Friday, November 8

Lee announces $25M in vocational education grants (TN Journal) Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is announcing $25 million in grants under his vocational education initiative, a major part of the Republican’s campaign platform last year. Here’s the release: Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced projects receiving funding through the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program which prioritizes learning opportunities in rural counties and enhances career and technical education statewide. LINK

TCAT-Elizabethton awarded $1 million from governor’s GIVE program (Johnson City Press) Two major new initiatives at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Elizabethton just received the funds needed to complete the projects, thanks to a $1 million grant. The Advanced Manufacturing Program that the school has been working to create should be completed with a portion of the grant, according to Danny O’Quinn, vice president of TCAT-Elizabethton. O”Quinn said the rest of the grant will go to complete the setup of the first two STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) labs at high schools in the area. LINK

“GIVE” grants to provide $25 million across the state (WBBJ-TV) Colleges across the state have been slated to receive funding through Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education. Early in 2019 the General Assembly approved $25 million for the governor’s budget to for the program to prioritize career and technical education in economically distressed and at-risk counties, according to a news release. The GIVE program will be providing grants to projects in low income and at risk areas across Tennessee, the release says. LINK

Columbia State receives $841,000 grant for cyber defense program (Columbia Daily Herald) Columbia State Community College will receive $841,320 from the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education Act, it was announced Thursday. The money will allow Columbia State to purchase a mobile unit to assist in teaching cyber defense courses in Williamson County Schools. This mobile unit will be a high-tech, transformable classroom that will offer traditional seating and areas for students to brainstorm and work in teams. LINK

‘Don’t Drive Drowsy’ sign dedicated in memory of Germantown teen (WMC-TV) Drivers may see new signs popping up around the city of Germantown. A family that knows the effects drowsy driving first-hand is raising awareness with signs that say “Don’t Drive Drowsy.” … Tennessee Governor Bill Lee proclaimed November as Drowsy Driving Awareness Month. This month, eight of the “Don’t Drive Drowsy” signs will go up around Germantown in memory of Kiihnl. LINK

Reinforcements to cut wait times at two Memphis driver’s license testing centers (Daily Memphian) The Department of Safety and Homeland Security will add personnel to two Memphis driver’s license testing centers to cut wait times, which averaged nearly an hour this fall, as the state copes with issuing federally required Real IDs. Department of Motor Vehicle centers on East Shelby Drive and Summer Avenue are among 10 of Tennessee’s busiest centers statewide set to receive 29 new examiners by Nov. 11, according to Commissioner Jeff Long. An additional 26 examiners will start work at the sites within two weeks, for a total of 55 this year. The department is requesting 80 more positions, a $7.7 million expense, for its driver services division in fiscal 2021 as part of a $1.87 billion spending proposal. LINK

Top Tennessee Republicans open to bolstering state’s campaign finance laws (Tennessean) Tennessee’s campaign finance system was set up nearly three decades ago after a massive corruption probe that led to nearly 80 indictments. Although there have been some minor changes to the state’s campaign finance system since then, for the most part lawmakers have avoided making wholesale changes to bolster the laws. But after a judge’s recent ruling that calls into question the effectiveness of the state’s campaign finance system, Tennessee lawmakers could consider making changes … Gov. Bill Lee said he would be open to such talks, as well. LINK

Jackson-Madison County School Board holds monthly meeting (WBBJ-TV) It was a full agenda for school board members, hammering out issues for the Jackson-Madison County School System. Thursday’s school board meeting began with the public voicing their concerns regarding a recent incident involving a school resource officer’s use of force on a student … The school board also announced that Governor Bill Lee awarded $400,000 to start work on the district’s Workforce Development Center, which will be located at Early College High. LINK

Long hours’ and ‘all hands on deck’ as TennCare faces Medicaid block grant deadline (WKRN-TV) The state agency responsible for the health care of one-point four million Tennesseans says its “all hands on deck” to meet a critical deadline. TennCare must submit its controversial block grant waiver by November 20th to change how it gets money from the federal government for the state’s Medicaid program. TennCare gets a lot of attention here because it takes up nearly a quarter of the annual state budget. “We are committed. There will not be eligibility cuts. There won’t be benefit limits put on as a result of this,” said TennCare director Gabe Roberts this week at Governor Bill Lee’s state budget hearings. LINK

