This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Conduit Global call center to create 1,000 jobs Conduit Global will hire 1,000 people over the next three to five years to staff a large call center in Shelby County, the company announced Wednesday, Jan. 22. Conduit Global president Bryce Hayes said the New York-based company will start hiring 300 immediately for the $8 million call center serving Verizon. Hayes joined Gov. Bill Haslam, Greater Memphis Chamber officials, and other state and local government leaders during a morning news conference in the lobby of FedExForum, beneath the grand marquee that read “New Jobs for TN.”
Greater Memphis has landed the biggest burst of jobs since the Electrolux deal in 2010. Officials with a New York firm promised 1,000 jobs within five years at a call center planned just outside the northeast city limits at I-40 and Whitten Road. Conduit Global’s call center will serve a major cell phone company, hire 1,000 people and invest $8 million in Goodlett Farms office space, the company, state and local officials announced Wednesday. Memphis had a divine advantage as the New York-based company considered where to put a service center that will field calls for customers of an undisclosed, Fortune 500 cell phone company Conduit Global president Bryce Hayes served as a Mormon missionary in and around Northeast Memphis’s Goodlett Farms office area in the 1990s, spending four or five months each in nearby Bartlett and Cordova as well as Jackson, Tenn.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday that Conduit Global will locate a new, 1,000-seat call center at the Goodlett Farms Office Park in Shelby County. The company will invest $8 million in building and infrastructure improvements and create more than 1,000 new jobs in Memphis. “We are grateful to Conduit Global for creating more than 1,000 new jobs in Shelby County,” Haslam said. “Just last week, Tennessee was named ‘State of the Year’ for the diversity of our top projects, the number of jobs created and capital investment, and today’s announcement is a great way to continue that momentum in the new year.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam joined Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell Wednesday morning to announce 1,000 jobs will be coming to Memphis. Conduit Global—a company that offers customer support to wireless customers—will bring a 1,000-seat international call center to the Bluff City by 2018. Conduit says they will be hiring rapidly at their Goodlett Farms office park beginning January 22. “Literally, everyone we hire will be local,” said Conduit Global President Bryce Hayes. The company is talking about hiring 300 people immediately. Conduit employs 5,000 people in 14 locations across nine countries.
Big news on the job front in Shelby County. One of the largest call center businesses in the world has decided to open up shop here. It means 1,000 jobs are coming to Memphis and the company, Conduit Global, plans to start hiring right now. Conduit Global plans to share a building with First Data on Goodlett Farms Road. The company says it is looking to hire people of all levels, from professionals to people who can just talk on a telephone. The Governor of Tennessee says it’s a big deal. “They are going to begin immediately filling 300 positions on their way to 1,000,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
New York-based Conduit Global is investing $8 million in a Memphis call center that will create 1,000 new jobs in the city in the next three to five years. Conduit, one of the world’s largest independent, fully-integrated business process outsourcing companies, will occupy 25,000 square feet in the 125,000 square foot building at 7000 Goodlett Farms. During today’s announcement, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Conduit will immediately hire 300 people. The company is currently accepting applications online. According to Bryce Hayes, president of Conduit Global, the company has a goal of hiring 100 people per quarter after it opens the call center April 1.
Ahead of an economic development announcement in Memphis this morning by Gov. Bill Haslam, sources said a call center will take space in a large office building in Cordova. The undisclosed company will lease some space in the 125,000-square-foot office building at 7000 Goodlett Farms, according to sources with knowledge of the announcement. The building, according to an online real estate listing flier by CBRE Memphis, rents annually for $19.25 per square foot. There are three roughly 25,000-square-foot spaces available on three floors, the listing said. Haslam, along with state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty, will be at FedExForum in Downtown Memphis at 10:30 a.m. to make the “significant” announcement.
A Shelby County call center will become the latest U.S. outpost for an information services company that cleverly borrows initials of the former Soviet secret police. Conduit Global is a division of kgb USA Inc., a privately held, 21-year-old company headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York City. kgb stands for Knowledge Generation Bureau, a line from the company’s advertising. Divisions offer telephone, text or web-based information including directory assistance, movie listings, train schedules and “Ask Us Anything” text, voice and web answer services. Services include the leading directory assistance firm in France, as well as a counterpart in the United Kingdom.
