March 4 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee Promise drives 38,000 FAFSA applications (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Interest in the Tennessee Promise scholarship program has once again outpaced expectations, with more than 38,000 students clearing what state officials call the most challenging hurdle for eligibility. Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause said Tuesday that 38,165 eligible high school seniors had filed their FAFSAs by the program’s Feb. 15 deadline. That’s 65 percent of the program’s original applicant pool of 58,000. Krause said those numbers are encouraging, especially given the complicated nature of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the tipping point it represents for many college students.

Tennessee tops nation in FAFSA submissions (Tennessean/Tamburin)
More than 60 percent of Tennessee’s high school seniors have applied to get federal aid for college so far this year, a rate higher than any other state in the country, according to data from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Nationally, only 25 percent of high school seniors had filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid by Feb. 20. The deadline to submit a FAFSA is May 1. Tennessee has had a high rate of FAFSA completion for many years, but more students have applied earlier in 2015, many of them because of Tennessee Promise’s Feb. 15 deadline. At this time last year, 42 percent of Tennessee’s high school seniors had submitted applications, according to THEC.

1 Out Of 3 Tennessee Promise Applicants Is No Longer Eligible (WPLN-Radio)
The list of students who are eligible for Tennessee Promise now has 20,000 fewer names on it. Nearly every high school senior in the state applied for the free community and technical college program last fall, but a third of them didn’t complete the first mandatory steps. About a quarter of the applicants statewide missed their initial mandatory meeting with a mentor, according to data from Tennessee Promise. Another 11 percent didn’t fill out the application for federal financial aid. Staying Eligible On Monday, students packed into a cafeteria at Nashville’s McGavock High School for their second in-person meeting with a mentor. One of the organizers, Krissy DeAlejandro, took the mic.

Haslam: Stay cautious, avoid risks during winter storm (Tennessean/Meyer)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s biggest concern for the incoming winter storm is weather-weary residents tired of staying home who take unnecessary risks. “People get in trouble when they take risks that they shouldn’t,” Haslam said. “They need to act like this is the first storm, and I know you’re tired of staying home and I know you’re tired of doing all of those things, but keep showing the same precautions that you’ve been showing.” Haslam visited the State Emergency Operations Center at Tennessee Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Nashville on Tuesday.

Governor Urges Vigilance Ahead of Winter Storm (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Governor Haslam urged residents to stay cautious ahead of another round of winter weather expected to hit Middle Tennessee late Wednesday night. Haslam spent part of the day Tuesday touring the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters, where officials have been working around the clock to coordinate first responders following last week’s ice storm. “Unlike with a tornado where the damage is concentrated in a single area, this storm has affected whole counties with damage that spread across large areas making it much more difficult to deal with,” Haslam said.

Manufacturer investing $30 million in Memphis (Memphis Business Journal)
Nearly three years after it acquired Thomas & Betts Corp., ABB, as the company is now known, is planning to expand its operation in Memphis. The company is investing $30 million to build a new manufacturing facility and expansion of its Memphis-based customer experience center in its Low Voltage Products division. When it is completed, the expansion is expected to create more than 200 jobs. The company is also expecting to create 100 more jobs over the next five years.

ABB Creating 200 Jobs in Memphis (Memphis Daily News)
ABB, which bought Memphis-based electrical components maker Thomas & Betts in 2012 for $3.9 billion, is expanding its Memphis-area footprint. The company said Tuesday, March 3, it plans to spend $30 million to build a new manufacturing site and expand its customer experience center for its low voltage products division here. Plans call for creating more than 200 jobs as a result of that investment, with another 100 jobs expected over the next five years.

Overlooked by Mercedes, Haslam weighs in on landing ‘big fish’ automakers (NBJ)
“One of the issues, there aren’t a whole lot of automakers out there that haven’t found a home. We talk a lot to the car makers, but they’re a big fish that only comes along so often.” That’s what Gov. Bill Haslam had to say Tuesday morning about luring automakers to Tennessee in the ongoing high-stakes state vs. state economic development battle. One such big fish, Mercedes-Benz USA, recently announced it is building a new $100 million headquarters in Atlanta. It’s the type of big economic development deal state and local governments thirst over.

Haslam: Association with ‘Obamacare’ doomed Insure Tenn. (N-S/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that “the fear of being associated with “Obamacare” and the lack of trust in the federal government meant” that his Insure Tennessee health insurance plan “was a hard sell to the Legislature,” which killed the program last month. Speaking to about 1,000 Nashville business executives during a breakfast at Lipscomb University, the governor said even though many thought his Medicaid expansion plan (that would have made 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans eligible for health insurance) was a good idea. “The program was a result of the Affordable Care Act, or ‘Obamacare’ as it is known,” he said, and thus “came with a lot of political baggage.”

