This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Online retail giant Amazon.com is kicking off the broad hiring push necessary to fill 1,000 jobs at distribution sites in Murfreesboro and Lebanon, Tenn. The announcement comes on the heels of Amazon beginning to hire management positions for the same locations. This current round of hiring will include various full-time warehouse personnel, with benefits and pay ranging from $11 to $13 per hour. Amazon is planning this fall to open the two distribution centers, in addition to those it already has in Bradley, Wilson and Hamilton counties in East Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Haslam says the independent review he sought last December of the state’s controversial new teacher evaluation system was by no means a smoke screen for inaction. The Republican governor told reporters this week that the review he requested from the pro-reform State Collaborative on Reforming Education, slated for release June 11, will help guide decisions on modifying the assessments if need be. “We’re going to use them,” Haslam said.
Governor Bill Haslam says he’s “a little surprised” how many state Republican lawmakers are facing primary challenges this fall. Haslam is getting involved in some reelection campaigns, he says to help those who have helped him. Haslam says he’s still deciding who all he’ll try to help win reelection. He says while it seems a lot of Republicans are facing challenges from within the GOP, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising: “A lot more of the challenges come from within parties.
Two local lawmakers in tough primary fights to retain their seats in Nashville have earned the backing of Gov. Bill Haslam. A spokesman for the governor said Haslam is offering his “full support” for fellow Republicans Rep. Richard Montgomery and Sen. Doug Overbey in both their August primary contests and the November general election. Haslam told reporters recently he would be working for incumbents including Montgomery, with Press Secretary David Smith explaining Overbey will also receive that assistance.
A state-created venture capital fund that uses federal grant money to spur investments in high-growth companies has infused $4.4 million in five ventures in Tennessee. It’s the first disbursement from the INCITE Co-Investment Fund. Officials plan to eventually invest $28.6 million in ventures across Tennessee. The Tennessean is reporting that three more deals could be announced later this week. The program is designed to spur innovation, new business ventures and better-paying jobs across the state by matching private-sector investments in early-stage companies.
Provectus Pharmaceuticals executive Peter Culpepper travels the world pitching the Knoxville company to investors. Next month he’ll be telling the Provectus story closer to home, at the second annual Invest Tennessee Equity conference in Nashville. “The more people who know about our drug and what it’s doing will help us get through the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) process quicker,” Culpepper, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for Provectus, said Wednesday.
Governor Bill Haslam joined the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security in welcoming 44 State Troopers to the Highway Patrol on May 25. Trooper Cadet Class 512 took their oath of office in a graduation ceremony at Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory. Members of Cadet Class 512 have spent the past 18 weeks undergoing extensive law enforcement instruction at the department’s Training Center.
An Oak Ridge, Tenn., firm storing 1 million pounds of scrap radioactive material has filed bankruptcy, leaving Tennessee environmental regulators watching the case “closely” to see what will happen to the waste. Impact Services Inc. filed for Chapter 7 liquidation May 24 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., and “shut its doors” on May 18, according to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Meg Lockhart.
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state can go after the family houses and property of people who died owing money for end-of-life care even if that property has been left to family members in a will. The state has long had the right to go to court to make a claim against the estate of someone who died owing money for long-term or nursing-home care. Wednesday’s unanimous ruling, however, reverses a lower court’s decision barring TennCare from making a claim against property that was given away in a will.
Country artist and former foster kid Jimmy Wayne took his fight to help Tennessee’s foster kids to the state capitol and this week it paid off. Tuesday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill that will allow foster kids to remain in the system until the age of 21 Memphis Representative Mark White introduced the bill to continue funding for the Transitioning Youth Act, a program that provides assistance to foster youth between the ages of 18-21 once they age out of the foster care system.
State Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis asked the Tennessee secretary of state on Wednesday to conduct a “formal investigation” into allegations that the voting histories of 488 Shelby County registered voters were deleted from Election Commission records. Critics are concerned that such deletions could pave the way for the purging of those voters’ names from the official rolls. The Senate Democratic leader’s letter follows a similar request by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., for investigations by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins into the allegations originally made by voting rights activist Bev Harris, whose Black Box Voting website monitors irregularities with voters nationwide.
With Aug. 2 municipal school referendums tentatively set, suburban leaders on Wednesday began organizing informational campaigns. A Bartlett schools support group started promoting the distribution of campaign signs, while leaders there and in Germantown promised Web information links about the schools. In Collierville, Mayor Stan Joyner already had posted a letter explaining the school plans. And Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman reiterated plans to appoint a school planning committee.
