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July 11 TN News Digest

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

Expansion of automotive systems maker in Sumner Co. could create 230 jobs (AP)
Officials say the expansion of an automotive systems manufacturer in Gallatin could create 230 new jobs over the next five years in Sumner County. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced this week that ABC Group Inc. is adding an additional 180,000 square feet to its existing facility in response to increased demand for automotive-related products. The investment is more than $25 million in land, infrastructure and equipment The expansion will increase production capacity of console, interior trim and load floors for the new GMC and Cadillac vehicles produced at the General Motors plant in Spring Hill.

Haslam Announces ABC Group Inc. Gallatin Expansion, Creation of 230 Jobs (TNR)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with ABC Group Inc. officials announced today the company will add an additional 180,000 square feet to its existing Gallatin facility in response to increased demand for automotive related products. ABC Group will invest $25.5 million in land, infrastructure and equipment and create 230 new jobs over the next five years in Sumner County. “We are thankful for ABC Group’s decision to expand its operations in Gallatin and for the more than 200 jobs the company is creating in Sumner County,” Haslam said.

Gallatin’s economy firing on all cylinders (Tennessean/Cross)
Gallatin is firing on all cylinders, officials say, with more than $200 million in capital investments announced in the last two years, including Thursday’s news that ABC Group Inc. plans to expand and double its workforce. ABC Group plans to invest $25.5 million in land, infrastructure and equipment and create 230 new jobs over the next five years in Gallatin. The company currently employs 196 workers at the facility. The company, which makes auto parts, is expanding the local plant to increase production capacity of console, interior trim and load floors for the new GMC and Cadillac vehicles produced at the General Motors plant in Spring Hill.

Cooperation called key to beating prescription abuse (TFP/Harrison)
Break down the statistics for the number of drug-addicted teens in Hamilton County, and you’ll find there is an average of roughly two in every classroom. It’s just one more grim statistic that the Southeast Tennessee area has seen in a growing amount of data illustrating the state’s addiction to painkillers and other controlled substances. That’s why E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, came to Chattanooga on Thursday to speak about the state’s newest push to battle the epidemic. The plan, dubbed “Prescription for Success,” aims to reduce both the number of Tennesseans who abuse controlled substances and the amount of painkillers prescribed in the state.

Governors Gather In Nashville For NGA Meeting (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Governors from across the nation will be in Nashville this weekend for the National Governors Association summer meeting. The meeting kicked off Thursday at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville. Vice President Joe Biden will be a guest at Friday’s opening session. Throughout the four-day meeting, which concludes Sunday, governors will discuss innovative work in states in several areas, including education, workforce, health care, veterans and jobs. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said he’s honored to host the governors in Nashville and is looking forward to substantive conversation, as well as the chance to showcase Tennessee and all it has to offer.

Gov. Bill Haslam has $4M in re-election bank (Tennessean/Cass)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s re-election effort raised more than $200,000 in the second quarter of this year and has more than $4 million in the bank for a campaign not expected to need anywhere close to that, his latest financial disclosure shows. The Republican governor’s campaign raised $235,759, including $3,700 in interest payments, and spent $434,523 to finish the quarter with $4,016,274 on hand. While three other Republicans and nine other candidates also are running for the state’s highest office, none are expected to challenge Haslam seriously.

Groups weighing TennCare response (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Harrison)
Two national legal advocacy groups have joined a Tennessee organization to “closely monitor” how TennCare responds to federal demands that it repair a dysfunctional application process that has caused backlogs and long delays for people trying to get coverage. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group, and the National Health Law Program, a nonprofit that litigates at the state and federal level, have been working with the Nashville-based Tennessee Justice Center, a public policy and advocacy group, to assess ongoing TennCare problems.

