February 24 TN News Digest

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

370 jobs headed to Donelson (Tennessean/Ward)
Pittsburgh-based health care services company has leased 37,345 square feet of space at Two Rivers Corporate Centre in Donelson with plans for a regional operations center that will employ 250 people. The location will be the first in Tennessee for Automated Health Systems Inc., which recently entered a contract with the state to help TennCare beneficiaries with navigating the state’s Medicaid system. The company offers patient advocacy among other services to such public health programs. In addition, health care diagnostic company Covance has signed a 10-year lease to occupy 17,447 square feet of space at the business park at 2501 McGavock Pike.

Up to 370 health care jobs coming to Donelson (Nashville Business Journal)
Two health care companies will be moving as many as 370 jobs to Donelson, located in northeast Nashville. On Monday, SmartSpace Commercial Real Estate announced the related leases for that growth, coming from two unrelated companies: Automated Health Systems Inc. and Covance Inc. (NYSE: CVD). Automated Health signed a five-year lease for 37,000 square feet at Two Rivers Corporate Centre. The Pittsburgh-based company plans to locate 250 jobs in that space, the first time the company has set up shop in Tennessee. Elsewhere in the same office park, Covance signed a 10-year lease for 17,000 square feet.

80 new jobs: Parkdale Mills announces Johnson County expansion plans (JCP)
Johnson County’s largest manufacturer will grow larger this year, adding new equipment, square footage and jobs. According to a new release from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Parkdale Mills, maker of spun yarn for clothing, plans to invest $120 million, add 222,158 square feet to its Mountain City plant and create 80 new manufacturing jobs. The investment will replace all the existing equipment at the factory. Construction for the addition will begin immediately with plans for the new equipment to go online in July.

Haslam: Immigration fight causes ‘real-life’ problems for states (N-S/Collins)
Gov. Bill Haslam and other Republican governors expressed frustration Monday that the fight over immigration and other ideological battles playing out in Washington often results in real-life consequences for the states. “We end up having to deal with the real-life problems,” Haslam said, as another impasse over immigration threatened to shut down the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Funding for the department will run out on Friday, and thousands of workers will be furloughed and others forced to work without pay unless lawmakers reach a deal to keep Homeland Security operating.

Southern GOP governors unhappy with Washington (Tennessean/Troyan)
Feuds in Washington over health care and immigration are dumping expensive and complicated federal problems into the laps of governors, three Republican governors from the South complained Monday. After meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, the governors of Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina expressed their frustration with a number of problems, including the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act that could eliminate the federal subsidies people use to buy health insurance… Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, chairman of the RGA, said Obama’s executive order protecting up to 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation derailed chances for a broader immigration solution.

Tennessee Promise bill seeks to benefit military students (Associated Press)
Legislation that would allow military students to maintain a scholarship that covers the costs of a two-year college degree has unanimously passed the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville was approved 32-0 Monday evening. The proposal helps students who are eligible for the Tennessee Promise scholarship but can’t attend college in the fall semester after completion of high school because of certain military commitments. The legislation allows students to enroll the first term after military obligations are met.

Community College Hiring On Hold Until Tenn Promise Numbers Firm Up (WPLN)
\This week we learn just how many of the 57,000 seniors who applied for Tennessee’s free two-year degree program actually followed through with a lengthy financial aid form known as the FAFSA. Community Colleges will need to staff up to meet the demand, but they’ve put off some hiring until numbers firm up. As the numbers winnow down, Motlow State in Tullahoma plans to reach out directly to prospective students to ask what they plan to study, says president MaryLou Apple. “If we see a large spike, we’re pretty sure they’re coming, we’re going to have a heavy load – let’s just say – in English, I think we’re setting ourselves up to make some investments in that,” Apple says.

Winter storm’s death toll in Tennessee rises to 27 (Tennessean/Cowan, Meyer)
State officials say 27 people have died as a result of the ongoing winter weather that has pummeled the state for the past week. Most of those deaths were the result of hypothermia, according to a Tennessee Emergency Management Agency list, and have taken place in counties around Tennessee since Feb. 16. The most recent storm victim was a 79-year-old Polk County man, whose death is being classified as weather related until a more specific cause can be determined, according to TEMA. The majority of the remainder died in car crashes, though a 67-year-old Hickman County man died after he was unable to get dialysis treatment and three people in Knox County were fire victims.

