January 8 TN News Digest

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

Haslam hopes to release details of expansion of health care (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam said today he anticipates releasing details on his Medicaid-funded Insure Tennessee program as early as Thursday. “We hope to in the next day,” Haslam told reporters following the ground breaking on the new Bridgestone Americas headquarters in downtown Nashville. “There’s been a lot of discussion about why haven’t you all been out talking with details.” Lawmakers and some business groups have been clamoring for details on the plan ever since Haslam announced his two-pronged, market-driven proposal to extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 200,000 lower-income Tennesseans.

Lawmakers, Public to Get Detailed Look at Haslam’s Obamacare Compromise (TNR)
The specifics of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are set to be released Thursday. The Republican governor announced Wednesday that he’s ready to unveil the particulars of an arrangement he says he’s reached with the Obama administration on granting government-funded health insurance to a greater swath of lower-income Tennesseans. Last month Haslam made the surprise announcement that his administration had developed a plan for getting in line with the other 27 states in the country that have voluntarily signed on to one of Obamacare’s key provisions.

Haslam: All Dems will be needed to pass Tenn. Medicaid deal (AP/Schelzig)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he expects to need the votes of every Democrat in the Tennessee General Assembly to give his Medicaid proposal a chance of passage. Haslam told reporters after a groundbreaking ceremony for Bridgestone’s new downtown Nashville headquarters that he expected to release full details of his proposal dubbed Insure Tennessee by Thursday. The governor said he is well aware of grumbling among many in the GOP-controlled Legislature that they haven’t been given more details about the proposal to cover more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans since it was first announced last month. But Haslam said his administration has been working to convert an oral agreement with federal officials into a written waiver proposal.

Haslam to rely on Democrats for Medicaid reform (Times Free-Press/Sher, Belz)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he expects to need the votes of all the Democrats in the GOP-led Legislature to pass his market-driven approach to Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. “I think that’s probably a fair observation that for this to pass, all the Democrats will have to be for it and, obviously, we’ll have to have enough people to get to 50 [votes] in the House and 17 in the Senate,” Haslam told reporters following a groundbreaking ceremony for Bridgestone Americas’ new headquarters building in downtown Nashville. The governor also said he anticipates releasing details on his Medicaid-funded Insure Tennessee program as early as today.

Haslam says he’ll need every Dem vote to pass Medicaid alternative (CA/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he’ll likely need the votes of all the Democrats in the state legislature for his alternative to Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act to pass. “I think that’s probably a fair observation that for this to pass, all the Democrats will have to be for it and obviously we’ll have to have enough people to get to 50 (votes) in the House and 17 in the Senate,” he told reporters after a groundbreaking for the construction of Bridgestone Americas’ new $220 million, 30-story headquarters tower in downtown Nashville. The governor also said he hopes to finish and release to legislators a copy of the Medicaid waiver request to implement the Insure Tennessee plan, the alternative to a straight expansion of Medicaid that he unveiled Dec. 15.

Haslam Says He Understands Frustration Over Insure Tennessee Delay (WPLN)
Gov. Bill Haslam says he understands why some state lawmakers are demanding more details about his plan to expand health coverage for the poor. Nearly a month has passed since he said the proposal would be coming, but it still hasn’t been released, a situation that has many conservatives concerned. But Haslam told reporters Wednesday that the proposal, which he’s calling Insure Tennessee, will be out this week — well before the state House and Senate have to start debating it. “This is a big deal, and we want the legislators to know exactly what it is that we’re proposing, so this will give everybody two or three weeks to review it,” he said.

Gov. Haslam calls president’s visit ‘a good thing’ (News-Sentinel/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam shrugged off any suggestions of political fallout with Tennessee conservatives over his planned appearance with President Barack Obama in the Knoxville area Friday. “He’s coming to Tennessee to talk about community college access. I think it’s a tribute to Tennessee that they’re talking about what’s already happened in Tennessee, that we’ve made community college free to everyone who graduates from high school, the first state to do that,” the governor told reporters in Nashville Wednesday. “The fact that you have the President of the United States coming to your state to say this is a good thing and it’s something we should have more of across the country — that can’t help but be a good message for the state.”

