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December 9 TN News Digest

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

Haslam opposes efforts to weaken open meetings law (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Support shown as some counties try to weaken law Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that he opposes efforts to water down Tennessee’s open meetings law, which prohibits city and county officials from deliberating about official business in private. The Republican governor told reporters after a speech to the Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce that his previous experience as mayor of Knoxville gave him little reason to think an overhaul was necessary.

Governor Bill Haslam favors strong law on open meetings (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he opposes efforts to weaken Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act, which bans most governing bodies from conducting the public’s business behind closed doors. A former Knoxville mayor, Haslam said his experience watching the City Council operate in public gives him little basis to believe changes are necessary to the 1974 “Sunshine Law.”

Haslam opposes changing open meetings law (News-Sentinel/Donilia, Humphrey)

Governor says ‘Sunshine Law’ works well Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that Tennessee’s open meetings law works well and he sees no need for changes pushed by some local government officials. The governor said his own experience while serving as Knoxville mayor left him believing “the law, the way they have it, works.”

No Reason to Soften Open-Meetings Rule: Haslam (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam says city and county officials should continue to meet in public. Several county commissions want to change that rule and allow more closed-door meetings.

Haslam Questions Need To Change Sunshine Law (WCYB-TV Chattanooga)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he’s against some local efforts to loosen up open-meeting laws. We told you about the Sunshine Law debate last week.

Workforce-Retention a Concern in State Gov’t: Haslam (TN Report)

But Pay Revamp Unlikely Anytime Soon Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been hinting that he’s interested in finding a way to keep quality employees from leaving state government jobs, but that’s unlikely to make it into next year’s budget, he said Thursday. The governor began signaling last month that he’s interested in finding ways to incentivize good employees after several commissioners complained during a series of budget hearings last month that they struggle to retain quality workers.

‘Season To Remember’ Honors Victims Of Violent Crimes (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Governor Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam honored those who lost their lives to violent crimes this year in a special ceremony Thursday night. Tennessee’s Season to Remember is an annual event held in the House chambers of the State Capitol as a memorial event to honor Tennesseans who died in violent crimes in the past year.

Rhea County man charged with TennCare fraud (Times Free-Press)

A Rhea County man is accused of visiting multiple physicians in a 30-day period on TennCare’s dime so he could receive hydrocodone. Kenneth Cranmore, 29, of Graysville, Tenn., was charged with two counts of TennCare fraud today, according to a news release from the state Office of Inspector General. TennCare fraud is a felony carrying a sentence of up to two years per charge in prison. The investigation was done by the Rhea County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of Inspector General.

Rhea County man jailed for “doctor shopping” (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)

A Rhea County man is behind bars Thursday, accused of “doctor shopping.” A spokesperson for the Office of Inspector General tells Channel 3, 29-year-old Kenneth Cranmore is charged with two counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain controlled substances by “doctor shopping.”

New UT student union price tag jumps $30 million (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

The most expensive project in University of Tennessee history has become even pricier. A new collegiate gothic-style student center, scheduled to begin construction next year, will cost the school a projected $160 million, up $30 million from estimates released in February.

Tennessee budget cuts could hobble travel business (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee could lose more than a billion dollars in visitor spending if proposed tourism department budget cuts come to fruition next year. It’s a fate that has befallen other states where lawmakers cut marketing dollars that had been spent promoting statewide brands and attracting new visitors.

Hamilton General Sessions Judge Bales issued reprimand (TFP/Harrison, Pantazi)

A local judge has been issued a public reprimand by Tennessee Court of the Judiciary after the court determined he twice violated judicial ethics. Hamilton County General Sessions Judge David Bales received two complaints earlier this year, one from Judge Rebecca Stern and the other from local attorney Hank Hill.

Petition drive Saturday against voter ID law (Associated Press)

The group Tennessee Citizen Action is sponsoring a petition drive Saturday against the state’s new voter ID law. The group is asking citizens statewide to circulate the petition at any public place.

Chattanooga’s public library board sidesteps state ‘Sunshine Law’ (TFP/Hightower)

Chattanooga officials admit that the board of the Chattanooga’s public library violated the state’s “Sunshine Law” by holding at least one meeting this week without public notice. Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, acknowledged the library board held a meeting Thursday afternoon without properly notifying the public.

Memphis property tax levy still not imposed (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

The Memphis City Council approved an 18-cent property-tax assessment in June that still hasn’t been levied, but several council members acknowledged that the tax might come into play when the city faces a projected $40 million budget shortfall this spring. Officials in Mayor A C Wharton’s administration say they have no current plan to tap the assessment, which was approved to pay off a 2008 debt to Memphis City Schools.

Alexander, Corker vote to block consumer bureau nominee (News-Sentinel/Collins)

U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker resisted pressure from the White House and joined other Republican senators today in blocking President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead a new federal agency set up to stop abuses by the financial industry. GOP senators filibustered the nomination of former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Senate Republicans block Obama’s nominee to head consumer bureau (C. Appeal)

The Senate on Thursday blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as filibustering Republicans who oppose the very powers of the new agency successfully challenged one of the administration’s main responses to the financial crisis. The nomination of Richard Cordray was rejected after Democrats failed to achieve the 60 votes they needed to move his nomination forward.

