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February 3 TN News Digest

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

Haslam hints at second Chattanooga Amazon facility (Times Free-Press/Pare)

New Amazon distribution centers such as the one in Chattanooga will vault Tennessee to the top three among states in terms of the Internet retailer’s footprint, officials said Thursday. And Amazon officials, who gave Gov. Bill Haslam his first look at the 1 million-square-foot Chattanooga center, hinted that the online retailer’s presence could grow in Hamilton County.

Gov. Bill Haslam visits Chattanooga’s Amazon facility, talks jobs (TFP/Pare)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today toured the Chattanooga Amazon facility, and said he’s looking forward to the company creating more jobs in the state. And, a top Amazon official hinted that more could be on the way for Hamilton County. Paul Misener, Amazon’s director of global public policy, said company officials refer to the existing Hamilton County facility as “Chattanooga One.”

Amazon Hold Fulfillment Center Grand Opening (WDEF-TV Chattanooga)

Amazon finally puts its stamp on the scenic city, with the grand opening of its Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga. “The sheer size of it is impressive, and we are grateful that they would invest in the state of Tennessee.

Tennessee governor visits the Scenic City (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is in the Scenic City Thursday. Governor Haslam is in town for the official grand opening of the Amazon.com fulfillment center.

Inside Amazon (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

They’ve been shipping since October, but for the first time Amazon’s Chattanooga Fulfillment Center let cameras in to see how its operation works. The tour was part of Amazon’s grand opening.

Amazon in Tennessee; amazing growth, amid taxing questions (WRCB-TV Chatt.)

Hectic though it is, Groundhog Day at Amazon’s Chattanooga Fulfillment Center is nothing compared to the rush this past Christmas. A Christmas that almost wasn’t. .

Governor Pitches His Ideas for Education, Taxes, Fighting Crime (WDEF-TV)

The decision to close the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe county will not change. Governor Bill Haslam talked about that controversial move and other subjects of local interest at the Downtown Rotary club at noon.

Haslam says Taft Center closing part of effort to streamline gov. (TFP/Flessner)

Gov. Bill Haslam said today that closing the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County is part of his overall effort to streamline state government and offer services at less cost. “We feel like we were hired to deliver the very best value for the lowest tax and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Haslam told the Chattanooga Rotary Club.

Haslam addresses concerns over closure of Taft Development Center (Nooga)

Following a 20-minute address to members of the Chattanooga Rotary Club, Gov. Bill Haslam said the closure of the Taft Youth Development Center was a tough but necessary decision to provide Tennesseans with the most effective government for the lowest cost. Haslam took a handful of questions from audience members and said the decision to close the Pikeville, Tenn., facility employing nearly 170 people and housing more than 1/3 of Hamilton County’s young offenders was not taken lightly.

Haslam Defends Decision To Close Taft (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

Governor Bill Haslam spoke to the Chattanooga Downtown Rotary Club and acknowledged how unpopular it is to close the Taft Youth Development Center. Governor Haslam said, “A lot of folks don’t like that. If it’s in your area, you’re like, ‘That’s a big employer for us. Why are you doing that?’ We’re getting some significant push back.” But Haslam said the numbers make sense to close Taft. Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day included the shut-down in her budget.

Nursing program at Cleveland State CC in high demand (TFP/Trevizo)

The nursing program at Cleveland State Community College faced such high demand, the school decided to offer an evening program — which also filled up. The college received about 120 applications for the program’s 40 slots.

Shelby County Drug Court to aid addicted moms (Commercial Appeal/Buser)

Offers way to regain custody of newborns The largest drug court in the state is now expanding slightly to begin treating drug-addicted mothers and offering them a chance to become drug free and possibly reunited with their drug-addicted newborns. Called “Born Addicted,” the pilot program will suspend criminal prosecution of the women’s drug charges while they participate in an 18-month Drug Court Treatment Program involving substance-abuse counseling, monitoring and education.

