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February 8 TN News Digest

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

Governor meets with county school officials (Columbia Daily Herald)

Gov. Bill Haslam met with Maury County school officials Tuesday to hear educators’ tips on recruiting qualified teachers statewide and to discuss challenges local teachers face. Mt. Pleasant Middle School for the Visual and Performing Arts hosted the round-table discussion where Haslam addressed officials with professional experience ranging from one to 38 years.

Haslam Anti-Crime Bills Advancing In Legislature (Associated Press)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-crime package is advancing in the Legislature. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a bill seeking to crack down on people trying to make and sell methamphetamine and a measure targeting prescription drug abuse.

Haslam’s judges plan gets support (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan for writing the state’s judicial selection system into the Tennessee Constitution survived a challenge Tuesday from a fellow Republican in the state House. The Republican speakers of the state House and Senate also support putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014 to maintain the current process.

Tenn. Fiscally Sound but Cuts Needed (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee’s financial ledger is in good shape. The current state budget is balanced. For the first five months of the current budget year, general fund collections have outpaced projections by about $188 million.

Wacker Institute opens Wednesday in Chattanooga (Associated Press)

The Wacker Institute, a pilot plant and training facility at Chattanooga State Community College, opens to the public Wednesday. The $5 million institute has been described as a world-class science lab that will be part of the engineering technology division at the college.

Educators balk at Haslam class size proposal (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lift a cap on class size averages is meeting resistance from educators, but the Republican calls the proposal a key element to his effort to allow school districts to hike teacher salaries. Haslam told reporters after visiting a Maury County middle school on Tuesday that Tennessee is the only state to set maximums for both total and average class sizes.

Johnson City Board of Ed. passes resolution opposing part of Haslam’s plan (H-C)

The Johnson City Board of Education is making its opposition to part of Governor Bill Haslam’s education reform plan be heard loud and clear. Last night the Board of Education passed a resolution opposing the section of the plan that would increase the number of students in each classroom.

Fitch Rates Tennessee’s $385MM Rfdg GOs ‘AAA’; Outlook Stable (Biz Wire)

Fitch Ratings has assigned an ‘AAA’ rating to the State of Tennessee’s (the state) approximately $384.7 million general obligation (GO) bonds, 2012 refunding series A. The par amount of the refunding bonds may change prior to sale, expected on Feb. 15. Fitch also affirms the ‘AAA’ rating on: –$2.07 billion outstanding state GO bonds.

State claims progress in ongoing fight against meth (Herald-Courier)

Lawmakers say there’s progress in the effort to stop meth makers in the state, even in the Tri-Cities region. Proof – some say – that a new anti-meth law in Tennessee works. Tennessee’s real time tracking system called NPLEx is just more than one month old.

VA suspends housing for veterans in substance abuse program (DNJ)

Liability issues have forced the York VA Medical Center to suspend housing for veterans seeking substance abuse treatment there, a move that one opponent says is cutting the number of people enrolled in the four-week plan. Bill Mitchell, who retired as a substance abuse counselor from the York VA a year ago, said 80 percent of the veterans treated for substance abuse are homeless, so it makes no sense to cut off housing, especially since the lodging area was renovated within the last two years.

Summer food program available again in state (Associated Press)

State officials say federal funds are available for the 2012 Summer Food Service Program. The program is intended to assure that children and individuals with disabilities, who rely on free and reduced-price meals during the school year, have access to nutritious meals during the summer.

‘It looked like parked car to me’: Trooper defends actions in chase, wreck (NS/Lakin)

Don’t believe the lying camera. Believe me. Trooper Charles Van Morgan admitted the video looked bad and the wreck looked worse, but he insisted the camera didn’t tell the whole story. “I can’t see everything,” Morgan told Tennessee Highway Patrol investigators.

Austin Peay State University gets $1.78 million grant for dorm safe rooms (L-C)

Three safe rooms that will each hold up to 1,400 students during severe weather will be in the new Drane Street dorms at Austin Peay State University thanks to more than $1.78 million in grant funding. The total grant is believed to be the largest single award the university ever has received, according to a news release from Melanie Shemberger, assistant director of communication at APSU. The news comes on the heels of a record-setting year for tornadoes in Tennessee.

