July 28 TN News Digest

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

Haslam speaks at Jackson Rotary Club (Jackson Sun)

Health, education and a welcoming environment are all things needed for job growth in Tennessee, said Governor Bill Haslam during an appearance in Jackson Wednesday. The governor spoke about the importance of job growth and education reform at the weekly Jackson Rotary Club meeting Wednesday at the Jackson Country Club.

Video: The A-List: Bill Haslam (WTCI-TV Chattanooga)

In the season finale of The A List, Alison visits Bill Haslam, Governor of Tennessee, at the Executive Residence in Nashville. He talks about the lessons he’s learned in his journey from family businessman to state leader.

Grant links sidewalks, towns (Tennessean/Wiersma)

Elevated walk would help kids walk to school A $69,000 grant to the city will bridge a gap to neighboring Thompson’s Station for area schoolchildren. Gov. Bill Haslam is visiting City Hall at 2:15 p.m. today to award the Tennessee Department of Transportation Enhancement Grant.

New teacher evaluations lauded (Tennessean/Bewley)

National group calls process one of best Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system will give educators frequent feedback on their performance and will dismiss those whose failings can’t be fixed with training, state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told House lawmakers Wednesday. The state’s approach also will promote the techniques of the best teachers, Huffman told members of the House education committee.

Inside Knox County’s New STEM High School (Metro Pulse)

Knox County’s trying something new, in several respects, next month when it opens its new STEM high school, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math “academy,” as it’s known—the only one of its kind in Tennessee. Enabled by a $3 million “Race to the Top” contribution from the state of Tennessee, as well as unusual assistance from the city, which for the most part has not been in the school business in several decades, the school will welcome its first students in just a couple of weeks.

Debt Ceiling Stalemate Casts Uncertainty Over State’s Credit Picture (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is planning a September trip to meet with major credit rating agencies in New York. He’s thankful it isn’t sooner. “I’m glad we’re not going now because it would be chaos,” Haslam said Tuesday, referring to the congressional battle over the debt ceiling and the nation’s own credit rating.

PCMC Celebrates Community Health Week, Aug 7-13 (Buffalo River Review)

Governor Bill Haslam’s office has notified Perry County Medical Center (PCMC) about plans to proclaim August 7 – 13 as Community Health Center Week. The Governor’s proclamation will single out Perry County Medical Center for the years of service to an underserved community, by stating: “I encourage all residents of Perry County to celebrate the importance of their health center by visiting Perry County Medical Center during this time; it is a great opportunity to meet your local providers, participate in health screenings and other events.

TBI raids Millington city offices, serves warrants (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Shelby County District Attorney’s office investigators raided city offices in Millington on Wednesday morning. District attorney spokesman Vince Higgins said the officers were serving warrants after an investigation into a complaint alleging official misconduct.

Corruption Probe Surfaces in Millington (Memphis Daily News)

A criminal investigation into corruption within Millington city government that began late last year surfaced Wednesday, July 27, with searches of government offices in the town by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents and investigators with the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office. A written statement from the prosecutor’s office confirmed an “ongoing criminal investigation.”

Pick Tennessee Products celebrates 25th anniversary (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Pick Tennessee Products is celebrating its 25th anniversary promoting locally grown agricultural products across the state. Pick Tennessee Products began as a campaign inside grocery store to help identify locally grown produce but since its beginnings in 1986 its expanded to include farm direct foods and farmers markets.

Sentencing changes reduce crack cocaine jail terms (Tennessean/Haas)

Hundreds may be eligible under new sentencing policy Sixteen years ago, Errol Washington was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison on crack cocaine charges — nearly double what it would have been if it were powder cocaine. But Washington, 43, may be among hundreds of Middle Tennessee offenders eligible for early release from federal prison after a significant change in federal sentencing policy.

Tenn. high court making it easier to seek divorce (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Supreme Court is allowing certain court forms to be accepted in courts across the state in some divorce cases. The high court on Wednesday approved eight plain language forms that can be used in uncontested divorces without minor or dependent children.

For some in Tennessee, divorce just got easier (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Starting Sept. 1, Tennesseans without minor children or pension plans will be able to file for divorce without lawyers, using “plain-language” forms approved Wednesday by the Tennessee Supreme Court provided they agree on the terms. The court adopted a new rule creating the forms for uncontested divorces and making them acceptable in courts across Tennessee effective Sept. 1.

Lawmakers Begin Drawing New Lines on Political Map (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Republican lawmakers are gathering in small rooms on Nashville’s Capitol Hill to work out maps for next year’s elections – new districts for the state House, state Senate and for Congress. The state legislature has to re-draw the district lines every ten years, following the census, so the districts will be roughly equal – the aim is “one man, one vote.”

State starts education campaign regarding voter photo ID law (City Paper/Woods)

State officials say they’re starting a public education campaign about the new law requiring Tennessee voters to show photo identification. The photo ID law takes effect with elections in 2012, and Secretary of State Tre Hargett said Wednesday the campaign is aimed at avoiding confusion at the polls.

