This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Fresh off the union defeat at Volkswagen Chattanooga, Gov. Bill Haslam will discuss Tennessee’s high-tech industrial future Thursday at a Washington think tank. Haslam and other state elected leaders assailed the United Auto Workers in a campaign that unfolded before VW employees voted Friday against joining the Detroit union. An appearance at the Brookings Institution will be the first broad public arena for Haslam since the vote. He’ll appear with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Haslam, a Republican, and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, separately have touted advanced manufacturing to build their state’s economic base. Brookings recently completed a study on each state, resulting in Thursday’s forum.
Tennessee’s economic development chief says the state will market the Memphis Regional Megasite to union manufacturers, despite the successful opposition by Gov. Bill Haslam and some state lawmakers to unionization of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. Reporters asked Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the Department of Economic and Community Development whether his agency would not try to recruit a unionized U.S. automaker to the Haywood County site given the governor’s opposition to the United Auto Workers at VW and threats by some legislators to deny VW future state incentives for potential expansion if its employees affiliated with the UAW in last week’s three days of voting.
Tennessee officials promoting a 6-square-mile “mega site” outside Memphis say it would be ideally suited for a new auto assembly plant — even if its workers are represented by the United Auto Workers union. Those comments by Bill Hagerty, the chief economic development official in Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Cabinet, come after attempts by the UAW to represent workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga that were heavily criticized by the governor and other GOP politicians in the state. The UAW ultimately lost the Volkswagen union in a 712-626 vote last week, and state has since re-engaged in invectives talks with the German car maker.
Cheatham County is joining Gov. Bill Haslam in his efforts to improve affordable access to education and enhance workforce development in Tennessee. During the State of the State address on Feb. 3, Haslam emphasized his dedication to improving education opportunities for Tennessee citizens through a new program, Tennessee Promise. The Tennessee Promise will provide all Tennessee high school graduates with the opportunity to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) free of tuition and provide them a mentor to support their success.
A new report shows human sex trafficking is a problem found in rural areas of Tennessee as well as urban. Wednesday the TBI released a study on the geography of human trafficking in Tennessee. Researchers found sex trafficking cases were reported more often by social service workers than by law enforcement. Knox County is among four counties that reported more than 100 sex trafficking cases involving minors. Roane County reported between 26 and 100, and Sevier County reported between 16 and 25 cases. TBI researchers say children who live in poverty may be particularly at risk.
Tennessee’s fines for driving without a seat belt would more than double under a Haslam administration bill that Safety Department officials say is needed to cut the death toll on Tennessee highways. House Transportation Subcommittee members approved the bill on a 7-2 vote, clearing the way for the measure to proceed to the full committee and at least three other panels after that. The Senate version has yet to move. The bill boosts fines for not wearing a seat belt from $10 to $25 on first offense and $50 for second and subsequent offenses. “As you know one of our primary goals is to reduce fatalities,” Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said after the vote.
Jim Henry, commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services, talked up his agency’s plans to roll out new technology at a hearing on its budget Wednesday. Henry said placing tablet computers in the hands of field agents will boost productivity and reduce the time they spend filing reports. Tennessean investigations of DCS records in child-death cases have found numerous instances of late or improperly filled-out paperwork. The department has asked to spend $556,500 on mobile technology during the 2014-15 budget year, which starts July 1.
Tennessee’s main law enforcement agency released a more detailed version of a human sex trafficking study Wednesday that was previously released in 2011. “Many across the state questioned the validity of the results of the 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation/Vanderbilt study indicating that the number of cases overstated the problem of sex trafficking in Tennessee,” the new report states. The report, which features cases highlighted in each county or quotes from participants, goes on to state that sex trafficking is actually understated. “The first study was more about data collection.
The state has run into even more delays in recent days in moving residents from Clover Bottom Developmental Center, officials with the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities conceded Wednesday. Forty residents still remain at the state’s oldest institution for people with intellectual disabilities. The facility was slated to close in 2010, but a series of delays has pushed the closure date to May 2015. Meanwhile, the cost of caring for such a small number of people on a campus built for 1,500 has climbed to more than $1,400 per resident for each day they remain at the facility.
A 22-year-old man released from care by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has been found in Memphis and was being transported to a temporary care facility Wednesday night. Matthew Baker signed himself out of DIDD care last Thursday. His mother, Marianne Webster, said she has been frantic with worry since, and that no one with the department or the private agency in Cookeville, Tenn., that cared for Baker had contacted her. Baker has an IQ of 60, the equivalent of an 8-year-old child. He has attempted to kill himself and to harm others in the past.
