November 8 TN News Digest

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

Haslam foresees overhaul of TN gas tax (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam warned Monday that declining gas tax revenue will be a major problem for the state’s infrastructure over the next decade. Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said in budget hearings last week that he has met with the heads of the House and Senate transportation committees about the effect of improving fuel economy and the advent of electric vehicles on Tennessee’s gas tax system.

Haslam Won’t Propose Gas Tax Increase (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Haslam says he won’t propose an increase in the state’s gas tax. In budget hearings last week, transportation officials said changes to the tax may be needed in coming years. Every time you fill up your car, the state collects 21.4 cents per gallon, which pays for road construction.

Haslam weighing position on school vouchers (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam says he is still weighing the pros and cons of school vouchers, and plans to announce his position on the measure toward the end of the year. The Republican governor told members of the Nashville Rotary Club on Monday that he understands the motivations for creating school vouchers for children in failing schools.

Haslam supports new evaluation process of Tennessee teachers (TFP/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday defended the state’s new teacher evaluation process against critics who argue that negative consequences for educators who perform poorly should be delayed while kinks in the program are worked out. “I think it’s really important that we not give up on this process too quick,” Haslam told reporters.

Haslam Salutes Tennessee Veterans (Missouri News Horizon)

Gov. Bill Haslam told a gathering Monday honoring veterans that the reason he was chosen to visit Iraq and Afghanistan this summer was because Tennessee has one of the strongest contingents of military service personnel in the country. Haslam spoke at an event on the plaza of the Tennessee Tower in a ceremony that honored a group of state employees who are also veterans.

Local organizations sign on as partners in accelerator program (Weakley Co Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam and state Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty recently announced nine Regional Entrepreneurial Accelerators will be established throughout the state to help Tennessee entrepreneurs. The accelerators will provide mentoring, education and training, strategic and technical support and assistance identifying sources of capital.

Huffman Optimistic Long-Form NCLB Waiver Request Will Win Approval (TNR)

Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman says Tennessee is still “well-positioned” to get a waiver from the federal government on the No Child Left Behind law, although the state was caught off-guard by some criteria for the move. Tennessee applied for a waiver in July and expected a fairly quick response.

Tenn. Voucher Debate: Private School Bailout or Much-Needed Choice? (MDN)

Critics of a bill to create a school voucher system in Tennessee characterized the plan as a “bailout” for financially failing private schools while proponents hailed it as a needed new choice in education during a legislative hearing this past week. Rep Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, sponsor of the pending voucher bill, compared public school systems opposing the idea to the McDonald’s chain board of directors telling legislators, “We don’t think Burger King should be able to build anywhere near our restaurants.”

663 photo IDs issued during special hours (Associated Press)

State officials in Nashville say 663 photo IDs were issued Saturday during special operating hours at 19 Tennessee driver service centers. The centers will be open on the first Saturday of each month through next March for issuing such photos.

Minimum-security Charles Bass prison to close (Associated Press)

State prison officials are closing the Charles Bass Correction Complex-Annex in Nashville because of security concerns. The news comes a day after an inmate scaled a fence to escape the facility.

Depart. of Correction ‘quickly’ decides to close work release facility (City Paper)

State correction officials Monday announced the closure of the Charles Bass Correctional Complex-Annex because the facility could no longer operate under the current design or operate as a “secure facility.” A Tennessee Department of Correction release stated that “while the decision to close the facility happened quickly, the planning for this contingency has been well underway as part of the agency’s top to bottom review.”

Correction Department to Vacate Troubled Facility (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The Tennessee Department of Correction has announced plans to close the Charles Bass Correctional Complex Annex. The minimum security part of the facility – which houses work-release inmates – has been the site of several escapes, including one just last week.

TDOC Announces Prison Annex Closing (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Corrections officials announced Monday that they will closing the Charles Bass Correctional Complex-Annex on Centennial Boulevard. Officials said the current design of the minimum-security work release facility, does not meet their standards for a secure facility.

Lawsuit moves forward against New Life Lodge (Tennessean/Rau)

The stage appears to be set for a contentious and lengthy legal battle between the parent company of Tennessee’s largest drug rehabilitation center and the family of a woman who passed away during her rehab stint there last year. An hourlong hearing Monday in Dickson County Circuit Court foreshadowed a case that could last well into 2012 and possibly beyond.

Campbellsville Pike bridge completion delayed (Columbia Daily Herald)

Work on a Campbellsville Pike bridge that was due for completion in late November is now expected to continue until Dec. 31, a Tennesseee Department of Transportation spokeswoman said. B.J. Doughty said wet weather and problems relocating utilities forced delays in reconstruction of the bridge over Little Bigby Creek on Campbellsville Pike near the intersection with Sunnyside Lane. The bridge had not undergone a major overhaul since it was built in 1955.

