January 27 TN News Digest

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

Gov. Haslam takes Insure Tennessee pitch on the road (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam spent Monday pitching his Insure Tennessee proposal to Knoxville-area legislators even as a staunch Senate critic of the plan prepared for his committee hearing today on potential “legal issues” surrounding it. Haslam began his second week of meeting with legislators on his plan to use federal Medicaid funds to extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 200,000 low-income adult men and women. Many of Haslam’s fellow Republicans in the GOP-dominated General Assembly have been slow to embrace what he says is a “market-driven” plan made possible under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Johnson City on Haslam’s health care expansion tour (Johnson City Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is making six more stops around the state to promote his Insure Tennessee plan to extend health coverage to more than 200,000 low-income people. Haslam kicked off his tour last week at hospitals in Jackson and Memphis. He starts this week’s series of events on Monday at Cherokee Health System. On Tuesday, the governor heads to Walker Comprehensive Health Center in Clarksville, followed by a discussion at Cherokee Health Systems in Chattanooga on Wednesday.

Tennessee Promise Gearing Up For New Students (Associated Press)
About 90 percent of Tennessee’s senior class has applied for the first year of Tennessee Promise, the program that offers eligible high school seniors the chance to go to a community college or technical college tuition-free. That amounts to about 58,000 students and exceeds predictions by tens of thousands. Some of those may decide to attend four-year schools instead or go another route, but in the meantime, community colleges are preparing to educate more students.

State seeks farmers to grow hemp (Tennessean/Allison)
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is looking for a few farmers interested in growing industrial hemp. Applications are now open for farmers and producers to work with department in the production of industrial hemp. The Tennessee General Assembly last year passed a law that legalized strains of low-THC varities of cannabis, as well as the measure to start a licensing program. Currently, industrial hemp or Cannabis sativa L. is only allowed to be grown in Tennessee as part of a research or pilot project. Cannabis sativa L. is the same plant species as marijuana but has significantly lower tetrahydroncannabinol (THC) content and is distinguished by its use and chemical makeup.

Tennessee: Want to grow some hemp – legally? (Times Free-Press/Sher)
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture says it is now accepting applications from farmers and producers interested in growing industrial hemp. In 2013, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted Public Chapter 916 tasking the department with development of a licensing and inspection program for the production of industrial hemp in Tennessee. As provided in the law, industrial hemp may only be grown as part of a research or pilot project. Industrial hemp is Cannabis sativa L., the same plant species as marijuana. But according to agriculture officials, industrial hemp has “significantly lower” amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content – the compound that produces the high in pot.

TDOT taking votes in roadway sign contest (WSMV-TV Nashville)
The Tennessee Department of Transportation recently asked drivers to create their own message for Tennessee’s overhead roadway signs. TDOT has narrowed down that list. Beginning Monday, people can vote for their favorite. Hundreds of people pitched their ideas for the new TDOT slogan on the state’s website. Finalists include, “It’s Tennessee … slow down … enjoy the view,” “Put it away and have a great day,” “Texting and driving? Oh cell no!” and “She thinks my seatbelt is sexy.” To vote for your favorite of the 15 finalists, click here.

Voting Underway In TDOT Safety Slogan Contest (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Voting is underway in the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s safety slogans contest. TDOT said they chose 15 finalists out of more than 3,400 entries for possible safety messages for the overhead signs located across Tennessee. They added some of the entries were slightly changed to fit guidelines for the signs. Votes can be cast through Friday, February 6 at www.tdot.state.tn.us/dms/default.shtml. Winning slogans will be posted online the week after the contest ends. Then, they will be put in rotation to run on the 163 overhead statewide message signs throughout the year.

Dandridge man says TDOT should pay for pothole damage to his car (WATE-TV)
A massive pothole on the interstate caused some pricey damage to one man’s car, leaving him wondering if he is responsible for the repairs. Matthew Parsons said he was driving Saturday night on Interstate 40 near Cherry Street in Knoxville when he drove over a big hole. He was in the middle lane of traffic and said he didn’t have enough time to do anything but hit it. “It was just last second. I couldn’t do nothing about it. I hit it and sure enough, it got both tires,” said Parsons. It scratched and warped the metal of his wheels and the damage is going to cost him.

Roadshow touts Tennessee firms (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
A master business-accelerator program headed by Launch Tennessee will visit Chattanooga today from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at Coyote Logistics in the 3rd floor of Warehouse Row in downtown Chattanooga. The event, which is open to the public, is part of the TENN Roadshow that features 10 startups that have graduated from one of the state’s nine regional accelerators. During the week, the budding businesses pitch their work to corporations, executives, investors and other members of the state’s startup community, during stops throughout Tennessee.

