This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Jordan Bush, 22, will graduate from Austin Peay State University in May with a degree from the chemical engineering technology program. Most of his program classes have been in the Hemlock Semiconductor Building at APSU. But he’s not worried about finding a job, despite the shuttering of the plant that bears the building’s name. Like many who entered the program, Bush admits he was first drawn to the program after Hemlock announced it was building a $1.2 billion polysilicon plant in Clarksville that would employ 500 workers to manufacture polycrystalline silicon, a critical base component in solar energy panels.
The BMW plant near Greenville, S.C., is a success story that would be great to repeat in Jefferson County, says Garrett Wagley, director of economic development with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. The plant pumps about $1.2 billion a year into South Carolina’s economy in terms of wages and salaries. It employs 7,000 people but supports about 23,000 jobs statewide, according to a 2008 University of South Carolina study. Since it began production in 1994, the plant has produced economic benefits that weren’t even expected at the time, said Nancy P. Whitworth, Greenville’s director of economic development.
Neighbors took in girl but weren’t told of risk. Then her father shot them all. For more than three years, Susan Randolph has wanted to talk publicly about the weekend the Department of Children’s Services came into her family’s life and turned it upside down, leaving in its wake the deaths of her husband and a teenaged girl. She hasn’t been able to until now. Last week, state lawyers abandoned efforts to keep secret a judge’s ruling that DCS was liable for the deaths of Todd Randolph, 46, and Stevie Noelle Milburn, 15.
Being a low-income criminal defendant in Tennessee can often mean having disappointing legal representation, according to a recent study. A study released by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers found that Tennessee pays court-appointed attorneys one of the lowest rates in the country. The study, tied to the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that entitled poor people charged with crimes to court-appointed attorneys, suggested that states with low compensation and pay caps hinder poor defendants.
Proposal would let local officials hold private meetings A Republican lawmaker who last year backed off a bill that would have allowed local officials to hold more closed-door meetings has renewed the effort, saying he’s asked county commissioners to bring him a proposal that has a chance of passing a key subcommittee. State Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin has a bill scheduled before the House State Government Subcommittee on Tuesday that could be amended to address local government officials’ call for a bill to allow them to meet privately as long as a quorum isn’t present.
Legislation to ban mountaintop removal in Tennessee died its expected death in the state legislature Wednesday, but not before advocates tried out a new tactic to gin up public support — playing to anti-Chinese sentiments. In the days leading up to Wednesday’s decisive committee meeting, the Tennessee Conservative Union hit lawmakers who oppose the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, Senate Bill 99, with an ad that warns the “Red Chinese” are prepared to destroy Tennessee’s mountains.
An upcoming event at the University of Tennessee called “Sex Week” last week drew the reaction you might expect from some conservatives in the Tennessee legislature — shock, outrage and a veiled threat of withheld funding. After learning about plans to hold a week of sex-related workshops, games and other activities on UT’s Knoxville campus, Tennessee lawmakers teed off. The $20,000 event, funded partly through student activity fees and partly with university money, includes a poetry workshop led by a self-described sex expert, a discussion on how to talk to parents about sex and a scavenger hunt for a “golden condom.”
Residents looking to connect with local elected officials via social media may run into a bit of hit and miss now, but the trend is catching on. State Sens. Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy, for instance, use Twitter regularly to communicate news and events from the Hill. Murfreesboro Mayor Tommy Bragg, on the other hand, has both Facebook and Twitter accounts but rarely posts to either. In fact, Bragg has made only one Tweet since creating his Twitter account, and that was in May of last year.
Patricia Heim, a Republican member of the Davidson County Election Commission, upset many conservatives by voting against a plan to study the citizenship status of recently registered voters who were born outside the United States. Before the commission voted unanimously Thursday to rescind its previous 3-2 vote — in which Heim and Democrat A.J. Starling had been in the minority — Heim read a statement defending her vote and her priorities: “I take seriously my responsibility as an election commissioner to make sure Davidson County’s list of registered voters is routinely examined and appropriately vetted to ensure it is limited to eligible citizens of Davidson County,” Heim said.
Although the bottom line shows some growth in population, Shelby County remains saddled with a negative balance sheet in terms of the number of residents moving into the county compared with the number leaving. Census figures released last week show that between 2006 and 2010 an estimated 39,198 people moved out of the county, compared to the 32,452 who moved in from other places in the U.S. That’s a net loss of 6,746 residents to domestic migration. Still, the county’s population has continued to increase as a result of a much greater number of births than deaths.
Interviews with Southern conservatives in Congress reveal surprising common ground with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who reversed himself and announced support for same-sex marriage after his son came out. A week after Portman’s switch jolted the Capitol, the Southerners’ comments reflect a broader Republican effort to appeal to young Americans as an increasingly vocal minority gains momentum in a decadeslong quest for equality…”The Supreme Court should not intervene and shut out the democratic process on this issue,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
It was a little past 10 o’clock on a November morning when Ronald Reagan walked into the White House’s Roosevelt Room and prepared to sign into law the most comprehensive immigration reforms the country had seen in 3½ decades. In a short speech before he put ink to paper, Reagan paused to reflect on what the new law would mean. “Future generations of Americans will be thankful,” he said, “for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship.”
