August 9 TN News Digest

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

Tenn. may soon get requested school test waiver (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s request for a waiver to use its own reformed education standards to measure schools instead of those mandated by No Child Left Behind is falling in line with a plan by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan said Monday that President Barack Obama has authorized him to grant the waivers because Congress has failed to act on a long-overdue rewrite of the widely criticized law.

States to get school test waivers (Associated Press/Blankinship)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he will announce a new waiver system Monday to give schools a break from student testing mandates in the federal No Child Left Behind law. Critics say the benchmarks are unrealistic and brand schools as failures even if they make progress.

Key federal education provisions could be dropped in Tennessee (CP/Garrison)

In what Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is calling “encouraging news,” President Barack Obama on Monday ordered the U.S. Department of Education to grant No Child Left Behind waivers to states, a huge unilateral step in making the controversial federal law more flexible. In exchange, states must adopt an unspecified set of education reforms, with details forthcoming in September.

Sept. decision expected on No Child Left Behind (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Tennessee will learn in September if it can ditch the federal No Child Left Behind law that has now labeled more than half of the state’s schools as failing, and use its own plan. President Barack Obama is moving forward with plans to allow flexibility from No Child Left Behind to states that are willing to embrace reforms.

U.S. ed. secretary: Tenn. deserving of No Child Left Behind waiver (NS/Humphrey)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan singled out Tennessee Monday as an example of a state that has done “a great job” as he outlined general terms for states to be exempted from meeting federal No Child Left Behind rules. The comments came during a telephone conference with media 10 days after Gov. Bill Haslam declared that Tennessee had become the first state to formally file a request for a waiver from the federal standards set in NCLB.

U.S. will allow states — including TN — to seek waivers for NCLB law (CA/Roberts)

By early to mid-September, states will be able to apply for a waiver to the testing mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind law. If they can show that students are progressing and that the states are working toward significant reform, they likely will get a pass from what has become an onerous testing and scoring system.

Duncan lauds education reform efforts in Tennessee (Nooga)

If Monday’s announcement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is any indicator, Tennessee will have no problem becoming one of the first states to be granted a waiver from proficiency requirements instituted by No Child Left Behind. Speaking to reporters in the White House briefing room, Duncan cited Tennessee as an example of a state doing “the courageous thing” by raising the bar for testing and accepting a drop in proficiency scores as a result, an action demonstrating the state’s seriousness towards reforming public education.

Tennessee Repeats as Magazine’s Best for Auto Manufacturing (WPLN-Radio)

For the second year in a row, Business Facilities magazine has ranked Tennessee as the top state for Automotive Manufacturing Strength. Editor-in-chief Jack Rogers cites VW’s plant in Chattanooga and Nissan’s expansion in Smyrna as key to the state’s number one ranking, adding – quote – “the Volunteer State is well-positioned to defend it’s automotive crown for years to come.” Second on the list is South Carolina. Michigan ranks sixth.

Governor Bill Haslam Visits Macon County (Macon County Chronicle)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam landed at the Lafayette Municipal Airport on Thursday morning, July 28th, to join Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Terri Lynn Weaver at the ‘Friends of Haslam, Weaver and Beavers’ breakfast, where community members were asked to share their views on education, infrastructure, industry and the economic state of Macon County with state leaders. Following the discussion, a ribbon cutting was held in honor of the airport’s new 10-unit T-Hangar, which was purchased through a $504,295 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division.

Top Tennessee politicians react to debt downgrade (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker were both in Knoxville on Monday in the wake of Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. debt. Haslam was in town to swear in new Knox County Criminal Court judge Steve Sword. Corker attended a few events in Knoxville, including a lunch date where he addressed financial questions at UT’s Knoxville Economics Forum.

Sen. Corker reacts to credit rating downgrade (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

What does the U.S. credit downgrade mean for your bank account? Sen.Bob Corker, R-TN tackled the issue during a luncheon in downtown Knoxville Monday.

Bob Corker says S&P move was a wake-up call (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)

Raise the bar for Medicare coverage, eliminate certain tax breaks and give states more flexibility in administering Medicaid. Those were some of the fiscal fixes offered by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in a visit to Knoxville on Monday.

Tenn. to make case for keeping top debt rating (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee officials are headed to New York this week to make their case for why the state should keep what Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes calls its “prestigious” debt ratings, even after one of the three major agencies downgraded the federal government’s grade. Emkes told The Associated Press on Monday that officials plan to meet this week with officials at Moody’s and Fitch.

