October 14 TN News Digest

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

Storms leave 2 dead, still threaten parts of South (Associated Press)
Severe storms that raced through the Midwest earlier in the week have left two people dead and are still threatening parts of the South. Meteorologist Joe Goudsward with the weather service in Little Rock said a tornado that touched down near Ashdown in Arkansas early Monday killed a man, injured his wife and destroyed their home. In Alabama, Walker County Coroner J.C. Poe says a tree fell on a mobile home about 25 miles northwest of Birmingham, Alabama, killing a 75-year-old woman and injuring her husband. There were unconfirmed reports of tornadoes touching down in Western Tennessee on Monday night and forecasters were warning residents along a wide arc including Georgia to brace for strong winds early Tuesday that could bring down trees and cause power outages and flooding.

Rain, wind pound Middle Tennessee (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Another round of heavy rain and winds battered Middle Tennessee Monday, drenching an already waterlogged region and leaving a trail of downed trees and power lines. Storms started pushing through the region around rush hour, and continued into the late evening. National Weather Service radars showed signs of a tornado in Clarksville, although that was not confirmed Monday. Thousands throughout Middle Tennessee were without power at the height of the storms. No injuries had been reported Monday evening, according to meteorologist Bobby Boyd. The threat of flooding lingered even after severe storms had passed. Boyd said overnight showers might bring more than two inches of rainfall to the Nashville area. A flash flood warning remains in effect for much of Middle Tennessee until 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Severe storm causes minor damage in Montgomery County (Leaf Chronicle)
A string of storms moving up from Alabama caused minor damage in Montgomery County Monday night. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning through 6:30 p.m., and the bulk of the storm hit Clarksville at about 6:05 p.m. A tornado reportedly touched down on Dunbar Cave Road, but there was no report of significant damage. Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency reported mostly trees and power lines down in the wake of the leading edge of the storm. Some streets were closed because of downed power lines, including Richview Road near the middle school, Palmyra Road, Trenton Road between Meriwether and Hazelwood roads, as well as Beach Street in New Providence. Fire crews responded to a house fire possibly caused by lightning on Meadow Ridge Lane.

Little damage as storms roll through area (Jackson Sun)
Storms pummeled the area, and funnel clouds were spotted, but most damage reported in West Tennessee on Monday appeared to be minor. A tornado watch that had been in effect in the region until 9 p.m. was allowed to expire early except for counties close to the Tennessee River. After several tornado warnings were issued, Chester, McNairy, Henderson, Hardin and Decatur counties escaped without any injuries or any significant damage, local officials said “We’ve had rain, but the wind is calm,” said Jim McKee, the director of the Henderson County Emergency Management Agency. “It did look like a tornado was spotted in Decatur County.” Officials in Decatur County said a couple of trees were down in Parsons and Beacon.

Students still urged to sign up for Tennessee Promise (Jackson Sun)
Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Jackson will open its computer lab from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday for area high school seniors to sign up for Tennessee Promise and fill out their college applications as part of the statewide Scholarship Saturday. The event is designed to encourage students to enroll in Tennessee Promise, the state’s new program that provides two years of technical or community college tuition-free for any student graduating from a Tennessee high school, according to a news release. The Class of 2015 will be the first class eligible for the program. Tennessee Promise is part of the Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with some form of post-secondary credential, such as a technical certificate or diploma.

What State’s Largest Public College System Expects From TN Promise (WPLN)
The Tennessee Board of Regents may see 5,000 to 6,000 new students next year — meaning students who otherwise wouldn’t attend a TBR school — as a result of Tennessee Promise, the last-dollar scholarship program that allows high school graduates to attend community college for free. An increase in enrollment is a welcome change for TBR, which has seen campus numbers steadily decline for the past few years. But now four-year schools will be competing within the system for freshmen who could go to a community college for free. TBR runs six four-year universities, including MTSU and Tennessee State University, along with the state’s 13 public community colleges. Chancellor John Morgan says universities are expecting a decline in first-time freshmen enrollment.

