June 14 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee bolstering efforts to improve college graduation rates (TFP/Hardy)

Not enough Tennesseans are earning college degrees — a problem policymakers and college leaders are trying to fix. But without major improvement, Tennessee won’t come close to meeting Gov. Bill Haslam’s goal of getting more than half of the state’s adults to complete associate’s or bachelor’s degrees by 2025. A new national report puts Tennessee at 43rd among states for college attainment — the percentage of adults between 25 and 64 with some kind of degree. That figure must improve for the state to prepare enough people for the job market, which increasingly requires some sort of education beyond high school.

How Did States Create Jobs? (Stateline)

States this year awarded tax breaks to businesses, touted worker-training programs and even poached jobs from each other to boost their economies and create work for the nearly 12 million Americans still unemployed. Oregon, for example, inked a 30-year tax deal to keep Nike from relocating. Wisconsin created a new “work-share” program that allows employers to cut workers’ hours rather than give them pink slips. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched a high-profile campaign to entice employers in Illinois and California to move to the Lone Star State.

Possible tornado strike reported in Sevier County (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A National Weather Service storm survey team is expected to assess the damage left in one corner of Sevier County where a tornado possibly touched down Thursday afternoon, officials said. Knox and several surrounded counties were under threat of a tornado warning for about an hour after Dopler radar spotted a fast-moving severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado near New Market in Jefferson County, according to the NWS office in Morristown. Hail, downed trees and sporadic power outages were reported.

Possible tornado causes damage near Cocke-Sevier county line (WATE-TV)

Torrential rain, lightning, and high winds caused damage to homes and trees Thursday near the Cocke-Sevier county line. Among the worst hit locations was a home on Henry Town Road where high winds ripped the roof off a house, allowing water to pour in. The residents say they think the storm that hit them was a tornado. Pat Barnes says she took cover in the basement with her 92-year-old mother. “We could hear the damage. We heard the roar and then we heard the roof caving in,” Barnes said.

Severe storms down trees, leave thousands without power (Times-News)

A line of severe thunderstorms brought high winds and heavy rains to Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia on Thursday afternoon, knocking down trees and power lines and causing thousands to lose electricity. The severe weather, which triggered thunderstorm and flood warning for most of the day, moved out of the region in the early evening. According to Appalachian Power, nearly 104,000 customers were still without power in Virginia and Tennessee as of 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

Severe storms cause minor damage in portions of East Tennessee (WATE-TV)

A tornado warning was issued Thursday afternoon for portions of the 6 News viewing area as severe storms rumble through the area. There has not yet been an official confirmation of a tornado, but some areas were hit hard by the storm. The tornado warning was issued for Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson, eastern Knox and Sevier counties just after 3 p.m. At 3:17 p.m., the National Weather Service said radar indicated a storm capable of producing a tornado about six miles west of Jefferson City near the New Market area.

Storm Aftermath in East Tennessee (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

Storms ripped through East Tennessee on Thursday. It caused some damage around the area. In Cosby, Tennessee, crews worked to restore power. Residents in the area worked to clean up downed limbs and leaves. One tree fell on a mans home, causing minimal damage. His car wasn’t so lucky though, a branch went through the back window. The National Weather Service will be in the Cosby area on Friday determining if a tornado touched down. The Sevier County Management Agency director says responders discovered a straight-line path of damage that was as much as a hundred feet wide and a half-mile long.

Severe weather causes scattered damage (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

High winds, heavy rain and hail caused scattered damage around East Tennessee on Thursday evening. There are no reports of injuries related to the storms, but clean-up has begun. The National Weather Service (NWS) in Morristown said the most significant damage can be found in the eastern part of Sevier County. Near there in Cocke County, multiple downed trees littered the Moore’s backyard. Shelby Moore said the storm passed through quickly.

Some see Medicaid rejection as costly to Tennessee (Gannett/Barton)

When Tennessee rejected an expansion of Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health-reform law, Gov. Bill Haslam said “expanding a broken system doesn’t work.” An expansion of Medicaid to cover those between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level – bringing close to 180,000 more Tennesseans into the health system – was supposed to be a central part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court, however, made it optional.

