This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee will strive to have the fastest-growing teacher salaries in the nation through the end of his term, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. According to the News Sentinel, Tennessee has hit this goal during the past two years, with average salaries for Tennessee teachers increasing by 4 percent, compared to a national average of 1.8 percent. “We are committed to investing in our educators and working in partnership with the General Assembly and our local school districts to examine where we are every year, track our progress against other states and make investment decisions that will more Tennessee forward,” Haslam said in a news conference, according to the News Sentinel.
Tennessee’s automotive industry is in solid shape and poised to grow even stronger, according to a report released Friday by the Brookings Institution. Describing the state’s auto manufacturing industry as the “Southern automotive powerhouse,” the Washington research organization suggests that Tennessee is making great headway in the global marketplace. To help boost its auto industry, the Brookings report said Tennessee needs to attract and produce more qualified workers, promote innovation and expand its supplier network.
Tennessee has made great strides in building an auto manufacturing industry but it must act to build on that momentum, according to a new report from a prominent think tank. The Brookings Institution, a public policy institute based in Washington D.C., this week issued a report which said Tennessee has the largest auto sector in the South in terms of jobs, and that the state’s share of North American auto manufacturing jobs grew from 2.9 percent in 2010 to 3.3 percent in 2012. At the same time, the report said that as wage convergence across the U.S. makes it hard for Tennessee to distinguish itself on labor costs, the state’s public and private sectors must take steps to build the automotive economy.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development this week announced the next 11 Select Tennessee certified sites. The Select Tennessee program was launched in June 2012 with the goal of helping Tennessee communities prepare available sites for investment and expansion, according to a news release. The program sets a consistent and rigorous standard upon which companies can rely in making critical location decisions. The 11 sites are: • Bridges Site in the Benton County Industrial Park (Divider Natchez Trace and Industrial Park Road, Camden). • Bristol Business Park: Sullivan County (Summit Street and Tenn. 394, Bristol). • Dyersburg Rail Site: Dyer County (4500 Tenn. 211, Dyersburg). • Gallatin Industrial Center, Phase II: Sumner County (Gateway Drive, Gallatin).
Even as the University of Tennessee dedicated its second new engineering building in as many years Friday, school leaders discussed plans for a third facility. The College of Engineering, which has grown its undergraduate enrollment 40 percent in six years,has collected $10 million in private donation pledges for a new building to host the nuclear engineering department and freshman courses, said Chancellor Jimmy Cheek during the ribbon cutting ceremony at the John D. Tickle Engineering Building.“You have the sixth best nuclear engineering program in the country — and we’d argue it should be higher than that — in a building that doesn’t look anything like this,” Cheek said from inside the new Tickle Building.
The University of Memphis is still the place for “Dreamers, Thinkers, Doers,” as the motto goes, but numbers crunchers are busy there, too. That’s of necessity in light of a $20 million gap in this year’s budget that is in the process of being closed, administrators told hundreds of faculty members and students in two well-attended “Town Hall” meetings in the 900-seat Rose Theater this week. It was Interim President Brad Martin’s first open forum since he took office July 1. Challenged to defend their figures and their increasing attention to the bottom line, Martin and other administrators held fast to the notion that more attention must be paid to the financial picture, both by looking for revenue-producing activities and increasing efficiency.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, led researchers from Middle Tennessee State University deep into the hills of Cocke County in East Tennessee Friday with two instructions: • “You don’t get in unless someone brings you in.” • “Don’t tell anyone the location or how you got here.” Faison brought researchers and MTSU President Sidney McPhee into the hills as part of ginseng research the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research at MTSU has set out to do in collaboration with the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in China. The partnership exists to find “uses of ancient herbal remedies in modern medicine,” according to an MTSU press release.
The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development is moving its Career Center from University Avenue to 2700 Middlebrook Pike. The new center will open at 8 a.m on Oct. 15. The old center, at 1610 University Ave., will close Oct. 11. The Resource Center, normally open on Saturday mornings, will be closed on Saturday, Oct. 12. The new center will have ample parking and there will be a bus stop on the Knoxville Area Transit system, according to a Department of Labor statement. Career Center staff helps job seekers connect with employers who have listed jobs with both the Career Center and with Jobs4TN.gov – the department’s online database.
The Common Core has been billed as the future of education across America, but in small-town Tennessee, Teresa Hartsfield has traded it in for a century-old text. The Lawrenceburg mom pulled her 10-year-old son Bailey out of public school in protest over the new national academic standards that are being voluntarily implemented in 45 states and Washington, D.C. She is now 11 weeks into a home-schooling program…The head of Tennessee’s Senate Education Committee, Dolores Gresham, declined an interview, but committee member Stacey Campfield, a very conservative Republican, suggested there could be a push-back despite Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s staunch support of the new standards.
