April 28 TN News Digest

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

McQueen stresses link between education, workforce (News-Sentinel/Slaby)
Although it was her first visit to Carson-Newman University, Candice McQueen said being on campus was a familiar feeling. “It feels like I’m going home,” said the Tennessee Commissioner of Education, who worked at Lipscomb University before becoming commissioner. To an auditorium of current and future educators, McQueen stressed education is what creates a workforce of people who can support themselves and their families and a workforce that draws business to the state. When Gov. Bill Haslam meets with companies that are considering a move to Tennessee, 90 percent of what they talk about is the workforce, McQueen said.

Crime rates drop throughout Tenn. despite 10 percent rise in murders (JCP)
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s annual crime report for 2014 shows overall crime rates have decreased for much of the region. Johnson City’s numbers followed the state trend of increased homicides — two more reported homicides from 2013 — but a fall in total crime — from 87 crimes per 1,000 residents in 2013 to 85.8 crimes per 1,000 residents in 2014. Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sriois said the trend is part of a larger declining trend that has affected Johnson City for the past decade. “There are a number of factors that go into that crime rate like environmental factors or socioeconomic (factors),” Sirois said.

Police: Tennessee Murders Up By Nearly 10 Percent Last Year (Associated Press)
A report released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows the number of reported murders across the state increased by nearly 10 percent last year. The TBI’s “Crime in Tennessee” report, which was released Monday, does not give an explanation for the rise in murders. The report compiles data from law enforcement agencies across the state. The TBI says there were 375 murders reported in Tennessee in 2014, an increase of 9.9 percent from the previous year.

TBI crime report: Murders increase, overall crime down (Tennessean/Buie)
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released its 2014 Crime in Tennessee report Monday morning, showing an overall decline in statewide crime. The report compiles crime data reported from each law enforcement agency in the state. According to the report, offenses dropped by 2.4 percent, arrests dropped by 2.5 percent and domestic violence offenses made up 51 percent of all crimes against persons. Weapon law violations also decreased by 2.5 percent, but crimes reported as murders increased by 9.9 percent. The 375 homicides reported in Tennessee in 2014 represent an increase of 9.9 percent from the previous year. Of the victims, 228 were slain at home.

TOSHA levies $6,400 in penalties in trench collapse (News-Sentinel/Jacobs)
State officials imposed a $6,400 penalty on a construction company for safety violations after a sewer line trench in Harriman collapsed, trapping a worker neck-deep in soil for four hours. The injured worker, Kenneth Heard, 20, of Sparta, has since returned to work, said Hal Danson, the owner of Danson Construction, Inc. Heard’s brother and father also work with the company that is based in Sparta, Danson said. “He was only out for about a month,” Danson, 62, said of Heard’s injuries. “Fortunately, the boy wasn’t hurt bad. He was bruised. “He don’t remember any of it. And he ain’t scared to get back in.”

TDOT creating turn lanes at Stone Drive intersections (Times-News)
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is working to improve the turning situation at two intersections along Stone Drive. Orange safety barrels and barricades went up last week along Stone Drive at the intersections with East Avenue and at Walnut/Morison avenues. TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi said the work being done will create turn lanes at these two intersections. The contractor — W-L Construction and Paving Inc., — reduced traffic to one lane in each direction to allow working room in making the tie-ins with Stone Drive. The lane reduction was also done to protect motorists from the drop-off that will be present during the excavating portion of the work.

Doctor gets more severe punishment than DesJarlais (Tennessean/Wilemon)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais got a slap on the wrist for a sexual relationship with two patients compared to the punishment recently handed down against a Murfreesboro doctor who had a fling with only one patient. The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners revoked the license of Dr. Brad Blankenship and fined him $5,000 after he voluntarily stopped practicing medicine, submitted to behavioral evaluation for physicians and then underwent an inpatient treatment program for people in professional occupations. That punishment compares to a $500 fine and a reprimand for the congressman.

Tennessee coalition asks court not to release rape case records (Associated Press)
Four victims’ rights groups are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to rule against a coalition of news media organizations, including The Associated Press, that is fighting to get access to some of the records in a high-profile rape case involving four former Vanderbilt University football players. The Tennessean reports that the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the Tennessean Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and the Sexual Assault Centers are asking the court to consider the victims before releasing police records to the media. Cellphone video recorded graphic images of the June 2013 rape. The media are not seeking the graphic footage. Nor do they want to identify the victim. The media organizations are seeking access to text messages, including those between coaches and players after the rape.

