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January 11 TN News Digest

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

Tax Cuts on Food, Inheritances Pushed by Haslam (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday afternoon introduced his 2012 legislative agenda, announcing that he will push for two tax cuts during this year’s Tennessee General Assembly session, which also began Tuesday. The tax cuts come by way of the governor’s proposals to raise the state inheritance tax exemption from $1 million to $1.25 million and to lower the state’s portion of the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent.

Gov. Haslam proposes cuts in estate, food taxes (AP/Johnson, Schelzig)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday that his legislative priorities for the year will include securing reductions in the state’s estate tax and a small cut on the sales tax on groceries. Haslam’s stance marked a reversal from statements made over the winter that he didn’t believe the state could afford tax breaks amid a tough budget situation.

Haslam unveils legislative agenda (Nashville Business Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled a legislative agenda Tuesday afternoon that changes economic development incentives, eases taxes on two fronts and pushes a range of educational initiatives. Surrounded by members of his administration, legislators and others, the Republican governor delivered an agenda that throws down an early marker in trying to steer the legislative session of the Tennessee General Assembly , which reconvened Tuesday.

Haslam proposes reductions on grocery, estate taxes (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled a legislative agenda that would cut estate and grocery taxes while also revamping work rules for civil servants and teachers, as lawmakers gathered at the state Capitol at noon Tuesday to begin the second year of the 107th legislature. Haslam also proposed bolstering economic development grants, eliminating a cap on classroom sizes, and restructuring nearly two dozen state boards and commissions at a press conference laying out a legislative plan that ran to 55 bills.

Haslam wants to lower food, inheritance taxes (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday that his legislative package of bills includes plans to begin reducing Tennessee’s sales tax on food and raising the exemption on the state’s inheritance tax. Haslam also said he wants to overhaul the civil service system for state workers to make it easier to hire and fire employees, to let school systems offer merit pay to teachers, to boost the state’s FastTrack grant incentive program for businesses and to restructure 22 boards and commissions, including the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.

Haslam calls for tax cuts on inheritances, groceries (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed to incrementally lower both the Tennessee sales tax on groceries and the state inheritance tax as part of a package of 55 bills his administration will push in the legislative session that began Tuesday. Other highlights of the legislative package as outlined by Haslam at an afternoon news conference would: Overhaul “antiquated” rules and laws for hiring, firing and paying state employees.

Tennessee Gov. Haslam sees new merit in tax cuts (Commercial Appeal)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday that his legislative priorities for the year will include reductions in the state’s estate tax and a small reduction in the sales tax on groceries. Haslam’s stance marked a reversal from statements made over the winter that he didn’t believe the state could afford tax breaks amid a tough budget situation.

Haslam Proposes Overhaul to Civil Service Rules, Tax Cut on Food, Estates (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam wants to completely revamp civil service rules for state workers. As part of his legislative package unveiled Tuesday, Haslam proposed loosening hiring restrictions and allowing performance pay.

Governor Bill Haslam Announces Legislative Priorities for 2012 (WDEF-TV Chatt.)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced his priorities for the 2012 legislative session during a press conference where he was joined by legislators in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the Capitol. His legislative agenda is designed to move Tennessee forward by supporting his goal to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs through economic development efforts, meaningful education reform, a more efficient and effective state government and improved public safety.

Haslam Plans To ‘Move Tennessee Forward’ (WCYB-TV Chattanooga)

A lower grocery tax, pay raises based on merit and a more efficient government — those are just a few of the proposals that Governor Bill Haslam outlined as part of his legislative agenda Tuesday. The plan includes a reduction in the state’s estate tax. As for groceries, the tax would go from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent.

Haslam targets teacher salaries (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Governor wants more flexibility for each district Tennessee teachers may lose the promise of annual raises based solely on years of service and number of degrees, a system the governor wants to replace with salaries based on student performance, how tough a teaching position is to fill and other measures. Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he wants to give districts the option of ditching a state-mandated salary scale and creating pay plans that address their own needs, plus reward high performers.

TNTrade pushes for exporters (Commercial Appeal/Dowd)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s statewide TNTrade initiative, which launched last month at the FedEx Institute of Technology on the University of Memphis campus, will be the focus of an upcoming public forum aimed at owners of small and midsize businesses. The hourlong event Thursday will provide an overview of the program that officials hope will boost exports from the state’s small and medium-sized companies.

