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July 22 TN News Digest

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

TN children make strides on Kids Count measure (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
School improvements and better health care propelled Tennessee up the charts in the newest national ranking of the well-being of children. Tennessee’s climb to 36th this year — up from 39th — put the state among the five with the biggest improvements in the annual Kids Count data published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. On all eight scores for education and health, Tennessee made strides. More children met reading and math goals. Preschool enrollments increased. More teenagers graduated high school on time. And babies were born healthier and with a greater likelihood of having health insurance.

Kids Count shows Tennessee children getting smarter, healthier (TFP/Putman)
Children in Tennessee are getting smarter and healthier, but an increasing number are plagued with poverty. More than 1 in every four children live in poverty, up from about 1 in 5 in 2005. “I’ve seen kids hungry, not able to be fed. They go from living in one person’s home to the other because parents don’t have a place for them to go,” said Gloria Griffith, founder of a summer camp in the Westside, where the median household income is $12, 977 and 86 percent of the population lives below poverty. Tennessee ranks 36 this year in the annual Kids Count National Data Book ranking on child well being.

Tennessee improves annual Kids Count ranking (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee is 36th this year in the annual KIDS COUNT National Data Book ranking on child well-being, better than its 39th ranking in 2013. The state is among the five states with the biggest improvements in overall rankings from 2013 to 2014, according to a news release. Released today, The Data Book rates states on four domains: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community. Each domain is comprised of four measures. When the most recently available data were compared to those from 2005, Tennessee improved on 10 of the 16 measures; worsened on five and remained the same on one, paralleling national changes.

Haslam announces grant funding for Blount greenways, pool (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
Almost a million dollars is coming to Blount County for some needed improvements to outdoor living. Gov. Bill Haslam announced a $250,000 grand to improve the John Sevier Pool in Maryville and more than $721,000 to improve the greenway system in Alcoa. “Building new trails and sidewalks and improving a community pool helps promote recreational and healthy ways for residents and visitors to get out and enjoy their neighborhoods, and they’re important to making Tennessee the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Haslam said.

Amazon sorting center planned for Nashville (Tennessean/Ward)
Amazon.com is expanding its Nashville area operations with plans for a new sorting center in the airport area that will create 100 jobs. The online retail giant has leased a 214,000-square-foot warehouse at 50 Airways Blvd. off Briley Parkway for the operation. Roughly $3.25 million in renovations and upgrades are underway at the building last occupied by Ceva Logistics, a vendor for computer maker Dell that consolidated its assembly of laptops in Mt. Juliet. The sorting center would be the first in Tennessee for Amazon.com, which has more than 2,000 Nashville area employees and more than 5,000 statewide.

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. expands 115 years after its start in Chattanooga (TFP/Green)
The rain held off Monday morning for Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co.’s outdoor ceremony on the grounds of what was formerly Chattanooga-based photography company Olan Mills. The site will soon be home of Coke’s $62 million-dollar distribution center and regional headquarters, after Coca-Cola Bottling Company United officials decided in the spring that Chattanooga would get the expansion and absorb the Dalton, Ga., and Scottsboro, Ala. distribution regions, as The Coca-Cola Co. pulls back from distribution services. But Monday also marked a staggering milestone for Chattanooga Coke and the Coca-Cola brand’s staying power.

Agero plans to ramp up hiring in Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)
Since opening for business here in 2012, the roadside assistance call center, Agero, has outperformed similar Agero facilities in other areas of the country, company officials said Monday. Clarksville’s workforce has impressed to the point that Agero now plans to increase its Clarksville payroll this year by 25 percent. The facility at 2971 International Blvd. currently has about 460 people on its payroll, and it’s expected that the number will grow to somewhere above 500 employees by the end of this year. A specific figure wasn’t cited Monday, but executives expressed confidence in Clarksville’s short-term expansion.

