March 1 TN News Digest

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

Haslam discusses importance of electing good leaders (Jackson Sun)
Gov. Bill Haslam discussed Insure Tennessee, the Common Core and the importance of electing the right leaders Saturday at the Madison County Republican Party Reagan Day Dinner at the Carl Grant Events Center at Union University. Haslam gave an interactive talk at the dinner and allowed time for questions and answers. “You are all here because you care who gets elected,” Haslam said. “…What difference does it make who we elect?” Haslam said it matters for two reasons. One reason is so that good policies are made at the state level, and the other is to provide an example of making tough decisions. Several of those tough decisions were discussed.

Gov. Haslam awards local businessman (WBBJ-TV Jackson)
Governor Bill Haslam visited the Hub City for a special occasion. The statesman was the keynote speaker for Saturday’s Reagan Day Dinner on the Union University campus. Governor Haslam presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Jackson businessman Sammie Arnold. Governor Haslam also took questions from the audience on topics about education and even the recently opposed Tenncare health insurance plan. “We can’t give up the hope that we can find a better way to cover people. Right now it’s about 280,000 people that would’ve been affected. Those folks aren’t going to get health insurance, but they’re showing up at Mr. Arnold’s hospital and in the emergency room,” said Governor Haslam.

Winter storms costing state but officials say too early for estimates (N-S/Locker)
State officials say it’s too early to estimate the costs of responding to and repairing damage caused by two weeks of ice, snow and freezing temperatures — but that number’s likely to be high. Since the first severe winter weather crossed into Tennessee on Feb. 16 and moved eastward in successive waves, state, local and volunteer work crews have worked nonstop to help stranded motorists, check on people in remote areas, open shelters, clear roadways, remove downed trees and other debris, and repair power lines, potholes and other damage. Gov. Bill Haslam, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and other state agencies say cost estimates haven’t been compiled, but the Tennessee Department of Transportation, or TDOT, reported Friday that its costs totaled nearly $11.3 million in labor, equipment and material for anti-icing, de-icing, plowing snow and other activities for the first week of the bad weather.

State offers tips on filing storm-related damage claims (News-Sentinel)
February’s winter storms brought snow, ice and freezing temperatures to East Tennessee and in some cases left damaged cars and homes in their wake. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance offers the following tips for residents to deal with property or automotive damage claims When a home is damaged, residents should call their insurance company or agent with their policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible. Residents should take photos or video of all damage. Residents should make repairs necessary to prevent further damage, such as covering broken windows, leaking roofs or damaged walls. Do not make permanent repairs until the insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs.

Snowstorm 2015: the winners and the losers (Tennessean/McGee)
As Nashville emerges from its shroud of snow and ice, some businesses are licking their wounds from the nearly two weeks of wintry chaos while others are celebrating an unexpected boon to their bottom line. The outcome was not industry specific, and in some cases the ability to thrive versus survive came down to geography and walkability. Neighborhood bars were packed, while downtown resembled a ghost town. Plumbers’ lines rang off the hook as construction businesses waited out the elements. Liquor stores saw a steady flow of customers while salons hustled to reschedule clients.

TDEC, environmental groups uneasy partners in court (Tennessean/Wilemon)
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and environmental groups are uneasy partners in a lawsuit against TVA. Attorneys with Southern Environmental Law Center first filed notice with TVA that they intended to sue the agency under the federal Clean Water Act on behalf of Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association. But before that lawsuit could go forward, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation stepped in and filed a lawsuit against TVA in Davidson County Chancery Court.

TDOT studies feasibility of water-taxi service on Memphis riverfront (CA/Charlier)
Memphis officials envision the day when a fleet of water taxis will ply the city’s riverfront, ferrying visitors from Beale Street Landing to Mud Island River Park, to Bass Pro Shops and beyond. But before that can happen, officials need to know what type of vessels should be used, the docking facilities that will be needed, the projected number of riders, and how much the service will cost. Those are the kind of details to be examined in a feasibility study being conducted by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The study is expected to take about six months, and the taxis could be operating within 18 months. The water-taxi service is an initiative of the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit agency under contract with the city to oversee parks and amenities along the Mississippi River.

