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January 24 TN News Digest

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

Haslam pitches legislative agenda to Chamber audience (News-Sentinel/Flory)

Facing a hometown audience hosted by the Knoxville Chamber, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday outlined a legislative agenda that’s heavy on business-oriented goals. Speaking at a breakfast meeting, the former Knoxville mayor touched on everything from crime to education, but many of his goals relate in some way to improving Tennessee’s business climate.

Gov. Haslam speaks to packed crowd in Knoxville on Monday (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Monday morning, Governor Bill Haslam made a stop back at his old stomping grounds. Governor Haslam spoke to a crowd of nearly 500. The Knoxville Chamber of Commerce sponsored a breakfast with the Governor at the Knoxville Convention Center.

What about jobs? Gov. Haslam weighs in (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

Tennessee’s leader is sharing his ideas for the upcoming legislative session. Local 8 News asked the question you keep asking, “What about jobs?” Governor Haslam says our state is in a service industry.

TDOT awaits green light from feds to reshape I-40 exit 407 (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

TDOT is waiting for the green light from the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) to build a gem of a design at one of East Tennessee’s busiest intersections. “If you’ve been at the 407 exit [on I-40], then you have sat in traffic before,” said Steve Borden, TDOT Region 1 Director.

Food Lion layoffs under way (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Layoffs at Food Lion stores around Tennessee already are being reported to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which announced today that 354 workers have been laid off at Food Lion locations across the state, with 151 of those in East Tennessee. Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize Group, owner of the Food Lion stores, announced Jan. 12 that it would close 113 of the stores as it faces tight consumer spending and increased competition.

5 Middle TN Food Lions set to close (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Several Middle Tennessee Food Lion Stores will begin closing next week, costing more than 160 employees their jobs. The five stores in Davidson, Rutherford and Sumner counties will close between Monday and Feb. 15, according to layoff notices sent to the state.

TWRA officials say red deer still remain in Claiborne County (WATE-TV Knoxville)

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials said as of January 20, hunters have only killed six of the more than 30 red deer that escaped from a private owner’s property in Claiborne County. Officials opened a two-week hunting season to sportsmen and women earlier this month in the hopes of killing the animals. Because the deer are not native to East Tennessee, wildlife officials are worried that the animals could spread disease to native wildlife populations.

Man Released After 30 Years Wants Name Cleared (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Lawrence McKinney spent half his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. DNA evidence cleared McKinney, but the state still hasn’t exonerated him. “Thirty-one years, nine months, 18 days and 12 hours,” is the time McKinney said he spent behind bars.

Making Changes to Tennesse’s Tax Code (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tax season is here. Maybe you’ve already started work on your returns for 2011, but Governor Haslam and the Tennessee Legislature are looking at changes that will affect some Tennessee taxpayers in the coming years.

AUDIO: 

TN businesses press for end of estate tax (Tennessean/Sisk)

Robert Doochin says his next step is fairly simple: After nearly half a century at the helm of American Paper & Twine Co., pass the business on to his three children. But with an estimated value of $10 million to $20 million, there’s one problem: the tax bill.

GOP Proposals Take Aim At Tennessee Courts (Associated Press)

Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature are taking a close look at the judiciary branch this year, with several proposals expected to be taken up early in the session. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters last week that he plans to get fellow lawmakers to take the first step toward approving a constitutional amendment to resolve legal questions about the way appeals judges are appointed and retained.

Legislative Leaders Declare Economic Development, Jobs the Top Priority (WPLN)

State lawmakers are scrambling to hand in proposed new legislation before a Thursday deadline. But political leaders in the Tennessee House say that no matter what shows up, they’re going to pay most attention to bills about jobs and economic issues.

Sen. Mae Beavers withdraws bill to ban judicial review (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers has withdrawn her proposal to strip Tennessee courts of the power to overturn laws enacted by the state legislature. The withdrawal late Monday came after the proposal came under heavy criticism from members of both parties, including Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

GOP Leaders Look to Limit Judicial Selection Debate (TN Report)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey last week reiterated his opposition to the people of Tennessee electing state Supreme Court judges, even while acknowledging the Tennessee Constitution probably requires it. The Blountville Republican, who since 2007 has served as speaker of the Senate, said he’ll push ahead this legislative session with an effort to amend the Constitution to scrub any reference to voters choosing Supreme Court or appellate judges.

STEM Legislative Committee Meets On Capitol Hill (WTVF-TV Nashville)

State lawmakers are getting serious about their commitment to education, specifically science and math. A new legislative caucus met Monday for the first time to discuss the importance of education of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, also known as STEM. The STEM legislative committee formed just last month after years of discussion and finally met for the first time Monday.

