March 28 TN News Digest

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

Portland tech school to offer free tuition in fall (Tennessean/Yankova)
Adults looking to return to school but lacking the means just got a pass, and it’s free. The newly launched Tennessee Reconnect grant will cover eligible adults’ tuition to all programs at any of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology including the new Portland campus set to open mid-May. The deadline to apply for the grant that students can start using this fall is May 15. All 27 current TCAT locations will host open houses Saturday to answer questions about its 19 programs and offer tours. Those planning to attend the Portland TCAT can go to the Nashville or Hartsville campuses.

TN Reconnect to help pay for adult education (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee College of Applied Technology will host an open house Saturday for adults interested in a free college education. TCAT-Murfreesboro and its 26 counterparts across the state will offer information on Tennessee Reconnect grants, which provides last-dollar scholarships for adults, much like Tennessee Promise does for high school seniors. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the TCAT, 1303 Old Fort Parkway. During that time, prospective students can tour the campus, learn more about available training programs, and use the college’s computers to sign up online. Refreshments will be provided.

Adults get free college tuition, too (Jackson Sun)
A significant increase in enrollment is expected when Tennessee Reconnect, a part of the Drive to 55, is introduced from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today on the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus in Jackson or Lexington Extension campus. The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology are also located in Crump, McKenzie, Newbern, Paris, Ripley and Whiteville. “We have not begun our outreach,” Mike Krause, the executive director of Tennessee Promise, said. “But the important thing is, a significant increase in students going to college means a significant increase in employees prepared for the workplace.”

TN Reconnect Provides Free College Tuition To Adults (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Tennessee has almost a million college dropouts. Nearly 25,000 are estimated to be just one semester shy of earning their degree, according to Mike Krause with the Drive to 55 Initiative. On the heels of the TN Promise the state is unveiling TN Reconnect that focuses on getting adults back into school to earn certifications and skills that can immediately connect them to employer’s needs. Michael Millburg, age 31, is starting a new chapter in his life after spending five years in the Army as part of the 101st Airborne at Ft. Campbell. “After I separated it was scary,” he said. “I have a two-year-old son who was born two weeks after I got out; no job, didn’t know where I was going.”

TCAT event set to increase enrollment (Covington Leader)
On Saturday, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology will host its first Scholarship Saturday event aimed at increasing opportunities for Tipton County’s adults. At the event, potential students can learn more about the Tennessee Reconnect grant, which will soon begin providing eligible adults with last-dollar scholarships to the various TCATs in the state. The Reconnect grant, said student services coordinator Amanda Heath, is Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to help adults enter higher education so that they may gain new skills, advance in the workplace and fulfill lifelong dreams of completing a degree or credential.

TCAT to host Scholarship Saturday (Wilson Post)
During Scholarship Saturday, adults may come to the Wilson County Campus, located at 415 Tennessee McMurry Blvd. Blvd. in Lebanon, to tour the campus, learn more about available training programs and use the college’s computers to sign up online. Adults may also visit the main campus in Hartsville, located at 716 McMurry Blvd. The event is designed to encourage adults to enroll in the Tennessee Reconnect program, Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to provide eligible adults the opportunity to earn a diploma or certificate at a TCAT free of tuition and mandatory fees. Tennessee Reconnect is part of the Drive to 55, an initiative focused on increasing the number of Tennesseans with a college degree or technical certificate.

Reports: Insure Tennessee would benefit Wilson (Lebanon Democrat)
Insure Tennessee is a plan by Gov. Bill Haslam to provide health care coverage to 280,000 Tennesseans, including 24,000 veterans, who do not currently have access to health insurance. These Tennesseans fall in the so called “coverage gap” because they do not qualify for TennCare but make too little to get coverage through the general insurance marketplace. These individuals are typically hourly wageworkers, veterans and working families. An examination of 2010 Census data – the most recent data available – by THCC showed 4,875 – or 4.28 percent – of Wilson County residents fall in the coverage gap addressed by Insure Tennessee. This group has no health insurance and earns less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line – $16,100 for an individual and $27,300 for a family of three.

Haslam proclaims Sunday as Vietnam Veterans Day (Tennessean/Barnes)
Gov. Bill Haslam has proclaimed Sunday as Vietnam Veterans Day in honor of those who served in the war that claimed the lives of 1,295 Tennesseans. More than 49,000 Tennesseans served in the war, which lasted from 1961 to 1975, and 6,000 of those were wounded while serving, while 27 are still missing in action. “The people of Tennessee stand humbled and indebted to our service members who bravely served and sadly sacrificed so much,” Many-Bears Grinder, Department of Veterans Affairs commissioner, said in a news release. “We remember and recognize their courage today and always.”

