Friday, February 19

Explosive growth of life sentences in Tennessee hits minorities hardest, report finds (Tennessean) Tennessee’s criminal justice system increasingly relies on life sentences, a new analysis shows, a phenomenon straining the state’s prisons and budget. The population of so-called “lifers” in Tennessee prisons has grown by 87% since 1970, according to the report released Wednesday by Washington D.C. nonprofit The Sentencing Project. An expert on Tennessee’s sentencing laws said explosive growth of the population of so-called “lifers” is just the beginning of an impending trend. Swelling prison rosters have done little to reduce crime, the report found, using language echoing Gov. Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force. LINK

$500K water line project near Hawkins landfill 75% complete, seven customers signed up (Kingsport Times-News) Seven customers have signed on to the three-quarters completed First Utility District water line expansion project near the Carters Valley landfill that was paid for mostly with $500,000 of Hawkins County’s COVID-19 emergency funding. Last summer, the county received $1.176 million as part of Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 emergency Local Support Grant (LSG) funding. In June, the county commission voted 17-4 to use $500,000 of that funding for the Gravely Valley Road/Cobb Road water expansion, which at the time was expected to impact 30 homes. LINK

Gov. Lee signs order allowing the fuel drivers to work longer hours during severe winter storm (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Governor Bill Lee declared a state of emergency in Tennessee on Tuesday, in response to severe winter weather which damaged utilities and caused several power outages. He signed Executive Order 76 which declared an “energy emergency” in Tennessee. The order is meant to ensure that fuel resources can be transported quickly throughout the state so that homes and businesses can stay warm during the storm. LINK

Where states are boosting or slashing higher ed funding amid the pandemic (PBS News Hour) May states slashed higher education funding last year, fearing the pandemic would torpedo state revenues. The higher education sector, no stranger to steep cuts during economic recessions, braced for further budget reductions in the 2022 fiscal year … Governors from both parties have offered new money for higher education. Republican Bill Lee, the governor of Tennessee, suggested $900 million for capital improvements to higher education and state infrastructure. LINK

EDGE throws support behind proposed incentive to land TV and movie productions (Memphis Business Journal) “The Firm” and “Walk the Line” were filmed in Memphis before “incentives began to rule location decisions,” Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis & Shelby County CEO Reid Dulberger said. The Tennessee Entertainment Commission (TEC) — sister entity to the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development — is trying to partially re-level the playing field via a pair of new tax incentives, through legislation in Nashville … In the past, TEC has had to make “a bit of a mad dash to the governor’s office” to ask for grant money for big projects, TEC executive director Bob Raines said. Now, Gov. Bill Lee is supporting the passage of these incentives, Dulberger said. LINK

COVID-19 Relief Package Includes Expansion of Health Care Coverage (Pew Stateline) Democrats in Congress plan to use the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to advance President Joe Biden’s campaign promises to make affordable health care available to more Americans, reversing the Trump-era decline in the number of people with health insurance … The federal government now accounts for 66.1% of the Medicaid spending for the state of Tennessee, one of the nonexpansion states. Under the bill’s proposal, the federal share would climb to 71.1% for two years. That would amount to an additional $1.7 billion over two years in federal Medicaid funding, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.Whether that sum will attract states that have refused other inducements over the years is unclear. “I can say that the governor has no plans to expand Medicaid,” said Laine Arnold, a spokesperson for Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee. LINK

Six weather-related deaths reported by TEMA (Tennessean) A bit more snow is possible across Middle Tennessee Thursday evening, according to the National Weather Service. That added to the 1.5 to 2 inches of snow and sleet that already accumulated throughout the week, NWS Nashville meteorologist James LaRosa said. Nashville saw between 2 and 3 inches, while areas further west and south saw 3 to 4. Waynesboro received between 4 and 6 inches, and Clarksville accumulated between 1 and 2. Another round of winter weather may bring ice and up to an additional inch of snow, NWS said. LINK

