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December 15 TN News Digest

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

Drought relief sought for farmers in 14 counties (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has asked federal officials for a natural disaster designation for 14 counties due to excessive heat and drought during the summer and fall. The counties are Blount, Cumberland, Fayette, Fentress, Haywood, Loudon, McMinn, Macon, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott and Wilson.

Haslam requests aid for Tenn. farmers (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday a request for a secretarial designation of natural disaster for 14 counties due to excessive heat and drought during the summer and fall. The counties include Fayette, Haywood, Blount, Cumberland, Fentress, Loudon, McMinn, Macon, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott and Wilson.

Industry Expansion Announced (WNSW-Radio)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with local officials and Jackson Die Casting, LLC representatives announced today the company’s decision to expand its Jackson manufacturing facility. The expansion of the high-pressure aluminum die casting company represents an investment of almost $4.5 million and will create 58 new jobs in the area over the next three years.

Jackson plant to create 58 jobs (Jackson Sun)

Jackson Die Casting announced on Wednesday that it will expand its operations and create 58 jobs over the next three years. Hiring is scheduled to begin next year. The expansion represents an investment of almost $4.5 million.

Dunlap Plant Plans Move Forward (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

Economic growth is on its way to small-town Tennessee We told you last month about an international company moving to Sequatchie County. Wednesday, Governor Bill Haslam and representatives from the new company, MANN+HUMMEL, spilled new details about the project The international auto-parts manufacturer will set up shop at the old Seymore Tubing building in Dunlap. It will focus on building car air-intake systems, like filters.

Haslam reflects on first year (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam took on teachers and lawyers to win battles to toughen tenure and cap lawsuit damages since his January inauguration, but he didn’t have as much success uprooting Occupy protesters. Haslam said he isn’t worried that the standoff with Occupy Nashville has tarnished his freshman year in office.

Franklin Deputy DA named judge by Haslam (Nashville Post)

Deputy District Attorney Derek K. Smith of Williamson County has been appointed to the Tennessee Circuit Court for the 21st Judicial District by Gov. Bill Haslam. Smith will fill a vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Jeff Bivins to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section. The 21st Judicial District includes Hickman, Lewis, Perry, and Williamson counties.

Eldridge appointed to workforce board (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced he has selected state Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, to serve as a member of the Tennessee Workforce Development Board. The appointment shows that 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,” according to a news release from the state legislature’s Republican majority.

Report: Tenn. ranks 10th best for its economic development efforts (CA/Locker)

A Washington advocacy group that tracks corporate subsidies issued a report Wednesday that ranks Tennessee 10th best among the states in linking state economic development subsidies to quality jobs, but also gives the state a score of only 54 out of 100 on the issue. “Good Jobs First,” a nonprofit group, says Tennessee could have received a much higher score “but lacks consistency in job quality standards” because only three of five incentive and subsidy programs that it examined “require good wages tied to market levels.”

Rhea woman faces TennCare fraud charges (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)

A Rhea County woman is looking at a two years behind bars for TennCare fraud. Heidi Connell, 32, is accused of selling prescription drugs that were paid for by TennCare. Investigators say she obtained a prescription for Adderall, with plans to sell some of the pills.

State Revenue Growth a “Pleasant Surprise,” Expected to Slow (WPLN-Radio)

The last few months have been good for state tax revenues, but Tennessee’s finance commissioner isn’t sure why. Economists are doubting the state will bring in tax dollars so fast in 2012. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes says lately Tennessee’s tax coffers have done unexpectedly well.

TN grants to help Amazon build in 2 counties, GM train in Spring Hill (TN/Sisk)

The State Funding Board approved $20 million in economic development funding for seven companies, including grants for projects in Murfreesboro, Lebanon, Spring Hill and Nashville. The board, made up of Tennessee’s top financial officers, agreed Wednesday to a pair of $3.5 million FastTrack infrastructure grants for Amazon’s new distribution facilities in Rutherford and Wilson counties.

Analyst: Full TN job recovery could take 5 years (Associated Press)

A University of Tennessee analyst says it could take up to five years before the state completely recovers all the jobs lost since the beginning of the recession. Bill Fox, director of UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research, told the State Funding Board in Nashville on Wednesday that the state has gained back about 60,000 jobs, or about a quarter of the 220,000 lost since 2007.

