May 2 TN News Digest

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

Haslam pitches ‘Tennessee Reconnect’ to chamber luncheon (Times-News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam pitched his “Tennessee Reconnect” initiative attempting to get adults back into the classroom and on a path toward a college degree to a receptive Kingsport Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday. Those adults have until May 15 to sign up for a last-dollar Tennessee Reconnect scholarship to attend a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) tuition free. Haslam said there’s an approximate 8,000-person pool of adults who could take advantage of the program and get TCAT degrees in fields like information technology, advanced manufacturing, medical administration and welding.

New college scholarship available for adults (Herald-Courier)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on Friday touted the value of a new college scholarship program for adults. Called ‘Tennessee Reconnect,’ the program provides financial assistance for adults who didn’t attend college or were unable to finish their degree. It was first announced in late March as part of the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative to help ensure that 55 percent of the Tennesseans have a degree or certificate by the year 2025. “We realized that we needed to do something for adults to be able to get higher education.” Haslam said during remarks at an event at the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort and Convention Center.

Musical instrument maker expanding Wilson County operations (Associated Press)

A musical instrument manufacturer and distributor is investing nearly $4 million to expand its operations in Wilson County. Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced Thursday that KHS America plans to add to its location in Mt. Juliet and create 67 new jobs. Renovations are expected to be complete as early as midsummer. KHS America is a subsidiary of KHS Musical Instruments Co., based in Taiwan.

Law allows for lifetime handgun-carry permit (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a third bill approved by the Legislature this year to benefit Tennessee’s 500,000 handgun permit-holders — a measure giving them the option of making their licenses valid for life rather than being renewed every five years. Under HB745, signed this week and taking effect July 1, a lifetime permit will cost $500. Currently, an initial permit costs $115 and then must be renewed every five years at a cost of $50. The bill’s Republican sponsors, Rep. John Holsclaw of Elizabethton and Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, say the lifetime permit will be a cost savings for some — especially younger people getting a permit for the first time when eligible at age 21 — and a convenience for others who don’t want to bother with renewals.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam Approves Lifetime Gun Permits (WPLN-Radio Nash)

Gun owners in Tennessee can now apply to carry for life. Gov. Bill Haslam has signed House Bill 745, which lets Tennesseans request permits that never expire. They’ll cost $500. Law enforcement will still run criminal background checks on lifetime permit holders once every five years. Those who have lost their right to carry will have up to 30 days to turn over their permits or face suspension of their drivers’ licenses.

Takeout In Tennessee Could Soon Include Alcohol (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennesseans will soon be able to get alcohol with their takeout. Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a measure, House Bill 1011, that will let delivery services bring along up to a gallon of alcohol per customer. Deliverers must first get a state license, and they’ll have to ask for ID. They’re allowed to start providing the service July 1.

Officials kickoff Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month (Associated Press)

The Governor’s Highway Safety Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are kicking off Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in Nashville on Friday. Officials are hosting a press event that will feature a motorcycle crash survivor and the director of trauma outreach and education at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Over the last decade, officials say motorcycle fatalities have increased nearly 25 percent in Tennessee. In 2014, there were 2,710 crashes involving a motorcycle across the state. During the recent legislative session, a measure to remove the helmet requirement for all adult motorcyclists in the state failed once again.

State hires Rocky Fork park manager; keeps name under wraps (J. City Press)

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has hired a manager for new Rocky Fork State Park in Unicoi County. While the department has not yet released the park manager’s name, TDEC Deputy Communications Director Eric Ward said Thursday a “Meet the Park Manager” event will be conducted later this month. The department expects to have also hired a ranger for the park by the time of the meeting, Ward said. In the meantime, Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of TDEC’s Bureau of Parks & Conservation, is scheduled to take part in an inaugural Hikers’ Jamboree to be held at the park Saturday. While Hill will not be making any formal remarks at the jamboree, Ward said he will be available to speak with community members and park visitors.

Nashville business court project launches (Tennessean/Barchenger)

Nashville’s newest court, a pilot program designed to focus on complex business cases, launched Friday as the only court of its kind in the state. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle will lead the court. Lyle has been a chancellor for 20 years and attorney for more than 30 years. She said she took an interest in business cases while doing research for a law firm where she worked in Houston before becoming a chancellor. “I’m a person that likes details,” she said. “Some people would call it tedious, but I find it compelling. I like to core down and look at what’s underneath the surface.” Business cases can be complex and time consuming; Lyle is overseeing a trial now that is expected to last several weeks.

Business groups tally this year’s wins and losses at the state Legislature (NBJ)

A handful of big business issues went before the Tennessee General Assembly this year. The outcome, for businesses at least, was a mixed bag. The governor’s Insure Tennessee plan, strongly supported by business groups in Nashville and across the state, met a swift death during a February special session. An attempt to revive it a month later was cut down in a Senate committee. In neither instance did the plan to expand coverage to nearly 300,000 low-income Tennesseans get to a floor vote.

Lawmaker asks AG opinion on federal health care review (Tennessean/Boucher)

A state lawmaker wants the Tennessee Attorney General to weigh in on whether federal health officials may cut payments to help cover health costs for low-income Tennesseans because the state chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility. House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, sent the request to Attorney General Herbert Slatery this week in response to notification recently given from federal health officials to the state. Officials informed Tennessee and other states that did not expand Medicaid that their funding for indigent, or care for people who can’t afford insurance, might be cut.

Money for new Loudon County jail off the table (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Willett)

Funding for a new or expanded jail in Loudon County is off the table for the 2015-2016 budget year, according to county commissioners serving on the jail study committee. Several commissioners, including Henry Cullen and Bill Satterfield, responded to a question about the jail funding at a meeting of the Loudon County Corrections Partnership, Wednesday. “There is still a lot of planning to do. I don’t see how we could do it this year,” Satterfield said. The current jail is facing a state Department of Corrections order to address overcrowding and suffers from other issues related to officer safety and the condition of the facility, according to Sheriff Tim Guider.

Retail clinics in rural areas would widen primary care (Tennessean/Fletcher)

Retail clinics embedded in grocers and pharmacies dot Tennessee’s metropolitan areas, yet hold promise as a model to bring health care to rural and underserved parts of the state. Clinics are more common in Tennessee’s urban areas but could be an important access point for care in other parts of the state as the health care system undergoes an evolution to a patient-centric model that emphasizes patient outcomes instead of volume at hospitals and doctors’ offices. Retail clinics are embedded in an existing store — such as The Little Clinic in Kroger or Minute Clinic in CVS — and welcome walk-in patients for fast, affordable care.

Milk, bread, flu shots: Retail health clinics thriving (Tennessean/Fletcher)

When Carolyn Bond took a job with The Little Clinic in Kroger, her friends and family worried the nurse practitioner would be bored with the sniffles, coughs and routine illnesses that walk around grocery stores. But she isn’t. Building relationships with patients — known to Kroger as shoppers — and seeing rapid recoveries is part of the job that Bond, who had worked in long-term care and rehabilitation facilities, enjoys. “My family loves it because I am home more, and when I am off work, I am home. I am not on call after hours or chained to my phone anymore,” she said in an email during one of her days at the clinic.

Report criticizes Tennessee’s insurance companies (Times Free-Press/Belz)

Insurance companies that sold plans on Tennessee’s marketplace during 2014 violated the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for women’s health coverage, according to a report released Wednesday by a women’s legal advocacy group. The report, issued by the National Women’s Law Center, analyzed new insurance plans in 15 states, including Tennessee, and found some excluded dependents from maternity coverage, prohibited coverage of breast pumps and limited the genetic testing needed for women at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer. “The Affordable Care Act has made dramatic improvements in women’s health coverage, but insurers’ failure to comply with its requirements has serious consequences that affect women every day,” the center’s Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights Gretchen Borchet said in a prepared statement.

Tennessee Valley Authority reports increase in income (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Valley Authority says it has increased its net income for the first half of fiscal year 2015. TVA reported on Friday that it had a net income of $577 million, which is $349 million more than it reported in the same time period a year ago. The utility said operating expenses through the end of the second quarter were down by $392 million compared to the same time period last year. Overall power sales were down by 1.5 percent, but TVA said cold weather early in the year drove the number of heating degree days 10 percent higher than normal.

