Sunday, January 31

Haslam: Surplus gives chance to ‘reshape’ Tennessee budget (AP) While state lawmakers come up with competing plans to carve up a projected budget surplus, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hopes to seize the initiative at his annual State of the State address on Monday. Haslam told reporters after a speech to the Tennessee Press Association that he wants to dedicate a sizable chunk of new revenue toward K-12 education, though he declined to elaborate on specifics in advance of the address.

Haslam and other officials snack on Pure Foods grand opening (Times-News) Specialty snack company Pure Foods celebrated the opening of its global headquarters and primary manufacturing location with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other officials present on Friday. The 88,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Gateway Commerce Park manufacturing facility produces nutrient-dense and reduced-fat snack foods for distribution in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

275 JOBS Pure Foods celebrates opening (Herald-Courier) Pure Foods opened its global headquarters and primary manufacturing plant Friday morning and with it brought the prospect of up to 275 new jobs over the next five years. The first 50-75 of those jobs are expected to be filled this year in management, production, and research and development employees. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam pledged to help Pure Foods see a return on its investment.

Pure Foods opens its global headquarters in Kingsport (WJHL) The ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Pure Foods plant in Kingsport on Friday morning means big things are on the horizon for Sullivan County. Pure Foods specializes in healthy, gluten free, and non-GMO snack foods and they said they’ll be bringing more than just healthier foods to our region. TN Governor, Bill Haslam, attended Friday’s ceremony. Haslam said, “Of everything that we do with the state, we can help in a lot of ways but the biggest thing that will change a community and families’ lives is a job.” And more jobs along with healthier food options are both coming to Kingsport within the next few weeks.

Haslam almost certain he’ll sign judicial confirmation bill (Nashville Post) Lawmakers easily pass compromise plan allowing them to shape the bench. Gov. Bill Haslam said he expects to sign the legislature’s plan outlining how it will confirm his and future governors’ judicial appointments, a process that took lawmakers more than a year to figure out. Lawmakers debated much of the first week of this year’s legislative session how to arrange for legislative approval or rejection of high court judicial hopefuls.

New Initiative Encourages Adults to Return to College (WTVC) Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is continuing his push to help adults earn a college degree. He’s announced a new initiative called Reconnect + Complete. The goal is to encourage 110-thousand Tennesseans who were more than halfway complete with their degree when they left college to go back to school. Reconnect and Complete is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 campaign. It aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees and certificates to 55 percent by the year 2025.

UT annual economic outlook: Tennessee economy continues to expand but at slower rate than 2015 (Commercial Appeal) The University of Tennessee’s annual report released Friday concludes that job growth and consumer spending continue to grow and position both Tennessee’s and the nation’s economies for a strong 2016. “Financial market instability has captured the headlines, but the fact is that the nation’s economy is in good shape and continues to expand,” said Dr. Matthew Murray, associate director of the UT Center for Business and Economic Research and the report’s lead author.–2a7b61a5-32b3-4f71-e053-0100007f5958-367002981.html News Sentinel:

Tennessee jobs to grow at slower, but steady pace in year ahead, according to state’s annual economic forecast (Times-Free Press) Despite a rally on Wall Street on Friday, the beginning of the year was the worst in the history of the Dow average and the S&P 500 index. But for all the turmoil in the financial markets, Tennessee should continue to see more job and income growth in 2016, although at a slower pace than last year, according to the state’s annual economic forecast.

Report: Job Growth, Consumer Spending to Boost State and National Economies (UT Center for Business and Economic Research) Job growth and consumer spending continue to grow and position Tennessee and the nation’s economies for a strong 2016, according to a report released today from the Center for Business and Economic Research. “Financial market instability has captured the headlines, but the fact is that the nation’s economy is in good shape and continues to expand,” said Matt Murray, associate director of CBER and the report’s lead author.

Q&A: UT’s Dr. Matthew Murray on the Tennessee economy (Commercial Appeal) Dr. Matthew N. Murray, associate director of the UT Center for Business and Economic Research, is lead author of UT’s Annual Economic Report to the Governor – the State’s Economic Outlook. The 2016 report was released Friday. He responded to questions from The Commercial Appeal and Knoxville News Sentinel. Q: What’s the bottom line of the report? Murray: Both the national and state economies are doing quite well and despite what we see happening in global energy markets and a slowdown in China and so on. News Sentinel:

Despite Stock Market, UT Says Our Economy Is Strong (WDEF) The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research says the state and national economies are strong, despite the recent stock market drop. The report issued on Friday notes strong job growth and consumer spending for 2016. “Financial market instability has captured the headlines, but the fact is that the nation’s economy is in good shape and continues to expand,” said Matt Murray, associate director of CBER and the report’s lead author.

Downtown Gets $100K For A Facelift (Greeneville Sun) The concept is simple. If communities are going to successfully recruit businesses, they must be places where those looking to locate new businesses would want to live, according to Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd.

DCS: Campbell judge took children from their homes without legal grounds (News Sentinel) Two children were taken from their home this week and kept from their parents for four days after a judge ordered so without a hearing or legal cause, according to statements in court Friday. As their parents wept, 8th Judicial Circuit Judge John McAfee ordered the children, ages 15 and 3, returned home, declared the actions of the judge who ordered them taken “improper” and removed her from the family’s case.

Meeting between UT chancellor, diversity coalition falls through (News Sentinel) A meeting between the University of Tennessee Diversity Matters coalition and UT administrators didn’t happen as scheduled on Friday. Administrators called it a scheduling mishap, but that didn’t ease frustrations. “We’ve been preparing for days, for weeks for this meeting,” said senior Elizabeth Stanfield, who was planning to lead a teach-in for the students gathered outside the meeting. “Even if it is a mix-up, my time was wasted.”

UT students fight against state bill to cut diversity funding (WATE) Some UT students say the university’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion is under attack. They’re pointing to a bill filed in the state legislature that would limit spending on diversity, multi-cultural or sustainability programs, capping at $2.5 million per year, roughly half the current diversity funding level. Students planned a sit-in at the administration building after a meeting with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and other administrators fell through, but it was apparently a misunderstanding.

UT students to talk diversity, tuition with state lawmakers (News Sentinel) A group of University of Tennessee students will spend Monday in Nashville for meetings with state lawmakers on tuition and the continuing controversy over campus diversity programs. The Government Affairs Committee of the UT Student Government Association goes to Nashville every year on the day of the governor’s State of the State address to discuss “any and all legislation” that affects UT, said Duncan Bryant, a junior and co-director of the committee.

UT students to meet with state lawmakers (WBIR) A group of University of Tennessee students will meet with state legislators on Monday. Representatives of the student government will be in Nashville for Governor Haslam’s state of the state address. They will meet with more than 40 lawmakers while they’re there about issues affecting U-T. One of their top priorities will be discussing the controversy surrounding the school’s office of diversity. They also plan to discuss a bill that would affect tuition increases and one that would change the way U-T’s board of trustee’s works.

ETSU Sex Week won’t happen this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future (Johnson City Press) Sex is a controversial topic, and nobody knows that better than students at East Tennessee State University. This time last year, members of the ETSU Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance were making final preparations for the university’s first Sex Week, an event that produced anxiety among state officials and members of the ETSU Student Government Association when FMLA requested funding from the student Senate.

Heroin use on the rise in Tennessee (Daily News Journal) It used to be the stuff of gritty big-city crime dramas, with junkies huddled in the alleys, sharing needles, “riding the great white horse.” So what is heroin doing in Middle Tennessee? Making a comeback. “Eight years ago, when I went to narcotics, we would see it just a little bit,” said Lt. Jeff Keaton, a detective with the Murfreesboro Police department. “About two years ago, we started seeing it more, hearing about it more.”

ACLU Warns Tennessee Schools About Transgender Bathroom Access (WDEF) The American Civil Liberties Union is sending a letter to every school district in Tennessee on bathroom access for transgender students. It says that equal access is required by federal law. “Transgender students are a part of our communities and our schools, and they should be treated with dignity and respect just like everyone else,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Schools have a duty to ensure that all students, including transgender children, can learn in a welcoming and harassment-free environment.”

150,000 Tennesseans could lose food stamps April 1 (AP) An estimated 150,000 Tennesseans could lose food stamp benefits on April 1 if they don’t meet work requirements. Tennessee Department of Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin says the agency began sending out notices earlier this winter to people who could lose benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The program requires able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 who have no children or other dependents at home to work, volunteer or attend education or job-training courses at least 80 hours a month. If they don’t, their benefits are cut off after three months.

Abortion access argument in East Tennessee depends on care, education and legislation (Johnson City Press) Look around you. If you see three women age 45 or older, evidence shows that at least one of them has had an abortion, making the surgical procedure rather commonplace by anyone’s standards. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between the years of 2008 and 2013 — the most recent data available — the number of abortions in Tennessee consistently decreased.

Officials Lobby For New State Library, Archives Projected To Total Nearly $110M (Greenville Sun) When Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his State of the State address Monday night and submits his proposed budget to the Tennessee State Legislature, State Rep. David Hawk hopes Haslam will include funding for a new Tennessee Library and Archives facility. He’s not alone. State Librarian and Archivist Charles A. Sherrill has been meeting with local officials and lawmakers across the state to lobby the Tennessee General Assembly to use a projected budget surplus this fiscal year to fund the project.

Tennessee could lead in self-driving vehicles, senator says (Times-Free Press) Volkswagen’s Chattanooga operations could help the state become a leader in the development and manufacture of self-driving cars, says a state senator who has introduced a new bill to spur the industry in Tennessee. State Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, said Friday he met with VW officials during a visit to the Chattanooga plant and the automaker already is doing “some phenomenally innovative stuff.” VW officials’ concern is that any legislation not impede the development of self-driving cars, he said.

Candidate switches parties, seeks District 7 House seat (Johnson City Press) Jonesborough resident Michael Morgan, who will challenge incumbent Matthew Hill for the 7th House District seat this year, switched his party affiliation Thursday from Republican to Democrat in large part because of Washington County’s “traditional marriage” resolution. “I had been a lifelong Republican, and was going to run as a Republican,” said the Michigan native. “But when the resolution seeking support for traditional one-man, one-woman marriage appeared, I thought it was ridiculous and a waste of time. I support same-sex marriage, and I agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s sentiment. Constitutional attorneys could fight that, but I don’t know how far that would go.”

State Rep. Cooper to hold community meeting (Commercial Appeal) State Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis) will hold a community meeting Saturday to address community priorities and projects, including discussion of proposals submitted by neighborhood members on how government can better serve the community. The meeting is set for 1 p.m. in the auditorium of the Alma C. Henson Student Center at LeMoyne-Owen College, 807 Walker Ave.

Woman approached McCormick about Durham texts in summer (Tennessean) A woman approached House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick about inappropriate text messages and phone calls she said she had received from then-House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham during the summer, McCormick confirmed Thursday. The meeting, acknowledged publicly by McCormick for the first time this week, happened months before The Tennessean published an investigation focused on three women who said Durham sent them inappropriate text messages.

Williamson legislators talk everything but Jeremy Durham (Tennessean) Organizers of a public affairs roundtable featuring Williamson County’s state legislative delegation set out a ground rule early on Friday morning: Stick to discussing the issues, not the absent Rep. Jeremy Durham. The embattled Franklin lawmaker earlier this week stepped away from the House Republican caucus and resigned his position as House majority whip amid revelations he sent women inappropriate text messages.

Politics podcast: Durham, State of the State preview (Tennessean) Reporting by The Tennessean last Sunday set off a rapid set of events in the state legislature with developments unfolding so quickly it was difficult to keep track. This week state house reporter Joel Ebert, investigative reporter Dave Boucher, content strategist Duane Gang and opinion and engagement editor David Plazas look back over the dramatic week in our Music City Politics podcast.

Live chat Monday at 11 a.m.: Coverage of Rep. Jeremy Durham (Tennessean) Join Tennessean reporters Dave Boucher and Jill Cowan at 11 a.m. Monday to chat about their coverage of the controversies surrounding state Rep. Jeremy Durham.

Tennessee Republican Clearly Up to No Good (Gawker) Here are some recent allegations lodged against Tennessee State Rep. Jeremy Durham (R): According to The Tennessean, Durham sent harassing and/or generally inappropriate text messages to at least three women working at Tennessee’s State Capitol in Nashville. To one woman in particular, the newspaper reported, “Durham repeatedly sent text messages and Facebook messages, sometimes late into the night. One text message, after 10 p.m., says he misses her. In another text, at about 1:30 a.m., Durham asks her for pictures.”

No easy solutions to harassment policy questions (Tennessean) Tennessee officials preparing to review the state’s legislative sexual harassment policy in the wake of concerns about how allegations of inappropriate behavior by embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham were handled are facing a difficult task, experts say. Sexual harassment policies in legislatures — where political considerations add a vexing layer to incident reporting and investigations — are reviewed and revised less regularly in many states than other facets of government.

4th Congressional District’s Grant Starrett and Scott DesJarlais clash over fundraising (Times-Free Press) Republican Grant Starrett raised $91,699 from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 for his GOP primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the 4th Congressional District. Starrett finished the year with $728,773 in cash on hand, according to the attorney’s Federal Election Commission fourth-quarter filing. But $226,561 in debts and obligations takes that down to $500,000 as the 27-year-old attorney prepares to do battle with DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician.

Grant Starrett raises close to $1 million for GOP primary battle with Scott DesJarlais (Times-Free Press) Republican Grant Starrett’s campaign announced today the 4th Congressional District hopeful raised $91,699 in the fourth quarter, bringing Starrett’s total nine-month haul for his challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., to $917,846. “Raising more than $900,000 in nine months shows that conservatives continue to rally behind Grant Starrett’s visionary campaign for Congress,” said Tommy Schultz, Starrett’s campaign manager. “Tennesseans are looking for a faithful conservative like Grant who will go to Washington and fight for our country’s future.”

Anti-Wharton PAC’s backers included prominent Memphis businessmen (Commercial Appeal) A group of well-known Memphis businessmen was behind a political action committee that opposed former mayor A C Wharton’s reelection last year, according to the PAC’s financial disclosure Thursday. Neighborhood Alliance PAC includes several supporters of Mayor Jim Strickland, including developer and Shelby County Schools board member Billy Orgel, Paul Boyle and Mark Halperin of real estate firm Boyle Investment Company, and HealthChoice CEO Mitch Graves.

Local doctors petition against watchdog proposal (WDEF) Tennessee Valley allergy sufferers who undergo immunotherapy could be impacted of a proposal to tighten regulations on allergy shots. A medical watchdog group that works closely with the FDA is currently trying to get congress to place tighter regulations on allergy shots.

Muslims in the Bible Belt (Jackson Sun) Maliha Aslam was in an elevator at the LIFT Wellness Center in Jackson a few months ago as another woman stared at her hijab, a headdress Muslim women are required to wear. Unprompted, the woman told her, “Because of [you], things are messy.” Mohammad Salem attends the Muslim mosque in Jackson and is a senior at Madison Academic High School. He said a woman in Wal-Mart once asked him why he wanted to kill her. Salem said he told her he didn’t want to kill her.

VIDEO: Being Muslim in Jackson (Jackson Sun) Tanveer Aslam, a member of the Islamic Center of Jackson, talks about what it’s like being a Muslim in the Bible Belt.

PHOTO GALLERY: Being Muslim in Jackson (Jackson Sun)

Suburban surge: 2015 brings $2B, 10,000 jobs (Nashville Business Journal) In the past year alone, companies have promised to invest or have already committed nearly $1.5 billion in Nashville’s outlying communities — from Berry Farms south of Franklin to industrial parks in Lebanon and Smyrna. Tack on Google’s plans to invest $600 million in a Clarksville data center and that total climbs above $2 billion. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce pegs the corporate investment in Greater Nashville in the past two years as the strongest since the recession.

Atlanta investor fuels massive hotel project on high-profile SoBro site (Nashville Business Journal) An Atlanta-based real estate investor and an Indiana developer are tag-teaming a project that would create some 650 hotel rooms at a high-profile site in SoBro, the hottest part of downtown Nashville’s real estate scene. The duo is the newly revealed owner of a parking lot sold by First Baptist Church, directly across from the city’s massive Music City Center convention hall and a block from Bridgestone Arena.

Gateway Medical to change name, join Tennova (Leaf-Chronicle) Officials with Gateway Medical Center have confirmed that the Clarksville regional hospital is affiliating with a new health care network in a move that will result in a hospital name change. The new hospital name has not been announced.

Fish consumption advisory for Big Sandy River (Jackson Sun) The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced the addition of Big Sandy River and its embayment on Kentucky Reservoir to Tennessee’s list of precautionary fish consumption advisories. According to a press release, the advisory is a result of fish tissue levels of mercury that exceed the trigger point of 0.3 parts per million, and is only in effect for species of bass. The Big Sandy River is in Henry, Benton, Carroll and Henderson counties of West Tennessee.

Local fishermen cautioned about eating bass from Big Sandy River (WBBJ) Fishermen at the Big Sandy River were met with a warning Friday: eat bass taken from the river at your own risk. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said a mercury advisory is in effect just for the Big Sandy River waters and recommend children and pregnant women not consume bass caught there.

Advisory posted on Big Sandy has public fishing for answers (Paris Post-Intelligencer) Signs erected by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation last week at several public boat ramps within the Big Sandy River portion of Kentucky Lake are sending shock waves to a concerned and confused public. The signs read: “Warning! Bass from this body of water contain contaminants at levels thought to increase the risk of cancer or other serious illness in humans. These fish should NOT be eaten by children, pregnant or nursing women. All others should limit consumption to one meal per month! … TDEC”

State, TVA agree to injunction in Gallatin lawsuit (News Examiner) A temporary injunction has been reached between the state and the Tennessee Valley Authority related to a lawsuit regarding contamination at the Gallatin Fossil Plant. As part of the agreement, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court on Jan. 19, TVA will develop an Environmental Investigation Plan for the power plant and submit it to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation within 60 days.

Kentucky Civil rights leader, politician Georgia Davis Powers dies (Washington Post) Georgia Davis Powers, a giant in the fight for civil rights in Kentucky and the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate, has died. She was 92. She died around 3:40 a.m. Saturday at her brother’s home in Louisville, said Louisville’s NAACP President Raoul Cunningham, a friend for five decades. “When you think of civil rights in Kentucky, you have to start with Georgia Davis Powers,” said Kentucky State Sen. Gerald Neal, a longtime friend and colleague who says Powers inspired him into public service.

McAuliffe, GOP tout gun deal (Roanoke Times) Virginia will continue to recognize concealed carry handgun permits from 25 states it planned to stop recognizing Feb. 1 — at least until March 1. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe held a news conference Friday to outline a gun deal the Democrat hammered out with Republicans. But he focused on the concessions he got from Republicans rather than on reversal of the attorney general’s decision that would have ended conceal carry reciprocity agreements with half of the states, including Tennessee.

Georgia officials push for overhaul of state fireworks law (AP) Some Georgia lawmakers are proposing changes to the state’s fireworks law, partly out of concerns about potential dangers. Some officials have taken issue with the law since Gov. Nathan Deal signed it last May. They say it allows for the blanket use of consumer fireworks without any local control.

Nation’s prominent public universities are shifting to out-of-state students (Washington Post) America’s most prominent public universities were founded to serve the people of their states, but they are enrolling record numbers of students from elsewhere to maximize tuition revenue as state support for higher education withers. The shift has buttressed the finances and reshaped the profile of schools across the country, from the University of California’s famed campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles to the universities of Arkansas, Oregon, Missouri, South Carolina and numerous other places.


Editorial: Haslam’s education road map sets Tennessee up for gains (Tennessean) In an ideal world, education would be a nonpartisan issue where all stakeholders worked to make improvements that lead to enlightened, civically engaged and productive citizens. That high-mindedness exists to a degree in that there is general societal agreement that all children should have access to free, quality schooling; a wide acceptance that post-high school training or college is essential to good-paying career opportunities; and recognition that education is a powerful tool for fighting poverty and investing in economic development.

Editorial: Stealthy Koch-influenced legislation takes aim at teachers (Commercial Appeal) Tennessee teachers will lose the right to have union dues deducted from their paychecks if legislation makes its way through the General Assembly urging teachers to pass along to students “the proper use and positioning of bicycle helmets.” You read that correctly. That bike helmets and the collection of union dues are unrelated is of no consequence to a disturbing number of Tennessee lawmakers.

Editorial: Ensuring students are prepared for college is crucial (News Sentinel) Fewer students at Tennessee community colleges and universities are taking remedial courses, but the number arriving on campuses unprepared for the rigors of college work remains unacceptably high. A report issued last week by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office shows the ongoing need for improving academic performance in K-12 districts statewide and the opportunity for new approaches to meet the needs of students once they begin their post-secondary educations.

Editorial: State’s high school grads need all the avenues they can find to get ready for college, career (Commercial Appeal) The Tennessee comptroller’s report that said large numbers of the state’s high school graduates still arrive at state postsecondary institutions inadequately prepared for college work is not new information. It reinforces an already known fact that underpins the education reforms taking place across the state and especially in Memphis.

Guest column: Private schools should be in mix of choice options for students (Commercial Appeal) We are involved with Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust (MOST), a privately funded, need-based scholarship (voucher) program that provides families the opportunity to send their preK-12 children to area private schools. Every day in our work, we see firsthand the value of parental choice when it comes to education. MOST helps more than 500 students attend private or parochial schools each year. With a waiting list for new scholarships of nearly 700 children (and that’s just for our entry points of preK-3 through first grade), we know that the need to expand parental choices is great.

Editorial: Should ‘Death with Dignity’ be an option in Tennessee? (Johnson City Press) One of Tennessee’s most colorful politicians of recent times lost his battle with cancer last week. John Jay Hooker, a Nashville attorney known for his white straw hat and seersucker suits, died Jan. 24 at the age of 85 from malignant melanoma. Those who seek the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide in Tennessee hope his efforts to see that others who face a terminal illness can face “death with dignity” will eventually bear fruit.

Guest column: Time to end ‘Digital Deserts’ (Times-Free Press) In response to the recent “broadband battle” covered by the Times Free Press, one of the reasons the opposition continues to not budge on lifting the territorial restrictions on public providers (i.e., EPB) is that the proposed legislation isn’t the perfect answer to the problem. State Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd put it this way: “A solution for some, but not a solution for all, is not the way we want to go.”

Column: State can lead with Internet access laws (News Sentinel) Internet access has much in common with other utilities — it is best served to a city or region, rather than by the street or block, as economies of scale come into play. It is also best maintained as such, so that key delivery conduits and service lines from a jumble of providers do not crisscross in the ground or in the air. There is also a very clear “sweet spot” for Internet access where a certain number of providers in a region balances the benefits of competitive pricing against the cost of lost economies of scale from a functional monopoly.

Analysis: Steamy stories haunt halls of Tenn. State Capitol (News Sentinel) Male legislators’ indiscretions, proven or otherwise, with women have often been a hot conversational topic at the Tennessee General Assembly over the years, occasionally leading to resignations, but not until last week has the talk ever included the proposed expulsion of a member. House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey each declared last week they believe the activities of state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, warrant his removal from the House District 65 seat to which he was re-elected over a Democratic opponent by 12,089 votes to 4,386 votes in November 2014.

Tom Humphrey: Accusations of misconduct are nothing new (News Sentinel) In some respects, the ongoing legislative discourse over the doings of state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, can be seen as an example of truth in the old adage about the more things change, the more they stay the same. But there are some curious and novel aspects to the Durham dither that stand in contrast to past uproars over legislators engaged in activities that involved inappropriate sexual behavior. Maybe that has something to do with the current political environment in Legislatorland. Three past cases offer some comparison and contrast:

Pat Nolan: Capitol View Commentary (WTVF) I told you two weeks ago that the Jeremy Durham affair was likely not over. Boy, did that come true with a vengeance this week! Legislative Plaza in Nashville is engulfed, fascinated and a bit nervous watching the high stakes game of political chess being waged between the embattled Williamson County Legislator and the entire Republican leadership on the Hill. After all, everybody lives in their own glass houses, don’t they? It’s a really big mess and a political PR nightmare for the GOP which it doesn’t appear to be ending or being resolved any time soon.

Editorial: Durham’s misbehavior harms the Legislature (News Sentinel) Though details have been slow to emerge, the sex scandal surrounding state Rep. Jeremy Durham has brought shame down on the Tennessee General Assembly. House Speaker Beth Harwell has responded with a much-needed overhaul of the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy and is exploring how to expel Durham if he does not resign. The Franklin Republican has resigned as majority whip, quit the Republican Caucus and taken a two-week leave of absence.

Column: We got a lot of new jobs in December, but…. (Commercial Appeal) Nick Vrettos knew what would come would hurt. But he didn’t turn off the lights. He didn’t lay off a worker. He stayed open after Cargill closed the massive Presidents Island corn mill one year ago, idling 440 industrial employees. “I would say overall we have lost at least 15 percent of our business,” said Vrettos, owner of The Port, a store, restaurant and bar down the road from the corn mill. “I didn’t lay off anyone. But we adjusted. We cut back hours.”

Column: Why all the fuss about guns when cars and pills also kill? (Johnson City Press) There is a menace stalking the land, killing tens of thousands of people every year. In 2014 alone, 32,675 died according to government statistics. It doesn’t respect age, sex, or race. It cares not for guilt or innocence. We have tolerated it for over a century, and even though there have been improvements in death rates, even though we have poured untold treasure into the fight, the menace shows no sign of being eliminated.

Deborah Fisher: Stop restricting public’s access to government (Tennessean) Nearly 40 new bills have been filed in the Legislature in recent weeks that would make changes to citizen access to government records or meetings. As lawmakers head deep into the session, with literally thousands of bills to consider, they would do well to remember a message sent last summer through a series of public hearings and surveys: Citizens do not want more obstacles to finding out what their government is doing.

Dr. Andrea Willis: Evidence-based care brings better health (Tennessean) I started my career as a pediatrician, so I know what it feels like to wonder whether an insurer will cover a procedure or medication I prescribe, and how they make those decisions. Those are sometimes challenging and emotional situations — especially for parents, who simply want the best for their children and rely closely on the direction of their doctors. As a mother, I know how that feels, too.

Georgiana Vines: Former UT general counsel still giving legal tips (News Sentinel) Ron Leadbetter, retired University of Tennessee associate general counsel, has been advising the Knox County legislative delegation on issues regarding the university. Leadbetter, who recently self-published a book, “Big Orange, Black Storm Clouds and More,” about his experiences as UT’s lawyer in athletics and civil rights from 1972-2008, said he’s talked to all Republican members of the delegation at their initiation. He has not talked with the only Democrat, state Rep. Joe Armstrong, he said.

Otis Sanford: Sentencing reforms for nonviolent crimes wise (Commercial Appeal) If Congress does not get anything else done this election year — and it’s doubtful that it will — lawmakers should pass meaningful reforms to the way we sentence people for nonviolent crimes. Specifically, the House and Senate should say yes to a bipartisan-supported bill that, among other things, does away with mandatory minimum sentences mostly for nonviolent drug offenses.

Frank Daniels: Who will take the place of Nashville legends? (Tennessean) Sunday, two more Nashville legends died. Clayton McWhorter and John Jay Hooker were two very different men, but were both optimistic, entrepreneurial and inspirational. Without their energy, and the energy of many others in their generation, Nashville would not be what it is today. Their deaths illuminated how many luminaries Nashville has lost in the past couple of years, and gave pause to think about who may be their equivalents today.

Robert Houk: Although tempting, the Senate is not for me (Johnson City Press) Editor’s note: This column was written with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. After much thought, meditation and consultation with a psychic, I have decided not to run for the state Senate. I have concluded, despite the many calls from family and friends urging me to campaign for the 4th District seat now held by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Nashville is not my true calling.

Friday, January 29

Haslam: Budget will ‘invest’ in education, begin to repay transportation fund (Commercial Appeal) Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that the state budget he will unveil Monday night will “invest” heavily in education, and indicated it will also start paying back the $260 million transferred out of the highway fund to balance the budget during the depths of the recession. The governor also said he will spend a good part of his annual State of the State and budget address to the Legislature and a statewide public television audience talking about how he believes the state should handle its revenue surplus, now more than $500 million beyond projections for the current fiscal year. News Sentinel:

Haslam continues to push education plans (Tennessean) For the second time this week, Gov. Bill Haslam publicly touted his plans to increase education funding in his forthcoming budget. While addressing the Tennessee Press Association on Thursday, Haslam said he will use the state’s substantial budget surplus to invest in areas that have lacked funding in the past. “I would say education is at the top of that list,” he said, adding the budget surplus will also be spent on areas that include “smart investments” that would help the state save money in the future.

Haslam, lawmakers see need to clear records requests backlog (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Haslam and two top Tennessee lawmakers say they recognize the need to clear a backlog of hundreds of open records requests. A spokesman for Comptroller Justin Wilson said Wilson has requested nearly $265,000 in the budget to help with the growing number of requests for information. Haslam, speaking to a group of journalists Thursday, wouldn’t say whether his upcoming budget will contain new positions to help clear the backlog.

$12M, 280 jobs coming to Bartlett (WMC) A company plans to invest $12 million in Bartlett and create 280 new jobs. Olympus announced the investment with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd on Thursday afternoon. The company will build a new east coast national service and distribution center in Bartlett Corporate Park. It will take a $12 million investment to construct the distribution center.

Olympus to invest $12M in Bartlett facility, hire 280 (Commercial Appeal) Tokyo electronics giant Olympus will build a service and distribution center for medical equipment in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett, creating 280 jobs, state officials said Thursday. In an unusual move for a company investing $12 million and bringing wages and benefits that average a total of $55,000 a year, Olympus turned down a tax break, said John Threadgill, president of the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce.–366899271.html

280 jobs to be created from Olympus facility in Bartlett (Fox13 Memphis) 280 jobs will be created in Shelby County due to Olympus building a new East Coast national service and distribution center in Bartlett Corporate Park. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced the news of the new facility, which Olympus will invest $12 million in, Thursday, according to a release. The facility will act as a service and distribution center with some of the equipment and devices being endoscopes, surgical devices and generators. Gov. Haslam said he was thankful for Olympus building this facility in Shelby County for many reasons.

