May 4 TN News Digest

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

Starry night: State park, natural area recognized for nocturnal beauty (NS/Simmons)

A Tennessee state park known for its natural rock formations and rustic cabins is gaining a worldwide reputation for its stargazing. The International Dark Sky Association recently named Pickett State Park a Dark Sky Park in recognition of the park’s exceptional nighttime beauty. Also named was the Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area, just 1.5 miles from Pickett. The combined property will be known as Pickett-Pogue International Dark Sky Park. Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek State Natural Area are on the Cumberland Plateau near the Kentucky border, about 13 miles north of Jamestown, Tenn., and 20 miles south of Monticello, Ky.

State must listen to variety of voices in energy plan (News-Sentinel/Kimel)

It seems everyone has an opinion on how Tennessee’s energy sector should shape up in the coming decades. The state has made a big investment in solar over the past decade and proponents hope to develop that niche even further by drawing on research and technology resources at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. Other projects, however, like investments in biofuels and small nuclear reactors have struggled to get off the ground. What the state needs is a unified energy plan that balances the needs of its many stakeholders — from homeowners to potential new businesses — while allowing the state to respond to rapid changes in the energy industry, according to a report from UT’s Baker Center.

Environmental study under way for segment of Highway 30 (TFP/Benton)

The section of the improvement project for state Highway 30 in Rhea County could take one of a couple of proposed routes into Dayton if the project goes forward. An environmental study now being performed will provide the Tennessee Department of Transportation as well as residents information on negative and positive impacts the project will have on the area. But most people along the route see more positives than negatives at this point and say Highway 30, which in Rhea County has remained practically unchanged for years, needs to be wider and safer. Melanie Rievley’s family business, Mr. Floor Covering, is at the Dayton city limits where Blueberry Hill Road intersects Highway 30 near a sharp curve.

Bill to stabilize state’s revenue base, reduced it (Knox News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

The Legislature kept its traditional business-friendly course during the 2015 session, at least for companies with a strong presence within Tennessee. For those based out of the state and with little Tennessee investment — not so much. The chief illustration of this phenomena is Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Revenue Modernization Act (HB644),” initiated with the proclaimed objective of leveling the tax paying field for Tennessee firms competing with out-of-state companies that have been able to exploit loopholes in state business tax laws.

After long battle, Tennessee cockfighting opponents finally win a round (TFP/Belz)

Every time Tom Farrow has infiltrated a cockfighting pit and scanned the crowd, he has always spotted kids. The longtime animal-fighting investigator has watched children clutch dead roosters in their hands, bumping the limp birds against each other in mock-duels. He’s seen teenagers count out small amounts of cash, placing bets for the first time. He remembers the tiny girl being scolded by her father for crying at a cockfight that was raided in Polk County in 2010. “I’ve never been to a cockfight when there weren’t kids. And I’ve been to a heck of a lot of cockfights,” said Farrow, a retired FBI agent now considered one of the leading experts on cockfighting investigations.

New law gives neighborhood associations teeth (Commercial Appeal/Poe)

The burglar picked a cool night, March 3, and waited until Christine Grandberry had left her home in Frayser, a home she’d owned since 1996, to watch her Memphis Grizzlies lose to the Utah Jazz, 93-82. Grandberry, 67 and retired, arrived back at her one-story, four-bedroom house at about the same time as the police to find her glass patio door in shards on the floor, her rooms ransacked and a “pretty little antique jewelry box” that held her treasured collection gone. “It’s horrifying, really horrifying,” she said. “I’m single, by myself. My children are old and gone and I’m disabled.”

Lawmakers reimburse state after ‘double-dipping’ accusations (N-S/Humphrey)

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, have both written reimbursement checks to state government after billing both taxpayers and their campaign accounts for out-of-state trips to legislative conferences. Ketron, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus and for years was chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee that oversees state government spending, wrote the state a check for $17,553 covering six trips over the past six years, according to Nashville’s WTVF-TV, which initially reported on the development Friday. Haynes, who recently became the Tennessee Republican Party chairman, said his check was for $4,775 and that is actually an “over-reimbursement” for virtually all of his state-paid travel as a legislator.

Tennessee’s marriage recognition laws rarely used (Tennessean/Barchenger)

Tennessee rarely refuses to honor marriages licensed in other states, despite a checkerboard of laws that vary between jurisdictions. The last time such a dispute was documented in court records was in 1970, according to attorneys for the state. Family law attorneys say the validity of marriages is sometimes an issue during divorces. The state rule is to generally recognize marriages licensed elsewhere. But the most broad test of that rule is pending before the nation’s highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June whether states must allow gay marriages, and if not, whether they must recognize gay marriages licensed in other states.

Nashville can learn from Salt Lake’s transit success (Tennessean/McGee)

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes is a conservative lawmaker who saw public transit as an over-subsidized social service. Given the building costs, he thought the state would be better off buying people cars. But when he began drilling down into the maintenance needs of the roads, the Salt Lake area’s rapidly growing population and the economic impact of congestion and sprawl, he began to take a different stance. Instead of thinking in terms of transit vs. roads, he considered, “What does it take to absorb this population?” While U.S. cities often widen roads when congestion increases, Salt Lake’s options were limited by its mountain ranges and lakes.

Bradley County jail could profit from e-cigarettes (Times Free-Press/Leach)

The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office would like to stock e-cigarettes in the jail commissary and use the proceeds from sales to inmates to buy needed equipment. The sheriff’s office asked county commissioners last week to amend the county’s e-cigarette policy, which forbids the use of “vaping” devices along with other tobacco products. Sheriff Eric Watson told commissioners changing the policy would allow the commissary to sell the products to inmates for use in the recreation yard, “Jails across the state are allowing e-cigs to be sold to their inmates and there’s a lot of money to be made,” recently. Based on e-cig sales trends at other correctional facilities, the sheriff’s office could bring in $96,000 to $120,000 per year, he said.

Alexander: Nuclear power treated ‘unfairly’ under EPA plan (News-Sentinel/Collins)

When it comes to alternative energy, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander prefers nuclear plants over windmills. Nuclear power, he says, is clean, cheap and dependable. Wind power, he argues, is unreliable and doesn’t produce a lot of energy. Besides, he says, wind turbines are ugly. If Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, didn’t already know that about Tennessee’s senior senator, she does now. Alexander took McCarthy to task last week because the Obama administration is treating nuclear power differently — and in his view, a bit unfairly — than wind and solar energy in its proposed rules to cut carbon emissions.

National media spotlight shining on Corker (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)

Sen. Bob Corker insists the only job in which he’s interested is the one he has now. “It’s a tremendous privilege for me to wake up every day and represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate, and especially now to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,” the Chattanooga Republican says. But if Corker isn’t thinking about what the future might hold for him, others are. His name has come up for months as a possible presidential candidate for 2016. Corker says he has ruled a run out, and with the GOP field starting to take shape, little time is left for him to mount a serious campaign even if he were to change his mind.



Guest columnist: ‘Guns in trunks’ law revision creates workplace issues (N-S)

In 2013, Tennessee enacted the so-called “guns in trunks law.” This provided a defense to criminal prosecution for a handgun carry permit holder, if parked on property where the owner prohibited firearm possession. However, the statute did not specifically prohibit an employer from firing an employee for violating a “no guns” policy of the business. This changes when a new law takes effect July 1, 2015. Under Tenn. Code §50-1-312 no employer shall discharge or take any adverse employment action against an employee who has a valid handgun carry permit solely for transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in an employer parking area.