This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam greeted the capacity crowd at Friday’s Governor’s Luncheon, a segment of the 78th Annual West Tennessee Strawberry Festival in Humboldt, and touted his two education programs that are preparing Tennesseans across the state for the changing business landscape. “When we go out to recruit businesses these days, the very first and the very last topic of conversation is workforce preparedness,” he told The Jackson Sun. “It’s what we hear over and over again. We think that people having the chance to have that much more education can make a real difference.” Haslam said 55 percent of the jobs in the state in 10 years will require some sort of post high school certificate or degree. Tennessee’s workforce lags at 34 percent prepared as of right now, he said.
Atwood Mobile Products will invest $3.2 million to expand its manufacturing facility in Robertson County, state and local officials announced today. The expansion will create 178 jobs over the next three years. The Atwood facility, located at 6320 Kelly Willis Rd., makes appliances for RVs. The company plans to expand both the manufacturing and office space at the facility, allowing Atwood to meet growing demand for its products via enhanced operations technologies, capacity and management expertise in closer proximity to Atwood’s Midwest concentrated RV base, according to a news release. With the expansion, Atwood will manufacture furnaces at the Robertson County facility.
Tennessee’s largest higher education system is planning, as always, to raise tuition for students next year. That’s the bad news. The good news? It could be the smallest tuition increase in the past decade. In recent year, the Tennessee Board of Regents — which includes MTSU, Tennessee State and the state’s community colleges — has often raised its average tuition by more than 5 percent. In 2011, tuition increased 8.8 percent, according to TBR data. But the preliminary budget this year plans to keep tuition hikes at its schools under 4 percent.
America’s top bosses continue to like Tennessee’s business climate, although the Volunteer State slipped a notch in the newest ranking by Chief Executive magazine’s “best and worst states for business.” Tennessee dipped from third place last year to fourth place this year among the magazine’s survey of 511 CEOs across the country. Georgia, which ranked 10th last year, rose to the No. 5 slot in the newest CEO ranking. Alabama declined by seven spots from last year and ranked about average this year, or No. 24, among the 50 states in the view of CEOs. The top three states were Texas, Florida and North Carolina — all states that boast lower taxes, wages, cost of living and energy costs.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday signed “Right to Try” legislation into law, giving Tennesseans with incurable diseases greater access to experimental drugs. Basically, the law would allow Tennessee doctors to prescribe any drug in U.S. Food and Drug Administration clinical trials that has already undergone phase 1 testing, which checks for safety in healthy volunteers. People with incurable diseases could get the drugs even though the agency hasn’t determined their effectiveness. However, medical experts caution that a Right to Try law would be no miracle cure. The legislation is being promoted in state legislatures across the nation by the Goldwater Institute and here by The Beacon Center of Tennessee.
A new “right to try” law is being applauded by families struggling with terminal illness. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law after both the Tennessee Senate and House unanimously passed it. The new law allows patients with incurable diseases to use experimental drugs that have passed initial safety tests, but may not be fully approved by the FDA. Patients and their doctors will need approval from the manufacturer of the drug to use it.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law placing licensing restrictions on abortion clinics. Under the new law, facilities or physician offices would have to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers if they perform more than 50 abortions in a year. The House approved the measure on an 81-17 vote, while the Senate passed its version 28-4. Haslam has yet to sign a separate bill to require a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion but has indicated that he plans to. The legislation came after voters in November approved a constitutional amendment giving state lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.
All clinics in Tennessee performing more than 50 surgical abortions per year will now be regulated as ambulatory surgery treatment centers, according to a new measure signed into law Friday by Gov. Bill Haslam. Four of the state’s surgical abortion clinics are already regulated as ambulatory surgery treatment centers, or ASTCs, but the measure could affect operations of clinics in Nashville and Bristol that are not. The governor has not yet signed another set of abortion restrictions approved by lawmakers this year that would require women seeking an abortion to undergo a 48-hour waiting period and scripted in-person counseling by a physician before obtaining the procedure.
