Press Releases

January 15 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Haslam to introduce school voucher proposal (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam confirmed Monday that he will introduce his own proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee, though he declined to elaborate about which parents he wants to make eligible to use public money to send their children to private schools. The Republican governor would only tell reporters after an education discussion with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that his voucher bill will be targeted at children from lower-income families who attend the state’s worst schools. “We will have a voucher bill, and we’re working out the specifics on that and talking with a lot of different parties,” he said.

Haslam Will Push to Help Some Pay Private-School Tuition (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam says he’ll offer a school vouchers proposal to lawmakers, a year after asking them to hold off so he could study the matter. The move gives Haslam some ownership of the proposal, which would divert public school dollars to help kids who can’t afford private school tuition. Haslam won’t put out specifics until later this month, but says he wants to help low-income families, who are zoned for underperforming schools. He says his proposal will reach into the complex and legally fraught public-school funding formula, known as the Basic Education Plan, or BEP.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam pushing school vouchers (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s embrace of a limited school voucher program is drawing praise from a leading legislative proponent but dismay from the state’s largest teachers group and a Chattanooga representative. Haslam, a Republican, told reporters Monday that he plans to push a limited education voucher bill in the Legislature this year. The poorest children in Tennessee’s worst-performing schools would be eligible, the governor said. “We actually have decided over the last several weeks that we will have a voucher bill,” the governor said after a conference on education in which he appeared with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican who pushed vouchers during his tenure.

Haslam will offer school voucher bill; details expected in ‘week or two’ (CA/Roberts)

By fall, it’s possible children in some of the poorest communities in the state will be attending private schools on the state’s dime. On Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam said a voucher bill will be included in his legislative agenda this session, starting in the lowest-performing schools. “We spent an extraordinary amount of time looking at it. Last year we said let’s study it and think about it. We thought once we did that, we had the responsibility — having said hold off, let’s study it — to come with a proposal that we thought made sense, and I think that’s where we ended up,” Haslam said.

Haslam promises voucher bill (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will ask legislators to adopt a school voucher plan in the next few weeks but is not ready to talk about the specifics, he said today. Haslam and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answered media questions after the two had a public conversation on education in front of a small audience on the Vanderbilt University campus at the John Seigenthaler Center. Bush, known for the education reform policies generally associated with Republicans, talked about the education policies he helped push in Florida and what Tennessee might learn from his experience.

Gov. Haslam to push for limited school voucher system (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he will push for enactment during this year’s legislative session of a limited state voucher system that would be “means tested and focused on the lowest-performing schools.” At the same time, Haslam said there will not be an administration bill on a “statewide authorizer” for charter schools, though he expects legislators to propose such a law and that he will work with them on fashioning details. Such a law would set up a state authority to approve charter schools even when local school boards refuse to approve.

Gov. Bill Haslam plans to pursue school vouchers (Nooga)

Gov. Bill Haslam indicated Monday that he will move forward with a proposal to introduce a school voucher system during the current legislative session, more than a year after he delayed the decision, citing the need for further review. Haslam told reporters that he planned to deliver the specifics of his plan in the upcoming weeks, according to a Tennessean report. The governor’s comments came following a “casual dialogue” on education reform with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

Governor Haslam To Propose School Voucher Legislation (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam announced a new push on Monday to create a school voucher system. Governor Haslam says he will propose legislation to create a school voucher system. He had previously said he may let lawmakers make any proposals on the issue. The announcement came after a town hall meeting with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The governor met with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in a town hall style meeting at the Vanderbilt Freedom Forum. The men spoke about reforming education at the Vanderbilt Freedom Forum.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush in Nashville to push school choice (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

Gov. Bill Haslam said he will ask legislators to allow some Tennessee teachers to earn more without tying their salaries to performance. He made the announcement Monday after an education forum in Nashville featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush visited the state just one week after national education reform leader Michelle Rhee, who made a whirlwind media tour touting the same traditionally Republican policies of school choice and voucher systems as Bush and Haslam.

Jeb Bush Impels State-Level Charter Authorizer (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Florida Governor Jeb Bush says Tennessee should have a way to approve new charter schools, even over the objections of local districts. Bush made overhauling education a priority in Florida, and talked about it with Governor Bill Haslam Monday in Nashville. State lawmakers will likely take up the question of a so-called state charter authorizer in the next few months. Bush says some school districts are so stubborn they would deny a charter school proposed by Mother Theresa. So he says states should be able to approve charters directly, though such a law was ruled unconstitutional in Florida.