Haslam defends Volkswagen assistance (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says that while he sympathizes with Hamilton County GOP lawmakers’ “real concerns” about the United Auto Workers union’s role at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, the governor is urging them not to let it torpedo $300 million in incentives that expand production there. “You have some real concerns expressed by legislators that we understand,” Haslam told reporters in Nashville on Wednesday. “We expressed those same concerns as well. We’ll have those discussions about where we think Volkswagen is and why we think this is the right proposal for the state.” Haslam last summer announced the incentives the company has called key to adding production of a SUV line to the current production there along with current production of the Passat. That is expected to add some 2,000 jobs.

Under Armour starts hiring for Mt. Juliet facility (Tennessean/Humbles)
Under Armour has started the hiring process for management positions at its distribution center being built in Mt. Juliet. In October the sports apparel and equipment company announced it would build a new 1 million-square-foot facility off Interstate 40 near Beckwith Road. Additional jobs for the Mt. Juliet facility will be posted throughout 2015 on Under Armour’s website at www.underarmour.jobs. The distribution facility is on track to open in early 2016 and has committed to employing 1,500 workers over five years, according to its corporate office.

Economic study to see how West Tenn. stacks up to Middle, East (Jackson Sun)
In a few weeks state leaders will begin a study that will seek to find how West Tennessee’s economy compares to Middle and East Tennessee’s. The study will be financed by a $50,000 grant given by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It was awarded to the Southwest Human Resource Agency, which will take bids to hire a private company to complete the study. The announcement was made at Wednesday’s REDI Legislative Luncheon. The Regional Economic Development Initiative, a part of the Southwest Tennessee Development District, hosts the annual lunch with the area’s county and city mayors and state representatives.

Attorney general, TDEC file joint suit against TVA (Nashville Business Journal)
State Attorney General Herbert Slatery and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation have filed a joint enforcement action against the Tennessee Valley Authority. Slatery’s office and TDEC allege TVA’s Gallatin Steam Plant contaminated the Cumberland River and is in violation of two Tennessee environmental laws (the Water Quality Control Act and the Solid Waste Management Act). The state is seeking a permanent injunction against TVA that will establish a schedule for the plant to be compliant with the two acts. The AG’s office and TDEC are also seeking civil damages, according to a filing in the Davidson County Chancery Court.

State sues TVA for alleged violations at Gallatin Steam Plant (N-S/Collins)
Acting on the complaint of an environmental law group, the state has sued the Tennessee Valley Authority in state court for alleged violations of environmental laws at TVA’s Gallatin Steam Plant in Middle Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the state Attorney General filed the enforcement action against TVA in Nashville charging that the federally owned utility is violating the Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act by contaminating the Cumberland River at its coal-fired power plant at Gallatin, about 30 miles northeast of Nashville. The state is seeking a permanent injunction against TVA to establish a schedule for compliance with the state’s antipollution laws and civil penalties of up to $7,000 per day.

68 arrested during New Year’s drunken driving enforcement (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Highway Patrol’s “no refusal” drunken driving enforcement over the New Year’s holiday period netted 68 arrests. Under the state’s “no refusal” law, troopers can compel suspected drunken drivers to give blood samples. That law was strictly enforced in Roane, McMinn, Rutherford, Shelby, Washington, Cumberland, Maury and Hardin counties over a five-day period surrounding the holiday. Six drivers’ blood was taken after they refused to be tested at checkpoints. Troopers also issued 306 seat belt violations in the eight counties. Drivers in routine traffic stops can refuse to take roadside tests or submit to breath-alcohol tests, though they can be charged for violating the implied consent laws and lose their driving privileges. Two people were killed in alcohol-related crashes statewide during the 102-hour New Year’s Eve period.

