March 7 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 requests probe of 11 hypothermia deaths in Feb. (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has asked the Department of Health to investigate why 11 people froze to death during last month’s winter storm. Some were found dead in their homes after being without heat. At least two were elderly people who froze outside their homes after falling down. Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told WPLN-FM (http://bit.ly/1wK4ej8) the homeless are most at risk for hypothermia, but people in homes can also die if their heat is out. The situation can be worse if a person is on medication or abusing alcohol.

Gov. Haslam requests probe of 11 hypothermia deaths in February (TFP)
Gov. Bill Haslam has asked the Department of Health to investigate why 11 people froze to death during last month’s winter storm. Some were found dead in their homes after being without heat. At least two were elderly people who froze outside their homes after falling down. Tennnessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told WPLN-FM the homeless are most at risk for hypothermia, but people in homes can also die if their heat is out. The situation can be worse if a person is on medication or abusing alcohol. In Chattanooga, local homeless man Douglas King, 64, died Feb. 17 in the 600 block of East 11th Street while sleeping against a trestle near a railroad track.

Governor Haslam Seeks Answers For 11 TN Hypothermia Deaths (WTVC-TV)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has asked the Department of Health to investigate why 11 people froze to death during last month’s winter storm. Some were found dead in their homes after being without heat. At least two were elderly people who froze outside their homes after falling down. Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told WPLN-FM the homeless are most at risk for hypothermia, but people in homes can also die if their heat is out. The situation can be worse if a person is on medication or abusing alcohol. Dreyzehner said that “neighbors checking neighbors” is the best means of preventing hypothermia deaths.

State of emergency ended (Tennessean/Buie)
Except for a few remaining patches of snow or slush in shaded areas, the city’s efforts and rising temperatures have cleared most roads around Nashville, and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has ended the state of emergency. Now, city officials are calling for people to stay cautious and prepared throughout the remaining hours of cold before temperatures warm into the 50s this weekend. At an afternoon press conference at the city’s emergency management office, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean praised city workers and the community for working together, staggering commutes and even staying off the roads when conditions have been at their worst.

TEMA ends state of emergency for Tennessee (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Authorities on Friday afternoon ended the state of emergency brought on by four back-to-back winter storms followed by flooding that affected much of Tennessee since Feb. 16. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency made the decision official at 4 p.m. CST, according to a news release. There were no unmet needs reported throughout the state from the recent winter storms and cold weather, and the agency reported no outstanding requests for assistance from counties. In Claiborne County, the flooding threat has subsided and some roads are closed in a few counties, but no shelters were open and there were no reports of widespread power outages, officials said.

State of emergency ends as temperatures rise (Jackson Sun)
Tennessee’s state of emergency ended Friday afternoon as the week’s ice and snow started to melt from roadways and sunny areas. Meteorologists predict temperatures will begin to rise over the next week, eventually reaching the mid-50s and 60s by the middle of the week. Jackson and Madison County will remain under a flood warning until midnight Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. This is the first time since Feb. 16 that the state has not been in a state of emergency. National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Maye said temperatures are expected to be around 45 degrees on Saturday and reach 52 for Sunday. Temperatures will continue to rise into the 50s, reaching the mid-60s by Wednesday. But Jackson isn’t in the clear just yet.

TEMA: Interstates in good shape, but icy patches remain (Tennessean/Meyer)
Tennessee interstates are in good shape and traffic is moving, but icy patches remain, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. As the weather improves, more motorists are hitting the roads, said Lt. Bill Miller, spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Traffic is closer to normal levels Friday compared to Thursday. “The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day. People are just getting out of their houses and shaking off their cabin fever,” Miller said. “Motorists definitely need to watch out for black ice and just slick spots in general.” TEMA confirmed a fourth weather-related fatality from the recent bout of winter weather.

Fall Creek Falls State Park competing for 10 Best honors (TFP/Anderson)
Southeast Tennesseans have enjoyed the gorges and waterfalls of Fall Creek Falls State Park for decades. The park is a favorite spot for local climbers and hikers. Now, it’s gaining national attention. An affiliate program of USA Today called “10 Best” named Fall Creek Falls to its list of 20 best parks in America, and is asking voters to narrow down the nominees to the 10 best. As of Friday afternoon, Fall Creek Falls was in fourth place. Voting remains open through March 30. Adrian Hankins, a conservation worker at the park, said he has been sharing the online voting link with as many people as possible.

TennCare cuts put mentally ill at risk (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Dealing with racing thoughts and hearing strange voices, Sarah Hale was lost in the rat maze of mental illness. She was a college dropout, without a job or any hope about the future. She couldn’t even sleep. Now — little more than a year later — the 20-year-old woman is punching a time clock, paying taxes and focusing on personal goals. The change didn’t occur because of a new miracle drug. It happened because she took her old medicine while working with a therapist. Matthew Ferguson, her case manager, kept her on track. But now she may lose that help. TennCare cuts would limit case management for adults to only those coming out of hospitalization. And that service would end after three months.

