Tuesday, September 10

Gov. Bill Lee’s health care task force prepares to meet, draft policy (AP) Gov. Bill Lee’s health care task force is hoping to introduce legislation to improve telemedicine throughout Tennessee in time for the 2020 legislation session. Finance and Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, chairman of the governor’s panel, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he hopes to have several ideas ready to pitch to the GOP-controlled statehouse, but first the panel must formally meet. “This next session there’s going to be some legislation we need to be prepared to engage in and discuss,” McWhorter said. “But just as important, we want to be looking at what does this (task force) look like over the next, hopefully, seven years, definitely the next three years, and really start to build a strategy around the short-term goals, the midterm and long-term.” LINK

Gov. Lee, TN First Lady to visit East Tennessee this week (WATE-TV) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and First Lady Maria Lee are heading to East Tennessee this week. First Lady Maria Lee is making a stop in East Tennessee Monday. She’ll be visiting Unicoi and Cocke counties to participate in a clean-up effort and serve at a non-profit. This month, Tennessee state parks partnered with Lee to host Tennessee serves volunteer events in parks across the state. Her first stop will be at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park in Unicoi County. Lee will then travel to Newport to serve at Empower Cocke County, a local nonprofit that facilitates positive life change through faith-based skill-building and workforce development training. LINK

TN First Lady Maria Lee visits Rocky Fork State Park for cleanup Monday (WJHL-TV) Tennessee’s first lady, Maria Lee, visited our region ahead of her husband’s arrival Tuesday for a Regional Economic Forum at East Tennessee State University. Maria Lee participated in a cleanup effort at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park in Flag Pond. That cleanup started at 11 a.m.  LINK

U.S. News college rankings are out: Vanderbilt slips overall as UT jumps among public universities (Tennessean) Vanderbilt again ranked among the top schools in U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of the best universities, with the school tied at No. 15 among national universities and ranked No. 7 among schools with the best value. The ranking marked a modest drop for Vanderbilt (from 14 to 15) in the past year, but the University of Tennessee saw its ranking among public universities increase from No. 52 in the 2019 rankings to No. 44 this year. U.S. News ranks colleges and universities annually based on factors including graduation rate, class size, per-student spending on instruction and educational expenses and a school’s undergraduate academic reputation. LINK

UT Martin among best nursing programs (WBBJ-TV) Three nursing programs in West Tennessee are making a big statement. “We have 100% job placement rate at graduation or within three months of graduation,” Dr. Mary Radford, department chair of the University of Tennessee at Martin Nursing Department said. “For 15 years, we have had that. So, our students don’t have any problems finding jobs.” UT Martin’s nursing program has been ranked by RNcareers.org as the No. 1 nursing program in the country. Dr. Mary Radford at UT Martin says part of the reason for that is starting the program sophomore year instead of junior year. LINK

Block grant plan affecting 1.4 million TennCare enrollees expected mid-September (WATN-TV) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee hopes to soon see the first draft of a plan affecting the health care of 1,400,000 Tennesseans. Soon after that it will be the public’s turn to provide input to what is called a block grant from the federal government for the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare. If approved by the federal government, the Medicaid block grant of several billion dollars yearly would be the nation’s first. LINK

Key TDOT official to lead California’s transportation department (Nashville Business Journal) One of the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s key officials is headed to California. Toks Omishakin, who heads up TDOT’s environment and planning division, has been named director of the California Department of Transportation, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced last week. Omishakin needs approval from the California State Senate before starting his new role. Omishakin is a well-known and respected voice in Greater Nashville’s transit debate, having served as Metro’s multimodal transportation coordinator under former Mayor Karl Dean. LINK

End Slavery TN hosts Cyntoia Brown’s attorney Charles Bone (Brentwood Home Page) At the Brentwood Country Club Saturday, End Slavery Tennessee held a benefit dinner that featured attorney Charles Bone, who represented child sex trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown. About 40 people gathered to hear Bone’s story about representing Brown at the event, which was called A Voice for the Oppressed. Brown was originally sentenced to life in prison after she was convicted of the 2004 killing a 43-year-old man who had picked her up for sex when she was 16. LINK

Attorneys General Launch Probe of Google (WSJ) Google’s dominance raises troubling concerns for businesses and consumers, according to a bipartisan group of attorneys general representing almost every state who launched an antitrust investigation of the search giant Monday … Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, also a Republican, said he was troubled that Google had acquired companies that might otherwise have become rivals down the road, and questioned whether Google had used its data advantages to forestall competition. LINK

