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August 4 TN News Digest

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

TUB gets share of $2.2M clean energy funds (Tullahoma News)
On Thursday, the Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) was selected as one of 21 recipients of Clean Energy Tennessee Grants totaling $2.2 million for energy efficiency projects across Tennessee. The local utility will receive $102,000 in grant funds to purchase efficient, quiet variable speed aeration blowers to replace four continuously operating 75-horsepower single-speed displacement blowers at its wastewater treatment plant on S. Franklin St. The grant requires that TUB provide matching funds to complete the project.

Victims, volunteers still cleaning up one week after Claiborne Co. tornado (WATE)
Sunday makes one week since an EF-3 tornado hit Claiborne County and parts of Campbell County. The tornado destroyed 11 homes and a business, and damaged dozens of other homes. Despite all the damage, people who live in the Speedwell area are counting their blessings. “The last count I had 22 or 24 homes were destroyed or damages, and not an injury anywhere that I’ve heard,” said Eddie Hoskins. His home was severely damaged and he can’t live there until it’s fixed, but he says he’s not worried about all he’s lost. “This is a good place. The reason this is a good place is because of the people.”

Tornado cleanup continues a week later (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
A week after an EF3 swept through the area around the Campbell County and Claiborne County line, the cleanup effort continues. Gwen Patterson and her 91-year-old mother, Ola Bowman, live in the area, with only a highway separating their homes. Both homes were in the tornado’s path of destruction. “I think she’s done better with this than we all have,” Patterson said, “and she keeps saying we’re going to be alright.” Patterson’s roof was damaged. Her mother lost a garage, barn, and had the roof torn off the main house and back house. Both houses will be torn down on Monday or Tuesday.

State can’t wait on feds for highway funds (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
In perhaps another indication that Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is preparing to seek more revenue from state fuel taxes, the Tennessee Department of Transportation in July posted on its website a comparison of states’ fuel taxes and and a gas tax calculator. The chart shows that, as of July 1, Tennessee had the 39th lowest state gasoline tax in the nation at 21.4 cents per gallon, and the 45th lowest tax on diesel fuel at 18.4 cents per gallon. Enter how many miles you drive in a week, or month, and your vehicle’s mileage, and the state’s calculator will tell you how much annual gas tax you’ve paid.

Post Office continues to shred Imagination Library books (Daily Times)
Nearly four months ago, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law to ban the shredding of Imagination Library books delivered to incorrect addresses. On Saturday, Blount County’s Imagination Library volunteers distributed 400 books at the seventh annual Helping Hands festival held at Heritage High School, leaving the program with between 30 and 40 books for future communitywide events. “We’re keeping a few for special occasions, showing people the program’s book selection,” said Herb Meyer, Maryville Kiwanis Club’s spokesman. “However, we’re done. I’ve just informed the United Way of Blount County that’s the end of books for other programs. We can’t donate books to Toys for Tots, Helping Hands or other community events.”

Henry Horton Park reopens renovated RV campground (Associated Press)
Henry Horton State Park has reopened its renovated RV campground. Upgrades include wider and longer campsites, new pavement, new water and 50 amp electrical hookups. New amenities include fire rings, lantern poles, picnic tables and Wi-Fi. Henry Horton is a 1,532-acre state park with four hiking trails, featuring an abundance of wildlife such as wild turkey, deer and various wildflowers. The park offers several lodging options, including an inn, eight cabins, 56 RV campsites, 10 tent campsites, nine primitive campsites and three backcountry campsites.

TN Supreme Court battle brings national money, scrutiny (Tennessean/Haas)
Any other year, the election to retain or replace Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices would be a ho-hum affair. Not this year. More than $1 million has been spent in a battle for the heart of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Three of its five members, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, are in a pitched fight against both grassroots and out-of-state groups sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to make the court more conservative. Among those looking to replace the justices are the Charles and David Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, which has been aggressive in trying to elect conservatives in local and state-level seats across the nation.

