September 15 TN News Digest

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

Haslam: External factors could sway Tenn. credit (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Concerns over federal spending decisions could sway decisions over whether to downgrade Tennessee’s debt rating despite what Gov. Bill Haslam calls the state’s strong case for how it manages its finances. The Republican governor led a delegation to annual meetings with the three major ratings agencies in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday, seeking to persuade officials to maintain Tennessee’s high rating despite Standard and Poor’s recent downgrade of the federal government’s debt.

Haslam: Meetings With Rating Agencies ‘Very Positive’ (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday his meetings this week in New York with the three major bond rating agencies were “very positive,” but it will likely be about a month before Tennessee learns what its ratings are. Haslam headed a contingent that included Commissioner of Finance and Administration Mark Emkes, Comptroller Justin Wilson, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Treasurer David Lillard, the governor’s legal counsel Herbert Slatery and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Haslam confident that TN will keep its AAA bond rating (Tennessean/Sisk)

State officials are expressing confidence that Tennessee will keep its high credit rating following a much-anticipated trip to New York. The three Wall Street agencies that rate the state’s debt responded “very positively” to Tennessee’s preparations for expected cuts in federal spending, Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday.

Haslam to credit-rating agencies: State deserves AAA status (N-S/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other state officials have assured New York-based credit agencies that Tennessee is better prepared than most states to deal with federal spending cutbacks and deserves to retain its AAA bond rating. Representatives of Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s credit rating agencies seemed to have a positive response to the Tennessee pitch, though their formal response is probably about a month away, Haslam said Wednesday in a telephone news conference.

Haslam, Ramsey tell Wall Street Tennessee in fine fiscal shape (City Paper/Woods)

Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey wrapped up discussions with Wall Street bond agencies Wednesday and reported positive responses to Tennessee’s bid to keep its top-notch credit rating. After meeting with Fitch, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s agencies in New York, Haslam said, “I would characterize all three of the discussions as very positive.”

Tennessee pleads to keep high debt rating (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he feels “very positive” about Tennessee’s top debt rating, but as he wrapped up two days of meetings with New York bond-rating agencies, he said the state isn’t out of the woods yet. “They recognize we do have a strong history of fiscal responsibility,” Haslam told reporters in a conference call.

Haslam, other officials tout TN’s fiscal fitness in pitch for bond ratings (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam and other top state officials told Wall Street’s bond-rating agencies that Tennessee is in good financial shape and urged them to keep the state’s credit ratings high. The governor, his finance commissioner and legal counsel — along with the state treasurer, comptroller, secretary of state and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey — spent Tuesday and Wednesday in New York making the state’s case with government bond analysts at the three major bond-rating agencies.

Haslam: External factors could sway TN credit (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he believes the state will keep its Triple-A debt rating. Haslam and department heads such as Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes spent the past few days speaking with debt rating agencies hoping to convince them not to lower the state’s ratings. Tennessee’s current debt rating from Moody’s and Fitch is AAA, the highest possible on their scale.

State Officials Make Case for AAA Rating (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s top officials are flying home from New York City. They’ve spent two days trying to convince bond rating agency’s the state deserves it’s AAA standing, despite a downgrade of the federal government. Moody’s named Tennessee as one of five states so dependent on Washington’s money that its AAA rating needs to be reviewed.

TRG Customer Solutions inaugurates call center at Spring Hill (Biz Clarksville)

TRG Customer Solutions, a leading global business process outsourcing (BPO) provider of customer management solutions and technologies, celebrated today the launch of its new contact center facility in Spring Hill. TRG has operations in seven countries worldwide and this will be the company’s first site in the state of Tennessee.

Call center opening in Spring Hill to employ 300 (Associated Press)

A new customer call center is launching in Spring Hill and company officials are holding career fairs this week to fill the 300 open positions. Tennessee economic officials said in a news release that TRG Customer Solutions is opening the 50,000-square-foot facility at the Workforce Development and Conference Center on Saturn Parkway.

