This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam says 20,000 high school seniors applied for Tennessee Promise (WATE)
As the deadline for Tennessee Promise approaches, Governor Haslam says nearly 20,000 high school seniors have already applied. Nov. 1 is the deadline for the scholarship. The scholarship provides two years of tuition-free education at a community college or technical school in Tennessee as part of the “Drive to 55” initiative. Gov. Haslam says currently, about a third of Tennesseans hold a certificate or degree beyond high school. He says his office launched the scholarship initiative in order to increase this statistic to 55 percent by 2025. The Tennessee Promise will not be paid for by taxpayer dollars, it will be funded through an endowment set up using money from the Tennessee Lottery.
Turnout high for Tenn. Promise mentoring program (Tullahoma News)
Last week Mayor Lane Curlee put out a call for volunteers interested in helping high school students make the transition to higher education, and on Tuesday evening the community responded enthusiastically. More than 50 area residents filled the second-floor courtroom in city hall to learn more about becoming a mentor for the Tennessee Promise program. Last February, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the statewide program through which all high school graduates, or students who have completed a home-school program, will be eligible for two years of free tuition at a community colleges, college of applied technology (TCAT) or an in-state four-year college or university that offers associate’s degree programs. Members of the class of 2015 will be the first group of graduates offered the incentive.
Gov. Haslam meets with bond rating agencies in New York (Associated Press)
Tennessee officials who met with ratings agencies in New York on Thursday say they were there to reinforce the state’s sound financial footing rather than to ask for improved ratings. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said the annual visit was part of an ongoing effort to remain in close contact with ratings agencies Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch. Haslam noted that during last year’s visit, the state had ended the budget year with a surplus, but had declined to spend the extra money on programs. This year’s visit comes after a year in which revenues came up short, but the governor and lawmakers made the adjustments needed to balance the budget.
Cummins Eyes Memphis Site for Expansion (Memphis Daily News)
Cummins Inc. is eyeing a Memphis property for a planned expansion of the company’s distribution operations, a move that would be welcome news for Memphis officials. Cummins is considering expanding its current distribution operations into a 400,000-square-foot building at 5800 Challenge Drive, according to four people familiar with the situation. The building, which is currently occupied by Stein World, is located just across Challenge Drive from the existing Cummins distribution facility at 4155 Quest Way. Both are located inside ProLogis’ Memphis Distribution Center in Southeast Memphis. A Cummins representative did not confirm the 5800 Challenge Drive site was a possibility, but did say no deal of any kind had been reached yet.
Hemlock Semiconductor donates 833 acres to IDB for industrial recruitment (L-C)
Clarksville-Montgomery County is back in the big leagues of industrial recruitment once again, after a large land donation from Hemlock Semiconductor (HSC) that effectively extends the community’s industrial park inventory northward. On Wednesday, the IDB voted to accept about 833 acres that have been part of the HSC property, to use for potentially recruiting another large employer sometime in the future. IDB Executive Director Mike Evans emphasized Wednesday that this land donation by HSC should not be construed as a signal that the currently mothballed, $1.2 billion polysilicon plant has changed its plans for Clarksville.
UT report projects moderate to strong growth for state economy (N-S/Harris)
Tennessee can expect moderate to strong economic growth in the second half of 2014 and continuing into next year, University of Tennessee economists said in a report released Thursday. Nonfarm employment should grow 1.8 percent this year and increase 1.6 percent in 2015, according to the fall Tennessee Business and Economic Outlook report by UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research. Along with job growth, Tennesseans have more money to spend, the report says. In 2014, personal income in the state is expected to rise by 3.5 percent in 2014. Next year should be even better with 4.4 percent growth, according to the report. “With the exception of the unemployment rate the overall economy is doing well,” Matt Murray, associate director of CBER said in an interview.
Takoma Named ‘Healthier Tennessee Workplace’ (Greeneville Sun)
Takoma Regional Hospital has been named a “Healthier Tennessee Workplace,” a special award by Gov. Bill Haslam recognizing organizations that promote healthy lifestyles to their employees. “Takoma is proud to be a leader in workplace wellness,” Bob Kamieneski, the hospital’s wellness director, said in a news release. “We offer annual health risk assessments for our associates, provide health coaching, and motivate them with wellness initiatives like the ‘Biggest Loser’ contest and ’10K A Day Walking Challenge.’ “Takoma also developed a CREATION Health nature trail behind the hospital for associates — and the community — to use for exercise and to de-stress.”
Davidson sees unemployment rate drop to 6.2% (Nashville Post)
Davidson County saw its unemployment rate at 6.2 percent in August, down from 6.3 percent in July and up from 6 percent in June. According to statistics the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released Thursday, the county registered the lowest July unemployment rate of the state’s four major metropolitan areas. Davidson has consistently enjoyed the lowest jobless mark of Tennessee’s “Big Four” counties for many months now. Knox County (Knoxville) saw its July jobless rate drop to 6.3 percent from its 6.6 percent mark in July. Hamilton County (Chattanooga) had a rate of 7.4 percent, down from 7.8 percent.
