Wednesday, April 10

Manufacturer donates software for MTSU engineering program (Murfreesboro Post) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee joined Middle Tennessee State University in thanking Siemens for the donation of a $2 million software program for the mechatronics engineering program. Siemens Digital Industries Software, a corporate partner of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, donated the software, according to an MTSU press release. The software gives students access to the same technology that global manufacturers use to develop products in the automotive, aerospace, machinery and high-tech electronics industries. Lee told the audience that companies are “longing” for employees with skills that prepare them for such careers. Programs like MTSU’s, with partnerships with companies like Siemens, can help draw other businesses to Tennessee with high-paying jobs, the governor said. LINK

Tennessee gov signs bill to nix 1 court death penalty review (AP) Tennessee is removing one state court’s review before executing inmates under legislation signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee. With Lee’s approval Tuesday, Tennessee in July will begin skipping the state Court of Criminal Appeals and provide automatic state Supreme Court death penalty reviews. Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold has said the governor was deferring to the Legislature’s will on the legislation. Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams has said his court’s last four death penalty reviews took three to six months. Federal courts account for most of sometimes-three-decades in death penalty court reviews. LINK

TDOT: Wear orange on Wednesday for work zone safety awareness (WVLT-TV) Wednesday, April 10 is your chance to wear orange in support of road worker safety in Tennessee. TDOT announced the day as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week. TDOT is also displaying safety messages all week on its interstate signs. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is asking for your help keeping workers and yourself safe when you drive near ongoing road work. Warmer weather this spring means TDOT crews will be able to do more permanent pothole patching work, according to TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi. LINK

10 statues of Smokey, the Vols’ favorite dog, are coming to UT-Knoxville campus (News Sentinel) Visitors to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville will be seeing a lot more of their favorite dog, Smokey, on campus. The university will unveil 10 statues of the bluetick hound, one for each dog that has been the mascot. Statutes will be placed around campus, everywhere from the UT Gardens to the Student Union Pedestrian Bridge. A map of all the statue locations is available on UT’s website. The statues will be officially unveiled on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. near the Pedestrian Bridge by the Student Union Plaza, before the annual Orange and White Game. LINK

ETSU faculty, students to rally in support of adjunct professor raises (WCYB-TV) A rally will be held Wednesday on the campus of East Tennessee State University in support of raises for adjunct professors. The base salary for adjunct professors at ETSU is around $600 per credit hour, depending on college, which has been unchanged since 1998. As of fall 2018, 425 adjunct professors were teaching at ETSU with a median salary of $700 per credit hour. The rally will be held in Borchuck Plaza from 3-4 p.m. on Wednesday. ETSU’s Student Government Association passed a bill calling for adjunct professor base pay to be raised to $1,000 per credit hour. The push is led by Austin Cable. LINK

Crime Victims Week memorial service (WDEF-TV) The state of Tennessee is observing Crime Victims Week, and Chattanooga’s event was this morning at Chester Frost Park. Local officers joined in the observance. The Tennessee Board of Parole, along with the TBI and others, are co-sponsoring the series of meetings. Our own Chip Chapman was the M-C of the event. The purpose of the event was to pay tribute to victims of crime with a tree-planting ceremony at Chester Frost Park.  LINK

Daycare Director responds to state report accusing her employees of tying up children (WKRN-TV) The director of a Murfreesboro daycare says she has nothing to hide after a scathing report was released by the state. According to the Department of Human resources, two of her employees at Salem Academy were caught on camera tying children to chairs. Documents provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS) showed that their employees visited Salem Academy unannounced nearly two weeks ago. They came to investigate a complaint that two employees were tying children to chairs. LINK

Nearly 500 speeding tickets issued on I-440 during first month of construction (WSMV-TV) The Metro Nashville Police Department is warning drivers that they’re on the lookout for speeders on I-440. In just the first month of construction, 466 speeding tickets were issued. There are dozens of signs posted along the interstate to remind drivers that the speed limit is 45 MPH at all times, even if workers are not present. The entire stretch of interstate is considered at work zone during the duration of the project. LINK

Belmont student diagnosed with mumps; leaders advising students take precautionary measures (WSMV-TV) A Belmont University student was diagnosed Tuesday morning with mumps, according to a letter sent to students from the university obtained by News4. According to the university, the student was immediately isolated at home off-campus. It is unclear if any other students have been infected. “In the meantime, everyone at the University should take precautionary steps. This means frequent hand washing, avoiding unnecessary physical contact and not sharing eating utensils or food with other students. LINK

