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March 16 TN News Digest

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

Major Announcement Expected For Hamilton County Schools (WTVC-TV Chatt.)

A big announcement is expected Monday from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam that could change education in Hamilton County and other surrounding school districts. The governor is expected to announce funding and support of a program to help students and teachers succeed with math, science, engineering and technology. Parts of the program were revealed in a Chattanooga Rotary Club meeting Thursday with business leaders pondering over the question “what’s a passing grade for education.” “It’s something I feel really passionate about, we’re going to do this,” Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said.

Decision on Hamilton County STEM school expected Monday (Nooga)

If comments made by Superintendent Rick Smith are any indicator, Hamilton County Schools will be awarded nearly $2 million in grant money to bring a STEM school to Chattanooga. Participating in an education-themed panel discussion at the Chattanooga Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon, Smith said local education officials would travel to Nashville on Monday, where Gov. Bill Haslam would be making an announcement regarding the grant. “We know there’s going to be an announcement next week by the governor, and we know we will be in Nashville next week,” Smith said.

Haslam Wants Proof of Job-Search to Collect Unemployment Benefits (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam is backing a proposal to make people getting unemployment benefits prove they’re looking for a job. The measure would require those getting unemployment to list where they’re looking for work. The state would conduct random audits to make sure they try in several places each week. The bill would also cut people off unemployment rolls if they botch a job offer by failing a drug test, or refusing to take one. The proposal enjoys support from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, and Governor Haslam says he’s on board as well. “I think the direction Lieutenant Governor Ramsey is going is 100 percent right.”

Governor visits trooper, who remains critical (Daily Times)

Sgt. Lowell Russell, the Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper who was critically injured in an accident Tuesday morning, received a visit from Gov. Bill Haslam Wednesday at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Haslam was in Knoxville for the dedication of the Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Building at the University of Tennessee. He mentioned plans to visit Russell, with whom he has spent time in the past. Lt. Randall Martin of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who is close to Russell, said that the visit was very positive and no one expected it to happen. “He (Russell) responded to him and even grabbed his hand,” Martin told The Daily Times Wednesday.

TDOT names director of multimodal transportation resources (Nashville Post)

Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer announced today he has named Liza Joffrion as director of multimodal transportation resources. Joffrion will oversee TDOT’s Office of Passenger Transportation and Office of Rail and Waterway Freight Transportation. Previously, Joffrion served as principal and president of MultiModal Research LLC, a Nashville-based transportation planning and public policy firm. Prior to that post, she worked in the urban transportation planning field at firms in Seattle. Joffrion has 17 years of experience in land use, transportation planning, public policy and finance.

Knoxville woman jailed on TennCare fraud (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

A Knoxville woman accused of using TennCare benefits to try to obtain or obtain anti-anxiety pills and painkillers remains in the Anderson County Jail today in lieu of $5,000 bond. Sylvia R. Wills Sharp, 21, was indicted March 6 by an Anderson County grand jury on three counts of TennCare fraud. She was arrested Wednesday. The indictments stem from incidents involving the illegal use of TennCare medical assistance benefits in seeking prescriptions for Xanax and Oxycodone on three occasions since late January.

Republicans call for rejection of UN agenda (Associated Press/Johnson)

Tennessee Republicans are calling for the rejection of a United Nations agenda on the environment and poverty, even though Democrats say their actions are silly and amount to fear-mongering. The resolution, which “recognizes the destructive and insidious nature of United Nations Agenda 21,” was approved 72-23 in the House on Thursday. The agenda came out of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 following discussions on “sustainable development.” Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland said the resolution is similar to one that the national GOP passed and “encouraged all their state Republican parties to follow suit.”

TN House passes resolution condemning U.N.’s Agenda 21 (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tennessee lawmakers passed a resolution Thursday condemning a United Nations environmental plan as a “destructive and insidious” effort to advance a communist agenda through the guise of community planning. The state House of Representatives voted 72-23 in favor of House Joint Resolution 587, which denounces the nonbinding Agenda 21 plan adopted by a United Nations environmental conference two decades ago. The plan called on members of the United Nations to adopt sustainable development principles to alleviate poverty and combat global warming.

