This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
National economic development magazine Business Facilities has named Tennessee its 2013 state of the year for economic development and job creation. This is the second time Tennessee has been awarded this distinction by Business Facilities. The other was in 2009. It is encouraging to see Tennessee recognized for job creation and for growing business and industry. Hopefully, next year some of the projects that gain the state economic development notice will be in West Tennessee. The recognition stems from the state creating 6,900 new jobs and attracting $3.2 billion in new economic development investment between Oct. 1 of 2012 and Oct. 31 of 2013.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is planning to announce legislation Thursday that seeks to combat methamphetamine production in Tennessee. The governor is scheduled to be joined by lawmakers and members of his public safety advisory panel to make the announcement on the steps of the Capitol in Nashville. Haslam’s office noted that 268 children were removed from their homes last year due to meth-related incidents, and nearly 1,700 meth labs were seized. The governor’s announcement comes following a Vanderbilt University poll released last month that found two in three Tennesseans favor requiring a doctor’s prescription for drugs such as Sudafed that are used to make meth.
Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to file a bill that would cut the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be purchased in Tennessee. Haslam will hold a press conference Thursday morning to announce “legislation to reduce methamphetamine production in Tennessee.” The Republican governor is expected to call for curbing the amount of pseudoephedrine individuals can buy, currently 3.6 grams in a day or 9 grams in a 30-day period without a prescription The measure could preempt other pseudoephedrine legislation. Other bills in the works would require consumers to get doctors’ or pharmacists’ prescriptions for all pseudoephedrine purchases.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with Total Quality Logistics (TQL) officials today announced the transportation services company will begin operations in Davidson County. The company will open a sales office to meet the needs of its expanding client-base in the Basin Alley Building located at 105 Broadway in downtown Nashville. This expansion represents an investment of $1 million and the creation of 105 new jobs. “I want to thank Total Quality Logistics for its investment in Tennessee and creating these new jobs in Davidson County,” Haslam said.
Tennessee won a top ranking for capital investment and new jobs generated through company expansions and relocations, besting rival Texas and reclaiming a distinction it has not held since 2009. The state attracted $3.2 billion in capital investment and attracted 6,900 new jobs from its five largest new projects, garnering the “2013 State of the Year” honor from economic development magazine Business Facilities. The ranking was based on the state’s top projects in investment and job creation in the 13 months through October, which included Hankook Tire Co.’s new plant in Clarksville and Aramark’s new $20 million Nashville facility.
CEO of area business Picture Wellness Maurice Saliba is at the beginning of a yearlong mission to help prevent diabetes. He is one of two people statewide who are administering a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pilot program in an effort to combat diabetes and lower health care costs. Gov. Bill Haslam has said he has a commitment to improve the health of state residents, and Saliba is working with the state to test the CDC’s program, which is called the National Diabetes Prevention Program… Saliba has been working with state employees in Knoxville and Nashville as a prediabetic educator.
The head of the Department of Children’s Services said Wednesday that his agency has taken strides toward improving child safety and combating abuse, but skeptical lawmakers said those changes have not reached front-line personnel. Commissioner Jim Henry told a House committee that, under his leadership, the department has retrained field agents in investigative techniques, opened up reviews into child deaths, improved hotlines to report abuse and shortened the amount of time needed to complete adoptions. But Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the panel said those efforts have not addressed fundamental problems at the Department of Children’s Services.
Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services will need another two years to get its hundreds of child-abuse investigators through a new training program, meant to help them do a better job gathering information they can use in court. It’s been almost a year since Jim Henry took over at DCS, after the previous commissioner stepped down amid reports the department was mis-handling data of child deaths. In an update to state representatives Wednesday, Henry said they’re working with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, to develop not so much social workers as child-abuse investigators, who have a social-services background.
Imagination Library books that are delivered to the wrong address are now being shredded by the United States Postal Service instead of volunteers being allowed to pick them up. For years, the USPS would allow volunteers with Imagination Library to reclaim the books. That started to change about a year ago. “It has been a year-long process where the post office would no longer allow volunteers to pick up books,” said Theresa Carl, president of Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, a partner with Imagination Library.
For months, the Channel 4 I-Team has been investigating the delays and backlog Tennessee job seekers face when trying to apply for unemployment benefits. Now, we have uncovered a new problem for claimants. This time, we’re talking about those who actually got through to the unemployment system online or the hotline and were approved for benefits. Despite the headache of just trying to apply for unemployment in Tennessee, the Channel 4 I-Team has discovered that thousands of unemployment recipients’ personal information may have been compromised.
State Republicans have filed legislation to resist implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care law in Tennessee. Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet and Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon held a news conference on Wednesday to announce the measure that seeks to prohibit any cooperation by the state or its agencies in implementing or administering the federal law. That means the bill would ban new health insurance exchanges established under the law. So far, more than 36,000 Tennesseans have signed up for coverage under the exchanges.
