September 20 TN News Digest

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

Haslam: $5K Reward for Info on Lorenzen Wright Homicide (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the state will issue a $5,000 reward to the person or persons providing information leading to the apprehension, arrest and conviction of any person who committed, attempted to commit or conspired to commit the homicide of Lorenzen Wright. Additionally, the governor announced that the state will match up to $5,000 if any other organization offers a reward for a potential total of $10,000.

State offers $5,000 reward in basketball player Lorenzen Wright’s death (TN/Sisk)

The state of Tennessee is offering a $5,000 reward for information on the killing of former Memphis basketball player Lorenzen Wright. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the reward Monday for information that leads to the capture, arrest and conviction of anyone connected with Wright’s death. Wright’s body was found with multiple gunshot wounds in a wooded area of southeast Memphis on July 28, 2010.

Reward for information in Lorenzen Wright case climbs to $21,000 (CA/McKenzie)

Thanks to contributions from the state of Tennessee and the Memphis Grizzlies, the reward for information in last year’s slaying of Lorenzen Wright has increased to $21,000. The state will contribute $10,000 while the Grizzlies, one of four NBA teams for whom Wright played, have added $5,000 to help solve the killing of Wright, a former NBA and University of Memphis basketball player.

State Ups Reward In Year-Old Murder of Memphis NBA Star (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

The reward has increased for information that helps convict anyone involved in the murder of NBA star Lorenzen Wright. The state has added $5 thousand to the reward, which is now up to $11 thousand total. Governor Bill Haslam is offering the money at the request of the Shelby county district attorney general and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton. Wright’s body was found in Shelby County in late July of last year.

MedSolutions to expand in Williamson County (Business Clarksville) 

MedSolutions has announce plans to expand its corporate headquarters in Franklin, investing $16 million and create 263 jobs over a three year period. “We’re working to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and focusing on existing Tennessee businesses and industry clusters where our state has a distinct advantage are priorities in our Jobs4TN strategy,” Governor Bill Haslam said.

MedSolutions plans expansion of Cool Springs HQ (Tennessean/Walters)

Medical cost management services company MedSolutions plans to expand its Cool Springs headquarters, investing $16 million and create 263 jobs during a three-year period. MedSolutions has more than 800 employees and the company maintains management contracts for approximately 30 million individuals nationwide. In a press release, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the expansion Monday morning.

Haslam Comfortable With Brother Lobbying Against ‘Commercialization’ (TNR)

Gov. Bill Haslam finds himself answering questions again regarding the ongoing watch on his interest in Pilot Flying J truck stops, the Haslam family business. The issue of the governor’s stake in Pilot rose quickly in Haslam’s campaign for governor in 2010 and has surfaced again in Haslam’s first term with a different twist.

State Weighing Whether to Run Insurance Exchange (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Many Tennessee lawmakers say they’re still waiting to see whether the federal healthcare overhaul will hold up in court. But with the clock ticking to figure out whether the state will set up its own insurance exchange as part of that law, officials are already working to hash out a recommendation.

State consumer officials warn about email scam (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Consumer Affairs Division is warning about emails that request participation in a survey and promise a gift card in return. The division said in a news release that instead of receiving a gift card, participants receive calls from telemarketers.

State has questions about advance for Memphis Bioworks Foundation (CA/Locker)

State officials wanted more questions answered Monday before approving an advance of $6.3 million in state grants to the Memphis Bioworks Foundation toward a new $22 million laboratory building near the University of Tennessee Health Science Center campus. The Bioworks Foundation asked the State Building Commission to transfer the money into an escrow account to help the foundation qualify for a federal New Markets Tax Credit, which requires the foundation to have the money up front.

Librarians helping parents with literacy skills (Associated Press)

Public librarians across the state are learning new ways to help parents increase the early literacy skills of children. Librarians are attending workshops to learn about the Public Library Association’s kit Every Child Ready to Read, 2nd Edition. It’s a program that encourages parents to develop oral language and vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge and other skills. The Tennessee State Library and Archives is assisting with the workshops.

Regents to recognize Cleveland State’s math redesign (Times Free-Press/Higgins) 

Cleveland State Community College will be recognized at a Tennessee Board of Regents meeting Thursday for a mathematics program that attracted President Barack Obama’s attention a year ago. “The Carnegie Foundation made a comment that the biggest problem facing community colleges in this country is developmental math,” Cleveland State President Carl Hite told members of MainStreet Cleveland on Monday.

Collierville’s safety earns award for police (Commercial Appeal/Wolff)

It’s not a contest that sends squad cars weaving between cones or forces officers to wear padding while deflecting a baton beating. Instead, it’s just the daily challenge to keep drivers safe. For the second consecutive year, the Collierville Police Department has won the Governor’s Highway Safety Office Law Enforcement Challenge.

