May 19 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Signs $33.8 Billion State Spending Plan Into Law (Associated Press)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has signed Tennessee’s $33.8 billion annual budget plan into law. Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor on Monday signed the appropriations legislation that establishes spending priorities for the spending year that starts July 1. The plan does not include the first installment of a $2.8 billion plan to extend health insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal would have had state hospitals cover the $74 million state share to draw down the money, but fellow Republicans in the Legislature twice rejected efforts to allow the governor to proceed with the deal.

More than 10,700 apply for tuition-free technical college in Tennessee (A. Press)

Tennessee is taking steps to ensure 55 percent of its residents have a college education by 2025. The Tennessee Reconnect grant is part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 plan that offers eligible adults the chance to receive training in nursing, cosmetology, early childcare, manufacturing and other programs from a Tennessee College of Applied Technology for free. The Tennessean reports more than 10,700 adults have applied for the grant, exceeding initial estimates by more than 2,000. The state released the grant application data last week, following Haslam’s statewide campaign encouraging adults to participate. It will take a few weeks for colleges to know how many applicants ultimately will enroll in classes.

Hundreds apply for tuition-free TCAT grant (Daily News Journal)

The Tennessee College for Applied Technology in Murfreesboro received the fifth-most applications in the state for a grant program offering free tuition to the technical center. The center received 840 applications for the Tennessee Reconnect grant, which provides free tuition for eligible adults who enroll in training courses for industries including mechatronics, information technology, cosmetology and auto repair. To respond to the increased demand for courses, the Murfreesboro center will work to add new day and night courses for its most popular programs, said Director Lynn Kreider. “Obviously, there are a lot of adults who realize the opportunities we have available,” Kreider said. The grants were approved in 2014 with the Tennessee Promise program that offers two years of community college tuition to students who graduate from a Tennessee high school.

Haslam signs bill overhauling special education funding (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill that overhauls how severely disabled children are educated in Tennessee. The Individualized Education Act will turn over roughly $6,600 in education funds to parents to help their children. Supporters have hailed it as empowering parents whose children don’t do well in special education programs at public school. Critics say it hands money over to parents with few safeguards. Traditional vouchers give families whose children attend poor-performing public schools a way to pay for private schools. This law gives parents much more freedom to determine how to spend the money. Under the law, parents will be able to spend the $6,600 on private school tuition or approved therapies. Haslam signed the bill on Monday.

48-hour abortion waiting period signed into Tennessee law (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Women seeking an abortion in Tennessee will now have to make two trips to a clinic, waiting 48 hours after getting in-person counseling from a doctor before being able to return for the procedure, under a new measure signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday. Physicians who do not follow new rules on what to tell their patients during the in-person counseling could face either misdemeanor or felony charges, or risk having their medical licenses revoked. Tennessee is now one of 28 states to require some form of abortion waiting period, although more may soon be added to the list as legislatures in other states weigh similar measures.

Haslam signs abortion waiting period bill (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday signed into law the second of two abortion bills lawmakers approved last month in the wake of last year’s constitutional amendment removing a right to abortion from the Tennessee Constitution. Senate Bill 1222 requires a 48-hour waiting period between a woman’s first visit to an abortion provider and when the abortion is performed. It requires a physician to discuss a series of six “informed consent” notifications with her on the first visit. The notifications include the probable gestational age of the fetus; that the baby may be capable of survival if it is at least 22 weeks old; that the physician is legally required to try to preserve the life of a child prematurely born alive during an abortion; that agencies are available to assist during her pregnancy and after the birth, including adoptions; the medical benefits and risks of undergoing an abortion or continuing the pregnancy to term, and a general description of the abortion method planned.

Haslam signs bill requiring 48-hour waiting period on abortions (WSMV-TV Nash)

Gov. Bill Haslam signed a new law on Monday that places more restrictions on abortions. The biggest part of the law is a mandatory 48-hour waiting period. Women seeking an abortion in Tennessee will have to make two trips to a clinic, waiting 48 hours after seeing a doctor before being able to return for the procedure. Physicians performing abortions will be required to describe the abortion, tell women the gestational age of the fetus and go over the benefits and risks of both abortions and continuing the pregnancy to term.

