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July 29 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: SL Tennessee’s expansion should have ripple effect (News-Sentinel)
Last week, for the second time in a fortnight, a major player in the automotive manufacturing sector announced an expansion that would bring more than 1,000 jobs to East Tennessee. SL Tennessee LLC, a South Korean company operating out of a complex of buildings in Clinton, will invest $80.5 million in a new 250,000-square-foot facility in the Clinton/I-75 Industrial Park. The facility, which will expand SL Tennessee’s footprint in Clinton by nearly 50 percent, will produce headlamps and taillights. The 1,000 new positions to be phased in over the next five years will more than double the company’s current workforce of 750.

tnAchieves begins to offer technical school scholarships (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
For the first time, tnAchieves is offering Knoxville students a scholarship at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. The first group of 32 students went to orientation on Monday. Previously, tnAchieves only worked with students attending community college. The organization provides free tuition and a mentor for all students. It’s now offering scholarships at TCAT schools in Knoxville and Memphis. That will expand next year to all of the state’s 32 TCAT schools as part of the governor’s Tennessee Promise program.

Twister destroys 10 homes in East Tennessee (Associated Press)
The National Weather Service confirmed on Monday that a tornado hit an East Tennessee community where 10 homes were destroyed. Media cited the weather service in reporting that an EF3 tornado with wind speeds of 140 mph touched down Sunday night in the community of Speedwell in Claiborne County. Communities across East Tennessee began cleaning up Monday after the powerful storms. Authorities said there were no reports of any deaths or injuries from Sunday’s storms, and the number of power outages continues to decline.

National Weather Service: Kingsport tornado packed winds of 110 mph (T-N)
The National Weather Service has confirmed that tornadoes hit Sullivan and Washington counties Sunday evening, while storm damage in Hawkins County is believed to have been caused by straight-line winds. According to Jessica Winton, meteorologist at the NWS Forecasting Station in Morristown, survey teams determined an EF-1 tornado struck the area of Rock Springs Road and Cox Hollow Road in Kingsport. She said the tornado contained winds with speeds of 110 mph, had a width of 50 yards and traveled a path of half a mile. The Gray area also experienced the touchdown of an EF-1, Winton said, with 100 mph winds.

Tornadoes confirmed, now cleanup begins (Johnson City Press)
It’s official — the National Weather Service station in Morristown confirmed the storms that ravaged parts of Washington and Sullivan counties over the weekend were tornadoes. Preliminary NWS data indicates that two EF-1 tornadoes touched down in the region Sunday evening, which had an average maximum wind speed of 105 mph. On the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which NWS uses to classify tornadoes, EF-1s are on the weaker end, with winds reaching speeds of anywhere from 86 to 110 mph. According to NWS data, the first tornado to touch down did so along Rock Springs Road in Colonial Heights at around 5:45 p.m. Sunday.

EF-3 tornado destroys homes in Claiborne County (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
The National Weather Service has confirmed a tornado touched down in Speedwell. They say it was an EF-3 with estimated winds of 140 mph. Survey crews are still working in determining the track of the storm. Luckily only a few people had minor injuries from this storm, but their homes are now gone. One family we talked to in Campbell County just three miles from this spot was also hit by the tornado. Jerry McCrerey tells me he was in his storage unit when his wife yelled at him to get inside. “It’s all gone, we aint got nothing left. So we’ll start over from the beginning again,” McCrerey told us.

Radar imagery shows debris flying 10,000 feet in Claiborne County tornado (WATE)
Identification of a debris ball was one of the big indicators that a tornado had touched down in Sunday night’s storm. So, what is a debris ball? It’s commonly known as a radar signature that shows not only precipitation in the storm, but also non-prprecipitationebris. That debris could include items picked up by a tornado and lofted into the atmosphere. Some examples might include trees, shingles, wood from houses and other items. A debris ball is usually a very good indicator that a destructive tornado has touched down. The image from the July 28th Claiborne County tornado indicates debris floating up to 10,000 ft. in the air.

Storm survivors pick up sentimental pieces in Campbell County (WATE-TV Knox)
Storm survivors are counting their blessings as they pick up what’s left of their homes. 6 News spoke with another family who is hoping to salvage their memories. One of the homes destroyed by the tornado in Lafollette was built in the 1930s, and the family tells 6 News it has a lot of sentimental value. Jan Bales was at the home Monday taking pictures of what’s left of her grandparents’ home. It’s been in the family for decades and Bales says she can remember spending a lot of her time at the home when she was younger.

