March 2 TN News Digest

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

Business groups back Haslam’s state hiring reform proposal (Nashville Biz Journal)

A proposal that businesses hope will revolutionize what it’s like to deal with state government is slogging through the Tennessee General Assembly, despite concerns about political consequences for years to come. Gov. Bill Haslam’s overhaul of policies concerning the hiring and laying off of workers comes down to this: The Republican and his private sector-heavy lineup of commissioners want the freedom to run state government more like a business.

Site Selection mag ranks Tennessee No. 9 in U.S. (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee was among the top 10 states for the most new or expanded corporate facilities in 2011, according to Atlanta-based Site Selection . Tennessee landed at No. 9 on the magazine’s Governor’s Cup list, which was topped this year by Ohio, which featured 498 new or expanded facilities. The following are Site Selection’s Governor’s Cup top 10: Ohio, 498 new or expanded facilities Texas, 464 Pennsylvania, 453 North Carolina, 310 Virginia, 273 Georgia, 225 Illinois, 216 Kentucky, 198 Tennessee, 190 Louisiana, 181

2 tornadoes hit Tennessee, survey teams confirm (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Tornadoes have been confirmed in DeKalb and Cumberland counties, according National Weather Service storm surveyors sent out Thursday to assess damage. Three people died in the storms, which hit late Wednesday afternoon and evening. The tornado in Cumberland County, where two women lost their lives, was an EF-2 twister with maximum wind speeds of 125 miles-per-hour. The tornado had a width of 250 yards and caused damage to more than 50 homes in the Rinnie community. Lisa Evans, 46, and Carolyn Jones, a grandmother married to her husband for more than 50 years, died when the storm hit just before 6 p.m. local time.

Tornadoes confirmed in DeKalb, Cumberland Co.; 3 dead (AP, WSMV-TV Nashville)

The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes touched down Wednesday in DeKalb and Cumberland counties, according to its preliminary findings. The storms killed three people and damaged dozens of homes in both counties. Family members of one of three deceased residents have identified the victim as Carolyn Jones, a grandmother who had been married to her husband for more than 50 years.

Survey Teams Confirm Tornado In Cumberland County (AP, WTVF-TV Nashville)

The storm survey team has confirmed a tornado touched down in Cumberland County, where at least two people were killed. NWS meteorologists were continuing their survey to determine the strength of the tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which determines wind speed. Family members of one of three Tennessee residents who died during severe storms have identified the victim as Carolyn Jones, a grandmother who had been married to her husband for more than 50 years. “It’s still like a bad dream. It’s like a bad dream. I don’t know where to begin,” said Carolyn’s brother George Jones.

NWS confirms tornadoes cut deadly path, killing 3 women in Tennessee (NS/Alund)

Buried and dying underneath rubble and debris from what used to be her home, Melissa “Flossy” Evans’ last words could barely be heard by the relative who knelt beside her. “She asked if the grandbabies were OK. And Ricky. She tried to whisper his name,” brother-in-law George Jones, 49, recalled of the aftermath from the tornado Wednesday that leveled Evans’ Cumberland County home. “I told her everyone was alive and squeezed her hand.” The National Weather Service determined Thursday it was a tornado that swept through the Rinnie community in Cumberland County about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, killing Evans, 46, and Carolyn Jones, a woman in her 70s who lived less than a quarter mile away.

Families describe Tenn. victims crushed by debris (Associated Press/Hall)

The brother-in-law of a woman killed in Wednesday’s storms said he found her under some debris and held her hand until paramedics arrived. George Jones said his sister-in-law, Melissa Evans Beaty, had been at home in her double-wide mobile home with her husband, son and two grandchildren when the storm hit. Jones, who lives about 5 miles away, was one of several family members gathered on Thursday at the destroyed home in the Rinnie community outside the small city of Crossville, about 110 miles east of Nashville. Beaty, whom they called Lisa, was alive and asking about the children when he found her, he said.

Cumberland County tornado leaves shock (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

Bunny Howe had her 9-year-old twin grandsons and three dogs in an interior hall and had gone to the front door to look out at the weather after tornado warnings were sounded in Cumberland County. “I saw it pick up my black horse and put it down. I saw the truck trailer get picked up and turned over. Then I saw the other tractor truck picked up and coming toward the house.” Howe said she dove for the hall and threw herself on top of the boys, just before she felt the house seem to lift. “We were actually in God’s hands. I could feel it,” she said. Howe and the boys — and even the horse — were unharmed by the EF2 tornado that splintered her husband’s race shop where he built and repaired drag racing cars.

EF2 tornado kills two women in Cumberland County (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Two women were killed Wednesday in Cumberland County when an EF2 tornado touched down along Highway 127. The tornado had winds of 125 mph, and it cut a path 250 yards wide and 6 miles long, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service. The victims were in the small community of Rinnie, which is about 10 miles north of Crossville, when the storm hit around 6 p.m. One of those killed was identified as Carolyn Jones, a grandmother who had been married to her husband for more than 50 years.

Update: Tornado that struck Rinnie was EF2 (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

The National Weather Service has confirmed the Cumberland County damage Wednesday night was caused by a tornado. It was an EF2 storm that struck the community of Rinnie Wednesday, with maximum winds of 125 mph and a width of 250 yards. It tore a path about three miles long. The National Weather Service also said it was assessing damage from two other possible tornadoes in Greenback and along the Blount-Sevier County line. The storm survey team is on the scene surveying the area in Cumberland County. TEMA has declared a state of emergency, so Cumberland County can request federal assistance once the damage assessments are finished being conducted.

EF-1 tornado kills woman in DeKalb County (WSMV-TV Nashville)

A woman was killed Wednesday in DeKalb County when an EF-1 tornado touched down along Highway 83, just northwest of Smithville. The tornado, with maximum winds of 110 mph, began near DeKalb County High School and continued east across Center Hill Lake, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service. It left a path of damage 200 yards wide and stayed on the ground for 13 miles, ending northwest of Sparta in White County. Josephine Pavone, 62, was killed when her Smithville home was knocked from its stilts and thrown over a hillside onto a steep embankment.

62-Year-Old Woman Killed In DeKalb County Tornado (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Officials from the Dekalb County Fire Department have identified the woman killed during the tornado that touched down in DeKalb County on Wednesday afternoon. Sheriff Patrick Ray said the victim was 62-year-old Josephine Pavone of Alpine Drive, Smithville. “We lost one of God’s most precious children, who was a servant herself. She treated everybody, young and old, like they were her own family,” the Sheriff said. Rescue crews spent several hours Thursday to recover Pavone’s body from her home.

Two tornadoes confirmed in Blount County on Wednesday night (News-Sentinel)

Field surveys have confirmed two minor tornadoes struck Blount County amid Wednesday night’s band of severe storms, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown. The first, an EF-1, touched down some 3 miles northeast of Greenback about 7:30 p.m., said NWS meteorologist Sam Roberts. It generated winds up to 85 mph and left a path about 3/4-mile long and 100 yards wide, he said. A second EF-0 tornado with winds of 75 mph was reported 3 miles south of Seymour, with a path about 1.5 miles long and 70 yards wide. No injuries or significant damage were reported beyond several downed trees and lost roofing shingles, Roberts said.

EF-1 tornado causes damage to Greenback neighborhood (WATE-TV Knoxville)

A tornado hit parts of Loudon and Blount counties Wednesday night. The National Weather Service survey team says it was an EF-1 tornado with 85 mph winds. One neighborhood just outside Greenback had downed trees, heavy winds and hail. “A lot of trees down here in the road, power lines down. It’s just another good storm for us,” said Greenback Fire Chief Ronnie Lett. High winds ripped down trees and power lines in the Evergreen Farms subdivision and on Maple Drive.

Tornado leaves widespread damage near Greenback (WATE-TV Knoxville)

It’s been nearly a year since an EF-3 tornado touched down on the Blount – Loudon County line leaving a wide path of destruction. Since that time, residents have taken the weather very seriously including Wednesday night’s EF-1 tornado. The National Weather Service says it had 85 mile per hour winds. “It definitely puts us on alert because we know it can happen here,” said Greenback volunteer firefighter Earl Baldwin. “It did last time. It could possibly happen again. We are always ready.” Shortly after 6 News spoke with Baldwin, a tornado warning was issued for the area. In a matter of minutes, the tornado touched down about 7:30 p.m., three miles from the fire station in the Evergreen Farms subdivision. Multiple trees fell on Maple Lane, blocking the road.

Two tornadoes confirmed in Blount County (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

The National Weather Service confirms that an EF-0 and an EF-1 tornado touched down in Blount County Wednesday night. The EF-0 tornado hit the Seymour area on Keener Road. Winds picked up to around 75 mph and left a path of 70 yards. An EF-1 tornado touched down in the Greenback area of Blount and Loudon Counties. Several trees were knocked down and at least one building was damaged. An EF-3 tornado hit the tiny community in March 2011, destroying homes and businesses. Local 8 News has a crew on the way to the scene and will have more updates as they’re available on Local 8 News and volunteertv.com.

Severe weather to hit Middle TN today (Tennessean/Young)

A meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Nashville says a storm system set to move through Middle Tennessee today is stronger than the system that produced two tornadoes and killed three people in Cumberland and DeKalb counties on Wednesday. “I suspect the chances of tornadic activity are stronger with this system than with the previous system,” said meteorologist Jim Moser. “When I say the chances are more than the previous system, I mean that tornadoes may be more frequent or more numerous.” Metro’s Office of Emergency Management has called for a partial activation of the Emergency Operations Center at noon today in anticipation of the developing weather situation, officials said in a news release issued late Thursday.

Clarksville in the weather ‘bullseye’ (Leaf Chronicle)

Forecasters fear severe storms could spawn tornadoes Today, weather needs to occupy a place foremost in the minds of residents living throughout northern Middle Tennessee – including Clarksville-Montgomery County and south central Kentucky. Severe storms and tornadoes are not only possible today across our region, but they could be most prevalent in the northern mid-state where atmospheric conditions are likely to be especially ripe for a severe thunderstorm event, and even an outbreak of tornadoes. This was the word Thursday from leading regional and U.S. weather authorities, including the National Weather Service and the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Rough weather inbound for Chattanooga tonight (Times Free-Press/Harrison)

Nasty. That’s the word used by WRCB-TV Channel 3 Chief Meteorologist Paul Barys about the weather moving into the Chattanooga area tonight that could bring heavy downpours, lashing winds, hail and the possibility of tornadoes. “Anywhere in the area we’re probably going to have strong to severe thunderstorms and some tornado watches,” Barys said. “It could get nasty.” The worst of the storms is expected to hit the region between 10 p.m. tonight and 3 a.m. Saturday morning, the National Weather Service reported Thursday. “People may be sleeping, and that could be bad,” said Todd Hyslop, meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Morristown, Tenn.

Second round of severe weather expected Friday (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

As communities continue to assess the damage left by two tornadoes that killed three people across Tennessee on Wednesday night, forecasters warn that another, possibly more intense line of storms is expected Friday. A cold front is expected to move into the Tennessee Valley on Friday afternoon, with a squall line likely forming over central Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, according to the National Weather Service. “The plateau areas that got hit (Wednesday), they’re still under the gun,” said meteorologist Sam Roberts, with the NWS Morristown office.

Tri-Cities residents asked to keep an eye on the weather (Times-News)

Tri-Cities residents are being asked to keep an eye on the weather this afternoon and evening. A warm front will move across the Southern Appalachian region this morning bringing a warm and moist air mass into the area. That will cause scattered showers and thunderstorms with the possibility of large hail. But that’s not the reason for the weather warning. The greater threat will materialize later in the afternoon and evening as a strong cold front pushed into the area from Middle Tennessee. A meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Nashville told the Tennessean that a storm system set to move through Middle Tennessee today is stronger than the system that produced two tornadoes and killed three people in Cumberland and DeKalb counties on Wednesday.

Moderate risk of severe weather today (Jackson Sun)

A warm front that was expected to move into West Tennessee on Thursday night will bring a threat of stormy weather today, according to a representative of the National Weather Service. Meteorologist Danny Gant said the Jackson area is under a moderate risk for severe weather for most of the day today. “A moderate watch means there is a 50 percent chance severe weather will occur,” he said. “All threats are possible, including damaging wind, large hail and tornadoes.” Hardin and McNairy county schools will be closed today due to the threat of severe weather. Gant said there are a few things that could cause bad weather. “A warm front will spread through West Tennessee after midnight Thursday, and bring in moisture from the Gulf,” he said.

Romney finds double dose of Tennessee support (CA/Locker, McMillin)

Haslam, economic adviser back candidate As Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam wrapped up his pep talk for Mitt Romney supporters in Memphis on Thursday evening, he recalled how “incredibly difficult” it can be to wage a long, arduous campaign. “I’ve been there,” Haslam said, recalling his own 18-month march to winning Tennessee’s fiercely competitive GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010. Also familiar to Haslam are the attacks from Romney’s opponents in the Republican presidential primary for his moderate record (as Massachusetts governor) and for his wealth. Haslam, the former mayor of Knoxville, felt similar attacks from fellow Republicans in 2010 before winning the nomination with 48 percent of the vote.

The GOP Presidential Primary Moves to Tennessee (Memphis Flyer)

All three Republican presidential candidates — or at least the ones who, in Rick Santorum’s phrase, “have won states” — are making their presence felt in Tennessee this week as the Volunteer State gets ready to pick a leader in the ever evolving contest for the GOP nomination to oppose President Obama, who has no Democratic opposition. Santorum himself, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, has made two trips so far to Tennessee. He was in Chattanooga last weekend for an appearance before a Tea Party group. And he was in Nashville all day Wednesday, making the rounds, including a Steve Gill radio show and an evening address at Belmont University. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,was in Chattanooga and Nashville earlier in the week, working in a rally at the state Capitol and an appearance before the members of the Republican legislative caucus.

Haslam to hold Romney campaign event in Johnson City (Times-News)

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and others will be holding a campaign event for GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney on Friday in Johnson City, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said. The event is scheduled to happen at Johnson City’s Holiday Inn at 1 p.m, said Bill Darden, a Roe campaign aide. Darden said Haslam is expected to be accompanied by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a former Republican presidential candidate, and Bill Hagerty, a state economic development commissioner and Romney campaign adviser. Both Haslam and Roe, R-Tenn., have endorsed Romney. A Middle Tennessee State University poll released on Wednesday showed GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum with a 20-point lead over Romney in Tennessee.

Gov. Haslam headlines Mitt Romney campaign event in Knoxville (WATE-TV)

Gov. Bill Haslam and Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be in Knoxville Friday afternoon for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. The free event is at 4:30 p.m. at Turkey Creek Public Market, 11221 Outlet Drive. Romney is trailing in the polls in several Southern states that are part of Super Tuesday. However, he’s hoping to win some delegates from opponents Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in states that are not necessarily ripe for Romney wins: Georgia and Tennessee. Santorum held a rally Wednesday in Powell. Gingrich will visit McGhee Tyson Airport on Monday.

Governor proclaims March 2 as Arbor Day in Tennessee (Elizabethton Star)

Gov. Bill Haslam has proclaimed March 2 as Arbor Day in Tennessee to recognize the importance of trees to our state. This year’s state celebration will be held in Nashville, which has been designated a Tree City USA community. “Arbor Day is important for reminding us of the value of trees not only in our rural areas but in our urban areas as well,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “TDA is committed to improving and protecting our forest resources, which contribute a number of environmental and economic benefits.” Nashville earned the honor of hosting this year’s state Arbor Day celebration by being recognized as the state’s Tree Board of the Year in 2011. The Arbor Day celebration will take place March 2 at 11 a.m. CST in Centennial Park.

TN education chief sets lofty goals, says failing schools unacceptable (DNJ)

Kevin Huffman has had a busy first year on the job in his role as the state’s education commissioner. He joined Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration in April of last year after serving as vice-president of public affairs for Teach for America. Since then, the state applied for and successfully obtained a waiver from the federal government’s No Child Left Behind regulations and adopted a teacher evaluation model that has caused stress to many educators and administrators. Huffman invited reporters to his office and talked about the changes public education has gone through in the last year and what’s coming down the pike. With the granting of the waiver, the success of Tennessee schools will be determined on the achievement students make on a yearly basis.

Tennesseans with jobs most in 4 years (Associated Press)

State officials say the number of employed persons in Tennessee is the most in four years. Officials said the 2.8 million Tennesseans with jobs in January is the most since March 2008. State labor officials cited the figure Thursday as they announced a Tennessee unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, down from 8.5 percent in December. The national rate was 8.3 percent. The Tennessee figure was below the U.S. rate for the first time since November 2010. The state’s number of unemployed persons, 257,500, was the fewest since November 2008. From November to December, the biggest job gain in Tennessee was 3,900 in professional and business services.

Tennessee unemployment rate falls below national average (M. Biz Journal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell below the national average in January for the first time since November 2010. The state’s jobless rate fell to 8.2 percent in January, down from a revised rate of 8.5 percent in December. The national unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in January. “This month the numbers show an increase of 12,700 jobs so we are seeing positive growth in private industry,”said Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis in a statement. “The net gains are chipping away at the dramatic loss of jobs during the recession.”

Jobless rate below nation’s for the first time since November 2010 (CA/Evanoff)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate slipped below the national average in January, reaching 8.2 percent, down from December’s 8.5 percent. The improvement brought the Tennessee jobless rate below the national average for the first time since November 2010. Tennessee’s Department of Labor & Workforce Development released the jobs figures Thursday. Employers throughout the state added 12,700 jobs in January, bringing the number of people employed to 2.87 million, the highest level since March 2008. “Year-over-year the amount of goods production, specifically construction and durable goods manufacturing, was very strong,” University of Tennessee economist William Fox said.

TN’s job gains bypass Latinos (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate drops to 8.2 percent The Great Recession hit construction worker Francisco Reyes hard. The Mexican native struggled to find work when the housing market and broader economy slumped. He found fewer jobs remodeling homes. His paychecks shriveled from $600 a week to as little as $500 a month, forcing him to nearly deplete his savings to take care of his wife and two children. “Work finally started to pick up last year,” said Reyes, who immigrated to Nashville 16 years ago. But for Latinos like Reyes who suffered among the worst of job losses during hard times, recent gains driving the Tennessee jobless rate down to 8.2 percent for January haven’t treated all types of workers equally.

State to use Metro Schools’ ‘Innovation’ cluster as model (City Paper/Garrison)

Duplicating a Metro strategy, the Tennessee Department of Education is challenging the three school districts with the state’s lowest-performing schools to create so-called “offices of innovation” to find creative ways to spur turnarounds. The plan, including its terminology, is identical to an approach Director of Schools Jesse Register unveiled for Metro in July when he announced the district’s 10 weakest achieving schools would be isolated into a special innovation cluster. Now, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Memphis City Schools and Hamilton Schools are all in the process of drafting formal plans for innovation zones that require state approval, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told reporters at an inaugural “brown bag” lunch gathering Thursday.

Tennessee touts last Saturday to get free voter ID (Times Free-Press/Haman)

Voters have one last shot at getting a photo ID on Saturday, three days before they go to the polls for the Super Tuesday primaries. Officials representing the Tennessee Department of Safety and secretary of state came to Chattanooga on Thursday to issue a final reminder that voters must have a qualified ID when they arrive at their polling place. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law last year requiring photo IDs to vote. Tuesday’s election will be the first test of the new law. The state originally estimated that 126,000 Tennesseans had driver’s licenses with no photo, which is not required for those 60 and older.

Lawyer to oversee state medical facilities (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Michelle J. Long, the former lawyer for the Tennessee Hospital Association, now has the responsibility of making sure all the state’s health-care facilities comply with regulations. Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner announced this week that he has chosen Long to be assistant commissioner of health licensure and regulation. She will oversee a staff of 350. This division licenses all health-care professionals in the state. It also ensures that hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities meet state minimum standards and federal guidelines.

Appeal hearing set for former trooper accused of leaving fatal crash (WBIR-TV)

A former Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper fired after an internal investigation will appear at a hearing to appeal that decision in one week. Trooper Charles Van Morgan’s employment with THP officially ended on Monday, Feb. 20. His first appeal hearing is scheduled for Thursday, March 8 at 10 a.m. CST in Nashville. The hearing will be presided over by a different officer than the one assigned to his initial hearing. Morgan was fired after an internal investigation found he slowed down but failed to stop for a fatal crash that killed Kyle Anito, 20, on Nov. 26, 2011. Anito’s vehicle ran off Andersonville Pike during a high-speed pursuit initiated by Morgan. The former trooper was attempting to stop Anito on suspicion of driving under the influence. Morgan returned to the scene about five minutes after he drove past the fiery crash.

TWRA seeks public comments on ATVs at Cummings Cove (TFP/Poulisse)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is asking for public input on the use all-terrain vehicles in Cummings Cove Wildlife Management Area atop Aetna Mountain in Hamilton and Marion counties. The area has been used by off-road vehicles for years and is showing damage — heavy erosion, siltation and pollution — that’s ruining the area’s hunting and fishing opportunities, officials said. “Parts of the [Wildlife Management Area] resemble a moonscape, void of vegetation, wildlife and stream aquatic species, once plentiful there,” TWRA Region 3 wildlife program manager Kirk Miles said in a news release. Current guidelines prohibit operating any motorized vehicles anywhere but on designated open roads. Currently no roads on Cummings Cove are designated as open.

TDOT working to develop plan for sinkhole on SR-353 (Bristol Herald-Courier)

There is a sinkhole that has developed on SR-353 in Washington County, Tenn. The sinkhole on SR-353 is not very deep, and will be filled with concrete and patched this afternoon. Currently northbound traffic is affected, but the roadway is not closed. For more information on this story stayed tuned to 11Connects and here on TriCities.com

Rosenberg bows out of circuit court race, endorses Robinson (Tennessean/Gee)

Davidson County Juvenile Court Magistrate W. Scott Rosenberg announced Thursday that he is suspending his campaign for a seat on the Davidson County Circuit Court and endorsing Nashville family lawyer Phillip Robinson. Rosenberg entered the race as one of two independents vying to replace retired Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes. Rosenberg was one of three candidates recommended by the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission to fill the opening created by Haynes’ retirement late last year. The other two were Democrats Robinson and Stanley Kweller.

