Thursday, June 20

Carter Lawrence sworn in as interim Commerce & Insurance commissioner (TN Journal) Gov. Bill Lee has sworn in Carter Lawrence as the interim commissioner of Commerce & Insurance. He succeeds Julie Mix McPeak, who left to take take a job in the private sector. Lawrence, of Williamson County, had served as deputy commissioner for the department’s administration and for regulatory boards. He has law and business degrees from the University of Tennessee. McPeak was a holdover from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.  Greenberg Traurig announced last week that she is founding the law firm’s new Nashville office — the company’s 41st location worldwide and 31st in the U.S. LINK

UT Body Farm attracting people worldwide for forensic training (WBIR-TV) Crime scene investigators from around the world are turning their focus this summer to the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee. 48 law enforcement officers from across the U.S. just left after completing a training course for recovering human remains. 40 people from the United Kingdom are at the Body Farm now, with more coming from Korea and Central America this fall. “We have the largest skeletal collection of known individuals in the world,” said Dr. Bill Bass, founder of the Body Farm. LINK

Black Leaders Denounce Juul’s $7.5 Million Gift to Medical School (NY Times) Earlier this month, Meharry Medical College, a 143-year-old historically black institution in Tennessee, proudly announced that it had received the second-largest grant in its history — $7.5 million to start a center to study public health issues that affect African-Americans. But the gift has prompted a vehement backlash from African-American health experts and activists because of the source of the funds: Juul Labs, the fast-growing e-cigarette company, now partially owned by the tobacco giant Altria. LINK

Austin Peay students scheduled to send payload to space for first time in school history (Leaf Chronicle) For the first time in its 92-year history, Austin Peay State University has a payload bound for space. Austin Peay physics professor Dr. Justin Oelgoetz made the announcement on Facebook Tuesday: “APSU’s first payload bound for space just passed inspection and has been integrated into the rocket’s payload stack.” Oelgoetz and two APSU physics students – Zach Hill and Zach Givens – built the predesigned payload during Rocket Week at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Later this week, they’ll fly the experiment on a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket to space. LINK

Confidence still high beer, alcohol sales will come to UT venues (WBIR-TV) Even with a delay in the vote from the Knoxville City Council Beer Board, chairman George Wallace has confidence the American food service company Aramark will present a solid case to bring beer, wine and alcohol to two University of Tennessee venues. “I think if they can assure the beer board and have that confidence that we have done this before, we have at other places, this is how it’s going to be done, this is going to be the process, with all that confidence, I feel very confident it will be approved,” said Wallace. LINK

UT researchers link weedkiller mixing, temperature to widespread crop damage (Johnson City Press) Scientists with the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture may have found what caused a popular weedkiller to damage and destroy thousands of acres of crops across the country, prompting some states to restrict or ban its use entirely. Dicamba, a weedkiller used on genetically modified, dicamba-resistant crops (such as cotton and soybeans) to kill weeds that have developed a resistance to glyphosate, became a hot-button issue in 2017, when thousands of farmers and environmentalists filed complaints about dicamba’s propensity to drift, sometimes moving up to a mile from where it was originally sprayed. LINK

What’s next for the Achievement School District? (WMC-TV) What’s next for the Achievement School District? That’s the question many people are asking after the state-run district’s leader, Dr. Sharon Griffin, stepped down last week. Two Memphis lawmakers who sit on the Tennessee House Education Committee agreed Dr. Griffin stepping down as chief of the Achievement School District is a big loss. But they differ on what should happen next. When Dr. Sharon Griffin took over the state’s Achievement School District 14 months ago, many people hoped she would have the same success she had leading Shelby County’s iZone schools. LINK

Tennessee to begin issuing Real ID driver’s licenses on July 1 (Times Free Press) Traveler James Corne said at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Wednesday that he doesn’t know a lot about Real ID, but the national security measure seems like it makes sense if it helps keep fliers safe. “The safer, the better,” said the Decatur, Tennessee, man as he picked up a rental car at Lovell Field. On July 1, Tennessee plans to start issuing Real ID driver’s licenses. LINK

Officials: Bureaucracy meant no warning system in park death (AP) Tennessee officials say bureaucratic issues were behind the lack of a warning system at Cummins Falls State Park, where fast-moving water killed a 2-year-old earlier this month. Parks and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Jim Bryson told lawmakers Wednesday that after 2017 flooding, a warning system was identified, funded and requested by state parks and Tennessee Tech University, which was familiar with the equipment. LINK

Renewed effort to increase safety at Cummins Falls (WKRN-TV) Cummins Falls State Park is known for its natural beauty and the gorge underneath the waterfall is a popular swimming area. However, concerns still remain regarding the area’s susceptibility to dangerous flash flooding. Deadly flash flooding events occurred in both July of 2017 and more recently on June 9, 2019. Three people have died at Cummins Falls in the last two years due to rising flood levels in the gorge. It was the flash flooding that occurred on June 9 in which 63 people had to be rescued, and 2-year-old Steven Pierce drowned that has led to a renewed effort to put this warning system in place. LINK

