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January 19 TN News Digest

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

Haslam stumps for lower grocery, estate taxes (Leaf Chronicle)

Speaking in Clarksville on Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam outlined his ramped-up, comprehensive agenda, which calls for lower sales taxes on groceries and higher exemptions on estate taxes principally for the wealthiest Tennesseans. “We’re proposing this year to lower taxes in two key areas,” the Republican said in a noon address to the Rotary Club and its invited guests at the Clarksville Country Club.

Trade Mission to China, S. Korea Focus on Increased Exports by Business (TNR)

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced today that Commissioner Bill Hagerty will lead ECD’s trade mission to China and South Korea April 15-21, 2012 that will focus on Tennessee’s medical device manufacturers and other health care companies. Applications are available at tn.gov/ecd/tntrade/trademission, along with a video explaining the trade mission.

State to make trade mission to China, South Korea (Associated Press)

A state trade mission to China and South Korea in April will focus on Tennessee’s medical device manufacturers and other health care companies. The state announced Wednesday that Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development will lead the trip April 15 to 21.

TN plans health-care trade mission for companies (Tennessean)

The state has set a Feb. 1 application deadline for companies wanting to go on an Asian trade mission in April. The April 15-21 trip to China and South Korea will focus on Tennessee’s medical device manufacturers and other health-care companies.

Tennessee annouces trade mission to China, South Korea (M. Biz Journal)

Tennessee officials will soon lead a trade mission to China and South Korea, with Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development at the helm. The trip, according to an announcement, will focus on medical device manufacturers and other health care companies.

Rutherford County tornado confirmed (Gannett)

A storm survey team has confirmed a tornado hit Rutherford County, according to Tom Johnstone, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. The team went out to Rutherford County Wednesday morning to assess damage. Radar Tuesday indicated rotation on the south end of Percy Priest Lake which continued into northern Rutherford County.

Neighbors begin cleanup after confirmed tornado (Daily News Journal)

North Lamar Road area hit by EF-O rated twister Bob Williams was among a few North Lamar Road residents who were busily scrambling Wednesday to get their homes and properties back in order following a confirmed tornado touchdown in the area a day before. “We have been trying to clean up,” Williams told The DNJ.

TN’s job-creation subsidies lack scrutiny, study finds (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Tennessee is slightly below average in how well it monitors, verifies and enforces the terms of its job-creation subsidies, an economic-incentive watchdog group said in a study released Wednesday. The Volunteer State received a C-minus grade and a 29th-place ranking from Good Jobs First, whose Money-Back Guarantees for Taxpayers report found fault with all five of the state’s major incentive programs.

Promoting business growth goal for 2012 — Sanderson (Weakley County News)

State Rep. Bill Sanderson provided commentary on Gov. Bill Haslam’s business-influencing plans for 2012 at the Tuesday morning “Business Matters” session. The breakfast networking event for Obion County Chamber of Commerce members was held at the Obion County Public Library.

Incoming! (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The House of Representatives is set this week to move toward amending the state Constitution to clarify that an income tax is banned in Tennessee. Senate Joint Resolution 221, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey and Rep. Glen Casada, both Republicans, has already passed in the Senate. A vote was postponed in the House last spring on the request of House GOP Leader Gerald McCormick, who was hesitant to dive again into the historically contentious debate when the measure came to the floor in the waning hours of the 2011 session.

TN proposal on residential rules could affect Occupy Nashville (Associated Press)

Tennessee lawmakers are proposing legislation that could affect Occupy Nashville protesters. The measure says a person cannot live on publicly owned property that isn’t designated or permitted as residential.

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Oust Occupy Nashville (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State lawmakers have proposed making it illegal to squat on public property – a move to get rid of the “Occupy Nashville” protesters, whose tents line the War Memorial Plaza just outside the General Assembly’s offices. Eric Watson, a Republican from Cleveland, filed a House bill to make it a misdemeanor to “maintain living quarters” on publicly owned property not designated for residential use.

House Votes to Reinsert Tipton Into Senate Seat (Associated Press)

The House has passed a new version of the state Senate redistricting bill that corrects an omission of Tipton County from the Senate plan. The chamber voted 75-19 on Wednesday to make the fix to the bill originally passed last week, but later found to have dropped language referring to the county in the redrawn district of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

State Legislature Leaves a Whole County Out of Voting District Law (WPLN-Radio)

A funny thing happened when the General Assembly passed new voting districts for the state last week. Lawmakers lost a whole county.

‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill to be delayed in committee (Associated Press)

The sponsor of a measure that seeks to ban Tennessee public schools from teaching about gay issues says he plans to delay a vote on the proposal. The legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is sponsored by Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald and was scheduled to be heard Wednesday in the House Education Subcommittee.

Lawmakers Pause to Line Up Plan Targeting ‘Bath Salts’ (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State lawmakers hoping to quickly ban new designer drugs are pausing to get their game-plan straight. A proposal that had been fast-tracked to a Senate committee for today is being put off a week. State Representative Tony Shipley hopes it’ll take less than two months to pass the bill, which would crack down on the latest synthetic drugs.

