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January 10 TN News Digest

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

Haslam preps for early legislative moves, incentive reform (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tuesday, with the gavel sounding inside the legislative chambers and government officials, lobbyists and activists milling about in the halls, the Tennessee General Assembly will reconvene. Legislators from across the state will assemble to once again tout the issue of job creation — and Gov. Bill Haslam will get a second crack at steering the conversation.

Doctors, pharmacists on board with most of Haslam pill bill (News-Sentinel/Lakin)

Doctors and pharmacists say they’re willing to work with Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on its proposed legislation to combat prescription-drug abuse, although they might call for compromise on some points. “We know the problem’s an epidemic,” said Russ Miller, executive vice president of the Tennessee Medical Association.

Legislative session to test Haslam’s assertiveness (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The second session of the 107th General Assembly starting today will test Gov. Bill Haslam’s increased assertiveness with fellow Republicans accustomed to getting their way in the legislature. Haslam is set to begin his second year in office by taking a more active role in legislative matters, while the House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey are still jockeying for position with each other and with the governor.

Plant expansion in Anderson Co. to bring 188 new jobs (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Eagle Bend Manufacturing, Inc. have announced a $64 million dollar expansion at their Clinton facility that will bring 188 new jobs to the area. The company, a division of Magna International, Inc., is a Tier 1 automotive parts supplier for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of cars and light trucks worldwide.

$64M expansion of Clinton plant to bring 188 new jobs (News-Sentinel/Fowler)

Eagle Bend Manufacturing Inc. is expanding its 25-year-old plant in Clinton, and the $64 million project will create 188 new jobs over the next five years, officials announced Monday. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty joined local officials in announcing the expansion.

Eagle Bend expansion bringing nearly 200 jobs (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

A $64 million dollar investment is expected to bring nearly 200 jobs to Anderson Co., Gov. Bill Haslam’s office announced on Monday. Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty joined local officials as Eagle Bend Manufacturing, Inc. described how it plans to expand its Clinton facility over the the next five years.

Clinton auto parts plant announces $64M expansion; 188 new jobs (Oak Ridger)

State officials announced Monday that Eagle Bend Manufacturing Inc. is planning a $64 million expansion of its Clinton plant. The expansion is also expected to add 188 new jobs, according to information from the state.

Haslam’s regulatory review wraps up (Nashville Business Journal)

The Haslam administration has completed its review of state and federal regulations in a bid to cut red tape that bogs down job creation. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, announced the Regulatory Reform Report Friday afternoon, along with Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Tenn. meeting goals for education reform (Associated Press/Loller)

Tennessee is meeting most of its goals for implementing educational reforms tied to a $500 million federal Race to the Top award, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education. It found the state’s major challenge during the 2010-2011 school year was a delay in hiring management and support staff for several key programs.

Tennessee praised for Race to the Top progress (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

In its first report on the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds, the U.S. Department of Education Monday issued mostly glowing reviews of first-year progress in nine states, including Tennessee, while reserving judgment on Hawaii, Florida and New York, where progress is less sure. Tennessee, one of two states that won money in the first round of Race to the Top in 2010, was praised as one of a handful of states tying teachers’ job reviews to student test scores and for its partnership with the University of Tennessee and Batelle Memorial Institute to advance science, technology, engineering and math in high school.

TN struggled, met Race to Top goals (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Tennessee faced challenges with Department of Education turnover in its first year of spending its $501 million federal Race to the Top grant, but the state still managed to meet promised goals. The news came in a media conference call Monday with the U.S. Department of Education, which selected Tennessee and Delaware as the first two states to win the education reform grant.

Contractor reaches settlement in Henley Bridge fatality (News-Sentinel/Alund)

Britton Bridge LLC, the contractor on the Henley Bridge reconstruction project, has reached a $12,573 settlement with state labor officials after being fined last year for safety violations in connection with a worker’s death. Project foreman John David Womac, 33, died Jan. 25, 2011, after the bucket and arm of a track hoe fell on him on the south side of the bridge.

Chattanooga judge reprimanded by court panel (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Court of the Judiciary has publicly reprimanded General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Moon Jr. of Hamilton County. The disciplinary panel announced Monday that the reprimand stems from three complaints.

