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December 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 Picks Rep. Eldridge for Workforce Development Board (TN Report)

In a recent announcement, Governor Bill Haslam announced he has selected Representative Jimmy Eldridge (R—Jackson) to serve as a member of the Tennessee Workforce Development Board. The appointment is evidence that Rep. Eldridge, who chairs the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee, is seen as a reliable voice for small businesses and job creators on Capitol Hill. Nominations for membership on this board are solicited from various sources including labor organizations, business organizations, community-based organizations, and elected officials.

Nakatetsu expanding Telford facility (Times-News)

Nakatetsu Machining Technologies, a tenant in the Washington County Industrial Park, announced Tuesday it would expand its Telford facility with a $6.3 million investment and 35 new manufacturing jobs. “Since locating our facility in Washington County, Nakatetsu has enjoyed great success,” said Katsumi Okita, president of Nakatetsu Machining Technologies.

Haslam: Closing Lakeshore appears to be ‘right approach’ (NS/Donila, Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam indicated Tuesday he is inclined to push ahead with a proposal to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute — a day after Knox County commissioners said they would ask state officials to step in and keep the facility’s doors open. Haslam told the News Sentinel the proposal made by state Department of Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney in mid-November was part of a “top-to-bottom review” of his department, which the governor ordered all commissioners to conduct.

State unveils new suicide prevention Smartphone app (WKRN-TV Nashville)

State officials on Tuesday announced a new suicide prevention Smartphone app for soldiers. Gov. Bill Haslam joined Maj. Gen. Terry “Max” Haston, the state adjutant general, for Tuesday’s announcement.

National Guard Creates App For Soldier Suicide Prevention (WTVF-TV Nashville)

The Tennessee National Guard celebrated the milestone of their 375th birthday Tuesday by teaming up with a local non-profit. Thousands of supporters came together to mark the National Guard’s 375-th birthday and to honor the 21,000 Tennessee Army and National Guard members who have fought in the War on Terror.

Smartphone suicide prevention app announced (Associated Press/Edwards)

The National Guard celebrated its 375th birthday Tuesday with state officials announcing a new suicide prevention smartphone app for Tennessee soldiers The “Guard Your Buddy” app is the first of its kind in the country with the potential to spread to other states, Guard officials said on Tuesday. At least six Tennessee guardsmen or women have taken their lives since 2004.

Tenn. celebrates 375 years of Guard (Daily News Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam and Maj. Gen. Terry “Max” Haston made a modern day announcement while celebrating a historic milestone Tuesday, as the National Guard — the country’s oldest military organization — celebrated 375 years of service. “Milestones like this one are a great reminder of the heroic service and sacrifice of soldiers past and present,” Haslam said.

Tennessee Guard Unveils New Suicide Prevention Strategy (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The Tennessee National Guard is taking new steps to prevent suicides in its ranks. The state’s top brass is responding to a rise in suicidal behavior. The National Guard offers briefings as troops return from deployments and maintains a buddy system where soldiers check on each other.

L&N students showcase work during STEM Showcase (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Students at Knoxville’s L&N STEM Academy showed off their work at the first ever “STEM Showcase” on Tuesday night. The school’s very first semester is winding down.

First Lady Continues Push For Reading At Gateway Elementary (WTVF-TV Nash)

First Lady Crissy Haslam continued her push in education on Tuesday by attending a holiday tradition. The First Lady was on hand for a school holiday program at Gateway Elementary and to encourage parents to become more involved in the classroom and at home. Haslam also placed a special emphasis on reading 20 minutes a day, even during Christmas vacation.

Elections officials helping disability coalition (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Division of Elections is helping the Tennessee Disability Coalition with a project aimed at improving ballot access. The division will be sharing information with the coalition about voting equipment and training.

At Rochelle Center, disabled get jobs, parents get peace of mind (TN/Quinn)

The real story of the Rochelle Center’s value might best be told through those 7,000 people with disabilities on the waiting list to get in. And, for most every one waiting are parents worrying about what the future holds for their special child.

