This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The announcement Wednesday that Conduit Global will open a call center just outside the Memphis city limits which could eventually employ 1,000 people is good news on the jobs front. State and local officials should be congratulated for luring the New York firm to Memphis. Conduit Global plans to fill 300 positions initially and build up to 1,000 jobs in three to five years. The jobs potential at Conduit Global is almost on a par with Electrolux’s plans to eventually employ some 1,200 people at its new kitchen appliance manufacturing plant in Southwest Memphis.
Gov. Bill Haslam must be seeing the light. It’s going to take stern measures if we are to reverse the march of methamphetamine in Tennessee, which vies with Missouri as tops in the nation for meth production. For the governor to introduce legislation last week to reduce the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in this state is a signal that he understands that steps such as the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) are not going to get the job done. We appreciate the effort by the governor — it would require a prescription for more than a 20-day supply of cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth.
Officials say Colgate-Palmolive is building an oral care products manufacturing plant in Hamblen County, adding 75 jobs in the process. In a news release, Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty says the company will invest $25 million in manufacturing equipment and building and infrastructure improvements in Morristown. Officials say Colgate-Palmolive plans to build a stand-alone facility adjacent to its current Colgate Total toothpaste plant, which located to Morristown in 2008.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that he has “major concerns” about a measure supported by fellow Republicans in the legislature seeking to do away with local government’s power to decide whether to allow firearms in public parks. The legislature in 2009 gave city and county governments the ability to opt out of a new law that allowed people with handgun carry permits to be armed in public parks, playgrounds and sports fields. A bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville that would do away with local control over guns has drawn the support of fellow Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he has “major concerns” about legislation that would abolish the authority of towns, cities and counties to ban guns from local parks, greenways and other recreational areas under their jurisdictions. In 2009, the Tennessee legislature enabled handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in state and local parks but it also allowed local governing boards — city councils, county commissions, boards of mayor and aldermen — to “opt out” of the state law and ban guns from city- and county-owned parks. Memphis, Germantown, Shelby County and Nashville were among dozens of places across the state that maintained gun bans in their parks.
Three influential state senators have put together a new plan to create Tennessee’s first school voucher program, but Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to hold firm to his proposal to limit vouchers to needy students in the state’s worst schools. Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and a longtime proponent of vouchers, filed a measure Thursday that would offer vouchers to the families of poor and working-class students in Shelby, Davidson and eight other counties. Supporters, who include Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, tout the proposal as a compromise measure meant to break the impasse that sank voucher legislation in the Senate last year.
A school vouchers proposal that was scuttled last year by Republican infighting is showing new signs of life in the state legislature. Such a bill would essentially divert some public-school money, to help poor kids in failing schools afford private educations instead. Gov. Bill Haslam has been pushing for a relatively limited “pilot” program, focused on poor families in the bottom 5 percent of schools. Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is now trying to include the bottom 10 percent instead. And he wants to give other students access to vouchers, if poor families in their district don’t claim them all first.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he prefers his limited school voucher plan but is open to compromise somewhere between his and an expanded version proposed Thursday by state Sens. Dolores Gresham and Brian Kelsey to allow income-eligible students from the bottom 10 percent of schools to get taxpayer help to attend private schools. Haslam’s plan limits vouchers to 5,000 students in the first year, from schools in the bottom 5 percent in terms of student performance on standardized tests — and increasing to 20,000 students in the fourth year. Gresham, R-Somerville, and Kelsey, R-Germantown, agree with the overall number of vouchers — except that their caps would rise to 20,000 in year three, not year four — and with the governor’s definition of low-income.
Republican state lawmakers have proposed a school voucher bill they hope will be acceptable to Gov. Bill Haslam, who repeatedly has said he favors a more limited version of the program that gives parents another option for educating their children. Sen. Brian Kelsey, of Germantown, said Thursday that he spoke with the Republican governor Wednesday night about the proposal, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, of Somerville, and is supported by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, of Blountville. Haslam’s proposal is limited to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in December, down from 8.1 percent the month prior, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today. Over the past two month’s, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen from 8.5 percent. The national unemployment rate for December was 6.7 percent, down from 7 percent in November.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate stood at 7.8 percent in December, a dip from 8.1 percent in November, but still higher than the 7.6 percent recorded for December 2012, according to preliminary numbers announced Thursday. Nationally, the unemployment rate edged down to 6.7 percent, from 7 percent in November and 7.9 percent in December 2012.
Calling public criticism of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities “painful,” department chief Debra Payne said Thursday she nevertheless welcomed scrutiny and plans to educate the public and lawmakers about the challenges in providing services in the midst of ongoing budget cuts. Payne and other top DIDD officials spoke Thursday to the editorial board of The Tennessean following the launch of the newspaper’s series Broken Trust on Sunday. The series has chronicled the lack of services for people with disabilities, the frustration of families and caregivers and an increasing number of deaths in state-paid facilities. “If we learn from this, as painful as it may be, we learn,” Payne said.
