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August 13 TN News Digest

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

Groundbreaking for new Jackson business (WBBJ-TV Jackson)
Officials broke ground Tuesday, on a new manufacturing facility, bringing with it almost 200 new jobs to Jackson and Madison County. Japanese auto parts maker, Pacific Industries, will be building a 60 acre state-of-the-art-plant on farmland which was donated by the county. The plan for bringing the company to the county was unveiled back in June. The company expects to bring 190 new jobs to the area over the next five years. Pacific will be supplying auto parts to Toyota and Nissan throughout the southern United States. Governor Bill Haslam was at the groundbreaking and said it was possible because of teamwork within the state.

Auto parts maker Pacific Industrial to begin construction (Jackson Sun)
Negotiations took the better part of one year, but it only took a few seconds for Pacific Industrial Co. LTD to make its commitment to Jackson official, with a groundbreaking held at Airport Industrial Park on Tuesday. Pacific Manufacturing Tennessee Inc. (PMT) will manufacture parts for the automobile industry, eventually creating 190 jobs on 40 acres across from McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport and adjacent to Kirkland’s Distribution Center. The plant is expected to open next summer and reach full capacity in 2019. An additional 20 acres will be available to accommodate growth. “We chose Jackson because the heart of the people is very warm in Jackson,” said Shinya Ogawa, president of Pacific Industrial Co. LTD.

National Guard lending hand with storm cleanup (Associated Press)
Tennessee National Guard engineers are lending a hand in northeast Tennessee, where a tornado caused significant damage last month. The tornado hit the Speedwell area July 27 with winds greater than 140 mph, and storms also caused damage in Campbell and Claiborne counties. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency requested heavy equipment and personnel to assist beginning Aug. 3. The Tennessee National Guard says the 230th Engineer Battalion, located in Trenton, is leading the operation with 16 soldiers from the 190th Mobility Augmentation Company; 10 soldiers from the 212th Engineer Company with both units located in Paris and Camden; six soldiers from the 913th Horizontal Engineer Company from Union City; one soldier from the 230th Headquarters/Headquarters Company; and five soldiers from the Forward Support Company in Trenton.

Tennessee state employees face higher health premiums (Tennessean/DuBois)
State employees in Tennessee, on average, pay more per month in health insurance premiums than government employees in other states, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. But the report also says that Tennessee employees tend to have slightly better plans. Specifically, in Tennessee, the average total health insurance premium per month is $1,026 per employee. State employers pay about 81 percent of that, leaving employees to pick up 19 percent. Nationwide, the average premium per employee per month is $963, the study found. States pay 84 percent of the premium on average, and employees pay 16 percent.

State employees’ health plan info may have been compromised (News-Sentinel)
More than 60,500 members of the State of Tennessee Group Insurance Plan might have had some personal information breached when someone gained access to a subcontractor’s computer system earlier this year. On Aug. 8, the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, along with Onsite Health Diagnostics, which contracts with the state’s vendor Healthways that offers “wellness” screenings required for some insurance benefits, notified 60,582 members that “an unknown source gained unauthorized access to Onsite Health Diagnostic’s 2013 computer system” between Jan. 4-April 11.

State employees notified of stolen personal information (WSMV-TV Nashville)
State employees’ personal information could be in the wrong hands after letters were recently sent to notify them of a data breach. “We want our members to know what happened,” said Joan Williams with the Tennessee Benefits Administration. “We wanted to let them know that some of their data was accessed. No Social Security numbers were accessed, no financial information and no medical information.” Williams said information taken centers around state employees who took part in wellness screenings in 2013. Someone got into the computer systems of Onsite Health Diagnostics, a third-party vendor used by the state.

Tennessee’s Business Taxes Flattening Out, Says State Economist (WPLN-Radio)
Tennessee’s business taxes are starting to pick up again, after a period of steady decline. That’s according to an economist who’s analyzed the state’s latest economic figures. Economist Bill Fox said on a conference call on Tuesday with Secretary of State Tre Hargett that business taxes, or franchise and excise taxes, are looking brighter. That’s after they took a deep slide after one large company left the state. “What the ‘f and e’ taxes are showing is that we’re now flattening out. There were clearly some things that happened, some one time events, a very small number of businesses, really focused on one that moved from Tennessee. It was really a one-time unusual event.”

