Tuesday, September 15

Gov. Lee announces $27.6M grants to develop Tenn. Communities (WVLT-TV Knoxville)  Governor Bill Lee and the Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe approved $27.6 million in Community Development Block Grants. The grants will assist communities with infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitations and health and safety initiatives. “These funds play an important role in helping communities across Tennessee prepare for future economic development opportunities and continued growth,” Lee said. “I applaud each community for investing in themselves and taking the necessary steps to improve their assets, infrastructure and safety initiatives.” LINK

Governor, ECD Commissioner announce community block grants (WSMV-TV Nashville) Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe recently approved over $27.6 million in Community Development Block Grants, which will assist communities with infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitations and health and safety initiatives. “These funds play an important role in helping communities across Tennessee prepare for future economic development opportunities and continued growth,” Lee said in a news release. LINK

Baileyton, Greeneville among 66 TN communities to receive community development block grants from state (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Two local communities will be receiving more than half a million dollars combined in grants for fire protection and emergency services improvements. According to a release from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the Baileyton and Greeneville communities will receive grants from the state to improve services. The grants were approved by Governor Bill Lee and TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe. LINK

$27 million in grants distributed statewide for community development (WBBJ-TV Jackson) More than $27 million in community development grants are being distributed across the state to assist with infrastructure, housing, and health and safety. The funds are based on priorities for communities and is funded through the HUD program, according to a news release. The funds are distributed by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. LINK

Behavioral Health Safety Net Expanded For Uninsured Children (Greeneville Sun) The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and its community mental health provider partners have expanded the state’s Behavioral Health Safety Net to uninsured children. The program offers an array of essential mental health services for uninsured Tennessee children age three to 17. Services are available for family incomes at or below 138 percent Federal Poverty Level. Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly appropriated $7.6 million in new state funding in the current fiscal year to create the Children’s Behavioral Health Safety Net (BHSN), a release says. LINK

City of Crossville to receive over half million dollar grant for sewer improvements (WIHG Radio Crossville) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe announced over $27.6 million in Community Development Block Grants, which will assist communities with infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitations and health and safety initiatives. LINK

State: Grocery, Furniture Sales Up, Retail and Restaurant Sales Down (Memphis Flyer) In Tennessee, sales of building materials and groceries were up last month while retailers, restaurants, and bars continued to see declines. In all, though, Tennessee tax revenues in August were higher than they were a year ago, buoyed by federal stimulus funds, according to Tennessee Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley. August revenues were $1.2 billion, he said. The figure is up $22 million over August 2019 and $115.1 million more than budget estimates. “Consumer activity for the month of July, reflected in August’s sales tax receipts, continued to outperform expectations as federal stimulus resources remained a large part of the state’s strong performance,” Eley said in a statement. LINK

Tennessee Department of Labor: Unemployed must file weekly work searches starting Oct. 4 (Tennessean) Some Tennesseans receiving unemployment benefits will once again be required to complete weekly work searches as part of their weekly certifications beginning Sunday, Oct. 4. This means that individuals who plan to file their weekly certification for Oct. 4 will need to start work search activities the week of Sept. 27, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Monday. LINK

Weekly work searches to resume for unemployment claimants (WVLT-TV Knoxville) Weekly required work searches will resume for unemployment claimants in the next coming weeks. According to the Tenn. Department of Labor and Workforce Development, unemployment claimants will be required to submit their weekly work searches beginning on Sunday, Oct. 4. “Claimants who choose to continue receiving unemployment benefits will start work search activities during the week of Sunday, Sept. 27. LINK

HHS Secretary Alex Azar to visit Nashville and Vanderbilt on Tuesday (Tennessean) Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will visit Nashville on Tuesday to tour a factory producing protective equipment and meet with vaccine researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Azar will begin his visit with a tour of a SmileDirectClub manufacturing facility that has repurposed 3D printers to produce face shields, according to an agency news release. Azer will then meet with Vanderbilt doctors who are leading clinical trials on a prospective vaccine and convalescent plasma, the release states. LINK