Judge denies state request to dismiss voter registration lawsuit (Daily Memphian) A federal judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by four groups challenging a new voter registration law packed with penalties for turning in incomplete forms. In a ruling filed Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger rejected the state’s arguments for terminating the lawsuit filed by the NAACP, Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities, The Equity Alliance and the Andrew Goodman Foundation. LINK

Judge Denies State’s Request to Dismiss Voter Registration Lawsuit (Memphis Flyer) A federal judge denied the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit Monday that challenges a new state law that would put substantial requirements in place for groups that participate in voter registration efforts. Judge Aleta Trauger for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee said that the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee and the Campaign Legal Center and Fair Elections Center, will proceed. LINK

Federal judge weighs in on voter registration practices (WMC-TV) Monday a federal judge weighed in on how Tennesseans can register people to vote. At issue is a state law penalizing groups if too many voters sign up with incorrect information. This all started last year when a slew of paid workers with the Tennessee Black Voter Project turned in thousands upon thousands of voter registration forms. The effort overwhelmed election offices across the state. LINK

Federal judge rules lawsuits against Tennessee voter registration law can move forward (WATN-TV) A federal judge Monday refused to dismiss a legal challenge to test Tennessee’s new voter registration laws taking effect next month. The judge harshly criticized the law which fines groups up to $10,000 for submitting substantial numbers of incomplete voter registration forms. The bill also outlaws out-of-state poll watchers. LINK

Lawsuits against Tennessee voter registration law can move forward, federal judge rules (Tennessean) A “punitive regulatory scheme.” That’s how a federal judge described a bill passed this year by the Tennessee legislature, which created a series of new mandates for voter registration groups in the state  and the threat of civil and criminal penalties if they don’t comply. Federal Judge Aleta Trauger issued a ruling Monday that denies the state’s motion to dismiss two lawsuits filed by several civil rights and voter registration organizations, which came promptly after Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law. LINK

Despite dismissals, Tennessee’s refugee resettlement lawsuit against the federal government continues (Tennessean) Despite being dismissed by a federal appeals court, Tennessee’s three-year battle against the federal government over refugee resettlement remains active.  Last week, attorneys hired on behalf of the state filed a petition to ask the full 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to consider a lawsuit that members of the appellate court dismissed in July.  The Tennessee legislature initiated the lawsuit after passing a resolution in 2016 while seeking to require the federal government to pay for all costs associated with the refugee resettlement program. LINK

Tennessee lawmaker says he supports getting rid of higher education (AP) A Republican Tennessee lawmaker says he supports getting rid of higher education because he argues it would cut off the “liberal breeding ground.” Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield called for eliminating higher education while speaking about attending a recent abortion legislative hearing on his conservative radio talk show on Sept. 2. Roberts specifically called out one activist who testified in favor of protecting abortion rights. He asserted, without evidence, that the woman’s beliefs were a “product of higher education” and claimed that getting rid of higher education would “save America.” LINK

State Representative John Holsclaw promotes distracted driving bill (Elizabethton Star) State Representative John Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton) today promoted the success of House Bill 164 which addresses distracted driving in communities across our state. The measure expands the offense of holding cellphones while driving from school zones to statewide implementation. The overall goal of the initiative is to improve public safety by reducing instances of distracted driving. LINK

DeBerry, White straddle line in Medicaid expansion vs. block grant debate (Daily Memphian) Memphis state Reps. John DeBerry and Mark White are firmly entrenched in the middle of Tennessee’s argument over expanding healthcare services. Some could argue they’re sitting on the fence politically when it comes to seeking a Medicaid block grant in contrast to taking a billion dollars annually from the federal government for TennCare to catch some 300,000 people in a coverage gap. DeBerry, a Memphis Democrat criticized by some in his caucus for siding with Republicans on major issues, recently signed a House Democratic Caucus initiative to consider Medicaid expansion during the Aug. 23 special session when the body elected a new speaker. LINK

Lawmaker says ‘someone needs to be fired’ over letter sent to school parents (Daily Memphian) Letters being distributed to families in dozens of Tennessee schools are creating a stir among education advocates who worry the content of the correspondence could end up harming the very students intended to be helped. The letters inform parents that, based on state systems for rating school performance, their school has been targeted to receive additional federal resources and support because a historically underserved group of students within the school is in the state’s bottom 5% for that group. And based on guidance provided to districts by the state Education Department, most districts are telling parents which student group or groups are struggling. LINK

