This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee is still driving full speed ahead, leading the country in automotive manufacturing strength, according to Business Facilities magazine. This is the fourth consecutive year that Tennessee has held the top spot, thanks to the long-term commitment of Nissan and General Motors manufacturing and assembly plants, and the more recent addition of Volkswagen in Chattanooga. There are more than 1,000 automotive supply companies across the state, according to the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association.
COOKEVILLE — Tennessee’s health commissioner whittled the data on prescription drug abuse down to the daily reality occurring in funeral homes and children’s hospitals when he spoke Thursday at a conference on the state’s pill problem. “Today in Tennessee, about three people will die of drug overdoses. About two babies will be born that are drug-dependent,” Dr. John Dreyzehner said. About 90 representatives from communities throughout the state spent the day trying to figure out what to do about the problem.
An amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court gives new evidence that officials at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center began buying steroids from a Massachusetts compounder because it was cheaper, a charge the clinic has consistently denied. Attached to the complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Nashville is a series of emails between an official at the clinic and a salesman for the New England Compounding Center, the shuttered drug company blamed for the national outbreak of fungal meningitis.
NASHVILLE — Players for the Memphis Grizzlies and every visiting NBA opponent pay a Tennessee professional privilege tax of $2,500 per game, up to $7,500 per year. Memphis Redbirds and their visiting opponents don’t. In Nashville, players for the NHL’s Predators and their visiting opponents pay the same state tax. But players for the NFL’s Titans don’t. Nor do the NASCAR drivers who race at Bristol. Nor do players for minor league baseball’s Nashville Sounds, Knoxville Smokies and Chattanooga Lookouts.
The NBA, the NHL and the Tennessee legislature may all be in their off-seasons, but they each took time Thursday to take up a subject that never takes a vacation — money. Representatives for the Memphis Grizzlies, the National Basketball Players Association and the National Hockey League Players’ Association appeared at a hearing in Legislative Plaza on Tennessee’s “jock tax,” a surcharge of $2,500 per game levied on pro basketball and hockey players. The state’s jock tax has become a widespread gripe among NBA and NHL players, in part because the proceeds go to team owners.
Pro athletes say they’re ready to go to court over Tennessee’s tax on hockey and basketball players. At a hearing Thursday, lawmakers listened to arguments for and against repealing the state’s so-called “jock tax,” which is the highest in the nation by most measures. “It’s like a kid coming to school, the littlest guy at the school, and somebody’s just picking on him and taking his money,” Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies said.
Historically low-performing Metro Nashville Public Schools inched forward on end-of-year math test scores, but slipped slightly in reading and language arts, a combination that reflects the modest gains the state saw as a whole. Metro students who scored proficient or above in math increased from 39 percent last year to 42 percent on the 2012-13 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test, which students in grades 3-8 took in the spring and school officials released Thursday.
While more students at Metro Nashville Public Schools are performing well on this year’s state tests, fewer are scoring at or above grade level than their peers statewide. In every tested subject — like reading, math and science — the percentage of middle and high school students proficient or advanced lagged behind the state, often leaving more than half of students below grade level. MNPS officials released details Thursday of the district’s test scores under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, a yearly exam administered in the spring.
Wilson County Schools met or exceeded their overall benchmarks for student achievement for 2012-13, but the system wants more progress for some groups of students. “We’re pleased with our achievement performance,” said Angela Rohen, supervisor of testing and accountability with Wilson County Schools. “All students should be expected to perform, and unfortunately that hasn’t happened all the way. We recognize there is work to do and we know what we have to work on.”
Proposed changes to the state’s social studies curriculum would give Tennessee the highest score in the nation from a group that grades states on how well they teach the civil rights movement to schoolchildren. The State Board of Education is expected to approve the changes at a 9 a.m. meeting today after a lengthy review by the state Department of Education that included a delay to consider input from opponents. Tennessee geography teachers began protesting changes to the social studies curriculum in January when they learned the plan would incorporate geography lessons into history classes to create more time for teaching the language skills measured by standardized tests.
The battle is on between Shelby County’s suburbs. The suburbs have been working together for the right to start their own districts, but now that they have them, cooperation is turning into competition. Mayor Keith McDonald says it can be a good thing because it can make the districts better. The suburbs are competing for students and families so their home values and tax base improve. To get those students and families, a suburb must have the best schools and quality of life.
Having a police officer in all eight of the schools in Collierville and starting a library courier service for the schools were two items discussed during a meet and greet with principals, their staff and town officials. While it likely was on everyone’s minds, the words “municipal schools” weren’t uttered publicly. If Collierville can overcome legal hurdles over the formation of municipal schools and other issues like building ownership, town officials hope to open their own school district by the fall of 2014.
Eight 2013-14 Hamilton County teachers have at least one thing in common: None of them set out to become teachers. These eight graduated from Project Inspire on Thursday as part of a plan to get better teachers into Tennessee classrooms. The program is a joint effort among Tennessee Tech University, Hamilton County Department of Education and Public Education Foundation. It is part of the umbrella STEM project, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which recruits industry professionals and turns them into classroom teachers.
