Wednesday, February 12

Gov. Lee and dentists push for more dental coverage for pregnant women (WBIR-TV) Governor Bill Lee is proposing preventative dental services within TennCare, something health officials believe could really help pregnant women. “This budget also proposes changed to our TennCare program,” Lee said in his speech at the beginning of the month. “We’re also expanding preventive dental services to mothers on TennCare.” Lee proposed extending TennCare to cover dental and oral health services for women with no existing benefits through 60 days post delivery, which dentist and mom Smita Barole said is important to consider. LINK

Top Republican leaders signal willingness to delay additional spending on Memphis Regional Megasite (Commercial Appeal) Gov. Bill Lee and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally offered their approval Tuesday with plans to delay spending additional resources to continue to develop the Memphis Regional Megasite. Last year, lawmakers were told after spending $174 million on the project it would take an additional $80 million before the site is complete. The project is currently awaiting the construction of a 36-mile wastewater pipeline and water treatment facility. On Monday, Lee rejected the notion that the state is taking a new approach. LINK

Racing officials, mayor meet with Gov. Lee to discuss fairgrounds, asks for funding (WTVF-TV) Nashville Mayor John Cooper and racing officials met with Governor Bill Lee to discuss the future of The Fairgrounds Nashville. Mayor Cooper talked to the governor about the city’s big vision for the fairgrounds, which includes both racing and soccer. He’s hoping the state will contribute funding to bring the racing part of that vision to fruition. “The city of Nashville is putting in a ton of it’s own money; so I don’t feel badly about ever showing up and asking the state for participation. Between the revenue bonds and the land and the GO bonds and the building expo, we’re well over $300 million from the city’s perspective,” said Mayor Cooper. LINK

Speedway Motorsports meets with Gov. Lee, Nashville Mayor Cooper as NASCAR talks ramp up (Tennessean) Speedway Motorsports is meeting with local and state officials this week, likely ramping up their efforts to bring NASCAR back to Nashville. Company officials met at the Tennessee state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon with Gov. Bill Lee and Mayor John Cooper. The meeting came shortly after Bristol Motor Speedway executive vice president Jerry Caldwell said he remains optimistic on the $60 million pitch to renovate Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. LINK

State budget proposal calls for $9.75M for Radioactive Materials Training Center in Roane (Columbia Daily Herald) State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, stated recently in a news release that the proposed budget submitted by Governor Bill Lee this week contains $9.75 million to fund a Radioactive Materials Training Center that will be located in Roane County. Yager joins other lawmakers representing Kingston and Oak Ridge who support the project, including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge; state Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston; and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge. State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, stated recently in a news release that the proposed budget submitted by Governor Bill Lee this week contains $9.75 million to fund a Radioactive Materials Training Center that will be located in Roane County. LINK

Gov. Lee delivers State of State Address (Overton County News) Governor Bill Lee delivered his State of the State address Monday, Feb. 3, showcasing Tennessee’s progress over the past year and outlining his legislative and budget priorities for the coming year. The governor’s address focused on one of his core priorities, supporting public education. The proposed budget includes the largest investment in K-12 teacher salaries in Tennessee history, and a series of initiatives designed to ensure that Tennessee is recruiting, retaining, and training the best teachers in America. LINK

Lee defends two of commissioners after multiple issues arise in their departments (WKRN-TV) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Monday defended two of his commissioners after questions have been raised about their departments. “We have numerous departments that everyone in state government and everyone in Tennessee knows are in disarray,” said Senate Democrat leader Jeff Yarbro late last week. From a prison audit where inmate deaths were improperly reported to a K-12 education department with hundreds of educators leaving, Senate Yarbo pointed to areas where he says the Governor Lee has no clear agenda yet. LINK

Real ID Rush: Tennessee hopes to cut down the line at the DMV (WSMV-TV) In some counties, the wait to get a Tennessee REAL ID has been as long as four hours. With even more expected to rush to the DMV before the October 1st deadline, the state is working on a plan to get everyone in and out faster. In Tennessee, it’s not mandatory to switch to a REAL ID, but if you don’t, after October 1, 2020, you’d have to present a passport anytime you fly commercially, go onto a military base or federal courthouse. Half a million Tennesseans have already made the switch. Vanessa Dos Santos thought she had all the right documents to switch over her ID. “This is my third trip here,” laments Dos Santos. “They keep telling me that there are more things that don’t work.” LINK

