This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
I come from a family of educators. My mother is a retired high school math teacher. Both of my sisters are elementary school teachers. In fact, the first person to cross the ocean in my family was a teacher in eastern Virginia. I was reared to believe that aside from a strong faith, nothing was more important than getting a good education. My daddy, who stopped school in the fourth grade and, as a result, was stymied throughout his professional life, was adamant that education was the key to our futures.
Education is all over the news these days. From the need for preschool to Common Core standards to Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” and “Tennessee Promise” programs, education is a hot topic. And well it should be. It is increasingly clear that jobs and people’s financial futures are being dictated by rapid advances in technology. Those who lack a good education are being left behind with little chance of ever catching up. Increasingly, elected officials, education professionals and community leaders realize that community growth, economic development and community viability are tied directly to education outcomes.
The name Haslam is English. But the Tennessee governor of that name ate dry-aged rib eye beef and American Osetra caviar with the president of France last week. Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife, Crissy, were on the guest list for Tuesday’s state dinner at the White House, where President Barack Obama hosted French President Francois Hollande. The governor, under a bit of fire for not meeting Obama when the president came to Nashville two weeks ago, told The Tennessean he would be at the White House, though he declined to say why. It’s not clear why Haslam made the cut for this particular event.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he hopes to start discussions as early as this week with Volkswagen about a new incentive package to help the manufacturer settle on the Chattanooga plant to produce a new line of SUVs. Speaking a day after workers at VW’s Chattanooga workers turned back a UAW bid to organize the plant, Haslam said “obviously having the SUV line there is still incredibly important to us for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a lot of jobs and two, the more different vehicles they’re producing down there the better it is for the future of the plant.” VW officials said they would “be in touch … after the vote,” Haslam said.
A group representing private four-year colleges in Tennessee opposes the funding mechanics of Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” proposal. Through a “last dollar” approach, it would provide two years of free community college or technical school tuition and fees to all high school graduates, starting in the fall of 2015. However, four-year students in the first two years would receive less money from lottery proceeds but receive more the last two years. The Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association in a Feb. 7 statement said it opposes the funding of the program because it would take money away from four-year college students.
After more than a half century of marriage, Joost Koenig and Joann Koenig don’t take care of each other as well as they used to. She’s a retired nurse who can’t remember her own medicine regimen, let alone keep her husband on his. He’s a former electrical engineer with a debilitating neuromuscular disorder. They both rely on walkers, are prone to falls and have trouble toileting and bathing. He’s 89. She’s 82. Despite their issues, they don’t qualify for nursing home coverage through TennCare, the state’s insurance program for low-income seniors and residents with disabilities.
Advocates for people with intellectual disabilities called conditions at Clover Bottom Developmental Center “scary” and “concerning,” and they say they hope the long-delayed process of closing the Nashville facility moves forward as quickly as possible for the sake of people still left there. The Tennessean reported Feb. 9 on the ongoing health and safety concerns affecting 40 remaining residents at Clover Bottom, a 90-year-old institution that has been under court oversight for nearly two decades. The institution was slated for closure in 2010, but the process has run into many delays.
Executing prisoners is getting more and more difficult. State officials who want to enforce the death penalty struggle to find approved lethal injection drugs. Once they find those drugs, prisoners and their lawyers object to how they got them. And, when those state officials survive legal challenge after legal challenge, death penalty opponents object to what those drugs do — not just that they kill, but specifically how they kill. The general public still approves of the death penalty. But it’s not as popular as it used to be. According to a Gallup poll released last year, 60 percent of Americans support the execution of inmates who have been sentenced to death.
When Tennesseans spring forward into daylight-saving time next month, they will never fall back into standard time again under legislation that has cleared its first step toward passage in the General Assembly. “It will be great for the farmers. It will be great for the school kids,” said Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, sponsor of HB1909. “I’ve talked to many businesses and folks across the state about this and I’ve not got one negative comment about this bill.” As amended in the House State Government Subcommittee, the bill simply declares that Tennessee will drop out of the ritual of moving clocks forward an hour each year on the second Sunday in March, then back again on the first Sunday in November.
The bill that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores is set to go before the full Tennessee House Thursday, but significant obstacles remain before the bill clears the General Assembly and can be signed by the governor. “I really don’t know where it will end up,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said. Under Tennessee law, wine is only sold in state-licensed liquor stores. Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, local officials and grocery stores owners are worried that sales are being lost across the state line in Virginia, where wine can be purchased in grocery stores. A bill to allow local communities to hold a referendum on selling wine in grocery stores passed the state Senate last month in a 23-8 vote.
State Rep. Mike Turner has a tip for the Office of the Repealer: Check into repealing itself. The House Democratic Caucus chairman has filed a request with the Office of the Repealer — the state office that reviews state offices for redundant, unnecessary state offices — suggesting that maybe the office itself isn’t essential to state government. The request tweaks Turner’s Republican counterpart, state Rep. Glen Casada, who sponsored the bill that created the Office of the Repealer a year ago. Casada, R-Franklin, argued then that Tennessee law and state bureaucracy are riddled with outdated laws, rules and functions.