Federal hearing looms for TennCare lawsuit (Times Free-Press/Betz)
While a group of civil rights attorneys demands that TennCare officials turn over a series of documents related to delays to its enrollment process, TennCare attorneys Tuesday called the motion an “11th-hour” attempt to gather information as a federal hearing looms. The Aug. 29 emergency hearing in Nashville will be key for the 11 Tennesseans named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who say they have waited months to get Medicaid coverage they are entitled to under law. U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell will determine whether the lawsuit against the Medicaid agency will take on class-action status, and whether the 11 plaintiffs, and potentially hundreds of other Tennesseans, will get quicker access coverage while the lawsuit is argued — a process that could take months.

Authorities advise safety when operating watercraft (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Tennessee is increasing its efforts to make sure boaters are better educated. Many are drawn to the lake by the splashing water, roar of the engine and promise of fun. But for many, that fun is getting out of hand and turning dangerous. “These jet skis weigh 600 to 1,000 pounds,” said Eric Anderson, boating education officer with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “I don’t think you’d want to drive a four-wheeler or a car at your buddy and turn at the last second.” That is what TWRA officials believe may have happened last weekend on Old Hickory Lake, ending in a T-bone crash. Two teens from Portland, TN, suffered injuries to their legs and faces. In many instances, lack of experience is the cause.

High school students enroll for associates degree program (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
Nearly three dozen high school students in East Tennessee returned to school this year with a unique course load. During the next two years of high school, they will earn enough college credits to get not only their high school diploma, but also a two-year associates degree. Roane State Community College teamed up with local high schools for the “Middle College” program. Thirty-three rising high school juniors from five Roane County schools will spend half their day on Roane State’s campus, and half their day at their high schools. During their junior and senior years, they will complete 60 credit hours which will earn them an associates degree by the time they graduate high school.

First-time freshman enrollment up 11.6 percent at UM (CA/Fretland)
The University of Memphis saw an 11.6 percent increase in first-time freshmen this year, university president David Rudd said Tuesday. Rudd said the university recruited very hard this year, and has almost 2,250 incoming first-time freshman, an increase of 231 compared to last year. “That’s great news for us, and I will tell you that’s great news for the city,” he said at a Memphis Rotary Club luncheon at the University Club. Rudd, who had been the provost at University of Memphis, was named president on May 1. Applications to the university are also up, he said, and the university was more selective, accepting 53 percent of applicants compared with 74 percent last year.

Freshman Class Up 12 Percent at University of Memphis (Memphis Daily News)
When the academic year at the University of Memphis begins Aug. 25, the number of first-time freshmen at the school will increase over the previous year for the first time in three years. University president David Rudd said the 2,250 first-time freshmen this year is up 231 students, or 11.6 percent, from the previous year. Among the first-time freshmen is a 46 percent increase in freshmen coming to the university from out of state. Rudd also told the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday, Aug. 12, that as the university increases its enrollment it is also becoming more selective with 53 percent of applications approved for admission in the coming academic year compared to 74 percent in the previous academic year.

With supremes retained, focus now turns to constitutional amendment (NBJ)
With all three Tennessee Supreme Court Justices mustering the votes last week to keep their seats on the state’s highest bench, the attention in judicial politics now turns to constitutional amendment No. 2 on the ballot this November. Opposing sides in the retention vote are bedfellows in support of November’s constitutional amendment. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who led the push to remove the three Democrat-appointed justices and committed $425,000 of his PAC’s money to do so, has supported the amendment. Meanwhile, the Nashville Bar Association, which defended the three justices, is also in favor of the amendment (Here’s more from the Nashville Bar president).