No presidential bid in 2016, Haslam says (Nashville Business Journal)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he doesn’t have any future political plans in store after he leaves the governor’s mansion. At least, not right now. There will be no presidential bid in 2016, he said Tuesday. “I honestly don’t know and doubt it, just to be frank,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday of a run for the Republican nomination. “That’s the whole process — I see all these [candidates] that are running now and see what they’re going through and know they’re going to go through it for two years. You better really want to do that.”

Haslam: Ways to discuss race other than Facebook (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam says there should be more open conversations about race and that there are means of discussion other than Facebook. The Republican governor was referencing a Facebook post by Republican Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia. Butt’s post said called for a “Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP.” It was a comment on a Jan. 26 open letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations urging potential Republican presidential candidates to reach out to American Muslim voters. Critics say “NAAWP” has been used by white supremacist organizations and stands for the “National Association for the Advancement of White People.”

Haslam: TN needs ‘more open conversations about race’ (Tennessean/Boucher)
Although Gov. Bill Haslam didn’t condemn recent controversial comments from Rep. Sheila Butt regarding the need for an “NAAWP,” the governor did say Tennesseans need to speak openly about issues of race. “My point in this whole thing has been: I honestly think we need to have more open conversations about race in Tennessee and in the country, too, for that matter,” Haslam said Tuesday morning after an event at Lipscomb University in Nashville. “My first point would be Facebook’s not the place to do that. But I think there are some forums where that needs to happen.” Butt, R-Columbia, continues to face criticism for a January post to Facebook.

Haslam selects UTK junior as student trustee to replace Duncan (N-S/Slaby)
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed a replacement student representative to the University Board of Trustees. For the second time, it’s a student not chosen by his classmates in a campuswide election. Jalen Blue replaces junior R.J. Duncan, who resigned less than six months into his two-year appointment. Blue, a junior, attended his first UT Board of Trustees meeting in Memphis last week. “Everyone on the board genuinely cares about students, and it is always great when you are working with people who are just as passionate as you,” Blue said in an email.

Haslam read at Watertown for Read Across America Week (Wilson Post)
Tennessee’s First Lady Crissy Haslam stopped in Wilson County for Read Across America Day. Read Across America Day is a nationwide reading celebration that takes place annually on famed author Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Watertown Elementary School was one of four stops in Tennessee that Governor Bill Haslam’s wife made on Monday. Mrs. Haslam spoke to second, third and fifth grade students during the stop. She said she was invited by educator Jennifer Winfree. “I came to read here about four years ago and she invited me back. I finally got here,” she said.

Why Did February’s Cold Kill So Many? Epidemiologists Investigate (WPLN)
More than a third of February’s weather-related fatalities are blamed on hypothermia. The cold itself was the single most common cause of death in February’s winter blast. Governor Bill Haslam has asked the Department of Health to look into why 11 people froze to death. “We had so many times where power was out for an extended period of time,” Haslam told reporters. “We were trying to get people to leave their homes and come to shelter. Some would and some wouldn’t.” The homeless are most at risk of hypothermia, says Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner.

Bill seeks easier access to investigational drugs (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Tennessee legislators are considering a bill that would give people with incurable diseases the “right to try” investigational medicines not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The House Health Subcommittee on Tuesday rolled the bill over for consideration because amendments had been added to it. Kurt Altman, national policy adviser for the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, advocated for the legislation. The bill would allow patients who have tried other treatment therapies that failed to be prescribed investigational drugs that have passed the first phase of FDA testing, safety checks.

Libertarians Push To Give Terminally Ill ‘Right To Try’ Experimental Drugs (WPLN)
Nashville musician Robert K. Wolf is in a clinical trial, taking a drug so new it doesn’t even have a name yet. His cancer began in the bladder. From there it’s spread — to his bones, his neck and his back. If the clinical trial doesn’t help, Wolf wants the ability to buy drugs that haven’t even reached this stage of testing. “I appreciate that I look healthy, I’m meditating, I’m working on eating right. … But I have to look ahead. Be proactive, find these opportunities, and just say, ‘Look, I’m taking a risk.’” He’s asking Tennessee to become the sixth state to embrace the “right to try”—the idea that patients who have exhausted all other remedies should be free to experiment on themselves with unapproved drugs.

Veterans fundraising bill heads to Senate floor (Tennessean/Barnes)
The amendment that received the most votes in this past election is moving closer to fruition now that the Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved it. Amendment 4 gives veterans groups the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations, or nonprofits, to conduct annual fundraising events such as duck races, cake walks, raffles and other games of chance. The amendment was popular among voters, gaining 69.6 percent of the vote. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe, the primary sponsor of the amendment, won approval of Senate Bill 325. The bill is the final step in ensuring that Amendment 4 is added the state constitution.

Tennessee Senate passes bill allowing veterans group fundraising (TFP)
The final step has been taken by the state Senate to ensure that veterans groups can conduct annual fundraisers for charitable purposes. Senate Bill 325 was passed today, ensuring that Amendment 4 to the State Constitution, which won approval by 69.6 percent of voters in November, will be enacted. “The amendment gives veterans groups the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations to conduct an annual fundraising even like duck races, cake walks, raffles, and other games of chance,” a press release from the state Senate office states.