Tennessee Does Part Blocking Consumer Protection Agency Chief (WPLN-Radio)

Tennessee’s two Republican senators joined their party Thursday in blocking President Obama’s pick to head a new consumer protection agency. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have been on a White House shortlist to be lobbied on the issue.

Mid-South lawmakers vote to block EPA from regulating ‘farm dust’ (CA/Sullivan)

The House passed a bill prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new rules for regulating course particulate air pollution, which some Mid-South lawmakers claimed would stop the agency from trying to regulate “farm dust.” “I’ve never heard anything so crazy as the EPA trying to regulate dust.

Fincher bill would exempt some companies from audit requirements (CA/Sullivan)

A bill introduced Thursday by U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher would exempt companies with less than $700 million in publicly traded shares from the external auditing requirement established by Congress in 2002. The Tennessee Republican said the Reopening American Capital Markets to Emerging Growth Companies Act, identical to a bill introduced last week by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would remove “burdensome regulations” on the country’s “best job creators.” The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires an independent audit of internal controls, considered an important reform after scandals at Enron and WorldCom established that weak internal controls had led to their fraudulent accounting manipulations.

Roe says he will back Romney as GOP nominee (Times-News)

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said today he’s backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Roe, R-Tenn., reminded reporters in a conference call that he wanted a governor to be the candidate to oppose incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. “I’m one person and the good people of Tennessee can pick out whoever they want to vote for, which they will and the country will do that,” Roe said.

Prescription drug costs continue to climb (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Martin)

With the cost of prescription drugs rising at three times the rate of inflation, a new study says federal regulators need to consider cost and effectiveness before new drugs are released. But the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America group argues that prescription drug costs are rising more slowly than other health care costs and comprise only a small portion of overall health care costs.

USPS Cuts Will be Felt in Memphis (Memphis Daily News)

The recent set of U.S. Postal Service recommendations for closings would have a larger impact in Memphis than customers waiting two or three days instead of next-day service for letter and package delivery. But the proposed closing of one of the three Memphis USPS centers that handle and process mail is a mixed bag in terms of its impact.

Casino resorts, online poker get states’ attention (Stateline)

Football fans in New England and Miami could go from the stadium straight to a slot machine next door if plans to launch large, destination-resort casinos pan out in Massachusetts and Florida. The Massachusetts and Florida schemes are part of a nationwide expansion that has affected more than a dozen states in the last three years. But states aren’t just looking to add more casinos and slots.

Feds question TVA’s thrift (Tennessean/Paine)

Energy efficiency efforts trail nation’s The nation’s congressional watchdog agency has questioned whether TVA is making the most cost-effective decisions to meet future electricity needs, especially with regard to energy efficiency. The Tennessee Valley Authority has moved ahead with plans that include building more nuclear reactors without a complete analysis of the potential to reduce electricity use, the U.S. Government Accountability Office says.

TVA nuclear protesters say they feel ignored (Times Free-Press/Sohn)

A handful of anti-nuclear activists told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Thursday that they didn’t expect anything they said to sway the federal regulator from licensing a second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. “I feel like we’re David and Goliath, but we have no sacred stone,” said Don Safer, president of the Tennessee Environmental Council.

Sharp adds employees to meet solar panel demand (Memphis Biz Journal)

Citing an increase in production demand of its Memphis-manufactured solar panels, Sharp Manufacturing Co. of America is creating 30 new jobs at its local manufacturing facility. In 2010, the company increased its employee numbers from 300 to 480, and those numbers have increased to 500 in 2011.

Memphis Sharp plant says it’s adding workers (Commercial Appeal/Bailey)

Demand for solar energy is strong enough that Memphis-based Sharp Manufacturing Co. plans to soon add another 30 people to its 500-employee workforce to make solar panels. Sharp vice president T.C. Jones Jr. announced the planned hires Thursday during a state teleconference about the state of Tennessee’s solar industry.

Tennessee solar study says need to stay aggressive (Associated Press/Poovey)

Tennessee’s solar and related industries provide more than 6,400 jobs in a growing green economic sector, but the state needs to stay aggressive in supporting and pursuing the ventures, a report released Thursday shows. The report released by the Tennessee Solar Institute shows the state has more than 200 organizations involved in solar power, including 174 for-profit entities.

State’s thriving solar industry needs more help, report finds (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tennessee’s solar industry is growing, but it continues to need support from state government and private industry, a report released Thursday finds. The state’s solar sector employs more than 6,400 Tennesseans, and the generating capacity of solar arrays in the state has grown large enough to power 1,300 homes, the Tennessee Solar Institute said. More than 230 companies and nonprofits — from multinational Sharp Electronics Corp. in Memphis to tiny Diversified Power International in Piney Flats — now make or sell solar components or services, providing a base for more expansion.

