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September 20 TN News Digest

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

Haslam takes flu shot, pushes Amendment 2 in Memphis Friday (CA/Veazey)
Gov. Bill Haslam stumped for the judicial selection amendment on the November ballot in a Friday visit to Memphis, responded to a group of protesters who aren’t happy with his budgeting priorities, and took a needle — a real one, not a political barb — in his left arm. The latter came at an event at the Shelby County Health Department promoting flu shots. Haslam, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and state Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner removed their jackets, rolled up their sleeves and took the vaccination. Haslam smiled throughout the shot and joked when it was over. “I was kind of hoping for a Snoopy Band-Aid, though,” he said.

Haslam Swears In Judges, Gets Flu Shot in Memphis (Memphis Daily News)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam swore in a new Tennessee Supreme Court justice and two state Appeals Court judges during a busy Friday, Sept. 19, visit to Memphis that also included getting a flu shot. Haslam swore in Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Holly Kirby of Memphis at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law before a group of 300 people that included former Gov. Don Sundquist, who appointed Kirby to the court of appeals during his two terms as governor. Kirby’s swearing in completes the court complement of five justices. Haslam was one of several speakers at the ceremony who put in a plug for the Nov. 4 statewide referendum on judicial selection.

Gov. Haslam Sounds Off On Untested Rape Kits (WPTY-TV Memphis)
The untested rape kits in Memphis. How bad is it? Well we have more untested kits here then anyplace in the country. We know it. And the Governor knows it. Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t have a lot of power in state government. The lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house have more clout when it comes to things. Still, he is the governor. Who knows when to get involved. Or when it comes to the untested rape kit issue, .knows when to stay out of it. “Obviously, primarily those are local issues. But we’re looking. Senator Norris is taking the lead. We’re looking to see what role the state can play in all of that,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said.

Governor Bill Haslam addresses Memphis’ rape kit backlog (WMC-TV Memphis)
Governor Bill Haslam says Memphis’ rape kit backlog must be handled on a local level, but he is looking at the possibility of standardizing procedures to make sure a backlog never happens again. Memphis Police Department discovered more untested kits in a storage facility Sept. 16; it’s now a total of 12,360 backlogged rape kits dating back to 1976. More than 5,000 of the kits have now been processed. “Are there different procedures? The state can say this is the way it should happen everywhere … That we might look at a piece of legislation,” Haslam said. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is working with the TBI to track the backlog and facilitate the processing the untested kits.

Haslam keeping door open to pre-K as speaker remains skeptical (AP/Schelzig)
While Gov. Bill Haslam is keeping the door open to an expansion of the public prekindergarten program in Tennessee, any such move would remain a tough sell among some fellow Republicans in the Legislature. Haslam stressed that a federal notice that Tennessee intends to apply for a share of federal money available for pre-K expansion doesn’t mean the state will necessarily follow through. The governor said this week he still is awaiting the results of a multiyear Vanderbilt study on the effectiveness of the program before making up his mind. “We’re still waiting on the study from Vanderbilt University, but we thought it was worth it to put the application in,” Haslam said earlier this week.

Haslam Wants to ‘Hold Our Place in Line’ for Federal Pre-K Expansion Dollars (TNR)
The Tennessee Department of Education is sending a letter of intent to apply for a federal pre-kindergarten expansion grant. But it’s just a placeholder to ensure access to future federal funds, Gov. Bill Haslam said this week. Haslam said he’s still not ready to start advocating the state expand its existing pre-k program, which now serves about 18,000 mostly lower-income kids. His administration’s letter to the Obama administration is “basically a way for us to save our place for an application down the road,” the governor told reporters in Knoxville Wednesday. The announcement that the state intended to apply for the funds comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s visit to Tennessee as a part of his 2014 Back to School Bus Tour to discuss education progress in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

DCS proves foster care progress to federal judge (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
The experts who watch over Tennessee’s foster care system told a judge Friday that the state is doing better at keeping foster children safe and supporting the families who take them in. The Department of Children’s Services will remain under strict court orders to make additional reforms, but the agency got credit for improving on 14 measurements related to child well-being. DCS has now met 82 of 136 goals outlined in an agreement that a federal court created in 2000 in response to a lawsuit against Tennessee by New York-based watchdog group Children’s Rights alleging widespread mistreatment of vulnerable kids. Continued progress could end federal oversight sometime in 2016, officials said.

TennCare ruling adds to Legal Aid case load (Daily News Journal)
The case load doubled at a regional free legal center after a federal judge ordered the state to give hearings to those whose TennCare applications were delayed, according to an attorney with the firm. U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell ordered the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration to follow state law and provide application hearings within 45 days, according to a court order. Eleven plaintiffs said their deadlines were not met, preventing them from being accepted into Tennessee’s Medicaid program. The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands began advertising their free legal aid services Sept. 11, said Russell Overby, lead attorney for health and benefits for the firm.

