March 13 TN News Digest

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

Governor to announce new jobs in Oak Ridge (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)
For weeks, excited city officials have been dropping broad hints that a new manufacturer was coming to town as part of their assertions that Oak Ridge is on the cusp of an economic renaissance. Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to confirm at least one aspect of that anticipated revival with what’s billed as a “significant economic development announcement” at 1 p.m. Friday. Haslam will be joined by Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd at the former Theragenics building in Horizon Center. Repeated efforts to glean more information about the announcement were met by tight-lipped local officials.

Haslam Declares March 2015 Keep Tennessee Beautiful Month (WTVF-TV Knoxville)
Tennesseans, get ready to Paint the State Green as Governor Bill Haslam has designated March 2015 as Keep Tennessee Beautiful (KTnB) Month. In recognition of this honor, as well as the 2015 Great American Cleanup, KTnB along with the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association and Keep Sevier Beautiful hosted the Keep Tennessee Beautiful Month/Paint the State Green Kick-off Event on March 12, 2015, at the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show Theatre in Pigeon Forge at 11:30 a.m.

Program supports statewide manufacturing innovation (Associated Press)
The state of Tennessee and U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are partnering to promote statewide manufacturing innovation. Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced this week that Tennessee is piloting a voucher program that funds access to world-leading ORNL researchers and facilities where companies can get help with product development and process innovation. The program is managed by the University of Tennessee and ORNL, with the goal of building Tennessee manufacturers’ competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Tenn partners with Oak Ridge National Lab in $2.5M manufacturing program (NBJ)
The state of Tennessee has started a new pilot voucher program for manufacturers that want to tap into the research and resources of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The new state-funded $2.5 million pilot (dubbed “RevV!”) would give qualifying Tennessee companies money to access Oak Ridge’s researchers and facilities, state officials said in a news release Thursday. Managed by the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge, the goal of the program is to help state manufacturers with product development and process innovation. State officials believe it will help Tennessee manufacturers build a competitive advantage.

State OKs construction on ETSU football stadium (Johnson City Press)
The State Building Commission gave its approval Thursday for East Tennessee State University to proceed with the first phase of construction of a 10,000-seat football stadium, primarily funded with student fees. The commission, which must approve all state building projects before they can proceed, voted without discussion to approve a revision in project funding from the $18 million originally approved to $24 million, to fully plan the remaining segments of the project and to proceed with construction of Phase 1: a playing field, stadium seating, concession area, restrooms and other supporting elements.

Tennessee Senate votes to ban powdered alcohol sales (Tennessean/Boucher)
Although federal officials have opened the door to powdered cocktails, Tennessee is the latest of several states to push forward on plans to ban the new alcoholic products. The state Senate voted Thursday to make the sale of crystalline or powdered alcohol a misdemeanor, with Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, casting the lone vote against the bill in the 33-member Senate. The vote comes a day after the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved a powdered alcohol product called Palcohol. Similar to mixes for drinks like hot chocolate, the Palcohol pouch contains a powder that, when mixed with water, creates a drink with the equivalent of one shot of alcohol, according to the product’s manufacturer.

Senate votes against powdered alcohol (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
The state Senate voted Thursday to ban the sale in Tennessee of powdered or crystalline alcohol, a product reportedly hitting the market this summer that won federal regulatory approval this week. The bill (SB374) by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, passed 31-1, with Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, casting the only vote against it. The House version (HB404) by Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, is set for a subcommittee hearing next Wednesday. According to its website, a powered alcohol product called Palcohol — designed to be mixed with water to make various instant cocktails — will be on sale this summer wherever it’s legal.

Tennessee handgun permits officially surpass 500,000 (Tennessean/Boucher)
As expected, new data shows there are officially more than half a million valid handgun permits in Tennessee. There are 503,269 valid handgun permits in Tennessee as of Thursday, up from 488,911 as of Feb. 12, according to a new report from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Shelby County continues to have the most permits, at more than 57,000. Knox County has just more than 32,000, and Davidson County broke the 30,000 permit mark in March. The number of new handgun permits in Tennessee dropped noticeably from 2013 to 2014 — roughly 45 percent — but the total number of permits has more than doubled since 2008, when there were roughly 191,000 in Tennessee. While Tennessee lawmakers continue to try and ease restrictions on where and when people can carry guns, gun control advocates enjoyed a victory Thursday. A bill that would’ve allowed Tennesseans to carry handguns openly without obtaining a permit failed in a House subcommittee.

