This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee report shows new-business filings near pre-recession highs (NBJ)
A new report from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office shows the state is seeing a growth in new-business filings, nearing highs last seen prior to the recession. In the past twelve months, the state has filed 28,798 new companies. That’s the highest total since just shy of 30,000 in 2007, according to the Secretary of State’s new Quarterly Business and Economic Indicators report released Thursday. That bodes promising for the state’s economic growth, particularly on the jobs front, according to William Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, which worked on the report with the state.
New businesses on the rise in Tennessee, report says (Tennessean/Williams)
Tennessee’s new business filings increased in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2013, suggesting strong economic growth, according to a new report released Thursday by the Secretary of State’s Office and the University of Tennessee. New-entity filings, mostly for LLCs – limited-liability corporations – increased 5.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same quarter last year. That’s the tenth consecutive quarter the state has shown such growth, Fox said – the longest period since 2005-2007. It’s also respresents a 20 percent increase over business filings in the fourth quarter of 2013.
More Business Filings Could Mean More Jobs In Tennessee (WPLN-Radio)
Around 29,000 new businesses have registered in Tennessee over the last year. A new quarterly analysis from the Secretary of State regarding openings and closures finds that new businesses could affect other aspects of the state’s economy. University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox, who helped write the report, says that the rise in business filings is significant. “This most recent quarter is the tenth consecutive quarter of growth in the number of new entities,” he says. “You have to go back to the middle of the 2000’s to see a window that long.”
95 of 95: Unemployment down across Tennessee (Nashville Business Journal)
Unemployment fell in all 95 counties in Tennessee in April, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Davidson County’s unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent, down from 5.5 percent in March. Williamson County maintained the state’s lowest unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, down from 4.6 percent in March. Around the region, Cheatham County’s unemployment rate fell from 5.4 percent to to 4.6 percent; Montgomery County’s rate fell from 7.3 percent to 5.9 percent; Rutherford County’s rate fell from 5.1 percent to 4.4, Sumner County’s rate fell from 5.4 percent to 4.6 percent, and Wilson County’s rate fell from 5.4 percent to 4.5 percent.
Memphis unemployment rate tumbles lower in April (Memphis Business Journal)
Memphis saw a significant improvement in its unemployment rate in April, as did the entire state of Tennessee. Metro Memphis’ unemployment rate is now 7 percent, a significant improvement over March’s figure of 8.2 percent, which was revised down from 8.9 percent. In April 2013, the Memphis’ unemployment rate was 8.9 percent. Overall, all of Tennessee’s 95 counties saw gains in April, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Both Tennessee and the U.S. had unemployment rates of 6.3 percent in April, both down from 6.7 percent in March.
Greater Chattanooga area jobless rate falls to 6-year low (TFP/Flessner)
Unemployment fell across the Chattanooga region last month to the lowest level in six years as the economy continued to rebound from the worst recession since before World War II. With business expansions unveiled by carpet manufacturers in North Georgia earlier this spring and a pair of plastic makers announcing plans for new plants in LaFayette, Ga., and Chattanooga this week, economists predict the local unemployment rate should continue to drop below the state and national averages. “Certainly, the worst of the recession is behind us and we think we’re looking at a period of sustained, and even faster, job growth this year,” said David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.
Knox County unemployment rate falls in April (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Knox and Davidson counties had the state’s lowest major metropolitan unemployment rates in April, both at 4.7 percent, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday. Knox was down from 5.6 percent in March and Davidson was down from 5.5 percent. The Hamilton County rate in April was 5.6 percent, down from 6.7 percent in March, the release said. Shelby County was 7.1 percent in April, down from 8.4 percent in March. Both Tennessee and the U.S. had April unemployment rates of 6.3 percent, and both were down from 6.7 percent in March.
