November 9 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Defends Teacher Evaluation System (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam again Monday defended the use of the state’s new teacher evaluation system and reminded everyone that the whole idea didn’t start with his administration. Haslam made the point during a press availability on Capitol Hill after a ceremony for veterans.

Haslam weighing position on school vouchers proposal (AP/Schelzig)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is still weighing the pros and cons of a school vouchers proposal, and doesn’t plan to announce his position on the measure until close to the end of the year. The Republican governor told members of the Nashville Rotary Club on Monday he expects school vouchers to be “one of the most contentious issues” in the legislative session that begins in January.

Veterans Affairs deputy speaks Friday (Marshall County Tribune)

One of Tennessee’s deputy veterans affairs commissioners, a former National Guardsman who served with Marshall County’s veterans service officer and one of its commissioners, is speaking Friday on Lewisburg’s public square for Veterans Day. Deputy Commissioner Wendell Cheek served in the Guard with Billy Hill, the veterans service officer, and Commissioner Dean Delk, principal of Chapel Hill Elementary School. Cheek was in a quartermaster unit in Tullahoma with Delk during 1984-’85 until he transferred to Nashville with an engineering brigade where he served with Hill.

Homegrown company sees increasing success (Daily Beacon)

As any true Volunteer would know, there is nothing that hits home more to UT like tradition. It is something that sticks with you from the moment you step on campus, and for Mason Jones, it is a way of life. Jones’ company, Volunteer Traditions, began in 2006 while Jones and his good friend Brock Dosson were in their second year of law school.

Metro adjusting well to new teacher evaluations (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register says that although new teacher evaluations are time-consuming and there are concerns by teachers of inconsistency by their evaluators, Metro is “doing better than most” school districts adjusting to the changes. Register said Tuesday during a school board meeting that 300 principals or administrators are evaluating 5,000 teachers this year.

Tennessee goes after health fraud (Tennessean/Roche)

A Brentwood health-care firm has agreed to pay back some $2 million to the state and federal governments in the latest in a series of cases brought by federal prosecutors in Middle Tennessee. Total recoveries ordered so far this year now top $100 million.

TN Family Support Program could be cut from budget (WSMV-TV Nashville)

It makes the difference for thousands of families in our state. But a program, designed to help the disabled and other families, could be cut in next year’s budget. It has nonprofits scrambling to figure out what to do.

State official promises improvement at driver service centers (Johnson City Press)

Wait times at the Johnson City driver service center are among the longest in the state, but changes are coming that should reduce that statistic, according to a state official in charge of the state’s 50 centers. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons visited several driver service centers in East Tennessee Tuesday, including the one in Johnson City at 4717 Lake Park Drive, where he presented numbers showing the wait times at that center for the month of October averaged about 77 minutes.

State group trying to help hemlocks (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

Contemplate the manpower-intensive task of trying to save 90,000 hemlocks in the 16,181-acre Fall Creek Falls State Park. Then multiply that labor by hemlock stands in most of the 55 other Tennessee public parks, in at least 20 North Georgia state parks, in two national forests in each state, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in about 100 wildlife management areas operated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Tenn. State Univ. gets grants for cybersecurity (Associated Press)

Tennessee State University has been awarded $1.3 million to support cybersecurity research and education. The Nashville school received four grants from the Department of Homeland Security and National Science Foundation.

Audiotape released of traffic stop that cost THP trooper his job (WSMV-TV Nash.)

Channel 4 News has obtained audiotape of a traffic stop that cost a state trooper his job. It started when Trooper D’Angelo Inman stopped a fellow law enforcement officer he saw speeding close to 100 mph.

TBI: Two former local government workers indicted in unrelated cases (N-S)

Two former East Tennessee public employees were arrested Tuesday by state authorities on unrelated charges. Former Clinton Police Department officer Randall Chisum, 29, of Maynardville was arrested by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents following his indictment Nov. 1 by an Anderson County grand jury on a possession of a scheduled drug charge, according to TBI spokeswoman Kristen Helm. Chisum previously was indicted in June on one count of statutory rape.

Statute would hit drug sellers (Jackson Sun)

Synthetic drugs aimed at youth Jackson police officials say state legislation already bans the sale and use of harmful synthetic drugs. But local leaders are working on an ordinance that would tack on a local tax on businesses illegally selling the drugs.

Safer bypass sought (Times-Gazette)

Local officials are asking for help from the state to make the new Shelbyville Bypass safer for motorists following a number of accidents, including one fatality. Last week, State Sen. Jim Tracy, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, expressed his concerns to city manager Jay Johnson about the safety of intersections crossing the newly opened State Route 437.

Health care exchange plan faces criticism in TN (WSMV-TV Nashville)

There’s a brand new controversy brewing in Tennessee over the president’s health care reform law. Under the law, the state has until the end of the year to set up its own health care exchange to help the uninsured get coverage.

Occupy Nashville protesters work to keep state Capitol safe (Associated Press)

Occupy Nashville protesters said Tuesday they’re taking steps to maintain order and safety on the grounds near the state Capitol where they’re camped, and anyone who doesn’t adhere to the rules is removed from the group. Protesters have made an effort to keep the area safe and clean after the state’s imposition of a curfew and arrests of 55 protesters last week.

Homeless Pitch Tents in Safe Haven of Legislative Plaza (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The number of tents pitched on Legislative Plaza has continued to grow since a federal judge overruled a curfew for the state-owned space. But some of those setting up camp outside the capitol are not aligned with the Occupy Nashville protest.

Congressmen Hear Veterans’ Worries Over Benefits (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Some Tennessee veterans are worried about possible cuts to the military. The Pentagon is already facing $450 billion in reductions over the next decade, and that could double, depending on the outcome of the Congressional supercommittee this month.

Sen. Alexander Opposes GOP Push on Clean Air Rule (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Senator Lamar Alexander is breaking ranks with his Republican colleagues over the issues of clean air. He’s opposed to a bill introduced by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul that would overturn limits on power plant pollution blowing from one state to another.

Blackburn pushes health care choices bill (Commercial Appeal/Sells)

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said Tuesday that she will fight doctor payment cuts from Medicare and continue to push her legislation to create a “Travelocity” for health insurance. Blackburn and Dr. Keith G. Anderson, local cardiologist and vice chairman of the Tennessee Medical Association, gave their latest reports on state and federal health care legislation to a crowd gathered at Germantown’s Great Hall & Conference Center. Doctors will see a 29.5 percent cut in Medicare payments come Jan. 1 unless Congress intervenes.

Memphis Co. Wins $15M to Develop Drug (Memphis Daily News)

RxBio Inc., an early-stage biopharmaceutical company formed around technology developed at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has been awarded a $15 million federal contract to further develop Rx100, a potent drug that may protect against the lethal effects of radiation exposure. To date, no such drug has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Health Law Survives Another Appeal (Wall Street Journal)

A federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday unanimously rejected a challenge to the 2010 health-care overhaul, handing the Obama administration a significant legal victory days before Supreme Court justices are set to consider whether to settle the law’s constitutionality themselves. Joining two other federal appeals courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the government to uphold the law’s requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or pay a penalty.

Plea hearing in reactor inspection records case (Associated Press)

A second contractor employee charged with falsifying electrical cable inspection records at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar reactor project is changing his plea to guilty. An attorney for John E. Delk said the former crew supervisor for Williams Specialty Services of Tucker, Ga., will change his plea at a Wednesday federal court hearing in Chattanooga.

TVA, NRC mark progress at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant (Times Free-Press/Sohn)

Officials with TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant told regulators Tuesday that, although the utility is behind schedule and over budget with the completion of a second reactor there, progress has improved in the past four months. “We’ve had challenges to our budgets and our schedules, and I don’t have a report on that today, but … we think there is a positive trend,” Watts Bar Construction Manager David Stinson told the officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a public meeting.

Tennnessee narrows manufacturing job loss in 2011 (Memphis Biz Journal)

Tennessee’s manufacturing employment fell 1.4 percent over the past year, according to the 2012 Tennessee Manufacturers Register. The drop actually was seen as a positive sign given that the state lost a net 5,645 manufacturing jobs in the past year compared to the 22,286 lost in the 2009-2010 time frame, according to a news release by Manufacturers’ News Inc, publisher of the Register.

Home Sales Up 2 Percent For October (Memphis Daily News)

October home sales in Shelby County inched 2 percent higher compared to the same month a year ago, marking the fourth consecutive month with year-over-year improvement. Shelby County registered 1,073 home sales last month, compared to 1,011 in October 2010, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com.

Exide laying off 236 Bristol workers (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Exide Technologies has announced it will lay off 236 employees at its battery-manufacturing plant in Bristol over the next 12 to 18 months. The company said Monday the fate of another 233 jobs will be decided in the next three months.

