This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Woodbridge Group is opening a new manufacturing plant in Chattanooga. The new facility will produce formed plastics products for the automobile industry and will operate independently of the two divisions the company already runs in the Scenic City: Woodbridge Foam Fabricating, a manufacturing plant that employs about 160 workers, and Woodbridge Foam Partners. The new Woodbridge Chattanooga Formed Plastics is setting up shop in part of the 250,000- square-foot warehouse off Amnicola Highway that formerly housed Roxbury Carpet and once was an NK seed processing center.
As the rain continued to fall Saturday night, meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Nashville were expecting to see some local flooding today. The service issued a flash flood watch for all of Middle Tennessee just after 3 p.m. on the heels of numerous high-water reports. In La Vergne, Traci Short, 39, and her 6-year-old daughter were forced from their Deer Drive home by rising floodwaters at about 11 a.m. They were not allowed to return until about 3:30 p.m. “The water started getting up, but I didn’t notice how high it was,’’Short said.
Bedford County’s jobless rate dipped slightly in March, falling to 8.3 percent according to preliminary numbers released by Tennessee’s department of labor and workforce development. Labor force estimates for last month showed 20,920 working out of 22,820 in the county’s work force, with 1,900 unemployed. The rate fell 0.2 percent from the revised rate reported in February of 8.5 percent. At this time last year, the county’s unemployment rate was 9.1 percent State rate up slightly Interim Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips said the state’s jobless rate for March was 7.9 percent, an increase of 0.1 percent from the February revised rate of 7.8 percent.
Ellen DeGeneres has gotten involved in the effort to pressure Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the “ag gag” bill. In an interview posted on her website Wednesday, DeGeneres gave Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society of the United States’ president, an opportunity to call on her viewers to contact Haslam’s office and ask him to veto the bill. DeGeneres also pledged to donate $25,000 to the organization if the video was shared 25,000 times. The bill requires witnesses to turn over evidence of animal abuse immediately.
Gov. Bill Haslam thought he’d come to the nation’s capital last week to promote Tennessee’s private sector. Instead, he faced a distraction that may complicate what once seemed an easy path to re-election in 2014. Seated under bright lights at a manufacturing summit hosted by the Washington Post, Haslam answered 12 minutes of easy questions, touting Tennessee’s physical location, a qualified workforce and the state’s ability to lure companies such as Nissan and Volkswagen.
Political scientists and operatives, including top Democrats, say that Gov. Bill Haslam’s reputation of integrity is mostly shielding him — for now, at least — from the tarnish that allegations from a federal investigation has placed on his family business. The highly visible raid of Pilot Flying J’s Knoxville headquarters, on a prominent hillside overlooking Interstate 40/75, by scores of FBI and IRS agents on April 19 set off alerts in Tennessee’s political and business communities even before details were known.
FBI raid leaves experts scrutinizing, speculating As the dust settles on the FBI raid of the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J, the nation’s largest truck stop chain, the long wait for the legal fallout has begun. Laptops have been confiscated by federal agents, secretly recorded conversations have been made public and somber press conferences featuring Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam, who is the brother of Gov. Bill Haslam and the majority owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, have come to a close.
The federal raid on Pilot Flying J’s headquarters was a stunningly public spectacle. But the FBI’s investigation of the Knoxville-based truck-stop colossus — which became public this month — began quietly, and was made possible by a pair of shadowy figures who essentially acted as spies. One was an informant identified as Confidential Human Source 1, who first alerted the FBI to the alleged fraud scheme and over a period of months recorded conversations with a Pilot employee known as CHS-2. On Oct. 4, the FBI confronted CHS-2, who apparently agreed to record conversations with co-workers.
Some people call public service a “good government job.” The insurance is there, and if you stay on long enough, the pension can be pretty nice too. And if you work for the city of Knoxville, an annual raise is all but guaranteed. An annual 2.5 percent raise is written into city ordinance, which Knoxville City Council controls. That means city employees must receive a raise unless council changes the rules. How that rule took effect is unclear among city staff and elected officials. “It predates me, and I’ve been here since ‘88,” said Jim York, the city’s finance director.
The Hamilton County grand jury’s report comes out every four months and sounds pretty much the same as it has for years — recommendations to spend more on recidivism programs, enhance DUI penalties and so on. But last week a novel suggestion popped up — legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana to reduce the number of criminal cases in court. The idea won over voters in Colorado and Washington last year, resulting in legalized recreational use of marijuana. And a poll taken in March found that for the first time in years of polling that a majority of Americans now favor legalizing the use of marijuana.
As President Barack Obama tried to pass gun control legislation after a young man with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle killed 20 children in a Connecticut elementary school, a Tennessee group started working to give away the same type of gun. The Tennessee Firearms Association plans to give away a Bushmaster AR-15 on Monday, subject to a background check for the winner of a drawing that has already pulled in more than 10,000 contestants, executive director John Harris said.
State Sen. Jim Tracy, who plans to challenge embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the 2014 Republican primary, is blasting congressional leaders for reportedly exploring ways to exempt themselves from a key component of President Barack Obama’s new health care law. A new POLITICO story, which cites unnamed sources in both parties, reports that congressional leaders are “engaged in confidential, high-level talks” about shielding congressional lawmakers and their aides from insurance exchanges mandated in Obama’s health care overhaul.
