This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Area Development Magazine has named Tennessee to its list of top states for doing business. The Volunteer state came in at No. 7 in the annual survey of site consultants. Texas topped the list. The ranking was based on several factors, including: business environment (costs, taxes and regulations, incentives, etc.); labor climate (diversity, costs, development programs, etc.); and infrastructure and global access (rail/highway access, shovel-ready sites, utility rates, logistics access).
Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam read to about 90 third-graders from Lebanon’s Southside Elementary School last week as part of a Read20 Family Book club event at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. “Third grade is a very important year for students, when they transition from learning to read to reading to learn,” the first lady said. Haslam read “Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems” by Kristine O’Connell George. Afterward, students visited the park’s nature center and hiking trails to learn more about Tennessee wildlife and forestry.
A traveling entrepreneur road show visited Knoxville on Tuesday, highlighting 10 companies — two from Knoxville — picked to take part in the state’s first master business accelerator program. Launch Tennessee, a program of the Tennessee Technology Development Corp. selected 10 fledgling businesses from across the state to take part in The TENN road show. These startups will have access to 40 mentors from across the state, including investors, other entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. They will also be flown to California and the East Cost to network with other investors and corporate executives.
“I’ll be here for the ground-breaking and the ribbon cutting,” John Schroer said. “We’ve talked about the exchange for two-and-a-half years and it’s under design. “We have a couple of renderings, but it’s not an easy fix.” Schroer, the state commissioner of transportation and former mayor of Franklin, made his comments to a gathering of local politicians and business people at Casey Jones Village on Tuesday. One of three projects earmarked for the city and county, Schroer said total funding would cost $100 million, with $4.5 million directed at the bypass.
A Tennessee doctor is being credited by the White House with protecting the public and saving lives by identifying the fungal meningitis outbreak connected to contaminated steroid injections last year. Tennessee Health Department epidemiologist Marion Kainer was among eight people honored Tuesday during a ceremony at the White House as a prevention and public health “Champion of Change.” The White House website says Kainer and her team helped save lives by quickly determining the cause of the outbreak and stopping the injections as well as by tracking down every affected patient and getting treatment to the sick.
Thousands of Tennesseans have been notified that they will lose health insurance under a TennCare-sponsored program due to the new federal Affordable Care Act. The Tennessean reports state officials sent a letter this month to people who had insurance through CoverTN, a plan that helped small businesses and the self-employed purchase benefits. The letter says the limited-benefit plan does not cover all the services required under federal law and won’t be available after the end of this year. Under the CoverTN plan, annual benefits were capped at $25,000. Yearly caps aren’t allowed under the federal law.
A Tennessee state trooper has been placed on discretionary leave with pay, pending an investigation. Trooper Tommie Boleyn’s leave was effective Monday. The investigation by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s Inspectional Services Bureau stemmed from allegations that Boleyn violated Tennessee Highway Patrol policies and procedures during an on-duty incident in Shelbyville on August 31. The exact details about the incident were not released. The 48-year-old started his second term with the Highway Patrol in November 2009.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has a new tool to catch illegal hunters in Southeast Tennessee. TWRA Sgt. Ben Davis, stationed in Bradley County, now spends his days patrolling with a full-time, four-legged partner. The partner’s name is Levee, as in “drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.” Levee and Davis just graduated from K-9 school earlier this year, so this will be their first hunting season together. “We’re excited. Deer season should offer us lots of opportunities to make use of the K-9,” Davis said.
The University Of Memphis celebrated a new chapter in giving students a home away from home. A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the University’s new $53 million dormitory Tuesday afternoon. The new building will replace Richardson Towers at the corner of Patterson and Norriswood, and feature, classrooms, study areas and a room where students can hold programs. The new dormitory is expected to be complete for the Fall 2015 semester.
Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has rendered a legal opinion that the state’s charter school funding law is constitutional. The Tennessean reports Cooper issued an opinion Monday that defends the 2002 law that determines how charter schools are funded. “On its face, the Charter Schools Act does not directly or expressly require the expenditure of extra funds beyond what a (local school district) is already spending on education,” Cooper wrote. The opinion conflicts with the conclusion reached by a Metro Nashville Public Schools attorney.
Some disturbing news about the obesity rate. The American Heart Association now describes about five percent of American children and teenagers as severely obese. They say it’s a more serious disease than regular obesity, with potentially deadly health consequences. Researchers are calling for more study on the safety of weight loss surgery for children.
Six more suits filed A 72-year-old retired autoworker from Crossville, who loved nature and NASCAR, has been identified for the first time as one of the Tennessee patients who died in the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak. A suit filed by his family in U.S. District Court in Nashville identifies the victim as Dallas Ray Nealon, who died on Dec. 9, 2012. The suit was one of six new complaints filed this week as a one-year deadline looms under state product and health care liability statutes. The outbreak was first made public by state and federal officials in early October 2012.
