Tuesday, March 26

Governor sells ‘school-choice’ initiatives to West Tennessee Economic Development Caucus (Daily Memphian) As a key vote approaches this week, Gov. Bill Lee pushed his “school-choice” proposals in a West Tennessee Economic Development Caucus gathering. In a meeting on Monday, March 25, touting West Tennessee and Memphis as the “AgTech Capital of the World,” Lee touched on the “ripple effect” the Memphis Megasite in Haywood County could have on the region as well as the impact of agricultural companies such as IndigoAg, which moved its corporate headquarters to Memphis from Boston this year. “Memphis is so much more than agriculture. But while we’re at it, we ought to have West Tennessee, which is one of the most fertile spots in all of the globe, and we have one of the most progressive cities in that fertile spot in all the globe … we ought to position ourselves to be the AgTech Capital of the World,” Lee said. LINK

Federal disaster loans available in 3 Tennessee counties (AP) Small businesses in three Tennessee counties can apply for federal economic injury disaster loans as a result of flooding from Tropical Storm Alberto last year. The deadline is April 8. Assistance is available in Cocke, Greene and Unicoi counties for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations. The U.S. Small Business Administration says the counties are eligible because they’re contiguous to one or more primary counties in North Carolina. The loans are for working capital and can be up to $2 million. LINK

Tennessee Gov Requests Federal Aid for Flood Damage (Insurance Journal) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is asking President Donald Trump’s administration to make federal assistance available for government efforts to address recent flooding and storms, citing a $151.3 million impact through local and state emergency responses, and infrastructure and road damage. A news release says Lee is seeking a major disaster declaration in 58 counties, asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make the Public Assistance program available to them. Lee’s administration says 83 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have reported some level of damage and impact from flooding and severe weather that started on Feb. 6. LINK

State: Keto, Paleo Diets Boon to Tennessee Farmers (Memphis Flyer) New diets high in protein are giving lift to Tennessee meat producers. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) reported Thursday that demand for Tennessee meat is on the rise thanks to “protein-packed diets” and that the “trend is expected to continue.” The sale of animal and animal products already accounted for nearly 40 percent of Tennessee agricultural sales in 2017, TDA said. Those sales generated $1.4 billion in revenue. “We have seen a change in what people want on their table,” said Elaine Dustin of Belfair Farm in Wayne County. “Several consumers are following the keto diet, which includes meats that are trimmed with a small amount of fat and meat that is well marbled. [That]’s making grain-finished meats a consumer favorite.” LINK

Tennessee tops new list for dementia-related deaths in U.S. (WMC-TV) It’s a frightening diagnosis that is a reality for many. “It’s scary to go to the doctor and have them tell you that you have a disease that there is no cure for,” said Laura Pate, Alzheimer’s Association Tennessee Chapter Programs and Education manager. Research shows 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a struggle that more often than not leads to dementia. According to a report compiled by writers for 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company, Tennessee has the highest dementia-linked death rate in the United States. LINK

House Republicans add ‘sunset’ provision to Lee’s charter schools’ authorizer bill (Times Free Press) Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial public school charter bill moved through the House Government Operations Committee Monday with a “positive” recommendation, but not before gaining a new amendment ensuring that Tennessee lawmakers can keep an eye on how it’s run. The bill now has an official eight-year “sunset” or expiration date, routinely used by the General Assembly when creating new agencies to put an agency on a review cycle. That’s to ensure lawmakers maintain legislative oversight and the entity is running as envisioned. Lee administration officials did not include the sunset provision in the new governor’s original bill, a fact pointed out last week by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the former chairman of the Senate’s Government Operations Committee. LINK

Bill to create new commission to approve charter schools in Tennessee advances in House (Tennessean) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s push to establish a commission that would authorize the creation of new charter schools denied by local school districts is continuing to advance in the General Assembly. The House Government Operations Committee approved House Bill 940 by a voice vote on Monday, with only the committee’s three Democrats voting against the measure. But the legislation last week received multiple “no” votes from Republican members, despite House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, standing by and attempting to whip votes as the House Education Committee debated the proposal. LINK

