Tuesday, April 9

TNReady testing begins for students statewide (WBIR-TV) Superintendent Bob Thomas said this year shows promise. “We are really hopeful this year is gonna be much smoother in terms of testing,” Thomas said.  To be sure he said the district put forth extra preparations this time around. “There’s been training this year for how to get on the platform and how to use it for testing,” he said. Only a number of schools will log on to the testing platform on Monday but that number will grow as the week goes on. “If you look at the Monday through Wednesday schedule about a fourth of our schools will be testing,” Thomas said. LINK

Here are the states with the lowest tax burden (Times Free Press) With the tax filing deadline for 2018 returns next week, WalletHub calculated the average share of total personal income residents pay toward state and local taxes in each state. The states with the lowest tax burden are: Alaska, 5.1 percent; Delaware, 5.55 percent; Tennessee, 6.28 percent; Florida, 6.56 percent; New Hampshire, 6.86 percent. LINK

Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham appointed by governor to state advisory committee (Spring Hill Home Page) Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham was appointed on Monday to serve on the state’s Local Government Planning Advisory Committee (LGPAC) by Governor Bill Lee. In addition to serving as city mayor, Graham also serves as the Vice Chair of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a body that seeks to prioritize and plan projects seeking government funding. The announcement of Graham’s new appointment came late Monday evening, with Graham being just one of seven members sitting on the new committee. The LGPAC’s main purpose is to review and approve county-wide growth plans, establish urban growth boundaries for cities, and also exhibits certain powers over regional planning commissions. LINK

Georgia legislators take another stab at ‘water war’ to gain access to Tennessee River (Times Free Press) In one of the longest-running fights in U.S. history, Georgia legislators once again will try to pull water from the Tennessee River. The General Assembly passed a resolution last week to form a study committee that will negotiate with elected officials in Tennessee and North Carolina. Failing that, the lawmakers could present other recommendations for trying to get access to the river. State Rep. Marc Morris, R-Cumming, sponsored the resolution. He argued the state should get access to the water for a couple of reasons. First, a surveyor mistakenly drew the border between the states incorrectly 201 years ago, blocking Georgia’s access to the water. The states need to finally right that wrong, Morris said. LINK

Megasite Sewer Line into the Mississippi River Causes Strife (Memphis Flyer) Only human waste and sludge stand between the Memphis Regional Megasite (MRM) in Haywood County and a possible economic development grand slam nearly two decades in the making. Really. That’s it. At least, that’s the story according to Bob Rolfe, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Economic and Community Development (ECD). “The greatest challenge to the Memphis Regional Megasite is the lack of a wastewater discharge plan,” Rolfe told a committee of state lawmakers last year. “That is the pacing item. That is what all the site consultants tell us.” But Rolfe has a two-pronged plan to fix that problem. LINK

Sixteen known breaches pose threats to Memphis’ drinking water supply, study seeks to ID more (Commercial Appeal) Sixteen breaches in the clay layer protecting the Memphis Sand aquifer have been identified in Shelby County, and a long-term study is scrutinizing potential contamination sources, the breaches and other threats. “Do we think there are more? Yes,” said Brian Waldron, director of the University of Memphis Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research, at the first public forum on Monday highlighting the research. Despite breaches in the protective clay layer that keeps contaminants out of Memphis’ drinking water supply, water is safe to drink from taps across Shelby County, Waldron said. LINK

University of Memphis begins five-year aquifer research project (Daily Memphian) A Lowe’s store is about to sell 300 plastic buckets to the University of Memphis that are part of a much broader effort by the university to map breaches in the aquifers that hold Memphis’ groundwater. The $7 buckets are part of the public start of a 5-year effort by the university’s Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research – or CAESER – to get a first indication of how the Wolf River flows and interacts with the aquifers below it and near it. More sophisticated equipment will follow. The basic seepage meters will be used along with 300 stalks of bamboo, each 6 to 7 feet in height, with red flags attached as part of the effort. LINK

