This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Editorial: A better attack on prescription drug abuse can help reduce problem (CA)
Drug abusers are stereotyped as hollow-eyed, physically wasted individuals, willing to do anything to get money for their next high, including stealing from family members. There is another side of the drug addiction narrative that hits most of us closer to home — the abuse of prescription pain relievers for nonmedical purposes. In recent years, the Tennessee legislature, encouraged by governors such as Bill Haslam, state medical and mental health officials and law enforcement officials, has passed laws making it more difficult to fraudulently obtain those drugs, but the problem persists.
Editorial: Federal panel report shows DCS is making real progress (Jackson Sun)
It is reassuring to learn that the federal panel charged with monitoring improvements in the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has found the department has made substantial progress under the leadership of Commissioner Jim Henry. While still not out of the woods, the panel reports that the department has flourished under Henry’s leadership. The department has been under federal supervision since 2001, following lawsuits filed against the state by a New York-based child advocacy group and a team of Tennessee attorneys on behalf of Tennessee’s foster children.
Local reaction to Haslam’s prescription drug abuse plan positive (Times-News)
A new plan to battle prescription drug abuse across the state of Tennessee was unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Bill Haslam. Reaction to the plan, which lists seven specific goals the state would like to see happen over the next four years, has been positive. “I’m glad the governor is making this a priority,” said Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus. “Tennessee has a pill problem and here in East Tennessee, it’s a real problem.” Prescription drug abuse in Tennessee has skyrocketed since 1998. A combination of new, powerful pain pills mixed with a push by physicians to treat pain have led to the problem.
Haslam talks about reducing income inequality through education (CA/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam joined a national Republican conversation about income inequality by saying the GOP shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist but should try to address it through education. His speech Tuesday to the conservative First Tuesday GOP luncheon club was the second time in four days he spoke to fellow Republicans about how the party is perceived. The first was at his re-election campaign kickoff Saturday when he sought to dispel the view that Republicans “don’t believe in government,” a theme he repeated Tuesday.
Haslam to Republicans: Don’t ignore ‘income inequality’ (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Gov. Bill Haslam is telling Republicans they should be concerned about income inequality, drawing both commendation and criticism from Democrats. In a speech to First Tuesday, a Nashville Republican group, Haslam said that “growing income inequality” is becoming a political topic across the country. ”My point would be, that’s a reality and as Republicans we shouldn’t be denying that,” he said. “We shouldn’t being saying, ‘Oh, no, no, no, that’s just something the liberals are making up to make wealthy people seem and feel bad’. It’s hard to argue with the fact of growing income inequality.
Haslam: Union not part of VW talks; governor very hopeful about SUV (TFP/Pare)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that the union issue isn’t part of talks the state is having with Volks-wagen to attract a new sport utility vehicle to the carmaker’s Chattanooga assembly plant. “We’re not discussing that issue at all,” he said. “It’s definitely not part of our discussions.” Haslam said in Chattanooga that he’s “very hopeful” about negotiations with VW to grow its factory production in the city. “We’re having conversations that both sides are very engaged in and are very substantive,” he said. The governor made his remarks after speaking at Chattanooga State Community College about the new Tennessee Promise legislation that pledges free tuition to high school graduates at the state’s community colleges and technical schools.
Report: Children’s Services Rebounding Under New Leadership (Associated Press)
An expert panel tasked with monitoring the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency has flourished under new leadership. According to The Tennessean, the report by the federal monitors credits new top leaders for getting the state’s foster care system “back on track.” Jim Henry became DCS Commissioner after Kate O’Day resigned early last year following a public outcry over problems that included not knowing how many of the children the agency was supposed to be helping had died. DCS has been under federal supervision since 2001, when the court found serious problems with its treatment of foster care children.
Tennessee warns of crack down on employer fraud (Nashville Business Journal)
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce development is cracking down on employees that try to avoid paying workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance tax premiums. According to a news release, the department’s Workers’ Compensation Division has launched new procedures to “identify employers who engage in payroll fraud such as intentionally misclassifying workers as independent contractors, failing to report all wages paid, misrepresenting the kind of work performed, or paying workers ‘under the table.'”
