July 14 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 Grants for Linden, Lobelville, Milan, Parker’s Crossroads (TNR)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer today announced the award of a $446,419 grant for Linden to replace existing storm drainage, curbing and sidewalks along a portion of Main Street. Phase III of the Downtown Improvement Project will connect and extend west along Main Street (Highway 100/SR 412) as a continuation of the Phase II project, which is nearing the construction phase.

Gov. Haslam turns focus to Tennessee Post-Secondry Education (Biz Clarksville)

Gov. Bill Haslam called together post-secondary education leaders from across the state on July 10 along with statewide business organizations to discuss the importance of a comprehensive and coordinated focus on the issues of affordability, the quality of our Tennessee colleges, universities and technology centers, and how to do a better job of matching the skills state institutions are teaching with the needs of employers.

Tennessee leads region in job growth (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

With its advanced road and communications network and relatively cheap cost of living, Texas was rated the best state for business in this year’s CNBC ranking of state business climates. But in the Southeast, the top state for growing jobs was captured by another state with a big orange T. Since the start of 2011, Tennessee has led the Southeast in employment gains, adding 67,000 jobs since January 2011 for the fastest pace of job states in the region, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Haslam Shrugs Off NRA’s Combative Campaign Spending (TN Report)

Establishment Republicans may be fighting a rearguard against Tea Party conservatives, but Tennessee’s governor won’t criticize gun-rights activists for shelling out big bucks to try bagging a trophy election win against an incumbent he’s backing. The National Rifle Association is plugging $75,000 into a primary race in Sumner County that pits challenger Courtney Rogers, a retired United States Air Force officer, against one of their least-favorites in the Tennessee House of Representatives, GOP Caucus Leader Debra Maggart.

Haslam: ‘I Believe It’s a New Day in TN’ (TN Report)

With the general assembly adjourned, May, June, and even the first few days of July have been extremely busy for us as we continue to improve state government. I know all of you are extremely busy too, so here’s a quick run-down of why I believe it’s a new day in Tennessee: Student performance on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) has shown improvement for the second year in a row. In fact, the achievement gains we saw this year represent the largest aggregate gains the state has made on the TCAP.

600 rally for VA hospital in Harriman (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

Chester Edwards was a “tunnel rat” during the Vietnam War, assigned to crawl through the Vietcong’s labyrinth of underground fortresses to find and fight the enemy. The Ten Mile resident returned from his 13-month tour of duty with a list of health woes that only grew longer as years passed, from post-traumatic stress syndrome to diabetes and heart problems. Those ailments require him to make the trip to a federal veterans facility in Murfreesboro three to four times a month.

Lights, Camera, Action (Memphis Daily News)

State’s film industry gets much-needed financial boost The pot of state money available to spur film production in Tennessee got a couple million dollars richer a few months ago. Thanks to a measure sponsored this past legislative session by state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, an additional $2 million is now available to incentivize film production in the state. But the good news goes deeper than that seven-figure sum for Tennessee’s film industry. That money represents a recurring stream of revenue for the Tennessee Film and TV Incentive Fund.

Funeral home fined over state violations (Times-Gazette)

A Shelbyville funeral home was recently assessed a $500 civil penalty, according to the state of Tennessee. Nelson & Sons Memorial Chapel was cited in the Department of Commerce and Insurance’s June disciplinary action report, according to a list of violations released this week. According to the report, the chapel’s web site contained photographs and listings of “unlicensed individuals that either gave or tended to give the impression that these individuals were licensed funeral directors or embalmers.”

Ramsey May Go His Own Way on Guns-in-Lots (TN Report)

As gun advocates continue dropping political bombs on legislative incumbents this election season, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he’s beginning to think legislative leaders and lawmakers may not be of “a mood” to expand gun laws next year. At least, not with the help of gun rights groups. Between the National Rifle Association launching an expensive political war with a top House Republican and the Tennessee Firearms Association firing criticism all over the party’s leadership, Republicans have lately felt themselves unfairly targeted.

