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August 15 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee panel to examine sentencing, recidivism (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has formed a task force to develop legislative and policy recommendations related to sentencing and recidivism. It’s part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety. In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice, a policy and research organization based in New York. The partnership was formed to review sentencing and correction policies and practices, and the creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration. The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. Officials say an examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. The task force is expected to submit its recommendations by June 2015.

Haslam panel to study sentencing, recidivism (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he has created a 27-member task force on sentencing and recidivism as part of his administration’s overall effort to cut crime and improve public safety. The move comes three days after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, announced his own panel would be holding hearings on the same issue with an eye toward reform. Haslam said in a news release his task force is “the next step” in collaboration between his Public Safety Subcabinet and the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. That was announced in June.

Tennessee Governor announces task force to tackle repeat offenders (WJHL-TV)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has created a task force to address sentencing and recidivism in the state. According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, nearly 50 percent of inmates who are released are back behind bars in three years. In a News Channel 11 special report, we revealed that last year in the Carter County Jail, 91 percent of inmates were repeat offenders within the first year of release. Gov. Haslam said he wants to reduce the number of repeat offenders in our state’s jails. He announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism on Thursday.

Haslam announces federal assistance for 18 counties (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam Thursday announced President Obama has declared 18 counties as federal disaster areas as a result of severe weather on June 5-10. State and local governments and electrical utilities spent nearly $10 million in response to and recovery from the wind damage and flash-flooding impacts. “This federal aid will help our communities in rebuilding and recovery,” Haslam said. “State and local teams worked quickly to survey damage in more than 35 counties to determine the impact of these storms, and we are grateful for this assistance.”

Books from Birth launches 50-city Tennessee tour (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
A book tour with a mission will crisscross Tennessee in the next two months, celebrating the 10-year annivesary of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation along the way. A bright blue 45-foot bus will visit about 50 counties, starting in East Tennessee on Aug. 26 and ending at the Tennessee State Capitol on Sept. 30. At each stop, children can enroll in the program. Books from Birth sends a book by mail each month to children under age 5. There will also be giveaways and recognition ceremonies for local volunteers who make the literacy effort possible.

Tennessee July revenue collections see some growth (Associated Press)
Tennessee Finance Commissioner Larry Martin says the state’s revenue collections recorded some growth in July even though they fell short of projections. Martin said in a news release on Thursday that overall revenues were $941.8 million, about $3.2 million less than the state budgeted. Sales tax collections were $1.3 million more than the state estimate. However, franchise and excise taxes combined were $2.2 million below the budgeted estimate of $71 million. The state’s general fund exceeded the projected amount by $1.2 million.

Tennessee blames feds for TennCare delays (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)
Accused of creating monthslong delays for thousands of Tennesseans trying to apply for Medicaid, TennCare officials named in a federal lawsuit said Thursday that another name needs to be topping the lawsuit: The federal government. In a memo filed Thursday evening, attorneys for the state asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against them last month, arguing that the long delays alleged by 11 Tennessee plaintiffs — including new moms, newborns and people with chronic health conditions — are not in their hands. “In short,” state attorneys wrote, “Plaintiffs allege an injury that results directly from the actions or inactions of the [federally-facilitated marketplace].”

Nashville unemployment back above 7 percent (Nashville Business Journal)
Nashville’s unemployment rate jumped up in July, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today. The rate increased to 7.1 percent, up from June’s revised rate of 6.6 percent. The national unemployment rate, meanwhile, ticked up to 6.2 percent, up from 6.1 percent in June. A year ago, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 8.4 percent, while the national average for July 2013 was 7.3 percent.

Tennessee unemployment rate increases in July (Memphis Business Journal)
The state unemployment rate continued to move in the wrong direction in July. The state’s preliminary unemployment rate for July was 7.1 percent, according to Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips, up from the revised unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in June. The U.S. preliminary rate for July was 6.2 percent, up from 6.1 percent in June. Year to date, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has decreased from 8.4 percent to 7.1 percent. The national rate, meanwhile, has fallen from 7.5 percent to 6.2 percent. The biggest job losses from July of last year were in the public sector.

Unemployment up last month in Tennessee and Georgia (TFP/Flessner)
Unemployment rose again last month across Tennessee and Georgia as both states lost jobs during the summer. Despite employment gains nationwide, Tennessee and Georgia lost a combined 16,100 jobs during July. Both states on Thursday reported above-average unemployment for the month. Jeff Humphreys, director of the Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia and one of the state’s top economic forecasters, said the monthly dip in employment does not signal a reversal of the economic growth seen in Tennessee and Georgia since the recession ended three nearly four years ago.

