Thursday, January 24

Gov. Bill Lee’s first executive order calls for accelerated rural development (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Lee’s first executive order calls for accelerated development in Tennessee’s distressed rural counties, a priority he emphasized throughout his campaign for governor. The executive order, issued Wednesday, requires all state executive departments to provide recommendations for how they can better serve rural Tennessee through a “statement of rural impact.” Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County, was sworn in on Saturday as Tennessee’s 50th governor.His office says the order is a first step by his administration to move forward with plans to spur improvements in 15 rural distressed counties in Tennessee, meaning they are among the 10 percent most economically challenged counties in the nation by the Appalachian Regional Commission, which prepares an annual index. LINK

Lee: Executive order No. 1 requires agency plans to aid 15 distressed rural counties, including Bledsoe (Times Free Press) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued his first executive order Wednesday, requiring all 22 state executive departments to assess their current impact on distressed rural areas along with recommendations on how they will accelerate plans to serve rural Tennesseans better. The executive order represents the first action by Lee, who campaigned for governor last year pledging to step up state efforts to focus on the state’s 15 economically distressed rural counties, a list that includes Grundy, Van Buren and Bledsoe counties. LINK

Lee’s first executive order encourages rural development (Nashville Post) Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday issued his first executive order, which tasks state departments with developing a plan for boosting lagging rural counties. Lee’s order — read it here — requires each executive department to submit a review by May 31 of how it serves rural Tennesseans. Those reports will be followed by recommendations for improving that service by the end of June. “My administration will place a high emphasis on the development and success of our rural areas,” Lee said in a release. “Our first executive order sends a clear message that rural areas will be prioritized across all departments as we work to improve coordination in our efforts.” LINK

Lee’s first executive order seeks to focus attention on distressed counties (TN Journal) Gov. Bill Lee in his first executive order aims to focus state agencies on improving services for Tennessee’s 15 economically distressed counties. Here’s the full release: Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued his first executive order, requiring all state executive departments to issue a statement of rural impact and provide recommendations for better serving rural Tennessee. “My administration will place a high emphasis on the development and success of our rural areas,” said Lee. “Our first executive order sends a clear message that rural areas will be prioritized across all departments as we work to improve coordination in our efforts.” LINK

Gov. Lee issues first executive order, focuses on rural areas (AP) Gov. Bill Lee is directing all state agencies to find ways to improve how they serve rural Tennessee regions as part of his first executive order. Lee announced Wednesday his administration is placing a high emphasis on the development and success of rural areas. The order requires all 22 executive departments to submit a statement by May 31 explaining how they serve rural Tennesseans. The order then asks each department to submit recommendations to improve that service by June 30. LINK

Local leaders react to Gov. Lee’s executive order supporting rural Tennessee (WBBJ-TV) Gov. Bill Lee is carrying out his first executive order since taking office. Lee’s order will affect 15 economically distressed Tennessee counties. “It means a lot to us when one of the first things that a governor does is takes a look, ‘OK, where can we be the most helpful in the state of Tennessee,’” said Eddie Crittendon, CEO of McNairy County Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce. Less than a week after his inauguration, Gov. Lee announced his first executive order, which is to address transforming rural areas in Tennessee. McNairy and Hardeman counties were both on his list. “It really means a lot to us that they take the initiative to understand that growth begins in the rural communities,” Crittendon said. LINK

Gov. Lee orders accelerated action on 15 distressed counties (Cannon Courier) Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued his first executive order, requiring all state executive departments to issue a statement of rural impact and provide recommendations for better serving rural Tennessee. “My administration will place a high emphasis on the development and success of our rural areas,” said Lee. “Our first executive order sends a clear message that rural areas will be prioritized across all departments as we work to improve coordination in our efforts.” LINK