As more new moms are dying, state looks to combat the issue with expanded coverage (AP) An overwhelming majority of all Tennessee’s maternity deaths in 2017 could have been prevented, according to a new report released Tuesday that was commissioned to address the state’s high maternal deaths. “We dedicate this report with deepest sympathy and respect to the memory of these women who died while pregnant or within a year of their pregnancies,” Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said in a statement. LINK

State officials push for expansion of postpartum health coverage (WMC-TV) Some Tennessee state officials want to expand postpartum health insurance for low-income women. According to The Tennessean, TennCare deputy director Stephen Smith wants to expand the program’s current two-month coverage to an entire year. Smith says the change was inspired after 52 Tennessee women died in 2017, within a year of giving birth. TennCare estimates that the change could help an extra 6,500 women. Officials are proposing a three-year pilot of the expansion. LINK

Tennessee law enforcement receives millions in grants to fight crime (WTVF-TV) Mid-state police were given a big boost by the federal government with $90 million given to Tennessee law enforcement agencies to help fight crime. The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the grants to several state and local agencies. The funding will go towards a variety of resources and programs including technology in crime labs and mental health help for officers. LINK

New Department of Justice Funding Will Bolster Mental Health Resources for Tennessee Police (WPLN Radio) The Department of Justice awarded nearly $95 million Thursday to improve public safety in Tennessee. The money will support a range of law enforcement programs, from DNA testing to victim support services. One major focus for this latest batch of funding is the mental health of police officers. Peer support programs have grown increasingly popular among law enforcement agencies across the country — including the Metro Nashville Police Department — because they bring fellow officers together to help each other through their toughest moments. LINK

Washington County seeks grants for industrial park (Johnson City Press) Economic development officials are applying for a number of state grants they say will build on recent success at the Washington County Industrial Park. Alicia Summers, vice president of business development for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, said Thursday that Ebm-pabst coming to Washington County as part of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement has helped pave the way for funding to expand the industrial park. “When we landed the Starlight project (Ebm-pabst), it opened doors for other opportunities with the state,” Summers told members of the county’s Commercial, Industrial and Agriculture Committee. LINK

Report: Shelby County Should Be Focus of TANF Fund Surplus (Memphis Flyer) Shelby County should be the spending focus for the state’s massive $571 million surplus of unused federal funds aimed to help low-income families, according to the organization that discovered the surplus. Two weeks ago, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Nashville-based, free-market think tank issued a report called “Poverty to Prosperity: Reforming Tennessee’s Public Assistance Programs.” The report found that Tennessee spends only a fraction of the federal funds it gets to fund Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) programs here. LINK

4th Tennessee death row inmate selects electric chair (AP) A Tennessee death row inmate has selected electrocution for his upcoming execution, a move that would make him the fourth person in the state to choose that method over lethal injection since last year. The Department of Correction confirmed Thursday that Lee Hall, formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr., requested the electric chair for the scheduled Dec. 5 execution. In Tennessee, the state’s primary execution method is lethal injection but inmates can choose electrocution if they were convicted of crimes before January 1999. Hall was convicted of killing Traci Crozier in 1991 in Chattanooga. He set her car on fire while she was still inside. LINK

Tennessee and Virginia have fewer vaping regulations than some states (WJHL-TV) Lawmakers in Virginia and Tennessee are under pressure to respond to what many are calling a vaping epidemic. This comes amid a surge in youth use and an ongoing investigation of more than 2 thousand reported cases of a “vaping-related respiratory illness” that’s resulted in at least 39 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has said products containing illicit THC have been linked to most cases but many different substances are still under investigation. Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said he’s expecting vaping regulation to be a focus next session. LINK

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann talks about the Opioid crisis. (WDEF-TV) Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and the Focus Centers of Chattanooga are teaming up to help fight the nationwide Opioid crisis. Fleischmann spoke on what the government is doing financially to help support states and their cities to fight the disease. Fleischmann believes one of the best ways to keep someone from relapsing is for them to get a job.“I think as a society, we have to realize that addiction is a disease. If someone has that problem, it is a disease that requires treatment, requires ongoing treatment. So, we need to move to de-stigmatize that and one of the best ways to do that is to get that person a job,” says representative Chuck Fleischmann. LINK