Some Tennessee Hospitals Have Nearly Stopped Prescribing Opioids To New Moms (WPLN Radio) Some Tennessee hospitals have almost entirely stopped prescribing opioids after women give birth, while others are still giving addictive narcotics to nearly every new mother as they go home. The findings are part of a study presented at the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine annual conference based on TennCare patients. There are known regional variations on prescribing pain medication to new mothers, and Tennessee is on the high end. But less is known about hospital-to-hospital differences. LINK

5 small earthquakes rattle East Tennessee Tuesday morning (WVLT-TV) East Tennessee experienced five small earthquakes over the past 24 hours near Greenback and Morganton. Low-end earthquakes are not rare in the area, however, officials said numerous earthquakes in one day, clustered together is not common. According to the United States Geological Survey, a 1.7 magnitude earthquake shook Greenback at 2:48 a.m. Greenback a second earthquake estimated as a 1.4 magnitude earthquake around 3:23 a.m. At 4:11 a.m. a 1.6 earthquake happened in Greenback. Around 6:06 a.m. a magnitude 1.3 earthquake shook Greenback. A 1.6 earthquake hit near Madisonville around 6:56 a.m. LINK

Nashville schools board calls on Gov. Bill Lee, lawmakers to increase statewide schools funding (Tennessean) The Nashville public schools board wants to see Gov. Bill Lee and state lawmakers place more money into statewide education. On Tuesday night, the Metro Nashville Public Schools board voted unanimously to request the governor and General Assembly increase funding to move Tennessee out of the bottom 10 states in terms of public school funding. The call for increased funds comes a week after Gov. Bill Lee announced during his State of the State last week that he will place about $649 million into public education next year. The investment by Lee includes a $117 million increase for teacher pay. LINK

Most Tennessee House members cosponsor Hazlewood’s proposed sales tax holiday on groceries (Times Free Press) With dozens of cosponsors signed onto her bill to create a two-month sales tax holiday on grocery food sales, Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, is hopeful the bill will move through a key House subcommittee Wednesday despite reservations by Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration. “I have 50-some signatures on the bill,” Hazlewood said Monday. As of Monday afternoon, Hazlewood, who is vice chairwoman of the full Finance Committee, had 57 of the House’s 99 members as cosponsors on the measure, which seeks to cut the state’s 4% levy on food sales to zero this July and August. It would cost the state about $100 million. LINK

Two-month food tax holiday may be coming to Tennessee (WATN-TV) Tennessee already has a back-to-school no tax holiday, and Volunteers might be getting a 2-month break from food taxes too. A recent bill introduced at the Tennessee state capitol calls for a break on sales tax on food in July and August. Lawmakers are looking for a way to give surplus funding back to the taxpayers. Experts say the food tax holiday could cost the state $100 million annually. Governor Bill Lee has said in the past that he has reservations about the idea. The bill will be discussed Wednesday by the house subcommittee on finance. LINK

Lawmakers set to debate bust of Confederate general at Tennessee state capitol (WKRN-TV) In the next few weeks, plenty of debate is scheduled about one one of the most controversial figures in Tennessee history. It comes with dual efforts to end the state’s Nathan Bedford Forrest Day and to remove the Confederate general’s bust from the state capitol building. The effort to end Nathan Bedford Forrest Day began last summer after news reports indicated Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a proclamation honoring the Confederate general on his July 13th birthday. LINK

Lamar demands end to Forrest Day, compares him to Hitler (Daily Memphian) Comparing Nathan Bedford Forrest to Hitler, state Rep. London Lamar called Tuesday, Feb. 11, for putting an end to Tennessee’s annual daylong observance for the Confederate general. The Memphis Democrat pointed toward Forrest’s role as commanding officer in the Fort Pillow Massacre in April 1864 as proof of his hatred of African Americans, calling the bloodshed the work of a “domestic terrorist.” LINK

TN House Committee Advances ‘Hateful Anti-Refugee’ Resolution (Memphis Flyer) A Tennessee House committee advanced what some are calling a “hateful anti-refugee” resolution Tuesday. The resolution, HJR 0741, sponsored by Rep. Terri Weaver (R-Lancaster), seeks to advance Tennessee’s lawsuit against the federal government over refugee resettlement here. The lawsuit was filed in March 2017 against the United States Department of State on the grounds that refugee settlement in Tennessee violates the U.S. Constitution by requiring the state to pay for a program it did not consent to. LINK