Rep. Casada Says His ‘Elect the Supremes’ Idea Is Still Alive (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

A bill to directly elect Supreme Court justices in Tennessee has been delayed, but the lawmaker behind the push says it’s not dead. The Republican-led legislation conflicts with a proposal from Governor Bill Haslam, who wants to write the current judicial appointment process into the state constitution.

Tennessee Senate delays bill on Amazon taxes (Tennessean/Sher)

A bill requiring Amazon.com to begin collecting Tennessee sales taxes on items sold to Tennesseeans starting in 2014 has been delayed for a week. The Senate Tax Subcommittee made the move Tuesday to give major retailers more time to study the bill’s provisions.

Anti-Occupy bills headed for floor votes (Associated Press/Johnson)

Lawmakers frustrated with Occupy Nashville tents on the Capitol complex are taking action to remove them by rapidly moving legislation to the floor of both chambers. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted 14-2 to approve the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland, the panel’s chairman. Later in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the companion bill 7-1.

Occupy Bill Occupies Legislators (TN Report)

A bill to make camping on public property illegal passed both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees today, over the protest of members of the Occupy Nashville group. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has been an outspoken critic of the protesters’ encampment, says the issue is one of safety, not squelching of First Amendment rights.

Tennessee is close to evicting Occupy Nashville (Tennessean/Sisk)

Camping bill could put violators in jail for a year Tennessee lawmakers moved toward removing the Occupy Nashville encampment from the state Capitol with a pair of votes Tuesday in which they also amped up the threat of jail time. Committees in the state Senate and House of Representatives each approved a ban on unauthorized camping on public grounds, setting up the possibility that the measure could clear the Tennessee legislature sometime next week.

Ramsey to teachers: delay your field trip to the State Capitol (Herald-Courier)

Here is the text of an open letter issued by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey to educators in Tennessee urging them to delay field trips to Legislative Plaza and the Tennessee Capitol Building. The letter was posted on Ramsey’s Facebook Page page just before 6 p.m. Tuesday. ————– Dear Friend, As you may be aware, a group known as Occupy Nashville has essentially taken up residence on War Memorial Plaza across the street from the Capitol.

Tweak to absentee voter rules passes committees (Tennessean/Wilson)

Bills allowing voters age 60 or older without photo IDs to vote absentee advanced out of state House and Senate committees Tuesday. Both bills passed unanimously in the State and Local Government committees of both the House and Senate, and will now go to their respective Finance committees before heading to the full House and Senate for a vote. Current law allows registered voters age 65 or older to vote absentee without reason.

Senate: No Judicial Diversion for Public Servants (TN Report)

Legislators say they want to make sure their own kind get more than a slap on the wrist if they’re caught breaking the law and abusing the public trust. The legislation comes almost a year after Richard Baumgartner, a former criminal court judge in Knoxville, pleaded guilty to official misconduct for illegally using prescription painkillers he acquired from drug offenders who’d appeared in his court. Baumgartner was granted diversion, which allowed him to avoid serving jail time.

Cheatham Legislator Backs Teachers at Student Prayer Groups (WPLN-Radio)

A controversy over “Prayer at the Flagpole” in Cheatham County has surfaced two years later in the General Assembly. A state representative is trying to overturn a school board decision that restricts teacher participation.

Charges against state Rep. Curry Todd sent before grand jury (CP/Greenberg)

Charges against state Rep. Curry Todd (R-Colliersville) were bound over to a grand jury Tuesday morning, nearly four months after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of a firearm while under the influence. Todd appeared in court briefly to sign a waiver for a preliminary hearing. The prosecution originally noted that they needed to have an additional implied consent hearing, but Todd waived that hearing, too.

State Rep. Curry Todd’s DUI, weapons case sent to grand jury (Tennessean/Haas)

A Davidson County grand jury will hear the case against State Rep. Curry Todd who was charged with driving drunk while carrying a loaded handgun and refusing a breath test. Todd waived a preliminary hearing in Davidson County General Sessions Court Tuesday on charges of DUI, possessing a handgun while under the influence and violating the state’s implied consent law that requires drivers to submit to breath or blood tests if suspected of drunken driving. Todd has been negotiating with prosecutors to settle the case for months, but has not hit upon a palatable deal, said his attorney Worrick Robinson.

