November 13 TN News Digest

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

Auto supplier to build in Mt. Juliet (Nashville Post)

Automotive parts maker Denso will invest $6.7 million to set up a new shipping warehouse on Couchville Pike in Mt. Juliet that will employ about 20 people. Denso is leasing the Wilson Commerce Center Building A, which used to house a unit of General Electric. The 165,000-square-foot warehouse off State Route 840 is expected to begin operations next April and is part of a Denso plan to invest almost $1 billion in North America to beef up its manufacturing and product development operations. Denso makes parts used in the powertrain, electronics and thermal operations of cars. Company officials say its local investment covers property and equipment as well as setup and training.

Auto supplier DENSO plans shipping warehouse in Wilson County (Tenn/Ward)

Global automotive supplier DENSO leased 165,000 square feet of warehouse space in Wilson County for a shipping warehouse that will open with 20 employees. The shipping warehouse called DENSO Logistics Nashville Tennessee should open in April at a 556,600-square-foot building at Wilson Commerce Center at 648 Couchville Pike. Japan-based DENSO, whose North American headquarters is in Southfield, Mich., plans to invest roughly $6.7 million to open the warehouse. “This new warehouse enables us to expand our capabilities to satisfy our customers and also support continued sales growth,” said Britt Autry, vice president of the North American Production Promotion Center at DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee in Maryville, Tenn.

Kellogg facility: 1.1M square feet, 100 jobs (Jackson Sun)

The Industrial Development Board of the City of Jackson granted approval Wednesday for tax incentives for the benefit of Kellogg Sales Company and Panattoni Development Company for the construction of a 1.1 million-square-foot warehouse facility at Airport Industrial Park. This is the largest initial construction of any facility, square footage-wise, in Madison County history. When the new facility is fully staffed, Kellogg hopes to employ 100. Panattoni of Newport Beach, Calif., was selected by Kellogg to develop a 134-acre parcel of land south of Young Touchstone on Smith Lane. Panattoni develops, leases and owns industrial, office and retail projects in more than 278 cities throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, according to its website.

Economic commissioner Bill Hagerty leaving for private sector (Associated Press)

Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty is leaving the administration to return to the private sector, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday. The Republican governor didn’t say exactly what Hagerty will be doing, even though the commissioner’s name has surfaced as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2018. Haslam lauded Hagerty’s recruitment efforts in helping Tennessee be recognized as the State of the Year in economic development. Just last month, it was recognized as the nation’s No. 1 state for job commitments through foreign direct investment. “Our goal has been to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the southeast for high quality jobs, and Bill has been key to the successes we’ve had in attracting new investment into the state, as well as continued growth of our existing businesses,” the governor said.

Haslam’s ECD chief Bill Hagerty stepping down (Memphis Business Journal)

Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, is stepping down from his position, Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday in a news release. Hagerty will be returning to the private sector, though the release does not disclose where. Hagerty’s tenure saw the recruitment of major corporate deals to the state, including Beretta USA’s manufacturing plant in Gallatin, Under Armour’s new distribution hub in Mt. Juliet and an 1,800-job Hankook Tire plant in Clarksville. Just yesterday, state, Metro and Bridgestone Americas officials announced a 30-story office tower in downtown Nashville, which will bring 1,700 jobs to SoBro, including more than 600 new jobs.

ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty to leave Haslam administration (Tenn/Garrison)

Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty is leaving Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration with plans to return to the private sector. The move, announced Wednesday, marks the first Cabinet departure as Haslam prepares for a second term in office. It also comes one day after one of the state’s biggest economic and development catches this year — the relocation of Bridgestone Americas into a new downtown Nashville high-rise — thanks, in part, to a pledge of state incentives. “It has been my distinct honor to serve with Gov. Haslam on behalf of the people of Tennessee,” Hagerty said. “The exceptional team we assembled executed one of the most aggressive economic development programs in the world.

Bill Hagerty leaves Gov. Haslam cabinet (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Tennessee’s top business recruiter, Bill Hagerty, is leaving the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam to return to the private sector. Hagerty, the commissioner for the Department of Economic and Community Development, the former head of a Nashville merchant bank and business associate of Mitt Romney, “Bill has done an incredible job leading our state’s business recruitment efforts for the past four years,” Haslam said in a news release. “Our goal has been to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and Bill has been key to the successes we’ve had in attracting new investment into the state as well as continued growth of our existing businesses.” Haslam, who will be sworn in for a second term in January, also said Hargerty will serve as co-chair of his 2015 Inaugural Committee.

Hagerty announces departure from ECD (Nashville Post)

On the heels of one of the biggest economic development deals of his tenure, Bill Hagerty — commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development — has announced he’ll leave the Haslam Administration early next year to return to an as-yet-undisclosed private sector position. “Bill has done an incredible job leading our state’s business recruitment efforts for the past four years,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “Our goal has been to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and Bill has been key to the successes we’ve had in attracting new investment into the state as well as continued growth of our existing businesses. I am grateful for his willingness to serve in the Cabinet and wish him and Chrissy the best upon his return to the private sector.”

