Friday, April 1

Haslam announces 3-year plan for Tennessee road projects (AP) Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan for road construction involves $2 billion for 94 projects around Tennessee over the next three years. The Republican governor has been making a case for increasing the state’s gas tax for the first time since 1989 as a way to help cover a $6 billion backlog in transportation project funding. Haslam has said that roads cost three times as much to build since the tax was last increased and that drivers pay less because of better fuel mileage.

These five Chattanooga projects are in Gov. Bill Haslam’s road budget (Times Free Press) Gov. Bill Haslam’s new three-year plan for state roads and highways sets in motion an estimated $46 million project aimed at transforming a confusing Interstate 24 interchange where motorists exit to Chattanooga’s Southside and Lookout Mountain. Tennessee Department of Transportation officials plan to begin acquiring property next spring for a wider eastbound exit lane, a new ramp into the Southside and a simpler connector road to South Broad, Market and Williams streets.

New I-40 interchange near Fayette-Shelby line in TDOT’s plans (Commercial Appeal) The state plans to build a new interchange on Interstate 40 at Hickory Withe Road in Fayette County, creating new access for motorists in western Fayette County east of Arlington and the only exit in a 10-mile stretch of I-40 between Airline Road and Tennessee 59. The project is included in the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s three-year transportation program released Thursday. There is no interchange now at the intersection of I-40 and Hickory Withe Road (Tennessee 196), and the new exit and entrance ramps near mile marker 29 there will give motorists easier access to eastern Arlington, Galloway, Hickory Withe and Oakland.

45 Bypass improvements on TDOT list for 2017 (Jackson Sun) State Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, updated constituents Thursday on a critical road project the Tennessee Department of Transportation has officially placed on its 2017 approved list to expedite the project moving forward. The project is for improvements on State Route 186, also known as the Keith Short (U.S. 45) Bypass, from Interstate 40 to Old Hickory Boulevard, according to a press release. Also approved is a project to widen 2.1 miles of I-40, from west of the bypass to east of North Highland Avenue. Both projects are budgeted for construction in fiscal year 2017.

State accelerates local interstate upgrades (Johnson City Press) State projects to improve two Johnson City Interstate interchanges got the green light Thursday by Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer. In Nashville, the two released the state’s three-year, $2 billion transportation improvement plan for 2017-19, but also announced seven projects benefitting from a $100 million transfer from the general fund to the highway fund written into the governor’s budget for this year.

Gov. Bill Haslam, Russell Moore chat about faith at prayer breakfast (Tennessean) Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore urged state and community leaders Thursday to build relationships with those they disagree with the most, especially during a time when the culture appears to be shifting away from the church. “I’ll find myself in the temptation to caricature a view, to take a cheap shot, but I know if I do so my friend over here that holds that view is going to hear it, and I’m going to lose the ability to engage with her on that issue,” Moore said. “Being in those sorts of relationships enable you to really know why people believe the things they believe and soften our hearts toward people who disagree with us.”

Haslam defends Insure Tennessee, Harwell (Tennessean) Despite pressure from a citizen-funded campaign imploring House Speaker Beth Harwell to advance Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam is backing the legislative leader while also standing behind his Medicaid expansion plan. “The thought that somehow the speaker is going to reach down there and pull that bill to the floor, that’s not how that works,” Haslam said on Wednesday after announcing TennCare director Darin Gordon’s pending departure. Haslam reminded reporters that Insure Tennessee also failed in the Senate and not just the House.

List of bills signed by the gov (through March 24) (News Sentinel/Humphrey) Following is a long list of bills signed by the governor as provided by his communications office — the third listing posted on this blog for the 2016 session. The last list was reported as covering bill signings as of March 14, but apparently some were omitted then and are included here. This list is said to cover signings through March 24.

