Press Releases

July 26 TN News Digest

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

TN Wins Gates Foundation-Funded Grant for Higher Ed (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that the state has been awarded $1 million to fuel policy innovations and reforms aimed at significantly increasing college completion. The grant is provided by Complete College America as part of its national Completion Innovation Challenge grant competition.

Tenn. among 10 states to get education grant (Associated Press)

Tennessee has been awarded a $1 million grant to fund innovative ways to improve the state’s college completion rates. Gov. Bill Haslam joined other state education officials Monday in making the announcement that Tennessee is one of 10 states to receive a grant from Complete College America, a national nonprofit organization.

More Tennessee undergrads may get a robo-nudge (Tennessean/Sisk) 

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is hoping to expand a program that steers college students into classes they are likely to do well in as part of a new plan to boost graduation rates across the state. Haslam announced Monday that the state will use a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to extend an Austin Peay State University program that uses computer programs to predict students’ grades and help select their classes to three other campuses.

Tennessee will use grant to help college students graduate quicker (CA/Locker)

Students attending Tennessee’s public colleges and universities can expect some nudging and some counseling to complete their degrees on time and stop dilly-dallying around campus for years. Gov. Bill Haslam accepted a $1 million grant Monday to help the state’s public higher education institutions increase graduation rates and “reduce time to degree.”

Grant Funds Computerized Advising Program for College Students (WPLN-Radio)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving Tennessee a $1 million grant to help college students take the most efficient steps to a degree. The grant will fund a new computerized advising program.

APSU’s ‘Netflix Effect’ program helps state win $1M (Leaf Chronicle)

Grant will go to degree-completion initiatives Austin Peay State University will be the key leader in Tennessee to help other colleges and universities with a nationwide challenge to bolster degree completion in higher education with the help of a $1 million Completion Innovation Challenge grant. The grant, announced Monday afternoon by Gov. Bill Haslam, is provided by Complete College America as part of its national Completion Innovation Challenge grant competition.

Sales Tax Holiday for Tennesseans set for Aug. 5-7 (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennesseans can shop without paying nearly 10 percent in sales tax Aug. 5-7 during the state’s sixth annual Sales Tax Holiday. Designed for back-to-school shopping, consumers can also purchase clothes, art supplies, computers and other items.

Tennessee’s back-to-school tax holiday starts Aug. 5 (Tennessean/Haas)

Tennessee’s sixth annual tax-free holiday will run Aug. 5-7, allowing the tax-free purchase of clothes, school and art supplies and computers. The holiday will allow shoppers to save about 10 percent on most clothes, school and art supplies costing less than $100 per item, and computers costing $1,500 or less.

Tax-free Tennessee shopping holiday Aug. 5-7 (Leaf Chronicle)

Includes supplies, clothes, computers A new school season will be ushered in soon by one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year. State and local governments across Tennessee will look the other way Aug. 5-7 when you buy things like computers and back-to-school supplies.

Sales tax holiday set for Aug. 5-7 (Jackson Sun)

It’s nearly time to keep your sales taxes. The state’s sixth annual sales tax holiday is scheduled for Aug. 5-7.

Shoppers: Prepare for Sales Tax Holiday (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)

Stores and shoppers are preparing for the annual Tennessee Sales Tax Holiday. The Sales Tax Holiday is a three-day statewide waiver on the nearly 10% state sales tax for school-related products such as clothes, supplies and computers.

Governor says debt negotiations a ‘game of chicken’ (City Paper/Woods)

Gov. Bill Haslam called the U.S. debt negotiations “an incredibly serious game of chicken” Monday and urged Washington to reach an agreement “for the economic health of the country.” “We have a country that’s literally waiting to see what will happen,” Haslam told reporters.

Tennessee Officials Warn of Federal Default Ripples (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s top finance official says he is encouraged that most lawmakers in Washington are now saying the country must avoid default. But Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes says a hiccup in the flow of federal funding would require immediate state budget reductions.

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.

