This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee has become an automotive industry powerhouse over the past three decades, with three major manufacturing plants and about 1,000 parts suppliers. The industry employs more than 115,000 Tennesseans and its collective payroll puts about $6 billion directly into the economy. Of course, that is good news for auto workers and for the state as a whole. But there are a couple of causes for concern as the state seeks to continue its momentum into the coming years. The popular image of Tennessee’s automotive industry is a montage of the three major assembly plants — Nissan in Smyrna, General Motors in Spring Hill and Volkswagen in Chattanooga. Indeed, the three behemoths account for about 12,000 industry jobs. In addition to rolling vehicles off those assembly lines, Tennessee has built an impressive supply network.
Bridgestone Americas’ planned move into a new 30-story high-rise in downtown Nashville would produce an additional $87 million in economic activity in the region annually while creating more than 3,200 direct and indirect jobs. That’s according to a study from a researcher at the University of Tennessee hired by Bridgestone to conduct a fiscal impact report on the company’s proposed relocation to downtown Nashville — a move that is dependent on the Metro Council signing off on tax incentives proposed by Mayor Karl Dean. Dean, in a speech this week before the Rotary Club of Nashville, referenced the report, which looked at plans for 1,100 jobs from Bridgestone’s Donelson headquarters, as well as 600 out-of-state jobs from two company divisions, to relocate to the downtown Nashville location south of Broadway.
New products, added markets and more business from existing customers are fueling an expansion by Southern Champion Tray, catapulting its Chattanooga workforce by 105 employees over three years. “It’s not explosive growth, but year after year, it’s good progress,” said John Zeiser, CEO of the business that makes bakery and food packaging items. The company, which expects to have about 565 workers in the city after the expansion, also will invest $18.1 million in new equipment and in a 16,000-square-foot truck fleet service facility. The jobs will range from truck drivers to entry-level posts, Zeiser said. At its North Chattanooga plant on Compress Street, Southern Champion Tray will add manufacturing machines including a cutter, gluer and new tray-forming equipment.
The Alcoholic Beverage Commission is opening an investigation into the practice of businesses selling alcohol accepting IDs sold from a business in Antioch. A Channel 4 I-Team investigation exposed how the business, Servicio Internacional, is selling Tennessee IDs to people who have no proof of citizenship. Our investigation also found a nightclub and a liquor store in Antioch accepted the ID for the sale of alcohol. Ginna Winfree, assistant director of the ABC, said they are now investigating the acceptance of the IDs as part of a broader investigation. “We have some ongoing investigations in regards to these types of false IDs. This will become part of our investigation,” Winfree said.
The state fire marshal’s office is reminding Tennesseans to be careful when using different methods to heat their homes. Officials say heating equipment is a major cause of home fires. According to the Tennessee Fire Incident Reporting System, last year heating equipment was involved in 654 structure fires, which caused 12 deaths, 14 injuries and more than $9 million in property damage. Some safety tips include: – Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater. – Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed. – Use fuel specified by the manufacturer for fuel-burning space heaters.
Law enforcement officials in Shelby and DeSoto counties will be out in force during the Thanksgiving holiday. The enforcement period will begin at noon Wednesday through 6 a.m. Monday by the Tennessee Highway Patrol in the Memphis District. In Mississippi, the Highway patrol will begin its enforcement at 6 p.m. Wednesday and end at midnight Sunday. Drivers suspected of driving under the influence will be stopped by the troopers as part of the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s ongoing “Drive to Zero Fatalities” campaign. Troopers will actively patrol and focus on areas across Memphis using CRASH, the patrol’s data-driven deployment program.
A home is not something everyone is fortunate enough to have, but some homeless Johnson City veterans will soon find a roof over their heads. The Tennessee Housing Development Agency presented a $430,000 grant to Keystone Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates under the Johnson City Housing Authority, to develop a seven-unit complex for homeless veterans. “We were very surprised, but happy to have this grant,” JCHA Executive Director Richard McClain said. Homeless Veteran Housing operates under Keystone Inc., which aims to provide homeless United States’ veterans with permanent housing. The buildings will be erected within an existing JCHA community.
Tennessee’s secretary of state is appointed by lawmakers to keep the state’s official records and oversee state elections. But the way that Tre Hargett has spent your money has caused some to question whether he’s running for something else — at taxpayer expense. Now, following new questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Hargett is admitting that he “missed the mark” on one such expenditure. “You realize this is not Tre Hargett’s money?” we asked. “Absolutely,” he agreed. “This money belongs to taxpayers.” Hargett raised eyebrows recently when he decided to replace the traditional “I voted” stickers that are handed out on Election Day. Instead, his office ordered new stickers that prominently featured his name.
