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March 1 TN News Digest

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

TN storms kill 3, with more severe weather on way (Associated Press, Tennessean)

Tennesseans are bracing for more severe storms as some families mourn losses from those that raked the state Wednesday. A DeKalb County woman was crushed in a house hit by a tree, and two people died in Cumberland County, but no details were available late Wednesday. National Weather Service teams will visit the sites today to determine whether those deaths were due to actual tornadoes. But forecasters also are looking at another line of storms threatening to bring even stronger winds and rain to the Midwest and South on Friday, said Ryan Jewell, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma.

At least 3 dead from severe storms in TN (Associated Press, WSMV-TV Nashville)

The National Weather Service says survey teams are expected Thursday to evaluate damage from powerful storms that swept across the state, killing three people and damaging dozens of homes. Authorities say three people died Wednesday – two in Cumberland County and one in DeKalb County. The fatalities in Cumberland County occurred on Hollow Drive near Highway 127. A shelter was established at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Cumberland County. Weather service spokeswoman Brittney Whitehead says the teams also will determine if tornadoes touched down in what appears to be the state’s most deadly weather outbreak since 37 people died in tornadoes last April. State officials say at least seven homes were destroyed and 50 damaged in Cumberland County.

3 killed in storms across Tennessee (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Poulisse)

Three confirmed fatalities and an unspecified number of injuries were reported after severe weather raked parts of Tennessee, North Georgia and northeast Alabama on Wednesday. More severe weather could hit the area again Friday. Two women died in Tennessee’s Cumberland County and the third in DeKalb County, emergency officials and a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service said. Specifics about the victims have not been released. “At this time, I don’t know if they were in their houses, their cars, or what,” said Lee Lawson, a Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency spokesman. Another fatality was reported in DeKalb County, Tenn., as well.

Officials: Three dead in Tennessee from storms (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Persistent storm cells raked Tennessee on Wednesday, killing at least three people, authorities said. Two fatalities have been confirmed in Cumberland County’s Rinnie community, where several homes were destroyed, according to Lee Lawson, Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency spokesman. Emergency crews worked to extricate other injured people who were trapped inside the wreckage. A medical helicopter from Whitley County, Ky., also evacuated some injured victims from the area, north of Crossville, although exact numbers were not immediately available. A third death was reported in DeKalb County, according to emergency officials and a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service.

Storms leave 3 dead in Tennessee (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Severe storms have left three people dead in the Mid-State on Wednesday afternoon. The first death was reported in Smithville, about 75 miles east of Nashville. DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency told Nashville’s News 2 the fatality occurred along Holiday Haven Road off Smithville Highway near Center Hill Lake. According to officials, the victim was still trapped inside the home late Wednesday night. Crews are expected to use a risky rope rescue to recover the victim. “This is going to be an extended operation. We have multiple counties here [and] multiple agencies. We’re having to work our way into the scene to find out exactly what we’ve got,” explained DeKalb County Fire Chief Donny Green.

Severe Weather Across The Mid-State Wednesday (WTVF-TV Nashville)

High winds, torrential rain and tornados wreaked havoc on residents of Tennessee and Kentucky on Wednesday The afternoon storm system affected several counties east of Nashville, including Fentress County, Overton County, Putnam County, White county and Dekalb County. Three people were reportedly killed in the storms. Trained storm spotters reported wind damage to multiple structures as well as large hail falling across the state. A tornado watch was issued for all of Middle Tennessee and expired at 8 p.m. The storm system could create a potential isolated Tornado in the eastern and southern counties of Middle Tennessee Wednesday afternoon.

Survey teams to evaluate Tenn. storm damage (Associated Press)

The National Weather Service says survey teams are expected to evaluate damage from powerful storms that swept across the state, killing three people and damaging dozens of homes. Authorities say three people died Wednesday — two in Cumberland County and one in DeKalb County. Weather service spokeswoman Brittney Whitehead says the teams also will determine if tornadoes touched down in what appears to be the state’s most deadly weather outbreak since 37 people died in tornadoes last April. State officials say at least seven homes were destroyed and 50 damaged in Cumberland County.

Storms Cross the Midwest and South, Crushing Towns (New York Times)

A powerful storm system tore through parts of the Midwest and South on Wednesday, killing at least 12 people, leaving pockets of devastation across several states and marking the acceleration of another deadly tornado season. Tornadoes and powerful winds tore off roofs, downed power lines, tossed mobile homes and injured more than 150 people from Kansas to Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service. The damage appeared to be most significant in Harrisburg, a small city in southern Illinois, where six people were killed in the storm and about 100 more injured, according to Lt. Tracy Felty of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office.

