This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with WS Packaging Group, Inc. officials today announced the company will expand its current operations in Knoxville by opening a new location in the PBR Building, located at 10215 Caneel Dr. In order to increase its operations to accommodate more industry market share, WS Packaging Group will also consolidate its Knoxville facilities to this more central location. The company will invest $43 million and create 231 new jobs.
A Wisconsin-based packaging products company announced Thursday it will invest $43 million in a Knoxville expansion that will create 231 new jobs. WS Packaging Group Inc. said it will consolidate production it now has in four buildings in Knoxville and one in Powell into a single building in Westbridge Business Park in West Knox County. The investment over the next two years will include adding new equipment “that will enable the company to increase production of digital label printing, flexographic printing, digital offset printing, and sheet-fed offset printing,” according to a news release.
A label manufacturing company is expanding its Knoxville operation, investing $43 million and creating 231 new jobs. WS Packaging Group, Inc. is expanding its current operations in Knoxville by opening a new location in the PBR Building, 10215 Caneel Drive. Its current Knoxville facilities will be consolidated in this new location. The company says the location will allow it to increase its operations to accommodate more industry market share. WS Packaging is one of the largest label converting operations in North America, operation 21 manufacturing facilities and producing high-quality packaging products.
There will be more than 200 new jobs in Knox County after Governor Bill Haslam, along with the Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC) and WS Packaging Group, Inc., announced Thursday a multi-million dollar expansion. WS Packaging announced a $43 million expansion of its current operations by opening up a new location in the PBR building in northwest Knox County. The company said the expansion will help increase operations, and also consolidate its Knoxville facilities. The company also said it would bring 231 new jobs to the area.
Gov. Bill Haslam spoke of his newest initiatives to promote education in the state — Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise — at the 22nd annual Friends of Scouting Dinner in Jackson on Thursday The dinner, which is a fundraiser for the West Tennessee Area Council Boy Scouts of America, was held at the Carl Perkins CivicCenter. About 375 people attended, including Boy Scouts from all over West Tennessee and their families. Tennessee Promise is an initiative to provide every graduating high school senior in the state with two years of free tuition at a community college or technical school. Drive to 55 is an initiative for 55 percent of adults in the state to have a post-secondary degree by 2025.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he is confident his plan to offer community college free of charge can pass the legislature, even though a similar proposal floundered seven years ago. Haslam on Thursday said that the difference between Tennessee Promise, the proposal he outlined in his State of the State speech Monday night, and Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s 2007 plan for free community college comes down to money — specifically, the availability of $300 million in surplus lottery reserves. Haslam has proposed putting that money into an endowment to cover the $34 million-a-year cost of Tennessee Promise.
Community college isn’t for everyone, but in Tennessee it soon could be free for just about everyone. Continuing his efforts to increase college completion, Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled an ambitious plan to offer two years of community college or technical school at no cost to all graduating high school seniors. He plans to use reserve lottery funds and restructure Hope scholarships — decreasing the amount freshmen and sophomores receive at four-year institutions and increasing the award for juniors and seniors. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen pitched a similar plan in 2006 but got no traction.
The idea of free tuition at Tennessee two year-colleges drew more explanation Thursday from Governor Bill Haslam. While calling it a “really big idea” that “can really make a difference,” the governor said he was “open to ideas” as his idea will wind through the legislature for approval. He addressed a question from some who wondered why the program would not be ready until 2015. “By the time it would get passed in April, there would not be enough time to have the financial aid forms filled out for this class,” said the governor after an appearance at the Tennessee Press Association.
Depending on your partisan leanings, it was either political calculation or a busy schedule that kept Gov. Bill Haslam away from President Barack Obama in Nashville last week. Or maybe it was just a crippling fear of setting off the presidential seat warmers again. Facing criticism over his absence during Obama’s recent visit, Haslam said there was nothing political about his decision. The governor, a Republican, told The Tennessean’s editorial board this week that he expects to see the Democratic president three times in the next few weeks.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam continued to speak out Thursday against unionization of the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, even as fellow GOP critic U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says further criticisms by him before next week’s vote aren’t appropriate. Haslam’s latest comments on the United Auto Workers union efforts came during a luncheon speech to the Tennessee Press Association. He touted Tennessee’s attractiveness as a “right-to-work state” and criticized the union during a question-and-answer session. “I’ve been fairly vocal in a way that some people have said, ‘Why is it your business?'” Haslam told editors and publishers attending the TPA’s winter meeting in Nashville.
