October 13 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Investment in tourism pays off in revenue (Daily Times)
Tourism is growing in Tennessee, and Blount County is helping to drive that growth. But it doesn’t happen without making the investment. At the Governor’s Conference on Hospitality & Tourism held Friday in Knoxville, Gov. Bill Haslam made a point of saying that despite critics of spending to promote tourism, it is necessary in order to produce revenue. The governor is right. With state revenues frequently failing to match monthly projections this year and the legislature cutting taxes, money has to come from somewhere. While the Department of Revenue tries figure out how to revive franchise and excise tax collections, it is crucial that growing revenue streams be kept healthy.

Tennessee voters to decide on judges’ merit selection (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Tennessee voters will begin casting ballots this week on whether to keep but modify the state’s current method of selecting appeals judges and Supreme Court justices. Under the current system, the governor makes appointments to fill vacancies on the state’s top courts. Voters then decide whether to keep or replace them in uncontested retention elections. A proposed constitutional amendment would add a provision to give the Legislature the power to reject the governor’s nominees. “We have to bring finality to this issue of selecting judges in Tennessee,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a supporter of the amendment. Opponents of the current system argue the retention elections violate a provision in the Tennessee Constitution that says the Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,” and dismiss various legal rulings supporting the current system as tainted because they were made by jurists who have a stake in the current system.

Tennessee fire marshal says close doors on fire (Associated Press)
Tennessee Fire Marshal Gary West says a door can be a valuable firefighting tool. West says in a fire, closing the door when leaving a room that’s on fire is a smart move. The state Department of Commerce and Insurance last week announced its “Close the Door” campaign and says closing the door reduces fire growth and spread, limits damage to the home and could save lives. The agency says a closed door can hinder flames and smoke from spreading as well as help deprive a fire of oxygen. The department advises sleeping with the door closed and says closing the door can give anyone inside a burning building time to escape and help control the blaze.

College enrollment slides (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Omarzu)
College enrollment dropped nationwide by 930,000 students from 2011 to 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau announced recently, with community colleges taking the biggest hit — a 10 percent drop. Why? An optimistic take is that students have steered away from college to grab jobs that appeared as the economy improved. A more pessimistic view is that the expense of college and specter of student loan debt — the average college graduate now owes an estimated $33,000 — has made enrollment shrink. Enrollment is a mixed bag in the Chattanooga region, with some colleges holding steady as others saw their numbers drop. For the first time in a decade, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga saw its enrollment fall slightly, from 11,674 last school year to 11,670 now.

University of Memphis president moves to calm teacher prep faculty (CA/Roberts)
The college of education at the University of Memphis will get extra money to step up recruiting and improve its strong programs. The funding represents a compromise broached to calm anxiety that a separate teacher training residency the university has been quietly planning would gut the college of education’s traditional program. President Dr. David Rudd has instructed interim dean Dr. Ernest Rakow and director of teacher training Dr. Sutton Flynt to present proposals to strengthen the college of education. “I do have ideas, but they need to be thought through more before they go into the newspaper,” Rakow said late Friday. He said he could not comment on the model administrators are expected to unveil soon.

Officials report low chance of Ebola coming to Tenn. (Jackson Sun)
When it comes to the Ebola virus in Tennessee, state health authorities are hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. Linda Avent, manager of the infection prevention and control department at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, said the Tennessee Department of Health believes the state faces a low risk of Ebola cases — a point she said the public should understand. “I think it’s important (that) people don’t panic, since Tennessee doesn’t have any cases,” Avent said. “We don’t expect to get any cases.” However, hospitals are preparing for the small chance that Ebola could occur in the state, Avent said.

State cites Woodbury living center for license violations (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Marc Vallieres, the Scientologist who speaks at Tennessee schools about the dangers of drug abuse, is also the owner of a supportive living center that has been cited for multiple license violations. An inspection by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse this year found the center violated rules that ranged from failing to do criminal background checks on employees to housing someone who needed a higher level of care. The state agency on Tuesday accepted a correction plan from the center. Life Center for a New Tomorrow LLC in Woodbury, Tenn., is “the only licensed facility of its kind in the U.S.A. that does not use psych drugs to help people,” according to the LinkedIn profile of Vallieres, who identifies himself as the center’s owner.

Tenn. constitutional officers get own spokespeople (Associated Press)
Tennessee’s secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer are abandoning an effort to use one communications officer to speak on all three constitutional officers’ behalf. Treasurer David Lillard announced Friday he has hired Shelli King, a former marketing consultant at WTVF-TV in Nashville, to be his chief spokeswoman. Comptroller Justin Wilson previously hired former WZTV-TV reporter John Dunn to be his spokesman. They assume their duties from Blake Fontenay, a former reporter for The Commercial Appeal newspaper of Memphis, who will continue to be a spokesman for Secretary of State Tre Hargett through the end of the year. The three Republican constitutional officers were first named to their positions by a joint convention of the state Legislature in 2009. (SUB)

New national lottery set to launch next week (USA Today)
New Yorkers have the New York Lottery. North Dakotans have Hot Lotto. Floridians have Florida Lotto. Starting Oct. 19, residents of those states — as well as those in Tennessee, Kentucky, Maine, Texas, 15 other states and the District of Columbia — will share the nation’s latest multistate lottery game. Monopoly Millionaires’ Club will feature a weekly drawing, held Fridays at 11:15 p.m. ET, with players hoping to hit the numbers for a top prize of $15 million and 10 smaller prizes of $1 million. There also will be a nationally televised Monopoly Millionaires Club game show that will begin airing in February, with its audience and players coming from people who registered their lottery tickets online.