Haslam Names Jai Templeton As Commissioner Of Agriculture (AP) Republican Governor Bill Haslam has named Jai Templeton as the state’s commissioner of agriculture. Templeton, who is currently the department’s deputy commissioner, will succeed retiring Commissioner Julius Johnson. Templeton is a former mayor of McNairy County. He and his family have produced grain, cotton, hay, timber, and cattle for six generations in McNairy and Hardin Counties.

Haslam names Jai Templeton agriculture commissioner (Jackson Sun) Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursdaythe appointment of Jai Templeton, a sixth-generation Tennessee farmer, as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture effective May 1. Templeton will replace Julius Johnson, who last week announced his retirement, according to a press release. Templeton, 44, currently serves as the department’s deputy commissioner, leading the day-to-day operations and directing programs and services that range from food safety to animal and plant health to agricultural development.

Haslam names Templeton new ag commissioner (Nashville Post) Sixth-generation farmer, deputy commissioner takes over for retiring Johnson. Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Jai Templeton, a sixth generation farmer and current deputy commissioner, as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture effective May 1 after the retirement of Julius Johnson. “Jai has played a critical role in developing the department’s 10 year strategic plan to grow Tennessee’s agricultural and forest industries. As a lifelong farmer, he will be a champion for the farming industry and continue the department’s work to strengthen our rural communities,” Haslam said.

McNairy County farmer appointed as state agriculture commissioner (Commercial Appeal) Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday appointed Jai Templeton, a sixth-generation McNairy County farmer, as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture effective Friday. He succeeds Julius Johnson, who has served as Haslam’s agriculture commissioner since the governor took office in January 2011. Templeton, 44, has been the agency’s deputy commissioner, leading its operations and directing programs and services that range from food safety to animal and plant health to agricultural development.

Haslam moves once-controversial highway safety office (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday announced his decision to move a government agency once embroiled in controversy under the oversight of another state agency. The Governor’s Highway Safety Office, which previously resided under the state Department of Transportation, will now be overseen by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The move will “result in a more economical, efficient and streamlined state service,” according to Haslam’s executive order.

After Being Called Sexist, Governor’s Highway Safety Office Getting New Management And A New Name (WPLN) A state agency that came under fire last year for an anti-DUI campaign that was called sexist is being put under new management. The Governor’s Highway Safety Office is being transferred to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. It’s also getting a new name — the Tennessee Highway Safety Office. The agency had been under the state Department of Transportation. It was set up 50 years ago to work with the federal government on safety campaigns. It’s perhaps best known for producing anti-drunk driving commercials.

Haslam appoints Dyer to Court of Criminal Appeals (Nashville Post) Shelby County attorney to replace Page. Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed J. Ross Dyer, the Shelby County attorney, to the Court of Criminal Appeals for the Western Section, replacing Roger Page, who recently became a Tennessee Supreme Court Justice. Dyer’s appointment will require confirmation by the Tennessee General Assembly. Dyer, 43, has been the chief counsel for Shelby County since 2014.

State Commissioner of Education wants to see more from Tennessee schools (Times Free Press) Tennessee schools have posted gains in the past decade, but state Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen says she wants to see more. “We’ve had improvements, but I want to share the reality,” McQueen told members of the Rotary Club of Chattanooga on Thursday. “We have a lot of room for improvement.” As Rotary members munched on salads and sipped iced tea, McQueen told them how Tennessee schools continue to rank in the bottom half of states on the nation’s report card, and that in the fall of 2014, 43 percent of recent high school graduates were not enrolled in any post-secondary program.

Williamson Schools to get additional $2.9M in funding (Tennessean) Williamson County Schools is slated to receive an additional $2.9 million in growth funds due to a surplus in the state budget and efforts from local state delegation. The additional funds will help the school district offset an expected loss of $4.7 million in state funds for districts with higher costs of living. With more money for teacher pay and investments in higher education, education is already a highlight of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget.

