Wednesday, May 20

Gov. Lee announces final awards for small and rural hospital readiness grants (WRCB-TV Chattanooga) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the final distribution of $10 million in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants to support smaller hospitals that are facing financial strain due to the ongoing response to COVID-19. “Our small and rural hospitals play a critical role in their communities, providing both necessary care to patients and good-paying jobs to residents, and we’re proud to support these hospitals through such unprecedented times,” said Gov. Lee. “We’ll continue to work with hospitals across our state and the federal government to ensure hospitals have the resources they need to maintain operations and serve their communities well.” LINK

Governor announces final awards for Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants (Johnson City Press) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the final distribution of $10 million in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants Tuesday to support smaller hospitals facing financial strain because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The list includes $136,545 apiece for Franklin Woods Community Hospital in Johnson City, Sycamore Shoals Hospital in Elizabethton and Unicoi County Hospital in Erwin. “Our small and rural hospitals play a critical role in their communities, providing both necessary care to patients and good-paying jobs to residents, and we’re proud to support these hospitals through such unprecedented times,” Lee said in a press release issued Tuesday. LINK

State Grant Fund To Bridge Rural Hospitals Exhausted (WPLN Radio Nashville) Tennessee has used up the remainder of a $10 million fund created to bolster small hospitals facing financial struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Bill Lee announced the final round of Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants recipients in a press release Tuesday morning. “Our small and rural hospitals play a critical role in their communities, providing both necessary care to patients and good-paying jobs to residents, and we’re proud to support these hospitals through such unprecedented times,” Lee said. The state has awarded grants of up to $500,000 to 29 hospitals in 28 counties who have lost revenue this spring, while elective surgeries were halted to save ventilators and personal protective gear for COVID-19 treatment. LINK

9 Tennessee hospitals receive rural hospital readiness grants in response to COVID-19 (WZTV-TV Nashville) $10 million in small and rural hospital readiness grants have been distributed to 29 Tennessee hospitals for their fight against COVID-19. Governor Bill Lee said the grants spanning across 28 counties are intended to help small hospitals bridge funding gaps created by low patient volumes while they wait on federal aid. “Our small and rural hospitals play a critical role in their communities, providing both necessary care to patients and good-paying jobs to residents, and we’re proud to support these hospitals through such unprecedented times,” said Gov. Lee. LINK

TN Gov. Lee announces final distribution of small and rural hospital grants (WCYB-TV Bristol) Gov. Bill Lee announced the distribution of $10 million to smaller hospitals who are struggling due to the coronavirus. The grants are being distributed to 29 hospitals in 28 counties across Tennessee. The Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants help hospitals that have lost some funding to decrease in patients. Unicoi County Hospital in Unicoi County, Franklin Woods Community Hospital in Washington County and Sycamore Hospital in Carter County will each receive grants of $136,545. Hawkins County Memorial Hospital will receives $250,000. Hancock County Hospital will receive $500,000. LINK

Six Ballad hospitals among 29 receiving COVID-19 financial impact grants (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Hancock County Hospital and Johnson County Hospital each will receive $500,000 of state money, the largest available amount, through the Tennessee “Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants” program. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration announced the funds today. $10 million total is going to 29 hospitals in 28 counties, including six Ballad Health hospitals. Applicants had to demonstrate they were actively pursuing available federal relief. “Our small and rural hospitals play a critical role in their communities, providing both necessary care to patients and good-paying jobs to residents, and we’re proud to support these hospitals through such unprecedented times,” Lee was quoted as saying in a news release. LINK

Gov. Lee announces $10 million in hospital grants (WBBJ-TV Jackson) Gov. Bill Lee announced on Tuesday the distribution of $10 million in hospital readiness grants. In a news release, Gov. Lee said the Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants aim to support hospitals facing financial strain because of COVID-19. The grants were distributed to 29 hospitals in 28 Tennessee counties, and will help smaller hospitals bridge funding gaps caused by reduced patient volumes. LINK

Unity receives $500,000 grant (Manchester Times) Unity Medical Center will receive a $500,000 grant.  Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the final distribution of $10 million in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants to support smaller hospitals that are facing financial strain due to the ongoing response to COVID-19. “Our small and rural hospitals play a critical role in their communities, providing both necessary care to patients and good-paying jobs to residents, and we’re proud to support these hospitals through such unprecedented times,” said Gov. Lee. LINK

Cumberland Medical Center to Receive $136,000 Grant (WIHG Radio/Crossville) Cumberland Medical Center will receive a $136,000 grant from the state. It is part of $10 million dollars to support hospitals facing unusual and financial pressures because of the ongoing response to the coronavirus. Governor Bill Lee said smaller and more rural hospitals stepped up to serve patients during the pandemic, while losing money from the cancellation of elective procedures. LINK