The nation’s largest caucus of Republican state leaders plans to spend $6 million to recruit 300 women to run for office in the next election cycle, women GOP leaders said Tuesday. The announcement was made at a news conference near the state Capitol following a two-day leadership summit of Republican women from around the country. Last year, the Republican State Leadership Committee identified 185 new female Republican candidates from 36 states, and 84 of them were elected to state offices. The caucus is hoping to get at least 150 elected next year.
A group that aims to persuade more Republican women to go into politics announced an initiative Tuesday to recruit 300 minority and women candidates nationwide, capping a conference in Nashville. Republican National Committee co-chairman Sharon Day and other GOP women said at a news conference at the state Capitol that the GOP plans to spend at least $6 million next year and hopes to elect at least 150 more women and minorities, as part of an effort to reorient the party amid changing demographics.“ We need more women leaders,” Day said.
Women comprise a slight majority of the U.S. and Tennessee populations, but only about 17 percent of the Tennessee legislature and about 23 percent of state elected officials nationwide. Nearly three dozen state-level elected Republican women from across the country concluded a two-day “Right Women, Right Now Summit” in Nashville Tuesday with a goal of encouraging more Republican women to run for public office — and then supporting their campaigns with money and advice after they become candidates.
State Sen. Charlotte Burks announced she will be retiring at the end of her current term, according to a news release. Burks was elected to the state Senate after the death of her late husband, State Sen. Tommy Burks, in 1998 as a write-in candidate. Burks (D-Monterey) currently represents Bledsoe, Cumberland, Jackson, Overton, Putnam and White counties. She is a native of Jackson County and owns a farm in Monterey where she raised her family and has lived for nearly 50 years. Burks has three daughters, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
As Shelby County Commissioners were asking some pretty pointed questions Monday, Sept. 9, of those vying for an appointment to the countywide school board, Commissioner Heidi Shafer told Shante Avant, one of the contenders, “We’re not as scary as we seem.” “That’s a matter of opinion,” Avant replied. Avant’s appointment unleashed a torrent of conflict within the commission that had little to do with her or any of the others vying for the school board position. Commissioners called each other “racist,” “sexist” and “crooked,” and accused each other of “character assassination” as well as trying to figuratively lynch each other, starting with the aftermath of the vote on Avant.
Those mad (as in angry) suburbanites who have been railing in local online comment spaces about the Shelby County Commission’s “8-to-5” voting ratio for the last two or three years can lighten up and adjust their arithmetic. On the evidence of Monday’s Commission meeting, the numbers appear revised — to the point that, a year from now, people on the other, city side of various issues might be grumbling about the “same old seven and six.”
The purpose of the Shelby County Commission is to take up the people’s business, but this board seems to be wasting their time with personal fights and personality conflicts. On Monday, commissioners could barely vote on the current item because they were too busy calling each other racists and hypocrites. New chairman James Harvey’s hope of banishing name-calling and personal attacks from commissioners is clearly too much to ask. “I would request you conduct behavior of orderliness,” said Harvey. That started falling apart as Commissioner Terry Roland accused his colleague, Sidney Chism, of voting for his cousin to fill a school board seat.
With the former internal auditor ushered out, the Knox County Audit Committee began seeking a replacement this week. And committee members expect his replacement to cost more. The Audit Committee in July recommended firing former internal auditor Richard Walls, citing a lack of performance. County Commission then offered the longtime employee a retirement package worth more than $30,000 in severance and buyouts. As the committee talked about a replacement Tuesday, members discovered that they will have some input on the finalists and can offer another recommendation on how the office should be run.
As Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander laid out his stance on Syria this week, he included a campaign pitch in defense of moderation. Alexander was talking to a receptive audience—the kind you’d expect him to bank on for re-election, as he girds to face a conservative tea party challenge in next year’s GOP primary. Alexander told the Rotary Club in downtown Nashville his party needs to say what it’s in favor of, rather than just scrapping to see who hates Obamacare the most. As in an op-ed last month, he emphasized results, even when it requires compromising.
Sen. Lamar Alexander took another opportunity to slam the Affordable Care Act Monday after it was announced that a TennCare-sponsored program used by 16,000 Tennesseans would be discontinued under the new law. Alexander, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees health policy, issued a news release saying President Barack Obama’s signature policy had “destroyed an innovative state health insurance plan” and called once more for the law to be “repealed and replaced.” “
Sen. Lamar Alexander will not back President Obama’s plan to strike Syria over the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebel fighters.nOn Monday, the Republican Senator told members of the Nashville Rotary Club he “will vote ‘no’ because of too much uncertainty about what comes next.” “After step A, what will be steps B, C, D and E? I see too much risk that the strike will do more harm than good by setting off a chain of consequences that could involve American fighting men and women in another long-term Middle East conflict,” continued Alexander.
