This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee will need more welders. And with a $337,297 grant from the state, Walters State Community College can train them. Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday visited the college’s Morristown campus to announce the grant, which will fund needed equipment for an advanced welding program. The grant is drawn from $16.5 million in this year’s state budget set aside for workforce development programs at the state’s community and technology colleges. The idea is to better prepare Tennesseans to be qualified for the needs of current and future employers. “We expect to see a lot of newly trained people in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
Governor Haslam was in East Tennessee Monday evening to discuss a major grant for Walters State Community College. The grant, worth more than $337,000, will go toward the industrial skills and training program, as well as an advanced welding program. It allows the school to create its own welding training facilities instead of sharing with another school. The governor says welding is a growing industry across the state. “What I’m hearing from all the manufacturers is we need more engineers, we need more welders with a lot of specific skill sets that are needed, and we’re trying to make sure that we are training those people, and to train them you have to fund those positions,” said Gov. Haslam.
Walters State Community College in Morristown has been awarded a grant of more than $337,000. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the grant this week. It will be used to fund equipment for an industrial skills and training program and an advanced welding program. Currently, the college shares another school’s welding training facility. Lawmakers approved more than $16 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges.
Tennessee has improved its ranking on Site Selection magazine’s annual list of the states with the best business climates. Tennessee came in at No. 5 on this year’s list, up from No. 8 in 2012. Half of the ranking is based on a survey of corporate site selectors (in which Nashville came in at No. 6) and half of the score is based on the state’s rank in Site Selection’s previous look at states’ competitiveness (in which Tennessee came in at No. 4). This year’s list was topped by Georgia, followed by North Carolina, Texas and Ohio.
American Legion Post 17 Color Guard from Gallatin will post colors for the ceremony and United States Army Veteran and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 240 Chaplain Dorothy Barry will offer the invocation. Country music artist and Marine Veteran Stephen Cochran will perform the National Anthem and his song “Pieces” which portrays the struggles of returning veterans coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is providing an online option to access traffic crash reports. Through a partnership with Appriss Inc., the public can now retrieve the reports through the website http://www.tnbuycrash.com 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People can continue to visit any local Tennessee Highway Patrol district office or law enforcement agency to purchase crash reports or request a copy be mailed. The fee for these options remains $4. Tennessee is one of five states to partner with Appriss in offering the crash report service. The other states are Florida, Georgia, Indiana and Kentucky.
State government will pay 60 percent more to provide office space for about 180 of its employees in Knoxville under a reshuffling recommended and negotiated by Jones Lang LaSalle, the Chicago-based firm that last year won a contract to manage state buildings and leases. In doing so, officials involved say the state will avoid spending millions of dollars on needed renovations to the Henley Street State Office, which has been sold to a developer, and will consolidate state employees once housed there with those from other locations into one leased building with substantially improved working conditions.
Carrie Chadwick knew a little bit about what to expect when her son, Lincoln, was born premature, at 33 weeks’ gestation. Chadwick’s oldest son, Jordan, now 6, was born at 31 weeks and spent several weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her other two children, ages 5 and 2, were both early but not as early — 35 weeks — and did not have to stay in the NICU. Knowing her history meant Lincoln’s risk of being born early was higher, Chadwick aimed to get to 35 weeks, taking blood pressure medication and shots to help stave off preterm labor.
Five new investments coming directly to West Tennessee — from extending sewer systems and improving rail lines to supporting programs that train workers in software programing — leverage $831,713 in federal resources into nearly $2 million in total public and private investment for the Delta region, according to a news release. Brownsville and McKenzie are included in the list of communities. • In Brownsville, the Delta Regional Authority is contributing $162,598 for the Rail Line Rehabilitation Project.
Frustrated by years of waiting for the Mack Hatcher Parkway’s next extension westward, several Franklin voters took their dissatisfaction to the ballot box on Election Day earlier this month. Instead of voting for a candidate in what was an uncontested race for Ward 4 alderman, more than 30 people wrote in “Mack Hatcher,” the late county highway commissioner who is the namesake of the uncompleted ring road around Franklin. Westhaven resident Sarah Barnard said voting for Mack Hatcher was organized to force state leaders to pay attention to a key road project in west Franklin.
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Corrections do not believe foul play factored into the death of mass murderer Paul Dennis Reid on Friday. Reid seems to have died of natural causes, according to department spokeswoman Dorinda Carter. Further investigation is unlikely. The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death. The Davidson County medical examiner’s office did not have a comment Monday. Reid, who had been on Tennessee’s death row since 1999, died at 5:55 p.m. Friday at Nashville General Hospital at Meharry. He was 55. Reid was convicted of killing seven fast-food workers from throughout the area in 1997.
Tennessee will receive more than $12 million as part of a settlement resolving charges that Johnson & Johnson used deceptive marketing tactics to promote the sale of two of its drugs, according to a news release from the Tennessee attorney general’s office. Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., agreed to pay $1.6 billion to settle civil and criminal allegations as part of the multistate and federal suit. Here are the excerpts from today’s news release: J&J and Janssen will pay in excess of $1.2 billion to the states and the federal government to resolve four qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under the provisions of the federal False Claims Act and similar state False Claims statutes.
Tennessee lawmakers are holding hearings this week to review the state’s textbook selection process. The Senate Education Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee will hold the hearings jointly on Monday and Tuesday. Lawmakers say the hearings are intended to seek clarity regarding the structure and function of the Tennessee Textbook Commission. The commission recently came under fire by a group of parents for having adopted textbooks containing alleged inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of historical facts.