Rise in government surveillance raises ?s about how much is enough (TN/Haas)

From the moment you hit the road in the morning, you’re most likely being watched. On residential roads, such as those in Gallatin, it could be cameras set up to catch people who run red lights. In Dickson, it could be a camera set up to catch speeders. Throughout Sumner County, it could be cameras that are collecting information on every license plate that passes by. It doesn’t end there. The recent exposure of high-tech snooping on millions of phone calls by the National Security Agency has raised fresh questions about how much privacy people are willing to give up in the name of safety and security.

Southside I-24 exits set for overhaul (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)

A $40 million road project will mean the biggest changes in decades for motorists exiting Interstate 24 to Chattanooga’s Southside and Lookout Mountain. State transportation planners are eyeing a wider eastbound exit lane, a new ramp into the Southside and a connector road to simpler interchanges at South Broad, Williams and Market streets. “It will open up the Southside,” Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said. Mike Mallen, a Chattanooga businessman whose group is trying to redevelop the former U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry sites off south Broad, termed the plan “a game-changer for Southside access” and for the Lookout Mountain attractions.

TDOT closes 2 bridges in Claiborne County (WATE-TV Knoxville)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation closed 2 bridges in Claiborne County after inspections. TDOT also rated three more bridges in poor condition. There are 67 bridges in Claiborne County. TDOT has inspected 38 so far and closed the following: Tiprell Road over Gap CreekvBuchanan Bridge Road over Little Sycamore Creek Three more have been rated poor, and have some lanes closed: Old Highway 63 over a Branch Old Highway 63 over Cawood Branch Providence Road over Keg Branch People who live near the bridge on Buchanan Bridge Road say road crews first tried to block the road with just barrels.

State official warns against air condition scams (Associated Press)

The director of Tennessee’s Division of Consumer Affairs is asking residents to beware of air condition repair-scam artists this summer. Gary Cordell says such individuals use the hot temperatures to take advantage of people by charging for unnecessary repair work. He says to always check the unit’s warranty before making any repairs. He says to also research the company/contractor before agreeing to have work done, and to make sure that the company or contractor lists a physical address. 

State says scammers target East Tennessee (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

A warning for all senior citizens, and family members. It involves what so many depend on, a medical life alert system. Authorities are saying you need to watch out for a phone call that may sound too good to be true, and targeted to the senior community here in East Tennessee. It sounds like a sweet deal that offer a free medical life alert system. Although the voice on the other end can sound a little less than credible, there’s enough going out to worry several people. “I’m gun shy. There’s so many things going on under the sun out there.

UT Martin Parsons Center gets $1M for nursing program (Jackson Sun)

“It is with great pleasure that the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation is joining UT Martin and the Ayers Foundation to provide funding to increase the number of nurses in rural West Tennessee. Our combined efforts will improve the quality of life throughout this region,” said Robert Caldwell, chairman of West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation trustees, in a news release. UT Martin officials announced in May that the school’s four-year bachelor of science nursing degree would be extended to the Parsons campus beginning in fall 2014.

After Occupy Nashville ruling on First Amendment rights, now what? (TN/Allyn)

A federal judge’s sternly worded finding that Tennessee officials violated the First Amendment rights of Occupy Nashville protesters arrested near the state Capitol raised new questions even as it answered one big one. Will the state appeal? Will damages be decided by a jury or will both sides agree on a sum? What kind of dollar figure is in store for each of the seven Occupy plaintiffs? The plaintiffs and the state have until July 1 to come up with answers, and much of what happens going forward will depend on how Gov. Bill Haslam chooses to proceed.

AG confirms Cordova cannot force de-annexation referendum (CA/Locker, Loller)

Cordova area residents have no legal authority to force a public referendum on de-annexing their subdivision from Memphis, State Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper said in an advisory opinion released Thursday. The opinion confirms a similar legal opinion by State Election Coordinator Mark Goins last month that halted efforts by a group of Cordova residents to call a de-annexation referendum in their area this summer. Cooper’s opinion references neither Cordova nor Memphis by name. But State Rep. Steve McManus, who represents the Cordova area, requested the opinion on behalf of the residents.