State Rep. Eric Watson, the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, says he won’t seek re-election to the Legislature next year and will instead run for sheriff of Bradley County. Watson, a Cleveland Republican, was elected in a 2006 special election to the seat previously held by former Rep. Chris Newton, who had pleaded guilty to bribery charges in the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz sting operation. He has served in the Legislature since 2006 and has been a committee chairman since 2010. Watson in 2011 resigned from his position as a captain in the judicial services department of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
State Rep. Eric Watson told an enthusiastic crowd Friday that he’s hoping to move to a different elected office in 2014 — that of Bradley County sheriff. Watson told an overflow crowd at his annual lawmaker luncheon that he will not seek re-election to the District 22 seat he has held since 2006. Instead, he said, he intends to challenge incumbent Jim Ruth in the May Republican primary. “I’m proud of my accomplishments in Nashville, but I will not seek another term,” Watson told an audience of supporters that included state House and Senate colleagues, other elected officials and prominent Bradley County Republicans.
On Day Four of the government shutdown, Congressman Steve Cohen announced he would not take his congressional salary — $174,000 annually — while the impasse over spending in the new fiscal year continues. “The Congressman has asked the official responsible for paying members of Congress to withhold his salary as long as this shutdown of the federal government continues,” the Memphis Democrat’s spokesman, Ben Garmisa, said in a statement Friday afternoon. Cohen joins at least 152 other lawmakers forgoing a paycheck, including U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who made similar announcements on Thursday.
A partial government shutdown enters its fifth day, with Congress convening for a session that promises no progress in breaking the impasse but will at least offer back pay to furloughed federal workers. The GOP House is scheduled Saturday to vote on legislation backed by the White House and congressional Democrats that would make sure the 800,000 sidelined government employees would get their pay when the shutdown ends. The Senate is expected to clear it later, even as early as Saturday, for President Barack Obama’s signature.
The nation’s governors have joined in a chorus of criticism of the federal-government shutdown, casting it as a symbol of bipartisan dysfunction and warning of cutbacks in services if the standoff drags on. Among those voicing the sharpest criticism are a band of Republican governors, including likely presidential contenders Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey, who are eager to distinguish their records at home from what they see as the hyperpartisan infighting in Washington. Many of these governors fear divisive battles within the congressional wing of the GOP could overshadow the image they are trying to establish as pragmatic problem solvers fostering job growth and taming budgets.
With no end in sight to the federal government shutdown, governors across the nation are struggling with a cascade of tough decisions about when and whether to step in with state money to keep shuttered parks and programs operating until the deadlock is resolved. Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said the state, which is recovering from a steep economic decline, would not intervene to keep its vast network of national parks, like Yosemite, open to the public until the federal shutdown ended. But in South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, has pleaded, so far unsuccessfully, with the Interior Department for permission to use state money to keep open the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a symbol of his state and one of its top tourist draws.
A Volkswagen employee trying to stop the United Auto Workers from gaining a foothold at the company’s Chattanooga assembly plant turned over to management anti-union petitions with the names of 563 hourly workers. “There are no duplicates,” said plant worker Mike Burton. “I made sure it was a scrubbed list. They’re now in the hands of management.” The “no2uaw” website said that all the signatures are dated from Sept. 9 through Friday. Most petitions were submitted during the last six work days at evening shift change, the site said. Last month, the UAW said it had collected a majority of the names of about 1,600 production and skilled maintenance workers on cards it handed out seeking authorization to represent the employees.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sent letters this week to several local school superintendents calling on them to stop school-sponsored prayer before football games. Midway through the state’s high school football season, the civil liberties advocacy group reminded school leaders of several Supreme Court decisions they say clearly ban the practice of publicly-led expressions of religion. “Our experience is that many public school administrators and educators struggle with how the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom apply to prayer during their school-sponsored events,” said Hedy Weinberg, the ACLU’s executive director.
With Gov. Bill Haslam’s education reform initiatives under attack via criticism of state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the governor’s goal for Tennessee to have the fastest rate of growth in teacher salaries, we think, serves two purposes. It is a needed recognition on the governor’s part that, with more being expected from teachers, they should be better rewarded. Also, the goal may take some heat off Huffman, who was the subject of a petition about 40 percent of the state’s 137 school district superintendents sent Haslam last month, saying they have lost confidence in the education commissioner. Haslam and Huffman announced the goal Thursday night during a gathering for the Tennessee Teacher of the Year Awards in Nashville.
There were plenty of computer glitches when millions of Americans went online to check out their options for affordable insurance policies on the new health care exchanges that opened for business this week. It was frustrating, but it was also an indication of overwhelming interest that exceeded all predictions. In the first three days, there were 8.6 million unique visitors to the federal government Web site for health care exchanges, far more than had ever signed on at one time to a popular Web site serving Medicare patients. In New York, the state-run exchange had an astonishing 30 million visits in the first two days, although a large share almost surely consisted of repeat visits by people who were blocked by balky computer systems.