September 18 TN News Digest

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

Spring Hill awaits its ride (Tennessean/Williams)

The promise of a new vehicle for General Motors’ Spring Hill auto plant, with up to 2,000 new jobs, raised community and workers’ hopes Saturday. But questions remain about when the work will return, and at what cost to the state.

GM plant to reopen (Columbia Daily Herald)

General Motors will reopen its idled Spring Hill plant, a move that could potentially bring back hundreds of laid-off workers and create thousands of new jobs. A new product for the Spring Hill facility is part of a historic, four-year contract agreement reached Friday night between the United Auto Workers and GM.

Haslam Applauds Dems on TN Job-Development Trek (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam put a personal stamp of approval Friday on legislative Democrats’ plans to launch a jobs tour across the state, which begins Monday, although Republicans and Democrats have held divergent views on how to approach job creation. “I think it’s great.

Haslam defends system for picking judges (Tennessean/Gee)

At Friday’s swearing-in of new Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins, both the judge and Gov. Bill Haslam took the opportunity to criticize pending efforts by state lawmakers to reform the judiciary. Haslam reiterated his support for the Tennessee Plan for selecting appellate judges in Tennessee, in which he appoints Supreme Court justices and appeals judges, who later stand in yes-no retention elections.

Bikers Who Care celebrate successful Toy Run (Leaf Chronicle)

Bill Langford, director of Bikers Who Care, was in a good mood, beaming a smile as big as his bear-like frame as he contemplated the success of this year’s Toy Run. “Well, I’ll tell you,” he said, “the weather was beautiful, the temperature was perfect.

Reversal of lifetime alimony will shape divorce awards (Tennessean/Gee)

Judge says lifetime award inappropriate for wife earning $72K In a highly anticipated opinion that will shape how money is allocated in divorce cases across the state, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the awarding of $15,000 a year in alimony — until death or remarriage — to a Sumner County woman earning $72,000 a year. In a unanimous opinion, the court ruled that lifetime alimony, also known as “alimony in futuro,” is inappropriate when the receiving spouse is healthy, makes good money and has received substantial assets in the division of marital property.

Some THP evidence, testimony barred from trial (Times-Gazette)

A judge has ruled in a vehicular homicide case that certain evidence and testimony by several Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers will not be allowed because he said THP has been reluctant to turn over the evidence. Meanwhile, prosecutors are trying to decide how to proceed in the case, which is set to be heard by a jury in two weeks.

Website feedback could help cut through red tape (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey once met with a farmer who had been cited by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation because he dug a drainage pond on his land without first getting the proper permit. But while Ramsey said he agreed with the state environmental agency’s decision to cite the farmer because he broke the law, the state senator from Blountville said Friday that he disagrees with how the matter was handled.

ACLU says library ban on sex offenders too broad (Associated Press)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has asked Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to rescind his new policy banning sex offenders from county libraries. Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the policy was “overly broad and raises a host of constitutional issues,” according to the letter sent on Friday and posted online by the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/peY18U ).

Tennessee’s obesity epidemic: Fighting the big fight (Tennessean/DeVille)

Trazana Staples was an unlikely candidate to lead North Nashville’s vegetable revolution. Four years ago, she tipped the scale at more than 300 pounds.

Tenn. fire departments lacking in volunteers (Associated Press)

While calls to volunteer fire departments are on the rise, the ranks of these volunteers are dwindling in Middle Tennessee and officials hope a younger generation will step up to the service. Volunteer fire departments account for about 80 percent of all fire stations and 70 percent of all Tennessee’s firefighters are volunteers. But fire officials say departments face more intensive training requirements than ever before and demands of work keep people from making a commitment to the community, the Tennessean reported (http://bit.ly/oGkqAx).

GOP plan puts Brown, Favors in same district (Associated Press/Sher)

The number of black Hamilton County Democrats in the state House will drop from two to one during 2012 redistricting by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, GOP leaders have confirmed to the Times Free Press. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said plans call for combining the majority-black 28th Legislative District held by Rep. Tommie Brown with a large portion of the 29th Legislative District represented by Rep. JoAnne Favors.

Alexander, 71, not planning to slow down (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Lamar Alexander said Friday that a new exhibit at Vanderbilt University featuring the Republican’s pre-U.S. Senate papers and memorabilia does not signal that his political career is nearing an end. “I do plan to run for the Senate again,” Alexander said after touring the exhibit.

Blackburn approved bill behind Gibson raid (Tennessean/Sisk)

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn may be a backer of Gibson Guitar and its CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, but she voted for — after initially opposing — the 2008 bill that led to last month’s raids on the company. Blackburn sided with the majority in overriding a veto by then-President George W. Bush of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, a massive agriculture bill that mainly dealt with farm subsidies but also expanded the trade law that Gibson allegedly violated. Freeze won’t halt disaster recovery (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Martin)

Even though more than $50 million in federal funding to repair and rebuild in the tri-state area after the April storms is frozen while Congress wrangles about budget details, local officials say that suspension hasn’t been felt at the local level. However, a tight budget for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the high number of national disasters this year may mean future projects may not be approved, officials say.

