This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The doors to the secretive M&M’s factory in Cleveland were opened for Gov. Bill Haslam Thursday, as he and local officials toured the Mars candy-making facility to mark the company’s longstanding investment in Tennessee. Decked in a hardhat, hairnet and lab coat, Haslam was led past conveyor belts of Twix cookies being baked and drizzled in chocolate. He saw giant washer tanks that coated M&M’s and lightning-quick machines that packaged some of the country’s favorite treats for shipping in fractions of a second.
Governor Haslam took a tour the Mars candy bar plant in Cleveland Thursday afternoon. He also sat down with company officials and talked with plant workers. After the tour, the Governor said, “Obviously everybody knows the final product, and this is a product everybody can understand to see everything from the raw chocolate to the raw caramel coming in with sugar and then the end product. It’s an impressive deal. And then you understand the pure volume. 500 tons of M&Ms a day, I think that says a lot about all that’s involved here and the amount of production they can have.”
330 million a day. That’s how many M&Ms that Mars Inc.’s plant here makes daily in the wake of the completion of its $67 million expansion. The number is in addition to the 72 tons of Twix the factory can produce in just one 12-hour shift. “I’m doing my fair share,” joked Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam about eating the Volunteer State-made M&Ms. Haslam, who toured the 650,000-square-foot plant along with more than a dozen other public officials, said the investment by New Jersey-based Mars is an example of what Tennessee is trying to accomplish by helping existing businesses to grow.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he had been “encouraged” by conversations with officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding his proposal to expand Medicaid. Last week, the governor announced he would reject a federal offer to subsidize an expansion of TennCare under the Affordable Care Act. Haslam instead suggested a Tennessee plan that would use federal dollars to purchase private health insurance plans for new TennCare enrollees, similar to a model being put forward in Arkansas.
If ever there was a politician in an unenviable position, Bill Haslam is it. Charged with addressing one of the most sweeping health care proposals in recent memory — states’ option to expand Medicaid rolls at the expense of the federal government — Haslam has found himself walking an exceptionally thin line. Many of his Republican cohorts have been unabashed about excoriating virtually anything from the Democratic camp. Rumors even swirled that Tennessee Republicans planned to walk out on Haslam’s March 27 address, had he chosen to accept federal funding in exchange for a massive expansion of TennCare.
People are dying to get unemployment benefits in Tennessee. Since July 2011, for instance, at least seven people who had died were issued unemployment checks by the state of Tennessee, to the tune of about $12,000 in unemployment payments. But it’s not just the deceased that a state audit found were being paid benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It also found that 24 state employees were getting paid unemployment benefits — while still working for the state of Tennessee.
Speakers on both ends of the Tennessee Capitol all but called school voucher legislation dead this year, one day after Gov. Bill Haslam withdrew his version. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Thursday told reporters that he didn’t think voucher legislation would pass the Senate after the governor pulled his plan to give up to 5,000 vouchers to low-income students in poorly performing schools and the Senate Education Committee finished its business for the year. Ramsey was dismissive of calls by Sen. Brian Kelsey to amend a bill on the floor of the Senate to include a more aggressive alternative plan.
Students at public universities still won’t be able to use their school-issued ID to vote after the state Senate on Thursday voted to remove a provision allowing their use from a new voter identification bill. By agreeing 23-7 with an identical version of the bill passed in the state House, senators sent the legislation, which now allows faculty and graduate assistants to use their college-issued ID to cast a ballot and bans voters from using state-issued library cards, to Gov. Bill Haslam for approval.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Thursday blamed the failure of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher bill on a fellow GOP senator he says was “bound and determined” to expand the measure over the governor’s objections. Now, with lawmakers hoping to adjourn in about two weeks, the issue is dead, said Ramsey, R-Blountville. “I think something’s better than nothing,” Ramsey said of the insistence of Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, on extending vouchers beyond what Haslam proposed.
