February 18 TN News Digest

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

TCATs prepare for influx of adult students (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Kimel)
Shelina Green, married with one child, is enrolled in the medical office information program at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville campus, where she attends classes 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on weekdays. She picked the program, in part, because it was affordable and would allow her to finish within five months. After class, she works 3-8 p.m. at Clayton Homes, which allowed her to switch to a part-time schedule to continue her education and is supportive of her new career track, she said. Amanda Coada is learning to become a dental assistant at TCAT, a mission that became more important after she was hit with unexpected medical bills while working at a fast-food restaurant.

Universities Play Up 2-Year Degrees To Attract Tenn Promise Students (WPLN)
The conversation around Tennessee Promise has focused largely on community colleges. What’s lesser known is that the funding can be used at a number of four-year schools in the state as well — specifically, those that offer associate degrees — and some are trying hard to recruit Tennessee Promise students. At Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, the governor’s free community college initiative raised some eyebrows after he announced it. “I must admit, we were a little frightened by it at first,” says Ted Brown, president of the small, Christian four-year school.

TN remains at state of emergency; more than 60,000 without power (WSMV-TV)
All of Tennessee remained at a state of emergency on Tuesday as crews worked to clear roadways, address power outages and help stranded motorists. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency and activated the Tennessee Emergency Management Plan on Monday night. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 61,000 customers were still without power in 17 Tennessee counties. According to TEMA, the highest number of outages were reported in Bedford, Knox, Coffee and Monroe counties. With the threat of roads re-freezing overnight, emergency officials once again urged people to stay home if they can.

Sun helps Tennessee fight storm, but deep freeze looms (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
After a harrowing night on Tennessee’s highways, the state hardly had a chance to regroup Tuesday with an even deeper freeze looming. A day of bright sunshine over Middle Tennessee helped clear primary roadways down to the asphalt. But a state of emergency remained in effect, four Tennesseans died in weather-related crashes, and forecasters warned of a sub-zero chill coming Wednesday. Additional snow or sleet anticipated into the weekend could complicate the cleanup as crews march on against a winter challenge that’s not over yet. “It’s going to be a long couple of weeks,” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said. “While we’ve gotten a slight break in the weather today with the sun coming out, we continue to deal with below-freezing temperatures.”

Storm cleanup hampered by icy weather (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Salt trucks and sunshine went a long way toward clearing the ice from most major roadways in Knoxville and surrounding areas Tuesday, although another arctic front was expected to refreeze the same routes by Wednesday morning. A high near 25 degrees is forecast Wednesday, with as much as an inch of new snowfall across the Tennessee Valley. The threat of more falling tree limbs and downed power lines, already laden with ice, should only increase, however, with wind gusts up to 25 mph also expected throughout the day.

TN lawmakers to return to work after weather delay (Associated Press)
Tennessee lawmakers are looking to get back to work Wednesday after winter weather canceled meetings earlier in the week. State government and the legislative office complex were shuttered Tuesday amid a snow and ice storm around the state. The House also decided to forgo a planned floor session and committee meetings on Wednesday morning before returning to the regular schedule in the afternoon. The Senate plans a full day of work Wednesday. The return to regular business is eagerly awaited by some lawmakers as they want to get their proposed legislation heard in committees and on the floor.

Tennessee AG weighs in on how far abortion restrictions can go (TN/Wadhwani)
With Tennessee voters approving a measure to give lawmakers more power to regulate abortions, the state’s chief attorney has weighed in on just how far those legislators can go without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution. The five-page legal analysis by Attorney General Herbert Slatery III has already prompted some rethinking on one lawmaker’s part. State Rep. Rick Womick, a Republican representing parts of Rutherford County, said Tuesday that he plans to amend a bill he has already introduced to require abortion providers to perform ultrasounds, describe to a woman what is shown in the ultrasounds and turn up the volume so she can listen to the fetal heartbeat if one exists.