Coli outbreak confirmed in Tennessee and four other states (WTVF-TV) An E. coli outbreak is right here in Tennessee that’s also affecting four nearby states. One of the state’s top medical professionals says they’re still trying to determine the source. Currently, there are 96 cases in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia. E. coli is a bacteria, a fecal-oral contaminate. The kind that causes diarrhea is typically due to contaminated water, produce that wasn’t washed thoroughly, under cooked beef or someone preparing food who didn’t wash their hands. LINK

Friend hopes community comes to support Cyrus Wilson during parole hearing (WTVF-TV) In February 1994, a 19-year-old Cyrus Wilson was convicted for the fatal shooting of Christopher Luckett, age 19. The shooting occurred in the 1400 block of 11th Avenue South in the Edgehill community during a late September night in 1992. During the time of the trial, two alleged eyewitnesses told prosecutors they saw the shooting but nearly two decades later the same witnesses have recanted their statements. Rahim Buford, a friend of Wilson, said without DNA or physical evidence, no gun and recanted statements, Wilson, now 43, has maintained his innocence throughout his time spent at Riverbend Maximum Security. LINK

Bill would create faith-based office in Lee’s administration (AP) Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration would include a faith-based and community initiatives division under a proposal making its way through the Tennessee General Assembly. According to the bill, the office would partner with a nonprofit to carry out the bulk of the work on addressing public safety, recidivism and opioid addiction. The governor would select members of the board and the executive director of the nonprofit partner. However, no state tax dollars are budgeted for the new office. Instead, the nonprofit would also be tasked with soliciting private donations from the public. LINK

TN senators to debate Wednesday on governor’s education savings accounts plan (WMC-TV) Wednesday is a big day in the state senate for the controversial school choice plan. Senators will begin the debate the finance ways and means subcommittee about spending millions to fund education savings accounts similar to school vouchers. The Tennessee legislature could give families state money to attend the school of their choice. Some educators gathered at the capitol to send a clear message that it’s not worth it. On Tuesday, teachers rallied in Nashville, saying Governor Bill Lee’s $125 million school choice plan is bad for public education, taking money out of public schools and diverting it to private institutions. LINK

Gov. Lee’s ESA voucher plan faces key votes Wednesday (WKRN-TV) Governor Bill Lee’s controversial Educational Savings Account (ESA) or voucher proposal affecting thousands of students faces key votes Wednesday. Both the Tennessee House and Senate have the ESA bill scheduled to be heard in one of their committees. With the votes in those committees looming Wednesday, a group that identified itself as “Tennessee Strong” protested against the ESA bill outside the Cordell Hull legislative office building. “I am sick about money from public education going to private entities,” said Rosa Ponce’ who identified herself as a school parent from Montgomery County. “Ultimately, I think its underfunding of education that affects everything.” LINK

What’s in the Senate version of the voucher bill? (TN Journal) The Senate version of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal would double the number of students who could participate in the Education Savings Account program to 30,000. The measure scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday would also dial back the testing requirements for students going to private school. Instead of requiring the same TCAP test for math and English (but not science or social studies) that is administered to public school students, private schools could give their students a “nationally norm-referenced test” approved by the state Education Department. LINK

Tennessee voucher program would double in size, add homeschoolers under latest proposal (Chalkbeat Tennessee) Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account proposal is slated to debut in Tennessee’s Senate on Wednesday with some significant changes from a bill that already has cleared three hurdles in the House. The latest amendment would cap the voucher program at 30,000 students instead of 15,000 as approved by House committees. It would add back homeschoolers who were stripped out of the House bill last month to appease several representatives. Like other participants, those families would be eligible to receive an average of $7,300 annually in taxpayer funds to pay for private education services. LINK

Changes likely for Senate’s education savings account bill (Tennessean) Changes are headed to the Senate version of a bill that would launch education savings accounts in Tennessee. Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said there hasn’t been consensus yet in the Senate on its version of the education savings account legislation. The measure would provide taxpayer money to parents so they could choose other educational options, such as private school or other education-related expenses. “We have lots of ideas,” said Gresham, R-Somerville, adding that the Senate as a whole agrees on bringing the program to the state. LINK

Teachers protest against Tennessee voucher bill (AP) Tennessee school teachers rallied on Capitol Hill against Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher-style proposal to expand the amount of taxpayer dollars that can be used to pay for private schools and other expenses. Roughly 50 teachers, parents and other education advocates participated in a demonstration Tuesday, where they voiced concerns about Lee’s of education savings account plan. Many of the teachers wore sunglasses to show that they feared retribution if identified in the small crowd. LINK