With little fanfare, Gov. Bill Haslam today signed into law a measure that requires Tennessee abortion providers to meet stricter standards as outpatient surgical care treatment centers. But while there was no announcement from the Republican governor or pro-life advocates, the new law that takes effect July 1 swiftly drew criticisms from a national abortion-rights group. Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, charged that Tennesseans’ approval last fall of a new state constitutional amendment allowing more abortion restrictions “opened the door for Tennessee politicians to begin demonstrating their hostility to women’s constitutional rights and indifference to their well-being, and now they have marched right through.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a measure that tightens regulations on some abortion providers in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1280 requires facilities that provide more than 50 abortions a year to be licensed as “surgical treatment centers.” Four of the state’s seven abortion clinics already meet that requirement, but three do not. Supporters say the measure will raise standards. Opponents say it forces providers who rarely perform surgical abortions to follow costly and unnecessary rules. Haslam is still reviewing a proposal to make women wait 48 hours before abortions, as well as an “informed consent” requirement that doctors tell women about abortion alternatives, potential risks and the likelihood that their fetuses could survive outside the womb.
A new iPhone and Android mobile app allows users to search for jobs in Tennessee with location and sharing features. The free Jobs4TN App is available through the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Users can access the entire Jobs4TN Online Services database on an iPhone or Android device, search for a job based on current location and pinpoint jobs on a map. Favorite jobs can also be saved and shared via email, Facebook, and Twitter. Users can create an account so that all job search activity is recorded. The phone’s location is used to display jobs, and keyword searches list the 100 most recently posted jobs in the user’s area.
Tennessee’s welcome centers are at the front lines of welcoming tourists to the Volunteer State, a number estimated to be more than 100 million people each year and fueling a healthy $16.7 billion tourism industry, state officials said on Friday. Officials with the Tennessee Departments of Transportation and Tourist Development made these and similar comments during a grand opening ceremony of the Interstate 26 Sullivan County Welcome Center in Kingsport today. “Tourism dollars are the best dollars ever,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said to the dozens in attendance at Friday’s ceremoney.
State officials plan to open the gates of Galilee Memorial Gardens for a limited time on Memorial Day, allowing families their first access to the troubled cemetery in 16 months. Kevin Walters, communications director for the state Department of Commerce and Insurance, said Friday the access to the grounds in Bartlett will be limited to several hours in the afternoon. The specifics on the time are not determined yet. Galilee was closed in January 2014 after the arrest of owner Jemar Lambert on charges of theft and abuse of a corpse. Those charges were associated with accusations he buried multiple caskets in the same grave, lost corpses because of poor record-keeping and did not provide services for which customers paid.
A Knoxville-based environmental organization is taking the state’s top environmental agency to task for not adequately protecting clean water. A recent biannual report by the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN) charges surface water enforcement orders by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) remained at near-historic lows for 2014. Drawing from the state’s most recent data, the group cites only 53 enforcement actions in 2014, down over 75 percent from the high of 231 in 2008.
Two elusive bears have become the talk of two towns in the Tri-Cities as they wander through Bristol, Tennessee and Johnson City. Major Tim Eads of the Bristol Tennessee Police Department said Friday that the agency received five calls reporting sightings of a bear beginning around 11 p.m. Thursday. “All of the calls were in regards to sightings of a medium-sized black bear,” Eads said. The callers were in the Haynesfield and Weaver Pike area of the city. Eads said the department has not received any calls of the bear getting into trash or causing other issues. “This is a common occurrence around this time of the year,” Eads added. “As bears become more active following the winter, they often go outside of their natural habitat in search of food.”
Welder Thomas Holloway finished his shift on a Tuesday afternoon and was headed home to his wife of 35 years when, according to police, a drunken driver with four DUI convictions turned an SUV in front of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, causing a collision that snapped Holloway’s neck. The 59-year-old victim’s relatives, who live in Mississippi, are still struggling to cope with the Navy veteran’s September death and understand why Tennessee laws on drunken driving are more lenient than in their home state. The Tennessee state legislature just passed a series of bills, awaiting Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature, toughening punishments for DUI-related crashes that kill or seriously injure future victims. But veteran prosecutors and victim advocates say it’s still not enough.
