October 15 TN News Digest

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

Hundreds of new jobs announced in Greene County (WJHL-TV)
Good news came Tuesday for an area county that once had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam came to Greeneville Tuesday for the announcement of a 20 million dollar expansion that has already created 150 new jobs. Huf North America, an equipment manufacturer for big name car companies like BMW and Volkswagen announced the completion of its expansion project. This is a very different story from just a few years ago. In 2009, the company said the Greeneville plant would close at the end of 2012. At that time 253 people worked there. Greene County has struggled for the past few decades to keep employment up.

Haslam to attend MTSU science building opening (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to attend a ceremony to open the new $147 million science building at Middle Tennessee State University. The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in Murfreesboro. The 257,000-square-foot facility represents the state’s largest capital investment in higher education. Its features include 37 class laboratories, two open labs, 13 research labs and about 1,500 student stations in labs and classrooms. On Oct. 20, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Harry Kroto will deliver the first public lecture in the building. Kroto shared the 1996 Nobel Prize with Robert F. Curl Jr. and Richard E. Smalley for their discovery of fullerenes, a series of carbon molecules.

MTSU Science Building ceremony to be broadcast Wednesday (Daily News Journal)
Anyone unable attend Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting celebration for the new MTSU Science Building can listen to or view live broadcasts of the ceremony. Gov. Bill Haslam, university President Sidney A. McPhee and other state and local dignitaries will give remarks at the public ceremony, set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the state-of-the-art facility located at 440 Friendship St., just off Alumni Drive on the south side of campus. The 257,000-square-foot, $147 million Science Building opened this fall, a full semester ahead of schedule. It represents the largest single capital investment ever in Tennessee higher education.

Tennessee governor pushes get out and vote message in visit to Bristol (H-C)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam toured Northeast Tennessee on Tuesday, dropping by the local Sullivan County Republican Party headquarters in Bristol with other elected officials to convince people to get out and vote. Early voting in Tennessee begins today for the upcoming Nov. 4 election. Tuesday was the last day to register to vote in Virginia. “It matters who governs,” said Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who joined Haslam in Bristol. “You see every day what we are doing.” U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and Tennessee Rep. Jon Lundberg joined Haslam and Ramsey.
“Three weeks from today, we’ll have a good sense of where this country is going,” Roe said. “If it goes in the wrong direction, I don’t know what we’re going to do to turn it around.”

Governor dines in Johnson City (Johnson City Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has lunch at Johnson City’s Tupelo Honey Cafe on Tuesday. About a dozen Republican officials, Haslam supporters and other local leaders met at the new restaurant. The governor toured the Tri-Cities Tuesday, making his first stop in Greeneville to mark the expansion of Greene County Partnership’s expansion of Huf North America’s plant in the Mount Pleasant Industrial park.

Gov. Haslam: Tennessee prepared if Ebola comes here (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
State leaders and health professionals in Tennessee are calming fears about the Ebola virus. Governor Bill Haslam on Tuesday said the state is making preparations if Ebola comes here. He said Tennessee is ready to respond. “We’re preparing ourselves in terms of making sure all of our workers are prepared. The situation in Dallas obviously was tragic, and I think all of our hospitals are on heightened alert because of that and realize they obviously will prepare against anything like that,” Haslam said. 10News checked with local hospitals Monday who said they have been training their doctors and nurses on what to do if they see an Ebola case.

Governor names OR fire chief to state commission (Oak Ridger)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the appointment of Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley to the Commission on Firefighting Personnel Standards and Education. Kerley will be a representative of the Tennessee Fire Chief’s Association, the Tennessee Fire Safety Inspectors Association, and the Tennessee Fireman’s Association, according to a city news release. The appointment is effective immediately and runs through July 31, 2020. Kerley has more than 37 years of experience in fire and emergency services, serving in various capacities for several East Tennessee agencies, including fire chief for the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department, rescue technician and diver for the Knoxville Rescue Squad, and fire chief for the U.S Department of Energy at the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion plant in Oak Ridge.

