April 22 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee hit a major tourism milestone in 2014 (Nashville Business Journal)
You’re not imagining things if you think Lower Broadway seems more crowded. Or Beale Street. Or Gatlinburg. State tourism officials announced today that 100 million people visited Tennessee in 2014, a new record. That figure is according to a recent report from D.K. Shifflet & Associates, a national travel research and consulting firm. “We’re thrilled to announce this record-setting accomplishment for Tennessee’s tourism industry,” Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, said in a news release.

These are the states more primed for innovation than Tennessee (N. Biz Journal)
Tennessee is an “innovation leader,” but it has some work to do if it wants to be regarded as a “champion.” That’s according to a new ranking from the Consumer Electronics Association that broke down states’ innovation climate based on 10 criteria: right-to-work laws, attitude toward new business models, tax friendliness, entrepreneurial activity, fast Internet, tech workforce, ability to attract investment, STEM degrees, innovation momentum and innovation-friendly sustainable policies. Tennessee scored the highest on right-to-work, landing an A+.

State Senate OKs fuel tax break for FedEx (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
The state Senate on Tuesday approved the tax break on aviation fuel sought by FedEx, after rejecting an attempt by Senate Democratic Leader Lee Harris to cut the tax rate for all payers of the aviation fuel tax. The bill, which still must win House approval before it becomes law, would cap FedEx’s aviation-fuel tax liability to the state at $10.5 million a year, about one third of the nearly $32 million the Memphis corporate giant paid last year. The tax is 4.5 percent per gallon and is in lieu of other fuel taxes. The revenue flows into a fund created in 1988 that helps pay for airport improvements across the state. The revenue fluctuates from year to year with the price of fuel.

Restrictions for Tennessee’s 7 abortion clinics head to gov. (AP/Johnson)
Legislation that would place licensing restrictions on all seven of Tennessee’s abortion clinics was overwhelmingly approved by state lawmakers Tuesday and sent to the governor, who’s expected to sign them into law. Under the measure, facilities or physician offices would have to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers if they perform more than 50 abortions in a year. All of the state’s clinics fall into that category. Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said after the House voted 79-17 in favor of the measure that it’s “a common sense requirement that abortion facilities be licensed and inspected the same as any other ambulatory surgical center.”

Haslam anticipated to sign two abortion bills (Tennessean/Wadhwani, Boucher)
Two abortion measures are now headed to the governor’s desk after the Tennessee House voted 79-18 in favor of requiring a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion after in-person counseling by a physician and 79-17 for new regulations of abortion clinics. A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said he anticipates the governor will sign both abortion bills into law. “Like he does with all legislation that comes to him, he’ll review the bills in their final form before taking any action, but I anticipate he’ll sign them,” spokesman Dave Smith said.

Haslam expected to sign Tennessee abortion restriction bills into law (TFP/Sher)
Tennessee abortion opponents’ 15-year quest to restore restrictions struck down by the state Supreme Court is on the verge of victory, with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam virtually guaranteed to sign into law two bills dealing with the issue. “Like he does with all legislation that comes to him, he’ll review the bills in their final form before taking any action, but I anticipate he’ll sign them,” Haslam spokesman David Smith said Tuesday. Earlier Tuesday, the state House took final action and sent to Haslam a bill requiring all abortion clinics be licensed by the state and subject to inspections.

Abortion bills headed to governor’s desk (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
The state House approved two abortion bills Tuesday, imposing more regulations on providers and a 48-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions. The Senate has approved both bills but the House added a routine “severability clause” on the waiting-period bill that says if any part is struck down in the courts, the remainder remains law. That amendment sends it back to the Senate for certain concurrence before the Legislature adjourns for the year this week. Gov. Bill Haslam has said he expects to sign both bills into law.

Tennessee Approves New Restrictions On Abortion (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Tennessee is on the verge of placing its first new restrictions on women seeking abortion in nearly 20 years. Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives voted Tuesday to impose a 48-hour waiting period and to require women to hear a mandatory warning before an abortion. The House also voted to make all facilities that provide more than 50 abortions a year submit to stringent inspection standards. Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) said Tennesseans have shown they approve of the regulations by voting last fall for a measure known as Amendment 1, which stripped abortion rights from the state constitution.

