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February 18 TN News Digest

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

Saks picks LaVergne for fulfillment expansion (Business Clarksville)

Retailer Saks Incorporated (NYSE: SKS) announced on Feb. 13, it will add a new distribution and fulfillment facility in LaVergne, Tenn. in 2012. The announcement was met with much excitement in the Rutherford County region as it brings the promise of more new jobs to the area’s residents. The new state-of-the-art distribution and fulfillment center will occupy approximately 564,000 square feet of leased space and will be equipped with a sophisticated mobile-robotic fulfillment system that has been successfully utilized in the company’s Maryland facility.

Guns-in-Parking-Lots Compromise Could Win Haslam Support (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam hinted this week he wouldn’t necessarily shoot down legislation that would allow Tennessee gun owners to keep a firearm stored in their vehicle while they are at work — even over the objection of their employer. Still, the proposal idling in the General Assembly seems “overly broad” to the governor. But during a meeting with the Capitol press corps Wednesday, Haslam suggested that if the House and Senate can pass a compromise, he’ll likely sign on.

Haslam offers $10k reward for east Knoxville shooting death (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

Gov. Bill Haslam is offering a ten thousand reward for information leading to the apprehension, arrest, and conviction of whoever was involved in the shooting death of Robert “Ernie” Reno at an east Knoxville home last November. Haslam announced the reward late Friday afternoon. He is asking anyone with information to contact the Knoxville Police Department’s crime information line at 865-215-7212.

Haslam’s pick may have edge in Davidson Circuit Judge race (Tennessean/Gee)

On the same day Gov. Bill Haslam interviewed candidates for his first Nashville judicial appointment, voters began casting ballots for who would get the job on a more permanent basis. Two of the three candidates recommended to Haslam by the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, Stan Kweller and Phillip Robinson, also are running in the Democratic Party’s primary election for the post. Early voting began Wednesday.

Hagerty: ECD incentives bill being reworked, diligence a priority (Nash. Biz Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s top economic development official today acknowledged he’s reworking a controversial incentive bill, saying his main concern is getting more material for due diligence on companies. Commissioner Bill Hagerty said the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is still considering what position it will take on legislation that has spurred criticism among legislators concerned about keeping secret the ownership of companies receiving incentives. Hagerty said his legislation aims to get “vital” financial information companies often won’t hand over because there’s no guarantee it will remain private.

Huffman meets privately with Hamilton school board (Associated Press)

Officials with the state Education Department and the Hamilton County School Board are pointing blame at each other for declaring a recent meeting closed to the public. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that public notice of Thursday’s meeting between the board and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman was issued to the media last week. But when reporters tried to gain access to the meeting, they were denied (http://bit.ly/ygHHU4 ). Department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said local officials had decided to close the meeting because the panel was discussing a competitive grant.

Confusion surrounds closed school meeting (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

The Tennessee Department of Education and local officials haven’t been able to pinpoint just who is responsible for moving a Thursday school board meeting behind closed doors. The Hamilton County Board of Education met with school administrators and Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman after his address to the Chattanooga Rotary. They were discussing an upcoming grant that Hamilton County likely will apply for to start a School Innovation Zone, which would target low-performing schools by allowing greater flexibility in how schools operate.

Agencies push prep for severe weather (Jackson Sun)

TEMA announces release of Ready TN mobile application The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and National Weather Service are promoting preparedness for families, individuals and businesses during Tennessee Severe Weather Awareness Week, which begins Sunday and runs through Saturday. “Tennessee has experienced two years of unprecedented natural disasters, and individual preparedness is more important than ever,” said TEMA Director James Bassham in a news release. “Emergencies and disasters can happen anywhere and anytime, so we hope Tennessee citizens will take an active role in the preparedness of their families, their neighborhoods and their communities.”

Tenncare offers help to those struggling with medical bills (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Tennesseans struggling with medical bills may have an opportunity for help next week. State officials announced Friday that the Tenncare Standard Spend Down program will offer another round of open enrollment. It gives a limited number of qualified people access to Tenncare coverage. Low-income people or those with high unpaid medical bills who are aged, blind or disabled, or the caretaker of a Medicaid eligible child meet the qualifications.

Brady Banks resigns from state Books From Birth post (City Paper/Garrison)

Metro Councilman Brady Banks, arrested Thursday on a misdemeanor charge of patronizing prostitution, has resigned from his job as acting officer and outreach coordinator of the Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation. According to Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, the foundation’s board of directors notified the governor’s office of Banks’ resignation on Friday. Banks’ resignation is effective immediately. As of Friday afternoon, Banks still hadn’t talked publicly about his arrest or addressed his future as a city councilman.

