Friday, April 21

Memphis, Nashville Mayors Praise Passage of Haslam’s Road Funding Bill (Memphis Daily News) Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland lauded the Tennessee Legislature for passing the IMPROVE Act, including a combination of fuel tax and fee increases designed to improve transportation funding. “The General Assembly did the right thing (Wednesday) by voting for Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which I was proud to support,” Strickland said via Twitter. “This will help Memphis and the entire state of Tennessee when it comes to maintaining and improving our roads and bridges, and it also gives us more options as we explore sustainable funding solutions for mass transit in our city.”

UT economics professor explains how gas tax bill affects drivers (WATE) The plan to clear a backlog of Tennessee road projects, paid for by a gas tax increase, is just a few steps away from becoming law. The Improve Act is a key portion of Governor Haslam’s agenda for the year. It calls for a six cents per gallon gas tax increase for most drivers. It hikes up the diesel gas tax 10 cents per gallon. The bill also lowers the grocery tax by one percent. Some Tennessee drivers approve of the gas tax hike because that extra money will go toward repairing the state’s roads. “I think Tennessee roads are in good shape, but it’s important to keep them that way,” said Tom Woodruff, a driver.

Area state highways rated among worst in Tennessee (WJHL) Just a day after state lawmakers approved Governor Bill Haslam’s gas tax hike to fund road transportation projects, an analysis of the state’s recently finalized Pavement Management Report shows Northeast Tennessee is home to some of the worst rated stretches of road in Tennessee. The annual report grades more than 15,000 stretches of state roads, giving each a rating, also known as a Pavement Quality Index. The PQI is an overall indication of a road’s health, according to public records. While the report shows Tennessee’s roads are in good condition on average, the report also identified 16 stretches of state highway in our region considered in poor condition. Nine of the 16 sections in question are in Washington County, including five along SR34/Highway 11E.

Why Some Cities and States Are Footing the Bill for Community College (The Atlantic) A surge of innovation in states and cities is building momentum for what could become a seismic shift in American education. Just as the country came to expect in the decades around World War II that young people would finish at least 12 years of school, more local governments are now working to ensure that students complete at least 14 years. With that change, political leaders in both parties are increasingly acknowledging that if society routinely expects students to obtain at least two years of schooling past high school, government has a responsibility to provide it for them cost-free. That impulse animates the statewide tuition-free community-college program pioneered under Republican Governor Bill Haslam in Tennessee and replicated under Democratic Governor Kate Brown in Oregon.

TDEC adds 1,058 acres to South Cumberland State Park (TN Journal/Humphrey) News release from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation: The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), in partnership with The Conservation Fund, The Land Trust for Tennessee and the Open Space Institute (OSI), today announced the addition of 1,058 acres to South Cumberland State Park in Marion County. The acquisition connects more than 7,000 acres of protected public land, conserves forestland and cove habitat from future development, and protects scenic views on the Fiery Gizzard trail. “TDEC takes land preservation seriously and prides itself on providing top-quality outdoor recreation experiences for state park visitors,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Conservation Brock Hill. “Additions to our state parks system benefit all Tennesseans through the protection of our air, water and habitat, and create more opportunities to enjoy the beautiful spaces we call home.”

Number of freed Tennessee inmates returning to prison high but has improved (Tennessean) Nearly 1 out of 2 people released from prison will return within three years, according to the latest data released by the Tennessee Department of Correction on Thursday. TDOC lauded the fact that over six years, the recidivism rate went down by 3.4 percentage points, saying in a statement that the numbers show “Tennessee is moving in the right direction.” The rate went from 50.5 percent in 2010 to 47.1 percent in 2016, according to TDOC.

Lillelid killer Karen Howell wants out of prison, 20 years later (News Sentinel) Twenty years after the triple killing that left a mother, father and daughter dead in a roadside ditch and their son maimed for life, Karen Howell wants a chance at freedom. “I’ve grown up so much in prison,” she wrote in a recent letter. “I never thought or ever intended or wanted that someone would die. That’s never been who I was, then or now. In my own heart I have never stopped hoping or believing that maybe one day I’ll have the chance of walking out of prison.” Arguments are set for 11 a.m. Friday in Greene County Criminal Court.

