Tuesday, June 4

TN Governor orders flags to half-staff in memory of VA Beach shooting victims (WBIR-TV) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee ordered the flags over the State Capitol and State offices to fly at half-staff in memory of the victims of the May 31 Virginia Beach shooting. Flags will be at half-staff until Tuesday, June 4. Authorities said12 people were killed and several others wounded when DeWayne Craddock opened fire inside the municipal building Friday afternoon, May 31. Craddock was an engineer with the city’s utilities department and was killed during a gunbattle with police. LINK

Governor signs JaJuan Latham Act into law (WBIR-TV) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the JaJuan Latham Act into law in late May. Representative Rick Staples said he’s ecstatic that the Governor has signed a bill to toughen the penalty for those charged with hurting or killing children during a drive-by shooting. The JaJuan Latham Act increases the penalty for an aggravated assault or homicide that occurs by a person shooting a firearm from within a motor vehicle and the victim is a minor at the time of the offense. The JaJuan Latham act takes effect on July 1. LINK

In memory of JaJuan Latham, criminals face tougher penalties in drive-by shootings (News Sentinel) A bill named in honor of 12-year-old JaJuan Latham, who was killed in an unsolved drive-by shooting at a Knoxville birthday party, has now become law. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law the JuJuan Latham Act, which will stiffen penalties for those convicted of wounding or killing children in drive-by shootings. The law will make certain felonies one classification higher — including second-degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless aggravated assault, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and criminally reckless homicide — when they involve the discharge of a firearm from a vehicle and when the victim is a minor. LINK

Tougher penalties for drive-by shooters as JaJuan Latham Act made law (WVLT-TV) A bill named in honor of JaJuan Latham, a 12-year-old boy fatally shot while sitting in the back of his father’s car in 2016, was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee on Monday. The JaJuan Latham Act strengthens penalties against anyone convicted of harming a minor during a drive-by shooting. Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, co-sponsored the bill alongside Representative Rick Staples, R-Knoxville. “This legislation was written to address the real problem of drive-by shootings, which we have seen on the rise in Tennessee,” Briggs said. “It aims to serve as a deterrent while protecting the lives of our youngest and most innocent citizens.” LINK

High-speed broadband cuts jobless rates in Chattanooga, Hamilton County (Times Free Press) Chattanooga added or saved nearly 4,000 jobs in the first five years after EPB launched high-speed gigabit-speed broadband in 2011, according to a new economic study of the impact of broadband service … The study comes as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee prepares to address the leaders building broadband for rural Tennesseans at the Tennessee Telecommunications Association (TTA) convention Tuesday in Franklin, Tennessee. According to Broadband Now statistics, Tennessee is the 23rd most connected state in the country with 172 internet providers. LINK

Tennessee bumps base teacher pay up to $36,000 (Daily Memphian/Chalkbeat Tennessee) Tennessee teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no teaching experience must be paid a minimum of $36,000 next school year, an increase of $1,000 under a new salary schedule approved Friday by the State Board of Education. And the state’s base pay for advanced degrees and additional years of experience also is going up — by a modest $50 annually … This year, new Republican Gov. Bill Lee was among 20 governors recommending teacher pay hikes amid a recent wave of teacher strikes and shortages. LINK

Gov. Bill Lee continues ‘assessing’ open government changes as lawmakers take little action on transparency (Tennessean) No bills that would significantly erode public access to government documents passed in the legislature this session, despite some lawmakers’ attempts at doing so. But very little progress has been made on addressing nearly 600 exemptions to Tennessee’s public records laws — a project that some legislators and Gov. Bill Lee stated would be a priority.  “I think it was probably a do-no-harm session,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, which just released its annual legislative report on bills this year that pertained to public access. LINK

Aide to Gov. Bill Lee resigns to join Republican Manny Sethi’s US Senate campaign (Tennessean) Chris DeVaney, who served as a special assistant to Gov. Bill Lee, resigned from the administration to join the campaign of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi. After just five months on the job, DeVaney resigned from the Lee administration Monday. DeVaney, who previously served as Lee’s campaign manager, confirmed his resignation to The Tennessean. DeVaney’s role on the Sethi campaign has yet to be officially outlined. Sethi is seeking the seat long held by Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is not seeking reelection in 2020. LINK

Devaney, Gehrke to head up Sethi’s campaign team (TN Journal) The timing of physician Manny Sethi’s announcement that he plans to run for the Republican nomination to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) caught many political observers off guard because most had been waiting to hear what former Gov. Bill Haslam planned to do on the race. But Sethi and his team apparently ran out of patience and decided to pull the trigger, using “outsider” themes echoing those made by similarly little-known Bill Lee when the latter was making surprise march toward the governor’s office last year. LINK