Attorney general says Amendment 1 might be toothless (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Attorney General Herbert Slatery says enactment of an amendment to the state constitution does not necessarily mean that courts will uphold proposed restrictions on abortion. The attorney general’s opinion specifically includes proposed legislation mandating “informed consent” counseling and a two-day waiting period for women who seek abortions. Amendment 1 to the state constitution, approved in November, was designed to effectively overrule a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that struck down abortion restrictions enacted by the Legislature. In doing so, the court declared that the state constitution gives women a greater right to abortion than does the U.S. Constitution.

Lawmakers Hit Pause on Common Core Debate (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Armed with complaints from constituents, many Tennessee lawmakers showed up to the capitol for this legislative session ready to debate Common Core Education standards. But then, something changed. Lawmakers put the brakes on House Bill 3, which would have given them more say over what happens with the controversial standards.

Haslam Plan to Scrap ‘Longevity’ Pay Regarded Skeptically by Lawmakers (TNR)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget for the coming fiscal year includes further changes in the way state employees are paid, but he’s already facing bipartisan opposition to the plan from members of the Legislature. In his state-of-the-state address Feb. 9, Haslam proposed directing a little more than $47 million toward state employee pay raises and market adjustments. “That amounts to a three percent pool, but unlike in years past, those won’t be across the board,” the governor said. Instead, he wants to tie the raises to performance. “We have worked hard to bring employee salaries up to be competitive with the private sector,” Haslam said.

Womick: Make gun-carry permits optional (Daily News Journal)
Gun-carry permits ought to be optional, according to state Rep. Rick Womick’s proposed through legislation. “That is what they call a constitutional carry bill,” said Womick, a Republican from Rutherford County’s rural Rockvale community southwest of Murfreesboro. “What this bill would do is allow you to carry a gun without a permit either concealed or or unconcealed. It’s straight Second Amendment is what is.” Womick’s bill, however, worries citizens concerned about guns being too accessible. “I believe every gun owner should require a permit,” said Darrell Bouldin, the second vice chair of the Rutherford County Democratic Party.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick joins global association (TFP)
A real estate company headed by Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick has become an affiliate company of CORFAC International (Corporate Facility Advisors), a global association of independent brokerage firms. The Chattanooga-based McCormick & Co., Commercial Real Estate was started in 2013 after McCormick dissolved a partnership that operated a commercial real estate services firm. His current company serves the office, retail, mixed use and industrial property markets in the region, and also has a property management business unit.

Doctors’ group to visit state Capitol on March 3 (Associated Press)
Doctors from across Tennessee will visit the state Capitol on March 3. The Tennessee Medical Association is the state’s largest professional group for physicians with more than 8,000 members statewide. The group recently announced its top priorities for this year’s legislative session ahead of its annual day on the Hill. Atop the list is a bill that would reduce health insurance companies’ ability to arbitrarily change reimbursement terms in the middle of a contract. TMA gained traction with its Payer Accountability bill in 2014 and has continued discussions with insurance companies during the past several months to try to reach a compromise.

As Tennessee Becomes More Diverse, Republicans Try to Widen Their Tent (WPLN)
“Can I get an amen on this side?” On a July night two summers ago, more than 1,400 Republicans turned out at Nashville’s new convention center for a speech by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. Many were still reeling from the GOP’s drubbing in the previous election – a loss largely attributed to the party’s ossifying base. Scott represented a fresh start. Charismatic, young, African-American. His gospel-inflected message was meant to fire them up. But only a few muted voices answered his “Amen” call. “All right, we’ll just keep working you for a little while,” Scott concluded, bringing a chuckle from the crowd.

Weeks: TN superintendents want to ‘continue the course’ (Tennessean)
The director of the Dickson County School District was one of 114 school district leaders statewide – out of a possible 140 – who signed a letter asking that lawmakers not change Tennessee’s controversial academic standards this legislative session until the completion of state review process. Dickson County Schools Director Dr. Danny Weeks, in agreement with other school superintendents, has pinpointed two main areas of concern with a bill that’s been filed: It would potentially eliminate all the standards which have taken years to implement and begin the process all over again. “Superintendents are simply saying, ‘We believe in the process that is in place. We believe the time for debate over high standards needs to stop – and we need to continue the course,’” Weeks said.

