April 4 TN News Digest

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

35 TN counties will receive federal disaster assistance according to Haslam (WATE)
Governor Bill Haslam said 35 counties still recovering the severe winter storm of will receive federal government assistance. According to Tennessee Emergency Management, $30.4 million was spent on response and recovery actions by state and local governments during the storm. Federal assistance would reimburse 75 percent of costs related to debris removal, emergency protective measures, and rebuilding and repairing roads, bridges, water control facilities, buildings, utilities and recreational facilities.

Severe Winter Weather Results in Fed Disaster Assistance for 35 Counties (TNR)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today the federal government will provide assistance to 35 counties still recovering from the severe winter storm of February 15 to February 22, 2015, that took 30 lives and caused widespread damage. “This deadly and devastating storm required a comprehensive and coordinated response from many, and this federal assistance will hopefully provide some relief to these counties that are trying to recover and rebuild,” Haslam said.

Counties across Tenn thrilled to receive ‘much-needed’ disaster aid (TFP/Healey)
County officials across Tennessee breathed a collective sigh of relief Thursday when President Barack Obama declared a week-long stretch of winter weather in February, that claimed the lives of 30 people and caused extensive damage, a federal disaster. The declaration means that the 35 counties affected by snow and ice storms between Feb. 15-22 can apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement of up to 75 percent of costs incurred due to the weather. Allen Lendley, director of emergency management and homeland security for Coffee County, said county officials were thrilled to receive the declaration.

FEMA excludes Hawkins from winter storm disaster aid (Times-News)
Hawkins County was excluded Thursday from a list of 35 Tennessee counties that will receive federal disaster aid for recovery efforts from severe winter weather and flooding that occurred Feb. 15-22. Neighbors including Hancock County, Grainger County and Hamblen County did receive federal disaster aid, however. Last month, Hawkins County claimed about $380,000 in federal disaster aid, most of which was related to city and county snow and ice removal. The county’s threshold to be eligible for federal disaster aid funds is $202,000.

Cleveland State unveils ‘Community First Plan’ (Times Free-Press/Leach)
Cleveland State Community College seeks to expand academic programming and engage innovative technology and teaching concepts in the classroom as part of its “Cleveland State 2020 Community First Plan.” “It honors our past while boldly looking into the future,” said Cleveland State President Bill Seymour. On Thursday, Seymour presented plan highlights to an audience of faculty, staff, students and community stakeholders. He described the “intentionally inclusive” plan as one that was “uniquely developed by the community for the community.”

Tennessee housing needs spur plan, meeting (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
The future of Tennessee’s plan for housing and community development will be presented and discussed Monday in Nashville as part of a series of public hearings. The Tennessee Housing Development Agency wants comments on its five-year plan through May 4. The Nashville meeting is scheduled for 9-11 a.m. Monday in the ground floor hearing room of the Andrew Jackson State Office Building at 502 Deaderick Street. The agency needs to chart how money from four federal housing and urban development programs will be spent, attempting to match state needs with available aid.

State chooses old Arlington Developmental site for veterans’ home (CA/Locker)
State officials have selected the old Arlington Developmental Center site in northeast Shelby County for a new $70 million veterans home. Officials of the Tennessee State Veterans’ Homes Board told the state Senate’s Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Thursday of the site’s selection over other sites reviewed in Fayette, Shelby and Tipton counties. The board hopes to acquire 40 to 45 acres, behind the Arlington Sports Complex which fronts on Memphis-Arlington Road west of Paul Barret Parkway and north of Interstate 40. The nursing home will house 144 Tennessee veterans of U.S. military service.

Lawmakers On Each Side Of Debate Say They’re Making Tennessee Safer (WPLN)
Just steps away from Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, the debate over guns-in-parks legislation has pit two groups of Tennesseans against one another: those who feel they’re safer when exercising their right to carry firearms, and those who feel more guns mean more risk. Lawmakers divide along the same lines. Nashville Rep. Mike Stewart, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, says his view on guns was formed in part by his service in Korea. There, guns often discharged accidentally, even though the soldiers who handled them had gone through hours of training.

