Wednesday, June 5

Tennessee Awards Nine New Site Development Grants (Business Facilities Magazine) Nine Tennessee communities will receive a total of more than $1.3 million in Site Development Grant funding, which is designed to help communities prepare industrial sites for economic development projects and achieve Select Tennessee site certification. “I’m pleased to announce nine more Site Development Grants that will prepare industrial sites across Tennessee,” said Governor Bill Lee. “With the support of the General Assembly, these grants are at the heart of our efforts to attract quality jobs and private investment to rural Tennessee. I look forward to being able to celebrate new jobs in each of these communities in the months and years ahead.” LINK

Gov. Bill Lee encourages private cooperation versus government to help with rural broadband (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Lee understands a life without broadband internet. In fact, he still doesn’t have high-speed internet inside his rural home in Fernvale, the small unincorporated community between Franklin and Leiper’s Fork. “It’s a nuisance for me,” Lee said to the newly rebranded Tennessee Broadband Association Tuesday afternoon in Franklin at its yearly conference. “For someone who is trying to run a business or educate their children, it’s much more than a nuisance.” Rural broadband was a part of Lee’s 2018 campaign, and the governor told the organization he planned to follow in the footsteps of former Gov. Bill Haslam to hand out grants in the state to rural areas that need it most. In the upcoming budget, Lee set aside $20 million for grants to areas in need. LINK

Tennessee leads nation in small business employment growth (Times Free Press) Tennessee leads the nation in small business job growth, according to a new payroll survey of small businesses by Paychex Inc. The Paychex | IHS Markit Small Business Employment Watch for May shows the Volunteer State led all states in small business job growth in the past 12 months, growing 0.48% more jobs over the past year. In wage growth, Tennessee ranked 7th highest among the states with an annual growth rate of 2.62%. Hourly earnings among the companies in the survey averaged $24.17 in Tennessee during May. LINK

Tennessee First Lady Lee launches Tennessee Serves (Overton County News) First Lady Maria Lee has launched Tennessee Serves, a 3-part initiative designed to engage Tennesseans in serving one another and their communities. “To me, this is not just an initiative, but who I am as a person,” said Mrs. Lee. “My heart is devoted to serving others and the impact we hope to have.” Gov. Bill Lee added, “When Maria and I made the decision to run, it was born out of a desire to serve. Maria’s heart for service has been a strength of her life. LINK

Mayors, governor, NBC confirm: TV series ‘Bluff City Law’ to be filmed in Memphis (Commercial Appeal) The NBC television network and state and local officials confirmed Tuesday that the Memphis-set legal drama “Bluff City Law” will shoot its first season in its namesake location. A joint press release issued Tuesday afternoon from the offices of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said $4.25 million in financial incentives were found for the production. These incentives include $2.5 million in subsidies from the state of Tennessee, $1.4 million through EDGE (the city/county Economic Development Growth Engine, an agency that coordinates resources for many projects), and $350,000 from Memphis Tourism. LINK

Museum chairman not concerned about building’s leaks (WSMV-TV) The chairman of the Tennessee State Museum said he’s not worried about the leaks discovered inside the new facility. The News4 I-Team first showed pictures of a bucket inside the new museum. It was one of eight leaks discovered there. The chairman of the museum said the discovery of those leaks isn’t such a bad thing. “The first six months of this year have had historic rainfall. If you’re ever going to find a leak in the building, that would have been the time,” said Chairman Tom Smith. LINK

What you need to know about UT’s new info science undergraduate major (WBIR-TV) Students at the University of Tennessee will soon be able to major in the state’s first bachelor’s degree program in information sciences, according to Provost David Mandersceid. “Launching this program offers an exciting opportunity to build on our highly regarded graduate program, while positioning UT to recruit top students and prepare them to compete in a growing job sector,” Manderscheid said. LINK

ETSU program focuses on training teachers on computation and STEM (Johnson City Press) In an increasingly automated and tech-driven society, teachers have been learning more about how to creatively use technology in their classrooms. At East Tennessee State University’s Clemmer College of Education, several teacher candidates have recently started learning how to do just that in a new program focusing on incorporating digital learning with elementary school language arts courses. On Tuesday morning, Renee Moran, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction, showed teachers how to program and code small robots. LINK

