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July 25 TN News Digest

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

Tax-free weekend Aug. 5-7 (Daily News Journal)

Tennessee’s annual sales tax holiday is drawing near. The event begins at 12:01 a.m Friday, Aug. 5 and ends Sunday, Aug. 7 at 11:59 p.m.

State jobs initiative for at-risk youth recognized (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s Jobs for Tennessee Graduates initiative has been recognized for exceeding five goals of its parent organization. The initiative is a partnership between the state Department of Education and Labor and Workforce Development.

Officials awaiting virtual school enrollment (Associated Press)

Tennessee officials are waiting to see how many students statewide enroll in a public “virtual school” run by a for-profit Virginia company. Another unknown is how much state taxpayer money automatically follows those students, The Commercial Appeal reports.

Solar power’s future remains bright in Tennessee (C. Appeal/Charlier)

Energy farms starting to crop up to give boost to clean industry for state It’s a safe bet that no one in this quaint little railroad town, with its cotton-processing operations and Main Street cannery, ever expected to see a farm quite like the one sprouting a few miles down the road. Located along Interstate 40 on 35 acres of newly cleared land that bakes under the July sun, the West Tennessee Solar Farm is growing into an otherworldly latticework of pilings and metal racks pointed southward.

3,500 TN felons, even killers, have phoned-in oversight (Tennessan/Haas)

He was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a man in a Nashville Kroger parking lot, beating an ex-girlfriend and possessing cocaine. And, when released on parole, he was arrested at least six times in his first 2½ years of supervision.

UT housing need exceeding capacity (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

Beds are replacing couches in residence halls across the University of Tennessee campus as officials hurry to convert study lounges into dorm rooms to accommodate a burgeoning list of students requesting to live on campus this fall. The school has already exceeded its 7,500-bed capacity for the first time since 2006 and officials are preparing between 80 and 100 overflow rooms for the excess students.

Local lawmakers chilly to Amazon tax delay (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Southeast Tennessee lawmakers are balking at a proposal that calls for Amazon.com to begin charging Tennessee sales taxes two or three years after it opens distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties. One even warned he might stop cooperating on projects in the districts of the proposal’s sponsors.

Harwell stops payment for some out-of-state legislator travel (N-S/Humphrey)

House Speaker Beth Harwell, who donates her own legislative expense payments to charity, has moved to curtail the expense money other state representatives collect for out-of-state traveling. Harwell put the new policy in place with a memo sent to all members of the House about a week before adjournment of the 2011 legislative session.

TN ‘sunset’ battles over renewing agencies spur talk of impropriety (TN/Sisk)

Disputes in the Tennessee legislature are shedding new light on lawmakers’ use of the state’s “sunset” provisions to pressure regulatory agencies, a practice that some observers say has become more common as Republicans have come to power. Tennessee lawmakers have held up reauthorization of at least 11 agencies amid questions about their policies and enforcement decisions.

State Dems push tax cuts (Jackson Sun)

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and the House Democratic Caucus filed a bill Thursday to allocate any surplus state revenues to cutting sales taxes on food and providing for need-based college scholarships. “When the state is taking in more money than needed, as we’ve seen over the last few months, then this money needs to go back to Tennesseans, not into the state’s pocketbook,” Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said in a news release.

States get tough on illegal immigration (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Trevizo)

These days, immigration is a perpetual topic of debate in almost every state legislature. Year after year, states across the nation grapple with immigration, and lawmakers introduce more and more bills to deal with the issue…Tennessee’s General Assembly also considered a bill similar to Georgia’s but the bill was deferred until 2012 in part because of opposition from business groups and a $3 million cost estimate.

Questions linger about teachers’ union morale after legislative session (CP/Woods)

When math and reading test scores for Tennessee schoolchildren showed an uptick, Gov. Bill Haslam threw a media event to celebrate and heap praise on teachers. “I want to start out with a very, very pointed message, and that is to thank the teachers of Tennessee,” the governor told reporters and educators assembled this month in a Murfreesboro elementary school’s library.

