March 5 TN News Digest

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

Another round of winter weather for Middle Tennessee (Tennessean)
Snow plows and salt trucks are on the streets, and the school buses are staying off the roads as another round of snow and ice strikes the Nashville area. Officials are urging extreme caution and warning of hazardous road conditions…Road conditions The Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Metro Nashville Office of Emergency Management have advised commuters expecting to travel on the roads Thursday morning to exercise extreme caution. Some roads are expected to be covered in layers of ice and snow, possibly not reached by snow plows or salt trucks. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean requested that employers and workers alike leave room for the possibility of a staggered commute, and advised drivers to particularly be careful of side roads.

Recent storms costly: More bad weather expected for area (TFP/Healey)
What a difference a day makes. Just yesterday, people walked around downtown in short sleeves in balmy, albeit overcast weather that reached 73 degrees. With a winter storm watch in effect from 1 a.m. today until 4 p.m., today is a different story. A cold front moved in to the region last night behind rain that the National Weather Service said would “plunge surface temperatures,” leading to freezing rain that is likely to change into sleet and snow over the course of this morning and afternoon. Though accumulations are expected to be low, National Weather Service meteorologist Jessica Winton said that driving conditions could become hazardous.

Winter weather continues (Jackson Sun)
West Tennessee experienced another round of winter weather as Wednesday’s rain turned to sleet and then will turn to snow throughout the night. Heavy rain began to transition to freezing rain and sleet about 5 p.m. Wednesday and will continue until early morning when it transitions to snow. The National Weather Service predicts accumulation of about a tenth of an inch of ice, one to two inches of sleet and two to four inches of snow. A winter storm warning is in effect for West Tennessee through 9 a.m. Thursday. Gusty winds and bitter cold temperatures will accompany the precipitation. Madison County Emergency Management Agency director Marty Clements said he met with several people Wednesday to discuss procedures.

From snow to extreme cold, Clarksville area faces challenges (Leaf Chronicle)
From schools, to shops, to offices – wherever you were on Wednesday, the name of the game seemed to be “beat the storm.” With the prospect of an official Winter Storm Warning looming between 3 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday, many people tried to cram a full-day’s work into a half-day. And with good reason. Total snow and sleet accumulations of 3 to 5 inches were expected when all is said and done sometime Thursday morning, with the highest mid-state snowfall totals close to the Kentucky state line, including the Clarksville area. Additional freezing rain accumulations may be around a tenth of an inch.

Amazon to hire 400 more workers in Chattanooga (Times Free-Press/Pare)
Marissa Johnson had worked for Amazon before, and she’s looking at rejoining the online retailing giant as the company bolsters its Chattanooga workforce by at least 400 more people. “I like the speed of it,” the Chattanooga woman said Wednesday about an earlier stint as a picker. “I don’t mind walking.” Amazon is hiring to fill the full-time jobs at its city distribution center to meet growing customer demand, said Amazon spokeswoman Nina Lindsey. “The new full-time positions are in addition to the hundreds of seasonal associates the facility has converted into regular, full-time roles following the holiday season,” she said. Amazon said its full-time headcount at the Chattanooga center is between 2,500 and 3,000 employees.

Haslam: Being governor less like a CEO, more like a senior pastor (MBJ)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam gave serious thought to becoming a pastor when he was younger. While he steered away from going into the ministry, he considers his current job similar in some respects — though over-the-top preaching from his pulpit as governor, however, has never been in Haslam’s playbook. “People think being mayor or governor is like being the CEO of the city or state,” Haslam told an audience of nearly 1,000 business leaders Tuesday morning at the Nashville Business Breakfast, hosted by Nashville Business Journal and Lipscomb University.

Haslam says he understands UT’s plan for increased enrollment (N-S/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam said he understands the University of Tennessee’s plan to increase enrollment of out-of-state students to increase revenue because the state’s appropriations have dropped. And legislative leaders this week called the plan “a wake-up call” for lawmakers to increase state funding for higher education, which has sharply decreased as a percentage of the costs of running the state’s public campuses. The UT Board of Trustees last week endorsed a multifaceted plan by UT President Joe DiPietro to try to close a $377 million funding gap projected over the next 10 years for the university system.

Jackson couple charged with TennCare fraud (Jackson Sun)
A husband and wife from Madison County are charged with TennCare fraud for not disclosing full information in order to gain healthcare insurance benefits from the state program. The Office of Inspector General, with the assistance of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, announced in a press release Wednesday the arrest of Cynthia Miller, 50 and Gustavie Miller, 49, both of Jackson. Cynthia Miller is charged with TennCare fraud, aggravated perjury, and theft of property. Charges accuse her of falsifying TennCare documents by failing to disclose her marriage and her spouse’s income, which would have made her ineligible for benefits.

