Friday, November 22

Hancock, Hawkins schools to share in vocational funds through GIVE grant (Rogersville Review) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Nov. 7, 2019, 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. Five Rivers Partnership for Future Ready Pathways, through the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Morristown, was awarded a $1 million grant. LINK

LMU opens West Knox med school (KnoxTNToday) Gov. Bill Lee will be in Knoxville Friday, Dec. 6, for the grand opening of  the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University-Knoxville. The school at 9737 Cogdill Road enrolled its inaugural class on July 29. LMU Board of Trustees, administration, students, faculty and staff will attend the ceremony from 11-11:30 a.m. The community is invited. As an additional location, DCOM at LMU-Knoxville offers the same four-year, full-time academic and clinical curriculum granting the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. LINK

State appropriates millions of dollars for rural counties (Mountain City Tomahawk) Johnson County among at-risk and distressed counties to receive funding to spark workforce development. A recent press release from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce announced that the state of will be using millions of dollars in grant money to help the nearly four dozen distressed and at-risk counties across Tennessee. “The aim is to bolster workforce development efforts,” the release stated, adding that the funding was approved by the Tennessee Workforce Development Board and aligns with Governor Bill Lee’s rural initiatives. LINK

Woman accused of lying about having custody of children to receive TennCare benefits (WZTV-TV) A Shelby County is accused of falsely reporting she had custody of her three children to appear eligible for TennCare. Kristine Boling was charged with TennCare fraud and theft of property, according to the Office of Inspector General. Investigators say she did not have custody of her children. “The TennCare program is designed to help those who rightfully qualify,” Inspector General Kim Harmon said. “The Office of Inspector General will continue to pursue individuals who lie and misrepresent their household to receive benefits they are not entitled to. It is our duty to ensure that Tennessee taxpayers’ money is being used for the right purposes.” LINK

HBCUs in Tennessee at risk of not getting federal funding (WTVF-TV) Tennessee is home to several Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Fisk University and Tennessee State University. Several HBCUs like them rely on federal funding that both parties in Washington agree on. But gridlock between two competing bills has stalled future funding for the schools. House Democrats are proposing a short term fix: guaranteeing an annual payment of $225 million in federal funding for two years. LINK

In reversal, Tennessee aims to keep vouchers not taxable (AP) Reversing course, Tennessee’s Department of Education says it aims to ensure its school vouchers won’t be taxable. Department spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said Wednesday the law’s intent is that vouchers be considered scholarships not subject to taxation, and the department intends to structure the program accordingly. Officials aim to resolve confusion after Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Monday her understanding was voucher payments were taxable. A lawmaker had asked if the payments need to be reported on parents’ federal income tax filings. On Tuesday, Johnson said Schwinn meant to discuss the program’s possible “filing and issuance of federal information reporting returns.” LINK

Tennessee Officials Now Say School Vouchers Won’t Be Taxable After All (WPLN Radio) In a reversal, the Tennessee Department of Education is now saying the state’s new school voucher will not be taxable. The statement comes after Commissioner Penny Schwinn told lawmakers the opposite earlier this week. The Tennessee Department of Education says it will structure the funds distributed through the Education Savings Accounts as scholarships. That way the money — up to $7,300 per student — won’t be considered income under federal tax laws. Schwinn’s comments caused confusion when she made them during a budget hearing earlier this week. LINK

Abrupt reversal: Tennessee families won’t be taxed for using voucher money (Chalkbeat Tennessee/Daily Memphian) Reversing course, Tennessee officials say voucher money won’t be counted as federally taxable income for families who enroll their children in the state’s new program. The Department of Education released a statement Wednesday aimed at settling questions about the tax implications of receiving an education savings account under a new law championed by Gov. Bill Lee. “The intent of [the law] is that any funds distributed through education savings accounts would be considered a scholarship and therefore not subject to taxation,” said the statement, adding that the department “intends to structure the program accordingly.” LINK

Tennessee reverses course, says education savings account program won’t be federally taxed (Tennessean) Tennessee’s education department said on Wednesday it intends to structure the state’s education savings account program so it won’t be considered federally taxable income. The department in a late Wednesday statement said that the intent of the program is for it to be considered a scholarship and therefore not subject to taxation. Still, the reversal in the department’s stance on whether the program will be taxed doesn’t fully answer if the federal government will tax distributions to parents for education savings accounts. The school voucher-like program provides public money for Memphis and Nashville parents to unenroll their students from public school and enroll them in private school. LINK