Bill to require students perform hands-on CPR (Associated Press)

A proposal to require hands-on CPR practice in high school resuscitation programs has passed the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville was approved 31-0 on Monday.

Lawmakers trying to allow displays of commandments (Associated Press)

Two Republican state legislators are pushing a measure aimed at allowing local governments to display the Ten Commandments in county courthouses or on public grounds in Tennessee. Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville and Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesboro have introduced a bill authorizing counties and cities to set up displays of historical documents and monuments and writings “recognized to commemorate freedom and the rich history of Tennessee and the United States.”

Tennessee representative fighting for Ten Commandments legislation (WSMV-TV)

Will you soon see Ten Commandments monuments on display in government buildings? If one Tennessee lawmaker has his way you will. Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough is behind the legislation that is now being called the Ten Commandments Bill.

Shipley seeking earth barricade at I-81 crash site (Times-News)

Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley is preparing an alternate plan to build an interstate safety barrier protecting Shipley Ferry Road homeowners amid yet another vehicle crashing into the neighborhood over the weekend. The Tennessee Department of Transportation determined last fall the area at mile marker 59 of Interstate 81 north didn’t need a barrier.

County Commission Starts Over On Redistricting, Resolves Some Turmoil (MDN)

A seven-vote majority for leaving the Shelby County Commission at five districts collapsed dramatically Monday, Jan. 23. And at the same commission meeting a resolution to change the ground rules to permit a majority vote to remove the chairman was withdrawn.

Commission still fighting over redistricting (WMC-TV Memphis)

The battle to redraw Shelby County’s voting lines is back to the drawing board, again. This is the second map the commission could not agree upon.

Officials in Chattanooga propose tougher gang law (Associated Press)

Chattanooga-area elected officials, law enforcement officers, state and federal prosecutors and social agency representatives have joined in seeking tougher sentencing guidelines to punish gang violence and to expand efforts to keep children from joining gangs. Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield at a City Hall news conference Monday said gang members should know that the community is united in the effort.

Tougher laws sought to deal with Chattanooga’s gang problem (TFP/Burger)

Darryl Hill, resident agent in charge for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, put a fine point on Chattanooga’s gang problem Monday afternoon at City Hall. He pulled three bullets from his pocket. They fit the chamber of an AK-47 assault rifle, a round used in a World War II rifle and .223 bullet used in an AR-15 assault rifle.

Tennessee Voters Hold Power In Primary (WTVF-TV Nashville)

By this time in the game, a clear front runner is usually decided in the primary elections. But now that three different candidates have each won a state, including Newt Gingrich’s recent round-up of South Carolina, it could be up to voters in Tennessee to decide on a leader.

Newt Gingrich backers see Tenn. following South Carolina’s lead (N-S/Humphrey)

State legislators leading Newt Gingrich’s Republican presidential campaign have returned from a weekend trip to South Carolina saying the former U.S. House speaker will be poised to repeat his Palmetto State victory in the Volunteer State. “We wanted to see how we’re dovetailing (in Tennessee) with what they were doing in South Carolina,” said state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport.

Politicians use GIS technology to their advantage (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Geographic Information System or GIS technology, which is used in many government departments, will soon be useful for politicians too. GIS technology has been used by Sumner County for about five years for property assessment, saving taxpayers money.

Welcome to Cleveland, Tenn.: the city without a nickname (TFP/Higgins)

There is still no nickname for Cleveland. When Mayor Tom Rowland spoke Monday to MainStreet Cleveland, he said “the name will be revealed this afternoon.” After the mayor called for a nickname contest with a $1,000 prize, more than 1,800 responses came in.

Cleveland, Tenn., approves bonds for airport, road projects (TFP/Higgins)

The Cleveland City Council approved three bond resolutions Monday to finance portions of airport construction, connector roads to a future industrial park and road work near the new Whirlpool site. A $1.5 million debt financed through the Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund will be used toward an airport terminal at the new Tasso area airport.

Ray defends pay, tourism organization’s role and success (News-Sentinel/Donila)

Representatives from the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. on Monday attempted to “clear up the air” with Knox County Commission as officials held a number of meetings to discuss the operation’s structure, mission and results. During two public hearings, KTSC President and CEO Gloria Ray, in her “Focus on the Facts” presentation, defended her organization for several hours, detailing to county leaders how and why her organization is successful.

Ketron says won’t seek congressional seat (Associated Press/Johnson)

Sen. Bill Ketron said Monday he will not seek the new 4th Congressional District seat in Tennessee because of family obligations and unfinished business in the state Senate. The Murfreesboro Republican said after his father died 11 months ago, his father “made a promise to him that I would take care of my mother, my family and the business that he started 43 years ago.”