Tennessee Sales Tax Holiday runs Friday-Sunday (Daily News Journal)
The favorite holiday for Tennessee shoppers is quickly approaching. Next weekend bargain hunters across the state can take advantage of the state’s Sales Tax Holiday from 12:01 a.m. Friday and until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3. Over the three-day weekend, Tennessee shoppers can save nearly 10 percent on clothing, school supplies and computers. “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.

School bound tax free (Cleveland Daily Banner)
Not to be confused with the spirited “ka-ching” of Black Friday, but this Friday … and Saturday … and Sunday … will bring their own fervor to retail floors across the Cleveland and Bradley County community, as well as the rest of Tennessee. Most know it as the state’s Sales Tax Holiday — the 10th in the last decade. But parents of school-aged children see it as something a little more. In a word, they exclaim in unison, “Hallelujah!” Understandably so. After all, what better way to celebrate back-to-school than buying all those back-to-school supplies at a 10 percent bargain? It starts Friday at 12:01 a.m.

Nashville to get AT&T’s ‘ultra-fast’ Internet (Nashville Post)
AT&T is bringing its ‘ultra-fast’ fiber Internet to Nashville, the company confirmed today. In a release, AT&T said its all-fiber GigaPower provides symmetrical upload and download broadband speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. Nashville was short-listed for the upgrade in April after a successful launch of the system in Austin. The telecom is already deploying additional fiber and electronics to Nashville’s existing network in Nashville, which it saidwill enable customers to have access to the fastest available speeds.

AT&T brings ultra-fast GigaPower Internet to Nashville (Tennessean/Williams)
Blazing-fast Internet speeds are coming soon to Nashville through AT&T’s GigaPower service, although the giant telecom company isn’t yet saying exactly when, or how much it will cost. The service, made possible by AT&T’s upgraded fiber-optic cable network, will also carry its U-Verse TV programming. The service will offer Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit — about 40 times faster than Comcast’s popular “Performance” service, and 100 times faster than basic broadband service statewide. “Deployment of this ultra-fast broadband service for consumers and businesses in Nashville is just the latest step in delivering the newest technology to this community,” said Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T Tennessee.

AT&T beats Google, will bring super-fast Internet service to Nashville (NBJ)
AT&T U-verse with GigaPower, the telecom company’s gigabit competitor to Google Fiber, is officially coming to Nashville. Using an all-fiber network, AT&T’s GigaPower service will offer download broadband speeds of up to one gigabit per second (or 1,000 megabits per second) and the network’s “most advanced TV services to consumers,” according to a news release. One gigabit per second is about 100 times faster than the average American Internet speed. More information on availability, pricing and timing for the Nashville market will be announced at a later date, according to the news release.

AT&T’s GigaPower: Hot or not? (Nashville Business Journal)
AT&T’s announcement this morning that Nashville will receive its GigaPower network, with Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than the nation’s average, seems to validate one of the oft-touted indirect benefits of Califonia tech giant Google’s gigabit network Google Fiber: its potential to drive improved service and competition from legacy providers. As Nashville Entrepreneur Center CEO Michael Burcham told me in April following AT&T’s initial announcement of its 100 candidate cities and municipalities: “Competition breeds better product.”

Haslam slams White House for secret dump of illegals in his state (W. Times)
Gov. Bill Haslam said he only learned of the White House’s dumping of 760 illegal immigrants in Tennessee after seeing a notification on the Health and Human Services website — and that’s even after he had asked the Obama administration to give him advance notice of any illegals who were on their way to his state. Mr. Haslam said he and several other governors “met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell [and] emphasized to Secretary Burwell the need to be informed of any children being relocated to our states,” Breitbart reported. He then said 700 illegal minor-aged immigrants were recently sent to Tennessee, but he received no notification at all.

Immigrant advocates baffled by Haslam letter (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Concerns raised Friday by Gov. Bill Haslam about unaccompanied immigrant children arriving in Tennessee baffled some immigrant advocates and prompted questions about the timing and tone of the letter he sent to the White House. Haslam said President Barack Obama’s administration should have informed state officials about the 760 minors placed in Tennessee so far this year. And he demanded immediate answers to eight questions — still unanswered on Monday — about the process by which minors who cross the border alone are cared for while waiting for immigration court hearings.

