This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature proposal this year, a program that would cover a full ride at two-year colleges for any high school graduate, appears on track to pass as lawmakers enter the waning days of the legislative session. The details, however — including how to pay for this perk in the years to come — remain scattered. Called “Tennessee Promise,” the plan is a cornerstone of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state. After graduation, students who choose to attend a four-year school will be able to do so as juniors.
Sumner County residents taking part in the state’s property tax relief program may not see a reduction in financial assistance next year as once believed thanks to a new funding proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam. In a budget amendment presented last week, Haslam included an additional $5.5 million to fully fund the state program as part of his proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, said state Finance and Administration spokeswoman Lola Potter. For the last two years, the program, which provides aid to qualifying low-income elderly and disabled homeowners along with disabled veterans, received $28.4 million in state funding, a spokesman for the state comptroller’s office said last month.
The Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office announced its new SAFE Campaign, “Seat Belts Are For Everyone,” on Friday to promote education and enforcement of wearing seat belts on the road. In the past five years, while 15 percent of Tennessee’s population was not wearing seat belts, more than half of fatal accidents involved people who did not wear seat belts, said Kendell Poole, Director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. Think, Poole said, how far that fatality count would come down if 5 percent more people buckled up.
Tennessee Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder said Friday her department is widening its focus to deal with “everything veterans.” Besides running field offices and veterans cemeteries, Grinder told a veterans job fair she is addressing veterans unemployment, developing veteran business owner resources, expanding access to higher education, and dealing with suicide prevention. “We are looking at some disturbing statistics,” she said at the event held at the Sullivan County Courthouse. “The Tennessee veteran unemployment rate last year was 6.9 percent.
Tennessee college students are getting a little safer on campus, according to a new report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation looking back at 2013. The number of crimes reported to police dropped 11 percent since 2012, and the number of thefts continued to decrease. It was down more than 16 percent last year. But other specific types of crime may be cause for some worry. Reports of burglaries and robberies are up, with robberies seeing a spike of nearly 30 percent. And the number of forcible sex offenses had been declining in previous years but suddenly spiked by 25 percent in 2013.
The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a decision Friday that could be a blow to immigrants who were never told that they can still be deported for a crime that has been wiped off their criminal record. The case exposes a rift between the federal law and state law when it comes to criminal records that have been expunged, immigrant advocates said. Friday’s unanimous state Supreme Court decision resulted in the court’s refusal to re-open up a case involving an immigrant who pleaded guilty to patronizing a prostitute in exchange for getting his conviction for the misdemeanor expunged.
The Green Party and Constitution Party may appear on the November ballot. But Libertarians are likely to be left out. The Senate State & Local Government Committee rejected a bill Tuesday that would have vastly reduced the number of signatures minor parties must collect to appear on the ballot in Tennessee. The legislation follows a series of lawsuits brought by minor parties challenging the state’s current requirement that they get about 40,000 signatures (2.5 percent of the total number of ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election) to be recognized. Senate Bill 1091 would have cut that number to 2,500.
Tennesseans have picked up more than $100 million in federal tax credits to help pay for health plans bought through the new health insurance marketplace, but that is just a fraction of what they were eligible for during the enrollment period, a new report finds. The majority of Tennesseans who enrolled in one of the Obamacare plans qualified for federal payment assistance, and together those shoppers took in $124 million in federal tax credits to put toward their premiums in the new exchanges. But overall, just 16 percent of Tennesseans eligible for such assistance had taken advantage of it by the end of February, a study released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows.
The local NAACP wants governor Bill Haslam investigated after leaked documents showed the governor may have used $300 million in tax-payer money to influence labor dispute. By 10:30 Friday morning, the Chattanooga NAACP was packed with members and news media awaiting a press conference. NAACP Southeast regional director Kevin Myles stood in front of his members to deliver a short statement. “We refuse to stand-by idly while Chattanooga workers are denied the ability to decide whether or not to organize without coercion, intimidation or undue pressure from national or state political figures,” Myles said.
Construction of Wacker’s $2 billion polysilicon production plant now has about 1,000 builders on site daily as the factory’s planned startup is a little more than a year away. Konrad Bachhuber, overseeing the raising of one of Tennessee’s biggest-ever construction projects, said the plant’s building workforce is to double to about 2,000 by the end of this year and into early 2015. “We’re pushing the project forward,” he said about the factory’s current construction schedule. “It’s pretty exciting to us.” The first chunks of polysilicon are to come out of the plant in the second half of next year, the plant official said in a recent interview at the sprawling site off Lauderdale Memorial Highway.
Many Nashville businesses will be hardcore Huskies fans starting this weekend. And Terrapins fans. And Irish fans. And Cardinal fans. The NCAA Women’s Final Four doesn’t officially tip off until Sunday, but downtown hotels were already seeing visitors begin to arrive Thursday. Though official numbers won’t be released until months from now, the NCAA projects the Final Four will have an economic impact of between $20 million and $25 million on the local economy. That means hotels, restaurants, honky-tonks, souvenir shops and music venues are more than happy that Connecticut, Maryland, Notre Dame and Stanford fans have started their invasion of Lower Broadway.