Program seeks to improve teacher leadership opportunities (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Department of Education is launching a new program to improve teacher leadership opportunities. The department is partnering with Hope Street Group, a national nonprofit organization known for its teacher engagement work, plus the Tennessee Education Association and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education to bring the program to the state. Hope Street Group will select teachers this spring to participate in the 12-month fellowship, which will commence in summer 2015. Fellows will be given the opportunity to attend professional development trainings, engage with their colleagues and collect data and feedback from teachers.

UTC proposes early retirement offer as part of ‘budget rebalancing’ (TFP/Omarzu)
Roughly 340 employees at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga could get six months’ pay as a bonus for retiring early, under a proposal that UTC Chancellor Steve Angle is expected to make Wednesday to the UT Board of Trustees during its two-day winter meeting in Memphis. If the UT Board approves Angle’s proposal Thursday, it could help with UTC’s “budget rebalancing” process underway now to reallocate $5.5 million, or about 5 percent of the university’s overall budget, which will hold steady while some departments get more funding as others get less. UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell couldn’t say Monday how much the early retirement offer could save UTC, because the university doesn’t yet know how many people may accept the offer.

University to launch new emergency-alert testing process (Daily News Journal)
MTSU is launching a new emergency-alert testing process that will allow the university community to ensure that students, faculty and staff are staying safe by receiving urgent communications properly each semester. Beginning at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, MTSU’s Critical Notification System, provided by Rave Mobile Safety, will send a test message to the university’s 26,300-plus registered users via email, text and automated phone calls, according to a news release. The university’s website, http://www.mtsu.edu, its MTSUNews.com news site, and all electronic signage around the Murfreesboro campus will display the message just as they do during an actual emergency alert, along with university social media.

In fight for Sonya, foster family could be out of options (Associated Press/Loller)
A Tennessee foster family fighting to recover the little girl they raised from infancy could be out of options after a judge ruled that Sonya McCaul no longer needs to be looked after by the state. Tennessee Department of Children’s Services took custody of Sonya in 2005, when she was just 1 year old. That happened after a baby-sitter brought the child to Tennessee from Nebraska and then failed to take her back. While in DCS custody, Sonya was raised for eight years by foster parents David and Kim Hodgins. But after a protracted legal battle, a Dickson County juvenile court judge sent the girl to live with her birth father in Omaha, Neb., for what was essentially a trial home visit in January 2013.

Task begins of filling potholes throughout West Tennessee (Jackson Sun)
Some of Jackson’s main thoroughfares targeted for salting as recent as Friday had city street workers make a return trip to patch potholes Monday. “The worst is yet to come,” Buddy Crick, deputy superintendent of city streets said. “We fought snow, ice and flooding over the weekend, but winter to spring, when dealing with potholes, we usually know this is the worst time of year.” Crick said the process is the same each year. “Water gets down into the pothole and freezes and expands,” Crick said. “When it starts thawing, it will expand and (asphalt) pops out. We use a cold-mix, which is not permanent.”

Teacher grades, cannabis oil: 5 bills to watch this week (Tennessean/Boucher)
Proposals changing teacher evaluations and legalizing cannabis oil for medical use highlight the hefty workload state lawmakers face as they return to Nashville after a week shortened by winter weather. Although dozens of bills are slated for discussion in the 38 committee meetings scheduled this week, here are five that are sure to garner some attention: 1) Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed changes to teacher evaluations Haslam wants to temporarily roll back the amount student test scores play in teacher evaluations. The move comes with Tennessee’s shift to a new standardized test. Haslam said teachers are nervous they’ll be judged too harshly on a new assessment.

Capitol Hill Conversation: Most Talked About Bills If They Have A Chance (WPLN)
Tennessee legislators will spend at least a little time in the coming weeks considering whether the state could use an official book, vaping regulations and paychecks for college athletes. While lawmakers didn’t get much done last week because of the ice and snow, the deadline for filing bills has come and gone.