State committee kills veteran hiring preference bill (Leaf Chronicle)
A bill that would have allowed employers to give hiring preferences to veterans has failed in the Tennessee Legislature. The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, would have allowed such preferences for honorably discharged vets, their spouses, widows and widowers. The House version failed Wednesday “on a quick voice vote with no questions or discussions” in the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee. On Feb. 11, the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, passed in subcommittee and was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

School voucher opponents ready for fight as bill advances (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Anti-voucher groups are digging in for a fight as the second of two almost identical voucher bills easily passed the House Education and Planning Subcommittee by a 7-1 vote. State Rep. Kevin Dunlap, D-Rock Hill, was the lone dissenter. The proposed legislation that passed Tuesday is sponsored in the House by state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and has considerable backing from pro-voucher groups and legislators alike. A separate bill sponsored by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, narrowly passed the Senate Education Committee. The legislators hope to provide low-income students a voucher program to pay for private school tuition with a state-funded scholarship.

Bill keeps judicial discretion in domestic violence arrests (Tennessean/Barchenger)
Judges in Tennessee will retain the authority to waive a 12-hour “cooling off” period after domestic violence arrests, according to the latest draft of a proposed bill. House Bill 41 at first eliminated judicial discretion to release suspects in domestic violence cases before the end of a 12-hour period required by law. That law came under fire after a Nashville case in June. An amendment approved Tuesday keeps judicial discretion, while also adding elements to the law meant to improve transparency and guarantee victims are notified before the hold is waived.

Tennessee lawmakers prepare for onslaught of gun bills (Tennessean/Boucher)
A barrage of proposals aimed at easing restrictions on where and when Tennesseans can carry or have guns is up for debate soon at the General Assembly. Lawmakers were set to consider eight bills Wednesday related to everything from allowing guns on property used by a school to legalizing targets that explode. As of Tuesday afternoon discussion of all but one of those bills has been delayed a week so that lawmakers can hear even more gun-related legislation all on the same day. None of the bills come from Gov. Bill Haslam.

Tennessee lawmakers: Block FCC ruling on broadband (Associated Press/Schelzig)
The Federal Communication Commission ruled last week that cities such as Chattanooga may expand their municipal broadband service, but Tennessee officials who oppose the decision are lining up to block the move. On Tuesday Republican state lawmakers led by Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin urged state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to file a lawsuit challenging the decision as “a violation of state sovereignty.” Slatery said no decision has been made about the state’s next step.

Tennessee officials consider challenge to FCC ruling (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Some Tennessee Republicans are feeling burned by last week’s Federal Communications Commission decision that overrides state law and allows Chattanooga’s EPB to offer lightning-speed municipal broadband outside its service area. “Our state sovereignty rights have been violated,” charged Rep. Jeremey Durham, R-Franklin, on Tuesday as he and colleagues released a letter Tuesday urging state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to appeal the FCC’s 3-2 ruling. In a statement, Slatery said he is weighing options, noting “as we pointed out in our Feb. 5, 2015 letter to the [Federal Communications] Commission, even with purported authorization from the FCC, a local governmental power board would still need state legislative authority to expand its service area.

TN nutritionists ask for school lunch standards to be relaxed (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Nutritionists in Tennessee were among those lobbying Congress on Tuesday to again change school nutritional standards. They said the new rules are costly and unpopular with students. Some Republicans are supporting legislation to relax the rules. This all stems from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to improve the health of American children. Tuesday, a group of nutritionists from Franklin County asked Congress for more flexibility in their school cafeterias. They said one of the requirements is that schools serve 100-percent whole grains in all grain items. But kids in the south don’t eat that way.

Group to hold closed-door security briefing at Tenn. Capitol (Associated Press)
A private group called the Tennessee Task Force on National and Homeland Security is holding a closed-door briefing for lawmakers at the Capitol on Wednesday. Spokesman Jeff Hartline says the group is “all about safety, security and sniffing out threats.” While leaders tout expertise in Islamic terrorism and electromagnetic pulse weapons, Hartline says the group is concerned with all manner of security concerns. According to a provided biography of Jonna Z. Bianco, the director of the Murfreesboro-based group, is a former vice president of a similar national organization created by the electromagnetic pulse caucus of the U.S. Congress.

East Tennessee delegation gives Netanyahu speech high marks (N-S/Collins)
East Tennessee Republicans applauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress, calling it an important message from an important ally. “Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a very strong speech, dispelled any sense of partisanship and focused on what is one of the greatest national security issues of our time,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and part of a bipartisan delegation that escorted Netanyahu into the House chamber for the address. “Israel is a great friend and ally to the United States, and it is important that our relationship remain resilient and unwavering as growing challenges in the Middle East threaten the future and security of both of our nations,” the Chattanooga Republican said.