Nashville hearing to get input on industrial hemp (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s Department of Agriculture plans to hold a public hearing to gather input on the permitting and regulation of industrial hemp. The department says the purpose of the Nov. 18 hearing is to gather public comment on the department’s commitment to fulfill the requirements of a state law to develop a licensing and inspection program for the production of industrial hemp. The department says industrial hemp is found in a variety of products, including fabric, textiles, fibers and pharmaceuticals. More than 30 nations grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. The meeting is scheduled to be held at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville.

UTC girds for ‘rough times ahead’ (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Omarzu)

Faculty and staff at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have embarked on a process to help figure out how to reallocate $5.5 million, or roughly 5 percent of the campus’ overall budget. “We are not in a crisis, but we do see rough times ahead,” Chancellor Steve Angle said on a university website dedicated to the budget rebalancing process. “We have the opportunity to plan and make thoughtful decisions.” Committees will meet until spring to set priorities. The process is sort of a zero-sum game in which funding will stay the same, but some departments will get more while others get less. There’s some anxiety among staff, UTC officials say, but nothing’s going to be certain until April, when Angle will make the final budget decisions.

Tipton County woman charged with TennCare fraud (Jackson Sun)

A Covington woman was charged with TennCare fraud for selling prescription drugs paid for by the state’s healthcare insurance program, according to a press release from the Office of Inspector General. Deborah Allison, 63, is accused of using her TennCare benefits to obtain the pain reliever Hydrocodone. She is also accused of selling a portion of the drug. TennCare fraud is a Class E felony, according to the press release, and carries a two year prison sentence. “Tax dollars are needed for covering legitimate medical services for people who are members of the state´s TennCare program,” Inspector General Manny Tyndall said. “We are working closely with local law enforcement agencies and pharmacies to investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.”

Joe Carr to run for Tennessee GOP chairman (Tennessean/Boucher)

Rep. Joe Carr doesn’t think the Tennessee Republican Party is heading in the right direction. In his opinion, it lacks a platform and is driven by elected officials and not core GOP principles. That’s why he wants to run for chairman of the state Republican party. “I’m running not to be chairman and a dictator. I’m running to be chairman and a facilitator for the state executive committee,” said Carr, R-Lascassas, in a phone interview Tuesday. While Carr said “the state executive committee is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the wishes or agenda of a handful of people in the Republican party,” he added that he believes his leadership could help give the committee more power and represent the entire state GOP.

Questions raised about controversial PAC’s alleged ties to Devaney (TFP/Sher)

State campaign regulators on Wednesday dismissed one of two complaints against a controversial political action committee that spent $27,467 helping candidates in 29 contested August races for the state Republican State Executive Committee. But Republican critics later denounced the Registry of Election Finance’s action as a “cover up” of activities by the Strong and Free Tennessee PAC and an affiliated group, Strong & Free Tennessee Inc., which provided the PAC with $35,000. State Executive Committee member Mark Winslow charged both groups’ activities were part of an effort to help Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney of Lookout Mountain win reelection to his post by the 66-member executive committee next month.

‘Funeral’ for reproductive rights planned in Memphis (C. Appeal/Fretland)

The morning after the Nov. 4 election, Memphis dancers Sarah Ledbetter and Bethany Bak sent text messages with words of encouragement to each other and other opponents of Tennessee’s constitutional amendment on abortion. Ledbetter went to Facebook to organize a “second line” funeral for reproductive rights. The event is planned for noon on Saturday in Midtown. Second line parades, famous to New Orleans, are marked with dancing and music in the street. “It’s not a protest,” Ledbetter said. “It’s a funeral. We are mourning and grieving and celebrating what’s possible. Nothing is written in stone until we all give up.” Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1 on Nov. 4 to say “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.

Roe: It’s up to Obama to work with GOP-led Congress (Times-News)

President Barack Obama has to decide whether to work with a GOP-majority Congress to get things done for the American people in 2015, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe insisted Wednesday. “That’s his call,” Roe, R-Tenn., said of Obama’s decision during a conference call with reporters. “President (Bill) Clinton very deftly did it in the late 1990s, they got welfare reform done. … President (Ronald) Reagan did it in the late 1980s when he got tax reform done with an all-Democratic House. He never had a Republican House the entire eight years he was in the White House. … I’m hoping the president would look at those two models, Republican and Democrat, about how to go about this.

DesJarlais hopes Supreme Court rules against Obamacare (Daily News Journal)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais issued the following statement after the Supreme Court of the United States announced they will hear a case challenging the distribution of tax subsidies in Obamacare through federally-run exchanges: “I have said from the beginning that this issue presents the best chance of finally abolishing President Obama’s health care law,” said DesJarlais, a Republican from South Pittsburg. “It is beyond clear that the Internal Revenue Service violated our Constitution’s separation of powers by re-writing a major portion of the Affordable Care Act – an action reserved exclusively for Congress. This goes beyond health care to the very heart of our nation’s democratic system of government. I hope the justices will rule accordingly by striking down this unconstitutional power grab by the Obama administration.”