Dept. of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services releases statement (WGNS)
Special memo from E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services: Through the untimely death of entertainer Robin Williams, a bright light is shining once again on the often-avoided conversation about suicide. In my work over the years as a mental health professional, helping people through crisis of spirit, marriage and family, I have seen firsthand how people feel hopeless in their struggle. I have also seen the tragic consequences of someone committing suicide and the family members left behind. Today, as the Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, my mission is to help people out of that dark lonely place and to know there is hope.

Tennessee Supreme Court elects Lee chief justice (Associated Press)
Justice Sharon Lee has been elected chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Lee was among the three Democratic state Supreme Court justices who withstood a conservative effort in last week’s state election to oust them from the bench. The campaign turned the normally routine yes-no “retention” ballot question for justices into a political gambit that featured a blitz of TV ads and Republican-led fundraising seeking to sway the makeup of the court. Lee has been a member of the high court since 2008. Her new role takes effect Sept. 1.

What’s the likelihood of Cooper being reappointed as AG? (Nashville Biz Journal)
Three sitting justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court may follow up their retention vote by Tennesseans last week by standing behind state Attorney General Bob Cooper, who is seeking another eight-year term, according to Tracey George a professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University Law School. “The justices could rightly view the retention in the face of such strong opposition as a sign of support,” George said. “Based on my intuition, it will not effect what the Supreme Court does. They won’t face retention for several years and I’d be surprised if they do not reappoint [Cooper].”

TN Supreme Court judge favors Amendment 2 (Tennessean/Burch)
New Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeff Bivins threw his support behind Amendment 2 during remarks before the 74th annual Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation Presidents Conference on Thursday at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs. The amendment to the Tennessee Constitution states that the governor would appoint Tennessee appellate court judges, subject to legislative confirmation, and followed by retention elections. The question is one of four proposed amendments before voters statewide on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Summerville resigns from Senate Republican Caucus (Associated Press)
State Sen. Jim Summerville, of Dickson, has resigned from the state Senate Republican Caucus following a loss in last week’s election primary. In an Aug. 9 letter to Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, Summerville said he will be serving as an independent member of the Senate for the remainder of his term and asked that his resignation be effective immediately. With all precincts reporting in District 25, former Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield had 9,832 votes, or 42 percent, compared with Summerville’s 3,700 votes, or 16 percent. The district’s — and thus Dickson County’s — Senate representative will be elected in the November election with Roberts running against Tony Gross, a Kingston Springs business owner. Last year, Summerville proposed a measure to eliminate affirmative action initiatives from higher education institutions in Tennessee. After the legislation failed, Summerville threatened GOP lawmakers who voted against it, saying they would face repercussions in this year’s election.  (SUBSCRIPTION)

Arlington will be able to vote on wine sales this November (Memphis Biz Journal)
The Shelby County Election Commission has verified enough signatures for a wine-in-grocery-stores vote in Arlington this November. Arlington is the first municipality in Shelby County to turn in enough verified signatures – at least 328 – to get the vote on the Nov. 4 ballot. Memphis has turned in more signatures than the 13,372 needed, but the Commission is still verifying those. The approval comes about a week before the Aug. 21 deadline to submit signatures. “We are grateful to all of the Arlington residents who took the time to sign the petition,” said Susie Alcorn, campaign manager of Red White and Food, a group collecting the signatures. “Time is running out for us to gather enough signatures in the remaining eligible cities in Shelby County, and we encourage all registered voters to sign their local petitions as soon as possible.”

Corker: If Republicans control houses, will have to act responsibly (CA/Veazey)
The call came a few weeks back from Air Force One, from President Obama. It was a foreign policy topic. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker discussed the issue and soon changed the subject. “Let me just tell you this,” Corker, R-Tennessee, said Thursday morning, recalling the words he said he told the president. “You’re going to be better off, and the country’s going to be better off, if Republicans take the majority in the Senate.” Why? “I said, ‘Look, think about it: Right now, what’s happening in Congress is a Republican House blames Senate Democrats. Senate Democrats blame the Republican House. We never deal with any important issues.’ I said, ‘You’re going to have two years left. Two years left.’ And if Republicans control all of Congress, they’re going to have to act responsible.”

Corker: VW Union Talks Faced Misunderstandings (Associated Press)
Republican Sen. Bob Corker says Tennessee’s discussions about the role of organized labor at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga were clouded by misunderstandings. But the Republican insisted in a chamber of commerce speech in Lawrenceburg on Wednesday that there was “no way” the German automaker would have made last month’s $600 million expansion announcement had the United Auto Workers prevailed in a union vote at the plant in February. Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, acknowledged that he created some “hard feelings” over his strong opposition to the UAW, but he stressed that the company had never given the impression it would accept a unionized work force when it decided to locate the plant in Tennessee.

