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October 23 TN News Digest

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

Haslam announces $843K grant for Northeast State (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has announced an $843,000 grant for Northeast State Community College in Blountville to pay for equipment at the school’s advanced technology programs. The money comes out of a $16.5 million pool that the Legislature approved this year as part of the governor’s effort to boost higher education attainment in Tennessee. About 32 percent of Tennesseans currently have certificates or degrees beyond high school. Haslam wants to increase that number to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Haslam announces $843,000 grant for Northeast State (Times-News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced an $843,000 grant award for Northeast State Community College Tuesday to fund equipment for advanced technology programs to move his “Drive To 55” initiative forward. Haslam, a Republican, proposed and state lawmakers approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges. The new equipment at Northeast State Community College will allow the school to expand its robotics manufacturing training lab, add a mechatronics training lab and upgrade equipment for its welding and machine tool programs.

NE State awarded funds for technology equipment (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a grant award of $843,000 for Northeast State Community College to fund needed equipment for advanced technology programs at the school. The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges. These strategic investments resulted from the governor meeting with businesses and education officials across the state last fall to better understand workforce development needs.

Northeast State Receives $843K Grant for Advanced Technology Programs (TNR)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a grant award of $843,000 for Northeast State Community College to fund needed equipment for advanced technology programs at the school. The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.

Northeast State quickly becoming leader in workforce training (Herald-Courier)

Northeast State Community College is quickly becoming a leader in workforce training. On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced that Northeast State received an $843,000 grant during a visit to the school’s campus near Tri-Cities Regional Airport . The money will be used to purchase equipment for training students in advanced technology — specifically for robotics, welding and mechanical design equipment. Tennessee is becoming a leader in the manufacturing field and the equipment helps train new workers, Haslam said.

Haslam Announces Workforce Development Grant In Whiteville (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam Monday announced a workforce development grant of $126,549 for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Whiteville to enhance the machine tool program at the school’s extension campus in Brownsville. The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.

Haslam: Talks continue on ‘Tennessee Plan’ for health insurance (Times-News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he still doesn’t have a deal with the federal government on an initiative to add enrollees to the state’s Medicaid program and feels no deadline heat to get it done. Last May, Haslam announced he would not expand the Medicaid program, called TennCare, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but instead would work to leverage available federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans who would not otherwise have access to coverage.

DCS gets leeway with federal funds (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

U.S. officials are giving the state Department of Children’s Services more leeway in spending money intended for foster children, with the goal of keeping children out of foster care. Until now, DCS has had to spend approximately $40 million in annual federal dollars, known as federal title IV-E funds, to pay foster parents and provide services to kids who have already been taken from their families and placed into state custody. Beginning next October, the agency will be able to use those funds to help keep kids home with their own families.

Feds OK flexible spending to keep kids out of foster care (Times Free-Press)

Tennessee is among seven states selected to participate in a “ground-breaking” demonstration project aimed at keeping more children safely in their homes instead of putting them into foster care, officials said Tuesday. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted the state’s Department of Children’s Services a waiver allowing officials to participate in what is called a Title IV-E demonstration project. DCS Commissioner Jim Henry says that gives his department new flexibility to use foster care dollars to serve children and families. Some 7,300 Tennessee children are now in foster care.

Audit: ‘Serious problems’ within TN disabilities department (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

A scathing review of the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities uncovered a series of problems that directly impact thousands of state residents who live with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities. The agency did not perform proper background checks, and some subcontractors caring for patients had multiple drug convictions. The department spent millions of dollars to fix a computer system that is still not working. And the agency is violating state law and its own mission by not providing adequate care for people with developmental disabilities — a finding that department officials strongly disagree with.

Creating New State Department Didn’t Change A Thing (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A new report claims the state of Tennessee doesn’t adequately care for people with developmental disabilities. But the state agency responsible for those programs says their hands are tied by the state budget. According to an audit from the State Comptroller’s Office, Tennessee does help people with limited intelligence. But there aren’t any programs specifically designed for the developmentally disabled. So those with physical problems, like cerebral palsy or spina bifida, may not be eligible for help if their IQ is normal.