Tennessee House Republicans’ bill targets United Nations plan (TFP/Sher)

House Republicans on Thursday attacked a 20-year-old United Nations proposal for the environment and sustainable growth, calling it a “destructive and insidious” plot advancing “extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control.” Democrats ridiculed Republican Rep. Kevin Brooks’ House Joint Resolution 587. They also accused GOP sponsors of deliberately and needlessly trying to stoke public fears about the U.N.’s Agenda 21 model. Nonetheless, six Democrats leaped aboard the Republican steamroller and helped them pass the resolution in a 72-23 floor vote. The 1992 nonbinding Agenda 21 emerged from a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development following discussions.

House Hammers UN Sustainability Program as ‘Evil,’ ‘Insidious’ (WPLN-Radio)

The State House voted 72 to 23 to label a worldwide environmental sustainability program promoted by the United Nations as ‘evil. The United Nations’ Agenda 21 program to create a sustainable world was signed by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. But the Tennessee House of Representatives adopted a non-binding resolution to declare the program an evil attack on private property. Franklin Representative Glen Casada summed up his outrage about the U.N. program’s focus on the “carrying capacity” of the Earth. ‘ “I think this planet carries me and the eight billion people that are here right now, just fine.

Bill to repeal Tennessee voter ID law faces uphill struggle for approval (CA/Locker)

A brief bipartisan victory in efforts to repeal Tennessee’s new voter-photo ID law will be short-lived: State House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday that the bill will likely be killed in committee and denied a House floor vote. The Democratic bill to repeal the law requiring Tennessee voters to produce a government-issued photo identification prior to voting won a surprising approval vote Wednesday in a House subcommittee when one Republican and one independent member joined Democrats in voting to advance the measure to the full committee. “We still have a full committee to go through and I suspect that will not come out of that committee,” Harwell said in her weekly news conference.

Tenn. House votes for Manning to join Titans (Associated Press)

Tennessee lawmakers have passed a resolution calling on quarterback Peyton Manning to sign with the Tennessee Titans. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby cites Manning’s exploits with the University of Tennessee and with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Fellow lawmakers rushed to the well of the chamber to sign on to the resolution before it was passed on a voice vote on Thursday. The resolution was passed a day after the four-time NFL MVP met with team officials in Nashville.

TN House tells Peyton Manning: We want you (Tennessean/Sisk)

House resolution tells star to ‘remember roots’ The state House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution calling on Peyton Manning to join the Tennessee Titans a day after the free agent NFL quarterback visited team officials. House lawmakers called on Manning “to remember his roots” as he chooses which team to play for after being cut by the Indianapolis Colts earlier this month. The two-page resolution, filed by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, notes Manning’s successes as a quarterback for the University of Tennessee before joining the NFL in 1998.

General Assembly supports resolution regarding recruitment of Manning (Nooga)

For a moment, the Tennessee General Assembly reached unanimous consensus on Thursday morning on a resolution that centered on only two words. Peyton Manning. The resolution, House Joint Resolution 785, was introduced by state Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. It came the morning after Manning, a free agent, met with ownership of the Tennessee Titans regarding the possibility of recruiting the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback.

Curtiss, Burks Absent Most UCDD Board Meetings (TN Report)

Two Tennessee state lawmakers partly responsible for helping oversee the scandal-gripped Upper Cumberland Development District can count on one hand the number of board meetings they’ve collectively attended in the last two years. Attendance records for meetings of UCDD’s Board of Directors and its Executive Committee dating back to 2010 show that Rep. Charles Curtiss attended one meeting in that time and Sen. Charlotte Burks made two appearances. “We can’t always break loose” from prior engagements to attend UCDD meetings, Curtiss, D-Sparta, said in his Capitol Hill office during a recent interview with TNReport. “They have a lot of meetings while I’m here. I’m still earning a living, so when they decide to have a meeting at 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock in the day or 1 o’clock in the afternoon, a lot of times I’m on the job, and I can’t just walk off the job,” he said.

White announces campaign treasurer for 37th District race (Daily News Journal )

Dawn White, candidate in the Republican primary for the Tennessee House of Representatives’ new 37th District, has announced the formation of her campaign steering committee as well as her choice of a treasurer to support her race for the house seat. White announced in a news release Thursday she has designated Murfreesboro resident Evan Cope as her campaign treasurer. In addition to his role as partner with Cope, Hudson, Reed & McCreary, PLLC, Attorneys at Law, Cope has extensive political experience in Rutherford County, she said.