Worker injured as cleanup begins on I-40 rock slide site (News-Sentinel)

A worker was injured this afternoon amid the first day of emergency operations to clear the rock slide debris blocking the westbound lanes of Interstate 40 in Cocke County, according to officials. The man, who was not identified, suffered a minor head wound while operating a trackhoe used to chip away at a 1,500-ton boulder left precariously perched above the interstate, said Mark Nagi, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman.

Worker injured at I-40 rockslide in Cocke County (WATE-TV Knoxville)

A worker was injured Thursday as a contractor for the state Department of Transportation began work to clear a rockslide on Interstate 40 westbound in Cocke County. A crew was using a big piece of machinery to bring down a large rock sitting precariously on a hill by the roadway. As the rock came down, a chunk of it hit the machinery.

Worker injured at site of Interstate 40 rockslide (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

A man working for the company contracted to clear the rockslide on Interstate 40 was injured Thursday afternoon. Crews began working to chip away at a boulder weighing an estimated 1,500 tons around 11 a.m., according to Mark Nagi, community relations officer for the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation.

Worker hurt at I-40 rock slide cleanup (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

A worker at the rock slide that has I-40 shut down got a gash on his head after a rock fell and hit machinery. TDOT spokesperson Mark Nagi says the man was operating a track hoe and working to get the rock down.

TDOT pushes back bridge completion date (Columbia Daily Herald)

A completion date for construction on the Campbellsville Pike Bridge, which has already been postponed twice, is now set for April 15, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s chief engineer. Work was originally slated to be finished on the bridge in November 2011, but wet weather and problems relocating utilities forced delays in reconstruction of the bridge over Little Bigby Creek on Campbellsville Pike.

QR Code Added to Official 2012 State Map (Associated Press)

The official 2012 Tennessee Transportation Map is now available. This year’s map contains a Quick Response (QR) code that will allow users to scan and link to the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s mobile web application, TDOT SmartWay Mobile. Motorists can get real-time traffic information using smartphones this way. The map is a joint effort between TDOT and the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development.

Judicial Ethics Panel Makeup Debated (TN Report)

Judges and lawmakers agree the state’s system for policing judges is flawed, but there’s so far little agreement as to how much sway judges themselves should have over that watchdog role. Lawmakers are considering two major bills this year to recreate a panel responsible for disciplining judges who cross ethical lines.

Support builds for special session on health care (AP/Schelzig, Johnson)

Republican lawmakers are building support for a plan to wait until the end of the year to take action on state requirements set by President Barack Obama’s federal health care law. House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday that it would make sense to allow legal and political challenges to the federal health care law to play out before addressing how or whether to set up a state health insurance exchange.

School superintendents denounce governor’s education bill (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam’s bill that would tie school funding to larger class size drew some heavy fire Thursday. The proposal would eliminate state-imposed average class size caps and allow districts to pay teachers more based on class size or student learning gains.

TN lawmakers discuss reducing sales tax (Associated Press/Johnson)

The Republican sponsor of a proposal to reduce the sales tax on groceries in Tennessee said Wednesday he’s open to working with Democrats who have a similar measure if it would help the legislation’s passage. The bill by Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin was placed behind the budget in the House Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Lawmakers want bigger cut to TN food tax (WSMV-TV Nashville)

In his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Haslam said he plans to reduce the food tax from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent, but some lawmakers want it even lower. “Many of you have long expressed a desire to decrease the tax on groceries.

Licenses at Risk If Professionals Can’t Pay Student Loans (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Teachers and other select professionals would lose their licenses if they fall behind on repaying their student loans, under a bill that passed in the state House of Representatives today. The loans in question are guaranteed and administered by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, a state agency.

Bill to “De-Occupy” Clears Hurdle in State Legislature (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Lawmakers on an important subcommittee approved a bill Wednesday night that would clear tents off the Legislative Plaza. Members of Occupy Nashville in the audience remained silent as the bill was approved.