New Abortion Regulations Sent to Governor (TN Report)
Both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature have approved a duo of bills aimed at reestablishing state government regulation of abortions. One bill requires women to wait 48 hours before obtaining an abortion. The other, that abortion clinics be regulated by the state. Both passed Tuesday along mostly partisan lines in the Republican dominated lower chamber. Having already been approved in the Senate, the bills go now to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has indicated he’ll likely sign them. Passage of the measures represents a milestone for anti-abortion activists, who last year successfully convinced a majority of the state’s voters to pass an amendment declaring that abortions are not protected under the Tennessee Constitution.

School voucher proposal fails again in Tennessee General Assembly (A. Press)
A proposal that would let parents move a child from a failing public school in Tennessee to a private school with funding from the state has failed this year — for the third consecutive Tennessee General Assembly session. House sponsor Bill Dunn withdrew the school voucher proposal, or “opportunity scholarship,” from the House Finance subcommittee on Tuesday and said he will likely try again next year. “The votes just aren’t there,” said Dunn, R-Knoxville. The legislation is similar to an unsuccessful measure Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed last year.

School voucher bill dead again (Tennessean/Boucher)
Tennessee won’t allow school vouchers this year. Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, has sponsored the bill for several years. He told a House committee he still supports the bill but knows there are issues among the members. “The votes just aren’t there this year,” Dunn said. Later Tuesday afternoon he wouldn’t say the exact vote count, but said he thought discussion of the bill wouldn’t have swung the vote in his favor. “Sometimes the slower you go the faster you get there,” Dunn said. The bill would have allowed certain students to use public money for private school tuition.

Legislation allows photos of homicide victims to be shown in Tenn courts (TFP)
The Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation on Tuesday to allow an “appropriate photograph” of a homicide victim prior to their murder to be shown during a trial. This action will guarantee that murder victims will have the same rights as other victims of crime in Tennessee, said District Attorney General Steve Crump, who is over the Tenth Judicial District. Crump has been advocating for this legislation, saying that for decades trail judges have not allowed pictures of the victims to be shown in court, fearing that it will cause a verdict to be overturned.

Tennessee tuition equality proposal headed for House vote (Associated Press)
Tennessee residents who are authorized to be in the United States would be eligible for in-state tuition under legislation that has advanced to the House floor. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark White of Memphis was approved on a voice vote in the House Finance Committee Tuesday evening. The companion bill passed the Senate 21-12. Under the proposal, students considered lawfully present in the U.S. through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would qualify for in-state tuition.

Effort to save Virtual Academy fails (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
The state Senate on Tuesday rejected Sen. Frank Niceley’s self-described “last-ditch effort” to save the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a virtual school operated by the for-profit K-12 Inc. for Union County Schools in East Tennessee. The virtual academy has 1,300 students enrolled from across the state and has been ordered to shut down at the end of the current school year for low performance unless its students achieve at least a Level 3 performance on their state-mandated tests this month. The school receives the state share of public school funding per pupil for each student enrolled.

Tennessee Virtual Academy makes final push to stay open (Tennessean/Balakit)
The Tennessee Virtual Academy, a struggling virtual public school, is making a final push to stay open. Former State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman ordered the school to close this year because of continual low academic performance. To remain open, the school would have to jump from its “Level 1” score on student learning gains to a “Level 3” on a 1-5 scale this year. The school says it is improving and would need more time to make such a dramatic improvement proposed by Huffman. The school wants to add an amendment to an existing bill that would allow the school to remain open if it achieves a “Level 2” on student learning gains instead of a “Level 3” this year, said Headmaster Josh Williams.

Legislature adds circuit judge for Montgomery, Robertson counties (Leaf Chronicle)
Following three patient years of legislative work, Montgomery County legislators announced Tuesday that legislation to add a circuit court judgeship in the 19th Judicial District is headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. “With population growth comes the need for essential services,” said Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, in a news release. “Adding this position will have an immediate positive impact on the citizens of both Montgomery and Robertson counties. “Good government provides the constitutional services to its citizens.”