Rebuke of Lee moves through committee (Nashville Post) The first Republican rebuke of Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to continue accepting refugees passed its first legislative test Tuesday, moving through a House subcommittee on a voice vote. A series of bills currently making their way through the state legislature seek both to reverse the governor’s decision and chastise him for it. Lee said in December that he would consent to Tennessee continuing in the federal resettlement program after President Donald Trump asked states to opt in or out. Republican leaders in the House and Senate quickly registered their opposition to the decision and last month filed legislation that would take away the governor’s authority to participate in refugee resettlement. LINK

Lawmaker calls for investigation of new Tennessee school voucher program (WMC-TV) A state lawmaker is calling for an investigation into funding for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program. Lee’s school voucher program would give taxpayer money to low-income families in Shelby and Davidson counties to send their kids to private schools starting this fall. But last week, the counties sued claiming the program is unconstitutional. And now, State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, is raising more concerns. “This is clearly a violation of the state constitution,” said Mitchell. LINK

Bill would end ESA law before it takes effect (WTVF-TV) A bill in Tennessee legislature would end the Education Savings Account law before it takes effect. Two lawmakers have proposed a bill to end the program, which as been controversial since its creation. It was barely passed through the House and now there’s a push to make ESAs go away completely. Senator Sara Kyle and Representative Bo Mitchell have filed legislation that would essentially delete the ESA program from state law. If it passes, it would do so before the start of the next school year, which is when the governor wants the program to begin. LINK

Tennessee Republican to his party on Medicaid expansion: ‘It is the right thing to do’ (Tennessean) Despite opposition from many in his own party, including skepticism from the leaders of both legislative chambers, Rep. Ron Travis is hopeful he can convince his fellow Republicans to expand Medicaid in Tennessee. “My party,” Travis, R-Dayton, told The Tennessean on Monday. “I just think we need to open them up and let them see what this really could do for the working Tennesseans.” Last week, Travis and Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, introduced a bill based on former Gov. Bill Haslam’s failed 2015 Medicaid expansion proposal, known as Insure Tennessee. LINK

Bill would allow mother to safely surrender a baby within 14 days (WTVF-TV) A state lawmaker wants to give mothers more time to decide whether to surrender their newborn babies without legal consequences. A bill from Sen. Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) would extend Tennessee’s “Safe Haven” law, giving mothers up to two weeks to decide whether to keep their child, or surrender them to someone in an approved facility — no questions asked. Right now, that time limit is just three days. Approved locations include hospitals, community health clinics, and 24-hour-staffed police and fire stations. A full list can be found on this website. LINK

Lawmakers Call for Study on High Homicide Rate of Black Tennesseans (Memphis Flyer) A group of Democratic lawmakers wants a study to be done on the high homicide rate among African Americans in Tennessee. The bill (HB 1545/SB 1430) is sponsored by six members of the House, including G.A. Hardaway, Jesse Chism, Antonio Parkinson, and London Lamar from Memphis. Tennessee was recently ranked in the top 10 states for the highest homicide rates among African American victims, based on a study done by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) in May. LINK

Local lawmakers push for study on high homicide rates among African American Tennesseans (WATN-TV) Tennessee was recently ranked in the top 10 states for the highest homicide rates among African American victims. Some Memphis lawmakers have joined in a new push to turn Tennessee’s deadly violence numbers around in the black community. It may seem like weekly on the news, there’s information about yet another shooting – homicide – a precious life of a loved one lost. Those losses are disproportionately in the black community, lawmakers are pushing for answers to solve it. Unfortunately it’s nothing new, every few months another vigil, a community lamenting a loved one gone to gun violence. LINK

Alzheimer’s advocates headed to state capitol to fight for caregivers and those affected by the disease (WATN-TV) Holly Ingram, a community educator for the Tennessee Alzheimer’s Association, does not want the pain she and her family members have felt by the disease to be felt by anyone else. Ingram, along with 80 other Alzheimer’s advocates, are headed to Nashville Wednesday to meet with 100 lawmakers to support a bill named the Colonel Thomas G. Bowden Memorial Act. Alzheimer’s affects 120,000 people in Tennessee and 5 million nationally. The bill would create a three-year pilot program aimed at providing free or reduced-cost home and community-based services to Tennesseans living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. LINK