TVA on pace for $500 million in cuts after eliminating 2,000 jobs (TFP/Flessner)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has cut nearly 2,000 jobs over the past couple of years, reducing its staff size to the lowest level sinceTVA’s second year of operation in 1934. TVA President Bill Johnson, who ordered the staff cuts shortly after he took control of the federal utility two years ago, said TVA has become more focused and efficient and has already cut $400 million of annual operating expenses from its nearly $11 billion-a-year budget. TVA’s staff shrank from 12,800 employees two years ago to 10,900 employees today as part of an initiative to trim $500 million in annual expenses from its budget. The cost reductions helped TVA more than double its net income in the past six months despite an unexpectedly large drop in electricity sales so far in fiscal 2015.

Bass Pro markets Memphis Pyramid store nationwide (CA/Clarke, Risher)

Bass Pro is relying on a combination of TV, Internet and direct mail promotions that the company says will result in millions of eyeballs for its newest store — and in turn, for Memphis. Not only will the giant retailer put the new attraction under a national spotlight, success at marketing could bring in 1 million or more tourists per year, a prospect that is stirring ideas about boosting the city’s already big tourism business and renovating a wide swath of Downtown. Of course, it all depends on attracting out-of-towners to a facility intentionally built to be bigger than Memphis alone can support.

Topre buys lot for new Smyrna factory (Daily News Journal)

The Japanese auto supplier that announced Wednesday it is opening a standalone manufacturing facility in Smyrna bought acreage for the building this week, according to county records. Ole South Properties sold 31.36 acres on Florence Road in Smyrna for $3.4 million to Topre America Corp. April 24. The site will be the location of Topre’s new manufacturing facility adjacent to the Nissan Manufacturing and Assembly Plant. After the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board approved tax incentives, Topre announced it will create 105 advanced manufacturing jobs and invest more than $50 million in the Smyrna facility.

ASD shifting focus to upper grades  (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

The Achievement School District is shifting its focus in Memphis from elementary to secondary schools for the 2016-2017 school year. The district has accepted applications from four more charter operators seeking to become part of the takeover school district. One of those is applying for a middle school, one for a high school, and two for alternative schools. The applicants will be considered for the next round of local school takeovers, scheduled to be announced this fall. “We’re getting into a phase of the work now where it’s as much about the quality of the existing options as it is about creating new ones,” said ASD Supt. Chris Barbic.




Times Editorial: Gunning for state symbols in all the wrong places (TFP)

The buying of the Tennessee General Assembly — especially the House of the Representatives — might as well have been a billboard this year in the final days of the legislative session. In one of its final acts this year, the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution designating the Barrett M82, a high-powered sniper rifle, the “official rifle of the state of Tennessee.” Barrett, the self-described world leader in large-caliber rifle design and manufacturing, is headquartered in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The resolution didn’t stick (this time) because the Senate didn’t take it up. But among its handful of opponents in the House was Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, who said: “If we start endorsing one brand over another brand, I think that’s counter to us being a business-friendly state.”

Guest columnist: Freedom, prosperity winners in session (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The annual four-month session of the Tennessee General Assembly is usually a time when Knoxville residents should guard their wallets and their freedoms. With the 2015 legislative session now behind us, it’s worth noting that our pocketbooks are still intact, so you have more money to spend on a show at the Tennessee Theatre or a ball game at Neyland Stadium. It was a great year for freedom and prosperity in our state. Here are a few of the major accomplishments worth celebrating:  Empowering parents of special-needs children with educational freedom. At the end of the session, lawmakers passed the Individualized Education Act.

Editorial: Black’s bill against DC law at odds with local control (Tennessean)

It’s ironic that Congress is using a heavy-handed approach to try to nullify a law created by the District of Columbia council. With all the rhetoric about federal encroachment on states’ rights, this appears to be a violation of the spirit of the argument that overreaching government shouldn’t overly interfere with local control. Yet that is the case with an effort by Congressman Diane Black, R-Gallatin, to try to overturn a D.C. law for the first time in 20 years. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against employees or their families because they use contraception, fertility treatment or have an abortion. Black considers the law, enacted in January, a violation of religious freedom, and persuaded her fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the bill 228-192 on Thursday.