Knox woman charged with TennCare fraud (News Sentinel) A Knox County woman has been charged with TennCare fraud involving prescription drugs and forgery. Mary A. Williamson, 37, of Knoxville, is charged with five counts of TennCare fraud and 15 counts of obtaining controlled substances by forgery. Williamson is accused of passing forged prescriptions for the painkiller Hydrocodone and the muscle relaxer Carisoprodol at Knoxville pharmacies, using TennCare as payment. District Attorney General Charme P. Allen is prosecuting.

White House man charged with TennCare fraud (Tennessean) A White House man is charged with TennCare fraud stemming from allegations that he lied to the state about his finances in order to receive TennCare benefits. Terry Eugene Savage, 54, is accused of failing to properly report property ownership that would have made him ineligible for TennCare benefits, according to a news release issued by the Tennessee Office of the Inspector General on Thursday.

Former Greene Valley employee charged with abuse free on bond in Greene County (WJHL) A former Greene Valley Developmental Center employee returned to Greene County last night and is now free on bond, according to Greene County Sheriff Pat Hankins. The sheriff’s office booked 21-year-old Alysia Ann Prater into the jail last night after officers brought her back from Sumter, South Carolina. Greene County grand jurors indicted Prater on a felony charge of abuse of a dependent adult charge earlier this month. The indictment is the result of our Community Watchdog investigation.

Liberty Tire: No pay increase for county (Jackson Sun) A proposed bill sent to Madison County officials with a price increase for the county’s tire disposal and recycling service should not have been sent, according to an executive of Liberty Tire Recycling. According to Dewey Grantham Jr., regional vice president of Liberty, the county will not have a $20 per ton price increase. The increase, which was reported by The Jackson Sun on Wednesday night, would have cost the county approximately $50,000 extra a year. Grantham also responded to comments made by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation official Paula Mitchell, who said the company operated a “monopoly” in Tennessee.

TDEC hearing set (Cookeville Herald Citizen) A petition filed last November by the Sierra Club that halted the permit application to allow a retail development to be built on Interstate Drive has been dismissed and a new public hearing has been set.,14377

Tinsley tennis courts grant sought (Cleveland Daily Banner) A project to replace the Tinsley Park tennis courts could get a boost from a Local Parks and Recreation Funds grant. Patti Petitt, director of Cleveland Parks and Recreation, presented the plan for the renovations in two meetings this week. The department is applying for a $500,000 grant to replace seven courts and add a pavilion, spectator benches, a restroom and a rain garden. Petitt is hopeful since this is the first grant the department is applying for after completing the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Recreation Education Services benchmarking process. Benchmarked communities automatically receive 10 points toward their final score in the grant selection process.,31135

Tennessee State Parks Receives Excellence Award for Preservation of Park Structures (Knoxville Focus) Tennessee State Parks Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill and other Parks staff were honored with the 2016 Excellence In Preservation Leadership Award during an annual historical preservation conference on March 16. The award was presented by the Tennessee Preservation Trust, the only statewide nonprofit organization promoting the preservation of Tennessee’s historic resources, at a joint conference in partnership with the Tennessee Association of Museums and the Society of Tennessee Archivists.

Newt Gingrich’s appearance at ETSU incites delight, chagrin from local citizens (Johnson City Press) Not everyone has the chance to sit in a room with a former presidential candidate. When Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took the stage in East Tennessee State University’s D.P. Culp University Center auditorium Thursday evening, he was greeted with a standing ovation and a cacophony of applause from a packed room of supporters and curious attendees.

Large crowd gathers to hear Newt Gingrich speak at ETSU (WJHL) A leading voice in the republic party spoke at a local college  in the tri-cities Thursday night. Former Speaker of the House and former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spoke at a rally at East Tennessee State University. Before the event, protestors gathered outside the D.P. Culp center on the ETSU campus. Most told us they were from the Tri-Cities and aren’t fans of Gingrich’s conservative stance on key issues.

