March 12 TN News Digest

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

Initiative aims to help Tennesseans live healthier (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has launched an initiative that aims to get communities involved in helping Tennesseans live healthier. Healthier Tennessee Communities is a coordinated initiative supporting physical activity, health eating and tobacco abstinence at the local level. “Changing people’s personal habits is not easy, but we have to do it,” Haslam told reporters after Wednesday’s announcement. “In Tennessee, we’re making a lot of progress, but we’re still at the bottom when it comes to obesity rates, tobacco usage, physical activity.” In the case of obesity, in particular, the rate in Tennessee has risen to almost 34 percent from 10 percent in 1988.

Haslam takes grassroots path to get communities “healthier” (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Gov. Bill Haslam is kick-starting a statewide grassroots initiative, Healthier Tennessee Communities, to start local wellness programs to tackle Tennessee’s battle with unhealthiness. The state of Tennessee’s health is lagging strides made in economic and social drivers — and could take a toll on the future of the state. Tennessee is 45th in the country for overall health, and about 70 percent of the state is either overweight or obese, and about one-third of the state gets no exercise. “We’re being seen more and more as a leading state in the whole country for economic development. Our numbers in education continue to improve. Unfortunately, in health that is not happening,” Haslam said.

Haslam names Kingsport a pilot community in new health initiative (Times-News)
Governor Bill Haslam launched an initiative on Wednesday to make Tennessee a healthier place and named Kingsport as a pilot community in that effort. The initiative, called Healthier Tennessee Communities, is aiming to be a coordinated effort to support physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco abstinence at a local level. “One of the reasons Kingsport was chosen was because of our infrastructure and policies,” said Heather Cook, Executive Director of Healthy Kingsport. “Hopefully we can be a model city for other cities across the state.”

Kingsport among cities piloting ‘Healthier Tennessee’ initiative (J. City Press)
According to a press release from the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, Kingsport is one of the communities piloting an coordinated initiative to support physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco abstinence. The press release states: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness CEO Rick Johnson, backed by representatives from nine cities and counties across the state, today launched Healthier Tennessee Communities.

Germantown included in new state-wide health initiative (WREG-TV Memphis)
Governor Bill Haslam announced a new plan to get Tennesseans eating and living better, but this time Memphis and Shelby’s County were left off the list. Germantown is included in this plan. It’s called Healthier Tennessee Communities. WREG called Mayor Mark Luttrell to find out why Shelby County wasn’t included in this new healthy initiative. It’s no secret we need help, but Mayor Luttrell said he didn’t even know anything about it. State officials say they are tailoring the program to smaller communities that need a bit more help getting something like this off the ground. But the state model is very similar to Healthy Shelby.

Tennessee might get a sweet new business (Memphis Business Journal)
A global candy company is delivering some sugarcoated news to Tennessee. Jelly Belly Candy Co.’s Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, warehouse and visitor center gift shop will be sold and relocated to Tennessee, according to a report by the Milwaukee Business Journal. “The company ultimately plans to move distribution to Tennessee, but there’s no timeline for that yet,” Jana Sanders Perry, a spokeswoman for Jelly Belly, told the Milwaukee Business Journal. No specific location in Tennessee was mentioned.

Haslam: Don’t Rush Gun Bills Before NRA Meeting in Nashville (AP/Schelzig)
Gov. Bill Haslam is urging fellow Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly not to let the upcoming convention of the National Rifle Association in Nashville influence their consideration of a slew of bills seeking to loosen state gun laws. The governor told reporters at the state Capitol on Wednesday that “short-term circumstances are not a good reason to drive long-term policy.” The NRA’s annual meeting is scheduled for the weekend beginning April 10 at Nashville’s new convention center. Organizers expect more than 75,000 people to attend.

Potholes keep road crews busy (Tennessean/Meyer)
State road crews are hustling to patch a deluge of potholes left in the wake of recent winter storms. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is using all of its available manpower to repair the damage done to interstates and state highways as quickly as it can. TDOT spokeswoman Heather Jensen said the weather created a “worst-case scenario” for road conditions, and crews are already being called to make emergency repairs. “We had two prolonged events with not just snow, but ice as well, which cakes on the roadway and then, of course, it’s a combination of freeze/thaw cycles, the chemicals that we use to get the ice and snow off the roads and then, of course, traffic,” Jensen said.

