February 17 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to headline Lipscomb business breakfast (Tennessean)
Gov. Bill Haslam will be the featured speaker at Lipscomb University’s Nashville Business Breakfast at 7 a.m. on March 3 in Allen Arena. The university invited Haslam for many reasons, including his launch of the Tennessee Promise program, which is the only program in the country to give every high school graduate a chance to earn a higher education certificate or degree free of charge. The Nashville Business Breakfast is a quarterly networking event presented by Lipscomb and the Nashville Business Journal.

Education commissioner begins tour to connect with teachers (AP)
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candace McQueen plans to connect with at least 10,000 teachers by the end of the calendar year. The commissioner kicked off a statewide tour in her hometown of Clarksville last Friday. She visited three schools, two of which she attended growing up. During her visits, McQueen spent time with teachers, students and administrators, listening to stories of their successes and challenges. A former educator and teacher of teachers, McQueen says she never feels far from the classroom.

Education commissioner begins statewide classroom tour (Tennessean/Barnes)
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen plans on connecting with 10,000 teachers within the state by the year’s end. McQueen kicked off her statewide tour Friday by visiting three schools in her hometown of Clarksville, two of which – Burt Elementary and Northeast High – she once attended as a student. She spent time visiting with teachers, students and administrators, listening to their successes and challenges. “I believe it is critical to listen to Tennessee teachers and engage them in policy discussions because they will be living it out in their classrooms,” McQueen said in a news release.

State of emergency declared in Tennessee after storm brings icy conditions (AP)
A state of emergency has been declared as a winter storm making its way across Tennessee has led to poor road conditions and major traffic problems. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency issued the declaration at 9 p.m. Monday. The agency said in a statement posted online that the declaration came as motorists were backed up on Interstate 40 and part of I-24 was closed due to an earlier backup. TEMA has requested that the state National Guard deploy a 10-person crew with Humvees for motorist wellness checks. Weather forecasters earlier urged motorists to stay off the roads. A wintry mix of sleet and freezing rain was expected to create up to a half-inch of ice on roads in parts of Middle Tennessee, and three-quarters of an inch in parts of West Tennessee.

State of emergency declared after storm brings icy conditions (News-Sentinel)
Tennessee declared a state of emergency late Monday night as roads across the region quickly deteriorated due to icy conditions. The state of emergency was declared at 10 p.m. by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. TEMA is asking for National Guard assistance in several counties hit hardest by the winter storm. “The road conditions in Tennessee are deteriorating rapidly, motorists are backed up on two major Interstates, and a number of counties are requesting assistance with various response actions,” TEMA wrote on its website. Much of the aid is focused on Middle Tennessee, which was hit hardest by the storm.

Tennessee declares state of emergency as roads deteriorate (Tenn/Gonzalez)
Tennessee declared a state of emergency Monday night, citing rapidly deteriorating road conditions and major interstate traffic problems. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency activated its emergency management plan at 9 p.m., calling on the Tennessee National Guard for aid and sending assistance to several counties where interstate crashes occurred. “The road conditions in Tennessee are deteriorating rapidly, motorists are backed up on two major interstates, and a number of counties are requesting assistance with various response actions,” TEMA stated. Among problems: • I-40 eastbound at mile marker 156 in Hickman County was backed up 12 miles into Humphreys County around mile marker 152. • I-24 westbound from the 96 mile marker to I-840 is to be closed due to crashes and a previous backup.

State of emergency declared in Tennessee because of storm (CA/Locker)
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency Monday night because of deteriorating road conditions, and asked for National Guard help for motorists backed up on Interstate 40 in Hickman and Humphreys counties and I-24 in Coffee and Rutherford counties. TEMA reported the backup on eastbound I-40 as 12 miles long, starting at mile marker 156 in Hickman County. I-24 westbound from mile marker 96 to I-840, near Murfreesboro, was shut down. TEMA initially asked for a 10-person crew from the Tennessee National Guard, deployed in five Humvees, for wellness checks of motorists stranded in the I-40 backup, about 55 miles west of Nashville and 140 miles miles east of Memphis.