Forrest Finale: The final forum, the march to McPhee’s house (MTSU Sidelines) On Thursday night, the Forrest Hall Task Force met in the KUC theatre to hear voices from organizations at the final forum to discuss the name change of Forrest Hall. Since the controversy sparked in June, students, faculty and alumni have protested the name of MTSU’s military science building, citing Forrest’s involvement in the Ku Klux Klan and the Fort Pillow Massacre. In August, university president Sidney McPhee announced that he would form a committee to make a recommendation on whether or not the name should be changed.

Can an alarming lawsuit filed by an inmate without a lawyer effect change inside state prisons? One prisoner is going to try. (Nashville Scene) Alleging grisly conditions including rampant gang activity, assaults and extortion at the prison, an inmate at South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tenn., filed a federal lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America and the Tennessee Department of Correction last month.

Water plant operator says state may withdraw FUD fines (Times News) Earlier this month, the state of Tennessee issued violations and fines to the First Utility District potentially as high as $3,430, but the chief water plant operator believes the fines will be withdrawn after the state reviews their case. The order was issued March 9 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Water Resources. Among the violations listed are failure to collect and submit the results of the required Cryptosporidium monitoring for the Hord Creek Treatment Plant during the week of June 23, 2010; and on or before October 1, 2011.

Criminal justice reform advocates troubled about juvenile court reports (Commercial Appeal) Criminal justice reform advocates responded with concern Thursday following reports that detention at Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County became more dangerous after Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham took over detention operations on July 1. Reports released Wednesday showed an increase in suicidal behavior, use of force, assaults on youth by each other and staff reporting they fear for their safety.

Stamps to head Tennessee State Employees Association (AP) Former state Rep. Randy Stamps has been named executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association. Stamps had served as the group’s lobbyists before being selected to replace interim Executive Director LaTanya McAdo. Stamps was a state lawmaker from 1988 to 1998 and was later the political director of the Tennessee Republican Party and staffer for the state House of Representatives. He joined the TSEA in 2014.

Comptroller audit again finds ASD noncompliance issues (Tennessean) The state’s embattled school turnaround district once again showed blemishes on a state audit performed by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. The issue found in the audit is similar to findings in previous years, in that the Tennessee Achievement School District has been noncompliant in documenting and charging certain costs to its federal grants.

Status of Jeremy Durham investigation remains unclear (Tennessean) With the General Assembly expected to adjourn before the end of April, Tennessee lawmakers remain uncertain whether Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s investigation into Rep. Jeremy Durham will be concluded before the session’s completion. House Speaker Beth Harwell on Thursday said that although she would have liked to have seen a resolution before the assembly’s conclusion, she doesn’t want to rush Slatery.

Tennessee House Votes To Go Tougher On DUI, Easier On Drug Offenders (WPLN) The Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a plan to lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession and raise them for driving drunk six times or more. Lawmakers voted 80-7 Thursday to approve House Bill 1478. The proposal was put forward by Sumner County Republican William Lamberth, a former prosecutor. He says it’ll make sure people with numerous DUIs spend more time behind bars.

House approves changes to drug, DUI penalties (Tennessean) Two weeks after the sponsor of a bill temporarily halted a proposal that would have significantly altered the state’s DUI and drug laws, the House of Representatives on Thursday approved the measure. With an 80-7 vote, the chamber advanced a bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, that would increase penalties for repeat DUI offenders but reduce the consequences for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs.

Bo Watson vows to return in 2017 with de-annexation bill killed by Senate panel (Times Free Press) A controversial “de-annexation” bill was killed for the year this week when a Senate panel shipped it off for summer study over objections of Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, the measure’s sponsor. The Hixson Republican later vowed to come back next year with the bill, which as amended would have allowed residents living in areas annexed by Tennessee towns and cities since May 1, 1998, to hold referendums and decide whether to secede from municipalities. “This isn’t an issue that goes away,” Watson said.

