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September 26 TN News Digest

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

Gov. Haslam hears Burchett’s plea for forensics facility funding (N-S/Witt)

A group from Knox County has asked the governor for $10 million to build a regional forensic center. On Wednesday Mayor Tim Burchett met with Gov. Bill Haslam to discuss how to act after learning that the University of Tennessee Medical Center wants to reclaim space it has offered to the Knox County Medical Examiner’s Office. The potential impacts ripple beyond Knox County. A 22-county region relies on the Knox medical examiner as a crucial role in investigations of questionable deaths and murder cases.

Gov. presents $400,000 grant to Dover for sewer rehab (Stewart Houston Times)

Gov. Bill Haslam was in Dover on Monday, Sept. 23, to present a $400,000 facsimile grant check to the Town of Dover for a sewer rehab project. According to City Administrator and Police Chief Kim Wallace, the proposed project will consist of repairing and replacing problem areas of sewer lines and manholes. The grant was welcome news to town officials as well as to the town’s utility workers, especially considering the competitive nature of the Community Development Block Grant. Dover will only have to come up with a $60,000 match, another plus for the project.

Treasurer pushes education (Jackson Sun)

Tennessee State Treasurer David Lillard, Jr. told members of the Jackson Rotary Club on Wednesday that what the state needs most is to increase the educational attainment of its citizens. “We have to focus on our workforce readiness,” Lillard said. “I want to endorse Gov. Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative. And for everyone to urge the young people you know to go back and attain these 21st century skills.” Lillard said Tennessee is in a race to have its workforce competitive for future employers. “We’re in a race to make sure our people are ready,” he said.

Britton Bridge LLC, TDOT agree on steel plan for Marion Co. bridge (TFP/Benton)

Britton Bridge LLC and the Tennessee Department of Transportation have reached an agreement on the steel plan for the U.S. Highway 41 bridge project in Marion County, officials say. “The steel beams are on the way,” Britton Bridge spokesman John Van Mol said late Wednesday. “As soon as they arrive, we’ll get under way.” Britton Bridge officials couldn’t say when for the steel beams will arrive at the construction site at Haletown. TDOT officials and Britton Bridge were at odds over the plan for erecting the steel, so the two groups discussed it and reached an agreement on scheduling late last week.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey says wine bill will pass in 2014 (Associated Press)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey predicts that lawmakers will approve a bill to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores next session. The Blountville Republican told reporters in Nashville on Wednesday that lawmakers on the fence about the proposal were surprised by the backlash to the failure of this year’s bill in a House committee. That bill died when House Local Government Chairman Matthew Hill, who had supported an earlier version, cast the deciding vote against the measure.

Ramsey says wine bill will pass next year (Tennessean/Sisk)

A bill letting grocery stores sell wine will pass the legislature in 2014, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey predicted Wednesday, because political pressure is mounting for the change. A Senate measure offered during this year’s session, which would let voters decide in local referendums whether to let grocery stores sell wine — or a bill similar to it — should pass both chambers when legislators reconvene early next year, Ramsey said. Through several years of debate, Ramsey is far from the first to predict that wine-in-grocery stores legislation will pass the legislature soon.

TN lieutenant governor says wine-in-grocery-stores will pass in 2014 (CA/Locker)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Wednesday he believes the Tennessee legislature will finally approve a bill next year authorizing the sale of wine in grocery stores, subject to local voter approval. “I think it will pass the Senate and I feel pretty confident it will pass both houses — I do — in some form,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters in his Nashville office. “It’s even my understanding that the liquor store owners are sitting down right now trying to figure out what they can live with because they know that it’s going to pass.

Hearings Debunked Common Core Myths, But Lt. Gov. Still Sees Debate (WPLN)

Common Core will be the most “complicated” and “important” debate in the upcoming session of the Tennessee legislature. That’s according to Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who predicts the General Assembly will want to make some tweaks. Last week’s hearings on the new education standards were a success, at least to Ron Ramsey. To start with, the Common Core standards were read in their entirety, debunking some far-out myths, like government plans to use brainwave monitoring. “We all know that on my side of the aisle – the conservative Republican side of the aisle – that there’s probably some information on the Internet that’s not true, and we shot some of that down.”

