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October 13 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Fills Vacancies at TN Board of Regents, Board of Trustees (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointments of two new members to boards overseeing Tennessee’s public colleges and universities. Darrell Freeman of Brentwood will represent the 7th Congressional District on the Tennessee Board of Regents. Raja Jubran of Knoxville will represent the 2nd Congressional District on the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. Darrell S. Freeman is founder and executive chairman of Zycron, a Tennessee-based information technology consulting firm, serving clients including large health care, government and utility agencies.

Haslam appoints Two New Members to Higher Education Boards (C. Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today announced the appointments of two new members to boards overseeing Tennessee’s public colleges and universities. Darrell Freeman of Brentwood will represent the 7th Congressional District on the Tennessee Board of Regents. Raja Jubran of Knoxville will represent the 2nd Congressional District on the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. Darrell S. Freeman is founder and executive chairman of Zycron, a Tennessee-based information technology consulting firm, serving clients including large health care, government and utility agencies.

More from Gov. Haslam on auto industry, business issues (Nooga)

Gov. Bill Halsam spoke at the Southern Automotive Conference this week, and in addition to talking about the auto industry and the need for skilled workers, he discussed workers’ compensation, keeping business in the United States and his recent trip to Japan. Workers’ Comp Earlier this month, The Memphis Business Journal reported that Haslam is moving toward workers’ compensation reform, and a report from the U.S. Department of Labor suggested that there needs to be a “structural change in the state’s system, largely moving it out of the courts.”

Car assembly plant growth touted at Southern Automotive Conference (TFP/Pare)

Less than two years after Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant started making cars, officials expect 2012 production to hit the 150,000 level for which the factory originally was built. Next year, the plant could churn out up to 180,000 cars as VW tweaks the facility to add capacity, said Frank Fischer, chief executive of the automaker’s operations in the city. “It depends on sales figures,” Fischer said at the Southern Automotive Conference in Chattanooga on Friday.

Haslam says new LMU math, science building will help state’s future (NS/Balloch)

It is the newest building on Lincoln Memorial University’s campus. And it will go a long way in helping Tennessee close a gap with some other states, Governor Bill Haslam said Friday. Haslam was referring to the university’s new Math and Science Building, which has many state-of-the-art educational and research facilities. Tennessee is behind some other states in the percentage of the population with college degrees, and more science and math education is needed to help close that gap and secure a better future, the governor said.

Governor Bill Haslam visits LMU for new building dedication (Clairborne Progress)

It’s a far cry from Farr Hall… that was the general consensus among those gathered Friday afternoon for the Math and Science Building Dedication Ceremony at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU). Farr Hall was home to LMU’s science classes for decades, and the new, state-of-the-art building now housing those classes was dedicated and Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslam gave the keynote speech in a special ceremony. “The lessons learned here will mold into a lifetime for these students,” said Dr. James Dawson, LMU’s president.

LMU dedicates new Math and Science Building in Harrogate (N-S/Balloch)

Private colleges are a vital component to the state’s overall efforts in higher education Gov. Bill Haslam said today. Because Tennessee lags behind other states in the percentage of population with advanced degrees “every institution that makes a difference helps us,” he said. Haslam delivered the keynote address this afternoon at the dedication of the new Math and Science Building on Lincoln Memorial University’s main campus. The 140,000-square-foot, $26 million building is the largest on campus.

TN attorney general questions law limiting foreign workers at charters (AP/Schelzig)

Attorney General Bob Cooper says he has constitutional concerns over a Tennessee law limiting the percentage of foreign workers at charter schools. The legal opinion released Friday was requested by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who allowed the measure to become law without his signature in May. Under the law, a chartering authority can reject or revoke a school’s application if more than 3.5 percent of the teachers and staff are foreigners in the H1B or J-1 visa programs.

Meningitis outbreak: Infection window grows again (Tennessean/Wilemon)

The window for potential fungal meningitis infections widened again Friday as officials said Tennessee may have received contaminated steroid earlier than previously thought. Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center contacted 111 more patients this week after realizing it received a shipment as far back as early June from the compounding laboratory linked to the nationwide outbreak. Robert Johnson of East Nashville, a retired Metro employee who suffers back pain from a job injury, got his phone call on Wednesday.

