August 15 TN News Digest

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

Free ‘virtual school’ casts statewide web (Tennessean/Sisk)

Ester Bradford digs into the cases stuffed into a corner of her living room. She pulls out rock samples, tempera paints, a tambourine.

Haslam ‘not even close’ to picking presidential favorite (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

While Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is actively promoting Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Gov. Bill Haslam says he hasn’t really tuned in to presidential politics and is “not even close” to picking a favorite. Haslam told reporters Friday he did not watch last week’s debate among GOP presidential hopefuls — he was meeting with business representatives when it aired — and does not see Iowa “straw poll” as a big deal.

Haslam ‘not close to making a decision’ on GOP presidential race (CA/Locker)

In contrast to people close to him, Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s nowhere close to making an endorsement in the Republican presidential race. “Right now, I don’t have any plans to. I could, down the road, but right now I’m not even anywhere close to doing that,” Haslam said Friday.

State Challenges Seen as Whittling Away Federal Education Law (NY Times)

As hundreds of schools here and across the nation faced being labeled failures under the federal No Child Left Behind law, Montana education officials defiantly informed Washington this spring that they would stop raising testing targets as the law requires, despite warnings that doing so could cost the state millions of dollars in federal aid. But in an agreement to be announced here on Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will allow Montana to keep most of the schools off the law’s blacklist, and the state will pay no penalty.

Haslam unloads backing of loan (Tennessean/Rau)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s stake in a multimillion-dollar loan guarantee was sold to a prominent Knoxville developer three days after a report by The Tennessean uncovered the original transaction. In 2009, while he was mayor of Knoxville, Haslam personally guaranteed a loan of up to $5.5 million to local developer Budd Cullom.

New program giving students shot at entering Tennessee (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

Barbara Tinker’s son was accepted into five colleges across the state but wait-listed on his top choice: the University of Tennessee. Yet, instead of moving into dorms at one of the other campuses across the state, he’ll be taking up residence at Massey Hall on UT’s campus.

SW TN Community College discloses ‘gainful employment’ numbers (CA/Morgan)

Southwest Tennessee Community College bills itself as the “best choice” for Memphians eager to use an associate’s degree to boost their career opportunities, or to advance to a bachelor’s degree. Now, thanks to a federal requirement, Memphians can find out how good their choices are.

THP ramps up traffic enforcement in school zones (Jackson Sun)

The Tennessee Highway Patrol is assisting local law enforcement efforts with a back-to-school enforcement and education campaign, focusing on traffic safety in and around school zones. State troopers are targeting traffic violators, specifically those who speed in school zones and pass stopped school buses.

Federal, state money helps save Franklin battlefield (Tennessean/Walters)

Decades ago, Franklin’s Civil War heritage was covered in asphalt and concrete. Slowly but surely — and with millions in federal, state and local money spent — that’s changed. While state and local donations have been key, since 2006 the national Civil War Trust has helped pour more than $3 million in federal grants into helping buy land where the Battle of Franklin exploded on Nov. 30, 1864.

Senate campaigns stay busy over weekend (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Vines)

A yard sale at the home of Patti Walker on Tipton Station Road in South Knox County was slow but steady as passers-by and others bought items at a fundraiser for the 6th District Senate campaign of Victoria DeFreese. Over in the Bearden area, supporters packed into the campaign headquarters of Becky Duncan Massey, who’s also running for the Senate seat.

2 Tenn. guard units deploying this week (Associated Press)

National Guard units from West Tennessee are leaving this week for the first leg of a trip taking them to Kuwait. The Tennessee National Guard said in a news release that 175 soldiers from the 230th Engineer Battalion in Trenton will leave the armory on Wednesday and 164 soldiers from the 913th Engineer Company in Union City are scheduled to leave on Thursday.

Law could help curb unwanted pregnancies in Chattanooga (TFP/Carroll)

New federal laws requiring birth control in health insurance plans has at least one doctor excited about curbing an already decreasing trend of unwanted pregnancies around Chattanooga. “It’s absolutely an excellent policy,” said Dr. Susanna Carter, a physician at University Health Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chattanooga.

More states say teens must take finance classes (USA Today)

Starting this year, Virginia high school students will need more than reading, writing and arithmetic to snag a diploma. Incoming high school freshmen will be required to take a one-credit course outlining the ABCs of economics and personal finance.

As states cut unemployment benefits, higher business taxes loom (Stateline)

The phones have been ringing a lot lately at Florida’s unemployment compensation headquarters in Tallahassee. It’s not because more Floridians are out of work. In fact, the state’s 10.6 percent unemployment figure is at its lowest in two years.

TVA at crossroads as it decides future of Bellefonte nuclear plant (Tenn./Paine)

Industry, activists watch as vote nears on completing Alabama reactor Tennessee Valley Authority board members are looking with favor on nuclear power as they prepare to vote Thursday on whether to complete a nuclear reactor at the Bellefonte site 110 miles southeast of Nashville. At least one freshly appointed member is studied in energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, which represents a new day for the body.

Tight security, full flights take romance out of flying (Associated Press/ Mayerowitz)

Five-year-old Frank Allocco is 37,000 feet above America, face pressed against the window.“Cool,” he says to his 6-year-old sister. “Francesca, look.”

Memphis and Shelby County school merger’s price tag growing (CA/McMillin)

Bills from the outside lawyers arguing various sides of the school-merger lawsuit have so far totaled $912,895.31 and, with the most recent flurry of court-ordered activity, litigation costs likely well exceed $1 million by now. That’s not including the hundreds of staff hours spent on school-consolidation issues by the in-house lawyers of those parties involved: Shelby County Schools, Memphis City Schools, the Shelby County Commission, the city of Memphis, Memphis City Council and the Tennessee Department of Education.

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: Education and the rule of law (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

There is a high price to pay for inappropriately involving the federal government in public education, a duty that the Constitution clearly leaves to the states and the people, under the 10th Amendment. Many states are objecting to the No Child Left Behind Act, which sets federal standards that schools in each state must meet or else they face sanctions.

Editorial: Honor Amazon deal, negotiate for future fair tax collections (J. Sun)

Collecting Tennessee sales tax from online retail giant Amazon is a dicey issue. Gov. Bill Haslam appears headed in the right direction. On Friday, he advised lawmakers that changes to Amazon’s deal with the state should be arrived at through negotiations, not by reneging on the deal made by Haslam’s predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Guest columnist: Marijuana legalization bill offers safer alternative (Tennessean)

Earlier this summer, to Dwight Lewis’s applause in The Tennessean, the FDA imposed gruesome, supersize warning labels for tobacco products beginning in September 2012. That same week, members of Congress, including Rep. Steve Cohen from Memphis, introduced legislation to allow states to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana.

Editorial: More than jobs, tourists (Commercial Appeal)

The city’s dogged pursuit of a Bass Pro Shops tourist-destination store for The Pyramid is about to become a reality. A story in Friday’s newspaper by Amos Maki, The Commercial Appeal’s City Hall reporter, said that construction to convert the empty sports and events arena into a Bass Pro Shops will begin Oct. 11.

Editorial: TVA must address concerns before approving plant’s completion (NS)

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to complete Unit 1 at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Hollywood, Ala., has drawn close scrutiny from a long-time watchdog — the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. In a report released last week, SACE raised safety and cost concerns about restarting the mothballed construction project.