April 30 TN News Digest

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

Bill Haslam: TN Reconnect opens education doors to adults (Hartsville Vidette)
When we launched our ‘Drive to 55’ initiative, where our goal is to have 55 percent of our adults with a college degree or certificate by 2025, we knew we would need to do two things. We knew we needed to increase the number of high school seniors who go on to college, and we knew we would need to reach out to adults in Tennessee who need a college degree and get them back into the higher education system. We hope the Tennessee Reconnect grant will serve as a catalyst for those adults who were perhaps unsure whether they should enroll in higher education to go ahead and take the next step.

Tokyo-based auto supplier to build new facility in Smyrna (Associated Press)
An auto supplier is spending more than $53 million to build a new manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced Wednesday that Tokyo-based Topre America will expand on their current operations based inside the Nissan Smyrna plant. They say the expansion will allow the company to increase production efficiency and create 100 new jobs in Rutherford County. Topre America provides automotive stamping and assemblies for body structures for Nissan, Honda and Toyota. Construction on the new facility is scheduled to begin in August, with completion by June 2017.

Auto supplier Topre America expands in Tennessee (Times Free-Press)
Topre America officials announced Wednesday the company will invest $53.3 million to build a new auto parts manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tenn., and add 100 jobs. The company will expand on its current operations based inside Nissan’s Smyrna plant, according to the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The expansion will allow the automotive parts manufacturer to increase production efficiency. “Today’s announcement speaks volumes about the state’s talented workforce and their commitment to craftsmanship, and these new jobs support our goal of becoming the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs,” said Gov. Bill Haslam in a statement.

Topre America to invest $50M, create 100 jobs in Smyrna (Daily News Journal)
An automotive supplier is moving to Smyrna, creating more than 100 jobs and investing more than $50 million. The Rutherford County Industrial Development Board approved tax incentives for Topre America to build a standalone manufacturing facility next to Nissan’s Assembly and Battery Plant in Smyrna. The facility will create 105 advanced manufacturing jobs that will pay on average $45,000 per year plus benefits, officials said. Topre, which has an existing manufacturing facility in Alabama and a small presence inside Nissan’s Smyrna plant, is an automotive stamping and assembly company that makes the internal body structure for the Nissan Altima, said Brian Hercules, vice president of economic development at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.

Nissan supplier to add 100 jobs in Smyrna (Nashville Post)
Nissan supplier Topre America will invest $53.5 million to build a new facility in Smyrna, expanding its existing operations. Topre currently operates within Nissan’s plant in Rutherford County, providing stamping and body structure assemblies for Nissan, Honda and Toyota. The company plans to add 100 jobs once the expansion is complete. Topre began its Tennessee operation in 2012, planning to employ 25 to 30 people. That quickly grew to more than 150 employees. Construction on the facility is set to begin in August and be fully operational by June 2017. Hiring will begin in October 2016.

First Word: Haslam in town (Commercial Appeal/Veazey)
Good morning from Memphis, where we agree with Geoff… It’s Bass Pro time. And yes, John Anderson is in town. But while we at First Word could sing every word to “Seminole Wind,” we only practice serious, high-minded journalism in this space, so we’ll simply focus on the expectation that Gov. Bill Haslam will be at the Bass Pro opening ceremony at 6 p.m. He’s also in town for a noontime event at the Hilton out east. The Commercial Appeal-sponsored Academic All-Stars luncheon will feature the governor. So expect a couple of different backdrops for your Haslam visuals today.

‘Nashville’ receives $8 million from state for Season 4 (Tennessean/Rau)
The ABC drama “Nashville” quietly secured economic incentives from the state last week as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s amended budget. The Haslam administration allocated a combined $16 million to the Department of Economic and Community Development’s film and television incentive fund, and $8 million of that has been earmarked for “Nashville” to continuing filming in Music City. Lobbyists for the show’s production team have also been in talks with Mayor Karl Dean’s administration about additional incentives from Metro. Unlike last year when representatives from “Nashville” kicked the tires on filming the show elsewhere amid down-to-the-wire negotiations with the state and Metro, discussions have gone smoothly this time.

