April 16 TN News Digest

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

Automotive supplier Magneti Marelli to add 450 jobs (Times Free-Press)
Automotive supplier Magneti Marelli is expanding its Pulaski, Tenn., plant, creating 450 new jobs, to add headlight production for Volkswagen and other automakers. Magneti Marelli currently employs more than 950 people at its Giles County operations, making shock absorbers and headlights for Fiat Chrysler and Mercedes. The 80,000-square-foot expansion will allow the company to add headlight production for General Motors, VW and Honda vehicles. VW has a production plant in Chattanooga. The expansion is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Jackson Kayak Plans $6.5 Million Expansion (Area Development)
Jackson Kayak will invest $6.5 million to expand its current operations by opening a new manufacturing facility at the former Philips Lighting building, 3300 McMinnville Highway, in Sparta, Tennessee. This expansion will create 250 new jobs in White County. Jackson Kayak produces whitewater, recreational, fishing and hunting kayaks and high performance coolers. With this additional space, Jackson Kayak will be able to expand manufacturing operations, bring in currently outsourced processes and house a new research and development center.

Haslam Announces Jackson Kayak to Expand, Open New White Co. Facility (TNR)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd along with Jackson Kayak officials announced the company will invest $6.5 million to expand their current operations in Tennessee by opening a new manufacturing facility in Sparta at 3300 McMinnville Highway, the former Philips Lighting building. This expansion will create 250 new jobs in White County. “We want to thank Jackson Kayak for expanding in Tennessee and creating these new jobs in Sparta and White County,” Haslam said.

Haslam Appoints Circuit Court Judge (Greeneville Sun)
Two prominent members of the Greene County legal community were among the final three candidates for the vacant 3rd Judicial District Circuit Court judgeship, but Gov. Bill Haslam today named Morristown lawyer Beth Boniface to fill the position. Others who made the final field of three candidates under consideration by Haslam were General Sessions Court Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. and Greeneville lawyer Linda Thomas Woolsey. “We are fortunate to have someone with Beth Boniface’s qualifications and experience to serve in this capacity.

Morristown attorney to replace Faulk (Times-News)
Morristown attorney Beth Boniface was appointed Tuesday to complete the eight year circuit judge term that Church Hill native Mike Faulk was elected to shortly before he succumbed to cancer last year. The Third Judicial District circuit judgeship covers Hawkins, Hamblen, Hancock and Greene counties. “We are fortunate to have someone with Beth Boniface’s qualifications and experience to serve in this capacity,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “She is known to be diligent and respectful. The Third Judicial District will be well served with her on the bench.”

Haslam goes off script during MJ Rotary visit (Wilson Post)
Education, roads, prosperity of the state and healthcare were topics Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam addressed when he decided to chuck a prepared speech and instead asked Rotarians what a second term governor “should focus on,” during his visit to Mt. Juliet Tuesday morning. His hour-long visit with the Mt. Juliet Breakfast Rotary Club at Victory Baptist Church at 7 a.m. was a lively discourse, with more than 50 members and dignitaries present to take part in the refreshing and intimate exchange. State Rep. Susan Lynn introduced the governor and said he has “results driven, common sense leadership” that has Tennessee with the fastest improving schools and tagged the “third best managed state in the nation.”

UT officials talk diversity at Murfreesboro summit (Tennessean/Tamburin)
More than 140 stakeholders from the University of Tennessee system gathered Wednesday to sketch out a road map that officials hope will point toward a deeper commitment to diversity on campuses across the state. The UT system’s first summit on diversity, which was hosted in Murfreesboro, featured experts from across the country. Speakers sparked discussion on the different ways diversity — or the lack of diversity — can manifest itself, from the makeup of a school’s student body or administration to the design of campus offices. UT system President Joe DiPietro said he has firsthand knowledge of the transformative effect diversity can have on a college student.