Program shows teachers how to incorporate STEM, computing in lesson plans (WCYB-TV) Teachers from all over the Tri-Cities are teaming up with education students at ETSU to integrate science, math and computing skills in storytelling. Twelve teacher candidates from ETSU will spend a year as student teachers working to integrate coding and digital learning skills into elementary classrooms. Students and local teachers are spending this week on campus learning how to use STEM skills in their language arts programs.  LINK

High hopes for Achievement School District give way to tension (Daily Memphian/Chalkbeat Tennessee) Sharon Griffin was seen by many as a savior when she was drafted last spring to lead Tennessee’s troubled turnaround school district. She was the one, many believed, who could redirect the Achievement School District, which was designed to be the state’s last resort for academically struggling schools. Griffin was brought in because her no-nonsense leadership was credited with turning around other schools in Memphis. A year later, the excitement has given way to an impasse: Griffin wants to play a bigger role in the day-to-day operations of charter schools than past leaders have. LINK

Tennessee’s rural schools overlooked, says equity group (Daily Memphian/Chalkbeat Tennessee) For almost a decade, Tennessee has focused its school improvement work on its big cities where large numbers of students are of color, live in extreme poverty, and have disabilities. But a new report says rural schools also face significant challenges in providing an equitable education to a third of the state’s students, all while serving a growing Latino population drawn to those areas mostly by agricultural work. High poverty rates, lower median household income, opioid addiction, and limited access to technology and healthcare are among the issues in rural Tennessee, where fewer people are likely to attend college and more are likely to receive food stamps than their urban counterparts, according to economic research. LINK

Mayor Berke wants TennCare to improve kids coverage (WDEF-TV) Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke thinks changes need to be made to Tenn Care. TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income pregnant women and families. The other is CoverKids, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program that provides health insurance to uninsured children. Between 2016 and 2019, TennCare enrollment for children in Hamilton County dropped 11 percent. The Mayor says that is partially because they don’t have a  functioning Computer program to track children who need coverage. The mayor thinks they should start administering the program fairly. LINK

Tennessee law banning handheld cellphone use while driving takes effect July 1 (WKRN-TV) A new Tennessee law that bans handheld cellphone use while driving goes into effect on July 1. Drivers like Murfreesboro residents Tori Bailey and Derek Howard aren’t too phased by the law and are simply preparing for the big changes to come. “Just need to take that time pull over to the side and wait until you get done with that conversation to get on the road again,” Bailey told News 2’s Linda Ong. “Maybe people will pull over and send those messages,” Howard said. LINK

Knoxville lawmakers tout low tolerance for gun violence (WVLT-TV) JaJuan was in his father’s SUV when gunfire broke out at Danny Mayfield Park. He was killed after getting hit by a bullet. Investigators say the shooting was gang-related. Representative Rick Staples, R-Knoxville and Senator Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, co-sponsored the Jajuan Latham Act. Twelve-year-old JaJuan’s death inspired the new law. In 2016, Latham was sitting in his father’s SUV when he was hit by a stray bullet at Danny Mayfield Park, where at least 200 people were gathered. Police believed the shooting to be gang-related. LINK

Appeals court sides with Memphis over sale of Confederate monuments (Daily Memphian) The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled the Sons of Confederate Veterans has no case to preserve two Memphis parks and the Confederate monuments removed from them in 2017. The appeals court decision, filed Tuesday, affirms an earlier trial court ruling in Davidson County Chancery Court denying the temporary injunction sought by SCV. “We find SCV failed to establish it had a right to bring, or the court the authority to consider, a cause of action under the THPA (Tennessee Heritage Preservation Act) to enjoin a private entity from further disposing of memorials or issue a mandatory injunction to restore memorials already removed,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Frank G. Clement Jr. in the opinion. LINK

Court of appeals backs city of Memphis in lawsuit over sale Confederate statues (Commercial Appeal) A court of appeals in Nashville ruled in favor of the city of Memphis on the sale of Confederate monuments, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The Sons of Confederate Veterans was seeking injunctive relief from Davidson County Chancery Court. Documents show the court found that the parks and monuments were no longer public property and were not protected under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016. In 2017, Memphis City Council approved the sale of Health Sciences Park and Fourth Bluff Park for $1,000 each to Memphis Greenspace, a nonprofit that had been formed by Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner. LINK

