This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Three days after delivering his annual State of the State address to lawmakers in Nashville, Gov. Bill Haslam was in Chattanooga Thursday, rehashing key items of his speech and $32.7 billion budget plan to the Chattanooga Downtown Rotary Club. Much of Haslam’s 30-minute address focused on his continuing efforts to reform education, emphasizing its links to business and economic development. “We’re making really substantial progress in K-12 education, but we need to. We’ve been running too low for too long,” Haslam said.
Automotive supplier Huf North America will create 100 jobs in Greene County with a $20 million plant expansion. The expansion was announced in Nashville on Thursday by Gov. Bill Haslam, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and representatives of the company. Huf will build a 52,000-square-foot addition onto its current structure in Greeneville for a plastic injection molding and paint facility. Customer deliveries are scheduled to begin at the first of 2014.
State officials say auto valve and sensor maker Schrader Electronics is expanding its facility in Springfield and adding 76 manufacturing jobs. Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said in a statement that the company’s expansion represents an investment of $10 million. Schrader makes pneumatic tire valves and tire pressure monitoring systems for the automobile industry. Jared Smalley Jr., general manager of Schrader Electronics, said the company was excited to be moving toward building all of its North American vehicle products in Springfield.
Nissan today announced the opening of a new paint plant in Smyrna, calling the facility the company’s most advanced paint plant in the word, according to a news release. Nissan is highlighting the plant’s efficiency, noting that it is capable of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent, emissions by 30 percent and volatile organic compound emissions by 70 percent, according to the release. A Nissan video touting the facility is below.
Of the first dozen states that won Race to the Top education reform grants, Tennessee is making some of the most impressive strides, according to a progress report from the U.S. Department of Education. According to the report, high points in Tennessee’s second year of using the highly coveted grant program include recruiting core coaches, teachers and leaders to help transition schools to new data-driven standards, meeting an aggressive timeline to show teachers their students’ test scores, and co-management of five schools under the state’s district set to turn around schools.
It may be drawing national attention, but a state lawmaker’s idea to require school officials to tell parents if a child they counsel is engaging in homosexual activity isn’t getting much traction with Gov. Bill Haslam. Haslam told Chattanooga Times Free Press editors and reporters Thursday that the legislation from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is a variation of the conservative firebrand’s previous so-called “don’t say gay” legislation. “I know it’s kind of a revised form of a bill that came up last year,” Haslam said.
The National Weather Service has confirmed eight tornado touchdowns in Middle Tennessee as part of an outbreak early Wednesday morning, WSMV Ch. 4 reports. The strength of the tornadoes ranged from EF0 to EF2. No tornadoes were confirmed in Davidson County, which saw the night’s only fatality, when a tree fell on a shed in Bordeaux, killing a 47-year-old man inside. Five touchdowns were confirmed in Sumner County. The Red Cross is currently assisting 24 families in seven counties impacted by the storms, according to WSMV.
Like in the 2010 flood, Hickman County community takes care of its own It wasn’t the noise or the swirling debris that got to Christopher Wesbrooks. It wasn’t how he and his wife struggled to protect their children as a tornado sheared the roof from their home in the darkness. It was the next day. It was seeing the spot where his little girl normally slept, blanketed with deadly shards of glass and splintered wood. “It was an overwhelming thing,” he said. Overwhelming is the right word for what happened to the economically depressed community of Coble in Hickman County, about 70 miles southwest of Nashville.
Middle Tennesseans are continuing to grapple with injuries and damage left in the wake of straight-line winds and at least 11 early-morning tornadoes Wednesday. So far, tornadoes have been confirmed in Hickman, Sumner, Wilson, Robertson, Rutherford, Trousdale, Cheatham and Dickson counties, according to the National Weather Service. The American Red Cross has helped 30 families in 10 Middle and West Tennessee counties, spokeswoman Beth Ferguson said Thursday. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said counties are still assessing the damage.
Nearly a dozen utility crews lined the eastbound lane on U.S. 412 where power lines were tangled in broken tree limbs and utility poles still leaned on their sides Thursday. Emergency officials have estimated more than 200 homes received some damage from the early morning storm in which the wind speed topped 110 mph. Just off the highway, McCall Road resident Aubrey Fout’s property is receiving a lot of attention from motorists. “I lost 20 to 30 trees,” he said. The trees, not his home, took the biggest hit. Some of the trees are split in half, while others are missing their tops and branches.
The health reform expert in charge of setting up Tennessee’s insurance exchange is leaving his post Friday, a spokesman for the state Department of Heath Care Finance and Administration confirmed. Brian Haile, who has served as director of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insurance Exchange Planning Initiative for the past two and a half years, is taking his talents and knowledge of health care reform over to the private sector. Haile will head up health policy for tax prep company Jackson Hewitt.
