December 12 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Haslam makes the right call on teacher evaluations (Commercial Appeal)

While the goal of putting an excellent teacher in every classroom should remain a priority, we think Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is making the right call in proposing a temporary change in teachers’ performance evaluations. We think it is the fair thing to do since a good portion of the evaluations deal with student test results, and students will be subjected to more stringent testing beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. Test scores are likely to drop, which could impact a teacher’s hiring, placement and pay based strictly on student performance. Right now, 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation is based on student performance on state testing. The governor will ask the state legislature in January to temporarily scale back the percentage of the evaluation tied to student test results during the first two years of the new testing program.

Target to bring 400 jobs to Memphis (Associated Press)

Target Corporation says it will locate a new online fulfillment center in Memphis, which will create more than 400 jobs. Gov. Bill Haslam, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and the company announced the plans on Thursday. A statement says Target will invest about $50 million in the 900,000-square-foot facility. Mike Robbins, Target’s senior vice president of distribution, said the company is excited about expanding in Tennessee. The company decided to locate the facility in Memphis after conducting a multi-state search based on competitive costs, workforce availability, accessibility and support from the local and state levels. “We want to welcome Target to Tennessee and thank the company for investing in our state and adding more than 400 jobs to our Memphis workforce,” Haslam said in a statement.

Target picks Memphis for new fulfillment center (C. Appeal/Clarke, McKenzie)

Target Corp. will open an online fulfillment center in Memphis next year, a $50 million investment that is expected to create more than 400 jobs. Innotrac of suburban Atlanta will manage the 900,000-square-foot center at 5461 Davidson Road, according to a statement released by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Target chose Memphis for the center, which will serve customers in Southeastern states, based on competitive costs, availability of workforce, real estate, local and state support, and accessibility, the release said. “Tennessee is a great market for Target stores, and we are excited to expand our presence in the state,” Mike Robbins, Target’s senior vice president of distribution, said in the release. “We look forward to serving guests across the region from this new online fulfillment center in Memphis.”

Target Bringing 400-Job Project to Memphis (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis is poised to land hundreds of new jobs and retain several hundred more. Target will seek incentives from Memphis and Shelby County as early as next week for an online fulfillment center that will create over 400 new jobs. “We want to welcome Target to Tennessee and thank the company for investing in our state and adding more than 400 jobs to our Memphis workforce,” said Gov. Bill Haslam in a statement. “It goes without saying that a company like Target can choose to do business anywhere in the country, so it means a great deal that they chose Memphis.” The Minneapolis-based retail giant explored sites in DeSoto County and Memphis for the distribution center but will lease the 900,000-square-foot building at 5461 Davidson Road in Southeast Memphis.

Target Corporation To Locate New Online Fulfillment Center In Memphis (WHBQ)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with Target Corporation announced today the company’s plans to locate a new 900,000 square foot online fulfillment center at 5461 Davidson Road in Memphis. Target will invest upwards of $50 million in the facility and create more than 400 new jobs in Shelby County.  “We want to welcome Target to Tennessee and thank the company for investing in our state and adding more than 400 jobs to our Memphis workforce,” Haslam said. “It goes without saying that a company like Target can choose to do business anywhere in the country, so it means a great deal that they chose Memphis. We are always grateful for announcements like these as they help us toward our goal to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

400 jobs coming to Memphis via Target development (WREG-TV Memphis)

Target has chosen Memphis as the site for a new 900,000 square foot fulfillment center. The facility, to be located at 5461 Davidson Road, is expected to employ 400 people. Target is the second largest retailer in the United States. “We want to welcome Target to Tennessee and thank the company for investing in our state and adding more than 400 jobs to our Memphis workforce,” said Governor Bill Haslam in a news release. “It goes without saying that a company like Target can choose to do business anywhere in the country, so it means a great deal that they chose Memphis. We are always grateful for announcements like these as they help us toward our goal to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.” The center is expected to open in mid-2015.