Todd waives preliminary hearing on 3 charges in Nashville (C. Appeal/Locker)

State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, waived his rights to a preliminary hearing in a Nashville courtroom Tuesday, and the three charges he’s facing will advance to a grand jury. Todd, 64, a 14-year veteran of the Tennessee legislature, was arrested by Nashville police late on the night of Oct. 11 while driving on a busy thoroughfare near Vanderbilt University.

Nashville council defers resolution against County Clerk John Arriola (TN/Cass)

Davidson County Clerk John Arriola dodged a political bullet from the Metro Council for the second time Tuesday. Just as it did last August, the council voted to defer a non-binding resolution calling for Arriola’s resignation after months of controversy over his actions in the clerk’s office.

Citizens, eager to see Southaven mayor, pour into meeting (Comm. Appeal/Jons)

Davis presides over first meeting since spending, deals came to light Southaven aldermen plan to check into the legality of a $5,000 legal stipend and another for longevity, $2,700, received by Mayor Greg Davis, as well as form a committee to look into hiring an independent auditor to review city finances.

Occupy Memphis ejects 6 campers (Commercial Appeal/Patterson)

Eviction made by corporate decision Andre Sheegog quietly disassembled his tent in the Occupy Memphis encampment on the Civic Center Plaza on Tuesday afternoon, humming to Evita’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” He unloaded papers and blankets and what appeared to be a jug of urine before folding up the tent and taking it off a cinder block stand.

Scott DesJarlais transforms from upstart to stalwart (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tea party candidate. Maverick backbencher. Primary target. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has worn all of those labels in the two years he’s been in politics. But now his public career appears to have taken a turn that could be the biggest surprise of all: standard-bearer of the Tennessee Republican establishment.

Cohen pushes bill to ease student loan burden (Commercial Appeal/Sullivan)

Bankruptcy attorneys say they’re seeing a sharp increase in contacts from individuals weighed down by student loan debt, with many borrowers delinquent and nearing default. In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, lawyers with the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and the National Consumer Law Center warned of a coming “debt bomb” that could cripple the economy unless the bankruptcy code is changed to allow student loan debt to be discharged.

Scottie Mayfield hires Tommy Hopper as political consultant (TFP/Carroll, Sher)

Dairy executive Scottie Mayfield hired an experienced political consultant and started a campaign Facebook page in recent days, signaling early signs of life in his congressional bid. On Tuesday, Mayfield said he hired Tommy Hopper, of Jackson, Tenn., a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman who counts Gov. Don Sundquist and President George H.W. Bush among his list of past consulting clients. “He knows more about this than I do,” said Mayfield, who on Friday announced he would challenge U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.

VW Chattanooga plant makes 50,000th Passat (Associated Press)

Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant has completed its 50,000th Passat, less than a year after production began. A news release from the company Tuesday said the production milestone was reached this week when a fully loaded, 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower Passat SE rolled off the line.

Chattanooga VW plant makes 50,000th Passat (Times Free-Press/Pare)

Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant has assembled of its 50,000th Passat, an official said today. “An incredible amount of care goes into each vehicle we produce in Chattanooga,” said Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW’s Chattanooga operations, in a press release.

Gaylord talks tax breaks for Nashville’s snow and water park (TN/Marsteller)

State and local tax breaks are in the mix for a proposed water and snow park planned near the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, said Colin Reed, Gaylord’s chairman and CEO, on Tuesday. “Because of the large economic impact this park will have on the broad Nashville community, we’ve asked the city and state for assistance from part of the incremental taxes we will be generating,” Reed said during a conference call with Wall Street analysts who track the hotel chain.

Le Bonheur begins demolition of old hospital (Memphis Business Journal)

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital began one of the last phases of a multi-year expansion and renovation Tuesday with the demolition of nearly half its old hospital building. The demolition is making way for a new driveway and front yard for the 225-bed, 12-story hospital that opened in 2010 as part of a $340 million expansion project.

Wrecking crews begin tearing down the old Le Bonheur hospital (CA/Sells)

They punched holes through the hospital’s glass walls. They scraped the “emergency” sign off the old parking canopy. They tore away the past for the future.

Hamilton County Schools launch cheating probe (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

School officials are investigating a claim of possible cheating on a state writing test last week at a local elementary school. School leaders said they can’t say how many people were involved in the possible cheating, but did say it does not appear to be a widespread problem in the school system or at Lakeside Academy of Math, Science, and Technology, the school that reported the testing issue. “Lakeside Academy did exactly what Lakeside Academy and all other schools are supposed to do.