Tennessee’s secret to plentiful coronavirus testing? Picking up the tab (WPLN Radio Nashville) To reopen businesses and public spaces safely, experts say, states need to be testing and contact tracing on a massive scale. But only a handful of states are doing enough testing to stay on top of potential outbreaks, according to a state-by-state analysis published by NPR. (Missouri and Illinois are among states providing far fewer tests than needed.) Among those, Tennessee stands out for its aggressive approach to testing. In Tennessee, anyone who wants a test can get one, and the state will pick up the tab. The guidance has evolved to “when in doubt, get a test,” and the state started paying for it in April. It’s still rare for a community to encourage such broad symptom-free testing. LINK

Livingston Awarded Grant Funds (Livingston Enterprise) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright recently announced the award of $10,328,312 Transportation Alternatives Grants statewide in Tennessee. Livingston has been awarded $450,000 for Courthouse Plaza improvements, including construction of sidewalks around the courthouse plaza. The project also includes relocation of the Veterans Memorial, curbs and gutters, drainage improvements and ADA (Americans with Disabilities) upgrades. LINK

TDOE Shares Video Messages From Tennessee Leaders And Celebrities To Congratulate Class Of 2020 (Chattanoogan) To celebrate Tennessee’s Class of 2020, the Tennessee Department of Education is sharing special video messages to Tennessee’s graduating seniors from prominent state leaders, athletes, and musicians all week. LINK

Nominations sought to honor school employees (Overton Co. News) Tennessee Department of Education on Tuesday, May 12 opened nominations for the Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award …“Over the past two months, Tennessee educators at every level have stepped up to teach our students in innovative and creative ways,” said Governor Bill Lee. LINK

Governor tours hospital; Bradley reports 83 cases (Cleveland Daily Banner) Gov. Bill Lee, Shelby County officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers toured a new 401-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients in Memphis. The sneak peek Monday took place at the former building of The Commercial Appeal, which has been transformed into a hospital to assist local hospitals should they exceed their bed capacity because of the coronavirus outbreak. The alternate-care site has been set up with basic supplies, such as beds, chairs, tables and IV poles. More medical equipment will be provided if the site is activated to receive and treat COVID-19 patients. The facility has set aside 33 beds for patients that require a higher level of care, designated 22 nursing stations and built 30 storage rooms. LINK

State Lessens Restrictions on Restaurants and Retail (Buffalo River Review) As Tennessee continues to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the state’s Economic Recovery Group announced Friday it will lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail to instead focus on social distancing best practices effective this Friday, May 22, and issue guidelines to facilitate the safe reopening of larger, non-contact attractions on or after May 22. “Tennesseans have worked incredibly hard to do their part and help slow the spread of COVID-19 so that our state can begin to reopen. Thanks to their continued efforts, we’re able to allow restaurants and retail businesses to operate at greater capacity and large attractions to open in a safe and thoughtful way,” said Governor Bill Lee. LINK

Chattanooga Housing Authority presses on with COVID-19 testing with National Guard (WRCB-TV Chattanooga) The Chattanooga Housing Authority (CHA) will host a series of COVID-19 testing in some of Chattanooga’s most vulnerable neighborhoods this week. The decision comes after a testing event was planned, and then canceled due to concerns about the National Guard administering the tests last week. Erskin Oglesby, Chattanooga Councilman for District 7, said the focus should be getting this community the testing it needs on not on uniforms. LINK

Health Dept. says all day camps are closed for now, VBS to follow Gov. Lee’s guidelines (WTVC-TV Chattanooga) Finding some entertainment and learning opportunities for children may be challenging this summer. According to Bonnie Deakins, Director of Environmental Health with the Hamilton County Health Department, day camps are closed regardless of religious affiliation or not. The department also said Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) could be open, but would fall under Governor Bill Lee’s guidelines for houses of worship. LINK

Local pool prepares for late start with guidelines from TN Gov. Bill Lee (WRCB-TV Chattanooga) Earlier this week, Hamilton County leaders said pools can reopen if they take precautions and follow Tennessee Pledge guidelines.The lazy, hazy days of summer so often start with a splash in the water. COVID-19 has already pushed back water-logged, fun-filled days at the Flagstone Community Pool. “If we have to push it off again this summer, then that’s going to possibly impact the term of the pool being open,” Pool Board Vice President Joe Renko said of the delay. Renko says after this week’s announcement, the board is finalizing plans to follow the governor’s regulations. LINK

