December 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 announces regional ECD jobs plans (Nashville Business Journal)

The Haslam administration has announced the next step in the Republican governor’s regional jobs strategy: strategic planning. Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development released plans for each of the nine regions the administration has broken the state into.

Haslam’s ‘top-to-bottom reviews’ of state operations bear fruit (TFP/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam said a controversial recommendation to close Taft Youth Center near Pikeville is “very persuasive.” If the center is closed, its 90 or so teen inmates would be moved to four other centers scattered across the state.

Haslam gives $45M to family charities over decade (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam over the past decade has given more than $45 million to two family-run charitable foundations that support education, religion and culture. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that governor has given the money to the Charis Foundation established by Haslam and his wife in 2001, and the Haslam Family Foundation set up by his father in 1998 (http://bit.ly/vM6yO3 ).

Tenn. revenues expected to grow by up to 4 percent (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The State Funding Board on Monday agreed to revise its general fund revenue projections upward by at least $177 million in the current budget year, and pegged next year’s growth at up to 4 percent The panel unanimously agreed to the estimates used by lawmakers and the governor to plan state expenditures. State Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes called it a “pleasant surprise” that revenues are rebounding at a rate faster than had been expected.

Tennessee doubles estimates for tax collections (Tennessean/Sisk)

The State Funding Board nearly doubled the state’s growth estimates for tax collections, approving projections Monday that show Tennessee bringing in $187.8 million to $220.5 million more than it has budgeted. The board signed off on new estimates that show tax collections growing 3.9 percent to 4.21 percent — from about $412 million to $445 million — during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

TN Funding Board Raises Outlook; Emkes Warns ‘Pain’ Still Ahead (WPLN-Radio)

Tennessee’s finances are in better shape than officials thought a few months ago. The State Funding Board now thinks the state will bring in another $180 million in taxes as Tennesseans spend more.

State, county lawmakers work to keep Lakeshore money local (N-S/Donila)

Knox County officials are pretty much resigned to the state’s proposal to shutter Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, so now they want to make sure the money used to operate the aging facility stays in East Tennessee. “Is it a done deal? No, nothing is until the Legislature approves it, but I think we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think that it’s on its way,” said state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. “My big concern is to make sure the money stays here.

Corryton woman indicted for “doctor shopping” (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

A Corryton woman is accused of visiting several doctors within a 30-day period in order to get prescriptions for the same or similar drugs and letting TennCare pay for it. Nancy Horsley is charged with six counts of TennCare fraud for “doctor shopping,” the Office of the Inspector General announced on Monday.

Davidson Co. woman charged with ‘doctor shopping’ (WKRN-TV Nashville)

A Nashville woman is under indictment for TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping.” Roxie Ann Haliburton is said to have used the state’s public healthcare insurance program to go to multiple doctors in a short period of time to obtain prescriptions for a controlled substance.

THEC proposal would make schools pay part of building projects (NS/Boehnke)

For the first time, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission is asking colleges and universities to foot a percentage of the bill for building projects on their campuses over the next five years as part of a funding proposal the state agency is set to consider today. In its annual capital projects recommendation, the THEC has included along with its list of 2012-13 priorities, a five-year plan that leaders at both systems are hoping will be financed through a large-scale bond issue to the tune of more than $1 billion.

U of M may get campus title today (Jackson Sun)

County reviews insurance claims figures for workers The state of Tennessee could secure ownership of the University of Memphis Lambuth campus today. Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris said university officials are still working through bankruptcy court proceedings, but the close of the state’s property purchase could end county participation by the end of the week if not today. “Whatever happens between Lambuth and the bankruptcy court, it’s up to them,” he said.

Bridge replacement project requires lane closure on Gallatin Rd. (WKRN-TV Nash)

Crews with the Tennessee Department of Transportation will soon begin working on a project that will replace two deteriorating bridges on Gallatin Road in northern Davidson County. The bridges cross over the CSX Railroad near Anderson Lane in Madison, with one bridge carrying northbound traffic and the other carrying southbound traffic on Gallatin Road.

Appeals court upholds termination of Chatt. police officer Lawrence Goodine (TFP)

An appeals court has upheld the termination of a Chattanooga police officer. The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville affirmed a trial court’s ruling stating that former Chattanooga police Officer Lawrence Goodine should not be reinstated. Goodine was fired as an officer on April 13, 2007, after an internal affairs investigation led to charges of theft, improper search, improper procedure, untruthfulness and submitting a false report, and a disciplinary court sustained the charges, the Appeals Court decision stated.

Wooded Rapist case shows DNA warrants on ‘John Doe’ stay valid (Tenn/Gee)

Tennessee law enforcement officials now have an unlimited amount of time to investigate and prosecute crimes if perpetrators leave a hair, a piece of skin or other DNA evidence behind, thanks to a recent ruling by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. The decision came in the case of Robert Jason Burdick, the so-called Wooded Rapist who was accused of raping more than a dozen women dating to 1994.

