This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Amazon announced today it plans to add another 500 full-time jobs to pick, pack and ship customer orders from its Murfreesboro fulfillment center. The move will take the Rutherford County operations of the web retail giant well north of 1,500. The positions are eligible for a range of benefits including health, a 50 percent 401(k) match, bonuses, company stock awards and college tuition assistance. The retail giant announced last summer that the Murfreesboro and Chattanooga facilities would be included in a 5,000-job nationwide expansion.
Amazon is planning to add 500 additional positions at its Murfreesboro distribution center. The center, which already has about 1,000 workers, opened in September 2012. The operation is one of two for the company in the Nashville area and one of five in Tennessee. “Rutherford County continues to be very fortunate to have Amazon as one of its major employers,” said Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess in a news release. “This will continue to strengthen the ability of our families and businesses to thrive and prosper.” Amazon said the hourly workers will pick, pack and ship customer orders.
Amazon plans to add 500 full-time jobs at its Murfreesboro fulfillment center, the company announced Friday. The center, which opened in September 2012, is one of two Amazon fulfillment centers in the Greater Nashville area. “Rutherford County continues to be very fortunate to have Amazon as one of its major employers,” said Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess in a statement. “The announcement of more than 500 new full-time positions with comprehensive benefits is exciting news for all of our citizens. This will continue to strengthen the ability of our families and businesses to thrive and prosper.”
Tennessee business tax collections fell more than $54 million below projections in December, contributing to a more than $175 million shortfall through the first five months of the budget year. Finance Commissioner Larry Martin in a release said this year’s shorter-than-usual Christmas shopping season contributed to the state collecting $3 million less than expected in sales tax collections in December, which reflects economic activity in the previous month. Sales tax collections, while sluggish, have grown at a rate of 3.3 percent compared with the first five months of last year.
Monthly state revenues dipped year-over-year for the first time this budget cycle, building on budget pressure for the Haslam administration to craft a state spending plan that they expect will be their toughest yet. After months of lower than expected state tax and revenue collections, receipts from December fell 1.59 percent, or $15.6 million, below last year’s, according to state documents. Sales tax collections in December are based on November sales. The Department of Finance and Administration blames the drop on having only two days of after-Thanksgiving sales last November.
A state program that helps prevent birth complications could see millions of dollars in cuts. TennCare sent its 2015 budget recommendations to Gov. Bill Haslam. Haslam asked all state agencies to reduce costs by 5 percent. As a result, TennCare left out a grant that provides millions to five Regional Perinatal Centers. Those centers are affiliated with the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Nashville), UT Medical Center (Knoxville), Erlanger Medical Center (Chattanooga), and Johnson City Medical Center. “It would make a severe change in all the five regional centers if that money was to go away,” said Dr. Mark Gaylord, medical director for the UT Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
A new state initiative aimed at older drivers is designed to aid first responders in the “golden hour” after traffic accidents. The Yellow DOT Program, launched this week by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, is free for all Tennessee drivers but is geared specifically toward those age 55 and over. Tennessee is the 10th state to offer the Yellow DOT program. Participants put a yellow sticker on the rear window of their vehicles. The sticker alerts emergency responders that pertinent medical information about the driver is in the glove box.
Putting babies to sleep safely should be as easy as remembering the ABCs of safe sleep, a message Tennessee health officials will promote in a new way this year. In these ABCs, “A” stands for sleeping alone, “B” for being placed to sleep on the baby’s back and “C” for sleeping in a crib. The state Health Department, along with hospitals and advocates, showed off a new illustrated book about safe sleep on Friday that will be given free to 86,000 families this year at more than 60 hospitals. A Cincinnati pediatrician wrote the illustrated book, “Sleep Baby Safe and Snug,” and the Kentucky-based Charlie’s Kids Foundation helped bring it to Tennessee.
At least 11 people have died in Tennessee from complications of influenza, according to state health officials. So beginning Monday, the Rutherford County Health Department will be offering free flu shots to anyone who visits one of its two clinics. And it’s not too late in the flu season to get one, says Dana Garrett, a registered nurse and director of the department. “We urge anyone who has not yet had a flu vaccine to get one now to be protected for the rest of the flu season,” Garrett said. “Protecting yourself from the flu also helps protect those who may not be able to get a vaccine, such as young infants or people with certain medical conditions.”
Van Buren County spent more than $34,000 in spending on food and custodial supplies for the county jail and police cameras for which the county failed to solicit competitive bids, state auditors have found. State law requires competitive bids for purchases over $2,500, auditors wrote in their report, so that taxpayers get the best deal for the money. The review covered fiscal year 2013. “The failure to solicit competitive bids could result in the department paying more than the most competitive price,” auditors wrote.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has publicly censured a top Shelby County assistant district attorney for his actions in a death penalty case — a step rarely taken against a prosecutor. The high court issued the censure, a rebuke and warning that does not limit an attorney’s ability to practice law, against Thomas D. Henderson in the death penalty case of Michael Dale Rimmer. Henderson, who joined the district attorney’s office in 1976, now supervises more than 50 trial attorneys who prosecute felony cases in the county’s 10 criminal courts. This week, Henderson declined to comment on the sanction, issued the week of Christmas, since it involves a pending criminal case.
Efforts to curb meth production in Tennessee by tracking and limiting the sale of medicines containing its key ingredient are falling short, according to a new report from the state comptroller’s office. In 2012, Tennessee started using a computer system (called the NPLEx) to track and limit purchases of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine — a main ingredient in methamphetamine. The system is meant to block sales to repeat buyers who have already bought up to 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine at a time or up to 9 grams in a month. However, the number of meth lab incidents reported by law enforcement since Tennessee started using NPLEx “has not decreased substantially and remains at high levels,” according to a study released Friday by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability.
