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January 28 TN News Digest

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

Data Dashboard (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday unveiled the Tennessee Data Dashboard he promised during a 2010 campaign speech. The website amounts to an annual report card that measures state progress and holds him accountable on key Tennessee indicators such as jobs and economic development, education, health and public safety.

Tennessee one of four highest-scoring states in teacher quality (M. Biz Journal)

Tennessee teachers earned one of the highest overall grades in the nation on the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Tennessee earned a B- and was one of only four states to receive a B grade.

Haslam extends order to help farmers (Times-News)

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.

Food firm gets grant (Commercial Appeal)

Rich Products Corp. in Arlington has received a $25,000 state grant to train its employees. The food manufacturing facility sought the grant to help make the plant more efficient and produce more product, according to its grant application.

TEA opposes local officials like Haslam’s proposals on class size (M. Press)

Some school officials are criticizing Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposals that would give local school boards the power to lift average class size mandates and set their own teacher salaries, disregarding pay scales based on experience and level of education. “I am disappointed Gov. Haslam chose to begin the 2012 session with such a blatant attack on Tennessee’s public schools,” Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford, who teaches math at Gatlinburg-Pittman, said.

Methadone clinics could get new rules (Tennessean/Wilemon)

A state agency has proposed new rules aimed at getting more addicts out of methadone clinics and into programs that wean them completely off drugs. Some of those rules may have unintended consequences, say the people who run the clinics.

Jobless rate falls again (Times-Gazette)

The county’s jobless rate has dropped again — this time falling to 8.9 percent, according to the latest preliminary numbers released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. There were 2,030 Bedford County residents to claim unemployment in December, with 20,660 working out of a labor force of 22,690.

UTC students told to retake classes they passed (Times Free-Press/Garrett)

Students at UTC are being told to retake classes they may not need to repeat and, in some cases, fork over more money for the added courses. Academic officials at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga said they won’t tell all students that the grades now required in some classes aren’t the ones agreed to when the students enrolled. “That would be like yelling fire in a crowded theater,” said UTC Provost Phil Oldham.

Knoxville lawyer’s license suspended (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A Knoxville attorney has been suspended for two years by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Wesley Markland Baker’s license was suspended “for a definite period of two years and indefinitely thereafter until Mr. Baker makes full restitution to his client and/or the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection,” a news release stated. According to the news release, on Nov. 5, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition for discipline against Baker.

GOP leaders hope to keep method of naming judges (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he’ll have to sell his own caucus first on a constitutional amendment to validate the state’s current method of naming appellate and Supreme Court justices. On Wednesday, Ramsey, Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell announced they will push legislation to enshrine the current appointment process.

TN Senate: Multi-pronged unemployment reform arrives (Nashville Biz Journal)

Whatever its fate, a spate of legislation filed Thursday makes it clear unemployment insurance will at least be a source of debate this year in the Tennessee General Assembly, as promised. While Senate Republicans have called unemployment reform a top priority — to the joy of some business advocates who believe fraud is burdening the system — it’s been unclear how much traction the issue would get there or in the House. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has called it a top priority.

New street-level legislative and congressional maps posted online (CA/Locker)

Tennessee legislative leaders posted street-level maps of Tennessee’s new legislative and congressional districts on the Internet this afternoon, two weeks after they were approved by the state legislature. Although general maps with broad outlines of district boundaries were made public early this month, it would have been difficult for residents — and potential candidates — who live near the district boundaries to tell precisely in which state House, state Senate and congressional districts they will be voting this year.

Tenn. bill weakens limits on lobbyist entertaining (Associated Press)

A bill would make it easier for lobbyists to wine and dine lawmakers, a move that critics say would be a “step backward” from ethics reforms imposed on the General Assembly after the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz bribery sting of 2005. Republican Rep. Philip Johnson of Pegram introduced the bill, which would allow employers of lobbyists to host receptions for standing committees in either chamber.

Ramsey: Tenn. revenues won’t rebound until 2014 (Times-News)

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Friday that despite a recovering economy, state government’s revenue picture won’t fully recover until 2014. “I just don’t want people to think that because revenues are up, that means we have a lot of extra money,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said after addressing about 175 business leaders at a Regional Legislative Breakfast held at the MeadowView Marriott.

Campfield defends AIDS comments on radio show (Associated Press)

A Tennessee Republican lawmaker is defending comments he made on a satellite radio show about the origins of AIDS and how it’s transmitted. Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville was interviewed Friday by Michelangelo Signorile, editor-at-large of Huffington Gay Voices, on Signorile’s radio show on SiriusXM’s LGBT channel, OutQ, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/yZkjRt ).

Campfield defends comments on origin, transmission of AIDs (N-S/Humphrey)

Campfield interview draws ire State Sen. Stacey Campfield says he was speaking “on the fly” about the origins of AIDS and its transmission during a radio interview that now has “some people going crazy.” Still, the Knoxville Republican said his assertions, including the possibility that AIDS originated from a man having sexual intercourse with a monkey, reasonably reflect what others have said in researching and writing on the subject.

Legislator Unbowed in Controversy Over AIDS, Homosexuality (WPLN-Radio Nash)

The state senator sponsoring what’s come to be known as “Don’t Say Gay” legislation is under fire for remarks he made about homosexuality on digital radio this week. Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield is sponsoring a bill to bar discussion of homosexuality in schools. That prompted a messy exchange on the Sirius XM channel OutQ. Campfield argued for about 20-minutes with an antagonistic Michelangelo Signorile (SEEN-er-ell-ee).

