April 14 TN News Digest

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

Exporting businesses add 90,672 jobs in Tenn, GA in past 5 years (TFP/Flessner)
Fillaeur Cos. Inc. is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with an expansion of the production facility where the orthotic and prosthetic maker has operated from for the past century. But while Fillaeur has maintained its headquarters in Chattanooga for the past century, the medical equipment maker is increasingly looking overseas to grow its business. “We’ve hired a new export manager this year and we’re going to more trade shows and events around the world to grow our international sales,” said Traci B. Dralle, director of marketing at Fillauer Companies, Inc. “We’re eager to tap into the bigger global market.”

Haslam: Bible as official Tennessee book not ‘respectful’ (Tennessean/Boucher)
A bill to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee isn’t very “respectful” in the view of Gov. Bill Haslam. The Tennessee Attorney General also thinks the bill, set for a vote Tuesday morning in the House, may be unconstitutional. “The governor doesn’t think it’s very respectful of what the Bible is,” said David Smith, a Haslam spokesman. The Associated Press obtained a copy of an opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery. The AP writes that Slatery believes the bill would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions. Slatery’s office hadn’t widely released the opinion as of Monday evening.

Attorney general says Bible can’t be official Tennessee book (Associated Press)
A bill seeking to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a legal opinion Monday. The opinion was issued to lawmakers a day before the full House was scheduled to vote on the measure sponsored by freshman Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station. “The Bible is undeniably a sacred text of the Christian faith,” Slatery wrote in the opinion obtained by The Associated Press. “Legislative designation of The Holy Bible as the official book … must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion.”

Haslam heads Mule Day parade (Columbia Daily Herald)
Cale Reed of Spring Hill waited anxiously for a special passenger atop his shiny wooden wagon Saturday in Columbia. Reed, whose mare mule “Mary” was crowned Grand Champion of Skillington Draft Mule Show last year and earned the title “King Mule,” was tasked with carrying the 2015 Mule Day Parade Grand Marshal Gov. Bill Haslam. Reed said he found out a few weeks ago he would be escorting Haslam in the parade with his gray mules Kit and Kate. “I already knew who it was going to be. It was shocking, really,” Reed said. “Between this and the show later and everything else, I have a few butterflies.”

Tenn. leads nation in combating veteran joblessness (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee is leading the nation in addressing unemployment among military veterans, officials said Monday at a Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce event in Murfreesboro. “Unemployment among National Guard was twice state average,” said Steve Brophy, vice president, Government Affairs, Dollar General. After learning that fact, he decided to try to fix the issue in Tennessee, he said. He said veterans bring valuable assets to the civilian world, both soft skills and hard skills, and that why he worked with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development to develop Paychecks For Patriots.

TBI joins investigation of Nashville DA Glenn Funk (Tennessean/Barchenger)
Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk is the focus of an investigation by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. TBI officials confirmed the investigation was related to controversy over Funk’s enrollment in a state benefits plan before he took office as district attorney. “On April 1st, at the request of Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, TBI Special Agents began assisting in the investigation of District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk’s employment by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference and his application for and receipt of pension and health insurance benefits from the State of Tennessee,” a TBI spokesman said in an email to The Tennessean.

Tennessee farmers, researchers apply for first industrial hemp permits (N-S/Kimel)
Fifty-three individuals and businesses across the state, including seven from East Tennessee, will serve as test cases for Tennessee’s industrial hemp law. That’s how many applications, plus one that was later withdrawn, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture received for the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program by the April 1 deadline. How those applications will be evaluated — or whether anyone will actually be able to grow a crop this year — is still uncertain. Growing hemp without a federal permit was banned in 1970 due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

Mobile museum exhibit part of TDOT 100-year celebration (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Department of Transportation will turn 100 on July 1. As part of the celebration, a mobile transportation museum exhibit is being showcased at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. The exhibit features historical documents, roadway design plans, books and equipment used by TDOT employees decades ago. In May, the exhibit will continue its journey along Tennessee’s first road, SR-1, where its next stop will be in Crossville, Tennessee.

