April 11 TN News Digest

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

Haslam stops in Knoxville for Tennessee Reconnect (Knox News-Sentinel/Slaby)
“If you’re an adult in Tennessee, you can go to one of our colleges of applied technology absolutely free.” That’s Gov. Bill Haslam’s one-sentence version of Tennessee Reconnect, a scholarship for adults to attend any Tennessee College of Applied Technology tuition-free. “When you say free, it attracts a lot of people who thought they couldn’t afford it,” Haslam said. Friday at the Knoxville TCAT was the last stop in Haslam’s weeklong tour of the state to promote the new program. Haslam announced Tennessee Reconnect earlier this year, and last month, each of the 27 TCAT campuses had an open house for potential Reconnect students.

Haslam visits Knoxville to promote free tech school for adults (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
If you’ve ever thought about going back to school– but didn’t know how to pay for it– the state of Tennessee is offering to pick up the bill. Governor Bill Haslam spent the week touting his plan to offer free technical college to adults. He made his last stop Friday at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Knoxville. The initiative is called Tennessee Reconnect and like Tennessee Promise, it’s funded through lottery reserve funds. The difference is that Tennessee Promise is for high school seniors and applies to community colleges and technical schools.

Gov. Haslam announces new program for non-traditional students (WVLT-TV)
Governor Bill Haslam traveled across the state this week ending in Knoxville on Friday to announce Tennessee Reconnect, a Drive to 55 initiative for adults to attend a Tennessee College of applied technology free of tuition and fees. By 2025, 55 percent of the jobs available in Tennessee will require a post-secondary credential, and currently only 33 percent of Tennesseans qualify. The governor launched his Drive to 55 two years ago to increase the number of Tennesseans with a post-secondary degree or certificate. “Our TCAT’s have an 80 percent graduation rate and an 85 percent job placement rate. To reach our Drive to 55 goals, we know we have to reach adults in Tennessee without a credential and get them back into higher education,” Haslam said.

Haslam promotes Tennessee Reconnect in Chattanooga (TFP/Benton)
Javier Irizarry was a single father of two in 1991 when he realized “how hard it is to raise children without a college education,” he said Friday at an event here to launch the new Tennessee Reconnect program aimed at adults who want a fresh shot at a new career. Maybe you’re like Irizarry and were forced into the job market too early. Or your start at a four-year university was thwarted by turns in life or the economy. Or you just want a better job. Tennessee Reconnect, a new, tuition-free program, can get you back in the game.

Haslam promotes “Tennessee Reconnect” in Chattanooga (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was in Chattanooga speaking at Chattanooga State to promote “Tennessee Reconnect”. It’s part of the “Drive to 55” initiative. Tennessee Reconnect allows adults to attend a Tennessee community college with free tuition and no fees. Officials say by 2025, 55 percent of the jobs available in Tennessee will require a post-secondary degree, and currently only 33 percent of Tennesseans qualify. His plan aims at improving graduation rates to 55 percent by that same year.

Haslam’s Reconnect Tennessee Program: Get An Education For Free (WTVC-TV)
If you’re looking for a way to train for a better career, don’t let age stand in the way. That’s Governor Bill Haslam’s message, as he promoted hs Reconnect Tennessee program in Chattanooga. The program wants to attract hard workers who want to explore new careers with the lure of free tuition at many Tennessee colleges. We found people at Chattanooga State eager to take the governor up on his offer. Casey Lemons of Cleveland and Donald Rowe Junior of Chattanooga are students at the Tennessee Center for Applied Technology at Chattanooga State.

New program lets you get technical degree tuition-free (Times Free-Press/Benton)
If you’re at least 24 years old, you already qualify for tuition-free training at any one of Tennessee’s 27 Colleges of Applied Technology, according to Gov. Bill Haslam who was touting the new state program Tennessee Reconnect this week on a kick-off tour of the state that stopped in Chattanooga on Friday. Tennessee Reconnect is an initiative program for adults that aims to gives them a way to get a post-secondary degree or certificate at any of the technology college. The program is an initiative of the Drive to 55 campaign to get at least 55 percent of Tennessee’s citizens at least a two-year degree or technical certificate by 2025 to keep pace with demands of the job market.

Carlex to expand, add 50 jobs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)
Carlex Glass Co. plans to expand its manufacturing operation in Vonore and add 50 jobs, as the company adapts to changing trends in automotive demand, its president said Friday. Construction will begin soon on a 100,000-square-foot expansion of the Monroe County plant, said Jim Shepherd, Carlex president. A production line will be added and about 50 people hired to produce laminated side windows for automobiles. Production is targeted to begin by spring 2016. “The automotive industry is very strong right now and our demand continues to grow, not just in terms of volume but also in the evolution of products,” Shepherd said.

Meigs County Woman Charged With TennCare Fraud (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)
A woman from Meigs County has been charged in Bradley County with TennCare fraud in a case involving prescription drugs. 36-year-old Elizabeth Lamb of Decatur is charged with two counts of doctor shopping, which is the act of visiting multiple physicians in a short period of time to obtain prescription drugs, using TennCare as payment. The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office helped in her arrest. “The abuse of TennCare benefits, especially to obtain pain medications, is our number one priority, “Inspector General Manny Tyndall said.