Tennessee solar industry continues growth (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Tennessee’s solar energy industry is growing, now providing more than 6,400 jobs, but Tennessee needs to capitalize on its advantages to remain a solar leader as neighboring states try to grow their solar sectors, according to a report released Thursday by the Tennessee Solar Institute. The report, “Tennessee’s Solar Value Chain: A Workforce Development Needs Assessment,” is the first comprehensive study of the state’s solar industry released by the institute.

Timing of Erlanger’s trustees appointment raises questions (TFP/Haman, Martin)

County Mayor Jim Coppinger has appointed a new person to Erlanger’s board of trustees, but the newcomer is out of the country and won’t be able to cast important votes relating to CEO Jim Brexler’s resignation. Though the board has taken no official action on Brexler’s departure, many of its members signaled a lack of confidence in him last month when polled individually by the hospital’s general counsel, hospital trustee James A. Worthington said Thursday.

Tennessee charter law fuels boom (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Fastest national growth in 2009-10 Tennessee is popping up on education reform maps for its innovation, including that it now has the fastest-growing charter school movement in the nation. Eleven charters opened in the state last year, a 37 percent increase. The number of students attending charter schools — about 9,500 — jumped 38 percent over the 2009-2010 school year, down several percentage points from the last year but still the fastest growth in the nation, according to National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

STEM school to be placed at Chattanooga State (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

A proposed high-tech Hamilton County high school could hold 300 students on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College. The county aims to apply for about $1.8 million in state grant funding to open a Science, Technology, Math and Engineering, or STEM, school here next fall.

Bradley County board against school vouchers (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The Bradley County Board of Education endorsed three resolutions Thursday submitted from the Tennessee School Boards Association. Two of the resolutions — supporting appointed school superintendents and maintaining school boards’ ability to set their own academic calendars — passed unanimously and with little comment.

Businesses, philanthropies give $2 million to school merger effort (CA/McMillin)

Thursday’s approval of a $2.2 million budget and $1.7 million consulting contract by the Shelby County’s school merger Transition Planning Commission revealed the costs and scope of the planning that will go into consolidating Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools. The 21-member transition commission’s budget includes $2 million that has been donated by local businesses, corporations and philanthropies, with the bulk of that total now committed to a contract with Boston Consulting Group. Donors listed in a news release are FedEx, First Tennessee Bank, AutoZone, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Hyde Family Foundations and Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, plus unnamed donors who wished to remain anonymous.

Schools Planning Commission Hires Consultant, Sets Budget (M. Daily News)

Boston Consulting Group has been hired as the consultant to the schools consolidation planning commission and could begin its work as early as Friday, Dec. 9. The commission approved the contract through the non-profit Shelby County Schools Education Foundation Thursday afternoon in a unanimous voice vote. Because the planning commission does not have the authority to enter into contracts, the foundation agreed to, in effect, carry the $1.7 million contract for the commission.

School panel probes cost of initiative (Jackson Sun)

Jackson-Madison County School Board members asked Superintendent Buddy White and his administration to prepare a comparison study on the cost of implementing an improvement initiative at one or at all five middle schools at the same time. White has recommended that one school begin a turnaround program at a time beginning in the 2012-13 school year and adding an additional school each year over the next four years.

Virginia: Killings Rattle Virginia Tech (Wall Street Journal)

A gunman killed a Virginia Tech university police officer conducting a routine traffic stop Thursday, authorities said, and the body of another man—possibly the killer’s—was found not far away, reviving painful memories of a 2007 massacre at the Blacksburg, Va., campus. The four-year veteran of the Virginia Tech police force was killed around 12:30 p.m. when a man walked up and fired, said Bob Carpentieri, a spokesman for the Virginia State Police, which is leading the investigation.

OPINION 

Greg Johnson: Dim idea to dim sunshine law (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

East Tennesseans more than a little noted and hopefully have long remembered the darkness of Black Wednesday at Knox County Commission in 2007 when wheeling, dealing, cajoling and even threatening commissioners met out of public view to handpick new officials after the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld term limits and created beaucoup vacant seats. The News Sentinel sued and, in the process, ended up affirming and strengthening Tennessee’s “sunshine law,” which forbids elected officials from deliberating without the public present.

Guest columnist: Solar sector brightens state’s economy (Tennessean)

For the first time ever, the Tennessee Solar Institute has conducted a census of Tennessee’s solar power industry. The bottom line: It’s booming. And as CEO of a fast-growing solar technology company, I want to underline the report’s most important theme: Solar power represents a real economic opportunity — one we cannot afford to miss.

Editorial: Gerrymandered district would make race the top issue for voters (J. Sun)

We are encouraged by the thoughtful comments of Jackson City Councilman Harvey Buchanan regarding the NAACP’s request to redraw city voting districts to create a new majority-minority district. Buchanan, who is black, denied claims of racism and argued that it is time to put racial differences aside.

Times Editorial: A prescription for disaster (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The operation was a success but the patient died. That perhaps apocryphal phrase from the realm of medicine can be applied to the United States Postal Service proposal to resolve its financial problems. Yes, the service can implement $3 billion in reductions to avert rapidly approaching bankruptcy. Doing so, however, most likely would kill mail delivery as Americans know it.

 

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