Tennessee plans to aid homeless children fall short (Tennessean/Humbles)

Tennessee’s children are less likely to be homeless than those in most other states, but fewer resources and policies are in place to help them, according to a report released Tuesday. The state had about 19,775 homeless children last year, the report by The National Center on Family Homelessness said.

TDOT to study stretch of Vietnam Vets Blvd. after deadly 50-car pileup (TN/Haas)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation will study the stretch of Vietnam Veterans Boulevard that was host to a foggy 50-car pileup that left two dead to determine if new safety measures should be deployed there. Fog and ice were blamed for the early Dec. 1 crash on the eastbound lanes of State Route 386.

Hancock County bridge closed Tuesday for inspection (WATE-TV Knoxville)

A highly-traveled bridge in Hancock County is shut down for an inspection on Tuesday. The inspection of the Kyles Ford Bridge is expected to be complete by 3:00 p.m. In November, the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced the bridge would be shut down for repairs.

MTSU announces 1st forensic science symposium (Associated Press)

Middle Tennessee State University has announced its first forensic science symposium. The science fair May 12 is open to students in grades seven through 12 in Tennessee and beyond.

State, federal spending cuts hit town utility (Marshall County Tribune)

Federal budget cuts and reorganization under a new governor are issues town leaders face as they proceed toward better service to residents here in northern Marshall County. Gov. Bill Haslam “came in with changes in the last few months,” consulting engineer Will Owens of Griggs & Maloney in Murfreesboro reported to the board.

Disorder in the Court (TN Report)

As Knox County prosecutors gird themselves for a potential onslaught of appeals in convictions they obtained before a disgraced and now disbarred criminal court judge, political fallout at the state level is just beginning. State lawmakers who chair the House and Senate judiciary committees say the saga of Judge Richard Baumgartner’s ignominious descent into drug addiction, criminality and professional impropriety will almost certainly strengthen calls for sweeping judicial ethics reform in Tennessee.

Online petition seeks governor’s help in torture-slayings case (N-S/Coleman)

An online petition created five days ago and signed by more than 13,000 people asks Gov. Bill Haslam to overturn Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s decision to throw out the convictions of four people in the 2007 killings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. While Channon Christian’s mother Deena Christian didn’t start the petition, she appreciates the support.

Movement grows to end panel that oversees TN judges (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Lawmakers are pushing for big changes in how the state judges its judges. One prominent state lawmaker says it is time to terminate the body that punishes judges. State Sen. Mae Beavers says the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary is too secretive and loaded with conflicts of interest.

Newsoms support “Stop retrial” petition (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

Concern over Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s decision to throw out the verdicts in the Christian Newsom murders keeps growing. An online petition asking Governor Haslam to stop the retrials of the four people convicted in those murders has more than 14,500 signatures Tuesday.

Chancery Court judges won’t reveal finalists for clerk’s job (CA/Perrusquia)

Shelby County’s Chancery Court judges are ignoring requests to review names of finalists in their search for a new court clerk. The court’s three judges are hiring a new clerk, who will take office in January, in the wake of a $1 million embezzlement scheme that led to federal charges against a court bookkeeper and a private citizen.

Powerball ticket prices to double in January (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Lottery players around the state are starting to see signs boasting a bigger, better Powerball game beginning in January. However, the bigger, better games come at a cost to players as tickets increase from $1 to $2 in mid January.

Tennessee unveils new Powerball lottery in Jan. (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Bigger! Better! More! The Tennessee Lottery’s “new” Powerball game launches on January 15, 2012, and will feature bigger jackpots, better odds and is expected to create more million-dollar winners. Wednesday, December 14 begins the “rolldown” towards that launch, the necessary process of steadily reducing the number of consecutive drawings a player may purchase at one time.

