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September 14 TN News Digest

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

Haslam meeting with credit ratings agencies in NY (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam is wrapping up a series of meetings in New York to make the case for Tennessee to keep its high debt ratings. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes held preliminary meetings with two of the three major ratings agencies last month after Standard and Poor’s downgraded the federal government’s credit.

New York rating agencies to hear from Haslam (Nooga)

Facing the possibility of a credit downgrade for the state of Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam is optimistic about meetings taking place this week in New York with major bond and credit rating agencies. “En route to NYC to meet with the three bond rating agencies—TN is and will continue to be a low tax state with a great story to tell,” read a Twitter post by Haslam on Monday, the only official comment from his office prior to the trip.

TRA Chairman Roberson resigning after 36 years (Associated Press)

Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Eddie Roberson is resigning after 36 years at the agency. Roberson is stepping down on Oct. 1, according to a Tuesday report by the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/pYfEgz ).

Roberson Resigns from TRA (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, Eddie Roberson, has announced he’ll resign October 1. His resignation comes at time when the agency’s future is uncertain.

Roberson resigns from TRA as Haslam reviews agency (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Eddie Roberson is resigning effective Oct. 1 as Gov. Bill Haslam contemplates sweeping changes to the agency that oversees dozens of monopoly utilities ranging from Chattanooga Gas to Tennessee American Water Co. The 58-year-old Roberson, who grew up in Chattanooga, submitted his resignation to Haslam on Monday in a letter and posted it Tuesday on the TRA’s website.

TRA chief quits as Haslam contemplates reform of agency (N-S/Humphrey)

Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Eddie Roberson has announced his retirement from the utility oversight agency while Gov. Bill Haslam is planning a second try at overhauling the four-member panel. “Over this almost four decades, a sea of change has occurred in the field of utility regulation and I believe the TRA has navigated well through these changing times,” Roberson said in a letter of resignation to Haslam.

TRA chairman stepping down (Nashville Post)

Eddie Roberson, chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, has informed the agency’s staff that he is retiring effective Oct. 1. Roberson was hired by the Public Service Commission, the predecessor to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, in 1975 and served the commission in Chattanooga.

Tennessee first lady lauds Women’s Final Four (Associated Press)

Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam says the Women’s Final Four in Nashville in 2014 will leave a historical mark on the city and state. She commented Tuesday as she was named honorary co-chair of the event along with Nashville first lady Anne Davis.

Advocates: TennCare call-in process for aid program isn’t fair (Tenn/Wilemon)

Advocates say need for speed is unfair The competitive dialing system for TennCare Standard Spend Down unfairly pits the disabled against people with faster fingers and quicker minds, advocates say. The 2,500 slots for applications were all filled within an hour and a half after the call-in began Monday evening — a process made even more confusing because of a technical glitch that kept any calls from getting answered for 20 of those minutes.

TennCare reaches maximum number of applicants for program (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Within an around an hour and a half, 2,500 people called TennCare on Monday night hoping to get help for their medical bills. Enrollment in the TennCare standard Spend Down Program gives a limited number of qualified people access to Tenn Care health insurance coverage.

Tennessee Tech Gets High Marks for Low Student Debt (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Around 60 percent of Tennessee Tech’s class of 2010 owes no student debt. That’s according to the annual college rankings from US News and World Report.

Busy health clinic in Clarksville getting bigger (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s busiest rural Women, Infants and Children clinic is getting bigger. The facility in Montgomery County has broken ground for an 8,000-square-foot wing.

Harwell hits Cooper, Durbin on voter ID comments (Associated Press)

State House Speaker Beth Harwell is hitting back at congressional Democrats who criticized a new Tennessee law requiring a photo ID to vote. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois joined U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper in his Nashville district on Monday to raise concerns that the photo ID law could hamper ballot access.