Columbia bridge project delayed (WSMV-TV Nashville)

A bridge project in Columbia won’t be finished on time. TDOT is rebuilding a bridge over the Little Bigby Creel on Campbellsville Pike. The work started in April and was supposed to be completed this month.

Courts side with TDOT over suspension of contractors (Tennessean/Gee)

Two Nashville courts have refused to overturn the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s decisions to suspend two guardrail contractors from bidding on state contracts. The two contractors had been implicated in corruption investigations.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey says unemployment system should be changed (WSMV-TV Nash)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey raised some eyebrows when he said last week some of the state’s unemployed aren’t looking for work but are making a lifestyle out of collecting benefit checks. The man in charge of the state senate says it’s time for Tennessee to change its unemployment system.

Cost of moving TN state lawmakers’ offices nears $130,000 (WSMV-TV Nashville)

A massive move in the state legislature also came with a high price tag. Taxpayers footed the bill for nearly $130,000 to re-arrange Tennessee state lawmakers’ offices.

Skeptical of Finance, Occupiers Must Manage Donations (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

In its first month, Occupy Nashville received over $3 thousand in donations. That may not seem like much compared to the half a million raised by the group’s counterpart in New York.

Fmr. Secretary of State Rice Targeted by ‘Occupy’ Protesters During Visit (TNR)

Condoleezza Rice appeared at a fundraiser in Nashville for U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn on Monday, and members of the Occupy Nashville protests took notice. A group of about 12 of the protesters moved from War Memorial Plaza to the area of the Hermitage Hotel nearby where Rice, former U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser, was featured at a midday gathering in the ballroom.

Changes to zone lines rejected by committee (Daily News Journal)

The mayors of La Vergne and Eagleville and a pair of Rutherford County commissioners were unable to convince other officials to budge on changing the alignment of the county’s zones for the school and road boards. The commission’s Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee voted 6-1 Monday to reject a request from Commissioner Robert Stevens to re-examine his proposals during the next meeting in December.

Cooper Fears Supercommittee Failure Will Hammer Defense (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

Nashville Representative Jim Cooper says he’s hoping for a “miracle” from the Congressional supercommittee tasked with finding a trillion dollars in budget cuts. Cooper says automatic cuts are likely to happen instead, and he’s worried what will follow.

Tennessee Legislators Have Mix of Hope, Skepticism for Supercommittee (WPLN)

Time is running out for the Congressional Supercommittee charged with trimming more than a trillion dollars from the nation’s budget. None from Tennessee’s delegation are on the panel, instead they’re watching from the sidelines as the Thanksgiving deadline looms.

Corker far ahead in campaign fundraising (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

On Feb. 28, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s campaign spent $14,115 on event invitations and envelopes. Seven months later, Corker’s three registered 2012 challengers filed campaign finance documents.

Request by Cohen, 13 others, yields pipeline permitting probe (C. Appeal/Sullivan)

The inspector general for the U.S. State Department, responding to a request by 14 members of Congress including Steve Cohen, will look into the handling of the permitting process for a controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. The Memphis Democrat flew back to Washington on Sunday to speak at the White House against the proposed pipeline that would link coal tar sands oil in Alberta with refineries along the Texas Gulf coast.

Party e-mails blast Cooper, Fincher (Gannett/Bewley)

Blast e-mails sent by political party committees accuse Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville of supporting “job-destroying policies” and Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump of accepting “tainted” campaign cash. The mass e-mails have proliferated in recent weeks.

Memphis Gets New FBI Chief (Associated Press)

The FBI has named a new special agent in charge for its Memphis division. The FBI said in a Monday news release that Aaron T. Ford will oversee the FBI’s operations in 54 counties in West, Middle and East Tennessee.

Special sessions: a calculated risk (Stateline)

In what has been a busy year for special legislative sessions, Connecticut and Missouri highlight the promise — and the political peril — that can accompany such meetings. Connecticut’s legislature met for seven hours in late October and passed a $626 million economic development bill.

Chinese tire maker Doublestar inks Memphis deal (Commercial Appeal/Evanoff)

Nearly half a century ago, Wang Hai was a Chinese soldier posted to Vietnam. Today, he’s one of China’s storied business leaders — and his business is branching into Memphis.

Chinese Tire Co. to Distribute Locally (Memphis Daily News)

The Doublestar brand of truck tires coming to North America from China will be distributed from a warehouse in South Memphis. Executives from China’s Qingdao Doublestar Industrial Co. Ltd. were in Memphis Saturday, Nov. 5, to sign and announce the agreement with Del-Nat Tire Corp. at the 486,000-square-foot Del-Nat facility, 2365 Texas Drive. Del-Nat is an independent tire distributor founded in Memphis in 1989, with a network of 75 dealers and distributors who are stockholders in the company, which operates as a cooperative.

Hemlock Semiconductor on pace for late 2012 open in Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)

Construction of Clarksville’s $1.2 billion Hemlock Semiconductor LLC plant is still on pace for a late-2012 opening, as originally planned, a company spokesman confirmed Monday. Beyond then, however, it is still unclear when any expansions of that HSC first phase will be undertaken.

Nashville magnet schools ramp up efforts for racial balance (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Magnet school applications come in four foreign languages and with more potential for free city bus passes this year in Metro Nashville, part of the district’s effort to keep racial and economic balance in the most competitive schools. Last year, 2,700 applicants applied for 940 slots at the three academic magnets — Hume-Fogg High, Martin Luther King grades 7-12 and Meigs Middle — where students need high standardized test scores and grades to get a shot.

Proposed charter school in Chattanooga focuses on business, law (TFP/Hardy)

A founder of the state’s oldest and largest charter school wants to open a business- and law-themed charter school here. Hamilton County Schools has received a charter application from Smart Schools Inc. to open a sixth- through 12th-grade school called the New Consortium of Law and Business.

Hawkins BOE opposes state funding for private schools (Times-News)

The Hawkins County Board of Education approved a resolution Thursday expressing opposition to proposed state legislation that would divert money intended for public education to private schools. Hawkins County has no private schools, although there has been discussion and meetings among some Rogersville community leaders about the possibility of starting a private Christian school.

Ohio: Ohio voters look set to dump Republicans’ anti-union law (LA Times)

An aggressive Republican drive to weaken the labor rights of government workers appears to have crested, at least in Ohio, where voters are expected to throw out a far-reaching anti-union law this week. The referendum over collective bargaining for public employees, potentially the most important contest in off-year elections around the nation, is being closely watched for clues about shifting voter trends in a state expected to play its usual outsized role in next year’s presidential contest.

Texas: Court Halts Execution of Henry Skinner (New York Times)

The state’s highest criminal court on Monday stopped the execution of a man who claims that DNA tests of evidence will prove his innocence. The inmate, Henry Skinner, who was convicted in 1995 of murdering his girlfriend and her two sons and was scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, has fought for the tests for 10 years. His lawyers had not requested DNA testing on all the evidence available at trial out of fears that the results would go against him.

OPINION

Editorial: Education on voter ID requires a huge push (Daily News Journal)

While we remain concerned about the state’s new voter photo ID law, we are pleased with ongoing efforts by the state Division of Elections and Rutherford County’s Election Commission to educate voters about the changes via town hall meetings and a new video. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires voters to show an official photo ID before casting ballots.

Sam Stockard: Race to the Top starting to look more like Over the Top (DNJ)

Not even a year into new teacher evaluation rules, Tennessee’s First to the Top is turning into a Crash at the Bottom. Nearly two years ago, with the federal government dangling $501 million, state lawmakers and top officials cursed stimulus funds while at the same time holding out their hands for all the money they could get.

Editorial: Tourism dollars have significant economic impact on Jackson area (JS)

An easily overlooked aspect of the Jackson-Madison County economy is tourism. But it is a major contributor of taxes, employment and spending in our community. It is worth noting that Jackson-Madison County again ranks No. 1 in the Northwest and Southwest Tennessee regions of the state.

Guest columnist: Region needs mass-transit options (Tennessean)

It’s kind of hard to put your arms around the notion of $10 gasoline, especially for someone my age who bought the stuff for 25 cents a gallon. Have you noticed that those days are over?

Editorial: Feeding our children (Commercial Appeal)

One in four children in the Mid-South struggle with hunger, according to the Mid-South Food Bank. And, it’s not just poor children. The country’s continuing economic woes and persistent high unemployment have put many once middle-class families at risk of being unable to put adequate food on table daily.

Editorial: Staring Into the Budget’s Abyss (New York Times)

Republicans, looking for leverage to slash federal spending, created the phony debit-ceiling crisis that led to creation of the Congressional deficit-cutting “supercommittee.” But with the committee close to a deadlock — largely because Republicans will not agree to higher taxes on the rich — and the deadline for an agreement approaching, some Republicans are now talking about undoing the process.