Here’s a look at the latest crop of specialty license plates (TN Journal) Tennessee has more than 100 specialty license plates available to vehicle owners. Under a bill headed for the Senate floor, the state would get 22 more. Here’s the list of proposed new plates advanced by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday: Antique Auto. Blood Donors. Fighting for At-Risk Youth … The bill would also extend July 1, 2020, the time-frame for the new specialty earmarked license plate for Martin Luther King Jr. and the Niswonger Children’s Hospital to meet the issuance requirement of 1,000 plates. LINK

Legislation aims to prevent lawsuits against online commenters, others exercising free speech rights (Tennessean) A Sumner County mom posted on Facebook in 2016, criticizing a local schools issues opponent who made a comment about her minor daughter. The man sued her for defamation, and lost. Advocates for a bill that passed the Tennessee General Assembly on Monday say the mom’s case is a clear example of a lawsuit meant to stifle free speech. The new legislation would change who is financially liable for such cases, and give judges the power to dismiss them quickly. LINK

Bill requiring attorney general to defend school districts’ bathroom policies advances (Tennessean) Legislation that would require the state attorney general to defend school districts’ policies on bathroom use based on biological sex has advanced in a House committee. House Bill 1274, sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, was approved by a voice vote Tuesday in the House Judiciary committee and moves on to the Finance, Way and Means committee. Before passing on a voice vote, the legislation received pushback from multiple Republicans on the committee, including Rep. Johnny Garrett, R- Goodlettsville, who questioned whether the bill allowed the attorney general any discretion to refuse to defend school district’s policy that was particularly egregious. LINK

Tennessee ‘Fetal Heartbeat Bill’ Likely Not Moving Forward Amid Concerns In Senate (WPLN Radio) The so-called “fetal heartbeat bill” is likely to not move forward this year in the Tennessee legislature. The Senate Judiciary Committee decided Tuesday evening to send the bill (SB1236/HB77) to summer study. The measure would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Experts say that happens around the sixth week of the pregnancy. Republican Sen. Mike Bell, the chairman of the committee, says he is concerned about what would happen if the measure is challenged with a lawsuit. LINK

Senate sends fetal heartbeat bill to summer study, advances abortion trigger ban (Tennessean) Amid ongoing disagreements among Republicans and anti-abortion advocates over new restriction bills, a Senate committee on Tuesday opted to sen legislation that prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected to summer study. The heartbeat bill, which passed in the House last month before Republicans on a health subcommittee killed the House version of an abortion trigger ban bill, has been the subject of criticism by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge. McNally, who presides over the Senate, previously said the heartbeat bill banning abortions around six weeks would likely put Tennessee on the “losing side” of a court battle, and that he intended to see the trigger ban pass in the Senate. LINK

Fetal heartbeat bill stalls in Tennessee Senate committee (AP) Legislation banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected has stalled in Tennessee. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday agreed to review the issue further over the summer and take it up next year instead. The decision came after the same panel advanced a separate anti-abortion bill that would ensure most abortions would be outlawed should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The two proposals have split Tennessee’s GOP-dominant General Assembly this year as Republican lawmakers have fought to find ways to undermine abortion rights but have disagreed on the best proposal to submit to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk. LINK

‘Heartbeat bill’ sent to summer study (TN Journal) The Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to punt on a bill seeking to ban abortions in Tennessee once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The House passed the measure in a floor vote, but the Senate decided not to proceed over concerns about a successful legal challenge. Here’s what Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) had to say after the committee action on Wednesday: “I fully support the deliberative approach the Judiciary Committee is taking on the Heartbeat Bill. As someone who believes life begins at conception, I support the bill philosophically. But constitutionally, as Tennessee Right to Life points out, the bill is flawed in its current form. Amendment One put the abortion industry on the ropes in Tennessee. LINK

Sports betting bill clears House committee (Nashville Post) A bill that would legalize online sports betting in Tennessee cleared a House committee Tuesday after weeks of delays and debate. The proposal was amended multiple times during the process, including to exclude brick-and-mortar gambling and to include recommendations from the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University, which were concerned over the bill’s potential effects on college sports. As amended, the bill would direct tax revenue from legalized gaming, estimated to be several million dollars per year, to local governments (15 percent), gambling addiction treatment (5 percent) and the state lottery fund (80 percent). LINK

Sports betting bill advances in Tennessee House, with money set aside for gambling addiction (Tennessean) A bill to allow legal online sports gambling in Tennessee is advancing in the House of Representatives after briefly stalling amid bipartisan concerns. The legislation, House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, and the Senate version by Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, advanced Tuesday in the House State committee on a 12-5 vote, with one member not voting. While the original version of the bill allowed for gambling at both brick-and-mortar locations and online, it was previously amended to only permit online sports gambling on websites while users are located in the state of Tennessee. LINK