Arkansas Fundraiser Fined By Tennessee Secretary of State (Associated Press)
An Arkansas-based marketing firm has been fined $57,500 by the Tennessee secretary of state’s office for failing to register in the state. A release from the secretary of state’s office Monday said a year-long investigation into Gaylon Boshears found he illegally operated the Little Rock-based company Southern Sports & Events Marketing in Tennessee. The investigation report found Boshears illegally held fundraisers between 2011 and 2014 for police groups in Murfreesboro, LaVergne, Columbia and other Tennessee cities.

Tennessee high court postpones all scheduled execution dates (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Supreme Court postponed execution dates for four inmates, effectively halting all executions while the courts decide whether current protocols for putting people to death are constitutional. Tennessee last executed a prisoner in 2009. Since then, legal challenges and problems obtaining lethal injection drugs have stalled new executions. In 2013 and 2014, the state tried to jump-start the process with a new one-drug lethal injection method and the reinstatement of the electric chair as a backup.

Tennessee bill allows use of certain amounts of cannabis oil (Associated Press)
Legislation that would allow a person to possess cannabis oil under certain circumstances is headed to the governor for his consideration. The proposal was unanimously approved 26-0 in the Senate and 95-0 in the House on Monday. Republican Sen. Becky Massey of Knoxville, a sponsor of the proposal, emphasized the measure is not a “marijuana” bill, but allows certain amounts of cannabis oil to be used for the treatment of seizures, particularly in the case of children. Massey says the legislation contains provisions to make sure the oil is not abused.

Cannabis oil bill steps away from becoming Tennessee law (Tennessean/Boucher)
A unanimous vote Monday night means state lawmakers support the legalized, limited usage of medicinal cannabis oil. For Stacie Mathes, that vote means her one-year-old daughter Josie may finally find relief from the seizures that plague her life. “It was our hope and dream that it would (be approved), and then for it to actually happen, it’s life changing. It’s life-saving. I think that’s the most important part of all of this. I’m speechless,” Mathes said Monday evening. The bill heads to the governor’s desk after lawmakers in the House and Senate approved the measure Monday evening.The Senate passed the bill by a unanimous 26-0 vote, while the House voted 95-0 a few minutes later.

Capitol report: Cellphones banned from polls, cannabis oil gets OK (NS/Locker)
Barring an unexpected veto by Gov. Bill Haslam, it will be illegal to use a cellphone, “mobile electronic, or communication device” for conversations, taking photographs or recording videos inside of a polling place in Tennessee next year. Without debate, the state Senate on Monday concurred with a House amendment setting the bill’s effective date for Jan. 1, 2016, and sent the bill to the governor, who’s expected to allow it to become law. Sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Germantown, SB597 explicitly allows the use of cellphone apps designed to aid voters while inside polling places but bans most other uses.

Tennessee guns-in-parks bill likely headed to conference committee (AP)
Tennessee lawmakers anticipate that a special committee will be needed to work out differences in a proposal that would allow people with handgun-carry permits to be armed in all of the state’s parks — including greenways, playgrounds and sports fields. When the so-called guns-in-parks bill passed overwhelmingly earlier this month, a change was made to add the state Capitol complex to the areas where permit holders could be armed. The House voted overwhelmingly for the original bill but didn’t agree with the change and voted to strip that amendment from the proposal, which was sent back to the Senate. Members of that chamber voted against the change Monday afternoon and sent the measure back to the House.

Special committee for bill that allows guns in parks, capitol (Tennessean/Boucher)
The state Senate voted Monday to keep its amendment that allows guns in the statehouse included in the controversial guns-in-parks bill. The House agreed to disagree, creating the need for a conference committee. A conference committee is a committee of selected senators and representatives who meet to discuss changes to legislation where there’s disagreement between the two bodies. As it stands now, the bill nixes any local bans on people with handgun permits taking guns into parks and eliminates the ban on the same people taking guns into the statehouse. The bill also bans squirt guns or other imitation guns — but not real guns — within 150 feet of school property.

Rape kit legislation headed to governor (Associated Press)
Legislation that creates a protocol for the collection of sexual-assault evidence kits is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure was unanimously approved 32-0 in the Senate and 97-0 in the House on Monday. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will review the proposal when it reaches his desk. The proposal is one of at least three rape kit-related proposals sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville. Collierville is a suburb of Memphis, which experts say has one of the nation’s largest known backlogs of rape kits.