6 dead after winter storm hits Tennessee (WKRN-TV Nashville) Six people have died in Tennessee over the last week as a result of extreme winter weather, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Thursday night. The agency’s daily “Flash Report” indicates two of the deaths occurred in Shelby County, while Dickson, Maury, Overton and Williamson counties each reported one death. Shelby County law enforcement said 10-year-old Benjamin Luckett died Sunday while saving his 6-year-old sister, Abigail, who fell through a frozen pond near Millington. Benjamin did not survive his injuries and Abigail remained hospitalized Thursday night, as her condition continued to improve. LINK

State reports 6 winter storm deaths (WTVF-TV Nashville) A total of six Tennesseans have died as a result of this week’s winter storm. The Tennessee Department of Health reported the increase in weather-related deaths Thursday. LINK

TEMA: Six winter weather-related deaths confirmed in Tennessee, 12K without power (WZTV-TV Nashville) The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reports there have now been six winter weather related deaths across the state, and 12,000 are without power as Tennessee experienced another round of winter storms. The six deaths include a 9-year-old killed in a sledding accident in Brentwood, a person from Maury County, two people from Shelby County, a farmer in Dickson County, and one person from Overton County. LINK

American Red Cross opens 6 shelters in Tennessee for those in need amid freezing conditions (WKRN-TV Nashville) Tennessee has been dealing with winter storms all week, with some areas now being at or below freezing since last Thursday. The American Red Cross of Tennessee is helping those who need a warm place to stay during these freezing winter nights. “Your American Red Cross of Tennessee Region is proud to help those in need and to provide safe shelter and food where power has been out for days,” said Joel Sullivan, regional executive for the Red Cross Tennessee Region, in a statement released by the organization. LINK

Thousands On Cumberland Plateau Still Without Power (WPLN Radio Nashville) Roughly 12,000 Tennesseans remain without power as of Thursday evening, and most of them are on the Upper Cumberland in Putnam, Overton and Jackson counties. The area received much more ice than counties to the west, which has resulted in falling trees taking out power lines, including some primary lines. The Upper Cumberland Electric Cooperative has dubbed this an “extended outage situation,” warning that some customers could be without electricity for several more days. LINK

MLGW boil water advisory now in effect for City of Memphis (WMC-TV Memphis) Memphis Light Gas and Water issued a boil water advisory for the city of Memphis Thursday. Due to recent water main breaks and freezing temperatures, MLGW customers are expected to conserve and boil water until Monday afternoon. The boil water advisory is precautionary and is required by TDEC when the water pressure gets below 20 pounds per square inch. The pressure has gotten below 20 gallons per square inch in certain areas across the Mid-South. LINK

All MLGW customers now under ‘boil water’ advisory (Commercial Appeal) Cold temperatures have damaged underground pipes and other water system equipment in Memphis, causing a widespread drop in water pressure, raising the risk of bacterial contamination of the water, and leading Memphis Light, Gas & Water to issue a highly unusual boil advisory. That means customers should boil water from the tap before they can use it for drinking or cooking, spokesperson Gale Jones Carson said Thursday. She said there is no evidence that this bacterial contamination has happened yet, but that the utility is issuing the advisory as a precaution. LINK

MLGW issues first ever boil order alert and road crews move to end game through Monday (Daily Memphian) Low water pressure problems forced Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division to issue the utility’s first-ever boil water order until further notice Thursday, Feb. 18, as city public works crews took more steps toward cleaning up the wintry mess. The advisory against consuming tap water affects more than 260,000 households and businesses in Memphis, unincorporated Shelby County, Lakeland and Arlington. LINK

MLGW advises customers to boil water (WREG-TV Memphis) Memphis Light, Gas and Water issued a precautionary boil-water advisory for more than 257,000 customers Thursday. The notice was issued due to recent water main breaks and freezing temperatures, which caused low water pressure in MLGW’s water system, the utility said in a release posted at 5:30 p.m. Low pressure in the system and water main breaks could allow bacteria to enter the system, MLGW said. Customers should boil water for three minutes, or purchase bottled water, until further notice. The public utility serves Memphis and much of Shelby County. LINK