Bill proposes ‘informed consent’ for abortions (Tennessean/Boucher)
Doctors would need to provide women more information about pregnancies and abortions before performing an abortion if a bill filed Wednesday in the Tennessee General Assembly becomes law. The “informed consent” proposal comes from state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and would restore a law that was in effect in Tennessee before a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that drastically changed abortion laws in the state. The ruling made a change to the state constitution necessary. That change became a reality in November, when Tennessee voters adopted Amendment 1, which changed the constitution to allow lawmakers to enact more restrictions on abortions.

Tennessee Senators ease into key roles in D.C. (Times Free-Press/Brogdon)
With the GOP ruling the 114th Congress, area senators eased right into key roles Wednesday following congressional committee elections. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was named chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations — and earned a new spot on the Senate Budget Committee. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., got the top post on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Both senators were ranking members of the respective committees they are now chairing. In Georgia, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson landed two chairmanships, and he’s the only Republican to do so. He will lead the veterans’ affairs and ethics committees.

Corker reacts to Paris attack (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday that the attack by three gunmen who killed 12 people in the offices of a satirical newspaper in Paris illustrates the challenges the western world faces in combatting terrorism. “It’s something all of us need to be vigilant with,” said Corker, the newly elected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s going to be a threat. It’s part of where we are in the world.” Corker, a Chattanooga Republican, said he expects the committee to hold hearings in the next few weeks on a range of topics, including the Obama administration’s decision to restore U.S. relations with Cuba, its handling of the situation in Syria and on U.S. policy on China.

Corker advocates continued vigilance against terrorism (Times-News)
The murder of 12 people at the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper by three masked gunmen “illuminates the fact there are challenges out there in the western world,” U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported the gunmen stormed the newspaper shouting the Islamic phrase “Allahu akbar!” meaning “God is greater.” Corker, the Tennessee Republican newly appointed to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted America also remains a target from terrorists despite ongoing national security efforts. “It’s something where all of us need to be vigilant,” he told reporters. “… It’s part of where we are today in this world, and it makes my post as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee more humbling because much of what we deal with is trying to counter organizations that over time left uncountered have the ability to do the kind of things that happened in Paris.”

Corker Says Cuba Will Top His Agenda As Foreign Relations Chairman (WPLN)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker officially becomes chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week. He says one of his first acts will be to hold hearings on the Obama administration’s decision to soften the country’s stance toward Cuba. The Tennessee Republican said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning that the Cuban government hasn’t yet lived up to its end of the bargain — which includes releasing 53 political prisoners. But he added, he’s keeping an open mind. “Well, obviously the policy we’ve had in place in Cuba since 1962 has not yielded a result that we hoped it would yield. I mean, I think that’s pretty apparent.” Corker said the hearings will take place sometime in the next four to six weeks.

Obama to launch manufacturing hub during Knoxville visit (News-Sentinel/Collins)
President Barack Obama will use his trip to the Knoxville area on Friday to launch a regional manufacturing innovation hub that the White House says will help attract more good-paying, high-tech jobs to East Tennessee. The hub, which involves a public-private partnership, is part of a broader push by the White House to bring together private companies, universities and other academic and training institutions to help stimulate job creation. Obama has called for 45 regional hubs to be established across the United States, and the administration already has launched a half-dozen in cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Raleigh, N.C. No other details were disclosed about the East Tennessee hub, which was announced in a blog post on the White House website.

Top Republicans to join Obama for Knoxville visit (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Many of Tennessee’s top Republicans will join President Barack Obama Friday when he visits Knoxville, a striking shift from the party’s response to other recent presidential visits to the Volunteer State. Obama will visit Pellissippi State Community College along with Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden to discuss the administration’s upcoming efforts to help more Americans get a college education. They also plan to visit the Techmer PM facility in Clinton, where they will tout initiatives aimed at creating manufacturing jobs. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker will travel with Obama and Joe Biden on Air Force One on Friday. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Gov. Bill Haslam also are expected to attend the event.