Tennessee declares state of emergency (Daily News Journal)
Due to hazardous weather conditions and treacherous roads, Tennessee declared a state of emergency late Monday night. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency activated its emergency management plan at 9 p.m., calling on the Tennessee National Guard for aid and sending assistance to several counties where interstate crashes have occurred, according to The Tennessean. According to a TEMA news release, I-24 West from the 96 mile marker to SR 840 will be shut down due to crashes and a previous back up. Emergency crews were working several wrecks along Interstate 24 and State Route 840 as late as 10:30 p.m., according to scanner traffic.

TDOT crews working overtime to clear roads (WSMV-TV Nashville)
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is keeping its salt trucks and plows on continuous routes on Monday. TDOT crews are focusing on interstates then states routes as their highest priority. TDOT had 40 to 50 workers running loops through Davidson and Williamson counties, clearing ice and slush from the roads. Salt truck driver Alfred Hill’s day began at 10 p.m. Sunday. He said the bad weather came out of nowhere at about 2:30 a.m. Monday. “I just take my time, move slow and do my job,” Hill said. Hill said with it being President’s Day, there wasn’t much of a morning rush hour. Most people stayed home, giving road-clearing crews a good head start.

TDOT Crews Prep For Winter Weather (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)
Keeping the roads dry and clear, that’s the goal of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Crews working the Hamilton county region worked over the weekend in preparation for Monday’s weather event. The trucks were running and drivers ready for action early Monday morning. “Loaded the trucks up with salt and got them prepared for salting operations. We’ve had to move some equipment around to satellite salt bins,” said Chris Smith with the Tennessee Department of Transportation. He says there are about 20 trucks to cover the Hamilton County area. “We do interstates and the state routes outside the city of Chattanooga,” said Smith. The road treatment process began days ago. On Friday, crews laid a brine and beet juice solution to the roads.

Behind The Scenes With TDOT (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)
Prepping the roads is not the only thing the Tennessee Department of Transportation takes care of. They are also watching the roads behind the scenes, ready to act when they are needed. Monday, workers with TDOT watched the road conditions on more than 100 cameras across the Chattanooga area. They have been working through Sunday night, and into Monday, monitoring the changes in weather and the roads. “We were anticipating freezing rain. So we’re here, at the station, and ready if it comes,” said Ken Flynn the regional director of operations.

TEMA Remains at Level IV-Elevated (WZTV-TV Nashville)
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency continues to stay at Level IV-Elevated. The agency says despite snowfall accumulations not hitting predicted totals, widespread sleet, freezing rain and ice has made travel “treacherous.” Four shelters have been opened in Caryville, Rockwood, Jellico and Monteagle. 18 others remain on standby. Power outages and road conditions are the primary issues at this time.

Tenn. Legislature closed Tuesday due to inclement weather (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Legislature will be closed Tuesday because of inclement weather. The speakers of the House and Senate sent emails saying there will be no legislative meetings in Nashville requiring the attendance of lawmakers or staff. They said they would monitor the weather to see if committee meetings would resume on Wednesday and the rest of the week. For Tuesday, employees will be excused with full pay and will not be charged vacation or compensatory time for the absence. Most of the state was blanketed with a wintry mix of sleet, freezing rain and snow on Monday.

Holiday Sales Tax Collections Bolster Tennessee Revenues (Associated Press)
Tennessee’s general fund tax collections in January were $214 million higher than projected in January on strong consumer spending over the holiday season and unexpected corporate tax payments. The tax collections reflecting economic activity in December bring the state’s total revenues to $323 million more than expected through the first half of the budget year. Sales taxes grew 7.8 percent in January, the highest rate in 33 months. Finance Commissioner Larry Martin says the reduction in the jobless rate and lower gas prices helped spur spending.