Waiting-Period Abortion Bill Signed Into Law (WTVF-TV Nashville)

A new regulation that would require a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion has been signed into law. Under the law signed by Governor Bill Haslam, women will have to wait 48-hours and make two trips to a clinic. They’ll also have to get counseling before terminating a pregnancy. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet was approved 27-5 in the Senate, while the House approved the measure on a 79-18 vote The legislation was an effort to restore abortion laws that were struck down by a state Supreme Court decision in 2000. The measure has been met with criticism from women’s rights and pro-choice groups. An organized effort delivered a petition last week asking Governor Haslam to veto the bill.

Tennessee announces new job hunting app (Memphis Business Journal)

Looking for work? The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has a new app for that. “A lot of people don’t realize that Tennessee employers have a large inventory of jobs available. A primary responsibility of our department is to work closely with employers to help supply them with talented candidates,” Labor commissioner Burns Phillips said. “This app identifies a job seeker’s location and drops pins around it identifying the locations of relevant jobs. It really is amazing technology.” The new app is available for iPhone and Android devices and allows users to sort job openings by current location using a “Jobs Nearby” function. The app also features icons to sort positions by educational requirements, salary amounts and length of jobs, if temporary.

Education commissioner visits Memphis schools (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Candice McQueen, the state’s new commissioner of education, made a day of it in Memphis Monday, visiting schools of every stripe, including the increasingly common charter taking over failing public schools. When the school day was over, she met with about 30 teachers at Sherwood Middle, her last stop. McQueen, who took over the top educator’s job in January, started the day at Aspire Coleman Elementary in a frank discussion with school ambassador Maya Watt, 11. “Everybody is always talking about college and making sure you get there,” Maya told McQueen, one of a half-dozen notables at a table discussing the differences in culture and expectation under Aspire Public Schools, which took over Coleman last summer.

State gives UTC approval to build $80 million dorm (Times Free-Press/Sher)

All systems are go for an $80 million UTC project that includes a new 600-bed student residence hall, dining halls and a 700-vehicle garage. With the money now in place through campus and State School Bond Authority funds, State Building Commission members last week gave full approval for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to proceed with the ambitious west campus project. “They have full funding and now they can go forward with the project as a whole,” said state architect Peter Heimbach on Monday. The project includes student dining facilities for the traditional-style dormitory. All will go on a site near Douglas and East Fifth streets. The site is now occupied by UTC’s nearly 40-year-old Racquet Center and adjacent tennis courts.

State awards $2.6 million to University of Memphis (Memphis Business Journal)

The University of Memphis has received $2.6 million from the state of Tennessee to hire a veterinary pathologist and a pre-clinical orthopedic or toxicology researcher who will work with the school, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and TriMetis Life Sciences. The funding will be awarded over three years to fund the positions. TriMetis is a medical research laboratory located in the UT-Baptist Research Park and affiliated with the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. The search to fill the positions will begin this fall. “These new faculty will contribute both to bioscience teaching and research advances on our campus and at UTHSC as well as medical device, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and additional academic research in the region,” said Andy Meyers, interim vice president for research at the University of Memphis.

TWRA officers patrol lakes as temps warm (Tennessean/Meyer)

Wildlife officer Eric Anderson counted as the Old Hickory Lake boater held up a life jacket for each person on board the small fishing boat. “One, two, three, four. Good deal,” said Anderson, as he made his way through a mental checklist of boating and fishing rules. State law requires boats to carry personal floatation devices for each rider, and it is Anderson’s job to make sure everyone enjoying Middle Tennessee’s lakes are following that rule and all of the other regulations. While Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the summer boating season, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers are already working the state’s waterways, said Doug Markham, spokesman for the agency’s Nashville office. The rules remain the same, but the TWRA continues to stress the importance of wearing a life jacket. All children 12 years of age and younger must wear an approved personal flotation device while on a boat.

Report on Tennessee officer assaults shows decline in 2014 (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says the number of law enforcement officers in the state who were attacked declined in 2014 from the year before. Information submitted by law enforcement agencies to TBI through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System shows the number of officers reported as being victims fell to 1,704 last year. That is down more than 7 percent from 1,846 in 2013. The report released Monday also says no law enforcement officers were reported being feloniously killed in the line of duty last year. The most frequently reported offense was simple assault, reported in 57 percent of the cases. The most common weapon type was personal weapons such as hands, feet or teeth, used in 62 percent of the cases.