The teacher education program at the University of Memphis and its Lambuth campus has received high national rankings for the quality of new teachers it’s producing. Renee Murley is the assistant chairwoman for the instruction and curriculum leadership at the Lambuth campus in Jackson. She said students complete a one-year “residency” in a classroom instead of several weeks of student teaching prior to graduation. “We’ve developed partnerships with local principals to make this happen,” Murley said.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s office will lay out its budget on Wednesday because of President Barack Obama’s visit to the Scenic City. Council Chair Yusuf Hakeem said he has asked Berke’s staff to move the meeting to Wednesday so more residents will attend. “We will ensure that more citizens and city employees have the opportunity to attend this important city presentation and participate in the budgeting process,” Hakeem said in a prepared statement. Obama is set to visit Chattanooga on Tuesday and plans to tour the Amazon fulfillment center.
Unemployment rose to 8.5 percent across the state in June, driven largely by a loss of government jobs, but the Knoxville area saw a slight improvement in job growth over the year. The Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University has released its latest update of economic indicators for the state. Seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment dropped 0.6 percent in June, the largest one-month decline since 2009, according to the report.
Unemployment rose across the Chattanooga region last month as schools let out for summer and more students and graduates entered the labor market. Despite yearly gains in private-sector jobs in both Tennessee and Georgia, the number of government jobs continued to shrink, according to reports released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Georgia Department of Labor. Across the 19-county region of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, county jobless rates were up in June in all counties.
CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Clarksville-Montgomery County posted an uncharacteristically sharp monthly increase in its unemployment rate between May and June. The new jobless rate for the Clarksville area is 8.8 percent, up from 7.7 percent in May. The state Department of Labor & Workforce Development says a total of 6,890 people were out of work in Montgomery County last month, out of the estimated countywide labor force of 78,400.
The summer heat is warming up the Scenic City’s housing market. Home starts are up 13 percent in Chattanooga from the prior year, on pace to exceed the number of new homes started in 2012 as the summer buying season kicks in. Led by big gains in Bradley and Catoosa counties, the Chattanooga area chalked up 798 new building permits year-to-date, up from 701 at the same point in 2012, according to research firm The Market Edge.
A plant that makes nails for pneumatic nailers in Covington is closing. The Paslode plant at 1211 Hope in the Tipton County seat will shut down effective Sept. 16. Forty-one people work there now, but the workforce has been reduced over the years. The decision came “after considerable analysis of global fastener capacity and market demand,” a company statement said. Paslode is part of Illinois Tool Works Inc., a 60,000-employee manufacturer based in Glenview, Ill. Closing the plant continues the industrial decline in Tipton County.
PORTLAND, Maine — A panel of federal judges issued no rulings on Thursday in a fight over lawsuits filed against Pilot Flying J, but it appeared sympathetic to the company’s arguments. A hearing before the federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centered on the question of whether suits filed against the company in various judicial districts should be consolidated. Last week, Pilot reached a settlement with eight plaintiffs in connection with an alleged rebate fraud scheme by the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops.
PORTLAND, MAINE — A group of trucking companies wants to move ahead with lawsuits against the truck-stop chain owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Attorney John Walker told a panel of federal judges meeting Thursday in Portland that last week’s class-action settlement with Pilot Flying J over fuel rebate fraud claims was a surprise for the companies that weren’t involved in the negotiations. “Only nine plaintiffs were involved in the settlement out of 18 plaintiffs,” Walker told the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
Facing questions related to a rebate-fraud scandal, Pilot Flying J has launched an online PR offensive. The company has created a new website called rebateeducation.pilotflyingj.com that gives details about the rebate issue and other topics. The site focuses largely on information that has already been made public, including prior press releases, details of a proposed settlement and videos of previous news conferences. “We are committed to doing the right thing and continue to focus our resources and efforts to address the issues arising from the federal investigation,” the site says.
Add the Hilton Nashville Downtown to the growing list of hotels undergoing million-dollar renovations and upgrades in order to compete with new rooms coming online after the opening of the Music City Center. The upgrades, which cover all 300 guest rooms, hallways, ballrooms, meeting rooms and the lobby, should be completed by Christmas Eve, said Ray Waters, general manager of the hotel at 121 Fourth Ave. S.
OAK RIDGE — It’s been a rough year for the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, punctuated by the worst security breach in the plant’s history, wholesale leadership changes and a tense atmosphere — with investigators arriving in droves — that seemed like punishment to many of the 5,000 employees. On Thursday, however, the nation’s interim bomb chief came to Oak Ridge to say thank you to Y-12 workers, encourage them to hang in there and remind them that their work is important to the nation’s security.
Sister Megan Rice, the 83-year-old nun who was convicted on federal charges in connection with last year’s break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, has been granted a five-day release from custody to attend her brother-in-law’s funeral in New York. Federal Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley Jr. issued an order Wednesday evening, freeing Rice from a detention center in Ocilla, Ga., where she and the other two Transform Now Plowshares — Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed – have been jailed since their May convictions in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
Next year will be full of uncertainty for Erlanger Health System as it adjusts to changes with the new health care law and seeks to change its governance structure. But Erlanger’s new CEO says he is certain of one simple fact: The hospital’s nurses need to be paid more. “You can run a hospital without me. You can’t run a hospital without the nurses,” Spiegel said Thursday. “They’re the ones actually taking care of people.”
