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July 9 TN News Digest

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

Sequatchie Valley counties net more than $1 million in grants (TFP/Benton)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam handed out more than $1 million in grant funding today as he made stops in three Sequatchie Valley counties. Pikeville, Dunlap, Monteagle and Tracy City netted $1.12 million for infrastructure improvements planned in future and ongoing projects. Pikeville and Bledsoe County got a $59,200 grant for a developing farmers market and a $250,000 energy grant for renovations to the old Pikeville Elementary School as a new city municipal building, community kitchen and training faciility. Dunlap got more than $591,000 for phase II of its Coops Creek Greenway project that cuts through downtown.

Haslam barnstorms eastern Tennessee, doling out grants (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam visited eastern Tennessee Tuesday, announcing several grants that will make the state a healthier place for its residents. PIKEVILLE: The City of Pikeville and Bledsoe County are the recipients of a $59,200 Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program grant to help fund a new farmers market pavilion. Gov. Bill Haslam was on hand in Pikeville for the announcement Tuesday. In a news release, Haslam said “I’m happy to announce this grant to help the county and city build a farmers market pavilion to better serve the area’s needs. The grant is part of our efforts to increase economic activity in our rural communities by responding to the growth in and demand for Tennessee’s fresh and local farm products.”

4 S.E. Tenn. Cities Awarded Transportation Grants (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)
Three Tennessee counties were awarded large amounts of money to better non-traditional transportation in their cities. “We’re focused on some of our smaller communities that don’t have the resources that our larger ones do,” said Gov. Bill Haslam, who made trips to Pikeville, Dunlap, Monteagle, and Tracy City on Tuesday to announce the grant awards. In all, Haslam announced more than $1.7 million dollars in grants. “If you look at growth, both economic and population, our rural areas have struggled a little bit,” said Haslam, “so we’re doing what we can to help that. Pikeville was awarded a $250,000 Clean Tennessee Energy Grant.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam likes non-union works council bill idea (TFP/Benton)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that potential federal legislation legalizing works council-type labor boards in the U.S. without a union could benefit Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant. The governor also said the state continues to have “very fruitful discussions” with VW officials over an incentive package that may lead to the company adding a new sport utility vehicle line to the automaker’s factory. Haslam, who unveiled several infrastructure grants, said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is “onto something” when the state’s junior senator noted Monday he’s eyeing a bill permitting companies to create labor boards or employee-involvement programs giving workers more of a voice in workplace issues.

Haslam to talk with new US health secretary (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam is expressing hope that a planned discussion with the nation’s new health secretary during the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville this week might rekindle talks over his plan for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. Haslam told reporters following a grant announcement in Dunlap on Tuesday that he’s always had hope that something can be worked out. And he says Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell may be able to get “some of the logs unjammed.” Haslam last year declined to accept the Medicaid money without special arrangements for the state.

Gov. Haslam: THP offering to help Memphis police (Associated Press)
The state is offering to dedicate Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to help Memphis deal with a rash of sick calls from police officers upset about cuts to their health care benefits, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday. Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said the number of officers who are currently out sick has increased to 554. That represents about a quarter of the total force, which stands at about 2,200 officers. Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong has said the sick calls are part of officers’ protests of a City Council vote that reduces health care subsidies for city employees, including police and fire staff, in order to redirect money toward the city’s troubled pension fund.

Haslam plans to send extra state troopers to Memphis if requested (CA/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he’s planning to send additional state troopers to Memphis to help police the city if Mayor A C Wharton asks for state aid. The governor told The Associated Press that he and state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons spoke Monday about the Memphis police situation. “I agree with the commissioner that we can help. And so we have plans to dedicate a certain number of officers there from the Highway Patrol. Obviously we can’t do that forever but we do want to step in and help,” Haslam said. Gibbons, the former Shelby County district attorney general, said Monday he called Wharton and offered the state’s assistance but it wasn’t needed yet.