TDEC Says It Will Install Water Monitoring System At Cummins Falls Within 45 Days (WTVF-TV) The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said Wednesday it will install a new water monitoring system at Cummins Falls within the next 45 days. The department appeared Wednesday in front of lawmakers and discussed its response to the death of a 2-year-old boy at the state park during a flash flood. The water monitoring project was initially announced in 2017, but TDEC Commissioner David Salyers says it stalled less than a year later. LINK

Lawmakers question TDEC officials on Cummins Falls alert system (WTVF-TV) Lawmakers are questioning the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation about an early warning system that was supposed to be installed at Cummins Falls. Just last month, the gorge and trail flooded, prompting evacuations, but unfortunately not everyone made it out. It remained closed after 2-year-old Steven Pierce died. The TDEC commission says the warning system wasn’t installed back in 2017 because of a communications break down with Tennessee Tech. LINK

Lawmakers discuss rural hospital crisis with TennCare officials (WTVF-TV) State lawmakers met with the Department of TennCare to discuss the rural hospital crisis going on in Tennessee. During Wednesday’s hearing, officials talked about what Tennessee’s options are as more rural hospitals are shut down. The hospitals are facing a lot of issues, according to lawmakers. Including the high cost of hiring a physician in a rural area. The distance between hospitals in rural areas is growing, and according to people with TennCare, while they say the idea of regional health centers sounds good, it’s already difficult to get people to travel extended distances for health care. LINK

Tennessee lawmaker bashes Jamestown hospital CEO, alleges theft, calls for prosecution (WATE-TV) Jamestown Regional Medical Center officially lost critical federal dollars a week ago from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. One day later, the hospital had a sign posted on its door saying it was “temporarily closed.” A letter sent Tuesday to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, signed by Rep. Windle (R-District 41), Rep. Kelly Keisling (R-District 38), and Sen. Ken Yager (R-District 12), asked ”whether or not Rennova Health Systems filed a worker adjustment and retaining notification,” but that isn’t all lawmakers want to know. LINK

Rep. calls on state to investigate Jamestown hospital (WVLT/WTVF-TV) The State Department of Labor is investigating the Jamestown Regional Hospital after former employees said the company never sent money to the state or IRS. According to CBS affiliate WTVF, Rennova Health, the owner of the hospital, has been deducting money from employees paychecks for health insurance, unemployment insurance and social security. Laid off doctors, nurses and other members of staff are finding they can’t get unemployment benefits because money deducted from their checks was allegedly not sent to the Department of Labor. LINK

Ordination Event Works Around Tennessee ‘Internet Married’ Law (Memphis Flyer) On July 1, ”internet married” is over in Tennessee. State lawmakers this year passed a bill that prevents online-ordained ministers from marrying couples. The new rule (Public Chapter No. 415) gives that power to a broader array of government officials. But demands more from “ministers” of any stripe. ”Under present law, in order to solemnize the rite of matrimony, a minister, preacher, pastor, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader must be ordained or otherwise designated in conformity with the customs of a church, temple, or other religious group or organization and such customs must provide for such ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate, and responsible act,” reads the bill summary. LINK

Memphis Could Outright Ban Plastic Bags (Memphis Flyer) Plastic bags at retail stores could soon be a thing of the past here, as the Memphis City Council is looking to ban retail stores’ distribution of plastic bags to customers at checkouts. The ban would prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags at checkouts in retail establishments with 2,000 square feet or more. Votes on the ordinance were held several times after a new Tennessee law was signed by Gov. Bill Lee in April. The law bans local governments from regulating the “use, disposition, or sale of an auxiliary container.” Now, the council is waiting for a legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office on whether or not Memphis’ amended ordinance would violate the law. LINK

Hardaway has ‘zero confidence’ in special prosecutor handling email case (Daily Memphian) Saying he has “zero confidence” in the district attorney selected to investigate a case involving House Speaker Glen Casada’s office and an African-American activist, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway is calling for a new process to select special prosecutors. The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference chose Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott to determine whether Casada’s former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, tried to frame activist Justin Jones with an altered email showing he violated a no-contact order in late February. LINK

Rep. Jay Reedy announces bid for speaker (TN Journal) Rep. Jay Reedy is the latest candidate for succeed Glen Casada as House speaker. In a letter to colleagues, the Erin Republican speaks out against “self indulgence and moral corruption.” “We turn our backs on our country and family when we come to Capitol Hill and forget why we are elected,” he writes. Reedy joins Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, and Curtis Johnson of Clarksville as announced candidates for speaker. Others considering bids include Reps. Cameron Sexton of Crossville, Ryan Williams of Cookeville, and Jerry Sexton of Bean Station. LINK

Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen presides over fiery reparations hearing (Commercial Appeal) Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis presided over a heated congressional hearing Wednesday — the first in a decade — on reparations for descendants of slaves. The hearing garnered headlines from around the country, with several celebrities testifying in favor of reparations, including actor Danny Glover, Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Cory Booker, and author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others. LINK

Memphians react to slavery reparations proposal in Congress (WREG-TV) Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen was among those leading a new debate in Washington on Wednesday over reparations for slavery. Cohen led discussions on Capitol Hill related to House Bill 40, a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African-Americans. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker and actor Danny Glover testified in front of Congress. “An honest reckoning with the federal government’s role in protecting the institution of slavery has been a leading priority in my congressional career,” Cohen said. LINK

Memphis Congressman spearheads meeting pushing for slavery reparations (WMC-TV) Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen is presiding over a hearing on reparations for slavery in Washington D.C. on Wednesday morning. The hearing will look at forming a commission to study and develop reparations for slavery and a path to restorative justice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s against the idea of paying reparations. He said people alive today should not be paying compensation for something that happened 150 years ago. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation,” McConnell said. LINK

Ballad Health CEO responds to criticism from Federal Trade Commission panel (WCYB-TV) After members of a Federal Trade Commission panel expressed criticisms of the Ballad Health merger and its oversight, the health system’s chief executive is defending the decision to unite Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System and says early results are positive. Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine said the panel discussion, held in Washington on Tuesday, didn’t showcase “a lot of data or facts.” “It’s certainly easy to make Ballad a target,” Levine told WCYB. “We knew the decisions that had to be made were hard decisions. We always said we would rather make those decisions locally, as hard as they are.” LINK

Eastman to acquire Spanish yarn manufacturer (Kingsport Times-News) Eastman Chemical Co. announced Wednesday that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Industrias del Acetato de Celulosa S.A. (INACSA), a Spanish producer of cellulosic yarn. The INACSA yarn business and assets are expected to support continued growth of Naia cellulosic yarn for the apparel market and will become part of the global Fibers segment supply base. “With the acquisition of INACSA, Eastman gains a well-respected yarn producer and a European site that will enhance our ability to support the global textiles supply chain,” said Brad Lich, executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “We look forward to welcoming the INACSA employees to the Eastman team.” LINK

Girls Rule technology camp teaches computer science (Kingsport Times-News) From learning the basics of electrical circuits to operating a computer-controlled caterpillar, computer science was front and center for some area rising fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade girls this week.The girls also got to take apart computers and put them back together. Well, at least they almost got the machines back together on Monday at Northeast State Community College’s Basler Library, where partially reconstructed machines were gathered on the main level. It is all part of the second annual Girls Rule Technology Summer Camp, held from Monday through Thursday at Northeast’s Blountville campus. LINK

OPINION

Column: As 2020 Presidential Hopefuls Debate Criminal Justice Reform, The Most Important Action Is In States (Forbes.com) The First Step Act, the the criminal justice reform bill enacted by President Donald Trump last year with bipartisan support, is beginning to take effect … Take Tennessee, where Governor Bill Lee (R) and Volunteer State lawmakers had a productive 2019 legislative session, enacting reforms to expand school choice and provide more tax relief. While it didn’t get as much media coverage as the education reform bills, Governor Lee and Tennessee lawmakers also built upon the state’s criminal justice reform record this year. Governor Lee made clear early on that criminal justice reform would be a priority for his administration, mentioning it during the January State of the State Address that outlined his first year agenda. LINK

Column: Tennessee’s Voting Problem (Nashville Scene) Democracy is government by those who show up … Then there’s the new law that allows the state to charge voter registration groups with misdemeanors and levy penalties of up to $10,000 for various registration violations.  After Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law, two federal lawsuits were filed challenging the law as unconstitutionally overbroad and vague and seeking to enjoin its enforcement. Earlier this month, the state filed motions to dismiss the suits on procedural and standing grounds. LINK

George Korda: Tennessee’s new cellphone law is a bad connection (News Sentinel) The less-intrusive and smaller-government Tennessee Republican legislature nevertheless finds ways to be more intrusive and bigger. The most recent: the legislation — passed into law and signed by Gov. Bill Lee — that on July 1, 2019, will make it illegal while driving to hold a cellphone in your hand. Here’s what it does, as the Tennessean reported: “A driver’s first violation will result in a $50 fine. If the violation is the driver’s third offense or it results in a wreck, the fine jumps to $100. If the violation occurs in a work zone when workers are present or in a school zone when warning flashers are on, the fine is $200.” LINK

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