April 23 TN News Digest

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

Technical College May Now Be Free In Tenn, But Few Seem To Realize It (WPLN)
A new statewide program called Tennessee Reconnect will let anyone attend one of the state’s 27 technical colleges for free — but the state is facing obstacles getting the word out. Tennessee Reconnect is part of the governor’s initiative to help more adults obtain a degree or certificate. It’s a similar initiative to Tennessee Promise, the program that lets graduating high school seniors attend community college for free. That one had rousing success: Almost every eligible student in the state signed up before the deadline last fall. The state credits huge numbers, in part, to guidance counselors and teachers encouraging students to apply.

Tennessee teacher evaluations are showing improvement (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Tennessee’s teacher evaluation continues to improve and so do the state’s teachers, according to a recent report from the Tennessee Department of Education. Still, the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System continues to receive minor tweaks in the hopes of creating a system that makes it more fair to teachers in the classroom. That has been a major sticking point for teachers, especially amidst controversy that the evaluation measures are used as a means to fire low-performing teachers. But three years in, department officials feel confident teachers are looking for increased stability in TVAAS and not a sweeping overhaul.

Erlanger, Tenn, GA officials praise buckling up as lifesaving move (TFP/Bradbury)
The moment Leo Miller’s maroon SUV slammed into a dump truck ahead of him on U.S. 27, the song “Riot” by Three Days Grace was at the 12-second mark. Miller watched his iPod fall through the air in front of his face as the car flipped several times in mid-air. He looked up and saw the ground through the windshield. Then the SUV landed, hard, upside down. Miller’s left foot was broken. A chunk of his right ankle was gone. But he was alive. “My seat belt definitely saved my life,” he said. “There is no way I would have lived otherwise.”

THP lieutenant suspended over ride home from on-duty trooper (TFP/Hickman)
A Tennessee Highway Patrol lieutenant will serve a one-day suspension without pay for calling an on-duty trooper to give her and several others a ride home from a night out drinking after a University of Tennessee football game in October, according to documents. The investigation into Lt. Stacey Heatherly’s actions was launched after the state Department of Safety received an anonymous complaint letter in February that identified her among a group of people who were seen drinking alcohol at Calhoun’s On The River in Knoxville on Oct. 26, 2014, before calling a colleague for a ride home.

Legislative session comes to quiet end (Tennessean/Boucher)
After health insurance, guns and the Bible were dealt with earlier, the final day of the 2015 regular legislative session came to a relatively quiet close late Wednesday evening. Lawmakers still worked until almost 10 p.m. to finish with their duties for the session, but compromise dominated the night more than controversy. Here’s a look at some of the final bills to pass or die in the waning hours of the regular session: Appointing judges: Voters approved an amendment to the state constitution during the fall elections that allows changes to how judges are selected in the state. The House and Senate debated the best way to choose the justices, but eventually proposed a compromise on a system of legislative confirmation of judges nominated by the governor. The report said lawmakers had 60 days to confirm a judicial appointment, and it takes 67 votes to confirm or reject the nominee. If lawmakers can’t reach that vote total to reject or confirm within 60 days, the appointment is automatically confirmed. Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate opposed the report, saying it gave all the power to the 99-member House. The Senate voted to delay taking any action on the plan, effectively pushing the bill until next year.

Defeat of Insure Tennessee proposal set tone in 2015 session (A. Press/Schelzig)
The defeat of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans set the tone for the 2015 session of the state Legislature. Lawmakers adjourned the first session of the 109th General Assembly on Wednesday night that also featured the defeat of a proposal to offer in-state tuition to non-citizens, the passage of a bill to remove local power to ban guns in parks and the latest rejection of a perennial effort to create a school voucher program in Tennessee. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal failed in a special legislative session in February, was then revived during the regular session – only to be killed again in a Senate committee.

A look at winning and losing bills in Tenn. Legislature (Associated Press)
A look at some of the winning and losing legislation during the 2015 session of the Tennessee General Assembly. WINNERS: TENNESSEE BUDGET: Appropriating the state’s annual $33.8 billion budget. SB1399. GUNS IN PARKS: Stripping local governments of power to ban people with handgun carry permits from being armed in parks. HB0995. COMMON CORE: Rebranding Common Core education standards and establishing a review mechanism. HB1035. ABORTION CLINICS: Requires facilities or physician offices to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers. SB1280.

