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July 19 TN News Digest

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

Gov. Bill Haslam begins to plan for second term (Tennessean/Sisk)
The road appears to have smoothed for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Four years removed from his first campaign for governor, Haslam has cruised this summer toward a second term, without spending much time or money campaigning. His dealings with the state legislature have become less cantankerous, and his family company appears to be on its way toward resolving a federal investigation. But the election may not be the biggest impediment to a successful second term. A steep downturn in business tax collections over the past year has left the state with nearly $300 million less than it anticipated.

Haslam seeks re-election with limited opposition (Daily News Journal)
Although eight gubernatorial candidates are on the ballots for the Democratic and Republican primaries, incumbent Republican Bill Haslam faces no serious challenges in his race for re-election. Haslam’s re-election would continue a trend of the past four decades with Democrats and Republicans trading the governor’s seat every eight years. The trend of the rotating governor’s seat actually began in the 1950s, but trading the office were Democratic governors Frank Clement and Buford Ellington. Governors then were limited to one four-year term at a time. Republican Winfield Dunn broke the Democratic hold on the governor’s seat in 1970, but Democrat Ray Blanton regained the post in 1974.

Haslam announces grants to Maryville, Alcoa communities (News-Sentinel/Jones)
Gov. Bill Haslam announced two grants Friday totalling almost $1 million for Alcoa and Maryville with the goal of improving quality of life in those communities. “The ability for folks to be out and enjoying what I think is one of the most beautiful places in the world, to be able to build community is what it’s about,” Haslam said. Alcoa received a $721,212 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation for its pedestrian extension project. The project will add 1.6 miles of additional walkways to connect neighborhoods and businesses to Springbrook Park, according to Alcoa Mayor Don Mull, who walks the trails every day.

Mont. Co. selects tnAchieves for Tennessee Promise (Leaf Chronicle)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s vision to provide a tuition-free opportunity for every Tennessee student to earn a college credential is now a reality beginning with students graduating high school from the Class of 2015. In Montgomery County, Mayor Bowers has designated tnAchieves to serve as the local partnering organization to help organize and support Tennessee Promise here. Tennessee Promise offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college to Tennessee high school graduates beginning with the Class of 2015.

The dark reality of prescription drug abuse in Tennessee (Bristol Herald-Courier)
“Epidemic” is the word used Friday by Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner to describe the prescription drug abuse problem in Tennessee and he had a number of facts and a lot of data to back up his statement. Licensed counselor Jason Abernathy, on the other hand, had no power-point presentation or chart to point at when he stepped to the podium — just a sobering story of being hooked on booze and pills for more than a decade, putting a face on the growing problem now facing the Volunteer State.

Health leaders gather in Johnson City to discuss prescription drug epidemic (T-N)
A fall led to back problems, which led to a prescription for narcotics. One pill turned into two, then four, then eight until a handful of pills is what it took to simply get out of bed in the morning. This journey into addiction belongs to Jason Abernathy, but it could happen to anybody. Abernathy doesn’t sound like the stereotypical drug addict. He served four years in the Marine Corps and then spent 16 years working in law enforcement. On the surface, it may have looked like he had everything together, he didn’t “I looked fine on the outside but I was dying on the inside,” he said. “I was absolutely dying.”

Bitter pills: State, local health pros talk reducing prescription abuse (JCP)
With a new organized, multi-pronged approach touted in Johnson City on Friday, state and local officials hope to quell Tennessee’s seemingly insatiable appetite for prescription opioids and cure the negative side effects resulting from their abuse. Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Douglas Varney and Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner met privately with Tri-Cities health care providers at Boones Creek Christian Church for a roundtable discussion of the exhaustive plan, then held a news conference to raise awareness for what they called an epidemic level of drug abuse throughout the state’s 95 counties.

State, local tourism efforts are a good fit (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)
A new marketing campaign aimed at promoting tourism in the Volunteer State should be a good fit with local efforts, according to Knoxville’s top tourism official. Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville, said the state’s newly released “Made in Tennessee” campaign highlights things like scenic beauty, music and outdoor adventures. “And that goes hand in hand with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it — and also what East Tennessee and Knoxville, Tennessee has to offer,” said Bumpas. According to the state, tourism is Tennessee’s second-biggest industry, accounting for $16.2 billion in economic impact.

