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October 26 TN News Digest

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

Governor Visits West Tennessee (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam spoke with some South Side High School students and teachers Tuesday morning as part of a regional visit to West Tennessee. The governor met with teachers in the school library and asked them to raise issues or concerns about education.

Haslam doesn’t support charter school moratorium (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam says he does not support a two-year moratorium on new charter schools after the recently unified school board in Shelby County said it is considering asking state legislators to stop charter school expansion. Haslam said Tuesday that he is not certain that he understands the point of a two-year delay in creating new charter schools and he would not be in favor of a moratorium proposal.

Civil rights museum seeks donors for $40 million renovation (AP/Sainz)

The National Civil Rights Museum on Tuesday launched the public phase of its campaign to raise $40 million for a major renovation of the facility at the old Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined officials from the Memphis museum at a news conference announcing the campaign Tuesday afternoon.

National Civil Rights Museum project gets $21 million jump-start (CA/Loller)

The National Civil Rights Museum announced Tuesday that corporate and state donations already have raised about 77 percent of the $27 million construction budget for renovation and redesign of the 20-year-old institution. At an event to kick off the public phase of the fundraising effort, museum president Beverly Robertson said the museum will shut down its main building at the end of 2012 for the work.

$5M from State for National Civil Rights Museum Renovations (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

The National Civil Rights Museum announced a major contribution by the state to its $40 million renovation project. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was among a number of state dignitaries who were on hand as the museum officially launched the public phase of its capital campaign.

West Tennessee farmers press for ‘common-sense’ rules (C. Appeal/Sells)

West Tennessee farmers told Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday they support the state’s Agricultural Enhancement Program but want more “common-sense” state regulations. More than 100 farmers and state and local officials met for a question-and-answer session at Somerville’s Woodburn Farm as a part of the governor’s three-stop sweep through West Tennessee.

Governor Haslam Unclear on Charter Delay Motive (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

Memphis was one of the stops on another whirlwind tour of the state by Governor Bill Haslam, and he had some stern advice for the new unified school board. When he signed a new law in June to allow an increase in the number of the charter schools in Tennessee, Governor Haslam called its enactment a key piece of his education reform initiative.

Governor Discusses TN Obesity Problem and Billion Dollar Ramifications (WTVF)

Tennesseans can expect to pay an extra thousand dollars a year on health care over the next five years. It’s a key finding in a new study that reveals Tennesseans have the unhealthiest habits of any other state.

City, county departments receive state highway grants (Ashland City Times)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer have announced more than $16.2 million to support highway safety in Tennessee. The funds support the mission of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office to save lives and reduce injuries on Tennessee roadways through leadership, innovation, coordination and program support in partnership with numerous public and private organizations.

Unknowns Cloud Choice on New Insurance Exchange (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee is treading slowly on the decision of whether to set up a state insurance exchange. The federal healthcare overhaul requires states to provide a system for comparing insurance policies and benefits, or let Washington do it.

Roane County woman charged with ‘doctor shopping’ (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A Roane County woman is charged with fraud involving “doctor shopping,” accused of using TennCare to go to multiple doctors in a short time period to obtain prescription medications. The Office of Inspector General and the Roane County Sheriff’s Office today announced the arrest of Tabitha Inman, 28, of Harriman.

Harriman woman charged with doctor shopping (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

A Harriman woman is facing fraud charges for “doctor shopping,” according to the Tennessee Office of Inspector General. Tabitha Inman, 28, is accused of seeing to several doctors in a 30 day period to get prescriptions for pain medications.

Lawmakers study options for lottery scholarships (Associated Press)

State lawmakers are looking at more than a dozen possible scenarios for the future of lottery scholarships, most of which involve cutting the number of students eligible or how much money they get. The Lottery Stabilization Task Force is meeting Wednesday in Nashville and is expected to make a recommendation by early December.

THEC to Offer Ways to Keep Lottery Scholarships Solvent (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State lawmakers will meet Wednesday to discuss the financial future of lottery scholarships. They’ll look at more than a dozen possible scenarios, most of which involve cutting the number of students eligible, how much money they get, or both.