Franklin woman charged with TennCare fraud (Tennessean) A Franklin woman has been charged with four counts of TennCare fraud in connection with selling prescription drugs  authorities say she obtained using TennCare insurance benefits. According to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, Jennifer D. Dishman, 35, is charged with using TennCare to obtain hydrocodone and the anti-anxiety medication Alprazolam. She then sold a portion of the drugs to a confidential informant in four separate incidents, authorities say.  “We investigate TennCare fraud complaints and pursue criminal prosecution when the evidence deems it appropriate,” Inspector General Kim Harmon said in the release. LINK

Franklin Woman Charged with TennCare Drug Fraud (Williamson Source) A Williamson County woman is charged with TennCare fraud in connection with selling prescription drugs she obtained using TennCare healthcare insurance benefits. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), with the assistance of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, today announced the arrest of Jennifer D. Dishman, 35, of Franklin. She is charged with using TennCare to obtain the painkiller Hydrocodone and the anti-anxiety medication Alprazolam – then on four separate occasions, allegedly selling a portion of the drugs to a confidential informant.  Dishman is charged with four counts of TennCare fraud.  She was taken into custody by the Williamson County Narcotics Unit. LINK

Blount County woman charged with TennCare fraud (WBIR-TV) A Blount County woman is charged with TennCare fraud for falsely reporting her income and failing to disclose her marriage in order to obtain healthcare insurance benefits, according to the Tennessee Office of Inspector General. Greenback resident Jamie M. Frisell, 51, is charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services over $60,000, according to the OIG and Blount County Sheriff’s Office. LINK

Blount County woman charged with TennCare fraud, officials say (WVLT-TV) A Blount County woman has been charged for defrauding TennCare after falsely reporting her income and not disclosing her marriage, according to the Office of the State Inspector General. Authorities said 51-year-old Jamie M. Frisell of Greenback was arrested Monday by the Blount County Sheriff’s Office and charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services over $60,000. Authorities said she falsely reported her income and marital status in order to enroll in the taxpayer-funded insurance program. Frisell would not have been eligible for TennCare if she had reported correct information about herself. LINK

Leaks put priceless state artifacts at risk (WSMV-TV) Leaks from an aging state building means many of the state’s priceless historic artifacts are being draped in plastic with buckets on standby. The collection of artifacts, ranging from paintings to historic tools, are being stored in the basement of the James K. Polk Building. Only 2% of the state’s historic artifacts are stored or are on display at the new Tennessee State Museum; a vast majority are stored in the Polk building. Peter Heinbach, director of special projects for the state Department of General Services, said the state plans to move all the artifacts in two years to a specially-prepared warehouse. LINK

Couples stressed over law prohibiting online ordination for marriage ceremonies (WBIR-TV) A new state law may thwart wedding plans for couples this summer. Starting July 1, Tennessee will no longer recognize online-ordained ministers who officiate weddings. That includes websites like Universal Life Church. It’s raising questions, and one local couple experienced the confusion and stress first hand. Cheri and Kevin Burke are of two different faiths, but they didn’t want a secular wedding. LINK

Getting married? Tennessee law says ministers ordained online can’t perform the ceremony (News Sentinel) Plan to ask your best friend to get ordained online then officiate your summer wedding? Rethink that idea. On July 1 people who are online officiants no longer can perform a marriage in Tennessee. That’s because part of a new state law prohibits “persons receiving online ordinations from solemnizing the rite of matrimony.” LINK

Republicans ‘frustrated’ as Glen Casada draws out resignation (WTVF-TV) A number of Republicans voiced concern on Monday that they are growing increasingly frustrated with disgraced House Speaker Glen Casada’s resignation process, and his unwillingness to set a firm date to step down after been embattled in scandal for weeks. On May 21, Casada sent an email to House Republicans announcing he would resign as Speaker following a no confidence vote from his party. The Williamson County Republican said he would lay out a resignation strategy starting on June 3 after returning home from a two week European vacation. LINK

Glen Casada and Cade Cothren get the John Oliver treatment on ‘Last Week Tonight’ (Tennessean) British comedian John Oliver took a look at the scandal involving Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his former chief of staff Cade Cothren on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” And he did not hold back. “Tennessee state legislature has been embroiled in a major scandal for the past month and while it may not be the most important thing in the world, every detail is spectacular,” Oliver said. While Sunday’s show discussed the medical device industry, Oliver highlighted the Casada scandal earlier in the episode. LINK

