Blake Farmer

When it comes to union organizing at an auto plant, the tension is typically between the workers and the management. But not at Volkswagen in Tennessee. There, the United Auto Workers is attempting to finally unionize the automaker's first foreign-owned plant in the South. And so far, Republican officials are the ones trying to stand in the way.

There was a time when hymns were used primarily to drive home the message that came from the pulpit. But then came the praise songs.

The Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up its session last week. There were some major state laws passed this year: an overhaul to the workers’ compensation program, a law that allows people to store guns in their cars while at work, and a nearly $33 billion budget. But many high-profile proposals ended up in the waste-bin as a result of intra-party squabbling.

Humane Society of the United States

One of the last remaining skirmishes in the Tennessee General Assembly this year pits the interests of agriculture against animal rights activists. The proposal before the state Legislature requires people go to the police immediately if they take photos or video of animal abuse.

“Investigations and documentation—if that’s what was required—needs to be done by law enforcement, not by vigilantes,” State Senator Dolores Gresham, a Republican from Somerville, said on the Legislature floor Thursday.

The Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act left Governor Bill Haslam with a big decision—expand Medicaid to include more low-income Tennesseans, or don’t. The governor is not exactly saying “yes” to expanding the state’s Medicaid program, known as TennCare. But he is not saying “no” either.

Haslam made his announcement last week to a joint assembly of the state Legislature, telling lawmakers he’s been working toward a “third option.”


The debate over who can sell alcohol and where dates back to liquor laws hashed out at the end of prohibition, but the latest controversy in the state Legislature is over expanding wine sales to grocery stores. Tennessee is in the minority on this issue. Thirty-six states allow wine in food stores. Polls show consumers favor the convenience of picking up a bottle of wine and the ingredients for dinner all in one stop, and this year grocery store companies have swarmed the state Capitol to lobby for a bill that would allow them to do just that.

Republican-controlled legislatures in several states are finding it difficult to stick to one of their mantras: the government closest to the people governs best. In Tennessee, where the GOP now holds a supermajority, the state is attempting to wrest control from cities and towns on a variety of issues ranging from charter schools to property rights.


 A plan to overhaul the way workers’ compensation claims are handled will be debated in the Tennessee General Assembly this week. Under the current system, if there is a dispute between an employer and an employee over how much money is owed, the disagreement is usually settled by a judge.

“Only Tennessee and Alabama involve the courts like this,” said Blake Farmer who covers the state Capitol for WPLN.

It’s an arrangement that has left many unhappy. Some employers claim the current system is too costly, while injured workers complain it takes too long to get paid.

The state Legislature will spend time this week hammering out the details of a school voucher bill. Those specifics will determine who will be able to use public money to attend private school. Governor Bill Haslam has said he wants to make vouchers available only to students who attend failing schools and qualify for free or reduced prices lunches. If the governor gets his way, then most of the students who qualify for vouchers will be from Memphis where 69 of the state’s 83 lowest performing schools are located, and 85 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

The state could soon decide which charter schools can open up in Memphis and Nashville. A proposed bill in the Tennessee General Assembly aims to wrest control of that process away from the school boards in the state’s two largest cities.

In its first test, a House subcommittee passed the bill Tuesday, but there was one Republican lawmaker who voted no. Representative John Forgety is a retired educator from Athens.