This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Amazon says it is hiring more than 2,500 full-time workers at its order fulfillment centers around the U.S. Amazon.com Inc. plans to announce Wednesday that the jobs are available in Chester, Va., and Petersburg, Va.; Coffeyville, Kan.; Columbia, S.C.; Dupont, Wash.; Murfreesboro, Tenn. The world’s largest online retailer says last year it hired more than 20,000 people at its fulfillment centers, with more than half starting out as seasonal workers. Amazon says the median income for people working at its order-fulfillment facilities is higher than at traditional retailers.
San Francisco-based Eventbrite announced today plans to set up a Nashville operations and hire 45 customer support workers. Nashville was one of several cities in the running for the new ticketing company’s office, according to a release, to “bridge the gap between the Southeast and Silicon Valley.” The company will begin hiring this week and intends to have individuals trained and working by the beginning of April. Employees will have the choice to work from home or in a co-working space facilitated by Eventbrite.
Novameta Specialty Products, a metal products manufacturer, will relocate its headquarters and manufacturing to Lebanon. The move to Wilson County represents an investment of $8.6 million and will create 43 new jobs over the next four years. Currently headquartered in Wyckoff, N.J., Novamet has purchased the former Toshiba manufacturing facility in the Lebanon Industrial Center and plans to develop the site into a center of manufacturing businesses.
His state is surrounded by Republican governors who have grown hesitant of Common Core — either outright condemning the new education standards or at least wavering in support. Leaders of South Carolina, Indiana and Louisiana make up that list. But Gov. Bill Haslam, another Republican in a similarly red state, is leaving little room for negotiation as conservative-led legislative attempts mount in Tennessee to roll back the standards or delay the companion Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test. His message is much the same as it was last summer: Don’t back down now.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was on the guest list for a glitzy state dinner for French President Francois Hollande at the White House. The Republican governor last month blamed scheduling conflicts for missing a planned tarmac meeting with Democratic President Barack Obama when he visited Nashville for a speech to McGavock High School. But that didn’t stop Haslam from being among the 350 people invited to the Tuesday dinner that was scheduled to include a performance from Mary J. Blige and feature a menu ranging from caviar to cotton candy dusted with orange zest. Invitations to state dinners have been especially coveted in recent years.
Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Chrissy Haslam are among the guests at tonight’s state dinner for French President Francois Hollande. Hollande, marking the first state visit by a foreign leader in more than two years, arrived at the White House earlier today in a ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance. The festivities continue this evening with a formal state dinner on the White House South Lawn, which will include food from across the country. Entertainment will be provided by singer Mary J. Blige.
University of Memphis Provost M. David Rudd unveiled plans Monday to plug part of the university’s $20 million budget hole for the 2014-2015 school year by trimming costs in academic affairs by $10.6 million. The university’s fiscal year begins July 1. While the $10.6 million budget cut to academic affairs spared faculty and staff positions — at least for now — the cuts still do “damage to the university,” said Richard Evans, U of M Faculty Senate President. Another $4.5 million in cuts will be rolled into the next fiscal year. “We understand the financial situation we are in and that we needed to make cuts,” Evans said.
Moderate Republicans may have kept Tennessee’s Governor from having his hands tied regarding Medicaid expansion. They voted with Democrats Tuesday on the powerful Senate Finance Committee to leave the state’s options open. The bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) started last year as an effort to block Tennessee from accepting federal money associated with the Affordable Care Act meant to cover hundreds of thousands of the working poor. The Haslam Administration opposed Kelsey’s first bill. So the proposal was watered down a couple of times to the point that it just required the governor to get the legislature’s OK before expanding Medicaid, which he said he would do anyway.
The wine-in-food-stores bill won approval Tuesday in the House Finance Committee and its sponsors say it’s likely headed for a House floor vote Feb. 20. Despite its easy passage on an unrecorded committee voice vote, there was some pushback by committee members on anti-competitive measures written into the compromise bill. Rep. David Alexander pressed the sponsors on why it requires a mandatory markup of at least 20 percent between the wholesale and retail price of a bottle of wine. “I have a concern about the State of Tennessee delving down that deeply into free enterprise. As a matter of principle, I just question that,” said the Winchester Republican.
