This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The keynote speaker at last year’s Hamilton County Department of Education Superintendent’s Honor’s Banquet was “Miss Tennessee.” Tuesday night at the 2014 rendition of the annual event honoring the system’s top high school seniors it was her counterpart, Mr. Tennessee, who congratulated the county’s high achievers for their excellence in the classroom. Gov. Bill Haslam gave the keynote address to 262 students from the county’s 17 high schools and their families at the Chattanooga Convention Center after Ralph Miller and the Swingtime Orchestra dazzled the reception hall with a live set.
Gov. Bill Haslam says a new plant to be located in Manchester is expected to create more than 160 new jobs in Coffee County. Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced this week that Aspen Technologies Inc. will locate the new polyurethane foam molding plant in the Manchester Industrial Park. The company was founded in 2003 to develop, manufacture and assemble specialized polyurethane foam products for the automotive industry as well as heavy truck and sport recreation markets. Aspen is expected to begin its hiring process in June and start production in the new facility the first week of July.
Aspen Technologies Inc., a Brighton, Mich.-based polyurethane manufacturer, is building a $5.1 million dollar plant in the Manchester Industrial Park with the intentions to double its molding capacity, while adding 161 jobs to the local economy in the process. “We’re really excited about the Tennessee area. The people down there have just been incredible,” Aspen Vice President Keith Quinn said Tuesday. Quinn said Tennessee, Michigan, and Mississippi were in the running to get the plant. It made sense to be in the South, since many of Aspen’s clients — automakers — are in the region.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced details of his proposed amendment to the FY 2014-2015 budget, identifying $160 million in reductions due to an ongoing decline in revenue collections and an additional $150 million to close the funding gap in the current budget for FY 2013-14. While the budget amendment includes reductions, it keeps funding increases intact for key areas such as the Department of Children’s Services and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The amendment proposal also preserves funding for the Basic Education Program’s (BEP) salary equity fund.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to boost pay for teachers will be put on hold for at least a year, the governor announced Monday, as he works to close a $160 million gap in the state budget. Haslam said Monday that he will put off a proposal to give raises to teachers and other state workers, blaming poor sales and business tax collections. A one-year delay will save the state about $72 million in next year’s budget. The Republican governor said last fall that he wanted to give Tennessee teachers the biggest raises in the country over the next five years, and his initial $30 billion budget proposal released in February included a 2 percent across-the-board increase.
Gov. Bill Haslam is releasing details Tuesday of an amendment to reduce his $32.6 billion budget plan. The proposed amendment identifies $160 million in reductions due to declining revenues, as well as an additional $150 million in cuts to close a funding gap in the current fiscal year. Haslam is canceling plans this year to give state employees and teachers 1 and 2 percent raises, respectively, saving $72 million. In a meeting with reporters, the governor acknowledged that the decision goes against his goal of raising teacher pay faster than any other state in the country.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced details Monday of his proposed amendment to the FY 2014-2015 budget, identifying $160 million in reductions due to an ongoing decline in revenue collections and an additional $150 million to close the funding gap in the current budget for FY 2013-14. While the budget amendment includes reductions, it keeps funding increases intact for key areas such as the Department of Children’s Services and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The amendment proposal also preserves funding for the Basic Education Program’s (BEP) salary equity fund.
In March, Gov. Bill Haslam fielded questions from physicians attending the Tennessee Medical Association’s Day in Nashville. When the subject of a possible expansion of TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, came up, Haslam told the collection of physicians that he’s “been more encouraged” by his recent negotiations with the Department of Health and Human Services about a Tennessee plan for expansion. He didn’t offer any specifics at the time. But documents obtained by the Memphis Business Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request show that up until Feb. 17 — a full year after Haslam sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services regarding a possible “partnership model” — little progress had been made.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that proposed state financial incentives for Volkswagen to add a new vehicle line at the Chattanooga plant were never tied to an outcome of the United Auto Workers vote at the factory. Haslam, speaking Tuesday night in Chattanooga, added that the proposed package wasn’t used as leverage against workers leading up to the election. Last year, Volkswagen was offered about $300 million in financial incentives by Tennessee economic development officials to attract the new line to the Chattanooga plant along with 1,200 production jobs, documents show.
