This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Seattle-based Oberto Brands will open a production facility in Nashville in the first half of 2013, the company announced today, creating 300 jobs. “We chose Nashville as the location for Oberto’s new production facility because of its great business climate and incredible workforce,” said Tom Ennis, CEO of Oberto Brands, in a statement. Oberto also has an existing 170,000-square-foot facility in Kent, Wash.
A fast-growing maker of beef jerky is preparing to bring more than 300 jobs to the 100 Oaks area. Oberto Brands, which is based outside Seattle, said it will set up operations at the old O’Charley’s commissary at 2960 Armory Drive in the first half of next year. Company officials said their sales have doubled in the past few years and cited a need to expand their production footprint to keep up with demand. “We chose Nashville as the location for Oberto’s new production facility because of its great business climate and incredible workforce,” said Tom Ennis, CEO of Oberto Brands.
Four Tennessee educational institutions are being awarded a $780,000 grant to fund energy efficiency projects. Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau announced this week that the projects are designed to reduce air emissions, improve energy efficiency and create cost savings. The University of Memphis and Tennessee Technological University will each get $250,000, Northeast State Community College will receive $180,000 and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is getting $100,000.
Commissioner Bill Hagerty with the state’s Economic and Community Development Department made his public pitch for grant money Tuesday, unrolling what he hopes is a graceful shift toward even greater efficiency in job creation. The long and short of it in dollars: Hagerty is asking his boss, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, for more than $69 million in FastTrack grant money up front for fiscal year 2013-14. That’s more than he’d normally ask for at this point, but the commissioner said he’s trying to “capture the correct amount up front” as best he can.
Students at UTC and other Tennessee public universities are looking at tuition increases of up to 6 percent next fall. Those attending community colleges such as Chattanooga State and technology centers can expect boosts of up to 3 percent. That’s the message higher education officials gave Gov. Bill Haslam during budget hearings in Nashville on Tuesday. The increases are based on the assumption that Haslam and state lawmakers will approve increased taxpayer support of $33.5 million for operational costs.
During a recent weekend commute from Nashville to Memphis, Tennessee Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security Bill Gibbons said he counted nine state troopers in a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 40 between Henderson County and Madison County. Gibbons told the East Memphis Rotary Club Wednesday the state’s response to interstate traffic now is based on data-driven statistics that deploy troopers based on numbers of fatalities. “That stretch of highway has one of the highest numbers of traffic fatalities on our highways.”
Methodist University Hospital and the Regional Medical Center at Memphis received state approval Wednesday for multi-million-dollar projects that will bring even more construction activity to the Memphis Medical Center. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare will begin site preparation in March for a $33.5 million expansion of its emergency department at Midtown’s Methodist University Hospital. The project will give the hospital a new “front door” and transform the Eastmoreland Avenue side of the hospital, where the hospital’s main entrance and ER are located.
Public hearings on highway plans often don’t draw many more people than it takes to flip charts or run the projector. But it was standing room only when state transportation officials on Wednesday outlined early plans to rebuild the overcrowded, dangerous Interstate 75-24 split. And questions came thick and fast — many from East Ridge officials — after Steve Allen with the Tennessee Department of Transportation finished describing plans to build new lanes and bridges and redesign the entry and exit from the Tennessee Welcome Center just beyond the Ringgold Road cloverleaf.
The Tennessee Human Rights Commission has dismissed Bluff City Mayor Irene Wells’ discrimination complaint against the town and fellow town officials. Wells filed a complaint with the HRC more than a year ago.“Examination of the evidence indicates that there is no reasonable cause to believe that (the town of Bluff City) has engaged in a discriminatory practice,” HRC Executive Director Beverly Watts wrote in a notice of determination dated Oct. 30. “Therefore, the complaint in this matter is dismissed.”