House Speaker Glen Casada gave special work schedule to second now-former aide (Tennessean) A legislative employee with a reputation of being a “hall monitor” for House Speaker Glen Casada was afforded a special arrangement that allowed him to work from home on Fridays. Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, said Tuesday that Casada’s office gave former legislative staff member Shawn Hatmaker a “flexible work schedule.” The work schedule gave Hatmaker the ability to work four days a week at the legislature and remotely on Fridays. During the legislative session, lawmakers are typically in Nashville the same four days a week. LINK

TN’s House Speaker Casada to resign in August, Gov. Lee reacts (AP) The move is unprecedented in Tennessee’s modern political era. The last speaker resignation came in 1931 in the Senate. Tennessee’s embattled House speaker has announced he’ll resign from his leadership position on Aug. 2 after a vote of no confidence by his Republican caucus amid a scandal over explicit text messages. House Speaker Glen Casada announced Tuesday that he’s asking Gov. Bill Lee to call lawmakers back for a special legislative session to elect a new speaker on the day he steps down. Lee has said he would consider calling a session should House leadership ask for one. LINK

Casada to step down as speaker Aug. 2, requests successor vote be held same day (TN Journal) House Speaker Glen Casada plans to step down as House speaker on Aug 2. He is asking Gov. Bill Lee to call a  special session to elect a new leader of the chamber that same day. Casada began holding talks about the timetable for his resignation following his return from a European vacation on Monday. The House Republican Caucus had voted 45-24 last month to approve a resolution declaring lost confidence in the speaker over a text message scandal and his heavy-handed leadership style. LINK

Casada to step down as speaker in August, asks governor to call a special session (Tennessean) More than two weeks after announcing he would resign from his leadership position, House Speaker Glen Casada on Tuesday said he would step down effective Aug. 2. Casada will turn 60 that day. Following a meeting with House Republican leadership Tuesday afternoon, Casada said in addition to resigning from his role as speaker in two months, he will ask Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session. Such a special session would likely cost taxpayers upwards of $25,000 a day. In a statement Tuesday, Lee declined to commit to calling a special session, saying instead that his office would remain in contact with House leadership. LINK

Casada to resign as Speaker on Aug. 2, Dems call for investigation into hiring practices (WSMV-TV) House Speaker Glen Casada announced on Tuesday that he would resign as Speaker on Aug. 2 and ask Gov. Bill Lee to convene a special session to choose his successor. “I resign from my position as Speaker of the House of Representaties, effective Friday, August 2nd at 8:00 am. I also request Governor Bill Lee call the General Assembly into a special sessions for legislative business that day. During the special session, the House may take up the procedural matter of electing a new Speaker to lead the chamber,” Casada wrote. LINK

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada Won’t Step Down Until August (WPLN Radio) Many state lawmakers are expressing frustration after House Speaker Glen Casada announced Tuesday that he doesn’t intend to resign for another two months. The embattled speaker sent a letter to members laying out his plans to step down from the House’s top post. The decision drew immediate fire from the Republican lawmaker next in line to succeed him, as well as from several Democrats. Casada did not indicate any intention of giving up his seat in the state legislature, which he has held for nearly two decades. LINK

Casada to resign Aug. 2; asks governor to call special session (Daily Memphian) Beleaguered House Speaker Glen Casada, holding on as long as possible, announced Tuesday he will resign his leadership position Aug. 2 and ask Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session of the General Assembly to elect a replacement. Casada – with a sexist and racist texting scandal swirling around him – released a letter Tuesday evening tendering his resignation at 8 a.m. the second day of August, making him the first House speaker to be forced from office since the 1890s. He is asking for a special session the same day. LINK

Casada announces Aug. 2 resignation (Nashville Post) Fresh off a European vacation and a no-confidence vote from his fellow Republicans, House Speaker Glen Casada on Tuesday said he would resign his leadership position, effective Aug. 2. In a letter to members of the state House, Casada said he would ask Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session following the August resignation in order for the chamber to elect a new leader. The decision follows weeks of escalating turmoil in Casada’s office, as racist and sexually explicit text messages from his chief of staff Cade Cothren led to the aide’s resignation. LINK

Embattled Tennessee House Speaker Casada announces Aug. 2 resignation, asks Gov. Lee to call special session on replacement (Times Free Press) Embattled Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada made it official Tuesday, saying he will step down Aug. 2 in the wake of fellow Republicans’ no confidence vote last month in response to a storm of controversy over sexually explicit text messages and other issues. After talking with top GOP leaders earlier in the day, Casada sent out a one-paragraph letter, announcing his resignation on the first Friday of August at 8 a.m. He also asked Republican Gov. Bill Lee to call lawmakers into special session to elect his replacement. LINK