Haslam Talks Tennessee Education (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

Making a mid-week Memphis appearance in support of the Books From Birth reading program, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and wife Chrissie, enjoyed their interaction with a group of bright Headstart students at the Benajmin L. Hooks Library. While he complimented the students for their attentiveness, the results of a recently released state-wide opinion poll would indicate Tennesseans are just as appreciative of Haslam’s strides in promoting educational reform, to the tune of a 72 percent approval rate. In a mini-news conference a confident Haslam says he’ll be keeping a keen eye on the progress made as the state managed Achievement School District takes over operations of six of the Bluff City’s failing schools.

Gov. Haslam addresses school issues during stop in Memphis (WMC-TV Memphis)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was in Memphis Wednesday to support Shelby County’s Books from Birth program. During his stop, Haslam answered some questions about legislation in Nashville that is impacting the Mid-South. Haslam said he speaks with the Memphis and Shelby County mayors regularly. As he keeps a pulse on West Tennessee issues, it seems schools are dominating the discussion. The state takeover of a half-dozen Memphis schools is at the top of Haslam’s list. “We’ve identified the bottom five percent performing schools, and we have a specific plan for how we’re going to move that,” said Haslam.

Haslam touts Books from Birth (Commercial Appeal/Kelley)

Encourages support of free book program Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife, Crissy, delivered a spirited reading of “Llama Llama Misses Mama” Wednesday at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. “Does anyone here know what a governor does?” the governor asked an attentive group from Ticihia Thompson’s prekindergarten class from Lucie Campbell Elementary School. “He reads!” came the enthusiastic response. Later the Haslams addressed a meeting room filled with adults and urged them to do what they could to help the Shelby County Books from Birth program grow.

Study: Books from Birth Making Indelible Mark (Memphis Daily News)

“The Little Engine that Could” may be the perfect metaphor for Shelby County Books from Birth, a program that sends a new, age-appropriate book each month, at no cost, to all enrolled children from birth to age 5. The classic American book about an optimistic, persistent little train that overcame the odds to meet its goal is the very first book children enrolled in the program will ever receive. When the Shelby County Books from Birth was first launched in 2005, many predicted it would fail. But the program chugged along, ultimately becoming the single largest affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library’s 1,400 programs worldwide.

Haslam to Ask Suburban Mayors to Slow Down on Schools (WPTY-TV Memphis)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will meet with the suburban mayors of Shelby County next week, asking them to hold back on setting up their own school districts. A transition team is looking at the issue as well as the upcoming merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools, and the governor wants the team to finish its work. “I’m meeting with the suburban mayors next week and it’s no secret we’d love to slow that train down,” said Haslam. “I honestly think the transition planning committee has done great work.” The governor has argued one thing through all of the school merger talks: Let the process work itself out before doing something drastic.

State changes tourism slogan (Associated Press)

The stage may be set for travelers in Tennessee, but state tourism officials have abandoned it. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development has dropped the slogan “The Stage Is Set for You,” which had been used for eight years. It’s been replaced with “We’re Playing Your Song,” which was used from 1987 to 1995. Department officials said the change was made after the reprised slogan tested well with focus groups and they decided a fresh approach was needed to promote the state’s $14 billion travel industry. The revived slogan is now being used in television and print advertising as many families decide where to take their summer vacation.

State Board of Regents announces timeline for TSU president search (City Paper)

The Tennessee Board of Regents announced Wednesday that a search for a new president at Tennessee State University will begin in May. Executive search firm Greenwood/Asher will assist the TBR with advertising and generating leads for prospective applicants over the summer. Then, the TBR plans to name a search advisory committee in August and have a new president selected by the end of October. The president will replace Dr. Portia Shields, who has been in office since December 2010. Shields’ contract stipulates that she won’t be considered as a candidate in the search.

UT students likely to see single-digit tuition increase (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

University of Tennessee students are likely to see a single-digit tuition increase next year despite a favorable state budget proposal from the governor that, if passed by the Legislature, would give higher education its first increase in appropriations in four years. During a board of trustees meeting in Memphis Wednesday, UT President Joe DiPietro stressed the need for more tuition dollars despite the proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam that would net about $19 million in recurring funding for the system. The potential increase follows four straight years of cuts totaling $115 million. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has recommended a 5 percent to 8 percent tuition increase for UT and the University of Memphis, and DiPietro said they would study the recommendation further.