TECD Commissioner Randy Boyd to ‘double down’ on rural aid (N-S/Kimel)
Tennessee’s commissioner of economic and community development warned Tuesday that the spector of rural hospitals closing would significantly impact business recruiting in areas that need it most. The state’s hospitals have warned that rural health care providers are the most impacted by the state’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Asked at the Knoxville Economic Forum about his support of Insure Tennessee — Gov. Bill Haslam’s thus far unsuccessful effort to use federal dollars to expand Medicaid — Randy Boyd answered in the affirmative. “I am a huge supporter (of the expansion) and if I wasn’t personally I would be economically,” he said.

Tennessee to reimburse organic farmers for certification (Tennessean/Barnes)
A domino effect is about to help Tennesseans gain better access to fresh, local organic produce, now that farmers get to save on the costs of certification. Tennessee farmers who grow organic crops and have become USDA certified qualify for a cost share reimbursement for the costs of the certification. Farmers can receive 75 percent or up to $750 back in funds they spent on the certification process by applying to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “Total organic product sales by farms and ranches in the U.S. continue to grow every year, increasing by 83 percent between 2007 and 2012,” Amy Tavalin, TDA marketing specialist, said in a news release.

Tennessee Supreme Court rules on whistleblower case (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that an employee can’t qualify as a whistleblower unless the employer’s illegal activity is reported to someone other than the wrongdoer. The state’s highest court said on Friday that the reporting may have to take place outside the employee’s company. The decision upholds a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case of a horse groomer in Obion County who claimed that he was fired for complaining about the care he received after being kicked in the head by a Tennessee Walking Horse.

TN AG: Procreation a strike against gay marriage (Tennessean/Barchenger)
The ability of heterosexual couples — and not same-sex couples — to have children is one reason why the U.S. Supreme Court should not recognize gay marriage, attorneys for Tennessee say. The Tennessee Attorney General filed a brief with the court Friday, responding to arguments previously made by three couples who are fighting to have their marriages recognized by the state. Forms of the word “procreate” appear at least 17 times in the 49-page brief.

Cough Syrup Suppression Measure Moves to Haslam (TN Report)
The Tennessee General Assembly are clearly not impressed with Three 6 Mafia’s ideas for how to use cough syrup. Thursday morning the Tennessee House, in a near-unanimous decision, voted to place an age restriction on sales of cough syrup containing dextromethorphan for fear that adolescents were increasingly abusing the medication as prescribed by the Memphis-based rap group in the 2000 song “Sippin’ on Some Syrup.” The Senate had earlier this year voted unanimously to slap an age-floor on purchases of drugs like Robitussin. The vote on SB45 in the House was 92-1, with Lebanon Republican Mark Pody the only member voting in opposition.

Bill would have state take over coal mining regs (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
A renewed push to have state government take over regulation of Tennessee coal mining after 31 years of federal oversight has won approval in state House and Senate committees where similar legislation died last year. The bill sponsored by Republicans with coal mines operating in their district, Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro and Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman, advanced last week with the sponsors assuring colleagues that the transition from federal to state oversight can be accomplished with no new cost to Tennessee taxpayers.

Ketron seeks to keep feds from intervening in education (Daily News Journal)
State Sen. Bill Ketron won passage of three key bills this week in Nashville, including final approval of a resolution opposing federal intervention in education in Tennessee, a spokeswoman announced. The other two bills from the Murfreesboro Republican include a measure to help deter motorists from driving uninsured and a proposal to curb animal cruelty in Tennessee, states the press release from Republican Caucus Senate sponsor Darlene Schlicher. Senate Joint Resolution 107 urges Congress to stop “what amounts to the imposition of a national school board and to end the decades of federal intrusion in state and local education policy decisions.”

School bus seat belt bill pushed to summer study (News-Sentinel/Slaby)
A bill to require seat belts on school buses was deferred to summer study, effectively killing it for this session. But the author, State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, is still hopeful for the bill’s future. “I fell very confident,” he said and added he plans to propose an edited bill next year. The house bill was moved to summer study by the house transportation subcommittee on Wednesday. A corresponding senate bill by State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, was assigned to the general subcommittee of the senate education committee on Thursday.

Gardenhire’s opposition to Insure Tennessee is firm (Times Free-Press/Anderson)
Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire understands why the Grand Old Party hasn’t come to his defense over Insure Tennessee. “It’s a choice between criticizing the governor or criticizing me,” Gardenhire said Friday. “[Republican leaders] have chosen not to say anything [in my defense] and I haven’t asked them to.” Gardenhire is one of seven Republican state senators who voted against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to more than 280,000 low-income Tennesseans last month by expanding the state’s Medicaid program, called TennCare. The defeat was a harsh blow to the governor’s plan, but did not send Insure Tennessee to its grave.