Sen. Bill Ketron won’t run for Congress (Gannett)

Republican state Sen. Bill Ketron ended speculation Monday of a run for Tennessee’s newly drawn 4th Congressional District seat, largely because of family and financial considerations. Ketron said Monday that serving in Congress is the pinnacle of “civic responsibility,” but the most important step in launching a campaign is considering its impact on family.

Ketron won’t run for Congress (Columbia Daily Herald)

Republican state Sen. Bill Ketron said Monday he will not run for the 4th Congressional District seat. Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, has been widely speculated as a candidate for the spot after the 4th District was redrawn to include Rutherford County as part of Republicans’ redistricting plans. “I have grown up believing that elected office is still one of the best ways a person can contribute to our society; and service in the United States Congress is certainly the pinnacle of civic responsibility,” Ketron said in a statement.

Ketron Opts Not to Challenge DesJarlais for U.S. House (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State Senator Bill Ketron says he won’t run for Congress this fall. Many had expected him to challenge freshman Scott DesJarlais in the GOP primary. Ketron says he’s wanted to run for Congress since he was young, and many thought this was his year.

Duncan says Knox County commissioner misrepresented their meeting (WATE-TV)

Congressman John Duncan, Jr. says Knox County Commissioner Larry Smith’s claim that he warned him to stay away from his son regarding a trustee’s office issue has been mischaracterized. Bonuses paid by the congressman’s son, county Trustee John Duncan III, to himself and his staffer were returned last week.

Nashville airport security stops Sen. Rand Paul (Associated Press)

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the son of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and a frequent critic of the Transportation Security Administration, was stopped by security at the Nashville airport Monday when a scanner set off an alarm and Paul declined to allow a security officer to subsequently pat him down. The White House said airport security acted appropriately.

Rand Paul says Nashville airport went too far after he refused pat-down (Tenn/Haas)

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Monday joined the list of people who say that Nashville’s airport security screeners have gone too far in the name of keeping air travelers safe. Six months after a Clarksville, Tenn., mother was arrested for objecting to the pat-down of her 14-year-old daughter, Paul found himself on the wrong end of a millimeter wave scanner at Nashville International Airport while trying to catch a plane Monday morning.

State special education rates vary widely (Stateline)

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the country, but it has every other state beat by one measure: A higher percentage of its students are in special education than anywhere else. An analysis of U.S. Department of Education data shows that the percentage of students in special education varies widely among states.

State Support Slumps Again (Inside Higher Ed)

The news will come as no surprise to the public college administrators and faculty members who’ve seen their budgets slashed over the past year. But an annual study of state spending on higher education finds that state appropriations for colleges and students sunk by 7.6 percent in 2011-12, the largest such decline in at least a half century.

Undisclosed Investor Group Buys TVA Natural Gas Plant (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

An anonymous group of investors has purchased a new natural gas plant from the Tennessee Valley Authority. The so-called “lease-purchase transaction” helps TVA raise a billion dollars without running into a congressionally-imposed debt ceiling.

Guard allegedly found asleep at Oak Ridge nuke facility (News-Sentinel/Munger)

The government’s security contractor confirmed Monday it is investigating allegations that a security officer slept on the job and also used an unauthorized cellphone inside a high-security facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “WSI-Oak Ridge (formerly known as Wackenhut Services) has initiated an investigation into all the allegations,” spokeswoman Courtney Henry said in an email response.

Biotech Firm Lets Workers Go While Waiting For FDA Approval (WPLN-Radio)

Franklin-based BioMimetic is getting rid of a quarter of its staff. The company had hoped to gain FDA approval last year for its flagship product, a bone graft therapy called Augmentin.

New distillery to open in Gatlinburg (Associated Press)

There’s a thirst in the mountains for legal Tennessee moonshine. Sevierville attorney and co-developer of the Ole Smoky Distillery Joe Baker said he and another partner bought the Legends Restaurant on the Gatlinburg downtown parkway and will distill different spirits there. Additionally, Baker and his original Ole Smoky partners have bought land in the Glades arts and crafts community to open a branch of the original distillery, according to The Mountain Press.

Ole Smoky Moonshine expanding (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

Three years ago it was illegal now its part of an economic boom. It’s a good time to make shine. Ole Smoky Moonshine is taking advantage of an effort to lift the ban on the liquor across the country. Owners have decided to expand the business, they’ve purchased the former Legend’s Restaurant in Gatlinburg and a 5 acre plot of land. Both we be used for distilling and bottling.