The conservative wing of the Tennessee legislature has accused House leadership of being too cozy with the governor’s office. Bill Haslam is defending his ties, suggesting coziness is preferred over conflict. The campaign to unseat Beth Harwell as House Speaker is basically about her being too close to Haslam. She has – at times – used her power to make sure legislation doesn’t reach the governor’s desk, like an attempt to repeal Common Core education standards. Asked if people who claim he has puppets in the legislature may have a point, Haslam tells WPLN he doesn’t see a problem with working in tandem. “That’s why people hate Washington right now, right? Because nobody actually seems to be trying to solve the problem,” Haslam says.
Incoming state Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis has been elected leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus. The caucus held its elections on Tuesday. Incoming Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville was elected caucus chairman. Both men, who are attorneys, were nominated by Memphis Sen. Sara Kyle, who is taking over the seat once occupied by her husband, former Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. He is currently serving on the Shelby County Chancery Court bench. Republicans control the state Senate 28-5. Harris defeated former Sen. Ophelia Ford in the August primary. The former Memphis City councilman said despite the small number he believes Democrats will have a voice in the Legislature, which convenes Jan. 13. “Everybody … is a leader in our caucus,” Harris said.
Two new, young Democrats are set to lead the five state Senate Democrats in the next legislative session. Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, was elected as Senate Minority Leader during a caucus meeting Tuesday. Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, will serve as Senate Democratic Caucus chairman. By choosing freshmen as their leaders, the Senate Democrats sent a message they are betting on the future of the party, Harris said. “At some point, you end up at a place where you’ve got to have a hard reset. And I think that’s where the party is,” Harris said. “We’re going to have a hard reset, and we’re going to put a lot of our chips in the future of this party. And that’s what we did today.” Harris is the first black lawmaker to serve in a leadership capacity for either party in the Senate, said caucus spokesman Matt Anderson.
State Senate Democrats elected freshman Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis as their leader for the next two-year term of the Legislature on Tuesday. After losing two more seats in this year’s elections, the caucus has only five members, compared to the 28 Republicans in the 33-member Senate. It’s the Senate’s smallest minority since 1959 when Republicans had five seats. The Democrats also elected Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville, another freshman elected this month, as caucus chairman. Senate Democrats were the first of the Legislature’s four caucuses to organize for the 109th General Assembly, which opens its two-year run Jan. 13. The biggest battle comes Dec. 10 when the 73 House Republicans meet to settle a leadership struggle between establishment members led by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and more conservative types backing Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, who is challenging her for speaker.
Protesters in Memphis are expressing their feelings about the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Holding signs saying “stop police violence” and “value all lives,” about three or four dozen protesters began gathering about 5 p.m. Tuesday at a busy intersection in east Memphis near shops, restaurants and a large grocery. Some motorists honked car horns in solidarity as they passed. The protesters are chanting slogans such as “this is what democracy looks like.” They are gathering a day after a grand jury decided not to indict white officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black.
Memphis activist Barry Blackstone walked along Poplar with a megaphone Tuesday night shouting “What do we want?” A crowd of demonstrators yelled back “Justice!” More than 200 people gathered at the intersection of Poplar and Highland in response to Monday night’s announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown. Organizer Sha’ona Coleman, 22, set candles around a black coffin adorned with flowers as a crowd of people sang “We Shall Overcome.” The people carried signs reading “transform tragedy” and “do you want oppression or protection?” They chanted “We are the people, the mighty mighty people. Fighting for justice. Fighting for peace.”
“Indict, convict. Send a killer cop to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” About 450 protesters yelled that in unison when they gathered outside the Metro police station in downtown Nashville on Tuesday night. The event, billed on Facebook as a candlelight vigil to show solidarity for Ferguson, Mo., quickly turned into a march that blocked downtown streets and even Interstate 24. Micky ScottBey Jones of Spring Hill grabbed the megaphone outside the police station. In front of a crowd bundled in scarves and hats against temperatures that dipped into the low 40s, she talked about her 11-year-old son. “It terrifies me that someone may look at him and not see a child, but instead see a dangerous man that needs to be taken down,” she said.
They’ve been here before. Not Michael Brown. Not Ferguson, Mo. But for many people, a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who shot and killed an 18-year-old, unarmed black man pointed to a larger problem that extends beyond the St. Louis suburb. A problem as old as black and white. A problem that traces back through decades of social injustice and racial disparities. Across the St. Louis area in the hours after the decision was announced, thousands of people took to the streets. Some prayed and stood for peace. Some looted stores and burned businesses. Dozens were arrested. By nightfall Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had more than tripled the number of National Guard troops in Ferguson, ordering the initial force of 700 to be increased to 2,200 to keep order.
The TV in District Attorney General Glenn Funk’s office has been on CNN all day. Last night, too, Funk could not take his eyes off news coverage coming out of Ferguson, Mo. “I was just afraid someone was going to start shooting, and instead of just property damage we’d have people injured,” he told The Tennessean on Tuesday. Funk was glued to the TV Monday night when the district attorney in Ferguson announced that a grand jury there would not charge a police officer who shot and killed a black teen. Funk questioned the timing of the announcement, which happened after dark. “I felt that making the announcement at 8 p.m. at night was particularly inappropriate, given the level of distrust in the community,” Funk said. The announcement in Ferguson was followed by hours of chaos, fire-setting and looting there.