David Norton named judge as race to August vote begins (TFP/Haman)

Newly appointed interim General Sessions Judge David Norton will be sworn in Tuesday, and the campaign for his seat on the bench already has begun. Before the appointment process began, Norton was seen by some Hamilton County commissioners as the front-runner. Then commissioners voted Thursday morning — 7-1, without any discussion — to replace late General Sessions Judge Bob Moon. Norton, an assistant county attorney who has served for 28 years as the Soddy-Daisy city judge, will serve until an Aug. 2 nonpartisan special election is held. Attorney Bryan Hoss, who submitted his application for the judgeship and pledged to be a caretaker, meaning he wouldn’t run in the August election, said he wasn’t surprised by the vote or lack of debate.

Ramsey: ECD secrecy discussions ‘up in the air’ (Nashville Business Journal)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he’s looking for the “sweet spot” on a bill that is currently the source of a log jam concerning Gov. Bill Haslam’s broader economic development legislative package. Ramsey, the Republican head of the Senate, said he’s again working to find a compromise on whether ownership of privately held companies will have to become public if they receive incentives. He had said last week that disclosure would have to occur, but today acknowledged that talks are more fluid. “This is all up in the air right now is the bottom line,” he told reporters. “It’s a Catch-22 situation.”

House Gives Teachers Permission to Pray at the Flagpole (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Teachers and coaches could gather with their students at prayer and religious observances before and after school, under a bill passed by the state House of Representatives today. Representative Phillip Johnson’s bill would overrule an agreement between his hometown-Cheatham County school system and the American Civil Liberties Union. The school board settled a lawsuit by agreeing that coaches and teachers shouldn’t meet with student religious groups on school grounds. Johnson, a Republican from Pegram, says if the meetings are student-led and held before or after school hours, it should be all right. House members agreed – 93 to nothing.

Prayer bill draws praise from high school student (WKRN-TV Nashville)

A bill that would allow teachers and other school personnel to participate in student-led religious activities is on its way to the Tennessee Senate after unanimously passing the House on Thursday 93-0. “I was so excited to see that today, I was texting every one at school telling them this is so great,” said Loretto High School junior Morgan Ingram who watched the vote from the House gallery. She told Nashville’s News 2 teachers or coaches at her Lawrence County school is banned from student-led Fellowship of Christian Athletes prayers prior or after games. “Now that we can have them before and after school legally, that is a major uplift and a major step forward for our school,” she said.

Absentee Voting for Over 60s Passes State House (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennesseans between 60 and 65 would be added to those who can vote absentee without a doctor’s excuse under a bill passed today in the state House. Tennessee now requires all voters to show a picture ID when they cast a ballot. But thousands of older Tennesseans have driver’s licenses without photos. While they’re eligible for free photo IDs, Representative Debra Maggart of Hendersonville wants to make it easier for senior citizens to vote by mail. Representative Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, connects the dots. So anyone can vote absentee which means, if they’re voting absentee, they don’t have to have a photo ID…. Democrats have accused the Republican majority for enacting the Voter ID law to hold down votes from older and poorer demographics. The absentee-voting fix doesn’t necessarily meet all their objections.

 

State Lawmakers Fight Against Human Sex Trafficking (WTVF-TV Nashville)

The underground industry of human sex trafficking has been a major problem in Tennessee. New studies revealed almost every county in the state is dealing with the issue. On Thursday, House lawmakers discussed a plan fight the problem, but not everyone thinks it’s the solution. A new law that passed the House aims to add pimps to the Tennessee’s sex offender registry when they are arrested. It’s legislation that State Rep. Joe Towns doesn’t totally support. “You are adding to that registry people that are breaking a law, we already have laws against prostitution,” Towns said. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has supported the bill, which State Rep. Debra Maggart sponsored.

Promoting Prostitution Becomes ‘Violent’ so Offenders Can on Registry (WPLN)

Persons who promote prostitution could be defined as “violent” under a proposed law working through the Tennessee General Assembly. The bill would make “promoting prostitution” – that’s the legal charge for being a pimp or a madam – a “violent offense” if the same person gets caught doing it twice. That would land them on the widely publicized sex offender registry, according to the bill’s House sponsor, Debra Maggart, a Republican from Hendersonville. But Joe Towns, a Memphis Democrat, says the bill is “ill-worded” and goes too far in adding “tons” of non-violent offenders to the Registry.

Tennessee bill would allow TVA security to use deadly force (TFP/Sher)

Security forces at TVA’s Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants would have authority to use deadly force to prevent sabotage at their facilities under legislation given final approval Thursday by the state Senate. Senators voted 32-0 for the bill, sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. The measure, which was previously approved by the House, now will go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration. Yager, who represents Rhea County where Watts Bar is located, later called it “critically important that the scope of authority for nuclear facility security officers is clearly spelled out in state law,” in a news release. Sequoyah is in Hamilton County.

Groups oppose parking lot gun bill (Associated Press)

A coalition of business and law enforcement groups is urging lawmakers to abandon a bill that would allow employees to store guns in their vehicles at work, calling the proposal a “major infringement on private property rights.” The letter, which was sent to all 132 lawmakers on Thursday, said the legislation aims to curtail the rights of private property owners by “forcing them to allow firearms to be carried onto their premises — even if the property owner objects.” While the legislative website describes the legislation as applying to “individuals licensed to carry,” the bill itself makes no reference to state-issued handgun carry permits, meaning it could apply to any gun owner in the state.

