Friday, February 3

La-Z-Boy To Expand Rhea Co. Plant; Add 115 Jobs (WTVF) Governor Haslam announced a Rhea County employer will be expanding its operations and creating more than 100 new jobs. La-Z-Boy Incorporated is the largest employer in Rhea County. On Thursday, officials said they will be investing about $26 million over the course of three years into the expansion. The project should create 115 jobs in Dayton. “La-Z-Boy has been a part of the Rhea County community for more than 40 years and we appreciate its commitment to Tennessee and for creating more than 100 new jobs in Rhea County,” Haslam said. “This expansion helps us become one step closer to our goal of making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

La-Z-Boy to Bring New Jobs to Dayton (WDEF) Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, the Department of Economic and Community Development and La-Z-Boy Incorporated officials announced today that the upholstery furniture manufacturer and marketer will expand in Rhea County. La-Z-Boy will invest approximately $26 million over three years and create 115 new jobs in Dayton. “La-Z-Boy has been a part of the Rhea County community for more than 40 years and we appreciate its commitment to Tennessee and for creating more than 100 new jobs in Rhea County,” Haslam said. “This expansion helps us become one step closer to our goal of making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

What New Tennessee Promise Data Says About How Free Community College Is Working (WPLN) More students are staying in school under Tennessee’s free community college program, according to new data from the state. In the fall, 58 percent of Tennessee Promise students enrolled for a second year of community college, compared to 42 percent of students outside the program. Tennessee Promise, which guarantees free tuition to community or technical college, applies to students coming right out of high school and taking classes full time — what the state calls “first-time, full-time freshmen.” This kind of student has always been more likely to complete college than students who are not enrolled full-time.

Bill Haslam introduces higher education changes in State of the State address (MTSU Sidelines) Governor Bill Haslam announced widespread changes for Tennessee higher education in the annual State of the State address before the Tennessee General Assembly on Monday evening. According to a press release from University President Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU performed an analysis of the address and its direct effects on the university. The press release states that Haslam’s plan allows for a 3 percent salary pool for MTSU employees based on $3 million of diverted funds. The salary pool will come into effect July 1 and if accepted, it will be approved by the MTSU Board of Trustees.

Complete Tennessee hosts summit in Maury County (Daily Herald) Southern Middle Tennessee’s leaders in education, business and local government gathered at Northfield Workforce Development and Conference Center this week. They participated in a symposium, setting the base for a mission to better connect Tennesseans to secondary education, no matter what their age. The special event was held by Complete Tennessee, a nonprofit organization focused on increasing post-secondary access and completion in across the state through innovation, engagement, leadership, advocacy and accountability. One of the organization’s major goals is to encourage Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55, setting the initiative to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by 2025.

DRMC offers to partner with Gov. Haslam’s rural Internet plan (Marshall Tribune) Limited access to broadband Internet connectivity in rural middle Tennessee has prompted Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC) to create a solution for the future. This comes on the heels of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Thursday morning introduction of a bill to allow electric cooperatives to provide broadband. This bill, officially known as the “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act,” attempts to get broadband access to everyone. According to Haslam, 34 percent of our rural Tennesseans do not have broadband access, which represents about 725,000 people. When compared to the two percent of urban residents in the state without broadband access, a digital divide is apparent.

Dickson Electric manager: Could partner with broadband provider under Haslam plan (Tennessean) Dickson Electric System leadership believes Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent proposal to expand broadband access to rural areas is a “step in the right direction” but many of the tax incentives and deregulation in the plan that will help electric cooperatives statewide to offer broadband will not apply to the DES, which is a municipal system. “The governor’s plan is very exciting. For years, residents in rural areas have been waiting for someone to bring broadband services,” said DES General Manager Darrell Gillespie. Ultimately, the expansion of broadband access in Dickson County will likely be dependent on whether current broadband providers, Comcast, AT&T and others, are enticed by state incentives to extend broadband services.

Locals have mixed reaction to Haslam’s gas tax proposal (WRCB) Drivers could soon have to dig deeper into their pockets to fill up their gas tanks. Governor Bill Haslam is proposing Tennessee’s first gas tax in 27 years. The governor wants to raise the state’s gas tax by 7-cents. The money would be used to pay for repairing roads in Tennessee. It’s an issue that could impact every single driver in the state but especially those who drive for a living. “It would be a big negative for us,” said truck driver Robert Nicks. Nicks told Channel 3 he is worried about the additional expense. “I have a family I have to support,” said Nicks. The increase would add up for delivery businesses too. Gil Cartwright with Flowers by Gil and Curt in Chattanooga told Channel 3 he supports Governor Haslam’s plan.

