Monday, January 28

Gov. Bill Lee shares historic connection to Cheatham County, Leeland Station in inaugural speech (Tennessean) Cheatham County residents concerned about the future of the historic Leeland Station site might be interested to learn that Gov. Bill Lee has a connection to the land. In fact, he mentioned it in his inaugural speech Jan. 19. The 57-acre property previously considered as the site for a new justice center, was secured last year by investors, and the nonprofit Braxton Lee Homestead Foundation is working to raise funds to purchase the property to prevent it from development. The group plans “to create unique public spaces and a nature park for the community” surrounding the home of Braxton Lee, one of Cheatham County’s earliest settlers, it said in a September news release. LINK

Governor Lee doubles down on criminal justice reform efforts (WBIR-TV) Today marks one full week since Governor Bill Lee took the Oath of Office. One of his main talking points at the inauguration was criminal justice reform. The new governor has already put that commitment in black and white on his official website. The page says Lee will “work to make sure those who are incarcerated are prepared to re-enter society, not re-enter prison.” Governor Lee also says he’s not concerned about private companies running prisons in Tennessee. According to The Associated Press, Lee says he told his budget team to find cost savings inside the Department of Correction. That request did not specify considering cuts to private prisons. Lee also says he hasn’t noticed a budget concern yet, and will keep an eye on that spending. LINK

What did Tennessee commit to lure VW electric car plant to Chattanooga? Stay tuned, Lee administration says (Times Free Press) Tennesseans will have to wait until Gov. Bill Lee unveils his first proposed state budget in March before learning what the state agreed to on a capital grant to help persuade Volkswagen to build its $800 million, 1,000-worker electric vehicle facility in Chattanooga. “It’s one of our capital grants and so the governor and the General Assembly will be discussing it and that will be part of the budget when the governor delivers his proposed budget on March 4,” state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe said Friday. LINK

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee not considering cutting private prisons (AP) Gov. Bill Lee on Friday said he has no reason to be concerned about private companies running prisons in Tennessee but says he also hasn’t analyzed the situation to see if a red flag might turn up. The new governor told reporters he’s asked budget writers to find potential cost savings inside the Department of Correction — as well as among all 50 state agencies — but that request did not specify considering cuts to the state’s use of private prisons. “I don’t have a reason to be concerned right now,” Lee said. “I haven’t analyzed that at all. So without the analysis, no reason to have a concern.” LINK

With new governor, House speaker, backers of school vouchers see opportunity in Tennessee (Tennessean) Tennessee’s change in leadership has emboldened some lawmakers and advocates eager to expand funding for a school voucher program. With a new governor and House speaker, there is a feeling among lawmakers that the climate is right to push a bill that will provide public money for parents that want to choose private schools or home schooling. It’s hard to quantify the amount of support in the Tennessee General Assembly, since many lawmakers are in a wait-and-see mode as Gov. Bill Lee develops his legislative agenda. Lee has said he is interested in supporting such a measure. Meanwhile, new House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, has pledged support for a bill that would offer education savings accounts to parents. LINK

Women’s March moves from streets to midterms and beyond (Daily Memphian) A dozen local organizations rallied Saturday at Clayborn Temple in a follow up to last weekend’s Memphis Women’s March that focused on influencing the broad ideological course of state and federal government past the 2018 midterm elections. Democratic State Sen. Raumesh Akbari said the five Democrats in the 33-member chamber will “have to work across the aisle,” but that Memphis has a “seat at the table” with Republican leaders of the Legislature and Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who took office a week ago. LINK

Tennessee will soon be 49th worst in the country at paying its correctional officers (Tennessean) Tennessee’s correctional officers are among the worst paid state prison workers in the country, causing a growing number of vacant positions critical to prison operations and posing a serious challenge for the state. Department of Correction commissioner Tony Parker told Gov. Bill Lee on Friday that turnover among correctional officers continues to grow, with the vacancy rate since fiscal year 2016 increasing from 7 percent to 22 percent. “These challenges have the potential to critically impact the departmental operations,” Parker said. Out of the department’s 2,400 correction officer positions, 500 are currently vacant. LINK

Tennessee’s next education chief starts in February. Here’s how she’s prepping (Daily Memphian) 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. She plans to pack and move to Tennessee next week and expects her family to join her in the spring. LINK

Dyersburg native appointed as TN assistant commissioner of Community & Rural Development (Dyersburg State Gazette) Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe announced Friday, Jan. 25, the appointment of Sammie Arnold as TNECD’s assistant commissioner of Community and Rural Development. Arnold, a native of Dyersburg, has been with the department since 2013 and most recently served as assistant commissioner of Strategy and Legislative Affairs. “With 80 of Tennessee’s 95 counties deemed as rural, our commitment to these areas of the state is a top priority for our department. In just three short years, the number of high-quality jobs in rural counties increased from 50 percent to nearly 65 percent, and we remain focused on continuing this growth,” Rolfe said. LINK