NRA shows no willingness to bargain with TN Republicans (AP/Schelzig)

Threats, denunciations and verbal potshots between the National Rifle Association and the leaders of the legislature were common in the decades that Democrats ran the show in the Tennessee Capitol. Turns out Republicans are just as good at running afoul of the powerful gun rights group. GOP leaders in Nashville infuriated the NRA this year by refusing to go along with a bill to prevent businesses from banning guns on their property, and now the group is using its deep pockets to try to unseat one of them.

Attorney: Bill Boner case is not over (Tennessean/Stockard)

A federal agency dismissed discrimination complaints filed by two former female employees of Property Assessor Bill Boner, but their attorney said Thursday the case isn’t dead. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tossed out the case on a technicality, determining that it did not have jurisdiction in the complaints filed by Janie Zumbro and Kathy Dumm because of Boner’s position as an elected official, their Chattanooga attorney, Scott McDearman, said. The EEOC sent letters Monday to Zumbro and Dumm notifying them the case was dismissed and they could file lawsuits in state or federal court.

Status of Burchett campaign records review? Not crystal clear (NS/Donila)

Almost two weeks ago former Knox County Commissioner Mark Harmon asked the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office to look into questionable campaign finance disclosure forms filed by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. He said he never heard back. John Gill, special counsel to the district attorney, is saying little about what role, if any, the office will play. “We will do whatever we’re supposed to under the law,” Gill said. Harmon, though, said that’s not enough.

Shelby Democrats support library photo ID (Commercial Appeal/Gifford)

Shelby County political and civic groups announced their support Friday of the new Memphis Public Library card as a valid form of photo identification for voting. “We stand behind the city and believe in everyone’s right to vote,” Van Turner, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party said at a news conference Friday. Along with the county’s democrats, representatives from the ACLU and the NAACP joined in support of the library photo ID, which was first issued last week.

Murfreesboro City Council approves $800,000 contract for Amazon roadwork (DNJ)

City Council members approved a more than $800,000 contract Thursday with Hoover Inc. of La Vergne, the low bidder out of three, to complete road improvements for Joe B. Jackson Parkway. The improvements are needed for the Amazon distribution center that will open by Oct. 1. A Tennessee Department of Transportation State Industrial Access grant will cover $702,696.50 of the project, and the remaining $99,248 will be funded by the developer of the project, City Engineer Chris Griffith told council members Thursday night.

Sen. Bob Corker’s travel tab 9th-highest in Senate (Tennessean/Bewley)

Judging from his taxpayer-funded travel tab, you might guess that Republican Sen. Bob Corker represents one of the biggest states instead of one of the smallest. That’s because Corker spent more on travel than lawmakers from vast states such as California, Texas, Alaska and New Mexico: nearly $207,000 during the 12 months ending March 31. That’s more than all but eight other senators, a Tennessean Washington Bureau analysis of Senate records shows.

Weston Wamp faulted for footage of Chattanooga National Cemetery (TFP/Carroll)

Weston Wamp used video footage shot at Chattanooga National Cemetery for two political ads without permission, prompting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to send a cease-and-desist letter to his congressional campaign. Titled “Congratulations Congress,” the ad ran for several days on Chattanooga television stations. It stopped airing earlier this month, but remained online. Wamp removed the ad from YouTube after a Veterans Affairs official contacted his campaign Thursday.

National Guard unit gets warm welcome home after year in Afghanistan (TN/Loyal)

Sonia Sisk stood in the front line of a crowd of hundreds Friday afternoon at the National Guard Volunteer Training Site at Smyrna Airport, waiting to welcome her husband home. Big, dark sunglasses hid the mixture of emotions in her eyes. But everyone in the crowd knew how she was feeling. They felt the same way. “I’m anxious,” Sisk said, wringing her hands and staring straight ahead. “Nervous.” Friends, family, neighbors and fellow soldiers held up signs and cheered when a plane carrying about 100 soldiers appeared in front of them.