Tennessee Risk Pool Grows in Fungal Meningitis Outbreak (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Another 111 people treated for back pain at a St. Thomas Hospital outpatient clinic are being notified of possible exposure to fungal meningitis. The Tennessee Department of Health has found even more vials of steroid shipped in early June from a now-closed compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. “As yet, we can’t assure that product was not one of the three recalled lots,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner. “So out of an abundance of caution, we are contacting the group of patients that might be impacted by this information.”

Rutherford school employee diagnosed with viral meningitis (Associated Press)

Parents of students who attend a Rutherford County middle school have been alerted of a viral meningitis case. According to The Daily News Journal (http://on.dnj.com/RTyj8k ), a letter was sent home Thursday with students from Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School. It told parents a school employee was recently diagnosed with viral meningitis. Rutherford County Schools spokesman James Evans said the employee has not been at school since Sept. 28, the last day schools were in session before fall break.

Pharmacy in Outbreak Acted Like Drug Maker (Wall Street Journal)

When Thomas DiAdamo started work as a salesman for New England Compounding Center in 2008, its president, Barry J. Cadden, told him patient safety was paramount. His new boss stressed that “people’s lives are at risk here,” Mr. DiAdamo recalls. Four years later, those words are proving prophetic. A steroid pain medication made by NECC has been linked by regulators to a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis, with 184 patients sick so far and 14 deaths across 12 states.

Ex-Workers at Firm Tied to Pharmacy Had Safety Fears (New York Times)

One pharmacist said she quit because she was worried that unqualified people were helping prepare dangerous narcotics for use by hospitals. A quality control technician said he tried to stop the production line when he noticed that some labels were missing, but was overruled by management. A salesman said he and his colleagues were brought into the sterile lab to help out with packaging and labeling during rush orders, something they were not trained for. They all used to work at Ameridose, a drug manufacturing company with many of the same owners as the New England Compounding Center, the pharmacy at the center of a national investigation into a meningitis outbreak now in 12 states.

DCS plans talks to address allegations it didn’t protect abused kids (TN/Wadhwani)

Department of Children’s Services officials are expected to reconvene as early as next week with Dickson County child welfare advocates over allegations the state is not protecting severely abused children. Last week, DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day met for the first time with two sheriffs, a district attorney, child welfare advocates and state lawmakers to hear allegations that systemic failures within her agency have led to inaction in cases of severely abused children. The head of Dickson County’s Child Advocacy Center, which works with abused children, delivered six specific examples of abused children she said the state has failed.

Wacker deaths put construction on hold (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Garrett)

The Tennessee Department of Labor has sent investigators to the Wacker Chemical construction site in Charleston, Tenn., to piece together how two workers fell from scaffolding Wednesday night and died. Construction on the $2 billion polysilicon plant was halted indefinitely after the deaths, said William Toth, director of corporate communications at Wacker. Depending on what Wacker and the Department of Labor find, the 1,200 daily subcontract workers could returns days from now or months, he said.

Tennessee voter photo ID case set for hearing Thursday (CA/Locker, Maki)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals on Thursday will hear the City of Memphis’ challenge of the state law requiring most registered voters to produce certain photograph-bearing identification before they can vote. The city and two Memphis registered voters are appealing a Davidson County judge’s ruling two weeks ago that neither the city nor the two residents had legal standing to challenge the law because the city cannot vote and the two residents could have voted absentee without photo IDs. Chancery Court Carol McCoy dismissed the lawsuit on those grounds.

Ramsey: Signs Pointing Toward GOP Supermajority in Senate (TN Report)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says that come Election Day, Republicans will enjoy a supermajority in the Tennessee Senate — meaning that the GOP will not need any Democratic support to pass legislation. “I do think we’re going to have the supermajority,” Ramsey told TNReport. “There are six seats we’re playing in, and none of us as incumbent Republicans have serious opposition. This is the first time I’ve ever run without an opponent.” Republicans need to win two more seats to snag the supermajority, or 22 of the 33 seats.

