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A TEMA report on TN thunderstorm damage (3 fatalities)

Here is a media advisory sent Saturday by the Tennessee Emergency Managment Agency:

July 9, 2016, 11 a.m., CDT
SEOC Activation: Level III – State of Emergency


Severe storms overnight in Tennessee resulted in three (3) fatalities. In Carter County, a 60-year-old male and 40-year old female were killed when a tree fell on them while camping. In Knox County, a tree fell on a female of undetermined age during a severe storm. There are no other reports of fatalities in the State.

Tennessee remains in a State of Emergency, declared at 7:15 a.m., CDT, on July 7, 2016, due to continuing severe weather threats from wave-after-wave of heavy rain and high winds impacting the Middle and East Regions of the State.

East Tennessee was the hardest hit area of the State from the severe storms last night. One storm caused damage through the northern section of the East Region, moving from Claiborne County to the tip of the State into Carter, Sullivan, and Washington counties. A second storm wave moved through the middle portion of the East Region hitting the Middle Plateau and Knox County, and moving through Blount, Cocke, Cumberland, Fentress, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Monroe, Roane, and Sevier counties. A number of East Region counties reported significant power outages, many downed trees, and closed roadways due to debris from the storms. TEMA deployed District Coordinators, last night and today, to help local emergency managers who are working to clear debris, conduct damage assessment, and assist residents.

In Middle Tennessee, counties impacted from the first wave of storms on July 7, 2016, were hit again yesterday in two additional severe storm waves. A second round storm yesterday impacted Clay and Overton counties with TEMA deploying a District Coordinator to assist local emergency managers in the event. A third storm last night resulted the National Weather Service issuing multiple warnings, while up to 50,000 people were without power at one point during the overnight storm in Middle Tennessee. TEMA is also still assisting local emergency agencies in Montgomery, Robertson, Stewart, and Sumner counties from the July 7 severe weather.

West Tennessee counties report no issues from the severe weather. Many counties are continuing to monitor severe weather forecasts as there is a 60 percent chance of severe weather in the West Region today.

Flooding prompts emergency declaration for parts of TN, KY

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Officials have declared a state of emergency in Tennessee after heavy rains caused flooding in several areas overnight and more rain is forecast.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener said on Thursday that crews were performing swift-water rescues in Stewart County. He said several other counties have reported high water over roads and trees down from storms.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for areas of Middle Tennessee through Thursday afternoon. The weather service said as much as 6 inches of rain fell overnight, which led to widespread flooding in Nashville and surrounding areas.

Flener said travel could be precarious and warned that motorists should not try to cross water over roadways.

In Kentucky, heavy rains and harsh winds blew through the area Wednesday, knocking down power lines and damaging buildings in the far western part of the state, including Paducah. In nearby Metropolis, Illinois, the weather service said a small tornado hit and winds gusted up to 105 mph. No life-threatening injuries were reported.

Harwell’s Democratic opponent loans his campaign $50K

Chris Moth, a Democrat running against House Speaker Beth Harwell, says he has loaned his campaign $50,000. (News release, including some bashing of the Republican incubent, below.)

Campaign finance disclosures show Moth put about $20,000 into his 2014 campaign against her — a $2,000 loan and the rest in direct contributions. He had a cash-on-hand balance of $5,680 in a report filed in April. Harwell’s cash-on-hand balance at that point was $929,027 (with another $659,737 in her separate PAC account.)
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Bo Watson joins legislators’ PAC club

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson has become the latest state legislator to set up his own political action committee, naming the new entity BowPAC and declaring it will help provide the “fuel of funding” for future Republican political successes in Tennessee.

About 30 of Tennessee’s 132 legislators — most of them Republicans — now have their own PACs, kept separate from their re-election campaign accounts, in accord with a trend that has slowly grown since Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey set up RAAMPAC in 2003.

The Legislature’s senior member, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, finally joined the PAC trend late last year by creating McPAC. In an April disclosure McPAC reported a cash-on-hand balance of $36,356 after initial fundraising efforts — most of the money coming in contributions from 26 special interest PACs.

Watson chipped in $500 to McPAC through a personal check, Registry of Election Finance records show. He gave $1,000 to RAAMPAC last year. Now that he has set up BowPAC, of course, he can have the PAC make such donations instead of himself. The PAC name, by the way, ties into both Foy “Bo” Watson’s nickname and the Hixson lawmaker’s penchant for wearing bow neckties.
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TN cookie-cutter reaction to Supreme immigration ruling

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has declared dismay over the U.S. Supreme Court deadlock that derails President Obama’s attempt to block deportation of millions of illegal immigrants and some Democrats are equally unhappy. Tennessee’s Republican congressmen are celebrating. So is Republican Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who had joined the Texas-initiated lawsuit after prodding from GOP legislators.

All, of course, echo national partisan gridlock on the issue, illustrating once again that the old cliche about of all politics being local is no longer true. Here’s a roundup of Tennessee commentary from the quickly-generated press release pile: Continue reading

Tennesseans to receive $8.5M in E-book price fixing case

News release from the attorney general’s office:
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III today announced Tennessee residents who purchased electronic books (E-books) could begin receiving account credits or checks this week. Payments are the result of the successful prosecution of a price-fixing case against Apple, Inc. in 2013.

Tennessee joined a group of 33 states, led by Connecticut and Texas, in investigating and prosecuting Apple for its participation in the conspiracy to artificially inflate E-book prices. Apple is obligated to pay $400 million in nationwide consumer compensation after the United States Supreme Court denied Apple’s request to review a lower court’s finding that the company violated antitrust laws.