Tennessee Governor, Bill Haslam, spoke about the incentives that were offered to Volkswagen. He was here celebrating some of Chattanooga’s top high school seniors and took on some questions about his role in the Volkswagen’s U-A-W vote. He says he’s been very clear on where he stood during the union vote and that nothing has changed. “We’ve been really clear all along that we had an interest in the outcome of that vote,” said Governor Haslam. He added his intention with what he wanted from Chattanooga’s Volkswagen Plant was never a secret, and the incentives worth million were never tied to the outcome of the election.
Volkswagen was offered about $300 million in financial incentives by Tennessee economic development officials to attract a new vehicle line to the Chattanooga plant and a new American VW headquarters that could bring 1,350 jobs, documents show. The incentives offer, dubbed Project Trinity, was made last August as the United Auto Workers union was trying to organize plant employees, which led to a February election that the union lost by a worker vote of 712 to 626. The offer sheet, first reported by Nashville TV station WTVF, said the incentives were contingent on VW discussions about setting up a works council at the plant being concluded to the “satisfaction” of the state.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam offered no apologies Tuesday night for using taxpayer money as leverage in a labor dispute. NewsChannel 5 Investigates first revealed secret documents Monday regarding a $300 million offer to Volkswagen last fall. Now, there are calls for investigations. Months ago, the governor denied that taxpayer money was being offered to defeat the United Auto Workers in their bid to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. “Have you been less than forthcoming in your answers?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked following a speaking event in Chattanooga. “No, absolutely not,” Haslam answered.
The University of Tennessee’s president said Tuesday he plans to present “only modest increases” in tuition to the board of trustees this summer and will continue looking for ways to address salary gaps for faculty and staff. President Joe DiPietro made the comments in a statement provided to the News Sentinel the day after Gov. Bill Haslam slashed $160 million from the budget he outlined to the General Assembly in February. “We understand the reality of the state’s economy and budget, and we will do our best to advance the quality of our institution despite reduced funding,” he said in the statement.
The University of Tennessee will begin offering 12-month housing contracts this fall, allowing undergraduate, graduate and international students to live in a campus dormitory through the summer. Previously, the school offered nine-month contracts during the academic year and separate contract options during the summer. The new yearlong contract would break the cost into two payments — one in the fall and another in the spring — allowing students to pre-pay for the summer using any grants or scholarships that may not be available in the summer. The change is meant to encourage more summer school enrollment, with the hope that summer school would then help students graduate faster.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and troopers with the Tennessee Highway Patrol will do their best to remind errant drivers of the designation. The Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office announced the campaign with the slogan, “One text or call could wreck it all.” “Text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver and is by far the most alarming distraction,” notes the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. Under Tennessee law, police officers can stop a driver for the offense of texting while driving.
West Tennessee lawyers interested in becoming a state Court of Appeals judge must submit applications by April 30 to the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments, which will nominate three candidates to the governor to replace Judge Holly M. Kirby of Memphis. Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Kirby to the Tennessee Supreme Court, effective Sept. 1 when she succeeds Justice Janice Holder of Memphis. Holder is retiring at the end of her term. Applicants must be a Tennessee-licensed attorney, at least 30 years old, a resident of the state for five years, and a resident of West Tennessee.
Six months ago, Gov. Bill Haslam drew universal praise when he declared he wanted to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay by the time he left office. His longstanding goal of increasing the number of college graduates in Tennessee to 55 percent of the population by 2025 has received similar acclaim. But the governor’s big education initiatives are being challenged by something that was always the caveat on getting them done: tax revenue — more accurately, not enough of it. With revenue coming in below projections, Haslam unveiled a 2014-15 budget amendment on Monday that would put off 2 percent salary raises for teachers for at least a year while stripping away a $12.9 million increase for higher education.
Tennessee lawmakers are getting a look at Governor Bill Haslam’s new budget proposal. Tuesday finance committees in the Senate and House listened to proposed cuts including pay raises for teachers and state employees. Tennessee Finance Commissioner Larry Martin briefed members of the Senate and House Finance, Ways and Means Committees at Legislative Plaza. Monday Haslam announced millions of dollars in cuts to balance budgets this year and next. Two percent pay increases for teachers and 1 percent pay hikes for state employees are on the chopping block angering the Tennessee State Employees Association.
