This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has requested assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help individuals and businesses in Metro Nashville and Davidson County and its contiguous counties recover from the severe storms and flash flooding that occurred on August 8-9, 2013. The additional Tennessee counties that would be eligible for SBA loans are Cheatham, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson as damage to homes and businesses occurred in multiple locations.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with Brown-Forman Corporation officials announced today expansion plans for the Jack Daniel Distillery in response to global demand for its world famous Tennessee Whiskey. The $103 million investment includes the addition of stills, barrel warehouses and related infrastructure to support the expanding operations, and will result in the creation of 94 new full-time positions over the next five years.
Global demand for Tennessee Whiskey means more jobs for our area, with a $103 million investment announced Thursday at the world famous Jack Daniel Distillery. he extensive expansion plans involves the addition of stills, barrel warehouses and related infrastructure, as well as 94 new full-time positions over the next five years in Moore County. Gov. Bill Haslam gathered with local officials and members of the Brown-Forman Corporation, which owns the brand, to make the announcement.
Brown-Forman Corp. officials announced today expansion plans for the company’s Lynchburg-based Jack Daniel Distillery, a $103 million investment that is expected to yield 94 full-time positions over the next five years. The move, Louisville-based Brown-Forman said, comes in response to global demand for the company’s Tennessee Whiskey and will include the addition of stills, barrel warehouses and related infrastructure to support the expanding operations. Construction will begin this fall and is expected to be completed within two years.
Jack Daniel’s is being served a $100 million-plus expansion of its rural Tennessee distillery to flex more muscle in the growing whiskey market. The investment amounts to the largest single production expansion in the brand’s long history. It will add stills and barrel warehouses at the Jack Daniel’s operations in Lynchburg, Tenn., the brand’s Louisville-based parent company, Brown-Forman Corp., said Thursday. A second production building will go up on the same grounds as the current distillery site, which traces its roots back to a year after the Civil War ended.
Mr. Jack’s legacy is growing globally, forcing the iconic Tennessee whiskey maker to expand its stills and warehouses in order to meet demand for its charcoal-mellowed products worldwide. As a result, parent Brown-Forman Corp. will spend more than $100 million to increase production and storage capacity at its Jack Daniel Distillery, so that “every drop of Jack Daniel’s will continue to be made in Lynchburg,” master distiller Jeff Arnett said Thursday. The expansion, which should be completed in about 18 months, would add more than 90 full-time jobs at the distillery over the next five years, the company said during an announcement in front of the historic distillery, which still operates in the same hollow where Jack Daniel founded it 150 years ago.
Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE: BFA) (NYSE: BFB) announced today the expansion of the Jack Daniel Distillery in response to global demand for its world-famous Tennessee Whiskey. The more than $100 million investment includes the addition of stills, barrel warehouses, and related infrastructure to support the expanding operations. “The demand for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey worldwide speaks volumes for the craftsmanship and specialness of a spirit distilled from a small cave spring hollow in Tennessee,” said Jeff Arnett, Master Distiller, Jack Daniel Distillery.
Soaring sales figures show the world has developed a taste for American whiskey. And to satisfy the masses, Jack Daniel’s is expanding its distillery in little Lynchburg, Tenn. Last year, Jack Daniel’s hit a sales record – 11 million cases of charcoal-mellowed, sour mash whiskey. But the nearly 150-year-old brand still only controls three percent of the global market. “Even with all this growth and success, we believe we’re only scratching the surface,” senior vice president John Hayes said Thursday at the expansion announcement. With other spirits, the leading label often controls a 10 percent share.
Job cuts and construction delays at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are weighing on Governor Bill Haslam. On Friday, he travels to Washington D.C. in hopes of hammering out a compromise on expanding the state’s Medicaid program – a move that has been characterized as vital to the health of Tennessee hospitals. Without any kind of expansion in Medicaid – known as TennCare in the state – the Tennessee Hospital Association has warned that some facilities will close. Rural, community hospitals are the most vulnerable.
Gov. Bill Haslam plans to negotiate details of expanding health care coverage to more Tennesseans in the nation’s capitol Friday as he nears his own self-imposed deadline to strike a deal. Haslam said he has “four or five” sticking points in drafting an alternative to expanding the state’s Medicaid program known as TennCare, like by ensuring people buying insurance have “skin in the game” and that providers have incentives to control costs. He said he also is seeking a more objective way to identify what people would need to stay on traditional Medicaid rolls.
