April 2 TN News Digest

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

Advanced plastics manufacturer expanding to Knoxville (Associated Press)
An advanced plastics manufacturer is opening a new manufacturing facility in Knox County that’s expected to create more than 200 jobs. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced this week that Hicks Plastics plans to invest $10.4 million to expand its operations to Knoxville, Tennessee. Hicks Plastics produces automotive lighting components, specializing in molded and vacuum metalized lighting components. Officials say the company is expanding its manufacturing operations from Michigan to Knoxville in order to be closer to SL Tennessee, which manufactures and produces head lamps and tail lamps for the automotive market.

Hicks Plastics creating 202 jobs in Knoxville (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)
Hicks Plastics, a maker of automotive lighting components, plans to create 202 jobs, investing $10.4 million in a Knoxville plant, officials said Wednesday. The company is to begin producing its components in July and become fully operational by December, according to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “Through companies like Hicks Plastics, we will continue to strengthen our supplier network and provide opportunities for growth in our communities,” said Randy Boyd, the department’s commissioner.

Free tuition at Portland tech school on the way (Tennessean/Yankova)
A Portland couple is looking to take advantage of a program that will offer free continuing education at Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology campuses statewide this fall. Barry Empson plans to enroll in free courses this fall at the new Portland TCAT campus. The free classes are part of the newly-launched Tennessee Reconnect grant that will cover eligible adults’ tuition to all programs TCAT campuses statewide offer starting this fall. “It’s a second-chance opportunity to improve the lives of Tennessee citizens,” TCAT Assistant Director Jerry King said. “It will also provide the state with a well-educated and well-trained, quality workforce, which could increase standards of living tremendously.”

Montgomery County to receive funding for additional judge (Leaf Chronicle)
A fifth trial judge for the 19th Judicial District covering Montgomery and Robertson counties will help ease the ever-expanding civil and criminal caseload, but might also require the county to ante up for additional support staff in the coming budget season. State House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) announced Tuesday that a local circuit court judge will be added in the 19th Judicial District. The funding for the additional judge will be included in Gov. Bill Haslam’s annual budget, unveiled Tuesday. “I sincerely appreciate the governor recognizing the need for an additional judge in our region,” said Johnson in prepared comments.

Earthquake rattles Mo. bootheel, West Tennessee (Commercial Appeal)
A magnitude 4.0 earthquake rattled the Missouri bootheel late Wednesday night, and was felt as far south as the Memphis area, the USGS said. The quake struck at 10:51 p.m. and was centered near Steele, Mo., in the extreme southeast corner of Missouri. USGS received dozens of reports from people who said they felt the quake in West Tennessee and surrounding states. The reports ranged as far north as Carbondale, Ill. and as far south as DeSoto County, Miss.

Earthquake in Missouri felt in Memphis (Tennessean)
A magnitude 4.0 earthquake rattled the Missouri bootheel Wednesday night, and was felt as far south as the Memphis area, the USGS said. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that the quake struck at 10:51 p.m. and was centered near Steele, Mo. According to the Commercial Appeal, the USGS received dozens of reports from people who said they felt the quake in West Tennessee and surrounding states. Reports ranged as far north as Carbondale, Ill., and as far south as DeSoto County, Miss.

National Weather Service confirms earthquake (Jackson Sun)
Many readers throughout West Tennessee reported feeling a shaking sensation at about 10:55 p.m. Wednesday night. The National Weather Service in Memphis posted this tweet at 11:20 p.m., confirming an earthquake in southeast Missouri. “Initial reports confirm an earthquake near the MO Bootheel. Gathering details, but per @USGS, a 4.0 was registered. All prelim. info” On The Jackson Sun’s Facebook page, readers from towns including Jackson, Medina, Milan, McKenzie, Martin, Henderson, Oakfield all said they felt the shaking sensation.

April raises awareness as Child Abuse Prevention Month (WBBJ-TV)
April is deemed Child Abuse Prevention Month, and local officials including those at the Carl Perkins Center of Humboldt are stepping up to promote awareness. Officials looking out for the safety of children in Gibson county and all of West Tennessee, say staying aware is often what’s most important. “We absolutely want to make them aware that it’s here — it’s right here in our back door, in our front door all around us, and we want to make them aware of the signs to look for and aware of the resources we have,” said Bett Jewell, interim director of the Carl Perkins Center of Gibson County.

