This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Mentors key to Tennessee Promise’s success (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Nolan)
Key to the Tennessee Promise — the state’s commitment to fund high school graduates’ education at a community
college or technical school — are mentors to help students meet deadlines for required paperwork to get financial aid and enroll. The state legislation, passed this past year and available for students enrolling in fall 2015, requires counties to have a mentoring program similar to TnAchieves, which was launched in 2008 in Knox County, or contract with TnAchieves to operate their program at no charge. The organization, already operating in 27 counties, expects to need more than 5,000 volunteers as it expands to 80 counties.
Powerful new pain med causes worries (Tennessean/Wilemon)
A powerful new pain medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that easily can be manipulated by abusers has officials in Tennessee and other states worried. Called Zohydro, it’s an extended-release form of hydrocodone that comes in a capsule without safeguards to keep it from being crushed and injected. “The Tennessee Department of Health believes sufficient varieties and types of prescription opioids already exist to meet the needs of patients in Tennessee, including those who may benefit from long-acting formulations with safety features designed to minimize risks to their health,” the agency said.
I-240 widening project in East Memphis delayed again (C. Appeal/Charlier)
Whether it’s the noise of nearby work crews or the confusing configurations of temporary ramps, Suzanne J. Raines can cite plenty of reasons she’s sick of the construction work on Interstate 240 in East Memphis. “It’s vibrated my whole house. It’s awful,” said Raines, whose home just off Shady Grove lies within feet of the interstate. Unfortunately for her and tens of thousands of Memphis-area motorists, the oft-delayed I-240 widening project has run into still further delays. Already a year behind the original schedule, the project is now slated for completion sometime in the fall, say Tennessee Department of Transportation officials.
Lawyers fight Ramsey-led effort to oust justices (Associated Press)
Lawyers are fighting back against an effort by conservatives to oust three sitting justices on the state’s highest court. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville has been circulating a document that takes aim at Supreme Court Justices Cornelia Clark, Gary Wade and Sharon Lee. All three were appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, and all three are up for election on Aug. 7. The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1hgGZp8) reports that the Nashville Bar Association sent a resolution to members this week urging them to vote to keep the justices. In addition, the Tennessee Bar Association is asking members for the first time to rate the competency of the justices in a poll, and it plans to release the results in June.
Senate Republicans taking aim at state Supreme Court (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Inspired by the dismissal of a complaint lodged against state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, Republican state Senate leaders have gone beyond Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s call for voter rejection of Wade and two colleagues to urge slashing the court’s overall powers. But other state Republican leaders, notably including Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, have balked even at joining Ramsey’s crusade to have voters reject new terms for Supreme Court Justices Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Wade in an Aug. 7 retention election. The governor was asked last week whether his refusal to take a position on re-election of the three justices, all appointed by his Democratic predecessor, puts him on a collision course with Ramsey.
House 74 candidates focus on infrastructure, growth and education (L-C)
Two Republicans will face each other in the Aug. 7 state primary election for the right to oppose longtime Democratic incumbent John Tidwell in November for the Tennessee House District 74 seat. Both Jay Reedy and Keith Svadba are military veterans with a focus on infrastructure, economic growth and lessening the impact of federal regulations, particularly in the area of education. District 74 encompasses Houston, Humphreys and western Montgomery County. Reed Jay Reedy, a 25-year resident of Tennessee and a member of the Erin Church of Christ, has served in the U.S. Army and as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.
TN exoneration joins growing number of innocence cases (Tennessean/Haas)
Randall Mills didn’t rape that 12-year-old girl in March 1999. It’s a truth he bore for 11 years and three months in a Tennessee prison cell. Few believed him until DNA evidence in 2008 proved he didn’t sexually assault a preteen neighbor. It was three more years before he was released from prison — and even then he still faced being tried on the charges all over again. But on April 4, in light of the DNA evidence and a wavering victim, prosecutors in Marshall County finally dropped all charges. “You’re kidding me, man,” Mills recalled saying when he got the news. But he had never stopped trying to clear his name. “We kept on it,” he said last week. “I wasn’t about to give up on anything until I proved my innocence on it.”
Pests threaten to reshape forests across state (Tennessean/Brown)
Groves of ash trees lost to beetles. Stately alders under assault by moths. And fungus-like organisms attacking oaks. In the battle to halt the march of tree-killing pests across the country, it’s easy to get discouraged. Even so, researchers at the University of Tennessee and an environmental group warned in a recent report that without action, forests during the next few decades will fundamentally change as species die and take with them entire ecosystems. “The principal message is this is a disaster that we can counter if we choose to,” said Faith Campbell, a co-author of the report and researcher with The Nature Conservancy.
Jim Tracy holds edge over DesJarlais (Tennessean/Sisk)
Jim Tracy has run for Congress before and lost. He’s trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Given the baggage his opponent must bear, Tracy starts from a position of strength. But to win he’ll have to explain some of his state Senate votes to conservatives who dominate the 4th Congressional District. Political handicappers list U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, Tracy’s main opponent in the Aug. 7 Republican primary, as one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents. Since sweeping into office four years ago, the South Pittsburg physician has been hurt by revelations stemming from an ugly divorce and slowed by indifferent fundraising.
Lethal-Injection Drug Is Scrutinized (Wall Street Journal)
Anesthesiologists say midazolam works like a dream. A few milligrams of the sedative calms patients’ preoperative anxiety, while leaving them alert enough to talk with doctors and nurses before the more potent drugs kick in. Reviews of its newer role as part of states’ lethal-injection protocols aren’t as unanimous. The drug, made by several companies in the U.S., has come into the spotlight with April’s high-profile botched execution in Oklahoma, the first in that state to use midazolam. State officials injected Clayton Lockett, convicted of kidnapping and murdering a 19-year-old woman, with 100 milligrams of midazolam to render him unconscious. They then injected another drug to paralyze him and a third to stop his heart.