CN investing approximately US$100 million to expand and strengthen Tennessee’s rail infrastructure in 2019 (Marketwatch) CN (CNR) CNI, +1.04% said today it plans to invest approximately US$100 million in Tennessee in 2019 to strengthen the company’s rail network across the state. “Following a record capital program in 2018, CN has been able to take on more traffic from different commodity sectors based on contracts with our customers,” said Derek Taylor, Vice-President of CN’s Southern Region. “This year, we are continuing to invest to boost capacity and network resiliency and to meet growing traffic on our corridors across Tennessee.” The Tennessee investments are part of CN’s 2019 record US$2.9-billion capital investment focused on enabling growth from all commodity segments, including consumer goods, grain, agricultural, forest, and energy products from all of our customers, safely and efficiently. Over two years, CN will have made a US$5.7-billion capital investment. LINK

Tennessee cotton producers vote to support boll weevil program (Williamson Herald) A program that monitors for and prevents a destructive pest from being reintroduced to Tennessee cotton fields has been authorized to remain in operation. Tennessee cotton producers voted in a statewide referendum to continue an assessment to fund the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (BWEP). A two-thirds majority vote from Tennessee cotton farmers was required for the BWEP to remain in operation. Of the producers who cast ballots at local USDA Farm Service Agency offices, 98.2% supported the measure. Of 326 total votes, 320 were in favor of continuing the program. LINK

Senate voucher bill doubles number of students but still contains parental ID provision (Daily Memphian) It also adds homeschooling while keeping language requiring parental identification that could bar immigrant students. “I think these are reasonable considerations, and I don’t view them as being deal breakers between the House and Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson said Monday. The measure is expected to be considered Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee. Amendments to the Senate legislation were made over the weekend after consultation with legal counsel, according to Johnson. LINK

Anti-immigration group opposes Lee’s ESAs (Nashville Post) Jim Gilchrist, the founder and president of anti-illegal-immigration group the Minuteman Project, is urging fellow immigration opponents to oppose Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account bill. In a radio ad, Gilchrist says the voucher-like ESA proposal would “literally give debit cards to illegal immigrants to spend any way they want.” As written, the bill would exclude undocumented parents from the program. Lee said last week that the bill was aimed at legal residents. Critics of the bill have argued that U.S. Supreme Court precedent requiring states to provide a free public education to students regardless of their immigration status would apply to the ESAs. LINK

Tennessee public education officials rally against school voucher bill (WCYB-TV) Public education systems, teachers and administrators around Tennessee have joined a chorus of opposition against a so-called voucher proposal making its way through the General Assembly. House Bill 939, championed by Gov. Bill Lee, establishes education savings accounts (ESA), which critics describe as re-branded voucher program. Johnson City School Board members passed a resolution last week opposing the bill, saying it “underscores the lack of commitment to the belief that all Tennessee children have a right to a free, quality, public education.” LINK

ACLU-TN calls school voucher bill ‘unfair and discriminatory’ (WZTV-TV) The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) is calling on citizens to oppose a school voucher bill supported by Governor Bill Lee. The plan would cost Tennesseans $25 million for five years for a total of $125 million. Under the bill, parents would be given state funds from tax dollars to be used for education savings accounts to attend private schools. LINK

House panel gives ‘negative’ vote to Lamar pregnant Lottery scholars bill (Daily Memphian) A state House rule-making body gave a “negative recommendation” Monday to legislation giving pregnant high school seniors an extra year to have children and hold on to Tennessee Lottery scholarship funds. House Bill 689, sponsored by state Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, will go to the Calendar & Rules Committee to be considered for the House floor after the House Government Operations Committee voted 10-4 against a “positive recommendation.” The panel is not allowed to take a pass-or-fail vote but instead focuses on state rule-making. LINK

Short on details: Report analyzes what block grant proposal could mean for TennCare (Johnson City Press) At just one page long, state Rep. Timothy Hill’s House Bill 1280 is short on details, but if signed into law, it could result in lasting implications for TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. As amended, the bill calls for the governor, acting through the commissioner of Finance and Administration, to seek approval from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid to begin receiving federal TennCare funding by means of a block grant. LINK

Access denied: Bill looks for changes to UT housing (WVLT-TV) Everyone has a talent which makes each of us different. One of Ben Kredich’s many talents is playing the piano. “I play several instruments,” Kredich said. He’s a 20 year-old in his second year at the University of Tennessee. However, one of Ben’s talents is also what sets him apart, not just from other kids his age, but from the students he studies with. Kredich is autistic, and enrolled at UT with the university’s FUTURE Program. But Kredich does not live on campus, because he’s not allowed to. “I have to take the bus,” Kredich said. He rides to and from school for the FUTURE Program, which is designed for students with developmental disabilities. LINK