Lab error in vehicular homicide case calls into question other results (TFP/Burger)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is reviewing 3,800 lab test results from various criminal cases after a vehicular homicide case in Chattanooga was dismissed due to a lab error. TBI has suspended Special Agent Kyle Bayer, who worked as a forensic scientist. An internal investigation is under way with TBI submitting all of the cases that Bayer worked on to a private lab for retesting. “We are currently gathering a cost estimation. There is no indication that other errors were made. We are doing this to be prudent,” said Kristin Helm, spokeswoman for TBI.

Inaccurate TBI toxicology test may have far reaching effects (N-S/Satterfield)

Charges have been thrown out in the death of prominent Knoxville architect and a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation technician suspended in a probe that could impact 3,800 toxicology tests, officials confirmed Tuesday. The TBI has suspended forensic technician Kyle Bayer with pay after his toxicology results in a vehicle homicide case involving the late Edward Bankston, 58, were contradicted by independent testing, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said. Bayer has conducted 3,800 toxicology tests, which measure blood alcohol content, in his one year of employment with the agency.

Work resumes on CCA prison in Trousdale County (Tennessean/Ward)

A prison that Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America had put on hold more than three years ago could finally be coming to an industrial park in Trousdale County. The prison operator confirmed Tuesday that construction will likely resume within two months on the more than $100 million project, following word that the Tennessee Department of Correction has a need for new beds. “We have identified a government partner to use the facility, which is the catalyst for us recommencing the project,” said Tony Grande, CCA’s chief development officer, adding that the prison should be completed by early 2015.

MTSU: Focused on increasing grad rate (Jackson Sun)

Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee and members of his staff are traveling the state to bring awareness about the school’s new strategic plan which focuses on increasing the graduation rate and redesigning course instruction. “We’re being self-critical about how we can do a better job,” said McPhee, who spent some time talking with The Jackson Sun’s editorial board on Tuesday afternoon. “What we’re doing is not about grade inflation or lowering our standards.”

Tennessee’s death penalty is back on track (Tennessean/Haas)

Tennessee’s barely functioning death penalty is on the verge of revival after state officials finally settled on a new lethal injection drug and scheduled a man to die for the first time in more than a year. But the state’s new method is already running into trouble in other states, thanks to new problems acquiring drugs for executions. The state hasn’t had any drugs to perform lethal injections since its supply of sodium thiopental was seized by federal law enforcement agencies in April 2011 over questions about how it was obtained.

Group touts penalties for ‘smurfing’ (Tennessean/Sisk)

Pharmacists, retailers, drug makers and some state lawmakers are launching a new campaign to publicize the penalties for buying methamphetamine ingredients — an effort that could head off tougher restrictions on cold medicines. The Tennessee Pharmacists Association, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association and others announced an initiative Tuesday to combat “smurfing,” the practice of recruiting people to buy small amounts of over-the-counter pseudoephedrine for use in meth production.

No-Bid Contracts Worrisome to Some State Lawmakers (TN Report)

State lawmakers from both parties on are expressing concern that taxpayer interest aren’t adequately safeguarded when public contracts are inked with private firms without first submitting jobs to competitive bidding. Lebanon Republican state Rep. Mark Pody, who was backed up by Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said this week during a Joint Fiscal Review Committee hearing that the state ought open up more of its contracts to market competition. “I don’t think (noncompetitive bidding) is in the taxpayer’s best interest. They needed to go through the competitive system and have it competitively bid,” said Pody.

Judge said emails should be public (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Witt)

A collection of emails sent by or to area government officials through the Knox County computer system should be public, according to a judge’s ruling. Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong, however, said he’s not planning to immediately turn them over. “We may appeal,” Armstrong told the News Sentinel, which sued Knox County over the release of emails sent on county computers among Mayor Tim Burchett, his ex-wife, some of his senior staff and others. Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan on Tuesday ruled that nine of the 13 emails in question were public record and should be released, and that costs for the case should be billed to Knox County.

Commissioners may be asked to drop school lawsuit against suburbs (CA/Moore)

Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas may present a resolution to drop the school merger lawsuit to the commission’s general government committee on Wednesday. Thomas said the lawsuit is a hindrance to the Shelby County School Board and the suburban municipalities that hope to form their own school districts as they negotiate issues such as attendance zones and the fates of school buildings. “To me it’s a dark cloud that’s slowing up the process, it’s not speeding it up,” Thomas said of the suit.

