Wednesday, February 17

Governor to build on his civics initiative (Johnson City Press) Gov. Bill Lee is looking to expand a program he began in 2019 to recognize schools and districts that prioritize teaching the nation’s history and civic values. The background: In his State of the State address earlier this month, Lee told lawmakers he would be using federal dollars to double the “number of schools participating in the Governor’s Civics Seal initiative, which will ensure that thousands more students get a better civics education.” The goal: The governor allocated $500,000 in the state’s budget two years ago to support public schools and districts in implementing what he calls “high-quality” civic education programs that result in a student’s preparation for college, career and civic life. LINK

Gov. Bill Lee: ‘We’ve officially administered over 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tennessee’ (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Tuesday afternoon, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced on Tuesday that the state has administered more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccines. In a post on Twitter Gov. Lee wrote, “This is an encouraging milestone, but there is still work ahead of us, and we remain committed to getting shots in the arms of Tennesseans who need it most.” LINK

More than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in Tennessee (WVLT-TV Knoxville) Governor Bill Lee announced the state has administered more than one million COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday afternoon. “This is an encouraging milestone, but there is still work ahead of us, and we remain committed to getting shots in the arms of Tennesseans who need it most,” Lee wrote in a post on Twitter. The Tennessee Department of Health launched a new tool on Tuesday to help individuals determine when they will be able to be vaccinated. The tool is designed to gather information regarding an individual’s readiness for COVID-19 vaccination and offer guidance and instruction. LINK

Tennessee to begin vaccinating ages 65 or older, K-12 teachers and child care staff next week (Tennessean) Tennesseans 65 and older, K-12 school teachers and child care staff will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations beginning Monday, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey announced Tuesday. The expanded eligibility comes as the state health department anticipates increased weekly vaccine supplies in the upcoming weeks, despite what could be a three-day delay in shipment and distribution due to the winter weather, Piercey said. Tennessee is moving into phase 1b of its vaccination plan, a stage that covers residents 65 and older, K-12 and child care staff and first responders. LINK

Tennessee prepares to offer COVID-19 vaccines to adults 65 and older, teachers (WTVF-TV Nashville) Tennessee is preparing to move into the next phase of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan by the end of the month. The Tennessee Department of Health said those in phase 1b, which includes teachers, child care workers and those aged 65 and older, can begin registering for a vaccination appointment on February 22. LINK

A sense of peace’ – Educators excited for state COVID-19 vaccine availability (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Tennessee is opening up vaccinations for teachers across the state. The changes mean tens of thousands more Tennesseans will be eligible for the shots. The change will take effect on February 22. The state’s vaccine plan is moving into phase 1b. People ages 65 and older will also be eligible to get the vaccine. Originally, teachers had to travel across county lines to get a shot, because it wasn’t available to them in Hamblen. Dr. Jeff Perry, the district’s superintendent, has fought for the shots from the beginning. “It was extremely frustrating to have my teachers have to go out of our county have all that inconvenience, to be vaccinated when that should just be a basic, fundamental thing that we do,” Perry said. LINK

State expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include teachers, people 65 and older (WATE-TV Knoxville) The state Department of Health will begin registering Tennesseans aged 65 and older and those in Phase 1b of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan COVID-19 for vaccinations on Feb. 22. Phase 1b of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan includes operations personnel of first responder agencies along with teachers and staff members of kindergarten through 12th grade schools and child care facilities. Knox County Health Department released a statement saying they plan to follow the state’s plan. “Eligible individuals in these expanded groups will be able to sign-up for KCHD’s vaccination opportunities through KCHD’s waitlist. Currently, there are more than 9,000 individuals signed up on the waitlist,” the department said in a press release shortly after the state’s announcement. LINK

TN and Knox Co. to expand COVID-19 vaccine appointments to those 65 and older and teachers starting Monday (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Starting on Monday, Feb. 22, people who are over 65 and teachers will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. The Tennessee Department of Health and Knox County Health Department announced Tuesday it will expand vaccinations to Phase 1b, which includes teachers, administrators and other staff members of kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and child care facilities, as well as operations personnel of first responder agencies. LINK

Tennessee, Hamilton County expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to teachers, ages 65 and up starting next week (Times Free Press) Tennesseans age 65 and older, plus teachers and others in “Phase 1b” of the state’s vaccination plan, will become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday, Feb. 22, Tennessee health officials announced Tuesday. The Hamilton County Health Department will follow the state’s eligibility changes effective Monday, as well, according to a news release from the department. That means all Southeast Tennessee counties will be in the same vaccination phase.  Phase 1b includes first responder operations personnel, staff members of kindergarten through 12th grade schools and child care facilities. LINK