Memphis to study voluntary de-annexation of some areas from city (Commercial Appeal) Days after the state shelved a plan that would have allowed annexed areas to separate from cities, Memphis will begin studying voluntary de-annexation of some neighborhoods. All 13 Memphis City Council members have agreed to sponsor a resolution that will create a committee to look at the issue and make recommendations, possibly by the end of 2016, said council chairman Kemp Conrad. The resolution is slated for discussion Tuesday.

Memphis Presence Helps Turn Tide on Controversial Legislation (Memphis Daily News) The Tennessee Legislature’s de-annexation debate is over for now. But the bill’s effect on the Memphis-Capitol Hill relationship has left a larger political imprint than the proposal. That’s saying a lot considering the proposal dealt with the possibility of territory and citizens rearranging the city’s boundaries to put them and the taxes they pay outside the city limits. For most of March, Memphis political and civic leaders paid attention to what was happening in the Tennessee Legislature with a focus that hasn’t been seen recently.

Lawmakers set special hearing on Human Services food programs (Tennessean) Lawmakers have called for a special hearing Tuesday to review management of the Department of Human Services after the release of three critical audits in two weeks questioning millions in spending. In addition, lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a measure, now headed to the governor’s desk, that would require DHS to account for fraud, abuse and waste in regular reports to the legislature.

Tennessee Lawmakers Pledge To Scrutinize Police Seizures Of Cash, Cars And Other Property (WPLN) Tennessee lawmakers are demanding more information from law enforcement about asset seizures. The House voted unanimously Thursday to receive regular reports on how often police are taking property from suspects before trial. Like many states, Tennessee lets law enforcement seize cash, automobiles and other property they believe have been used to commit a crime. It’s then up to the property owner to prove those seized assets weren’t used illegally — even when courts determine no crime was committed.

House approves bill requiring civil asset forfeiture reports (Tennessean) Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday approved a measure to require annual reporting regarding law enforcement officers’ property seizures. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill, sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, that would provide the General Assembly with a greater understanding of what is commonly referred to as civil asset forfeiture — the legal process in which police officers can take a person’s property if they are suspected of being involved in criminal activity.

Bill To Have Lawmakers Fill US Senate Vacancies Fails (AP) A bill to have state lawmakers fill U.S. Senate vacancies has been defeated. Under a proposed amendment to the bill sponsored by Republican Senator Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee lawmakers would have been called into a special legislative session to decide the successors of U.S. senators who don’t complete their full six-year terms. The Senate State and Local Government Committee defeated Beavers’ amendment on a voice vote on Wednesday, and then voted 6-2 against the original version of the bill that would have called for a special election to be held within about 100 days of any vacancy.

The Bible could soon be Tennessee’s official state book (Mashable) The Bible is on its way to becoming the official book of Tennessee, at least if many of the state’s senators have their way. Leaders of the Tennessee Senate have reportedly said they expect the bill to soon pass, despite their opposition, according to The Tennesseean. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who opposed the bill last year, called the Bible his “personal book,” but said he didn’t think turning the Bible into the state’s official book was something “we need to be doing.”

Ad campaign launched over bill to refuse patient counseling (AP) A coalition of groups has launched an ad campaign against House Speaker Beth Harwell and other lawmakers over a controversial bill that would allow counselors to refuse to treat patients on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” One of the groups is the American Counseling Association. A spokesman for the organization called the measure an unprecedented attack on the counseling profession.

Tennessee Legislators Push Plan To Block Refugee Settlement in State (Breitbart News) A committee at the Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a resolution authorizing a lawsuit  against the federal refugee program, marking another step forward in a fierce battle with establishment progressive and business groups. The resolution calls for the state of Tennessee to sue the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds over the federal effort to settle welfare-dependent foreign refugees in the state without the state’s permission. The resolution was approved Tuesday by the State and Local Government Committee, on a 7 to 3 vote. The potential for political skullduggery by pro-migrant lobbyists, however, remains.

