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February 7 TN News Digest

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

Haslam: Patronage Threat Doesn’t Match Realities (Memphis Daily News)

Political patronage is not the threat to state employees that it once was because state government is bigger and has a broader scope of services, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says. Haslam has been making the point as he tours the state to push priorities launched last month in his State of the State address.

Governor restores Consolidated School Health funding (Stewart Houston Times)

Funding for Coordinated School Health has been restored in Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed 2012-2013 fiscal year budget. Haslam made the announcement during his State of the State speech on Jan. 30. It was welcome news to Stewart County CSH Coordinator Elaine Jackson successfully helping to improve academics in the Stewart County public schools by improving student and staff health.

Grant gives science building the push for construction (Sidelines)

Gov. Bill Haslam granted $126.7 million in the state budget for 2012-2013 to construct a 250,000-square-foot science facility that was proposed more than 20 years ago. “We are grateful to Governor Haslam for recognizing the importance of the science-building project and including funding for its construction in this year’s budget proposal,” said President Sidney McPhee in a press release.

Capitol Hill Conversation-Boards and Commissions (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

There are more than 200 hundred boards and commissions in Tennessee, overseeing everything from utility rates to barber shops. Governor Bill Haslam has proposed merging some of the boards and eliminating others.

Stop-Gap Hospital Fee Remains in State Budget Proposal (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A tax levied on Tennessee hospitals remains in Governor Bill Haslam’s budget, even though the fee began as a temporary fix. The hospital assessment fee – which began in 2010 – now generates close to $450 million to fill a hole in the state’s Medicaid budget.

TN tornadoes likely this year (Tennessean/Paine)

After record 2011, La Nina conditions are in effect again A record number of tornadoes — 113 — hit Tennessee last year, and this year also could be a lively one for storms. Tornadoes are difficult to predict, but warm, wet La Nina conditions, which are in effect this year, can be an indicator, said meteorologist Bobby Boyd with the National Weather Service.

Event to promote earthquake preparation, awareness (News-Sentinel/Boudinet)

The second annual Great Central U.S. Shakeout, a drill that is designed to simulate preparation for and promote awareness of earthquakes, will take place 11:15 a.m. today in eight states, including Tennessee. Individuals and organizations participating in the Shakeout by dropping under a stable surface such as a table or desk and holding on to a leg for at least one minute.

Opposition to closing of Pikeville’s Taft Youth Center grows (TFP/Lewis)

The list of those in opposition to the state’s move to close Bledsoe County’s Taft Youth Development Center got a little longer in Marion County in recent weeks. Marion County Juvenile Court Judge Jay Blevins said a judicial delegation encompassing the entire East Tennessee region has affirmed its opposition to the Pikeville, Tenn., facility’s closure.

TBI director requests money for drug buys in Tenn. (Associated Press)

The head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is asking lawmakers for money to buy drugs. TBI Director Mark Gwyn told the House Finance Committee on Monday that his agency has done without its “confidential fund” since it was cut from the budget in 2009.

Consumer officials warn about online dating scams (Associated Press)

State consumer officials are warning about the danger of online dating scammers. They say some fraud artists use online dating as a way to scam people out of their money.

State lottery has new game with $3 million prize (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Lottery launches a new game on Tuesday with the biggest top prize in the history of the state game. “$3,000,000 Mega Cash” is an instant game played by scratching a ticket. Besides the $3 million top prize, there are 10 prizes from $1 million to $3 million and more than 500,000 prizes from $50 to $20,000.

Judge: TN must lower hurdles for third parties (Johnson City Press)

A federal judge in Nashville has ruled in favor of Tennessee’s Green and Constitution parties’ joint lawsuit which claimed state laws violated the Tennessee constitution by making it unreasonably hard for third parties to get their names on the ballots. Both the Green and Constitution parties are recognized by state law as a “minor” parties, which, by definition means they are required to file a nominating petition with the state’s coordinator of elections.