House looks to expand Common Core review (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Tennessee House representatives seeking a review of the state’s education standards have decided to expand the process. House education committee Chairman John Forgety, R-Athens, said Wednesday during an education subcommittee meeting he has delayed the bill to create something that will be more amenable. “I have been working collaboratively on an effort to find some legislation that would accommodate many folk,” Forgety said. The hope is changes will help start a review of not only English language arts and math, but also social studies and science standards. The idea is to make the process inclusive of the concerns many have about all state standards, including those not modeled after the controversial Common Core State Standards.

Tennessee school voucher bill advancing in Legislature (Associated Press)
Legislation that would give Tennessee parents the option to move a child from a failing public school to a private school is advancing in the Legislature. The school voucher proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga was approved 8-1 in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday evening. The companion bill passed a House education subcommittee the day before. The legislation is similar to a measure Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed last year that failed. Under Gardenhire’s proposal, eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom 5 percent.

3 Gardenhire school bills pass, 1 fails in state Senate Ed. Committee (TFP/Sher)
A Chattanooga lawmaker was on a roll Wednesday night as the state Senate Education Committee Wednesday approved three of his four bills, including one that would let some undocumented students pay in-state tuition rates to attend Tennessee public colleges. That bill, by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire, won approval on a 6-2 vote with one lawmaker abstaining. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee due to its cost. A fiscal analysis was unavailable on the Legislature’s website. The bill has yet to move in the House. Education Committee members also approved Gardenhire’s proposed school voucher bill.

Tennessee Considers Making The ACT Exam Optional Once Again (WPLN-Radio)
A long-time principal who is now a legislator says too many Tennessee students are blowing off mandatory college entrance exams and dragging down the average score for the state and districts. A dozen states require students to take the ACT, and those states make up the bottom 20 in the country. Tennessee has one of the lowest average scores in the country at 19.8, ranking just behind Kentucky, which also requires all students to take the test. Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) – known as “Coach” in Wayne County – says for years he’s watched students spend five minutes on a test that should take hours, doodling instead of filling in the bubbles.

Tuition equality bill advances in Senate (Associated Press)
Legislation that would make undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition is advancing in the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga passed the Senate Education Committee 6-2 Wednesday evening. A similar measure was withdrawn from the same committee last year by Gardenhire because it didn’t have the votes to pass. Under the proposal, a student must have attended a school in Tennessee for the four years immediately prior to graduation from high school, or have obtained a GED awarded by a state-approved institution or organization.

A Win For Undocumented Students, With Little Dissent (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Undocumented students in Tennessee are one step closer to getting in-state tuition at public colleges. Right now, undocumented students pay out-of-state rates, even if they’re Tennessee residents. That meant 20-year-old Diana Montero couldn’t afford a public university, although she had a 3.8 GPA in high school. Her family came to the U.S. illegally when she was three years old. “I kind of felt left behind,” Montero said. “What about me? I’ve been here for so long. I’ve tried my hardest. What am I doing wrong that I can’t afford this?” She’s now a student at Fisk University, thanks to a private scholarship. But she said she almost cried when the Senate education committee approved a bill Wednesday to give some undocumented students in-state tuition.

Capitol Report: You can “gift” speciality license plates (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
The guns-in-parks bill jumped its first hurdle in the state legislature Wednesday, winning a 4-2 vote in a House subcommittee. The bill removes the authority of local governments like Memphis, Germantown and Shelby counties to ban guns from their local parks. If the bill becomes law, handgun-carry permit holders can legally carry guns into any “public park, natural area, historic park, nature trail, campground, forest, greenway, waterway, or other similar public place that is owned or operated by the state, a county, a municipality” or an agency of any of those entities.

Tennessee Lawmakers Work To End Bans On Guns In Parks (WPLN-Radio Nash)
Tennessee lawmakers are working to strip local governments of the power to ban guns in their parks. A House subcommittee has given initial approval to House Bill 995, which would let people with handgun permits take their weapons into any park in Tennessee. The measure would overturn a 2009 law that opened state parks to guns but let local governments close their parks if they so chose. Rep. Mike Harrison (R-Rogersville) says Tennessee should be consistent about where people can carry guns, especially as the National Rifle Association prepares to hold its annual convention next month in Nashville.

