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January 2 TN News Digest

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

Gov. Bill Haslam moves slowly on rules (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam says changes in Tennessee’s regulatory culture, rather than an actual overhaul of state rules, are what’s needed to address most business complaints about red tape in state government. In a series of roundtables with business leaders last year, “most of the feedback we got on state regulations was more attitudinal in nature rather than actually regulatory driven,” the Republican governor told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a recent interview.

Haslam wants chance to study workers’ comp (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says legislators have been “tinkering around the edges” of Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law for a long time and the state “is getting behind the eight ball” in comparison with other states. But it appears that 2012 will be another year of legislative tinkering on the topic as Gov. Bill Haslam, who has expressed keen interest in changes as part of efforts to promote a business-friendly environment, has decided to continue studying the best way to a comprehensive revision.

Initiative aids small business exports (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

State officials have secured federal funds to pass on to small and medium-sized Tennessee producers of exportable goods. Funded by a $375,000 State Trade & Export Promotion grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, eligible businesses will receive a reimbursement equal to 50 percent of any one-time export-related expense, such as trade show participation or consultant fees, with a maximum reimbursement amount of $5,000 per company.

Tennessee students look toward a year of change (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

2012 Outlook: Education Since Tennessee’s First to the Top legislation passed two years ago, public schools have undergone rapid transformation, and there are no signs that changes will taper off in 2012. This spring, Tennessee students and teachers will have more at stake than ever come annual test time.

State Library Helps Residents Avoid News Archive Pay Walls (WPLN-Radio Nash)

The state of Tennessee is helping residents avoid paying for old newspaper articles. The state library has started keeping five years of archived stories available for free online.

Flood put focus on Tennessee waterways (Associated Press)

Tennessee waterways have gotten a new appreciation since the flood of 2010. Before the flood, Nashville resident Ryan Glore would help pick up litter along roadways. Afterward, he focused his efforts on clearing debris from the Harpeth River that flows through his backyard.

Tennessee Traffic Deaths Fewest Since 1962 (Associated Press/Edwards)

Tennessee traffic fatalities declined sharply this year, reaching their lowest figure in 49 years. So far in 2011, 926 people have died in wrecks in the state. It’s the fewest since 811 in 1962. Col. Tracy Trott of the Tennessee Highway Patrol credits drunken driving enforcement, increased seat belt use, educational safety programs in schools and other factors.

Motlow aiming to open new building in June ’13 (Daily News Journal)

When Motlow State Community College President MaryLou Apple unveiled plans in September for the school’s expansion here, she said she would like to hold a groundbreaking ceremony at the beginning of 2012. Last week, she remained optimistic about the project, which will include a 35,000-square-foot, two-story building.

Next General Assembly is shaping up to be a ‘play-it-safe’ session (CP/Woods)

State lawmakers return to Nashville in the new year for what’s shaping up as a play-it-safe session, with Republican leaders hoping to protect their large majority by coming and going quickly without offending fence-sitting voters before the 2012 elections. House Speaker Beth Harwell said “most importantly” her goal is a “deliberative and efficient legislative session,” perhaps wrapping up at the beginning of May.

Sparks: Rutherford rep likely from north (Daily News Journal)

County to have four state House districts With a meeting on redistricting looming next week, state Rep. Mike Sparks is predicting La Vergne will get stronger representation in the state House as Rutherford receives a fourth full seat. “I think we’re going to give La Vergne another voice in the north end of the county,” said Sparks, a Smyrna Republican and former Rutherford County commissioner.

Photo ID, anti-immigration measures among new laws (Associated Press/Johnson)

Tennesseans will be required to have photo identification in order to vote and state employers will have to make sure their employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S. under new laws that take effect Jan. 1. The photo ID measure has stirred debate, with critics saying the requirements to comply with the law are excessive and confusing, and could actually deter people from voting.

New state laws target DUI, voter photo IDs (Tennessean/Sisk)

Drivers stopped on suspicion of DUI who previously have been convicted of the charge, or who have a child present when stopped, will have to submit to a blood alcohol test under a new law that takes effect today. Voters also will have to show photo identification at the polls, and election officials will have to accept a write-in absentee ballot from overseas service personnel under new state laws.

New DUI Law Requires Alcohol Tests for Some Suspects (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s drunk driving laws are about to get tougher on those who have been convicted of DUI before. These suspects will be required to take a blood alcohol test if police believe they’re driving drunk.

Wharton To Consolidate Three City Divisions (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. plans to roll out a 100-day plan for goals for his administration now that he has started a full four-year term of office. After taking the oath of office Sunday, Jan. 1, at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, Wharton told several hundred in attendance that his plan will “begin this new term with energy and urgency.”