Anti-immigration group: Tennessee Gov. Lee’s school voucher program would include ‘illegal aliens’ (Times Free Press) Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account legislation has come under fire from a national group favoring strict curbs on immigration which charges the Republican’s school voucher proposal will “inevitably provide school vouchers for illegal aliens.” The Federation for American Immigration Reform noted Lee, a Republican, pledged in his 2018 campaign that he would “oppose” policies that “would make Tennessee a magnet for illegal immigration.” “Despite his promise to dry up incentives attracting illegal aliens to the United States, Governor Lee’s Education Savings Plan will inevitably provide school vouchers for illegal aliens,” FAIR charged. LINK

Anti-immigration group attacks Lee’s voucher proposal (TN Journal) An anti-immigration group says Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed voucher program would be available to students who aren’t authorized to be in the country. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for curbing both legal and illegal immigration into the United States, cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe of 1982, which established that states must offer public education to all children, regardless of their immigration status. LINK

State officials work to dismantle business incentive transparency, accountability bill (Tennessean) The agency responsible for attracting business to Tennessee has worked behind the scenes to dismantle state legislation that could increase transparency and accountability for business grants and tax breaks. Officials from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, with the backing of Gov. Bill Lee, pushed to strip nearly every significant provision from the House version of the FACTS Act, a bill designed to better protect public funds and allow taxpayers to see which companies receive tax breaks. LINK

Tennessee lawmaker proposes bill to possibly reduce the opioid epidemic in Tennessee (WBBJ-TV) Tennessee lawmakers are taking different angles in order to decrease the opioid epidemic across Tennessee. State Senator Ed Jackson of Jackson said he is proposing a bill to decrease the number of babies being born addicted to drugs, better know as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. “These babies are struggling greatly to get off drugs, they are having withdrawals if they don’t get the same drugs that the mother was giving herself,” said Republican Senator Ed Jackson, representing District 27. “According to the Tennessee Department of Health over 1,000 cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in babies were reported in 2017,” said Jackson. LINK

Tennessee among states looking to outlaw local plastic bag bans (AP) Tennessee could become the latest state to ban local municipalities from regulating certain plastic bags and utensils. House lawmakers on Monday advanced a proposal making it illegal for local governments to impose bag bans, restrictions on Styrofoam containers and other disposable products. The bill must now pass the Senate before it can head to the governor’s desk for final approval. The bill is being debated in the GOP-dominant Statehouse as Memphis and Nashville — the state’s most populous cities that also lean more liberal — have recently considered levying taxes against single-use plastic bags. LINK

Tennessee House sends Hamilton County septic tank bill to governor (Times Free Press) The Tennessee House gave final approval Monday night to a bill addressing Hamilton County’s septic tank and sewer problems, sending it on to Gov. Bill Lee for his consideration. The vote was 91-3. “This bill would simply allow [the state] to provide septic permits in situations where there are sewer moratoriums,” Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, told House colleagues. “If their property met requirements currently in place for septic tanks, it would allow them to get a septic tank permit and continue to utilize their property.” Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, passed the Senate bill earlier this month. LINK

‘Heartbeat bill’ divides Republican lawmakers (WTVF-TV) It’s a bill that would drastically limit legal abortions in Tennessee. The so-called heartbeat bill has already passed in the state house, but a divide among Republicans could keep it stalled in the senate. The bill would ban abortions in Tennessee as soon as a fetal heartbeat could be detected — as early as six weeks after conception. But courts across the country have struck down similar bills as unconstitutional, forcing states to pay legal bills for groups like Planned Parenthood, challenging the measures. And that is causing other Republicans to give pause. LINK