State library shares records with Ancestry.com (Associated Press)

Millions of historical records from the State Library and Archives will be available for genealogy research online under a new agreement with Ancestry.com, an online family history resource. Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a news release Tuesday that Tennessee will start by sharing death records from 1908 through 1959 with the website and its paid subscribers. The database includes 1.2 million digital images and 3.4 million names.

UT gets grant to help adults go to college (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

Low-income adults in Appalachian counties across three states will continue to receive help enrolling in college thanks to a $2.3 million federal grant awarded to the University of Tennessee. The Educational Opportunity Center, which has been operating since 1991 on the same renewing five-year grant from the Department of Education, helped about 1,500 students in East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and North Georgia go to college last year.

Tenn. Black Caucus raises redistricting concerns (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus on Tuesday raised concerns about what they called a lack of input in redistricting discussions in the Republican-controlled General Assembly and said they are preparing for legal action if that doesn’t change. Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis said at a news conference in a legislative hearing room that that he can’t envision a “fair plan without involving the Tennessee Black Caucus.”

Black legislators want in on redistricting (Tennessean/Sisk)

Group prepares for legal fight if they’re left out Black lawmakers in Tennessee are preparing for a political and legal fight over redistricting plans unless Republicans bring them into talks before the state Legislature reconvenes in January. The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators said they expect to file a court challenge to redistricting plans if Republican leaders continue to draw up plans without their input.

Black Caucus threatens redistricting lawsuit (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Black legislative leaders said Tuesday their caucus will file a lawsuit challenging Republican redistricting plans if they think the map, which is being drawn in secret, violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Rep. G.A. Hardaway, chairman of the Legislature’s Black Caucus, called on Republicans to include caucus members in helping shape the plan that reapportions and redraws the 99 House and 33 Senate districts to reflect minority voters. “We will sue if it’s not in compliance with the Voting Rights Act as the Black Caucus sees it,” Hardaway said.

Black Caucus plans court challenge if it doesn’t like redistricting plan (CA/Locker)

Leaders of the Tennessee legislature’s Black Caucus said Tuesday the caucus will file a court challenge to legislative redistricting plans if members believe the new districts violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Rep. G.A. Hardaway, the Black Caucus’ vice chairman, also said the group should be allowed to help draft the new state House and Senate district boundaries, which will be in place for next year’s elections and through the 2020 elections. Hardaway, D-Memphis, said that so far, leaders of the Republican majority have only shown individual lawmakers the maps for their own districts, not for the state as a whole.

Black Caucus Prepares Challenge to Statewide Redistricting Plan (WPLN-Radio)

African American state lawmakers are preparing a legal challenge to redistricting plans they’ve yet to see in full. The Tennessee Black Caucus is feeling shut out of the process, which is being led by Republicans.

Todd postpones fundraiser after DUI, gun arrest (Associated Press)

State Rep. Curry Todd is postponing a fundraiser originally scheduled to take place one week after his first court appearance on drunken driving and gun charges. The Collierville Republican announced the delay a day after The Associated Press reported the invitation to a $500-per-person event for Todd on Nov. 8 at a Nashville businessman’s home.

Veteran had to pay for voter photo ID (Daily News Journal)

World War II veteran Darwin Spinks is wondering why he had to pay $8 to get a voter photo ID that should have been free when he recently went to the driver’s license testing center here. The state Legislature passed a law this spring requiring voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Election day brings voter ID law (Columbia Daily Herald)

While election officials in most Tennessee counties will host town hall-style meetings Nov. 1 to educate voters about a new law requiring them to show photo identification at the polls, the format in Maury County will have to be different. Because the election for Columbia City Council is scheduled that same day, County Elections Administrator Todd Baxter said, instead of a meeting, flyers informing voters about the law will be distributed at the polls.

Consolidation Fight Lives On in Court (Memphis Daily News)

Next month will be one year since the rejection of a metro government charter by voters that would have consolidated Memphis city and Shelby County governments. Meanwhile, the federal court case challenging the constitutionality of the ground rules for the vote continues to move in Memphis federal court, tentatively set for a trial sometime next spring.

Senate candidates Massey, Johnson are political opposites (N-S/Balloch)

The two women seeking the state Senate 6th District seat are political opposites in many ways — but they have a couple of things in common. Both are newcomers to running for office, in a district that most observers agree favors the Republican candidate, Becky Duncan Massey. Both she and Democrat Gloria Johnson are juggling their campaign efforts with day jobs.