Coronavirus forces first canceled season in Chattanooga Area Swim League history (Times Free Press) For the past 60 years, the Chattanooga Area Swim League has thrived, establishing teams from Cleveland down to Calhoun and annually showcasing more than 1,000 competitors often ranging in age from 5 to 18. The CASL’s executive board recently announced the 2020 season, which was set to start next month, will not transpire as a result of coronavirus concerns. “Due to multiple factors, including Governor Bill Lee’s ‘Tennessee Pledge,’ which states that all adult and youth sports leagues will remain closed under the guidelines until further notice, as well as news that some of our team pools have already decided not to open for the season, the board voted to cancel the 2020 season,” the board announced in a statement. LINK

Chattanooga State students in technical programs begin to return to campus for hands-on labs, classes amid COVID-19 crisis (Times Free Press) You can only learn so much from a book — at least that’s what Wade Silvey and his students say. Silvey is a senior instructor for the machine tool program at Chattanooga State Community College’s Tennessee College of Applied Technology program. He and half a dozen students spent Tuesday inside TCAT Building #2 on the college’s main campus off Amnicola Highway even as a majority of college students in Chattanooga and nationally are still taking classes online this summer. LINK

Eye-catching signs and Facebook page highlight plight of Tennesseans waiting for unemployment benefits (WKRN-TV Nashville) The Tennessee unemployment nightmare is a daily frustration for nearly an estimated 200,000 people awaiting benefits, but now many them are venting on a Facebook page of the same name. That Facebook page has thousands of members like Elizabeth Frassrand and Heather Luna. “Its been a little uplifting knowing I am not the only one,” said Luna who awaits unemployment benefits after she qualified as a self-employed realtor in early April. LINK

Coronavirus: Sevier County woman shares frustrations with state unemployment Investigations (WATE-TV Knoxville) Hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed in Tennessee because of COVID-19. Since early April, many of those out of work started receiving special unemployment checks made possible under the CARES Act because of the pandemic. This week, WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare talked with an unemployed woman who has yet to receive her check. If you lost your job due to the coronavirus, to be eligible for benefits under the CARES Act passed by Congress, you first have to register with the state. LINK

Unemployment Issues (WDEF-TV Chattanooga) With unemployment numbers rising many Tennesseans are left wondering when they will receive any money. “It’s been a nightmare…” said Isaac Kochenderfer. There were around 16,000 unemployment claims filed before covid-19 hit.  As of last week it reached over a half million. Kochenderfer was furloughed from his employer in Portland Tennessee. He’s not expected to report back to work until mid June. LINK

Second Lady Karen Pence highlights mental health during GSMNP visit (WVLT-TV Knoxville) Second Lady Karen Pence, joined by the Deputy Secretary of Interior, Katharine MacGregor, visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday for the second phase of the park’s safe reopening since closing to the COVID-19 pandemic in late March. Pence and Deputy Secretary MacGregor re-opened the road that leads to Clingmans Dome; deliver remarks to community and business leaders; tour the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower; and visited with National Park employees at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Pavilion. LINK

Second Lady Karen Pence reopens Clingmans Dome; all trails reopen Saturday (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Second Lady Karen Pence reopened access to Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) on Tuesday afternoon. Pence wore a mask except during her speech with all spectators several feet away.  On a rainy and foggy day, her message was clear regarding the need to reopen national parks for economic and mental health. LINK

Second lady Pence helps kick off next phase of Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopening (WATE-TV Knoxville) Second lady Karen Pence came to a cloud-shrouded Clingmans Dome — the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in Tennessee – to talk about the mental health benefits of being outdoors. She was joined Deputy Secretary of the Interior Katherine MacGregor as well as officials of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The next phase in the park’s plan to restore public access to more roads and picnic areas was also announced. LINK

Second Lady Karen Pence beckons visitors back to Smokies as coronavirus restrictions ease (News Sentinel/USA Today Tennessee) If there was any confusion about what gave the Great Smoky Mountains National Park its name or if anyone thought the clouds would part Tuesday to show the Second Lady the gorgeous mountain views atop Clingmans Dome, they were poorly mistaken. Still, Karen Pence and Kate MacGregor, the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, came to Tennessee to speak about getting outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to reinforce mental and physical health. They reopened the route leading to Clingmans Dome while crowding – socially distanced – under a tent while the “smoky” fog and rain came down. LINK

Second Lady Karen Pence visits Great Smokey Mountains, says getting outside is important (WCYB-TV Bristol) During her visit Second Lady Karen Pence and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Katherine MacGregor spoke of the benefits of getting outside and the next phases of the parks reopening. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent need for us to pay closer attention to our mental health and emotional well-being,” said Second Lady Karen Pence. “Our amazing national parks offer many mental health benefits and more than ever before, we must ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and each other.” LINK