Davidson County saw its July unemployment rate of 6.7 percent drop from the June rate of 7 percent, according to statistics the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released today. Across the eight-county core of the Nashville MSA, the jobless rate also dropped to 6.7 percent. It was 7.2 percent in July of last year. The county continues to maintain the lowest unemployment rate of the state’s four major metropolitan areas. By the same token, Williamson County continues to have the lowest jobless rate in the state.
Knox County’s unemployment rate for July decreased to 7 percent from 7.3 percent in June, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday. Davidson County had the state’s lowest major metropolitan rate of 6.7 percent, down from 7 percent in June. Hamilton County decreased to 8.6 percent from 8.8 the previous month. Shelby County was 9.8 percent, down from 10.3 percent in June. County unemployment rates for July decreased in 79 counties, increased in 12 counties, and were unchanged in four counties. Tennessee’s preliminary unemployment rate for July is 8.5 percent, which is unchanged from the June revised rate.
Even in a region where about 58,700 people are on the jobless rolls, there are fields where job seekers are being snatched up by eager employers. But the hiring has made only a small dent in the stubbornly high unemployment rate in Greater Memphis. In July, the metropolitan jobless rate dropped to 9.5 percent, from 10 percent in June, according to Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development statistics released Thursday. One year ago in July, the unemployment rate was also 9.5 percent.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services released additional records Thursday on deaths and near deaths of children in the agency’s care. Thursday’s hearing before Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy was the latest in a series of court meetings over the past seven months as part of an ongoing legal battle over access to the department’s records. In December 2012, The Tennessean led a coalition of the state’s media groups in filing a lawsuit to gain access to DCS records of children who died or nearly died after having some contact with the agency.
Two days after DCS caseworker Tiffany Washington first visited the home of a mother and her four small children to investigate a report of suspected child abuse, she returned bearing children’s clothes, diapers and kitchen utensils — and a check-list of requirements she expected the mother to follow. On the first visit, Washington had been accompanied by her boss, DCS’ top official, Jim Henry, who has made it mandatory for all staff, including himself, to “shadow” a caseworker for a day. The home had been dirty and the children — ranging in age from a newborn to a 4-year-old — had physical problems. The mother said she had schizophrenia but was not taking her medication. On the return visit, Washington found a freshly mopped home.
As Mayor Karl Dean makes his push for a new minor league baseball stadium near Bicentennial Mall, state officials are looking to one day build a new state museum, library and archives in the same area. Together, a long-neglected part of town could eventually find itself with three new landmark destinations — though it’s still unclear when either state project might happen. The possibility of a new Tennessee State Museum and Tennessee State Library and Archives — discussed for years but never carried out — was referenced in a proposal obtained by The Tennessean Wednesday detailing the mayor’s initiative for a new Nashville Sounds ballpark.
Jefferson County lawyer Jill R. Talley has been publicly censured by the state Board of Professional Responsibility for revealing confidential information about a client in a divorce case, officials said. The board found that the contents of a pleading that Talley filed when she was trying to withdraw from the case violated a rule requiring lawyers to maintain confidentiality of client information. In that pleading, Talley stated that her client “has not been completely truthful concerning certain issues, including her actions.” That disclosure resulted in harm to the client, the board found.
The former student judicial affairs director at the University of Tennessee has accused officials there of ruining her career and creating “a professional nightmare” when she was accused of having inappropriate relationships with student-athletes. Jenny Wright, who left the university amid the scandal in May, said she faced criticism, harassment, intimidation, and “even threats directed toward me regarding judicial decisions involving student-athletes.” Wright posted the statement, her first public comment since the allegations came to light, this week on a website.
The assets of the wives of the former owners of a Memphis medical clinic have been frozen, following allegations by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office that the company violated the Consumer Protection Act by making false and unsubstantiated claims about its bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon granted a request to freeze personal assets of Dixie Hale and Bonnie Hale and to place them under the control of a third-party receiver. The women are the wives of former HRC Medical Centers owners Don Hale and Dan Hale, whose assets were also frozen and placed in receivership in May.
Customers at pharmacies in Manchester, Tenn., won’t need to worry — at least for a while — about having a prescription to buy over-the-counter cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in the illicit drug methamphetamine. After concerns were raised about whether city government has the power to regulate prescription drugs, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 4-2 Tuesday night to table the ordinance. “They really don’t have the legal authority to make that kind of regulation,” said Ray Macrom, a lifelong Manchester resident who’s the owner and pharmacist at Macrom’s Pharmacy at 1277 McArthur St.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told a state commission he believes residents should be allowed to vote on whether towns and cities can annex their areas, including residents of the annexation “reserve areas” of Shelby County’s seven municipalities. “I think we all would agree that one of the fundamental principles of our democracy is the right of popular determination. Certainly, owning land and possession of property, you should have a say in how laws, rules and regulations are structured around the management of your property,” he told the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, or TACIR.
