October 8 TN News Digest

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

Improving Education a Key Theme at ECD Convention (TN Report)

Tennessee needs to develop a more skilled workforce to attract the jobs of the future, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday at the 60th annual Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development conference. “Only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a two-year, four-year degree or technical certificate,” Haslam said. “That means a whole lot of jobs are going somewhere else.” To bring those jobs here, the governor lauded his “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to encourage Tennesseans to pursue advanced education after high school. “A lack of training beyond high school limits opportunities,” he said.

VW leader to talk with Haslam about producing new SUV at Chatt. plant (TFP/Pare)

A top Volkswagen labor leader and supporter of the United Auto Workers organizing efforts in Chattanooga says he will raise the prospects of a second production model at the local factory when he meets with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, according to Reuters. Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s global works council, said he plans to meet politicians and other supporters and opponents of the UAW over the next weeks on a visit that had to be changed after his plane was grounded last week because of mechanical issues, Reuters said.

Grant to help launch certification program for healthy Tennessee restaurants (NBJ)

A Washington, D.C.-based group has received a three-year grant to help launch a new certification program in Tennessee for healthy restaurants. The U.S. Healthful Food Council will use the $346,000 grant to launch Eat REAL Tennessee, which will assess and recognize restaurants and foodservice establishments for their Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership. The program was selected by the state to combat diabetes and obesity.

Data shows high number of drug-dependent babies (Associated Press)

Recent data shows that in just over nine months this year, more babies in Tennessee have been born dependent on drugs their mothers took during pregnancy than in all of 2011. According to the Tennessee Health Department, by the first week of this month, 643 babies were born dependent, compared with 629 for all of 2011. Commissioner John Dreyzehner says at that rate the department is projecting more than 800 drug-dependent newborns by year end. He says data shows the majority of the births involved a mother taking medicine prescribed by a health care provider.

TN Health Department projects sharp rise in drug-dependent newborns (CA/Locker)

More babies were born in Tennessee dependent on drugs their mothers took during pregnancy thus far this year than in all of 2011, the state Department of Health reported Monday. Perhaps surprisingly, the report indicates Shelby County had fewer drug-dependent newborns than other urban counties. Through last week, 643 babies were reported born drug dependent, compared with 629 for all of 2011. The Health Department is using 2011 figures for comparison because before this year, statistics were available only through hospital-discharge and Medicaid-claims data that isn’t available for up to 18 months.

Report: Violence, drug-dependency harming state’s children (N-S/Nelson)

Tennessee has plenty of obstacles when it comes to raising healthy children; recent studies have cited high rates of violent crime, obesity and drug-dependant newborns statewide. During this 85th Child Health Week, children’s health is “not just the parents’ responsibility, not just the pediatrician’s responsibility, it’s the community’s responsibility,” said Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department’s director. “If we’re going to have healthy children, we need to create an environment where it’s possible for all children to be healthy.” Child Health Week kicked off Monday, with Buchanan and others giving an update on the health of Knox County’s children.

Numbers grim for drug overdose deaths, drug-dependent newborns (TN/Wilemon)

More babies have been born dependent on drugs in the first nine months of this year than in all of 2011, the Tennessee Department of Health said Monday, the same day that the Trust For America’s Health ranked the state eighth for drug overdose deaths. As of the first week of October, 643 babies were born dependent on drugs in Tennessee this year. The state can now track the data more quickly. This year, the Health Department made neonatal abstinence syndrome a reportable illness — a requirement that is typically limited to communicable diseases.

Prescriptions Feed Tennessee’s Increase In Drug Dependent Babies (WPLN-Radio)

The number of Tennessee babies born chemically dependent on drugs is rising at a troubling rate. Nine months into 2013, the figure has already passed last year’s total. Many of the cases involve medications prescribed by a physician. In some cases, the prescriptions replace illegal substances, but an increasing number of babies are also being born with a dependence on their mothers’ pain pills or medication used to treat psychiatric and neurological conditions. Whatever the substance, the infants suffer withdrawal. On average, their postnatal care costs 15 times more than a normal, healthy birth.

Tennessee leads nation in violent crime (USA Today)

You might think that going to California, Texas or New York exposes you to a lot of crime. But in fact it was Tennessee that had the nation’s highest violent crime rate last year. The FBI’s latest statewide statistics offer a snapshot of the underside of the 50 states: where violent crime is most likely to occur. According to the FBI, violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the states with the highest rates of violent crime in the country. While violent crime rose just under 1 percent nationally in 2012, the trend for the past 20 years has been steady decline.