TN opening vaccination to people 65+ and school staff; pregnant women added to next phase (WTVC-TV Chattanooga) The state of Tennessee is expanding COVID-19 vaccination access to thousands of more people. On Tuesday, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey announced that all health departments in the state will enter Phase 1b of its plan on Feb. 22. The Hamilton County Health Department confirmed they will be moving to Phase 1b along with the state. They say those 65 and older getting vaccinated must be a Hamilton County resident. No specific medical conditions are required. LINK

Tennessee to begin vaccinating those 65 and older next week (Johnson City Press) Tennessee will expand vaccine eligibility statewide to residents 65 and older and those in phase 1b of the state’s coronavirus vaccination plan beginning Monday. In addition to opening eligibility to more people, air traffic controllers have been added to phase 1b, which is primarily made up of teachers. Other changes to the state’s vaccination plan include the addition of pregnant women, who are encouraged to speak with their doctors before seeking the vaccine, to phase 1c and language and sign-language interpreters in health care settings to phase 1a2. LINK

TDH makes changes to COVID-19 Vaccination Plan: Pregnant women moved to phase 1c (WJHL-TV Johnson City) In a Tuesday COVID-19 update media briefing, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey announced that several changes have been made to the state’s vaccination plan. Some of the changes announced include language and sign language interpreters who work in healthcare have been moved up to phase 1a2; air traffic control and air cargo workers have been moved up to phase 1b; pregnant women have been moved up to phase 1c; and overnight camp staff have been moved up to phase 3. “As you know, the current vaccines on the market have not officially completed their clinical trials for pregnant women. However, there have been tens of thousands of pregnant women that have been in these vaccine trials and it does appear to be safe, when the benefits outweigh the risk,” Dr. Piercey said during the call. LINK

TN to begin COVID-19 vaccination of adults 65 and older, teachers (WCYB-TV Bristol) According to a release from the Tennessee Dept. of Health, registration of residents aged 65 and older and those in Phase 1b for vaccinations will begin on Feb. 22. Phase 1b of Tennessee’s vaccination plan includes school and child care facilities staff members. According to the release this phase also includes “operations personnel of first responder agencies along with teachers and staff members of schools and child care facilities.” LINK

State offers pregnant women a place at the front of COVID-19 vaccine line (WATE-TV Knoxville) Expectant mothers wishing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine now have a shorter time to wait. Tennessee Department of Health has updated the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan by adding pregnant women to Phase 1c. Although pregnant women were not included in the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, they are at increased risk for hospitalization and death due to COVID-19. Pregnant women may choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of Phase 1c, along with others with high-risk health conditions. Pregnant women are encouraged to talk with their health care providers to help them make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination.  LINK

Gov. Lee: State offices in west, middle Tennessee closed on Wednesday (WZTV-TV Nashville) Gov. Bill Lee’s office says all state offices throughout west and middle Tennessee will remain closed Wednesday as residents brace for more winter weather. FOX 17 News is in a Code Red Weather & Traffic alert for a Winter Storm Watch from 3 p.m. Wednesday to 6 p.m. Thursday. LINK

Tennessee lands $6.9 million in STEM education grants (WATN-TV Memphis) Tennessee officials say they have landed $6.9 million in grants to aid in computer science and STEM education. The state Department of Education says the money includes a $4 million Education Innovation and Research early phase grant and a $2.9 million Out-of-School Time Career Pathway Program grant. The $4 million grant will help expand STEM and computer science education in 20 Tennessee high schools, including with work-based learning opportunities to earn postsecondary credits. A competitive grant process to pick the schools will launch this summer. The $2.9 million grant will expand computer science and STEM education in five rural school districts. LINK

Highlights from Governor Lee’s State of the State Address (Buffalo River Review) On Monday, February 8, 2021, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee delivered his third State of the State address and presented budget and legislative priorities to a joint session of the General Assembly. Following are excerpts from his annual address on particular issues, including the budget, teacher and state employee raises, broadband and other efforts in rural communities, a constitutional carry bill, pro-life legislation, and continued COVID-19 response: “We have taken a fiscally conservative approach throughout this past year, maintaining strong reserves and budgeting for conservative growth rates. LINK