Bill Lee appoints new education commissioner, locals weigh in on potential impact (Johnson City Press) Ahead of Gov. Bill Lee’s inauguration on Saturday, the Republican announced his pick for new education commissioner Thursday to replace Candice McQueen. Penny Schwinn, who has served as deputy commissioner of education in Texas, will now be at the helm. Penny leads with students at the forefront, and I believe her experience is exactly what we need to continue improving on the gains we have made in the past few years,” Lee said in a press release last week. “As a former teacher and seasoned administrator, she will help make Tennessee a leader in the nation on education.” LINK

Tennessee’s next education chief starts in February. Here’s how she’s prepping. (Chalkbeat Tennessee) Penny Schwinn is scheduled on Feb. 4 to take the reins of Tennessee’s education department, where she’ll oversee 600 full-time employees and work on new Gov. Bill Lee’s agenda for public education. Schwinn is now winding down her obligations in Texas, where as chief deputy commissioner over academics she has been responsible for the work of about 350 employees and half of the programs of the Texas Education Agency. “As you would want with any public official, I want to make sure we have a really strong transition so that my team is taken care of and the work moves forward in Texas without massive disruption,” she said. LINK

National School Choice Week raises charter school and public school debate (Johnson City Press) Sunday marked the beginning of National School Choice Week, which aims to raise awareness about the different educational opportunities available to children, from traditional public school settings to public charter schools, private schools and homeschooling. Coincidentally, this week began days after recently inaugurated Gov. Bill Lee appointed another ally and school choice proponent, former Texas Deputy Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, to serve as education commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Education. LINK

New governor lays out budget plan (Nashville Post) Sworn in over the weekend, new Gov. Bill Lee will begin his first budget hearings later this week with a question for each of his cabinet members: What would a 2-percent budget cut for your department look like? Lee, a Republican, announced that budget meetings with the departments of financial institutions, veterans services, commerce and insurance, economic and community development and corrections would be held Friday, with the rest to follow next week. Despite inheriting a budget surplus, he will ask department heads for potential reductions. “I believe that we should be fiscally responsible and making certain that we don’t grow government beyond what it should be, particularly in times of prosperity, to prepare for those days when our economy is not so good,” Lee told reporters outside his first cabinet meeting Tuesday at the Capitol. LINK

Luke Bryan Surprises Tennessee Governor’s Ball With ‘Here’s To The Farmer’ Performance (Billboard Magazine) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee held his inaugural ball on Saturday (Jan. 19), and the night included a special surprise performance. Luke Bryan took the stage and treated the guests to an acoustic performance. “What an honor to be here and to be a kid from Georgia and to move to Nashville chasing a dream, and to have quite a few years in the great state of Tennessee under my belt and to really have the opportunity to fall in love with this state and everything it’s done for me and my family and my children,” he said onstage. “It’s such an amazing beautiful place to call home. I’m honored to be here. What a great night.” LINK

State awards $30K grant for new Bristol distillery that will use locally produced grain (WJHL-TV) Tennessee awarded a $30,000 grant for the creation of a new distillery that will use locally produced grain. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture presented the award Wednesday to Lost State Distilling, a new craft distillery coming to Bristol. According to Lost State’s website, the distillery will produce craft gin, rum, and whiskey. “Our main product is going to be Tennessee Whiskey,” said co-owner Nick Bianchi. “So essentially everything we use needs to come from Tennessee and we want everything to come as local as possible.” Lost State is one of six businesses across the state slated to receive grants through the Agriculture Enterprise Fund. LINK

Judge releases Tennessee’s Medicaid program from injunction (AP) A federal judge on Wednesday released Tennessee’s Medicaid program from a 2014 injunction requiring it to hold hearings for people whose applications aren’t processed promptly. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Campbell Jr. noted that the number of delayed applications at TennCare has steadily declined over the years, and more than 99 percent of applications are now processed within the required time frame. That is 45 days for most Medicaid forms and 90 days for applications based on a disability. When the lawsuit was filed in 2014, attorneys claimed thousands of people had been left in indefinite limbo — their applications neither accepted nor rejected — because a new computer system designed to help process their applications wasn’t functional. LINK