Haynes will resign House if he wins party chair (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Vines)
A quick announcement by state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, that he would seek the chairmanship of the Tennessee Republican Party almost immediately after Chris Devaney said he was leaving in mid-April seems to be in his favor. If he wins, he will resign his 14th District House seat so that he would be a full-time chairman, he said Friday. “I will not stay in the Legislature and hold this position. Whoever gets into this needs to devote full-time,” Haynes said. Karen Brown and Ken Gross, two Knox Countians on the 66-member GOP Executive Committee who will be deciding the next chairman on April 11, said Friday that they believe Haynes has a good chance of being elected.

Common Core student testing a battleground issue (News-Sentinel/Phaler)
Common Core State Standards began as a state-initiated effort to build consistent K-12 standards throughout the country. Though Common Core started as a bipartisan effort, the standards have evolved into a battleground issue for a sizeable portion of the country and could even become an issue in the 2016 presidential election. Concerns ranging from the power of school districts to make independent choices to the quality of the standards have created firestorms in some jurisdictions. Some states that originally adopted Common Core standards have lost their appetite for the new rules and either voted to make modifications or left the standards altogether.

Williamson Schools approves budget, new math books (Tennessean/Balakit)
The Williamson County school board recently approved the general purpose budget for the 2015-16 school year and the adoption and purchase of new math textbooks. The proposed $290 million budget, up about 4 percent from this year’s budget, includes a 5 percent pay increase for all school district employees and reflects the district’s plan to open new schools in Nolensville and the need to handle projected growth. The majority of the 154 additional employees in the budget will help accommodate general growth in the district and help coordinate the 2016 opening of the new elementary, middle and high schools in Nolensville.

Why Sarah Lacy and PandoDaily are still excited about Nashville (N. Biz Journal)
Mere hours after public-private economic development group Launch Tennessee announced its rebranded summer tech conference, Silicon Valley tech blog PandoDaily, its partner on last year’s Southland conference rolled out plans for its own event: PandoLand. But while 36|86 is an attempt to return to the roots of the first year’s conference and highlight what’s happening Nashville, Tennessee and the Southeast (with the audience draw of some national speakers), PandoLand looks likely to feel much more like the 2014 conference: a hefty slate of national speakers and audience members, many hailing from the coasts, discussing the biggest topics in entrepreneurial circles nationwide.

OPINION

Editorial: Celebrate Insure Tennessee and public records victories (Tennessean)
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee gave the green light to the once-dead Insure Tennessee proposal Wednesday. High praise to those senators who made this significant victory happen. It showed leadership for the citizens of the state of Tennessee. Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, pushed for the bill to be heard when the committee considered adjourning and finishing its long agenda another time. However, other committees must still review Senate Joint Resolution 93 and may not be as open as the health committee. The bill’s next stop is the Commerce and Labor Committee on Tuesday, March 31.

Editorial: Revived Insure Tennessee Deserves a Floor Vote (Memphis Daily News)
Insure Tennessee deserves a vote on the floors of the Tennessee House and Senate. The amendments offered in the second life of the Medicaid expansion proposal are reasonable additions that answer legitimate concerns of legislators whose feelings about the Affordable Care Act and its ramifications run the gamut from blind faith to blind hatred. It is reasonable to wait on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, a case that deals specifically with health care exchanges in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling, which could have a broad impact, is expected this summer. Likewise, some kind of confirmation in writing from Washington that Tennessee can call this off if the feds change who pays for the expansion could work.

Free-Press Editorial: We want better school funding now (Times Free-Press)
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick charged this week that a multi-county lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s funding of public education as inadequate really amounts to “suing the state’s taxpayers for a tax increase …” Isn’t that the epitome of politicians’ double-talk to deflect responsibility from their own failures? No, Rep. McCormick. It really amounts to suing the state’s lawmakers and administrators for being unwilling or incapable of fully funding the laws they’ve put on the books to use the taxes Tennesseans have already paid for our schools and our children. Specifically, the suit filed Tuesday charges that Tennessee has “breached its duty under the Tennessee Constitution to provide a system of free public education for the children of the state.”

Times Editorial: Tennessee should move ahead on medical marijuana (TFP)
Medical marijuana will soon be legal in Georgia, and that’s a good thing. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Friday signed the hard-fought bill that was two years in the making. Now state agencies will prepare to implement it. The Peach State becomes one of 24 states plus Washington, D.C., to legalize marijuana for certain medical uses. The Georgia House voted 160-1 to approve a Senate compromise. The bill originally made people with nine medical conditions eligible for treatment with cannabis oil that has a minimal level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that makes pot users feel high. The compromise deleted one illness — fibromyalgia.

Editorial: Transparency spurs action on sex assaults (Commercial Appeal)
Just in time for uncommitted high school seniors to focus on the question of where they want to continue their studies next fall, colleges and universities are engaged in a new wave of transparency over the issue of campus crime. This is a welcome development for mothers, fathers and students who, frankly, could not be sure in the past whether they were being given straight information about the frequency of crimes committed on campus. The perception that college administrators have not been forthcoming about campus crime has held steady. Until now.