Gay couple with 9 adopted kids talks TN bill allowing agencies to deny same sex couples (WTVC-TV) A bill working its way through the Tennessee legislature would allow adoption agencies to deny same sex couples. We spoke with a local gay couple who’s more than familiar with the adoption process in Tennessee, as they’ve taken in nine children together. It’s something the Robert Rutledge Williams and his husband Scott Williams say they’ve been forced to prove since they decided to adopt: their worthiness to raise children. “Every system it seemed, we were good enough to be care providers, but not parents,” said Robert Rutledge Williams. LINK

Indecent exposure legislation criticized by opponents as ‘bathroom bill’ passes Tennessee House (Tennessean) Legislation opposed by critics who say it could be interpreted as a “bathroom bill” targeting the transgender community has passed in the House of Representatives — though Republicans maintain it only criminalizes public sex acts. House Bill 1151, sponsored by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, clarifies what constitutes a “public place” in the law prohibiting indecent exposure and includes restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and showers “designated for multi-person, single-sex use.” LINK

Tennessee House approves watered-down bathroom bill amid criticism (Times Free Press) The Republican-led Tennessee House voted Monday to include public restrooms, dressing rooms and locker rooms in the state’s public indecency laws, prompting warnings from Democratic critics that the state could be setting itself up for economic boycotts. Representatives voted 69-25 for the bill, which although watered down from its original version still prompted some concerns from the LGBTQ community and others. The House then passed two other controversial bills, one a measure that seeks to bar state funding for health care clinics that provide abortion services by declaring abortion on demand is a tenet of “secular humanism,” which the measure says is a religion. LINK

Watered-down Tennessee ‘bathroom bill’ gets House OK (AP) The state House has cleared legislation to spell out that Tennessee’s public indecency law applies to bathrooms and changing rooms for single-sex, multiperson use. The House passed Republican Rep. John Ragan’s watered-down bill Monday. It’s awaiting Senate floor action. The Tennessee Equality Project has said the bill’s sections targeting transgender people were removed. Previously, Ragan said he carried the bill due to confusion created when Obama-era regulations instructed schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their expressed gender identity instead of their sex assigned at birth. Ragan said his bill provides clarity. LINK

Bill would remove accountability of gun-owning domestic violence offenders (WTVF-TV) Domestic violence advocates are pushing back after a bill passes the House, that could do away with a measure to hold offenders accountable. Currently, convicted felons are not allowed to have firearms. While domestic violence is a misdemeanor, if convicted, offenders also lose their right to own a firearm by state and federal law. There is a form that convicted domestic violence offenders must fill out after they surrender their firearms in accordance with the law. On the form, offenders have to record all firearms they own and are surrendering, by listing the Make and Model as well as the Serial number. LINK

Tennessee closer to axing penalty on guns at some businesses (AP) The Tennessee House has passed legislation to eliminate penalties when carry permit holders bring guns to some private properties and immediately leave when they realize firearms are banned. Monday’s House vote moves the action to the Senate floor. Republican Rep. Clark Boyd argued his bill would help people avoid a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. The bill would apply to places that are generally publicly open, post about banning guns and are where a reasonable person would consider it legal to carry. LINK

Bill arming some Tennessee teachers at school still being considered (WKRN-TV) Governor Bill Lee’s $30-million school security plan quietly passed both chambers in the Tennessee legislature last Thursday but making a bit of noise is a plan to allow some K-12 teachers to carry concealed handguns. “We are giving them something,” said sponsor Rep. Ryan Williams about the bill which is scheduled to be heard this week in the House Education Committee after passing a subcommittee last week. Citing the Parkland school shootings in Florida last year, Rep. Williams said administrators there wished after the fact that some teachers or staffers would have had weapons. LINK