Need a Tennessee photo ID to vote? Get ready to wait (TFP/Haman, Sher)

State stats say it takes 53 minutes on average for someone to get a driver’s license from one of Tennessee’s 48 driver service centers. But those suffering through the process say the ordeal actually can last hours and even require multiple trips.

Gerald McCormick suggests election commissions issue IDs (TFP/Sher)

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he favors a proposal to have the state’s 95 county election commissions issue voter-registration cards with photos to ensure voters have sufficient ID to meet a new state law. The Republican-led General Assembly rejected a Democratic proposal earlier this year to do that. Instead, voters without sufficient government-issued ID must go to driver service centers operated by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which are known for lengthy lines.

Photo ID voting mandate spurs Democrats’ fears, GOP scoffs (N-S/ Humphrey)

Echoing partisan positions around the nation, Tennessee Democrats see a new photo identification requirement as a Republican scheme to suppress voting by the poor and elderly, while Republicans scoff at the notion. “I think they’re genuinely trying to disenfranchise people they think tend to vote for Democrats,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

Voters express support for law, but dissenters fear discrimination (NS/McCloskey)

While Tennessee’s new law requiring that all voters have photo IDs may stir controversy along party lines, Knox County early voters seem to largely support the legislation. “People just aren’t honest anymore. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have to identify who you are to vote,” said Paul Wittke, a West Knoxville resident early voting at Downtown West.

Requiring Photo ID to Vote an Attempt to Exclude Poor, Dems Say (Christian Post)

In the last few years, several states have implemented new laws requiring all voters to produce a photo ID to confirm their identity. This has angered Democrats, who say Republicans are attempting to discourage the poor and disenfranchised from voting. Republicans discount the accusation and say they only want to confirm that the person voting is the same person as on the voter rolls.

Dems jobs tour stops at megasite (Jackson Sun)

State Democratic leaders were in Haywood County on Monday during their second stop of a six day Joint Democratic Caucus Jobs Tour that will cover the majority of the state. The contingency of  Speaker Emeritus of the House Jimmy Naifeh, state Reps. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley and Johnny Shaw of Bolivar and state Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson toured the West Tennessee Megasite and solar farm as part of their caucus’s plan to help find ways to encourage job growth within the state, especially in West Tennessee.

Local governments in Tenn. seek solutions to planning budget cuts (TFP/Benton)

Before July, local governments’ planning commissions could contract with the state for planning help, but the service was eliminated from this year’s state budget as part of cost-cutting measures. The Southeast Tennessee Development District, and its sibling associations around the state, stepped in to fill the planning gap, said Beth Jones, executive director of the Chattanooga-based agency.

One Tennessee Politician Holds His Tongue on Gibson (WPLN-Radio Nashville) 

This week, the CEO of Gibson Guitar will meet with representatives of the Justice Department to discuss recent raids of factories in Nashville and Memphis. A long list of Tennessee’s elected officials has come to Gibson’s side, but not its two senators. Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey were some of the first to call the seizure of imported hardwood an overreach and an example of overregulation.

ET delegation: Obama proposal comes up short (News-Sentinel/Collins)

East Tennesseans in Congress say President Barack Obama’s plan to trim the deficit with $1.5 trillion in taxes, mostly on the wealthy, will do little to get the economy back on track. “It is important that the president recognizes that we have a spending problem,” U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said Monday.

Feds Want to Turn Tennessee Farmland into Forest (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A federal program is trying to convert Tennessee farmland into forest. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a mix of trees that can still generate some income for farmers while also benefiting the environment. The USDA found that 600 trees per acre – half cottonwoods and half hardwoods, like oaks – is the perfect recipe.

Testimony opens in trial over TVA coal ash spill (Associated Press/Poovey)

An attorney for property owners seeking damages for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s huge 2008 coal ash spill told a federal judge Monday that the TVA’s own records show years of negligent conduct preceded the disaster, but a TVA attorney rejected that claim. The lawyer for the nation’s largest public utility, addressing the court, compared the breach in an earthen dike to an internal crack in a wing that brings down an airplane.

TVA engineer admits changing reports (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

A TVA engineer who inspected the Kingston Fossil Plant months before the December 2008 coal fly ash spill said Monday he changed the wording of his report at the suggestion of agency officials and removed some data from a groundwater monitoring program during the period of the spill because he said it was confusing the results. Chris Buttram’s statements came on the first day of testimony in a federal trial in which 230 plaintiffs are suing TVA over damages to homes, property and health they say they suffered as a result of the Dec. 22, 2008, storage cell collapse that released 5.4 million cubic yards of wet coal ash into the Emory River and neighboring land. Following opening statements by both sides, Buttram was called to the stand and was questioned about his role in the events.