Two lawmakers push to eliminate gun background checks (Herald-Courier)

Two area lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would eliminate gun background checks for more than 300,000 Tennesseans and that has the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation concerned. Senator Steve Southerland is sponsoring the legislation in the Tennessee Senate and representative David Hawk is doing the same in the house.

Legislators listen as Rutherford teachers vent about pay, evaluations (Gannett)

Local school teachers challenged state lawmakers Thursday about the wisdom of changing teacher pay structures and raised objections to Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, calling it burdensome and stressful. The Murfreesboro Education Association and Rutherford Education Association, which invited the Rutherford legislative delegation to a forum at Blackman High, are both opposed to a plan introduced by Gov. Bill Haslam to drop the state’s teacher pay system based on experience and advanced degrees and give local school systems authority to set up new pay structures that depend on student test scores and evaluations “The pay for performance idea the governor is proposing is not a good idea.

Shipley comes to aide of man having seizure at downtown Nashville hotel (T-N)

When a Dallas man who was in town for his company’s national sales meeting had a seizure at a downtown hotel Wednesday evening, a state legislator took charge of the situation until the Nashville Fire Department arrived. Max Carter, a vice president of Franklin-based Passport Health Communications Inc., said state Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican with training as a paramedic, may have saved the life of a 34-year-old Passport employee.

12,571 photo IDs for Tennessee voters added since July 1 (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee issued 12,571 photo IDs for voters between July 1 and Jan. 30, the state Safety Department announced Thursday. Under a Republican-backed law that took effect Jan. 1, all Tennessee voters must display state or federally issued photo identification to vote.

Planned Parenthood files suit to restore funding (Associated Press)

Affiliates of Planned Parenthood have filed a lawsuit against the state Health Department to restore funding. Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee and Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region filed the lawsuit Thursday to restore preventive care funding under the HIV Prevention Services and the Syphilis Elimination grant programs.

Planned Parenthood sues TN over cuts to STD program (Tennessean/Haas)

Two affiliates say state yanked grants for political reasons Abortion opponents are claiming another victory in the battle to defund Planned Parenthood by excluding it from state and federal funding for HIV and syphilis prevention programs. But the nonprofit is fighting back. Two Tennessee Planned Parenthood groups sued the state Thursday for denying the nonprofit more than $150,000 in grant money to participate in programs funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Planned Parenthood sues TN Health Department over funding loss (CA/Patterson)

Claiming they’ve been singled out for providing abortions to women, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region is suing the state Department of Health to regain about $150,000 in grant contracts for HIV prevention and syphilis elimination dropped by the state in December. PPGMR filed the joint suit with Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee on Thursday in federal district court in Nashville.

Planned Parenthood Affiliates Sue Tenn. (Memphis Daily News)

Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region and Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee have filed a federal lawsuit in Nashville against John Dreyzehner, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health. According to the suit, the groups were awarded funding in 2011 under the HIV Prevention Services and Syphilis Elimination grant programs.

State Further Cuts Planned Parenthood, Organization Sues (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The Planned Parenthood offices in Tennessee are suing the state over another round of cuts to its grant funding, this time for HIV and Syphilis prevention. As of January 1st, Planned Parenthood receives no money from the state.

Metro to Update Public on Flood-Preparation Projects (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Metro officials will soon detail some ways to make Nashville more ready in case of another big flood. They’ll give a progress update at three public meetings set for later this month. Metro started work a year ago on what it calls a “unified” response to the deadly torrents of May, 2010.

Knox County mayor: Tourism officials should resign (Associated Press)

Knox County’s mayor said Thursday that several officials with the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation should resign because of what some critics have called an excessive compensation package paid to the group’s president and CEO. Mayor Tim Burchett also has asked the state comptroller to review the corporation’s finances after WBIR-TV reported that Gloria Ray, the group’s president and CEO, received more than $400,000 in compensation in 2010 (http://on.wbir.com/AlBQWc) Burchett said Ray should step down, as well as the group’s board leaders and executive committee members.