State targeting construction firm fraud (Associated Press)
State officials say the Department of Labor has been expanding efforts to uncover employer fraud within the construction industry. The efforts will help identify employers who are paying workers under the table, intentionally misclassifying workers as independent contractors and who are failing to report all wages paid. The state Department of Labor & Workforce Development said a Nashville drywall firm accused of lying to an insurance company about how many employees were on its payroll was first to pay $300,000 in a settlement.
TDEC clears permits for Greene County ammonium nitrate plant (N-S/Willett)
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has issued permits needed to operate an ammonium nitrate plant under construction in Greene County. On Tuesday, TDEC issued air and water permits to U.S. Nitrogen. The permits that were issued are designed to be protective of both human health and the environment, said TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman. The permits, which allow U.S. Nitrogen to take water from the Nolichucky River and to discharge treated water back into the river, drew opposition from local environmentalists and representatives of the Sierra Club who say TDEC rushed to approve the permits just days after a public comment period closed May 31.
Drivers Reminded To Use Caution In TDOT Construction Zones (WTVF-TV Nash)
Pick an interstate across Tennessee and it won’t be long before you see orange barrels, construction equipment and traffic coming to a crawl. “You have to remember that construction is a year round business, but certainly as people want to take advantage of the summer months, so do we,” TDOT Spokesperson Heather Jensen said. The widening of Interstate 65 at Trinity Lane in Nashville is half way done. Traffic has been shifted from four lanes to three to accommodate construction. “We want to get as much work done as possible,” Jensen said.
Election commission receives petitions for wine in grocery stores (WBIR-TV Knox)
The Knox County Election Office says it has received several petitions pushing for wine sales in grocery stores. Signatures on the petition will determine if voters in Knoxville, Knox County, and Farragut will vote on whether to allow wine sales this November. Election administrator Cliff Rodgers says his office will start counting and verifying the signatures later in the summer. To get the measure on the ballot, Farragut needs close to 800 signatures, Knoxville needs nearly 3,400 and Knox County needs more than 6,000. Rodgers says we likely won’t know if the wine referendum will be on the ballot until late August.
No more racing to the courthouse (Nashville Business Journal)
Sweeping reform to Tennessee’s workers’ compensation process goes into effect next month. On the legal side, there are two major changes employers can expect from the overhaul to the system, Stuart Scott, an attorney with Dickinson Wright in Nashville, says. The first: the process is getting streamlined into one system. Tennessee currently is one of a handful of states that handles workers’ compensation issues is two different silos – an administrative system and regular trial courts.
Report: Nashville among the country’s most affordable cities (N. Biz Journal)
Nashville came in at No. 18 in a recent study of the most affordable cities in the country. The list, collected by personal finance site NerdWallet, compared cost of living indexes to the national average, factoring in housing, transportation and food costs, among other metrics. Cost of living in Nashville and Franklin, which were grouped together in the study, was 12.4 percent lower than the national average. Memphis ranked No. 4 on the NerdWallet list. Murfreesoro-Smyrna was No. 86. Harlingen, Texas, topped NerdWallet’s rankings, based on data from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index.
Blackburn: Deal puts ‘price on the head of our troops’ (Tennessean/Walters)
Rep. Marsha Blackburn has sharpened her criticism of the Obama administration and its secret deal to release Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees held by the U.S. Speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Rotary Club of Franklin on Wednesday at Vanderbilt Legends Club, Blackburn, R-TN, said the prisoner exchange endangers U.S. soldiers and civilians and hurts the country’s reputation. “Now you’ve accomplished two things: There’s a price on the head of our troops, of our foreign service officers, of American businessmen and women who are working around the globe, and our enemies think we’re open for business on prisoner swaps,” Blackburn said.