TDOT to repair potholes across the state this week (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will be patching and repairing pothole damage on Tennessee roadways across the state this week from Mar. 10 – 15. Knox County and the surrounding areas will undergo repairs from Tuesday to Friday as the rain allows between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Work may continue into the weekend as weather demands. Two crews have been dispatched to Knox County, which will receive nighttime patching from Mar. 8 – 11 in order to repair large potholes along the interstate.

Number Of Potholes ‘Probably Not Worse Than Any Other Year,’ TDOT Says (WPLN)
Drivers have been lamenting the pothole problem ever since the first ice storm. There was even a fatality from it — a motorcyclist was killed Sunday night after hitting a pothole and then a car. But the Tennessee Department of Transportation is guessing there actually aren’t any more potholes this winter than in previous years. “Honestly, even though the public may disagree, this is probably not worse than any other year,” says spokeswoman BJ Doughty. “What has happened is that they’ve all happened at once.” It was a perfect storm — literally — of freezing cold followed by heavy rains in a short amount of time, she says.

Bid to end Tennessee carry permit requirement fails in House (AP/Schelzig)
A proposal to eliminate Tennessee’s requirement to obtain a state-issued permit to openly carry handguns was defeated in a House subcommittee on Wednesday. Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss Jonesborough said he introduced the measure because he believes that “current laws here in Tennessee infringe on the Second Amendment of our U.S. Constitution.” The measure failed on a voice vote in the civil justice subcommittee. Chairman Jim Coley, R- Bartlett, said afterward that the vote was 4-2 against the bill.

Open carry proposal among gun bills killed in House (Tennessean/Boucher)
House lawmakers ended what was supposed to be gun week with something of a bang, killing a bill that would’ve allowed Tennesseans to openly carry guns without a permit and several other gun-related proposals. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted down a bill that allowed open carry in Tennessee. It also declined to discuss a bill that permitted gun dealers to sell guns to valid handgun permit holders without a background check, and a bill that gave gun carriers the right to take their guns to property used, but not owned, by a school. The open carry bill advanced further through the committee process last year before failing.

Bill to let guns at places used, not owned, by schools fails (Tennessean/Boucher)
A plan to let people take guns to areas used — but not owned — by a school died in a House committee Wednesday. Lawmakers on the House Civil Justice Subcommittee didn’t make the motions needed to discuss the bill, effectively killing the plan without actually taking a vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, would’ve changed the law to let valid handgun permit holders take their guns to areas a school might use but doesn’t actually own. It’s illegal to take those weapons to places used by a school, like a baseball park or an off-campus building used for a school board meeting.

Gun Control Advocates Score Victories, But Still Nervous (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
State lawmakers swatted down several controversial gun proposals yesterday, but gun control advocates say they’re not out the woods yet. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee rejected plans to let Tennesseans carry a gun openly without a permit and to end background checks for some gun purchases. The panel also turned back a proposal that their Senate counterparts approved on Tuesday: letting people carry handguns in places hosting sporting events or other school functions. Linda McFadyen-Ketchem, state chapter leader for the lobbying group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, said the votes show pressure has been building on lawmakers.

Bill against traffic cameras gets pushed back in Senate subcommittee (TFP/Sher)
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, got a chilly reception Wednesday on his bill banning cities’ use of automated traffic cameras as the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee told panel members how lawmakers reined in muncipalities’ abusive practices four years ago. “Let me tell you members what’s happened on this bill,” Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, said as Gardenhire’s bill came up at the end of the committee’s allotted time. “[Four] years ago, [House] Chairman Vince Dean and myself, we spent two years working on legislation dealing with red-light cameras.” Referring to Murfreesboro Police Chief Glenn Chrisman, who sat in the audience along with Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher, Tracy said, “I know one of the chiefs knows how hard we worked for two years.”

