June 6 TN News Digest

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

Governor Haslam Signs Epi-Pen Bill (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law Tuesday that requires all schools to stock epinephrine auto injectors. Epi-pens, as they’re commonly called, can provide life-saving relief to a child who goes into shock after an allergic reaction to food or something else. The new law tells each school to keep epi-pens on hand in case a student forgets one, or in case a child is having a reaction for the first time. Several children who have allergies witnessed the governor sign the bill.

Gov. Haslam to review feds’ $64.3M offer to expand pre-K in Tenn. (N-S/Humphrey)

Tennessee would receive $64.3 million in federal funds — to be matched with $6.4 million in state dollars — to provide prekindergarten classes to another 7,861 children under President Barack Obama’s “Preschool for All” program, according to a White House estimate released Wednesday. A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam says the governor will review the proposal, but is waiting for a Vanderbilt University study of pre-K effectiveness before making a final decision. The study, launched in 2009, will not complete its first stage until next year.

Red Carpet Tour Courts Site Selectors (Memphis Daily News)

Site selection experts from six nationally known firms got a “red carpet tour” from the Greater Memphis Chamber Wednesday, June 5, in a recruitment effort that included a look at the industrial infrastructure of the Memphis area. They also got assurances from state leaders out of Nashville that the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is behind the local efforts. Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty spoke just before the annual “Red Carpet Tour,” emphasizing a geographical advantage that is unique to Tennessee.

UT Martin hosts two Governor’s Schools (Jackson Sun)

High school students who attend the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Humanities and Tennessee Governor’s School for the Agricultural Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Martin will have the opportunity to earn six hours of college credit during the summer programs, according to a news release from the university. Students in both programs are on campus this month. The humanities program has been hosted by UT Martin since 1985 and includes 54 students. The 12th agricultural sciences program is one of three in the nation and includes 32 students.

Japanese Auto Parts Maker To Build First US Plant Near Small Tenn Town (WPLN)

A Japanese company that makes parts for carmakers like Nissan is breaking ground in the U.S. for the first time in Lewisburg, 50 miles south of Nashville. Meiwa expects to employ about 98 people making parts for cars’ seats, trunks and floors. Given the bevy of big carmakers in the region, it’s little surprise companies like Meiwa now want to follow suit, says Tom Brewer, head of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association: “Obviously with Volkswagen, Nissan and General Motors here, that draws your suppliers, your research and development, and your innovation groups so they follow I’ll say the big boys.”

SCORE releases Common Core poll results (Daily News Journal)

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education released today the results from a statewide public opinion poll focused on voter perceptions of Tennessee’s work to raise academic expectations through the Common Core State Standards. The survey, commissioned by SCORE and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, was conducted on May 6-7 and 9. Trend data from the survey build on a similar statewide survey released by SCORE in the fall of 2012, according to a news release.

Survey Finds Tennesseans Know Little About Common Core (WPLN-Radio Nash)

A new survey finds continued support for Common Core State Standards in Tennessee. The poll conducted in May by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education also finds Tennesseans don’t know a whole lot about the new grade-level benchmarks. When told that Common Core raises expectations for students in English and math, the SCORE poll finds broad support, even among people who identify with the Tea Party, which has been trying to undermine implementation of the standards. But nearly two-thirds of respondents hadn’t heard much about Common Core before picking up the phone. 

Tennessee colleges to see lowest tuition hike in years (Associated Press)

Tennessee college students will see a lower increase in tuition thanks to improved state funding. The Tennessee Board of Regents Committee on Finance and Business Operations this week recommended increases of 3 percent for each of the state’s 13 community colleges and 1.4 to 6 percent for the Regents’ six universities. The full Board of Regents will vote on the recommendations on June 21. The recommendations are lower than recent years because of budget allocations recommended by Gov. Bill Haslam and approved by the General Assembly that provided increased general operating dollars for higher education for the first time in more than a decade.

Chattanooga, Cleveland State seek tuition hikes (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The Tennessee Board of Regents later this month will consider another round of student tuition/maintenance fee hikes recommended Tuesday by the board’s Finance and Business Operations Committee. But the increases are lower than in recent years, offset by state government’s first increase in general operating money for higher education in more than a decade. Students at the board’s community colleges, including Chattanooga State and Cleveland State, would see 3 percent increases.