State Economic Development head speaks to Chamber (Wilson Post) Community leaders, business owners and elected officials gathered at the Lebanon Golf & Country Club on Thursday for the Lebanon/Wilson Chamber of Commerce’s Lunch and Learn. Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd served as guest speaker. Boyd, who was sworn into the position on January 17, 2015, by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, spoke of his exciting first year and “gaining momentum.”

Tennessee Launches Survey to Determine Rural Broadband Usage, Need (Government Technology) A new survey by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development aims to pinpoint the need for broadband services in rural areas and how it can improve the state’s future economic growth. TNECD Commissioner Randy Boyd launched the statewide survey earlier this month and said he hopes it will attract small business owners, entrepreneurs and those in rural areas without an Internet connection. Boyd spent much of 2015 visiting rural communities on an initial set of listening tours, where he said the biggest takeaway was how being connected has become an essential tool for business.

Five Things to Watch in the Fourth-Quarter GDP Report (Wall St. Journal) The Commerce Department publishes its first look at the economy’s performance in the fourth quarter at 8:30 a.m. EST on Friday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal forecast a paltry 0.8% seasonally adjusted annual growth rate for gross domestic product, the broadest measure of output. That would be a slowdown from the third quarter’s 2% pace. Here are five things to watch in the report.

Tennessee Captive Industry Grew by 37% in 2015 (Insurance Journal) The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) announced that 57 new captive insurance companies domiciled in the state 2015, which represents a 37 percent increase over 2014. The new captives are comprised of 47 pure captives, four Risk Retention Groups (RRGs), and six protected cell captives (containing 106 protected cells). These 57 captives also include seven “redomestications” – a term used when an existing captive moves from one captive domicile to another. This is the largest group of redomesticated captives to occur since Tennessee’s captive insurance laws were revamped in 2011, according to TDCI.

Tennessee awards $4.8M in recycling, composting, and waste oil grants (Waste Dive) Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has awarded almost $5 million for the state’s recycling, landfill reduction, composting, and waste oil infrastructure and equipment. Nearly $2.3 million has been granted through 2016 for recycling expenses, waste reduction, and used oil projects, while $2,486,303 was awarded for composting equipment and infrastructure.

UPS helps LEAP students in workforce programming (Leaf-Chronicle) UPS collaborates with the LEAP Organization to educate students on job seeking strategies, best practices to retain employment and receive promotions, and the benefits associated with employment opportunities with UPS. The goal of LEAP’s Career Readiness Program is to provide youth ages 16 to 24 with critical job skills to prepare them for entry into the workforce. Members of UPS Human Resources Department educated the students on the UPS mission and history then guided them on a tour on their warehouse facility to explain the various positions within the company.

Joint engineering program to begin at ETSU, TTU this fall (Johnson City Press) A joint engineering program shared by East Tennessee State University and Tennessee Technological University got the final go-ahead from state officials Thursday, allowing classes to begin this fall. Members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in Nashville unanimously approved the new venture, through which the two schools will award Bachelor of Science degrees in Engineering by sharing faculty members and students.

Could Tennessee experience an earthquake similar to one in 1800s? (WKRN) Can you believe that in the winter of 1811-1812 a series of earthquakes in northwest Tennessee shook the ground so hard that church bells rang on the East Coast and sidewalks cracked in Washington D.C? The sitting president, James Madison, was even awakened in the middle of the night by the shaking of the White House.

Study: Drug abuse fuels sharp rise in Tennessee hepatitis B cases (Tennessean) Tennessee is among three Appalachian states that have seen a huge surge in the potentially serious liver infection hepatitis B, driven by the relentless scourge of injection drug abuse in the region, a new study says. The research, released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday, found that acute hepatitis B rose 114% in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia from 2009-2013, even as incidence remained stable nationally. Injection drugs were factor in three-quarters of cases in those states from 2010 onward.

Families Press CDC for Painkiller Prescription Guidelines (Wall St. Journal) Parents and spouses of people who have suffered or died from opioid painkiller abuse are urging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to publish guidelines meant to curb prescribing of the drugs, saying lax dispensing has caused a national epidemic. They spoke Thursday at a CDC hearing called to discuss draft guidelines the federal agency drew up to combat soaring rates of addiction and overdose, the latter of which caused more than 47,000 American deaths in 2014—about 1.5 times as many as car accidents did. Most of those overdoses were attributed to opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin.

Can Technology Help Prevent Drug Overdoses? (Governing) On a recent morning in November, my local newspaper reported that an unusually pure form of heroin was circulating throughout our small Massachusetts community, triggering numerous overdoses. Ultimately, three young people died within a 24-hour period. Just a week earlier, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had revealed that deaths from drug overdoses had surpassed deaths from car crashes and from firearms each year since 2008. The rapid increase in overdose deaths has been relentless, and public health officials have scrambled for some kind of response to the problem.

Ramsey, Harwell discuss session’s agenda (Tennessean) Education will be the top priority for lawmakers this session, the leaders of both chambers of the Tennessee legislature said Thursday. The issue was the main topic discussed when the Tennessee Press Association hosted House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Bill Ramsey for the organization’s annual winter meeting. Ramsey, who largely led the discussion, called the state’s efforts to address education in the past four or five years “revolutionary.”

Certificate of need reform focuses on free market (Tennessean) A corner of state government, little known to those outside of health care industry, that regulates who provides health care services, and where, is at the center of a free market debate. Health care providers apply with the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency for a certificate of need to build facilities or expand into new services. The House health committee held a two-hour discussion on the certificate of need program Wednesday.

Bill would require sports officials’ background checks (Tennessean) Those who officiate “interscholastic athletic events” would have to undergo criminal background checks under a new bill pending before the Tennessee General Assembly. The proposal, SB 2118, would require “referees or officiates of interscholastic athletic events to submit to a criminal background investigation and provide a fingerprint sample.” It’s unclear which age groups’ athletic officials would be affected.

Cutting taxes, school choice, tort reform drive Sen. Kelsey (TN Ledger) State Sen. Brian Kelsey calls himself “a proud conservative who likes to get results.” Based on his legislative record as a Republican state representative and senator from Germantown, he is doing both without exactly toeing the tea party line but bolstered by a GOP supermajority in the House and Senate. “I think my legislative record is very clear to anyone who’s followed it,” says Kelsey, who is entering his 11th year in the General Assembly, including five in the House.

Curry Todd seeks reelection to state House (Commercial Appeal) State Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville announced Tuesday that he will seek reelection Nov. 8 to the District 95 House seat. The Republican and former Memphis police officer was first elected to the House in 1998. Since then, he has been sponsor for the bill that allowed the creation of municipal school districts in Shelby County and was involved in an effort to block city annexation of the Fisherville area. He also sponsored a bill allowing people to carry handguns in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol if they aren’t drinking.

Tennessee Atty Gen. conducting investigation in Rep. Jeremy Durham (WKRN) Tennessee Attorney General said Thursday their office is conducting an investigation surrounding state Rep. Jeremy Durham. The investigation was requested by House Speaker Beth Harwell who asked for “an independent investigation into the facts surrounding [Durham]’s ongoing situation.” “Additionally, I have asked them to issue a report with their findings. If and when an expulsion resolution comes before the House of Representatives, the report could be part of that process,” Harwell added in a statement sent to media.

Harwell Says She’s Making Plans To Oust Rep. Durham (WPLN) Republican leaders of the General Assembly are now looking at their options to force Rep. Jeremy Durham from his seat. The Franklin lawmaker’s behavior has resulted in unflattering headlines for weeks. The latest flare-up involves three women who work at the capitol accusing him of sending inappropriate text messages late at night.

Harwell ropes attorney general into Durham affair (Nashville Post) Durham leaves door open about with whom he may have had ‘physical relationship.’ House Speaker Beth Harwell is calling for the big guns, i.e. state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, to investigate Rep. Jeremy Durham’s “ongoing situation,” calling on the AG to issue a report that could be used to expel the embattled state lawmaker. The statement from Harwell’s office came after Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told reporters he believes Durham not only sent inappropriate text messages to women who worked at the legislature, but had an affair with a state legislator who was then forced to resign.

Beth Harwell: Leaders exploring expelling Jeremy Durham from TN House (Times-Free Press) House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey say embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, the subject of sexual harassment allegations by several unnamed women at the state Capitol, should be expelled. “We’re looking into the procedure,” Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters this morning on her way up to the House chamber for the morning legislative session. Harwell acknowledged that there are difficulties given that none of the women filed formal charges against the 32-year-old Durham.

Harwell calls for AG investigation into Durham’s ‘situation’ (Tennessean) House Speaker Beth Harwell has asked the Tennessee attorney general’s office to open an “independent investigation” into embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham’s “ongoing situation.” The action came on the heels of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey telling reporters Thursday that Durham had an affair with a representative and forced that representative to resign. About an hour and a half later, in an emailed statement, an assistant for Durham said the lawmaker denies having any physical relationship with former representatives.

Durham Excused 2 Weeks To Get Counseling (WTVF) Embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham has been granted two weeks to seek counseling after recently announcing that he’s stepping away from the GOP caucus. House Speaker Beth Harwell has excused Durham for two weeks to get pastoral and professional counseling. The controversy stems from allegations that he sent inappropriate text messages to three women on Capitol Hill. At this point, none of his accusers have come forward or filed sexual harassment complaints.

Durham taking leave from Tennessee House calls to resign (AP) State Rep. Jeremy Durham is taking a leave of absence from the Tennessee General Assembly amid calls for his resignation and the Senate speaker’s allegation on Thursday that he had an affair with another lawmaker. House Speaker Beth Harwell also asked the Tennessee attorney general to launch an independent investigation of Durham that could become part of an effort to vote the second-term Franklin Republican out of the House.

Expelling lawmakers rare in Tennessee (Tennessean) House Speaker Beth Harwell wants to expel embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham from the Tennessee House of Representatives if he chooses not to resign. Although the Tennessee Constitution states it would take a two-thirds vote of the House to expel a member, a spokeswoman for Harwell said the attorneys are reviewing the constitution and “also precedent as to the actual mechanics of the process.”

What does it take to expel an elected official? (WSMV) Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said some surprising and unexpected things Thursday afternoon. He claimed that House Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, had an affair with a fellow lawmaker, and forced that representative to resign. Durham has been accused of sexual harassment, which was reported to majority leader Gerald McCormick last session. The Speaker of the House has pushed to expel him. Can a lawmaker be expelled? Has it happened before? And is ethics reason enough?

Rep. Jeremy Durham denies affair with House colleague who later quit (Times-Free Press) The controversy over state Rep. Jeremy Durham snowballed Thursday with allegations of an affair with another lawmaker who later resigned and a call by House Speaker Beth Harwell for the state attorney general to investigate complaints Durham harassed female Capitol Hill workers. It capped yet another tumultuous day among Republicans regarding the 32-year-old GOP lawmaker.

House Leader says 2 women told him Durham harassed them (WSMV) Until this week, Republican leaders said they had only heard rumors that Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, was “crossing the line” or making others feel “uncomfortable.” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick knew more than rumors. He spoke with two accusers firsthand nearly a year ago. McCormick told Channel 4 the first woman came to him around March 2015.

Ramsey Alleges Durham Affair With Ex-Lawmaker (AP) Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said state Representative Jeremy Durham had an affair with another lawmaker, causing her to resign. Ramsey made the comments to reporters after a legislative preview session hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association on Thursday. Republican Representative Leigh Wilburn of Somerville resigned just one year into her first term in December due to unspecified “unforeseen circumstances.” She hadn’t spoken to reporters about her decision to step down, and a relative said she has since changed her phone numbers.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey says Durham had affair with ex-lawmaker (WSMV) Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in remarks to media that he believed House Rep. Jeremy Durham had an affair with a former state representative. Ramsey made the remarks after appearing at a session of the Tennessee Press Association’s annual winter convention on Thursday.

Two of three resigned reps deny Durham affairs (News Sentinel/Humphrey) Among the numerous curiosities in the news surrounding state Rep. Jeremy Durham, who Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says had an affair with a resigned state representative, are denials from former state Reps. Mike Harrison and Ryan Haynes. The only other legislator to resign last year, former state Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville, has been unavailable for comment, multiple media folks report.

GOP taking Majority Whip applications (Tennessean) The applications process for those interested in running for the now-vacant House Majority Whip position is open, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said Thursday. The announcement came at the tail end of the chamber’s morning floor session. Casada, R-Franklin, also reiterated the Republican caucus will meet on Monday at 4 p.m. It is expected that members of the caucus will vote on the vacant leadership position.

Trump Far And Away Leads Presidential Field In Tennessee, New Poll Says (WPLN) It’s not even close. Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is Tennessee’s favorite candidate running for president, according to a new poll from Middle Tennessee State University. When Republican voters were asked to come up with their pick, 33 percent chose Trump. The next largest slice of GOP voters — 28 percent — is undecided.

MTSU Poll: Trump, Clinton have lead (Nashville Post) The MTSU Poll of 600 voters shows national frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with significant leads in Tennessee ahead of the March primary: The new MTSU poll shows Trump the top choice of 33 percent of registered Republicans, followed by Cruz, who is backed by 17 percent. Carson is the top candidate among 7 percent of Tennesseans. The trio is trailed by Marco Rubio at 5 percent; Chris Christie at 2 percent; Jeb Bush at 2 percent; and Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Rand Paul with each at less than 1 percent.

New poll: Trump, Clinton lead big in Tennessee (Tennessean) Donald Trump has amassed a commanding lead among Republican voters in Tennessee, according to a new poll from Middle Tennessee State University that found Ted Cruz in a distant second in the state’s GOP primary. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton holds a significant lead over Bernie Sanders among Tennessee Democrats, though her disapproval rating tops all presidential candidates in the state.

Trump, Clinton lead latest MTSU presidential poll (WSMV) Middle Tennessee State University released the results of its latest presidential poll on Thursday before Tennesseans head to the polls on March 1 for the so-called SEC Primary. According to Tennessee voters, the presidential race is between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but both candidates have high disapproval ratings. When asked to name the person they would most like to win the election, 33 percent of Republicans who participated in the poll said Trump, while 17 percent chose Ted Cruz.

MTSU poll shows Trump leads GOP, Clinton ‘least-liked’ (WKRN) A poll of 600 registered Tennessee voters shed some like on where the state stands ahead of the March 1 SEC Primary. The MTSU Poll showed Donald Trump in the lead for both Republicans and independents, named the person they would most like to win the 2016 presidential election. Thirty-three percent of self-described Republican voters named Trump, while 17 percent named Cruz.

Donald Trump leads Tennessee GOP pack in new poll (Times-Free Press) Tennessee Republicans are cottoning up to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump with 32.7 percent of self-described Republican voters, saying in a new survey the billionaire businessman and TV reality star is their man. That was the highest percentage of support for any of the GOP hopefuls, according to the Middle Tennessee State University poll. The next highest category for Republican voters here was undecided: 28.1 percent said they weren’t sure for whom they would vote.

Former Memphis mayor Wharton launches consulting firm (Commercial Appeal) Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has launched a private business and public policy consulting firm called The A C Wharton Group and leased office space Downtown. Wharton, who lost his bid for reelection Oct. 8 to Jim Strickland, will be the lead principal of the group, which will focus on helping clients bring “change through innovation,” according to its website,

NRC cites Y-12 for uranium export violation (News Sentinel) The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a notice of violation to the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant for shipping Canadian-origin enriched uranium to Jamaica for use in a reactor there. According to the notice, Y-12 is not allowed to export non-U.S. nuclear materials unless specifically requested in advance and authorized by the NRC.

TVA says Boone Dam repairs on schedule (Times-News) Sooner than later maybe, but still a long way away. That was the gist of a media tour of the repairs being done on the earthen dam on Boone Lake Thursday afternoon. The Tennessee Valley Authority announced that after one of its initial phases of work, it was still on schedule to be on nearer side of the 5-7-year project window it announced in July of last year.

TVA releases new details on Boone Dam repair plan (WJHL) The Boone Dam repair project is now in its second phase, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA said it has moved from the planning phase to the design phase of the project, and will enter in to the construction phase after the Tennessee Valley Authority Board gives its approval. But we found out Thursday, the plan to repair the dam will not go before the board next month as was originally planned. A TVA spokesperson said it will likely be voted on in May.

Volkswagen May Buy Back Diesel Cars It Can’t Fix (NY Times) Volkswagen may buy back some diesel cars in the United States if it cannot make them compliant with air quality rules fast enough, a lawyer for the company says. The statement, made during a court hearing by Robert Giuffra, a lawyer defending Volkswagen against class-action suits by owners of tainted diesel vehicles, was the clearest indication yet that the company, which is based in Wolfsburg, Germany, may not have the technology to bring emissions for some of the cars into line with regulations without hurting performance and fuel economy.

Health insurance rates under ObamaCare likely to jump higher again next year (Times-Free Press) Tennessee’s biggest health insurer is preparing to ask for additional rate increases next year comparable to the 36.3 percent jump in premiums charged this year on its ObamaCare health exchange plans. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee estimates it will end up losing more than $150 million on its health exchange plans offered in 2015, company CEO J.D. Hickey said Thursday.

VUMC separation pushed into Q2 (Nashville Post) Hospital complex, university leaders cite financial markets as a factor. The legal separation of Vanderbilt University and its medical center is now scheduled to take place during the second quarter instead of in the coming weeks. A statement issued Thursday morning said university and health system officials have decided to delay their split to better tie up various operational, legal and financial loose ends and to give VUMC more time to go the capital markets, which have regularly been volatile in recent months.

Eastman reports sixth straight year of earnings growth (Times-News) Eastman Chemical Co. reported Thursday that it delivered its sixth straight year of earnings growth in 2015. “We delivered our sixth consecutive year of solid earnings growth and record cash from operations in 2015,” Mark Costa, Eastman chairman and CEO, said in a prepared release. “These results reflect the strength and robustness of our strategy to transform towards a specialty portfolio as we managed through a very challenging global business environment.

Wellmont broadcasts surgical procedures to international audience (Times-News) Performing surgical procedures is never easy. Performing those same procedures for thousands of spectators halfway across the globe might ratchet up the pressure. However, Dr. Chris Metzger, a cardiologist at Holston Valley Medical Center, didn’t seem to be feeling any pressure on Wednesday when he performed four different procedures during a live broadcast for a medical conference taking place in Leipzig, Germany.

Sexual Assault Center reopens in Clarksville (Leaf-Chronicle) Clarksville area sexual assault victims will no longer have to go to Nashville to receive help. Nearly six years since the Sexual Assault Center Clarksville office closed, a new satellite office returned to Clarksville in mid-November, thanks to local donors. The new office is located at 1725-I Wilma Rudolph Blvd. and is open Monday through Friday. The Clarksville Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb. 10 from 12:30-1:30 p.m., according to a release from the SAC.

Topgolf Coming To Nashville (WTVF) Details of a new “Topgolf” in Nashville have been released. The three-level driving range will include private event space, and 102 hitting bays that can host up to six players at a time. Officials said they will break ground in the next few weeks near Cowan Street in East Nashville. Topgolf was scheduled to open the first quarter of next year.

U.S. Cities Scrutinize Water Systems in Wake of Flint (Wall St. Journal) Officials in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and other U.S. cities are taking steps to more closely examine potential risks to their water systems, citing the recent lead contamination of public drinking water in Flint, Mich. Some cities are raising the costly prospect—put off for decades—of digging up and removing miles of lead service lines that run from main water lines to millions of homes and businesses across the country. Utilities will have to pay some of the costs and property owners will have to pick up the rest.

Having a Rainy Day Fund, But Not Knowing How to Spend It (Governing) As state lawmakers head into the budget-writing season, some will face the unpleasant task of figuring out how to fill projected shortfalls. In most cases, that conversation will include a debate on whether to withdraw cash from the state’s rainy day fund. Some states count on their rainy day savings during recessions to limit budget cuts, while others strive to put away enough savings to avoid cuts altogether. But many states lack clear guidance about when to take money out of rainy day accounts, for what purposes and how much.


Editorial: Student options in Tennessee would improve with vouchers (Commercial Appeal) Supporters of school choice, a group that includes this page, have reason to celebrate the advance of legislation creating a school voucher program in Tennessee this week. That’s as long as vouchers are seen as only part of a larger effort to reverse the course of a public education system that has been doing a lousy job of preparing students for the challenges of higher education.

Guest column: Private school vouchers are unwanted and unneeded in Tennessee (Commercial Appeal) I’ve been thinking recently about the National Do Not Call Registry that gets rid of unwanted harassment when solicitors just won’t take a hint that you are not interested. It seems like it may be time for a similar program to get rid of the out-of-state groups that keep trying to force private school vouchers into Tennessee. Proposed voucher bills have been defeated three years in a row now in the Tennessee General Assembly. To me, this shows that vouchers are unwanted and unneeded in Tennessee.–366943751.html

Greg Johnson: Bill gives students in failing schools hope (News Sentinel) Frustration was palpable at the “Stop the Violence” forum held this week in the aftermath of the gang-related shooting death of 15-year-old Fulton High School sophomore Zaevion Dobson. Knoxville’s community of color collectively cried for hope, for opportunity, for change. Tennessee’s Legislature took an important step toward all three during this National School Choice Week.

Column: Want to keep school vouchers out of Tennessee? You’re too late (Chalkbeat) While Tennessee’s legislature is engulfed in a contentious debate over whether to create a school voucher system, the state actually already has a voucher law in place that could impact even more students than under the bill being discussed. Last year, the legislature passed a bill that allows the families of students with certain disabilities to receive public money to pay for physical therapy, private schooling, online learning and other eligible “education-related services.”

Editorial: It’s time Tennessee cracks down on ‘pill mills’ (Johnson City Press) Local law enforcement officials are calling on state lawmakers to crack down on so-called “pill mills” in Tennessee. No one wants to deny Tennesseans responsible relief from chronic pain, but there are far too many patients in this state receiving prescriptions for powerful narcotics for reasons other than medicinal. Prescription drug abuse has become a pervasive and costly epidemic in this state. According to a report issued just a few years ago by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the Volunteer State was ranked No. 1 for its use of prescription drugs.

Jackson Baker: Scandal Comes to Capitol Hill in Nashville: The Durham Case (Memphis Flyer) Jeremy Durham: Why is this man smiling? There’s a difference between a lynching and execution by due process. That distinction (which is apparently about to receive a practical demonstration in our state capital) may not make much of a difference to beleaguered state Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), who seems about to experience the officially ordered death, not of his person, but of his political career.

David Plaza: GOP leaders bungle handling of Durham incident (Tennessean) The bungling of how Republican leaders in the House have addressed allegations of inappropriate behavior by state Rep. Jeremy Durham should be a concern not only to women, but all Tennesseans. Details continue to emerge about what top Tennessee House leadership knew for months about the behavior of the Franklin Republican lawmaker. Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who was approached by two women last year, opted not to take their allegations against Durham any further, instead insisting that they file formal complaints. He kept those details private until this week.

Jeff Woods: If House Expels Durham, Will They Kick Out Armstrong Too? (Nashville Scene) The morning after Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell raised the possibility of expelling Rep. Jeremy Durham from the legislature, it looks like Rep. Joe Armstrong could become collateral damage in this little cheap melodrama. Just before today’s session, House GOP Caucus Chair Glen Casada said he’s for thinking about expelling Armstrong, a Democrat under federal indictment for tax evasion, if lawmakers plan to do it to Durham, a Republican.

Deborah Fisher: Citizens want fewer obstacles to information (TN Ledger/Jackson Sun) Nearly 40 new bills have been filed in the Legislature in recent weeks that would make changes to citizen access to government records or meetings. As lawmakers head deep into the session, with literally thousands of bills to consider, they would do well to remember a message sent last summer through a series of public hearings and surveys: Citizens do not want more obstacles to finding out what their government is doing. TN Ledger: Jackson Sun:

Mark Harmon: Duncan should calm down, have a cookie (News Sentinel) U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., really needs a cookie. The Knoxville Republican’s constituent newsletter this month contained two silly segments about the University of Tennessee and Christmas. So much bloviating has happened on this matter that it generated a Twitter response, #calmdownhaveacookie. Duncan may need a plateful of warm cookies because his newsletter exclaimed, “[T]he University of Tennessee put out a directive that there should be no holiday activity on campus ‘disguised as a Christmas party’ and no religious observance in any holiday events.”

Editorial: Two Parties in Tennessee? (Memphis Flyer) There is a general recognition that the transition of Tennessee from a state whose politics were long balanced between Democrats and Republicans into yet another Southern Republican monolith dates from 2008. That was the year when a once obscure state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama completed a zenith-like rise to power, which took him through a brief U.S. Senate career into the presidency in the space of a very few years.

Tre Hargett: Allow online voter registration in Tennessee (Tennessean) During this legislative session, a bill (HB 1742/SB 16426) sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, and Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, would allow the Division of Elections to implement online voter registration in Tennessee. I am supporting this legislation because I believe this makes government work better for our customer, the taxpayer.

Editorial: Return of Sexual Assault Center great for community (Leaf-Chronicle) Amid the normal news of the day on Thursday, we learned that Clarksville again has become home to a Sexual Assault Center that will provide resources and assistance to victims of those crimes. For six years, this community had been without a local resource to provide victims with the needed counseling and services that had been moved to Nashville. During that time, the number of Montgomery County residents receiving those services had plummeted.

Rep. Bill Sanderson: Report from Capitol Hill (State Gazette) Hello Friends, This wraps up the second week of the second half of the 109th legislative session. I am completing my 3rd term as state representative and each year I have represented you in Nashville we have tackled some very serious issues while continuing to maintain a balanced budget and steady economic growth. This legislative session should very exciting and productive. I look forward to keeping you informed on what happens at the Capitol.








Thursday, January 28

As Lawmakers Eye Tennessee’s Millions In Surplus, A Warning From The State Comptroller (WPLN) Don’t blow it. That’s state comptroller Justin Wilson’s advice to lawmakers on how to handle Tennessee’s growing surplus. The warning comes as officials are ramping up work on next year’s budget. Tennessee has brought in nearly $1 billion more in tax collections than expected over the past 17 months. That’s some serious money, but Wilson isn’t taking a victory lap. Instead he’s sounding the alarm.

MTSU survey: TN business confidence weighed down by national worries, hiring concerns (Nashville Business Journal) Weighed down by concerns about the national economy, Tennessee business leaders are feeling a bit jittery at the moment. That’s based on a new survey of 115 business leaders from across the state conducted by Middle Tennessee State University’s Jones College of Business from Jan. 12-19.

Wary Fed Keeps Its Options Open (Wall St. Journal) Federal Reserve officials expressed renewed worry about financial-market turbulence and slow economic growth abroad, leaving doubts about whether the central bank will raise interest rates as early as March.The U.S. central bank lifted short-term interest rates by a quarter percentage point in December and penciled in four more increases this year.

In Growing Economies, Some People Are Left Behind (Governing) Despite recent growth in jobs and economic prosperity, a new report finds most low-income workers haven’t benefited. By most measures, metro areas such as Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; and Raleigh, N.C.; have enjoyed some of the strongest economic growth in recent years. The resulting prosperity, however, isn’t spreading across all segments of the workforce, particularly to the lower rungs of the economic ladder. These three regions and others have enjoyed strong job gains but earned low marks on measures of economic inclusion in a Brookings Institution report released Thursday. The study, while assessing overall growth and prosperity, also examines the extent to which standards of living have improved for all people within metro areas.

Trickling Gas Tax Curbs Road Projects (Greeneville Sun) Area transportation officials stopped short of criticizing Gov. Bill Haslam after an Associated Press report recently surfaced that the governor would not seek an increase in the state gas tax for this legislative session. But the focus of local and state road departments will be aimed mostly at maintenance, not new projects.

Jill Biden praises Tennessee Promise, McGavock High (Tennessean) Jill Biden visited Nashville on Wednesday to encourage students at McGavock High School to grab hold of higher education, and she gave them a pretty clear signal of where she thought they should start. “I think community college is the way to go,” Biden told senior Candice Schettino. “It’s free here, but it’s not that way everywhere.”

Dr. Jill Biden speaks on Tennessee Promise at McGavock H.S. (WKRN) Dr. Jill Biden spoke to students at McGavock High School Wednesday. The Second Lady of the United States talked about college access programs, including Tennessee Promise and dual-enrollment, which provide access to college courses at no cost to students.

Jill Biden visits with students at McGavock High School (WSMV) The Second Lady of the United States was in Nashville on Wednesday meeting with Metro students about college access programs. Dr. Jill Biden spent about an hour and a half at McGavock High School touring the building with Mayor Megan Barry and Gov. Bill Haslam.

Jill Biden In Nashville To Promote College Promise Campaign (WTVF) The second lady of the United States was in town to promote the importance of having free college access. Dr. Jill Biden serves as Chair of the College Promise Campaign, a non-partisan advocacy effort to promote making the first two years of community college free for all students.

Jill Biden Drops In On Nashville School To Highlight Dual Enrollment (WPLN) Jill Biden toured McGavock High School in Nashville Wednesday. She said she was inspired to come after President Obama visited two years ago to highlight the school’s career academies. Biden saw the aviation classroom, broadcasting studios and campus bistro. But the wife of Vice President Joe Biden primarily wanted to promote the state’s free community college program and commend McGavock’s dual enrollment initiative.

Program makes it easier for Tenn. students to earn associate degrees (Memphis Business Journal) A new initiative is making it easier for Tennessee students to transfer existing college credit into an associate degree. The Tennessee Reverse Transfer program enables students to retroactively earn an associate degree by combining college credit already earned at a Tennessee community college with credits earned while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a Tennessee university.

Annual SCORE report highlights 5 priorities for education in Tennessee (Times-Free Press) A just-released State of Education in Tennessee report by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education highlights five priorities the nonprofit organization is encouraging the state to pursue this year to improve student achievement in public schools. The report and its priorities are compiled every year after the organization spends several months deliberating with teachers, principals and district leaders across Tennessee.

Company vows to bring 130 more white-collar jobs (Tennessean) An unnamed company will bring 130 more white-collar jobs to Murfreesboro’s Gateway after an incentive-package approval Wednesday morning from the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board. Code-named Project Murph, the company will invest $12.3 million to build a corporate office in The Gateway, said Brian Hercules, vice president of economic development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has also approved additional subsidies for the project, which should be announced officially by the end of February.

