This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is headed to Shelbyville today to make a jobs announcement at auto parts supplier Calsonic Kansei North America. Haslam is scheduled to be joined by the company’s president and CEO, Shingo Yamamoto, and Motohiko Kato, the Japanese consul general of Japan in Nashville. According to the company’s website, Calsonic currently employs 700 people in Shelbyville and another 890 in Lewisburg. The Nissan subsidiary has another 560 people working in Smyrna and in Canton, Miss., where the Japanese automaker assembles vehicles.
Governor Bill Haslam will be in Shelbyville Monday to make a jobs announcement at Calsonic Kansei North America, an auto parts supplier. The governor will be joined by the company’s president and CEO, Shingo Yamamoto, and Motohiko Kato, the Japanese consul general of Japan in Nashville. Calsonic currently employs 700 people in Shelbyville and 890 in Lewisburg. The Nissan subsidiary has 560 employees in Smyrna and Canton, Mississippi where the Japanese automaker assembles their vehicles.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s office has announced that he, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty, and Nashville-based Japanese Consul-General Motohiko Kato will be in Shelbyville Tuesday morning for a jobs announcement at the CalsonicKansei North America plant. No further specifics were available. CKNA is an automotive parts supplier, with two locations in Shelbyville and one in Lewisburg. In Shelbyville, the firm makes exhaust systems, heating and air conditioning systems.
A conservation group and state officials are launching a tree pest awareness campaign in a bid to head off a coming swarm that threatens to destroy wide swaths of Tennessee’s forests in the years ahead. The campaign is focusing on six invasive pests, some from as far away as Europe and Asia that have already caused damage to Tennessee trees, as well as others that are slowly making their way from neighboring states. “Our trees have no resistance to these pests,” said Katherine Medlock, East Tennessee program director for The Nature Conservancy, which is sponsoring the campaign.
Members of the Rhea County clerk’s staff recently were trained to renew Tennessee driver’s licenses after 15 years without offering that service. “The Tennessee Department of Safety furnished all the equipment at no cost to the county,” said County Clerk Linda Shaver, including hands-on training she and two employees received from a district manager. Shaver, Irene Wilkey and Shirley Travis acquired their certification in Chattanooga on July 24. Hamilton County resident Raymond Sines said “it’s convenient for me” that Rhea County personnel now can renew licenses, since he commuted to work and oftentimes didn’t make it to the Bonny Oaks office in Chattanooga before it closed.
Department of Children’s Services investigators are often the first — and sometimes the only — responders to reports of child abuse or neglect. But child protective services workers in Tennessee undergo the fewest hours of on-the-job training of any professional first-responder in the state. In fact, cosmetologists, manicurists and massage therapists are required to take more job-specific training than DCS protective caseworkers. DCS caseworkers must have a college degree and a year of experience in social work, but often have little knowledge or experience in their primary role — investigating allegations of abuse, collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses and recommending whether police and prosecutors become involved with a case.
Records in a newly filed federal lawsuit indicate the official death toll among Tennessee patients from the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak may be understated. According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Boston last week, Gokulbhai Patel of Goodlettsville died Jan. 13 from fungal meningitis caused by two spinal steroid injections he received at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center in Nashville. However, the official death count maintained by state and federal officials shows no deaths among Tennessee patients in that month from the outbreak blamed on the New England Compounding Center, the source of the tainted steroids.
In a tragic holiday weekend, two young men from Middle Tennessee drowned within hours of each other in separate incidents on Labor Day afternoon. The deaths came on the same day that state officials identified the body of another man who died Sunday in a water-related accident on Percy Priest Lake. The body of 18-year-old Matthew Grissom was found by divers hours after it was reported he fell into the water near the Walter Hill Dam in northern Rutherford County. By then, authorities already had found the remains of Nashville resident Abdala Amsabil, 22, in 11 feet of water at Burgess Falls State Park, eight miles south of Cookeville.
TWRA officers had plenty to watch to keep themselves busy over the holiday weekend, and fortunately, all they had to do was watch. Officer Jeff Roberson spent the weekend patrolling on Lake Loudon, and says people stayed relatively calm and safe while out enjoying the water. TWRA had extra officers patrolling due to the increase in the number of boaters they expected to see, but there were no serious injuries or accidents to report from East Tennessee lakes and rivers. Sometimes the best news is when there is no news, Roberson said.
Stops set for Chattanooga, Johnson City, Jackson, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville Middle Tennessee State University’s top administrators and deans will meet with prospective students in six Tennessee cities in September and October as part of its annual True Blue Tour. The statewide tour, organized by the university’s Admissions Office, will include student receptions in Chattanooga on Sept. 17; Johnson City on Sept. 23; Knoxville on Sept. 24; Nashville on Oct. 8; Memphis on Oct. 21; and Jackson on Oct. 22.