Diabetes meds are latest target for federally funded research at UTM (CA/McKenzie)

No long-term studies have ever determined which combinations of drugs work best to control blood sugar levels in diabetics. But a Memphis scientist wants to help find out. Dr. Samuel Dagogo-Jack of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center plans to recruit 150 local diabetics as part of a national research effort to help nail down which medications control glucose best. The study is being fueled by the National Institutes of Health, which pumps about $35 million worth of research money annually into the UT Health Science Center in Memphis.

TDOT seeks input on improving I-24 (Tennessean/Gang)

Regularly travel on Interstate 24? The Tennessee Department of Transportation wants your input. TDOT is working on a study for the entire I-24 corridor — from Kentucky to Georgia — to identify problems and make recommendations how best to improve it. “We need those drivers who use I-24 most often to take our survey and to suggest ideas for improvement of this major interstate,” TDOT spokeswoman Deanna Lambert said by email. To take the survey, go online to www.tdot.state.tn.us/i24/.

Trash team pickin’ it up statewide (Tennessean/Qualls)

When Marge Davis, president of Scenic Tennessee, heard about a European man who combined litter cleanup, live music and video to rally people to his environmental cause, she resolved to do the same in Tennessee. On Monday, Davis and 11 others, including Dickson County Mayor Bob Rial and State Rep. Mary Littleton, collaborated to remove rubbish from Highway 48 in Charlotte. “It’s more than just a physical litter cleanup. We’re doing a major public relations campaign,” said Dave Porfiri, Mind Flow Media filmmaker in charge of documentation of the campaign.

TWRA develops wanted poster to seek info on eagle shootings (TFP/Brogdon)

Hoping to learn who shot two bald eagles in Southeast Tennessee, state and federal wildlife officials are trying to spark public awareness the old-fashioned way — with wanted posters. Dan Hicks, public information officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said Tuesday the state, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, produced wanted posters to be distributed in post offices, public libraries, other public buildings and grocery stores throughout Southeast Tennessee. Hicks hopes the posters will catch the eyes of passers-by and generate more information about the so-called eagle shooter.

Waterfowl habitats to be conserved in Tenn. (Associated Press)

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission says it has approved $28 million in funding for wetlands in Tennessee and four other states. The commission said Wednesday it plans to acquire more than 9,000 acres of waterfowl habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who chairs the commission, says the goal is to strengthen wetlands that are habitats for hundreds of species. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency plans to permanently protect 200 acres in the Bark Camp Barrens area, which contains unique wetlands, upland forest and grasslands.

Disabled 27-year-old finally qualifies for Tenncare (WATE-TV Knoxville)

After years of waiting for Tenncare, a young disabled woman in Claiborne County has finally been accepted. 6 On Your Side first reported about Tabitha Deaton in April as she struggled to pay her medical bills. Several agencies and community service organizations have intervened and been able to help Tabitha Deaton since we last spoke with her in April. At that time, the 27-year-old blind woman was despondent, faced huge hospital bills and had no medical insurance. Despite disability payments from Social Security, she’s a year away from getting Medicare benefits and has tried for two years to qualify for Tenncare.

Petition for expansion of TennCare is presented to governor’s office (TN/Sisk)

A group that advocates expanding TennCare to more of the state’s poor delivered a petition and stated its case to an aide to Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday morning. A coalition that includes the Tennessee Nurses Association, Tennessee League of Women Voters, Tennessee Health Care Campaign and the Tennessee Justice Center said it has gathered more than 4,500 signatures for an online petition calling on Haslam to offer TennCare services to everyone making 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less.

TN pharmacy agrees not to distribute its sterile drugs in Florida (Tenn/Roche)

The Tennessee pharmacy blamed for a multistate outbreak of infections from one of its products has agreed not to distribute any of its sterile drugs in Florida. Florida Health Department officials said Wednesday that the Main Street Family Pharmacy of Newbern, Tenn., had agreed to the restriction. Florida has reported the largest number of patients, 13, who got injection-site infections after being treated with a steroid shipped from Main Street. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 injection-site infections have been reported, none of them in Tennessee.