Board waits on class size proposal (Daily News Journal)

Newer bill may give systems a choice Rutherford County Schools officials may hold off on sending a formal resolution to state education officials and lawmakers opposing a proposal to increase maximum class sizes. Senate Bill 2210 and House Bull 2348 call for increasing the maximum class sizes by five students, putting K-3 classes at 25 students, 30 for grades 4-6 and 35 in grades 7-12.

Cleveland schools look for savings as fuel prices rise (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The annual cost per route to run a city school bus here is about $32,000 a year, but school board members would like it to be less and are paying for a study on the issue. “When our city taxpayers are out there, and they see all these yellow buses running around, they may think we are inefficient,” board member Dawn Robinson said.

Unified school board cancels meeting to discuss surplus buildings (CA/Bailey)

Two suburban members of the unified school board expressed disdain Tuesday over what they considered backroom maneuvering on the issue of handling county school buildings — a central piece in the battle between the countywide school board and Shelby County suburbs. Mike Wissman called Monday’s chain of events “sneaky and underhanded,” while David Reaves said he had no doubt that a surprise County Commission resolution calling for schools to be sold at fair market value was to set the stage for a special called school board meeting on Tuesday — a meeting eventually canceled for lack of a quorum.

Collierville officials say school system would fuel housing boom (CA/Wolff)

If Collierville creates a municipal school district, officials expect a home construction and retail boom as more people move there to enroll their children. Town Administrator James Lewellen made the prediction at a two-hour public forum Tuesday night at Collierville First Baptist Church.

School transition team hears Millington concerns (Commercial Appeal/Silence)

Members of the transition team on school consolidation heard a mix of fear and optimism from Millington residents Tuesday night. “The thing is, if I wanted my child in a Memphis City School, I would’ve stayed in Memphis city,” said Millington parent Sharon Blankenship, the first crowd member to the microphone for the Transition Planning Commission’s listening session at Millington Central High School.

Three charged in Whitfield County meth case (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Local and federal authorities have arrested three people charged in connection with the distribution of large quantities of methamphetamine in Whitfield County. Travis Little, of Summerville, Ga., was intercepted taking several pounds of meth to the Dalton area Friday night, Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said in a news release. Little was arrested on multiple drug charges, and police were able to trace the meth to the man he was selling to, Chitwood said.

California: Court Rejects State Ban on Gay Marriage (Wall Street Journal)

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down California’s voter-mandated ban on gay marriages, but stopped short of finding that other states or the federal government were required to recognize same-sex marriage. The decision sets the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on gay marriage as soon as next year, and could add fuel to the issue in the presidential campaign.

Wisconsin: G.O.P. Lawmakers Sign Vow of Silence (Associated Press)

Nearly all of Wisconsin’s Republican state lawmakers signed an agreement not to comment publicly about redistricting discussions while new G.O.P.-friendly maps were being drafted. The pact was included in documents released in a lawsuit challenging the maps’ constitutionality.

OPINION

Editorial: Evaluations and better teachers (Commercial Appeal)

Finding the perfect recipe for evaluating teachers has been an elusive endeavor for state and local education reformers. But reformers have embarked on evaluation strategies that should help all teachers become great teachers. A three-part series in The Commercial Appeal that began Sunday and ended Tuesday — Grading Our Teachers — illustrates the importance of making sure students have the best teachers possible in classrooms.

Craig Fitzhugh, Reginald Tate: Haslam’s bad idea — larger class sizes (C. Appeal)

The governor’s plan could result in thousands of teacher layoffs, huge financial burdens on local governments and a reversal of our progress in public education. It’s your daughter’s first day of kindergarten. She’s excited, but also scared to be leaving Mom and Dad.

Guest columnist: Grocers outfoxed despite popularity of wine sales (Tennessean)

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” If this is true, the owners of Tennessee’s supermarkets should be in a padded cell by now.

Frank Munger: Signs that Y-12 dispute nearing a resolution? (News-Sentinel)

Construction of Y-12’s new high-security storage facility was completed in 2009, and it is now loaded with the nation’s primary stockpile of bomb-grade uranium.The project can’t be put to bed, however, because of the ongoing dispute and litigation over construction costs associated with the $549 million Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.

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