Harwell criticizes Durbin, says state has the right to require photo IDs (CP/Woods)

State House Speaker Beth Harwell shot back at Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin Tuesday for criticizing Republicans in the Tennessee legislature for requiring photo ID for voters beginning with next year’s elections. Joined by Congressman Jim Cooper in a visit to Nashville on Monday, Durbin, the U.S. Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, accused Republicans of trying to disenfranchise the poor, minorities, the elderly and other traditional Democratic constituencies by making it more difficult to vote.

Powerful Senator from Illinois Visits Nashville, Denounces TN’s Voter ID Law (TNR)

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday Tennessee’s new photo ID law could disenfranchise voters, especially the poor, elderly, ethnic minorities or those living in rural areas. Tennessee’s Republican-led Legislature approved a law last spring that would require voters to bring a government-issued photo identification with them to the polls.

Cash-for-Gold Busts (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A handful of businesses in Rutherford County are in trouble for allegedly breaking state laws meant to ensure that gold sold for cash actually belongs to the people who sell it. According to the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department, four businesses purchased gold from undercover detectives without asking for identification.

Work at Murfreesboro mosque delayed (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Contractor bidding is latest obstacle Leaders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro said this summer that breaking ground on their mosque would bring relief after a tumultuous year. But an August target date slipped past, and a lack of contractor interest led to an extended deadline — still open — for construction companies to offer bids to build the new center.

Jobs bill won’t work, Black says (Times-Gazette)

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, speaking to Tennessee reporters by conference call on Friday, said she was disappointed in President Obama’s jobs speech last week. “What I heard was a political speech, frankly,” said Black, a Republican from Gallatin.

Health coverage surges among young (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Half a million more young Americans signed up for health insurance between 2009 and 2010, leading high-ranking Democrats to conclude that President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill is working. Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 were the only ones to experience a significant increase in health insurance coverage in that time, according to figures issued Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Democrats See Perils on Path to Health Cuts (New York Times)

As Congress opens a politically charged exploration of ways to pare the deficit, President Obama is expected to seek hundreds of billions of dollars in savings in Medicare and Medicaid, delighting Republicans and dismaying many Democrats who fear that his proposals will become a starting point for bigger cuts in the popular health programs. The president made clear his intentions in his speech to a joint session of Congress last week when, setting forth a plan to create jobs and revive the economy, he said he disagreed with members of his party “who don’t think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid.”

Consultants share plan for improving Metro schools (Tennessean/Young)

Two representatives from the consulting firm Tribal Group spoke at Tuesday’s Metro school board meeting about what they hoped to accomplish in 33 of the district’s lowest-performing schools. The United Kingdom-based Tribal Group was awarded a five-year, $6 million contract, to be funded with federal dollars, after Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register and his executive staff spent the better part of last year looking at potential partnerships, Register said.

County Commission Picks Seven Members for Interim School Board (M. Flyer)

It took several hours, but the Shelby County Commission, which began its deliberations in mid-afternoon, finally managed on Monday evening to fill the last seven places on a 23-member interim school board that will guide the development of a unified all-county school system up to the point of completed merger on September 1, 2013. Given the fact that three members of the Commission — Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland, all from District 4, which covers the non-Memphis portions of Shelby County — have made it clear that they oppose the whole process of merger, everybody seems to have gotten something of what they wanted.

Terms of Consolidation Still Taking Shape (Memphis Daily News)

There is still some uncertainty about the exact terms of the transition to a consolidated countywide school board. And that was reflected in questions preceding this week’s appointments to the board that takes office Oct. 1.

County moving forward on new Carter developer (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)

The Industrial Development Board of Knox County has authorized negotiations with a new developer for the proposed Carter Elementary School in East Knox County. At a Tuesady meeting, the IDB authorized its staffers to negotiate with Partners Development for the new elementary school in the Carter community to replace an older existing school building. 

Teacher sues Knox County school district over suspension (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

A Beaumont Elementary School special education teacher has sued the Knox County school district alleging it has violated her rights for due process when she was suspended last school year. According to the lawsuit, filed Monday in Knox County Chancery Court, Jennifer Willoughby alleges she was told in May that she had been placed on administrative leave without pay for 10 days..