Lawmakers accept 8th grader’s challenge to spend day in wheelchair (WSMV-TV) An 8th grader at Friendship Christian School in Lebanon approached the state legislature with a challenge. He said he’d only need them to take part for a day, and what they’d learn would be a lesson for life. “I have found if I don’t know as many people, it makes it a lot easier,” smiled 14-year-old Alex Johnson, sitting in the middle of hallway ahead of a speech to lawmakers. Alex was there to represent others with a story like his and bring it to the people who can help.  LINK

State lawmakers challenged to spend their workday in a wheelchair (WZTV-TV) State lawmakers were challenged to spend their workday in a wheelchair. 10 state representatives accepted to create awareness for the difficulties people with mobility devices face on a daily basis. Organizers of Team ALeX “Spend a Day in My Wheels” say the project aims to make the world more acceptable to everyone. Permobil Foundation in Lebanon teamed up with Team ALeX to provide the wheelchairs for the challenge. LINK

Tampon tax break faces resistance in Tennessee (AP) A proposal to include feminine hygiene products during Tennessee’s annual sales tax holiday faced resistance Tuesday from lawmakers concerned about the lack of limits on such purchases. The legislation is the latest evolution of a push to eliminate the so-called “tampon tax” on items such as tampons and menstrual pads. The bill would allow these products to be tax free during Tennessee’s three-day weekend where certain goods — ranging from $1,500 computers to $100 clothing items — can be purchased tax free. The weekend is held the last Friday in July, when most families are preparing for the new school year. LINK

Two Tennessee lawmakers want to ban plastic bags — and grocery stores are on board (News Sentinel) State Sen. Richard Briggs remembers reading about how the Tennessee River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world with its waters full of microplastics. He wanted to do something about it. Earlier this month, he did. Briggs, R-Knoxville, convinced his fellow Knoxville Republican, Rep. Dave Wright, to tag-team legislation that would stop grocery stores, retail stores and other food service businesses from providing both free paper and plastic bags to customers. LINK

Van Huss files bill allowing cities to count fetuses for allocation of state funds (Johnson City Press) State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has filed a bill in the General Assembly that would allow local governments to take a voluntary census of “unborn children,” which would be factored into the proportion of funding they receive from the state. “Should we be successful with this legislation it would create more funds for our cities and recognize the humanity of our unborn,” Van Huss, who is up for reelection this year, said by email. “I look forward to presenting it in committee.” LINK

A WashPost reviewer didn’t like a book likening Trumpism to a cult. Fake news, says TN lawmaker (TN Journal) The Washington Post is fake news, according to a resolution sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss. The Jonesborough Republican wants to condemn the paper for an Oct. 3, 2019, article which purportedly “suggested that Trumpism is cult-like.” The article in question appears to be a review written by Marc Fisher in the Post’s opinion section of a book titled The Cult of Trump, by Steven Hassan, a former member of Sun Myun Moon’s Unification Church. Fisher in his review takes serious issue with Hassan’s premise, arguing that the word cult “turns out not to be a very useful guide to the nature of charismatic leaders.” LINK

Knoxville lawmaker Rick Staples evicted from home, ordered to pay $8,875 (News Sentinel) State Rep. Rick Staples was evicted from the home he listed as his primary address in documents announcing his re-election, but he told Knox News the legal action is a “character assassination” plot. In October, a Knox County judge ordered Staples, D-Knoxville, to pay $8,875 to the owners of a Holston Court home after they filed an order to evict him. Staples says the issue is being handled by lawyers and that there is a debate over issues of fungus in the home and it not being addressed in a contract between the parties. Staples shared the home with his wife, and at least two children, one of whom has a disability. LINK

Sen. Marsha Blackburn has pointed exchange with NCAA president Mark Emmert over James Wiseman eligibility (Tennessean) Several college athletic administrators testified before a Senate committee in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, and the most intense exchange took place between NCAA president Mark Emmert and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Blackburn first focused on the NCAA’s handling of sexual violence before focusing on the situation surrounding former Memphis freshman star James Wiseman and his eligibility. LINK

Sen. Blackburn on struggling hospital operator: They ‘need to get their act together’ (WBIR-TV) Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Tuesday she was looking forward to getting answers from the beleaguered operator of two rural hospitals in northeast Tennessee. And if Rennova Health Inc. misses her deadline to respond to questions, “then you will be hearing from us at that point,” Blackburn told journalists during a conference call. “We think it is vitally important that health care be accessible to individuals in these communities,” she said. LINK

