This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A year ago, the Jones Plastics and Engineering plant in Camden received an economic development grant from the state to add more machines and, most importantly, more jobs. While on a tour of businesses across the state, Gov. Bill Haslam stopped at the facility Tuesday to see how the money was used. On a tour of the plant, he looked at the new machines and heard news that the facility had hired more employees. Afterward, Haslam gave Ryan Jones, a third-generation owner of the plant, one of the best compliments Jones said he could have received from the governor.
Gov. Bill Haslam visited Glastonbury Southern Gage Co. Tuesday afternoon in his continuing effort to monitor the state’s economy. “As governor, I want to get out and visit businesses of all sizes and types across the state to try to keep a feel for the economy, and see who’s hiring and why,” he told a group of local elected officials and company representatives. “I especially wanted to go to places where the state has made an investment, to maybe see what’s working and what’s not working.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced 169 schools as the 2012-13 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for annual growth and the top 5 percent for academic achievement. The Reward Schools span 52 districts across the state and include 70 schools that serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations. “Tennessee continues to set the standard in education reform as we maintain our focus on high levels of achievement and continuous growth,” Haslam said at an event held at Percy Priest Elementary, recognized for its overall academic achievement.
Seven Northeast Tennessee schools, including one in Hawkins County, have been named among the best in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman Monday announced 169 schools as the 2012-13 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for annual growth or progress and/or the top 5 percent for academic achievement or performance. Mount Carmel Elementary in Hawkins County and Holston View Elementary in Bristol won for progress, Fairmont and Lake Ridge elementaries in Johnson City for performance, Towne Acres elementary in Johnson City for progress and performance, University School in Washington County for performance and South Greene High School for progress, according to a release from the DOE.
First Lady Crissy Haslam hosted a Read20 Family Book Club event today at Cedars of Lebanon State Park in Lebanon to promote the importance of daily reading. Approximately 90 3rd graders from Southside Elementary School in Lebanon joined Mrs. Haslam by campfire to read the August Book of the Month, Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems by Kristine O’Connell George. After the reading event, students visited the park’s Nature Center and hiking trails to learn more about Tennessee wildlife and forestry.
This year’s Tennessee high school graduates have fallen short of national results for ACT college readiness benchmarks. In English, reading, mathematics and science combined, 18 percent of Tennessee’s Class of 2013 achieved college readiness, compared with 26 percent nationally. The results were released Wednesday in the ACT’s yearly report, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013.” The broadest difference was in math, where 29 percent of Tennessee graduates met college readiness marks, compared with 44 percent throughout the U.S. In science, statewide 27 percent met the mark, while 36 percent were on target nationally.
The state of Tennessee has again punted on deciding where to put 100,000 square feet of office space in Downtown Memphis. Earlier this summer, the state pushed back a decision on where to put 480 Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building workers until Aug. 23. The executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission was supposed to give notice of intent to award on that date, but now has suspended the decision indefinitely. The Tennessee Department of General Services and Jones Lang LaSalle have been looking for two offices spaces, either together or separate, to handle the workers.
The 25-year-old mother, morbidly obese, answered the knock on her screen door wearing only a black sports bra and ripped underwear. “Oh, you forgot to put on your clothes,” the DCS caseworker said in a friendly voice. Her boss, Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry, stood silently to one side, dressed in khakis and short sleeves instead of his usual suit and tie for his first in-person child abuse investigation. “We’re here from DCS, ma’am. Can you get dressed and let us in?” Inside the living room, the floor tile was streaked with purple juice. In the kitchen beyond, pots on the stove were crusted with old food.
With a couple hundred UTC students living at the Chattanooga Choo Choo because of a shortage of campus housing, university officials are eyeing construction of a 600-bed dormitory on the site of the nearby Chattanooga State Office Building. “We think we could fill 600 beds right now,” said UTC Chancellor Dr. Steve Angle, adding he’d like to see the new dorms up and running for fall 2016. Angle also said the seven-story office building on McCallie Avenue — most of which was built by Interstate Life and Accident Insurance Co. in 1951 — would have to be demolished.
Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport has received a $978,255 grant from the state Department of Transportation, state officials announced Tuesday. A local match of $51,487 will bring the total for airport work to $1,029,472, officials said. “I am very pleased that this grant has been awarded,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, in a release. “It will be used for paving, marking and lighting taxi lanes for the new aviation development area. I also congratulate our local officials who were instrumental in helping to secure these funds.”
A sinkhole closed one lane of Eastbound traffic on I-24 near Exit 8/Rossview Road on Interstate 24 Tuesday morning, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. TDOT on-scene spokesman Amy Fiscor noted that it was fortunate for motorists that the sinkhole appeared on the edge of the roadway, allowing repair crews to keep one Eastbound lane open as they excavated the site to determine the extent of the problem. Through most of the day, eastbound traffic was moving well despite the lane closure.