Tenn. House Speaker back from vacation, resignation discussions begin (WKRN-TV) Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada is back from a European vacation with discussions underway when he’ll resign. Speaker Casada said he would step down last month after a vote of no-confidence two-weeks ago in the wake of numerous allegations including sexist texts. A spokesperson for Tennessee House Republicans said Monday afternoon that “conversations have begun” about the exact timing of Casada’s resignation. Tennessee Republican Party chair Scott Golden this morning said, it’s “my understanding is he is going to meet with the leadership team and those discussions are going to start today.” LINK

Grand Divisions Episode 54: Embattled speaker returns from vacation as Manny Sethi announces U.S. Senate bid (Tennessean) House Speaker Glen Casada has returned to Nashville after his pre-scheduled European vacation. And with his return, attention now turns to when the embattled Williamson County Republican will resign as speaker. Talk of a special session continued this week after House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he expected lawmakers to reconvene potentially as early as later this month. On this episode, we discuss the latest developments of the ongoing ordeal surrounding the House speaker. LINK

Tennessee House speaker’s aide calls public schools ‘satanic’ (AP) A legislative appointee of Republican Tennessee House speaker Glen Casada says public education is a “satanic system” and calls President Donald Trump and Pope Francis “anti-Christs.” WTVF-TV reports research analyst Scott Alan Buss said in a 2015 blog post that Christians who teach in public schools are “modeling a satanic approach to the pursuit of knowledge.” Buss also said in an online video an education system built on that approach “cannot be repaired. … It has to be torn down.” A 2016 post by Buss calls the president and the pope “wicked fools” and “anti-Christs.” LINK

Rep. Smith hopes to gain support from fellow freshmen in potential Tennessee House speaker bid (Times Free Press) As she weighs running for the Tennessee House Republican Caucus nomination to replace current Speaker Glen Casada, who announced he would resign after a GOP no-confidence vote last month, Rep. Robin Smith says an important part of any path to victory would be her fellow freshmen who form nearly a third of the caucus. “We’re the ones bringing ethics reform to the table when others have not,” the Hixson Republican said Monday. “I think there’s an opportunity for us to stick together as a class. But I’m not going to make that presumption, I’m not going to speak on their behalf.” LINK

Leatherwood won’t say how he voted on Casada but likes House leadership direction (Daily Memphian) Republican Rep. Tom Leatherwood is declining to say how he voted on a no-confidence resolution for House Speaker Glen Casada but noted Monday he is “comfortable” with the outcome. “I am glad the way things unfolded. I think Glen has done the right thing in saying he will resign. I’m sure they’ll come up with a timetable. I think things need to move forward,” Leatherwood said. The Arlington Republican, a former state senator and Shelby County register of deeds, spoke for the first time Monday to The Daily Memphian since a May 20 meeting when the House Republican Caucus voted 45-24 in favor of a no-confidence resolution on the Speaker. LINK

New Tennessee law ‘will suppress African American votes’ (The Guardian) Voting rights activists in Tennessee say a new law targeting voter registration drives is designed to suppress minority voters. The law, signed by Governor Bill Lee last month, imposes fines – and in some cases criminal charges – on those who turn in significant numbers of incomplete or incorrect registration forms. Activists say it will discourage groups whose very purpose is to collect large numbers of such forms, to help minority voters exercise the franchise. Lawyers have filed suit against the state on behalf of six voter registration groups, saying the law puts “unconstitutional obstacles” on their activities. LINK

With 2020 Looming, Parties Fight State by State Over Voting Access (NY Times) After a record turnout in November swept Democrats into several key federal and state offices in Arizona, the Republicans who have dominated the Statehouse for a decade did two things: They raised the specter of election fraud. And they proposed a sheaf of bills to tighten the rules for registering to vote and for casting ballots … Voting rights advocates have sued to overturn a new law enacted in Tennessee last month that saddled voter registration drives with fresh requirements. LINK

Partisan control determines how states act on voting rights (AP) New York voters for years have experienced some of the longest wait times in the nation on Election Day. Attempts to fix the problem routinely became casualties of the divided politics of the state Legislature … In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that allows for fines against groups turning in 100 or more incomplete registration forms in a year. “This bill was presented because of actual circumstances that were meant to confuse the integrity, or to create a lack of integrity, in the voting process,” Lee said. Critics say Tennessee’s Republicans feel threatened by an increase in voter participation last year. In 2018, turnout in the state was 51 percent higher than in the previous midterm election. About 259,500 new voters registered in the six months before Election Day. LINK

Were state resources misused? Lawmaker asks Comptroller to audit ‘Environmental Show of the South (Tennessean) An East Tennessee lawmaker has requested that the state government’s fiscal watchdog investigate a convention organized by the Department of Environment and Conservation. The annual Environmental Show of the South, held last month in Chattanooga, raises hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies in the waste, construction and chemical industries. Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, wrote a letter Monday to Comptroller Justin Wilson requesting an audit of the “financial integrity” of the convention, where state employees join industry insiders at pub crawls, big screen giveaways, golf tournaments and other functions. LINK