BOIL WATER ADVISORY: MLGW customers advised to boil water until further notice out of precaution (WHBQ-TV Memphis) MLGW customers are being asked to conserve water and a boil water advisory has gone into effect for MLGW customers. According to MLGW, recent water main breaks and freezing temperatures that could allow harmful bacteria are the reason behind the advisory. LINK

MLGW issues Boil Water Advisory for Shelby County (WATN-TV Memphis) Thursday Memphis Light gas and Water issued a precautionary boil water advisory impacting all its customers.  This is MLGW’s first ever boil water advisory and the utility company said it’s being issued because of water main breaks and low water pressure on MLGW’s water system.  LINK

An Upside To Tennessee’s Snow? Slowing COVID Transmission (WPLN Radio Nashville) Coronavirus cases have dropped even more in Nashville, with two days of fewer than 100 new cases. That’s likely because it’s harder to get tested right now with sites closed all week for winter weather. Still, the weather could be a net positive for slowing the pandemic. On one hand, COVID vaccine shipments have been delayed, clinics have cancelled all appointments for the week, and public testing centers are shut down until next week. But people are also stuck at home. The weather has forced people to do what could have helped for the last year — stay home. LINK

Vaccine variance — Tennessee strategy may leave more efficient regions including Northeast clamoring for more (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Like many states, Tennessee is trying to achieve maximum equity in its COVID vaccine distribution. One likely result is that regions more effective at administering the doses they have — including Northeast Tennessee — are left clamoring for more while other areas struggle to get their supply into people’s arms. Data from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show a couple things. LINK

TDOT replacing downtown’s Broadway gateway bridge, nears hire of engineering firm and contractor (Nashville Business Journal) The state is poised to tear down and replace the bridge serving as the main gateway into the center of downtown Nashville. The state Department of Transportation expects to make one of two key hires within the next month, selecting an engineering company to provide a number of services including design work. The state will then select a contractor — which will build a new bridge on Broadway. LINK

What do we know about Tennessee’s post-COVID-19 economy? ‘Nashville is the next city up’ (Tennessean) Few predictions are clear about the post-pandemic economy other than it will diverge radically from that of a year ago before the virus. Now that more than 1 million Tennesseans are vaccinated, an end to the rolling restrictions on everything from restaurants to churches, sporting events and some home gatherings is in sight. New consumer behavior changed the fortunes of entire industries almost overnight and unemployment remains a major concern. But Tennessee is poised to benefit in big ways as other states contend with tougher hurdles to moving forward. LINK

Kingsport green-lights $10.5 million incentive for Eastman (Kingsport Times-News) City leaders approved a $10.5 million incentive for Eastman Chemical Co. earlier this week, a measure undertaken in connection with the company’s plans to build a $250 million state-of-the art plastics recycling facility. Through a process known as methanolysis, Eastman’s new recycling facility will convert more than 100,000 metric tons of plastic waste that cannot be recycled by current methods into premium, high-quality plastics. The $250 million investment is expected to create 90 jobs, with construction beginning this summer. LINK

State commission holds initial hearing on Confederate flag in Williamson County seal (Tennessean) A hearing on the removal of the Confederate flag from the Williamson County seal took place before the Tennessee Historical Commission on Thursday morning. This was the initial meeting following the county’s submission of a petition for waiver to the commission in November. According to the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, this hearing is held for the purpose of determining “which interested entities, groups, or individuals should be given written notice” by the county that a waiver is being sought. No other interested parties were proposed by commission members. LINK