Lots of activity on the news front: As the Tennessee General Assembly ended its first week of the newly convened 2014 session last Thursday, Governor Bill Haslam called a press conference to announce a proposal for strengthening controls on the sale of pseudoephedrine so as to control the spread of methamphetamine production in Tennessee. The governor’s plan would restrict an individual’s purchase of the decongestant cold remedy, used as a key ingredient by illegal meth producers, to 2.4 grams each month, with pharmacists allowed to dispense another 2.4 grams.
The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and TennCare will host a series of community forums for people with intellectual disabilities and their families across Tennessee in the coming weeks. The DIDD Stakeholder Forums are open to people who currently receive services as well as those on a waiting list. The agency, which has experienced significant budget cuts in recent years, has been unable to provide services to thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and has come under criticism for the quality of care in facilities overseen by the department.
Transportation officials expect four lanes of the Henley Bridge to reopen to traffic before the Feb. 28 deadline. Officials, however, are unsure exactly when those additional lanes will begin carrying vehicles between downtown and South Knoxville. “There is no estimate at the present time as to a specific date other than the opening of two more lanes of traffic by Feb. 28,” Tennessee Department of Transportation regional spokesman Mark Nagi said. While Nagi noted extreme temperatures imposed on the region by polar weather systems have kept workers off the project, he said overall progress has not been impeded. “The project schedule has not been adjusted due to the recent winter weather,” Nagi said.
Authorities say three Parsons residents have been charged with fraud related to TennCare. The Tennessee Bureau of investigation said Wednesday that Kimberly D. Inman, James W. Inman and Season R. Hughes have been indicted by a Decatur County grand jury. The TBI says its Medicaid Fraud Control Unit began an undercover operation at The Family Clinic of Parsons in March. The TBI says Inman and Hughes, who worked as nurses at the clinic, had overprescribed controlled substances to patients as well as prescribed improper drugs. They also are accused of fraudulent billing for services and falsification of medical records related to improper claims of office visits.
For more than 20 years, Chattanoogans who enjoy hitting the links at city golf courses have also been able to enjoy throwing back some suds on the premises. However, a recent opinion by the state attorney general calls into question the legality of local governments enhancing revenue through booze sales. The opinion says that state law prohibits a municipal corporation — read “city” — and its representatives from selling alcoholic beverages on publicly owned property or obtaining a license to do so. State law allows only a “person, firm, corporation, partnership or association” to be granted a license to offer alcoholic beverages for sale, and “corporation” only refers to private corporations, not municipal ones, according to the opinion by Attorney General Robert Cooper.
The state attorney general’s office is appealing a ruling by a Nashville judge that the seven-man, two-woman makeup of a state commission is discriminatory and makes the commission invalid. According to state law, the membership of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission is supposed to approximate the state’s population in terms of race and gender. Although Tennessee is 52 percent female, the commission is only 22 percent female. The commission’s job is to evaluate Tennessee’s appellate judges and recommend them for either retention or replacement.
The General Assembly reconvened last week, but its time for legislating may be cut short. Many lawmakers are on the ballot in 2014, and they are anxious to wrap up early so they can focus on campaigning and fundraising. Many bills have already been filed. Here are a few to keep an eye on. School vouchers Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam wanted to start a pilot voucher program for about 5,000 low-income Tennessee students who attend failing schools. Republicans in the state Senate liked the idea so much they wanted to broaden the eligibility requirements and give even more students public money for private school tuition.
Tennesseans who want to curb their nausea, seizures or chronic pain with marijuana instead of medication are hoping a cultural shift makes the prospect of passing a state measure move from laughable to possible. Past medical marijuana bills gained little traction, and House and Senate sponsors of the last bill, proposed in 2012, lost re-election bids. But five states have joined the ranks of those offering medical marijuana since then, the most recent being New York, whose governor this month launched a policy by executive order. That brings the total to 21 states — including traditionally conservative Arizona — and the District of Columbia, all with different fee structures and possession limits.