Conservative immigration legislation passes House this time (Nashville Post) A bill that would require Tennessee companies with 25 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify immigration and employment status check passed in the state House Monday night. Currently, businesses with 50 or more employees must use the program, which critics of the bill called costly and burdensome, particularly for smaller businesses. The sponsor, Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris), said the goal of the bill was to “try to protect jobs for Tennessee workers.” Griffey, in his first term in the House, introduced several immigration-related bills, though they faced enough opposition from Griffey’s fellow Republicans to sink them. LINK

Tennessee bill to expand immigration job screening advances (AP) A bill that would require more Tennessee small businesses to use the E-Verify program to screen whether workers have legal immigration status to work in the U.S. has passed the state House. The House passed Republican Rep. Bruce Griffey’s bill Monday. It still needs to pass multiple Senate hurdles. The legislation would decrease the number of employees that a business must have from 50 to 25 to face the E-Verify requirement. It also would extend the mandate to governmental entities. The changes would take effect for new hires starting in January 2020. LINK

New bill targeting conflicts of interest between hospitals, governing authorities could reshuffle Erlanger board (Times Free Press) A bill targeting conflicts of interest between Tennessee’s public hospitals and their governing bodies could upend the structure of Erlanger Health System’s Board of Trustees, should it become law. Senate Bill 179 and House Bill 416 would prohibit a trustee or former trustee of a hospital authority from entering into an arrangement for employment or the provision of labor or services with the authority until at least 12 months have expired following the trustee’s tenure of service on the board. LINK

Legislative battle pits homeowners’ associations against absentee corporations (Nashville Post) ‘This isn’t Mom and Pop. This is Wall Street coming in here with billions of dollars.’Question: We all believe that property owners have the right of disposition regarding their property, correct? The default answer to that is an obvious, “Yes.” And parties to a legal covenant have the right to expect that they — and others bound to it — will conduct themselves in accordance with it, correct? Another yes. So far, so good. The hair-splitting comes when disputants to a property matter each claim the white horse and the good guy’s role, and each further appropriates the role of Everyman seeking to be free of undue exploitation and/or control. LINK

East Tennessee families push for ‘Truth In Sentencing’ bill (WATE-TV) This week is one where families pause, thinking about loved ones they’ve lost to violence. The purpose of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is to remember victims of crime, their families and those who helped them through it. The other part of this is where loved ones call for change. A number of East Tennessee families want more rights. They hope lawmakers pass the Truth In Sentencing bill. Richard Sommerville is close to his daughter’s heart every day. “My dad was my everything and it hurts. He’s gone and we can’t get him back,” said Sally Sommerville. LINK

Hair Braiding Freedom Act headed to Tennessee Governor’s desk (WATN-TV) A proposal to loosen state regulations surrounding African-style hair braiding is headed to the Tennessee governor’s desk for his signature. The Hair Braiding Freedom Act repeals the 300-hours of training and state fee required for a hair braiding license. Braiders will still have register with the state and take 16 hours of training in sanitation and hygiene. One woman says she has been waiting for this change for a long time. “I love what I do, and I just want to braid hair,” said Debra Nutall. LINK

Dickerson’s campaign accepted money from kickback scheme slush fund (Nashville Post) State Sen. Steve Dickerson testified in federal court recently that he had no knowledge of the shell company John Davis, the former CEO of Comprehensive Pain Specialists — a company Dickerson co-founded — used as a funnel for kickback money — even though his election campaign accepted money from it. ProMed, the company through which Davis ushered more than $770,000 of bribes in his wife’s name while working as the top executive at CPS, was one of 12 businesses from which Dickerson accepted donations in his 2012 senate campaign. Overall, Dickerson’s campaign received 522 donations that year. LINK

Grand Divisions Episode 47: Democratic lawmaker accused of sexual harassment (Tennessean) A Democratic lawmaker has been accused of sexual harassment, but it remains to be seen exactly what type of action will be taken as a result. Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, has been accused of inappropriately touching a woman while on a recent visit to the legislature. While Staples is reportedly facing disciplinary action following an internal investigation that determined he violated the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, according to multiple sources who spoke to USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee about the inquiry, legislative officials have yet to publicly confirm specifics. LINK

Some voter registration groups could get hit with $10,000 in civil penalties, up to a year in jail for submitting incomplete, problematic forms (Times Free Press) A Tennessee Senate panel on Tuesday advanced a bill that could subject some large groups involved in voter registration efforts to civil and possibly even criminal charges as well as fines if they submit too many incomplete or incorrect registrations. The GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 7-2 vote, despite concerns raised by the League of Women Voters. Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted for the bill. LINK