ETSU arts center hit approval snag in system restructure, now back on track (Johnson City Press) Approval of an $8 million pledge to increase the size of East Tennessee State University’s arts center project may have been slowed by proposed structural changes to the state’s higher education system, but officials say the agreement is moving again. At a Wednesday meeting of the Johnson City Public Building Authority, City Manager Pete Peterson said the state’s approval of a memorandum of understanding between the college and the city was delayed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s announcement of a plan to remove the state’s six universities from the control of the Tennessee Board of Regents and instead create local governing boards.

APSU purchases adjacent 10-acre Jenkins and Wynne property (Leaf Chronicle) Austin Peay State University finalized the purchase of 10 additional acres when the school closed on property previously owned by the Jenkins and Wynne auto dealership. The $8.8 million purchase marks one of the largest expansions in the university’s history, and it now connects the 182-acre College Street campus with downtown Clarksville.

Despite concerns, state agency approves plans for Greeneville group home (WJHL) Despite pleas Wednesday from Greeneville’s police chief, mayor, city administrator, and State Rep. David Hawk, plans to build a new group home for people with disabilities will move forward. The Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency Wednesday in Nashville approved Sunrise Community of Tennessee’s application for a certificate of need to start a group home care facility on Old Shiloh Road in Greeneville.

CEO of embattled prison program blasts lawmakers, retires (Tennessean) The head of an embattled prisoner rehabilitation program recently blasted by lawmakers for gross mismanagement fired back in a letter announcing her resignation, accusing lawmakers of abusing power and orchestrating a campaign to privatize the state’s prison food program. Patricia Weiland will retire Feb. 8 as CEO of the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction, TRICOR, an organization that provides jobs for inmates and subsequently sells the goods produced by the inmates, according to a news release issued Wednesday morning.

$4.8m Recycling, Composting & Waste Oil Grants Made in Tennessee (Waste Management World) Almost $5 million has been granted to recycling, landfill reduction, composting and waste oil infrastructure and equipment by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). Nearly $2.3 million has been granted through 2016 for recycling equipment and waste reduction and used oil projects by the Department, as well as grants totaling $2,486,303 to go toward the purchase of composting equipment or facility infrastructure for composting.

Relief Coming For Landfill Neighbors In Murfreesboro (WTVF) The winter months have done wonders to help residents in the Walter Hill Community who live near the Middle Point Landfill. It can best be described in a few words, “decades of trash,” said resident Mike Martinez. For several years residents have voiced their displeasure with the odor in the community. “It does get a little overwhelming in the summer. Open your front door and there’s the smell,” Martinez said. However, this winter residents had enough and demanded action from lawmakers.

Photo gallery – Warriors’ Path State Park (Times-News) Warriors’ Path State Park is located on the shores of the Patrick Henry Reservoir on the Holston River and is well known for its hiking and biking trails, boating and fishing opportunities, popular golf course and state of the art boundless playground. Park Ranger Marty Silver took some time out of his busy day during last week’s snow storm to capture some snow-covered images within the 950-acre state park.

Foster parents needed in East Tennessee (WJHL) An organization in Johnson City is in desperate need of foster parents. Almost 100 children Tennessee are waiting to find a place to call home. East Tennessee Youth Villages, a non-profit in Johnson City helps children find temporary and sometimes permanent homes. “We always need people to take kids,” said Youth Villages Recruiter, LeaAnn Blitch. “Always…every day kids come in and out in and out, and there is always a need for homes.”

No ‘dewshine’ trend, Tennessee officials say (Tennessean) Public welfare officials said they have no reason to believe that there is a widespread trend in teens abusing methanol after the deaths of two Robertson County teenagers who drank “dewshine,” a concoction of Mountain Dew and fuel used in high-performance cars. Two teens died last week and two more were poisoned after drinking what one of the surviving teens told doctors was called “dewshine.”

Nashville chamber reveals top legislative goals (Nashville Business Journal) The legislative priorities of Nashville’s largest business group bear remarkable similarities to those put forward last year. Perhaps that’s because, as Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ralph Schulz admitted last spring, the body had to play defense on several fronts, from gun bills to additional calls by lawmakers to change primary education standards. The chamber has three high-priority issues on its recently unveiled 2016 agenda.

Tenn. Senate passes judicial confirmation bill (Commercial Appeal) The state Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that sets out how legislators confirm or reject the governor’s appointees to the Tennessee Supreme Court and other appeals courts. The state House will likely follow suit Thursday and send it to Gov. Bill Haslam to sign into law. The issue was the subject of a dispute between the House and Senate since last year.

Insure Tennessee may have to wait another year (Memphis Business Journal) After a brutal defeat at the hands of lawmakers in 2015, Insure Tennessee will most likely be on the legislative back burner for a year. The plan, created last year by Gov. Bill Haslam, would have provided health insurance to at least 200,000 people in the state without costing taxpayers any additional money. However, opponents were successful in their attempts to link the legislation with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leading the Tennessee General Assembly to defeat it.

Despite opposition from Bradley hospitality interests, proposed hotel-motel tax increase begins moving in Tennessee House (Times-Free Press) A bill to increase Bradley County’s hotel-motel tax from 5 percent to 7 percent moved through its first House panel Wednesday despite opposition from local hoteliers and the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. Local Government Subcommittee members approved the bill, amending the existing private act for Bradley County on a voice vote and allowing it to move on to the full committee.

Sen. Mark Green wants Tennessee to lead in auto innovations (Leaf Chronicle) In an effort to stimulate additional prosperity for Tennessee, Clarksville Sen. Mark Green has filed legislation in the General Assembly that will allow autonomous cars to be produced and tested in the Volunteer State. “Right now, Texas, Florida, California and Oregon are the only states that allow them. But those states don’t allow Level 4, and I’m going to put a bill together that says when they meet certain criteria, they’ll be allowed to be driven in the state of Tennessee and tested in the state of Tennessee,” Green told The Leaf-Chronicle in a recent interview.

Tennessee Senate votes to end emissions tests for new cars (AP) The state Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill to end emissions testing in Tennessee for new cars, brushing aside concerns of pursuing more lax standards in light of the Volkswagen scandal. The chamber voted 29-3 on Thursday in favor of the measure to exempt cars less than 3 years old from the testing requirements. Volkswagen was forced to admit last year that about 600,000 vehicles – including 90,000 sedans made at the automaker’s Chattanooga plant – were sold with illegal software designed to trick government emissions tests.

Change in annexation law could help economic development (Johnson City Press) State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-6th, has introduced legislation to amend current law to allow Johnson City, and all Tennessee municipalities, to annex — by request only — county land within its Urban Growth Boundary but not contiguous to its city limits. At the close of last year’s session, a bill offering this provision introduced by state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Mark Carter, R-Ootelwah, passed and became effective. However, Williamson County was the only Tennessee county to have that exclusive right.

Bill to make motorcycle helmets non-mandatory discussed (Tennessean) Tennessee’s annual battle over motorcycle helmets began Wednesday when a House committee took up the issue. Although the finance committee deferred any action on the legislation, there was no shortage of commentary surrounding the controversial legislation. Lawmakers began by hearing from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, who called the legislation a “freedom of choice bill.”

Kelsey: Statewide education reform is working (Jackson Sun) When state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) came to speak to the Jackson Rotary Club on Wednesday, he brought a message from Nashville regarding education reform. “We are not getting as much (feedback) from our state government as we should that, in fact, education reform is working in this state,” Kelsey said. “We have some really positive results to show for it.”

Bill gives counselors, therapists religious protection (Tennessean) A Brentwood lawmaker wants to make sure therapists and counselors can refuse to treat clients whose cases conflict with their religious beliefs without facing repercussions. Republican Sen. Jack Johnson introduced a bill this legislative session that would protect such therapists and counselors from civil action, criminal prosecution or any other penalty by the state. But they must refer the client to another provider who will offer the services.

Legislators organize blitz of equal pay legislation in nearly half the states (Washington Post) Sometimes, state-based legislative change seems to be an incremental thing, with bills trickling through state houses across the country so slowly that a casual observer wouldn’t notice — which is often what backers of such campaigns would prefer. And then there’s the supernova approach. That’s what a coalition of progressive and women’s empowerment groups are trying this week around the issue of equal pay, advancing bills in nearly half the states at once. Bills are also being offered in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington, Vermont, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, iowa, Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona, and Alaska.

If you want to carry a gun on campus, these states say yes (Washington Post) Debate continues to boil in Texas over a new law allowing concealed weapons across college campuses. This week a prominent physicist at the flagship University of Texas at Austin said he would seek to bar guns in his classroom even after the law takes effect in August. Meanwhile, 21 states have laws or systemwide policies prohibiting the possession of guns at colleges and universities. California enacted the latest ban last year. Eighteen other states, the report said, have statutory prohibitions: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and Wyoming.

How America’s Gun Manufacturers Are Quietly Getting Richer Off Taxpayers (Mother Jones) Since 2003, state and local governments from Alabama to Tennesee have given more than $120 million worth of taxpayer funds to at least seven major firearms companies, according to research by Mother Jones. Most of those subsidies—nearly $100 million—have been pledged just in past three years by states seeking to lure gun producers from the Northeast, where new firearm regulations have angered industry leaders.

Speaker Harwell: Expel Durham from legislature (Tennessean) House Speaker Beth Harwell is looking in to expelling embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham from the Tennessee legislature. In a statement late Wednesday, Harwell said it is time Durham be removed from the House of Representatives. “I agree with the Lt. Governor that Rep. Durham should be removed from this body. I have attorneys reviewing the proper procedure to do so,” Harwell said in a statement to The Tennessean.

Ramsey losing patience, calls for House to dump Durham (Nashville Post) Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey wants the House to quit dragging its feet and put an end to the Jeremy Durham drama by expelling him from the General Assembly, he told Post Politics Wednesday. The controversy over the 32-year-old second-term legislator’s alleged sexual harassment of three women who worked in or around the capitol is making all legislators look bad and House Speaker Beth Harwell needs to “take charge of the situation,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Top GOP lawmakers call for Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign General Assembly seat (Times-Free Press) The state House’s top three Republican leaders told embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham on Wednesday he needs to resign his seat in the General Assembly and deal with personal issues and sexual harassment allegations. The move came after the 32-year-old Republican earlier in the day told GOP Caucus members, who were about to consider a move to oust Durham from their caucus, that he was formally separating himself from them, but not resigning.

Tenn. GOP chairman, House speaker call on embattled House member to resign (Commercial Appeal) House Speaker Beth Harwell and State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes on Monday called for state Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign from his seat in the Tennessee General Assembly amid allegations of sexual harassment. In a news conference at the legislative office complex, Harwell also announced an overhaul of sexual harassment policies following a report in The Tennessean over the weekend that Durham sent inappropriate text messages to women working at the Legislature.–2a2cb126-f7af-4b07-e053-0100007ff9b2-366449111.html

GOP leaders knew Durham allegations, rumors for months (Tennessean) After Republican lawmakers watched Rep. Jeremy Durham resign from the House GOP caucus Wednesday, they heard Speaker Beth Harwell make a firm statement. “I did not have any first-hand knowledge of any sexual abuse. No one sat down with me,” Harwell told her House colleagues. “What Gerald was aware of, he made very clear to you. So I don’t want you in any way to think that we withheld any information from this caucus.” Several hours after that statement, both House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said they knew about allegations and rumors of inappropriate behavior by Durham for months.

Jeremy Durham resigns from GOP caucus (Tennessean) Rep. Jeremy Durham has decided to separate himself from the House Republican caucus. “I don’t want to be a distraction to the caucus,” Durham said during an address to his fellow House Republicans that lasted less than a minute. “I don’t want to put y’all in a bad position,” he said, adding that’s why he stepped down as majority whip. “I think while this is going on I need to separate myself and be a Republican representative,” he said.

Video: Full statement – Durham steps away from GOP caucus (Tennessean)

Rep. Durham ‘steps away’ from Republican caucus amidst new revelations (WKRN) Words were brief for embattled Williamson County state lawmaker Jeremy Durham before his fellow Tennessee House Republicans Wednesday morning, as he stepped away from their caucus amidst new revelations about “inappropriate” behavior. “I think I should just step away and deal with this. I don’t want to put you all in the middle of it,” he told his fellow party members.

Rep. Durham resigns from GOP caucus, will keep House seat (WSMV) Republican lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on Wednesday morning to discuss the controversy surrounding former House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham. In a GOP caucus meeting that lasted less than five minutes, Rep. Durham, R-Franklin, said he will be stepping away from the caucus for a while.

Rep. Durham Stepping Away From GOP Caucus (WTVF) Embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham said he’s stepping away from the GOP caucus, but will remain a representative of Williamson County. Durham made his announcement Wednesday morning at Legislative Plaza following a specially called Republican Caucus meeting Tuesday night surrounding allegations of inappropriate text messages.

Durham out of House GOP Caucus (Nashville Post) House Speaker Beth Harwell trying to compel alleged sexual harassment victim to come forward. The first time the House Republican Caucus met to talk about Rep. Jeremy Durham’s alleged indiscretions, it was behind closed doors in the state Capitol building on the first day of the legislative session. But Wednesday, the body met across the hall from the Capitol press room and welcomed media as Republican leadership announced it was trying to get a woman to file a complaint against the lawmaker.

Durham removes self from House GOP caucus amid investigation (AP) State Rep. Jeremy Durham on Wednesday withdrew from the Tennessee House Republican Caucus amid an investigation into sexual harassment allegations. The Franklin Republican previously resigned as House majority whip, though he has turned back demands from other GOP leaders that he step down from his House seat.

Durham: ‘Absolutely no way’ he’ll resign (Nashville Post) Embattled state representative says he is willing to stay away from Republican caucus. An hour and a half before a House GOP Caucus meeting to discuss accusations against Rep. Jeremy Durham, the Franklin state representative went on Ralph Bristol’s morning talk show to decry allegations he has sexually harassed women who worked in or around the state capitol.

Durham takes a step back from caucus to refocus (Williamson Herald) During a very brief special called meeting of the Republican Caucus this morning, Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, announced to his peers that he will separate himself from the caucus by no longer attending caucus meetings or gatherings. “I want to make sure that I am doing everything right on my end and talk to my wife and my doctor and make sure that everything I am doing is the best that it can be,” Durham said.

Under fire over alleged sexual harassment, Durham ‘separates’ himself from GOP Caucus (Times-Free Press) Embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, told fellow House Republican Caucus members this morning that he will “seperate” himself from the group and seek help amid an uproar over his alleged sexual harassment of women workers at Legislative Plaza. “I’m going to talk to my wife and my doctor,” Durham told the majority caucus although admitting nothing. Top leaders from Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell on down have either outright called for Durham’s resignation or strongly suggested it.

Group gives Legislator of the Year Award to Rep. Marc Gravitt (Times-Free Press) State Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, was given the Legislator of the Year Award for the 109th General Assembly on Wednesday by the Tennessee Association of Assessing Officers, according to a TAAO news release.

John Jay Hooker memorial set for Feb. 6 (Tennessean) A family visitation and memorial in honor of John Jay Hooker, who died Sunday, is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6, in the Grand Reading Room of the downtown Nashville Public Library. Remarks will begin at 1 o’clock with a visitation with family to follow. The Main library is located at 615 Church Street with a parking garage on the corner of 7th and Church Street. Valet parking at the front door will be available for those in need.

Memorial service planned for John Jay Hooker (WKRN) A memorial service has been planned for next week for longtime Nashville attorney and activist John Jay Hooker. The service will be held at 1 p.m. on February 6 at the Grand Reading Room of the Nashville Public Library. A private burial is also planned.

TVA Makes Plans to Permanently Close a Local Coal Ash Pond (Memphis Flyer) In August 2014, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) board voted to retire its Memphis coal plant by December 2018 and replace it with a 1,000-megawatt natural gas plant. That process is underway, and now TVA is focusing on closing one of the two ash ponds on the coal plant’s site. The West Ash Impoundment, a retired coal ash pond near the Allen Fossil Plant in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park, was the disposal site for waste products from the plant until 1978.

New Erlanger Children’s Hospital outpatient center is part one of $300 million expansion plan (Times-Free Press) Announcing they already have raised about a third of the money they will need, Erlanger Health System officials Wednesday kicked off their public fundraising drive to build a new $35 million Children’s Hospital outpatient center. They also showed off final drawings for the ambitious project, and stressed why, in the words of project manager Bruce Komiske, “There is no more important building in Chattanooga than Children’s Hospital.”

Erlanger Plans to Build New Children’s Hospital (WRCB) Facility hospital unveiled plans for its new Children’s Outpatient Center, Wednesday. Erlanger plans to build the first phase of the multi-million dollar facility on third street across from the Health Department. Erlanger Children’s Hospital is the only pediatric facility in the region that offers a level 4 NICU , Pediatric Transport and Trauma Center with Surgical Suites for kids. 90 % of the area kids fighting cancer are treated at Erlanger’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. 60% of the kids treated last year were on some level of government assistance.

First birthday finds high demand, growth plans for Baptist children’s hospital in Memphis (Commercial Appeal) When the Spence and Becky Wilson Baptist Children’s Hospital opened one year ago, plans called for 18 children a day arriving in its emergency room. In fact, “from the moment we opened, we averaged 40 a day,” said Anita Vaughn, chief executive officer of Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women and the children’s hospital that was added to it last year.

Cherokee Heath, UT get grants to help prevent childhood obesity (News Sentinel) Nearly 40 percent of Knox County schoolchildren are overweight or obese — and among children 4-10 years old getting care at Cherokee Health Systems, that percentage is even higher. But Cherokee and the University of Tennessee have a plan to change that: Each is receiving government funding to begin a two-year pilot program to prevent childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Flint Water Crisis Shines Light on Lead Pipes Across U.S. (Wall St. Journal) The water crisis in Flint, Mich., has exposed the danger that lead could potentially leach into the drinking water of millions of Americans, showing what can go wrong if aging infrastructure isn’t properly monitored and maintained. Lead is common in pipes across the country, mostly in service lines linking street pipes to people’s homes. Millions of pipes now in use were installed well before 1986, when federal law banned lead pipes and solder, and some date back to the 1800s.


Editorial: Freezing tuition, fees would cripple Tenn. Universities (News Sentinel) The Tennessee Legislature is considering a bill that would freeze tuition and mandatory fees at Tennessee’s public universities until the 2018-19 school year and after that require full governing-board approval for increases greater than 2 percent above the consumer price index. The bill would also institute a tuition-freeze program, starting with freshmen entering college in 2018, in which students’ tuition and mandatory fees would remain fixed at their freshman-year rates through their undergraduate education as long as they remain enrolled in school and graduate on time.

Editorial: Legislative effort to slow college tuition rate increases is laudable (Commercial Appeal) State Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and state Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, deserve kudos for their effort to slow tuition rate increases at the state’s public colleges and universities. No doubt a lot of parents, along with students who are holding down jobs or taking out loans to pay their tuition, are grateful.

Sam Stockard: Complex Path to Higher-Ed Reform (Memphis Flyer) Only half a year after taking on the presidency of Motlow State Community College, Anthony Kinkel is trying to keep his eye on the pea. The task of running one of the state’s fastest-growing community colleges is becoming increasingly complex, and it has nothing to do with thousands more students enrolling to take advantage of free tuition through the Tennessee Promise scholarship program.

David Waters: Vouchers for some or help for all? (Commercial Appeal) State legislators in Nashville are preparing to hand out life vests in Memphis. They call them vouchers.They claim these vouchers might save several hundred poor kids from sinking public schools here. We can’t save them all, legislators are saying from the shore. But at least we can save some by tossing them some $5,000 voucher vests.

Guest column: Nationally recognized standards review process sets bold course for Tenn. Students (Commercial Appeal) As a longtime educator and current superintendent of Kingsport, Tennessee City Schools, I (Ailshie) have felt the need for a transformative review process in which all Tennessee education stakeholders work together to design standards that meet the needs of our K-12 students. Such a process is vital to the creation of a common academic vision.

Column: Tennessee GOP: A story of failure (Smithville Review) Time and again Governor Haslam has failed to follow through on his promises to Tennesseans. He has failed to gain the support of his own Republican Party for a myriad of proposals, including Insure Tennessee, a roads plan and privatization of state facilities. Instead of embracing the Federal Government’s Affordable Care Act to insure hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans, Governor Haslam created his own watered-down version, Insure Tennessee, with the hope that it would be passed by his Republican majority in the legislature. They refused and sent the Governor’s plan to the trash. As a result, the governor failed.

David Plaza: Could Tennessee voters influence presidential election? (Tennessean) After Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, then there’s Tennessee. Except that the Volunteer State’s primary election will not hog the national spotlight on March 1, also known as “Super Tuesday.” Unlike those early states, which have little to no competition for media and presidential candidates’ attention, Tennessee is among 12 states and American Samoa that hold primaries or caucuses that day.

Jeff Woods: Democrats Sticking It to GOP Over Durham Debacle (Nashville Scene) Ever helpful, the state Democratic Party has just released this handy timeline of the Jeremy Durham debacle. As you might expect, it paints an unflattering picture of House GOP leaders’ handling of this scandal—and it doesn’t even include the news that two women reported problems with Durham last year to Majority Leader Gerald McCormick. Here’s Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini’s statement:

Jackson Baker: Lee Harris Out, Steve Basar In? (Memphis Flyer) Though University of Memphis law professor and state Senate minority leader Lee Harris seems to have opted out of a contemplated Democratic primary challenge this year to incumbent congressman Steve Cohen for the 9th District congressional seat, a replacement of sorts may be in the wings. That would be Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar, a Republican, who confided to the Flyer on Monday that he is actively considering making a race for the seat.

Column: The case against mandatory seat-belt laws (NY Times) The ACLU of Florida just released a report showing that in 2014, black motorists in the state were pulled over for seat belt violations at about twice the rate of white motorists. The discrepancy could actually be higher, because police agencies in some the counties where the disparity has been highest in previous years (such as Escambia County, where in 2011 blacks were four times more likely to be cited) have stopped providing such information, even though they’re required to under state law. Differences in seat belt use don’t explain the disparity.


Wednesday, January 27

Gov. Haslam to give State of the State on Monday (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Haslam will give his State of the State address Monday, he announced to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce while reiterating some but not all of his legislative priorities. During a nearly 30-minute speech Tuesday, Haslam stressed his plans to address education, including a push to encourage Tennesseans with some higher education experience to continue working toward obtaining a degree and calling for the necessity of separating the various universities in the state’s system into different governing bodies.

State of the State set for Monday (Nashville Post) Gov. will lay out how to spend surplus. Governor Bill Haslam will deliver the State of the State address Monday and he said he plans to use the speech to lay out his vision for laying out the state’s ever-increasing surplus: Haslam said his State of the State speech will focus on the fact that Tennessee didn’t just end up with a financial surplus, which has been estimated at more than $600 million. The governor said he planned on outlining how to spend the surplus during next week’s speech

Slide Show: The Governor’s 2016 Address to the Nashville Area Chamber (Nashville Post) Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday morning made his annual address to members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce as well as numerous elected officials in the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Haslam spoke to the group about, among other things, his outlook for the state’s finances — joking that it’s easier to decide on spending priorities when you don’t have any money versus when you have a surplus — as well as his priorities regarding higher education reform and workforce development and Middle Tennessee’s need for regional transit solutions.

Haslam Pulls Reins On Pre-K Expansion (WPLN) Gov. Bill Haslam has changed his tune regarding pre-Kindergarten programs, in light of a recent study that raises questions about their effectiveness. In an address to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning, Haslam expressed caution about state spending. He says he was prepared to expand pre-K, until researchers at Vanderbilt University put out their latest report on Tennessee’s program. They found that, by third grade, low-income students who enrolled in the state’s pre-K performed worse than those who had skipped it.

Gov. Haslam weighs in on vouchers, guns, same-sex marriage (Tennessean) After Gov. Bill Haslam spent about 30 minutes telling the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce about his 2016 legislative agenda Tuesday morning, he met with members of the media. Haslam covered a variety of topics, ranging from Rep. Jeremy Durham to Nashville’s mass transit. Here’s a roundup: On the school voucher legislation that was up for a vote in a House committee Tuesday: “It’s the same bill or similar to the one that we supported in the past, and we’re in support of this as well. If the bill looks similar to what it looks like now we would sign it.”

Haslam Says State Should Help Solve Nashville Transit, Doesn’t Say How (WPLN) State government needs to help the Middle Tennessee region develop a plan for mass transit. But don’t expect the state to provide the answers. That was Gov. Bill Haslam’s message Tuesday to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Right now, I don’t have the solution,” Haslam said, “but I don’t think anybody who lives in Nashville can say, ‘We’re not going to have to figure out a plan around mass transit.'”

Haslam questions Durham’s ability to continue serving (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Haslam has joined a growing number of Republican leaders who have questioned state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s ability to effectively represent his constituents. “We’re all here to represent a constituency and I think Rep. Durham needs to ask himself, ‘How effective can I be representing my constituency at this point?’ ” Haslam said Monday after a speech to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. The comments come as Durham faces ongoing criticism after a Tennessean investigation found inappropriate text messages sent to several women from Durham’s cell phone.

Haslam: Will be ‘hard’ for GOP Rep. Durham to be effective (AP) Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says it will be difficult for state Rep. Jeremy Durham to be an effective lawmaker after GOP leaders called for him to resign his seat amid sexual harassment allegations. While Haslam did not directly call for Durham to step down, he said Tuesday he would “think hard” about resigning if he were in a similar situation. State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes and House Speaker Beth Harwell a day earlier called for Durham to quit the Legislature following news accounts that he had sent inappropriate text messages to women working at the General Assembly.

Revenue Is Up in Most States; But Weak Forecasts Prompt Caution (Stateline) California should be popping champagne over a budget surplus, but isn’t. Virginia, another state with a surplus, wants to invest, but strategically. Meanwhile, Alaska and a handful of other states facing red ink are trying to figure out where to cut spending or what taxes to raise. Most state budgets are nicely in the black, but predictions of weak economic growth are leading states to spend cautiously or to stockpile funds. And in the half-dozen states with red ink, lawmakers increasingly are looking to hike sales taxes, although they could be a weak source of revenue.

Hiring rises in 36 US states in December (Washington Post) Employers added jobs in 36 states last month, led by big gains in California, Texas and Florida, evidence that hiring remains solid nationwide. Low oil prices caused job losses in energy-rich states. California added 60,400 jobs last month, followed by Texas with 24,900 and Florida with 21,900. States with the largest percentage gains were Alaska, where payrolls grew 0.8 percent, followed by Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee, all of which saw 0.7 percent increases.

Jill Biden plans Nashville trip to promote college program (Tennessean) Jill Biden will visit Nashville Wednesday morning to talk with students at McGavock High School about their access to a tuition-free college education through Tennessee Promise and dual-enrollment courses. Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, will be joined by Gov. Bill Haslam, Mayor Megan Barry and other officials during her 9:30 a.m. visit to McGavock, according to a statement from the White House.

Jill Biden to visit McGavock High School on Wednesday (WSMV) Dr. Jill Biden, the Second Lady of the United States, will be in Nashville on Wednesday. Biden will visit McGavock High School to talk with Metro students about college access programs. Biden will focus on dual-enrollment and Tennessee Promise, which both provide college courses to students at no cost. Her tour of the school will begin Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

Could Tennessee Be the Next State to Embrace School Vouchers? (Slate) School vouchers—or taxpayer-funded subsidies that can be used toward students’ tuition at private or parochial schools—have long been an incendiary topic in education circles. Unlike many education-reform proposals, which, as I wrote earlier this month, seldom cut cleanly along party lines, vouchers have eternally fixed proponents and opponents: As a general rule, Republicans love them, and Democrats really, really don’t.

National School Choice Week (WDEF) Over 15,000 schools across the country are participating in this year’s National School Choice Week. Governor Bill Haslam officially declared January 24th through the 30th as Tennessee School Choice week. The goal of the week is to let parents and kids know about the options they have to further their education, whether it be public, private, charter, or even magnet schools.

Candice McQueen announces test transparency bill (Tennessean) State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced plans Tuesday to file a test transparency bill. The bill would release as many state assessment questions and answers as possible to parents, students and teachers without compromising test security and development, McQueen said. The tests would be released annually and teachers would be able to use them to create their own formative assessments, McQueen said.

State conducting survey on broadband access (Leaf Chronicle) The state wants Tennessee residents to participate in a survey that will provide a general assessment of broadband Internet connectivity across the state and allow state leaders to gauge how much of the state is connected to broadband and what their use habits are. The survey, which is online, will be open through March 15. Randy Boyd, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said as much as 15 percent of the state could have no access to broadband or even to the internet, which is a problem when the state is trying to lure industry and business.

State launches broadband assessment for businesses and households (Herald-News) Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced this month the launch of a statewide assessment of broadband access and usage in Tennessee. The survey of businesses and households began earlier this month and continues through March 15. Businesses and residents may take the online assessment at

Internet users encouraged to take broadband survey (Tullahoma News) In response to Commissioner Randy Boyd’s 2015 listening tour, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) is working to evaluate broadband Internet availability and usage statewide. During the tour, business and economic development professionals in all nine TNECD regions voiced concerns that the lack of broadband access in rural parts of the state may hurt future economic development efforts.

New survey to assess broadband usage in TN (Columbia Daily Herald) A new survey by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development aims to pinpoint the need for broadband services in rural areas and how it can improve the state’s future economic growth. TNECD Commissioner Randy Boyd launched the statewide survey earlier this month and said he hopes it will attract small business owners, entrepreneurs and those in rural areas without an Internet connection. Boyd spent much of 2015 visiting rural communities on an initial set of listening tours, where he said the biggest takeaway was how being connected has become an essential tool for business.

Hospital group takes longer approach to Insure Tennessee (AP) The Tennessee Hospital Association, a key supporter of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s unsuccessful effort to expand Medicaid in the state, is planning a new push to pass the measure once this year’s presidential election is over. The members of the hospital group had pledged to cover the $74 million state share of Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal that would have drawn down $2.8 billion federal Medicaid funds over two years.

Hospital group to push Insure Tennessee vote after election (Tennessean) The Tennessee Hospital Association, a key supporter of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s unsuccessful effort to expand Medicaid in the state, is planning a new push to pass the measure once this year’s presidential election is over. The members of the hospital group had pledged to cover the entire $74 million state share of Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, which would have drawn down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid funds over two years.

City leaders heading to Nashville to voice opposition of new home for people with disabilities (WJHL) A local police chief and mayor are making their way to Nashville Tuesday night to stop plans for a new group home for people with disabilities from moving forward. To settle a lawsuit, the state of Tennessee is closing Greene Valley Developmental Center by the end of the year. The facility is the last of its kind in the state and focuses on the care of people with intellectual disabilities.

Area courts await impact of Supreme Court ruling for juveniles serving life (Commercial Appeal) It’s unclear how much impact this week’s Supreme Court ruling on juveniles serving life sentences will have in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, legal experts say. The ruling says juveniles given life sentences for murder must be considered for parole no matter how long ago the crime occurred. In Tennessee, juveniles already have that option.–366643451.html

Dramatic committee vote sends school vouchers to Tennessee House floor (Chalkbeat) After a dramatic recount of a close vote in the House Finance Committee, Tennessee is one step closer to approving a school voucher program that would allocate public money to pay for private schooling for some students. Lawmakers attributed Tuesday’s 11-10 vote to advocacy and special interest groups as vouchers moved beyond the House committee level for the first time in history. The bill now goes to the full House, where supporters and foes already are beginning a full-court press in behalf of their positions.

As Vouchers Move Toward Reality In Tennessee, Foes Take Aim At Use By Religious Schools (WPLN) After years of debate, a plan to create Tennessee’s first school voucher program is just steps away from being sent to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. But one final battle may be on the horizon — whether to let religious schools take part in the taxpayer-funded program. The proposal would cover tuition for as many as 20,000 students who want to attend private schools. Democrat Bo Mitchell sought to highlight just which schools that means. He read off the private schools in his own Bellevue district. All were explicitly religious, except one.

Critics: Proposed Tennessee school voucher program violates separation of church and state (Johnson City Press) Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is touting its proposed school voucher program as giving parents more educational choice for their children. But critics say because of the state’s preponderance of Christian private schools, those choices are actually very few. According to the website, 73 percent of Tennessee’s private schools are religiously affiliated. That leaves some teachers, administrators and parents calling proposals for a voucher system allowing tax dollars to flow from the state’s public schools to private K-12 schools a violation of the long-held principle of separation of church and state.

House Committee Passes School Voucher Bill (WTVF) The bill to allow some students to use government vouchers to attend private school passed a major hurdle Tuesday in the House Finance Committee. The bill still has to pass the full House, but after five years of debate this is the furthest the legislation has ever made it in Tennessee. It was a heated exchange between lawmakers and citizen speakers at the committee meeting Tuesday evening.

Voucher bill narrowly escapes House Finance committee (Nashville Post) After a few parliamentary inquiries, about a dozen speakers, a three-hour meeting and even a heated confrontation, the House Finance Committee advanced the perennial school voucher bill to the full chamber by one vote. House Bill 1049 passed Wednesday night on a 11-10 vote, narrowly advancing closer to the floor by one vote. It now advances to the Calendar and Rules Committee, typically viewed a procedural scheduling body, before moving to a full floor vote.

School Vouchers Survive by Single Vote to Advance Again in House (Nashville Scene) The school vouchers bill barely made it out of the House Finance Committee tonight—the farthest it’s ever gone in the House—and it looks fairly certain at this point to become law. After a three-hour hearing, the vote was 11-10.

School voucher bill headed for floor vote in Tennessee House (AP) An effort to create a school voucher program in Tennessee has cleared its last major committee before a full House vote. The House Finance Committee voted 11-10 on Wednesday in favor of the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville. The Senate has already passed its version of the bill, and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said earlier Wednesday that he plans to sign the measure into law if it remains unchanged from its current form.

Tennessee voucher bill passes House finance committee (Tennessean) Tennessee’s school voucher program moved out of the House finance committee Tuesday, setting up for the House floor to decide the legislation’s fate. The 22-member House finance committee voted 11-10 to approve House Bill 1049, which will provide a limited program offering government-funded scholarships that can be used for private school tuition. The bill will head to the calendar committee. Voucher opponent Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, was absent due to surgery.

Tennessee school voucher bill scrapes through House Finance Committee by one vote (Times-Free Press) An effort to create a school voucher program scraped through the House Finance Committee on Tuesday after a bitter debate, giving the years-long quest to use taxpayer dollars to send students to private schools its best chance ever of becoming reality. Finance Committee members voted 11-10 for House Bill 1049 with four Republicans from Southeast Tennessee helping push the measure over the finish line.

Knoxville police chief: New bill will help police protect domestic violence victims (WATE) A bill has been introduced in the State Senate that both the Knoxville police chief and domestic violence victims’ advocates say will help protect victims from their abusers. Kiame Biandudi says she was abused for years, eventually feared for her life and knew she had to get out. “I was being strangled but my kids were watching. They stood there and cried. I told him, I said, ‘Your kids are watching,’ and he didn’t care,” said Biandudi.

Pushback in Nashville continues against perceived federal government overreach (Johnson City Press) Yet another bill moving in the Tennessee General Assembly accuses the federal government of exceeding its constitutional powers and calls on legislators to turn their backs on executive orders and protect state’s rights. The State Sovereignty Reclamation Act of 2016 would prohibit Tennessee from implementing or enforcing federal executive orders, including U.S. Supreme Court rulings, unless the General Assembly approves. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, weighed in after reviewing the bill, saying he will fight for states’ rights on the federal level.

Committee discusses, then delays vote on bill to return ‘Lady Vols’ name (Commercial Appeal/News Sentinel) A state legislative subcommittee discussed a bill to force the University of Tennessee to reinstate the “Lady Vols” nickname to all of its women’s intercollegiate sports teams for more than 90 minutes Tuesday before deferring a vote to next week. The House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee bogged down on whether the estimated $221,000 cost to the UT athletic department to reinstate the nickname is “state” money. That estimate was made by legislative fiscal analysts and contained in the “fiscal note” — the official estimate of a bill’s costs — attached to the bill. CA: NS:

Subcommittee delays vote on ‘Lady Vols’ bill (Nashville Post) Legislation would force University of Tennessee to return to traditional nickname for all women’s teams. Uncertainty over who will foot the bill prompted state legislators to delay a proverbial show of hands on a bill that would make the University of Tennessee restore the “Lady Vols” nickname to all of its women’s athletics programs. The House Education and Planning Subcommittee discussed the measure for 90 minutes Tuesday but postponed a vote until next week.

Lawmakers split over Lady Vols name bill (WBIR) UPDATE: Tennessee lawmakers discussed a bill designed to force the University of Tennessee put the Lady Vol name back on all women’s athletics. State Rep. Roger Kane says UT leaders ignored petitions and demonstrations from hundreds and thousands of people upset the university pulled the Lady Vol name off all women’s sports except basketball. “The entire Knoxville delegation has told the university they do not support this idea,” Kane said.

Momentum grows for more scrutiny of legislative sexual harassment (Tennessean) Momentum grew on Tuesday for greater scrutiny of the state’s legislative sexual harassment policy — but House leaders on opposite sides of the political aisle differed about how to do it. House Speaker Beth Harwell first called for the review on Sunday and on Monday outlined a plan for an independent review committee. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Tuesday said he strongly supports those efforts.

‘Stop assuming’ about sexual harassment, says Tenn. Rep. Jeremy Durham (WKRN) Embattled Williamson County lawmaker Jeremy Durham likely faces his fellow Republican Caucus members in a specially-called meeting Wednesday morning at the Tennessee State Capitol. News 2 has learned that the published allegations that Rep. Durham inappropriately texted legislative personnel is the topic.

Special GOP caucus meeting to discuss Durham’s future (Tennessean) Republican officials have called a special meeting of the House Republican Caucus for Wednesday morning to hear what fellow GOP caucus members want to do concerning embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham’s future in the caucus. House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, confirmed the 8:30 a.m. Wednesday meeting. One possible outcome that’s been discussed by leadership is the creation of a special committee tasked with investigating the allegations of inappropriate behavior by Durham, a Republican source said.

The Daily Durham: Dems call for investigation, Ramsey and Haslam comment (Nashville Post) Dems want subpoena-empowered committee, governor questions Durham’s ability to represent constituency. House Democrats called for a special committee to investigate the claims made against Rep. Jeremy Durham, Jeff Woods reports:     Their bright idea? House leaders should appoint a special bipartisan committee—complete with subpoena power—to investigate Durham and sexual harassment at the legislature.

Special caucus meeting to discuss allegations against Rep. Durham (WSMV) A special meeting of the House Republican Caucus has been called for Wednesday morning in light of allegations against Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin. A spokesperson for the caucus confirmed that lawmakers will discuss the controversy that has surrounded Durham. Durham resigned as House majority whip after he allegedly sent inappropriate messages to women on Capitol Hill.

House Democrats urge bipartisan sexual harassment investigation (Tennessean) The leading Democrats in the Tennessee House of Representatives want an independent, bipartisan committee to investigate sexual harassment at the legislature. The call comes after Tennessean investigations into inappropriate text messages that three women said they received from Rep. Jeremy Durham, and experts criticizing the legislature’s sexual harassment policy.

Rep. Durham returns to work, says he will not resign (WSMV) Despite calls for his resignation, Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, remains defiant. Durham said he will not step down and plans to run for re-election. Several state leaders, including those in his own party, said Durham should resign amid accusations of sexual harassment. On his first day back at the capitol, Durham told reporters he has no plans to resign his seat after accusations of sexual harassment through text messages came to light over the weekend.

GOP lawmaker resists calls to resign (Memphis Business Journal) Embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, who resigned his leadership post with the Republican party Sunday, is resisting calls to vacate his seat. The Tennessean reports that GOP leaders on Monday formally called on Durham to resign from the Legislature, following allegations that Durham sent inappropriate text messages to three women who worked in the statehouse.

Dem. Caucus Calls For Bi-Partisan Panel In Durham Allegations (WTVF) Conflict continued over Representative Jeremy Durham Tuesday. Democrats called for a bipartisan committee with subpoena powers to review Durham and the allegations against him. A special caucus meeting was called later that evening to discuss allegations against Druham. There will be a vote tomorrow morning to kick Durham out of the Republican caucus. Durham believes he can get enough votes to “survive.”

Rep. Andy Holt calls for Democratic Party chairwoman to resign (Tennessean) One day after Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini called for the resignation of three top House Republicans after saying the party leaders created a “toxic workplace” that “protected an accused sexual harasser,” Rep. Andy Holt has now called upon Mancini to resign. “Mary seems to be a one trick show,” Holt, R-Dresden, said in a news release. “Not a single shred of evidence of any wrongdoing regarding misconduct, which would warrant the resignation of House Speaker Beth Harwell, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick or Caucus Chairman Glen Casada has been presented, yet Mary rushes to the cameras to call for resignations.”

‘Six years is enough’ says retiring Womick (Murfreesboro Post) Three-term state Rep. Rick Womick is set to leave the General Assembly, saying this week he will not run for re-election. Womick, a Rockvale Republican who is facing a challenge in the upcoming primary, said he needs to spend more time with his wife and children. “Six years is enough. It’s time for me to step aside and let somebody else serve,” Womick said.

American Consumers Showing More Confidence in Economy (AP) A strong job market and low gasoline prices helped boost U.S. consumer confidence again this month. The Conference Board on Tuesday said that its consumer confidence index rose to 98.1 in January from 96.3 in December, the second straight monthly gain. The business research group said Americans were more confident about the future, though their assessment of current economic conditions was unchanged from December.

Harvey Joins Family Safety Center (Memphis Daily News) Mia Harvey has joined the Family Safety Center as community outreach specialist, a newly created position. In that role, she recruits and trains volunteers, and organizes outreach and other special events that create greater visibility for the center. She also develops presentations on domestic violence, showcasing the many Family Safety Center programs that serve victims and their families.

“Stop the Violence” forum set for Wednesday (WBIR ) Knoxville leaders and our community will gather at Fulton High School on Wednesday night to talk about ways to help at-risk kids, and take a stand against violence following the shooting death of Zaevion Dobson. WBIR is partnering with WATE, WVLT and the Knoxville New Sentinel for a one-hour public forum called “Stop the Violence: A Community Conversation.” Anyone who can’t make it can watch at home on any of the three networks, or at The forum starts at 7 p.m. ET.

Tenants Say Rent Increase Is Forcing Them Out (WTVF) Some of the last affordable apartments in Nashville have begun renovations and tenants were told to pay more or find a new place to live. Tenants at the Howe Garden Apartments on Greenwood Avenue said they received a letter about two weeks ago letting them know their lease would not be honored and they had to 30 days to move out.

Memphis donating pure aquifer water to stricken Flint (Commercial Appeal) A forklift made trip after trip to load a FedEx truck parked outside Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division’s administration building Tuesday as the city with famously good water prepared a delivery for the city with notoriously foul water. Within minutes, five pallets containing 12,000 bottles of water were ready to be transported to Flint, Michigan, where a state of emergency has been declared as a result of dangerous levels of lead contamination in the municipal system. The shipment is expected to arrive at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan on Thursday.

Orange Grove Center is $200,000 closer to being able to process glass (Times-Free Press) The Orange Grove Center is $200,000 closer to having the equipment it needs to process all the glass sent its way by Chattanooga residents. The $200,000 from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, one of 58 grants awarded to various municipalities and organizations across the state, pushes Orange Grove to the $1 million mark in its attempt to raise the full $1.6 million it needs to overhaul its recycling equipment to handle the glass.

Wastewater sludge responsible for stench (Murfreesboro Post) Responding to complaints about Middle Point Landfill odor, state officials are working out agreements controlling the dumping times of wastewater sludge to cut stench emanating from the facility in Walter Hill, north of Murfreesboro. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, after a meeting with state legislators and community members in early January, targeted the source of the worst odor and identified several ways to cut the smell, according to a letter from Jason Repsher, field office manager for the Division of Solid Waste Management.

Murfreesboro to receive $1 million recycling grant (WGNS) The City of Murfreesboro will receive a $1 million recycling grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) according to State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro). The funds are part of TDEC’s Recycling Equipment, Waste Reduction, Used Oil and Composting Grants which were authorized by the Solid Waste Management Act of 1991 and are supported by the Tennessee Solid Waste Management Fund. The fund receives revenues from a state surcharge on each ton of solid waste disposed in landfills from a fee on new tires sold in the state.

Murfreesboro needs full match for $1M composting grant (Daily News Journal) Murfreesboro could receive a $1 million recycling-composting grant from the Tennessee government, state Sen. Bill Ketron announced Tuesday through a news release, but will have to provide a full match. “This is a huge grant and will help Murfreesboro tremendously as the city works to divert waste from the landfill through recycling,” the Republican lawmaker from Murfreesboro said in the release.

Winter doesn’t slow Sycamore Shoals activities (Johnson City Press) It may still be the depth of winter, but there are still plenty of things going on at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area during February. The first weekend in the month, Saturday, Feb. 6, and Sunday, Feb 7, will be the date of the annual winter militia muster at the recreated Fort Watauga. Re-enactors will present winter as it was on the 18th century frontier. The monthly musters were more than just an obligation to keep the settlement’s military skills honed, it was also one of the social highlights of the month.

Bledsoe, Sequatchie Are Among Top Fairs In The State (Chattanoogan) Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) Commissioner Julius Johnson presented awards to 55 of the top county, regional and state agricultural fairs, including Bledsoe and Sequatchie fairs. He said, “County fairs are one of the best examples of outreach of agriculture education. In this day and time, so many people live in urban areas and are not directly connected with farms, farming, and the sources of our wholesome food and fiber.”

IL residents have anticipated hopes for Gov. Rauner’s State of the State address (KFVS) Governor Bruce Rauner will be delivering his second State of the State address on Wednesday at noon. Southern Illinois residents weighed in on what they’d like Gov. Rauner to talk about. Topics ranged from higher education to public health, but the first item on the agenda many said, was the budget. The state is going into its eighth month without one.

Bryant Focuses on Mississippi Budget in State of the State (AP) Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is unveiling his budget proposals during his annual State of the State address. Speaking Tuesday evening at the Capitol, Bryant says he wants to increase spending by $34.4 million on the state’s troubled foster-care system during fiscal 2017, which begins July 1. He also wants to refill the state’s rainy day fund by putting $51.5 million into the cash reserves. Bryant moved $35.2 million out of the fund last week as he announced budget cuts for the current year.

Bevin budget leaves lawmakers seeking details (Courier-Journal) Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget speech, lasting more than an hour, drew an enthusiastic reception from the crowd of lawmakers, officials and others gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday night, but some were left wondering what exactly his budget proposal contains. Bevin spoke without a prepared text and provided only a general outline of his two-year spending proposal, his first since he became governor last month. “There are a lot of unknowns right now,” said Rep. Brent Yonts, a Greenville Democrat, who said he is anxious to see specifics of the budget. “We don’t know what it says.”


Frank Cagle: Lawmakers should kill school vouchers (News Sentinel) Imagine a ship filled with children. It has a hole in the hull and is being kept afloat with pumps and bailing. Imagine rescuers arriving with a few lifeboats. They have two options. They can board the ship, man the pumps and repair the hole. Of they can sit in the lifeboats and allow the most physically fit of the youngsters to climb down to be rescued. Then they sail away and leave the most vulnerable of the kids to their fate. Let’s call the ship a failing public school and the lifeboats, call them the vouchers.

Clint Cooper: Weary of selective political scolding (Times-Free Press) On Monday, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini demanded not only the resignation of Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham but also those of House Speaker Beth Harwell, Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga and GOP House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin. She vented her fury over the case of Durham, a Williamson County legislator whose repeated instances of inappropriate behavior — though no formal charges have been filed against him — have resulted in calls from even some in his party for him to resign from the legislature.

Column: How Government Can Mine the Value of IT (Governing) We should use technology to improve what the institution does, building societal value and public support. Too many governments still are thinking too small about information technology, looking narrowly and downward at IT as “the problem.” This diverts attention from how the use of technology can shape organizational strategies. True, IT itself was the problem when it was expensive, hard to use, and could be applied only to high-volume, highly structured processes such accounting.

Tuesday, January 26

Chalkbeat explains what school vouchers could mean for Tennessee (Chalkbeat) The discourse during an anti-voucher rally highlighted the intensity of emotion around Tennessee’s school voucher debate — especially in Memphis, the city that would be most impacted by a voucher bill advancing through the state legislature. As the House Finance Committee prepares for a possible vote on the proposal on Tuesday, here’s our primer on school vouchers and the legislation under consideration. The legislation would have to be signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, who has indicated his support.

Gov. Haslam’s push for school vouchers, potential privatization of state public school industry irks local teachers and administrators (Johnson City Press) On Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he will join more than two dozen governors nationwide next week in celebrating “School Choice Week,” which champions the idea that privatized, non-public education can be an option for students using public taxpayer dollars. “Tennessee recognizes the essential role that an effective and accountable system of education plays in preparing children to be successful adults,” Haslam said in a release about the event, set for Jan. 24-Jan. 30.

Two facing charges for TennCare fraud in two separate cases (WREG) Two women are facing some serious charges in separate cases after police say they both committed TennCare fraud. According to the Inspector General’s Office, Tatiana Wilkins of Robinsonville, Mississippi was charged with three counts of fraud and theft of property over $10,000. She was allegedly using TennCare even thought she lived and worked out of state.

Nashville Woman Charged With Totaling Over $60k in TennCare Fraud (WZTV) A 45-year-old Davidson County woman has been charged with TennCare fraud for the second time in two months. The Office of Inspector General and Metro Police say Joanne Leah Stark (AKA: Joanne Moore Shorter) falsely claimed her minor daughter was a member of her household, which made her eligible for benefits. Stark racked up over $60,000 in services and pleaded guilty in Rutherford County last November for a similar charge where she misrepresented her status.

Tennessee launches review of social studies standards amid concerns over world religion studies (Chalkbeat Tennessee) The State Board of Education kicked off its social studies standards review on Friday, months after receiving some complaints that middle school students are being “indoctrinated” into Islam, and days after lawmakers filed bills that would alter the way world religion is taught in Tennessee classrooms. The state reviews academic standards roughly every six years, and the current social studies standards are only in their second year. But the State Board decided last summer to bump up its review by two years based partly on feedback from parents and teachers. /2016/01/22/tennessee-launches-review-of-social-studies-standards-amid-concerns-over-world-religion-studies/#.VqdkdlI73wu

New UTC library floods, thousands of books potentially damaged (WRCB) Staff at UTC’s brand new library are scrambling to save hundreds of thousands of books after part of the building flooded last week. Hundreds of gallons of water filled the first and ground floors. The $48 million facility opened in January of 2015. Now, almost a year to the day, it is a re-construction zone.

New Federal Data Shows Nearly 3 Percent Rise in Child Abuse (Reuters) The number of U.S. children victimized by abuse and neglect increased by nearly 3 percent in the latest annual reporting period, according to new federal data. According to the report released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services, the estimated number of victimized children in the 2014 fiscal year was 702,208 — up from 682,307 in 2013. States with more than 30 percent increases in maltreatment over the past five years include Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee, according to the report.

AFP claims victory over TN gas tax; backs surplus transfer (News Sentinel) News release from Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee: Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee (AFP-TN), the leading grassroots advocate working against raising the gas tax, is claiming victory for halting the gas tax hike. Town halls focusing on the potential gas tax increase engaged activists across the state. AFP-TN activists made their opposition clear to lawmakers by going door-to-door, attending town halls, making calls, and sending emails.

Can a McCormick divided against himself stand? (Nashville Post) On one hand, Gerald McCormick (like his majority leader predecessors when the governor and the legislature are of the same party) runs administration bills. On the other, he has his own priorities. Thus, the Chattanooga representative is carrying the governor’s bill which calls for a Hall Tax deduction on certain in-state investments; he is also running a bill that would repeal the state-level Hall tax, but authorize local governments to enact their own version of the income-investment tax.

Controversy surrounds school vouchers in East Tennessee (WATE) School vouchers are back in the controversial spotlight because of a bill that could bring the program to Tennessee. House Bill 1049 would let kids in the worst-performing schools move to private schools, using public money to pay for their tuition through a scholarship program called “Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Act”. The bill cleared an early vote last week and its author, State Representative Bill Dunn, said it could hit the House floor next week.

School voucher bill faces Tuesday vote (WBIR) A school voucher bill is making its way through the state House, drawing strong opinions along the way. The school voucher program would pay for students in Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools to attend a private school. To be eligible, students would have to qualify for free or reduced lunches and be zoned for or attend a school that is in the bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state.

Groups clash over school vouchers at rally (Commercial Appeal) A media conference to speak out against a school voucher bill making its way through the state legislature turned into a clash between groups on both sides of the issue Monday afternoon. The group against vouchers called the rally, but many refused to let a group of voucher supporters state their counterpoint when approached on public property outside the Shelby County School Board of Education office by members of the media.

Anti-voucher groups urge bill’s defeat (Tennessean) In preparation for the next step in Tennessee’s school voucher showdown, groups statewide called for legislators to oppose the bill being heard Tuesday in the full House budget committee. Organizations in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis urged lawmakers to vote down the school voucher plan that will provide a limited program for low-income students at struggling schools. The legislation is supported by Gov. Bill Haslam and some conservative groups.

State Lawmakers Take A Swipe At Tennessee Education Association (WPLN) The Tennessee Senate has voted to put an end to payroll deductions for union dues for teachers, a move that could hurt the finances of one of the major lobbying groups in the state legislature. State senators voted 21-9 Monday to bar school districts from taking out money for the Tennessee Education Association. Sen. Todd Gardenhire, the Chattanooga Republican who sponsored the measure, says the TEA shouldn’t be able to reach into teachers’ paychecks when competing groups that represent teachers can’t get access to the system.

Gardenhire amends bike helmet bill to target teacher dues (Tennessean) A bill originally aimed at bicycle helmet curriculum has been amended to now seemingly target how the Tennessee Education Association collects membership dues. Senate Bill 1051, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, passed the Senate floor 21-9 Monday, but will need to make its way past House committees. Rep. Bill Spivey, R-Lewisville, is the House sponsor of the bill.

“Bicycle helmet” safety bill becomes bill targeting TEA dues deduction in state Senate (Commercial Appeal) The state Senate approved a bill Monday to ban local school districts from deducting dues for the Tennessee Education Association from teachers’ paychecks — on an amendment to a bill that purported to “urge” teaching students “the proper use and positioning of bicycle helmets.” The bill was filed a year ago but sat idle until an amendment surfaced without prior notice last week in the Senate Education Committee stripping out the bill’s original wording on bicycle helmets and replacing it with the dues-deduction ban.

State Lawmakers Prepare to Debate College Tuition Freeze (WTVF) Lawmakers on Capitol hill have been preparing to debate a college tuition freeze. It would apply to in-state undergraduates at four-year public universities in Tennessee. Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville) are sponsoring the bill. Under the plan, four year public universities would not be able to raise undergraduate tuition or fees for two years. After that, tuition increases would be tied to changes in the consumer price index, and would require a 2/3 or even unanimous Board of Regents vote if tuition was raised beyond that.

Tuition freeze proposed (Nashville Post) Sen. Dolores Gresham and Rep. Martin Daniel, both Republicans, have filed legislation that would freeze tuition and fees at the state’s higher-ed institutions until the 2018-19 academic year and then require full governing-board approval thereafter for any increase over 2 percent of the CPI. Furthermore, starting with 2018’s freshmen, fees would be locked in for the duration of a student’s tenure provided the student remains enrolled and graduates on time.

Lawmakers hear alarming testimony on state’s prescription drug epidemic (Columbia Daily Herald) Senate Committees heard several presentations on issues coming before the General Assembly this week, including the prescription drug epidemic in Tennessee. The state is a close second behind Alabama as the worst state in the nation for the use of opioids per capita despite recent improvements that have been made. Over the last several years, Tennessee has passed legislation to help prevent abuse by “pill mills” and to strengthen the state’s drug monitoring database.

Dying with dignity bill still on file after Hooker’s death (WKRN) Supporters of dying with dignity efforts in Tennessee says the cause will continue even though its champion, John Jay Hooker, died on Sunday. “No matter when it happens, it will and he is the one who got the impetus going on this bill, if it happens this time or next time, it will happen because of John Jay Hooker,” said Tennessee House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh, who is sponsoring the “die with dignity” legislation that’s still on file for this legislative session.

Van Huss files bill to restrict marriage authority to clergy (Johnson City Press) Adding another layer to the multi-tiered cake of marriage rights in Tennessee, Jonesborough Rep. Micah Van Huss introduced a bill last week that would take away public officials’ abilities to officiate weddings, leaving only religious figures with the power to wed. Van Huss’ HB 2379, sponsored in the Senate by Tullahoma Republican Janice Bowling as SB 2462, would give only “regular ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis and other spiritual leaders of every religious belief,” the ability to solemnize marriages, a step required by state law before marriages are recorded by county clerks.

Local legislators introduce bill to give Johnson City Power Board more authority (Johnson City Press) The Johnson City Power Board could be on its way to becoming a political entity separate from the city and offering high-speed Internet service if a bill introduced last week is approved by the General Assembly. The Municipal Energy Authority Act, filed by Johnson City lawmakers Matthew Hill in the House and Rusty Crowe in the Senate, would allow the utility to separate financially from the city and give the new governing board powers members don’t currently hold, including borrowing money, owning property, entering into contracts, managing other utility systems and exercising imminent domain.

Strickland to Nashville: City’s financial challenges ‘significant’ (Commercial Appeal) Jim Strickland made his first rounds of the State Capitol as Memphis mayor on Monday, meeting with top legislative officials and the state treasurer and others about the city’s finances and other priorities. Strickland made a couple of visits as a mayoral candidate and as mayor-elect in November and December, he said, but Monday’s tour was “my initial visit as mayor, to meet with several of the legislators and with some administrative folks too — No. 1 to introduce myself and No. 2 to talk about some issues.”

House passes resolution honoring Soto (Tennessean) Days after a House Republican leader pulled a resolution to honor Renata Soto — the founder of the Casa Azafrán Community Center — in a move that Democrats felt was an insult, the chamber approved the resolution to honor the community leader. With a 66-10 vote on Monday, the House approved the resolution brought forth by Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, who called Soto “an honorable woman in the state of Tennessee who has done a lot of good for the citizens of this state as well as the immigrant community.”

Casada proposes legislature-appointed solicitor (Nashville Post) House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada wants the state’s solicitor-general to be appointed by the legislature: Casada said he sees his bill (HB2143, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris in the Senate) as a compromise of sorts between various previous proposals and a step toward resolving conservative legislators’ discontent over “too much interference with the legislative branch” of government by the judicial branch of government, headed by the Supreme Court.

Womick sets retirement (Nashville Post) Six-year legislative vet won’t seek re-election. Murfreesboro Republican Rep. Womick says he won’t seek re-election this year: “It’s time for me to step aside and let somebody else serve,” said Womick, who made news in 2015 by suggesting that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam be impeached for not challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that made same-sex marriage legal.

State Rep. Womick says he will retire (Daily News Journal) State Rep. Rick Womick will retire after his two-year term ends in 2016, he said. “First and foremost, I want to spend more time with my wife and my children,” the Republican lawmaker said during a Monday phone interview. “My parents are also getting older. I just need to be spending more time with my family. And, secondly, I need to step aside and let somebody else serve.”

Lawmaker who accused Haslam of ‘treason’ to GOP to retire (AP) Republican state Rep. Rick Womick, who once accused Gov. Bill Haslam of “treason” to the GOP, is announcing plans to retire this year. The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro reports that Womick said he wants to spend more time with his family. Womick in 2014 mounted a challenge for the Republican nomination for House speaker, but lost that election on a 57-15 vote to incumbent Beth Harwell.

Tennessee Legislators Act to Disqualify Cruz for Presidency (Memphis Flyer) If two Tennessee legislators, both Democrats, have their way, the prospect of a Ted Cruz presidency would be lessened — at least insofar as the Volunteer State’s 11 electorate votes are concerned. State Senator Jeff Yarbro and state Representative Jason Powell have co-sponsored a bill, HB2595/SB2625, that would effectively nullify Cruz’s presidential candidacy in Tennessee.

Durham not planning to step down despite GOP calls for his resignation (Nashville Post) Rep says he’ll lay low for the next few days. After hearing high ranking Republicans want him to give up his House seat in light of revelations he allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to women working at Capitol Hill, Rep. Jeremy Durham indicated he has no interest in resigning. Durham, who was absent from Monday night’s House session and resigned Sunday from his GOP leadership position, sent this statement just before session began:

McCormick to caucus: Don’t do anything illegal (Nashville Post) Majority leader tells members to turn down bribes, says seasoned DOJ officer has relocated to Nashville. Ten years after the Tennessee Waltz sting operation marched four sitting lawmakers through Legislative Plaza in handcuffs on corruption charges, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick stood before his 73-member House Republican Caucus warning lawmakers that the former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity office is now in Nashville and lawmakers should “be at their toes at all times.”