Jeb Bush inadvertently criticizes Haslam priority (Associated Press)

When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush briefly veered off topic at an education forum in Nashville this week, he inadvertently took aim at what’s expected to be among Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities this year. The Republicans were discussing education initiatives Monday when Bush said he relished taking aim at the bigger issues facing his state even if it meant facing stronger resistance. He said if governors go along with lawmakers more focused on pleasing the interests represented at the Statehouse, the result will be worrying about lesser topics such as “tweaking the workers’ comp bill.”

Meningitis outbreak: TN patient’s diagnosis came at 106 days (Tenn/Wilemon)

Four more people have died in the national outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to contaminated steroid injections, but none of those deaths was in Tennessee. Updated numbers released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say five more people have been sickened in Tennessee, including one new case of meningitis. Infections in Tennessee now total 145. Four of the new cases are injection site infections. One is a patient sickened with meningitis in addition to a surgical site infection.

DCS revising disclosure rules for child deaths (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Officials at the Department of Children’s Services say they have been working over the past three months to create a new process for releasing information to the public about children who died under their watch. DCS’ legal and policy staff have been working since September to create rules that balance confidentiality of families with federal disclosure requirements, spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said Monday. It’s unclear when those rules will be finalized or what they will look like when they are finished.

State review of Davidson County Election Commission will proceed (Tenn/Sisk)

The Davidson County Election Commission will come under state review after problems last year ranging from erroneous sample ballots to long lines at some precincts. State election commissioners rebuffed a request from their local counterparts that they put off a review, saying so many questions have been raised in Nashville that it has undermined public confidence in last year’s election results. “Y’all have some real issues,” said state commissioner Tom Wheeler. “I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s interested in tarring and feathering anybody, but I think it would benefit you if you had a third party come in.”

Ramsey Hatches Senate Plan to Cut Down on Bills (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Members of the state House spent much of their first week in session wrangling over a new cap on how many laws can be proposed. The Senate has a bill-cutting plan of its own for next year. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says the 15-bill cap per lawmaker was not his preference. He says next year he’ll propose dropping the deadline for making proposals, so there’s no rush to file before legislation is game-ready. “I like the no bill filing deadline. That way you won’t have the duplication because people can look in the hopper and see if something has been filed an sign on with somebody else.”

Capitol Hill Conversation: Blocking TennCare Expansion (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

After an opening gavel, the General Assembly is back to work. Whether or not to expand TennCare could be the most costly decision the body makes this year, and the first bill out of the gate would prevent Tennessee from expanding its Medicaid program as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) filed SB0001 the day after November’s election, saying his constituents were calling for it. But Republican leaders like House Speaker Beth Harwell have been calling for lawmakers to give Governor Bill Haslam room to take the lead.

Hill promises to try to ban traffic cameras (Bristol Herald-Courier)

State House District 3 Rep. Timothy Hill said Monday that he is preparing proposed legislation that would ban the use of traffic cameras to enforce speeding laws in the state, including those now being used in Bluff City and other local communities. “It’s time for them to go,” said Hill, R-Blountville, regarding the cameras during a town-hall-style meeting he hosted at Pardner’s Restaurant, just yards from Bluff City’s often-controversial enforcement cameras on U.S. Highway 11E. Calling the speed cameras “an improper” way to enforce traffic laws — and devices that unfairly target local motorists and businesses near them — Hill expressed optimism that his legislation will draw significant support.

Rhee’s StudentsFirst gives generously to legislative campaigns (CP/Zelinski)

Members of the General Assembly’s education committees collectively benefitted from $165,000 in campaign cash last year from a high-profile organization wanting to see several hot topic reforms written into law. Most of those dollars went to the re-election efforts of Rep. John DeBerry, a socially conservative Memphis Democrat who has long sat on the House Education Committee. The committees are positioned to evaluate a handful of controversial education bills this year backed by the education reform group StudentsFirst, which was one of the most generous campaign contributors in 2012.

Wilson Co. seeks to end precinct voting for all-county voting centers (TN/Humbles)

Wilson County is drafting a plan to do away with election day voting precincts in favor of a “vote center” concept that would be similar to early voting. Voters in Wilson County are now assigned to one of 33 voting precincts based on residence. On election day, they are required to vote in that designated precinct. But Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren wants to allow voters to vote at any one of 10 centers set up in Wilson County regardless of where they live. “It can be a sustainable savings,” Warren said.