Officials confirm tornado hit near Clarksville, Tenn., on Monday (AP)
The National Weather Service says it has confirmed a weak tornado hit near Clarksville on Monday. The weather service said Tuesday the EF-1 twister occurred after 6 p.m. CDT just southeast of Clarksville with peak winds of 90 mph. A survey team found some roof and tree damage in the area where the tornado traveled about 3 ½ miles. Survey crews on Tuesday were also inspecting damage from Monday’s storms in West Tennessee. In southeast Tennessee, some school districts delayed school for a couple of hours due to heavy rain and high winds. Officials said a few roads were closed in the area due to flooding, mud slides and downed trees. There were also reports of power outages. No injuries were reported.

NWS confirms tornado hit east side of Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)
The severe storm that hit Clarksville Monday night included more than spectacular lighting and heavy winds. It also packed a tornado that touched down on the east side of the city. The National Weather Service confirmed Tuesday afternoon the city had an EF-1 tornado with peak wind at 90 mph. The twister damaged several homes as it traveled 3.4 miles before dissipating, meteorologist Bobby Boyd said Tuesday. There were no injuries. The tornado touched down at 6:09 p.m. just north of the Bypass near Chesterfield Drive, Boyd said. It was about 75 yards wide and traveled northeast, crossing Madison Street, roughly moving along Richview Road, and then crossing Memorial Drive.

Conference to focus on disability employment (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities is holding a conference to discuss strategies to increase disability employment. The conference on Wednesday is part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville. Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam signed an executive order that created a task force composed of state agencies, families, consumer advocates and service providers to look at eliminating obstacles to employment for individuals with disabilities. The task force recently completed its first report, outlining the progress it has already made and the steps it will take to expand competitive, integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Secretary of State Defends Name on Voting Stickers (Associated Press)
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett says “I Voted” stickers featuring his name is a matter of accountability and not intended to be political. Hargett spoke to reporters on Tuesday following a demonstration of a free app designed to give voters easier access to information on Election Day. A reporter asked Hargett about the stickers that are red and shaped like Tennessee, and prominently display the words “Secretary of State Tre Hargett.” Hargett is a former state House Republican leader and is widely considered to be preparing a bid for higher elected office, though he has downplayed his political aspirations. Regardless of his political plans, critics say Hargett’s name shouldn’t be on the stickers, even though he told reporters Wednesday that it’s needed so voters will know whom to call if they have election concerns.

Secretary of state disputes study (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
Secretary of State Tre Hargett disputes a nonpartisan congressional study that found once Tennessee and Kansas enacted strict voter identification laws, the states saw deeper drops in election turnout, especially among black and young voters, than four other states that didn’t toughen their requirements. Hargett charged Tuesday that the General Accountability Office report was “fundamentally flawed” and that “the whole thing feels sloppy.” The Republican’s comments came at a news conference in which he unveiled a new smartphone app aimed at helping voters easily find polling places and other information. Early voting starts today in the Nov. 4 election. The GAO last week released the study.

New TN election Smartphone app released (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
Tennessee voters have a new Smartphone app to help navigate the Nov. 4 election. The GoVoteTN app allows voters to look up polling locations and hours, check their voter registration status, view candidate lists and access online results in the upcoming election. The app is free and available for download from the Apple Store and Google Play. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the goal of the app is to make voting easier for Tennesseans. Voters can fill out a sample ballot on their phone, for example, and take it into the voting booth — something that people used to do by cutting ballots out of the newspaper. “It helps people visualize who they are voting for,” Hargett said.

Tennessee releases app in time for Wednesday start of early voting (CA/Locker)
Advancing Wednesday’s launch of early voting for the Nov. 4 general election, supporters of wine in food stores began reminding voters to look for wine referendums near the bottom of the ballot, while state officials unveiled a smartphone application called GoVoteTN. Early voting starts Wednesday across Tennessee and runs through Oct. 30. Secretary of State Tre Hargett and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins unveiled the GoVoteTN app Tuesday. It allows registered voters to enter their names and receive information tailored to their location on early and election-day polling locations, with maps, directions and hours of operation. They also can get the complete ballot for their voting precinct so they can mark and store their ballots on their phones to take into the polling place, as well as lists of local elected officials.