State GOP chairman, House speaker call on Durham to resign (AP) House Speaker Beth Harwell and State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes on Monday called for state Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign from his seat in the Tennessee General Assembly amid allegations of sexual harassment. In a news conference at the legislative office complex, Harwell also announced an overhaul of sexual harassment policies following a report in The Tennessean over the weekend that Durham sent inappropriate text messages to women working at the Legislature.

Tennessee GOP leaders call on Durham to resign amid sexual harassment allegations (Times-Free Press) Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes on Monday called for GOP Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign his legislative seat following allegations of sexual harassment. The comments came during a news conference in which Harwell defended her previous actions regarding the embattled Williamson County lawmaker, saying, “I have never received a formal or informal complaint.”

Speaker Announces Independent Committee To Review State Legislature’s Sexual Harassment Policy (WTVF) With the latest accusations against Rep. Jeremy Durham (R, Franklin), Democrats have called for the Republican House leadership to step down. During a closed door meeting on the first day of the session Republicans kept Rep. Durham as Majority Whip, despite a prescription drug fraud investigation and public outcry when Durham asked a judge for leniency for a pastor caught with child porn.

Republican Leaders Say Representative Jeremy Durham Should Resign (WTVF) Embattled Tennessee State lawmaker Jeremy Durham sat down with NewsChannel 5 Monday, saying he won’t be answering to Republican leaders’ requests for resignation. Leaders in the Republican Party want him to resign from his seat in the House. Rep. Durham said, “I will definitely take this to the voters, and it would not be appropriate to do that. I know my district very well. I got elected in 2012. I think this is a decision for voters, not the Tennessean, the Democratic Party. The people of Williamson County should decide that.”

State Republican Party Chair Calls on Jeremy Durham To Resign (WPLN) The chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party called Monday for state Representative Jeremy Durham to resign. The demand came as Republican leaders sought to respond to accusations the second-term lawmaker sexually harassed staffers and others. In a story that appeared Sunday, The Tennessean quoted three women who anonymously claimed Durham had sent them inappropriate texts and messages over social media.

Top Tennessee Republicans: Durham should resign from statehouse (Tennessean) As two of the highest-ranking Republicans in Tennessee called on embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign from the legislature, the Franklin Republican vowed Monday to remain in his seat and campaign for re-election. The joint announcement from House Speaker Beth Harwell and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes came amid a rapid series of events that unfolded after The Tennessean published an investigation Sunday on inappropriate text messages and concerns over the legislature’s sexual harassment policy.

GOP leaders want Durham to resign (Nashville Post) Speaker forms task force to revise sexual harassment policy, bans interns from giving members their numbers. Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes called openly for embattled Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham to resign Monday following revelations he sent inappropriate text messages to women working on Capitol Hill. However, House Speaker Beth Harwell said Durham should decide for himself what to do, adding she had heard rumors of Durham’s behavior before but didn’t have the evidence to do anything about it.

Tenn. GOP Rep. Resigns Leadership Post Over Texts To Female Colleagues (Talking Points Memo) Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Durham (R) resigned from his position as majority whip on Sunday hours after a report in The Tennessean revealed that he had sent “inappropriate” text messages to numerous women who worked in the statehouse. Three women, at least two of whom were in their 20s, said that the 32-year-old married lawmaker had sent them text messages asking for photos and asking to meet up at bars. One woman said he sent her repeated Facebook and text messages late at night. In one text he told her he missed her. In another late-night message he asked for photos, according to The Tennessean.

Tenn. Democratic Party Chair calls for Republican House leadership to resign (WKRN) The Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Mary Mancini has called for Republican House leadership to resign posts in lieu of the “mishandling” of State Rep. Jeremy Durham. The call follows allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct against Rep. Durham and what she called the “mishandling of his offensive behavior by House Republicans leadership.” In her call for resignations, Chairman Mancini asked, “What did the Republican leaders know and when did they know it?”

TN Democratic leader calls for resignations of GOP House leaders (WSMV) The Tennessee Democratic Party is calling for the resignations of Speaker Beth Harwell, Leader Gerald McCormick and Chairman Glen Casada. Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini addressed what she called a “culture of secrecy and cover-up by House Republican leadership” during a news conference on Monday. This comes after Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, resigned from his position as House majority whip on Sunday.

Democrats call for House GOP leadership resignations (Tennessean) Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini called for House Speaker Beth Harwell, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada to resign from their leadership positions for creating a “toxic workplace” that “protected an accused sexual harasser.” “Tennessee’s legislature cannot be a place that sweeps sexual harassment under the rug and enables those who harass staff,” Mancini said Monday during a midday news conference at the state Capitol.

Dem chair calls for House GOP housecleaning (Nashville Post) Mancini demands widespread resignations. Tennessee Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini is calling for wholesale resignations of the state House Republican leadership in the wake of the Jeremy Durham controversy: To a gaggle of reporters, Mancini accused Harwell, McCormick and Casada of “knowingly perpetuating a hostile work environment” for legislative staffers and lobbyists—not to mention alt-weekly bloggers—and said they should resign their leadership positions “and be replaced with leaders who will stand up against the unethical and disgusting behavior.”

TN Democratic Party Demands Resignation Of GOP Leaders (WTVF) The Tennessee Democratic Party has demanded the resignation of Republican leaders over the handling of alleged sexual harassment complaints. In a press conference held Monday, the party asked GOP House leaders Beth Harwell, Gerald McCormick and Glen Casada to resign. The move comes one day after Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin announced he’s resigning as majority whip.

Tennessee lawmakers call for sexual harassment investigation (Tennessean) Republican members of the Tennessee House of Representatives want the House GOP caucus to create a special committee to investigate the handling of sexual harassment at the state legislature. “There are members who have voiced concerns and we’d like to investigate it,” Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, told The Tennessean on Monday. “As a parent, I’m concerned. How should this be handled if this were to happen to my daughter?”

Lawmaker says woman told him Durham sexually harassed her (WSMV) House Republican leaders said they never received sexual harassment complaints against Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, but another lawmaker said he did receive a call from a young woman earlier this month and reported the situation to his superiors. Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester, said he spoke to the woman several days before the caucus meeting that could have determined Durham’s future as majority whip.

Spring Hill attorney considers Durham challenge (Tennessean) A Spring Hill attorney said he is considering challenging embattled state Rep. Jeremy Durham for his seat. On Monday Shane K. McNeill picked up a petition to enter the 65th House District Republican primary, according to county election officials. Reached a short time later, McNeill said that he hadn’t made a decision, but that he saw an opportunity. “I can’t win if I don’t run,” he said. “I picked up the petition, so at least I’m ready to run should I decide to do so.”

Monday is deadline to register for Tennessee primaries (Commercial Appeal) If you plan on voting in Tennessee’s upcoming presidential primaries, circle Feb. 1 on your calendar. That’s the deadline for new voters to register. This year, Tennessee will join 12 states, seven of them in the South, for the so-called “SEC primary” on March 1. Early voting begins Feb. 10 and ends Feb. 23. Political experts say the earlier date, along with the state’s shift to Republican dominance, could make Tennessee a player in who wins the parties’ nominations.

Rep. Terry hopes to tour landfill, address odor (Murfreesboro Post) Responding to community complaints about landfill stench, state Rep. Bryan Terry is trying to get permission to tour Middle Point Landfill to find the source of odor. Terry, a Lascassas Republican, said he met recently with Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials and representatives of Republic Services, the landfill owner, to start the process for making a personal inspection of the facility where some 900,000 tons of garbage is buried yearly. “I’d take constituents from the area and do random surveys,” said Terry.

TVA Seeking Comment On Coal Ash Storage Facility Closures (AP) The Tennessee Valley Authority has planned to close coal ash storage facilities at its coal-fired power plants and has asked for the public to comment. A draft environmental impact statement was made available online and looks at the impact of closing the facilities in place or closing by removal as well as the impact of closing 10 facilities within three years.

JLL adds Forrester as VP (Nashville Post) The Nashville office of global real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle has recruited retail expert Brian Forrester to its team as a vice president. Forrester joins JLL from Centennial Retail Services, where he had spent almost a year and a half. Before that, he worked at The Shopping Center Group for nearly a decade. He is a member of the board of directors of the Middle Tennessee CCIM Chapter.

Ashe appointed to TCOG’s board (News Sentinel) Victor Ashe, former Knoxville mayor and U.S. Ambassador to Poland, has been appointed to the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government Board of Directors. The website for TCOG says it’s a non-partisan organization whose mission rests on the belief that citizen access to government information, through public records and public meetings, is crucial in allowing informed participation in a democratic society, and is an essential component in government accountability. The group particularly tracks and opposes legislation proposed in the General Assembly that would limit public access to government records.

Is Medicaid Expansion Near a Tipping Point? (Stateline) Louisiana this month became the first state in the Deep South to make the politically charged decision to expand Medicaid health insurance to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act. At least one other state — South Dakota — is expected to extend Medicaid coverage this year. But in the lead up to the November presidential election, supporters of the ACA aren’t holding out much hope that more states will join in extending Medicaid coverage to more people — although the governors of Alabama, Virginia and Wyoming say they want to, as do key legislators in Maine and Nebraska.

Illinois Announces Consolidated Department of Innovation and Technology (Government Technology) Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order on Monday, Jan. 25, that will consolidate the state’s IT offices into a new Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT). “We are in the midst of a digital revolution. Technology has made us more efficient, more informed and better connected,” Rauner said in a press release. “The Department of Innovation and Technology will modernize our aging technology systems and lead to better, quicker and more efficient service for taxpayers. This technology transformation is critical to enhancing our competitiveness.”

Proposal Would Give La Highest Sales Tax In USA (KEEL) Part of John Bel Edwards’ budget proposal would give Louisiana the highest combined state and average local sales tax rate in America, if the newly inaugurated Governor’s changes make it through the state Senate next month. At 9.1 percent, Louisiana currently has the third highest sales tax rate, when the state and local sales tax levies are taken into account, and Edwards has proposed adding another penny to the sales tax starting April 1, meaning the combined local and state sales tax would jump to an average of 10.1 percent. No other state has a combined rate in excess of 10%. Tennessee is currently the highest at 9.46%.

Illinois Gov. Rauner to Deliver State of the State Wednesday (MGN) Governor Bruce Rauner will be delivering his State of the State address in the Illinois House Chamber on Wednesday. This will be Gov. Rauner’s second State of the State speech. The budget impasse in Illinois is likely to dominate the address. Democratic lawmakers and the Republican governor are still without a complete budget agreement. While some state-funded services continue to receive funds, others are waiting for an agreement to be reached.


David Waters: Optional school lines too long? Make more optional schools (Commercial Appeal) The late Maxine Smith might appreciate the irony of the situation, but I doubt she’d have much patience for it. White, middle-class parents camping out in freezing temperatures to try to secure for their children a spot in a predominantly black school system. In particular, a highly competitive spot in the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, a school named for the woman who helped recruit black families to integrate white public schools in the early 1960s.

Guest column: Opportunity Scholarships create path forward for more children (Commercial Appeal) To expand opportunity and equity in education for more children, Tennessee lawmakers should pass House Bill 1049 — the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act. Far too many children in our state, particularly from low-income households, find themselves in schools, where their chances for success are diminished the moment they enter the schoolhouse doors.–366508441.html

Editorial: Amendment on jury-award cap is unnecessary (News Sentinel) At the urging of the Tennessee Medical Association, lawmakers plan to propose an amendment to the state constitution explicitly giving the Legislature the power to cap pain-and-suffering awards in civil cases. Tennessee already has a $750,000 limit in place, but a Hamilton County judge ruled last year the cap was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court later vacated the ruling, saying the case was not ready for the justices to consider.

Pam Sohn: End the sad-sack ‘boys’ club’ of the General Assembly (Times-Free Press) One of our state lawmakers entertained us again this weekend with the shenanigans of an on-again, off-again, on-again announcement of his resignation following revelations that he — the Tennessee House of Representatives’ majority whip — reportedly had sexually harassed three women with inappropriate text messages. We say “entertained” because the details of both the text requests seeking inappropriate pictures and the yes-no-yes resignation are so ridiculous they seem slapstick.

David Plazas: Tennessean Editorial Board calls on Durham to resign seat (Tennessean) Former Tennessee House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham played games with fellow House leaders when he submitted — and then temporarily retracted — the resignation of his powerful post. The Sunday afternoon circus was an embarrassment to Republican leadership and the state. Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada could have avoided this debacle two weeks ago when Caucus members met to discuss Durham’s future.

Jeff Woods: Defiant Durham Says He Won’t Back Down (Nashville Scene) A defiant Rep. Jeremy Durham tonight is denying he’s ever sexually harassed anyone and insists he won’t resign from the House. His statement: This is an issue that I take extremely seriously but I cannot respond to vague and anonymous accusations. On multiple occasions, I’ve requested factual information such as the context of the alleged messages and still haven’t received anything. My decision to step down as Majority Whip was nothing more than an attempt to be fair to my fellow caucus members. We have three months to conduct the people’s business and this is a distraction.

Jackson Baker: John Jay Hooker, Statesman at Large (Memphis Flyer) Two-time gubernatorial candidate and champion of numerous causes succumbs to cancer at 85. His last crusade was for assisted-suicide bill. Tennessee has lost John Jay Hooker, the flamboyant, charismatic, and determined figure who was twice a candidate for governor and who, even in political decline, continued to represent issues close to his heart. The most recent cause pushed by Hooker, literally to his dying breath, was a bill, characterized as Death with Dignity, which would allow assisted suicide in Tennessee.

Editorial: Beneath ‘gadfly’ label, John Jay Hooker was a bulldog on important issues (Commercial Appeal) Call him a gadfly, slick lawyer or wily businessman, but if you really knew John Jay Hooker, you knew that he was sincere in the causes he espoused, including his last one. Hooker, 85, a prominent figure in Tennessee politics for five decades, died Sunday after suffering from metastatic melanoma. His last days were spent fighting to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Tennessee.–366510031.html

Monday, January 25

Haslam proclaims Tennessee School Choice Week (Lebanon Democrat) Gov. Bill Haslam proclaimed Jan. 24-30 as “School Choice Week” in Tennessee. Haslam joined more than two-dozen other governors and 210 mayors and county leaders nationwide in issuing proclamations. With more than 200 events to be held to celebrate the Week in Tennessee alone – and with more than 16,000 independently organized events across all 50 states – National School Choice Week will be America’s largest-ever celebration of opportunity in education. Events will include rallies, round-table discussions, coffeehouse meet-ups, festivals, school fairs, and more.

Tributes to the late John Jay Hooker (News Sentinel)

Winfield Dunn and John Jay Hooker — Political Rivals Turned Old Friends (WPLN) Friendship did not come fast between John Jay Hooker and Winfield Dunn. But when it did, it was lasting. “We’ll get in my car, and I try to keep his big foot off my dashboard,” Dunn said, describing their bond shortly before Hooker fell ill last fall. “He likes to relax and lay back, and we just ride.” Hooker was a Nashville businessman and five-time gubernatorial candidate, coming close to winning the governor’s office in 1970. But Dunn, an upstart Republican from Memphis, denied him.

“He was John Jay!”: Officials react to the death of legal legend (WKRN) Many Tennessee officials are sending their memories and thoughts on the passing of well-known attorney and activist John Jay Hooker. Gov. Bill Haslam said “Tennessee has lost one of its most colorful and unique citizens. No one who was alive and in Tennessee can forget his campaign jingle from his race for governor, and no one who ever met John Jay could forget him either. He was creative, smart, outspoken and passionate in his beliefs. We won’t forget him, and we will miss him,”

Larger-than-life Nashville politician Hooker dead at 85 (AP) A family friend says larger-than-life Nashville political figure John Jay Hooker Jr., who spent his last days fighting to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Tennessee, has died at 85. Political strategist Tom Ingram says he received a message from one of Hooker’s daughters that Hooker died Sunday morning in hospice. He had been suffering from metastatic melanoma. Hooker was the Democratic party’s nominee for governor in the 1970 and 1998 races. Many people in Nashville remember him for the spectacular success and sudden failure of his Minnie Pearl’s Fried Chicken franchise.

John Jay Hooker, A Fighter to the End, Dies at 85 (Nashville Scene) John Jay Hooker, the perennial Tennessee candidate, activist and gadfly who nevertheless remained one of the state’s most prominent political figures, has died at the age of 85. After a public battle with cancer, which he turned into one last crusade over the politics of dying, Hooker’s passing means the loss of another towering figure from Nashville’s past. In the irreplaceable Hooker were joined the gifts of an orator, persuader and constitutional scholar, an indefatigable scrapper, a patrician who defended the interests of working people, a charmer and a rascally wit — a man whose concerns as well as his appearance could be termed Lincolnesque.

Attorney, Politician John Jay Hooker Passes Away (WTVF) Well-known Nashville attorney and politician John Jay Hooker has passed away at the age of 85 after a long, hard battle with melanoma. Hooker was legendary in Music City Politics. Once a nominee for Governor and former aide to Robert F. Kennedy, he was one of the few who were born, raised and chose to remain in Music City.

Tennessee’s Hall income tax, solicitor general targets of newly filed bills (News Sentinel) House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada proposes having the Legislature appoint the state attorney general’s top assistant while House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick has proposed a new twist in repealing the Tennessee tax on investment income. Those two measures, both likely to face opposition from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and both sponsored in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, are among 859 new bills filed last week.

#TNLeg Talk: Dealing With Same-Sex Marriage (WPLN) WPLN’s Chas Sisk and Blake Farmer discuss the latest developments in the state legislature. In this conversation, hear why GOP lawmakers had no appetite for the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act” and why Democrats sat silent. There’s also discussion of another bill that appears aimed at undermining same-sex marriage in Tennessee. Finally, a chat about the lawsuit filed by the same group that has been getting county commissions to pass resolutions in support of Tennessee’s right to ignore U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Amended Todd Gardenhire bill on bicycle helmet education now targets state teachers’ union over campaign contributions (Times-Free Press) A bill that originally addressed how students should wear bicycle helmets will hit the Tennessee Senate floor today with an amendment critics say aims to punish the state’s largest teachers union for legal political activity. Sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, Senate Bill 151 began life last year as a measure urging the state Department of Education to include information in a pilot bicycle safety program about “the proper use and positioning of bicycle helmets.”

Bill would freeze tuition at Tenn. colleges, universities (News Sentinel/Commercial Appeal) A pair of state legislators have filed a bill that would freeze tuition and mandatory fees at Tennessee’s public universities until the 2018-19 school year and after that require full governing-board approval for increases greater than 2 percent above the consumer price index. The bill would also institute a tuition-freeze program, starting with freshmen entering college in 2018, in which students’ tuition and mandatory fees would remain fixed at their freshman-year rates through their undergraduate degrees as long as they remain enrolled in school and graduate on time. NS: CA:

Supreme Court Justice confirmation, school vouchers and Article V Convention of the States are General Assembly topics during second week (Columbia Daily Herald) The second week of the 109th General Assembly began last Tuesday with hundreds of bills being filed between Tuesday and Thursday, Jan. 21st, which was the last day to file bills for this session. When I checked on Thursday morning, there were 2,120 Bills filed with approximately 200 more being filed that day. There has been progress with the Conference Committee this week. It has worked to determine how the Supreme Court Justices in Tennessee will be confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly.

City hosts Bowling at legislative dinner (Tullahoma News) Issues such as local control of teacher tenure and access to high-speed broadband Internet across the state were among the topics discussed at the annual legislative dinner held earlier this month. The event was hosted by the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen and held at the Motlow House. Special guest was state Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma).

General Assembly: abortion, vouchers, marijuana on horizon (Tennessean) After a week that featured the passage of a vouchers bill in one subcommittee and the defeat of a marriage bill designed to push back against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in another, there will be no shortage of hotly contested topics as the General Assembly returns to Nashville for its third week of the 2016 session. Here are a few issues that are set to be discussed this week:

State officials pack food for Tennessee’s five food banks (Commercial Appeal) State legislators and staffers, members of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Cabinet and the state Supreme Court, constitutional officers and other officials transformed the Capitol’s War Memorial Auditorium into a giant food-packaging operation for Tennessee’s five food banks last week. The legislature’s community service project packed 50,000 meals in 90 minutes Wednesday.

Jeremy Durham confirms resignation as whip (Tennessean) House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham’s decision Sunday to resign his leadership position in the Tennessee House Republican Caucus came after a two-hour whirlwind in which GOP leadership released a statement from Durham saying he resigned, only to have Durham waffle on his resignation in several emails to The Tennessean. The decision to resign came as Durham spent his afternoon watching the Denver Broncos football team beat the New England Patriots, and in the wake of a Tennessean investigation into inappropriate text messages he sent to three women.

Rep. Durham Steps Down From GOP Leadership Post (AP) A Tennessee lawmaker who narrowly escaped being ousted from House leadership earlier in January has announced he’s resigning as majority whip. Republican state Representative Jeremy Durham of Franklin told colleagues of his decision Sunday. The move came the same day media reports were released of three women who work at the Legislature who allegedly received inappropriate text messages from the married lawmaker.

Rep. Jeremy Durham resigns Majority Whip position (WKRN) State Rep. Jeremy Durham resigned from his caucus position as majority whip on Sunday afternoon. Durham added he will continue to focus on the concerns of his district and the state. “By stepping aside, it is my hope that the Caucus, the Legislature and perhaps even the media can avoid further distractions and return their attention to the important issues that impact the lives of our fellow Tennesseans. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick accepted the resignation of Durham.

Durham resigns as House Majority Whip (WSMV) Representative Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, has resigned his leadership post as House Majority Whip, according to a caucus spokesman. The House Republican Caucus released a statement on Sunday afternoon on behalf of Durham. “…It is clear that the relentless media-driven agenda against me will continue. This targeted media campaign continues to distract our Caucus and the Legislature from focusing on the serious work that needs to be done over the next few months,” the statement read.

Harwell calls for review of sexual harassment policy (Tennessean) House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, on Sunday called for a review of the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policy after a Tennessean investigation found that the existing rules foster an environment mired in secrecy that allows harassment by elected officials to go unchecked. In a statement, Harwell said that she is “disappointed that staffers and others who are regularly at the Capitol do not feel comfortable coming forward” with complaints about sexual harassment.

Cohen: Secret meeting with Iran preceded prisoners’ release (News Sentinel/Commercial Appeal) U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and five other Democrats in Congress took their message directly to Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations during a secret meeting just three weeks before Christmas. Four Americans being held in Iran must be released if relations between the two countries were to improve, they warned. “My message was that we wanted to have good relations and that they had to help us,” said Cohen, a Memphis Democrat.

TVA seeking comment on coal ash storage facility closures (AP) The Tennessee Valley Authority is planning to close coal ash storage facilities at its coal-fired power plants and is asking for the public to comment. A draft environmental impact statement is available online and looks at the impact of closing the facilities in place or closing by removal as well as the impact of closing 10 facilities within three years.

Clayton McWhorter dies at 82 (Nashville Post) Entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Clayton McWhorter, one of the godfathers of Nashville’s health care sector, died Saturday night at age 82. McWhorter moved into the management side of the health care sector after working as a pharmacist. He became a hospital administrator in the HCA organization and eventually rose to president and CEO. He later oversaw the mid-1980s launch of HealthTrust, which spun out a group of smaller HCA hospitals before merging back into the mothership in 1995. He then founded and led LifeTrust America and was its chairman until 2004.

Clayton McWhorter Passes Away At Age 82 (WTVF) Health care entrepreneur Clayton McWhorter has passed away at the age of 82. To say he was well known in the health care industry would be putting it mildly. A building was even named in his honor, and that of his late brother Fred, on the campus of Belmont University: McWhorter Hall. U.S. Senator Bob Corker released a statement saying McWhorter’s “impact on the business, civic and political landscape of Nashville and Tennessee will be felt for decades.”

Clayton McWhorter, Nashville health care pioneer, dies at 82 (Tennessean) R. Clayton McWhorter, who as a veteran health care pioneer, businessman and philanthropist helped put Nashville on the map as a place for health care success, died Saturday night. He was 82. A giant known in the Nashville health care scene and across the nation in health system circles, Mr. McWhorter was a pivotal figure in establishing Nashville as a center for the health care industry.

Nashville healthcare mogul R. Clayton McWhorter dies at 82 (WKRN) The founder of Clayton Associates, LLC, and former president and CEO of Hospital Corporation of America died Saturday night. According to the Clayton Associates website, R. Clayton McWhorter graduated from the University of Tennessee and earned his Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from Samford University in Birmingham. The McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford was named after him in 1995. The 82-year-old served as chairman for multiple organizations throughout the state.

Le Bonheur CEO Talks Big Development Projects on Tap (Memphis Daily News) Walking through several of the big-budget development projects on tap for the hospital over the short and long term, Le Bonheur president and CEO Meri Armour describes this as a consequential moment for the 2,300-employee health care organization. Expansions of service, facilities, treatment and more are all on the way for a hospital built around the fact that inside the 100 mile-radius around Memphis, according to Armour, there are about 1.6 million children.

Hilton launches new budget hotel chain aimed at young guests (Washington Post) Hilton is launching a new hotel brand, focusing on budget travelers looking to spend $75 to $90 a night. The new brand, named Tru, aims to compete with economy and midscale chains like Comfort Inn, Fairfield Inn and La Quinta. The hotels will be in a mix of markets including urban, airport and suburban. The areas include Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Denver, Portland, Oregon, Charlotte, North Carolina, San Antonio, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee.

Domestic abuse is first target of mayor’s council on women (Times-Free Press) Diana Bullock didn’t believe what she was hearing, so she decided to check things out herself. She got on a CARTA bus on Market Street recently and headed out to Hamilton Place mall, determined to find out just how long it would take someone to get there from downtown. “An hour and 49 minutes,” Bullock told members of the Mayor’s Council on Women last week as they gathered around a table in a conference room at City Hall.

Maryville schools to implement random drug testing in 2016-17 (News Sentinel) A new policy at Maryville City Schools aims to make participating in athletics and cheerleading as well as driving to school incentives for students to avoid drugs. The policy also relies on parents to stay involved in their children’s lives. The policy for random drug testing for those groups of students passed the school board on Jan. 11, yet those for and against the initiative say it must be implemented correctly to avoid violating students’ rights.

Rating the 2016 Governors’ Races (Governing) Eight of the 12 states with elections this year could soon have a new party in power. It’s been a busy few months for gubernatorial races. In November, two of the three contests resulted in party switches — a Democratic-to-Republican switch in Kentucky and a Republican-to-Democratic change in Louisiana. For the 2016 races, things are heating up in a few states, leading to changes in how their residents will likely vote. When all is said and done, the watchword remains “competitive.”

East Tennessee teacher parodies Adele’s ‘Hello’ for snow day laughs (WATE) A third grade teacher at Rush Strong School in Strawberry Plains is getting national attention for her parody of Adele’s “Hello.” Mary Morris performed the song for teachers. After the video of her performing the song at a faculty meeting received hundreds of thousands of views, some of her friends helped her create a full music video.

Snow (Adele’s “Hello” parody) – Mary Morris


Editorial: Teachers could get a break on testing pressure (Commercial Appeal) Teachers should be held accountable for their effectiveness in the classroom, but at least two school boards in Tennessee have made a credible case for allowing districts to forgo the use of TNReady test scores in evaluating teachers this year. The Shelby County Schools board is expected to lobby for a waiver alongside boards in Knoxville and Nashville for a range of reasons, beginning with the extra burden that will be placed on teachers and students this spring by TNReady testing, which will replace TCAP-style multiple-choice questions with essay questions and short-answer responses.

Robin Smith: Will Tennessee parents have school choice? (Times-Free Press) This week has been proclaimed “School Choice Week” in Tennessee by Gov. Bill Haslam. The Volunteer State joins 26 other states and 210 mayors across the nation in recognizing the need to optimize education to meet the needs of our children rather than protect the “system” that continues to fail too many. Haslam noted in his proclamation, “Tennessee recognizes the essential role that an effective and accountable system of education plays in preparing children to be successful adults.”

Editorial: Should marijuana be legal for veterans suffering PTSD? (Johnson City Press) Legislation to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Tennessee is once again being debated in the state General Assembly. As Press staff writer Tony Casey reported earlier this month, this time the idea comes with something of a twist: Only military veterans suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) would be given access to medical marijuana. There are an estimated 506,000 veterans now living in Tennessee. Bills to legalize marijuana for medical use in Tennessee have stalled in the General Assembly in recent years.

Sam Stockard: The persecution of Jeremy Durham (TN Ledger) Inhumane and unfair: That’s the only way to describe the “liberal media’s” treatment of state Rep. Jeremy Durham over the last month. You’d have thought he killed somebody, or at least carjacked someone in Brentwood. The poor guy’s just been treated badly. From the looks of things, he never got a break in his entire life. Well, unless you consider how he wriggled out of odd incidents such as a 2003 burglary arrest in Knoxville while attending UT-Knoxville and drug task force allegations of prescription fraud. Charges were dropped in connection with the break-in, which had to do with a former girlfriend and her new boyfriend.

Jeff Woods: Rep. Jeremy Durham Finally Quits House Leadership—At Least Until His Next Tweet (Nashville Scene) At last report (and we could be going out on a limb here) state Rep. Jeremy Durham has resigned his whip job in the House leadership after he was portrayed on the front page of the Sunday Tennessean as a serial sexual harasser. Durham made this announcement tonight, blaming a “relentless media agenda against me.” That was after the House leadership issued a press release saying he’d quit and Durham surprised everyone by going on Twitter to say he hadn’t.

Georgiana Vines: Zach Wamp branches from politics into education, utilities (News Sentinel) Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp has combined an early career in real estate in Chattanooga and years of public service, which included the Oak Ridge community, into a full-time job working with middle schoolers on a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum and with utilities on regulations and investors, including former Vice President Dan Quayle. Wamp, who lives in Chattanooga, represented the 3rd Congressional District from 1995-2011, when he ran for governor rather than seek another term.

