Tuesday, November 26

Gov. Bill Lee in Tipton County as Comcast announces $2.4 million rural broadband expansion (WMC-TV) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, elected leaders from West Tennessee and executives from Comcast were in Tipton County Monday as Comcast announced the completion of a $2.4 million broadband expansion. “What’s happening here today is really important,” said Lee. Important enough that the governor made a trip to Covington Monday as part of Comcast’s Digital Access Forum. The gathering celebrated $2.4 million worth of broadband expansion in Tipton County, providing high speed internet to 2,200 homes and businesses that previously didn’t have it. LINK

Gov. Lee visits Tipton County, updates upgraded broadband for rural counties in TN (WATN-TV) The days of slow, unreliable internet service in Tennessee’s rural counties is more and more a thing of the past. Monday, Gov. Bill Lee updated the effort of installing broadband service to thousands of people in Tipton County. It’s part of a broader statewide connectivity effort through the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. Gov. Lee said it’s a game changer, helping families with education, strengthening the business climate, and making rural counties competitive in the 21st century. LINK

Gov. Bill Lee seeks federal disaster declaration for 10 Tennessee counties (WZTV-TV Fox 17) Gov. Bill Lee requested federal declaration today of a major disaster in Tennessee for 10 Tennessee counties. Gov. Lee’s request specifically asks the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make its Public Assistance (PA) Program available to counties affected by severe weather and straight line winds on Oct. 26 when remnants of Tropical Storm Olga crossed the state. The counties include Benton, Decatur, Hardin, Henderson, Houston, Humphreys, McNairy, Montgomery, Perry, and Wayne. LINK

TN Governor’s census group aims at count done “fairly, accurately and securely” (WKRN-TV) It happens every ten years, but the significance of the U.S.Census recently led Governor Bill Lee to create what he calls the Tennessee Complete Count Committee. While filling out census forms may be an inconvenience to some, getting everyone counted in the country plays a major role in how money is spent by local and state governments. “Our goal is to make sure everyone is counted fairly, accurately and securely,” says House Republican Leader William Lamberth who is one of more than three dozen government and civic leaders on the committee. The number of residents in towns and states is key to the coffers of the Tennessee government. LINK

Grand Divisions Episode 75: Discussing DMV Woes (Tennessean) When Congressman Jim Cooper recently tried to get his REAL ID — a new driver’s license with increased security checks — he, like many other Tennesseans, faced a long line and a challenge to prove his identity.  … Also on this episode, we break down the latest developments regarding a decision from Gov. Bill Lee’s administration to begin spending money the state saved up from a federal block grant fund. The decision, which was announced in a press release, generated consternation among lawmakers, who expressed their frustrations during House budget hearings. LINK

State hires 80 to improve wait times at busy driver’s service centers (WSMV-TV) The state heard the complaints at driver’s service centers across Tennessee and hired people to fix it. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said 80 employees have been hired, trained and are currently working at the busiest driver’s service centers around the state. “We are constantly looking to identify vacancies at high volume areas and fill them as quickly as possible,” spokesman Wesley Moster said. LINK

Tennessee open to working with private companies to issue driver’s licenses, ease wait times (Tennessean) Faced with a multitude of problems issuing driver’s licenses that date back years, including long lines and technology issues, officials in Tennessee are considering outsourcing services. Last week, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long told a legislative committee his office is looking at the issue. “We’re also exploring any kind of private partnership we can,” he told the Joint Government Operations Committee on Wednesday. “If we can get can a large chain — a business chain — that would issue REAL ID or driver’s licenses, we might contract with them.” LINK

Troopers every 20 miles: Tennessee Highway Patrol announces ‘I-40 Challenge’ (WBIR-TV) Thanksgiving week is one of America’s busiest travel times — and Tennessee Highway Patrol responds with the seventh annual “I-40 Challenge.” THP said it will assign troopers every 20 miles on I-40 for 12-hour shifts on the busiest travel days of the weekend: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. I-40 runs 2,555 miles through eight states. In Tennessee, I-40 runs for 455 miles. THP said Thanksgiving often means dozens of crashes on the interstate. In 2018, THP said there were 46 I-40 crashes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and 55 crashes on the Sunday after Thanksgiving holiday. One crash was alcohol-related. LINK

Tennessee Adopts A New Stance Toward Healthy HIV Patients (WPLN Radio) Tennessee has one of the few state health departments in the South to sign onto a global campaign known as “Undetectable = Untransmittable.” When HIV is so suppressed that it’s no longer detectable, the state won’t consider the patient a transmission risk. “We’re actually following the Centers for Disease Control’s lead,” says Dr. Pam Talley, Tennessee’s medical director for sexually transmitted diseases, referencing an August letter. “They’re the ones who’ve said there’s effectively no risk of transmission through sex” when viral counts are low. LINK