TN parent sues school over mask mandate, could force Gov. Lee to issue statewide order (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Nico Sanfilippo entered his freshman year at Raider Academy in Manchester wanting to keep his honor roll average and play football. He just didn’t want to wear a mask doing it. “He can’t concentrate and doesn’t like it,” said Heather Murchison, Sanfilippo’s mother. So when Sanfilippo showed up for school, Murchison said he was placed in in-school suspension. LINK

BlueCross says data firm’s claims that state health plan paid provider overcharges based on ‘lack of understanding‘ (Times Free Press) A top Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee official is questioning a private data firm’s assertions the nonprofit insurer paid out $11 million in medical overcharges during a three-year period in its role as a third-party administrator of state employees’ health plan. In his Sept. 3 letter to Tennessee Finance Commissioner Butch Eley and Benefits Administration Executive Director Laurie Lee, BlueCross Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scott Pierce said the company conducted its own “high-level” analysis of claims in the date range that Connecticut-based ClaimInformatics, which conducted the initial review, said it used. LINK

Tennessee first responders head to Louisiana ahead of Hurricane Sally (WTVF-TV Nashville) Several first responders from across Middle Tennessee are headed to Louisiana on Monday to support emergency officials preparing for Hurricane Sally. Sally was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained top winds of around 85 miles per hour on Monday morning. It is expected to strengthen as it approaches the Gulf before making landfall on Tuesday. LINK

Tennessee first responders deploy to Louisiana for Hurricane Sally rescue efforts (WZTV-TV Nashville) The Nashville Fire Department is joining other responders from the midstate in deploying to Louisiana to help with search and rescue efforts associated with Hurricane Sally. Hurricane Sally is currently located 175 miles southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi, with the potential to pack winds of up to 85 mph. At that intensity, damage to homes, trees and power lines is expected. LINK

Tennessee crews deploy to Louisiana to help with rescue and relief as Hurricane Sally nears Gulf Coast (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Emergency and utility crews from Tennessee are deploying to Louisiana as Hurricane Sally approaches landfall on the Gulf Coast. As of Monday afternoon, Hurricane Sally was a category one storm. The storm-weary coast is preparing for it to potentially strengthen to category 2 before its projected early Tuesday landfall stretching from the Western Florida Panhandle to Louisiana, with severe storm surge and flooding being the biggest threats for the region. LINK

Tennessee could see smoke from West Coast wildfires this week (Tennessean) Will the western wildfires impact Tennessee this week? Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Nashville say they may. “Smoke may get trapped in the mid levels of the atmosphere, where it can be transported,” the NWS tweeted Monday morning. Nearly 100 wildfires were raging through 12 western states on Monday, driven by gusting winds. More than 30,000 firefighters and support personnel were battling blazes. LINK

Enrollment at UT is up this year, with a record number of first-year students in Knoxville (News Sentinel) Enrollment at two University of Tennessee campuses is up this year, including a record number of first-year students at UT Knoxville. There are over 52,500 students enrolled in the UT System this year, up from just over 51,500 last year. Enrollment at UT Knoxville is up by nearly 1,100 students this semester, for a total enrollment of 30,559 students, according to information from the UT System. LINK

Peyton Manning endows scholarships for Tennessee State, Fisk and four other HBCUs (Tennessean) Tennessee State and Fisk will benefit from Peyton Manning’s generosity. ESPN reported the former Tennessee Vols and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback is endowing six scholarships for Historically Black Colleges and Universities through his PeyBack Foundation.  TSU and Fisk are the two schools in Tennessee, and the other four schools – Grambling State, Southern, Xavier and Dillard – are from Manning’s native state of Louisiana. LINK

Tennessee death row inmate claims intellectual disability (AP) A Tennessee death row inmate is asking a federal judge to postpone his December execution, arguing that he is intellectually disabled. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing an intellectually disabled person violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. LINK

Attorneys for Pervis Payne seek to stop execution; claim he’s intellectually disabled (Daily Memphian) Attorneys for Pervis Payne, the Shelby County man convicted in the 1987 murder of a Millington woman and her young daughter, asked a federal court to stop the state from carrying out his execution in three months on the basis that he is intellectually disabled. Payne’s attorneys are asking the state Supreme Court to create a procedure to hear his claim that his execution is unconstitutional because of his intellectual disability. They filed the 34-page complaint in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville on Monday, Sept. 14. LINK