How much does Tennessee spend on basketball recruiting compared to rest of SEC? (Tennessean) In Rick Barnes’ first year in Knoxville, Tennessee basketball spent more than $300,000 on recruiting for only the second time since 2005. Tennessee has produced some of the best seasons in school history since, holding a No. 1 ranking for a four-week stretch and winning 57 games in the past two seasons and a share of the 2017-18 SEC regular-season title.  According to UT athletic department financial records, the basketball program spent $308,867 on recruiting in Barnes’ first full fiscal year in Knoxville, which spanned July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. LINK

Wait times for Real IDs at the DMV are testing people’s patience (WATN-TV) Does your driver’s license have gold circle with a star in the right corner? Don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time to switch over to those state Real IDs. For those who are trying to get it out of the way, you might be faced with heavy wait times. People were tapping their feet, resting on mom, and there was the occasional phone check. It was all to kill time. LINK

Tennessee drafts rules, hires director for sports betting (AP) Tennessee is releasing proposed rules and has hired a director for its online-only sports betting program. But there’s still no indication of when people can start placing bets. At Tennessee’s first state sports betting advisory council meeting Thursday, ex-Tennessee Lottery official and current consultant Wanda Young Wilson said draft rules will be sent to council members Thursday and posted online Friday or Monday. Thirty days of public and council comment will follow before the lottery board considers the rules. Vendor applications will come next. LINK

Broken: Controversial juvenile detention facility has powerful owners (WKRN-TV) A controversial juvenile detention facility has a powerful list of owners including a current state lawmaker and a judge’s wife. NewsChannel 5 Investigates first exposed solitary confinement conditions inside the Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Maury County. But the Department of Children’s Services, which inspects and licenses the facility, insists it is in good standing. State Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, is among the owners of the facility. Other owners include Phyllis Parkes, the wife of Maury County Circuit Court Judge J. Russell Parks. LINK

Tennessee moves closer to asking Trump administration to end emissions test requirement (Tennessean) Tennessee is moving forward with its plan to eliminate emissions testing in multiple counties, and is preparing to ask the Trump administration to roll back regulations to make the change possible. The state hosted public hearings in Nashville and Chattanooga this week that moved the state one step closer to stopping annual emission tests for thousands of local drivers in Middle and East Tennessee. Next, the state will present the plan to the Air Pollution Control Board, and then the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. LINK

Tennessee Will Tighten Inspections Of Pyrotechnic Devices After Titans Near-Miss (WPLN Radio) The Tennessee Titans’ pregame festivities will no longer feature 30-foot-high bursts of flames. After an incident in September where a pyrotechnic device caught fire near fans and players, the Titans stopped using the effects, and the NFL has temporarily banned the practice league-wide. The incident has also inspired the state Fire Marshall’s Office to change its policy on pyro. Both are responding to a near-disaster: a stream of fire shooting from a fuel tank right next to the stands in Nissan Stadium, burning live on national TV. LINK

Medical debt lawsuits are ‘flooding’ Tennessee, sending the sick and poor to court (Tennessean) It started with pain in her midsection that wouldn’t go away. So Sharika Carpenter went to the hospital. In the last few years, Carpenter said, she’s been diagnosed with pancreatitis, ovarian cysts and other conditions. She’s been back to the hospital several times. And then, on Nov. 12, her illnesses brought her to Courtroom 1A in the Justice A. A. Birch Building in Nashville. She was one of several people there that morning because of unpaid debt they had racked up for medical treatments. Care provider Associated Pathologists took out a civil warrant against Carpenter for $1,105.90. LINK

House Leader wants to change name of State Legislative office building (WKRN-TV) It could be goodbye Cordell Hull and hello Winfield Dunn at Tennessee’s legislative office building. A House leader wants to rename the building for Dunn, who is the state’s oldest living governor. The building has long been named after Hull who was Tennessee’s first Nobel Prize winner. With a Winfield Dunn memoir by his side, Tennessee House Republican Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gants says he’ll file a bill to rename the legislative building after the governor who is now 92. “Always brought people together,” said Rep. Gant of Governor Dunn… “In our politics today we see such divisiveness. True statesmen. He reached out across party lines.” LINK

New movement afoot to rename Cordell Hull Building (TN Journal) State Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) wants to rename the General Assembly’s new office complex after former Gov. Winfield Dunn, reports WKRN-TV’s Chris Bundgaard. The building has been named after Cordell Hull, the country’s longest-serving secretary of state, since it was first constructed in the 1950s. Dunn is a Republican, while Nobel Peace prize-winning Hull was a Democrat. LINK

