This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Chattanooga VW plant may assemble two SUVs (Times Free-Press/Pare)
While Volkswagen and Tennessee officials try to finalize incentives for a new midsize sport utility vehicle for the automaker’s Chattanooga plant, the factory could assemble a smaller SUV as well. Michael Horn, Volkswagen Group of America’s chief executive, hinted to NBC News that details about production of the midsize SUV should be announced shortly, and it’s expected to be handled by the Chattanooga plant. The plant would undergo a significant expansion to handle a midsize SUV and possibly other future models, such as a second sport utility vehicle based on a stretched version of the current compact Tiguan, the report said.
Study: Tennessee’s manufacturing climate is solid, but worker quality is poor (NBJ)
Tennessee is on solid footing when it comes to its manufacturing sector but lacks quality labor, according to a study released last week by Ball State University. Overall, Tennessee received a grade of B for its manufacturing climate, scoring well for the state’s strong logistics industry, but came up short in the “human capital” component. That section of the report includes rankings of educational attainment at the high school and collegiate level, the first-year retention rate of adults in community and technical colleges, the number of associates degrees awarded annually on a per capita basis, and the share of adults enrolled in adult basic education.
Rudd confident Board of Regents will approve tuition freeze (Nashville Biz Journal)
During a reception welcoming him to the University of Memphis presidency, David Rudd announced Friday the school would not be raising tuition for the first time in 22 years. Earlier this spring, Brad Martin, who served as interim president, proposed freezing tuition, while also requesting a 43 percent tuition reduction for full-time undergraduate students from within a 250-mile radius of Memphis and a 13.7 percent reduction for students outside of a 250-mile radius of Memphis. The Tennessee Board of Regents is expected to vote on the proposals later this week. Martin said if the school could increase enrollment, it would offset the estimated $1.7 million impact the reduced fee proposals would have on the school’s budget.
Tennessee holding earthquake response exercise (Associated Press)
Tennessee National Guard members and emergency response officials are holding an exercise this week to simulate the response to a large earthquake along the New Madrid (MAD’-rihd) fault. More than 1,000 guardsmen and other responders will participate in the exercise that runs through Thursday. The New Madrid zone stretches 150 miles, crossing parts of Tennessee and six other states. In 1811 and 1812, it unleashed a trio of powerful jolts that rattled the central Mississippi River valley. Maj. Gen. Max Haston, the commander of the Tennessee National Guard, says the exercise will demonstrate the close relationship with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
121 lose jobs in Tenn. Department of Human Services (WKRN-TV Nashville)
More than 100 employees with the Tennessee Department of Human Services learned last Friday that their positions are being eliminated. The layoffs were confirmed late Monday morning by DHS spokesperson Devin Stone. In all 121 people lost their jobs. She said the jobs were being eliminated from the department’s Family Assistance division as case loads in that area continue to decrease. The Family Assistance division deals primarily the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which is the food stamps program.
State cuts hundreds of positions in Dept. of Human Services (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Several dozen Tennessee state workers have lost their jobs because of changes in some government assistance programs. A reorganization is happening in the Tennessee Family Assistance Service. Family Assistance falls under the Department of Human Services and administers temporary assistance for needy families and supplemental nutrition assistance programs. The state has already eliminated 256 positions that were vacant this year, and on Friday it cut 121 probationary jobs. Those were workers with less than 12 months of service at DHS. And this isn’t the end of the job cuts.
THP trooper faces rape, domestic assault charges (Associated Press)
A state trooper is facing rape and domestic assault charges. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper William Hobbs was placed on leave after he was arrested over the weekend in Hohenwald. The 48-year-old Hobbs is assigned to the Highway Patrol’s Lawrenceburg District and has been a state trooper for 10 years. The criminal investigation is ongoing. The Safety Department also is conducting an internal investigation to look into whether any Highway Patrol policies were violated. Hobbs is free on a $5,000 bond.
