April 29 TN News Digest

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

2 dead from Lincoln County tornado (Tennessean/Haas, Wilson)

A powerful tornado with winds hitting 190 m.p.h. slammed into Lincoln County on Monday night, killing at least two people, destroying homes and damaging an elementary school. The fatalities were reported to hospital officials around 11 p.m., said Mary Beth Seals, the director of marketing and community relations for the Lincoln Medical Center. The identities of those killed were not immediately available. A handful of other, minor injuries from the tornado have also been reported, Seals said. Crews are still going through some of the damaged homes in southeastern Lincoln County as of early this morning, Seals said.

Tornado kills 2 in Lincoln County, causes damage across Middle TN (WKRN-TV)

A tornado swept through Lincoln County Monday night, killing two people, injuring a few others and trapping people inside their homes for hours. The spokesperson for Lincoln Medical Center in Fayetteville, Tenn., Mary Beth Seals, confirmed the fatalities and said both lived in the southern part of the county, which was one of the hardest hit areas. The identity of the victims has yet to be released. Seals also said the hospital received a small number of patients with injuries, most of which are minor.

2 Killed In Tornado In Lincoln County (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Two people were killed in a tornado in Lincoln County Monday evening. Several homes were leveled by the twister that struck around 8:30 p.m. after the National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency for part of Lincoln, Moore and northwest Franklin counties. South Lincoln Elementary School at 362 Smith Mill Road in Fayetteville took a direct hit from the tornado, which had winds in excess of 190 miles per hour. Director of Schools Wanda Shelton said only a quarter of the building was left undamaged.

Twister reported in Obion County (Jackson Sun)

While Jackson and Madison County missed the brunt of Monday’s storm, surrounding communities were not as fortunate. Emergency management officials in Obion County reported to the National Weather Service that a tornado destroyed six or seven brick homes in the Woodland Hills community. Officials told the weather service a tornado struck about 5:15 p.m. north of the Highway 51 Bypass near the Kentucky state line. The storm also caused roof and siding damage to several homes and knocked down trees. No injuries were reported.

Strong storms hit Jellico, damage buildings (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Strong storms rolled through the Campbell County town of Jellico early Monday evening, damaging multiple properties. Dispatchers said in comparison to surrounding communities, the Jellico area received the brunt of the storms. In downtown Jellico, a storage facility crumbled into the street after being hit by strong winds. A woman was driving by the building when debris fell onto her car. According to dispatchers, no one was seriously injured. “I didn’t even know she was under there; it was a miracle,” said witness Steven Spears.  

Deaths reported in Ala., Miss., Tenn. from weather (Associated Press)

At least 11 deaths are being reported from severe storms blowing through the South, but the toll could rise. In Mississippi, officials say at least seven people have been killed. State Director of Health Protection Jim Craig said Monday night that officials are working with coroners to confirm the total. Winston County Coroner Scott Gregory said six fatalities were reported in that county alone. In north Alabama, Limestone County Emergency Director Rita White said the coroner’s office had confirmed two deaths in a twister that caused extensive damage west of the city of Athens.

Twisters barrel through three states (USA Today)

Deadly twisters lashed Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee as the South took a violent second-day assault from spring storms. Tornado threats may continue for several more days. Seven people were reported killed in Mississippi and as many as six were reported killed in Alabama, although only two had been confirmed and the total was uncertain Monday night. Two deaths in Tennessee were confirmed early Tuesday after a tornado touched down there. The storms come one day after tornadoes killed 17 people across central and southern parts of the nation.

Storm damages buildings at LMU in Harrogate (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A storm Monday afternoon in Claiborne County inflicted isolated damages, including to facilities at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate. According to LMU, winds lifted up the roof on the Annan Natatorium. “Several” metal shingles came off the building. Staff and patrons of the pool at the natatorium had taken shelter in the Mary Mars Gymnasium. Also, part of the roof of the black barn on LMU’s property was blown off. High winds also knocked over a light pole at Harrogate City Park, and the score board at the intercollegiate soccer field behind Tex Turner Arean also had damage, according to LMU.

