May 15 TN News Digest

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

Community Health to create 1,600 jobs in Antioch (Tennessean/Ward, Boucher)

Community Health Systems Inc.’s planned shared services center in Antioch could eventually employ 2,000 people, providing a stronger employment base to support local businesses and fuel more growth in that once-struggling area. The Franklin-based hospital chain will invest $66 million and create nearly 1,600 jobs over the next five years at the center, where it will consolidate back-office functions such as information technology and accounting now spread across 29 states. “Not only will it be cost productive, but it will be a great opportunity for us to expand in Davidson County,” Wayne Smith, CEO of Community Health, said during Thursday’s announcement at the state Capitol.

Community Health Systems To Bring 1,500 Jobs To Antioch (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Community Health Systems has announced plans to expand into Davidson County, bringing more than 1,000 jobs to the area. The announcement was made Thursday morning by Governor Haslam, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, Community Health Systems CEO Wayne Smith and Ralph Schulz, president and CEO, of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. The organization, whose corporate headquarters are located in Franklin, is expected to construct a new $66 million building on Bell Road near Interstate 24 in Antioch. The development would bring 1,500 new jobs to southeastern Davidson County over the next five years.

‘Seal of approval’: CHS expansion bolsters Antioch developers (N. Biz Journal)

Bill Oldacre and Mark McDonald didn’t need to be on stage Thursday in order to bask in the spotlight now shining brighter on the massive development they’re pursuing in Antioch. Oldacre and McDonald happily listened while Wayne Smith, CEO of Community Health Systems Inc. (NYSE: CYH), rattled off a half-dozen reasons why he decided to move 2,000 jobs (mostly new) to Antioch — after CHS had previously planned to locate those jobs in Cool Springs. Oldacre and McDonald are the beneficiaries of the switch, as CHS will locate within a 300-acre development also intended to feature a range of retailers, office space, condos and apartments.

Xerox looks to create 400 jobs in Nashville (Nashville Post)

Xerox Corp. officials announced today plans to add 400 full-time customer service jobs in Nashville, a number that would triple the Connecticut-based company’s current employee presence in the market. According to a release, the new hires will work from a 50,263-square-foot call center located at 801 Royal Parkway near Nashville International Airport. Relatedly, the company will offer at that location on May 16 on open house to begin the recruiting effort. Xerox will interview prospective employees through Aug. 31, with candidates required to have a high school diploma and six months of customer service experience. Those hired will provide technical support for Xerox clients.

Xerox plans to triple Nashville operations, add 400 jobs (Nashville Biz Journal)

Xerox Corp. is adding 400 jobs in Nashville, a move expected to triple the office hardware company’s local presence. The Norwalk, Conn.-based firm (NYSE: XRX) said in a news release it is hosting a recruitment open house Saturday to fill the new full-time customer support jobs in Nashville. Xerox said it will house the employees at its new 50,263-square-foot call center at 801 Royal Parkway. The call center will provide technical support for one of the company’s clients, according to the release. Xerox, a nearly $12.5 billion company by market capitalization, established a presence in Nashville in 2006. The firm, best known for its copiers and printers, currently employs more than 200 employees in Nashville and around 800 throughout Tennessee.

Xerox to add 400 customer care jobs in Nashville (Tennessean/Todd)

Xerox plans to triple its current amount of Nashville employees, adding 400 customer care jobs to the local site. “Nashville’s economic success is based not only on recruiting new businesses to our city but also seeing existing companies continue to grow here,” Mayor Karl Dean said in a statement. “Xerox’s confidence to create additional jobs speaks to the skilled workforce in our area and our high quality of life.” The business and technology company will recruit for these positions, which involve providing technical support to clients, through Aug. 31. Candidates must have a high school diploma and six months of customer service experience.

Xerox Announces Addition Of 400 Jobs In Nashville (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Xerox representatives announced they will be hiring 400 employees for full-time positions in Nashville. The company was set to host a recruiting open house to fill the 400 new customer care jobs. That event was scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at 801 Royal Parkway, Suite 200. Officials with Xerox said that would be the same location that would house the new employees hired to provide technical support on behalf of a Xerox client. “I want to thank Xerox for its continued investment in Nashville and the jobs they are creating,” Mayor Karl Dean said.

