This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee named ‘State of the Year’ for economic growth (Tennessean/McGee)
For the second straight year, Tennessee won a top ranking for boosting jobs and capital investments through company relocations and expansions. Economic development and site selector magazine Business Facilities named Tennessee its 2014 “State of the Year,” pointing to its emphasis on infrastructure and education as supportive to companies’ growth. “We are consistently regarded as one of the most favorable business climates in the United States,” said Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty. “That is certainly front of mind as CEOsare considering where they want to locate their business.”
Tennessee named business state of the year again (TFP/Flessner)
Tennessee was rated the best state for economic development again last year, the first state to win back-to-back honors as the State of the Year from Business Facilities magazine. The business publication recognized the Volunteer State on Monday for its educational improvements, its automotive industry growth and its location and infrastructure. “Tennessee is one of a handful of states that have clearly made economic development priority No. 1,” said Jack Rogers, editor of the Tinton Falls, N.J.-based Business Facilities magazine. “With a powerhouse automotive cluster, world-class infrastructure and the nation’s most improved education system, we could be looking at a State of the Year dynasty in the making.”
Tennessee named Economic Development State of the Year (Leaf Chronicle)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Business Facilities, a leading national publication focused on site selection and economic development, has named Tennessee its 2014 State of the Year for a second consecutive year. Tennessee becomes the first state in the award’s history to win back-to-back honors for economic development efforts and the first state to win the designation three times, winning in 2014, 2013 and 2009. “It is an honor to be the first state to receive this recognition two years in a row,” Haslam said.
Business Facilities names TN ‘State of the Year’ for 2nd consecutive year (WJHL)
Business Facilities, a national publication focused on economic development, named Tennessee its 2014 State of the Year for the second consecutive year. The following is a press release from the governor’s office: NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam [Monday] announced Business Facilities, a leading national publication focused on site selection and economic development, has named Tennessee its 2014 State of the Year for a second consecutive year. Tennessee becomes the first state in the award’s history to win back-to-back honors for economic development efforts and the first state to win the designation three times, winning in 2014, 2013 and 2009.
State of the Year … again: What Bill Hagerty says TN needs for a three-peat (NBJ)
Beretta. Under Armour. Bridgestone. Big economic development projects and names like these cemented Tennessee as Business Facilities Magazine’s 2014 “State of the Year” for the second straight year, and the third time since the trade publication began picking the nation’s top state for economic development in 2007. I caught up with Bill Hagerty, head of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, to talk about Tennessee’s corporate recruitment success in the past year and what the state needs to continue to do moving forward. “It says something about the durability of our approach to economic development,” said Hagerty, who is leaving his role as the state’s top economic development official this month after a four-year tenure.
Editorial: The General Assembly should approve Insure Tennessee (C. Appeal)
Leaders of the city’s four major (and highly competitive) hospitals and the head of the Greater Memphis Chamber visited The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board Monday to deliver a unified message: The Tennessee General Assembly should approve Insure Tennessee. Insure Tennessee is the proposal Gov. Bill Haslam worked out with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to allow Tennessee to expand TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, under stipulations different from those spelled out in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The program would provide uninsured Tennesseans coverage in one of two areas: a voucher-based program to buy employer-sponsored insurance called the Volunteer Plan; or a Healthy Incentives Plan that would provide coverage in a redeveloped TennCare option that would add an incentive-based funding account.
Memphis hospital leaders urge passage of Haslam’s Insure Tenn plan (CA/Veazey)
On a day when Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed expansion of health insurance in the state reportedly met with pushback by a pair of prominent Republican state legislators, the leaders of Memphis’ four major hospital systems presented a united front in support of the plan, called Insure Tennessee. Baptist Memorial Health Care president and CEO Jason Little, considering the possibility of opposition by lawmakers to the program, said this: “My question back is, who wins by not approving this?” The local health care leaders — Little; Reginald Coopwood, president and CEO of Regional One Health; David Archer, CEO of St. Francis Hospital; and Michael Ugwueke, president and chief operating officer of Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare — urged the General Assembly to OK the program in a meeting with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board.
MSHA, Wellmont join support of Gov. Haslam’s Medicaid plan (Herald-Courier)
The region’s two major health care systems have joined forces to support Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed Medicaid expansion plan. Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System officials met with the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board Monday to discuss why they support Insure Tennessee. The plan would provide coverage to about 200,000 currently uninsured Tennesseans, according to the governor’s office. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states can decide if they want to expand Medicaid, which provides health care for the indigent. Tennessee and Virginia are among those states that opted not to expand, because the federal government would pay 100 percent of those costs for three years and then scale back to 90 percent in 2020, forcing states to pick up the additional costs.