Haslam throws weight behind man expected to be next UM president (CA/Backer)

Calling the University of Memphis “critical” to Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday placed a firm vote of confidence in the man expected to become the institution’s next president. Tennessee Board of Regents chancellor John Morgan recommended U of M provost M. David Rudd on Friday over three other finalists, but the regents still need to approve the hire, which they are expected to do Thursday. Historically, the TBR has approved the chancellor’s recommendation for president. When asked what role he played in selecting the next U of M president and whether he had recommended Rudd to Morgan, Haslam said he interviewed all four finalists and shared his input with Morgan.

Haslam, Bredesen kick off constitutional campaign (Associated Press)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and his Democratic predecessor, Phil Bredesen, are kicking off a campaign in support of a constitutional amendment on the way Tennessee Supreme Court justices and appeals judges are appointed and retained. Haslam and Bredesen are scheduled to be joined by actor and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson at the Tuesday morning event in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the state Capitol. The campaign dubbed “Vote Yes on 2” in in support of the proposed amendment that would largely mirror the system of having governors appoint justices and then having them stand for elections to either replace or retain them.

Haslams present program’s 20 millionth book to child in Shelby Co. (CA/Roberts)

Tamera Tynes, 3, her hair in braided pigtails, Monday was the expectant, ecstatic face of the more than 68,000 children in the county who get a book in the mail every month, addressed to them. Gov. Bill Haslam and wife Crissy presented her a giant copy of the “Little Engine that Could,” the 20 millionth book the Tennessee Imagination Library has given since the nonprofit partnership was founded 10 years ago by Haslam’s predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen. “One of my greatest pleasures as a parent was reading at night with every one of my kids,” Haslam told more than 300 people at the celebration luncheon at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn.

Governor Haslam, First Lady Present 20 Millionth Book (Business Wire)

Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam presented The Little Engine that Could, the 20 millionth book of Tennessee’s Imagination Library to 3-year-old Tamera Tynes at the program’s tenth anniversary celebration today in Memphis. “Crissy and I want to congratulate Tennessee’s Imagination Library for 10 years of delivering these wonderful books to our state’s youngest citizens and making a difference in their lives. We also say ‘thank you’ to the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, the Dollywood Foundation and the hundreds of volunteers across all 95 counties that have made this milestone possible,” Gov. Haslam said.

Haslam Waiting Until Last Minute To Sign Bill (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam is waiting until the last possible moment to sign a bill into law that would punish pregnant women on illegal drugs. A spokesperson says to expect a statement Tuesday, which is the deadline for signing or vetoing the legislation. He has 10 business days after he receives a bill from the legislature. The initial proposal allowed for murder charges if the baby of a drug-addicted mother dies. The final language is much more tame, only allowing a misdemeanor assault charge. And Governor Haslam says he’s okay with what passed. A woman always has the option to get help and avoid jail, even after the baby is born with withdrawal symptoms.

Tourism leaders push Haslam to veto liquor law (Tennessean/Rau)

An amendment quietly tacked on in the final days of the state legislative session could dramatically overhaul the way restaurants, bars and hotels purchase liquor from wholesalers. Restaurant owners have responded with dismay as word about the bill’s impact has trickled out. As a result, the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association is planning to ask Gov. Bill Haslam for a veto. Current law allows liquor-by-the-drink licensees a 10-day window to pay wholesalers when they purchase wine or liquor. But state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, successfully sponsored an amendment that would revoke the 10-day window and require payment on delivery, creating a cash crunch for many businesses.

Tennessee Offers $222,000 To Create One Job (WTVF-TV Nashville)

How much should taxpayers pay a big corporation to create a single job? An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that secret deals cut by politicians could cost more than you ever imagined. Take, for example, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s secret $300 million offer to Volkswagen. Confidential documents leaked to NewsChannel 5 Investigates — for what was called “Project Trinity” — revealed the Haslam’s administration’s offer to help Volkswagen expand its Chattanooga plant. In exchange for $300 million in state incentives, the automaker would be expected to create 1,350 new jobs.  

