This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Launch Tennessee will kick off an expanded Venture Match program in Knoxville next week with the first of three area events scheduled. The program, which started last year, aims to connect entrepreneurs with potential investors and ultimately create new companies and jobs for the region. “We’re excited to be bringing back our Venture Match program, which provides an opportunity for inventors of technologies in East Tennessee to engage with investors, entrepreneurs and possible commercial partners in an informal setting. The more we can connect people the more likely we can create a match,” said Jim Stefansic, director of commercialization at Launch TN, a public-private partnership focused on supporting the development of high-growth companies.
Gov. Bill Haslam credits his wife, Crissy, with discovering that water bills at the governor’s official residence have been out of line by thousands of dollars per month for three years, according to a Nashville TV station. “My wife kept saying, ‘I’d like to see the utility bills here,’ ” Haslam told WSMV-TV. “Nobody had been paying attention to that.” Upon examination, it turned out the water bills ran as high as $6,358 per month with five monthly bills running over the $5,000 level. All dated back to a 2010 renovation of the executive residence during Gov. Phil Bredesen’s tenure when construction workers apparently damaged a water line and caused a leak.
An hour into the Affordable Care Act signup event Saturday morning at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, organizers had fewer than 10 takers for help getting health insurance. There was hope that some of the scores of people attending the health fair in another wing of the church would heed the “Obamacare” signs and fliers and find their way to the waiting volunteers. “I know there are people over there who don’t have health insurance — that’s why they’re there, to get free screenings,” said Mary Wilson, an outreach volunteer with Tennessee Health Care Campaign, which is co-sponsoring enrollment events all over East Tennessee through the end of March.
A trio of top business leaders from across Tennessee has launched the Tennessee Business Partnership, a new alliance of business leaders and organizations that plans to advocate for state government policies that promote job creation and business success. “Tennessee is on the move, but we should never take our success for granted,” said Rob McCabe, chairman of Pinnacle Financial Partners in Nashville, a founding board member of the new Tennessee Business Partnership, which is organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. “That’s why we will work to support smart and sensible state policies to help us create even more jobs and more opportunities for families and communities all across our great state.”
If you live under a governor, you mainly care about his or her ability to govern. If you don’t, and you’re in the political community, you primarily want to know whether a governor is presidential timber. Our general preference for governors has emerged over time. In the republic’s first eight decades, the presidency was gained by candidates best known for being generals, vice presidents and secretaries of state. That last category, in particular, stands out as a surprisingly significant presidential feeder: Six of the first 15 presidents had previously served as secretary of state.
The University of Memphis on Monday announced Dr. Andy Meyers has been named interim vice president for research, reinforcing the college’s new research focus. Meyers has served as vice provost for research at the university since 2003. In the new role, he will report directly to the president, interim president Brad Martin. Previously, he reported to the provost, Dr. M. David Rudd. “This change elevates the role of research, provides a voice at the highest administrative levels, and sets the stage for expanding research support and infrastructure on campus,” Rudd wrote to U of M faculty on his provost’s blog.
House lawmakers on a committee taking a look at the budget for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on Wednesday say they have some hard questions for agency officials. Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said it “blew my mind” to learn the department plans to spend more than half a million dollars this year for each resident remaining at Clover Bottom Developmental Center, an institution that once housed more than 1,500 people but now has just 40. State officials promised to close the facility years ago. “There will be a lot of questions about how we are dealing with people there,” said Odom, who noted a court review of the facility revealed some of those residents were not receiving needed care.
Two Tennessee lawmakers have proposed a bill that would protect wedding-related businesses from lawsuits if they refuse to provide services based on religious beliefs. Republican Sen. Mike Bell, of Riceville, and Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn are sponsoring the proposal. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports it is expected to be reviewed by the Senate today in the wake of recent court rulings in other states striking down bans on same-sex marriage. Bell said he thinks Tennessee’s ban will be overturned eventually and the bill would protect the religious beliefs of business owners. American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the bill “is clearly written” to target gay, lesbian and transgender couples and is discriminatory. Bell disagreed.
The General Assembly is considering a bill that would change the way insurance companies negotiate contracts with doctors and hospitals. The bill, called the Health Care Provider Stability Act, is backed by the Tennessee Medical Association, which counts more than 8,000 physicians statewide among its membership. Should the bill pass, Tennessee would be the only state in the country that would require insurers to renegotiate contract specifics with payers every year. The central issue, according to TMA’s vice president of advocacy, Yarnell Beatty, is that physicians rely on insurance companies to refer patients through provider networks.
School board members from across the state are to be in Nashville Tuesday, buttonholing lawmakers for help with and protection against the reforms changing the nature of school. In Shelby County, the most emotional conversations will be over funding, vouchers and bills giving charter schools more latitude, including one revived from last year that would give the state authority to approve charter schools. “Our Number One issue with the state is more funding for education,” said board chairman Kevin Woods.