When the Memphis City Council’s budget committee gets together Tuesday, June 5, there probably will be agreement that the full council should not raise property taxes. Instead, it should lower the property tax rate and should use more of the city’s $81 million reserve fund than Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration believes is prudent. But it probably will take some work at the full council session later that day to find seven votes for what likely will be a budget and tax rate for the new fiscal year that has elements of several plans making the rounds at City Hall.
County defers action as court ruling analyzed Plaintiffs who won a judge’s decision Tuesday voiding government approval of a mosque filed an injunction Wednesday to restrict actions inconsistent with the court order. “There will be more litigation,” plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Brandon said. We are going to give the county an opportunity to do what’s right. Their time frame is on a short fuse.” The Rutherford County government, however, took no action to stop construction of a mosque Wednesday despite Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s ruling to void the mosque’s approval because of insufficient public notice prior to the vote.
Help available to ease inmates’ return to society Across Tennessee, more than 40 percent of those released from prison head right back there within three years. In Shelby County, about one-third of those released return to jail within 18 months. Curbing that recidivism rate is the goal of a new city-county program announced in a new conference Wednesday. The Memphis and Shelby County Office of Re-Entry hopes to ease the transition from convicted felon to productive member of society, officials said Wednesday.
Last night the Washington County, Tenn. Commission approved the addition of a third Sessions Court judge. The two current Sessions Court judges told the commission that the current case load for the county is too large for them to handle. They also told commissioners the addition of a third judge would allow them to spend more time with individual court cases. An interim judge will be appointed in the coming weeks and voters will approve the new judge in the next election.
Washington County’s two Sessions Court judges will spend the next few months developing a schedule and division of duties among themselves and the new judge, who is expected to start work in January. Judge James Nidiffer said he was pleased when the County Commission approved the new position Tuesday night. Nidiffer also said he and Judge Robert Lincoln will need to discuss with Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn how the new court will be staffed.
Dyersburg will extend walking and biking trails with a $97,000 federal grant. The State Gazette reported the funds come from the Recreation Trails Program under the Federal Highway Administration. The money will be used to improve the Downtown River Park and run trails along Reagan Levee. The project is part of a larger plan to circle the community with a trail system. The group Pioneering Health Communities has a master plan to provide healthy transportation options to residents of Dyer County.
As cities like this one try to reinvent themselves after losing large swaths of their manufacturing sectors, they are discovering that one of the most critical ingredients for a successful transformation — college graduates — is in perilously short supply. Just 24 percent of the adult residents of metropolitan Dayton have four-year degrees, well below the average of 32 percent for American metro areas, and about half the rate of Washington, the country’s most educated metro area, according to a Brookings Institution analysis.
On a rainy Monday afternoon in mid-May, Jeff Carpenter gazed out on the grounds of the State Fair of Virginia, of which he was the sole remaining caretaker. After a life of more than 150 years, the fair had closed. The grounds were about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Carpenter was philosophical — and historical. “The Virginia state fair went quiet during the Civil War and during World War II,” he said, “but it always came back.” Carpenter is hopeful that even under new ownership, the fair will come back this time too.
A TVA inspector general’s report blasts the agency for its failures to act quickly when it became apparent the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor construction will have massive cost overruns and take twice as long to complete. The inspector general’s staff, which attends all the construction meetings, took concerns to TVA management and to a board committee in August 2011 — months before the electric utility changed the Watts Bar construction management team and made the problems known publicly.
Pilgrim’s Pride may lay off or relocate as many as 400 workers in its two Hamilton County plants by June 15. Officials at the poultry processing company say the job cuts are due to improved plant efficiencies, and there are no plans to scale back production. The company operates two downtown Chattanooga plants that currently employ nearly 1,500 workers. Last week the company announced it would lay off 85 employees in Chattanooga.
District risks losing federal money The bell rings at Westside Elementary in the Robertson County School District, and excited children come tumbling out the door, their race and ethnicity almost evenly divided among African-American, white and Hispanic. The scene plays out again at nearby Bransford and Cheatham Park elementaries, and a half-hour later at Springfield Middle, all schools where the number of black and Hispanic children outnumber white children.
The unified school board might be standing on shaky legal ground if it follows through with plans to meet with attorneys behind closed doors to discuss Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash, an attorney says. Absent active or pending litigation, said Lucian Pera, an attorney for The Commercial Appeal, a closed meeting of the board would violate the state’s open meetings law “If there’s threatened litigation, then some very, very limited part of the commission’s discussions can be closed — only those where they are seeking advice from their lawyers about the threatened litigation, but not any discussion about what action the commission might take,” said Pera.
A Tennessee State University-led charter school proposal didn’t make it on the Metro school board agenda for consideration Tuesday night. The week before, TSU officials withdrew its application. The school board voted on 10 charter school proposals Tuesday, electing to authorize two of the publicly financed, privately led charters. But at no point did board members even mention University Bound Academy, for which TSU officials formally filed an application in April.
