August 27 TN News Digest

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

GM likely to announce SUVs, jobs at Tenn. Plant (Associated Press)
General Motors and government officials are expected to announce new vehicles and jobs Wednesday at a sprawling factory complex in Spring Hill, Tennessee. An announcement is scheduled for Wednesday morning at the plant, which is likely to get new Cadillac and GMC crossover SUVs in addition to its current product, the Chevrolet Equinox. Neither GM nor Gov. Bill Haslam’s office would comment ahead of the announcement, but the state said in a July 11 news release that a nearby company was expanding to make parts for new GMC and Cadillac vehicles at Spring Hill. ABC Group plans to invest $25.5 million in its Gallatin, Tennessee, plant, adding 180,000 square feet and creating 230 jobs.

GM to announce Cadillac crossover headed to Spring Hill (Tennessean/Williams)
The next-generation Cadillac SRX likely will be produced at the GM plant in Spring Hill, and news about a new GMC vehicle to be assembled at the plant also could be included in Wednesday morning’s press conference at the facility. If both vehicles are assembled in Spring Hill, it means 1,800 jobs for the plant, and would follow through on a deal the automaker made with the United Auto Workers union in 2011. Numerous industry sources and a previous announcement from the Tennessee Department of Economic aand Community Development have confirmed that the plant will get new Cadillac and GMC vehicles to assemble, in addition to its current product, the Chevrolet Equinox.

More jobs coming to Upper Cumberland (Herald-Citizen)
Governor Bill Haslam made his second trip in a month to the Upper Cumberland region Monday afternoon, bringing some good news with him. Governor Haslam visited the TTI Floor Care (Oreck) facility to anounce the company’s intent in expanding the workforce there. “When governors come to town, it’s usually a pretty good thing,” George Halford, president/CEO of the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, said, as he introduced the governor during yesterday’s ceremony. Governor Haslam noted that there’s a momentum in the Upper Cumberland that is a really good thing, not only for this area but for the entire state.

Haslam names 23 Nashville-area residents to state boards (Nashville Post)
Of the nearly 120 people Gov. Bill Haslam named to various state agencies and commissions this week, nearly two dozen of them hail from in or around Nashville. The governor’s office announced his picks for 52 boards and commissions ranging from well-known panels like the State Board of Education and the Commission on Children and Youth to lesser known groups like the Great War Commission and the Private Investigation and Polygraph Commission. Counted among the Nashville-area appointees is Wendy Tucker, a former advisor to Mayor Karl Dean and past attorney in the Davidson County Public Defender’s Office.

Nineteen Shelby County residents among Haslam’s appointees (CA/Veazey)
Nineteen Shelby County residents are among the 118 Tennesseans Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced Monday are being appointed to 52 state boards and commissions. The local residents: — Beverly Bond, Memphis, Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board — Beth Buttrey, Memphis, Board of Physical Therapy — Scott Cockroft, Memphis, Board for Licensing Alarm Systems Contractors — Greg DeCrow, Bartlett, Board of Dispensing Opticians — Bobby Finger, Memphis, State Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners — Andre Fowlkes, Memphis, State Workforce Development Board.

Haslam makes appointment to boards, commissions (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday the appointments of 118 Tennesseans to 52 boards and commissions, including several from Rutherford County. “I am honored to make these appointments, and I appreciate these men and women who are so willing to serve in this capacity,” Haslam said. “Tennessee will be well-represented on these boards and commissions.” The governor continues to evaluate the state’s complete range of boards and commissions to identify potential reforms that might be made to ensure Tennesseans have a government that is responsive, effective and efficient.

Haslam’s sentencing reforms committee is short on defense attorneys (CA/Bryson)
Gov. Bill Haslam, in keeping with a burgeoning national trend toward criminal justice reform, appointed a task force this month to evaluate the state’s prison sentencing practices. But the notable lack of criminal defense attorneys in a group largely comprised of law enforcement and prosecutors has left some local attorneys with doubts about the intended efficacy of the group. In his Aug. 14 statement, Haslam said the group would be tasked with examining the state’s more than 20-year-old sentencing structure and making recommendations about eliminating inconsistencies or discrepancies “that compromise public safety” by June 2015.

Happy birthday, Imagination Library! (WCYB-TV Johnson City)
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is celebrating 10 years of operation. The Imagination Library is a special program designed to give children a head start. Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam is joining the celebration tour that kicked off in Johnson County today. The Imagination Library bus was also there and it was filled with special guests and surprises for the kids. A parade will be held in Elizabethon tomorrow at 9:30 in the morning with a birthday party to follow. Imagination Library provides free books for children enrolled in the program from birth to 5 years old.