Banning red-light cameras would cost the city of Memphis (CA/Poe, Veazey)
The city of Memphis’ bank account could take a small but meaningful hit if the state legislature approves a ban on red light cameras. The bill, which was proposed by a trio of lawmakers that includes Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis, would as early as July 1 shut down a program run by the city court clerk’s office that was budgeted to net the city nearly $1.4 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30. That small piece of income isn’t going to break the city’s budget, but it’ll give the City Council even less wiggle room when setting the budget for next fiscal year.

For Now, Students Will Still Have To Take The ACT Exam (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
A bill allowing students to opt out of the ACT narrowly failed in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Wednesday. But it started a conversation about those who intentionally bomb the college entrance exam and what the state should do about it. This opt-out idea came from a retired principal who was just elected, Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro). Another former administrator, Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), voted against the bill but did sympathize. “There absolutely has to be a way to exclude — without prejudice — those scores of youngsters that have been totally irresponsible in executing this exam,” Forgety said at Wednesday’s education committee hearing.

State proposal to limit private clubs advances (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Although it was more dramatic in front of the Metro Council last week, an effort to block a sexual swingers club from opening in Madison also advanced Wednesday at the statehouse. Lawmakers in a House subcommittee gave the first approval to a proposal to keep private clubs at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches, parks and homes. Nashville Democrat Bill Beck wrote HB0480 after a massive backlash against The Social Club, which is trying to move to 520 Lentz Drive, on a property adjacent to Goodpasture Christian School. Beck said he is working on an amended bill to clarify the difference between adult entertainment venues, which he is not seeking to regulate, and private clubs.

Lawmaker proposes body cameras for all TN law enforcement (WSMV-TV Nashville)
After several high-profile cases in Ferguson, MO, New York City, Cleveland, OH, and Madison, WI, the issue of body cameras has been a hot topic of discussion all over the country. A Tennessee lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require all law enforcement to wear body cameras on their uniforms. The cameras would capture everything from the moment officers interact with members of the public to when they bring them into custody. This is a direct response to the cases involving officers across the country. “This would add a layer of transparency to both sides,” said Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis.

Marijuana bills gaining some traction in Tennessee (Leaf Chronicle)
Even as three U.S. Senators, including Kentucky’s Rand Paul, offered up a bill in Washington to protect patients, doctors and businesses from federal prosecution in states with active medical marijuana laws, the pace of legislation in Tennessee has remained cautious. On Tuesday, Rep. Jeremy Faison’s (R-Cosby) bill to legalize cannabis oil for medical purposes passed through the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, but not without needing an amendment requiring a doctor’s letter for patients requesting the treatment. Cannibidiol oil, or CBD, is a low-THC (tetrahydrocannibinol) derivative of the marijuana plant that has been found to have possible use in treating children with certain severe childhood forms of epilepsy, such as Dravet Syndrome.

Board to look into contributions on judicial-selection amendment (CA/Locker)
The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance board voted Wednesday to look into a “dark money” complaint against the committee that campaigned for passage of last year’s state constitutional amendment on judicial selection. The state board voted unanimously to issue a “show cause” order to Vote Yes on 2, in response to a complaint filed by John Avery Emison of Alamo charging that Vote Yes failed to fully disclose its contributors. Emison led the opposition campaign against the judicial amendment. A show cause order essentially asks agents for the political action committee to answer questions.

Protests mark Corker hearing on fight against Islamic State (AP, Times Free-Press)
America’s top military officer says that while Iran’s support in the fight against Islamic State militants is helpful, the U.S. remains concerned about what happens “after the drums stop beating” and the Islamic State is defeated. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on Wednesday that anything anyone does to counter IS is a “positive thing.” But he said there is concern about whether Iran-backed militiamen, who are Shia, will turn against Sunni Iraqis, further destabilizing Iraq.

Congressman Roe thanks public for support (Bristol Herald-Courier)
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe issued a statement Thursday about his wife, Pamela Roe, who died last week. “The last six weeks have been extremely difficult for my family and me. Pam was a special lady, and I loved her very much,” Roe said. “The sadness I’m feeling now will be with me for a long time, but I know Pam would want us to carry on. She was so strong and selfless, and the number of people who have honored her life is a testament to the kind of woman she was. She touched many lives, especially mine, and I was blessed to call her my wife. Now she’s with our Lord and Savior, and that brings our family comfort.”