Local businesses participate in Child Abuse Prevention Month (Leaf Chronicle)
More than 175 businesses across Tennessee are participating in Child Abuse Prevention Month, as proclaimed by Governor Bill Haslam, as part of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s (PCAT’s) Pinwheels for Prevention® campaign. PCAT and its community partners are stepping up campaign activities during April in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In support of local campaign efforts, PCAT and partners are planting pinwheel gardens around the state, providing educational materials for parents and advocates, and broadcasting public service announcements to highlight the fact that investing in effective prevention is less costly to society, and to individuals, than trying to fix things later.

Tennessee says it is collecting unemployment overpayments (Associated Press)
Tennessee Department of Labor officials say they are continuing to collect millions of dollars of unemployment benefits that were improperly paid out. This comes after a scathing audit by the Tennessee comptroller’s office that said prisoners, state employees and at least one dead person have been on the rolls of those receiving unemployment benefits in Tennessee, in spite of repeated warnings that the state was improperly paying out tens of millions of dollars in jobless claims. The comptroller’s audit said the unemployment benefit system made overpayments of $98 million in the past six years. It estimated a backlog of payments could balloon that figure to $171 million.

Packing in Plaza: Senate votes to let weapons into legislative chambers (TFP/Sher)
Over the past six years, Republicans in Tennessee’s General Assembly have expanded handgun permit holders’ rights to go armed in restaurants, bars and state parks and to stash weapons in their vehicles on privately owned parking lots. But it may be a Senate Democrat who goes down in history for giving permit-holders the right to go armed in the place where lawmakers spend much of their time: the state Capitol. Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, was trying Tuesday to block a Republican bill taking away cities’ and counties’ authority to ban permit-holders from carrying firearms in public parks, playgrounds and ball fields. His solution? An amendment to let permit holders — 500,000 Tennesseans have one — go armed in the Capitol, Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building, which house committee hearings rooms and lawmakers’ offices, as well as other areas of the Capitol complex.

Tennessee Senate Votes To Let Guns Into State Capitol (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Guns could soon be allowed inside the Tennessee Capitol. The state Senate voted this morning to add the statehouse to a measure, House Bill 995, that would allow guns in all parks in Tennessee. Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) suggested the amendment to bring attention to the “hypocrisy” of allowing guns around children, yet not lawmakers. But Republicans called his bluff and approved it. “If we’re going to pass a law that requires local governments to have guns in their parks, then we should apply the same standard to ourselves.”

Bill to allow handguns in parks gets Senate OK (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
The state Senate approved a bill Wednesday to allow handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in local parks in Tennessee despite the objections of the local governments that operate them. The Senate approved the bill 26-7 but added an amendment to allow permit holders to carry guns in the State Capitol, Legislative Plaza and War Memorial Building, where lawmakers’ offices and hearing rooms are housed and where guns are currently banned. Security checkpoints and metal detectors at those buildings frequently create long lines for admission. The bill won House approval Monday but the amendment forces the bill to return there for either concurrence or rejection of the amendment.

Crowe votes to allow guns in parks (Johnson City Press)
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was among those who voted in the majority Wednesday to re-establish the right for handgun permit-holders to carry the weapons in local parks. The bill passed on the Senate floor in a 26-7 vote and will have to go back to the House for confirmation — a bill also tagged with an amendment allowing permit holders to bring their loaded weapons into the state capitol and capitol complex. “I think we all know that whether or not we prohibit guns in parks or allow the ‘good guys,’ our legally permitted citizens, to carry in parks, the ‘bad guys’ are going to carry in parks without regard for signs or the law,” Crowe told the Press following the morning vote.