Forum blasts justices’ spending (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
The Tennessee Forum, a group working to oust three state Supreme Court justices in Thursday’s election, last week linked spending by the three to “Washington, D.C., Democrats.” Forum President Susan Kaestner said in a news release that money the three spent with three media firms “eliminates any doubt” that “these judges are partisan Democrats, period.” “Tennessee has utterly rejected Barack Obama and D.C. Democrats. It is time for Tennessee to vote replace on Democrats Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade,” Kaestner said. Conservatives led by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey are working to persuade Tennessee voters not to retain the three justices, all appointed by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Disclosures show PACs targeting state’s incumbent Republicans (N-S/Humphrey)
With apparently both ideology and issues in mind, political action committees are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in attempts to unseat incumbent members of the state Legislature’s Republican supermajority, according to financial disclosures filed last week. In 35th House District, for example, the Tennessee Federation for Children, a group that supports school vouchers, spent close to $75,000 between July 1 and July 28 in independent expenditure money either attacking incumbent state Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach, R-Rutledge, or supporting his primary opponent, Jerry Sexton.

House race rematch of Hill, Parsons (Bristol Herald-Courier)
Candidates facing off in the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 3rd District House seat offer voters some distinct differences in priorities as the challenger is primarily focused on job creation and the incumbent on individual rights and social issues Current state Rep. Timothy Hill, of Blountville, touts his role in passage of 2014 legislation to block forced annexation by cities and a mandate to teach the U.S. Constitution in state schools. He is seeking a second four-year term. His opponent, former Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons, said he would devote time and energy trying to improve employment prospects for a primarily rural district.

“Battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party” taking place (Times-News)
Underlying political thunder is rolling inside the Tennessee 2nd House District GOP Primary race between incumbent Tony Shipley and challenger Bud Hulsey. There have been no public debates between the two candidates who are trying to carve out victory primarily with direct mail pieces, robocalls, Facebook pages and handshakes. “We are in a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” Shipley, a military veteran first elected in 2008, acknowledged. “It is the moderates versus the conservatives and there is no doubt about it…The lines are very clear…We have light blue so-called Republicans against very red Republicans. In my estimation, it is their last best chance to stem the tide of conservative Republicans arriving on major leadership roles in the state, but also on the national scene.”

Money OK’d for voting machines, but Commission may not buy them (CA/Moore)
The Shelby County Commission has set aside $1.2 million for the county Election Commission to buy optical scan voting machines. But it’s anybody’s guess whether the election commission will use those funds. Republican chairman Robert Meyers said the commission is focused on a new voter registration system and optical scan voting machines may not be warranted at this time. That’s a departure from a previous position, said County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who worked this spring to get the $1.2 million included in the county’s fiscal 2015 budget for capital improvement projects.

Large numbers turn out for early voting across Tennessee (WATE-TV Knoxville)
More candidates are vying for a seat in this week’s primary than in almost any other election in state history. If the early voting numbers are anything to go on, the turnout will be as large as the ballot itself. The state released those numbers Sunday. More than 562,000 people submitted their choices through the early voting process. The majority of those, about 352,000 were voting in the Republican primary, while about 164,000 submitted votes to the Democratic party. More than 36,000 people voted in Knox County. Nearly 30,000 of those ballots cast were for Republican candidates.

Duncan: Abolish taxpayer-guaranteed export financing (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Congressman John J. Duncan Jr. has argued for years the U.S. Export-Import Bank should be abolished. “American taxpayers should not be subsidizing bad loans to foreign companies,” the Knoxville Republican said during a speech on the House floor in 1992. More than two decades later, Duncan might get his wish. The bank — Ex-Im, as it’s known in Washington’s bureaucratic lingo — will close its doors unless Congress votes to renew its charter by Sept. 30 The campaign to abolish the 80-year-old, government-run bank picked up steam over the summer when the new House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he favors shutting it down. McCarthy and others oppose renewing Ex-Im’s charter because they consider the bank “corporate welfare.”

Fleischmann rapped over ads (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
The East Tennessee Young Republicans organization slapped at U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann for negative advertising. In a news release, the group said Fleischmann’s campaign has run “4 negative television ads, 2 negative radio ads and sent out 2 negative Mail [sic] pieces” against his GOP primary opponent, Weston Wamp. “As Young Republicans, we do not endorse in primaries but we do stand for good government,” the release from chairman Ray Meade stated. “Negative advertising on legitimate issues can be expected but as all three major daily newspapers have now editorialized, the negative campaign being run is not truthful and personally destructive.”

