September 16 TN News Digest

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

Tenn. in talks with GM over Spring Hill plant (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s office confirmed Thursday that the state is in talks with General Motors to expand production at the automaker’s Tennessee plant. The state’s economic development chief, Bill Hagerty, was in Detroit to meet with GM officials, as were mayors representing communities surrounding the Spring Hill plant that stopped assembling the Chevrolet Traverse in 2009.

Alcoa getting 160 full-time jobs, maybe 550 later (Associated Press)

State officials say a company is expanding in Alcoa, Tenn., creating 160 full-time jobs. Officials announced Thursday that TeamHealth plans to expand its corporate operations by leasing a new facility to be constructed at Base Pointe Business Park costing about $18 million. Officials said the expansion could later mean 550 jobs in management, accounting, medical coding, billing and clerical.

TeamHealth expansion in Alcoa will bring 160 jobs (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

160 new jobs are coming to Blount County, with the possibility of hundreds more to come. TeamHealth, which provides medical employees to hospitals, the military, and other organizations, is headquartered in Knoxville, and already employees 400 people at a facility in Alcoa.

TeamHealth to build $18 million facility, add 550 jobs in East Tennessee (TFP/Pare)

A health care company plans to build a new facility and create up to 550 jobs in East Tennessee, officials said today. TeamHealth plans the construction of an $18 million facility in Alcoa, Tenn., outside Knoxville, said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

TeamHealth expansion to generate 550 jobs (Business Clarksville)

TeamHealth will expand its corporate operations by leasing a new facility to be constructed at Base Pointe Business Park in Alcoa. The project developers will invest nearly $18 million and create 160 full-time jobs, with the anticipation of growing to 550 jobs in management, accounting, medical coding, billing and clerical.

Haslam Tells Durbin How TN Will Ensure Voters Get Proper Photo ID (TN Report)

Dear Senator Durbin: In response to your letter dated September 8, 2011, we are taking steps to (1) inform registered voters in Tennessee of the new law requiring government-issued photo identification to vote starting in 2012, and (2) insure that registered voters have the proper forms of identification. First, under the law, any form of photo identification issued by the state or federal government, with the exception of student identification cards issued by state colleges or universities, is acceptable.

Governor signs proclamation creating POW/MIA Recognition Week (Leaf Chronicle)

Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed today to Thursday as POW/MIA Recognition Week, making Tennessee the first state in the union to take such action. Nationally, the third Friday of September has been set aside for years as National POW/MIA Recognition Day — in honor of Prisoners of War and soldiers still Missing in Action.

Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam reads to students (C. Appeal/Patterson)

Promotes literacy Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam’s first visit to Hamilton Elementary School went largely unnoticed — she read to a second-grade class the day after President Barack Obama delivered his commencement speech at Booker T. Washington High School. But Thursday afternoon, all 50 or so sets of eyes in the school cafeteria were on her as she read an excerpt from “The Cat Who Wished to be a Man” by Lloyd Alexander to the same students, now third graders.

Crissy Haslam, Anne Davis named Women’s Final 4 honorary co-chairs (AP)

Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam says the Women’s Final Four in Nashville in 2014 will leave a historical mark on the city and state. She commented Tuesday as she was named honorary co-chair of the event along with Nashville first lady Anne Davis.

Grainger woman charged with TennCare fraud (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A Grainger County woman is charged with TennCare fraud for allegedly using the state’s public health care insurance program to obtain prescription drugs, which she later sold. Chrystal M. Crowe, 35, of Rutledge, was arrested on one count of TennCare fraud for presenting a prescription for Roxicodone, a brand version of the painkiller Oxycodone, and using TennCare to pay for the prescription while planning to sell a portion of the drug, according to the Office of Inspector General.

Middle TN has seen its share of fraud schemes (Tennessean/Gee)

What do a group of women who started businesses to assist poor, elderly Nashville residents with daily tasks, a minister who prayed with nursing home residents and a psychologist for the military unit portrayed in the movie Black Hawk Down have in common? In the eyes of the law, they’re all criminals.

August unemployment rate drops to 9.7 percent (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s August unemployment rate of 9.7 percent decreased slightly from the previous month. July’s rate was 9.8 percent. The national unemployment rate for August was 9.1 percent, unchanged from July.

