This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee’s growing automotive industry is driving more jobs to the state. Alcoa and Viam Manufacturing both announced plans Thursday to expand their facilities in Tennessee to supply U.S. automakers. Alcoa will spend $275 million over the next three years to add to its rolling mill in Alcoa, Tenn., to supply the growing demand for aluminum sheet for automotive production. The plant addition is projected to add 200 permanent full-time jobs, as well as 400 jobs during the construction phase. Viam Manufacturing, a Japanese-based maker of floor, trunk and cargo mats, also announced plans for a $9 million expansion of its Manchester, Tenn., plant.
Alcoa Inc. plans a $275 million expansion of its Blount County operation that officials said will help insure the company remains a key player in the local economy for decades. Alcoa announced today that it will expand its rolling mill operation in Alcoa, Tenn., to meet growing demand for light, durable and recyclable aluminum sheet for the automotive industry. The expansion is expected to mean 400 construction jobs plus 200 full-time jobs. This comes not long after Alcoa announced it was permanently closing its mothballed smelting operation, leading some in Blount County to wonder if the company would continue to operate there.
Convergys Corp.’s workforce in Chattanooga will soon hit a new high mark since the Great Recession with the hiring of nearly 500 employees. Convergys is adding customer service workers in part to handle growth from a satellite TV client. The ramp-up will put its Chattanooga head count at about 1,300 by midsummer, according to the company. Cincinnati-based Convergys had about 1,500 Chattanooga workers in 2008, before the sharp economic downturn. Altogether, companies in the region have announced almost 3,400 new jobs in the past week, with Engineered Floors’ 2,400 slots the largest of the additions.
The state is closing its driver license center in Lawrenceburg. An announcement from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said operations will be merged with the driver service center in Columbia on May 15. There will be, however, a self-service kiosk in the City of Lawrenceburg Administrative Services Building, where drivers can renew expiring licenses or apply to get lost licenses replaced. The kiosk will take photos and accept credit card and debit card fee payments.
The average wait time at driver service centers in the state of Tennessee for the first quarter of 2013 was nearly 32 minutes, which is up six minutes from the last quarter of 2012. These figures, released by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Wednesday, also show that the number of statewide transactions increased to 327,114 in the first quarter of 2013, compared to 295,444 in the last quarter of last year. But the wait time for the first quarter of 2013 is slightly lower than the average wait time for last year’s first quarter, when the average was closer to 33 minutes.
Motorcycle Awareness Month in Tennessee is kicking off on Friday. The Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are holding a 10 a.m. event at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall in Nashville. Officials say Tennessee has seen a drastic increase in motorcycle crashes and fatalities over the last several years. Last year, more than 3,000 motorcycle crashes occurred in Tennessee, resulting in 139 fatalities. So far this year, there have been 386 motorcycle crashes, resulting in 23 fatalities.
Before Shelby County Drug Court opened for business Wednesday afternoon, Judge Tim Dwyer took a look at an old black-and-white photo he keeps in a frame on the bench. The photo, more than 20 years old, keeps him focused on the importance of his mission. He hopes it helps to focus the men and women who show up in his court on drug- and alcohol-related charges. The photo shows Dwyer in the early 1990s sitting with his young cousin, Thomas K. Dwyer. In 1993, not longer after the snapshot was taken, a drunken driver struck and killed 15-year-old Thomas and two of his teenage friends as they were riding bikes in Germantown.
House Speaker Beth Harwell stood outside the morning’s GOP caucus meeting, whispering with Gerald McCormick in the echoey halls of the state Capitol. McCormick, a Chattanoogan who serves as her No. 2, listened intently as Harwell stood nervously outside the historic Old Supreme Court chambers where her caucus of 70 House Republicans was getting riled up. It was the final day of this year’s legislative session. Tensions were high, fuses were short, and most were running on waning adrenaline with the end of the bill-making year in sight.
Members of the faith community are expressing their opposition to a bill that would make it a crime to video record animal abuse if it isn’t turned over to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours. The director of Clergy for Justice and another minister delivered a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam this week asking him to veto the bill, which is drawing opposition from other groups and even some celebrities. Clergy for Justice Director Kathy Chambers says more than 300 ministers and people of faith have said they’re against the proposal, dubbed the “ag gag” bill.