COGIC Holy Week celebration will remain in St. Louis through 2013 (CA/Waters)

What was for decades the largest annual convention in Memphis will continue to be the largest annual convention in St. Louis — at least through 2013. Delegates to COGIC’s General Assembly approved a deal Tuesday that will return the Memphis-based denomination’s annual “Holy Week” celebration to St. Louis for a fourth consecutive year in 2013. After meeting for 102 years in Memphis, COGIC signed a three-year contract to move its convocation to St. Louis in 2010.

More job ads may be sign of increased hiring (Associated Press/Rugaber)

Employers advertised more jobs in September than at any other point in the past three years, a hopeful sign that companies may step up hiring. Businesses and governments posted 3.35 million job openings, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

Schools work to improve test scores in 3rd, 7th grades (Leaf Chronicle)

Clarksville-Montgomery County School System administrators are implementing some new district-wide strategies to combat falling test scores in certain areas across the district. Since the state’s report card has not yet been released, curriculum director B.J. Worthington showed the school board Tuesday night how the district might fare under the new requirements if the federal Department of Education approves a waiver to No Child Left Behind that was sent to district superintendents this week and could become effective as soon as January.

Possible W. Nash charter school would have ‘mixed-income’ focus (CP/Garrison)

There’s a push to launch a new charter school in West Nashville, this one with an untapped focus for similar schools in Davidson County: Instead of catering to only at-risk, economically disadvantaged students, the school would actively target middle- and upper-class children as well. The conceived school –– a grade structure is still undecided –– would add to the wealth of publicly financed, privately operated charters that have budded in Metro over the last few years.

Magnet schools begin to draw interest (Daily News Journal)

Informational meetings set for city, county Once area retailers clear the shelves of Halloween candy and costumes to make room for Christmas decorations, it’s a sign that local magnet schools are preparing to host open houses for the upcoming school year. Rutherford County Schools’ Central Magnet School, McFadden School of Excellence and Thurman Francis Arts Academy, along with Murfreesboro City’s Discovery School at Reeves-Rogers have all set dates to give parents more information about the programs, designed for high-acheiving students.

Mississippi: Mississippi Voters Reject Anti-Abortion Measure (New York Times)

Voters turned a skeptical eye toward conservative-backed measures across the country Tuesday, rejecting an anti-labor law in Ohio, an anti-abortion measure in Mississippi and a crackdown on voting rights in Maine. Even in Arizona, voters were close to turning out of office the chief architect of that state’s controversial anti-immigration law.

North Dakota: In North Dakota, After the Water, the Winter (New York Times)

There are four seasons up here, the joke goes: winter, winter, winter and construction. And as the displaced residents of this city, soaked by floodwaters for much of the summer, were made fully aware this week with the arrival of the first snowflakes, construction season is ending.

OPINION

Guest columnist: State’s own plans are already working (Tennessean)

Why the need for a reform in American education? Recent data collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed alarming statistics regarding particular subgroups of students who fall below others of various racial backgrounds. NAEP found that African-American 17-year-olds were reading at the same level of white 13-year-olds.

Guest columnist: ‘No Child’ faces big changes (Tennessean)

There has been much discussion of late about anticipated changes to No Child Left Behind. Enacted in early 2002, this legislation currently calls for all states to achieve 100 percent proficiency in all tested subjects by the end of the 2014 school year. After years of public outcry from educators across the country, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., recently introduced a bill that would revamp major portions of the original law.

Guest columnist: We have to dig deeper for true reform (Tennessean)

School performance seems to be moving to the front burner of political attention with a notable and much-publicized mismatch on jobs and job skills. Recently, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander wrote an article in The New York Times espousing a return of educational decisions to the individual states, particularly the No Child Left Behind law.

Editorial: Retreat offers chance to chart schools’ future (News-Sentinel)

Virtually every local politician will assert that education is the key to Knox County’s economic future. They will tell us that an educated work force is vital to attracting new industry and that keeping creative entrepreneurs in the area is a boon for the local economy.

Editorial: Road, school lines don’t make sense; redraw them (Daily News Journal)

Complaints from La Vergne and Eagleville leaders about the proposed district lines for Rutherford County School Board seats are justified. The county’s redistricting committee and now its Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee never put in the work required to come up with school and road board district lines that make sense.

Guest columnist: Celebrate speech rights at the plaza (Tennessean)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” — First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Regardless of our politics, we all know how important the First Amendment is.

Editorial: ObamaCare: Flawed Policy, Flawed Law (Wall Street Journal)

The Supreme Court is expected to meet Thursday to discuss whether to hear challenges to last year’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—particularly concerning the constitutionality of the law’s “individual mandate,” which requires all Americans to have health insurance. With a split in appeals court rulings, including Tuesday’s D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the mandate, it now seems clear the Supreme Court must weigh in.