August 31 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Haslam, Alexander tour East Tenn. biorefinery (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander are touting the potential of making clean fuel out of a plentiful crop in East Tennessee. The two Republicans visited a Vonore farm growing several types of switchgrass on Tuesday, followed by tours of the processing plant and biorefinery that are expected to begin making fuel from switchgrass next year.

Governor, Senator tour biorefinery plant in Monroe County (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Biofuels drew Governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander to Monroe County on Tuesday. They toured the Vonroe Biofuel plant and farms participating in switchgrass research. The tour started at Brad and Kim Black’s “Colorwheel Farm” which grows nearly 300 acres of the crop.

Biomass plant could go commercial as switchgrass gains ground (NS/Marcum)

The University of Tennessee showed off its biofuel facilities here Tuesday to top state officials as the school works to increase efficiencies so that the experimental project can become a commercial operation. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander , both Republicans, had words of enthusiasm about the project’s potential to help spawn a cellulosic biofuels industry in Tennessee.

‘Grassoline’ on the way (Maryville Daily Times)

About 75 people, including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, took a tour in Vonore Tuesday to look at the progress in developing a cost-effective way to turn switchgrass into ethanol to fuel vehicles. The two Republicans visited a farm growing several types of switchgrass, followed by tours of the processing plant and biorefinery that are expected to begin making fuel from switchgrass next year.

Michigan Company Planning $23M Perry Co. Car-Parts Plant (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty today joined with officials from Perry County to welcome NYX, Inc., a Michigan-based automotive supplier, to Linden, Tenn. The company, who also owns Bates, LLC, an existing automotive manufacturing facility in Lobelville, Tenn., is planning a $23 million manufacturing facility to produce injection molded plastics for a wide variety of automotive manufacturers beginning in early 2012, creating 400 jobs over a five-year period.

Gallatin facility to expand, add 114 new jobs (Associated Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said a company that makes fuel systems for automotive and other manufacturers is investing $5 million in its Gallatin plant to expand and add 114 new jobs. The Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commission said in a news release Tuesday that ABC Group Fuel Systems is investing $5 million in the plant expansion, and the added jobs will be a combination of full-time production and maintenance positions.

Tennessee lands 400 new jobs, NYX plant (Memphis Business Journal)

Michigan-based auto supplier NYX Inc. is planning a $23 million plant in Perry County that will create 400 jobs over five years, state officials announced today. The plant, located in Linden, Tenn., will produce injection-molded plastics.

Auto supplier plans to open plant, add 400 jobs in Tennessee’s Perry County (CA)

An automotive supplier will open a new $23 million manufacturing plant and create 400 jobs in the next five years in Perry County, where the unemployment rate in recent years has reached nearly 30 percent, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday. The Republican governor and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said Michigan-based NYX Inc. is coming to Linden — about 140 miles east of Memphis — and will produce molded plastics for a wide variety of automotive manufacturers starting next year.

Perry County Will Add Hundreds of Jobs in Coming Years (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Four hundred jobs are on their way to a small Tennessee county that recently held the state’s highest unemployment rate. Michigan-based auto-parts suppliers NYX is planning a multimillion dollar expansion in rural Perry County, southwest of Nashville.

Gallatin facility to expand, add 114 new jobs (Associated Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said a company that makes fuel systems for automotive and other manufacturers is investing $5 million in its Gallatin plant to expand and add 114 new jobs. The Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commission said in a news release Tuesday that ABC Group Fuel Systems is investing $5 million in the plant expansion, and the added jobs will be a combination of full-time production and maintenance positions.

Haslam pitches jobs plan to area leaders (Times-News)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate hovering around 9.5 percent “is not something we’re thrilled with,” Gov. Bill Haslam said while pitching his jobs initiative to a mix of business and higher education leaders and elected officials Tuesday. Haslam led a roundtable discussion at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education “about setting the right environment” for job creation.

Haslam Listens To Local Business Leaders’ Concerns (WCYB-TV Johnson City)

At a time when the economy is shaky at best, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is traveling the state in an effort to put more people to work. In Kingsport Tuesday, he met with local leaders to figure out what the state can do to help them land new business and new employees.