House, Senate thumbs up on ‘Sergeant Baker Act’ (Cleveland Daily Banner) While the Tennessee House of Representatives toiled through another busy week of legislation — with some bills passing, others advancing and a few stalling — one of the chamber’s biggest wins came from across the aisle in the Senate. Earlier in the week, state legislators approved House Bill 258 — known as the Sergeant Baker Act — which removes the intermediate appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals in death-penalty cases, and provides for automatic review by the Tennessee Supreme Court for convictions for which a death sentence has been imposed. LINK

Bill that would give state protections to pregnant mothers pulled by sponsor (WTVF-TV) It’s a bill that would protect pregnant women from harming themselves or their babies in the workplace, but according to the bill’s sponsor, the efforts of a lobbying group to stop it forced him to pull the measure until next year. State House Representative Johnny Shaw’s bill would’ve created protections for expecting mothers in Tennessee by requiring employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for mothers based on doctor’s recommendations. “So, the doctor might say, I really need you to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated, prevent fainting during your first trimester,” said Elizabeth Gedmark. Gedmark is a director for A Better Balance, a lobbying group for families. LINK

Tennessee lawmaker files bill to expand drug testing of welfare recipients (WZTV-TV) A Tennessee lawmaker wants to expand the drug testing of welfare recipients. Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) has just filed House Bill 88. Griffey says he and his wife have seen the assistance programs be abused as their personal experiences as prosecutors in Tennessee. “I would prefer to mandate drug testing of all welfare applicants/recipients across the board, particularly inasmuch as state and federal employees who are paid by taxpayers are subject to random drug screens; however, federal appellate courts currently require a probable cause basis for drug testing of welfare recipients. LINK

Would proposed “ineffective teacher” policies be hard on small school systems? (WJHL-TV) Local education officials say there could be a problem with proposed state legislation that would dictate how school systems manage ineffective teachers. The Comptroller’s Office of Research released a study last week showing that students with consecutive ineffective teachers lag behind their peers in school. The end of the study noted some solutions to the problem, including moving ineffective teachers to other schools to disperse them across the district. The idea behind the proposed policy is that it would move teachers with low evaluation and Tennessee Value-Added Assessment scores around a district, therefore removing the potential that a student could have two ineffective teachers in a row. LINK

Tougher penalties in the works for thieves who steal guns (WTVF-TV) Think about it: The penalty for stealing a gun is the same as stealing a T.V. or bicycle as the punishment is simply based on the value of the item. But unlike a T.V. or bicycle, stolen guns can then be used to commit violent crimes. Now there’s a plan in the works to come down harder on those who steal weapons. We are talking about a penalty enhancement. For instance: A simple assault can be a hate crime bringing a stiffer sentence if you target someone because of their race. Now a simple theft could bring an enhanced sentence if you steal a gun. “Stealing a gun is different than a golf bag so we should treat it differently,” said Representative Michael Curcio. LINK

Grand Divisions Episode 45: A GOP survey on Rep. David Byrd and weighing a block grant proposal (Tennessean) In an effort to gauge support for Rep. David Byrd, the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee recently attempted to survey members of the House Republican caucus. Since last year, Byrd has faced allegations dating back to the 1980s that he sexually assaulted three women while serving as coach of a high school basketball team. The survey, which was quickly noticed by House Republican leadership, produced mixed results, ranging from members expressing continued support for Byrd to Rep. Micah Van Huss saying an investigation into the allegation was needed. LINK

Reeves’ effort to raise smoking age to 21 stalls in Senate (Murfreesboro Post) State Sen. Shane Reeves said he likely will try again next year to raise the minimum smoking and vaping age in Tennessee to 21 after his effort this year stalled in the Senate. Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) sponsored the bill to raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 for tobacco and vapor products. The House version of the bill was carried by State Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville). Reeves’ bill was deferred in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee on Feb. 26, effectively stopping it for the year. The main reason the bill encountered opposition was the potential for lost taxes paid to the state and local governments, Reeves said. The bill’s estimated cost showed a nearly $7 million annual tax loss to the state, Reeves said. City and county taxes would have decreased by almost $1 million as well. The state imposes a cigarette tax of 62 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes, but that does not include a federal excise tax nor state and local sales taxes, according to the fiscal note. LINK