Mayors call for Ray’s resignation (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Donila)

The county’s two top leaders on Thursday called for the resignation of Gloria Ray, the president and CEO of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., a non-profit that has come under fire in recent weeks after officials and the media started looking into how the organization spends its money and how much it pays its workers. Both Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said they want Ray and the five-member KTSC executive committee, which sets her salary, to step down.

Burchett and Rogero call for Gloria Ray’s resignation (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero are both calling for Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation President and CEO Gloria Ray to step down. They are also calling for the leadership of the board and the Executive Committee to step down.

Mayors call for Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. CEO Gloria Ray to resign (WATE)

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero called Thursday for Knoxville Tourism & Sports CEO Gloria Ray to resign. The move follows the release of documents showing a more than $30,000 increase in her base pay in five years.

Ray’s compensation exceeds many local nonprofit leaders (News-Sentinel/Flory)

Compensation for the embattled chief of Knoxville’s top tourism organization exceeds that earned by leaders of other local tax-exempt groups, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Gloria Ray, president and CEO of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., has come under intense scrutiny because of an annual pay package that exceeds $400,000.

GovDeals.com offers bargains while helping agencies (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Bill Gunn is on the lookout for government inefficiency. His watchtower is his home computer, where with a few clicks he surveys government surplus auctions in a 100-mile radius around his home in Lawrenceburg, Tenn.

Guard unit leaves Saturday for Afghanistan (Associated Press)

Tennessee National Guard soldiers from a 45-man Air Medivac unit leave Saturday for a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. The Smyrna-based helicopter unit will travel to Fort Hood, Texas, for specialized training before continuing on to Afghanistan.

Production to start soon at new Whirlpool site (Times Free-Press/Leach)

Whirlpool is expected to manufacture and ship the first products from its new Benton Pike site this quarter, officials say. The company is beginning the transition from its King Edwards Drive plant to a new 1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility and 400,000-square-foot distribution center, representing a $120 million reinvestment in Cleveland.

Tennessee’s teen unemployment nearly 29% in 2011 (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee had 10th-highest teen unemployment among the nation’s 50 states last year, with teen males suffering more than their female counterparts, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The state’s overall teen unemployment rate was 28.8 percent in 2011.

‘A big day’: Superintendent takes part in groundbreaking for new school (NS/Alund)

On a sun-splashed day Thursday school and county officials gathered and broke ground on a new elementary school being built in the Southwest Knox County. The ceremony at 1889 Thunderhead Road came on the heels of the Knox County school board approving a $15.5 million contract last monthwith Rouse Construction to build the new 128,500-square-foot school.

Shelby County schools transition team invites area mayors to table (CA/Kelley)

The elephant in the room is clearing its throat, and members of the commission planning the transition to a unified school system for Shelby County are taking notice. The effort by suburban entities to opt out of the unified system by developing municipal school districts hadn’t been given a lot of attention by the Transition Planning Commission, bent on putting together the outlines of a countywide system that would serve public school kids from every corner of the county.

Schools Consolidation Group Wants Meeting With Suburban Mayors (MDN)

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell warned the schools consolidation transition planning commission that it cannot ignore the issue of suburban municipal school districts as it draws up the blueprint for a consolidated countywide school system. And at the planning commission’s meeting Thursday, Feb. 2, he expressed concern that the commission is not selling its work as effectively as it should against the backdrop of other competing development like the suburban plans to form their own school systems.

TSU among 13 groups to consider opening charter schools in Metro (CP/Garrison)

Thirteen organizations have signaled they intend to apply this spring to open new charter schools in Metro, a sign of the booming times for publicly financed, privately led charters in Nashville. The deadline was Wednesday to submit letters of intent to seek charter approval for the 2012 charter-review cycle.

TSU wants to open an on-campus elementary charter school (TN/Hubbard)

Young minorities would have wealth of mentors Tennessee State University wants to launch an elementary school on its campus in order to funnel more minority children into math and science careers with the help of college student mentors. TSU was one of 13 groups that filed letters by Wednesday with Metro Nashville Public Schools to indicate their interest in starting new charter schools.