Speakers seek review of no-bid outsourcing deal by Haslam admin (AP)

The speakers of the state House and Senate said Thursday that they will seek a review of no-bid elements of an outsourcing deal with a real estate firm that has counted fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam as one of its investors. The Haslam administration initially hired Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle for a $1 million contract to consult on office space issues. That deal was expanded and amended several times, and the company last month won a bid for a five-year, $38 million contract to manage all state-owned and leased properties outside of higher education.

Ramsey, Harwell call for review of state building contract (Tenn/Haas, Sisk)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday that the state should re-examine a series of deals with a real estate firm that Gov. Bill Haslam has invested in. The leaders of the state Senate and House said the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee ought to reconsider Jones Lang LaSalle’s contract to manage state buildings and arrange leases on the state’s behalf. The remarks came after the Haslam administration gradually ramped up involvement with the firm.

Tennessee officials back closer look at no-bid contract (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday that lawmakers should look at reviewing no-bid elements added to a consulting contract awarded to Chicago-based real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle. Both lawmakers emphasized they don’t think there was any intentional wrong-doing in the state’s contract with the firm in which Gov. Bill Haslam reported having a $10,000-plus investment in 2010. “We need to look at this sole sourcing group,” Harwell told reporters following a State Building Commission meeting.

Senate, House Leaders Call For Review Of State Contract (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Leaders of both the House and Senate called Thursday for review of contracts awarded by the Haslam administration to a company that the governor once listed among his personal investments. Both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell were careful to say they did not believe there had been any wrongdoing. Still with so many questions — and with millions of dollars at stake — both said lawmakers need to take a look at how your money is being spent.

Hamilton Co. seeks to opt unincorporated areas out of whiskey law (TFP/Brogdon)

The great Tennessee whiskey war is over, and the wets won. But Hamilton County commissioners now are working to keep distilleries out of unincorporated areas. Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law May 16 that allows distilleries to operate in any city that permits both liquor by the drink and retail package sales, and in the unincorporated county around those cities. The law takes effect July 1. Commissioners have 45 days from the signing of the bill to opt the unincorporated county out of the law, and that’s what members of the legal committee Thursday decided to recommend to the full body.

Memphis, comptroller confident budget solutions are in reach (CA/McMillin, Locker)

The City of Memphis administration, the Tennessee Comptroller and members of the Memphis City Council were in agreement Thursday — the city’s short-term finances are solid and they expect long-term fiscal challenges to be addressed by the 2014 budget. Most also agreed on this — the recent letters from State Comptroller Justin Wilson are not about politics but about making sure budget decisions made over the next two weeks put the city on the right financial path.

Council Faces Pressure in Financial Crisis (Memphis Daily News)

The Memphis City Council is caught between hints of a state takeover of city finances and the possibility of a lawsuit by most, if not all, of the city’s municipal labor unions in a fiscal crisis that is also evolving into a significant labor dispute. And Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson let City Council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr. know in a letter Wednesday, June 12, that time is running out to fix problems he cited in a May report. “The council should decide the city’s priorities,” he wrote. “If the council does not do this, someone else may end up doing this. This budget may well be Memphis’ last clear chance to determine its own future.”

Stop scratching! Tennessee second highest for chicken pox (Memphis Biz Journal)

Tennessee has the second most reported cases of chicken pox per capita in the U.S., according to Baltimore-based Sickweather, a real-time sickness forecasting and tracking service. According to the ranking, Tennessee is second only to Maryland in chicken pox cases recorded between October 2011 and June 2013. Sickweather tracked more than 35,000 reported cases. After Tennessee and Maryland, the list includes: Illinois, Nevada, West Virginia, Alabama, Nebraska, Texas, Massachusetts and Georgia.