Tennessee’s monthly revenues up once again amid pandemic (AP) Tennessee officials are reporting that the state exceeded their tax revenue estimates in January by nearly $380 million. On Friday, Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley said January’s state tax revenues totaled $1.67 billion, which is $380.1 million more than estimated. The total is also 7.66% greater than revenues received in January 2020. Eley said the tax revenues reflect consumer spending during the holiday season. “At this time, the economic growth we have experienced in these first six months puts the state in a good fiscal position to fund the current and upcoming fiscal year budgets,” Eley added, noting that “economic conditions” could still change. LINK

TEMA: Three winter weather-related deaths confirmed in Tennessee, 20K without power (WZTV-TV Nashville) The Tennessee Dept. of Health confirms there have been a total of three weather-related fatalities across the state, according to TEMA. One death was reported in Maury County, and two were from Shelby County. TEMA did not disclose the nature of their deaths. Freezing rain, sleet, and snow caused significant impact to travel across Middle Tennessee. FOX 17 News is in a Code Red Alert for Traffic and Weather as another Winter Storm Watch is in effect from 3 p.m. Wednesday to 6 p.m. Thursday. Warming shelters have opened across Tennessee: LINK

Tennessee winter storm claims 3rd life (WTVF-TV Nashville) The Tennessee Department of Health reported a third weather-related death Tuesday: one in Maury County, two in Shelby County. The state did not release details of their deaths. However, NewsChannel 3 in Memphis reported a 10-year-old boy who died after he and his sister fell through a frozen pond Sunday morning. LINK

Cookeville-Area Power Outages Could Last Days (WPLN Radio Nashville) Leaders in and around Putnam County are warning of potentially days-long power outages as trees and limbs continue to fall, hampering the winter storm recovery. In a video update Tuesday night, Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter told residents not to wait too long to find a warm place. “We need to talk to you very bluntly about what’s going on with our county and with all these power outages. If you’re in one of those affected areas, we’re asking that you please think about making plans to try to stay with friends, family or relatives that have power — Unless you have the means to be self-sustaining in your home without the power.” LINK

Biden offers emergency resources to Tennessee (WKRN-TV Nashville) President Joe Biden offered his administration’s assistance Tuesday in a call with Governor Bill Lee and at least seven governors of states impacted by severe winter weather. The White House said Biden told governors that he and his wife are praying for their citizens and pledged to deploy federal emergency resources as needed. Among those on the call in addition to Gov. Lee were Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. LINK

One-on-One with Donde: UT Chancellor speaks on leadership through ‘uncharted territory’ (WATE-TV Knoxville) Any time you set out in uncharted territory, you’re in for a challenge. Such is the case running a college campus when COVID-19 breaks out. Not only that, you’re pretty new in the role of chancellor. Donde Plowman arrived at the University of Tennessee only a year and a half ago. The majority of her tenure has been dedicated to steering students, faculty and staff through the unknown. LINK

Tennessee State Parks partnership brings gear rental to your doorstep (WATE-TV Knoxville) Getting outdoors just got easier. A new partnership between the Tennessee State Parks and Arrive Outdoors is making outdoor play more affordable through a gear-rental program, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting state parks. “Rather than purchasing all the gear needed, visitors can simply rent it and return it,” Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said. “If you love the experience, you can decide if you want to invest in your own gear. The partnership with Arrive Outdoors opens up many outdoor activities to people who could not afford the needed equipment or simply did not want to make the investment for a single outing.” LINK

Jackson Generals owner disputes aspects of Tenn. Comptroller report as drama continues (Jackson Sun) Jackson Generals owner David Freeman believes the Tennessee Comptroller “omitted details” in its investigative report on the city of Jackson. A letter by Freeman’s lawyer dated Feb. 9 is the latest addition in the saga between the city and its minor league baseball team. The Generals posted the letter on its Facebook page Tuesday. The letter defended the team’s practice of submitting in-kind trades to the city for reimbursement and offered to provide documentation regarding the issue. LINK

Speakers seek rare AG’s opinion on effort to move Forrest bust (TN Journal) Asking for a legal opinion from the state attorney general used to be a routine procedure. But these days, Herbert Slatery deigns to opine on only a handful of issues — and then only ones that aren’t likely to result in litigation. So it will be interesting to see what Slatery does in response to a request for a legal opinion from House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) about whether Gov. Bill Lee is following proper procedure for moving the controversial bust of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader, from the state Capitol. LINK