Call center dials up 300 Maury jobs (Columbia Daily Herald)

TRG Customer Solutions, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based call center that will open a facility in Spring Hill next month is expected to bring more than 300 jobs to the area. The company is leasing a 50,000-square-foot space in the Northfield building — the former Saturn Corp. training center — and hopes to begin work there Oct. 3, local economic development officials said.

Haslam Says Voter ID Law Misunderstood (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam says some officials who’ve been criticizing Tennessee’s new voter ID requirement may not fully understand them. The governor’s comments come in the same week Illinois Senator Dick Durbin – a Democrat – questioned the new law.

PF to contract for planning help (Mountain Press)

With Gov. Bill Haslam opting to kill a state initiative that countless local governments relied on, Pigeon Forge leaders have been forced to find an alternative to help them in their planning efforts.Haslam announced earlier this year he was bringing the ax down on the state’s local planning offices, which offered assistance and expertise to counties and municipalities.

New Life Lodge sued over second patient’s death (Tennessean/Rau)

Facility was negligent, mom says The state’s largest drug rehabilitation center has been hit with a second multimillion-dollar lawsuit, this one by a woman whose son died last year two days after checking into the facility. New Life Lodge and its former lead physician Dr. Jonathan W. Butler are accused of medical malpractice, negligence and wrongful death in the passing of Patrick Bryant, who died on his 20th birthday.

MTSU, RCS educators to partner on training (Daily News Journal)

Program to require yearlong residency MTSU’s College of Education is asking for input from 12 select Rutherford County School System middle and high school teachers, and one central office representative, to help develop education courses for students at MTSU. Under a new schedule of classes, six existing courses to be taken prior to the senior year will be replaced by three courses during a pre-residency phase: Assessment/Planning, Classroom Management, and Problem Based Instructional Strategies.

Clarksville-Montgomery Co. School officials support ending mandate on PE (LC)

Tennessee health advocates are concerned about the Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board’s support for the elimination of the state’s physical activity mandate. CMCSS Chief Academic Officer B.J. Worthington said the county supports the intent of the state law that requires all students to participate in 90 minutes of physical activity per week.

Hunters, farmers needed to save bobwhite quail (Tennessean/Paine)

Chances of jumping up a covey of bobwhite quail in a field or hearing their once well-known song are a lot slimmer than in decades past. The bulbous, sociable birds — they hang out in family groups — have plummeted by an estimated 75 percent in Tennessee since the mid-1960s, according to the federally coordinated Breeding Bird Survey.

Critics say TennCare Spend Down program needs to change (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

There are close to 50 million Tennesseans living without health insurance and at least one program designed to help: TennCare’s Spend Down program. But for some, there’s a problem. Critics say it starts with the telephone.

Judicial Ethics Panel in Spotlight (TN Report)

Tennessee lawmakers are meeting next week to discuss reforming the state panel that polices judges, which is stacked with lawyers and judges and has been criticized as secretive and overly lenient. “I think there’s something that just doesn’t sound right about the judiciary appointing a judiciary to oversee the judiciary,” Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said. Beavers, who used to be a court reporter, chairs the Judiciary Committee and the ad-hoc committee looking into the Court of the Judiciary.

State Government Ops Committee Suddenly Cool (Metro Pulse)

The Government Operations committee of the state House and Senate used to be sort of a thankless job; the chair was awarded to someone who had the seniority to be a chair, when the cool committees were already taken. But with the Republican takeover of the House and Senate, suddenly the Government Ops committee is a cool place to be.

Election commission asked to provide voter registration photo IDs (TFP/Haman)

State Rep. Tommie Brown and a group of local Democrats asked Hamilton County’s election commissioners Wednesday if the office could come up with a way to issue voter registration cards with photos on them. Beginning next year, a local voter registration card will not be enough to cast a ballot.