Marijuana arrest rate 4 times higher for blacks in TN (Tennessean/Allyn)

Black Tennesseans are arrested on marijuana possession charges four times as much as whites, despite both races using the drug at roughly the same rate, according to a new study by the American Civil Liberties Union. Among urban counties, Davidson County had the third-largest percentage increase in racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates in the country between 2001 and 2010. Over the decade, the gap between blacks and whites arrested for marijuana possession here grew by 355 percent. In 2010, marijuana possession accounted for 42 percent of all drug arrests in Tennessee.

Blackburn warns against ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to NSA spying (TN/Aguilera)

Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said Thursday at a panel discussion on the poll’s findings that her constituents oppose “some knee-jerk reaction” to the NSA’s surveillance program. “This is what Washington generally does, and it doesn’t serve us well,” she said. “Let’s be very thoughtful on this.” Blackburn said legislation she introduced in April to prevent cybersecurity attacks by foreign hacker groups — the Secure IT Act — could help jump-start a discussion about protecting Americans’ privacy from U.S. government actions.

Roe doesn’t think NSA leaker is a traitor (Times-News)

Confessed intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is not a traitor, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe told reporters in a Thursday conference call. “I’ve told other people that. I don’t think he’s a traitor,” Roe, R-Tenn., said of Snowden, the former government contractor who allegedly disclosed National Security Agency (NSA) information and is reportedly hiding out in Hong Kong. Roe also took on NSA’s decision to secretly collect millions of telephone records as well as emails and other Internet data. He pointed out his past votes against the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — two post-9/11 laws that expanded law enforcement powers.

Baseball forges bonds in Washington (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

By his own admission, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is a stay-at-home guy. Unlike some lawmakers, the Ooltewah Republican refuses late nights on Capitol Hill, steering clear of bourbon and trouble after hours. “My wife likes it that way,” he joked Thursday. But early into his first term, he found that lifestyle to be lacking in a Type A city where people socialize and bartenders pour long past happy hour. “I wasn’t making any enemies,” he recalled, “but I wasn’t making a lot of friends either.”

‘Black Swan’ ruling puts spotlight on unpaid internships (TN/ Botkin-Kowacki, Fort)

Judge says movie violated wage laws A federal judge’s ruling in New York has raised questions about unpaid internship programs and fair labor ethics in Nashville and across the country. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.” This is the latest in a string of court battles between ex-interns and companies that employed them without pay.

Court Says Human Genes Cannot be Patented (Associated Press)

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that companies cannot patent parts of naturally-occurring human genes, a decision with the potential to profoundly affect the emerging and lucrative medical and biotechnology industries. The high court’s unanimous judgment reverses three decades of patent awards by government officials. It throws out patents held by Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics Inc. on an increasingly popular breast cancer test brought into the public eye recently by actress Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she had a double mastectomy because of one of the genes involved in this case.

Coverage May be Unaffordable for Low-Wage Workers (Associated Press)

It’s called the Affordable Care Act, but President Barack Obama’s health care law may turn out to be unaffordable for many low-wage workers, including employees at big chain restaurants, retail stores and hotels. That might seem strange since the law requires medium-sized and large employers to offer “affordable” coverage or face fines. But what’s reasonable? Because of a wrinkle in the law, companies can meet their legal obligations by offering policies that would be too expensive for many low-wage workers.

Retired DOE official: Management of UPF ‘out of control’ (NS/Munger)

A retired federal official who helped guide the $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source to a successful completion in 2006 — ahead of schedule and within budget — said he’s afraid another big Oak Ridge project may be headed for disaster. David Wilfert, who retired from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2006 after SNS construction was finished, said the management of the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 appears to be “out of control.” The project could end up costing $10 billion or more, he said.

Class to show how parents can get involved in schools (Tennessean)

Metro Nashville schools are turning the tables on parents and asking them to attend class. About 30 parents will attend classes today and Saturday as part of the Parent-School Partnership Program, designed to help parents become better advocates for their kids and also more involved in their schools. The program is possible through a grant from the National PTA, which has trained school system staff members and parent leaders to help other parents learn the tools needed to become more involved in their children’s education.