Blue Flu spreads as more Memphis police officers call in sick (CA/Callahan)
As the number of police officers claiming they were too ill to work reached 555 on Tuesday, city officials canceled the department’s generous sick-leave policy, a move they hope will curtail the “Blue Flu” work stoppage. Previously, the Memphis Police Department had an unusual sick-leave policy that differed from most other city divisions. Beginning Wednesday, the standard — and much more stringent — city policy will also apply to Memphis police, officials announced at a press conference at City Hall Tuesday. “To the degree that (sick leave) is being abused, it will be dealt with,” Mayor A C Wharton said. “We do not condone what has taken place.” Those who’ve claimed sickness represent more than 25 percent of the department’s 2,218 officers.

Tenn State University Tries To Defray ‘Sticker Shock’ Of Buying Textbooks (WPLN)
At Tennessee State University, 85 percent of the student body receives financial aid. But even after paying for tuition, there’s another hurdle: textbooks. “Go to the bookstore, because you will really be shocked,” says Dr. Alisa Mosley, associate vice president of academic affairs. “You know, for first generation students who have no clue about how much textbooks will be, there is tremendous sticker shock.” Textbooks normally can cost more than $800 per semester, according to her estimates, but the university recently announced a new initiative that could lower that by several hundred dollars.

Tennessee fails to follow law to protect babies (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Nejuana Harris did not want to have her baby this way — rushing into an emergency room six weeks before the baby should have arrived, wondering and worrying about undiagnosed complications and unknown dangers. “I didn’t have any prenatal care,” Harris said. “None.” She would have gotten that medical attention if TennCare had been in compliance with the presumptive eligibility requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Tennessee has so far failed to set up a system for hospitals to temporarily enroll patients in Medicaid who probably qualify for coverage — something hospitals were supposed to be able to do beginning Jan. 1.

Feds give Tennessee 10 days to address ACA failures (Tennessean/Wilemon)
The federal director of Medicaid programs has put Tennessee on notice that it has failed to provide services for people as required by the Affordable Care Act and is giving the state 10 days to submit a correction plan. The crux of the problem is delays with bringing a $35 million computer system online. However, Tennessee is also criticized for not providing people with face-to-face help in applying and for not setting up a program that allows hospitals to temporarily enroll people in Medicaid if they are presumed eligible. With this year’s full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee stopped providing state personnel to help people sign up for Medicaid and, instead, began directing them to use healthcare.gov, the federal health exchange.

State error lands released inmates back in prison (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Nine inmates who successfully graduated from a re-entry program from a state prison and were allowed to start new lives on the outside are now back in prison because of a state error, a Channel 4 I-Team investigation found. Among the inmates is Darryl Harmon, who spent six months completing the program at the Turney Center Industrial Complex. Harmon was released from prison after convictions of aggravated robbery, met with his probation officer and spent the last two weeks reconnecting with his young daughter, visiting his siblings and starting work in landscaping. But on July 3, while sitting on his mother’s back porch, state probation and parole officers arrived.

Tennessee comptroller not entering Memphis debate on PILOTs (CA/Locker)
Opponents of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s plan to cut benefits for city employees often blame the city’s extensive use of PILOTs — tax breaks called “payments in lieu of taxes” that are negotiated with businesses to locate or expand operations — as a big factor why the city lacks money. Last year, Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson took note, making a brief reference to PILOTs in a six-page letter to Wharton and the City Council about his concerns about the city’s finances. Writing about his office’s concern “with the low level of general fund balance,” the comptroller said in the May 20, 2013, letter that “The City appears to have funding needs in the near future for liabilities related to pension obligations, other post-employment benefit obligations, and money owed to the school system. Also, the city has aggressively used PILOTs and other property tax incentives for economic development purposes which have cut into future property tax revenue growth.”