Fire marshal asks residents to remember heater safety (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Halfway through a winter that has already seen temperatures dropping into the single digits across Tennessee, the state Fire Marshal’s Office is reminding residents to stay safe when using portable heaters to keep warm. According to a news release from the Fire Marshal’s Office, portable heaters are common sights during the winter, but they can sometimes lead to tragedy. An estimated 900 portable heater fires in homes are reported to fire departments across the country each year, according to the United States Fire Administration. In Tennessee, 3,194 heating fires occurred from 2009-2013.

Flu spread declines in TN; second ‘wave’ possible (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
There’s still plenty of flu around the state, but it’s not spreading as quickly as it was. Last week, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention downgraded the geographical spread of influenza in Tennessee from “widespread” to “regional” activity. That makes Tennessee one of only four states, plus the District of Columbia, in the continental United States not reporting widespread flu activity. That CDC report does not measure the severity of flu cases. Knox County continues to be in line with most of the rest of the state when it comes to the number of residents going to health providers with flu-like symptoms, but those numbers are still significantly higher than the state average in the counties around Knoxville that are served by the East Tennessee Regional Health Office.

Hamilton Co. Woman Charged With TennCare Fraud (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)
A Hamilton County woman is charged with TennCare fraud in Rhea County, in charges accusing her of doctor shopping for prescription drugs, using TennCare as payment. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) today announced the arrest of 31-year-old Melody Delong of Georgetown. She is charged with visiting multiple doctors in a short period of time in an effort to obtain controlled substances. Delong turned herself in to the Rhea County Sheriff’s Office.

Georgetown woman charged with TennCare fraud in Rhea Co. (WRCB-TV Chatt)
A Hamilton County woman is charged with TennCare fraud in Rhea County, in charges accusing her of doctor shopping for prescription drugs, using TennCare as payment. 31-year-old Melody Delong of Georgetown is charged with visiting multiple doctors in a short period of time in an effort to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General tells Channel 3, Delong turned herself in to the Rhea County Sheriff’s Office. “Unauthorized use of TennCare to obtain prescription drugs is a serious crime we are pursuing every day across the state.

Tenn. AG: Ban on beer signs unlikely to survive challenge (Associated Press)
A little-known Tennessee law banning bars and stores from including beer brands or sales on outside signs could be unconstitutional. State Attorney General Herbert Slatery says in a legal opinion that it’s unlikely the law would survive a legal challenge on free speech grounds because it bans “truthful and non-misleading commercial messages about lawful products.” Slatery also notes that beer retailers are allowed to display information about available beer brands and drinks promotions in other ways such as window displays.

Tennessee doctors worried how Haslam’s healthcare reform will play out (TFP/Sher)
While the Tennessee Medical Association supports Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan, the state’s largest physicians’ organization says that shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement for Haslam’s payment reforms for providers. TMA President Douglas J. Springer of Kingsport said in a statement that the group indeed does back Haslam’s plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health insurance to an estimated 200,000 low-income adults, over half of whom work. But, he said, “what has concerned and confused many Tennessee physicians is the state’s implementation of the Tennessee Health Care Innovation Initiative, or TennCare payment reform.”

Opponent of Insure Tennessee proposal to hold Senate hearing (AP)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to 200,000 low-income Tennesseans is getting its first hearing in a legislative committee on Tuesday, though the panel won’t have the authority to vote the measure up or down. Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey has called the meeting to study what he describes as legal issues surrounding the governor’s Insure Tennessee proposal. The Germantown Republican opposes the proposal seeking federal funds under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

White appointed to education, transportation committees (Daily News Journal)
State Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, announced that she’ll be serving on the House Transportation Committee and Education Administration and Planning Committee and Subcommittee for the 109th General Assembly. “I am excited to begin work with the Transportation Committee in the upcoming session,” White said through a press release. “With the continued growth in Rutherford County, transportation is certainly a significant issue to our community. I am honored to do my part in working to address this important subject.” White’s committee assignments came from House Speaker Beth Harwell, R–Nashville.

Report: TN, GA among states with greatest % of low-income students (TFP/Omarzu)
For the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students — 51 percent — are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches — which means most of them are low-income — says a report issued this month by the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation. The Chattanooga area and the rest of the South passed that benchmark years ago. A majority of Southern students have been eligible for free and reduced lunch — a common measure of poverty — since 2007, the foundation says. That number grew to 57 percent in 2013, the year on which the report is based. In Hamilton County, almost 59 percent of students got free or reduced-price lunches in 2014.