Tenn. court reprimands Hamilton County Judge Bob Moon’s actions (TFP/Haman)

Three complaints about Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Bob Moon’s courtroom behavior, including allegations that he failed to appoint counsel to defendants properly, prompted the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary to issue a public reprimand. Though public reprimands of judges are rare, Moon became the second local member of the judiciary to receive one in the past month.

Judge boils as state defends ballot restrictions (Tennessean/Gee)

U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr. openly bristled Monday at a deputy attorney general’s attempts to defend restrictions on ballot access in Tennessee — restrictions similar to those Haynes threw out as unconstitutional less than 16 months ago. While his annoyance was clear, Haynes did not rule on the Green and Constitution parties’ request for summary judgment in their favor after 90 minutes of oral arguments, choosing instead to take the matter under advisement.

TBI: Two lawmakers didn’t break law in nursing discipline case (Associated Press)

Charges will not be filed against two state lawmakers who used heavy-handed tactics to help three nurse practitioners get their licenses back, Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson said Monday. Bobby Reynolds II, David Stout Jr. and Tina Killebrew were accused of over-prescribing at the now-defunct Appalachian Medical Clinic in Johnson City, where the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was probing patient deaths.

Shipley, Ford Overstepped Legislative Role, Not Law: Nashville DA (TN Report)

Davidson County’s district attorney general on Monday defended probing two state lawmakers for political wrongdoing, even after an investigation by Tennessee’s most powerful law enforcement agency revealed nothing deemed worthy of criminal prosecution. Victor S. “Torry” Johnson III told reporters Monday that Reps. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, were “particularly heavy handed” in convincing the state nursing board to reverse disciplinary action against three nurses, but they broke no laws.

DA finds ‘political hardball,’ no corruption between lawmakers, nursing board (CP)

Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson found no evidence for criminal charges in an investigation related to state Reps. Tony Shipley and Dale Ford, as well as employees of the state’s Department of Health. But Johnson did deem their actions “questionable.”

Davidson County DA: Legislators ‘Heavy-Handed” But Didn’t Break Law (WPLN)

Two state representatives have been cleared of breaking the law but took “questionable actions” in helping their constituents, according to a report issued today. The state Board of Nursing suspended three nurses in spring of 2010, on charges they over-prescribed pain medication at a Johnson City clinic.

Davidson DA clears Shipley, Ford in TBI probe (Times-News)

Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson announced today there will be no criminal charges involving the actions of state Reps. Tony Shipley and Dale Ford, who advocated for three nurses whose licenses were stripped and then reinstated by the state nursing board. On June 22, 2011, General Johnson asked for a full-scale Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into Shipley’s and Ford’s actions, as well as employees of the Department of Health.

Lawmakers return to 2nd session of 107th assembly (Associated Press)

Tennessee lawmakers return for the second session of the 107th General Assembly on Tuesday. Both chambers are scheduled to begin their business at noon CST.

Tennessee Legislators begin new session at state Capitol (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Republicans are roaring back to the state Capitol today, where they will kick off the General Assembly’s annual session with a partisan bang. One of the first orders of business this week is acting on controversial redistricting plans that heavily favor majority Republicans as state House, state Senate and congressional districts are redrawn.

Lawmakers promise teacher eval fixes (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County’s state lawmakers promised Monday they’d improve the controversial teacher evaluation process implemented this year. “You are going to see some change,” state Sen. Jim Tracy told members of the Rutherford County Commission’s Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee.

Local legislators outline priorities for 2012 (Leaf Chronicle)

As the 107th General Assembly begins work today, Clarksville’s three legislators have some long-standing issues they want addressed. For state Sen. Tim Barnes, there are ongoing calls for highway improvements and upgrades to Port Royal State Park, but one issue in particular has drawn his passion: An extension of unemployment benefits to military spouses.

New Year Brings Tougher Penalties in Drive-By Shootings (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The new year brings stiffer penalties for drive-by shootings. A new state law makes it a felony to shoot into a house, whether it’s occupied or not. The state legislation was sponsored by Senator Mark Norris, a Republican from the suburbs of Memphis, which has suffered a rash of drive-bys, including one Christmas morning.

