March 9 TN News Digest

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

‘Extenuating Situations’ Call for Expanding Grants to Businesses: Haslam (TNR)

Gov. Bill Haslam Thursday afternoon explained his reasoning for a push to expand the use of taxpayer-funded cash grants given to businesses through the state’s FastTrack program. Since 2006 the state has allotted an average of $38.5 million annually to the FastTrack. The governor’s 2013 fiscal year budget plan outlines development grants that would award up to $70 million through the program. “Right now, with cash grants in Tennessee, you can spend them on two things, you can spend them on infrastructure or training,” he told TNReport after speaking to the Tennessee Hospital Association in Nashville Thursday.

Haslam health task force to focus on Tenn. obesity (Associated Press)

Reducing Tennessee’s obesity rate will be the focus of the Governor’s Health and Wellness Task Force. Gov. Bill Haslam noted in a news release Thursday that more than 1.5 million adults — or one in three Tennesseans — are obese. Haslam said the state must encourage more healthy behavior and improve access to healthy foods and places to exercise. The governor formed the 16-member task force in October. It is chaired by John Lacey, the University of Tennessee’s chief medical officer. The task force will work with organizations like the Y, the state’s coordinated school health program, the Tennessee Obesity Task Force and local health officials and businesses.

 Haslam asks Tennessee to confront obesity (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Businesses urged to join fight Gov. Bill Haslam put himself at the center of a campaign to change the way Tennesseans eat and exercise when he announced Thursday that tackling obesity is the priority of his Health and Wellness Task Force. “When a third of us are obese and another third are overweight, we have to do something about this,” Haslam said. His announcement means that groups already combating obesity have a powerful new ally, one they are counting on to garner other partners, particularly business leaders. Haslam laid the problem out in economic terms, noting that illnesses stemming from obesity, such as diabetes and cancer, eat up health-care dollars and put Tennessee at a disadvantage in attracting new employers. Health-care costs account for almost a third of the state’s $30-billion-plus budget, he said.

Obama, governors agree on schools (Associated Press/Hefling)

A funny thing is happening between President Barack Obama and many Republican governors when it comes to improving America’s schools: They are mostly getting along. After Obama spoke recently to the nation’s governors, Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal publicly praised the administration’s efforts on education, and Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell said there was a lot of room for “common agreement” on fixing schools. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, another Republican, introduced Obama in September at the White House before the president announced that states could be freed from stringent rules under the No Child Left Behind law if they met certain conditions.

Haslam Won’t Oppose Sidewalk Honoring Former First Lady Conte (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam says he has “no problem” naming a sidewalk at the bottom of Capitol Hill after his predecessor’s wife despite red-lighting the move as costly last month. “It’ll happen. It’ll happen,” Haslam laughed when asked by reporters about the proposal Tuesday. “We’ll get that paid for, with state money.” The Republican governor’s staff raised objections to the cost of naming the perimeter track of Bicentennial Capitol Mall — down the hill from the Capitol Building — after former first lady Andrea Conte, wife of Phil Bredesen. Former Democratic Speaker Jimmy Naifeh had brought forward the proposal.

Haslam, DesJarlais to meet local GOP (Times-Gazette)

Gov. Bill Haslam will be the keynote speaker for Bedford County Republican Party’s 2012 Reagan Day Dinner, to be held Thursday, March 29 at the Blue Ribbon Circle on the Celebration grounds. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is also scheduled to attend, his first official appearance in Bedford County since it was announced that the county would move from the 6th Congressional District to the 4th in this year’s election cycle. DesJarlais represents the 4th district, although all House seats will be up for election this year. State Sen. Jim Tracy and State Rep. Pat Marsh plan to attend as well.

Haslam Awards $565,000 in Parks and Recreation Grants (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today awarded $565,000 in Recreational Trails Program grants to recipients across Tennessee. Montgomery County will receive $120,000 for the Phase II construction of an ADA-accessible boardwalk trail “These grants help local governments and organizations enhance or expand community amenities such as trails, greenways and recreational facilities,” Haslam said. “I am pleased this year’s grant awards will allow us to help communities across the state make the outdoors more accessible to Tennesseans.”

