This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee is among the top states in the country in which to do business, according to an annual survey of CEOs by Chief Executive magazine According to the survey, Tennessee ranks No. 4 in the U.S., unchanged from last year. Texas claimed the No. 1 spot, followed by Florida and North Carolina. CEOs deemed California as the worst state in which to do business, followed by New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan. Chief Executive’s complete rankings are available here.
Tennessee maintained its spot as fourth best state in the nation for doing business, according to Chief Executive magazine’s annual Best & Worst States Survey released today. Texas rated as the best state in the country for conducting business and California as the worst. The rankings were based on responses from 650 business leaders, assessing states in terms of regulations, tax policies, workforce quality, educational resources, quality of living and infrastructure.
America’s corporate leaders like the South with seven of their eight favorite states to do business located below the Mason-Dixon line. For the eighth consecutive year, Texas ranked No. 1 in a survey of 650 CEOs by Chief Executive magazine. Tennessee maintained its No. 4 ranking among the 50 states for its favorable business climate, while Georgia slipped three places this year to No. 8. The worst states for business, according to the Chief Executive magazine survey, are California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has slapped down a bill that takes aim at Vanderbilt University’s controversial anti-discrimination policy. This is the governor’s first veto since taking office. Haslam’s written statement leads off with this: “I don’t agree with Vanderbilt’s ‘all-comers’ policy.” It requires that student organizations – though not fraternities and sororities – allow anyone to join and run for leadership positions. Christian organizations have butted heads with the university.
Governor says state should stay out of private affair Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday that he will veto legislation that targets Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” nondiscrimination policy, saying it is inappropriate for the state to meddle in a private affair. Haslam also said in a prepared statement that he will allow legislation that caps hiring of foreign nationals by charter schools to become law without his signature, a sign of his misgivings about the measure.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he intends to issue his first veto — a bill that seeks to pressure private Vanderbilt University into dropping an anti-discrimination policy affecting campus organizations that has religious groups and conservative state lawmakers in an uproar. In a statement, Haslam said that “while I don’t agree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”
Republicans and Democrats gave varying assessments of the just-concluded session of the Tennessee legislature. Republicans called it a “remarkable” turning point for the state, and Democrats cited a litany of “crazy bills” that prompted negative attention nationally on the state. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he’ll use his veto power for the first time on one of them: a measure intended to pressure Vanderbilt University to drop an anti-discrimination policy for campus student organizations receiving university funding.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released the following statements regarding HB 3540/SB 3345 and HB 3576/SB 3597. House Bill 3540/SB 3345 addresses the hiring of foreign nationals as teachers in Tennessee charter schools. “We continue to put a lot of time and effort in improving education in Tennessee. Establishing reputable and impactful charter schools to offer education options to parents and students has been an important part of that process.
A measure limiting charter schools’ ability to hire foreigners will become Tennessee law, but it won’t bear Governor Bill Haslam’s signature. The law says no more than 3-and-a-half percent of a charter school’s employees can be non-citizens and it requires the schools to disclose any connection to foreign governments, including financial support. The Governor issued a statement saying he won’t veto the bill because he doesn’t think it will get in the way of efforts to improve education.
Gov. Bill Haslam will allow a bill that limits the number of foreign workers at charter schools to become law without his signature, he announced Wednesday. Haslam said in a statement that he questions the constitutionality of the measure, but said changes made to the bill late in the legislative session eased some of those concerns. Under the bill, a chartering authority would not be allowed to approve a school’s application if it planned for 3.5 percent or more of its staff to be hired from among the foreign workers in the H1B or J-1 visa programs.
One day after Tennessee lawmakers ended their session, Governor Bill Haslam is at work signing some of the chambers’ bills into law. One of the newest ones cracks down on pawn shops. A Knoxville city ordinance already requires customers to among other things show ID before they pawn something. Now a new state law will also require that, along with forcing all pawnbrokers to take a thumb print of any person pledging property. The measure was sponsored by Senator Overbey.
When Gov. Bill Haslam signs an anti-gang bill just passed by the Legislature, Chattanooga investigators and prosecutors will be able to start building cases to send away some of the most violent gang members, officials say. At a news conference Wednesday, local officials said they hope gang violence will decline now that the state’s RICO, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, law encompasses gang members. Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, who sponsored the bill in the House, said the law will give authorities better tools to go after gangs.
