Friday, January 10

Column: It’s time for some red states to do the right thing and accept refugees (Washington Post) Texas, Florida, Georgia and other states that have benefited for years from refugee admissions: You have less than two weeks left to do the right thing … . So far, about 40 governors, including more than a dozen Republicans, have done so. Some have faced significant pushback and have offered impassioned explanations for why accepting refugees is consistent with their personal values and their states’ economic interests. For instance, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, spoke movingly about his wife’s work with Kurdish refugee women whose husbands had been killed after serving as translators for the U.S. military. LINK

Gov. Lee announces GIVE Grant for TCAT Elizabethton (The Tomahawk) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee made his first visit to TCAT Elizabethton Friday (Jan. 3) to announce a $1 million Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grant to fund “Northeast STEM to Work” training at TCAT Elizabethton. The Northeast Tennessee “STEM to Work” initiative is an innovative model to bring STEM based education to more than 300 high school students representing nine school systems within the TCAT Elizabethton service area. This includes Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties. The initiative is designed to address industry existing and future demands for trained workers with advanced manufacturing skills and impending retirements. LINK

States of Work: Paid Leave for Tennessee State Workers (Bloomberg Law) This week, we look at the Tennessee governor’s plan to offer paid leave to state government employees and a lawsuit to block a local “ban the box” ordinance in Iowa. Tennessee will provide up to 12 weeks annually of paid family and medical leave to its state government employees, under a policy Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Jan. 7. Paid leave will be available for the birth or adoption of a child, an employee or family member illness. LINK

National Register of Historic Places designation to be sought for 110-year old former courthouse  (WJHL-TV) The former courthouse on Ashe Street in Johnson City took a step toward inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places Thursday. The move came just days after Johnson City officials requested that Gov. Bill Lee include $5 million in his fiscal 2021 budget proposal to restore the building for possible use as a business incubator. The building at 401 Ashe Street is part of the West Walnut Street corridor, a district in which the city is spending tens of millions of dollars to spur redevelopment. LINK

State of Tennessee offering specialty plates honoring electric lineworkers (WZTV-TV) The state of Tennessee is offering a new specialty license plate honoring electric lineworkers, with the proceeds of sales going to the families of workers injured or killed while on the job. The plate features an silhouette image of two lineworkers, as well as the caption “LINEMEN POWER TENNESSEE.” Tennessee’s electric cooperatives petitioned the General Assembly in 2019 to authorize the creation of a specialty license plate. The legislation was approved and signed by Gov. Bill Lee in May. LINK

Cummins Falls visitor’s center under construction (Cookeville Herald-Citizen) Cummins Falls State Park is getting a new visitor’s center. Park Manager Ray Cutcher said the new buildings will allow for expanded programming and greater facilities for both visitors and rangers. “This is basically at our trailhead and it was designed so that people coming into the park will enter the center of building and enter begin trail experience,” Cutcher said. “It’s more space for us to conduct business in and expand our visitor’s experience.” The building will include larger bathrooms to better accommodate the number of park guests. The building will include a gift shop, office space, more meeting space and an expanded history of the area. LINK

Memphis and Nashville left to pursue suit against state (Chalkbeat Tennessee/Daily Memphian) A lawsuit charging that Tennessee underfunds its schools by hundreds of millions of dollars has been dismissed, while a separate education funding case is inching closer to trial in 2020. Hamilton County Schools quietly dropped its five-year-old lawsuit against the state last week in a Nashville court. The school board for the Chattanooga-based district voted unanimously in October to pursue the dismissal after commending legislators for working to improve the level of state education funding.  The suit, which was joined by six smaller districts in southeast Tennessee, questioned the adequacy of state allocations through the funding formula known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP. LINK

Taking TN’s new concealed carry permit test (WSMV-TV) A concealed carry permit is easier to get than ever before. As of January 1, all you have to do is pass a quiz online. With a few clicks and 90 minutes of your time, Tennesseans can now pull the trigger on applying for a carry permit. “I couldn’t imagine feeling good about teaching that and not having the requirement the full length program has in it,” Bob Allen with Royal Range said Thursday. News4 put it to the test ourselves. Reporter Rebecca Cardenas, who has never handled a firearm, took the online course and passed with flying colors. Allen has concerns about the new law that permits Tennesseans to carry concealed without ever holding a gun first. “Even when you take the eight-hour class,” he explained, “that’s not nearly enough.” LINK