TennCare computer system delays detailed (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)
Just days before TennCare leaders head to court over accusations that state failures have created months-long delays in coverage, the agency’s director faced questions from lawmakers about the unfinished computer system that led to those delays. TennCare Director Darin Gordon told lawmakers Tuesday that nearly a year after the new state’s new Medicaid eligibility system was supposed to be completed, the contractors building the system have not finished even the first of four testing phases. The unfinished system, called the “Tennessee Eligibility Determination System,” or TEDS, was supposed to begin handling Tennesseans’ Medicaid enrollment last October under the Affordable Care Act.

Sevier County man charged with TennCare fraud for third time (WATE-TV Knox)
A Sevier County man has been charged for the third time with doctor shopping for controlled substances, using TennCare insurance benefits as payment. According to the Office of Inspector General, a Sevier County grand jury charged Clark Michael Shelton, 37, of Kodak, with four counts of doctor shopping for controlled substances. He was also charged with three counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Shelton was arrested earlier this month on an indictment from Greene County where he is charged with six counts of doctor shopping for the pain killer Lortab and six counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

Applications being taken for judicial vacancy (Associated Press)
The appointment of Judge Timothy Easter to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has created a vacancy for a circuit court judge in Middle Tennessee. The position is in the 21st Judicial District, which serves Hickman, Lewis, Perry and Williamson counties. Licensed attorneys at least 30 years of age who have resided in Tennessee for five years and reside in the 21st Judicial District may apply to the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments. The application is available at http://www.tncourts.gov . It must be submitted to the Administrative Office of the Courts by noon Sept. 16.

Rep. Rick Womick calls Gov. Bill Haslam ‘traitor’ to GOP (A. Press/Schelzig)
A Republican state lawmaker Tuesday called Gov. Bill Haslam a “traitor to the party” over what he called efforts by a political action committee run by supporters to defeat opponents of Common Core education standards. State Rep. Rick Womick of Murfreesboro said in a phone interview that he stands by a letter sent to the governor’s office last week taking issue with what he perceived as Haslam trying to do away with opponents in the legislature and on the state Republican Party’s executive committee. “You had the head of our party targeting individual members because we don’t agree with him 100 percent of the time, that’s treason,” Womick said. “That’s a traitor to the party.”

Memphis will hold vote on wine sales in food stores (Commercial Appeal/Veazey)
Memphis voters will have the opportunity to approve or deny wine sales in food stores on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The Shelby County Election Commission confirmed Tuesday that a petition drive in Memphis reached the required number of signatures — 13,372 — for a place on the ballot. The SCEC confirmed last week that petition drives had reached the threshold in suburban locations, but petitions in Memphis, with higher signature counts, took longer for SCEC employees to verify. The law the Tennessee General Assembly passed this spring allowing such referendums specified that jurisdictions must collect signatures from registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of the votes cast in that jurisdiction in the most recent gubernatorial election, Bill Haslam’s 2010 win.

Memphis’ ballot will include wine sales vote (Memphis Business Journal)
Memphians will have a say this November about whether the city’s grocery stores will be able to sell wine beginning in 2016. The Shelby County Election Commission has verified enough wine-in-grocery-stores petition signatures (13,372) to put a referendum on Memphis’ ballot this November. Shelby County’s other cities were already verified The unincorporated areas will be the only parts of the county without a vote on the ballot. To get the votes, communities that already allow liquor-by-the-drink, liquor stores or both had to submit at least as many signatures as 10 percent of their residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Wine Referendum Makes Memphis Ballot (Memphis Daily News)
Voters in unincorporated Shelby County will not be voting on wine in grocery stores on the Nov. 4 ballot. But voters in Memphis and the six suburban towns and cities will. The Shelby County Election Commission completed its count Tuesday, Aug. 26, of signatures on the referendum petitions in each of the areas. To go on the ballot, each area had to have the signatures of 10 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last general election for governor. The petitions were turned in by a Thursday afternoon deadline and the Election Commission has been verifying the thousands of signatures to make sure they are voters and that they live in the specific area they signed a petition for.

Two towns to decide on wine in grocery stores (Ashland City Times)
Ashland City and Pleasant View voters in November will get to decide if their grocery stores can stock wine. The two Cheatham County towns will have the wine in grocery store referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot, according to Cheatham County administrator of elections Sandy Cherry. The Red, White and Foods organization worked on collecting the required signatures to get the issue on the ballot in Ashland City, Pleasant View and Kingston Springs. To get the wine referendum on the ballot, eligible communities — those that already allow liquor-by-the-drink, liquor stores or both — had to submit petitions to the local election commission with at least as many signatures as would equal 10 percent of their residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Roe discusses Veterans Administration reform with local veterans group (T-N)
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe briefed a veterans group on Veterans Administration reform at a breakfast event and later was recognized for his pro-business votes at a separate Kingsport Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday. Congress moved quickly last spring to revamp the VA after finding out veterans weren’t getting appointments or care at a Phoenix, Ariz.., VA facility. The Department of Veterans Affairs said this week investigators found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at the Phoenix VA hospital despite other reports noting as many as 40 veterans died.