Nashville and many other Middle Tennessee cities could be forced to remove bans on handguns in their parks if a push under way in the Tennessee legislature succeeds. Gun rights advocates and several lawmakers are throwing their weight behind legislation that would overturn local restrictions on handguns in public parks, five years after cities and counties were told they could opt out of a state law that opened parks to handgun owners. State Sen. Stacey Campfield, who has filed a bill to repeal the bans, says the 2009 law has created uncertainty among gun owners as to where they can carry.
When the Tennessee legislature enabled handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in state and local parks in 2009, it allowed towns, cities and counties to “opt out” of the law and ban guns from local parks under their jurisdictions. Memphis, Germantown and Shelby County were among places across the state that maintained gun bans in their parks and other recreation areas. Now two East Tennessee Republicans want to eliminate the opt-out provision. And local officials who oppose the bill likely face an uphill battle to maintain local control.
Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson told lawmakers Tuesday that the state’s constitutional spending cap is actually designed more to improve political accountability in the Legislature than it is to restrain government budget growth. Wilson delivered a report from the State Funding Board, which was tasked with studying the effectiveness of the so-called “Copeland Cap.” “It’s not my position at all that you should never exceed the Copeland Cap,” Wilson said at a meeting of the state House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
State lawmakers are weighing a bill that would mandate how Tennessee students are taught U.S. history, with an emphasis on interpretations favored by conservatives. House Bill 1129 would require school districts to adopt curriculums that stress the “positive difference” the United States has made in the world and “the political and cultural elements that distinguished America.” The measure also deletes a current guideline that encourages teaching about diversity and contributions from minorities in history classes. The state Department of Education opposes the measure, saying curriculum decisions should be left to the State Board of Education and local school boards.
Local school administrators, currently in the midst of implementing a new set of education standards and curricula in their districts, still plan to move ahead with an upcoming computer-based testing phase even as a legislative intervention threatens to pull the plug. Republican state lawmakers announced a pair of bills Tuesday aimed at delaying the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the companion test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, by up to four years, leaving school districts uncertain about the future of the new college preparedness education reforms.
Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) could help you skip lunch. The Tennessean reports that a bill filed by Kelsey would allow workers to waive the 30-minute lunch break that is currently required by state law for most workers. “I’ve heard stories that some employees would like to move that 30 minutes to the end of their shift,” Kelsey told The Tennessean. “And right now, they’re not legally allowed to do that when they take their breaks.” Democrats and some labor attorneys said the legislation could be used by employers to cut breaks in a bid to increase productivity. “It’s not good for workers,” Dave Garrison, a Nashville attorney, told The Tennessean.
One year after Gov. Bill Haslam added $8 million to the state budget to boost state tourism, the Tennessee Hospitality Association is hoping to maintain that funding in order to lure more travelers to the state. Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association President and CEO Greg Adkins talked with Tennessean reporter Nate Rau about the promotion funding and other legislative priorities for the organization during this session of the General Assembly. What’s your legislative year looking like? The first one is a bill that would simplify the liquor code.
Is Shelby County getting its fair share from Nashville? It’s been five years since Republicans took over control of the Tennessee General Assembly, leaving Memphis Democrats in the minority. It’s not just a mere majority. Republicans dominate both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly. Shelby County Republicans say that’s a good thing for the region and Democrats say they can still work across the aisle to get things done. Republicans hold a supermajority as the Tennessee General Assembly was gaveled into this session. There are 71 Republicans in the House. The Democrats hold just 27 seats.
It is officially called the “The Parental Involvement to End Poverty Act.” The auspicious sounding piece of legislation comes from Knoxville Senator Stacey Campfield who is once again trying to tinker with state laws surrounding temporary government assistance. In Tennessee it is referred to as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF. Last year he had an unsuccessful bill that would reduce those payments to parents of students who were failing in school, but this year Sen. Campfield said he is focusing on increasing the assistance if a parent gets involved in their child’s education.
Tennessee’s pain pill addiction epidemic is leading to legitimate pain sufferers having to wait extended periods to fill prescriptions for pain medication. News 2 spoke to a number of pharmacies, that did not want to be named, that have posted signs stating they do not carry certain opiates in stock. Others said they keep a limited supply of certain pain killers to deter would be robbers from targeting their businesses. The increased restrictions can mean patients will legitimate pain medication needs must wait 24 hours or longer to have their prescriptions filled. Dr. Shawn Pruitt owns Pruitt’s Discount Pharmacy on Dickerson Pike in Nashville.
Employers in Tennessee will have to pay tens of millions of dollars in new taxes if the state does not expand its Medicaid program, according to a new study. The report, by Jackson Hewitt, estimates that Tennessee’s failure to expand Medicaid would cost employers between $48 million and $72 million each year, beginning in 2015. Nationally, the penalties could reach nearly $1.5 billion each year in the 25 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid for adults, the study finds. The tax penalty is somewhat hidden in the language of the Affordable Care Act, said lead author Brian Haile, Jackson Hewitt’s senior vice president of health policy.
Tennessee’s decision not to expand Medicaid could lead to dramatic tax increases for employers, a new Jackson Hewitt study finds. When the Affordable Care Act was drafted, Congress assumed that individuals under 138 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for Medicaid expansion, the study explains. But when the Supreme Court ruled that states could choose not to expand Medicaid, a larger than expected group of people — those falling between 100 and 138 percent of the poverty level — became eligible for premium assistance tax credits.
Some big companies in Tennessee could be out upwards of $50 million combined next year, because so far the state hasn’t expanded Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. That’s according to a new report out Wednesday, which some say just puts more pressure on Governor Bill Haslam to spell out details of a so-called “Tennessee Plan.” For each worker who would be covered under a Medicaid expansion, but isn’t, the report says larger employers could face a penalty of $2000 or more. Some business organizations, like the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, say it adds to the case for Medicaid expansion.
Democratic state legislators say that if Tennessee doesn’t expand its Medicaid program, small businesses will face a tax penalty of up to $72 million in 2015, according to a new study from tax giant Jackson Hewitt. “Expanding Medicaid has always been critical for working people without access to health care,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney in a news release Wednesday. “What this study shows is that expansion is also critical to our small businesses. It’s time for Gov. Haslam to unveil his plan.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority is again preparing for a spike in energy demand that will come from colder-than-normal temperatures. On Monday, the TVA issued an internal alert which delays any non-emergency maintenance activities at its generation and transmission facilities, which will help minimize risks to the power supply. TVA expects electricity demand to remain high through this week even potentially reaching as high as 32,000 megawatts. Demand was just above 32,000 megawatts during the height of the previous cold wave earlier this month.
For the second time this month, frigid temperatures are putting the heat on the Tennessee Valley Authority. With temperatures projected to drop into single digits today and Friday in parts of TVA’s seven-state region, the federal utility is operating under a power supply alert and may again briefly limit electricity to customers with interruptible service contracts to ensure adequate power delivery for most of the 9 million people served by TVA. A majority of homes and offices in the Tennessee Valley are heated with electricity and cold temperatures this morning could push TVA’s overall power demand above 32,000 megawatts for the second time in three weeks.
A top Volkswagen official said Tuesday that the United Auto Workers Union won’t have any impact on whether another vehicle is built at the Chattanooga factory, The Wall Street Journal reported. “Under Germany’s co-determination rules, labor representatives make up half the members of the supervisory board, and IG Metall could use that clout to impose conditions on any decision to build a new model in the U.S,” according to the article. Click here for the WSJ article. CEO of Volkswagen AG Dr. Martin Winterkorn confirmed recently at the Detroit Auto Show that the auto manufacturer will make an SUV for the American market, but he didn’t say where the new product would be made.
The effort to block the unionizing of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant has become the top goal for the newly formed Center for Worker Freedom, the group’s executive director said. “That fight is our top priority,” said Matt Patterson, whose organization is a part of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform. Patterson said in an interview this week that plans are to ramp up advertising and educational initiatives in Chattanooga to let people know about the negative impact of the United Auto Workers and unions in general. That will include a new website to serve as a resource at which people can get information, he said.
After spending more than $1 billion on a production plant in Chattanooga and crafting a made-for-America Passat, Volkswagen officials again are questioning how to bridge the German and U.S. markets. VW-brand sales fell 6.9 percent last year in America, the world’s second-biggest car market, even as total U.S. vehicle sales grew by 7.6 percent. The drop-off has the automaker recalibrating the moves it needs to make to succeed here. On Wednesday, VW’s top labor representative dubbed the carmaker’s U.S. operations a “disaster,” urging more models and swifter decisions to help revive the German group’s fortunes in America, according to Reuters.
