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December 8 TN News Digest

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

Haslam announces export initiative (Memphis Business Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced today TNTrade, a new initiative to boost imports. Haslam made the announcement Wednesday at the FedEx Institute of Technology in Memphis. He was joined by other state and federal officials including Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty.

State launching export program for smaller companies (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Tennessee producers of exportable goods received a leg-up from state officials Wednesday in the form of a new program to help small and medium-sized companies increase their offshore activity. The TNTrade project is directed at small and medium-sized companies looking to expand export opportunities or sell their products overseas for the first time.

State has new initiative to boost exports (Associated Press)

The state has announced an initiative to boost Tennessee exports. TNTrade, announced Wednesday, is designed to help small and medium businesses increase their exports Under the program, eligible businesses will receive a reimbursement equal to half of any one-time export-related expense such as consultant fees or trade show participation.

Tenn. launches TNTrade in Memphis to boost state export business (CA/Dowd)

Plans for a new statewide initiative aimed at boosting Tennessee’s export industry were announced in Memphis on Wednesday, launching the program in the city that government and business leaders praised as a leader in logistics. State Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty formally unveiled the TNTrade program at the FedEx Institute of Technology, adding that the state’s export industry is expected to exceed $30 billion this year, a 15 percent increase over 2010. And that industry offers big opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses, Hagerty said.

Moody’s restores stable outlook for TN debt rating (Associated Press)

Moody’s Investors Service has revised Tennessee’s credit outlook from negative to stable. Moody’s in October retained its top debt rating for Tennessee but gave the state the negative outlook following an earlier decision to do the same with the federal government’s debt.

Bond agency upgrades TN debt outlook (Tennessean/Sisk)

A top bond-rating agency said Wednesday that it is no longer pessimistic about Tennessee’s debt after reviewing the state’s finances. Moody’s Investors Service Inc. announced it had changed its outlook on Tennessee’s bonds, currently rated Aaa, to stable.

State’s bond rating outlook raised to ‘stable’ (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Moody’s Investors Service has revised the outlook of Tennessee and Hamilton County’s top Aaa credit ratings from negative to stable. In a news release, the bond rating company said the outlook for Tennessee and South Carolina, which both had been slapped with a negative outlook in August, “were revised to stable to reflect their relatively lower levels of financial and economic exposure to the U.S. government.” This summer, Tennessee, South Carolina and several other top-rated states, as well as 161 local governments, were assigned a negative outlook based largely on their dependence on the largesse of the federal government, which was and continues to battle over its deficit.

Haslam to host memorial service for crime victims (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife will continue a holiday season tradition Thursday begun years ago by his predecessor: a memorial service for family and friends of crime victims at the State Capitol. The annual “Tennessee Season to Remember” is set for 5:30 p.m. in the House chamber.

TN’s unemployed could lose benefits (Tennessean/Bewley)

Peggy Black can’t imagine how she would have survived the last two years without unemployment benefits. After the single mother from Springfield lost the human-resources job she’d held for 21 years in April 2010, she and her teenage daughter scraped by on the $275 she received from the government each week. “If I hadn’t had it, I wouldn’t have made it,” said Black, 53, who started a new job at an orthopedic office on Monday after searching for 20 months.

Proposed Closing of Lakeshore Raises Questions (Metro Pulse)

The handwriting is on the wall, or so it would seem for Knoxville’s Lakeshore Mental Health Institute—even though the state’s plan to shut down the 125-year-old facility still has to pass muster with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly. The reasons for the hospital’s pending closure point to the checkered history of mental health care in the United States, as well as to the lack of political will to fund a huge facility with a small, though needy, clientele in tough economic times.

State Overhauls Phone System for Jobless (Associated Press)

A balky telephone system that quickly became overwhelmed when unemployment soared in Tennessee has been overhauled and should be less frustrating for callers. Don Ingram of the Tennessee Department of Labor says there are now additional telephone lines and the system has been upgraded with more self-service components, according to WSMV-TV (http://bit.ly/u2tAPz ). The phone system has been a source of complaints since the Great Recession hit and joblessness grew.

Detecting Forced Prostitution Now a TN Law Enforcement Priority (TN Report)

State law enforcement officials are looking to curtail human sex trafficking in Tennessee by increasing awareness and communication amongst the agencies most likely to encounter the problem. Toward that end, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Wednesday held a one-day training session at TBI’s East Nashville headquarters.