Several Middle Tennessee Republicans are taking on the Affordable Care Act, with a new bill that would bar state and local governments — and possibly also companies that do business with them — from buying health insurance through the federal website. State Sen. Mae Beavers and three House Republicans released a bill Wednesday designed to stop President Barack Obama’s health care reform law by discouraging use of its health insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov. The bill is sure to face formidable legal questions.
A group of conservative Republican legislators proposed Wednesday to effectively nullify the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, contending the federal law is an unconstitutional “commandeering” of state authority. The “Tennessee Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act” (SB1680) bans federal health care exchanges from operating within the state and declares void insurance contracts purchased in accordance with the law. “The federal government does not have constitutional authority to commandeer state and local governments to enforce or implement these federal mandates,” said Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, the Senate sponsor.
Wasting no time addressing what conservatives have called a pattern of bias in Tennessee textbooks, a Republican senator has filed legislation to give lawmakers a say over who sits on a key panel that reviews the materials. In addition, the comprehensive bill would establish criteria for reviewing textbooks, including an examination on whether they are “free from biases in their viewpoints” and “reflect the values” of Tennessee citizens — language already under criticism because of its potential to draw wide-ranging interpretations. “It’s a complete overhaul of the textbook commission,” said Mike Bell, R-Riceville, chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee.
The state Senate is taking another run at changing the way Tennessee’s attorney general gains office. Under a proposed constitutional amendment advanced to a full Senate vote Tuesday, the attorney general would stand for popular election rather than being appointed by the state Supreme Court. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, questioned why the panel was taking up the resolution when the full chamber last year voted 22-9 in favor of his proposal to have the attorney general appointed by a joint convention of the General Assembly. “This body voted last year to do it completely differently,” he said.
Shelby County would have two fewer Circuit Court judges if a bill filed by state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown becomes law. Kelsey’s Senate Bill 1484 would abolish divisions 1 and 5 of Shelby County Circuit Court effective Sept. 1 of this year, the start of the next eight-year judicial term. There are nine divisions of Shelby Circuit Court now, with a judge for each. The bill also says there would be no election for the two judgeships in the August county general election because they would cease to exist. The bill drew the opposition of the county’s trial court judges and lawyers, a delegation of whom traveled to Nashville to talk about the impact of the losses of judges with the Shelby County legislative delegation Wednesday.
On the first day of the legislative session that began Tuesday, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill to regulate a form of quick-cash lending that critics say is unacceptably unregulated and potentially predatory. While the outcome on the vote for Senate Bill 1360 was a bipartisan and lopsided 27-2, it offered a glimpse into the kind ideological skirmishing that is anticipated to be a prominent feature of the 2014 session of the General Assembly. The legislation, sponsored by Franklin Republican Jack Johnson, puts new regulations and financial controls on a practice called “lawsuit lending” or “lawsuit funding.”
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s policy agenda for this session puts a premium on continued Common Core implementation as well as aligning higher education programs with business needs, noting that the lack of qualified and skilled workers is the biggest concern among businesses in the state. The state business group unveiled its legislative priorities to a group of state lawmakers today, getting a positive reception from both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey. “We feel pretty good that we’re all on the same page here,” Ramsey said of the state chamber’s legislative agenda.
House Democrats are pressing Gov. Bill Haslam for more details about his plans for Medicaid in Tennessee. As soon as Haslam “gives a copy of his ‘Tennessee plan’ to the Legislature, we can score that legislation and determine the best possible revenue streams to cover our 10 percent share of the cost after 2020,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said in a prepared statement. Haslam announced last year he would not expand TennCare under the Affordable Care Act and would instead seek an alternate path to provide health insurance for more low-income Tennesseans.
The one thing to remember about Mark Norris, the state Senate’s majority leader and a pivotal figure in the firmament of Tennessee’s ruling Republican Party, is that he always knows what he wants and is ultimately unyielding in his efforts to get it. However affable and accommodating he seems on the surface, in the end he intends to have his way. A perfect case in point was the determination he exercised over the past three-plus years on behalf of Shelby County’s six incorporated suburbs in their effort to extricate themselves from an unwanted merger with the urban school system of Memphis. Norris describes himself as a “problem-solver.”
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen and Herbert Slatery, counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam, called on Nashville’s business community Wednesday to actively support a proposed amendment to Tennessee’s Constitution regarding the selection of appellate judges. The proposed amendment seeks to change the current “Tennessee Plan,” in which a committee presents a panel of candidates to the governor for his appointment. The proposed “Modified Federal Plan” would do away with the committee, leave appointments solely in the governor’s hands to be confirmed or denied by the legislature.
