December 23 TN News Digest

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

E-Commerce Shift Could Benefit Region (Memphis Daily News)

The Target online distribution center slated to open in Memphis next year is not only a major jobs generator in an area desperate for them, it could signal the region’s arrival as an e-commerce-based distribution hub, according to real estate experts. Target, which reported a more than 30 percent increase in online sales in the third quarter, will develop a $52 million online fulfillment center in Southeast Memphis that will employ 462 people, one of three new centers the company plans on opening in 2015. The Memphis facility, which will be managed by third-party vendor Innotrac, will service not just the immediate Memphis area but the entire Southeastern United States.

Haslam backing attorney general’s immigration challenge (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is backing Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s decision to join a multistate lawsuit aimed at blocking President Barack Obama’s executive order on illegal immigrants. “From what I understood, what they’re challenging it on is not on the basis of the immigration deal but more on the basis of can you do that by executive order,” Haslam said Monday of Slatery, his former legal counsel. “And I do think that’s a legitimate concern.” With Slatery’s actions, Tennessee becomes the 25th state — half of all states — challenging Obama’s executive order. Other states already suing include Georgia and Alabama. All have Republican attorneys general.

Tennessee Joins Multistate Lawsuit Over Immigration (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee is joining a multistate lawsuit seeking to halt President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced Monday. Slatery notified the parties in the lawsuit that Tennessee will become the 25th state to join the legal challenge filed in federal court in Texas, saying the state “cannot sit on the sidelines of this case, when unlawful directives of this magnitude grant lawful presence and other rights like work permits to such a large number.” “Asking a court to review this issue is the prudent choice, especially when state resources will be taxed under the directives to provide benefits like unemployment compensation and health care,” Slatery said in a statement.

Tennessee joins lawsuit challenging Obama immigration orders (Tenn/Boucher)

Tennessee is joining 24 other states in a lawsuit challenging the recent immigration actions by President Barack Obama. After pondering the decision for several weeks, in a statement Monday Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said it was in the state’s best interest to sue the president. “While the subject of the executive action was immigration, the lawsuit is not about immigration,” Slatery said in a news release. “It is really more about the rule of law and the limitations that prevent the executive branch from taking over a role constitutionally reserved for Congress. The executive directives issued by the White House and Homeland Security conflict with existing federal law.”

Tenn. joins multistate challenge of Obama’s immigration order (N-S/Humphrey)

After a month of hesitation, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery declared Monday he has decided Tennessee should join 24 other states in a lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration. Slatery’s announcement was promptly praised by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other conservative Republican legislators who had criticized his predecessor as attorney general, Bob Cooper, for refusing join in a previous multistate lawsuit against Obama’s health care law. After the president announced his immigration executive order last month, 19 Republican state attorneys general quickly criticized the move and announced a lawsuit against the move. But Slatery said he wanted to review the issue further.

Tenn. Joins 24 Other States In Fighting Executive Action on Immigration (WPLN)

Tennessee is joining a lawsuit attacking President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, coming two weeks after the president made a stop in Nashville to promote the action. Using the language found in the suit, originally filed by the attorney general’s office in Texas, AG Herbert Slatery says it’s not about immigration but about what he sees as the president overstepping his powers, and he thinks a federal judge needs to review it. Tennessee is the 25th state to join the suit. In November, the president announced that he was extending temporary reprieve to up to 4 million people who are in the country illegally. “The state cannot sit on the sidelines of this case, when unlawful directives of this magnitude grant lawful presence and other rights like work permits to such a large number,” Slatery said in a statement.

New education commissioner’s stance on Common Core in question (N-S)

While Tennessee’s new education commissioner, Candice McQueen, is a strong supporter of Common Core standards, she has not put them in place at a private school she oversees as part of her duties as dean of David Lipscomb University’s College of Education. WPLN radio quotes from a letter McQueen wrote to parents of children enrolled in Lipscomb Academy earlier this year after some expressed concern about her public support for the standards, also backed by Gov. Bill Haslam though ardently opposed by others in a controversy likely to be debated in the 2015 legislative session. “I will continue to be part of the ongoing CCSS conversation. However, this should not be extrapolated to indicate or predict the adoption of CCSS at Lipscomb Academy,” she wrote, using an abbreviation for Common Core state standards.