Republican House Caucus: Speaker Casada tells members he will resign August 2 (WZTV-TV) Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada has told house members he will resign on August 2, according to the Republican House Caucus. In a letter to members, Casada said: “I resign from my position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, effective Friday, August 2nd at 8:00 am. I also request that Governor Bill Lee call the General Assembly into a special session for legislative business on that day. During the special session, the House may take up the procedural matter of electing a new Speaker to lead the chamber.” LINK

Democratic lawmakers want investigation into Casada for misuse of state funds (WSMV-TV) State Representative Bob Freeman has written a letter to the district attorney asking for an investigation concerning embattled Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada. The letter addressed to Glenn Funk on May 30 reads, “On behalf of the Davidson County Delegation, I would like to respectfully request that an investigation be opened regarding the misuse of state funds by Speaker Glen Casada. Please feel free to contact me to discuss further.”  It was signed by Freeman, Rep. Bo Mitchell, Rep. Mike Stewart, Rep. Jason Powell, Rep. Darren Jernigan and Rep. Vincent Dixie. LINK

Medical cannabis supporters believe bills fell to legislative politics (Daily Memphian) Supporters of legalizing medical cannabis in Tennessee believe the legislation stalled in the General Assembly this year mainly because of Speaker Glen Casada’s decision to appoint an opponent of the measure as chairman of a Health subcommittee. In fact, the Senate sponsor of a medical cannabis bill is considering rerouting it so it won’t go through the House Mental Health & Substance Abuse Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Sabi “Doc” Kumar, a physician who adamantly opposes medical cannabis. LINK

Plastic bag tax vote delayed in Memphis (WREG-TV) A new tax was delayed Tuesday, just as it was on the verge of being approved. The proposed tax would have been 7 cents per plastic bag at places such as grocery stores and gas stations. But Memphis City Council delayed the decision for another 30 days, potentially because of a bill that was recently signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. Governor Lee signed a bill in April in reaction to the recent consideration by Memphis and Nashville to add the plastic bag tax. It prevents local government from taxing the bags and gives the state the final call. LINK

Congressman Burchett tweet about ‘DIRTBAG’ Serbians ticks off Kosovo group (News Sentinel) A tweet by U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett has annoyed a group concerned with U.S. support of the Republic of Kosovo in Southeastern Europe. The Kosovo Project is an American-based group seeking representation for persecuted Serbian Orthodox Christians. They have a petition asking President Donald Trump and Congress to withdraw support from Albanian leadership. The petition has over 51,000 signatures. The group balked at a Burchett tweet that said war crimes were committed by “DIRTBAG Serbians” in the 1990s. LINK

U.S. Rep. Mark Green faces state health department complaint over vaccine comments (Tennessean) U.S. Rep. Mark Green’s statement that vaccines may be causing autism has generated a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health. A spokesman for the congressman, a physician who is considering running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, called the filing “frivolous” while pointing to recent remarks from Green who has now said there is no link with autism. The complaint stems from remarks Green, R-Clarksville, made in December at a town hall forum when he said that he would “stand on the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s) desk and get the real data on vaccines.” LINK

Disaster bill messaging fight (Politico) Congress has passed a $19.1 billion natural disaster funding bill. That is a done deal, but do you know what’s not? The messaging game. If recent events are your guide, the political jockeying should be all wrapped up, with Democrats appearing to have the upper hand. Let’s take a look at the numbers: the 66 total “no” votes, including two from Florida, all came from Republicans in the House and Senate. In addition, three GOP House members objected to the bill’s passage largely on procedural grounds. The three — Chip Roy of Texas, John Rose of Tennessee, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky — objected because, among other things, the bill was expected to pass on a voice vote while the chamber was in recess last week for Memorial Day, and not a full roll call. LINK

What’s in the Disaster Aid Package for States and Localities? (Governing) Congress passed a long-delayed bill to help places recover from past (and future) natural disasters. President Trump is expected to sign it. After months of delay, Congress passed a $19 billion aid bill on Monday to help places recover from natural disasters that have struck over the last two years — and to help cover costs of the ones yet to come. As the political infighting wore on this year, more natural disasters — such as flooding in the Midwest and tornadoes in the South — bumped up the price of the legislation by roughly $5 billion. It’s now one of the most sweeping disaster aid packages ever passed and heads to President Trump for his expected signature. LINK