The Tennessee National Guard’s adjutant general is taking a public stand against a recently announced plan to eliminate the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters from the Army inventory. “I understand that the Kiowa is a legacy aircraft, but to eliminate them without a suitable replacement, simply doesn’t make sense,” Maj. Gen. Max Haston said in a Tennessee National Guard news release on Wednesday. Tennessee is the only National Guard state in the nation that flies these versatile reconnaissance aircraft used to target enemy locations in a wartime environment, the release said.
The nation’s governors criticized Congress on Wednesday for the political gridlock that they said had stymied passage of almost every federal initiative most needed by the states, and reiterated their calls for help from Washington. “We are now midway through the 113th Congress, and governors are frustrated,” said Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, a Republican and chairwoman of the National Governors Association, as she delivered the group’s second State of the States address. “Despite the recent budget agreement, partisan gridlock continues to prevent long-term policy solutions,” Ms. Fallin said.
America’s biggest public utility will get smaller this year. The Tennessee Valley Authority, seeking to cut $500 million a year in operating expenses, outlined plans Wednesday to encourage many of its 12,600 employees to resign or retire early from jobs not deemed essential by utility managers. TVA officials said staff cuts are needed to bring the utility’s costs and rates more in line with neighboring utilities and to offset an expected four-year decline in electricity sales. “In order to perform our mission, we must curtail our spending and focus on internal cost management,” utility spokesman Duncan Mansfield said.
Three of the nation’s premier national labs — Oak Ridge, Argonne and Lawrence Livermore — are banding together to push the boundaries of supercomputing and acquire next-generation supercomputers for each of the labs at the best value for the U.S. government. It’s a big deal. Each of the computers is expected to cost in the vicinity of $125 million and have capabilities exceeding 100-200 petaflops (that’s 100 million billion calculations per second). By working together, the three U.S. Department of Energy labs hope to reduce the overall cost and maximize the advancement of the future machines — to be delivered in the 2017 time frame.
Peanuts grown in multiple places will come by rail to be roasted and made into Jif brand peanut butter at J.M. Smucker’s new production facility in Southeast Memphis. The Orrville, Ohio-based company nailed down its expansion plans Wednesday after getting a $13 million tax incentive from the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County. Smucker is turning a company-owned warehouse at 4789 Cromwell — across Edison from its existing Smucker’s jelly plant at 4740 Burbank — into a state-of-the-art peanut butter operation. The company will continue making some Smucker’s jelly at its existing plant.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Steve Moore railed against the United Auto Workers union’s attempt to organize in Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant Wednesday night. “It’s like inserting a cancer cell into a body,” he said. “That one cancer cell is going to multiply and kill the body. It’s a disruptive influence.” The outspoken conservative addressed about 50 Chattanooga business people and civic leaders at Wednesday night’s event, which was sponsored by The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a nonprofit lobbying group that aims to advance free market policy in the state.
Gov. Nathan Deal outlined his spending priorities and touted his successes in a State of the State speech Wednesday that was framed more as his argument for re-election later this year, saying he had worked to protect state education spending while slashing the size of state government. Deal blamed poor economic conditions for much of the state’s challenges during his first three years in office and used his speech to make the case that his business-friendly approach and emphasis on job creation had helped improve Georgia’s economy. “When I took office, we still had revenue numbers that made across-the-board budget cuts a necessity,” Deal said in his speech to lawmakers.
High school students are expected to reach certain benchmarks in core subjects, such as math, by the time they graduate and receive a diploma. If that is the case, why are some taking a remedial math course as seniors to learn material they already should have mastered? It is a good question, and the answer is that doing so increases the chances for students to earn a postsecondary degree and offers the potential to save the state millions in the cost of remedial course work in college. Some high school students who are on track to earn a diploma still score below the math benchmark of 19 on the ACT.
All Tennesseans should be proud that the state is leading the nation in student achievement gains, but teachers should be especially proud because they made it happen. I was spending the day with teachers in Memphis when the results of the 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress came out in November. I can hardly explain the excitement I felt just being there. The NAEP — also known as the “Nation’s Report Card” — showed that Tennessee students improved in both of the areas and grades tested — English/Language Arts and Math in fourth and eighth grades. Tennessee’s progress places it first among the states in improvement from 2011 to 2012.
Democrats Have a Candidate Available with Experience and Name ID The Democrats are having a hard time finding a candidate to run against Gov. Bill Haslam. They considered Sara Kyle their best hope but she has declined. Democratic leaders in the Legislature have also passed on the proposition. The Democrats do need a candidate, however, to avoid a fiasco like a Mark Clayton winning the primary—a guy the party had to disavow in the race against U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. They also need someone at the top of the ticket to help the party down ballot if they are to pick up any legislative seats or even to hang onto what they have. I would like to suggest an option. There is a Democrat with statewide name recognition. He has twice been the Democratic nominee for governor.