Press Releases

March 30 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to offer budget amendment next week (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam says his administration will present its budget amendment to lawmakers early next week. The Republican governor told reporters after a meeting of the Tennessee Board of Regents on Thursday that the measure will seek to restore permanent funding for several services that had faced cuts before the state’s revenues began to improve. The introduction of the governor’s budget amendment is traditionally the last major step to be taken before lawmakers can begin winding up the session.

Tenn. House OKs expansion of business cash grants (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee House Republicans insist their vote Wednesday for a plan to expand a state economic development inventive program does not conflict with their mantra that government can’t create jobs. The chamber voted 96-0 for the measure proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and carried by Republican Rep. Tim Wirgau of Paris, who said the expanded cash grant program would help spur investment in economically distressed areas of the state. “Let me make it very clear that we’re not going to be standing on the Capitol steps and just doling out checks,” Wirgau said.

Haslam Still Hoping to Avoid Popular Judicial Elections (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam says it’s alright if lawmakers dump a proposal he’s touted and instead rework how the state picks judges. Haslam says their alternative still does what he wants, which is avoid opening the office of judge in Tennessee to popular election. Earlier this spring Haslam called to cement the current system, where he appoints judges who then face up-or-down votes every eight years to keep their jobs. Haslam’s effort has been slow-moving, while this week the Senate Judiciary committee green-lighted a competing measure.

CSX to hire 150 in Tennessee this year (Nashville Post)

CSX Corp. today announced plans to recruit employees for nearly 150 positions to be filled in Tennessee by year’s end, with the jobs to be located primarily in Nashville. The hiring comes as the company prepares to meet the demands of a growing regional, national and global economy and to offset attrition, CSX officials said in a release. The new employees will operate trains and maintain tracks, locomotives and rail cars. “CSX is committed to the state of Tennessee, and is working to ensure the company is positioned to continue meeting the freight transportation needs of customers across the state,” said Jane Covington, resident vice president.

Cosmolab awarded state grant (Marshall County Tribune)

One of Lewisburg’s biggest employers has received a state grant to avoid layoffs and help the company improve employee skills. Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis made the announcement Thursday about the award of $9,159 to Cosmolab, Inc. in Lewisburg. “This administration has been working to got these programs out there that help initial startups or the startup of a new line at an existing employer,” said Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board in Marshall County.

State promoting outdoor tourism this spring (Associated Press)

Tennessee has more than 300 species of fish, with bass, crappie and catfish awaiting hungry anglers. The Smoky Mountains and the Appalachian Trail offer scenic spots for ambitious hikers. Or you can shoot the rapids on the Ocoee River, or go camping just about anywhere across the state including backcountry camping at 12 state parks. So it’s no wonder that the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development is promoting the state’s plentiful outdoor opportunities this spring. Elvis, Dollywood and the Grand Ole Opry are not Tennessee’s only attractions for the travel dollars.

SCORE To Hold Teacher Evaluation Roundtable in Jackson (WNWS-Radio)

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) will hold the ninth regional roundtable on Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system on Tuesday, April 3 in Jackson. To identify and foster great teaching, Tennessee is in the first year of implementing a new teacher evaluation system. To support this implementation work, SCORE has been asked by Governor Bill Haslam to conduct a formal statewide listening and feedback process, independent of state government, on the evaluation. SCORE’s role is to listen, and the organization will gather input from a wide range of voices, particularly from educators, on both the successes and challenges.

Davidson County jobless rate decreases slightly (Nashville Post)

Davidson County unemployment in February was 7 percent, down from 7.1 percent in January, according to statistics the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released today. Williamson County had the state’s lowest jobless rate for the month, at 5.6 percent. County non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for February show the rate decreased in 75 counties, increased in 10 counties and remained the same in 10 counties. Tennessee’s unemployment rate for February fell to 8 percent, down from the January revised rate of 8.2 percent. The national unemployment rate for February 2012 was 8.3 percent, unchanged from the January rate.

Memphis unemployment rate fell in February (Memphis Business Journal)

The unemployment rate in the Memphis MSA settled to 9.2 percent in February — 0.2 percentage points lower than January and a 1.1 percentage point decrease from February 2011. Shelby County’s rate mirrored the MSA’s at 9.2 percent last month. Data from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development shows 75 counties saw decreases in unemployment from January to February while 10 remained at January levels. While only 10 counties saw an increase in unemployment, 48 of Tennessee’s 95 counties reported rates of 10 percent or higher.

