May 5 TN News Digest

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

Technical Colleges Ponder How To Hold More Students (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Nearly 7,500 Tennessee adults have applied for free technical college under a program called Tennessee Reconnect. This means Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology are expecting more students than ever before. TCAT Nashville, for example, currently has 1,000 students enrolled, says director Mark Lenz. The number who have applied there for the fall through Tennessee Reconnect is more than 1,600, according to the governor’s office. Many current TCAT students will finish their programs by then, and not all of the applicants will end up attending. But overall, Lenz expects the school to grow by 30 to 50 percent next semester. That doesn’t seem to make Lenz nervous, though. He believes the school is ready to accommodate more students.

Haslam swears in Judge Deanna Bell Johnson (Tennessean/Cowan)
Gov. Bill Haslam swore in Circuit Judge Deanna Bell Johnson — who had her husband, state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and their children by her side — at a packed ceremony Monday afternoon. Haslam appointed Johnson in November to a spot vacated by Judge Timothy Lee Easter. Easter, who also spoke Monday, was tapped for the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Though Johnson has been on the job since her appointment, this week’s event was a more formal investiture ceremony. It was held in the Williamson County Historic Courthouse on Franklin’s downtown square.

Gov. Bill Haslam signs cannabis oil bill (Tennessean/Boucher)
It’s now legal to use cannabis oil for limited medical purposes in Tennessee. And the Mathes family is ready. The East Tennessee family already had the oil and a recommendation from a doctor before Monday. Their 1-year-old daughter, Josie, still has the seizures that have plagued her short life. They just needed Gov. Bill Haslam to give final approval to arguably Tennessee’s first broader step toward legalizing a marijuana product for medicinal use. That moment came Monday, when, as expected, Haslam signed a law that legalized the controversial medical measure. “We’re very, very happy that we can get started and see some improvements and get the nasty medicines behind us,” Josie’s mother, Stacie Mathes, said Monday afternoon.

Haslam signs cannabis oil bill (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill Monday allowing the use of cannabis oil to treat certain medical conditions, including debilitating seizures. While Haslam earlier opposed Senate Bill 280, after a review from the state attorney, he was on board. Cannabis oil is used by people who suffer from seizures or epilepsy where medications have failed. Nashville resident Toni Corbin has been waiting a long time for this day. Her son is on multiple medications for seizures from a motorcycle accident six years ago. Medications seldom work. Corbin’s son sometimes slips into a period of seizures that don’t stop, requiring lengthy hospital stays.

Haslam signs cannabis oil bill into law (WATE-TV Knoxville)
Cannabis oil is now legal, under certain circumstances, in Tennessee. Governor Bill Haslam signed the cannabis oil bill into law Monday. The law decriminalizes the possession of cannabis oil for people who suffer from seizures and epilepsy. The bill passed the Tennessee House and Senate with no opposition. The bill was watched closely by families who said it will change their lives. The cannabis oil must contain less than .9 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and must be administered as part of a research study on the treatment of intractable seizures or epilepsy.

Tennessee governor signs cannabis oil bill into law (WKRN-TV Nashville)
Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law that legalizes the limited use of cannabis oil for medical purposes on Monday. The controversial bill allows cannabis to be ingested or applied externally through oil, or its vapors used like an asthma inhaler. The law does not allow the recreational use of marijuana, or the act of smoking it at all. It takes effect immediately, but the product still won’t be sold in Tennessee.

Tennessee Takes Baby Step Toward Medical Marijuana (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Tennessee has taken a small step toward legalizing medical marijuana, but Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s not ready for more. Haslam signed a bill Monday that decriminalizes possession of cannabis oil, a low-potency marijuana extract. The new law is aimed at children who suffer debilitating seizures. Haslam says he agreed to the measure, House Bill 197, after being convinced by health officials, including state Health Commissioner John Dreyzhner, that cannabis oil could be an effective medical treatment for some conditions. Haslam says he’s skeptical of other forms of medical marijuana, even though surveys have shown increasing support among Tennesseans.