Legislator says nurses were wronged (Associated Press)

Licenses restored after suspensions were challenged A Republican state legislator who helped three nurse practitioners get their licenses back says he advocated for them because he felt their constitutional rights were violated. Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport is one of two lawmakers who have acknowledged using their legislative positions to some degree to force the Tennessee Board of Nursing to reconsider the suspensions of Bobby Reynolds II, David Stout Jr. and Tina Killebrew.

Tracy favors ‘Caylee’s Law’ bill in Tennessee (State Gazette)

State Sen. Jim Tracy said last week that he plans to follow legislation introduced by his colleague State Sen. Bill Ketron to adopt a so-called “Caylee’s Law” in Tennessee. “I do feel like there needs to be tougher penalties for that situation, where someone doesn’t turn in a disappearance on time,” said Tracy.

Green Party, Constitution Party sue over TN ballot access (Tennessean/Sisk)

New law doesn’t address judge’s concern of stringent rules, they say Two minor parties are suing again over access to election ballots, saying Republican and Democratic lawmakers have resisted changes despite a judge’s ruling that the state’s rules to get on the ballot were unconstitutional. The Green Party of Tennessee and the Constitution Party of Tennessee have filed a suit in federal court arguing that Tennessee’s election laws continue to present an insurmountable hurdle to third-party candidates who want to see their party affiliation on the ballot.

State banking commissioner travels on bankers’ money (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

State Financial Institutions Commissioner Greg Gonzales has made 14 out-of-state trips in the past 18 months, receiving about $14,000 in reimbursement for his travel expenses from a department budget financed by the businesses it regulates. The trips, Gonzales says, are for keeping open lines of communication with other state banking regulators, federal officials and officials in the lending business.

Politicians catching up on late property taxes (Tennessean/Cass)

Several politicians who were late paying their property taxes this year have paid up since The Tennessean started raising questions about their delinquency, but three others still owe thousands. State Rep. Brenda Gilmore paid the $1,081.03 she and her husband owed on their Bordeaux house July 11, eight days after the newspaper published a front-page story showing she and six other elected officials and candidates had not paid on time.

Memphis budget cuts cause library layoffs, changes in hours (C. Appeal/Boozer)

City of Memphis budget cuts will cause 43 part-time employees who work in Memphis Public Libraries to lose their jobs. The cuts also are forcing 14 of the libraries to reduce their hours of operation beginning Monday.

Jim Cooper Braces for Gerrymandering (Metro Pulse)

Congressman Jim Cooper was one of only five House Democrats to vote for the Republican Cut, Cap and Balance budget amendment last week, and he has a bill to try to keep himself from being gerrymandered out of office. Cooper is a veteran of Tennessee politics, one of the last influential elected Democrats in the state after a round of retirements last election.

Mid-South congressmen seek delay of EPA oil spill regulation (C. Appeal/Sullivan)

U.S. Reps. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., and Rick Crawford, R-Ark., have written to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson asking her to delay implementation of a regulation to prevent oil spills by focusing on its effect on farmers. The regulation, currently in the public comment period, would require containment structures around above-ground oil storage of 1,320 gallons or more.

Dems: Fincher slow with FEC report (Jackson Sun)

Could have named source of campaign loan sooner Rep. Stephen Fincher and federal election officials agree on this much: The Tennessee Republican violated campaign finance laws last year by inadvertently misreporting the source of a $250,000 bank loan to his campaign. But they disagree on a central question in the now-closed case: Could he have corrected the error more quickly?

Federal agency sends Hamilton County less money (Times Free-Press)

Hamilton County will receive less funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this year than in the past to help with food and shelter. The Emergency Food and Shelter Program’s funding, based on employment and poverty level, has dropped 34 percent from about $200,000 to $132,624, according to Hamilton County board Chairwoman Eileen Rehberg.

Federal cuts imperil Tennessee health care (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee hospitals, other health care providers and advocacy groups are making a statewide push to educate and warn the public and elected officials on the dangers of proposed federal budget cuts to health care. The Coalition to Control Spending with Care begins today with a newspaper advertising campaign in five major cities, including Chattanooga.

States nervously watch debt-ceiling impasse (USA Today)

The U.S. government’s stalemate over raising the debt limit is taking a growing toll on states as Tuesday’s deadline draws near, with some canceling bond sales and identifying roadwork and other expenditures that could be delayed. “As the deadline to Aug. 2 comes closer, people are really, really worried,” says Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Uncle Sam to Pay More of the Tab For Health (Wall Street Journal)

Almost half the nation’s health-care spending will come from government coffers by 2020, up four percentage points from 2010, according to new federal spending figures to be released Thursday. The data, published by the trade journal Health Affairs, shows how President Barack Obama’s 2010 health-overhaul law will reshape who foots the bill for the nation’s medical expenses by the end of the decade.

