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August 14 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee ranks fourth in U.S. for business climate (News-Sentinel/Flory)
Tennessee has received a strong ranking from a magazine that focuses on economic development. Business Facilities magazine ranked states on a variety of factors, but in the overarching category of Best Business Climate Tennessee took fourth place, up five spots compared to 2013. The top three states were Louisiana, Utah and Texas. Tennessee took the top spot in implementing education reforms under the federal Race to the Top program, and ranked second among the states with the best infrastructure. It also ranked second in automotive manufacturing strength. When it comes to making vehicles, East Tennessee has scored some major victories in recent weeks.

Haslam touts tourism at state broadcasters conference (Daily News Journal)
Gov. Bill Haslam encouraged broadcasters Wednesday to help the state promote tourism because it attracts jobs and generates revenue to improve education. When visitors are spending their money in Tennessee, this produces more sales tax dollars to pay teachers who are helping the state be the fastest improving one in the nation, Haslam told around 275 people gathered for the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center off Medical Center Parkway and Interstate 24 in Murfreesboro.

Hundreds of TN Broadcasters Improve Skills In ‘Boro (WGNS-Radio Murfreesboro)
Several hundred radio and television broadcasters from across the state attended the 66th Annual Tennessee Association of Broadcasters (TAB) Conference at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center. Gov. Haslam Talks To Broadcasters Governor Bill Haslam was the keynote speaker for the Wednesday luncheon. TAB Chairman Phil Cox introduced the governor . . .
AUDIO HERE.

Haslam working to save books destroyed in mail (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Perfectly good books being sent through the mail are still being trashed. The Imagination Library, set up by Dolly Parton and Gov. Bill Haslam’s Books from Birth Foundation, works to put books in the hands of young studentslearning to read. Those books, which are sent through the mail, sometimes go to the wrong address. Because it’s not cheap to “return to sender,” the postal service puts the books in the dumpster. “We have all these books we can re-purpose,” Haslam said. “We can get them into the right peoples’ hands if they just won’t destroy them in the meantime.” In a statement, the U.S. Postal Service said, “This practice would constitute illegal discrimination among users of the mail, which is prohibited by federal statute.”

Volkswagen mechatronics grads get diplomas (Times Free-Press/Malek)
Brian Burton worked in banking. Amy Mitchum had an office job in the real estate industry. Repairing robots wasn’t an obvious career for either of them. But on Wednesday, Burton stood as salutatorian for the second graduating class of Volkswagen Chattanooga’s Automation Mechatronics Program. Mitchum was the class’s sole female graduate. “I got over a lot of fears,” said Mitchum, 37, of Chattanooga. Namely, mastering the manual demands — welding, for example — that her upcoming job as a skilled team member requires. All of Volkswagen Academy’s 13 graduates start work at the plant on Friday.

430 state jobs headed to UBS Tower (Tennessean/Ward)
UBS Tower owner Rubicon Equities has been officially notified that the building was selected to provide office space for two state agencies. If the lease agreement is finalized and approved, 431 employees from the state attorney general’s office and the Department of Children’s Services are expected to relocate there from the state’s Cordell Hull office building. UBS Tower at 315 Deaderick St. beat out Bank of America Plaza for the award. The attorney general’s office is expected to occupy roughly 50,000 square feet of space and Children’s Services roughly 75,000 square feet. The award is pending final lease negotiation and approval by the executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission at its next meeting.

TennCare call center has no answers (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Tennesseans calling for help with Medicaid applications reach someone who can’t view their file, can’t answer basic questions, and probably won’t call them back. Because of delays with a $35.7 million computer system, call center employees can do little except answer the telephone and pass along messages to TennCare. They cannot tell whether the state has received applications from the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, and they cannot tell people the status of their eligibility. An attorney with a law firm representing TennCare acknowledged those failings in a letter. That letter has become part of a federal lawsuit that lawyers for three nonprofits filed against TennCare last month.

Some “Nashville” stars to hold benefit in Sonya case (Tennessean/Haas)
Some members of the show “Nashville” have thrown their support behind a Dickson family battling for custody of a 10-year-old girl they fostered, according to a family spokeswoman. Sonya McCaul, the subject of a years-long battle for custody, has been placed with her biological father, John McCaul, in Nebraska after years of legal wrangling with her former foster parents in Dickson, David and Kim Hodgin. The Hodgin family continues to try to terminate McCaul’s parental rights and to re-adopt Sonya, after an earlier attempt to do so was overturned by a Tennessee appeals court.

UT will greet largest freshman class in 30+ years (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
Soon, the University of Tennessee will welcome its largest freshman class in three decades. Nearly 4,700 freshmen will begin classes on Aug. 20 on the Knoxville campus, which is 400 more than last year. In all, about 7,400 students will live on campus this fall, about 300 more than last year. While some have already moved to campus, the big move-in day begins Saturday, Aug. 16 at 8 a.m. Despite the larger class size, the class has a lot of academic achievements to boast: an average ACT score of 27, an average high school GPA of 3.8 or higher, about 43 percent have a high school GPA of 4.0 or higher. Nearly 600 of the freshmen, or about 13 percent of the class, are enrolled in UT honors programs.