Haslam comments on poll results on Insure Tennessee (WSMV-TV Nashville)

A Vanderbilt poll released on Wednesday found the majority of Tennessee voters favor the Insure Tennessee plan. Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan would have extended health coverage to about 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. Haslam said the results mirror other polls and the challenge is getting state lawmakers on board. “I’m obviously biased, but that’s what I feel out there as well,” the governor said. “I’ve been doing this long enough, you can figure out what people really care about. And I think the support for Insure Tennessee is overwhelming. Now, obviously, we have to get the Legislature to be comfortable with that idea. But I see that in the numbers, they’re consistent in the polling no matter who does it. And that’s my personal experience as well.”

Support For Insure Tennessee Remains High, Despite This Spring’s Defeats (WPLN)

Though Tennessee lawmakers rejected Gov. Bill Haslam’s health care plan, called Insure Tennessee, voters still like the idea. New polling by Vanderbilt University shows nearly two-thirds of voters from across the state believe Tennessee should expand coverage for the poor. Democrats are the most ardent backers. But Insure Tennessee also has the support of most independents and nearly half of all Republicans, says Vanderbilt professor John Geer. “These are pretty big numbers. But what’s even more interesting is the partisan story,” he says.

Vanderbilt poll: Even Tea Party members support Insure Tennessee (M. Biz Journal)

The votes may not have been there in the Tennessee General Assembly this session, but state voters strongly favor Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand insurance coverage to 280,000 Tennesseans. According to the results of a Vanderbilt University poll released Wednesday, 64 percent of registered voters support the plan, while 19 percent oppose it. It is most popular among Democrats, with 85 percent support, but Republicans also support the measure, by a 49 to 28 percent margin. According to a Vanderbilt news release, Tea Party members favor it 42 to 40 percent. Haslam’s proposal never made it to a full floor vote before lawmakers.

Would Insure Tennessee have hurt hospitals? Reports stir debate (Tenn/Fletcher)

A pair of reports pointing at the Affordable Care Act for piling additional burdens on hospitals have stirred conversation about whether Insure Tennessee would have sent more people to the emergency room. A recent study by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that, according to three-fourths of emergency room doctors, the number of people coming to the ER has increased since January 2014. Separately, a Kentucky Hospital Association report said federal policies will negatively affect the state’s hospitals. The reports reignited debate — which is locally centered on the defeat of Insure Tennessee — over federal health reform.

Vanderbilt poll: TN supports Bible as official state book (Tennessean/Boucher)

The majority of Tennesseans, regardless of party, support making the Bible the official state book, according to the latest edition of the Vanderbilt poll. The poll, released Wednesday, shows 60 percent of respondents favor making the Bible the state book. That number drops a little among Democrats and Independents, but at least 50 percent of both groups still showed support for the move. Self-identified Republicans and Tea Party members overwhelmingly support the idea: 72 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Tea Party members polled said they want Tennessee to recognize the Bible as the state book. Lawmakers came very close to officially making the Bible Tennessee’s state book.

Haslam Says He Couldn’t Withhold Lawmakers’ Health Insurance Info (WPLN)

Gov. Bill Haslam says his administration had no choice but to release information on lawmakers’ health insurance, including how much the state pays for their plans and who’s on them. Some legislators and the Tennessee State Employees Association have called the release a privacy violation. But Haslam says administration lawyers, TennCare’s lawyers and the Tennessee attorney general’s office all determined the plans are public information under state law. “We’re bound to follow the law, OK? We don’t get to decide what we want to follow and not.” Several news outlets, including WPLN, have requested details about current and former lawmakers’ health insurance.

Tennessee lawmakers chafing under health plan scrutiny (Times Free-Press/Belz)

In Tennessee, lawmaking is considered only a part-time job. Most members of Hamilton County’s legislative delegation have other jobs, or are retired from jobs that give them access to health coverage. Still, all but one lawmaker in the seven-member delegation has taken advantage of insurance benefits the state offers to full-time empoyees, choosing them over employer or retiree coverage, or opting to have both. “I had it as a back-up in case I ever left Morgan-Stanley while in office. I just did not use it,” state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said of the insurance, which cost the state nearly $31,000 in premium cost-sharing over the last two years.

