May 16 TN News Digest

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

Governor honors three fallen Tennesseans in memorial tribute (C. Appeal/Locker)

In his annual Gold Star Family ceremony, Gov. Bill Haslam paid tribute Friday to three Tennesseans who lost their lives in service to the country, including two men whose remains were returned home last year after decades listed as missing in action. The governor presented surviving family members of the three men with proclamations, “honor and remember” flags and an iris, the state flower. Those memorialized, under a giant U.S. flag on the State Capitol’s War Memorial Plaza, included Army Specialist Frederick Greene of Mountain City, who was killed at age 29 during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 5, 2009, as he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Mountain City soldier killed at Fort Hood honored by Governor Haslam (JCP)

A Mountain City soldier killed during the Fort Hood attack in 2009 has been honored by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Specialist Frederick Greene of Mountain City was killed during a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center on November 5, 2009. The 29-year old father of two was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Haslam declared Friday as “Gold Star Family Day” and formally presented the proclamation to Greene’s wife, Christie Greene, and their daughters, Haley and Allison, as well as his mother, Karen Nourse, and step-father, Rob Nourse. Greene was one of three soldiers who lost their lives in service to their country honored by the governor, who was joined in the tributes by Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Major General Terry “Max” Haston of the Tennessee Military Department.

Tennessee honors fallen service members (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Loved ones gathered at War Memorial Plaza on Friday to honor the lives of three Tennesseans who died serving their country. Presentations to the families were part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s memorial program. Among the men honored was a soldier who disappeared during World War II but whose remains weren’t found until nearly 70 years later. Janice Carlton stood with Haslam to honor her brother, Pfc. Cecil Harris. “He was always with us,” Carlton said. “All my family gatherings, he was talked about. His picture was very prominent in all the home. And my mother always had hopes that he would walk through the door someday. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.” Carlton last saw her brother in November 1944 while he was on leave during World War II. ”

Haslam Memorializes Three Tennesseans who gave Ultimate Sacrifice (C. Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam joined Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Major General Terry “Max” Haston of the Tennessee Military Department to pay tribute to three Tennesseans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including two service members previously missing in action for several decades. Haslam presented surviving family members with the Honor and Remember Flag and an Iris which is the official state flower.

Haslam says he’s still working on health insurance plan (C. Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s continuing to work on his health insurance plan for uninsured, low-income working Tennesseans but said its approval hinges on changing lawmakers’ impressions of the plan. In comments to reporters Thursday and Friday, the governor also said finding by a new Vanderbilt University Poll, indicating 64 percent of Tennesseans favor the plan, is consistent with other polls he’s seen. The survey also found that 78 percent want the full General Assembly to vote on the plan, called Insure Tennessee, rather than see it blocked from floor votes by a relatively few members on the two committees that voted on it.

Tire seller to open ‘Boro warehouse (Nashville Post)

A Cincinnati-based retailer of tires plans to open a distribution center in Murfreesboro and hire dozens of people in the next year at that facility and its growing local retail network. Officials with Tire Discounters, which runs almost 100 stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, say its new location is scheduled to open in the next month. The facility will be 67,200 square feet and be Tire Discounters’ second to go with on the north side of Cincinnati. Tire Discounters early this month opened a store in Murfreesboro, its sixth in Middle Tennessee.

Cincinnati company’s Murfreesboro expansion slated to add 200 jobs (NBJ)

Tire Discounters, a Cincinnati-based tire retailer, is expanding its operations in Murfreesboro. The company said Friday it is opening a 67,200-square-foot distribution facility in Rutherford County this summer, which will be Tire Discounters’ second such center in Murfreesboro. Alongside new retail stores in Middle Tennessee, the company expects to add up to 200 jobs in the region by 2016. Tire Discounters, among the largest independently owner tire providers in the nation, now employs more than 1,000 people across Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. “This is a very important and exciting move for Tire Discounters as we quickly expand our business,” Paul Brunner, president and CEO of Tire Discounters, said in a news release.

Visitor spending at Tenn state parks boosts economy by $785.9M (TN/Barnes)

The nearly 8.5 million Tennessee state park visitors in 2014 spent $571.1 million, boosting the state’s economy by $785.9 million, according to a new National Park Service report. “The national parks of Tennessee attract visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Stan Austin, NPS regional director, in a news release. “Whether visitors come to explore the great wild areas of Tennessee like Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area and Great Smoky Mountain National Park with their miles of hiking trails, or the number of historic parks which focus on the Civil War’s impact telling the story of America’s struggles, visitors come to have a great experience, and end up having an economic benefit to the communities they visit.