Haslam to speak at Chamber membership meeting (Crossville Chronicle)
Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce annual membership meeting will be held Aug. 8, 2014 at the Cumberland County Community Complex. The meeting will include awards, presentations and recognitions, with scheduled speaker, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. The Chamber would like to recognize and thank Cumberland County Bank for its platinum sponsorship of this year’s annual meeting. Under Haslam’s results-driven, common sense leadership, Tennessee is recognized as a national leader in education, job creation and fiscal responsibility. His commitment to education is making a difference.

State puts day care violations online (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
How safe is your child’s day care? It’s a question that’s hugely important to any parent who entrusts a child to the care of professional caregivers. Until now, however, the state did not provide parents easy access to information about what inspectors found inside the state’s child care centers. Starting this month, the Tennessee Department of Human Services has begun posting all violations found at state-licensed child care providers on its website. The new reports show spotless records for many of the region’s day cares. But they also reveal scores of disturbing violations in Middle Tennessee day cares.

Sullivan one of first in Tenn. to get new system for plate renewals (Herald-Courier)
The Sullivan County Clerk’s office has a new decal printing system for vehicle plate renewals, with help from the state and Business Information Systems in Piney Flats, Tennessee. The old system required that preprinted decals be created by the state and sent to each county clerk’s office. The decal stickers then had to be verified, matched to each transaction and stapled to the renewal document. Sullivan County Clerk Jeanie Gammon and her employees have looked through and verified approximately 150,000 decals each year, she said Monday. Decals will now be printed immediately in the office so there is no wait.

Some oppose TDOT plan that would bring I-65 closer to historic cemetery (WSMV)
The sound of 18-wheelers is part of the experience when you visit Jones Cemetery in Columbia, TN, which nestled right up against Interstate 65. It was never intended to be this way. Nearly 500 peaceful grave sites, some of late Tennessee soldiers, have been here since the 1800s, longer than the interstate. But now the busy freeway may be moving closer to those resting in peace. “It’s going to take away what little bit of peacefulness we had left. And you know, it’s just a lack of respect, in my opinion, to come this close to the graves,” said Jones Cemetery Commission Chairman John Waldrun.

TDOC releases name of slain inmate from weekend altercation (J. City Press)
The Tennessee Department of Correction has released the name of an inmate who died Saturday morning after he was involved in an altercation with several other prisoners. On Saturday at around 10 a.m., Timothy Tillery Jr., 24, Knoxville, was pronounced dead at a local hospital after his body was found at Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City. In a press release issued Saturday, TDOC officials said Tillery had been involved in an “altercation” with several inmates. Details of that altercation, and of Tillery’s death, were not released. Officials had been withholding Tillery’s identity pending notification of relatives.

MTSU extends botanical research pact in China (Daily News Journal)
Middle Tennessee State University signed an agreement Monday to extend its research partnership with the world’s largest medicinal herb garden in China through 2021. The pact, signed by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Miao Jianhua, director of the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants, also secures MTSU’s worldwide rights, excluding China, to patent and market products developed in the partnership. The partners agreed to a 50-50 split of any profits from the collaboration, according to a news release.

5 Kentucky, Tennessee schools on list (Associated Press)
Two Tennessee universities have made the “honor roll” of a publication’s 2014 list of “Great Colleges To Work For.” Austin Peay State University at Clarksville and Lee University of Cleveland, Tennessee, both were cited frequently in numerous recognition categories in the survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In Kentucky, Somerset Community College also made the honor roll. Eastern Kentucky University and Murray State University also made the list, each being cited in one category. A Delaware management-consulting firm conducted the survey for the Chronicle. The results are based on responses from 43,500 people at 278 institutions. Of those, 92 schools made the list, 42 of which were named to the honor roll.

Cocke County woman charged with TennCare fraud for doctor shopping (WKRN)
A 33-year-old Cocke County woman faces TennCare fraud charges after she used the state’s benefits to obtain controlled substances from multiple doctors. Terra Keller was arrested earlier this month and charged with two counts of doctor shopping and two counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. TennCare fraud is considered a Class E felony and carries a sentence of up to two years in prison per charge, while obtaining a controlled substance by fraud is considered a Class D felony and has a sentence of up to four years in jail per charge. Anyone who suspects TennCare fraud can report it by calling 1-800-433-3982.