TN more accurately records student proficiency in reading, study says (CA/Roberts)

Tennessee is one of eight states considered “truth tellers” in how accurately it reports fourth-grade reading levels. While it did not fare as well in eighth-grade mathematics, it was not among states with the largest gaps between what is locally considered proficient and what the National Assessment of Educational Progress says students must know to succeed. Tennessee reported that 49 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or advanced in reading, based on last spring’s test scores. NAEP, considered the nation’s gold standard for measuring student achievement, said only 34 percent were actually prepared, a 15 percent gap.

Most Common Core standards are keepers, according to review (Chalkbeat TN)

Tennessee’s six-month-long public review of the Common Core State Standards garnered more than 131,000 reviews of various academic benchmarks — with more than half favoring K-12 standards currently in place, according to numbers released this week by the State Board of Education. In all, 2,262 Tennesseans participated in the online review conducted between Nov. 6 and April 30. Participants were given opportunity to say “keep it,” “remove it” or “replace it” as they reviewed up to 2,000 standards for math and English. If they selected to remove or replace a standard, they had to explain why in a comment.

Panel Approves Plans to Move Tennessee Legislative Offices (AP/Schelzig)

The State Building Commission has approved the first step to make an overhauled building next to the state Capitol the new home of the Tennessee General Assembly. The panel that includes Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and fellow Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville on Wednesday without debate approved expanding the scope of a $136 million Capitol complex project that includes the overhaul of the Cordell Hull building that was until recently designated for demolition. Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration last year reversed course on razing the building and has earmarked $74 million to renovate it.

Building commission approves renovation plan for Cordell Hull building (WSMV)

Tennessee lawmakers are a step closer toward getting a new home. The State Building Commission has approved a $136 million plan to renovate the Cordell Hull building into the new home of the general assembly. Lawmakers said the 61-year-old building would be a good replacement for the underground legislative plaza, which they said is running out of space. Last year, it appeared the Cordell Hull building was doomed for demolition, but state officials backed off plans to tear it down at the last second.

TBI issues warning about dangerous pills (WSMV-TV Nashville)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is issuing a big warning about a potentially dangerous drug that looks like oxycodone. Law enforcement officers recently made a drug bust at a traffic stop and found 30 mg pills of what appeared to be oxycodone. When the pills underwent testing, they discovered the pills contained fentanyl, which is a painkiller that is reportedly 50 times as potent as heroin. The TBI urges consumers to only use prescription medications that come from a licensed pharmacy and not to buy pills online. Tommy Farmer, TBI Special Agent-in-Charge and Director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force, said Tennessee is ranked third in the country for prescription drug abuse.

TBI Warns Of Illegal Pills Stamped As Powerful Painkiller (WTVF-TV Nashville)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued a warning against a potentially dangerous drug found in pills that appear to be a powerful painkiller. According to the TBI, authorities recently seized what appeared to be 30 milligrams of oxycodone during a traffic stop. Each was apparently the same size and even featured the signature/stamp characteristic of oxycodone. Lab tests later confirmed the pills were counterfeit and instead contained fentanyl — a painkiller 50 times as potent as heroin that can be deadly in high doses.

Tennessee Appeals Court Reverses Another Shelby County Conviction (MDN)

As two high profile Memphis murder cases moved toward retrial this week, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed another murder conviction in Shelby County Criminal Court earlier this month. The reversal of Christopher Swift’s first-degree murder conviction is the seventh conviction in Shelby County Criminal Court sent back for retrial by a state appellate court since August. It is the fifth murder conviction reversed on appeal in Shelby County since August. Swift was tried together with codefendant Marquavious Houston in 2012 for the 2011 murder of Marco Blockmon and the attempted murder of Demarus Smith. The same jury convicted both men and both were sentenced to life plus 26 years on the two convictions. The appeals court ruled May 5 that Swift and Houston should have had separate trials and that Criminal Court Judge James Beasley Jr. erred when prosecutors were allowed to show the jury an assault rifle that was not used in the crimes.