TDOT HELP trucks look for stranded motorists in bad weather (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Drivers with the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s HELP program monitored road conditions and interstates for stranded motorists on Wednesday. The HELP program is a free service provided by TDOT to assist stranded motorists, clear roadways following crashes and help promote highway safety, according to TDOT. HELP truck driver Marty Turpin joined the program about one year ago. “Usually with the weather the way it is, it is usually wrecks and people not paying attention,” he said. “A lot of times you will run up on them on your route sitting there with their flashers on.” Turpin and around six other trucks drive routes around Middle Tennessee.

Specialist suggests care in choosing trees (Associated Press)

With the state celebrating Arbor Day on Friday, a specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture suggests being careful in choosing the right trees to plant. Kyle Holmberg, a horticulture marketing specialist, says tree planters should compare the available spaces with the eventual sizes of the trees. Also to be kept in mind are places where fast-growing trees are needed and areas of a lawn that are always shaded. Holmberg recommends doing a quick overview of property conditions, then research the Internet for the proper varieties. The next step is visiting retail nurseries or garden centers for expert advice.

Appeals Court sides with Hamilton County sergeants (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has sided with six sergeants who’ve been locked in a legal dispute with their boss, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, over disparity in pay. Wednesday’s opinion overturns a Hamilton County court’s decision that said the sheriff didn’t have to equalize the pay of his sergeants. Court records show that the sergeants make anywhere from $43,000 to $49,000, but those with the rank of captain or corporal make the same salary as those who hold the same rank. The appellate court said the civil service board must now write to the sheriff and tell him he must eliminate the disparity in sergeant pay.

Court says sergeants due raise (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Burger)

A Tennessee Court of Appeals decision issued Wednesday ruled Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond must equalize the pay of six sergeants. The Court of Appeals ruled that the matter be sent back to the Civil Service Advisory Board. The board must instruct Hammond in writing what “necessary steps to take to eliminate the disparity” in pay for the department’s 19 sergeants. “It is for the sheriff to determine how this goal is to be achieved, but — the grievance in this case having been sustained — the goal must be achieved,” the opinion states. The sergeants, Chris Harvey, Ricky Jones, Mark King, Mark Kimsey, Mark Williams and Jody Mays, filed a grievance because the salaries ranged from $43,867 to $49,840.

Hamilton County eyes court candidates (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Haman)

The position left by the death of General Sessions Judge Bob Moon should be filled today by Hamilton County commissioners. Though some on the commission mentioned Assistant County Attorney and Soddy-Daisy Municipal Judge David Norton as the frontrunner for Moon’s replacement even before the 12-applicant field was set, several say they aren’t sure how today’s vote will line up. The board has nine commissioners, making five votes the magic number for the appointment. Commissioners will meet this morning at 9:30 a.m. to decide. “I don’t know how the nominations are going to fall,” said Commission Chairman Larry Henry.

Lawmakers question scholarship cuts after record lotto sales (AP/Johnson)

A report from state lottery officials showing record sales is reason to table legislation that would cut some students’ lottery scholarships in half, Democratic leaders said Wednesday. Tennessee Lottery officials told members of the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee that the lottery has set record gross sales every month since July. They said the lottery’s education proceeds have increased 4 percent since 2005, with about $10 million more coming in a year. A proposal from a panel of state lawmakers would reduce by 50 percent the lottery scholarship award — also called the HOPE scholarship — for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.

Democrats: Lottery growth weakens cuts argument (Times Free-Press/Sher)

New figures showing record sales for the Tennessee Lottery undercut Republican arguments that the program needs tougher standards for students to win lottery-funded scholarships, Democratic lawmakers say. A college education is “one of the most important economic drivers we have,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. “It is short-sighted and a mistake to cut lottery scholarships. The signal that we send to people in 9th, 10th and 11th grade is the wrong one when we cut scholarships.” Earlier in the day, Tennessee Lottery President Rebecca Hargrove told the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee that net lottery proceeds for the Hope Scholarship program were $10 million above projections for the first seven months of this fiscal year over last year.