Congressman Roe and shelter director weigh in on new animal cruelty law (Johnson City Press) Legislators passed a bill Tuesday that makes certain types of animal cruelty and torture a federal felony. The U.S. Senate passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act unanimously two weeks after the House of Representatives passed the legislation by a voice vote. The legislation would expand existing federal laws on “animal crushing” videos that depict the deadly, often prolonged torture of animals and would make the acts themselves a federal crime. LINK

Who Will Betray Trump? (Politico) Donald Trump knows there are potential traitors in his midst. His presidency could depend on keeping them at bay.From the moment Francis Rooney expressed alarm to his House colleagues that Donald Trump might have abused presidential power in his dealings with Ukraine—and more dramatically, that an impeachment inquiry could be warranted—the Florida Republican was a marked man … What if Lamar Alexander, the retiring statesman from Tennessee who has struggled to mask his disillusionment with Trump’s destruction of norms, decides to go out with a bang? LINK

In letter to Gov. Bill Lee, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen blasts Tennessee’s ‘gross mismanagement’ of funds for working poor families (Tennessean) U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has given Gov. Bill Lee’s office a week to provide answers on why Tennessee has not put to use more money from a federal block grant intended to help poor working families. In a letter sent to Lee on Wednesday, the Democratic congressman from Memphis criticizes the state’s substantial reserve of unused funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. Those surplus TANF funds total more than $732 million, the most of any state in the nation. LINK

Tennessee congressman seeks answers on welfare surplus (AP) U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee is demanding answers from Republican Gov. Bill Lee surrounding a large funding surplus from a federal welfare program for families with children. In a letter sent this week, the Memphis Democrat said he wants to know the state’s plan for addressing its $732 million in welfare reserves. He also demanded that the state justify why Tennessee has some of the lowest cash-assistance benefit levels in the country. “When 15.3 percent of Tennesseans are living in poverty, it is inexcusable for the state to withhold millions of federal dollars allocated to help this exact population. LINK

Cohen seeks answers from governor on ballooning reserve for needy (Daily Memphian) As Republican Gov. Bill Lee takes a measured approach to spending $733 million in reserve funds for low-income families, Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is demanding the money go toward people in need. The Memphis congressman sent Lee a letter this week demanding answers about the state’s decision to keep hundreds of millions of dollars from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in reserve. A Beacon Center report shows the unobligated TANF balance at $733 million, a figure that ballooned after Tennessee spent only $71 million of its $190 million federal allocation in fiscal 2018. LINK

Sales Of Hemp Products Take Off In Tennessee, But No One Is Checking What’s Inside (WPLN Radio) Hemp farming in Tennessee is growing exponentially. The crop is used to make lotions, fabric, cooking oil and of course, CBD. But the number of companies processing hemp hasn’t kept up with the growth, and neither have the regulations. Corinne Kennedy, a reporter with the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, has been digging into the hemp industry in Tennessee, and she talked to WPLN’s Jason Moon Wilkins to help us understand more. LINK

OPINION

Otis Sanford: The negative news keeps coming from the Tennessee legislature (WATN-TV) Local 24 News political analyst and commentator Otis Sanford shares his point of view on the latest federal investigation involving State Rep. Brian Kelsey. The Tennessee legislature spent the majority of this year preoccupied with scandal. Most of it involved former Republican House speaker Glen Casada, who was forced out of that job by members of his own party for a laundry list of bad behavior. But the negative news just keeps on coming. Now we’ve learned that Republican state Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown is under federal investigation for possible campaign finance violations. And this is no petty partisan inquiry. We’re talking about FBI agents asking lots of questions about money changing several hands, to support Kelsey’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2016. LINK

Column: Marsha Blackburn is wrong: Public transit will take you home from the hospital (Tennessean)  I once considered Twitter a play toy for people who didn’t take things too seriously. It did not, in other words, represent real life. But if a certain person, a native of New York who moved to Washington, D.C., has made anything clear in recent years, it is that while Twitter may indeed be a play toy, it is most definitely real life. This column isn’t about Twitter, though; it is about what U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn chose to tweet about last Sunday that caught my attention and spurred me to take an excavator to the wall that once separated this column from Twitter provocations. LINK

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