Smokies tourism creates $734 million in local economic benefits (N-S/Simmons)
A new National Park Service report shows that visitors to the Smokies in 2013 pumped just over $734 million into the local economy while supporting 10,734 jobs. In 2013 the park drew 9,354,695 visitors to retain its title as the most-visited national park in the U.S. The 2013 economic benefit figures are slightly below the 2012 results that reported $741 million spent by park visitors in local communities. The report attributed the decline to the 16-day government shutdown in October, 2013. It also cited inflation adjustments for differences between visitation and visitor spending, jobs supported, and overall effects on the U.S. economy.

Tax-free shopping coming Aug. 1 (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Anderson)
Back-to-school shopping may not have gotten easier, but it certainly can be cheaper. Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee all continue to offer tax-free shopping holidays for specific school-related itemsthis year during the first weekend in August. In Tennessee, shoppers will save nearly 10 percent by not paying local or state sales tax on designated items. “This holiday offers Tennesseans great savings on important back-to-school items, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a news release.

Haslams to honor Ellis Monday at scouting fundraiser (Tullahoma News)
The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee will honor Mildred “Milly” Ellis, one of the nation’s oldest living Girl Scouts, at the second annual Friends of Girl Scouting fundraiser set for noon Monday at the Lakewood Golf and Country Club. Special keynote speaker for the event will be Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam, as well as more than 100 local community leaders, business leaders, residents and Girl Scouts. Ellis, 104, is the oldest living Girl Scout in Tennessee. She joined Girl Scouts as a troop leader at age 14 and served on the Girl Scout National Board of Directors from 1956-1969.

Maryville man divorcing wife over health care among demonstrators (WATE-TV)
Governor Bill Haslam took to the early voting polls Friday in downtown Knoxville. While trying to cast his ballot, protestors came with signs demanding Medicaid expansion – something the governor chose not to do last year. Governor Bill Haslam’s trip to the city-county building in downtown Knoxville to vote early soon turned into something else. A group of people with signs reading things such as “Medicaid expansion now” stood in front of the voting booth area hoping to get the governor’s attention. Some have been trying to get answers for some time.

Columbia State breaks ground on Williamson County campus (Tenn/Giordano)
No sooner was the dirt ceremoniously turned at the site of the new Williamson County campus of Columbia State Community College on Friday than the bulldozers were revving up their engines. Over the next two years — the time it will take to construct the new community college campus — the wooded site on Liberty Pike will be a hubbub of activity that will extend way beyond the completion of the facility. In her speech before hundreds who turned out for the groundbreaking, Janet Smith, president of the community college, acknowledged the years and the people it took to arrive at that moment and also the economic impact the campus will have on Williamson County for many years to come.

TBR: ETSU has lowest number of tenured teachers in system (Johnson City Press)
In the midst of a multi-year budget squeeze, East Tennessee State University’s proportion of teachers granted tenure status is the lowest among four-year institutions governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, but administrators say that’s attributable to the medical and research colleges associated with the university. At the TBR’s quarterly board meeting last month, the regents examined and approved tuition rates and faculty tenure recommendations for each of the schools under the board’s purview, among other things.

As another birthday passes, custody case drags on (Tennessean/Haas)
Five years of legal wrangling and blistering social media spats and this is what anyone has to show for it: Sonya McCaul, who celebrated her 10th birthday on Friday, is still technically in state custody. The years-long battle for Sonya, a girl raised by foster parents in Dickson until a court earlier this year ordered her returned to her biological father in Omaha, Neb., has still not been fully settled. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has legal custody of her while she stays with her biological father, John McCaul, in Omaha on a trial basis.

Lane closures resume for I-65 work near Goodlettsville (Tennessean/Wilson)
Interstate 65 near Goodlettsville will be partially closed again as crews continue to work on the highway in both directions this weekend. Tennessee Department of Transportation officials will begin road work between mile markers 96 and 99 at 8 p.m. Friday. At least two lanes will be open in each direction during all construction, TDOT said. Crews are expected to replace the median barrier wall and perform deck repairs on the interstate before all lanes are cleared at 6 a.m. Monday. The weekend closure is one of 10 scheduled as part of a $4.9 million construction project for the interstate.

