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August 30 TN News Digest

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

Camden gets $352K grant (Jackson Sun)

Funds to be used for downtown sidewalks, lighting, landscaping Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer have announced the award of a $352,052 transportation enhancement grant to the town of Camden for Phase III of the Downtown Improvements Project, according to a news release. Phase III of the Downtown Improvements Project includes the construction and reconstruction of sidewalks along East Main Street, Church Street, Forrest Avenue and East Lake.

State accepting applications for business grants (Associated Press)

The state is accepting applications for a competitive grant to support nine regional business accelerators across Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the grants will award $250,000 to a regional entrepreneurial accelerator in each economic development region.

State initiative plans grants for regional business accelerators (Nooga)

As part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to create jobs, state leaders are now accepting applications for grants to support nine regional business accelerators throughout Tennessee. “The accelerators will provide education, training, mentoring, strategic and technical support and expanded access to capital to support innovation and regional entrepreneurship,” Tennessee Economic & Community Development spokeswoman Valerie Somerville said in an email.

Gov. issues appreciation certificate to missing children’s advocate (C. Chronicle)

Scott Davis has been and advocate for missing children for close to a decade and he has had the opportunity to work with all forms of law enforcement as well as John Walsh and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in assisting with missing children’s cases. For the last three years Davis has produced and hosted an online program, The Missing to help gain exposure for missing children in the United States as well as around the globe.

Tennessee, neighboring states join to fight prescription drug abuse (Daily Herald)

Tennessee has joined a multi-state alliance to curb prescription drug abuse and trafficking. Representatives for Gov. Bill Haslam, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Department of Mental Health attended the first meeting of the Interstate Prescription Drug Task Force in Ashland, Ky., on Aug.24. Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are the other participating states.

September is suicide prevention awareness month (Herald-Courier)

In Tennessee, an estimated 800 men, women, and children die by suicide each year. More people die by suicide each year than from homicide, AIDS, or drunk driving.

Loudon County woman charged with TennCare fraud (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A Loudon County woman is charged with TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” or using TennCare public health care insurance to go to multiple doctors in a short time period to obtain controlled substances. The state Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, arrested Daphine L. Webb, 31, of Lenoir City, and charged her with two counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain controlled substances.

UT dedicates new College of Pharmacy building (Associated Press)

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro says the school’s pharmacy graduates help form the backbone of the state’s health care system. He commented as the UT Health Science Center dedicated a new 183,857 square-foot College of Pharmacy building in Memphis.

Tennessee to study congestion, safety of I-24 (Times Free-Press/Walton)

Anyone who’s ever crept bumper to bumper along Interstate 24 for an hour to get past a crash or a breakdown on the shoulder knows what “congestion” means. For that matter, people stretching their defensive driving skills to the limit weaving through the crush of roaring big rigs, whizzing commuters and slow-rolling visitors on the old and narrow artery have a pretty solid definition of “highway safety.”

State helping people quit smoking (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

Did you know that in the past year, one in five Knox County teens has smoked a cigarette? The state also earned an “F” last year in tobacco prevention and cessation coverage.

New plans set for new Gatlinburg Wastewater Treatment basin (NS/Alund)

Demolition of a basin that collapsed at the Gatlinburg Wastewater Treatment Plant, killing two workers and sending millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Little Pigeon River, is set for this fall, a plant spokeswoman said. The plan after that?

TBI investigates transmission shop for environmental wrongdoing (CA/McKenzie)

One of the major figures involved in a state investigation of official misconduct, bribery and gambling in Millington is facing a separate probe of alleged environmental wrongdoing. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and state Department of Environment and Conservation officials are investigating a report that unregistered underground fuel storage tanks were removed illegally from the Transmission Doctors, a firm owned by Marlin Roberts, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said.

Pub owners fined, gambling machines ordered removed (Daily News Journal)

Investigation shows units held money Owners of a local pub will be fined about $2,000 by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission after its law enforcement arm discovered money inside gambling machines at the facility. Bunganut Pig owners Rudy Arn and Tony Gainous Jr. were also ordered to dispose of six gambling machines.

