May 14 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to announce ‘significant’ economic development deal in Nashville (AP)

Gov. Bill Haslam is planning to announce what is being touted as a “significant” economic development deal in Nashville. The governor is scheduled to be joined by Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean for the ceremony at the state Capitol on Thursday morning. In previous economic development announcements in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chamber, Haslam announced a new $160 million supplier park at Nissan’s Tennessee assembly plant in Smyrna and Italian gun maker Beretta’s decision to build a manufacturing and research facility in the Nashville suburb of Gallatin.

Haslam to honor 3 slain servicemen from Tennessee (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam will honor three slain Armed Services members from Tennessee during a ceremony in Nashville. Haslam is scheduled to honor the servicemen at a ceremony Friday at War Memorial Plaza. Pfc. Cecil E. Harris of Shelbyville was killed on Jan. 2, 1945, while serving in World War II. His remains were recovered in September 2013. Harris was laid to rest on Oct. 22. Pfc. Lotchie Jones of Jasper went missing on or about Nov. 2, 1950, during the Korean War.  He is believed to have died on Feb. 28, 1951. Jones was not identified until 2014, and he was laid to rest on March 6. Spc. Frederick Z. Greene of Mountain City was killed during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009.

Gov. Haslam to memorialize 3 Tennessee service members (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will memorialize three service members who gave their lives while serving in the armed forces. The memorial service will take place at the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville Friday at 9:30 a.m. Among those being memorialized are Private First Class Cecil Harris of Shelbyville, who was killed on January 2, 1945 while serving in World War II. He was laid to rest on October 22, 2014. Private First Class Lotchie Jones of Jasper, who went missing on November 2, 1950 while serving in the Korean War and is believed to have died on February 28, 1951, will also be honored. He was laid to rest on March 6, 2015. Specialist Frederick Greene will be also be honored. He was killed during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas on November 5, 2009.

Haslam: Chief of Staff Mark Cate leaving administration (Tennessean/Boucher)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s right-hand man is leaving the administration. Chief of Staff Mark Cate, 49, is leaving to establish a “strategic consulting and management firm,” according to an announcement from the governor’s office. It was “completely his decision” to leave the administration, said Haslam spokesman David Smith. “Mark has been a key player and a valuable part of our team since my first campaign for governor,” Haslam said in a news release. “He is talented at keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time and keeps us moving forward as a team. I wish him and his family all the best in his new endeavors. I will miss having him in the Governor’s Office.”

Haslam’s chief of staff leaving for private sector (Nashville Post)

Known for his role as a strong arm in the governor’s office, Chief of Staff Mark Cate plans to step down from his post after this summer to launch a strategic consulting and management firm, according to the governor’s office. Cate, who began as a special assistant to Haslam, took the role of chief of staff in 2012. A press release from the governor’s office describes Cate as a top advisor, strategist and negotiator for the administration. “Mark has been a key player and a valuable part of our team since my first campaign for governor,” Haslam said in a statement. “He is talented at keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time and keeps us moving forward as a team. I wish him and his family all the best in his new endeavors. I will miss having him in the Governor’s Office.”

Haslam’s chief of staff to step down (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief of staff is stepping down to return to the private sector. Mark Cate will establish a strategic consulting and management firm. Haslam said he wishes Cate, his family the best and will miss having him in the governor’s office. “Mark has been a key player and a valuable part of our team since my first campaign for governor,” Haslam said. “He is talented at keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time and keeps us moving forward as a team.” Cate will continue in his role through the summer. The governor said he will announce a successor at a later date.

University of Memphis online MBA program one of nation’s best (M. Biz Journal)

The University of Memphis’ Online MBA program is one of the top online MBA programs in the U.S. According to a ranking compiled by The Princeton Review, the program, located at the Fogelman College of Business & Economics, was ranked No. 23. The ranking is based on a comprehensive survey of business school administrators and students taking online MBA courses. The criteria focused on five core areas: academics, selectivity, faculty, technical platforms and career outcomes.

Weakley Co. woman charged with TennCare fraud (Jackson Sun)

A Weakley County woman faces multiple TennCare fraud charges in connection with using the state healthcare insurance program to pay for fraudulent prescriptions, according to a news release. The Office of Inspector General on Wednesday announced the arrest of Lindsay Bell Batson, also known as Lindsay Beth Simmons, 32, of Martin. Her arrest was assisted by officers with the Weakley County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol Criminal Investigations Division as well as local officers from the cities of Dresden, Martin, McKenzie, and Louisville, Kentucky. Batson is charged with four counts of TennCare fraud and five counts of obtaining controlled substances by forgery.