Tenn. joins immigration lawsuit (Associated Press)
Texas says Tennessee is one of two more states to join its coalition suing over the Obama administration’s executive action on immigration, meaning 26 states are now part of the case. New Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Monday that Nevada and Tennessee have officially become part of the coalition. More than half the states are now fighting the order in a federal court in Brownsville. Announced in November, the president’s unilateral move is designed to spare millions of people living illegally in the United States from deportation.

Some Lottery Retailers Beat the Odds—and Cost States (Stateline)
Retail store owners and clerks are hitting lottery jackpots too often, spurring states to crack down on a variety of scams that cheat rule-abiding players—and divert money from state coffers. The scams tarnish state-run gambling operations that give people a chance to win big money while consoling them with the knowledge that their losses will pay for public education or other government services. In recent months, there have been incidents in several states. Among them: In December, the Asbury Park Press newspaper found that half of New Jersey’s 20 most frequent lottery winners since 2009 were either licensed retailers or family members of store operators.

Fight to save Fort Loudoun Dam bridge begins (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
If crews demolish the Fort Loudoun Dam bridge as planned next year, “million-dollar views” and a chance to connect the county’s greenways will go with it. Instead, local officials and state Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, have mounted a campaign to preserve the 52-year-old bridge as bicycle and pedestrian walkway. “Every city in America wants to have what we already have — a beautiful walkway over a beautiful piece of God’s real estate,” Matlock said. “Every community today is talking about greenways and trailways and riding ways and things to draw people to it. We’ve got it in place and it’s here. Why not utilize what’s already present?”

Auto supplier eyed for industrial park off Amnicola Highway (TFP/Pare)
A pair of automotive suppliers have eyed a 43.5-acre tract at Centre South Riverport and officials are moving ahead with trying to land a state water quality permit to help prepare the site. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Monday that while no company has committed to building on the vacant parcel off Amnicola Highway, the county wants to obtain the state permit to speed that part of landing a potential business. “There were some issues to mitigate wetlands,” Coppinger said. “We’ve had several people look at that property and they’ve all shared similar concerns. We know it’s something that there is a lot of interest [in].”

Google plans Nashville news conference Tuesday (Tennessean/McGee)
Google and Nashville leaders are hosting a news conference Tuesday. The announcement invited media to “hear more about what’s in store for the people of Nashville” in an email. No other information was included. Google has a partnership with Nashville through the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and has held several events in Nashville in recent years. It has been exploring bringing Google Fiber to Nashville since February.

Nashville Techies Get Hyped As Google Fiber Plans Big Announcement (WPLN)
After nearly a year of discussions and speculation, Google will make an announcement tomorrow about whether it’s installing its gigabit-speed internet service in Nashville. The description of Google’s press conference is intentionally vague, but that’s not stopping some people in Nashville’s technology industry from getting excited. “I figure that a press conference is usually some sort of big announcement,” says Lizzie Keiper, a customer education specialist at a software company. “I hope it means that we’re going to go forward with Google Fiber in Nashville.”

Google hosting Nashville news conference Tuesday (Nashville Business Journal)
Leaders from the city of Nashville and Google have announced plans for a press conference Tuesday afternoon. No additional details were offered about the event in a media advisory (which described it as a chance to “hear more about what’s in store for the people of Nashville”), but recent reports out of North Carolina have hinted at a possible Google Fiber decision this week Nashville is one of nine major metro areas on a potential expansion list for Google’s gigabit Internet network.

OPINION

Guest columnist: Favorable business climate led to Tennessee job growth (Tenn)
Tennessee is on a roll. Since the start of 2011, companies here have created more than 200,000 new jobs, and our GDP and personal income growth rates rank first and second in the Southeast. Interest in our state among businesses from around the world is at an all-time high, and we’ve been named the economic development “State of the Year” the past two years. What’s behind Tennessee’s success? It’s a combination of our outstanding business climate and our businesslike approach to economic development.

Editorial: Red-light camera use should stay city prerogative (Daily News Journal)
Although a frequent complaint of Tennessee legislators is that the federal government is encroaching on its authority with enactment of laws, executive action and administrative polices, they often do not have the same reservations in regard to encroachment on local governments. In the current legislative session, two of the topics receiving the most discussion, so far, are state participation in Common Core State Standards, which opponents contend is a federal mandate; and use of revenue from the federal Affordable Care Act to expand insurance coverage for Tennesseans through Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal.