April 6 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to promote free-tuition plan for Tennessee adults (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam will travel across the state this week to highlight an initiative for adults to attend a Tennessee college of applied technology free of tuition and fees. Tennessee Reconnect is a last-dollar scholarship program that was part of Haslam’s Tennessee Promise legislation passed last year. It also ties in with Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 in order to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

Reconnect offers tuition-free training for new jobs (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Four days a week, Clint Kauffman goes to the technical college on White Bridge Road, puts on his safety glasses and gets to work. He spends hours in the machine shop, learning to make tools that are used to mass produce everything from cutlery to washing machines. Kauffman, 47, hopes the hands-on experience at Tennessee College of Applied Technology Nashville will qualify him for high-paying manufacturing jobs after he graduates from the machine tool program next year.

Advanced industries present local opportunity (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Rogers)
East Tennessee’s economy is positioned to grow like it’s never grown before. The Brookings Institution is writing a lot these days about advanced industries — those that invest heavily in R&D and whose workforces rely on highly educated workers. They’ve identified 50 such industries nationally, which combined employ 80 percent of the nation’s engineers, generate 85 percent of all U.S. patents, and support 39 million jobs — nearly a quarter of the U.S. total…. Second, our region is making commitments to ensure we have highly skilled workers to support our innovation cluster.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation offers free training (Times Free-Press)
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is taking applications for two training academies. The Criminal Justice Academy is a one-week event geared toward college juniors and seniors interested in careers in criminal justice or forensic science. Students will have the chance to process mock crime scenes and participate in mock court scenarios. The academy is offered at no cost to those who are accepted. Applications will be accepted until April 30.

Bill would restrict teachers’ political speech (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada has advanced — over Democratic objections — a bill penalizing teachers for on-the-job political activity while running into bipartisan opposition in an attempt to change state law on teacher donations to political action committees. In the face of misgivings voiced by fellow Republicans, Casada has also abandoned for the year a bill that a Democrat depicted as a “setup” for stopping federal funding of prekindergarten programs in Nashville and Memphis.

Why can’t you understand the guns-in-parks bill? (Tennessean/Boucher)
Tennessee Republicans say that the guns-in-parks bill — or rather, that permitted-guns-in-parks bill — is simple. If it becomes law, anyone who has a legal permit to carry a gun could take that gun into a park, regardless of whether there’s a local ban on guns in parks. At least, that’s what House Republican leaders told reporters this week. “I would only submit that those who want it to be confusing say it’s confusing,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin. “I think the average public — good gracious if Glen Casada can understand this, surely to goodness everybody else can.”

Top Republicans Say They’ll Oppose Proposal To Let Guns Into Capitol (WPLN)
Republican leaders in the Tennessee House of Representatives say they’ll try to stop an effort to let gun owners take their weapons into the state Capitol. The proposal is attached to a bill House lawmakers will take up tonight that opens all parks in Tennessee to guns. The House already passed House Bill 995 once last Monday, but afterward Democrats managed to convince the state Senate to add the Capitol and surrounding buildings to the list of places where guns would be allowed. House Speaker Beth Harwell says the amendment was tacked onto the bill at the last minute to sink it. “Obviously it was not offered in a constructive fashion,” she said.

Insure Tennessee advocates not ready to give up (News-Sentinel/Vines)
The Tennessee Justice Center, a Nashville-based civil justice advocacy group that supports Insure Tennessee, is now focusing attention on trying to get the speakers of the state House and Senate to take action to help 280,000 uninsured Tennesseeans get federally subsidized health coverage. The center is asking House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, to bring the issue to a floor vote by all members of their respective houses. “Every Tennessean deserves to have his or her elected representatives’ votes counted on this issue,” said Michele Johnson, the center’s executive director.

Medical marijuana moves through House (Jackson Sun)
Chloe Lea was born in October 2011, and when she was 8 days old she was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that dealt with the development of her brain. She had intractable seizures, hundreds of them on a given day. Chloe’s mother, Peden Lea from Memphis, did everything in her power, visited every doctor she could and tried every medication she could — over 20 different kinds to stop the seizures. It wasn’t enough. Chloe died last December, just a couple of months after her 3rd birthday. Now there is a Republican-sponsored bill going through the state House that supporters say might have helped Chloe.

Senator: Congressional oversight needed on Iran nuke deal (AP/Lardner)
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says Congress will exercise its “rightful role” to scrutinize and approve any agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions. “It’s very important that Congress is in the middle of this, understanding, teasing out, asking those important questions,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Sunday. Negotiators announced Thursday a framework deal for a nuclear agreement with Iran, which would be finalized by June 30. Corker’s position gives him an influential voice in the debate. He’s using it to attract bipartisan support for his bill to ensure that Congress debates and signs off on any pact.