Attorney sends letter to Tennessee clerks’ offices claiming same-sex marriages are invalid (WSMV-TV) An attorney with a Franklin-based non-profit has a lot of people talking after a letter was sent to Tennessee clerks’ offices. In it, the attorney claims same-sex marriages in the state aren’t valid. “The people of Tennessee made a law in their constitution that says any policy, law or judicial interpretation purporting to define marriage as anything other than a man and a woman is void and unenforceable,” said attorney David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. LINK

Tennessee’s New House Speaker Wants To Focus On Early Childhood Literacy — Not School Choice (WPLN Radio) Health care and criminal justice reform are among the top priorities of the new Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, mostly aligning with other Republican leaders in the state. But when it comes to education, Sexton said in a speech to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday, he will focus on early childhood literacy rates instead of school choice. “Every year that we wait is another year that students are falling,” Sexton said about early literacy. LINK

New House Speaker lays out priorities for 2020 session (WTVF-TV) Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton talked about his priorities for the state a week before the start of the lawmaking session. Speaker Sexton was elected to the position after former speaker Glen Casada resigned mid controversy in his administration due to a NewsChannel 5 investigation . Thursday morning at a breakfast with the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, Sexton said he would focus on both healthcare and education. “Some people don’t think it’s possible to have a free competitive marketplace in healthcare. I think we can do it, but we have to be disciplined and patient,” said Sexton. LINK

Frustration and passion share stage at medical cannabis meeting on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill (WKRN-TV) Frustration and passion played out today over efforts to pass medical cannabis in Tennessee. It came at a meeting about a medical cannabis bill called by state Senate sponsor Janice Bowling, but the voices from law enforcement made sure they were heard. “You do not realize the murders and the homicides that we hear coming out of the western states over the wildcat farming of medical marijuana,” said Coffee County Sheriff Chad Partin. His words were aimed at Alabama state lawmaker Mike Ball who was speaking about why he’s become a passionate supporter of passing medical cannabis in the neighboring state. LINK

Medical marijuana advocates urge Tennessee police not to oppose new legislation (Tennessean) Proponents of medical marijuana launched their next legislative effort Thursday with an attempt to convince law enforcement officials from across the state not to oppose legal dispensaries selling cannabis products to sick Tennesseans. Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, said she intends to introduce a bill in the coming months that would create a state government infrastructure to issue marijuana cards and regulate the sale of marijuana vapes, edibles and non-smokable products. LINK

Video: Will Tennessee be the next state to legalize medical marijuana? (Tennessean) Tennessee is one of a dwindling number of states that has neither decriminalized marijuana or legalized any medical marijuana program. LINK

Chism pushes solitary confinement limit for juveniles, pregnant women (Daily Memphian) Claiming a “moral imperative,” state Rep. Jesse Chism is promoting legislation to restrict solitary confinement of juveniles and pregnant women. Chism, a Memphis Democrat, has two bills, HB1185 and HB1184, designed to curtail the practice. The bills are scheduled to be heard before House committees once the General Assembly convenes Jan. 14, according to a Democratic Caucus statement. Instead of solitary confinement, Chism believes the state should use clinical approaches approved by the Department of Children’s Services and Department of Correction to replace solitary confinement. LINK

Roe, Griffith oppose war powers resolution (WJHL-TV) Both Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) voted against a House resolution that asserts President Donald Trump must seek Congressional approval before engaging in further military action against Iran. The non-binding resolution passed the Democrat-controlled House 224-194 on Thursday. In a statement issued after the vote, Roe said the resolution undermines President Trump’s anti-terror efforts. LINK

Roe: U.S. ‘a safer place’ without Iranian general; president had ‘absolute’ authority to order strike (Kingsport Times-News) U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said he believes the world is “a safer place” after the United States “appropriately” killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an drone strike in Iraq last week, and that U.S. President Donald Trump “absolutely had the authority” to order the strike without congressional approval. “This guy was clearly an enemy combatant, this was a guy who killed Americans — this guy was a man we know … butchered and killed American (service members),” Roe said. “I think this response we’ve made was very appropriate and I think the team the president has around him gave him really good advice on this.” LINK

Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign coming to Knoxville Friday (WATE-TV) Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg will be in Knoxville on Friday to open his 2020 Field Office. Bloomberg will meet with supporters Friday as he opens his Knoxville Field Office at 1601 Western Ave.. He’s set to speak with media representatives at 6 p.m. Bloomberg served as mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. He is the co-founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P. He is the ninth richest man in America and the 14th richest in the world with an estimated net worth of $57.9 billion, according to Forbes. LINK

Facebook scouts Greater Nashville for massive project (Nashville Business Journal) Facebook is scouting Greater Nashville for a massive project, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s site search. Sources described Facebook’s initial plans as being on par with data centers the company has built or announced in markets such as Huntsville, Alabama; Salt Lake City; Omaha, Nebraska; Columbus, Ohio; and the Atlanta area. Facebook’s initial investment in each of those deals totaled about $750 million for a 970,000-square-foot data center, on several hundred acres of land. LINK

Gaylord to lay off dozens (Nashville Post) The operators of Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center are preparing to lay off more than 60 people, a state filing shows. Gaylord officials this week told the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development they will cut 61 jobs on March 6. The state will provide transition services to the workers, who are not covered by any unions. It’s not known how the 61 positions being eliminated break down or whether they are all in a specific area of the hospitality complex, which employs about 2,500 people in all. LINK

Volkswagen Chattanooga hiring 380 more employees; puts plant over 4,000 workers (Times Free Press) Volkswagen is bringing on about 380 more workers for its Chattanooga plant as it ramps up assembly for its new Atlas Cross Sport SUV and refreshes its Atlas SUV. The added jobs are expected to put the company past the 4,000-employee mark, according to VW. VW contractor Aerotek plans on-site interviews Saturday at the Chattanooga factory from 9 a.m. to noon, according to the company. Interviews will be conducted at the plant’s conference center. LINK

Nashville could expand paid leave for public employees following state initiative (Tennessean) Nashville Mayor John Cooper is interested in possibly expanding benefits for city employees following Gov. Bill Lee’s initiative to offer state employees three months of paid leave for new parents and caregivers. Lee announced his executive order Tuesday, a move that could make the conservative state the first in the nation to enact such a wide-ranging policy. His order will cover more than 38,000 executive branch employees starting March 1, though Republicans in the General Assembly will also file legislation this session to extend the policy to roughly 3,100 other state workers. LINK

Investigative journalists talk gaining trust amidst ‘fake news’ narrative (Williamson Herald) It takes more than an iPhone and a voice to be a journalist, according to the Tennesseean’s Williamson County reporter Emily West. It takes education, grit and the perseverance to dig a lot deeper. Leadership Franklin welcomed a panel of three investigative reporters to the Mockingbird Theater in The Factory at Franklin Wednesday to discuss the work behind their stories and what it takes to uncover the secrets and scandals below the surface. LINK


Guest column: Tennesseans should be alarmed by changes to vehicle emissions testing (Tennessean) Back in May 2018, then-Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law that would end a requirement for vehicle emissions testing in Tennessee, as it has been argued the program is unnecessary now that the state has attained federal air quality standards. We’re still waiting for approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, but until then we should ask ourselves if this is something we really want. We should be extremely alarmed at what this change could mean for the health of Tennesseans. While we may technically be meeting federal air quality standards, when you look at the statistics it becomes clear that our air is not clean enough. LINK

Otis Sanford: Adding right-to-work designation to TN constitution is a bad idea (WATN-TV)  A messy political fight is about to start at the state capital. It will pit conservative lawmakers and their backers against more moderate to liberal legislators and their reliable supporters – labor unions. At issue is whether to permanently declare that Tennessee is a right-to-work state, by putting that designation into the state constitution. Republican senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown is the chief sponsor of a resolution that would make that change to the constitution. And GOP leaders fully support it. But labor leaders around Tennessee and the few Democrats in the legislature oppose the plan. LINK

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