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August 23 TN News Digest

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

ACT Gains Demonstrate Teachers Working Hard, Reforms Working, says Guv (TNR)
If you ask Bill Haslam to interpret the significance of recent Tennessee ACT scores that show the most impressive statewide gains in a decade, he’ll tell you it shows teachers are doing a great job. That, and it’s more evidence much-resisted education reforms initiated and implemented by his administration are creating positive results. Despite difficult workplace transitions, Teachers are adapting adeptly, and deserve praise, he said Wednesday. “I think it’s further verification that we have great teaching going on in Tennessee schools, and we’re seeing the results of that,” the governor said following an event at Antioch High School to promote a new state program offering free community college to any graduating senior in the state.

Haslam, wife take bucket challenge, prompted by Knoxville church family (N-S)
The expression on Gov. Bill Haslam’s face says it all: That water was cold. Haslam, wife Crissy and Haslam’s staff can be seen taking the ice bucket challenge on the steps of the Capitol in Nashville in a YouTube video posted Friday afternoon. The challenge is a fundraiser by the ALS Association, the non-profit that raises awareness and promotes research to fight Lou Gehrig’s Disease. You may love the challenge, which has been sweeping social media, or you may be over it. But the videos are fun to watch, including the one posted two days ago on YouTube by Mark “Coonrippy” Brown, the overall-wearing, raccoon-loving candidate for Tennessee governor. Haslam said he and his wife were challenged on video by Carianne and Chris Meystrik, members of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, which they and the Haslams attend.

Haslam seeks information on resettlement (Daily News Journal)
Thousands of children have immigrated to the United States from Central America in recent months, and resettlement of some those children in Tennessee has brought a response from Gov. Bill Haslam. In late July, Haslam wrote to President Barack Obama expression his discontent about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services resettling children in the state. “It is unacceptable that we became aware via a posting on the HHS website that 760 unaccompanied children have been released by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to sponsors in Tennessee without my administration’s knowledge,” Haslam wrote.

State OKs planning of $70M veterans’ home in Shelby County (M. Biz Journal)
The Tennessee State Building Commission has approved the planning of a new $70 million, 144-bed veterans’ nursing home in Shelby County. A Commission spokesman confirmed approval for the planning phase of the veterans’ nursing home, which would be the state’s fourth. Gov. Bill Haslam set aside $600,000 in the budget this year for the first phase, The Commercial Appeal has reported. The spokesman for the Commission said the funding has been approved to cover site selection, analysis and testing for the intermediate and skilled nursing facility. The timeline hasn’t been determined yet. he nearest state-run veterans nursing home is in Humboldt, just north of Jackson.

After tanker blast, new I-65 bridge could be open by Nov. (Tennessean/Wilson)
Tennessee Department of Transportation officials expect to rebuild the Peytonsville Road bridge demolished after a fatal tanker explosion by November. Construction crews expect bridge beams for the overpass over Interstate 65 will be ready to be set by early October, according to a TDOT release. The bridge would then be set to reopen by Nov. 27 if the weather cooperates and the correct materials are available. Last week, two bridges were damaged beyond repair when a tanker carrying gasoline slammed into one of the bridges and exploded in southern Franklin. The driver, Bobby Bobo of Columbia, died from the wreck.

Davidson County sees unemployment rate rise to 6.3% (Nashville Post)
Davidson County saw its unemployment rate rise to 6.3 percent in July, up from 6 percent in June and 5.2 percent in May. Still, according to statistics the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released Thursday, the county registered the lowest July unemployment rate of the state’s four major metropolitan areas. It has consisently had the lowest jobless mark of Tennessee’s “Big Four” for many months now. Knox County (Knoxville) saw its July jobless rate increase to 6.6 from its 6.3 percent mark in June. Hamilton County (Chattanooga) had a rate of 7.8 percent, up from 7.2 percent.

Clarksville jobless rate increases in July (Leaf Chronicle)
Montgomery County’s unemployment rate has ticked up once again. According to the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development, the jobless rate for July stood at 8 percent. That’s a 0.3 percent point increase from June’s 7.7 percent and 1.6 percentage points from May’s 6.4 percent. This month, 6,110 people are classified by the Labor Department as unemployed, out of an estimated countywide labor force of 76,860. The July unemployment rate for Montgomery County is higher than both the statewide rate of 7.8 percent and the national rate of 6.5 percent. It remains lower, however, than July 2013’s county rate of 8.2 percent.

Tennessee shuts pharmacy, disciplines others over pain pills (Tenn/Wilemon)
The Tennessee Board of Pharmacy has suspended the license of a Smyrna drugstore by emergency order after investigators discovered thousands of doses of opioids missing. Corder’s Community Pharmacy Inc. was shut down July 7, according to a board order released Thursday. The action came after law enforcement filed a complaint against the drugstore. The Murfreesboro Pain Management Clinic also surrendered its license as the result of another state investigation. And a doctor and pharmacist were put on probation for prescribing drugs to a friend or family member without proper documentation.