Troopers to begin patrolling in Chattanooga (Times Free-Press/Bradbury)
Chattanoogans will soon see more Tennessee Highway Patrol cars in the city. The Tennessee Highway Patrol is making plans to partner with the Chattanooga Police Department to patrol traffic within the city limits and target the city streets where the most accidents happen, THP Col. Tracy Trott said Monday. The move is new for the highway patrol, which typically focuses on rural areas. “We’re really getting hurt by Chattanooga and fatalities inside the city,” Trott said. “We don’t usually work inside the city, but we’ve met with the new chief, and we’re hoping to do more joint operations to hopefully stem the fatality rate within the city.” Twenty-nine people have died in traffic accidents this year in Hamilton County, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Mobile app helps Tennesseans pinpoint nearest farmer’s market (WBIR-TV Knox)
A new mobile app is helping Tennesseans help their local farmers. Pick Tennessee Products pinpoints the nearest farmer’s market and lists hours and contact info. State officials say it’s already boosting business for farmers. A farmer’s market in Middle Tennessee reported that the average number of visitors on a Friday doubled over the last year, and he says the app is mostly to thank. Pick Tennessee Products is a nonprofit service that’s part of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Justice Lee: Tennessee must maintain fair, impartial Supreme Court (TFP/Leach)
It is critical that Tennessee maintain a fair and impartial Supreme Court that is free of partisan politics, Justice Sharon Lee said Monday during a stopover here. Politics belong in the state’s legislative and executive branches, but not the courts, she said. “When I put on the robes, I have to leave politics behind,” Lee said. State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said in a phone interview afterward that he disagreed with Lee’s assertion. “Anyone who believes politics are not a part of the judicial process is either ignorant or a good liar,” he said. Lee publicly thanked 10th District Circuit Court Judge Mike Sharp for his support during the visit, part of her campaign to keep her seat on the bench.

Memphis police arrest woman charged under controversial law (CA/Locker)
After a high-profile search that lasted five days, Memphis police on Monday night arrested a woman accused of giving birth to a baby who tested positive for drugs. Jamillah Washington, 30, also known as Jamillah Falls, faces a charge of simple assault after her daughter Messiah, born July 5, tested positive for marijuana and heroin, police said. According to an affidavit released late Monday, Washington last used heroin two days before the girl was born. The new Tennessee law that provides for such arrests was the subject of considerable debate and discussion in the two state legislative sessions that it took to pass it.

Mae Beavers’ ‘effectiveness’ key to Senate race (Tennessean/Sisk)
State Sen. Mae Beavers has no qualms with being described as conservative. She’ll also accept being told she’s not a team player. But the Mt. Juliet Republican takes exception to one label: ineffective. She points to a recent review by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which found her to be one of the state’s most effective — as well as conservative — members. “When you’re just behind leadership, … you’ve been very effective in getting things done,” she said. Beavers makes headlines. She has pursued bills to nullify federal firearms laws and block at least some aspects of the Affordable Care Act within Tennessee.

Senate 21 race may pivot on who can get things done (Tennessean/Cass)
The two Nashville Democrats running to represent Senate District 21 agree on a lot, from the need for Medicaid expansion to the importance of speaking up for working-class people in a Republican-dominated legislature. “Whoever wins this election is likely to be the most progressive member of the state Senate,” said attorney Jeff Yarbro, one of the two candidates competing for the Democratic nomination in the Aug. 7 primary. Where Yarbro and his opponent, Mary Mancini, differ is on the question of who can do the most with that platform, a position within a party caucus that could meet in a minivan.

Tennessee’s gay couples find divorce as complicated as marriage (Tenn/Hall)
For weeks before they left for Iowa, Matt Shaffer and Michael Wetli talked about the pros and cons of getting married. They’d been happy together for 10 years. Moved to Nashville from Fort Wayne, Ind. Adopted dogs and built a life. Marriage seemed like the logical next step. But getting out of it, they realized, would be tough. So Shaffer was mystified a year later, he said, to find his marriage crumbled, his husband living back in Indiana and his divorce requiring legal coordination among three states. When straight couples get divorced, they don’t have to shop for venues to recognize their marriage, no matter where the wedding took place.