The number of Tennessee teachers apparently not told how poorly they scored on a teacher evaluation is worrisome to Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who questions how they can improve without feedback. “It’s been disconcerting that so many teachers have emailed to say, ‘You made a mistake,’ ” when notified of their results by the state Department of Education, Huffman said. His staff has verified the results, though. “It means (their) principal had not talked to them” about their poor scores, Huffman said.
State officials have reached a tentative deal allowing Piedmont Natural Gas access to the Radnor Lake State Natural Area for a new pipeline, The Tennessean reports. Piedmont’s proposed 12-mile pipeline would run for more than a mile across the park’s southern portion, following an existing Tennessee Valley Authority powerline. It would not go under the lake itself, The Tennessean reports. Piedmont still requires a number of other permits to build its pipeline.
New state rules for hydraulic fracturing of rock to release natural gas have come about as interest builds in tapping the Chattanooga Shale formation.The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported a half-dozen drilling companies have looked at property leases and mineral rights in Hamilton County. A spokeswoman with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said no permits have been granted and none is pending locally for the so-called “fracking” method of drilling. Industry officials said fracking does not endanger the water supply and said there is a lot of hysteria about the practice.
A Clarksville woman is charged with TennCare fraud related to prescription drugs, according to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. The Office of Inspector General, with the assistance of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, announced the arrest of Amber Jean Norris, 28, of Clarksville on Thursday. A Montgomery County Grand Jury indicted Norris on one count of TennCare fraud and one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, according to the release.
Tennessee Senate Republicans are proposing legislation that seeks to prevent expansion of the state Medicaid program under provisions of President Barack Obama’s health care law. The measure, called the “TennCare Fiscal Responsibility Act”, was filed Thursday by Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown and has 15 Senate co-sponsors. A similar version of the proposal was filed last week in the House. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states have the right to opt out of Medicaid expansion without losing pre-existing federal Medicaid funding.
The legislation is sponsored by Brian Kelsey of Germantown, who doubts the federal government will pay for the expansion as advertised. Governor Bill Haslam has asked for time to consider all the options, noting that rural hospitals could go out of business if more poor people aren’t insured. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he believes hospitals have a tendency to cry “wolf,” but he’s also trying to slow down Kelsey’s expansion ban. “I’m not signing on to the bill and I will encourage the sponsors of this to hold off and let’s get the facts in front of us first.”
Members of the state pharmacy board called for more inspectors on Thursday amid discussions of new rules and potential legislation related to the regulation of sterile compounding. The board has five inspectors to oversee 1,905 pharmacies. Lawmakers, pharmacy experts and the board have talked in recent months about adding regulations for sterile compounding, the practice of combining multiple drugs for injection. In September, tainted compounded drugs led to a national outbreak of fungal meningitis that has stricken 693 people and led to 45 deaths.
With meth lab busts in Tennessee on the rise again, one state lawmaker wants to require prescriptions for the so-called “precursors” found in cold medicine. Pharmacists and drug companies are already lining up to keep pseudoephedrine available over the counter. Urban areas are seeing more busts, but meth has historically been a rural problem. There was a big discovery in Rep. David Hawk’s hometown of Greeneville a few weeks ago in which kids had to be taken to a hospital and decontaminated from living in a meth lab.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he will sign a proposal to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets into law if it is passed by lawmakers this year. The Republican governor told reporters Thursday that he’s neutral on the measure, but that he won’t stand in the way of it becoming law. Legislation was filed Thursday that would allow Tennesseans to vote on whether to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine. State Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and fellow Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol on Thursday introduced their bill to end the exclusive right of liquor stores to sell wine in Tennessee.
The battle over wine sales in grocery stores could be moving from the statehouse to your local polling place. Legislation filed Thursday would allow voters in 170 Tennessee municipalities, including Nashville, Brentwood and Mt. Juliet, to decide whether to let local grocery and convenience stores sell wine. Supporters say the measure would let the most-affected settle the contentious issue, which has flummoxed state legislators for several years. But critics vow to fight the proposal, saying it’s merely a ploy to tilt the battlefield in favor of large, out-of-state corporate interests.
Backers of wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores filed new legislation Thursday to allow voters in the towns and cities with liquor stores and liquor-by-the-drink in restaurants to hold referendums to decide on wine in local grocery stores. Surrounded at a news conference by grocers from Kroger to Memphis’ six-store Superlo Foods, the bill’s two sponsors said they are more confident in its passage this year. “The attitude of our state is changing, and this year it’s a referendum bill. Some of our members don’t like voting on alcohol bills and with this they’ll be voting on a referendum bill,” said state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.