TVA hears questions about sand baskets at 4 dams (Associated Press/Poovey)

Sand baskets installed at four Tennessee Valley Authority dams to protect against the unlikely chance of flooding at its nuclear plants downstream are unnecessary and unsightly, a waterfront community group and others told TVA representatives. State Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City said Wednesday he planned to contact other lawmakers who also have constituents affected by TVA’s decision in 2009 to install the sand baskets — some of them 7 feet tall — at the Fort Loudon, Tellico, Cherokee and Watts Bar dams.

TVA says applying lessons from Fukushima (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

TVA already complies with much of what is called for in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report on lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan, but it is taking steps to implement the report’s other recommendations, TVA said Tuesday. “We’ve already begun taking action to add additional communications equipment, extra diesel water pumps and electric generators at the plants,” TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum said in a telephone news conference.

All Tennessee BlueCross stored data now secure (Associated Press)

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee says it has secured all its stored electronic records and there is no indication any customer information on computer hard drives stolen in October 2009 has been misused. A statement Thursday said the state’s largest health insurer has completed a $6 million project that spokeswoman Mary Danielson said makes it possibly the first large company and first health insurer to encrypt all stored data.

Hutcheson ready to borrow from Erlanger (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Hutcheson Medical Center will make its first six-figure dip into Tennessee taxpayer money, borrowing $700,000 from Erlanger Health System to meet payroll costs for July. Funded by Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties, Hutcheson entered a last-ditch management agreement with Erlanger, which offered up to $20 million in credit as part of the April deal.

School board approves contract for charter school in Bartlett (CA/Garlington)

Before the Shelby County school board approved its first contract with a charter school, board members peppered an official for an hour Wednesday with nonstop questions about his operations. The board voted 5-0, with member Diane George abstaining.

Pathways to Crisis (Memphis Flyer)

Numerous twists and turns have led to the current city of Memphis-MCS showdown. It was about money then, and it’s about money now. One of the subtexts of the 2008 decision by the Memphis City Council to cut back on its annual financial commitment to Memphis City Schools was what was generally perceived as a perceived lack of accountability in MCS’ expenditures.

MCS Payment Plan Gets School on Track (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Council members will probably cut the city’s funding of the Memphis City Schools system for the current fiscal year to reflect a drop in student enrollment as noted by state education officials. All but about $1 million of $9.9 million cut in the $78 million sought by MCS leaders would be made up in the payment plan approved by the city schools board this week.

OPINION

Editorial: U.S. default threatens state (Commercial Appeal)

Citizens have sufficient reason to let Congress know they’re tired of waiting for a settlement. As if news about the economy weren’t bad enough for Tennesseans, it got worse this week when the state was listed among five whose credit ratings will probably drop if the federal government’s rating slips.

Frank Cagle: Amazon’s Greed Knows No Borders (Metro Pulse)

Say goodbye to 800 state jobs, for now For those of you who think state employees are slackers, you should know that last Christmas Eve someone in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s Department of Revenue generated a document to ask the Secretary of State’s office to call for a rule making hearing in February to change the definition of a distribution center. This would seem to indicate that the Bredesen administration thought the regulations needed to be changed in order for Amazon to operate distribution centers in Tennessee without collecting sales tax on the purchases.

Craig Fitzhugh: Working people in Tennessee need tax relief (Commercial Appeal)

Our economy is still in recovery. Businesses are hurting, it’s getting harder to send the kids off to college, and even buying groceries has become a struggle for many families. That’s why I believe it’s time for Tennessee state government to stand up and do something to help working people.

Lowe Finney: Voter ID law needless ploy to disenfranchise voters (D. News Journal)

It is a little over a year until the 2012 elections, and you’re eligible to vote for the first time. Maybe you’ve moved to another county, or maybe you haven’t voted in a while and need to know your precinct.

Editorial: Black right to push bill on Medicaid loophole (Daily News Journal)

Kudos to Congressman Diane Black, R-Gallatin, for her efforts to close an apparent loophole in the health-care reform law that could potentially save taxpayers billions of dollars. Black recently began pushing legislation that will fix a $13 billion provision of the 2009 health-care reform law that is increasingly raising eyebrows.

Guest columnist: TVA’s action plan is designed to strengthen nuclear facilities (TN)

Safety of region’s people is priority Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation’s nuclear power leaders, takes the responsibility of protecting the health and safety of the public very seriously. It is a trust with the people of the Tennessee Valley that makes the safe operation of our nuclear power plants our top priority.

Guest columnist: Recent decisions indicate TVA on wrong track (Tennessean)

Fukushima was the fourth major nuclear accident in world history. It marks the continual failure of the most advanced technological societies on the planet to safely harness nuclear power.

Editorial: America’s Credibility Is at Risk (New York Times)

Until this week, Wall Street has shrugged off each new low in the debt-limit debate, confident — in a whistling-past-the-graveyard kind of way — that Washington would raise the debt limit on time. Many Republican politicians have insisted that the economy and the country could shrug off a default.