Chattanooga’s Erlanger Health System facing bleak quarter (TFP/Martin)

Erlanger Health System will likely continue to lose money for the next three months, as the public hospital’s leaders work to bring down costs and increase their surgeries, hospital executives said Monday evening during a Budget and Finance Committee meeting. The hospital lost $3.9 million in December, bringing the total losses for the fiscal year to $10.3 million.

Nashville schools eager for Inc. (Tennessean/DeVille)

Academies seek partners, offer naming rights At McGavock High, students bank at an on-campus credit union operated by their peers through the Academy of Business and Finance. Routine visits from Gaylord Entertainment Co. execs through the Academy of Hospitality help them learn about future jobs.

Germantown, Collierville start process to form their own school districts (C. Appeal)

In separate votes Monday night, Germantown and Collierville took steps to create their own school districts. The Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 5-0 to prepare an ordinance authorizing a public referendum to let voters decide whether they want to form a municipal school district.

Audit notes minor Shelby County Schools deficiencies (C. Appeal/Roberts)

District official says ‘material weaknesses’ included no significant infractions Students using school credit cards and taxes paid on nontaxable items were among the deficiencies revealed in financial audits of the Shelby County Schools, according to auditors’ reports the unified school board will discuss tonight. An audit of school activity funds found nearly three dozen material infractions in the county’s schools, including purchases made without bids and requisitions approved without dollar amounts.

Murfreesboro City Schools board to seek new school (Daily News Journal)

$25M funding request includes K-6 school, Hobgood expansion Continued growth in the western part of the city has prompted Murfreesboro City Schools officials to formally request a $20 million school in that part of town. Murfreesboro City Board of Education is expected to forward the request to the City Council when it meets at 6:30 p.m.

Meth fills hospitals with burn patients (Associated Press)

A crude new method of making methamphetamine poses a risk even to Americans who never get anywhere near the drug: It is filling hospitals with thousands of uninsured burn patients requiring millions of dollars in advanced treatment — a burden so costly that it’s contributing to the closure of some burn units. So-called shake-and-bake meth is produced by combining unstable ingredients in a 2-liter soda bottle.

Florida: Scott, lawmakers agree: Schools need at least $1 billion more (M. Herald)

Is the tide turning for education funding? Taking a cue from Gov. Rick Scott, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon put forth a budget proposal last week that would pump an additional $1?billion into statewide schools spending. The next day, Senate education leaders seem determined to top that figure.

Kansas: Brownback’s tax proposal on the ropes (Lawrence World-Journal)

Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan was on the ropes Friday after reports and studies showed it would increase taxes for many Kansans while cutting taxes for businesses and the wealthy. House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said he doubted the plan by Brownback, a Republican, could pass either the House or Senate even though the GOP has huge majorities in both chambers.

Mississippi: Pardons benefited whites by big margin (Reuters)

Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s grants of commutations or pardons to more than 200 prisoners, all but eight in his final days in office, disproportionately benefited white offenders among a predominantly black prison population, a Reuters analysis found. Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, stirred an uproar in Mississippi last week by the surprise grants of clemency, which numbered far more than any of his recent predecessors’ in a state where law and order are hallmarks of political rhetoric. The list included full pardons for four convicted murderers and an armed robber who worked at the governor’s mansion on prison work release.

OPINION

Clay Bennett Political Cartoon: “Charlotte & 7th) (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Editorial: Tying the future’s hands (Commercial Appeal)

An amendment to the state Constitution banning any state or local tax on earned personal income or payrolls sounds good. The General Assembly and most Tennessee citizens have shown they have no appetite for an income tax.

Editorial: Emphasis on writing a script for all schools (Daily News Journal)

We wish the state’s fifth- and eighth-grade students good luck as they prepare to take a writing test next week as part of the Tennessee Department of Education’s annual Comprehensive Assessment Program. The Feb. 1 test will count as one third of schools’ annual TCAP scores.

Guest columnist: Government websites fail ‘adequate notice’ standard (Tenn.)

We should resist efforts to limit public notic When the first Congress met in New York City in 1789, the Acts of the First Session required the new government to publish all bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes in at least three newspapers. A few years later, Tennessee adopted its constitution. It requires the legislature to publish any amendment approved by the General Assembly, giving notice that the next legislature also will have to vote on it.

Editorial: Races still wide open for Super Tuesday in Tennessee (News-Sentinel)

Newt Gingrich’s convincing win in the South Carolina Republican primary blew open the race for the GOP presidential nomination and likely put Tennessee into play. Prior to Saturday’s vote, many pundits were saying a win by Mitt Romney would all but seal the nomination for the former Massachusetts governor.

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