Nashville government lobbyists also support pro-voucher group, councilman calls it ‘ridiculous’ (Tennessean) Nashville’s lobbying firm is coming under fire from the Metro Council because it also advocates for school vouchers — an issue one councilman says puts the lobbyists at odds with the city’s interests. According to state records, Adams & Reese managing partner Gif Thornton and three other firm employees are registered to represent both Nashville city government and a prominent pro-voucher group TennesseeCAN, once known as StudentsFirst Tennessee. Councilman Dave Rosenberg said the city hamstrung itself by hiring lobbyists that can’t represent the city’s opposition to vouchers, particularly because the issue has dominated the legislative session this year. LINK

Roe will headline energy conference (WCYB-TV) Congressman Phil Roe will headline the 40th annual conference of the Virginia Coal & Energy Alliance. The conference is set May 20-21 at the Meadowview Conference Center in Kingsport. Roe is a Republican from Johnson City and is serving his sixth term in Congress. He is a ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and he chaired the committee in the 115th Congress. Additionally, he serves on the House Education and Labor Committee. Previously, he was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans. LINK

Annoyed by $84,000 Bob Dylan sculpture, Rep. Tim Burchett targets embassy art (News Sentinel) During the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history earlier this year, the U.S. State Department made a purchase that caught the eye of news publications and U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett. Burchett, a Republican freshman representing the Second Congressional District in Tennessee, has since crafted legislation that, if approved, would prohibit it from happening again. As part of the department’s Art in Embassies program, officials cut a check for $84,375 for an iron sculpture created by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. The art will sit in the soon-to-be-completed U.S. Embassy in Mozambique that, according to the State Department, will cost $253 million. It is set to be completed this year. LINK

Chattanooga Volkswagen workers file petition to join United Auto Workers so they can bargain like other VW employees (Times Free Press) For the third time in about five years, some Volkswagen plant workers in Chattanooga are seeking an election to align with the United Auto Workers. “It’s pressure from the workers,” said Steve Cochran, president of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga, about why the election petition was filed Tuesday with the National Labor Relations Board. The petition said that at least 30 percent of the 1,709 production, skilled trades and other employees making up the proposed election unit have turned over cards seeking representation by the UAW. LINK

UAW making new push at VW Chattanooga (Commercial Appeal) Five years after Tennessee political leaders resisted UAW efforts to unionize Volkswagen Chattanooga, plant workers have called for another union election. The United Auto Workers union lost its 2014 bid to represent autoworkers in the East Tennessee plant. This time, autoworkers sense a union-friendly White House, a new governor in Nashville and a rising desire on the plant floor for a voice in VW Chattanooga. “This was a decision made by the Chattanooga workers,” said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the Detroit-based union.“The members have taken it into their own hands.” LINK

Ed Westcott, a Singular Eye at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, Dies at 97 (New York Times) Ed Westcott, a photographer who documented life in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the secret city where uranium was enriched as part of the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb during World War II, died on March 29 at his daughter’s home in Oak Ridge, where he also still lived. He was 97. His daughter, Emily Hunnicutt, confirmed his death. Mr. Westcott had a stroke in 2005 that limited his ability to speak. Not then on any maps, Oak Ridge during the war was a huge company town of  59,000 acres about 25 miles east of Knoxville. Ringed by barbed wire, it had factories dedicated to bomb production, homes for tens of thousands of workers and their families, a 300-mile network of roads, and schools, stores, restaurants, theaters, parks and a library. LINK


Guest column: Grammar, syntax and punctuation still matter (Tennessean) Smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions have eroded the influence of print newspapers, and texting has rendered punctuation, grammar and complete sentences as relevant as Edgar Bergen. However, many of us believe that grammar, syntax and punctuation still matter. Knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” and among “they’re,” “their” and “there” is not enough, despite Twitter posts that flout these distinctions. Well-schooled readers likely spotted the lesson embedded in the last sentence: “Between” distinguishes one item from a second item; “among” distinguishes among three or more items.  LINK

Guest column: The Tennessee Education Savings Account bill fails the math test (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Lee has proposed legislation that would create a $125 million a year voucher entitlement program. Governor Lee says his $7,300 per child Education Savings Account (ESA) bill would help Tennessee’s poorest children in our worst-performing schools. We applaud the governor’s emphasis on education, and we believe in his good intentions. But unfortunately, others have drafted a bill that would let millionaires and even billionaires qualify for this voucher entitlement, while the poorest children are left behind. The voucher math doesn’t add up. The $7,300 voucher would leave poor kids far short on cash for quality private schools’ tuition and fees, which can be two or three or even four times as much. LINK


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