ACLU, Governor Speaking “Same Language” on Justice Reform, Weinberg Says (Memphis Flyer) Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, wants it on the record: She is confident that Governor Bill Lee is “very committed to criminal justice reform” and that “we speak the same language” on that issue. Weinberg made the declaration as part of an ACLU goals review on Tuesday of this week in a luncheon address to the Rotary Club of Memphis. And, after she had concluded her remarks, she submitted to a question-and-answer session and was asked by Rotarian Otis Sanford of The Daily Memphian and the University of Memphis if she was “confident” that Lee “will follow through on this and make a difference with this very ultra-conservative legislature.” Weinberg answered in the affirmative: “I don’t agree with [him on] everything, but I do have confidence and will be very happy to partner with him.” LINK

Tennessee to regulate kayak, canoe rental industry (Times Free Press) Kayak and canoe rentals in Tennessee will be regulated as state officials look to track water traffic amid growing concerns of access issues. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will require commercial operators that lease or rent non-motorized vessels to receive a free state-issued permit to continue operations. “We have no idea how many outfitters are in the state, and how much impact they’re having,” TWRA assistant director Chris Richardson said. “To set up minimum standards, we’re now requiring a permit.” The permits will be free, for now, as the agency tries to get a better idea of where the majority of the traffic is going and get a general sense how much traffic is on the water. LINK

America’s Hidden Workforce Returns (Wall Street Journal) Disabled workers join job market at highest level in years amid low unemployment and stricter rules for claiming benefits … Keri Dougherty, whose disability prevents her from driving, completed high school and two years ago received employment training at the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna, Tenn. Days after finishing her training at the center, she attended a job fair and was soon hired to work at a trailer that collects donated items for the Goodwill Industries charity. The job allowed her to move into her own apartment in December and to buy an old car, even though she’s unable to drive it. She leaves it parked near the unheated trailer so she can warm up during breaks. She earns about $9 an hour and works 40 hours a week. “I’ve wanted to live independently for a long time,” Ms. Dougherty said. “I wanted to experience how the real world works.” LINK

The Tri-Star State: What To Expect Of The New Legislative Session (WPLN Radio) Hundreds of bills have already been filed in the Tennessee General Assembly and the House is only one week in while the Senate is just set to begin. Now committees will start discussing the measures. WPLN’s political reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán talks about some measures that are making noise and which ones we should be paying attention to. Our ongoing conversations about Tennessee politics are available in The Tri-Star State podast. You can listen by visiting or subscribe using your favorite podcasting app. LINK

House passes MLK resolution year after pulling Memphis celebration money (Daily Memphian) A year after pulling $250,000 earmarked for Memphis’ bicentennial celebration from the state budget, the House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and condemning racism of all kinds. It was a major step for an oft-contentious body that has balked at removal of a Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the state Capitol and wouldn’t let a resolution denouncing neo-Nazis and white nationalists get out of a committee in 2018. The question, though, is whether this marks a new direction for the chamber, which has nearly 30 new members and different leadership in 2019. LINK

Rep. Cooper bill would let prisoners apply for Reconnect scholarships (Daily Memphian) Worried that prisoners are learning nothing as they sit in cells, state Rep. Barbara Cooper is sponsoring a bill enabling inmates to go to school using Tennessee Reconnect money. She’s likely to receive bipartisan support for the legislation, which fits with Gov. Bill Lee’s ideas for workforce development and improving the process for inmates preparing to re-enter society after doing their time. Cooper, a Memphis Democrat, filed House Bill 30, which would allow incarcerated individuals to enroll in courses offered by the Board of Regents’ community colleges and colleges of applied technology through the Reconnect scholarship program. LINK

Business tax credits: New coalition pushes for transparency at Tennessee legislature (Tennessean) An unlikely mix of Tennessee advocates and lawmakers are calling anew for more transparency with business tax credits. Conservative groups, open government proponents and legislators from both parties are looking to change state law that keeps all tax information confidential. The advocates say taxpayers and legislators should be able to evaluate if economic development incentives are effective, but they’re hamstrung by limited information — unlike in many other states. Some want to make public the names of companies claiming credits. LINK

What we need is civility’: Former TN Rep. McDaniel speaks at Sons of Confederate Veterans dinner (News Sentinel) Knoxville’s Sons of Confederate Veterans Longstreet-Zollicoffer Camp 87 hosted its annual Lee-Jackson Birthday Celebration Banquet at the Foundry in World’s Fair Park on Saturday … Among the event’s speakers was former State Rep. Steve McDaniel, who served as Republican representative from Tennessee’s 72nd District from 1988 through 2018. McDaniel emphasized the importance of conversing openly. “Civility in this country is unreal negative, and people just aren’t treating people as they ought to treat people,” he said. LINK

