August 7 TN News Digest

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

State of Emergency declared for entire state of Tennessee (WJHL-TV Johnson City)

Governor Haslam has declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Tennessee after last night’s flooding rains. Rep. Matthew Hill formally turned in a request to Gov. Haslam’s office this morning, requesting that Washington County and Johnson City be declared disaster areas. The Tennesssee Emergency Management hopes to finish damage assessments in Washington County today, but they do not expect to begin taking in damage totals in Johnson City until tomorrow. They have crews in Carter County today as well.

Carter, Unicoi counties hit hard by flooding (WJHL-TV Johnson City)

Carter and Unicoi counties were hit hard by last night’s floods. 11Connects Chris McIntosh spent the day tracking the damage in these two counties and found out that the clean up process is daunting. Carter County saw damage to roads, as well as flooded basements, while Unicoi County is dealing with more intense damage on Pippin Hollow and Harris Hollow roads. “This was definitely one of the hardest rains we have seen in the past five years,” said Andrew Worley, emergency services director in Carter County.

Aftermath: Local floodwaters recede; damage assessment begins (J. City Press)

Rushing flood water swept away homes, cars and animals Sunday night after Dry Creek, so named for its appearance most of the time, overflowed when it couldn’t handle a torrent of rain. Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said there are at least 50 to 100 families affected by the disaster. “The vast majority of those are in Dry Creek,” he said, but other areas of the county, including Deakins Road, Austin Springs Road, Cash Hollow and Arnold Road, also suffered severe damage.

City schools remain closed; flood damage widespread (Johnson City Press)

Johnson City Schools will not hold classes today due to heavy rains Sunday which flooded the city and caused what could be a complete loss of three to five buses. The new school year will begin only when there is a full fleet, Superintendent Richard Bales said late Monday — the day on which the first day of classes were to be held. At least three school transit vans, which carry from 12-24 passengers, and as many as five, have been identified as total losses. Seventeen school transit vans were damaged, but the full extent of the damage has not yet been determined.

Floods again delay start of school in Johnson City (Associated Press)

It’s another day off for students in Johnson City because of flooding that for a second day is postponing the start of school. Classes were supposed to begin Monday but were canceled after torrential rain on Sunday night caused flooding that damaged some of the city school bus fleet. WJHL-TV (http://bit.ly/OGv2FG ) reports that school officials decided not to open Tuesday because more repairs are needed to put a full fleet of buses on the road. Students will have to make up the missed days later.

Officials push for flooding assistance funds (WCYB-TV Johnson City)

TEMA crews surveying damage The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is adding up how much was destroyed. News 5 spoke with State Representative Matthew Hill Monday. He tells us he has requested Governor Bill Haslam declare the area a disaster. The hope is to qualify for federal assistance. We’ve also learned the Washington County, Tennessee mayor’s office is expected to release damage cost estimates on Tuesday. The local emergency management office says early estimates show 60 to 80 homes were damaged or destroyed in the flood.

Most local homeowners don’t carry flood insurance (Johnson City Press)

The flooding that caused widespread damage on Sunday night is not covered under most people’s homeowners insurance. Flooding is one of the very few natural disasters that isn’t covered by homeowners insurance. Flooding insurance has to be purchased through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There are three agencies in Johnson City that offer flood insurance, and those companies are Cornerstone Insurance Associates, Widener Insurance Agency and Watagua Insurance.

Flags fly at half-staff in all state and federal buildings (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

President Obama ordered that American flags at the White House and other federal buildings be flown at half-staff through Friday in remembrance of the victims killed in the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin on Sunday. Governor Bill Haslam also ordered today that flags will fly at half-staff in all state buildings through Friday as well. Obama said in a statement today that Americans are quote, “heartbroken.” On Sunday, a lone gunman killed six people inside a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee.

State project intends to grow jobs at home (Leaf Chronicle)

State officials hope that when ideas, mentors and investors are added into an incubator, jobs will hatch across Tennessee. That over-simplified recipe was the message John Murdock, of the Entrepreneur Center in Nashville, had for Houston County Area Chamber of Commerce members at their Aug. 2 meeting. The center is partnering with the Governor’s Office for a project called Startup Tennessee, which is intended to create jobs. Murdock said Gov. Bill Haslam is of the mind “to grow our jobs organically,” rather than depending on outside companies to bring jobs to the state.