Former THP sergeant indicted on prostitution charge (WKRN-TV Nashville)
A former Tennessee Highway Patrol sergeant has been indicted on a prostitution charge. Daniel Threet, 45, surrendered Saturday morning on a Davidson County grand jury indictment charging him with patronizing prostitution near a school zone. Metro police stated they started investigating Threet in early February. According to a press release, he patronized a prostitute on Stainback Avenue on January 31. Officials said the male prostitute advertised on the Internet. Threet was reportedly in full uniform and driving a state-issued vehicle at the time of the incident. He resigned from the Tennessee Highway Patrol after he was placed on leave as a result of the investigation.
Trooper disciplined by THP sues state and wins (WSMV-TV Nashville)
A 27-year veteran of the Tennessee Highway Patrol successfully won his appeal after being investigated and docked 20 days of pay, blamed for being the source for internal documents leaked to the Channel 4 I-Team. An administrative law judge’s ruling shows that now-retired trooper Eric Weingeroff was investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation following a series of reports into illegal drugs found at the home of the former director of a state drug and alcohol enforcement agency. It all started in 2011 when Weingeroff and two Dickson County deputies went to the home of former Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission Director Danielle Elks on a next-of-kin death notification to alert her of the death of her husband, Taz Digregorio.
Madison resident tests positive for mosquito-borne virus (Jackson Sun)
A Madison County resident has tested positive for the chikungunya (chik-un-GUHN-ya) virus, but officials at the Tennessee Department of Health expect more cases may exist. Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne virus that causes fever, joint paint, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash, according to the World Health Organization. There is no cure, but the virus is not usually fatal. Symptoms generally last seven to 10 days. The virus primarily occurs in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, but outbreaks have occurred throughout the Caribbean.
Officials remind parents of school immunizations (Associated Press)
Tennessee health officials are urging parents to start thinking about their children’s school immunizations now. Children in Tennessee who are enrolling in school for the first time and all students going into seventh grade are required to have a state immunization certificate before classes start. Many health care providers, including county health departments, have necessary immunizations available. Children who have no insurance, are enrolled in TennCare, have private insurance that doesn’t cover vaccines or are American Indian or Alaska Native may be eligible for free vaccines.
TN health officials remind parents about whooping cough vaccine (WSMV-TV Nash)
Cases of whooping cough are on the rise across the United States, including in Tennessee. State health officials are warning parents of rising seventh-graders to get their children vaccinated sooner than later. “It’s important that these children have these vaccines before they go back,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is highly contagious and can cause respiratory problems, serious illness and even death. “Pertussis is easily contagious and, unfortunately, the childhood shots we give wear off by the time children are 11 or 12 years old,” Moore said.
Kingsport man sentenced in TennCare fraud case (Times-News)
A Kingsport man has been ordered to repay the state after being convicted of TennCare fraud, according to the Office of the Inspector General. George Dease, 39, Kingsport, was arrested in August of last year when he gained access to TennCare benefits by falsely claiming his minor son lived in his household. He is ordered to repay the state $6,831.19 plus $400 in fines. He has also been ordered to close his TennCare account and is on three years of supervised probation. “People who misrepresent their situation to obtain benefits that are paid by taxpayers are going to be caught, it’s just a matter of time,” Acting Inspector General Robert White said in a press release.
Lawmakers expect changes to Tennessee tax laws (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Leaders of the legislative committee that oversees Tennessee’s tax laws say they believe a state Department of Revenue study of a downward spiral in collections from businesses will lead to an administration push for changes to the state’s franchise and excise levies next year. “I think you’ll see a ‘technical corrections 2.0’ or something like that,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNallly, R-Oak Ridge, said. “Now that we know there’s a problem, we have to logically go through the process of deciding what to do about it,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin.