Most members of the Tennessee General Assembly are enrolled in the state’s health insurance plan for employees and providing that coverage to lawmakers has cost the state $5.85 million since 2008, according to records provided to The Tennessean on Friday. Lawmakers themselves paid $1.4 million for their health coverage. The Tennessean requested the documents after lawmakers voted against Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal. Insure Tennessee would have helped working people who can’t afford medical insurance buy into their employer-sponsored plans and would have expanded Medicaid coverage for poor people.
A Clinton woman who became the face of a defeated Insure Tennessee effort — shown weeping in another woman’s arms in a front-page Nashville Tennessean photo — has been named a “Mother of the Year” by the Tennessee Justice Center. Tracy Foster, 40, afflicted with a long list of health care woes, was recently honored by the small, nonprofit law and advocacy firm, based in Nashville. The Tennessee Justice Center in a news release said Foster won the award for her “courage and tireless dedication to advocating for desperately needed health care for herself and all Tennesseans.”
After signing up what it says is a majority of hourly production workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, the United Auto Workers wants to join with VW to form America’s first German-style works council in Chattanooga. UAW’s No. 2 leader, Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, said Thursday the union has given VW a “vision statement” and outline of how the German automaker might join with the UAW in a works council involving both blue- and white-collar workers. “We think it’s an appropriate time to put this model forward and give VW the time to look and study this fully fleshed out model and move toward what we’ve all been looking forward to for a long time and that is to have a represented facility and the first U.S. fully functioning works council,” Casteel said.
The Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s 2013 pension overhaul, unraveling an effort by lawmakers to rein in benefits for the consistently underfunded public-sector system. The current pension shortfall is estimated at $111 billion, one of the largest nationally. The high court affirmed a decision in November by a state circuit court that the legislative changes violated pension protections written into the state constitution. The decision is a victory for a consortium of public-sector unions while creating a huge challenge for new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who already faces a yawning budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.
The Common Core education standards have become a lightning rod in many of the states where they have been rolled out. But that controversy has largely avoided the place where they have been in effect the longest. Kentucky is in its fourth year of testing linked to Common Core State Standards, at a time when most other states are counting the tests for the first time. While students here were slow to show improvement, scores on standardized tests have begun to pick up.
What a difference a few months and an angry delegation of state lawmakers can make when they put their minds to it. For proof, just look at three recent about-faces made by Erlanger hospital. On May 1, hospital authority board members held a three-hour meeting to better explain how the $1.7 million in management incentives are supposed to work after they a few months before had slipped the incentives into a meeting agenda at the last minute and approved the bonuses with little discussion. The stealth bonus action came on the heels of the delegation helping Erlanger win an additional $19 million in federal funding — money that got the hospital out of the red. It also came after after the board cut retiree insurance benefits, citing the need for cost-cuting measures.
Striking one in every five adults and 300,000 children, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. As an arthritis patient and a patient advocate with the Arthritis Foundation, I am proud to advocate on behalf of millions of Americans diagnosed with arthritis — many right here in Tennessee. In 1982, when I was in kindergarten, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve been on every arthritis drug you can name in the last 31 years and have had multiple surgeries on my hips, knees, ankles, toes and jaw. Thanks to advances in medicine and science, arthritis patients can live productive and fulfilling lives. It is important to note that these medications cannot repair prior damage, but they work wonders with inflammation and help keep me functioning.
The United Auto Workers has been saying for months it has signed up well over 50 percent of Volkswagen’s hourly production employees, but where is the proof? Some months ago, the UAW presented signatures from 45 percent of VW workers, but that to date is the only verifiable threshold the union has. It also claims its Local 42 has a membership of 816 employees, but that number means nothing in the context of total hourly employees at the plant. The union says it wants VW to recognize it as the representative of plant employees based only on what it says and on cards signed months ago. Some of those signatories, it has been reported, do not now wish to be represented by the union.
Significant progress is being made in reducing Shelby County’s infant mortality rate, but the disparity in the death rates for white and African-American babies still is way too high. That was the good and disappointing news Thursday from the 2015 Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative Summit at the University of Memphis. It was the initiative’s first summit in nine years. Overall, however, the progress that has been made on the infant-mortality front is a collaborative triumph that shows what can happen when the community marshals its resources to attack a problem.