Memphis area jobless rate falls to 7% (Commercial Appeal/Evanoff)
Greater Memphis’ jobless rate plunged in April to the lowest rate in six years as the labor force contracted. April’s unemployment rate across the metropolitan area measured 7 percent, compared to 9 percent a year earlier, Tennessee’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. Jobs filled by employers fell to 544,170 in April, down from 553,050 in April 2013. The unemployment rate fell sharply, however, as the number of people on the jobless rolls dropped to 40,780 in April, compared to 54,810 last year. At the same time, the labor force shrank to 584,950 from 607,870 a year earlier.
Big drop in joblessness (Leaf Chronicle)
The Montgomery County unemployment rate showed one of its most significant monthly declines of the past three years, last month, falling 1.4 percentage points to 5.9 percent based on new figures from the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development. The April jobless rate fell all the way from 7.3 percent for March, the state says. A total of 4,490 people were categorized by the state as unemployed during April, out of an estimated countywide labor force of 76,080. The new jobless rate for the Clarksville area is also well below the 7.5 percent rate recorded for the same month a year ago, and, it is below the current state and national jobless rates, which stand identical at 6.3 percent.
Employment continues to fall in Tri-Cities, signaling weak economy (JCP)
Employment in the Tri-Cities declined again in the first quarter of 2014, continuing a downward trend the region has seen since the spring of 2012. According to Steb Hipple, East Tennessee State University economics professor and research associate for the college’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, regional job levels were 221,514 during the January to March period, 0.7 percent lower than the same period in 2013. Unemployment in the area fell 16.5 percent from last year, from 7.9 percent to 6.8 percent, but Hipple pointed to the increasing numbers of workers withdrawing from the labor force as the cause of the decline, which he said was an indication of weakness in the jobs market.
WGU, Columbia State announce tuition partnership (Tennessean)
WGU Tennessee and Columbia State Community College have announced a new partnership that allows graduates and staff of Columbia State to receive discounted tuition to attend WGU Tennessee, a state-endorsed and accredited university. Janet F. Smith, president of Columbia State Community College, said the partnership was a strong example of Tennessee institutions working together to benefit students. The partnership will particularly serve adult students well with alternative formats and online programs offered by WGU Tennessee, Smith said.
State: Recalled beef likely missed Tennessee (D. Free-Press, TN/Erband, Tamburin)
The recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef possibly tainted with E. coli has become a national concern as Memorial Day approaches, but an official from the state health department says Tennesseans are “likely out of the woods.” So far, 11 people in Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts and Missouri have been sickened in connection with the recall, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. At least a half-dozen of the 11 who got sick were hospitalized, though there have been no deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oldest inmate on Tennessee’s death row dies (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Department of Correction says the oldest inmate on death row has died of natural causes. The Tennessean reports 71-year-old Sidney Porterfield died Wednesday afternoon at the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility, which houses inmates with serious illnesses. Porterfield was the hit man in the killing of Ron Owens in 1984 in Memphis. Owens’ wife, Gaile Owens, admitted that she spent months driving around crime-ridden sections of Memphis, looking for someone willing to harm her husband, who she claimed was abusive. She found Porterfield, who ambushed Ron Owens and beat him to death with a tire iron.
Haslam vetoes reduction of penalties for pollution (Associated Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill over what he called an unintended consequence of reducing the criminal penalties for pollution in Tennessee. The bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and fellow Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden was aimed at penalizing retail vandalism by organized groups. It had passed the Senate 29-0 and the House 63-31. The governor said in his veto message Thursday that he was motivated to turn back the measure to protect what he called Tennessee’s “unparalleled natural beauty” for future generations. Campfield said in a phone interview that he had not intended to change the penalties for pollution.
Haslam vetoes ‘flash mob’ vandalism bill (Tennessean/Sisk)
Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill Thursday aimed at vandalism by “flash mobs,” saying that it could have been used to reduce the penalties on other polluters. The Tennessee governor announced that he had struck down House Bill 2029, a measure that its sponsor said was meant to combat retail vandalism by loosely organized gangs. But Haslam agreed with critics who said the bill would have the effect of reducing the penalties for dumping, which also fall under the state’s vandalism statutes. “Tennessee is blessed with unparalleled natural beauty, and we have to protect our land and water for future generations so it remains an attractive place for people to live, work and raise a family,” Haslam said in a press release.