Reporters may need permission to use laptop, phone in court (Associated Press)
Reporters may soon have to get permission from a judge any time they want to bring a cell phone, laptop or other digital device inside a courtroom. Officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts said Friday those requirements are part of a proposed Tennessee Supreme Court rule that regulates media coverage in the courtroom. AOC officials said permission would be required even if the reporter were not Tweeting or streaming video from the courtroom but simply wanted to use a laptop to take notes or have a silent phone on hand.

Certificate of need program to get legislative review (Tennessean/Fletcher)
The state’s certificate of need program — the gatekeeper to health care provider expansion — has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as two hospitals unsuccessfully competed to build a freestanding emergency room. But a burgeoning debate about reform could keep the program in the spotlight. Health care providers apply with the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency for a certificate of need to build new facilities or expand into new services. But the rules could change.

Approval of Graceland TDZ moves “Guest House” forward (Memphis Biz Journal)
A new tourism development zone that will include an estimated 120 acres of property around Graceland was approved earlier this week by the Tennessee state legislature. Tourism development zones allow a portion of sales tax collected on products and services related to the designated areas to be used to pay for projects related to attractions within the zones. With the state’s approval, the next step will be approval from Memphis City Council for a 5 percent surcharge on sales tax in the TDZ. If the City Council approves that portion, the road toward construction of the $75 million Guest House at Graceland, a 450-room hotel, will become even clearer.

Chattanooga Airport funds could dive under proposal (Times Free-Press/Sher)
A state fund that helps pay for improvements at dozens of Tennessee airports, including Chattanooga’s, will see its revenues whacked by two thirds under a Haslam administration-backed tax break for Memphis-based FedEx. A last-minute amendment on a bill would cap any company’s aviation-fuel tax liability at $10.5 million annually. It would only impact FedEx and has been pushed by the company behind the scenes. The 4.5 cent-per-gallon aviation-fuel surcharge flows into the state’s Transportation Equity Fund, which provides an estimated $32 million in grants annually to airports.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann to host military academy day (Times Free-Press)
Students who are interested in attending a U.S. military academy can learn all about the process today in Chattanooga. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann will host the 3rd Congressional District’s annual Military Service Academy Day, open to prospective students, parents and guidance counselors who want to learn about applying for a congressional nomination to an academy. Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard academies, as well as ROTC, will be speaking. Students will have an opportunity to visit with the representatives after the program.

Gun-friendly climate means big business in Tennessee (Tennessean/McGee)
When executives from Italian gunmaker Beretta USA were looking to expand their U.S. manufacturing base, the first step was to make a list of gun-friendly states. “The first bright-line criteria was (is) it a state not only that was pro-gun, but that was likely to be pro-gun for many decades or generations to come,” said Jeff Reh, general counsel for Beretta. It was not until after they assessed the political climate that they turned their attention to what most corporations prioritize: tax rates, workforce quality, education system, climate and proximity to their current base in Maryland. Tennessee rose to the top of their list, and in 2014, the company announced that not only would it be expanding in Gallatin, but it would move its entire operations there.

TriStar Southern to appeal ER decision (Tennessean/Fletcher)
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center is appealing a state decision to deny its plan, along with a similar plan by Saint Thomas Midtown, to build an $11.3 million freestanding emergency department near Brentwood. TriStar Southern Hills submitted an intent to appeal the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency decision while Saint Thomas did not, said Jim Christoffersen, general counsel with the agency. The deadline to start the appeal process was April 9; the HSDA voted to deny both certificate of need applications on March 25. TriStar Southern Hills is appealing because the decision because its main campus on Wallace Road in Davidson County is at capacity, said Katherine Radel, spokeswoman.



Guest columnist: Lawmakers paralyzed by fear of defeat, lack of leadership (Tenn)
Our politics and government are broken from here to Washington, and our very democracy is at stake. Re-election has become all-consuming to too many incumbents; campaign money, much of it from special interests that cannot even vote for those to whom they are giving it, has become king. Most of our elections are being decided in narrow-minded party primaries rather than broadly debated general elections, and good government decisions are the casualties. If there was any doubt about this being the case in our state, blockage for the second time recently of Insure Tennessee by another legislative committee should be one more very convincing bit of evidence.

Free-Press Editorial: Bible Deserves To Be More Than Trivia Answer (TFP)
Nearly two months ago, we noted that the Bible is the world’s best-selling book and contains all of the necessary information needed for personal salvation, but said making it Tennessee’s “official state book” was trivializing it to the maximum. Nevertheless, it appears a bill doing just that will reach the state House and Senate floors next week and would have enough votes to pass. Who, after all, wants to be the candidate in a conservative, rural county in 2016 who voted against the Bible? It’s possible a ruling by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, finding that it violates the state constitutional mandate that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship,” will stop the bill in its tracks.

Editorial: Impulse to conduct public’s business out of sight remains healthy (CA)
Not a day goes by, it seems, when the public is not beating back an attempt to thwart its ability to find out about, report and, in a relatively recent development, videotape what public servants are up to. So here we go again with legislation passed this week in the Tennessee legislature that bans the use of cellphones and other electronic devices for recording video or taking photographs inside polling places. Senate Bill 597, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, looks harmless on its face: It requires county election officials to allow voters to access information on their phones to “assist the voter in making an election decision.”