Volkswagen CEO Meets Top U.S. Trade Official as Mexico Tariffs Loom-Sources (Reuters) Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Herbert Diess met on Monday with the top U.S. trade official, a week before new tariffs are set to hit imported Mexican vehicles, two people briefed on the matter said. In January, the German automaker said it was investing $800 million to build a new electric vehicle at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. VW said it was adding 1,000 jobs at the plant and that electric vehicle production there would begin in 2022. LINK

Feds: Puerto Rico Disaster Contractor Pocketed Millions in Taxpayer Cash (Daily Beast) Textile Corporation of America promised to build a plant and help a storm-ravaged island. Instead, says the FBI, it bilked taxpayers out of millions. The owners of the Textile Corporation of America promised the government that they could deliver 1,000 new jobs to residents of Pikeville, Tennessee, and millions of dollars of supplies to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. And federal and state leaders lined up to support them, helping them secure millions of dollars in contracts and grants. But two years later, the company is the subject of a federal criminal investigation alleging that its executives bilked taxpayers out of those millions. LINK

Will Chattanooga unseat Knoxville as TN’s third largest city? Perhaps, but that’s not the whole story (WBIR-TV) It may be 112 miles away, but it’s gaining fast. Chattanooga is adding people at 6 percent a year, compared to Knoxville’s 5.2 percent. “Chattanooga maybe at some point may be at some point slip into third place in the state’s overall percentage rankings,” Tim Kuhn, the director of the Tennessee Data Center, said. But he says when it comes to population, size isn’t everything. “In some ways, comparing one to the other doesn’t really matter,” he said. He said the Knoxville metropolitan area boasts an economy much bigger than our Hamilton County neighbors. “The size of its economy is about 40 percent larger than the Chattanooga area economy,” he said. LINK

Tennessee free fishing day hopes to get people out on the water (WTVF-TV) Tennessee’s Free Fishing Day is Saturday, meaning anyone can fish for free without a license. The Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency set up the day so that people of all ages and experiences can get out on the state’s public waters to enjoy the sport. On June 8, anyone can fish for free, and in addition to free fishing day, children 15 years old and younger can enjoy free fishing week from Saturday, June 8 to Friday, June 14. Multiple events will be held for kids during free fishing week. Visit the TWRA website for more information on events and fishing licenses. LINK

OPINION

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe: Protecting Americans from surprise billing (Elizabethton Star) One of the most infuriating experiences for patients in our health care system occurs when they seek care at what they believe is a facility covered by their insurance, only to find out weeks later they were treated by an out-of-network physician — without the patient’s knowledge — and are now faced with a substantial surprise medical bill. Patients and families have endured financial stress and other hardships because of these costly bills, with surveys showing nearly 67 percent of Americans are worried about unexpected medical bills and 37 percent are very worried. LINK

Guest column: Bill Lee, lawmakers show cowardice in responding to David Byrd accusers (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Lee on March 14 met with Christi Rice, one of three women who have come forward to say state Rep. David Byrd sexually assaulted them when he was their basketball coach at Wayne County High School. Byrd is on tape apologizing to Rice. We’ve all heard it now. Lee has too, and Rice left the meeting feeling like the governor “believed” her, but it wasn’t until 70 days later that Lee finally issued a statement saying he did indeed believe her, and that Byrd needs to “answer” for the allegations. LINK

Editorial: Workforce challenge is job No. 1 (Elizabethton Star) A roundtable discussion this week with Congressman Phil Roe by manufacturers, infrastructure builders, and business leaders revealed that the district faces daunting challenges. Leaders expressed concern about the region’s up and coming workforce — too few applicants can pass a drug test, the lack of highly trained, skilled workers, and the lack of “soft skills” among high school employees that are needed for employment, namely punctuality and regular attendance. Manufacturers said their aging workforce is becoming harder to replace, hinting at potential employee shortages and operational problems in the future. LINK

State Sen. Jeff Yarbro: It’s time we got serious about hepatitis C in Tennessee (Tennessean) One of the terrible consequences of Tennessee’s opioid crisis is the rise in hepatitis C infections. Approximately 70,000 of our fellow Tennesseans are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Tragically, nearly half don’t even know they’re infected. Between 2006 and 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there was an astonishing 364% jump in hepatitis C infections throughout central Appalachia, including Tennessee. Until recently, hepatitis C disproportionately affected baby boomers, but due to the nation’s opioid crisis, emerging health threats like hepatitis C have extended their reach to a broader population. LINK

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