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December 29 TN News Digest

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

Teacher Evaluation System to be Evaluated (Public News Service)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has commissioned an outside review of Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, following a recommendation by the House Education Committee. The committee found that principals and teachers across the state are overwhelmed by the amount of time needed to prepare for a single observation.

Economic outlook brightens (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

After winning Tennessee’s top industrial recruitment prizes in 2008 and 2009 with billion dollar-plus investments from Volks-wagen and Wacker Chemical, Southeast Tennessee landed the state’s biggest job generator in 2011 with a pair of Amazon distribution centers. Combined with other expansions at Alstom Power, Whirlpool, Chattem and VW suppliers during the past three years, business additions already have pumped nearly $2 billion of investments and added more than 7,500 full-time and temporary jobs to the Chattanooga region.

Biz Community Still Seeking Stable Ground (Memphis Business Journal)

Small business in 2011 was a mixed bag of serious market hurdles and fresh opportunities for innovation, depending on who you ask… Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration this year voiced its intentions to make small-business development a priority.

Tennessee NCLB Waiver Praised in Comparison to Other States (WPLN-Radio)

About half of the nation’s states have either applied or are planning to apply for waivers to the No Child Left Behind Law. A pair of studies agree that the alternate proposals for holding schools accountable tend to be overly complex. But one is pointing to Tennessee’s waiver application as an example of how a state can challenge itself while still keeping its goals clear and understandable.

Tennessee state parks celebrating 75th anniversary (Associated Press)

Tennessee state parks will commemorate their 75th anniversary with a series of hikes early in the new year. All 53 parks will have hikes, ranging from one mile and tailored for novice hikers, to longer ones geared toward more experienced hikers.

Lakeshore’s Closing May Yield Benefits (Metro Pulse/Sullivan)

The initial announcement of state plans to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute sent shock waves throughout the community. The specter of its released patients lapsing into homelessness and ending up in jail seemed all too real based on the results of Lakeshore downsizings in the past.

State reins in mortgage lender (Nashville Business Journal)

State regulators have cracked down on a mortgage company to the tune of more than $1.5 million The Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions has alleged in state administrative proceedings that First Choice Funding, a Birmingham, Ala. company that has done mortgage lending in the Nashville area, failed to properly document its activities. Though authorized to do business in Tennessee, the company failed to provide proper identification numbers on loan documents as required by law 141 separate times, according to state regulators. A representative of the company named in court documents, Zach Rogers, could not be reached for comment today.

Drug fight tops DAs’ concerns (Times-Gazette)

Tennessee’s district attorneys say that synthetic and prescription drug abuse will be the biggest challenges they face going into the new year. District Attorney General Charles Crawford and 30 others recently met for the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference to identify what they termed “serious areas of concern” which must be addressed at the state level in 2012.

Lawmakers still haven’t filled Ethics Commission seat that expired in ’09 (TN/Gee)

Tennessee lawmakers have failed for two years to fill a seat on the panel responsible for regulating lobbying activities, financial disclosure requirements and ethical conduct within state and local government. The Tennessee Ethics Commission was created in 2006 to help restore the public’s faith in government after the Tennessee Waltz bribery scandal of 2005 led to the convictions of nine state and local officials and a lobbyist.

Voter ID law could face court challenge (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

A controversial Tennessee law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polling places could soon face a court challenge if not changed, an attorney warned Wednesday. “A suit is being contemplated, and we’ve been attempting to get it resolved through other, political means, which appear to have been fruitless — at this point,” said attorney Gerard Stranch, of Nashville.

Few Fined for Texting Behind the Wheel (TN Report)

Tennessee lawmakers outlawed texting while driving more than two years ago. At the time, predictions were that 3,650 people a year would end up getting pinched thumbing their noses at the law while they thumbed away at their hand-held communication devices.

Tennessee political redistricting meetings set for Wednesday (Tennessean/Cass)

Political junkies, get out your maps. Members of two state legislative committees will kick off 2012 by discussing redistricting proposals, House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office announced.

Madison County leaders share their thoughts on new districts (Jackson Sun)

With elections coming up in the new year, some Madison County commissioners’ districts have changed more than others because of new lines drawn based on census data. County redistricting committee officials have said they had to take into account a number of different factors to redraw the lines according to population changes, including how county commission, voting precinct and School Board lines overlapped, how to eliminate voter confusion when shifting large populations and how to avoid drawing representatives out of their current districts.

Checks and balances (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Lakin)

Doctors, law enforcement spar over prescription-drug database More people than ever could be using Tennessee’s prescription-drug database under legislation expected to be proposed next year — everyone from medical examiners to judges and probation officers. Prosecutors say it’s the only way to cut off the problem of pain-pill abuse at its source. The News Sentinel highlighted that problem in a series this year.

Mill Creek Monitored for Flooding (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Everyday, the National Weather Service turns out a flood forecast for the Cumberland, Duck, and Harpeth Rivers. Now the agency will do the same for a southeast Nashville creek with a history of flooding. During the 2010 flood, Mill Creek topped 20 feet, deluging Interstate 24 and smaller roads in Nolensville and Antioch.