Be More Like Ted Cruz? Tennessee Senator Alexander Says No Way (WPLN-Radio)

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander is facing pressure from conservative activists as he runs for re-election. But the senator says he’s not like his outspoken Tea Party colleague from Texas. Alexander was asked by Knoxville’s Newstalk 98.7 if he feels any pressure to be more like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who led the fight to shutdown the federal government over Obamacare. Alexander said he fights for his ideas, as Cruz does. But he has a track record of getting his ideas enacted into law. “I learned to count in the Maryville City Schools,” Alexander said in an interview Tuesday morning. “And the way to get a result when you’ve only got 45 senators who are Republicans and you need 60 to pass anything important, you have to persuade some Democrats you’re right.”

River users defend U.S. Sen. Alexander in backing Ohio dam, lock (TFP/Sher)

Tennessee River users are defending U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as critics attack his move to authorize money to complete a major Ohio River dam project, saying it plays into a wider effort to restart stalled work on the Chickamauga Dam lock in Chattanooga. “We appreciate Sen. Alexander sticking his neck out [and] taking the heat,” said Cline Jones, executive director of the Tennessee River Valley Association, which includes barge and tow boat operators among its members. “It’s not just for us in our region but the nation.” Jones said Tuesday cost overruns on the Holmstead Locks and Dam Dam replacement project is “sucking up all the money.”

DesJarlais challenges Tracy over tea party group support (TFP/Sher)

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is criticizing GOP challenger Jim Tracy for saying in an email he was “proud” to get support from the head of the Tea Party Leadership Fund. “I want to give you a heads up,” the congressman said Tuesday in a letter to supporters. “It seems my opponent has gotten involved in a group whose business is defrauding members of the Tea Party.” DesJarlais said Tracy’s letter “touts the fact that Todd Cefaratti, founder of the Tea Party Leadership Fund, believes that Tracy is ‘exactly the type of person that the people of Tennessee’s 4th District need to be their voice.’”

State lands $5M federal grant for solar work (Nashville Post)

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Tennessee a $5 million grant for solar energy research and development, DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz announced today. The grant is part of a $60 million Energy Department investment through its SunShot Initiative. The monies will “help lower the cost of solar electricity, advance seamless grid integration and support a growing U.S. solar workforce,” the department said in a release. “The tremendous growth in the U.S. solar industry over the past few years is helping to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future that protects our air and water and provides affordable clean energy to more and more Americans,” Moniz said in the release.

Tennessee awarded $5 million for solar research and development (N. Biz Journal)

Tennessee has been awarded $5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for solar energy research and development, according to a news release. As part of $60 million in SunShot Initiative awards nationwide, the funding is meant to lower the cost of solar electricity, advance the integration of solar power into the electric grid and support the growth of a solar industry workforce. “The tremendous growth in the U.S. solar industry over the past few years is helping to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future that protects our air and water and provides affordable clean energy to more and more Americans,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in the release.

College Tuition Increases Slow, but Government Aid Falls (Wall Street Journal)

After decades of rampant growth, the rate of tuition increases at U.S. colleges and universities has slowed for the second academic year in a row, but government aid has fallen, continuing a cycle of rising costs and debt for American students. Published tuition and fees rose 2.9% for in-state students at four-year public schools, the smallest one-year increase since 1975-76. At private schools, tuition and fees rose 3.8%, a bit lower than in recent years, according to a report from the College Board, a New York nonprofit that tracks university costs.

Colleges see a slowdown in tuition price increases (USA Today)

Average sticker prices at the nation’s four-year public universities rose 2.9% this year, the smallest annual increase in more than three decades, suggesting that the steeper increases over the past few years “did not signal a new era of accelerating prices,” says a report out Wednesday. Still, the smaller rates of increase this year — across public, private non-profit and for-profit colleges — are tempered by recent declines in federal grant aid, it says. “This does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable,” says economist Sandy Baum, co-author of Trends in Higher Education reports on tuition and financial aid, released by the non-profit College Board.