MTSU president says standards will remain high despite less funding (Gannett)
Even with less funding from the state, Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee vowed standards at the school will remain high. Officials with the university expected to receive $4.2 million in funding for the 2014-15 year based on the school’s success at retaining and graduating students. Instead the university got $1.25 million because of lower-than-expected sales-tax revenue and Gov. Bill Haslam allocated less of the state budget for higher education. The Tennessee Board of Regents changed the funding formula for state institutions in 2011 so that money is allotted to schools based on retention until graduation.

UT Supply Chain program ranked 3rd in US (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
The undergraduate supply chain program at the University of Tennessee was recently ranked third in the U.S., according to a report from a leading industry company. Gartner Inc. placed UT’s program just behind those at Michigan State and Pennsylvania State, which tied for first UT previously ranked 11th. The program is housed in UT’s College of Business Administration. “We are honored by this recognition and proud of the impact our faculty and students are having on the industry,” said Steve Mangum, dean of the College of Business Administration.

Woman charged with TennCare fraud (Daily Times)
A Blount County woman has been charged with TennCare fraud for receiving benefits through the state’s Medicaid program that she was not eligible to receive. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), with assistance from the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Friday announced the arrest of Cherie Boston, 49, of Maryville. She is charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services. “It’s troubling when anyone with resources attempts to enroll in a program that benefits people who are in challenging situations financially, physically or both,” said Acting Inspector General Lawrence S. Saylor Jr. in a news release.

Tennessee inmates sue over electric chair (Associated Press)
Ten death row inmates in Tennessee are suing to prevent the state from using the electric chair as a backup execution device should it be unable to obtain drugs needed to give lethal injections. The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1njxumd ) reports that the lawsuit filed Friday says using the electric chair runs afoul of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in May signed into law the bill that makes Tennessee the only state where electrocutions can be imposed on inmates sentenced to die via lethal injection. The same group of inmates is also suing the estate over a 2013 law that makes nearly all information about lethal injection secret.

Death row inmates sue to stop electric chair ‘torture’ (Tennessean/Haas)
A group of 10 death row inmates suing over lethal injection in Tennessee argued on Friday that the state’s backup plan — the electric chair — is an unconstitutional “torture device.” The inmates are locked in a battle with the state over whether they have a right to know how they will be killed and who will do the killing. Their lawsuit stems from a 2013 law that makes nearly all information about lethal injection secret. Friday’s amended lawsuit targets a 2014 law Gov. Bill Haslam signed that makes the electric chair the state’s official backup if lethal injection is declared unconstitutional or if the necessary drugs are unavailable. Attorneys for the inmates say that no other state — or any government in the world — imposes electrocution on the condemned.

Kyle asks for legal opinion by state AG on selection of his replacement (CA/Locker)
Hoping to end the confusion over the process, state Sen. Jim Kyle on Friday asked the state attorney general for a legal opinion on how his successor in Senate District 30 should be nominated and elected. Kyle, D-Memphis, won election Aug. 7 as a Shelby County Chancery Court judge and said in a letter Friday to Atty. Gen. Robert Cooper that he intends to resign from the seat he’s held for 31 years on Aug. 29 when he will be sworn in as a chancellor. But what was expected to be a straightforward process of electing a new senator has fallen into disarray and confusion. The Shelby County Democratic Party had scheduled a meeting for Thursday of this week to discuss the process and a caucus for next Thursday to select a nominee.

Womick accuses Haslam of ‘treasonous targeting’ of Republicans (TN/Garrison)
Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, has gone after Gov. Bill Haslam and his polarizing education commissioner Kevin Huffman in the past. And he’s made no secret about his mistrust of the Tennessee Department of Education’s slow release of TCAP test results last spring, alleging manipulation of data was at play. But in a Thursday letter to the governor’s Chief of Staff Mark Cate, the tea party representative took his anger to a new level — accusing the Republican governor of “treasonous targeting” in the GOP primary earlier this month and Attorney General Robert Cooper and Huffman of “Clitonesque spin” in their legal reasoning to justify the delayed released of TCAP scores and offer test waivers to districts.

Tidwell seeks re-election to the 74th House District (Leaf Chronicle)
State Rep. John Tidwell announces his re-election bid as the Democratic nominee for State House District 74, covering Humphreys, Houston and the western part of Montgomery County. “We were able to accomplish some great things this year, but we still have a long way to go help working families in Tennessee,” Tidwell said. “I hope to return next year and continue to find more ways to improve the lives of veterans, provide jobs for hard-working families, and ensure that all families have access to high-quality health care.”

Military surplus bonanza transforms Tennessee police work (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Nashville police don’t want to be compared to the authorities in Ferguson, Mo., where images of their heavily armed clashes with protesters stirred national passions and have hummed across TV screens for two weeks running. But they do have similar firepower. That’s thanks in part to a program that sends surplus U.S. military gear to local agencies for free — armored vehicles and assault rifles included. Despite a mounting call for accountability of high-powered police tools nationwide, Nashville police spokeswoman Kris Mumford bristled this week at being questioned about Metro’s capabilities. “It’s difficult to imagine a response similar here in Nashville,” Mumford said. “We’re a transparent, community-involved police department.”