Haslam’s gas tax increase for roads jolted by legislative potholes, quarreling (Times Free Press) Better buckle up Tennesseans, the road to new transportation funding to address the state’s $10.5 billion backlog of highway and bridge projects is already getting pretty rocky, and the trip has just begun. House and Senate GOP leaders are playing bumper cars as multiple transportation plans surface as rivals to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed gas tax increase to fund nearly 1,000 projects. Senate Republican leaders said Thursday they felt sideswiped by a proposal offered up Wednesday by House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, R-Greeneville.

Rival proposals may ‘divide and conquer’ Tennessee road plan (AP) The introduction of several rival transportation funding proposals could end up sinking efforts to tackle a $10 billion backlog of road and bridge projects in Tennessee, legislators warned Thursday. The counterproposals are being offered by opponents of a gas tax hike, which is a key to the plan put forward by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. The governor likens gas and diesel taxes to “user fees” that he calls the fairest approach to paying for infrastructure projects because up to half of vehicles on Tennessee roads are from out of state.

Opponents of Gas-Tax Hike Push Alternative Plans (Memphis Daily News) Amid legislative strife over Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to raise gas taxes and reduce business taxes, Rep. Barbara Cooper says she is inviting the governor to “sell” his plan to her Memphis constituents. “His explanation and all seemed somewhat reasonable. Other than that, it will be another regressive tax on the poor and the middle class,” says Cooper, a Memphis Democrat. Cooper, who met with Haslam Tuesday morning, says the governor agreed to visit Memphis to discuss the IMPROVE Act, a combination of gas and diesel tax increases along with higher registration fees coupled with business and Hall tax reductions and a half-percent cut in the grocery tax.

Hawk Presents Alternative Transportation Proposal (Greeneville Sun) When Gov. Bill Haslam proposed his transportation plan — a strategy highlighted by the first gas-and-diesel tax hike in nearly three decades — State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, called the recommendation a “starting point” for discussion. On Wednesday, Hawk unveiled a plan of his own. It’s a proposal that wouldn’t increase the gas tax but would give the Tennessee Department of Transportation about $33 million less than what Haslam pitched earlier this year.

Governor seeks to improve Tennessee infrastructure (UT Daily Beacon) Gov. Haslam proposed a bill that increases funding for the Tennessee Department of Transportation by increasing fuel and vehicle taxes and decreasing grocery and business taxes on Wednesday, Jan. 18. The bill can help fund approximately 962 TDOT projects across the state. TDOT operates on a no-debt basis, so they rely on the gas tax to fund projects. Tennessee’s gas tax has not been increased since 1989. Because of that, funds are being depleted. “Road construction has become more expensive (since 1989) and cars have become more efficient in the way they use fuel … The source of revenue that was approved in 1989 is diminishing or leveling off and we need to figure out a way to replace it,” Martin Daniel, state representative for the 18th district, said.

Secret videos of women taken at UT football games surface online (WATE) Tens of thousands of people make their way to Neyland Stadium on Saturdays during football season. According to videos of which WATE 6 On Your Side has been made aware, not everyone is there for the main event. A website shows videos of women being filmed in public without their knowledge. “I think that’s a complete violation of privacy,” said senior Noreen Premji. “I personally wouldn’t like that if someone did that and put those videos out on the internet and I wouldn’t know where they were going. I definitely am quite frightened by that.” These videos go further than just filming women in public. One video is taken completely under a woman’s skirt.

Tennessee has 3x average rate of babies born addicted to drugs (WKRN) Every 25 minutes, a baby is born in the United States with an opioid addiction. Neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, occurs when an infant has been exposed to an opioid in utero. There are a significant number of cases of NAS in Middle Tennessee, according to Neonatologist Dr. Stephen Patrick with Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The area that we live in here in Tennessee has a rate of NAS that’s about three times the national average,” he told News 2. Dr. Patrick is one of the nation’s top researchers in neonatal abstinence syndrome and describes NAS as a colicky baby times five. “Infants with NAS are fussy. They can be inconsolable, have difficulty sleeping, they can have feeding problems that sometimes are severe enough to require a feeding tube, they’re more likely to have breathing problems as well, and less commonly they can also have seizures,” he explained.

Roane awarded $50,000 TDEC grant (Roan Co. News) Roane County is the recipient of a $50,000 Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grant for truck scales to help reduce landfill waste in Tennessee and move materials to the best highest use. The grant, which requires a 50-percent match from the county, was among more than $2 million grants the state distributed for recycling equipment, recycling rebates and used oil. “This grant program encourages and supports local communities to meet their solid waste and recycling goals,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau.