TBI investigating drug task force (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
State officials are investigating the 8th Judicial Drug Task Force, authorities said. Director Melvin Bayless has been placed on administrative leave with pay, and Steve Carson will serve as interim director, according to a news release from 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler. Effler said he requested the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the state Comptroller’s Office conduct a complete investigation into the procedures and protocols of the task force. The district covers Campbell, Claiborne, Union, Scott and Fentress counties.

State policy group recommends further changes in annexation law (CA/Locker)
A state policy study group recommends further changes in Tennessee’s municipal annexation laws after last year’s landmark reversal of state law that allowed towns and cities to annex new territory without the consent of its residents. The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), headed by a board of state and local officials, issued its report Friday. Its recommendations to the state legislature include: * Allowing cities to annex land not adjacent to the city, to support economic development, without annexing those in between who don’t want to be taken into the city. * Developing a less costly alternative to public referendums, while preserving the 2014 law’s mandate requiring consent of residents of the proposed annexation area, such as petitions. * Allowing nonresidents who own land in the area proposed for annexation to participate in the decision.

Local lawmakers support CDE Lightband expansion (Leaf Chronicle)
Even as many state lawmakers protest a recent FCC ruling that would nullify state laws that prevent municipal electric companies from providing high speed internet service to customers outside city limits, support is growing among local lawmakers who would like to pass a state bill that give local electric companies that right. A bill has been introduced introduced in both the state senate and house that would allow municipal electric companies like CDE Lightband to run their fiber lines outside the area where they provide power lines, provided the electric cooperative or company into which it would expand agrees. That could potentially mean thousands of new broadband customers for Clarksville Department of Electricity and provide high speed internet to customers that are under served, said General Manager Brian Taylor.

Rural Tennesseans limited in Internet choices (Tennessean/McGee)
It’s usually between the 10th and the 15th day of the month when Clifton and Joanna Miller’s satellite Internet account hits its data cap. Clifton, a lawyer, and Joanna, a sixth-grade math teacher, are unable to work from home. Their 16-year-old daughter, who depends on access for homework, takes a laptop to her grandmother’s house nearby to complete her assignments until a new month begins. The Millers’ house is less than a mile from Tullahoma’s city limit, but under state law, the Tullahoma Utilities Board cannot extend its high-speed fiber Internet network outside its electric service footprint. They would settle for basic broadband from other providers, but those companies — AT&T and Charter Communications — don’t reach his neighborhood.

Focus shifts to states ahead of Supreme Court ACA ruling (Tennessean/Fletcher)
With oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court case that contests the use of tax credits on federally-run health insurance exchanges, the focus shifts to if Tennessee will be able to set up a state-run exchange. The King vs. Burwell case looks at whether language in the Affordable Care Act is crafted so as to make credits available at only the state level and by extension whether states would be compelled to establish an exchange now that people have been able to buy insurance for two years. A ruling in favor of the plaintiff threatens the affordability of insurance to thousands of Tennesseans and millions of Americans as well as the economics of the health care industry. The Supreme Court heard from lawyers representing the plaintiffs and government on March 4; a ruling is expected in June.

OPINION

Editorial: Will Volunteer State get it right on education? (Tennessean)
Tennessee is at a crossroads when it comes to the future of education in the Volunteer State. It is in a position to excel like never before, and it’s been touted as a model for the rest of the nation as it concerns developing a better-educated workforce. However, we face challenges and contradictions that threaten to derail our progress if our leaders don’t maintain their focus. Consider: Even though Tennessee Promise — the last-dollar scholarship program to provide free community college to recent high school graduates — is an inspiration for President Barack Obama’s similar America’s Promise national program, Tennessee college leaders say most students aren’t prepared for the challenges of college.

Guest columnist: Bill creates ‘poll tax’ for public records access (Tennessean)
The fastest way to shut down access to government records is to charge fees people can’t afford to pay. Another way is to simply ignore or delay responding to citizens or media who make requests under the Tennessee Public Records Act. Yet another, which takes more effort, is to actively confuse or frustrate a citizen or journalist with byzantine policies and practices to make them go away. All can be powerfully effective. And, unfortunately, all take place in Tennessee. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government received nearly 200 calls to its hotline last year from journalists and citizens who faced obstacles in getting public documents from their local government or suspected their local governing bodies were not holding meetings in compliance with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

Times Editorial: Gardenhire: Please give your colleagues remedial college try (TFP)
We want students to have opportunities to learn more, but not at the expense of school or teacher accountability. That was the message this week when the Tennessee General Assembly’s state Senate Education Committee turned down a proposal from state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, to make local school districts reimburse the costs of remedial course work for recent high school graduates who were so ill-prepared in high school that they had to take high school classes on their college dime. Three other Gardenhire bills on education passed out of the committee handily, including one that would let some undocumented students pay in-state tuition rates to attend Tennessee public colleges. One way of looking at the committee’s actions is that they are all for giving undocumented students a cost break to go to college in Tennessee, but not Tennessee youngsters whose teachers and schools did not adequately prepare them for college.