Following a two-year undercover investigation, federal and local law enforcement officers converged on a Bartlett-area medical clinic in 2009 that had become so popular the liquor store nearby complained about the high volume of traffic. Confidential informants had purchased numerous prescriptions of highly addictive drugs such as OxyContin, hydrocodone and Xanax from Dr. Daniel Fearnow and had made secret recordings of him pocketing their cash-only payments.
The Tennessee General Assembly amended the voter photo identification law during its recently concluded legislative session. Amendments sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet) seek to clarify and strengthen the law that was successfully implemented during the 2012 election cycle. Voters may no longer use photo IDs issued by other states as acceptable forms of identification when voting in person in Tennessee. This change mirrors similar laws in other states, including Indiana.
The dismissal of embattled Election Administrator Albert Tieche could be on the table when the Davidson County Election Commission meets again next week, Tieche confirmed Thursday. “Almost everybody’s discussing it,” Tieche acknowledged in a phone interview, though he said he doesn’t believe his firing would be justified. The commission will hold a specially called meeting — its second in two weeks — at 2 p.m. Thursday, Tieche said. Ron Buchanan, the commission’s chairman, said the commission would discuss what it needs to do to address the problems raised by a state review, including possible personnel changes.
A Wisconsin trucking firm on Wednesday filed a class-action suit in federal court in Illinois charging Pilot Flying J and its chief executive, Jimmy Haslam III, with racketeering in the wake of a federal probe of rebate skimming. The suit is the fifth to be filed against the truck stop chain and the first to name Haslam as a defendant. Also named in the suit are Pilot’s president and top sales executives, whose names appeared in a 120-page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court last week in Knoxville.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander made a trip to Memphis today to voice his continued support of a repeal of the medical device excise tax, calling the repeal “critical.” He took questions from the media before touring one of Memphis’ medical device manufacturers, Onyx Medical Corp. The U.S. Senate voted on a repeal of the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices in March, though the vote was considered largely symbolic as the repeal was attached(1) to a federal budget that was unlikely to pass in the House of Representatives.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told a crowd of business and political leaders Thursday that he supports universal background checks for gun purchases. The Tennessee Republican voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill last month because he said the proposed legislation infringed on people’s Second Amendment rights. He believes that a system can be put in place that provides background checks and at the same time does not create impediments to gun purchases. “I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I don’t want people who are mentally ill or who wish people harm or who are felons to have access to weapons,” Corker said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker thinks a possible sale of the Tennessee Valley Authority will not help solve the nation’s debt problems, but thinks the utility should be reviewed as called for in President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget. Corker spoke to a crowd at East Tennessee State University on Thursday morning, fielding questions in a town hall-style meeting that began shortly after 10. Speaking to the media afterward, Corker said it was unfortunate that because of the way the TVA has been operated over the years the utility is worth less than it’s debt, so that means selling the TVA to generate deficit reduction is going backward.
The office for Rep. Chuck Fleischmann had little to say one day after Sen. Lamar Alexander called an upcoming Senate vote “the most realistic opportunity” for replacing the Chickamauga Lock in years. Fleischmann, who has in the past called the federal funding structure for maintenance and reconstruction of the lock “unacceptable” and who also committed to finding a solution for completing the $600 million project, was visiting Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex when Alexander offered his remarks in Chattanooga Wednesday.
State Rep. Joe Carr on Thursday joined state Sen. Jim Tracy in the race to oust embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in next year’s Republican primary. Carr, a Murfreesboro business consultant, made his announcement from a balcony overlooking the Middle Tennessee Medical Center, which he said “represents some of the paralysis that has engulfed this county.” “We’ve got a state of the art medical community over here, and it’s in peril because of one thing, and one thing only: and that’s the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare,” he said.
Saying he wants to stop federal intrusions on civil liberties and state sovereignty, state Rep. Joe Carr on Thursday entered the race for Congress. Carr, R-Lascassas, was at Gateway Village in Murfreesboro to announce his entrance into the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District seat. The candidate acknowledged that it will be tough to defeat his opponents, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg and state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, in the Republican primary.
Embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais now has two Republican challengers seeking to oust him in next year’s GOP primary. The latest, state Rep. Joe Carr, announced his candidacy Thursday. The 55-year-old Lascassas, Tenn., business consultant said he will “stand firm” for the “first principles of our Founding Fathers” and pledged to “lead with integrity and advance the conservative movement in Washington.” State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, announced in January he was running against DesJarlais.
Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais got a second official challenger Thursday, a full year and a half before he’s up for reelection. State Representative Joe Carr of Lascassas will try to knock off the scandalized incumbent in next summer’s Republican primary. Carr will also run against his colleague from the state legislature, Senator Jim Tracy. Carr says he met with Tracy hours before the announcement, calling their exchange “cordial.”
Lascassas Republican state Rep. Joe Carr officially tossed his hat in the ring, Thursday, in the race for Tennessee’s 4th U.S. Congressional district, a seat currently held by embattled GOP Rep. Scott Desjarlais. Carr came out swinging during a press conference in Murfreesboro with harsh jabs at the Obama administration and only slightly-more-measured denouncements of the U.S. Congress, which Carr accused of “sitting idly by” while the president commenced “a full assault on our civil liberties and our state sovereignty.”
State Rep. Joe Carr made it official Thursday, announcing his intent to join next year’s 4th District Republican primary and unseat two-term Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Carr, R-Lascassas, made his announcement in Murfreesboro. Carr is the second Republican to wage a bid against DesJarlais, a year and a half out from the 2014 primary. State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, officially announced he would seek the 4th District seat in January. Already, both candidates have outraised the incumbent handily.
The overlook on U.S. Highway 129 was filled to capacity with motorcyclists from Texas, Florida and Louisiana. They had pulled off the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile stretch of highway in Blount County famous for its scenery and curves, and now they were taking photos. Below the overlook was Calderwood Lake, a deep-blue finger lake along the Little Tennessee River. With the Cherokee National Forest on one side of the road and Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the other, the mountain scenery stretched out in every direction as far as the eye could see.
Several Republican governors who defied their conservative bases to support Medicaid expansion under the federal health-care law are running into a brick wall: their states’ GOP-led legislatures. The latest clash is unfolding in Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott, an ardent opponent of the 2010 health-care law, shocked many observers by announcing his support for Medicaid expansion in February. As the legislative session nears its conclusion Friday, the state’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives remains opposed to taking federal money to expand coverage.
Nashville’s HCA is gearing up for one of the biggest pieces of the Affordable Care Act. The company says it has reached agreements with several insurers that will offer plans on health insurance exchanges, which are supposed to start enrolling customers later this year. The federal government will manage exchanges in most states, but they’re meant to be places where the uninsured can find private coverage. The exchanges also decide what’s covered and what’s not, so CEO Richard Bracken says HCA has to work out new deals with insurers.
The Tennessean has announced that Laura Hollingsworth has been named its new president and publisher. According to the paper (http://tnne.ws/10vaiEP ), Hollingsworth comes to Nashville from The Des Moines Register, where she has been president and publisher since 2007. She also serves as the Gannett Co. Inc.’s U.S. Community Publishing group president for the Central Group, overseeing 25 markets in the central region. U.S. Community Publishing President Robert Dickey said Hollingsworth has a deep commitment to community journalism.
Laura Hollingsworth is the new president and publisher of The Tennessean, the Gannett-owned newspaper announced today Hollingsworth has served as president and publisher of Gannett’s The Des Moines Register since 2007, and will continue to serve as Gannett’s U.S. Community Publishing’s group president for the Central Group, overseeing 25 markets. Hollingsworth replaces Carol Hudler, who is moving to a corporate position within Gannett, according to The Tennessean. Hudler has been publisher of The Tennessean since late 2009.