Volunteer State claims title of U.S. prescription drug capital (Times-News)

Tennessee obtained some dubious recognitions in 2011. First, the Volunteer State was noted for being among the fattest in America, and now it can claim the title of prescription drug capital of the United States.

Occupy Nash. claims Thursday night violence not related to protest (CP/Greenberg)

Occupy Nashville is claiming that the latest violence on Legislative Plaza isn’t tied to their encampment. Last night, witnesses say they saw Justin Otto, 33, walk up to a woman’s tent, throw something from a cup onto it, and light it on fire, according to a Metro Nashville Police Department affidavit.

Tennessee congressmen remember Gingrich years (Tennessean/Cass)

Bob Clement was elected to Congress nine years after Newt Gingrich was. But he was accustomed to the ways of the Capitol by the time Gingrich took over as speaker of the House in 1995.

Congress seeking limited solutions to cyber threats (News-Sentinel/Collins)

The growth of e-commerce has turned the threat of cyber attacks into a major concern for companies. For small businesses especially, a cyber attack can be catastrophic.

Post Office Changes Could Hurt Small Town Newspapers (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The US Postal Service says it needs to become a leaner organization by closing its smaller sorting centers. For most customers, the slower delivery will be an annoyance, but for the newspapers in many small Tennessee towns, it could be a costly change.

Inmates’ crack cocaine sentences being reduced (Tennessean/Haas)

Middle TN convicts benefit from federal ruling Federal inmates sentenced for possessing crack cocaine have begun to have their sentences slashed in Middle Tennessee after federal rules changed the way crack offenders should be punished. The U.S. Sentencing Commission ruled in July that new guidelines on crack cocaine sentences should also apply to past cases.

After Three Decades, Tax Credit for Ethanol Expires (New York Times)

A federal tax credit for ethanol expired on Saturday, ending an era in which the federal government provided more than $20 billion in subsidies for use of the product. The tax break, created more than 30 years ago, had long seemed untouchable.

Contract change could be big distraction for Y-12 workers (News-Sentinel/Munger)

It’s going to be an interesting year at the Y-12 National Security Complex because of the potential distractions. The management contract at Y-12 is up for bids, and it’s being combined — for the first time — with management of another nuclear weapons facililty, the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.

Hutcheson continues to bleed money (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Martin)

Despite a new board, new management and the infusion of a $20 million line of credit, a struggling North Georgia public hospital continues to lose money. Erlanger at Hutcheson, formerly known as Hutcheson Medical Center, lost more than $9 million in the first five months of the 2012 fiscal year, which began in July.

Road proposed to pave way for new businesses (News-Sentinel/Flory)

Say the word “redevelopment,” and many Knoxville residents might think of the restaurants, stores and trendy condos that have been popping up all over downtown. City officials, though, are hoping a beefed-up road network could pave the way for a resurgence of manufacturing and industrial activity in the heart of the city.

School calendars carry changes for 2012-2013 (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The Cleveland and Bradley County school systems’ 2012-2013 calendars each have some changes coming in the summer of 2012. Both school boards earlier this month adopted their calendars for the next school year after inviting parent and staff comments.

Alcoa taking first steps to building new high school (News-Sentinel/Coleman)

Official: New facility could be open in ’14 Stirring memories of the past while preparing students for the future — that’s the goal Alcoa school officials have for their proposed new high school. If Alcoa City Commission approves funding to build the new high school, ground could be broken as early as this summer, said Alcoa City Schools Director Brian Bell.

Mississippi: Budget tussle looms in Mississippi (Commercial Appeal)

Mississippi lawmakers and Gov.-elect Phil Bryant will face a difficult task in crafting a state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Bryant will propose a budget after he takes office this month, but he has been vague about his plans. Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves and likely House Speaker Philip Gunn also have made no specific proposals.

OPINION 

Gail Kerr: Tennessee Supreme Court website helps needy find legal help (Tenn)

There are more than a million Tennessee residents who, at any given time, are too poor to hire an attorney when they need one. A new website, http://justiceforalltn.org, is a practical, connect-the-dots way for them to find the help they need.

Free-Press Editorial: Congress does too much already (Times Free-Press)

Some U.S. senators think Congress doesn’t do enough, so they’ve proposed a plan to require members of Congress to put in more hours in Washington and in their home districts. Far be it from us to suggest that lawmakers shouldn’t have to earn their pay, but we might want to think twice before trying to have members of Congress spend even more time in Washington.

Editorial: ‘Essential Benefits’ and Health Reform (New York Times)

The Obama administration surprised supporters and critics when it decided to let states define the “essential health benefits” that must be provided to their citizens under health care reform. The move could lessen opposition in Republican-led states and increase the chances that they will move ahead on building new health insurance exchanges to comply with the reform law.

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