Gatlinburg to host Tennessee Special Olympic Winter Games (News Sentinel) The City of Gatlinburg will be hosting the 32nd Annual Special Olympics Tennessee Winter Games from Feb. 5-7 at the popular Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park. The games are expected to showcase more than 150 athletes with intellectual disabilities as they compete in events such as skiing, snowboarding and speedskating. Athletes will be divided into competition categories based on their ages and ability levels. The games’ opening ceremony will be  at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5, at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. The ceremony is open to the public and will feature the March of Athletes, the Special Olympics Oath and a presentation of the colors.

More transportation proposals expected to rival Haslam plan (AP) More road funding plans are emerging to rival Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal that would include the state’s first gas tax hike since 1989. Republican Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville has released a counter-proposal to instead divert sales tax collections to the road fund. And the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a group that has fought Haslam on issues like Medicaid expansion, plans to reveal its own proposal on Thursday morning. Haslam wants to raise about $280 million per year to tackle a more than $10 billion backlog in road and bridge projects around the state.

Democrat questions effectiveness of sexual harassment video for lawmakers (Tennessean) A Nashville Democrat is questioning whether the new requirement for members of the Tennessee General Assembly to watch a sexual harassment training video would have halted expelled lawmaker Jeremy Durham or might even prevent harassment by others in the future. “No, here in this place, I don’t think it would stop it,” Rep. Bo Mitchell said Tuesday, shortly after watching the video. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, made the training mandatory after Attorney General Herbert Slatery found Durham had inappropriate sexual contact with at least 22 women.

East Tennesseans weigh in on controversial ‘alien’ license bill (WBIR) A controversial bill is moving through the statehouse that would require legal Tennessee residents who are not full citizens or permanent residents to have a label on their license that says “alien” or “non-citizen.” Supporters say it’s a necessary security measure, but opponents argue it could subject immigrants to discrimination. Four years ago, Geoffery Marquez’s family immigrated to the U.S. with just the clothes on their backs after facing persecution in Venezuela. He renews his work visa every year to live in the states. “If you have a driver’s license in Tennessee, it’s because your legal status allows it,” he said. “My question is, what are the benefits that the proposal has?”

Bipartisan bill would require all school buses have safety restraint systems for kids by mid-2023 (Times Free Press) Joined by four House colleagues, state Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, on Thursday filed her school bus seat belt bill addressing safety concerns after the Nov. 21 bus crash that killed six Woodmore Elementary School students. Beginning July 1, 2018, the bill will require safety restraint systems on any Tennessee school bus ordered or purchased by a public or private school or system intended to transport students, as well as for extracurricular activities and other school events. By July 1, 2023, the requirement for seat belts — which is approved by the National Transportation Safety Board — would apply to all Tennessee school buses. Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said Thursday he has agreed to carry the Senate companion bill “out of respect” for Favors despite his concerns.

Who’s driving your child to school? (WATE) From Knoxville to Chattanooga deadly bus accidents have highlighted the need for safety on buses. Lawmakers have looked at legislation to put seat belts on school buses, school systems have also made efforts to recruit more qualified bus drivers, but one of the best things parents can do to get involved is learn more about their bus driver. School districts are public but some, like Knox County, are contracted drivers.

State’s refugee lawsuit on hold as Norris seeks meeting with Trump administration (Tennessean) Tennessee’s lawsuit against the federal government over refugee resettlement is temporarily on hold in light of President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Thursday he has talked with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Memphis attorney John Ryder about arranging a meeting with the Trump administration to discuss state lawmakers’ concerns over the federal refugee program. Ryder, who has served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee since 2013, has an established relationship with Reince Priebus, who is Trump’s chief of staff.

Reducing Felony Possession Charges Aim of Parkinson’s Pot Bill (Memphis Daily News) Rep. Antonio Parkinson says his legislation dealing with marijuana isn’t designed to decriminalize pot but to reduce felony possession charges – and the stumbling blocks attached to them – in addition to saving the state money. Parkinson filed legislation in the General Assembly increasing the amount of marijuana a person can possess to an ounce from a half-ounce before they’re automatically charged with felony possession for distribution. “It really strips away the automatic intent to distribute if there’s no evidence of it,” Parkinson says.

