This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Volkswagen is hiring. The world’s second biggest car company is planning right now to give 800 people a job in one right-to- work state. That is what we call the moving camera with a prompter that is half-blocked. And, you know, it just is what it is. LAUGHTER) CAVUTO: But, anyway, we are creative. That state’s governor joins me right now, Republican Bill Haslam of Tennessee. Governor, very good to have you. GOV. BILL HASLAM, R – TN: Well, thanks, Neil. CAVUTO: Well, I guess here we go. This won’t get the amount of attention that the jobs going to union states get, but what do you make of it? HASLAM: Well, it is important to me. And part of it is being a right-to-work. And Volkswagen actually has been talking — UAW has been talking there And they said, hey, we will let you make the choice. I talked with a number of employees today that said they are comfortable with the way things are.
A proposal that implements a deal Gov. Bill Haslam made with Amazon.com has been signed into law by the Republican governor. Haslam and the Seattle-based online retailer agreed to a deal last year over collecting sales taxes on goods sold in Tennessee. The measure allows Amazon to begin collecting the tax in 2014, which is expected to generate $22.8 million for the state and $9.6 million for local governments. Amazon currently has a distribution facility in Chattanooga that employs 1,700 people. The company also employs 400 people in Bradley County and plans to build in Rutherford and Wilson counties.
Governor Bill Haslam has now signed into law a deal he made with amazon.com. Haslam and the online retailer agreed to a deal last year over collecting sales taxes on goods sold in Tennessee. Amazon will begin collecting the tax in 2014. The tax is expected to generate more than $22 million for the state, and more than $9 million for local governments. Amazon currently has a distribution center in Chattanooga. It also employs 400 people in Bradley County and plans to build in Rutherford and Wilson counties.
Robertson County will soon be getting a major new manufacturing facility that is expected to bring more than 150 new jobs to the area. Kyowa America Corp., a Japanese company that is headquartered in Westminster, Calif., has chosen Portland as the location for a new manufacturing plant. Kyowa, which makes injection-molded plastic parts for automobiles, will be looking to hire for both manufacturing and office jobs for the new plant, according to Robertson County Chamber of Commerce President Margot Fosnes.
Automotive supplier Kyowa America Corp. is opening a new manufacturing plant in Portland. State officials announced Friday that the investment at the Robertson County site is worth $12 million and will create 160 jobs. Kyowa America specializes in plastic injection molding used in automotive applications. Governor Bill Haslam said in a statement that Kyowa America’s decision to locate in Tennessee reflects what he called “the business friendly climate our state offers.”
Hardwood flooring plant to add shift The Armstrong hardwood floor plant in Jackson is hiring 95 people to fill full-time positions at the company’s Jackson plant. The company primarily manufactures interior hardwood floors for the residential housing market. Armstrong World Industries, which owns the local plant, is adding employees as the nation’s housing market begins to show signs of a possible recovery, said Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for the company. Open positions include maintenance saw operators and lumber grading. “We are seeing some of the demand come back,” she said, “and we are adding shifts and employees as needed.”
A long a vacant stretch of industrial-zoned International Boulevard between Interstate 24 exits 4 and 8, home-owned Furniture Connection will open a $4 million, 60,000-square-foot regional distribution center next week. Furniture Connection owner David Berggren is about to take his retail furniture business to new and much bigger heights. With the brand-new, heavily automated warehouse, the sky’s the limit. During a tour of the distribution center this week, Berggren talked of major plans for corporate development and truck delivery from the facility to a network of Furniture Connection and Furnish 1,2,3 stores that is only expected to grow.
Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder will deliver Governor Bill Haslam’s proclamation to Barry Rice, President of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 240 on Saturday. Haslam has declared March 29, 2012 Vietnam Veterans Day. The 110th Congress established a “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” to be acknowledged nationwide at the end of March each year. The United States Armed Forces completed the withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam on March 30, 1973.
A Nashville woman is suing six state Human Services officials, claiming they encouraged prosecutors to bring fraud charges against her. Patricia Leggs was accused in 2009 of falsifying rosters to steal $25,000 from a federal program that provides food to poor children. The charges were eventually dropped, according to her suit. Leggs’ attorney, Terry Clayton, told The Tennessean that the bad publicity turned parents away from Leggs’ day-care center, and she still is struggling to recover financially. According to the lawsuit, Leggs was forced to post bond and hire an attorney, and she suffered embarrassment, public humiliation and $300,000 in lost income.