Governor Supports Plan To Rein In Tax Relief For Veterans (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Gov. Bill Haslam is standing by a decision to limit tax relief to veterans. The governor says he supports a bill passed by the Tennessee legislature to rein in the rapid growth of a state program that helps veterans pay their local property tax bills. State lawmakers set an income cap of $60,000 a year to qualify. Haslam hasn’t signed House Bill 1197 yet but says the limit makes sense because it’s more than most Tennesseans make in a year. “We have to be judicious and fair with how we allocate funds, and the money we have spent on that fund has grown at 20 percent a year.”

Tennessee’s first lady, Junior League, police partner for book drive (TFP/Anderson)
In a school of 300 low-income students, just one child owns a book, according to the First Lady of Tennessee. During a speaking engagement Monday night, Crissy Haslam cited a national study and told members of the Junior League of Chattanooga that 61 percent of low-income families do not have a single book in the home. “No children’s books, adult books or any kind of books in the home,” she said. “And you have probably heard this, but books at home are one of the main predictors of success [for children] in education and in all of life.” Haslam, a sustaining member of the Junior League of Knoxville, urged the JLC members gathered at the Loose Cannon event hall to collect books as a part of her Read 20 Book Patrol initiative.

State officials urge safety as more motorcycles hit the road (Associated Press)
May is national Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and state officials are urging all drivers to share the road. The Governor’s Highway Safety Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are warning that more motorcycles will be out as the weather gets warmer. State figures show there were 2,710 known crashes involving a motorcycle last year that resulted in 121 deaths. Dr. Brad Dennis, Director of Trauma Outreach and Education at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, warns that the biggest threat to motorcyclists are other drivers. He urged drivers to be mindful of all their surroundings, especially motorcycles.

State Route 109 bridge name carries honor for Durham family (Tennessean/Cross)
A sign naming the new State Route 109 bridge in honor of Walter Durham was unveiled last week near the site of the original bridge his grandfather helped secure funding for 86 years prior. The late Tennessee historian and Gallatin businessman’s family and friends along with state and local officials gathered near the bridge Friday to unveil the memorial sign. Durham died in May 2013 at the age of 88. “We’re here today to honor one of our native sons, Walter Thomas Durham, who left an indelible mark of excellence etched in the annals of Sumner County and our state of Tennessee,” Sumner County Historical Society President Ken Thomson said during a brief ceremony to mark the occasion.

DiPietro confident moving forward with plan to fix funding model (N-S/Slaby)
The next academic year “might be one of the lowest tuition increases we’ve had in a long time,” according to University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro. That’s because a 3 percent cap for tuition increase is one of the boundaries of a universitywide plan to fix the “broken” university funding model. The UT Board of Trustees endorsed the plan, unveiled by DiPietro, in February, and it starts in fiscal year 2016 for the next two budget cycles. UT administrators will use the plan and its boundaries to create budgets for the Board of Trustees meeting in June, DiPietro said.

Tenn Supreme Court Steps Back Into Roiling Fight Over Lethal Injection (WPLN)
This week, Tennessee’s Supreme Court will tackle yet another question related to the death penalty. Can death row inmates sue to avoid the electric chair? Justices will meet in Knoxville on Wednesday to consider one of the latest spinoffs to the national debate over executions. Four death row inmates have filed a suit that argues electrocution — Tennessee’s backup method of putting criminals to death — is cruel. The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear a state attorney’s argument that the suit should be dismissed, but it isn’t expected to issue its opinion for several weeks.

Americans for Prosperity spend big trying to sway Tenn lawmakers (TFP/Sher)
Republican Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland says all he did in January was ask fellow GOP lawmakers to keep an open mind on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal. But the House assistant majority leader quickly found himself under attack in his own back yard from a barrage of radio ads, courtesy of the Tennessee chapter of a powerful national group, Americans for Prosperity. Nearly two years ago, AFP, associated with conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, planted roots in the Volunteer State, hiring a state director. The tree already had borne fruit in 2014 campaigns. And now, a hail of coconuts was raining down on the assistant leader’s head. “Kevin Brooks promised to fight against Obamacare,” AFP’s 60-second spot charged.