MNPD Allowing Officers to Carry AR-15 Weapons (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Police officers in Nashville will now be allowed to carry personally-owned high powered assault rifles while on duty. The policy change is in response to recent shootings in Newtown and Aurora. SWAT teams already carry AR-15-style rifles. But for beat cops, Metro Police chief Steve Anderson says a pistol and shotgun may not be enough to “stop a threat to innocent citizens.” He says in a statement allowing officers to carry their own weapons is “in the best interest of public and officer safety.” Each gun has to be inspected, and officers must complete a three-day course. Given the AR-15s cost around a thousand dollars, police officials say they won’t be purchasing any more. But its estimated that a third of the city’s 1,400 officers have their own at home.

Metro to let police officers carry AR-15 type rifles (City Paper)

A new policy at the Metro Nashville Police Department will allow roughly 460 trained officers to carry personally owned rifles — including those of the AR-15 variety — in their polices vehicles while on duty. Chief Steve Anderson cited recent shootings such as in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., involving high-powered weapons as justification for allowing officers to carry similar weapons. Accord to police spokesman Don Aaron’s office, currently about one third of Nashville’s 1,373 sworn officers personally own such rifles.

Nashville police allowed to carry high-power AR-15 rifles (Tennessean/Garrison)

In response to the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., and others, the Metro Nashville Police Department will allow trained officers to carry their personal AR-15 rifles inside their vehicles while on duty. “Deadly events across the United States over the past few years, including, among others, those in Carson City, Nev., Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., demonstrate the high-powered weapons with which criminals are arming themselves,” Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson said.

Rep. Blackburn won’t rule out a government shutdown over debt ceiling (NBJ)

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee’s 7th district suggested Monday that House Republicans would consider a government shutdown to force spending cuts. “We are going to look at all of these options. You know, there is the option of government shutdown. There is an option of raising the debt ceiling in short-term increments,” Blackburn said on MSNBC’s “Jansing & Co.” Monday morning. Blackburn, a Republican whose district includes Williamson County, seemed confident that her constituents would support a shutdown, but said she believes Tennesseans want Congress to be “thoughtful in what is done.”

Groups call for ouster of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

A prominent conservative blog and a well-financed family values group are calling for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ ouster, adding to the national voices wanting new representation in Tennessee’s 4th District. In a Thursday post titled “Scott DesJarlais Must Go,” contributor Daniel Horowitz spoke of “a golden opportunity in midland Tennessee to show the country that we live by the standard to which we have set for ourselves.” An anti-abortion Jasper physician who promotes a family friendly agenda, DesJarlais supported his ex-wife’s two abortions in the 1990s and later had sexual relationships with several female patients and co-workers, court documents show.

TVA-purchased parts for Watts Bar Nuclear Plant scrutinized (TFP/Sohn)

A problem that surfaced 18 months ago at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant’s still-under-construction Unit 2 reactor has resulted in the safety reviews for 500 packages of TVA-purchased parts. The discovery that not all of the parts — everything from bolts and fan belts to cables and electrical breakers — had been tested adequately to assure they would meet nuclear plant safety and quality standards was first made by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during a September 2011 Watts Bar inspection. But just over a week ago, TVA filed an event report with the NRC stating that more than 500 packages of parts — some already installed — must be evaluated.

POGO calls for federalizing guard force at Y-12 (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

A government watchdog group says high-level security analyses — including one by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine — support the need for federalizing the guard force at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and other installations where nuclear bomb-making materials are housed. The Project On Government Oversight, based in Washington, D.C., obtained a series of letters from prominent individuals who advised Energy Secretary Steven Chu on how to fix the security failures in the wake of the July 28 break-in at Y-12.

Hemlock laying off workers, production pushed back (Associated Press)

Hemlock Semiconductor is laying off three-fourths of its employees in Clarksville shortly before the planned start of production at its new $1.2 billion plant. Officials of the Michigan-based company met with The Leaf-Chronicle on Monday and said the company is laying off 300 of its 400 employees in Clarksville and 100 workers at its Michigan plant. The company announced in 2008 their plans to build the facility in Clarksville. After years of construction, officials at the plant near the Kentucky border said last fall they had plans to begin production of polycrystalline silicon in 2013.

HSC to lay off 300 (Leaf Chronicle)

Hemlock Semiconductor has confirmed the unthinkable: The layoff of most of its Clarksville work force before the plant has even started production. After a year full of swirling, citywide rumors of Hemlock layoffs, company officials told The Leaf-Chronicle Monday that about 300 of the 400 Clarksville employees will be laid off in the coming weeks. While state and local officials sought to put the best face on the situation, the announcement took the wind out of Clarksville’s sails, coming just before the $1.2 billion plant – now almost 100 percent constructed in northeast Montgomery County – was slated to begin production of polycrystalline silicon in support of the solar power industry.

