This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
After three Nashville companies from The Tenn startup program explored San Francisco’s startup landscape this fall, the group is gearing up to hit the road again next month to meet entrepreneurs and venture capital leaders in Boston and New York. The tour is part of Launch Tennessee’s “master accelerator” program for 10 selected companies in Tennessee that already have developed their business model at one of the nine business accelerator programs across the state, including the Entrepreneur Center in Nashville, Seed Hatchery in Memphis and Co.Lab in Chattanooga.
Adults or non-traditional students who want to complete a degree or earn trade skill credentials should put the Southwest Tennessee Development District’s Regional Economic Development Initiative Adult College Summit on their calendars More than a dozen educational institutions are expected to participate in the event, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 20 at Union University in Jackson, according to a news release. By coming together in one setting with various post-secondary institutions, adults may receive in-depth answers to back-to-school questions.
The Tennessee Department of Health is increasing efforts to prevent sleep-related deaths for babies. In partnership with Charlie’s Kids Foundation, the department is providing copies of a book called “Sleep Baby, Safe and Snug” for each baby born at participating hospitals in 2014. The book was written by pediatrician John Hutton to teach caregivers to safely put a baby to sleep. Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said 20 percent of infant deaths in Tennessee could be prevented by safe sleep practices. The Health Department launched a statewide campaign in June 2012 to increase awareness of safe sleep practices.
Three Republican candidates have picked up petitions to run for the Sullivan County Criminal Court judge’s seat being vacated by Robert Montgomery. In August, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Montgomery to the Court of Criminal Appeals and he will vacate his current position at the end of his eight-year term Aug. 31. The three candidates, Ricky A.W. Curtis, Jim Goodwin and John D. Parker Jr., will compete in the Republican primary May 6. So far, no Democrats have picked up petitions, but the filing deadline isn’t until Feb. 20. The general election is Aug. 7.
A proposal to hand the state new power to approve charter school applications on appeal “would likely withstand any facial constitutional challenge,” Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper wrote in a legal opinion released Thursday. The Tennessean inquired Thursday about the status of a legal opinion on House Bill 702, which Cooper had been asked to render five months ago. A spokesperson initially said he was still working on it. Later in the day, his office released the opinion, which can be read on Tennessean.com. In it Cooper references a September opinion that said the state’s 2002 charter school law is constitutional.
With election season looming, Tennessee Republicans are looking to keep infighting to a minimum and wrap up the legislative session as quickly as possible. While the GOP holds vast majorities in both chambers, incumbents are eager to avoid giving a potential primary challenger material to use against them in the campaign. All 99 House seats are up for re-election this year, along with 17 of 33 seats in the Senate. When they reconvene Tuesday, lawmakers will take up a host of key issues, including whether to allow wine sales in supermarkets and whether to require prescriptions for over-the-counter cold medicines to prevent their illegal production into methamphetamines.
The campaign manager for a group advocating for supermarket wine sales in Tennessee is leaving to become the CEO of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors. Jarron Springer has been president of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association since 2005, and also leads the Red White and Food campaign pushing for the law change. Current law keeps supermarkets and convenience stores from selling beer stronger than 5 percent by weight, which is the equivalent of about 6.5 percent in the more common measure of alcohol by volume. Anything stronger can only be sold in liquor stores, which aren’t allowed to sell any items beyond booze and lottery tickets.
Even if the Shelby County Commission’s auditorium won’t be filled Monday with social service providers seeking county money, schools advocates wanting funding increases and county workers demanding raises, make no mistake — a commission vote set for Monday afternoon will have huge ramifications for the 2014-15 fiscal year budget. Gone from one of the three suburban District 4 seats on the commission is the recently elected mayor of Lakeland, Wyatt Bunker, and his unwavering opposition to anything that hinted at increasing the county government’s budget. The person who will finish out the final seven months of his second term is expected to be selected Monday afternoon from among 11 applicants who interviewed at a commission committee meeting on Wednesday.
Knoxville lawyer Pamela Reeves’ nomination to become a federal judge was delayed last week before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee when Republicans took advantage of a courtesy given a minority party to postpone action the first time names appear on the agenda for a vote. Reeves was approved last year by the committee but had to be reconsidered because Republicans did not allow certain pending nominees to be “held over” to the new session, which began last week, reported The Blog of Legal Times, a Washington, D.C.-based publication on legal issues and lobbying.
Alexander will begin airing a 60-second campaign spot today, his campaign said. Tom Ingram, an adviser to the campaign, declined to give specifics on the ad buy but said it was a “multiple of six digits” that would appear on broadcast and cable in all Tennessee markets. The ad, titled “Standing Up for Tennessee,” hits themes that should be familiar to those who have been following the senator’s bid for a third term. References are made to his push as governor in the 1980s to attract auto manufacturing, his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his support for fishing (the fishing bit actually gets brought up twice).