Residents across Tennessee would be able to vote whether to allow local grocers to put wine on their shelves, under legislation filed by state Sen. Bill Ketron. If passed, the bill would enable municipalities where retail package stores or liquor-by-the-drink are allowed to hold public votes on the sale of wine in retail food stores during the next general election. The law would take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, are sponsoring the bill. “Rep. Lundberg and I strongly believe that Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to vote on this issue,” Ketron said.
Liquor stores have blocked past attempts to break up their virtual monopoly on wine. This year’s proposal allows for a local referendum. And Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro says voters can decide if they want wine more widely available. He says liquor stores have been unwilling to talk about middle ground because they’ve been so successful at keeping the status quo. “Over the last several years, we’ve looked at our complicated and archaic laws of alcohol in Tennessee, and they like it just the way it is. They don’t want it changed. We’re willing to sit down and talk to them, but they’re not willing to come to the table.”
Legislation would allow school boards to decide State Rep. Joe Carr is sponsoring legislation that would let local school systems decide if they want to let teachers with extensive firearms training carry weapons at school. “It’s permissive,” Carr, R-Lascassas, said Thursday. “We’re not in any way requiring it.” The bill would allow school boards to authorize administrators and teachers to carry or have access to firearms at their school. To carry a weapon or have access to one, teachers would have to obtain a state permit and go through the same certification as a school resource officer at least one year before school board authorization.
University of Tennessee officials have asked the state to hold off on approving its proposal to allow fracking on university land on the Cumberland Plateau. A subcommittee of the State Building Commission was to have taken up the proposal Thursday in Nashville. Instead UT sought a deferral. UT Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington told the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/VyoQI6) the 30-day was intended to “let people have their say.” Environmental groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center and the newly formed Frack-Free Tennessee, attended the meeting and said they were relieved by the postponement.
A fracking decision for UT’s Cumberland Forest is on hold for now. The University of Tennessee, which just days ago asked the State Building Commission to OK a plan to seek hydraulic fracturing on more than 8,636 acres of the university’s Cumberland Forest, sought a deferral at the last minute. The delay came as the agenda item was read at Thursday’s meeting of the executive subcommittee of the Tennessee Building Commission in Nashville.
State officials put off a proposal Thursday to take bids for drilling rights on University of Tennessee land. Skeptics fear it would open thousands of acres on the Cumberland Plateau to hydraulic fracturing. The proposal would’ve opened up bids to drill natural gas through the process known as fracking, without getting its value appraised. Anne Davis with the Southern Environmental Law Center says UT may have been surprised how much attention it was getting. “People are just asking a lot of questions, so I think it’s a good thing that it’s been deferred, and it’ll give the public an opportunity to really look at this.”
East Ridge resident Jillian Alexander was sure the email from Amazon was a scam when she first saw it on her phone. “You may owe use tax on purchases you made from Amazon.com LLC during the previous calendar year,” the notice from the online retailer read. It listed the money she had spent on the site last year — $87 and some change — and included a link to Tennessee’s state website where she could pay the tax she apparently owed. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?'” she said. But it’s not a scam.
To pay or not to pay — that’s the question thousands of Tennesseans face after receiving an email notice from online retailer Amazon stating that they owe Tennessee’s use tax on their Amazon purchases. Tennesseans are asked to fill out a special return on the state’s website to calculate and pay the tax. And while citizens are legally required to pay up, there are a myriad of reasons many are choosing not to: the state can’t easily enforce the collection, the process involves filling out an extra tax return, most people owe only a small amount, some think Amazon should have collected the tax when the products were purchased, and others think the email notice is a scam.
Sen. Mae Beavers, who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee for six years, says she was not surprised when she was removed as chair of the influential committee earlier this month. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey replaced Beavers as chair with fellow Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey, an attorney from Germantown. When asked about the move, Ramsey said Beavers had disappointed him “time or two,” and that she had not always been a “team player.” “I ruffled some feathers taking a stand for my constituents, really everybody’s constituents, that had a complaint about judges,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said.
After a pregnancy and delivery that were free of complications, Holly and Michael Goughnour celebrated the birth of their first child — a “beautiful baby boy,” his mother recalls, who weighed 9 pounds 5 ounces and appeared healthy and normal. But as it turned out, Grant Michael Goughnour was not healthy at all. Only 17 days after his birth, he became sickly and struggled to breathe, prompting a rushed trip with his parents to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis. It was too late. A rare birth defect known as truncus arteriosus led to heart failure.
A new study out this week claims that, as a percentage of income, Tennessee taxes low-income families four times as much as the very wealthy, The Tennessean reports. The study lists Tennessee as among a group of “terrible ten” states for placing unnecessary burdens on families making less than $17,000 a year. The study was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a pro income tax group. Tennessee does not have an income tax.