Wade addresses call for his unseating from the bench (Bristol Herald-Courier)
Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade on Tuesday called an effort by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to have him unseated from the bench in the upcoming August election “different and disconcerting.” The chief justice spoke to the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board at the newspapers offices in downtown Bristol about the target placed on his back by Ramsey and on the other justices — Connie Clark and Sharon Lee — who are up for retention on the ballot Aug. 7. In a public campaign aimed at their ouster, Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, criticized the “liberal” trio during the General Assembly session, according to an Associated Press report, for being “soft on crime” and being anti-business.

New Tenn. law allows gun owners to keep loaded firearms in vehicle (TFP/Sher)
Under a new law that quietly took effect last week, many Tennessee gun owners may now legally keep loaded firearms in their vehicles even if they don’t have a state-issued handgun-carry permit. As of July 1, people who are legally able to possess a gun under state and federal law, you can keep a loaded handgun, shotgun or rifle in a car or truck you legally possess. Previously, only those with state-issued handgun carry permits could legally keep loaded firearms in their vehicles. Those without carry permits could keep unloaded firearms in the vehicle if the ammunition was stored separately.

Ramsey: Couple’s story tragic, but Medicaid expansion risky (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
One of the state’s highest elected officials has addressed the issue of a Maryville couple who said government policies forced them to separate after 33 years of marriage. We introduced you to the Drains on Monday. They are among 162,000 Tennesseans who got caught in an insurance coverage gap after the Affordable Care Act went into effect and Governor Haslam decided not to expand Medicaid. Larry Drain said his wife, who has epilepsy, would lose her Supplemental Security Income and Tenncare if she continued to live with him.

NGA Helped Make Common Core, But Hot Button Won’t Be On Agenda (WPLN)
Governors from around the country are coming to Nashville for their annual conference this week, and one thorny topic is missing from the agenda: Common Core. Governor Bill Haslam has become an outspoken advocate for the standards just as other states are backing away. When the National Governor’s Association met in 2009, in Washington, D.C., a group of state leaders set in motion what would become Common Core public education standards and the tests that accompany them. Back in 2010, some 40 states expressed interest in adopting Common Core. Yet as the 2014-15 deadline approached for new Common Core testing — and with re-election bids on the horizon — states like Indiana, the first to accept the standards, are opting out.

Border funding won’t stop illegal crossings, Tenn. delegation says (NS/Collins)
East Tennesseans in Congress said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has waited far too long to secure the nation’s southern border and that his request for $3.7 billion will do little to stop minors or anyone else from crossing into the United States illegally. “On the border, we have a humanitarian disaster and a president who doesn’t seem to want to enforce immigration laws asking for billions of dollars,” said U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City. Before the House considers Obama’s request for the money, “the president must more clearly lay out to us how he will be working to secure the border in the future,” Roe said. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, said Obama has been playing “fast and loose” with immigration enforcement for too long.

Sen. Alexander honors Howard Baker on Senate floor (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
Senator Lamar Alexander took the senate floor on Tuesday to honor the memory of former Senator Howard H. Baker Jr. Baker, a former Senate Majority Leader and Chief of Staff to President Reagan, died last month at his home in Huntsville following complications from a stroke. He was 88 years old. Alexander delivered the eulogy for his political mentor at the funeral last week. Many big political names from both parties attended, including Vice President Joe Biden, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator Bob Corker, and Governor Bill Haslam.

House Committee Takes Step Toward Renewing Highway Trust Fund (NY Times)
The House Ways and Means Committee released a bipartisan plan on Tuesday that would provide federal financing for transportation projects through May 15, 2015, and would be the first step in replenishing the Highway Trust Fund, which will run out of money next month unless Congress acts. The proposal, which would be financed in several unusual ways, is expected to generate about $10 billion to keep the Highway Trust Fund from becoming insolvent on Aug. 1 and to pay for projects the fund does not cover. The committee will begin work on the bill Thursday.