Racial Bias Taints Death Penalty Cases In Tennessee, National Report Finds (WPLN Radio Nashville) A new national report on racial disparities in the death penalty explores two high-profile cases that are winding their way through the courts here in Tennessee. The analysis, published Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center, highlights the ways Black people are more likely to be discriminated against at every step — from arrest to jury selection to execution. The report says Shelby County prosecutors used racial tropes to paint Pervis Payne as a drug user “looking for sex.” And in Nashville, the district attorney struck Black people from the jury in Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman’s case. LINK

State’s recruiting of Chinese investment questioned (Daily Memphian) Legislators could question Gov. Bill Lee’s administration this week over reports it is recruiting Chinese investment to the state despite a nasty trade war and criticism of China’s handling of the coronavirus. Lee and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe both spoke by video at an early September conference in China, encouraging companies to put money into creating jobs in Tennessee, according to an article on China.org.cn, which was reported by the Tennessee Journal. LINK

Rick Staples slammed by state election board for campaign spending, fined $26,640 (News Sentinel) State election officials slammed State Rep. Rick Staples last week with a $26,640 fine, punishment they said for over $10,000 in questionable campaign spending with 80 different infractions. The state Registry of Election Finance approved the fine and members said Staples’ use of funds was illegal use. The committee came up with the $26,640 number by fining Staples, D-Knoxville, $333 per infraction. The committee originally suggested a $1,000 fine per infraction but settled on the lower figure. LINK

No sleight of hand: The rise and fall of Matthew Hill (TN Journal) WJHL-TV’s Jeff Keeling has taken a deep dive into the career of soon-to-be former state Rep. Matthew Hill, from the Jonesborough Republican’s first election in 2004 to his crushing defeat in last month’s primary. Hill, along with his friend Micah Van Huss and brother Timothy Hill made up the core of a bloc of lawmakers who made life difficult for fellow Republican lawmakers and governors. LINK

US Senate candidate Hagerty visiting Maryville on Tuesday (WATE-TV Knoxville) Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Bill Hagerty will be making a stop Tuesday in Blount County. The Blount County Republican Party is hosting a rally from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Smithview Pavillion, 601 Smithview Drive. Hagerty is the former U.S. ambassador to Japan and founder of private equity firm Hagerty Peterson & Company. He faces Democratic nominee Marquita Bradshaw in the November general election for retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander’s seat. LINK

Rep. Tim Burchett’s first bill unanimously passes House of Representative (WVLT-TV Knoxville) Rep. Tim Burchett’s first bill has unanimously passed out of the House of Representatives Monday. The House of Representatives passed the Microloan Transparency and Accountability Act. The Act provides Small Business Administration (SBA) microloan intermediaries with an assistance grant for working with rural small businesses. The intermediaries must make 25% of their loans to rural small businesses to be eligible for the grant. LINK

State official says don’t ‘jump to conclusions’ about mail ballots (Johnson City Press) Tennessee’s Secretary of State Tre Hargett told area Republicans Monday there are two “opposing narratives” being pushed on social media to explain possible outcomes of the Nov. 3 presidential election. One, he told the East Tennessee Republican Club meeting at the Carnegie Hotel in Johnson City, is a popular GOP belief that fraudulent mail-in ballots may sway election results. The other storyline, which he said is being pushed by Democrats, is that the U.S. Postal Service is being used to suppress the vote in November. LINK

TN Secretary of State: Don’t expect presidential results election night (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Tennessee’s secretary of state isn’t expecting the usual swift resolution to this year’s presidential election outcome. Tre Hargett said Monday Tennessee’s mail-in voting numbers are likely to be much higher than normal. And some states, he said, accept ballots postmarked as late as election day. “I don’t think that we’re going to know the results on that day (Nov. 3) and I think that we as a nation need to understand that we would rather get those results right than (get them) fast,” Hargett said. LINK