Occupy Nashville costs at 151 000 (Cleveland Daily Banner)

The cost of Occupy Nashville to the residents of Tennessee is an estimated $151,000 for law enforcement and cleaning up Legislative Plaza, according to state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District. Watson wrote the publicly debated House Bill 2638, or the “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012,” in response to the Occupy movement’s encampment in the public square that continued from Oct. 7, 2011, until the bill was signed March 2, by Gov. Bill Haslam. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security payroll costs are estimated at $90,500 for 3,144 man-hours.

The County Commission’s Battle Royal over Redistricting (Cont’d) (M. Flyer)

The ongoing imbroglio on the Shelby County Commission regarding the matter of post-census redistricting will apparently have to be resolved by Chancellor Arnold Goldin next month when he meets with attorneys representing Shelby County government as a whole, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, three commissioners engaged in a suit against the county regarding the redistricting process. If this originally pro forma confrontation seems unduly complicated, it could quickly become more so. Commissioner Mike Ritz, one of the three plaintiffs in the existing case, now indicates he intends to sponsor a resolution asking the Commission to appoint a lawyer to oppose the county’s current special attorney, Ron Krelstein, who was hired late last year by Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne.

Davidson election commission wants financial disclosure files online (TN/Rau)

The Davidson County Election Commission is working on a proposal that would allow campaign financial disclosure reports to be posted online. Administrator of Elections Albert Tieche said in a recent interview that an electronic disclosure system is high on his wish list, and his information technology and finance staffers are working on a proposal for inclusion in the upcoming budget. Tieche said he doesn’t yet know how much the system will cost or exactly when it could be implemented. The proposal would provide easy access for Davidson County residents who want to check the financial disclosures of candidates, and local campaign committees filing such disclosures.

Richard Beeler ready to stand in as county law director (News-Sentinel/Donila)

Joking that he doesn’t “have that one last ounce of public service out of me yet,” former Knox County Law Director Richard Beeler said he will apply for his old job this morning. Beeler, whose firm represents the county’s pension board and until recently served as the county’s bond counsel, said Thursday a number of current and former officeholders and members of the Law Department “strongly encouraged” him to submit a resume. Law Director Joe Jarret plans to vacate March 31. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. today. Knox County Commission plans to interview candidates Monday and make an appointment a week later.

Alexander prods energy secretary on Oak Ridge mercury cleanup (N-S/Munger)

Sen. Lamar Alexander wants the government to get going on mercury cleanup in Oak Ridge, and he made his case directly to Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a Senate hearing earlier this week. “I want to make it an increasing priority to develop a plan to clean up the mercury,” Alexander told Chu Wednesday, when the secretary appeared before the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee. Many tons of mercury, which is toxic, were spilled or discharged at Y-12 in the 1950s and ’60s during development of hydrogen bombs, with much of it ending up in East Fork Poplar Creek.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann adds fundraising arm (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

So far he’s got $620,000 saved to run for re-election and his finance chairman predicts “another very strong quarter,” but U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has set up a second fundraising committee anyway. Two months after concluding the most successful fundraising quarter in Tennessee 3rd Congressional District history, Fleischmann — along with three other freshman House Republicans — formed the Majority Victory Fund on Feb. 29. The move could give Fleischmann an extra edge against his two high-profile GOP challengers, Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp.

Higher education funds begin slow recovery (Stateline)

When Iowa Governor Terry Branstad stumped recently for increased higher education funding to keep down tuition, he was doing so in direct opposition to fellow-Republican legislators who control the state House of Representatives. It didn’t worry him. “The state of Iowa has a responsibility to shoulder part of the investment burden,” Branstad said of higher education at a news conference “Student debt is a major concern in our state and the debt load of Iowa graduates is unacceptably high.” The governor is calling for a $23 million increase to the budget for the state’s three public universities, while House Republicans have called for a $31 million decrease from the previous year.

TVA finishes storm repairs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

TVA has completed repairs to its power transmission system, which was damaged during the March 2 storms and tornadoes. Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Mike Bradley said the last three transmission lines were returned to service Thursday. At one point 17 lines were out of service after high winds tore down towers and transmission lines, TVA has said. Sequoyah Unit 2, which had been lowered to 70 percent power when so many transmission lines were down, was returned to 100 percent power Sunday, Bradley said.