Gresham says she will push to tighten Hope Scholarship eligibility (CA/Locker)

Despite record lottery sales and a $366 million reserve fund, state Sen. Dolores Gresham is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to make it more difficult for students to earn the $4,000 annual Hope Scholarship. The Senate Education Committee chaired by the Somerville Republican heard an updated financial report Wednesday from Tennessee Lottery executives who said proceeds for education are up $10 million in the first seven months of the fiscal year over the same period a year ago. Lottery CEO Rebecca Hargrove told senators she believes the lottery can sustain that increased level in the future.

Amendment abates bill that’s designed to protect vistas (Tennessean/Paine)

A last-minute amendment gutted a bill intended to ban the blowing off of Tennessee mountaintops and ridges, during the Senate Energy and Environment Committee meeting Wednesday. Sen. Mike Bill, R-Riceville, offered the change that deleted the language of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act to protect ridgelines above 2,000 feet from a practice often called “mountaintop removal.” A paragraph was substituted saying that leftover rock, dirt and debris that is blasted away could not be placed in streams. Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, who said the bill was no longer what he had proposed, noted that support for protecting the state’s mountains and ridges had “taken on a life of its own.”

“Open Container” Proposal Fails Again (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Yet another attempt to pass an “open container” law for Tennessee highways has been shot down at the state legislature. It is the sixth year in a row the bill has failed. Currently a driver can not legally drink, but passengers can. Without an open container law, the driver can simply hand off his drink when pulled over by police.The House State and Local Government Subcommittee voted 2 to 2 on the bill today, with five members failing to vote at all. Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott wanted the bill as a weapon against drunk driving. “I’m for anything that keeps alcohol out of vehicles.

Former nurse: Death should be wake-up call for lawmakers (WSMV-TV Nashville)

A former nurse with the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institution and a national mental health organization said a grisly death inside the facility should serve as a wake-up call to state lawmakers making budget cuts. Former contract nurse Derwin Powell said of everything he saw in his 16 months working for the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institution, being the first to discover the body of Cody Skelton was the most disturbing. A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found that Skelton, a patient in the institution last November, drowned himself in the toilet of his bathroom. “When I saw the sight, anger immediately came over me, my first thought was, ‘Who had this patient?'” Powell said. Powell said a psychiatric technician, employed by the state, was supposed to be checking on Skelton every 15 minutes.

TN delegate rules shape Super Tuesday strategies (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tennessee has 58 delegates at stake in next week’s primary, but the state’s rules on how they’re handed out complicate the strategy for the four Republican presidential candidates. Like a lot of states that vote on Super Tuesday, Tennessee is not a winner-take-all state. Tennessee’s delegates are handed out proportionally, meaning all four candidates could walk away from Tennessee with at least some supporters at the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa. The delegates are selected like this, according to the Tennessee Republican Party: Each of the state’s nine congressional districts gets three delegates, and those are handed out proportionally to the top three finishers.

Davidson County Botched Early Voting Schedule: Official (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A state official says the Davidson County Election Commission broke the law by closing on a Saturday during early voting. Officials say that’s an issue they’ll talk about – after they get through next week’s Super Tuesday election. Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins says this year’s President’s Day holiday was no excuse for Metro polls to sit closed the Saturday prior. But Goins says dealing with the fallout will have to wait, because the presidential primary is looming. “I mean, it’s happened. So right now you’ve just got to keep your eye on the prize. What’s the prize? Conducting a fair and effective and efficient election on March 6th. So that’s what we’re doing. And there’s no reason to let it consume your time thinking about it.”

State Making Final Push on Voter ID Before Super Tuesday (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee officials are reminding voters they’ll be open Saturday to make photo IDs required in next week’s Super Tuesday elections. Officials are downplaying concerns over seniors, many of whose driver’s licenses don’t qualify, saying they can use other IDs to vote. The state has issued some 17 thousand free photo IDs, mostly to seniors. The trouble is last year officials estimated more than 120 thousand seniors are registered to vote in the state, but don’t have pictures on their driver’s licenses. Still, Secretary of State Tre Hargett argues many have other options besides a new ID.

Opinion Survey Finds Overwhelming Public Support for Voter ID Law (TN Report)

Although 4 out of 5 Tennesseans favor a controversial state law requiring voters show a government-issued photo ID to vote, according to a new poll, critics say they refuse to accept defeat. Voters across the state will take the new voter ID law out for a spin for the first time March 6 in the Republican presidential primary, testing the bounds of whether voters who lack a photo ID can get one in time to cast their ballot. “Everywhere I go, everybody agrees with it. Very few people do I find that disagree with it,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who sponsored the measure in the Senate when it became law last year.