State Approves New Williamson County Campus for Columbia State (WPLN-Radio)

State officials have approved a $6 million deal to purchase a new campus for Columbia State Community College near Cool Springs. The State Building Commission signed off Monday.

Upper Cumberland Waterfall Becomes State Natural Area (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Cummins Falls in Jackson County will become a state “natural area.” The State Building Commission approved the purchase Monday. The natural waterfall north of Cookeville had been held by private owners until last year.

State Looking to Ease Pain of DMV Visit (TN Report)

Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said he’s re-examining how often Tennesseans should be required to subject themselves to the anguish and aggravation of visiting a state motor vehicle office. In fact, Gibbons, whose office oversees drivers license facilities, said he’s even trying to figure out ways to ease the misery of what often seems a nearly intolerable, inescapable encounter with the bureaucratic machinations of state government.

Nashville’s inventive approaches to prison education reducing recidivism (CP/Nix)

Growing up, Anthony Davis was always told he wouldn’t amount to anything. So when he only made it as far as the ninth grade before turning to drugs and crime, the justification in his own mind was already there.

Demolition begins this week at UT’s Sutherland Ave. apartments (N-S/Boehnke)

Bulldozers this week begin tearing down more than 60 vacant apartment buildings along Sutherland Avenue to make way for new University of Tennessee intramural fields. The demolition comes more than month after parents at the Early Learning Center located at the site complained that the work was beginning before the preschool moved to its new location.

Arkansas, Tennessee have Lethal Injection Drug Taken by the DEA (WPLN-Radio)

With an execution coming up in about two months, Tennessee may need to change its cocktail of lethal drugs. Tennessee’s supply of the sedative sodium thiopental was taken by the DEA in March.

Burkhart appeal denied in suit vs. City of Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)

The Tennessee Supreme Court has denied an appeal from City Councilman Jeff Burkhart, a former Clarksville firefighter who tried to sue the city for wrongful termination. The decision, filed July 15 according to court documents, ends a four-year legal battle between the city and Burkhart, who twice tried unsuccessfully to appeal Chancery Court Judge Larry McMillan’s dismissal of the case in November 2009.

Memphis a model for punishing sex traffickers (Associated Press) 

Law enforcement officials say Memphis is becoming a national model for maximizing prison time for convicted sex traffickers. Edward Stanton, the U.S. Attorney for West Tennessee, created a Civil Rights Unit that includes human trafficking in February.

New Tennessee Insurance Law a ‘Jobs Bill’? (TN Report)

Around 200 jobs may already be in the pipeline under a new state law that puts corporations in control of their insurance, and even the architect behind the law is surprised by the level of interest from major companies in the state. Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak is the key figure in the captive insurance law that was part of a limited legislative agenda of Gov. Bill Haslam, who is quick to give credit to McPeak on the initiative.

Change in travel pay for Tennessee House members (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s House speaker has tightened the purse strings on out-of-state travel by state representatives. Before Beth Harwell’s policy change, House members were allowed to take one out-of-state trip per year with taxpayers covering transportation plus hotel costs and an expense allowance of $176 per day.

Ramsey: Legislators won’t back down from oversight role (Times-News)

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says lawmakers won’t back down from their oversight of state regulatory boards despite a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into whether two area lawmakers were too heavy-handed with one of those boards. “I think we’re looking at them as a whole. Even the governor (Bill Haslam) has taken this on as a charge to look at these regulatory boards,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said Monday.

Ex-senator’s wife Sue Atchley to become interim state senator (N-S/Donilia)

Following in her husband’s footsteps, Sue Atchley is the new 6th District state senator. Knox County Commission in a close vote this afternoon selected Atchley, a Republican and the wife of a longtime member of the Tennessee General Assembly, to serve as interim successor to state Sen. Jamie Woodson.