Tennessee unemployment dips in August, first time in a year (Memphis Biz Journal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent in August, down from 9.8 percent in July, according to figures released today by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. It is the first decrease seen in Tennessee since August 2010, when the rate dropped to 9.6 percent from 9.7 percent the month prior.

Unemployment Drops Slightly in Tennessee, Still Above National Rate (WPLN)

Tennessee’s jobless rate dipped slightly in the month of August. Unemployment is at 9.7 percent, still well above the national rate of 9.1. There’s often a shift from July to August as summer jobs end and positions related to education pick back up, says state Labor Commissioner Karla Davis. And the improvement – while just a tenth of a point – is Tennessee’s first month-to-month decrease in a year.

Residents get update on Velsicol cleanup (Times Free-Press/Pantazi)

The Tennessee Department of Health is analyzing thousands of pages of data to determine whether the defunct Velsicol Chemical plant in South Chattanooga is harming local residents. Bonnie Bashor, the director of the Environmental Epidemiology Program at the Health Department, hosted a meeting Thursday at the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park explaining the health assessment process.

UTC looks back on 125 years (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Trevizo)

The first building on the current UTC campus was described by a reporter in 1886 as “a light upon a hill,” symbolizing a beacon of opportunity for the region. But not for the local black community, at least not until 1963, when Horace Traylor became the first black to enroll in the school.

MTSU debuts $4.4M cow-friendly dairy farm (Daily News Journal)

The dairy cows won’t come home until early morning Tuesday but an estimated 300 dignitaries, MTSU graduates, students, faculty and staff members and interested citizens celebrated the official opening of the university’s new dairy facility Thursday afternoon. “Thank ya’ll for being here,” said an obviously ecstatic Warren Gill, director of the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience.

Ramsey disputes claims photo ID law will disenfranchise voters (CP/Woods)

A scoffing Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey dismissed claims that the state’s new photo ID law will disenfranchise voters and pledged to personally help anyone — even Democrats — obtain the proper identification if need be. “All that’s just hypothetical,” Ramsey said of Democratic contentions that tens of thousands of the poor and elderly will be turned away at the polls in next year’s elections when photo ID is required.

Harwell Doubts GOP Will Consolidate Turf in Redistricting (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell is downplaying concerns the redistricting process could undermine some fellow Republicans. Republicans control the redistricting process, and many expect them to slot multiple Democrats into the same districts, forcing them to run against each other.

Reagan Administration Economist Arthur Laffer Speaks at GOP Retreat (TNR)

Economist Arthur Laffer, widely known as the “father of supply-side economics,” spoke to House Republicans during their retreat this week at Tims Ford State Park. Laffer, a member of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policy team, talked to the group about Tennessee’s economic assets, said Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the House Republican Caucus chair.

Midstate still wary of stalled economy (Daily News Journal)

Consumer confidence continues to drop Amid a continued shaky job market, national political gridlock Consumers in Middle Tennessee continue to have negative perceptions about the economy, according to MTSU’s latest consumer confidence report. “Any hopes for improvement in consumer confidence during the summer months can be forgotten,” said Timothy R. Graeff, director of the school’s Office of Consumer Research, who conducted the research.

La Vergne applies for aid from state (Tennessean/Loyal)

Concerned that they may not have enough money to make it through the end of the year, La Vergne officials are applying to the state for a Tax Anticipation Note to keep the city afloat until property taxes are collected at the beginning of next year. The city, which operates a $13.6 million annual budget, has less money coming in than usual, according to City Administrator Steve Mayer.

Sex offender taken into custody at downtown Knoxville library (NS/Donila)

Knoxville police arrested a sex offender inside the downtown library Thursday morning, just days after Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett implemented a policy to ban offenders from the building. The arrest, however, is only indirectly tied to the new rule.

Corker, Alexander Call for ‘Super Committee’ to Cut Deeper (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

Tennessee’s senators are part of a group of about three-dozen calling for big cuts from the so-called “super committee.” That’s the group tasked with finding more than one trillion dollars in federal cuts this fall. Senator Lamar Alexander signed a letter calling on the super committee to go above and beyond, and cut the deficit by at least four trillion dollars.