Jackson ranked first in area for tourism (Jackson Sun)
With the hard work and contributions of hoteliers representing over 2,600 rooms, restaurants, attractions and tourism-related businesses, Madison County and Jackson recently were ranked first in the northwest and southwest regions of Tennessee once again, according to the 2013 Economic Impact of Tourism study released by the U.S. Travel Association for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. Madison County generated a total of $183.51 million, an increase of nearly $10 million, in tourism-related expenditures, ranking Madison County 12th out of 95 counties in the state. The news was announced during the 2014 Governor’s Conference on Tourism held Friday at the Knoxville Convention Center. Gov. Bill Haslam relayed his thanks and reiterated tourism’s importance to the state in terms of revenue, jobs and telling the state’s story.

Haslam starts TV ads for general election Tuesday (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Despite only nominal opposition, Gov. Bill Haslam’s re-election campaign is starting its TV ad campaign for the general election to coincide with the start of early voting Wednesday. The 60-second ad, which launches statewide on Tuesday, is delivered entirely by children. They talk about Tennessee’s economic and educational accomplishments during the governor’s first term, including the new “Tennessee Promise” program which gives high school graduates, starting with the current senior class, two years of free community college. Haslam, 56, is virtually certain to win re-election Nov. 4 by the largest margin ever by an incumbent Tennessee governor running for re-election.

Here’s the Cutest Ad of the 2014 Cycle (Time Magazine)
Republican incumbent Bill Haslam in Tennessee has kids endorse him. Bill Haslam may be facing Charlie Brown in the Tennessee governor’s race, but it’s Haslam’s latest ad that most resembles a Peanuts cartoon. In a 60-second spot, the incumbent Republican governor lets the youngsters of Tennessee sell him as the best candidate, highlighting his work on education and job growth. One little tyke really goes for it, closing off the ad with, “the proof is in the pudding.” Yet for Haslam, the proof may actually be in the polling: Real Clear Politics has Haslam with a 28-point lead over his challenger Brown, who was a virtual unknown when he secured the Democratic nomination in August.

University of Memphis gets grant for social work (Commercial Appeal)
Three University of Memphis professors have been awarded a new grant, officials said Monday. Dr. Susan Neely-Barnes, associate professor in the department of Social Work, and assistant professors Dr. Elena Delavega and Dr. Susan Elswick have been awarded a Health Resources and Services Administration Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training for Professionals grant. The award is $473,892 during the first year, with a possible $1.4 million over a three-year period. The grant will fund the establishment of the Mid-South Social Work Professional Development Initiative, which plans to train 102 students seeking a masters in social work. Students participating in the program will receive training while providing direct services to children, adolescents or transition-age adults.

State tax revenues beat estimates (Tennessean/McGee)
Tennessee revenue collections beat budget estimates for September and increased from last year amid stronger sales and corporate taxes. Revenues climbed to $1.2 billion last month, up 7.4 percent compared to the same period in 2013. In the first two months of the fiscal year, collections were $86.3 million more than budget estimates, according to a report from Tennessee Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin. In the past fiscal year, tax collections fell short of projections by close to $300 million and halted raises for some state employees and teachers. In September Gov. Bill Haslam asked all state agencies to plan for up to 7 percent spending cuts in the upcoming budget.

On edge over Ebola: Scares keep Tenn. health officials on their toes (TFP/Belz)
Two Ebola scares within 24 hours kept Tennessee health officials on their toes Tuesday, highlighting growing tensions after America’s first case of local transmission of the virus was reported in Dallas. Passengers on a plane that arrived at the Nashville International Airport on Sunday night were kept on the tarmac for three hours after a man became ill aboard American Airlines Flight 1676 from Dallas. A few hours after the emergency health workers in Nashville peeled off their protective gear, doctors and nurses at Chattanooga’s Memorial Hospital were suiting up before they admitted a sick man who emergency crews initially believed had come in contact with someone who had recently traveled to Liberia.