Tennessee could improve on its road safety laws according to new report (WSMV-TV) Tennessee has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to road safety laws, that’s according to a new report by The study shows Tennessee is in the middle of the pack. More than 37,000 people are dying on our nation’s roads every year. This new report suggests more driving laws could make that number go down. Take a look at the map. It ranks every state based on the number of safety laws they have. LINK

Getting the state to pay for vehicle damage from a pothole is harder than you think (WSMV-TV)) A foot-deep pothole damaged about 20 cars early Friday morning on Interstate 40 West near downtown at the Church Street exit. Potholes are a frustrating part of our commute and can cause a lot of damage if you hit one. The state promises to pay to fix it, but only if you can prove three things. 1. You must prove the pothole is on an interstate or state road. 2. The state must be aware of the pothole. 3. The state must have been given ‘reasonable’ time to fix the pothole. News4 asked Shelli King with the Tennessee Department of Treasury what is considered a ‘reasonable’ about of time. LINK

New plan could save distressed rural hospitals from closure (WTVF-TV) A new plan to save distressed hospitals would create incentives for investments in rural areas in Tennessee. Belmont University professor Kelvin Ault and Attorney Russell Gill believe they have the answer to Tennessee’s healthcare crisis. According to Ault, it starts with creating tax incentives for both not-for-profit and for profit investors. “To the extent you make your state more enticing for for profit healthcare companies, you’re actually going to raise your tax base,” said Ault in and interview Wednesday morning. LINK

Government shutdown impacts domestic violence shelters (WMC-TV) Some Mid-South domestic violence shelters could see an impact if the government shutdown continues. Tennessee ranks fifth in the nation for states with the highest number of women murdered by men. Domestic violence shelters do all that they can to provide resources for those in need. Marquipta Odom, Interim executive director with the YWCA of Greater Memphis said that could be more difficult with the partial government shutdown. “How does it look? I’m not sure how it would actually look at this time where it could maybe be reduced hours, it could be furlough of some of the staff, and unfortunately the greatest impact it would have if we have to stop is close the shelter down,” said Odom. LINK

State Rep. Hardaway calls on governor to make shutdown strategy (Daily Memphian) Concerned about the federal government shutdown’s impact on Tennesseans, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway is urging Gov. Bill Lee to plan for responses to everything from feeding the poor to responding to emergencies. The Memphis Democrat said Wednesday the Republican governor should make short-term and long-term plans to deal with the cut-off in federal funds for federal employees deemed non-essential. “We can’t wait until the crisis hits before we start preparing for it,” said Hardaway, noting Lee has no more idea than federal leaders when the shutdown might end. The shutdown entered its 33rd day Wednesday as a stalemate continued between Democratic leaders and President Donald Trump over funding for a Mexican border wall. LINK

With Some Praise Of MLK, Tennessee Lawmakers Aim To Distance Themselves From White Nationalists (WPLN  Radio) The Tennessee House of Representatives approved Wednesday a resolution that honors the legacy of Martin Luther King and denounces racism — a unanimous decision that the chamber’s Republican leader hopes unanimously will set the tone for this year’s legislative session. It comes after House lawmakers killed a measure last year denouncing white nationalism, a failure that some saw as an embarrassment for the Republican-led body. “We are going to work for the benefit of all Tennesseans, regardless of what they look like, where they come from or even whether they are Republican, Democrat or in between,” Majority Leader William Lamberth told WPLN. “We are going to work for the benefit of all Tennesseans, and we are going to do it together.” LINK

In resolution honoring MLK, Tennessee House of Representatives says it will fight racism (Tennessean) A year after Tennessee lawmakers declined to pass a resolution denouncing white nationalists and neo-Nazis, a Republican leader in the House of Representatives says a resolution to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s life is accomplishing a similar purpose. The resolution, introduced by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, was passed on the House floor Wednesday morning by a voice vote. While the majority of the three-page resolution is devoted to King’s life, the final sentence states that the House resolves to “join with Tennesseans throughout this great state to continue the fight against racism of all types as we all work to bring Dr. King’s dream to fruition by making Tennessee a place where equality, justice, freedom, and peace continue to grow and flourish.” LINK

