This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Chief Executive magazine has named Tennessee one of the four top states for business. Tennessee ranked fourth in the annual ratings for the second straight year. Others in the top five were Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana. Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said the state continuously works to create and maintain a business friendly environment that encourages companies to grow and invest in Tennessee.
Middle Tennessee State University has broken ground on its $147 million Science Building. The Tennessean reports this is the first increase in space for science education since 1967. During that time, enrollment at MTSU almost has quadrupled. MTSU granted almost 700 degrees in biology, chemistry and related fields in 2009-10. University President Sidney McPhee said that number could increase by 25 percent after the new science building opens in spring 2015.
Middle Tennessee State University broke ground last week on its $147 million science building. This is the first increase in space for science education since 1967. During that time, enrollment at MTSU has almost quadrupled, going from 6,779 students to 26,442 in fall 2011. MTSU granted almost 700 degrees in biology, chemistry and related fields in 2009-2010. The Tennessean reported that University President Sidney McPhee said that number could increase by 25 percent after the new building opens in spring 2015.
For the first time in his two years in office, Governor Bill Haslam will pick up his veto stamp and smack down a bill that passed late in the session. The measure was aimed at Vanderbilt University’s ‘all comers’ policy for student groups. It’s one of a number of bills dealing with social issues passed in this session. WPLN’s Bradley George talks with Capitol reporter Joe White about how the Governor has reacted to these bills.
In the months after his first legislative session, freshman Gov. Bill Haslam frequently boasted about earning unanimous approval of his budget plan and a near perfect record with his legislative agenda. The Republican’s sophomore effort wasn’t as much of a slam dunk. Haslam’s $31 billion spending plan went to a conference committee for the first time since the income tax fights of more than a decade ago, and 29 lawmakers voted against the final version.
Gift-tax elimination should help wealthy taxpayers A bill repealing the state gift tax is expected to put more money in some Tennesseans’ pockets including those of one highly recognizable taxpayer, Gov. Bill Haslam. The super wealthy businessman-turned-politician gave his tacit approval this spring as fellow Republicans pushed the bill through the General Assembly. Passed by the House and Senate on the final two days of the session, it now goes to Haslam, who’s expected to sign it.
As the pressure builds for colleges not only to enroll more students but actually graduate them, more schools are turning to their admission requirements as part of the solution. More campuses nationwide and in the area are toughening admission standards to make sure that students who get into college also are the ones with the best chance of succeeding. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga raised the minimum ACT score from 17 to 18 in 2008, and starting last fall, the minimum high school grade point average requirement went from 2.75 to 2.85. Dalton State College this year began requiring a minimum SAT score of 430 for the verbal section and 400 for math.
Most University of Tennessee faculty and staff are happy with their jobs but want better communication and compensation from the administration, according to survey results being shared with employees over the next two days. The 20-minute, 119-question voluntary survey, conducted across the UT system last year, is the first in a new initiative to gauge employee satisfaction every three years in a push to make the university one of the top employers in higher education, said Linda Hendricks, UT vice president for human resources.
Lawmakers have yet to enact safeguards When Daphne Carroll suffered permanent injuries from a botched cosmetic laser procedure, she tried to file a complaint with state regulatory boards but had nowhere to go. She said she felt like a pingpong ball. The Tennessee Department of Health, which has purview over doctors, sent her to the state Board of Cosmetology, which referred her back to Health. She learned that Tennessee allows medical spas to operate with less accountability than doctors’ offices.
Although Tennessee frequently ranks in the bottom tier of health measurements, a new report praises the state for dramatically reducing hospital-associated infection rates. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report commended Tennessee for reducing infections by 34 percent from 2009 to 2010 and also for having the second-largest decrease in the country in its overall standardized infection ratio for bloodstream infections from central IV lines.
Tennessee motorists soon may be able to show their support on the road for new veterans nursing homes. Pre-orders for a specialty plate are on sale now to raise funds in support of nursing homes in Bradley and Montgomery counties. The plate shows silhouettes of two people saluting an American flag with the state name in script across the top, crossed U.S. and Tennessee flags to the left of the plate number and the words “Proudly Supporting Those Who Served” across the bottom.
The once tree-lined drive along Stringer’s Ridge on U.S. Highway 27 between Red Bank and Chattanooga is becoming treeless. Hundreds of mature trees have come down in the past two months, and still more will fall as hillside after hillside is scoured in preparation for road widening and 31 massive concrete retaining walls. The walls — with a cut-stone face and terracing up the sides of Stringer’s steep slopes — will become the new edging of progress.
Across-the-board measures OK’d in GOP-led session Between warring over social issues, the just-concluded Tennessee legislature enacted hundreds of bills that will touch Tennesseans rich, poor and in between. Parents, students, businesses and people looking for work will be particularly affected. Next year, for example, the birthday deadline for children turning 5 to enter kindergarten that fall moves from Sept. 30 to Aug. 31, and then to Aug. 15 in 2014 and thereafter.
The final reference on the floor of the state legislature to one of the most contentious issues of the session was met with bipartisan support. Less than an hour before the General Assembly adjourned for the year, Rep. Eddie Bass (D-Prospect) rose and faked a motion to call up the so-called guns-in-parking-lots legislation. He had sponsored two related bills on the matter. One prohibited businesses from banning the storage of firearms by employees in their cars parked on company lots.
Actions of the 107th General Assembly, recently adjourned, establish that businesses generally have reached a new peak of political power in our state.Probably the most prominent illustration came when the business lobby locked horns with the Second Amendment lobby over whether employees should be able to keep guns in their locked cars in the company parking lot, even if the company prohibits firearms on premises.
