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Judge Blocks Haslam’s Move to Lay Off 200 State Employees

A Nashville judge issued a restraining order Monday against Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lay off more than 200 state workers this month, acting on a lawsuit filed by state employees.
From Andy Sher’s report:
The suit charges top state officials violated provisions in law surrounding a 60-day notice for affected employees.
Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon granted employees’ request for a restraining order and has scheduled a hearing for this coming Monday in the case, said attorney Larry Woods, who is representing the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of individual state workers, including several from Hamilton County.
TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the suit was filed with “great reluctance” after last-minute meetings with state officials, including Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, failed to produce results.
Contacted Monday night, Haslam Communications Director Alexia Poe said by email “it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on potential/pending litigation.”
While the state provided the notices throughout April, officials did not comply with a section that says soon-to-be-fired employees be given “career counseling, job testing, and placement efforts,” the suit says.
That’s because the state’s Department of Human Resources on May 9 took down the agency’s Neogov online service that employees must use to find job openings and apply for them, according to state employees.
Hiring is now frozen and the site doesn’t come back up until June 19 — a day after 72 state Labor and Workforce Development workers are slated to lose their jobs following notices provided April 19.
Another 126 employees in the Department of General Services were given notice on April 25 that they were losing their jobs on June 28. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of state office buildings to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm.
Woods said the suit seeks to enjoin the Haslam administration from dismissing or terminating any state employees in the current reduction-in-force actions “unless they receive 60 days of career counseling, job testing and placement” services.
The suit says Haslam, Hunter, who is a former Hamilton County personnel director, and other state officials are running afoul of protections lawmakers inserted in Haslam’s own 2012 civil service overhaul.
The state employees’ group initially opposed the legislation, saying it would wreck protections and open the way to political patronage. But TSEA’s O’Connell said the group accepted the bill after lawmakers inserted protections including the 60-day notice and the chance to move elsewhere within state government.


Note: News release from TSEA is below.

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State Making Incentive Payments to Hemlock Despite Layoffs

Hemlock Semiconductor of Clarksville laid off all of its nearly 300 employees months ago. But the company is still receiving regular payments from the state of Tennessee, including checks totaling nearly $720,000 just this month, reports WPLN.
The Department of Finance is making good on $95 million of promised incentives, having paid $92 million so far, according to a state spokesperson.
“This is something that the current administration sort of inherited,” says Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes. “I think we do have to be very careful and very thoughtful going forward on things like this.”
Former Governor Phil Bredesen – a Democrat – made the deal to bring the solar industry player to Tennessee in 2008. Since then, competition from China has dragged down the price for polysilicon, which is the key component in solar panels manufactured by Hemlock.
Now in the minority, Democrats like Lowe Finney pushed a bill this year that would give the state a way to get back some money if companies don’t deliver on their part of the deal.
“Different legislators have talked about oversight for a number of years,” Sen. Finney (D-Jackson) said. “But it’s a matter of timing.”
The law was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam late last week. It passed unanimously, but that may be because it could be viewed as watered-down. The proposal still doesn’t mandate clawback provisions in future economic incentive deals.

Steve Gill Ending Radio Talk Show

Former congressional hopeful and vocal Tennessee income tax opponent Steve Gill is ending his nationally syndicated radio show after 15 years on the air, reports The Tennessean.
The Steve Gill Show will broadcast for a final time on Jan. 31 or Feb. 1, Gill said. Gill, a Brentwood attorney, said he is ending the show so he can focus on other business ventures, including speaking engagements and consulting, through his company Gill Media Inc.
He said he also wants to continue as a political analyst on News 2 WKRN.
“We’d been looking over the last several months at what we were going to do past the New Year,” Gill said. “We’ve got some other business ventures and opportunities to pursue and we thought this would be a good time.”
He said the growing corporate influence on radio also has made it more difficult for small broadcasters to thrive.
“When we started 15 years ago, radio was a different animal,” Gill said. “The way corporations work, it’s difficult to have a grassroots, listener-focused show right now.”

Bill to Cut Lottery Scholarships Dropped

Knoxville’s Rep. Harry Brooks abandoned Monday the effort to pass a controversial bill that could have cut lottery-funded scholarship in half for an estimated 5,000 students.
“The thought is we don’t need to do it right now,” said Brooks after taking HB2649 “off notice” during the final meeting of the House Finance Subcommittee.
The bill, as filed, would have required college students to have both an ACT score of 21 and a 3.0 high school grade point average to get a $4,000 annual scholarship.
Currently, a student can qualify by having either one. Both are not required.
Under the bill, those who have one, but not both, of the qualifications would get only a $2,000 scholarship.

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Bill Repealing PAC Limits Taken ‘Off Notice’

A Senate-passed bill repealing the present limit on how much total money legislative candidates can take from political action committees – currently $107,200 per election – was taken “off notice” in a House Committee Tuesday.
The move, which typically means a bill is dead for the year, was taken by sponsor Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove. He said afterwards that he made the the decision on his own because “I’m just covered up” with other legislative work. But Casada said he will consider pushing the bill anyway if House leaders ask him to do so.
The bill was initially sponsored in the House by House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville. Maggart said she signed the bill over to Casada because of his expertise in the area – Casada sponsored a bill last year that allowed direct corporate campaign contributions to Tennessee candidates – and trusts his decision on whether or not to push the measure this year.

Occupy Nashville Loses Electricity, Brings in Batteries

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state fire marshal’s office has cut off the electrical outlet Occupy Nashville was using on Legislative Plaza after an inspector found that it posed a safety threat.
The group was able to operate off a battery-powered backup generator all day Wednesday. According to The Tennessean newspaper, a spokesman said they are bringing in batteries and will get a solar powered generator (http://tnne.ws/tQavEY). The spokesman also said the group is willing to pay an electrician to rewire the outlet and make sure it is up to code.
State officials said the wiring’s insulation had melted and the exposed wiring created the potential for contact with the metal of the outlet and possible electrocution.
Occupy Nashville members said the outlet overloaded early Tuesday