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January 26 TN News Digest

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

Gov., Speakers Announce Authorization Effort for Judicial Selection Process (TNR)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt.Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced a joint proposal to address how judges are chosen in Tennessee. The three stood together for the announcement during a press conference in the Executive Conference Room of the State Capitol where they outlined the plan that includes a resolution to amend the Tennessee Constitution that would apply to all Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges saying that they: Will be nominated by a commission based on merit;

Haslam, Speakers Want to Keep Judge Appointments (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The state’s top Republicans want to place a ballot measure before Tennessee voters to eliminate any constitutional questions about the current system for appointing judges. Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell announced Wednesday that they will introduce legislation and a proposed constitutional amendment designed to avoid the popular election of Supreme Court and appeals judges.

Haslam announces deal on judicial elections (Nashville Business Journal)

Calling for “clarity and finality,” Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that he and Republican legislative leaders will push to keep Tennessee’s current system for selecting judges and preserve it in the state constitution. Some conservative Republicans have pushed for the outright election of all judges, and the issue had become a massive threat in the minds of the business lobby and some executives at prominent Nashville companies.

Haslam wants constitutional amendment on selection of judges (TN/Sisk, Gee)

Amendment would negate argument that selection process is unconstitutional Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday proposed a constitutional amendment that would set in stone Tennessee’s merit selection system for appointing appellate judges. If successful, the amendment would nullify one of the chief criticisms of the so-called “Tennessee Plan” — that it does not conform with the state constitution’s requirement that judges “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.”

Haslam, Harwell, Ramsey unite behind judge selection plan (NS/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey declared Wednesday they will jointly push an amendment to the state constitution to legitimize the Tennessee’s current system for selecting top judges. “There have been so many discussions on this, I think there’s a need for finality and clarity,” said Haslam, who previously has been cool toward calling for a constitutional amendment on the topic.

Haslam, two speakers want state constitutional amendment on judges (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam and the two legislative speakers announced Wednesday that they will push for a state constitutional amendment that essentially would keep Tennessee’s current method of selecting appellate court judges — including the Tennessee Supreme Court’s five justices. Many critics of the current system — gubernatorial appointment of appellate judges, followed by “yes” or “no” retention referendums by voters — have argued for nearly two decades that it does not conform to the Tennessee Constitution’s requirement that “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”

Haslam, Ramsey and Harwell announce Judicial Selection Legislation (C. Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) announced a joint proposal to address how judges are chosen in Tennessee. The three stood together for the announcement during a press conference in the Executive Conference Room of the State Capitol where they outlined the plan that includes a resolution to amend the Tennessee Constitution that would apply to all Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges.

Tennessee Republicans want to require voter approval when choosing judges (H-C)

Tennessee’s top Republicans say they want to keep the current method of choosing judges, but will introduce a constitutional amendment that would require voter approval. Governor Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and House Speaker Beth Harwell announced today in Nashville that they oppose the popular election of Supreme Court Justices and Appellate Court Judges. Haslam, Ramsey and Harwell aren’t trying to change how judges are appointed.

Haslam: Change Constitution, Keep System for Picking Judges (WPLN-Radio)

Governor Bill Haslam wants to rewrite part of the constitution on how judges are chosen, to spell out that the current system is okay. It’s held up to court challenges, but some lawmakers have argued it goes against the constitution, which says judges “shall be elected.”

Judicial Selection Critics Wave Caution Flag on Constitutional Amendment (WPLN)

Critics of the way Tennessee names its Supreme Court justices and appellate judges are waving a caution flag. Governor Bill Haslam proposed making the much-debated judicial selection process more permanent by writing it into the state constitution. At least 30 states follow similar methods, meant to reduce the politics inherent in selecting judges.

Tennessee ranked 14th tax friendliest state by Tax Foundation (M. Biz Journal)

Tennessee is among the “tax friendliest” states for business in the U.S., coming in at No. 14 for 2012 on a list created by the Tax Foundation . The foundation, established in 1937 to educate taxpayers about sound tax policy and the size of the tax burden borne by Americans at all levels of government, has created the State Business Tax Climate Index for eight years.

Haslam Applauds TN Environmental Leaders, Innovators (TN Report)

The Department of Environment and Conservation is inviting Tennesseans to submit nominations for the Governor’s 2012 Environmental Stewardship Awards. The awards recognize Tennesseans who go above and beyond to protect the state’s diverse environment.

Governor’s initiative aims to raise state’s share of tourism (C. Appeal/Lollar)

From the blues and blue-suede shoes to country music and bluegrass, Tennessee music has helped rank the state 17th among the nation’s top tourism destinations. Now Gov. Bill Haslam wants to turn the state’s assets, from the Mississippi River to the Smoky Mountains, into a bigger piece of the American tourism pie to join the realm of such top 10 draws as California, Florida, New York and Texas.