Top Democrat on Insure TN: Call special sessions until passage (Tenn/Boucher)
If at first you don’t succeed, call another special session. And another. As many as it takes. That’s the mantra of the head Democrat in the Tennessee House: House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, wants Gov. Bill Haslam to keep calling lawmakers back to Nashville for special legislative sessions until they pass the controversial health care plan Insure Tennessee. “Though the last extraordinary session was unsuccessful, I maintain that this option is still a viable choice. If the General Assembly once again refuses to take action or places unnecessary hurdles before the bill to prevent passage, I would urge another extraordinary session immediately upon the first’s adjournment,” Fitzhugh wrote in a letter to the governor, dated April 23. “If I were governor, I would repeat this process again and again until the General Assembly did the right thing and passed Insure Tennessee.”

New abortion rules would burden women, raise costs, clinics say (Tenn/Wadhwani)
Abortion providers are already gearing up for new abortion regulations that Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to soon sign into law. Last week the legislature approved two new measures that will affect how — and potentially where — women access abortions in Tennessee. One measure will require a 48-hour waiting period and a scripted list of information a physician must provide in person to a woman before she can obtain an abortion. A second measure will require all facilities that perform 50 or more surgical abortions annually to be regulated as ambulatory surgical treatment centers, or “ASTCs” — potentially jeopardizing the operations of clinics in Nashville and Bristol, both owned by the same private gynecologist practices. The clinics do not meet the ASTC guidelines.

Tennessee grapples with logistics of special education vouchers (CA/Roberts)
At Madonna Learning Center, which has just doubled its capacity, the voucher bill that passed in the state legislature last week could mean a second capital campaign as the private school for students with disabilities prepares to serve potentially many more students. Tennessee is now one of 11 states that allows parents of special education students to have state and local funds for their children’s schooling deposited in a portable account they can use to buy services in the private sector or provide the education at home and hire tutors, occupational therapists and other experts to help. The fund in Shelby County would be worth about $6,600 a year per child.

New Plan To Fund Tennessee’s Disabled Students Won’t Pay For Much (WPLN)
Parents of Tennessee children with certain disabilities will likely have a new option next year. A bill headed to the governor’s desk would give 18,000 families access to the state and local money allocated for educating their child in public school. First of all, the people behind the program are very careful about what it isn’t: a voucher. After all, the money won’t be transferred directly from the state to a school. Instead, state representative Debra Moody says it should be called an Educational Savings Account, limited to students with autism, intellectual disabilities or serious physical impairments.

Cultivating Civility at State Capitols (Stateline)
Soon after then-Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot and seriously wounded by a gunman in Tucson in 2011, officials at the University of Arizona wanted to do something to honor her. As Giffords was known for her bipartisanship in an often rancorous U.S. Congress, the university decided to create the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Institute for Civil Discourse. Chaired by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, it aims to advance and promote civil discourse among elected officials, the media and the public. Giffords now serves on the board. In 2012, Ted Celeste, then a Democratic state representative from Ohio, came to the institute with a plan.

Chattanooga among top cities for startups (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Malek)
Chattanooga ranks among the five best cities in the nation to start a business, according to WalletHub, a personal-finance social network. Gig City ranks No. 4, to be exact, behind Shreveport, La.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Springfield, Mo. “Chattanooga was an entrepreneurial wasteland seven years ago,” said Charlie Brock, president and CEO of Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership that supports development of high-growth companies in the state. “It’s been a wonderful confluence of events, activities and people that have come together to make this one of the best places to start and grow a business.” The Volunteer State’s Memphis came in at No. 7, and Nashville came in at No. 20.

Airport board concerned about state cuts (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)
Funding for a planned general aviation airport in Oak Ridge could be trimmed or delayed as the result of a state fuel-tax break recently approved for FedEx. Bill Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, says staff is watching ramifications of the legislation on the usual $4 million to $8 million it receives annually from the state’s Transportation Equity Fund. The authority operates McGhee Tyson and Downtown Island airports. “It is something we are very concerned about,” he said. “It does decrease the amount of funds available for capital projects.” The cuts could affect the Airport Authority’s planned general aviation airport in Oak Ridge, although Marrison said the legislation will take about five years to implement.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Numbers don’t tell whole story of Smokies’ impact (News-Sentinel)
East Tennesseans have known for decades that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a driving force in the region’s economy. The economic clout of the most-visited national park, however, is far greater than the dollars and cents that tourists spend while in the area. According to a report released Thursday by the National Park Service, about 10.1 million people visited the Smokies last year. That number is roughly 55 percent higher than the number of people who live in all of Tennessee. To put it another way, more people visited the Smokies in 2014 than reside in all but seven states. These visitors spent a total of $806.7 million in communities within 60 miles of the park, according to the report. That spending generated 12,759 jobs in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.