Alexander’s education reform bill through committee (Daily News Journal)
A Senate education bill reforming No Child Left Behind could lessen federal control in the education system and help calm heated debates about Common Core standards, said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the bill’s sponsor. The legislation passed unanimously this past week out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee that Alexander chairs. If passed and signed into law, it would ban the federal government from mandating any sort of education standards, Common Core or otherwise, said Alexander as he waited to take part in the unveiling of a new Nissan Maxima model in Smyrna on Tuesday.

Cohen Says Pot Legalization Odds Still Long In Tennessee (Memphis Daily News)
On the second observance of “4/20” – the unofficial underground day of open marijuana usage – since several states legalized the drug, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen told a group at the University of Memphis that Tennessee probably will be the last state to follow suit or even legalize medical usage. Speaking Monday, April 20, to a group of 100 at the university’s Rose Theater, Cohen likened the move to legalize marijuana at the state and federal level to his push as a state Senator to win approval of a Tennessee lottery. “It took 20 years to get that to passage,” Cohen said of the lottery. “The Tennessee General Assembly is not an easy place to get new ideas understood.”

Old nuke facilities disappearing at Oak Ridge site (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
The government’s Cold War dinosaurs are gradually becoming extinct. Demolition of the K-31 Building — a 750,000-square-foot behemoth once used to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel — is now 80 percent complete, according to updated information from URS/CH2M Oak Ridge, the U.S. Department of Energy’s cleanup contractor. UCOR workers also are making preparations for the eventual demolition of K-27 — which will be the last of the old uranium-processing buildings to hit the ground at the sprawling site now known as the East Tennessee Technology Park. About 70 percent of the pre-demolition work at K-27 has reportedly been accomplished.

Cincinnati firm aims to double its employees in Nashville (Nashville Biz Journal)
Total Quality Logistics, a Cincinnati-based transportation company, plans to more than double its Nashville headcount in the next three years. The firm, which currently employs around 65 in its Nashville office at 105 Broadway (neighboring the Acme Feed & Seed), said in a news release the expansion is part of a companywide push to double in size by 2017. It total, that means TQL will employ more than 130 in Nashville, well above figures the company initially expected when it said last year it was planning to bring 105 new jobs downtown by the end of 2016.

VW leaders continue ‘partnership’ after leadership crisis, official says (TFP/Pare)
A member of Volkswagen’s powerful supervisory board said Tuesday in Chattanooga that the carmaker has found a way for its chief executive and chairman to continue to work together after a leadership crisis. “They found a very good way to have successful discussions,” said Olaf Lies, who also is the minister for economics, labor and transport for the German state of Lower Saxony, which has about a 20 percent stake in VW. Lies, in Chattanooga to lead a delegation of German companies looking at Tennessee and Georgia, said that VW CEO Martin Winterkorn and Chairman Ferdinand Piech will “continue this partnership.

Phil Bredesen to receive hospitality industry award (Tennessean/Rau)
Phil Bredesen, the former governor of Tennessee and mayor of Nashville, will receive the hospitality industry’s E.W. “Bud” Wendell Award at the National Travel and Tourism Week Hospitality Luncheon in May. Bredesen is the second recipient of the award named for Wendell, the longtime Gaylord president and CEO. The award recognizes an individual not affiliated with the hospitality industry whose contributions have aided tourism in Nashville. Bredesen was mayor when Nashville lured professional hockey and football franchises.

County system may face $4.62M shortfall (Daily News Journal)
Rutherford County Schools are projecting a budget shortfall of at least $4.62 million after preliminary state education funding figures were released last week. School board members, however, warned during a special called budget meeting Tuesday that the district didn’t have enough financial flexibility to make major budget cuts as it moves forward to the Rutherford County Commission for approval. The board did not vote specifically on the budget, pending more fixed state funding information that is expected to be available by the board’s next budget meeting.


Free-Press Editorial: TennCore is better way to go (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
Here’s the thing. Tennessee students need high academic standards, ones that will push them out of their comfort zones and into learning that can only enhance their college readiness and/or job preparation. Tennessee teachers, parents and students — many of them — don’t care for the Common Core standards in math and English adopted by the state in 2010. Many said the standards were confusing, unworkable and, for some students, unachievable. Others, if we’re being honest, didn’t want them because they later were embraced by President Obama.