July 21 TN News Digest

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

State provides battlefield grant to Franklin (Associated Press)

The state has given Franklin a grant to improve access and amenities at the eastern edge of the Battle of Franklin battlefield. The $500,000 grant is provided by the federal government and administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation through the Transportation Enhancement program.

TN grant to fund Civil War park in Franklin (Tennessean/Walters)

Franklin’s Civil War-themed city park got a jolt of $500,000 Wednesday, pushing a long-planned project closer to one day becoming the tourist haven its supporters contend it will be. Standing on the Carnton Plantation museum’s porch, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the money as part of a state road enhancement grant, touting its importance to tourism and quality of life.

$500k Grant to Franklin Helps Preparations for Battle Anniversary (WPLN-Radio)

State officials today announced half a million dollars in grants to the city of Franklin for improvements at the historic Eastern Flank Battlefield. The work will be done well before the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin in a few years, but Civil War tourism in the area is already picking up.

Judicial appointee Sword says he wants to win voters’ support, too (NS/Satterfield)

It may be a temporary appointment, but Knox County’s newest judge says he’s in it for the long haul. “I’ll definitely run,” said Steve Sword of next year’s election for the Criminal Court judgeship to which he was appointed Wednesday.

Haslam selects Knox attorney to replace Baumgartner (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Governor Bill Haslam has appointed a Knox County prosecutor as Knox County’s new criminal court judge. Steve Sword will replace former Judge Richard Baumgartner, the high-profile judge who resigned in March after admitting to a prescription drug addiction.

Governor Haslam Prepares for Less Federal Money in Tennessee (WPLN-Radio)

Governor Haslam expects federal budget cuts will reduce the amount of money sent to states. He said his administration is preparing for less federal money coming to Tennessee.

Haslam not ‘overly concerned’ about possible credit downgrade (CP/Woods)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he is “concerned about it but not overly” that the U.S. debt crisis has jeopardized Tennessee’s top-rated AAA credit rating. Moody’s Investors Services told Tennessee and four other states this week that they face downgrades because of their dependence on federal revenue.

Haslam downplays possible downgrade of state bond rating (TFP/Sher)

While calling Tennessee’s credit rating “very important,” Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday sought to downplay the “likely” downgrading of the state’s AAA credit rating if Congress allows a default on the nation’s obligations. On Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service said it would probably would lower top credit ratings for Tennessee and four other states if the U.S. doesn’t raise the federal government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Governor awaiting outcome of nurse licenses’ probe (Associated Press/Johnson)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he’s awaiting the outcome of an investigation into whether lawmakers improperly intervened with a state board to help three nurse practitioners whose licenses were suspended, but acknowledged he doesn’t like it “when people use their leverage to accomplish a personal agenda.” The case grew out of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe of fatal overdoses among patients of the now defunct Appalachian Medical Center.

Haslam fears ‘personal agenda’ in nurse probe (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam says he can’t comment on a TBI probe of state lawmakers who acknowledge pressuring a state board that suspended licenses of three nurses accused of overprescribing painkillers. But he did condemn the idea of public officials using their power to carry out a “personal agenda.”

Haslam Comments On Local Lawmaker Investigation (WCYB-TV Chattanooga)

They say they did nothing wrong and were only fighting for their constituents. “Let these people investigate anything they want. I didn’t do anything wrong, I know Tony Shipley didn’t, we were just doing our jobs,” said State Representative Dale Ford of Jonesborough.

Harwell mum on lawmakers under TBI investigation (City Paper/Woods)

State House Speaker Beth Harwell on Wednesday declined to criticize two lawmakers who exerted political pressure against a state regulatory board on behalf of nurse practitioners accused of over-prescribing painkillers. Reps. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, have boasted about how they compelled the state Board of Nursing to reconsider disciplinary action against the three nurses.

Board of Nursing Investigation Raises ?: How Far Can Politicians Go? (WPLN)

Two state representatives have acknowledged they used legislation to force the state Board of Nursing to reinstate constituents. The case raises the question of how far a politician can go in negotiating with a professional board.