There was finger-pointing Thursday about who’s responsible for the likely death of Tennessee school voucher legislation for this year.cGov. Bill Haslam withdrew his bill launching a limited voucher program late Wednesday after Republicans on the Senate Education Committee refused to back down from plans to try to alter the bill into a broader program open to families with larger incomes and from more schools. Vouchers allow parents to take taxpayer money for public schools to pay private school tuition for their children.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says the push for a private school voucher plan should be discontinued for the year, now that most committees have closed up shop. Attempts from Republicans to expand Governor Bill Haslam’s limited voucher bill caused him to spike the proposal. Germantown Senator Brian Kelsey is hopeful he could still find a way to pass a voucher program this year, although Ramsey says no way. “This is something that needs to go through the committee, this is something that needs to be heard in committee. That’s the reason we have a committee system. And so, this is too big an issue to hijack a bill on the senate floor,” said Ramsey.
An effort to lift the ban on for-profit companies running charter schools in Tennessee has been resurrected in a legislative Hail Mary. The change in law has been tacked onto a bill of minor tweaks to charter school regulations. The Senate Education Committee has rejected a for-profit charter school bill not once, but twice this year. So this week Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) – the committee chair – added it to the much broader proposal, and voila. “It was the will of the committee,” Gresham said when asked why she was ramming the legislation through.
The senator who sponsored a measure to let people show student IDs to cast ballots realized it didn’t have enough votes to pass, so he instead backed a bill that doesn’t allow them to be used. Murfreesboro Republican Sen. Bill Ketron decided Thursday to concur with the House version that wouldn’t allow the student IDs and the full Senate voted 23-7 in support. The measure is now headed to the governor for his consideration. “We saw the vote over there,” said Ketron, referring to the House vote. “That wind came strong, and I knew that’s where it was going. Members were agreeing with the House. They were urging me to concur.”
State senators approved and sent to the governor Thursday a bill to prohibit the use of the Memphis Public Library’s photo identification cards for voting purposes. In the process, the Senate concurred with the House’s earlier action to also disallow student photo IDs issued by Tennessee’s public colleges and universities for voting. When it originally passed the Senate March 14, Senate Bill 125 allowed student IDs to comply with the Voter Photo ID law that Republicans pushed through the General Assembly two years ago.
There soon may be more pharmacy compounding done in Tennessee rather than less. The legislature’s answer to industry problems is to reduce the number of compounded drugs shipped in from out of state. The fungal meningitis outbreak that claimed 51 lives – 14 in Tennessee – was traced back to contaminated steroids mixed by a huge compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. One reason drugs were being ordered from afar is that Tennessee only allows compounders to produce drugs if they are filling a specific person’s prescription.
If Hamilton County commissioners won’t address the county’s sick, then why should the state Legislature worry about the county’s dead? State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voiced that sentiment Thursday as he delayed action on a bill that would allow Hamilton County to cremate local residents who die with no money for burial. The political power play, he hopes, will prod county commissioners to act on a bill to restructure Erlanger hospital’s board of trustees and funding. “
In an echo of state Senate action Wednesday, a House resolution has been filed saying that body intends to ask for the state investigative file into 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb’s office. Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, filed HR 60, which states the intent of the House Criminal Justice Committee to review results of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s four-month investigation. The Senate passed a similar resolution Wednesday. The lawmakers’ action this week follows the release last week of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s long-awaited report on the TBI investigation he commissioned in August.
Run to your bunkers, Georgia lawmakers: Incoming fire’s heading across the border from your Tennessee counterparts. Tennessee House members cheered, whistled and noisily clapped Thursday as a Nashville colleague launched a verbal barrage at Georgia’s demands for access to Tennessee River water. “I believe that we might be the Volunteer State, but I believe in no way should we surrender any part of our state, particularly land and water we’ve possessed for nearly 200 years,” Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, said in his floor speech.
CBS Morning News will explore the border dispute that is behind the state of Georgia’s creative efforts to tap into the Tennessee River in a news segment expected to air around 7:30 this morning. Anchor Gayle Long teased the segment at the top of the hour. Tenneessee and Georgia lawmakers have engaged in a war of words over the Peach State’s insistence that the state border be moved, which would allow Georgia access to Tennesee River water.