Tennessee sets 11th execution date for condemned (Tennessean/Haas)
The Tennessee Supreme Court on Tuesday set an execution date for a man convicted in the 1991 burning death of his ex-girlfriend. Lee Hall, formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr., is scheduled to die Jan. 12, 2016. He becomes at least the eleventh death row inmate currently scheduled to die in Tennessee. Hall was convicted in 1993 of first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated arson, for the death of his ex-girlfriend in 1991. That year, Hall threw gasoline on Traci Crozier, 22, as she sat in her car. He then set her on fire. Crozier died hours later, after suffering serious burns over more than 90 percent of her body. The new execution date is part of Tennessee’s unprecedented push to begin executing death row inmates after years of inaction.

Skipping governor vote could hurt Dems on constitutional amendments (TN/Cass)
Trouble at the top of the ticket could create a dilemma for some Democratic voters this fall. Democrats who sit out the governor’s race for fear of helping Charles V. “Charlie” Brown, their previously unknown, unusually colorful nominee, could hurt their own cause on other fronts. That’s because they need as many people as possible to vote in the gubernatorial election to increase their chances of defeating proposed amendments to the state constitution. So some Democratic leaders have started sounding the alarm to get party members to cast a ballot for someone — but not just anyone — and also vote against the amendments.

Postal Service Continues to Shred Imagination Library Books (WPLN-Radio)
Despite a new state law, the U.S. Postal Service says if Imagination Library won’t pay for return postage it has no choice but to get rid of undeliverable books. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has worked with the state for the past decade, sending free books to families with preschoolers. At one time, Post Office officials were allowing charities to pick up books sent to bad addresses but then the Postal Service changed course and began shredding the books. That annoyed state legislators, and in April, Governor Haslam signed a law banning the Post Office from discarding the books. Postal Service spokesman David Walton says it can’t do what the state wants because it would be discriminatory.

Deadline near for Clarksville petitions on supermarket wine sales (Leaf Chronicle)
Just over a week remains until the deadline for delivering any petitions to the Montgomery County Election Commission seeking a November referendum on the question of whether there should be wine sold in Clarksville grocery stores. In the meantime, local Administrator of Elections Vickie Koelman says lists of names of people wanting a referendum are coming in to her office, and there is still a chance that Clarksville city voters will be allowed to decide whether supermarket wine sales should be allowed here.

Upset in DesJarlais-Tracy race looking unlikely (Associated Press/Loller)
Although it is unclear exactly how many provisional ballots remain uncounted in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District’s Republican primary, the ballots counted so far make an upset look increasingly unlikely. Scandal-battered U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais held a 35-vote lead over state Sen. Jim Tracy in unofficial results from last week’s election On Tuesday, Marshall County Elections Administrator Tristan Arnold said officials there had counted 13 provisional ballots, but only three were for the Republican primary. Two were for DesJarlais and none for Tracy. In Rhea (RAY’) County, there was one ballot cast for Tracy, and in Franklin County there was one ballot cast for DesJarlais. At least five other counties have some provisional ballots remaining.

Scott DesJarlais lead widens slightly (Tennessean/Sisk)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ lead has widened slightly over his Republican challenger, state election officials said Tuesday as local election commissions began to report the results of provisional ballots in the 4th Congressional District. DesJarlais now holds a 37-vote lead over state Sen. Jim Tracy, the secretary of state’s office said, adding two votes to his razor-thin lead. Ten of the 16 counties in the district have reported the results of provisional balloting, including the district’s second-largest, Bradley County.

5 Tenn. counties may determine outcome of DesJarlais-Tracy race (TFP/Brogdon)
Five counties out of the 16 in the 4th Congressional District could determine whether U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ razor-thin lead holds up or whether state Sen. Jim Tracy can overcome. The number of valid provisional ballots in 11 counties had been accounted for late Tuesday, said Blake Fontenay, spokesman for Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett. That left just Bedford, Grundy, Maury, Rutherford and Sequatchie. Their yet-to-be-counted provisional ballots are keeping election officials quiet — and the candidates in limbo.

Veterans Affairs secretary to visit Memphis (Associated Press)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is scheduled to address the American Veterans National Convention and visit the VA hospital in Memphis. McDonald, who took over the troubled agency last month, is scheduled to speak at the AMVETS convention in Memphis on Wednesday. It will be the second time in a week that McDonald addresses a veterans group. McDonald, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, spoke at a National Disabled American Veterans convention in Las Vegas on Saturday. McDonald is scheduled to meet employees and leadership at the Memphis VA hospital on Thursday.