TBI says hate crimes declined last year (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says statistics show hate crimes last year in the state declined from 2013, but more incidents of religious bias were reported. The TBI released its annual statistical study on hate crimes Monday. The report is based on data submitted by Tennessee law enforcement agencies to TBI through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System. The report said law enforcement departments reported 340 victims of 295 bias-motivated incidents in Tennessee last year, down 2.6 percent from 2013. Meanwhile, offenses involving religious bias increased from eight victims in 2013 to 21 in 2014. The most often documented bias was anti-not Hispanic or Latino, accounting for more than 24 percent of all bias-motivated crimes in 2014, nearly the same as 2013.

Police report 295 hate crimes in Tennessee last year (Tennessean/Meyer)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released two studies Monday that show the state of hate crimes in Tennessee as well as data on law enforcement officers who are targeted for violence while on duty. Both studies are based on statistics submitted by the state’s law enforcement agencies through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System. The Hate Crime 2014 report includes the following findings: • In 2014, law enforcement departments reported 340 victims of 295 bias-motivated incidents in Tennessee, which represents a 2.6 percent decrease in the number of victims since 2013. • Of the 2014 hate crimes, 42 victims and 43 offenders were juveniles. The findings in the Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Assaulted 2014 report include the following: • Law enforcement departments reported 1,704 victims in 1,378 incidents in 2014, which represents a 7.7 percent decrease in the number of reported victims. • The most frequently reported offense was simple assault.

TBI: Nearly 300 hate crimes reported statewide (Daily News Journal)

The number of hate crime victims dropped almost 3 percent, according to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report. The TBI released its annual statistics concerning hate crimes and law enforcement officials killed or assaulted in the line of duty. “In 2014, Tennessee law enforcement departments reported 340 victims of 295 bias-motivated incidents in Tennessee,” the TBI release stated. “It represents a 2.6 percent decrease in the number of victims since 2013.” According to the report, there was one report of intimidation against a lesbian in Rutherford County. There was one report of intimidation against homosexuals in Murfreesboro, according to the 2013 hate crime report.

Death row inmate smuggles in cell phone, gets on dating website (WSMV-TV)

The latest findings in the Channel 4 I-Team’s “crime in punishment” investigation shows death row inmates scoring smartphone contraband. One inmate even solicited drugs and tobacco through a social media site often used for dating and finding relationships. Stephen Hugueley is on death row at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution for the murder of three people, including his mother. But the I-Team found him on the social media site “Mocospace,” posting pictures of his tattoos from inside his cell and going by the name “deathrowprisoner68.” On his social media profile, he asks if anyone would like to make extra money for illegal activities by smuggling in cell phones, chargers, tobacco and marijuana. “I immediately think about the family members and think what they experience when they hear this kind of stuff,” said Verna Wyatt, crime victims’ advocate. The I-Team also found, since 2012, four other death row inmates have been busted with contraband cell phones or chargers.

Hemp farmers waiting for delivery of seeds (Johnson City Press)

A little more than an acre on Wayne Smith’s Eastern Star area farm is plowed and fertilized, but the highly regulated hemp seeds he requested from the state Department of Agriculture months ago still haven’t arrived. “I put my order in and I’m waiting patiently for my seeds to arrive,” Smith said Monday. “It’s going to be late in the growing season compared to what I’d like, but I’m hoping for a good first season.” Delayed while the state awaited import permits from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for the seeds, which have been illegal to grow without a permit since 1970’s Controlled Substances Act, some farmers in Tennessee were doubtful the approval would come in time to grow a useable crop of industrial hemp this year. Corinne Gould, a spokesperson for the Agriculture Department, said the permits were granted on May 7, and the farmers who applied to take part in the experimental cultivation project were notified promptly.

Last graduation: Ten years later, Judge Stern is drug court’s ‘heart’ (TFP/Wiseman)

Judge Rebecca Stern lost her words. For just a moment, the Hamilton County Criminal Court judge paused Monday, choking back tears. Before her was a packed, hot courtroom, every inch of space occupied by proud mothers and smiling spouses and squalling infants. Drug court graduation is a rare few hours of joy inside a building that sees more than its share of sorrow. It’s the only thing that Stern, whose retirement is effective June 1, says she will miss. Monday marked the last ceremony over which Stern will preside. So, on the bench where she often gives the final word, for just a few moments, she was speechless. “It’s going to be hard for me,” she told the crowd. “Everybody’s gonna help me get through it, right?”