Tenn. GOP leaders press for Hall, estate tax cuts (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Republican leaders in the General Assembly plan to forge ahead with efforts to reduce the state’s inheritance and Hall income taxes despite Gov. Bill Haslam’s concerns that Tennessee’s economic situation isn’t healthy enough to make up for the lost revenues Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he wants to take an incremental approach toward getting rid of the Hall tax on income from interest and dividends. “I think it is doable,” the Blountville Republican said.

Sexton challenges DCS’s testimony (Crossville Chronicle)

State Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has provided additional information regarding the proposed closing of Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County to Gov. Bill Haslam. “I felt it was important for the governor to have more detailed information on Taft than was presented at the budget hearings in Knoxville,” Sexton said in a press release.

Debate centers on Tenn. Sunshine Law restrictions (Associated Press)

A push to dilute Tennessee’s open meetings law is based on a misunderstanding of restrictions now on the books, an open government advocate said The Tennessee County Commissioners Association is spearheading an effort to get the General Assembly to amend the Sunshine Law and allow members of government bodies to discuss public affairs in private, as long as the discussion involves less than a quorum. The law currently forbids two or more officials on a local legislative body, such as a county commission or city council, from meeting privately to deliberate on government matters.

Redistricting plan for Chattanooga advances (Times Free-Press/Hightower)

An alternate redistricting plan got no traction Tuesday night. The City Council voted 6-0 on first reading of a redistricting proposal even as a citizens redistricting group begged the body to consider another plan.

Amazon land deal inches closer (Daily News Journal)

Planners tying up loose ends City planning officials are working out plans to make sure access to NHK Seating’s manufacturing plant on Joe B. Jackson Parkway isn’t blocked by traffic to a proposed Amazon distribution center. Murfreesboro Planning Director Joseph Aydelott confirmed Tuesday that NHK is concerned about how its trucks will get in and out to make “on-time deliveries” since its main driveway is located on the east side near the site of Project Tango, the potential location for the online retailer’s facility.

RCS Board member Hodge: Proposed changes ‘a mess’ (Daily News Journal)

School Board learns results of redistricting The Rutherford County Board of Education got a detailed explanation of how a change in the county’s redistricting plan could leave four of its members in limbo when their terms expire. County Election Administrator Nicole Lester appeared before school board members Tuesday night to show them how a plan to adjust the recently approved redistricting map, that based on board members’ current addresses, could leave two zones with no representatives.

County zoning update far from being complete (Daily News Journal)

Homeowners aren’t the only ones critical of proposed changes to the county’s zoning laws. Developers are also asking the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission to cut back on some of the revamped regulations being considered.

Planners wait on rezoning (Daily News Journal)

Attorney for man arrested for code violations asks for deferral on vote A county official questioned why planners should postpone a rezoning vote to allow floodway parking off One Mile Lane from recently jailed applicant Harmon Roberts. “I’ve had a lot of calls,” said County Commissioner Steve Sandlin, who is also a member of the county’s Regional Planning Commission.

Meth clean-up system reducing costs state-wide as funding is restored (WBIR-TV)

Earlier this year, millions of federal dollars for Meth lab clean-up ran out. That left most of the burden on state and local law enforcement.

Occupy challenges city on records (Daily News Journal)

Some Occupy Murfreesboro members contend the city’s legal department has failed to comply with state open records law and the city’s own charter regarding the public’s inability to view a current codified version of Murfreesboro City Code. Occupy protester Ben Spencer’s request for information last week came after Occupy protesters started receiving nightly citations from Murfreesboro Police officers for violating the city’s 1993 ordinance prohibiting camping on the Murfreesboro Civic Plaza.

To Break Budget Gridlock, Cooper Wants to Dock Congressional Pay (WPLN)

Nashville Democrat Jim Cooper has teamed up with a GOP senator and introduced legislation that would tie congressional pay to job performance. “It’s very important that members get the message: do your work, or you don’t get paid.”

