This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The governor’s message that community college is affordable could do as much to attract high school seniors to campuses as the money they would receive as part of his plan to make two-year schools free. Researchers, analysts and higher education authorities around the country, while cautioning the importance of shoring up funding, have lauded Haslam’s scholarship plan for both providing new opportunities to students and drawing attention to the importance of pursuing a college education.
The state has launched Transparent Tennessee, which is designed to make public data more readily accessible for taxpayers searching online. The new site will include a searchable checkbook that will allow users to find state agency-related expenses, travel reimbursements and other information. It will also include links to public meetings, records information and a page for feedback. Other features include links to state audits and the salary database for state employees. “A state government that is accountable to Tennessee taxpayers is an important part of being customer-focused, efficient and effective,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in a news release.
Tennessee was not on Beretta USA’s original list of a dozen states as it considered sites for a new manufacturing and research and development facility. That’s just one detail that we share with readers in our latest cover story, “Project Clover: Inside the deal for Beretta.” State officials had to get Tennessee on the company’s radar by “beating the door down,” said Bill Hagerty, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. Hagerty’s team met Beretta executives in Maryland last April for an initial pitch.
Why Middle Tennessee and Italian gun-maker Beretta were a match On the evening of Sunday, Dec. 15, the conversation with Beretta ended. The weekend had been filled with a flurry of emails between the gun manufacturer and James Fenton, the executive director of economic development in Gallatin. And then, silence. For more than a week, there was no word from Beretta. Aside from speculation that the company might be considering another visit to Tennessee, Fenton had every reason to believe the Italian gun-maker had passed over the city.
Gov. Bill Haslam dismissed speculation Friday that he might run for president in 2016, saying it’s not something he is interested in pursuing. “I’m seriously not considering that or planning that one bit,” he said. Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who this year is running for his second term as governor, is sometimes mentioned as a possible dark horse GOP candidate for president. Just this week, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato included Haslam’s name on a list of governors who could potentially win the White House in two years.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam shrugged off complaints Friday that he had inserted himself too aggressively in an attempt by to stop workers at a Volkswagen plant in his state from unionizing. Instead, he said, federal laws passed years ago restricting less powerful forms of labor organizing tied his hands. “Maybe that was where the improper political argument was made,” Haslam, a Republican, said during POLITICO’s annual State Solutions Conference. Haslam, along with a slew of Republican and conservative leaders, urged workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to reject an effort by some employees to unionize under United Auto Workers. He argued that it would’ve led Volkswagen to shelve plans to build a new SUV line in Tennessee.
Drivers headed under the State Route 840 bridge on I-65 South will experience lane closures this weekend while a Tennessee Department of Transportation contract crew works to repair a bridge beam damaged by a truck. Two of three lanes of I-65 southbound at mile marker 59 will be closed while work is ongoing starting at midnight Saturday through 8 p.m. Sunday. “As sometimes will happen, a large truck hit the edge of the bridge a few months back and a bridge beam was damaged. Crews will be using a some heat straightening on that beam to get it back into shape,” said TDOT spokesperson Deanna Lambert.
House Speaker Beth Harwell said her members will consider offering unused school vouchers meant for low-income students to a larger economic swath of families. The idea of vouchers have split Republicans on Capitol Hill in the past two years, separating them into factions that range from wanting nothing to do with vouchers, those with having an interest in a limited program, and some wanting to give all parents financial help sending their children to private schools. Gov. Bill Haslam, whose administration is in negotiations with lawmakers over the so-called “opportunity scholarships,” refused to comment to the Post Thursday about what in his 2013 proposal is negotiable this year, saying “We’re in the middle of a lot of conversations.”
A fight over content in Tennessee’s social studies textbooks is part of an emerging national effort by groups who believe God commands Christians to support the nation of Israel and that Islamic radicals are the biggest problem in America. In Volusia County, Fla., a November school board meeting was canceled over safety concerns after textbook protesters showed up with anti-Islam signs. In January, representatives for ACT! for America and other anti-Islam groups vowed to fight on after the Alabama Board of Education dismissed allegations that 11 textbooks on the state’s social studies materials list were unfairly tilted toward Islam.