TN Teacher Evals Discussed in WSJ (TN Report)

Two Memphis music teachers and Tennessee’s top education official are featured in a Wall Street Journal story today tracking teacher evaluation efforts across the country. The story looks at the challenge of using tests in evaluating educators when standardized tests don’t generally cover social studies or science, focusing instead on reading and math. There’s also the potential for parent revolt, as in the case of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ failed attempt to test every single kindergartner one at a time. Here’s the Tennessee connection: Memphis music teacher Jeff Chipman is part of a small group of teachers piloting the new assessment based on student portfolios, and he acknowledges the district’s challenges.

Tennessee ranks favorably among other states according to voter survey (CP)

Tennessee ranked the third most favorable state in the U.S., according to results of the latest Public Policy Polling survey. The survey, conducted throughout the country during a four-month period ending last month, asked 700 of 3,300 likely voters how they view each of the 50 states. When asked about their impression of Tennessee, voters ranked the state third most favorable. Hawaii and Colorado ranked first and second respectively in the poll. Only five states — California, Illinois, New Jersey, Mississippi and Utah — were ranked in negative territory.

Tennessee tax revenue exceeds budgeted estimate by $20.3M in February (MBJ)

Tennessee’s sales tax collections continued their positive year-over-year growth in February. However, the state warned rising gasoline prices could cut into that growth. Tennessee reported $706.6 million in tax revenue in February, $20.3 million more than had been budgeted, Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes stated in a release. A general improvement in economic conditions was given credit for the increase, the 23rd consecutive month for a year-over-year increase, the state noted. “While we believe the healthy growth rate in sales tax collections for February is indicative of an improving economy in Tennessee, we are concerned that escalating gasoline prices will soon begin to erode the positive growth trend we are now enjoying,” Emkes stated in the release.

Provisional ballot form sends voters to bank call center (Tennessean/Wilson)

A phone number intended to tell Nashville voters where they could go to get a photo ID so they can cast a provisional ballot sent them instead to a Bank of America call center for servicing delinquent loans. The contact information was listed on a form given to those who cast a provisional ballot because they did not present a photo ID as required under the state’s new voter identification law. The phone number was printed as the number to contact the state Department of Safety’s call center to find the closest place to receive a photo ID. Albert Tieche, the Davidson County administrator of elections, said the local election commission knew about the error but wasn’t sure how it happened.

State promoting community supported agriculture (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is promoting community supported agriculture. CSA is a business model through which a non-farmer purchases a share or half-share of a real farmer’s harvest — often before the crops are even planted. State officials say such arrangements are a national trend. They are popular with farmers because they can pay for the seed, fuel and other expenses to farm for the year. For consumers, they get fresh, local food already paid for. Fees vary. CSAs keep food dollars — and the farmlands where they’re produced — in the community. A spring-summer CSA share typically lasts from late May until early November. Tennessee CSAs are accepting customers now.

TennCare hospital reimbursements vary widely (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Some Tennessee hospitals are questioning why they should continue paying a self-imposed tax to prop up the state’s Medicaid program because competitors are getting back much more in reimbursements while they lose money treating TennCare patients. Hospital executives were shocked to learn that insurance contractors for TennCare, the state health-care program for the poor, were paying more than four times as much to some hospitals as to others for outpatient procedures. In some cases, the disparities amounted to millions of dollars — enough to make or break a hospital’s budget.

TBI accepting applications for Citizens Academy (Daily News Journal)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is now accepting applications for the 2012 TBI Citizens’ Academy open to Tennessee residents interested in learning more about the state’s lead investigative law enforcement agency. The four-week academy is scheduled for May 1-22 at TBI Headquarters in Nashville. It will offer citizens a look at TBI’s work, ranging from its investigations of crime scenes, cyber crime, tracking terrorism information and other aspects of criminal activity in Tennessee. Classes will be held for three hours, one night a week.

Philyaw drops out of General Sessions Court judge race (Times Free-Press/South)

The field of candidates for the General Sessions Court judge election in August now is smaller by one. Rob Philyaw, the part-time city judge in Graysville, Tenn., was one of three candidates who had qualified for the race, according to the Hamilton County Election Commission website. Eight people have picked up applications. But in a statement to supporters and a brief phone conversation with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Philyaw said he has decided “to forgo seeking this seat and will suspend my campaign.” “Judge David Norton is an excellent choice, and he will serve honorably,” Philyaw wrote in his statement.