DesJarlais holds election lead in Tennessee count (Associated Press)
Scandal-battered U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais continues to hold onto his narrow lead as election officials wrap up the count of provisional ballots from last week’s Republican primary. An Associated Press tally Thursday showed DesJarlais maintaining a lead of several dozen votes over state Sen. Jim Tracy. The Aug. 7 voting ended with DesJarlais holding onto his District 4 seat by 35 votes. Since then, officials have added provisional ballots, which include voters who did not have proper ID on election day. Bedford County had the most provisional ballots at 14. Elections Administrator Summer Leverette said one went to Tracy. In Rutherford County, none of the eight provisional ballots went to DesJarlais or Tracy.

DesJarlais-Tracy race down to last ballot (Tennessean/Sisk)
Election officials are down to the final ballot in the race between U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Jim Tracy. A spokesman for Secretary of State Tre Hargett said Thursday that only one provisional ballot remains to be reviewed and counted, a week after Tennesseans went to the polls. Officials in Franklin County plan to convene at 2 p.m. tomorrow to review the ballot. DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, currently holds a 38-vote lead over Tracy for the Republican nomination to represent the 4th Congressional District. The winner will take on Democratic nominee Lenda Sherrell and independent Robert Rankin Doggart.

DesJarlais vote count holds up in Congressional District GOP primary (TFP/Sher)
With all but one provisional vote counted in last week’s 4th Congressional District GOP primary, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has at least a 38-vote lead over challenger Jim Tracy. The Franklin County Election Commission will count the lone remaining provisional ballot today, said Margaret Ottley, the county’s election administrator. Even if Tracy wins that one, it won’t change the outcome of the Aug. 7 election. DesJarlais’ campaign once again called on Tracy to concede, and Tracy once again refused. “Because the race is so close, we are going to continue to follow through the certification process,” said his campaign manager, Stephanie Jarnagin.

DesJarlais increases lead over Tracy to 38 votes (Daily News Journal)
Only one extra vote counted in the 4th Congressional District race from a Rutherford County provisional ballot Wednesday, and it went for Republican David R. Tate. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician from South Pittsburg increased his lead in the GOP primary over runner-up Jim Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville, from 35 votes on election night to 38 by Thursday, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State Division of Elections website. DesJarlais had 34,793 votes after Thursday while Tracy had 34,755. The winner will face Democratic nominee Lenda Sherrell of Monteagle in the Nov. 4 general election, and she had 22,855 votes last week.

If DesJarlais Squeaks Out Primary, Opponent Says She’ll Lay Off His Past (WPLN)
No official primary winner has been declared, but assuming it’s Congressman Scott DesJarlais, his opponent on the November ballot says she doesn’t plan to rehash attacks based on the incumbent’s past. “I think, frankly, the press does a really good job of bringing that up all the time,” candidate Lenda Sherrell says. “There’s really no need for me to talk about it.” DesJarlais’ has spent the last few years under the cloud of a messy divorce case, which revealed drug-use, affairs and even pressuring a mistress to have an abortion. State Sen. Jim Tracy’s campaign used that checkered personal history for attack ads.

From TVA’s underground nerve center operators keep electricity (TFP/Flesner)
They are some of the most powerful people most of us never see, at least in how they control the electricity that powers parts of a dozen states. In a windowless bunker beneath TVA’s downtown Chattanooga office complex, two dozen power systems operators stare at banks of computer screens and a 125-foot wall of flashing lights around the clock to make sure there is just the right amount of power delivered across TVA’s seven-state region and the broader Southeastern reliability district that serves six power utilities. From this nerve center for America’s biggest government utility, power is traded, dispatched and altered continually to align generation with the changing demands of more than 10 million people across the mid-South.

 
OPINION

Editorial: Is deviating from the textbook the right decision? (Tennessean)
What is a social studies class without a fat textbook? We may find out soon, as Metro Nashville Public Schools recently decided not to buy new books when it came time for the usual six-year replacement cycle. Instead, administrators are asking teachers to use websites, interactive videos and primary resources in their classes. “Primary resources” for a history or civics course, for example, might include the U.S. Constitution, the Magna Carta and the like. Some social studies classes, such as Advanced Placement, will continue to use textbooks. How and why this is happening is not contained in a single answer, and the first thought in the minds of many — cost — is not a factor.

Times Editorial: Amendments math makes governor votes crucial (TFP)
There’s a lot at stake — especially for Democrats — in the November general election. But not for reasons you may think. Tennessee voters chose by about 3-1 to vote on the Republican primary ballot in August. But the 225,617 voters who chose the Democratic ballot named Charles V. “Charlie” Brown as the Democratic nominee for governor. Perhaps it was the familiar “Charlie Brown” name, or maybe it was just the advantage of the alphabet and his name was first on the list of largely unknown candidates. It certainly was not because of any campaigning that Charles V. “Charlie” Brown waged, because the total sum of his campaigning was to get 25 names on a petition to run for office and the creation of a Facebook page with his first name misspelled.

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