September 9 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Names 5 New Members to Film, Entertainment, Music Commission (TNR)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty today announced board appointments for the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission (TFEMC). The TFEMC board represents entertainment industries across the state in music, film and television.

Haslam expects review of TN regulations by fall (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Some fear he’ll cut restrictions The Haslam administration’s project to reduce regulation and make Tennessee friendlier to business is still gathering data. It will be late in the year before a set of recommendations is ready.

Sigler appointed to state commission (Nashville Ledger)

Gov. Bill Haslam has named attorney Christy C. Sigler to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth representing the Mid-Cumberland region. Sigler, a native Knoxvillian, practices law in Murfreesboro, specializing in representing juveniles and families in juvenile court.

 Celebration ‘grand’ in every sense (Daily News Journal)

It’s been one hundred years in the making, and two years in the prepping. MTSU’s Centennial Blue Tie Gala is tonight at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Murfreesboro.

TN tracks Race to the Top spending (Associated Press/Loller)

A new report from the state comptroller’s office has found that local school districts are spending their portion of Tennessee’s $500 million award of federal Race to the Top funds in a variety of ways. Those include purchasing new books and materials, hiring coaches for teachers and principals and paying teachers extra for student achievement or doing jobs that others don’t want to do.

State Report Looks at Race to the Top Spending (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A new study from the state comptroller’s office looks at how Tennessee schools are spending the state’s Race to the Top funds. The state received 500 million dollars from the federal government, with every local school district getting a share of that money. 

Wacker gets another $36 million in state aid (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The State Building Commission on Thursday tentatively approved an additional $36.1 million in taxpayer funds to help Wacker Chemical carry out a planned expansion of its polycrystalline silicon plant near Cleveland, Tenn. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Senate speaker and Building Commission chairman, said final approval is subject to state Comptroller Justin Wilson’s examination of the contract and discussions with officials in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.

Cookeville man indicted for attempted TennCare fraud (Herald Citizen)

A man who wanted pain pills allegedly committed two crimes trying to get them, according to court records. Jimmy Dale Adkins, 36, of Auter Avenue, Cookeville, was recently indicted by the Putnam County grand jury on the charges of attempted TennCare fraud and prescription forgery.

TennCare enrollment available for new applicants Sept. 12 (Sparta Expositor)

A limited number of qualified low income individuals or those with high, unpaid medical bills who are aged, blind, disabled or the caretaker relative of a Medicaid eligible child, may be eligible for coverage under the ‘TennCare Standard Spend Down’ program. ‘Standard Spend Down’ is available through a waiver to the Medicaid program for a limited number of low income people who need the required guidelines.

IT training for court clerk’s staff in Rutherford County is sought (Gannett)

County leaders hope to hire an information technology project manager to update court computer software that dates back to 1989. “We’re losing efficiencies,” Circuit Court Clerk Laura Bohling told members of the Rutherford County Commission’s Budget, Finance & Investment Committee Thursday night.

House Repubs. Hear Complaints on Workers’ Comp, Unemployment Benefits (TNR)

Republican lawmakers are expected to address the state’s workers’ compensation system next year and revisit the issue of extended unemployment benefits, based on a meeting of the GOP’s House small business task force in Nashville on Wednesday. The task force heard anecdotal evidence of people who are currently accepting unemployment benefits but are not willing to apply for jobs.

Tennessee lawmaker says Amazon should treat state same as California (TFP/Sher)

A major critic of Tennessee’s deal with Amazon.com says the state deserves treatment similar to a preliminary agreement with California in which the Internet retailer agreed to begin collecting state sales tax after a one-year reprieve. “I think Amazon would want to try to treat states the same as far as collection of the sales tax,” Tennessee Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said Thursday.

Ramsey Supports Cost-to-Business Estimates for Proposed Legislation (TN Report)

Tennessee House Republicans made a point Thursday of declaring their interest in identifying burdensome regulations they can lift from businesses in the state. In the same vein, the Senate’s top lawmaker wants to add one on government: A requirement that bills under consideration in the General Assembly include an estimate of the costs they’d potentially have on Tennessee employers.

Tennessee’s voter-ID law draws congressional scrutiny (Tennessean/Bewley)

Laws that require voters to show photo identification at the polls reduce election fraud, supporters of Tennessee’s new voter ID law told Senate lawmakers Thursday. Opponents of such laws countered that they target low-income, minority and student voters, who are more likely to vote for Democrats and might lack government-issued IDs such as driver’s licenses and passports.