Bills would block Tennessee health insurance exchange (Times Free-Press/Sher)
A state senator who played a key role in the death of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to extend Medicaid to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans now is targeting 230,000 people already covered under the federal health insurance exchange. Sen. Brian Kelsey’s bill would block Tennessee from creating its own state-run exchange if opponents to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, lose their latest legal challenge. But the Germantown Republican faces opposition not only from Haslam and Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, but from Kelsey’s own House sponsor, who said he “[doesn’t] really plan to run it as is.”

Tennessee not on board with expanding passenger train service (CA/Bailey)
A passenger train advocate last week urged the agency controlling Central Station to consider the future growth of Tennessee and Arkansas’s passenger traffic in redeveloping the historic building for other uses. But state transportation officials told The Commercial Appeal that re-establishing or expanding passenger systems is too expensive to carry out in the foreseeable future. “It would be fabulous to see this,” Liza Joffrion said of reconnecting Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga with passenger train service. “But given the funding that we know about today, it’s not something that looks like can happen,’’ said the multimodal resources director at the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

UTC faces 2nd Title IX complaint (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Wiseman)
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is already grappling with a federal investigation into its handling of a 2014 campus rape allegation. Now another complaint has been filed by more women who say the university mishandled a slew of sexual harassment allegations. Beginning in October, several female students went to the University Women’s Center to report that a male student was harassing them before and after classes in the English department. They complained that they could see pornographic images on the personal computer he used during class, that he followed a female student to her car, that he verbally abused them and that he told his classmates he was carrying a knife.

Corker hits Obama veto threat on Iran bill (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has responded to President Barack Obama’s veto threat against his bipartisan bill requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. “It is disappointing that the president feels he is the only one who speaks for the citizens of our country,” said Corker, R-Tenn. “Congress put these sanctions in place and helped bring Iran to the table with the administration working against the effort the whole way. As a result, Congress should decide whether a final nuclear deal with Iran is appropriate enough to have the congressionally mandated sanctions removed.”

Alexander votes for DHS funds (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he voted Thursday for a bill to stop Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” that would grant temporary legal status and work permits to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. But he also voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Some Republicans had tried to block DHS funding to pressure Obama to stop his immigration actions. Alexander, R-Tenn., said he voted against “amnesty” because “our Founders did not want a king, and the American people don’t want a president who acts like one.” He added, “I also voted to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is critical to the defense of our country — both to securing the border and in the fight against terrorism.”

Arsenic in water from coal ash at center of TVA dispute (Tennessean/Wilemon)
John Kammeyer compares the environmental pollutants in a coal ash pond to the minerals in a bottle of vitamins. Photocopied and enlarged, the list of supplements is the first evidence he presents to show that concerns are overblown about the Gallatin Fossil Plant contaminating the source of drinking water for almost 1 million people. As the engineer in charge of coal combustion products for the Tennessee Valley Authority, he speaks confidently and assertively even when talking about arsenic. Arsenic is not a vitamin supplement, but it is produced by coal-fired power plants and found in the resulting waste. Coal ash is that byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity.

Retirement benefits obligations loom for school districts (C. Appeal/Pignolet)
As debate raged for several weeks over the idea of spending up to $400,000 to change school start times next year, Germantown Municipal School District Supt. Jason Manuel continued to bring up one major sticking point. In 16 months, the district is going to be required to have a plan to pay out roughly $15.5 million in post-employment benefits. The daunting number was a large part of the reason the board voted 3-2 not to fund start time changes, and likely will continue to cripple the district’s funding wish list for years to come. Under federal guidelines, the district has until July 2016 to develop a 30-year plan to pay these benefits — referred to as OPEB (other post-employment benefits) because they are benefits other than pensions, such as health, dental and life insurance.