TBI confirms investigation of Sheriff Robert Arnold (Daily News Journal)
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating connections between Sheriff Robert Arnold, a chief deputy and a Georgia-based company that sells electronic cigarettes to inmates. “We did receive a request from the District Attorney Jennings Jones to investigate on Friday,” TBI spokesman Josh Devine said in an email to The Daily News Journal. “We are not in a position, at this early stage, to discuss specifics.” Jennings Jones, district attorney for the 16th Judicial District that includes Rutherford and Cannon counties, said he contacted the state Comptroller’s Office last week for assistance in looking into connections between Arnold, Joe Russell and the JailCigs company.

Judge won’t order Tennessee Virtual Academy to stay open (A. Press/Burke)
A judge on Wednesday refused to issue a temporary injunction that would allow a troubled virtual school to remain open. The ruling by Senior Judge Ben Cantrell is the latest setback for the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a contentious online school that has been ordered to close because of poor academic scores. The families of three children who attend the school filed a lawsuit last month saying Education Commissioner Candice McQueen exceeded her authority when she ordered the school shut down at the end of this academic year.

Tennessee House Votes to Name Bible as Official Book (Associated Press/Schelzig)
The Tennessee state House ignored serious constitutional concerns – and the wishes of Republican leaders in Statehouse – in voting to make the holy Bible the official state book. The chamber approved the measure 55-38 on Wednesday. It is sponsored by Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton, a former pastor, who argued that his proposal reflects the Bible’s historical, cultural and economic impact in Tennessee. Tennessee’s attorney general, Herbert Slatery, warned in a legal opinion earlier this week that the bill would violate separation of church and state provisions of both the federal and state constitutions.

TN House votes to make the Bible the official state book (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Following the second straight day of often-fiery debate, the state House voted 55-38 today to make the “Holy Bible” the official book of Tennessee. As concerns about the measure’s constitutionality and church-state questions continued to surface, Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, offered what he thought was a reasonable compromise through an amendment. It would have designated President Andrew Jackson’s Bible as the state’s official book. The amendment was killed on a 48-11 vote.

House OKs Bible as official state book (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
After a second round of impassioned floor debate, the House voted 55-38 Wednesday to declare the Bible as Tennessee’s official state book. Wednesday’s debate consumed more than an hour, even after adoption of a rarely used rule limiting remarks of an individual member to no more than two minutes. The House also spent more than an hour debating the bill (HB615) on Tuesday. The final day’s discussion included an attempt by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, to amend the bill to declare that President Andrew Jackson’s Bible be designated the official state book instead of the “Holy Bible.”

House Divided, But Signs Off on Holy Bible as ‘Official State Book’ (TN Report)
After two days and hours of debate, the Tennessee House has voted to designate the Holy Bible as the official state book. The General Assembly’s lower chamber approved House Bill 615, sponsored by Bean Station Republican Jerry Sexton, a retired minister, despite a deep, nonpartisan divide among members about what doing so would mean for the Volunteer State, and whether designating the ancient religious text as such will run afoul of clauses prohibiting religious establishment in the state and U.S. constitutions. The House voted 55-38 to approve the measure.

House Approves Plan To Make Holy Bible State’s Official Book (WPLN-Radio Nash)
The Tennessee House of Representatives has narrowly approved a bill that would make the Holy Bible the state’s official book. The measure now heads over to the state Senate, where it could face an equally strenuous debate. House Bill 615 squeaked through the House Wednesday morning with 55 votes, just five more than the minimum needed to pass. Lawmakers spent more than two hours over two days debating the idea, longer than any other issue this session. Support for making the Bible a state symbol has come from Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike.

Tennessee Senate Passes 48-Hour Waiting-Period Abortion Bill (AP/Johnson)
Women would have to wait 48 hours before an abortion, under legislation approved by the Senate on Wednesday after lawmakers rejected an amendment to exempt cases of rape or incest. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet was approved 27-5 after nearly an hour of debate. The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the House floor. The legislation aims to restore abortion laws that were struck down by a state Supreme Court decision in 2000. In that ruling, the justices threw out the waiting period, along with requirements that clinics provide detailed information about the procedure and that all but first-term abortions be performed in hospitals.