A lasting impression: Chimney Tops Trail project is nearly done (N-S/Simmons)
While some crew members pounded rock into gravel with sledgehammers, others used pry bars to skid granite boulders into place. A hand-powered cable winch capable of pulling 4,000 pounds was strapped to a buckeye tree at the top of a steep flight of steps, and everyone was covered in mud. The crew was 1½ miles up the Chimney Tops Trail, one of the rockiest, steepest, and most popular hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Three years go, with funding from Trails Forever, they began working their way up the mountain from the trailhead off U.S. Highway 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road.

Kansas, Arizona Require Proof of Citizenship for Voting (Wall Street Journal)
Election rules in Kansas and Arizona are set to bar thousands of people in coming weeks from casting ballots in state primaries even as the federal government allows some of them to vote in congressional races. The split system is the result of a growing battle between federal officials and a handful of states over the necessity of verifying that a newly registered voter is a U.S. citizen. Kansas and Arizona say the federal registration process doesn’t rigorously check citizenship. They have established their own verification systems and are barring people who register using the federal system from voting this month for such offices as governor and local posts.

Fast times at Chattanooga (Tennessean/Williams)
The coolest thing about having the “Gig” is that (almost) no one else does. That’s the attitude in the city that four years ago introduced America’s fastest Internet service, courtesy of the local municipal electric-power utility, the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, otherwise known as the EPB. The Gig offers speeds as quick as 1 gigabit per second, about 100 times faster than the average Nashville home’s broadband service. A similar service is coming soon to parts of Nashville, through AT&T.

Historic day marks openings for six new school systems (C. Appeal/Callahan)
Memphis and its suburbs will mark a watershed Monday. For decades, Memphis was home to two public school systems: the city and the county. But after a historic merger left just Shelby County Schools, the area’s suburban cities created their own municipal districts. So on Monday, for the first time, new school systems in Bartlett, Germantown, Collierville, Lakeland, Arlington and Millington will welcome students. One issue that threatened to mar opening day has been resolved, at least temporarily. A looming strike by bus drivers was averted late Friday when drivers and the bus company agreed to a 30-day contract extension.

 

 

OPINION

Guest columnist: Why would state want to curtail telemedicine? (Tennessean)
You feel ill. Perhaps your balance is off and your ear aches, or you’re experiencing sinus pressure. Maybe it feels like the flu is coming on. Unfortunately, you lack transportation because the car is in the shop. Or you live in an urban area such as Memphis, where it could take several hours to receive care in a crowded emergency room, or weeks to get an appointment to see a primary care physician. Or, like hundreds of thousands of rural Tennesseans, you live a great distance from a physician or an emergency room. How do you get the care you need? Today, in Tennessee, you can, thanks to telemedicine.

Editorial: Six new school districts represent an evolution in public education (CA)
Monday is a new day for public education in Shelby County. There will be eight — yes, eight — different school districts opening classes, and that does not include the charter schools. Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington will hold classes for the first time in their municipal school districts after de-merging from Shelby County Schools. Because of the de-merger, Shelby County Schools will begin classes with about 40,000 fewer students, which has resulted in some schools being shuttered or leased to charter school companies. And the state’s Achievement School District, created by the General Assembly to operate Tennessee’s worst-performing schools, will add more SCS schools to its portfolio.

Editorial: Paying for the Thousand-Dollar Pill (Wall Street Journal)
Every day across the country, health plans are in negotiations with doctors, hospitals and device and drug manufacturers. The negotiations concern the prices of various treatments, with health plans aiming to make it possible for consumers to gain access to the highest-quality care at the lowest cost. This interplay is fundamental to a market-based health-care system and it is vital to delivering affordable coverage options. Lately, there has been considerable debate about the soaring prices of specialty drugs, which are aimed at difficult-to-treat diseases. The good news is that more of these breakthrough drugs are now coming onto the market, giving people new hope and a chance to live longer, healthier lives.

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