New Life Lodge to cut capacity, accept only adults New Life Lodge, once the state’s largest drug rehabilitation facility, will reopen in April but at a greatly reduced capacity, after being effectively shut down by the state in November following the deaths of three patients “within days of admission and/or discharge” and concerns about its quality of medical care, according to public records released Friday. New Life Lodge, located in Burns, will accept only adult patients when it reopens. A spokeswoman for TennCare said none of the agency’s managed care providers are currently contracted with New Life Lodge.
Employees at Taft Youth Development Center soon will be getting 90-day termination notices in anticipation that the new state budget won’t have any funding for the Bledsoe County facility, state officials said. Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said Friday that officials have met with Taft staff pending the release of the notices to about 150 employees remaining at the center in Pikeville, Tenn., that holds some of the state’s toughest young offenders. A new prison for adults — Bledsoe County Corrections Complex — has been built within eyeshot of Taft, and some Taft employees could get jobs there, she said.
Facing expected closure this summer by the state Department of Mental Health, some 60 employees of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute already have left for other jobs. The remaining 314 on Monday will receive notice that their jobs will be terminated in 90 days, with the countdown to start April 1. Tennessee Department of Mental Health Director of Communications Grant Lawrence said the notice is to comply with labor law, contingent on the General Assembly’s approval of the department’s plan that includes closing the facility June 30, with “limited staff” still present.
A Clarksville campus of Nashville State Community College is on schedule to open in the fall. Nashville State’s Eileen Crane told The Leaf-Chronicle (http://leafne.ws/GJNoAb) that renovations on the former Clarksville Saturn dealership began this week. Construction should be complete by Aug. 15 and classes will begin 12 days later on Aug. 27. The satellite campus will include six large classrooms, a fully equipped biology lab, a student lounge, and a student services office. Nashville State also bought 10 adjoining acres for a future expansion. A trailer will be used for on-site registration beginning on April 9.
Wildlife officials want public to be safe, enjoy sightings As spring blooms in Tennessee, the state’s fast-growing population of black bears comes out of hibernation and begins foraging for food, giving people a chance to see these fascinating creatures up close. But try to make sure it’s not too close, said Daryl Ratajczak, resident bear expert at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in Nashville and chief of the wildlife division. “There are going to be bears all over the place because we had a record year for cubs,” he said.
Two men, including a former correctional officer, planned to make a copy of a prison key in a plot to free Tennessee’s only female death row inmate, according to an indictment. Donald Joseph Kohut and Justin Wesley Heflin were arrested this week in what authorities say was a foiled plot to break out Christa Gail Pike, who has been on death row since 1996 for the slaying of a Knoxville Job Corps student. The unsealed indictment says in January, Kohut and Heflin, who worked as a guard at the Tennessee Prison for Women where the 36-year-old Pike is held, arranged to trace a prison key and have it copied to be used in the escape attempt.
Funeral services for Irvin H. Kilcrease Jr., Tennessee’s first African-American chancery court judge, are scheduled for Monday, his son said Friday. Mr. Kilcrease, who served on the bench for more than two decades, died March 20. He was 80. Services will take place at Kayne Avenue Baptist Church, 1025 12th Ave. S. Visitation begins at 11 a.m., with funeral services at 12 p.m., said Irvin H. Kilcrease III. Burial will follow at Greenwood Cemetery on Elm Hill Pike.
Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner is now under federal probe, officials confirmed Friday. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which spearheaded an investigation of the disgraced judge for violations of state law, is continuing its probe. This time, however, agents are working at the direction of federal prosecutors, spokeswoman Kristin Helm said. “The case remains open and ongoing, and TBI agents are continuing to investigate Baumgartner,” Helm said in an email. “Specifically, we are looking at possible federal violations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
The state Legislature made several — and at time surprising — moves this week, advancing bills on tax matters broadly affecting the business community. Notable in recent weeks has been the amount of legislation committees in the House and Senate are scheduling, and it’s clear only the highest priorities are getting serious consideration. Republicans in control of the Tennessee General Assembly call it efficiency, and Democrats call it railroading bills without proper consideration.
State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, says he plans to seek re-election to his House District 30 seat and not run for the state Senate. “I will be submitting my qualification papers on Monday morning to the Hamilton County Election Commission,” Dean said in a statement. Dean said that, while he has been “overwhelmed by friends and supporters that have urged me to seek Senate District 10, I feel that currently, I need to continue my focus on my House duties.” Senate District 10 has leaned Democratic in the past but now favors Republicans as a result of the recent passage of a GOP-drawn redistricting plan by the state Legislature.
