April 27 TN News Digest

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

Haslam promoting free-tuition plan for Tennessee adults (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam is continuing to promote his free-tuition plan for Tennessee adults. Tennessee Reconnect is a last-dollar scholarship program that was part of Haslam’s Tennessee Promise legislation passed last year. The initiative allows adults to attend one of the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology free of tuition and fees. Haslam will discuss the program at an event in Kingsport on Friday. Tennessee Reconnect also ties in with Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 in order to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

TDEC approves Jasper burn site to remedy brush removal issue (TFP/Lewis)
City leaders have gotten a reprieve from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation after they found an approved site to burn the debris picked up from residential areas. TDEC shut down Jasper’s old burn pit in early January after a single complaint prompted a state inspection of the city’s disposal area. The facility was in compliance with all but one state statute, which required that it be located at least a half-mile from an industrial site. The burn pit was about 200 yards from Tennessee Galvanizing Inc., so TDEC barred its use.

New law targets uninsured drivers (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
More than 663,000 Tennesseans will be prodded into buying insurance by enactment of a law setting up a new system for annual insurance verification of all registered vehicles statewide while raising penalties for those found without coverage, according to legislative staff estimates. A “fiscal note” for House Bill 606, which was given final legislative approval last week, notes a 2014 Insurance Research Council study based on 2012 data indicating Tennessee has the sixth highest uninsured motorist rate in the nation, 20.1 percent of all drivers. That means about 1.1 million of Tennessee’s 5.5 million registered vehicles have no insurance, despite a state decades-old “fiscal responsibility law” generally requiring it, says the Fiscal Review Committee staff.

10 lobbyists represent public agencies in Hamilton County (TFP/Brogdon)
Public agencies in Hamilton County are paying 10 lobbyists a combined $304,700 a year to represent local interests to state officials who were elected to represent local interests. The city of Chattanooga has four lobbyists in Nashville, city-owned EPB has four, and Erlanger Health System and Hamilton County each have one. Chattanooga contracts with the law firm of Frost, Brown and Todd, but it also gets a lobbyist through its membership with the Tennessee Municipal League, according to city spokeswoman Lacie Stone. The contract with Frost, Brown and Todd costs $6,000 a month while the General Assembly is in session, Stone said.

Bradley County Schools’ proposed budget presents ‘challenges’ (TFP/Leach)
The 2015-16 draft budget for Bradley County Schools presents problems, including whether to pay for instructional coaching and after-school programming, officials said. In a recent meeting, interim Schools Director Scott Humberd described a number of “challenges” the school board would need to address within the proposed $69.6 million budget. “The state funding for extended contracts, which pays for our after-school activities … is no longer available and has been cut,” Humberd said. That money “has been spiraling down for years,” he added.



Editorial: Haslam should have let the bill become law without his signature (CA)
We wish Gov. Bill Haslam had not affixed his signature to a bill that prevents local governments in Tennessee from barring people with handgun-carry permits from bringing firearms to parks, playgrounds and sports fields. We realize there were more than enough votes in the House and Senate to override a veto. Yet, letting the bill become law without his signature would have been a show of support for the right of local governments to decide what safety measures are best for their residents — especially since Haslam, a former mayor of Knoxville, said he had concerns about the bill.

Editorial: Haynes’ job as GOP chair leaves delegation void (News-Sentinel)
State Rep. Ryan Haynes is leaving the Legislature to become the chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, a move that will raise his profile statewide but leave a void in Knox County’s delegation. Haynes, 29, defeated Rep. Mary Littleton of Dickson and Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain on the first ballot of an April 11 vote of the GOP State Executive Committee. He replaces Chris Devaney, who resigned to run a nonprofit after only a couple of months on the job. Haynes has been a rising star in the Republican Party since winning his first election in 2008 at the age of 23.