This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Industrial employment in Tennessee posted a gain for the second year in a row, according to the Tennessee Manufacturers Register, an industrial database published by Manufacturers’ News Inc. The report says that the state gained nearly 4,200 manufacturing jobs from September 2012 to September 2013. That’s about a 1 percent increase. Tennessee saw similar manufacturing job gains last year. Tennessee is now home to 6,990 manufacturers employing 385,858 workers. Though that seems like a slight increase, it was still a better growth rate than the vast majority of the nation.
For the second-straight year, the number of manufacturing jobs increased slightly in Tennessee, about 1 percent, according to an industrial employment survey. From September 2012 to September 2013, the state added 4,197 manufacturing jobs, according to the 2014 Tennessee Manufacturers Register, an industrial directory published by Manufacturers’ News Inc. The increase in the previous year also was 1 percent; both gains were slightly above the national average, the report said. At the end of September, the state had 6,990 manufacturers with 385,858 workers, the report said.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has announced four new locations ready for company investment. The Select Tennessee Certified Sites program was launched last year with the goal of helping Tennessee communities prepare available sites for investment and expansion. The program sets a rigorous standard upon which companies can rely in making location decisions. There are currently 26 greenfield sites available in 19 different counties across the state. Qualifications include having at least 20 developable acres, proper zoning in place to allow for ease of development and truck-quality road access.
Bundled up nature-lovers gathered at Welch’s Point in Sparta yesterday morning to celebrate the formal dedication of the Virgin Falls State Natural Area. “We are celebrating getting Virgin Falls into public land, which many of us thought it was already,” said Mary Lynn Dobson, vice president of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. Previously, Virgin Falls had been managed by the state; however, it was still under private ownership. The state purchased the lease in 2006; however when that lease expired, the 1,551 acres of land would have been open for possible development.
A state panel balked at a proposal to give real estate adviser Jones Lang LaSalle more work and instead approved a plan to wind down part of the state’s two deals with the firm in the wake of a scathing audit that highlighted potential conflicts of interest. The State Building Commission voted Thursday to phase out its initial agreement with Jones Lang LaSalle to study the use of state buildings by the end of the year, and it agreed to suspend commissions the firm collects when it negotiates leases for the state until rules are put in place to keep the firm from profiting from its advice.
Less than a month after state auditors criticized the Haslam administration for the way it contracted with Chicago-based real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle to manage state buildings, the administration wanted to expand the contract by $5.3 million — a 50 percent increase — to cover state prisons, parks and other buildings. But the top two Republicans in the Tennessee legislature, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, asked Gov. Bill Haslam’s office not to proceed with the non-bid expansion of the contract because of the controversy swirling around the two-year-old contract.
The cost of some phone calls to prison and jail inmates should drop substantially in the next few weeks as Tennessee officials finalize contracts against the backdrop of an ongoing fight over whether the state and Davidson County have been gouging inmates and their families. At issue are contracts to provide phone service for inmates in Department of Correction facilities across the state along with those in custody of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department. Advocates have characterized the fees now demanded of inmates and their families as kickbacks.
To tweak Horace Greeley’s famous advice, go west — or any direction but east — this weekend. The first of the many long-dreaded traffic disruptions required by the Interstate 40-240 interchange renovation project in East Memphis will force eastbound motorists to endure major detours and delays Saturday and Sunday. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced that, weather permitting, the eastbound ramp from the I-40 north loop onto I-40 east (exit 12C) will be closed for pavement-grinding and other work Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
There are new problems lingering from last weekend’s ice storm and you may have driven over one yourself. The storm left pot holes scatted all over Middle Tennessee roads. The pot holes have popped up out of nowhere after the first round of winter storms. “The pot holes are popping up earlier and they’re only going to get worse as the year goes on,” said Steve Elliott, one of many TDOT highway maintenance workers trying to fix these pot holes. TDOT workers said it doesn’t usually get this bad until January. The sleet, rain and snow, combined with salt and brine from this week’s winter blast, have left its mark.
Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey says he’s grown more open to requiring a prescription for cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine. It’s a key ingredient for drug dealers making meth. More than a dozen rural Tennessee towns have passed laws trying to clamp down on pseudoephedrine sales. But this week the state’s attorney general opined (PDF of the opinion here) such laws don’t hold up, meaning only the state can require a prescription. A new Vanderbilt poll out Wednesday (PDF here) says 65 percent of registered voters support such a law – and that’s surprising to Lt. Gov. Ramsey.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander today filed legislation to prohibit cell phone conversations on commercial flights. The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing today on a potential rule change, having recently eased restrictions on the use of other wireless devices during flights. “When you stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies — babbling about last night’s love life, next week’s schedule, arguments with spouses — it’s not hard to see why the FCC shouldn’t allow cell phone conversations on airplanes,” Alexander said in a news release. “The solution is simple: text messages, yes; conversations, no.”
Ryan Loskarn, who until this week was chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, was arraigned and charged with two felony crimes Thursday as part of a child pornography investigation. Loskarn, 35, was charged with possession and distribution of child pornography before U.S. Magistrate John Facciola in Washington. The possession charge carries a potential maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The distribution charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum of 20 years.
The government on Thursday announced steps to stave off unpleasant surprises for Americans when the health-overhaul law fully kicks in Jan. 1, including measures to ensure continuous care for people with serious medical conditions. The moves include a one-month extension of a federal insurance program for certain chronically ill people. The Obama administration also asked insurers to take a flexible approach about their rules when patients refill prescriptions or see their existing doctor in the early days of the new year in case new health plans haven’t kicked in. After fixing some of the problems that hobbled the federal HealthCare.gov site in October and November, officials now are turning their attention to 2014, when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will flood the health system with new insurance.
A disparate group of colleges from across the country — public and private, two-year and four-year — plans to announce a novel alliance on Friday aimed at producing high-achieving community college graduates and making it easier for them to transfer into bachelor’s programs. The coalition builds on a program called American Honors to create honors programs within community colleges, with competitive admissions, demanding academics and intensive guidance for highly talented students. That program, created by a for-profit company, Quad Learning, and a handful of community colleges, is less than two years old and still small — only about 230 students at five community college campuses — but plans call for it to grow rapidly, quadrupling the number of students by next fall.
General Motors’ Spring Hill plant will add 384 hourly workers — in addition to 1,800 new jobs it promised in July — under terms of a new local work agreement ratified this week by members of United Auto Workers Local 1853. The Local 1853 website said 63 percent of the workers voted in favor of the new agreement, which covers work issues specific to the Spring Hill plant, and will remain in effect until the next national contract is negotiated in 2015. Workers at the plant are still waiting to hear what two new “core” vehicles the facility will get for its assembly lines, which were part of an agreement in the current GM-UAW Spring Hill contract approved by the members in July 2011 and reaffirmed by GM in August.
Outside interest groups are targeting Chattanooga to try to scare or manipulate Volkswagen workers from seeking United Auto Workers representation, union supporters said Thursday. Also, a writer who said he has evidence of plans by groups to stop the UAW’s efforts claimed at a meeting in Chattanooga that VW appears to be stalling over the union issue. “Volkswagen is allowing a time window to open for people to change their votes,” said Mike Elk of In These Times. About 75 people showed up at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to hear Elk and pro-union supporters talk about the UAW effort at Chattanooga’s VW plant.
Jan. 1, 2014, will be a special day for Tennessee’s coffers. That is the day retail giant Amazon.com begins collecting state sales taxes from the many items it sells online to customers in the state. The law requiring Amazon.com to collect the 7 percent state sales tax and an average 2.5 percent local option sales tax ends the protracted battle between Amazon.com and Main Street establishments. However, a larger issue remains — the ongoing effort to tax all online businesses that compete with the traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. A proposed national law, the Marketplace Fairness Act, aims to provide a level playing field. With Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander as one of the sponsors, the bill passed the Senate in May but apparently has stalled in the House.
Shelby County Schools is moving closer toward closing underpopulated schools that are draining resources that could be better used to improve education in the classroom. School administrators released a revised list of proposed school closings that is sure to ignite a fire storm of objections in neighborhoods where the schools are located. Given the merged school system’s budget woes, which likely will be exacerbated by the loss of state education dollars next year when suburban students leave SCS to attend the new municipal school districts, the closings are a prudent financial move.