Teachers and education officials slammed Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to abandon his plans to raise their pay, saying the Republican governor is failing to live up to his promises to invest in the state’s education system. Groups that represent Tennessee’s 70,000 teachers said a new budget plan released this week by the Haslam administration would be “devastating” and would keep the state from hiring good teachers. They predicted the state would slide backward unless Haslam restores the across-the-board 2 percent raises he proposed in his original budget plan.
A new plan from Governor Bill Haslam to take back his proposed salary increases for state workers and teachers drew an outcry that was both public and private on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill. “It feels like we are being betrayed,” Rutherford County English teacher Jim Gifford told News 2. “The governor brought that [2% pay raise] up on his own, no one asked him to say that, now he is backing out.” He and several other Rutherford County teachers were outside the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday listening to the first formal presentation of the Governor Haslam’s budget amendment that takes $150 million out the current year budget, and $155 million out of the budget proposed for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
A proposal that would prohibit standardized test scores from being tied to teacher licensing is advancing in the House. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough was approved on a voice vote in the House Education Committee on Tuesday. The Tennessee Department of Education recommended the new licensure policy, and the State Board of Education voted in August to support it. However, the board changed its stance in January. The legislation would prevent the policy from taking effect if the board approves it.
A proposal that would allow a charter school to be operated by a for-profit entity narrowly advanced out of the House Education Committee. The measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis was approved 8-7 on Tuesday. Sponsors of the legislation say it’s necessary to help charter schools that may need help with management. Currently, Tennessee has 69 charter schools, which are publicly financed but operated independently. However, opponents of the proposal believe some operators may take advantage of the funds.
For-profit companies moved closer to being able to operate charter schools in Tennessee after a much-debated bill eked out a key legislative victory Tuesday. The House Education Committee voted 8-7 to advance to the House floor House Bill 1693, which would let nonprofit charter schools hire companies that bring in profits for management. With its companion Senate bill clearing committee last month, both full chambers are now on track to consider the legislation. A combination of Democrats and Republicans questioned Tuesday why for-profit companies would be needed in a state where many nonprofit charter schools are flourishing.
A dozen years after public charter schools were authorized in Tennessee, lawmakers are moving to allow for-profit charter operators — whose schools are funded by state and local taxpayers — to enter the state. The House Education Committee approved the for-profit charter school bill Tuesday on an 8-7 vote. The Calendar Committee will schedule a House floor vote, and the Senate also must vote on the bill. The House committee was the biggest hurdle for House Bill 1693, as confirmed by the close vote and lengthy debate. Its sponsor, Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, defended it partly by criticizing how some Memphis public schools are run.
A proposal to let for-profit companies manage Tennessee charter schools is headed for floor votes in both the state House and Senate, after the measure scraped by in a committee Tuesday on an 8 to 7 vote. The bill faced a lot of skepticism, and several members of the House Education Committee said they were surprised it passed. Clarksville Democrat Joe Pitts argued against the proposal, which he sees as part of a wider push to use tax dollars to fund what amount to private schools. “They’re contracting out the entire operation to a for-profit operator, which is everything—hiring of teachers, maintenance, landscape, soup to nuts.”
House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said Speaker Beth Harwell’s favored bill to develop a statewide charter school authorizer could be in jeopardy given the state’s recent budget troubles. When Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, tried to pitch that bill to the House Monday night, a handful of Republicans sided with Democrats to derail the legislation affixed with a $217,000 price tag in its first year. Although the attempt failed 59-35, White delayed the bill until April 14. “Everything is on the table. Everything is under the microscope,” said Casada, the chamber’s GOP Caucus chairman.
A new bill that would allow high-gravity craft beer to join wine on grocery store shelves by 2017 passed through the Senate State and Local Government Committee with a unanimous vote. This makes for a smoother trip through the legislature than the seven-year battle faced by the wine in grocery stores bill that passed into law last month. State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, author of the wine bill, is now pushing legislation that would extend the maximum alcohol content of beer sold in grocery stores from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent, opening the market for a number of beers that can currently only be sold through liquor stores or restaurants.
A bill that would have created a misdemeanor charge for disruptive picketing failed in the House Criminal Justice Committee after many legislators voiced concerns that it was too vaguely worded and broad. Under House Bill 1688, by Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, protesters could be charged with a class B Misdemeanor if their “mass picketing” prevents someone from entering or exiting their place of employment or interferes with work by being a “disturbance or nuisance.” The bill had explicitly defined “mass picketing” as protesting related to labor disputes but was amended to apply to all picketers. Durham, an attorney, said those opposing the bill were doing so out of union loyalties, an accusation state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, took exception to.