State seeking applicants to fill judicial vacancy left by late chancellor (CA/Bryson)
The governor’s office issued a call Wednesday for applicants to fill the judicial opening created by the death of Chancellor Oscar “Bo” Carr earlier this month. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will begin accepting applications immediately for the Chancery Court Judge vacancy in the 30th Judicial District. Applicants must be licensed attorneys at least 30 years old, a Tennessee resident for at least five years and a resident of the 30th Judicial District. An application form is available at www.TNCourts.gov, which must be filled out and returned to the Administrative Office of the Courts by noon on May 26.

Harwell to meet with Tennessean editorial board (Tennessean)
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has agreed to meet with The Tennessean editorial board to discuss her stance on controversial health care proposal Insure Tennessee. Harwell never took an official stance on the legislation, aimed at providing hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans with federally subsidized health coverage. She did repeatedly note the concerns of GOP House members about the plan, but has promised to keep working on finding a solution. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, opposes the proposal and was also invited to speak with the editorial board.

Students Not Giving Up on Tuition Equality (Memphis Daily News)
Tennessee students without citizenship say they’ll continue the battle for in-state tuition in 2016 after a measure to help them overcome the financial hurdle of out-of-state tuition barely failed on the House floor. “It’s hard to believe that we were only one vote away from having tuition equality,” says Cesar Bautista, a La Vergne High graduate who dropped out of Volunteer State Community College because he couldn’t afford out-of-state fees. “We will continue to organize and campaign for tuition equality so that the Class of 2015 can be the last class to graduate and have to pay three times as much as their peers.

Lawmakers cut veterans property tax relief (Leaf Chronicle)
Future disabled veterans and other groups in Tennessee seeking to take advantage of a property tax relief program now face a reduced benefit and tougher qualifying rules. That’s because a 42 year-old program for Tennessee seniors and disabled citizens, disabled veterans and surviving spouses of disabled veterans was amended in a full vote of both houses on April 22, with little opposition. The amended rules to TCA Title 67, Chapter 5, Part 7, pertaining to property taxes and classification and assessment-tax relief, now await Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature after easy passage in the House and Senate. Those already receiving relief under the program as of April 6, 2015, are unaffected.

Alstom tax break questioned (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Smith)
For the first time, Chattanooga and Hamilton County are demanding that a local business pay them back for a tax break it received because the company didn’t meet its obligations under the agreement. Mayors Andy Berke and Jim Coppinger said Wednesday that both governments are in a dispute with Alstom Power, which operates two facilities on Riverfront Parkway, because the plant didn’t achieve its promise to add 300 new jobs by Dec. 31, 2014. Neither mayor would go into detail about the negotiations. But Berke said the governments are talking with Alstom about how much money the company should have to repay and whether to continue the agreement through its scheduled end date in 2026.

Tennessee lawmakers back bill to limit birthright citizenship (Tennessean/Troyan)
Babies born in the United States to noncitizen parents would no longer be automatically granted citizenship under a proposal debated Wednesday in Congress. Eliminating what is known as birthright citizenship is an especially controversial piece of the immigration debate. One side argues it is a constitutionally protected part of American heritage, and the other says it is a magnet for illegal immigration. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, conducted a hearing on the legal theory that the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment was never intended to cover children born to undocumented immigrants while they are in the country.

Alexander blasts EPA for favoring wind, solar over nuclear power (TFP/Flessner)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., today blasted proposed rules from the Environmental Protection Agency for favoring wind and solar power over nuclear power in curbing carbon emissions that EPA says are linked with global warming. Alexander, a leading Senate advocate of building more nuclear reactors, said Tennessee is being unfairly treated in having to make a significant 38.9 percent cut in carbon emissions under EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which doesn’t fully recognize the new nuclear reactor being built at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.