Songwriters sing praises of bill to fight online piracy (Tenn/Gaudiano, Bewley)

Two decades have passed since songwriter Angela Kaset’s “Something in Red” became a country music hit. Since then, Internet piracy has become a critical issue for the American music industry, and Kaset has become convinced the problem explains her rapidly declining income. Kaset is among the Nashville artists and songwriters who are pinning their economic hopes on a bill authored by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and co-sponsored by Tennessee Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, that would impose stricter copyright protections on the Internet.

Safety board wants drivers to ignore their phones (Tennessean/Young)

Federal agency wants to ban talking, texting behind wheel On any given day, Nashville truck driver Bill Mullinax has three near-crashes with people talking or texting on their cellphones. “I’m on the road 12 hours a day driving, so I hit both the early morning and evening rush hours,” said Mullinax, 53, a Spring Hill resident.

Bigger Share of State Cash for Medicaid (New York Times)

Medicaid has steadily eaten up a growing share of state budgets over the past three years, while education has been getting a smaller slice of the pie. That is one of the changes that the lingering economic downturn and the changing American economy have wrought on state finances, according to an analysis of state spending over the last few years released Tuesday by the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Immigration Crackdown Also Snares Americans (New York Times)

A growing number of United States citizens have been detained under Obama administration programs intended to detect illegal immigrants who are arrested by local police. In a spate of recent cases across the country, American citizens have been confined in local jails after federal immigration agents, acting on flawed information from Department of Homeland Security databases, instructed the police to hold them for investigation and possible deportation.

Environmental group IDs more coal ash pollutants (Associated Press/Poovey)

Pollution from coal ash is more widespread than previously known, according to an environmental group that criticized President Barack Obama’s failure to regulate the byproduct of power generation and castigated members of Congress who are trying to end the enforcement altogether. An Environmental Integrity Project report added 20 sites to the group’s list of almost 140 in the nation where its tests show that coal ash appears to have contaminated groundwater or soil to unsafe levels.

Medical device deal lands Nashville $100M divisional HQ (N. Post/De Lombaerde)

Nashville will soon be home to another health care corporate office following the announcement of a $165 million deal in the surgical instrument space. Indiana-based Symmetry Medical on Monday said it will buy the instruments business of the Codman & Shurtleff division of Johnson & Johnson and merge it with its own instruments subsidiary.

Two new retailers seek incentives for Downtown stores (Memphis Biz Journal)

Downtown could be getting a pair of new retailers, including one national brand, early next year. The Center City Development Board is hearing incentive requests from two entrepreneurs on Dec. 14. Kelly Smith is requesting a $40,000 retail forgivable loan to open a Life is good Genuine Neighborhood Shoppe at 100 Peabody Place.

TN Hospital Association buying Cool Springs site for new headquarters (NBJ)

The Tennessee Hospital Association plans to move its headquarters to Cool Springs. The association is purchasing about three acres at Westgate Circle off Moore’s Lane near Interstate 65, said J.T. Martin, a commercial real estate broker with Southeast Venture involved in the transaction.

Hutcheson hospital halts former CEO’s severance pay (Times Free-Press/Martin)

The former CEO of Hutcheson Medical Center should not have been given a severance package because he improperly managed the hospital and may have left it vulnerable to federal sanctions, Hutcheson board Chairman Corky Jewell said Tuesday. The board of directors of Erlanger at Hutcheson voted during a board meeting on Nov. 30 to stop severance payments for former President and CEO Charles L. Stewart.

Medical products firm lays off 80 employees in Memphis (C. Appeal/Sells)

Smith & Nephew Inc. laid off 80 employees Tuesday in Memphis after the company combined the Memphis-based orthopaedic reconstruction division and its Andover, Mass.-based endoscopy unit in July. The affected employees were given notice Tuesday and “comprehensive severance packages and outplacement support,” according to company spokesman Andrew Burns.