Fundraising Deadline Looms for State Lawmakers (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Members of the General Assembly are going down to the wire collecting campaign contributions. Fundraising is forbidden during the annual legislative session, which starts Tuesday at noon. And some lawmakers found out just last week they’ll have to run against an incumbent to keep their own seat.

Tenn. lawmakers examine proposed legislative districts (Columbia Daily Herald)

With the dust settling on Republican plans for redrawing legislative districts in Tennessee, lawmakers from both parties are assessing their future plans. Democrats say they will offer amendments to the state House and Senate maps unveiled last week, but with vast Republican majorities in both chambers it appears unlikely that the proposals will change significantly.

Unified school system hires Fred Thompson’s son as lobbyist (C. Appeal/Bailey)

The unified school system has hired Nashville-based lobbyist Tony Thompson to monitor legislative activity during the upcoming session of the General Assembly. The Dec. 15 contract with Thompson for $75,000 was done administratively and did not come before the 23-member unified board for consideration.

Williamson Co Election Commission sues Brentwood over early voting request (CP)

The Williamson County Election Commission, along with state officials, are suing the city of Brentwood for allegedly denying a request to hold early voting at the library. The election commission sent an “official notice” to the Brentwood City Library in November declaring that the presidential preference primary and local Republican primary would be held at the facility from Feb. 22 to 28.

Brentwood officials sued over denial of library access (Tennessean/Burch)

Election panel says city can’t opt out as polling place The Williamson County Election Commission has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to gain access to the Brentwood Library as an early voting polling place in three 2012 elections. Brentwood City Manager Mike Walker, who is named in the suit along with Mayor Paul Webb and Brentwood commissioners, called the move “unbelievable.”

Shelby County officials complain ‘sunshine’ too bright (CA/Connolly)

Some commissioners press to ease open meetings law It would be a stretch to say that Shelby County Commission members routinely violate the state Open Meetings Act. But it’s safe to say that in some recent cases, commissioners have come close to breaking the law.

County Commission to Start Over on Redistricting Talks (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County commissioners will try to start their stalled redistricting process from square one next week with a special meeting. Commissioners agreed Monday, Jan. 9, to start the three-reading process of the redistricting ordinance from the beginning.

Duncan, employees to pay back more than $40,000 in bonuses (TFP/Donila)

Trustee John Duncan III, employees to pay back more than $40,000 in bonuses Knox County Trustee John Duncan III and a half dozen of his employees have agreed to pay back more than $40,000 in incentive payments for participating in a government-related program that they never completed. Duncan told the News Sentinel on Monday he hasn’t resolved all the details, but some of his workers will ma one-time payments for as much as $6,000 and others “may need extra time to make monthly installments.”

Redistricting plan would take most of Jewish vote from Cohen district (CA/Sullivan)

A congressional redistricting plan being considered this week by the Tennessee legislature would remove all of the major Jewish institutions and much of the Jewish vote from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s 9th District, he said Monday. Cohen, the first Jewish congressman elected from Tennessee, said the plan draws an “appendage” west from the proposed 8th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Stephen Fincher, up the Poplar Corridor as far west as The Links at Galloway Golf Course.

Cohen Concerned Over Redistricting (Memphis Daily News)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, got a closer look over the weekend at the proposed set of new district lines for his congressional district. And Cohen said Monday, Jan. 9, that it wasn’t what he and other political observers of both parties first assumed it would be – a move of Republican territory in the Memphis suburbs from the Republican 7th District into the Republican 8th District.

Corker Concerned About Iran, Defends Proposal (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says he’s concerned about Iran and its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Presidential candidates have been jockeying to be the strongest on Iran, and Corker says they have a point. He’s been in on the classified briefings about the effectiveness of economic pressure that’s being applied to Iran.

Democratic donor: Corker lobbied White House for Bredesen (Tennessean/Cass)

A prominent Democratic Party donor who says U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is trying to help former Gov. Phil Bredesen get a top job in the Obama administration has urged the White House to resist the senator’s pleas. Real estate mogul Bill Freeman wrote to White House chief of staff William Daley on Dec. 28, saying he had learned on a recent trip to Washington that Bredesen, a Democrat, had asked Corker, a Republican, “to make calls to the administration on his behalf.”