One day after saying he was “leaning no” against supporting a U.S. strike in Syria, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann announced his opposition to the proposal put before Congress last week by President Barack Obama. In a news release, the congressman described it as a “somber decision” and said he had sought input from residents of Tennessee’s 3rd District in making his choice to oppose. “After hearing the information presented by the administration, I cannot support the authorization for the use of military force in Syria, should it come before the House for a vote,” Fleischmann said.
The world is waiting to see what the United States will do — or won’t do — in Syria, but for many in Tennessee, the wait is personal. They’re hanging on every presidential statement, breaking news alert and pundit’s tweet, looking for signs of how their families might be affected. They have relatives in the military or living in Syria, or livelihoods tied to Middle East stability In Clarksville, Tenn., home of the 101st Airborne Division, the potential conflict dominates conversation. That even goes for teens at Northeast High, the high school closest to Fort Campbell in a district where one-third of all students’ parents serve in the military.
Several members of Congress from Middle Tennessee watched President Barack Obama address the nation with a skeptical eye, saying he hadn’t done enough to justify military action even before he started talking. Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black added their names to the list of lawmakers who plan to vote against a military strike on Syria. In doing so they joined Sen. Lamar Alexander, who told the Rotary Club of Nashville on Monday that he would vote “no” — a position Alexander reiterated after the president’s speech.
As President Barack Obama faced the nation to justify a potential targeted strike against Syria, he also reached out to Congress to delay a vote authorizing the use of U.S. military action in hopes of pursing diplomacy. “Anything other than an airstrike or trying to go in at this point is a great idea,” Kristy Hodson, 31, said about the president’s announcement Tuesday night. “You know innocent people are going to be killed.” Hodson is among dozens of Chattanooga-area residents polled by the Times Free Press who adamantly opposed even a limited military strike.
Volkswagen would become a “laughingstock” if it goes through with a deal to have the United Auto Workers represent workers at its Tennessee plant, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Tuesday. The Tennessee Republican told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he was dismayed when VW last week sent a letter to employees regarding its discussion with the UAW about creating a German-style works council at the Chattanooga plant. “For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” Corker said. “They will become the object of many business school studies – and I’m a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways – if they inflict this wound.”
Volkswagen would become a “laughingstock” if it goes through with a deal to have the United Auto Workers represent workers at its Tennessee plant, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Tuesday. The Tennessee Republican told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he was dismayed when VW last week sent a letter to employees regarding its discussion with the UAW about creating a German-style works council at the Chattanooga plant. “For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” Corker said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Tuesday that union organization at Volkswagen is “incomprehensible” and that the company will become a “laughingstock” if leaders make a deal for United Auto Workers representation, according to The Associated Press. Corker said he was dismayed to learn that Volkswagen leaders sent a letter to workers about the discussion with the UAW and the possibility of creating a German-style works council at the local factory. Last week, The Associated Press also reported that Frank Fischer, Volkswagen Chattanooga CEO, and Sebastian Patta, head of human resources at Volkswagen Chattanooga, sent a letter notifying employees about talks with UAW officials regarding a works council.
The businesses the federal government has hired to make health care reform work assured Congress on Tuesday that their systems will be ready by Oct. 1, when the law’s new health insurance marketplaces will begin enrolling customers. Individuals and small businesses will shop for insurance on these online exchanges. Only 17 states, counting the District of Columbia, decided to run their own exchanges. Seven more are partnering with the federal government on these exchanges. The federal government will operate exchanges for the remaining 27 states.
As chemical weapons make headlines with the evolving crisis in Syria, 6 News spoke with experts at ORNL about the threat the chemicals pose and how the U.S. is working to destroy its own stockpile. Greg Zimmerman, the leader for the ORNL Human Health Risk & Environmental Analysis group, said the U.S. is currently in possession of about 3,500 tons of chemical weapons, though the U.S. has never used them. As part of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the U.S. is working on destroying its chemical weapons and Zimmerman’s group assists the army in determining the safest methods for destruction to avoid any negative environmental or health effects.
EFC Systems, a software company providing wholesale and retail services for the agribusiness industry, has relocated from Antioch to Brentwood. According to founder and President Ernie Chappell, the EFC currently employs 40 people in the office, with plans to hire 10 more over the next six months. EFC Systems’ new office, located at 9015 Overlook Blvd., is about 12,500-square-feet — more than twice the size of its Antioch office. Chappell said the company decided to relocate to give its employees more of an office environment and move away from industrial space.