Tennessee tuition equality bill dead this session (A. Press/Johnson)
A proposal that would allow students lawfully in the United States to be eligible for in-state tuition is dead this session after falling short by one vote in the Tennessee House on Wednesday. The proposal sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark White of Memphis failed 49-47 when it didn’t get the 50 votes needed for passage. The Senate approved the measure 21-12 last week. Republican House sponsor Mark White of Memphis said he had more than enough votes for the proposal when he began discussing it on the House floor but lost votes during a contentious, nearly two-hour debate. In a show of bipartisan support, a number of Republicans and Democrats stood beside White as he presented the legislation.

In-state tuition for undocumented students fails in House (Tennessean/Boucher)
The Tennessee House of Representatives killed a bill to allow in-state tuition for undocumented students. After more than an hour of debate, the House voted 49-47 on the bill. It takes 50 votes to pass a bill. The vote sends the bill back to the House Calendar and Rules Committee. “I think our students are upset because we got so close. We were missing one vote,” said Eben Cathey, an advocate for the bill who works with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “It’s tough to get that close and not get 50 votes, but again it’s been a long, uphill battle and we’ve made it this far. We passed the Senate, we just about got it through the House. This is a huge victory for us, even if we’re a little upset that we didn’t get it.”

Backers of in-state tuition for undocumenteds say they’ll try again (TFP/Sher)
As the Tennessee House debated a bill Wednesday that could determine whether he can eventually afford college, 15-year-old Carlos Reyes was in the balcony. In the end, the bill to allow some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities failed by one vote, 49-47. Fifty votes were needed to approve the bill, which had passed in the Senate. The measure is dead until next year. “It does make me feel kind of upset,” said Reyes, a high school student from Murfreesboro whose parents brought him illegally to the U.S. “I really hope they pass this law soon. For us, the community, the immigrants, we want to go to college. Our hopes, it’s like, we’re just waiting.”

Tuition Break For Tenn’s Undocumented Students Falls One Vote Short (WPLN)
A plan to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students has fallen one vote short of passing the state House of Representatives. The measure, House Bill 675, would have granted a tuition break to an estimated 7,000 high school graduates brought to Tennessee illegally when they were minors. To qualify, students had to have graduated from a Tennessee high school and registered with the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The proposal received 49 votes, two more than were cast against the bill. But the measure needed 50 for passage. Three Nashville lawmakers missed the vote, including House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Lawmakers approve ‘Tennessee moonshine’ bill (Tennessean/Boucher)
Don’t sell your booze as “Tennessee moonshine” unless that liquor was distilled in Tennessee. Doing so could violate Tennessee law, after lawmakers approved a late-night change to a bill Wednesday A House Finance committee approved an amendment to a bill from Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, that creates a new “Tennessee moonshine” provision. The amendment states: An intoxicating liquor may not be advertised, described, labeled, named, sold, or referred to for marketing or sales purposes as “Tennessee Moonshine” unless the intoxicating liquor is distilled in Tennessee. Any manufacturer who violates this section shall be subject to suspension or revocation of its license for a period of not less than one (1) year. The House approved the bill Wednesday afternoon by a 70-17 vote, adding a component that says the change to the law would take effect at the start of 2016.

De-annexation bill fails in Legislature (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
A bill allowing residents of parts of cities to de-annex their territory from the city through petitions and referendums has failed for the year in the Tennessee Legislature. The bill was championed by disgruntled residents of areas annexed into Tennessee cities over the last 17 years, including the Cordova area of Memphis, who want the city limits signs moved back to exclude their homes and businesses. The sponsor of Senate Bill 749, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, stood on the Senate floor Wednesday to return the bill to committee until the 2016 legislative session. The House version by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, was deferred to 2016 Tuesday night in the House Finance Committee.

Bill banning speed cameras in Tennessee headed to governor (Associated Press)
Legislation that seeks to ban speeding cameras in Tennessee is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden was approved 74-16 in the House on Wednesday after the Senate passed it 29-1. The proposal originally sought to ban both speed and red-light cameras but was amended over the legislative process to just include speed cameras. Holt has said one of the reasons he proposed the legislation was because some businesses are concerned that motorists are avoiding streets where the cameras are located, which is hurting their bottom line.

