This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
First lady Crissy Haslam will launch a Tree Education Program at the Tennessee Residence on Tuesday. The event is in recognition of Earth Day. About 25 third-grade students from Algood Elementary School have been invited to participate. Created in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry, the event invites students to learn about and identify different trees located on the property, as well as understand the importance of trees. Haslam will also read to students from her April book of the month and encourage daily reading.
Greg Gonzales, the state’s top banking official, has joined a task force exploring virtual currencies, including the growing usage of bitcoin. The Emerging Payments Task Force, comprised of nine state bank regulators, will study the impact of new payment systems on consumer protection and on the overall financial marketplace. The idea is to bring state regulators together with payment experts and users to examine the risks and opportunities tied to new currencies. “It’s important for us to look at what’s happening, to see how that impacts all these institutions we regulate,” Gonzales said.
Parents in every public school system in Tennessee will be able to go online next year and review the assortment of different standardized tests their children will take during the coming year. In a move toward transparency at a time when the volume of K-12 testing is under scrutiny, the 108th Tennessee General Assembly approved legislation this session that will require the Tennessee Department of Education and local school districts to post on their websites no later than Aug. 1 information on state-mandated tests.
Pregnant women addicted to illegal narcotics or prescription pain pills could soon be jailed in Tennessee under a bill awaiting the governor’s signature. The strict proposal enjoys bipartisan support — despite objections from doctors. The medical term for what happens when a newborn has withdrawal symptoms a day or two after birth is “neonatal abstinence syndrome.” At its worst, these babies suffer from seizures; it’s not clear whether there might also be lasting effects. Tennessee last year forced every hospital to start reporting such cases, and the numbers have only been going up. As health officials have made drug-dependent babies a priority, the Legislature has taken a more punitive approach.
Tennessee lawmakers will brief small-business owners Wednesday in Memphis about the legislative session that recently ended in Nashville. The National Federal of Independent Business will host the luncheon, which is set to begin 11:30 a.m. at Regions Bank, 6200 Poplar. Scheduled to appear are Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, House Commerce Chairman Steve McManus, Senate Commerce Committee member Reginald Tate and House Consumer and Human Resources Committee member Mark White.
Sitting on a bench in his yard fronting Overton Park and sipping coffee, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen prefaced a Monday morning announcement to a handful of reporters with a grand sweep: “This is a big day in our campaign and a big day in my life.” The momentous occasion? An endorsement from none other than President Barack Obama in Cohen’s race for re-election. It’s the third consecutive election that Cohen, the Midtown Democrat, has received the nod from Obama, who in a statement released by Cohen’s campaign called the congressman “a leader on justice and civil rights issues (who) has worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents.”
The health care law may be Republicans’ favorite weapon against Democrats this year, but there is another issue roiling their party and shaping the establishment-versus-grass-roots divide ahead of the 2016 presidential primaries: the Common Core. A once little-known set of national educational standards introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia with the overwhelming support of Republican governors, the Common Core has incited intense resistance on the right and prompted some in the party to reverse field and join colleagues who believe it will lead to a federal takeover of schools. Conservatives denounce it as “Obamacore,” in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls.
Steve Huber, an affable salesman who is still paying off an unexpected medical bill, was not among the millions of Americans who signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act during the enrollment period that ended March 31. After seeing television ads for Kentucky’s new online insurance marketplace, Mr. Huber, 57, made several attempts to explore the website but found it too complicated. Moreover, his income has dropped in recent years, he said, and he felt certain that he could not afford coverage. So he never priced plans or researched whether he qualified for financial assistance. “I realize that I’m gambling,” he said, stopping at a coffee shop before a sales call. “But I don’t have a lot of patience, and I’m on a pretty tight budget anyway.”
Less than 24 hours after the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team beat cross-state rival Louisville to advance to the Sweet 16, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray asked state lawmakers for $80 million to renovate Rupp Arena, the iconic building where the Wildcats play. He didn’t get it. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear also called on the legislature to pass the arena funding, along with more money for K-12 education, pre-school, transportation, infrastructure and some targeted tax cuts. The tax cuts and education and transportation funds were approved. But the budget passed by the politically divided legislature also cut spending by 5 percent for many state agencies and left others flat. Rupp Arena did not make the cut, though the governor and mayor have pledged to try again next session.
The United Auto Workers dropped its appeal of a worker vote against unionizing at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, a move that the union said should put pressure on Republican politicians to quickly approve incentives the German automaker is seeking to expand its lone U.S. assembly plant. The prolonged fight over labor issues at the Chattanooga facility appeared headed for a lengthy National Labor Relations Board appeal until the UAW announced an hour before a scheduled hearing that it was ending its challenge. The February vote went against the union 712-626. Some GOP lawmakers had blamed the appeal for holding up expansion plans at the plant — and the UAW says that perceived obstacle is now out of the way.