Price of cigarettes going up in Tenn. under new markup law (Associated Press)

The price of cigarettes is going up in Tennessee, but the proceeds won’t be landing in state tax coffers. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/1RAbuVA) that under a new law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, the minimum markup on cigarettes – which retailers say covers the “cost of doing business” – will rise from 41 cents on each pack of cigarettes to 76 cents per pack over the next two years. That 85 percent increase in the markup is projected to direct $129 million into retailers’ bottom lines by the third year of the law. It’s the first change in the state’s cigarette markup in 65 years.

Vanderbilt poll: Majority backs Insure Tennessee (Associated Press)

An overwhelming majority of Tennesseans support Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s failed proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income residents, according to a new Vanderbilt University poll released Wednesday. The results also show that about two in three voters think the state Legislature does not spend enough time on issues they care about. Still, the General Assembly’s 55 percent popularity rating remained unchanged from the university’s last poll in November. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal was defeated twice in Senate committees during the recently concluded legislative session.

Vanderbilt Poll says TN believe lawmakers should vote on Insure Tenn (CA/Locker)

An high percentage of Tennesseans believe the full state legislature should vote on Gov. Bill Haslam’s health insurance plan for uninsured, working lower-income Tennessee residents, the new statewide Vanderbilt University Poll released Wednesday indicates. The plan, called Insure Tennessee, was voted down twice in Senate committees without reaching the floor of either the House or Senate for full votes. But 78 percent of the 1,001 registered Tennessee voters surveyed by the independent, nonpartisan Vanderbilt Poll said they want the full General Assembly to vote on the program — a figure that includes 83 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Republicans, 82 percent independents and 68 percent of people who identify themselves as tea party members.

Focus On Guns May Have Hurt Lawmakers’ Standing With Tennesseans (WPLN)

Gun bills have drawn an inordinate amount of attention in Tennessee in recent years. A new Vanderbilt poll shows all of that firearms legislation may have affected Tennesseans’ perception of state lawmakers. This spring, the General Assembly passed a law allowing guns in all parks and another that protects people who store their guns in their cars while at work. They talked about — though did not approve of — giving gun owners the same rights to carry as an off-duty cop and letting people carry without any sort of permit whatsoever. And the state House of Representatives did vote to make a sniper rifle Tennessee’s official state firearm. Joshua Clinton, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who co-directs its semiannual poll, says all these bills strike a chord with one voting bloc.

Poll: Overwhelming Bi-Partisan Support For Police To Wear Body Cameras (WPLN)

Tennesseans overwhelmingly support requiring police to wear body cameras. That’s according to the Vanderbilt poll released Wednesday. Eighty-six percent of Tennessee voters support requiring police officers to wear small video cameras while on duty. It’s a concept that’s been debated following a series of police-related deaths nationwide. And despite sharp divides between Republicans and Democrats in other areas, the poll’s co-director Joshua Clinton said the body cameras seem to be one of few things Tennesseans agree on. “If you break this down by partisanship, you get exactly the same results. There’s no real great differences among the different groups about support for requiring some kind of cameras.”

More former legislators on health plan than current members (N-S/Locker)

More former and retired Tennessee state legislators are covered by the state employee health insurance program than are current members of the General Assembly — including some who have moved on to other public office, others who haven’t served in more than 30 years and some who were convicted of crimes, state records show. State law allows anyone who has ever been elected to the state Legislature, regardless of how little time they served in office, to remain on the taxpayer-subsidized state employee health plan for life as long as they pay the required premiums — 20, 30 or 40 percent of the total cost of the insurance depending on length of service.

Group urges lawmakers, Haslam to fix state transportation fund (TFP/Brogdon)

Tennessee officials put the brakes on efforts to increase the state’s 21.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax this year and say they are searching for other ways to fuel transportation funding. But a Tennessee-based advocacy group says public officials better think of something quickly. On Wednesday, the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee said the state’s backlog of unfunded road projects has a $6 billion price tag. And as more of the Volunteer State’s roads age, that figure will only grow. The coalition includes business leaders, community members, public officials and members of other transportation-focused organizations. Its aim is to get Tennessee’s road projects funded. Susie Alcorn, executive director of Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance, a member group of the coalition, said that without new funding, the state will never complete its laundry list of infrastructure projects.