MTSU poll: Tenn. wants GOP prez, voter ID law (Daily News Journal)

Tennessee residents weighed in on a wide variety of political questions for MTSU’s Spring Opinion Poll released Wednesday. Among the results: GOP hopefuls Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney beat President Obama statewide, but the president’s approval rating is rebounding; The majority of Tennesseans think new voter ID law is a good thing that should be kept in place; Lack of conviction that new teacher evaluation system improves education Santorum leads Romney among Tennessee Republicans heading into Super Tuesday’s primary, and both men appear to hold an edge over Obama among Tennesseans at large despite the president’s rebounding approval rating, the latest MTSU Poll results show.

ELECTION 2012: Early voting turnout low overall (Daily News Journal)

But GOP voters far outnumber Dems Only about 5.5 percent of Rutherford County’s 146,037 registered voters participated in early voting that ended Tuesday for next week’s presidential preference primary, Election Administrator Nicole Lester said. The total of 8,048 votes includes 7,059 Republicans choosing multiple candidates and 989 Democrats in three uncontested races. Early voting typically accounts for about half the total vote, so Lester expects around 11 percent of the registered voters will cast ballots to pick nominees for president, county road superintendent and county property assessor. The election is Tuesday, March 6. “

Tennessee’s Red-State Blues (Metro Pulse)

A couple of years ago, a researcher telephoned me looking for advice about researching constitutional law. He was from up north somewhere, had been traveling a lot working on a project, and said he’d need to do some overnight work in Knoxville. It’s not my specialty, but I outlined what I knew about the University of Tennessee’s law library and suggested he might try to look up a few side subjects at the Calvin McClung Historical Collection. “Tennessee’s a red state, isn’t it?” he asked, matter-of-factly, as you might ask about the climate or the sales tax. I acknowledged that it was sometimes painted that way. He sounded a little anxious about that, as if it might affect both his welcome and the accessibility of information. He said that as a researcher, he’d found “red states” more difficult to deal with than others.

Business taxes a heavy burden in Tennessee (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Tennessee is in the bottom half of a new study that measures the tax burden businesses would face in each of the 50 states. The Tax Foundation study released today ranks states based on the tax liability for both mature and new businesses. Tennessee is 29th in both categories, which means it has a heavier tax burden than most of the country. “Corporate taxes on the state level rarely treat all comers equally, leading to sometimes dramatic disparities in the cost of doing business,” Tax Foundation president Scott Hodge said in a news release.

Dr. George Flinn plans challenge for Cohen House seat (C. Appeal/Sullivan)

Republican says District 9 ‘winnable’ after redistricting Dr. George S. Flinn Jr., a radiologist and radio station magnate who has sought or held public office in Shelby County since 2002, said Wednesday he will seek as a Republican the 9th Congressional seat held by Democrat Steve Cohen. “It’s a winnable district,” Flinn said. “The redistricting really changed the makeup of the district. I’m looking forward to winning.” Flinn, who spent $3.5 million of his own money losing the GOP primary in the 8th Congressional District to Stephen Fincher in 2010, said Cohen “has not done a very good job in Congress.”

George Flinn’s New Race (Memphis Flyer)

George Flinn, who has waged several long-odds political races since he entered active politics a decade ago, relishes being an underdog. “I like the position, because it gives me fight. It gives me motivation. This is the United States. Everybody roots for the underdog.” Flinn, the well-known radiologist/radio magnate, is now preparing to square off for a fall race against 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, and he is sure to enjoy underdog status once more against an incumbent who has dusted off his last several opponents, both Democratic and Republican, at ratios of three or four to one. Flinn has had his successes, of course.

Santorum downplays dearth of Tenn. endorsements (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Wednesday that he is undaunted that Tennessee Republican leaders haven’t endorsed him, saying that his conservative credentials will help him carry the state on Super Tuesday. “I’m a conservative and they know it,” the former Pennsylvania senator told reporters after an hour-long speech at the Temple Baptist Church outside Knoxville. “This is a state that we fit into very, very well, and I’m very confident.” Santorum pointed to his record on government spending, national security and health care. “And I’ve led the charge on moral-cultural issues,” he said.