After a stunning reversal of course by the United Auto Workers Monday morning, attention has quickly turned to Volkswagen’s looming decision on where to build its new crossover SUV, which would mean millions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of new jobs. Shortly before a federal hearing was scheduled to begin Monday, the UAW abruptly withdrew an appeal of the failed February union vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, and called on Gov. Bill Haslam to re-confirm the state’s offer of $300 million in incentives to Volkswagen. “The UAW wants to help create quality jobs and build world-class products for American consumers,” said UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel in a statement.
Assembly of a new vehicle at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant is now more likely after the United Auto Workers backed off Monday on its appeal of the factory’s union vote, an expert says. “Now, VW can plan,” said Karl Brauer, a Kelley Blue Book senior analyst, adding that the company couldn’t figure production costs on a new sport utility vehicle with uncertainty over the factory’s union or nonunion status. The UAW abruptly pulled its appeal for a revote, saying just an hour before a National Labor Relations Board hearing was to begin in Chattanooga that the agency has a “historically dysfunctional and complex process” that could drag on for months or years.
Federal hearings into the failed union vote at Volkswagen were set to begin in Chattanooga Monday morning. But the United Auto Workers withdrew its challenge a mere hour before proceedings were set to begin. The UAW’s director of the southern region – Gary Casteel – says it didn’t make sense to go forward if Republican officials like Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker weren’t going to show. Both rebuffed a summons to appear. “They can stall from now to doomsday. We decided to go another route and get out of that cumbersome NLRB process.” Casteel calls the National Labor Relations Board review a “toothless tiger.”
U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker said Monday that the United Auto Workers made the right decision in withdrawing its appeal of the recent union vote at Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Chattanooga. “The employees have made their decision,” Alexander said. “The UAW lost the election. Now the best thing for all concerned is to get back to building cars.” Corker said the auto union’s decision to withdraw its objections shows the appeal “was nothing more than a sideshow to draw attention away from their stinging loss in Chattanooga.”
U.S. Senator Bob Corker said in a statement Monday that the UAW’s withdrawal of its appeal to the National Labor Relations Board indicated that the union’s objections over February’s unionization vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant were a “sideshow.” “This 11th hour reversal by the UAW affirms what we have said all along — that their objection was nothing more than a sideshow to draw attention away from their stinging loss in Chattanooga,” Corker said. In February, employees at the VW plant in Chattanooga voted 712-626 against aligning with the United Auto Workers, which then appealed to the National Labor Relations Boards, claiming outside interference from Corker and other lawmakers in Tennessee.
The United Auto Workers surprised even its biggest backers in Tennessee Monday morning when it suddenly withdrew its objections to a failed union vote at Volkswagen. Volkswagen employee Justin King worked for months on the UAW’s behalf ahead of what ended up being a very close vote – an 86 ballot margin. And after the UAW challenged the outcome based on interference from Republican politicians, King was subpoenaed to testify in the federal hearings scheduled to start this week in Chattanooga. “All we’ve been told for the last month or two is that we had a very solid case,” he says.
Teacher salary raises could be the bartering chip in the Knox County Schools budget, according to county commissioners. And on Monday some commissioners told Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre they weren’t happy with how raises were included in the schools’ 2014-15 budget proposal. A 2.5 percent salary increase was included in the $432.34 million budget that McIntyre proposed and the school board approved. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has already said that request would not be fully funded. Such employee raises would need extra money beyond the expected allocation of about $428 million that Burchett predicts to come from natural growth in sales tax and other revenue.
The principal of Oak Ridge Preschool forced teachers under threat of being fired to create 33 false documents to satisfy federal auditors, according to the city school system’s superintendent. The deception in late January, when many teachers were summoned back to the preschool at night to create fake records, quickly unraveled after an investigation, and as one result, the preschool’s financial future is in jeopardy. The Anderson County School System is the contractor that oversees the Oak Ridge Head Start program, which is a key component of the city’s preschool operated by Oak Ridge Schools.
It was welcome news that the United Auto Workers decided to drop its appeal of a failed unionization vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant. This clears the way for the state and Volkswagen to move forward in negotiating Volkswagen’s expansion in Tennessee, and the creation of new jobs. The union backed off its appeal only hours before the issue was to come before the National Labor Relations Board for a hearing. The union’s position was that such a protest could take years to resolve, and that was not going to do anyone any good. We agree.
Hot potato! In a move that feels remarkably like the children’s “don’t get stuck holding the potato game,” the United Auto Workers made a last-second decision to withdraw its appeal of the February vote it lost to represent workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. The union’s appeal to the National Labor Relations Board hinged on its beliefs that Tennessee politicians and other outside interests had interfered by making anti-union statements, saying that a UAW win would halt the state’s growth as a major auto manufacturing state.
In an instant, it was done. With the United Auto Workers’ withdrawal of objections regarding February’s vote on whether to authorize a union at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant, the National Labor Relations Board hearing on the matter Monday at the Hamilton County Courthouse lasted only seconds and ended with an NLRB administrative law judge issuing an order to certify the vote. That’s as it should be since the UAW didn’t have a leg to stand on in claiming Tennesseans like Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (a former Chattanooga mayor) and state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, tried to influence the 712-626 vote when they offered opinions about the issue.