Price tag on Supreme Court justices retention election fight: $2.4 million (TFP/Sher)
Warring sides in Tennessee’s historic state Supreme Court election battle spent a record-shattering $2.4 million, a final tally of expenditures reveals. Democratic Justices Sharon Lee, Gary Wade and Connie Clark collectively spent $1.13 million of that in their successful effort to win their retention elections on Aug. 7 in what is easily the most expensive Supreme Court contest in Tennessee history. Justices were fighting efforts by powerful Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and conservative hardliner groups to oust them in the Aug. 7 election. Supporting the justices’ cause was Tennesseans for Fair Courts, an independent expenditure group, which spent $345,000 to back them, according to third-quarter financial disclosures filed by almost all parties with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

Vanderbilt junior runs for seat in Tennessee House (Tennessean/Tamburin)
While many students at Vanderbilt University will be heading home this weekend for a fall break full of rest and relaxation, junior Matthew Huffer will be hitting the campaign trail. But he’s not knocking on doors as a volunteer for someone else’s campaign. The 21-year-old is the candidate — He’s running for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives. The college junior, who is majoring in political science and economics, decided to join the race in January while he was looking over education statistics for his hometown in Moore County. “I got intrigued,” he said, mentioning the county’s low ACT scores. “I figured I could do a lot to help our public education system.” He researched the requirements to run between sips of root beer in the school cafeteria.

Records: Briggs-Campfield race cost nearly $500K (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Incumbent state legislators defeated in the Aug. 7 primary were dramatically outspent by challengers who benefited either from substantial self-financing or independent expenditures by special interest political action committees — or sometimes both. New disclosures filed Friday with the Registry of Election Finance reveal the spending results. Under state law, campaign finance reports must be filed listing contributions and spending up to 10 days prior to the election — July 28 in the case of this year’s Aug. 7 primary. Follow-up reports also were due Friday. In East Tennessee races where incumbents were defeated, the new disclosures show: In state Senate District 7, Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs spent a total of more than $375,000 in his successful effort to defeat Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield in the primary – including $38,284 in the last 10 days. Briggs loaned his campaign $132,000 in the process. Campfield spent a total of about $104,000 in the overall campaign, including $40,000 coming from a personal loan to his election effort.

Wine-in-grocery-stores backers seek votes (Daily News Journal)
Organizers who want to bring wine to Tennessee grocery aisles plan to make one last push to voters when early voting starts Wednesday. Campaign officials said they will start an advertising and broader campaign push to remind potential voters of the issue that led to a flurry of petition signatures during the summer but may be crowded away from the center by other issues during the November general election. While organizers confirmed the campaign, they were hesitant to provide additional details about how it would be organized. Melissa Eads, a spokeswoman for the Kroger stores that have supported the “Red, White and Food” campaign for years, said the effort will be a final step for a campaign that’s taken years to come to fruition. “We really want people to remember that it’s not a done deal,” Eads said.

U.S. Finds Many Failures in Medicare Health Plans (New York Times)
Federal officials say they have repeatedly criticized, and in many cases penalized, Medicare health plans for serious deficiencies, including the improper rejection of claims for medical services and unjustified limits on coverage of prescription drugs. The findings, cataloged in dozens of federal audit reports, come as millions of older Americans prepare to sign up for private health plans and prescription drug plans in Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which will begin on Wednesday and continue through Dec. 7. bout 16 million people, accounting for 30 percent of the 54 million beneficiaries, are in private Medicare Advantage plans, which provide a full range of health care services under contract with the government.

Volatile Income Tax Revenue Stumps States (Stateline)
Income tax revenue, once a reliable workhorse for states, is increasingly volatile as more of it comes from wealthy taxpayers, who are disproportionately affected by economic booms and busts. The unpredictability and the fact that the revenue is growing more slowly are creating major budgeting challenges for states. Because the incomes of the wealthiest Americans are growing at a rapid clip as middle-class wages stagnate, wealthy households account for a higher percentage of the tax collection barrel. The problem for states trying to predict revenues is that stock market fluctuations and other cyclical events have a larger impact on incomes at the top, causing revenues from income taxes and capital gains taxes to vary widely from year to year, according to a new report by Standard & Poor’s Rating Services. In most states, however, demands on the money keep accelerating.

DOE contractor says cost savings mean more cleanup gets done (N-S/Munger)
UCOR President Ken Rueter said the company has saved the government almost $100 million over the first three-plus years of its Oak Ridge cleanup contract and expects to double those savings by the time the contract expires in 2020. “We’ve done $920 million of work to date for $830 million of funding,” said Rueter, who assumed the leadership role on the Department of Energy contract in June. “It gives them dollars to reinvest into additional cleanup.” URS-CH2M Oak Ridge LLC has been DOE’s environmental manager since August 2011, when it replaced Bechtel Jacobs Co. Generally speaking, the contractor’s job is to clean up the messes left from decades of Oak Ridge work on nuclear weapons and other projects involving hazardous materials.

 

 

OPINION

Bill Gibbons: Steps against domestic violence that actually work (Tennessean)
Domestic violence has dominated the national headlines in recent weeks. The latest news about alleged domestic assault by professional athletes has brought this once whispered about issue to the forefront of discussion across the country. And that’s a good thing, for the country and for Tennessee. While domestic violence may be the hot topic in the national news, sadly, it is nothing new. Reports of domestic violence assaults, or even worse, domestic-related murders, occur regularly. There is no dispute that domestic violence is a major crime concern. The crime rate in Tennessee is fueled by domestic violence. In fact, domestic-related crimes account for about half of all crimes against people reported to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Another measure is the “When Men Murder Women” report issued each year by the Violence Policy Center. In 2012, the report ranked Tennessee third in the nation for the rate of women killed by men. (This figure was based on 2010 data). In 2014, Tennessee ranked 10th-highest (based on 2012 data).