State legislative leaders tour winery, Hankook site in Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)
Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Clarksville’s state Rep. Curtis Johnson, speaker pro tem, visited Beachaven Vineyards and Winery on Monday for a brief tour. Owners Ed and Louisa Cooke led the tour, explaining the process and how the winery has grown over the years. They talked about how Beachaven has established itself as an award winning winery, with an array of offerings that include dry, semi-dry, sweet and sparkling wines. Harwell asked the Cookes’ opinion of Tennessee’s wine law. “I feel Tennessee has a fine wine law, it’s just a little difficult to maneuver through it,” Ed Cooke said.
Report: Campfield rated most conservative, Johnson top liberal (NS/Humphrey)
A rating of state legislators’ ideology by The Sunlight Foundation ranks Knoxville’s Gloria Johnson as the most liberal member of the state House and Knoxville’s Stacey Campfield as the most conservative member of the state Senate. Johnson questions the validity of the analysis of legislative voting records. So does Knoxville’s Rep. Bill Dunn, who is rated the most liberal Republican in the House. Campfield, however, does not quarrel with being classified as the Senate’s most conservative member. East Tennesseans also are prominent in The Sunlight Foundation’s rating of legislators for effectiveness, which is based largely on the number of bills they sponsored that were enacted into law.
Stevens raises nearly $12K in TN House race (Daily News Journal)
Rutherford County Commissioner Robert Stevens, candidate in the Republican primary for the Tennessee House of Representatives in the 49th district, announced his total fund raising for the first quarter, collecting $11,800 between the time he entered the race in late February through March 31. Available cash on hand is nearing $15,000, which is fifty percent more than the incumbent has. “Support for the campaign is increasing daily,” Stevens said in his press release. “We exceeded our initial fund-raising goal thanks to the generosity of a wide variety of contributors who are looking for a professional, positive and ethical leader to represent our community.”
Tennessee drunken driving law has loophole (Associated Press)
A newspaper investigation has found that Tennessee has a loophole in its drunken driving law. The Commercial Appeal reported its analysis found that a person potentially could spend more time in jail for driving drunk and getting pulled over than for someone who causes a fatal accident while driving under the influence. The newspaper found at least three offenders who have avoided jail time in Shelby County. Meanwhile, the state’s law for first offense drunken drivers is among the toughest in the nation, requiring jail time of at least 48 hours. “That’s ridiculous,” said Nashville attorney Tom Kimball, who trains prosecutors and police officers on DUI laws.
Joe Carr brings out the Middle Tennessee endorsements (Tennessean/Sisk)
Joe Carr’s Senate campaign on Monday went back to its strategy of rolling out lawmaker endorsements, releasing the names of seven more backers. The latest list features House members from Middle Tennessee: Reps. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia; Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Mark Pody, R-Lebanon; Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville; Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna; Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg; and Rick Womick, R-Rockvale. Matheny gets the privilege: “After what we’ve seen in Virginia and Mississippi, there is no question that this is an election year of change and what happened this week to the Washington establishment will repeat itself in Tennessee,” Matheny said in a press release announcing the endorsements.
Roe launches campaign for fourth term (Times-News)
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe launched a campaign for a fourth term Monday, when he vowed to improve health care and work to make medical assistance for veterans more accessible. Roe, a Republican representing Tennessee’s 1st District, outlined his platform during a visit with the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board at the newspaper offices in Bristol, Va. Job creation is always at the top of his priority list, Roe said, but the recent patient wait audit at Veterans Administration hospitals across the nation moved that issue near the top.
Court Rulings on Voter Restrictions Create Limbo as Midterms Near (NY Times)
With the midterm elections only months away, efforts to carry out some of the country’s strictest photo ID requirements and shorten early voting in several politically pivotal states have been thrown into limbo by a series of court decisions concluding that the measures infringe on the right to vote. The most recent ruling came last Wednesday, when a federal judge ordered Ohio’s elections chief to restore early voting hours on the three days before Election Day. It is the second lower court decision in Ohio since 2012 that bolsters voter rights. The court decisions have gone both ways, but several have provided a new round of judicial rebukes to the wave of voting restrictions, nearly all of them introduced since 2011 in states with Republican majorities.
