May 7 TN News Digest

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

Haslam postsecondary education initiatives showing success (AP/Johnson)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiatives to boost postsecondary education degrees in Tennessee are showing success. Recent enrollment figures show high interest in three programs the Republican governor launched as part of his “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. About 58,000 high school graduates have applied for the program that offers free tuition at any of the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.

Online Tenn. university surpasses 2,000 students (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

WGU Tennessee, the nonprofit, online university that is part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 Initiative, has enrolled more than 2,000 adults in the state since it started in July 2013. WGU Tennessee, created through a partnership between the state of Tennessee and Western Governors University, allows students to take unlimited courses for a flat fee each semester. When the program launched, it had 57 enrollees in Shelby County. Today, 218 residents of the county are enrolled, according to WGU Tennessee. More than 85 county residents have completed their degrees in the program. The most popular major is business, said Morey Hill, spokesman.

New Cirrus Aircraft center to be built at McGhee Tyson Airport (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

A new “customer experience center” will be built next to McGhee Tyson Airport for a small airplanes manufacturer. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, state and local officials, and executives from Cirrus Aircraft announced at the Blount County airport that the aircraft company will be building a “Vision Center.” Governor Haslam told the crowd the new center will bring 170 jobs to the area, and represents an investment of $15 million. The center will become the flagship location for all Cirrus Aircraft sales, marketing and customer experience operations. The Knoxville/Alcoa area beat out around 30 other airport location options for the center.

Cirrus Aircraft to add facility at McGhee Tyson Airport (News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Plans are in motion to open a facility at McGhee Tyson Airport that will be the national showroom for the producer of a new personal jet, as well as other general aviation aircraft. A host of state and local officials gathered under an awning at McGhee Tyson on Wednesday to make the announcement that Duluth, Minn.-based Cirrus Aircraft would build a $15 million “Vision Center” in the airport’s West Aviation area, creating 170 jobs. The facility, which Cirrus hopes to have operating by mid-2016, would be the pickup point for buyers of its aircraft, including the Vision SF50 personal jet, which is in development. “This is a transformational day for Cirrus Aircraft, “ Cirrus co-founder and CEO Dale Klapmeier told the crowd.

New customer experience center coming to McGhee Tyson (Oak Ridger)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd along with Cirrus Aircraft Co-Founder and CEO Dale Klapmeier today announced the company will expand into Tennessee with its new Cirrus Customer Experience Center, called the ‘Vision Center,’ to be located at the McGhee Tyson Airport in Blount County. The new location will create 170 jobs in the Knoxville area and represents a $15 million investment. “Cirrus Aircraft will feel right at home here as a company that sets the standard for innovation in its industry, and we want to thank Cirrus for bringing its new customer experience facility to East Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Cirrus unveils plans for new Tennessee operations (Grand Forks Herald)

As anticipated, Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft announced Wednesday morning that it will open a new delivery and customer service center in Knoxville, Tenn. Dale Klapmeier, Cirrus’ co-founder and CEO, was joined by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam during a press conference at the McGhee Tyson Airport, where the company plans to open a new facility that will deliver planes to customers, provide hands-on training, offer detailing services and provide ongoing customer support. In March, Cirrus disclosed its intentions to relocate its delivery operations from Duluth to some place with a warmer climate and more consistently favorable flying conditions.

ORNL offering Cirrus Aircraft grant, resources (News-Sentinel/Kimel)

Cirrus Aircraft may be Tennessee’s newest business-recruitment coup, but it shares a common goal with East Tennessee — both want to be leaders in cutting-edge technology. While Cirrus executives and state officials pointed to Tennessee’s welcoming business climate — and better weather compared with the company’s Duluth, Minn., home base — as reasons to locate here, the company has also been quick to take advantage of the area’s technology resources. It’s already working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the details of an R&D partnership. Lab representatives will visit Duluth next week to tour Cirrus operations and discuss the lab’s capabilities, said Tom Rogers, ORNL’s director of industrial and economic development partnerships.

Governor signs Tennessee ‘Neighborhood Protection Act’ (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that helps homeowner associations or neighborhood watch groups keep repeat offenders out of their communities. The measure, called the “Neighborhood Protection Act,” was signed by the Republican governor earlier this week. It passed the House 75-16 and was approved 31-1 in the Senate during the recent session. Under the measure, a formally recognized residential entity will be able to petition a judge for a restraining order against repeat criminals that target the inside of its boundaries. The offender must have been convicted of three or more offenses that occurred inside the residential area.

