This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam made three quick stops in East Tennessee on Friday, announcing significant grants for infrastructure projects and higher education along the way. “Washington doesn’t get a whole lot of things right, but this is a program that they did get right,” Haslam said to an audience gathered at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, where he announced three $500,000 Community Development Block Grants for water and sewer needs in Polk and McMinn counties. The federally funded grants are allocated under a procedure authorized by the Tennessee General Assembly and based on priorities set at local levels.
Gov. Bill Haslam visited Athens on Friday to award a pair of half-million-dollar grants to Athens and Etowah for sewer improvements
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam visited the Scenic City Friday, workforce development awarding about a $1.3 million grant for the nuclear technology program to Chattanooga State. The college also houses the Wacker Institute, where several graduates who say they were promised jobs are suing Wacker Chemical Corporation. They claim the company promised they would start work at the Charleston plant five months ago. NewsChannel9 asked Governor Haslam about the uncertainty surrounding the program and jobs for graduates.
State business officials said the city of Lebanon has been named Tennessee’s newest Main Street community. Located in Wilson County, Lebanon is the state’s 26th Main Street community. Cities that receive Main Street designations receive technical assistance and guidance to make their downtowns areas safe, appealing, vibrant places where people want to shop and live. Historic Lebanon Executive Director Kim Parks said the economic revitalization and preservation of the city’s historic Public Square and surrounding neighborhood will be enhanced by becoming a Main Street community.
Vice Minister Xu Lin of China, who oversees more than 400 Confucius Institutes around the world, will visit Tennessee on Monday to meet with Gov. Bill Haslam in Nashville, then tour the Middle Tennessee State University campus. It will be Xu’s first visit to MTSU, which opened its Confucius Institute in April 2010 through a partnership with Hangzhou Normal University. She will come to Tennessee after a meeting this weekend at Western Kentucky University of Confucius Institute leaders from across the United States.
When the National Muscadine Festival is held this weekend in downtown Sweetwater, Tenn., visitors will be in a newly certified “Tennessee Main Street” community. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on Friday announced that Sweetwater was the 27th community in the state to be accredited by the National Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “What this does for us is kind of give us an edge on grants,” Mayor Doyle Lowe said. “When they see that we were designated a Main Street community, it’s a lot better for us.”
More than 30 teens in custody of the Department of Children’s Services have run away from the same school for troubled boys in Crossville in the past three years, including two for whom there is now an active search. Jason Crow said he thought when he put his 15-year-old son, Jacob, in DCS custody at the Cumberland Mountain School for Boys, Jacob would be safe. But three weeks ago, Jacob and another 15-year-old simply walked away from the Crossville facility and haven’t been seen since. “It’s unexplainable. It’s awful,” Jason Crow said.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers are investigating a drowning that happened Friday morning at Cove Lake State Park in Campbell County, officials said. James Hamblin, 50, of Hamilton, Ohio, drowned at about 9 a.m. after he fell overboard from a small john-boat, according to TWRA news release. According to the news release, Hamblin and Bill Roddy of LaFollette had rented the boat from the park and were fishing. Hamblin was standing up when he fell, sending him and Roddy overboard, officials said.
It’s deep in the back of the 2,204-acre University of Tennessee Arboretum, in an area off-limits to the public and behind a high fence. They call it the Boneyard. That’s the nickname for an acre of a new 7-acre law enforcement training area that was dedicated Friday. The ceremony featured a groundbreaking in reverse, with officials tossing shovels-full of dirt over a human skeleton in a shallow grave. The Boneyard is where law enforcement officers will hone skills in hunting for buried skeletal remains, diagraming those ersatz crime scenes and then collecting the evidence.
The Tennessee Department of Correction said Friday that it’s switching from a three-drug method to execute death row inmates to a single-drug method. The new protocol now calls for using the sedative pentobarbital only to put an inmate to death, according to the news release issued by spokeswoman Dorinda Carter. Tennessee’s supply of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in lethal injections, was turned over to the federal government in 2011 over questions about how it was imported. The short supply of sodium thiopental in the U.S. has led many states with the death penalty to seek out other drugs.
Tennessee on Friday announced that it had come up with a new way to execute prisoners sentenced to die. The Tennessee Department of Correction will now use pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize dogs, to execute prisoners on death row. The state had been forced to abandon a three-drug cocktail used for years to execute prisoners when the sole supplier stopped producing it in 2010. The state plans to use just the one drug to execute death row inmates. For years, the state had used the three-drug protocol.
Tennesee’s debate on whether to sell wine in supermarkets and convenience stores has taken a new turn. The house chairman who made the deciding vote against the bill, is expected to change his mind on the issue. Right now supermarkets and convenience stores such as this one are prohibited from selling anything stronger than five percent alcohol by weight. Tim Grussing, a wine connoisseur said “I believe it is bad for small business, and it’s also bad for the consumer. We lack the buying power that a major chain like Kroger has.
The state representative who cast the key vote against the sale of wine in grocery stores says he’s now willing to reconsider. State representative Matthew Hill was criticized in March when he voted in favor of an earlier version of the bill in a subcommittee but changed his mind in the full committee. Hill said he voted against the legislation because housesponsors seemed unwilling to debate changes to the Senate bill. Thursday, Hill claimed he would consider reversing that vote next session if proponents committed to a full debate.
