December 16 TN News Digest

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

Governor Appoints Task Force to Study School Vouchers (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of a task force to make recommendations on what an opportunity scholarship initiative might look like in Tennessee based on the best available research. The committee will be tasked with looking at how a program would fit into Tennessee’s overall education reform strategy and that seeks to provide meaningful education options to disadvantaged students.

Haslam wants year to study school vouchers (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that school vouchers need more study before being considered in the next legislative session The Republican governor said he is creating a task force to make recommendations on a voucher program in Tennessee. The panel isn’t scheduled to report its findings back to the governor until next fall. ”

Haslam: Vouchers need year of study (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday named a task force to study and make recommendations regarding use of taxpayer-funded school vouchers that would let students attend private and religious schools. The move comes amid efforts by Senate Republicans and some House Republicans to revive their voucher bill — which they call “opportunity scholarships” — during the legislative session that starts Jan. 10.

Haslam appoints panel to study school voucher program (C. Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam appointed a panel of educators and legislators Thursday to study and make recommendations on a potential school-voucher program for Tennessee, which would allow parents to pay private school tuition with public education funding. But he gave the panel until next fall to present its findings and said the legislature shouldn’t pursue a voucher bill in its upcoming session.

School voucher legislation put off year; Haslam creates study (NS/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam moved Thursday to block action in the 2012 legislative session on a bill to create a voucher system for school systems in Tennessee’s four biggest counties. Instead, Haslam announced he is setting up a task force to study the issue until fall 2012 and make recommendations on what form any “equal opportunity scholarships” would take.

Governor sets intiative for school-choice scholarships (Daily News Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of a task force to make recommendations on what an opportunity scholarship initiative might look like in Tennessee based on the best available research. The committee will be charged with looking at how a program would fit into Tennessee’s overall education reform strategy and provide meaningful education options to disadvantaged students.

GOP Support for School-Choice Legislation Lacking in House (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the formation of an “opportunity scholarship” task force intended to study the issue of vouchers “before legislation is pursued any further in this session.” The body is directed to report back to the governor’s office in “the fall of 2012,” long after the Legislature is expected to adjourn.

Nakatetsu Tech Expanding Washington Co. Operations (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty today joined with company officials from Nakatetsu Machining Technologies to announce the company’s decision to expand its Telford facility. The $6.3 million investment will create 35 new manufacturing jobs and retain 60 at the plant.

Snap-on Tools awarded $16,542 job training grant (Elizabethton Star)

Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis have awarded $16,452 to Snap-on Tools in Elizabethton. “If Tennessee is going to become the number one location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, then we must offer a well-trained workforce to employers,” said Governor Haslam.

Gov. Haslam named ETHS’s 1st East Tennessean of the Year (News-Sentinel/Willett)

The East Tennessee Historical Society honored Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday night with its first annual East Tennessean of the Year Award at a celebration dinner held at the Cherokee Country Club. “If there is an award for most blessed East Tennessean, that would be me,” Haslam said after accepting the award.

Gov. Haslam recognized as East Tennesean of the Year (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Thursday night Governor Bill Haslam received another title, East Tennessean of the Year. The award is given by the East Tennessee Historical Society.

State’s jobless rate lowest since January 2009 (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate in November dropped 0.4 percent to 9.1 percent, the lowest since January 2009. State officials said Thursday about 10,000 jobs were created since October with job growth in the service sector such as retail trade and temporary jobs.

Tennessee jobless rate falls to lowest level in nearly three years (M. Biz Journal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell in November to 9.1 percent, the lowest rate in nearly two years. November’s rate fell from a revised October rate of 9.5 percent, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. The national rate fell similarly in November: It was 8.6 percent last month, down from 9 percent in October.

State unemployment rate falls to lowest in nearly 3 years (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

The Tennessee unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a point to 9.1% in November, according to Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development Karla Davis. “This is the lowest unemployment rate Tennessee has experienced since January of 2009 at 9.0 percent,” Commissioner Davis said.

More workers take second jobs to get by (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Part-time work is growing necessity Heather Rolley’s primary occupation is motherhood, but it doesn’t pay the bills. So on most days, after she takes her daughter and two sons to school, the 36-year-old divorcee heads to work.

TN appointed businessman while he was under fraud indictment (TN/Roche)

A recently appointed top administrator of Tennessee’s multimillion-dollar employment security system was under indictment in Ohio in a mortgage fraud case at the time of his appointment last month. Turner Nashe Jr., 37, of Brentwood, was charged in the May 2010 indictment with money laundering, theft and several counts of aiding and abetting an unlicensed loan broker who submitted falsified loan applications.