Dickey to run for new Senate seat (Columbia Daily Herald)

Columbia Mayor Dean Dickey said he will run for the new 28th state Senate district seat created in Tennessee’s redistricting process. Dickey joins Democrat Ty Cobb, a Columbia firefighter and former state representative, and Republican state Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald as candidates for the 28th District seat, which will encompass Maury, Giles, Lawrence, Lewis, Perry and Wayne counties.

Extra poll workers to aid precincts on voter ID law (Daily News Journal)

Safeguard in place to assist with provisional ballots One poll worker will be designated at each of Rutherford County’s 48 precincts during the March 6 presidential primary to deal with Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law, according to the county’s election administrator. “We don’t anticipate having a lot of issues with photo ID in our county,” said Nicole Lester, administrator of elections. But a worker will be set up at each polling place to assist registrars with voters who don’t have the proper state or federal photo ID.

Knox Criminal Court clerk suspended — but not over gun remark (NS/Satterfield)

A Knox County Criminal Court clerk who said she “ought to go home and get my husband’s gun” after a confrontation over her work performance left the office and returned later the same day with nary an alert to building security or law enforcement, the News Sentinel has learned. Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey said Friday she contacted the county’s Human Resources Department for guidance after the incident, which occurred a week ago, and ultimately decided to suspend employee Genie Owens — but not for the remark about getting a gun. “She was suspended for not doing her work that she is trained to do,” McCroskey said.

River flow suspends barge traffic as TVA boosts spill through dams (TFP/Flessner)

River barge traffic on the Tennessee River is being halted this weekend as TVA draws down its rain-swollen reservoirs. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to boost the amount of water spilling and flowing through the Chickamauga Dam today from about 35,000 cubic feet per second to 95,000 cubic feet per second.

TVA halts Chattanooga barge traffic as it spills dam water (News-Sentinel/Marcum)

The Tennessee River in the Chattanooga area will be closed to barge traffic for several days because of swift currents from recent rains, TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said Friday. TVA is spilling water at all nine of its Tennessee River dams to help control water levels and generate electricity and will probably be doing so at least until early next week, Brickey said.

FDIC closes Tennessee Commerce Bank (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee’s reign as the largest state to avoid a bank failure since the economic downturn came to an end today, with regulators closing institutions in the Nashville and Knoxville areas. Tennessee Commerce Bank — the Franklin lender that’s been searching for capital under continual regulatory oversight for weeks — will become part of Republic Bank & Trust Co. of Louisville, Ky. And BankEast, a Knoxville-area lender under the leadership of former state banking commissioner Fred Lawson, has been sold to U.S. Bank, a Minneapolis lender with a Middle Tennessee presence.

TN Commerce Bank fails; Louisville company to buy assets (Tenn/McClain, Ward)

Ky. bank steps in after FDIC closes Tennessee Commerce Fallout from the recession and bad, speculative loans finally crumpled Tennessee Commerce Bank in Franklin, a $1.2 billion bank closed Friday by regulators in Tennessee’s first bank failure in a decade. Republic Bancorp Inc. of Louisville, Ky., will buy all of the deposits and some loans of Tennessee Commerce Bank at a steep discount to cushion against what could be additional problem loans lingering on the failed bank’s books.

Tennessee Commerce Falls, State’s First Bank Failure Since 2002 (WPLN-Radio)

Federal banking officials took over operations of two troubled institutions in Tennessee this afternoon, one of them in Franklin. The failure of Tennessee Commerce Bank is the state’s first in nearly a decade.

Feds shut down Tennessee Commerce (Nashville Post)

After approximately nine months of formal federal government enforcement action, Tennessee Commerce Bank officially ceased operations Friday.The Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions and the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corp. put the embattled Franklin-based bank into receivership. Republic Bank & Trust Co. out of Louisville is buying all of Tennessee Commerce Bank’s deposits and $204 million of its assets.

Teacher residency program recruits recent college graduates (TFP/Hardy)

Anyone who wants to teach through the TEACH/Here residency program must also be a learner, says a local educator. “It’s about getting better, being a learner and being flexible because that’s the culture of school,” said TEACH/Here Director Cheri Dedmon. “And having the patience of Job.”

Metro schools to increase drug, weapons searches (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Move comes after years of fewer such sweeps Metro Nashville parents probably will see more white security SUVs lining school driveways and cruising parking lots. District officials say they’re ramping up drugs and weapons searches districtwide after years of fewer searches.

State denies charter school bid by New Consortium in Knox County (NS/Lakin)

The Tennessee Board of Education dealt the death blow Thursday to efforts to open a charter school in Knox County this year. Proponents said they’ll regroup for 2013.

School merger quest to outline project, seek feedback then submit idea (CA/Kelley)

The Transition Planning Commission crafting the merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools and the unified school board have committed to ambitious efforts to communicate to the public what they’re trying to accomplish. An 18-stop (at last count) series of “listening sessions” and regional parent assembly meetings continue Monday at Bellevue Baptist Church and Arlington High School.

Burke joins Tenn. AP to expand government coverage (Associated Press/Burke)

The Associated Press has named veteran reporter Sheila Burke as a legislative relief staff member in Tennessee. The announcement was made Friday by Lisa Marie Pane, South regional editor for AP.

OPINION 

Editorial: Healthy home-grown (Commercial Appeal)

Area growers recently met here with state nutritional experts and Memphis City Schools officials to begin forming an outline for how to get fresh locally grown produce in school cafeterias. There are many reasons to support the effort.

Editorial: More input on zoning fostered by meeting fix (Daily News Journal)

The Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission’s decision to make its next zoning work session a night meeting is the right move for the right reasons. The proposed zoning resolution being discussed by this body is a complex one.

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