House Republicans plan to stick to their guns on amendment removal (TFP/Sher)
House Republican leaders on Thursday defended their plans to strip a Senate amendment from a bill which originally allowed handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in local parks but now also lets them go armed in the state “Capitol complex.” “It was poorly drafted and it jeopardizes the entire bill,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters during a news conference with other top GOP leaders Thursday. The amended bill will come up again in next week’s House session. Harwell said the amendment would impact “all the security we have everywhere. It’s not just the Capitol. It’s all the buildings surrounding the Capitol. Obviously it was not offered in a constructive fashion.”

Law would require all police departments to sell their seized guns (TFP/Bradbury)
Last year, Chattanooga police seized 702 contraband guns from city streets. Officers snagged guns that were used in robberies, burglaries and homicides. Guns that were illegally possessed. Fired in gang shootings. Stolen. Now most of those guns are sitting in storage in the police evidence room — and Chattanooga Police Department Chief Fred Fletcher wants to keep them there, under lock and key. But a proposed change to state law would require Fletcher — and every other law enforcement agency chief in the state — to sell those seized guns back to the public in an auction every six months.

Tenn’s encounter with a law similar to IN, Arkansas came last year (CA/Veazey)
With so much attention focused on Indiana and Arkansas this week because of their respective legislative efforts in the name of religious freedom that many viewed as anti-gay, it’s worth remembering that Tennessee encountered this same issue just last year. And it came — at least, initially — from a Shelby County lawmaker, Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican from Germantown. Kelsey’s Senate Bill 2566, introduced into the General Assembly early last year, would’ve enacted this, according to its summary: As introduced, permits persons and religious or denominational organizations, based on sincere religious belief, to refuse to provide services or goods in furtherance of a civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the Tennessee Constitution.

Activist Starrett to challenge DesJarlais in GOP primary (Associated Press)
A Republican activist from Murfreesboro is announcing a challenge to scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in next year’s GOP primary in the 4th Congressional District. Grant Starrett, a former staffer on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said he wants to be elected to Congress to help fight a “moral crisis” facing the country. DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who now opposes abortion rights, won a third term in November despite a series of personal scandals that included affairs with patients, urging a mistress to seek an abortion and once holding a gun in his mouth for hours outside his ex-wife’s room.

Wright Medical headquarters needs parking for 100 more employees (CA/Bailey)
A proposed parking lot expansion reveals that Wright Medical Group is preparing to expand by 33 percent the workforce at its new East Memphis headquarters. The landlord for the medical device maker has filed an application with the Land Use Control Board to build more parking on its parklike campus at 1023 Cherry Road to accommodate an additional 100 employees. About 300 work there now. Wright moved its corporate headquarters in January 2014 from suburban Arlington to the long-vacant Oaksedge campus on Cherry near Park, adjacent to Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

OPINION

Greg Johnson: Spring into better shape (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Ah, spring. Warm days, cool nights. Frost some days, flowers the next. Grass grows. Trees reach for the sky. With winter done, hope abounds for new growth. Unless, that is, the new growth is around the midriff after a sedentary winter. Unless, that is, it’s our glucose count climbing higher. Unfortunately, if this winter was anything like the last several winters, that’s exactly what happened to way too many Tennesseans. Gov. Bill Haslam last month announced his Healthier Communities initiative. A release from Haslam’s office pointed to an increase in obesity and the rise in diabetes as signs of this long, dreadful season for our state’s collective health.

Steve Dickerson: Medical marijuana would help neediest Tennesseans (Tenn)
Tennesseans are in need. About one in three Tennesseans will suffer from cancer at some point in their lives and over 30,000 Tennesseans depend on end-of-life palliative care. While medical science is rapidly advancing in both areas, we have a medicine now that could be of great benefit but we are unable to use it. In numerous studies, extracts derived from cannabis have been shown to have widespread, beneficial impact on these illnesses and a host of others.

Note: The news-clips will resume on Monday, April 6, 2015.