Metro government has agreed to chip in $500,000 to ensure that the production of the second season of “Nashville” stays here — a small price, officials say, for what amounts to a one-hour nationally televised advertisement for the city. The Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday to complete a grant agreement with Santa Monica, California-based Music City Productions Inc. that stipulates the company produce the majority of scenes from at least 13 episodes within Davidson County’s boundaries.At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine likened the ABC series to a “commercial” for Nashville.
Hutcheson Medical Center today will issue a request for proposals to lease its Fort Oglethorpe hospital and other medical facilities to a new health care partner. “Hutcheson is seeking a partner that can best serve the health care needs of the 150,000 people living in our tri-county service area,” said Corky Jewell, chairman of the Hutcheson Medical Center board of directors in a news release. “These counties are among the fastest-growing in the North Georgia and Chattanooga region.” Meanwhile, at 9 a.m. Thursday, the Catoosa County Commission will hold a special meeting to consider whether to issue a $35 million bond anticipation note to refinance most of the hospital’s $60 million debt.
The school board could make the ultimate decision on Shelby County Municipal School facilities. The law is murky on this one, and the buildings could end up in a court settlement. “There’s been a lot of talk about what would happen to school buildings and school facilities,” said Steve Mulroy, Shelby County Commissioner. Mulroy asked every school board applicant his or her position on school buildings Monday. “I would work as a school board member to ensure we have a process to determine what a fair value of those buildings are in order to make a decision,” said Shelby County Schools interim board member Shante Avant.
The Achievement School District, a state-run borderless district whose aim is to raise test scores in public schools that are performing among the state’s bottom 5 percent, announced that it had placed nine schools on its shortlist for inclusion in 2014. Eight are expected to be in the ASD in fall 2014. In a joint news conference, administrators of the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone, which manages some of the other schools eligible for ASD membership, announced plans to place five more schools in its purview next year.
Register laid out these potentially draconian scenarios at an hourlong Metro school board Budget and Finance Committee meeting. He is forecasting a need for $38 million in additional funds, which would bring the proposed budget to $784.4 million. As a result, budget talks that typically begin each winter have started already. “This is not an easy subject to broach, particularly this early in the year,” Register said. Register said the district has had a “number of conversations” about consolidating certain schools. His staff handed board members and media Tuesday a list of 12 schools that are below 70 percent capacity. Most are in North or East Nashville.
Controversy stems from debt dispute Oak Ridge city schools will close Oct. 1 unless the city comes up with $250,000 to keep state-mandated maintenance of effort funding levels, according to the school board chairman. Keys Fillauer issued that warning to City Council on Monday in connection with a high-stakes dilemma that ultimately dates back to a years-old controversy about sales tax revenue to cover debt service on high school renovations. The state has served notice that it will withhold $1.87 million a month starting Oct. 1 from Oak Ridge Schools unless maintenance of level requirements are met.
Sullivan South High School’s composite ACT score for its 2013 graduating class, 22.7, has bested Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill high schools. That places South among the top-scoring high schools in Tennessee and makes it the highest-scoring high school on the ACT in Northeast Tennessee. Systemwide, Sullivan County’s average ACT score for the 2013 graduating class improved, making it higher than the state average score. At 20.1, the district’s average increased from 19.9 the previous year, Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning David Timbs said Tuesday.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear says southern states should stop fighting with each other over jobs and unite as a region to recruit advanced manufacturing in an increasingly global competition. To conclude a meeting of the Southern Governors’ Association, Kentucky’s Beshear – who is this year’s chairman – released a study on supporting the development of hi-tech manufacturing. It found that economic development incentives dished out to companies by southern states often top $100,000 per job. “For years, the states in the American South have competed with each other, but we have moved into a new era where we not only compete with one another, and other states in the U.S., but we are competing with the world,” said Governor Beshear in a statement.
It’s good to see Hamilton County students, on the whole, making gains this year on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests — TCAP, for short. The TCAP tests form a set of statewide assessments intended to measure students’ skills and progress. The news is both good and bad, though. It is good that Hamilton County youngsters appear to be learning more in math. The school system’s overall score marks nearly 10 percentage points in improvement from 2011 to 2013. But reading is only slightly improved — by just more than two percentage points — and student reading in Hamilton County still lags behind the state average.
Oak Ridge contractors are in the preparatory stages of a two-year project that will get rid of 170 containers of so-called transuranic waste from Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Solid Waste Storage Area No. 5, including 26 containers that reportedly contain significant quantities of plutonium. U.S. Department of Energy spokesman Mike Koentop declined to specify the amount of radioactive plutonium stored at SWSA-5. A couple of officials have privately expressed concern about the level of security at the site where fissile materials, of potential use in weapons, are housed. “I can’t be more specific on the quantity,” Koentop said.