No ID, no liquor — and wrinkles don’t count (Times Free-Press/Omarzu)
With his white beard, lined face and gravelly voice, Gary Owens could pass for songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s younger brother. No one would mistake him for a 20-year-old. Yet since July 1, the 63-year-old North Chattanooga man has had to show his driver’s license to buy wine and liquor in Tennessee. “It’s just one of many things in society that I have to tolerate — but it’s kind of ridiculous,” Owens said Thursday at the Vine Wine and Liquor store next to Whole Foods. Universal carding for wine and liquor now is the norm in the Volunteer State. Tennessee made national headlines in 2007 when it became the first state to make store clerks card everyone who bought carry-out beer.

WC Commission throws support behind TN abortion amendment (J. City Press)
Washington County commissioners approved a resolution Monday in support of “Amendment One,” a change to Tennessee’s Constitution that would insert language empowering the General Assembly to enact, amend or repeal state statutes regarding abortion, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to protect the mother’s mortality. The amendment is on the Nov. 4 state general election ballot. In Tennessee, an initiated constitutional amendment must garner a simple majority of those voting in a gubernatorial election year.

Sen. Lamar Alexander makes bus stop in Nashville (Tennessean/Sisk)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander thanked volunteers and delivered a short campaign speech in his first Nashville stop of a statewide bus tour. About 150 people, including country music star Kix Brooks and former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn, turned out for Alexander’s dinnertime appearance at his Music Row campaign headquarters. Wearing a small-checked plaid shirt, the two-term senator told the crowd that he will be better than any of his primary opponents at advancing conservative causes. He listed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and stopping federal involvement in education as two priorities.

Alexander says he works across aisle to get things done (TFP/Sher)
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told cheering supporters Monday that he learned as governor he sometimes had to work with Democrats to get things done for Tennessee and has found it necessary sometimes in Washington to do the same. “If I stood up before you today and said I by myself brought in the auto industry, and I by myself paid teachers more for teaching well and built the best road system, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth either because I had to work with other people to do it,” the two-term senator told some 150 or more supporters at his campaign headquarters here in Nashville.

Alexander says he works with others to get results (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told backers at a Music Row rally Monday evening he works with people across the aisle “because it gets results” — an approach out of favor with nearly four dozen tea party activists who picketed across the street. Alexander, R-Tenn., cited endorsements he won earlier Monday from two former chairmen of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas and David Keene. One of his two major rivals for the Republican senatorial nomination, state Rep. Joe Carr, touted his new backing from the Eagle Forum, the conservative group founded by Phyllis Schlafly.

Campaign spending picks up in Tennessee’s 3rd District (TFP/Sher)
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and his GOP primary challenger Weston Wamp whipped out their campaign wallets and collectively spent more than three-quarters of a million dollars during the first part of July as the two men’s bitter rivalry headed into early voting. Fleischmann outspent Wamp $416,861 to $362,954 as the two candidates paid for television and radio ads, direct mail and other expenses from July 1 through July 18, according to disclosures filed over the weekend with the Federal Election Commission. That’s $779,815 collectively.

New Chattanooga VA clinic part of D.C. deal (Associated Press)
A bipartisan deal announced Monday would authorize about $17 billion to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat veterans and make it easier to fire executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs. An agreement announced by the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees is intended to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays. The bill includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, lawmakers said.

Are STEM Graduates Really Having Trouble Finding Jobs? (Governing)
Policymakers have focused much attention in recent years on increasing the number of workers with training in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. While this group makes up a relatively small share of the nation’s workforce, many policy analysts view them as a key component to improving the economy. In 2005 a coalition of groups issued a study stating U.S. higher education institutions needed to double the number of STEM graduates. Business leaders also frequently cite a shortage of STEM grads.

Y’all come: ORNL bows to Southern pride (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
It’s OK to talk Southern and work at a national lab — after all. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has cancelled plans for a “Southern Accent Reduction” class because of objections from lab staff members, some of whom said they were offended by the training opportunity. ORNL’s human resources department early last week distributed a registration notice for the six-week course to be taught by Lisa Scott, “a nationally certified speech pathologist and accent reduction trainer.” Here was the pitch to get employees to sign up for the speech rehab program: “Feel confident in a meeting when you need to speak with a more neutral American accent, and be remembered for what you say and not how you say it.”