UT celebrates faculty this week (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
This week is faculty appreciation week at the University of Tennessee. It’s the sixth annual week that celebrates faculty work in the classrooms, laboratories and community as well as the awards they’ve won. The week features events such as presentations and faculty appreciation at the women’s basketball game at 7 p.m. Thursday. The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture also plans to extend the week with a reception and tours from 5 to 7 p.m. March 5.

3 names submitted for court vacancy in 3rd District (Associated Press)
The names of three people have been forwarded as nominees for a vacancy in the circuit court of the 3rd Judicial District. The three are Kenneth Newton Bailey Jr. and Linda Thomas Woolsey, both of Greeneville, and Beth Boniface of Morristown. The vacancy was created by the death of Judge Mike Faulk in November. The 3rd District serves Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments met last Tuesday in Greeneville for a public hearing and conducted interviews of candidates for the vacancy.

Bill would force referendums for major debt projects (Tennessean/Garrison)
Nashvillians would have the final say the next time their mayor wants to build an arena, football stadium or convention center if a newly filed state bill clears the Tennessee General Assembly. State legislation introduced by rookie Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and co-sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, in the House, would force local governments in Tennessee to get approval from voters before moving forward on projects or facilities that would create debt that totals 10 percent or more of its annual operating budget. Harris, a former Memphis city councilman who is the Senate’s new Democratic leader, said the idea is to generate greater public input for projects that require cities to pay off debt years down the road.

Womick seeks to end numeric evaluation of teachers (Daily News Journal)
Tenured teachers and principals would be evaluated on whether they “exceed,” “meet” or “are below expectations” instead of using a numeric system if state Rep. Rick Womick’s bill becomes law. “This is the same bill I filed last year,” said Womick, a Republican from Rutherford County’s rural Rockvale community southwest of Murfreesboro. “This bill was written by Rutherford County teachers and Rutherford County principals. It makes sense to me.” A former public schoolteacher and coach from Ohio, Womick said he brought the bill back up to see if it has a chance to pass this year after it was flagged by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in 2014 to prevent it from becoming law.

Tenn. lawmakers seek to legalize up to half ounce of marijuana (WKRN-TV)
Two Tennessee lawmakers have introduced companion bills that would legalize the possession and casual exchange of up to half an ounce of marijuana. The bills, proposed by Rep. Harold Love of Nashville and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, also of Nashville, would amend the Tennessee Code to allow possession and casual, non-monetary exchange of small amounts of marijuana. Possession, casual exchange or distribution of one ounce or more would then become a misdemeanor with a $100 fine. The amendment would not affect “non-leafy, resinous material containing tetrahydrocannabinol (hashish),” which would still be illegal in any amount without a prescription. If passed, the amendment would take effect on July 1.

State Inspector ‘Discouraged’ From Citing Lawmaker (WTVF-TV Nashville)
A state lawmaker, who pumped more than a half million gallons of hog waste into a creek, denies he received special treatment from state regulators. But a NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered one state inspector was told by his managers to look the other way. Not only did state Rep. Andy Holt go for years without the proper permit for his hog farm, an inspector with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) found he improperly dumped dead hogs and contaminated a creek for more than a mile. But the inspector wrote that upper management at TDEC discouraged enforcement action.

Luttrell Scolds State Legislators (Memphis Daily News)
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says the political forces that defeated the Insure Tennessee proposal of Gov. Bill Haslam this month in Nashville weren’t in a fight with Washington and President Barack Obama. “This is not us against Washington,” Luttrell said on the WKNO TV program Behind The Headlines. “This is us against ourselves. And we have got to convey to the public a little bit better that if we don’t do something about this, then the consequences are going to be felt at the local level either through uninsured care or higher taxes or both.” The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Insure TN supporters will continue push for ‘as long as it takes (N-S/Humphrey)
While Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal is apparently dead for the current legislative session, a spokesman for a group advocating Medicaid expansion says its efforts will continue for “as long as it takes” — even if that means years rather than months. Business leaders backing Haslam’s proposal and supporting the Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee reacted with “incredulity” when a Senate committee killed Insure Tennessee just two days into a special session devoted to the subject despite their view that adopting the governor’s plan seemed an “easy choice” that would benefit the state economically and socially at no cost to state taxpayers, said Joe Hall.