First Lady to visit (Paris Post-Intelligencer)

Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam will visit Rhea Public Library, 400 W. Washington St. in Paris, at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday. Joining Haslam will be Theresa Carl, president of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. Haslam has started a “Read20 Book Club,” which encourages Tennessee families to read with their children for 20 minutes each day. More information is available at tn.gov/firstlady/read20/. Carl’s Governor’s Books for Birth Foundation is a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Haslam and Carl are scheduled to visit the library for about 45 minutes, where a tea is planned for them.

Comptroller Calls for Transparency, Verification in BEP and CCTA (WPLN-Radio)

Tennessee’s Comptroller is warning a pair of programs used to fund education may be in a – quote- “risky situation.” A new report from the Comptroller’s office expresses several concerns with the Basic Education Program, or BEP. It’s been used to divvy out state money to local school districts since the early 90s, and the amounts are determined, in part, by how many students are on the rolls. Those figures are submitted by the districts themselves. Add in economic pressures, the argument goes, and there’s an incentive for overstating how many kids are in school on an average day.

TennCare tightening funding for seniors (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Putman)

It’s going to be harder for low-income seniors to qualify for a nursing home, and some people may get less money for adult day care or home care, according to TennCare officials. Before this summer, some elderly people could qualify for up to $55,000 for nursing home, adult day care or assisted living care because they couldn’t groom themselves, one of several standards TennCare uses to measure a person’s ability to handle the activities of daily life.But as of July 1, being deficient in one activity is no longer enough to qualify for nursing home care and receive the maximum funding.

State troopers focusing on school zones (Associated Press)

Speeders, those passing stopped buses will be targeted State troopers will be targeting traffic violators in school zones as classes resume across Tennessee. The speed limit is 15 mph in school zones and the fine for speeding in such a zone is up to $500. It also is against the law to pass a school bus when it is stopped and loading or unloading passengers; fines for that are no less than $250 and up to $1,000. In 2011, state troopers issued almost 3,900 citations in school zones, up from 3,200 a year earlier.

TV reporter Williams did not defame judge Daniel Eisenstein, court says (TN/Allyn)

NewsChannel 5 reporter Phil Williams did not defame Judge Daniel Eisenstein in two reports looking into the General Sessions judge. But in one broadcast, he may have cast the judge in a “false light” by suggesting he lied to the U.S. Department of Justice. Those conclusions, issued recently by the Tennessee Court of Appeals, could send one or more of Eisenstein’s claims back to trial. Both sides will likely appeal the case to the state Supreme Court within the next two months.

Democrats Down a Few Incumbents, Too (TN Report)

Incumbent Tennessee Democrats evaded the kind of thrashing administered by legislative primary voters to their Republican counterparts. But they didn’t come away entirely unbloodied either. Five incumbent Democrats were voted out of office Thursday. Among them were four who lost against fellow lawmakers who they were pitted against as a part of redistricting, and one culled by a Democratic challenger. Heading into the November general election, the minority party now can focus on their an uphill battle trying to recover from two years ago when Democrats lost 14 seats in the House and one in the Senate.

No Regrets as Kernell Exits 38 Years in Nashville (Memphis Daily News)

Mike Kernell first took his seat in the House chamber in Nashville he had just turned and he was a political newcomer inspired to run for office in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just six years earlier. Kernell won’t be going back to Nashville with the new year as he has for the last 38 Januarys. He was defeated in last week’s Democratic primary in State House District 93 by fellow Democratic incumbent G.A. Hardaway. “We just flat ran out of money. … G.A. spent a lot of effort on election day. By the time we got to election day we were just nearly broke,” Kernell said the day after the election.

Lawyers ask legislators for correspondence on schools’ issue (CA/Locker)

Lawyers handling the County Commission’s municipal school district lawsuit have asked the entire Tennessee legislature for “all communications or letters,” including e-mail, regarding the consolidation of the city and county schools and the creation of new municipal school districts. The request by lawyers from the Baker Donelson law firm includes communications from “any citizen, constituents, residents or anyone else,” legislative administrators said Monday.