February unemployment rates down in much of Middle TN (Memphis Biz Journal)

Unemployment rates in much of Middle Tennessee continued to slide down in February, according to new state data. At 5.6 percent, Williamson County continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Williamson County’s unemployment rate was unchanged from January to February. Macon and Obion counties had the largest drops, from 9.9 percent to 8.1 percent and 17.2 percent to 15.4 percent, respectively. Hawkins County, meanwhile, showed the biggest increase, going from 8 percent to 8.7 percent.

Chattanooga job market improves (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Unemployment fell across the Chattanooga region last month, although the pace of job growth over the past year in the Chattanooga metropolitan area was only half the national rate of increase. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the jobless rate in the six-county Chattanooga metro area declined by two-tenths of a percent in February to 7.6 percent. That was a full percentage point below the comparable, nonseasonally adjusted U.S. jobless rate for last month.

Clarksville’s jobless rate down slightly to 8.4 percent (Leaf Chronicle)

February brought slight improvement in the Montgomery County unemployment picture, according to new monthly figures just released from the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development. The new jobless rate for Clarksville-Montgomery County is 8.4 percent, down from 8.8 in January. The state says 6,340 people are out of work in the Clarksville area, out of an estimated countywide labor force of 75,500.

THP: Carters Valley man who nearly struck trooper admits to having taken pills (TN)

A Carters Valley man who allegedly nearly struck a state trooper head on Tuesday night was charged with DUI third offense and drug possession. Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Christy Osborne stated in her report she was traveling west on Carters Valley Road Tuesday about 7:30 p.m. when she met an oncoming 1996 Ford Ranger that had crossed the center line. Osborne said she had to take evasive action to avoid a head-on collision. Osborne said she turned to follow the Ranger and observed it to still be traveling in the center of the roadway.

MegaMillions $540 million record jackpot has everyone buying a ticket (TN/Young)

Tennessee lottery retailers expect a MegaMillions ticket sales frenzy today, with predictions of up to 6,000 sold per minute before the 9:59 p.m. drawing for the world-record jackpot. The lines started growing Thursday afternoon as buyers daydreamed about what they would do with $540 million. Ernest Pillow, 61, said he couldn’t resist spending $3 on tickets — “one for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” If he wins, he’ll share the money with his church, the Stoker’s Lane Church of God in Nashville. “I just happen to have had to use the bathroom, and I came in here,” he said, standing at the Exxon Tigermarket on Broadway.

Jackpot stirs dreams, spurs ticket sales (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Danny Cornett said he doesn’t plan on making a whole lot of changes if he wins the Mega Millions jackpot. Cornett and MaryAlice Seaton, both of Caryville, were in West Knox County on Thursday when they stopped by the Farragut Market, 11104 Kingston Pike, and bought some lottery tickets. “The only thing I would do is have me a house built and buy me a bunch of four-wheelers, you know, for going deer hunting,” he said. The house should be no problem at all, and Cornett would be able to field fleets of four-wheeled vehicles if he wins the Mega Millions jackpot, which on Thursday was up to about $540 million.

Local Lottery fever: Mega Millions jackpot hits record $540M (J. City Press)

What would you do with more than half a billion dollars? That was the big question on most people’s minds Thursday as they lined up at convenience stores across the country buying up Mega Millions lottery tickets. “The amount of money is so high that my entire family — and I have quite an extended family — would benefit from it because my luck extends to the family,” Sam Miller said Thursday when asked what he would do with a jackpot that’s estimated at $540 million.

Mega Millions madness contagious; Record jackpot has everyone dreaming (DNJ)

With a record $540 million lottery payout on the line tonight, it wasn’t difficult to find area residents and local officials caught up in the excitement of striking it rich. Lottery vendors like Discount Tobacco and Food clerk Shela Patel were gearing up for yet another busy day of sales today. Patel said her store’s normally brisk lottery business had already picked up plenty of steam over the past week or so as the jackpot has continued to grow after each drawing. “Everyone is trying their luck,” Patel said. The drawing is set for 10 p.m.

One Chance in Mega Millions (Wall Street Journal)

With more than a half-billion dollars on the line in Friday’s Mega Millions lottery drawing, one dollar never looked so expendable. “Why wouldn’t you play?” asked Dominick Flora, a Wall Street recruiter, as he left a midtown Manhattan convenience store on Thursday. “Someone’s going to win.” Mr. Flora is a lottery regular, though he admits he picked up a few extra tickets for this week’s drawing of the biggest multistate lottery. But the unprecedented jackpot has even the most determined of skeptics asking whether this just might be the rare occasion when the lottery might be worth a gamble.