Parkinson: Memphis School Voucher Bill ‘Unfair’ (Memphis Daily News) Rep. Antonio Parkinson lashed out Thursday at fellow Shelby County delegation member Sen. Brian Kelsey, calling his pilot voucher bill for Memphis schools “insulting, both personally and professionally.” “It appears there’s a pattern that Shelby County is always the dumping ground for this Legislature, and I believe Shelby County citizens are tired of being the target of this Legislature,” Parkinson says. “In some cases, unfortunately, some of our own delegation is part of that pattern that’s happening.” Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat, says the proposal to use public dollars to send children in Shelby County’s low-performing schools to private schools is “unfair” to students, parents and the school system.

The Buddy System (Memphis Flyer) Harris and Kelsey hope to effect a good public outcome on the TVA/aquifer issue. In both our editorial and in this week’s cover story there are a few oblique references to a phenomenon that seems to be on the rise, in Nashville as well as in Washington. And that is an increased readiness of elected public officials to shake somewhat loose from their ideological preoccupations and habits of gridlock — long enough, anyhow, to work effectively to the public good across party lines. A first-class example of this is the recent joining together for a worthy purpose of two local state senators, each with some claim to political prominence and each with a past record of intense partisan loyalty.

State Has No Idea How Much Voter Fraud Does or Does Not Exist (Nashville Scene) How much voter fraud does or does not exist in Tennessee? The Scene has no idea. Neither, it turns out, does the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office — you know, the office in charge of administering elections. First, some backstory: As we all know, there were all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories about rigging the election this past fall, something the actual President of the United States still insists to this day is true, even though he won. (It is not true that the election was rigged, or that millions of illegal votes were cast. That is a real, actual fact, not an opinion. A fact.)

Game on: City Gets a Deannexation Plan Of Its Own to Mull Over (Memphis Flyer) As Memphis Mayor Jim Stickland had indicated it would when he hinted at the outlines of the report to Shelby County legislators in Nashville on Wednesday, the report identified specific communities —six in all — that conformed to some or all of three benchmarks that argued for de-annexation. As laid out by Memphis CAO Doug McOwen in a brief presentation to the 11 task force members (and a roomful of other interested parties) in the City Council’s fifth-floor conference room, the guiding principles were (1) the relative population density of an area; (2) the pluses and minuses of providing city services to the area; and (3) the extent to which residents of an area were clamoring to be de-annexed.

Sen. Corker backs Betsy DeVos as education secretary (Tennessean) Sen. Bob Corker signaled his support Thursday for President Donald Trump’s embattled Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. “For decades, Betsy DeVos has passionately and effectively advocated for all children – regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status – to have access to a quality education,” Corker said in a statement released by his office. “She believes in empowering parents and has committed to working with states and local school districts. I have known Betsy for many years and am confident that she will do a great job as secretary of education.”

Corker will vote to confirm Gorsuch to Supreme Court (News Sentinel) Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday he will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. “I could not be more impressed with Judge Gorsuch and enthusiastically support his nomination,” said Corker, R-Tenn. “He is an outstanding choice, and after meeting with him today, it is very clear why the Senate unanimously confirmed him to the federal bench in 2006.” Corker said the next Supreme Court justice will have “a lasting impact” on the direction of the country.

Corker joins Alexander in backing Betsy DeVos for U.S. education chief (Chalkbeat Tennessee) As the vote count narrows on Betsy DeVos’s nomination to be the next U.S. secretary of education, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker signaled on Thursday that he will support the Michigan school choice advocate. The Tennessee Republican released a statement noting that he has known DeVos for years and is “confident that she will do a great job as secretary of education.” “For decades, Betsy DeVos has passionately and effectively advocated for all children — regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status — to have access to a quality education,” Corker said. “She believes in empowering parents and has committed to working with states and local school districts.”

Corker ‘Strongly Applauds’ Putting Iran on Notice (Newsmax) Iran needed to be put on notice for its ballistic missile tests, Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday morning, but he thinks the Trump administration has thought out the matter for some time and has plans when it comes to that country in the wake of the nuclear deal reached in 2016. “Hopefully, actions will follow,” the Tennessee Republican told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, but does think “they thought this through,” as the Obama administration “should have taken action, but did not take action.”

Top GOP senators play cleanup after Trump’s contentious call with Australia (Business Insider) Top Republican senators have stressed the importance of the US-Australia alliance in the wake of President Donald Trump’s contentious phone call with the Australian prime minister. Sen. John McCain of Arizona released a statement Thursday morning calling Australia “one of America’s oldest friends and staunchest allies” and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted in support of Australia later in the day. During Trump’s call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump called a refugee agreement with the nation the “worst deal ever” and accused Turnbull of trying to send America the “next Boston bombers” under a deal to send refugees from Australia to the US.