“Returning the hard-earned money of Tennessee consumers was the primary goal in this litigation,” Attorney General Slatery said. “I appreciate the hard work of our office, along with our colleagues in other states, to make certain all companies compete fairly and play by the same rules.” Continue reading

UT tuition increase of 2.2 percent would be lowest in 30 years

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro has proposed tuition increases for the UT system of about 2.2 percent, which he says is the lowest increase in more than 30 years, according to the Times-Free Press.

“Shout it from the mountaintop,” DiPietro quipped. “As always, action by the UT Board of Trustees is required for fee or tuition increases and, therefore, nothing is official until after the board meets.”

That will come Wednesday and Thursday when first a committee and later the full UT board votes on a plan to cap tuition increases to 2.2 percent in most cases for the proposed 2016-2017 fiscal year budget.

…Under the overall proposal, some students at UT-Martin will participate in a restructured fee program called “Soar in Four,” designed to reduce the cost of obtaining an undergraduate degree by incentivizing completion in four years.

And undergraduates in UT-Knoxville’s “Take 15, Graduate in 4” program who were admitted in 2013-2014 will see a 3 percent tuition increase. Previous increases for the group have been capped at lower-than-average levels in previous years, resulting in average annual increases of 2.2 percent over the last four years, according to UT.

The 2.2 percent cap, dubbed the “maintenance fee,” applies to most in-state and out-of-state undergraduates with the exception of those who would be included in Martin’s “Soar in Four” program.

Some graduate programs are not increasing tuition. Others are proposing increases from 2.2 percent to 5 percent.

Black buying $500K in TV campaign ads

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, facing a challenge in the 6th Congressional District Republican primary, is preparing to spend nearly a half million dollars on TV ads, reports The Tennessean.

Black — who is among the richest members of Congress — is prepared to spend $493,000 on three or four advertisements that will run on broadcast and cable television stations between June 29 and the August 4 primary election, according to her campaign.

Although the content of the first ad remains unknown, according to the latest documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Black is planning to run as many as 400 ads on various programs on WTVF, WSMV, WZTV and WUXP. Those documents show reserved ad slots already totaling $386,615.

“Diane has a strong conservative record and we will be communicating that to Middle Tennessee with an aggressive advertising campaign on radio, TV, digital and through our grassroots door-knocking campaign,” said Brad Todd, a campaign spokesman. “She has always run innovative campaigns that blend multiple media — she was one of the state’s earliest campaign adopters of digital advertising in 2010. There’s a reason she has never lost an election — she runs hard.”

Black, who has represented the 6th Congressional District since 2011, is being challenged in the Republican primary by former state Rep. Joe Carr, Tommy Hay and Donald Strong.

…Jeremy Hayes, a spokesman for Carr, said he was not surprised at the amount of money Black is spending on ads.

“Seventy percent of broadcast TV viewership is outside the 6th District and this type of inefficient spending illustrates the same spending habits she had when she voted to raise the debt limit four out of the last five years,” Hayes said.

Haslam, other GOP govs, talk with Trump

Gov. Bill Haslam, who at times has been critical of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, joined five other Republican governors Tuesday to meet with him in New York, according to various media reports.

From the Times Free Press:

“Gov. Haslam joined several other governors in New York [Tuesday] to meet with Mr. Trump and discuss state and federal issues,” Haslam Press Secretary Jennifer Donnals said in a statement, later declining to elaborate.

Haslam, a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association, endorsed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in Tennessee’s March 1 GOP primary. He has yet to endorse Trump, billionaire and former TV reality star. But the governor has also said in the past he did want to have a meeting with Trump to discuss state and federal relationships in areas like health care as well as other matters.

That happened in the expected nominee’s self-named Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Haslam has been critical or voiced concerns about some of Trump’s more controversial statements on several occasions. Just last week, he did so again, describing as “indefensible” comments Trump made regarding Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge presiding over a case involving Trump University.

Note: While Haslam has kept quiet about the meeting, some of the other governors have had more to say. A couple of samples below. Continue reading

Casada: Campaign finance texts warrant Durham’s resignation

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, who declined to join other GOP leaders in calling for Rep. Jeremy Durham’s resignation over sexual harassment allegations, says things are different in allegations he violated campaign finance laws, reports The Tennessean.

Casada cites text messages from Durham to Benton Smith, a former legislative assistant, campaign worker for Durham as well as an employee of Durham’s company, Battleground Title and Escrow. The messages indicate Durham transferred money from his campaign account to the company.

Casada said there is a clear difference between the text messages involving Durham and Smith and the harassment allegations Durham is facing.

“This is empirical, this is measurable, it’s his own words indicting him, where the harassment charges were she said this and he said this,” Casada said. “There was nothing to show who was right or who was wrong. It was rumors, hearsay, that kind of thing. This is Jeremy’s own words saying ‘Do this, take money out of my campaign account and put it in my business account.’ ”

…Casada’s comments come one day after the state registry of election finance board voted to audit and investigate Durham’s campaign finances dating back to 2014. The board plans to issue subpoenas for Durham’s personal bank accounts, his campaign accounts and his business bank accounts.

In a Thursday morning email to The Tennessean, Durham declined to say whether he planned to resign if the latest allegations were deemed credible.

“I think we should let the process run its course and stop rushing to convict people in the media before they have the opportunity to address the situation in a legitimate forum,” he said.

“Nothing illegal or unethical was done and I’ll be happy to fully cooperate and present any relevant information to the panel of people tasked with reviewing campaign finance matters. To suggest taking any action before that point seems premature.”

On Wednesday, Durham called Smith a “disgruntled former employee.”