This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Alcoa Inc. broke ground Thursday on an expansion of its Tennessee operations as part of an effort to expand into a rapidly-growing market for lightweight metals for the auto industry. The $275 million investment is expected to create 200 permanent jobs, 400 jobs during construction, plus tie the Tennessee operation to the company’s effort to tap into the car manufacturing industry, Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld told scores of dignitaries, Alcoa employees and others Thursday. “The use of aluminum in automobile manufacturing is booming,” Kleinfeld said. “It is expected to grow tenfold by 2025,” he said.
SEVIERVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he would continue to look for ways to improve safety and traffic flow on Chapman Highway after a regional group took action that apparently ended plans to extend James White Parkway. In a brief, exclusive interview with The Mountain Press, he said he would not pursue the project if it didn’t have backing from the local governments involved, but he would continue to look at ways to make Chapman Highway safer. The Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, made up of representatives from several local governments in East Tennessee, voted Wednesday to eliminate the extension of the Parkway from its Transportation Improvement Plan.
Doug Varney never thought he would see the day when narcotics would pass alcohol as Tennessee’s number one substance abuse problem. But that day has come, and Varney — the state’s mental health commissioner — now has a tool to address the situation. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) have opened the first statewide residential “Recovery Court” at a 100-bed facility for male drug offenders in the Morgan County city of Wartburg, about 45 miles west of Knoxville.
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Highway Patrol — bolstered by new laws to strengthen DUI enforcement — plans several “No Refusal” driver checkpoints across the state this Labor Day weekend, historically one of the deadliest on the state’s roadways, officials said Friday. The “No Refusal” law went into effect in 2012 and allows law enforcement officers who have reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired to ask a judicial officer for a search warrant to compel a blood-alcohol test if the driver refuses to take a breath-alcohol test.
State legislators are poised to take action to reverse a state Board of Education policy that they say goes too far and could cost Tennessee hundreds of dedicated educators. The new policy bases the granting and renewal of professional teaching licenses on in-class assessments and a growth score derived from students’ standardized testing scores. If a teacher scores a 2 out of 5 in either of the categories in the two previous years, they could be put on probation and then lose their license to teach if the scores don’t improve.
More than a quarter of all children in Tennessee are overweight and living in poverty, according to a new report. The data was contained in a white paper released by insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. The report, which discusses problems and solutions for improving the state of children’s health in the U.S., reveals that children in Tennessee face significant health challenges. According to the report, children represent 26 percent of Tennessee’s population. Of those children: 27 percent live in poverty 34 percent are overweight or obese, 13 percent are born pre-term, and 16 percent have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol.
Thanks in part to a Project Diabetes grant obtained by the city from the Tennessee Health Department, local residents who wish to lose weight and/or manage or prevent diabetes will have access to a number of free classes, gym memberships and medical services over the next three years. According to City of Tullahoma Community Coordinator Winston Brooks, individuals and families may sign up for a variety of programs. “The free classes and services are limited to a total of 75 people,” Brooks said, “and classes begin Wednesday, Sept. 3, so interested parties are urged to sign up as soon as possible.”
CROSSVILLE — Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess has seen his officers prepare to enter dangerous situations without batting an eye. But when four officers prepared for their first day on a new assignment, Burgess found they were uncharacteristically nervous. “They were scared to death,” Burgess said, recalling the first day of the 2013-’14 school year. Four officers were starting their new assignments as school resource officers in Cumberland County elementary schools, following an agreement between the sheriff’s department and the school system to fund the program for the first year.
OAK RIDGE — City and school officials Friday continued discussions over a potential financial disaster looming for Oak Ridge Schools: the possible loss of up to $1.87 million a month in state funding. The problem, according to school officials, is that the state says the school system isn’t getting the necessary amount of local revenue to comply with guidelines about maintenance of effort. Those rules require school systems to receive at least the same amount of local revenue they were given in the last fiscal year.