Executive director defends school’s achievements The local branch of a prominent national charter school chain was on the defensive Wednesday on the heels of the school board’s vote to reject its application to open a second middle school in Nashville. KIPP Academy Executive Director Randy Dowell vowed to appeal the school board’s decision and defended the academic achievements at the charter organization’s current middle school, which opened in 2005.
Knox system seeks to grow community school concept After participating in Pond Gap’s community school pilot program for the last two years, one student became the most improved in the entire elementary school — she performed in the school’s talent show and had the highest score in reading and science on state tests and the second highest in math. “That’s just one success story,” said Susan Espiritu, Pond Gap’s principal. “And there’s one for almost every student in the program.”
It hurts system, board chairman says Although Oak Ridge City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed on final reading a no-tax-hike budget, city school officials are questioning whether it’s legal. A budget amendment also approved in a 7-0 decision puts some of the money the city gives the school system in reserve to help pay this year’s installment on a costly renovation of the city’s high school. School officials are questioning whether that move is legal because they contend it leaves the school system with a budget that’s out of balance by some $270,000.
Cities across California are grappling with the economic fallout from the state’s closure of redevelopment agencies, the municipal organizations that try to turn around blighted areas. The shutdowns—aimed at aiding the cash-strapped state—have resulted in layoffs, lawsuits and the loss of millions of dollars in municipal tax revenue. The pain is evident in Hercules, an old industrial city of about 26,000 people located 25 miles northeast of San Francisco.
New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity. he proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas.
Public-employee unions in Wisconsin have experienced a dramatic drop in membership—by more than half for the second-biggest union—since a law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker sharply curtailed their ability to bargain over wages and working conditions. Now with Mr. Walker facing a recall vote Tuesday, voters will decide whether his policies in the centrist state should continue—or whether they have gone too far. The election could mark a pivot point for organized labor.
Many people are familiar with the ease, advantage and even excitement of investigating and booking travel using the Internet, especially when it comes to vacation planning. Now, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has brought a similar service to life for Tennessee state parks. The new website, at www.tnvacation.com/75, recently was launched to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of Tennessee State Parks. It is a helpful and worthwhile resource that uses the latest Internet and social media technology to help people take full advantage of Tennessee state parks.
The Metro Nashville Board of Education made it clear Tuesday night that charter schools that offer a different vision and solution are not welcome here. That is too bad for our children. With the progress the system has been making, there is good reason to expand the options available to all kinds of families, and not just stick with a narrow view of acceptable alternatives. Up to now, the school board has been offering options in our poorer, more challenged neighborhoods. That is laudable and productive, as those efforts have paid dividends to those neighborhoods.
A chancellor has ruled that Democratic state House hopeful Shelley Breeding can’t run in the newly formed 89th District, but that is not the end of her quest to run for office. She is appealing the ruling, but the state Supreme Court should exercise its discretion and take on the case immediately so that Northwest Knox County residents will know once and for all whether she will be on the ballot in November. Breeding filed paperwork to run for the newly created seat and would be the only Democrat on the ballot for the August primary, meaning she would automatically go on to face the winner of the Republican primary in the November general election.
Efficiency is the key: A thorough comparison is needed to decide who can collect Memphis property taxes more efficiently and at less cost. The idea of consolidating Memphis and Shelby County governments hasn’t been able to gain any traction, but discussions about finding ways to merge the functions of some city and county offices garner more positive responses. Over the past two decades, at least two previous county trustees tried to work out a deal with the city of Memphis to collect the city’s current and delinquent property taxes. Their efforts generally focused on the argument that it would be more efficient to let the Trustee’s Office collect property taxes, since it already collects county property taxes from both city and county residents.
It is not only appropriate but altogether sensible that lawmakers in Tennessee have refused to enact legislation setting up a so-called “health insurance exchange” dictated by ObamaCare. It is appropriate because ObamaCare is a disgusting federal power grab, and it is sensible because within a few weeks the U.S. Supreme Court might strike down the Democrat-enacted law as the unconstitutional intrusion that it is. No sense wasting time and legislative effort putting in place something that ultimately may prove not necessary. The federal government recently sent Tennessee an additional $4.3 million to set up the exchange, which will create a “one-stop shop” where consumers allegedly may select from a range of affordable, high-quality insurance plans.
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama explained his energy policy like this: “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad.” He went on to say: “So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them.” That’s really bad news for Tennessee, which relies on coal-fired power plants for 53 percent of its electricity. Yet, shockingly, Sen. Lamar Alexander is siding with Obama and his “war on coal.” The day after the 2010 election, Obama said: “Cap and trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way. It was a means, not an end.”