Waiting for relief (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Harrison)

Bill Chapman has been camping out in the front yard of his parents’ home in the Dalton Pike area of Cleveland, Tenn., since two oak trees smashed through the house’s roof and the floor split down the middle in the April 27 tornadoes. He’s waiting there, cooking with propane gas and trying to stay out of the sun, until his parents’ insurance company agrees to pay what he says should be fairer compensation for the house’s damage.

Rhea County, Dayton try to settle who pays welding school costs (TFP/McMillian)

After confusion over which entity is responsible for bill payments on Rhea County’s new welding school, the County Commission is expected to consider a memorandum of understanding in the matter at its August workshop. Last week, after the commission had tabled the memorandum on payment of the Dayton school’s insurance, taxes and utilities, the county’s Purchase and Finance Committee members agreed a new resolution was needed.

Coal ash taints groundwater at TVA sites, report finds (Tennessean/Paine)

Inspector General report finds nine of TVA’s plant sites have contamination A new report says groundwater contamination from coal ash has been found at Gallatin and eight of the nine other Tennessee Valley Authority fossil power plant sites where testing is being done. Levels of toxic substances found at the Gallatin plant site in Sumner County and at the Cumberland site, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, are high enough that they could create a health hazard, the report says.

Charter school renovation could generate extra costs (Tennessean/Hubbard)

KIPP plan may mean razing part of historic building Mayor Karl Dean last year announced a simple plan for an East Nashville charter school. The city would take over KIPP Academy’s aging building from the school district, spend $9.54 million to renovate it and welcome students and community members into the finished product.

Williamson cites big gain in AP class participation (Tennessean/Giordano)

Enrollment in challenging courses rose by 19 percent The Williamson County School District last week reported having a nearly 20 percent increase in enrollment in Advanced Placement classes this past school year over the previous year. The report shows enrollment in AP classes increased by 818 over the 2009-10 school year, with nearly every one of the district’s eight high schools showing an uptick.

Teaching to begin on first day of school (Columbia Daily Herald)

The first day of school will be different this year. Typically, students complete their registration paperwork on the first day and then leave.

Summer Cuts Launch Lunch Scramble (Wall Street Journal)

Budget cuts have left Francisca Vargas struggling to replace the academic boost her three young children once received from summer school—and the free lunch that came with it. Ms. Vargas found relief at a local community center, which provides sandwiches and fruit, along with tutoring. It’s less convenient than summer school—the gasoline costs add up—but the free program is a help to the family, which relies on Ms. Vargas’s $15,000 annual salary as a babysitter.

Nebraska: Is Nebraska’s cash balance pension a model? (Stateline)

Nebraska takes an approach to managing its public pension system that is unusual among the states. It does not offer its employees and legislators a traditional fixed-benefit pension or a health care plan when they retire.

OPINION

Gail Kerr: Useless voter ID law serves only to disenfranchise (Tennessean)

Early voting in Nashville’s local election has been cooking along for eight days, with nary a problem. There has been no voter fraud. No identity theft. No dead people voting.

Guest columnist: TSU reorganization claims questionable (Tennessean)

There is a grand deception playing itself out at Tennessee State University, and it is being hidden from view by the claim that the reorganization set forth by Interim President Portia Shields and quickly approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents is simply a set of needed changes necessitated by the economic downturn. On the surface, these changes seem reasonable.

Charlie Daniel Political Cartoon: “Land Grab” (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Editorial: Locals spend big in D.C. (Commercial Appeal)

Keeping lobbyists busy: City and county officials say they need more than a congressman or senator to pursue their interests in the capital. Cities, public schools, state university systems and other local government entities are presumably ably represented by lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Times Editorial: ObamaCare destroying private health care (Times Free-Press)

Opponents of ObamaCare warned again and again before it became law that it would drive countless employers to drop the medical insurance plans they currently provide to their employees, and that the workers would then be forced onto ObamaCare. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration denied that at almost every opportunity.

Columnist: Messing With Medicare (New York Times)

At the time of writing, President Obama’s hoped-for “Grand Bargain” with Republicans is apparently dead. And I say good riddance. I’m no more eager than other rational people (a category that fails to include many Congressional Republicans) to see what happens if the debt limit isn’t raised.

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