Ramsey: Little chance of Carr upsetting Alexander (Associated Press)

State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he sees little chance of state Rep. Joe Carr upsetting U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in next year’s Republican primary. Ramsey in a conversation with reporters on Wednesday cited his own experience as a 2010 gubernatorial candidate in which he was unable to overcome a vast fundraising disadvantage in the Republican primary won by Bill Haslam. Asked about Carr’s prospects for defeating Alexander, Ramsey responded: “I don’t see it happening.” Carr last month abandoned his bid to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais to instead challenge Alexander for the U.S. Senate.

Ramsey: Joe Carr unlikely to beat Lamar Alexander (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he doesn’t see state Rep. Joe Carr having much chance against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in next year’s GOP primary. Ramsey, the state Senate speaker from Blountville, on Wednesday recalled his own 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary race with Bill Haslam, who won in a three-man contest that included Zach Wamp of Chattanooga. “I ran against $18 million one time. It’s no fun. That’s what it comes down to,” Ramsey told reporters when asked about the Lascassas lawmaker’s tea party-backed quest to stop Alexander from winning a third Senate term.

Jobs to Let (Memphis Flyer)

“The TNDP is now accepting applications for four positions: Executive Director, Deputy Fundraising Director, Data and Digital Manager, and Office Manager. To learn more about the jobs that are available and how you or someone you know can apply, simply click here.” Not since Private Bradley Manning’s revelation after his conviction for violations of the Espionage Act that she was now named Chelsea Elizabeth Manning has a deadpan statement perched so precariously on the seam between real-world actuality and Onion-style parody as the foregoing announcement from the Tennessee Democratic Party, circulated by email press release on Monday.

Drug compounding compromise reached, Lamar Alexander says (Tenn/Roche)

A compromise bill that supporters say gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration great regulatory control over drug compounders has been announced by congressional leaders from both the House and Senate, but it is unclear whether it has the support of the FDA itself. The compromise was disclosed late Wednesday in news releases issued by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and a bipartisan group of House leaders, including U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. The agreement comes a year after the beginning of a fungal meningitis outbreak that took the lives of 16 patients treated in Tennessee and 64 nationwide.

A Cohen-Wilkins Primary Race Looms for 2014 in 9th District (Memphis Flyer)

Next year is an even-numbered election year, and that means that, as in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen will have an opponent to reckon with in the Democratic primary. The opponent for 2014 appears to be attorney Rickey Wilkins, a longtime member of the circle around former Mayor Willie Herenton, who himself tried Cohen on in 2010 and got a 4 to 1 defeat for his pains. Other one-on-one opponents for the current congressman and former state senator, who won out in a large multi-candidate primary field in 2006, include Nikki Tinker in 2008 and Tomeka Hart — both of whom, like Herenton, finished far back of the leader.

Tennessee premiums under new health law are among the nation’s lowest (AP)

Average premiums for Tennesseans seeking coverage under new health insurance markets launching next week rank near the lowest among the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead to cover uninsured residents. Before tax credits that work like an up-front discount for most consumers, sticker-price premiums for a mid-range benchmark plan will average $245 a month, well below the national monthly average of $328. Only Minnesota’s average premiums are cheaper, at $192 per month.

TN health premiums on federal exchange to be among lowest (TN/Dubois, Wilemon)

Tennesseans purchasing health care on the federal exchange, which opens next week, will be able to access some of the lowest average rates in the nation. Local consumers can choose from an average of 59 different health plans, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Experts in Nashville are optimistic, but cautious. “I know these are some of the lowest rates compared to other states, so we certainly should be happy from that perspective,” said Ken Marlow, a partner at Waller law firm, which has a major health care practice.

Tennesseans will pay some of the nation’s lowest health insurance premium (TFP)

Days before a seismic shift in Americans’ access to health insurance, shoppers hoping to purchase coverage under the Affordable Care Act finally had their first peek at what it will cost them. Among the new ballpark ranges released Wednesday by the Obama administration, Tennessee’s look to be some of the cheapest. And Georgia and Alabama’s premiums hover below national averages on the 36 federally run exchanges — online marketplaces where consumers will be able to shop for private plans and apply for subsidies.