New VA secretary will speak at AMVETS convention in Memphis (CA/McKenzie)
The new secretary of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday will address a national convention of a veterans organization meeting in Memphis, officials announced Tuesday. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate on July 29. Former secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army chief of staff and general, resigned in May as a scandal over delayed care and other issues rocked the VA health care system. McDonald is a former chief executive officer of the giant consumer products company Procter & Gamble.

TVA: Watts Bar more than 90 percent complete (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority says work on the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is more than 90 percent complete. The federal agency announced a target completion date for the plant’s Unit 2 reactor of December 2015. It said this week that the reactor continues to meet safety and quality targets and remains on schedule and within budget. The facility is on course to become the nation’s first new nuclear generating plant of the 21st century. About 3,200 workers are on the Watts Bar 2 project, which will be TVA’s seventh nuclear unit. Watts Bar 2 will add 1,100 megawatts of electricity, providing enough energy for approximately 650,000 homes.

Work on TVA’s Watts Bar reactor more than 90 percent complete (TFP/Flessner)
The Tennessee Valley Authority is moving forward with its plan to get the biggest share of its electricity generation from nuclear power in the future. TVA said work on its newest reactor — the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 2 — is more than 90 percent complete and the unit should begin generating power by the end of next year. “Most of the major construction work is concluding,” TVA Senior Vice President Mike Skaggs said in his quarterly update on the ongoing work at the Watts Bar Unit 2. “We are making systems, structures and components like new and are making sure they operate according to TVA, industry and technical standards.”

Oregon: Will Oregon Be the First State with a College Trust Fund? (Governing)
Major universities across the country maintain large endowments that not only provide financial stability, but also allow those schools to provide scholarships to worthy students in need. Should states do the same? That’s the debate right now in Oregon, which this fall could become the first state to set up an ongoing investment trust fund for higher education. The Opportunity Initiative, a proposal on the November ballot, could change the way Oregon funds college grants. The initiative would authorize the state to issue bonds for the purpose of starting up the investment fund, which would be used solely to pay for state scholarships.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Drug screening welfare applicants wastes resources (News-Sentinel)
Tennessee’s controversial law requiring drug screening for welfare recipients is a little more than a month old, but already some trends are emerging. Only five of 812 applicants statewide were denied benefits during July, according to an analysis by the Tennessean. Only one tested positive for drugs; the other four refused to participate further in the application process. Though the sample size is rather small, the numbers indicate that the law is ineffective and inefficient. Championed by state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who lost his re-election bid in the Republican primary last week, the law directs the Tennessee Department of Human Services to screen applicants to the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, administered in the state as Families First.

Editorial: Congress should re-fund CoverKids (Tennessean)
Can Congress set aside a few of its differences over the nation’s health care system and continue a popular program that is working to make children healthier? It should. In October, federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), called CoverKids here in Tennessee, will expire. The expiration could take insurance coverage away from about 68,000 children in the state, and about 8 million across the country. The program, first enacted in 1997, extends insurance coverage to low- and moderate-income families who do not qualify for Medicaid and cannot afford other health insurance options (CoverKids is available for families of four with income under $59,618 annually).

David Cook: Education movement will not be TCAP’ed (Times Free-Press)
TCAP scores arrived in the mailbox this week, so now I’m doing the only reasonable thing a parent can do. Mailing them back. “You can keep these,” I scribbled to the Tennessee Department of Education. After last spring’s you-worked-all-year-for-scores-that-didn’t-count debacle, the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program has lost its credibility. It is the steroid scandal of the education world: The biggest and bulkiest thing around is also the fakest and falsest. “I remember when we didn’t even have the TCAP,” one retired teacher told me a few days ago. Ahh, glory days, when teachers were allowed the freedom to use standardized tests as diagnostic tools only, and students weren’t entrenched in a fear-based system of education.

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