Tennessee AG says bill could create conflict with existing law, same-sex marriage ruling (Tennessean) The state attorney general says that courts would likely side with state law that provides for more gender-neutral interpretations over a proposed law that would could also go against the 2014 Supreme Court decision that gave equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. Nashville Democrat Rep. Bill Beck requested the opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, which was issued April 13. The House passed HB1111 last month that would assign gender-based definitions to terms like “mother,” “father,” “husband,” and “wife” which many, saw as an attempt to usurp the famed Supreme Court decision that gave equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.

AG: Bill could conflict with gay marriage ruling, state law (AP) A state attorney general opinion says legislation requiring use of the “natural and ordinary meaning” of undefined words in Tennessee code could, in some cases, conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling and state law about interpreting gender-specific words as inclusive. However, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s opinion says a judge wouldn’t necessarily use literal meanings of gender-specific words, including “husband,” ”wife,” ”father” and “mother.” It says a judge would likely side with state law requiring gender-inclusive interpretations, unless lawmakers made the bill clear that they wanted gender-specific interpretations.

Letter urges more legislative oversight of outsourcing (Memphis Daily News) A letter circulating in the Legislature encourages state lawmakers to take a more active oversight role as the state prepares to outsource jobs across Tennessee, a situation in which even local government jobs could be doled out to a private contractor. State Sen. Steve Dickerson, who questioned the governor’s privatization initiative when officials presented a business justification plan, is among the lawmakers who’ve signed it. “The crux of the letter is if you looked at the entire topic of outsourcing, I think in theory it sounds like it might pay some dividends. But I think the General Assembly should have a little more say-so,” says Dickerson, a Nashville Republican.

Rutherford lawmakers split on gas tax (Daily News Journal) Both of Rutherford County’s state senators backed the gas tax hike Wednesday to increase road funding, but all four of the delegation’s House members opposed the legislation. The all-GOP delegation from Rutherford split on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal. The legislation will mean a 6-cent per gallon increase of existing gasoline taxes of 21.4 cents. Diesel taxes also will also go up by 10 cents per gallon from 18.4 cents. The bill includes tax breaks in other areas, such as a 20 percent reduction in grocery taxes.

Legislators say yes to gas tax hike in state (Cleveland Daily Banner) It was “gas day” in Nashville with the thought of raising the Tennessee’s gas tax giving many legislators indigestion. On Wednesday, lawmakers had the chance to formally adopt or reject the plan, which seeks to raise the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 6 and 10 cents, respectively, while also calling for a variety of tax cuts. More than 40 county road superintendents were in attendance in the state House chamber as the debate and vote took place. The vote in the state House, which was expected to be a nail-biter, ended up not even being close.,56824?

Sen. Mark Norris, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally discuss passage of IMPROVE Act (Tennessean)

Video: Sen. Mark Norris discusses IMPROVE Act on Senate floor (Tennessean)

Local lawmakers explain ayes, nays on gas tax vote (Johnson City Press) Tennessee’s 49th governor arguably scored the biggest achievement of his second term on Wednesday. Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature IMPROVE Act, enacting Tennessee’s first fuel tax in nearly three decades, emerged triumphant from the House and Senate floors after a combined five-plus hours of discussion and debate. The legislation seeks to raise the gas tax by 6 cents and the diesel tax by 10 cents over a three-year period. The extra revenue will be used to whittle away at the state’s $10 billion backlog of transportation projects. Also attached to the bill is a tax cut on grocery purchases and an alteration to the state’s corporate tax policy.

Tennessee lawmakers churning out bills (Times Free Press) Tennessee banks and financial service providers could legally alert authorized persons to potential fraud involving elderly and vulnerable adults under a bill headed to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration. The House on Thursday took final action on the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, voting 89-1 for the measure. Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, sponsored the legislation. It was part of a packet of bills by a group of lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, aimed at protecting Tennessee seniors. The measure already had passed in the Senate.