Shelby Co. officials indicting DNA in hope of matching to suspects (CA/Buser)

Genetic makeup being used to help combat statute of limitations An indictment prepared recently in a Shelby County rape case identified the defendant not by name but by his unique DNA genetic profile, which included enough letters and numbers to rival a vehicle identification number. The aim of the so-called John Doe DNA profile, gleaned from bodily fluids collected from the crime scene, is to indict the unidentified suspect using DNA in the hopes of eventually getting a match and a name from a DNA database.

Senator files proposal to amend teacher evaluation process (Daily News Journal)

State Sen. Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill) announced Monday that he has filed legislation to allow teachers and principals with superior value added growth data scores to choose to use those scores to comprise 50 percent or more of their evaluations. Senate Bill 2165 would change the present system where students’ value added growth is 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score, with another 15 percent tied to another measure agreed upon by the teacher and his/her supervisor to evaluate student achievement, according to a press release.

Lawmakers to consider changes for synthetic drugs laws (WSMV-TV Nashville)

It’s a revolving door – a synthetic drug was banned, but now it’s turning up on store shelves again. Despite all the new laws, companies are still finding loopholes. Now state lawmakers think they’ve found a solution, one that could get these drugs out of markets completely. Lawmakers said the solution might not only be in banning the specific ingredients, but it could include banning anything that mimics the effects of illegal drugs.

Marion County towns eye synthetic drugs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Lewis)

City officials here have decided to take a different approach than neighboring Kimball, Tenn., in the fight against sales of synthetic drugs. Earlier this month, the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to create a city ordinance that would outlaw the drugs’ possession, sale and delivery. A final vote on the ordinance will be Jan. 5, officials said, and a violator will face a $50 fine plus court costs in municipal court, which is the maximum penalty that state law allows.

Sullivan decides against loosening open meetings (Associated Press)

Sullivan County commissioners decided Monday against a resolution that asked the General Assembly to loosen open meeting laws for county and city governments. The commissioners approved the first reading of the ordinance last month.

Sunshine Law to remain the same in Unicoi, Sullivan Counties (Herald-Courier)

It’s called the Sunshine Law. A legal provision requiring government bodies conduct their business in complete transparency, never behind closed doors.

Shelby County commissioners still can’t agree on district lines (CA/Connolly)

Shelby County commissioners remained deadlocked Monday on new commission district lines for use in elections in 2014 and beyond, and they will set a special meeting in the next few days in an effort to reach consensus. Commissioners must reach a conclusion by the end of the year, or a court will decide.

Commissioners ditch payroll system (Columbia Daily Herald)

Touted as a better way to keep track of how much time an employee actually works, Maury County commissioners voted Monday to scrap an automated payroll system after apparently being deluged with complaints from workers about its inefficiency. The commission voted 17-3 — with two abstentions — to terminate the contract with ADP Inc., an agreement the board had approved last year.

Private operation proposed at 3 city golf courses (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

Michael Hampton grew up around the game of golf. His father, Joe Hampton, was the first African-American in Tennessee to be selected as a golf pro for a municipal golf course. Joe Hampton eventually served 47 years as the pro at what is now the Ted Rhodes Golf Course in Nashville.

As park recreation area land grows, revenue streams dry up (TFP/Benton)

Grundy County likes to be known for a natural beauty that attracts outdoor enthusiasts to hike, watch wildlife and take in views of the uncluttered South Cumberland Plateau, according to preservationists and local officials. But some local officials spearheading economic efforts in the county say continued designation of Grundy properties as preserved park land to maintain that beauty is digging into county coffers.

Representative urges incandescent bulbs as gifts (Associated Press)

Tennessee U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn says her family’s holiday will be bright. She’s filling Christmas stockings with light bulbs. Incandescent, of course.

Corps of Engineers miscalculated water storage at Percy Priest (WSMV-TV Nash)

Several communities already stretched thin financially may be forced to pass on a hefty bill to taxpayers. Water rates could go up all over Rutherford County after a miscalculation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

New rules threaten their way of life, farmers say (News-Sentinel/Johnson)

Proposed changes to child labor laws have some area farmers concerned that a big part of their way of life could be fading away. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is considering updating regulations concerning child labor in agriculture, and the changes would restrict the work that youths can do on farms.

States may lose crucial flood-predicting tools (Stateline)

More than three months after the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Lee pummeled much of the East Coast, the city of Binghamton, New York, is still rebuilding. During the height of the storm, the waters of the Susquehanna River surged over floodwalls and into the streets, forcing 20,000 people in the area to flee their homes.

Three years later, Kingston ash spill cleanup continues (News-Sentinel/Fowler)

The end is in sight, and the trust is back. So says a TVA executive of the ongoing cleanup of the catastrophic ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant and the public’s perception of TVA’s efforts.

TVA about halfway through recovery at ash spill site (WATE-TV Knoxville)

In three years, officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority say they’ve cleaned up about 80 percent of the ash that spilled out of a collapsed dredge cell at the Kingston Fossil Plant. A series of dikes at the plant collapsed on December 22, 2008, spewing an estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of ash and sludge into nearby homes, farmland and the Emory River.

Research could advance understanding of mercury, Y-12 impacts (NS/Munger)

Think globally, act locally is an environmental catchphrase that has special significance when talking about mercury and Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is engaged in a multiyear, multimillion-dollar research effort to better understand how mercury behaves — and sometimes devilishly transforms itself — in the environment.

Knoxville rises in national economic ranking (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)

Knoxville is showing some positive momentum when it comes to job growth, according to a new study from a national think tank. The Milken Institute last week issued a list of America’s “Best-Performing Cities”, which ranked U.S. metropolitan areas on factors including job growth, wage growth and growth in the high-tech economy.

Erlanger Health System loses $3.1 million in November (Times Free-Press/Haman)

Erlanger Health System lost $3.16 million in operations in November, leaving the public hospital $9.77 million behind budget for this fiscal year. The losses came the same month the hospital announced the departure of president and CEO Jim Brexler.

CarMax now hiring about 90 for its new store in Chattanooga (Times Free-Press)

CarMax Inc., the Richmond, Va.- used car retailer, has announced it is now hiring about 90 people to man its new store in Chattanooga. The new store, to be located on Overnite Drive in East Brainerd, across Interstate 75 from Hamilton Place mall, is set to hold its grand opening Feb. 29, 2012.

Nashville board votes to keep charter school open (Associated Press)

The Metro Nashville School Board decided Monday evening to keep a charter school open on a probationary status The board, at a special meeting, decided against revoking the charter for Drexel Preparatory Academy which has more than 230 students. The Tennessean reported earlier Monday the revocation was recommended by the school district’s administration, which cited “flagrant disregard for the charter agreement” (http://tnne.ws/vHWFtf).

School board gives Drexel charter 5 months to fulfill promises (TN/Hubbard)

A Nashville charter school will get five months to prove it can provide services to students learning to speak English and keep organized financial and other records. On Monday, Drexel Preparatory Academy faced becoming the second Nashville charter school closed over failure to fulfill its contract.

Chamber report urges changes for Nashville schools (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Business leaders suggest more access for parents to children’s progress and greater ACT focus Nashville’s business leaders want to see schools held accountable for how their students score on the ACT college entrance exam. They want report cards sent to parents at intervals that work for them, not based on nine-week school cycles. And in between, they want parents to be able to access their children’s freshest homework and quiz grades on their cellphones.

Birchwood man faces charges after meth lab found (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

A Birchwood man faces charges after officials in Union County found a meth lab. According to Union County Sheriff’s Department, Maynardville Police officials arrested 29-year-old Jeffrey David Lawson after they found a meth lab in the Bull Run Creek Apartments on Main Street in Maynardville.

Florida: Rebuffing Gov., Florida A&M Declines to Suspend President (NY Times)

Rebuffing the governor, Florida A&M’s board of trustees on Monday decided not to suspend the university’s president and asserted that it would “stand firm against outside influences, no matter how well intended.” Solomon Badger, the chairman of the board, said the trustees would wait to decide whether to suspend the president, James H. Ammons, until the end of criminal investigations into the Nov. 19 death of a marching band member, possibly from a hazing ritual, and potential fraud by university employees.

Illinois: Move by Lawyers for Blagojevich ‘Harebrained’ (Associated Press)

A federal judge has denied what he called a “harebrained” motion by Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers over what they claimed was potential misconduct by the jury forewoman at his retrial. Judge James Zagel threatened Monday to sanction the lawyer who drafted the motion for the impeached governor, who was convicted of charges including that he tried to sell President Obama’s old Senate seat.

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: Protecting ballot integrity and voting rights (Times Free-Press)

Everyone would agree that it is unjust if the government denies a legitimate voter the right to cast a ballot. But it is equally unjust if fraudulent voters are permitted to cast ballots, negating the votes of lawful voters.

Editorial: Ramsey’s comments on open meetings don’t reflect reality of law (J. Sun)

We’re concerned by recent statements by state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey about open government and the state’s open meetings law. Ramsey said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that he thinks elected officials should have more leeway to have some discussions outside of official public meetings.

Editorial: Please don’t take my sunshine away (Nooga)

It’s rarely surprising when people used to doing things a certain way resist change, even if that change is reformative. It is, however, surprising to see new efforts aimed at undoing past reforms. In 1974 then-Gov. Winfield Dunn signed the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, also known as the “Sunshine Law.”

Editorial: Careful study required on reduction of regulations (Daily News Journal)

Often rules are there for a reason. And we hope state Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, remembers that as he suggests changes to state regulations that could impact the environment. Marsh, who represents southwest Rutherford County, recently told a Chamber of Commerce group meeting in Smyrna of his work on the Small Business Task Force set up by House Republicans.