Memphis sees some improvement in unemployment rate (Memphis Biz Journal)
The unemployment rate in Memphis improved slightly in August. According to August data, the unemployment rate in metro Memphis decreased to 8.5 percent from the revised rate of 8.8 in July, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That mirrors similarly small overall improvements across the state. The unemployment rate decreased in 83 counties, increased in six counties, and remained the same in six counties. The metro unemployment rate is still well below the 9.8 percent rate reported in August 2013. In Shelby County, the overall unemployment rate remained mostly unchanged, moving from 9 percent in July to 8.9 percent in August. Fayette County was also stagnant with a slight increase in unemployment, ticking up slightly from 8.9 percent to 9 percent.
Jobless rate drops in Chattanooga, rises in Dalton to highest in GA (TFP/Flessner)
The jobless rate declined last month in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tenn., but unemployment rose in metropolitan Dalton, Ga., during August to the highest rate of any metro area in Georgia or Tennessee. Dalton, the self-proclaimed Carpet Capital of the World, continued to suffer from the sputtering housing recovery last month. Unemployment rose again last month in Whitfield and Murray counties to push the jobless rate in metropolitan Dalton up by three-tenths of a percent to 10.7 percent. The Georgia Department of Labor said the Dalton area shed 200 jobs over the past year even as the size of the workforce continued to grow.
August unemployment rate of 8.5 percent for Memphis metro area (CA/McKenzie)
The August unemployment rate for Greater Memphis continued to provide mixed signals about the area’s workforce. At 8.5 percent for August, it was well below the 9.5 percent rate of a year ago, according to figures released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. But the figure of 535,720 people employed in the area for August was down from more than 552,000 a year ago. And the workforce available last month, about 585,500, was below more than 609,000 a year ago. People discouraged from looking for work, retiring, enrolling in school or moving away are helping reduce the metro area’s workforce.
TennCare applicants in limbo face more delays, confusion (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Tennesseans who got caught in a backlog of Medicaid applications are facing new hurdles despite a federal judge’s order that TennCare fix the problem. U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell on Sept. 2 ordered the agency to set up a timely appeals process for potentially thousands of people whose applications are in limbo. However, the agency can’t identify those applicants and inform them of the opportunity to ask for a hearing because its $35.7 million computer system isn’t working. Among other major problems: • Its website refers applicants to a telephone number that no longer works. The telephone number is listed when an applicant clicks on a link labeled “how to file an eligibility appeal.” • When people notify TennCare about a backlogged application, the agency sends them a form to fill out that identifies its Medicaid programs with abbreviations used by state officials instead of their commonly known, publicly branded names. That means more confusion and delays for applicants.
Tennnessee taking prescription drugs back (Associated Press)
Officials are urging Tennesseans to dispose of unneeded or leftover prescription drugs at drop-off locations around the state on Saturday. Doug Varney, the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says the event that is part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is aimed at fighting prescription drug abuse. In Varney’s words: “You might just save someone’s life.” Varney says to remove personal information from original containers before taking them to police and sheriff’s departments participating in the drop-off program.
Haslam marks book foundation’s 10th year (Tullahoma News)
The Tullahoma High School Band welcomed First Lady of Tennessee Crissy Haslam Tuesday morning as the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation statewide bus tour stopped at Frazier McEwen Park to celebrate 10 years of providing free books to children in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and affiliate Imagination Libraries throughout the state. Since the program’s inception 10 years ago, more than 21 million age-appropriate, high-quality books have been delivered to enrolled children ages 5 and under across the state at no cost, regardless of income. This month alone, the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation will help make it possible for Tennessee Imagination Libraries to mail 227,000 books in an effort to encourage parents to read with children.
State Supreme Court postpones Irick execution (Associated Press/Loller)
A death row inmate has been granted a reprieve from an Oct. 7 execution date. On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Billy Ray Irick’s (EYE’-riks) execution should be put on hold while a challenge to the state’s lethal injection and electrocution procedures works its way through the courts. The lawsuit claims that the state has no way to ensure the purity and potency of the lethal injection drug pentobarbital. It also claims that use of the electric chair amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Tennessee changed the law earlier this year to allow the state to execute a prisoner by electrocution in the event that prison officials are unable to obtain pentobarbital.
TN Supreme Court delays Oct. 7 execution of Irick (Tennessean/Haas)
The Tennessee Supreme Court on Thursday postponed the Oct. 7 execution of Billy Ray Irick. The court accepted Irick’s appeal to delay his execution in light of an ongoing lawsuit filed by 11 death row inmates challenging the secrecy of the state’s lethal injection procedures and the constitutionality of its backup plan, the electric chair. Irick, 56, was set to die by lethal injection for the 1985 rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knoxville girl. On Sept. 15, Irick’s attorneys filed a motion to have the date pushed back because their lawsuit hasn’t concluded. Part of the holdup is that attorneys are awaiting a decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals over whether the state must turn over the identities of its execution team.