Haslam approves grant money for Greenbelt foot bridge in Kingsport (H-C)

Tennessee’s governor is back in the Tri-Cities talking economic growth and handing out cash. A lot of the money is going to Kingsport specifically for the construction of a critical link in the city’s biking and walking trail called the Greenbelt.

Benton gets improvement grant (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)

The Town of Benton has received more than $155,000 from the state for improving sidewalks and a pedestrian bridge. On Tuesday, Governor Bill Haslam and TDOT Commissioner John Schroer the $155,398 transportation enhancement grant for Benton’s Downtown Streetscape Project.

Haslam Cool to State ‘Authorizer’ for Charter Schools (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam led the movement this year to take the shackles off Tennessee charter schools so they can play a bigger role in education, but he says he’s as yet unwilling to grant them their next wish — a statewide board to OK their applications. Charter school advocates argue they’d rather have the state or some independent body OK their applications instead of local school boards, which they see as too hesitant to embrace nontraditional education initiatives.

Department of Health Encourages Residents to ready for Emergencies (C. Online)

In keeping with the priority Tennessee has placed on emergency preparedness, Gov. Bill Haslam has declared September National Preparedness Month in the state. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, offering greater significance for the observance and renewing the focus on individual and family planning for emergency situations.

Federal cuts could cost state more than 5,000 jobs (Associated Press/Johnson)

Tennessee agencies would have to cut more than 5,000 jobs if Congress reduces the state’s federal funds by as much as 30 percent. Deep federal spending cuts are required under the recent debt-ceiling agreement in Congress.

Contingency plan shows 5,100 Tennesseans would lose jobs (City Paper/Woods)

More than 5,000 state workers would lose their jobs in the unlikely event that Congress ever slashes Tennessee’s federal revenue by more than $4 billion, according to figures released Tuesday. Across-the-board reductions in services from public schools to health care to the environment also are among the Draconian budget cuts in contingency plans submitted to Gov. Bill Haslam.

TennCare could take big hit (Tennessean/Sisk)

Haslam hopeful most cuts won’t be needed Health care, children’s services and unemployment offices could bear the brunt of expected cuts in federal spending in Tennessee, according to planning documents released Tuesday. Spending on TennCare could be reduced by as much as 25 percent, and local health departments could lose as many as 278 jobs across Tennessee under a worst-case scenario prepared for state finance officials.

TN plans for up to $4.5 billion in cuts (Tennessean/Sisk)

Up to 5,100 jobs could be lost under worst case scenario TennCare, unemployment offices, local health departments and services for people with intellectual disabilities could bear the brunt of cuts in federal spending, according to planning documents released Tuesday by the state. Tennessee officials are preparing for up to $4.5 billion in budget cuts and the loss of 5,100 state jobs if the federal government goes ahead with planned reductions in funding to the state.

Fed funding cuts could mean loss of 5,131 state jobs (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

A 30 percent reduction in federal funds flowing into state government would translate into the layoffs of 5,131 state government employees, according to documents released Tuesday by the state Department of Finance and Administration. The discharged workers would range from University of Tennessee graduate research positions to clerks processing unemployment benefit checks, according to the department-by-department survey.

Tennessee releases plans for possible 30% cuts in federal funding (CA/Locker)

The state released detailed plans Tuesday for how it would deal with potential cuts in federal funding of up to 30 percent that, if fully implemented, would slash 5,132 employees and $4.5 billion out of the state’s $31 billion budget. TennCare, the federal and state health insurance program for low-income and disabled people, would bear the brunt at just over $2.25 billion.

Tennessee releases “purely hypothetical” budget plan (Nooga)

Hypothetical plans were released on Tuesday by the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, proposing what state agencies might do in the face of major budget cuts from the federal government. Tennessee currently receives around 40 percent of its annual budget from Washington.

Debt-deal cutbacks could force 5,000 more layoffs (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The Haslam administration has released worst-case scenario figures showing how federal budget reductions of up to 30 percent would force Tennessee government to slash another 5,132 state jobs. The figures, released Tuesday, also say such cuts would slice as much as $4.5 billion out of the state’s $30.8 billion budget.

MTSU, state team up to discourage tobacco use (Associated Press)

Middle Tennessee State University and the state are teaming up for a statewide initiative to discourage tobacco use. The school’s Center for Health and Human Services and the Tennessee Department of Health will be partners in the project.

