This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam got a firsthand look Friday at a piece of Oak Ridge property that has a prized history and — according to the governor — a big future as well. Haslam and a contingent of local and state officials received a “tutorial” from the U.S. Department of Energy on cleanup operations and reindustrialization efforts at the former uranium-enrichment plant now known as the East Tennessee Technology Park. Workers recently finished tearing down the historic K-25 building, opening up even more space at the 70-year-old government plant that is gradually being converted to private uses.
Gov. Bill Haslam visited Oak Ridge Friday as cleanup continues as part of a major reindustrialization project. K-25 was built in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. In the last several years, the land has been reindustrialized for private developments. Gov. Haslam was at the site Friday promoting the project. With cleanup, the governor says the goal is to attract high tech companies to East Tennessee. Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley said he’s seen impressive changes to the land in the past few years in an area rich with history.
One of the key allies of the Tennessee automotive industry has sits on 58 square miles in Oak Ridge and was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is the Department of Energy’s largest multiprogram science and energy laboratory, has also developed into a hub of automotive research, said Thom Mason, ORNL director. “Tennessee is the leading state in the Southeast in terms of the automotive sector already, and that includes the know-how as well,” he said. Today, ORNL will showcase its facilities to members of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association.
Dr. Bill Seymour, president of Cleveland State Community College, has continued to throw his support behind proposed state legislation that could result in an initiative called “Tennessee Promise,” which Gov. Bill Haslam proposed in a speech last month. Seymour spoke of the importance of Tennessee’s community colleges and what the potential passage of two companion House and Senate bills would mean for them during a meeting of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club on Thursday.
Flower Foods announced Friday that they will open a bakery in Knoxville, eventually bringing in up to 100 news jobs. The bakery will be located on NW Park Drive in North Knoxville, and is scheduled to open in late May. It will initially employ 60 people, but that number is expected to increase as more production shifts are added. “I want to thank Flowers Foods for investing in Tennessee, and I appreciate the new jobs being created in Knox County,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “Expansions like this one serve as the greatest endorsement of Tennessee’s workforce and today’s announcement supports our goal of becoming the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”
Flowers Foods is opening a new bakery in Knoxville, expected to create more than 100 jobs. The bakery will be located on NW Park Drive in Knoxville, and is scheduled to open in late May. “This bakery will be producing Nature’s Own, Merita, and Wonder breads and will help us meet the increasing demand for these breads in a region that encompasses parts of Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Virginia,” said Gene D. Lord, Flowers Foods executive vice president and chief operating officer.
The ink from Gov. Bill Haslam’s signing pen had barely dried Thursday (that expression is a cliche, but in this case it’s pretty close to being true), and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was already musing that lawmakers may be forced to revisit wine in grocery stores next year. The leader of the state Senate told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he expects wine buyers to be so disappointed that they’ll have to wait until July 1, 2016, to pick up a bottle at their neighborhood supermarket that they’ll pressure legislators to move up the start of sales to Jan. 1, 2016, or even the summer of 2015. Liquor stores insisted on the long rollout, but Ramsey, R-Blountville, doubts consumers will sympathize.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he’s weighing the idea of calling lawmakers back later this year for a one-day session to consider overrides to any vetoes Gov. Bill Haslam may issue. Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters he’s spoken briefly with House Speaker Beth Harwell about setting a date late this spring or this summer when lawmakers could come back after they finish up business for the year around Easter. In Tennessee, the governor’s veto can be overrode by a simple majority of lawmakers, but governors have strengthened their hand by saving their vetoes to the end of the two-year General Assembly, giving them the last play.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday the Legislature should consider holding a special veto override session this year for the first time since 2001. “It’s nothing personal” toward Gov. Bill Haslam, Ramsey said, but something that “ought to be done” as a matter of “good government” routine for a General Assembly when a two-year session comes to an end. Each legislative session runs for two years and the 108th General Assembly is in its final year. Legislative leaders are pushing to end the current session by mid-April at which time — unless special arrangements are made — the session will never meet again.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is suggesting the General Assembly should think about getting back to a bygone practice of scheduling a day for lawmakers to come back after the regular session closes for the year in case the governor vetoes any bills after. The way it would work, he said, is on the last day of the Legislature’s regular business — which is is currently planned for sometime next month — instead of shutting down for the year the House and Senate would plan a day to return sometime after the 10-day period the constitution grants the governor to weigh whether he’ll sign or veto legislation that lands on his desk.