Poll finds bipartisan opposition in Tennessee to online sales taxes (NBJ)
A recent survey of 400 likely voters in Tennessee finds bipartisan opposition to some of the details of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require online retailers to pay sales taxes. Those are the findings from the survey conducted by National Taxpayers Union, a conservative tax advocacy organization, and R Street Institute, a nonprofit, free-market think tank. When asking likely voters whether they favor or oppose new federal legislation allowing states to make online retailers collect sales tax based on where a customer makes the purchase, 53 percent of Tennesseans opposed and 35 percent supported such a bill, according to the survey. Those results were consistent for both Republican and Democratic voters.

Libertarians sue to get on Nov. ballot (Tennessean/Sisk)
Another minor party has sued to get its candidates recognized on the ballot this November. The Libertarian Party of Tennessee, gubernatorial nominee Daniel T. Lewis and two Middle Tennessee voters say in a suit filed in federal court late last month that the state discriminates against minor parties by forcing organizers to gather too many signatures too long before the election. Libertarians hope to join the Green Party and the Constitution Party as third parties that have been recognized for this November’s vote. A federal judge in Nashville granted those parties access to the ballot earlier this year in a similar lawsuit. Tennessee law requires Libertarians and other third parties to turn in about 40,000 signatures at least 90 days before the general election to have their candidates recognized on the general election ballot. Otherwise, those candidates appear as “independents.”

Insularity Breeds Defeat for the Democrats (Memphis Flyer)
“I wish those Democrats would go ahead and just sign up and be Republicans. Go ahead and join the party because we don’t need you. You don’t support us.” — Bryan Carson, August 8, 2014 Sure, this day-after-election statement about Democratic crossover voters by the youthful Shelby County Democratic chairman — quickly withdrawn and apologized for within a day — reflected the strain and frustration of a losing race. But it also contained evidence of the virus that has infected the local party for years — and that reached the life-threatening stage this year. The fact is that, over the past generation, many a Democrat has gone ahead and just “signed up” to be a Republican.

DesJarlais maintains lead with 13 counties counted (Tennessean/Sisk)
State officials said Wednesday that reviews have been completed on provisional balloting in all but three counties in the 4th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais maintains the lead. The secretary of state’s office released figures showing that 87 provisional ballots were cast in 13 of the district’s 16 counties, including those cast in the Democratic primary and local general elections only. Of those, 10 have been ruled to be valid Republican votes, with DesJarlais taking four and Tracy two. Results are pending in Sequatchie, Warren and Grundy counties. The tally means DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, has a 37-vote lead over Tracy in the Republican primary.

DesJarlais renews call for Tracy to concede (Times Free-Press/Sher)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais on Wednesday stepped up pressure on Jim Tracy to concede their 4th Congressional District Republican primary race after reviews of provisional ballots in most counties showed DesJarlais with an insurmountable 37-vote lead. “At this point we believe the senator should concede for the good of the district and the Tennessee Republican Party,” said DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson, who noted “it’s statistically impossible” for Tracy to pick up the necessary votes needed to win last Thursday’s election. With provisional votes counts completed in 13 of the district’s 16 counties by late afternoon, DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician, remained ahead by 37 votes — two votes more than he had on election night on Aug. 7.

Bob Corker won’t rule out presidential bid (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday he isn’t ruling out joining the field of Republicans running for president in 2016, but any decision would wait until next year. Corker, who is two years into his second term, also noted that his wife, Elizabeth, may be wary of the intense media attention and scrutiny a presidential candidate takes on. If Corker joined the race, he would face Republicans with higher national profiles such as potential candidates such as fellow Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Corker also hasn’t taken any clear steps to organize or make appearances in early primary states.

Bob Corker keeps presidential talk alive (Associated Press, Times Free-Press)
For a man who might want to be president, Bob Corker has been notably absent from the parade of Republican hopefuls that has marched into Iowa this month. Corker, Tennessee’s junior senator and Chattanooga’s former mayor, told Lawrenceburg Chamber of Commerce members in a speech Wednesday that he hasn’t ruled out a run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. That said, while the state that holds the nation’s earliest presidential primary has hosted nearly a dozen Republican governors and senators since Aug. 1 — Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and the Texas duo, Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — Corker hasn’t been among them.

Corker, in Memphis, Hints at a Presidential Race in 2016 (Memphis Flyer)
Tennessee has had its share of presidential candidates – on the Democratic side, there have been names like Kefauver, Clement, Gore; on the Republican side, Baker, Alexander, Thompson. Now comes another one thinking about it — name of Corker. The junior U.S. Senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker, has the bug. No doubt about it. Speaking to the Economics Club in Memphis at the East Memphis Hilton Wednesday night, Corker fielded a series of questions ranging across the spectrum of public issues — from the minimum wage to Wikileaks to the chaos of Iraq and the threat of Putin — and finally was asked the key question by John Ryder, a Republican, who shared hosting honors for the affair with Democrat David Cocke.