UT students taking solar home to DC (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

Team to compete in DOE event The arbor over the roof is actually a series of cylindrical solar panels. The windows are actually part of the heating and cooling system.

Judge Adolpho A. Birch leaves legacy of justice, kindness (Tennessean/Quinn)

From homeless to well-heeled, all loved him In the days after his father’s death, Adolpho A. Birch III has been overwhelmed by the countless stories people have told him about the towering man with the signature white beard. He was dear to many — judges, lawyers, politicians — who shared stories about the first African-American chief justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Visitors Stream to Pay Respects to Justice Birch (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tuesday night former Chief Justice A.A. Birch will be remembered in a service at Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium. Attorneys and community members like Tyree Bowers paid their respects at the Metro Courthouse Tuesday afternoon.

TN lawyers may soon bid to defend poor (Tennessean/Gee)

A person’s right to legal representation could be provided through a highway contract-style bidding process under a proposal being considered by the Tennessee Supreme Court. To rein in the state’s fast-growing indigent defense fund, the court has drafted an amendment to its rules that would allow the cash-strapped state Administrative Office of the Courts to solicit bids and award contracts to lawyers or firms “to provide legal services to indigent persons for a fixed fee.”

Chancellor rejects claim mosque is terrorist base (Daily News Journal)

Chancellor Robert Corlew dispelled arguments this week that the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s mosque on Veals Road will be a base for terrorism. “The allegations presented at the initial hearing include assertions that this structure will be used as a base to undermine our laws and our government, and perhaps even serve as a base for terrorist or military operations,” Corlew wrote.

‘Ketronmander’ a real fear or farce? (Daily News Journal)

GOP denies legislative ties to redistrict map eyed by Dems A Tennessee redistricting map that could give state Sen. Bill Ketron an advantage in running for Congress was not produced by state legislators, according to a Senate Republican spokeswoman. “Any maps out there are not from here,” Darlene Schlicher, Senate Republican press secretary, said Tuesday.

Sen. Bob Corker calls for moratorium on regulations (News-Sentinel/Flory)

Bureaucrats took a beating when Bob Corker visited Knoxville on Tuesday. The U.S. Senator used part of his August recess to address the local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, which represents merit-shop construction firms. Corker, R-Chattanooga, touched on controversial topics including the recent debt-ceiling agreement and the Obama Administration’s health care legislation, but during a Q-and-A session one audience member asked him what must be done to kick-start the economy and get people back to work.

Alexander says Senate not as acrimonious as cable TV (Times-Gazette)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, visiting the Celebration on Monday night with his granddaughter, told the Times-Gazette that while there are major ideological differences on Capitol Hill, the atmosphere isn’t as personally acrimonious as some might assume. “People watch cable TV all day long, and all you see is people shouting at each other,” said Alexander.

Cohen’s District to Go Country? (Memphis Flyer)

Steve Cohen, rural congressman? Could be, according to the current 9th District U.S. Representative, who was commenting on informal reports making the rounds concerning possible redistricting in Tennessee.

Freshmen in House push bills benefiting big donors (Jackson Sun)

Review: Fincher among many who back bills that may help contributors Several House freshmen who swept into power vowing to change Washington’s ways are pushing legislation that could benefit some of their most generous campaign contributors, a USA TODAY review of legislative and campaign records shows. Five months after taking office, Rep. Stephen Fincher, a cotton farmer from a mostly rural swath of Tennessee, introduced a bill to mandate swift federal approval of genetically modified crops for commercial sale.

Settlement reached over ad during Diane Black race (Gannett)

The forensic sciences company owned by U.S. Rep. Diane Black’s husband reached a settlement Tuesday with the firm that created an ad at the center of a defamation lawsuit during the 2010 race for Congress. Aegis Sciences Corp., which is owned by Dr. David Black, settled the lawsuit against Bright Media Inc., which it contends falsely asserted that Diane Black as a Tennessee senator helped the company obtain contracts from the state.

Governments Cut 200,000 Jobs in 2010 (Rueters)

Local and state governments eliminated more than 200,000 jobs in 2010, according to census data released on Tuesday. Local and state governments had 203,321 fewer full-time equivalent employees in 2010 than in 2009 and 27,567 fewer part-time employees, the Census Bureau reported.