Tiny Williamson County town prepares for growth, on its own terms This town of only 2,194 residents has snagged its second company headquarters in a year. Shelter Insurance is buying 3.2 acres in Tollgate Village — the self-contained “new urbanism” community in Thompson’s Station — to build a two-story state headquarters. The insurer hopes to start construction by late summer on what will be a $3 million to $5 million investment, said Keith Curd, director of facilities and services for Shelter Insurance, based in Columbia, Mo.
Consultant Del Boyette surprised Mayor Madeline Rogero during a meeting arranged by Knoxville Chamber staff as Boyette helps them develop a strategic plan to serve as the successor to the business recruiting blueprint called Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley. His first question concerned regionalism, and whether that was a concept Rogero supported. She emphatically replied, “Yes,” citing her research as a master’s degree candidate in urban and regional planning at the University of Tennessee to her support as the city’s director of community development, and now its mayor, of PlanET, an ambitious effort designed to create “a regional plan for livable communities.”
Rick Rout was recently suspended for 10 days from his Shelby County government job, accused of failing to deliver Juvenile Court paperwork, lying about it, falsifying records and cursing at a supervisor. In his response to the charges, Rout said his supervisor disliked him, framed him and used “improper English.” It was Rout’s second suspension within the past eight months and it was in effect on March 6, the day Rout won the Republican nomination for the office of General Sessions Court clerk, according to Rout’s personnel file.
About 19 soldiers are headed back to Fort Campbell after a year in Kuwait. The post says they are from the 101st Human Resources Company, 101st Special Troops Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade. The soldiers are returning Tuesday, and the post is planning a welcome home ceremony at the brigade headquarters.
Several Rutherford County schools will get additional assistance in warning students about risky behaviors that could lead to teen pregnancy. Centerstone Prevention Services recently secured a $5 million federal grant to launch Be in Charge, a program designed to address Tennessee’s teen pregnancy issue. During the five-year grant period, the program is expected to reach more than 13,000 Midstate youth and their families through education and outreach efforts.
Even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms this summer, as many legal experts predict, the fight will be far from over. Republicans, who have been pushing to repeal the reforms since the moment they were enacted two years ago, are getting ready to offer their own health-reform proposals once the high court issues its ruling this summer. But what happens next could depend on whether the court strikes down the entire law or just the requirement that most Americans buy health insurance.
Competing bills to keep student loan rate low are issue as Congress returns The Senate is the newest arena in the election-year face-off over federal student loans, and both sides are starting out by pounding away at each other. With Congress returning from a weeklong spring recess, the Senate plans to vote Tuesday on whether to start debating a Democratic plan to keep college loan interest rates for 7.4 million students from doubling on July 1.
Three Tennessee Valley Authority visitor centers have opened for the season. They are at Fontana Dam in North Carolina, Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant near Chattanooga and Norris Dam in Norris, Tenn. The three offer information about TVA history, how the agency operates its electric system and how it manages the Tennessee River and its tributaries. The centers all have maps, videos, displays and written information about TVA history and the construction of each site. TVA retirees are guides.
The landscape for solar power is changing, and the leaders of two Knoxville solar companies are altering their focus to adapt to the shift. Ignited by federal stimulus dollars, the industry has enjoyed three years of federal and state incentives that have, for the most part, dimmed. And last year, TVA scaled back its incentives, limiting the most generous payments to systems producing less than 50 kilowatts of power. That’s left many in the industry to predict few, if any, large commercial installations will be built in the near future.
Could appeal school board decision on extension The future of the Knoxville Charter Academy is in limbo after the Knox County school board denied extending its agreement with the school. And its school officials are working to figure out what steps they want to take moving forward. Suzan Mertyurek, the academy’s board president, said she hopes the board will be able to meet as soon as this week to discuss what to do next. “It’s a project we’ve all worked on for a while now and we all have equal say,” she said.
The faces on the Murfreesboro City Board of Education have changed a few times since the school year began. Board members, along with Director of Schools Linda Gilbert, spent the better part of Saturday in a training session talking about the role of a school board with George Thompson of the Schlechty Center, a Kentucky-based nonprofit organization designed to help school districts change from an environment of compliance to becoming ones that lead in engagement.
The fight to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker began with a flash of anger when he championed a law curbing collective-bargaining rights for most public workers. It will end next month as a referendum on how the tea-party favorite has handled the state’s grinding economic malaise. On Tuesday, Democrats will face off in a primary to determine who will challenge Mr. Walker on June 5. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost the governor’s race in 2010 to Mr. Walker, holds a 17-point lead in the latest poll over Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who has the backing of the labor organizations that ignited the recall.
First, the obvious: Vanderbilt University’s “non-discrimination” policy is wrong — to say nothing of absurd, counterproductive and unrealistic. But it shouldn’t be illegal. Under the policy, student groups that are provided space on campus must let any interested students join and, if they wish, run for leadership positions. Failure to comply means the organization forfeits its space on campus and its Vanderbilt affiliation. The ridiculousness of such rules is evident at a glance.
For years now, it has been common for employers to require drug tests of new employees and occasional random tests even of longtime workers. The purpose of the tests should be obvious: Drug-using employees are likely to be less reliable and may wind up costing a company far more than their employment is worth. Businesses don’t want to take that risk. If that is a sensible and not especially controversial practice in the private sector, it would seem to make even more sense where recipients of government benefits are concerned.
The United States Postal Service is at once the nation’s most visible public service and its most financially precarious. It is widely admired for its reliable reach into every nook and cranny of the country. It also is deeply in debt and growing more so by tens of millions of dollars a day. The situation is so desperate, in fact, that the Postal Service’s board of governors made a direct appeal on Friday to members of the U.S. House to quickly pass legislation to allow the agency to make significant changes in the way it operates.