Group threatens suit over taxes (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

An attorney for an association representing some of America’s biggest retailers says the group may file suit if state officials don’t require Amazon to collect sales taxes when the company begins using two Tennessee-based distribution centers now under construction. “Do my clients have standing to bring an action in court? In my opinion we do,” said Bill Hubbard, a Nashville-based attorney for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes Wal-Mart, AutoZone and other major retailers battling Amazon on Internet tax-collection issues nationwide.

Cleveland rejects Bradley County offer to settle sales tax dispute (TFP/Higgins)

The city turned down an offer from Bradley County on Monday of an $850,000 settlement in the sales tax dispute between the two. Instead, the City Council adopted a resolution saying the city interprets a Chancery Court ruling to mean the city is due $2.27 million from the county.

Cookeville: As Walkable As Tennessee Gets (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

It’s probably no surprise that Tennessee’s cities didn’t fare well on a national walkability index released last week. What might be less expected is which community got the state’s highest score.

Downgrade Threat Looms (Wall Street Journal)

Financial markets on Monday began taking seriously the prospect of a downgrade of the U.S.’s triple-A credit rating, which it has held for nearly a century. The new worries came as Republicans and Democrats moved even further apart, pushing separate plans for reducing the nation’s deficit and raising its borrowing limit.

More than 4,300 applicants for 60 solar plant jobs (Associated Press)

A new solar plant in southeastern Tennessee received more than 4,300 applications for its first 60 jobs. Wacker (VAHK’-er) Chemical Corp. spokesman Bill Toth said Monday that applicants who were not picked for the first jobs will be considered as hiring continues.

Wacker CEO says plant may open ahead of schedule (Times Free-Press/Pare)

Wacker Chemical’s chief executive said Monday the company’s solar plant near Charleston, Tenn., could turn out bigger and come on line faster than originally planned. Wacker CEO Ingomar Kovar told the first 60 or so employees hired by the company that the factory may bring on a total of 700 employees, up from 650 announced earlier.

Drop in Surgeries Throws Off HCA Earnings (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Nashville-based HCA expects smaller profits this year than initially predicted after a disappointing second quarter. CEO Richard Bracken talked to investors and analysts about the performance Monday.

Fire department to reduce medical runs in Cleveland, Tenn. (TFP/Higgins)

Beginning Sept. 1, the Cleveland Fire Department will scale back on the emergency medical calls it answers. The department will not “stop providing medical runs,” said City Manager Janice Casteel, but it will cut back on some, allowing other responders such as paramedics to handle them.

5 TEAM Centers workers facing layoffs get new jobs (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

A local special-needs pediatric therapy hub has hired five senior employees from TEAM Centers Inc., the state-subsidized mental health facility that’s closing its key clinical program next month. “We wanted to decrease the hysteria and anxiety,” said Melody Gaston, an occupational therapist and owner of the Center for Pediatric Therapy.

Tennessee 42nd in 5-year job growth (Memphis Business Journal)

A new analysis of federal data shows not many states lost more jobs in the last five years than Tennessee. According to On Numbers, a Memphis Business Journal affiliate, Tennessee has lost 170,600 jobs since 2006, the 42nd worst state performance.

Nashville school calendar dates in flux (Tennessean/Haas)

Plans to extend Metro Schools’ 2012-13 school year — starting it on July 25 — were met with skepticism Monday night at a meeting to get parents’ opinions. About 60 people joined a public discussion at Martin Professional Development Center.

Public Meeting Will Discuss Possible School Calendar Changes (WPLN-Radio)

Options for next year’s Metro schools calendar are up for discussion at a public meeting Monday evening. Two of the four schedules being considered would push the district’s 2012 start date up, one as early as July.

Charter School Official: “Open Enrollment” Shifts Focus (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee has received its first application for a charter school that’s not in the big cities. Previously charter schools have only been in the urban areas of Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga.

Audit reveals grading problems, schedule snafus at Ridgeway Middle (CA/Roberts)

An audit of Ridgeway Middle School released Monday shows widespread instances of teachers giving every student the same grade last fall after months of class-scheduling problems. The 30-page document focuses on massive scheduling issues, which created problems with the way attendance was reported.

