This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam traveled to New Tazewell Thursday to make a big announcement. The governor, flanked by Claiborne County officials and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Bill Haggerty, announced England Inc., would expand and produce an extra 300 jobs for the county over the next five years. England Inc. Senior Vice President Terry England also said the company would invest $17.5 million into the expansion. England said the money would be used for renovating plants and adding machinery. England Inc. will open a plant that was once idled in 2007 during the build-up to the recession.
The Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center and Memphis Bioworks Foundation have released the names of the nine companies chosen for the NextFarm Agriculture Innovation Accelerator. The companies are AgSmarts, Beyond Right Now Technologies, Hickory Hydroponics, Stony Creek Colors, Secure Food Solutions, Butler Fishery, GrowAgra, Tennessee Bioproducts and Zero Friction. The accelerator was created in response to the challenge issued by Gov. Bill Haslam to make Tennessee the top state in the Southeast for the growth of the agricultural and forestry industries, and it’s led by a partnership between the Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center and Memphis Bioworks Foundation.
Legislation that would allow states to collect online sales taxes has emerged as a point of tension in high-profile Senate primary races around the nation, creating new uncertainty on an issue that business has long looked to Congress to resolve. Antitax candidates in Republican races in Wyoming, South Carolina and Tennessee have sharply criticized the legislation and the incumbent senators who voted for it last spring. Now, some Republicans in the House are worried about the political risks of supporting it….Tennessee is illustrative of the political cross-currents around the issue.
In a bid to help boost capacity and ease traffic, crews have started work on a $55 million project to widen a section of Interstate 40 eastbound in Wilson County. The project will add lanes along a 7-mile stretch of the interstate from Central Pike to State Route 109. On Friday, crews had already started preparations to temporarily shift traffic on the highway, splitting eastbound traffic around Mt. Juliet Road with one eastbound lane of I-40 to the right of the work zone and two lanes on the left side. The temporary traffic pattern will start next week and continue for about two weeks, said Deanna Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health officials are investigating Chattanooga’s Wrigley Manufacturing plant after a 34-year-old woman died Monday. Mandie Rachael Creel Chitwood died hours after she was seriously injured in an accident at Wrigley on Sunday afternoon. The details of the accident have not been released by TOSHA or Wrigley. “It is with great sadness that we confirm the death of one of our associates as a result of an accident onsite at our Chattanooga production facility,” said Caroline Sherman, U.S. manager of marketing communications, in a prepared statement.
Tennesseans can tell their legislators they want wine in grocery stores through the Red White and Food campaign, a coalition established by Kroger and the Tennessee Grocers Association that’s setting up postcard stands in stores all over the state. “The legislators say that they hear from their constituents on this issue consistently,” said Emily Ogden of Red White and Food. “There’s broad support for this.” During the 2013 legislative session, Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. John Lundberg called for a referendum that would allow Tennesseans to vote on the issue. The bill did not pass, but Red White and Food pushed the legislation further.
A failed effort to develop an industrial megasite has spawned a lawsuit by Jefferson County citizens who want an economic development committee to operate in public. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Jefferson County Chancery Court, and names defendants including the Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee; the local Chamber of Commerce; and a host of elected officials, including the county mayor. In January, Jefferson County officials announced a plan to create an 1,800-acre industrial megasite near the intersection of Interstates 40 and 81, saying the site had been endorsed by a site-selection consulting firm.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) introduced a bill earlier this week that would tailor the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of medical software, particularly in mobile medical applications on smart phones. The bill, cosponsored by three Democrats and two other Republicans, seeks to provide designers of mobile medical applications more clarity on federal oversight of their products, Blackburn said today. She said the bill (H.R. 3303) will differentiate between higher-risk mobile apps dealing with pace makers and implanted devices — which would be regulated by the FDA — and lower-risk ones tracking things like calorie intake or blood pressure.
The Obama administration said Friday that it would fix problems in the federal health insurance marketplace by Nov. 30, just two weeks before the deadline to sign up for coverage to replace health insurance policies being canceled because they do not meet new federal standards. To help meet that schedule, the Obama administration, in an abrupt shift, named a “general contractor” on Friday to oversee changes to the troubled Web site of the federal marketplace. Such a condensed time frame raises the question of how hundreds of thousands of people whose current policies do not comply with the health law will obtain new coverage in time, and how millions who may qualify for subsidies will enroll.
The Shelby County school controversy moved a conspicuous step closer to conclusion this week, with superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s presentation at a Tuesday night meeting of the unified Shelby County Schools board of a plan regarding two hitherto unresolved matters: what to do with students in unincorporated Shelby County and what to do with school buildings in the six municipalities that will be setting up independent school systems, perhaps as early as August 2014. Hopson’s plan is based on the assumptions(1) that possession is nine-tenths of the law and that the SCS board is the legal owner of all of the county’s buildings) and (2) that the unified county board is required by state law to teach all students not otherwise accounted for in a school district.
Shopping for wine alongside cheese or meat and potatoes is hardly a radical notion. It is done in 36 states, including six which border Tennessee. At the same time, beer, which is generally found as causing more societal problems than wine, has been available in Tennessee grocery stores for decades. Legislation I am sponsoring in the 2014 legislative session will not force wine sales on Tennesseans. Instead, it simply empowers citizens in communities that have already voted to allow retail package stores or liquor-by-the drink, to hold a referendum on the matter. Historically, laws governing the sale of alcohol in Tennessee, including liquor-by-the-drink and package stores, have been handled through a referendum vote at the local level.
It is time for Congress and the White House to find a better way to do business. For too long, we have pushed up against deadlines and waited to see who will blink first before sending our country off on the wrong path. The uncertainty that occurs affects our economy and creates doubt that Washington is focused on the right objectives. The issues that separate us are not that much different from the issues in the 1980s that split Republicans and Democrats — whether you raise taxes or reduce spending. A tax-and-spend philosophy is as relevant today as it was in the 1980s. Government has a large appetite to spend more, and that means higher taxes.
A report by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs this week delivered the disgusting details of three deaths due to inadequate care in the Memphis VA Medical Center’s emergency department. That’s three too many. It raises the question once again whether the commitment of U.S. troops to foreign conflicts is being made without adequate attention to the human costs of war. Wasn’t the discovery of deplorable conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center supposed to produce a cure for this? Heads rolled over that 2007 scandal, which eventually enveloped veterans’ health care services all over the country.
Despite official statements in recent days, the problems at the federal and state health insurance exchanges are far from merely “technical.” Based on my experience trying to navigate the utter confusion at the “Cover Oregon” health exchange over something as simple as determining one’s income and eligibility for tax credits, I wonder if they’ll ever get ObamaCare working. And I’m someone who would love to sign up for one of the plans. Consider, for example, that under the Affordable Care Act, income for self-employed people like myself is supposed to be determined by one’s estimated 2014 modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI.