October 19 TN News Digest

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

State meth awareness campaign begins Wednesday (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam and others will begin a statewide methamphetamine awareness campaign Wednesday. The governor will join Tennessee’s district attorneys and members of their staffs at an annual training conference to start the initiative, named Meth Destroys.

Battle against meth heads to schools (Tennessean/Haas)

Campaign hopes to reduce ‘smurfing’ Tennessee’s renewed assault on methamphetamine abuse is moving to a different battlefield: the classroom. Gov. Bill Haslam today is expected to kick off a new anti-meth campaign called “Meth Destroys” featuring the first educational video created for middle and high school students since the state’s initial meth campaigns in 2005.

Haslam sees Moore fifth-grade class work during Montgomery County visit (L-C)

Two Moore Magnet Elementary fifth graders got a rare opportunity to present their class projects to a special visitor Tuesday morning at Kenwood High School. Nathaniel Pittman and Preston Moody explained to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam the process by which they created their own paper that could conserve trees, as well as a solar oven that could be used in countries where people don’t have electricity.

Clarksville gives Haslam shot in arm (Leaf Chronicle)

For the governor of Tennessee, even getting a routine flu shot that’s recommended for everyone can draw attention. Bill Haslam smiled for several cameras as he sat down and received a shot to his right arm from Assistant Nurse Supervisor Donna Davis Tuesday morning at the Montgomery County Health Department.

Bicentennial Capitol Mall recognized as a ‘Great Place in America’ (Tennessean)

The park built to commemorate Tennessee’s 200 years of statehood was designated one of the Top 10 Great Public Spaces in America today. “The Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is an outdoor recreation area in the center of Nashville that taps into our state’s unique history, geography and culture,” said Gov. Bill Haslam during a ceremony today.

Sumner earns Three-Star recertification (Gallatin News Examiner)

Sumner County has again achieved certification under the state’s Three-Star program for excellence in economic development. In order to receive the certification, communities are required to meet criteria in planning, leadership, community, business and education and work force development categories.

State taking energy grant applications (Associated Press)

The state will be taking applications for a third round of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block grants to communities across the state to improve efficiency. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development said in a statement it will be taking new applications on Monday.

Medicaid firms cut off New Life Lodge (Tennessean/Roche, Rau)

The health-care companies that handle the state’s Medicaid payments have stopped sending any more patients to the troubled New Life Lodge drug and alcohol residential treatment facility in Dickson County, where two people died last year. In a separate development, Dickson County law enforcement officials acknowledged that there is an active investigation of an alleged sexual assault on a juvenile who was placed at New Life by the state Department of Children’s Services.

5th-graders encouraged to enter poster contest (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is encouraging fifth-graders across the state to enter a poster contest. It’s the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2012 National Missing Children’s Day poster competition. The purpose is to show the country’s effort to bring missing children home safely and highlight the importance of proactive education programs.

Feds, state check trucks (Jackson Sun)

Closer scrutiny involved weigh stations across state The Transportation Security Administration and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security set up simultaneous checks at truck weigh stations across the state on Tuesday, in a coordinated effort to maintain traffic security on interstate highways in Tennessee. Kevin McCarthy, TSA federal security director for West Tennessee, said TSA’s operations do not only concern air travel safety, but following train bombings in Madrid, the TSA worked to enhance security on rail and mass transit systems nationwide, as well as major interstate highways.

Convicted murderer Kelley Cannon takes case to appeals court (Tennessean/Gee)

Defense says she was unable to kill husband Kelley Cannon was too frail, drug-addled and distraught to kill her husband, James Malcolm Cannon, according to her lawyer. Nashville defense attorney Peter Strianse told the state Court of Criminal Appeals that the evidence doesn’t support the jury’s first-degree murder verdict.

New way to pick TN judges proposed (Tennessean/Gee)

A state senator has proposed an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that aims to strike a balance between concerns that Tennessee’s highest judges are unconstitutionally appointed and fears that the judiciary would be too heavily influenced by money, politics and special interests if there were statewide popular elections for the appellate courts. Under the proposal by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, members of the state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals would be selected in a manner similar to federal judges who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Kelsey’s proposal calls for appointments by the governor with confirmation by the state Senate.

Beavers Builds Case Around Conduct of Tennessee Judges (Memphis Daily News)

Editor’s Note: This is an occasional series that profiles Tennessee’s state legislators. It took a budget shortfall in the Wilson County school system and her husband knocking on doors to get Mae Beavers elected the first time. Now, 21 years after winning that election for seat on the county commission, the Republican state senator from Mt. Juliet has carved out a niche in the Tennessee Legislature dealing with the courts, the cost of government and the relative roles of state versus federal government.

Ketron: Student ID fraud too rampant for voting (Daily News Journal)

State Sen. Bill Ketron said Tuesday college student IDs aren’t being allowed for voter photo identification next year because of campus fraud. In passing a law requiring voters to show a photo ID beginning Jan. 1, Ketron said he spoke with officials at several public and private higher education institutions and found out students often work in the departments that issue university student IDs.

Ketron Defends Need for Voter ID Law (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The sponsors of a new law requiring a photo ID to vote next year are defending the measure, saying voter fraud has been a serious issue in Tennessee. Opponents have argued the measure is a politically-driven solution to an almost nonexistent problem.

TN lawmakers’ quarterly expenses up 8 percent (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Lawmakers’ out-of-session expenses increased 8 percent in the third quarter despite the elimination of legislative oversight committees, an Associated Press review has found. The state paid out about $270,000 in daily expenses and mileage reimbursements in the quarter ending Sept. 30, compared with $251,000 in the same year-ago period.

Road Trip (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is going on a road trip. The speaker of the state Senate wants to host a series of discussions with business owners from every corner of the state about red tape and any unnecessary obstacles that make life difficult for them.

Revised voucher bill opposed by Knox schools (Knox. News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Legislation to set up a school voucher program for the first time in Tennessee has been revised by its lead sponsor while the state’s biggest school systems — including Knox County — are launching a lobbying effort against it. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored a voucher bill that passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House. In a news release, Kelsey said he is filing a new and revised version of the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act” (SB2135) for the 2012 legislative session.

New Tennessee hotline helps battle sex trafficking (Tennessean/Burger)

In an effort to reach out to victims of human sex trafficking, state legislators have created a 24/7 help hotline. The hotline, which went into effect Oct. 1, was set up to aid victims by connecting them to services and helping them get to safety, according to officials.

Action urged to get Tennessee state workers off food stamps (TFP/Sher)

Pay for one out of every 39 Tennessee state workers is so low they are using the federal food stamp program to make ends meet, figures show. According to the state Department of Human Services, 968 of the state’s 39,012 workers are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal government’s food stamp program.

City to review Amazon distribution center plans (Daily News Journal)

Local job seeker Catherine Cartwright hopes a proposed Amazon.com distribution center with up to 1,150 workers will make it easier for her to find work. “Bringing Amazon to Rutherford County would be almost a blessing in disguise,” Cartwright said while stopping by the Tennessee Career Center in Murfreesboro Tuesday to apply for job openings.

Burchett puts future of sheriff’s pension on table for discussion (NS/Donila)

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said he’s prepared to ask the County Commission to let voters decide whether to make changes to the Sheriff’s Office pension plan, although he wants to close it outright.He’ll settle for raising the retirement age, reducing benefits, increasing the time required to vest, cutting cost-of-living increases or raising the amount employees contribute. At least for now. Any changes — if approved — would not affect current retirees and workers already covered in the defined benefit plan, dubbed the Uniformed Officers Pension Plan, or UOPP.

Council shields worker pensions (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

Recent pay cuts will not reduce payments The Memphis City Council took action Tuesday to protect city employees’ pensions from an impact by recent pay cuts. The council voted 13-0 to approve an ordinance sponsored by Mayor A C Wharton’s administration to prevent the 4.6 percent pay cuts approved for most city workers in the city’s 2011-2012 budget from lowering their pension payments.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann warms tea party hearts (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Before U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann walked into their meeting, the Tea Party of Bradley County could be characterized as a pack of skeptical nonbelievers. “You can’t hold him to any promises because I never heard him make any,” Jack Fox said.

TVA to lower rates for customers by up to $1 (Memphis Business Journal)

The Tennessee Valley Authority is dropping its rates by up to $1 for residential customers, the third month in a row rates have declined. On Oct. 1, TVA announced it would increase rates for residential customers by $1.60 per month, but anticipated lower fuel costs in November and mild temperatures in recent weeks led to reduced demand for electricity and resulted in the rate cuts.

Second coal ash trial called off (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Attorneys for property owners seeking damages from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash spill have agreed to call off a second trial on TVA’s liability that was set Nov. 1. Court filings show attorneys for TVA and property owners seeking damages from the December 2008 spill at TVA’s Kingston Plant have asked the judge who presided at the first trial to use only that evidence in making his decision.

Attorneys agree no new liability trial in TVA coal ash spill (News-Sentinel)

Attorneys for property owners seeking damages from TVA’s coal ash spill have agreed to call off a second trial on the federal utility’s liability that was set to begin Nov. 1. Court filings show lawyers for TVA and property owners seeking damages from the disastrous December 2008 spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant have asked the judge who presided at the first trial to only use that evidence in making his decision.

