February 28 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 announces Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Knoxville (N-S/Marcum)
Knoxville will be home this fall to a national academic program in which middle and high school students learn to start their own businesses, Gov. Bill Haslam announced during a breakfast with the Knoxville Chamber on Friday. The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, will be held over a seven-month period at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business, starting Oct. 12. Pilot Flying J is the presenting sponsor. YEA! was founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester, and the program has been introduced to about 168 communities across the country, according to the program’s website. Knoxville will be the first city in Tennessee to offer the program.

Gov. Haslam announces Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Knoxville (J. City Press)
Knoxville will be home this fall to a national academic program in which middle and high school students learn to start their own businesses, Gov. Bill Haslam announced during a breakfast with the Knoxville Chamber on Friday. The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, will be held over a seven-month period at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business, starting Oct. 12. Pilot Flying J is the presenting sponsor. YEA! was founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester, and the program has been introduced to about 168 communities across the country, according to the program’s website. Knoxville will be the first city in Tennessee to offer the program.

Tennessee confirms additional hypothermia death overnight (Associated Press)
Tennessee officials now say a 30th person has died in relation to severe winter weather this month. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says the death of a 55-year-old man in Bledsoe County overnight was confirmed to be caused by hypothermia. TEMA says at least 11 of the deaths were caused by hypothermia. Several victims died in highway accidents as a result of ice-covered roads or interstates. Some were found dead in their homes after being without heat. At least two were elderly people who were found dead outside their home because they slipped and fell and could not get up.

TEMA: Storm toll back up to 30; Haslam to seek federal disaster dollars (WBIR-TV)
A Bledsoe County man’s overnight death from hypothermia has moved the state’s death toll from ongoing bad weather back up to 30. The man was 55, according to an update Friday from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The toll went down by one on Thursday after authorities determined that a Sevier County man found dead Feb. 20 in his home had died of natural causes and not of hypothermia as first suspected… The Cumberland Plateau has been hard hit by the storms, most recently by a weekend ice storm that downed hundreds of trees and left thousands without power. Crews are still working to restore power in the area served by Volunteer Electric Cooperative. Gov. Bill Haslam toured the area earlier this week, observing damage was more widespread than that which can be seen after a tornado. He reiterated plans Friday to seek federal disaster aid.

Winter storm-related death toll revised, rises to 30 (Tennessean/Buie)
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency twice revised the winter storm death toll on Friday. The agency first reduced the count by one because of new information, but then confirmed that 30 people died because of weather-related causes. The 30th fatality was a 55-year-old Bledsoe County man who died of hypothermia. Authorities said a suspected hypothermia death in Sevier County was actually a result of an aneurysm. The agency said that at least 10 deaths have been determined to be related to hypothermia, and six occurred in weather-related traffic accidents, among other causes. Tennessee remains at a Level II State of Emergency, since 3 p.m. Saturday.

Knoxville THP dispatcher garners statewide award for 2014 (N-S/Jacobs)
Tennessee Highway Patrol radio dispatcher Andrew Lawson knows every day he goes to work the lives of troopers and others depend upon his cool professionalism. During a traffic stop last year on Interstate 75, Lawson’s attention to detail and quick actions probably saved a trooper’s life, state officials said. For his actions on May 2 during an incident in Loudon County where a trooper was dragged by a moving vehicle, Lawson was honored with the 2014 Dispatcher of the Year award. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Col. Tracy Trott, commander of the THP, on Wednesday presented Lawson with the award at a ceremony in Murfreesboro.

Safety officials hope to decrease good Samaritan deaths (WSMV-TV Nashville)
In recent months, several people have been killed or injured while trying to help a stranded motorists. Thursday, a good Samaritan was killed on Interstate 24. It was the fourth incident in less than a year. Last April, a 13-year-old boy was hit and killed while changing his mother’s tire. “He wasn’t afraid to try anything,” said Norbert Braunwalder, the victim’s father. Last November, a 27-year-old man saw a crash on Interstate 40 and wanted to help. He fell several hundred feet off a bridge and died. Last week, Kristi Clark, a trained nurse, and her 10-year-old son Carter Oakley, were hit and killed while trying to help the victims of a rollover crash that happened before their eyes.

TWRA examines fishy outlook for Boone Lake drawdown (Johnson City Press)
While local concern grows over the potential ill effects the Tennessee Valley Authority’s extended repair on Boone Dam may have on local recreation, residences and businesses, a state agency has begun looking into its potential environmental and biological consequences. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is investigating the possible effects the repair could have on local fish populations, with a particular focus on changes in water temperatures and the lake’s surface acreage. TVA officials announced Thursday that Boone Lake would remain drawn down between 1,350 and 1,355 feet above sea level as crews work to find and stop the seepage of water and sediment through the limestone bedrock underneath the dam’s earthen embankment.