Program to train middle school teachers The University of Tennessee at Martin received the largest amount awarded to any institution this year from the federal Race to the Top grant for the STEM Professional Development Program. The overall purpose of the STEM program is to provide high-quality, research-based professional development to K-12 teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, UT Martin officials said in a news release. The university has received a $200,000 grant.
New course of study teaches agricultural, business applications Unmanned aerial drones may best be known for flying over the skies of Afghanistan, providing military intelligence or launching attacks against suspected terrorists. But Middle Tennessee State University is banking on drones being the next big thing in commercial business. MTSU’s Department of Aerospace is revving up to offer a new program on drone technology, focusing heavily on commercial uses of the small, unmanned aircraft in nonmilitary settings.
UTC’s Philip Oldham is expected to be named the next president of Tennessee Technological University, pending approval by the Tennessee Board of Regents on Friday. The board will meet via telephone to consider Chancellor John Morgan’s recommendation for Oldham to replace Bob Bell, who will retire from Tennessee Tech on July 1 after leading the Cookeville, Tenn., campus for 12 years, according to a news release. Oldham, who was selected after an extensive nationwide search that began earlier this year, is provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
They spilled a little beyond their original mark of Friday, but the Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up work Tuesday in a fashion that was, while frenzied, earlier than usual, as Republicans pledged. In the end, the session further demonstrated what last year and all the debate since first revealed: Business interests can advance legislation they never could before, but they’re also increasingly wary of legislation from the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Religion, sex and guns overshadow wins for governor The headlines this year may have been about guns, sex and religion. But the legislative session completed this week may be better remembered later for civil service, crime and tax cuts. With Tennessee lawmakers back home for the year, Gov. Bill Haslam can boast that most of his proposals have been enacted, despite an environment at the state Capitol that seemed to revolve at times around everything but the 55-bill plan he put forward in January.
While the 2012 legislative session was notably short, as legislators had hoped, it was still full of political story lines and, often, national-news making proposals. In his second legislative session as the state’s top executive, Gov. Bill Haslam oversaw sweeping changes to the state’s civil service rules and cuts to the state’s inheritance and food taxes. Swirling all around though, were controversial measures on God, guns and gays, which tested the governor’s preference for deferring to the legislature and several times forced visible interference on the part of Republican leadership.
The 107th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned Tuesday without a final showdown over a contentious gun issue and the governor said he will decide in the next couple of days whether to veto a bill targeting Vanderbilt University’s policies on religious student groups. Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect refused to say until the end whether he would try to pull the measure backed by the National Rifle Association directly to the floor.
Tennessee Democrats are bemoaning the legislative session that just ended, using words like “crazy” and “embarrassing” to describe laws passed this spring. It’s a sharp contrast to the glowing review from majority Republicans. After the session’s end Republicans championed the governor’s civil-service overhaul, as well as cuts to the estate tax. House Speaker Beth Harwell praised lawmakers for setting partisanship aside.
A proposal that would allow Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law failed in the House on Tuesday after about 28 members were either absent or abstained on the vote. The chamber voted 45-26 along partisan lines to approve the bill, which was sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon. That was five votes short of the majority needed to pass measures in the 99-member chamber.
A proposal that would require roll-your-own cigarette retailers to pay a licensing fee and tax and adhere to certain restrictions is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure was sent to Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday after the Senate voted 24-2 to agree with changes made by the House. Pipe tobacco, a popular product of roll-your-own retailers, is not listed on the state attorney general’s directory of tobaccos.
Loophole has cost state $4 million in revenue since 2009 Dozens of Tennessee tobacco shops have taken advantage of a tax loophole that allows them to sell roll-your-own cigarettes at a deep discount, but those days may be drawing to a close. Tennessee lawmakers this week passed a bill that would require roll-your-own retailers to pay a licensing fee and a cigarette tax on each carton they sell. And proposals in Congress, including one sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, would stymie the growth of roll-your-own machines by designating the smoke shops that house them as manufacturers.