Brady Banks’ political future unclear after arrest in prostitution sting (Tenn/Cass)

Day after prostitution sting, fellow council members say he needs to focus on family With a wife who’s a minister, a divinity degree of his own, a beautiful baby boy and a penchant for ending phone calls with the words “Be good,” Metro Councilman Brady Banks had a reputation for clean living and a rock-solid character. But that image took a hit late Thursday afternoon, when Banks was accused by police of paying a female undercover officer $100 for sex at a MetroCenter hotel. He was arrested at 4:40 p.m. on a misdemeanor charge of patronizing prostitution and released that night after posting a $1,000 bond.

Dozens of tickets, cases trashed because of ex-trooper’s credibility (N-S/Lakin)

A hundred-plus drivers can tear up their court papers and walk away, courtesy of the ex-Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper fired for driving past a fiery wreck last year. Knox County prosecutors dropped charges Friday in all cases handled by Charles Van Morgan, a veteran trooper who routinely logged the most drunken-driving arrests in the Knoxville district for years. Morgan lost his job this month after THP internal investigators determined he drove by the Nov. 26 wreck that killed Gordon Kyle Anito on Andersonville Pike in North Knox County and didn’t stop. The agency fired him for neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming a trooper.

New dorm will help overcrowding at UT (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

“The problem with the waiting list is those people didn’t go away or go to another school or anything, they just looked in the community,” said Ken Stoner, associate vice chancellor for student life. “Now if we’re their first choice, we’ll be able to accommodate that need.” The dorm, funded through student housing fees, will be built near Presidential Courtyard, on what is now a gravel parking lot north of Andy Holt Avenue between Francis Street and Melrose Avenue.

THP names Dwayne Stanford Trooper of the Year (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)

The Tennessee Highway Patrol named Trooper Dwayne Stanford the 2011 Trooper of the Year at an award ceremony held Thursday evening. This marks the second consecutive year Trooper Stanford, a third generation State Trooper, has earned the honor. He was also recognized in Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address in January. Additionally, seven other State Troopers received Trooper of the Year honors in their respective districts. Awards were also given to the Investigator of the Year and Interdiction Trooper of the Year, while 10 troopers were also recognized for their DUI enforcement.

THP Troopers, Dispatchers Honored (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

The Tennessee Highway Patrol named Trooper Dwayne Stanford the 2011 Trooper of the Year at an award ceremony held Thursday evening. This marks the second consecutive year Trooper Stanford, a third generation State Trooper, has earned the honor. He was also recognized in Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address in January. Additionally, seven other State Troopers received Trooper of the Year honors in their respective districts. Awards were also given to the Investigator of the Year and Interdiction Trooper of the Year, while 10 troopers were also recognized for their DUI enforcement.

Gun bill sponsor Bass still unsure of party-switching (Times Free-Press)

So is Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect, Tenn., welcome in the Tennessee Republican Party or not? The Middle Tennessee rural, conservative Democrat this week told The Associated Press he hasn’t decided yet which party he’ll affiliate with when seeking a fourth term in the House. Bass is now in a Republican-leaning district. Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, of Chattanooga, said he likes the potential GOP candidates in District 65 and was dismissive of Bass. “I’d rather he’d stay where he is, to tell the truth,” McCormick told AP. “He’s not doing himself any favors running that gun bill.”

For Some Hit by 2010 Flood, No Safeguard Too Costly (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Last night Metro officials gave an update on plans they’re drafting in case of another big flood, like in May of 2010. WPLN’s Daniel Potter reports some hit hard by the disaster two years ago want to spare no expense in keeping it from happening again. Metro is looking at all kinds of options for areas the last flood left under water. They could build floodwalls or earthen levees, or tear down more houses near rivers. They say deciding just what to do, and where, will mean a balancing act between risk and cost.

Panel OKs anti-terror training (Daily News Journal)

POST Commission initially said hours wouldn’t count A state panel now says anti-terrorism training in Rutherford County this week will count toward the 40-minimum hours all officers are required to get every year to be certified with the state. The Muslim civil rights organization Council on American-Islamic Relations is among those that have publicly denounced the “Understanding the Threat to America” course by the Strategic Engagement Group, a Virginia nonprofit, which was presented over three days to local law enforcement officers.

Georgia again debates tapping TN water (Associated Press)

Once again, Georgia lawmakers are debating whether they can pipe water from the Tennessee River to fix a water shortage in metro Atlanta. Republican Rep. Jay Neal wants the General Assembly to pass a resolution asking environmental regulators and others to study the feasibility of capturing water that flows into the Tennessee River and diverting it south toward Atlanta. Neal says conservation alone won’t answer Georgia’s water needs. Environmental watchdog groups say it would be cheaper and more effective to conserve water rather than building expensive pipelines.