If Memphis ends testing, Shelby says they aren’t required to take over (CA/Moore)

The Memphis City Council is expected to vote Tuesday to turn over vehicle- emissions testing to Shelby County, a task county officials say they are not legally required to administer. And if both the city and county refuse to operate emissions testing centers, the responsibility could fall to the state of Tennessee. “If the city decides to discontinue the vehicle inspection program, that’s up to them, but passing it over to the county, there’s nothing binding in that,” said Harvey Kennedy, county chief administrative officer.

Council To Consider Gas Tax Increase (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Council members vote Tuesday, Aug. 7, on the third and final reading of a proposed local gasoline tax that would go to Memphis voters on the Nov. 6 ballot. The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. The 1-cent a gallon tax on gasoline proposed by council member Edmund Ford Jr. would go on the November ballot if it is approved. The revenue from the tax, estimated at $3 million to $6 million a year, would go to fund mass transit including the Memphis Area Transit Authority if approved by city voters.

Hamilton County Commission prayer policy called a ‘sham’ (TFP/Haman)

U.S. Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice will have at least one new brief to consider as he rules on a motion to stop temporarily the Hamilton County Commission’s prayers during meetings. Robin Flores, attorney for plaintiffs Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones, filed a supplementary brief Sunday night ahead of Wednesday’s deadline. Mattice gave both sides the option of filing supplementary briefs to answer questions he posed in a July 26 hearing. He said he would decide as quickly as possible after receiving them whether to grant the preliminary injunction to halt the prayers while he makes a final ruling.

Democrats sought celebrity for U.S. Senate race against Bob Corker (Tenn/Cass)

The Tennessee Democratic Party “beat every bush” on Music Row and in other entertainment industry centers as it tried in vain to come up with a Volunteer State celebrity to run for U.S. Senate against well-funded incumbent Bob Corker this year, a spokesman said. But the party passed on an opportunity to tell voters about a candidate with views that ran counter to Democratic doctrine, leaving it vulnerable to embarrassment in a wide-open primary election. The party’s failure to find a legitimate candidate who represents its values left Democrats picking up the pieces as soon as Mark Clayton won the primary going away on Thursday.

Effort launched to void Senate win of disavowed Democrat (N-S/Humphrey)

A losing candidate for Tennessee’s Democratic U.S. Senate nomination launched an effort Monday to have the election of the winner, Mark Clayton, thrown out because he is a member of an alleged “hate group.” Larry Crim, who finished fourth in Thursday’s seven-candidate field, met with State Election Coordinator Mark Goins on Monday, then delivered letters to the state Democratic Party headquarters asking that Clayton be rejected and that a new primary election be conducted no later than Oct. 9. Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Sean Braisted said attorneys were reviewing the letter and wanted to research legal issues involved.

Gibson changes its tune, settles with Feds (Nashville Post)

After a protracted and politically charged media campaign protesting its innocence, Gibson Guitar Corp. has entered into a criminal enforcement agreement with federal officials resolving a criminal investigation into allegations that the company violated the Lacey Act by illegally purchasing and importing protected woods from Madagascar and India. The agreement was announced today by Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Middle Tennessee U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin and Dan Ashe, director of the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Gibson Guitar to pay $350K penalty over illegally imported wood (TN/Williams)

After nearly three years of denying guilt, Gibson Guitar acknowledged Monday that it bought and imported ebony wood illegally from Madagascar in violation of a federal law protecting endangered species, and it will pay a $350,000 penalty. The case had sparked rallies and protests against federal authorities by Gibson Guitar supporters and led to efforts by Tennessee congressional leaders to tweak federal law so it doesn’t make criminals of musicians who own prized guitars that might contain components made with rare foreign woods.

Gibson Guitar reaches $300K settlement over Lacey Act violations (N. Biz Journal)

Ending months of public debate, Nashville-based Gibson Guitar has agreed to settle with the federal government related to violations of the U.S. Lacey Act. Gibson will pay $300,000 to resolve a criminal investigation and provide an additional $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the conservation of protected tree species used in the music industry. Gibson also has agreed to implement a compliance program designed to strengthen certain procedures. In related civil forfeiture actions, Gibson will withdraw claims made against wood seized in the course of the criminal investigation, including $261,844 of ebony wood from Madagascar.