As Tennessee Schools Stress Testing, Some Students Are Driven To Tears (WPLN)

TCAP – the state’s high-stakes standardized test – begins this week, and school districts have gone to great lengths to pump kids up. At the same time, the testing has driven some students to tears. Schools are throwing academic pep rallies, holding cash drawings for attending tutor sessions and receiving encouragement from celebrities. Usher – the global superstar – sent a video to Nashville’s Gra-Mar Middle. “You can do any and everything you want to do if you put your mind to it,” he says. “So get ready and do your best.”

Roe asks USDA why it axed Phipps Bend produce plan (Times-News)

Congressman Phil Roe wants to know why the U.S. Department of Agriculture has put a halt to a Grainger County produce grower’s plan to utilize floodplain property for farming at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park. On Friday, Roe sent a letter to USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service Administrator Alfred Almanza questioning a decision to block a plan by R&C Farms to grow 85 acres of bell peppers on a floodplain along the Holston River that cannot be utilized for construction. The Hawkins County Industrial Development Board had agreed to lease the Phipps Bend property to R&C for about $20,000 annually.

Why State Unemployment Trust Fund Debt Matters (Stateline)

State unemployment insurance trust funds, the engines that finance jobless benefits for millions of Americans, were battered by the Great Recession and went deep into debt to meet the demand from the unemployed. Years after the worst of the crisis, many states are still saddled with huge debt, according to a Stateline analysis of U.S. Treasury data showing trust fund balances from 2007 through the first quarter of 2014. At its worst in early 2011, states’ collective debt owed to the federal government reached more than $47 billion. Through the first part of 2014, 16 states still owe more than $21 billion to Washington.

Bad weather delays city, county TCAPs (Daily News Journal)

Storms pushed officials to let school out early Monday and spurred Murfreesboro City Schools and Rutherford County Schools to delay TCAP testing from today to Wednesday, but authorities say Rutherford County may not be in the clear. The area has a 70 percent chance of precipitation after 1 p.m. today, and winds could reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, according to forecasts by the National Weather Service. Both Rutherford County Schools and Murfreesboro City Schools let school out two hours early yesterday, so buses could transport students safely before severe weather swept through Middle Tennessee in the late afternoon, according to media releases from both organizations.

 

OPINION 

Fred Thompson, Phil Bredesen: Vote Yes on 2 is best path for jud. selection (TN)

While we come from different professional backgrounds and have represented different political parties through the years, one thing that clearly unites us is our love for Tennessee. That is why we have come together to join Gov. Haslam as the co-chairs of the new Vote YES on 2 campaign to pass the Judicial Selection Amendment to Tennessee’s Constitution this fall. Passing Amendment #2 will not only bring clarity and certainty to the way Tennesseans choose our Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges, but it also will add new accountability and a stronger voice for Tennessee voters in the selection process.

Editorial: Standardized tests have been useful (Commercial Appeal)

Two local education stories published in The Commercial Appeal Friday and Sunday captured the nuances of the ongoing debate about standardized tests. In a story Friday, Dr. Ivory Toldson, an associate professor at Howard University, said state tests are being used to “shame schools, make parents feel bad or to scare people. … I think tests can be useful, but they are being misused.” A Sunday story highlighted how schools are preparing to rev up students for the upcoming Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests, a set of statewide assessments that measure students’ skills and progress.

Editorial: EPA should not punish Knox for state labs’ failure (C. Appeal)

Air pollution harms human health and tarnishes the natural beauty of East Tennessee. It also drives away jobs. Knox County’s industrial recruitment efforts have been hampered in recent years by the area’s failure to meet clean air standards, officials say, and air quality monitoring results called into question because of substandard laboratory conditions are exacerbating the problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists Knox, three surrounding counties (Anderson, Blount and Loudon) and a portion of another (Roane) as non-attainment areas for fine particulate matter, commonly referred to as soot.

Guest columnist: UAW committed to VW workers (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Following discussions last year between Volkswagen and the UAW, we were excited that Volkswagen employees would have the opportunity for representation and a different approach to securing a voice in the workplace through the “works council” model for employee engagement. We didn’t anticipate what happened next. What began as a sincere effort to collaborate with the world’s second-largest automaker and its hard-working team members to pioneer an innovative form of co-determination and employee representation unfortunately turned into a heated public fight led by politicians including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.