Plant Expansion in Northern Tennessee to Add 70 Jobs

Feb 11, 2013

State economic development officials say auto transmission products supplier U.S. Tsubaki Automotive plans to expand its facility in Portland, TN, adding 70 jobs in the process. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development says the company's expansion in Sumner County represents a $1.9 million investment.

Tsubaki Automotive offers state of the art power transmission products. The company supplies complete chain drive systems for engines and transmissions, including cam drives, balancer drives and oil pump drives. The systems typically include chains, tensioners, guides and sprockets.

Tsubaki's customers include General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Honda. The company plans to host a job fair February 11th at the Sumner County Career Center.

The so-called “guns in trunks” bill is up for a vote in the full Tennessee Senate Monday, and it now appears set for smooth sailing in the state House. Speaker Beth Harwell says the controversial measure will likely pass her chamber.

The bill is revised from last year, when Harwell and other Republican leaders prevented it from coming to a vote at the wishes of big employers.

“By limiting it to gun carrying permit holders put some safeguards in place. And the liability issue, we just had to address that. That’s just something we had to do for business,” said Harwell.

The legislation includes immunity for the property owner if someone is shot with a gun stored in their parking lot. However, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce is still opposed, saying that business owners should have the right to prevent firearms from being brought on to their property, including parking lots.

Tennessee's hospitals are playing out the “what if’s” as lawmakers consider whether to expand Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul. Their study says 90,000 Tennessee jobs could be lost if the expansion does not occur. 

Without expanding who is covered by Medicaid – known as TennCare in Tennessee – hospitals say there could be a “recessionary impact.” Hospitals agreed to cuts that total billions of dollars, believing they would see fewer uninsured. But that assumption is in jeopardy.

State Senator Brian Kelsey is trying to prevent the state from expanding Medicaid.

“Look, my job is not to bail out the special interest hospital lobby. My job is to represent Tennessee taxpayers," said the Germantown Republican.

An education advocacy group in Tennessee is pushing for teacher candidates to face higher academic standards before they even begin taking college classes.

The move by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education comes after Tennessee education officials linked teacher effectiveness to better ACT scores.

It said some colleges and universities admit teacher education students who score as low as 15 on the college admissions test.

A score of 21 on the ACT is considered the standard of readiness for college.

Closely watched legislation in Tennessee that would allow guns to be stored in cars – even on someone else’s private property – is headed for a vote in the full state Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the so-called “guns in trunks” measure against the wishes of some of the state’s largest employers. Bill Ozier, chairman of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, says plans to expand or invest in the state hinge on whether a corporation can still keep weapons out of their own parking lots.

“It is certainly more of a concern than you might otherwise think," said Ozier.

The bill has yet to begin making its way through the Tennessee House.

The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has resigned amid scrutiny of how her agency was handling cases of children who died after investigations of abuse and neglect.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced in a news release Tuesday that Kate O’Day had decided to resign because of concerns that she had become the focus of attention rather than the children the agency is meant to serve.

Haslam last week defended O’Day’s leadership, even after the agency told a federal judge it couldn’t say with any certainty how many children died while in its custody.

DCS had been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 150 children who died after the state launched abuse or neglect investigations.

Tennessee Senate Republicans are proposing legislation that seeks to prevent expansion of the state Medicaid program under provisions of President Obama's health care law.

The measure, called "TennCare Fiscal Responsibility Act", was filed Thursday by Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown and has 15 Senate co-sponsors. A similar version of the proposal was filed last week in the House. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states have the right to opt out of Medicaid expansion without losing pre-existing federal Medicaid funding.

Members of the Tennessee Board of Pharmacists will be discussing additional measures the state could take in regulating compounding pharmacies in the wake of a multi-state outbreak of fungal meningitis that has sickened hundreds of people across the country.

Doctors in Tennessee were among the first to link the outbreak to steroid injections prepared by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy. Across the county, 45 people, including 14 in Tennessee, have died after getting the shots.

A task force formed by the state board to look at state laws in regard to compounding pharmacies is expected to make recommendations during a meeting Thursday.

Wine Sales in Tennessee Supermarkets?

Jan 31, 2013

Supporters of a bill to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine are scheduled to unveil the details of their legislative proposal Thursday. State Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and fellow Republican Representative Jon Lundberg of Bristol are the main sponsors of the measure that would end the exclusive right of liquor stores to sell wine in Tennessee.