A religious freedom rally organized by opponents of the Obama administration’s health-care plan drew about 500 protesters to the steps of the state Capitol on Friday. The crowd cheered as clergy and politicians condemned a mandate requiring contraceptive coverage as unconstitutional. They say the mandate requires religious schools, hospitals and nonprofits to violate their moral teaching by providing health insurance that covers contraception and sterilization. Bishop David Choby of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville said the government should respect the rights of citizens to follow their faith.
Several hundred protesters gathered at the state capitol today to rally against what they see as an attack on religious freedom. The protest came as part of a coordinated push by Catholics and others in dozens of cities today, over a federal requirement for most health plans to cover contraception. The speakers included U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) who said the federal mandate forces religious groups “to either violate the law or violate their conscience” in what she called “an unprecedented assault on our first-amendment right of religious freedom.”
The city of Kingston is out about $70,000 after an employee accidentally dropped a digit in the city’s property tax rate. Bills showing a tax rate of $1.034 per $100 of assessed value were sent to more than 3,500 taxpayers last fall. They should have read $1.0834, a five-cent difference. City Manager Jim Pinkerton told the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/GHVeQj) that officials caught the error about 10 days ago when they noticed that property taxes were “coming in a little low.” Each penny in property tax generates about $14,000.
The crumbling Chickamauga lock could run out of maintenance money next year unless a new funding formula is adopted for America’s inland waterways. With work on a bigger replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam already stalled because of a lack of money, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2013 doesn’t include any funds to maintain the existing lock. During a tour for two key members of the U.S. House Transportation Committee on Friday, lock engineers said problems with concrete growth in the chamber could force the river passageway to close permanently within the next three years without additional maintenance.
If the lawsuit contesting President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul is to succeed, it will have to overcome setbacks that left the challengers with unfavorable lower-court rulings and a less-than-ideal plaintiff. Some participants in the challenge say the setbacks could have been minimized with a more focused strategy that was proposed early on by some prominent conservative lawyers but never fully adopted, while others say any past stumbles will ultimately have little significance. The Supreme Court will hear the case over three days starting Monday.
In a sharp rebuke, a federal judge on Friday reversed a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke a critical permit for one of the nation’s largest mountaintop removal mining projects. The United States District Court judge, Amy Berman Jackson, said that the E.P.A.’s unilateral decision in January 2011 to rescind the waste disposal permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, W.Va., exceeded the agency’s authority and violated federal law. She declared that the permit was now valid, paving the way for a mining project covering 2,278 acres to go forward.
Fear not, Middle Tennessee — robots aren’t taking over the world. At least not yet. Online sales giant Amazon.com recently dropped $775 million in cash to purchase Kiva Systems, the company known for manufacturing orange robots that move items about a warehouse. The acquisition is Amazon’s biggest since 2009. Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako said the purchase would not impact Amazon’s plans to hire more than 1,300 real people in Middle Tennessee, where it will open a pair of distribution centers later this year in Rutherford and Wilson County.
Nashville was the No. 1 growth city in the nation in 2011, according to the U-Haul National Migration Trend Report, released Friday. Among cities with more than 5,000 families moving, Tennessee’s capital city registered the highest percentage of growth, at 10.39 percent, moving up from No. 15 with 2.99 percent, in 2010, the moving company said. Nashville was the only city in Tennessee ranked among the top 30. Cities are ranked by calculating the percentage of inbound versus outbound moves. In a separate survey, U-Haul said Florida and Kansas led the nation for growth last year.
Memphis is one of five cities to receive a $25,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors to demolish about 20 vacant, blighted homes. More than 30 cities applied for a NAR “Game Changer” grant, a new program with somewhat open-ended criteria centered on bettering the real estate industry and America’s homeowners. “There’s really not a set definition of what they are looking for,” said Aubrie Kobernus, director of governmental affairs for the Memphis Area Association of Realtors. “The idea is that it’s something out of the box that can hopefully be replicated in other cities that changes the game in some way of your community.”
To vary an old metaphor, a week of big bangs on the school-merger front has ended, not with a whimper (to suggest so would be both inaccurate and discourteous) but with — oh, with whispery vacillation on the part of the contending parties. Mark Norris, the Collierville Republican who is state Senate Majority Leader and has legislative authority second only to that of Senate Speaker/Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, was essentially biding his time on Friday, following a surprise rebuff in the House to legislation of his on behalf of municipal school districts for Shelby County.
