September 6 TN News Digest

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

Haslam travels state to address labor issues, unemployment (City Paper/Woods)

With Washington shifting gears from stimulus to cutbacks, pressures are increasing on state governments to take economic recovery into their own hands — and Gov. Bill Haslam is traveling Tennessee to try to convince voters that he’s on the case. The governor has assumed a dual role — part cheerleader and part reassuring family member — as he touts his administration’s efforts to attract jobs.

State’s answer to failing schools relies on outside charters (CP/Whitehouse)

On the same day the man tasked with overseeing Tennessee’s most academically woeful schools came on board, his newly created state office uncorked a massive request for qualifications in search of organizations interested in opening charter schools. Timing — both developments occurred on the first day of August — surely wasn’t coincidental.

Haslam Picks Cates for Consolidation Group (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has picked Memphis philanthropist and business leader Staley Cates as his nominee for the 21-member schools consolidation planning commission. Cates is president of Southeastern Asset Management Inc.

Flooding forces evacuations in Chattanooga area (Times Free-Press/Lukachick)

As the water began to rise above Joy Medford’s neighbor’s tires and past the bumpers Monday afternoon, she knew it was time to leave her Fort Oglethorpe apartment. With a baby on one hip, bags in the other hand and a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old running through the knee-deep water covering the complex parking lot, Medford was able to evacuate before the water was too high.

Chattanooga area flooding forces evacuations, detours (TFP/Lukachick, Smith)

A record-breaking rainfall cascaded down in sheets and torrents Monday, straining dams and threatening new flooding in low-lying areas today despite ground that had been starved of moisture for weeks. The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, which arrived Sunday, could dump a total of 10-11 inches of rain on the Chattanooga area by tonight and cause more regional flooding, according to forecasts by the U.S. Weather Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

ET soaked with nearly 5 inches of rain (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

East Tennessee was slammed with nearly 5 inches of rain on Labor Day — and the downpour is not expected to halt until today. The steady heavy rainfall that began Monday morning created traffic havoc and flooded roads throughout the day around Knox and some surrounding counties.

More rain adds to flooding woes for Claiborne County (WATE-TV Knoxville)

Heavy rain caused problems for East Tennessee residents on Labor Day, but for people in Claiborne County, the water was especially worrisome. More than two months after flood waters caused widespread damage across the county, officials were still struggling Monday to find money for road repairs.

Lee’s remnants cause twisters, flooding in South (Associated Press/Turner)

The destructive remnants of Tropical Storm Lee slithered farther north Tuesday morning after spawning tornadoes, flooding numerous roads, sweeping several people away and knocking out power to thousands. Record amounts of rain have fallen in parts of Tennessee, and more was expected.

Wet blanket: Remnants of Lee soak region (Johnson City Press)

While many people were hoping for bright blue skies and a chance to take full advantage of Labor Day by spending some time on the lake or having a barbecue in the back yard, Mother Nature had other plans. Tropical Storm Lee put a damper on Monday’s celebrations as a constant stream of storms moved throughout the region.

State officials urge motorists to slow down in heavy rain (WATE-TV Knoxville)

In the midst of Monday’s downpour, even the colorful Tennessee Department of Transportation HELP truck was less visible. “I would rather have snow than rain,” said HELP truck operator Karen Roberts.

Tennesseans to be urged to prepare for bad weather (Associated Press)

Thirty-seven persons were killed in Tennessee tornadoes in April. The Mississippi River reached 14 feet above flood stage in Memphis last May.

Transfer deals widen paths to graduation (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Kevin Moore is deciding between two futures: a marketing degree at the University of Tennessee or a music degree at Middle Tennessee State University. While he decides which to pursue, the Knoxville native is working toward an associate degree at Pellissippi State Community College.

Federal dollars funding most of state’s budget to recruit jobs (N-S/Humphrey)

About three-fourths of Tennessee’s economic development effort is funded by the federal government which, as we hear from Washington these days, is in the throes of pondering a substantial reduction in its expenditures. At first blush, federal cuts might seem to pose serious problems for the state’s business enhancement endeavors — until one looks at its budget history Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes has instructed all state government departments to draft contingencies for a 30 percent reduction in their federal funding.

State monitoring Loudon landfill (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Willett)

Yogurt-like sludge a factor in ’10 landslide Loudon County’s Matlock Bend landfill — the scene of a large landslide this past November — is still under a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation order to mitigate the problems that caused the slide. Experts say the problem is based on the unique characteristics of a type of industrial waste produced by the Tate & Lyle Co. in Loudon.