State lawmakers hit the books on Monday, or rather the state Textbook Commission, as they began hearings on complaints raised by social conservatives about some instructional materials approved by the state for public schools. Along the way they swerved into a lack of public input as well as the Bible, creationism, “rape fantasies” in a proposed psychology book for high schoolers and no real training for commission members. “I know that I’m here because of the concerns that I’ve heard from people around this state who have been looking into our children’s textbooks and have seen issues with accuracy and with bias,” said Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, at the outset of the joint meeting with the Education Committee.
Topics in a state Senate hearing on selecting books for Tennessee schools Monday ranged from the Bible and “rape fantasies” to a State Textbook Commission whose members get little training and sometimes skip meetings. The joint session of the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee continues today with members hopeful of recommending changes in the textbook selection process. The State Textbook Commission, which has 10 members appointed by the governor, decides whether to recommend approval of textbooks to the state Board of Education.
Members of the panel that approves textbooks to be used in Tennessee schools say there’s no way to eliminate bias from the materials. Lawmakers are probing past decisions by the state textbook commission after activists raised concerns about religious bias. Some parents have pointed out material that they feel is too graphic. Others have found problems with the portrayal of Christianity, though they find it difficult to point to specific passages. State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said Monday it seems like the current approval process fails to ask whether a book is appropriate for the “morals” of Tennessee.
Conservatives who support an anti-abortion amendment to Tennessee’s constitution have launched a yearlong campaign ahead of next year’s vote. They want to get a message out that the measure does not outlaw abortions. It’s true. The amendment only says no one has a right to an abortion and no one is required to fund an abortion in Tennessee. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey led a fundraiser Monday night to finance a campaign that will promote the ballot measure. He says he expects opponents will have their own campaign, suggesting the amendment as making abortions illegal, which he says is a mischaracterization.
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he would be against an effort to expand Medicaid even if fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam successfully negotiated a special deal for Tennessee. Ramsey told reporters Monday that the troubled rollout of the federal health insurance exchanges since Oct. 1 has firmed up his view that the state should not accept federal dollars to cover more uninsured people. The online insurance marketplaces and the Medicaid expansions are part of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Citing sharp philosophical differences with the Tennessee Democratic Party’s top official, state Rep. Mike Turner said he plans to step down as House Democratic Caucus chairman in January after five years in the post. Turner, who made his intentions known at a state party executive committee meeting Saturday, called party Chairman Roy Herron “a friend for a long time” but suggested the two have vastly different visions. “This is not anything personal against him, but my approach to what the party needs and where it needs to go is way different than his,” Turner, who lives in Old Hickory, said Monday.
Citing differences with Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron over campaign technology and political philosophy, the head of the state House Democratic Caucus on Monday confirmed reports that he intends to step down from his leadership role in late January. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said in an interview he wants the party to move in a “more progressive, technology-oriented manner and Roy’s got a sort of more conservative, traditional approach and that’s just not compatible.”
A new analysis from Republican staffers at the U.S. Senate’s health committee shows major increases in health insurance rates for young adults and families in Tennessee under the Affordable Care Act. The analysis is the latest anti-Obamacare push to come from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican member on the committee. Last week, Alexander called for the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius because of the “disastrous rollout” of the health care law. The analysis compares the lowest costing insurance options in the individual market before health care reform and after, buying on the exchange.
Insurers say the early buyers of health coverage on the nation’s troubled new websites are older than expected so far, raising early concerns about the economics of the insurance marketplaces. If the trend continues, an older, more expensive set of customers could drive up prices for everyone, the insurers say, by forcing them to spread their costs around. “We need a broad range of people to make this work, and we’re not seeing that right now,” said Heather Thiltgen of Medical Mutual of Ohio, the state’s largest insurer by individual customers. “We’re seeing the population skewing older.”
Kelli Cauley’s fingers raced over her keyboard as she asked the anxious woman at her side a series of questions. What was her income? How many people lived in her household? Did she smoke? (“That’s the only health question it asks,” Ms. Cauley said of the application they were completing.) The woman, a thin 61-year-old who refused to give her name, citing privacy concerns, had come to the public library here to sign up for health insurance through Kentucky’s new online exchange. She had a painful lump on the back of her hand and other health problems that worried her deeply, she said, but had been unable to afford insurance as a home health care worker who earns $9 an hour.
Convergys Corp. is adding to its Chattanooga workforce again, offering 100 seasonal jobs for a client in the health care industry. The call center business declined to name its client, but there’s a lot of open enrollment at companies in the health care sector that takes place at the end of the year, said Convergys spokeswoman Brooke Beiting. She said Convergys will offer “competitive wages” along with a $250 bonus at the end of the work period. Wendy Matchett, Convergys site leader in Chattanooga, said the company is looking for employees to handle inbound and outbound customer service sales calls.
Whatever the strengths of state government, its weaknesses involve its ability to provide adequate services for those who are least able to look out for their own interests and needs, particularly children and persons with disabilities. The Department of Children’s Services has been the defendant in lawsuits as child-advocacy groups have tried to improve services to foster children and to provide better protection for children who are victims of abuse. In recent weeks, the state Department of Intellectual and Development Disabilities received a blistering audit from the state comptroller’s office.
Pre-K is one of the biggest educational disappointments ever to be experienced by the citizens of Tennessee. The taxpayers were promised that for every dollar spent on this program, we would save $16; that graduation rates would increase and educational attainment would soar. Advocates even predicted that there would be 80 less murders and 6,400 fewer assaults in Tennessee if taxpayers would only spend the close to a half-billion dollars per year a universal pre-kindergarten program would cost. The results are in and the promises have turned out to be just words. Supporters of this expensive governmental program cite non-representative studies from other states.