Ever since Nashville leaders unveiled plans for a bus rapid transit system, some residents in the neighborhoods along West End Avenue have expressed concern that the project would make traffic worse and force vehicles onto quiet side streets. But the city’s most recent traffic analysis for The Amp and a study looking at traffic in West End neighborhoods suggest the $175 million proposal will improve traffic and have little impact on residential streets.
CLINTON — Throughout the emotionally charged debate over placing the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on the Anderson County Courthouse, four commissioners from Oak Ridge voiced concerns about the proposal. During discussions that spanned three commission meetings and two committee sessions, those commissioners — Myron Iwanksi, Jerry Creasey, Robin Biloski and Harry “Whitey” Hitchcock — publicly fretted about possible repercussions and sought approval of a compromise on the issue.
Good news is good news in public education, even when it is evolutionary, not revolutionary progress. On Thursday, Metro Nashville Public Schools announced that results of the 2012-13 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests revealed gains for a number of student subgroups in a district that has lagged behind most in Tennessee — a state that lags academically, measured against the nation as a whole. That turns up the pressure on Metro to wow its critics. Thursday’s results had no wow factor, but that doesn’t mean the district should be discouraged.
If there are any doubters about the Memphis Medical Center’s future vibrancy, news that the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is planning to partner with the Regional Medical Center at Memphis to build and operate a women’s and infant’s hospital adjacent to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital should make them believers. Although plans for the facility are far from finalized, the fact that the two Medical Center mainstays are planning to grow in the center and not seek their fortunes in the eastern reaches of Memphis or in the city’s suburbs is good news for residents and the continued vitality of that part of town.
Less than a week after a deal was announced to reduce the interest rates on loans for students attending American colleges and universities, the U.S. Senate has given its overwhelming approval. The U.S. House is expected to agree before Congress adjourns for summer recess, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure. One problem solved; larger ones remain. The Senate’s action stems from a compromise brokered by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, among others, to help students borrow money at reasonable rates for tuition, books and housing.
For every Rand Paul, there is a Christine O’Donnell. For every Ted Cruz, there is a Sharron Angle. In Tennessee, will there be Brenda Lenard or Kevin Kookogey? Paul and Cruz, along with Marco Rubio, became Republican senators with big backing from the tea party. O’Donnell and Angle became laughingstocks, losing winnable Senate seats with big backing from the tea party. Tennessee tea partyers turned out in Smyrna last weekend to rail at U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as he held a campaign event nearby.
Yes, it was close — the vote was 6-4 — and it came after a bit of discussion, but in the end Craig Leuthold’s supporters didn’t have to put up much of a fight to secure his appointment to finish out John J. Duncan III’s term as Knox County trustee. Leuthold’s nomination was what a number of citizens said they didn’t want. He was placed into consideration by Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, who has Leuthold’s father, Frank, as campaign treasurer in an exploratory committee Briggs has established for a possible campaign for state Senate seat in District 7.
HEADLINE: Tea Party wants to challenge U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander THE RECAP: More than 200 critics of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., rallied last weekend in Smyrna outside an Alexander event to denounce his voting record as insufficiently conservative. Tea party groups plan to begin to audition potential primary opponents in regional forums in late August and into September. DREW’S VIEW: After months of Tennessee conservatives demanding an alternative to Liberal Lamar in the 2014 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, a number of qualified candidates are emerging. The latest, and perhaps most promising, is Kevin Kookogey.
Welcome, Mr. President! How exciting that President Barack Obama will visit Chattanooga. He’s taking his fight against an obstructionist Congress to the country, and it is gratifying to see him coming out swinging. In Galesburg, Ill., on Wednesday, his words could not possibly have rung any truer: “Washington has taken its eye off the ball, and … this needs to stop,” he said. “Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. And so what happened was that the link between higher productivity and people’s wages and salaries was broken.
In the business world, a one-size-fits-all approach to human capital decisions is rarely successful. Professionals vary in their level of effectiveness, and decisions around promotion, pay and continuing education should reflect these differences. Over the last few years, Tennessee has taken significant steps to ensure that we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to the teaching profession. Our state has led the way in ensuring that great teaching occurs in every classroom. We have a new evaluation system that gives educators specific feedback on where they excel and where they can improve. We have reformed tenure to make it a more meaningful process.
You may not naturally make the connection among tax reform, professional sports and a popular television show as the explanation for Nashville’s continued growth and success. However, decisions prompted by each of these opportunities — and the insights of our civic and business leaders in making them — have provided us the Nashville we see and enjoy today. In 1987, after the dreaded Tax Reform Act that crippled the Nashville business community, several Nashville leaders hired a consultant to create a tag line for Nashville. Nashville became “Music City USA” as a result. In 1998 and 1999, Nashville residents struggled with the expense of building an NFL-grade stadium after already investing in what is now Bridgestone Arena.