Hemlock Slashes Workforce Due to ‘Significant Economic Challenges’ (WPLN)

An economic development win of recent years is turning into a giant sore spot. Monday Hemlock Semiconductor announced it will lay off most of its workforce in March due to weak demand for polysilicon, which is used in the production of solar panels. Hemlock says the roughly 300 job cuts are due to an oversupply of polysilicon and tariffs being considered in China. Tennessee incentives for construction of the plant in Clarksville totaled more than $100 million. TVA and local governments kicked in millions more, and that money is Hemlock’s to keep, according to a statement from the Department of Economic and Community Development.

300 layoffs at Hemlock Semiconductor deal a blow to Clarksville economy (Gannett)

The announced layoff of 75 percent of the workers at the Hemlock Semiconductor plant dealt a twin blow Monday — one to the local economy in Clarksville, Tenn., and the other to the state’s fledgling solar industry. The move, which affects 300 workers, took the wind out of Clarksville’s economic sails Monday, coming just weeks before the $1.2 billion plant — now almost 100 percent complete — was slated to begin production of polycrystalline silicon, also called polysilicon, in support of the solar power industry. Hemlock also becomes the second major polysilicon manufacturer to announce a significant reduction in Tennessee operations recently.

Hemlock Semiconductor is laying off workers in Clarksville, Tenn. (TFP)

Hemlock Semiconductor is laying off three-fourths of its employees in Clarksville, Tenn., shortly before the planned start of production at its new $1.2 billion plant. Officials of the Michigan-based company said Monday they will cut 300 of the 400 jobs in Clarksville and 100 workers at its Michigan plant. The layoffs at the Clarksville polysilicon plant were announced three months after competitor Wacker Chemical said it is slowing completion of a similar $1.5 billion plant near Charleston, Tenn.

Oversupply, trade disputes hit Hemlock, polysilicon industry (N. Biz Journal)

News that Hemlock Semiconductor is laying off 75 percent of its Clarksville workforce comes as the solar industry is being slammed by weak demand, high inventory and international trade disputes. In its announcement, Hemlock officials said it was cutting 300 of the polysilicon plant’s 400 workers “in response to significant oversupply in the polysilicon industry and the threat of potential tariffs on its products sold into China.”Hemlock, a subsidiary of Dow Corning, is hardly the only company anxiously navigating the current market.

Hemlock laying off workers, production pushed back (Commercial Appeal)

Hemlock Semiconductor is laying off three-fourths of its employees in Clarksville shortly before production was to begin in its new $1.2 billion plant. Officials of the Michigan-based company said the company is laying off 300 of its 400 employees in Clarksville and 100 workers at its Michigan plant. The plant, located near the Kentucky border, was scheduled to begin production of polycrystalline silicon. The compound is used in solar energy panels. Hemlock President Andrew Tometich said the plant will be utilized and the company looks forward to production.

EDC: Hemlock layoffs were ‘unanticipated’ (Leaf Chronicle)

Despite the wild rumor mill over the past year, the Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Council says it didn’t see Monday’s Hemlock Semiconductor announcement about layoffs coming. But the EDC pledges to remain vigilant about job recruitment countywide, and seems certain that the Hemlock plant will open at some point in the future as originally promised – although nobody seems to know at this point when that opening date, or even month or year, will be. “This announcement, today, is the first that we’ve known that this is the choice that they (Hemlock) would make,” said James Chavez, president and CEO of the EDC.

Hemlock layoffs won’t jeopardize APSU program, officials say (Leaf Chronicle)

“This is not a program specifically geared towards hemlock. This is a chemical engineering degree that applies to multiple chemical engineering process,” said Bill Persinger, spokesman for APSU. The two-year associate degree program was announced in 2008 after Hemlock Semiconductor chose Clarksville to open their new $1.2 billion polycrystalline silicon manufacturing plant. The state contributed $6.4 million and Hemlock donated the program’s lab equipment, valued at $2 million. Hemlock announced Monday that they are laying off 300 of the 400 employees in Clarksville and delaying the start of polycrystalline silicon manufacturing.

Montgomery County Mayor: Hemlock will fulfill its financial obligations (NBJ)

Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers was expecting Clarksville’s economy to ramp up in 2013. But after Hemlock Semiconductor’s announcement Monday that it will lay off 300 of its $1.2 billion Clarksville plant’s 400 employees, she anticipates the economic recovery will slow down. She’s hoping, however, that the setback is only temporary. “Hemlock told us the plant here is still an asset; it’s just on delay for 12 to 18 months, but it could be longer,” Bowers said. “It depends on when the economy becomes more favorable to their product.”