Dozens of people are still having trouble getting their paychecks from Shelby County Schools, and more than a few spent hours Friday waiting in the central offices for checks to be returned after they were sent to the wrong school via internal mail. One teacher, who did not want to be identified, said her check was electronically deposited two weeks ago but that the transfer didn’t work this time. A cafeteria worker from a school in the suburbs was told to come to the central office to get her check early Friday when it didn’t show up at her school as she was told it would.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has asked Hamilton County Schools to end monthly after-school prayer services at Hardy Elementary School. A Times Free Press story earlier this month highlighted a prayer walk at the school, where teachers, administrators, parents and students walked the halls to pray with members of Love Baptist Church. In a letter to the school system’s attorney, the national Freedom from Religion Foundation says those actions raise constitutional concerns by offering an endorsement of a particular religion.
The same experts that named Chattanooga as a good place to retire in Where to Retire magazine are now featuring Chattanooga in the fifth edition of the book “America’s 100 Best Places to Retire.” The book, which includes diverse retirement choices from small havens to large urban areas, includes locales that have all been featured in the magazine. Tennessee has been previously ranked as both the best state and one of the worst states for retirement by Bankrate.com. The book took into consideration vibrant downtowns, weather, advantageous tax situations, volunteer and work opportunities, walkable neighborhoods, health care and more.
Chattanooga State Community College is partnering with the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County to launch new initiatives to strengthen Chattanooga’s international populations and leverage their diversity to create new resources. The goal is to build opportunity for the entire community, according to a prepared statement. The effort centers on the establishment of the area’s first Cultural Ambassador and International Achiever networks, which will be composed of leaders from each of Chattanooga’s international communities.
The city of Memphis could be looking to make changes to a local business incentive tool. Although nothing has been set, the city might try to alter the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program administered by the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County (EDGE). A city council agenda listed an ordinance being proposed by city councilman Harold Collins which would reduce the amount of city taxes a company could abate through the PILOT process.
NASHVILLE, TENN. — Faced with a potentially serious primary challenger, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander was not about to sit back and wait. The former two-term governor locked down endorsements, banked more than $3 million and linked arms with popular Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee. When conservative state Rep. Joe Carr announced he would challenge Alexander, the senator’s team was ready. “I learned to count in Maryville City Schools,” Alexander wrote in a recent op-ed in The Tennessean, recalling his East Tennessee hometown.
The Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor project is about 80 percent complete and is on track to be finished by December 2015, the TVA official in charge of the project said Friday. Unit 2 is also on track to hit an estimated cost of slightly less than $4.2 billion, said Mike Skaggs, TVA senior vice president of nuclear construction. Skaggs emphasized that this is an estimate, not a guarantee, and depends largely on the construction team continuing to work as safely and efficiently as it has.
Since the war in Vietnam, the American public has been made increasingly aware of the troubled lives of some veterans after they leave the military. Post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from combat, homelessness and high rates of unemployment among veterans have spurred crimes ranging from substance abuse to domestic violence, assaults and other serious offenses. In Memphis and Shelby County, some veterans who have run afoul of the law have found a rescuer in the form of the Shelby County Veterans Court. The court, created in July 2012, provides veterans accused of certain crimes with help from a team of experts for underlying problems such as drug or alcohol abuse.
With the Labor Day weekend, the first school year of the unified Shelby County Schools system marked several milestones. The one we think counts the most is that we are a month into the school year, and this is the point at which school system leaders hope to have just about every child who is going to attend public schools in Tennessee enrolled.
In today’s economy, good-paying jobs often require a postsecondary credential after high school. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University estimates that, by 2018, 60 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary training. The Memphis Talent Dividend, an initiative of Leadership Memphis, has for more than three years advocated all postsecondary training as a workforce development tool, leading to more high-paying jobs for Memphians. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam noted in his State of the State address this past January that only 32 percent of Tennesseans have an associate’s degree or higher. In Memphis, while the overall attainment numbers are similar, when race is taken into account, the African-American majority in our city falls far short.
As many Tennesseans know, a mission trip to Haiti as a young man planted the seeds that later led to my career in public service. Years later, I find myself in an unlikely position as a businessman and former mayor with a leadership role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is responsible for overseeing U.S. foreign policy and authorizing military force. And while I may not have followed the traditional path to this position, my background has allowed me to appreciate the connection between America’s role in the world and our way of life here at home.