Madison County man charged with TennCare fraud (Jackson Sun)
A Madison County man is charged with TennCare fraud in connection with obtaining benefits through the health care insurance program, even though he wasn’t eligible, according to a news release. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), with the assistance of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, today announced the arrest of Joe Ray Phelps, 54, of Jackson. Phelps was indicted by a Madison County grand jury and charged with fraudulently obtaining TennCare medical assistance benefits to which he was not entitled. “When a person intentionally misrepresents their situation – whether it’s income, dependents, access to insurance or other issues – that’s fraud against the state and taxpayers,” Acting Inspector General Robert White said.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justices defend their records (M. Business Journal)
Today, Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Sharon Lee and Cornelia A. Clark defended their records, talking to the Memphis Business Journal before this year’s unusual judicial retention election on Aug. 7. Justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court are appointed by the governor to serve eight-year terms, and then voters determine whether the justices should be retained or replaced during the August election. Ordinarily this process is benign and not particularly partisan. But this year is different, as Tennessee Lt. Gov. and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and the Republican State Leadership Committee have been mounting an effort to defeat the three justices, all of whom were appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. The GOP campaign is the first serious challenge to sitting Supreme Court justices in nearly two decades.

State Supreme Court justices campaign on first day of early voting (CA/Veazey)
The three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are up for retention in the Aug. 7 general election have taken to the streets — literally — in an effort to campaign to keep their jobs in the face of a push to oust them led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. The justices spent Friday morning in Memphis, taking part in an event at a Downtown law firm and meeting with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board. More events are planned, including the kind of door-to-door canvassing usually associated with other elected offices. “We are treating this as a statewide campaign,” Justice Connie Clark told The CA.

Biting campaign mailers circulating as early voting gets under way (N-S/Vines)
Charges of sign stealing and a blast of fliers were heavy this week in the Stacey Campfield-Richard Briggs campaign for the Republican nomination for the 7th District Senate seat leading up to Friday, the beginning of early voting. Campfield, the incumbent, said on his blog, http://lastcar.blogspot.com/, he would give a $250 award to someone providing information on signs being stolen from private property and he would press charges. Retired broadcast journalist Jean Ash, who drives Middlebrook Pike regularly, said signs at the corner of Middlebrook and Broome Road for several days were for Briggs and U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. and a third person whom she can’t remember. Then suddenly they were gone and there was just a huge Campfield sign, she said.

Blue flu numbers continue to decline (Commercial Appeal/Smith)
The number of police and firefighters calling in sick continues to decline. According to the Memphis Police Department, 155 officers were out sick Friday, down from 158 Thursday and 171 Wednesday afternoon. The Memphis Fire Department had 36 firefighters out sick Friday, down from 41 on Thursday, according to a spokesman. There were 44 firefighters out Wednesday. MPD has said the absences are a deliberate work action in response to cuts to health care subsidies and other pension changes.

TVA to cut rates in August (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Keeping your home or office cool during the dog days of summer should be a bit cheaper next month than it was during July. The typical Chattanooga household will pay $3.32 less for electricity next month due to a drop in the fuel portion of the monthly light bill in August. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which adjusts a portion of its rates each month to reflect the changing price of what it pays for fuel, will lower its electric rates in August to the lowest level in five months. The average EPB customer will pay about 2.2 percent less for power next month than he or she did in July.

Jason Taylor leaves Chattanooga Times Free Press (Times Free-Press)
Jason Taylor, who has served as president and general manager of the Chattanooga Times Free Press since 2007, is leaving the newspaper for a position with the Gannett Co. Taylor, 39, on Friday was appointed president and publisher of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and East Group regional president. “This is a bittersweet day for me because I am so honored to have led this paper over the past seven years,” Taylor said. Nat Lea, president of WEHCO Media, which owns the Times Free Press, thanked Taylor for his service.

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