State fire officials urge safety in the kitchen (Associated Press)

The State Fire Marshal’s Office is urging Tennesseans to be safe in the kitchen during the hectic holiday season. Officials say unattended cooking ranks as the leading cause of U.S. home fires and home-fire injuries. During 2009-2013, Tennessee fire departments reported more than 9,800 residential structure fires involving cooking equipment. Those fires resulted in 33 civilian deaths, 249 civilian injuries, and more than $37 million in property damage. Gary West is deputy commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance’s fire prevention division. He says cooking fires during the holidays usually occur because people are busier, and often become rushed, distracted or tired.

All Tennessee state parks to offer free New Year’s Day hikes (Tennessean/Barnes)

Every Tennessee state park will be joining the rest of the nation’s state parks in the First Hikes of 2015, featuring free guided hikes on New Year’s Day. “Our First Hikes have been very popular, and we are excited to continue this series in the new year,” Brock Hill, state park deputy commissioner, said in a press release. “The First Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the new year with friends and family.” The hikes are designed for all ages and abilities. Some hikes will be a mile and tailored for novice hikers, while others are lengthier and geared toward more experienced hikers. Tennessee has 55 state parks, and one is within an hour’s drive of just about anywhere in the state.

Tennessee to receive $65 million in ACA funds (Tennessean/Barnes)

Tennessee will receive $65 million to implement and test health care payment and service delivery models to hopefully improve health care quality and reduce costs. The state funnels the funds into a string of plans it is developing. Some plans involve a focus on improving care for those with severe or persistent mental illness and reducing costs for seniors or adults living in nursing and home/community-based services with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities. Other plans include rewarding high-quality and efficient acute health care as well as improving population health to address disparities and state-specific population health needs. According to America’s Health Rankings, Tennessee ranked No. 45 in the country for overall health, mainly because of the high prevalence of physical inactivity and obesity.

Dickson County Schools leaders’ 2015 Legislative goals (Dickson Herald)

The Dickson County School District leadership recently released the school system’s goals for the 2015 state Legislative session: •Full funding of the BEP – Currently the BEP is only partially funded. Fully funding the BEP would generate an additional $4 Million for Dickson County Schools. •Reimbursement for Insurance – Currently the State’s contribution to health insurance through the BEP program generates only 10 months of the insurance premium rather than 12 months. Accurately funding this would generate an additional $390,000 for Dickson County Schools. •Unfunded Mandates – Many initiatives are taking place at all levels of education.

TVA sues Cleveland millionaire Allan Jones; businessman fires back (TFP)

TVA says it owns the property where Cleveland, Tenn., entrepreneur and millionaire Allan Jones’ boathouse, retaining wall, boat ramp and dock are located off the Hiwassee River in Bradley County. TVA entered a lawsuit on Dec. 18 in U.S. District Court seeking punitive and nominal damages from Jones for trespassing on the property, after multiple alleged attempts to have Jones remove his boating facilities. TVA’s complaint names Jones, Bates Bend Farm LLC, Jones Management Services Inc. and Jones Properties LLC — all companies under Jones’ ownership or leadership — as defendants. TVA attached a 1939 property deed to court documents showing that it purchased the land shortly after the utility was created. The property in dispute is the old Bates Bend steamboat landing along the left descending bank of the Hiwassee.

Wharton Defends Local Tax Incentives, Searches for Methods to Compete (MDN)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is pursuing a new economic development strategy that would allow those parts of Tennessee bordering other states to mirror or match the incentives on the other side of the state line. The idea, as applied to border cities and counties in a state that is bordered by more states than any other state in the union would require approval from the Tennessee Legislature. The effort would also enjoy a broader base of support from leaders of other cities and counties than just Memphis leaders seeking the law. “What I want to do is get all of those cities and counties … and say, ‘Look, let’s come up with a law that states if the folks in those cities and towns approve a certain incentive that will allow them to go head to head with the out-of-state folks, then so be it,’” Wharton said on the WKNO TV program “Behind The Headlines.”

