September 13 TN News Digest

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

CEO says TN officials understand entrepreneurship (Associated Press)

Scott Case, CEO of the Startup America Partnership, says Tennessee officials understand that fostering entrepreneurship will drive economic prosperity. In a statement released Monday by the state, Case said Tennessee is well positioned to become a leading entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.

Huffman: No ruling on school funding (Mountain Press)

While local officials say they feel like they’re making progress convincing state education officials to make some changes in school funding, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman remained noncommittal Monday. Huffman, who was in the area to be part of the Tennessee Superintendent Study Council Conference, said he has had “helpful” sessions with people representing Sevier County, but dodged offering an opinion on the subject.

Haslam addresses annual conference (Mountain Press)

Guests at this week’s 62nd annual Superintendent Study Council Conference were in for a surprise Monday, when First Lady Crissy Haslam stopped by to welcome the superintendents and thank them for all of their hard work. “Leadership is the key for success,” she said.

Applications available for appeals court opening (Tennessean)

The state Judicial Nominating Commission is accepting applications for a West Tennessee opening on the Court of Criminal Appeals. The opening on the court was created by the death of Judge J.C. McLin earlier this month.

TN colleges ranked among nation’s best (Tennessean/Hall)

Several Tennessee universities received high regional rankings in U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of the nation’s best postsecondary schools, being released today. Six Tennessee universities made the top 50 for the South: Belmont at No. 7, Union at No. 15, Lipscomb at No. 19, Christian Brothers at No. 24, and Freed-Hardeman and Tennessee Tech, tied at No. 39.

University of Memphis, Jackson State enter pact (Memphis Business Journal)

The University of Memphis has finalized an extension of its Partnership Enrollment Program to include students at Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tenn. Students will be admitted to the University of Memphis while still enrolled at Jackson State, easing the transition from the two-year school to the four-year one.

UT professor part of $12 M grant team researching oil spill effects (N-S)

UT professor analyzing effects of Gulf oil spill When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April 2010, eventually spilling huge amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, University of Tennessee Associate Professor Annette Engel headed straight for the Louisiana coast. Engel, in earth and planetary sciences at UT, worked with a team of scientists from across the United States to determine the quality of the coastal ecosystems before they were harmed by the oil spill that took almost three months to cap.

TennCare Spend Down Program Accepting Applications (WCYB-TV Chattanooga)

The TennCare Standard Spend Down program will begin accepting applications beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday, September 12. Here are the facts.

TennCare Opening Enrollment For 2,500 Applications (WTVF-TV Nashville)

TennCare is opening limited enrollment Monday night for the Standard Spend Down program. The program helps low income Tennesseans pay for medical bills. TennCare has set up a special call in line for applicants that will be open from 6:00 to 8:30 P.M. Applicants must call 1-866-358-3230.

‘Operation Synful Smoke’ to combat synthetic drugs usage (City Paper/Nix)

Last week, Middle Tennessee law enforcement officials threw down the gauntlet on the rising use of synthetic drugs. Or at least they hope they have.

State library now has new Civil War letters (Associated Press)

For the first time, the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville has a collection of letters from white officers who led black troops during the Civil War. The collection is “Brother Charles: Letters Home to Michigan,” correspondence of the Wadsworth Brothers.

Haynes stepping down from bench (Nashville Post/De Lombaerde)

Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Haynes will retire after 29 years on the bench. Haynes will step down Nov. 15.

Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes will retire Nov. 15 (Tennessean/Gee)

Davidson County Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes, a powerful and influential fixture of Nashville’s court system, announced her retirement Monday. The 74-year-old judge will step down Nov. 15.

Ramsey: Push to Cut Red Tape Continues (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

After a big unveiling this spring, there have been only sparse updates at TNRedTape.com. That’s a website started by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, and paid for with money from his political action committee.

Ramsey: Did Republican donations lead to Gibson raid? (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has taken to Facebook to defend Gibson Guitar Corp., which has become the latest cause celebre of anti-regulation conservatives after it was raided by federal officials late last month. Federal authorities raided Gibson’s Memphis and Nashville operations looking for illegally imported wood, the second time officials have done so in as many years.

POST: https://www.facebook.com/notes/lt-governor-ron-ramsey/the-criminalization-of-free-enterprise/10150293225232912

Cooper describes law applied to Gibson Guitar as ‘way too broad’ (C. Paper/Woods)

Congressman Jim Cooper joined the defenders of Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp. Monday, saying the law that makes certain imports of wood illegal is “way too broad.” Also Monday, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called the federal raids of the guitar maker “downright scary” and “abhorrent.”

Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law defended by state officials (TFP/Sher)

A top state election official defended a new law requiring Tennesseans to have government-issued photo IDs to vote. But State Election Coordinator Mark Goins acknowledged he can point only to one, possibly two, instances of someone being convicted of impersonating someone else when trying to vote. “Well, it’s kind of like the speed limit,” he said in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Durbin: Tenn. voter ID law hampers ballot access (Associated Press/Schelzig)

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jim Cooper are urging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to take steps to ensure ballot access under Tennessee’s new law requiring a photo ID to vote. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is holding hearings on new voter ID laws in the Senate.

Democratic senator attacks TN voter ID law (Tennessean/Sisk)

A high-ranking Democratic senator says a new law requiring photo identification to vote raises unnecessary hurdles that could violate federal civil rights law. U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said at a news conference Monday in Nashville that the Supreme Court should re-examine the voter ID laws that Tennessee and several other states passed this year.

State Voter ID Law Attracting Federal Scrutiny (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Longstanding Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is questioning the new Tennessee law requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the law this spring.

Cooper, Durbin Raise Concerns Over Voter ID Law (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s new law requiring a photo ID to vote is drawing fire from a few Democrats in Congress. Today Nashville Representative Jim Cooper hosted Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

ELECTION COMMISSION: Voter ID law draws questions, concerns (DNJ)

The newly passed voter photo identification legislation is one of those laws that’s going to require a significant public education campaign to ensure voters are prepared when they show up at the polls next year. That was the latest concern with the law among Rutherford County Election Commission members at their Monday night meeting, where even commission members said they were still confused about the details of the new law.

UT debate team shares thoughts about voting ID law (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

A senator from Illinois wants Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s attention all over new state law requiring a photo ID to vote. Haslam signed the bill back in June.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin pushes national Amazon legislation in Nashville (NBJ)

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was in Nashville Monday touting his proposal to solve the national online sales tax dilemma for which Tennessee has been a key battleground. The Illinois Democrat spoke with reporters this morning alongside U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville.

Sen. Durbin backs national standard on Internet taxes (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The U.S. Senate’s No. 2 leader came to the state’s capital Monday where he promoted his legislation creating a “national standard” on Internet sales-tax collections that would affect Tennessee — a state where officials are debating a tax-collection deal cut with Amazon.com Inc. U.S. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised the deal Amazon struck last week with California over sales tax collections.

Illinois Senator Pushes Internet Sales-Tax Plan in Nashville (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

A longstanding Illinois Senator was in Nashville today touting a plan to make large Internet retailers like Amazon.com collect sales taxes. That’s something Governor Bill Haslam has said is needed to really solve a state squabble over whether Amazon should collect Tennessee sales tax.

‘Durbin amendment’ debate hits Nashville (Nashville Business Journal)

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin defended his legislation limiting interchange fees, a piece of 2010 financial reform that has become notorious among bankers who blame it for the death of widespread free checking. Durbin, D-Ill., spoke in Nashville to reporters today alongside U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville. Asked about the “Durbin amendment” to federal financial reform, the senator said that consumers will see economic benefit as its regulations take root. “The retailer will be more profitable,” Durbin said.

Red light camera tickets plunge (Johnson City Press)

The number of motorists cited monthly for red light violations through the steely eyes of Redflex Traffic Systems’ cameras in Johnson City this year dropped by nearly half when Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law legislation to check the power of the digital law enforcement tool. In June, 909 citations were issued. The bill sponsored by Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, went into effect July 1.

Cleveland, Tenn., city council redistricting plan fails (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The City Council’s redistricting plan ground to a halt Monday. Under federal law, local and state governments are required to redraw district boundaries based on population shifts and minority concentration based on 2010 U.S. census figures. Local governments have until Jan. 1, 2012, to reconfigure districts.

Outside Magazine praises, slams Chattanooga in cover story (TFP/Smith)

Ranks Scenic City as best place to live while rattling off list of faults More than one-third of online voters chose Chattanooga as the “best town ever” in Outside magazine’s contest to determine the nation’s foremost outdoors destination. That’s a “hands down” win, said Ryan Krogh, the magazine’s research editor. But the cover story in Outside’s October issue reads more like a chapter from writer Chuck Thompson’s upcoming book slamming the South than an ode to an outdoors paradise.

Chattanooga eyes adding $42 million tunnel (Times Free-Press/Hightower)

The city could embark within months on a $42 million dream of building a new tunnel through Missionary Ridge. But the tunnel that could be created still solves only half the problem. “Even though it’s not optimal, it would be a heck of an improvement,” said Lee Norris, deputy administrator for the city’s Department of Public Works.