The measure is expected to seek to put the option of whether to allow wider wine sales o the voters in local cities and counties. The Republican House and Senate speakers support the change. But opponents argue the change would unfairly disrupt the existing business rules that liquor store owners invested under, and that the measure would make higher-alcohol drinks more widely available to minors.

Alexander Flexes Fundraising Muscles

Jan 30, 2013

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander's reelection campaign announced four upcoming fundraising events that he predicted would add more than $3 million to his $1 million war chest. Politico is reporting observers see the announcement as a way to scare off would-be conservative primary challengers.

Fellow Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker will host the first fundraiser at his house in Chattanooga in April. The others will be in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis. The 72-year-old Alexander, who is seeking his third term, has been seeking out so-called "bundlers". Ten supporters have already agreed to raise $100,000. The campaign is trying to get 25 others to agree to bring in at least $50,000.

Alexander has been aggressive about shoring up support early. In December he named five Republicans in the House delegation, Governor Bill Haslam and Speaker Beth Harwell as co-chairmen.

Governor Bill Haslam’s new budget proposal would increase funding for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which has come under fire recently for refusing to turn over records in the cases of child deaths. Haslam’s spending plan would boost DCS funding by nearly $7 million--money The Tennessean reports would be used to hire 62 more caseworkers and investigators, while boosting pay for those already on staff.

Tennessee lawmakers are scheduled to hold hearings into why more than 70 children died last year after having some contact with the department. A group of media outlets in the Volunteer State is suing the DCS for refusing to make public agency documents concerning child deaths.

Last week, A Davidson County Chancery Court Judge ruled the DCS must provide more information regarding the causes of death, the department’s prior involvement with the children, and the results of prior contact provided to those who later died.

Governor Bill Haslam has presented to lawmakers the spending plan that includes a staffing shakeup at the troubled Department of Children's Services, a heavy investment into construction projects around the state and a large deposit into the state's cash savings fund.

The Governor also formally introduced his proposal to create a limited school voucher program in Tennessee to allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools. According to legislation filed in the Senate on Monday, the program would be limited to 5,000 students in the school year that begins in August, and grow to 20,000 students by 2016.

Haslam acknowledged the proposal will be "hotly debated" and Democrats issued a statement before the speech to criticize the plan.

A Tennessee judge has ruled that the state’s Department of Children’s Services must make public more information about the deaths of young people known to the agency.

A group of Tennessee media outlets, led by The Tennessean newspaper, filed suit against the Department of Children’s Services, alleging the department violated the law by refusing to provide records concerning children who died after being brought to the agency’s attention. At first, the DCS said it would make more records available, but then cited state and federal confidentiality laws as a reason to withhold the documents.

Two high-ranking Tennessee Republicans, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, recently announced they would seek legislative hearings into DCS practices.

The media outlets seek records related to 31 Tennessee children who died in the first half of 2012, as well as the cases of 206 young people involved in fatal or near-fatal incidents dating back to 2009.

Both supporters and opponents of Tennessee’s voter ID law are pointing to newly released statewide data to bolster their positions. Nearly four out of five provisional ballots cast in the Volunteer State last November were tossed out.

The Republican-backed voter ID law was passed in 2011. Supporters say it’s an effort to ensure voter integrity and prevent election fraud. Opponents say it’s an attempt to suppress voting among traditional Democratic constituencies, including the urban poor who sometimes don’t have a government-issued photo ID.

Under the Tennessee law, those who experience trouble at the polls on Election Day are allowed to cast a provisional ballot which will be counted later if election officials determine the person casting the ballot is a legitimate voter. According to the data released this week, a little over 1,600—or 23%--of the more than 7,000 provisional ballots cast in Tennessee last November were ultimately counted.

A Nashville civil rights lawyer told The Tennessean those numbers show some voters were disenfranchised.

Two high-ranking Republicans say they’ll hold legislative meetings to examine the state’s troubled Department of Children’s Services. The Tennessean reports House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey plan to announce meetings to be held later this month when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes in Nashville.

The DCS has come under intense criticism recently for refusing to share details about the cases of 31 children who died in the first six months of 2012. Those 31 children had previously been brought to the attention of the DCS, leading to questions about whether more could have been done to place the children in a safer environment.

Democratic Rep. Mike Turner has previously called for a legislative investigation into how DCS protects vulnerable young people in the Volunteer state.  The New-York based group Children's Rights is also pressing Tennessee to get the DCS to release case records.