This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
It was tea, crumpets and canapes to be followed by hamburgers and hot dogs for Gov. Bill Haslam Thursday evening. The governor hosted the Queen of England’s youngest son, His Royal Highness Prince Edward, at the governor’s mansion for a youth awards ceremony, then was to travel to Munford City Park for a Tipton County Republican Party picnic. Prince Edward presented about 80 youths the first Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards in Tennessee. The award was founded in 1956 by Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and is one of the Royal family’s principal charities — a self-development program for young people ages 14 to 25.
State officials say that automotive seat manufacturer NHK Seating of America Inc. plans to expand its facility in Murfreesboro, adding 94 jobs in the process. Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said Thursday that the company’s expansion represents a $6.8 million investment in Rutherford County. Fred Myers, plant manager of NHK’s Murfreesboro facility, says the company is adding employees and capital equipment to support increasing production volume.
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and NHK Seating of America, Inc., announced today plans for a $6.8 million expansion of the latter’s Murfreesboro facility. Bill Hagerty, TNECD commissioner, and Fred Myers, NHK Seating Murfreesboro plant manager, said the work will create 94 jobs in Rutherford County “Tennessee continues to prove our business-friendly environment is the ideal climate for advanced manufacturing companies to succeed,” Hagerty said in a release.
A major supplier to Nissan will expand its Rutherford County plant, adding nearly 100 new jobs. NHK Seating makes seat frames for cars and trucks. Nissan is its biggest customer; it’s plant is located just down the road from the Japanese automaker’s massive facility in Smyrna. NHK plans to increase its output by adding robotic welding equipment. It’s also building additional space for shipping and receiving. The Japanese-based company first set up shop in Rutherford County in 2010. 81 people currently work at the plant.
Kruger Products held a dedication ceremony Tuesday to celebrate the $316 million expansion of its tissue mill at 400 Mahannah Ave. Kruger Inc. is a manufacturer of paper, tissue, lumber, corrugated cartons and other wood products. Kruger received a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes benefit for the project in 2011. “We are very proud to contribute to the economic vitality of the Memphis community while pursuing our own growth objectives,” said Mario Gosselin, Chief Executive Officer of Kruger Products.
The North Memphis plant that began by manufacturing automobile parts and eventually produced the bodies and wings for B-25 bombers, celebrated a milestone Wednesday, May 22, with the $300 million expansion of the Kruger Inc. facility near Mud Island in Downtown. Under a tent to protect guests from the finicky Memphis weather, attendees – including Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Kruger owner, chairman and CEO Joseph Kruger – gathered to laud the massive investment and expansion of the plant in the heart of the city.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Office plans to announce its “Click It or Ticket” campaign on Friday. The event is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. at the Robertson County Courthouse in Springfield. Nationally, statistics show seat belt use increased significantly in 2012 as compared to 2011 among drivers, right-front passengers and backseat occupants. However, officials say more than 400 of Tennessee’s crash fatalities last year involved unrestrained drivers or passengers.
Tennesseeans, say hello to your newest health insurance carrier. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has authorized Community Health Alliance Mutual Insurance Co. with licensure to operate as a health insurance company in the state. According to a list of available plans in the state of Tennessee, Community Health Alliance is the 13th organization licensed to provide consumers with major medical insurance. Jerry Burgess, CEO of the new plan, said the organization is “proud to be Tennessee’s newest health insurer” and commented on the significant milestone achieved by the plan.
State Treasurer David H. Lillard said on Thursday that expanding health care costs could drive money out of other programs, including higher education programs, which would prompt officials to raise tuition rates. “In higher education prior to 1990, the state paid greater than 50 percent of all costs and fees of state universities and community colleges,” Lillard said. “What occurred over time was a shifting of new money coming into the state budget system. Today, higher education probably gets something in the area of 38 percent paid by the state.”
Piedmont Natural Gas has permission to restart drilling operations at Radnor Lake State Natural Area, state environmental officials said Thursday. A mixture of bentonite clay and water spilled from one of two Piedmont drills into Otter Creek on May 11, prompting a cleanup effort that involved as many as 50 workers scraping mud out of the creek using buckets and hand tools. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation found the cleanup effort satisfactory and is allowing drilling to restart after Piedmont agreed to nearly a dozen new procedures to reduce the risk of future spills.