Longtime FedEx employee discusses her voluntary exit as first wave of buyouts hits (Memphis Business Journal) The first wave of FedEx employees who took the voluntary buyout are set to leave today. During its second quarter 2019 earnings call in December, FedEx Corp. announced cost-reduction actions, which included a voluntary buyout program for eligible U.S.-based employees. Friday, May 31, marks the first round of departures. The second group will reportedly leave in August. LINK

Dolly Parton on Dollywood (NY Times) Dolly Parton, dressed in a sequined lilac pantsuit with black piping and matching butterfly wings, stood on an outdoor stage on a recent Friday morning. Behind her was a 52-foot sculpture of a “Wildwood Tree,” with 620 acrylic butterflies. She was commemorating Wildwood Grove, a new six-acre addition to Dollywood, her theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Based on Ms. Parton’s childhood “daydreams and imaginations,” the $137 million expansion is intended for families, especially those with younger children. (Teenagers are welcomed, Ms. Parton said, “as long as you behave.”) LINK

Community gathers in honor of domestic violence victims, survivors (Kingsport Times-News) More than 50 people gathered at Holston View United Methodist Church in Weber City on Sunday for the first annual #JusticeforEva walk to honor of domestic violence victims and survivors. The event was held in memory of Eva Borders, who died on June 2, 2018, after her husband, Jason Scott Borders, strangled her in their Weber City home. LINK


Otis Sanford on TN House Speaker’s resignation (WATN-TV) After weeks in the hot seat, Tennessee’s Republican House Speaker Glen Casada is finally ready to do the right thing. There is word that his formal resignation is imminent. But really, Casado had no choice. His Republican colleagues made it crystal clear they no longer have confidence in him as their leader. This after aggressive news reporting revealed that Casada lied about engaging in sexually explicit texting with his former chief of staff, who also has admitted to using cocaine in his legislative office. LINK

Guest column: Everyone should support unionization at Chattanooga Volkswagen plant (Tennessean) Volkswagen workers don’t have a union yet, but they’ve already demonstrated their collective power with a series of big victories at the Chattanooga plant. According to Volkswagen’s own press statements, the company has raised wages, adjusted shift schedules and reduced overtime, all in response to pressure from workers. But the most impressive notch in the workers’ collective belt is taking out the plant’s unpopular CEO, Antonio Pinto, who was recently sent packing across the Atlantic. None of these changes would have happened if workers weren’t driving towards unionization. LINK

Guest column: Bill Lee was a generous CEO. What changed as governor? (News Sentinel) Ester was a patient of mine who decades earlier had a lung removed as part of her treatment for tuberculosis. Over the years, she suffered increasing respiratory difficulties due to loss of the lung and the effects of tuberculosis on her remaining lung. She became progressively limited, with increasing reliance on oxygen and dependence on her daughter for routine activities like shopping, bathing and laundry. LINK

Editorial: Use what you heard, Rep. Roe (Johnson City Press) It was refreshing to read some frank words from local contractors Gerald Thomas and Grant Summers after they met last week with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe as part of the congressman’s series of roundtables in Johnson City. As Press News Editor Nathan Baker reported in Friday’s edition, Thomas and Summers dove right in with Roe on one of the most divisive topics in the current national conversation: immigration. “One area, Phil, you haven’t addressed is the impact of immigration on infrastructure,” Thomas, of Johnson City’s Thomas Construction, told Roe. “Something needs to be done. I’d like to see them legal and green carded, but we’re going to have to have a plan where we can hire some of these people.” LINK

Editorial – Ballad Health is overcoming challenges (Kingsport Times-News) The plan to financially save the region’s two merged hospital systems appears to be working. In a significant achievement that reinforces the necessity of merging the Wellmont and Mountain States health systems, Ballad Health has turned a decade of losses into gains. For the nine months ended Dec. 31, 2018, Ballad said operating cash flow improved to $158.7 million from $141.4 million in the prior year, a 12.2 percent improvement. For the past quarter, operating and total cash flow increased and revenue rose by 1.4 percent, while expenses decreased by 0.2 percent. LINK

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