MTEC highlights local college classes (Times-Gazette)

Middle Tennessee Education Center in Shelbyville is planning a regional marketing push this week with advertising inserts in six area newspapers, including today’s Times-Gazette. MTEC, located in Bedford County Business Complex on Dover Street, is a joint venture of Middle Tennessee State University and Motlow State Community College, offering on-site day and night classes for the two institutions, as well as distance learning opportunities. Chances to learn The full-color, eight-page booklet, entitled “MTEC Messenger,” includes information about MTEC programs and about programs through Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville, with a list of MTEC’s spring 2012 courses now enrolling students.

Parents question legislators, other leaders on test scores, funding (TFP/Hardy)

While funding remains in question, members of Hamilton County’s state legislative delegation say they’re committed to moving forward with improvements to public education. Legislators, school board members and county and city officials met with parents Wednesday morning at Hixson Middle School for a forum hosted by the Hamilton County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.

ID, Please! (Memphis Flyer)

Beginning January 1, 2012, registered Tennessee voters who want to go to the polls early or to cast their ballots in person on Election Day will have to present some form of government-issued photo identification. Supporters of the law claim it was designed to prevent already rare occurrences of fraud by voter-impersonation.

Official wants to reach voters without ID (Daily News Journal)

Funding sought for mailings The Rutherford County Election Commission should notify 3,660 residents without photo identification on their driver’s licenses about the voter ID law, an official said. Democratic Election Commissioner Johnny Taylor called for the staff to be proactive with a list of names from the state of residents without the photo ID.

Polk redistricting plan ready for vote (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Leach)

The Polk County Redistricting Committee’s fifth plan, dubbed Plan 2B, promises minimal changes to Districts 1 and 2 and now awaits approval by the county commission. Plan 2B’s advantages over previously considered plans include a reduced cost for voter notification and no need to add and pay for more commissioners, said Commissioner Isaac Bramblett.

Dickson signs settlement in well contamination suits (Tennessean/Paine, Gadd)

Two lawsuits over a Dickson dump that contaminated wells and have cost local governments here millions of dollars in legal fees are on their way to closure — if federal judges approve. The city of Dickson endorsed an agreement Wednesday night — already signed by the county — that would result in $1.75 million and an apology going to the Holt family. Also, a total of $5 million over 10 years would be paid to investigate and deal with toxic materials leaking from the landfill site.

Cooper Shields Defense, Not Health Care (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Nashville Democrat Jim Cooper is trying to shield the Pentagon from looming budget cuts while telling the hometown health care industry to prepare for a new reality. Automatic cuts triggered by failure of the Congressional supercommittee will hit Medicare, which drives profits at hospital chains and medical supply companies based in Nashville.

Decision to keep pill behind counter stuns TN doctors (AP, TN/Neergaard, Young)

In a surprise move Wednesday, the Obama administration’s top health official overruled her own drug regulators and stopped the Plan B morning-after pill from moving onto drugstore shelves next to the condoms. The decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius means the Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive will remain behind pharmacy counters, as it is sold today — available without a prescription only to those 17 and older who can prove their age.

‘Occupy’ Groups Face Setbacks in San Francisco and Boston (New York Times)

The police cleared the Occupy San Francisco camp in a predawn raid Wednesday, arresting 70 protesters and removing more than 100 tents. Police officers in riot gear swept into the camp around 1:30 a.m., giving the campers a five-minute warning that they needed to disperse or would be arrested. Dozens of protesters were charged with illegal lodging and with being in the park after hours, and two were charged with felony aggravated assault, accused of throwing a chair at officers.

TVA opens spill gates of all nine dams in Tennessee River system (NS/McCloskey)

Responding to recent heavy rainfall, the Tennessee Valley Authority opened the gates Wednesday at Fort Loudoun Dam, making it the last of the nine dams in the Tennessee River system to start spilling. The other eight dams have been spilling for a little more than a week, but earlier rain hadn’t impacted Fort Loudoun until now.

Commercial Appeal Cuts Nine Employees (Memphis Daily News)

The Commercial Appeal is planning another round of layoffs, the Memphis Newspaper Guild announced Tuesday, Dec. 6. In an email to members, guild president Wayne Risher said The Commercial Appeal informed the guild Tuesday morning the news that nine guild-covered employees will lose their jobs by Dec. 20 as part of a “reduction in force.” “The company, confirming rumors that had been swirling for the last few months, said job reductions would be made to cut expenses and achieve efficiencies in the business,” Risher said.

Schools slump in state standing (Columbia Daily Herald)

Spring Hill Elementary joined four other Maury County schools on the state’s high-priority list of troubled schools, according to the recently released Tennessee report card. Culleoka Unit School, E.A. Cox, Mt. Pleasant and Whitthorne Middle schools were added to the high-priority list for school improvement in 2010 after the state determined the schools were not meeting adequate yearly progress requirements set by No Child Left Behind, an education act implemented during the 2002-2003 school year. The law requires schools to have 100 percent proficiency among students in math, reading and language arts by 2014.