Nashville businesses welcome NCAA fans (Tennessean/Allyn)

Restaurants, bars to fill up with out-of-town guests St. Bonaventure University student Dan McCarthy and four other die-hard fans crammed into a car Thursday afternoon and began a 12-hour drive from western New York to Bridgestone Arena. This hard-court quintet comes ready to root for the Atlantic 10 champion Bonnies, joining droves of other NCAA basketball fans expected to spill into Nashville for March Madness starting today. “For those of us who have been part of this forever, we have to do it,” said McCarthy, 23, who graduated from the school two years ago and is now a graduate student there. “It’s more than just a basketball game,” he said. “It’s about being around a proud community.”

Memphis-Shelby County schools merger panel debates delay (C. Appeal/Kelley)

Proposal asks for another year to plan Transition Planning Commission member David Pickler on Thursday proposed a one-year delay in the city and county schools merger and a corresponding pause by suburban municipal school district architects. A delay would give the community a chance to have a quality debate over the future of public education in Shelby County, he said. Pickler, who also is a member of the unified school board now governing both Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, floated the idea at a meeting of the TPC Thursday.

Resignation Signals Change for Reform (Memphis Daily News)

Irving Hamer made at least two, possibly three comments about a co-worker’s breasts last month at a private party. And the deputy superintendent of the Memphis City Schools system appeared to be intoxicated, according to his boss, Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash. Hamer’s apology made matters worse. And the outside report on the incident recommended Hamer seek help through an employee assistance program. The result of the incident is the exit of Cash’s top supervisor in charge of carrying out the schools reform agenda Cash has made the centerpiece of his nearly four-year tenure in Memphis.

Chattanooga forum focuses on boosting education (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

Hamilton County is poised to strengthen its education system in the coming years, with the implementation of state reforms and the opening of a new school centered on science, technology, engineering and math, according to local education leaders. But to thrive, schools will need the help of local businesses and industry leaders, they said. “The thing that has always bothered me is that we have always operated as silos. Let’s figure out a way to get business and industry more involved on a regular basis with our schools,” Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said Thursday at a forum hosted by Chattanooga Rotary.

Cleveland farm cheaper than airport as school site, study says (TFP/Higgins)

Preparing a site at Hardwick Farms for a new elementary school would be about half a million dollars cheaper than preparing the existing airport at Hardwick Field for that use, a city staff study found. The Cleveland school board needs to begin construction of a new elementary school soon to accommodate student population growth, board members say. But some City Council members have suggested that, rather than buying new land, the board buy the airport property from the Municipal Airport Authority. The airport authority must sell that site as part of the local funding match for federal grants needed to build the new airport off Tasso Road.

Kingsport BOE approves low bid for D-B classroom conversion (Times-News)

The Kingsport Board of Education has voted to recommend the lowest of six bids on converting the current central office area into classroom space at Dobyns-Bennett High School. On the other hand, school board members in their last scheduled meeting in Alumni Hall on the D-B campus indicated the planned renovation of Legion Center into four career technical education (CTE) health occupations classrooms for D-B may be abandoned or at least delayed. The vote was 5-0 at Thursday night’s called BOE meeting.

Texas: Schools Face Bigger Classes and Smaller Staff (New York Times)

Ask Phyllis Causey what time she goes to lunch, and the third-grade teacher will give a very specific answer: 11:55 a.m. “I live on a timer,” she said. Every minute is accounted for in her meticulously planned workdays. To some extent, that is true every school year. But last fall, for the first time in her 12 years of teaching, 23 students were enrolled in her San Antonio elementary school class — making those minutes even more precious. “As a teacher, when you know you are planning the day out for 23 kids, every single minute counts,” she said. “It’s an art and a science to balance out everybody.” Many Texas teachers have found themselves in a similar predicament.

 

OPINION

 

Free-Press Editorial: No call for lawmakers to try to kill popular voter ID law (TFP)

The timing of a recent attempt to repeal Tennessee’s popular and valuable law requiring photo ID at polling places is strange. After all, it was less than two weeks ago that Tennesseans went to the polls on Super Tuesday, and state election officials could find virtually no instances of voters being denied their right to vote for lack of appropriate state- or federally issued identification. The few who didn’t bring the correct ID had the option to cast provisional ballots and then present ID later in order to have their votes counted. In other words, as far as the photo ID law in Tennessee is concerned, so far so good.