Gibson Settles Lacey Act Dispute (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

After years maintaining innocence, Nashville-based Gibson Guitar has entered a settlement to avoid criminal charges related to the conservation law known as the Lacey Act. The company was accused of illegally importing ebony and rosewood for its iconic electric guitars. The Justice Department says Gibson discovered it was violating the laws of Madagascar when it imported ebony wood for its fingerboards. But according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife investigation, Gibson failed to act. Under the Lacey Act, a violation of law where the wood is harvest also becomes a violation of U.S. law.

Courts Differ on Police Use of DNA (Stateline)

Alonzo Jay King, Jr. was arrested on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2009 for first-degree felony assault and, as is standard practice in 25 states and the federal government, a sample of King’s DNA was taken at the booking facility and sent to the state crime lab. After analyzing the sample and running it through the state’s DNA database, police found that King’s DNA matched crime scene evidence from a 2003 home invasion and gunpoint rape of a 53-year old woman. Based on the match, the state charged King with the rape, convicted him, and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

New acting general manager appointed for Y-12’s security contractor (NS/Munger)

WSI, the government’s security contractor in Oak Ridge for the past decade, is bringing in a senior executive from a federal project in Washington State to lead the operations and is making a series of other personnel changes as the contractor tries to restore confidence following an unprecedented security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Steven C. Hafner is a senior vice president with WSI, formerly known as Wackenhut Services. He has been working for Mission Support Alliance — a contractor partnership of Lockheed Martin, Jacobs and WSI — at the U.S. Department Energy’s Hanford Operations.

Affidavit sheds more light on protesters’ breech of Y-12 (News-Sentinel/Munger)

Three protesters apparently traversed the partially wooded Pine Ridge on the north side of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in order to enter the plant during the dark, early morning hours of July 28 and ultimately reach the high-security zone known as the Protected Area. According to the sworn affidavit of Eric Dugger, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, the three protesters — Sister Megan Rice, 82; Michael Walli, 63, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57 — were able to cross the plant’s initial boundary fence on the ridge near a Y-12 patrol road and then traveled about 600 meters, crossing Bear Creek Road at one point, until they came to a series of 8-foot-high fences loaded with alarms and sensors.

Tractor Supply Co. to build corporate headquarters (Associated Press)

Brentwood-based Tractor Supply Co. is planning to build a new corporate headquarters. The farm equipment retailer announced this week that it has entered into an agreement to purchase an undeveloped parcel of land in Brentwood. The company has been using three leased facilities since 2004. The new 260,000-square-foot building is expected to be complete in 2014. Tractor Supply currently employs about 650 people at its leased buildings and expects to grow to more than 1,000 employees in the new building.

Tractor Supply confirms plans for new Brentwood HQ (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tractor Supply Co. (Nasdaq: TSCO) confirmed plans to break ground on a new 260,000-square-foot headquarters campus in Brentwood by the end of the year. The retailer said it expects to move to the new location on Virginia Way, just one block from its current offices, in mid-2014. The following are excerpts from today’s press release: Tractor Supply has announced that Eakin Partners, LLC will serve as development consultant, Hastings Architecture Associates, LLC as the architect, Ragan-Smith Associates as the civil engineer and Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC will be the general contractor.

Sumner schools get extra $2.2 million; classes not set to start (Gannett/Mitchell)

Sumner County commissioners voted late Monday to make a one-time, $2.2 million appropriation from the county’s general capital fund to go toward the school district’s 2012-13 budget. The commission held its special meeting after the Sumner County Board of Education announced Thursday that it would not open schools as scheduled without an additional $7.6 million from the county. In passing the appropriation, the commission added an amendment that schools are to open immediately. If not, commissioners will contact the state or proceed with litigation to get the schools open.