Tennessee medical company expanding headquarters (Associated Press)

A medical company is expanding its corporate headquarters in Franklin, Tenn., to create more than 260 jobs over three years. State officials announced Monday that MedSolutions will invest $16 million for the expansion. The company, with 800 current employees, specializes in cost management of medical services for commercial, Medicare and Medicaid payors.

GM plans to reopen former Tennessee Saturn factory (Times Free-Press) 

The former Saturn assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., will reopen under the terms of a landmark four-year contract to be submitted to UAW leaders today in Detroit, according to people familiar with the General Motors labor pact finalized last week. Early reports are that GM wants to use the idled factory to make its hot-selling Chevrolet Equinox, which is made in Canada. The Tennessean newspaper said Spring Hill, about 40 miles south of Nashville, could be an additional production site for the compact crossover.

Workers yearn for homecoming (Columbia Daily Herald)

Bill Weber is in Lansing, Mich. His thoughts are often about 600 miles south. Tennessee is where Weber developed strong roots for more than two decades as an employee at General Motors’ Spring Hill Motors plant.

Local UAW Awaits Details of Spring Hill Restart (WPLN-Radio Nashville) 

Tuesday morning, union leaders from the UAW Local 1853 expect to find out exactly what may becoming to the GM plant in Spring Hill. There’s still no certainty about what was agreed to over the weekend in contract negotiations.

Call center extends its job fair (Columbia Daily Herald)

A Jacksonville, Fla.-based call center opening a facility in Spring Hill will continue its job fair this week to try and fill about 300 positions. TRG Customer Solutions is leasing a 50,000-square foot space in the Northfield building.

Retailers: Lost online taxes cost Tenn. 6,000 jobs (Associated Press)

A group representing brick-and-mortar stores says forgone tax collections from online sales are costingTennessee more than 6,000 jobs. The Alliance for Main Street Fairness has been a vocal opponent of the state’s agreement to waive the requirement for online retailer Amazon.com to collect sales taxes on items sold through distributions centers being built in Tennessee. http://content.usatoday.net/dist/custom/gci/InsidePage.aspx?cId=tennessean&sParam=37497195.story

Retailers’ Group: $3 Billion At Stake in Online Sales Tax Issue (TN Report)

A brick-and-mortar retailers’ group has warned that the state could lose out on $3 billion in revenue and more than 10,000 jobs over the next five years if online retailers continue not to collect sales taxes. The projections are in an study commissioned by the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, a national organization made up of retailers ranging from small businesses to Wal-Mart.

Study: Tennessee could lose as much as $3B in tax revenue (City Paper/Woods)

A new study commissioned by brick-and-mortar retailers claims Tennessee could lose as much as $3 billion in tax revenue and more than 10,000 jobs over the next five years because the state cannot force online retailers to collect sales taxes from its customers. The report released Monday by the retailers’ coalition — the Alliance for Main Street Fairness — employed a multiplier effect to arrive at those numbers, which were many times greater than any previous studies have found.

Job losses blamed on uncollected online sales taxes (Tennessean/Sisk)

Group: Uncollected sales tax may cost 10,000 positions Tennessee stands to miss out on more than 10,000 jobs over the next five years because of uncollected online sales taxes, a group backed by major retailers said Monday. Hiring by the state — as well as by local governments and private industry — is being hampered by the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that could be collected on online sales, according to a study released by the Alliance for Main Street Fairness.

Retailers lash out at Amazon.com tax deal (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Sales by online retailers like Amazon will cost Tennessee as much as $3 billion in revenue and the loss of more than 10,000 jobs over the next five years, according to a new analysis released Monday. Amazon is building two distribution centers in Southeast Tennessee, one in Hamilton County and one in Bradley County.

Study Looks At Impact Of Not Collecting Online Sales Tax (WTVF-TV Nashville)

A new study looked at the projected impact of not collecting online sales tax and how much the state of Tennessee could lose if it doesn’t do that. The issue stems from the controversy raised over the deal Amazon.com has with the state of Tennessee. Two centers that will store inventory for orders are being built Bradley and Hamilton Counties.

Amazon Opponents Release Study to Support Sales Tax Case (WPLN-Radio)

Opponents of a sales tax exemption for Amazon.com say the break could cost the state nearly 7,000 jobs next year. A private study funded by the Alliance for Main Street Fairness – a coalition of

Amazon’s competitors – takes work from the University of Tennessee and goes several steps further.

E.W. Scripps consolidates digital operations (Knoxville News-Sentinel/ Harrington)

E.W. Scripps Co. said Monday it has consolidated the digital operations of its newspapers and television stations under a new organization headed by Adam Symson. Symson, 36, will serve as vice president, chief digital officer for the new unit and will be based in Cincinnati, where Scripps is headquartered. He will report directly to Rich Boehne, Scripps president and chief executive officer.