Highway, construction group campaign for transportation revenue hike (NS/Locker)

A coalition of the highway construction industry and user groups Wednesday stepped up its campaign for a revenue increase for transportation projects — potentially higher fuel taxes, tolls or other restructuring — by releasing a statewide list of major highway projects that it says likely won’t get built without new funding. The Transportation Coalition of Tennessee said the state’s transportation system “is now in crisis that threatens the safety of drivers and the state’s economic competitiveness.”

Group says Tennessee has transportation ‘crisis’ (Times-News)

An advocacy group warned Wednesday that Tennessee has a “transportation infrastructure funding crisis” threatening driver safety and the state’s economic competitiveness. The Transportation Coalition of Tennessee (TCT), in a news conference streamed live over the Internet from Nashville, said it wants “additional funding” from state lawmakers to address the situation. The group, composed of a number of different organizations, noted the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has no money for new road construction, and limited funds to upgrade existing highways. Tennessee’s 21.4-cents-per-gallon fuel tax hasn’t gone up since 1989, but the state has no road debt.

Corker blames GOP for highway stalemate (USA Today)

Congress is unlikely to agree on a long-term fix for the depleted Highway Trust Fund before a May 31 deadline, and Republicans are to blame, Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday. The Tennessee Republican said borrowing money for another short-term extension would be an affront to the GOP’s commitment to fiscal conservatism. “I will be stunned if Republicans deal with the Highway Trust Fund responsibly,” Corker told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s not going to happen.” Congress last year shored up the trust fund with $10.8 billion, a temporary fix to allow state road and bridge projects to continue through May. The money did not come from new revenue.

TVA lakes filling and ready for summer (Times Free-Press/Flessner)

The main reservoirs along the Tennessee River are full to their summertime levels, but the Tennessee Valley Authority managers who help control the river’s flow are hoping for another couple of inches of rain this month to fill all the lakes in time for the summer recreation season. ‘We’re within just a few inches of our June 1 levels at all of those reservoirs,” said David Bowling, general manager for TVA’s river management organization. James Everett, manager of river forecasting operations, said dry weather has kept some East Tennessee reservoirs from reaching their summertime levels. “But if we get normal rainfall this month, we should be in good shape,” he said.

AT&T to launch high-speed Internet service May 18 (Nashville Post)

AT&T announced this morning the telecom company will launch on Monday, May 18, its high-speed Internet service GigaPower to area residents and small businesses. Joelle Phillips, AT&T Tennessee president, joined Mayor Karl Dean at downtown’s AT&T Tower in making the announcement, which comes about a year after AT&T made its initial GigaPower plan known. Phillips did not disclose a specific cost to get operational in the Nashville area the ultra-high-speed fiber-optic service, which AT&T bills as providing upload and download broadband speeds up to one gigabit per second. However, during the last three years, the capital investment of AT&T Tennessee has topped $1.2 billion, she said.

AT&T rolls out gigabit Internet service for Nashville (Tennessean/Rau)

AT&T will begin offering its gigabit Internet service to residential and small business customers in parts of Nashville and some surrounding communities next week. The company said details on pricing and availability will be also released on Monday. But the announcement means AT&T’s GigaPower service will be the first gigabit Internet offering in Nashville, coming in ahead of Comcast and Google. With Nashville in place, GigaPower will now be offered in 13 markets. AT&T Tennessee President Joelle Phillips said she was thrilled the company is able to offer the all-fiber gigabit service less than a year after its initial plans were announced.

How Chattanooga made $1 billion last year from tourism (TFP/Malek)

Let’s get straight to the numbers. Tourism hit $1 billion in Hamilton County last year. Another record: 2.2 million hotel room nights were booked in metro Chattanooga in 2014. Those figures come thanks to family-friendly attractions such as the Tennessee Aquarium, according to the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Conventions and events also factor into the figures, as do the region’s top-notch outdoor features that draw adventure sports enthusiasts — though the outdoor element is hard to put a number on. To be sure, the $1 billion economic-impact mark is an estimate; the firm number won’t be known until September.

 

OPINION

Bill Gibbons: Don’t wait for National Police Week to thank an officer (C. Appeal)

Challenge coins are very common among military and law enforcement organizations and usually bear an organization’s emblem or insignia. I carry in my pocket a Tennessee state trooper challenge coin for two reasons. First, I’m proud of my association with our troopers. They are the most visible part of our department and are on the front line serving citizens across our state. Second, the coin serves as a reminder to me of the sacrifices our state troopers and their family members make by serving the public. National Police Week is May 10-16. It was created in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to remember law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Next week, we will honor 41 state troopers who have died in the line of duty since the Tennessee Highway Patrol was created more than 80 years ago.