April 24 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Auto industry continues to rev state’s economy (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
The news this week that Nissan launched a redesign of its Maxima sedan at its Smyrna plant in Middle Tennessee is a testament to the automotive industry’s strength and impact in the Volunteer State. It is a positive story about the Tennessee economy. The automobile industry is changing from within but also is changing the economy of East Tennessee and the Southeast region. It is bringing some of the best new jobs to the area, with average pay at $66,646 in the Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area. The Knoxville area now has 120 automotive component manufacturers providing 13,152 jobs, according to Randy Boyd, the state commissioner of economic and community development.

Haslam touts education gains as Dems blast GOP priorities (Tennessean/Boucher)
Tennessee teachers will see $100 million more for pay and additional millions to help cover an extra month of insurance, key policy issues Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow GOP leaders touted as legislative victories Thursday. The new education money and a compromise with nearly unanimous approval on how to proceed on education standards embody some of the work lawmakers completed during the 2015 legislative session, completed Wednesday, that made the session a success, Haslam said.

109th Tennessee General Assembly bows out for the season (TFP/Sher)
The 109th Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up its seasonal run with fewer rules for guns, more for abortion and K-12 education standards and no help for Gov. Bill Haslam’s hoped-for Medicaid expansion. By the time lawmakers capped up months of work late Wednesday night, they’d voted to allow guns in parks and to require women seeking abortions to wait 48 hours, while unexpectedly avoiding an epic battle over Common Core, courtesy of one lawmaker’s “epiphany.” Fellow Republicans in Senate committees shot down — twice — Haslam’s proposed Insure Tennessee plan to use federal funds to extend Medicaid health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

Haslam questions fed health care funding review (Tennessean/Boucher, Fletcher)
The federal government’s review of how much money it spends to help pay for the hospital costs of low-income people in Tennessee and other states that didn’t expand Medicaid feels like a threat to Gov. Bill Haslam. “The way they’re approaching this feels awfully heavy handed: OK, well if you don’t do that, then we’re going to restrict the pool of money that we give you for indigent care,” Haslam told reporters Thursday. Federal officials recently reached out to several states about reducing the amount of federal money that goes toward uncompensated care, or care provided to uninsured people who can’t pay for it.

Insure TN’s failure casts shadow on legislative session (Tennessean/Locker)
The dominant themes of the 2015 Tennessee Legislature were abortion, guns, Medicaid expansion, the Bible, school vouchers, traffic cameras, Common Core, taxes, immigration, and teacher and state employee compensation. Not all of them won approval. The 109th General Assembly opened Jan. 13 amid a large rally and protest by women’s rights advocates, and ended Wednesday night in a flurry of lawmaking. When it was done, legislators had approved new restrictions on abortion, higher fines for not using seat belts, a new business tax structure, cannabis oil to treat chronic seizures, lower taxes for older middle-income investors and guns in local parks.

Haslam to Decide This Week on Tennessee Guns-in-Parks Bill (AP/Johnson)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that he will decide this week whether to sign a bill to allow people with handgun carry permits to be armed in city parks near schools. The bill would allow permit holders to be armed in any state park – including greenways, playgrounds and sports fields. The proposal was eventually stripped of a provision to allow permit holders to be armed at the state Capitol complex, a provision Haslam adamantly opposed. However, the governor still expressed concerns about the proposal not being clear on how close a permit holder can be to a school activity.

TN governor expects to make decision this week on guns-in-parks bill (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam says he will make a decision this week on whether he will sign or veto a controversial guns-in-parks bill passed by fellow Republicans in the General Assembly. “We’re reviewing that now,” the governor told reporters today in post-legislative news conference in which he joined with House and Senate GOP leaders. “We’ll have something this calendar week.” The bill, which Haslam opposed, does aways with local governments’ gun bans at public parks, ball fields and playgrounds and allows handgun-carry permit holders to carry their weapons there.