Immigrant advocates tout tuition bill’s progress (Tennessean/Tamburin)
A bill that could make college more affordable for some of Tennessee’s undocumented students is making slow but steady progress in the General Assembly, and advocates say support is growing. The legislation, which would allow some undocumented high school students to pay in-state tuition at a public college in Tennessee, has won approval from committees in the Senate and the House since it was introduced in February. Along the way, Democrats and Republicans have signed on to co-sponsor the bill. “More legislators are jumping on board every day,” said Eben Cathey, spokesman for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

Bill to regulate Tennessee abortion clinics advances (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
A bill to regulate and inspect all abortion clinics in Tennessee is headed for a vote in the House. The measure proposed by Republican Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet would require facilities in which more than 50 abortions are performed annually to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers — a requirement that includes a long list of building, medical, staff and inspection specifications. Lynn said the measure was designed to protect women’s health by further regulating an invasive procedure, but opponents questioned whether the intent was to limit abortion access.

Abortion bills moving through Legislature (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
Abortion bills are moving in the Legislature. The House Health Committee recommended approval of a bill Wednesday to step up regulation of doctors’ offices where 50 or more abortions a year are performed. House Bill 1368 requires those offices to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers, subject to a higher level of state inspection and regulation. It now heads for a House floor vote, likely next week. The bill is also awaiting review in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Abortion-rights opponents and supporters differ in their views of the bill.

Anti-Abortion Legislation Finds Little Resistance (Memphis Daily News)
Buoyed by passage of Amendment 1 last fall, legislation restricting abortions is starting to roll – with relative ease – through the General Assembly. Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, began the push recently with measures backed by Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and the Republican ranks. Their bills couldn’t even draw enough resistance to require a roll-call vote. Amendment 1’s passage in November 2014 gives the Legislature authority to enact, amend or repeal abortion laws, not limited to circumstances dealing with pregnancy from rape or incest or when the mother’s life is endangered.

Legislature passes ‘aggressive panhandling’ bill (News-Sentinel/Locker)
The state House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill establishing “aggressive panhandling” as a new misdemeanor criminal offense in Tennessee. If Gov. Bill Haslam signs it into law as expected, a person could be charged with aggressive panhandling for soliciting a donation of money or goods in any of the following ways: Intentionally touching the person being solicited without the person’s consent. Intentionally obstructing the path of the person or the vehicle of the person being solicited. Following a person walking away from solicitation unless that person has indicated he or she wishes to make a donation.

Lawmakers Move Ahead With Plan To Make The Bible Tenn’s Official Book (WPLN)
Despite some hesitancy from lawmakers, a plan to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee is moving ahead. Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) said polling done by supporters of his bill shows a majority of Tennesseans agrees the Bible should be the official book. Most people, he added, believe it would be constitutional. But Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) said making the Bible a state symbol seems to diminish it. He noted it would be listed alongside “Rocky Top,” one of the state’s official songs. It includes lyrics that celebrate moonshining and killing a “stranger.” “It somehow breaks my heart,” he said. The proposal, House Bill 615, squeaked out of the House State Government Subcommittee on a 2-1 vote, with two other lawmakers abstained.

Bill to ban passengers from drinking in vehicles fails (Associated Press)
The latest effort to make it a crime to have open alcohol containers in vehicles driving on Tennessee roads has failed in a House committee. It’s already illegal in Tennessee to consume alcoholic beverages while driving, but that law does not extend to passengers. The perennial legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol was defeated on a voice vote in the State Government Committee on Tuesday. This year’s version would have included exemptions for chauffeur-driven cars, motor homes and other commercial vehicles.

Repeal ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ law sent to full House panel (Associated Press)
A bill to repeal a state law that sets requirements for which spirits can me marked as “Tennessee Whiskey” is poised for full committee votes in both the House and Senate next week. With a quorum of three members present on Wednesday, the House State Government Subcommittee advanced the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Sanderson Kenton on a voice vote. The law was passed in 2013 at the behest Jack Daniel’s, which argues it establishes minimum quality standards. It requires whiskey to be filtered through charcoal and aged in unused barrels in order to be sold as Tennessee Whiskey.