Newt, Campfield Like Drug Testing (Metro Pulse)

Great (?) minds think alike? State Sen. Stacey Campfield is proposing a bill this session to drug test people in Tennessee who get public assistance. It is one of those popular issues on talk radio, regardless of the cost and the implication for poor children and the attitude of the federal government, which provides much of the public assistance.

Drug Testing Proposed For Anyone Getting Government Assistance (WREG-TV)

Along some chilly Memphis streets, there’s a heated debate over a state proposal to require anyone getting government assistance to be tested for drugs in Tennessee. Derek Moreton says he can see some merit to the plan.

Harrison Bay State Park eagle steals show at Tennessee panel hearing (TFP/Sher)

A bald eagle at work in its nest at Harrison Bay State Park in Chattanooga temporarily stole the show Wednesday at a legislative oversight hearing Wednesday. State Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau piped in a feed of a live webcam set up earlier this month to observe a pair of bald eagles, a male and female, that have set up residence in a tree for the second straight second year at the park.

Lawmakers, journalists to gather at forum (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

How do local legislators plan to represent us in the 107th General Assembly this year? What issues do they see as priorities, and which would they be willing to put on the back burner, by preference or for economic reasons?

Tennessee State Government Not a ‘Drug-Free Workplace’ (TN Report)

If the state were to implement mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients — an idea Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is pushing — it would be a higher standard than the state demands for most of its own workers. “I still want to make sure we’re drug testing practically everyone getting any kind of government benefits,” Ramsey told reporters last week.

Official: Knox County Trustee’s Office computer seized on DA’s order (NS/Donila)

Knox County’s information technology department Wednesday seized a computer belonging to a Trustee’s Office employee who county officials say may have taken state-administered tests on behalf of his co-workers. Information about the allegation has been turned over to authorities for a possible criminal investigation. “We have it (the computer) locked up in our cage where we keep things like that, and I’ll wait for instruction,” said Dick Moran, head of the county’s IT department.

Hamilton County to unload land for low minimum bids (Times Free-Press/Haman)

For as little as $100, someone could own a lot in the 300 block of Depot Street in Soddy-Daisy. For $500, a house at 1808 Crabtree Road in Hixson is within reach. The highest minimum bid on any of the 90 parcels open for sealed bids in this year’s county property sale is $2,500 for a commercial building at 2301 Milne St. in Chattanooga, records show.

Harsh words spew forth at explosive Shelby Co Commission meeting (CA/Connolly)

Anger erupted like hot lava Wednesday in one of the Shelby County Commission’s most contentious meetings in recent years. To sum up the main disputes: The previous night, one county commissioner had threatened to hit another.

Corker, Alexander may be open to revising anti-piracy bill (News-Sentinel/Collins)

U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander signaled Wednesday they are open to revising controversial anti-piracy legislation that touched off a blackout among several websites opposed to the measures. The two Tennessee Republicans are cosponsors of the Protect IP Act, which would prevent domestic Internet users from accessing foreign-based websites that illegally copy or show films, recordings and other intellectual property.

Building a health insurance marketplace one step at a time (Stateline)

Less than a year from now, states will have to prove to Washington that they are capable of running a health insurance exchange on their own, or the federal government will create one for them. The way it looks now, only a handful of states are likely to make that deadline.

ORNL squeezes benefits to cut costs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

As part of ongoing, multiple efforts to reduce costs and prepare for a “sustained period of budget pressure,” Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason announced on Wednesday additional restructuring of the employee benefits program. Mason sent a four-page memo to staff outlining final actions on employee benefits, including changes to the pension plan and medical and health plans.

Music City Center enjoys booking binge (Tennessean/Marsteller)

In the 79 years it has held an annual convention, the American Animal Hospital Association has met in such varied locales as Long Beach, Calif., St. Louis and Toronto — but never in Nashville. That will change in 2014, when the trade group expects 3,500 people to attend its annual confab in the newly finished Music City Center.

Nashville rises in Brookings’ economic rankings (Tennessean/Williams)

Nashville showed significant job and income growth during 2011, rising to 89th place from 163rd during 2007-2010 among the world’s top 200 metropolitan areas in economic performance, according to rankings released Wednesday by The Brookings Institution. In its Global Metro Monitor, part of the Washington, D.C., think tank’s ongoing research project on metropolitan areas worldwide, Nashville’s average per-capita income rose 1.8 percent last year, compared with a decline of 4.4 percent during the worst part of the recession.

Teachers Group Recommends Evaluation System Changes (AP/Johnson)

Teachers who “meet expectations” in their evaluation would be eligible for tenure under changes the Tennessee Education Association is recommending for the state’s new teacher evaluation system. Association President Gera Summerford said at a news conference on Wednesday that the system is flawed and outlined seven recommendations to help improve it.

Tennessee teachers urge evaluation changes (Tennessean/Sisk)

The Tennessee Education Association is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers to revise the state’s new teacher evaluation system and throw out the results from this year. TEA President Gera Summerford said Wednesday that this year — the first in which classroom evaluations are being conducted for the purpose of making tenure decisions — should be treated as a pilot year to work out bugs in the program.