TN Legislature roundup: Unemployment insurance, grants, guns and more (NBJ)

Among the massive stable of legislation coming before the Tennessee General Assembly this year, a few winning horses are beginning to emerge as legislators begin to close down committees for the year. That’s in contrast to a few proposals that remain bogged down in one way or another, with their fates still largely unknown. Here’s a look at business-centric legislative developments this week that show bills increasingly likely to pass, and those still subject to some major wrangling.

TN Senate OKs bill to close teacher evaluation data (Associated Press/Johnson)

The sponsor of a proposal to close teacher evaluation records to parents and other members of the public said Thursday that doing so will keep the process honest. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville was unanimously approved 27-0 in the Senate. The companion bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor next week. Tracy said access to the data should be limited to school officials and not available to the general public. “The principal would be much more honest if he knows it’s not going to go into the public record,” he said after Thursday’s vote.

TN House passes amended abortion bill (Tennessean/Young)

The state House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday that would restrict where doctors can perform abortions. House members voted 72-24 to pass the Life Defense Act of 2012, which would require doctors to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital when they provide abortions. Opponents say the bill would make it harder for women to procure abortions, but its sponsor, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said doctors should have admitting privileges in case a procedure goes bad. “It is called the Life Defense Act,” he said.

Tennessee bill would tighten rules on abortion (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The Tennessee House on Thursday passed legislation requiring that all doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges in the county where the procedure is performed or in an adjacent county. Opponents charged the bill is intended to make it harder for women to find abortion services in Tennessee, especially in smaller communities. In another major development, the Senate voted 30-0 for a compromise bill regarding the entity that investigates complaints against judges. The would measure eliminate the 10-member Court of the Judiciary and replace it with a 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct.

TN Senate votes to increase judicial oversight (Tennessean/Sisk)

A bill that would reform how judges are disciplined won unanimous approval from the state Senate on Thursday, as lawmakers accepted a compromise meant to increase the legislature’s oversight of the judicial branch. Senators voted 30-0 to replace the Court of the Judiciary, which reviews and rules on complaints against judges, with a new 16-member board appointed by judges, legislative leaders and the governor. The unanimous vote increases the likelihood that the House would sign off on the measure, though a final vote has not been scheduled on companion legislation making its way through that chamber.

New municipal school legislation would allow suburban referendums (CA/Locker)

Legislation has begun moving in the state legislature that will allow referendums on the creation of municipal school districts this year, as well as the election of new municipal school boards if voters approve the new districts. The bill is separate from a bill already moving on a separate track in the General Assembly that would lift the state ban on the creation of new municipal school districts effective next Jan. 1. The new measure is an amendment containing a new framework for the initial steps of establishing new municipal school districts, anywhere in the state, that would go into effect upon the bill becoming law.

Lawmakers pledge not to interfere with disposal of school buildings (CA/Roberts)

In a letter to the Shelby County school board Thursday, six local legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, say they will not introduce bills or forward others this year that would interfere with how the unified school board decides to dispose of school buildings. The letter is also signed by Rep. Curry Todd, Rep. Ron Lollar, Rep. Jim Coley, Rep. Steve McManus and Rep. Mark White. “It pretty well says exactly what we mean,” said Lollar, R-Bartlett. “We are just trying to ease some troubled minds.”

Municipal Schools Bill Amendment Surfaces (Memphis Daily News)

As the Tennessee House education subcommittee was meeting in Nashville Wednesday, March 29, it was where most of those involved in the local schools reformation saga were focusing their attention. And the center of their attention was a bill lifting the statewide ban on the creation of municipal school districts. But the Senate education committee was meeting at the same time in Nashville and that’s where an anticipated amendment to put municipal school district referendums back on the ballot before the end of the year was added to a bill on school bullying.

Bill Lifting Muni School Ban Advances (Memphis Daily News)

A bill in the Tennessee Legislature to lift the statewide ban on creating municipal school districts is moving as the legislative session nears an end. The House Education subcommittee approved the bill Wednesday, March 28, on a voice vote with the House Education Committee to consider the bill next week. It was the last subcommittee session of the year. The bill was approved last week by the Senate Education Committee and is awaiting action on the Senate floor possibly next week. There were no amendments to the bill Wednesday in the subcommittee.