Guest column: Building a healthier Tennessee takes commitment (Tennessean) In an annual checkup of our nation’s health, Tennessee ranked 43rd among all 50 states in 2015. As a state, we made incremental progress but still need to improve in the areas of tobacco use, level of physical activity, obesity, diabetes, immunizations for children and infant mortality. Those findings come from United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings Annual Report, which has been measuring national and state health for just over a quarter of a century.

Keel Hunt: NHL All-Star Game in Nashville: Triumph of a bold idea (Tennessean) Next weekend will bring to town a big event that many Nashvillians, myself included, once thought could never happen here. The National Hockey League’s All-Star Game, never before played in Nashville, will be a marquee moment for international hockey fans. But this one moreover will be a milestone that marks the triumph of an ambitious, audacious idea of 21 years ago.

Guest column: Alexander waged ‘bloody battle’ over teacher pay (Tennessean) Keel Hunt’s recent column “1980s teacher pay fight a model for Tennessee politics” reflects on the relationship of “an earlier Republican governor and what was then a Democratic supermajority in the state legislature.” I don’t take issue with the thrust of his column, which cites parallels and differences in education and politics over the decades. But it leaves readers without context for this high-profile dispute between Tennessee’s teachers and their governor that took place more than three decades ago.

Sunday, January 24


‘Charismatic’ John Jay Hooker has died (Tennessean) John Jay Hooker, who was perhaps Nashville’s most recognizable and charismatic political figure, and one of its most controversial, died Sunday morning. He was 85. Mr. Hooker, who had been battling cancer since January 2015, died peacefully with family and friends at Alive Hospice in Nashville. “We have lost another legend,” said Tom Ingram, who, as a reporter for The Tennessean, covered Mr. Hooker’s first campaign for governor in 1966. “Seig (former Tennessean editor John Seigenthaler), George Barrett, and now John Jay. They were giants …”


Haslam’s legislative agenda zeroes in on higher ed bills, cheaper gun permit renewals (Nashville Business Journal) Gov. Bill Haslam has announced his legislative agenda for 2016, prioritizing a pair of higher education bills tied to his administration’s ambitious plan to boost statewide college graduation rates. One bill has was introduced in December: Haslam’s plan to create local governing boards for the six of the state’s universities, dubbed the Focus on College and University Success Act(or FOCUS). The legislation would give more autonomy for Tennessee Board of Regents universities such as Middle Tennessee State University.

THEC report reveals most in demand jobs in Tennessee (Bristol Herald Courier) The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has released the 2016 Academic Supply and Occupational Demand in Tennessee report, which showcases the supply of educated labor in Tennessee as it relates to job vacancies and job demand for various occupations, according to a written statement on The skills gap described in the report is being addressed through a number of initiatives from the State of Tennessee including the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP), part of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, the statement says.

States Worried about Cost of Pesticide Certification Rule (Politico) States are raising concerns over the EPA’s proposal to update certification requirements for applicators of restricted-use pesticides, arguing that the agency is underestimating their costs. They will need money to cover the expense of testing and training, but the EPA is unlikely to give states additional funding. Just how much more will the program cost states? In his Jan. 6 comments, Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson estimated that just the increase in costs to recertify pesticide applicators will far exceed the $39,000 for commercial applicators and $11,000 for private applicators suggested by the agency, arguing that “this estimate is woefully low.”

More people shot to death in Tennessee than killed by vehicles (Times Free Press) More people died from gunshots than car accidents in Tennessee and 20 other states during 2014. Some advocates say that trend will spread nationwide in 2016. During the last decade, gun-related deaths — homicides, suicides and accidental shootings — have increased in Tennessee, while vehicle-related deaths — crashes and pedestrians struck by vehicles — have declined.

Feds seek to link overdose death to Blount pain clinic medical providers (News Sentinel) Federal prosecutors are pushing to prove a group of Maryville medical providers weren’t just everyday drug dealers but dispensers of death. In what would be the first criminal trial in East Tennessee of medical providers on drug conspiracy charges, assistant U.S. attorneys Frank Dale and Jennifer Kolman are seeking to show jurors at least one patient died as a direct result of the prescribing habits of health professionals employed at a Maryville pain clinic.

Phil Bredesen’s arena idea forever changed Nashville (Tennessean) When Mayor Phil Bredesen first began pushing his idea for a downtown arena in the early 1990s, it was because Nashville was losing entertainment business to Murfreesboro, not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Today Bridgestone Arena is one of the busiest arenas in the world based on tickets sold and attendance. The arena is regularly ranked with or ahead of Madison Square Garden, the United Center and the Staples Center.

Arena took downtown Nashville from eerie to epic (Tennessean) On April 1, 1993, during his State of Metro Address, then-Mayor Phil Bredesen shared his vision for Nashville. In what became known as the “helicopter speech” because he described his vision as if flying over the city, Bredesen projected a downtown including a new arena which would spark economic resurgence. NHL All-Star Weekend is the latest example of how Bredesen’s vision and the reality that developed has provided tremendous economic impact to Lower Broadway and revitalized the entire city. It changed many lives, too, including these seven:

Sexual harassment concerns on the Hill (Tennessean) Tennessean investigation finds inappropriate text messages. Tennessee Republican leaders were told of a potential sexual harassment complaint about House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham’s behavior about a week before an unprecedented House GOP caucus meeting to decide the fate of his leadership role, but the specific concerns were never disclosed to his fellow legislators, Republican lawmakers confirmed. The news comes amid a Tennessean investigation into inappropriate text messages from Durham to three women who worked at the statehouse. Durham said Friday he does not remember sending the messages.

Green has diverse background, interests (Leaf-Chronice) Mark Green, Clarksville’s Republican state senator since being elected in 2012, is a doctor, small business owner, veteran and influential voice in Tennessee’s Republican supermajority General Assembly. Born in Monticello, Miss., 51 years ago, Green took the opportunity to attend West Point on scholarship — a path that took him through medical school, sent him to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he treated Saddam Hussein after U.S. forces captured him, and ultimately led to him opening a business and settling in Clarksville.

Bill numbers note: 859 filings in week before deadline (News Sentinel) State representatives filed 859 new bills last week for consideration by the 2016 session. The deadline for filing general bills in both the House and Senate was Thursday. The last-week filings come on top of 359 new bills filed previously for first-time consideration in the 2016 session since the 2015 session ended, making a total of 1,215 new bills filed for 2016. In 2015, 527 bills were enacted into law. Those that were not approved last year can be taken up again in 2016, the second year of the two-year 109th General Assembly.

Insure Tennessee alternative passes initial hurdles (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Haslam’s innovative plan to expand health insurance coverage for Tennessee’s working poor, Insure Tennessee, is nowhere to be found on his 2016 legislative priorities, which is no surprise after the plan’s ignominious treatment by the General Assembly last year. But state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, has proposed an alternative plan that seems to be slowly gaining traction.

Voucher victory worries suburban districts (Commercial Appeal) Public school leaders here are concerned that the speed with which a school voucher bill passed out of key a House committee this week foreshadows victory in the statehouse. If that happens, Bartlett Supt. David Stephens predicts inexperienced private school operators will spring up across the landscape to collect the money. “It will help the Jubilee Schools,” Stephens said, mentioning a small handful of other established private schools, “and I’m grateful for that, but what about someone who comes in to open a school to take this money?”

Rep. Hulsey won’t introduce bathroom bill this session (WJHL) State Rep. Bud Hulsey of Kingsport has decided to not introduce legislation called the bathroom bill, which addresses transgender bathrooms and locker room facilities in public schools.The following is a statement Hulsey released Friday: For this Session, I will not be introducing legislation to address the issue of transgender bathroom and locker room facilities in public schools.

Rep. Halford has GOP challenge in House District 79 (News Sentinel) Daniel Williams of Huntington, a retired U.S. Post Office employee, has announced his candidacy in the Republican primary for the House District 79 seat now held by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Curtis Halford, R-Dyer. On his website, Williams declares himself a “strict constitutionalist” who will support “open carry” for gun owners, “fight against common core” and oppose refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

TCOG names new, politically diverse board members (News Sentinel) From the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government: The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit organization that promotes government transparency, has named five new members to its Board of Directors. They are: Victor Ashe, former Knoxville mayor, state representative, state senator and U.S. Ambassador to Poland; Braden Boucek, litigation director and representative for The Beacon Center of Tennessee; Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-TN; John Williams, attorney with Tune, Entrekin & White, P.C.; Larry Wood, general manager of WNWS-FM, NewsTalk 101.5 FM in Jackson.

UAW union hopes for ‘reset’ on Volkswagen labor relations (AP) The United Auto Workers union is hoping a management overhaul at Volkswagen in the aftermath of its diesel emissions cheating scandal will help ease an impasse over collective bargaining at the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant. But on a visit to Chattanooga last week, new Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller said he hasn’t made up his mind about politically sensitive labor issues at the factory. Mueller told The Associated Press he has been preoccupied with the “diesel issue” since taking over as chief executive last year.

Government contractor opening Nashville-area office, bringing dozens of jobs (Nashville Business Journal) Government contractor StrategicHealthSolutions is opening a Nashville-area office, where it will eventually employ more than 50 people. The company, which specializes in medical review, education and training, program management and systems integration, research and analysis, monitoring and compliance, and enrollment and eligibility, is initially looking to hire 35 people in the area, in positions such as medical review nurses, project supervisors, division managers, coders, a senior human resource generalist and an information technology support specialist, according to a news release.

What’s cooler than our Nashville Crane Watch map? A 3-D version, of course (Nashville Business Journal) We’re quite biased, of course, but we think our interactive Crane Watch development map of Nashville’s epic real estate boom is pretty cool (especially on a snow day…hint hint). Then the folks at Centric Architecture had to go and kick it up a notch (or three). The Nashville design firm took information from our map and created 3-D models of those proposed and already-underway construction projects and incorporated them into images of the current city skyline.


Tom Humphrey: Politics outweigh arguments about school vouchers (News Sentinel) If Tennessee gets into the school voucher business — perhaps probable now with approval last week by a crucial House subcommittee — more credit should go to hardball politics than to the policy arguments reasonably presented by advocates such as Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, sponsor of the bill. There is both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition, though it’s fair to say that most Republicans are supporters and most Democrats are opponents.

Georgiana Vines: Bill targets UT student conduct code (News Sentinel) State Rep. Martin Daniel has introduced legislation that he says confirms the First Amendment right of free speech on campuses of state institutions of higher education throughout Tennessee — even though the University of Tennessee says it already provides this protection. Daniel, a Republican who represents Knoxville’s 18th District, said he knows a UT student who doesn’t feel he can voice his opinions without fear of retaliation in getting admitted to graduate school. Some students are afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled haters or racists, he said.

Joanne Hall: University of Tennessee can’t let legislators dismiss minority voices (News Sentinel) State legislators’ proposed actions in response to the University of Tennessee’s diversity efforts threaten the autonomy and accreditation status of UT Knoxville, a major research university. Legislators demanded that the posts of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion be removed, censored, suggesting that “majority” students at UT suffered repression of their Christian practices — which didn’t occur. Why this interference? What was so offensive to representatives of the people of Tennessee about suggestions for inclusiveness? Answer: They promote “political correctness.” This term should be questioned.–366301501.html

Editorial: State should not kill ASD school reform effort (Commercial Appeal) State Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis is on a mission to get the Achievement School District out of this city, even if it means killing what is probably the state’s most innovative school reform effort. Parkinson, a Democrat, has teamed with state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to file bills in the House and Senate to abolish the ASD, questioning what Parkinson calls its lack of accountability in its failure to improve student performance as rapidly as the Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone.

Scott Broden: Accept gay marriage (Daily News Journal) Gay marriage is the law of the land. Get over it. Many of us have learned to accept same-sex marriage. President Barack Obama went from opposing gay marriage when he ran for president in 2008 to supporting the idea when he ran for re-election. Obama said his position has evolved.

Guest column: Tennessee’s next health care reform (Commercial Appeal) Many Tennesseans rightly blame Washington for rising costs and fewer choices in health care. But outdated state laws and regulations also contribute to this troubling trend, including Tennessee’s decades old certificate of need (CON) laws. These certificates slow progress in local physicians’ offices and reduce the quality of patients’ care. With state legislators in session, repealing this unnecessary law should be their top priority.

Jack McElroy: Presidential coattails may trip Tennessee’s GOP senators (News Sentinel) No statewide offices are up for grabs this election year. But two of Tennessee’s highest-profile politicians have big jobs at stake. U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander ascended to power two years ago when the Republicans took control of the Senate. Corker became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Alexander moved into the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

Clint Cooper: Fleischmann on challenges of 2016 (Times-Free Press) Congressional Republicans would like to steer the country back toward the constitutional way of governing the Founding Fathers created, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, asserts. That idea was one of five topics on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s agenda at the recent GOP “Congress of Tomorrow” legislative retreat in Baltimore. It was a topic that particularly resonated with Fleischmann, the third-term congressman who currently has no opposition for a fourth term in November.

Guest column: Fred Thompson’s wit and service will be missed (Johnson City Press) Our country and state lost a legend late last year. Fred Thompson grew up in rural Lawrenceburg, in Middle Tennessee, and went on to become a well-known attorney, senator and actor. After a recurrence of the lymphoma he first battled in 2004, Thompson died on Nov. 1 at age 73. After his childhood in Lawrenceburg, the star high school athlete was the first in his family to attend college — working his way through while supporting his wife and baby — then on to law school at Vanderbilt University. He embarked on a career as an attorney in the late 1960s.

Friday, January 22

For-Profit Colleges, Abortion And Ex-Cons Make Governor Haslam’s Annual Priority List (WPLN) Education, public safety and abortion. Those are among Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities for this year. Haslam’s office released its list Thursday. The governor’s proposals include reorganizing the Tennessee Board of Regents and a plan to reduce the number of people sent back to prison for nonviolent parole violations. Both proposals were expected, and the latter is part of a broader effort reduce recidivism. The governor also wants to update the state’s regulations on for-profit colleges.

Higher education changes highlight Haslam’s 2016 agenda (AP) Gov. Bill Haslam has released his administration’s 42-bill agenda for this year’s legislative session. The Republican governor’s legislative agenda is highlighted by proposals to restructure higher education governance; increase sentencing requirements for serious crimes; add reporting requirements for the disposal of human fetal tissue and create eight-year handgun carry permits.

Gov. Haslam releases his top legislative priorities (News Sentinel/Commercial Appeal) Gov. Bill Haslam released his top legislative priorities for the year Thursday, including previously announced plans to break up the Tennessee Board of Regents system and revise criminal sentencing plus new ones regulating fetal tissue and for-profit higher education institutions. The governor’s office said the “Fetal Remains Act” seeks to address concerns raised by anti-abortion activists last year regarding Planned Parenthood and the selling of human fetal tissue. NS: CA:

Gov. Haslam’s 2016 agenda: education, abortion, gun permits (Tennessean) Public safety, a continued focus on higher education and issues related to abortion and handguns will be the key components of Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2016 legislative agenda. Among the five components in Haslam’s agenda is what he’s calling the Focus On College and University Success, or FOCUS, Act. The goal of the initiative is to help increase the number of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential to 55 percent by 2025. The effort is being referred to as Drive to 55.

Haslam prioritizes fetal tissue protection, easier gun renewals (Nashville Post) In a sharp shift from year’s past, two of the Gov. Bill Haslam’s top legislative priorities touch on hot-button national issues — abortion and gun rights. The Haslam administration plans on pushing the Fetal Remains Act, a bill to increase reporting of what happens to human fetal remains following surgical abortions. The bill also bans the reimbursement for preservation or shipment of remains, which was at issue in undercover videos released last year of a Planned Parenthood executive discussing charges for harvesting fetal tissue.

Bill outlines Haslam’s plan to change college system (Tennessean) Details surrounding Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to restructure the state’s largest public college system began coming into focus Thursday when legislation outlining the plan was filed in the General Assembly. The proposed “Focus on College and University Success Act” (FOCUS), which will need to be approved by state lawmakers this year, provides insight on the underpinnings of Haslam’s plan to create independent boards for six state universities governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Haslam announces 2016 legislative agenda (WVLT) Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced his legislative agenda for the 2016 session, continuing his focus on education, public safety and efficient and effective state government. “A major focus this session will be on the next step in the Drive to 55: making sure our colleges and universities are organized and empowered in the best way to increase student success and the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or credential,” Haslam said.

Governor may back teacher pay raises in next budget (Times-Free Press) Tennessee has added more than 280,000 net new jobs in the private sector since Bill Haslam became governor six years ago, but Haslam told business leaders here Thursday night that sustaining such job growth will require more adults to be better trained or retrained for 21st century jobs. “Everywhere I go, the first question I get from business prospects has to do with the quality of our workforce,” Haslam told several hundred members of the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce at their 90th annual meeting.

Putnam Co. Has 5 Salt Trucks, 700 Tons of Salt for Rest of Winter (WZTV) Putnam County has a week’s worth of salt, or 700 tons. Highway employees are hoping it’s enough for this winter/ Putnam County Road Supervisor Randy Jones said about a quarter of the county’s highway budget is paid for by the county. The rest is paid for by the state transportation budget, which gets its revenue from the gas tax. “We’d like to have a little more money and contract services and possibly some money for equipment,” Randy Jones said, road supervisor. It’s up to Jones to request more highway money from Putnam County commissioners, but it’s up to the state legislature to approve a gas tax hike. There hasn’t been once since 1989 and Governor Bill Haslam said last week the gas tax will not be raised this year.

Mayor Barry, Gov. Haslam proclaim ‘School Choice Week’ for city, state (WKRN) Mayor Megan Barry has officially proclaimed January 24 to 30, 2016 as “School Choice Week” in Nashville. Governor Bill Haslam also made the same proclamation for the state of Tennessee. Barry and Haslam join thirty governors and 230 mayors and county leaders nationwide in issuing proclamations. With nearly 250 events being held to celebrate the Week in Tennessee alone – and with more than 16,000 independently organized events across all 50 states – National School Choice Week will be America’s largest-ever celebration of opportunity in education.

Governor Haslam Proclaims January 24-30 “Tennessee School Choice Week” Joining Leaders Nationwide in Celebrating Opportunity in Education (Business Wire) Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has officially recognized January 24-30, 2016 as “Tennessee School Choice Week”. Governor Haslam joins thirty other governors and 230 mayors and county leaders nationwide in issuing proclamations. “Millions of people across the country, regardless of which type of schooling they choose, are united in their view that greater choice means greater opportunities for our children to thrive.”

Nashville Farmers’ Market sheds may be torn down for state museum (Tennessean) Two sheds where craft merchants set up shop at the city-operated Nashville Farmers’ Market might be torn down to make room for a new parking lot that would accommodate a new Tennessee State Museum coming next door. The state owns the entire stretch of property on Rosa Parks Boulevard that is home to Metro’s farmers market as well as land at the corner of Jefferson Street where a long-discussed state museum is slated to begin construction in April.

Tennessee Board Of Regents Approves Governor’s Temporary Chancellor Pick (WPLN) The largest public college system in the state has a new leader. David Gregory, the vice chancellor for administration and facilities development with the Tennessee Board of Regents, will be promoted after current chancellor John Morgan leaves at the end of the month. Morgan announced two weeks ago that he would resign, calling it an early retirement. The biggest reason he gave was his dissatisfaction with Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to restructure the TBR system.

Board of Regents chooses Gregory as interim chancellor (TN Ledger) The Tennessee Board of Regents has chosen longtime lobbyist and state official David Gregory to serve as interim chancellor until a replacement is selected for outgoing leader John Morgan. Morgan announced his resignation in protest of the governor’s higher education restructuring proposal. In a telephone conference call, the board voted unanimously to approve Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s recommendation to elevate Gregory to the post.

Board of Regents picks David Gregory as interim leader (Tennessean) Bolstered by the endorsement of Gov. Bill Haslam, David Gregory was appointed Thursday to serve as acting chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents after John Morgan retires at the end of the month. Haslam, who serves as honorary chairman of the Board of Regents and appoints its members, recommended Gregory during a special called meeting to replace Morgan, who is set to step down as chancellor on Jan. 31. Haslam said Gregory, who has spent almost 20 years as a high-ranking Board of Regents staff member, will serve as “a strong and steady hand” as the organization faces massive changes during the upcoming legislative session.

Tenn. Board of Regents selects David Gregory as acting chancellor (News Sentinel) Experience in higher education and state government made David Gregory the “strong and steady hand” to lead the Tennessee Board of Regents during the search for a new chancellor. Gregory was appointed as acting TBR chancellor Thursday during a special phone meeting of the board.

David Gregory named acting Tennessee Board of Regents chancellor (Times-Free Press) The Tennessee Board of Regents today appointed David Gregory acting chancellor for the State University and Community College System of Tennessee at the recommendation of Gov. Bill Haslam, the board’s chairman. Gregory will replace current Chancellor John Morgan, who announced earlier this month he was quitting over Republican Haslam’s plan to split up the TBR and spin off six four-year universities into self-governing boards.

APSU freshmen enrollment up in spite of TN Promise (APSU All-State) Despite concerns that TN Promise would drive students away from traditional four-year universities, APSU experienced an increase of more than 8 percent in first-time degree-seeking freshmen from 2014, according to the annual Common Data Set initiative. The Common Data Set is a yearly publication containing enrollment, financial aid and demographic information for the current academic year.

Tennessee Governor talks about Alabamians coming up for ‘Lotto Tourism’ (WHNT) As the Powerball jackpot kept rising, more and more Alabamians ventured across state lines to try their luck. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he welcomes the so-called ‘lotto tourists.’ “It probably ended up to Tennessee’s advantage, those additional ticket sales,” said Governor Haslam. Governor Haslam says the state lottery has the potential to boost a lot more than just convenience store revenue.

Toledo Molding & Die To Invest $20M, Create 250 Jobs In TN (Business Facilities) Toledo Molding & Die, Inc. (TMD) will build a new manufacturing facility in Fayetteville, TN. The supplier of interior and air and fluid management systems for the automotive industry will invest $20 million and create 250 new jobs. “TMD is excited to be partnered with the great state of Tennessee and the outstanding people of Fayetteville-Lincoln County as we embark on this very important expansion of our business,” said TMD President and CEO Steve Ciucci. “We selected Tennessee because of its proximity to our customers, the availability and quality of the workforce, the high quality of life Tennessee offers our employees and the pro-business environment in the state.”

Department of Economic and Community Development seeks input on broadband access (Lewis Co. Herald) Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development is evaluating the availability of broadband internet through a statewide assessment. The survey, which began Tuesday January 5, stems from Commissioner Randy Boyd’s listening tour in 2015, during which business and economic officials voiced their concerns about a lack of broadband access in rural parts of the state.

CDC: Drug Overdoses Double in Tennessee Since 2002 (Nashville Scene0 In Tennessee, drug overdoses more than doubled from 2002 through 2014, according to data released Jan. 19 by the Center for Disease Control. In 2002, 491 people in the state died of drug overdoses; in 2014, that number rose to a startling 1,269, putting the state fourth in the whole country for overdose deaths by sheer numbers. In Davidson County, the rate of overdose deaths nearly doubled.

State unemployment rate rises slightly to 5.6% (Nashville Post) Tennessee’s preliminary unemployment rate for December was 5.6 percent, up from the November revised rate of 5.5, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced today. From December 2014 to December 2015, Tennessee’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent from 6.6 percent, according to a release.

Jobless rate up in Tennessee, down in Georgia (Times-Free Press) Tennessee and Georgia added jobs at a faster pace than the country as a whole during 2015, but both states ended the year with higher jobless rates than the national average due to faster growth in the number of people looking for work. Unemployment edged up a tenth of a percent across Tennessee in December to 5.6 percent as the number of persons seeking jobs grew faster than the increase in employment. In Georgia, the jobless rate fell a tenth of a percent at the end of 2015 to 5.5 percent — the lowest monthly rate in nearly seven years.

Most Tennesseans get ObamaCare credit (Times-Free Press) Among the Tennesseans who have signed up or been re-enrolled for one of the health care exchanges offered under the Affordable Care Act this year, 83 percent have qualified for a tax credit with an average value of $301 per month, or about 73 percent of the pre-tax credit premium, the government said Thursday.

AP reporter joins TSU as media relations director (TN Ledger) Lucas Johnson, a longtime reporter with the Associated Press, has joined the communications team at Tennessee State University as director of Media Relations. He replaces Rick DelaHaya. Prior to joining TSU, Johnson worked for 24 years with the AP covering local, state and national news. For the last 10 years he covered the Tennessee General Assembly as a beat reporter. A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Johnson holds a B.A. in journalism from Middle Tennessee State University.

Analysts: Other states to expand Medicaid before Tennessee (Tennessean) When Wayne Smith, chairman and CEO of Community Health Systems, asked a panel of health care industry analysts to predict which state would be next to expand Medicaid, he found himself on the other side the question. “When is Tennessee going to do it?” quipped Andy Schenker, a Morgan Stanley vice president of research, in response to Smith’s lightning round question at “Wall Street’s View on Prospects for the Health Care Industry,” hosted by the Nashville Health Care Council.

Tennessee Lawmakers Come Up With A Plan To Confirm Judges, And It’s Complicated (WPLN) The problem was fundamentally this: There are three times more representatives in the Tennessee legislature than senators. So how do you keep a handful of senators — or an overwhelming majority of representatives — from controlling who gets to be a judge? To solve that riddle, inspiration had to strike. “I don’t know if I want to say, per se. But it came to me after a cup of coffee, truly, early yesterday morning,” Bristol Republican Jon Lundberg said with a laugh.

State Senate approves bill exempting new cars from emissions testing (Times-Free Press) Tennessee senators on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill exempting newer vehicles from auto emissions testing, despite one lawmaker’s concerns about the impact on pollution standards given the Volkswagen scandal. Senators voted 29-3 for the measure with three Democrats voting no. The bill exempts vehicles less than three years old from the testing requirements. Changes, however, would have to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

State Senate votes to end emissions tests for new cars (AP) The state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday to end emissions testing in Tennessee for new cars, brushing aside concerns that relaxing standards might be a bad idea in light of the Volkswagen scandal. The chamber voted 29-3 in favor of the measure to exempt cars less than 3 years old from the testing requirements. The change would also have to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Doctors fight to keep pay private as court experts (Tennessean) Should experts who testify in trials have to reveal how much they are paid for their testimony? A Middle Tennessee representative has proposed a bill that would prevent any public release of an expert’s compensation. Though the bill would apply to all expert witnesses, Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said he fears that revealing such information would prevent doctors specifically from providing crucial opinions.

State bill would crack down on scalpers, fake tickets (Tennessean) Brokers who resell tickets for concerts and sporting events on secondary markets would have to register with the state and disclose to buyers the legitimacy of their tickets under new state legislation filed Thursday. The bill, filed by lead sponsor state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, is meant to protect fans from buying fake tickets. Brokers who fail to register or who sell fake tickets would be subject to criminal fines, according to the legislation.

Bill Would Raise Tobacco Age From 18 To 21 (WTVF) A bill filed in legislation would raise the age requirement for the purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old. Senator Jim Tracy introduced the bill, which included vapor products. He argued raising the age will make it more difficult for 16 and 17 year olds to start smoking. Senator Tracy said several doctors came to him and convinced him to file the legislation. They talked about the dangers of smoking, and how teenagers were more susceptible to addiction. Anyone under the age of 21 would no longer be able to purchase tobacco and vapor products that include nicotine.

Bill would create September legislative session (Tennessean) Those who can’t get enough General Assembly action would get more if a bill filed last week becomes law. Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, has a simple idea: convene a September session in each odd-numbered year. Hawk’s legislation would allow lawmakers the opportunity to introduce 99 bills and resolutions in each chamber during a session that would begin the Tuesday after Labor Day and end no later than Sept. 30.

Rock Quarry Bill Filed In Legislature (WTVF) A bill has been filed on Capitol Hill, which would stop the proposed rock quarry near Old Hickory Lake. Residents who live near the site have been trying to stop it in Metro Council. Democratic Representative Bill Beck filed three bills on the matter Thursday. The quarry is in his district. The proposed rock quarry in Old Hickory is on Burnett Road where Industrial Developers owns 155 acres there. One of Representative Beck’s bills would create buffer zones between a quarry and a park, school or residential area.

Senator Gresham Files Legislation To Control Tuition Growth At State Colleges (Chattanoogan) Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) Thursday filed the Tennessee Tuition Stability Act to control the exponential growth in tuition at Tennessee’s state colleges and universities. Senate Bill 2306 limits tuition growth to increases in the consumer price index and locks-in tuition for entering freshmen for four years. Any increase above and beyond the CPI would require approval from at least two-thirds of the Board of Regents or the University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees.

Tennessee Republicans Block Legislation Honoring Hispanic Activist Renata Soto (WPLN) Republican lawmakers are objecting to a plan to honor Nashville-based immigration activist Renata Soto. They’re balking at a resolution that congratulates her for being elected chair of the board of directors of the National Council of La Raza. That organization represents Latinos and has advocated for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Soto denied honorary resolution (Nashville Post) Rep. John Ray Clemmons filed a resolution honoring Renata Soto, a Nashville Hispanic activist and newly-elected chair of Hispanic activist group La Raza. It was due for its perfunctory vote, along with a host of other such honorary resolutions, but was pulled by Rep. Glen Casada, who said an as-yet-unknown colleague asked him to yank it off the consent calendar because of concerns about La Raza.

Tennessee nurse practicioners pushing for more autonomy (News Sentinel) For more than eight years, nurse practicioner Tami Bland has provided primary care to children at a nurse-managed health clinic at Vine Middle School. She and five other pediatric nurse practitioners handle well-checks, shots, acute illnesses, minor injuries, chronic conditions and the overall health care of some 4,000 children a year, from newborns to special-education students in their early 20s. Two-thirds have TennCare and a small percentage private insurance; the rest have no insurance at all.

Tennessee Dems want eligibility check on presidential ballot (AP) Two Tennessee Democrats want to pass a law to require the state to enforce the U.S. Constitution’s “natural born citizen” requirement on this November’s presidential ballot. State Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. Jason Powell, both of Nashville, filed the bill on Thursday that would bar the secretary of state from placing the nominee of either party on the ballot if they fail to meet the constitutional eligibility requirements.

Impatient Clemmons anxious for minority voice to be heard (TN Ledger) Democratic state Rep. John Ray Clemmons is only halfway through his first two-year term representing District 55 in Nashville. But he’s not willing to wait years to speak out or push for change. Being in the minority doesn’t stop him, either. “I am an outspoken freshmen. I’ve been told it’s a bad thing,” the 38-year-old father of three tells a group of Democrats at a recent Murfreesboro gathering.