Howell highlights education spending in new budget proposal (Daily Post-Athenian) Meigs County’s state representative recently highlighted the amount of spending in Tennessee and its importance to students in the state. The 2019-2020 budget proposal making its way through the General Assembly, according to State Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown), includes $11.3 billion total — $6.5 billion for K-12 and $4.8 billion for higher education. “While quality education is greatly dependent upon excellent leadership in our local school districts, proper funding is also important to elevate Tennessee to greater heights,” Howell noted. LINK

State by State, Gig Companies Maneuver to Shape Labor Rules (NY Times) It was a potentially sweeping proposal from a Texas regulator: Companies that use a “digital network” to dispatch workers the way Uber does could label them contractors rather than employees. The proposal, made in December, was a turning point in a campaign that has played out in legislatures and courts in numerous states, and even in Washington, as Uber and other gig-economy companies have risen to prominence in recent years. Lobbyists involved in this state-by-state effort have worked behind the scenes to provide rule makers with a template. In the first six months of 2018, six states passed bills broadly carving out gig workers from employment laws and effectively classifying them as contractors. Mr. Tusk’s book referred to these states as the “low-hanging fruit of Kentucky, Iowa, Tennessee, Indiana and Utah (and medium-hanging fruit like Florida).” LINK

Does Raising the Minimum Wage Save Money on Social Services? (Governing) Yes, experts say, but an extra dollar or two an hour won’t stop low-income people from needing all help, especially if their hours are cut or the economy tanks. This year will be an unprecedented one for minimum wage increases. The hourly salary floor in 18 states and 13 municipalities rose at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, and over the course of the year three more states, eight cities and the District of Columbia will be following suit. The increases range from a nickel-an-hour inflation adjustment in Alaska to a $2-an-hour jump in New York City. The year will likely be a test not only of advocates’ arguments that a higher minimum wage can be a crucial stepladder to help people rise out of poverty but also of the assertion that it can save states money on safety-net programs such as Medicaid and cash assistance. LINK

Former Gov. Bill Haslam still weighing 2020 U.S. Senate run (WKRN-TV) Former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is still weighing one of the state’s most anticipated political decisions. Will he or won’t he run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 when the seat becomes open with Lamar Alexander’s retirement?  Haslam has been pretty quiet publicly since leaving the governor’s office two months ago. He did show up in a personal tweet Sunday showing him with wife Chrissy at the University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball game in Columbus, Ohio where the team advanced to the NCAA tournament’s “Sweet 16.”  LINK

Congressman Fleischmann glad Mueller investigation is finally finished (WDEF-TV) Congressman Chuck Fleischmann said he’s glad the special counsel’s report is finally finished. He’s one of several Republicans satisfied with the findings. But, many Democrats want to see more. They want the full report released, as well as evidence. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to make the findings of the report available to the public before the investigation finished. LINK

DunAn Precision to close Memphis plant, less than 4 years after getting PILOT (Memphis Business Journal) DunAn Precision Manufacturing plans to close its Memphis facility less than four years after receiving local tax incentives, according to documents and the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis & Shelby County. The heat exchange equipment manufacturer will close its Memphis facility at 5750 Challenge Drive, according to documents obtained by the Memphis Business Journal. EDGE confirmed the closure Saturday, March 23.  LINK


Guest column: Bill Lee’s criminal justice reform efforts deserve your support (Tennessean) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee appears committed to the idea of changing the face of Tennessee prisons into places where inmates don’t simply waste away with no future. Instead, he favors the institution of educational and vocational programs that will help inmates re-enter society with job skills.  This effort should be applauded and supported by citizens all across the state. Lee’s plan calls for measures such as injecting more than $10 million in an effort to provide educational and vocational training opportunities for the incarcerated.   Programs like this have been implemented in other parts of the country. LINK