Haslam Issues Exec. Order For Larger Loads Of Hay (WKSR-Radio Pulaski)

Gov. Bill Haslam recently extended an executive order to allow haulers of hay to carry larger loads in their trucks as long as they observe safety requirements. The order is in response to drought and extreme weathers conditions in Texas and across the Southeast, which has left some farmers without access to hay for livestock.

Kingsport gets $46,200 Safe Routes to School grant (Times-News)

The Kingsport school system will receive almost $50,000 in state grant money to make routes to and from almost a dozen city schools safer for students. Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer recently announced Safe Routes to School funding for Kingsport totaling $46,200 for improvements around 11 city schools.

Haslam: Legislature Shouldn’t Prioritize Bills Seen as Hostile to Gays (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t think bills dealing with sexual orientation are the best use of lawmakers’ time this session. Haslam was asked specifically about whether he sees a connection between bills such as one to ban teaching about homosexuality in lower grades and two teen suicides in as many months by Middle Tennessee students who were reportedly bullied for being gay.

Marion, Roane counties get piece of Tenn. motor oil collection funds (TFP/Benton)

Marion and Roane counties got a piece of almost $190,000 in collection grants to establish, upgrade and expand used motor oil collection centers in 15 communities across Tennessee, according to a release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. “It’s important to educate citizens on the proper disposal of used motor oil, and the use of these convenient community collection centers can have a direct impact on the water quality of our lakes, streams and groundwater in Tennessee,” Haslam said.

ECD Commissioner Hagerty: At home with tech investors (Nashville Biz Journal)

Commissioner Bill Hagerty used an interesting phrase this morning while addressing dozens of technology entrepreneurs. The head of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development told the crowd — still picking over breakfast at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena — that he was happy to be “back home” with them, talking about tech issues.

Wildlife agency says ATVs cause erosion (Associated Press)

Wildlife officials are looking into environmental concerns about the effects of all-terrain vehicles on a mountaintop in East Tennessee that has become a playground for off-road drivers. An online campaign and petition has been started to urge the Tennessee Wildlife Management Agency to keep the Cummings Cove Wildlife Management Area open to recreational ATV drivers.

State electronic library could help students (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Electronic Library has tools that could help students prepare for college entrance exams. The TEL has an online collection of study guides, practice tests and math and reading improvement courses.

UT business professor Matt Murray to lead Baker Center (NS/Boehnke)

Raising private donations and securing research grants that would buoy a strained budget at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy will be among Matt Murray’s top priorities as the center’s newly named director, the University of Tennessee economics professor said Wednesday. UT announced Murray’s three-year appointment Wednesday as leader of the center, named for former Sen. Howard Baker.

Expect short legislative session, local lawmakers say (Oak Ridger)

Expect to see some “controversial” bills — covering everything from prescription safety and education to drunken driving laws — proposed and debated by members of the Tennessee General Assembly this session. Despite what elected officials say is on the legislature’s calendar for the current session, this winter and spring could be a quick one for the Tennessee General Assembly.

Our Gang: Will Those Little Rascals of Legislature Finally Get Serious? (M. Pulse)

It’s early January. A chilly evening, but inside Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, it’s warm and cozy. Days before the legislative session is to start, state Sen. Stacey Campfield is hosting a fund-raiser.

Four Bills Likely to Get the Most Attention (Metro Pulse)

HB 2658/SB 2641: “authorizes replicas of certain historically-significant documents to be placed in public buildings” Who doesn’t want to see the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, right next to the United States Constitution, the Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights? SB 2580/HB 2725: “requires applicants for TANF benefits to undergo a drug test before receiving such benefits; restricts TANF benefits for positive drug test results under certain circumstances” Sen. Stacey Campfield’s bill has garnered support from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey but critics who might otherwise support it say it will cost too much money. SB 49/HB 229: “requires that any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school must be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science” Campfield’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been amended, but it’s still alive and somewhat likely to pass, although Gov. Bill Haslam is iffy on signing it.

Matt Shepard’s dad disturbed by Tenn. bills (Associated Press/Johnson)

The father of slain gay college student Matthew Shepard said Wednesday he is disturbed by legislation in Tennessee that would ban public schools from teaching about gay issues Dennis Shepard spoke at a Nashville news conference Wednesday. He said the proposal, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is an example of legislation that could be harmful to gays.