Surprises Lurk for People Re-Enrolling on HealthCare.gov (Wall Street Journal)

In a twist, an influx of lower-priced health plans on HealthCare.gov could lead many Americans to pay more for coverage next year thanks to smaller insurance tax credits. A handful of insurers in 14 states are offering aggressively low premiums on the federal insurance enrollment site, which reopens Saturday, in a bid to undercut big rivals who snapped up customers last year. The move is pulling down the value of federal tax credits that consumers get to offset the cost of their coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The credits are pegged to the price of the second-lowest-cost midrange plan in a given geographic area, as well as an enrollee’s income. The reduced tax credits are good news for the federal government, which stands to pay less to subsidize people’s premiums.

AT&T halts fiber investment for Internet (Tennessean/McGee)

Three months after announcing Nashville would be among cities gaining its ultra high-speed Internet, AT&T is halting fiber investments, pointing to the potential for tighter regulations for Internet providers. “We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said at an analyst conference Wednesday, according to Reuters. The announcement follows President Obama’s comments Monday in which he urged the Federal Communications Commission to enact tougher rules for Internet providers and protect what has been called “net neutrality.” The rules he recommended would prevent providers from charging for higher speeds and from blocking content from consumers.

Labor groups support new policy as Volkswagen opens way for talks (TFP/Pare)

Rival groups seeking to represent Volkswagen plant workers in Chattanooga endorsed a new company labor policy that VW unfurled Wednesday, igniting a renewed battle to gain official recognition from the automaker. Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer for the United Auto Workers union, said the policy is “a step forward to building stronger relations between management and employees.” American Council of Employees President Sean Moss said the policy will present employees with “a clear choice” between the local independent labor group he heads and the Detroit-based UAW, which started a non-dues-paying Local 42 in Chattanooga earlier this year to represent VW workers.

Charter school report could lead to new legislation (WSMV-TV Nashville)

A new report on charter schools requested by Tennessee lawmakers could pave the way for new legislation. This March, the heads of the state Senate and House asked the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to take a look at how Tennessee school districts authorize charter schools. Among the key findings was the local school boards that authorize charter schools don’t get to charge a fee for their services. The districts incur costs in administration and oversight related to charters, but they don’t have a source of revenue to pay for those costs. Twenty-two other states and the District of Columbia allow fees that let the individual district retain a percentage. Another finding covers the method by which charters receive funding from their local district.

Barbic Counters Achievement School District Opposition (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic on Wednesday responded for the first time to vocal opposition to the state-run district. In an interview on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines,” Barbic said opposition to the ASD is about the same as it has been over the last two years. The program airs Friday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. and his hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News. The district for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement is considering expanding to six to eight Memphis schools in its third year, starting in August. The district will pick those six to eight schools from a list of 10. ASD leaders will announce in December which schools will move into the Achievement School District and which charter organizations those schools will be matched with.

State’s Common Core course change leads to uncertainty (Johnson City Press)

New textbooks? Better wait. School calendar? Best to hold off on that, too. Why? Because shockwaves from the state’s sudden course change on the Common Core State Standards are still reverberating through local school districts, with administrators trying their best to forecast legislative actions and plan for contingencies in the coming years. Not knowing how a recent swing in public and political opinion might affect the set of educational benchmarks – which schools in the state have been implementing for more than four years – members of the Johnson City Board of Education last week left the tasks of selecting new textbooks and finalizing next school year’s calendar in holding patterns for the time being.

 

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Lame-duck session gives Congress another chance to get it right (CA)

All the focus right now is on the new Congress, where Republicans last week solidified their hold — and Speaker John Boehner’s hold — on the House and took control of the Senate with perhaps 54 seats, depending on the outcome of a Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana. Until January, though, Americans will have the same old Congress, the one disgruntled and apathetic voters, disgusted by the gridlock and partisan bickering, showed their disapproval of on Nov. 4 by staying home from the polls in record numbers. Nationally, the turnout was just over 36 percent, the lowest since 1942 and an embarrassment for a country that considers itself the world’s greatest democracy. However, it is still our Congress and it has constitutional duties — such as funding the operations of the U.S. government — that up until now it has shirked.

Editorial: Encouraged by plans to revamp VA services (Jackson Sun)

We were cautiously optimistic this week to hear about a plan to overhaul the health care and benefits system for our nation’s veterans of military service. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald announced plans Monday to revamp the system, making it more customer service focused with a streamlined bureaucracy. McDonald took over the VA in the summer amid a nationwide scandal involving mismanagement and fraudulent scheduling practices, among other things. Our VA medical system has been fraught with problems for decades, and we are hopeful that our government is finally serious about coming up with long-term solutions. McDonald appears focused for the mission. “I’m here to fix it,” he said in an interview this week. “We will deliver. We will deliver because we have the entire American public behind us.”