Tennessee braiding bill heads to governor’s desk (WTVF-TV) A proposal to loosen state regulations surrounding African-style hair braiding is headed to the Tennessee governor’s desk for his signature. House lawmakers advanced the “Hair Braiding Freedom Act” on Monday with a vote of 64 for, 24 against, and 5 lawmakers not voting. It would make hair braiders exempt from getting a natural hairstying license, but they would have to register with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. They would also have to pay a $30 registration fee, post a sign stating that they are not licensed by the Board of Cosmetology, and complete 16 hours of sanitation training. LINK

Tennessee House Votes To End License Requirement To Braid Hair (WPLN Radio) Tennesseans could soon go into hair-braiding without a cosmetology license from the state. The proposal (HB320/SB1185) passed the Tennessee House of Representatives Monday night mostly on a party line vote. Republicans generally support the measure, which they say will create jobs. “Eliminating this requirement could mean potentially thousands of Tennesseans would have the opportunity to earn a living braiding hair,” said Dickson Republican Mary Littleton, the sponsor of the measure. But Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, said it could put women in danger. LINK

Tennessee House advances ‘secular humanism’ bill (AP) The Tennessee House has advanced legislation prohibiting the state from funding health care facilities that offer abortion with state tax dollars because support of abortion is tied to “secular humanism.” House members advanced the bill on Monday after a brief but tense debate between Democratic lawmakers with the Republican sponsor over the appropriateness of the proposal. LINK

Marriage bill stalls amid debate over who can perform ceremonies (TN Journal) A seeking to allow more elected officials to officiate over wedding ceremonies has run into trouble in the House amid a myriad of questions about the purpose of the legislation. Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) put off the bill after extensive questioning on the House floor about the need for extending the officiating power to all current and former state lawmakers (the speakers of both chambers can already solemnize weddings), plus nearly 1,700 city or town council members. LINK

Group buys billboard calling on Rep. David Byrd to resign after sexual assault allegations (Tennessean) A group that has shown up weekly to the state Capitol calling for the removal of Rep. David Byrd has now attempted a different strategy: a billboard on Interstate 65. Enough is Enough Tennessee, a political action committee that formed last year in an effort to unseat Byrd, R-Waynesboro, in the November election, took out a digital billboard advertisement on Monday telling Gov. Bill Lee that “Rep. David Byrd must go.” “Three women say David Byrd sexually abused them as children,” the billboard reads. “Protect our children. Byrd must go.” LINK

New billboard makes push for Rep. David Byrd to resign from office (WSMV-TV) Here’s the latest example of how far critics of a Tennessee lawmaker will go to try and force him out of office. A new billboard is now up on Interstate 65 heading south of Nashville at the Wedgewood exit. At the top is a message to Governor Bill Lee, reading “Rep. David Byrd Must Go!” It then goes on to claim that the representative from Waynesboro sexually abused three women when they were teenagers. LINK

Billboard brings attention to Rep. Byrd sexual abuse allegations (WTVF-TV) It’s been nearly two weeks since state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) was removed as chair of a house education subcommittee as he faces allegations of sexual abuse. Now the group “Enough is Enough” that pushed for that removal to happen, says even more should be done. The group has paid for a digital billboard message on I-65 southbound, with a message for Gov. Lee, whose hometown is just a few miles down the road. LINK

Blackburn and Klobuchar jointly ask FTC to step up on online privacy and security (Brentwood Online) Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked the Federal Trade Commission on Monday to address concerns regarding potential privacy, data security, and antitrust violations involving online platforms. In a letter to commissioners, Blackburn and Klobuchar noted the rapid advances of technology and the risks that have accompanied it. LINK

Republicans Want Census Data on Citizenship for Redistricting (Reuters) John Murante, a conservative Nebraska senator, last year introduced a bill to prevent non-citizens from being counted when the state redraws its voting maps. He said the effort aimed to ensure each election district contained similar numbers of voters, but opponents argued it intended to undermine the political power of immigrant communities … Lawmakers and state officials from Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas said in interviews they are considering citizen-only districts. Republicans in Tennessee also voiced support for citizens-only redistricting in court papers filed in the Evenwel Supreme Court case. Reuters reached out to several of the Tennessee lawmakers who signed the court brief, but all declined to comment. LINK