District 22 candidates trade barbs in tough Senate race (Tennessean/Wilemon)

After one term in the state legislature, state Sen. Tim Barnes knew he was going to be in a fight to come back to Capitol Hill. “When the lieutenant governor says he wants 33 state senators and makes me a target and raises money for my opponent, believe me, I know it’s going to be a tough race,” Barnes said. The District 22 contest between Barnes, D-Adams, and doctor and business owner Mark Green, R-Clarksville, has become negative enough to earn statewide attention. These tactics have become more frequent in the past month, even though the major attacks haven’t been handled by the candidates.

House race between Loe, Johnson competitive politically and financially (NS/Vines)

Gary Loe raised $45,190 and Democrat Gloria Johnson received $35,455 during the third quarter in what’s considered a close local race to represent the 13th House District seat to succeed outgoing state Rep. Harry Tindell. Johnson, who has a $6,000 loan in the campaign, has $45,261 remaining for the Nov. 6 general election, almost twice what Loe has with $22,330, based on the latest financial disclosures that were due midnight Wednesday. Theirs is not the only competitive race in the Knox County legislative delegation, but it has drawn attention with star supporters who have helped them raise money.

Downtown parking break for g’ment workers would cost thousands (NS/Fowler)

Local leaders are pondering a proposal to postpone a monthly fee increase for government employees who park in the downtown garage under the City County Building. The request, if approved, would spare about 615 workers a hike of $12.50 each month and another 120 workers $6.25 a month. The city and county also would lose out on a combined $74,000 in new revenues each year. “In today’s economy, every little bit helps,” said Brian Werner, who earns $34,000 working in the county’s finance department.

New Morris Opinion Okays Sexual Orientation Amendment for Council Vote (MF)

The anti-discrimination ordinance that was shelved last month will be back on the City Council agenda Tuesday, thanks to a new opinion from City Attorney Herman Morris that effectively reverses his prior advice that a referendum would be necessary to add an amendment regarding sexual orientation. At the Council’s September 18 meeting, Morris’ earlier admonition had halted an effort to pass an amendment from Councilman Lee Harris adding a reference to “sexual orientation” to his proposed ordinance expanding protections for workers on the city payroll.

Scott DesJarlais slams ‘attack,’ explains abortion talk (Tennessean/Sisk)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais acknowledged that he encouraged a woman he had slept with to have an abortion but explained in a letter to supporters Friday that he was trying to lead her to admit that she wasn’t pregnant. DesJarlais did not dispute the authenticity of a partial transcript published this week in which he reminded a woman he met as a patient that she had told him she would have an abortion and urged her to find a “solution” that would keep him from having to tell his then-wife. But he said there was “never any pregnancy and there was no abortion.”

Scott DesJarlais was ‘convinced’ woman not pregnant (Times Free-Press/Sher)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a physician, said Friday he was convinced a woman he had sex with a dozen years ago wasn’t actually pregnant despite her claims he was responsible for impregnating her.”There was no pregnancy and there was no abortion,” the 4th District representative told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. A freshman lawmaker from Jasper, Tenn., who touts his opposition to abortion rights, the lawmaker is battling a controversy stemming from a recorded 2000 conversation in which he presses the unnamed woman to get an abortion.

VA says no thanks to Roane hospital offer (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

The Veterans Affairs Department has declined an offer to use the Roane Medical Center downtown as a VA Hospital. Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said he learned this week from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office that the proposal had been turned down. What irks him, Mason said, is that VA officials apparently didn’t even consider it. The VA response said there were “a declining number of vets in the Harriman, Roane County area,” Mason said. “If they had taken the time to look at our proposal, they would have known it was for a 12-county area that has 100,000 vets,” he said.

Political Outsourcing (Memphis Daily News)

In a non-swing state, campaign supporters take fight, resources elsewhere It has been 12 years since Shelby County voters have encountered a Democratic or Republican presidential nominee on the general election ballot who had some kind of political presence in the region, if not the city, before they made their bid for president. In that time, Democratic and Republican states have been reclassified as blue or red, respectively. But with Tennessee solidly Republican, Shelby County is a blue dot in a sea of red.