Rick Santorum takes jab at rivals during Belmont visit (Tennessean/Sisk, Cass)

Visit to Belmont comes week before primary Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum brought his brand of conservatism to a divided crowd at Belmont University on Wednesday, preaching the repeal of President Barack Obama’s health-care reform plan six days before a Tennessee primary he’s in a strong position to win. In an hourlong speech that didn’t start until about 8:45 p.m. — 45 minutes after it was scheduled to begin — the former Pennsylvania senator railed against big government and said Obama’s re-election bid this fall would “foundationally change” the nation.

Santorum talks health care, energy, debt at Belmont event (CP/Greenberg)

Even though Sen. Rick Santorum was 45 minutes late to his rally at Belmont University’s Curb Event Center after a long day on the campaign trail, the state’s Republican primary frontrunner delivered a nearly hour-long speech to a group of more than 600 people. Santorum touched on a variety of topics including health care, energy and the national debt. But he kept coming back to a main principle: the power and size of government. “We’re in a time right now where that flame is flickering because people are doubting whether it’s best now for us to be free or whether it’s better to be ruled,” Santorum said.

Santorum Hits Health Care, Religious Freedom on Campaign Stop (WPLN-Radio)

After losing Michigan and Arizona, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took his campaign through what he considers more friendly territory in Tennessee. The former Pennsylvania Senator spoke at Belmont University Wednesday night. The last minute rally resulted in an arena less than half full. Some in attendance were less than supporters as well, holding campaign signs for Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Santorum was booed at times when talking about President Obama’s health care overhaul, but he attempted to confront his critics in the room. “[boos] It’s interesting the people are so willing to give up freedom in exchange for dependency.” Santorum talked about religious freedom and health care, promising again to repeal what he calls “Obamacare.”

Panetta to visit Fort Campbell soldiers (Tennessean/Grey)

The Department of Defense has announced that Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta will be visiting Fort Campbell on Friday. The visit is a continuation of Panetta’s tour of military facilities in which he has observed training and spoken with troops around the world in town hall meetings to address questions regarding the future of the military. Pentagon press secretary George Little said that Panetta plans to observe air assault training, 4th Brigade Combat Team urban-warfare training, a demonstration of medevac responses, and will tour a medical facility. He will then talk to troops at a town hall meeting and will meet with Gold Star families of fallen soldiers.

Postal service announces mail-processing centers to be closed (State Gazette)

After more than five months of study, the United States Postal Service announced last Thursday the closure of 223 mail-processing centers including three in Tennessee. Despite the announcement the mail-processing centers won’t be closing just yet. The postal service agreed in December to a self-imposed moratorium on any closures until May 15, 2012 in order to give Congress the opportunity to create an alternative plan. USPS is the only federal government agency that does not receive federal funding, relying solely on revenue from stamps and shipping.

States consider drug testing welfare recipients (USA Today)

Getting welfare and food stamps may become tougher as 23 states around the USA seek to adopt stricter laws that would require public aid recipients to take drug tests. Florida law now requires all aid applicants to be drug tested while Arizona and Missouri require testing for anyone they “reasonably” suspect of illegal drug use. For many, the proposed changes in states such as Wyoming, Illinois and Maryland will mean taking extra steps before receiving aid, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Resistance is likely to be heated, and the American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a challenge in Florida.

No-Child Law Faces Wave of Opt-Outs (Wall Street Journal)

Twenty-six more states asked to be excused from key requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, an exemption that would curb the education law’s impact considerably. The states, from Washington to Mississippi to New York, were joined by the District of Columbia. Last month, the Obama administration granted waivers for all 11 states that applied in the first round. If it grants waivers to all the new applicants, three quarters of the states would be exempt. Signed into law with bipartisan support in 2002, No Child Left Behind is now reviled by Republicans, who say it gets the federal government too involved in education, and by Democrats, who complain that its rigid definitions of performance have seen almost half the nation’s schools listed as failures.

Schools chief: ‘No Child’ pass good for county (Columbia Daily Herald)

A waiver that releases Tennessee public schools from the federal No Child Left Behind education law is a step in the right direction for Maury County schoolchildren, Director of Schools Eddie Hickman said. Hickman and other school officials recently met with Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Department of Education commissioner, in Nashville to discuss what the waiver means for school districts. On Feb. 9, President Barack Obama announced that Tennessee is among 10 states to receive the waiver. “I think it’s a good move to get away from No Child Left Behind requirements,” Hickman said. “I think we have good schools. We do have our challenges, but this is more fair across the board.”