UT inmate program recognized by federal government (Associated Press)

A program at the University of Tennessee that helps inmates has been recognized by the federal government The Tennessee Partnership for Ongoing Parental Support provides child support services to inmates and helps newly released offenders find work and other important community assistance. It’s been listed as an example of successful practice in the November issue of Child Support Report, a publication of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Federal appeals court rules in favor of TN death row inmate (Tennessean/Gee)

A death row inmate’s life may be spared after a federal appeals court ruled that his claims of mental disability were not properly considered by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Byron Black, 55, was sentenced to death in 1989 in Nashville after he was found guilty of killing his girlfriend, Angela Clay, and her two minor daughters, Latoya, 9, and Lakeisha, 6.

Knox County judicial commissioner candidates down to 8 (News-Sentinel/Donila)

Magistrate will fill seat held by Carolyn Faye Jeter Knox County officials have narrowed the list of candidates to fill an open judicial commission job, creating a field of attorneys that includes public servants, a former police officer, longtime veterans and a few just out of law school. Initially, 15 applied for the job to finish out Carolyn Faye Jeter’s four-year term, which runs through January 2013. Jeter, who served as commissioner with the Knox County General Sessions Court for 17 years, died in late October.

Ramsey floats special session on health care law (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Thursday floated the idea of holding a special legislative session next winter if it’s still necessary for Tennessee to come into line with requirements set by President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Blountville Republican said in a speech at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce that waiting to hold a special session in December 2012 would allow time for a Supreme Court challenge or the presidential elections to reverse the tide on the health care law.

TN Senate may postpone health-exchange debate (Tennessean/Sisk)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he may call for a special session after next year’s elections to take up a key aspect of the federal health-care reform law. Ramsey said Thursday that he and other leaders in the Tennessee Senate favor delaying debate on whether to create a state-run exchange for health insurance until after they know the outcome of the presidential vote and a Supreme Court case challenging the health-care law.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey talks workers’ comp, judicial elections (Nashville Biz Journal)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey today alluded to complications with workers’ compensation reform and opined on a range of other business issues in advance of the Tennessee General Assembly reconvening. Ramsey, the colorful conservative Republican from Blountville who serves as head of the Senate, spoke to reporters about numerous issues, including workers’ compensation and the controversial matter of whether Tennessee should elect all of its judges.

Ramsey: Put Off Deciding on Insurance Exchange (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The speaker of the state senate wants to put off a key decision about a requirement of the federal healthcare overhaul. Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey said in a speech today the state shouldn’t act on a health exchange until after next year’s election.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey wants to wait on health care exchange decision (WSMV-TV Nash.)

Tennessee has some big decisions to make when it comes to health care reform. A top lawmaker said Thursday he wants to wait until after the elections to deal with Obama’s plan.

Lawmakers look to trim scholarship (Daily News Journal)

State Sen. Bill Ketron believes legislative action is needed to reverse annual deficits on lottery scholarship spending as the General Assembly prepares to convene Jan. 10. A Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force unanimously passed a plan that would cut in half the amount of money students receive if they meet only one of two mandates, a 21 on the ACT or 3.0 grade-point average in high school.

Hamilton County eyes meth costs and resolution (Times Free-Press/Haman)

Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham invited a state methamphetamine expert to brief colleagues Thursday on the annual costs of methamphetamine use in the area. Graham is proposing that commissioners vote next week to ask the Tennessee General Assembly to make pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth, a controlled substance.

Officials quiet on district lines (Daily News Journal)

The day following pledges to create a new committee to study school and road board redistricting, no one brought it up at Thursday night’s Rutherford County Commission meeting. “I am going to bring it up in January,” Commissioner Rhonda Allen of Smyrna said after the meeting.

MLGW board gives workers year-end bonus instead of pay hike (CA/Callahan)

The Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division board voted Thursday to give employees a year-end bonus instead of a proposed 1 percent raise. Thanks to the unanimous 5-0 vote, MLGW’s full-time employees will receive a $750 bonus while part-time employees will get a $200 bonus.

Electrical power issue hits Occupy Nashville (Associated Press)

The state fire marshal’s office has cut off the electrical outlet Occupy Nashville was using on Legislative Plaza after an inspector found that it posed a safety threat. The group was able to operate off a battery-powered backup generator all day Wednesday.