Roe offers thanks for support during wife’s illness, death (Johnson City Press)
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe issued a statement today thanking people for support during his wife’s recent illness and death. Pamela Roe died last Thursday following her battle with colon cancer, an illness that prompted the congressman to curb his duties in Washington. “The last six weeks have been extremely difficult for my family and me. Pam was a special lady, and I loved her very much,” Roe said in a news release. “The sadness I’m feeling now will be with me for a long time, but I know Pam would want us to carry on.”

States Vie to Lure Military Retirees (Wall Street Journal)
With a surge of retirements expected as the nation’s armed forces contract after two wars, lawmakers in 19 states are seeking to create or expand income-tax breaks for military pensions in hopes of attracting highly skilled veterans. More than 65 such bills are pending in statehouses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an uptick from recent years. Last year, Iowa enacted a full exemption and Nebraska a partial break for recent military retirees. The plans face some resistance from critics who say states can’t afford the loss of revenue. Others question the fairness of giving veterans special breaks unavailable to most retirees. Nationwide, nearly 2 million military retirees received pensions as of September, Defense Department figures show.

TVA fined for fire safety violations at nuclear plant (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Federal regulators have slapped TVA with a $70,000 fine for not maintaining required fire watches at the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant three years ago and for not adequately supervising contractors who tried to cover up the failure. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the civil penalty Wednesday — the first in 14 years at an operating TVA nuclear plant. The NRC penalty was classified as the lowest safety severity. But the fine was imposed because contract workers who were supposed to be watching for a potential fire in October and November of 2012 did not do their jobs and then falsified records to try to hide the violations.

NRC to fine TVA $70,000 for violations at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant (N-S/Marcum)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced today it is proposing a $70,000 civil penalty against TVA for violations related to fire watches at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant near Soddy-Daisy. According to an NRC investigation, on several occasions in October and November 2012, some TVA contract fire watch workers failed to walk through certain areas of the plant as required. Instead, they and their supervisors deliberately recorded those actions as completed, according to the NRC. The violations resulted in no safety consequences and no fires occurred during the times the fire watches were missed, according to the NRC.

Hamilton County Schools threatens to sue over BEP funding (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam says he may meet as early as next week with directors of the state’s four biggest school systems as three of them — Hamilton, Knox and Shelby schools — actively consider suing the state over education funding. “I understand their concerns,” the Republican told reporters Wednesday. “If you remember, the small schools threatened to sue us last year. I’m not certain it’s so much of a large school, small school issue. It’s how we fund education in Tennessee.” Haslam added that “I would argue we’ve had a good track record of doing that through some tough times.” He said his proposed budget provides $100 million for teacher pay raises and nearly $50 million to keep up with requirements of the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) funding formula.

SEC Tournament Has Businesses Seeing Green (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Downtown Nashville is ready to play host to the SEC men’s basketball tournament. Mississippi State and Auburn officially got the tournament underway at 6 p.m. Wednesday. “We’re trying to get the feel of the town, what’s around. Where we’re going to eat? What there is to do,” University of Kentucky fan Gary Wolfe said. “Because there’s a lot of time between the games.” This is not the first time the tournament has come to Nashville. “I remember there was 10-15 thousand people inside the arena,” University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhardt recalled. “But on championship day there’s probably 20-25 thousand outside the arena just having a great time, enjoying Nashville.”


Editorial: Proposals from annexation study sensible guides (News-Sentinel)
More changes could be in store for Tennessee’s annexation laws if legislators follow the recommendations of a public policy panel. The report contains several common-sense proposals. Given the legislative elimination last year of cities’ authority to annex areas merely by passing an ordinance, lawmakers and the Haslam administration should review and make changes that will encourage responsible growth. The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, also known as TACIR, issued its report on annexation law on Friday. Composed of legislators, representatives of the governor’s administration, local officials and citizen appointees, TACIR addresses issues that involve relations between governments.