A proposal that would require agencies to verify that applicants for public benefits are legal residents is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure was sent to Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday after the Senate voted 29-0 to concur with minor changes made by the House. The legislation was delayed in the House last year because the cost of the measure was a little over $1 million. But House sponsor Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, told The Associated Press earlier this week that the tab has been reduced to around $100,000.
Tight deadline on public hearings, setting ballots With the blessing of election officials and a tight timetable, suburban governments are scurrying to schedule special meetings and public hearings to consider ordinances by the end of the month setting up municipal schools referendums. The outlying governments believe they must approve the ordinances and submit proper notification to the Shelby County Election Commission by June 1 to meet the 60-day requirement for inclusion on the Aug. 2 ballot.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, one of several that brought national attention on the Tennessee legislature this year, wasn’t put up for the final vote needed for passage before the legislature adjourned Tuesday night. Its House sponsor, Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, decided not to push SB49 to final approval, saying officials with the state Department of Education and state Board of Education pledged to send a letter to all Tennessee schools “telling them they cannot teach this subject in grades kindergarten through eight.”
Blountville Republican Ron Ramsey said he couldn’t pull the trigger on targeting funding for major regional projects when he first became Tennessee’s lieutenant governor in 2007. “I wasn’t about to ask for things in my area when we were cutting in other areas, but state revenues have turned around some. … When that came, I thought it was fair we get some projects on this end of the state,” Ramsey said Wednesday. His fingerprints were all over two major economic development projects included in the $31.5 billion budget passed this week by the GOP-controlled legislature.
A frequent campaign tactic these days is to have someone follow your opponent from event to event, hoping to capture a YouTube moment that can be devastating. Congressional candidate Scottie Mayfield got a YouTube clip recently when he spoke to a group of University of Tennessee students. It is believed to have been filmed by someone friendly to one of his opponents, Weston Wamp. In rambling answers to questions, he couldn’t list any of his top priorities if elected, saying it would depend on what committee he is assigned.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Democratic Party, perhaps depending on when and where you look for it. Outspokenness was not in short supply last Saturday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new West Tennessee Democratic Resource Center on Poplar. On hand for the event were 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, Memphis mayor A C Wharton, and state Democratic chairman Chip Forrester of Nashville. Cohen’s declared Democratic-primary opponent, Tomeka Hart, was among those in the crowd, but the congressman paid her little heed.
Registered voters in Maury County can expect correspondence from the county election commission in the coming weeks, a result of changes brought about by city, county and state officials’ recent completion of their reapportionment. According to Administrator of Elections Todd Baxter, all of the nearly 50,000 registered voters in Maury County will be receiving a new voter’s registration card from the Election Commission, which if applicable, details their new voting districts and precincts.
Some Knox County commissioners are ready to let voters have a voice in paying for at least part of the school system’s multimillion-dollar spending plan. Officials say the only way to fully fund a $35 million proposal from Knox County Schools is to raise taxes. Knox County Commission Chairman Mike Hammond supports offering a ballot measure by which residents could raise the sales tax by a half cent in exchange for reducing or eliminating the county wheel tax.
City Council member Ed Ford Jr.’s students finished their algebra tests this week and he took them to Chik-fil-A as a reward. It is one of the few diversions Ford is allowing himself this budget season in which he and other council members are contemplating ways around the 47-cent property tax hike Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has proposed for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “I’ve been working on this for the last four-and-a-half months,” he said Tuesday, May 1, after the council budget committee’s second session.
The Rutherford County property assessor is facing allegations of sexual harassment, retaliatory firings, cheating on a test and artificially inflating home appraisals to keep tax revenues high. WSMV-Channel 4 reports that five women with a combined 70 years of experience in the assessor’s office have recently leveled charges against Bill Boner. Each of them either was fired, resigned or retired since Boner took office three years ago. Two of the employees, Cathy Dumm and Janie Zumbro, have filed federal Equal Employment Opportunity complaints against Boner.
In January 1937, the Forked Deer River reached major flood stage cresting at nearly 31 feet. The historic flood devastated the Southtown area of Dyersburg. The residents reported that they did not think the event would ever be duplicated. They were right. On May 4, 2010 the event was not duplicated, it was superseded when the Forked Deer crested at just over 31 feet. The Southtown area, which had seen severe flooding over the years, had never seen the waters rise as high as they did between May 3 and 4.