National Journal took a look last week at why Republicans in Congress aren’t distancing themselves from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. The South Pittsburg Republican’s support in Tennessee has eroded since details of his divorce were brought to light last fall. But the magazine listed California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as among those standing behind DesJarlais. Issa praised DesJarlais for “hard work and outstanding contributions” on his committee, primarily by opposing the Affordable Care Act and pushing to cut regulations.
Q: Whatever happened with TVA’s still-vacant board seat? A: After a showdown at the end of December to get congressional approval for five new TVA board members, the nomination of one, Dr. Marilyn Brown, was stalled by Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Just last week, Brown — a respected energy and climate change expert, Georgia Institute of Technology professor and Nobel Prize winner — was renominated by the Obama administration. The move drew praise from environmental and conservation groups, but quick fire from Alexander, R-Tenn.
Despite the current cloudy outlook for the solar industry, Wacker officials said Friday they are still confident they have found their place in the sun at the $2 billion polysilicon plant being built near Charleston, Tenn. Dr. Wolfgang Sturm, senior manager of marketing for Wacker, said ongoing improvements in the quality and efficiency of the photovoltaic components should lower the price and boost the use of solar-generated electricity. “We see photovoltaics quite positively and we’re convinced in their future,” Sturm told a delegation of Chattanooga area business leaders here Friday.
This town may be known for its skilled blue-collar car makers at Nissan, but government leaders hope to build on that by attracting white-collar jobs to an office park on Sam Ridley Parkway. “We’re targeting jobs that are going to be more than just minimum-wage jobs,” Town Manager Mark O’Neal said, while pointing out the 43-acre office park location on the north side of Sam Ridley Parkway. The land for what town leaders have called the Summit at Smyrna is filled with evergreen woods at this time.
The last place Keith Sanford expected to find himself this spring was on the unemployment line. This was supposed to be the year Hemlock Semiconductor began mass-producing polycrystalline silicon from its new $1.2 billion Clarksville plant. Instead, 2013 saw the company instituting a mass and permanent layoff of close to 300 people it had just hired in Clarksville – a move that shocked not just the workers themselves, but all of Middle Tennessee, if not the world. Sanford was just one of the people who lost his job.
As Gov. Bill Haslam gets closer to making a decision on expanding Tennessee’s Medicaid program, TennCare, he is faced with near irrational opposition by a few state lawmakers. With billions of dollars, jobs, hospital solvency and health insurance coverage for as many as 180,000 Tennesseans at stake, Haslam deserves some breathing room from state lawmakers. Both Republicans and Democrats are holding poison pill bills, either of which, if passed, would doom TennCare expansion. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, have a bill which would block TennCare expansion, taking the matter out of Haslam’s hands.
Adopting the Tennessee Bar Association recommendations is good governance For almost a year, The Tennessean’s Walter Roche has been writing about problems in conservatorships and how the rules and processes intended to protect people when they are at their most vulnerable — when their ability to make decisions about their finances and their health is compromised — were failing them. Tennessee is well under way in righting this particular ship thanks to the hard work of the Tennessee Bar Association, which held hearings around the state on how best to revise the laws governing conservatorship.
Congressional Republicans hastily approved a mathematically impossible retread budget of their party’s worst ideas before fleeing Washington last Thursday for a two-week Easter break. So it’s almost certain we’ll see Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DeJarlais showing up here during their holiday to paint flowers on their revamped budget wrecking ball when they pause to brag about their other fiscal insult: Their interim legislation to keep the government funded through September by doubling down on the harshest measures of the current budget sequesters, which are randomly hurting vital government services, the job base and economic growth.
Members of the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition paid their annual visit to The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board last week, outlining their legislative agenda for this session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The bills they support are aimed at enhancing public safety, either by increasing penalties for some crimes, tweaking existing legislation or addressing an issue that most citizens probably do not think of as a safety concern — so-called “pain mills.” Each bill comes with a fiscal note — an assessment of how much enforcement of the bill would cost taxpayers yearly. Historically, many of the coalition’s proposals have not received final approval in the legislature because of lawmakers’ concerns about the corresponding fiscal notes.
In the wake of the Free Press’ series of editorials celebrating Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information laws, we got emails, letters, online comments, tweets and calls. Lots of ’em. Here is the Free Press’ response to some of our readers’ questions and comments: It seems people are criticizing Missy Crutchfield and EAC because she appeared nude in a couple of movies decades ago. Is that the reason the Free Press is so negative about her? Missy Crutchfield’s roles in several movies that are described as “softcore porn” or “hard-R” films are a popular topic — and point of condemnation — in the online comments section of the editorials addressing her management of EAC.
My dear ol’ alma mater couldn’t make it to a second- or third-tier bowl game, was dissed by the NCAA basketball tournament committee and got blown away in the first round of the lowly NIT. But by gosh, we’re still No. 1 in making headlines for crazy reasons. I speak, of course, of the University of Tennessee, which has become the poster school for outrageous student news. There was last fall’s “butt-chugging” incident — which proved conclusively that young males, particularly fraternity boys, lose the one percent of common sense they otherwise might have when under the influence of alcohol.