With sequestration at the one-month mark in Washington, the two congressmen representing Memphis in the nation’s capital offered differing views on the ongoing automatic federal government spending cuts as a result of a lack of a budget agreement. Democrat Steve Cohen and Republican Stephen Fincher offered the views during separate stops in the Memphis area during the congressional Easter recess. Cohen told a group Wednesday, April 3, in South Memphis the process is designed to be “an awful thing.”
Mark Woodruff admitted he was somewhat surprised when U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, made an appearance at the Tri-State Gun and Archery Club on Thursday. “She is a trap shooter herself, and we saw where she challenged the president to a trap shoot,” club president Woodruff said. “We invited her and she graciously agreed to come.” In January, Blackburn issued her challenge to President Barack Obama after he said he skeet shoots at Camp David “all the time.”
Newly freed prisoners traditionally walk away from the penitentiary with a bus ticket and a few dollars in their pockets. Starting in January, many of the 650,000 inmates released from prison each year will be eligible for something else: health care by way of Medicaid, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. A sizeable portion of the nearly 5 million ex-offenders who are on parole or probation at any given time will also be covered. The expansion of Medicaid, a key provision of the health care reform law, is the main vehicle for delivering health insurance to former prisoners.
Asurion, the fast-growing Nashville-based mobile phone insurer, is eliminating 32 jobs in its IT department. “After a recent review, Asurion’s IT department concluded that 32 roles were no longer a fit with that department’s way of delivering computing services internally,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “The impacted roles will be eliminated effective May 3, 2013. Within Asurion’s Nashville IT operations, there are currently 57 open positions; impacted team members have been encouraged to apply for these or other opportunities within Asurion.
An ambitious plan to lure thousands of manufacturing jobs to Jefferson County has been abandoned after less than three months. The Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee on Thursday announced it will no longer pursue efforts to create an 1,800-acre industrial megasite near the intersection of Interstates 40 and 81. “While EDOC firmly believes that the megasite is a viable option for economic progress in Jefferson County, it is clear that getting 100 percent of the property owners to agree on options for land would be a long and uncertain process,” George Gantte, the EDOC chairman and mayor of Dandridge, said in a news release.
A national right to work group has joined the fray over whether Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant should set up a works council labor board and give the United Auto Workers a foothold. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has reached out to VW workers on Facebook, offering free legal aid if they’re feeling pressured to join the UAW. “What we see in Chattanooga is a little bit concerning,” said Mark Mix, the Springfield, Va.-based group’s president. The union declined to comment, citing UAW’s President Bob King’s earlier statement that the organization is “very interested in, and has great respect for, the German system of co-determination where the company has strong collaboration with management, unions and works councils.”
Stretching the equivalent of more than 25 football fields off Joe B. Jackson Parkway, Amazon’s fulfillment center is doing just that: meeting the demands of customers for everything from electronics to one-serving coffee cups.cThe facility received its first merchandise Sept. 19, 2012, and one week later made its first shipments to customers. Since then shipments have left the location daily, and full-time employees have grown from 400 to 1,100, keeping products moving in and out 24 hours a day seven days a week.
In a performance Saturday, Seth Myers commended Nashville for being in the name of a TV show that did not begin with “CSI” or “The Real Housewives.” While that shout-out does speak well for the city, the ratings for ABC’s “Nashville” still lag behind at least one of the other brands. Ratings for “Nashville” rose to 4.1 Wednesday, meaning 4.1 percent of households tuned into the show, up from 3.9 on March 27 and 3.7 on Feb. 28, according to SpoilerTV, citing Nielsen Media Research.
Hamilton County Schools general purpose budget will grow by about 2 percent next fiscal year, though the district still will look to make cuts as certain costs continue to rise. School board members, in the thick of the annual budgeting season, met Thursday evening to discuss next year’s costs and debate ways to balance the complex budget. The current general purpose budget is projected to increase from about $331 million to about $337 million next year. That budget funds nearly all district obligations, including teachers, maintenance and transportation. But it excludes budgets for food service and federal programs.
