Tuesday, February 16

Gov. Lee closes state offices in many counties (WTVF-TV Nashville) Governor Bill Lee closed state offices in many counties throughout Tennessee Tuesday due to dangerous weather conditions. State offices in all other counties will remain open. Gov. Lee urged all Tennesseans to use caution and avoid non-essential travel where possible on Tuesday. LINK

Governor Lee has closed select state offices for Tuesday (WSMV-TV Nashville) Due to winter weather, Governor Lee has closed the following state offices on Tuesday, February 16. LINK

Governor Lee closes state offices in Middle Tennessee due to expected hazardous weather (WZTV-TV Nashville) Governor Bill Lee has shut down state offices in Middle and West Tennessee due to freezing rain, ice and snowfall. LINK

Winter storm closes Legislature until at least Wednesday (TN Journal) The heavy blanket of ice and snow depositing itself across the state has caused legislative leaders to cancel meetings until at least Wednesday. State government was already closed Monday due to Presidents’ Day, but Senate Speaker Randy McNally announced the Cordell Hull Building would also be closed on Tuesday. LINK

Modine expansion to create 45 new jobs in Lawrence County (Columbia Daily Herald) The Modine Manufacturing Company has announced plans to expand its operation in southern Middle Tennessee, bringing 45 new jobs to its manufacturing facility in Lawrence County. A $1.2 million investment, the project includes the relocation of three product lines from operations in Missouri and Rhode Island to the company’s Lawrenceburg facility … “As we get our economy back on track, investments like this are crucial for our state,” Gov. Bill Lee said. “I look forward to seeing this company continue to succeed in Southern Middle Tennessee.” LINK

JMCSS career and technical education programs look at ways to grow through partnerships, grants (Jackson Sun) An area that continues to gain and add onto the momentum and support it has is Jackson-Madison County School’s career and technical education programs, including Local Options and Opportunities Program (LOOP), a half-day internship with local companies; workforce development; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-based initiatives … JMCSS is also talking with the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital about the health science focus that will be a part of the workforce development center being built with about $400,000 from Gov. Bill Lee’s 2019 GIVE grant. LINK

Cochran: Broadband, constitutional carry among highlights of Lee address (Daily Post-Athenian) State Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) believes Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address last week covered a lot of the areas that needed to be. “He had a lot to go over after facing the pandemic for a year and so it is good to hear a lot of the positive economic numbers,” said Cochran. “The whole theme of the speech was strong. One thing in particular that I was happy to hear him talking about was the 10th Amendment and talking about, basically, any power not expressly given to the federal government is reserved for the states and that Tennessee would be pursuing policies that honor that and make sure that Tennessee is leading and that we are not taking our lead from the federal government.” LINK

Winter storm kills two in Tennessee (WTVF-TV Nashville) Two people have died in the winter storm that’s putting the mid-state on ice. The Tennessee Department of Health is reporting that two people have died as a result of the winter weather: one in Shelby County and another in Maury County. The state did not release details of their deaths. However, NewsChannel 3 in Memphis reported that the Shelby County death was a 10-year-old boy who died after he and his sister fell through a frozen pond Sunday morning. His 6-year-old sister is in the hospital in critical condition. LINK

TEMA: Two weather-related deaths confirmed in Tennessee (WZTV-TV Nashville) TEMA says the Tennessee Dept. of Health has confirmed there have been two weather-related fatalities across the state. Officials are continuing to monitor road and travel conditions. LINK

Gov. Lee prepares commission for Forrest bust removal vote; legislature asks for AG involvement (Tennessean) Gov. Bill Lee appears as determined as ever to move the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Tennessee Capitol, continuing to use his authority to influence removal even as top Republicans have tried to resist his efforts — and as they’re now asking the attorney general to get involved. In the three weeks leading up to a virtual meeting of the Tennessee Historical Commission scheduled for Thursday, Lee replaced six members, or a quarter of the group’s appointed positions. LINK

When will you be eligible for the vaccine? TN Dept. of Health launches COVID-19 questionnaire (WJHL-TV Johnson City) For people wondering when they will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the Volunteer state, the Tennessee Dept. of Health has launched a new tool. The questionnaire asks about your risk of exposure to coronavirus based on where you work, whether you’ve already received your first dose and if you’ve ever contracted COVID-19. According to the state’s website, “This questionnaire is designed to gather information regarding your readiness for COVID-19 vaccination and offer guidance and instruction to ensure your safety.” LINK

County commissioner urges National Guard intervention for vaccine effort (Daily Memphian) Shelby County Commissioner Mick Wright wants state government to send National Guard troops and help from logistics experts to unscramble the city’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations. Wright put the request in the form of a resolution commissioners will discuss Wednesday, Feb. 17, during online committee sessions. The commission would vote on the resolution at its Monday, Feb. 22, meeting. “I don’t know the answer,” Wright told The Daily Memphian. “We just obviously need help.” LINK

Anti-Immigrant Vitriol Complicates Vaccine Rollout in Southern States (Kaiser Health News) In eastern Tennessee, doctors have seen firsthand how a hard-line immigration policy can affect the health and well-being of a community. In 2018, federal agents raided a meatpacking plant in Morristown, a manufacturing hub in the Tennessee Valley, and detained nearly 100 workers they suspected of being in the country illegally. In the weeks that followed, scores of immigrant families who had found work in the meat-processing plants dotting broader Hamblen County scrambled to find sanctuary in churches — and scrupulously avoided seeking medical care. The reason? Immigration agents were staking out clinics. LINK