Sen. Bob Corker “relishes” president role, won’t rule out 2016 bid (Jackson Sun)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn., met with The Jackson Sun editorial board Wednesday afternoon and said he relishes the office of the president and the influence it possesses, but stopped short of saying whether he would run for the highest office in the land in 2016. “The order of magnitude difference that someone can make in the Senate and in that job is just not even in the same sphere,” the two-term senator said. “I do relish the role,” Corker said. “I do know the huge difference that you can make in the two positions.”

Nearly 4,000 need to prove citizenship status for Obamacare coverage (NBJ)
Nearly 4,000 Tennesseans have less than a month to prove their citizenship or legal immigrant status or lose their Obamacare marketplace insurance coverage. According to CMS, 3,800 marketplace consumers in Tennessee have not submitted reqiored documents following numerous requests. The state’s enrollment total closed the first-ever open enrollment period at more than 150,000 Nationwide, 310,000 enrollees have yet to follow through on data discrepancies first raised in May. More than 450,000 citizenship and immigration status cases have been closed and another 210,000 are in progress, CMS announced Tuesday.

Thousands in Georgia, Tenn. could lose marketplace health coverage (TFP/Belz)
Over 6 percent of health insurance buyers in Georgia who bought plans on the federal new marketplace now face losing that coverage if they do not produce documents proving their citizenship or immigration status, federal officials said Wednesday. Meanwhile, over 2 percent of marketplace customers in Tennessee have yet to submit proper paperwork, along with nearly 3 percent of insurance buyers in Alabama. People who have not yet responded to the federal queries must submit the documents by Sept. 5 or lose coverage Sept. 30. The Affordable Care Act created the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, which allows people to buy plans that qualify for tax dollar-supported subsidies, depending on their income and household size.

New secretary pledges improvement to VA healthcare (Commercial Appeal/Bailey)
His big product is now health care instead of Tide or Folgers, and his customers are military veterans instead of household consumers. Former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert A. McDonald marked his second week as U.S. secretary of the embattled Veterans Affairs when he helped kick off the 70th national convention of American Veterans (AMVETS) at Memphis Cook Convention Center on Wednesday. AMVETS counts 180,000 members. McDonald plans to apply lessons learned during the 34 years he moved up the ranks at Procter & Gamble to transform Veterans Affairs.

Shrinking Revenue Spurs Gas Tax Alternatives (Stateline)
It was the potholes that convinced real estate broker Lester Friedman that there’s got to be a better way to pay for road construction and repairs. Friedman, who lives in Bend, Oregon, drives about 8,000 miles a year in his 1999 Chevrolet Suburban, ferrying clients throughout central Oregon. He sees roads in various states of disrepair and he can tell you first-hand that the current arrangement just isn’t working. That’s why he volunteered to test a new program in his home state that would levy a tax on miles driven, rather than on each gallon of fuel purchased. In every other state, and at the federal level, gasoline taxes are levied on a per-gallon basis.

Blue Bell opens new Lenoir City distribution center (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
Blue Bell Ice Cream’s throwing an ice cream party in Lenoir City Wednesday to celebrate the grand opening of its new local distribution center. Its new 12,500 square-foot branch distribution center is located at 107 Pawnook Farm Rd. in Lenoir City. A ribbon cutting will be held at the location at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Guests will be treated to an ice cream party, a tour of the facility and be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a year’s supply of Blue Bell Ice Cream. The Texas based ice cream manufacturer first came to the Knoxville area in early 2006. At that time products were distributed from a Blue Bell distribution center located in Huntsville, Ala.

Koch brothers group vows anti-Common Core spending (TN/Garrison, Giordano)
Convinced of wins during last week’s elections, a group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers has vowed to continue to spend aggressively in Tennessee in pursuit of derailing Common Core academic standards here. The Tennessee branch of Americans for Prosperity, a political and lobbying arm founded by conservatives Charles and David Koch, claims it spent $500,000 over the last six weeks targeted at “bringing the issues with Common Core to light” in Tennessee. “And this is just the beginning,” the group’s state director, Andrew Ogles, said in prepared statement Wednesday.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Your job options just got broader (Jackson Sun)
We are thrilled that Pacific Industries broke ground Tuesday for its new plant at the Airport Industrial Park in Jackson. The opening will bring many sorely needed jobs to our community in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps many who are living hand-to-mouth now will look ahead with hope once again. Hope for themselves, their families; hope for their future. We’re elated not only for the 190 new jobs the plant will be able to offer our residents in the long term, but also that the company chose local firms to build the plant. A2H will design the plant, and H&M Construction will build the plant. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker shared our excitement during a visit to Jackson Wednesday afternoon, calling the newest asset to our economy “outstanding.”

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