Republican state Rep. Matthew Hill said Friday he neither supports nor opposes a bill to allow supermarket wine in Tennessee, but he is willing to re-engage in that debate when the 108th General Assembly convenes in January. Hill was criticized in March when he voted for a version of the legislation in a subcommittee, but later cast the key vote against the measure when it reached the full House Local Government Committee, which he chairs. Now he says he is willing to reset the matter in the committee where it died and change his vote if certain conditions are met.
Once elected to public office, it’s not unusual for incumbents to stick together at re-election time, particularly in partisan races, even if it seems strange. A $150-per-person fundraiser for state Rep. Roger Kane, a Republican who represents the 89th District, has all GOP members of the Knox County legislative delegation listed as hosts for a fundraiser 6-8 p.m. Monday at Calhoun’s on Turkey Cove Lane. Hosts are Sens. Becky Duncan Massey, Randy McNally and Stacey Campfield and Reps. Bill Dunn, Harry Brooks, Ryan Haynes and Steve Hall. A voter who received an invitation passed it to this columnist, remarking she thought it strange that Massey and Campfield are “on the same page together” but it could be a “political necessity.”
Having Tennessee’s U.S. senators nominated by state lawmakers instead of primary voters “would get us back to what the founding fathers wanted,” state Sen. Frank Niceley told a Kingsport Kiwanis Club luncheon Friday. Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, introduced legislation in the last General Assembly to have legislative members from each political party select U.S. Senate candidates to be placed on the November general election ballot. His bill stalled last spring but has been reset to be considered for a possible Senate floor vote next March. The House companion legislation was taken off notice, but it could be revived. The U.S. Constitution originally called for U.S. senators to be chosen by state legislatures, but the 17th Amendment ratified in 1913 gave election power to the people. “It’s been downhill ever since,” Niceley said of the U.S. Senate selection process.
A health care advocacy group is suing to halt emergency rules enacted in Tennessee to require background checks for people giving advice on new insurance marketplaces going into effect next week. The lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of the League of Women Voters and several individuals by the Tennessee Justice Center. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has defended the background checks as a way to prevent scams and identity theft in a process that involves divulging personal information. The lawsuit argues that the rules are overly broad because they apply not just to designated “navigators,” but to anyone who might give advice on health insurance — which could include family, clergy, civic organizations or other acquaintances and advisers.
Congress moved a step closer on Friday to closing national parks, furloughing federal workers and freezing new applications for passports, gun permits, student loans and other government programs. A dispute over whether to defund the 2010 health care reform law as part of a stopgap spending bill is pushing the nation closer to a possible government shutdown at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, when fiscal 2014 begins. On Friday, the Senate stripped the spending bill of a provision defunding the law and sent the bill back to the House, which is expected to modify it again and send it back to the Senate.
A federal government shutdown would also mean shutting down national parks — canceling educational programs, rescinding permits for special events, closing down the visitor’s centers and trails, and asking current guests to leave within a 48-hour period. A decision should be made either Monday evening or Tuesday morning on whether the parks will remain open or whether a contingency plan will be implemented. While waiting for word from Washington on the next course of action, Dana Soehn, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s volunteer coordinator, is working off hope. “We have our plan in place, but we are still hopeful it will be worked out,” she said.
The Democratic-run Senate has approved legislation aimed at preventing a Tuesday federal shutdown. Friday’s vote was 54-44. But it remains unclear whether the Senate and the Republican-run House will be able to complete a compromise bill in time to get it to President Barack Obama for his signature before the government has to close. That is because House GOP leaders are still struggling to figure out how they can win enough votes from conservatives to push a new version of the legislation through their chamber.
On Oct. 1, a new shopping website will launch in Tennessee. Much like Amazon.com, it will offer a place where consumers can compare products from different sellers and buy the one that best suits their needs. But unlike most shopping sites, this site will offer a product that everyone in America must buy – or pay a federal penalty. The website is the Tennessee Health Insurance Exchange, an online marketplace in which Tennesseans can shop for and enroll in health insurance. It will offer health plans from major insurers like Cigna, Humana and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
Rutherford County ranks sixth highest in jobgrowth among the largest counties in the nation, according to a presentation Friday at the annual Economic Outlook Conference at Middle Tennessee State University, but the amount of wages for those jobs was questioned. “Rutherford County — when you pull both private and government jobs — is ranked sixth in the largest 334 counties in the United States,” said David Penn, director of the MTSU Business and Economic Research Center, who delivered the annual Midstate economic update at the conference. The overall job growth rate for Rutherford County was 5.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but at least one conference attendee was concerned about the kinds of jobs being created in the county.
High school students in Tennessee are increasingly deciding not to go to college. Enrollment at Tennessee Board of Regents colleges — which include Austin Peay, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech and the University of Memphis — declined by nearly 2 percent last year. Some have opted out because the economy has improved. But others are concerned about student loans. Over half of all Tennessee college students have loans. The average debt is $20,703. Students concerned about their loans can thank the federal government for their predicament.
Most of us by now have received letters from our employers regarding changes to our health care insurance that affect us now or will affect us in the future. This is in addition to the yearly ritual so many of us have of the annual change in health insurance at our places of work. What we don’t need is an ideological battle along worn and irrelevant party lines that add more uncertainty simply for the sake of one party banner flying higher than the other within the Washington beltway. The debate about the best way to provide health insurance and bring the costs of medical care down is far from over. There is much useful light that can and should come from a healthy and spirited debate about the provisions of what even the White House and Affordable Care Act supporters call Obamacare.