Bill that would disclose more on tax credits passes Tennessee legislature (Tennessean) Bringing more transparency to the state’s business subsidies, lawmakers this week passed a bill that would require an annual report on tax credits. If Gov. Bill Haslam allows the measure to become law, the Department of Revenue would disclose to lawmakers how many companies received franchise and excise tax credits during the previous fiscal year, how much in subsidies they received, and how many people companies hired (if their tax credits depended on hiring). Reports would show the total amounts, not by individual companies. A representative for Haslam indicated Thursday he didn’t oppose the bill.

House OKs bill requiring disclosure of legislative travel (Tennessean) A bill that requires lawmakers to disclose expenses and the source of funding for travel paid by politicos was given approval in the House on Thursday. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, was introduced after the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee uncovered numerous legislative trips funded by politically connected people. The trips, which included travel to Alabama, Europe and North Carolina, were not required to be disclosed.

Senate lauds passage of bill to release records in deaths of officers (Tennessean) Both Republican and Democratic senators are hailing the passage of a bill Thursday that would make public the records related to the deaths of police officers around the state. The measure came after the death De’Greaun Frazier, who was a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officer who was shot to death in an undercover operation last August. Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, sponsored the bill that he said was essential for the good of the public, and government.

House delays vote on 23-hour alcohol at 2 Nashville bars (AP) The Tennessee House has put off a vote on a bill that would allow two Nashville bars to serve alcohol for 23 hours a day. The bill sponsored by Rep. Sanderson would only require liquor service to cease between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. The Kenton Republican didn’t say why he delayed a vote until next week. The Tennessean has reported ( the measure would apply to the Diner in Nashville’s Broadway entertainment district and the Scoreboard Bar & Grill in the Opryland area. Under current law, liquor-by-the-drink service must be halted between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m.

In Memoriam : Some state bills that died (again) this year (Memphis Flyer) No, it ain’t over in Nashville until the last gavel falls, but as the Republican-led Tennessee Legislature begins to wind down, let us remember some bills that have died this session. The Bathroom Bill: Yes, this old bill came back this year, sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, (R-Lebanon) and Sen. Mae Beavers, (R-Mt. Juliet), and it died not on any moral grounds but because of money. If passed, the bill would have mandated that public school students use the bathroom that corresponded with the sex assigned them on their birth certificates. So, a boy who identifies as a girl would have to go to the boys’ room at school (and vice versa).

Under Proposed Law, Women Will Have to Hear Their Fetus is Unviable- Twice (Memphis Flyer) The proposed “Tennessee Infants Protection Act” (TIPA) cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote, and is expected to head to the Senate floor as early as next week. If passed, the measure won’t prohibit abortion before 20 weeks, but it will introduce a swath of legal entanglements for women who need an abortion after 20 weeks, and for the physicians who provide them. Among the numerous restrictions introduced in the measure, one stands out as particularly troublesome to Francine Hunt, the executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood.

Mayor: Broadband bill could benefit county (Tullahoma News) The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which could increase broadband access to Tennessee’s rural unserved citizens, would greatly benefit Coffee County, according to Mayor Gary Cordell. The bill was signed by the House Speaker Beth Harwell on April 12, and is expected to be signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access. While only 2 percent of the state’s urban citizens lack access, 34 percent of rural residents are without coverage at recognized minimum standards due to low population density and challenging geography. “We are finding out that access to broadband is very important to businesses,” Cordell said.

Game On: GOP Primary Challenger Blasts State Rep. Susan Lynn for Voting Yes on Gas Tax Increase After Saying She Opposed It (Tennessee Star) Less than 24 hours after State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) broke her promise not to vote for a gas tax increase, her 2018 Republican primary challenger is on the attack. “In a story reported by The Tennessee Star on March 12, 2017 Susan Lynn declined a challenge by Jeremy H. G. Hayes to debate her support of the Gas Tax, saying, ‘No, I am not for the gas tax so there is nothing to debate,’ ” the Jeremy Hayes for State Representative campaign said in a statement released on Thursday. Hayes announced in February he will challenge Lynn in the August 2018 Republican primary to represent the 57th House District.

