April 25 TN News Digest

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

Governor says state is a partner with Memphis in effort to cut poverty (CA/Locker)
Mayor A C Wharton and other Memphis officials presented an update on his plan to cut the city’s poverty rate by 10 percent in 10 years to Gov. Bill Haslam and nearly half of his cabinet members here Friday. The mayor, city housing and community development director Robert Lipscomb and others told the governor and state officials they weren’t there asking for money but rather a “full partnership” with the state on the city’s “Blueprint for Prosperity,” a new approach to helping move more Memphis residents out of poverty. Its goal: cutting the city’s poverty rate from 27 percent to 17 percent in 10 years.

Haslam signs bill to allow guns in all Tennessee parks (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Local governments in Tennessee can no longer bar people with handgun carry permits from bringing firearms to parks, playgrounds and sports fields under legislation signed Friday by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. In a letter to the speakers of the House and Senate, Haslam said he remains concerned about potential unintended consequences for local leaders, but called the final version of the legislation a “vast improvement” from when it was first introduced. “The final version of the bill made clear that guns are not allowed at school-related activities taking place in parks,” Haslam said in the letter.

Haslam signs guns-in-parks bill (Tennessean/Boucher)
The governor signed the controversial guns-in-parks bill Friday morning. Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged he had initial concerns about the bill, but he approves of the latest version that passed the House and Senate. “Overall I believe the legislation in its final form is a vast improvement from the bill as initially introduced,” Haslam wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell explaining his decision. “However, I am concerned that an unintended consequence may be operational challenges for local leaders in managing their parks in a safe, effective and consistent manner, due to events and situations that could not have been anticipated in drafting this law.”

Haslam signs guns-in-parks bill (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday signed into law a bill that immediately overrides city and county bans on permit-holders bringing firearms into local parks, playgrounds and ballfields. As soon as he put down his pen, the governor was caught in a crossfire between advocates and critics. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, tweeted that “Not vetoing #GunsinParks is an absolute failure of leadership.” But Chris Cox, in charge of the National Rifle Association’s political arm, called the law an “important measure [that] advances Tennessee’s long history of supporting our Second Amendment freedoms.”

Haslam says yes to guns-in-parks bill (Nashville Business Journal)
Gov. Bill Haslam today signed a bill that would prevent local Tennessee governments from prohibiting guns in city and county parks. The Republican governor previously had criticized the bill, but he said the latest version was an improvement. Despite his final approval, he did say he worried about “unintended consequences” for local leaders who must keep their parks safe and secure. The bill overrules any local bans on peoplewith handgun permits taking their guns to parks. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean opposes the new law, questioning the governor’s move Friday, reports The Tennessean. He said it’s unclear how cities can adhere to the law and keep their parks safe.

Governor Bill Haslam signs ‘Guns in Parks Bill’ (WREG-TV Memphis)
If you’ve got a permit, soon you will be able to carry a gun into a park, and local law enforcement can’t do anything about it. Friday morning Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law but only after the part of the bill that allowed permit toters to carry a gun into the capital was taken out. “The bill in its final form is a vast improvement from where it started,” said Haslam. Getting the governor to sign the ‘Guns in Parks Bill’ didn’t happen overnight. This battle has been going on for months. On Friday, Haslam admitted there was still a lot that needs to be worked out.

Wharton disappointed after Haslam signs guns-in-parks bill into law (CA/Locker)
Despite years of expressing concern about its impacts, Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday signed the controversial guns-in-parks bill into law, allowing handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in all local parks statewide regardless of local ordinances banning guns in parks. The bill was the most controversial of several gun bills Tennessee lawmakers considered during the three-month state legislative session that ended Wednesday night. Lawmakers approved the bill regardless of local ordinances against guns in parks.