VW plans parts warehouse in Tennessee (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)

Volkswagen plans to build a new parts warehouse related to the Chattanooga-made Passat in Roane County, Tenn., an official said today. The automaker is to break ground on the facility that will be located outside Knoxville on March 13, said Carsten Krebs, VW of America’s director of corporate communications. He said the warehouse will hold replacement parts for the Passat for delivery to dealers in the Southeast United States. Krebs declined to immediately say how big the warehouse will be, how much it will cost or the number of workers it will employ.

Losses begin to slow at Erlanger Hutcheson (Times Free-Press/Martin)

Erlanger at Hutcheson lost nearly $1 million in January, but overall losses at the North Georgia hospital have slowed since last fall. Financial numbers showing the hospital had budgeted for a $580,000 loss compared to an actual $982,000 loss were presented to the hospital board during its monthly meeting Wednesday evening. The hospital has lost $4.2 million since the beginning of its fiscal year in October. Both Hutcheson and Erlanger Health System, which manages Hutcheson, have struggled to return to financial viability after deep losses. The slow but steady improvement in numbers comes less than a week after new CEO Roger Forgey announced the hospital would cut less than 5 percent of its 825-member staff over next 60 days to trim costs and “right-size” the hospital.

Hospital CEO resigns (State Gazette)

Dyersburg Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Russell Pigg has announced his resignation. The CEO, who has served the hospital since May 2009, will leave Dyersburg to assume the same role at a hospital in Florence, Ala. He served as chief operating officer at Gateway Medical Center in Clarksville for three years prior to his employment in Dyersburg. During his tenure at DRMC, the hospital has strengthened medical staff relations and recruited more than 20 new physicians to the community. Several renovations have also been completed under Pigg’s leadership, including the improvements to the center’s mammography unit, private rooms on 2-North, a new cardiac catherization lab and a wound-care clinic.

Comcast cutting some local jobs, adding more (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Brewer)

As Comcast cuts 16 local positions and transfers the work to Chattanooga, the telecommunications company is filling 85 other jobs at its Asheville Highway operations center. Russell Byrd, senior director of government and public affairs for Comcast’s East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia territory, said the 16 jobs are going to Chattanooga as part of a realignment of some business functions for efficiency. He added that some affected employees are applying for the jobs being filled. Comcast, which served about 175,000 digital customers in Knox and surrounding counties in 2011, offers cable and broadband services. The company employs more than 800 workers out of its Asheville Highway regional customer service and operations center.

‘The Tennessean,’ MTSU partner to help community solve problems (TN/Stivender)

‘Tennessean’ effort fosters community problem solving The Tennessean announced today a new partnership with Middle Tennessee State University on Brainstorm Nashville, a digital hub for civic engagement designed to foster community problem solving. The Tennessean created Brainstorm Nashville to capitalize on the altruistic momentum derived from Nashville’s historic flood of 2010. It is designed to be a centralized, communitywide collaboration tool for those with ideas, initiative and resources to put toward solving ongoing problems facing the region. The initiative is live with childhood obesity as its marquee topic, and others are planned for promotion each month.

Hamilton County school rezoning maps online (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Maps now are available online of proposed school zoning changes for residents of East Hamilton County. Hamilton County Schools officials released the maps Wednesday following their unveiling at Tuesday’s rezoning meeting at East Hamilton Middle/High School. Hundreds of parents showed up to question the changes and see whether their children would stay within their current school boundaries. The rezoning proposal is the school system’s effort to alleviate overcrowding at East Hamilton and several area elementary schools. Beginning next fall, many East Hamilton neighborhoods will be rezoned for Ooltewah Middle, Hunter Middle or Ooltewah High.

Cleveland Board of Education approves budget (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The Cleveland Board of Education on Wednesday approved a $38.9 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget includes a 3 percent raise for all employees and step increases for those who qualify. “We have tried to be frugal down the line,” schools Director Martin Ringstaff told board members in a special session. “We put a priority to giving raises.” The proposal, a 2 percent increase over the current budget, now goes to the City Council for approval, along with budgets from all other city government departments. The pay increase is contingent on the state Legislature approving Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget with a 2.5 percent increase, Ringstaff said.

