April 21 TN News Digest

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

Magna Seating unveils Spring Hill facility (Tennessean/Ragland-Hudgins)
The more Tennessee puts into the auto manufacturing sector, the more the state will receive in return, Gov. Bill Haslam said. Haslam was on hand for Monday’s grand opening of the Magna Seating facility located near the General Motors plant. The company supplies parts for a number of automakers, but the local facility will focus on seats and other components for the Chevrolet Equinox and the Cadillac SRX, which is scheduled to being production in Spring Hill in 2016. “Automotive is the ultimate synergy business,” the governor said following a tour of the facility.

Magna opens in Spring Hill (Columbia Daily Herald)
Auto parts manufacturer Magna International officially opened the doors to its new Spring Hill facility Monday. The 122,500-square-foot operation, at 701 Beechcroft Road, is set to bring more than 350 jobs and represents a $17 million investment. The site abuts the Spring Hill General Motors Manufacturing facility. The company is headquartered in Ontario, Canada, but operates other locations around the country and world. Gov. Bill Haslam attended the opening and said Mangna is following a trend of suppliers that are opening near the original equipment manufacturers they support.

Haslam: ‘Way preliminary’ for Insure TN special session (Tennessean/Boucher)
There’s no sense calling for a special legislative session to discuss the controversial Insure Tennessee health insurance plan if lawmakers will simply kill the bill again, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday. That doesn’t mean he’s given up on his plan to provide federally funded health insurance to hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans, but Haslam thinks it’s going to take more work to get enough buy-in from the General Assembly before he can call another special session.

Hardin County Added To Counties Getting Aid For Deadly Storm (Associated Press)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has announced that Hardin County will be added to the counties that will receive federal aid as a result of February’s winter storm that killed 30 people across the state and cost more than $30 million. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said that brought the total to 36 counties included in the presidential disaster declared in Tennessee as a result of the storm and the plunging temperatures that followed. The federal aid allowed government entities and some nonprofits in the declared counties to be reimbursed for some of the costs of responding to the disaster.

Tennessee’s jobless rate falls to lowest point since 2008 (Tennessean/Barnes)
Tennessee’s unemployment rate has dropped to a point that the state hasn’t seen since 2008. The rate dipped 0.3 percent — the largest drop so far this year — from 6.6 percent to 6.3 percent in March, according to Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips. However, the state’s numbers continue to exceed the nation’s unemployment rate, which remained at 5.5 percent. While the national rate has dropped more than a percentage point in the last year, down from 6.6 percent in March 2014, Tennessee’s rate has increased in the same time period. A year ago, the state’s unemployment rate was 6.6 percent.

Storm sends tree crashing through Madison home (Tennessean/Buie)
The rip of chainsaws could be heard on Weymouth Drive in Madison on Monday as men cut a large tree out of a bedroom in Billy Dixon’s house trailer. Amid a maelstrom of high winds that came about an hour after midnight, the tree cracked and fell on the Dixon home, crashing through sheet metal and leaving an open space and debris that dangled over the crib where Dixon’s two 4-month-old twin grandchildren slept. Straight-line winds from 50 to 60 miles per hour tore through parts of Middle Tennessee between 11 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday morning.

Storm causes damage around Nashville (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Strong storms overnight caused trees to fall and knocked down power lines, resulting in some serious damage around Davidson County. The wind took down trees in East Nashville causing some damage near Grenada Avenue and Sumner Avenue. Downed trees also caused damage to cars and houses and took down power lines, leaving around 1,200 Nashville Electric Service customers without power. The storm also caused some serious damage in the Madison area, where one family experienced a rude awakening when a tree fell on top of their home.

Weekend storms, tornadoes cause damage in Chattanooga region (TFP)
The National Weather Service has confirmed that tornadoes were responsible for damage to trees and buildings during storms over the weekend. The weather service said that its damage surveys are ongoing, but that it’s already confirmed two tornado paths carved during Sunday’s storms. It estimates that both tornadoes were EF-1 twisters, among the weakest on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado strength. The weather service said one tornado traveled more than four miles, stripping the roof from a metal building and tossing several roof-top air conditioning units at a shopping mall in Russell County.