Tennessee pastors criticize Gov. Lee’s COVID-19 reopening plan, say more protections are needed for workers (Times Free Press) Pastors from across Tennessee are calling on Gov. Bill Lee to strengthen protections for workers as the state reopens and more people are asked to return to work. Central to the reopening is Lee’s “Tennessee Pledge,” a 43-page document of guidelines for various businesses on how to reopen and keep customers and workers safe. “By taking the Tennessee Pledge, our businesses can reopen in a way that protects the health of their customers and employees, and protects the livelihoods of hard-working Tennesseans,” Lee said last week. LINK

Gatlinburg closed lanes to space people out. Does Knoxville have room to social distance? (News Sentinel) Two lanes of the parkway in downtown Gatlinburg were closed just for a weekend and transformed into temporary sidewalks earlier this month. Makes sense, considering only three out of the 100 people I counted in downtown Gatlinburg were wearing a mask on my recent visit (and those three people were together). So if folks aren’t wearing masks, they should be able to spread 6 feet apart. It’s the minimum recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control, although a little extra room never hurt anybody. LINK

New operator takes over troubled Jefferson County youth prison (WBIR-TV Knoxville) The first three days Jason Crews’ company ran the troubled Mountain View Youth Prison in Dandridge, he had to work as a guard in the dormitory unit. “It’s my job to help secure and change the culture of the kids,” he explained. Crews walked into a mess. In the previous six months, the juvenile inmates–imprisoned for crimes ranging from truancy to rape and murder–had rioted and attacked staff dozens of times. LINK

All juveniles, staff at Tennessee youth facility test negative for COVID-19 (WVLT-TV Knoxville) The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services announced Tuesday all juveniles and staff at Sumner County Youth Treatment Facility tested negative for COVID-19 after a mass COVID-19 testing event. The Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee National Guard conducted the mass testing at a privately-owned facility in Sumner County. The testing was prompted after an employee at the Bledsoe Youth Academy in Gallatin notified the facility of the positive test results. LINK

UTHSC gives public access to daily COVID statistics (Daily Memphian) Starting this week, information the University of Tennessee Health Science Center collects about COVID-19 infection rates across the nine-county metropolitan area will be available to the public. “The figures and maps show how widespread the virus is in the Memphis Metropolitan Area, whether new infections have changed since reopening, how many COVID-19 patients are in hospitals, and where testing is done and with what results,” said a UTHSC announcement. “Two interactive maps show how the infection has spread over time. Most of the information will be updated daily.” LINK

How safe are masks issued by state of Tennessee? Disease specialist weighs in (WZTV-TV Nashville) The second wave of those state issued masks are being handed out across the state, but just how safe are they? Some of our FOX 17 News viewers and lawmakers have reached out to us with concerns about the quality and safety of the masks. FOX 17 News’ Harriet Wallace asked infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner to weigh in. He has not seen the mask nor worn it, but did offer advise for those wanting to know what makes an effective mask. LINK

Tennessee Health Dept. reports 327 new COVID-19 cases in one day, bringing total to 18,378 (WZTV-TV Nashville) There are now 18,378 cases of novel coronavirus confirmed in Tennessee, including 305 deaths related to COVID-19. That marks a rise of 367 reported cases and four deaths in one day. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Tennessee has tested 346,123 people. Right now, there are 1,498 hospitalizations and 10,969 recoveries. LINK

Coronavirus Has Officially Hit All 95 Tennessee Counties (WPLN Radio Nashville) Hancock County now has a confirmed case of the coronavirus, and with that, the virus has reached every corner of the state. Today the Tennessee Department of Health reported 367 new cases, four new fatalities and nine new hospitalizations. The mayor of Hancock County, Tom Harrison, told USA Today this week that the virus has “had trouble finding us” because “you either have to go over a ridge or a mountain.” LINK

COVID-19: Hancock County reports 1st case among 367 new cases in Tennessee (Johnson City Press) The Tennessee Department of Health reported 367 new cases and four new deaths Tuesday from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) compared to Monday’s report. Rural Hancock County reported its first case of the virus. The statewide case count grew to 18,378 since tracking began in March. The death toll reached 305. The state also reported 1,969 new recoveries for a total of 10,969 and nine new hospitalizations for a total of 1,498. Labs in the state reported 8,695 new tests had been performed for a total of 346,123. LINK

Health experts urge cautious optimism as Northeast TN sees lower COVID-19 case rates (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Northeast Tennessee currently has some of the lowest COVID-19 case rates in the state. Some of the area’s top health officials say the data supports the region moving into Phase Two of reopening. However, they say it’s still too early to tell if the region can declare victory over the virus. “We should be cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Blair Reece with ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine. Dr. Reece believes social distancing and mask-wearing is working to slow the spread of COVID-19. LINK