Rennova misses deadline to respond to Sen. Blackburn’s demand for answers (WVLT-TV)The CEO of Rennova Health did not respond to Senator Marsha Blackburn’s demand for answers. The deadline was Tuesday, February 11. Seamus Lagan is the CEO for the troubled Rennova Health. Blackburn sent a letter January 28th that questioned the company’s ability to run two rural East Tennessee hospitals. In it, she said, “I write to express my concerns about access to health care for the rural residents of the state of Tennessee…Recent media reports regarding facilities owned by your company, Rennova Health, have been concerning.” LINK

Trump proposes another $475 million for supercomputers as Oak Ridge builds next version of world’s fastest machine (Times Free Press) Since 2009, the fastest computers in the world have housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, known successfully as the Jaguar, the Titan and now the Summit. Next year, Oak Ridge will get an even faster and bigger supercomputer when one of the world’s first exascale computers, dubbed the Frontier built by Cray Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices, is added at the lab’s computational research facility. The $600 million Frontier computer system is expected to go into operation in 2021 and will be the largest of three exascale computers planned by the Energy Department, including the Aurora and El Capitan computers at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. LINK

TVA turns to the sun for more power but shifts its focus from rooftop solar to large-scale projects (Times Free Press) The Tennessee Valley Authority, which went underground to generate most of its power from coal a generation ago, is looking up to the sun for more of its power in the future. In response to its request for proposals, TVA is boosting its solar energy capacity by 44% from a year ago by adding 484 megawatts of new contracted solar generation, including a $200 million solar farm announced this week near Columbus, Mississippi that would both generate and store electric power. LINK

Tennessee business leaders criss-cross state to combat opioid crisis (Tennessean) Bradley Jackson, who works as the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce CEO, is well versed in workforce training, tariffs and union participation. Now, he and other Tennessee business officials are turning their focus to an issue they say is deeply affecting the state’s business operations: Opioid and drug addiction. “This epidemic is not just a threat to public health,” said Jackson. “The opioid crisis is also a threat to Tennessee’s business and manufacturing climate and community. Employers and job recruiters are increasingly struggling to recruit and retain a drug-free workforce.” LINK

Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison forms compliance group (Tennessean) Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison has formed a government compliance and investigations practice group that brings together litigators with extensive experience in federal and state investigations, and transactional and regulatory counsel experienced in myriad compliance issues. It provides guidance on issues ranging from key contractual protections, initial compliance and construction of compliance programs, to internal investigations, responses to subpoenas or civil investigative demands, self-disclosure, settlement and litigation. LINK

Nashville is getting Google Fiber’s new wireless gigabit-speed internet service (Tennessean) Google Fiber is rolling out wireless connection for its gigabit-speed internet in Nashville, providing a high-speed option for some Nashville residents that takes less time to install. Google Fiber Webpass is available for some condo and apartment buildings, and the company seeks to be the provider for new buildings that are under construction or planned. The point-to-point radio technology takes days — instead of weeks or months — to set up, officials said. LINK


Editorial: Bible bill a mistake by TN legislators (Jackson Sun) There are a combined 132 legislators in the Tennessee State Senate and the General Assembly of the State House. They’re all sent to Nashville to make the best choices for the state as a whole as well as those who specifically selected them to represent their districts at the state level. While the hope is they will be perfect in their decision-making, we know that can’t be the case because they’re human and will make mistakes, hopefully as the result of good intentions. I think we’re seeing a situation like that happen now. LINK

Column: Republican Rebuke of Lee Refugee Decision Moves Forward (Nashville Scene) The first Republican rebuke of Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to continue accepting refugees passed its first legislative test Tuesday, moving through a House subcommittee on a voice vote. A series of bills currently making their way through the state legislature seeks both to reverse the governor’s decision and chastise him for it. Lee said in December that he would consent to Tennessee continuing in the federal resettlement program after President Donald Trump asked states to opt in or out. Republican leadership in the House and Senate quickly registered their opposition to the decision and last month filed legislation that would take away the governor’s authority to participate in refugee resettlement. LINK

Guest column: One issue brings Tennessee voters together (Daily Memphian) In the current partisan environment, Tennessee Republicans and Democrats agree on very little. On just about every policy issue of the day – guns, taxes, health care, foreign policy – they’re typically in opposite corners. Education of our children appears to be a notable exception. Overwhelmingly unified in their dissatisfaction with the state’s public education system (72%), Tennesseans are even more united in their support for expanding early education as a fundamental strategy to improve student achievement.  LINK

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