Sanderson joins small-business task force (State Gazette)

Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) has been asked to serve on the House Small Business and Economic Development Task Force. Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) asked Sanderson and nine other representatives to serve on the committee.

State cuts add to local costs (Jackson Sun)

Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris says as the federal government trims its budget, county departments will see less grant funding, meaning more requests for local government money. County Finance Director Mike Nichols said the county is in good budget shape.

Officials question Burchett’s move to ban sex offenders from libraries (NS/Donilia)

Some state leaders and library officials in Tennessee question whether Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett went too far this week when he banned sex offenders from county libraries. The mayor, though, doesn’t care what anyone thinks about the new rule.

Chattanooga picked top outside town in country (Associated Press)

Outside magazine has picked Chattanooga as the best outside town in the country based on three weeks of voting on Facebook. The monthly magazine said the selection was based on a balance of culture, scenery, access to the outdoors and cost of living.

No Child reforms proposed (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Hardy)

Tennessee and Georgia Republican legislators will start introducing a series of bills today in the U.S. Senate that seek to reauthorize — and drastically alter — the current No Child Left Behind law. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., will bring legislation that dismantles current test performance requirements, yet keeps certain portions of the federal law intact.

Alexander, colleague announce plans to fix No Child Left Behind (Times-News)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and another GOP senator announced plans Wednesday for a legislative “fix” to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law. “The reason we think that needs to be done is a lot has happened in the last 10 years and to transfer responsibilities back to the states and cities,” the Tennessee Republican, a former U.S. Education secretary and University of Tennessee president, said of the move in a conference call with reporters.

Alexander Proposes Changes to No Child Left Behind (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The No Child Left Behind education law is up for renewal this year. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has joined several of his Republican colleagues in sponsoring legislation that would make radical changes. No Child Left Behind places strict standards on schools to measure student achievement.

Hendersonville candidate says Tea Party fervor will oust TN’s Sen. Bob Corker (AP)

Hendersonville technology consultant Zach Poskevich says he will capitalize on “tea party fervor” in challenging U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in the next year’s Republican primary. Poskevich, an Army veteran making his first bid for office, said in a release announcing his candidacy on Wednesday that he “can do better than Bob Corker.”

Gibson CEO to face feds (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Seizure of imported hardwood draws attention of lawmakers U.S. Justice Department officials have requested a meeting with Gibson Guitar owners next week, while in Congress lawmakers continue to ask why the factories and offices of the longtime manufacturer of prized guitars were raided on Aug. 24. Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz said he will meet with federal officials in Nashville on Wednesday to discuss the raids.

Trial starts on damage lawsuits in TVA ash spill (Associated Press)

The first federal trial on lawsuits seeking damages from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s huge coal ash spill is set to start. A bench trial on six lawsuits starts Thursday before U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan in Knoxville.

Y-12 hires ex-STRATCOM deputy (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

Y-12 hires ex-STRATCOM deputy, realigns management team B&W Y-12 on Wednesday announced the hiring of a retired three-star admiral to oversee some of the core missions — including nuclear weapons programs — at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Retired Vice Admiral Carl V. “Van” Mauney formerly served as deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Southside clinic set for upgrade (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

It’s been in the works since 1968, but Erlanger Health System officials finally feel comfortable announcing a 15-month timeline for replacing a dilapidated urban health center, pending hospital board approval next week. “We’re obviously going to hustle to get this done,” said Joe Winnick, Erlanger’s vice president of strategic planning.

School board appointees warned of intensity of commitment (C. Appeal/McMillin)

When he greets them Wednesday in what will be their first public meeting together, Memphis City Schools board president Martavius Jones has a message for the seven people picked to join a 23-member unified school board. “They don’t realize what a time commitment they are being asked to make,” Jones said.