In Shelby County, more people are dying from drug overdoses than COVID-19 (Commercial Appeal) Since the beginning of local and state-wide “Safer at Home” orders began in mid-March, 700 Shelby County residents have overdosed on narcotics. One hundred and two of those overdoses ended in a loss of life. “We’ve experienced more deaths from overdoses than COVID-19,” said Shelby County Health Department director Alisa Haushalter. LINK

TDOC responds to COVID-19 outbreak at Trousdale County prison (WKRN-TV Nashville) Prisons across the country have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Tennessee Department of Correction, there are currently more than 750 positive cases among Tennessee inmates and more than 1,800 inmates have recovered. According to the TDOC, mass testing inside Tennessee’s prisons is complete after a massive outbreak at Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility. The Department of Correction is making operational changes to help stop the spread. LINK

West Tennessee prisons, Shelby County Jail hit hard by coronavirus (Daily Memphian) Three correctional facilities in West Tennessee and the Shelby County Jail in Downtown Memphis are among the top hot spots for positive coronavirus cases among correctional and detention facilities in the state. As of Monday, May 18, Tennessee Department of Correction officials reported that 20,685 tests had been performed at TDOC facilities. Of those, 756 — or a little fewer than 4% — of inmates tested positive, with an additional 75 tests pending. There have been four COVID-19 inmate deaths. LINK

Council joins call to lift absentee ballot restrictions (Daily Memphian) Add the Memphis City Council to the calls for lifting restrictions on absentee balloting for the August state and federal primary elections. The council Tuesday, May 19, approved a resolution urging Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to allow “unrestricted” absentee voting. It would allow anyone applying for a ballot who says they don’t want to risk exposure to the virus by voting in person to get a ballot mailed to them, complete it and mail it in. LINK

Midtown bar files lawsuit against Gov. Lee, Mayor Cooper, others (WZTV-TV Nashville) A Midtown bar and restaurant has filed a lawsuit against Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Nashville Mayor John Cooper and other local government officials. The lawsuit, filed by Local Spot, Inc. and owner Geoffrey Reid, lists Gov. Lee and Mayor Cooper, as well as Attorney General Herbert W. Slatery, III and Metro Chief Medical Director Michael C. Caldwell as Defendants. The lawsuit claims that “the Defendants’ plan of quarantining the entire population and closing all ‘non-essential’ businesses has resulted in the unprecedented and devastating deprivation of citizens’ fundamental and natural rights.” LINK

Nashville bar owner files lawsuit against Lee, Cooper; says stay-at-home orders violated his rights (WTVF-TV Nashville) A Nashville bar owner has filed a lawsuit against Governor Bill Lee and Nashville Mayor John Cooper, saying their stay-at-home orders amid the pandemic violated his civil rights. The suit alleges that Geoffrey Reid – the owner and operator of The Local Spot – incurred more than $200,000 in losses due to the COVID-19 closures. LINK

Tennessee Supreme Court Zooms Into History, Holding First Livestreamed Arguments (WPLN Radio Nashville) The Tennessee Supreme Court may be late to the Zoom craze, but the five justices donned their robes and held the state’s first livestreamed oral arguments on Tuesday, with three cases on the docket. The high court began video recording proceedings nearly two years ago. And last month, the justices held arguments by video conference which were later posted online. “So today, we take the next natural step,” Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivens said. “We feel like this is a very important step from the standpoint of showing our citizens and having them grow in confidence in our system by showing our courts are open and accessible.” LINK

Appeals Court declines voucher program work during appeal (Daily Memphian) The Tennessee Court of Appeals has refused to let the state continue working on the Education Savings Account program during appeal, setting an Aug. 5 hearing that could make it difficult for the program to get the go-ahead in time to start offering vouchers this year. In a Tuesday, May 19, filing, the Court of Appeals agreed to hear an expedited appeal but declined to reverse a Davidson County Chancery Court ruling prohibiting the state from putting the program in place for the 2020-21 school year while the case continues. LINK

Tennessee can’t launch Education Savings Account program while appeal is pending, court says (Tennessean) The Court of Appeals of Tennessee ruled Tuesday that the state cannot move forward with the launching of its Education Savings Account program while its appeal of a Nashville judge’s decision is pending. State attorneys were seeking a reversal of Nashville Chancellor Anne C. Martin’s order to stop receiving applications and preparing for the pilot program’s kickoff in the 2020-21 academic year. The state is also appealing her judgment that the program was unconstitutional, which she based on the home rule amendment since the ESA law applies only to Davidson and Shelby counties. LINK