Matthew Shepard’s father urges TN lawmakers to resist gay bills (TN/Sisk)

Wyoming dad whose son was murdered in 1998 says lawmakers are fueling prejudice Gay rights advocates, led by a Wyoming man whose son’s 1998 murder became a rallying cry for protecting gays and lesbians through federal hate crime laws, on Wednesday accused Tennessee lawmakers of feeding anti-gay prejudice by introducing bills that deal with homosexuality. Dennis Shepard, the father of Matthew Shepard, said legislators are encouraging the bullying of gay, lesbian and transgendered people with bills aimed at them.

Tennessee anti-gay bill, Rep. Richard Floyd’s talk draw protest (TFP/Sher)

The father of a gay college student, whose brutal 1998 murder in Wyoming triggered a national debate over hate crimes, warned Wednesday that Tennessee lawmakers’ legislation and comments targeting gays encourages harassment. Dennis Shepard made the comments at a state Capitol news conference where he spoke out against several bills.

Tennessee lawmakers push for lower grocery tax (WMC-TV Memphis)

According to new national survey statistics, Tennessee’s grocery tax is one of the highest in the nation. Now, Democratic and Republican party leaders in the state House of Representatives agree that the sales tax on food needs to be reduced. Governor Bill Haslam recently unveiled his legislative agenda for the year, including a bill to lower the state sales tax on grocery by two-tenths of a point, to 5.3 percent, next year.

Luttrell criticizes bills on schools (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said Wednesday that he believes the bills filed by state Rep. Curry Todd to pave the way for municipal school districts are “premature” and that it’s “really inappropriate for the state to get involved at this time.” Luttrell told the Shelby County Legislative Delegation that he believes the city-county school system merger process set up last year by a state law co-sponsored by Todd, R-Collierville, needs time to work.

E-Verify now a must for larger firms (Times-Gazette)

Businesses that employ 500 or more people are now required to either use the online E-Verify program to check the citizenship status of newly-hired employees, or else ask for and keep a file copy of verifying documents, ranging from a driver’s license to a U.S. birth certificate to a green card. The law is being phased in over the next year and a half; businesses with 200 to 499 employees will have to comply starting July 1, and businesses with six to 199 employees will have to comply by July 1, 2013.

Verdicts Reversed (Memphis Flyer)

Cooling its jets, the Shelby County Commission changes its mind on redistricting and other matters. It is hard to find a proper analogy for what happened in Monday’s public meeting of the full Shelby County Commission.

Audit finds Arriola collected $119,000 by charging wedding fees (Tennessean/Cass)

Davidson County Clerk John Arriola collected an estimated $119,400 over a span of nearly five years by charging a fee when his office performed weddings, despite a state law that allowed him to collect only a voluntary gratuity, according to a special audit by the Tennessee comptroller’s office. Arriola, once seen as a rising star in Democratic Party circles, has been under fire since WTFV-Channel 5 reported last summer that he had been collecting a $40 fee — which he described as a “gratuity” — from couples who went to his office for wedding ceremonies.

Knox pension contributions to increase, meeting set to study plan (NS/Donila)

Knox County could end up contributing an additional $1.2 million toward a Sheriff’s Office retirement program that already costs more than three times what voters were promised when they approved it five years ago. In addition, two other county pension plans that closed decades ago also could need an additional $1 million combined to keep them healthy, according to contribution estimates released this week. With the stock market still on shaky ground, the county’s pension board actuary, USI Consulting Southeast President Bob Cross, told members that the county will need to put in a combined $1.65 million to $2.25 million in extra funds during the upcoming fiscal year, which beings July 1.

Mayfield considers 3rd District GOP run (Associated Press)

The president of Mayfield Dairy, Scottie Mayfield, said he could be a Republican candidate for Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District seat. Mayfield said Wednesday that now is a good time because his business has a “really great general manager” and the newly drawn district map shifted him from the 2nd District to the 3rd District.

Scottie Mayfield considers bid for Congress (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Tennessee’s milkman said he needs to “get enough information to understand what I’m doing” before he decides whether to run for Congress. “It’s a heck of a responsibility,” Scottie Mayfield said Wednesday.

Nashville airport video doesn’t show ‘irate’ Sen. Rand Paul (Tennessean/Haas)

A security video of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul at a Nashville International Airport checkpoint doesn’t show him being “irate,” as police asserted. The Kentucky Republican ran afoul of a millimeter-wave screening machine Monday morning that went off as he tried to enter the airport terminal.

Regulators say flood barriers may not protect TVA’s nuclear plants (TN/Paine)

Sand baskets considered ‘temporary fix’ Sand baskets that the Tennessee Valley Authority installed at dams to protect its nuclear plants from a worst-case flood could fail, according to a federal nuclear oversight group. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the baskets are not capable of standing up to the impact of debris barreling down the Tennessee River in a massive flood.