Tennessee unveils new elections smartphone app (Daily News Journal)
The office of Tennessee Secretary of State announced Tuesday its launch of GoVoteTN, a smartphone app now available in the Apple Store and in Google Play. “This is another Tennessee voter resource that answers common questions about voting from one’s phone,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett in a press release from his office. “This resource will give voters more information about the who, what, when, and where of elections. The free app allows you to view voter-specific information when searching by name or address.”

TDOT official emphasizes safety and discusses three local projects (H-C)
Safety on Tennessee’s roads is a priority of the Tennessee Department of Transportation and TDOT Commissioner of Transportation John Schroer said safety determines which projects are tackled first. “We’ve really enhanced the amount of safety projects that we’ve been doing and it makes a big difference,” he said. The statewide TDOT Projects Tour made a stop Tuesday in Bluff City, and discussed three projects: the US 19E/11E interchange project also known as the State Route 34 and State Route 37 interchange project in Sullivan County; the State Route 362 Gap Creek Road project in Carter County; and the Interstate 26 at State Route 75 interchange project in Washington County.

Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro at center of ethics inquiry (TFP/Hardy)
State auditors are investigating the hiring practices and ethics of Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro. A document obtained by the Times Free Press outlines the scope of a Tennessee Board of Regents investigation that is evaluating the “climate, ethics and morale” of Chattanooga State Community College. Catanzaro has come under fire for his hiring of Chief Innovations Officer Lisa Haynes. She makes a six-figure salary and is the de facto No. 2 on campus, but was hired without a college degree as required in her job description and under her visa agreement. The situation caught the attention of both TBR and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

Spring City man charged with TennCare fraud (Rhea Herald News)
A Rhea County man was charged in Morgan County with TennCare fraud involving doctor shopping, or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors in a short time period to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General [OIG], with the assistance of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, announced Monday the arrest of Howard Queen, 41, of Spring City. He is charged in a Morgan County indictment with doctor shopping and obtaining a controlled substance, Oxycodone, by willfully and with the intent to deceive his healthcare provider. “We are winning the war against TennCare fraud, and the front line of that battle is prescription drug fraud,” Inspector General Manny Tyndall said.

Amendment Passage Would End People’s Claim on Picking Justices (TN Report)
Should politicians pick Tennessee’s Supreme Court and other appellate-level judges, or should the people? With the Amendment 2 ballot question, voters are being asked to erase a current provision in the Tennessee Constitution that declares, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” In place of that sentence would be added language that lays out a system of judicial appointment-and-retention similar to the “merit selection” plan the state has adopted and used now for decades — but with the added feature of getting the Legislature directly involved, rather than leaving the selection process to the governor and a judicial nominating commission.

Records: Candidates in races loaned at least $100K to themselves (N-S/Humphrey)
New financial disclosures show at least six legislative candidates personally loaned their campaigns $100,000 or more for primary elections this year, apparently setting a new record for self-financing in races for seats that pay a basic salary of about $20,203 per year. Five of the six won their party’s primary nominations. The exception was Matt Swallows, who loaned his Senate District 15 campaign $110,000, but lost the Republican nomination to Paul Bailey, who loaned his campaign $101,000. The other four were seeking House seats and apparently are the first House candidates to crack the $100,000 level in self-financing in recent years. In the past, it appears only Senate candidates — with three times as many constituents as House candidates — have passed that mark.

Election 2014: Out with the old, in with the … old? (Tennessean/Stroud)
Even as they grouse about Congress and the other elected officials who serve them, Tennessee voters stand poised to let most of the high-profile office-holders keep their jobs as early voting begins Wednesday across the state. Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and all nine members of Congress appear poised to win new terms in office, leaving Republicans firmly in control in Tennessee. Most of the suspense will be reserved for ballot questions, as voters will consider changes to the state constitution that would make it easier for the state legislature to regulate abortion and clear up any confusion over whether the state’s current system of electing judges meets the letter of the law. A permanent ban on a state income tax and an amendment to let veterans groups and other nonprofits sponsor lotteries are also on the ballot.