TVA wants you to turn down your power for the next 24 hours (TFP/Flessner)
The Tennessee Valley Authority is asking electricity users in its 7-state region to voluntarily reduce their power consumption until Thursday afternoon as a result of frigid temperatures causing high demand across the Southeast. TVA officials said today the voluntary reduction will help ensure a continued supply of power when temperatures dip to single-digit temperatures in parts of the Tennessee Valley. The National Weather Service expects the temperatures in Chattanooga to decline to 11 degrees Fahrenheit early Thursday. All of TVA’s available generating resources are being used to meet the peak power demand. TVA said its electric system remains secure and stable at this time.

TVA asks customers to reduce power use (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
The Tennessee Valley Authority has asked customers to voluntarily reduce their electricity use until Thursday afternoon. The request comes as many areas in the Southeast region of the country are expected to see low temperatures dip into single digits. According to a press release from the TVA, the reduction will help ensure “a continued supply of power to essential services throughout TVA’s seven-state service territory and avoid interruptions of service.” The TVA is currently utilizing all of its available generating resources to meet the increased demand for power, according to the release. Peak power demands are expected to occur Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Survey finds low morale among Y-12 workers (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
A 2014 survey of government workers has revealed at lot of unhappiness in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office, which oversees operations at the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants. Federal managers say they are taking steps to address the concerns raised by employees in the relatively new office, which was created in 2012 to prepare for oversight of a contract that combined the management of national security operations in Oak Ridge and Amarillo, Texas. However, similar concerns were reportedly raised in earlier surveys and persisted despite formation of special employee committees.

Goodman Manufacturing moving nearly 2,000 Tenn jobs out of state (TFP/Green)
Nearly 2,000 Goodman Manufacturing employees in Dayton and Fayetteville, Tenn., will see their jobs go south over the next 18 to 36 months. Goodman officials announced Tuesday that the company is consolidating its production at a brand new, $417 million Houston campus set to partially open in mid-2016. Fayetteville and Dayton are home to the only non-Texas facilities operated by Goodman, which was founded in Houston in 1982 and acquired by Daikin Industries Ltd. in 2012. The Osaka, Japan-based manufacturer of heating, cooling and refrigerant products said Goodman is developing an all-inclusive compound in Texas.

TN County With Lowest Unemployment Is Losing Its Biggest Manufacturer (WPLN)
The Tennessee county with the lowest unemployment rate in the state has seen its fortunes change. One of Lincoln County’s largest employers is leaving. Goodman manufacturing is consolidating its operations to Texas. By 2017, Goodman will be gone, and some 1,700 people will be jobless in Lincoln County, on the Alabama border. The decision also will result in closing a smaller Goodman plant in Dayton, Tenn. WPLN featured the Lincoln County plant in a story last year about the area’s surprisingly low unemployment rate, which has dipped below 5 percent in the past year. Goodman, which makes air conditioning units, is the major employer in town and has been for decades. Multiple generations work there.

Meth labs discovered at Wilson County business (Tennessean/Humbles)
Two methamphetamine labs were discovered at a Wilson County business Tuesday, according to the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office. Roadrunner Transportation, a trucking company located at 135 Maddox Drive, had two different locations at the business where officers say methamphetamine had been cooked. No arrests have been made as the investigation continues. The company says employees were not involved, according to its initial investigation. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office said it was tipped about the alleged meth labs by a Roadrunner Transportation worker. “Once this was discovered we immediately contacted the sheriff’s department,” said Robert Milane, vice-president risk management of Roadrunner Transportation Systems.


Guest columnist: Tennessee embraced Common Core for a reason (Tennessean)
My name is Karen Vogelsang and I am the 2014-15 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. I am a supporter of the Common Core State Standards, which we have adopted as our own state standards and are taught in classrooms across the state. I am ill at the thought that these standards could be repealed. As Tennesseans we sought Race To The Top funds to make sweeping changes not only to benefit our state, but more importantly, to benefit our students. We have data showing our students are performing at a rate faster than any other state in the nation. We (Tennesseans, not the federal government) made decisions about how the standards would be implemented and how our educators would be trained.