UT Medical Center: Ebola here unlikely, but we’re ready (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
Health officials demonstrated protective gear and discussed safety protocols at the University of Tennessee Medical Center on Monday, saying the hospital is prepared should an unlikely case of Ebola arrive in East Tennessee. Dr. Mark Rasnake, an infectious disease physician, called the spread of Ebola to a Dallas nurse “a concerning development,” but said a case in East Tennessee is more likely to come directly from Africa than by way of Dallas. “Being the hospital that had to go first is just terrible bad luck for this hospital in Dallas, and I don’t know the details of what they were faced with there, but it happens many times with the first case of a rare disease that it’s misdiagnosed,” Dr. Mark Rasnake said Monday.

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.

Wine-in-groceries group launches TV, radio ad campaign (Nashville Biz Journal)
The group that’s been leading the push to allow wine sales in Tennessee groceries stores today takes its campaign to the airwaves. The Tennessee Legislature voted in February to allow grocery stores to sell wine, but only after individual communities hold their own referendums. In 78 cities (including Nashville) where enough signatures were collected, those referendums are slated for November 4. To make sure voters get to the polls, Red White and Food — the coalition launched by the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association to push expanded wine sales — today launched a series of TV and radio ads.

Momentum to Cast Off Common Core Growing (TN Report)
Tennessee’s Republican House leadership appears united behind the notion that time has come for Common Core to go. “I think Common Core will be repealed in the next session, and I think the state absolutely must do its own standards, and make those standards tough and real,” Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga told TNReport on Monday. McCormick added that he believes the national standards — created in part by the National Governor’s Association and backed by the Obama administration and Microsoft founder Bill Gates — has “become more of a distraction” than anything else. Calling the controversial interstate math-and-English standards system “a discredited idea at this point,” McCormick said, “The well has been poisoned on Common Core.”

Gotto, Jernigan rematch to test party leanings of Donelson-Hermitage (TN/Garrison)
It’s Jim Gotto versus Darren Jernigan again, only this time the roles are reversed. Two years after losing his claim to Tennessee’s House District 60, Gotto is the challenger. He is looking to make up the 95 votes out of 24,500 cast that cost him re-election after just a single term and launched Jernigan’s state political career. The rematch, perhaps the closest watched legislative race in Davidson County this November, could fuel partisan bragging rights over a district that includes Old Hickory and Donelson-Hermitage, one that both contenders acknowledge is as close to a 50-50 party split as you will find in Tennessee. Gotto, a former councilman in the same area from 2003-2011, is banking on it tilting back to the right, where it was when he won in 2010.

Candidates fight for state house seat (Jackson Sun)
There are a handful of contested state legislative seats on the Nov. 4 ballot in West Tennessee. With early voting starting Wednesday, here’s a look at the candidates in state House District 79. Republican incumbent Curtis Halfor It always feels good at the end of the work day for Curtis Halford. Since 2008 he’s been the state representative for District 79, which covers Gibson County and part of Carroll County. “I feel like I have done something good for my constituents,” Halford said about his work. “It’s my way of giving back to my community and my state from the things I’ve been able to receive. It’s something I enjoy and something I like to do.” Halford said it’s hard to nail down what his goals will be if he’s elected for another term just yet.

More than $72,000 in ads promoting wine in grocery stores hitting TV (TFP/Sher)
Armed with a $900,000 war chest, grocery stores are blitzing television, radio and social media across Tennessee this week with ads aimed at persuading voters in 78 municipalities to say yes to allowing wine sales in food stores. Red, White and Food, the organization behind the effort, is spending nearly $72,000 of that alone to air 15-second and 30-second spots on the four major network affiliates in Chattanooga between Wednesday and the Nov. 4 election. That’s according to a Times Free Press review of Federal Communications Commission public file disclosures for WRCB-TV, WTVC-TV, WDEF-TV and WDSI. Most of the television ads begin Wednesday, the first day of early voting in Tennessee, and continue through the Nov. 4 election.

Sides for, against abortion amendment stockpiling cash (N-S/Humphrey)
When it comes to money in current campaigning on proposals to revise Tennessee’s state constitution, opponents of change hold a lead on a measure dealing with abortion while proponents are ahead on two other propositions, according to new financial disclosures. Amendment 1, which would effectively repeal a state Supreme Court decision and authorize the Legislature to enact more stringent restrictions on abortion, is the most controversial of four proposed constitutional amendments, and it’s generating the most intense fundraising. The Vote No on 1 campaign committee reported in a new financial disclosure, covering the period of July 1 through Sept. 30, that it has $1,587,821 cash on hand for spending in the weeks leading up to a statewide vote Nov. 4. The Yes on 1 committee reported a balance of $511,026.