Crews repaired a sinkhole along the side of Interstate 24 in Clarksville Tuesday after a portion of the roadway had to be shutdown. The sinkhole was reported around 6 a.m. in the eastbound lanes near the Rossview Road exit. The left lane was blocked while the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s geotechnical crews were on scene. They were working to fill the approximately 15 to 20 foot sinkhole with rocks. Repair work was finished around 6 p.m.
The AFL-CIO will no longer be giving money to the Tennessee Democratic Party or its affiliates. Delegates of the state’s umbrella group for labor unions voted this week to stop contributing to partisan groups and redirect the money to individual candidates, even Republicans. “I’m not saying that we’re going to go out there and start throwing support to Republicans,” says Tennessee AFL-CIO president Gary Moore. But the message is very clear. We’re going to support candidates who support the working men and women of this state and understand what it is to struggle.”
Supporters of Democrat Sara Kyle have created a new political action committee to raise money and organize a campaign if the Memphis lawyer and former Tennessee Regulatory Authority director and City Court judge decides to run for governor. Kyle said earlier this month she wants to help the party and said she is considering entering the race to challenge Gov. Bill Haslam next year. The “Run Sara Run” PAC was incorporated by several Democratic activists, including former Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone, state Democratic Party vice chairman Elisa Parker of Franklin and Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s efforts to ward off a primary challenge from the right fell short Tuesday with Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr’s announcement that he will mount a tea party challenge for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. Carr, a Murfreesboro business consultant, told WTN-FM host Ralph Bristol that he decided to abandon his challenge to embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais to instead take on Alexander because he considers the senator “the most liberal member of the delegation from Tennessee.”
Waging an insurgency campaign from the far right, Tennessee Rep. Joe Carr announced Tuesday that he’s challenging U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in next year’s Republican primary, giving tea party activists at least one candidate to take on Tennessee’s longest-serving statewide politician. But at this point, he isn’t necessarily the tea party’s consensus pick, and more candidates could surface. Carr also lost his campaign director from his previous race right out of the gate. Carr, R-Lascassas, has ditched his primary campaign against embattled District 4 Rep. Scott DesJarlais, with plans to transfer money raised for that contest to his new one.
Republican Joe Carr says he welcomes Tea Party support for his primary challenge to Senator Lamar Alexander. But the State Representative from Rutherford County says he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as the Tea Party candidate. At a press conference in Murfreesboro on Tuesday, Carr highlighted what he saw as the differences between himself and Alexander. Carr says the Senator’s stances on issues like immigration, repealing Obamacare, and gun rights aren’t conservative enough. It’s a claim echoed by Tea Party groups in Tennessee. But Carr stopped short of calling himself the Tea Party’s man in the Senate race.
State Rep. Joe Carr announced Tuesday he will challenge U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the 2014 Republican primary, switching from previous plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District. Carr said he was responding to “hundreds and hundreds” of Tennesseans — and some national conservative groups — who had urged him to oppose Alexander, “the most liberal member of the Washington delegation from Tennessee.” Carr said he had raised “well over $300,000” for his congressional campaign that will be shifted to his new Senate campaign.
A state representative from Murfreesboro, Joe Carr, emerged Tuesday as the first Republican primary challenger for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election bid next year. Carr announced on conservative Nashville radio talk show host Ralph Bristol’s program that he is abandoning his challenge against embattled Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District and switching to a U.S. Senate race against Alexander, R-Tenn. Immediately after that announcement, former Tennessee Republican Party chairman Chip Saltsman resigned as Carr’s campaign manager, saying he supports Alexander and citing Alexander’s work on behalf of the GOP.
State Rep. Joe Carr Tuesday compared himself to the biblical David battling the giant Goliath in announcing he will run against U.S. Lamar Alexander in the Republic primary. “This is a David-and-Goliath match-up,” said Carr, noting that he faces a giant of a fellow Republican and former Tennessee governor with a “well-oiled” political machine that stretches throughout the state. “Alexander has a lot of money.” Carr said during his press conference in Murfreesboro that he decided to run for the Senate and pull out of the race for the U.S. House of Representatives 4th Congressional District because many people were calling and emailing him to urge him to run against Alexander.
Bob Corker is rapidly raising his profile when it comes to international relations, and on Tuesday the Republican U.S. Senator from Chattanooga drew a connection between events in far-flung locales and U.S. domestic concerns. Corker was the featured speaker at a lunchtime gathering of local financial services professionals, held at the Foundry near World’s Fair Park. The senator, who is the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, recently returned from a trip to Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, where he met with officials including Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen says Shelby County has been awarded a $3.6 million federal grant to support projects that get children ready to start school. In a Tuesday news release, Cohen says the grant from the Department of Health and Human Services will support Head Start projects that promote school readiness of children from birth until the age of 5 by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development. The grant completes the current year’s funding for a total of more than $23 million.