Families welcome home part of local Tenn. Air National Guard unit (TFP/South)

Savannah Forbes circled the carpeted floor of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Tuesday in a homemade camouflage dress and a yellow ribbon sash. The 5-year-old girl held a simple homemade sign as she wove around nearly 60 other people waiting outside the security checkpoint.

Nearly Half of States Link Teacher Evaluations to Tests (Wall Street Journal)

Nearly two-thirds of states have overhauled policies in the last two years to tighten oversight of teachers, using techniques including tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, linking their pay to performance or making it tougher to earn tenure, according to a report issued Wednesday. At least 23 states and the District of Columbia now evaluate public-school teachers in part by student standardized tests, while 14 allow districts to use this data to dismiss ineffective teachers, according to the report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group.

Debts of states over $4 trillion: Budget group (Reuters)

The total of U.S. state debt, including pension liabilities, could surpasses $4 trillion, with California owing the most and Vermont owing the least, according to an analysis released on Monday. The nonprofit State Budget Solutions combined states’ major debt and future liabilities, primarily for pensions and employee healthcare, unemployment insurance loans, outstanding bonds and projected fiscal 2011 budget gaps.

Bredesen backing Obama (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said he will campaign for President Barack Obama, describing him as “certainly re-electable,” but he chided fellow Democrats seeking to regain control at the state level. “If all you’re going to do is channel a 30-year-old idea of what the party is and channel what’s going on nationally, you’re not going to be successful,” Bredesen, 67, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press before a Tuesday evening appearance here at the University of the South.

TVA revamped energy efficiency website (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has unveiled a redesigned website for tips and information about how consumers can conserve energy whether at home, at a business or in an industry. The utility said in a news release Tuesday that the EnergyRight Solutions website has a simpler layout, more information and easier navigation.

Report: Current mercury exposures not health threat (News-Sentinel/Munger)

A newly released public health assessment concludes that current-day exposures to mercury discharged from the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant do not pose a threat to public health. However, the draft report by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry identified a number of past exposure settings — such as children playing in East Fork Poplar Creek during the mid-1950s, when mercury discharges from Y-12 were at their highest — that could have caused health-harming effects, such as kidney problems.

Will Nissan’s Smyrna plant go global? (Tennessean/Williams)

Nissan is expected to build cars at its plants in the U.S. for overseas export, analysts say Nissan’s two U.S. plants, including the one in Smyrna, could soon go global and begin making vehicles for export overseas, moving beyond their current role of assembling cars and trucks only for buyers in North America. The move could lead to significant expansion of the automaker’s U.S. production facilities, including its other vehicle-assembly plant, in Canton, Miss., and the engine plant in Decherd, Tenn., analysts say. And any significant expansion could also bring an increase in jobs for American workers.

Options weighed for Whirlpool site in Cleveland (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The city has many options to consider for the 113-acre site that will be left after Whirlpool moves to its new plant here, a Knoxville planner told the Southside Redevelopment Task Force. Alvan Nance, executive director and CEO of Knoxville’s Community Development Corp., spoke to task force members, including representatives of property owners and Whirlpool.

Return of four businesses by end of year speeds Opry Mills revival (TN/Humbles)

Frank Carroll remembers going back into Opry Mills in the days after the May 2010 flood and looking at about five feet of water in Sun & Ski Sports. As the store’s manager, he saw an uncertain future for the business and for the popular mall and tourist destination off Briley Parkway.

Field of pipe dreams? ET switchgrass at a crossroads (News-Sentinel/Brass)

While making fuel from grass is still a dream in the pipeline, farmers, researchers and industry representatives gathered on a perfect autumn Tuesday at the Color Wheel Farm in Monroe County to take stock of the road traveled so far. Four years ago, 16 farmers planted the first official acreage devoted to switchgrass, a new bioenergy crop being grown to ultimately supply a commercial biorefinery in the region.