Trump Goes Unmentioned in Most TV Ads for House, Senate Campaigns (WSJ) President Trump dominates television news coverage, but there is one corner of the media where he’s almost completely absent: advertisements in Senate and House elections …  Bill Hagerty, a Republican campaigning for an open Senate seat in Tennessee, used a photo of himself literally embracing Mr. Trump in his primary commercials. Many of them pointed out that Mr. Hagerty’s wealthy GOP opponent didn’t contribute to Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. Each spot ended with an image of Mr. Hagerty gripping Mr. Trump above the elbow and the words: “Endorsed by President Trump.” Mr. Hagerty won the primary in August and hasn’t yet aired ads in the general election. LINK

FedEx SenseAware ID device expected to see use for COVID-19 vaccine shipments (Commercial Appeal via Tennessean) FedEx is launching a sensor-based device the company says will provide real-time tracking updates for future COVID-19 vaccine shipments and other sensitive orders. SenseAware ID tracks a package’s location within FedEx Express’ network. The lightweight device’s sensor transmits location data every two seconds while attached to a shipment, FedEx said in a news release. LINK

Amazon announces 2,500 new jobs in Nashville (Nashville Business Journal) A familiar name is once again hiring in Nashville. Amazon Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) announced Monday it is hiring 100,000 new operations workers in the U.S and Canada, according to a news release, including 2,500 people in Nashville. The jobs are in addition to the 33,000 open corporate and tech positions, more than 500 of which are in Nashville, the company announced last week, as part of its upcoming annual career day. The new operations positions include jobs at Amazon fulfillment centers, delivery stations, sorting centers and other sites, according to the release, and are in anticipation of the holiday season. LINK

Mayor Cooper: Petition to roll back property tax hike would ‘gut’ Nashville, create $332M deficit (Tennessean) Mayor John Cooper is slamming a local referendum effort that, if placed on the ballot and approved by voters, would roll back Nashville’s property tax increase and limit Metro’s ability to raise taxes in the future. The proposed charter amendments, Cooper said in a release Monday, would create a $322 million deficit that could “cripple” the city and “gut” essential services. “After two natural disasters this year, we don’t need a self-inflicted one. This would severely weaken Nashville at a time when we need to build Nashville stronger,” he said. LINK

‘This Would Cripple Our City’: Nashville Leaders Voice Opposition To Referendum (WPLN Radio Nashville) Nashville public officials and business leaders are condemning a plan to roll back the 34% property tax increase that councilmembers passed in June. The Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act wants to limit the city’s ability to give public land to private entities and slow property tax increases, which officials say could create a $332 million deficit for this fiscal year alone. That hole means class sizes in Metro Nashville Public Schools would increase, trash pickup would switch to twice a month, recycling would be eliminated and one-third of police offers would be laid off. LINK

How Climate Migration Will Reshape America Millions will be displaced. Where will they go? (NYTimes) … The Memphis Sands Aquifer, a crucial water supply for Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, is already overdrawn by hundreds of millions of gallons a day. Much of the Ogallala Aquifer — which supplies nearly a third of the nation’s irrigation groundwater — could be gone by the end of the century. LINK

OPINION

Guest column: How Tennessee’s leaders can protect vulnerable veterans in higher education (Tennessean) America is navigating an era of uncertainty as we address COVID-19 and prepare for what will likely be the worst recession in generations. The COVID-19 pandemic will impact every sector of our economy, including higher education. Colleges and students face a coming crisis, and states must do everything within their power to prepare for the struggles ahead and protect the most vulnerable. LINK

Guest column: Jackson was more than imperfect. Removing his statue won’t destroy history (News Sentinel) Over the last month or so there have been a number of newspaper columns and comments by and about U.S. Sen. Lamar  Alexander defending the Andrew Jackson statue adjacent to the White House. I can appreciate the senator’s nuanced approach to the issue, but I would like to present some points for him to consider. The senator contends that while Jackson was “clearly a flawed man,” he “was arguably the most important American president between Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. … ” LINK

Frank Cagle: Democrats don’t need money (KnoxTNToday) The Tennessee Journal reports that Marquita Bradshaw, who won the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, spent $21,617 defeating James Mackler who spent over a million dollars. It reminds me of when Republican Gov. Don Sundquist was running for re-election. The Democrats picked Mark Whitaker to challenge him. Whitaker was defeated by John Jay Hooker in the primary. John Jay told me he only spent $35, and that was to file to be on the ballot. Don’t run in a Democratic primary if you name starts with a “W.” LINK

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