Corker ranks as 22nd wealthiest in Congress (Daily News Journal)
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee held assets in 2013 worth between $19.02 million and $89.7 million, based on a Senate financial disclosure form filed this month. That compares with the $18.67 million to $91.55 million disclosed on his 2012 form. Corker’s 2013 wealth was spread over 38 different assets, including ones held by his wife, Elizabeth. Like U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, the senator is annually listed as one of the wealthiest members of Congress. Based on his 2012 form, Congressional Quarterly listed Corker as the 22nd wealthiest out of the 535 lawmakers in the Senate and House. The Center for Responsive Politics estimated his net worth at $49.11 million based on his 2012 form.

Tracy backs DesJarlais in Nov. 4 election (Daily News Journal)
Jim Tracy backs U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais after losing to the incumbent by 38 votes in the Aug. 7 Republican primary, Tracy’s Campaign Manager Stephanie Jarnagin said. A state senator from Shelbyville, Tracy on Monday issued a long statement to explain that he was conceding the primary to DesJarlais, a physician from South Pittsburg, despite having questions about whether all voters had the chance to participate. The statement never mentioned endorsing DesJarlais the way fellow Republican opponent Steve Lane of Murfreesboro has.

Obama Tells Veterans He Will Fix Health System, as New Report Lists Lapses (NYT)
President Obama on Tuesday promised several thousand military veterans that he would fulfill his “sacred trust” to those returning from America’s wars by overhauling a dysfunctional health care system, even as a new report documented “unacceptable and troubling lapses” in medical treatment. Addressing the American Legion’s national convention three months after a scandal rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs and forced the resignation of the agency’s leader, Mr. Obama said he had “made real progress” in improving services and getting patients off waiting lists.

Small Firms Slow to Embrace ACA Business Exchanges (Stateline)
Unhappy with the choices her insurance broker was offering, Denver publishing company owner Rebecca Askew went to Colorado’s small business health insurance exchange last fall. She found exactly what she’d been hoping for: affordable insurance options tailored to the diverse needs of her 12 employees. But Askew is in a tiny minority. Only 2 percent of all eligible businesses have checked out so-called SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) exchanges in the 15 states where they have been available since last October under the Affordable Care Act. Even fewer purchased policies.

NRC approves waste storage to allow TVA to proceed with Watts Bar (TFP/Flessner)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a plan Tuesday to allow nuclear wastes to be stored on site at nuclear plants, ending a two-year suspension of new plant licenses over waste concerns and clearing the way for the Tennessee Valley Authority to add another reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. The NRC vote on the controversial rules for radioactive waste disposal came in response to a 2012 federal court ruling that struck down the previous nuclear waste approach. The court ordered the NRC to re-evaluate its waste rules after the Obama administration in 2010 quit building a permanent storage repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada that was supposed to handle nuclear wastes from U.S. reactors.

Chattanooga VW workers seek their own union (Times Free-Press/Pare)
Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant could become ground zero again for U.S. organized labor efforts as a group of anti-United Auto Workers employees moves ahead with its own unionizing initiative. “It’s totally legal,” said VW employee Mike Burton, an anti-UAW leader at the plant. He said the group hopes to gather enough signatures to have an election for the American Council of Employees. It would counter UAW Local 42, which the Detroit-based union set up in June with hopes of gaining enough members that VW will recognize it. The ACE website said its group is in a hurry because it believes VW will announce as early as today that it will give office space to Local 42 in the plant.

Non-UAW-affiliated union starting up at Tennessee Volkswagen plant (MBJ)
After months of national attention regarding the drive to unionization by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union at the Volkswagen manufacturing facility in Chattanooga seemed to have died down, another group of employees are forming another union that will include hourly and salaried workers. According to Reuters , Mike Burton, who worked to defeat the UAW’s effort six months ago is now leading the effort to form a new union he calls the American Council of Employees. Burton told Reuters he hopes that the American Council of Employees can force another vote to determine which union the hourly employees favor.

 
OPINION

Editorial: Knox must tend to poor, minority, disabled students (News-Sentinel)
Knox County Schools is rightly proud of its five “reward” schools, named last week for the progress or performance their students demonstrated during the 2013-14 school year. Farragut High School was doubly successful, scoring in the top 5 percent of schools in the state in both performance and progress. The feat was remarkable given that the school did the same last year, showing that an already excellent school still can make great strides forward. Two other schools scored in the top 5 percent in performance just as they did last year: L&N STEM Academy and Sequoyah Elementary School. Rocky Hill Elementary also reached that lofty height this year. Powell Middle School rounded out the reward schools by scoring in the top 5 percent in year-over-year progress.