Judiciary reprimands Cocke County judge (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Satterfield)

For the fourth time, a Cocke County judge is getting his hand slapped by a state panel tasked with policing him. The Tennessee Court of the Judiciary late last month issued a public reprimand of Cocke County General Sessions Court Judge John Bell. It is the fourth action against Bell since he took office in 1998. According to a notice by the Court of the Judiciary, Bell confessed guilt in the latest infraction rather than submit to a public accounting of the allegations against him. This is itself a reversal of Bell’s prior history of fighting via public hearings claims made against him. Bell agreed to a public reprimand for conduct that occurred in April 2011, while Bell, an Army National Guardsman who served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps handling military legal affairs, was stationed in Germany.

DA: Death penalty out in all but one of four torture slaying suspects (NS/Satterfield)

It’s official. Death is no longer a possible fate for three of four defendants in the January 20007 torture slayings of a Knox County couple. Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price has filed notice of an intention to seek the death penalty as punishment in the deaths of Channon Christian, 21, and boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23, only against alleged ringleader Lemaricus Davidson. Price this month notified attorneys for Davidson’s brother, Letalvis Cobbins, and Cobbins’ friend, George Thomas, that he will push for a fate in their cases no more than life without possibility of parole. Because Cobbins’ girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, was acquitted of a direct role in the deaths, Price hasn’t filed a notice of punishment sought in her case.

Senate approves Amazon sales-tax agreement (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Legislation requiring Amazon to begin collecting Tennessee sales tax beginning in 2014 passed the Senate this morning. The bill, the result of an agreement between the Internet retailing giant and Gov. Bill Haslam, was approved on a 30-1 vote. “I’d really like to thank the governor’s office for working this out,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, who had criticized the original verbal deal struck by former Gov. Phil Bredesen and Amazon. That deal would have let Amazon avoid ever collecting sales taxes in exchange for locating two $139 million distribution centers in Chattanooga and near Cleveland, employing about 4,000 full-time and seasonal workers.

Legislative impasse on ECD, guns and zoning – for now (Nashville Biz Journal)

It was a week of standoffs in the Tennessee General Assembly. A look at three of the biggest business issues on tap in recent days — Gov. Bill Haslam’s economic development package, a pair of controversial gun bills and a flare up over zoning issues — reveals some of the most difficult lines lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature are debating over. All three show an ongoing search for compromise, with little new word on where it may come from. Here’s the breakdown from my notebook this week: • The Republican governor’s economic development package remains bogged down as the administration and legislators discuss how to find common ground on what sort of information the state should disclose about companies.

‘Boro armory named for 1st Lt. Emmert (Daily News Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law legislation sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, naming the National Guard Armory in Murfreesboro the First Lieutenant William Eric Emmert National Guard Armory. Senate Bill 2159 is co-sponsored by Senators Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, and Eric Stewar, D-Belvidere, and Representatives Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, Barrett Rich, R-Hickory Withe and Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, according to a news release from the state. “Lt. Emmert was a shining example of courage and the volunteer spirit for which our state is known,” said Sen. Ketron. “His name will forever be associated with this Armory as new generations of Tennessee soldiers will know the sacrifices he made for freedom.”

Ramsey questions Governor Bill Haslam’s FastTrack changes (TFP/Sher)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey voiced reservations Thursday about Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand the state’s FastTrack economic development incentive program into other areas. Ramsey said he likes the FastTrack program as is. The program funnels taxpayer money through local development boards or other local government entities in the form of reimbursements for infrastructure and job-training programs. Haslam has legislation that adds a third leg to FastTrack: It would provide more flexibility to economic development spending, which officials say companies favor.

Ramsey questions using state cash to recruit businesses (N-S/Humphrey)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday he supports the state paying infrastructure costs for businesses expanding in Tennessee but has misgivings about Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to give them cash grants. Ramsey acknowledged to reporters that he had opposed in concept a state payment last year of $97 million in cash to Electrolux Inc. as part of a $188 million state and local government package toward building a plant in Memphis. He went along with legislation to approve the one-time funding, saying legislators should honor a commitment made by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen even though disapproving of the precedent. “I’m still concerned about that (providing cash grants),” Ramsey said Thursday.

Naifeh to retire after 38 years in House (Associated Press/Johnson)

Rep. Jimmy Naifeh announced Thursday that he won’t seek re-election for his District 81 seat after 38 years in the House of Representatives, saying it’s time to “pass the torch to the next generation of leaders.” Naifeh, who was given the honorary title of speaker emeritus after holding the top House post for 18 years, made the announcement on the House floor. The Covington Democrat said the late Tennessee Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter, whom Naifeh described as a mentor in politics and life, “always told me when it was time to go home, I’d know it.” “After talking with my family and friends, I believe the time has come for me to pass the torch,” Naifeh said.

Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh announces retirement (City Paper/Woods)

House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, once one of the most powerful politicians in the state, said Thursday he will not run for reelection in November after 38 years as a lawmaker. With Republicans now dominating the legislature, Naifeh, who is 72, became the fifth Democrat in the House to announce retirements this session. Four Democratic senators have announced they won’t seek re-election. “Governor McWherter, my mentor, always told me I would know when it was time to go home and I know that time has come for me to step aside for the next generation of leaders,” Naifeh said on the House floor. Naifeh was the longest-serving House speaker in Tennessee history, serving in that position from 1991 until 2009.

Jimmy Naifeh, former TN House speaker, to end storied career (Tennessean/Sisk)

Longtime House speaker urges cooperation in retirement address to cheering colleagues State lawmakers celebrated former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh after he announced Thursday that he will not run for re-election this year, ending a career in the state legislature that reached nearly four decades. Naifeh was allowed to preside over the state House of Representatives one final time during a morning session in which he announced his retirement. Telling lawmakers he had decided “it’s time to pass the torch,” the West Tennessee Democrat urged members to work together and listen to members of the other party, even as he acknowledged his reputation for partisanship.

Former Tennessee House speaker Jimmy Naifeh won’t seek re-election (CA/Locker)

State Rep. Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, the son of Lebanese emigrants who served as House speaker longer than anyone in Tennessee history, won’t run for re-election this year after 38 years in the legislature, he said Thursday. Naifeh, 72, a Democrat, was elected to the House in 1974 and re-elected 18 times. The House elected him its speaker nine times, from 1991 to 2009, when Republicans won a House majority. He’s remained a vocal member, trading the podium for a desk at the back of the House chamber from which he has assailed bills that he considered injurious to people.

Naifeh Says He Will Retire After End of Current Session (Memphis Flyer)

Jimmy Naifeh, the Covington Democrat who served in the state House of Representatives for 38 years, a record 18 of those years as Speaker, will serve no more after this year. Naifeh, who lost the Speakership in 2009, following the GOP’s attaining a majority, took the floor to announce his forthcoming retirement at the end of the current session. The longtime Speaker — feared by his enemies, revered by his allies, respected by all — won applause from members of both parties after he delivered himself of the following remarks: Madam Speaker, Members, I want to thank you for giving me a few minutes today to come to the well and make some remarks. I’ve served in this chamber for 38 years. That’s a long time, over half my adult life actually.

Former Speaker Naifeh Won’t Run for Re-Election to House Seat (WPLN-Radio)

Former Tennessee House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh today announced that after 38 years, he won’t run for re-election in his Tipton County district. Jimmy Naifeh, 72, says he won’t run for the district he has represented since 1974. “Governor McWherter, who was my mentor, always told me that I would know when it was time to go. And I know that time has come for me to step aside for the next generation of leaders.” In a ten-minute speech, the long-time speaker of the House urged members to consider “the people” rather than their party as they do the work they were elected to.

Faulk announces he won’t seek re-election (Times-News)

Tennessee state Sen. Mike Faulk announced Thursday he won’t seek re-election after one term in office. Faulk, R-Church Hill, made the announcement during a video meeting with Surgoinsville Middle School students streamed live via Skpe over the Internet. He had been non-committal about his political future during a similar meeting with students last month. “My ailing mother and my business need me more than the Senate needs me,” Faulk, an attorney, said of his decision in a prepared release. “Most folks understand the need to care for a gravely ill parent. Being at her side is a higher priority of mine than campaigning for reelection for the next eight months.”

Republican State Senator to Leave, Cites Family Duties (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A state senator from upper East Tennessee announced Thursday that he’ll step down after serving only one four-year term. Republican Mike Faulk says his solo-legal practice and his ailing mother are higher priorities than the eight-month-long campaign it would take to retain his seat. The senator made the announcement to a “student town hall” meeting. “For the past three years, having time to work in my business after first doing my Senate responsibilities has been a struggle. As a solo attorney, I need to work much, much more over the next four years to keep my business going.”