Legislators blast state commissioner over spending plan for needy (Daily Memphian) State House members hammered Department of Human Services Commissioner Danielle Barnes this week, not just for allowing a reserve fund for needy services to build up to $732 million, but for putting out a plan to spend it without asking permission. Some lawmakers accused her of going over the Legislature’s head. State Rep. John DeBerry was among those delivering the blows during a House Finance, Ways & Means budget hearing Thursday, telling Barnes he had tremendous respect for her but that her announcement for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program hurt the entire state government. LINK

A bill to repeal Tennessee’s school voucher program now has bipartisan support (Tennessean) A bill to repeal Tennessee’s controversial school voucher program now has bipartisan support after a Republican lawmaker this week signed on to the Democrat-backed legislation. Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, said he became a co-sponsor on Wednesday of a bill filed by Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, that would put a stop to the state’s education savings account program. All House Democrats except Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis, who supported ESAs, have signed on to the new legislation. LINK

Tennessee lawmakers drafting bill to raise legal age to buy e-cigs & tobacco products (WTVC-TV) A group of Tennessee lawmakers is drafting a bill that would raise the legal age to buy e-cigarettes and tobacco products in the state. Representative Robin Smith of Hixson is one of several lawmakers spearheading the effort to raise the age limit from 18 to 21 statewide. She says this will help combat tobacco products that many say are targeted at youth. “It will be a tremendous savings, not only to the health and to the life of life of kids who have been ensnared into believing these products are safe, it will also save the taxpayers a great deal of money,” said Rep. Smith. LINK

Former representative still hopeful for seat belts on buses after Woodmore crash (WRCB-TV) The Woodmore bus crash drew up a lot of conversation among lawmakers about the safety of school buses almost immediately after the crash. Former Tennessee Representative JoAnne Favors spearheaded the campaign while she was in office saying seat belts were needed on school buses.The National Transportation Safety Board also recommended adding three-point seat belts to new school buses to save lives in crashes or rollovers. But ultimately the measure didn’t gain the support it needed to become law in Tennessee. “Because I just didn’t have the support,” Favors said, “We have so many independent drivers in Tennessee and they were adamantly opposed to it.” LINK

Congressman Roe calls impeachment hearings ‘a dud’ (Johnson City Press) U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said this week’s congressional impeachment hearings have been a “major thud and a dud,” and his 1st District constituents are tuning it out. Roe told reporters on a conference call from his office in Washington, D.C., on Thursday he believes the televised committee hearings to be “a charade,” and added “most people have turned it off. They think it’s a political circus, which it is.” The congressman said witnesses who have testified before the committee this week have provided no evidence that President Donald Trump did anything wrong in his dealings with his counterpart in Ukraine. LINK

Cooper changes his mind on Green New Deal (Nashville Post) U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) now supports the Green New Deal and a new bill, the 100% Clean Economy Act, that sets a 2050 goal for net-zero global emissions. Cooper previously said that he loves “the energy and the aspiration of the Green New Deal,” but it isn’t a legislative proposal, and he’s “in the legislature business.” Since that statement, he has drawn a primary challenge from Justin Jones, a local activist who included support for the Green New Deal as a primary policy platform when he launched his campaign earlier this week. LINK

Al Gore has convinced U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper to co-sponsor the Green New Deal (Tennessean) A day after former Vice President Al Gore said he still supported U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper despite there being a more progressive candidate in the race, the congressman has flipped positions and come out in support of the Green New Deal. Cooper, D-Nashville, announced Thursday evening he will cosponsor the Green New Deal, a shift from his prior position that there were better pieces of legislation to address climate change. LINK

For Some Republicans In Tennessee, Impeachment Testimony Is Still ‘Hearsay’ (WPLN Radio) President Donald Trump still has the support of many Republicans in Tennessee. That’s amid the impeachment inquiry currently going on in Washington, D.C. 62-year-old James Lively, a retired factory worker living in Murfreesboro, is one of them. He has been paying attention to the impeachment hearings, but he doesn’t think much of them. He called the investigation a “witch hunt,” a term also used by Trump. Lively said the Democratic Party is doing this to gain momentum as we get closer to the 2020 elections. LINK

CannaBeat: Cohen Pushes ‘Landmark’ Cannabis Legislation (Memphis Flyer) When the House Judiciary Committee approved a “landmark” and “historic” cannabis reform bill yesterday, Memphis was there pushing it right along. The committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The legislation would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, reassess and expunge past cannabis convictions, and fund a series of programs to help those unduly affected by the War on Drugs. Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime cannabis advocate, voted to advance the MORE Act to the House floor. The committee vote was 24 to 10. LINK