Corker Talks Crossing the Aisle and ‘Generational Theft’ (Memphis Daily News)

The problem with Congress isn’t a lack of civility, says U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. “There’s always been civility,” the second-term Republican senator from Chattanooga told a Greater Memphis Chamber luncheon last week. “It’s never been a situation of friction. It’s just been an atmosphere of people not having the willingness, the courage or whatever to step across the aisle and actually shake hands and do something that’s not exactly in their interest.” Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, talked about the role of foreign policy as well as his prediction that Congress would approve something short of a six-year infrastructure funding reauthorization for road and other transportation projects that is due by the end of May.

Tennessee senators caution TVA about ‘romance’ with renewables (TFP/Flessner)

With more generation from nuclear power and natural gas in TVA’s future, the state’s U.S. senators urged the Tennessee Valley Authority on Monday not to be blown away by the “energy fad of the day” and cautioned the federal utility not to pursue more expensive and less reliable power from wind mills and other renewable energy sources. “I don’t see why we need any wind (generation),” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development subcommittee. “If nuclear is zero (carbon and air) emissions and wind is more expensive, and you don’t need wind most of the time, why would you buy it?”

Griffith, Roe attack EPA’s ‘Clean Power Plan’ (Times-News)

The Obama Administration’s proposed “Clean Power Plan” to dramatically cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants drew the ire of our region’s two Republican congressmen on the opening day of the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance’s annual meeting on Monday. President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is expected this summer to finalize the plan’s rules — calling for a 30 percent nationwide cut in those power plant emissions by 2030 — sometime this summer. After the rules are finalized, EPA will be directing states to “identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program.” U.S. Reps. Morgan Griffith of Southwest Virginia and Phil Roe of Northeast Tennessee voiced their fierce opposition against the plan before a MeadowView Marriott audience of embattled coal operators slammed by cheaper natural gas and tightening federal regulations.

The In-State Tuition Break, Slowly Disappearing  (New York Times)

A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to see the latest Disney movie. Because it was early in the afternoon, and my daughter is 5, I expected to get a significant discount on the price of our tickets. The electronic ticket kiosk had other intentions. “1 Adult: $11.00” and “1 Child: $10.00.” It turned out that the full matinee discount applied only to the 10:45 a.m. showing. The child price break, meanwhile, had been squeezed to a single dollar. Technically, both discounts still existed. But by limiting their size and availability, the theater was steadily pushing more tickets toward the full-market price. Something similar has been happening in the market for higher education. Over the last decade, state governments and universities have been chipping away at a pillar of American opportunity: in-state tuition.

TVA offers another round of early retirement incentives to trim staff (TFP/Flessner)

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which cut nearly 2,000 jobs over the past couple of years to trim its staff to an 81-year low, is looking for more staff reductions this summer. TVA is offering another round of voluntary reduction-in-force incentives to about 2,700 employees who work in TVA’s power operations division and its power shop services units. TVA is offering a week’s pay for every year of employment to those who volunteer to retire or resign from the utility by the end of TVA’s current fiscal year in September. “This is really aimed at the fossil group so our employees know this is coming and can take advantage of this opportunity, if they choose,” TVA President Bill Johnson said Monday.

Shelby County Commission gets three-hour briefing on school funding (CA/Moore)

Components of Tennessee’s Basic Education Plan for funding schools are too complicated for most people to understand, including those involved in education funding. That’s from Wesley Robertson, a county government consultant with County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), which is part of the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service. Robertson was the first in a series of speakers who met with the Shelby County Commission on Monday in a special budget and finance committee meeting convened to help commissioners understand the funding of Shelby County Schools. All 13 commissioners were present to learn about BEP, the system’s Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability, and maintenance of effort, the amount the county will be required to pay for education based on what has been spent after the municipal school districts were formed.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Test score gap closes, but more progress needed (News-Sentinel)

Tennessee is doing a better job than most states in closing the gap between dismal national education test scores and rosier state results. According to the “Proficient vs. Prepared” report, issued last week by the education reform organization Achieve, Tennessee is among the top states when it comes to state test scores that jibe with national test scores for grade-level proficiency. Tennessee made the most rapid gains of all states in the 2013 round of national testing and is closing the gap between state and national tests results, but that should not be confused with academic success. Tennessee’s fourth- and eighth-graders still lag far behind their peers in other states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Maryland, to name a few.