TennCare officials under deadline to submit correction plan (WSMV-TV Nashville)
It’s been a frustrating struggle for some families in Tennessee to get health care coverage. Now, with an ultimatum from the feds, TennCare only has a matter of days to get the kinks sorted out. Carolyn Brasel says it was a three-month ordeal to get her newborn health care. Others Channel 4 spoke with face eviction from their nursing homes and have children who suffered asthma attacks with no meds. Now the federal director of Medicaid programs has sent a letter putting the TennCare program on notice for failing to provide service as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Supreme Court retention vote topic for ad campaign (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Three state Supreme Court justices Thursday began television advertising in support of their quest for new terms in the Aug. 7 election while a group opposed to their retention sent out direct mail advertising that depicts them as “liberal justices who do not represent our values.” Both sides said there is more to come, but declined to give specifics on how much is being spent in the initial advertising. Early voting begins July 18 with Supreme Court Justices Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade, all appointed by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. They are on the statewide ballot, along with other appeals court judges, with voters to cast ballots “yes” or “no” on new eight-year terms.

3 Democratic Supreme Court justices launch TV ad (Associated Press)
The three Supreme Court justices facing retention elections next month have launched a television ad to stress their dedication to the federal and state constitutions. The three Democrats in the ad boast of protecting gun rights and of upholding nearly 90 percent of death sentences that have come before them. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has led an effort to defeat one or all of the sitting justices on the ballot in August. If just one of them loses, the high court would likely gain a GOP majority. The court will name the next attorney to an eight-year term after the election.

Blount County unable to enforce ‘Amelia’s Law’ (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
It’s a law meant to keep known alcohol and drug offenders from getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. But officials in Blount County say “Amelia’s Law” is difficult to enforce. The law is named after 16-year-old Amelia Keown, who was killed by a man driving under the influence in 2012. It allows a judge to force someone who’s committed a drug or alcohol related crime to wear a monitor, letting them know if that person is drunk or high. Blount County probation director Joni Seratt says that technology doesn’t exist. “As far as having an all-in-one unit, getting the data, real-time, alcohol and drug monitoring, there’s not anything that we have found up to this point that can do all three,” she said.

ACLU to challenge law allowing pregnant women to be prosecuted (WATE-TV)
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is considering a challenge to Tennessee’s new law allowing mothers who use drugs while pregnant to be charged with assault. The statement comes after a Monroe County mother became the first woman to be arrested and charged with simple assault under the new law. ACLU-TN says it urged Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the law because, according to the organization, it “raises serious constitutional concerns regarding equal treatment of the law and jeopardizes the health and well-being of Tennesseans.”

State representative candidate questions contributions to incumbent (WATE-TV)
Questions over contributions from a hospital group to State Representative Steve Hall before and after his vote on a bill impacting the hospital. Martin Daniel is running against Hall in the Republican primary for the 18th District House race. 6 News spoke with both candidates about the accusations that are now creating a buzz in the community. Flyers are going around the Knoxville community talking about State Representative Steve Hall with the words “Who is Steve Hall listening to…the People or the Money? His opponent in the Republican primary for the 18th District House race, Martin Daniel, is the one behind the flyers.

Sen. Lamar Alexander announces plan for immigration crisis (Nooga)
During an Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Lamar Alexander outlined a plan to secure the country’s southern border and deport children who have come into the U.S. illegally. The current immigration crisis was triggered by more than 52,000 children who have been taken into custody since October. Many of them came unaccompanied to flee violence in Central America. President Barack Obama recently asked Congress to supply $3.7 billion to deal with the issue. Alexander unveiled his three-part plan during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Thursday to discuss the president’s request.

Alexander calls for sending National Guard to Mexican border (Tennessean/Barton)
Sen. Lamar Alexander said Thursday that President Barack Obama still lacks a “serious plan” for addressing the border crossings by Central American children and should consider calling out the National Guard. Alexander, a Republican running for re-election, said a meaningful plan would propose securing the Rio Grande River sector of the U.S. border with Mexico, sending children home safely and changing a 2008 law regarded as interfering with a solution. An estimated 57,000 have crossed since Oct. 1, 2013. To secure the border, Obama should utilize the National Guard, following the lead of former President George W. Bush, who used the guard to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection reverse a surge of illegal immigration in 2006, the Tennessee lawmaker said.