Traffic camera bill survives Holt’s jolt (Associated Press)
For most of this year’s legislative session, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, have worked together on a bill aimed at local governments’ use of automatic traffic cameras. Consider the partnership severed, thanks to Holt’s work to sabotage Gardenhire’s bill granting in-state tuition rates to some undocumented Tennessee students to attend public colleges. The tuition equality bill passed the Senate last week but failed by one vote in the House on Wednesday, with Holt voting no. Inside the chamber watching the debate — and Holt — was Gardenhire. Upset over Holt’s vote, Gardenhire returned to the Senate where he began an effort to recall the traffic camera bill, which had already passed the Senate and was awaiting House action. That drew Holt over to the upper chamber. “He asked me what was going on and who was trying to kill his bill,” Gardenhire said, adding that he made clear to Holt that the reason was “the vote tally on the in-state tuition.”

Senate OKs Ending Motorcycle Helmet Requirement for Parades (A. Press)
The Senate has voted to allow Tennessee motorcyclists to ride without helmets in parades or funerals. The chamber voted 22-8 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville. Riders would have to be at least 21 years old and traveling at speeds of less than 30 mph. The measure falls far short of a perennial effort to remove the helmet requirement for all adult motorcyclists in the state. The House sponsor of the more expansive version was put off until next year. The House was expected to vote on its version of the motorcycle parade bill later on Wednesday.

Bill allows pictures of murder victims to be shown at trials (Times-News)
Homicide victims used to be names or corpses to jurors because the state of Tennessee did not allow pictures of the victim to be shown at trials. That all changed Tuesday after the state legislature passed a bill allowing pictures of murder victims while they were still alive to be shown to juries. The bill, submitted by Terri Weaver-R, Lancaster, says that a deceased victim’s family has a right to have an appropriate photograph of the victim submitted as evidence in a trial by the district attorney. A photograph would show the general appearance and condition of the victim while they were still alive.

Lawmakers mull move into building once set to be razed (Associated Press)
Tennessee lawmakers are mulling a move out of their underground office complex to a building next to the Capitol that until recently was designated for demolition. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration last year reversed course on an earlier decision to raze the Cordell Hull office building, and this year included $40 million in the state budget to renovate the building. State lawmakers cite space concerns for offices and committee rooms in the current space, and note the cost of ongoing maintenance problems. Legislative Plaza last underwent a $14 million overhaul in 2007 to try to halt water damage from fountains and trees located on the roof of the structure.

State could move legislature to Cordell Hull building (Tennessean/Ward)
The Cordell Hull office building could become home to the state legislature after the building, which was spared from demolition, undergoes $74.1 million in renovations. “It’s really a lot of room over there,” House Speaker Beth Harwell said in a briefing with reporters. “It would be both the House and the Senate moving over.” The legislature operates from the War Memorial and Legislative Plaza buildings. Under the plan — which requires approval from legislative leaders, the governor and the State Building Commission — the War Memorial building would be returned to the state for other use. The Legislative Plaza building could be used as a parking garage.

General Assembly to get new home in 2017 after $44 million renovation (TFP/Sher)
Tennessee lawmakers are expected to get new digs in 2017 with the General Assembly slated to move from the Legislative Plaza and War Memorial Building. Their landing place will be the nearby Cordell Hull State Office Building which is scheduled to undergo a $44 million renovation. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, confirmed the move to reporters today as she explained why she missed a vote on a bill that would have granted some undocumented students living in Tennessee in-state tuition rates to attend public colleges.

Harwell: Cordell Hull to be legislature’s new home (Nashville Post)
By 2017, what is currently known as Legislative Plaza could become a parking lot and the once-forsaken Cordell Hull Building will be the new home for House and Senate legislators’ offices, committee rooms and the press suite. That’s according to House Speaker Beth Harwell, who said the move will be more cost-effective than trying to repair problems in the Legislative Plaza. “It’s a really neat building, and we’re going to try to restore it so it really looks good. The outside won’t look much different,” Harwell said.