TN lawmaker says green policies are part of secret U.N. plot (Tennessean/Paine)

A resolution in the state legislature opposes what is depicted as an insidious United Nations scheme to take away citizens’ property rights through radical environmentalism. The legislation, which refers to “Agenda 21,” is pending as planners and property rights advocates spar over a series of bills related to how development should be regulated. Several were deferred Wednesday in the House State and Local Government subcommittee. The separate House Joint Resolution 0587, which passed the full committee Tuesday, is expected to go to the House floor for a vote as early as next week.

Taft Youth Development Center’s supporters say facility works (TFP/Benton)

While state lawmakers prepare to pass judgment on Taft Youth Development Center, either sending it to the guillotine or keeping it alive, some voices calling for its rescue come from those who say they know it best. One Hamilton County mother with lupus weeps at the thought that Taft could be shuttered before her son gets his GED and welding certificates that could put his life on the right path. A Davidson County mother praises the “turnaround” her son saw at Taft, while her son says the center set him on a course for the future. A Lewisburg, Tenn., teen claims Taft “helped me accomplish every goal I had and more” as he earned his GED and welding certificates and found strength in faith.

Occupy Nashville clears camp; 1 protester to defy ban (Tennessean/Sisk)

Demonstrators have until today to leave plaza; after midnight, no sign of arrests; in early morning, noncamping supporters remain on scene at Nashville plaza Early Friday morning only one occupied tent was left at the War Memorial Plaza encampment. Overnight, protesters packed up their tents and cleaned up, and by about 2 a.m. the tents were gone except for one, which was moved to the center of the plaza. That tent was occupied by a lone protester, Christopher Humphrey. Humphrey, of Nashville, said he has been at the campsite since the beginning of the Occupy Nashville protest and has decided to stay to test the law. About 15 Occupy Nashville people, who are not camping, remain on the scene to support Humphrey, despite the cold.

Occupiers “Biding Time” Until Eviction (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

It’s been nearly a week since Governor Bill Haslam signed a law prohibiting unauthorized camping on government property. The measure was aimed squarely at Occupy Nashville protesters. A dedicated few are waiting to test law enforcement. The state posted notices, giving Occupiers like Benjamin Grady a week to leave War Memorial Plaza “It could be as early as 12:01 AM Friday morning that they come. We really don’t know at this point. We’re kind of just biding time.” Grady says he won’t be sticking around, but a handful of protesters are making plans to be arrested. The penalties are stiffer than they were in October when more than 50 people were hauled away in handcuffs.

Murfreesboro Judge: City camping ordinance Constitutional (Daily News Journal)

Occupy cases could be heading to trial A city court judge decided Thursday that a city ordinance prohibiting camping on Civic Plaza and other public property is constitutional, thus denying a request to dismiss charges against local Occupiers for violating the law. The decision by Murfreesboro City Court Judge Ewing Sellers came after an approximately 90-minute hearing Thursday in the courtroom at Murfreesboro City Hall on Vine Street and means the cases against individual protesters cited by Murfreesboro Police could potentially be heading to trial.

Robertson County unveils economic plan (Tennessean/Marsteller)

4-year effort’s goals: new jobs, better marketing Robertson County officials unveiled a $1.275 million plan Thursday night to improve the county’s economic base. Called “Realizing Robertson’s Future,” the four-year effort aims to create more than 600 jobs, better market the county to corporate consultants who pick sites, and deepen ties between schools and the local business community, among other goals. The program is modeled after similar economic development plans in Clarksville, Jackson, Murfreesboro and Cleveland, Tenn., as well as their respective counties. “With one of the highest out-commute rates in Middle Tennessee, we have a resident workforce ready for high-paying jobs,” said Scott Raynes of NorthCrest Medical Center, who is chairman of the effort’s fundraising campaign.

Local board appeals state decision on landfill (Jackson Sun)

The local solid waste board met once again Thursday morning to fine tune a resolution it will send to the state, urging it to reconsider its decision to approve a landfill in the Denmark community. The Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Control Board approved landfill owner Bill McMillen’s appeal for a solid waste permit for his Betty Manley Road landfill on Feb. 27, despite previous urging from the local solid waste board not to do so. The local solid waste board met last Friday to put together the resolution and came together again Thursday to make any amendments to it before sending it to the state board for an appeal. John Newman, chairman of the local board, said that when the state made the previous decision the local solid waste board’s plan was not put into evidence.