Advocates for a South Nashville megachurch argued in the Tennessee Court of Appeals this morning that a gym, bookstore and cafe on its property “fit the spiritual needs of the congregation” and thus should not be subject to property taxes. It is the same argument attorneys for Christ Church along Old Hickory Boulevard have been making for years, in a standoff that arose in 2007 but made its way to the appeals court only Wednesday. The dispute began after a tax assessor found that several facilities on the 40-acre property operated like a business and could not be exempt from paying taxes.
Lawmakers have set a deadline for fixing a taxpayer-funded venture capital program. Auditors found numerous problems with TNInvestco, which gives state money to small businesses, in hopes they’ll become job-creating powerhouses. The issues go back to TNInvestco’s founding three years ago, during former governor Phil Bredesen’s administration. They include a lack of annual reports to lawmakers, and incomplete financial statements from the firms receiving TNInvestco funds.
The rate of babies born before reaching full-term in Tennessee dropped for the fifth consecutive year, according to research issued by the March of Dimes. The state improved its rate of children born preterm to 12.8 percent in 2011, down from 14.8 percent in 2006. The national average was 11.7 percent. “Tennessee’s progress means that more babies are being born healthy, excess health care costs are being reduced and families are being spared the heartache of having a baby born too soon,” Leslie Ladd, state director of the organization, said in a release.
Ten Rutherford County voters and nearly 500 people across Tennessee lost their votes for failing to show proper photo IDs after they cast provisional ballots in the Nov. 6 election. Sixteen people in Rutherford cast provisional ballots because they failed to show an acceptable photo ID at the polls, and, as required by law, only six of those returned to the Election Office within two business days with a property ID to confirm their vote, according to the Election Office. Votes of those who didn’t show an acceptable ID didn’t count.
More votes were counted toward the November election on Wednesday morning. The Madison County Election Commission considered 45 provisional ballots, accepting 11 of them and rejecting the remainder. With one exception of mistaken identity, the people who filled out a provisional ballot included those who attempted to vote but did not present a government-issued photo ID, as well as people who were not registered to vote in Madison County, said Madison County Administrator of Elections Kim Buckley.
More often a critic of federal regulation, Congressman Marsha Blackburn is asking why the Food and Drug Administration didn’t do more under existing rules. The Republican representative from Brentwood was part of Wednesday’s congressional hearing into the fungal meningitis outbreak that has been traced back to the New England Compounding Center. “I am interested to hear why the FDA did not pursue any enforcement actions against NECC, despite having emphasized nearly a decade ago – nearly a decade go – the potential for serious public health consequences.”
Relatives of people who have died or been sickened in the fungal meningitis outbreak came to Washington, D.C., hoping for action from politicians. Joyce Lovelace, the widow of Kentucky Judge Eddie Lovelace, asked for bipartisanship. Melanie Norwood of Hermitage, whose mother has been hospitalized for almost seven weeks, said Congress should do something to prevent repeat tragedies. But questions and statements from Democrats and Republicans on a U.S. House of Representatives committee revealed a gulf between the two parties on whether the Food and Drug Administration needed clearer authority to regulate compounding laboratories or whether the agency simply failed to do its job.
Tennesseans have a special interest in the “Fiscal Cliff” scenarios at the end of the year. States that have a state income tax can automatically deduct the tax from their federal income tax. The provision that allows people in states like Tennessee to deduct sales taxes has always been a temporary allowance that comes up periodically for renewal. The provision expires along with the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts at the end of the year. No one is sure what kind of legislation, tax cuts, or fiscal deals will be struck and there is a possibility the sales-tax deduction could get lost in the shuffle, since only about a half-dozen states are without an income tax.