More Nashville Office Workers Expected Downtown As Demand Shifts (WPLN)
Bridgestone Americas’ decision to move its headquarters from the airport area to downtown Nashville illustrates a larger trend: more businesses are eyeing downtown relocations and more inventory there is being prepared for office tenants. Two big downtown buildings, the UBS Tower and the AT&T Tower, are being renovated for spiffier office digs, and Bridgestone is promising to bring 1,700 workers to downtown. The fourth quarter of 2014 saw the state of Tennessee leasing more than 100,000 square feet of office space in the UBS Tower, and Bridgestone is expected to lease out 514,000 square feet of its new office space. And a 15-story office tower is nearing completion in the Gulch on 12th Avenue, and an 8-story office building, also in the Gulch, is now leasing out space.
Nominations begin for governor’s environmental award (Tennessean/Barnes)
Those who know a fellow Tennessean who has gone above and beyond to protect the state’s environment should nominate him or her for a Governor’s 2015 Environmental Stewardship Award. “It is important to recognize the Tennesseans who help keep our state’s air, land and water healthy because these efforts make our communities stronger,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a press release. “These projects protect our natural resources and provide economic benefits, increasing Tennessee’s sustainability.” The Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards cover 10 categories: building green; clean air; energy and renewable resources; environmental education and outreach; environmental education and outreach (school category); land use; materials management; natural heritage; sustainable performance; and lifetime achievement.
Tenn. Republican leaders to show up at Obama event in Knoxville (TFP/Brogdon)
When President Barack Obama takes the stage at Pellissippi State Community College on Friday, he may see some unexpected faces in the crowd — some of Tennessee’s top Republicans. Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, will be speaking about plans to make college more accessible to Americans and to boost manufacturing jobs. So far, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker plan to attend the president’s talk. When Obama visited Chattanooga in July 2013, neither the governor nor congressional Republicans joined him. That’s a signal that Obama will likely tout Haslam’s Tennessee Promise project and use that to make headway with his own education policies.
Will Haslam Make Good On Promise To Boost Teacher Pay In Tennessee? (WPLN)
Tennessee teachers are starting 2015 curious to know if it will be a second year without a pay raise. So far, state officials haven’t made any more promises. WPLN pressed outgoing education commissioner Kevin Huffman when he didn’t even mention teacher salaries in his annual budget presentation. “All the salary stuff – state employee salary and teacher salary – will be done through the governor’s budget release,” Huffman said. His replacement – incoming education commissioner Candice McQueen – says in a statement that she “shares Governor Bill Haslam’s desire to raise teacher salaries and looks forward to working with him on this commitment.”
To Reduce Traffic Deaths, Troopers Handed Out More Seat Belt Citations (WPLN)
Tennessee drivers received 102,000 seat belt citations in 2014 — 30,000 more than the year before. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the increasing enforcement of seat belt laws is part of its effort to bring down the number traffic deaths. By the end of 2014, 952 people died in Tennessee as part of vehicle crashes, compared to 986 in 2013. It’s still too many, says Sgt. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. “They’re not numbers to us,” he says. “They’re friends. They’re family.” Half of the people killed were not wearing seat belts, according to THP data — hence the bigger push from Tennessee troopers to monitor seat belt use on highways.
THP: Traffic deaths down statewide but up in East Tennessee (N-S/Coleman)
Deadly crashes increased across seven East Tennessee counties in 2014 even as overall traffic deaths across the state dropped, state figures show. The number of traffic deaths statewide fell from 971 in 2013 to 945, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol. But the 11 East Tennessee counties that make up the THP’s Knoxville district saw an increase of about 8 percent in traffic deaths over the same period — from 151 in 2013 to 164 in 2014, according to the THP. Just three counties in the district saw a decrease in traffic deaths for the year: Knox County from 57 deaths in 2013 to 55, Blount County from 24 deaths to 22, and Morgan County from five deaths to two.
Politics could threaten Haslam’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ (Tennessean/Boucher)
In less than a month, Gov. Bill Haslam embarks on possibly the biggest political challenge of his career: trying to pass “Insure Tennessee,” his plan to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to create new health programs for an estimated 200,000 lower-income Tennesseans. The Knoxville Republican’s administration is adamant the proposal is not traditional Medicaid expansion, a move made possible by the polarizing Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — and popular in many Democratic-controlled states. Haslam said his plan emphasizes personal responsibility, requiring Tennessee residents newly eligible for some publicly financed health coverage to take an active role in making better health care decisions. Republicans win elections railing against entitlement programs and blasting the Affordable Care Act.