Poll shows Tennesseans support education reform (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

A recent poll commissioned by a state nonprofit organization found that Tennessee voters support recent education reforms. State and local education reform advocates said the results show that those initiatives need to continue to move forward. The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 600 likely Tennessee voters statewide on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Results included: 75 percent of voters were “totally positive” toward ending tenure for life for teachers; 73 percent were “totally positive” toward changing evaluations so that teachers are evaluated four times per year and that 50 percent of their evaluation is based on whether or not students’ test scores improve; 65 percent were “totally positive” toward ending the practice of “last in, first out” that guarantees teachers of a job over a more effective teacher simply because they have taught longer.

Race for Tennessee (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County early voting totals top 21,000 ballots Shelby County Republicans responded during the just-closed early voting period to a still-undecided race to be the party’s national challenger to Democratic president Barack Obama in November. And Memphis Democrats responded to a hotly contested five-way race to decide the Democratic nominee for General Sessions Court clerk, one of only two countywide offices the party currently holds in Shelby County. Together, voters in both parties contributed to a turnout of more than 21,000 early ballots in the voting period that ended Tuesday, Feb. 28, in advance of the March 6 Election Day.

Metro Election Mistake Mirrors Rutherford County’s (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Early voters at Davidson County’s main election headquarters would have never gotten beyond a locked door on Saturday, February 18. It’s a mistake the man in charge is owning up to. Albert Tieche said he has no choice, “but to come clean, explain what happened, show it to everybody, and it is what it is.” Tieche was open and honest about the oversight uncovered exclusively by NewsChannel 5 on Wednesday, one day after early voting ended. “But, we firmly believed we were following the letter of the law,” Tieche defended. Tieche was referring to the law, or at least his interpretation of it, that said Tennessee government offices, including election precincts, shall be closed the entire weekend of a nationally observed holiday. That Saturday Metro failed to open the one and only polling place for early voters was the weekend of President’s Day, which was Monday, February 20.

Marion County restores firefighter funding (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Lewis)

When county leaders completely cut funding for rural volunteer fire departments in August 2011, Marion County Commissioner Gene Hargis told concerned firefighters the commission would work to restore that money as soon as possible. “I’ve always done anything I could for the fire departments, and I appreciate the job they’ve done,” Hargis said. “Once we get this budget squared away, we’re going to try to get the money back in there [for them.]” The board voted unanimously this week to restore 25 percent of the funding, six months after restoring the first 25 percent. In September 2011, the board reinstated about $48,000 of the estimated $193,000 the volunteer departments lost.

Occupy Johnson City rallies to defend education (Johnson City Press)

Occupy Johnson City held a campaign movement at East Tennessee State University Thursday afternoon to defend education. The group gathered at 2:30 p.m. near the campus amphitheater, handing out flyers and talking to students and people passing by about their cause. Josh Flaccavento, an adjunct professor at ETSU and the event’s organizer, said this particular campaign was planned about a month ago, by way of the Occupy Together website that lists certain strategies for groups like OJC to participate in. “People who organize Occupy Together post ideas for events like national solidarity kind of things,” Flaccavento said. “We saw on Occupy Together that one of the ideas was for March 1 to be a national day of action about education, and that prompted us to start organizing this.”

Senator says Interior won’t close hatcheries (Associated Press)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is praising Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to keep two fish hatcheries in Tennessee open. The Tennessee Republican senator said he once noted that more Tennesseans had fishing licenses than cast ballots in a recent election, so fishing is a serious interest. Salazar has pledged to not close hatcheries at Erwin and at Dale Hollow until joint funding can be secured for their continued operation. At a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Salazar told Alexander the Interior Department will keep the hatcheries open while pursuing joint funding with TVA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Alexander says Erwin fish hatchery to remain open (Johnson City Press)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says the Erwin National Fish Hatchery will remain open thanks to a funding commitment from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. At a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Alexander asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for his assurance that Tennessee’s hatcheries would be kept open despite the Interior Department’s budget cut of $3.2 million from mitigation hatcheries. “I once noticed that the number of Tennesseans who have hunting and fishing licenses exceeded the number who voted in a recent election, so this is serious business for us,” Alexander said in the hearing.

Santorum Hits Health Care, Religious Freedom on Campaign Stop (WPLN-Radio)

After losing Michigan and Arizona, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took his campaign through what he considers more friendly territory in Tennessee. The former Pennsylvania Senator spoke at Belmont University Wednesday night. The last minute rally resulted in an arena less than half full. Some in attendance were less than supporters as well, holding campaign signs for Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Santorum was booed at times when talking about President Obama’s health care overhaul, but he attempted to confront his critics in the room. “[boos] It’s interesting the people are so willing to give up freedom in exchange for dependency.”

Democrats Tear at Romney, Don’t Mind GOP’s Primary Fight (WPLN-Radio Nash)

Top Democrats in Tennessee are attacking Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney ahead of next week’s Super Tuesday elections. And they say a protracted primary battle among Republicans is good for Democrats. Democratic leaders held a conference call to tear at Romney’s jobs record, and said they’re targeting Romney because they expect he’ll eventually win the GOP nomination. But Romney has actually been lagging among Tennessee Republicans. Two polls out this week put him behind Rick Santorum, who has stepped up campaigning here. State Democratic Chair Chip Forrester says it’s alright with him if Santorum continues to dog Romney: “The fact that these candidates have had to move to such extreme positions to the right and have continued to spend tremendous amounts of money only weakens the nominee for November.”

Gingrich to make campaign stop in the Tri-Cities (Times-News)

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is planning a Tri-Cities appearance for his presidential bid this Monday, state campaign co-chair Tony Shipley said today. Gingrich, who is running behind GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in Tennessee polls, is tentatively scheduled to arrive in Tri-Cities late Monday morning. There is a possibility Gingrich may attend the monthly luncheon of the Greater Kingsport Republican Women, but his schedule also could include a rally at TCRA, according to Shipley, a GOP state representative from Kingsport. The tentative schedule released by Shipley also called for a Monday afternoon appearance by Gingrich in Knoxville. Tennessee holds its GOP presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 6, along with nine other states.