With new video footage of a purported chemical attack in Syria, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says the U.S. needs to “step it up.” The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is calling for a swifter arming of moderate Syrian rebels and possibly sending conventional forces to assist with training. Corker just returned from meeting with rebel leaders in Syria and says he’s “dismayed” that arms and ammunition the U.S. promised mostly haven’t arrived. President Obama has publicly acknowledged the U.S. is training the rebels in neighboring Jordan.
Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his disappointment Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision this week to reinstate four workers who had been placed on administrative leave following last year’s terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Corker, who has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s response to the almost year-old attack in Libya, questioned how the State Department could ensure safety at its posts around the world if those responsible for ensuring security were not held accountable for failures.
Two days after drawing his first primary challenger since 2002, Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign announced an endorsement of his candidacy by former Arkansas governor and conservative figure Mike Huckabee. In a four-page letter to supporters, Huckabee praises Alexander’s work as a senator and former governor and reminisces on their relationship working on political campaigns over the years. He also asks recipients to “pray for Lamar, vote for Lamar, and fill out the enclosed envelope and send it back with $10 or $15 or whatever amount you can afford.”
President Barack Obama’s call on Thursday for states to follow Tennessee’s lead and award greater funding to colleges that show results with students pushed the state’s evolving education policies into the national spotlight once again. Obama urged other states to follow Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio in offering more funds to colleges that do a better job of preparing students for graduation and a job. He also proposed a broad new government rating system for colleges that would judge schools on their affordability and could be used to allocate federal financial aid.
A release issued by the White House that morning stated, “To help students choose the courses that will allow them to earn a degree as quickly as possible, Austin Peay State University has developed the ‘Degree Compass’ system that draws on the past performance of students in thousands of classes to guide a student through a course, in a similar manner to the way Netflix or Pandora draw on users’ past experience to guide movie or music choices.” In 2011, then-APSU provost Tristan Denley developed Degree Compass, a course recommendation tool that provides each student with personalized recommendations based on their academic transcript.
Targeting the soaring cost of higher education, President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled a broad new government rating system for colleges that would judge schools on their affordability and perhaps be used to allocate federal financial aid. But the proposed overhaul faced immediate skepticism from college leaders who worry the rankings could cost their institutions millions of dollars, as well as from congressional Republicans wary of deepening the government’s role in higher education.
Calling growing student debt levels a “crisis,” President Barack Obama laid out a plan Thursday aimed at reining in rising tuition costs by creating a system to rate colleges and eventually tie federal student aid to the institutions’ performance. The president called for rating colleges before the 2015 school year on measures such as affordability and graduation rates—”metrics like how much debt does the average student leave with, how easy is it to pay off, how many students graduate on time, how well do those graduates do in the workforce,” Mr. Obama told a crowd at the University at Buffalo, the first stop on a two-day bus tour.
Electricity bills are going up soon. Today, the Tennessee Valley Authority approved its first rate increase in two years. Starting October 1st, the average household will see its power bill increase by about $1.50 a month. TVA is dealing with a sharp decrease in demand for electricity, and it’s not just because of the mild weather year. Its largest customer—a massive uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky—shut down earlier this year. Board chair Bill Sansom says it’s been a dramatic reversal.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will boost its base electric rates this fall for the first time in two years, but most consumers may not notice the difference. Power rates will rise 1.5 percent in October when the new fiscal year begins, adding about $1.50 a month to the average residential electric bill under a $10.5 billion spending plan approved Thursday by TVA directors. But most of that increase is being offset with lower monthly fuel cost adjustments by TVA, which are projected to lower the average electric bill next month by about 6 percent below year-ago levels.
Measure will add $1.50 to monthly bills The TVA board Thursday approved a 1.5 percent retail increase estimated to add $1.50 to the average residential customer’s monthly electricity bill. TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said the federal utility has seen a decline in revenue from lower electricity sales due to milder weather and a still-sluggish economy. The rate increase, set to take effect Oct. 1, is the first TVA rate increase since October 2011. “We don’t ever like to raise rates,” Johnson said after the meeting.