First day of school starts with looking to the future (Commercial Appeal/Wolff)

Just in case someone looked at 8-year-old Toby Gibson’s time capsule and didn’t understand his message: “If you try to read all of this your head will explode,” he illustrated his point with a stick figure with arrows pointing to body and head. “That’s the brains exploding,” he said. Gibson and 14 schoolmates at E.A. Harrold Elementary School in Millington spent about an hour on their first day back from summer vacation creating time capsules. It could be the last year that children in the suburbs are part of separate Memphis and Shelby County school systems that combined serve more than 150,00 students.

Walker Valley High School adds biz, humanities, STEM academies (TFP/Higgins)

Walker Valley High School students returning to their classrooms today will be entering a school with a new way of teaching and learning. “The original high school [education] model began in 1893,” Principal Danny Coggin said. “We are trying to change that. It’s been around for a while, and we are trying to go in a different direction.” The high school introduced its three new academies Monday. An academy, essentially a school within the school, groups students with common academic interests in one area, along with their teachers. Walker Valley has had a freshman academy for the seven years.

First STEM school in region opens Monday (WJHL-TV Johnson City)

Experiments are already underway at the Innovation Academy in Kingsport. The new science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM school, opened today. It has 160 students in sixth and seventh grades, half of the students are from Kingsport, the other half from Sullivan County. More than 500 students applied for acceptance to the school and the 160 were selected through a lottery process. Principal Sandy Watkins says the stem method is an improvement from more traditional teaching methods.

Two arrested after meth components found in abandoned Church Hill house (T-N)

A man and woman were arrested last week allegedly in possession of meth manufacturing components and syringes in an abandoned residence that was approved for condemnation by the Church Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen in May 2010. Around 12:40 p.m. Thursday, Church Hill Police Department Officer Bryan Pellegrino responded to a trespassing complaint at the abandoned home at 302 Adams St. Upon his arrival, Pellegrino found Melvin Oliver Skelton, 36, 131 Lynch Road, Church Hill, and Amanda Gail Stanley, 31, 311 Chase Court, Mount Carmel, inside the residence.

 

OPINION

 

Times Editorial: Comments needed for health plan (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has been needlessly slow in initiating the planning that is necessary to establish a nonprofit state-run health insurance exchange — the most essential element of the Affordable Care Act. But better late than never. His insurance commissioner, Julie McPeak, is still gathering public and stakeholder comments regarding the level of coverage to be provided in the model baseline health insurance plan. That plan will set minimum requirements for any plan offered in the exchange by other interested health insurers.This is critically important work, all the more so because the ACA does not mandate a federal baseline level of coverage that states must provide. That is left up to the individual states.

Columnist: TN decision time draws near on health exchanges (Tennessean)

A centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act — federal health reform — was the creation of health insurance exchanges. The exchanges were to engage in five core functions: determine eligibility for federal subsidies or public coverage, enroll consumers and employees into qualified health coverage (or connect eligible individuals with Medicaid and CHIP), conduct plan management, provide consumer assistance and perform financial management. In establishing health insurance exchanges and fulfilling these five core functions, states face three choices: establish their own exchange and exercise control over plan management functions, partner with the federal government to establish a federally facilitated exchange or cede all health exchange functions to the federal exchange.

Editorial: Investment in universal pre-K will pay dividends (Commercial Appeal)

One of the most pressing issues for the new unified Memphis and Shelby County school district is where to find the money to expand access to quality prekindergarten programs for 4-year-olds. Perhaps there is no more important issue underpinning school reform efforts in urban districts like Memphis-Shelby County, where life conditions that emanate from high rates of poverty result in fewer children entering school ready to learn. That is important, especially in the early grades, because reform efforts emphasize placing effective teachers in classrooms. More children entering school ready to learn will make those teachers’ jobs a bit easier.

Guest columnist: TN must do more to help children (Tennessean)

Ensuring Tennessee children are safe, healthy, educated, supported and nurtured, and engaged in productive activities provides a foundation for their success in school and their future prospects for becoming good parents, good employees and active participants in their communities. The recently released 2012 Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book ranked Tennessee 36th, the state’s best ranking in Kids Count’s 23-year history, demonstrating that good public policies and strategic investments in children pay dividends of more positive outcomes. Kids Count 2012 expanded from 10 indicators to 16 in four domains: health, education, economic well-being, and family and community. Each domain was also ranked, and Tennessee’s best was 16th in health.