Editorial: Independent legal advice needed for charter panel (News-Sentinel)

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret resigned last week, just three days after losing the Republican primary to Richard “Bud” Armstrong. Armstrong, who will be unopposed in the August general election, then declined to seek an appointment to fill the position until Jarret’s term ends in September. It was not the finest moment for either attorney. Jarret, who was appointed law director following Bill Lockett’s scandal-fueled departure in 2010, said he resigned effective March 31 so Armstrong could advise the Charter Review Committee over the next five months. Armstrong, however, said it was in the best interest of the public for him to wait. Jarret walked out on his duty to the taxpayers; Armstrong seems unready for the task. On the other hand, Armstrong does recognize that he is not the best person to advise the Charter Review Committee.

Pam Strickland: McIntyre’s school budget plan necessary (News-Sentinel)

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntrye calls his proposal to add $35 million to the school budget each of the next five years a bold move. I call it a sensible move that is long overdue. During a discussion of the proposal at a work session on Monday, members of the Knox County School Board were positive. Perhaps board member Gloria Deathridge said it best: “The community and everybody is going to have to understand that this is not something that we just want to do, it’s going to be something we have to do.” Yes, have to do. The reasons are simple.

Editorial: Hamer needs to leave now (Commercial Appeal)

Where’s the explanation?: If Kriner Cash wants his disgraced lieutenant to stay on the payroll through April, he should tell the public why. If Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash feels there is a compelling reason to keep his disgraced second-in-command on the payroll until April 30, he needs to explain why. MCS Deputy Supt. Irving Hamer resigned Wednesday, effective April 30, after an independent investigative report sought by school officials found that Hamer violated the city schools sexual harassment policy with coarse remarks about an MCS secretary’s breasts.

Editorial: Sunshine Week about right to know (Daily News Journal)

It started seven years ago as an awareness effort on the need to hold public officials and agencies accountable by insisting that the people’s business is conducted in the light of day. We are glad to observe another year of Sunshine Week, which was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors with an initial grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It’s a non-partisan, non-profit initiative that is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with Founding Father James Madison’s birthday on March 16. According to its website, Sunshine Week represents “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Editorial: Sunshine Week is about your right to know (Jackson Sun)

March 11-17 is Sunshine Week. Each year the nation’s news organizations take time to talk about open records, open meetings and the public’s right to know what is going on in the halls of government. Tennessee has a long and storied history of efforts to open, and to close, public access to government actions and operations. Sunshine week also is a good time for citizens to consider the impact of open government laws and the important role they play in making sure the public’s work is being done with the public’s best interest in mind. Almost every session of the Tennessee General Assembly in recent years has seen attempts to weaken the state’s Sunshine Law.

Diane Black: My fight to save Medicare (Daily News Journal)

Let’s start with a simple, startling fact: with 10,000 baby boomers added to the rolls each day, Medicare’s exponential growth will cause the program to go bankrupt in 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. You would think with such dire warnings, both parties in Washington would be working to find a way to save Medicare for future generations. While we are still waiting for our Democrat colleagues to come to the table with their plan to preserve this vital program, my colleagues and I on the House Budget Committee are committed to leading the way. Almost one year ago, the House passed the Path to Prosperity Budget, which reformed Medicare to provide more choice for enrollees while making the program sustainable over the long term.

Guest columnist: Encroaching theocracy is what we fear (Tennessean)

The op-ed “It’s time to stand against xenophobia” in The Tennessean Feb. 18 accused Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold and citizens of Murfreesboro of intolerance against Islam. The op-ed not only professed an embarrassing, antiquated naivete about current world events of the world but failed to recognize the more encompassing issue: It’s not the persecution of one religion that we should be focusing on, but rather the irrational behavior of some who think they have a unique line to the supernatural and are willing to do whatever they are told by unscrupulous interpreters of their faith. You can’t blame Christians in Murfreesboro for fearing Islamic growth. Attacks on Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia increased 309 percent from 2003 to 2010, according to Newsweek magazine. A new Islamic organization, Boko Haram, has stated it will kill all Christians in Nigeria.

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