Tenn. Court of Appeals to hear Hamilton County sheriff pay dispute (TFP/Burger)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals will now take up the issue of whether the Hamilton County sheriff must equalize the pay of six sergeants. On Monday, Chancery Court records were sent to the Court of Appeals for a case in which a chancellor ruled last month that the Hamilton County Civil Advisory Service Board did not have the authority to make Sheriff Jim Hammond equalize the salaries of six sergeants.

Proposal would end ACT-only path to scholarships (Associated Press/Schelzig)

A special legislative panel is considering a proposal that would end high school graduates’ ability to qualify for Tennessee lottery scholarships through their ACT scores alone. The Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force has been assigned by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville to find ways to stem losses in the scholarship fund’s reserves.

Panel explores changes to Hope Scholarship requirements (C. Appeal/Locker)

Tennessee legislators Monday began evaluating ways to tighten eligibility for lottery-funded scholarships, including one proposal that would disqualify 15 percent of a typical year’s first-year Hope Scholarship recipients. But state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said lawmakers should instead use some of the scholarship program’s $373 million in reserves, which won’t drop to the legally mandatory $50 million minimum until 2024 even if no eligibility changes are made.

Chattanooga attorney chosen for Judicial Nominating Commission (N. Post)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has chosen a Chattanooga employment attorney to fill the Judicial Nominating Commission seat that will be vacated Thursday by Bill Young, who will then become Tennessee Solicitor General. Ramsey chose Bartlett Quinn from a group of nominees that included former Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers as well as a number of downtown-based attorneys.

Dean to Harwell: Don’t split up Nashville’s congressional district (CP/Garrison)

As the Republican-dominated state legislature embarks on the ultra-politicized process of redistricting, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and Mayor Karl Dean have joined forces in delivering a united message: Keep Nashville primarily within one congressional district. In a letter sent last month to Republican Speaker of the House Beth Harwell of Green Hills, Dean wrote that while Harwell has made a “commitment to a fair, transparent process,” others such as state Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney have suggested “Davidson County should be divided to achieve particular political goals.”

Mayor Dean, Rep. Cooper fear redistricting could divide Nashville (TN/Sisk)

Dems say 3-way split would reduce city’s political clout Nashville’s representation in Congress could be split, possibly three ways, Mayor Karl Dean and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said Monday. Republicans in the state legislature are considering a plan to shunt Davidson County voters into districts dominated by its suburbs, Cooper and Dean told a meeting of The Tennessean’s editorial board.

Dean Discourages Multiple Congressional Districts, Turner Says Bring It On (WPLN)

As the General Assembly redraws political lines, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is asking that the city remain primarily under one congressional district. Dean sent a letter to the Speaker of the House last month.

Murfreesboro mosque wins again (Gannett)

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has a right by law to build a bigger place of worship, Chancellor Robert Corlew III decided Monday in upholding his May ruling, although he left mosque foes a path in which to continue their efforts. “Those who are adherents to Islam are entitled to pursue their worship in the United States just as are those who are adherents to more universally established faiths,” Corlew wrote in response to a request from plaintiffs to reconsider his earlier ruling.

Cooper: Time to Rethink How We Train Doctors (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The current system for training doctors takes far longer than it needs to, says Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper. He was speaking to medical students and doctors at Vanderbilt.

House GOP aims to relax coal ash rules (Tennessean/Bewley)

Scaling back environmental regulations on coal ash and power plant pollution will be a top priority for House Republicans when they return from summer recess next week, according to a memo that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sent fellow Republicans on Monday. Several proposed or recently enacted Environmental Protection Agency rules addressing coal ash disposal and emissions from power plants number among Cantor’s list of 10 “job-destroying regulations” that the GOP will seek to undo in the next few months, his memo said.

Money, commissions dry up for adult day centers (News-Sentinel/Nelson)

Most years, well more than half of Sunshine Industries’ budget comes from the contract work its clients, who also get paid, do daily in its workshop. But the recent U.S. recession has meant less work for the 120 or so developmentally disabled adults Sunshine serves, which translates into less money for the nonprofit, said Executive Director Judy Wohlwend.