Target warehouse to bring 400 jobs if incentives approved (WREG-TV Memphis)

Just in time for the holidays comes the announcement hundreds of new jobs are coming to Memphis. Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday Target plans to locate a huge distribution warehouse in Memphis and create 400 new jobs. However, there’s a catch: Memphis must offer incentives. Memphis has the space – 900,000 square feet of it. It’s already built, just waiting on Davidson Road in Whitehaven for a new tenant. EDGE, the Economic Development Growth Engine, tried to convince Target to locate one of its distribution centers there for a while. Getting one of these means a lot of new jobs. “We’re talking about over 460 jobs. we’re talking about absorbing over 900 square feet of vacant space in the community and investment of over 50 million dollars by a world class company,” EDGE President Reid Dulberger said.

Everything you need to know about Target’s new Memphis digs (M. Biz Journal)

When Target Corp. opens its new online fulfillment center in Southeast Memphis in mid-2015, one of the largest industrial buildings in the city will be off the market. The 914,000-square-foot, 124-bay warehouse at 5461 Davidson Road is owned by Memphis Industrial Park Investors Inc., which is in care of the real estate arm of global investment firm UBS, according to Shelby County tax records. The Class-A building’s appraised value, for tax purposes, was nearly $18.5 million in 2014, according to the Shelby County Assessor of Property. And, as I reported earlier today, Target says it will put another $50 million into the building, which was once occupied by Hamilton Beach and is currently leased to Technicolor. Technicolor should vacate the property sometime after the Christmas season ends.

What kind of incentives could Target get? (Memphis Business Journal)

In a big win for Memphis, Target Corp. today announced plans for a new distribution center that will bring the city more than 400 new jobs and a $50 million investment. If you’re one of my regular readers, you’ve already known for a month that Target was eyeing the 900,000-square-foot industrial building at 5461 Davidson Road, as well as another in the Crossroads Distribution Center in Olive Branch, Mississippi. There are still questions about the project — like what kind of incentives Target will get. On the local level, the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County is expected to release Target’s incentives figures Friday ahead of next Wednesday’s meeting. Target would be eligible for at least a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentive from EDGE, according to estimates based on EDGE’s website.

Jackson leaps forward with $900K grant (Jackson Sun)

Jackson State Community College is receiving $900,000 as part of the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) competition. The state program increases the opportunity for Tennesseans to obtain a certificate or degree beyond high school that is aligned with the needs of the workforce in their communities. “These types of intentional partnerships between local agencies and their colleges or TCATs (Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology) are what we want to see across the state as a significant piece of the Drive to 55 initiative,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a news release. “Tying the training and skills that our colleges are teaching directly to current workforce needs will help more Tennesseans qualify for good-paying, high-quality jobs.”

Tourism commissioner leaving Haslam administration (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam says his tourism commissioner, Susan Whitaker, is leaving his administration after serving in that position for 12 years. Whitaker was first named tourism commissioner by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2003, and was kept on in that role by Haslam after he took office in 2011. She previously worked as vice president of marketing for Dollywood, Tennessee’s most visited man-made attraction. The state estimates that tourism accounted for $16.7 billion in direct economic impact last year, and that state and local tax collections related to tourism reached a record $1.3 billion. Haslam said Whitaker has agreed to remain commissioner until a successor is named for the agency responsible for the state’s marketing, public relations and promotions campaigns.

Haslam: TN Tourism Commissioner Departing After 12 Years of Service (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Department of Tourist Development, will be departing the administration after dedicating 12 years of leading the department to return to the private sector. “Susan has done a great job of promoting the unique assets that Tennessee has to offer to visitors from across the country and around the world,” Haslam said. “I am grateful for her leadership and service as we’ve worked to leverage all of the good work happening across the state to attract more people to Tennessee.” Tourism is one of Tennessee’s largest industries with a $16.7 billion direct economic impact in 2013, a 3.4 percent increase over 2012.

Tennessee Tourist Development commissioner leaving (Tennessean/Boucher)

Susan Whitaker, the commissioner of the state Department of Tourist Development for the last 12 years, is stepping down, according to a news release from the office of Gov. Bill Haslam. “These past 12 years have afforded me an unparalleled opportunity to work with every sector of the travel industry, both in Tennessee and nationally,” Whitaker said in the statement. “Cabinet positions are generally designed for eight year tenures; I have been so blessed to have had the privilege of serving an additional four years under the tremendous leadership of Governor Haslam.” Haslam thanked Whitaker for her work, noting tourism contributed $16.7 billion in direct economic impact and $1.28 billion in local tax collections for the state in 2013 alone.