Black Caucus Demanding Change To Achievement School District (Commercial Appeal) The Tennessee Legislature’s Black Caucus, led by Memphis members, has its sights set squarely on the Achievement School District, either eliminating it or putting it on hold until major improvements are made. State Rep. Antonio Parkinson filed legislation Wednesday, Jan. 20, to abolish the state-run system at the end of the 2015-16 school year and require all schools in the bottom 2.5 percent of overall achievement on state standards in 2017-18 be governed under an Innovation Zone run by local school districts.

Christian activist files suit aimed at revisiting top court’s gay marriage ruling (Times-Free Press) A day after Tennessee Republican lawmakers shot down a bill that purported to “nullify” the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, former state Sen. David Fowler filed a state lawsuit he believes ultimately can lead to the nation’s highest court’s review of its gay marriage ruling. The legal action was filed in Williamson County Chancery Court against county clerk Elaine Anderson, who is responsible for issuing marriage licenses. me-sex-marriage-ruling/345886/

New court challenge to same-sex marriage is filed in Tennessee (News Sentinel/Commercial Appeal) A day after state lawmakers killed a legislative effort to ban same-sex marriage in Tennessee, five residents filed a lawsuit opening a new court challenge that they hope will eventually lead the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation. The lawsuit, filed in Williamson County Chancery Court, specifically asks state courts to declare Tennessee’s marriage license law — which still says that a license can be issued only to one male and one female — is invalid in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. CA: NS:

Conservative Activists Argue U.S. Supreme Court Made Tennessee’s Straight Marriages Illegal (WPLN) Conservatives have filed a lawsuit in Williamson County that they hope will lead to overturning the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision. Their argument: If the state law banning marriage by gay couples is invalid, so is the law that allows straight couples to wed. The suit is being filed in state court against the clerk’s office in Williamson County. It comes a day after Tennessee legislators declined to get involved in the same-sex marriage fight.

Williamson suit seeks halt to issuing marriage licenses (Tennessean) A group of Williamson County residents, including three ministers, is asking Williamson County Clerk Elaine Anderson to stop issuing all marriage licenses until a lawsuit filed on Thursday is settled. The lawsuit, filed in chancery court by former lawmaker David Fowler on behalf of the Constitutional Government Defense Fund, is attempting to challenge how Tennessee is affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage.

Lawsuit Filed In Williamson Co. Over Same-Sex Marriage (WTVF) A lawsuit has been filed in Williamson County to stop county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The lawsuit was filed today in Williamson County Chancery Court. It asks the court to decide if Tennessee’s marriage statute is invalid. If it is, then the clerk shouldn’t be able to issue a marriage license. Former state lawmaker David Fowler filed the suit Thursday. He represents five people including three ministers.

US Nitrogen plant foes not giving up the fight (News Sentinel) Even as the controversial pipeline that would take water to and from the Nolichucky River for use by the US Nitrogen plant moved closer and closer to his property, Greene County resident Don Bible was confident he could take legal action to stop the machines from digging on his property. “We’re not living in Russia,” he said. Almost a year later, with the double pipeline installed across his land and ready to start pumping water to the plant just a few miles down the road, Bible and other local residents are still not willing to admit defeat.

Rules to protect smaller waterways survive (AP) New federal rules to protect smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands have survived the latest Republican effort to block them. Congress last week sent President Barack Obama a “resolution of disapproval” that would scrap the rules, a measure he promptly vetoed. On Thursday, the Senate voted 52-40, falling short of the three-fifths threshold to vote on a veto override.

Shelby County awarded $60M federal grant for flood programs (Commercial Appeal) Shelby County has been awarded a $60 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to aid areas impacted by flooding in April 2011 and to conduct a study on how the county will better prepare for future flooding. “It’s a good day for Shelby,” Mayor Mark Luttrell said Thursday after announcing the county was one of 13 winners in HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Competition.

Wall Street analysts predict the future of health care, politics (Nashville Business Journal) Analysts at the Nashville Health Care Council’s annual ‘Wall Street’ panel tackled the tough questions Thursday afternoon, such as: “Who’s the next president?” “What state will expand Medicaid next?” And “Now that he’s basically bought everything in England, what country will Joey Jacobs enter next?” Their answers, for the most part: Hillary Clinton, Virginia or Alabama (definitely not Tennessee), and still to be determined.

Verso prepares for bankruptcy filing, sources say (Commercial Appeal) Verso Corp. is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection as a grace period on a missed interest payment nears expiration, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The Memphis paper maker, which is backed by Apollo Global Management LLC, missed payments owed to two sets of creditors earlier this month. The five-day grace period for skipping the amount owed to some lenders expires Friday. Verso is seeking approval from the creditors on a bankruptcy plan that would convert almost all of the company’s $2.8 billion of debt into equity.

Wal-Mart cutting 88 jobs in Nashville (Tennessean) The impending closure of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in East Nashville will cut 88 jobs, according to a WARN Act notice filed with the state’s labor department. The store at 1220 Gallatin Ave. is one of 269 Wal-Mart stores worldwide — including all of the company’s 102 Express format stores — slated to close in the coming months as the retail behemoth shifts its focus to Supercenters and e-commerce.

Fed wades into Memphis versus Nashville debate (Memphis Business Journal) Memphis and Nashville have a bit of a rivalry. I don’t know if the economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis knew that when they wrote the bank’s most recent blog post, “Measuring and comparing local economies: Memphis vs. Nashville,” but it feels like they did. Without a doubt, the chart below provides some rare solid data points for comparing the two city’s economies. As the blog post explains, when economists talk about national growth, it’s via growth domestic product (GDP). There is an analogous statistic for metropolitan areas: the gross metropolitan product (GMP).

The Curious Case of Disappearing Corporate Taxes (Governing) Over the past two decades, corporations have doubled their profits but contributed increasingly less to state revenues. Where is all the money going? Nationally, real net corporate income revenues have grown on average at about half the pace of total revenues in states collecting the taxes over the past two decades, according to a Governing analysis of financial data reported to the U.S. Census Bureau. This weak growth of corporate taxes took place despite rising corporate profits, which more than doubled in the same time period, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.

Mass. Governor Charlie Baker Delivers 1st State of the State (NECN) Gov. Charlie Baker discussed accomplishments from his first year in office and looked ahead to issues he considers critical to the future of Massachusetts during his first State of the State address. The Republican delivered the speech Thursday night to a joint session of the Legislature – overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats – and a statewide television audience. Baker said Wednesday that he expected much of the speech to focus on “things that people have heard me talk about before,” including energy policies and the state’s ongoing opioid addiction crisis.


Clint Cooper: Giving vouchers space to breathe (Times-Free Press) A bill which passed out of a state House subcommittee Wednesday would give low-income, public school students “opportunity scholarships” to attend private schools. The concept of educational vouchers in Tennessee got the go-ahead Wednesday to be discussed further in the state House. Where there should have been confetti thrown, instead Democrats and public-education purists ran around as if the world were ending.

Editorial: School superintendents should be appointed, not elected (Johnson City Press) More than two decades ago, Tennessee lawmakers approved a visionary K-12 reform plan that included a provision requiring all school superintendents (who are also called director of schools in some districts) to be appointed by local boards of education instead of being elected every four years by the voters. The idea behind the move was to bring a greater degree of professionalism to the position of school superintendent by insulating the job from petty politics.

Editorial: Voters in Tennessee and Mississippi deserve online registration (Commercial Appeal) Residents of Tennessee and Mississippi may soon have the opportunity to register to vote online, a significant improvement in the current system that would bring these two states up to speed on a growing national trend. In Tennessee, the legislative push for online registration is being led by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, with the support of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a former Republican legislator from Bartlett.

Editorial: Compromise on confirmations is reasonable (News Sentinel) A joint committee in the state Legislature has come up with a sensible compromise plan outlining the process for judicial confirmations in Tennessee. The plan ends a year-long impasse on how to approve a nominee to the state’s Supreme Court and two appellate courts, and if approved by both legislative chambers would clear the way for a vote to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in the coming weeks.

Column: Tennessee Lawmakers Act Goofy, Attack Each Other Over Car Pollution (Nashville Scene) The state Senate met today and hilarity ensued. Senators voted to ask the federal EPA to let Tennesseans skip emissions testing for newer cars, and the idea spawned a weird debate about global warming, pollution, how much Republicans hate Washington, and alfalfa crops. If the EPA will go along with it, it sounds like a great idea, right? Why should newer cars—models no older than 3 years—go through emissions testing when they all pass anyway?

Column: Gay rights activists battle the legislature’s latest offensive against same-sex marriage (Nashville Scene) It’s the stuff of legend — that time gay rights activists ventured into little country towns across Tennessee and lived to tell about it. Like hobbits trekking to Mordor, they bravely went forth to drum up support for same-sex marriage. In a surprise twist, they claim to have succeeded. More precisely, they say they managed to convince people that the Tennessee Defense of Natural Marriage Act, which purports to nullify the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage, is a waste of tax money.

Column: Lawsuit Challenges Same-Sex Marriage in Tennessee (Nashville Scene) Just when you thought yesterday’s stunning defeat of the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act would turn the state’s conservative Christians into a sad collection of emotional wrecks and basket cases, to the rescue comes David Fowler. The president of the Tennessee Family Action Council filed a lawsuit today in an attempt to stop the state from issuing any more marriage licenses. The way Fowler sees it, if the Supreme Court is making Tennessee give licenses to gay couples, then by God we won’t give them to anyone at all.

Column: House Supermajority Disses Renata Soto (Nashville Scene) Renata Soto is kind of like the Mother Teresa of Nashville’s hispanic community. A tireless advocate, she’s one of the founders of the Casa Azafrán Community Center, and she was just named chair of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest national hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. So state House Democrat John Ray Clemmons saw it as a slam dunk to pass a resolution honoring her. But today the House’s mighty Republican supermajority disagreed.

Thursday, January 21

‘Reconnect and Complete’ aims to help adults finish degrees (News Sentinel) Nancy Dietrich can almost recite the stories by heart. “I’ve been out of school so long. I really don’t know who to contact or how to get started.” That’s the gist of many of the emails Dietrich has received since the revamped Tennessee Reconnect website,, launched about a week ago. Dietrich, the assistant project director in the Office of Academic Affairs and Student Success for the University of Tennessee system, works as the first contact for Tennesseans who are thinking about returning to college and finishing their degrees at UT.

Governor promotes Tennessee Reconnect, Program encourages adults to complete degree (Hartsville Vidette) Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last week announced “Tennessee Reconnect + Complete,” a Drive to 55 initiative focused on encouraging Tennessee adults with some college credit to return to college and complete their degree. According to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), approximately 940,000 Tennessee adults have enrolled in a postsecondary institution in the state and achieved some college credit but left before obtaining a degree or credential.

New Fayetteville manufacturing company to create 250 jobs (WKRN) A new manufacturing company in Fayetteville will create 250 jobs. Governor Bill Haslam, alongside other officials, announced Wednesday Toledo Molding & Die Inc.’s plan to open a Tennessee location. The company said it will invest $20 million in the project. “We thank TMD for choosing Lincoln County as the location of its newest manufacturing operations and creating 250 new jobs in Fayetteville,” Gov. Haslam said.

Tennessee Governor: New facility to bring 250 new jobs to Fayetteville (WHNT) Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam traveled to Motlow College in Fayetteville for a big economic announcement this morning. Toledo Molding & Die is building a new facility. The company plans to invest $20 million in a new 126,000 square-foot facility. The new building will be located in Fayetteville-Lincoln County Industrial Park. Tthe global company could have chosen anywhere to expand but they chose Lincoln County. Company President Stephen Ciucci says partly because of the county’s location.

Auto supplier bringing 250 jobs to Fayetteville (Times-Free Press) Toledo Molding & Die, Inc., announced plans today to build a $20 million automotive supply production facility in Fayetteville, Tenn., that will employ 250 workers. TMD, a Toledo-based supplier of interior and air and fluid management systems for the automotive industry, is building its fourth facility outside of its home state with the new Tennessee factory. Construction is set to begin next month on a 126,000-square-foot complex in the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Industrial Park. Production at the plant should begin this fall.

Toledo Molding & Die, Inc. Invests $20 Million To Develop Facility In Fayetteville, Tenn. (Area Development) Toledo Molding & Die, Inc., a global, full service supplier of interior and air and fluid management systems for the automotive industry, will invest $20 million to build a new manufacturing facility in Fayetteville, Tennessee. The company plans to create 250 jobs. The Fayetteville facility will be the company’s fourth location outside of its home state. TMD will build a new 126,000 square foot manufacturing facility in the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Industrial Park, a Select Tennessee Certified Site. Construction is slated to begin in the next four weeks and the facility is expected to be operational by the fourth quarter of this year.–die-fayetteville-tennessee252234.shtml

20-year lawsuit over institutions for disabled nears end (Tennessean) A 20-year lawsuit over conditions in state institutions for people with intellectual disabilities is one step closer to an end, with a federal judge dismissing all but one remaining obligation for an East Tennessee facility to close this summer. People First v. Clover Bottom was first filed in 1995 after a federal investigation revealed dangerous conditions and practices that violated the rights of residents in two large state-run institutions: Clover Bottom Developmental Center in Nashville and Greene Valley Developmental Center in Greeneville.

GVDC Closure Final Step To Free DIDD From Suit (Greeneville Sun) Closure of Greene Valley Developmental Center is now the only still-to-be-completed provision of an agreement allowing the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to resolve a federal lawsuit. A news release from DIDD issued Tuesday says a federal judge has issued an order vacating injunctive relief and partially dismissing the long-standing Clover Bottom lawsuit following completion of all but one final section of an exit plan.

U of M launches push into biologistics research (Commercial Appeal) The University of Memphis on Friday will launch a Biologistics Research Cluster in which 16 faculty members will study the bioscience industry’s transportation and logistics issues. The U of M’s Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute and the FedEx Institute of Technology have scheduled “lightning talks” from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the FedEx institute to explain nine ongoing research projects.

Report details responses to anti-immigrant sentiment (Tennessean) The history of fear and attacks against Muslims, immigrants and refugees in the state is the subject of a new report from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Entitled “Countering the Backlash: Strategies for responding to anti-refugee and xenophobic activity from the New South,” the report also looks at ways communities have responded to actions aimed at deterring Muslims, immigrants and refugees from coming to or staying in Tennessee.

Report: Countering the Backlash

Legislative proposals prompt Muslim community efforts (Tennessean) Abdou Kattih’s daughter recently decided to do a project on Syria for her third-grade class. Part of that project involved a picture of a young boy and girl standing in front of a Syrian flag. Looking at the image, she told her father “they look like me and my brother, except they don’t have our flag behind them, they have their flag.”

Local state reps. file legislation to stop Islamic indoctrination in Tennessee schools (WJHL) Representatives Matthew Hill, Timothy Hill and Micah Van Huss announced Wednesday that they have filed legislation to stop Islamic religious indoctrination in Tennessee schools. According to a news release received from Rep. Matthew Hill’s office, the decision to file legislation came after public public outcry from parents, students and school administrators. “I have heard from people all over our community who share my deep concern about the leeway that is allowed in the current standards,” Rep. Matthew Hill said.

Bill seeks to prevent religious indoctrination in schools (Tennessean) A state lawmaker filed a bill Wednesday to quell statewide concerns about religious indoctrination in public schools. Middle school students learn about major world religions in social studies, and in recent months, some parents and officials have raised concerns about how and what students learn about Islam. The bill enables local school boards to set guidelines on how religions are taught in school, among other things.

“Islamic Indoctrination” Bill Filed (WTVF) A bill has been filed in legislation to stop “Islamic religious indoctrination” in Tennessee schools. The Republican-sponsored bill came after public outcry from parents and school administrators. The complaints claimed that current textbooks have over-emphasized Islam teaching, while excluding other religions. A portion of the measure said religion in books, and other materials can only be for educational purposes and not to promote a religion or belief.

Bill introduced to stop ‘Islamic indoctrination’ (Nashville Post) Northeast Tennessee delegation says Islam being taught exclusively in world religions’ class. From a release: Earlier today, the northeast Tennessee legislative delegation, including State Representative Matthew Hill (R–Jonesborough), State Representative Timothy Hill (R–Blountville), and State Representative Micah Van Huss (R–Johnson City), announced they have filed legislation to officially stop Islamic religious indoctrination in Tennessee schools.

Green files driverless car bill, pushes for R&D jobs (Nashville Post) Sen. Mark Green, Republican of Clarksville, has filed legislation opening the door for testing and production of driverless cars. In addition, he is working with Nashville mayor Megan Barry in an effort for the Music City to win a Smart Cities grant: To position Tennessee for the next generation of auto industry job growth, Tennessee Senator Mark Green, MD (R-Clarksville) has filed legislation that establishes a business climate that encourages Autonomous Vehicle testing and production.

Green pushes to allow tests of self-driving vehicles (Leaf Chronicle) State Sen. Mark Green, a Clarksville Republican, has filed a bill in the Tennessee General Assembly that would “encourage” autonomous vehicle testing and production in the Volunteer State, his office said. The legislation, intended to position the state to be a player in the next generation of auto-industry growth, would enable governments of large cities “to relieve mass-transit pressures,” as well as allow the state’s “auto giants to lead in high-tech jobs creating the cars of the not-too-distant future,” according to a Senate press release.

Judicial appointment process resolution advances (Tennessean) A group of lawmakers charged with outlining the confirmation and rejection process of judicial appointments made by the governor reached a resolution Wednesday. The move came after state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, began a lunchtime meeting by introducing another suggestion to the panel. Lundberg’s idea was an attempt to resolve several issues that have been discussed since the committee initiated its latest round of talks last week.

Latest judicial confirmation plan raises bar for rejection (Nashville Post) Conference committee backs plan requiring two-thirds vote for single chamber to block appointment. After nearly a week of negotiating how to confirm judges and conjuring up nefarious plots that characters in the future could use to manipulate the seating of a Supreme Court justice, a committee of lawmakers has found common ground. The plan — approved on a 10-0 vote by members of the legislation’s conference committee Wednesday — includes both chambers meeting jointly to confirm or reject a candidate on a simple majority vote, according to Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, sponsor of the bill.

Jury Still Out on Tennessee Appellate Conundrum (Memphis Flyer) Tennesseans may have thought that they’d solved the question of judicial confirmation back in 2014, when a constitutional amendment to clarify how the state’s appellate judges were appointed passed easily. The amendment, co-sponsored by state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and state Representative Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), abandoned what had been a judicial nominating commission on the front end and added the important proviso of legislative approval or rejection on the back end.

‘Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act’ (News Sentinel) News release from Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville: Representative Martin Daniel (R-18th District) has filed a bill that would confirm the First Amendment right of students enrolled in Tennessee institutions of higher education. House Bill 2063, entitled “The Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” would require that institutions of higher education adopt a policy on speech and expression that would confirm students’ freedom of speech as a fundamental right, guarantee them the broadest latitude to speak about any issue that presents itself, and allow students to openly and vigorously discuss ideas that other members of the institution’s community might oppose.

School voucher bill jumps major hurdle in state House (News Sentinel/Commercial Appeal) The school voucher bill jumped a major committee hurdle in the state House on Wednesday, which could pave the way for passage this year after years of efforts by voucher supporters. Vouchers allow students’ families to take public school funding to pay for private school tuition. House Bill 1049, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, would limit vouchers to low-income students (defined as those who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches) attending schools in the bottom 5 percent as determined by performance standards defined by the state Board of Education. NS: CA:

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick argues for voucher bill, bashes Hamilton County over school-funding lawsuit, Ooltewah rape scandal (Times-Free Press) The years-long battle to create a school voucher program in Tennessee cleared a hurdle Wednesday and is heading toward another major test in the full House Finance Committee, where it has never passed. Proponents of using public tax dollars to fund the “opportunity scholarships” for as many as 20,000 low-income students hailed the House Finance Subcommittee’s approval. But even some supporters acknowledged the going may get rougher in the Finance Committee. Opponents, meanwhile, said the bill slid through the subcommittee as a result of several slick moves by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.

Tennessee private-school voucher bill clears House Finance Subcommittee (Times-Free Press) With one legislative opponent away for a surgery, a private-school voucher bill finally cleared the Tennessee House Finance Subcommittee today after years of effort. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, approved on a voice vote, allows the bill to move on to the full Finance Committee. Proponents said the bill will help lower-income children “trapped” in failing public schools.

TN School Voucher Program Clears Major Hurdle, Lawmaker’s Hospital Stay May Have Helped (WTVF) The bill supporting a school voucher program passed a key Tennessee House panel. The legislation passed a subcommittee Wednesday where supporters took advantage of a lawmaker who was in the hospital and missed the vote. New leadership also may have paved the way as the bill advanced in the House.The big vote came in a House Finance subcommittee where school voucher legislation has stalled in the past. There were passionate arguments for and against.

School voucher proposal clears key Tennessee House panel (WKRN) A proposal to provide state vouchers for parents to send their children to private schools in Tennessee has cleared a House committee where the measure failed in recent years. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville. Memphis parent Keith Williams supports the bill, which shifts tens of millions of dollars yearly from public K-12 education funds to a voucher system where mainly low-income parents could send their children to private or religious schools with the the money.

Tennessee school voucher plan passes key hurdle (Tennessean) A school voucher plan for Tennessee passed a key legislative hurdle Wednesday, but opponents said there’s still a fight to come. House Bill 1049 made its way out of a House budget subcommittee, signaling a first for this type of voucher program and helping clear a major obstacle for the legislation. The bill passed on a voice vote, and it was unclear who voted for the bill.

After Years Of Debate, Private School Vouchers Clear A Major Hurdle In Tennessee (WPLN) Tennessee lawmakers are on track to pass the state’s first school voucher program. A key panel voted Wednesday to approve a plan that would eventually offer up to 20,000 vouchers for private school tuition. Government-funded vouchers for private school tuition have been in the works in Tennessee for several years. Advocates say they’ll give low-income families another choice, rather than forcing them to attend failing schools.

School vouchers bill passes through subcommittee (WSMV) In a big vote, the school vouchers bill just passed the House Finance Subcommittee. The bill will now head to the full Finance Ways and Means Committee. Vouchers bill would allow parents to transfer their students from public to private schools using tax dollars. To be eligible for school vouchers, the students must be eligible for free or reduced lunch and come from a lower-income family.

School Vouchers Bill Advances in State House (Nashville Scene) School vouchers cleared a critical hurdle in the state House today, winning approval in the subcommittee where the legislation died last year, and Democrats accused the GOP supermajority of using underhanded tricks to accomplish it. Republican leaders held the vote in the House Finance subcommittee even though one of its members—Rep. Curry Todd, an opponent of vouchers—is sick and back in Memphis. The bill passed on a voice vote, and Democratic caucus chair Mike Stewart was waiting outside in the hallway to blast Republicans afterward. Said Stewart:

Doctors advise lawmakers on Tennessee’s ‘tremendous’ drug problem (Tennessean) There isn’t enough time to wait and see if already-enacted laws targeted at combating Tennessee’s prescription drug abuse problem have had a positive effect, a doctor told lawmakers Wednesday. The comment came from Dr. Robert Pack, associate dean for academic affairs at Eastern Tennessee University’s College of Public Health, who was asked about concerns from some in the medical community that passing several pieces of legislation aimed at the state’s prescription drug problem could result in an “over-correction.”

Effort to block same-sex marriage in Tenn. fails in House subcommittee (News Sentinel/Commercial Appeal) A state legislative committee on Wednesday dealt a serious setback to a bill that attempts to block same-sex marriage in Tennessee. The bill failed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, on an unrecorded voice vote in which there were more “no” votes than “yes” votes to advance the bill further in the committee system. Bills are rarely “killed” in the Legislature because under various rules, supporters could attempt to resurrect it. But the bill is as close to dead for the year as legislation gets. News Sentinel: CA:

Tennessee Lawmakers Kill Plan To Attack Same-Sex Marriage (WPLN) Tennessee lawmakers have killed a bill designed to strike at same-sex marriage. Some legislators said they agree with the measure’s intent — just not its tactics. The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act was described by activists as a way to reassert the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. But state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ootlewah, said it was really just another attempt at nullification, the idea that states can thumb their noses at the federal government.

House panel rejects bill blocking gay marriage in Tennessee (AP) A bill seeking to block the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in Tennessee has been defeated in a subcommittee of the state House over concerns about nullifying federal rulings. The five-member panel defeated the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Pody on a voice vote on Wednesday. Republican Rep. Mike Carter of Chattanooga said that while he disagrees with the high court’s ruling, he considered the bill to turn back the ruling a step too far. In Carter’s words: “I equate nullification with anarchy.”

House panel kills ‘natural marriage’ bill (Tennessean) A bill that would have directed state officials to disobey the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage died in its first appearance before the legislature on Wednesday. But the vote does not mean the issue will disappear. Already other bills and lawsuits have been announced that seek to challenge the ruling from the nation’s highest court.

‘Defense of natural marriage’ dies on voice vote (Nashville Post) House committee rejects move to nullify U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling. Despite protesters and pastors trying to convince legislators otherwise, House lawmakers divorced itself from an effort to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court’s same sex marriage ruling. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee killed the bill on a voice vote, with Chairman Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, the only voice vote in favor.

“Natural Marriage” Bill Fails In House Panel (WTVF) A bill seeking to block the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage in Tennessee failed in a House subcommittee. Representative Mike Pody’s “Natural Marriage Defense Act” failed over concerns about nullifying federal rulings. The legislature estimated the bill could cost the state more than eight billion dollars in federal aid if it ended up becoming a law.

Challenge to Tennessee abortion laws on hold (Tennessean) A legal challenge to three Tennessee abortion laws has been put on hold pending the outcome of a Texas case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could set a new precedent for abortion restrictions. The operators of three abortion clinics — The Women’s Center in Nashville, the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health and the Bristol Regional Women’s Center — filed suit in U.S. District Court in Nashville in June challenging a trio of Tennessee abortion laws.

Education and juvenile justice part of Shelby County Commission’s requests for Tennessee Legislature (Commercial Appeal) The Shelby County Commission will send to the Tennessee General Assembly a legislative package that supports placing a three-year moratorium on school takeovers by the state and keeping some juvenile offenders under the care of the juvenile court system until they are 25. The commission voted on its legislative agenda Wednesday in a special called meeting to make the legislature’s Thursday deadline for filing bills.–365984351.html

Rutherford Democrats join hundreds at Insure Tennessee rally (Murfreesboro Post) Hundreds of purple-clad Insure Tennessee supporters welcomed state legislators back to the Capitol Tuesday with a rally outside House and Senate chambers demanding action on the health-care proposal. They shouted, “Are you listening?” and “Bring it to the floor” as lawmakers opened the 2016 session.

TVA outlines plans to seal ash impoundment at Allen Fossil Plant (Commercial Appeal) TVA has tentatively decided to spend $3.5 million to permanently seal a decades-old impoundment containing thousands of tons of ash from its soon-to-be-retired Allen Fossil Plant in Southwest Memphis. Under a plan outlined in an environmental document, the Tennessee Valley Authority would use a method called closure in place for the west ash impoundment at the plant. The impoundment, now dry, would be graded and then covered with a synthetic liner and a soil-and-vegetation cap to prevent seepage, with drainage improvements and long-term groundwater monitoring also provided.

LifeWay targets major Gulch development for HQ move (Nashville Business Journal) One of downtown Nashville’s largest and oldest employers is pursuing a move to the Capitol View mixed-use development on Charlotte Avenue. According to multiple real estate sources, LifeWay Christian Resources, which employs 1,100 people downtown, is in negotiations to relocate its headquarters to Boyle Investment Co.’s expansive project at the intersection of Charlotte Avenue and 11th Avenue North.

LifeWay considers Capitol View for new headquarters (Tennessean) LifeWay Christian Resources is expected to announce its new headquarters location in the coming days. Marty King, a spokesman for the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, confirmed that the Capitol View mixed-use development site in the North Gulch is among potential sites.

Nashville endures stock market woes (Tennessean) The bad news is the stock market is diving, and nearly all industry sectors are down since the start of the new year. The good news is Middle Tennessee has a diverse economy and is not largely tied to the energy sector, which is hurting most acutely. “There really hasn’t been any place to hide,” said Stephen Frohsin, a principal at Woodmont Investment Counsel. “With the exception of some utility stocks, most every sector and industry has been hit about the same.”

Memphis Named One Of 10 Best Places For Filmmakers (Memphis Flyer) Citing our affordable cost of living and DIY attitude, as well as the Malco theater chain’s willingness to screen independent work, Movie Maker placed Memphis at number ten on their list, right behind San Francisco, California. “Memphis was repped on the 2015 international circuit by the award-winning drama Free in Deed, set in the city’s storefront churches.

As Water Problems Grew, Officials Belittled Complaints From Flint (NY Times) A top aide to Michigan’s governor referred to people raising questions about the quality of Flint’s water as an “anti-everything group.” Other critics were accused of turning complaints about water into a “political football.” And worrisome findings about lead by a concerned pediatrician were dismissed as “data,” in quotes. That view of how the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder initially dealt with the water crisis in the poverty-stricken, black-majority city of Flint emerged from 274 pages of emails, made public by the governor on Wednesday.

Gov. Jerry Brown is likely to urge caution in his State of the State speech (LA Times) There was a time in the state capital when a governor’s advisors would labor to extend the media shelf life of a State of the State speech: issuing early excerpts full of sweeping policy ideas, creating an event that would set the tone for the year to come. By contrast, all signs suggest Gov. Jerry Brown’s comments from the dais of the Assembly chambers Thursday will last slightly longer than a mid-morning coffee break at work.”

With first year behind him, Charlie Baker to give State of the Commonwealth address ( With just over a year in office behind him, Gov. Charlie Baker is scheduled to deliver his State of the Commonwealth address Thursday night. Baker’s speech will come amid recent polling showing 70 percent approval for the job he has done so far. It will also come less than a week before the Republican is scheduled to submit his budget proposal for the next fiscal year. Baker’s tenure so far has been defined by issues both anticipated and unexpected.

What Nixon did, did not mention in State of the State address (Missouri Net) In his final State of the State address as Missouri’s top leader, Governor Jay Nixon said he wants his last months in office to include creating jobs, expanding Medicaid, increasing funding for education and those with developmental disabilities.