Steep Rises in Health Premiums Scrutinized (Wall Street Journal)

A new federal and state program on health-insurance rates will determine whether bad publicity alone is enough to stop insurers from levying steep increases. Starting Thursday, the Obama administration and states will automatically scrutinize any proposed health-premium increase of 10% or more as part of the 2010 health-overhaul law.

Health care fraud prosecutions on pace to rise 85% (USA Today)

New government statistics show federal health care fraud prosecutions in the first eight months of 2011 are on pace to rise 85% over last year due in large part to ramped-up enforcement efforts under the Obama administration. The statistics, released by the non-partisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, show 903 prosecutions so far this year.

New Road Signs Will Now Wait (New York Times)

It is a sign of the times: The Obama administration is planning to yield to strapped states and local governments who urged them to slow or be prepared to stop federal safety requirements that they replace thousands of road signs with bigger, brighter, more legible signs by 2018, arguing it would be the wrong way to make them to spend their limited money. The administration plans to issue a proposal Tuesday to eliminate dozens of deadlines for replacing traffic signs to comply with safety standards initiated under the Bush administration, saying that communities should not be forced to install the new signs until the old ones wear out, officials said.

Federal disaster funds for tornado relief halted due to Hurricane Irene (TFP/Martin)

Federal funding for some future long-term disaster relief in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama to help rebuild after the April tornadoes has been halted. Instead, the money will be used for immediate disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Irene, officials said Monday.

Tally of Damages Put at $12 Billion, but That Number Could Yet Rise (WSJ)

The economic damage wrought by Hurricane Irene—everything from washed-out roads to lost hotel bookings—could hit $12 billion or more. That’s the initial assessment of economists and insurance-industry officials who are beginning to count what was lost in the storm.

Future Still Cloudy for Flood Insurance (Wall Street Journal)

The flood damage from Hurricane Irene raises pressure on Congress as it debates how to overhaul the government’s debt-strapped flood-insurance program, but lawmakers remain unlikely to thrash out a long-term agreement before the program is due to expire Sept. 30, insurance and real-estate industry lobbyists said. With Irene’s winds weakening before the hurricane struck North Carolina, the worst of the damage as the storm marched north appeared to be from heavy rains and storm surge.

Schools fill budget holes with fracking revenues (Stateline)

In late July, the Blackhawk School District, 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, joined a handful of other school districts in Pennsylvania looking to cash in on the state’s natural gas boom. In a vote of seven-to-one, the school board agreed to lease 160 acres of the district’s land to Chesapeake Energy, the largest holder of mineral rights in the Marcellus Shale region, which lies underneath Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

Federal safety board slams Y-12’s (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

A federal safety board is again criticizing the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant for not following procedures, raising concern that the persistent problems are “systemic” and undermining the safety of plant operations. Staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board earlier this year conducted an extensive review of how the government’s contractor, B&W Y-12, follows technical procedures and conducts operations.

Summer sizzles for Nashville-area hotel bookings, too (Tennessean/Marsteller)

There’s been a lot less room at local inns this summer, and the crush of visitors has provided a much-needed boost to the Middle Tennessee economy. “We’ve had seven or eight months of growth,” said Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Corn Farmers Eye Weather, Growing Demand (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

It could be a profitable year for corn farmers in Tennessee. International demand from China is up, and while Texas languishes from a months-long drought, Tennessee is in relatively good shape. But some are worried higher corn prices might not be an entirely good thing.

Erlanger defends bid process after awarding Ritz-Carlton contract (TFP/Carroll)

Erlanger Health System spent at least $35,000 on Ritz-Carlton before it awarded the hospitality chain a $288,000 contract to provide customer service instruction at the public hospital, officials said Monday. The hospital initially branded all Ritz-Carlton expenses as a lump sum for training and implementation.

Triton Systems moves operation to Mississippi (Associated Press)

A global manufacturer of automated teller machines is consolidating one of its operations, moving it from Bartlett, Tenn., to its headquarters in Long Beach, Miss. Triton Systems said Monday that moving its ATMGurus operations will result in the creation of at least 30 new jobs. Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Leland Speed says Triton’s move reinforces the company’s confidence in Mississippi’s “business climate and its commitment to our dedicated workforce.”

