July 18 TN News Digest

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

Bivins takes oath as state Supreme Court justice (Tennessean/Walters)
Judge Jeffrey S. Bivins was sworn in Wednesday by Gov. Bill Haslam as the newest justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Bivins, a Franklin resident, took the oath during a standing-room-only ceremony at the Franklin Theatre in downtown Franklin. Bivins, 53, succeeds Justice William C. Koch Jr., who retired July 15 to become dean of the Nashville School of Law. Bivins’ judicial experience includes serving on the state Court of Criminal Appeals since 2011. He has also served as circuit court judge in the 21st Judicial District and assistant commissioner and general counsel in the state Department of Personnel.

State Officials Celebrate Widening Of Mack Hatcher Parkway (WTVF-TV Nashville)
State officials have celebrated the opening of the newly widened Mack Hatcher Parkway in Franklin. Governor Bill Haslam and State Transportation Commissioner John Schroer were among those on hand to cut the ribbon on Wednesday. The project, stretching from south of State Route 96 to State Route 6, was completed and opened to traffic in May. Since then, crews have been striping, landscaping, adding signage and other incidental work. Commissioner Schroer said he even felt the pain of most drivers who had to commute through during the construction. “This road’s important for a lot of things, but mainly for me because I drive it twice a day. And it’s really nice to have it open,” Schroer said with a laugh.

Improving education in Sumner unites 40 local leaders (Tennessean/Yankova)
With Sumner County ranking fifth for adults with post-secondary education in the Middle Tennessee region, leaders are looking for ways to encourage more people to earn their college degree. About 40 community leaders discussed on Thursday at the Gallatin City Hall how to improve postsecondary attainment rates as part of a regional effort that aligns with the Drive to 55 challenge. Spearheaded by Gov. Bill Haslam, the goal is that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a college degree or certificate by 2025 in order to meet industries’ increasing needs for a better trained workforce and ultimately improve residents’ earning potential while stirring economic prosperity.

Fewer Tennessee food stamp problems draws $5M bonus (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Tennessee’s food stamp program has gained national recognition and a federal funding bonus of about $5 million. A federal review found that Tennessee’s Department of Human Services had improved the management of its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more than any other state. Formerly known as food stamps, the SNAP program helps about 1.3 million low-income Tennesseans pay for groceries. The state agency said the award for its improvement is a first for Tennessee. The state’s procedural error rate, a measurement that captures customer service problems, has now fallen below the national average.

Health Department seeking input on health plan (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Department of Health is seeking public input on the State Health Plan. The plan is required by state law and acts as the health department’s guide for protecting, promoting and improving the health of people in Tennessee. It must be reviewed each year to address emerging health concerns and new resources and technologies. The department will hold nine workshops across the state to allow members of the public to help define objectives for their communities. The first workshop takes place on Tuesday in Memphis, and they continue at locations across the state through Aug. 25.

Verizon adding 300 jobs in Nashville area (Nashville Business Journal)
Verizon Wireless is looking to hire an additional 300 employees in the Nashville area, the company announced today. The company is seeking both call center representatives for its Murfreesboro and Franklin centers and retail and sales representatives for locations throughout the Nashville area, according to a news release. Verizon will hold a job fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 22 at Verizon’s retail store in Franklin, located at 1959 Mallory Lane. On July 24, a job fair will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. at Verizon’s Franklin call center, located at 455 Duke Drive.

Volkswagen Chattanooga R&D center to focus on design, technology (TFP/Pare)
A 300-acre tract of land next to Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant will play a key role as the company prepares to launch the German automaker’s first research and development facility of its kind on American soil. Innovation is the goal as VW moves forward with plans to build a new sport utility vehicle here, and that will apply even to suppliers for which the site has been set aside. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said VW wants to attract suppliers that will support its research and development activities, and work to improve the parts that will go into the SUV and other vehicles.

Unemployment ticks up in Tennessee while U.S. rate improves (N. Biz Journal)
The state’s unemployment rate moved in the wrong direction in June, increasing from May’s revised rate of 6.4 percent to a preliminary rate of 6.6 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell from 6.3 percent in May to 6.1 percent in June. Tennessee’s total nonfarm employment decreased by 2,600 jobs from May to June, with the biggest declines seen in the mining/logging/construction industries and government. Year to date, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has decreased from 8.4 percent to 6.6 percent. The national rate, meanwhile, has fallen from 7.5 percent to 6.1 percent.

