This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Stung by criticism from the state’s teachers union, Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday defended his record on education spending, saying teacher pay and education spending have increased well above national rates since he took office. “There’s only six states in the last year that have consistently increased education funding, Tennessee being one of those six,” said Haslam, who earlier this week scuttled his proposed 2 percent pay hike for teachers because of a state budget shortfall. The state has the fourth highest funding increase among any states, he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he regrets not being able to give teachers a raise next year and pledged to find ways to increase their pay in the future. Earlier this week, the Republican governor said he won’t be able to give teachers and state employees a pay increase mainly because of reductions due to an ongoing decline in revenue collections. Teachers were to get a 2 percent increase and state employees 1 percent. However, last year Haslam pledged to improve the salaries of the state’s teachers so that by the time he leaves office their salaries have grown more than teacher salaries in any other state.
Gov. Bill Haslam pushed back Wednesday at critics of his decision to eliminate his plan to raise teacher salaries because of the state’s worsening revenue situation. The governor said that since he took office in 2011, Tennessee is one of only six states that have consistently increased state spending on K-12 education. He said the state has the fourth-largest increase in education spending, has increased overall education funding by more than $400 million and has increased average teacher pay at a rate double the national average. Even without pay raises, he said, education funding will rise by $60 million in the new budget.
Republican officials in Tennessee say a widening hole in the state budget may have been caused by companies exploiting loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Gov. Bill Haslam, other leaders in his administration and several state lawmakers say they have started to look into whether companies have found a new way to shift money or assets out of state and avoid their tax bill. The plunge in business tax revenue comes even as stock prices have surged and the economy has improved. Meanwhile, the state’s franchise and excise taxes — the third-biggest revenue source for Tennessee after the federal government and sales taxes — have missed projections by 20 percent, or more than $200 million.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says making a $300 million incentive package to Volkswagen subject to labor talks concluding to the state’s satisfaction was not a threat but a “statement of reality.” Haslam stressed to reporters Wednesday that any grants and tax credits offered to encourage the German automaker to build a new SUV in Chattanooga rather than in Mexico would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, where its fate would be uncertain if the United Auto Workers won representation.
Gov. Bill Haslam defended his administration’s decision to tie new economic incentives for Volkswagen to the outcome of the automaker’s labor talks, saying political and legal questions could have sunk the deal. The Republican governor on Wednesday told reporters that the Department of Economic and Community Development did not issue a “threat” to Volkswagen that it would withdraw $300 million in incentives if UAW won a vote to organize workers at its Chattanooga plant. But, he added, his administration did tell the German automaker that the outcome had to be “satisfactory,” legally and for Tennessee state legislators, many of whom oppose unionization. “It was just a statement of reality,” he said.
Haslam says state waiting on VW to restart talks As Tennessee’s legislative session winds down in coming weeks, time also may be running out for the General Assembly to approve an incentive package to spur more production at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. Gov. Bill Haslam said in an interview Wednesday the state is waiting for VW to restart incentive talks after plant workers last month rejected an organizing effort by the United Auto Workers. The union has appealed the vote and the National Labor Relations Board has a hearing set for April 21. Asked if the incentives might have to wait until next year, Haslam said, “We’ll have to wait and see when [VW officials] come back to us, so I don’t know enough to answer that question.”
Gov. Bill Haslam says offering $300 million in incentives to Volkswagen to expand a plant in Chattanooga had nothing to do with a union vote. This comes after documents obtained by WTVF in Nashville suggest the state’s incentive package did hinge on the results. The offer letter said the union vote had to work “to the satisfaction of the state of Tennessee.” The governor, speaking to reporters in front of the capitol, said that did not mean the money would be pulled if the plant successfully organized. In February, the union vote failed by just 86 votes.
Both of Tennessee’s legislative speakers say they believe the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam did nothing wrong by linking nearly $300 million in future state incentives for Volkswagen to the outcome of labor talks. But House Speaker Beth Harwell initially said she would be open to a joint legislative hearing to examine the revelations unveiled this week by news media. She then changed her position on the hearings upon learning Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is not interested. “We’ll look into it but I just don’t see any evidence that anything happened that shouldn’t have,” said Harwell.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam continued to face intense questions Wednesday about his use of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars as leverage in a labor dispute. But the House speaker said she has no plans to investigate. The controversy follows secret documents first uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates. Haslam faced a barrage of questions from the Capitol Hill press. He continued to insist that $300 million was not used to buy the outcome of the United Auto Workers’ efforts to unionize Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga. At the same time, he admitted, the administration used it as leverage because they were interested in the outcome. “Were you willing to walk away from 1,300 jobs if they were UAW jobs?” we asked.
Tennessee’s child protection agency investigated the deaths of 245 children in 2013, finding evidence of abuse or neglect in 40 cases — although almost a fifth of investigations haven’t concluded. Child fatality statistics published this week by the Department of Children’s Services are the first since the agency overhauled how deaths are reported, counted and investigated. Problems tracking deaths in 2012 led to court-ordered reforms, inquiries by lawmakers, intense media attention, employee reprimands and the replacement of commissioner Kate O’Day.
The House gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill that will block Tennessee towns and cities from annexing new areas without the approval of voters living in the targeted area. The bill was approved 85-4 in the House and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his expected signature. The measure passed the Senate 27-1 on March 27. The House sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, hailed passage as an “amazing” example of average citizens triumphing in the legislative process. “This has been a true citizens movement,” he said. “There have been no lobbyists, no special interests or big money involved.”