Tenn. Supreme Court Pushes Back Billy Ray Irick’s Execution Date, Again (WPLN)
The Tennessee Supreme Court has pushed back the execution date of Billy Ray Irick, whom a jury convicted of murder in 1985. He was scheduled to be put to death on Oct. 7. Irick and 10 other convicted murderers on death row are suing the state of Tennessee for shielding the source of its lethal injection drug, pentobarbital. The lawsuit also calls the electric chair a form of cruel and unusual punishment. State lawmakers last session made the electric chair the official death penalty default if lethal injection is not an option — which Irick’s attorney called a “cynical ploy.” During lawsuit’s discovery phase, attorneys representing the state of Tennessee refused to reveal the identities of the members of the execution team. A court determination on whether the state is obligated to do so is now under review, and the recent appeal arises from this dispute.
Tennessee high court reverses murder convictions (Associated Press/Sainz)
Tennessee’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new trial for a man who was sentenced to die for the murders of a Shelby County couple 11 years ago. Henry Lee Jones has been on death row in Tennessee since his 2009 convictions in the slayings of 82-year-old Clarence James and his wife, 67-year-old Lillian James. They were found stabbed, bound and strangled in their home in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett on August 22, 2003. An appeals court upheld the convictions, but the Supreme Court said Thursday it reversed the convictions because the trial court “committed prejudicial error” by admitting evidence that Jones had committed a separate murder in Florida. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said prosecutors will review the opinion and prepare to try the case again.
Death-row inmate awarded new trial in murder of Bartlett couple (CA/Bryson)
The state Supreme Court awarded a new trial Thursday to a Tennessee death row inmate, who was convicted in 2009 of murdering a Bartlett couple. The jury should not have been allowed to hear evidence about a similar murder in Florida, allegedly committed by the defendant, because it posed the risk of unfair prejudice, the court wrote in a ruling released Thursday. Henry Lee Jones received two death sentences from a Shelby County jury for the murders of Clarence and Lillian James, who were found tied up, stabbed and strangled in their home in the 2400 block of Bartlett Blvd in August 2003. Jones was also convicted in October 2013 of murdering a 19-year-old man in a Florida hotel.
Ball challenges Alexander to US Senate debates (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Democratic Senate candidate Gordon Ball on Thursday criticized incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander for refusing to participate in debates that would highlight differences on issues including abortion, education and guns. At a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol, Ball noted that Alexander had found time to visit Vanderbilt University earlier in the week to discuss the Ebola virus in Africa, but has declined to make time to discuss matters more pressing to Tennesseans. Ball called for public debates in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville. Alexander spokesman Brian Reisinger noted that the candidates are scheduled to make a joint appearance at a Farm Bureau forum in Cookeville on Oct. 16, a day after the start of early voting.
Ball turns up the heat on Alexander’s no-debate stance (C. Appeal/Locker)
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball said Thursday that Sen. Lamar Alexander is “doing a disservice to citizens” by refusing to debate him over differences between them on such issues as the Common Core school standards, minimum wage legislation and the upcoming anti-abortion state constitutional amendment. Ball cited Alexander’s presence Wednesday at a Vanderbilt University Medical Center discussion on Tennessee’s preparations against the Ebola epidemic. “Ebola is obviously a pressing problem, certainly a pressing problem in Africa, but I would like to discuss the minimum wage, which affects women and men in Mountain City. There’s 117,000 people in Tennessee on minimum wage. “The real question as I see it is that we have in Lamar Alexander a two-term governor, a two-term United States senator, an ex-president of the University of Tennessee and an ex-U.S. secretary of education who has a long history and a long voting record and yet he refuses to debate us.”
Some in Tennessee glad to see Holder go (Times Free-Press/Sher)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s planned exit from office has two delighted Southeast Tennessee Republican congressmen almost giddy, but a Democratic lawmaker from Memphis is hailing Holder, the first black to become the federal government’s top lawyer, for his work on civil rights and criminal justice reform. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., who has supported legislation calling for Holder’s impeachment, said Thursday Holder’s “departure from the Justice Department cannot come soon enough.” “Throughout his tenure as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, he has consistently shown a wanton disregard for the very laws he is charged to uphold,” DesJarlais, of South Pittsburg, said in a statement.
DesJarlais, Alexander slam exiting Holder (Daily News Journal)
At least Two of Tennessee’s leaders in Congress offered criticism instead of praise Thursday after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would resign. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, issued the following statement “Attorney General Holder’s departure from the Justice Department cannot come soon enough,” the Republican representative from South Pittsburg said through a press release. “Throughout his tenure as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, he has consistently shown a wanton disregard for the very laws he is charged to uphold. “Mr. Holder holds the unfortunate honor of being the first attorney general to ever be held in contempt of Congress,” DesJarlais added.
Blasting to begin for TVA’s coal ash landfill (Tennessean/Cross)
Tennessee Valley Authority construction crews are expected to begin blasting rock near the Gallatin Fossil Plant next week as part of the facility’s new 54-acre dry coal ash landfill. Initial test blasting is scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 29 and go for approximately two weeks, according to a release from the TVA. Nearby residents may hear air horn signals and one blast per day during a scheduled period, which is expected to be between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. “(Test blasting) is essentially where we do three quick blasts in a row with different sizes of explosives, which basically helps us set the parameters of what we can use that will get the job done but without going beyond the limits of noise and debris,” said TVA spokesman Scott Brooks.