A state legislator has introduced a bill this week that could ease the financial burden for families of fallen soldiers — a bill inspired by a local soldier and the taxes his family was left with after his death. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais introduced H.R. 5044, the Andrew P. Carpenter Tax Act, named for Columbia native Lance Cpl. Andrew P. Carpenter, who was killed in action Feb. 19, 2011, in Afghanistan. About four years ago Carpenter’s parents co-signed for a private loan to help pay for his college education.
The Environmental Protection Agency has found Knox and Blount counties and part of Anderson County in violation of federal smog regulations — primarily because they contribute to air pollution in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The EPA’s nonattainment label could hamper future economic development, officials said Wednesday. Bob Martineau, the state’s commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation, called the EPA’s decision disappointing and said the state has been working hard to improve air quality.
Sixty-five soldiers return Thursday to Fort Campbell after a yearlong deployment to Kuwait and Afghanistan. They are members of the 227th Quartermaster Company, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade. A welcome ceremony is scheduled at the PPC Bay A. Meanwhile 170 Tennessee National Guard soldiers from Ripley and Dyersburg also return home Thursday after a year’s deployment to Kuwait.
Since the first drug court opened its doors in 1989 in Miami, every state has embraced the popular drug treatment program for nonviolent drug offenders. The voluntary programs require that for at least a year, offenders submit to regular drug tests, check in with a supervising judge and complete court-prescribed treatments. If offenders fail a drug test, miss a court appearance or commit a new crime, they face strict sanctions, which can include jail time. Results show the program has consistently lowered recidivism rates, while returning on investments.
The future of health care in Roane County was celebrated Wednesday as more than 200 members of the community joined elected and hospital officials in marking the progress of a $72 million replacement hospital. Covenant Health opted to mark the occasion in the middle of the project in lieu of a ground breaking because the hillside would have made it difficult. The hospital campus is located on more than 40 acres just off the Harriman/Midtown exit of Interstate 40.
More companies join Gaylord in blaming federal government The May 2010 flood that closed part of Gibson Guitar’s factory, halting production of Les Paul guitars, has spawned a new federal lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs seeking to lay blame upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Weather Service. Gibson, Nissan North America and eight other companies (or their insurers) each with millions of dollars in losses from the flood, are the latest businesses to sue the U.S. government in the wake of the 2-year-old disaster.
Grand Avenue’s HQ is the latest addition to First, Oldham streets Two years after the big flood, one of the ravaged industrial areas along the Cumberland River is bouncing back, sparked most recently by a hospitality company’s $3.6 million investment. Along North First and Oldham streets, just north of LP Field, businesses such as Grand Avenue, Restaurant Depot and Slow & Low B-B-Q Bistro have come in since the flood. Others, such as the Alley-Cassetty brickyard, Rexel Electrical & Datacom Supplies and the Days Inn motel have cleaned up water damage and remained.
President Barack Obama’s administration fielded 20 Tennessee business leaders in Washington Tuesday in a talk about what efforts could help spur the economy The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and individual business leaders from a range of industries all met with various departments of the administration. Bill Nigh, president and CEO of Bank of Nashville, said talks centered on two things: services the feds say can help, and ways business hopes the government will ease costly regulations.
Broadband-connected businesses in Tennessee bring in about $300,000 more in annual revenue compared to businesses that aren’t connected, according to a report released today by Connected Tennessee. In addition, 42,000 state businesses use the Internet to advertise job openings or accept job applications, including 4,000 that exclusively accept applications via the Internet, the report found. “These findings have important implications for all policymaker and business leaders in Tennessee,” said Tom Ferree, president and chief operating officer of Connected Nation.
Solar power is on track to become a major source of energy for the United States, and will likely need less federal incentive than other energy sources to get there, according to a study by the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. The 128-page report — Assessment of Incentives and Employment Impacts of Solar Industry Deployment — touts the potential of solar power to reduce energy costs, produce hundreds of thousands of jobs and create a favorable trade balance for the country as American companies export products and materials for international clean energy markets.