Where Sens. Lamar Alexander, Marsha Blackburn stand on the deal to reopen the federal government (Tennessean) Tennessee’s top elected officials offered varying responses to the end of the partial shutdown of the federal government, after President Donald Trump announced a deal Friday. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said the agreement is in step with the two votes he cast on Thursday to end the partial shutdown that lasted 35 days. That’s when he voted for a bill backed by the president and another supported by Democrats. Alexander was one of six Republicans to vote in favor of the Democrats’ measure. “Now it is time for Congress to go to work and produce a bill that includes a comprehensive approach to border security, including physical barriers where appropriate,” Alexander said in a statement, moments before the Senate approved a measure to reopen the government. LINK

Sens. Lamar Alexander, Johnny Isakson welcome Trump’s temporary halt to partial government shutdown (Times Free Press) U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., welcomed President Donald Trump’s agreement Friday with congressional leaders to temporarily reopen the federal government as talks continue with Democrats on his demands for money to pay for a wall on the border with Mexico. Trump’s announcement came as the president was encountering increasing pressure and public opinion running against his move to leave a quarter of the federal government unfunded. It drew massive news coverage of the impact on government services and of the estimated 800,000 federal workers impacted by the partial government shutdown. LINK

Lawmakers react to agreement to reopen government (WDEF-TV) The longest government shutdown is expected to end as the President announced he would agree to fund the government for three weeks. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann said he’s pleased with the President. “That will give the House, Senate and White House negotiators an opportunity to sit down and try to come up with an agreement that all parties can live with. I think that is very important. If that does not happen, then the President will have to look at his other options. Let’s hope we can get to work and get an agreement that all parties can live with,” Congressman Fleischmann said. President Trump has continued to push for border wall funding during the partial shutdown. LINK

President announces temporary end to government shutdown, Blackburn says “issue is far from over” (Brentwood Home Page) President Trump announced on Friday that he has instructed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put a proposal to temporarily end the government shutdown on the Senate floor “immediately,” which he vowed to sign. The proposal includes the reopening of the federal government until February 15, allowing federal workers to receive paychecks again, as well as their back pay. The proposal did not appear to include any funding for a border wall, which had sparked the shutdown in the first place. U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn said in a statement that she was grateful for federal workers being able to receive their back pay, and she would continue to advocate for stronger border security on the country’s southern border. LINK

The New Language of Climate Change (Politico) Leading climate scientists and meteorologists are banking on a new strategy for talking about climate change: Take the politics out of it … “They see it firsthand,” Robert Mark Simpson, a professor of geography at the University of Tennessee at Martin, told me. “There is a sort of acknowledgment that the climate is changing. They just don’t think humans are that impactful. [They think blaming humans is] a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. economy.” Simpson attended the conference at the Phoenix Convention Center to outline his three-year effort to educate farmers about climate change in western Tennessee and eastern Kentucky, where at some dinner tables the term remains a political curse word. Tennessee just elected a leading climate change doubter, Marsha Blackburn, to the U.S. Senate. LINK

Study reveals one driving force behind Nashville’s health care deal craze (Nashville Business Journal) Nashville’s health care industry has had two busy years of merger and acquisitions activity, and the sector’s increasing demand for technology solutions may be why. More than 58 percent of health care executives say technology is their primary solution to business challenges, according to LBMC’s 2019 Business Outlook Report. About 18 percent of those executives are open to making acquisitions in the new year. Lisa Nix, leader of health care transaction advisory services with LBMC, said those statistics correlate with what the firm is seeing in their local M&A practice. She said LBMC saw a spike in health care IT transactions last year, as well as a 30 percent increase in health care M&A overall in 2018. LINK

Local media veteran preps relaunch of Nashville Banner (Nashville Business Journal) The Nashville Banner, the city’s long-defunct afternoon daily newspaper, may rise again, this time as an online news source led by a longtime Nashville journalist. Steve Cavendish, the former editor in chief of the Nashville Scene, disclosed his plans to relaunch the Banner under a new nonprofit venture called Nashville Public Media in a Washington Post column published Friday. In the column, Cavendish criticized the state of local news organizations under corporate owners — particularly Gannett Co. Inc., The Tennessean’s parent company and one of the nation’s largest newspaper publishers — and argued a new model is necessary for quality local coverage. LINK