While education dominated Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address Monday, health care remains on the front burner. Haslam discussed the subject, among others, while visiting with The Jackson Sun’s editorial board Thursday. “There are two walls pressing against us,” Haslam said. “Health care and education. Ten years ago, TennCare was 35 percent of our budget.” Haslam said former Gov. Phil Bredesen cut 170,000 people from the rolls and the budget for health care fell to 25 percent. “Five years later, it’s more than 30 percent of the budget,” Haslam said.
State transportation officials say they will try a few tweaks to relieve traffic at U.S. Highway 27 and Signal Mountain Road, but residents still will have to deal with delays until the ramp is complete at the end of March. Backed-up traffic at the Signal Mountain Road exit has snarled the daily northbound rush hour for thousands of motorists on U.S. 27 since a new permanent exit ramp opened Jan. 26. Kelsey Shipley, a manager at Crust Pizza on Signal Mountain Road, says she sees the traffic nearly every day. “The only thing we’ve noticed is how far back the traffic gets and for how long. We are used to seeing [rush hour traffic] for up to 30 minutes. Now it lasts more than an hour,” Shipley said.
Work began Thursday to solve the falling rock problem on Chapman Highway. Road crews closed the outside lane on the northbound side around 10 a.m. to remove loose rocks on a hillside near Ye Olde Steak House that could tumble into the travel lanes. Work continued into the afternoon, with more cleanup being scheduled for Friday, according to Mark Nagi, Region 1 community relations officer for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. At the site, Nagi explained that the TDOT crews were using an excavator to knock down loose rocks from the hillside for removal.
The road conditions also have caused headaches for drivers whose commutes have been slowed by construction or who have been in accidents. Nichole Lawrence, a TDOT community relations officer for West Tennessee, said Thursday the potholes are caused by a combination of factors. She said water that sinks down in the cracks of the pavement freezes, splitting the pavement, and when the temperature rises and the pavement thaws, it contracts. “We’ve had several rounds of low temperatures, which is making it harder for the pavement,” she said.
There’s a new twist in the tale about how the Haslam administration considered giving away a state office building to a big corporation. One of the governor’s commissioners is offering up an explanation for that novel idea, but that explanation raises some puzzling new questions. NewsChannel 5 Investigates had obtained a script, prepared for the governor to deliver in a video presentation for Sears, offering it the Tennessee Tower state office building. It was part of a 2011 effort to convince the retail giant to relocate its corporate headquarters to Tennessee. The recruitment effort was dubbed “Project Neptune.”
Lawmakers have proposed a number of measures this legislative session that seek to make changes to Tennessee’s Common Core standards. A panel discussion on the new benchmarks for reading and math was held at The Associated Press-Tennessee Press Association’s annual legislative preview session on Thursday. Panelist Harry Brooks is a Knoxville Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee. He says the legislation ranges from repealing parts of the standards to doing away with them altogether.
Speaker Beth Harwell on Thursday predicted that legislation to block local bans on guns in parks will reach the floor of the state House of Representatives, but, she said, she expects it to be amended to allow restrictions near children. The Nashville Republican said at a Tennessee Press Association conference that guns-in-parks legislation “is the will of the House” but there nonetheless may be room for a compromise that keeps guns away from children’s facilities. She said she favored leaving the power to decide where guns can be carried in the hands of state lawmakers.
The state’s top two lawmakers defended bills to repeal the authority of cities and counties to ban guns from local parks but one of the two, House Speaker Beth Harwell, said House members may let local governments keep gun bans in parks primarily used by children. Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Bristol, said state legislators have fewer qualms about dictating policy to local governments on gun issues than other matters because gun issues involve a federal and state constitutional right. The two spoke jointly Thursday at the annual Associated Press-Tennessee Press Association Newsmakers Session.
Nashville Republican Beth Harwell is defending a proposal to override cities in Tennessee that have bans on guns in local parks. Harwell is the speaker of the state House of Representatives, and the bill comes over the objections of Nashville’s mayor. Harwell argues people with handgun permits ought to be able to carry inside parks, while acknowledging some representatives have voiced concerns to her: “They’re worried about children in these local parks, so I think there might be an amendment to address the fact that the park is used by children or has childrens’ facilities there.”
Proposed legislation that would empower school systems to freely spend their budgets could lead down a slippery slope, according to Knox County Commissioner Mike Brown. He sent an email to commission Monday against the proposal. “After we have approved the budget, they can redirect money from department to department,” Brown said. “That’s just the elephant getting another foot in the door. Next thing, they’ll want a guaranteed raise, and then they’ll want taxing authority.”