States await fallout from federal debt downgrade (Associated Press)

States with high numbers of federal workers or contractors, large military presences or generous Medicaid programs for the needy are among the most vulnerable from Standard & Poor’s recent downgrade of U.S. government debt. Last week’s action by S&P is expected to accelerate congressional action to make deep spending cuts, which could affect those states the most and put their long-term finances on shaky ground.

Officials seek faster service at driver’s license stations (Associated Press)

A new requirement that Tennessee voters must have photo identification is putting more pressure on driver’s license examining stations to cut wait times. The administration of Gov. Bill Haslam is moving to improve the efficiency of the Driver Services Division of the Tennessee Department of Safety.

Woman charged with TennCare fraud (Jackson Sun)

A Fayette County woman is charged with TennCare fraud involving prescription drugs. The Office of Inspector General announced Monday the arrest of Whitney R. Moore, 21, of Somerville.

Ocoee woman charged with seven counts of TennCare fraud (Times Free-Press)

A 45-year-old woman from Ocoee, Tenn., has been charged with seven felony counts of TennCare fraud after using the program to pay for her multiple doctors’ visits and prescriptions. Melissa Cronan didn’t tell her doctors that she’d seen and received the same medications from other doctors in the past month, according to a news release.

Melissa Cronan Accused of ‘Doctor Shopping’ (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

A Bradley County woman is charged with TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors in a short time period to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) with assistance from Bradley County Sheriff’s Officers today announced the arrest of Melissa Cronan, 45, of Ocoee.

Tennessee names Debra Payne to Developmental Disabilities post (Tenn/Sisk)

The state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on Monday named Debra Payne to be its first deputy commissioner, the department’s second-highest position. Payne will assist Commissioner Jim Henry in overseeing the 2,500-person department, which was created in January.

Storm shelters may qualify for state tax break (Associated Press)

Storm shelters may qualify for state sales tax savings under recently passed legislation. The Tennessee Department of Revenue says Tennessee taxpayers who purchase qualifying building supplies to construct storm shelters between July 1 and Dec. 31 can save up to $2,500 on sales tax paid on certain construction supplies.

Harpeth River’s only dam slated for demolition (Tennessean/Walters)

Project in Franklin seen as big step in reviving river For the first time since 1963, the Harpeth River will flow freely along its 125-mile path through five counties, allowing native fish to thrive while fishermen and canoers will have more reason to seek out its waters. The only thing standing in the way is the Harpeth River’s lone dam.

Strong Season for Pot Growers, Plenty of Work for Task Force (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

Criminals growing outdoor crops of marijuana in Tennessee could start harvesting in the next few weeks, and law enforcers say it looks to have been a hearty season. One official says efforts to find and seize plants are on track for an average haul this year, even as federal budget woes have cut the number of helicopters in the hunt.

75 studying at UT in dual enrollment program (Associated Press)

Seventy-five freshmen are now studying at the University of Tennessee as part of the new dual enrollment program with Pellissippi State Community College. They are attending the second summer session at UT and will take classes at Pellissippi during the fall and spring semesters.

Busy first day as U of M opens Lambuth campus (Jackson Sun)

Information sessions start today for potential students; 8,000 visit website With more than 8,000 unique visitors since The University of Memphis Lambuth website launched Friday afternoon, officials hope the web traffic is an indication of students ready to attend the school this fall. The first day of campus operations began Monday for Jackson’s first four-year public university.

Parents question TEAM leader’s company (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

The executive who is closing the key clinical program at TEAM Centers Inc. also heads a for-profit corporation that employs speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists — some of the same positions he says he’s unable to fill at TEAM before he shuts down the program Thursday. One parent whose child was treated by TEAM, a nonprofit that tests, evaluates and studies intellectually disabled Tennesseans, said she didn’t know what to believe.

‘Informant’ lashes TBI probe of Millington Mayor Hodges (C. Appeal/Bailey)

Businessman says report on informal gambling by mayor was manipulation The “confidential informant” who appeared to be the pivotal witness against Millington Mayor Richard Hodges lashed out Monday against a TBI investigation, saying Hodges is guilty only of gambling in friendly poker games at a local repair shop. The witness, Transmission Doctors owner Marlin Roberts, said Hodges never used his office to solicit bribes or threaten him for money, crimes suggested in a TBI affidavit filed on Friday.