House bill challenges Haslam, speakers on judges (Associated Press)

State Rep. Glen Casada is moving ahead with a bill calling for the popular election of Supreme Court justices, a position at odds with the wishes of fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the speakers of both chambers. Casada’s bill would allow for contested judicial elections in August 2014. Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey have called for putting a proposed constitutional amendment before the voters in November of that year seeking to cement the current system of judicial appointments by the governor followed by yes-no retention elections.

Bills to change pension plans stall in Legislature (Associated Press/Johnson)

Proposals to change the retirement system for public employees in Tennessee stalled Monday in the Legislature when a joint panel of lawmakers decided they need more study of the issue. One measure before the Joint Council on Pensions and Insurance expands the statute denying retirement benefits to state employees and officials who are convicted of a felony while in office.

Long-Time State Retirees to Get Boost in Pension Checks (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State employees who retired more than two decades ago would get a bump in their monthly retirement check under a bill to be reviewed Monday by a state panel. For some people in their 80’s and 90’s, their state pension has not come close to keeping up with inflation.

Latest call for Tenn. supermarket wine sales fails (Associated Press)

The latest effort to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets has failed for lack of a sponsor in the state Senate, but supporters of the measure insist their goal is not defeated for the year. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol had expected a better fate for his bill because it would require voters to approve supermarket wine sales in their city or county (http://bit.ly/zYrOic ).

Latest Tennessee wine proposal dies on the vine (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee voters will not have their say on whether Tennessee grocery stores should be allowed to sell wine. At least not yet.Tennessee House Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, had proposed legislation allowing wine sales in grocery stores in jurisdictions where voters had approved doing so.

Supporters continue to push for wine in Tennessee grocery stores (CA/Locker)

Tennessee grocers served notice Monday they’re pressing ahead with legislative efforts to allow the sale of wine in Tennessee grocery stores. They plan to push the issue through local referendums despite opposition by liquor wholesalers and liquor store owners.

Bill to put wine in grocery stores dies, Rep. has more options (Herald-Courier)

The latest effort for wine to be sold in Tennessee grocery stores died because the bill did not have a senate sponsor However, the local representative sponsoring this bill says the fight’s not over, and his opponents in liquor stores are prepared to stand their ground, as well. “It’s estimated about 22 million dollars in tax revenue would be brought back into the state,” explains State Representative Jon Lundberg saying he plans on continuing his fight to make wine available in supermarkets.

Bill to change name of Mental Health Dept. (Associated Press)

A proposal to change the name of the state Department of Mental Health has passed the Senate. The measure sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was approved 31-0 on Monday evening.

Senate passes measure naming state evergreen tree (Associated Press)

The Senate has voted to name the eastern red cedar as Tennessee’s official evergreen tree. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Faulk of Kingsport was unanimously approved 31-0 on Monday evening.

McCormick plan to change Tennessee’s photo-ID law draws criticism (TFP/Sher)

House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick’s plan to let employees of cities and counties use local government-issued ID to satisfy Tennessee’s new photo-ID requirement for voters isn’t sitting well with a fellow top GOP leader who sponsored the law. Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville, said she specifically chose not to include city and county-government issued photo IDs for employees because she feared it might be abused by some local governments.

Proposal to exempt sales tax from funeral merchandise (Herald-Courier)

A bill proposed by an area lawmaker would relieve some of the financial burden of burying a loved one. Representative Matthew Hill of Jonesborough wants sales tax exemptions for consumers on funeral merchandise like caskets, vaults and urns. The last concern anyone wants when a loved one passes away is the cost of the funeral. Just ask Gerald Sparks, “My mother passed away and I knew nothing about the tax.”

Steine, Garrett, Briley, Crafton weigh runs for Haynes’ seat (CP/Garrison)

Barely 72 hours after longtime Democratic state Sen. Joe Haynes announced he wouldn’t run for re-election, a gaggle of local politicos from both sides of the aisle confirmed Monday they are considering running for his open District 20 seat. Among Democrats pondering runs are At-large Councilmen Tim Garrett, Ronnie Steine, rookie District 4 Councilman Brady Banks and former At-large Councilman David Briley, a Nashville attorney who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Nashville in 2007.