As drought lingers, states examine water policies (Stateline)

Governor Sam Brownback hasn’t found it easy to sell his sweeping agenda to Kansas lawmakers. Nearly two months into the legislative session, many of them have resisted the Republican governor’s proposed overhauls to Medicaid, the tax code and school financing. But on one front, there’s a bipartisan consensus. Following a year of record drought that destroyed close to $2 billion in Kansas crops, Brownback’s plan to conserve the state’s dwindling water supply is moving quickly through the legislature. Two bills have already passed in both chambers — unanimously. One is an amendment to the state’s so-called “use it or lose it” water law, unchanged since 1945, which can take water rights away from those who have not used them for long periods.

Bredesen, former govs urge Medicaid reform at roundtable (Gannett)

The federal government must act more quickly and efficiently in exempting states from certain Medicaid requirements, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said Thursday. Bredesen, a Democrat and former health-care executive, joined four other former governors from both parties at a Bipartisan Policy Center roundtable to urge reforms in the Medicaid waiver process. Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor — known as TennCare in Tennessee — accounts for 16 percent of state spending, second only to education. States can apply for waivers from some Medicaid rules in an effort to cut costs and try new approaches. TennCare, considered a pilot program by the federal government, operates under a waiver.

Postal Cuts Are Dead Letter in Congress (Wall Street Journal)

Congress says it is trying to find ways to get the U.S. Postal Service out of the red. But some lawmakers have also become an obstacle in this cost-cutting effort as they resist the agency’s plan to close post offices and mail-sorting hubs. Elected officials from West Virginia to New York to Missouri publicly say they will fight the shutdown of a mail plant in their districts after the agency last week named 223 it intends to close. “I’m going to do everything I can to block their efforts,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D., N.Y.), pledging a battle to keep a Newburgh, N.Y., plant open. In a flurry of public statements, other lawmakers urged the agency to “halt” or “go back to the drawing board.”

Where the Jobs Are, the Training May Not Be (New York Times)

As state funding has dwindled, public colleges have raised tuition and are now resorting to even more desperate measures — cutting training for jobs the economy needs most. Technical, engineering and health care expertise are among the few skills in huge demand even in today’s lackluster job market. They are also, unfortunately, some of the most expensive subjects to teach. As a result, state colleges in Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Florida and Texas have eliminated entire engineering and computer science departments. At one community college in North Carolina — a state with a severe nursing shortage — nursing program applicants so outnumber available slots that there is a waiting list just to get on the waiting list.

Wacker employees heading to Germany for training (Associated Press)

Fifty-one lead chemical operators at the Wacker Institute are headed to Germany for more training. They’ve been training for six months at the institute at Chattanooga State Community College. At Wacker’s Burghausen plant, they will train for six more months with their professional counterparts. Wacker officials said those on the trip are trailblazers for the plant and will return and train others. Wacker Polysilicon produces hyperpure polycrystalline silicon. Its plant in Charleston, Tenn., is to begin operations by the end of 2013 and will employ some 650 full-time workers.

Unity eludes Memphis-Shelby County schools merger (Commercial Appeal/Kelley)

The commission designing a plan for the merger of the Memphis and Shelby County school districts debated two proposals for its administrative structure Thursday, both of which are described as compromises. The vote was delayed in order to forge a compromise between the two. The Transition Planning Commission had little difficulty agreeing on a set of educational themes for the district, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013. The list includes the effort to make sure every child is ready for school, a goal that would require an expansion of the community’s prekindergarten program, the formation of a “culture and climate of high expectations,” “quality and accessible educational choices,” “effective teachers” and the like.

Schools Planning Commission Reworking School System Structure (M. Daily News)

Members of the schools consolidation planning commission want more work on the structure of the consolidated countywide public school system to come. The group spent much of its meeting Thursday, March 1, talking about a structure that would create two tiers of schools – those in a centralized school system with sub regions and those in a “path to autonomy” school system similar to charter schools. The rub for the group is how to get the tiers to coexist within one school system instead of one tier being on top of the other. The planning commission had tentatively scheduled a vote on a structure for Thursday’s meeting but it quickly became apparent there were more questions than certainty.

Second School in Metro to Convert to Charter (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Another traditional school in Nashville is set to become a charter. Education officials say they’ve found a model that works, and now they’re expanding on it. Test scores at Brick Church Middle in north Nashville have languished for years. Now Metro officials working with the state want to try something they say is already proving itself at another school in the district. Cameron Middle has been shifting control, one grade at a time, to a charter-operator called LEAD Public Schools. Officials say the move to expand on that model at Brick Church is a vote of confidence in LEAD.

West TN principal resigns after anti-gay remarks (Associated Press)

A West Tennessee high school principal resigned on Thursday after the American Civil Liberties Union said the principal threatened to expel gay students who showed affection for someone of the same sex. According to a news release from the ACLU, Haywood High School Principal Dorothy Bond also said that gay students were “not on God’s path” and were “ruining their lives.” The published policies of the Haywood County schools list “physical contact” as a minor infraction. But students complained to the ACLU that during a Feb. 9 school assembly, Bond said that gay students showing affection could face 60-day suspensions, assignments to an alternative school or expulsion.

Haywood principal quits over anti-gay remarks (Jackson Sun)

Haywood County High School’s principal has resigned after a national civil rights organization said she made anti-LGBT remarks and threatened to expel gay students. A statement released by the Haywood County School Board’s law firm, Purcell, Sellers & Craig Inc., said Principal Dorothy Bond tendered her resignation Thursday. “The Haywood County Board of Education acknowledges its student body’s right to free speech,” the board said in the statement. “Further, the Haywood County Board of Education strives to provide an atmosphere of tolerance and diversity while maintaining high academic standards.”