Saved From Demolition, Cordell Hull May Become Offices For Lawmakers (WPLN)
Tennessee lawmakers could soon have a new base of operations — the Cordell Hull Building. Republican leaders are weighing a move out of the War Memorial Building and Legislative Plaza, lawmakers’ home for more than four decades. Those office buildings need $58 million in repairs, according to House Speaker Beth Harwell. She says it would be $14 million cheaper to fix up Cordell Hull. “The Cordell Hull Building had to be renovated anyway,” she said. “It’s a really, really neat building, and we’re going to try to restore it so it really looks good.”

Haynes bids Legislature adieu (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
State Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville is one of the youngest members of the Tennessee Legislature but on Wednesday the last bill he presented as a lawmaker also included a nod to older folks. The bill, which addresses several alcohol issues, includes a provision saying that liquor store clerks don’t have to require people who “reasonably appear” to be at least 50 to show an identification card showing their age before selling them an alcoholic beverage. People 50 and older can view that however they choose. Haynes, who turns 30 on May 8, is leaving the General Assembly when it adjourns for the year to become full-time chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, a post he was elected to by the party’s state executive committee on April 11.

Departing lawmaker tips cap to older drinkers (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
State Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville is one of the youngest members of the Tennessee legislature, but on Wednesday, the last bill he presented as a lawmaker included a nod to older folks. The bill, which addresses several alcohol issues, includes a provision that liquor store clerks don’t have to require people who “reasonably appear” to be at least 50 to show an identification card bearing their age before selling them an alcoholic beverage. Haynes, who turns 30 on May 8, is leaving the General Assembly to become full-time chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. After both sides of the political aisle gave Haynes a standing ovation, the bill won a 70-17 vote.

Proceed with public prayers: Judge’s order rejects lawsuit (TFP/Wiseman)
Tommy Coleman doesn’t want commissioners to stop praying. He just wants them to do it in silence. In 2012, Coleman, who describes himself as a secular humanist, and Brandon Jones, an atheist, filed a lawsuit against Hamilton County, arguing the County Commission’s practice of inviting ordained pastors to deliver invocations before each meeting excludes those outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Instead, they argued for a moment of silence. On Wednesday, most of their case was dismissed. U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice issued an order granting summary judgment and saying the practice has already been deemed constitutional.

Feds review Tennessee’s uncompensated care funding (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Federal officials have put Tennessee on alert: Hundreds of millions in federal funds for uncompensated care at state hospitals are under review, a scenario exacerbated by the failure to pass Insure Tennessee. Darin Gordon, director and deputy commissioner of TennCare at the Tennessee Health Care Finance and Administration, was the primary state official on a call last week with officials from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the future of the federal funding. There are pools of money, some funded by the federal government, that can be used by hospitals to cover uncompensated care.

Feds: Medicaid Expansion failure could cost state (Times Free-Press/Belz)
With Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to expand Medicaid dead for now, questions are now being raised about how long Tennessee will be able to rely on a $750 million federal funding pool that hospitals depend onto help treat uninsured patients. The Low Income Pool payments Tennessee receives — approximately $500 million before the state’s $250 million match — are set to expire Dec. 31, said TennCare spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley. That’s why the state is closely monitoring the situation in Florida, where Low Income Pool payments are scheduled to expire June 30 and where legislators are debating Medicaid expansion.

Obama administration links Medicaid expansion to health funding (CA/McKenzie)
Obama administration officials are warning states like Tennessee and Florida that have failed to expand Medicaid that pools of federal funding for treating uninsured patients should be drying up. Following a letter sent to Florida last week, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services telephoned Tennessee officials to highlight principles that will be used in considering Medicaid funding pools. The Tennessee Hospital Association reports such pools provide about $1.3 billion a year, which includes $452 million that the states’s hospitals raise to win matching federal funds.

Tenn on notice after feds threaten Florida with potential billion-dollar loss (NBJ)
Both states have resisted Medicaid expansion, but Tennessee isn’t quite to Florida’s level yet. The state, led by former HCA exec Rick Scott, has announced plans to sue the federal government. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently sent Florida a letter suggesting its decision not to expand Medicaid to cover those within 138 percent of the poverty level could result in the end of $1.3 billion in federal funding for uncompensated care at hospitals, known a the Low-Income Pool, which is slated to run out of money June 30.