Estimates show TN would have among lowest ACA premiums (WSMV-TV Nashville)

New figures just out from the federal government show Tennesseans who buy insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s health exchange will pay less than just about anyone else in the country. The Obama administration released numbers Wednesday that show the premiums for Tennesseans who want to buy insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace are second-lowest, only behind Minnesota. The highest premiums will be in Wyoming. Deborah Whitman doesn’t have insurance where she works. She’s part-time and is anxious to hear the details of what the Affordable Care Act has to offer her.

Is $119 For Obamacare Insurance A Good Deal In Tennessee? (WPLN-Radio)

Tennessee’s biggest Obamacare critics are trying to squelch any excitement for cheaper-than-expected insurance rates – 16 percent lower than original estimates. And the White House announced this week that the state will have some of the least expensive plans in the country. The Administration is highlighting what barebones coverage would cost a 27-year-old man. According to the tables – $119 a month on average. “Why should a 27-year-old male in Memphis be forced to pay nearly three times what he pays today for health insurance?” asks Sen. Lamar Alexander in a press release.

ET backers: Tobacco tax hike would benefit children (News-Sentinel/Shearer)

Knoxville residents who smoke may have to pay more for cigarettes if a proposed federal tobacco tax increase is implemented, but they and all Americans will also get more back in education and health, tax proponents claimed Wednesday. “I can’t emphasize enough how much this proposal is a win-win for our children,” said Patrick Iannone, the Tennessee deputy director for Save the Children, an advocacy group for at-risk children. “It gives children the early foundation they need, decreases the number of young people who smoke, and benefits the entire country by improving educational and health outcomes for young people.”

McKee Foods Corp. adds almost 300 jobs in Collegedale (Times Free-Press/Pare)

McKee Foods Corp. has added almost 300 jobs in Collegedale over the past 10 months as the snack-food company saw demand sweeten after the bankruptcy of competitor Hostess Brands. Mike McKee, the company’s chief executive and president, said the nation’s No. 1 snack cake maker now employs between 2,500 and 3,000 people at its Hamilton County headquarters. The business has more than 5,000 employees companywide, including its plants in Virginia and Arkansas and distribution center in Arizona, having boosted its overall hiring by nearly 800 since last November.

Nashville sees gains in tourism and vistor spending (Nashville Business Journal)

The number of visitors and the amount they spent in Nashville was up significantly last year, the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. announced today. Visitor spent $4.61 billion in 2012 compared to $4.25 billion in 2011, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association. The number of visitors increased to 11.8 million in fiscal year 2013, up from 11.2 million the previous year, according to the visitors corp. “These latest figures underscore Nashville’s strength as a destination city and our immense appeal to both the leisure and business traveler,” Mayor Karl Dean said in a news release. ”

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Lawmakers must make meth users’ database useful (News-Sentinel)

A hammer left hanging on the workshop wall cannot drive a nail on a job site. A car with an empty gas tank is useless. And a methamphetamine database deprived of data cannot be used to help stem the scourge of drug abuse in Tennessee. The state’s meth offender registry, which is supposed to be used to alert pharmacists when a meth offender tries to buy pseudoephedrine, apparently contains only a fraction of the names intended by lawmakers, according to a report in the Tennessean last week. In other words, the registry as currently used is a tool not up to the task at hand. Looking at the registry, one would never suspect that Tennessee is the top meth-producing state in the Union.

Frank Cagle: Knowing How Also Important (Metro Pulse)

The arguments over the Common Core implementation in Tennessee will continue long past the two days of hearings last week by the Senate Education Committee, but I found one aspect of the questions and answers troubling. The state has appropriated $51 million for technology grants. Will it be enough to ensure that all school systems have the technology they need? That money won’t mean a computer for every student, but may be just enough for the groups taking the test. But how do students develop computer skills and keyboarding expertise for the tests if they don’t have regular access to a computer? Do all school systems, especially in rural areas, have enough computers for the testing?

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