Fincher gets a bill through the House for the first time (Gannett/Bewley)

First lawmking victory for Tennessee freshman Rep. Stephen Fincher’s bill aimed at making it easier for small- and medium-sized businesses to go public passed the House on Thursday, marking the first major legislative victory for the first-term Republican from Frog Jump. Fincher’s bill formed a key piece of a larger jobs package designed to spur the growth of start-ups and help small businesses raise capital. The group of bills passed the House 390-23 in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement. All of Tennessee’s House members voted for it except Republican Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. of Knoxville, who did not vote. “This was a good day, hopefully, for the workers in America, the job creators who can do some positive things for people who are hurting and unemployed,” Fincher said after the vote.

Rep. Diane Black’s husband buys office building for $8.7M (Tennessean/Allyn)

Property is nearly 80 percent occupied at last report U.S. Rep. Diane Black’s husband, David L. Black, has purchased a three-story office building with a gleaming glass facade for $8.7 million, according to county property records. David Black, who owns the drug-testing laboratory Aegis Sciences Corp., bought the high-rise under the name Ebon Falcon LLC from Embassy Square LLC, the listed seller. Known as the First Image Building, the Class A property was appraised in 2010 for $9.2 million; the building was sold in 2006 for $5.5 million. It was built in 1985. Black bought the office, on 6.2 acres of land, for about $80 per square foot. The property is about 77 percent occupied, and has around 25,000 square feet of available space.

TNGOP: Tight Margins Delaying Exact Delegate Totals (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

It could be a couple weeks before Tennessee’s Republican party gives an exact count of the delegates each presidential hopeful picked up in Tuesday’s primary. The state GOP says that’s because some district results were so close they want to wait until the state certifies the election late this month. In upper East Tennessee, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are said to have come within a few votes of each other for one delegate. Meanwhile officials confirmed a separate statewide pool of delegates split with 12 going to Rick Santorum, 9 to Romney and 7 to Gingrich.

Nursing home backers seek answers to VA funding priority list (TFP/Higgins)

Advocates for a regional veterans’ nursing home want to know why projects in Bradley and Montgomery counties lost ground last month on the Veterans Administration funding priority list. Representatives for U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischman and Scott Dejarles and U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander attended the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Nursing Home Council on Thursday. “We are still very much in the running, but we are waiting for an official explanation,” said Larry McDaris, Bradley County veterans services director. Since the new list was published in February, supporters have learned of another priority previously unknown: the VA can rank according to need as well as local funding support.

Fate of ballot measures often depends on the wording (Stateline)

Just a couple of months ago, Dan Pellissier was leading an effort to ask California voters to overhaul the state’s public retirement system. The ballot initiative campaign looked like it had momentum, with polls showing a majority of Californians in support of pension changes. The stage appeared set for a November showdown between fiscal conservatives and public employee unions. Then, says Pellissier, just as the campaign was gearing up to begin collecting signatures to gain a spot on the ballot, it came to a screeching halt in the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris didn’t kick the initiative off the ballot or challenge it in court. Instead, her office played a seemingly technical role.

Yates Construction opens new Nashville office (Nashville Business Journal)

W.G. Yates & Sons Construction announced today the opening of a new office in Nashville The Mississippi-based firm is working on several high-profile projects in Tennessee, including the $84 million Nissan electric vehicle battery plant in Smyrna, the $95 million Electrolux Home Products project in Memphis and the $1.5 billion Wacker Chemie polysilicon plant in Cleveland, Tenn. Yates Vice President Rocky Wooten will lead the Nashville office, which will be located at Lakeview II, Suite 303, 15 Century Blvd. “Our goal is to exceed expectations and help clients achieve their vision on time and within budget,” Wooten said in a news release.

Music City Center considers solar panels (Tennessean/Cass)

Consultant will explore options for solar panels Nashville’s new convention center, already set to have a green roof, probably will have a solar one, too. The Convention Center Authority has hired a local consulting firm to explore options for solar panels on top of the Music City Center, the $585 million building under construction downtown. An installation on the roof above the ballroom on the building’s north end would make the facility one of the most high-profile in Middle Tennessee to use the alternative energy source. “The building is unique enough and obviously prominent enough that it can serve as an example to other property owners, as a testimonial to the long-term value of solar,” Mayor Karl Dean said Thursday.

Erlanger at Hutcheson board changes proposed (Times Free-Press/Martin)

Proposed changes for Erlanger at Hutcheson’s tri-county hospital authority board would increase the number of trustees and change how they are appointed. All three counties — Catoosa, Dade and Walker — must approve changes. Catoosa County officials call the moves reasonable and necessary, but Dade and Walker officials said Thursday they have not discussed the issue and need more information before acting. The hospital authority — the governing board for Hutcheson, which has lost millions of dollars in the last year — now has nine members: four from Walker, three from Catoosa and two from Dade. One proposed change would give Walker and Catoosa five trustees and Dade three.