A group of workers who cleaned up the Kingston coal ash spill claim a contractor failed to protect them from the dangerous toxins in fly ash. A group of 49 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court in Knoxville on Thursday against Pasadena, Calif.,-based Jacobs Engineering Group. The suit claims Jacobs officials intentionally lied to workers, saying fly ash was safe enough to drink. The suit claims workers were not given respirators or protective clothing and were not allowed to wear their own protective gear.
Since the year 2000, the number of solar power installations in the Tennessee Valley has grown from only three to nearly 1,700. Buoyed by some of the most generous incentives offered by any utility in the South, TVA gets as much power from the sun as it does from either Norris or Chickamauga dams. But the boom in small-scale solar generation has turned to a bust for many solar installers this summer. TVA capped its 17-cents-per-kilowatt-hour payment for solar generation to only 10 megawatts this year and the limit quickly was reached before many interested homeowners and businesses were able to take advantage of the offer.
The guards union chief at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant said the recent promotion of 10 security police officers to supervisory positions will put even more stress on an already overworked protective force. Shannon Gray, president of the International Guards Union of America, Local 3, disagreed with a statement by B&W Y-12 — the government’s managing contractor — that the move would not have an impact on overtime for the security guards. “I just don’t understand how they get the impression that pulling 10 people from our ranks won’t affect our overtime issue,” Gray said in an interview with the News Sentinel.
When it comes to the perceived benefits of a huge new Kroger Marketplace, there’s one part of the equation that’s not been previously mentioned — jobs. When it opens, the 123,000 square-foot store will provide some 165 new jobs, a standing-room-only crowd gathered under a large tent was told Thursday during official groundbreaking ceremonies. That will boost total employment to “close to 300,” Kroger executive Tim Coggins said. He said 135 workers are now in the current Oak Ridge Kroger.
The most important thing that came out of the Erlanger board of trustees eight-minute meeting Thursday night was what was left unsaid. The hospital board did not bring up a drafted resolution that would allow the hospital to donate five acres of land in Lincoln Park to the city, a proposal that has been in the works for weeks between Chattanooga and Erlanger officials and was expected to be finalized Thursday. The potential land donation could change the dynamics of the city’s plan to build a Central Avenue extension through the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which would create a direct link to Riverside Drive.
Gateway Medical Center is among dozens of Tennessee hospitals that federal regulators have cited for excessive readmission rates. As a result, the Clarksville hospital will lose a small portion of its Medicare funding in fiscal 2014. The good news: Gateway will be docked less than it was in fiscal 2013, thanks to strategies it’s adopted, such as working with patients on their care after they’ve been discharged. Gateway’s improvement comes as Tennessee hospitals generally have lost ground in efforts to reduce the number of heart failure, heart attack and pneumonia patients readmitted within 30 days after discharge, according to a recent analysis by Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research organization.
The head of a group formed for the purpose of filing a lawsuit against truck stop giant Pilot Flying J said Thursday it is not a shell corporation established to ensure the company reached a favorable settlement. Pilot Flying J, the nation’s largest diesel retailer, last month agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit, filed in Arkansas by National Trucking Financial Reclamation Services LLC. The suit was filed in response to FBI allegations that members of the company’s sales force preyed on smaller trucking companies by reducing the amount of rebates they were owed.
The legal fight over Pilot Flying J played out in a Knox County courtroom on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean the fight for market share was on hold. This week, the Dallas Convention Center is playing host to the Great American Truck Show, a trucking industry trade show that bills itself as the nation’s second-largest. On Thursday, a vast space at the convention center featured trucking firms, industry vendors and truck-stop chains, including Pilot and competitors TravelCenters of America and Love’s.
Lawyers for Pilot Flying J have until the end of the month to respond to a proposed class-action lawsuit filed in Knox County Circuit Court by five trucking companies. Circuit Judge Harold Wimberly set a deadline of Aug. 30 at a hearing Thursday. Attorneys Mark Tate, Drew McElroy and Bart Turner came to court asking that they be allowed to question Pilot officials under oath as soon as possible, including Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam, company President Mark Hazelwood, spokesman Tom Ingram, former Vice President of Sales John “Stick” Freeman and other Pilot officials.
A gun discharged inside a 5-year-old kindergartener’s backpack at a Tennessee elementary school cafeteria on Thursday, though no one was hurt, officials said. A statement from the Shelby County school district said the gun went off inside a kindergarten student’s backpack as students were waiting for the opening bell in the cafeteria of Westside Elementary School. There were no injuries. School staffers immediately took control of the backpack. School security officers and the Memphis Police Department responded to the incident, the district said. The child was detained and was still being questioned by officers Thursday afternoon, with the child’s mother present.