TVA readies ‘new nuclear unit’ 42 years after its start (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Nearly 42 years after the Tennessee Valley Authority began its construction, the Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is nearing completion and will be put to a key performance test next month. Nearly 2,600 contract and TVA employees are working around the clock to finish the building — and rebuilding — of the first nuclear reactor to be added to America’s electric grid in nearly two decades. Mike Skaggs, the TVA senior vice president who is heading construction at Watts Bar, said Wednesday he is confident Watts Bar Unit 2 will be ready to generate power within the next year.

TVA awards $7.12M to make homes energy-efficient (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
The Tennessee Valley Authority has awarded Knoxville a $7.12 million grant that will help more than 600 families in low-income areas save money on their utility bills. The program, called “Extreme Energy Makeovers,” will target homes that are at least 20 years old and will aim to reduce energy use in the homes by 25 percent. That could save homeowners $10 per square foot annually. Mayor Madeline Rogero announced the award at her State of the City address at Lakeshore Park on Wednesday.

QC leaving Clarksville for Pleasant View (Tennessean/Ward)
The owner of a packaging distribution company has bought two warehouse buildings with 97,502 square feet of space overall in Cheatham County with plans to relocate closer to Nashville. Caleb Cherry paid $1.5 million for the 13.9-acre property at 6341 Highway 41A in Pleasant View. His QC Industrial Solutions will move from Clarksville within a month, occupying the 79,000-square-foot main building with plans to lease out the 18,000-square-foot building. “It puts us closer to our customers as well as gives us room to grow,” Cherry said, citing clients that QC serves from Clarksville being mostly around Nashville, Dickson and Springfield.

General Mills expansion to get $2.9M in incentives (Daily News Journal)
General Mills will receive $2.9 million in tax incentives to expand its existing facility in Murfreesboro. The yogurt and baked goods maker announced Tuesday it will add two new production lines to its Murfreesboro facility. The expansion represents a $253 million investment in the plant, which produces Yoplait yogurt and every General Mills Toaster Strudel baked in the nation. “This represents a significant capital investment,” Murfreesboro City Manager Rob Lyons said. “They have been an incredible partner in the Murfreesboro community.” Lyons said the company still will be responsible for paying nearly $10 million in taxes over the incentive period and its employees volunteer much time and money to various local nonprofits, most notably the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties.

UAW reports 55 percent membership at Chattanooga VW plant (AP/Schelzig)
The United Auto Workers union has 816 members at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, or about 55 percent of the total blue collar work force, according the union’s latest disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor. The filing comes as the UAW works toward gaining collective bargaining rights at its first foreign-owned plant in the South. And the union’s case for recognition could be bolstered by a leadership shakeup at the German automaker that has left a former union chief, Berthold Huber, as the interim chairman of the world’s No. 2 automaker.



Free-Press Editorial: Insurance law finally may be enforced (Times Free-Press)
The Tennessee General Assembly was forced to pass a bill last week to enforce a law. Something’s wrong with that picture, but read on. Even before last week, automobile insurance was required for every driver in the state. But, according to a 2014 study by the Insurance Research Council cited by legislative staff, about one-fifth of drivers in the state don’t have it. Chances are, you’ve probably been hit by one of them — and you or your insurance company had to pay for repairs to your car. Now the fix is in, a fix that would put in place a system in which insurance would be verified with annual tag renewal, and some people don’t like it.

Sam Stockard: Will Tennessee Republicans Ever Be Truly Happy? (M. Daily News)
Why aren’t Tennessee Republicans happier? With the GOP so dominate in the Tennessee General Assembly and losses so rare – on the Hill or in elections – the party’s lawmakers should be jubilant with this year’s session. But it’s never enough. Here are a handful of reasons that the supermajority isn’t super happy: They want it all: The new chairman of the state GOP wants all “99 members of the House and 33 members in the Senate’’ to be Republicans. Obama: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says only a new president – a Republican president – can “fix’’ the state’s health care issues. It’s a sit-tight, wait-it-out policy, a game the party can play as Obama’s term winds down. Hillary who? Ramsey and others say they are certain Hillary Clinton won’t be elected president, nor will any other Democrat. It’s a situation they can’t control, which is irritating. Her presidency has already been declared “continued failed leadership,” says Ryan Haynes, the new state GOP chair.