Corker bemoans gridlock, ‘generational theft’ (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker downplayed talk of a presidential run, rapped President Obama’s “lack of vision” and reluctant role as commander-in-chief and repeatedly expressed frustration at Congress’ inability to resolve issues in a talk and follow-up interview Friday. Corker, Tennessee’s junior senator and a Republican, spoke to members of the East Tennessee Economic Council, a group of businesspeople that holds Friday morning get-togethers in Oak Ridge. He called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — or the terrorist group ISIS — “the most grotesque, demonic group of people ever encountered.” He said the U.S. would be warranted in extending its military involvement in efforts to contain ISIS from Iraq into neighboring Syria.

Tracy clings to hope as DesJarlais seeks closure (Tennessean/Cass)
Conflict demands resolution. The anxious mind seeks closure. We want a winner, gosh darn it. But can’t a guy who’s losing an election by five-hundredths of a percentage point look in every nook and cranny for an extra 39 votes before he dumps his dream? That’s the position state Sen. Jim Tracy seems to be in this weekend. Tracy, a Republican from Shelbyville, waged a spirited — though perhaps not spirited enough — campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, the South Pittsburg physician whose political career appeared to have flatlined not that long ago.

Tracy holds fast; DesJarlais calls for concession in race (TFP/Brogdon)
State Sen. Jim Tracy’s campaign has only a few more days in which to concede or push for a recount in his race to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District. Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins said Tracy has five calendar days from Thursday to challenge the election, which shows DesJarlais with a 38-vote lead over the challenger. “That’s calendar days, so this weekend counts against him,” Goins said Friday. All 16 counties in the district have certified their votes in the Aug. 7 election. And Goins said the state would certify all county races at one time when all of the state’s 95 counties have certified.

Tracy to announce Monday his decision on election challenge (Daily News Journal)
State Sen. Jim Tracy will decide by Monday’s deadline, his campaign manager said, whether to challenge the certified 38-vote Republican primary victory of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. “Sen. Tracy is reviewing additional information over the weekend,” Campaign Manager Stephanie Jarnagin said. All of the 16 county election commissions had certified their results by Thursday for the 4th Congressional District, and the combined outcome showed DesJarlais with 34,793 votes and Tracy being runner up with 34,755, according to a Tennessee Secretary of State Division of Elections website. The GOP winner will face unopposed Democratic primary winner, Lenda Sherrell of Monteagle.

Lightning hits oxygen line at TVA Douglas reservoir (Times Free-Press)
TVA has opened one of the spillways at its Douglas Dam and resorted to an old-fashion method of keeping adequate oxygen levels in the river after lightning ruptured part of the utility’s water oxygenation system. TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said a lightening strike Wednesday night hit the pipe that carries oxygen into the Douglas Reservoir and has forced TVA to shut down and rebuild the line. Construction crews working at the dam Wednesday saw the fire that resulted from the lightning strike, which broke through the PVC covering and inch-thick copper pipe that carries oxygen into the reservoir from a pair of oxygen tanks about a quarter mile away.

Serta’s Nashville plans become clearer (Tennessean/Ward)
Serta Simmons Bedding LLC has provided more details to employees on its planned shared services center in Nashville. The Atlanta-based mattress giant is restructuring its U.S. back-office operations based on advice of consultants from Ernst & Young, according to a memo Serta Simmons Chief Financial Officer Brian Callahan sent to employees. The memo was sent 10 days before news broke that the company was in negotiations to lease 45,000 square feet of office space for the new center in downtown’s UBS Tower.

Class is In (Memphis Daily News)
For Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken, the demerger of public schools in Shelby County didn’t become “real” until teachers reported the week before the Aug. 4 first day of classes. The weekend before public school students started the school year across the county and the buses began to roll, there was a little more reality to come for all seven of Shelby County’s public schools systems. Union drivers for Durham School Services, the school bus company that has contracts with all of the districts, voted down a contract with Durham.

 

 
OPINION

Diane Black: Border crisis demands action from Washington (Tennessean)
It was a Saturday morning more than 15 years ago when I first met my friend Petti. Now a proud Tennessean, Petti left her home country of Brazil and immigrated to the United States in 1969 with the hope of creating a better life for her two children. Her legal immigration was a demanding process but one that Petti says was well worth it — so much so that in 2006 Petti decided to become a U.S. citizen. I was honored to attend her naturalization ceremony and will not soon forget watching as she and a room full of her peers said the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as American citizens. Like me, Petti is not short on opinions regarding today’s crisis of illegal immigration. She believes those who break the law to enter our country, and the politicians who allow the problem to go unchecked, disrespect the sacrifices of millions of legal immigrants like her.

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