MTSU to air lessons on Chinese language (Associated Press)

Tennessee students in grades two through five will be able to get lessons in the Chinese language through a program at Middle Tennessee State University. “A Bridge for Better Understanding: Chinese Language and Culture” is a 16-lesson series beginning Sept. 13 and airing weekly through April 18.

TN Court of Criminal Appeals Judge J.C. McLin dies after battle with cancer (AP)

J.C. McLin, the second African-American to sit on Tennessee’s Court of Criminal Appeals, has died after a bout with cancer. He was 64.

Criminal Appeals Court Judge McLin Dies (Memphis Daily News)

A memorial service has been set Friday, Sept. 9, for State Court of Criminal Appeals Judge J.C. McLin of Memphis. McLin died Saturday of pancreatic cancer.

Legislative battles loom over lottery scholarship options (C. Appeal/Locker)

A fight is brewing in the Tennessee legislature over how to tighten eligibility for the state’s lottery-funded scholarships in order to cut the program’s costs. The outcome will affect would-be recipients of the grants.

Charter school backers push for independent approval (C. Appeal/Roberts)

Proponents of charter schools in Tennessee will ask lawmakers next session to back an independent board with authority to approve new schools, saying they can no longer sit back and watch local school boards act on anti-charter prejudices. “The biggest issue is quality,” said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter School Association. ”

Andy Berke, online school operator trading barbs (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The political equivalent of a school-yard brawl has broken out between one of the nation’s largest for-profit providers of online learning programs, K12 Inc., and a state legislator from Chattanooga who is proving to be one of the company’s toughest Tennessee critics. In an Aug. 28 column published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, labeled the Virtual Public Schools Act as “possibly [the] most destructive” bill to pass the Republican-controlled General Assembly this year.

TEA: ‘Education reform’ an attack upon teachers (Times-News)

Tennessee Education Association members and officials make no bones about it: They believe “education reform” passed by the General Assembly this year was a direct attack on teachers, education and the teachers union. But another group that spoke out in favor of outlawing collective bargaining may make inroads representing teachers in the collaborative conferencing that will replace the bargaining.

Voter education gears up ahead of photo ID law (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s new law to require nearly all voters to show a photo identification card at polling places beginning next year has led state officials and interest groups to plan education campaigns before the 2012 elections. Tennessee is one of six states with Republican-controlled legislatures to pass a photo ID law this year, joining 17 states that already had the requirement.

Quirky TN laws let prisoners vote (Tennessean/Cass)

For one eight-year, four-month period some 30 years ago, criminals could do anything they wanted in the state of Tennessee without losing at least one freedom: the right to vote. That fact now haunts Mary Carolyn Roberts, a candidate for a Metro Council seat representing the West Nashville district where three state prisons are located.

Rutherford redistricting plan divides neighborhood, but lines may change (Gannett)

The Rutherford County Commission’s Redistricting Committee has placed Blackman Farm homeowners who live across the street from each other in different commission districts in a proposed district map. The 11-member committee unanimously proposed a plan placing the west side of Blaze Drive in Commissioner Trey Gooch’s District 20 and the east side of the neighborhood in Commissioner Matthew Young’s District 16.

Knox County employees now required to report fraud, waste (N-S/Ferrar)

From now on, if Knox County employees do not report fraudulent, illegal or wasteful activity in their department or by their co-workers they will face disciplinary action, even termination. That’s according to an ordinance passed on second and final reading by the Knox County Commission at its Aug. 22 meeting and sponsored by Commission Chairman Mike Hammond.

Miss. River tried changing course during flooding, leaving huge bill (CA/Charlier)

James Parker steps onto a sandy ledge to get a clearer view of where the Mississippi River almost cut Presidents Island in two, tearing out a half-mile-wide chunk of land and leaving water and flocks of geese on a place where cotton formerly grew. Parker, crew chief for the Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission, says he’ll never forget the first time he saw this testament to the raw power of the Mississippi. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Volunteer fire departments struggle to recruit members (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Little kids can still get excited by firetrucks leading their local parades, but by the time they’re teenagers, actually fighting fires doesn’t often capture the imagination quite like football, video games and the next text message. It’s the latest frustration for some volunteer fire departments in Middle Tennessee, which have seen the ranks of volunteers dwindle and grow older while emergency calls increase.