Davidson sees unemployment rate dip to 4.4% (Nashville Post)
Davidson County saw an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in March, down from 4.8 percent in February. According to statistics the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released today, Davidson registered the lowest March unemployment rate of the state’s four major metropolitan areas. For March, Knox County (Knoxville) recorded a 4.7 percent jobless rates, down from 5.1 percent in February. Hamilton County (Chattanooga) had a rate of 5.4 percent, a drop from the February mark of 5.9 percent. The Shelby County (Memphis) March rate was 6.7 percent, down compared to the 7.2 percent February figure.

Jobs return to greater Chattanooga area (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
The Great Recession pulled the rug out from the economy of the self-described Carpet Capital, eliminating one of every five jobs in metro Dalton and pushing the region’s jobless rate in 2009 to a record high 14 percent… Employment also is improving over the state line in Southeast Tennessee. In the 6-county Chattanooga metropolitan area, the non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate matched the U.S. rate in March at 5.6 percent — the lowest metro rate since May 2008. Among Tennessee’s major metro areas last month, unemployment was lowest in Nashville at 4.7 percent and highest in Memphis at 6.5 percent.

Memphis unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent in March (C. Appeal/McKenzie)
The March unemployment rate for Greater Memphis stood at 6.5 percent, a sharp decline from 7.9 percent a year earlier, according to preliminary government statistics released Thursday. Not since 2008, when the jobless rate for the month was 6.2 percent, has the March rate been lower. The number of jobs grew by more than 7,800, to 568,410 in March compared to a year ago in the metro area, which includes Shelby, Fayette and Tipton counties as well as portions of Eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi. The 6.5 percent rate for March was also a decline from a revised 7 percent in February, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

State: Clarksville jobless rate below 6% (Leaf Chronicle)
Montgomery County and the broader region both saw monthly unemployment fall below the 6 percent mark in March, based on new statistics from the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development. The new jobless rate for the immediate Clarksville area is 5.8 percent, and that’s identical to the unemployment rate for the greater Clarksville, Tennessee-Kentucky Metropolitan Statistical Area. The new rate represents a 0.4 percentage point decline from February. A total of 4,450 people were classified by the state as unemployed last month, out of an estimated countywide labor force of 77,380. The new Clarksville jobless rate is nearly a full percentage point lower than where it stood at this time a year ago, and it’s also lower than the current statewide unemployment rate of 6.3 percent – though still slightly higher than the nation’s 5.5 percent.

Pick Tennessee Products to host ‘Strawberry School’ (Associated Press)
If you want to learn how to properly pick a strawberry, there’s a school for that. Pick Tennessee Products will host a “Strawberry School” media day at the Wagner Berry Farm near Spring Hill on Friday. Pick Tennessee Products is the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s statewide program to connect Tennessee farmers, farmers markets and local food makers to consumers. Tammy Algood is an acclaimed food expert and the spokeswoman for Pick Tennessee Products. She will demonstrate proper strawberry picking, care, storage and preservation techniques.

State’s first dedicated business court readies for debut (Nashville Post)
The first court in Tennessee dedicated wholly to complex business litigation will gavel in May 1. Chief Justice Sharon Lee — who developed the idea for the court — and Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle — who will man its docket — spoke to a group of legal and business leaders Thursday, laying out their vision for the pilot project. Twenty-six other states — “even Alabama,” Lee joked — already have business courts in place and the jurists said the court can be an important tool for business retention and recruitment, as shown by North Carolina’s efforts to set up court in an effort to help draw more jobs from PepsiCo.

Suing another company? What you need to know about new business court (NBJ)
If you’re suing another company in Nashville, there will soon be a new venue to handle your case: Tennessee’s first Business Court. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee and Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle provided details on the new court Thursday before more than 100 business leaders and attorneys. Lee first unveiled plans for the Davidson County pilot court in March, appointing Lyle to take the gavel and hear cases beginning May 1. Right now, these business cases will only be heard in Davidson County, but suits outside of Nashville will be allowed before the court.