Shelby County has been awarded a $3.6 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to enhance the Shelby County Head Start program. It is estimated Shelby County Head Start provides services to more than 3,000 children in Memphis and Shelby County, including education and cognitive development services. According to a statement, the program has received more than $23.2 million in federal funding this year. “Today’s funding is an investment in our children, an investment in our families, and an investment in our future,” Steve Cohen, District 9 Congressman, said in a statement.
With State Rep. Joe Carr out of the 4th District congressional race, Republican strategists say the days of embattled incumbent Scott DesJarlais may be numbered. The second-term congressman was trailing both Carr and state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville in the money race. Tracy is well out in front with more than $650,000 on hand. DesJarlais has less than $90,000. Some political watchers felt his best chance for holding onto the seat was if the vote splintered between the primary challengers. Now, it’s a clear, head-to-head matchup, assuming no one else enters the race.
For the record, 11-year-old Josie Molina says the decision to ask U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais how her undocumented father could stay in the United States was hers and no one else’s. “I felt like I had something to say, so I did,” she said. But the young girl’s videotaped exchange with DesJarlais, who responded that immigration laws need to be followed, left her feeling “mad and sad,” opened up the congressman to charges of insensitivity and caused his office to issue a statement elaborating on his position. “I felt like I owed Ms. Molina an honest answer to her question,” DesJarlais, a Jasper Republican, said in the statement released Tuesday.
Nearly 50 local supporters of the Affordable Health Care Act faced about 40 opponents of the law on Tuesday in front of Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn’s office after a nonprofit called Organizing for Action called for a rally to “Get Out the Facts about Obamacare.” “We have a law that has been passed and signed by the president and approved by the Supreme Court; it is already benefiting millions of people today and will help many more in the future,” said Charles Hilton, a volunteer organizer with the nonprofit.
Local immigrant rights advocates declared victory on word this week that the application by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to the controversial 287(g) immigration enforcement program has been rejected by federal officials. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Executive Associate Director Thomas D. Homan attributes the decision to budgetary constraints in a letter to Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones. “Due to resource concerns, including the impacts of sequestration, ICE is limiting 287(g) participation to those law enforcement agencies with existing (memorandums of agreement,)” reads the letter, obtained by News Sentinel.
States have been forced to gear up for a potential second round of across-the-board federal spending cuts after Congress left for its summer recess without a budget deal. Another round of sequestration would reduce federal spending on everything from Meals on Wheels to Head Start, leaving states with approximately $4.2 billion less in federal dollars for the 2014 fiscal year starting Oct.1, according to Federal Funds Information for States. FFIS is a Washington group that helps states manage their federal money. On average, the federal budget accounts for about 30 percent of state revenues, making it the largest single source of money for many states.
Premiums for employer health coverage rose relatively slowly again this year, but the 4% increase in the cost of a family plan was still enough to push it above the $16,000 mark for the first time, according to a major survey. The increase, to an annual total of $16,351 from $15,745 in 2012, represented the same rate of growth as last year, which likely reflects employees’ continued tendency to limit their use of medical care, said Gary Claxton, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The nonprofit performed the annual poll of employers along with the Health Research & Educational Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the American Hospital Association.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is holding a public board meeting in Knoxville on Wednesday. Topics that will be discussed include the 2014 fiscal year financial plan and budget. The meeting takes place in the TVA West Tower Auditorium at 400 West Summit Hill Drive. A public comment session begins at 8:30 a.m. Anyone wishing to speak must register either online or at the meeting site beginning 15 minutes before the session. More information and the full agenda are available on the TVA website or by calling (865) 632-6000. TVA is the nation’s largest public utility, serving 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states.
Xerox plans to hire 110 people for its Nashville customer care center in the coming two months. The hirings are the global company’s third such move during the past 18 months. The openings Xerox needs to fill are full-time customer care specialists for a specific project that is expected to last for up to six months. Xerox is looking for high school graduates with at least one year of customer service experience. Xerox, which is hosting a job fair Thursday at 545 Marriott Drive, employs about 900 people near Nashville International Airport. In 2012, it announced expansions of 60 and 100 jobs.