House approves $450M hospital fee to draw down federal money (A. Press)
The state House has voted 90-2 to approve an annual $450 million assessment on Tennessee hospitals to draw down $826 million in federal money. Democrats were quick to point out that the about 2-to-1 match rate pales in comparison to vastly more favorable rate the state would have received if lawmakers approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal. Under Haslam’s plan, hospitals would have covered the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid funds to cover more than 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

State lawmaker urges Gov. Haslam to veto school lunch bill (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Free lunches at schools may be a thing of the past if a new bill is signed into law, but at least one state lawmaker is speaking out against it. The House approved a bill that would allow school districts to refuse federal funding from school breakfast and lunches. Supporters said it would give school districts the flexibility to provide more nutritious meals than the ones currently served at schools. But state Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said districts rely on that funding to provide meals for children whose parents may not otherwise be able to pay for them. Stewart has written a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam urging him to veto the bill.

Prosecutors argue law helps drug-addicted moms (TN/Boucher, Gonzalez)
No one wants a new mother to go to jail. But no one wants a woman to abuse drugs while she’s pregnant, either. Faced with both of those options as the state confronts a growing number of babies born dependent on drugs, Tennessee has tried to make a difference, weighing measures involving both treatment and punishments for women. Lawmakers first tried the “carrot” of enticing drug-addicted women to pursue prenatal treatment. And then, at the call of several eager prosecutors, they also created the “stick” last year: a controversial law approved that allows assault charges against mothers if they give birth to drug-dependent babies.

Corker expects no authorization for force against ISIS (Daily News Journal)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said a nuclear deal with Iran and its potential Congressional oversight will delay resolutions on other foreign relations issues, including an authorization for military force against fighters from the Islamic State group. Corker wants to see whether additional debate about military action some believe is already legal would have any effectiveness, according to comments the second-term senator made to The Daily News Journal’s editorial board on Friday afternoon. “You only want to do one serious, contentious issue at a time, so I want to get that behind us,” Corker said.

Tenn is No. 1 in electronic tax filing; most turn to Internet (TFP/Malek)
Maybe it’s the Gig City influence: Tennessee is going digital when it comes to Tax Day. As of Monday, the state had filed more electronic federal income tax returns per capita than any other state in the nation. “It’s tops,” said Internal Revenue Service spokesman Mark Green. “The state of Tennessee has set a record.” Tennessee taxpayers also had filed more returns by Monday than they ever have this close to the April 15 deadline. “All the people have stepped up to the plate and filed their returns much earlier than they have in past years,” Green said. “This has been the most returns we’ve ever received from the state of Tennessee at this point.”

States Target Long-Term Unemployment, Food Stamp Rolls (Stateline)
After years of struggling with stubbornly high unemployment and elevated food stamp rolls, 10 states and the federal government are embarking this year on an ambitious new effort to help the jobless find work. Passed as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has granted $200 million to 10 states to help solve two of the most prominent, lasting effects of the Great Recession: long-term unemployment and high enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps.
OPINION

Editorial: Feds: Give states, locals more control on education (Tennessean)
Fourteen years ago a bipartisan coalition of federal lawmakers passed the controversial and now much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act. Another bipartisan effort this year could reform the law to provide states and local school districts something they’ve pined for all this time: more local control. A deal crafted by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville, who is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, along with Democratic ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would remove the stick from the federal government that: • requires that states adhere to federal test-based accountability standards • tightly controls how states spend certain monies on education, and • mandates how teacher evaluations are to be carried out.

Editorial: Sens. Alexander, Corker lead on Iran, education (News-Sentinel)
When Republicans took control of the Senate after last year’s election, Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander figured to play more prominent roles. This week they are fulfilling those expectations. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Corker is at the center over the struggle between the White House and the Senate over the multi-lateral negotiations about Iran’s nuclear future. Alexander, who heads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has crafted a bipartisan overhaul of No Child Left Behind. Corker’s task is the more daunting one. He is trying to assemble and maintain a veto-proof coalition of Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation that would force the Obama administration to seek Senate approval of any agreement made with Iran regarding that country’s nuclear energy program.