Lamar Alexander: Reduce questions to apply for Pell Grants (News-Sentinel)
There is nothing like a visit from the president of the United States to shine the spotlight on a really good idea. Gov. Bill Haslam’s really good idea was to make Tennessee the first state to say to every high school graduate: Two years of community college or technical education are yours, tuition-free. For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better-trained workers to fill the jobs created by companies attracted to our business-friendly, centrally located state. Community colleges and technical institutes are our secret weapon for this kind of training, and too many Tennesseans don’t take advantage of them. When the governor — and now the president — say that two years of advanced education are not only free but important, people listen. Last year, I held roundtable discussions at four of our two-year institutions and learned that applications for admission have doubled or tripled. The reason, obviously, is Tennessee Promise.

Editorial: Passing civics test to earn high school diploma is unnecessary (CA)
We agree that U.S. citizens, young and old, should have some basic knowledge about the workings of government, but requiring Tennessee public high school students to pass a civics test before they can earn a high school diploma is a stretch. Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is sponsoring a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would require students to pass the same civics test to get their high school degrees that immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is sponsoring the bill in that chamber. Norris has promoted civics education as a legislator and as current president of the Council of State Governments.

Editorial: State-mandated exam not best civics approach (Daily News Journal)
At the same time that the state Legislature is getting ready to debate what should be standards for education in the state and who should develop those standards, proposed legislation would throw another standard into the mix. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga has filed a bill to require high school seniors to pass a civics exam before they receive their diplomas. Under McCormick’s proposal, high school seniors would take an exam similar to the test that immigrants must take to become naturalized citizens. While the bill would allow students unlimited opportunities to pass the test and only a grade of 60 to pass it, passage of the measure only would complicate the standards debate. Other states already have enacted such requirements, but we continue to question whether legislative mandate is the best way to develop curriculum requirements.

Editorial: Proposal to limit mailings before elections a start (News-Sentinel)
Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick’s proposed bill to limit taxpayer-funded pre-election mailings by legislators is a good first step toward reform, but the measure should be amended to overhaul the sometimes-abused practice. Each year, money is placed into “constituent communications” accounts for each member of the General Assembly. Senators get $6,832 annually, while representatives get $2,016. Similar to the “franking” privileges enjoyed by members of the U.S. Congress, the accounts pay for mass mailings to constituents. Typically, those mailings concern issues facing the legislators’ districts or the state at large. Keeping constituents informed is a noble goal, but some lawmakers abuse the privilege, leading to the need for tighter restrictions.

Columnist: Corker combines Reagan-esque rhetoric, calm diplomacy (Tennessean)
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Chattanooga, struck a balance between Reagan-esque rhetoric and cautious diplomacy during a conference call with Tennessee media outlets Wednesday morning. The newly elected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee emphasized the United States’ critical role in leading the globe, but cautioned that our nation should not strive to be the “world’s policeman ” or get mired in unnecessary military entanglements. Corker is right to set a tone of calm, reflection and thoughtfulness as it involves volatile world affairs. There’s been so much chest-thumping and vitriol in the national security debate that it’s refreshing that Corker is willing to do his homework and listen before making pronouncements.

Columnist: Obama visit highlights manufacturing innovations (News-Sentinel)
I admittedly was skeptical this past spring when I began reporting what had resulted from the large-scale spending on advanced manufacturing research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Federal grants — including millions of stimulus dollars during the recession — seemed to pour into the lab, which had opened recently the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at the National Transportation Research Center in West Knoxville and the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility in Oak Ridge. The lab’s folks were forthcoming with names of several manufacturers with whom they were working. Among them was Tom Drye, managing director of Techmer Engineering Solutions Group, housed with sister company Techmer PM in Clinton. The 200-employee facility is one of seven Techmer operates in the U.S. Techmer’s partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and by extension the University of Tennessee, will take center stage when President Obama visits Friday. The president is expected to make an announcement related to a private-public partnership in manufacturing innovation.