Resolution denouncing neo-Nazis resurfaces in Tennessee (AP) Tennessee House lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution praising Martin Luther King Jr.’s life while also promising to fight racism. “We wanted to spend some time in this resolution honoring Dr. King, but it’s not enough just to honor him,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, 41, a Republican from Cottontown who co-sponsored the proposal. “Especially for my generation and for all of us in public office, we wanted to go beyond that.” The resolution’s success stands out after the Republican-dominant Legislature failed twice last year to pass similar proposals denouncing neo-Nazis and white nationalists. LINK

Resolution denouncing neo-Nazis resurfaces in Tennessee (AP) A Nashville lawmaker is once again backing a resolution denouncing neo-Nazis and white nationalists after similar proposals failed to gain traction in the Tennessee Legislature last year. Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons filed the resolution Wednesday. Hours earlier, the Tennessee House adopted a separate resolution praising Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and also promising that the state will continue to “fight against racism.” LINK

Republican Lawmaker Revives Tennessee’s Failed Heartbeat Bill (WPLN Radio) A Republican lawmaker from East Tennessee has, once again, introduced a bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. A similar bill stalled out in 2017, in part because of a lack of support from the anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life. The state’s Attorney General, a Republican, also classified the bill as constitutionally suspect. But, Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said this is something he’ll keep pushing until it becomes law. LINK

Meme of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called racist, shared in Williamson County Republican Party email (Tennessean) An email sent by the Williamson County Republican Party contained what some are calling a racist meme featuring U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly elected member of Congress who is quickly becoming a target of criticism for Republicans. The Williamson County Republican Party recently shared this image in an email blast. The image shows a woman interviewing Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, asking her opinion on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed a women’s right to have an abortion. The lawmaker is shown responding, “Thats (sic) the only two ways Mexicans can cross the river.” LINK

Nearly one month into office, Blackburn among new senators still without email contact forms (News Sentinel) Nearly one month into her U.S. Senate term, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., still does not have a Senate email or Senate online contact form. No email addresses or embedded contact forms are listed under her new Senate web page or her old page on the House of Representatives website. She is not alone. Freshman U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., also still do not list email contact forms. A member of Blackburn’s staff said the issue appeared to stem from technical difficulties in the Senate Sergeant of Arms Office, which handles Senate information security and human resources, among its many roles. LINK

Memphis as Vietnam? (Nashville Post) It’s not what you might think; senior FedEx exec sees parallels in ECD. Bet you’ve never heard this said before: “Memphis is to Nashville as Vietnam is to China.” Huh? That dandy little syllogism was stated on Saturday by an influential person in a position to know: Richard Smith, son of FedEx founder Fred Smith and president and CEO of the Memphis-based shipping giant’s FedEx Logistics division. For the record, Vietnam to Fred Smith — once upon a time, at least — was where he served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer during one of the most bitter, demanding, and ultimately frustrating wars in American history. LINK

State Revenues Take a Hit (Governing) Income tax collections are down in several states compared to a year ago. Some worry it’s a sign of things to come. Lower income tax collections is the culprit, according to data compiled by Governing of the top 10 most populous states with an income tax. Every state except Indiana saw a December drop compared with a year ago, ranging from -3.4 percent in Ohio to -41 percent in California. States with high-income earners suffered the most, reporting double-digit drops in total tax collections. California saw the biggest dip, followed by New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey. LINK