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey publicly backed a November ballot measure Friday intended to clarify how state Supreme Court and appeals court judges are picked. Ramsey encouraged judges and others attending the Tennessee Judicial Conference (TJC) at the MeadowView Marriott to get behind a constitutional amendment that would empower the governor to appoint Supreme Court and appeals court judges subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. An appointed judge would serve an eight-year term, and could serve another term via a retention election by voters.
Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, aimed at preventing members of the United Nations from monitoring elections in Tennessee passed the full House Thursday by a vote of 75-20. Van Huss originally introduced the bill last year, but it died in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. The bill comes in response to a November 2012 occurrence where a partner of the United Nations came to the state to monitor for “human rights violations” after a law was enacted requiring photo identification to vote.
Today, AAA announced its opposition to a bill that would weaken Tennessee’s motorcycle helmet law. “It’s clear that the majority of Tennessee voters don’t think the helmet law should change,” said Tim Wright, Tennessee Regional President of AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Multiple studies of states that have weakened their motorcycle helmet laws show marked increases in both human tragedy—to the crash victims and their family—and financial costs.” The proposed bill will allow riders older than 25 years to ride without a helmet. Currently, all readers are required to wear a helmet, regardless of age.
A proposed bill to change Tennessee’s motorcycle helmet law is drawing some ire from AAA. The measure would allow motorcyclists ages 25 and up to ride without a helmet. Tennessee’s current law requires all bikers to wear a helmet, regardless of age or experience. While proponents of the bill say wearing a helmet should be a personal choice, AAA Tennessee has come out against amending the current law, saying the costs are too high. “In other states who have repealed their laws we see that the use of helmets goes down and the cost of caring for those individuals once they have a crash skyrockets.
Three local state legislators stopped by the Jackson Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Membership Breakfast at the DoubleTree Hotel on Friday morning and talked about the wide range of business items discussed in Nashville at any given time. State Reps. Jimmy Eldridge and Johnny Shaw and state Sen. Lowe Finney touched on current hot topics including the debate over Common Core standards, education funding, Medicaid expansion, a crackdown on methamphetamine production and even the preservation of the quality of Tennessee whiskey. The goal, the legislators said, is to not allow swarms of discussion and the pace of the conversation to leave behind issues that deserve a careful eye.
With the United States Senate not in session, Sen. Lamar Alexander visited constituents in West Tennessee on Friday, including a stop in Jackson at the Aeneas Building. “Lunch with Lamar” was sponsored by the Jackson Downtown Development Corp. and Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris. During the meeting, Alexander, a Republican, discussed issues that included the growing automobile industry in the state and education. Alexander, who served as governor of Tennessee, the U.S. secretary of education and the president of the University of Tennessee, unfolded an application that students have to fill out when applying for aid.
The Memphis Housing Authority applied last year for a $30 million federal grant to raze the Foote Homes housing project and replace it with a mixed-income and mixed-use development. But the city won’t get the money, at least not now. Memphis was not included on a recently released list of six finalists for the Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. MHA will apply again later this year for the next round of funding, said Robert Lipscomb, city director of housing and community development. “We’re meeting already to see how we prepare for the next round,” he said Friday.
The National Labor Relations Board has set April 21 for a hearing on the United Auto Workers request for a revote on unionizing Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, but it isn’t known if any politicians cited in the case will be asked to testify. NLRB spokesman Gregory King said Friday that while the hearing date is fixed, the time and the location weren’t scheduled yet. He said the federal agency hoped to have more details Monday. Hamilton County officials have talked with the NLRB about reserving the courthouse’s commission room, said spokesman Mike Dunn.
“When I see something in the community, I am going to stand up and express my opinion,” the increasingly outspoken Sen. Bob Corker said last week in reaction to criticism over his comments about union elections at his pet mayoral project, the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. But, according to the federal rules that govern union elections, the Republican senator probably interfered with the February vote to determine if the United Auto Workers union could represent workers. The UAW lost the election to gain the right to represent workers by 53.2 percent to 47.8 percent. It was a tough loss for the union, which had its best chance to infiltrate the foreign-owned automakers that have built plants in the traditional, anti-union South.