TOSHA imposes $7,000 penalty in worker’s death at Alcoa plant (N-S/Jacobs)

State safety officials proposed a $7,200 penalty against Alcoa Inc. after the death of an employee who was struck in the head while operating a 30-ton crane. Daniel L. Word, 64, of Louisville was killed in the 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 accident at the Alcoa Tennessee Operations North Plant. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An investigation of Word’s death by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined Alcoa had failed to protect the crane operator “from being struck by the crane’s trolley when manually operating” the device. TOSHA on April 21 proposed a $7,000 penalty for the serious violation of not protecting Word from being struck by the trolley.

Longest-serving Tennessee death row inmate dies (Tennessean/Barchenger)

The man who was the longest-serving inmate on Tennessee’s death row died Wednesday of natural causes. Donald Strouth, 56, was pronounced dead Wednesday evening at a Nashville hospital, according to a news release from the Department of Correction. Strouth had been on death row since 1978 for the murder of a second-hand store owner in Kingsport. He knocked out and slashed the throat of Jimmy Keegan in a robbery, leaving his body behind in his store, where his wife later found him. Strouth was one of more than 30 inmates challenging the state’s single-drug lethal injection protocol in a pending Davidson County Chancery Court case.

Gun accidents set Tennessee apart from other states (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

The most distinctive cause of death in Tennessee is the accidental discharge of firearms, according to new mapping data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 336 accidental gun deaths in Tennessee between 2001 and 2010. Accidental gun deaths aren’t the main cause of death in Tennessee. Heart disease typically ranks as the leading cause of death in the state each year. The CDC data instead focused on causes of death in each state that veer most widely from the national average. In Louisiana, that makes syphilis the most distinctive cause of death, although the sexually transmitted disease represents just 22 deaths.

Nashville voters could decide whether to shrink council (Tennessean/Rau)

Metro Councilwoman Emily Evans turned in the necessary voter signatures Friday to likely force a referendum on whether to shrink the size of Metro Council. Evans filed petitions representing 14,700 signatures, far more than the 6,845 she needed to put the measure on the August ballot. The signatures still need to be verified by the Metro Clerk and certified for the ballot by the Davidson County Election Commission. If those hurdles are cleared, as expected, then voters will decide whether to trim Metro Council from 40 members to 27 and whether to extend term limits from two terms to three. Evans is banking on voters agreeing that 40 members is too big for the county’s legislative body. She provided research showing Metro has the third-largest city council, trailing only New York and Chicago.

Corker criticizes Congress for lack of fiscal solutions (C. Appeal/Veazey)

Though his reputation in the U.S. Senate has been largely built on his foreign relations chops, Sen. Bob Corker told an audience of Memphis businesspeople Friday that the country’s “greatest threat” is inside its borders. “Our own inability to get our fiscal house in order — that is our greatest threat,” Corker said at a Greater Memphis Chamber luncheon at the Hilton in East Memphis, and the crowd applauded. Corker, a Republican who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, criticized members of both parties for an inability to, in his view, properly fund infrastructure projects. He also said Congress hasn’t solved a fiscal problem in the eight-plus years he has been in Washington.

Senator Bob Corker in Memphis (Memphis Business Journal)

Friday afternoon the Greater Memphis Chamber welcomed Tennessee Senator Bob Corker to its biannual Joint Council Meeting. The Chamber’s International Business Council, Manufacturing Council and Regional Logistics Council hosted the luncheon. “Memphis and Shelby County have some of the best business leadership anywhere,” Corker said. The event was a “conversation with” format between Corker and Calvin Anderson, chief of staff and senior vice president of corporate affairs for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, who served as the moderator. Phil Trenary, Chamber president, Ernest Strickland, vice president of international and business partnerships for the Chamber, and Herbert B. “Bert” Wolf Jr., partner at Husch Blackwell LLP, also spoke.

Woman says VA harvested husband’s organs without consent (Tenn/Barchenger)

A Murfreesboro woman says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and another agency harvested her husband’s organs after his death last year — including the blind man’s eyes — even though he was not a donor. Wanda Frierson is now suing the troubled federal department, claiming poor care led to her husband’s death and that the agency allowed Tennessee Donor Services to take her husband’s organs without authorization. She is seeking $2.5 million in damages. The federal agency, charged with caring for military service members, became the subject of scrutiny last year following allegations of substandard health care at its facilities nationwide and long wait times that led to deaths.