A fund established more than 30 years ago to protect the victims of unscrupulous lawyers is being revised to offer even more protections. The Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection is supported by annual fees paid by Tennessee attorneys. According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the fund has always collected a fee from attorneys licensed by the state of Tennessee, but beginning in October the fee will be collected from every attorney practicing in Tennessee, regardless of where they are licensed.
Legislators leading a panel that oversees Tennessee’s retirement system say they want to review laws that are allowing 14 nonprofit organizations — 11 of them employing lobbyists — to participate in the state pension system for state employees and teachers. Tennessee is one of 20 states that now collectively allow “hundreds of lobbyists” to get public pensions because they represent associations of local government officials, according to an Associated Press report last week. Some states, including New Jersey and Illinois, are considering legislation that would remove such groups from state pension plans, the AP reports.
Knoxville City Council will consider today whether to hand over ownership of two miles of city streets to the University of Tennessee. The proposal only includes roads where UT owns both sides of the street, meaning there are no right-of-way complications, said Jim Hagerman, director of the city’s Engineering Department. UT eventually wants ownership of nearly all of the 4.1 miles of city streets that run within its boundaries. It’s a move that would save the university the trouble of city approval to close roads for construction or other reasons, and it would save the city the cost of maintaining those streets.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean unveiled plans last week for the creation of new parks and green space on both sides of the Cumberland River downtown, with construction starting this fall. The mayor said the $35 million to $40 million in projects, including an amphitheater, “will make the river truly the center of our city and an already thriving downtown even more compelling than it already is.” The Nashville plans are the latest in the re-making of downtown riverfronts in Tennessee’s largest cities — projects that, like San Antonio’s Riverwalk, transformed the urban waterfronts into natural attractions for locals and visitors alike.
The Democrat who represents the Nashville area in Congress says his mind is not made up yet about a possible U.S. strike against Syria but adds he is “extremely leery of any U.S. involvement.” Representative Jim Cooper told News 2 Monday that is it “hard for me to see right now from what I know today that our involvement would do any good.” Cooper’s comments come in the wake of a chemical weapons attack in Syria’s civil war on August 21 and President Obama’s call over the weekend for congressional approval for military strike.
President Barack Obama continued his efforts Monday to get congressional approval for strikes on Syria. The president met at the White House with Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. President Obama wants a limited strike but McCain is calling for more than what he described as “pinprick cruise missiles.” Over the weekend, the President announced he would seek congressional approval for attacks after the administration said Syria used sarin gas in the deadly attacks against its own people. 6 News has spent the day talking with members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation getting their perspective on the President’s request.
Former Williamson County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Kookogey is calling himself an “unannounced candidate” for U.S. Senate, fueling speculation that Sen. Lamar Alexander is soon likely to get another primary challenger from the right. That revelation came as Kookogey, who left his post in 2012 and has been mulling a run against Alexander, informed tea party organizers Sunday that he will no longer be taking part in a series of forums designed to identify a consensus challenger to take on Alexander.
A consortium of companies and universities in Tennessee and Alabama hope to develop a site near Savannah where drones would be tested. If approved, the facility could become one of only a half-dozen sites approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for research involving Unmanned Aerial Systems, more commonly known as drones, the news site Al.com reported. Alabama and Tennessee have submitted a joint application in an effort to be selected as one of the six FAA UAS testing sites. Testing would be done at a site near Savannah, Tenn.
Rutherford County has a “golden jewel right in front of us,” according to an official, but locals may not even know it’s there. The Tennessee Army National Guard’s 117th Regional Training Institute is in Smyrna, and Col. Charles Tilton said the success of the institute is not just something to be excited about; it brings more than 1,200 soldiers a year into the Middle Tennessee area. Tilton, who lives in Murfreesboro, will take charge of the 117th Regional Training Institute in Smyrna following a formal ceremony at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.
For those left behind by the long, slow economic recovery, time is running out. More than four years after the recession officially ended, 11.5 million Americans are unemployed, many of them for years. Millions more have abandoned their job searches, hiding from the economic storm in school or turning to government programs for support. A growing body of economic research suggests that the longer they remain on the sidelines, the less likely they will be to work again; for many, it may already be too late.
Congress will have to again raise the U.S. debt ceiling next month for the United States to pay its debts, but the debt cap for one federal agency appears to no longer be a problem — at least for the foreseeable future. The Treasury Department estimates the federal government will max out its borrowing authority by mid-October as the U.S. debt hits its $16.4 trillion limit. But the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federal utility which has its own $30 billion debt cap, won’t be asking Congress to raise its borrowing authority for at least the next decade.