Roe to speak at Rogersville Boy Scout fundraiser (Times-News)
Congressman Phil Roe will be the guest speaker at the Hawkins County Boy Scout Fundraiser held at Price Public Community Center in Rogersville on Tuesday, May 5 at 6 p.m. Congressman Roe was awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award upon nomination by the Sequoyah Council and the Boy Scouts of America. This award is granted to Eagle Scouts who, after 25 years, have distinguished themselves in their life work and who have shared their talents with their communities on a voluntary basis. Event chairperson Cynthia Jackson-Bundren said the event will serve to show appreciation to supporters of the local Nolachuckey District, Sequoyah Council, Boy Scouts of America and, “give an opportunity for those within the community to pledge their financial support for the 2015 year.”

VA Clinics Struggle To Reduce Wait Times As They Lose Doctors (WPLN-Radio)
The percentage of veterans in the Tennessee and Kentucky region waiting more than 30 days to see a doctor is nearly double that of the rest of the country. About one in 20 appointments in the Tennessee Valley healthcare system failed to meet the VA’s completion goal, according to new data from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Wait times are particularly high at the satellite clinic in Hopkinsville, Ky., where two out of the four physicians left at almost the same time last year, says Tennessee Valley outpatient clinic chief Robert Lim. Now they’re back at full staff, but they’ve taken on overflow patients from the nearby Clarksville clinic, Lim says. Meanwhile, the clinic in Maury County also lost two providers recently — leaving just one clinician.

Tennessee is enjoying a boom in small-business lending (Nashville Biz Journal)
Lending to small businesses in Tennessee is going through the roof. According to figures from the Small Business Administration, SBA loans in the state are up more than 50 percent compared to last year. Through March, financial institutions have lent $181 million among 300 SBA loans in Tennessee, according to the SBA. With SBA’s October to September fiscal year, these figures provide the halfway point for SBA lending in 2015. SBA loans are just one piece of the options available for smaller companies seeking financing (the government guarantees a sizable portion of the credit risk so the bank doesn’t shoulder all the exposure in case of default). Increased activity on the small-business lending front statewide suggests business confidence is growing.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee publishes health magazine (Times Free-Press)
Tennessee’s biggest health insurer is starting a magazine to highlight stories of Tennesseans who are successfully dealing with some of the state’s biggest health challenges. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee said it has started Better Tennessee to showcase how people and organizations cope with overweight problems, which impact 35 percent of Tennesseans, and heart disease, a problem for 25 percent of seniors. “There are hundreds of Tennessee organizations working to improve health and lives in cities, towns and rural communities across the state,” Calvin Anderson, BlueCross’ senior vice president of corporate affairs, said in an announcement of the magazine.

Williamson school board weighs new superintendent evaluation (Tenn/Balakit)
Williamson County School Board member Robert Hullett proposed a new holistic review of the superintendent to a board committee Monday night. Hullett’s proposed superintendent review includes two new components: a list of school district accomplishments provided by WCS Superintendent Mike Looney and a survey issued to stakeholders in the school district. School board members will use these two components to evaluate Looney and also provide the superintendent feedback. The board is responsible for evaluating the superintendent each year. Board members; parent teacher organization leadership, including all school PTO presidents and the school district’s PTO executive leadership; principals; and school administrators will most likely take the voluntary, anonymous survey.



Guest columnist: TDOT plans for the future of Tennessee transportation (Tenn)
Do you remember what life was like 25 years ago? The average price for a gallon of gas was $1.34. A postage stamp cost 25 cents, and the average household owned five radios. While these facts are generally amusing, they stand as proof that 25 years can bring a lot of change. Over the next 25 years, we expect to see just as many transformations that will impact the lives of residents across Tennessee and in our local communities. For instance, in the past 25 years, Tennessee has seen a population increase of 1.6 million people. By the year 2040, approximately 2 million more people will call Tennessee home. In addition to sheer growth, the composition of Tennessee’s population is changing. On average, people are living longer, a fact that impacts their mobility and transportation needs.

Editorial: New state law will give neighborhoods another weapon (C. Appeal)
Those who have seen the 1976 film “Network” no doubt will remember the soliloquy by deranged television anchorman Howard Beale, played by the late Peter Finch, that ended in this iconic declaration: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Beale’s verbal rampage dealt with a host of societal ills, including, “Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.” While state Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, is far from being deranged, he hopes his Neighborhood Protection Act, approved by the Tennessee General Assembly April 20, will get repeat criminals of out neighborhoods by giving crime-weary homeowners a legal tool to deter criminal activity.