State working to crack down on TennCare fraud (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Every time someone commits TennCare fraud, it takes money out of your pocket, and the state has put a new face in charge to try to turn the tide. “With TennCare fraud, people are really lying, cheating and stealing from the state of Tennessee. They’re receiving benefits, medical benefits and pharmacy benefits, that they’re not entitled to receive, and obviously, it costs us a lot of money,” said Inspector General Manny Tyndall. It’s money paid for by taxpayers that would otherwise go to those in need. Tyndall just became inspector general a week ago. He has 48 employees, including three attorneys and 14 special agents, equipped with badges, guns and full arresting powers. “It costs the state an average about $3,600 for every person who’s on TennCare, so for each time we remove a person, that’s a potential savings. Typically, we arrest about 200 people per year,” Tyndall said. Not only are these offenders removed from TennCare, but they’re often forced to pay restitution.

Interviews set for judge applicants (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Six lawyers from across the state have applied to serve as a circuit court judge who will preside over cases from Williamson and other counties. The candidates will interview Sept. 30 at the Embassy Suites in Cool Springs to replace Judge Timothy Easter, who was moved to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals this month. The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments will conduct the interviews. At a public hearing at 9 a.m., members of the public can voice their opinions. The commission is expected to select its nominees immediately afterward and forward the names to Gov. Bill Haslam for consideration. The applicants are: Joseph D. Baugh Jr., Stacey Michelle Brackeen Edmondson, Deanna B. Johnson, Connie L. Reguli, David Henry Veile and Terry E. Wood. View their applications at www.TNCourts.gov.

Monorail proposal gets TDOT study (Daily News Journal)
Development of a monorail between Murfreeboro and Nashville is receiving study from the state Department of Transportation, and a report is expected in February, according to the office of state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro. Ketron proposed development of the monorail during the most recent session of the Legislature. “This 32-mile strip of interstate is the most congested corridor in the state,” Ketron said during the legislative session. “The current population of Rutherford County is about 290,000. By 2025 it is estimated to be at 600,000 and by 2035 it is estimated that there will be another million residents in the greater Middle Tennessee area. “This presents a great problem in terms of traffic issues. We have to be forward thinking regarding what we are going to do when we add this many new vehicles to an already congested roadway.”

Corker about Obama help for rebels: ‘I didn’t like what I voted for’ (N-S/Fowler)
Two days after confronting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a Senate committee, Sen. Bob Corker spoke to students Friday morning at Maryville College about foreign policy and economics. The Republican from Chattanooga made national headlines Wednesday for his confrontational dialogue with John Kerry during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting about the Obama administration’s handling of the extremist group known alternately as the Islamic State, ISIS and ISIL, saying leaders showed “terrible judgment.” “It was very clear in the hearing Wednesday when I was questioning Kerry, they don’t have a plan,” Corker said. Despite his comments, Corker voted Thursday in favor of Obama’s plan to train and arm Syrian rebels to combat ISIL. Corker said Friday at Maryville College he did not like what he voted for. “I didn’t like what I voted on at all. My staff recommended that I vote no,” he said.

Alexander, Ball jab each other over NRA ratings (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
Democrat Gordon Ball struck back at the National Rifle Association on Friday for its endorsement of Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race, saying the NRA never contacted him to fill out a candidate survey before assigning him an “F” rating on gun issues. An NRA spokesman said it mailed Ball its standard questionnaire in April and after receiving no response, gave him a failing grade based on his responses to a questionnaire published by KnoxViews, a self-described Knoxville area “progressive citizen media” website.

Senate candidate Ball calls NRA rating ‘hit piece’ (Times Free-Press/Sher)
U.S. Senate Democratic nominee Gordon Ball is fighting back against his “F” rating by the National Rifle Association, accusing the powerful gun-rights group of putting out a “hit piece” on him without even contacting him. “This comes as no surprise to me,” Ball said Friday. He said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., “has received NRA money for years.” He added, “The NRA never contacted me, never asked me to fill out a questionnaire, and this is obviously a hit piece.” Ball said he is a gun owner and strongly supports the Second Amendment. “I just happen to have a D in front of my name on the ballot,” he said.

 

 

 

OPINION

Guest columnists: Yes on 3 ensures no state income tax — ever (Tennessean)
On Nov. 4, Tennesseans have the opportunity to cast their ballots in favor of a strong economic future. The passage of Amendment 3 would ensure that the state legislature cannot, at any time, authorize or allow any state or local tax on earned personal income. The importance of Amendment 3 cannot be overstated. Tennessee’s economic growth owes much to its status as a no-income-tax state. While growth in high-tax states stagnates, Tennessee continues to attract businesses large and small. Many Tennesseans may take the state’s friendly economic climate for granted, but they should not: With some careful wordsmithing, income-tax advocates could craft legislation that would impose this harmful and anti-growth tax on all working individuals.

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