Should a sniper rifle be lauded in Tennessee? (Johnson City Press)
State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, is sponsoring a bill to include a sniper rifle in the same ranks as tomatoes, the “Tennessee Waltz” and the raccoon. The tomato has been designated Tennessee’s official fruit, “Tennessee Waltz” is one of several official state songs and the raccoon is the state’s official wild animal. Now, Van Huss hopes to make the Barrett Model 82A1 rifle Tennessee’s official firearm. As Press Assistant News Editor Nathan Baker reported last week, the 50-caliber semiautomatic sniper rifle has an effective range of more than a mile and is used by military fighters the world over mostly against enemy equipment, incapacitating trucks, radar installments and stationary aircraft from long distances.

150 Ex-Lawmakers, Including Felons, Receive Health Insurance From State (WPLN)
Nearly a decade after they were punished for bribery, two former Tennessee lawmakers continue to receive health benefits from the state, placing them among the dozens of ex-lawmakers with coverage. Former state senators Ward Crutchfield and Roscoe Dixon were both convicted of bribery following the 2005 sting called Tennessee Waltz. Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga) served six months’ home detention, and Dixon (D-Memphis), four years in federal prison. But both still receive taxpayer-subsidized health coverage, according to state records released to WPLN.

Tennessee child-care costs catching up to college tuition (News-Sentinel/Williams)
With two young boys, working parents Kristy and Jason Altman calculate they pay more in child care — $1,300 every month — than they do for their home mortgage. “That bill was a big shock when we got the first one — even though I knew the individual costs,” Kristy Altman said. “I can’t imagine what parents with more than three kids do. And ours are four years apart, so we will get a break starting in the fall.” Parents shell out thousands of dollars each year for child care, putting a strain on family budgets. The expense can come as a surprise for some new mothers and fathers, who may still be paying off student loans while also wondering how they’re going to pay for college for their children.

More New Jobs Are in City Centers, While Growth Shrinks in the Suburbs (NYT)
For decades, most Americans working in metropolitan areas have gone to work outside city centers – in suburban office parks, stores or plants, not downtown skyscrapers. But as people increasingly choose to live in cities instead of outside them, employers are following. In recent years, employment in city centers has grown and employment in the surrounding suburban areas has shrunk, a striking change from the years before, according to a report published Tuesday by City Observatory, a think tank. The changes are seemingly small, but they represent an important shift in the American work force. As recently as 2007, employment outside city centers was climbing much faster than inside. Some cities — especially big ones hemmed in by water, like New York and San Francisco — have held onto a large share of employment near the city center.

States Strive to Keep Medicaid Patients Out of Emergency Department (Stateline)
Nearly half the states use higher copayments to dissuade Medicaid recipients from unnecessary visits to emergency rooms, where care is more costly. These states require patients to make the payments, which are as high as $30 per visit in Oklahoma, when it is later determined that they did not experience a true medical emergency. But at least one multistate study has found that charging higher copayments does not reduce emergency department (ED) use by Medicaid recipients. One reason might be that copays are hard to enforce, since EDs are legally obligated to examine anyone who walks through the doors, whether or not they can pay.

OPINION

Editorial: ‘Mocking-bills’ again detract from legislative session (Daily News Journal)
Although some Tennessee residents may know that the “official” state bird is the mockingbird, state legislators seem intent each session on providing any number of “mocking-bills” to designate other “official” things or for other purposes Their intent with these bills may be serious, but the result often is the mocking of their efforts and the state in general. Among this session’s efforts is a bill from state Rep. James Van Huss that provides: “We recognize that our liberties do not come from governments, but from Almighty God, our Creator and Savior.” So much for the First Amendment. The bill, of course, is a statement of philosophy rather than a state constitutional amendment, but it begs a few questions.

Editorial: Corker has to unite Congress on ISIS battle (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
With hearings on the possible use of force against the Islamic State set to begin this week, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is poised to play a huge role in shaping an authorization for military action. Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is following in the tradition of Tennessee statesmen such as Cordell Hull, who was secretary of state during World War II and was instrumental in founding the United Nations. Corker will have to summon all his powers of persuasion and penchant for compromise to forge a resolution that will serve the nation’s security interests and survive partisan attacks from the left and the right.