Tennessee’s tourism commissioner returning to private sector (N. Biz Journal)

Another member of Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet is stepping down as he prepares for his second term in office. Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Department of Tourist Development, is returning to the private sector, according to a news release. Whitaker has led the department for 12 years. She was first appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, in 2003. He re-appointed her in 2007, and Gov. Haslam, a Republican, re-appointed her in 2011. “Susan has done a great job of promoting the unique assets that Tennessee has to offer to visitors from across the country and around the world,” Haslam said in a news release. “I am grateful for her leadership and service as we’ve worked to leverage all of the good work happening across the state to attract more people to Tennessee.”

Haslam’s evaluation fixes don’t satisfy teacher groups (Tenn/Garrison, Boucher)

In a move to ease the angst of teachers as they transition to new testing, Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed temporarily reducing the role student growth plays in their annual evaluations. But the move hasn’t eliminated concerns from the state’s two leading teacher organizations — the biggest critics of the state’s teacher evaluation system — whose leaders say the governor’s proposal doesn’t go far enough. Tennessee Education Association President Barbara Gray applauded many of the changes Haslam proposed in a policy statement earlier this week that addressed academic standards, testing and other issues that affect teachers. She said she appreciates the governor’s new emphasis on teacher input and feedback and called several changes a “step in the right direction.”

Ramsey: Medicaid expansion a possibility in Tenn. (Associated Press)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says that if fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam succeeds in his negotiations with President Barack Obama’s administration on a special Tennessee deal for Medicaid expansion, the result could be “sellable” to skeptical state lawmakers. The biggest problem, as Ramsey sees it, is that he doesn’t think the Obama administration is interested in agreeing to Haslam’s proposal to have co-pays and deductibles and use the federal money to subsidize commercial insurance. Haslam has said that he will either strike an agreement by the end of the year, or abandon his efforts. Lawmakers have enacted legislation for the governor to obtain legislative approval before agreeing to Medicaid expansion in what supporters dubbed the “Stop Obamacare Act.”

Ramsey Joins Haslam In Call For Gas Tax Hike (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is the latest to join other state leaders in calling for an increase to the state’s gas tax, which hasn’t gone up in decades. “One of the basic functions of government is to build good roads. And we in Tennessee are doing that currently, but we can’t continue under the current model that we have, as most other states can’t,” Ramsey told reporters in his office on Thursday. “I’m not sure it will be addressed this session, but we have to make sure it stays on the table.” Ramsey said one proposal being talked about by state lawmakers would calculate a tax based on weight, making truckers, especially those passing through the state, contribute heavily. With low gas prices, he says now is an ideal time to tackle the gas tax issue. And even though Republicans are usually the ones makes anti-tax pledges, Ramsey says road funding might represent special exception.

Ramsey wants to limit new Tenn. abortion laws (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The approval of a constitutional amendment to give the state Legislature more power to regulate abortions in Tennessee may have opened the floodgates to proposals from Republican lawmakers in the upcoming session, but Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that he doesn’t expect most of them to be enacted. The Blountville Republican told a news conference in his legislative office that he expects the Legislature to focus only on restoring laws on mandatory counseling, a waiting period and clinic regulations, all of which were struck down as part of a 2000 state Supreme Court decision that abortion was protected in the Tennessee Constitution as part of a woman’s fundamental right to privacy. Ramsey said he opposes a proposal to require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound between one and three days before the procedure.

State Building Commission advances two UT projects (News-Sentinel/Locker)

The State Building Commission advanced two building projects at the University of Tennessee and approved the start of another at Pellissippi State Community College’s Strawberry Plains campus Thursday. The commission approved alterations in the scope and funding of a new 1,050-space parking garage on the corner of Volunteer Boulevard and Pat Head Summitt Drive on the UT campus that is already under construction, and of an expansion and renovation project of the athletic complex just south of the former Stokely Athletics Center site. That previously approved project involves work on the Neyland Thompson portion of the McKenzie Lawson Athletics Center to facilitate the relocation of some functions there from the demolished Stokely Center as well as a northward expansion of Haslam Field, the football practice field.