Dem calls signing of guns-in-parks bill ‘absolute failure of leadership’ (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam is drawing fire from Democratic lawmakers for signing into law a bill today that strips local governments of their ability to bar handgun-carry permit holders from going armed in city and county parks, playgrounds and ball fields. “All along the governor says one thing and then turns around and does another,” charged Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, in an interview. “And that’s just politics at its worst in my view. That’s what politicians do. And this on the face of it appears to be kind of cave in to the special interest groups, the NRA.”

Students, teachers evaluated in annual TCAP assessment (Leaf Chronicle)
Tennessee students and teachers will have the chance this week to show how far they’ve come this school year. The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, Achievement Test will measure the reading, language arts, mathematics and science skills of students in grades 3-8. One educator said taking the test is the equivalent of going to the championship game after a long season of study. But until the test is over and the pencils are down, skills and nerves are tested as well. And when it’s over, teachers are graded more than students.

State agrees to let couple give child chosen surname (Associated Press/Burke)
The Tennessee Department of Health has agreed to let a Brentwood couple give their child the surname of their choice, bringing to an end a contentious legal battle that began last year. The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the parents, hailed the state’s decision as a victory for the rights of the couple. “This is a free speech issue and parents should be able to name their children what they want to name their children,” said Tom Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee. The lawsuit against the state was dismissed Thursday and a birth certificate has been issued with the parents’ chosen surname, he said. Dr. Carl Abramson and Kimberly Sarubbi sued in October after the state refused to allow the couple to give their third child the last name Sabr.

Industrial hemp seed inches closer to TN farmers’ hands (News-Sentinel/Kimel)
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has received word from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that its registration to import hemp seed has been approved. This follows months of discussion between the two agencies about Tennessee’s industrial hemp pilot program that have farmers unsure they’ll get the hemp seed in time to plant a crop. The good news is no additional restrictions have been set on the program regarding acreage or number of participants, said Corinne Gould, a state spokeswoman.

Opening of new University of Memphis dorm delayed (News-Sentinel/Fretland)
The opening of the new $53 million Centennial Place residence hall at the University of Memphis has been delayed because of construction reasons, the university said Friday. Students who were assigned to the building will live temporarily at Richardson Towers, university spokeswoman Gabrielle Maxey said in a news release. “The exact date for occupancy will be announced as soon as it is known,” she said. “To minimize the impact of the delay, the University is offering affected students reduced rent, a $200 dining credit and move-in assistance when Centennial Place opens.”

State suspends Knoxville College’s authorization (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission voted Thursday to place Knoxville College on “conditional authorization,” essentially suspending the school’s approval to recruit, enroll and educate students. College leaders informed the state last month the school planned to halt classes this fall in order to reorganize the administration and refocus fundraising efforts. In response, an advisory committee recommended the commission suspend the school’s authorization, said Julie Woodruff, lead attorney and assistant executive director of postsecondary school authorization with THEC.

Pharmacist at shuttered Smyrna drugstore gets license jerked (Tenn/Wilemon)
The pharmacist in charge of a Smyrna drugstore shut down last year because of missing and unaccounted-for narcotics has had her license revoked. The action against Ashley Nicole Corder came nine months after Corder’s Community Pharmacy was closed by a state order. The pharmacy operated only from Jan. 31, 2014, until July 7, when it was closed by an emergency order. Half of the prescriptions filled by the drugstore during that time were for controlled substances.

TN deputy AG says lawsuit over schools funds should be dismissed (TFP/Omarzu)
A lawsuit by the school boards of Hamilton County and six other area counties over Tennessee’s Basic Education Program, the public school funding formula, should be dismissed, argues Kevin Steiling, deputy attorney general at the Tennessee attorney general’s office. The state had until Friday to respond to the school systems’ suit. Steiling filed a 32-page memorandum in Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville that says the local school districts’ lawsuit relies on a “profoundly flawed interpretation” of three successful previous lawsuits against the BEP and should be “dismissed in its entirety.”