Court Of Appeals Says Tennessee’s School Voucher Program Cannot Be Implemented While Case Is Pending (WPLN Radio Nashville) The Tennessee Court of Appeals decided Tuesday that the state’s school voucher program cannot be implemented until the state’s appeal is resolved. The latest ruling comes a week after two libertarian groups working on behalf of four parents filed an emergency motion citing the state’s tight rollout deadline as a reason to move forward with the program. The state has said that the time between now and June 15 is crucial to being able to launch the program this fall. LINK

Same-sex custody case sparks fight over definition of dad, husband under Tennessee law (News Sentinel/USA Today Tennessee) They met, fell in love and started a family. Sandra Pippin was the first to hold the couple’s son, the first to change his diaper. She worked so her mate could stay home with the baby and her adopted son. She registered both boys in school, signed school paperwork, acted in every way as a parent. If Sandra Pippin was a man, she’d now have the right – after wife Christina Pippin left her for another mate – to visit the son the couple had via artificial insemination under Tennessee law. LINK

COVID-19 precautions in place as state lawmakers prepare to return to Nashville (WSMV-TV Nashville) State lawmakers are getting ready to return to Nashville after they adjourned on March 20th because of COVID-19. They’ll notice some changes including at the Cordell Hull building where protective glass has been installed in committee rooms. It’s part of the social distancing measures now in place. Other changes include how many people can be in an elevator at a time and how much space needs to be between those waiting in line at the cafeteria. LINK

A look at preparations for Tennessee lawmakers’ return amid the coronavirus pandemic (TN Journal) The state House and Senate are still at odds about the scope of the upcoming return into session, but that’s not stopping them from getting the Cordell Hull Building prepped for lawmakers’ return. Here’s a look at some of the changes being made to the legislative office complex: LINK

Lawmakers say the state shouldn’t share COVID-19 patient information (WSMV-TV Nashville) Lawmakers are urging the governor to rethink his decision to allow the health department to share personal information. “This is about constitutional rights,” said State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, Chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus, after earlier this month, the health department confirmed they have been sharing addresses of patients who test positive for Covid-19 with law enforcement agencies. They said it is for their protection. LINK

Tennessee Black Caucus Opposes releasing Covid-19 test names to law enforcement (AP) The coronavirus has sparked concerns about how private medical information is being used. An Associated Press review shows that health officials in at least 35 U.S. states are sharing the addresses of those who test positive for coronavirus to first responders who request it. Ten of those states also share names. Law enforcement officials say first responders use the information to take extra precautions that help them avoid contracting and spreading the disease. LINK

State House and Senate Disagree on What Their Scope Should Be (Nashville Scene) By now, the Tennessee General Assembly should have concluded its business for the year. Its members should have gone back to their districts and begun campaigning for re-election. But the legislature, like nearly every institution in the state, was disrupted by the spread of COVID-19. After initially downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, legislative leaders — along with Gov. Bill Lee — spent one frenzied week in mid-March passing an emergency spending plan that stripped about a billion dollars from the original budget proposal. LINK

Some Tennessee legislators tell citizens to limit information to protect COVID-19 health status (WMC-TV Memphis) Over 52,000 tests have been administered for COVID-19 in Shelby County, but the Tennessee Black Caucus of Legislatures is worried that fewer people will get a test knowing that their information is being shared with law enforcement. “Get tested now. Get tested tomorrow. Get tested every opportunity that you have, but we’ve got folks who are suspicious of law enforcement having their personal information,” said Tennessee Black Caucus of Legislatures Chairperson G.A. Hardaway. LINK

SCS parents, students voice challenges and concerns about remote learning with state lawmakers (WHBQ-TV Memphis) Parents and students talked with Tennessee state lawmakers about some of the challenges and concerns of online learning during a virtual meeting of the minds about the future of remote learning in Shelby County. This past spring, students went from learning inside classrooms with teachers to becoming essentially homeschooled. State lawmakers say the abrupt change put a burden on families and that’s why they’re already trying to find more funding to help with this transition in the fall. LINK

DeVos directive on CARES Act funding splits Shelby lawmakers (Daily Memphian) Tennessee’s House Education Committee chairman has no qualms about federal guidelines diverting a great share of CARES Act funds to private schools, while Memphis Democrats are blasting the plan. State Rep. Mark White, an East Memphis Republican who chairs the committee, said Tuesday, May 19, he considers the matter similar to the state’s Education Savings Account program, which he supports even though it has been ruled unconstitutional by a Davidson County Chancery Court judge. LINK

Masked Men (Memphis Flyer) This video of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) originally appeared on Reddit’s r/publicfreakout subreddit. In the short, but fiery clip, a purple-gloved Cohen pulls no punches on Republicans. Cohen said they refused to pull $100 billion in federal money that would go, largely, to wealthy Americans. Then he goes off on masks and Jesse James and thievery, and then throws Trump and Pence under the bus for good measure. The clip would also feel right at home at r/whoadude sub. LINK