Middle Tennessee businesses remain hesitant to hire (Tennessean/ Marsteller)

Middle Tennessee businesses say they need more access to capital, less uncertainty about the federal debt and fewer government regulations before they’ll start hiring workers again in bigger numbers. Otherwise, CEOs of many of the region’s largest companies say they’ll remain reluctant to add jobs even if Congress and the Obama administration offer them fresh incentives to do so.

Support fades in and out for charging stations (Tennessean/Walters,Burch) 

In the home of Nissan North America — maker of the all-electric Leaf — there’s a mixed current from Brentwood and Franklin leaders about getting more vehicle charging stations. Questions about Franklin’s role in adding electric charging stations to its downtown parking garages have kicked up after more than a year of back-and-forth contract negotiations between the city and ECOtality, the company that’s installing electric stations nationwide as part of the EV Project.

Sears, Borders announce total of 36 local job cuts (Memphis Business Journal)

A total of 36 retail and retail-related jobs are being cut this month in Shelby County, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The bulk of those jobs, 27, are being eliminated through the closure of a Sears Parts & Repair Center at 2209 Whitten Road.

Test anxiety: Students, parents feel effect of new TCAP policies (N-S/Rupp)

Kari Hancock thought there had to be a mistake when she opened her daughter’s schedule for seventh grade in August. Kailen Hancock, 12, had been in honors, advanced or talented-and-gifted classes since elementary school, but her seventh-grade schedule said she was now in regular classes. After a few phone calls to Halls Middle School, Hancock discovered it was not a mistake.

3 Memphis City Schools being considered for closure (C. Appeal/Callahan)

At least three Memphis City Schools with sinking enrollment may be closed in the coming months, Supt. Kriner Cash said Monday. The decision will likely be one of the first taken up by a new 23-member unified city and county school board, which will start meeting Oct. 1. “These are things that are going to have to be considered very soon,” Cash said. The number of students at one of the schools –Lakeview Elementary in Southwest Memphis — dropped from 254 in 2002 to 110 this school year, Cash said at the board’s monthly meeting Monday night.

Cash Explains Reform Efforts to Republicans (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash says two public school systems in Shelby County competing against one another and being compared to each other is a “false dichotomy.” In remarks this month to the Midtown Republican Club, Cash continued to emphasize his ongoing plans for education reform locally. ”

Public Schools Face the Rising Costs of Serving Lunch (New York Times)

The federal government is making school meals more nutritious this year, but also more expensive. Under a little-noticed provision of the child nutrition bill signed by President Obama in December, which brought more fresh produce and less whole milk to cafeterias nationwide, school districts are required to start bringing their prices in line with what it costs to prepare the meals, eventually charging an average of $2.46 for the lunches they serve.

Two hurt in suspected meth explosion in Davidson County (Tennessean/Humbles) 

Two people were in critical condition Monday afternoon after being injured by an explosion in a Madison apartment complex where methamphetamine was allegedly being cooked, according to officials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Jason Scott, 28, and Jessica Biggs, 22, were severely burned from the explosion and fire, which blew out a bedroom wall and damaged surrounding units at 98 Randy Road, according to Metro police.

Arkansas: The AK approach: How one state has avoided fiscal disaster (Stateline)

A few states have escaped the worst of the recession, and for the most part that is for one reason: They derive massive amounts of revenue from oil and gas or other mineral extraction. It’s not easy to find states without major wealth in the ground that have managed to avoid fiscal crisis.

Texas: New Texas Voting Map Faces Federal Challenge (Wall Street Journal)

Texas’ Republican-controlled statehouse violated the Voting Rights Act by adopting congressional and legislative districts for the 2012 election that disenfranchise minority voters, the Justice Department told a Washington federal court Monday. Due mainly to growth of Texas’ Hispanic population, the state’s delegation in the U.S. House will increase by four to 36 representatives next year.

OPINION 

Sam Stockard: Purity of ballot box or just pure politics with Voter ID? (DNJ)

It seems simple: Go to your precinct on Election Day. Show your driver’s license and cast a ballot. For most of us, it’s no big deal.

Guest columnist: New NCLB legislation would help education (Leaf Chronicle)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and three Republican colleagues introduced legislation to update and improve the No Child Left Behind Act. The proposal is similar to one put forth by Democrats and closely resembles recommendations from the Obama administration. It is past time to update NCLB.

Free-Press Editorial: Ideas to create jobs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

If you need a job and want a job but don’t have one, you surely would like to hear any reasonable proposal for creating some good job opportunities. It is no solution for the federal government just to tax everybody who does have a job, and then use some of the money to create more government jobs or to subsidize “make-work” private jobs.