Knox bans registered sex offenders from county libraries (News-Sentinel/Donila)

People listed on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry are banned from visiting county libraries under an executive order issued Monday by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett . He said they can still use the county library system’s online services and have a proxy check out and return materials on their behalf.

Anderson Co. sells $24.7 million in bonds for jail expansion, schools (NS/Fowler)

Anderson County received lower than expected interest rates on $24.7 million in general obligation revenue bonds issued to fund major expansions of the jail and various county school projects, Mayor Myron Iwanski said Monday. With that average 3.75 percent rate, the county will save more than $2.25 million in interest payments over the life of the loans, Iwanski said.

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais bill would repeal NLRB rule (News-Sentinel/Collins)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is trying to head off a new workplace rule that will require employers to prominently display posters containing information about a worker’s right to unionize and bargain collectively. DesJarlais, R-Jasper, Tenn., filed legislation Monday that would repeal the new rule, which was finalized last month by the National Labor Relations Board. Under the rule, most employers will have to start posting the information on Nov. 14.

DesJarlais’ reaction mixed on president’s jobs speech (Daily Herald)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais said, “The devil is in the details,” when it comes to the job stimulus plan President Barack Obama unveiled Thursday. DesJarlais, a Republican representating Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District which includes Maury County, said the plan has some promising aspects but he’s not holding his breath until he reviews the complete details early this week.

Obama plan may aid Nashville schools (Tennessean/Bewley)

Schools would get $68M for updates and construction Metro Nashville could receive more than $68 million in school construction money if Congress passes President Barack Obama’s jobs plan, according to White House estimates. The $447 billion plan includes $25 billion for construction and modernization projects at public K-12 schools across the country.

U.S. Spending Billions on Rural Jobs, but Impact Is Uncertain (New York Times)

The Obama administration is investing billions of dollars to promote economic development in rural areas by bringing broadband service and small-business financing to regions with chronic poverty and high unemployment. But critics say the administration has little to show for its efforts, which highlight the difficulties of creating jobs in remote areas.

Cash-strapped state parks struggle to stay open (Stateline)

Advocates for California’s financially beleaguered state parks system celebrated a victory last week after lawmakers passed a bill that would make it easier for some of the 70 state parks threatened with closure next year to remain in business. But the law, if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, would be far from a panacea for a parks system that saw an $11 million cut in its 2011 state budget and anticipates the same reduction in 2012 – a situation that Elizabeth Goldstein, President of the California Parks Foundation, describes as “devastating.”

Student-Loan Defaults on the Rise (Wall Street Journal)

Default rates on federal student loans have risen sharply in recent years, the U.S. Department of Education reported Monday, blaming the increase primarily on weak job growth in a tepid economy.”These hard economic times have made it even more difficult for student borrowers to repay their loans,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

TVA hears Claxton concerns (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Blackerby)

Property owners want more detail on Bull Run plans Several skeptical Claxton residents said they’re still in the dark despite a Monday evening briefing by TVA Vice President John Kammeyer about the agency’s preliminary plans to buy homes and property near its Bull Run Fossil Plant for a proposed coal-ash storage site expansion. “I’ve been to three of these meetings and I know less than before,” said Steve Ownby, who lives within earshot of Bull Run’s smokestack on New Henderson Road in Anderson County.

Drop in TVA fuel cost more than offsets rate hike (Associated Press)

Tennessee Valley Authority ratepayers in October will get a break from lower fuel costs, with average residential bills expected to drop by as much as $3.50. Despite a 2 percent increase in the utility’s base rate starting next month, a TVA statement Monday said a projected reduction in demand for power and coal-fired generation will actually reduce customer bills.

Most Music City Center contracts go out of state (Tennessean/Cass)

More than 85 cents of every dollar being spent on the Music City Center construction job is going out of Middle Tennessee, with out-of-state firms winning the six largest contracts. But project leaders say two-thirds of the money has wound up back in the region’s economy as subcontractors have hired hundreds of local firms to help them do the work while buying much of their material here, as well. “Sixty-six percent of every dollar we spend ends up coming back,” senior project manager Larry Atema said at a convention center authority meeting Thursday.

Tennessee-made VW Passat delivered to customer (Associated Press)

A California man is the first to receive delivery of a purchased 2012 Volkswagen Passat built at the automaker’s plant in Chattanooga. A statement posted on the Volkswagen of America Inc. website said Matt Duchesne of San Jose, Calif., received the diesel TDI SEL model of the midsize sedan on Monday.