County commission votes to name Mack Hatcher bridge after late Rep. Charles Sargent (Tennessean) The Williamson County Commission voted to name a bridge on the Mack Hatcher Parkway Northwest Extension after the late Rep. Charles Sargent, who spent much of his 22-year legislative career bringing the project to fruition. The extension is currently under construction. The commission’s vote marks the first hurdle in gaining official approval to name the state-owned bridge in honor of Sargent. On Tuesday, the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen will hear the resolution. After that, it will be presented to the Tennessee General Assembly for final approval. LINK

Former Senator Jim DeMint and Congressman Scott Perry meet conservatives in Brentwood (Brentwood Home Page) Former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and Pennsylvania Congressman Scott Perry visited a Brentwood home on Friday morning for a political coffee meetup with local influential conservative supporters and voters including several women’s groups from across Middle Tennessee. Debbie Meadows and Polly Jordan, wives of North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows and Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan respectively, joined DeMint and Perry to tell supporters about the work done by President Trump and his administration to promote conservative values, and the challenges of serving as the spouse of a representative in the current political climate. LINK

Blackburn to stay neutral in GOP primary for U.S. Senate (TN Journal) First-year U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn plans to stay on the sidelines of the Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander. Speaking to The Tennessee Journal before Bill Hagerty joined the race, Blackburn said she expected the former U.S. ambassador to Japan to be “a fabulous candidate” if he got in. Also running for the GOP nomination is Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi. Blackburn noted Hagerty has the benefit of President Donald Trump’s endorsement. “As the president said when he kind of outed him,  he will have the president’s full support,” Blackburn said. LINK

rmer U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty Confirms Run For U.S. Senate (WPLN Radio) Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty officially launched his bid for U.S. Senate Monday, confirming a campaign that he’d been keeping quiet about despite President Donald Trump’s announcing it for him in a tweet in July. Hagerty, a longtime ally of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Tennessee’s economic and community development commissioner under Gov. Bill Haslam, immediately moved to nationalize the race. LINK

Hagerty makes U.S. Senate run official (Nashville Post) Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, officially entered the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Monday, a move long expected of the man already endorsed by President Donald Trump. Hagerty’s campaign filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Monday morning. A former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic Development and a fundraiser for Trump’s presidential campaign, Hagerty stepped down as ambassador in July amid widespread speculation he would seek the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. LINK

Hagerty enters U.S. Senate race with heavy dose of Trump (Daily Memphian) Citing President Donald Trump’s endorsement, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty entered the 2020 U.S. Senate race’s Republican primary Monday morning. Hagerty, 60, who left the ambassadorship recently after a Trump tweet this summer endorsing his potential candidacy, mentioned the president’s name seven times in a short media spot released to announce his bid, making official what was expected weeks ago. The businessman and former commissioner of Tennessee Economic and Community Development under Gov. Bill Haslam, Hagerty played on some of the president’s favorite themes, including taking a shot at four minority women in Congress targeted by Trump as unfriendly to America. LINK

Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty launches U.S. Senate bid (Tennessean) Two months after President Donald Trump endorsed him, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty is officially launching a bid to be Tennessee’s next U.S. Senator. In an exclusive interview with The Tennessean, Hagerty announced his campaign Monday, while releasing a video in which he calls himself an experienced conservative family man. “What I’ve seen coming out of Washington is a great threat to economy but more importantly, it’s a threat to our conservative Tennessee values,” he said, pointing to the “liberal, social agenda” being pushed by Democrats. LINK

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler visits Chattanooga, releases national report and touts work at Southside Lead Site (Times Free Press) Speaking in Chattanooga Monday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler released the final report of the national Superfund Task Force, detailing the U.S. government’s official plan to remediate America’s most toxic locations. The announcement came at a new community park in the heart of the Southside Chattanooga Lead Site, where contaminated soil has plagued residents for a century across eight neighborhoods. The site serves as a beacon of success for the Superfund program, according to Wheeler. LINK

During Chattanooga visit, EPA chief says stricter mileage standards hurt new car sales and safety (Times Free Press) The Trump administration’s plan to scale back the higher mileage standards for new cars proposed under the Obama administration is safer and more environmentally friendly because the lower standards will encourage more new car sales, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday. “We want to encourage people to buy new cars,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said during a visit to a Superfund site in Chattanooga on Monday. “Older cars are worse for the environment and for public safety.” LINK