State Republicans criticized for fundraiser at governor’s mansion (CP/Woods)

Tennessee Republicans drew criticism Thursday for planning another fundraiser at the governor’s mansion, this time asking for as much as $50,000 from high-dollar contributors. Gov. Bill Haslam’s press secretary, David Smith, defended the Oct. 3 fundraiser as “not out of the ordinary.”

Committee suggests tax hike (Jackson Sun)

Haywood Co. to consider recommended 20-cent property tax rate increase After four months, about 26 meetings and one rejection, the Haywood County budget committee hopes it reached an acceptable property tax rate Thursday. The committee, made up of six county commissioners, voted 5-1 in favor of recommending a property tax increase of 20 cents, which would bring the tax rate to $2.58 per $100 of assessed value.

Alexander Ready to Work with President, Corker Rejects “Superficial Fixes” (WPLN)

On a day when many Congressional leaders are responding to a speech they haven’t heard yet, Tennessee’s senators added their two cents. Lamar Alexander, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, says his party is ready to work with the President.

TN lawmakers mixed on Obama speech (Gannett)

President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan received a lukewarm reaction from Tennessee’s lawmakers Thursday night. Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville said the president “made a good high-energy speech to get America back on track,” but the state’s Republican lawmakers reacted more critically.

Cohen asks Justice Department to investigate Schnucks sale (CA/Sullivan)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen asked the U.S. Justice Department Thursday to look into the antitrust implications of the sale of Schnucks stores to Kroger and “whether it will negatively affect competition.” The Memphis Democrat wrote to Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, first describing the longtime Memphis institution Seessel’s, whose stores were bought out by Schnucks in 2002.

Tenants, landlords hit hard by cuts in rental aid (Tennessean/Sisk)

Section 8 program trims vouchers A federal program that helps low-income families pay their housing costs is being squeezed by a weak economy. High demand and federal cuts have stretched the budgets for Section 8 vouchers, payments to landlords that help cover the rent for low-income families.

Guardsmen to be honored Saturday in Memphis (Associated Press)

More than 200 members of the Tennessee Air National Guard’s 164th Airlift wing will be honored Saturday in Memphis for their service. It will be a “Hometown Heroes” ceremony, which recognizes airmen who deployed for more than 30 straight days for various operations.

Court Upholds Health Law (Wall Street Journal)

A federal appeals court in Virginia dismissed two challenges to the 2010 health overhaul Thursday, marking a victory for the Obama administration and supporters of the law. At issue was whether the federal government can require Americans to either carry health insurance or pay a fee starting in 2014, a central plank of the law.

Reports find mismanagement of homeland security grants (Stateline)

Since 2003, the federal Department of Homeland Security has funneled $34 billion to states to shore up their capabilities for responding to terrorism. But a number of recent investigations leading up to the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have detailed various ways that states have mismanaged the grants or used them to go on spending sprees that have not helped them with preparedness.

Securing nuke materials was DOE’s top priority on 9/11 (News-Sentinel/Munger)

As it became obvious that the morning events of Sept. 11, 2001, were the work of terrorists, the U.S. Department of Energy moved urgently to protect the nation’s nuclear materials — some of which were aboard trucks crisscrossing American highways. Paul Golan, the Department of Energy interim manager in Oak Ridge, was at DOE headquarters in Washington at the time, and he was part of the management team that gathered in the Emergency Operations Center and responded to the unprecedented attacks on the U.S. mainland.

10,000th VW Passat rolls off the line today (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The 10,000th VW Passat produced at the Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga plant rolled off the assembly line today. The vehicle — a white TDI clean diesel with a premium chrome package — is among thousands of Volkswagen Passats being shipped to dealers this month in preparation for car sales to begin within the next couple of weeks. 

Skills gap in Memphis swallows jobs (Commercial Appeal/Evanoff)

Memphis has a high jobless rate. Washington, D.C., is lower, and Boston is lower yet. Now a new study tries to get at why — it’s the education gap. 

Tennessee Center Reports Hospital Safety Improvements (Memphis Daily News)

Patients at Tennessee hospitals are safer on several key measures today than they were three years ago, according to information from the Tennessee Center for Patient Safety. The center was launched in 2007 by the Tennessee Hospital Association’s nonprofit, education and research subsidiary, Tennessee Hospital Education and Research Foundation, to provide education, resources and tools to help hospitals accelerate their performances in quality and patient safety initiatives.

Shelby County Schools board picks 5 for transition team (C. Appeal/McMillin)

As Shelby County School Board members discussed who they would select Thursday to the school-merger transition team, longtime chairman David Pickler talked of filling “gaps” and removing “any taint” from the process. The five choices that came from a two-pronged ballot process of the SCS board’s seven members did cover many of the priorities Pickler outlined, save one — there are no current parents of SCS students. In Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, the board found the “strong suburban voice” that vice-chairman Mike Wissman asked for.