Study estimates biorefinery’s economic impact (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Brass)

Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Energy may not have announced definitive plans for siting a commercial biofuels plant in the state, but University of Tennessee researcher Edward Yu has some suggestions. As part of a study on the local economics of building a switchgrass-fed ethanol plant, Yu found a location in Monroe County near Sweetwater and 20 miles west of the current pilot plant, to be among a handful of sites across the state that could be ideal for such a facility — and the feedstock to support it.

Metro school board votes to urge rejection of state voucher bill (CP/Garrison)

Following in the footsteps of Knox County, and perhaps aligning with Tennessee’s two other largest school districts, Metro Nashville Public Schools went on record Tuesday urging the state legislature to reject legislation accommodating vouchers that would divert public funds to private schools. “I don’t think it’s the proper way for our children in the Metropolitan Nashville public school system to go,” school board chair Gracie Porter said of a voucher system she contends would subtract public dollars from the classroom.

Nashville alters school lottery name (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Metro Nashville Public Schools will no longer use the word “lottery” as it opens up its newly renamed “Fall Application Process” to parents Nov. 7 to apply for their children to attend 31 schools out of their zones for the 2012-13 school year. More than 6,500 of Metro’s 78,000 students are expected to apply to Hume-Fogg, Martin Luther King or Meigs Middle academic schools or six newly revamped magnets such as Pearl-Cohn’s entertainment magnet.

Rutherford magnet schools to open enrollment (Tennessean)

Rutherford County families wishing to enroll their children in one of the county school system’s two magnet schools serving kindergarten through eighth grade can do so regardless of their address beginning in January. County Schools Director Harry Gill Jr. said families will no longer have to indicate if they are zoned for Murfreesboro City Schools when they apply to McFadden School of Excellence or Thurman Francis Arts Academy.

Charter school proposals meet tough sell before unified board (C. Appeal/Roberts)

A dozen companies that planned to open charter schools in the coming year missed the first hurdle Tuesday, including the W.E.B. Du Bois Consortium, led by former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. Out of 22 applications to the unified schools board, only two KIPP applications were approved. KIPP, a charter firm with a name that stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, intends to open an elementary school and a second middle school in Memphis next fall.

Unified school board joins fight against voucher bill (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

The unified school board Tuesday joined other large districts in the state in the fight against a voucher bill that would allow students to take public school funding to private schools. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, refiled the bill in mid-October after it passed in the Senate.

School Board Acts On Charter Schools – School Closings (Memphis Daily News)

The countywide school board approved two of 22 charter school applications Tuesday, Oct. 25. The two KIPP Academies approved are for the Memphis City Schools system. None of the five applicants for charter schools in the Shelby County Schools system were approved by the board which governs the two school systems.

Parents learn be more engaged with children, involved with academics (NS/McCoy)

Amid the laughter and the dancing were messages that Adolph Brown hoped parents of the Knox County Schools took away. “Parenting should be fair, firm and fun … because children need all of those things,” Brown said.

OPINION

Editorial: Put jobs, not guns on agenda (Leaf Chronicle)

The arrest earlier this month of state Rep. Curry Todd on alcohol and gun charges offers lawmakers a chance to put a couple of controversial firearms measures on the back burner and turn their attention to Tennessee’s economy. The Republican from Collierville, a retired police officer, was arrested Oct. 11 and charged with drunk driving, carrying a firearm while under the influence and refusing a Breathalyzer test.

Gail Kerr: School voucher ‘choices’ won’t help most students (Tennessean)

Lawmakers pushing school vouchers again argue they would provide more choices for low-income students in Tennessee’s four biggest counties. That’s a bunch of hooey.

Guest columnist: Regional cooperation advances quality of life (Tennessean)

Men would typically never come up with the concept of regionalism, unless they understood it as “my region is better than your region.” By nature, men are territorial. In the animal kingdom, males mark a “property line,” something of an invisible fence that warns other males that this hunting and mating plot is not a tourist destination.

Frank Munger: ORNL deals with budget uncertainties (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Last month, Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced plans to eliminate up to 350 jobs, initially through a voluntary departures program and then — as necessary — involuntary layoffs. Applications for the Voluntary Separation Program will be accepted until Nov. 16. This is the latest step in the laboratory’s efforts to reduce overhead costs, streamline operations and remain as competitive as possible for new work in a time of increasingly tight federal budgets.

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