COBRA health subsidy expires (Kaizer Health News)

End of help is yet another hit for laid-off workers One of the key consumer benefits of the federal stimulus package — subsidies to help laid-off workers continue their health-care coverage — draws to a close today, raising concerns about how the unemployed will cover those expenses. It’s a dilemma that Holly Jespersen knows firsthand. She lost her job twice in the past two years — both times losing her employer-paid health insurance.

Hurricane Cost Seen as Ranking Among Top Ten (New York Times)

Hurricane Irene will most likely prove to be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history, and analysts said that much of the damage might not be covered by insurance because it was caused not by winds but by flooding, which is excluded from many standard policies. Industry estimates put the cost of the storm at $7 billion to $10 billion, largely because the hurricane pummeled an unusually wide area of the East Coast.

New storm brews in Congress over paying for disaster relief (Los Angeles Times)

Americans who saw their homes flooded, streets ripped apart and businesses disrupted by last weekend’s hurricane are about to face another storm: a new congressional battle as House Republican leaders seek to match any additional spending for disaster relief with equal cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. Unless additional disaster aid is appropriated, federal officials said communities trying to rebuild from natural disasters this year in the Midwest and South will have to wait while funds are diverted to help victims of Hurricane Irene.

Nuclear plant’s ‘red’ rating to cost TVA millions (Times Free-Press/Sohn)

TVA may have to spend more than $10 million for an intensive set of nuclear regulatory inspections at the utility’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. The inspections come on the heels of its recent “red” inspection rating, the worst level given by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before a plant is shut down entirely.

Smokies area gets surprise boost as tourists flee Irene (Associated Press)

The Smoky Mountain tourist area has received an unexpected boost from Hurricane Irene as summer-end travelers move away from the storm-battered coast. Businesses in the East Tennessee region report an influx of patrons who fled the hurricane last weekend or who are changing Labor Day plans because of damage on the East Coast, particularly in nearby North Carolina and Virginia.

Tennessean editor joining Gannett corporate staff (Associated Press)

The Tennessean has announced that editor Mark Silverman is leaving the newspaper to join the Gannett Co. corporate staff. Silverman, who has been Tennessean editor for about five years, is going to corporate headquarters in McLean, Va.

Silverman leaving Tennessean (Nashville Post/Lind)

Mark Silverman, The Tennessean’s executive editor, announced in a late-morning staff meeting he will be leaving 1100 Broadway for a spot in Gannett’s corporate office. Silverman, who joined The Tennessean in 2006, will move to the parent company’s Community Publishing Division’s corporate news staff in mid-September. It will be Silverman’s third stint in the corporate office. He has also served as editor in Detroit, Louisville and Rockford, Ill.

Tennessean editor Mark Silverman leaving for Gannett HQ (Nashville Biz Journal)

Mark Silverman, executive editor of The Tennessean, is leaving the paper to join Gannett Co. ’s U.S. Community Publishing Division corporate staff. Gannett (NYSE: GCI) is the parent company of The Tennessean. According to The Tennessean, it will be Silverman’s third stint at the Gannett corporate level.

VW shipping Passats to dealers as market launch nears (Times Free-Press/Pare)

Volkswagen has started shipping dealers about 350 new Passats a day from its Chattanooga assembly plant in preparation for the car’s market launch in just a few weeks. “This is one of the most important events for Volkswagen in decades,” said Carsten Krebs of Volkswagen of America about the sale of the midsize sedan starting the last part of September.

Higher fuel standards cause concerns about sales, job losses (Tenn/Williams)

Critics worry new goals will cut car sales, jobs Although a recent study by a national environmental group suggests that Tennessee stands to gain thousands of new auto jobs linked to fuel-efficient technology and tough new federal mileage goals, such gains might never come, critics of the standards say. Some industry observers — and many automakers themselves — fear that the fuel standards being implemented by the Obama administration to require manufacturers to make vehicles that can average 54 miles a gallon by 2025 will drastically cut auto sales and put more auto workers out of jobs.

Officials: Early childhood education saves money (Jackson Sun)

Local law enforcement leaders visit Head Start Washington Douglas Center After spending the morning reading to some excited but attentive pre-schoolers, two local law enforcement leaders shared their thoughts on the importance of early education. Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork and Jackson Chief of Police Gill Kendrick visited the Northwest Tennessee Head Start Washington Douglas Center Tuesday morning.