Haslam Signs Statewide Ban on Snapping Photos Inside Polling Stations (TNR)

A bill passed this year by the General Assembly prohibiting people from using cellphones to record images at voting sites in Tennessee has been signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Starting in 2016, state law will permit using “a mobile electronic or communication device” for “informational purposes to assist the voter in making election decisions.” But it will forbid Tennesseans “from using the device for telephone conversations, recording, or taking photographs or videos while inside the polling place.” The GOP-sponsored initiative passed 75-23 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Rep. Mary Littleton of Dickson and Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown pitched their bill primarily as a new privilege for citizens.

Governor signs Tenn. measure requiring racial profiling ban (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that requires all of Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies to ban racial profiling. The Republican governor signed the measure earlier this week. It unanimously passed the House 93-0 and was approved 27-0 in the Senate during the recent session. Supporters say the measure is in response to a series of incidents involving white police officers killing unarmed black men over the last year. Previous efforts to require racial profiling policies fell short in the Legislature over the years. Lawmakers in 2005 ordered a comptroller’s study on the role of ethnicity in traffic stops by the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Haslam declares May “Putting Investors First” month (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed May 2015 “Putting Investors First” Month as a way to recognize the importance the investment profession as foundation of a strong and growing state economy. The proclamation acknowledges the Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) Societies in Tennessee for their commitment to excellence in the investment profession and for being champions for ethical behavior in investment markets. The CFA Society of Nashville is the leading association of local investment professionals. Their mission is to enable members to be leaders in the Middle Tennessee investment community by promoting the value of the CFA designation and facilitating the exchange of ideas and resources among members and with the public.

First lady reads final chapter with kids (Jackson Sun)

Third through fifth graders at Isaac Lane Technology Magnet Elementary School finished a semester-long reading project in a special way Wednesday. Tennessee’s first lady, Crissy Haslam, visited the school to read the final chapter of “Gregor the Overlander” with them. Haslam said reading is vital for education. “Reading is especially important in the third and fourth grade because that’s when they start to get behind,” she said. “Once you’re behind, it’s a challenge to keep up.” Haslam said she sees reading as very important because less than half the students at the third and fourth grade level in Tennessee are proficient readers.

Tennessee water pollution enforcement way down since 2008 (Associated Press)

State regulators issued 77 percent fewer enforcement orders against water polluters in 2014 than they did in 2008, according to the nonprofit Tennessee Clean Water Network. The network has been tracking actions the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation takes against polluters since 2007. In that year, the agency issued 219 enforcement orders. In 2008, it issued 231. But enforcement orders plummeted beginning in 2009, with just 53 issued last year. It’s not clear why enforcement orders have dropped, but Tennessee Clean Water Network attorney Stephanie Durman said there is no evidence it is because there are fewer violations.

Tennessee justices debate notification in electric chair case (Tenn/Barchenger)

What one Tennessee Supreme Court justice called a “big hole” in state protocol regarding when death-row inmates are told they will be executed in the electric chair was a key issue before the state’s highest court Wednesday. The Tennessee Supreme Court met to consider whether 34 inmates challenging the state’s lethal injection procedures also can challenge the backup method, the electric chair, even though the inmates would face electrocution only if certain conditions are met. “Here’s your problem,” Justice Cornelia A. Clark told Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Smith.

If you’re victim of car theft, you probably won’t get your it back (TFP/Bradbury)

Ninety-eight percent of thefts from cars in Chattanooga went unsolved in 2014, according to data compiled by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Chattanooga police cleared just 43 of 2,017 reported cases of theft from a motor vehicle last year — about 2 percent. In the same time frame, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office cleared 29 of 307 cases for about a 9 percent clearance rate. Those numbers are not unusual — statewide, only about 8 percent of reported car break-ins were cleared in 2014, according to new data from the TBI. Cases are usually considered cleared when a suspect is arrested. “It’s an easy and fast crime to commit,” police Chief Fred Fletcher said.

This new TN law is considered a boon for recruiting businesses, startups (NBJ)

Proponents of a new filing status for companies argue it will be an effective tool for recruiting new businesses and lead to more startups in Tennessee. The legislation allows for-profit corporations to register and form as benefit corporations in Tennessee. What that means: A company can now incorporate in Tennessee so that its main goal is not simply generating shareholder returns; instead, its driving mission can be some type of material impact for the public good (whether its promoting clearer air, preserving the environment or even funding after-school programs to promote college-readiness).