Hotel-motel tax increase bills checking into Legislature (Johnson City Press)
Companion bills introduced in Nashville to allow Johnson City to increase its hotel-motel tax rate from 5 percent to 7 percent are easily clearing Senate and House committee hurdles and appear to be on the way to becoming law. In January, about one week before the General Assembly convened, city commissioners asked legislators to support a bill allowing the city to raise the tax to support recreational and other amenities which bolster the city’s tourism industry. State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, and state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, filed legislation supporting that request on Feb. 12. The bill moved through the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee on March 4 and could be heard on the floor sometime in the next week or so. The House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee is set to vote on the bill Wednesday.

Parents, grandparents, sue Tenn. to keep virtual school open (AP/Burke)
A parent and grandparents of three children who go to an online school that has been ordered closed because of low academic performance are suing Tennessee’s education commissioner to keep it open. The suit, filed Thursday in Davidson County Chancery Court, says the Department of Education violated state law when it ordered the Tennessee Virtual Academy to close at the end of the current school year unless it dramatically improves. The lawsuit specifically names Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Officials with the state Department of Education did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. The suit was filed by Regina Taylor of Hendersonville, on behalf of her 10-year-old twin sons Brandon and Jordan and by Dick and Patti Posan, who live in Sewanee, Tennessee.

TVA camping season starts up again (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s 2015 camping season opens on Sunday. TVA provides more than 80 public recreation areas, including campgrounds, day-use areas and boat ramps. The six TVA campgrounds alone hosted about 45,000 overnight stays last year. One of the campgrounds is in Jefferson City, one is near Oak Ridge, another is near Savannah, one is near Elizabethton and two are near Sevierville. The campgrounds have a total of 355 campsites, all capable of accommodating tents, pop-up trailers and recreational vehicles.

TVA 2015 camping season opens March 15 (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s 2015 camping season opens on Sunday. TVA provides more than 80 public recreation areas, including campgrounds, day-use areas and boat ramps. The six TVA campgrounds alone hosted about 45,000 overnight stays last year. One of the campgrounds is in Jefferson City, one is near Oak Ridge, another is near Savannah, one is near Elizabethton and two are near Sevierville. The campgrounds have a total of 355 campsites, all capable of accommodating tents, pop-up trailers and recreational vehicles.

Eric Martin Satz nominated to serve on TVA board (Associated Press)
The White House has nominated venture capitalist Eric Martin Satz to serve on the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Satz is partner at venture capital and private equity firm TNCV. If he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Satz would serve on the federal utility’s board until May 2018. He would replace Oak Ridge attorney Neil G. McBride. TVA is the nation’s largest public utility and serves 9 million people in parts of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Hamilton County to sue state over school funding (Times Free-Press/Omarzu)
Toilet paper — or the struggle that an area high school has paying for it — was one of the reasons cited Thursday night for the Hamilton County Board of Education’s 8-1 vote to sue Tennessee over the Basic Education Program (BEP), the formula through which the state funds public schools. Copper Basin High School in Polk County has trouble buying toilet paper for its students while meeting all the mandates handed down by the state, said D. Scott Bennett, the attorney for the Hamilton County Department of Education and a number of other area school districts, including Polk County Schools. So the Polk County school board recently voted to sue the state over the BEP, Bennett said, as have Bradley, Marion and Coffee counties.

Knox school board raises concerns with proposed school reductions (N-S/McCoy)
In order for Knox County Schools to give its teachers a 4 percent raise, there will have to be cuts in other areas. But those cuts, some board members said Wednesday night, might have some unexpected consequences. One area is the district’s reduction of the number of its TAP schools. Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre has proposed to take the school system’s overall operating budget to $440.7 million — an increase of about 3.7 percent from its current budget of $424.9 million. In addition to maintaining current programs, the biggest priority of the proposal is to increase teacher pay by 4 percent. One reduction to make the raises a reality is the reduction in the number of TAP schools.
OPINION

Randy Boyd, Thom Mason: New program gives manufacturers access to R&D (TN)
The manufacturing sector is playing a major role in Tennessee’s economic recovery. More than 30,000 net new manufacturing jobs have been created since January 2011, and the percentage of Tennesseans working in the manufacturing sector is 1.3 times the national average. Manufacturers readily recognize Tennessee’s competitive advantages: an ideal location, a strong transportation infrastructure, low business costs, a high-quality workforce and a state government with one of the best balance sheets in the nation. Combined with strong executive leadership from Gov. Bill Haslam, these strengths consistently make Tennessee one of the best places to do business in America. Tennessee cannot rest on its laurels, however.