State officials are helping Tennesseans prepare for severe weather. Tennessee Severe Weather Awareness Week began Sunday and ends Saturday. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service and other supporting groups are using the week to conduct educational activities and drills to help people prevent injuries and deaths from tornadoes, damaging winds, flash floods, lightning and hail. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history. On April 3 and April 4, 1974, 148 twisters touched down in 13 states, leaving 330 people dead and injuring more than 5,000.
It is hard to tell exactly how many members of the general public are worked up about the issue of Common Core educational standards, but there are clearly enough, on both sides of the political spectrum, to bedevil the Tennessee General Assembly as it prepares to wade into the issue. The most recent legislative pillar to find that out was District 10 state Senator Dolores Gresham, the Somerville Republican who heads the Senate Education Committee and, as such, has been entrusted with the introduction of bills supportive of Common Core, the set of educational standards that are due to become effective in 45 of the 50 states this year.
Lawmakers trying to decide on a limited school voucher program in Tennessee or a broader one say they’re close to reaching an agreement on legislation. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville is carrying a proposal for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam that’s limited to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools. He had that measure withdrawn last year when Senate Republicans sought to expand to a larger number of children. The measure now being proposed by Sen. Brian Kelsey is still broader, affecting students attending the bottom 10 percent of failing schools.
The state senator tasked with passing Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher proposal says he’s not in negotiations with a lawmaker pushing for a more expansive version. Any voucher program would divert state education dollars to help poor families afford tuition at private schools. Haslam’s administration wants a relatively small voucher program—a sort of test batch of a few thousand to start out. Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey has pushed for a broader rollout, and says he’d like to reach a compromise with the administration this year. There’s just one problem, says Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris: “I know there are people who want to think there are great negotiations underway, and I’m not aware of any. I just want to get on with the bill. Seriously.”
A bill before Tennessee lawmakers would allow undocumented students the chance to attend state run colleges while paying in-state tuition, a move being praised by local education leaders. “It seems to be a matter of fairness that these kids who’ve worked hard and played by the rules should have this opportunity,” says Meredith Libbey with Metro Nashville Public Schools. On Tuesday Nashville Schools Superintendent Dr. Jesse Register sent a letter to Governor Haslam urging him to push the bill forward, saying in part, “This is an effort to take action at the state level to ensure we keep the best and brightest students here in Tennessee.”
Metro Nashville Director of Schools Jesse Register is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to support “tuition equality” for undocumented students in Tennessee. In a letter sent to the governor Tuesday, the superintendent urged Haslam to support making in-state tuition at universities available to all high school graduates, including undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. He also applauded Haslam’s new plan to offer free tuition at Tennessee’s two-year colleges, but believes it too should be available to high school graduates who are undocumented. “This is not an effort to address immigration issues,” Register wrote.
One of Tennessee’s leading advocates of legalizing medical marijuana says he’s “encouraged and energized” by the results of a recent poll showing strong public opinion in favor of allowing doctors to prescribe the currently banned herb. “To learn that fewer than one in five Tennesseans would oppose a medical cannabis program here really makes clear that there’s no time like the present to initiate that process,” said Bernie Ellis, a Maury County resident who has for years been lobbying state and federal politicians to ease marijuana laws to allow for seriously ill and dying patients to obtain it.
Some state lawmakers appear poised to tackle the issue of texting and driving. The bill was one of several heard Wednesday in a House Transportation and Safety Subcommittee. The proposal would include a warning on first offense if charged with texting and driving. Second offense would bring court cost and third offense would be a hefty $500 fine. “I think it’s important that we somehow or another get people to understand you do not need to be on a cell phone or hold any other hand held device in your hand while you’re driving,” said Democratic Representative Johnny Shaw of Bolivar.
The Tennessee Senate approved legislation that would increase access to a drug that is capable of bringing people who have overdosed, back from the dead. The drug is called naloxone, or Narcan, and can be used as an antidote for a variety of opiates, including heroin. Tennessee’s bill is sponsored by Senator Doug Overby of Maryville. It would allow doctors to prescribe naloxone to a person at risk of overdose, or to a family member, friend or other person in a position to help someone experiencing an overdose. A House subcommittee was scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday.
State Sen. Bill Ketron told callers Wednesday night that he’s interested in Tennessee participating in a constitutional convention to protect states rights from the federal government. – “Washington sure isn’t looking after us,” Ketron told people participating in his Telephone Town Hall event. “They (federal officials) just want to cram more mandates on us. We should have states’ rights.” – Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican who represents Senate District 13, said it would take 34 states to call for the convention and 38 to ratify any changes to the U.S. Constitution.