Bill seeks to allow grocery store wine sales this summer (Associated Press)
A bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly would move up the date of supermarket wine sales to this July. Under the measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville, food stores could start selling wine this summer – or in the summer of 2016 if they are located near an existing liquor store. Those dates are both a year earlier than envisioned under landmark legislation enacted last year to allow cities and counties to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in food stores. Voters in November approved the measure in all 78 communities where it was on the ballot. Other efforts to change the law could include eliminating a mandatory 20 percent mark-up on wine and minimum square footage requirements for convenience stores.
New bill would allow wine in grocery stores in July (Tennessean/Boucher)
A new bill would allow grocery stores in Tennessee to start selling wine a year sooner than currently expected. The bill, proposed by Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, would change the law to allow sales starting in July of this year instead of 2016. Lawmakers and residents have battled over the decision to allow wine in Tennessee grocery stores for years. After ongoing debate, the General Assembly voted last year to allow counties that currently offer alcohol sales — “wet” counties — to have local elections to decide if they’d also like to allow wine sales at grocery stores. The bill said any sales wouldn’t be allowed until 2016, however.
TN third in prostitution, Ketron tells commissioners (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee and its local governments rank third in the nation in prostitution, state Sen. Bill Ketron told county commissioners Monday. A Republican from Murfreesboro, Ketron said he’s learned from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that human trafficking is a “scourge” in 76 out of 95 counties and the problem is worse in the rural areas. “Mothers are prostituting their daughters to buy meth,” said Ketron, who added that seven Mexican cartels are also engaging in human trafficking through a pipeline to Arizona. “I don’t like being No. 3 in human trafficking that is afflicting our state.” Ketron spoke during a meeting in which the Rutherford County Commission Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee and other county officials met with five of the six all-Republican delegation for Rutherford in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Competing labor group claims VW officials biased toward UAW (TFP/Pare)
The American Council of Employees says that officials at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant are purposely favoring the United Auto Workers in implementing a new labor policy. “We hoped for a level playing field,” said Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga lawyer representing ACE. ACE, a labor group competing with the UAW at the plant, said it has submitted hundreds of signed “revocation statements,” which signified employee intentions to revoke any prior authorization of representation by the UAW. ACE said VW has declined to recognize the revocation statements. ACE said the recent verification of UAW membership was based solely on a random sampling from an unsubstantiated list of employee names, without supporting documentation or employee signatures.
Editorial: Choosing up sides on Haslam’s plan (Paris Post-Intelligencer)
An epic political battle is shaping up over Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” plan to offer new health programs for some 200,000 lower-income citizens. On one side is the governor, sitting in the catbird seat with a 70 percent approval rating from the public. He doesn’t have to worry about another election campaign; term limits mean he can’t run for the office again. He’s pretty well free to push hard for the plan without fear of political repercussions. On the other side are Republican hard-liners. Their party controls both houses of the legislature, and they’re already bad-mouthing the governor’s health plan as no more than Obamacare in sheep’s clothing. In the middle — potentially with deciding votes? — are the Democrats, a sizable minority. They generally favor Insure Tennessee.
Free-Press Editorial: Civics test a no-brainer (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, thinks folks ought to be able to pass a basic civics test before they graduate from high school. He’s right. The test is composed of the same questions legal immigrants are asked to pass in order to become United States citizens. If natural born U.S. citizens don’t know the very basics about their government, history and geography, how can we ask those who want to come to the country legally to know those things? McCormick’s bill filed for the upcoming session of the state legislature — sponsored in the state Senate by Majority Leader Mark Norris — would mandate that, starting Jan. 1, 2016, “a student shall pass a civics test composed of the one hundred (100) questions that are set forth within the civics test administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to persons seeking to become naturalized citizens.”
Times Editorial: So much for crying that UAW costs Tennessee jobs (TFP)
Judging from the anti-union and anti-UAW talk we’ve heard from most of Tennessee’s Republican politicians in the past two years, you’d think the new-jobs world was coming to an end here because the United Auto Workers Union has continued to work with Volkswagen’s determination for a works council to gain a foothold in the South. So many dire predictions, and so little proof. But more on that later. You’ll recall that in the months leading up to the February 2014 VW workers’ union vote, the governor and GOP conservatives all across the state went all out to sway the final tally — complete with Grover Norquist-financed billboards equating the union with Nazis. Then on the eve of the VW/UAW vote, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker threw in a real wrench: Grabbing every microphone and camera in Southeast Tennessee, Corker claimed the new SUV expansion here would be doomed with a yes vote to accept UAW.