Debate among Federal Reserve policymakers is shifting away from the timing of a reduction in bond buying to the need to extend record stimulus as inflation cools and 11.7 million Americans remain jobless. At their meeting last month, several members of the Federal Open Market Committee advocated slowing purchases and stopping them by year-end. Since then, seven have voiced support for maintaining the current pace, including five who vote on the policy making panel: Governor Daniel Tarullo, New York Fed President William C. Dudley, James Bullard of St. Louis, Chicago’s Charles Evans and Boston’s Eric Rosengren.
The top two candidates for the position of Wilson County’s next director of schools were interviewed Saturday by the board and a vote to approve the top choice is expected at the next scheduled board meeting, set for May 6. Timothy Setterlund, 53, an administrator with Shelby County Schools, and Donna Wright, 60, an administrator with Williamson County Schools, were brought back to meet with the board out of the initial pool of 35 applicants. Both were part of a final four that were interviewed by board members April 20.
When officials returned to Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Technology Academy after the weekend of Feb. 3, 2012, they discovered the school had been broken into and two computers stolen. A police report was filed, and school officials submitted a security maintenance order asking that its security system be checked because “the alarm did not go off.” The work order detailing the break-in was among more than 200 records between Jan. 1, 2011, and Feb. 20, 2013, that the News Sentinel received in response to an open records request for school security maintenance work orders for the district’s 88 schools.
This past week, the U.S. Senate debated the Marketplace Fairness Act, an 11-page bill about two words: states’ rights. The legislation — which would allow states to collect state sales taxes already owed on remote purchases from out-of-state businesses — is about letting states set their own tax policy without asking Washington’s permission. That’s the spirit of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the spirit of this country. The bill would allow Tennessee to reduce taxes or ward off budget pressure for a state income tax.
Some superlative legislative performances during the first supermajority session of Tennessee’s 108th General Assembly: Best Oratory: Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, is generally a fairly mild-mannered and quiet fellow. But on the final day of the session, the bespectacled appliance salesman rose on the House floor to lead the rhetoric in rebellion against what he depicted as dictatorial state senators trying to cram a judicial redistricting bill down the throat of the “people’s chamber.” Gesturing with arms and hands, spinning this direction and that, the impassioned Sanderson’s sizzling speech left jaws dropping — and red “no” lights bright on the vote tally display board.
The jury was out for more than three months on what the new Republican supermajority in the Tennessee legislature would do with its unchecked power. The majorities elected last November were so big there would be a quorum to pass laws and change rules even if no Democrat ever showed up. When the General Assembly convened in January, lawmakers began filing bills that ranged from serious and comprehensive to grist for late-night comedy and talk shows. Less than a month after the Sandy Hook massacre, there were scores of Tennessee bills to arm teachers, nullify federal gun laws, criminalize federal officers enforcing gun laws and prohibit employers from banning guns from their parking lots.
Thursday was interesting. Wednesday, The Daily News Journal came out hard in an editorial against a bill (SB1248) that would require people to turn over video and photos of animal abuse within 48 hours. Failure to do so would be a Class C misdemeanor subject to a fine. The bill narrowly passed the Tennessee House by one vote and it passed the Senate and is awaiting Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. Supporters say the bill will stop animal abuse immediately. Of course, Thursday some of those supporters said I support animal cruelty because of The DNJ stance.
How well do county governments in our part of Tennessee comply with state open records law? To answer that question, the Free Press opinion page filed open records requests with the 18 Tennessee counties within the Times Free Press circulation area. Each of the counties received the same request on the same day. Overall, 14 of the 18 counties complied with state open records laws. Four counties, — Cannon, Marion, Meigs and Polk — failed to grant our request to review public records even after repeated calls and emails.
In the Internet stone-age, the mid-1990s, Congress acted to encourage innovation and foster the development of the World Wide Web with policies designed to ease the regulatory burden on what is essentially a borderless business. One of the most effective policies in that encouragement was a moratorium on the requirement for businesses to collect and remit sales taxes on items purchased over the Internet. That policy, more than any other government action, created a new category of business, e-commerce companies.
It is a relief that Congress acted to end furloughs of the nation’s air traffic controllers. The last thing the nation needs is an air disaster that could be attributed to inadequate traffic control or overworked controllers. The move also calmed the nerves of countless travelers across the nation who found their flights delayed, and their lives and businesses disrupted. The measure approved late last week also will enable the air traffic control tower at Jackson’s McKellar-Sipes Field to remain open. While we appreciate the efforts of our lawmakers to help resolve these issues, sequester cuts are no way to run the country’s budget or to provide important services to the nation.
Knox County Schools administrators have proposed establishing a new magnet high school that would focus on technical and career education. The school, which would be located at the Strawberry Plains campus of Pellissippi State Community College, would be the 16th high school for the system. The school would provide a unique opportunity for students and signal to employers this community’s commitment to developing an educated workforce for all occupations. While obstacles could crop up at any point in the process, we encourage the school system, its partners, Knox County Commission and Mayor Tim Burchett to find ways to make the project work.