Fisk University officially names Vann Newkirk, Sr. the school’s next president (Tennessean) Nashville’s oldest university officially has a new president. Fisk University’s Board of Trustees named Interim President Vann Newkirk Sr. as the university’s 17th president on Feb. 5; his term is effective immediately. Newkirk took the helm of the university after former president Kevin Rome’s abrupt departure last August.He previously served as provost at Fisk since 2018. Newkirk first worked for Fisk as a consultant in the early 2000s, when the university was in the midst of long-term struggles to improve its finances and infrastructure and later served as provost for three years at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina before returning to Fisk. LINK

Tennessee Department of Labor: Beware hackers trying to steal your unemployment (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Criminals are hacking into people’s accounts who are filing for unemployment and trying to steal their money. “They changed things like my password and changed my security question,” Lorilee Bell, who has been unemployed for the last year, said. She’s just one of the dozens of people whose account with the state has been hacked, leaving them unable to claim their benefits. “It’s scary because what happens if I can’t claim this week? LINK

Tennessee trying to ‘ramp up’ COVID-19 vaccination (Kingsport Times-News) Tennessee’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout was the centerpiece of a Zoom discussion on Monday between Tennessee Press Association (TPA) members, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. “I think this is the first time we’ve had any kind of mass vaccination in our state,” Sexton, R-Crossville, said. “We are trying to ramp that up. It does cause a little bit of a problem. I would say the other problem we have as a state is we don’t know until 48 to 72 hours how many vaccinations we’re going to get for that period of time. Sometimes the department (of health) has not been able to get the amount they were promised, either. I think there has been hiccups all along the way from federal to state trying to get the people to shots.” LINK

Local education system voices support of bill reallocating tax revenue funds to public school building maintenance (WJHL-TV Johnson City) The Bristol, Tennessee Public Schools board unanimously voiced its support for Rep. David Hawk’s House Bill 48 at Monday night’s meeting. The bill would reallocate the tax revenue funds from online sports gambling, which is currently geared toward higher education scholarships, to K-12 public school systems across the state. News Channel 11 spoke with Hawk, who said that there is a plethora of funding for higher education while public schools continue to struggle maintaining facilities. LINK

OPINION

David Plazas: Gov. Bill Lee, lawmakers have a path to get surplus TANF dollars to needy families (Tennessean) The State of Tennessee is ready to spend a $741 million record surplus to help people emerge out of poverty. Finally. The state’s poverty rate was 13.9% prior to COVID-19’s emergence in early 2020. The pandemic caused more than 1 million Tennesseans to file for unemployment, and nonprofits have documented a growing need in basics such as food assistance. That is why the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families federal financial help is sorely needed: To help people get back on their feet. LINK

Guest column: Virtual school harms low-income minority students the most (News Sentinel/USA Today Tennessee) When Dorothy and her rag-tag crew ask the great Wizard of Oz for a way home, a heart, a brain and courage, the Great Oz puts them on a task he thought they could never accomplish — kill the Wicked Witch. But when this band of misfits returns with broomstick in hand, the great Oz stalls. “Come back tomorrow,” he proclaims. Toto pulls back the green curtain and the Great Oz screams, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” The gig was up. Now with the science telling us that in-person learning is safe and learning-loss data showing that low-income minority students are most at risk of suffering an educational setback that would be generational, Tennessee is getting a glimpse behind the curtain of the education lobby. LINK

Amy Weirich: Gov. Bill Lee’s permitless carry law will put guns in the wrong hands (Commercial Appeal) We had never met, but I would know her face anywhere. Kind smile. Quiet. Polite. Sad. I felt the sadness when I walked in the room and introduced myself. She carries that everywhere and always will. Her granddaughter had been murdered a few weeks earlier. The man accused of the murder was due in court that day and I was meeting her for the first time. LINK

Margaret Renkl: Give Dolly Parton a Statue Already (NY Times) The Tennessee General Assembly’s vote to do so should be unanimous.To call the Republican supermajority of the Tennessee General Assembly extremist is merely to state a fact. These legislators have refused to expand Medicaid, a decision that is opposed by 63 percent of Tennesseans. They are considering a bill that would allow people to carry a gun without a permit, though a new poll shows that 93 percent of recent Tennessee voters support permit requirements. The General Assembly has also just reappointed a secretary of state who opposes expanding access to absentee ballots, never mind that Tennesseans shattered records by taking advantage of temporary absentee voting options during the pandemic. LINK

Editorial: The New Debt Prisons (NY Times) Entrapping debtors betrays the American idea. It must end … Cindy Rodriguez, for example, is a disabled, middle-aged woman in Tennessee who was arrested on a charge of shoplifting in 2014. She followed her public defender’s advice, pleaded guilty, and accepted probation. Her probation lasted nearly a year under the supervision of a private probation contractor. The company charged her $35-45 a month and $20 for each randomly administered drug test, on top of the $578 she owed the court. She had to sell her van to keep up with these payments and lost her apartment. Still, she was booked into jail for owing money. LINK

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