Excise Tax Looms for Local Device Companies (Nashville Business Journal)

A new excise tax will be levied on medical devices beginning Jan. 1, and the impact will be significant for medical device companies with a Memphis presence. Large players like Wright Medical Technology Inc. and fledgling outfits like Arrowhead Medical Device Technologies Inc. are preparing for the 2.3 percent pinch on each device sold in the U.S., including pacemakers and stents, defibrillators, artificial joints, chemotherapy delivery systems, surgical tools and X-ray machines.

Businesses React to Affordable Care Act Mandate (Memphis Business Journal)

With increased health care costs on its horizon, Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc. recently made national headlines when it dodged Affordable Care Act requirements by cutting back on its full-time employee hours. Although news sources and pundits are buzzing about the decision, many Memphis business leaders are reluctant to publicly weigh in on it. Several requests for interviews for this article were met with “no comment” and “no thank you.” Repeated calls and emails to a few business owners and PR representatives went unanswered.

Sequoyah Nuclear Plant work begins Monday on plant’s Unit 2 reactor (TFP/Sohn)

In the coming week, a remote-controlled robot will begin a continuous run around what looks like a miniature train track suspended over the domed top of Sequoyah Nuclear Plant’s Unit 2 reactor. The robot will hold a hydroblaster cutting machine that, with 20,000 pounds per square inch of water pressue, will grind through three feet of concrete to make two 45-by-20-foot holes in the top of the containment building over the reactor. The noise — described as “like a 737 sitting at the end of the runway” — will be continuous for four or five days and nights.

‘Nashville’ film incentives add glitz to economic development debate (NBJ)

The debate in Tennessee around incentives stands to get a little more interesting and glamorous in the next few months.As ABC’s “Nashville” premieres, the shows producers and proponents in economic development circles are prepping a push for incentives to keep filming in Music City long term. But our report on that is about more than just the latest economic development dilemma for state and local government — it touches on a type of incentive that can be particularly touchy. Whatever your perspective, the fact is that film incentives try to encourage a totally different type of economic activity than most.

Memphis Electrolux hiring goes through Workforce Investment Network (CA/Bailey)

The first stop for anyone wanting to work at Electrolux despite not having manufacturing experience will be the Workforce Investment Network (WIN), the agency announced Friday. WIN this month will start referring eligible job seekers to an entry-level Industrial Readiness Training program that’s not only tailored to Electrolux, company representatives will monitor the class and hire from among the students based on student performance. WIN on Friday released the first details on how to apply for jobs at Electrolux’s new Memphis plant that will eventually employ more than 1,200 people to make ranges, wall ovens and cooking tops.

District working on next steps of rezoning plan (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Knox County Schools began developing a proposal for elementary rezoning in the southwest corner of the county on Friday, the day after the last of four community meetings. “There’s a lot of work to be done. There’s a lot of input to be considered. There’s a lot of analysis to review,” said Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre of the district’s next steps in the process. “There’s a lot of decisions that go into developing this proposal. So I will take a careful and thoughtful approach to working with our team to develop a recommendation for the Board of Education.”

South Carolina: South Carolina’s Voting Rights Act (New York Times)

A three-judge federal panel told South Carolina this week that the state could not enforce its new voter photo ID law until after the November elections. There is not enough time to educate voters about the law’s complexities, the court said, noting further that rushing the rules into effect could have “racially discriminatory” outcomes because South Carolina voters who lack the required photo ID are disproportionately African-American. The court was absolutely right to be cautious, even as it ruled that the law passed constitutional muster and that South Carolina could put it into effect next year.

 

OPINION

 

Guest columnist: Medicaid reform offers hope to mentally ill (Tennessean)

State policymakers are considering whether Tennessee will reform Medicaid to cover all legal residents with incomes at or below 138 percent of poverty as permitted under the Affordable Care Act. In observation of Mental Illness Awareness Week, a better question would be to ask whether we can afford NOT to give Tennesseans with mental health conditions the opportunity to recover and contribute to their communities. Medicaid (TennCare) is a lifeline for an estimated 150,000 Tennessee children and adults with mental health or substance abuse conditions. As individuals and families living with serious mental illness, we routinely see lives transformed by the range of modern treatment and supports provided through Medicaid, promoting full engagement in families, school, work and the community.

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