A gun in a 5-year-old boy’s backpack discharged at a Frayser school Thursday morning. No one was injured, but the incident infuriated parents. About 8 a.m., police got the call that a gun was fired at Westside Elementary at 3347 Dawn Drive. Officers arrived and took the kindergarten child into custody. According to Shelby County Schools spokesman Christian Ross, the boy came to school early and waited in the cafeteria for the opening bell along with other children. The school, with grades K-5, has a little more than 300 students. The gun was in the boy’s backpack when it discharged, Ross said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is asking the Rutherford County school board to reconsider a decision to take down posters identifying classrooms as safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. According to the ACLU, the posters were hung at Central Magnet School at the request of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. They hung alongside posters from other student groups for the majority of the last school year. ACLU-TN Legal Director Thomas Castelli said in a news release that removing the poster violates the free speech rights of students and teachers.
At least one Central Magnet School parent agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union in urging school district officials to allow Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network “Safe Space” posters to return to classroom walls. “It’s important that our young people learn to live together among our differences,” said Jeff Clark, who is an active parent at the school in addition to being a business professor at Middle Tennessee State University and a Cumberland Presbyterian Church pastor. The ACLU of Tennessee and the national ACLU on Thursday called on the Rutherford County School Board to restore the posters, saying that taking them down violates students’ free speech rights.
As Bartlett citizens got an update this week on the move by it and the five other suburban towns and cities in Shelby County to form their own school systems, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald fielded a pointed question with an interesting answer. Why would McDonald and other suburban leaders be negotiating with the Shelby County Commission at this point, with the passage of a state law earlier this year that took care of the issue of forming such school systems? McDonald’s answer suggests that the suburban leaders and County Commission members all have a motive to continue private talks at least for now.
The Justice Department on Thursday sued Texas over the state’s voter-identification law and filed to join an existing case challenging congressional districts drawn by Austin’s Republican-controlled legislature, alleging that both measures violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act and constitutional protections for minorities. The lawsuits come after the U.S. Supreme Court in June ended nearly a half-century of direct federal supervision of election practices in states that historically discriminated against minority voters.
“Common Core State Standards are giving my students the opportunity to engage in learning and feel like they are a part of it. I have seen such a positive change in my classroom because of this. I have met some amazing teachers from all regions of Tennessee. We still have a lot of work to do, but I know we are headed in the right direction!” — Lucie Abbott, fifth-grade English Language Arts This summer, educators in Tennessee made history. We came together in the largest gathering in state history to make sure all children have the opportunity to meet high expectations and the support to get there.
“Some people have 15 years of experience; some have one year’s experience 15 times.” That’s a maxim I learned decades ago, which accurately reflects the paradigm shift taking place in the way Tennessee state government and our public education system now operates. Laws have already gone into effect this summer radically altering the state’s half-century-old civil service system. In education, it’s the revamped compensation plan for our public school teachers. I know many of my fellow Democrats are strongly resisting these changes, but I believe they are holding onto outdated modes of thinking. Changes needed to occur.
Is state Rep. Joe Carr, a Republican from Lascassas, the one the tea party has been waiting for to mount a serious challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Maryville? Lascassas, 10 miles northeast of Murfreesboro, is no foreign locale, so Carr won’t have uncomfortable citizenship questions like Canadian-born U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party hero. Carr was running against 4th District U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, until switching races to take on the man known by friend and foe simply as “Lamar.” Within hours, one of Carr’s top advisers, former state GOP party chair Chip Saltsman, abandoned ship. Saltsman quit, then endorsed Alexander
OK, let’s get this straight for everyone’s benefit. The job of the Jackson-Madison County Board of Education is to hire and supervise a school superintendent, set school system policy, approve an annual school budget funding request and promote and support our public education system. The job of the Madison County Commission with regard to public education is to provide funding for the school system budget, and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars in all matters. That’s it. History clearly shows that The Jackson Sun’s editorial board believes county commissioners tilt heavily toward frugality.
President Obama has been accused of promoting small-ball ideas in his second term, but the proposal he unveiled on Thursday is a big one: using sharp federal pressure to make college more affordable, potentially opening the gates of higher education to more families scared off by rising tuitions. While there are questions to be answered about his plan, his approach — tying federal student aid to the value of individual colleges — is a bold and important way to leverage the government’s power and get Washington off the sidelines. The basic idea is to give more student aid to colleges that admit more disadvantaged students, that show progress in lowering costs and raising scholarships, and that shepherd students to earn a degree.