Tennessee’s medical marijuana bill got its Senate co-sponsor this week, with Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, signing on. A staffer in Ford’s office said she had left by mid-afternoon Thursday and could not be reached. But supporters said they’re excited to have bills alive in both the Tennessee House and Senate. Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, with varying levels of availability and cost. “We’re grateful for all the legislators involved (for) at least considering and possibly passing the bill,” said Doak Patton, president of Tennessee National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
As more residents and businesses switch to cell or web-based phones rather than traditional land lines, a bill in the Tennessee legislature would create a new statewide uniform 911 fee that could be assessed on all phones. The proposed change would mean that Tennessee would be one of only a handful of states which has a single 911 monthly fee. If the bill is approved, the Volunteer State also would be among those with the highest fees, according to an analysis of the 911 funding proposal. Wireless 911 fees average about 77 cents a month. Currently, residential and business land line 911 rates vary from 45 cents to $3 depending on what the local county 911 board sets as a monthly fee.
The top House Democratic leader is asking the Obama administration to turn over documents detailing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s interactions with the administration on his Medicaid expansion proposal. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said in a statement to the Times Free Press that he took the unusual step of filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to see what the problems are that Haslam says has caused him to forgo expansion for now.
Tenn. Representative Richard Floyd (R–Dist. 27) from Chattanooga announced Thursday he will not seek re-election for State Representative in November. “The desire to spend more time with my family and the need to properly recover from recent surgery has prompted me to not seek re-election,” said Rep. Floyd, who has served since 2007. He is currently a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the House Local Government Committee and the House Local Government Subcommittee. “Serving District 27 in our State Government will always remain one of my life’s greatest experiences,” said Rep. Floyd.
Data from the annual MTSU Poll released Thursday indicated a lack of knowledge in Tennessee regarding Common Core — and the president of the teachers union in Rutherford County said that had everything to do with too quick of a rollout. In the survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they had not heard of the standards, while 38 percent said they had. “I have no idea if that 60 percent is just parents,” said Emily Mitchell, president of Rutherford Education Association. “But what I do know is that we’ve had to move very quickly to get all of this done. I think if we just slowed down and attempted to educate and get more parents on board with the knowledge, that would certainly help.”
The Common Core educational standards have caused wrangling among state lawmakers and spurred dozens of stories in the media, but a new poll from MTSU finds most Tennesseans unaware. Common Core is already in effect in Tennessee and many other states. Some commentators have equated it to a federal takeover, though it was technically crafted by a coalition of state officials. Other critics worry it could dumb down what’s taught in schools. But 58 percent of Tennesseans polled simply haven’t heard of it, says MTSU’s Jason Reineke.
People who earn interest from bonds, notes and stock dividends might support a possible reduction or even elimination of the Hall income tax on those investments. But for Tennessee municipalities such as Brentwood, which receives $2.2 million a year from it, getting rid of the tax would put a large dent in their budgets. “When that Hall tax goes away, the impact on our ability to do capital improvement projects would be significant,” said Brentwood City Manager Kirk Bednar. As cities begin to put their budgets together for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, they won’t know exactly how much money they will receive from this tax until August.
Memphis-based ServiceMaster, which has been in restructuring mode since spinning off its TruGreen division last year as a separate company, has eliminated 105 jobs at its corporate headquarters. Company officials on Thursday confirmed the layoffs, which include 40 vacant positions that will not be filled. The affected employees represent 8 percent of the staff at the ServiceMaster headquarters in East Memphis and three percent of the company’s total workforce in Shelby County.
Memphis-based ServiceMaster Co. has laid off 65 employees and eliminated another 40 vacant positions in a restructuring of its headquarters that began Wednesday, Feb. 5, and was confirmed Thursday. The total number of positions – 105 – amounts to 8 percent of the headquarters staff and is a result of the spin-off of ServiceMaster’s TruGreen division as a separate company, said ServiceMaster spokeswoman Alison Bishop. “With the TruGreen separation behind us, we’ve taken a fresh look at the overhead structures and associated costs to support ServiceMaster’s growth plans and ensure that we are operating effectively and productively,” Bishop said.
Shelby County Schools started the week with a budget gap of $103.7 million. By late Wednesday, it had been whittled down to $24 million, according to an update Supt. Dorsey Hopson sent board members. “I have directed all cabinet members to go back and make recommendations on how to make these additional cuts,” Hopson said in the message. “I have also advised everyone that if we cannot reach consensus, I will unilaterally decide which cuts to make.” He assured board members he would be presenting them a balanced budget, capitalizing the word “Balanced.”