Common Core, ride-sharing headline marathon House session (Tenn/Boucher)
With the end of the 2015 legislative session in sight, the Tennessee House of Representatives powered through a nearly five-hour session Monday night to take up and pass nearly 80 bills of the 110 on its regular agenda. The proposals spanned the gambit of issues, from Common Core and insurance for charter school employees to agricultural fees, taxis and things that explode. Here’s a recap of nine of the many issues lawmakers debated Monday evening: The fight on Common Core: Supporters and opponents of the controversial Common Core education standards see a bill passed Monday as a win.

Tennessee House votes unanimously to repeal, replace Common Core (TFP/Sher)
Tennessee House members voted 97-0 Monday to repeal and replace the state’s Common Core education standards with a bill that enshrines Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s current review process but adds a new 10-member commission to oversee it. Republicans hope the bill, which is expected to come before the Senate today, will finally put to rest wide-spread criticism among the GOP’s base on the states-initiated Common Core standards for math and English language arts. The standards were later embraced by President Barack Obama.

Late proposal could signal vouchers doomed in House (Tennessean/Boucher)
A late proposal to expand schools where students could be eligible for vouchers could be the nail in the coffin for a bill that’s already struggling to make it out of the House. House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee Chairman Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, said he’ll propose an amendment to allow students at the bottom 10 percent of schools to be eligible for vouchers when his committee takes it up Tuesday. Right now the bill only makes eligible students from the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. “Unless that amendment goes on, I can’t vote for it,” Harrison said Monday afternoon.

School voucher bill faces problems in TN House subcommittee (TFP/Sher)
A proposed school voucher bill continues to have problems in the House Finance Subcommittee with the chairman now saying he won’t vote for it until the measure unless its amended to include his own plan. “Unless that amendment goes on, I can’t vote for it,” Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, told reporters this afternoon. The Senate-passed bill would allow low-income parents, whose children attend failing public schools in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide, to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send the students to private and religious schools.

House OKs mandatory civics exams for students, immigrants (N-S/Locker)
The state House approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring high school students, at some point during their high school years, to take and pass a civics test similar to those given to immigrants seeking to become naturalized U.S. citizens, as a requirement for a diploma starting in 2017. The Senate will consider the bill Tuesday. If it becomes law as expected, each school district will prepare its own version of the test, composed of 25 to 50 questions taken from the 100 administered to prospective citizens. A student passes the test if he or she correctly answers at least 70 percent of the questions. A student can take the test as many times as necessary to pass it.

Bill to make changes to longevity bonuses headed to governor (Associated Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to make changes to state employees’ longevity bonuses is headed to his desk. The House approved the measure 70-26 on Monday, and the Senate passed it 26-3 last week. Haslam had originally sought to fold the bonuses into state workers’ salaries, halt future increases and use the savings to fund merit raises based on employee evaluations. But the plan was heavily modified after being met with strong bipartisan opposition in the Legislature.

Proposal Requiring Racial Profiling Ban Headed To Governor (Associated Press)
Legislation that would require all of Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies to ban racial profiling has headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure sponsored by Democratic Representative John DeBerry of Memphis was approved 93-0 in the House on Monday. The Senate passed the proposal 28-0 last month. Republican Governor Bill Haslam will review the legislation when it reaches his desk. Supporters said the measure is in response to a series of incidents involving white police officers killing unarmed black men over the last year.

‘Neighborhood Protection Act’ headed to governor (Associated Press)
A proposal that would help homeowner associations or neighborhood watch groups keep repeat offenders out of their communities is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure, called the “Neighborhood Protection Act,” was approved 75-16 in the House on Monday. The Senate passed the proposal 31-1 last week. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will review the legislation when it reaches his desk. Under the proposal, a formally recognized residential entity would be able to petition a judge for a restraining order against repeat criminals that target the inside of its boundaries.

Bill raising retail minimum markup price of cigarettes approved (CA/Locker)
The state House gave final legislative approval Monday night to a bill that would phase in an increase in the mandatory minimum markup on the retail price of cigarettes in Tennessee from the current 8 percent to 15 percent in two years. Under Tennessee’s Unfair Cigarette Sales Law, it’s illegal for any retailer to sell cigarettes at less than their costs, which the law currently defines as the retailer’s invoice cost plus 8 percent. Senate Bill 199, which now goes to the governor for his likely approval, the minimum markup increases to 11 percent from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016; 13 percent from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, and 15 percent beginning July 1, 2017, and thereafter.