Fight To Define ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ Draws In Koch Brothers Group (WPLN)
An effort to widen the state’s narrow definition of “Tennessee whiskey” is gaining strength, and it’s drawn in a surprising ally: the libertarian group Americans for Prosperity. Lawmakers are debating a measure that would repeal the definition they put on the book just two years ago. The law has favored a few distillers — most notably Jack Daniel’s — while makers ranging from George Dickel to upstart micro-distillers have complained the restrictions are unfair. This year, the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity has joined the fight to create a new definition. State director Andrew Ogles says it’s OK for lawmakers to try to define the Tennessee whiskey brand, just not in a way that cuts off competition.

Why Watson voted against insurance for low-income Tennesseans (TFP/Sher)
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, says he voted against Insure Tennessee on Tuesday because “spending even more money to grow our Medicaid rolls may be good politics, but is not policy that taxpayers expect.” Watson was among seven GOP lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee who voted against efforts to revive Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. It failed on a 7-2 vote with a ninth member abstaining. As a member of the Senate Health Committee, Watson also voted against the resolution last week, but the resolution authorizing Haslam to proceed with the plan utilizing federal funds made available under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act nonetheless passed its first hurdle.

Tennessee GOP senator gives obscene response to protester (AP/Schelzig)
A state senator who has drawn the ire of supporters of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal called a protester an obscene name in a video posted to YouTube. The video captures an exchange between a protester and Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga at the legislative office complex Tuesday. A voice repeatedly asks the senator whether he would give up his state health insurance after contributing to the defeat of the measure to extend health insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that the video was taken by Trae Haggard of East Ridge, who was on the Hill to demonstrate in support of Insure Tennessee. “I was shocked he called a constituent that,” Haggard told the newspaper. Gardenhire said he was upset because he had been followed to a restroom by the protester. “When a guy follows you to the bathroom shouting and screaming at you, and you’re trying to do your business … He’s lucky I only called him by his first name,” Gardenhire said.

Sumner leaders fire off on guns-in-parks bill (Tennessean/Yankova)
Sumner County officials have mixed feelings about legislation repealing local bans on guns in parks that was approved this week by the state legislature. State law currently allows people with valid handgun permits to bring guns into any park, unless a local ordinance bans that. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, invalidates any such existing local laws, in places such as Hendersonville and Portland. “This bill today isn’t meant to … decriminalize aggression. It’s not meant to decriminalize those who would commit such heinous acts. It’s not about aggression; it’s about protection,” Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown, speaking for Harrison, said Monday.

Metro Schools gets 13 charter school applications (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Metro Nashville Public Schools received 13 charter school applications Wednesday after receiving 18 letters of intent in February. The majority of the applications are from companies the district is working with, including LEAD Public Schools, KIPP Nashville, Knowledge Academy and Rocketship. LEAD submitted four of those applications and Rocketship submitted another three. The district will need to assess the strength of each application. And ultimately, the Metro Schools Board of Education will decide whether to approve a charter to operate in the system. The district plans to provide recommendations to the board on June 16, and the board will vote on the individual applications on June 23, according to Alan Coverstone, Metro Schools executive director of innovation.



Editorial: Insure Tennessee supporters learn hard political lesson (Tennessean)
All the singing and praying in the world couldn’t deliver a Holy Week miracle for Insure Tennessee supporters. They had packed Legislative Plaza — a purple T-shirt-clad group filled with compassion and good intentions far too large for all to fit in the committee room where the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee met Tuesday afternoon. Hymns like “Wade in the Water” and “We Shall Overcome” resonated through the hallways as they waited for senators to hear the arguments and vote on a resolution to extend health coverage to nearly 300,000 working-poor Tennesseans. The result: A resounding rejection.

Times Editorial: State’s GOP always had a cover plan for Insure Tennessee (TFP)
Take a look at the State of Tennessee’s official online Newsroom & Media Center — news.tn.gov. To find anything about TennCare or Insure Tennessee — which failed to get a fair vote again this week — you’ll be scrolling down to Feb. 2. Never mind that Insure Tennessee has since then been in the news often and, in fact, been rejected not once but twice by committees of the Legislature — effectively killing a program that would use federal taxes we’ve already paid for our working poor’s health care without the measure ever getting a full Tennessee General Assembly vote.

The news-clips will resume on Saturday, April 4, 2015.