Pressure mounted on Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith this week as another inconsistency emerged in his account of rental expenses at party headquarters. Smith’s latest contradiction surfaced as Democratic insiders questioned his ability to run the county party. In a Tuesday letter to party Vice Chairman Rodney Strong, former party chairman Stuart James called for Smith’s resignation, citing a Jan. 24 board meeting where Smith ordered a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter off the premises.
Earlier this month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, directed by a former Ohio attorney general, issued regulations requiring lenders to provide all appraisals on property to consumers seeking mortgages beginning in 2014. The CFPB, created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, is working on rules affecting consumer finance in a variety of areas but its actions, and all enforcement actions taken by the National Labor Relations Board since January 2012, could be nullified if a bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., becomes law.
The government’s response to the July 28 security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has cost taxpayers about $15 million so far, according to an estimate from the National Nuclear Security Administration, and possibly a lot more. According to a statement provided to the News Sentinel, the NNSA spent millions of dollars on security changes and improvements at the Oak Ridge plant in the six months following an unprecedented intrusion by activists protesting the production of weapons of mass destruction.
Gov. Bill Haslam, an inveterate runner, seemed to feel the adrenaline Monday night in his State of the State address, bouncing when he crested the high points and plunging workman-like through the soon-to-be controversial sections of the year ahead. Haslam broke quickly on his rhetorical journey, bragging about recent rankings that differentiate Tennessee from Washington’s fiscal malfeasance and the functional bankruptcy of liberal-dominated, high-tax, high-spend states like California and Illinois. “Unlike the news coming out of our nation’s capital and so many other states around the country, good things are happening in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
A proposed $35.4 million Nissan Education and Training Facility in Smyrna represents the type of public-private partnership that can bolster education in Tennessee and build the state’s economic future. With Tennessee becoming a “Detroit South” of sorts, this educational concept will give people the high-tech training they need to step right into positions with Nissan, General Motors in Spring Hill and even Volkswagen in Chattanooga. It’s no surprise, either, that Tennessee is gaining footing in the auto manufacturing world since it is a right-to-work state and organized labor is losing its hold nationally. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the initiative during his State of the State address Monday night.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State speech on Monday evening was perhaps most outstanding for the fact that nothing in the speech stood out as a takeaway. It wasn’t a bad speech. Some might even say it was, for Haslam, a fairly good, if rambling, address, but there was no point where the listener could say, “This is it. This is the point he’s trying to make.” Yes, there were an astonishing number of proposals, things that he wants to do across state government, most of which truly need to be done and will make a difference. However, they apparently aren’t packaged logically and are instead just scattered here and there.
Lobbyists for K12 Inc., an online public school with student-voucher operations in several states, vigorously pursued Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers for a voucher contract when they took control of the Legislature, and Gov. Bill Haslam weakly went along. Now the results for the first year of K12’s virtual school in Tennessee are in, and they are a disaster. State officials can’t move quickly enough to require stiffer student achievement standards, or better yet, to terminate the contract. There’s little doubt about why K12 chose to locate its statewide virtual school in Tennessee’s Union County. The county is the state’s poorest, and thus it receives the highest dollar-amount-per-student in state education funds under the state’s variable basic education funding formula.
Tennessee has the highest tax on beer in the United States. Under the current tax structure, it is an honor that the state is virtually guaranteed to keep, as the state’s local wholesale beer tax of 17 percent automatically benefits from producer and wholesaler price increases. In fact, the wholesale tax is a tax on top of a tax, as it is calculated from the price of a barrel of beer, including state and federal barrel taxes. Tennessee municipalities and counties have been beneficiaries of the tax structure that was originally passed in 1954. The tax is paid directly to the cities and counties, no pausing required in the state’s coffers.
A few short months ago, Alderman Dale Carr, with others on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, was helping oversee the city of Sevierville’s $50 million budget. They were approving or disapproving purchases large and small, from a new pickup truck to sparkling lights with which to line the Parkway during Winterfest. On Monday night, state Rep. Dale Carr had preferred seating at the state Capitol in Nashville when Gov. Bill Haslam, in his “State of the State” address, rolled out his $33 billion budget for next fiscal year — a plan that includes $1.1 billion for construction and maintenance of state facilities and adding $100 million to the state rainy-day fund. That’s a lot more zeroes than Carr saw in his previous post.
Among legislation the Tennessee General Assembly will consider this session is a proposed constitutional amendment by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, that would change the way the state’s appellate judges are selected. The bill would apply to jurists who sit on Tennessee’s criminal and civil appeals courts, and the state Supreme Court. Kelsey wants a federal-type system, in which the governor selects a nominee and the state House and Senate approve or reject the choice. The judges would run on an uncontested retention ballot at the end of their eight-year terms, which would satisfy a state constitutional provision that says judges have to be elected. Kelsey’s bill, if approved, would be presented to voters for ratification in 2014.