House, Senate Can’t Agree on Mechanism to Reject Judges (Associated Press)
The state House and Senate have failed to agree on a method for rejecting the governor’s nominations for judicial vacancies. In one of the final acts of this year’s legislative session on Wednesday night, the Senate voted 4-1 with 27 abstentions on the measure sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. That means the Legislature won’t be able to act on the bill until next year. Tennessee voters in November approved a constitutional amendment that included giving lawmakers the power to refuse gubernatorial appointments.

In-state tuition bill is in state’s economic interest (Tennessean/McGee)
The Tennessee House of Representatives failed to pass a bill Wednesday that would have extended in-state college tuition to undocumented students. The shortage of votes hurts the individual students and their families who would benefit from the lower costs, but it also comes as a blow to the state’s economic potential. The unemployment rate is a third higher for high school graduates than for those with an associate’s degree and nearly double the rate for individuals with four-year degrees. Earning power reflects a similar trend: Students with a bachelor’s degree make 65 percent more a week on average than those lacking a college degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tenn. OKs legislation that would eventually eliminate speed cameras (H-C)
If signed into law by the governor, Bluff City would eventually lose its controversial speed cameras due to the passage of the Tennessee Freedom from Traffic Cameras Act by the state House and Senate. “I think it has created huge issues in our area,” Tennessee Rep. John Lundberg, R-Bristol, said Thursday in reference to Bluff City’s cameras on U.S. Highway 11E in the Piney Flats community. “I hear folks in Bluff City say, ‘It is more safety.’ But when you look at the research, it is certain that since the cameras have been up there, there have been more accidents than before.”

Local debate over speed cameras continues as ban heads to governor’s desk (JCP)
The days are likely numbered for speed cameras in Piney Flats, Jonesborough, Mount Carmel and other parts of the state, and one state legislator said it’s about time. The legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden was approved 74-16 in the House on Wednesday after the Senate passed it 29-1. Now, it’s on the way to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for his review, and some hope and anticipate, his signature. Co-sponsor Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) said he’s pleased the bill passed, even though it was stripped of some original wording that would also have eliminated other traffic cameras — including red light enforcement cameras — in the state.

Bill will cut airport improvement funding for airports across Tenn. (Herald-Courier)
A bill that would cut state grant funding for improvements to Tennessee airports over a phase-in period of four years is headed to the governor for his signature. That would mean a nearly 50 percent reduction in state funds to Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Tennessee. The legislation was passed by the House and Senate Wednesday. Patrick Wilson, TCRA executive director, said Thursday during a meeting of the Tri-Cities Airport Authority held at TCRA that the reduction will total nearly $1.5 million by the end of the four-year period, based on nearly $2 million that has been received from the state by the airport each year for the past five years.

State legislature approves city charter revisions (Leaf Chronicle)
The Tennessee state Legislature approved revisions to Clarksville’s city charter on Wednesday. Now the matter will be sent back to Clarksville City Council. It must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the council. It will be scheduled for a vote after the city receives the papers back from the state, said city spokeswoman Jennifer Rawls. In 2012, the council approved the changes by a two-thirds majority, sent it to the state Legislature where it was approved, but then failed ratification after one council member changed his mind.

‘Right to Try’ bill awaits Haslam’s signature (WSMV-TV Nashville)
People with incurable illnesses in Tennessee may soon be able to try what’s been off-limits before. The Right to Try Act allows people with incurable conditions to use experimental drugs that have passed phase one safety tests. Amanda Wilcox is doing everything she can to stay alive. The 30-year-old worship singer at Cross Point Church is in the middle of three months of chemotherapy. Wilcox has terminal cancer. Nevertheless, she recently got engaged. She lives with a sense of hope and joy and has become a spokesperson for experimental treatments. “I knew a kid who was 8 or 9 years old and they had exhausted every option here,” Wilcox said. “So he had to go to England to get a different treatment that we hadn’t approved yet. And he’s cured. So I think there’s just a lot of different options.”