Tennessee school board leaders met this week with Sen. Lamar Alexander. Here’s what they talked about. (Chalkbeat Tennessee) A contingent of school board members from across Tennessee traveled this week to Washington D.C., to talk with the state’s congressional delegation about three issues shaping public education in their home state. Most notably, leaders of the Tennessee School Boards Association spoke with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate education committee and helped to engineer the new federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind. The Tennessee Republican also has been at the forefront of Senate confirmation hearings for Betsy DeVos, the Michigan philanthropist and school choice advocate nominated by President Trump to lead the U.S. Department of Education.

AutoZone, Nike and 100 other companies band together to fight border tax (Memphis Business Journal) More than 100 companies, including AutoZone Inc., Nike Inc. and some of the biggest names in corporate America, have banded together to form Americans for Affordable Products, a new group designed to fight a proposed import tax. The group, launched Tuesday, Jan. 31, plans a national advertising campaign to argue the tax would increase the prices of consumer staples, including food and gas. The tax, also known as a border-adjustment tax, is part of the House Republican tax plan and seems to have the backing of President Donald Trump. Supporters argue it would protect American jobs by encouraging U.S. manufacturing.

Bob Cooper launches think tank (Nashville Post) Former Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and Shanna Singh Hughey an ex-senior advisor with then-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, have launched a nonprofit think tank called ThinkTennessee. The ostensibly nonpartisan entity hopes to develop and promote “pragmatic public policy” — think something like the Brookings Institution on a much smaller scale and with much briefer and more accessible white papers. Cooper and Hughey have been working on the plan for over a year, visiting leaders across the state, to figure out the best way to be able to provide reliable research and policy analysis. The organization will be, at times, partnering with larger national think tanks for data.


Editorial: Haslam again brings education to forefront (News Sentinel) Gov. Bill Haslam has offered up another visionary plan to expand access to education in Tennessee. During his State of the State address on Monday, the governor announced a plan to allow any adult in Tennessee to attend community college tuition-free. Tennessee would be the only state in the nation to offer such opportunities. Modeled on the successful Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs, the scholarships would be awarded to residents regardless of income.

Greg Johnson: Haslam, Trump provide good contrast in governance (News Sentinel) We’ve seen the best of government. We’ve seen the worst of government. In a fortnight. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recited the results of steady, pragmatic, conservative – without the crazy – governance in his State of the State address Monday night. “Our economy is outpacing the national economy,” Haslam said. “Not only do more Tennesseans have a job today than ever in the history of our state, but Tennessee’s median household income has grown at the second fastest rate in the country.” Fiscal prudence in the past and present lowers borrowing costs and reduces tax burdens. “For only the second time in our state’s history, we have a triple-A credit rating from all three agencies,” Haslam said.

Editorial: Elected government officials should forget party loyalty and listen to constituents (East Tennessean) If America had a billboard, the fact that anyone can play a part in government, whether that be at the local, state or federal level, would be one of the main slogans. As a nation born from a desperate need to break away from centuries of monarchs, the majority of Americans, including Tennessee’s elected officials, seem to be straying from those principles. Promptly after Donald J. Trump was elected as president, he announced his cabinet nominees. Among those was Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, who is overwhelmingly unqualified for the position, yet has a little over half of the U.S. Senate’s support.

Editorial: Local lawmakers must speak up on opioids (Johnson City Press) Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell has created a legislative task force to address the opioid epidemic in this state. It’s a wise step and one that should have been undertaken by the state General Assembly years ago. Authorities say our state ranks second in the nation for opioid drug abuse, with Northeast Tennessee being ground zero. The rate of opioid treatment in this region has increased from 21 admissions per 10,000 residents in 2013 to 25 admissions per 10,000 people in 2015. In light of those numbers we find it disappointing that Harwell did not name a lawmaker from our area to join the task force. As Press staff writer Zack Vance reported earlier this week, the task force member closest to the Tri-Cities is state Rep. Dennis Powers, a Republican from rural Campbell County, which is more than 140 miles away.

Editorial: Corker and Alexander: Stumbling Toward Leadership? (Memphis Flyer)So what have we here? In this space previously, we have lamented the evasions and relative silences from our state’s two senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — regarding the out-of-control governmental efforts of billionaire ex-builder, President Donald Trump, who seems to be going about the business of running the country as if it were some sort of Lego project that he can’t find all the pieces to and can’t be bothered to look for. Now it seems that both Alexander and Corker have, in fact, begun, however tentatively, to make remonstrations signaling at least a bit of discontent with the antics of The Donald.


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