Navy duty leads Rep. Lundberg to miss rest of legislative session (AP) State Rep. Jon Lundberg, a captain in the Navy Reserve, will miss the remainder of the legislative session after being called up for duty at the Pentagon. The Bristol Republican is vacating his House seat to run for the northeastern Tennessee state Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey this fall. It’s not the first time that Lundberg’s military duties have conflicted with his elected responsibilities. He missed the end of the 2007 session when he was called to duty in Australia. Lundberg is a former television reporter and anchor who is the founder and president of media and marketing firm The Corporate Image Inc. in Bristol.

Yarbro, Powell fight Cane Ridge gas compressor (Tennessean) State Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. Jason Powell are taking a shot at fighting the proposed Cane Ridge gas compressor station. Both Nashville Democrats are introducing a budget amendment for the state to purchase the land from Columbia Pipeline Group for the same price. “We’re really hopeful that it will see the light of day, but we’re at the will of the committee,” Powell said, referring to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Dickerson keep his balance as a Republican in blue Davidson (TN Ledger) To call Sen. Steve Dickerson a maverick might be an understatement. An oddity as a Republican in the Davidson County legislative delegation, Dickerson doesn’t quite fit in with the blue hue of Nashville voters or red-state Republicans who dominate the General Assembly. Yet the anesthesiologist who practices medicine at Hendersonville Medical Center is comfortable in his own skin. “I find myself at odds with everybody at some point or another, including myself,” says Dickerson, 51, serving his first term in Senate District 20.

Statewide demand outstrips supply of qualified workers (TN Ledger) High-tech, high-paying manufacturing jobs available. Tennessee is surging as a major manufacturing state, bouncing back from the Great Recession by attracting billions of dollars in new investment and creating thousands of new – and often very high-paying – advanced manufacturing jobs. But the news isn’t all good: Finding people to fill the promising new jobs, many of which start at $50,000 and increase as workers gain experience, is an uphill battle.

Scene News Editor Andrea Zelinski Lured Away by The Houston Chronicle (Nashville Scene) Nashville Scene news editor and Nashville Post political reporter Andrea Zelinski has accepted a position with The Houston Chronicle, and will be stepping down from the Scene and the Post as of April 8. At the Chronicle, Zelinski will cover the Texas state legislature in Austin.  “This opportunity is bittersweet,” says Zelinski. “It’s a chance to cover a new and fantastic array of politics, but it means leaving behind one of the most meaningful chapters in my life.”

Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson confirms nude sexting photo is him (Commercial Appeal) Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson confirmed Thursday evening that he is the man in a nude photo being circulated on social media. Johnson, 49, said the photo was taken last year and was meant to be a private photo between him and a consenting adult woman. Johnson is in the process of a divorce. “I had a private indiscretion with an adult woman who decided to make it public,” Johnson said by phone. “I hope it doesn’t reflect on the city.” Johnson said he knows who released the photo, a frontal shot in the shower.

KY governor orders college, university budgets cut by 4.5 percent (AP) As Kentucky inches toward a budget crisis over college funding, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin on Thursday ordered immediate 4.5 percent cuts for all public colleges and universities. In a letter to Finance Secretary William Landrum and Budget Director John Chilton, Bevin ordered the allotments for Kentucky’s eight public universities and its community and technical college system to be reduced by 4.5 percent “before the close of business” Thursday. The cuts would impact state funding for the colleges and universities in the current budget year that ends June 30.

Push for $15 Minimum Wage Heats Up (Wall St. Journal) California and New York are moving to become the first states to lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour, propelling a wage target once focused on major urban areas into every corner of the economy from farm communities to industrial towns. Lawmakers in California on Thursday passed a $15 pay floor for large businesses by 2022 and all firms a year later. New York officials on Thursday struck a deal to bring the $15-an-hour minimum to New York City by 2019 and the rest of the state in subsequent years.