ASD Spells Out School Changes (Memphis Daily News)

Now that the state’s Achievement School District has named the three Memphis City Schools in which it will run charter schools and three others that will be run by the state as neighborhood schools, the move to a swift transition by August begins. The superintendent of the state-run district for the bottom 5 percent of schools across the state in terms of student performance was in the six schools affected Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 27-28. ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said he’s preparing teachers and staff for a process that includes them reapplying for their jobs. “There’s no preconceived notions about anybody there. This isn’t meant to be a hatchet job,” Barbic said.

Party was to kick off Supt. Cash’s bid to seek unified schools post (CA/Roberts)

The party that Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash hosted nearly two weeks ago was intended to kick off a campaign to get him named superintendent of the unified school district. Instead, the Feb. 18 party ended abruptly about 9:30 p.m., when Deputy Supt. Irving Hamer, who sources say seemed impaired, lost his balance and fell down after making a speech about Cash’s qualifications for the job. In his rambling, Hamer allegedly commented on a secretary’s breasts. She was one of about 20 guests at the party when Hamer began speaking. Two days later on Feb. 20, Hamer e-mailed her an apology and copied it to top-level administrators. The Commercial Appeal filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the apology earlier this week. On Wednesday, the district said it would comply within the law’s seven-day parameter.

Son, mother, one other arrested in Hawkins County meth lab bust (Times-News)

Officers with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department arrested three people this morning in connection with an alleged methamphetamine production operation. Arrested were Kevin Andes, his mother, Rita Andes, and Brittany Oaks. After observing items connected with making meth around a residence at 437 Oak Grove Road near Rogersville, the sheriff’s department obtained a search warrant for the house. Upon entering the residence they discovered a methamphetamine lab.

Michigan: Michigan bridge project hits political snags (Stateline)

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says he can give the state a second bridge from Detroit to Canada that would spur international trade, guard against disasters and create thousands of jobs. All of that, Snyder says, would not cost Michigan taxpayers a thing. The Canadian government and private companies would pick up the tab, while Michigan would get a $2 billion windfall to fix its other roads and bridges. So far, though, the plan has gone nowhere. Even with broad support from the business community, Snyder’s scheme stalled in the state legislature, and while he insists he still wants to win over lawmakers, allies say the governor is exploring whether to go ahead without legislative approval.

OPINION

Editorial: State civil service reform gets boost from comptroller (News-Sentinel)

Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson delivered some powerful evidence late last month for Gov. Bill Haslam’s push to reform the state’s cumbersome civil service rules. A report released publicly on Feb. 22 shows how dysfunctional the civil service system is for the approximately 34,500 state employees covered under its provisions. The report accurately called the system “inefficient, unfair and outdated.” Wilson sent a draft copy of the report, which was begun in 2004 under former Comptroller John Morgan, to Haslam after the governor won election in 2010. Comptrollers’ reports and audits typically aren’t released to the public until they are finished.

Editorial: Teacher scores must coincide with school results (Jackson Sun)

About the only thing that is clear from a comparison of area public school teacher evaluation scores is that the evaluation system leaves a lot to be desired. Still, there are things that can be learned and applied to refine the evaluation system to make it a fair and reliable reflection of teacher performance. Evaluating teachers is not optional. It was a key component of the grant proposal that enabled the state to receive more than $500 million in Race to the Top federal grant money. It also makes sense to grade teacher performance and to use it as a component in granting tenure, giving pay raises, helping teachers improve their teaching ability and, if necessary, getting rid of poor teachers.

Editorial: Road priorities in tight times (Commercial Appeal)

The Hickory Withe interstate ramp: The Interstate 40 interchange at Tennessee 196 could contribute to eastward sprawl. Even though the organization that sets priorities for major road projects for Greater Memphis didn’t think it was a good idea, its members went ahead and approved an interchange at Interstate 40 and Tennessee 196 in Fayette County. Why? Because if they had not, the $24 million for the interchange could not have been used for other roadwork in the area, which meant the money would be used for some other project in Tennessee. So, there’s no turning back for construction of the Hickory Withe interchange.

Free-Press Editorial: Schools rezoning stirs objections without easy answers (TFP)

Frustration was evident Tuesday when Hamilton County Schools officials revealed rezoning proposals designed to reduce crowding at East Hamilton Middle/High School and some elementary schools in that area. What promoted the rezoning is obvious: Population in areas around the schools is growing, and the schools can’t accommodate everyone who wants to attend. Capacity at East Hamilton, for instance, is 1,650 students. Attendance at East Hamilton, however, is 2,000 students. The causes of parental frustration Tuesday were understandable. Solutions that don’t involve moving students around were less apparent.

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