Hawkins couple charged after sheriff’s deputies raid meth lab (Times-News)

Kevin Michael Andies has been charged in connection to a meth lab found at his residence on the outskirts of Rogersville Wednesday morning, but an investigation into a large quantity of allegedly stolen property will be ongoing for a while. Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office deputies seized about 50 firearms, a large amount of suspected stolen property, and meth lab components including more than 50 pounds of ammonium nitrate during an early morning raid Wednesday at Andies’ home at 437 Oak Grove Road. Following a lengthy interrogation late Wednesday night Andies, 24, and his girlfriend, Brittany Dawn Oaks, 24, 131 Davis Court, Surgoinsville, have been charged with manufacturing methamphetamine.

 

OPINION

 

Free-Press Editorial: Merit should trump seniority in Tenn’s civil service rules (TFP)

Under current civil service rules for Tennessee government employees, a worker with greater seniority has priority for staying on the job during layoffs. That means that if there are layoffs, a less-senior employee is removed first, and the more senior worker can be moved into that position. In many cases, of course, that might be justified. The more experienced worker may well have a better grasp of the job. But that is not a hard-and-fast rule. A worker with, say, six years of experience might be every bit as capable as — or even more capable than — one with eight years on the job. It’s for that reason that Gov. Bill Haslam sensibly proposed altering the so-called “bump and retreat” rule that gives more senior workers priority.

Editorial: Gov. Bill Haslam key to restoring muscle to mining ban (News-Sentinel)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been given a golden opportunity to exhibit leadership during this year’s legislative session. The Senate Energy and Environment Committee gutted the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, which aimed to stop the practice of mountaintop coal mining. The committee amended the proposal to outlaw the dumping of spoil into waterways, excising language that would establish a 100-foot buffer on either side of any ridge top more than 2,000 feet in elevation. While that sounds good — it would bar the devastating practice of blasting mountaintops and despoiling creeks by burying them under rubble — all it accomplishes is rephrasing the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act.

Times Editorial: Don’t cut lottery stipends (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee state Sen. Delores Gresham has her priorities all wrong. The Somerville Republican, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is determined to push through a cost-saving measure that will make it harder for the state’s students to win the hugely popular $4,000-a-year Hope Scholarships for college. Trouble is, there’s no pressing need to toughen standards in order to build up the treasury of the Tennessee Lottery, which funds the scholarships. The lottery’s finances, all things considered, are in pretty good shape, thank you. They certainly are sound enough to underwrite the projected costs of the scholarships for the next decade, and probably beyond, without changing current rules.

Editorial: Lottery scholarship cuts can be avoided (Jackson Sun)

We urge state lawmakers to heed the good news from state lottery officials and table legislation that would cut in half many Tennessee Lottery Hope Scholarships. Despite a flagging economy and continued high unemployment, Tennessee Lottery ticket sales are soaring. Increased lottery revenue means lawmakers can eliminate, or at least postpone, efforts to cut lottery scholarship expenses. Tennessee college students and their families need all the tuition help they can get. Lawmakers should take a wait-and-see approach by backing away from scholarship cuts. The lottery scholarship program has about $400 million in reserves. Lottery officials reported record ticket sales to the state Senate Education Committee that is considering the scholarship cut legislation.

Editorial: State should commit to get a lock on jail overcrowding (Tennessean)

Tennessee law enforcement agencies are catching violent criminals, and courts are ordering them to be locked up. What is happening after that is a little tricky. As The Tennessean reported this week, state felons have been packing local jails — there are too many of them for state facilities to accommodate. Last year, state officials announced that they would release up to 2,200 nonviolent inmates 60 days early, diverting them to community programs and liberalizing sentencing credits. That plan is moving much too slowly. Meanwhile, new felons continue to flood into the state correctional system, keeping the local jails overcrowded, at great expense and some risk to local sheriffs and their communities.

Greg Johnson: Vote for Santorum equals vote for Obama (News-Sentinel)

As Tennessee readies for Super Tuesday to decide who will face President Barack Obama in November, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, according to a Vanderbilt University poll taken last week, could win the GOP nod in the Volunteer State. Santorum was the clear choice in Michigan this week as well, winning 53 percent of the votes — of Democrats. Therein, dear friends, lies the case against Santorum. Democrats love the guy. They do not love him for his staunchly pro-life positions that are admirably consistent and grounded in both compassion and theology. Nor are Democrats great admirers because Santorum served so well in the Senate.

Pam Strickland: Obama might be best GOP candidate (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Those of us who are voting in the Republican primary on Tuesday so we can cast votes in important local races also are faced with whom to cast a vote for in the state’s Republican presidential primary. I must say those are words I never thought I’d say and that are probably causing my grandmother to roll over in her grave. Eight names are on the ballot. I thought we’d gotten rid of former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in 1998, when days after being re-elected he resigned from the House with 84 ethics violations pending against him. Gingrich later confirmed that while leading impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for lying about a sexual affair, he was having an affair with Calista Bisek, now his third wife.

Free-Press Ed: Contraception mandate threatens charities, religious liberty (TFP)

Churches and other religious organizations provide huge benefits to American society by funding hospitals, charities and social service agencies. Any act by government that threatens those vital services should be cause for great public concern. And so it is with the ObamaCare rule that religiously affiliated charities, schools, hospitals and so forth must furnish their employees with health insurance that directly or indirectly includes birth control. While many religious groups do not object to birth control, the Catholic Church certainly does, and the ObamaCare regulation, if not withdrawn, will force a number of Catholic institutions to choose between violating their beliefs and shutting down.