State Sen. Jim Tracy rules out run for Congress in 2012 (Tennessean/Sisk)

State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, ruled out a run for Congress on Monday, saying he plans instead to focus on re-election to the state Senate. “I will not be a candidate for Congress in 2012,” Tracy said in a statement.

Tracy will not seek US House seat (State Gazette)

State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) announced via social media this morning that he will not be a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives but will instead run for re-election to his state seat This year’s congressional redistricting had led to some speculation that Tracy and/or his fellow Republican State Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, both of whom would live in the newly-reconfigured 4th District according to proposals released last week, might challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais. But Tracy released this statement on his Facebook page this morning: “I will not be a candidate for Congress in 2012.

Tracy won’t seek GOP slot for 4th District (Daily News Journal)

To pursue state Senate re-election State Sen. Jim Tracy is dropping consideration for a 2012 congressional run and will focus instead on re-election to the state Senate. Tracy announced Monday he will not enter the Republican race for the newly-drawn 4th Congressional District, which includes all of Rutherford and his home county of Bedford and stretches over to Rhea, Meigs and Bradley counties in East Tennessee.

Rutherford State Senator Eyes Run for U.S. Congress (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

In a brief statement today, Murfreesboro State Senator Bill Ketron did not rule out a congressional challenge of a fellow Republican — a primary fight with freshman representative Scott DesJarlais. This year the congressional map is expected to be redrawn to put Rutherford County in the fourth district, potentially giving Ketron leverage in the new, heavily populated areas of the district.

Bill Ketron weighs challenge of Rep. Scott DesJarlais in 4th District (TFP/Sher)

The congressional redistricting map from state Republican lawmakers hasn’t even been approved yet, but things already are moving in the GOP primary for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District. One potential candidate — state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville — announced Monday he won’t challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the 4th, which undergoes major surgery in the planned redraw of the state’s nine congressional districts.

Mail move on hold (Johnson City Press)

A proposal to move Johnson City’s mail processing operations to Knoxville has been put on hold after a request by 15 Democratic U.S. Senators that a five-month moratorium be placed on closing any facilities. The United States Post Office, which is holding out hope that legislation may help cure their financial ills, has been on path to eliminate 35,000 mail processing positions nationwide; 33 of those positions are here in Johnson City.

Weak Economy Curbs Health Spending (Wall Street Journal)

The growth of health-care spending was near a historic low at 3.9% in 2010 as the weak economy prompted people to cut back on medical care, according to data released by federal analysts. Health expenditures in the U.S. totaled $2.6 trillion in 2010, or $8,402 per person, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said.

Washington and the states: a year of uncertainty and foreboding (Stateline)

A long siege of deadlock and dysfunction in Washington has left states frustratingly unclear what to expect from the federal government in the coming year. About the only thing they know for sure is that it is not going to be a year of generosity.

E-Verify Law Gets Mixed Reaction from Businesses (TN Report)

Tennesseans taking jobs in both the private and public sectors must now prove their citizenship to their new employers thanks to a new state immigration law that took effect this month. So far, business advocates say they’ve gotten a variety of feedback from employers about the new requirements which came at the hands of a Legislature that originally sought to impose a bundle of illegal immigration reforms before settling on the new hiring regulations.

VW CEO touts sales of Chattanooga-made Passat, unveils 2 green cars (TFP/Pare)

Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn said Monday the Chattanooga-produced Passat is on its way to becoming “a real blockbuster.” Winterkorn predicted 2012 will be known as “the year of the great comeback” by the German automaker in America.

Erlanger hospital trustees OK $728,000 severance pay deal (TFP/Martin)

After more than a month of negotiations, Erlanger trustees reversed a previous vote and approved a controversial $728,000 severance package for outgoing CEO Jim Brexler. Trustees voted 4-4 against the same severance package in December but voted 5-4 to approve it during a 30-minute meeting Monday morning. Board Chairman Ronald Loving said the vote allows trustees and the hospital to put Brexler’s tenure behind them and move on to pressing issues of improving profitability at the hospital.