Williamson County continued to have the state’s lowest unemployment rate in April despite rising from the previous month, according to figures released today. An estimated 5,380 people, or 5.3 percent of the county’s labor force, were jobless in April, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported. That’s up from 5.1 percent in March but unchanged from the April 2012 figure. That helped the Nashville region post the lowest rate among major metropolitan areas with 6.4 percent, ahead of Knoxville’s 6.7 percent.
Davidson County’s unemployment rate increased in April, according to new data from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The county’s employment rate increased to 6.5 percent, up from 6.2 percent in March. Davidson was among 23 counties that saw unemployment increase last month compared to March. The unemployment rate decreased in 62 counties and remained flat in 10. Williamson County posted the state’s lowest unemployment rate, 5.3 percent, up from 5.1 percent in March.
Knox County’s jobless rate rose to 6.4 percent in April, up from 6.2 percent in March, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday. Despite the increase, Knox County’s jobless rate remained the lowest among the state’s largest metropolitan areas. Davidson County also increased from 6.2 in March to 6.5 in April. Hamilton County was 7.5 percent, down from 7.6 percent in the previous month. Shelby County was 9.2 percent, down from 9.5 percent in March.
The unemployment rate in Memphis and Shelby County eased April to 9.2 percent, down from 9.5 percent in March. Across the state, the jobless rates decreased in 62 of the 95 counties, rose in 23 and stayed the same in 10, the Tennessee Department of Labor reported Thursday. Among the state major metropolitan areas, Knox County’s (Knoxville) rate was lowest at 6.4 percent, but up from 6.2 percent in March. Davidson County’s (Nashville) rate rose to 6.5 percent, up from 6.2 percent in March.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services caseworkers investigated alleged drug use by a mother prior to her arrest for felony murder and neglect of her 1-month-old daughter, a “Notice of Fatality” report shows. Ke’Zaria Henry and her sibling remained in the care of their 22-year-old mother Lakeenta Vonchelle Henry following the DCS investigation in which the mother said she used marijuana and cocaine, the report shows. It isn’t clear from the report why DCS eventually closed its investigation. Ke’Zaria died Nov. 16, 2012, in what Murfreesboro Police have labeled a case of severe child neglect.
Chancellor John Morgan sported a wide smile Thursday, when he got his first look inside the new classrooms and offices of Northeast State at Bristol. Morgan, who oversees the Tennessee Board of Regents, was in the Twin City to view the new space at the Foundation event facility and present an award during the college foundation’s board meeting. “It’s very exciting we’ve been able to to expand access for Northeast State to all the major communities in this region,” Morgan said. “With [building owner] Allen Hurley’s help, it’s going to be a significant contributor to our mission of providing access to quality education to Tennesseans.”
How does the imbalance between hormones and the immune system affect high blood pressure and the disease’s ill effects on other parts of the body? A team of researchers led by Kafait Malik at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center secured more than $2.8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to find out. Of the U.S. population age 20 or older, more than one in three have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and more than 70 percent of patients suffering heart attacks, strokes or congestive heart failure are hypertensive.
Old KAT shelters could stay with UT Hubert Smith’s effort to get city-owned bus shelters back from the University of Tennessee may end soon, and not the way he wanted. Knoxville City Council on Tuesday will consider a resolution on 10 city-owned campus bus stops that would be left behind after a KAT bus contract with UT ends May 31 and UT starts with a private bus company. Smith, host of “The Hubert Smith Radio Show” and a member of the Knoxville Transit Authority board of directors, said he believes the bus stations should go back to the city and be placed elsewhere in Knoxville.
Less than a week before she was fired amid an investigation into whether she had inappropriate relationships with student-athletes, a University of Tennessee judicial affairs director sent a letter to her boss saying she faced a “hostile work environment” and “discrimination.” Jenny Wright, 32, wrote to Tim Rogers, vice chancellor for student life, on May 7 to ask for a meeting with him to get an update on the accusations, according to records UT released to the News Sentinel Thursday.
Federal officials have set aside more than $1 million for Tennessee landowners who help conserve wildlife. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said owners of agricultural and forest land can apply by June 10 for funding under the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. Grants are available to help eligible landowners and operators develop or enhance planned upland, wetland, riparian and aquatic habitat areas on their property. Only “ready to implement” projects will be ranked for funding.
Hunters have through Monday to comment to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency on hunting regulations for the next seasons. The proposals are online at www.tnwildlife.org and comments to TWRA can also be made online at twra.comment(at)tn.gov. The subject line should read “hunting season comments.” The comments will be reviewed by the TWRA Wildlife Division staff and might be presented as suggested changes in the proposed regulations for 2013-14.