An adviser to Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann says the Chattanooga congressman is in a strong position financially to fend off a primary challenge from Weston Wamp. In an interview Sunday, Fleischmann adviser John “Chip” Saltsman said the two-term incumbent raised “well over” $600,000 since the last campaign. Records showed the exact figure was $606,000 raised to date in the 2014 election cycle and $411,000 cash on hand as of Dec. 31. Wamp, who ran unsuccessfully for the 3rd District congressional seat in 2012, is planning an announcement at 10 a.m. today about his political future. If Weston Wamp, the 26-year-old son of Fleischmann’s predecessor, Rep. Zach Wamp, does announce a second challenge to Fleischmann, it won’t be a surprise, Saltsman said.
Ten months before an election in which Democrats in Tennessee want to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, one candidate is already sounding cries of foul play toward his party. Larry Crim, who lost his bid in 2012 to become his party’s nominee against Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, complained in a news release on Sunday that Democratic leaders already were favoring a candidate who only last week announced plans to run. The Nashville counseling company executive was referring to the announcement by Terry Adams, a Knoxville attorney and owner of a title company, who held a press conference at the state Capitol on Friday to kick off his campaign for the Senate seat.
In the not too distant past, kindergarten was a place where children learned to color, share and play. But a higher regard for kindergarten is emerging, including a move toward all-day sessions in some states, as a growing body of research underscores the importance of learning in the earliest years. The percentage of kindergartners attending full-day programs has grown from about 10 percent in the 1970s to about 76 percent in 2012, with a steep increase between 2002 and 2006, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit research center. While some programs took a hit during the recession, several states have taken action recently to expand access to full-day kindergarten.
An initiative to help aviation jobs take off in Northeast Tennessee appears to be in its early stages, but its academic, property and marketing components are all moving forward. “We’ve seen a migration like we saw with the auto industry where auto manufacturers kind of migrated to the South,” Tri-Cities Regional Airport Executive Director Patrick Wilson explained of the push to create more aviation jobs in the region. “We’re now starting to see a similar migration with aviation and aerospace. … We have a favorable labor market and hopefully the trend will continue. … Boeing moved to South Carolina, and Airbus is going to Mobile (Alabama).”
Volkswagen’s chief executive pledged Sunday to go on a sales offensive in the U.S. that will include a new sport utility vehicle, but he stopped short of naming the automaker’s Chattanooga plant as the production site. “We haven’t decided,” said Martin Winterkorn after remarks to more than 300 reporters on the eve of the North American International Auto Show. “It’s a question of economics.” Hundreds of new jobs and several hundred million dollars of investment are likely at stake — a part of $7 billion that Winterkorn said VW wants to invest in North America in the next five years. A Volkswagen of America official late last year called the Scenic City the front-runner to land the SUV. Chattanooga is said to be competing with the carmaker’s facilities in Mexico.
Competition, the challenges of starting a school system and the current pay of Shelby County education leaders contributed to salaries reaching the mid-$100,000s for the six suburban school superintendents, according to several associated with the negotiation process. Other variables from experience to how benefits are considered left the base salaries ranging from $132,600 (Ted Horrell in Lakeland) to $185,000 (John Aitken in Collierville). For example, Jason Manuel, Germantown’s new superintendent, will make $160,000 annually, the same as David Stephens in Bartlett, despite Manuel emerging from a middle school principal’s role while Stephens served as deputy superintendent for the Shelby County Schools.
Shelby County’s six municipal school districts could break new ground if school officials decide to share educational services — something that has been allowed but rarely used in Tennessee for 44 years. School consultant and retired Shelby County School Supt. Jim Mitchell with Southern Educational Strategies floated the idea last week during a Lakeland school board work session. He mentioned a dozen potential pieces of the educational pie that Lakeland, Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Millington might share. The Educational Cooperation Act has been on the state’s law books since 1970.
After passing some of the most aggressive tax cuts in the nation, Kansas lawmakers are watching the state’s top court for a ruling that could force education spending to skyrocket. The Kansas Supreme Court will determine whether the state must comply with a lower-court ruling requiring the GOP-led legislature and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to increase annual funding for K-12 education by an estimated $450 million, or 14% above the previous year’s level. The timing of the ruling is unclear, but it could come to dominate the state legislative session that opens Monday.
Monday begins the 2014 session of the General Assembly, and the fourth year of total Republican control of Tennessee’s state government. No doubt about it, the Republicans’ agenda will win the day. It’s an agenda different from the low-tax, small-government agenda they’ve pitched to solve joblessness, education and health care. But don’t take my word for it: The numbers tell the story. Tennessee entered its fourth year of Republican control with 8.1 percent unemployment, rising higher as the nation’s unemployment drops. Just last week, Moody’s Analytics rated Tennessee among the worst states for projected job growth in 2014 — 44th in the country — even as neighboring Southern states rated in the Top 10.