Hacker group Anonymous targets Tennessee over offensive-pictures law (MBJ)

The hacker group Anonymous is targeting Tennessee in retaliation for a new law prohibiting the posting of offensive pictures online. So far, the group has released a file including hundreds of names and addresses obtained through the state’s website, TN.gov.

Hackers Shift Attacks to Small Firms (Wall Street Journal)

Recent hacking attacks on Sony Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. grabbed headlines. What happened at City Newsstand Inc. last year did not. Unbeknownst to owner Joe Angelastri, cyber thieves planted a software program on the cash registers at his two Chicago-area magazine shops that sent customer credit-card numbers to Russia.

Advocating Parental, Community Engagement in Ed. Priority for First Lady (TNR)

First Lady Crissy Haslam joined approximately 500 educators, administrators, policymakers, and other stakeholders for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) Summit on Rural Education in Nashville on Tuesday. The purpose of the two-day event is to highlight best practices and influence regional and national policy on education in rural communities.

Grant used to shutter mental health treatment program (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

The executive director of a mental health treatment center in Chattanooga is planning to use a $193,000 state grant to shut down the center’s primary therapeutic program rather than finance it for three more months, records show. TEAM Centers Inc. interim Executive Director Peter Charman said he’ll use the grant to stop admitting patients, lay off 22 employees and shut down the diagnostic and evaluation program effective Aug. 15.

State Supreme Court refuses Cook appeal (State Gazette)

Tennessee’s Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a Bedford County woman found guilty of the 2007 shooting death of a Shelbyville auto salesman. Ashley Mai Cook was convicted for the Feb. 14, 2007 murder of Bill Ross and sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler to life imprisonment for first degree murder, as well as a consecutive sentence of 20 years for conspiracy to commit first degree murder.

Tenn. agrees to make legislature more accessible (Associated Press)

The state of Tennessee has agreed to make changes to the Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building to improve accessibility for people with disabilities after complaints were filed with the Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Nashville said in a news release Wednesday that the state had begun making improvements to the plaza and the office building where state legislators have offices and public hearings are held, but not all the necessary changes had been made and some modifications did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Legislative Plaza needs ADA changes (Tennessean/Humbles)

Modifications will be made to Legislative Plaza and War Memorial Office Building to ensure the area complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. An investigation, based on three complaints filed with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, revealed handrails for people with certain impairments, including people in wheelchairs, were not continuous, signs were not posted at levels that were easily visible and architectural barriers prohibited easy access to restrooms and public hearing rooms.

Deadline Set for Legislative Plaza to Become ADA Compliant (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

Tennessee and the federal government have reached an agreement to make state legislative facilities more accessible to people with disabilities. US Attorney Jerry Martin looked into conditions at Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building after three complaints were filed.

Tennessee among nation’s ‘most toxic’ states (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee ranks among states with the most toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants, according to a new study. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Physicians for Social Responsibility analyzed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory to come up with a “Toxic 20” list of American states with the most industrial pollution.

TN ranks high in toxic pollution from power plants (Tennessean/Bewley)

Top polluters have one thing in common: coal-fired plants Tennessee’s power plants emit more pounds of toxic pollutants than plants in most other states, according to a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Tennessee ranked 15th on the group’s list of the “toxic 20” states whose power plants emit the most harmful pollutants.

City of Memphis weighs privatization of animal services operations (CA/Callahan)

City officials are considering privatizing the beleaguered Memphis Animal Services operations. Also, Mayor A C Wharton agreed Wednesday night to a partnership with the Memphis Rotary Club, which will utilize the skills of its various members to prepare an in-depth — and free — report on MAS and the shelter.

Benton County slashing budgets (Jackson Sun)

Library may lose $23,625 in funding Benton County Budget Committee members are working to cut budgets across county department lines, one of the most controversial financial slashes — a $23,625 cut in funding for the Benton County Public Library. Budget committee members voted to cut the local library system’s budget from a proposed $218,625 to $195,000, Wednesday.