Let’s agree on a few facts about public education in Nashville. First: House Speaker Beth Harwell and Mayor Karl Dean are right. Students and families deserve more choice in education, and high-quality charter schools — publicly funded entities operated by nonprofit organizations — add value to the city’s portfolio of schools. Second: Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is headed in the right direction. Despite critics’ claims to the contrary, Director Jesse Register and his team have engineered a solid turnaround that’s producing year-over-year gains in student achievement. Now, the Nashville School Board and management are working together to instill a greater sense of urgency around continued improvement in the nation’s 42nd-largest school system.
Tennessee is set to take another step backwards on voter rights. Rather than add state-issued college student IDs to a list of photo identification acceptable for voting purposes, the Legislature appears set to reinforce an already questionable set of rules for casting ballots. The voter photo ID law sponsored by state Sen. Bill Ketron passed the General Assembly in 2011 with the idea to “secure the freedom of elections and the purity of the ballot box as our Constitution states.” In doing so, however, it managed to eliminate the votes of hundreds of people across the state while making it harder for the young, elderly and poor to vote.
Linus Hall is not an unreasonable man. The man behind Yazoo Beer sat across the table from me and let me pepper him with questions about the legislation he and the rest of the brewing establishment are behind, the Beer Tax Reform Act of 2013. What emerged from the conversation was an infuriating picture of how taxes are assessed on beer here in Tennessee. Instead of being levied on the volume he produces, Hall and others are taxed based on price, leading one of the most tax-averse places in the country to become the highest taxing beer state in America. You remember economies of scale from high school, don’t you?
After Sen. Stacey Campfield’s other attempts to turn back the clock in Tennessee to the 1950s, we really should not be surprised by his latest effort to bully a vulnerable segment of the population. The Knoxville Republican failed again this year to see his “Don’t Say Gay” bill become law. That legislation would have hindered free speech in the classroom, compromised students’ confidentiality, and created a stigma for gay and lesbian teenagers. Senate Bill 132/House Bill 261 aims even lower, in terms of how many people would be directly affected. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, would tie welfare benefits to academic performance.
Gun enthusiasts frequently claim that gun control is a win-lose situation, that responsible gun buyers would lose under any tightening of gun laws, and criminals would still get all the guns they want. But that is obviously not true. If gun control laws were made slightly more strict — say, by closing the private-dealer/gunshow loophole that lets 40 percent of the nation’s gun sales occur without a background check — ordinary gun buyers could still buy all the guns they want. Yet criminals would have a far harder time finding private sellers who would disobey a universal background-check law for private purchases.
While your earnest journalist was wandering around on holiday and otherwise occupied with matters sacred and secular, our fearless leaders in Nashville and Washington have been up to stuff. Some bad. Some good. Some possibly promising. To wit: “You can hear bad ideas almost every day,” wrote respected political analyst Charlie Cook this week on “The Atlantic” website. “But only occasionally do you hear a colossally bad, ill-conceived idea, one that leaves you wondering who dreamed it up.” Cook was writing about the idea of state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to take the nomination of U.S. Senate candidates away from the people and let the members of the Legislature pick candidates in their caucuses.
I never thought the day would come when I would say, “Thank God for Bob Corker.” But there I was Tuesday evening, catching up on the day’s news and reading about the judiciously placed phone call he’d made to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell that finally put a stop to the latest nonsense that had been flying through the General Assembly without any brakes. What Corker, Tennessee’s junior U.S. senator, had called Harwell to express concern about was a bill sponsored by state Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, and its companion measure sponsored by state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, that would have had the state lawmakers nominate candidates for U.S. Senate instead of having the voters select the nominee via a party primary.
Everybody who works in the central offices of the Memphis and Shelby County school districts knew the day was coming when their jobs would be on the line. The day came this week when 1,000 central offices employees were told they will have to reapply for their jobs.cIn an effort to eliminate duplicate duties and to save money when the merger of the two districts takes effect July 1, 225 will be out of jobs. Combined, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools have about 650 central office employees paid through the districts’ general funds. The rest are paid with federal funds and grants. In an effort to be fair, all 1,000 will be required to reapply.