One Year Into Tennessee Reconnect Shows Early Optimism About Results (WPLN Radio) Tennessee Reconnect students took more classes last year and passed them at higher rates than comparable students who were not part of the program. That’s according to a new analysis looking at the inaugural year of Tennessee Reconnect, a free-tuition program for adult learners. The College System of Tennessee found that, on average, Reconnect students earned one credit hour more than non-Reconnect adult students. These early results indicate that the state is having some new success in bringing adults back to school to finish out a higher degree. LINK

SCS gets a mix of good and bad grades on 2018-2019 education report card (WHBQ-TV) The annual state education report card is out and it’s a mixture of good and bad news for Shelby County. During the 2018-2019 school year, the Shelby County School District saw improvements in the TNReady test scores. The state report card showed increases in math, English, and social studies scores. Education advocates say the numbers are better than last year but not as good as the state’s average. “There was a better process for TNReady this year and for the state test implementation, so hopefully we can continue that for another year and see where our students are at and really start to apply that data for better serving our students,” said Cardell Orrin. LINK

State report card for 2018-2019 school year released by Tennessee Department of Education (WTVF-TV) On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Education released its annual state report card for the 2018-2019 school year. The report aims to provide access to data and information on every school and district across Tennessee. TDOE changed the look of this year’s online dashboard for the report in an effort to make the information easier to access and more user friendly. “Our goal is to provide Tennessee families, educators, community members, and public officials with information about the schools and districts they care about in a way that makes sense,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said. “The report card is another opportunity for the department to continue seeking input, listening to feedback, and continuously improving as a result.” LINK

TDOE releases state report cards; several districts improve (WBIR-TV) Students in Knox County’s schools are performing better, according to the Tennessee Department of Education’s 2018-19 school report cards. The report measures grade schools and districts across the state.  According to the district’s report card, 39.4% of students are performing at or above grade level on state exams. That’s still less than half the students — but it’s a 1.7% increase from last year. It’s also above Tennessee’s statewide academic achievement score, which rose to 36.4%. The district’s biggest improvement was in students who are ready to graduate. LINK

State report card indicates improvements in local school district success rates (Johnson City Press) The Tennessee Department of Education released the results of its State Report Card Monday, giving local parents a closer look at each district’s key performance indicators. Johnson City Schools’ academic achievement report reflected a 56% success rate for students at or above their current grade level on exams, representing a 0.4% increase from 2018. In math, the district reported a 60.6% success rate, reflecting a 1.9% increase from 2018. However, the district recorded a 49.7% success rate in English language arts, down nearly a percentage from 2018. LINK

240 employees leave Tennessee Department of Education since February (WZTV-TV) FOX 17 News reported the concerns of three whistleblowers (one current employee, two former employees) from the Tennessee Department of Education that said the department’s reorganization is leaving several departments understaffed in what they called a “toxic” work environment. Data from the Department of Human Resources verify their claims of a high turnover rate. Since February, 240 people have left the department; of those, 149 have resigned, 33 have retired and another 54 have had involuntary terminations. LINK

Blind woman seeking TennCare benefits gets nonprofit help, case hearing (WATE-TV) A Knoxville woman is hoping a Nashville nonprofit advocacy group and a hearing will get her the needed help from TennCare she needs. Janet is blind and fighting TennCare trying to get home-based services because she lives alone. Blind from birth, Janet attended the Tennessee School for the Blind. Her parents shielded her from the outside world. Janet’s never worked. Janet has lived alone since her mother was diagnosed with dementia and was moved to a home about an hour away last December. Janet’s father died 20 years ago. LINK

An increase in Domestic Violence cases means local shelters are in need of supplies (WJHL-TV) Johnson City Family Justice Center Officials say they see a spike in the number of domestic violence cases whenever children are out of school which includes during the holiday season. Alarming statistics reveal that Tennessee ranks fifth in the nation in domestic related deaths according to data from the FBI. The Family Justice Center has two safe house, one in Johnson City and another in Kingsport. LINK