Web-Era Trade Schools, Feeding a Need for Code (New York Times)
A new educational institution, the coding boot camp, is quietly emerging as the vocational school for the digital age, devoted to creating software developers. These boot camps reflect the start-up ethic: small for-profit enterprises that are fast (classes are two to four months), nimble (revising curriculum to meet industry needs) and unconcerned with SAT scores or diplomas. Most are expensive, but some accept a share of the graduates’ first-year earnings or a finder’s fee from employers as payment. Most important, at a time when so many young people are underemployed, most graduates, especially those from highly selective boot camps, quickly find well-paying jobs.

States Ascend Into the Cloud (Stateline)
Seven years ago, the state of Delaware started moving computer servers out of closets and from under workers’ desks to create a consolidated data center and a virtual computing climate. In doing so, Delaware, nicknamed the First State, became the first state to move to cloud computing, in this case storing its data, operating systems and applications on centralized servers and giving agency employees remote access to the servers via the Internet. But this system is about to run its course as the state’s servers reach the end of their useful lives. Delaware now is about to take another big step into the cloud.

5 Nashville teachers face firing over evaluations (Tennessean/Garrison)
Back-to-back years of low performance on state-mandated teacher evaluations could trigger the firing of five Metro Nashville teachers, and the threat of termination perhaps led others to resign or retire. The Metro school board on Tuesday will consider Director of Schools Jesse Register’s recommendation to fire five teachers in what would be the first group to be terminated under Metro’s new system that relies on controversial annual state teacher evaluations to dismiss teachers deemed low-performing. The district established a rubric last year that singles out teachers who have received a low “Level 1” score on a five-point evaluation for two straight years.




Columnist: Haslam must walk fine political line on Medicaid (Tennessean)
It is unlikely that Gov. Bill Haslam will propose a Tennessee Plan to expand Medicaid coverage until sometime after the November election, but the governor remains optimistic that a plan to expand is doable, according to advisers. In September, almost 18 months after the governor announced that the state would not participate in the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provisions, he said that meetings and conversations were happening with the Department of Health and Human Services. When that news broke, legislators were quick to respond with criticism. “I don’t see any way possible that the people’s representatives will vote to allow Obamacare and Medicaid expansion in Tennessee,” Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, told reporters. Haslam spent days recovering from his off-the-cuff comments, assuring legislators that he was not trying to force a plan on them, and he does not want to make Medicaid expansion an election issue for legislators.

Editorial: Respect privacy by voting no on Amendment 1 (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Tennesseans are a fiercely independent folk, defiantly resistant to government interference in their personal lives, especially in matters of faith and family. A proposed constitutional amendment, Amendment 1 on this fall’s ballot, would eliminate a key privacy right — the right of women to decide whether to go through with a pregnancy. Tennesseans should reject this intrusion into the private lives of women. Amendment 1 reads: “Nothing in the Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.” The second sentence is irrelevant — the state Legislature already has the power to regulate abortion. In fact, a measure requiring any physician performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital went into effect this year.

Guest columnist: Alexander came by his wealth through hard work (Tennessean)
Some of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s detractors are asking how he made his money. The answer is: the old-fashioned way. He earned it in the private sector where he spent more years of his adult life than he did in the public sector before he was elected United States senator in 2002. The example I know best is his co-founding of Corporate Child Care Inc., which later merged with its competitor and became the world’s largest provider of worksite day care. In 1987, when his terms as governor ended, five of us — Lamar, wife Honey, Brad Martin, Bob Keeshan (television’s Captain Kangaroo) and I — started Corporate Child Care. I was chief executive officer. Ten years later, it became publicly traded on NASDAQ and later merged with what is today Bright Horizons Inc. Anyone who knows Sen. Alexander as well as I do knows that he was successful in the private sector for the same reason he has been successful in the public sector: He has a unique talent for seeing a problem and finding a way to solve it.