TVA debt stays below federal cap (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
TVA will spend another $2.3 billion on capital projects next year to complete a second reactor at the Watts Bar nuclear plant, install pollution controls on its coal plants and make other upgrades even as the utility plans to cut operating expenses by $600 million. But TVA President Bill Johnson told a Congressional panel Wednesday that TVA is committed to staying beneath the $30 billion debt cap set by Congress for TVA. The utility plans to cut its operating budget by $600 million less than what it was last year.

Hardee’s scouts Nashville for headquarters (Tennessean/Ward)
Hardee’s parent company is considering Nashville for the burger chain’s corporate offices. “The lease on our St. Louis regional office expires in 2017, and we are exploring office space options, which include Nashville,” said Kathleen Bush, a spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants Holdings, parent of the Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., Green Burrito and Red Burrito restaurant chains. Her comments via email came after the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that Hardee’s was considering moving its headquarters out of downtown St. Louis. The burger chain known for its racy TV ads moved its headquarters there from Rocky Mount, N.C., about 14 years ago.

Shelby County Schools Seeks New Funding for Classroom Investments (MDN)
The bottom line on the Shelby County Schools budget proposal headed to Shelby County Commissioners is $973.5 million, but the dollar figure commissioners will be considering is $14 million. That’s the amount of new funding the system is seeking from county government for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Otherwise, the school system’s budget is balanced. All but $1 million of the $14 million is for a list of 15 items superintendent Dorsey Hopson has referred to as “high-leverage investments.” And in approving the budget proposal Tuesday, April 21, the SCS board agreed they are necessary for the system’s ambitious goals of improving student achievement – third-grade reading proficiency in particular.

Arizona: Arizona State University Offers Online Freshman Program (NYT)
Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest universities, is joining with edX, a nonprofit online venture founded by M.I.T. and Harvard, to offer an online freshman year that will be available worldwide with no admissions process and full university credit. In the new Global Freshman Academy, each credit will cost $200, but students will not have to pay until they pass the courses, which will be offered on the edX platform as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. “Leave your G.P.A., your SATs, your recommendations at home,” said Anant Agarwal, the chief executive of edX.

Editorial: Haslam should veto rushed, bad legislation (News-Sentinel)
This week the Tennessee Legislature put on its annual race to go home, a spectacle in which lawmakers hurtle pell-mell through scores of bills to meet an arbitrary deadline. Calendars bulge, last-minute amendments get tacked onto legislation, votes come in flurries. It is the time of year when ill-considered legislation can sneak out of the Capitol amid the melee. Thankfully, Gov. Bill Haslam can take time to review the last-minute laws and, if necessary, veto those that should have received closer scrutiny. For the most part, Tennessee governors are dealt a weak hand when it comes to legislation they find objectionable.

Guest columnist: Tennessee must work to narrow excellence gap (Tennessean)
In 2013, Tennessee’s public schools unexpectedly made headlines. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “the nation’s report card,” was released in November of that year and revealed that the Volunteer State had made the fastest education gains in the entire country. This progress was particularly impressive because only a few years earlier, Tennessee had been criticized for its NAEP scores — but that nadir also spurred a number of innovative reforms. It also gave teachers, administrators, and policymakers a chance to demonstrate their commitment to Tennessee’s students, and the results of their hard work and dedication are defining.

Bob Martineau: Tennessee employees do Earth Day activities year round (Tenn)
Every day is Earth Day at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, where protecting the environment for current and future Tennesseans is not only our mission as a department, but our livelihood as individuals. These efforts, made by the nearly 2,500 TDEC employees, often go unnoticed. So on this Earth Day, instead of talking about all of the events we have planned (which there are many), I’d like to tell you about what our employees do for the environment on the other 364 days of the year.

Diana Black: Let Tennesseans deduct sales tax on federal tax returns (Tennessean)
Last week marked the annual April 15 tax filing deadline. Thankfully, the tax day burden is a little lighter here in Tennessee due to our standing as one of only nine states in the Union without an income tax on wages. That’s a distinction that we’re proud of. In fact, Tennesseans felt so strongly on this issue that a state income tax is now permanently banned in our Constitution. But we all know government gets its hands on your paycheck one way or another, so we do have a state and local sales tax that can be as high as 9.75 percent in parts of my district.