Grading Controversy at Ridgeway Middle School (WREG-TV Memphis)

An audit of Ridgeway Middle School released on Monday reveals problems in the grading, attendance records, and school equipment management during the fall of 2010. Most notably, during the first grading period of the school year, many students received the exact same grade.

Grading and Attendance Problems at Ridgeway Middle School (WPTY-TV Memphis)

After months of delay, Memphis City Schools released an internal audit that uncovered widespread grading and attendance problems at Ridgeway Middle School. The audit released on Monday, July 25, 2011, raises serious questions about who was in control at the school last fall.

MCS Board Sets Tuesday Meeting On City Funding Standoff (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Schools board members meet in special session Tuesday, July 26, at 7:15 p.m. to take up the offer by the city of Memphis to pay $64.8 million in installments to the school system. The payment plan would defuse a threat by the board to delay the Aug. 8 start of the school year until MCS was paid one of several dollars amounts the school system says it is due.

School Board Schedules Special Meeting for Tuesday Night (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

The Memphis School Board has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday night at 7:15. At issue is a funding plan from City Hall and whether schools will open on time on August 8.

Heat tough on livestock; farmers inventive (Associated Press)

Hot weather is affecting not only people but livestock as well. In Loudon County, farmer Gage Goddard says his farm lost a lamb recently because a fan broke down. Several others became dehydrated, but survived.




Times Editorial: Holiday on sales taxes in Tennessee (Times Free-Press)

There’s help at hand for consumers looking for a way to stretch already tight household budgets to cover the cost of many items youngsters need at the beginning of the school year. Tennessee’s sixth annual sales tax holiday is scheduled Aug. 5-7.

Editorial: Virtual Academy is a welcome innovation for state’s students (N-S)

Tennessee has been in the online education world for some time, but the new Tennessee Virtual Academy based in Union County promises to kick the process up a couple of notches. Indeed, it might well figure into serious education reform.

Editorial: The quest for clean energy (Commercial Appeal)

The West Tennessee Solar Farm puts this area on the battle front in developing a sustainable source of clean energy. Traveling along Interstate 40 between the Stanton and Stanton-Dancyville exits, motorists can see Tennessee’s latest foray in the effort to develop a sustainable alternate energy infrastructure.

Sam Stockard: TN Dems, GOP trade places on sales tax cut vs. reserves (DNJ)

Political roles are reversing in state government as Democrats scramble to regain clout with a proposal to cut food taxes and boost education with excess revenue. The so-called tax-and-spend party of Democrats is reshaping itself as the party of tax cuts, while Republicans, formerly with the party of small government, like the feel of that money in their hands now that they control the Legislature and governor’s office.

Guest columnist: Fully evaluate economic benefits (Tennessean)

Government sponsored economic development efforts started at the birth of this nation when the Virginia Company was organized to exploit opportunities for King James I in the New World. Since, government sponsored initiatives have expended billions of dollars on canals, railroads and other infrastructure along with tax breaks and employment incentives.

Guest columnist: Incentives vital in this economic climate (Tennessean)

One of the primary functions of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is to work with economic development prospects — either relocating firms or expanding firms — to create jobs in Middle Tennessee. Working with these corporations as they consider multi-million-dollar investment decisions is a complex and often long-term process.

Editorial: MTSU survey shows focus on students amid crunch (Daily News Journal)

We aren’t surprised that more Middle Tennessee State University graduates are giving their alma mater some pretty high marks. A recently released survey of 3,153 graduating MTSU seniors revealed that 83 percent said if they had it to do all over again, they would re-enroll in Middle.

Guest columnist: Jim Cooper: Modern day Davy Crockett (Tennessean)

My husband and I both have an interest in history, so we read with interest the Op-Ed piece by James Boylston and Allen Wiener on Davy Crockett last week in The Tennessean. In their article, the authors extolled Crockett’s fight against partisanship in Congress and suggested that, unfortunately, he “would feel very much at home on Capitol Hill today.”

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