Lipscomb camp helps high school students pick health careers (Tennessean/West)

Students circled around their patient, listening to determine if anything was wrong with his heart. Most students thought his irregular heartbeat sounded like a washing machine, a wombat or creature of the night. Either way, something wasn’t right, Lipscomb University professor Tamara Baird taught them. The exercise was a part of the Tri-Star Health Care Academy and Lipscomb University’s weeklong camp, where 31 students selected from across the nation discover what health profession interests them.

Rhea County schools prepare for move (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/McMillin)

Moving day and updated textbooks were among topics discussed at a Rhea County school board meeting Thursday evening. Rhea Central Elementary School’s middle-grade classes will be moved to the new middle school next week, said Jerry Levengood, director of schools. Furniture deliveries for the new school will take place in July, he said. Rhea County High School’s construction is scheduled for completion in time for this school year. The middle-grade classes vacated from the elementary school will create several classroom openings, officials said.

Inspiration, Not Imitation (Memphis Daily News)

The superintendent of the Albemarle County, Va., school system told a group of educators in Memphis this week she is concerned U.S. schools are too based on an outdated 20th century industrial model. Pam Moran told 800 public, private and charter school educators from 21 states and Argentina at the annual Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence conference that different education models are the key to learning today. But she said specific methods may not translate to every school or school system.

Private Preschools See More Public Funds as Classes Grow (New York Times)

The preschoolers who arrived at school early for free breakfast on a recent morning quietly ate granola bars and yogurt as middle school students recited part of the rosary over the public address system. Almost none of the 4- and 5-year-olds attending the Academy of St. Benedict the African, a parochial school here in the poverty-stricken Englewood neighborhood, are Catholic. But virtually all of them pay little or no tuition, which is subsidized by public funds. Starting this fall, under an expansion led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the number of Catholic schools in the city receiving taxpayer money for preschool will nearly double.

Arizona: Senate passes budget, Medicaid growth (AP/Christie, Silva)

The Arizona Senate has passed an $8.8 billion state budget Thursday that includes the Medicaid expansion sought by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer as she embraces a signature part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law over the opposition of most GOP legislators. The vote Thursday saw a newly formed coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans push back against the conservative leaders who run the Legislature and expand health care to 300,000 more low-income Arizonans after months of stalled negotiations, tense debates and political maneuvering.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Governor should consider study in decision on pre-K funds (N-S)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam probably could go ahead and agree to accept federal money to provide pre-kindergarten classes to an additional 7,861 children. However, given skepticism about the pre-K program, the governor is wise to await the results of a study by Vanderbilt University, if time is not a factor in accepting the funds. Tennessee would receive $64.3 million in federal funding; $6.4 million in state funds would match the amount, according to a White House estimate. The funding is part of President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All program. The president’s proposal calls for providing $75 billion over a 10-year period that would expand pre-K enrollment nationwide.

Editorial: DCS lawyers set bad precedent (Tennessean)

The continual defensive, foot-dragging and combative behaviors coming from the Department of Children Services lawyers and the government advocates of the attorney general’s office are reflective of the contempt our officials seem to hold of the public. In the several court hearings to obtain records of children who have died, or nearly died, subsequent to contact with workers from DCS, it is clear that the government attorneys are far more concerned about protecting government employees from being embarrassed than they are about fixing the systemic problems that effect the health and well-being of those the department is charged to protect.

Ron Hart: Data mining undermining American values (Times Free-Press)

In the wake of revelations that the IRS was used as a thuggish enforcement arm of the Obama campaign come further allegations of snooping by the NSA. Suddenly we all feel we have a creepy stalker. George Orwell’s foretold world of an all-intrusive government is upon us. Our freedoms have not been lost quickly or in war, but via the creeping incrementalism of government. After the IRS persecuted opponents of the president, we are somehow to believe that he wouldn’t use the National Security Agency’s phone-tapping capacity against his political enemies? To be fair, this initially started with George W. Bush, but he never used it for political dirty tricks.