EPA Administrator visits Southside to talk SuperFund (WDEF-TV)  It’s been a little over a year since the Environmental Protection Agency put Southside Chattanooga lead site on the Superfund National Priorities List. Today we are learning how much progress has been made.News 12 Now Taylor Bishop joins us live in studio with the latest. “We believe that a site on the National Priorities list so be just that, a National priority.” LINK

Nashville Health Care Exec Top Contender For Trump’s Medicare Innovation Chief (WPLN Radio) The co-founder of a Nashville health care startup is reportedly the top contender to oversee innovation for Medicare and Medicaid. Politico has reported the Trump Administration is on the verge of hiring Brad Smith, whose career has straddled both health care and politics. Brad Smith helped a statewide education nonprofit with former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist. Then he co-founded a palliative care company with Frist, called Aspire Health. Frist says Smith is a good fit for the innovation arm of Medicare and Medicaid. “Brad is in the business of providing ideas and practical solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems,” Frist tells WPLN. LINK

What’s the trade war doing to Tennessee? Nothing good, UT scholar says (News Sentinel) President Donald Trump’s trade war with China is starting to hurt Tennessee business and consumers, says a University of Tennessee economic forecaster. Tariffs raise the cost of goods and services for American businesses and consumers, but the failure to speedily resolve the trade dispute is having a growing psychological impact on investors and managers, said Matt Murray, associate director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research. “We have only anecdotes at this time, but businesses appear to be pulling back on their investment plans,” he said. LINK

Fred’s Inc. files for bankruptcy, closing retail stores (AP) Discount retail and pharmacy chain Fred’s Inc. is filing for bankruptcy and closing its stores over the next two months. The Memphis, Tennessee-based company said in a statement Monday that it has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and has begun liquidation sales at all of its retail locations. The company said it expects to continue fulfilling prescriptions at most of its pharmacy locations, while pursuing the sale of its pharmacies. Fred’s has filed a motion with U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking up to $35 million for a financing agreement with certain lenders. LINK

Inside Fred’s latest SEC filing: Real estate sales, consultant contracts, Dallas (Memphis Business Journal) After more than 70 years of operations, Fred’s is nearing its curtain call. Earlier today, Sept. 9, Fred’s Inc. issued a press release that detailed how the company was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and noted that all remaining stores are expected to close within the next 60 days. Joe Anto, Fred’s CEO, referred to this action as the “orderly wind-down of its operations.” Shortly after the release was issued, a Fred’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was posted. LINK

Discount Retailer Fred’s Will Liquidate in Bankruptcy (WSJ) Discount retailer Fred’s Inc. has filed for bankruptcy protection and will shut down all of its stores after trying unsuccessfully for more than a year to turn around the company. The 72-year-old company, which filed for chapter 11 Monday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., has begun liquidation sales and said in court papers it expects to close all of its remaining retail stores in the next 60 days. LINK

Randy Boyd comes to Collegedale to award Dog park grant (WDEF-TV) The Collegedale Dog Park is getting some major new upgrades coming soon. The Dog Park received a 25 thousand dollar grant from the Boyd Foundation. The grant comes from winning the dog park dash competition. Collegedale competed against 60 cities across the state to win the grant. One of the goals of the competition is to help make Tennessee the most pet friendly state in the U.S. They plan to give out a total of 100 dog parks in a span of 3 years. LINK


Guest column: University of Tennessee will focus on service to mark 225 years of Volunteers (Tennessean) The University of Tennessee’s first Extension agent was a former schoolteacher who began rural outreach in 1910. Virginia Moore was a fearless pioneer. She led food preparedness efforts during World War I and taught thousands of young women how to grow and preserve their own food. She leveraged her expertise and her position at the university to completely transform education and agriculture across the state of Tennessee. More than a century later, I am inspired by her service and her stunning example of the impact we can make — as an institution and as individuals. LINK

Frank Cagle: Horse industry must ‘clean up the mess’ (KnoxTNToday) Attendance at the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville week before last was estimated to be at a 50-year low. The U.S. House recently passed a bill to stop the torture of Walking Horses by a margin of 333-96. These two events are not unrelated. But the horse abusers can take heart that the bill has to pass the U.S. Senate and Walking Horse owners and trainers have a friend in Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Alexander has joined with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, both of Kentucky, to sponsor a weaker bill that waters down the protections of the House bill. More on McConnell later. LINK

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