This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Higher education experts and states around the nation will have their eyes on Tennessee as the Volunteer State embarks on an ambitious plan to provide free community college to all high school graduates. Tennessee lawmakers gave final approval late Tuesday to “Tennessee Promise,” one of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s most high-profile initiatives. The plan will make the state a leader in working to make higher education more affordable. The aim is to boost college graduation rates and build a more educated and skilled workforce. It’s an issue facing states from coast to coast.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent in March, down from February’s revised rate of 6.9 percent, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today. It marks the seventh consecutive month of falling unemployment in Tennessee, and is the lowest rate since June 2008. Nationally, the unemployment rate for March was unchanged at 6.7 percent. Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has decreased from 8.3 to 6.7 percent; the national rate has fallen from 7.5 percent to 6.7 percent. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development,
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for March fell to 6.7 percent from 6.9 percent in February, Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced Thursday. That is the seventh straight monthly decline and the lowest statewide jobless rate since June 2008, according to a news release. The U.S. unemployment rate for March is 6.7 percent, unchanged from February. The number of unemployed Tennesseans (203,800) is the lowest since June 2008 and is 5,900 lower than last month, the release said. Total nonfarm employment increased 4,200 jobs from February to March.
The unemployment rate in Tennessee declined to 6.7 percent for March, compared with 8.3 percent a year earlier and 6.9 percent in February, according to preliminary statistics released Thursday by Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. It marked the seventh month in a row that the state’s jobless rate has improved. The national unemployment rate also stood at 6.7 percent in March, down from 7.5 percent a year earlier and unchanged from 6.7 percent in February.
Here’s a complete list of bills that passed and failed this session, compiled by the Associated Press but with a couple of additions from us. I’m running it in print on Sunday on the politics page, with one or two pieces of art, but it would probably lend itself pretty well to a stand-alone notch-builder if you all are interested in trying to create one: The following bills passed this session: ANNEXATION: Bans cities from annexing land without a referendum. HB2371. BALLPARK BEER: Allows sale of beer at new Nashville baseball stadium. HB2405. BEER IN PARKS: Allows local governments to obtain licenses to sell beer in local parks. HB2339. CHARTER AUTHORIZER: Creates statewide authorizer to overrule local school board decisions on charter schools. HB0702.
In the waning moments of the 108th General Assembly, the House killed a bill allowing state senators to collect more money for their campaigns, while the Senate shortly afterwards killed a bill that would put new restrictions on candidate loans to campaigns. “I would not call it retaliation. I would call it holding up our end of the bargain,” Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters afterwards. Ramsey had hoped for enactment of HB643 by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, which, as amended, would have doubled the amount of money state Senate candidates can accept over a four-year term in office.
While the design features of the Amp dodged the purview of the General Assembly this session, particularly its dedicated center lane, the project will still need the state legislature’s blessing The compromise measure passed by the Senate and House Thursday scratched Senate language many supporters feared would scuttle the project, as it would have restricted center-lane design restrictions on the Amp and similar projects running along state highways. Despite the absence of the design limitations, the Amp will have to go through a series of approvals at the state level. In the end, the General Assembly will need to give the final go-ahead for the Amp, regardless of whether the state chips in and funds a portion the project or not.
A potential Tennessee gubernatorial candidate has sued top state Democrats who ousted him from their 2014 ballot for not being “bona fide” under party rules. Mark Clayton, a well-known anti-gay-rights activist, qualified as a Democrat for the governor’s race, but the state party last week disavowed him and asked that his name be removed from its list of qualified candidates. In response, Clayton filed a 14-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Nashville against state Party Chairman Roy Herron and a host of other state Democrats, saying they broke party bylaws, perjured themselves and violated a host of laws while challenging his candidacy.
First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are scheduled to visit Fort Campbell next week to speak with soldiers and their families at a jobs and career fair. Obama and Biden are expected to be at the military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line on Wednesday to deliver remarks to more than 1,000 service members and military spouses and over 100 employers at the Fort Campbell Veterans Jobs Summit and Career Forum. The summit is a public, private, and nonprofit sector collaboration that, in coordination with the active duty military, aims to provide transitioning service members with employment resources.
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper moved Thursday to keep Gov. Bill Haslam and other top state officials from testifying during an appeal hearing next week over the Volkswagen unionization fight in Chattanooga. In a petition filed Thursday, Cooper said the subpoenas from the United Auto Workers union are overly broad and burdensome, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. “The petitioners are high-ranking officials and staff of the State of Tennessee with a duty to advance the interests of the State of Tennessee and to advance and protect the rights of its citizens, including those employed at the Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga,” the filing said.
Two former Chattanooga Volkswagen plant employees said Friday that working with a union could benefit current workers by bettering health and safety conditions at the factory. The former assembly line workers, Lon Gravett and Ed Hunter, were the focus of “a solidarity fundraiser” put on by a local pro-labor group, Chattanooga for Workers, and Mercy Junction, a Presbyterian ministry. Safety on the plant’s assembly line is “a huge issue,” said Chris Brooks of Chattanooga for Workers. “Workers don’t have a meaningful voice related to health and safety,” he said. “It’s a significant concern they have.”
The United Auto Workers will have its day in court on Monday as the union argues before a National Labor Relations Board judge that it lost an election to represent Volkswagen workers because of illegal “outside” interference — largely from some key Republican politicians. Stakes are high: A possible expansion of the Chattanooga plant is on the line, both pro- and anti-union forces say, and the longer the dispute continues, the less chance the city might have to get picked for the massive expansion. That would mean losing out on hundreds of millions in new investment and hundreds more jobs.
One of the more important pieces of legislation that came out of the Tennessee General Assembly’s recently ended session was the Certificates of Employability Act, which may make it easier for some felons to find gainful employment. The bill, which has been sent to the governor’s desk for his signature, was sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis. It addresses one of the more serious obstacles in the effort to reduce the state’s crime rate — felons returning to a life of crime because of an inability to find a job that pays a decent wage.