Knoxville RockTenn box plant closing in August (News-Sentinel/Harris)

Less than a month after buying an Alabama corrugated box manufacturing company, RockTenn Co. announced it will close its Knoxville box-making plant. Thirteen salaried and 75 hourly workers will lose their jobs. RockTenn plans to end all production, sales and shipments at the Knoxville plant by the end of August, Robin Keegan, director of corporate communications, said Friday. The closure is “an economic decision based on plant capacity,” said Keegan, who offered no other details about the decision.

TN students must get shots before school starts (Tennessean/DeVille)

School officials are urging parents not to procrastinate in getting students immunized before classes begin next month. Tennessee children enrolling in school for the first time and rising seventh-graders must submit official immunization certificates. State requirements changed in 2010, and seventh-graders are required to have a DTaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) booster shot in addition to a second dose of the chickenpox vaccine or proof that they’ve already been treated for the illness.

Cleveland, Tenn., schools plan for growth (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Leach)

In a recent planning retreat, the Cleveland school board discussed how to meet the needs of a growing student population. Providing a safe and secure environment for students is a top concern, said Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools. He cited anti-bullying initiatives, campus security and facility integrity. “[Bullying] is the No. 1 litigated topic in the country right now, so we want to make sure we are not behind the eight-ball and we are being very proactive with it,” Ringstaff said.

District changes process for charter school applications (N-S/McCoy)

Letter of intent deadline is Aug. 1 Knox County Schools is revamping its process for future charter school applicants. Beginning with this year, applicants will have to follow a request for proposal process that outlines specifically what the district is looking for in a future charter school. Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said the RFP was developed from the district’s previous experience with the applications that have come in and looking at best practices across the state and country.

Proposed charter school to make case to state board (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

The Knoxville Charter Academy has filed an appeal with the State Board of Education after the Knox County school board twice denied requests to extend its agreement with the school. On July 23, officials with the school will be able to plead their case and ask for another opinion. “Our case is the same we made to the county,” said Suzan Mertyurek, the charter school’s board president. “It’s the right we have to … present our case to them.” State officials will hear the appeal at 10 a.m. July 23 in the boardroom of the Andrew Johnson Building, located on Gay Street.

Sept 4 trial set to determine legality of Shelby school referendums (CA/McMillin)

Attorneys representing the parties in the ongoing legal skirmish over the future of Shelby County’s public education structure on Friday set a trial date of Sept. 4 to determine whether statutes allowing referendums on municipal schools this year are constitutional. U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays agreed that submissions of possible evidence for the non-jury trial, which will focus narrowly on the issue of whether the Public Chapter 905 law is invalid because it applies only to Shelby County, would be due Aug. 10 — eight days after the Aug. 2 referendums.

Despite Ruling Schools Case Far From Over (Memphis Daily News)

The day after U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays ruled the suburban municipal schools referendums will go ahead as planned, most of the 20 attorneys in his courtroom for the ruling were back before him. The conference Friday, July 13, was to plot what will likely be the rapid movement of the larger case and issues that brought the idea of stopping the elections before Mays in the first place. And the way forward for deciding the issues involving state and federal constitutional issues is every bit as complex as the different considerations Mays handled in the request for an election injunction by the Shelby County Commission.

Lawsuit challenges Millington’s annexation of Lucy (C. Appeal/Whitten)

A lawsuit has been filed to stop the annexation of Lucy, a move that may end Millington’s pursuit to form a municipal school district. Millington officials voted to annex the Lucy community last month to enable the city to file for its own municipal school district. Claiborne Ferguson, a resident of Lucy and a Memphis attorney, filed the suit Wednesday and halted the annexation which was slated to become official Saturday. Ferguson cited the city’s “lack of preparation” that led to his decision to seek legal intervention.