High-speed Internet on its way to schools (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The Federal Communications Commission agreed late last week to dramatically boost spending to bring high-speed Internet access to schools and libraries in poor or rural areas, a move that would likely increase Americans’ phone bills by about $2 a year, according to The Associated Press. The FCC’s E-Rate program provides discounted telecommunications and Internet access to qualifying schools and libraries. Educators hailed the 60 percent jump in spending to $3.9 billion as critical to making sure much of the nation’s population doesn’t get left behind, particularly as other countries invest heavily in broadband connections. “It saves us lots of money,” said Patty Kinsey, who’s in charge of information technology for the Hamilton County Department of Education.

Lack of access hinders students with provided iPads (TFP/McClane, Omarzu)

Replacing some Hamilton County students’ textbooks with iPads was a move intended to boost faltering public education performance. Tablets were more engaging that their printed predecessors, and they opened up a world wide web of opportunity. Have a question? Just Google it. Plus, they prepared students for the ever-changing work world, in which even jobs flipping hamburgers require an application online. But school officials say there is one big problem. Many of the students, once home with their brand-new devices, don’t have Internet access and likely won’t get it. “For some time now, we’ve identified ourselves as a technological community,” Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said.

Oklahoma: After Botched Execution, OK Is to Resume Lethal Injections (NYT)

A federal judge in Oklahoma City on Monday said that the state can resume executing prisoners this winter, rejecting the argument by some medical experts that using the same sedative involved in the bungled execution of Clayton D. Lockett in April amounted to an illegal experiment on human subjects. Judge Stephen P. Friot of Federal District Court, ruling against condemned prisoners who sought to delay new executions, said that lethal injection was more humane than historical methods like hanging, and that since the sedative in question, midazolam, had been successfully used in a dozen executions elsewhere, it should not be considered new or experimental. “Federal courts should not sit as a board of inquiry as to best practices,” Judge Friot said, adding, “The plaintiffs have failed to present a known and available alternative.”

 

 

 

OPINION

Editorial: Forensic center result of state, local teamwork (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Knox County officials cut the ribbon on a sorely needed new regional forensic center near the University of Tennessee campus last week. The 19,000-square-foot facility gives the medical examiner much greater room in which to perform this vitally needed function. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was the driving force behind the move, which coincides with the transition of the medical examiner’s office from a contract service to a department within county government. Burchett has a reputation for frugality, so when he deems a project worthy of public expenditures, other officials take note. In this instance, Gov. Bill Haslam directed state resources toward the project. The bulk of the funding for the center, which provides autopsy services to 22 counties in East Tennessee, came from a state grant.

Guest columnist: College success hinges on preparedness, Rep. Cohen (Tenn)

Re: “Tennessee Promise, well-intentioned but doomed to fail,” by Rep. Steve Cohen, Dec. 15 Recently, Rep. Steve Cohen expressed concerns regarding community college graduation rates and the new Tennessee Promise program, which provides every graduate of a Tennessee high school the opportunity to attend one of Tennessee’s Community Colleges, a Tennessee College of Applied Technology or even one of several four-year universities that offer associate degree programs tuition-free for two years. We agree with him that more needs to be done to help more low-income students pursue post-secondary education of any kind, but we shouldn’t characterize the valuable opportunities students receive at our community colleges by narrowly focusing on graduation rate statistics.

Editorial: Plans for health science center in Nash. should concern Memphians (CA)

Maybe we are just paranoid, but news that the University of Tennessee plans to establish a health science center in Nashville should worry Memphians. Although university officials have given assurances that the Nashville center will not drain resources and students from the 103-year-old University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, we are a bit concerned that it would be something to benefit Nashville at Memphis’ expense. It has happened before, especially in the legislature, which created a college of medicine that opened at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City in the early 1970s. No funds for the new center have been allocated, but the UT Health Science Center is negotiating to buy 6.3 acres west of Downtown as part of a partnership with Nashville-based St. Thomas Health hospital system.

Note: The news-clips will resume on Friday, December 26.