Tenn bill making it a crime to kill a police dog or horse goes to Haslam (TFP/Sher)
Intentionally killing a police dog, search-and-rescue dog or a police horse could land someone in prison for up to six years under a House bill now headed to Gov. Bill Hasalm for his consideration. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, passed on a 93-2 vote. Senators previously passed the measure.

‘Cooling off’ bill goes to Gov. Haslam for signature (WKRN-TV Nashville)
A bill that would make 12-hour cooling off periods mandatory in domestic violence situations is now on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. The State House approved Senate changes to the bill late Monday night. It will require a 12-hour hold in every case of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and a few other similar cases, according to Republican Rep. William Lamberth, District 44. Last year, a Nashville Judge released a domestic violence suspect before the 12-hour period was up. The suspect, Real Estate Developer David Chase, was then accused of assaulting his girlfriend a second time, only to have the 12-hour hold waived again.

Tenn. House member seeks protection against Haslam vetoes (AP/Schelzig)
A state House member is seeking to delay votes on Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative proposals to insure against vetoes of embattled measures such as allowing people with handgun carry permits to be armed in city parks. Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, who has twice had bills vetoed by Haslam, announced at the start of Monday’s floor session that he was seeking the delays to seek “affirmation” from the governor that he will sign controversial measures into law. “It’s not to impugn the character of the bill sponsor or of the governor, but simply to allow for consideration on other bills,” Holt said.

Majority Leader McCormik raps Holt’s knuckles (Times Free-Press/Sher)
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick today rhetorically rapped the knuckles of a GOP colleague after the lawmaker asked House members on the floor this afternoon to delay bills that might draw a veto from Gov. Bill Haslam and come see him. “With all due respect,” McCormick, R-Chattanooga, told the chamber after Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, made his remarks, “I would ask you to bring those bills to me.” Earlier, Holt said there were some “questionable bills that out there” and there could be uncertainty whether Haslam, a Republican, would sign, not sign or veto the legislation.

House to take up abortion bills Tuesday (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
The Tennessee House will take up two controversial abortion bills on Tuesday. One measure would make Tennessee one of 23 states to require abortion providers to meet stricter standards of outpatient surgery centers. The bill requires all abortion providers performing 50 or more abortions each year to be regulated as ambulatory surgical treatment centers, a designation that comes with lengthy requirements for the physical building. A second measure would require women seeking an abortion to wait 48 hours after receiving in-person counseling by a physician before she could obtain an abortion, a measure proponents said was designed to give women the information and the time they need to make an informed decision.

Tenn. bill bans state enforcement of federal gun laws (Jackson Sun)
Last week, both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly voted to pass a bill that would block the state from participating in the implementation and enforcement of federal gun-control measures that violate Tennessee’s Constitution, according to a news release. House sponsors State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden; State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster; and State Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro, were joined by more than a dozen more co-sponsors in the House and Senate, the release said.

Bill would extend driver’s license renewal period (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Tennesseans will soon have to renew their driver’s license every eight years rather than every five years. The bill was given final approval by the state Legislature last week. The driver’s license bill is projected to save the state $6.4 million annually. The bill’s sponsors said it should reduce waiting times at Department of Safety driver’s license stations and that could ease longstanding complaints from residents.

The Guy Whose Job Is To Yell At Tennessee Lawmakers (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
In the Tennessee General Assembly, the main voices you hear are those of lawmakers, but perhaps the most unusual belongs to someone who’s never been elected. Chief Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey doesn’t just keep the records of what goes on. With his barking baritone, he also sets the pace. Here, he explains how he came by his style, and you can hear it firsthand: Humphrey says he learned the loud, rapid-fire speaking style from cassette tapes and practiced it in the bathroom before his first session. His young children are so entertained by the voice, he says, they often ask him to use it when he reads them stories.

Cohen talks about marijuana reform at University of Memphis (CA/Callahan)
Congressman Steve Cohen brought his campaign for changes in marijuana laws to the University of Memphis Monday night, not coincidentally the same day that thousands of pot aficionados nationwide celebrate what has become their unofficial holiday. On April 20 — 420, in pot parlance — Cohen argued before about 75 people in the U of M’s Rose Theatre that medical marijuana should be legal nationwide. The talk was organized by the U of M’s chapter of NORML, a nationwide group trying to legalize marijuana. “I see no reason why it should be illegal. Doctors should prescribe it,” Cohen said before later acknowledging the 420 date. “I appreciate you being here with me on 420. I know some of you were probably out at Overton Park earlier.” About 75 people, most of them clearly on Cohen’s side in the national pot debate, gathered for his at-times unfocused talk. Cohen veered off into several tangents, whether it was attacking Republicans or talking about the state lottery or once expressing his displeasure with Gov. Bill Haslam.