Rep’s bill would undo new rule on unions (Columbia Daily Herald)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has introduced a bill to Congress that would reverse a rule requiring employers to post unionization rights on their bulletin boards. The legislation, dubbed the Employer Free Choice Act, would repeal a rule promulgated by the National Labor Relations Board Aug. 25, 2011 that requires employers to prominently display posters containing information on workers’ rights to unionize and bargain collectively.

Tennessee Congressmen Vote to Block NRLB (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

All but one of Tennessee’s House delegation voted Thursday to block the National Labor Relations Board from ordering businesses to close, relocate or transfer jobs to other sites. The bill is a GOP reaction to a lawsuit the NRLB filed against Boeing this year, which claims the company retaliated against a unionized plant by opening a new facility in a right-to-work state.

Alexander behind proposal to cut back NCLB (Times-Gazette)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and two of his GOP colleagues say they want to scale back some provisions of the No Child Left Behind act which are no longer needed, while preserving its testing, accountability and parent information provisions. “It’s time to transfer responsibility back to the states and the cities,” said Alexander during a conference call with Tennessee reporters on Wednesday.

Area Republicans dubious of president’s jobs act (Times Free-Press/Laslo)

The White House claims President Barack Obama’s new jobs legislation can spur economic growth in the region, but Republican lawmakers are dubious. The administration says the American Jobs Act would mean an additional $619 million for Tennessee’s ailing roads and bridges, and more than $1 billion for infrastructure projects in Georgia.

Cost Cuts Would Slow First-Class Mail (Wall Street Journal)

The U.S. Postal Service on Thursday proposed ending one-day delivery of first-class mail as it considered closing more than half of its mail-processing facilities, in the latest retrenchment for the money-losing operation in the face of declining mail volumes. The latest move is expected to save about $3 billion a year and result in the elimination of about 35,000 of its 151,000 mail-processing jobs.

TVA ash spill trial begins in Knoxville (Associated Press/Poovey)

Federal judge will determine if damages due A federal judge on Thursday began hearing from both sides in the legal battle over whether the Tennessee Valley Authority should pay damages for a huge coal ash spill that fouled a riverside community. At a brief opening session, TVA attorney Edwin Small told U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan that TVA would land a helicopter in downtown Knoxville if he wanted to visit the spill site.

TVA ash spill court cases begin Monday (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Lawyers for TVA and about 230 plaintiffs suing the federal utility over the 2008 Kingston coal fly ash spill met in federal court Thursday to work out ground rules for the long-awaited trial that will determine damages and begins Monday. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

TVA details plans for modifying four dams (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Willett)

TVA officials met with the public Thursday to detail plans for modifying four area dams to better withstand an historic weather event as residents expressed concern about the impact on their property. The open house was held at Louisville Town Hall to gather public comments and provide information on a series of proposed modifications to Cherokee, Fort Loudoun, Tellico and Watts Bar dams.

ORNL to cut up to 350 jobs to prepare for tight budgets (News-Sentinel/Munger)

The fiscal clampdown in Washington is being felt in the field. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason told lab staff Thursday that as many as 350 jobs could be eliminated in coming months as the lab prepares for budget cuts in Fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, and perhaps beyond. ORNL currently employs 4,705 people. The average salary is $90,000.

Wright Medical layoffs to affect 40-50 local employees (Memphis Biz Journal)

Between 40 and 50 local employees of Wright Medical Group will be part of the an 80-employee reduction by the Memphis-based orthopedic device company. Wright Medical announced a corporate restructuring plan earlier today that included the job cuts as well as the streamlining of the company’s international operations and some of its products.

Wright Medical will cut 80 employees as part of a restructuring (CA/Sells)

Wright Medical Group Inc. said Thursday it will lay off 80 employees as part of a restructuring plan. The Arlington-based medical device manufacturer also announced it has voluntarily extended its deferred prosecution agreement with the federal government for 12 months.

Wright Medical Cutting About 80 Employees (Memphis Daily News)

Arlington-based Wright Medical Group Inc. plans to cut its workforce by 6 percent, or about 80 employees. The global orthopedic medical device manufacturer already has notified employees of the move, part of a cost restructuring plan the company announced Thursday to promote growth, profitability and build shareholder value.