Kingsport Police arrest four at meth lab (Herald Courier)

A complaint helped Kingsport Police track down a working meth lab. Vice and narcotics unit officers found the one-pot cook in a garbage bag on the back porch of a residence on Finley Villa Court. near Hunter Wright Stadium. Investigators also found several components used to make meth. Police arrested Harley Crawford, Angela Drinnon, Jerry Harvey and Chad Gillenwater. All four are charged with possession of meth and manufacturing meth. Gillenwater also faces an additional count of identity theft because officers say he gave them a false name and date of birth.

Smoking bag on Kingsport porch prompts meth arrests (Times-News)

A smoking garbage bag on the back porch of a Model City residence has led police to an alleged methamphetamine cook, prompting four arrests. Investigators say the operation was at the home of one of the suspect’s grandfather, 87, who was oblivious to the illegal activity. The district attorney’s office will be consulted on the possibility of filing charges of elder abuse. “He was basically taking advantage of the grandfather,” said Kingsport Police Department Cpl. Det. Steve Summey. “He was in wheelchair, he didn’t know what they were doing.”

 

OPINION

 

Free-Press Editorial: Hooray for Hagerty! (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

What would you say if a government department cut its staff by 42 percent, established nine new regional offices to increase its efforts beyond the big cities, and gained commitments from companies to create 29,000 more jobs through expansion and relocation, while spending 50 percent less on corporate welfare than the previous administration? The responses would probably include “Wow!”, “Really?” and even “Hooray!”. These impressive feats were performed by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) since January 2011. ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty, working with Governor Bill Haslam, is achieving these commendable results by combining a focus on jobs and economic development with conservative fiscal leadership.

Editorial: State surplus stirs debate (Commercial Appeal)

If you must have a debate over state government spending, this is the best kind to have: What do you do with a $540 million revenue surplus? Is the best thing to do to squirrel it away in Tennessee’s rainy-day fund, spend most of it, or save some and spend the rest? The latter seems like the best option, but the trick is determining where to direct the spending. Where would a one-time infusion of money make the most lasting impact? The state finds itself in this propitious budget situation after state Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes announced Wednesday that tax collections were $130 million above estimates in June, bringing the year-to-date surplus to $540 million.

Guest columnist: Small businesses face insurance choices (Tennessean)

I am the CEO of a small business that currently has 51 employees. We offer our employees two insurance options with a Blue Cross/Blue Shield PPO. The company pays 50 percent of the individual premium for employees who choose to participate in one of the insurance plans. Annually, our company expenses are between $50,000 and $60,000 for health care. The Affordable Care Act presents this small-business owner with a serious dilemma: Pay up and continue to grow my company, or reduce my number of employees and maintain the status quo. Under the law, it will be mandatory for businesses with 50 or more employees to pay up to $2,000 per employee per year for insurance. This means that I am now facing an annual expense of $100,000 and more for health care.

Guest columnist: Occupy movement cleared way for all (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Last fall, the people of America came out into the streets for a simple reason: They could see our political system had become completely corrupted by money and gerrymandering, causing them to lose all faith in the possibility for change through the political process. The original group called itself Occupy Wall Street, and a solidarity movement spread quickly to thousands of cities and towns across our country, including here in Knoxville. OWS protestors set up encampments in most major cities and many smaller cities and towns, claiming their First Amendment rights. So often the claim was misrepresented as “freedom of speech.” The relevant text of the First Amendment is “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Editorial: Voter IDs on Trial (New York Times)

Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives, flew to Washington this week to persuade a panel of federal judges to invalidate a requirement that voters must have an ID card. His trip was less arduous than the one some residents would have to endure to get a government-issued photo ID. “In West Texas, some people would have a 200-mile round-trip drive” to the nearest state office to get a card, he testified, according to The Dallas Morning News. More than a quarter of the state’s counties don’t even have an office to get a driver’s license or voter card. Lines at the San Antonio motor vehicles offices are often more than two hours long, he said.