Tennessee legislature shuts down for rest of week (TN Journal) Heavy winter weather is leading to the closure of the Tennessee General Assembly for the rest of the week. The House announced it will extend its bill filing deadline until the close of business on Feb. 24. It had previously been set for Wednesday. LINK

Tennessee Republican lawmakers push bill allowing ‘biological father’ to stop a woman’s abortion (Times Free Press) Two Tennessee Republican lawmakers are pressing a bill to allow any man believing he got a woman pregnant to obtain a court injunction blocking her from getting an abortion. Sponsored by Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, Senate Bill 494/House Bill 1079 would also allow a judge to impose civil or criminal contempt and punishment penalties on a woman for violating a court-imposed order and having an abortion. LINK

Local education system voices support of bill reallocating tax revenue funds to public school building maintenance (WJHL-TV Johnson City) The Bristol, Tennessee City 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

TN bills raise questions about expanding electronic government meeting abilities post-pandemic (WJHL-TV Johnson City) The COIVD-19 pandemic drastically changed how governing bodies conduct meetings. In Tennessee, these boards have been able to meet electronically under an Executive Order by Gov. Bill Lee. But what happens once the pandemic is over? Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG), is keeping a close eye on several bills moving through the state legislature. The group believes multiple bills filed this session would expand governing bodies’ ability to meet electronically outside of Open Meetings Act rules. “We want to make sure that the bills progress in a way – if they progress – that doesn’t hurt public access,” said Fisher. LINK

OPINION

Steve Southerland: Governor Lee’s state of the state speech presents balanced budget (Mountain Press) At the beginning of this week Governor Bill Lee presented his plan to fund state government which prioritizes education, health care, and job development, particularly in Tennessee’s rural communities. Lee’s speech also highlighted Tennessee’s COVID-19 response and plans for a full economic recovery. Lee’s budget does not propose new taxes. Tennessee is recognized as the third least taxed state in the nation. Since 2011, the General Assembly has reduced the sales tax on food by nearly 30%, phased out the Hall income tax, eliminated the gift and inheritance taxes, reduced the professional privilege tax for 15 professions, and cut taxes on manufacturing to enhance job creation. LINK

Guest column: Innovating long term services and support for Tennessee’s most vulnerable (Tennessean/USA Today /Tennessee) The Tennessee Coalition for Better Aging, in collaboration with stakeholders and member organizations including the TN Disability Coalition, TN Justice Center, Mental Health America of the Mid-South, TN Association of Adult Day Services, AgeWell Middle Tennessee and the West End Home Foundation are organizing a series of virtual conversations and working meetings to begin reimagining long-term services and supports, LTSS, in Tennessee. Many states are already innovating how they provide and finance long term services and supports for older residents and adults with disabilities, and it’s time for Tennessee to do the same especially as more of us are living longer. LINK

Column: The Signup Genius (Memphis Flyer) Have you met the Signup Genius? He’s not really a genius. He’s an “online software tool for volunteer management and event planning  that lets you  save time with sign up sheets and schedules for schools, sports leagues, holiday events, and more!” Cool! Signup Genius is what the state of Tennessee uses for us to sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s like using Eventbrite, only for death and disease and whatnot. The good news is that Signup Genius’ platinum plan is only $44.99 a month! No doubt, Governor Bill Lee’s crack health and science team got an even better deal. LINK

Guest column: Gov. Bill Lee’s hopeful message isn’t a substitute for leadership (News Sentinel/USA Today Tennessee) Criticism is a snap. Sitting up here in the cheap seats telling the folks in the arena how to act. It’s like watching my wife play tennis. Suddenly, I’m John McEnroe. So I’ll begin by saying I thought Gov. Bill Lee made a pretty good speech in his State of the State Address earlier this month. And that the state of our state is surprisingly good, given this damnable virus. But I’m also going to point out what wasn’t in the speech but should have been if we’re to have any sort of happy ending to this American story. LINK

Keel Hunt: Republicans are hoping Americans forget Jan. 6. Let’s remember this moment. (USA Today Tennessee) Whatever your political affiliation, we would all do well to consider what became of the Republican Party over these past five years and especially these past six weeks. Before the colors fade, we should all take careful note of what happened – not only on Jan. 6, that gruesome day when the U.S. capitol was invaded, but what our ruling authorities failed to do about it, during and after. Prominent in our lasting memories should be that shocking video the House impeachment managers made: damning scenes of mayhem, horrifying audio of insurrectionists with murder on their lips. LINK

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