A police alert about a missing Murfreesboro boy — sent to smartphones at 2:15 a.m. — blasted Middle Tennesseans out of bed early Monday, sending some to social media to question how they got the alert and what good they could have done from bed. The Amber Alert became the first to hit Tennessee cellphones after midnight. The federal government and wireless providers approved the new automatic messaging system this year after lengthy lobbying by police and child advocates. Smyrna police found the boy unharmed and arrested his father within three hours, but not before locals dismissed the alert and turned to Twitter.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is stepping up seat belt and DUI enforcement over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The holiday period begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Monday. State troopers have scheduled 65 checkpoints. Officials say 16 people were killed on Tennessee roadways during last year’s Memorial Day weekend. That was a decrease from 19 fatalities the year before. Last year, alcohol was involved in six of the fatalities.
Two major state road projects in Washington and Sullivan counties costing an estimated $68 million are rolling along, with the link from Gray to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport set for completion in August. This project is aimed at making travel to and from the airport a lot easier, as well alleviating traffic congestion and laying the literal groundwork for future growth and development. Originally scheduled for completion near the end of this month, this project is about 97 percent complete, Mark Nagi, Tennessee Department of Transportation Region 1 community relations director, said Thursday.
A rockslide in Smith County has been cleared three days ahead of schedule, allowing TDOT to reopen state Rt. 25 at the Cumberland River Overlook at Carthage. The Tennessee Department of Transportation said repaving work was competed Tuesday afternoon and the road was reopened to traffic. Both lanes of the highway were blocked by a slide that occurred on May 9.
Chip Henderson wants to save Chattanooga some dollars and cents. One way to do it, he is proposing, is to move city elections from March to the month when federal or state elections are held. That could mean a savings of $100,000 an election, Henderson said. “You begin to eat this elephant one bite at a time and you start to save taxpayers money,” said Henderson, vice chairman of the Chattanooga City Council. However, Dr. Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said shifting city elections could lead to voter confusion and greater partisan influence in what have traditionally been nonpartisan elections.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a licensed physician, was reprimanded and fined by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for having sex with patients before he was elected to Congress, according to documents released Thursday. The Republican won re-election last year despite revelations he had affairs with patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion. He was fined $500 for two counts of unprofessional conduct, and is responsible for up to $1,000 in costs for the panel’s investigation.
Congressman sees absolution in decision by medical board Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais was hit with $500 in fines and a reprimand for complaints filed in 2012 that he slept with two patients more than a decade ago. DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, on Thursday said that the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners had largely absolved him of the complaints, which he said were politically motivated. He had faced the possibility of restrictions on his medical license or possible revocation of it. The $500 fine is the same amount assessed against another doctor in 2012 for failing to pay her professional privilege taxes.
The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners reprimanded U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and fined him $500 for having sexual relationships with two patients in 2000, according to a state order. In a decision reached Wednesday, the board handed DesJarlais a civil penalty of $250 for each patient and assessed investigation costs of up to $1,000. “(DesJarlais) understands that this is a formal disciplinary action and will be reported to the Health Integrity and Protection Data Bank and/or similar agency,” the order states.
Tennessee’s top medical disciplinary panel fined licensed physician and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais $500 for sexual relationships he had with two female patients, inspiring critics to say the punishment didn’t fit the crime. “There are more expensive speeding tickets,” said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that filed complaints against DesJarlais and helped spur a state probe. “Tennessee authorities apparently believe sexual exploitation of women is less serious than speeding.”
People heading to Tennessee lakes may face new restrictions this Memorial Day weekend as a showdown continues between politicians and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Citing safety concerns, the Corps has prohibited access to waters immediately upstream and downstream of all Corps-owned locks and dams along the Cumberland River and its tributaries. A measure to override the Corps’ rules — called the Freedom to Fish Act — has passed the U.S. House and Senate, but the Corps vows to enforce its restrictions on local lakes unless the bill is signed by President Barack Obama.
Another day, another headache for the Internal Revenue Service. This time, the federal agency is being accused of mishandling the tax returns of adoptive families. A report from the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service says that 90 percent of families who claimed the adoption tax credit during the 2012 filing season had their returns flagged for further review. Nearly 70 percent had at least a partial audit of their tax return. But the majority of the cases where the tax credit was audited — more than 35,000 returns in all — resulted in no changes.