U of M faculty voice fears about competing teacher training program (CA/Roberts)

Faculty in the University of Memphis’ college of education, who until now have been silent on the separate teacher training model the university is studying, outlined their concerns in a letter hand-delivered to president David Rudd Wednesday. “This decision is literally bringing a direct competitor onto our campus and promoting them as an option for our undergraduates to move into Relay’s Graduate School of Education MAT (master’s of arts in teaching) degree,” according to the letter from faculty in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership. “Of perhaps even greater concern and cause for alarm is the secretive manner in which the University’s administration has undertaken this endeavor, after indicating that we would be informed as details were put into writing earlier this academic year,” the letter says.

New bill aims to ‘end racial profiling’ by TN police (Tennessean/Boucher)

A Republican state senator and Democratic state representative cite the recent death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., as a reason to create a law to “end racial profiling” by law enforcement in Tennessee. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and state Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, propose creating a new state law called the “Racial Profiling Prevention Act.” Kelsey said in a news release the bill was created as a result of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown earlier this year. “Whether you agree with the decision of Ferguson or not, we should all agree that racial profiling has no place in law enforcement in our state,” Kelsey said in the release. Kelsey already filed his bill in the Senate.

Tenn. bill would ban racial profiling (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Hickman)

While the General Assembly considers a bill that would require all of the state’s law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies banning racial profiling, Col. Tracy Trott said the Tennessee Highway Patrol already is in compliance. The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis. Kelsey said in a news release Thursday that the measure comes in response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., and the demonstrations that have followed a grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson. “Whether you agree with the decision of Ferguson or not, we should all agree that racial profiling has no place in law enforcement in our state,” Kelsey said.

Memphis Lawmakers Propose To Outlaw Racial Profiling (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

Two Memphis lawmakers are introducing a proposal to outlaw racial profiling in Tennessee. It would require local police departments to enact written policies to prevent all profiling.  The City of Memphis already has a policy, which has been guiding police officers since 2005. FOX13 News obtained the policy through an open records request, which says profiling is not allowed in the Bluff City, but many Memphians told FOX13 News it is happening. Memphis Police has a strict policy against all discriminatory profiling but many African-American men say it doesn’t seem to matter.  “There’s a lot of racial profiling going on with the police, said Christopher Young  Many people say they’ve been harassed and they believe they’re being targeted by police officers.

Carr calls Obama ‘imbecile’ in Facebook post (Daily News Journal)

Outgoing state Rep. Joe Carr blasted President Barack Obama through social media for immigration comments he made while in Nashville earlier this week. The Lascassas Republican and former U.S. Senate hopeful called the president an “absolute imbecile” in a Facebook post on Wednesday, linking to an article questioning whether a Scriptual reference Obama made was actually in the Bible. “Ladies and gentlemen this is the President Republicans are afraid to confront. This guy is an absolute imbecile,” the post read. The post followed previous comments about the president the day he visited South Nashville to speak about his immigration executive order that is set to defer deportations for up to 4 million people living in the United States illegally. “Since Obama is visiting the Nashville illegal immigrant community here in Nashville, maybe Mayor Karl Dean could point him in the right direction to get a ‘fake ID’ … just in case,” the post read.

House Narrowly Passes Bill to Avoid Shutdown; $1.1 Trillion in Spending (NYT)

The House narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion spending package on Thursday that would fund most government operations for the fiscal year after a rancorous debate that reflected the new power held by Republicans and the disarray among Democrats in the aftermath of the midterm elections. The accord was reached just hours before the midnight deadline, in a 219-206 vote, amid the last-minute brinkmanship and bickering that has come to mark one of Congress’s most polarized — and least productive — eras. The legislation now heads to the Senate, which is expected to pass it in the coming days. The split in the Democratic Party dramatically burst into view when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader and one of President Obama’s most loyal supporters, broke with the administration over a provision in the bill that would roll back regulation of the Dodd-Frank Act, which Ms. Pelosi said was a giveaway to big banks whose practices helped fuel the Great Recession.