McIntyre suggests changes to Knox magnet school programs (N-S/McCoy)

In many cities, magnet schools are attractive and sought after, and that’s a goal that Knox County Schools would like to see its magnet programs consistently meet, too, Superintendent Jim McIntyre told the board Monday night at its monthly work session. “I know we have great aspirations for our magnet programs,” he said.

New sex ed guide builds foundation by 2nd grade (Associated Press/Hefling)

Young elementary school students should use the proper names for body parts and, by the end of fifth grade, know that sexual orientation is “the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender,” according to new sexual education guidelines released Monday by a coalition of health and education groups. The non-binding recommendations to states and school districts seek to encourage age-appropriate discussions about sex, bullying and healthy relationships — starting with a foundation even before second grade.

Arizona: This year, lawmakers have more money to fight over (E. Valley Tribune)

State lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday facing something they have not seen in years: More money than they immediately need to balance the budget. The last surplus was in 2006, when the economy was booming.

Colorado: Colorado legislature faces key issues (Denver Post)

Political strategist Karl Rove has predicted that Colorado would be ground zero for the presidential race, but the state’s first take-no-prisoners political battle actually begins Wednesday under the Gold Dome. The 2012 session features four lawmakers with congressional aspirations, a Democratic Senate president and a Republican House speaker in a rocky relationship, and hard feelings sparked by the process of redrawing legislative and congressional boundaries.

Florida: State lawmakers open session facing $2 billion budget shortfall (M. Herald)

The Florida Legislature convenes Tuesday for an unusual and unpredictable 60-day session that will be dominated by two highly partisan subjects: the redrawing of political districts and yet another round of budget-cutting. As lawmakers pack their bags for the next two months, they are adding sweaters and heavy coats to ward off the biting chill of a January in North Florida.

Indiana: Indiana reaches online sales tax deal with Amazon.com (AP)

Amazon.com will begin collecting Indiana’s 7 percent sales tax from customers in 2014. In Tennessee, the online retailer agreed last fall to begin collecting sales taxes there in 2014.

OPINION

Richard Cowart: Politics won’t stop progress on TN health exchange (Tennessean)

The Tennessee General Assembly convenes its 2012 session today, and several key health-care subjects are on the table. Among them: Health-care exchange: Gov. Bill Haslam has indicated he wants to move forward in setting up a health-care exchange system, as set forth in the federal health-care reform act. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker Beth Harwell have indicated that they want to move forward more slowly and cautiously, perhaps indicating a conflict between the administration and legislative leadership.

Guest columnist: TN passive on prescription abuse (Tennessean)

Tennessee consistently has high rates of prescription drug abuse and high rates of prescription drugs prescribed. According to a Novartis Pharmacy Report, in 2006, Tennessee ranked No. 1 in prescriptions per capita, and its residents obtained prescriptions at a rate of 1½ times that of the national average.

Editorial: Focus needed for efficient, effective legislative session (News-Sentinel)

The 2012 session of the 107th Tennessee General Assembly convenes today, and the challenge for lawmakers will be to focus on important matters. It’s unlikely any legislation will have a greater effect over a longer period of time than the once-a-decade redistricting of legislative and congressional offices.

Editorial: Incentives for prenatal care (Commercial Appeal)

The idea of paying expectant mothers to seek prenatal care could be a sound investment. It’s not something most folks would expect from one of Tennessee’s more conservative legislators, but state Sen. Brian Kelsey is onto something with his proposal to offer expectant mothers a financial incentive to seek prenatal care.

Editorial: Having a say on merger (Commercial Appeal)

The group of men and women deciding how to merge the Memphis and Shelby County school districts will hold the first of many public meetings tonight. The Transition Planning Commission will meet at 7 p.m. at Collierville United Methodist Church to seek citizens’ input on how the merged school system should be structured.

Editorial: IDB should step up with funds for Motlow (Daily News Journal)

If you build it they will come. The overused line from the Kevin Costner baseball film “Field of Dreams” is certainly applicable and worth pulling out one more time in the case of Motlow State Community College.

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