Demand for Skilled Workers Beginning to Percolate, Fed Survey Says (WSJ)
Rising demand for skilled workers could push up salaries across more sectors of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest survey of regional economic conditions. Hiring activity in general was “steady to stronger” across the U.S. from April through late May, according to the Fed’s “beige book,” based on anecdotal information about economic activity throughout the central bank’s 12 districts. Overall, the report pointed to an economy that was improving from its weak performance earlier this year, boosted largely by stronger consumer spending and job growth.
Open Data Is Open for Business (Stateline)
Last month, web designer Sean Wittmeyer and colleague Wojciech Magda walked away with a $25,000 prize from the state of Colorado for designing an online tool to help businesses decide where to locate in the state. The tool, called “Beagle Score,” is a widget that can be embedded in online commercial real estate listings. It can rate a location by taxes and incentives, zoning, even the location of possible competitors – all derived from about 30 data sets posted publicly by the state of Colorado and its municipalities.
Study findings: TVA should not be sold (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Selling TVA wouldn’t yield much for American taxpayers, but it could prove costly for Tennessee Valley residents and the region’s economy and environment, according to an outside financial review of America’s biggest government utility. In $1 million study prepared for White House budget planners, Lazard Freres & Co. said if TVA had to earn the financial returns of private utilities, electricity rates would jump by 13 percent. At the same time, dismantling its power and nonpower programs could hurt TVA’s recreation, economic development and environmental programs.
Van Hilleary honorary chairman of Jim Tracy campaign for Congress (TFP/Sher)
Former Congressman Van Hilleary will be Republican Jim Tracy’s honorary campaign chairman in Tracy’s 4th Congressional District GOP primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Tracy is expected to name Hilleary, a native of Rhea County, to the post today at 10 a.m. on the steps of the Rhea County Courthouse. “I’ve known Jim and his wife Trena for many years, and have always been impressed with their integrity, their friendly and approachable nature, and their sincerely held conservative values,” Hilleary said in a statement.
Scott County officials hope adventure tourism will help economy (WATE-TV)
A county burdened for years with high unemployment rates may have finally found a way to help. Scott County has had the highest unemployment rate in the state for the past several years. Recent numbers show it just above 13 percent, but county leaders say they have a plan to shrink that number called “adventure tourism.” “There are a lot of different things, a lot of different outdoors activities that fall under the umbrella of adventure tourism and we’ve got most of those here between the Big South Fork and the Cumberland Mountains,” said Ben Garrett with the Scott County Tourism Committee.
Editorial: ‘Standards’ for testing not always clear-cut (Daily News Journal)
At the foundation of instruction for special-education students is an individualized education program, so the notion of a “standardized” test for special-needs students seems, at best, incongruous. Literature about development of these IEPs includes terms such as “unique needs,” which is totally at odds with the notion of “standardized.” A “standardized” test as part of an “individualized education program” seems to be something of an oxymoron — contradictory on its face. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities: “The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities.”
Frank Cagle: New Team Needed (Metro Pulse)
There comes a time when a college athletics director has to decide to change coaches. The fans and the boosters—the stakeholders if you will—decide that the current coach can’t get it done and for the good of the program a change has to be made. It’s often a difficult choice. Gov. Bill Haslam ought to talk with his father about a situation like that. Big Jim has certainly been faced with helping make these tough decisions at UT over the years. What the governor has to decide is whether, for the sake of his education reform program, he needs to find someone other than Kevin Huffman to carry the ball.
Columnist: Criminalizing drug-addicted pregnant women is the wrong call (Nooga)
Next month, Tennessee Senate bill 1391 will come into effect, criminalizing the mothers of infants who are born addicted to narcotic drugs or harmed because of their mother’s drug use. Tennessee has a well-known problem with prescription pain pills: —We rank second in the nation for per capita opioid use. —We also have the third-highest infant mortality rate in the country. —Last year, 921 babies in Tennessee were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is a group of health issues in infants who have been exposed to addictive narcotics or alcohol in the womb.