TVA: Natural gas power plant would help clean Memphis air (C. Appeal/Bailey)
A TVA air emissions specialist could not say Tuesday that replacing TVA’s big coal-fired power plant in Memphis with one fueled by natural gas will allow the area to meet EPA ozone standards, but Skip Markham said the change will help. Markham, of TVA’s permitting and compliance office, was one of about a dozen agency specialists who traveled to Memphis for an “open house”-style public hearing to gather public comment before the TVA board votes on Aug. 21. Sixty-nine people had signed in during the first 90 minutes of the four-hour event at Central Station in Downtown. Natural gas would reduce ozone-causing emissions, including nitrogen oxide, by 1,990 tons annually and volatile organic compounds by 18 tons yearly, TVA concluded.

SCORE launches fellowship program for teachers (Associated Press)
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education is launching a program that will provide Tennessee teachers an opportunity to have a greater impact on key state-level education policy issues. The advocacy and research institution will select about 20 classroom teachers to serve a one-year term under the Tennessee Educator Fellowship. The fellows will learn about and advocate for policies, practices, and systems that impact educator effectiveness and student achievement. Fellows representing each of Tennessee’s three geographic divisions will be chosen from varying subjects and grade levels.

Education supporters focus on new Bartlett school system (C. Appeal/Bailey)
With a municipal school system opening in Bartlett next month, the suburb’s Education Foundation is remarketing itself with hopes of raising more funds to support the 11 schools in the suburb. Jason Sykes, recently elected president of the Bartlett Education Foundation, is optimistic the new district, new direction and a sole municipal system as the foundation’s benefactor will result in significantly more funds than the $10,000 to $20,000 raised in recent years. Sykes said school leaders “really want the foundation to be the premier organization as far as community engagement and volunteers and fundraising and helping them market the school district.”

Oregon: Oregon Medicaid Model Covers More but Costs Less (Governing)
The largest and arguably most ambitious recent attempt at injecting greater accountability into Medicaid significantly lowered emergency room visits and hospitalization, according to a report. In 2013, the 15 regional medical organizations providing care for about 90 percent of Oregon’s Medicaid population decreased costly ER visits by 17 percent and the hospitalization rate for several chronic diseases by as much as 32 percent from 2011 levels. Over that same period, spending for primary care and preventive services increased by 11 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

 
OPINION

Columnist: It’s not about SEC football (The Star)
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, also known as the AJC, has always had a very special role in the South and for me personally. And, on a recent trip to Atlanta, several AJC stories, all published on the same day, provided a wake-up call about the challenges we in South Carolina face relative to other states in the South… Story three – Technology in Tennessee. One doesn’t normally think of Tennessee, or South Carolina for that matter, as a high-tech state, but it has set a bold and audacious goal that will propel it in that direction. Gov. Bill Haslam has set the goal of making his state “the number one state in the Southeast to launch and grow a business.” And he’s putting his money and credibility where his mouth is. It has just launched a $50 million INCITE initiative (Innovation, Commercialization, Investment, Technology and Entrepreneurship).

Editorial: Federal limits on fundraisers at schools go too far (News-Sentinel)
A new regulation on school nutrition could spark food fights of sorts between a high school’s band and the honor society, the softball team and the glee club or the student government and the Latin club. The Tennessee State Board of Education last week set a limit on the number of bake sales and other food-related fundraisers at public schools, the Tennessean reported. Schools now can hold such fundraisers on only 30 days a year. Though approved by the state board, the new regulation is mandated by the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which sets higher nutritional standards in the nation’s public schools.

Editorial: Congressional delays on Highway Trust Fund will stall traffic later (CA)
Congress still hasn’t acted on what in Washington shorthand is known as the highway bill. Federal aid to highways didn’t really kick into high gear until 1956 with the creation of the Highway Trust Fund. The fund was financed by a tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to pay for the interstate highway system. Over the years, it has become integral to maintaining and improving America’s infrastructure of roads and bridges. Congress customarily reauthorizes the bill after only token fuss, but because of inertia and ideological bickering it hasn’t acted this year and lawmakers now seem no closer to a workable long-term solution.

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