Revenue growth predicted for state (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee tax revenues are projected finally to return to their 2008 levels in 2013, but inflation will have eroded the state’s effective buying power by about 10 percent, a University of Tennessee economist says. “Tax revenues will be higher in 2013 than in 2008 for the first time in five years,” William Fox, director of UT’s Center for Business and Economic Research, told reporters Wednesday.

Fox: Inflation Undercuts Slow Recovery (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The state’s budget is far smaller than before the recession hit a few years ago. A state economist says one factor setting back Tennessee’s recovery is inflation.

State mental health chief: Closing Lakeshore won’t cost county (N-S/Donila)

Tennessee Department of Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney told county leaders Wednesday if the state closes Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, it would reinvest $20 million in the region and patients would not be dumped onto the streets. In an hour-long meeting with the administration and the Knox County Commission, Varney detailed his proposal to close the Lyons View Pike Center.

4,000 Tennesseans losing help from program (Associated Press)

A state program that helped 4,000 Tennesseans faced with sudden disabilities and life-threatening illnesses is being eliminated next July. The $7.2 million Family Support Grant will be dropped after three years in existence because of state budget cuts.

TBI charges store owners with possessing, selling illegal synthetic drugs (CP)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation took another step in the state’s crackdown on synthetic drugs serving 89 misdemeanor complaints on 40 individuals in Rutherford County. The complaints were served primarily on store owners on charges ranging from possession to possession with intent to sell.

SmartWay transportation center opens officially (Times Free-Press/Hightower)

Workers sit behind huge computer monitors that display interstate traffic cameras and maps of Southeast Tennessee. Almost one-quarter of a control room wall is covered by a large high-definition television screen, showing images from every interstate traffic camera in Chattanooga.

TDOT to review highway where pileup killed 2 south of Clarksville (AP)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation will study a section of a limited-access highway north of Nashville where a 50-car pileup this month left two people dead. A review of the Dec. 1 crash in Sumner County and the response concluded emergency workers’ handling of it was as good as could be expected, according to The Tennessean (http://bit.ly/vJUZrw ).

Former death row inmate wins new trial (Associated Press/Loller)

A former death row inmate may get a new trial after a state appeals court overturned his murder conviction 10 years after his death sentence was thrown out. A panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, at Jackson, ruled on Friday that Erskine Johnson deserved a new trial after he presented new evidence that cast doubt on testimony of a key witness against him.

Ray Bell Construction loses $3M appeal to Tennessee Supreme Court (NP/Nannie)

A local and prominent highway road construction firm has lost an appeal to the state’s highest court — resulting in a loss to the company of nearly $3 million — all due to poorly written and ambiguous contract fee provisions governing amounts due if completion dates remained unmet. The Dec. 12 decision, rendered by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Knoxville, relieved the Tennessee Department of Transportation of the obligation to pay $2,948,696.77 to Nashville-based Ray Bell Construction Co. for the building of a highway interstate exchange in Memphis.

Shipley, Ford TBI probe under review (Times-News)

There’s still no outcome from a nearly six-month Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into actions by state Reps. Tony Shipley of Kingsport and Dale Ford of Jonesborough. The TBI looked into whether Shipley and Ford committed legislative misconduct advocating for three nurses who had their licenses suspended and then reinstated by the state nursing board.

Among peers, Maury County’s drop in pay leads nation (Nashville Biz Journal)

Pay in Maury County dropped more in 2010 than in any other medium-sized U.S. county, according to new federal data According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, total compensation fell by more than 11 percent in Maury County, which was ranked against 682 similarly sized localities Pay in those counties, defined by those with total compensation between $1 billion and $10 billion, represented 22 percent of all U.S. counties. Overall, compensation increased in 2,480 counties and declined in 633 counties in the U.S.

Commissioners Fail to Approve Redistricting Plan (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Commissioners will try again Monday, Dec. 19, to give final approval to a new set of district lines for the 13-member body. At a special meeting Wednesday, Dec. 14, a new set of district lines that would keep but tweak the current five-district setup won approval on the second of three readings.

Occupy Nashville protest sustained by donations (Tennessean/Brooks)

Two months in, supplies continue to flow More than two months into Occupy Nashville’s occupation, the donations keep coming. Cash. Canned goods. Computers. Toilets. Restaurants donate hot meals.