GOP head: Trump is ‘intertwined’ with the party (Johnson City Press) Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden told party faithful in Johnson City on Monday he believes 2020 is going  to an “exciting” election year for the GOP. Golden, who is serving his second term as head of the state party, also said it was “a really good time to be a Republican in Tennessee.” He predicted the GOP would build on the historic gains it made in 2018 during the next statewide election cycle. LINK

Country musician Stokes Nielson is running for U.S. Senate. (Nashville Post) Nielson, formerly of The Lost Trailers, filed campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday and announced his candidacy on WWTN 99.7-FM. His policy positions include a repeal of the IMPROVE Act, a 2017 increase to the gas tax championed by then-Gov. Bill Haslam, though the U.S. Senate to which Nielson aspires has no bearing on the state law. Nielson is the first Republican to join the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, though Haslam and others are actively considering it. LINK

Pickwick Dam to be reinforced against earthquakes (AP) The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to begin reinforcing the Pickwick Dam against earthquakes this fall. WAAY-TV reports that the reinforcement will cost about $150 million and require about one million tons of rock and sand. TVA’s senior program manager at Pickwick Dam, Bernie Auld, says damage to the 1938 dam and its clay core could cause flooding similar to what Savannah, Tennessee, saw in 2013. The dam has been equipped with an updated warning system, which added about 30 instruments to measure seismic activity. TVA says work is expected to finish in 2021. The station says TVA’s biggest concern is the dam’s proximity to the New Madrid Fault Line. TVA and other groups plan to conduct a training exercise that simulates a large earthquake at fault line in June. LINK

Day of Service planned at Warriors Path State Park (Kingsport Times-News) Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground at Warriors Path State Park will be closed Saturday, April 27 for a Day of Service. The volunteer clean-up effort is organized by the Friends of Warriors Path State Park in partnership with Tennessee State Parks and several community groups. The park will remain open to visitors on April 27, but access to the playground will be restricted from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. In the event of rain, the volunteer clean-up will be rescheduled for Saturday, May 5. LINK


Frank Cagle: Casada clips columnist with petty payback (KnoxTNToday) Evidently my column last week about the problems with the Education Savings Accounts angered House Speaker Glen Casada. The column got passed around down at the Capitol and Casada kicked me off the state textbook commission. Appointments routinely go through both houses of the legislature for approval, and the list passed out of Senate education. But Casada had my nomination “taken off notice” in the House, which is legislative-speak for bury it. Casada has a reputation for being mean and vindictive. As I explained last week he fired state Rep. David Byrd from his position as chair of an education subcommittee because he voted against the voucher bill. Casada put out the word at the beginning of session to all his committee chairs that they needed to toe the line. LINK

State Rep. Pat Marsh: Legislature’s work helps business thrive (Shelbyville Times-Gazette) The Tennessee legislature has worked very hard over the last several years to foster a business climate that would create new industries and new jobs. It is paying dividends! The statewide unemployment rate in February dropped to its lowest point in our history — 3.2%. We have cut taxes, cut regulations, put a positive emphasis on education and training, and kept our debt very low. All of these different factors are working and jobs are plentiful. In addition, workers’ pay is increasing. LINK

Pam Sohn: Contact state lawmakers today about voter suppression bills (Times Free Press) You have to hand it to Tennessee’s GOP: If Republicans in the General Assembly could turn back time to when women still couldn’t vote and people of color were counted only as three-fifths of a person, the hands of our clocks would be turning counterclockwise at the speed of helicopter blades. Last week, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office pushed a new bill that would require groups leading voter registration efforts, such as the League of Women Voters and others, to potentially face criminal misdemeanor charges and fines up to $10,000 for submitting too many — 100 or more — incomplete forms. Incomplete as in when a new registrant is reluctant to put his or her Social Security number on a form handed to a stranger. LINK

Column: What in the World? (UTC University Echo) Within the past couple of weeks, Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee decided to sign a bill that would ban the banning of plastic bags by local governments within the state. Yes, you read that right. Not ban plastic bags. Ban the banning of them. So basically, make sure that shopping carts remain full of those feeble, noisy plastic bags for years to come. I’m sorry, but what?! This logic is one I cannot fathom. I always do my best to seek both sides of the issues that arise in political arenas, but this ban does not fit into the category of a political issue, nor does it make any logical sense whatsoever. LINK





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