Early in the morning on Friday, Feb. 14, legislators representing West Tennessee showed their love for Dyer County by leading a Legislative Coffee at the Lannom Center. Hosted by the Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce, the event boasted a full house as residents showed up to hear the latest news from Nashville, sip a little coffee and do a little networking. State Sen. Lowe Finney and State Reps. Bill Sanderson and Craig Fitzhugh were invited to speak at the event. Representatives discussed bills slated for the upcoming session, including legislation addressing the Tennessee Promise initiative, the meth epidemic, Medicaid reform, school vouchers, wine in the grocery store, medical marijuana, and even daylight-saving time.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign said in a memo that went out Tuesday afternoon that the two-term Tennessee Republican holds a 3-to-1 edge over his closest opponent in the Republican primary. According to polling from North Star Opinion Research, a firm led by longtime Alexander adviser Whit Ayers, Alexander leads state Rep. Joe Carr 62 percent to 17 percent among likely Republican primary voters. Other GOP candidates trailed farther behind with Brenda Lenard drawing 2 percent and Danny Paige, 1 percent. Eighteen percent were undecided. North Star says it surveyed 600 likely Republican primary voters.
In the Republican response to the State of the Union address, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington lamented the travails of “Bette in Spokane,” whose insurance policy had been canceled because of the health care law and who faced huge premium increases to replace it. The reality for Bette Grenier of Chattaroy, Wash., was more complicated. She did dash off an angry letter to Ms. McMorris Rodgers, her congresswoman, in September, but on further exploration Ms. Grenier’s options were wider than she had thought. She qualified for a subsidized insurance plan through the health care law, an option she opposed philosophically. Instead, she bought insurance through a Christian ministry that is cheaper and better than her canceled policy.
UAW leaders on Friday said they will review all of their legal options and consider challenging the results of a devastating defeat in an election for union representation at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga. Workers at the German automakers plant voted against the UAW in a three-day election that ended Friday in a margin of 712-626. UAW President Bob King sharply criticized Tennessee politicians who he said scared workers away from voting in favor of union representation. Going into the election, the UAW thought it had support from a majority of the more than 1,500 workers who had an opportunity to vote.
It’s not every day that an election with just 1,338 participants winds up drawing a state governor, U.S. senator and even the president of the United States into the fray. But maybe it’s only to be expected when the election was all about the beleaguered United Auto Workers gaining a Southern toehold at a foreign auto manufacturer. That effort failed Friday night when hourly wage workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant voted 712 to 626 against union representation. In the months and especially in the final weeks leading up to the election, the unionization effort took on a hyperpolitical and partisan tone with overtones of hysteria normally associated with a presidential contest.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said today that the state has “re-engaged” in negotiations with Volkswagen over locating production for a new sport utility vehicle in Chattanooga. “I know [Volkswagen officials] want to get that behind them very quickly,” the Tennessee Republican said in a news conference a day after Chattanooga plant workers turned back a United Auto Workers organizing effort. Corker said he plans to have conversations with VW leadership next week related to the SUV production issue. “Hopefully, based on assurances we’ve been given, that will all work out,” Corker said.
Volkswagen workers cut off the march south for the United Auto Workers union last week. UAW President Bob King called the union defeat “a temporary setback” and vowed to continue organizing efforts in the traditionally non-union South. King also said the union’s legal staff “is reviewing all of our options,” including a possible challenge to the election results based on what he said were “threats and intimidation” by Tennessee Republican leaders. “One great thing about the UAW and one thing great about workers is that we don’t quit,” he said after workers rejected representation by the Detroit-based union.
Fresh from beating back a United Auto Workers bid to organize Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, some workers are eyeing the possibility of what one termed “a micro-union” in the factory. “That’s a good possibility,” said anti-UAW employee Ronnie Shaver about such an organized unit within the plant. “You could have a works council, too. That would benefit everybody.” U.S. Sen. Bob Corker also addressed the idea of some sort of employee bargaining group, minus the UAW, on Saturday in a news conference held hours after the union vote failed 712 to 626, or 53 percent to 47 percent.
A bill that would ostensibly protect the privacy of sexual assault victims in Tennessee would actually endanger criminal prosecutions and do nothing to lessen the anguish of the people it purports to help. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Knoxville Republican Becky Duncan Massey at the request of Metro Nashville government, would make all records containing virtually any information about a sexual assault victim confidential. “No portion of any report, paper, picture, photograph, video, court file, or other document in the custody or possession of any public officer or employee which identifies an alleged victim of a sexual offense shall be made available for public inspection or copying,” the bill reads.
With the passage of Valentine’s Day, it may be appropriate to observe that the honeymoon is over between Gov. Bill Haslam and the Legislature’s Republican supermajority — though bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolates and sentimental cards are still exchanged on appropriate occasions. Some troubles might have been foreseen at the outset of the bonding, marriage perhaps being an inappropriate analogy given the polygamous nature of the arrangement. There is, you might say, one gubernatorial groom and, at last count, 97 legislative brides — 26 Republican senators and 71 Republican representatives. The potential for problems is apparent.
News that state Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, is sponsoring a bill that would legalize the use of medicinal marijuana in Tennessee has distracted from the legislation’s potential to relieve a lot of suffering. The legislation (SB2451/HB1385) should be considered on its merits, not on who its sponsors are. Ford, whose actions during some previous legislative sessions raised a few eyebrows, is the only Senate sponsor. Eleven Democrats have signed on as sponsors of the House version. With Republican super majorities in both houses of the legislature, it appears the bill is unlikely to gain traction. That would be a shame.
Note: The news-clips will resume on Tuesday, February 18, 2014