KENTUCKY: Millennials want school choice, too (Richmond Register) New polling indicates that not only are policies empowering parents to decide how, what and where their children learn more popular than ever, but the support school choice enjoys across political, demographic and geographical spectrums reveals that educational freedom isn’t just about helping minority students escape failing urban schools. Giving parents more educational opportunities for their children is supported by over two-thirds of white and rural respondents to a new survey of 1,200 likely voters conducted for the American Federation for Children by Beck Research, a respected Democratic polling firm whose previous clients include the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and parent organization of the Kentucky Education Association — both of which are stubborn opponents of school choice. LINK

WEST VIRGINIA: Judiciary chairman: Criminal justice reform ‘humanitarian’ and ‘economic’ issue (Herald-Dispatch) In a break from tough-on-crime thinking, the Legislature is moving a series of bills designed to keep ex-convicts out of jails, not reel more in. From letting certain nonviolent offenders clear their records after years of good behavior, to allowing the dismissal of drug offenses after people complete drug court programs, to helping released inmates obtain state identification, lawmakers are trying to reduce recidivism rates in West Virginia. According to the most recent state data, about 24 percent of offenders released in 2014 were recommitted to the criminal justice system within three years. Of the lot, roughly 44 percent were re-convicted within one year of release. LINK

WISCONSIN: Parents weigh in on voucher vs. public schools (Journal Times) Education, its funding, and how that funding should be doled out are hotly debated subjects in Wisconsin. Parents want their children to get the best education possible, but they do not always agree on what that means. Some are thankful for publicly funded vouchers to pay for their children to attend private schools, something they might not be able to afford otherwise. Others say that tax dollars should stay in public institutions. Some parents say that despite a questionable reputation, their children have had good experiences at Racine Unified schools. LINK


Letters: Your advice for Gov. Bill Lee (Johnson City Press) With Monday’s Question of the Week, we asked for your advice for new Gov. Bill Lee, who took office last week. Here are some of your responses. Prioritize climate action: I am happy to see the governor prioritizing “the greatest challenges of our day.” Stop the giveaways: I was hoping that our new governor, Bill Lee, would focus on the needs of regular hard working people. He, like our previous governor, has been very successful in business, so some of the very first words out of his mouth are to give tax breaks to business. Here’s a list: First, just this week I was diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer. Therefore, I would really like to see the legalization of medical marijuana. LINK

Bradley Jackson: Economic incentives will keep Memphis growing (Commercial Appeal) Incentives are not the silver bullet that will solve all economic problems. However, they are a key tool that can play a crucial role in Memphis’ modern economy. If done correctly, with the inclusion of the business community, economic development can diversify the local economy, enhance the local tax revenue, and increase opportunity for each and every Memphian. In 2017, over 4.1 million people passed through the Memphis International Airport, and each night, FedEx moves 1.4 million packages through its Memphis SuperHub. LINK

Editorial: Taking the high road on medical cannabis (Kingsport Times News) Medical cannabis will again be considered by the Tennessee General Assembly. State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and state Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, recently announced they will introduce comprehensive legislation to regulate access to medical cannabis. Their proposed bill would allow qualified patients to obtain medical cards if they are diagnosed with specific medical conditions and purchase products from companies that are licensed by Tennessee and owned by Tennesseans to cultivate, process and dispense cannabis. According to a release, medical cannabis sales in the U.S. last year alone exceeded $3.5 billion. Since 1973 when the first state voted to de-criminalize cannabis, 33 states have approved medical cannabis programs, including recent approvals in Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri and Pennsylvania. LINK

David Plazas: Jim Cooper is fed up with Trump and Congress putting politics ahead of the American people (Tennessean) Congressman Jim Cooper‘s office is situated at the northeast corner of the Nashville Public Library in the heart of downtown. The front door faces Church Street Park, the site of the proposed controversial land swap between the city and luxury high-rise developer Tony Giarratana. It faces the state Capitol and is located at the library as a symbol that he wants to be accessible to the public. Cooper even gives out his cell phone number to his constituents and says, to date, no one has abused it. On the day I walked from The Tennessean to Cooper’s office, I was one of several witnesses who was stunned by a low-flying U.S. Air Force plane in downtown. LINK

Guest column: Vouchers will harm Tennessee public schools and students, so lawmakers should reject them — again (Tennessean) It is not unusual these days, to hear “School vouchers are a done deal!” Citing the election of Gov. Bill Lee, a recent guest columnist said, “make no mistake, school vouchers are almost certainly coming to Tennessee in the near future.” But, facts suggest this conclusion is premature. Bill Haslam, a very popular governor, supported the passage of private school vouchers without success in both terms as governor. Despite the best efforts of several powerful legislators and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by out-of-state lobbyists, Tennessee citizens have defeated school vouchers for six consecutive years. LINK

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