Lawmaker aims to bridge billions in backlog for Tennessee’s road projects (NBJ)
Amid the marathon floor sessions this week during the Tennessee General Assembly’s final week for 2015, one state senator said he will hold legislative hearings later this year to address long-term funding for the state’s transportation system. The hearings, still unscheduled, are courtesy of State Sen. Jim Tracy, a Republican from Shelbyville and the chairman of the Senate’s Transportation and Safety Committee. Tracy told fellow lawmakers Wednesday he wants to use the hearings to come back with a “comprehensive solution” for infrastructure funding when lawmakers reconvene in January 2016.

Tennessee General Assembly passes resolution supporting Ocoee (TFP/Healey)
A joint resolution in support of preserving the Ocoee River as a whitewater destination was passed unanimously by the Tennessee General Assembly last week. State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, wrote Senate Joint Resolution 166 and shepherded it through the Senate. State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, carried it through the house. Bell, who has represented Polk County for the last five years, said a resolution spelling out the legislature’s support was necessary because of the Ocoee’s economic impact on the area.

The good, bad of 2015 TN legislative session (Tennessean/Boucher)
Success is a matter of perspective. As the 2015 regular legislative session ended, Tennessee lawmakers and advocates across the political spectrum heralded the success or lamented the failure of an array of issues. Here’s a look at the good, bad and the ugly of the legislative session on 10 key issues: ABORTION Why it was a good session: Lawmakers passed two bills that anti-abortion rights advocates support. One creates new regulations for inspections of clinics that perform at least 50 abortions. The second requires doctors to read an “informed consent” that goes over the potential dangers of the procedure before providing an abortion and creates a 48-hour waiting period between the time a woman seeks an abortion and when she can actually go through with the procedure.

Congressman Cohen introduces two aerotropolis bills (Memphis Business Journal)
Thursday, U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen introduced two bills that aim at boosting the development of aerotropolis transportation systems in Memphis and throughout the country. Aerotropolis refers to the perspective of urban development focused on promoting diverse development surrounding airports. In April 2014, Memphis Airport City, the 50-square-mile radius around the Memphis International Airport, released a master plan that recommends developing 40 million square feet of industrial space that would create more than 20,000 jobs, increase property values by $1.2 billion and generate $30 million in additional annual taxes.

OPINION

Lamar Alexander: Human faces tell how Nissan transformed TN economy (Tenn)
Three weeks ago, I received a letter from Randy Knight, Nissan’s vice president of manufacturing in Smyrna. It was an invitation to last Tuesday’s announcement that the Smyrna plant would produce the all-new Maxima. I knew right away I had to change my schedule to make it. The story of how Nissan has transformed Tennessee’s economy is one that often is told in cars and trucks and dollars and cents. Those things are important — nearly one-third of Tennessee’s manufacturing jobs are auto related — but we also have to remember the human faces that help tell the story of Nissan’s success over the last 35 years.

Times Editorial: Dear governor, our parks just took a bullet (Times Free-Press)
Dear Gov. Haslam, We commend your thoughtful letter to members of the Tennessee General Assembly whose guns-in-parks legislation you signed into law on Friday — the same legislation that in essence overrides local laws prohibiting guns in our local parks. In the letter, you wrote: “I think it is critical going forward that we work together with local leaders to assess the impact of this law and that we all listen and respond to the questions and concerns of those leaders as they work to implement it successfully.” That was nice of you, Governor. But we wonder why, in retrospect, you didn’t think it was critical to work together with local leaders when they they wanted to head off the impact of this law.

Editorial: Extend TN’s embrace of liberty to same-sex marriage (Tennessean)
The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about whether all states must allow gay and lesbian couples to get married and honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. This is the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that the court did not rule on in 2013, when justices decided that the 17-year-old federal ban on such unions was unconstitutional. What remained in place was Section 2 of DOMA, granting states the right not to recognize same-sex couples’ marriages from other states that permitted them. Since that time, district and appeals courts have ruled in favor of the right of gay and lesbian couples in most states, and now 37 of 50 states allow the practice.