Tenn. meeting most Race to Top goals (Associated Press)

Tennessee is meeting most of its goals for implementing educational reforms tied to a $500,000 federal Race to the Top award, according to a report released today 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 receives praise for Race to the Top grant (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

Tennessee received a mostly favorable review from the U.S. Department of Education for its first year of implementing school reform measures under the federal Race to the Top grant program. On Tuesday, the Department of Education released reports on 12 states that received pieces of the $4.35 billion grant program.

Officials make case to save Taft (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

If Taft Youth Development Center is closed, Juvenile Court judges and East Tennessee lawmakers are worried not only for its teenage inmates, but also for the more vulnerable residents at the other facilities where Taft’s “worst of the worst” may be sent. “A greater number of our older juveniles would be tried as adults out of necessity,” said Bledsoe County Judge Howard Upchurch, who hears the cases of the inmates at Taft, located in Pikeville, who get in trouble for fighting other offenders or staff members at the center.

New UT-Biowork Research Park addition is expected to foster research (CA/Sells)

Construction has begun on a $22 million research laboratory in the UT-Bioworks Research Park that will help researchers and biotechnology companies get their ideas to market. The footprint for the 26,000-square-foot, single-story, brick building has been cleared at 45 S. Dudley, and crews are now pouring the foundation of the structure.

Court of Appeals: Developer snoozes, loses (Nashville Post/Lind)

When the rules of the road change, developers have to follow along. The state Court of Appeals ruled last week that a Nolensville developer will have to comply with the town’s new road standards for an unfinished subdivision, even though planning permission for the project was granted before the standards changed.

Judges left to ‘clean up mess’ left by judge turned criminal (N-S/Satterfield)

How’s this for thanks? For nearly three years, two fellow judges picked up the slack so former Knox County County Criminal Judge Richard Baumgartner could focus his attention on the myriad motions hearings and trials in a January 2007 torture slaying.

Lawmakers want more time on redistricting plans (Associated Press/Johnson)

State lawmakers opposed to legislative redistricting plans are questioning the desire of Republican leaders to pass them so quickly. GOP leaders hope their redistricting plans can come up for a vote early as Thursday after the judiciary committees in both chambers passed the plans on to the House and Senate floors.

Republicans pave way for final redistricting vote (Tennessean/Gonzalez, Sisk)

Republican leaders wasted no time in pushing for speedy passage of redistricting proposals on Tuesday, but Democrats — seeing detailed maps and descriptions of how their districts would be altered for the first time — labored to slow things down. The Democrats, several of whom have threatened to sue over the district proposals, asked for changes to maps and balked at having only a few minutes to study the specifics.

GOP remap plans move to House, Senate (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican-drawn redistricting plans for legislative and congressional districts are headed to the House and Senate floors for final action later this week after GOP-controlled committees approved them Tuesday on largely partisan votes. The bills, which make major changes in Southeast Tennessee’s state House and Senate districts as well as congressional districts are scheduled to come to the House floor on Thursday.

Redistricting plan would eliminate post of state Sen. Jim Kyle (CA/Locker)

State Senate Republican leaders unveiled a plan Tuesday that would leave Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis without a district to represent in November. The plan, which involves a switch in district numbers from the redistricting plan unveiled last week, would force Kyle out of the Senate when his term ends in November.

New Voter Districts Fly through Legislature (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

On the same day the 2012 legislative session convened, committees in the General Assembly approved new voter district lines. They now go the full state House and Senate.

Redistricting would bring new name to county ballot (Leaf Chronicle)

Tidwell would pick up much of Phillip Johnson’s area State legislators are now back in session and getting ready to deal with the always-thorny issue of redistricting. But this time it’s different: For the first time in a long time, Republicans are drawing the maps.

Shelby Co unified school board focuses on defensive legislative agenda (CA/Kelley)

If the General Assembly can manage to do no harm in the session that opened on Tuesday, it will largely satisfy the legislative aims of the Memphis and Shelby County unified school board as it moves toward consolidation of the city and county public school districts next year. The board’s proposed wish list, unveiled at an ad hoc meeting among a dozen or so members of the board Tuesday night, is largely a “defensive legislative agenda,” Shelby County Schools attorney Valerie Speakman said, designed to give the board a rest from a barrage of legislative mandates.

Legislators, lobbyists beat donor clock (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Legislators, special interests and lobbyists over the past week and early Tuesday sought to beat the clock and make or receive final campaign contributions before an annual fundraising blackout went into effect when the General Assembly convened at noon. Delivering contributions for their clients, lobbyists made pilgrimages Monday and on Tuesday morning to legislators’ offices to deliver last-minute checks.

Rep. Curry Todd’s DUI, gun arrest hearing delayed (Associated Press)

Arrest took place in Nashville on Oct. 11 State Rep. Curry Todd’s hearing on charges of drunken driving and carrying a loaded handgun while intoxicated has been delayed until next month. The Collierville Republican was arrested in a neighborhood near Vanderbilt and Belmont universities on Oct. 11. Todd is a retired Memphis police officer and the main architect of a new law allowing handgun carry permit holders to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Occupy Murfreesboro court hearings delayed (Daily News Journal)

City court hearings for a small group of Occupy Murfreesboro protesters who were cited for illegal camping on the Civic Plaza in early December have been rescheduled, according to city court personnel. Occupy Murfreesboro members were first cited by MPD officers in the early morning hours of Dec. 6 for violating the city’s ordinance on camping and storing property on the Civic Plaza.

Corker defends Fannie, Freddie bill at Realtors event (Nashville Biz Journal)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker defended his bid to privatize the secondary mortgage market this morning, taking questions and explaining his rationale before dozens of Nashville Realtors. The meeting with the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors highlighted a major effort by the Tennessee Republican to engage industries worried about his proposal, which would unwind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and replace them with a kind of private futures market.

Realtors Cheer Concept, Express Concern over Privatizing Mortgage (WPLN)

Realtors in Nashville cheered when Senator Bob Corker told them the best thing government can do is “stay the heck out” of the housing market. But the applause stopped Tuesday as Corker outlined his plan to get the government out of the mortgage market.

Democrats slam Roe as hypocrite for handing out funds from stimulus (T-N)

The Tennessee Republican Party is backing U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s so-called “trash and cash” actions involving the $800 billion-plus federal stimulus package passed early in President Barack Obama’s administration. Roe, R-Tenn., is one of more than 120 House Republicans who voted against the 2009 economic recovery package and then sought stimulus funds, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Bill Taylor says hospice can cut Medicare bills (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

A Democrat vying for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s job on Tuesday suggested hospice care as a way to curtail Medicare spending, using his deceased mother’s experience with breast cancer as an example. Wrapping up a speech to the Greater Chattanooga Democratic Women’s Club, Bill Taylor recounted his mother’s various rounds of chemotherapy and radiation before praising her decision to sign up for hospice.

Break on sales taxes could vanish for TN (Tennessean/Bewley)

A federal provision that provides more than $1 billion in tax breaks to Tennesseans each year is in danger of disappearing. State taxpayers who itemize their federal taxes will no longer be able to deduct the state and local sales tax they pay if Congress doesn’t renew the benefit, which expired Dec. 31. It has been available since 2004 and is mostly used by residents in Tennessee and six other states — Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming — that don’t tax wages but do charge a state sales tax.

Tenn. getting $2.8M in federal funds for repairs (Associated Press)

Tennessee is getting $2.8 million in federal funds to help cover the costs of repairing roads and bridges damaged last April during tornadoes and flooding. The money is part of about $1.6 billion awarded to states and territories.

Federal disaster aid available in Middle TN (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Small businesses, nonprofit organizations and agricultural interests in several Middle Tennessee counties that suffered economic losses from last year’s excessive heat and drought are now eligible for federal disaster assistance, the Small Business Administration said. Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner and Wilson are among 43 Tennessee counties in the disaster area declared by federal agricultural officials.

Two local USDA agencies to shut due to cost-cutting (Times-Gazette)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday it will close nearly 260 offices nationwide, including the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development offices at 709 East Lane St. in Shelbyville, which serve Bedford and Moore counties. USDA’s plans won praise for cutting costs but raised concerns about the possible effect on food safety.

State’s Arnold center doing heat shield testing (Associated Press)

The Arnold Engineering Development Center is testing a scale model of the Orion crew capsule that will carry humans back into deep space. According to a news release from the Middle Tennessee center, its hypervelocity wind tunnel 9 is doing aerothermal testing on a 4 percent scale model of the capsule.

Medicaid: a year of excruciating decisions (Stateline)

In health care history, 2012 will be remembered for the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the Obama administration’s health overhaul. But in the states, 2012 will likely be remembered less as an historic turning point than as a gradual continuation of their longstanding struggles to get Medicaid costs under control.

Texas congressman Ralph Hall visits ORNL (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the oldest member in Congress, was in town Tuesday for his first tour of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Hall was accompanied by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who welcomed the Texas congressman during a pre-tour meeting with the news media and called ORNL a “critically important” research institution.

E-Verify goes statewide (Leaf Chronicle)

Legal worker check required of all employers Clarksville-area employers are breaking in a new state law aimed at proving that businesses are hiring and maintaining a legal work force. It hinges on the online E-Verify program.

500 jobs on the line in Clarksville (Nashville Business Journal)

Massachusetts-based Agero is looking to bring 500 jobs to one of two U.S. cities: Florence, South Carolina or Clarksville, Tenn. The roadside assistance company is using a novel technique to gauge the workforce in each of those cities by holding job fairs — before they make a final decision.

500-job call center has eye on Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)

Job fair next week to test available local work force A Massachusetts-based company could bring more than 500 jobs to Clarksville if an upcoming job fair is successful. Agero, a roadside assistance service, is looking for a new call center site, and executives will soon choose between Clarksville and Florence, S.C. In Clarksville, Agero is interested in the FRE Resource Building in the Clarksville-Montgomery County Corporate Business Park, according to Mike Evans, executive director of the Industrial Development Board.

Nashville’s new convention center reports bookings (Associated Press)

Nashville’s under-construction convention center has booked more than 600,000 room nights. The Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau says the goal is 1 million room nights for the new center prior to its opening in 2013.

Amazon pays $7M for ‘Boro property (Daily News Journal)

Land conveyed to IDB, leased back to retailer Seattle-based Amazon.com paid $6.86 million for 87.2 acres along Joe B. Jackson Parkway where the online sales giant is building a distribution center, according to the seller’s agent. At $79,800 per acre, the December sale to Amazon went for slightly less than NHK Seating of America paid for adjacent land, said John Harney of the Parks Group, who represented land owner Corporate Woods G.P. in both deals.

Crowd shares concerns of Memphis-Shelby County schools merger (CA/Wolff)

Suburban residents worry county schools will falter Members of the transition team who came to Collierville to listen to Shelby County citizens’ hopes, concerns and fears of a merged school system got an earful Tuesday night. More than 600 people filled Collierville United Methodist Church for two hours to tell the Transition Planning Commission that they are worried that instead of lifting up lower-performing Memphis City Schools to match the higher-performing county schools, the merger will bring the county system down.

Schools Transition Committee Hears Few Hopes In Collierville (M. Daily News)

The first public hearing in the schools consolidation process Tuesday, Jan. 10, drew more than 600 people to Collierville United Methodist Church. Hosted by the schools consolidation transition planning commission, the forum featured lots of opposition to the coming schools consolidation and concerns about student achievement and the movement of students and teachers among schools.

Loss of fed start-up funding ‘a significant strain’ to charter schools (CA/Roberts)

Until now, new charter schools in Tennessee got between $600,000 and $700,000 in federal grants to cover startup costs in their first three years, including big-ticket items such as building leases. The money has dried up, a factor of the rapid rise of charter schools in Tennessee.

Arizona-based charter group plans 5 to 10 Nashville schools (CP/Garrison)

An Arizona-based charter school network called Great Hearts Academies announced plans Tuesday to open five to 10 Nashville charter schools over several years, with hopes of locating its first school near Vanderbilt University. The charter group’s media advisory arrived Tuesday via the Metro Council’s office, which listed “contacts” of four West Nashville-area council members: Emily Evans, Carter Todd, Jason Holleman and Burkley Allen.

Nashville school board backs DREAM Act (Tennessean/Young)

Metro’s decision is ‘human’ one A federal bill that would open a path to citizenship for more than a million undocumented students failed more than a year ago, but the Metro Nashville School Board passed a resolution supporting it Tuesday. Some political analysts say the election season and increasing support from educators could give new life to the DREAM Act, originally introduced a decade ago.

Former state board member, county official faces fed fraud charges (CP/Greenberg)

A former Gov. Phil Bredesen-appointed member of the state Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Collection Service Board now faces federal charges, including 16 felony counts, related to three different investment schemes. In March 2011, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrested Edward Shannon Polen, on three felony charges of theft, but the full scale of his alleged crimes came into focus on Monday when prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nashville charged Polen with scamming 74 individual investors and banks out of $8,796,000.

Sheriff’s narcotics officers arrest suspect with meth lab in coat pocket (SG)

Dyer County Sheriff’s narcotics officers arrested a suspect in Evansville on Friday evening who was allegedly carrying a working meth lab inside his coat. Colter Gourley, 21, 126 First St., Evansville, was taken into custody by Deputy Stoney Hughes and Chad Jackson and charged with promotion of methamphetamine manufacture.

Alabama: Governor wants unified education, general fund budget (AP)

Gov. Robert Bentley is planning an ambitious second year, starting with asking the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment combining Alabama’s two state budgets into one and allowing some money now allocated for education to be spent on state agencies. Bentley said Tuesday he’s also developing plans for a bond issue of roughly $2 billion for highway projects at the county and state level, but he’s not sure when he will propose it.

Georgia: Gov. Deal outlines agenda for lawmakers (Associated Press)

Gov. Nathan Deal outlined his agenda Tuesday for Georgia lawmakers, calling for a boost in education funding, new ways to steer drug addicts away from the state’s overcrowded prison system and tax breaks that he said would stimulate the economy. The Republican governor described Georgia’s situation as “strong” in his annual State of the State address to lawmakers now that tax revenues are rebounding following a bruising recession that prompted massive cuts in state spending.

Mississippi: Gov., Already Criticized on Pardons, Rides a Wave Out of Office (NYT)

On Tuesday, his last day in office, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi granted full and unconditional pardons to 193 criminals — an unusually high number for the state, and one that is likely to inflame controversy about Mr. Barbour’s pardon practices. The governor’s outgoing pardons had attracted an outcry when it was revealed that he had pardoned five people last week who had been convicted of murder and had worked at the governor’s mansion while in custody, performing odd jobs.

OPINION

Editorial: Gov. must set steady tone with Legislature (Daily News Journal)

2012 could be the year for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to use his bully pulpit on Capitol Hill. When Haslam entered office in 2011, he was caught a bit flat-footed by the Republican-dominated Legislature led by veteran Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who had competed with him for the state’s top executive post and wasn’t shy about flexing his political muscle inside the state Capitol.

Editorial: Fiscal concerns will dominate legislature (Jackson Sun)

Tennessee lawmakers began the second session of the 107th General Assembly, and Gov. Bill Haslam submitted his legislative agenda for the session on Tuesday. We look for fiscal conservatism to be the overriding issue of this session.

Guest columnist: Focus needed for legislative session (Leaf Chronicle)

The 2012 session of the 107th Tennessee General Assembly convened this week, 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.

Gail Kerr: Lawmakers’ return garners low expectations (Tennessean)

Unlock the liquor cabinet and dust off lobbyists’ credit cards — the state legislature is back in Nashville. Expectations are not exactly brimming over with optimism that the Tennessee General Assembly will accomplish mighty works that change the world.

Free-Press Editorial: Tenn. General Assembly has full plate as session starts (TFP)

There may be mixed feelings as the Tennessee General Assembly begins a new legislative session in Nashville. We always hope for the best, but we justly may be a little on guard against troubling and difficult issues that often arise when lawmakers convene.

Editorial: Making sausage in Nashville (Commercial Appeal)

Sausage tastes good, but watching it being made could make the squeamish ill. The same goes for the process of redrawing the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts.

Free-Press Editorial: Tantalizing prospects to build Audi at Enterprise South (TFP)

With Volkswagen providing thousands of local jobs and much welcome economic investment — and with the Chattanooga-built VW Passat headed for “blockbuster” sales — there’s lots for our community to celebrate. And the celebration will get even more festive if prospects for manufacturing the VW luxury brand Audi here come to fruition.

Editorial: Troubled Online Charter Schools (New York Times)

Charter schools, which receive public money but are subject to fewer state regulations, are operating in 40 states. A growing body of research shows that charter schools generally perform no better than traditional schools and are often worse as measured by student test data.

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