Tennessee GOP seeks to keep lead (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Brogdon)
Polls open across Tennessee today for early voting in the Nov. 4 election, and local election officials and party chiefs are urging residents to get out and cast their ballots. Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said Tuesday his staff has been working hard to make early voting as simple and convenient as possible. He noted voters will decide many important issues in addition to races for federal, state and municipal offices. “Voting is one of the most basic, fundamental constitutional rights we have in this country. The Nov. 4 election is a great opportunity to exercise this right as Tennesseans head to the polls to consider, among other contests, four amendments to the state constitution,” Steelman said.

Early voting begins Wednesday (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Miller)
Early voting begins Wednesday in Knox County for the 2014 general election, an election that has received attention for a number of contentious ballot issues. Polls open at 11 a.m. in nine locations throughout Knox County and at noon at the City-County Building in downtown Knoxville. “It’s almost like you are hearing more about issues than the races,” said Clifford Rodgers, administrator of elections for Knox County. Among the measures being decided are four constitutional amendments. This is an unusually high number for Tennessee to have on a single ballot. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there have only been seven amendments on ballots in general elections in the state since 1998.

Alexander will push for barge fuel tax hike to revive work (TFP/Flessner)
Construction of a new Chickamauga Lock could be revived next year if Congress includes an industry-backed plan to raise the fuel tax on barges as part of the spending measures set to be reviewed next month when legislators return to Washington after the Nov. 4 elections. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he plans to push for such a fuel tax increase and try to attach it to whatever spending bill he can in the final days of the 113th Congress. Alexander said such a “user fee,” as he calls the higher fuel tax, would pump needed funds in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

DesJarlais criticizes attempt to redefine Clean Water Act (Daily News Journal)
The Environmental Protection Agency is overstepping its bounds with the agency’s efforts to implement a new rule that would expand regulatory authority over many of the nation’s streams and wetlands, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, said Tuesday. “EPA is trying to expand its reach through the rules-making process and do an end-around around Congress,” DesJarlais said during the 2014 Tennessee Agriculture Leadership Forum at Embassy Suites, which was his first public appearance since the primary win. DesJarlais explained the EPA is seeking to expand the Clean Water Act of 1972 by issuing a rule clarification. “But that rule clarification is 11,000 words long,” a visibly thinner DesJarlais said. The representative was diagnosed with neck cancer in July and has been undergoing treatment.

Saint Thomas fights Centennial’s $96.2 million expansion (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Saint Thomas Health and HCA are battling over a lucrative market in Nashville — aging baby boomers who need hip and knee surgeries. Saint Thomas, which is investing $25 million on a joint replacement center at its Midtown campus, opposes plans by HCA to spend even more money at a neighboring hospital, TriStar Centennial. HCA is seeking state approval for a $96.2 million expansion project that will also include a joint replacement center. It will be staffed by surgeons who currently work from Saint Thomas West. Attorneys for Saint Thomas have notified the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency they will speak against a certificate of need for HCA’s project at a hearing scheduled for Oct. 22.

A+ schools in Shelby County, high school math edition (Memphis Biz Journal)
With the formation of new municipal school districts and the dissolution of Memphis City Schools, the current education landscape has never seemed more complex or daunting. In an attempt to shed some light on how local schools are doing, Memphis Business Journal research director Jason Bolton has compiled a database of the city’s public schools. For the next several weeks, we’ll be revealing the top performing public schools in Shelby County and giving you the tools to see how your neighborhood’s school compares to others. Today, we’re taking a look at the highest performing schools for high school Algebra I. The schools are ranked by the percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced on the TCAP End of Course exam in Algebra I for 2013.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Amendment 1 a power grab, insult to women (Tennessean)
Regardless of your position on the difficult issue of abortion, as a voter in Tennessee you should be appalled at the deception that is written into the proposed Amendment 1 on the ballot for this general election. Amendment 1 asks voters whether the Tennessee Constitution should be amended by saying: “Nothing in this 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.”