Opiate supplier being sued by Tennessee wants to keep its client list secret (News Sentinel) A pharmaceutical supplier accused by the Tennessee attorney general in a corporate conspiracy to profiteer from the opioid epidemic wants to keep its client list secret. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert L. Slatery III last month filed a lawsuit in Knox County Circuit Court against AmerisourceBergen, a pharmaceutical supplier he accuses of oversupplying pharmacies “with opioids at astounding rates” and ignoring “multiple red flags for abuse and diversion from suspect pharmacies.” The lawsuit, though, was initially filed under seal to allow the opiate distributor a chance to review it and make a pitch to keep under wraps any information the firm says is “highly confidential, proprietary or trade secret information.” LINK

Attorneys Seek Reprieve for Lee Hall (Nashville Scene) With Lee Hall’s execution date just 10 days away, the death row inmate’s attorneys are asking the governor to grant him a temporary reprieve. They want the courts to have time to fully consider their argument that one of the jurors who sentenced him to death was crucially biased. That claim focuses on the new admission by a juror that she had been raped and abused by her husband and that she “hated” Hall as a result. A Chattanooga judge last week rejected that argument and declined to reopen Hall’s case. Now, as they appeal in the courts, Hall’s attorneys — assistant post-conviction defenders Kelly Gleason and Jonathan King — are pleading with Gov. Bill Lee to delay Hall’s execution. LINK

Lee Hall attorneys ask Gov. Bill Lee to delay execution due to alleged juror bias (Times Free Press) Attorneys for a Chattanooga man on death row have asked Gov. Bill Lee to delay his execution next week in order for the courts to examine a “structural constitutional violation in his trial.” Lee Hall, who has changed his name from Leroy Hall Jr., was convicted in the April 1991 burning death of his ex-girlfriend, Traci Crozier. The 53-year-old is set to be executed on Dec. 5 and has requested to die by electrocution. Tennessee’s primary method of execution is lethal injection. His defense has embarked in a last-minute legal battle after they discovered information that they say indicates a juror was biased at his trial. LINK

Lee Hall execution: Gov. Bill Lee asked to delay death as court case moves through appeals (Tennessean) Attorneys for death row inmate Lee Hall have asked Gov. Bill Lee to intervene ahead of his scheduled execution next week. Lee Hall, 53, was convicted in the 1991 burning death of his estranged girlfriend Traci Crozier in Chattanooga. He is scheduled to die by electric chair next Thursday, Dec. 5. “The people of Tennessee deserve to have confidence that Mr. Hall received a fair trial before the State, acting in their name, imposes the final and irreversible sentence of death,” said attorneys Kelly Gleason and Jonathan King from the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender. LINK

McNally says renaming Cordell Hull Building shouldn’t be done ‘without considerable forethought and study’ (TN Journal) Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) doesn’t appear quite as eager to push through a new name for the legislative office complex as some of his House counterparts. Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) announced last week he plans to introduce legislation to name the building after former Gov. Winfield Dunn. The facility constructed in the 1950s is named after Cordell Hull, the country’s longest-serving Secretary of State. “This is not something that should be done without considerable forethought and study,” McNally told The Tennessean. McNally got his start in politics working for Dunn’s 1970 campaign for governor, calling him “a great man (and an) outstanding governor. But he also praised Hull, who was a state representative before serving in the U.S. House and Senate. LINK

Camper seeks explanation on ‘earmarked’ rural grant funds (Daily Memphian) House Minority Leader Karen Camper is delving into a rural grants fund to find out whether a list of “earmarked” projects or legislative requests exists. Her inquiry comes in the wake of allegations some $4 million was to be used as a “slush fund” to reward lawmakers who voted for the Gov. Bill Lee’s education voucher bill. In a letter to Finance & Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, Camper states: “Being the best run state in the nation means that we need to have an account of our precious state dollars, and I know that you feel that same way.” LINK

Bipartisan effort to repeal Tennessee school voucher plan emerges as Gov. Bill Lee accelerates timeline for rollout (WMC-TV) There’s now a bipartisan call to repeal Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher plan. The education savings account plan would allow public money to be used in private schools in Shelby and Davidson counties. Lee, speaking at an event in Tipton County Monday, said he wants the program to be ready for a fall 2020 rollout. A Republican state representative in northwest Tennessee has now joined an effort by Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives to get rid of Lee’s voucher plan next legislative session. It comes as Lee said he wants to accelerate the timeline for its implementation. LINK

Hagerty speaks out against minor league ‘hit list’ (TN Journal) Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty is speaking out against a plan by Major League Baseball to sever 42 minor league teams’ links to parent clubs and instead make them part of a lower-tier “Dream League” made up of undrafted or released players. Six of Tennessee’s nine minor league teams would be affected by the change, which critics fear could cause them to fold. The teams on the so-called “hit list” are the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts and Jackson Generals, and the Elizabethton Twins, Greeneville Reds, Johnson City Cardinals, and Kingsport Mets of the Rookie class Appalachian League. LINK