Nashville schools chief Jesse Register outlines state of schools (Tennessean/Hall)

Metro Nashville’s top school administrator lauded the district’s accomplishments Thursday while assuring listeners the lowest-performing schools are getting attention. Jesse Register delivered his annual State of the Schools address to a receptive crowd of district employees, elected officials and others at Metro’s Martin Professional Development Center, personalizing it with music from a Nashville School for the Arts guitar quartet and a student’s personal story. Past year’s successes He began with a litany of successes in the past year: four students in the 80,000-student district scoring a perfect 36 on the ACT college readiness exam, plus several students graduating high school having already earned associate’s degrees and others winning international science and math awards.

Memphis-Shelby County schools merger panel picks six-regions model (CA/Kelley)

The unified Memphis and Shelby County school district set to open its doors in the fall of 2013 will be divided into six regions, each with 20 to 30 schools and each led by a regional director, if a plan designed by the Transition Planning Commission is ratified by the unified school board. The structure, which was approved by the TPC Thursday night, would accommodate a strong degree of local autonomy on decisions such as hiring, budgeting, curriculum development, the length of the school day and the school calendar. The “Multiple Achievement Paths” model was approved by the Transition Planning Commission on a vote of 20-0, with one abstention, after a presentation by the Boston Consulting Group’s J. Puckett, who assured TPC members that the multi-dimensional structure could accommodate their quest for high-performing schools throughout the district that would be accessible to every student.

Planning Commission Approves Schools Structure (Memphis Daily News)

The group drafting the blueprint for the structure of a new consolidated countywide school system approved a structure for that school system Thursday, March 8, that offers multiple options for school autonomy. The proposal the commission approved on a voice vote has what are called “multiple achievement paths.” It allows for schools with some degree of autonomy which would be operated by the countywide school district as part of the centralized part of the system. Other schools operating separate from that part of the system would come under an innovation office and would include some low performing schools being considered for the state-run Achievement School District.

Feasibility report: Millington must annex, raise taxes to form district (CA/Wolff)

The city of Millington learned Thursday that the only way it can create a municipal school district would be to annex the nearby Lucy community, close one of three elementary schools and raise taxes, according to a study that examined the feasibility of creating a school system. Millington is the last of the six suburban cities to receive its school feasibility report from the consulting firm, Southern Educational Strategies. On Thursday evening, aldermen approved on second readings two school-related ordinances: one to create a referendum for citizens to decide if they want a municipal school district, and another, asking voters if they would support a half-cent increase in the local option sales tax rate to help fund schools.

Mississippi: Mississippi Governor’s Pardons Are Upheld (Wall Street Journal)

Mississippi’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the more than 200 pardons granted by Haley Barbour as he left the governor’s office in January, sparking a spirited debate over clemency powers. The justices ruled 6-to-3 that the 215 pardons and other forms of clemency issued by Mr. Barbour, a two-term Republican, were valid, stating the clemency decisions “may not be set aside or voided by the judicial branch.” The pardons—a corrective against overly harsh sentencing granted to governors and the president—were decisions that “fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution’s publication requirement was met,” according to the opinion.

Texas: State Cuts Squeezing the Elderly Poor and Their Doctors (NY Times)

After Dr. Javier Saenz completed his family-medicine residency in 1985, he returned home to the Rio Grande Valley to open a practice in the impoverished town of La Joya. Today, Saenz Medical Center treats up to 150 patients a day. Dr. Saenz is the volunteer physician for the local high schools and their football teams. A middle school is named after him. Despite his success, Dr. Saenz, 56, said he feels nothing like a hero these days. His practice, he said, is hanging by a thread. His troubles reflect a statewide problem for doctors who treat a disproportionately high number of the reported 320,000 low-income Texans who are dually eligible for Medicare, the federal insurer of the elderly, and Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for indigent children, disabled people and the very poor.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Megasite counsultant will aid final development (Jackson Sun)