HCA Scrambles to Explain Drop in Medicare Revenue (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The largest chain of for-profit hospitals in the country is trying to explain why its Medicare revenue dropped for the first time in more than five years. HCA officials held a conference call with analysts after markets closed Monday night.

Storm Puts a Drag on Property Sales (Wall Street Journal)

Jitters about possible property damage from Hurricane Irene are prompting banks and other mortgage lenders to demand fresh inspections of a slew of homes currently being sold, potentially slamming the brakes on real-estate deals from North Carolina to New York City. Lenders’ requests mean that closings on thousands of homes under contract could be put on hold, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Shelby County Commission appoints 7 to unified school board (C. Appeal/McMillin)

Drama, surprise and partisan name-calling spiced the Shelby County Commission’s hours-long voting Monday on appointments for the seven new school board seats it created last month as part of the city and county schools merger settlement. By the end, there were results every commissioner could embrace in some form, even if one commissioner, Millington’s Terry Roland, was sticking to his pre-vote assertion that the process was unfair and therefore critics of his pledge to “cross up” the process “can all kiss me on my entire rear end.”

County Commission Completes New School Board (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Commissioners made seven appointments Monday, Sept. 12, to the new countywide school board that takes office Oct. 1. The appointment process completes a 23-member board that is to take office Oct. 1 with the seven appointees joining the nine current Memphis City Schools board members and the seven current Shelby County Schools board members.

Pricetag to keep Gates work afloat at Mem. City Schools: $46 million (CA/Roberts)

The work to improve teacher effectiveness that Memphis City Schools is doing with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will cost $46 million a year to sustain when the Gates money dries up in 2014-15. While district innovators were banking on improved efficiencies, such as larger class sizes, to cover the gap, it is now apparent it will take much more, said Deputy Supt. Irving Hamer, “because a large number of the assumptions have been compromised.”

Teachers Are Put to the Test (Wall Street Journal)

Teacher evaluations for years were based on brief classroom observations by the principal. But now, prodded by President Barack Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, at least 26 states have agreed to judge teachers based, in part, on results from their students’ performance on standardized tests.

Few states examine test erasures (USA Today)

Fewer than half the states routinely analyze suspicious numbers of erasures on standardized school tests, a key method of detecting cheating by teachers or their bosses. Erasure analysis launched a Georgia investigation that uncovered widespread cheating in Atlanta schools and has triggered probes in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Chemical odor leads to meth lab in Hawkins (Times News)

A strong chemical odor led Hawkins County deputies to discover an active methamphetamine lab early Sunday morning at a residence on Carters Valley Road just north of Surgoinsville. Deputies responded to the residence at 1473 Carters Valley Road as a result of a complaint of a strong chemical odor in the area.

OPINION

Editorial: School board smart to ask early about teacher evals (Daily News Journal)

As the current school year unfolds, students aren’t the only ones with something to learn. All Tennessee taxpayers will have an opportunity to watch as the new teacher-evaluation process gets under way and to determine for themselves if the system is the best way to grade our educators.

Columnist: Haslam falls short (Vanderbilt Hustler)

“We really are doing everything we can in Tennessee to create jobs here,” insisted Governor Bill Haslam (R-Knoxville) last week when asked about Tennessee’s growing unemployment rate by a reporter for the Nashville City Paper. A few days earlier at a round-table jobs discussion in northeast Tennessee, Haslam stressed the need for “elected officials who understand business.”

Guest columnist: State a critical partner in program (Tennessean)

Tennessee works to ensure success of each refugee Refugees are admitted to the U.S. legally and are eligible for the same benefits — nothing more — as are native-born citizens. They are financially self-sufficient within a few months and are not dependent on public welfare, but on their own earned income.

Guest columnist: Affected communities should have a say (Tennessean)

Refugee resettlement in America has traditionally been the responsibility of sponsors — families who housed the refugees, charitable organizations which provided assistance and employers with jobs. Until the federal Refugee Act of 1980, refugees were explicitly barred from accessing public welfare.

Guest columnist: Let Cooper lead debate on jobs bill (Tennessean)

Last week, The New York Times dubbed Jim Cooper “the last moderate” on Capitol Hill. It’s a label the Nashville congressman wears proudly, remarking often that this country needs to pay “more attention to policy (and) less to partisan politics.” In July, for example, Cooper urged his colleagues at a congressional hearing to “resist the partisan talking points” and, instead, “be civil to each other.”