The days since President Obama won re-election have been marked by tension and angst in Republican-led states like Iowa, where Gov. Terry Branstad has waited until the last minute to decide whether to create a crucial tool for people to get medical coverage under Mr. Obama’s health care law. “There has been a total blackout of information,” said State Senator Jack Hatch, a Democrat who vented his frustration at a news conference here this week. “We’re behind schedule, we’re at a disadvantage, and I don’t know what our governor’s plan is to reposition Iowa.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority helped land $5.9 billion of business investment during the past year, surpassing the previous record set in 2005 before the recent recession. TVA said most of the 48,000 jobs stemming from those investments weren’t new, however. “Increasingly, we’re fighting to retain and keep businesses in the Valley, rather than shutting down and moving elsewhere, so probably 70 percent of those jobs were retained jobs, rather than new jobs to the Valley,” said John Bradley, TVA’s senior vice president for economic development.
TVA delivers plenty of power to East Tennessee, but it also brings something else — jobs. That’s the message the Knoxville-based utility was emphasizing on Wednesday, as it highlighted the impact of its economic development efforts. In a news release, the utility said its economic development programs — including technical services, research and financial assistance — helped stimulate $5.9 billion in business investments in the TVA service area in fiscal 2012. The agency said its activities helped recruit or expand more than 150 companies and added 10,750 jobs in East Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.
As the weather turns colder the cost of electricity will go up next month as TVA’s cost of producing power rises. The Tennessee Valley Authority said Tuesday its monthly fuel cost adjustment will increase the retail cost of electricity in December. It’s the eighth increase in the past nine months The December 2012 total monthly fuel cost will be 2.694 cents per kilowatt hour, the utility said. “As we head into winter, sales are expected to increase, causing us to rely on more expensive supply sources.
Now that ABC’s Nashville has been picked up for a full season, producers are building their case for more government incentives to shoot on location. The state has already extended $7.5 million to the show by reimbursing expenses. Metro Government has yet to offer tax breaks or cash grants. Mayor Karl Dean says he’s happy to talk about it. “’Nashville’ – the show – you can’t buy that, you can’t get that for our city. I mean, we’re a city that is getting a lot of attention nationally, and ‘Nashville’ is a big part of it. I’m not commenting either way if we’re going to be a part of any sort of economic incentives. I’m just saying it is a big plus and a positive for Nashville.”
Though negotiations still haven’t ramped up in full, ABC’s decision to pick up “Nashville” for a full season adds steam to talks over deeper government incentives for the show. As the Nashville Business Journal reported, the show’s backers are saying additional incentives — the extension of a heightened state reimbursement and other possibilities — will likely be needed to justify the cost of continued filming in Music City. The fact that the show, which has seen ratings drop since its premiere before regaining some ground last week, has been picked up means there will be a full season for backers to tout and public officials to weigh.
Some lucky second-graders thought they were playing games Wednesday when they bought virtual cupcakes and pies by sliding digital dollars across a computerized table, but they were really learning. They were using a recently released digital learning tool that is part of a technological wave changing classrooms. “If we don’t prepare our kids in a very universal way, then we set them up to not be successful because they don’t have the skills,” said Kecia Ray, executive director of Metro schools’ learning technology department and president-elect of the International Society for Technology in Education.
Great Hearts Academies will not reapply to operate a charter school in Nashville until Tennessee has a statewide charter school authorizer, a company official said Wednesday. The Metro Nashville school board Tuesday instructed Director of Schools Jesse Register to initiate a discussion with the company about a future application, but Great Hearts official Peter Bezanson said it will not apply again to the Metro board. “We will talk to him,” Bezanson said of Register. “We would enjoy it.”
Memphis is the ninth-fastest growing charter school market in the nation, with an enrollment jump of 21 percent last year — the second year in a row it has produced meteoric growth, according to a report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Most states that pass charter laws do so with hope of making an impact on the districts and schools not performing well,” said Nina Rees, NAPC president and CEO. “Quite frankly, demand is highest in areas where parents see a need and are demanding other options,” she said, pointing to growth in Tampa and Duluth, Minn.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks Memphis City Schools as having the ninth-highest growth rate for charter school enrollment in the country. The new charter school survey, the seventh annual by the organization, released Wednesday, Nov. 14, shows charter school enrollment in Memphis City Schools grew by more than 21 percent in the 2011-2012 school year compared to the previous school year. Charter schools serve 6,500 students in Memphis by the alliance figures, which is a 6 percent market share.