Meeting Tuesday could revive James White Parkway project (N-S/Jacobs)

The proposed James White Parkway extension, killed in August when a regional planning group opted to remove it from a long-range funding document, today faces the first of two opportunities for resurrection. The technical committee for the Transportation Planning Organization meets at 9 a.m. in the Small Assembly Room of the City County Building. The 23 members of the technical committee could revive the $104 million project and recommend the executive board reexamine its Aug. 28 vote to kill the road. “That is our intent right now,” Perrin Anderson, communications and marketing coordinator for Sevier County, said Monday.

Tennesseans encouraged to test homes for radon (Associated Press)

State officials are encouraging Tennesseans to test their homes for radon. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that can enter homes through foundation cracks or openings. It’s invisible and odorless and high concentrations can cause health problems including lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 70 percent of Tennesseans live in areas with high or moderate risk of radon. State officials recommend testing for radon during consistently cold weather.

UT’s Bio-Refinery Hopes To Use Grass To Make More Than Gas (WPLN-Radio)

State officials are hoping the University of Tennessee’s bio-refinery will draw interest from fuel companies, as the facility is now online turning switchgrass into ethanol. But the technology opens the door to a slew of other potential products as well. The state gave UT some $70 million before the recession to develop a process for making ethanol to fuel cars with tall switchgrass, instead of corn. It’s taken several years, but UT’s chemical-industry partner says now the facility outside Knoxville is making about a thousand gallons a week from switchgrass. UT uses it to power a fleet of flex-fuel vehicles.

Republicans led by TN’s Harwell try to craft ‘right message’ for women (TN/Sisk)

Stefani Brown is a Democrat, and has been all of her life. But although she is African-American and backs President Barack Obama, Brown says she has not closed her mind to Republicans. She says she agrees with some Republican views, and there are circumstances in which she could consider voting for a Republican. Like, perhaps, if a woman were at the top of the ticket. “If the right one comes along, I’d think about it,” she said. “If the right one came along.” Republicans are hoping to persuade more women like Brown to give them another look, after decades of lagging behind with the electorate’s biggest group of voters.

Blackburn’s Clarksville office evacuated over suspicious envelope (TN/Black)

Congressman Marsha Blackburn’s office was evacuated Monday morning and North Second Street was shut down after a suspicious envelope was sent to the representative’s Clarksville office. The Clarksville Police Department received a call at 11:12 a.m. that Blackburn’s 128 North 2nd Street office had received a suspicious envelope. CPD closed down North Second Street between Main Street and Strawberry Alley and evacuated part of the Federal Building, according to CPD spokeswoman Officer Natalie Hall.

Ruling alters Tennessee’s navigator guidelines for Affordable Care Act (TN/Sisk)

Churches, unions and social service organizations now can set up computer stations to help the uninsured sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act without fear of being fined by the state of Tennessee. U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell issued a temporary restraining order Monday blocking Tennessee from enforcing a portion of the state’s controversial emergency rules for health law navigators. Campbell said the state rules defining a navigator contain language that is too broad. While the hearing in federal court was underway, the Tennessee Justice Center and the state reached an agreement on a similar lawsuit that the center had filed in Davidson County Chancery Court.

Federal WIC to continue through October in Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Sher)

A federal program that provides nutritional and other assistance to some 160,000 low-income mothers and their infant or young children in Tennessee will continue to be funded through October, state officials say. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given Tennessee and other states a green light to maintain the Women, Infants and Children Program, commonly known as WIC, a green light to continue operations during the federal government’s partial shutdown. “I can tell you the Tennessee WIC program has funding to continue operating as usual through the end of October,” state Health Department spokeswoman Shelley Walker said in an email.

Air National Guard crews back to work at McGhee Tyson (News-Sentinel/Lakin)

The crews are back to work at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, but most of the planes will stay parked for now. “Obviously we’re glad we’re back to work, but we really don’t know how long it’s going to last,” said Capt. Joseph Keith, executive officer of the 134th Air Refueling Wing. “Right now it’s one of those hurry up and wait type of games.” More than 1,500 military technicians and other support staff for the Tennessee National Guard returned to duty Monday after U.S. Department of Defense officials concluded the Pay Our Military Act allowed them to resume their jobs.