Obscure Rule Restricts Health Law’s Expansion of Care for Addicts (NY Times)
On its surface, the Affordable Care Act seems like a boon for addiction treatment centers like the South Suburban Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, housed in a no-frills former hotel outside Chicago. The law allowed states to expand Medicaid to many more low-income people, meaning that drug addicts and alcoholics who were previously ineligible could now receive coverage for substance abuse treatment, which the law has deemed an “essential health benefit.” But there is a hitch: Under an obscure federal rule enacted almost 50 years ago, Medicaid covers residential addiction treatment in community-based programs only if they have 16 or fewer beds.

How Technology Can Stretch Infrastructure Dollars (Governing)
The gap between what it would cost to properly maintain and upgrade America’s infrastructure and what governments currently spend is vast. Technology alone can’t bridge the gap, but the more we learn about its applications, the clearer it becomes that technology can significantly narrow that chasm. One example comes from South Carolina, where an innovative bridge-monitoring system is producing real savings despite being in use on only eight bridges. Girder sensors installed on a bridge can measure its carrying capacity and be monitored 24/7.

Small, distributed generation could change power pricing model (TFP/Flessner) 

More than 3,000 TVA employees and contractors are working around the clock at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant to add a second reactor capable of supplying all of the electricity demands of a city twice the size of Chattanooga. From the 1,200-megawatt nuclear unit taking shape near Spring City, Tenn., towering 500-kilowatt transmission lines will carry the power generated from the multibillion-dollar power plant across TVA’s seven-state region. TVA maintains 16,086 miles of transmission lines across its service territory to carry the power generated at large, centralized power plants that have been the backbone of the TVA electric grid since the federal utility was created in 1933.

UAW: ‘Consensus’ Reached With Volkswagen on Union (A. Press/Schelzig)
United Auto Workers leaders said Thursday they have reached a “consensus” with Volkswagen and expect the German automaker to recognize the union if they sign up enough workers at a new local for the company’s assembly plant in Tennessee. The union in February suffered a bitter setback in its effort to organize its first foreign-owned plant in the South when workers at the Chattanooga plant rejected UAW representation by a 712-626 vote. Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, said the creation of Local 42 will avoid the need for another election that could involve “third-party interference.”

Opponents at Chattanooga VW plant call new UAW local union ‘a show’ (TFP/Pare)
The United Auto Workers, calling it “a fresh start,” on Thursday set up a new local in Chattanooga that its officials believe will help it organize Volkswagen employees after a failed attempt earlier this year. But UAW opponents discounted the union’s move, with one VW employee terming it “a show” and “a song and dance.” Some plant workers believe the timing hints that the long-awaited announcement about the Chattanooga plant landing a new sport utility vehicle line is close, possibly taking place as early as next week. Dennis Williams, the union’s new president, said at a news conference that the UAW in February, after the plant vote, stated that it wouldn’t give up on VW employees.

UAW makes Volkswagen union plans in Chattanooga official (N. Business Journal)
The United Auto Workers formally announced Thursday afternoon the creation of UAW Local 42, a new local union that will represent Volkswagen’s employees in Chattanooga. Membership in the local union is not required, and the union will not be formally recognized by Volkswagen until a majority of employees have joined. According to a news release from the UAW, the creation of the union came after reaching “a consensus with” Volkswagen. According to the news release, Local 42 will allow the Volkswagen employees to participate in the company’s German-style “works council” approach to employee management.

UAW forms local chapter, vows to work toward works council (Nooga)
About 20 Volkswagen employees signed paperwork making a local United Auto Workers union chapter in Chattanooga official Thursday afternoon. “We said we would not give up on these hardworking employees, and we haven’t,” UAW President Dennis Williams said at a news conference held at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers office. In February, VW employees at the Chattanooga plant voted against union representation in a 712–626 vote. The national organization authorized Local 42 in March, and leaders said Thursday that the new union will be housed at the IBEW for now. Members also will not pay dues, yet.