Smith & Nephew Lays Off 80 in Memphis (Memphis Daily News)

Smith & Nephew Inc. on Tuesday, Dec. 13, said the company had cut about 80 jobs at its Memphis-based orthopedics unit, where the London-based medical device manufacturer employs more than 2,000 workers. The layoffs are a result of organizational restructuring to eliminate the duplication of roles, combining Smith & Nephew’s Memphis-based Orthopaedic Reconstruction and Trauma division with its Andover, Mass.-based Endoscopy division to form a new division that will be known as the Advanced Surgical Devices Division.

Training on track, communication lacks, Nashville schools told (Tennessean/Hall)

A national panel of education experts is lauding Metro school leaders for creating a cooperative culture, effectively training principals and using data to make decisions. But it had criticisms, too, some of the strongest revolving around coherence and communication.

Metro Schools Culture Shows Improvement (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Attitudes and morale may be on the rise in Metro Schools, but a new report also says concrete change is coming along more slowly. The district has been using its cut of Race to the Top money to develop a wide-ranging set of programs, from model technology classrooms to changes in the ways teachers can access data about their students’ progress.

Bidding questions stall unified board vote on engineering program (CA/Roberts)

The region’s first high school focused on engineering could open in January at East High School if the unified school board can get its questions answered about what seemed like irregularities in how companies were selected to bid on lab equipment. Two companies received the bulk of the business for purchasing $690,000 in equipment to outfit the lab without a bidding process, which raised eyebrows of board members.

Jones Talks Court Challenge Depending on School Sale Terms (M. Daily News)

A move by countywide school board member Martavius Jones to set ground rules for any transfer of school buildings to a suburban school district ended abruptly Tuesday, Dec. 13, as Jones pulled the resolution at a school board work session. But it is hardly the end of the discussion about what would happen should Shelby County’s suburban municipalities all together or in some combination seek to establish a school district separate from the soon to be consolidated countywide school system.

Graduation rate near crisis stage (Times Gazette)

Local business leaders and educators came together Monday evening to address the future of Bedford County students. About 30 were in attendance in the auditorium at Shelbyville Central High School, and left in agreement to work together to improve graduation rates According to state report card figures released this month, Bedford County’s 2010 graduation rate was 79.3 percent, well below the state goal of 90 percent.

Charter school denied (Jackson Sun)

The Jackson-Madison County School Board voted 6 to 2 to deny Connections Preparatory Academy’s amended charter-school application during a called meeting held Tuesday night. Board members Carol Carter-Estes and Joe Mays voted against Superintendent Buddy White’s recommendation to deny the application.

Gangs use Facebook to recruit, intimidate (Tennessean/Haas)

As Metro police investigated the murder of Jeremy Green, they took to the streets, interviewed witnesses and turned to a different source that is quickly becoming routine in gang investigations: Facebook. As social media gain prominence in everyday life, police are finding it a useful tool for tracking criminal activity.

California: California Confronts More Cuts (Wall Street Journal)

California Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday the state must make $981 million in midyear budget cuts, the latest fiscal blow to the nation’s most populous state. The pre-approved cuts include eliminating $248 million in state money allocated for busing students and trimming $200 million from state universities and $100 million from home care for the elderly, Mr. Brown said.

Mississippi: Legislators propose budget that cuts education funding (CA/West)

Though likely different from what returning legislators will approve after the first of the year, Mississippi legislative leaders on Tuesday proposed a $5.39 billion budget for fiscal 2013 that would slightly cut state education funding and reduce spending at the Institutions of Higher Learning by 1.9 percent. Legislative Budget Committee members proposed a spending plan that is $127.4 million less — about 0.6 percent — than the state is projected to spend in the 2012 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Utah: Utah governor unveils $12.9B budget proposal (Daily Herald)

Millions of additional dollars would be devoted to public schools and higher education under the budget proposal Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled Monday. Utah is adding students faster than it’s hiring teachers, and Herbert said he was only able to hold classroom sizes steady in the face of “fast, dramatic growth.”