Tiffany Phillips thinks her experience as a teacher for Rutherford County Schools has made her a better Rutherford County commissioner. “Having that inside knowledge of how a department actually works helped me make better fiscal decisions …” said Phillips, who represents District 8 and teaches at Riverdale High School. She may have voted differently if she did not have experience working for the school system, she added. People with experience like Phillips, who has worked for RCS for nine years, could be limited to which elected offices they can hold if proposed legislation is passed by the Tennessee General Assembly. A bill is currently moving through the Tennessee House of Representatives that would disqualify future county and city employees from serving on government legislative bodies in the county or city where they work.
Pet lovers were hoping this would be the year to create new laws to strengthen pet protection in the state of Tennessee. But by the end of Tuesday, every single newly proposed pet law was all but dead in the legislature. Animal rights advocates say it’s the work of two powerful committees. One proposal would have placed animal cruelty convicts on a registry for two years. One member of the House agriculture committee said it would endanger bird dog trainers, and the bill died. Another proposal would have continued inspections at puppy mills. And a third would have required Tennesseans who tie up their dogs outside to give them at least 10 feet.
A new national report finds that black and Hispanic children, nationwide and in Tennessee, trail far behind their white and Asian peers on measurements of academic success, health and economic well-being. The report points to a strong correlation between poverty and race, but also shows that Tennessee children of all races lag behind their peers in other states across the board. “Poverty is concentrated in the minority races,” said Terri Combs-Orme, a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work.
The South is home to auto giants Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Nissan Motor Co. It is increasingly attracting some of the biggest names in aviation, including Boeing Co. in South Carolina, Airbus in Alabama, Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. in Georgia and GE Aviation in North Carolina. Aerospace companies are taking a cue from the auto industry and moving their manufacturing operations to Southern states. The region’s lower costs, generous state incentive packages and right-to-work laws that make it hard for unions to organize are motivating these companies to choose the South.
Though Gov. Bill Haslam has abandoned plans to give 2 percent salary increases for Tennessee teachers, those who work in Metro Nashville Public Schools may still get that bump anyway. A week before the school board votes on a final Metro Nashville Public Schools 2014-15 operating budget, Director of Schools Jesse Register is recommending the district move forward on what is no longer state-mandated employee salary increases. Register’s administration had been counting on $2.9 million in state funding to help offset $7.3 million needed to cover the salary increases in Davidson County. Now, under the governor’s newly amended budget proposal, the local district would cover it entirely.
Last Wednesday, investigators with the Weakley County Sheriff’s Department went to 492 Foyshack Road as part of an investigation into meth-related activities, according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Department. Investigators found several grams of finished meth in a coffee filter inside a purse that police said belongs to Christina Louise Harris, 46. A search warrant was executed on the property, and a meth lab was found inside a garage along with meth-related items inside the home and buried on the property, the release said. The homeowner, Johnny Thomas Cook, 36, is in jail on a fugitive from justice warrant from Kentucky for back child support, the release said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to give school teachers a 2 percent, across-the-board pay raise next year collapsed this week after declining revenues undermined its financial feasibility. It remains unclear how the state’s budget woes would affect an additional — and much needed — raise for Knox County teachers proposed by Superintendent Jim McIntyre. Haslam announced amendments to his proposed $22.6 billion budget Monday that would reduce spending by $160 million. Another $150 million in savings will come in this year’s budget through a combination of cuts, the use of reserve funds and accounting for savings already achieved during the year.
The video begins solemnly, and disingenuously, with a film clip from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Then it cuts to the state capitol in Nashville. “This is the civil rights issue of today,” the concerned narrator intones. “Today the rights of too many Tennessee children are being denied. Stuck in schools that are failing them, parents and students have no right to choose a better path.” No right? Apparently, Tennessee has been annexed by Russia or Syria or Jim Crow-era Alabama or some other oppressive regime.
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is a state agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee’s children and families. Based on a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of racial and ethnic disparities in education, the commission is recommending Tennessee expand its pre-K programs and add support for home visitation programs. The goal is to assist at-risk youth and families to help them take maximum advantage of education and family life opportunities. Based on analysis by the Casey Foundation, large school achievement gaps are found among African American, Native American, Hispanic and other ethnic group students.