Local trio supports payroll tax cut (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

The latest political battle in Washington, which involves payroll taxes and oil pipelines, found local Republican lawmakers siding with House leadership Tuesday evening. U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais, Chuck Fleischmann and Tom Graves voted to extend a cut in payroll taxes for 160 million middle-class Americans.

Fleischmann, DesJarlais praise passage of bill to extend payroll tax cuts (Nooga)

Despite being considered dead on arrival in the Senate and doomed for a veto in the White House, Tennessee representatives praised the efforts of their House colleagues to pass a measure on Monday that would extend payroll tax cuts. The bill, called “The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act,” passed in a 234-193 vote.

Bhalla enters GOP contest in 3rd District (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

On June 29, 2009, in the early days of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s run for Congress, local businessman Ron Bhalla donated $500 to the cause. Two and a half years later, Bhalla has become the latest Republican challenger to Fleischmann, a man he groups with “lobbyists, party influence, Washington politics and self-interest.”

Duncan, Corker, Roe agree: Time for Postal Service to get creative (NS/Collins)

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. thinks there may come a day when mail trucks drive around town with advertisements plastered on their sides. Shoppers one day may be able to buy stamps or mail packages at kiosks in big-box stores like Wal-Mart.

Postal Service to delay closings (Memphis Business Journal)

The U.S. Postal Service, which earlier this month announced plans to close more than half of its 461 mail-processing plants, now says it won’t move forward on the closings until next May. “In response to a request made by multiple U.S. Senators, [the Postal Service] has agreed to delay the closing or consolidation of any post office or mail processing facility until May 15, 2012,” the agency said in a statement.

Thousands of households face cuts in energy aid (Tennessean/Bewley)

Judith Anderson knows how to stretch a fixed income. She lives in a small apartment, doesn’t own a computer or television, and uses heat sparingly.

Poll: Most Americans want payroll tax extension (Associated Press/Kellman)

Most Americans want Congress to vote to continue the payroll tax reduction, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll that comes as Democrats and Republicans wrestle over whether to extend the cut through 2012. It’s the latest instance in which lawmakers on Capitol Hill have allowed partisan sniping to hold up a measure to put in place a policy that most Americans support, like ending the Bush tax cuts, cap and trade, and a surcharge on millionaires.

Ryan Revises Medicare Plan (Wall Street Journal)

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan plans to unveil a new Medicare proposal Thursday that would give future seniors the choice of purchasing private insurance coverage or staying in the traditional federal plan. The concept, which is backed by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, steps back from the House budget chairman’s previous plan to end the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program for future retirees and replace it with subsidies starting at $8,000 that seniors would use to purchase private health plans.

Under-26 Gain Insurance Under Health-Care Overhaul (Wall Street Journal)

About 2.5 million young adults have gained health-insurance coverage since the health-overhaul law let people stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, according to government figures released Wednesday. The results could help President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign boost support among young voters, whose turnout figures to be crucial to his winning a second term.

NRC flags Sequoyah plant over shutdowns (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

Federal regulators have given Sequoyah Nuclear Plant a “white” safety finding — the first level of safety concerns that triggers stepped up federal inspections. Sequoyah, near Soddy-Daisy and 20 miles from downtown Chattanooga, received notice of the finding in a November letter from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the plant’s Unit 1 reactor had its fourth unplanned “scram” — or shutdown — in less than a year. “This was due to two trips [unplanned automatic shutdowns] in the fourth quarter of 2010, one trip in the second quarter of 2011 and one trip in the third quarter of 2011,” wrote Richard P. Croteau, NRC’s director of the division of reactor projects.

Government seeks bids on Y-12/Panext contracts (News-Sentinel/Munger)

Potential bidders on the government contract to manage the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants will probably be working overtime during the holidays. The National Nuclear Security Administration on Wednesday released the final Request for Proposals for the new multi-billion-dollar contract, which for the first time will combine management of the two plants that perform national security missions in different states 1,000 miles apart.

Valero plans $298 million investment in Memphis refinery (C. Appeal/Bailey)

One of two firms seeking tax break Valero Energy Corp. plans a $298 million upgrade of its Memphis refinery over the next four years. The nation’s largest oil refiner will build a new hydrogen plant, make cooling tower additions and improve tanks and other facilities at the 70-year-old facility at 543 W. Mallory.