Portland woman charged with TennCare fraud (Tennessean)

A Sumner County woman was charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services in connection with receiving health-care insurance benefits through TennCare, even though she was not eligible. The Office of Inspector General on Thursday announced the arrest of Anita Darlene Gann, 37, of Portland. She is charged with three counts of TennCare fraud and two counts of theft of services. The Portland Police Department assisted in Gann’s arrest. The charges against Gann say she claimed her children lived with her so she could receive TennCare benefits. One of the theft charges is a Class B felony, over $60,000. The other is a Class C felony, over $10,000.

Former state legislator Kathryn Bowers has died (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Former state legislator Kathryn Bowers, a whirlwind force when the issue affected education, consumers, children, the mentally ill and the poor, died Wednesday. She was 72. Ms. Bowers served nearly 12 years in the statehouse — winning election in 1994 to the House of Representatives where she remained until her election to the Senate until 2005. She resigned in August 2006, at age 63, citing health concerns. At the time, Ms. Bowers was under federal indictment on bribery charges.

Chattanooga returns $300,000 federal anti-gang grant (Times Free-Press/Smith)

Chattanooga officials are returning a $300,000 anti-gang grant, and they’re blaming the loss of funds on the unexpected closure of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. But while the language of the grant mandates the involvement of a third party researcher, it also hinges on an anti-gang task force that was disbanded by Mayor Andy Berke immediately upon taking office. The U.S. Department of Justice awarded Chattanooga the $300,000 grant in 2013 to pay for a special prosecutor who would focus on gang members in two inner-city neighborhoods, as well as provide funds for the Ochs Center to track the progress of the anti-gang program.

FAA to investigate plane collision at Tullahoma airport (WSMV-TV Nashville)

The FAA was called in to investigate a plane collision that happened at the Tullahoma Municipal Airport on Wednesday night. The airport’s public information officer said two small biplanes were trying to make a visual landing at the airport and somehow ran into one another. The two pilots are reported to have non-life-threatening injuries. No one else was injured in the incident. The small rural airport has no air traffic controller. Pilots are responsible for their own planes and communicate with other pilots.

Plane lands on top of another at Tullahoma airport (WKRN-TV Nashville)

An investigation is underway after a plane landed on top of another at the Tullahoma Regional Airport Wednesday night. It happened around 7:30 p.m. at the airport located about 60 miles south of Nashville. Officials told News 2 one person was on board each aircraft. Their identities have not been released and it wasn’t immediately clear if either was injured. The two planes were a Pitts S-2B and V STAR experimental aircraft The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating. Additional information was not released.

DesJarlais votes to ban late-term abortions (Times Free-Press/Belz)

The Tennessee Republican congressman who supported his ex-wife’s decision to get two abortions was among those who voted in favor of a ban on most late-term abortions. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, was one of 242 House members who voted Wednesday to pass the bill, which forbids most abortions starting with the 20th week of pregnancy. “Congressman DesJarlais was proud to vote in favor of this legislation,” said his spokesman Robert Jameson, who added that DesJarlais has maintained a “100 percent pro-life voting record” during his five years in Congress and “has always advocated for pro-life values.”

New law encourages suicide prevention training for teachers (AP/Bauman)

In the state with the worst suicide rate in the nation, Montana now has a law aimed at helping to curb suicide among young people. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Edie McCafferty of Butte, requires the Office of Public Instruction to develop a suicide awareness and prevention training curriculum for faculty and staff. Employees will be encouraged to complete two hours of training every five years. “There is no community in Montana that has escaped the pain of youth suicide,” McClafferty said in a statement. “I strongly believe that as a school teacher, I want to be sure that my colleagues and I are doing everything we can to support students who are struggling, and ensure we’re able to take action in a timely and responsible manner.”

TVA biologists get to bottom of Watauga River habitats (Johnson City Press)

During a biological survey Tuesday in the Watauga River, it was the small fry that drew the interest of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s biologists. But that doesn’t mean the study was boring. The agency’s team of biologists found thousands of the fry, a term for recently hatched fish, in the shallows along the riverbank at the Blevins Bend boat ramp in Elizabethton. The tiny swimmers are a positive indicator of the health of the body of water as a fish habitat, because they show fish are naturally reproducing, John Justice, a biologist and the group’s leader, said. “We’ve seen a lot of native species, and we’ve seen some good signs of reproduction,” Justice said.