Senate candidates book ads through primary (Nashville Post) Top Republican Senate candidates Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi are booking television advertising time on stations across the state through the August primary, marking the beginning of a new phase in the largely quiet race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. According to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission in recent days, both candidates have reserved ad space worth more than $1 million during the months leading up to the Aug. 6 vote. The ads will run on local networks in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville and the Tri-Cities area. Both candidates also booked time on cable network Fox News Channel. LINK

Tennesseans back Trump in ETSU poll, offer mixed support for mail voting amid COVID-19 pandemic (Times Free Press) A new poll finds Tennesseans continue to favor Republican candidates in the GOP-leaning state while also revealing close partisan divisions on a coronavirus-related political issue: whether to let all voters cast ballots by mail in 2020 elections. The April 22 to May 1 Tennessee Poll was conducted by the Applied Social Research Lab at East Tennessee State University. Pollsters reached 618 adults in the multi-issue survey with a slightly smaller subset of 536 people who said they intended to vote or were likely to vote for president. LINK

ETSU poll finds Tennesseans split along party lines on absentee voting (Tennessean) Tennesseans are split, largely along party lines, on voting by mail, according to a new poll from East Tennessee State University. The issue, which has gained attention in recent weeks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, comes as voters in Tennessee begin to prepare to vote in this year’s August primary election. Tennessee is one of a handful of states that requires voters under the age of 60 to provide an excuse for obtaining an absentee ballot. LINK

ETSU Poll: Tennesseans favor Republican candidates for upcoming election, split on voting by mail (WJHL-TV Johnson City) A poll conducted by officials at East Tennessee State University found that Tennesseans are likely to vote in favor of Republican candidates come November, but the issue of voting by mail has left many in the state divided. The ‘ Tennessee Poll,’ which was conducted in late April by the Applied Social Research Lab at ETSU, found that 83% of the respondents said they would either definitely vote in the general election or were likely to. According to the annual public opinion poll, 17% said they would either definitely not vote (9%), would not likely vote (6%) or were not yet sure (2%). LINK

TVA moves toward full 9-member board as nominees vow to support small modular reactors, more renewables (Times Free Press) For the first time in nearly three years, the Tennessee Valley Authority may soon have all of its presidential appointed leaders in place to oversee America’s biggest government utility. East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland and former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, nominated by President Trump to fill the two vacancies on TVA’s 9-member board, and assistant attorney general Katherine Crytzer, nominated by Trump to serve as TVA’s inspector general, gained the support of U.S. senators Tuesday during their confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. LINK

Federal government will ‘force repayment’ of coronavirus relief money to closed hospital, but won’t say how. (WBIR-TV Knoxville) After 10News uncovered thousands of coronavirus relief dollars given to the shuttered Jamestown Regional Medical Center, the Department of Health and Human Services said it will “force repayment,” but did not give any details. The only hospital in Fentress county closed last June. Its owner, Rennova, owes millions in unpaid federal taxes, but received $121,722 for the closed Jamestown facility. LINK

Volkswagen workers return to the line with new Covid-19 procedures (WDEF-TV Chattanooga) More than 1800 employees and contractors returned to work this morning at the Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South. In video provided by the company, they clocked in with their mobile devices, and each employee was give a new mask and had their temperature checked with a touch-free scanner. All doors are propped open and no visitors are allowed. Employees spent most of the day getting familiar with the new procedures. LINK

Ballad Health, Premier Inc. to launch program investing in ‘innovative’ domestic manufacturing (Johnson City Press) Premier Inc., a healthcare improvement company, and Ballad Health announced Tuesday a new program to invest in manufacturers to ensure a reliable supply chain for essential medical products, the health system said in a press release. The new program allows Premier, Ballad Health and other health systems to invest in “innovative” business models, Ballad said, including partnering with manufacturers that can help fulfill demands for medical supplies at risk of shortage. LINK

Facebook data center comes into view, on brink of key votes tonight (Nashville Business Journal) Facebook Inc. expects to build a $715 million data center in Gallatin requiring 1,200 construction jobs and 140 workers once it’s open. In exchange, the city of Gallatin is poised to approve 20 years of tax breaks. Those details are just some of the new projections and information coming to light ahead of tonight’s Gallatin City Council meeting. It marks a critical checkpoint in a deal that James Fenton, who leads Gallatin’s Economic Development Agency, has been chasing for almost three years. LINK