UAW Starts Chattanooga Chapter Despite Volkswagen Rejection (WPLN-Radio)
The United Auto Workers has started a local chapter in Chattanooga meant for Volkswagen workers, UAW local 42. Employees narrowly rejected the UAW earlier this year in a secret ballot at the plant, so union officials are trying another route to show how much support they have. They suggest VW employees were scared into rejecting the union by Republican politicians who – as the February vote was occurring – hinted the plant might miss out on a big expansion with the UAW around. “We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” said Gary Casteel, UAW secretary-treasurer and chief of organizing at transnational plants.

Union Foes Vow To Fight State Incentives For Volkswagen (WTVF-TV Nashville)
A major announcement out of Chattanooga could touch off a political firestorm if union opponents get their way. As NewsChannel 5 first reported, the United Auto Workers announced Thursday that it’s forming a local chapter to represent workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga. Even though VW workers rejected the union back in February, UAW leaders now claim they see a potential victory in sight. “We have had an ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told reporters during an afternoon news conference in Chattanooga.

Jesse Register: ‘Enough is enough’ in charter debate (Tennessean/Garrison)
Calling for unity in Nashville’s public education sphere at a time when it has never been more polarized, Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register said “enough is enough” with division surrounding its most debated area: charter schools. An unusually blunt Register, in a speech Thursday before the Metro Council, decried what he called a “steady and ever-increasing tendency toward miscommunication and gamesmanship in our dialogue” — actions he contends have produced “hard feelings where understanding and common purpose once ruled the day.”

Massachusetts: Decision on Health Site Expected (New York Times)
Officials will know by early August whether the state can move forward with its own retooled health exchange or join the federal marketplace. The state’s Health Connector sputtered last fall when it was updated to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. In May, officials said they would simultaneously improve the state’s exchange with new software and prepare to join HealthCare.gov if they could not get the Connector working properly. The leadership at a Thursday board meeting of the Connector said that, after a successful demonstration of the new software, federal officials told them to continue the dual-track approach until early August, when a decision will be made.

 

OPINION

Times Editorial: UAW’s back, and so is our potential (Times Free-Press)
In the Tennessee hills, and apparently in the offices of the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen, there’s still more than one way to skin a cat. UAW, despite its narrow rejection by VW workers last February (53 percent against to 47 percent for), is forming a new local at the Chattanooga VW plant. The union is confident the German automaker will recognize the union if it signs up enough workers at the Chattanooga plant, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said Thursday. There is a lot at stake: A new SUV assembly line at Enterprise South industrial park and about 1,350 new full-time jobs, the red faces of Tennessee politicians, UAW’s survival, VW’s strong belief in a works-council culture that puts workers in decision-making partnership with plant management, a new union hybrid that might be palatable all across the South, and Chattanooga’s future.

Guest columnist: A Minimally Invasive Approach to Health-Care Reform (WSJ)
Minimally invasive surgery using a fiber-optic camera and small incisions rather than traditional “open” surgery significantly reduces costly surgical complications. That’s been known for some time. But a study that my Johns Hopkins University colleagues and I recently conducted has found that it is still surprisingly common for patients in the U.S. not to be given that surgical option. Our team examined four common procedures—appendectomy, hysterectomy, colectomy and lung lobectomy—at more than 1,000 hospitals. Serious complications were substantially lower for minimally invasive operations in all four.

Editorial: Early Returns on Health Care Reform (New York Times)
It will take a while to understand fully how the Affordable Care Act affects the quality of health care and access to doctors in this country. But a new survey offers encouraging reviews from people who signed up for private plans or Medicaid during the first enrollment period from October 2013 through March 2014. The survey, sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund, a research group that tracks health care reform, conducted phone interviews with some 4,400 working-age adults around the country from April 9 to June 2, shortly after the first open enrollment period ended. It found that 78 percent of the newly insured were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their new insurance.

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