Idaho: For Idaho and the Internet, Life in the Slow Lane (New York Times)

Barry Ramsay, who owns a small manufacturing company here between two mountains, remembers the day his Internet connection crashed for several hours. Work crews had to ride up in snowmobiles to discover the problem.

New Jersey: Christie admin. nixes plan that would have cut Medicaid coverage (SL)

Thousands of New Jersey’s working poor will keep their health insurance under a new administration proposal to restructure Medicaid, abandoning a controversial plan that would have drastically reduced the number of eligible recipients. In May, the state Department of Human Services proposed tightening the income requirements for New Jersey FamilyCare, an offshoot of Medicaid, which provides affordable health insurance for working parents and their children.

North Carolina: Voters to Decide on Same-Sex Marriage (New York Times)

North Carolina on Tuesday took a big step toward losing its status as the last state in the Southeast without a constitutional amendment making it clear that marriage is legal only when there is a bride and bridegroom. The Senate, in a 30-16 vote, agreed to let voters decide during the May primaries whether the state Constitution should ban same-sex marriage. The House approved the measure the day before, 75 to 42. It is already illegal for people of the same sex to marry in North Carolina. If the amendment passes, it will serve to reinforce that ban and make it more difficult for future legislatures to extend marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. It could also call into question domestic partnership benefits offered by public institutions and the application of domestic violence laws, said Holning Lau, an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina. The proposal also would bar the state from sanctioning civil unions. Originally, backers wanted the issue on the ballot in November 2012, where it might help attract voters more likely to vote against President Obama and Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat.

OPINION

Editorial: Redistricting plans need to be made public more quickly (News-Sentinel)

The Republican leadership in the Tennessee General Assembly is missing an opportunity to display the type of transparency the party has trumpeted during its control of both houses and the governor’s mansion. Committees in the House and Senate are meeting behind closed doors to redraw legislative and congressional districts, as required every 10 years after the completion of the U.S. Census.

Editorial: Redistricting committee must think outside lines (Daily News Journal)

We’re still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but the Rutherford County Redistricting Committee is showing all the signs of a political fox guarding the henhouse. Up to this point, the committee charged with putting forth a recommendation for new County Commission district lines following the latest census has given little more than lip service to the possibility that the number of commission seats needs to be changed from 21.

Times Editorial: Student transfers on rise in Hamilton County (Times Free-Press)

Both praise and criticism have been heaped on the federal No Child Left Behind education law since it took effect in 2002. Of course, the most fundamental criticism of the law is that constitutionally, state and local governments — not Washington — should set public education policy.

Guest columnist: Cutback in TVA program kills jobs (Tennessean)

An op-ed column by TVA has recently announced a 75 percent cutback in the size of solar and other renewable energy installations it will approve in its Generation Partners program. Generation Partners is TVA’s successful renewable energy incentive program.

Guest columnist: TVA: Report of secrecy misleading (Tennessean)

The Nashville Tennessean’s Sept. 10 article titled “Critics say TVA operates in secrecy is misleading. The story, which targets TVA’s Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, fails to mention the thorough and comprehensive public review of that and other topics via TVA’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) public briefings process.

Editorial: TVA must be transparent to the public (Leaf Chronicle)

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to most of Tennessee and parts of six other states, is subject to the federal sunshine act. The law provides that meetings of federal agencies be open to the public, except under certain circumstances that are spelled out in the statute.

Frank Munger: Eschenberg popular choice as OR chief (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

You’d think that John Eschenberg had been around for a long time, given his popularity in Oak Ridge. He seems to be liked not only at the U.S. Department of Energy’s field office but in the community as well.

Free-Press Editorial: ObamaCare bound for Supreme Court (Times Free-Press)

A federal appeals court’s recent dismissal of two lawsuits seeking to have ObamaCare overturned has not changed the fact that ObamaCare almost certainly will wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The latest ruling, by a panel of three Democrat-appointed federal judges in Virginia, declared only that the plaintiffs in the lawsuits — filed by the Virginia attorney general and Liberty University — did not have standing to sue.

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