TBI Director: Knoxville needs nonprofit investment to help curb violence (WBIR-TV Knoxville) In a community hurting after losing three young lives to gun violence, millions of dollars are up in the air to help stop it. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said he hopes to see nonprofits at the center of city investment. Rausch was chief of police in Knoxville when gun violence killed 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson and 12-year-old JaJuan Latham. His roots with the city are deep, even though he has an eye on the entire state now. LINK

Dolly Parton says Thanks, but no thanks to statue (AP) Dolly Parton is asking Tennessee lawmakers to withdraw a bill that would erect a statue of her on the Capitol grounds in Nashville. In a statement released Thursday, Parton says that given current events, she doesn’t think being put on a pedestal “is appropriate at this time.” Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle introduced the bill last month to honor Parton for her contributions to the state. LINK

Dolly Parton asks state not to place statue honoring her on Capitol grounds (WKRN-TV Nashville) Country superstar Dolly Parton has asked the Tennessee state legislature not to approve a bill that would erect a statue of her on the Capitol grounds in Nashville. Representative John Mark Windle, a Democrat representing Fentress, Morgan and Overton counties, introduced House Bill 135 in Jan., aimed at honoring the music legend. The bill passed unanimously out of the Naming committee earlier this month. In a statement released Thursday morning, Dolly asked the state legislature not to consider the bill and said she did not feel it was the appropriate time for a statue dedicated to her. LINK

Dolly Parton Says Wait Until She’s Gone To Consider A Statue At The Tennessee Capitol (WPLN Radio Nashville) Dolly Parton doesn’t want a statue of herself on the grounds of the Tennessee Capitol. Being as humble as usual, Parton said in a tweet Thursday that a proposal being considered at the General Assembly that would give her a monument is not appropriate at this moment. “Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time,” Parton said. “I hope, though, that somewhere down the road several years from now or perhaps after I’m gone if you still feel i deserve it, then I’m certain i will stand proud in our great State Capitol as a grateful Tennessean.” LINK

Dolly Parton: No thanks to Tennessee Capitol statue (TN Journal) Dolly Parton says she’s flattered Tennessee lawmakers want to place a statue of the singer on the state Capitol grounds, but is asking them to remove the legislation to do so from consideration. “Given all that that is going on the in world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time,” Parton wrote in a tweet. “I hope, though, that somewhere down the road several years from now or perhaps after I’m gone if you still feel I deserve it, then I’m certain I will stand proud in our great State Capitol as a grateful Tennessean.” LINK

Dolly Parton Statue Has Tennessee’s Support, but Not Parton’s (NY Times) It was something that Democrats and Republicans in Nashville could agree on: a statue of the country music legend Dolly Parton on the grounds of the State Capitol. The only problem? It doesn’t have Parton’s vote. The singer released a statement on Thursday asking the Tennessee General Assembly to pull a bill that would have started the process for commissioning a statue of her. LINK

State right of way legislation draws opposition from local governments (Johnson City Press) Washington County commissioners are set to join other county leaders in Tennessee in voicing opposition to a bill that would require local governments to pay for the right-of-way of roadways near new subdivisions. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on a resolution Monday that “strongly” urges the state General Assembly to reject the legislation, which a fiscal note for the measure says will represent a cost burden totaling more than $1 million to local governments across the state. LINK

Tennessee Democrats propose overhaul to how the state funds public education (Tennessean) Tennessee Democrats unveiled their proposal Thursday to increase funding for public education across the state as well as connect students with vital support services. The slate of education bills would boost the state’s share of teacher salaries, tackle class sizes and add more counselors, social workers and school nurses in every school district. The eight-bill legislative package would also tackle how the state funds education by increasing funding to the Basic Education Program funding formula. LINK

Democratic legislators outline slate of education proposals (Daily Memphian) Democratic lawmakers proposed a package of legislation Thursday, Feb. 18, that would increase teacher pay and bring more nurses, counselors and social workers into Tennessee schools. They’re not radical proposals, state Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) said at the virtual press conference. “We’re talking about catching up with Alabama here,” Yarbro said. “There’s just not enough money in the (Basic Education Program) formula. . . This just simply has to end, and it’s not hard to do.” LINK