Millington Probe Highlights Volatile Relationship (Memphis Daily News)

The relationship between Millington Mayor Richard Hodges and the police chief he appointed, Ray Douglas, has been brief and volatile. The appointment of the former Memphis Police deputy chief was one of the first changes Hodges made when he took office in 2009.

Appeals court upholds Tenn. inmate’s competency (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld lower court rulings that an inmate convicted in the killing of seven people is competent to determine his own legal decisions. Paul Dennis Reid was sentenced to death in the murder of seven people at fast food restaurants in a 1997 crime spree in Nashville and Clarksville.

Future of Judge Carol Soloman in family cases is in question (Tennessean/Gee)

Appeals Court has rebuked her, questioned her neutrality Davidson County Trial Courts Administrator Tim Townsend hopes to gather judges for a meeting this week or next to remove the cloud of uncertainty that has settled over the handling of divorces and other family law matters in Nashville. The discussions could result in one of the city’s most controversial judges no longer hearing the domestic relations docket.

Change of venue sought in judge’s libel suit against TV station (Tennessean/Gee)

Move would avoid conflicts of interest General Sessions Judge Daniel Eisenstein’s lawsuit against NewsChannel 5 probably will be shipped outside the judge’s professional circle and the television station’s viewing area to avoid conflicts of interest. Eisenstein sued News-Channel 5, its parent company Landmark Media Enterprises, investigative reporter Phil Williams, station manager Lyn Plantinga and news director Sandy Boonstra in May for libel and false light invasion of privacy.

State Drafts New, Tougher Rules for Pain Clinics (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Pain management clinics in Tennessee will face new, stricter rules after the first of the year, as the state tries to clamp down on the over-prescribing of pain medications. The new rules are aimed at reining in potential “bad actors” who over-prescribe the powerful drugs.

Matheny Predicts More Tort Reform at Doctors Town Hall (TN Report)

House Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny says the Legislature will probably seek more tort reform next year, and Gov. Bill Haslam, no fan of the new federal health care law, says it’s time to start talking about how to implement the new act anyway. Those developments show that health care issues remain very much on the table for Tennessee.

Feeling the Pinch (TN Report)

With a struggling economy and directives from Gov. Bill Haslam that each of the Tennessee’s nearly two dozen departments re-examine every facet of what government does, state employees are chipping in with ideas for eliminating waste in hopes their jobs will be spared. In fact, there are nearly 100 suggestions sitting on Bob O’Connell’s desk. O’Connell heads the Tennessee State Employee Association, which is offering up to $500 prizes to employees whose cost-saving measures are adopted and save the most cash.

Rep. Fleischmann Visiting Israel Next Week (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Representative Chuck Fleischmann will be among 81 members of Congress visiting Israel during the August recess. The trip marks Fleischmann’s first time overseas as a congressman, and is privately funded by the American Israel Education Foundation, a 501(c)3 that works alongside the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

S&P Downgrade Spawns Flurry of Statements from Tennessee Delegation (WPLN)

A downgrade of the nation’s debt by one rating agency has some in Tennessee’s congressional delegation playing the blame game. Rep. Scott Desjarlais, who voted against last week’s debt deal, said he’s been part of the ongoing effort by House Republicans to put the country on a “fiscally sustainable path.”

Corker wary on Cleveland, Tenn. postal service cuts (Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Eager to prevent the threatened closure of Cleveland’s downtown post office, Mayor Tom Rowland appealed Monday to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to spare the Broad Street office.

Corker visits Blount Mansion as it begins fundraising (News-Sentinel/Vela)

Sen. Bob Corker paid a visit Monday to a downtown home once occupied by another U.S. senator — more than 200 years ago. “It’s a great awareness opportunity for me,” said the Tennessee Republican at the Blount Mansion, 200 W. Hill Ave.

Nashville man says he was blinded, disabled by VA (Associated Press/Poovey)

An Army veteran contends in a damage claim against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that he is blind, disoriented and brain-damaged since getting an eye injection at the VA hospital in Nashville. The $4 million claim first obtained by The Tennessean says Lloyd Sylvis of Nashville walked in the hospital March 29 seeking new glasses as an outpatient.

House Cuts Its Pages, Casualties of Email (Wall Street Journal)

The House is closing its page program, a nearly 200-year-old institution that brought high-school students to work in Congress but that House leaders said had become obsolete and too costly. “Dozens of pages were once needed on the House floor to deliver a steady stream of phone messages to members—but today are severely under-utilized, as members are typically contacted directly via BlackBerrys and similar devices,” wrote House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), in a letter Monday to their colleagues.