Redistricting Up for Second Reading (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Commissioners will see Monday, Feb. 20, if there is still a seven-vote majority on the body to pass a new set of district lines and a new commission structure on the second of three readings. The plan that would convert the commission from a 13-member body of five districts to a set of 13 single-member districts is the third attempt by the commission since late last year to complete its once-a-decade redistricting process. The process was supposed to be completed at year’s end. It is the subject of a pending Chancery Court lawsuit filed by commissioners Walter Bailey, Mike Ritz and Terry Roland.

Ray is gone as CEO of KTSC, and the Hall of Fame (News-Sentinel/Witt)

When Gloria Ray retired Friday from the tourism group she helped developed, she also stepped down as president and CEO of the nonprofit over the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame — which she helped build. It is uncertain who will follow her to lead the nonprofit Sports Management Inc., which runs the Hall of Fame. Also unclear is what will happen to $4 million in an investment account for the Hall of Fame. The money was raised for Hall of Fame capital improvements and property purchase, but because of an uncertain future in the relationship between SMI and the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., there’s no straight answer as to how it will be spent.

Most TN lawmakers vote no on payroll tax-cut extension (Tennessean/Bewley)

Most members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation wanted nothing to do with the tax-cut extension Congress passed Friday, arguing it adds too much to the national debt. But two Tennessee Republicans — Reps. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump and Chuck Fleischmann of Ooltewah — voted for the bill, which extends the 2-percentage-point payroll tax cut through the end of the year. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, also voted yes.

Tennessean Congressmen Split on Payroll Tax Bill (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The Tennessee congressional delegation was divided over legislation to extend a payroll tax holiday for millions of average workers, but unlike past battles the bill’s critics didn’t put up much of a fight. The bill puts around one thousand dollars into the pockets of average workers. Many Republicans, such as Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, don’t like that the tax cut isn’t paid for and comes from money intended for the Social Security Trust Fund. “It’s just not good public policy to really deteriorate the whole Social Security trust by doing this. This eventually will lead to Social Security being a welfare program.”

Roe votes against payroll tax cut holiday, unemployment benefits extension (T-N)

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe reported he voted against the payroll tax cut holiday and unemployment benefits extension legislation that passed in the House Thursday and the Senate today. Roe, R-Tenn., stressed the bill puts an already at-risk Social Security system in greater peril. “By passing this bill, we are taking nearly $100 billion dollars from Social Security, at a time when it is already running deficits. We are also continuing a trend of paying for current benefits out of future generations’ pockets,” Roe said in a prepared release.

Romney leads in Tennessee fundraising (Gannett/Bewley)

If campaign donations translated into votes, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would sail to victory in the Volunteer State. Campaign finance records show Romney raised $898,081 from Tennessee donors as of Dec. 31 – almost double President Barack Obama’s haul of $482,599 and more than four times as much as the nearest Republican rival, Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Romney raised most of his money – 57 percent – during the final three months of the year. While former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the top fundraiser in Middle Tennessee when reports were last filed on Sept. 30, Romney had taken over that title by year’s end.

Report: Nuke contractor overbilled TVA (Tennessean/Paine)

A nuclear contractor overbilled the Tennessee Valley Authority by more than $1.2 million over three years, according to a TVA Office of Inspector General report. Out of a total of $67.9 million in costs that were audited, Williams Plant Services LLC, which supplied supplemental maintenance, technical support and modifications, charged too much or billed for items it should not have, the report said.

TVA laying off security force (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

TVA announced Friday it is laying off the 61 uniformed employees in its Police & Physical Security organization and is moving to contract employees as part of an organizational realignment meant to cut costs and make the federal agency more competitive. It is ending uniformed patrols, stationing contract guards 24 hours a day at critical TVA locations and increasing the use of security technology at non-nuclear power facilities, TVA said in a prepared statement. Security at TVA nuclear facilities is not affected.

Y-12 says max exposure equal to 10 chest X-rays (News-Sentinel/Munger)

The government’s contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant says the maximum radiation dose any worker could have received from using a dirty respirator was about 100 millirems — roughly the equivalent of having 10 chest X-rays. That’s based on the most contaminated equipment found so far as B&W Y-12 continues to investigate the extent of the problem at the Oak Ridge plant, where workers use respirators to protect themselves while performing tasks in certain radiological areas. Last week, a rad technician discovered that some of the plant’s respiratory equipment, including masks and breathing tubes, were contaminated with uranium — even though they had been sent to an off-site laundry facility and reportedly returned to Y-12 in packages certifying they were clean.