ORNL faces the future with 3-D tool (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are pushing the boundaries of facial analysis, using 3-D face scans to provide a broadly accurate tool for determining such things as a person’s age, race and gender. While there are reportedly other systems more accurate for specific demographics, such as age, ORNL’s early-stage technology may enable users to pinpoint multiple identifiers from a pool of features obtained solely through 3-D geometry of the face. In facial analysis, a feature is a set of numbers that a computer can use to make a prediction. “We’re not doing anything that nobody’s done before, but we’re making it a lot easier to do a bunch of things that people have done before,” Ryan Tokola, an engineer in ORNL’s Imaging, Signals and Machine Learning Research Group, said in a telephone interview.

Bellefonte contractor shorted TVA, report says (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

An audit by TVA’s inspector general concludes that AREVA NP Inc., the contractor on TVA’s Bellefonte nuclear reactor project, effectively overbilled the federal utility by $1.2 million during 2012 and 2013. AREVA said in a statement Friday that it agreed with the conclusion of the audit and intends to reimburse TVA. The TVA Office of the Inspector General released a summary Thursday of the audit, which it conducted at the request of TVA. The inspector general looked at the adjustments AREVA claimed during 2012 and 2013 to the rates in the contract it has with TVA for the Bellefonte project. AREVA was hired in 2011 to complete engineering, licensing, construction and startup operations for one of two nuclear units at Bellefonte by the end of 2017.

SCS board member in favor of suing state over funding (C. Appeal/Roberts)

Shelby County Schools board member Chris Caldwell has been annoyed for years that Tennessee does not fully fund its own school funding formula. On Tuesday, he intends to ask the board to sue the state. “I am very hopeful that at least a majority (of board members) agree with me. I’m optimistic it will be more,” he said. Thursday afternoon, the board spent 90 minutes discussing its potential case with representatives from Lewis Brisbois Brisgaard & Smith, the national law firm it hired in March to analyze its circumstances. Board members will not share what was discussed, citing lawyer-client privilege. The district refused to release the analysis in a Freedom of Information request for the same reason. Lewis Brisbois is representing a contentious school funding issue in Kansas.

The rise of ’employed physician’: What getting bought means for TN doctors (NBJ)

Health care consolidation doesn’t just mean giant national hospital chains buying each other. It also means physicians and their practices turning to hospital owners who can take care of the increased logistical, administrate demands of health care today. Coping with that shift is one of the biggest priorities for Dr. Michel McDonald, director of dermatologic surgery at Vanderbilt and new chairman of the Tennessee Medical Association. (McDonald is the group’s first female chair, a fact she finds unusual given the stronger female presence on the clinical side of medicine when compared to the business side.) McDonald, who’s always been an “employed physician,” said the transition away from the private practice model to an employment-based one has created new challenges for physicians.

Memphis Electrolux workers reject union (Commercial Appeal/Risher)

Workers at Electrolux’s Memphis appliance factory have voted not to unionize, the company announced Friday. “Electrolux is pleased that our Memphis employees agree that a union is not necessary at this plant and that they want to continue working directly with management,” company spokeswoman Eloise Hale said in an email. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 474 assistant business manager Derek Mann said, “We’re not pleased with the outcome. We don’t think the workers were comfortable to vote in the way they wanted to” because of pressure from management. The union sought to represent about 500 full-time workers at the year-old plant, which received $190 million in public incentives.



Editorial: Public records row shows Tennesseans must be vigilant (Tennessean)

The Tennessean’s recent battle over public records concerning lawmakers’ health coverage shows precisely why strong, open records laws are more important than ever. Not only are the people of Tennessee now privy to how their elected officials benefit from their public service, but they can also understand how this highlights the hypocrisy over the lack of debate over Insure Tennessee. Lawmakers are receiving health care benefits, paid mostly by the state and a portion by them, while working poor citizens were denied health care coverage in this most recent legislative session. The lawmakers should have this benefit, but they should also find a solution to help those who could also benefit from insurance to get preventive care, reduce health costs, keep hospitals open and support the economy.

Guest columnist: The broken legislature and Insure Tennessee (Tennessean)

So, here’s what we know so far. First, that trumped-up committee of state senators killed Insure Tennessee. This outrage came in February. It not only kept health insurance from a quarter-million Tennesseans who need it, but also sabotaged any chance of a straight-up vote on the program’s merits by the rest of the state legislature. This allowed most of the culprits to remain in darkness. Next, two weeks ago, we learned that all this callous disregard of human suffering was only the visible front side of a deeper, mean-spirited political hit job. Many of these same legislators had smugly been accepting state aid for their own health coverage, as if it were their special birthright.