Unemployment rises in June in Tennessee and Georgia (TFP/Flessner)
Tennessee and Georgia lost a net 20,600 jobs last month, boosting the unemployment rate in both states above the national average. The jobless rate during June rose by two-tenths of a percent in Tennessee to 6.6 percent and increased by two-tenths of a percent in Georgia to 7.4 percent In contrast to the job losses in Tennessee and Georgia, U.S. employers added 288,000 jobs during June to cut the national jobless rate to 6.1 percent — the lowest rate since September 2008. “The U.S. as a whole has now gained back all of the jobs lost during the recession, but we’re still not back to where we once were in Tennessee,” said Matt Murray, associate director at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

Tennessee Unemployment Rate Sees Increase (WTVF-TV Nashville)
The number of unemployed workers in Tennessee increased during the month of June, according to a new report. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday that 6.6 percent of Tennesseans were unemployed — two tenths of one percentage point higher than in May. Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate had decreased from 8.4 percent to 6.6 percent, while the national rate decreased from 7.5 percent to 6.1 percent. Officials said the U.S. preliminary rate for June was at 6.1 percent.

MTSU adds vice provost to focus on retention, graduation (Nashville Post)
Middle Tennessee State University has created a new vice provost position focused on student retention and success and recruited a University of Central Missouri executive to fill it. Rick Sluder will start work in Murfreesboro on Sept. 15 and be a key part of Quest for Student Success, MTSU officials’ push to lift their graduation rate by at least 10 points to 62 percent in the next six years. Sluder has been at Central Missouri since 1992 and has worked as vice provost for recruitment and outreach since late 2010. Before that, he was dean of the school’s College of Health and Human Services and a professor of criminal justice.

Tennessee board: Nurse beat quadriplegic patient (Tennessean/Wilemon)
The Tennessee Board of Nursing in an emergency action has suspended the license of a home health nurse who continued working after being indicted on charges of beating a semi-comatose quadriplegic patient. Dwight Cullen of Gallatin was working for Maxim Healthcare when the board took the action last month, according to the suspension order. The company said it did not know about the indictment when he was hired. Cullen’s name was not on the Tennessee Department of Health Abuse Registry, a database that allows people to check the backgrounds of health providers, as of Thursday afternoon.

Grundy Co. inmates moved after two shocked, triggering inspection (TFP/Benton)
Grundy County officials say moving inmates out of the county’s 1970s-era jail while electrical repairs are made is faster, safer and more cost effective than leaving them there. County Mayor Lonnie Cleek said the electrical contractor needs unfettered access to the jail building and to be able to turn off the power as needed while making the repairs, required after a state inspection found problems that needed to be fixed immediately. Inmates were moved to jails in other counties for the time being, Cleek said. Megan Buell, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, said Thursday that a fire and electrical inspection was performed after a couple of inmates received electric shocks because of electrical problems.

Tipton Co. woman charged with TennCare drug fraud (Jackson Sun)
A Tipton County woman is charged with TennCare fraud for obtaining the anti-anxiety medication Alprazolam with TennCare benefits and selling a portion of the drug. The Office of Inspector General announced the arrest of Sonya Marie Hill, 32, of Covington, after a joint investigation with the Covington Police Department. Hill was served on the charge while she was being arraigned in a Tipton County Criminal Court on charges related to this case. “We are working with municipal and county police officers across the state, as they often discover a TennCare element during local drug investigations,” said Acting Inspector General Robert White.

Disclosures spark criticism in Tennessee state House District 22 race (TFP/Leach)
J. Adam Lowe, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the state House District 22 seat, is criticizing the source of contributions to his opponent in the Aug. 7 primary, Dan Howell. Second-quarter campaign finance reports released last week showed Lowe taking a 5-to-1 lead in itemized contributions and Howell taking out a significant loan. Lowe criticized Howell’s single largest contribution, comprising two $1,500 donations from Bruce and Wanda Anderson of Port Ludlow, Wash. The Andersons are denturists, who provide dentures and other dental appliances direct to the public.