Teachers’ Unions Fight Standardized Testing, and Find Diverse Allies (NY Times)
In Florida, the teachers’ union has lobbied to limit the use of standardized tests, and the governor last week signed a bill that limits the number of hours students can spend taking them. The union in New Jersey financed an advertising campaign in which a grim-faced father talks about his son crying because of tests. And in New York, where local unions have worked closely with parent groups that oppose testing, the president of the state union went so far as to urge parents to opt out of the annual tests, which began last week.

College Counsel for the Poor (Wall Street Journal)
Erin Kelley grew up poor with parents who never went to college, but she is about to do something only 11% of Americans like her do: earn a degree. The Boston College senior is the latest success story of Bottom Line, which counsels disadvantaged youth on how to get into college—and graduate. About 80% of the nonprofit’s clients earn a degree. And in an era of skyrocketing college costs and debate about the value of higher education, they typically leave with relatively little debt and a job waiting for them.

TVA to hold public meeting in Ky. to discuss resource plan (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority will host a public meeting in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Wednesday to discuss its energy planning decisions for the next 20 years. The nation’s largest public utility recently released a draft of its 2015 Integrated Resource Plan. The IRP and associated Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is a study of how TVA might meet energy and capacity needs in a variety of future conditions. Currently, the utility is in the draft phase of the study and has been holding public meetings to answer questions and obtain feedback on the results.

What’s In TVA’s Future? Not More Nuclear (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
The Tennessee Valley Authority sees no need for additional nuclear power plants for at least the next 20 years. The energy market has changed in unexpected ways since the last time TVA reviewed its energy needs in 2011. Growth in power demand has gone from 3% annually to just 1% because of things like more efficient light bulbs, and the price of natural gas has remained relatively low. For these reasons, TVA’s most recent Integrated Resource Plan—currently in draft form—calls for no more restarts of mothballed nuclear reactors, which can provide more power than any other generation method currently in use.

TVA wants to keep steam flowing with gas-fired turbine (TFP/Flessner)
The Tennessee Valley Authority will shut down the last units at one of its oldest coal-fired power plants in Tennessee by the end of 2017, but TVA said Monday it will continue to produce steam at the site using one of its gas-fired turbines to help sustain a nearby 600-employee DuPont facility. In a draft environmental assessment released Monday, TVA said it wants to install a heat recovery generator on a gas turbine at the Johnsonville plant near Waverly, Tenn., to continue to supply steam for DuPont even after the last coal-fired steam unit is shut down in two and a half years.

Labor groups jockeying for Chattanooga VW plant workers (TFP/Pare)
The head of the United Auto Workers local in Chattanooga says it wants Volkswagen to recognize the union by checking its membership cards rather than holding another employee election. At the same time, a rival labor group has offered the German carmaker a concept for setting up a works council, which VW has at nearly all its major plants worldwide. A year after federal regulators certified a worker election at the plant, which the UAW lost, both it and the American Council of Employees are still signing up new members and pushing to win over hearts and minds. However, neither group is charging membership dues. Operations are financed with money from outside the plant.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Constitutional shortcomings ruined Bible bill (News-Sentinel)
The Tennessee Senate on Thursday deployed wisdom and shrewdness in delaying for at least a year a bill that would designate the Bible as the official state book. The vote came after Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued a well-reasoned — and obvious — opinion that the bill violated the church-state separation provisions of the federal and state constitutions. Similar efforts failed in Louisiana last year and Mississippi earlier this year, so Tennessee would have been the first state in the Union to so recognize the Bible. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station. Both are ordained ministers. The legislation quickly picked up a majority of lawmakers in both houses as co-sponsors. When critics raised the question of the bill’s constitutionality, it was amended with secular justifications. The Bible’s effect on Tennessee’s history, culture and economy were cited. Despite Slatery’s opinion, the House voted 55-38 last Wednesday to approve the bill. To local lawmakers’ credit, the vast majority of Knox County’s House delegation voted against the measure.