This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Bell Helicopter Inc. will add a second manufacturing plant in Piney Flats, Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials announced Thursday that the $10.1 million investment in Sullivan County is expected to create 125 new jobs. The expanded operations will take place in a 150,000-square-foot-building Bell bought near its current facility. Bell Executive Vice President Eric Cardinali said the growing demand for commercial helicopters was outpacing production capacity at the company’s current plant in East Tennessee.
Amelia Courington turns 5 years old in mid-August and in plenty of time to meet Tennessee’s new kindergarten age cutoff requirement of Aug. 31, but her mom is among a growing number of parents who will “redshirt” her child in hopes of giving her more time to mature. Tennessee, too, is riding the national wave of opinion that children should be a little older when going to kindergarten and is joining the ever-growing number of states pushing the deadline back. For the 2013-14 school year, Tennessee children must be 5 by Aug. 31 instead of the Sept. 30 that has been the standard for many years.
Tennessee collected a little more than $4 million in fines from nursing homes over the past three years, the sixth-highest total of any in the country, according to data collected by ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization. The state imposed 86 fines, with the average fine being the second-highest in the nation. The fines, ranging from $2,015 to more than $525,000, were imposed on 42 of the more than 300 licensed nursing homes operating in Tennessee. The largest single fine, $525,188, was imposed on Bristol Nursing home in Bristol. The second highest, $465,195, was imposed on Colonial Hills Nursing Center in Maryville, Tenn.
To see the federal government’s inconsistent oversight of nursing homes, one needs only to look at what happened after two residents died — one in Texas, one in South Carolina. At a nursing home in the East Texas town of Hughes Springs earlier this year, a resident approached the nurses station gagging on a cookie. Attempts to clear his airway failed, and he died. Government inspectors determined that staff at the home were not trained for emergencies and did not immediately call 911.
One underwriting firm gets most business Some Tennessee utility districts representing thousands of water and gas ratepayers, mostly in rural parts of the state, may be paying more than necessary because of the way their bond deals are being structured. The landscape of Tennessee’s lucrative utility district bond market was significantly altered in 2009 when a nonprofit organization created to educate and advocate for rural utility districts began offering them financial advice with the bulk of the multimillion-dollar business going to a single underwriting firm.
With less than half the fiscal year over, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is expected to expend its entire overtime budget for jailers before the end of the month because of a shortage of corrections officers. From July 1 to Dec. 12, corrections officers logged 20,089 overtime hours at the six-story downtown jail. The department has spent $438,202 for overtime, leaving just $40,148 to last until June 30. Of 139 budgeted corrections officer positions, just 129 are filled. Some of those are administrators, and other employees listed as corrections officers don’t actually work in the jail, sheriff’s office records show.
A few miles down a featureless highway, just past the sinking pond and the goose pond, there’s a break in the trees. Suddenly, a fighter jet appears. Then another, and then a third pops into sight — all held aloft on steel columns. Behind the motionless aircraft, a guarded checkpoint leads into one of the most advanced research facilities in the U.S., home to the nation’s largest operational wind tunnel.The sprawling 40,000-acre test site hosts advanced experiments for NASA, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force.
The Delta Regional Authority has invested $108 million in 718 projects in eight states, including Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, since it was created in 2000. But critics, such as the leaders of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010, say the economic development agency is unnecessary, duplicative and can’t establish that its efforts — rather than initiatives by other agencies or the private sector — are a factor in any demonstrable improvements in its 252-county/parish jurisdiction.
Groups call on EPA to take action on issue Environmentalists were optimistic after the catastrophic spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant that the federal government would finally regulate the storage of toxic coal ash. Hearings were held. Regulations were proposed. The Obama administration seemed ready to act. Then, nothing. “I’m not surprised, I’m shocked,” said Lisa Evans, an attorney for the advocacy group Earthjustice, of the lack of action on the proposed regulations.
The proposed Spring Branch Industrial Park will receive a major boost with the expected acquisition of a 330-acre piece of land in southern Bradley County by year’s end. The property — located southeast of exit 20 on Interstate 75 — will be purchased from Jones Lakeland LLC for $5 million by a joint venture funded by Cleveland, Cleveland Utilities and Bradley County. The three entities have contributed $2 million each to the project, which also has required funding for environmental and cultural impact studies.
Whenever a government agency battens down its hatches and fights to stop the public from knowing what it’s doing, I get suspicious. That’s the case with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. Commissioner Kate O’Day has refused for three months to release full information about 31 dead children. These kids, ranging from newborns to teens, were all either in the care of DCS or had contact with DCS for some reason. We don’t know any other details of their deaths except the cause, because she won’t tell. The Tennessean filed a lawsuit last week, asking a judge to order DCS to explain why the records were not provided. It asks the department to be forced to give the records to a judge for review .
Merry Christmas, folks; I wish you and yours all the best. Thank you for taking the moments from your Sundays to spend a few with me. This week, I wanted to revisit the Metro schools scuffle with state education officials. In September, when the Metro Nashville Board of Education declined to listen to the instructions of the State Board of Education and denied, again, a charter school application from Great Hearts of America-Tennessee, the state Department of Education responded by withholding $3.4 million of funding from Metro schools.
The vote on a liquor-by-the-drink referendum in Pigeon Forge last month was filled with so many irregularities that news stories read as though they were dispatches from Third World countries. The numbers don’t add up. Ineligible voters were allowed to cast ballots. Some voters gained eligibility through dubious, though apparently legal, means. Poll workers described one voting location on Election Day as “chaotic.” Supporters of the referendum allege opponents attempted to intimidate voters into voting against the measure. The referendum passed by 100 votes — 1,232 to 1,132. Restaurants that have received liquor licenses already are serving drinks to patrons. But the election was compromised, and authorities have a duty to correct the injustice.
Say it ain’t so, Joe. You have formed an exploratory committee “tasked with determining the viability of a successful run” for Congress in 2014. The press release said you have received an outpouring of encouragement to run. Let me be among those serving as naysayers. I know there may not be a better opportunity in the next decade to make a run for Congress, but this move smacks of political opportunism on your part and hypocrisy on the part of your supporters. I don’t say that lightly. Our politician/voter relationship goes back a good ways. You have been true to your first campaign pledges made years ago. I appreciate your accessibility and respect the way you have always been accountable to me. It is why I have voted for you in every election since 2008.
Note: The news digest will resume on Thursday, December 27.