DOE celebrates stimulus success in Oak Ridge (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

In 2009, when the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office first learned that it would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funding, officials said they expected to create about 1,500 jobs at the government facilities in Atomic City. As it turned out, the DOE field office received more money than expected — a total of $1.9 billion in Recovery Act funding, of which about $1.2 billion stayed in Oak Ridge.

Pillsbury law firm to bring 150 jobs to Nashville (Nashville Business Journal)

New York-based Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman announced today it would bring 150 employees to Nashville as part of an expansion. The law firm, which specializes in energy and natural resources, financial services, real estate and technology sectors, will open a professional services center and begin transferring and recruiting employees in spring 2012.

Council approves resolution to explore lawsuit vs. NBA over lost revenue (CA/Maki)

The Memphis City Council approved a resolution Tuesday asking the council’s attorney to “explore all options” — including a lawsuit against the NBA — to recover revenue that may be lost due to the lockout. “Everything is on the table to recover the funds, if any are lost,” said council chairman Myron Lowery, who sponsored the item.

States rewrite education rules, with or without Race to the Top (Stateline)

Some of the states rejected for federal “Race to the Top” education grants are proceeding to revamp their school systems anyway — in some cases more ambitiously than states that won. Colorado, for example, is moving forward with a new system tying teacher and principal reviews to student performance.

Tennessee Teachers Stressing to Make the Grade (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

To impress the White House, states are being harder on teachers than ever before. Legislatures from Colorado to Illinois made it more difficult to get tenure as a way to position for competitive grants from the federal Race to the Top program. So did Tennessee – which ultimately won half a billion dollars.

Rhea school board targets teacher evaluation program (Times Free-Press/Davis)

Rhea County school board members are prepared to ask state officials for a major revision of the system’s new teacher evaluation protocol, claiming it is discouraging to teachers and an incentive for good teachers to leave education. Board member Dale Harris was told to prepare a resolution for the November meeting that pointed out what board members see as deficiencies in the evaluation program, which was developed as a result of the state’s winning federal Race to the Top funding.

6 Tennessee schools win national recognition (Associated Press)

Six schools in Tennessee have been chosen as 2011 No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools. They are Hume-Fogg High in Nashville, Page High in Williamson County, South Greene High in Greene County, Frazier Elementary in Rhea County, Fairmont Elementary in Johnson City and Morristown West High in Hamblen County.

Cleveland takes a look at school priorities (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Higgins)

City school board members and school principals are taking a new look at their facility needs. Meeting Tuesday night, the board placed the purchase of three maintenance crew vehicles at the top of its list, replacing earlier needs that have been handled.

Officials split over charter schools (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Unified board member suggests moratorium The issue of charter schools emerged Tuesday as one of the first philosophical differences between the merging city and county school systems, with one member of the new unified board suggesting a moratorium on charter schools. The conversation was civil, but the gulf was wide. By state law, charter schools are not optional.

Meth lab ingredients found in vehicle (Times-Gazette)

The sound of glass breaking alerted a Bedford County deputy to what turned out to be an alleged meth lab in a vehicle last week near Wartrace, according to a sheriff’s department report released Monday. Three Manchester men — John Wayne DeWitt, 30, James Edward Rutledge, 52, and Bill Rich Teal, 39 — were charged with promotion of meth manufacture.

Indiana: Out With Textbooks, in With Laptops for an Indiana School District (NYT)

Laura Norman used to ask her seventh-grade scientists to take out their textbooks and flip to Page Such-and-Such. Now, she tells them to take out their laptops.

OPINION

Editorial: La Vergne, Smyrna area needs new House seat (Daily News Journal)

A new state House seat targeted for rapidly-growing Rutherford County should focus on the La Vergne and Smyrna area that has seen its population skyrocket over the last decade. With its population topping 262,000, Rutherford County is set to receive four House seats within its confines as the state Legislature redraws district lines statewide to meet constitutional requirements.

Editorial: Sunshine Law shines a light on government (Leaf Chronicle)

In 2007, an open government study committee looked at a proposal that would have gutted Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act. It would have allowed small groups of county commissioners or city council members to gather in secret. The panel, however, rejected the plan, and rightly so.

Editorial: In light of costs, retirement plan needs revisiting (News-Sentinel)

Knox County’s 5-year-old Uniformed Officers Pension Plan is in trouble, and Knox County leaders need to address the issue sooner rathxzer than later. The problems, highlighted this week in a series of News Sentinel articles by reporter Mike Donila, stem from a combination of poor public oversight and bad timing.