Often-Arrested Lee Sisters Get Civil Rights Due on Capitol Hill (Memphis Daily News) During the civil rights era, the Lee sisters wouldn’t have been welcomed at the State Capitol. Half a century later, legislators honored the Memphis family on the House floor, recognizing their efforts in the 1960s when they participated in protests across the city and Southeast as high school and college students. Ultimately, the sisters were arrested 17 times, earning them the title of “Most Arrested Civil Rights Family” by Jet magazine in 1965.

Corker Sees Trump Foreign Policy Evolving, Not Moderating (Memphis Daily News) U.S. foreign policy should be to “keep the volume up” on North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear capability and intercontinental ballistic missiles, says U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, “with the acknowledgement that what you could bring in is Russia, China, South Korea and Japan into a conflict.” U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, left, with state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville has watched what he termed an “evolution” of Donald Trump from running for president to becoming president four months ago. “So you’ve got to be careful as to how you do it,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.”

Boyd ad: A different story (Jackson Sun) Randy Boyd and his Republican campaign for governor today launched the first paid advertisement of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, with a statewide digital buy designed to introduce the Knoxville businessman and state’s former economic and community development commissioner to more than 500,000 proven Republican primary voters across the state. The new ad, entitled, “Randy Boyd: A Different Story,” shares details about Boyd’s early days growing up in South Knoxville, being the first in his family to graduate from college, his devotion to faith, family and conservative values, and his success as an entrepreneur in growing a small start-up business into one that today has more than 700 employees in seven different countries.

Randy Boyd running online ad on ‘running all my life’ (TN Journal/Humphrey) News release from Randy Boyd campaign: Randy Boyd  and his Republican  campaign for governor today launched the first paid advertisement of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, with a statewide digital buy designed to introduce the Knoxville businessman and state’s  former  economic and community development commissioner to more   than 500,000 proven Republican primary voters across  the state.

Former Tennessee economic commissioner to speak at DSCC commencement (State Gazette) Randy Boyd, former commissioner of economic and community development, is scheduled to deliver the address at DSCC’s 47th Commencement Ceremony Saturday, May 6. Dyersburg State Community College will hold its 47th annual commencement exercises Saturday, May 6, at 2 p.m., inside the Dyer County High School Gymnasium. Rehearsal has been scheduled to take place at Dyer County High School Friday, May 5, at 3:30 p.m. The college estimates 401 students will graduate. Randy Boyd, former commissioner of economic and community development, will deliver the commencement address. Boyd was born in South Knoxville and graduated from Doyle High School at age 16.

Stormy Weather: The science and politics of climate change in the Mid-South (Memphis Flyer) Clouds are gathering over the campus of the University of Memphis as I arrive at the office of Dorian J. Burnette, professor of meteorology, climatology, and extreme weather. The Wichita, Kansas, native grew up in the heart of tornado alley. “That’s how I got into it, running from tornados,” he says. “Now, I take students, and I run toward tornados.” Burnette’s the kind of person who sweats the details — you have to be if you want to be a successful scientist. When he talks about combing through 150-year-old documents for historical weather data, his enthusiasm is infectious. It helps to be passionate when your job involves looking deeply into the greatest existential threat human civilization has ever faced.

DA launches criminal investigation into landfill closure (Tennessean) The District Attorney for a small community where the operator of a controversial landfill padlocked its gates and declared bankruptcy has launched an investigation into possible felony and white collar crimes. Matthew Stowe, district attorney for Benton County, said his office is investigating Environmental Waste Solutions and its executives for possible violations of public safety laws for abandoning the landfill where two tanker trucks filled potentially combustible ammonia, along with 250-pound plastic containers of cadmium sludge left outside. Stowe said he would also be examining the company’s financial records to see if company officials had put money aside for the expensive costs of closing a landfill.

Worries about sewage flowing into Tri-Cities lake lead to town hall meeting (WJHL) Worries about sewage flowing into a Tri-Cites lake led to a town hall meeting Thursday night. The Boone Lake Association and the Tennessee Clean Water Network organized a town hall meeting with the goal of learning more about the plan to fix Bluff City’s failing sewer system, which has allowed sewage to boil over into Boone Lake. “We were looking for commitment from the various people and various agencies that had attachment to this project in one way, shape or form or another,” said Val Kosmider with the Boone Lake Association. The state of Tennessee fined Bluff City more than $25,000.