Rep. Womick questions higher court elections (Daily News Journal)
Rep. Rick Womick joined others in signing the following letter stating a desire to change the current way higher court officers are retained: Tennessee’s Judiciary has Always Been Political. In the early 1970’s, Tennessee abandoned elections as the method for selecting state appellate and Supreme Court judges, even though the elections are clearly called for by the Tennessee Constitution. The 100+ year practice of judicial elections was replaced by a system called the Missouri Plan. “While the Missouri Plan was created with the hopes of insulating judges from politics, and travels under the false front of ‘merit selection,’ it has instead transferred power to state bar associations while shielding the selection process from public scrutiny.”1

Briggs: Campfield accusations won’t distract from running for office (N-S/Witt)
Richard Briggs called accusations from state Sen. Stacey Campfield that he’s not telling the truth about his legal residence a “distraction” and challenged Campfield to file a formal complaint with the state election commission. “I’m not going to play his game,” Briggs said Monday of his Aug. 7 GOP primary opponent. Over the weekend Campfield told the News Sentinel he had copies of water bills showing low use of water at Briggs’ Farragut apartment on Lanesborough Way, offered as proof that Briggs spent little time there. “It’s getting too intrusive when people are asking you how often you flush your toilet or when you shower,” Briggs said.

A quick update on the wine-in-grocery stores petitions (Nashville Biz Journal)
The campaign to collect signatures supporting wine-in-grocery store sales is still ongoing, but Red White and Food, the nonprofit organization collecting the signatures, announced today that more than 119,000 signatures have been collected statewide. To get the wine referendum on the local ballot, Tennessee communities’ petitions must have at least as many signatures as would equal 10 percent of their residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The petition deadline is Aug. 21.

Blackburn’s top donors include private telecoms (Memphis Business Journal)
Last week, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn(R – Brentwood) introduced legislation that would bar the Federal Communications Commission from using its powers to help community-owned Internet service providers compete against private companies. The measure passed on a mostly party-line vote. The move seems to have come in response to Chattanooga, Tenn.-based utility and Internet service provider EPB’s attempt to seek permission from the FCC to expand its ISP services statewide. On her Twitter feed, Blackburn referred to it as a “state’s rights” issue.

Carr looks for a boost from Ingraham (Tennessean/Sisk)
State Rep. Joe Carr’s dreams of scoring an historic upset over U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander may turn on a single night. After nearly a year of campaigning, the Lascassas Republican is banking that he can get a major boost Tuesday, when conservative radio host Laura Ingraham is due to appear in Nashville at a campaign rally on his behalf. The event may represent Carr’s last, best hope for closing the gap with the two-term incumbent, with the star-power of Ingraham holding the potential to energize the Carr campaign for a final push.

Tenn’s 3rd District Congressional candidates agree: D.C. is broken (TFP/Brodgon)
For the first time this election cycle, 3rd District Congressional candidate Mary Headrick shared a stage with the Republican she will face in November — although voters will decide in about two weeks whether that will be incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann or challenger Weston Wamp. The three met Monday for a candidate forum hosted by the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Headrick could have taken the opportunity to pile on to the Republican she least wanted to face come November, but she took a different tact.

Cohen Goes On Offense In Wilkins Challenge (Memphis Daily News)
For weeks, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and Ricky Wilkins, his challenger in the Aug. 7 Democratic Congressional primary have been talking about each other without necessarily directly talking about each other or doing so at length With early voting underway and about two weeks to election day that changed dramatically Monday, July 21, as Cohen criticized Wilkins’ basic campaign narrative. “He keeps saying that he … came back to help the poor and to work for the poor. If you want to work for the poor you work for legal services. You work for the public defender or you’re a community activist like Barack Obama,” said Cohen, who like Wilkins is an attorney.

