather resident input for a new program that would help children from cradle to career. Nashville is one of 10 locations nationwide to receive a $500,000 Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Education to promote vibrant neighborhoods, healthy families and successful students. The Martha O’Bryan Center is the lead agency for the initiative and is partnering with government agencies, nonprofits and schools to create year-round programming for about 6,000 at-risk children living in the Stratford cluster, which includes the 37206 and 37216 ZIP codes.
Here’s a thought that can’t comfort President Barack Obama: The fate of his health-care overhaul rests with four Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices. His most sweeping domestic achievement could be struck down if they stand together with Justice Clarence Thomas, another GOP appointee, who is the likeliest vote against. But the good news for Obama is that he probably needs only one of the four to side with him to win approval of the law’s crucial centerpiece, the requirement that almost everyone in this country has insurance or pays a penalty.
Lawmakers in at least five states aim to stiffen or enact cyberbullying laws as national concern grows over electronic harassment and its deadly consequences. The states — Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine and New York— want to put penalties on the books for the types of digital bullying that led students in several states to commit suicide. Among the victims was Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who jumped to his death in 2010 after his roommate used a webcam to spy on his gay encounter. The roommate, Dharun Ravi, was convicted Friday on 15 counts in a case that drew national attention. North Carolina passed a law in 2009 to criminalize cyberbullying, making it a misdemeanor for youths under 18.
Millington leaders have heard the recommendations of consultants for a municipal school system, and now it’s time for citizens to weigh in. The North Shelby County suburb will hold a series of public hearings on the feasibility report regarding Millington schools beginning at 6:30 tonight at the Millington Civic Center. Other meetings are slated for Tuesday and March 27 and 29. “My goals are to allow everyone the opportunity to make statements and ask questions,” interim Mayor Linda Carter said in an e-mail, adding that those comments will be addressed by Southern Educational Strategies when the consultants attend the March 27 public hearing.
School leaders from the Memphis and Shelby County school systems will discuss proposed budgets for next year in a hearing starting at 5:30 p.m. today at the Teaching and Learning Academy, 2485 Union. A second session at the same time and place is planned March 26. Staff from each district will present budget highlights before taking questions from the audience. The $1.1 billion MCS budget is posted at mcsk12.net. The proposed budget is about .05 percent less than last year and covers costs of educating a projected 104,829 students. Enrollment in the district has dropped about 1,840 students a year since 2007-08.
Tennessee is in a global competition for jobs. If we want to continue to be successful, we must have an outstanding education system and an attractive quality of life. But we also need to be prepared to use economic development incentives when it can make the difference for a Tennessee company expanding or an out-of-state firm choosing to relocate. The state’s FastTrack program is a valuable tool used by the Department of Economic and Community Development to provide funding for infrastructure and job training when a private-sector business commits to locate or expand in the state and create or retain jobs. Currently, the General Assembly is considering legislation (SB 2206/HB 2344) that would expand the use of this tool to include relocation expenses, temporary office space and capital improvements.
If there is cautious optimism about the increase in jobs in East Tennessee, there must be unabashed buoyancy in Roane County, where ground was broken last week for a large Volkswagen Regional Distribution Center. The popular automobile manufacturer, which recently established a $1 billion plant in Chattanooga to build the VW Passat, is investing $40 million to build a 400,000 square-foot warehouse just off Interstate 40 and near I-75. The plant is expected to generate a $3 million annual payroll, with 45 jobs in the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park. Volkswagen can expand the warehouse to 600,000 square feet.
As I finish my 24th year as mayor of my hometown, North Little Rock, Ark., I often reflect on my guiding principles. I believe in the U.S. Constitution, which I have sworn to uphold, and I have deep respect for those who have sacrificed to give us the best form of government on earth. As an elected official, I am tasked with maintaining my community’s way of life and increasing our prosperity. That’s why it is difficult for me to comprehend the message sent last Thursday by the Tennessee House of Representatives to local elected officials: Do not attract new business investment by making your community a great place to live. Do not pursue economic opportunity that also benefits the environment. And by no means should you plan ahead for what kind of community you want to leave your children and grandchildren.
Extra time could be useful: A year’s delay would give all parties time to consider the schools merger issue in a less contentious manner. A proposal to delay the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools, along with a corresponding freeze in the push to create suburban municipal school districts, is an idea worth discussion. Delaying the effective date of the merger for one year could give all parties breathing room to view the merger with a sharper focus on how a single county district could lead to a quality education for all children. Currently, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools are working toward merging into a unified county school district by the start of the 2013-2014 school year. The county’s suburban municipalities, where resistance to a countywide district has been strong, are moving to create their own individual school districts.
There are many reminders of the waves of deadly tornadoes that struck here last spring and the similarly dangerous string of storms that pummeled the region earlier this month. There are the physical reminders in the form of damaged property, ravaged landscape and still-rebuilding infrastructure. There are emotional scars, as well, present in people who suffered the storms’ fury first-hand and in those who witnessed the devastation following them. Another legacy is the increased desire by area residents to do something to help their communities prepare for future outbreaks of severe weather. The SkyWarn program provides that opportunity. SkyWarn is the National Weather Service’s volunteer network that trains individuals to identify and describe severe storms in their hometowns.
The sheer staying power of the dislike that so many Americans feel toward ObamaCare is a testament to the broad public understanding that the complicated, expensive law was a bad idea from the outset — to say nothing of the fact that it violates the Constitution’s limits on federal power. That unpopularity has been evident in literally scores of Rasmussen Reports opinion polls of likely voters since ObamaCare was signed into law about two years ago. In all but one of those surveys, a majority said the law ought to be repealed. Now, an Associated Press-GfK survey also shows how much the law is disliked. It found that only 35 percent of Americans support the law, while 47 percent oppose it.