Curtains make do as doors and lockers form walls of makeshift classrooms inside cramped, cash-strapped DeKalb Middle School in the wooded hills of the Upper Cumberland region. But there’s no way to jury-rig what the school really needs: Chromebook computers, updated software and bandwidth. Like all local school districts in Tennessee, DeKalb County schools are preparing for new computerized testing that aligns with Common Core academic standards, which have phased into the state’s classrooms in recent years. Right now, the 600 students at the county’s middle school — a 1970s “open-space” building in Smithville — take turns to use a single computer lab with just 30 computers, about 70 shy of what is needed.
Evaluations, not Common Core standards, are causing headaches for Knox County schoolteachers, according to some county commissioners. Tony Norman, Mike Brown and others met Friday to review discussions from a Feb. 7-8 retreat between the school board and commissioners. Neither Norman nor Brown appeared pleased with the leadership of the school board or Superintendent Jim McIntyre. “The elephant in the room is the evaluations,” Norman said about a teacher survey and McIntyre’s reaction.
Bill Nye the Science Guy said now was not the time to deny that there is climate change. He debated Sunday with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who said there was no consensus on the issue among those in the scientific community. The pair were brought together on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with David Gregory, who asked whether there was a need for urgency on the part of the U.S. to contend with what’s being called “extreme weather.” The discussion was preceded by a montage of weather phenomena from floods to snowstorms that have gripped the nation.
Republicans fighting a unionization effort at a Volkswagen plant painted a grim picture before last week’s vote. They said if employees joined the United Auto Workers, jobs would go elsewhere and incentives for the company would disappear. Now that workers in the Southern state of Tennessee have rejected the UAW in a close vote, Republicans are feeling pressure to fulfill its promises that keeping the union out means more jobs will come rolling in across the Southeast, where foreign-owned, non-union plants have proliferated. The Volkswagen vote denied the UAW its goal of expanding into the South.
Organized-labor officials reeling over Friday’s defeat of a union-organizing vote by auto workers in Tennessee are vowing to fight back in part by strengthening and mobilizing allies in Southern states. The vote, in which workers at a Volkswagen AG VOW3.XE -1.21% plant in Chattanooga rejected the United Auto Workers 712-626, is a setback to organized labor in a region that unions see as key to their growth. It also is seen as a bitter defeat because VW itself didn’t oppose the union, and if the drive were successful, it could have built momentum for organizing at other auto plants. “It wasn’t just a loss for the UAW, it was a loss for the AFL-CIO and the entire labor movement,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
Three years ago, Marcia Griffin went door to door in the inner city, meeting with dozens of parents to pitch her idea for a new charter school in Chattanooga. She quibbled with the Hamilton County Board of Education for approval and finally opened her elementary school in the Eastgate Town Center, between a call center and a nightclub. Now, the Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence has a waiting list. After only a couple of years, its test scores are starting to rival those of the public school system. And the school is looking to expand with the addition of a new middle school campus, either at Eastgate or another location.
Is Georgia’s bid to tap the Tennessee River a bluff? Or is it a ticking bomb that could cost Tennessee parts of Chattanooga, East Ridge, St. Elmo and Lookout Mountain? The answer may be clearer soon. The clock is winding down for Tennessee to accept what a Georgia legislator described as a “gift”: 66.5 square miles Georgia says it lost almost 200 years ago when a surveyor misdrew the state line south of where it belongs. Georgia lawmakers say Tennessee can have the strip of land — and its 30,817 residents — provided the Volunteer State gives up an unpopulated 1.5 square miles near Dade County so a pipeline could be built to pump up to 1 billion gallons a day from Nickajack Lake to water-thirsty Atlanta.
The blue-collar employees at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga have spoken — by a 712-626 vote last week, they rejected representation by the United Auto Workers and a German-style “works council” that would come with it. With the vote in the rear-view mirror, now it is time to focus on the future of Volkswagen in Tennessee, primarily its possible expansion to build a new sport utility vehicle and the effort to recruit suppliers to the Volunteer State. VW’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn, announced at the Detroit auto show last month that a seven-passenger SUV will go on sale in the U.S. in 2016, The Associated Press reported.
GOP lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, are elated that hourly workers at the Volkwagen plant in Chattanooga rejected joining the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). Workers rejected the union by a vote of 712 to 626 last week. The defeat was considered a major blow to the union’s efforts to mobilize workers in the South. The effort to unionize workers at the plant was a labor issue between the UAW, the plant’s 1,550 hourly workers and Volkswagen. Still, we think the fear mongering in which conservatives and GOP lawmakers engaged to discourage the workers from joining the UAW was disappointing.