Gun maker Remington Arms Co. is reportedly looking at sites in Middle Tennessee for a manufacturing plant, The Tennessean reports. Remington’s gun factory in Ilion, N.Y., where the company was founded, has been under fire since the elementary school shootings in December in Newtown, Conn Earlier this year, the state of New York banned the sale of semiautomatic rifles, many of the types made at the Remington plant. The company has looked at sites near Nashville’s airport, Lebanon and Clarksville, according to The Tennessean, which cited “people familiar with Remington’s exploration of sites.” Company officials didn’t return calls.
Hutcheson Medical Center plans to part ways with Chattanooga-based Erlanger Health System. “We’re breaking up, but we’re still going to be friends,” said Chad Young, attorney for Catoosa County, Ga. A management team from Erlanger led by CEO Roger Forgey has run the Fort Oglethorpe hospital under an April 2011 agreement. But officials from Hutcheson’s board of directors met for about four hours in closed session Monday night and then announced Tuesday afternoon that the two hospital systems were negotiating to end their partnership — though Erlanger officials said they were only made aware of the board’s latest decision after a news release went out.
Corporation isn’t a trucking company or a Pilot client, filings say The man who formed the corporation now seeking to settle multiple suits against Pilot Flying J heads a trucking association of which Pilot is a member and major contributor. Lane Kidd, an Arkansas resident, filed incorporation papers for National Trucking Financial Reclamation Services LLC on April 22, just days after the FBI conducted a widely publicized raid on Pilot’s Knoxville headquarters. Two days later, National Trucking filed the class-action suit leading to the proposed settlement.
Vote comes amid concerns over financial impact After hearing a passionate plea against sacrificing Nashville’s poorest children to budget woes, the Metro school board Tuesday approved a charter school for the east side of town. Three board members argued against the approval of another charter school for Nashville only because of the financial implications more charter schools could have on the district’s budget next year. But the board voted 5-3 to approve the Explore Community School after an impassioned plea from member Elissa Kim.
Ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut last December, school officials across the country have debated how best to improve safety, including whether to arm teachers. The debate intensified Tuesday when a gunman walked into a DeKalb County, Ga., elementary school, barricaded himself in the front office and fired multiple shots at police before being taken into custody. No one was injured. Many schools are opening their doors this semester with an option less controversial than arming teachers: panic buttons.
A 38-year-old Memphis man has been arrested for violating the state’s tuberculosis control law, but public health officials are refusing to discuss the matter. Memphis police took Sean Martin into custody a little after 6:30 p.m. Monday, more than a month after the warrant was issued for his arrest. According to a police affidavit, the violation occurred July 17, 33 days before his arrest. According to the affidavit, Martin was taken to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. No bond was set. The affidavit indicates that a supporting document from Dr. Helen Morrow with the Shelby County Health Department has more details on what Martin did.
Realistically, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander doesn’t have much to worry about. Yes, tea party candidate state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, jumped in to run against him. But no one except the truly politically naive believes Carr can possibly beat the popular former governor and presidential candidate. “Lamar will certainly take him seriously, because he’s a serious politician,” said John Geer, chairman of Vanderbilt University’s political science department. “But there’s also a sigh of relief because it’s not something that is likely to become a serious threat. This was somebody who was having trouble getting traction in a congressional race with a flawed incumbent. Alexander is not a flawed incumbent. He’s a formidable incumbent.”
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is tackling mortgage industry reform with a bipartisan pragmatism that should earn him elevated respect on Capitol Hill and in the Volunteer State. The second-term Republican helped craft legislation that would phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, replacing the government-sponsored, privately traded corporations with a new government entity that would better protect taxpayers in an economic crisis. Doing nothing, Corker told the News Sentinel Editorial Board on Tuesday, is not an option: “Our enemy is inaction.” The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, offers a framework to reform the secondary mortgage market.
There were flare-ups, if not quite fireworks, when U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, held a wide-ranging town hall at Northview Academy in Sevier County on Monday night. Tea party-types occupied the front row, there to encourage Roe to defund “Obamacare” — Roe said it can’t be done — and a white-clad pro-immigrant crowd sat to the physical right of the tea party. Immigration turned out the big topic. Roe said “amnesty” didn’t work in 1986 and detailed how the House Judiciary Committee has voted to increase STEM visas, allow state and local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, establish an agricultural guest worker program and expand the use of E-Verify.
Detailed information about the safety of Y-12’s nuclear operations could be available for public consumption and discussion at a federal safety board hearing scheduled for Oct. 22 in Knoxville. The two-session, daylong hearing of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board will be held at the Knoxville Convention Center beginning at 8 a.m. A similar hearing was held last fall in Knoxville, but the board’s planned agenda was whittled down significantly in advance of the hearing. That apparently was due to sensitivities following the July 28, 2012, security breach at the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons plant. Key officials at Y-12 were still focusing their time and resources on the security response and unable to prepare for testimony on the plant’s nuclear operations.