Roane County assessor says state isn’t helping him (News-Sentinel/Fowler)
Roane County Property Assessor David Morgan, struggling to complete the required reappraisal of county properties on time, says the state isn’t providing him with the information he needs to do the job. “This is hurting our reappraisal effort and we cannot afford to continue losing time because the (Division of Property Assessments) refuses to share information with us,” Morgan wrote in an email to county commissioners. “The politics needs to be removed, and we need to be able to obtain the information we need to do our reappraisal timely and accurately,” Morgan wrote. Morgan in another email said he may have the county attorney “file an open records request. This is shameful that we would have to do that.”

Tullahoma Wind Tunnel Back In Service (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
A key wind tunnel is back online at the Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma. In a time of military cutbacks, the tunnel (known as 4T) was closed for two years while it received 33 million dollars worth of upgrades. The 4T is a small wind tunnel, only 4 feet tall. It’s used for fine-tuning details like how weapons separate from military aircraft or whether external materials on a spacecraft can handle the force of liftoff. It’s also nearly 50 years old. Much of the work involved changing computer interfaces and replacing the complex system that precisely directs the fast-moving air. The internal walls were also strengthened so that it can handle higher wind speeds.

Chattanooga among top cities for growing manufacturing (TFP/Flessner)
With Volkswagen driving new industry and EPB’s high-speed Internet propelling digital tech entrepreneurs, Chattanooga is one of the five best cities in the United States for growing manufacturing businesses, according to the editors of Chief Executive magazine. Chief Executive lists Chattanooga among the top cities “that are catching [CEOs’] attention as U.S. manufacturing hotbeds, either traditional-and-growing or up-and-coming.” Chief Executive magazine, a 42,000-circulation magazine targeted at company CEOs, cites both the planned expansion by Volkswagen of America and the city’s efforts to capitalize on the fastest Internet in North America for its optimism about manufacturing growth in Chattanooga.

Alstom cutting 100 jobs at Chattanooga boiler plant (Times Free-Press/Pare)
Alstom Power’s plans to cut 100 jobs at its Chattanooga boiler services plant will leave it with about half the staff it had just two years ago and a fraction of the about 600 workers it employed five years ago. The Riverfront Parkway facility, which makes equipment primarily for coal-fired power plants, will employ about 200 people after the layoffs take place by the end of August, the company said Tuesday. The layoffs are due to reduced workload and low order volume. Next door, at Alstom’s turbomachinery facility, the 150 people working there are about half the number company officials envisioned when that $300 million operation opened in 2010 to make equipment for nuclear power plants.

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: A different way to insure Tennessee (Times Free-Press)
If Tennessee state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, feels like he has a target on his back, it’s no wonder. He was one of the seven state senators in a special committee that last week voted down Gov. Bill Haslam’s carefully considered Insure Tennessee plan that would have offered health insurance for low-income residents in the state who otherwise might not be able to get it. This page believed the pilot program was worth trying for at least the two years in which the federal government would be paying all of the freight, but the senators felt otherwise.

Editorial: Decreeing Bible state’s official book dangerous (News-Sentinel)
The Tennessee General Assembly has a lot on its plate this session. Education funding. Tax issues. Service cuts. There even is a chance, albeit a tiny one, that Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal could be resurrected in some fashion. And then there are the superfluous bills that get filed with some regularity. Such bills have become a tradition in Nashville. Take, for example, a proposal by state Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Bean Station Republican, that would make the Bible the state’s official book.

Editorial: Ketron gets CSX attention with rail plan (Daily News Journal)
An old joke about a farmer and his recalcitrant mule ends with the punch line: “Well, first you have to get its attention.” State Sen. Bill Ketron apparently has gotten the attention of the CSX Corp. with his proposal for a monorail between Murfreesboro and Nashville. Ketron and a CSX official, however, seemed to differ recently on what role the railroad company will play in providing passenger service in the region. Ketron indicated that CSX would be willing to do a feasibility study on providing passenger service between Murfreesboro and Nashville. He said CSX wanted to determine if it owned enough right of way with its current lines to build another line.