Teachers get answers at town hall (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)

McIntyre explains changes Gina Feldblum loves being a teacher, but changes throughout Knox County Schools and the state have her a little concerned. On Tuesday, she was among about 80 teachers who attended a town hall meeting at Bearden High School to learn and ask questions about the district’s new APEX strategic compensation system as well as the new Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, known as TEAM, evaluation framework.

Memphis suburbs seek advice for creating school districts (CA/Bailey, Garlington)

Pending merger with Memphis City Schools stirs quest for breakaway options Several Shelby County suburbs looking for direction on municipal schools are separately considering hiring a consulting firm whose leadership includes two former local superintendents. Southern Educational Strategies LLC, whose founding partners include Dr. Jim Mitchell and Dr. Tim Fite, has discussed agreements with at least four outlying cities regarding separate school districts.

Interviews Next Step in Board Selection (Memphis Daily News)

In a week, Shelby County Commissioners expect a long day when they interview contenders for the seven appointments they are to make to the new countywide school board. The commission’s general government committee will interview the applicants Sept. 7, the day after the deadline for citizens to fill out a questionnaire and agree to undergo a criminal background check.

Schools snag USDA award for breakfast (Jackson Sun)

Breakfast in the Classroom receives Best Practice Award For the second consecutive year, Jackson-Madison County Schools received recognition from the United States Department of Agriculture for increasing student participation in its Breakfast in the Classroom initiative. As of January, 68 percent of the district’s students in elementary and middle school participate in the program.

New Jersey: Bullying Law Puts New Jersey Schools on Spot (New York Times)

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line. In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

OPINION

Kevin Huffman: System is good for teachers because it’s good for kids (Tenn.)

For years, Tennessee maintained the same system for “evaluating” tenured teachers: two evaluations every 10 years, based on minimal classroom observations and no student data. Virtually every teacher was rated highly effective, and at the same time, more than 70 percent of students fell below proficiency on national academic standards, placing Tennessee 43rd out of 50 states.

Guest columnist: Teachers question evaluation plan (Tennessean)

Unknowns are many even as system is implemented Tennessee teachers are back in school and gearing up for a productive year with their students. This is always an exciting time for educators and children, a time to make a fresh start.

Editorial: Bring talent to the table (Commercial Appeal)

Selecting the architects for a merger: Politics and previous positions on consolidation shouldn’t matter when selections are made. Passage was certain when a resolution approving a settlement in the city-county school merger came up for a vote before the Shelby County Commission this week.

Editorial: Cut crime, save money, invest in children (Jackson Sun)

Tennessee spent $644 million on corrections with more than 27,000 adults locked up in state or federal prisons during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. In that same period, it spent $298 million on lottery college scholarships.

Columnist: Five Opinions about… (Sidelines)

There were a number of interesting events that happened throughout the summer. While you were partying like a rock star, we compiled a list of things you need to know and may or may not have an opinion about… 3.

Editorial: Families redefined in state (Leaf Chronicle)

The traditional nuclear family unit — mother, father and children — isn’t dead in Tennessee. But it certainly isn’t as representative across the state as it once was. According to new statewide census data, 58 percent of children in 2010 lived in a married family household.

Guest columnist: TN court proposal endangers right to counsel (Tennessean)

Both the U.S. and the Tennessee constitutions require that, in criminal cases, those too poor to afford a lawyer be provided one. The right to counsel is critical to the preservation of individual liberty and to the proper functioning of the criminal justice system.

Editorial: Lawmakers should tread carefully on judges panel (Daily News Journal)

State legislators need to tread lightly as they approach potential changes in the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary, lest they overstep the lines that separate equal branches of government. The court was set up some 25 years ago in an agreement between the judiciary and Legislature to deal with ethical lapses of judges and to discipline them.

Frank Munger: Contractor picks up pace of demolition (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Demolition of the historic K-25 plant has resumed in a big way under the direction of the Department of Energy’s new environmental contractor, URS/CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR). At the time of its construction, K-25 was a mile long in a U shape and billed as the largest building in the world under one roof. The current focus is on the East Wing of the former uranium-enrichment facility that was built during World War II and operated until the early 1960s.