Mountain States HealthAlliance, one of our region’s largest employers, announced major cuts to its job force. Mountain States HealthAlliancemade the announcement this morning during a press conference inJohnson City. The job reductions are a small part of the organizations plan to eliminate $70 million in expenses over the next several months. MountainStateHealthAlliancereports they have released 168 total job positions. The organization says 133 positions inWashington County,Tennesseehave been cut.
A perfect storm of factors has forced Mountain States Health Alliance to announce the elimination of 168 positions across its expansive system as the health care company prepares to handle coming changes that will affect the health care industry nationwide. Mountain States President and CEO Dennis Vonderfecht announced the cuts Wednesday morning during a news conference at the company’s Market Street Centre.
The Scott County Board of Supervisors will have some tough decisions on education funding to make in the coming weeks following a request from school officials Wednesday for an additional $3.3 million to help cover budget gaps and avoid layoffs. Supervisors took no immediate action on granting the roughly 70 percent increase for the 2012-13 fiscal year following a presentation from Scott County School Superintendent John Ferguson.
The North Nashville mother at the center of a lawsuit against Metro public schools will end her nearly three-year trip to the witness stand today. Frances Spurlock’s daughter spent fifth grade at Bellevue Middle School but began attending sixth grade at John Early Middle School in fall 2009, after the rezoning plan at issue moved her there. Three weeks later, Spurlock and her husband, Jeff, filed suit against the district, saying their daughter had no textbooks. A federal judge ordered the district to give textbooks to every John Early student.
Also denies Knoxville Charter Academy agreement extension The Knox County school board on Wednesday unanimously upheld the termination of a Bearden Middle School teacher who was accused of making inappropriate comments to students and for failing to show up for work at times. Social studies teacher Mikel Burns appealed his termination and requested a hearing with an impartial hearing officer. He also appealed that ruling, which brought the case in front of the school board.
Two people are in custody after investigators discovered meth components outside a Unicoi County home. The meth lab was found at a home on Virgie Hicks Road in Unicoi after several months of investigations. That’s according to Sheriff Mike Hensley. Deputies arrested Jarrod Hicks and Sara Simmons. Sheriff Hensley says the two rented the property. Investigators say none of the components deputies found were active, but investigators did find some meth locked inside the home in a safe.
Thank you, Gov. Haslam. Your decision to veto HB 3576/SB 3597, a bill that would force Vanderbilt University to exempt student religious groups from its nondiscrimination policy should send a signal that attempts by some legislators to force their social agenda on private entities is neither appropriate nor appreciated in Tennessee. Vanderbilt’s forward-thinking policy, intended to protect students from discrimination on campus, has been turned on its head in recent months by politically motivated groups and individuals who claimed their rights would be violated by being unable to reject any student from their on-campus organization without cause.
Imagine two eighth-grade students, Student A and Student B, who both attend public schools in the United States. Student A is significantly less likely to have a certified or experienced teacher, over twice as likely to have street gangs present at school and is 10 times less likely to take an AP exam than Student B. In anything else that could possibly affect student achievement — parent involvement, poverty, child care — Student B has the clear advantage.
Where do you find a used crucifix these days? A gun lobbyist suggests one be installed at the entrance to the General Assembly as a symbol of his plans to crucify the political career of the leader of the Republican majority in the state House of Representatives. When the Republicans came into the majority in the state House and Senate, they passed a raft of gun bills expanding the rights of gun owners across the state. I doubt you can find a state legislature anywhere more Second Amendment friendly than the folks in Nashville.
City officials have narrowed the options for pension reform to two plans — one a defined contribution plan similar to a private-sector 401(k) and a hybird model that combines a traditional pension with a defined contribution plan. Either path would represent drastic reform of a program that will more than double in cost over the next 10 years, but moving to a defined contribution plan is the option that offers the best protection for taxpayers.
Federally subsidized student loan rates were bound to become an election-year fight, since Congress provided only enough money for five years of low-interest rates in 2007. Now that the rates are about to double, both Democrats and Republicans are failing to do the right thing again. Members of Congress from both parties say they want to prevent interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans from going up in July, but they are fighting over how to pay for a solution.