Sides gear up for November abortion battle vote in Tennessee (TFP/Sher)
Voters won’t decide this issue until November, but the fundraising, education and organizational battle is already in full swing over a proposed Tennessee constitutional amendment granting state lawmakers more power over abortion. Abortion opponents began working in November and report they are about a quarter of the way toward their $2.1 million goal to support Amendment 1. They had raised $518,000 as of June 30, state campaign finance disclosures show. Supporters of abortion rights, meanwhile, who began a little later, have raised a little over $360,000 toward their $4 million goal, according to their state disclosure report.

New map says Tennessee in top 16 for earthquake activity (WKRN-TV Nashville)
The U.S. Geological Survey released a new earthquake hazard map on Thursday, which included Tennessee in the top 16 states most likely to experience a rumble. The USGS said “While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 out of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years.” Other states that are said to be more susceptible to earthquakes are California, Hawaii, Arkansas and Kentucky. However, the majority of the states affected by earthquakes are on the west coast.

Blackburn claims ‘state’s rights’ in fight over community Internet providers (NBJ)
Marsha Blackburn (R – Brentwood) introduced legislation this week that would bar the Federal Communications Commission from using its powers to help community-owned Internet service providers compete against private companies. On her Twitter feed, Blackburn referred to it as a “state’s rights” issue. The House approved the proposal Wednesday in a 223 – 200 vote, which mostly broke along party lines — 221 Republicans voted in favor of the proposal, along with two Democrats, while 196 Democrats and four Republicans opposed.

Rep. Jim Cooper avoids the partisan extremes (Tennessean/Barton)
Much of what goes on in Congress appalls Rep. Jim Cooper. When the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing in November 2013 on the rollout of health care reform, Cooper, D-Nashville, felt Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, committee chairman, ran it in a hyper-partisan fashion. Issa used more than the customary five minutes to ask his opening questions, and then cut off the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, for barely straying over that. He interrupted 12 members to launch into speeches and additional questions of his own.

Cohen, Democrats set sights on predatory lending (Memphis Business Journal)
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) and congressional Democrats are targeting predatory lenders with new legislation aimed at capping high fees and interest rates than can eclipse 300 percent. The Protecting Consumers from Unreasonable Credit Rates Act would would limit interest rates and fees at 36 percent for all consumer credit transactions, a rate cap that currently applies only for military personnel and their families. “Throughout my career, I have worked to shield people from those who would take advantage of them through predatory lending practices,” Cohen said.

Wilkins-Herenton tie remains strong (Commercial Appeal/Veazey)
At a Thursday afternoon news conference, as Ricky Wilkins recounted the qualities he said he learned from Willie Herenton, the former mayor hung his head and moved to the side. He took a seat for the remainder of Wilkins’ praise, which credited Herenton’s tenure as Memphis City Schools superintendent as a positive example for a young man growing up poor in South Memphis. Yes, Herenton was fighting back emotion. “It’s kind of like you’re reaching back, that you’ve been a true mentor, that all of your labors and all that you stand for have not been in vain,” Herenton said.

Finance problems dog Tennessee 3rd District Republicans (TFP/Brogdon)
Three weeks ahead of the Aug. 7 primary — and just before the start of early voting today — Tennessee 3rd Congressional District candidate Weston Wamp faces a federal complaint over his campaign finances. A Signal Mountain businessman said he filed a Federal Election Commission complaint on Thursday over pay Wamp has received from his employer during the campaign. Wamp, 27, is challenging two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the Republican primary. The winner will face Democrat Mary Headrick in November. Citing figures from Wamp’s personal financial disclosure, businessman Ralph Mann said Thursday he questioned Wamp’s employment status on the campaign trail.

 
OPINION

Greg Johnson: GOP team wins big with Volkswagen (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Alexander passes to Corker who heads it to Haslam who shoots and GOOOAAAAALLLLLL! Tennessee’s Republican triumvirate of Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam scored a winner in the World Cup of economic development when Volkswagen announced earlier this week it would produce a new SUV at its plant in Chattanooga. Tennesseans celebrated like Angela Merkel at Germany’s 1-0 victory over Argentina in the World Cup final earlier this month. While Germany’s Mario Goetze got the big goal, Tennessee’s score came from many players.