In Quest for Federal Money, States Debunk Providers’ Coverage Claims (Stateline) Cellphone companies often boast about how much of the country they cover. But with billions of federal dollars at stake to expand mobile broadband in rural America, state officials and other groups across 37 states say those claims aren’t always true. The challenge is proving the carriers wrong. In Vermont, that meant sending out a guy in a gray Toyota Prius to imitate the ubiquitous “can you hear me now?” question as he motored among small towns and dairy farms in search of a signal. Other states took similar steps, and their concerns have caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which has begun investigating the accuracy of the carriers’ claims. LINK

Gannett-mandated cuts hit Tennessean (Nashville Post) Cuts swept across Gannett papers today as the newspaper company looked to shore up its bottom line following disappointing 2018 financial results. The Tennessean cut three positions: high school sports reporter Michael Murphy, video producer Michael Schwab and regional editor Nancy Broden, the latter of whom was working mostly on the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro. In an eight-minute meeting, vice president for USA Today Network-Tennessee Michael Anastasi told staff that layoffs had been completed around the company and in Nashville, but that he was not at liberty to confirm names. Between the cuts, buyouts and a number of open positions — The Tennessean’s headcount was 75 but will now be in the mid-60s — the staff will require some restructuring. LINK

Study: What Amazon’s new Nashville hub means for downtown traffic (Nashville Business Journal) Amazon’s coming to town, and the technology giant’s new home won’t change just the city’s skyline: It’s going to impact downtown commutes. Nashville Yards — the billion-dollar development set to house Amazon’s two towers and many other buildings — is expected to generate roughly 34,800 vehicle trips each day, once the project is fully developed, according to an updated traffic-impact study conducted by KCI Technologies Inc. This means more cars will soon flow onto both Broadway and Church Street, two primary gateways into and out of downtown. Amazon and its impact on Nashville’s already crowded roadways has been a top-of-mind issue for business leaders since Metro officials began competing for the company’s coveted HQ2. LINK

CALIFORNIA: In California, Criminal Justice Reform Offers a Lesson for the Nation (NY Times) A police officer is shot dead in Whittier by a gang member. A mentally ill homeless man walks into a steakhouse in Ventura, Calif., and stabs a man to death in front of his family. In Bakersfield, a man angry over his divorce goes on a shooting rampage, killing his ex-wife and four others. In the aftermath of these high-profile killings, some police officers, district attorneys and politicians were quick to use them as examples to show that criminal justice reform had let dangerous people onto the streets. It turned out they were wrong. Not one of the crimes was directly linked to any of several new laws that seek to reduce incarceration and lower harsh penalties. But the cases show how muddled the debate over criminal justice has become, even in this liberal state. LINK

DELAWARE: Coalition to push for criminal justice reform in Delaware (Courier-Express) The ACLU of Delaware’s Coalition for Smart Justice has launched a lobbying campaign for criminal justice reform, saying the state’s “tough on crime approach” isn’t working. “The last few decades really, Delaware has been pursuing a sort of tough on crime approach and we’re just starting to see that is not working at all,” explained Erica Marshall with the Coalition for Smart Justice Delaware. The group want’s legislators to prioritize criminal justice reform this session by focusing on issues such as expungement, drug statutes, sentencing modification, fines and fees, and data transparency. LINK

GEORGIA: More school choice: the solution to Georgia’s skill gap (Gwinnett Daily Post) Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Our top-ranked business climate continues to spur corporate relocations and small business expansions — creating more job opportunities for Georgians. However, as companies continue to innovate around 21st century technologies, many Georgians don’t have the skills and talents needed to fill the high-paying jobs that are available. Georgia’s job openings are concentrated predominately across the agriculture, health care, manufacturing and technology fields which often require employees to have in-depth technical knowledge or hands-on experience. Currently, our education system isn’t producing enough qualified students to fill the amount of available high-demand jobs. LINK