Commissary reopens, many Fort Campbell civilians back at work (Leaf Chronicle)

The Fort Campbell Commissary reopened and many civilian employees returned to post today, as DoD officials expanded the scope of employees exempt from the government shutdown. While the on-post grocery store is “open for business,” that doesn’t mean everything is back to normal, said Robert Jenkins, Fort Campbell spokesman.g“This week, we ask that people be patient. They may not find everything they’re looking for,” as it’s going to take a while to get the full inventory back in place.

At Fort Campbell, The Government Shutdown Is Basically Over (WPLN-Radio)

Clerks are restocking the shelves of the Fort Campbell commissary, the post hospital is again fully staffed and the civilian workforce of 8,000 is back to full strength. The Pentagon decided over the weekend furlough rules didn’t have to keep so many people off the job. A town hall meeting scheduled for Monday night was cancelled after most employees were recalled. The furloughs turned out to be more bark than bite for civilians, who should end up being paid for their days off.

Y-12 told to begin ‘orderly shutdown’ of operations (Tennessean/Munger)

Thousands of Y-12 employees were told Monday that the plant has been ordered to begin an “orderly shutdown” because of the federal budget stalemate in Washington, D.C. That apparently means that furloughs will begin in the near future, although B&W Y-12 — the government’s managing contractor at the nuclear weapons plant — did not immediately provide details of the jobs plan. In a message to employees, Y-12 President and General Manager Chuck Spencer said the actions were necessary in order to maintain the plant in a safe and secure status, given the continued uncertainty over funding.

VW labor leader links SUV with works council (Times Free-Press/Pare)

A top Volkswagen labor leader says that forming a German-style works council labor board at the Chattanooga factory is important if the plant wants to produce other VW vehicles. “We know how important that (second) vehicle is for Chattanooga,” said Bernd Osterloh, according to Reuters. Osterloh, head of VW’s global works council, said he plans to meet politicians along with supporters and opponents of the United Auto Workers in the next few weeks. Osterloh was slated to visit the Chattanooga plant and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last week but his plane was grounded due to mechanical problems in Germany.

 

OPINION 

Guest columnist: State faces challenges to maintain appeal to auto industry (Tenn)

Last week, the Brookings Institution, the renowned research and policy organization, delivered a strong report on Tennessee’s automotive manufacturing industry that is a road map to guide this important industry to an even more dynamic future. Brookings reports that the state industry has emerged from the Great Recession with significant momentum and has actually managed to increase its employment share of the North American industry. Tennessee is on a roll. Tennessee has become the South’s automotive manufacturing industry leader over the past 30 years. The industry is an immense driver of our economy — employing nearly 100,000 Tennesseans and accounting for a third of all of the state’s manufacturing jobs.

Editorial: Tennessee’s No. 1 violent crime rating is troubling (Jackson Sun)

In 2012, Tennessee earned the dubious distinction of having the highest violent crime rate in the country. Most people are familiar with the direct cost of violent crime when it comes to deaths, injuries and property loss. But there also is an economic loss as business, industry and individuals factor crime statistics into decisions on where to do business and where to live. This should be a top concern for Gov. Bill Haslam and for municipal officials throughout Tennessee. According to the latest crime statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee ranked in the top 10 in the country for murders and robberies.

Editorial: In Tennessee, drug addiction starts early (Tennessean)

Yes, we’ve known for a long time that Tennessee has a drug-dependency problem far larger than that of most other states. But do we have to pass along our addiction to newborn babies? The state Department of Health is appropriately alarmed by the fact that 643 babies have been born dependent on drugs in Tennessee so far this year — that compares with 629 newborns in all of 2011. But are the rest of Tennesseans waking up to this terrible trend? State Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner spoke about the grim statistics on Monday, after the Trust For America’s Health announced that Tennessee ranks eighth-worst in the U.S. for drug overdose deaths.

Editorial: Lawmakers should support clean bill to raise debt ceiling (News-Sentinel)

There is a difference between bad political strategy and irresponsible governance. Forcing a partial shutdown of the federal government over the funding of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has proven to be a strategic blunder for congressional Republicans. Doubling down by risking the full faith and credit of the United States — over debt Congress already has committed the country to honor — would be an insidious act unworthy of American citizens. Yet that is the course charted out by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Tennessee’s GOP lawmakers should insist that House Speaker John Boehner reconsider this ill-considered and dangerous tack.