Methamphetamine production remains high throughout Tennessee despite the use of a database that tracks pseudoephedrine purchases, according to a report issued Friday by the state comptroller’s Offices of Education Research and Accountability. “Meth labs are still a significant issue,” said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force. The report, requested by state lawmakers, comes just days before the General Assembly will convene. It could provide additional ammunition for legislators who want to move forward on a proposed bill that would require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in some cold and allergy medicines that meth cooks use to make the illegal stimulant.
A state law requiring electronic tracking of pseudoephedrine purchases does not appear to have had much effect on the production of methamphetamine in Tennessee. According to the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability, the number of meth lab seizures actually increased in 2012. That was the first year that pharmacists were required to track sales of the over-the-counter drugs used to produce meth. The total number of meth lab seizures for 2013 is not yet available, but they do not appear to have decreased significantly. In 2012 there were 1,811 seizures. From January to the end of October 2013, there had been 1,485.
A grand jury indictment of five lawmen and a 118-page, $100 million lawsuit, both filed this week, suggest that the Grainger County Jail was a facility utterly out of control at various levels. Jailers helped inmates get contraband, aided in an escape and even sexually assaulted female inmates, the documents allege. The investigations that resulted in the two legal actions began in November, following a highly publicized escape of three inmates, all of whom were recaptured. But many problems were apparently in place long before then. Early last year, the jail failed a surprise inspection.
Knoxville attorney Terry Adams is touting his status as a political outsider in his bid for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. Adams, who was a quartermaster in the Navy before going to college and law school, told reporters in Nashville on Friday that he wants to champion veterans issues and to keep what he calls a career politician from holding the seat for another six years. “Tennesseans like Washington outsiders, and right now you’re looking at one,” he said. The incumbent is Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former two-term governor, who is being challenged for the GOP nomination by state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro.
A Knoxville Democrat is trying to sew up support for his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, nearly eight months before voters choose the party’s nominee. Terry Adams, an attorney and the owner of a title company, kicked off his campaign Friday with a news conference at the state Capitol in an effort to place himself at the front of the Democratic field before it has crystallized. Adams, 43, said he had secured support from the current and four most recent heads of the Tennessee Democratic Party and announced he had begun raising money for his campaign. He attacked Alexander as a career politician who has lost the support of most Tennesseans.
Republican Weston Wamp plans to mount another attempt this year to unseat two-term Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. Wamp, the 26-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, is expected to launch his second congressional campaign Monday to challenge Fleischmann in the Aug. 7 congressional GOP primary. Wamp declined Friday to discuss his political plans in advance of a news conference he has called Monday morning at the Lamp Post Group, where Wamp has operated his Wamp Alliance marketing and communications company for the past three years.
Weston Wamp, who finished third in a four-way Republican primary for the 3rd District congressional seat two years ago, is expected to try again. Wamp, 26, son of Zach Wamp, the longtime Republican congressman who gave up his seat four years ago to run for governor and lost to Bill Haslam, will make his formal announcement at the Anderson County Courthouse at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Weston Wamp said he would also be making his political intentions known that morning at his Chattanooga office. A media advisory states he is the founding director and director of communications at Lamp Post Group, a venture incubator supporting small businesses in Chattanooga.
Insurers are struggling to get their premium payments from people who signed up for coverage through the health-law marketplaces, leaving many plans with fewer enrollees than expected at the start of the new year. Friday was the deadline the industry set last month for people to pay for coverage that started Jan. 1. A big gap between the roughly two million people the government said selected plans in the marketplaces and those who actually pay—the final step to getting coverage—could pose a fresh challenge for the Obama administration. It also raises the stakes for small health plans and startups that are relying heavily on the marketplaces for business.
B&W Y-12 President and General Manager Chuck Spencer is going back to Babcock & Wilcox corporate headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., where he’ll serve as chief operating officer of the B&W Technical Services Group. He’ll be replaced at Y-12 — effective Feb. 1 — by Dave Richardson, who has served as deputy general manager since September 2012. Spencer was assigned to Oak Ridge for crisis management following the unprecedented security breach on July 28, 2012. The break-in by an 82-year-old nun and two other peace activists, who cut through multiple fences and reached the high-security Protected Area without being molested, forced a makeover in the leadership at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and prompted changes throughout the U.S. Department of Energy and its weapons complex.
The Music City Center will play host starting Saturday to the American Bus Association, an industry that is responsible for bringing about 15 percent of Nashville’s annual tourism traffic. The meeting is expected to bring 3,500 attendees, and while it will be the sixth time the meeting has come to Nashville, Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., credits the new Music City Center for its return this year. “They will always talk to us, but with anything there can be fatigue,” said Spyridon. “Having the fresh angle was attractive to both of us, and January was attractive.”
A new report ranks Nashville as the 14th best performing metro area in the country last year, a jump of 13 spots from 2012. The report, conducted annually by the Milken Institute, a non-partisan economic think tank, considers job, wage and technology trends that are shaping current and future economic growth in a city. “The Best-Performing Cities index was designed to measure objectively which U.S. metropolitan areas are promoting economic vitality based on job creation and retention, the quality of new jobs, and other criteria,” wrote the authors.
When parents begin picking up registration forms for the Shelby County Schools optional schools program on Jan. 27, there will be more options than ever. It also may be more complicated than ever for parents and administrators, with spaces opening in suburban schools that will remain in the district when others split off to become part of municipal school districts, a new optional middle school eagerly anticipated by Cooper-Young residents and even a chess-in-schools program inside one of the district’s Innovation Zone schools.