Rep. Diane Black pushes to fix $13 billion ‘glitch’ in health-care reform (TN/Bewley)

Social Security income would be excluded Tennessee Rep. Diane Black began a push this week to fix a $13 billion provision of the 2009 health-care reform law that would allow several million middle-class people to receive Medicaid, government-sponsored health insurance intended for the poor. When the law takes effect in 2014, roughly 3 million more people could be eligible for Medicaid and for health insurance exchange subsidies, because the law disregards Social Security income when determining who qualifies for the programs.

Black backs ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’ budget plan (Daily News Journal)

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, is hailing passage of the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan that received overwhelming support by House Republicans. The act would cut total spending by $111 billion in fiscal 2012; cap total federal spending over 10 years, eventually leading to spending capped at 19.9 percent of GDP by 2021; and require the passage of a balanced budget amendment before raising the nation’s debt limit.

Griffith, Roe split on budget legislation (Times-News)

The two Republican congressmen representing the region split their votes on House-passed legislation to cut, cap and balance the federal budget. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Northeast Tennessee voted for, but U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Southwest Virginia was one of nine Republicans voting against the so-called “Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011” that passed 234-190 on Tuesday night.

Nuke protesters deliver Bellefonte letter to TVA (Associated Press)

Nuclear protesters delivered a letter to the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga, urging the utility to at least delay construction of a reactor at its mothballed Bellefonte plant in northeast Alabama. Some protesters paraded stiffly across a street pretending to be zombies and others held up “No New Nukes” signs outside the TVA complex.

Protesters ask TVA to stop building nuclear reactors (Times Free-Press/Sohn)

With deep under-eye shadows and painted-on blood stains, zombies brought a nuclear protest to the TVA headquarters on Market Street on Wednesday. Holding signs that read “No new nukes” and “Bellefonte = Danger + Debt,” about 50 protesters ranging from young teens to grandparents crowded the sidewalk at the Tennessee Valley Authority building downtown to ask CEO Tom Kilgore and the TVA board to say no to more nuclear reactors in the Tennessee Valley.

Tax breaks OK’d for two Nashville companies in return for jobs (C. Paper/Garrison)

In exchange for local job creation, the Metro Council voted Tuesday night to give two Nashville companies tax abatements. In separate votes, on third and final readings, the council unanimously approved special payment-in-lieu-of-tax, or PILOT, deals to Carlex Glass America and Standard Candy Co. Both deals, which involved Mayor Karl Dean’s Office of Economic and Community Development, were approved after no deliberation.

Home sales on course to reach a 14-year low (Associated Press/Kravitz)

Halfway through 2011, people are buying homes at the weakest pace in 14 years. Sales of previously occupied homes fell in June for a third straight month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million homes, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

Memphis mayor: City can’t pay $55M right now (Associated Press/Sainz)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said Wednesday that the city won’t be able to immediately pay $55 million in budgeted money being demanded by the city’s school board, which intensified a long-running funding fight by voting to delay the start of classes this year until it gets the money. Wharton told a news conference that he is working with the Memphis City Schools board and the City Council to resolve the dispute over the $55 million — which is about 7 percent of the board’s overall budget of about $800 million.

City claims it was ‘blindsided’ (CA/Maki, Roberts)

Memphis schools say they were shortchanged The city of Memphis sent Memphis City Schools $3 million Wednesday as part of the $8 million it owes the school district from the school year that just ended. A day earlier, MCS board members voted to delay indefinitely the start of the next school year until it gets $55 million from the city on the upcoming year’s school bill.

MCS Decision to Postpone Classes “Indefinitely” Casts Shadow on Election (MF)

Even as the Memphis City Council was concluding a meeting whose major item — approval of new district lines in time for the 2011 election season — went through routinely, a fateful decision taken by the Council three years earlier, to cut back on its annual allotment to Memphis City Schools, was producing a truly seismic disturbance elsewhere in the city. Several blocks away, the still very much alive MCS board, which had shaken the entire political infrastructure of Memphis and Shelby County by voting to dissolve itself just seven months ago, created new drama with an 8-1 vote to delay the opening of fall classes “indefinitely” until it receives $55 million owed it by Memphis city government under court order.