Picking and Choosing (Memphis Flyer)

As Shelby County commissioner Mike Carpenter prepares to take his leave of the commission (and of Memphis) to become Tennessee state director of StudentsFirst, an educational think-tank in Nashville, there’s already a scramble on to become Carpenter’s interim replacement on the District 1, Position 3 commission seat. District 1 straddles city and county lines and is a predominantly Republican voting area.

Metro hopes to better ‘sell’ school academies (Tennessean/Hubbard)

District says parents unaware of benefits of career programs Damp shoes and jackets are strewn across an empty Hillsboro High School storage area, next door to a lab full of intense-looking freshmen in lab coats. “They were getting wet and dirty and had nets out collecting macroinvertebrates at Richland Creek, so their clothes are drying,” explained Jennifer Ufnar, a Vanderbilt University research assistant professor working this year with Hillsboro’s new Global Health and Science Academy.

Knox elementary schools recognized for summer reading (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Four Knox County Elementary schools were recognized Wednesday for their students participation in this year’s summer reading program. Sequoyah, Beaumont, Mount Olive and Sterchi elementary schools had the most students participate in the program.

SAT Reading, Writing Scores Hit Low (Wall Street Journal)

SAT scores for the high-school graduating class of 2011 fell in all three subject areas, and the average reading and writing scores were the lowest ever recorded, according to data released on Wednesday. The results from the college-entrance exam, taken by about 1.6 million students, also revealed that only 43% of students posted a score high enough to indicate they were ready to succeed in college, according to the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the exam.

California: California Democrats Dig for Answers (Wall Street Journal)

Democratic Party leaders in California sifted through the damage allegedly caused by a campaign treasurer accused of stealing more than $1 million, but they were still struggling Wednesday to even gain access to bank accounts that hold their money. Federal prosecutors charged longtime treasurer Kinde Durkee, 58 years old, with fraud last week.

Georgia: Georgia university system to study consolidation (AP/McCaffrey)

The head of the university system of Georgia said Wednesday he is ordering a study of whether any of the state’s 35 campuses should be consolidated to save money. “We must ensure that our system has the appropriate number of campuses around the state and in the right places,” Chancellor Hank Huckaby told a meeting of the Board of Regents.

OPINION

Columnist: Let’s Put a Stop to Redistricting Shenanigans (Metro Pulse)

Redistricting is one of the ugliest processes in our democracy. Last month, a leaked map scowled from the back room where Republicans are cooking up new voting districts. It divvied Nashville into thirds, breaking up U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s Democratic base and also appeared to favor the Congressional ambitions of state Sen. Bill Ketron (R – Murfreesboro), who sits on a three-member committee charged with drawing up new state Senate and U.S. House districts.

Times Editorial: Tighten phone/texting rules (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The question, it now seems, is not if texting and, perhaps, cell phone use by drivers will be banned in most of the nation, but when. Public opinion and legislative momentum are moving in that direction. Given the accumulation of evidence about the perils of using handheld or hands-free cell phones and similar devices while behind the wheel, the movement to prohibit their use while driving deserves widespread support.

Guest columnist: Real students reside behind statistics (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Almanac Issue shows up in my mailbox about this time every year. It’s a remarkable resource for learning about all things higher ed, great and small.

Free-Press Editorial: More ‘free’ stimulus money for solar panels (Times Free-Press)

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is one of the latest local businesses to use money from the federal “stimulus” to install solar panels on one of its buildings — and who can fault the company for accepting “free money” from Washington to do that? BlueCross has put the big solar power system atop the Gateway Building on West M.L. King Boulevard.

Times Editorial: New reasons for stimulus (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Bad economic news has become a mainstay since the Great Recession dragged the United States — and most of the industrialized world — into the ditch in 2008. That doesn’t mitigate the troubling findings this week from newly mined 2010 Census data.

Editorial: Bleak News on Health Insurance (New York Times)

Nearly one million more Americans went without health insurance in 2010 than in 2009. This distressing news is further evidence of the need for government safety net programs and the national health care reforms that will take effect mostly in 2014.