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December 28 TN News Digest

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

Haslam: Don’t delay state’s health exchanges (Nashville Business Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam says Tennessee should not delay establishing its own health insurance exchange and risk losing federal grant money to help pay for it. The individual state health insurance exchanges are a key component of federal health reform and are set to take effect in 2014.

Governor orders review of teacher evaluations (Ashland City Times)

Gov. Bill Haslam is calling for a five-month study of Tennessee’s new process for evaluating teachers, in a move to head off legislative action spurred by recent complaints over the system’s fairness and practicality. Haslam has asked SCORE, a Nashville education group that pushed for tougher teacher evaluations, to conduct a review of how well the state’s new system is working.

TN’s Haslam, Harwell hesitant on drug-testing proposal (Associated Press)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he expects lawmakers will pass a bill requiring drug tests for Tennesseans who get government assistance or workers’ compensation. Other high-ranking Republicans aren’t so confident.

Foreclosure Program Helps More Than 500 Tennesseans in First Year (WPLN)

More than 500 Tennesseans have been able to stay in their homes this year thanks to a new program funded by the federal government. The program is meant to help people on the edge of foreclosure.

Labor Dept. Typically Sides with Employers on Challenged Unemployment (TNR)

More than two-thirds of unemployment claims initially disputed by business owners and managers this year were decided in favor of the employers, according to the agency that regulates private workplace relations in the state. The numbers, provided to TNReport by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, seem to contrast with assertions made recently by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who insisted to reporters during a press conference this month that the state almost always sides with fired employees when deciding if they’re entitled to receive unemployment benefits.

County urges state not to close Taft (Crossville Chronicle)

Cumberland County has passed an official resolution urging the state of Tennessee not to close the Taft Youth Development Center. Commissioner of Children’s Services Kathryn O’Day proposed closing the center in the budget presented to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

A choice to live at home (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Nelson)

Program lets New Tazewell man stay in own apartment Norman Hotham finds the nursing home a nice place to visit, but he doesn’t want to live there. Because of a TennCare program that helps people with disabilities stay in their own homes, he doesn’t have to.

Northwest Tennessee cited for mixture of corridors (Associated Press)

A state report says northwest Tennessee has a robust mixture of road, rail, air and water corridors. The overview of the region is included in a strategic plan for economic development, according to the Union City Daily Messenger (http://bit.ly/vPJqVw ).

TDOT to close Marion bridge Jan. 9 (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Benton)

A stiff, 41-degree sleet-filled wind blasted workers Tuesday at the $21.5 million Marion Memorial Bridge replacement project. A dozen or so men were working beneath the 82-year-old structure on U.S. Highway 41 at the Tennessee River.

Drug testing for workers’ comp, welfare sparks worries (AP/Schelzig)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey expects Tennessee will put in place a law that requires drug tests for people drawing government assistance or workers’ compensation. Other high-ranking Republicans aren’t so sure.

Horse slaughter debate heats up in Tennessee (Tennessean/Paine)

Supporters say process humane; opponents outraged Debate has reignited in Tennessee and elsewhere on allowing the killing of horses for human consumption after a change in a federal funding bill to permit equine slaughterhouses. For five years slaughterhouses have been banned in this country because of specific wording in the federal budget each year that had forbidden the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending money to inspect the facilities.

Public to Get First Peek at State House District Maps (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s closed-door redistricting process will become a little more public next week. House Republicans will reveal their maps in an open meeting.

TN health care changes in 2012 (Nashville Business Journal)

Starting in 2012, physicians and consumers alike will some big changes in Tennessee’s health care market. Chief among those will be a 1 percent cut in payments starting Jan. 1 for Medicare patients for doctors who don’t issue prescriptions electronically, according to The Tennessean.

Tennessee insurers, health providers back state-run health exchange (TFP/Sher)

Tennessee insurers, hospitals, doctors and other providers want the state and not the federal government to run a state health care exchange mandated under the 2010 federal health care reform law. In a recent “white paper,” the state’s Insurance Exchange Planning Initiative summarizes feedback from providers and businesses about the advantages of Tennessee running the exchange.

Nashville gets its own Tea Party branch (City Paper/Garrison)

Nearly three years after a wave of anti-federal government sentiment spawned a national movement, Tea Party groups in Tennessee are still popping up. The latest is the Nashville Tea Party, launched earlier this month, marking the first Tea Party organization to use Tennessee’s capital city in its title.

Occupy Nashville: Staying Put, and Trying to Stay Warm (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Police have torn down tents at Occupy camps from New York to California, and some in the movement want to hibernate until spring. But protesters outside Tennessee’s capitol say they’re not going anywhere.

New money available to fight bat threatening white-nose syndrome (TFP/Sohn)

Help may be on the way against a fungus that already has killed millions of mosquito-eating and beetle-chomping bats in the Northeast and now is threatening Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, according to wildlife officials. Congress has directed the Department of Interior to allot $4 million from its 2012 endangered species recovery fund toward research and management of white-nose syndrome, which is fatal to bats.