E-911 radio system needs replacing quickly, say officials (News-Sentinel/Jacobs)
One major breakdown or natural disaster can throw Knox County’s emergency radio system into turmoil. With the loss of one key radio transmission site, each emergency agency in the city and county would be thrown into “failsoft” mode, a technical term meaning each agency would have access to a single radio frequency for communications. Scores of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters would key up their radios only to be greeted with an annoying honking sound somewhat similar to that of a goose, rather than the friendly chirp that indicates they are connected to their communications lifeline. That radio loss, if caused by a major storm, tornado or act of terrorism, would occur at the very time emergency responders need communications to coordinate their responses, said Bill Witt, services manager with the Knox County E-911 Center.

Alexander says he has plan to control UPF costs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who heads the powerful Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee that controls funding for the Department of Energy, said he has a plan to bring the Uranium Processing Facility to completion on time and within a budget cap of $6.5 billion. His plan includes drawing on advice from newly confirmed Defense Secretary-designate Ashton Carter. Tennessee’s senior senator supported Carter’s nomination and said his experience would be valuable during a “critical time.” In a telephone interview, Alexander said he and Carter spent about 45 minutes last Wednesday in the senator’s office talking about nuclear deterrence. “I asked him for his best advice on our nuclear weapons modernization program,” the senator said.

Deadline extended after weekend HealthCare.gov glitches (TFP/Belz)
Website glitches and long wait times tripped up many shoppers in their last-minute sprint to buy health insurance this weekend through HealthCare.gov before Sunday’s deadline, enrollment workers and federal officials said. Because of this, the Obama administration announced Monday that it would allow a special enrollment period for applicants who were unable to complete their enrollment because of the holdups. The special enrollment period began Monday and ends Sunday, Feb. 22, and applies to people who began the application process but were unable to finish it because of the technical setbacks. The problems with the site stemmed from a Saturday outage of an Internal Revenue Service function, which is supposed to verify applicants’ income.

Coca-Cola Considers Relocation, Consolidation (Memphis Daily News)
Coca-Cola Refreshments USA Inc. is considering a $4.8 million project to consolidate distribution operations in Memphis and West Memphis, Ark., into one facility in Memphis, according to application for a tax freeze. “The new consolidated distribution center would provide increased operational efficiencies as it would eliminate extra product movements, streamline operations and allow Coca-Cola to better serve the surrounding region,” the beverage giant said in an application for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes application to the city-county Economic Development Growth Engine. “The PILOT incentives would increase the financial feasibility for this capital project and ensure the distribution operations remain in Memphis, Tennessee instead of being moved to Arkansas or Mississippi.”

UAW rival ACE certified at VW’s Chattanooga plant (Times Free-Press/Pare)
A rival labor group to the United Auto Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant has qualified for limited organizing rights at the factory. The American Council of Employees was certified by VW as having membership at least 15 percent of hourly plant workers, said Maury Nicely, an attorney for the group. Also, ACE was certified as having the at least 15 percent of salaried employees as well, he said. Late last year, the UAW went through the same procedure, and auditors determined that UAW had gathered signatures from at least 45 percent of the plant’s blue-collar workers. That percentage allowed the union to have regular meetings with Volkswagen officials.

OPINION

Editorial: Requiring voter approval of debt is too restrictive (News-Sentinel)
A freshman state senator from Memphis has proposed requiring voter approval for large local government bond issues. While keeping debt to a manageable level is sound fiscal policy, mandating that cities and counties hold referendums on issuing bonds would hamper their abilities to finance needed capital projects in a timely manner. State Sen. Lee Harris, a Democrat, served on the Memphis City Council until his resignation last month to take his seat in the Capitol. He said he is concerned about local governments going into debt to finance such efforts as the Memphis Fairgrounds redevelopment. Under Harris’ proposal, cities and counties would have to obtain voter approval for bond issues totaling at least 10 percent of their annual operating budgets.