Health survey ranks U.S. last among rich peers (USA Today)
For the fifth time in a decade, the United States is the sick man of the rich world. But recent health reforms and increased health technology spending may provide a cure in the coming years. That’s according to the latest Commonwealth Fund survey of 11 nations, which ranked the world’s most expensive health care system dead last on measures of “efficiency, equity, and outcomes.” So too in 2010, 2007, 2006 and 2004. The United Kingdom got the golden apple for 2014, with Switzerland a close second. The U.S. ranking reflects poor scores on measures of healthy lives — “mortality amenable to medical care,” infant mortality and healthy life expectancy at age 60.
Contractor overbilled TVA with duplicate invoices (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Comdata Network Inc., overbilled the Tennessee Valley Authority by more than $1 million with duplicate invoices and charges on credit cards used by TVA employees to buy fuel over a 21-month period, a TVA audit shows. In a review of Comdata’s work for TVA released Monday, TVA’s Office of Inspector General claims that Comdata submitted $846,022 in duplicate invoices, merchants made duplicate charges on another $83,271 and state fuel taxes were paid although not required on another $106,174 of TVA fuel during fiscal 2012 and 2013.
Study: Tennessee the third-most dangerous state (Nashville Business Journal)
Tennessee ranks near the bottom of WalletHub.com’s new list safest states in which to live. In a recent study by the personal finance site, using federal and census data, Tennessee ranked as the third-most dangerous state. Only Arkansas and Nevada came in worse than Tennessee. The report factors more than just violence and crime, though Tennessee ranked among the highest in the country with assaults per capita and murders per capita, making it the worst state for home and community safety, according to WalletHub.
Vanderbilt, MissionPoint announce partnership (Tennessean/DuBois)
Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has formed a new kind of partnership with Nashville-based MissionPoint Health Partners, a health management group with about 100,000 Tennessee members. Under the partnership, being announced this Tuesday morning, those members can access both inpatient and outpatient pediatric acute care services at Vanderbilt’s children’s hospital but at no other Vanderbilt medical center. MissionPoint has other providers in its network to serve adults, including St. Thomas Health-owned facilities in Nashville, Murfreesboro and Centerville.
Kingsport finds extra $150,000 for schools (Times-News)
It looks like Kingsport City Schools is going to get some extra money this year after all. During a Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session Monday afternoon, City Manager John Campbell said he and city staff have identified $150,000 in next year’s budget to allocate to KCS. Kingsport provides KCS with $10.2 million in operating funds each year — money generally referred to as maintenance of effort money. The amount cannot be decreased by the BMA. The BMA is scheduled to vote for a final reading on the 2015 budget during its regular meeting tonight.
Meth lab found in east Tenn. home where 3 kids live (WKRN-TV Nashville)
A Knox County couple was arrested Monday after investigators found a meth lab in their home where three little girls lived with their great-grandmother. According to ABC affiliate WATE-TV, the meth lab was found on the second floor of the home, on East Emory Road, while the kids and their great-grandmother lived downstairs. The children’s grandmother Selina Murphy, 41, and her boyfriend Rickey Farris, 43, were taken into custody. The kids’ great-grandmother told the station she had no idea there was a meth lab in the upper-level of the home.
The decision by the Jackson-Madison County school board to accept federal funding to provide free breakfasts and lunches for all students in the school system leaves us with mixed feelings. From a financial standpoint, it doesn’t seem right to use federal money to pay for meals for students whose families can afford to pay for them. That doesn’t sound like good stewardship of our tax dollars on the part of the federal government, and we don’t think it’s the government’s role to ‘help’ those who don’t need help. With the serious financial problems our country faces, and with our national debt at more than $17 trillion, why are we spending millions of dollars a year feeding people who can afford to feed themselves?