Roll-your-own cigarette machines draw scrutiny (Tennessean/Toone)

Lawrence Davis has purchased his last pack of Camel Lights. After smoking for 36 years, he has no plans to stop. Instead, the West Nashville man has found an alternative to get the Turkish mellow tobacco taste for nearly half the price.

Corker: No plans to sit out debt debate (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says he doesn’t intend to sit quietly on the sidelines as the 12 members of a super congressional committee explore ways to cut federal spending. “I think when you’re serving in the Senate and you come from a life of business, you want to always be involved in the type of issues our country is dealing with,” says the Chattanooga Republican, who had hoped he would be picked to serve on the panel.

High-risk health care plans fail to draw crowd (Stateline)

Throughout the rancorous public debate over the national health law, two provisions have maintained broad public support. One is the requirement that insurance companies let young adults up to age 26 remain on their parents’ policies.

Posting temporary, but presence will still be felt (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

Paul Golan, the Department of Energy’s interim manager since April, will be leaving Oak Ridge at the end of September to return to his full-time job as federal overseer at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. His presence, however, may be felt in Oak Ridge long after his departure.

Hamilton County ethanol facility planner puzzled, waiting (TFP/Haman)

Kevin Condra planned to open a business and establish a corporate headquarters in the town he calls home. He set his sights on the last piece of property to be developed in a Hamilton County industrial and office park.

Local firm partners with lab to solve solar riddle (News-Sentinel/Brass)

In the race to make more efficient, cheaper solar technology, a Jefferson City company is closing in on a solution one of its founders says could revolutionize the way photovoltaics are made. Mossey Creek Enterprises is one of four companies working under a cooperative research agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop new and improved solar technology.

Metro middle schools get on block scheduling (Tennessean/Hubbard)

High-school-like scheduling adds time for reading, math Metro Nashville middle school students are getting a small taste of life in high school this year. The district’s 34 middle schools adopted block scheduling for the first time.

Council Could Consider Schools Settlement (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Council members take up the schools consolidation lawsuit settlement at their Tuesday, Sept. 6 sessions. The meeting at City Hall, 125 N. Main St., begins at 3:30 p.m.

Deadline today to apply for 7 new school board seats (C. Appeal/McMillin)

When the Shelby County Commission voted last week to move forward with the process of filling seven newly created county school board seats, a small skirmish developed over what kind of questions would be asked of candidates, and in what form. Ultimately, Education Committee chairman Mike Carpenter won out with his preference for dispensing of common questions members say they definitely want answered by including them on a written questionnaire.

Troubled Schools Try Mimicking the Charters (New York Times)

Classrooms are festooned with college pennants. Hallway placards proclaim: “No Excuses!” Students win prizes for attendance.

Victims of meth lab blasts fill burn unit, avoid prosecution (Tennessean/Quinn)

A man in his 60s lies in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s burn unit, being treated for disfiguring burns to his eyes and arms. He denies it, but the doctors and nurses are sure the man was injured when a methamphetamine lab exploded.

OPINION

Guest columnist: In health-care mecca, infants at risk (Tennessean)

Music City is fast becoming Medical City. These days, Nashville’s health-care companies generate $70 billion in revenue and pump nearly $30 billion into the city’s economy annually — an amount nearly five times that of the music industry.

Editorial: The transfer option (Commercial Appeal)

One of the sanctions for schools whose students fail to make adequate yearly progress on standardized achievement tests two years in a row makes perfect sense: Give students in those schools the option of transferring to another school where the AYP trap has not been sprung. So why do fewer than 5 percent of Memphis City Schools students in so-called “failing” schools transfer, although more than 40 percent are eligible?

Free-Press Editorial: Tax increases, more ‘stimulus’ won’t work (Times Free-Press)

It’s odd to hear President Barack Obama and his Democrat allies in Congress continue calling for tax increases as the way out of the United States’ economic crisis. For one thing, raising taxes during bad economic times is dangerous at best, because it further suppresses whatever limited private investment is taking place.

Free-Press Editorial: High-dollar rural Internet service (Times Free-Press)

You may recall that one of the things the 2009 stimulus act was supposed to “stimulate” was greater access to higher-speed, broadband Internet service, especially in rural areas. Well, some rural areas did get better Internet access through the stimulus.