Senate approves abortion waiting period; House votes next (Tenn/Wadhwani)
The Tennessee House on Thursday will take up two abortion measures — a 48-hour waiting period for women and new regulations of abortion providers — approved by the state Senate on Wednesday. Passage in the House appears likely. On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam signaled his approval for the new restrictions, telling reporters he was “comfortable with the direction those bills were going in.” One measure, introduced by Sen. Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet, would require women seeking an abortion to wait 48 hours after receiving in-person counseling by a physician before she could seek an abortion.

Senate approves Tennessee abortion bills. Next up, the House. (CA/Locker)
The state Senate approved two abortion bills Wednesday, one of which would reinstate the 48-hour waiting period and require doctors to provide a greater amount of information to patients seeking an abortion. The other bill, Senate Bill 1280, would require more extensive licensing and inspection of physicians’ offices where at least 50 abortions are performed yearly, by requiring them to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers. It won approval 28-4. The bills now go to the House, where approval is expected.

‘No Comment’ On Whether ACLU Will Sue Over New Abortion Regulations (WPLN)
The American Civil Liberties Union is staying “mum” about whether it would sue over new abortion regulations moving through the state legislature. The Tennessee Senate approved three regulations Wednesday, months after voters passed an amendment giving the legislature more power to restrict the procedure. The bills would require women wait 48 hours between seeing a doctor and having an abortion; abortion clinics become licensed surgical centers; and doctors give women specific and detailed information before the procedure.

Angry Republican lawmakers strike back at school systems (TFP/Sher)
Angry Tennessee Republican lawmakers are using the might of state government to strike back at school boards in Hamilton and six other area counties for suing the state over the adequacy of the Basic Education Program funding formula. The Senate’s and, later, House Finance Committee added an amendment Wednesday night to the proposed state budget implementation bill. The amendment, which will be considered in the bill that will be heard in both chambers today, specifically bars the systems from using any state or BEP funds for attorneys’ fees, court costs or other expenses associated with the litigation.

Seat belt fines going up (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Lawmakers on Wednesday approved the first increase in fines for not using vehicle safety belts since the first fines were imposed in the 1990s. The bill now goes to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law. The fine for first-time violators of the law increases from the current $10 to $25, and for 16- and 17-year-old drivers who violate law from $20 to $25. The fine for second-time and subsequent offenders ages 18 and up moves from $20 to $50. The bill doesn’t change current law provisions that say safety-belt violations are not subject to court costs nor points assessed by the state against their driving records.

Tennessee hospitals bill awaits Obama’s signature (News-Sentinel/Collins)
A bill that would give Tennessee hospitals and community centers more than a half-billion dollars from the federal government over the next decade is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature. The U.S. Senate voted 92-8 Tuesday night to approve the measure, which was part of a broader Medicare-reform bill. The legislation will send $53 million in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital, or DSH, payments to Tennessee hospitals each year for the next 10 years to help them recover the cost of treating patients who cannot afford to pay.

Federal ‘doc fix’ will bring millions to Tennessee hospitals (Times Free-Press/Belz)
Though Tennessee hospitals are still smarting from the failure of Gov. Bill Haslam’s attempt to expand Medicaid, they have found some consolation in a congressional bill passed Tuesday night that will bring $80 million in federal and state funding to hospitals each year for the next decade. “This doesn’t take the sting out of Insure Tennessee, but it’s still a major victory for Tennessee hospitals,” said Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association. For many safety-net hospitals in Tennessee, the funding “can mean the difference between them having anything on their bottom line or being in the negative,” Becker explained.

