January 3 TN News Digest

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

Under Armour breaks ground, MJ business booms (Wilson Post)
Commercial growth has been strong in the county during the year. Under Armour and FedEx both announced they’re building new distribution centers near Mt. Juliet’s new I-40 exit at Beckwith Road. Softer Inc. located a plastics plant on North Highway 109, and GoodSports picked Lebanon for its planned sports village…. Haslam breaks big news Under Armour’s announcement, of course, was the biggest news, and it was made in September by Gov. Bill Haslam at the site of the million-square-foot distribution house currently being built off Beckwith Road. Over the next five years, the $100 million facility is expected to bring 1,500 new jobs to Mt. Juliet, Haslam said. But that may be just the start.

Criminal justice expert says new TDOC supervision policy improves safety (WJHL)
It may sound counterproductive, but a local criminal justice expert says less supervision for low risk offenders on probation and parole, even murderers, is a good thing. In fact, East Tennessee State University Assistant Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Jennifer Pealer is applauding the Tennessee Department of Correction’s new supervision standards, which a Community Watchdog investigation uncovered earlier this week. “When I heard about it I was actually very happy that DOC has implemented this type of policy, because it’s actually bringing Tennessee aligned with what the research shows we should be doing and this research has been around for many years,” she said.

TN traffic deaths down for third straight year (Tennessean/Meyer)
Fewer people died on Tennessee roads in 2014 than 2013, making it the third straight year that traffic fatalities were down. Preliminary numbers from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security show that traffic crashes claimed 945 lives last year. Final numbers are expected early next week, said Bill Miller, Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman. Miller said the highway patrol’s focus on catching motorists driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and violating seat belt and child safety restraint laws has contributed to the reduction. Troopers issued dramatically more citations for both violations in 2014 than 2010, which is when Colonel Tracy Trott took command of the highway patrol, Miller said. As of Monday, the highway patrol made 8,333 DUI arrests in 2014, more than doubling the 3,328 DUIs in 2010, Miller said. Troopers issued 31,577 seat belt and child restraint tickets in 2010. As of Monday, that number was at 102,069 citations for 2014, Miller said. The highway patrol is trying to create change the driving culture in the state with their enforcement efforts, Miller said. (SUB)

Chattanooga rated No. 1 for flu activity (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)
Tamiflu is flying off the shelves in Chattanooga — so much so that the city has topped national rankings for the highest level of flu activity in a metro area, data from the pharmacy chain Walgreens shows. The data is based on the rates of prescriptions filled for antiviral flu drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza. The demand for such drugs is not likely to slow down soon as school ramps back up and peak flu season arrives, compounded by the fact that this year’s vaccine has proven to be less effective. In Tennessee, three children died of flu in December — the highest number reported for that month since the state’s health department began tracking them in 2007.

Dentist, daughter nabbed in TennCare fraud (Crossville Chronicle)
Special Agents in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit have obtained indictments for a Rogersville dentist and his daughter accused of committing TennCare fraud. After receiving information from the Rogersville Police Department, TBI Agents began investigating Ronald James Feb. 5. During the course of the investigation, agents developed information that in November and December 2013, James prescribed hydrocodone for a TennCare recipient who was not his patient. Agents further learned the medications were intended for James’ daughter, Hayley Simpson, who posed as the TennCare recipient at two Hawkins County pharmacies to collect the fraudulent prescriptions.

Bill limits lawmaker mailers near election (Tennessean/Boucher)
It happens across the country — incumbent lawmakers use letters purchased with taxpayer money to touch base with constituents in the weeks before an election. The practice of using such publicly funded letters, called “franking” or “constituent communication” in Tennessee, is routinely decried and also relied upon by members of both parties during election season. But newly proposed legislation would put more restrictions on the time frame when lawmakers could send those letters while also running a campaign. The bill, proposed by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, would change state law so senators and representatives couldn’t use their state accounts for mass mailings within 90 days of any election. Right now, lawmakers can use state funds for letters, surveys or other mailers until 30 days before an election.

More than 87,000 Tennesseans sign up for HealthCare.gov coverage (CA/McKenzie)
More than 87,000 Tennesseans signed up for health insurance during the first month of this year’s open enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace created by the federal Affordable Care Act, federal officials announced Tuesday. Of the 81,137 who enrolled from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, 49 percent signed up for the first time and 51 percent re-enrolled to maintain coverage first offered last year, figures released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show. More than eight of every 10, or 83 percent, qualified for financial assistance to make the coverage supplied by health insurance companies more affordable. Consumers can enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace, or HealthCare.gov, through Feb. 15.

Fight on Guns Is Being Taken to State Ballots (New York Times)
The gun control movement, blocked in Congress and facing mounting losses in federal elections, is tweaking its name, refining its goals and using the same-sex marriage movement as a model to take the fight to voters on the state level. After a victory in November on a Washington State ballot measure that will require broader background checks on gun buyers, groups that promote gun regulations have turned away from Washington and the political races that have been largely futile. Instead, they are turning their attention — and their growing wallets — to other states that allow ballot measures. An initiative seeking stricter background checks for certain buyers has qualified for the 2016 ballot in Nevada, where such a law was passed last year by the Legislature and then vetoed by the governor.

Cities Set to Take Minimum-Wage Stage (Wall Street Journal)
The nation’s battle over raising the minimum wage is set to shift largely to cities like Los Angeles and New York over the coming year, pitting business groups against local governments weighing measures to address sluggish wage growth for the lowest-paid workers. Fourteen states raised their wage floors in 2014, though few are expected to act this year, because of a lack of statewide elections. Experts also say a shift in federal law appears unlikely after the Republican takeover of Congress. So cities—encouraged by the Obama administration—are gearing up for new debates after Seattle, Chicago and Louisville, Ky., all approved city-specific pay floors last year.

Ikea seeks $9.5 million tax incentive in Memphis (Commercial Appeal/McKenzie)
Swedish furniture retailer Ikea would save about $9.5 million over 11 years with a tax incentive the company is requesting as it plans to invest more than $64 million for a new store in Memphis, records show. Ikea would be the first retailer to receive a payment-in-lieu-of taxes incentive from the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County, created in 2011 to streamline city and county governments’ business incentives. In an announcement on Dec. 16 at Memphis City Hall, Ikea unveiled a plan to build a store — its first in Tennessee, Mississippi or Arkansas — on 35 acres behind a Costco near Germantown Parkway, Interstate 40 and the Wolfchase Galleria.

Timing for Hemlock announcement tied to tariffs (Leaf Chronicle)
A U.S. Department of Commerce decision last month favoring more tariffs against Chinese-made solar energy products is widely pinpointed as the reason for Hemlock Semiconductor’s decision to close its Clarksville plant for good. While The Leaf-Chronicle was unable to reach Hemlock officials for further comment this week, the company’s 2014 Christmas present of a permanent plant closure announcement for Clarksville-Montgomery County is moving the news meter from coast to coast, as this community prepares to part ways with the Dow Corning subsidiary over the next 12 to 18 months. Global trade disputes The message has been consistent across the board. Global trade disputes aren’t improving.