Chattanooga’s WTVC Channel 9 is receiving national attention over a tweet someone at the station sent out Monday night when news of the grand jury verdict came out of Ferguson, Mo. It’s not positive attention. When ABC News broke in to a program to report that the grand jury did not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, @newschannelnine tweeted: “Don’t worry, Dancing With the Stars will be back on after the special report.” To some, the tweet came off as insensitive and racist. “You should just go off the air right now,” Jasmine Berry said on Channel 9’s Twitter feed. The gaffe hit some national websites Tuesday, showing up on Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, Hollywood Reporter and E!Online, among others, eliciting more outrage.
The Obama administration proposed new rules Tuesday for teacher training programs that would tie federal aid to metrics—including how well their graduates perform in the job market and in the classroom—as officials attempt to toughen accountability for the programs. The regulations would require programs to track data on their graduates that includes job placement and the performance of students those graduates eventually teach. Programs would have to earn ratings of effective or higher for at least two of three years to qualify for TEACH grants, which provide up to $4,000 annually for individual students to put toward their teacher training. In 2014, the department gave out about 34,000 TEACH grants totaling nearly $100 million.
President Barack Obama’s decision to defer the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants has prompted sharply varying reactions from state leaders, with some vowing to fight the decision and others hailing it as a vindication of their own policies. Texas and Oklahoma prepared to file lawsuits to overturn Obama’s new policy, while Arizona’s new governor vowed to continue withholding driver’s licenses and in-state tuition from anyone who will benefit from it. Meanwhile, Obama’s decision to offer a deportation reprieve to eligible immigrants echoes policies already in place in states such as California and Rhode Island. Under the president’s plan, about 4 million unauthorized immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens will be eligible to have their deportations deferred and to work legally, as long as they pass background checks and pay taxes.
In rival camps located about a mile apart, both supporters and opponents of the United Auto Workers’ efforts to unionize their first foreign auto plant in the South say a new labor policy at the Volkswagen factory is going to help them. The new policy, known as “Community Organization Engagement,” establishes formal rules for labor groups at the plant for the first time. What the effects will be is still up for debate. To some, the policy may open the door to the union eventually representing all workers in contract negotiations. To others, it may undercut the union by giving an opposing group an official voice at the plant. The outcome is being closely watched in the U.S. and abroad. Other German and Asian automakers in the South are keenly monitoring developments, as are anti-union Republicans. And the company, with perhaps the most to say, isn’t saying much at all.
The day after her 61st birthday, Renee Oakes received a letter she quickly regretted opening. As the retired Erlanger Health System nurse unfolded the memo, she learned that the retiree health insurance she relies on would be canceled altogether on Dec. 31. “With the heavy economic burdens Erlanger Health System has faced, it has become necessary to terminate our retiree health benefits,” the letter read. “When I got that letter, I cried,” said Oakes, who had worked in the children’s hospital from 1990 to 2012. “It felt like a slap in the face. I stayed at that job. I was never there because of the money. I was there because I loved those kids. It feels like you are being punished for staying.”
The Metro Nashville Public Schools board of education is asking Director of Schools Jesse Register to present his decision on an East Nashville charter school conversion at the next board meeting, potentially opening the door to the board rejecting his decision and wading into legally shaky ground. Board member Jill Speering tried to get the board to “suspend the rules” during its meeting Tuesday night because she wanted the decision-making process for which school would go to charter operator KIPP to “be opened back up.” After a Metro Schools attorney told the board that move would likely violate open meetings laws, board Chairwoman Sharon Gentry agreed to put Register’s recommendation on the agenda for the board’s Dec. 9 meeting.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s office must take a hard look at the needs of the Department of Children’s Services as it goes through the budget process. Public discussion about Children’s Services began Monday during a budget presentation to Haslam. While the department has many challenges, its next budget must reflect solutions to security, safety and staffing issues at the department’s youth detention centers. The Woodland Hills complex in Nashville has been the focus of attention, as it has been the scene of three major escapes or escape attempts since Sept. 1. The department also has youth detention facilities in Dandridge and Memphis. On Sept. 1, residents at Woodland Hills took advantage of weaknesses in the construction of the facility to break out.
Fewer Tennesseans are going without health insurance than at any time in the past decade, a welcome development that has coincided with the implementation of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. According to a report by the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the rate of uninsured residents in Tennessee this year is 7.2 percent, a whopping 23 percent decrease from 2013. The rate of uninsured children also plummeted by more than one-third, from 3.7 percent to 2.4 percent. While the report does not explicitly link the drop with the startup of the Affordable Care Act, the researchers noted that the decline occurred at the same time the Health Insurance Marketplace was established under the landmark health care legislation.
Note: The news-clips will resume on Saturday, November 29, 2014.