Reducing federal deficit: Benefits for seniors could be on the chopping block (JS)

With Social Security and Medicare potentially on the chopping block for federal budget reductions, Jackson senior citizens say they worry they will no longer be able to make ends meet. “Without an increase in Social Security, I don’t see how it’s possible for me or anyone else for that matter to survive,” said Marjorie Wilson, local AARP president. Wilson, 73, said she retired from a career in accounting and work with Carson Pirie Scott department store in 1991 and has since undergone hip replacement, one shoulder replacement and two knee replacement surgeries and must cope with arthritis and diabetes.

Jobless Tap Disability Fund (Wall Street Journal)

The prolonged economic slump has fueled a surge in applications for Social Security disability benefits, with many desperate Americans seeking refuge in the program as a last resort after their unemployment insurance and savings run out. Two new studies, one of them co-authored by the White House’s top economist, show a correlation between when people seek Social Security disability payments and when their unemployment benefits are exhausted.

States Hit Turbulence in School Overhauls (Wall Street Journal)

The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on states to make good on their commitments under its Race to the Top competition, after all 12 winners either scaled down plans or pushed back timelines to overhaul their public-education systems. The U.S. Department of Education warned last week that Hawaii, which won $75 million in Race to the Top funding, is so far off track that the state could lose its money if it doesn’t start making good on its pledges.

Public workers pay to add work time, costing state pensions (USA Today)

Government workers in 21 states are using an obscure perk to retire early or to boost their annual pensions by thousands of dollars, which can cost taxpayers millions more in payments to retirement funds, a USA TODAY analysis shows. The practice, called buying “air time,” lets state, municipal and school employees pay to add up to five years to their work history so they are eligible to retire and collect a lifetime pension.

Y-12 welcomes $51 million fee, says plant ready for belt-tightening (NS/Munger)

Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, the government’s managing contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, received an “excellent” performance rating for Fiscal Year 2011 and earned a total fee of about $51.2 million, according to newly released information. Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said B&W Y-12 earned its performance-based fee out of a maximum possible $55,201,317.

TVA enlists neighbors to watch for copper theft (Associated Press)

TVA is asking people who live near its power substations to watch for copper thieves. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks in Knoxville said thieves have been attracted to copper because of the increasing value of the metal, and copper thefts have increased across the region served by the federal utility, according to The Johnson City Press.

Sears plans to close up to 120 locations (Market Watch)

At a time when holiday season sales overall have turned out better than expected, Sears Holdings Corp. was an exception: It said Tuesday that it will close 100 to 120 Sears and Kmart stores after disappointing holiday sales. Its stock, having already lost 37 percent of its value this year, tumbled 20 percent to $36.61 in early trading, making it the biggest percentage decliner in the S&P 500.

Schools Consolidation Dominates 2011 (Memphis Daily News)

The year 2011 ended politically the way it began – with lots of questions about schools consolidation. But at the start of 2011 the questions were centered on whether there would be a consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems.

Maryville men charged in connection with burglaries, meth lab found (NS/Coleman)

Two Maryville men were arrested early Tuesday in connection with a string of car burglaries and authorities found an inactive methamphetamine lab in the apartment the men shared, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office said. According to a Blount County Sheriff’s office news release, Joshua Dewayne Byrn, 22, and Gregory Read Stewart, 25, both of Wildwood Road, Maryville, were being held at the Blount County Jail Tuesday night.

OPINION

Editorial: Amazon delivers Christmas package (Daily News Journal)

Just in time for Christmas, Murfreesboro got one of the biggest presents it’s received in years: official word that Amazon.com is coming to town. Rutherford County unemployment dipped to 7.1 percent in November, the lowest rate in years, but the Amazon distribution center set for Joe B. Jackson Parkway will go even further in bringing the community out of a four-year recession and possibly spurring the economy like Nissan did a generation ago.

Editorial: Let people decide wine in stores (Leaf Chronicle)

Tennessee communities considering the sale of liquor by the drink decide the issue by putting a referendum on the ballot and leaving it to the voters. It’s a democratic process that permits the residents to choose their own standards.

Times Editorial: A flawed voter ID law (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The Justice Department’s decision last week to block South Carolina’s new voter ID law is a shot over the bow to Tennessee and six other states that passed similar laws this year — and a score or more waiting in the wings to do so. The decision affirms the obvious reason to overturn all such state laws: They will disproportionately suppress the voting rights of minorities, students and elderly and disabled voters — simply because those groups historically tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans.

Gail Kerr: Exhibit brings stories of Tennessee’s dead to life (Tennessean)

Tennessee’s dead have a lot to say to the living, if we’ll just listen. No, this is not a column about zombies and ghosties that go bump in the night. It’s about a fascinating new exhibit at the Tennessee State Library and Archives called “Silent Cities of the Dead.”

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