Democrats Challenging Administration on Medicaid (New York Times)

In an unusual break with the White House, the Democratic leaders of Congress told the Supreme Court on Monday that President Obama was pursuing a misguided interpretation of federal Medicaid law that made it more difficult for low-income people to obtain health care. The Democratic leaders said Medicaid beneficiaries must be allowed to file suit to enforce their right to care — and to challenge Medicaid cuts being made by states around the country.

After years away, comeback governors try to rekindle their power (Stateline)

The 2010 elections brought a sea of fresh faces to governor’s offices around the country, from Democrat Dan Malloy, who is pushing broad liberal changes in Connecticut, to Republican Nikki Haley, the South Carolina conservative who, at 39, is the youngest state chief executive in the nation. But in three states, 2010 marked a return to the days of old.

The hypocrisy of “states’ rights” conservatives (Salon)

The 10th Amendment is sacred to the right — except when it comes to fighting abortion and gay rights During the last two weeks, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, by most accounts on the brink of a presidential candidacy, has reversed himself on the question of the proper venue for dealing with the two of the hoariest cultural issues in American politics, same-sex marriage and abortion. First, at a Republican governors meeting on July 22, he referred to the recent decision by the New York legislature to legalize gay marriage as something that was “fine with me,” and said further: “That is their call. 

TVA delays startup of Watts Bar reactor to 2013 (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has delayed the startup of its second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant from late 2012 to 2013. The change is included in a TVA statement Monday that announced the Oct. 1 retirement of TVA Nuclear Generation Development and Construction senior vice president Ashok Bhatnagar.

TVA won’t meet deadline on Watts Bar reactor (Tennessean/Paine)

TVA won’t make its deadline next year to finish a second reactor that’s under construction at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, the public power producer announced Monday. Officials aren’t yet sure how much the delay will send up costs for the $2.5 billion project, though they said it should cause little increase in the price of electricity that will be generated by the reactor.

Vision Airlines suspending McGhee Tyson flights Aug. 19 (News-Sentinel)

Vision Airlines, which has been flying three trips a week between McGhee Tyson Airport and Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Fla., since March, is suspending those flights effective Aug. 19. In a statement released late Monday, Vision spokesman David Meers said the company also is ceasing flights out of Chattanooga, Asheville, N.C., and the Louisiana cities of Lafayette and Shreveport.

Federal judge decides school merger is legal (Associated Press/Sainz)

A federal judge has ruled that the merger between Memphis City Schools and the Shelby County school district is legal, paving the way for the creation of a school system with 150,000 students in 2013. District Judge Samuel Mays’ Monday ruling says that the Memphis city school board acted legally when it surrendered its right to exist last December to force a merger with the more successful Shelby County school system. 

Judge in merger suit rules MCS will ‘cease to exist’ in 2013 (C. Appeal/McMillin)

A federal judge ended the first round of the school-consolidation legal battle Monday by ruling that the Memphis City Schools charter was properly surrendered in February and that the current all-suburban-member Shelby County Board of Education is unconstitutional because it lacks Memphis representation. U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays also ruled valid a new state law, known as Norris-Todd, aimed at guiding the merger of MCS and Shelby County Schools with the appointment of a 21-member transition committee.

Mays Rules Schools Consolidation in 2013 (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis federal court judge Hardy Mays has ruled Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools will be consolidated in the 2013-2014 school year and that the Norris-Todd state law governing the consolidation is valid. The long-awaited ruling in the schools consolidation lawsuit came Monday, Aug. 8, and sets the conditions for the merger to come following a March referendum in which Memphis voters approved the surrender of the MCS charter after the MCS board voted to surrender the charter.

Judge Mays Rules: It’s Norris-Todd as MCS-SCS School Merger Goes Through (MF)

Federal judge Hardy Mays, who was in charge of the multiple consolidated litigations regarding the pending merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools, has rendered his decision. In two words (rather, one hyphenated one), it is: Norris-Todd.

Fed Judge Approves Merger of Memphis City And Shelby Co. Schools (WPTY-TV)

By 2013, the Memphis City Schools system will no longer exist. A federal judge ruled Monday, August 8, 2011, that the merger between Memphis City Schools and the Shelby County School District is legal and can go forward. The notice came down in a 146 page document, the result of months of fighting, a public referendum, court challenges and even state intervention.