Attorneys involved in the schools litigation fight are moving toward using mediation talks to try and reach a settlement over the issue of suburban municipal school districts. With a mediation deadline of Nov. 27 looming and U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays expected to issue a ruling any day on state constitutional challenges to laws allowing new municipal school districts, attorneys have recently been discussing whether “there would be any meaningful lines of reasoning to resolve issues in mediation,” said Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade.
The unified Memphis and Shelby County school board will meet in special session Thursday to consider recommendations related to the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools. The board also is scheduled to take its first steps in a new state-mandated process for negotiating with employees. The 5:30 p.m. meeting at the Memphis City Schools Teaching and Learning Academy, 2485 Union Avenue, could give school board members their first detailed look at the controversial proposal to close an as-yet-undetermined number of schools.
Attorneys on all sides in the federal court case over the formation of municipal school districts talked about mediation Wednesday, Nov. 14, during a telephone conference with Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays. The exploration of a mediated settlement to the case comes as Mays is set to rule at any time on whether the state laws governing the formation of the suburban municipal school districts violate the Tennessee Constitution. And in January, Mays is scheduled to open a non-jury trial on the more complex federal Constitutional claims by the Shelby County Commission.
Families of students enrolled in both public and private colleges and universities expect the cost of higher education to increase each year. Their reasoning is sound. The price of everything else — food, shelter, medical care, etc. — rises annually so it would be unreasonable to assume that the cost to attend college would remain static. What’s troublesome, though, is the pace and the consistency at which the price of a year at a college or university rises. For a long time now, annual cost increases for higher education have outstripped inflation. There’s likely little relief in sight for students who will attend Tennessee’s public universities and community colleges next fall.
“You have cancer.” No matter how a physician tries to soften the blow of those three words, it’s never an easy thing to say or hear. It’s even sadder when the cause is something as impractical and unnecessary as inhaling carcinogen-laden, heart- and lung-damaging smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Today, the American Cancer Society is conducting its 37th annual Great American Smokeout, challenging millions of smokers to quit. If you are a smoker, I urge you to make this day a turning point in your life by quitting. If you are not a smoker, but someone you love (or maybe just like) is, amp up your courage and kindly ask them to stop for just one day. That day could become two, then three — then a smoke-free life.
No doubt there will be hand-wringing in some quarters over the idea of offering vouchers to low-income families in Memphis so their kids can go to high quality private schools. Already, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association has lamented the concept. The teachers union fears that allowing publicly funded vouchers for private schools will take money away from public schools at a time when the state is trying hard, and spending a lot, to improve the public schools. And while less vocal, some private school factions likely are wringing a rag over the very idea of having poor, inner-city Memphis kids applying, and even getting in, to more elite private schools. But both sides should stop and consider: What is best for kids?
Oh, yes, the news arrived this week that Titan — the newly configured Cray XK7 system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory — had been officially sanctioned as the world’s fastest supercomputer. That wasn’t really a surprise. It had been anticipated for at least the past couple of weeks, after ORNL announced that the machine was fully assembled and loaded with a full complement of NVIDIA’s next-generation graphical processing units. Those GPUs, combined with the central processing units from AMD, greatly accelerate the machine’s computing power.
To Save Party, Republicans Must Excise Crackpot Caucus Republicans are doing a lot of soul-searching about what happened last week when a president presiding over a lousy economy managed to beat a successful businessman and former governor. If you are looking for reasons, let me help. Vaginal probes. Legitimate rape. Rape conceptions are God’s will. Show me your papers. Don’t say gay. Electrified border fences. Gateway sex. Creationism. Birthers. Women who want contraception are sluts. Mitt Romney might not have run a good campaign, but the Republican Party defeats in that race as well as Senate races are the fault of state legislatures and down-ballot candidates.