March 21 TN News Digest

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

UTC And Cleveland State Sign Dual Admissions Agreement (WTVC-TV Chatt)
College students now have more options for schooling in the Chattanooga area. UTC and Cleveland State Community College are pairing up for a dual admission program. Presidents from both schools signed the paperwork this morning. Through this program, Students who get an associate’s degree from Cleveland State will be able to transfer to U-T-C. Teachers say it says save money and allows them to keep credits they earn. This is part of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise scholarship.

Inside Woodland Hills: DCS seeks improvements (Tennessean/Buie)
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner James Henry said in December that the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center was a “proving ground” for the entire department. “We are revamping the whole facility,” he said at the time in an interview with The Tennessean. “I think it will be easy to see. We’re moving toward a more reward-based system. We are going to make the facility safer, more secure.” But less than two months later, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed privatizing the operations at Woodland Hills, raising questions about DCS and its ability to effectively manage the troubled youth-detention facility. The facility last year had dozens of youths escape, reports of bullying and assaults on guards.

Tennessee Supreme Court upholds death sentence (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence of a man who killed an elderly couple near Land Between the Lakes after he escaped from a Kentucky prison. William Eugene Hall was convicted of first-degree felony murder for his role in the 1988 killings of Buford and Myrtle Vester. The couple was found shot and stabbed outside their home, and their car and other belongings were missing. Hall was one of eight inmates who escaped from the Kentucky State Penitentiary on June 16, 1988. Five of the escapees stole a pickup truck and drove over the state line into Tennessee and began a series of burglaries. Hall was later captured in Texas, and he and two other escapees were convicted of killing the Vesters. Hall filed his delayed appeal on numerous grounds, including one that claimed that new evidence discovered after his conviction proves that he is innocent.

Jackson legislators still discussing Insure Tennessee (Jackson Sun)
Well over a month has passed since Gov. Bill Haslam’s health insurance plan, Insure Tennessee, failed to make it to the House floor, but it was still the topic of conversation Friday morning for Reps. Jimmy Eldridge, Johnny Shaw and Sen. Ed Jackson. The three Jackson state legislators met at the Jackson Country Club for the Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Membership Breakfast and CapitolTALK to discuss the legislative session to this point. Jackson, a Republican, was one of four on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee who voted for Insure Tennessee to move forward. It failed in the committee vote 7-4.

Marijuana bills attracting attention in Nashville (Johnson City Press)
Marijuana use is again a hot topic in Nashville this year, where eight bills regarding the use, sale and distribution of cannabis are on the table. Two pieces of legislation of note include a measure that would erase from state law an offense for possessing the herb if the amount is less than a half ounce, and another that would decriminalize possession for patients qualified through a specific treatment program. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Tennessee President Doak Patton said Friday about the level of attention being paid to marijuana reform.

Welcome to your Tenn. legislature — but stand in line first (C. Appeal/Locker)
Successive waves of security “upgrades” at the State Capitol and Legislative Plaza building in Nashville are producing longer lines and wait times for visitors who want to watch their state legislature in action or visit their local representatives. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the days of heaviest activity at the Legislative Plaza, visitors often line up outside and inside the building to pass through the one security checkpoint at the Plaza’s only public entrance. On Wednesday, when scores of University of Tennessee system administrators, students and supporters arrived for the annual “UT Day on the Hill,” some waited nearly an hour inching through a line to get their bags examined by state troopers and their photo identifications scanned into a computer that issues a temporary visitor pass.

NRC says no environmental risk from extension of Sequoyah plant (TFP/Flessner)
Federal regulators have concluded that the Tennessee Valley Authority can operate its Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant until 2041 without any environmental risk to the public. In its final environmental assessment of the twin-reactor plant near Soddy-Daisy, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff said Friday that there would be no adverse environmental impact from extending the operating license at Sequoyah another 20 years. TVA, which gained its original license for Sequoyah Unit 1 in 1980 and Sequoyah Unit 2 a year later, is seeking the 20-year extension to prolong the operating benefits of the two 1,148-megawatt reactors.

Y-12 to boost uranium output to Cold War level (News-Sentinel/Munger)
The government has asked the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant to double its production of purified bomb-grade uranium metal to 1,000 kilograms a year — a production level that has not been achieved since 1991 and the end of the Cold War. The goal is to reduce the amount of “material at risk” inside the 9212 uranium-processing complex, parts of which date back to the World War II Manhattan Project and the roots of the U.S. nuclear weapons program. By processing the existing stocks to a purified metal form, the uranium would then be “suitable” for transfer from the aged 9212 production complex to another facility — presumably the Highly Enriched Uranium Material Facility, Y-12’s on-site storage complex that houses the nation’s primary stockpile of weapons-usable uranium.

GOP hopefuls set to attend fundraiser at Koch’s Palm Beach mansion (W. Post)
One of the next stops on the 2016 trail: David Koch’s 30,050-square-foot Palm Beach mansion. A group of White House hopefuls, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, are scheduled to make a pilgrimage to the oceanfront estate of the billionaire industrialist on Sunday afternoon… Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, another longshot 2016 possibility, will also be there, along with Govs. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Rick Scott of Florida, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. “Republicans had tremendous success in the 2014 gubernatorial elections thanks to the strong leadership and fundraising by our GOP governors,” RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said in a statement.

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: A Common Core compromise? (Times Free-Press)
If Tennessee schools have in place strong academic standards that consistently increase all students’ standardized test, college readiness test and classroom test scores, it doesn’t matter whether those standards are Common Core, Haslam Core or Joe Sixpack Core. And that appears to be what a legislative agreement reached Thursday says. Current state standards include Common Core standards for English and math that have become increasingly unpopular because they’re seen as a federal intrusion and because many teachers say they’re unworkable. But state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says the agreement puts in place a review process in which the standards could remain in place but also could change “based on Tennessee values.”