A bill aiming to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores across the state continued its buoyant rise through the state capital Tuesday, garnering quick approval by the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee. The legislation, popularly called the wine-in-grocery-stores bill, will now go to the full House floor for a vote, possibly as soon as next week. If signed into law, it will allow jurisdictions across the state that already allow either liquor by the drink or retail package stores to hold referendums to decide if food stores can sell wine.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and fellow Senate Republicans are pushing a bill delaying for one year new Internal Revenue Service rules GOP lawmakers say can “target” political speech by nonprofit groups. In a news release, Alexander said the rules fail to “protect the First Amendment rights of the American people.” A lead sponsor of the bill, Alexander also said he’s joining colleagues in signing a letter to the IRS’s new commissioner, John Koskinen, asking him to reconsider the rules. “The IRS violated the First Amendment rights of the American people when it created what amounted to an enemies list of conservatives, including Tennessee tea party groups, to keep people quiet,” Alexander said.
New polling released by Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election campaign shows the Tennessee Republican with a better than 3-to-1 lead over his GOP primary opponent, state Rep. Joe Carr. The Feb. 3-6 survey of 600 likely GOP primary voters, who have voted in previous Republican primaries, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. The survey was conducted by Alexander’s longtime pollster, Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion Research. According to Ayres’ polling memo, the survey shows Alexander stands at 62 percent in a head-to-head ballot test with Carr.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said Monday the Affordable Care Act should not force insurance companies to cover pregnancies, citing as a very personal example in that he and his wife were “fixed.” Roe, who was speaking at the Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Policy Summit, said President Barack Obama’s health care law was as thick as two old-style Sears and Roebuck catalogues, a “monstrosity” that needed getting rid of and a plan that is “impossible to tweak,” according to an online report by The Raw Story. The headline, which may or may not deserve some ironing out, depending on your take, reads: “Rep Phil Roe: Obamacare shouldn’t cover pregnancies because my wife is fixed.” The story said Roe spoke to the group Tuesday. He did not.
They are a diverse group of low-income people who are disabled or elderly. Many have multiple chronic illnesses, or are battling depression or substance abuse. Most will need long-term care at some point in their lives. In the nearly 50 years since Medicaid and Medicare were enacted, the two health care programs – one for the poor and the other for the elderly and disabled – have remained separate, with different rules, duplicative benefits and conflicting financial incentives. The result has been wasted money and disjointed care for more than 10 million “dual eligibles,” the Americans who qualify for both programs.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, who’s heading the government’s “Red Team” looking for alternatives to the ultraexpensive Uranium Processing Facility, said the effort will be of short duration but “pretty intense.” “My marching orders are to have some recommendations by the middle of April,” Mason said in a telephone interview. Mason last week attended a meeting of national lab directors in Denver, where he outlined the his team’s assignment and enlisted their support in making available top experts for the high-priority project.
Workers at Volkswagen’s lone U.S. plant in Tennessee are kicking off a three-day election about whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers union. If the union succeeds, the Chattanooga plant would become the first among foreign automakers in the South to unionize. That’s a prospect that strikes dread among Republican politicians in the state, who say they worry about losing a competitive edge in drawing future business to Tennessee. Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who played a key role in bringing Volkswagen to Tennessee, has been among the most vocal critics of the union drive.
Detroit’s troubles have been front and center in the heavy campaign by union opponents seeking to dissuade workers at Volkswagen’s lone U.S. assembly plant from voting for representation by the United Auto Workers. Billboards near the Chattanooga plant have linked the UAW to shuttered auto plants in Detroit, and Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker repeatedly returned to the city’s bleak fate during a press conference Tuesday. Corker said a UAW win at the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant would be a blow to the pro-business culture the city has built and hurt efforts to lure other companies.