Irene to bring higher insurance premiums (Associated Press/Wagner)

The $7 billion in estimated losses from Hurricane Irene compound the vast damage caused by weather in the United States this year. Yet despite billions they’ve paid out for floods, tornadoes and earthquakes, big insurance companies can expect another profitable year.

In 8-3 vote, Shelby County Commission approves school merger deal (CA/McMillin)

Monday’s discussion and vote by the Memphis-dominated Shelby County Commission on the schools merger settlement followed a predictable pattern: Memphis members voting to move the process forward and suburban members futilely opposing efforts to give Memphis representation on the county school board. Memphis members like Walter Bailey provided the winning margin in the 8-3 vote, which sets up a new 23-member county board, and praised it as a real step toward unity.

County Commission Approves Schools Settlement (Memphis Daily News)

The Shelby County Commission has approved the settlement of the schools consolidation case and set the process for selecting seven members of a new countywide school board at its Sept. 12 meeting. The Monday, Aug. 29, vote was 8-3 in favor with commissioners Wyatt Bunker, Terry Roland and Chris Thomas voting “no.”

County Commission Endorses MOU (Memphis Flyer)

Despite a predictable rear-guard action from District 4 (suburban) members Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland, a Memorandum of Understanding on the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools was handily ratified by the Shelby County Commission at a special meeting Monday — leaving only the Memphis City Council to complete the cycle. After a mediation process presided over by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, the MOU was agreed upon last week by legal representatives of all the contending parties with an interest in the merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools.

Teacher compensation plan for low-performing schools finalized (CP/Garrison)

Parameters have been set outlining how teachers and principals in 22 low-performing Metro schools can qualify to cash in on financial bonuses based on their in-class performances. The Metro Nashville Board of Education approved last week the criteria teachers must meet locally to land financial incentives courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education’s five-year, $36 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant, dollars sprinkled across 13 Tennessee school districts.

Johnson City, Washington Co. School Boards to consider tax referendum (HC)

School board members in Washington County and Johnson City will soon decide whether or not they’ll pursue a sales tax referendum. With the help of a joint committee, both districts are looking into the possibility of a quarter-cent sales tax increase to help battle a decrease in funding and a lack of revenue.

Feds test teacher bonuses (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Metro, Lebanon among Tennessee districts in federal project If students at Hattie Cotton Elementary in Nashville really outdo themselves on spring testing, Principal Elnora Mitchell-Furdge could get a $5,500 lump-sum bonus check. “It would be nice to take a trip,” Mitchell-Furdge said.

OPINION 

Free-Press Editorial: Low Tennessee, local test scores (Times Free-Press)

Especially at this time of year, as students have recently returned to school, there is high enthusiasm about their prospects for academic success — as there very well should be. Our students are not dumb, after all.

Editorial: Changing family structures impact public education (Jackson Sun)

We hear a lot about family values, especially when it comes to raising and educating children. But, increasingly, the definition of family continues to evolve. In Tennessee, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the trend toward different types of families has accelerated significantly since the 2000 Census.

Editorial: Lost Sea an example of the rich tapestry of tourist attractions (N-S)

The Lost Sea, it seems, has been found by tourists visiting East Tennessee — and it is high time. The natural attraction on State Highway 68 between Madisonville and Sweetwater has a history as interesting as it is long, and it fits well with other natural and human-made attractions in the area as well as the entire landscape, which offers remarkable sights for visitors as well as homegrown Tennesseans.

Guest columnist: Ketron’s tie to ALEC shows real motive on Voter ID (DNJ)

When Sen. Bill Ketron’s guest column on the new Voter ID law appeared in The Daily News Journal (Aug. 4), he was on his way to the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) conference in New Orleans, arriving in time to attend some of the lavish parties paid for by large corporations who are also major contributors to ALEC. His column conveniently omitted a quote from Paul Weyrich, the founder of ALEC, “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government.

Editorial: Down and Out at the Post Office (New York Times)

Neither rain nor snow may stop the United States Postal Service, but will the abysmally divided Congress? The service is reeling toward default and urgently needs the Capitol’s help to modernize and pay its bills.

 

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