State cuts off Occupy’s power for safety (Tennessean/Young)

The state’s general services division cut off the electrical outlet Occupy Nashville was using on Legislative Plaza on Wednesday after an inspector with the fire marshal’s office found that it had been compromised and posed a safety threat to the public. “In particular, inside the outlet, the wiring’s insulation had melted back,” said state spokesman Christopher Garrett.

Local Dems stand up for Occupy (Daily News Journal)

Resolution backs ‘Boro protesters Rutherford County Democratic Party is taking a stand in support of the Occupy Murfreesboro movement staked out on city property downtown. At its Dec. 10 quarterly meeting, the party’s executive committee voted overwhelmingly to support a resolution backing the Occupy Murfreesboro group, which has about four tents where people are camping on the Civic Plaza here.

Urban growth committee nixes Chattanooga growth plan (TFP/Hightower)

Mayor Ron Littlefield was handed a political defeat Thursday night on the heels of two legal defeats within the last two months. An urban growth committee he asked to be commissioned voted 12-5 Thursday night not to entertain any proposals from Chattanooga on opening up talks on urban growth boundaries or consolidation. Two members abstained.

Marsha Blackburn presses fight to save incandescent bulbs (Tennessean/Paine)

With just 16 days to go, a local lawmaker is among those trying to stop any changes to the incandescent light bulb. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County backs a provision that would remove funding for a light bulb energy efficiency law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The measure has been added to the proposed 2012 appropriations bill, which the House could vote on as soon as today. Advocates say technology has marched on, and bulbs should be updated instead of lagging behind while more energy-efficient homes, cars and appliances are built. The law doesn’t ban the traditional pear-shaped light bulb.

Area lawmakers tout competition as fix for high Memphis airfares (CA/Sullivan)

Members of the Tennessee congressional delegation from the Memphis area and Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker were asked to comment on the high airfares out of Memphis and whether they’d support an antitrust investigation. Three of the five addressed the cost of airfare.

Democrat Bill Taylor makes 3rd District bid (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

A little blue crept into Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District race Thursday when political newcomer and Ooltewah businessman Bill Taylor became the first Democrat to go after U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s job. Amid coffee, cookies and a crowd at Hamilton County Democratic Party headquarters, Taylor, 59, shied away from partisan rhetoric and struck a centrist tone, comparing himself to former Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Taylor first Democrat to announce bid to unseat Fleischmann (Nooga)

Tennessee’s 3rd District hasn’t seen a Democrat Representative in nearly 20 years, but Bill Taylor says he’s ready to change that. Taylor, a 59-year-old Democrat and owner of Physician’s Practice Resources, announced Thursday his intentions to challenge Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in next year’s election. To a crowd of around 30 men and women at the Hamilton County Democratic Party headquarters, Taylor said he was getting into the race because Washington politics had become “appalling” to him.

Congress Blinks on Shutdown (Wall Street Journal)

Deal Reached to Fund Government, Opening Door to Extending Payroll Tax Cuts Congressional leaders—fearful of voters’ wrath over Washington’s bickering and brinkmanship—stepped back Thursday from a possible government shutdown, clearing the way for at least a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut that is set to expire at year’s end. The shift marked a dizzying change in tone from the contentious atmosphere that prevailed just a day earlier. Republican and Democratic leaders returned to the bargaining table and struck a deal on a $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating after Friday.

Official: 9 states to share $500M in Race to the Top grants (Associated Press)

Nine states will share $500 million in grant money won in a high profile competition intended to jumpstart improvements in often-overlooked early childhood programs, The Associated Press has learned. The winners to be announced Friday at the White House are California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the winners had not been officially announced.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s spat revolves around safety (TN/Bewley)

Chairman accused of being too strict A spat among the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s five members stems from “philosophical differences” over how strictly the agency should regulate the nuclear industry, Senate Democrats and nuclear experts said Thursday. Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said the commission’s embattled chairman, Gregory Jaczko, has favored strict regulation while the other four commissioners have sided with industry and delayed implementation of new safety rules.

Despite Difficulties, Tennessee Exports to Europe Up (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Some European economies are on the brink of collapse, but the region is still buying Tennessee products. Sales of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, medical equipment, and other goods are up eight percent from a year ago. Tennessee companies sent close to a billion dollars worth of goods to Europe in the third quarter, that’s more than what was exported to China.

Group aims to accelerate growth of businesses in East Tenn. (NS/Flory, Harrington)

If you happen to be a nurse anesthetist who needs a clinical-decision-support app for your iPhone, Chris Knapper and Matt Bell can help you. The two men are nurse anesthetists themselves but are also building a fledgling company called E2 Medical Software, and on Thursday night they were at the Cherokee Mills office complex for a gathering aimed at entrepreneurs.

School officials to discuss charter school’s future (WKRN-TV Nashville)

School officials are scheduled to meet early next week to discuss a Metro charter school that could be forced to close their doors at the end of the semester. Drexel Preparatory Academy located in the Whites Creek area opened its door in August; however school board members are demanding its charter be revoked.

Former employees claim violations at Metro charter school (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Former employees of an embattled Metro charter school are coming forward with claims of serious violations. The Channel 4 I-Team first reported that Drexel Preparatory Academy had hired unlicensed teachers and may have failed to run required background checks on bus drivers.

Education experts meet with Metro (Tennessean/Hubbard)

A leading expert on education reform, Andy Hargreaves, typed away on his laptop Thursday, taking notes of all the new ways Metro school leaders are teaching this year. The Boston College professor who wrote and edited 25 books is one of six experts on Metro Nashville schools’ 2-year-old National Advisory Panel.

Hamilton County schools seek science and math program funding (TFP/Hardy)

The Hamilton County Board of Education unanimously approved on Thursday a grant application for about $1.8 million to help fund a science, technology, engineering and math school here. Board members voted 7-0 on the district’s application to the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, a partnership of the Tennessee Department of Education and the Battelle Memorial Institute, an independent research and development organization.

Allied Arts of Greater Chatt. wants arts boost in Hamilton Co. schools (TFP/Garrett)

Elementary schools that don’t integrate painting, dancing and acting into their curriculums are setting students up for faulty imaginations and lower test scores, arts activists say. Of 44 elementary schools in Hamilton County, only eight have full-time visual arts teachers, and four of those are funded by parent-teacher associations.

OPINION

Editorial: Gov. shows pragmatism on sunshine, tax debate (Daily News Journal)

We were glad to see Gov. Bill Haslam recently come out against a proposal that would water down the state’s open meetings law as well as efforts to eliminate the state’s estate tax and Hall income tax. Wrapping up his first year as the state’s chief executive, Haslam has shown a knack throughout his first year in office for taking pragmatic approaches to a variety of issues.

Charlie Daniel Political Cartoon: “Deck the Hall Tax” (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Greg Johnson: Judge, prosecutor failed in Baumgartner’s case (News-Sentinel)

East Tennessee was already outraged about the new trials granted the defendants in the killings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, a young Knoxville couple heinously tortured and killed in 2007. Now public anger and disgust is turning toward an unprepared special prosecutor and an incurious special judge who let one of their own, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, off easy after his drug addiction and criminal behavior while on the bench put hundreds of already settled cases in jeopardy.

Guest columnist: 200 years after New Madrid quakes, are we better prepared? (TN)

It was a warm winter night 200 years ago when the ground and buildings started shaking from a strong earthquake in the upper Mississippi River valley near New Madrid, Mo. The first in a series of quakes struck on Dec. 16 around 2:15 a.m., and the few thousand pioneer settlers in the region did not understand what was happening, much less what to do about it.

Guest columnist: Schools merger: who and what (Tri-State Defender)

Unless you have just decided to poke your head up after hiding under a rock all of this year, you are aware that in March Memphis voters passed a referendum to merge city and county schools. And since that time, local, regional and national interest in the education of Memphis and Shelby County public school children has significantly increased.

Free-Press Editorial: Fleischmann, DesJarlais, Graves rightly back tax relief (TFP)

It is frustrating that Democrats have been holding payroll tax relief for 160 million Americans hostage to the desire to impose higher taxes on upper-income Americans — some of whom are the very people who operate businesses that employ a lot of workers. Democrats have at last dropped the demand that tax relief be linked to a “surcharge” on wealthier Americans.

Free-Press Editorial: Postal Service can’t escape painful workforce decisions (TFP)

There is broad agreement that the U.S. Postal Service is in serious financial trouble. There is less agreement on what to do about it.

Pam Strickland: Phone use while driving a measurable distraction (News-Sentinel)

The last thing that anyone in my family says to a departing family member at the end of a gathering isn’t “I love you.” That’s next to last. No, the last thing is “be careful.” Our family knows the horror of deaths from a car accident, so we are all defensive drivers.

Editorial: Cellphone ban gets a boost (Commercial Appeal)

Traffic Deaths increase: It is becoming more clear that the hazards associated with driving and phoning are not exaggerated. With too many drivers still unbuckled more than 20 years after the first mandatory seatbelt laws were passed, don’t expect American motorists to suddenly stop talking on their cellphones because the National Transportation Safety Board says it’s dangerous.