MCS, City At Odds Over School Year Delay (Memphis Daily News)

The stakes got higher this week in the funding dispute between the city of Memphis and the Memphis City Schools system. MCS board members voted 8-1 Tuesday, July 19, to delay the Aug. 8 start of school until the city pays a disputed amount of money the system says the city owes for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Possible delay of school casts wide ripples across Memphis (C. Appeal/Roberts)

The impact of Memphis City Schools as an institution in people’s lives and habits loomed large Wednesday as the reality of a possible delayed start to the academic year settled over students, parents and administrators. “I am about to blow up,” said Debora Finney, parent of city school children, reacting to the potential result from a funding dispute between the school board and city officials.

Rhea to fund new high school (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Davis)

Rhea County commissioners voted late Tuesday to fund construction of a new high school but declined to pass a wheel tax to build a jail or a justice center. Commissioners were presented a resolution to authorize selling up to $50 million in bonds to finance both the high school and justice facility or jail — officials have said they’d build one or the other but not both — but they changed the amount to $35 million after the wheel tax resolution failed.

Knox school board hires private attorney for Carter school issue (NS/Alapo)

The Knox County school board has retained an outside attorney to represent its interests in a potential agreement for a new Carter Elementary School. The board is to vote Aug. 10 on Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s proposal to build a new facility in East Knox County rather than renovate the existing school. Hiring a private lawyer “is not any indication that anything’s changed in the process,” school board Vice Chairwoman Karen Carson said Wednesday.

Training of Teachers Is Flawed, Study Says (New York Times)

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group, is to issue a study on Thursday reporting that most student-teaching programs are seriously flawed. The group has already angered the nation’s schools for teachers with its plans to give them letter grades that would appear in U.S. News and World Report.

Minnesota: With Signing of Budget, Impasse Ends in Minnesota (New York Times)

After a legislative session that dragged on late into the night, Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota signed new spending plans for the state on Wednesday, ending the longest and broadest shutdown in state history. Since July 1, the state’s parks had been barricaded, highway rest stops blocked off and the Capitol closed.

Minnesota: Tobacco bonds to rescue Minnesota, for now (Stateline)

The budget deal that ended a government shutdown in Minnesota this week leans heavily on a strategy that critics deride as a gimmick but supporters view as a lifeline: tapping into money the state expected to get from a legal settlement with tobacco companies. Underneath the debate about Minnesota’s decision to sell $640 million worth of so-called “tobacco bonds” is the question of whether now is a good time to sell them — and what the decision means for Minnesota’s long-term finances.

OPINION

Times Editorial: The other economic vision (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

In a city that grew up as a manufacturing hub and that has proudly revived that heritage with the arrival of advanced new industries, the political and Chamber of Commerce focus on attracting the next big manufacturers on the coattails of Alstom and Volkswagen is understandable. But just as technology is driving smart manufacturing that needs fewer and fewer workers, it also is driving cities to look toward a redefined economic future where mainstay jobs will depend increasingly on innovation and knowledge-based skills, and on the amenities that will attract the entrepreneurs of the future.

Editorial: Students being held hostage (Commercial Appeal)

Using students as pawns to force the city’s hand on funding schools was not the best response to the situation. The Memphis Board of Education committed a grave disservice to Memphians Tuesday night when its members voted to delay the start of the school year indefinitely to force a partial settlement of a funding dispute with city government.

Wendi C. Thomas: Memphis schools stoop to new low for results (C. Appeal)

Welcome to our new normal. Memphis City Schools finds itself in a funding bind with few viable options. So the district does the unthinkable and voila — MCS gets what it needs. You won’t find this method recommended in any MBA program.

Columnist: Privatizing Public Services Doesn’t Work (Metro Pulse)

Outsourcing public services is in the interest of contractors, not taxpayers Privatization of public services has been a trend in government for a couple decades. It was hatched as a Republican concept, but because it enables graft and does little to limit legislative spending powers, it soon caught on among Democrats as well.

Dwight Lewis: Positive steps needed against health-care disparities (Tennessean)

“Stay positive.” I don’t think I will ever forget those two words a woman uttered to me in the late spring or early summer 2000. They were said not long after I had undergone surgery for colon cancer.