Issues debated in the Tennessee General Assembly became the focal point at the Jackson Chamber when Capitol Talk was held Friday. State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, joined state Reps. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, and Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, to discuss topics ranging from the budget to expansion of Medicaid to education and the use of hand-held devices while driving. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bills right now,” Finney said. “We’re working exclusively on the budget.” The budget, Finney said, is headed for cuts because tax collections are down $115 million to $120 million.
A Knoxville lawmaker is hoping to take away the stigma attached to medical marijuana by sharing her story. A bill in the state legislature would allow patients suffering from certain qualified medical conditions to treat it with marijuana. For co-sponsor, Rep. Gloria Johnson, and others, the bill is personal. The Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act is named after two families affected. The Koozers are a family who moved from Tennessee to Colorado so they could use medical marijuana to help their daughter’s seizures. Jeanne Kuhn is the late wife of Paul Kuhn, a medical marijuana advocate.
Despite the state House of Representatives passing a bill that would allow wine sales in grocery stores, some Memphis wine merchants remain opposed to the measure. Marina Pakis, manager of Kimbrough Towers Fine Wine and Spirits at 1483 Union, said she’s still adopting a “wait and see” attitude as the bill goes back before the state Senate for consideration. And while she admits to being nervous about the outcome, Pakis is not convinced that communities across the state will embrace such a change. “Outside of Memphis and Nashville, maybe Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee is still a relatively conservative state and I’m not convinced that communities across the state are going to want to have wine in their local grocery stores,” Pakis said.
No tornadoes were reported from the storms that moved through Middle Tennessee on Thursday, though the straight-line winds tore down trees and damaged a handful of properties. A National Weather Service survey team was sent near Cross Plains in northeast Robertson County to determine whether a tornado struck there but found no definitive evidence. Winds up to 89 mph were reported in the area during the storm, according to a preliminary storm report. Electricity was restored to all but a handful of customers in the region, according to outage maps from the three major power companies.
Links to pages from a sexual health book people claim is being used in Tennessee schools has Williamson County school officials fighting back. “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a book about sexual awareness geared towards students 10 years and up, and shows explicit illustrations of nude bodies and talks about masturbation, is making the rounds on websites, portrayed as a textbook currently being used in fourth grade classrooms. A Tennessee Department of Education official has confirmed that book is not on any state-approved list of textbooks.
The United Auto Workers on Friday challenged last week’s close vote by workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., that rejected the UAW’s bid to represent them. In an appeal filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the union asserted that “interference by politicians and outside special interest groups” had swayed the election. In particular, the appeal took aim at Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and former Chattanooga mayor, who suggested that a “no” vote would lead a Volkswagen expansion in the state.
The United Auto Workers on Friday sought a new election at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, alleging that interference by politicians and outside groups hurt the union’s case in last week’s vote, which ended with workers rejecting the UAW. Filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the appeal cited a “coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign” by politicians and special interest groups to deprive VW workers of their right to join a union. The filing noted U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s statement during the election that should workers reject the UAW, he had assurances VW would bring a second vehicle assembly line to Chattanooga.
The United Auto Workers union filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board Friday claiming that politicians and outside special interest groups interfered with last week’s unionization vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. The UAW’s objections address comments by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker during the vote; Corker said Volkswagen would bring production of a new SUV to the Chattanooga plant if workers defeated the vote. Volkswagen workers voted to not align with the UAW in a vote of 712 to 626.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said today he believes an appeal of the union election results at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant filed today may slow down a decision by the automaker on where to produce a new sport utility vehicle. VW is looking at making the SUV in either Chattanooga or Mexico. He said that workers “clearly spoke” last week during the vote in which VW workers rejected the United Auto Workers bid to organize the plant, and he expressed disappointment the UAW is “ignoring their decision” by filing an objection.