Around the dining room table in his Riverview home, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., led the pitch to Volkswagen officials in 2008 that helped convince VW to build its $1 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga — the biggest industrial investment ever in the Scenic City. Corker, a former builder, developer and Chattanooga mayor, said he was so emotion-filled when he learned of Volkswagen’s plans to build in his hometown that he was speechless and had to excuse himself from a Senate hearing. “I knew how dramatic of an impact this would have on so many people in our community,” Corker recalled Tuesday.
Senator Bob Corker says it wouldn’t make sense for Volkswagen employees to invite the UAW into the Chattanooga plant. A union vote is scheduled for tomorrow. Corker maintains he’s not anti-union, but has little good to say about the United Auto Workers. Speaking to Chattanooga radio station WGOW, he encouraged workers to look at the way the economy in Detroit has largely crumbled, saying the UAW played a role in that decline. And closer to home, Corker referred to Tennessee’s unionized General Motors plant and the way production there has started and stopped several times through the years.
A new front in the battle over unionization at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant opened in full-throated partisan fashion at the Tennessee Capitol on Monday. Democrats took shots at Republicans for taking shots at United Auto Workers, and for suggesting that future state government-funded financial inducements for plant expansion might evaporate under the GOP supermajority if the union comes to town. Republicans made no apologies. They argue that UAW gaining a foothold in the region would have deleterious consequences for future business recruitment to Chattanooga and beyond — and workers ought to take that into consideration before deciding whether or not they want UAW representing them.
Nashville’s Head Start program could undergo a shakeup after teachers scored below hundreds of other cities in a national review of classroom quality. The score, released this month, was just low enough to open up a competition among organizations that want to run the federal preschool program here in the future. That’s a first for Nashville, where the Metropolitan Action Commission has operated Head Start for almost 50 years. The city’s anti-poverty division oversees a $14 million Head Start budget serving almost 1,500 low-income children, ages 3 to 5.
Crews on Monday began gutting a medical building on Sullins Street, a secluded byway off Concord Street near Kingston Pike, to prepare for renovations that will result in a new regional forensic center for East Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam included $4.25 million in his proposed spending plan to pay for the center, which will serve a 22-county region. Though Haslam’s budget requires cuts throughout most state departments, the governor’s inclusion of the funding recognizes the facility’s importance to East Tennessee law enforcement.
State legislation backed by Metro Nashville, supposedly to protect the privacy of victims of sexual assault, has many implications for our state, but helping rape victims is not among them. Senate Bill 2254 is first and foremost an attempt to intimidate news media organizations throughout Tennessee, as they pursue a lawsuit against Metro over its refusal to release records in the rape investigation involving former Vanderbilt University football players. The Tennessean is among the news organizations that filed the suit last week. But the ramifications of this bill go far beyond a single, high-profile rape case, and it is this that is most worrisome.
It’s a bit shocking in this day and time that a state legislator would file a bill that would take away an individual’s rights. That is what a bill filed by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, would do if it is approved by the Tennessee General Assembly. The bill, SB2566/HB 2467, would permit people and religious or denominational organizations, based on sincere religious belief, to refuse to provide services or goods in furtherance of a civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the Tennessee Constitution.
It’s a union election. It concerns more than 1,500 hourly workers and Volkswagen in Chattanooga. But with politicians wildly gesticulating on every podium from here to Nashville, you would think it was government business. It isn’t. A vote of workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant to formally accept the United Auto Workers union bid to help VW establish a works council here is a worker and company decision. All the politicking serves is to show us once again how petty and partisan and full of themselves many of our elected officials really are. Why all the fuss? Because this vote is historic.
Some 20 states have refused to expand their Medicaid programs to cover uninsured low-income people, an important element of the health reform law. Now several states that had been opposed, mostly for ideological reasons, are seeking to cover newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries through private insurance. They want to redirect the very generous federal matching funds that would be provided for expanding Medicaid and use the money instead to provide subsidies for eligible people to buy insurance on health care exchanges. The idea makes sense, politically and substantively, provided the coverage is comprehensive and there are safeguards to protect poor people from unaffordable premiums and co-payments.