Mackler blasts GOP opponents for Blackburn tweet (TN Journal) Democratic U.S. Senate candidate James Mackler is criticizing his Republican opponents for being “clones” of Republican Marsha Blackburn, who was elected to the chamber last year. Mackler, a former Army helicopter pilot, took aim at comments Blackburn made about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in the congressional impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Blackburn has said she stands by a tweet that stated: “Vindictive Vindman in the ‘whistleblower’s’ handler.” Republican candidates Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi have defended the president and condemned the House probe. LINK

Rudy Giuliani says prosecutors ‘know how to contact’ him as part of any criminal investigation (Tennessean) The president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Monday he has not seen any subpoenas for records related to his consulting firm as part of a reported criminal investigation by federal prosecutors. In an interview at Nashville International Airport, where Giuliani arrived Monday evening for “a personal reason,” the former New York City mayor criticized the way prosecutors were carrying out a reported investigation into his business. Reuters reported earlier that day it had seen a copy of a grand jury subpoena seeking records of correspondence with Giuliani and his firm, Giuliani partners, as well as documents related to payments made to him. LINK

Why Middle Tennessee Hospitals And Clinics Are Doubling As Food Pantries (WPLN Radio) Doctors and nurses are starting to ask a new question when they treat low-income patients: “Do you have enough food?” And since the answer is so often “not really,” several Nashville clinics have begun stocking pantries in partnership with Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee. Connectus Health near the Nashville fairgrounds launched its pantry this month in the rear of an administrative office. It’s mostly non-perishables at the moment, though they hope to stock fresher food at some point. LINK

YMCA Property sold for nearly $7 million (WTVF-TV) A massive purchase will soon bring another change to Nashville. Giarratana Development closed on 900 Church Street today – paying 7-million dollars for the building formerly owned by the YMCA. The plan is to build a 312-unit, 30-story building for apartments and condos. It’s expected to open in 2022. Giarratana Development is responsible for other buildings like The 505, Viridian Tower, Cumberland on Church and The SoBro. LINK

Tennessee state parks host after Thanksgiving hikes (AP) Tennessee State Parks is set to build on its record-setting numbers of participants in its Signature Hike Series this year with free After Thanksgiving Hikes at all state parks on Nov. 29. The state parks, friends of the parks groups, and the Tennessee State Natural Areas will host hikes, interpretive programs and stewardship projects for all ages the day after Thanksgiving. LINK


U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander: Taking steps to preserve our national parks (Elizabethton Star) The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee I am a member of just took an important step toward passing the Restore Our Parks Act — bipartisan legislation I introduced that would be the single most important thing to happen to our National Parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in a half century. One of America’s greatest storytellers, Ken Burns, has called our country’s national parks “America’s best idea.” But today, America’s “best idea” is in trouble. Our national park system has a $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog. This means that the park system doesn’t have the money needed to maintain our parks’ roads, bridges and campgrounds. LINK

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe: Improving rural American health care (Elizabethton Star) Over the last decade, hospital closures have hit rural America hard – especially in Tennessee. During that time, 11 rural hospitals closed across Tennessee, the second highest number of closures in the nation. When a rural hospital closes, patients are left without adequate medical care, often having to travel long distances. This doesn’t just affect people’s care — it also affects employers’ decisions about whether to invest in a region. A community without access to quality health care can be set back significantly, so it is imperative that we do everything we can to improve rural American health care. LINK

Frank Cagle: Possible impeachment creates dilemma for Lamar (KnoxTNToday) Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker vaulted to national prominence while serving on the Senate Watergate Committee when he provided the thesis sentence that brought the wide-ranging investigation into focus. “What did the president know and when did he know it?” provided the context and the superstructure on which was hung a myriad of crimes and misdemeanors committed by President Richard Nixon and his henchmen. Forty-eight people eventually went to jail and Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. LINK

Otis Sanford: Blackburn, like many in GOP, puts partisan politics over quest for truth (WATN-TV) Local 24 News political analyst and commentator Otis Sanford shares his point of view on recent backlash against Marsha Blackburn over the Trump impeachment inquiry. It’s certainly no surprise that Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn would be carrying water for President Trump over the impeachment inquiry. But to do it while also attacking a decorated Army veteran is not just beneath the dignity of her office – it is shameful. But it’s clear Blackburn knows no shame when it comes to defending this President. LINK

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