Nitric Acid Release At US Nitrogen Under Investigation (Greeneville Sun) The breeze was blowing away from populated areas surrounding the US Nitrogen plant shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday when a nitric acid vapor release occurred at the facility. How the release of the nitric acid “plume” happened remains under investigation. No injuries were reported. The release of the potentially hazardous substance prompted a response from the Greeneville-Greene County Hazardous Materials Unit, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Greene County Office of Emergency Management and numerous other first responders.

Concern With Emergency Notices Follows ‘Shelter In Place’ Order (Greeneville Sun) Greene County Mayor David Crum and Sheriff Pat Hankins answered questions outside US Nitrogen following the release of nitric acid vapors from the plant Wednesday evening. Crum said emergency personnel and sheriff’s deputies attempted to notify individuals that might have been in the direction the vapor traveled to shelter in place. Residents said they were also told to turn off their air conditioners and close their windows.

Homeowners near US Nitrogen upset they weren’t notified about nitric acid leak (WJHL) Investigators are still trying to determine what caused a nitric acid vapor leak at the US Nitrogen plant in Greene County Wednesday night. This is the second leak in the past eight months at US Nitrogen. News Channel 11 learned two people were sent to the hospital following the leak as a precaution. But a lot of people who live nearby, such as Brian Smith, say they weren’t even aware of the leak until after it was contained. “We never got no notification or anything. We just seen the fire trucks and the crash truck and probably about 10 load of cops over there,” Smith said.


Bill Frist and Terry Cook: Here’s how we can make Earth Day every day in Nashville (Tennessean) Earth Day matters — to you and your health. Earth Day was established in 1970 to make us think, for at least one day, about the health of our environment. We submit that every day should be Earth Day. Not just for the health of nature, but for your health and well-being. When 90 percent of a person’s health is determined by something other than doctors and hospitals, we should naturally be spending some time understanding those other determinants. And the immediate environment in which we live is chief among them.

Sam Stockard: Tearful end for non-citizen tuition relief bill (TN Ledger) State Rep. Raumesh Akbari grew so emotional she couldn’t speak. On the verge of tears, the Memphis Democrat started to talk about a high school from her Shelby County district with a large number of undocumented immigrant students. She went there two years ago to tell students about the Tennessee Promise, but she could give these young people, the children of immigrants who came here illegally years ago, nothing except hope for a piece of legislation to help them fulfill their dreams. Akbari couldn’t finish that thought for fear she would lose control in a recent House Education committee meeting as legislators considered a bill enabling all students who graduate from Tennessee high schools to pay in-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities.

Column: Unfinished business fuels Boyd’s bid (TN Ledger) Republican Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman and former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, has the money and resume for a strong gubernatorial run. By any measuring stick, Randy Boyd is a renaissance man. The founder of Radio Systems Corp. served as commissioner of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for two years before he stepped down earlier this year. A Republican, Boyd announced in March that he was entering the race for Tennessee governor in 2018. As commissioner, Boyd was an architect of the “Drive to 55,” a state initiative that aims to deliver a college degree or certificate to 55 percent of the state’s residents by 2025.

David Plazas: The false promise of unlimited gun rights (Tennessean) Tennessee lawmakers have continued their annual tradition of debating proposals to expand gun owners’ rights. Some efforts have been more successful than others, but as they press on, legislators should drop a deceptive and divisive political slogan: “Constitutional carry.” That phrase, which has been particularly popular this session in bills proposed by legislators like Reps. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough; Andy Holt, R-Dresden; and Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, falsely gives the impression that there is an unlimited or near unlimited right to carry firearms.

Jackson Baker: Corker and Herenton try to get their messages across to different audiences (Memphis Flyer) Bob Corker made one thing clear at a town meeting in suburban Arlington on Tuesday — that the venue, Crave Coffee Bar and Bistro, was not yet “the time and the place” for him to express his future plans, rumors about which run from a governor’s race in 2018 to a possible presidential bid two years later. The Arlington event was set up in much the manner of a meet-and-greet, and other dignitaries present included Mayor Mike Wissman of Arlington, Shelby County Republican chair Lee Mills, and 8th District Congressman David Kustoff.


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