Budget Reset Talks Lead to Fresh Drama (Memphis Daily News)

The Memphis City Hall budget drama turned from a budget reset into a political thicket Tuesday, June 4, as Memphis City Council members debated getting involved in the details of changing employee and retiree benefits. The details are the bones of a new city budget proposal from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. that leads with a 15-cent property tax hike above the recertified rate he has proposed. “That provides for the ongoing operations,” said chief administrative officer George Little.

A Worldview of Sorts (Memphis Flyer)

The suburban conservatives on the Shelby County Commission do not quite have what the German academics of the 19th century called a “Weltanschauung” (loosely translated: a “worldview”), but they are on the way to developing one. Midway through a lengthy debate Monday on the twin issues of a budget for fiscal 2013-14 and a county tax rate for that period, Commissioner Heidi Shafer, a District 1 Republican who represents areas of both Memphis and Shelby County but who aligns most of her views with those of her GOP colleagues from the outer-county District 4, made a startling proposal.

Rep. Fincher’s stand on food stamps evokes cries of hypocrisy (Tenn/Barton)

For Rep. Stephen Fincher, the last few weeks have not brought the kind of publicity most members of Congress desire. Fincher, R-Frog Jump, has been roasted by cable news commentators and newspaper editorial writers nationwide over his recent input into a rewrite of federal farm programs, legislation that also covers nutrition programs such as food stamps for the poor. Its proper name is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Chickamauga lock budget cuts could be trouble for Festival boaters (TFP/Flessner)

Thousands of spectators enjoy the Riverbend Festival from boats on the Tennessee River, but some of them may have trouble getting home this year if they stay too long after the show. The Army Corps of Engineers said this week it is eliminating overtime for its staff in response to the federal sequester. So boaters trying to return to Chickamauga Lake from Ross’s Landing will face a curfew: Those who aren’t through the Chickamauga lock before 3 a.m. will have to wait four hours for the lock to reopen.

State Tax Collections Up (Stateline)

States experienced a dramatic increase in tax collections in the first quarter of 2013 over the first quarter of 2012 — an average 9.3 percent rise — mostly from growth in personal income tax collections and a recovering economy, according to a new report. The increases are fueling debate in the states about how to handle the windfalls. North Dakota’s revenue jumped 74.6 percent, compared to a year ago, reflecting the oil boom, while California’s went up 34.9 percent in the year-to-year comparison by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York.

TVA cited for flood standard violations (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has put the Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants on heightened safety review after plant designers and operators violated flood safety requirements for the riverfront plants. The NRC citation issued Wednesday means that all three of TVA’s nuclear plants are now operating under extra regulatory review for the first time since the federal utility idled its entire nuclear fleet in the 1980s. In a notice published Wednesday, the NRC said TVA violated safety standards in the way it analyzed and prepared its flood assessment risk for the Sequoyah plant near Soddy-Daisy and the Watts Bar plant near Spring city, Tenn.

Pilot Flying J investigation highlights plane deal (News-Sentinel/Flory)

The legal drama surrounding Pilot Flying J involves a wide cast of characters — including one with wings. An affidavit that led to a federal raid of the Knoxville-based truck-stop chain indicates that Pilot was forced to buy a private airplane after one of its customers discovered it was being shorted on fuel rebates. That alleged transaction, which was described in secretly recorded conversations, could come under scrutiny as prosecutors seek to make a case against Pilot executives. The federal investigation became public in April, when FBI and IRS agents raided Pilot’s Knoxville facilities.

Knox County school board tables vote on calendar (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Knox County school students will have to wait another month to find out when they will begin classes for the 2014-15 school year. For the second month, school board members decided to table voting on the school calendar. The state is requiring for the first time that students be in the classroom for a minimum of 180 days. The dilemma is the school board’s desire to give students and teachers the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off, instead of a half day as it is currently proposed.