House Votes To Name Gun Tennessee’s ‘Official Rifle’ (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
In one of the final acts of the year, the state House of Representatives approved a resolution designating the Barrett M82 the “official rifle of the state of Tennessee.” House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to honor the sniper rifle, which is made in Tennessee. One of the opponents was Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis). “This really concerns me when we start endorsing brands,” he said. “If we start endorsing one brand over another brand, I think that’s counter to us being a business-friendly state.” After the vote, Parkinson introduced resolutions naming Memphis-based FedEx as the official carrier of the state of Tennessee and AutoZone as the official auto parts supplier.

House bill should revive work at Chickamauga lock next year (TFP/Flessner)
In an era of rising building costs, stagnant tax collections and no Congressional earmarks, finding enough money to restart construction of a new Chickamauga Lock has been a prolonged battle for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. Fleischmann, the Chattanooga Republican who campaigned more than four years ago on a pledge to fix Washington and the crumbling lock in Chattanooga, has yet to see the stalled project resume. But Fleischmann said Thursday he is convinced work will be restarted next year if the Army Corps of Engineers abides with the funding and direction from a critical House spending plan approved this week.

DesJarlais raises $144,677 for 2016 campaign (Daily News Journal)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais raised $144,677 in campaign donations the first quarter of 2015 before a possible challenge from Republican rival Jim Tracy, Federal Election Commission records show. “It’s a much better climate than it was last cycle,” DesJarlais said during a Wednesday phone interview. “As you know, we had a difficult race.” State Sen. Tracy of Shelbyville recently said he’s thinking about running again after losing in a tight 2014 GOP primary by only 38 votes to DesJarlais of South Pittsburg. Tracy was runner-up despite raising $1.6 million to top the $658,881 collected by DesJarlais for the 4th Congressional District.

Obama official visits Nashville, promotes immigrant entrepreneurs (Tenn/McGee)
Maria Contreras-Sweet, the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, came to Conexion Americas in Nashville on Thursday to share an overview of a new SBA initiative focused on helping immigrant entrepreneurs. As part of President Barack Obama’s New Americans task force, the SBA will be rolling out a bilingual website to help business owners more easily learn how to access capital, counseling and contract opportunities. At the local level, Mayor Karl Dean’s Office of New Americans and other Nashville organizations are partnering with the SBA to promote immigrant entrepreneurship. “The SBA’s goal is to create a whole new toolkit around our programs,” Contreras-Sweet said, speaking to Dean and a group of Nashville immigrant entrepreneurs.

Match Game: Companies Push Training to Close Skills Gap (Wall Street Journal)
Heather Betancourth, a representative from Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., told a crowded room of community college students what they wanted to hear: Her employer needs to fill 3,000 positions in the coming years. Starting salaries can top $100,000. But here in the greater Houston region, dangling six-figure jobs is no longer enough to find qualified applicants for many positions. So the company has a scholarship program that covers community-college tuition, Ms. Betancourth elaborated, and pays interns around $18 an hour to work at its chemical facility.



Editorial: Tennessee leaders: No timetable for new Insure TN review (Tennessean)
The road to getting Insure Tennessee passed may be a long one as there’s no timetable for when it would return to legislators for approval. The resolution to approve Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal, which was expected to cover 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans by tapping into Medicaid dollars the state currently does not get, was killed twice by Senate committees, once in a special session and once in the general legislative session. At a news conference Thursday on Capitol Hill, Haslam and the General Assembly’s top leadership spoke with journalists about the end of the 28-day 2015 legislative session and issues like Insure Tennessee.

Free-Press Editorial: Immigrant Students Get Cold Shoulder (Times Free-Press)
Left out in the cold as lawmakers adjourned the first session of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday was a group of illegal immigrant students — brought to this country not of their own volition — whose only sin is wanting to attend college. A bill that would have allowed them to pay in-state tuition at Tennessee colleges and universities failed by one vote in the state House after passing the state Senate last week. House members somehow were unable to separate the sins of their parents — coming to the country illegally — and the unpopular steps by President Obama — executive actions allowing some illegals to continue to stay in the country — from the productive citizens the students might become if they had a college education.