If you’ve been uncertain about it, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper is urging Target customers to sign up for one year of free credit monitoring offered by the retailer in the wake of its massive data breach announced last month. “I strongly encourage any Target customers to take advantage of this offer, regardless of whether they’ve identified suspicious activity in their personal accounts,” Cooper said Wednesday in a statement issued by his office. “Additionally, consumers should take the proactive steps of monitoring their bank account activity, and changing their PIN numbers and passwords.
The full Senate is scheduled to vote next week on a proposal to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets, while a House committee that derailed last year’s version is set to consider reviving the measure. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville says the upper chamber has scheduled a Jan. 30 vote on the proposal to authorize cities to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold outside of liquor stores. “All but one special interest group is happy with that bill, and I don’t know whether we’ll ever make them happy,” Ramsey told The Associated Press on Thursday, referring to the association representing liquor store owners.
After nearly a year waiting for the governor to strike a deal with the federal government to expand the state’s Medicaid program for low-income Tennesseans, senators with a medical background are considering a temporary fix. The lawmakers say they want to build “a community safety net as opposed to the ER safety net” they say is now used by people below 138 percent of the federal poverty level who lack health care coverage, said Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville.
A Tennessee businesses group supporting Common Core education standards is taking to the airwaves. A new radio ad features a conversation between two actors, portraying a teacher and a parent. In the sixty-second ad, the two talk about some of the changes, brought about by the standards adopted in Tennessee and 44 other states. “Tennessee’s Common Core state standards have raised the bar for achievement in our school, but it’s great that we can concentrate on real world learning rather than teaching to the test,” the teacher says. The parent responds, “Must be working. I’ve read Tennessee education is improving faster than any state in the country.”
Some Tennessee lawmakers are pushing to keep your personal information more private, even from the federal government. They want to make it illegal for state workers to cooperate with blanket searches like the ones the NSA has been criticized about. State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is one of the bill’s sponsors and says if the federal government wants to do these blanket searches, Tennessee shouldn’t have to foot the bill. “What we’re saying is the state should not be involved in helping facilitate that. We should not be pushing it.
The Tennessee General Assembly’s Black Caucus plans to invite Tennessee Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic to speak to its members to explain recent comments he made on diversity at charter schools. Barbic, speaking at a panel discussion at Lipscomb University last week, said charter schools, which are “choice” schools, shouldn’t be blamed for lacking student diversity, noting in a subsequent interview that schools typically look like the neighborhoods in which they’re located. “Yes, we want diversity,” he said. “But we’ve got to be honest about the situation and speak honestly about race and class, which goes way beyond the power of a school.”
What’s been known for 22 months became official when Ed Jackson announced his candidacy for the Tennessee state Senate district that covers Madison, Crockett, Dyer, Lake and Lauderdale counties. Swarmed by more than 200 well-wishers, Jackson kick-started his campaign with a fundraiser at the home of Fiona and Jonathan Harlan on Thursday. “When I was first asked to run, I thought, ‘Me?’ Jackson said. “Then I thought, why not? I’m a business owner and I know the lay of the land, and there are a lot of people who need help. There’s a lot to address, and I want to work for West Tennessee and District 27.”
Beginning in March, more than four million students will serve as guinea pigs for the English and math tests for the Common Core, a set of standards adopted by almost every state that map out what students should know and be able to do in each grade. Ultimately, Common Core tests will be used to assess both students and teachers, and they are critical to the larger mission of the standards: to increase academic rigor for all students and to allow states to better evaluate their students and compare them to those in other states.
The Cleveland Board of Education has proposed using money it expects to receive from Bradley County to help build a new Georgetown Road elementary school and a new gymnasium for Cleveland High. On Thursday, the board voted 7-0 in a special meeting to allocate whatever money comes from Bradley County whenever it funds the next county education capital project. If the next Bradley County Commission follows through with a plan approved by the current commission, the county should issue $12 million in bonds for rebuilding Lake Forest Middle School. According to a longstanding agreement between Bradley County and Cleveland, the county must raise $1 for the city school system for every $2 it raises for the county school system, based on student enrollment numbers.
As the clock keeps ticking and state financial losses mount, Gov. Bill Haslam’s failure to lead on the TennCare expansion issue now looks even worse. A provision in the Affordable Care Act could end up costing Tennessee small businesses millions in tax dollars because some of their employees don’t have access to expanded TennCare. We urge the governor to move ahead with TennCare expansion and get members of the General Assembly on the record with their votes. Haslam’s lack of urgency on TennCare expansion is hurting Tennesseans on many levels.