Development of the Haywood County industrial megasite continues to unfold and hold promise for West Tennessee’s future. The latest development in the years-long process is the hiring of the Canup & Associates consulting firm to assist with final development strategies and marketing of the megasite. In 2009, after several years of work by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, more than 3,800 contiguous acres of land were purchased by the state to create the industrial megasite. That includes the single-use core of 1,720 acres, plus an additional 2,100 acres in adjoining property. That was the first step in attracting a major industry to rural West Tennessee. Since that time, additional funds have been allocated to plan and develop the site, install infrastructure and prepare it for use. The megasite was conceived and the land purchased during Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration. Gov. Bill Haslam similarly has embraced the project, in which the state now has well over $100 million invested. The project also is supported by Haywood County government, the city of Brownsville, Jackson-Madison County and Memphis-Shelby County governments.

http://www.jacksonsun.com/article/20120309/OPINION/303090001/Our-View-Megasite-counsultant-will-aid-final-development

 

Times Editorial: Preserving Hope grants (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Democrats haven’t won many battles in the Tennessee General Assembly since Republicans took control of the legislative body, but it seems that they might have prevailed in one important skirmish. Victory isn’t assured, but the minority party’s convincing argument that there is no need to tighten eligibility rules for the Tennessee Hope Scholarships for college seems to have carried the day, at least for the moment. If that eventually proves the case, the road to higher education and to the training and degrees and the jobs it provides should be easier to navigate for many state students.

Editorial: Lottery scholarship eligibility standards need no adjustments (N-S)

Tennessee’s legislators apparently have figured out that the Tennessee Lottery is not teetering on the edge of financial collapse after all. A bill that would have slashed lottery-funded HOPE scholarships for many students was revised in the Senate Education Committee this week to keep the current eligibility requirements. The rewritten bill raises the bar for lottery revenues without cutting scholarships, a compromise both parties should support. The original bill would have cut HOPE scholarships in half for students who do not score a 21 on the ACT college entrance exam and earn a 3.0 grade-point average in high school.

Editorial: Local communities can plan better than legislature (Tennessean)

Americans have a natural sentiment against other folks telling us what we can do with what we own. So, we wish to thank Tennessee legislators for alerting us to the impending danger of a United Nations conspiracy that originated in 1992 (called Agenda 21) to deprive us of our rights; though we find ourselves insulted that legislators think their attempt to deprive local communities of the ability to propose, discuss, and implement their own zoning regulations is any less of a conspiracy. What is the difference between well-meaning, self-serving bureaucrats from outside the United States trying to tell us in our neighborhoods and local communities how to manage our property planning and the disputes that inevitably arise, and well-meaning, self-serving politicians from some other county trying to dictate what we can and cannot resolve among ourselves?

Guest columnist: Resolution twists facts to hinder sustainability (Tennessean)

Tennessee House Joint Resolution 587 is concerned with “the destructive and insidious nature of United Nations Agenda 21.” This is an alarming statement, principally because it is based on distortions and factual errors. Let us look at the facts. Agenda 21 was adopted by the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development by all 178 governments represented at the conference, including the United States. It is not legally binding, but it has the force of global consensus behind it. Agenda 21 is a program of action for sustainable development. It recognizes that all countries aspire to develop and grow economically. How they choose to do so will determine whether or not that growth is sustainable.

Pam Strickland: Despite law, ID was not needed to vote (News-Sentinel)

Tuesday was only the third time that I’ve voted at Sequoyah Hills Elementary School. I moved to the neighborhood in March 2011 simply because some folks at my church had a condo for rent. It was a big change from Old North Knoxville, but one I’ve come to enjoy for a variety of unexpected reasons, one being that Sequoyah Hills Elementary is always busy on Election Day. My preference is to vote mid-morning, but scheduling wouldn’t permit that. Instead, I found myself pulling up to the school around 6:30 p.m. I dug my wallet out of my purse and walked inside, pleased to see parents accompanied by children coming and going. There was a short line.

Greg Johnson: GOP conservatives flexed muscles again (News-Sentinel)

Tennessee Republicans stayed true to recent form in presidential primaries on Tuesday, favoring the candidate whose social conservatism shows. Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum won decisively, earning 37 percent of the vote to 28 percent for Mitt Romney, slowing the former Massachusetts governor’s slog to what was once seen as an inevitable nomination. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was third with 24 percent. Santorum’s victory was broad, winning 91 counties. Romney eked out wins in Loudon, Marion, Davidson and Williamson counties. Santorum won by a point in Knox — 35 to 34 percent — by four in Blount, six in Sevier and four in Anderson.