Haslam vetoes ‘flash mob’ vandalism bill citing environmental concerns (TFP/Sher)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam today vetoed legislation that proponents said was aimed at “flash mob” retail vandalism, saying the amended bill had the “unintended consequence” for reducing criminal penalties on polluters. “The original intent of this bill was to define and penalize retail vandalism,” Haslam said in a statement on the bill, which was backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “In a review of the amended legislation, it has been determined that the bill had the unintended consequence of reducing the criminal penalties for certain types of polluting in Tennessee.” Haslam said the “vast majority of Tennessee is rural farm land, and farm property can occasionally be used illegally by non-property owners as dumping grounds for garbage.
Governor uses veto for only third time (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill Thursday that its sponsor said was aimed at preventing “flash mobs” in Tennessee and increasing the penalty for polluting retail products. But the governor said a legal review found the bill had the unintended consequence of reducing criminal penalties for some types of polluting in Tennessee, including illegal dumping in rural areas. Senate Bill 2178/House Bill 2029 is only the third bill Haslam has vetoed through the four sessions of the state legislature of his tenure. Two of them, including the one Thursday, were sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden.
Haslam Vetoes Flash Mob Bill Because It Also Lowers Polluter Penalties (WPLN)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill targeting people who organize flash mobs that result in vandalism. But his reasoning has nothing to do with flash mobs. There were chuckles than serious questions on this flash mob bill. Democrats like Sherry Jones of Nashville hassled the sponsor on the House floor. “You’re not talking about where everybody stops and dances,” Jones said over laughter. Sponsor Andy Holt (R-Dresden) said the real change to state law is making the organizer of a flash mob subject to penalty, even if he or she wasn’t there in person. A similar law is now on the books in Illinois.
Tennessee Brings Back Electric Chair (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law allowing Tennessee to send death row inmates to the electric chair if the state is unable to obtain drugs used for lethal injections. A Haslam spokesman confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday evening that the governor had signed the measure, but offered no further comment. Richard Dieter is the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Dieter said Tennessee is the first state to enact a law to reintroduce the electric chair without giving prisoners an option. Dieter says he expects legal challenges to arise if the state decides to go through with an electrocution.
Haslam signs electrocution bill; legal challenge predicted (N-S/Humphrey)
A legal challenge may be coming for a new state law authorizing execution by electrocution if lethal drugs are not available — a law backed by 56 percent of Tennesseans, according to a recent poll. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the electrocution option bill (HB2476) into law Thursday. It was sponsored by East Tennessee Republican legislators Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro and Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Tennessee is the first state in the nation to enact a law to reintroduce the electric chair without giving prisoners an option.
Tennessee Says It Will Bring Back the Electric Chair (Time Magazine)
Tennessee said it would bring back the electric chair if it couldn’t get its hands on drugs to perform legal executions, amid growing shortages of the drugs used in lethal injections, questions about their humaneness and a recent botched execution. Tennessee said Thursday that it would bring back the electric chair if it couldn’t get its hands on drugs to perform legal executions. Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill Thursday evening, the Associated Press reports, amid growing shortages of the drugs used in lethal injections, questions about their humaneness and a recent botched execution. Though any planned electrocutions would likely spark legal challenges, one expert said the law made Tennessee the first state to bring back the chair without giving the condemned an option of how to die.
Poll: Tennesseans favor permits and background checks (Tennessean/Sisk)
Two-thirds of Tennesseans favor requiring a background check and permit before carrying a handgun in public, according to the most recent poll from Vanderbilt University. Only 28 percent of registered voters say gun owners should be required to get a permit only if they plan to conceal their weapon. Another 5 percent was unsure or would not say. The state Senate approved a bill this spring that would have let gun owners carry openly without a permit. The bill was defeated in the House Finance Subcommittee.
Congressman Duncan wants new policies for veterans hospitals (WATE-TV Knox)
U.S. Congressman Jimmy Duncan wants new policies for veterans’ hospitals, saying veterans should be able to go to any hospital they want. In a speech Thursday on the house floor, Duncan says the only effective solutions to the system’s lingering problems are more competition and closing under-performing hospitals. Army veteran Darryl Henderson says he has permanent injuries from chemicals he breathed while serving in Desert Storm. He’s had eight surgeries and is unable to work. He’s happy with the medical care he gets at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, but wants the freedom to go to a hospital closer to his Knoxville home.
States Push Annual Park Passes to Raise Revenue (Stateline)
The Idaho legislature whacked state park funding by 80 percent at the height of the recession, leaving the Department of Parks and Recreation with little choice but to think outside the box. Parks officials decided to replace the old $40 season pass with a $10 “parks passport,” good for admission to all 30 state parks. Under the new system, they automatically put the passport option in front of Idaho’s 2.5 million vehicle owners as they renewed their license plates each year. The gamble paid off: Last year, 95,800 people opted to buy the $10 passports, compared to 15,000 who used to purchase the $40 season pass each year. So far, the new passports have generated more than $1 million.
Top federal leaders suggest dismissal of lawsuit against UAW/VW (Nooga)
The Department of Labor, Department of Justice and National Labor Relations Board have weighed in on a federal lawsuit that alleges that the neutrality agreement between Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers union is illegal. According to the 25-page document, federal employees side with the UAW and said that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee should dismiss the lawsuit. In February, VW employees at the Chattanooga plant voted against union representation in a 712-626 vote. UAW attempted to get another election but eventually dropped that effort, avoiding a complicated hearing.
DOJ says VW, UAW pact on union vote didn’t break any laws (TFP/Pare)
The U.S. Department of Justice says in a legal brief that neither Volkswagen nor the United Auto Workers violated federal law in their election agreement prior to the February vote at the automaker’s Chattanooga plant. The DOJ, joined by attorneys for the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, said labor law doesn’t prohibit terms of the election agreement. They also said that the three VW employees who filed the federal suit should have brought unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.
Times Editorial: Tennessee lawmakers: Your constituents say what? (TFP)
Tennessee’s real silent majority is not — repeat not — the religious right. Consider the recent poll findings from a Vanderbilt University survey of more than 1,505 Tennesseans, including 1,245 registered voters. Results? An overwhelming majority of the registered voters — 71 percent — opposes giving the state Legislature more power to regulate abortions. This fall, Tennesseans will be asked to vote on this question. An amendment to the state constitution would give the Legislature the constitutional authority to regulate abortions. Based on this poll, however, only about one in four state voters supports giving lawmakers that new power.
Editorial: Meds need closer oversight now (Tennessean)
We already knew that Tennessee had a prescription-drug habit. Now, it appears individual abuse was just part of our worries. A number of recent cases of illegally obtained medicines by fraudsters to resell to pharmacies in Tennessee and other states have reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Usually, the drugs are unused and expired meds that the dealers bought online, bypassing the usual wholesale distribution chain. Physicians have warned the public in recent years of the risks of using expired drugs, but more dangerous are the medications that are mislabeled. The potential for life-threatening situations for consumers is all too great.
Editorial: ‘Take One’ is a step toward fixing prison system flaws (Jackson Sun)
Most readers likely would agree with us that career criminals and violent offenders need to be put behind bars, and kept there a long time. But that covers only a small percentage of those who are incarcerated. The vast majority will return to society. What then? The new “Take One” project being implemented by the Tennessee Department of Corrections seeks to help at least some of those returning from prison. Its simple approach is to seek assistance from churches across Tennessee to take one former prisoner and work with him, and perhaps his family, to reorient them to society, help with jobs, housing and other necessities.