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September 22 TN News Digest

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

Haslam, Health Commissioner urge everyone to get their Flu Shot (C. Online)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, rolled up their sleeves in Memphis for their annual vaccinations against influenza and encouraged fellow Tennesseans to do the same to help protect and promote good health in the state. Receiving an annual flu shot can make a big difference by helping you and others avoid becoming sick. “We encourage all Tennesseans to get a flu shot because it’s the right thing to do,” Haslam said. “It not only protects the individual’s health but also the health of friends, family and coworkers.”

Gov’s Highway Safety Office dishes out grants to prevent drunk driving (WGNS)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer and Governor’s Highway Safety Office Director Kendell Poole have announced the Tennessee agencies that received grant awards totaling more than $24.2 million to support highway traffic safety efforts. The Rutherford County area received over $700,000 from the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. The funds support the mission of Governor’s Highway Safety Office to save lives and reduce injuries on Tennessee roadways through leadership, innovation, coordination and program support in partnership with numerous public and private organizations.

State Veterans Affairs to host outreach Wednesday (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Nearly 40 federal, state and local partners from the public and private sectors are working with the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs to host the Veterans Outreach Event and Job Fair on Wednesday. The outreach event, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Tennessee National Guard Armory, 1856 Ridge Road, Sevierville, is for veterans and their dependents in Blount, Cocke, Hamblen, Jefferson and Sevier counties. It’s goal is “to help veterans and their dependents learn more about eligible benefits and connect with federal, state and community resources,” the TDVA website states. With 39 vendors enrolled in providing outreach services to the veteran community, TDVA has transitioned from hosting outreach events monthly for one county to holding the events annually, providing service to multiple counties.

Woodland Hills saw violence long before escapes, riots (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
Violence was occurring inside the troubled Woodland Hills Youth Development Center long before a crisis erupted earlier this month, when 32 teens escaped from the facility and two days later riots broke out, leaving two guards injured. Between January and early September, there were 145 reported incidents of violence at Woodland Hills, including 39 assaults by teens on other teens, 51 assaults by teens on staff and 55 fights between the youths, who typically range in age from 14 to 19, according to data obtained by The Tennessean. An attorney appointed to represent the civil rights of youths at the facility said that may be an undercount.

Spare the rod? Peterson spanking case strikes home in Memphis (CA/Bailey)
There is a thin red line in Tennessee between a spanking and child abuse. And if that reddish mark doesn’t fade fast the adult may be in for trouble. “When we get a call, when our investigator goes out to look at whether a child is being struck and if it could constitute child abuse, kind of the only real work aid we got… is whether it goes beyond the threshold of ‘temporary redness,’ ” Department of Children’s Services spokesman Rob Johnson said in explaining the guideline DCS investigators use for judging physical injuries. Should that redness linger in some kind of pattern, or swell above the skin surface, authorities, courts and agencies can get involved.

TennCare applicants still awaiting answers (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)
For many Tennesseans struggling to get Medicaid coverage this year, a federal judge’s decision appeared to signal an end to a months-long limbo. The judge this month ordered that they receive hearings about the long delays they have been dealing with, and finally be given decisions about whether they qualify for coverage. But the path to actually get to that resolution is still not clear for some. That includes a disabled veteran in Cleveland, Tenn., who has been trying since May to get TennCare coverage for his daughter, who needs medicine for severe asthma, allergies and ADHD.

THP trooper resigns in wake of domestic assault arrest (Johnson City Press)
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper who was arrested by Johnson City police on an aggravated domestic violence charge has resigned in lieu of an apparent termination. The resignation was announced Friday in a news release from Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott of the Fall Branch District. Trooper Russel Holtsclaw, 28, was charged Aug. 10 by Johnson City police with aggravated domestic assault following a reported incident at his residence. The THP placed Holtsclaw on administrative leave that same day. The department’s Investigative Services Bureau opened an internal investigation into the incident. All departmental equipment including weapons, badges and commission card were secured pending the investigation.

AG: Liquor license residency requirement unconstitutional (N-S/Humphrey)
Outgoing Attorney General Robert Cooper has opined that a two-year Tennessee residency requirement for getting a liquor license is unconstitutional despite a provision included in the wine-in-grocery-stores bill that attempted to justify it. In a 2012 opinion, Cooper had declared the liquor license residency requirement violated the U.S. Constitution’s “commerce clause,” citing a 2008 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down a similar requirement for licensing of wineries in Tennessee. In section 27 of the complex, 34-section wine-in-grocery-stores bill, enacted into law as Public Chapter 554 and encompassing many revisions to the state’s alcoholic beverage statutes, legislators made an effort to get around the opinion. It didn’t work, Cooper wrote in responding to a question posed by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman.

Moves to repeal Hall tax begin (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Maneuvering has already begun for a renewed effort toward repeal during the 2015 legislative session of Tennessee’s Hall income tax, which this year produced an unexpected $4.3 million surplus in revenue for the city of Knoxville. A bill to repeal the Hall tax — a 6 percent levy on dividend and interest income with resulting revenue split between state and local governments — failed in the 2014 session despite backing from national organizations that included Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax reform, depicted as part of the “Koch brothers advocacy machine” in a March Politico article on the effort. This month, the Beacon Center of Tennessee presented what it describes as “a brand new reform package to make Tennessee income tax-free once and for all.”