Cuts at Erlanger to save $2.5 million a year (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Martin)

Erlanger Health System will cut 23 to 30 management positions by March 31 and offer a voluntary buyout program at the staff level as part of an ongoing plan to get the public hospital back into the black. Most of the management positions were cut this week. The manager and director layoffs comprise about 20 percent to 25 percent of Erlanger’s midlevel management and will save the hospital about $2.5 million a year, Chief Administrative Officer Gregg Gentry said Friday. “We wanted to start at the leadership level,” Gentry said.

Suburban Schools’ Train ‘Has Left the Station’ (Memphis Daily News)

The six suburban mayors say the train to municipal school districts is on the tracks and has no time to stop to consider whatever plan the schools consolidation transition planning commission comes up with for a merged public school system. But in the first formal meeting between the mayors and the planning commission last week, the mayors got an earful from the commission about their concerns of a municipal school districts train wreck the commission may have to clean up. “Come August 2013, we will have a plan that can serve your children and serve them well,” planning commission chairwoman Barbara Prescott told the suburban leaders.

Lebanon raid targets prescription drug abuse (Tennessean/Smietana, Haas)

Police swept through Lebanon on Friday morning arresting 19 people suspected of illegally selling prescription drugs. Most were low-level dealers, said Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen. “Sometimes we target the top guys who are dealing drugs,” he said. “This time we targeted the street-level dealers.” Bowen said that Lebanon Police had warrants for 29 people and will continue to look for the last 10 suspects. He said Friday’s raids had been planned for a week, and the total investigation had been under way for 15 months.

OPINION

Editorial: Bagging Saks a big boost for La Vergne (Daily News Journal)

This week’s announcement that Saks Inc. plans to open a distribution and fulfillment center in La Vergne should come as a breath of fresh air to unemployed residents and a potential boost to the city’s bottom line. The new facility, which will move into the Borders facility that closed last summer, is set to be fully operational by August. It will bring 250 full-time jobs and some interesting technology with it. Saks will invest as much as $15 million and lease 564,000 square feet in La Vergne in addition to its smaller distribution centers in Aberdeen, Md., and Ontario, Calif.

Times Editorial: Where gun rights end (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee’s legislators generally don’t worry much about the social impact of widening gun rights in the state. Despite the solid opposition of law enforcement officials who fear more gun violence, lawmakers have made it legal for gun-permit holders to carry guns into state parks and, subject to local approval, into local parks and into bars where alcohol is sold. They’ve also considered allowing gun-carry rights in churches. Now, they’re pushing for the next round of the National Rifle Association’s guns-everywhere agenda: allowing employees to bring guns to work and to leave them in their vehicles in their employers’ parking lots. On this specific issue, however, the business lobby is rightly balking.

Times Editorial: Cheating the public interest (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

It’s not clear which official barred the press from attending a meeting here Thursday between Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and our county school Superintendent Rick Smith, along with most members of the board. Each leader told our reporters it was the other who excluded them. How lame. Both had a duty to invite the press and hold an open, public meeting. Both the nature of their meeting and the topic of discussion demanded adherence to the state’s open meetings act. The meeting occurred after Huffman spoke to the Chattanooga Rotary Club about the state’s new School Innovation Zone program, for which a competitive grant of $30 million to $40 million will be awarded.

Editorial: Mayors didn’t come to listen (Commercial Appeal)

Suburban mayors’ drive for municipal schools suggests we’re heading back to separate urban and suburban districts. After a meeting Thursday between a delegation of suburban mayors and the advisory panel planning the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools, it’s obvious that there is not going to be one unified public school system in the county. The mayors made it clear to the Transition Planning Commission that the train carrying plans to start municipal school districts had left the station. Unless something happens to change minds, public education in Shelby County will effectively revert to the status quo — separate districts for urban and suburban families.

Free-Press Editorial: Front-runner Santorum to firm up Tennessee edge (TFP)

In the seesaw race for the Republican presidential nomination, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is leading the pack, partly on the strength of primary and caucus wins last week in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Santorum is slightly or well ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in recent national polls. And polls show Santorum with a considerable lead over Romney even in Romney’s home state of Michigan. The Michigan primary is Feb. 28 — less than two weeks from today. Given Santorum’s current front-runner status, it is significant that he plans to visit Chattanooga next Saturday.

Guest columnist: Regulate sugar, and personal responsibility dissolves (Tenn)

Like a lot of people, I’m increasingly concerned about an expanding waistline and lifestyle-related illnesses. I want my kids to live long, happy, healthy lives, and I want them to develop good eating habits. Unfortunately, the public health community sees this as an opportunity to scaremonger and clamor for government intervention, instead of as a teachable moment about personal responsibility. The most recent example comes to us from three scholars at the University of California-San Francisco, who recently suggested that the United States should regulate sugar the way we regulate alcohol and tobacco.

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