Gov. Nikki Haley gives the State of the State Address (WCSC) “The state of our state is bent but not broken,” Governor Nikki Haley began her State of the State address. Some described it as a different kind of speech after a 2015 marked by three distinct tragedies. However, the governor did touch on some policy too. It was a speech praised by both Republicans and Democrats. “I mean, I appreciate the tone of her State of the State,” Senator Joel Lourie said.


Opinion Page Debate: Should College Be Free? (NY Times) Politicians on the right and left are talking about college affordability. Democratic presidential candidates are divided over how much should be done to ease the cost of higher education. Tennessee is offering free community college tuition to all its high school graduates and a slate of candidates for the Board of Overseers at Harvard University wants to end undergraduate tuition there.

Guest column: Tennessee Is Showing How Free Tuition Community College Works (NY Times) Across Tennessee, several thousand volunteer mentors are in training to help almost 60,000 high school seniors take advantage of free community college through the Tennessee Promise.The program, which is in its second year, offers some early lessons for similar proposals from the White House, presidential candidates and other states. Importantly, “free community college” is effective at getting more students into college, particularly when combined with mentoring.

Editorial: State lawmakers should mind their own affairs (Johnson City Press) Well, there they go again. Tennessee lawmakers will soon debate yet another piece of legislation dictating to local governments what they can and can’t do. This time it is a bill sponsored by state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Thompson Station, that would prohibit local governments from requiring that affordable homes be included in new residential projects. According to The (Nashville) Tennessean, the state already has a law that says local municipalities can’t control the cost of rent.

Editorial: Road study notwithstanding, city must continue to improve on street maintenance (Commercial Appeal) Depending on where Memphis residents live, they are likely to have varying opinions about the condition of the city’s roadways. Those who routinely travel on Elvis Presley Boulevard near Brooks or along the eastern part of Winchester, for example, probably don’t think the condition of those major roads is so great.

Sam Stockard: The Persecution of Jeremy Durham (Memphis Daily News) Inhumane and unfair: That’s the only way to describe the “liberal media’s” treatment of state Rep. Jeremy Durham over the last month. You’d have thought he killed somebody, or at least carjacked someone in Brentwood. The poor guy’s just been treated badly. From the looks of things, he never got a break in his entire life. Well, unless you consider how he wriggled out of odd incidents such as a 2003 burglary arrest in Knoxville while attending UT-Knoxville and drug task force allegations of prescription fraud.

Column: Lawmakers Defeat Defense of Natural Marriage Act (Nashville Scene) In a rare victory for gay rights in the state legislature, lawmakers voted down the Tennessee Defense of Natural Marriage Act this evening. The House Civil Justice subcommittee defeated the bill on a voice vote—even though three of the five members are Republicans—after a bizarre 90-minute hearing during which conservative Christians insisted the state could nullify last summer’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Only the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Jim Coley, voted yes.

Column: New Bill Filed to Save Little Johnny from Islam (Nashville Scene) Unwilling to sit idly by and watch state Rep. Sheila Butt win the prize for most hysterical Islamophobia, three lawmakers have filed their own bill to hamstring the teaching of world religions in public schools. In a press release, Rep. Micah Van Huss delivered the money quote: “I did not fight radical Islam in Iraq just to come home and find our children being indoctrinated.”



Wednesday, January 20

How Much Do Tennessee’s Crumbling Roads Cost Drivers? One Study Says $1,600 A Year (WPLN) If you’re a Nashvillian, ailing roads and bridges probably cost you an extra $1,600 per year. That added expense comes from damage to vehicles and crashes caused by deficient roads, as well as time and fuel wasted in heavy traffic. Those are the findings in a new study released Tuesday by The Road Information Program, or TRIP, a road conditions research firm. According to TRIP, a fifth of Nashville’s roads are classified as either poor or mediocre, and 4 percent of its bridges are considered structurally deficient.

Study: TN roads cost drivers more than $1,600 a year (WSMV) According to a new study, the condition of Tennessee roads is costing motorists billions of dollars. TRIP, a national transportation organization, released their findings on Tuesday. They said the traffic, safety and condition of many roads across the state cost drivers more than $1,600 annually. The study said 40 percent of urban roads are in poor, mediocre or fair condition. One out of every five bridges is also obsolete, according to the report. Read more:

Deficient, congested roadways cost Tennessee drivers a total of $5.6 billion annually (TRIP) Roads and bridges that are deficient, congested or lack desirable safety features cost Tennessee motorists a total of $5.6 billion statewide annually – as much as $1,821 per driver in some areas – due to higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays. Increased investment in transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels could relieve traffic congestion, improve road, bridge and transit conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in Tennessee, according to a new report released today by TRIP, a Washington, DC based national transportation organization.

Tennessee Transportation By The Numbers Report (TRIP) Meeting the State’s Need for Safe, Smooth and Efficient Mobility

Bad roads cost Knoxville drivers nearly $1,300 a year, study says (WATE) A new report by the National Transportation Research Group says bad roads and bridges cost Tennessee drivers $5.6 billion each year. That’s nearly $1,300 for each driver for average wear and tear, crashes and delays or wasted gas because of traffic. AAA is hoping for some long-term solutions. The study finds many of the major roads in Knoxville are in poor to fair condition. “The interstates around here are rough,” said Mary Christofferson of Knoxville.

Study: Just 47 percent of Chattanooga area roads are ‘good’ (Times-Free Press) With the Tennessee General Assembly slated to take up transportation funding, a new study Tuesday says that less than half of the major roads in the Chattanooga area are rated in “good” condition. Also, the average Chattanooga driver loses $1,440 annually due to traffic congestion, crashes and higher vehicle operating costs, said the study by the national nonprofit transportation research group TRIP, or The Road Infrastructure Program.

Transportation Study Group Tries to Get Infrastructure Crisis Back on the Table (WDEF) Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam traveled the state last summer trying to draw attention to a 6-billion dollar backlog of highway projects that are approved, not funded by the Legislature. The governor thought a gas tax would be a good way to do it, but he gave up that idea when lawmakers turned a cold shoulder. There’s no solution in sight, but an independent study group out of Washington is trying to get the problem back on the table.

Significant announcement expected (Elk Valley Times) Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd are expected to make a significant economic development announcement Wednesday morning here in Fayetteville. In addition to Haslam and Boyd, local officials will also be on hand for the announcement, which will be held at the Motlow College Sundquist Center here. Details will be released as soon as they become available.

Investing in a Tennessee startup? Gov. Haslam wants to lower your tax bill (Nashville Business Journal) The governor’s office is pushing new legislation that calls for a sizable tax credit for angel investors in Tennessee startups, a noticeable shift from previous state efforts to spur entrepreneurial activity statewide. The legislation, introduced last week, would give angel investors a tax credit for their investment in startup companies less than five years old with under $3 million in annual revenue. Haslam’s economic development department is behind the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican, in the House.

Gov. Haslam announces next phase of plan aimed at improving Tennessee safety (Herald-Courier) Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced last week the next phase of his administration’s multi-year, comprehensive action plan to improve safety in Tennessee. “Our overall crime rate is going down, but there is still much to do,” Haslam said in a written statement. “Keeping Tennesseans safe is one of state government’s primary responsibilities. Safer communities are a significant part of making Tennessee the best place to live, work and raise a family, and this next phase of our public safety action plan will build on the progress we’ve made and take on the challenges we still face.”

Finding funding to roll out police body cameras for Memphis Police Department (WREG) Getting body cameras has proven to be just half of the struggle for Memphis. Apparently no one considered the cost of using them. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said she said she needs at least $1 million for just her office to get trained and handle the video. If money is the issue, where do you find the funds? Some states have provided assistance to cities. We asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam if that is possible. “If there are things that make sense on a statewide basis, we will look at that. It’s hard for us to do one offer for one city that we don’t do somewhere else,” Haslam said.

TDEC accepting nominations for Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards (Bristol Herald-Courier) The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is accepting nominations for the 2016 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards. The 2016 awards will mark 30 years of recognizing Tennesseans who have taken outstanding action to protect the state’s diverse environment, according to “The continued health of Tennessee’s air, land and water is critical to keeping our communities strong and vibrant places to live,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, in a written statement.

Haslam administration: ‘Premature’ for Board of Regents colleges to be removed from outsourcing (News Sentinel) The Haslam administration’s assertion that it’s “premature” for Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan to remove 40 colleges from the governor’s big facilities-management outsourcing plan calls into question the repeated assurances that institutions can “opt out” of outsourcing at their discretion. Gov. Bill Haslam’s Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin said in an interview last week he believed it was premature for Morgan to opt Board of Regents’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology out of the outsourcing plan. Martin made that point official in a letter to Morgan dated Friday and publicly released Monday.

Colleges can’t rule out outsourcing yet, officials say (Tennessean) Days after the head of Tennessee’s community and technical colleges announced those institutions would not outsource management of their facilities, leading members of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Cabinet said it was too soon to accept that decision. John Morgan, outgoing chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents college system, wrote a letter earlier this month announcing his decision not to move forward with Haslam’s proposal to privatize management of state facilities — including campus buildings — in an effort to save money.

Board of Regents meeting to appoint acting chancellor (AP) The Tennessee Board of Regents is meeting by telephone on Thursday to appoint an acting chancellor for the State University and Community College System. The current chancellor, John Morgan, announced earlier this month he will retire Jan. 31 instead of his original plan to leave when he turns 65 next year. He cited Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to refocus the Board of Regents on the state’s community and technical colleges and grant more autonomy to the six four-year universities in the system.

Board of Regents to discuss replacing John Morgan (Tennessean) The Tennessee Board of Regents will name a temporary replacement for outgoing Chancellor John Morgan during a conference call Thursday, according to a news release. The board will call in to the meeting at 2:30 p.m. to appoint an “acting chancellor” to lead the system, which oversees 27 technical colleges, 13 community colleges and six universities scattered across the state. That person will manage the system office until a formal search for a permanent candidate is finished, according to the release.

Tennessee ranked 10th-best for college transfers (Tennessean) Community college students in Tennessee are more likely than their peers across the country to successfully transfer into universities and earn more profitable bachelor’s degrees, according to a new report released Tuesday. The report ranked Tennessee as the 10th-best state in the country for transfer students, and co-author Davis Jenkins believes progress made since he began collecting data in 2007 might have pushed the Volunteer State even closer to the top of the national pack. But he cautioned that Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to split universities out of the Board of Regents college system could stymie that progress.

Tracking Transfer (Politico) The type of four-year institution that students transferred to was more important than the type of community college they transferred from. For example, bachelor’s completion rates were more than 10 percent higher for students who transferred to public four-year institutions than for those who transferred to private nonprofit four-year institutions. Also, they found that in most states, lower-income students do worse on almost all transfer measurements than their higher-income peers. Researchers said the best performing states are Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas.

Touting their turf school (Golf Course Industry) The University of Tennessee might have unlocked the secret to luring more young people into the industry. Worried? Absolutely. Enrollment in the four-year turfgrass program had dipped to 22 students in 2015. Perceptions about working in the turfgrass industry were, well, negative. And that’s assuming teenagers even knew they could make a living managing turf. Dr. Brandon Horvath, a cheery assistant professor, remembers the solemn conversations with his University of Tennessee colleague Dr. John Sorochan.

New multicultural center opens at ETSU (WJHL) What was identified as a need two decades ago and recommended for implementation by the Committee for 125 in 2013 is now a reality with today’s grand opening of the East Tennessee State University Multicultural Center. Student leaders, center staff and others were on hand to cut the ribbon for the facility in conjunction with the university’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. The Multicultural Center will provide students of all cultural backgrounds with educational support programs and services, a place to meet, opportunities to talk about issues that affect their lives, and more.

University of Memphis debuts new $53 million residence hall (Commercial Appeal) University of Memphis student Haley Gallaher expected the school’s new residence facility, Centennial Place, to be open for the start of her sophomore year last fall. The project took longer than expected, but the wait did not lead to disappointment. The $53 million facility, funded by state bonds paid through rent, houses 780 students across all undergraduate and graduate years and 125 staff members. It replaces Richardson Towers, which university President David Rudd said will be coming down over the next few months.

Tennessee may seek up to $250M in Chevron lawsuit (Tennessean) The Tennessee attorney general may ultimately seek up to a quarter of a billion dollars in damages against Chevron Corp. and its subsidiaries should the state prevail in a lawsuit that claims the oil companies fraudulently siphoned millions from a state environmental cleanup fund, a lawyer for the state said Tuesday. A trial is months or even years away, but lawyers for the state and for Chevron squared off in a pretrial hearing Tuesday in Davidson County Circuit Court in an acrimonious dispute over discovery, the phase in a lawsuit in which parties are required to turn over requested documents.

Supreme Court Will Review President Obama’s Immigration Actions (WTVF) The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will review President Obama’s controversial executive order that would keep millions of undocumented immigrants from being deported. The case is focused around the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), and create the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program (DAPA), allowing nearly 5 million people in the United States to apply for a deferral from deportation and a three-year work permit. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) estimates the program would impact around 50,000 people statewide.

Deportation Raids Split Many Cities, States (Stateline) 121 people — mostly women and children from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico — were rounded up early this month, in raids primarily in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas amid growing fears that the U.S. faces a surge of illegal unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America comparable to 2014. So far 77 have been deported. The deportation raids have sparked fear in U.S. immigrant communities and highlight the wide confusion and political division among federal, state and local authorities on how the nation should deal with as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants, most of whom entered the country illegally across the southern border.

Judge partially dismisses lawsuit over treatment of disabled (AP) A federal judge has dismissed much of a long-standing lawsuit over Tennessee’s treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Advocates sued the state in 1995 over conditions at several Tennessee institutions. Last year, parties to the lawsuit agreed to an exit plan requiring the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the Bureau of TennCare to complete several obligations. They include developing training for law enforcement, physicians and caregivers around the special needs of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Judge orders mental competency test for Signal man accused of plotting to kill Muslims (Times-Free Press) Amid squabbles with his attorneys, the Sequatchie County, Tenn., man accused of planning an assault on a small Muslim community in New York has to report for mental health testing. During a brief motion hearing Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee agreed with government prosecutors that Robert Doggart needs to undergo a 45-day forensic evaluation for competency and insanity. “I don’t do this out of spite,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Piper. “We ask that he be committed to the Bureau of Prisons.”

Tenn. Supreme Court won’t hear Pryor Brown Garage lawsuit (News Sentinel) The Tennessee Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal on the Pyror Brown Garage case, letting stand a lower court decision that will likely affect how the Knoxville City Council and other boards vote on motions in the future. “We’re going to have to change our procedures,” attorney Rob Frost told the council during its regular meeting Tuesday night. ”

Lawmakers examine judicial appointment process (Tennessean) A committee tasked with outlining the process for confirming and rejecting judicial appointments made by the governor continued to work toward a resolution Tuesday. The conference committee made some headway on the issue as they met for the second time since the General Assembly reconvened Jan. 12.

State bill would prohibit affordable housing mandates (Tennessean) Some Nashville poverty advocates continue to push for the creation of a new Metro policy that would mandate affordably priced homes be included in new residential projects. But recently filed state legislation would prevent cities from adopting such a plan, known as mandatory inclusionary zoning.

Bill filed to roll back RAP (Nashville Post) Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Glen Casada have filed legislation that will roll back the controversial RAP program that the Department of Revenue says increases tax collection and catches tax cheats, but that the business community by and large says is overbroad: “I know I did not expect the commissioner to implement such a broad program and require so much reporting by our businesses in the state,” he said. “I didn’t get that from the language in the bill nor in the explanation the commissioner [Richard Roberts] gave on more than one occasion before committees.”

With Todd out for surgery, House leadership plans to force vouchers through (Nashville Post) Republican leaders in the House plan on capitalizing on Rep. Curry Todd’s surgery and a reshuffling of members to push a long-debated school voucher bill through a key finance committee Wednesday morning. “You have the committee just where you need them. One in the hospital, threw two off,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said to fellow members Tuesday afternoon when House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent told subcommittee members at a committee pre-meeting that the voucher bill would come up for a vote.

Voucher bill gets clearer path to House floor (Tennessean) A key Tennessee House lawmaker will vote in favor of proposed school voucher legislation this year, improving the odds the controversial bill makes its way to the House floor for the first time. House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, said Tuesday he will vote in favor of the revived voucher bill, House Bill 1049, during Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting.

Bill filed to abolish state’s Achievement School District (Commercial Appeal) A pair of state lawmakers — a Memphis Democrat and a Knoxville area Republican — filed a bill Tuesday to abolish the state’s Achievement School District at the end of the current school year. The ASD was created by the legislature in 2010 as an arm of the state Department of Education to take over schools whose students rank in the lowest 5 percent statewide in terms of academic achievement and ultimately to move them into the top 25 percent.

Bill proposes to close Achievement School District (Tennessean) As expected, state legislation has been filed to close Tennessee’s Achievement School District. State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, and Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, have sponsored companion bills that will close the district by July 2017. If passed, the operations of the schools the state district oversees would return to the local school district.

Bill ends shield for parents choosing prayer over medicine (Tennessean) A bill filed Tuesday would remove a legal shield in Tennessee for parents who reject medical treatment for children in favor of treatment by prayer. It is a crime in Tennessee to fail to provide medical care to children, with an exception, known as the Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act, for parents who want to rely on “spiritual means through prayer alone,” according to state code. State Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, filed SB 1761 to repeal the exception.

Tennessee lawmakers gearing up for broadband battle (Times-Free Press) Dr. Terry Forshee lives only a few miles from America’s fastest broadband service. But when the Cleveland, Tenn., pharmacist needs a reliable Internet connection, he has to leave his south Bradley County home and drive to his pharmacy store in Cleveland. “I’ve been waiting for 27 years for Charter Spectrum, AT&T or somebody to come to me,” said Forshee, who said the lack of residential broadband service is hurting his effort to build a national obesity education business. “I call every month, and I’m tired of waiting.”

Lawmakers discuss plans for UT Office of Diversity (UT Daily Beacon) State lawmakers gave insight on their plans for the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion this Saturday as part of the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ annual legislative preview luncheon. The luncheon was moderated by John Becker of WBIR-TV, Channel 10 and featured a panel of 12 state representatives and state senators answering questions submitted by attending journalists. One audience member asked the panel “how serious” the lawmakers are about executing a full legislative review of UT-Knoxville’s diversity office.

A new session begins in Nashville (Daily Herald) The Tennessee General Assembly returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to begin the 2016 legislative session with a host of issues slated for discussion this year including the state budget, jobs, education, criminal justice, transportation, prescription drug abuse and taxes. Before getting down to work, the State Senate stood in a moment of silence to remember the four Marines and Navy sailor who died in an act of terrorism in Chattanooga in July.

Tennessee ‘natural marriage’ bill supporters gather at Capitol (Tennessean) In advance of a House committee’s plans to discuss a controversial bill drafted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, more than 100 people, some of whom came from as far as Ohio, gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday in an attempt to encourage lawmakers to support the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act. Dozens of Christians wearing stickers saying “I support HB1412” met with lawmakers throughout the day in an attempt to gin up support for a bill that is estimated to cost the state more than $8.5 billion if it ignores the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

Group Hopes To Rekindle Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage In Tennessee (WPLN) Supporters and opponents of gay marriage are already squaring off at the state Capitol. Some lawmakers and activists hope to shut down same-sex marriage licenses in Tennessee and force the courts to take the issue back up. The push is being driven by conservative activists like Cal Zastrow. He refuses to accept last summer’s Supreme Court ruling that recognized same-sex marriage nationwide and believes Tennessee could be the state to reverse the decision. “Courts don’t make laws. Legislatures make laws,” he says

Sponsor of anti-gay marriage bill is undaunted by $8.5B cost (AP) The Tennessee lawmaker whose bill would bar the state from following the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling says he is undeterred by a projected loss of $8.5 billion in federal funds if the proposal becomes law. State Rep. Mark Pody said at a state Capitol rally on Tuesday that the proposal he has dubbed the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act” is worth any cost — and the Republican from the Nashville suburb of Lebanon disputed the estimated loss of federal funds.

Sponsor of Tennessee’s anti-gay marriage bill is undaunted by potential $8.5 billion cost (Times-Free Press) Tennessee’s state Capitol at times took on aspects of an old-time tent revival Tuesday as opponents of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling rallied and prayed in support of a bill they believe can stop the decision’s enforcement here. “I want to tell you: I pray to a living God. And when I pray, I expect him to answer me,” Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, sponsor of the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, said to supporters during a rally at the Capitol.

Tennessee House To Take Up Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Bill (Memphis Flyer) On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives Civil Justice subcommittee will take up a bill that asserts that marriage should only be defined as being between one man and one woman “regardless of any court decision to the contrary.” The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, HB1412, states that “any court decision purporting to strike down natural marriage, including Obergefell v. Hodges, is unauthoritative, void, and of no effect.”

TN bill would challenge Supreme Court on same-sex marriage (WSMV) A group of legislators, their attorney and dozens of supporters rallied at the state capitol on Tuesday, arguing that same-sex marriage goes against the Tennessee Constitution. Lawmakers quoted the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment, which passed 10 years ago with 81 percent of the vote. It states that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and no other law can change that. That changed last year when the Supreme Court ruled against it.

Durham suggests media ‘attacks’ result of support for repealing Obamacare (Nashville Post) Embattled whip says media came after him because he wants to repeal health-care law. Rep. Jeremy Durham and colleague Sen. Brian Kelsey think they’ve figured out why the media “attacked” Durham. From the Ledger via Woods at Pith: Earlier in the session’s first day, several hours before the caucus meeting, state Sen. Brian Kelsey predicted Durham would “survive” and keep his whip post. “I think that his colleagues will see through a personal attack on him for his strong stand against Obamacare,” says Kelsey, who was the best man in Durham’s wedding.

Lawmakers move to close pension loophole after I-Team report (WSMV) An investigation by the Channel 4 I-Team could change which teachers would have to forfeit their pensions under state code. Among other findings, the I-Team’s initial investigation in November exposed how teachers could keep their pensions even after they were convicted of misdemeanors. After seeing what the I-Team found, lawmakers said they needed to address the issue. Under a new proposal, teachers would lose their retirement benefits if convicted of misdemeanor sexual offenses.

Griffith, Roe: Herring’s gun permit decision was political (Times-News) U.S. Reps. Phil Roe and Morgan Griffith spoke out Tuesday against Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s move to revoke concealed handgun permit recognition in 25 states, including Tennessee. The two GOP congressmen held a news conference at the 620 State Street venue on the Tennessee-Virginia border to brand Herring’s move as a political decision. Griffith, R-Va., predicted the GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly will pass legislation to counter Herring’s decision, but added that it will probably be vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

Local U.S. Congressmen speak out against VA’s ban on TN gun permits (WJHL) Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s decision to not recognize concealed carry permits from 25 states including Tennessee, has gained federal attention. Tuesday in Bristol, two of our local congressman spoke out, trying to pressure Herring to reverse that decision. Starting next month, if you are a Tennessee concealed weapon permit holder, if you cross the state line in to Virginia, the permit is useless. If you want to carry a gun it has to be exposed, which some say would create another set of problems.

House ‘TPA 28’ Primary Watch (Politico) Hey, Morning Trade is as fascinated as anyone by the presidential election, but we’re also keenly interested in the outcome of primary contests for the 28 House Democrats who voted for trade promotion authority. Nine of the races will be decided in March, two in April, seven in May, nine in June and one — involving Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee — in August. Will the Democrats TPA supporters pay at the polls? We’ll keep a running tally of the outcomes in the months ahead.

CHA status dispute raises payment concerns (Tennessean) Federal and state officials disagree over the status of Community Health Alliance as it winds down its operations, which could impact how it repays its outstanding debts to the federal government and claims to providers. The federal government decided that CHA, a consumer operated and oriented plan established under the Affordable Care Act, defaulted on a $73.3 million loan because of “the suspension of CHA’s license to offer health insurance coverage” on the federally run exchange.

Noah added to national search list (Jackson Sun) A description of two-year-old Noah Chamberlin is on the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The website said that Noah was last seen on Jan. 14 at approximately 1:19 p.m., wearing a gray shirt and blue jeans. “Noah may be in need of medical attention,” the website says. The post has been available for several days.

VIDEO: Noah Chamberlin Press Conference Update (Jackson Sun) Chester County Sheriff Blair Weaver, Madison County Fire Department Chief Eric Turner, Edwin Grant and Madison County Sheriff John Mehr address the media during a press conference at Pinson Baptist Church.

Sheriff seeks to dispel rumors (Jackson Sun) Chester County Sheriff Blair Weaver said Tuesday that members of Noah Chamberlin’s family have been with law enforcement throughout the entire search for their missing toddler, and law enforcement has no reason not to trust them. “We have interviewed the entire family multiple times,” Weaver said. “We can find no reason, none whatsoever, to discredit them.”

Productions Shot In Nashville Increasing (WTVF) Projects by the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission have increased, in part, due to the growing popularity of Nashville. “We’ve seen an increase of 40% in projects that we’ve assisted,” said Bob Raines, Executive Director for the TN Film, Entertainment and Music Commission. Raines said the type of projects vary from music videos to social media platform content. He said production companies have been looking into popular neighborhoods like 12 South and East Nashville.

Who Writes Those Pithy TDOT Highway Signs? It Could Be You (WPLN) If you’ve ever wondered who writes the digital highway signs up above you on Tennessee interstates — well, some of the most popular were created in a statewide contest. Now the Tennessee Department of Transportation is asking the public for another round of pithy, safety-related sayings. If you think you can write something more clever than what you’re seeing, you’ve got two weeks to try. Submissions will be taken online until 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 2.

After 7 Years of Slow Growth, U.S. Now Sees More of Same (WSJ) Economists, business executives and American workers have waited a long time for the U.S. to shake off its postrecession hangover. Robust growth often seemed right around the corner—maybe next quarter, maybe next year. Not anymore. Most Federal Reserve policy makers and private forecasters are giving up on the long-awaited breakout and instead predicting little change in 2016 and beyond: an economy growing a little faster than 2%, just like it has for years.

Why cheap oil is not an economic blessing (Washington Post) There are two different flavors of “supply side” economics. One that dates to President Ronald Reagan argues that if you cut taxes on the wealthy, they’ll work harder and invest more of their larger after-tax income. The benefits will “trickle down” to both the unwashed masses and to the Treasury. This version is false.

5 States Shaking Up Medicaid in 2016 (Governing) In his last full year in office, President Obama is eager to cement his legacy of making more low-income Americans eligible for subsidized health care. Standing in his way are the 19 Republican-led states that have declined to expand Medicaid. That’s why last week he proposed a new incentive for them to change their minds: more money. Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature health-care overhaul, the federal government fully funded Medicaid expansion for states in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Starting next year, states will have to gradually pay 10 percent of the costs by 2020.

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan Apologizes in Flint Water Crisis (NY Times) Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan issued a sweeping apology on Tuesday to the residents of Flint for a contaminated water supply. He pledged to promptly release his emails about the issue, and laid out more specifics than had previously been known about the state’s handling of the matter. “I’m sorry, and I will fix it,” Mr. Snyder, a Republican, said in a State of the State address in which he took the unusual step of focusing on a painful issue that has consumed the state in recent weeks and has drawn condemnation from national politicians.

Gov. Haley gives 5th State of State Wed. amid national scrutiny (WYFF) South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will call for amicable political disagreement in her fifth State of the State address. Haley’s address Wednesday to a joint session of the Legislature will draw national scrutiny. It comes one week after she delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to congress. Being tapped to deliver the response cast her as the GOP’s moderate voice and fueled speculation she could be on the presidential ticket.

Walker delivers 6th State of the State (AP) Gov. Scott Walker promised during his State of the State speech Tuesday to help more people find work and attain college degrees faster as he works to bolster approval ratings that sank after his failed presidential bid. Walker dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination in September. By November, a Marquette University Law School poll showed his approval rating at about 38 percent. The governor didn’t call for any ground-breaking changes during his 40-minute speech, though, focusing much of it on his record on the state level.


Editorial: ‘Dark money’ remains a problem in Tennessee politics (Johnson City Press) Gov. Bill Haslam says he will not push for an increase to the state’s gas tax this year as a means of generating more dollars to fund state highway and bridge construction. Earlier this week, Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee sent out a news release in which it said it was “claiming victory for halting the gas tax hike.” The work of this self-professed grass roots organization is reportedly underwritten by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Editorial: State should let residents register to vote online (News Sentinel) Tennesseans will be able to register to vote online if lawmakers approve a bill introduced this session in the Legislature. The bill, filed by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager, R-Kingston, and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, would establish an online voter registration system. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the District of Columbia and 29 other states already provide online registration for their residents. Two more have passed legislation, but their systems have yet to go live.

Frank Cagle: What to expect this legislative session (News Sentinel) Reflections after attending the opening of the state legislative session: If you believe that the decision by House Republicans not to discipline state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin and majority whip, will come back to bite them in the butt, raise your hand. Yeah, me, too. Given his track record, who knows what stunt Durham may pull next? And the Capitol Hill press corps will continue to try and get on the record the reason Speaker Beth Harwell sent him to Human Resources for counseling about what constitutes “appropriate behavior.”

James Bennett: Board of Regents chancellor leaving a year earlier than expected (Daily Herald) John Morgan’s time as chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents included breakthrough work with Gov. Bill Haslam in creating Tennessee Promise and improving the state’s educational pipeline. Haslam’s vision of economic development through education aligned with Morgan’s hopes for the state’s universities, community colleges and technical schools. Morgan led the Regents’ transformation to a more student-focused and results-oriented organization since October 2010.

Column: Republicans Hoping to Advance Voucher Bill (Nashville Scene) House GOP leaders are hoping to pull a fast one and sneak that long-debated school voucher bill out of a subcommittee tomorrow morning. With Rep. Curry Todd away from the legislature with health problems—Andrea Zelinski reports at Post Politics—they think they finally can spring the bill out of the House Finance subcommittee, although it might take a tie-breaking vote from Speaker Beth Harwell.

Column: Key House Republican Opposes Natural Marriage Act (Nashville Scene) The Tennessee Defense of Natural Marriage Act comes up tomorrow for its first vote in the legislature. So as we’ve been reporting today, conservative Christians are crawling all over the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to vote for it. Behold! We found a couple dozen of God’s lobbyists crammed into Republican Rep. Mike Carter’s office and—in a miracle rivaling the resurrection of Lazarus—Carter is standing up to the crowd.