This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Alcoa employees who want to learn a skilled trade — welding, pipefitting, millwright or electrical — can apply to have the company pay their way to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology’s Knoxville campus. If they want to continue with classes to attain an associate’s degree in a manufacturing-related field at a community college, their hours spent at TCAT will count toward their degree. “What’s unique in the industry is they are being paid to go to school,” says Bob Myers, human resources manager for Alcoa Tennessee. The initiative is one of number of ways Alcoa is trying to ensure it can fill the jobs in 2015 and 2016 when its $275 million expansion nears completion.
Governor Bill Haslam is expected to sign several bills this month inspired by families of crime victims in East Tennessee. Their fight for justice is highlighted through National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 6-12. The Hope for Victims 6th Annual Vigil and Remembrance Walk took place at Volunteer Landing in Knoxville Sunday afternoon. People there encouraged others to keep changing and creating laws to help speak for victims of crime. The Christians and Newsoms have helped push two bills through the House and Senate that aim to reform the state judicial system in memory of their slain children who were tortured and murdered.
A tree-planting ceremony in Nashville on Monday will honor crime victims. The state Board of Parole, Department of Correction and the transitional program TRICOR will also honor local and statewide advocates who work with crime victims. The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. It is the official kickoff for a series of tree-planting ceremonies sponsored by the agencies across Tennessee during the week. Additional events are scheduled for Memphis, Knoxville, Bristol, Chattanooga, Murfreesboro, Jackson and Clarksville.
Legislative leaders are hoping to adopt Tennessee’s annual spending plan as early as this week, clearing the way to the conclusion of the legislative session. But that assumes that the Republican-controlled House and Senate can find quick agreement over budget cuts proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam to close a funding gap created by flagging tax revenues. Haslam has said planned increases in higher education funding and pay raises for teachers and state employees will have to be abandoned to balance the books.
Bill amends law to ban members from public spaces Senators are slated to act this week on a bill that provides statutory guidance for courts using Tennessee’s public nuisance law to keep criminal gang members out of public areas like parks and neighborhoods. The Community Safety Act builds on a 2009 change in the public nuisance law that brought criminal gangs and their members under its provisions. Acting on requests by Nashville and Memphis officials, judges last year issued injunctions barring Kurdish Pride Gang members from gathering in a Nashville park and prevented the Riverside Rollin’ 90s Neighborhood Crips from congregating in a South Memphis neighborhood.
The Senate last week unanimously approved a bill authorizing Lake City to change its name to Rocky Top, sending it to the governor for his expected signature. The bill was approved in the Senate on Thursday without discussion as part of a “consent calendar” — noncontroversial bills that are grouped together and approved with one vote. The vote was 30-0. The House had approved the measure earlier, 89-0. The bill, HB1469, is sponsored by Rep. John Ragan and Sen. Randy McNally, both Oak Ridge Republicans.
Some of Tennessee’s more prominent lawmakers are among 26 incumbent state legislators — 20 Republicans and six Democrats — who will be facing challengers in the August primary elections. There will also be contested primaries Aug. 2 for 10 of the 11 open seats in which no incumbent is running. The exception is the 30th House District, where East Ridge City Councilman Marc Gravitt, a Republican, was the only candidate to file a qualifying petition in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge.
More than two dozen Democrats are fighting the Obama administration over planned cuts to private plans offered in Medicare, tied in part to the 2010 health overhaul, which could divide the party on health care in the run-up to this year’s midterm elections. The cuts to Medicare Advantage insurers, which are expected to be included in planned 2015 payments to be unveiled Monday, have drawn increasingly vocal opposition from Democrats who fear that insurers will use the cuts to justify higher premiums or fewer options for enrollees. Other Democrats defend some of the cuts as needed changes.
The Senate is expected to easily approve legislation Monday restoring unemployment benefits to nearly three million people, throwing the bill to a divided House where Republicans favor starkly different approaches to the issue. Six Senate Republicans joined all 55 Democrats last week to end debate on legislation that retroactively restores benefits cut off Dec. 28 and extends them through June 1, clearing the way for passage Monday. Seven House Republicans from high-unemployment regions or swing districts plan to send the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, a letter coinciding with Senate passage to urge him to take up the Senate bill or a similar measure.
When manufacturers of cardboard boxes, wire bagel baskets and other products said they needed workers with technological expertise and strong social skills, Maryland officials agreed to set up manufacturing boot camps for recruits. The eight-week sessions will train and test potential workers in financial literacy and anger management as well as in computer-assisted design and robotics. In the past, Maryland’s job training programs prepared participants for broad categories of jobs, with limited success. Now the state is bringing together business and industry, colleges and local and state agencies in partnerships to create training programs for skills that employers actually need.
Another Cold War monument is going to bite the dust in Oak Ridge. The K-31 building, which was stripped of its uranium-enrichment equipment a decade ago as part of a three-building decommissioning project headed by BNFL Inc., is going to be demolished. The U.S. Department of Energy spokesman Mike Koentop said the estimated cost of the project is $31 million, but he said cleanup contractor URS-CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR) is looking at ways to potentially lower that cost. When BNLF conducted its decommissioning work years ago, the plan was to remove the equipment and scrub the 1.6-million-square-foot building to remove radioactivity in hopes of leasing it to an industrial client.
Homeowners in Tennessee who don’t want to be annexed by any city, big or small, without having a voice in the matter, will have their way, thanks to the Tennessee General Assembly. But the legislature’s overturning of 59 years of state annexation policy raises some important questions for municipalities, one of which is: Is de-annexation legislation next? The state House last week gave final legislative approval to a bill that allows cities to expand their borders and annex new territory only with the consent of the residents, by using two different methods. A group of residents can petition the city to be annexed.
The two the most publicized business-versus-business disputes in the 2014 Tennessee legislative session, both involving alcoholic beverages, were resolved with one clear winner and one negotiated settlement. And both will probably be revisited next year as the General Assembly continues its expanding role as referee in business-versus-business disputes. The negotiated settlement came in the long-running squabble between liquor stores and supermarkets — each side having various allies — over wine-selling rights. The general consensus seems that liquor stores have the better end of the deal in the short term. Liquor stores will be able to sell beer, cigarettes and other products beginning on July 1.