Health care tax credits become tax woes (Tennessean/Wilemon)
If this year’s real-estate market is a good one for Larry Lyons, the federal subsidy that helped him buy health insurance may turn into a huge bill at income tax time. Four months after the Good­lettsville real-estate agent chose a health insurance plan on healthcare.gov, he’s perplexed by a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking him to prove his income and his children’s citizenship. “I have been filing tax returns for years with the IRS,” Lyons said. “Now, I am going to have to send citizenship documentation.” And he’s baffled by the demand for upfront proof of his 2014 income, which can vary widely depending on how many houses he sells and the prices of those homes.

Fitch: ACA beginning to hurt hospitals in states like Tennessee (N. Biz Journal)
Hospitals in states that have chosen not to participate in expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — such as Tennessee — are expected to face increasing financial challenges in 2014 and beyond, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings. Meanwhile, nonprofit hospitals and health care systems in states that have expanded their Medicaid coverage have begun to realize the benefit from increased insurance coverage, the ratings agency said. Tennessee is one of 24 states that have so far refused to expand Medicaid, depriving at least 234,000 people across the state of health insurance coverage by 2016, according to a recent White House report.

TVA lowering fuel cost adjustment (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)
Summer is usually when power bills are climbing, but KUB customers should be seeing about a $2 break on their electric bills, thanks to an 8.2 percent drop in TVA’s fuel cost adjustment. The electric bill for the average Knoxville Utilities Board customer will be an estimated $2.23 lower in September thanks to the TVA decrease, KUB said Monday. The bill for the average KUB customer — those using about 1,000 kilowatt hours in a month — will drop from $104.81 in August to $102.58 in September, according to KUB spokeswoman Andrea May. It’s a matter of fuel costs getting closer to normal after a winter in which they were unusually high, said TVA spokesman Scott Brooks. “This is our lowest total monthly fuel cost since March,” he said.

Jockeying for jobs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Omarzu)
Two men try to get head start on employment at Chattanooga VW plant How do you get a job making the new sport utility vehicle at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant? Pay your dues, work hard and keep your fingers crossed. That’s the strategy that two area 20-somethings have used to get inside the plant. VW will add 1,800 new assembly workers as it gets the SUV under production in late 2016. Competition for jobs was fierce in 2011, when VW filled the first 1,500 slots at the plant from a pool of 85,000 applicants. This time around, VW spokesman Scott Wilson said the Chattanooga plant will hire purchasing, logistics, engineering and human resources people first and won’t start hiring for the production jobs until closer to the start date two years away.

Erlanger eyes $10.8 million budget surplus (Times Free-Press/Harrison)
One year after budgeting for a bottom line in the red for the first time, Erlanger Health System officials are aiming for a much higher mark. Hospital officials have budgeted to end the year with $18.4 revenues from operations, with a $10.8 million surplus on the bottom line. Last year, the hospital was aiming for a $4.5 million deficit as it attempted to climb out of months of losses. “This is an aggressive budget,” Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel told the hospital’s budget and finance committee, which unanimously approved the new budget after an hourlong closed meeting.

Nashville joins Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ for minority boys (TN/Garrison)
Metro Nashville Public Schools is one of 60 local school districts joining President Barack Obama’s expanded effort to take on “opportunity gaps” that American black and Latino boys face. Obama, turning to his personal story, announced in February the creation of “My Brother’s Keeper,” a five-year, $200 million push to increase avenues of success for boys of color. In Washington on Monday, more than 60 of the nation’s largest districts — representing 3 million minority boys — signed on to an 11-point plan. MNPS, with a population that is two-thirds minority, and Shelby County Schools in Tennessee are among those that committed.

 

OPINION

Guest columnist: Outcomes improving for Tennessee children (Tennessean)
Outcomes for Tennessee children continue to improve, according to the “2014 Kids Count Data Book,” which ranks states on 16 indicators, four each in the domains of economic well-being, education, health and family and community. The state’s ranking of 36th in 2014 makes it one of the five states advancing most in the rankings from 2013 — when Tennessee was 39th. Tennessee’s future prosperity, economic development and job growth are grounded in what we do for children today. Good public policies and wise investments in children pay important dividends in improving current outcomes and prospects for long-term success.

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