Chatt, Mexico VW plants to compete for assembly if SUV gets green light (TFP/Pare)

If Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant lands the production of a new midsize sport utility vehicle, it will likely have to battle Mexico to do so. Mexico is hot when it comes to vehicle assembly with a variety of automakers ramping up production to take advantage of lower costs, an array of suppliers and free trade agreements. In fact, VW last year chose Mexico for its first North American Audi production plant, and it’s building an engine plant in that country. VW already has a production plant in Mexico that assembles about 600,000 vehicles a year.

Charter schools face backlash in cities for trying to change culture (CA/Roberts)

Cornerstone Preparatory School, a startup charter school chosen to turn around low-performing Lester School, a semester later sits in an uneasy alliance with the Binghamton families it serves. School administrators are at odds with parents and community leaders over a host of issues, including claims that children are denied bathroom breaks and that children’s shoes are taken away as punishment. An internal audit of school practices released last week found no instances of child abuse at the school, but teachers interviewed by the auditor said they had taken children’s shoes away to keep them from playing with them in class.

Mt. Juliet provides handgun safety course free to teachers (Tennessean/Humbles)

Teachers who live in Mt. Juliet can take the city’s handgun safety course free under a resolution approved Monday night by city commissioners. However, Wilson County teachers who live outside city limits will only receive a $50 credit, leaving them to pay a discounted rate of $25. Mayor Ed Hagerty and Vice Mayor James Maness sponsored the resolution after the Dec. 14 shooting that killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The five-member commission voted 3-2 to approve the resolution.



Editorial: Public school vouchers could help some, but won’t solve problem (J. Sun)

We were surprised to learn Gov. Bill Haslam has decided to come forward with a proposal on school vouchers in his State of the State address Jan. 28. Haslam has been saying he was undecided on the issue, and did not foresee making it part of his legislative agenda this year. He did commission a group to study the issue, which many perceived as a way to delay action until a clearer path emerged. But a confluence of recent events points toward a serious push to create a school voucher program for Tennessee public education, sooner rather than later. Haslam met with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday at an event hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

Times Editorial: More than VW jobs at stake (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

If Chattanooga’s hopes for enticing Volkswagen to build a new model here still appeared Monday to be up in the air, it’s not for a lack of trying. Tennessee’s political leaders and Chamber of Commerce officials charged with wooing the global auto giant began hounding the trail for a second model even before VW delivered the first Chattanooga-made Passat to dealers. A local delegation went to Detroit in recent days to reconfirm their commitment as VW unveiled a concept for a new, mid-sized SUV for the North American market that will likely be built somewhere in the United States or Mexico. Another delegation will soon travel to Germany again to continue that pursuit. They could hardly do more. Except for one thing: Bring more pressure on local educators and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to commit to development of a German-style technical/industrial education curriculum — beginning in high school and running through advanced training at the college level — to deliver an ample supply of highly qualified workers.

Editorial: Meeting first big test for area megasite (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Today is a pivotal one for Jefferson Countians and other interested citizens and businesses in assessing the possibility of a regional megasite near the junction of Interstates 40 and 81, about 35 miles east of Knoxville. If supporters of the megasite are correct, what is at stake are thousands of jobs and millions in revenue from the economic impact of the project whose completion will be another few years down the road. At 5 p.m. today, supporters of the proposed megasite will hold a public meeting at the Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center to discuss the issue with residents of the area and all who might be affected by the construction and economic fallout.

Free-Press Editorial: Tennessee’s meth laws fail on all fronts (Times Free-Press)

Imagine this scenario: A man makes his way to a counter where an agent, who ultimately acts as an informant for the government, inspects his driver’s license or passport to make sure the man meets certain requirements. The man is presumed guilty. The agent then enters the man’s name, birthdate and other personal data into a massive database that stores his information and allows the government to track where he goes and limits what he can buy. I’m not describing the procedure to buy an assault rifle, or the immigration process required to enter the United States. It’s actually the ridiculous rigmarole that Tennesseans are subjected to in order to buy a box of Sudafed.


Clay Bennett Political Cartoon: Lethal Injection (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)


Editorial: Close loopholes in Tennessee’s Greenbelt law (Commercial Appeal)

It really is not a surprise that the Tennessee General Assembly is not likely to reform a state law that was designed to protect farmers but has been used by some large property owners as a way to avoid paying their full property taxes. A special report last October by The Commercial Appeal and The Knoxville News-Sentinel showed that loopholes in the so-called Greenbelt law allowed real estate developers, businessmen, wealthy “hobby” farmers and others to derive tax savings by operating marginal or even nonexistent agriculture operations. That is not fair to farmers who really need the program, or to taxpayers, who are impacted by their local governments’ loss of tax revenue by way of cuts in services or higher taxes and fees.

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