Hagerty: ‘My expectation is to win it’ (Kingsport Times-News) Tennessee U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty said Thursday President Donald Trump will “do whatever I need him to do” during his 2020 Republican primary campaign. Trump has endorsed Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan and former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tennessee by more than 25 percentage points in 2016. Hagerty is competing against Nashville surgeon Dr. Manny Sethi and about a half-dozen other Republicans for the GOP nomination to run for the seat now held by retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander. LINK

Bill Hagerty brings U.S. Senate campaign to the Tri-Cities (WJHL-TV) Tennessee U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty may be considered the front-runner, but he says he’s consciously not acting like it. “We’re running this race like we’re ten points behind every day,” he told News Channel 11 during his first campaign stop in Johnson City since formally entering the race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. “Nobody is going to work harder than me or my team.” He says his entrance into the Republican primary race may represent a first – a candidate endorsement by a U.S. President even before the campaign even began. LINK

Clarksville ‘hasn’t intentionally dumped raw sewage into Cumberland,’ despite group’s claims (Leaf-Chronicle) Officials at Clarksville City Hall say they are prepared to mount a “vigorous defense” against a watchdog group that is reportedly threatening to sue the city over alleged sewage dumping in the Cumberland River since 2014. The environmental watchdog group is claiming that the city of Clarksville has dumped 82 million gallons of sewage into the Cumberland over the past six years, allegedly violating the Clean Water Act and the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act. The Leaf-Chronicle has reached out to the group, Tennessee Riverkeeper, to seek an explanation of its findings and how they were gathered, but no one responded as of late Wednesday. LINK

‘He’s a nice guy if you tell him the truth’ Phil Williams: Nashville’s most feared journalist (TN Ledger) Phil Williams is often described as the most feared man in local journalism. The longtime chief investigative reporter for WTVF-NewsChannel 5 has spent the last three decades in Nashville bringing down corrupt politicians, outing incompetents in public office – along with the shady machinations that put them in power in the first place – and exposing all manner of wrongdoing. The 58-year-old journo has made a career out of piling up casualties of ambitious, overreaching politicians. He was the reporter who broke the news that former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry was having an extramarital affair with her bodyguard. And in doing so, he raised questions about whether taxpayers were footing the bill for the illicit trysts. LINK

OPINION

Guest column: Tennessee’s parole board needs significant reform (Tennessean) In 2018, 16,000 individuals pleaded with the Tennessee Parole Board for a second chance at freedom at a price tag of $8.2 million. Of the 16,000 individuals who were eligible for parole, only 3,000 men and women were released. This low parole rate is the result of a steady decline over the years from a high of 58.5% in 1995-1996. Tennessee is one of the only states in the country with an increasing incarceration rate. The Tennessee Department of Correction has an annual budget of $1 billion, deemed necessary in part because fewer people are getting out to work and support our community. There are reasons for this fiscally irresponsible trend. LINK

Guest column: Tennessee Education Report Card Results Reveal Work Ahead (Commercial Appeal) At the end of October, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released 2019 results that measure the knowledge of nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading at the national, state and district levels. We should certainly take a moment to celebrate the progress we’ve made, while remembering the work is far from done. The Memphis Education Fund exists to be a strategic partner to the future of our city, county and state by fueling talent, teachers, schools and our community with the vital resources essential to build a sustainable educational community that provides every child with the highest quality of education possible. LINK

Guest column: Tennessee’s Medicaid proposal dangerous experiment on the most vulnerable (Tennessean) Americans, regardless of ZIP code or political party, agree that access to quality and affordable health care is among their top priorities. Tennesseans are no different. Yet the state has experienced one of the largest increases in the rate of uninsured residents in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau –  about one in ten Tennesseans are without coverage. Why then, are Governor Bill Lee and the state of Tennessee moving forward with a Medicaid waiver proposal that threatens health care for the state’s most vulnerable populations? LINK

Joe Rogers: Senate could use more statesmen like Howard Baker (TN Ledger) Sen. Howard Baker was a little late that day for his talk on the Ole Miss campus, but we in the audience were a forgiving lot. We knew he had some pretty important business going on back in Washington. He explained the delay when he came in. President Richard Nixon had just decided to turn over the much-debated White House tapes to a federal judge, but not to the Senate Watergate Committee, of which Baker was the vice chairman. LINK

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