The free meals Shelby County Schools intends to roll out next year have already launched in dozens of cities in 11 states. In the first three — Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan — the number of students participating in school nutrition programs rose by 13 percent, or 23,000 students. If a fraction of that gain happens in Memphis, it will be good news, according to executive director of child nutrition services Tony Geraci, who says he’s worked 10 years to get to this point. “Kids will no longer need cash; they can grab their meal, and with a clicker, we’ll count one, two, three, four,” he said.
Positioning himself in his State of the State address for a likely re-election bid this year, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday heralded a California “comeback” marked by budget surpluses and an improving economy. Yet Brown urged caution in the face of long-term financial challenges, urging lawmakers to “pay down our debts and remember the lessons of history.” “Fiscal discipline is not the enemy of our democracy but its fundamental predicate,” he told a joint session of the Legislature. “To avoid the mistakes of the past we must spend with great prudence and we must also establish a solid rainy-day fund, locked into the constitution.”
Governor Neil Abercrombie highlighted the state’s $844 million surplus and pushed for tax breaks for seniors, along with raising the minimum wage during his fourth State of the State Address Tuesday morning at the State Capitol. “Average weekly earnings have increased 16% since 2007. For minimum wage workers it’s zero,” described Abercrombie during his annual address to lawmakers, announcing his proposal to raise the minimum wage by $1.50 to at least $8.75 by January 2015. “We tried to figure out what inflation had taken place since 2007 and simply added it up, so the proposal would simply be the same buying power as existed in 2007,” explained Abercrombie.
With time growing short for leaders here to file a plan for this city’s emergence from bankruptcy, Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday urged Michigan’s Legislature to provide $350 million to lessen possible cuts to the pensions of Detroit retirees and save the city’s art collection from the threat of sale. Mr. Snyder, a Republican facing re-election this fall, was flanked by the leaders of the State House and Senate as he laid out the proposal during a news conference in Lansing, but broad support for the plan, which would require legislative approval, remains uncertain. In this state’s Republican-held Legislature, any notion that could be characterized as bailing out Detroit has been received with deep skepticism, and Mr. Snyder acknowledged in an interview that “it will be a challenging exercise” to sell his plan in the state capital.
Gov. Scott Walker used his election-year State of the State address Wednesday to rally support for his plans to use the majority of Wisconsin’s $912 million in unexpected revenue for tax cuts. “What do you do with a surplus?” he said. “Give it back to the people who earned it. It’s your money.” He said he would call a special session of the Legislature to consider his income and property tax cut package — part of a broader fiscal plan called “A Blueprint for Prosperity” — which would save average Wisconsin families about $150 this year. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said there is support among Assembly Republicans for Walker’s proposal and it will likely be the first bill his chamber takes up when it convenes Feb. 11.
A superb report released Wednesday by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration can be summarized in one quick sentence: There are many ways to make voting easier in America. There shouldn’t be the slightest whiff of controversy or partisanship about that concept, or the important suggestions made in the report. But, of course, there is, and that makes the commission’s persuasive logic and research all the more valuable. President Obama appointed the commission last year to address the problem of long lines at the polls in 2012. At a time when states were deliberately keeping people from voting with draconian ID requirements, that seemed a narrow goal, but members of the commission did far better than expected in showing the many ways that the nation’s patchwork of state and local election laws has contributed to low turnouts.
‘I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time,” President Obama declared in November. Echoing his boss, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted that millions of Americans are now “able to avail themselves of quality, affordable health insurance . . . many of them for the first time.” The Affordable Care Act would right a great social wrong. Or so we were told. But reality is again intruding on the Obama administration’s narrative. This newspaper reported Saturday that between 65% and 80% of those who have signed up for health insurance through the federal or state ObamaCare exchanges previously had coverage, according to insurers. A survey by McKinsey & Co. suggested that only 11% of those who purchased plans through the exchanges were previously uninsured. Surprised?