Beth Harwell on Insure TN: ‘Didn’t have the votes’ (Tennessean/Boucher)

Right from the start of the special legislative session earlier this year, there were signs that Gov. Bill Haslam’s controversial Insure Tennessee health care program could fail, said House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. “We are dealing with a political issue. This is Barack Obama, he is not popular in this state. There is no sugar coating that. And even less popular than him is Obamacare,” Harwell said Wednesday during a meeting with The Tennessean editorial board. “I think the governor went out of his way to try and distance as much as he could from it, but it’s a hard sell. It’s just a hard sell in the legislature.”

Speakers disavow any ‘mandate’ for Tennessee security group (AP/Schelzig)

A private group called the Tennessee Task Force on National and Homeland Security is marketing itself with an official-looking logo and a claimed “mandate” from state lawmakers. But legislative leaders say the group has no official endorsement from the General Assembly. In fundraising literature, the Tennessee Task Force describes itself as a “non-profit publicly funded and operated body with a mandate endorsed by Members of the Tennessee State Legislature to protect the citizens of Tennessee from the existential threat posed by various acts of terrorism. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s spokesman, Adam Kleinheider, said the group does not carry the Legislature’s imprimatur.

Alexander pushes bill to end union ‘ambush’ elections (Commercial Appeal/Collins)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and other Republican lawmakers are pushing for Congress to pass legislation they say will guarantee fair union elections now that the Senate has abandoned its effort to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a separate measure. Republican senators ended their fight Tuesday night to override Obama’s veto of a bill that would have killed a new government rule allowing expedited union elections. The GOP abandoned its push to override the veto because Democrats moved to prolong debate on the measure for several days.

Comcast to offer super-fast Internet in Nashville (Associated Press)

Comcast says it is bringing its super-fast Internet service to Nashville, but won’t say how much it will cost to install or subscribe. The company says the fiber optic service will offer speeds of 2 gigabits per second – or double what is currently offered by some municipal electric providers and by Google. Comcast previously announced it will offer its Gigabit Pro service in Chattanooga, Atlanta and in Florida and California. The company says the service will roll out to 18 million homes by the end of this year. Comcast has been among cable TV and Internet providers fighting the expansion of municipal broadband in cities like Chattanooga.

Comcast rolls out gigabit service for Nashville (Tennessean/McGee)

On the heels of both Google Fiber and AT&T planning gigabit-speed connection in Nashville, Comcast is one-upping both companies and committing to Internet service that is twice as fast for Middle Tennessee residents. Comcast will begin offering 2 gigabit-per-second service, called Gigabit Pro, to eligible Middle Tennessee homes as early as June, beating both AT&T and Google Fiber on fiber installation. The service has been announced in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Florida and California. “We are clearly in a space where customers are pushing the boundaries of what the Internet can do,” said Doug Guthrie, Comcast regional senior vice president.

After Comcast’s big gigabit announcement, what are AT&T and Google up to? (NBJ)

Someday, Nashville residents will have three different gigabit Internet networks to choose from. It’s just not clear yet when that day will be. Comcast, the last guest to the gigabit party, has offered the most definite timeline. In its Wednesday announcement that 2-gig-per-second Gigabit Pro was headed to Nashville, the company said more than 500,000 customers would have access to the service by month’s end. “The great thing about Gigabit Pro is we’re going to really blanket half a million homes … right away,” Doug Guthrie, senior vice president of Comcast Cable’s South Region, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Dean commits at least $500K for ‘Nashville’ TV show (Tennessean/Rau)

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has included at least $500,000 in his budget proposal for the production of the ABC show “Nashville.” In a statement released Wednesday, Dean’s office said his proposal contains $500,000 to demonstrate Metro’s commitment to “Nashville.” Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration included $8 million in its budget for the show’s fourth season. Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said discussions are ongoing with representatives from “Nashville” regarding the city’s final funding commitment for the show. Dean and local tourism leaders view the show as a tourist draw, which generates tax dollars that more than make up for the government’s investment.

Metro opens up its wallet for ‘Nashville’ incentives (Nashville Business Journal)

If “Nashville” gets renewed for a fourth season, Metro will commit $500,000 to help keep filming local. The state has already committed $8 million in filming incentives to “Nashville,” but the show’s renewal and financial support from local bodies remained largely unknown. In total, the state has allocated $16 million to the Department of Economic and Community Development’s film and television incentive fund, $8 million of which has been flagged for ABC’s primetime drama. Still, as season three of the show nears its finale (scheduled for May 13), its fate on the air and in Nashville is up in the air.