School transition meetings slated in next six days (Commercial Appeal/McMillin)

Panel to discuss contract with consulting group Shelby County’s school merger Transition Planning Commission will hold three critical meetings over the next six work days. The 21-member body, charged with creating a plan to merge Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools, meets this afternoon in what is expected to be its final regular business meeting of the year.

ACLU, Sumner school board agree on policies (Associated Press)

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Sumner County, Tenn., Board of Education have agreed on policies to be followed in the aftermath of a suit claiming educators were promoting Christianity. In a consent decree announced Wednesday, schools officials cannot advance their personal religious beliefs to students.

Sumner schools to stop religious activities (Tennessean/Brooks, Young)

The Sumner County Board of Education settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union over teacher-led prayer and other religious activity in public schools. This is the third time in three years that the ACLU has taken a Middle Tennessee school district to court over religion.

Powder in envelope empties Bradley Co. courthouse (Associated Press)

An investigation of a white powder that led to an evacuation of the Bradley County Courthouse has shown that an envelope opened by a court clerk contained talcum powder. County mayor’s assistant Dan Howell told WTVC-TV that just after noon Wednesday the clerk at the courthouse in Cleveland opened the envelope and a white powder spilled out (http://bit.ly/tev3Uz).

Powder later identified as talcum forces courthouse evacuation (TFP/Higgins)

A white substance later determined to be talcum powder caused the Bradley County Courthouse to be evacuated Wednesday afternoon. An employee in the Circuit Court clerk’s office on the second floor of the courthouse opened an envelope just after noon and found the powder. On the back side of the envelope, which the clerk did not see until she opened it, were the words “anthrax letter,” Miller said.

Florida: Florida Budget Adds to School Spending (New York Times)

When Gov. Rick Scott rolled out his budget on Wednesday, it was to a group of reporters at a news conference at the Florida Capitol in a room packed with staff members, a far cry from the Tea Party crowd that cheered him on during his first budget announcement early this year. The governor’s 2012 budget plan was no less a turnaround. Mr. Scott, whose popularity has tumbled this year, proposed $1 billion in new money for Florida schools despite a yawning budget deficit.

Indiana: State finds $320 million it didn’t know it had (Indianapolis Star)

In the equivalent of finding some money in the pocket of the winter coat you hadn’t put on in months, Gov. Mitch Daniels said Tuesday that the state has discovered it has $320 million more than it thought to deposit in its main checking account. He blamed it on a programming error that only recently was caught by a state employee. But after watching state government slash public education funding by $300 million at the end of 2009 as the economy shrank state resources, Democrats in the legislature are asking for an investigation into how this happened and demanding assurances that it can’t happen again.

New York: New York Raises Taxes on Wealthy (Wall Street Journal)

New York lawmakers approved Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax package, which would raise billions in additional revenue from wealthier residents but also sprinkle relief on middle-class earners. The overhaul, passed unanimously Wednesday evening in the Republican-led state Senate and early Thursday by the Democrat-led Assembly, renews a portion of the state’s so-called millionaire’s tax, a surcharge on higher earners slated to expire on Dec. 31.

Rhode Island: Pension vote in R.I. shows changing political times (Stateline)

Michael Downey, a plumber at the University of Rhode Island and the president of this state’s largest public employee union, Council 94, considers Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin the face of the anti-labor movement he sees taking hold in state capitals around the country. But Downey thinks his own governor, Lincoln Chafee, runs a close second “As much as I despise the likes of a Governor Walker,” Downey told Stateline in his office a short drive from the state capitol this week, “I have a very difficult time looking at Governor Chafee.”

OPINION

Editorial: Close loopholes to prevent doctor shopping (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The expanded use of an under-utilized state database and the closure of a puzzling legal loophole could have prevented the collapse of a portion of the local justice system. Disgraced ex-Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner obtained prescriptions for thousands of painkillers and tranquilizers from a variety of medical professionals over a four-year period, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, but apparently neither the professionals who prescribed them nor the pharmacists who filled them notified authorities.

Guest columnist: Stars aligning for health care in Memphis (Commercial Appeal)

Miracles happen when stars align and recent events in health care suggest such an alignment is emerging. We should take full advantage of this moment to benefit Memphis and Shelby County.

Editorial: In wake of Penn State, MTSU right to reassess (Daily News Journal)

Common sense should suffice in regard to child sexual abuse, but reinforcement from top officials sends the right message about how to deal with this scourge on society. In the wake of allegations that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused underage children at the university, MTSU President Sidney McPhee recently sent a memo across campus reminding employees of university policy and state law regarding child sexual abuse.

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