Smokies tornado damage: ‘Nobody has ever seen anything like this’ (NS/Simmons)

They call it the peaceful side of the Smokies, but on April 27, this was where all hell broke loose. At 7:30 p.m., a tornado — part of the massive storm system that tore through seven Southern U.S. states and killed more than 350 people — swept through the western tip of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Blount County.

Amazon offers 1,500 jobs so far for Tenn. centers (Associated Press)

Internet retailer Amazon has offered jobs to about 1,500 people so far as they prepare to open new distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the company began taking applications in mid-May and has worked quickly to staff its two facilities in time for the busy Christmas season (http://bit.ly/p5lwHT ).

TN’s solar industry faces clouded future (Tennessean/Sisk)

Turmoil, price drop come as billions spent on plants Hemlock Semiconductor’s $1.2 billion plant rises up like a new city over the trees and fields near Clarksville, Tenn. More than a dozen cranes dot the skyline of towering arc furnaces and industrial buildings, linked by a network of pipes that grows by more than a mile each week.

Electrolux project has high price, big risks for Memphis (CA/Connolly, Maki)

When appliance maker Electrolux gave Memphis the chance to land a new factory, state and local governments scrambled to offer the company an unprecedented package of money and perks. The incentives they put together are the most generous in modern Memphis history, and they appear to have worked — Electrolux breaks ground Oct. 5 on a $190 million oven and stove factory in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park.

Straberg’s Strategy: cutting costs led Electrolux to Memphis (C. Appeal/Connolly)

Hans Straberg had fired hundreds of people before. But shutting down the Electrolux vacuum cleaner factory at Vastervik in southern Sweden was different — it was Straberg’s hometown. He was born in Vastervik and grew up on a farm nearby.

Studies didn’t count full cost to taxpayers of Electrolux deal (CA/Connolly)

The only due diligence report Tennessee completed for the Electrolux project was a six-page document that celebrated the benefits and didn’t consider the costs of subsidies. Reports paid for by the Greater Memphis Chamber didn’t consider all the costs, either.

Greater Memphis Chamber took driver’s seat in Electrolux deal (C. Appeal/Maki)

In 2004, the Greater Memphis Chamber waged a very public battle against a proposed city of Memphis payroll tax. In 2005, Memphis officials, some still smarting from the opposition, responded by cutting the chamber’s funding.

Calculating the costs — and benefits — of Electrolux (C. Appeal/Connolly)

How did The Commercial Appeal calculate the amount of subsidies to Electrolux? The newspaper interviewed representatives of many agencies: the Greater Memphis Chamber, city, county and state governments, the Delta Regional Authority, Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, the Tennessee Valley Authority and professionals involved in bond deals.

Wanted: schools close to home (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Rapid growth brings calls to build neighborhood facilities Around 8:15 a.m. each school day, students and their parents pad onto the grounds of Nolensville Elementary School on a walking path connected to their nearby neighborhood. The path, also popular for scooters and bikes, is a source of pride for school and town officials who worked together to get funds for it.

Knox leaders tour turnaround Cincinnati schools (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)

One of the first things that Craig Hockenberry noticed when he took over as principal of Oyler School was the number of high-school age students in the community who weren’t in school. “What happened is our kids left us after sixth grade and 86 percent of them never made it to a 10th grade seat,” Hockenberry told a group of Knox County leaders on Friday.

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: Facing economic crisis realistically (Times Free-Press)

The contrast between Tennessee’s and Washington’s handling of the economic crisis could not be any clearer. Faced with high unemployment and a $14.7 trillion federal debt, the president and many in Congress think the solution is to borrow more money, raise taxes and try to spend and “stimulate” our way to job creation.

Editorial: Pass new NCLB (Jackson Sun)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and three Republican colleagues introduced legislation to update and improve the No Child Left Behind Act. The proposal is similar to one put forth by Democrats and closely resembles recommendations from the Obama administration.

Editorial: Commission turns effort to redistrict into sham (Daily News Journal)

The process for drawing new Rutherford County Commission districts was flawed from the beginning, and the actions of county commissioners proved it, especially the rush to judgment. Instead of allowing the County Election Commission to formulate new districts as required by federal law following the 2010 census, county commissioners opted to set up their own panel to complete the task for the next decade — with them in control.

Gail Kerr: Here goes the judge, but she’ll still be colorful (Tennessean)

Circuit Court judge and flamboyant local character Barbara Haynes was quoted in 1997 that her work on the bench “feeds my soul. The day it does not is the day I leave.”