Clint Cooper: Tennessee’s COVID-19 testing effort is a bit of good news in pandemic (Times Free Press) In late March and April, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was criticized over the state’s backward, unscientific and late responses to the COVID-19 virus. He didn’t tell people to stay home soon enough, he didn’t take the same actions Democratic governors did, and then he planned to reopen the state’s economy too soon. Of course, the condemnations came from people who had no expertise themselves and thus could be chalked up to party politics. But still it rankled … On Monday, though, Tennessee was announced as one of only 10 states to reach a virus testing benchmark suggested by Harvard researchers to properly track and contain the virus. It also has met federal testing goals. LINK

Randy Boyd: How to prepare for a safe re-entry at University of Tennessee (News Sentinel/USA Today Tennessee) The past several months have been hard, different, uneasy and challenging for us all. Since we suspended in-person classes on our campuses on March 11, life as we know it has drastically changed. No one ever heard of “social distancing” on our campuses prior to March. No one imagined that protective face masks would be part of our daily attire, and everyone had plenty of toilet paper! Simply stated, COVID-19 has caused us to re-think how we do life. LINK

Dwight Lewis: Tennessee should honor Ida B. Wells with a statue in the state Capitol (Tennessean/USA Today Tennessee) If you’re good at what you do in life, somebody will surely remember you. That’s the case with Ida B. Wells, who wasn’t just good at what she did, she was great. And more than that, Ida B. Wells had to be one of the most courageous people in American history. Wells, a journalist and an educator, died in 1931, however, on May 4, she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for her crusade against lynching and the unlawful treatment of black people in the late 1800s and early 1900s. LINK

Guest column: An open letter to Gov. Bill Lee about gun legislation (Daily Memphian) As a concerned citizen in Tennessee, I express opposition to HB 2817/SB2671, a reckless and dangerous bill that would allow people to carry loaded handguns in public without a permit, without a background check and without safety training. This bill would seriously jeopardize the lives and safety of our citizens, our law enforcement officials and our economy. Over the past two months, we have been alarmed, frightened and even home-bound as we confront the COVID-19 pandemic. The current data collected through May 15 indicate that 290 people have died in Tennessee since the virus arrived in March of this year. LINK

Guest column: Reopen protesters are flirting with insane ideas in coronavirus era (Tennessean) The recent demonstrations  in Nashville and other cities against the stay-at-home orders involved those who not only wanted to risk their lives in the name of the economy but the lives of their fellow citizens. They had the nerve to proclaim this is in the name of “freedom.” This is the epitome of nonsense  and lunacy.  The COVID-19 is still on the rise in Tennessee. There are some very unflattering names for these folk, including “covidiots,” which I will not overwork in this column. LINK

Editorial: COVID-19 highlights Tennessee’s child care troubles (Johnson City Press) Child care already was a tough enough challenge for working parents before the novel coronavirus pandemic, given expense and availability. Once schools turned pupils out in March to limit exposure, that quandary was magnified. Parents with younger children suddenly found themselves with a need for care and supervision, and many likely had not budgeted for that instant expense. While some parents may have been able to work from home, many essential workers did not have that option. LINK

Column: A device for every student and teacher is the first step. Now we need Internet access (News Sentinel) Peanut butter and jelly. Pencil and paper. A computer and access to the Internet. On May 13, the Knox County Schools Board of Education approved the 1:1 Student Device Deployment plan for grades K-12 for the 2020-2021 school year. It means that every teacher and each of the approximately 60,000 students in Knox County Schools will get a tablet or laptop to use during the upcoming school year. This is a big and exciting step forward for students and teachers in our region. LINK

Guest column: The case for restarting the health care industry (Tennessean) As our nation emerges from an unprecedented shutdown, the health care industry is uniquely suited to lead the way to recovery and provide a template other industries may follow. Health care has not been shielded from the COVID-19 economic maelstrom. Surgical and non-surgical procedures, which are major drivers of revenue, have decreased by 70% across major markets. Accounts receivable are dwindling and financial support from the federal government is insufficient or unavailable. LINK

Guest column: Case of Tennessee Rep. John DeBerry highlights need for legislative term limits (Tennessean/USA Today Tennessee) One of the biggest arguments against term limits has been the ballot box. “Let the voters decide” has been the call of those wanting to protect their nice, comfy positions in the halls of government. It seems as if Tennessee Democrats are out of step with their brethren. Recently, the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee voted to remove Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis from the Aug. 6 primary ballot. His sin? He wasn’t acting very “Democratic.” LINK

Tennessee Voices, Episode 37: James Mackler, candidate for US Senate (Tennessean) When GOP U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced he was retiring at the end of his third term, it created the second open Senate seat for Tennessee in two election cycles. Former Sen. Bob Corker, also a Republican, chose not to run for reelection in 2018. James Mackler, an attorney, a U.S. Army veteran and a Democrat, began his Senate campaign then and started to travel a red state and make his pitch for why he should be elected. He stepped aside when former Gov. Phil Bredesen entered the race. LINK

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