November 22 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee documents human rights, discrimination concerns (Tenn/Gonzalez)

A statewide examination of discrimination and human rights concerns now appears in a new report by the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. The commission, which enforces state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination, hosted public hearings earlier this year that drew testimony from dozens of officials, researchers and advocates. The bulk of the 244-page report summarizes what those speakers shared, on topics ranging from employment discrimination to violence against gay youth, to intolerance of immigrants to Tennessee. Commission Executive Director Beverly Watts said taking the snapshot of conditions will spur a follow-up round of talks across the state and potentially training sessions or legislative efforts. “One thing in particular is to expand our disability law, so that it is consistent with federal law in employment,” she said Friday while presenting the report to commissioners.

Judge Refuses To Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Use Of The Electric Chair (WPLN)

A judge on Friday blocked the state’s attempt to derail a lawsuit filed by death row inmates attacking Tennessee’s use of the electric chair. In August, attorneys representing ten death row inmates sued the state alleging the electric chair is “cruel and unusual punishment.” The suit contends that electrocution inflicts agonizing pain and that its use should be considered torture. The state replied by filing a motion to dismiss, a matter that was taken up during Friday’s hearing. Assistant Attorney General Linda Kirklen argued, in part, that “this court lacks jurisdiction.” In other words, she said questioning the sentence of a criminal case should not be litigated in civil court. She noted the inmates have brought challenges to their cases in criminal court already, which have not been successful. “They have already had their day in court,” Kirklen said.

GOP lawmakers ask Haslam to sue Obama over immigration (Tennessean/Boucher)

Two state Republican lawmakers think President Barack Obama has strayed so far from the law with his action on immigration that they need Gov. Bill Haslam to sue him. State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said in a release Friday morning they would introduce a joint resolution asking Haslam to sue the president. Obama announced Thursday he would sign executive orders delaying deportation for several million immigrants, a move Beavers described as “a dangerous and insidious display of blatant abuse of power.” “The Constitution delegates President Obama the power to make suggestions concerning policy and nothing more,” Holt said in a press release. “Anything beyond making suggestions is an illegal usurpation of undelegated power, and we simply cannot allow it to go unchecked.”

TN legislators push for Haslam to sue over immigration (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Two Tennessee legislators want Gov. Bill Haslam to sue the Obama administration over the president’s plan for illegal immigration reform. President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to take executive action on immigration policy in an address to the nation Thursday night. Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) and Sen. Mae Beavers (R- Mt. Juliet) filed a joint resolution on Friday asking Gov. Bill Haslam to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration on behalf of the state in response to the president’s plan. “Article II of the United States Constitution is explicitly clear on the powers vested within the Executive Branch. President Obama lacks the authority to execute even the slightest change in policy. The Constitution delegates President Obama the power to make suggestions concerning policy and nothing more,” Holt said in a press release. “Anything beyond making suggestions is an illegal usurpation of undelegated power, and we simply cannot allow it to go unchecked.”

Tenn. campaigns ran nearly 23K TV ads in 2014 (Associated Press)

Political and issue campaigns ran nearly 23,000 television ads in Tennessee to try to sway voters on races including the U.S. Senate and constitutional amendments on abortion and judges. According to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, the ads cost a total of $16.8 million. Spending was heaviest on the constitutional amendments, with $3.8 million going toward unsuccessful efforts to defeat the measure to give lawmakers more power to regulate abortions in the state. Supporters spent $2 million. The Senate race attracted $4.8 million in TV spending, while $5.1 million went into state-level races. The Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on broadcast television and used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot.

Tennesseans respond to Obama’s immigration plan (Jackson Sun)

Tens of thousands of immigrants in West Tennessee will be affected by President Barack Obama’s plan to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, according to Evan Cathey, communications coordinator with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “Jackson has a fast-growing immigrant population,” Cathey said. “Jackson, just as many other medium-sized cities that are growing in Tennessee, it’s not only people moving from Ohio, it’s people moving from all over the world.” Cathey said it is hard to break down numbers of undocumented immigrants into regions or cities. In Tennessee there are about 124,000 undocumented immigrants, with the largest numbers in Davidson and Shelby counties, he said. Obama’s action will affect nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants across the United States, according to the president.

Blackburn joins bipartisan Ebola vaccine effort (Leaf Chronicle)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is part of a bipartisan group in Congress trying to fast-track efforts to develop an Ebola virus vaccine. Working with two other Republicans and two Democrats, Blackburn co-sponsored legislation that would add filoviruses, including all known strains of the Ebola and Marburg viruses, to a list of diseases covered by the Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program at the Food and Drug Administration. Under the program, wait times for FDA approval can often be cut by several months. “With nearly 15,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths, the 2014 Ebola epidemic is the worst since the discovery of the virus in 1976,” Blackburn said in prepared comments. “In light of this global outbreak, there should be an intensive effort to find and approve a treatment, or, better yet, a vaccine to prevent Ebola.”

Security cameras in the works for all Hamilton County public schools (TFP/Omarzu)

Fights aren’t common at Ooltewah Elementary School, but if one occurs, chances are that Principal Thomas Arnold can see who started it by reviewing footage from one of the school’s security cameras. “I could pull it up to see who was the instigator,” Arnold said. From his desktop or tablet computer, Arnold can see old footage or watch live feeds from the state-of-the-art surveillance cameras installed at the 1,100-student elementary school that opened two years ago. Now the Hamilton County Department of Education wants to spend $1.9 million from the $2.2 million it earned last year from the sale of the old Ooltewah Elementary School property so that all 76 of its schools have up-to-date security cameras. “We’re really intent on all of the other schools having the same quality equipment,” schools Superintendent Rick Smith said on Friday.