Kellogg lockout idles 220 cereal plant workers (Commercial Appeal)

Kellogg Co. locked out 220 workers at its Memphis cereal plant Tuesday after labor talks broke down over company demands for a greater ability to hire casual employees to run production lines. The company contends it needs more flexibility in staffing to improve efficiency at the more than 50-year-old plant. The employees’ union says the company is trying to railroad them with a proposal that has previously been rebuffed during negotiations on a master agreement that covers Kellogg plants nationwide.

Shelby Schools: Keep control of some suburban schools (CA/Kelley)

Shelby County Schools administrators Tuesday night outlined a plan of action for the school board that envisions retaining control of some suburban schools — including Bolton High and three Germantown schools — to ensure it can educate 18,266 students in unincorporated areas. While Supt. Dorsey Hopson said the board must ultimately determine whether to educate those students residing outside suburban municipalities but attending schools within them, he indicated that was the administration’s preference because of potential legal and planning challenges.

Hopson Proposes SCS Keep Unincorporated Schools Plus Four In Suburbs (MDN)

The Shelby County Schools system would continue to educate school age children in the unincorporated areas of Shelby County and operate the 14 schools in those areas as well as one in Lucy and the three schools in Germantown bearing that city’s name under a proposal presented Tuesday, Oct. 22, to the countywide school board by schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson. The proposal that the school board could vote on as early as next week would reverse the long-held plan by suburban leaders to include students and schools in the unincorporated county as well as the Memphis annexation reserve area in the separate school systems they are forming.

 

OPINION

Editorial: High quality workforce is key economic growth factor (Jackson Sun)

We are always excited to read about business success stories in Tennessee, and especially here in West Tennessee and Jackson-Madison County. We were glad to see Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty on hand Monday to help celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Toyota’s Bodine Aluminum manufacturing facility in Jackson. Economic development is the key to community growth. Every new business, large and small, contributes jobs, enhances personal and government financial stability, creates opportunity, and contributes to community quality of life in many different ways.

Editorial: TN’s bad drivers don’t like reminders (Tennessean)

The fatality count is back — but can Tennessee’s motorists handle the truth? The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s interstate message signs have begun posting daily counts of statewide traffic fatalities, after resorting to one-day-a-week notifications earlier this year. An ugly milestone seemed to have jogged TDOT into action: On Oct. 17, the state Department of Safety recorded the 800th death of 2013 on Tennessee roadways — that is the same number of deaths recorded for the same period in 2012. Tennessee ended 2012 with 1,031 traffic fatalities. Only 11 states had worse per capita death rates, and none of them had as high a total death count.

Editorial: Rise in students taking AP courses promising, necessary (N-S)

Changes in education have been highly controversial in recent years, and for good reason. Along with providing public safety, education is one of the most important functions of state and local governments. Education for its own sake has value. It enriches the inner lives of citizens while making them better informed participants in society. Education also has a practical application. Nearly every student, from high school dropouts to newly-minted Ph.D.s will be entering the workforce. So information recently gleaned from Knox County Schools data by the News Sentinel should be welcomed.

Editorial: Employment numbers don’t reflect shutdown’s impact (C. Appeal)

The 16-day government shutdown almost certainly affected hiring in the private sector and for sure in the public sector. But until the jobless report for November is issued in December, we won’t know the extent of the damage. The Labor Department now reports the economy added just 148,000 jobs in September, a steep drop from the robust 193,000 employees added to the workforce in August. The drop in hiring may be, as Reuters suggests, a loss of momentum in the economy, or it may be employers laying off workers or holding off hiring in anticipation of a shutdown. The anemic jobs numbers may be a harbinger of worse to come for October.

Editorial: The ObamaCare Con Job (Wall Street Journal)

The panic of the liberals is not unfounded. The young and healthy will not persevere through a balky ObamaCare website to buy overpriced insurance policies. Older and sicker shoppers have the biggest incentive to try 63 times (as one journalist did) to register. President Obama is right. For these customers, ObamaCare is a very good deal: hundreds or thousands of dollars a month in health care for as little as $0 a month in premiums after direct subsidies. Voilà, the insurance death spiral. Three lessons jump to mind.

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