Wacker hits construction milestone in Tennessee (Associated Press)

Wacker Polysilicon officials say they have reached a milestone in construction at their solar products plant in Charleston, Tenn. Precast walls are being installed at the three largest buildings of the plant. A company spokesman said the walls allow for the installation of a sophisticated system for producing hyperpure polysilicon.

Amusement park experts say proposed water/snow park faces challenges (N. Post)

A water and snow park proposed for Nashville must meet various challenges if it is to be successful, according to officials who follow the amusement park industry. “These are complicated businesses,” said Gene Jeffers, executive director of the Burbank, Calif.-based Themed Entertainment Association.

Charter school incubator hires organizational architect (Nashville Post)

The Tennessee Charter School Incubator said Wednesday it has recruited a veteran education leader to help it set up a network of charter schools in 2014. Todd Dickson is coming to Nashville to be a senior fellow at the incubator for two years.

Dean, Charter Incubator announce recruitment of charter school leader (C. Paper)

Mayor Karl Dean and the Tennessee Charter School Incubator announced Wednesday the recruitment of national charter school leader Todd Dickson to lead Nashville’s network of charter schools in 2014. Starting in July, the Incubator will host Dickson as its senior fellow for two years while he finalizes his plans to create a charter management organization of eight to 10 college-preparatory public charter schools in Nashville.

Californian picked for TN charter incubator (Tennessean)

A California charter school director will be senior fellow at the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, with the goal of starting a network of schools in the city in 2014. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s office announced that Todd Dickson, whose Summit Preparatory Charter High School was featured in the popular education reform documentary Waiting for Superman, ultimately will seek to open eight to 10 Summit schools.

Acclaimed Charter School Leader Coming to Nashville (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A charter school director from California wants to start a network of new schools in Nashville. Todd Dickson runs Summit Prepartory Charter High, which has been lauded as a national example by Newsweek and the documentary Waiting for Superman.

Cleveland school board gets chilling cost estimate (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

City school board members suffered a sticker shock Wednesday. The estimated cost to replace the aging heating and air system with a water source heat pump system for the older part of Cleveland High School, the east wing, is more than $1.3 million, according to Associated Architectural Services.

California: California county jails coping with bigger inmate population (Stateline)

In California’s Kern County this fall, a female convict was sentenced to nine years in the county jail on multiple drug charges. In the past, she would have been sent to state prison — Kern County facilities were only designed to hold inmates for a year at the most.

Indiana: Indiana House Passes a Bill on Union Fees (New York Times)

The Republican-held Indiana House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday barring union contracts from requiring nonunion members to pay fees for representation, ending weeks of partisan battling and all but assuring that the state will become the first in the Midwestern manufacturing belt deemed a “right to work” state. Even as the lawmakers in Indianapolis voted 54 to 44, mostly along partisan lines, to approve the measure, legislators and union leaders in other states said they were preparing for similar fights ahead.

Utah: Herbert touts Utah’s economy, blasts feds in State of State speech (D. News)

Utah is well on the way to economic recovery and the federal government needs to get out of its way, Gov. Gary Herbert said. “Our state is growing now, and as we look to the horizon, Utah’s growth prospects are truly bright,” he said, noting that is something not many governors can say.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s Walker touts job creation as hecklers mar speech (Reuters)

Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose tumultuous first year in office saw partisan budget battles, massive street protests and a statewide recall effort against him, focused on job creation and ridding government of wasteful spending in a ‘state of the state’ speech on Wednesday disrupted by heckling. During a 45-minute address to members of the state legislature and Supreme Court justices, the first-term governor touted an improved business climate he said has created “thousands of new jobs” after the state lost 150,000 jobs during the three recession-hit years before he took office.

 OPINION

Guest columnist: Smoking: Focus on workers quitting, not a hiring ban (Tenn)

The idea that businesses should not hire tobacco users may look good on paper, but it doesn’t provide a solution to the larger issue: ending addiction to a deadly substance. A Jan. 12 article in The Tennessean, “More employers refuse to hire tobacco users,” reported on the growing trend of companies, especially among hospitals, refusing to hire individuals who use tobacco.

Editorial: Trustee office woes example for charter review panel (News-Sentinel)

The Knox County Trustee’s Office has imploded during the past few weeks. First came revelations that employees received unearned bonuses. Then came allegations that an employee took tests for other employees so they would qualify for those raises.

Times Editorial: Erlanger’s ricochet damage (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Erlanger Health System officials have a disturbing way of making Erlanger look bad, even when they say they are reorganizing and trying to do better. It’s even worse that they gratuitously damage the hospital’s public relations by denying legitimate requests for public records — this newspaper has three formal requests for records pending — while Memorial Hospital, its chief competitor, is drawing attention for its high rating as one of the nation’s most distinguished hospitals for clinical excellence.

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