Dems roll out education plan (Nashville Post) Tennessee Republicans, including Gov. Bill Lee, have said they want to prioritize education issues at the state legislature this year, including with a week-long special session in January. But Democrats in the minority say it’s still not enough. Democratic lawmakers on Thursday rolled out a series of education bills they plan to push this legislative session, including those that would further increase teacher pay, reduce class sizes, offer grants for special education and boost funding for school nurses and social workers — in an attempt to elevate Tennessee out of the bottom 10 for per-pupil funding. LINK

Harshbarger calls ETSU kneeling disrespectful (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Rep. Diana Harshbarger says the ETSU men’s basketball team is being disrespectful by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games. “I am disappointed to see the ETSU basketball team take a knee during the national anthem,” the congresswoman said in a tweet Thursday night. “This is disrespectful to everyone who fought or died to protect our freedoms. We should stand proud with our hands on our hearts or saluting the flag during the anthem.” LINK

OPINION

Laurie Cardoza-Moore: I will represent parents on Tennessee textbook commission (Tennessean) Few things are more important than our children’s education, but few parents have any idea what lurks inside their children’s textbooks. As a Tennessee mother of five, I once waved to my children as they boarded little yellow buses, content in the knowledge that they would receive a wholesome American education. That was until I came across a Williamson County textbook that appeared to justify a Palestinian suicide bombing. From that day on, I have been committed to campaign for curricula that reflect our Tennessee values. After launching a national media campaign against that quote, it was removed from textbooks in Tennessee. However, that was only the beginning. LINK

Guest column: Why we oppose Laurie Cardoza-Moore’s selection for Tennessee textbook commission (Commercial Appeal/USA Today Tennessee) The Tennessee Textbook and Instructional Materials Commission, to which Laurie Cardoza-Moore is being nominated, reviews and recommends books for local school districts to adopt. The Commission’s decisions affect what and how our children learn. We as a coalition of interfaith leaders, oppose her appointment to the Textbook Commission. In her guest column, Cardoza-Moore refers to our needing to teach a “wholesome education” based on what she claims to be our Tennessee values.  Furthermore, she accuses public education as “spoon-feeding a politicized anti-Judeo-Christian agenda pushed by foreign interest groups.” LINK

Guest column: Fleischmann supports all-of-the-above approach to clean energy (News Sentinel) My passion for a clean environment was ignited in the 1970s when human-caused environmental destruction was rampant. Love Canal, places like Midland, Michigan, the Cuyahoga River that caught on fire … the list went on and on. I became a chemical engineer to combat this environmental destruction. In the early 1980’s I joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory to work on projects such as legacy waste cleanup, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and advanced nuclear power. Now that I’m retired, my passion is working to choose the future that my grandchildren will inherit. LINK

Otis Sanford: It’s big oil vs. defiant communities in major environmental dispute (Daily Memphian) It’s not every day that a broad coalition of political leaders, environmentalists, community activists and ordinary citizens band together to wage a huge fight against powerful oil companies. But it’s happening in Memphis. And it’s refreshing to witness. In this fight, Black people and white people are on the same side. So are local politicians who don’t always agree on matters of public policy. And relentless reporting from a local news website forced us all to start paying attention to arguably the most important environmental story in Greater Memphis in decades. LINK

Alex Hubbard: How removing Andrew Jackson’s Oval Office portrait connects FDR, Trump and Biden (Tennessean) Does this quote sound familiar? “If at times his passionate devotion to this cause of the average citizen lent an amazing zeal to his thoughts, to his speech and to his actions, the people loved him for it the more. They realized the intensity of the attacks made by his enemies, by those who, thrust from power and position, pursued him with relentless hatred. The beneficiaries of the abuses to which he put an end pursued him with all the violence that political passions can generate. But the people of his day were not deceived. They loved him for the enemies he had made.” LINK

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