TEA urges changes to new teacher evaluation system (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Education Association officials called on Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers Wednesday to correct what they call multiple “flaws” in the state’s new teacher evaluation system. The state’s largest teachers’ group also says educators who get an evaluation rating of “meets expectations” — which is a 3 on a 5-point scale — be eligible for tenure. Currently they are not.

Teachers call for changes in Tennessee’s new evaluation system (CA/Locker)

The Tennessee Education Association called today on state officials to make major changes in the state’s new teacher evaluation system, including designating this first year of its implementation as a practice year without negative consequences. “Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system and supporting data system are so flawed that they diminish the education program for Tennessee students,” said TEA President Gera Summerford, a Gatlinburg high school math teacher.

TEA, JCEA say teacher evaluations flawed, need improvements (Herald-Courier)

A teachers group in Tennessee wants major changes in the way the state evaluates educators. Current standards require half of teachers’ assessments to come from testing data, and the rest from classroom observations.

Teachers Criticize New Evaluation System (WTVF-TV Nashville)

The Tennessee Education Association believes state lawmakers are once again targeting teachers. In 2011 the discussion was collective bargaining. This year the TEA is fighting against a new teacher evaluation system that kicked in at the start of this school year.

Union Wants to Scrap First Year of Evaluations, Lower Bar for Tenure (WPLN)

The statewide teachers union wants results from new classroom evaluations to be disregarded, at least this year. The Tennessee Education Association released a list of recommendations Wednesday.

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen advocates data as way to improve schools (TN/Bewley)

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen shared a stage with some big names in education Wednesday, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, Washington’s controversial former education chancellor. Bredesen, a Democrat, praised the power of data in reforming schools at a roundtable held by the Data Quality Campaign at a downtown Washington hotel.

States should make better use of academic data, study says (Washington Post)

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have built digital warehouses and filled them with academic data for every public school child, but many states are not adequately sharing the information with teachers and parents or using it in sophisticated ways to improve classroom learning, according to a new study. “States have done the hard work of building these systems,” said Aimee R. Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, an advocacy group funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

School autonomy faces hurdles (Commercial Appeal/Garlington)

Suburban city leaders face a daunting timeline to open individual municipal school districts by August 2013. No less intimidating are legal arguments and other obstacles that suggest the creation of municipal school districts at any point in the future won’t be easy.

Cloudy legal issues cast shadows over school property (C. Appeal/Kelley)

Consultants hired to help suburban Shelby County municipalities decide whether to start their own school districts are delivering key advice on the question of whether they can obtain existing schools within their boundaries at little or no cost. The answer: almost certainly yes.

Suburbs Move Forward on School Districts (Memphis Daily News)

If there are suburban school systems in Shelby County and they want to start classes in August 2013, when Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools merge, it will be a fast track process – just like the merger the suburbs are reacting to. Leaders of the first suburban city to hold a public meeting on the highly anticipated set of reports from Southern Educational Strategies LLC appear encouraged and are downplaying the likelihood of a court fight to get school buildings at no cost for such a new school system.

Missouri: Nixon proposes $106 million cut from Missouri higher ed (K. City Star)

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon rolled out a budget Tuesday night that would cut higher education funding by more than $100 million while increasing state aid for K-12 education. In his fourth State of the State address, and his final one before he stands for re-election, Nixon laid out an agenda that cuts $508 million from the state’s budget, including reducing the state payroll by 816 jobs — to the lowest level in 15 years.

New Jersey: Christie challenges N.J. Democrats on taxes, education reform (S-L)

Declaring “the New Jersey comeback has begun,” Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday used the political theater of his annual State of the State address to push for an across-the-board 10 percent cut in the state income tax. But the Republican governor’s proposal to enact the first widespread income tax reduction since 1996 was immediately decried as a gift to the rich by Democrats who control the state Legislature. ”

 OPINION

Charlie Daniels Political Cartoon: “One Thing Led to Another” (Knox News-Sentinel)

Frank Cagle: Cutting Taxes in a Recession (Metro Pulse)

It’s an election year so expect the Legislature to at least talk about cutting taxes. This might seem odd in the middle of a recession (remember the crisis last year to pass a balanced budget?) but the state Legislature is likely to cut something, even if it just nibbles around the margins.

Editorial: A weak case for drug tests (Commercial Appeal)

State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey wasn’t fooling anyone when he said tentatively that it would be fine with him if corporate executives whose companies are awarded millions of dollars in tax incentives are subjected to drug tests. He knows there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hades that will ever happen.

Guest columnist: Fairness demands a new look at Drug Free School Zone Act (TN)

Call it political suicide, but the state Legislature needs to re-examine the Drug Free School Zone Act. The purpose of the act remains sound. As stated by state Rep. Lois DeBerry, sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, the act creates “a drug-free school zone to reduce the occurrence of illegal drug activity in and around school facilities in order to enhance their learning environment.”

Free-Press Editorial: Cuts in executive positions at struggling Erlanger (TFP)

With Erlanger Health System having lost millions of dollars in recent months, it was perhaps not surprising that Erlanger announced plans this week to cut six of 15 executive positions. Interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson made it clear those cuts are not the full extent of Erlanger’s efforts to become more profitable.

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