E. Tenn. delegation divided over federal budget bill (News-Sentinel/Collins)

The East Tennessee delegation in Congress split its vote on the $1.1 trillion government spending plan that passed the U.S. House on Thursday, with half supporting the bill and half voting against it. VOTING YES U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City: “The budget agreement, while imperfect, has numerous provisions that will help our state. … This agreement will prohibit the IRS from targeting organizations because of their political or ideological beliefs; keep the EPA from regulating lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle while also cutting their funding for the fifth consecutive year; and reduces funding for the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which I’ve worked on since the Affordable Care Act’s passage. This bill funds important infrastructure projects while keeping one of the largest economic drivers in the 1st District — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — open.”

$2.1 million grant will put dozens in pre-K in Chattanooga area (TFP/Anderson)

One-hundred and fifty of Chattanooga’s youngest residents will start the new year enrolled in Early Head Start, a prekindergarten program, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A $2.1 million early childhood education grant — the largest expansion grant for early education to be awarded to Chattanooga, and the first during Mayor Andy Berke’s administration — will allow many more children from low-income families to participate in the Early Head Start program. “It’s a big deal for us as we work to enhance and improve the educational status of our students,” said Lurone Jennings, administrator of the Department of Youth and Family Development for the city of Chattanooga. It costs approximately $13,500 per year for a child to attend Early Head Start, and many kids ranging from birth to 3-years-old are on the waiting list to enroll, Jennings said.

Many Choose Not to Save in the Health Marketplace (New York Times)

Steven Norton, recovering from a severe stroke, says he is renewing the health plan he got this year through the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange. He will pay more in 2015 — $501 a month including his federal subsidy, up from $485. But for him, continuity matters more than price, so he has not logged on to HealthCare.gov to search for alternatives. “If it’s working, why try to fix it?” said Mr. Norton, 51. Nancy Allman, a retiree outside Tucson, sees things differently. Ms. Allman, 64, said she was surprised to learn her exchange plan would cost $235 a month next year after her subsidy, up from $158. Overwhelmed by her choices on HealthCare.gov, she called the customer service line and received help finding a plan from a different insurer that will cost only $77 a month. The plan has a smaller network of providers, but it includes her primary care doctor, and she is in good health. “

What States Need to Do to Grow Their Advanced Industries (Governing)

Voters said unequivocally in this year’s midterm elections that economic growth and quality jobs are their top concerns. The divided federal government that resulted from those elections seems likely to take incremental but not transformative steps on critical economic issues. In other words, less gridlock but little impact. So responsibility for action on those issues that most concern voters now shifts to the states (where 36 governors were just elected or re-elected) and to the cities and metro areas within them that drive the nation’s economy. Our prediction: Expect governors and local leaders to design and deliver a new kind of economic development that aims to grow advanced industries through investments in platforms, people and places. What are advanced industries and why should states be so committed to them?

Erlanger puts executive bonuses on hold (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Facing criticism and questions from state lawmakers after voting to award executives $1.7 million in bonuses, Erlanger Health System officials said Thursday night they will put the payments on hold and review their actions. Trustees for the public hospital voted Dec. 4 to approve bonuses for 99 managers, including more than $234,000 for CEO Kevin Spiegel. The Hamilton County legislative delegation — which appointed three trustees to the 11-member board — harshly criticized the move, saying the hospital had not proven it could afford such bonuses after ending the last three years in the red and relying on a federal funding pool to end this year with a profit. Legislators also questioned whether the board discussed the bonuses privately before the vote, possibly violating the state’s open meetings law.

 

 

OPINION

Editorial: Lawmakers must step up support of higher education (News-Sentinel)

The University of Tennessee’s drive to become a top 25 research university has always rested on the uneasy footing of being funded by a state whose lawmakers appear more hesitant about spending on anything than proudly willing to invest in higher education. It is to be hoped that UT President Joe DiPietro and other education leaders have given state officials a greater sense of urgency with remarks last week that UT’s business model is broken and is jeopardizing the school’s mission. Unfortunately, Bill Fox, director of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research, warned this week that stagnant state revenues likely will prevent an influx of new dollars. Declining state appropriations, increasing costs and upward spiraling tuition are placing more of a burden on students and their parents, DiPietro said last week during higher education budget hearings held by Gov. Bill Haslam and his finance team.