Plan to reduce Hamilton County precincts may not happen (TFP/Haman)

The Tennessee General Assembly may have thwarted the goal of the Hamilton County Elections Commission administrator to save $75,000 by reducing the number of precincts based on the city and county’s new districts. Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan won’t know until she sees a final draft of the new state maps, which she expects to receive this week. Meanwhile, an early draft of a precinct reduction plan would have cut or merged as many as 29 precincts throughout the county.

Two New Single-District Maps for County Commission to Pore Over (Memphis Flyer)

The Shelby County Commission’s search for viable and mutually agreeable district lines continues Monday, and two new versions of a single-member-district map will apparently be presented. One, designated 2K, would seem to incorporate suggestions made at the last meeting by Commissioner Mike Ritz, who is keen on seeing firm dividing lines between areas now with in the City of Memphis and areas outside those limits.

Hamilton County Drug Court helps offenders stay clean, avoid prison (TFP/South)

Rodney Smith clutched Carlos, his black-and-white Chihuahua, as he stood before a standing room-only crowd of more than 100 people in court. Smith, 41, spent the past year going through the Hamilton County Drug Court and graduated Monday. After the ceremony in Criminal Court, where he was one of nine graduates, Smith said he had spent the last 20 years addicted to drugs.

Knox County to investigate 2009 KTSC payment (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Donila)

Knox County is set to investigate a combined $185,000 in payments it gave the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. almost three years ago that officials now say could have been an “overpayment.” The money was transferred to KTSC in May 2009 and distributed to various arts and cultural organizations, but county Law Director Joe Jarret said he is “presently unaware of a legal basis for such an appropriation.”

Rep. Black: Getting Grip on Iran Requires Sensitive Touch (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Congresswoman Diane Black says there are many nuances required when dealing with Iran and its nuclear program. The Gallatin Republican visited several U.S. allies in the Middle East recently and got a glimpse of the complexities.

Super PAC frenzy hasn’t hit TN … yet (Tennessean/Bewley)

March 6 primary likely to bring ad blitz if Gingrich stays in Political fundraising groups known as super PACs have generated national buzz over the past few months, but they haven’t made much of a splash in Tennessee — yet. That probably is about to change.

States Target Foreign Law (Wall Street Journal)

Critics Say Bills Curbing Judges’ Discretion Are Unneeded, Show Anti-Islam Bias State lawmakers across the U.S. have started 2012 with a controversial message to their judges: keep foreign laws out of our courtrooms. Twenty-one states are considering measures that would prohibit judges from applying the laws or legal codes of other nations in a wide variety of cases.

States try to help veterans find jobs (Stateline)

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, visiting troops in Afghanistan recently, was taken aback by the answer he got when he asked a soldier suiting up to go on patrol what concerned him most. “He didn’t say he was most worried about facing the enemy that night,” Nixon said last month.

Wacker Polysilicon to expand Charleston, TN, operations again (TFP/Leach)

Wacker Polysilicon officials are expected to announce an additional $300 million investment in their northern Bradley County operations after receiving a one-time $1 million property tax abatement for 2014. On Monday night, the Bradley County Commission voted 14-0 to approve the tax abatement request made by Wacker and Chamber of Commerce officials.

Nashville rolls out the green roof on new convention center (Tennessean/Paine)

A meadow is taking shape high atop the Music City Center-to-be. Unseen by passers-by below, workers have been squirting soil through fat hoses onto layers of protective and water-wicking materials. Next, they roll out coconut fiber mats on which plants are already growing.

Williamson Co. hopes for more jobs drive tax breaks for companies (TN/Adams)

Businesses in Williamson County don’t often get a discount on their taxes, but when such deals are handed out there’s an expectation the public will get a return on the investment. In the case of new corporate offices for Mars Petcare, an $87.9 million construction project and 144 new jobs were deemed worth the risk.