Cash gives himself mostly ‘excellent’ ratings in evaluation (C. Appeal/Roberts)

The focus was on Supt. Kriner Cash on Thursday as he assessed his leadership in a year that included mammoth political distractions but also highlights Memphis will never forget — particularly President Barack Obama’s visit for Booker T. Washington High’s commencement. In his self-evaluation, the first phase of job review, Cash rated himself “good” in six subjective categories and “excellent” in 18 others that include strategic direction, maintaining the community’s respect and engaging it in the work of the district.

Hume-Fogg named Blue Ribbon School (Tennessean)

The U.S. Department of Education named Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School a 2011 Blue Ribbon School for its high performance. A total of 305 U.S. schools received the designation, awarded for either student performance or closing the achievement gap among races.

Rhea, Chattooga schools get Blue Ribbon honor (Times Free-Press/Johns)

An elementary school in Dayton, Tenn., and another in Trion, Ga., have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. Trion Elementary in Chattooga County and Frazier Elementary in Rhea County both are listed among the 305 schools to get the designation Thursday.

Hume-Fogg using tattered, duct-taped pre-calculus textbooks (CP/Garrison)

Pre-calculus students at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School are using 13-year-old textbooks that in some cases are bound together by duct tape, the result of teacher preference and budgetary constraints. “I’ve seen them, and I can confirm they are held together by duct tape,” Fred Carr, Metro Nashville Public Schools’ chief operating officer, told The City Paper.

No decisions yet on outsourcing of Knox County school custodians (N-S/McCoy)

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre anticipates he could make a recommendation to the school board this fall on outsourcing custodial services. “We went through the (request for proposal) process.

Michigan: State beaches could go smoke-free under proposal (MLive)

State beaches could become smoke-free — a major shift for Lake Michigan sunbathers that some fear would be unenforceable — under a proposal from Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder unveiled a wide range of ideas to improve Michigan’s health, including requiring insurance coverage for autism, participating in insurance exchanges and incorporating body mass index information into the state registry which tracks childhood immunizations.

Texas: U.S. Supreme Court Halts Execution (Associated Press)

The United States Supreme Court Thursday halted the execution of a black man convicted of a double murder in Texas 16 years ago after his lawyers contended his sentence was unfair because of a question asked about race during his trial. The man, Duane Buck, 48, was spared from lethal injection when the justices said they would review an appeal.

OPINION

Mark Gwyn: Seizing illegal synthetic drugs needed (Tennessean)

During the last 18 months, Tennessee has seen an explosion in the synthetic drug market. The dangerous drugs quickly grew in popularity as a legal way to get high and act as an alternative to ecstasy, cocaine and other controlled substances.

Editorial: A test for voter ID (Commercial Appeal)

Requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls is an idea that is being promoted primarily by Republican politicians and opposed, for the most part, by Democrats. It’s not hard to figure out which party expects to benefit and which expects to lose when voter ID laws go into effect, as a new one will in Tennessee next year.

Times Editorial: Dayton, Trion schools honored (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Frazier Elementary in Dayton, Tenn., and Trion Elementary School in Trion, Ga., are among the 305 schools named as 2011 National Blue Ribbons Schools by the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday. Designation as a Blue Ribbon school is a signal honor.

Editorial: A unified voice for the schools (Commercial Appeal)

Districts prepare to merge: On the charter approval question and other matters, MCS and SCS should speak as one. The Memphis and Shelby County public school systems will be one in the fall of 2013.

Pam Strickland: Sex offender ban may face legal hurdles (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A state law prompted by a specific problem at a small rural library has led to the creation of a policy by the Knox County Public Library that bans sex offenders from library facilities, which is apparently the most restrictive such rule in the country. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom, expressed concern in a telephone interview Wednesday that the policy might violate the organization’s Code of Ethics, which emphasizes equality for all patrons.

Guest columnist: Constitution shines brightly (Tennessean)

Strong enough to withstand ignorance I believe the United States Constitution is indeed far mightier than any individual, any politician or any political party. But things are not looking good. For instance, when the president of the United States refers to the Constitution as a “rigid idea” in a speech before a televised joint session of the U.S. Congress, a very poor example is set.

Guest columnist: Nation not on verge of shredding document (Tennessean)

Despite rhetoric from some Tea Party leaders that says the Obama administration is running shod over the Constitution, the nation is not on the verge of shredding the document. Debate over the Constitution, its meaning and how to interpret it is not new nor should it be worrisome. Indeed healthy debate over the nation’s founding document can be inspiring and educational.