Legislation ending Tennessee’s 59-year-old “forced annexation” law is heading for Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk after overwhelmingly passing the House on Wednesday. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, the bill easily cleared the House on an 85-4 vote after decades of unsuccessful efforts to repeal an unpopular law that cities argue is critical for their continued growth and economic development. Property rights activists cheered from the galleries. Under the legislation, Tennessee towns and cities could no longer annex property simply by passing an ordinance.
The State House gave final legislative approval today to a bill that will block Tennessee towns and cities from annexing new areas without approval of voters residing in the annexed area. The bill was approved on an 85-4 vote and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his expected signature. The measure had passed the Senate 27-1 on March 27. The House sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, hailed passage as an “amazing” example of average citizens triumphing in the legislative process. “This has been a true citizens movement,” he said. “There have been no lobbyists, no special interests or big money.”
The state House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill that ends 59 years of annexation at will by Tennessee’s towns and cities. If signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam as expected, municipalities in the state could expand their borders and annex new territory only with the consent of the residents of that territory, through one of two different ways: A group of residents can petition the city to be annexed, and if the city agrees, the annexation occurs by mutual consent — in which case, only the property owners who consent will be annexed.
The way annexation works in Tennessee changed dramatically Wednesday. In essence, HB 2371, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, succeeded by an overwhelming margin, repealing annexation by ordinance and creating annexation by referendum. The legislation also exempts land used for agricultural purposes unless requested by the owner. It also extends a moratorium on municipal annexations — other than those requested — to 2015 and requires the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study these and other state annexation issues until February.
Legislation that would allow parents to decide the fate of a struggling school is advancing in the House. The so-called parent trigger legislation sponsored by Democratic Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis was approved 9-4 in the House Education Committee on Wednesday. Sponsors say the measure, which failed last year, gives parents a say-so at the table and another option to better educate their children. Under the proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 10 percent of failing schools believe a drastic change is needed, they can then select from several “turnaround models.”
Repeat convicts of domestic assault in Tennessee will be required to serve jail time on at least 35 to 90 consecutive days rather than weekends or days off work, under a bill that lawmakers approved Wednesday. Tennessee ranks 6th among states in the number of women killed by men, with 51 percent of all female homicides in Tennessee resulting from domestic violence and domestic violence accounts for half of all crimes against persons occurring in the state. That’s according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation figures quoted by the Senate Bill 1794’s sponsors, state Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, in separate House and Senate floor votes.
Small towns can be notorious for speed traps. And when their jurisdictions covers a slice of interstate, it can be a gold mine. Now, a bill meant to shut down small-town traffic enforcement on the interstate is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam, while the leader of one town targeted by the legislation says they’re just enforcing state law. In Cornersville, TN, when officers are not at headquarters filling out paperwork, you can often find them on Interstate 65, looking for speeders and other traffic violators. According to a state comptroller audit, the small town of 1,000 people, with roughly 200 homes, got about 50 percent of its revenue – nearly $250,000 – from traffic citations, fines and fees.
A bill calling for the phrase “In God We Trust” to be painted in the tunnel that connects the Tennessee Capitol and the Legislative Plaza is headed for a full House vote. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Sparks of Smyrna originally sought to require the phrase to be displayed above the main Capitol entrances and behind the speakers’ podiums in both the House and Senate. But the measure was amended in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday to instead instruct State Capitol Commission to study the feasibility of painting the national motto in the tunnel. The state adopted its official slogan is “Tennessee – America at Its Best” in 1965. The words “Agriculture and Commerce” from the state seal were adopted as the official state motto in 1987.
The state is selling a house that’s become a nationally recognized model for efficient and sustainable living. The New Norris House was completed in 2011 after a student-led team at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, worked for three years to bring the concept, first conceived in a classroom, to a modern and appealing home. The five-room 1,006-square-foot home is a technologically advanced reinterpretation of the historic homes first built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 as part of the Norris Dam project. The American Institute of Architects and its Committee on the Environment named the New Norris House one of the nation’s top 10 examples of sustainable architecture and green design in 2013.
A new national report finds Tennessee’s children rank 32nd among all states for academic success, health and economic well-being. The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/1dMV2Rn) the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children” scores states on 12 measurements. They include child birth-weight, eighth grade math proficiency, rate of teen pregnancies, whether children live in two-parent families and percentage of children growing up in poverty. The report found that black and Hispanic children trailed behind their white and Asian peers both in Tennessee and across the nation.
Governor Bill Haslam has been a leader behind a tough move across Tennessee to set higher academic standards in our classrooms for students, teachers and administrators. Through his first few years, students in the state seem to have flourished with the increased vigor brought on by a more stringent curriculum. Tennessee has ascended the rolls of national educational rankings as a result. The grunts behind that work, however, have been Tennessee’s teachers, and it seems, repeatedly, that they’re getting the short end of the stick under the governor. On Tuesday he announced a proposed budget amendment to make up for the $150 million tax shortfall in the state.
We appreciate the efforts of Tennessee U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to secure the release of $80 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help Tennessee’s public hospitals. The funds will help alleviate the financial plight facing Tennessee’s public hospitals because of Gov. Bill Haslam’s, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s and the Tennessee General Assembly’s obstinate refusal to expand TennCare. But, as Alexander and Corker point out, the release of these funds only temporarily addresses a longstanding probllem for Tennessee, it doesn’t fix it. The funds come from the federal Medicaid disproportionate share hospital program to offset the cost or providing health care services to people who can’t pay for them.