Vermont: Anatomy of a backlog (Stateline)

How Vermont fell behind on adult protective services Cerebral palsy does not thwart Chris Osborne’s passion for chess and all kinds of music, from hard rock to opera. But Chris, who is 25 and lives near Burlington, does depend on others to dress, feed and bathe him, as well as to clean and change his feeding tube.

Washington: Legislators unveil $479M in initial budget cuts (Associated Press)

Legislative leaders unveiled a budget plan Monday that seeks to trim $479 million from the state’s $1.4 billion deficit through a combination of cuts, fund transfers and delayed payments. Budget leaders began discussing the proposal in committees Monday afternoon, and the House may vote on it as early as Tuesday.

 OPINION 

Editorial: Keep state’s hands off living wage (Paris Post-Intelligencer)

Local governments shouldn’t be allowed to play Santa Claus with wage scales even if they want to, some state legislators say. To which Gov. Bill Haslam responded, bah, humbug.

Guest columnist: New evaluations more harm than good (Tennessean)

I am a third-grade teacher. I have been teaching for 27 years. I am writing specifically in response to the Dec. 2 op-ed “Don’t roll back teacher reforms,” written and endorsed by several area businesses, about the new teacher evaluation plan.

John Morgan: Improve results and funding will follow (Commercial Appeal)

It’s time to emphasize an important point about public higher education in Memphis and across Tennessee: While price is going up, cost has gone down. Then why is tuition increasing?

Charlie Daniel Political Cartoon: Sink or Swim (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Editorial: Redistrict process on right track with zones (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County’s Redistricting Committee made the right move recently when it took to heart the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The committee reversed course on a proposal for seven road and school board zones and voted 5-4 to adopt a new map, as one commissioner pointed out that today’s lines have “gotten out of whack.”

Guest columnist: Deregulation bills are bad for small business (Tennessean)

Running an auto repair shop, I know it’s important to have clear rules of the road for how and when to repair and maintain vehicles, and clear, justifiable emissions standards. These rules help keep drivers safe, vehicles running clean, and give businesses like mine necessary guidance on how to serve customers and protect quality of life in our communities.

Times Editorial: Erlanger’s challenge (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Erlanger hospital’s board of trustees may be having trouble deciding what kind of severance package, if any, to give to outgoing CEO Jim Brexler, but their decision to find a new leader was necessary. All of the challenges confronting Erlanger may not be Brexler’s fault, but it is clear that the hospital needs stronger, more effective leadership.

Free-Press Editorial: Important Erlanger (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Erlanger has been an indispensable medical service provider for Chattanooga and the surrounding region for well over a century. It got its start when a French nobleman, Baron Frederic Emile d’Erlanger, donated $5,000 for a new hospital here.

Frank Munger: Haul road not hot despite rad traffic (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Thousands of truckloads of low-level radioactive waste have been shipped from the former K-25 uranium-enrichment site to the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear landfill in Oak Ridge over the past few years. And, because of the availability of a six-mile haul road constructed exclusively for that work, none of those trucks has been out and about on public highways.

Editorial: NTSB proposed cell phone ban in vehicles is unrealistic (Jackson Sun)

The National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday called for a national ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. The board might as well have asked for a ban on all conversations in moving vehicles.

Editorial: Do Foreigners Deserve Free-Speech Rights? (Wall Street Journal)

The courts weigh whether legal aliens can make small campaign expenditures. Despite the ongoing debate over whether the government should be permitted to ban political speech by corporations, most people would agree that the First Amendment prohibits the government from banning political speech by living, breathing people. Does it make a difference, though, if those speakers were born outside the United States?

Editorial: The Insidious Fine Print (New York Times)

It looks like a small throwaway line in a 2012 spending bill: no federal funds may be used to carry out chapters 95 or 96 of the Internal Revenue Code. A little digging shows that those chapters happen to authorize the presidential election public financing system.

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