Pickler Picks Five for Consolidation Commission (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Schools Board chairman David Pickler has selected the mayor of Bartlett, a county schools parent, the longtime head of the Shelby County Education Association, a reitred county schools administrator and a former Shelby County commissioner to serve on the schools consolidation planning commission. Pickler went with the five selections recommended by the other six board members Thursday, Sept. 8, at a special board meeting. Under state law, Pickler could choose anyone he wanted without board consent.

Commissioners Hear School Board Applicants (Memphis Daily News)

The Shelby County Commission’s 10-hour interview session this week with several dozen applicants for appointment to seven positions on the new countywide school board was, at times, more of an education for them than it was an introduction of them to the commission. Ten of the 13 commissioners who will make seven appointments to the board gave the applicants for the appointments a good look at most of the still-hot political embers surrounding the coming consolidation.

McDonald Among Prospects for Norris-Todd Planning Commission (M. Flyer)

Responding to a surprise protest from member Diane George that he might have done an end run around the state’s Open Meetings Law in announcing ten top scorers from among 19 nominations by Board members for membership on the Norris-Todd Planning Commission, chairman David Pickler on Thursday obliged her by calling for a revote from scratch. Sentiment on the Board was clearly with Pickler rather than with George (several members maintaining that their roles were purely advisory and that Pickler had authority under Norris-Todd to make the appointments on his own), but at the chairman’s insistence, the revote was held.

Sumner County’s new schools chief deals with lawsuits, cuts (Tenn./Hubbard)

New Sumner job challenges Phillips Del Phillips, 39, walked into his job as Sumner County’s director of schools three months ago, and it’s already required him to furlough employees, close a night school, pick 91 positions to cut and work through lawsuits filed by the county’s teachers union over contract agreements and the ACLU over whether schools promote Christianity. Phillips, who succeeded longtime director Benny Bills, is a former Columbus, Miss., superintendent who rose through the ranks as a high school marketing teacher to athletic director to head of the central office.

Hamilton schools up 286 students over last year (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

Hamilton County’s elementary and middle schools continued to gain students this fall, though high school enrollment is on the decline. The Hamilton County Department of Education released its 20th-day enrollment count Thursday, which showed an overall enrollment of 42,236 students, up 286 from last year’s 20th day count of 41,950.

Inmate work in schools criticized (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Willett)

Loudon bans jail labor when kids present Following an incident last month at a middle school, Loudon County Schools has implemented a policy prohibiting county jail inmates from working in county schools while children are present. Loudon County Schools Director Jason Vance confirmed that inmates from the county jail were used Aug. 19 to provide labor at North Middle School in Lenoir City while students were there.

Connecticut: Connecticut Tax Roulette (Wall Street Journal)

For the latest instruction in arbitrary tax policy, we turn to Connecticut, where Governor Dannel Malloy is opening the state’s coffers to retain businesses ready to bolt his new tax regime. Mr. Malloy has promised $20 million of forgivable state loans to UBS AG if it keeps at least 2,000 jobs in the Nutmeg State for five years. 

OPINION

Editorial: High time for TBI’s synthetics crackdown (Daily News Journal)

Lives are being ruined. It’s time to take action. Our thanks to area law enforcement agencies for cracking down this week on Rutherford County convenience stores suspected of selling synthetic drugs, a problem that was increasingly becoming a scourge in the community. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation led the effort, dubbed “Operation Synful Smoke,” that targeted 36 locations in the county.

Editorial: Knox County’s new ordinance needed to battle malfeasance (NS)

Knox County employees now are compelled to report instances of fraud and abuse they might observe on the job under an ordinance passed last month by the Knox County Commission. Failure to report financial misconduct could result in disciplinary action, including firing.

Editorial: An unhelpful distraction (Commercial Appeal)

County Commissioner Terry Roland’s conduct Wednesday during the commission’s interviews of applicants for seven seats on the new school board for Memphis and Shelby County was disgraceful and a disservice to his constituents. His actions lacked any sense of the decorum that citizens should expect from their elected officials.  

Greg Johnson: Gibson Guitar raids outrageous act from Obama administration (NS)

Only the good Lord knows what Ronnie Van Zant said when “The Man” rolled up to Gibson Guitar Corp. facilities in Nashville and Memphis on Aug. 24. Van Zant, lead singer of Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died in a plane crash in 1977, but not before recording “Mr. Banker,” a bluesy plea from a poor Southern boy to a pin-striped type to take his 1950 Les Paul guitar — a Gibson-made classic — as collateral for a loan to bury his dead daddy.