Lawmakers — Led By Republicans — Debate Post-Ferguson Response (WPLN)
Tennessee lawmakers are getting ready to vote on a bill that would require police departments to officially ban racial profiling. The measure is the first of several filed in response to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last summer. Many are backed by Republicans. The Senate is scheduled to hold a final vote Thursday morning on Senate Bill 6, the Racial Profiling Prevention Act. The measure would mandate that every police department in Tennessee write official policies that ban profiling explicitly. The proposal has not been controversial. The Tennessee Highway Patrol and most local police departments already have procedures in place to prevent profiling. But the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis), says Tennessee, with its troubled history on race, can’t assume all police don’t profile.

State Sen. Massey to hold telephone town hall (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, will hold a telephone town hall meeting Thursday evening to talk with citizens regarding issues before the Legislature and listen to their concerns. The call is set for 6 p.m. EST. Citizens may call, toll-free, 877-228-2184, and enter the identification code 112394. “The Legislature is facing decisions that affect all citizens on many important issues such as education, healthcare, public safety, our state budget and job growth,” Massey said. “I want to be open and available to hear from area citizens about these and other important issues. My office will also offer assistance to constituents that call in who need help with state services.”

Students challenge Tennessee over voter identification law (Associated Press)
A group of Tennessee college students wants a federal court to require the state to accept their school identification cards as valid voter identification. The out-of-state students attending Fisk University and Tennessee State University say in the lawsuit filed in Nashville on Wednesday they would like to vote in Tennessee but lack proper ID. Tennessee will not accept identification cards from other states nor will it accept student identification cards from Tennessee colleges and universities. The students say the voter ID law is unconstitutional, violating the students’ right to vote and their right to equal protection.

Students sue over Tennessee voter ID law (Tennessean/Barchenger, Boucher)
A student organization filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming Tennessee’s voter identification law violates the rights of college students by not allowing them to use school IDs to vote. The lawsuit comes after a four-year debate, protests and multiple failed attempts in the Tennessee General Assembly to allow use of the identification. “For four years, the Tennessee General Assembly has rejected every attempt to add college student IDs to the voter ID list, systematically shutting young voters out of the political process just as they become eligible to vote,” Jon Sherman, a staff attorney for the Fair Elections Legal Network, said in a statement.

‘Maintenance issues’ cited in Y-12 chemical spill (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
The government’s contractor has completed its investigation of a Dec. 16 chemical spill at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and concluded “maintenance issues” were at least partly to blame, a federal spokesman said. Steven Wyatt, public affairs chief for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office, said there are plans to resume operations at the Purification Facility “in the near future,” although he declined to be more specific. Wyatt confirmed Consolidated Nuclear Security, the Bechtel-led contractor team that manages Y-12, had completed its review of the December accident, turned the results over to the NNSA and was taking steps to prepare for restart of operations at the Purification Facility.

TVA: Safety superseded concerns in decision to draw down Boone Lake (JCP)
The Tennessee Valley Authority knows a sustained drawdown of the Boone Reservoir means hardships for residents and businesses over the course of the next year or longer, spokesman Travis Brickey said Wednesday. However, concerns about the pressure a full reservoir of water could put on a seeping foundation led to the extraordinary measure. “We’re looking into the impacts, but we want people to know that we did not take this decision lightly,” Brickey said in a telephone interview. Balancing the loss of tourism dollars to the local economy and the inconvenience to property owners along the lakeshore with a risk to the residents and structures downstream of the 63-year-old dam, the severity of which the TVA has not specified, the agency announced last week plans to keep the water at current levels, 10 feet below normal winter pool and 30 feet below summer levels.

OPINION

Guest columnist: To businesses, high educational standards matter (Tennessean)
Tennessee business leaders are watching the current legislative debate about whether we should abandon our current set of academic standards with a mixture of concern and confusion. We’re concerned because for years there’s been a shortage of workforce-ready graduates from Tennessee high schools and community colleges, and that’s been a real constraint on business growth and competitiveness. In 2007, we received an “F” from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for truth in advertising because of the mismatch between our previous standards and what was necessary for a college or workforce-ready graduate.

Editorial: Tennessee should go slow on a school voucher program (C. Appeal)
We understand the apprehension in some circles that a school voucher program would hurt public schools by draining away crucial finances and the best students. Shelby County Commissioner David Reaves, who also is a former member of the Shelby County Schools Board, is emblematic of that feeling. Wednesday, he successfully pushed for the commission’s Legislative Affairs Committee to adopt a resolution that asks the Tennessee legislature to vote against any school voucher program bill. Reaves, the resolution’s sponsor, said money for public education should not go to private schools and that a voucher program would be detrimental to the public school system.