July 18 TN News Digest

 This is a compilation of political headlines assembled from Tennessee news organizations by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Haslam says grant will encourage exercise (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam says a $600,000 grant to help construct the Tennessee Central Heritage Rail Trail will encourage people to exercise. The project, begun in 2005, is a 19-mile hiking and biking path from Cookeville to Monterey alongside refurbished railroad tracks.

Haslam defends cutting home care (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is defending the decision to cut back home care for people with developmental disabilities despite a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the move to group homes. Haslam said after a ribbon-cutting event in at Tims Ford State Park on Thursday that the group homes save money while still delivering personalized services.

Cleanup funding down at Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge site (N-S/Munger)

DOE official says site deserves more money for projects The Department of Energy’s environmental management budget in Oak Ridge this year is about $400 million, down significantly from past years, and only about half of that is being used for actual cleanup activities. During discussions last week with Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials, DOE’s John Eschenberg confirmed about $200 million of the program’s funding is used for administrative and overhead costs, maintenance and security.

Manhattan Project park site in Oak Ridge? (Oak Ridger)

State officials are concerned about a possible reduction in cleanup funding for federal sites in Oak Ridge, Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday. The governor is also concerned that Oak Ridge has not been getting an equitable portion of federal cleanup money.

Tenn consumer officials warn about contest scams (Associated Press)

State consumer affairs officials have reminded Tennesseans that you can’t win a foreign contest you didn’t enter. Gary Cordell of the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs says scams circulate daily with the goal of getting money or personal information. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require a purchase, he says.

Drop in federal funding leaves TN fearing some welfare gone for good (TN/Bewley)

Making ends meet with two children on $142 a month is difficult, Porsha Haynes says. It would be even tougher on less.

State OKs landfill (Columbia Daily Herald)

A proposed landfill that would house byproduct of two Mt. Pleasant aluminum recycling companies has gotten a green light by the state, leaving the site one step away from construction. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has been considering since February whether to issue a permit for a 95-acre site off Hoover Mason Road to store salt cake, a by-product of aluminum recycling.

Credit card deal brings TN schools nice payday (Tennessean/Bewley, Tumulty)

TN colleges, groups made $1.8M in 2010 Eighteen Tennessee colleges, student groups and alumni associations earned $1.8 million last year from agreements allowing credit card companies to market college-themed cards to students and alumni. Most of that money went to the University of Tennessee, which received $1.4 million through a marketing agreement with Chase, according to Federal Reserve data.

UT professor helps rural librarians help patrons (Associated Press)

From online classes to medical research, many residents of rural Appalachia depend upon their public libraries for Internet access. That’s what got Bharat Mehra interested in training librarians to better help their patrons.

Tennessee Legislature passed 154 bills in 3 days (Associated Press)

Pressed by GOP leaders to end the legislative session earlier than usual, the General Assembly passed 154 bills in the final three days of the session, 30 percent of the year’s entire package of enacted legislation. According to an Associated Press analysis of public records, lawmakers moved out 133 of them in the final two days.

Southern Lawmakers Get Debt Management Tips from TN’s Top Auditor (TN Report)

Comptroller Justin Wilson, the self-described “money cop” for the State of Tennessee, talked a lot about the nuts and bolts of managing debt in a speech to the Southern Legislative Conference Sunday in Memphis. It was a timely subject for state and local governments grappling with gaping budget holes just as political gambits are playing out over a federal debt crisis unfolding in the backdrop.

Davidson County’s clerks show a history of bad judgment (City Paper/Williams)

Former Davidson County Clerk Bill Covington, who left office in 2006, now owns and operates a small business called Nashville Weddings. On his website, Covington notes he is “Nashville’s most experienced wedding officiate … [who] has performed thousands of wedding ceremonies for couples from all over the world.”

Murfreesboro mosque opponents caution against groundbreaking (CA/Smietana)

With court case not completely wrapped up, leaders start construction ‘at own peril,’ attorney Brandon says Things are quiet these days at the future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. From the blacktop parking lot at Veals Road and Bradyville Pike — the sole sign of construction — the only sounds are chirping sparrows and the occasional passing car. But mosque leaders hope the sound of construction equipment will soon be heard.

Busy agenda ahead for Memphis City Council this week (CA/McMillin, Wright)

Memphis politics moves to the front burner this week with a flurry of activity that figures to have a great influence on how voters respond to the city’s Oct. 6 municipal elections. On Tuesday, the City Council is expected to vote on a plan for redistricting the city’s voting boundaries based on work contributed by council attorney Allan Wade.