Spring forward and fall back, it’s a routine we’re all familiar with having to change our clocks. Now lawmakers in Tennessee want to break tradition by creating a more consistent time setting overall. If this bill passes it means we would spring forward this March and then we would never again change time. Essentially when the rest of the country turns their clocks back in this fall we would be one hour ahead of them. That means we would be one hour ahead of Eastern time for about four months out of the year. Seconds, minutes, hours always racing, but time seems to stand still when we’re cozied up in bed sleeping.
When Stephen Cardiges slipped into unconsciousness from a heroin overdose in the back of a Honda Civic two years ago, his two companions just kept driving around suburban Atlanta, hoping Stephen would come to on his own. They didn’t want to call 911 or the police, for fear of inviting their own arrests for drug use. But Cardiges, an Eagle Scout who planned to join the U.S. Navy after he turned 21 the following week, never regained consciousness. His brief life ended in the backseat of the Honda that Sunday summer evening, barely two miles from the nearest hospital. Stephen Cardiges was another casualty in what can only be called an epidemic.
A Knoxville CEO who began an innovative outdoor advertising business announced he’s expanding and creating dozens of new jobs. Matt Tunstall is the founder of Stall Talk. The company wraps graphics around porta-potties to create large billboards at sporting events and outdoor festivals. In downtown Knoxville Wednesday, Tunstall announced Stall Talk received a $1 million investment, and he already has plans to create 50 to 60 jobs. “If every entrepreneur started out making jobs for the community, then a lot more people would be standing in this position. I think that most people are just concerned about making money. I think we just need to refocus our entrepreneurial community on adding value, not creating value,” said Tunstall.
Volkswagen’s top labor representative threatened Wednesday to try to block more investments by the car maker in the South if its workers aren’t unionized, though a Chattanooga anti-United Auto Workers group termed it “spoiled grapes.” Bernd Osterloh, a member of VW’s powerful supervisory board and head of the automaker’s works council in Germany, said he could “imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the South again.”
The Shelby County Commission’s education committee failed on Wednesday to send either of the proposed district maps for the county school board to the full commission with a recommendation, rejecting seven-member and nine-member maps. The failed resolution for a seven-member map was sponsored by Commissioner Steve Basar and would have allotted each district about 100,000 residents while removing the suburban municipalities. Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed a nine-member map that also carved out the municipalities, but had about 84,000 people per district and is drawn to protect the incumbents.
The Shelby County Schools board spent an intense hour Wednesday hearing what it will take to rezone thousands of students, in some cases with 16-mile bus rides, to schools it will operate in the fall. As expected, the lion’s share of the change affects families in the eastern reaches of the district where six new municipal districts will emerge this summer. The biggest change, in terms of numbers of students uprooted, will be in high schools because there are fewer of them. In other cases, finding space for hundreds of elementary students now attending Riverdale, in the new Germantown system, will require the group be split and bused to Cordova Elementary and Germantown Elementary.
Florida’s State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday morning to amend the Common Core State Standards, a move that opponents said won’t end the debate over the educational benchmarks. “The standards go into place, and next month we expect to have the assessment in place,” said Joe Follick, spokesman for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s office, noting that 100 amendments — the big changes including cursive handwriting and calculus curriculums — have been added to the standards adopted in 2010.
It is eerie and sad that 40 people continue to live in the 90-year-old Clover Bottom Developmental Center, built to accommodate about 1,500 people. The rest have moved on to assisted home care and smaller modern facilities. Clover Bottom residents, all with intellectual disabilities that prevent them from being able to care for themselves or who need around-the-clock care, are casualties of Tennessee’s safety net — which far too often more closely resembles a spider’s web. After severe problems were identified in 1997, Clover Bottom was scheduled to close in 2010, but currently the prediction is that the last residents will leave by May 2015.
These days the Republicans have a supermajority, filibuster-proof, relatively homogeneous group of conservatives in charge of the Legislature. There are two types—conservative and more conservative. They can really do whatever they damn well please and I think it pleases them to do quite a bit. I suspect they have only just begun. They have begun transferring power from the governor’s office to themselves as they assume more responsibility. By the time Gov. Bill Haslam leaves office, the governor’s job may be reduced to ribbon-cutting and the state of the state address. Under the state constitution, the governor is relatively weak. If you have the votes to pass a bill, you have the votes to override a gubernatorial veto.