US Sen. Bob Corker making 9-stop tour of Tennessee this week (Associated Press)
Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is making a nine-stop tour of Tennessee this week to discuss the nation’s fiscal and foreign policy challenges. Corker is a former Chattanooga mayor who is now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The tour begins Tuesday in Alcoa, Dandridge and Johnson City. On Wednesday, Corker will speak in Kingsport and Knoxville, followed by Thursday events in Chattanooga and Sewanee. On Friday, Corker begins his day in Gallatin before heading to Nashville to make opening remarks to the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting More than 75,000 people are expected to attend the NRA event being held at Nashville’s new convention center.

TN senators back Obama on fast-track trade authority (News-Sentinel/Collins)
Seldom do you see the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress on the same page. But international trade apparently bridges the partisan divide. The Obama administration is pushing hard for Congress to approve a trade promotion bill that would allow for fast-track approval of trade agreements with other countries. The White House says fast-track is crucial to completing new trade agreements with Pacific nations and the European Union that will open up markets for billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. goods. For once, many congressional Republicans agree.

National Weather Service aims to make storm warnings more precise (AP)
As tornado season begins in the Tennessee Valley, the National Weather Service is implementing a warning system designed to give more specific information on approaching storms. Piloted last year in the Midwest, the Huntsville weather office is adding “impact-based warnings” to its storm notifications. Meteorologist Stephen Latimer said the warnings will describe whether a tornado is damaging or deadly. “We’re trying to make it easier for folks to know what to expect in terms of impact,” Latimer said. “We will still use the polygram on our maps to show the potential impact areas.”

TVA may import wind power from Texas, Oklahoma (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
The developers of one of America’s biggest wind power transmission lines hope to bring wind energy from Oklahoma and Texas to the Tennessee Valley over a 700-mile transmission line. Developers have spent the past six years planning and trying to get regulatory approval for the $2 billion project, but it’s expected to take at least another three or four years to get approval and for construction. And it may be another decade before the Tennessee Valley Authority buys the wind-generated power. TVA’s draft Integrated Resource Plan for the next 20 years states that under most scenarios TVA would benefit by importing 1,750 megawatts of wind power from Texas and Oklahoma, or half of the power that Clean Line Energy LLC wants to bring to the Tennessee Valley.

Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant expansion gets supersized (TFP/Pare)
Volkswagen’s ongoing expansion of its Chattanooga plant appears ready to get even bigger. City documents show VW plans to add another 130,153 square feet to the factory expansion that began in January as the car maker supersizes its body shop. The increase boosts the size of the originally planned plant expansion by about 25 percent, costing nearly $18 million more. VW plant spokesman Scott Wilson said the company has chosen “to exercise the financially responsible option to increase the size of the body shop expansion now to accommodate current and future production needs.”

NRA to bring guns, politics and over 70,000 visitors (Tennessean/Buie)
Likely the most well-known and influential defender of Second Amendment rights will hold its national convention in Nashville next weekend, bringing with it tens of thousands of gun enthusiasts, presidential hopefuls and a short boom for local tourism. Planners expect the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting & Exhibits, which will last Friday through Sunday, to draw more than 70,000 people, which compares with 80,000 music fans a day expected for the four-day CMA Music Festival downtown in June. Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s managing director of public affairs, said over 86,000 people walked through the doors of the George R. Brown Convention Center when the convention visited Houston in 2013.

McIntyre revises schools budget to include teacher bonuses, raises (NS/McCoy)
Knox County Schools teachers who earned bonuses this year will get them after all. Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre has revised the school system’s budget to give previously promised bonuses and a 3 percent across-the-board raise to the district’s teachers. The new proposal, sent to school board members Friday, would take the school system’s overall operating budget to $441.5 million — an increase of about 3.9 percent from its current budget of $424.9 million.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Haslam shows more leadership than legislators (News-Sentinel)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam listened to reason and constituents to arrive at his decision last week to restore funding for case management services for some of the state’s most troubled residents. The same cannot be said for some of his fellow Republicans in the state Senate, who ignored both reason and public opinion in once again voting down the governor’s Insure Tennessee proposal. Haslam included the restoration of funding for Level 2 case management services in additions made last week to his $33.3 billion budget proposal for 2015-16. The governor’s office said the bulk of the $330 million in new revenues comes from one-time sources.

Editorial: Ideology still prevails over health needs (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Third time probably will not be the charm in regard to efforts to increase the number of people in the state who have access to health insurance. Insure Tennessee, an attempt to use federal tax dollars to leverage private funds and increase such coverage, again has failed to make it through the committee system of the state Legislature. Opposition to the initiative that Gov. Bill Haslam unsuccessfully brought before a special session of the Legislature in February essentially stems from the fact that the state would be using provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act to establish and fund the program.