Hospital execs ‘on edge’ after Insure Tennessee failure (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Legislative rhetoric in a state that is nearly in a health crisis is too focused on politics and not policy or on reducing chronic disease, hospital executives say. Leaders of greater Nashville’s health care industry, which contributes $30 billion annually to the local economy, have backed Insure Tennessee and described it as an opportunity for the state to ensure access to health insurance for hundreds of thousands who are not covered. “It’s not about policy. This is about politics,” said William F. Carpenter III, chairman and CEO of LifePoint Hospitals.

ET bats disappearing as white-nose syndrome spreads (News-Sentinel/Simmons)
Three of Tennessee’s most common species of bats have been hit hard by a fast-spreading fungal disease that has wiped out entire bat populations in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Cave surveys conducted this winter reveal sharp declines in little brown bats, northern long-eared bats and tricolored bats due to white-nose syndrome. Biologists say the impacts of the disease appear to be similar to those already witnessed in states like New York, where white-nose syndrome first was detected in 2006. Cory Holliday, director of the Tennessee Cave Program for the Nature Conservancy, said caves that historically have sheltered thousands of hibernating little brown bats now appear to have none.

House Appropriations Committee unlocks funds for river projects (TFP/Flessner)
Funding to revive work on the stalled new Chickamauga lock could be in the works in fiscal 2016 under a budget plan taking shape among Congressional appropriators. The House Appropriations Committee is set today to approve a spending plan that would add $142 million next year above the current funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for building and maintaining America’s dams and locks, including the crumbling 75-year-old lock at the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga. The budget plan adopted by the House Energy and Water Development subcommittee would provide $865 million more than what President Obama had proposed for the Corps for next year.

Medicare Overpays as Hospital Prices Rise (Wall Street Journal)
New Jersey’s Christ Hospital collected $2.93 million in special payments for treating the sickest Medicare patients in 2013, more than quadruple what it had the prior year. Much of the increase didn’t come from treating more patients or providing more care. It came from higher list prices charged by the Jersey City hospital—markups of at least 60% from the prior year for many patients with common diagnoses, billing records show. List prices charged by hospitals aren’t supposed to matter to Medicare because the government doesn’t pay them. The federal program almost always pays fixed amounts based mostly on patients’ conditions. That is supposed to prevent hospitals from sticking the government with big price hikes.

TVA completes refueling of Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant (Times Free-Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant has returned the Unit 2 reactor to service following a 27-day scheduled refueling and maintenance project. “The Browns Ferry team did an excellent job coming together to successfully complete Unit 2’s refueling outage,” Site Vice President Keith Polson said in a statement today. “Their work ensures that plant equipment is even more reliable and that Unit 2 is ready for the next two-year cycle.” During the outage, completed last Friday, the Browns Ferry team logged approximately 193,000 man-hours of work activities, including the installation of 260 new fuel assemblies in the Unit 2 reactor core.


Editorial: Higher education funding formula deserves support (News-Sentinel)
The University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus pumped $1.6 billion into the state’s economy during the 2013-14 academic year, and its intangible benefits extend statewide, according to a recently released study from UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research. UT Knoxville accounted for about 33,000 jobs, including those supported by university spending as well as direct employment. Perhaps even more importantly, graduates add to the overall education level of the workforce, making Tennessee more attractive to employers. These results more than justify Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget proposal to fully fund the performance-based formula for higher education expenditures.

Editorial: De-annexation bill could hurt big and small municipalities alike (C Appeal)
How about these two scenarios: Lucy community residents still upset about being annexed by Millington successfully de-annex themselves from the northwest Shelby County city. Southwind/Windyke residents in southeast Shelby County, who made it clear they did not want to become Memphians, successfully de-annex themselves from Memphis. Unlikely situations? They would not be if a bill making its way through the Tennessee General Assembly is allowed to become law. Such an outcome could create disastrous consequences for urban and suburban municipalities alike. This poorly thought-out bill needs to be killed in committee and never brought up again.