Guest column: Tennessee should restore right to vote to formerly incarcerated citizens (Tennessean) Prison recidivism, the vicious cycle whereby more than two-thirds of formerly incarcerated men are rearrested within three years of release, is a moral crisis for all Americans. At Men of Valor prison ministry, our purpose is to end that cycle by giving men the tools they need to re-enter society as people of integrity — becoming givers to our communities rather than takers. For the men who complete our re-entry program, the recidivism rate is below 15 percent, well below the state and national average. LINK

Editorial: Human trafficking is also a rural problem (Johnson City Press) Human trafficking is not just a big-city problem. This deplorable form of exploitation occurs in communities large and small. It happens in every corner of Tennessee, including rural areas of our own region. Sadly, crime data reveals most human trafficking offenses in rural communities are committed by a family member of the victim, such as a parent or an older relative who has sold a young person or a child for sex. In fact, experts say rural areas are at a particular risk for harboring sex trafficking. LINK

Guest column: Legislators in Early Education Caucus address ‘crisis’ in student performance (Daily Memphian) In Shelby County, a successful public education system is a priority for economic development. Stronger education outcomes create better options for individuals and make communities more attractive for jobs and economic potential. Despite statewide gains in recent years, we have a chronic problem that presents a challenge for Memphis and every community in the state. By third grade too many of our students have fallen behind in English and math, and most of them never catch up. To make the kind of progress that parents want, and children deserve, Tennessee must commit to build stronger early-childhood education programming, from birth to third grade. LINK

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe: Damaging effects of a $15 minimum wage (Elizabethton Star) All Americans deserve to be compensated fairly for the work they do. Having previously helped to manage a business for over 30 years, I know from firsthand experience nothing makes you feel better than knowing an employee will be able to live comfortably and retire with peace of mind about their financial security. Washington needs to get out of the way, keep taxes low, reduce unnecessary regulations, and pave the way for economic growth and job creation. That’s why I was proud to support the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which resulted in 3.1 percent GDP growth in 2018. It seems like common sense to me to keep this going. Instead, House Democrats have a radical proposal to more than double the minimum wage to $15 per hour as part of their bill, H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which I voted against when it was considered in the House Education and Labor Committee. LINK

Editorial: Elected superintendents are bad for schools (Kingsport Times-News) There is no doubt that taxpayers and their school-age children are best served by Tennessee’s requirement that superintendents of schools be appointed rather than elected. Why? Because elected superintendents gain office on the basis of popularity, while school boards appoint superintendents on the basis of merit. The difference can be day and night. Elected superintendents must be a resident in the county where educational achievement or previous experience may be unavailable. They have to spend much of their time raising money and running for re-election. LINK

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen: Donald Trump’s budget breaks promises, endangers citizens’ health (Tennessean) Recently, I testified before the House Budget Committee to advocate for a people-oriented budget that would build a stronger and healthier nation. If our budget is to truly reflect our values, it is time to significantly increase non-defense spending to combat compelling needs at home. During the State of the Union, President Donald Trump pledged to increase investment in childhood cancer research. With Memphis as the home of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the leader in childhood cancer research, I was optimistic this priority would be reflected in his budget proposal. Instead, he proposed the National Institutes of Health receive a budget cut of $4.5 billion, with the National Cancer Institute losing nearly $1 billion in funding. LINK

Georgiana Vines: Sen. Lamar Alexander has ideas on how to use unfinished areas of Foothills Parkway (News Sentinel) U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander arranged a meeting March 19 with newly elected U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Cocke and Sevier county officials, state representatives, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials and former Gov. Bill Haslam to discuss a potential recreational use for property on the incomplete part of the Foothills Parkway. The park service already owns the 33.5 miles between Wears Valley in Sevier and Cosby in Cocke, with estimates to build the road in the hundreds of millions of dollars “and would take a very long time,” Alexander said in an interview Wednesday. “While we are waiting for that section to be built, is there an alternative piece that might attract tourists and dollars to the counties?” Alexander asked rhetorically. LINK

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