The House on Thursday passed legislation to head off a doubling of student loan interest rates on July 1, instead tying rates to prevailing market trends and ending federal subsidies. The bill, approved largely along party lines, 221 to 198, kicks off what is sure to be the next showdown involving House Republicans, Senate Democrats and President Obama, with a hard deadline looming in little more than a month. Republicans said they had come up with a long-term plan that would get the government out of the business of setting interest rates.
Producers of the TV drama ‘Nashville’ say shooting here isn’t a sure thing for season 2. They’ve yet to tap Metro coffers for help, but it’s increasingly looking like they will. State government provided incentives to lure initial production of the ABC show to Nashville, offering what amounts to a 32 percent rebate for the cost of production. But that’s going to be cut to 25 percent, amounting to roughly $11 million. “You can’t expect the state to carry the ball forever,” says Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who sounds like a city leader prepared to spend with it takes to keep production in Nashville.
In the final episode of its first season, ratings for ABC’s “Nashville” climbed to their highest levels since January. Ratings rose to 4.5, meaning 4.5 percent of households were tuned in Wednesday night, up from 4.2 in the previous week, according to SpoilerTV.com, citing Nielsen Media Research. The show debuted with a 6.8 rating and dropped to as low as 3.7. More than 6 million viewers tuned in last night, up from 5.6 million last week. The show ended with a car crash, leaving viewers in suspense during the summer months as to whether two characters will survive.
Show secures Season 2, hopes for more “Nashville” ended its first season on Wednesday with a serious cliffhanger, leaving the lives of two major characters dangling in the balance. But the cliffhangers aren’t all on the screen. Though ABC announced earlier this month that the country music industry drama — set and shot on location in the real Nashville — will return for a second season, few other details regarding Season 2 have been announced, including whether production will resume in Nashville.
A unified school board committee on Thursday previewed what promises to become a vigorous debate when it talked about how to dispose of schools within the boundaries of proposed suburban municipal school districts. The municipal schools could become a reality in 2014. Kevin Woods, chairman of the board’s ad hoc facilities committee, asked board members to consider middle-ground solutions between two extreme approaches — giving the facilities away and demanding full market value for them.
County Commission examines schools budget proposal There were times this week at the Shelby County Commission when the debate over school funding and the schools merger made the superintendent of the consolidated school system more spectator than presenter. Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson drew good reviews on his budget effort from commissioners with very different opinions about the proper level of school funding and the wisdom of the merger.
California’s new health-insurance exchange, the largest state-operated marketplace emerging under the federal health-care overhaul, will offer consumers premiums that vary widely but often avoid the steepest increases experts had predicted. Initial information about rates was released Thursday by Covered California, the agency created to set up the online marketplace—an effort being closely watched as state and federal officials strain to establish exchanges mandated to launch this fall. Covered California has estimated 2.3 million people will enroll through its version by 2017.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician, engaged in some wishful thinking at the public’s expense on Thursday, after news that the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners had fined and reprimanded him for sleeping with patients. The two-term Republican lawmaker from Jasper apparently felt that since he did not see his medical license revoked, he was free to spin his way into respectability. According to the consent order that DesJarlais signed, in the late 1990s he encouraged one of his patients to go to Georgia to get an abortion after she said that he had impregnated her.
Instead of privatizing TVA, perhaps we should look at privatizing Congress. In today’s clamor for smaller government, shouted by politicians who seem increasingly owned by PAC money and corporate campaign donations, comes a call from the Obama Administration to look at the feasibility of selling the Tennessee Valley Authority. That’s the same TVA that was established by Congress in 1933 to make electricity from the Tennessee River while also addressing flooding, economic and navigation issues in the 80,000-square-mile Tennessee River basin that covers portions of seven Southeastern states.
A couple of Tennessee Republican congressmen this week questioned officials involved in the Gestapo-esque targeting of groups disloyal to the Fuehrer, er, president, by the Internal Revenue Service. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., after quoting President Barack Obama and the ACLU, said, “It was primarily conservative groups that were targeted, but people of all political persuasions are very upset about this.” Rep. Scott DesJarlais, remembered high school government classes. “We were told what a great country we are because of the freedom we have — the freedom of the First Amendment, the freedom of speech, the right to hold elections without the fear of tyranny or being oppressed,” DesJarlais said.