Shelby County Commissioners will meet privately with their attorneys Monday, March 26, to see whether they have any options left in a redistricting scrap that is now firmly in the courts. The commission meets in formal open session Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St. Before that, attorneys for the commission as a whole will relay word that Shelby County Chancellor Arnold Goldin is considering a ruling on whether the commission needs seven votes or nine votes to approve a plan.
Metro Nashville Public Schools issued a preemptive response to allegations of possible cheating on standardized tests, findings due to be published Sunday as part of a nationwide investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The newspaper declined to release details of its investigation early, but an employee confirmed it will run online Saturday afternoon and in Sunday’s newspaper. A Metro Nashville spokeswoman said the district was tipped to the story when an Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter called this week to get a response to the findings.
Mayor Dan Eldridge says Washington County TN Schools will be short 3.5 million dollars next year, and he says the only local fix would be to consolidate the county school system with Johnson City’s. With federal and state funds running out Washington County Schools faces tough decisions. “That puts us around three and a half million dollars short for the 2012-13 school year just to maintain status quo,” says Director of Schools Ron Dykes of the budget shortfall anticipated for next year. Mayor Eldridge recently suggested consolidation withJohnson City.
Tutt Sloan Bradford, 94, former owner and publisher of The Daily Times died Friday at Shannondale Health Care Center in Maryville. He was active in community and philanthropic endeavors until just the past three years, family members said. He served in the Army Air Corps in the European theater in World War II and received the bronze star. He worked in the advertising department of the Spartanburg, S.C. newspaper, was publisher of the Cleveland Daily Banner in Cleveland, Tenn., and the Bristol (Va.) Herald-Courier before he purchased the Daily Times in Maryville in 1955.
The conservative political movement that has rallied behind the cry of states’ rights in recent years on fronts including immigration and health care is now focusing its energies on a much older question in the American West: public lands. On Friday, Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah, a Republican, signed into law House Bill 148. It asks the federal government, which owns a majority of the land in the state, to give back more than 20 million acres. A similar measure, passed by the Arizona Senate last month, is awaiting further action in the Capitol in Phoenix.
Government officials have no “jobs switch” they can flip to create private-sector employment. But that unfortunately doesn’t curtail the tendency among some in government to believe that more government action is all that’s needed to generate jobs. Just a few more subsidies, a little more intervention in the market, a bit more “priming of the pump” will do the trick, they assume. But it doesn’t work. In fact, one of the hardest lessons for many public officials to learn is that often government does the most to help create jobs by simply avoiding improper interventions rather than by devising some new program.
Knoxville was just named “The Most Challenging Place to Live with Spring Allergies” by the Allergy and Asthma Foundation. A warmer-than-usual winter has brought about an early spring, which means puffy eyes, scratchy throats and sneezing for the city’s allergy sufferers. For those individuals, being able to purchase medicines containing pseudoephedrine without a prescription is essential to their health and well-being. In 2011, Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly passed the “I Hate Meth Act,” a landmark piece of legislation that implemented tougher penalties for methamphetamine criminals.
On Monday, the National Federation of Independent Business and 26 states will go before the U.S. Supreme Court and argue that the health-care law President Obama signed into law a couple of years ago should be struck down. This is a big deal. Usually, the court sets aside one hour for oral arguments. It allowed 90 minutes for Bush vs. Gore 11½ years ago. It’s allotted six hours over three days for “Obamacare.” The issue here is whether the government can force you to buy health insurance. I’m the state director of NFIB, the nation’s leading small-business association.
On the evening of Jan. 20, I had the honor of representing the people of Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District on the House floor during President Obama’s third State of the Union address. Amidst all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the evening, it is easy to forget that the State of the Union serves a very practical purpose. This is the president’s opportunity to update the American people on the progress of his administration’s agenda. While the president articulated the status of many of his key initiatives, I was surprised that he chose to not make a single mention of his signature legislative achievement — his health care law.
Dozens of suits against drug companies have been dismissed in federal and state courts because of a decision by the Supreme Court last year that makes it virtually impossible to sue generic manufacturers for failing to provide adequate warning of a prescription drug’s dangers. This outrageous denial of a patient’s right to recover fair damages makes it imperative that Congress or the Food and Drug Administration fashion a remedy. This situation is particularly bizarre because patients using the brand-name drug can sue when those using the generic form of the drug cannot, as explained by Katie Thomas in The Times on Wednesday.