Judge declares Memphis City Schools will cease to exist in 2013 (WMC-TV)

A federal judge has ruled that the merger between Memphis City Schools and the Shelby County school district is legal, paving the way for the creation of a school system with 150,000 students in 2013. District Judge Samuel Mays’ Monday ruling says that the Memphis city school board acted legally when it surrendered its right to exist last December to force a merger with the more successful Shelby County school system.

City and County React to Merger Decision (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

The fate of the City and County School merger was decided in court on Monday. Judge Samuel Hays ruled in favor of the city, saying that Shelby County Schools must take over Memphis City Schools by the beginning of the school year in 2013.

Political Insiders Talk School Merger (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

A decision on Monday by Judge Samuel Hays solidified the timeline for the takeover of Memphis City Schools by the Shelby County School system. Fox 13’s Darrell Greene was joined by Political Insiders Joseph Kyles and Ben Ferguson to discuss the highly politicized issue.

City School Board Will Consider Legal Action On Merger Decision (WREG-TV)

If Memphis City School Board president Martavius Jones was a teacher Judge Samuel Mays’ school merger ruling might have a tough time getting a good grade. “My first reaction is a bit of hesitation.

Hamilton Co. public schools lag for minority students (Times Free-Press/Garrett)

Of the 37 Hamilton County public schools that failed to achieve federal standards this year, 29 fell short because they struggled to educate poor black students, an analysis of test results shows. Superintendent Rick Smith said it was those students’ test scores that forced the district into a high-priority category, at risk of state takeover if scores don’t improve.

Principals, board talk AYP scores in work session (Jackson Sun)

School board to meet Thursday More than half of the Jackson-Madison County School System’s principals attended Monday night’s work session for the discussion of the recently released adequate yearly progress scores. Director of Research and Accountability Allan Sterbinsky gave a presentation to the board members that provided a school-by-school analysis of student scores, growth scores and teacher survey data.

New Jersey: Gov Chris Christie’s tax stance doesn’t keep wealthy in state (S-L)

Gov. Chris Christie’s first two budgets both have the same deep flaw: They give the state’s wealthiest families a free pass. And that has sharpened the pain for everyone else, especially middle-class homeowners and the working poor. 

OPINION

Ned Hunter: TN automotive industry recognized (Jackson Sun)

Tennessee was named the No. 1 state in the nation for automotive manufacturing strength for a second consecutive year. The recognition was given by Business Facilities, a national economic development publication, in its 2011 State Rankings Report, according to a news release from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

Bill Gibbons: Some say voter IDs hard to get (Tennessean)

Driver’s license centers gear up for voter requests There has been a lot of debate recently over a new law that in 2012 will require most Tennesseans to show government-issued photo identification to cast a ballot at the polls. According to the new law, there are several forms of acceptable identification, including a Tennessee driver’s license with photo, a passport, a photo ID from the federal government, a U.S. military photo ID, or a gun permit card with a photo.

Guest columnist: Test of ID acquisition shows problems (Tennessean)

As an 18-year-old, college-bound student, I am excited to exercise my right to vote for the first time. I never dreamed that our state legislature would make it harder for everyone to exercise this right.

Editorial: Red light traffic cams continue to prove worth (Daily News Journal)

We’re more than happy to warn you: run a red light in Murfreesboro, even without a police car in sight, and you’re likely to get a ticket. Those of you who get that $50 citation in the mail can reasonably assume you’re guilty — that is if you ran that light at the busy intersections of South Church at Middle Tennessee Boulevard, Memorial at Northfield Boulevard, Rutherford at Mercury Boulevard, Old Fort Parkway at Thompson Lane, Broad at Church Street and Broad Street at Northfield Boulevard.

Kelly Moore: Be sure your children up to date on shots (Tennessean)

Believe it or not, it’s already back-to-school time. An important part of parents’ preparation is ensuring children’s shot records are up to date.

Editorial: Smart design for Southwest Tennessee Community College (C. Appeal)

Southwest Tennessee Community College is about to do something special at the corner of Myrtle and Union near Downtown. Construction of a new Nursing & Natural Sciences Building incorporates an “urban” design that holds true to new zoning regulations that promote better pedestrian access and less emphasis on parking lots between the sidewalk and the building.

Sheila Butt: Tennesseans protected from gov’t penalty (Columbia Daily Herald)

Senator Jack Johnson came to the Best Western Inn in Spring Hill and spoke at a luncheon last Wednesday. He talked about the last legislative session and gave a wrap up of our balanced budget, tort reform, tenure reform, voter ID, reducing taxes (Hall’s), adding money to the rainy day fund and being able not to raise taxes in Tennessee in this tough economic time.