$500,000 in steroids seized in Murfreesboro (Associated Press)

Police in Murfreesboro, Tenn., report confiscating illegal steroids with a street value exceeding $500,000 and arresting one man. Officers called it “an international drug smuggling operation,” according to The Daily News Journal (http://on.dnj.com/wp3gYT).

Murfreesboro police seize record cache of steroids (Gannett)

City police recently confiscated the largest amount of steroids in the department’s history while investigating an “international drug smuggling operation.” Murfreesboro Police vice officers, with the help of agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, arrested Leslie E. Parker Jr., of Murfreesboro, on Jan. 27 in connection with the operation, according to a news release from Murfreesboro Police.

Four face meth charges, arrests made in two traffic stops (Jackson Sun)

Metro Narcotics investigators seized two methamphetamine labs in Jackson-Madison County and charged four suspects in two unrelated cases within 48 hours, police said Thursday. Just after 8 p.m. Tuesday, members of the Jackson Police Department Gang Unit stopped a car at Vann Drive and North Highland Avenue.

Mississippi: Republicans challenge powers of attorney general (Stateline)

As Mississippi’s attorney general, Jim Hood rarely shies away from litigation, especially when victory could put millions of dollars into the state treasury. During more than eight years in office, Hood has reinforced Mississippi’s reputation as one of the nation’s fiercest litigants, especially on the securities front.

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: Gov. Bill Haslam a wise leader in tough economic times (TFP)

Gov. Bill Haslam is a fine, enthusiastic leader in tough economic times. His common sense and his sense of hope for Tennessee shone through in a visit Thursday to Chattanooga’s Downtown Rotary Club. He noted statistics showing optimism among Tennesseans about our economic prospects.

Greg Johnson: Haslam hits right rhetorical notes (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

In 2010, former Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam based his campaign for governor on competence, claiming his experiences running a big company and one of Tennessee’s largest cities gave him the technocratic bona fides to direct the Volunteer State. Last year, after less than two months in office, Gov. Bill Haslam gave a wonkish, workmanlike State of the State address. But Monday, in his second State of the State, Haslam was obviously a man in his moment, clear on the condition of the state he finds the state and sure about the direction he wants to lead those who will follow.

Guest columnist: ‘Tennessee Plan’ needs revisions (Tennessean)

Weaker panel, legislative role would bring accountability Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell announced their support for an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would legalize our system for selecting state judges. For many years, people have doubted whether our system, known as the “Tennessee Plan,” is constitutional.

Editorial: Evaluations under fire (Paris Post-Intelligencer)

Teachers chafing under the state’s new evaluation system have a lot of friends in the legislature. Nearly 20 bills to change the system were entered before Wednesday’s filing deadline.

Guest columnist: Class size, salary plan disregards expert studies (Tennessean)

Tennessee’s public school teachers and parents are in a state of shock following the recent education-related legislative proposals by Gov. Bill Haslam. Recurring complaints by educators throughout the state forced the governor to rethink the new, ill-advised, teacher evaluation system, Teacher Achievement Program (TAP). Now, Gov. Haslam is trying to increase the number of students that would be allowed in classrooms and change the way teachers are compensated.

Guest columnists: Time to fund for New Madrid quake is now (Tennessean)

Some of us may remember drills in school during the Cold War that had us prepare for a nuclear attack by hiding under desks and covering them in sheets. Fortunately, it never became a live exercise.

Editorial: ET congressmen must fight for OR cleanup dollars (News-Sentinel)

Stimulus funds used for environmental cleanup projects in Oak Ridge masked a troubling condition — the amount of money devoted each year to pay for cleanup activities has dwindled. The U.S. Department of Energy recently received its long-overdue budget numbers for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, and the Environmental Management budget for Oak Ridge is $80 million below the historic $500 million a year average.

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