Production may increase at Kellogg in Jackson (Jackson Sun)
The announced closing of a Kellogg plant in Columbus, Ga., Monday could mean increased production at the Jackson facility at 1306 U.S. 70 in the future. “Kellogg makes a variety of crackers at our Columbus facility including Cheez-Its and restaurant-pack saltines and grahams,” Kris Charles said. “We plan to utilize existing space at the Jackson plant to absorb some of the Columbus production, once that facility is closed.” Charles is a company spokesperson. “Today’s announcement includes the difficult decision to close our snacks plant in Columbus, Ga.,” Charles said.

State auditors investigate Crockett Co. Schools (Jackson Sun)
The Crockett County School System is being investigated by state auditors, according to Director of Schools Robert Mullins Jr. “I have been instructed not to make any comment about the investigation,” Mullins said on Monday. “Everything is being determined about what is and what isn’t.” Mullins said he was not aware of any money missing, nor did he know of any specific person being investigated by the state auditors who began their investigation a few weeks ago. No timetable has been set to complete the investigation, Mullins said.

Hawkins school director urges 12 cent tax hike to balance budget (Times-News)
Director of Schools Steve Starnes told the Hawkins County Board of Education Monday it’s already getting “a lot of sugar for a nickel,” but he’ll be needing another 12 cents on the county property tax rate to balance the 2014-15 fiscal year budget. More than $7 million in savings has been spent over the past five years to balance the Hawkins County school budget. Starnes told the BOE during a budget workshop Monday that the school system is on an “unsustainable path” without new revenue. On July 10 Starnes reported to the BOE that the projected 2014-15 budget deficit was a little more than $4 million.

 
OPINION

Times Editorial: Fleischmann’s ads prove that he can only disappoint (TFP)
Our tired and unoriginal 3rd District incumbent Republican congressman, Chuck Fleischmann, has adopted the ultra-right’s “we-can’t-trust …” chant often aimed at the president to paint his youthful and energetic opponent with a completely deceptive message and manipulated photograph in a mailer advertisement sent out last week. Bearing the words “Paid for by the Chuck Fleischmann for Congress Committee,” the mailer depicts Weston Wamp holding a flaming cigarette lighter to a passport. The mailer reads, in part, “Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

Free-Press Editorial: Congressman, is this the best you’ve got? (Times Free-Press)
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, in person is deferential but guarded, earnest but reticent. Some of his negative ads are another thing entirely. They’re downright dishonest. The worst one to date in the 2014 campaign is a mailer that portrays Weston Wamp, Fleischmann’s opponent in the Aug. 7 Republican congressional primary, burning a passport over the words “Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.” The issue aside for the moment, the ad was created by photographic manipulation.

Editorial: VA ‘deal’ should be only the beginning (Jackson Sun)
We were mildly encouraged Monday about the “deal” reached to address some of the problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system. But we remain frustrated about how we got to this point and suspicious about whether this will bring lasting improvements to a system that has been plagued with problems for decades. From the outset, we bristle at the fact that politicians have to reach a “deal” to address the healthcare of our nation’s veterans. It makes us sick that something so important must be politicized with talk of “competing plans” from the House, Senate or others.

Editorial: Congress must act quickly on VA reforms (Leaf Chronicle)
Congress must move before its August recess on two key pieces of business and get on with its duty to help fix the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs. Clarksville’s large veteran community, and veterans across the country, urgently need these actions. First, the Senate should quickly approve the nomination of Bob McDonald, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. McDonald, nominated by President Obama to succeed Eric Shinseki – a retired general who resigned amid a scandal over lengthy delays for service at veterans’ hospitals – is a good choice to take on the difficult job of cleaning up the VA and ensuring that veterans get quality, timely care.

Editorial: A Promising Deal on Reforming Veterans Affairs (Wall Street Journal)
Veterans across the nation are waiting too long for the care they need, and some of them are dying while awaiting treatment. Far-reaching efforts to establish public-private partnerships are needed to meet the challenges facing the Department of Veterans Affairs. On Monday, the chairmen of House and Senate committees announced a deal to provide $10 billion in emergency funding for veterans to obtain care outside the VA system. The draft bill is a step in the right direction and should be approved by the joint conference committee and passed by Congress before the August recess. But further steps are necessary to provide lasting care for veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.

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