Grading our Teachers: Evaluations revolutionary, stifling (CA/Garlington)

Washington launched a controversial teacher evaluation system two years ago that overhauled how teachers are rated and led to the firings of 7 percent of the teaching force — more than 280 people. The new evaluations roiled the city; 80 percent of D.C. teachers believe it was not an “effective way to evaluate the performance” of teachers, according to a 2010 survey of more than 900 teachers by the local teachers union. And the chancellor who put the evaluations in place, Michelle Rhee, is now gone, after the mayor who appointed her was voted out of office.

TN students, parents weigh their school options (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Families in TN, nation get more say on education Patricia Fouts’ house is two miles from Siegel middle and high schools, but she drives her minivan across town to drop off two children at Central Magnet. It adds about 20 miles a day round trip to her odometer, but she says it’s a better fit for her 15-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. Rutherford County’s 2009 announcement that it would convert Central into an academic magnet school turned Fouts into a private investigator, studying the principal’s background, curriculum, class sizes and the building itself.

Commission resolution could require ‘fair market’ value for schools (CA/Connolly)

Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey introduced a measure to require that the Shelby County Unified School Board receive fair market value or other compensation if it sells its buildings. But the measure failed to pass the County Commission after a key supporter left the meeting early to catch a plane.

Bartlett residents say tax for schools is fair trade (Commercial Appeal/Bailey)

Meeting on results of feasibility study finds citizens onboard The bulk of Bartlett residents attending a Monday night town hall forum on municipal schools didn’t seem too concerned about the level of local funding it would take to finance a Bartlett school system. When asked how much he is willing to pay, Tony Gray repeated a stance heard across the suburbs.

Schools merger a challenge for Gates reforms (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

As Memphis City Schools looks for ways to continue funding its work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after the grant money dries up, the question is how much will be needed if Shelby County Schools joins the effort. “We have to figure out what the expansion means for this body of work,” said MCS Deputy Supt. Irving Hamer.

OPINION 

Editorial: Changes to state boards should be made on a case-by-case basis (N-S)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed sweeping changes to the state’s array of semi-independent regulatory boards. The state Legislature, which must approve the changes, should closely scrutinize each proposed change and vote on any changes on a case-by-case basis.

Guest columnist: Judge-retention statute must be repealed (Tennessean)

It’s time — past time — to repeal the retention election statute that violates the civil rights of the Tennessee voter to pick and choose their officeholders, a right for which I fought so hard as the Democratic nominee for governor in 1970. However, after I lost, the Democrats in the legislature, for political reasons of protecting incumbent Democratic judges, passed the unconstitutional retention election statute.

Editorial: Cyberbully legislation worth fixing (Daily News Journal)

You’ve heard it before but apparently it bears repeating. You cannot stand up in a crowded theater and yell fire. Of course, technically you can do that, but you will be subject to the consequences of your actions.

Sam Stockard: Womick bills on zoning raise myriad concerns (Daily News Journal)

Foes of Rutherford County’s comprehensive land use plan have a friend in state Rep. Rick Womick as they fight perceived encroachment of property rights and display fear that local zoning laws will coincide with a shadowy United Nations resolution. Womick is sponsoring two bills in the General Assembly this session, HB 3571 and HB 3572, that clearly target the county’s nearly three-year attempt at rewriting its planning and zoning ordinance and could also affect Murfreesboro’s laws, if passed.

George Korda: Stacey Campfield, restaurant seating and the principle of thing (N-S)

If restaurants are going to deny service to elected officials because of things they say, the “no dogs or politicians allowed” signs will be going up in eateries across the land. State Sen. Stacey Campfield was asked to depart the Bistro by the Bijou restaurant in downtown Knoxville because of the owner’s distaste for statements Campfield made concerning homosexuality.

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