After 14 months in temporary quarters, the U.S. Department of Energy is returning to its Oak Ridge home. A few dozen DOE employees last week began moving back to the Joe L. Evins Federal Building, getting the all-clear after a yearlong asbestos cleanup project. By the end of September, about 450 federal and contractor workers will be working in the agency’s long-standing field office in the Atomic City. For many of the government employees, there was one sentiment: It’s about time. “It has been a hassle,” John Shewairy, DOE’s assistant manager for administration, said during a tour of the five-story, 154,000-square-foot building.
One year into a federal plan to make school lunches healthier, Tennessee school food supervisors say they think students are generally happy with the menus. Some students, however, think otherwise. “It’s nasty,” said Jodi Chambers, eating lunch at Stewarts Creek High School in Rutherford County. “I eat five bags of chips a day instead of this.” Reactions such as hers have spurred some school systems across the nation to drop out of the $11 billion National School Lunch Program, complaining that so many students turned up their noses at meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that the cafeterias were losing money.
In the state of Tennessee, some children come to the pre-K classroom never having had a book read to them, never having seen their name in print, and never having had the opportunity to work cooperatively with others. These children are at a great disadvantage when they enter kindergarten. They begin school behind and never seem to catch up. Throughout their elementary school years, they fall farther and farther behind in reading, writing and social skills. They are more likely to drop out of school after finding the educational process too difficult for them. Children like these, who are “at risk” for academic failure, should have the opportunity to attend quality early childhood programs that will help prepare them for school and life.
Tennessee’s experiment with online-only learning for grades K-12 is shaping up to be an abject failure. The Tennessee Virtual Academy, a privately-run school based out of the Union County school system, is not providing students with a quality education by any standard. Test scores are abysmal. Enrollment has plummeted. And Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has signaled it lacks confidence in for-profit online schools. The Tennessee Virtual Academy is operated by Virginia-based K12 Inc., a for-profit online school company. Students from across the state can enroll in the school, and it is popular among parents who homeschool their children and others seeking an alternative to traditional schools.
As of June, 350 babies were born this year addicted to drugs, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Births of drug-dependent infants cost $62,973 compared to $4,237 for well babies. About 65 percent of mothers giving birth to drug-addicted babies were using at least one controlled substance prescribed by a healthcare provider. The health department says the increasing number of drug-dependent newborns reflects a state and national “epidemic” of controlled substance abuse. In response, the Tennessee General Assembly recently passed several pieces of legislation that significantly increase regulation and oversight of pain management clinics and controlled substance prescribing.
There are a lot of personal stories that illustrate the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and these stories are important. But it is also important to point out that we badly need to fix our American immigration system because of what it is doing to our economy. Consider a couple of figures from the conservative American Action Forum: The U.S. government would save $410 billion over the next 10 years if Congress passed comprehensive immigration reform. Additionally, the gross domestic product level would be about 1.6 percent higher by 2014 with meaningful reform. To those of us in business across Tennessee, those kinds of numbers resonate.
Congressmen Phil Roe and Chuck Fleischmann have each voted 40 times to repeal, delay or defund the federal health-care reforms that are scheduled to go into effect next year. “I don’t know how much more I can say I don’t like the bill,” says Roe, a Johnson City physician. Adds Fleischmann, “I think the law was a failure from the inception, and I’m going to continue to work to make sure it goes away.” But one thing Roe and Fleischmann aren’t willing to do to stop the health-reform law: Shut down the federal government. A government shutdown “could have a crippling effect on an already anemic economy,” Fleischmann says.
Keeping the right skill mix at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has always been a bit of a dance. The weapons work and related missions carried out at the Oak Ridge plant require not only a strong base of engineers and project managers, but also machinists and other highly trained crafts workers to perform the precise tasks involved in building — and dismantling — nuclear weapons components and assemblies. The end of the Cold War was an especially challenging time, with sharp reductions in funding and the loss of many workers. As the remaining workforce aged, concerns were expressed about losing the skills base needed to continue the work — albeit on a reduced basis.
Most of the talk about the education reform movement taking place here has focused on teacher training, enhanced curriculums and innovative instruction taking place in charter schools. What has been overlooked in all of this is the increased community outreach by the principals and teachers at many schools, especially those in inner-city neighborhoods. A story in The Commercial Appeal Sunday by education writer Jane Roberts is an example of how that outside-the-school-building outreach is manifesting itself. The story describes how teachers at Corning Achievement Elementary sacrifice 45 minutes of their busy school day to escort 150 to 200 little ones home every day to three Frayser apartment complexes.