New tea party has Nashville bent (Tennessean/Rau)

Led by anti-tax advocate, group to tackle Metro issues With the possibility of a property tax hike hanging over the upcoming Metro budget process, anti-tax advocate Ben Cunningham has helped organize a new Nashville Tea Party that will focus on local government issues. The new tea party group, which has formed a nonprofit organization, is in its infancy with about 200 Facebook friends and 60 Twitter followers.

Few being seen, heard in local Occupy effort (Daily News Journal)

During most hours of the day, the number of tents outnumber the protesters “occupying” the Civic Plaza near City Hall. “I don’t think people are taking us seriously. They see us as hippies with no job, no place to go.

Tiny town’s faithful fear post office closure (Tennessean/Smietana)

Many in Cottage Grove, Tenn., rely on mail to stay connected The New Testament warns Christians not to conform to the world. But some folks take it more seriously than others For Ervin Yoder, a Mennonite minister and concrete contractor, it means he has a cellphone for work but no TV or radio.

FEMA funding may purchase properties (Columbia Daily Herald)

Columbia is set to receive more than $2.1 million in federal funding to help buy and demolish 15 properties that were damaged in last May’s historic floods. Under the criteria set forth in the grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city and state would each have to pay matching costs of 12.5 percent, or $351,505, to acquire and then raze the flood-damaged parcels.

TVA razes Watts Bar coal plant (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

TVA has torn down its old Watts Bar coal plant near Spring City in Rhea County and is eliminating more than $1 million in annual maintenance costs. TVA said in a statement that it has sold metals from the plant to recyclers and is reusing some of the materials.

Electrolux gets hiring pressure (Commercial Appeal/Risher)

As Electrolux prepared to award an $80 million-plus contract to build its Memphis appliance factory, some elected officials raised a flag about the company’s intent to hire local construction workers. In a letter dated Tuesday, chairmen of the Shelby County Commission and Memphis City Council and chairwoman of the Shelby legislative delegation cited “mutual concern regarding the local and minority participation” in the publicly financed construction project.

Plant closure leaves many without jobs (Times Gazette)

Another Shelbyville industry has shut its doors, leaving more than two dozen without work during the holidays.  Manuli Stretch USA Inc., Railroad Avenue, closed its Shelbyville plant earlier this month, but will reportedly expand its product offerings available from offshore affiliates.

Tenn. schools data-driven to succeed (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Program keeps tabs on students, teachers Tennessee is one of six states that shares how effective its schoolteachers are with the colleges and universities that prepared them. It also provides detailed reports to high schools — public and private — showing how their graduates performed in their first year of college and if they enrolled for their sophomore year, key details for a state trying to make big leaps in its number of college-educated residents.

State recognizes S.H. Middle School achievement (Columbia Daily Herald)

A Spring Hill school was recognized for outstanding achievement in the Tennessee Department of Education’s annual report on performance standards for the 2010-2011 school year. Spring Hill Middle School was the only Maury County school designated among the state’s 169 reward schools.

California: California prisons shedding inmates fast (Stateline)

California Governor Jerry Brown has had mixed results on a range of policy initiatives during his first year back in office, but one of his most successful efforts may be the rapid decline in the state’s teeming prison population. On Tuesday (December 27), corrections officials detailed just how swift the inmate decline has been.

Connecticut: Connecticut drops insurers from Medicaid (Kaiser Health News)

In the past decade, most states have turned Medicaid over to private insurance plans, hoping they could control costs and improve care. Nearly half of the 60 million people in the government program for the poor are in managed-care plans run by insurance giants such as UnitedHealthcare and Aetna. Connecticut, the “insurance capital of the world,” is bucking the trend.

Illinois: Criminal Code Tough to Crack (Wall Street Journal)

Illinois has chopped its bloated criminal code by about a third, updated old laws and added protections for defendants in one of the most ambitious criminal-law reorganizations by a state in recent years. But it took Illinois almost 10 years and two attempts to reach that point. Proponents had to slog through thousands of pages of legalese, worry about being labeled soft on crime and dodge a minefield of competing interests. Even now, arcane statutes remain, including a law banning fornication.

OPINION

Editorial: Gov. Bill Haslam uses businesslike approach when leading state (NS)

Anybody notice a pattern here? Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey wants Tennessee to delay any action on creating a health care exchange in hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will shoot down the “Obamacare” reforms, which he and other conservatives so loathe.

Times Editorial: Planning health care reform (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

As in other Republican-controlled states, Tennessee’s top officials are in a needless fret over whether to initiate planning for a state insurance exchange, the entities that states must have in place beginning in January 2014 to help uninsured citizens buy competitively priced, reasonably comprehensive health insurance. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he fears being seen as supporting “Obamacare” if he moves legislation to establish an exchange. Gov. Bill Haslam says he opposes the requirement for states to establish an exchange to promote transparent insurance competition.

Editorial: Cut down red tape in teacher evaluations (Daily News Journal)

The Tennessee Legislature acted rashly when it adopted a new teacher evaluation system as part of an education reform effort and application for federal funds. As a result, the burden of multiple classroom evaluations is weighing on administrators, teachers and school board members across the state in its first year.

 

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