States save by moving vets from Medicaid’s rolls to VA’s (Stateline)

A growing number of states are shifting health care costs to the federal government by finding military veterans who receive Medicaid and signing them up for medical benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Arizona, California and Texas are among the states that are working to replicate a program first launched in Washington State.

States look to right wrong convictions (USA Today)

Kenneth Kagonyera had been in the county jail for 13 months when he finally gave in. Prosecutors and investigators interrogated him repeatedly, he says, and told him he faced at least 25 years in prison for first-degree murder, with life or a death sentence possible.

Amazon pushes for another tax change (New York Times)

Online seller wants California exemption similar to one it has in TennesseeAmazon, the world’s largest online merchant, has an ambitious and far-reaching new agenda: It wants to rewrite tax policy for the Internet era. Amazon is pushing a voter initiative in California that could eliminate sales tax for virtual sellers with only a modest physical presence in the state.

10,000 Tennessee pupils may have to repeat third grade (Times-News)

If the 2011 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program data is any indication, almost one in 10 area third-graders in 2012 faces either repeating a year of school or attending a summer intervention program for reading. They would be among about 10,000 students affected statewide, including between about 35 and 75 students in each of seven area school systems.

Prominent National Education Reformer Making a Home in Nashville (TN Report)

One of Tennesssee’s newest residents, who happens to be a rock star of education reform, told an attentive group of southern legislators in Memphis Sunday it’s time to bring back a culture of competitiveness to the nation’s education system. Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools and founder of StudentsFirst, a reform-minded education organization, said it would be best to get away from the everybody-gets-a-trophy attitude with children nowadays and put some accountability into education, top to bottom.

Ex-D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee gives take on education (CA/Callahan)

Michelle Rhee isn’t the least bit shy expressing her beliefs about what’s wrong with modern public education. Even if she has to embarrass her daughters a little to get her point across.

Home-school athletes tackle more options (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Garrett)

Five years ago, it was hard to imagine that home-schoolers would be stressing over their batting averages, away games and college athletics recruiters. But a new wave of home-school families, more organized and growing, say adding the perk of athletics programs has been a huge draw for parents who want to pull their kids out of public or private schools but worry about them losing out on opportunities such as competitive sports.

Georgia: Cracking a System in Which Test Scores Were for Changing (NY Times)

There had long been suspicions that cheating on state tests was widespread in the Atlanta public schools, but the superintendent, Beverly L. Hall, was feared by teachers and principals, and few dared speak out. Last summer a supposedly Blue Ribbon Commission, headed by a businessman volunteering his time, produced yet another flimsy report, urging further investigation.

New York: State’s Unions Press Members to Accept Deal (New York Times)

New York labor leaders, spooked by public workers’ rejection of negotiated concessions in Connecticut, are beginning a carefully planned campaign to persuade more than 100,000 state employees to accept a wage freeze and other measures in order to avoid sweeping layoffs. The state’s largest union of public workers, the Civil Service Employees Association, has sent contract negotiators across the state as part of an effort to persuade health care, maintenance and clerical workers that it would be better to stomach furloughs, benefit cuts and three years without a salary increase than to risk losing thousands of jobs as the state cuts costs.

OPINION 

Editorial: Chipping off the lbs. (Commercial Appeal)

What a shocker: Potato chips are the main culprit behind the average American’s small but steady yearly weight gain, according to a study at Harvard University. But it’s not so much the chips’ fault as it is our inability to — paraphrasing the slogan of one of the best-known brands — eat just one.

Bill Ketron: Tennessee needs to adopt Caylee’s Law (Columbia Daily Herald)

Most of us with children have felt the panic of turning around in a store or park and not being able to locate your child. Certainly, the younger the child the more unsettling it is, especially as the seconds turn into minutes.

Editorial: Solway sale first of many posed by Burchett (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has sold the first piece of taxpayer property as part of his plan to raise cash to build a new elementary school in the Carter community. Natural Resources Recovery of Tennessee bought the Solway mulch facility it had been operating on a contract basis at a Wednesday auction.

Guest columnist: Burchett to sell county government at flea market (News-Sentinel)

A small Chapman Highway flea market near Seymour provides proprietor Sam Drucker with a few extra dollars to stock his “Hooterville” souvenir stand. It helps Remus Freebird fund occasional pilgrimages all the way to Sevier County.

Editorial: The Value of Medicaid (New York Times)

Medicaid is under assault these days from nearly every direction. Governors complain that they cannot afford to put up their share of the money. Congressional Republicans led by Paul Ryan want to reduce the federal contribution by $771 billion over the next decade and shift more costs to the states and low-income Americans.