Westbound ramp on I-40 will be closed for construction this weekend (CA/Charlier)
Motorists can expect more lane closures and detours this weekend as construction continues on the Interstate 40-240 interchange in East Memphis. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced that the westbound ramp from I-40 onto the north loop toward Little Rock will be closed from 6 a.m. Saturday until 6 p.m. Sunday to allow for the installation of steel bridge beams overhead. Posted detour signs will direct westbound motorists to instead take I-240 south to the Walnut Grove exit, then double back on I-240 north until it merges with I-40 west.

Kentucky man charged with TennCare fraud (Leaf Chronicle)
The Office of Inspector General on Friday announced the arrest of Rene Gonzalez, 44, of Elkton, Ky. He’s accused of falsifying his TennCare application and recertification documents by saying that he lived in Tennessee, even though his residence was actually in Kentucky. During that time, he and his family received TennCare healthcare insurance benefits totaling more than $10,000. Gonzalez is charged with five counts of TennCare fraud and one count of theft of services over $10,000. He was booked into the Montgomery County Jail and has since posted bond. “We intend to prosecute anyone, regardless of where they live, if they lie to get enrolled in TennCare,” Inspector General Manny Tyndall said.

Bid to block health exchange in Tennessee seen as ‘overkill’ (AP/Schelzig)
Some Republican lawmakers still reveling in the recent defeat of a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans are now setting their sights on 230,000 people enrolled through the federal health insurance exchange. State Sen. Brian Kelsey’s latest proposal would ban Tennessee from creating a state-run exchange should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that the federal government can’t pay subsidies in states that declined to set up their own insurance markets. For many Americans, the subsidies make the insurance affordable. “I’m hopeful the plaintiffs will be successful in this case and it will blow up Obamacare,” said Kelsey, R-Germantown.

Ban the cam?: Bill aims to prohibit use of traffic cameras (TFP/Brodgon)
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire says traffic cameras are Big Brother, with an eye on your life and a hand in your pocket, and he wants no more of them. In “Tennessee Freedom from Traffic Cameras Act,” the Chattanooga Republican calls traffic cameras “a form of mass surveillance over ordinary and innocent Tennessee motorists.” He says they deny people’s constitutional right to face and cross-examine their accuser in court, “because the accuser is a machine.” And the money generated by the tickets often goes to out-of-state companies, he adds. “Millions of dollars every year leave our economy at the cost of our constitutional rights and the aforementioned constitutional rights do not have a price-tag,” according to the proposed law.

Tenn. attracting flurry of visits from potential GOP presidential contenders (AP)
Tennessee has kicked off a flurry of visits from potential Republican presidential candidates, including one next month in Memphis. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke at the National Religious Broadcasters meeting in Nashville this week, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are scheduled to appear next month. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been signed up as the headliner for the Tennessee Republican Party’s annual fundraiser on May 30 in Nashville.

OPINION

Guest columnist: Higher standards in K-12 key to students’ future success (L. Dem)
Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam made a significant investment in the future of Tennesseans when he signed the Tennessee Promise program into law. This program, which offers future graduates of any Tennessee high school the opportunity to receive two years of community or technical college tuition-free, will surely open doors for thousands of young men and women to get the education they need to start their careers and find good-paying jobs. Already, more than 58,000 current high school seniors – more than 90 percent – applied for the program, reflecting the intense desire and interest that exists in pursuing some form of training or education after high school.

Lamar Alexander: Change FAFSA form, eliminate college barrier (Tennessean)
Now that Tennessee Promise guarantees every Tennessee high school graduate two years of tuition-free community college, the main obstacle standing between a Tennessee high school graduate and two years of free higher education is a ridiculously complex federal form. A solution, introduced by a bipartisan group of United States senators, would reduce the application to only what is necessary — as few as two questions. The FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid — is a 108-question form that about 440,000 Tennessee families fill out every year to obtain a federal grant or loan for college.

Editorial: Feds, state have mutual goals on education standards (Tennessean)
Meeting Sen. Lamar Alexander for the first time recently gave me an opportunity to indulge in three of my favorite things: bus rides, chocolate milkshakes and education policy. On Feb. 20 at about a quarter to 1 in the afternoon, I took the No. 7 Nashville MTA bus from The Tennessean to Noshville, where we met. He ordered his milkshake first, and I figured, why not? Then the serious business started, focusing around higher education regulations, federal financial aid for college and Common Core. Now that Republicans dominate the U.S. Senate, Alexander is the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (yes, the acronym is HELP), and he is in a position to influence the state of education in this nation for generations to come.

Editorial: Undermining Children’s Insurance (New York Times)
Senior Republicans in Congress are seeking major changes to the Children’s Health Insurance Program when the program’s money runs out in September. Their proposal, labeled a “discussion draft” for legislation yet to be written, could deprive more than a million children of insurance or force their families to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for their coverage. It also would shift costs to states, which would be left holding the bag to pay for the children’s insurance or for the care of the children as uninsured patients. The draft is being circulated by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Representative Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, chairman of the health subcommittee.