Laura Hollingsworth has been named president and publisher of The Tennessean, replacing Carol Hudler, who is moving to a corporate position within Gannett Co. Inc., the McLean, Va.-based owner of The Tennessean. Hollingsworth comes to Nashville from Des Moines, where she was president and publisher of The Des Moines Register since 2007. She will continue to serve as Gannett’s U.S. Community Publishing group president of the Central Group, overseeing 25 markets in the central region. The move is effective May 13.
Medtronic Spine, the Memphis-based division of Medtronic Inc., will cut about 60 local jobs as part of a strategy to reduce overall costs by 5 percent, a company spokesman confirmed. The Spine division employs about 1,300 in Memphis. Victor Rocha, a Medtronic spokesman, said the workers learned of the cuts Wednesday, May 1. Medtronic Spine also will trim 230 positions globally, including the Memphis job cuts, from its worldwide workforce of 5,600. Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc. employs about 45,000.
Coming off of two reruns, ratings for ABC’s “Nashville” fell Wednesday night. Ratings dropped 9 percent, to 4.0, down from 4.4 on April 11, meaning 4 percent of houseolds were tuned in. The ratings were 25 percent below where ABC’s “Revenge” was last year when it held the same time slot, according to SpoilerTV, citing Nielsen Media Research. Filming for the first season ended this week and ABC is expected to make a decision on whether the show will return for a second season close to May 10.
Educators want parents to know of pending changes to some of the mandatory tests students take at the end of every school year. In 2014-2015, two school years from now, Tennessee third- to 11th-graders in math and English and language arts classes will test to the Common Core State Standards instead of TCAP, said Janice Womble, supervisor of secondary education in Bedford County. Students testing in those topics will take an online test called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Consortium (PARCC).
Georgia will soon start requiring pain clinics to be licensed by its medical board and owned by physicians, moves aimed at slowing the flow of illicit prescription-drug sales in the state. A law signed by Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday will go into effect July 1. Pain clinics will be required to register every two years. If they don’t, their owners could face felony indictments. The state’s medical board also could deny licensing to a pain clinic for a variety of reasons, such as an owner’s prior criminal conviction related to controlled substances.
The Illinois House of Representatives passed a pension-overhaul plan Thursday that would cut retiree benefits and increase required employee contributions, in the biggest move yet toward addressing the nation’s worst state-pension crisis. The measure, which still requires state Senate action, comes after more than two years of debate over how to close a pension shortfall that has swelled to $96.8 billion. That has left the state billions of dollars behind on its bills and caused Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services and Moody’s Investors Service to give Illinois the lowest credit rating among U.S. states.
Maryland on Thursday became the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish the death penalty. Passage of a bill repealing capital punishment was a significant victory for Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is considering seeking the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Death penalty opponents said the governor had helped to maintain a momentum in repeal efforts. After signing the bill, Governor O’Malley said: “Over the longer arc of history, I think you’ll see more and more states repeal the death penalty.
In Tennessee, only 16 percent of high school graduates are prepared for college. This is unacceptable. While this is a major concern from an education standpoint, it is even more sobering when I think about the economic future of our state. Without a well-educated workforce, we will not be competitive with other states across our country. Over the past four years, Tennessee has made dramatic changes to improve public education. These changes are grounded in conservative principles like accountability, high expectations and parent choice.
Should Tennessee’s community colleges be able to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees? Yes, says Jim Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State Technical Community College. He has made such a proposal to the state Board of Regents seeking to place five applied science degrees in the school’s curriculum. At this point, Catanzaro appears to have an uphill battle. Education officials in Tennessee and Gov. Bill Haslam reject the possibility for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, more than a dozen states — including Georgia — have adopted the idea. Tennessee education and political leaders claim to favor education reform, so for the sake of consistency, they should at least study the issue.
It seems that there are some agencies of Tennessee government that can’t take the sunshine. Children’s Services was such an agency, though recently the department under new leadership is finding a path toward accountability. Labor and Workforce Development? Not so much. Despite the fact that Labor’s three top administrators resigned in March after an audit of the department criticized how unemployment compensation payments were handled to the tune of $73 million; and despite layoffs of 125 employees at career centers around the state; and despite irregularities found in the awarding of contracts to an out-of-state consulting company, the department continues to make decisions that have workforce advisers scratching their heads.