Greg Johnson: Education key tool in age of automation (News Sentinel) Folks in the middle class are finally feeling some love. Wages have stagnated for working people over the past couple of decades. Good jobs are harder to come by. So presidential candidates are rhetorically loving on the middle class from left and right, excoriating bullies while embracing them in one big group hug of hope. Until November anyway. GOP delegate leader Donald Trump and socialist Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders blame free trade and/or “billionaires” for the decline of working-class jobs where workers could work a lifetime and raise a family. But another culprit has cut into the opportunities for advancement for those without fancy college degrees.

Clint Cooper: Increase threshold for de-annexation (Times Free Press) If state Sen. Bo Watson’s municipal de-annexation bill is re-introduced in the next Tennessee legislative session, it should cover all the cities in the state and should require a higher threshold of residents to sign a petition to signal a referendum. The Senate bill unexpectedly was sent to summer study Wednesday, effectively killing it for this legislative session. As it was proposed, the legislation applied only to Tennessee towns and cities annexed from 1998 forward and required only 10 percent of registered voters in the annexed area to petition for a de-annexation referendum vote.

Editorial: Withdrawing bill to defund diversity office a good step (News Sentinel) Withdrawing a bill in the state Senate to strip funding for the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is a good first step toward shelving a measure that will embarrass the state and hurt its flagship institution of higher education. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, went before the Senate Education Committee last week and was referred back to a subcommittee, effectively halting its progress.

David Plazas: Tennessee lawmakers who back Bible bill are theocrats (Tennessean) This is Tennessee, not Tehran. We are governed by the people, not the religious authorities. If legislators truly care about religious liberty, they would vote against an ill-advised effort to endorse the Holy Bible as the official state book. If legislators truly care about religious liberty, they would vote against an ill-advised effort to endorse the Holy Bible as the official state book. However, the theocrats in the Tennessee General Assembly have a good shot at getting their way.

Frank Daniels: Legislature should stay out of school bathrooms (Tennessean) Next week, the Tennessee House education committee is planning to reconsider the transgender bathroom bill (HB 2414), just two weeks after voting to spend the summer studying whether schools need a law regulating who uses which bathroom. The state would benefit from some study and reflection on the matter, and does not need to rush through a law to regulate a problem that does not seem to exist.

Sam Stockard: Can GOP keep grasp on success Ramsey built? (TN Ledger) As much as Tennessee Republicans want to put a happy face on the departure of Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, holding it together in the wake of his departure will be an awesome task. Even Ramsey says it will be hard for his successor – most likely longtime Sen. Randy McNally – to maintain the same control over the Republican Caucus and keep factions from fighting over direction and control of the Upper Chamber, where it holds a 28-5 advantage against Democrats.

Rep. Brenda Gilmore: Honor women this month by investing in them (Tennessean) Women face unique economic challenges and should be concerned about where federal dollars are invested. More than half of Congress’ discretionary budget is spent on wars and the Pentagon. This money could be better spent on education, creating jobs and providing a social safety net. This Women’s History Month, as we honor women’s legacies in fighting for equal rights and peaceful conflict resolution, I am also taking the time to reflect on how the country is prioritizing its federal budget investments and why that matters for women.

Tennessee Inmate: Donald Trump: The View From Prison (Huffington Post) The rhetoric and violence on display at Donald Trump’s rallies are depressingly familiar to me as a prisoner. The atrocious manifestations of mass incarceration have been fueled by these same fires that feed the Trump rallies, namely, the smoldering legacy beneath the structural surface of the criminal justice system. Contrary to the current “consensus” on reform, the view from this side of the conflict looks more like footage from the Don’s carnival. Here in Tennessee’s prisons, especially in the rural facilities, antagonism of the kind whipped up by Trump has been escalating throughout my 18 years of service on a life sentence.


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