Cell phones, discipline lead policy decisions (Commercial Appeal/Kelley)

Corporal punishment is out and cellphones are in for students in the unified Memphis and Shelby County school district if two of a long list of proposed policies for the new district are approved Tuesday in a special called meeting of the unified board. “There will be a lot of jubilation” among MCS students, Internal Board Operations Committee Chair Betty Mallott observed Wednesday, if the board OKs the districtwide adoption of a cellphone policy that, with some exceptions, mirrors the policy in place at Shelby County Schools.

Florida: Court Allows State to Privatize Prisons’ Health Care (Associated Press)

The First District Court of Appeals is giving the state’s prison agency the green light to privatize health care services. The court ruled Wednesday that a lower court judge was wrong to block plans for outsourcing in three of Florida’s four prison system regions. The state tried to move ahead with the privatization effort last year, but it was challenged by three unions representing some 2,600 state employees who stand to lose their jobs. A judge in December sided with the union because the privatization plan had been approved by a budget panel instead of the full Legislature.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: UT must be open about fracking research project (News-Sentinel)

Concerns raised by environmental groups over a University of Tennessee research initiative on hydraulic fracturing should be enough to give supporters pause. While the concerns about UT’s motives in seeking a partner to drill gas wells on two tracts in Morgan and Scott counties have some merit, they should not be enough to scuttle the proposed deal. They invite closer scrutiny of the project, however, and should spur UT officials toward greater transparency. The proposal by UT’s Institute of Agriculture would lease mineral rights in the Cumberland Research Forest to a drilling company. Royalties would fund research into hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process in which water and chemicals are injected into underground shale, unlocking natural gas for extraction.

Editorial: Let’s consider students’ needs (Tennessean)

A majority of lawmakers in Washington have again taken the pulse of America — and lacking medical skills, didn’t know what they were listening for. Last time, it was the Senate, who rejected universal background checks for gun purchases even though 90 percent of Americans supported them. This time, it’s the House’s turn, voting to make it harder for college students to afford loans, when they should be trying to make it easier. The Republican-backed plan, duplicitously named the “Smarter Solutions for Students Act,” avoids a doubling of the rate increase for new subsidized Stafford loans that was scheduled to begin July 1 — but it changes the Stafford loans from a fixed rate to one that will be tied to the financial markets.

Times Editorial: Mean spirits ‘teabillies’ bring shame to the South (TFP)

I can count only two times I’ve ever been embarrassed to be Southern or Tennessean. The first was when I was a child and George Wallace was grandstanding on television with a crowd of toothless and drawling supporters around him. I thought: Oh, no, now the whole country will think none of us have teeth. The second was when I read the newspaper Wednesday morning and learned that U.S. Attorney Bill Killian was jeered by a roomful of people who have forgotten that their ancestors once were immigrants here looking for freedom to exercise their own religion — one that wasn’t so welcome in England or Germany or Ireland or any number of the many countries our great- and great-great- and great-great-great- grandparents came from.  

Frank Cagle: It’s About Fairness (Metro Pulse)

It’s not an Internet tax, dammit, no matter how many times lazy headline writers call it that. People who buy retail items on the Internet already owe sales tax. But unless the Internet site you buy from collects the tax, it’s not going to be paid. This leaves the brick-and-mortar stores down the street at a competitive disadvantage—almost a 10 percent margin in Tennessee. Those brick-and-mortar stores pay property tax for schools and collect sales tax for everything else. But unless the Internet seller has a location in your state, your state can’t make them collect the sales tax that is owed. A bill has passed the U.S. Senate that would allow states, if they wish, to require any online retailer shipping goods to the state to collect the sales tax.

Editorial: State must go slow on mineral rights (Leaf Chronicle)

A yellow caution light, a red flag warning – take note: • The University of Tennessee is seeking bids from natural gas companies to drill on 8,000 acres it owns in the Cumberland Forest of East Tennessee. • Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is looking into leasing coal rights beneath the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area at Crossville. Mining and drilling in state-owned lands is a controversial subject. The practice would bring agencies much-needed revenue, but at the possible cost of damage to protected wild areas. The issue is not new. In 2005, the state’s Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner reported on inquiries about leasing mineral rights on state-owned lands like state parks and natural areas.