MISSISSIPPI: Is Mississippi criminal justice reform ahead? Experts tell lawmakers what’s needed (Clarion-Ledger) Send fewer people to jail or prison in Mississippi in the first place. And help those leaving incarceration to get back to a normal life, including a job, so they don’t wind up back in the system. Those were two underlying criminal justice reform themes experts told state lawmakers they should act on at a joint hearing Monday. But is there legislation that could make these changes to Mississippi’s corrections system a reality? They’re still working on it, lawmakers said. “We’re trying to find common ground to make the biggest impact, the quickest,” said House Corrections Chairman Rep. Bill Kinkade, R-Byhalia. LINK

NEVADA: Hundreds rally for school choice outside Nevada Capitol (Las Vegas Review-Journal) Hundreds of people marched and rallied in Nevada’s capital Tuesday to kick off a week promoting school choice. The groups of students, parents, teachers and administrators walked about a half-mile up the main drag in Carson City to the State Capital Mall, which houses the Nevada Legislature, Capitol and state Supreme Court. The event was part of National School Choice Week, which started in 2011 as a way to promote alternatives to traditional public schools and education. “I can have my kids learn the way I know is best for them,” said Rebecca Gorton, 38, whose three children attend Nevada Connections Academy, a virtual charter school. “They’re being able to be taught to their own person.” LINK

PENNSYLVANIA: Criminal Justice Reform Caucus (WBRE/WYOU-TV) Reforming the state’s criminal justice system was a goal governor wolf laid out for his second term. Now… Lawmakers are already taking steps toward that goal. State Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle are coming together to pass laws that reform the state’s criminal justice system. Laws they say are common sense and will help get people out of the criminal system and back to work. In his inauguration last week Governor Wolf laid out changes he wants to see made in Pennsylvania over the next four years. “Where we reform a criminal justice system that treats African Americans and the poor unjustly.” LINK

TEXAS: School choice advocates rally at Texas Capitol (KEYE-TV Austin) U.S Senator for Texas Ted Cruz called on state lawmakers to support ‘school choice.’ He joined a sea of yellow scarves at the state capitol Wednesday to rally alongside students and parents who want state money to go towards private school education. Beverly Hawkins, a parent who sends her first grader to private school, said her son is now thriving. “The teachers are able to acclimate to his style of learning and help him a lot, and the ratios are a lot better,” said Hawkins of her son’s private school. Hawkins attended the rally Wednesday because she believes other parents who can’t afford private school deserve the same options. Senator Cruz echoed that message. “I believe school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and every single child in the state of Texas deserves access to an excellent education,” said Sen. Cruz. LINK


Raul Lopez: Tennessee students flourish with greater educational freedom (Tennessean) From last Sunday through Saturday, all across the country, millions of Americans are celebrating National School Choice Week – a week dedicated to celebrating effective educational options available for students. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate educational freedom in the Volunteer State. Across Tennessee, tens of thousands of students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend public charter schools, independent schools, or home school.But, even with these options, too many of our most vulnerable students are being left behind. LINK

Column: A Proposed Fetal-Heartbeat Abortion Ban Is Back (Nashville Scene) On Wednesday, the Republican state representative from Jonesborough filed a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected except in limited circumstances, making this the third year in a row he has made such attempt. Fetal heartbeats can be detected before some women even know they are pregnant, says Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, “and so it’s ultimately a ban on abortion, which is unconstitutional.” Last year, Van Huss introduced similar legislation, but concerns over its constitutionality led to a watered-down law that requires doctors to offer a woman the chance to review ultrasound images, when available, prior to an abortion. LINK

Mark Harmon: We picked the wrong Bill Lee for governor; ‘Spaceman’ Lee would be better (News Sentinel) Businessman and public policy novice Bill Lee was sworn in this month as Tennessee’s governor. Lee is living validation of a simple rule of electoral politics: If A attacks B, and B attacks A, the winner is C. Lee was C. He survived a bruising Republican primary where Congresswoman Diane Black and gubernatorial education adviser Randy Boyd — and their respective support groups — took to the airwaves to hack each other to death. Lee cruised to victory both in the primary and the general elections relying on upbeat, if vague, personal messages and a stale set of GOP bromides such as “run government like a business.” LINK

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