Nicelely on Vote No on 2 ‘steering committee’ (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Four state legislators are members of the “steering committee” of Vote No on 2, a campaign organization formed to oppose passage of a state constitutional amendment authorizing the governor to appoint judges to the state Supreme Court and other appellate courts. They are state Sens. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, and state Reps. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, and Andy Holt, R-Dresden, according to a “Vote No on 2” statement. Acting as coordinator of the campaign committee is John Avery Emison, a founder of Citizens for Home Rule in Knoxville, a group that has long opposed city annexation efforts and was active in supporting a law — enacted by the Legislature this year — that prohibits annexation, in most situations, without a vote of approval by impacted residents.

Legislation to lower interest rate on debt doesn’t see light of day (TFP/Omarzu)
Adara Joiner is one of the lucky ones. The education major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga expects to graduate next year without student loan debt. And Joiner’s glad she’s avoided it through such cost-cutting measures as living at her parents’ home during some of her undergraduate years. “A lot of my friends that have graduated are starting to get smacked in the face by the amount of debt they’ve racked up,” Joiner said. Legislation that would have let students refinance their loans at a reduced interest rate didn’t get the 60 votes it needed Tuesday to be heard in the U.S. Senate. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would have allowed more than 25 million people to refinance their student loans to today’s lower interest rates of less than 4 percent, according to The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper.

Fleischmann, Corker honored (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
The National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s leading small business association, has named U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and Sen. Bob Corker as guardians of small business for their outstanding voting record on behalf of America’s small-business owners in the 113th Congress. NFIB President and CEO Dan Danner praised Fleischmann and Corker for “standing up for small business.” In presenting the group’s coveted Guardian of Small Business Award, Danner said, “Small-business owners are very politically active — paying close attention to how their lawmakers vote on key business issues and stand by those who stand for them.”

Big changes needed for Medicare, expert says (Tennessean/DuBois)
Medicare must change, and that will be painful. That was the condensed version of the message from Mark Miller, executive director of Congress’ Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, when he spoke to members of the Nashville Health Care Council on Friday. Medicare is under a tremendous amount of pressure. The U.S. population is aging, which means more people will need the government-sponsored insurance program in the coming years. Medicare funding comes from the federal budget, which is already stressed. The country’s debt will be more than 100 percent of its gross domestic product by 2039, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2014 Long-Term Outlook.

Nashville public school students now 20% Latino (Tennessean/Garrison)
Eight-year-old Axel Barrera breezed through the first few pages but then stumbled on a word. “Does it sound right?” his teacher asked. “Does it make sense? Let’s try it again.” On this morning, he and a class of other third-graders at Nashville’s Cole Elementary School are reading a familiar tale: “Curious George.” Most, like Barrera, were born in Mexico. All are multiple grade levels behind their peers in reading and writing in English, and the goal is to catch them up. That challenge is a defining one for Nashville’s schools, where an influx of immigrant students over nearly the past two decades has transformed what it means to serve all children. For the first time, 1 out of every 5 Nashville students is Latino, according to new 2014-15 enrollment figures.

 
OPINION

Editorial: Prekindergarten is a wise, forward-thinking investment (C. Appeal)
While Memphis’ elected, law enforcement and child advocacy officials are agonized over how to steer juveniles away from violent crime, Gov. Bill Haslam is not closing the door on expanding the public prekindergarten program in Tennessee. What does one have to do with the other? If officials ever are going to curb youth violence, intervention tactics need to be applied early in a child’s life, especially in improvised, single-family households. Research has shown that pre-K classes are an intervention that works because the classes prepare children to be ready to learn when they enter first grade. The governor said last week that the state intends to apply for a share of available federal funds for pre-K expansion, but stressed he is awaiting the results of a Vanderbilt University study on the effectiveness of pre-K before following through on the application. The Vanderbilt study, in early results tracking pre-K students’ performance over time, found greater academic gains than their peers who did not attend. Critics maintain the report also revealed that many of those advantages were erased by the time students reached grades three through five. The early results mirror findings in some national studies.

Editorial: Judiciary should let partisanship stay in the past (News-Sentinel)
After a summer of partisan wrangling over the makeup of the state Supreme Court, the court, which has a Democratic majority, selected a Republican as attorney general. Herbert Slatery, a Knoxville lawyer and chief counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam, is a good choice for the post and one that hopefully will stem the flood of party politics that threatens to swamp the judicial system. The move also demonstrated a bi-partisanship that should mollify Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who spent more than $400,000 of his political action committee’s money in an attempt to persuade voters to kick the court’s three Democrats to the curb. Voters repudiated the naked partisanship of the effort, however, giving justices Gary Wade, Connie Clark and Sharon Lee new eight-year terms.

Editorial: Children’s Health Insurance at a Crossroads (New York Times)
Federal financing for a beneficial health insurance program for low-income children, known as the Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP, will run out next year unless Congress agrees to extend it. Bills are pending in both the House and the Senate to extend financing for four years, to 2019. Congress should approve the extension in the lame-duck session after the midterm elections so that families and state officials will know what the future holds. The program needs to be maintained amid uncertainty as to whether other good coverage will be available for these children. CHIP was introduced in 1997 to provide insurance for low-income children whose families earned too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private health insurance.

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