Valero Planning $298M Investment in Memphis (Memphis Daily News)

Two Memphis companies will ask for tax breaks at next week’s meeting of the Memphis-Shelby County EDGE Board to help them keep and make new investments in their local operations. The board meets Wed., Dec. 21, at the Crescent Center, 6075 Poplar, at 3:00 p.m. Valero Energy is seeking a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) for its Memphis refinery at 543 West Mallory Ave. to go along with planned investments and upgrades at the facility totaling more than $298 million over the next 5 years.

City Schools reflect high scores in state report card (State Gazette)

The state of Tennessee released school system report cards for the 2010-2011 school year on Friday, Dec. 2 and Dyersburg City Schools found itself performing well in comparison to the rest of the state and especially northwest Tennessee. The Dyersburg City School System continues to perform well despite being the 10th most economically disadvantaged school system in northwest Tennessee “Studies show that there is a direct correlation between economically disadvantaged school systems and student success,” said City Schools Superintendent Neel Durbin.

Rouse Construction submits low bid for new Knox elementary school (N-S)

Rouse Construction has submitted the low bid of $14.399 million to build Southwest Elementary School near Northshore Drive and Pellissippi Parkway. Bids were opened Wednesday afternoon.

Money spent on pre-k a good investment, Memphis group says (CA/Roberts)

Business executives in every sector of this city’s economy know times are tough. But they also say Memphis can’t afford status quo investment in early childhood education.

Texas: Overcoming a backlog (Stateline)

How Texas conquered a mountain of food stamps applications Two years ago, the 316 offices in Texas where people go to sign up for food stamps were the very image of a government backlog. Long lines of frustrated people, many of them hungry, snaked through dingy spaces designed to handle much smaller crowds.

 OPINION

Editorial: Move to TVAAS scores a fairer way to measure student success rates (JS)

Is it fair to apply the same education standards and test-score goals to all school systems across the nation, such as is done through the No Child Left Behind law? While we have long supported aspects of NCLB, such as testing standards to measure student progress, we increasingly are skeptical of the practice of labeling schools and school systems as “failing,” as in failing to meet average yearly progress benchmarks.

Columnist: Will Haslam Let the ‘Death Tax’ Die? (Metro Pulse)

Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will oppose Republican legislators’ efforts this session to repeal the Hall Income Tax and the state inheritance tax, saying the state can’t afford to give up revenue at the moment. Legislators see the repeals as popular election year actions and argue that they will prompt more people with capital and assets to retire in Tennessee rather than Florida—another state without an income tax.

Editorial: Awareness of photo ID for voting still lacking (Daily News Journal)

Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law is causing some confusion among the state’s electorate and could even disenfranchise some voters in the 2012 elections. With that in mind, the Rutherford County Election Commission made the right move recently by opting to notify 3,660 residents without photo IDs on their driver’s licenses about the state’s law.

Guest columnist: Smoking cessation underfunded in TN (Tennessean)

Is Tennessee a “quit-friendly” state for smokers who want to end their deadly addiction to nicotine? A new study by the American Lung Association shows the Volunteer State is making progress, aided by the addition of a TennCare smoking-cessation benefit. But the annual “Helping Smokers Quit: Tobacco Cessation Coverage 2011” certainly does not place Tennessee in the top tier of “quit-friendly” states, which includes Maine, North Dakota, Delaware and Wyoming.

Frank Cagle: Who Can Judge a Judge? (Metro Pulse)

As Al Gore might say, there is no controlling legal authority… The oft repeated question around town the last couple of weeks is what did the Knoxville legal community know about Judge Richard Baumgartner’s drug problem and when did they know it? It is certainly an important question and some outside entity needs to investigate and tell the community the results.

Editorial: Crisis looms, politics persist (Commercial Appeal)

Crucial economic stimuli such as the payroll tax cut should not be held hostage to make a point. The widening gap between members of Congress and ordinary Americans yawns some more in the current standoff in Washington over the proposed extension of the payroll tax cut.

Times Editorial: Ban on cell use urged (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

A raft of reports in recent years has documented the burgeoning problem of drivers who drive while dangerously distracted by cellphones, texting and other rising uses of mobile devices. So while it may be disheartening to users of such devices, it should come as no surprise that the National Transportation Safety Board has finally taken a firm decision to urge states to ban drivers’ use of hands-free devices, including wireless headsets.

Free-Press Editorial: An easy way to create jobs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

In a time of long-term high unemployment, the Obama administration could create more than 20,000 jobs simply by allowing the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline project has wide-ranging support, from Republican lawmakers to labor unions.

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