BlueCross requests 36% premium hike for ’16 plans (Nashville Post)

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has filed to increase its health insurance premiums for 2016 individual plans by 36 percent, on top of a 19 percent increase approved last year. Peers Humana and Cigna are also requesting increases for their individual plans — 15.8 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. Last year, Humana was approved for a 14 percent increase while Cigna bumped its premiums by 7.5 percent. The percent increases from the three insurers are averages, as actual premium prices can vary based on age, region, tobacco usage and other factors.

Yennie leaving Sullivan schools for Wyoming job (Times-News)

Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie is headed back to Wyoming by July 1. According to the website of the Albany County School District 1, the Board of Trustees of that system “is pleased to announce that Dr. Jubal Yennie has been hired as Superintendent of Schools. He will begin work on July 1.” The board met in a regular meeting Wednesday night in Laramie, Wyo., which is three hours behind eastern time. Yennie’s departure announcement comes just more than a week from a called Sullivan County school board meeting May 21, when he is to announce recommendations based on the just-completed facilities study by Tracy Richter of Ohio-based DeJong-Richter.

La Vergne students stack up college credits (Daily News Journal)

Students at La Vergne High School will receive more than 1,200 hours of college credit through the school’s Dual Enrollment Program by the end of the school year, according to the school’s graduation coach. More than 150 students took part in the third year of the high school’s program this year, said Terry Campbell, La Vergne High graduation coach. Many of those students are seniors set to graduate Friday at Murphy Center, she said, and they have an average eight hours of credit, she said. In all, juniors and seniors received 1,269 hours of credit through the program, Campbell said.

California: In California Budget Plan, Brown Wins Deal on Tuition Freeze (NY Times)

Ending a standoff over whether tuition at the University of California schools would rise, Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday that he would send millions more dollars to the university system than he had proposed earlier this year, in exchange for a tuition freeze for in-state students in the 10-campus system. The proposal, part of the governor’s revised $115.3 billion budget plan, is the end of a monthslong battle between Mr. Brown, who did not want tuition to rise, and Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California, who had threatened to raise tuition unless the state gave more money to the schools.

 

OPINION

Times Editorial: Lawmakers: Define constitutents (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The next time you hear a Tennessee legislator pontificating about how he (or she) votes in accordance with what we constituents want, just go ahead and laugh out loud. Slap your knees. Wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes. Write up a quick chain email about this uproarious joke. Then look your Volunteer State lawmaker square in the eye and ask who those constituents are: the residents of Tennessee or his precious thousand-dollar suited funders from the tea-party-leaning Beacon Center or Americans for Prosperity? A Vanderbilt University poll of Tennessee registered voters found that a resounding 64 percent said they support Insure Tennessee.

Editorial: People’s voice goes unheard in Nashville (Commercial Appeal)

According to the Tennessee General Assembly’s highest-ranking Republican, it doesn’t matter what Tennesseans think about Insure Tennessee, the proposal to expand health insurance coverage to 280,000 low-income residents. Asked about a poll showing strong public support for the measure and opposition to a gasoline tax increase, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville jokingly asked his aides, “Did you get that out of the trash can yet?” “On both of these issues, whether it’s Insure Tennessee or on the gasoline tax,” Ramsey continued, “all of us as legislators usually have more information than the general public.”

Times Editorial: It’s high time for online voting (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

You can buy anything online. You can read this in your newspaper online. You can get a college degree online. You can vote in poll after poll after poll online. Unless it’s a real poll — a city, county, Tennessee or U.S. election. Maybe someday — someday when we want to make voting mainstream rather than something only 36.4 percent of our nation’s voting-eligible population actually exercised in 2014. General election voter turnout for last year’s midterms was the lowest it’s been in any election cycle since World War II, according to early projections by the United States Election Project. What about Tennessee? Of course not. And it’s not as though we don’t need the nudge of convenience.

Editorial: Nuclear power has major role in clean energy (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Two advocates of nuclear power spoke recently in different venues related to East Tennessee and championed the same goal: Nuclear power is safe, clean and dependable, and there is a crying need to convince Americans and lawmakers in Congress of that. Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, was in East Tennessee near the end of April to promote nuclear power. Whitman is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. She toured the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, met with University of Tennessee students and faculty, and took part in a program on climate change and the value of nuclear energy at UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.