Subcommittee Passes Drug-Testing Requirement for Gov’t Aid Recipients (TNR)

Tennesseans applying for welfare would have to submit to, and pay for, drug testing before receiving financial assistance, under legislation slowly advancing in both chambers of the legislature. After a lengthy debate Tuesday night, on various aspects of the bill, that left members on both sides of the issue visibly irritated, the House Health and Human Resources Subcommittee passed HB2725, sponsored by Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City. The Senate version of the bill, SB2580, sponsored by Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield, passed the Senate’s health committee last week and is currently awaiting action in the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Lawmakers OK Legislation Allowing Ayes, Nays Via Video (TN Report)

Local school board members can attend meetings digitally, so long as there is a physical quorum, under a plan that has passed both chambers of the Legislature. The House on Thursday passed HB2883, which allows local school districts to adopt a policy, outlined in the bill, allowing members to attend meetings and vote via video conferencing technology. The bill states that such a policy would only allow members to participate digitally if they are out of the county for work, a family emergency or military service. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, passed two weeks ago by a vote of 26-6.

Todd Gardenhire officially running for Tennessee Senate (TFP/Poulisse)

Todd Gardenhire, a financial consultant and lifelong Tennessee Valley resident, this week turned in his qualifying petitions in Hamilton and Bradley counties to run for the state Senate. He is running for the District 10 seat now held by Andy Berke. Gardenhire said he’s been involved in almost every Republican campaign for the past 42 years, whether it was campaigning door-to-door in 1970 for former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock and U.S. Rep. LaMar Baker, or the 2008 election in which he was elected as a state at-large delegate to the Republican Convention.

GOP, Rep. Marsha Blackburn take aim at TSA (Tennessean/Bewley)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn and other Republicans have a beef with the Transportation Security Administration: It’s inefficient, too expensive, and full of rude and power-hungry officers, they say. A few years ago, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, such criticisms would have been politically dangerous. But now a growing number of lawmakers — mostly Republicans — are taking aim at TSA as a bloated and poorly run bureaucracy. Public complaints about airport security screeners have been fueled by recent reports of the 10-year-old agency’s missteps — overlooking a loaded gun inside a checked bag at Los Angeles International Airport, for example — and by publicized kerfuffles over new screening procedures such as body scanners and pat-downs.

Roe, Griffith given award for ‘pro-jobs,’ ‘pro-growth’ voting record (Herald-Courier)

Tennessee U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, and Virginia U.S. Rep Morgan Griffith, R-9th, have both received “Spirit of Enterprise” awards from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, their offices announced Thursday. Roe and Griffith were both honored for their “pro-jobs, pro-growth” voting record in Congress. The chamber graded each member of Congress based on how he or she voted on numerous issues it views as high priorities, including trade and health care reform.

Rick Santorum takes half of Tennessee GOP delegates (Tennessean/Cass)

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won half of Tennessee’s delegates to the Republican National Convention from Super Tuesday presidential primary voting this month, the state GOP said after results were certified Thursday. Santorum won 29 of the 55 committed delegates, easily outpacing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 17 and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s nine. The state’s final three delegates — the state party chairman, RNC national committeewoman and RNC national committeeman — are uncommitted.

Congress Extends Road Funds by 90 Days (New York Times)

Unable to come to agreement on highway funding and eager to start a two-week recess, Congress on Thursday passed a 90-day stopgap measure to continue paying for the nation’s highways and infrastructure programs, averting a halt in road and infrastructure projects because of the inability of lawmakers to agree on a broader transportation measure. The measure is the ninth extension since a $286 billion, multiyear plan ended in 2009; had Congress taken no action, the current extension would have expired over the weekend.

States may lose federal help in fighting radon (Stateline)

A dry cough, a small pain in her shoulder blade — it was probably just allergies, Liz Hoffmann thought before a doctor’s visit in 2003. But a chest X-ray soon told a different story. A 5-centimeter mass was growing in her left lung. Soon came the surgery, followed by the nauseating chemo drugs. Next Hoffmann endured daily rounds of chest radiation. But late in the summer of 2006 the cancer returned. This time more than 4 liters of fluid filled her chest, which was drained twice a week. She endured another round of chemotherapy.

Education Colleges Cry Foul on Ratings (Wall Street Journal)

A nonprofit advocacy group is pushing colleges of education to participate in an effort to rate their teacher-preparation programs, but many of the schools are balking, arguing the project is flawed. The nation’s 1,400 colleges of education have been criticized by the Obama administration and others for lax admission standards, unfocused curriculum and failure to provide enough real-life classroom training. States must evaluate teacher-prep programs, but standards are so weak that only 31 of 1,400 programs were rated subpar in 2010, the latest data available, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Supreme Court likely to vote on health care law Friday (USA Today)

The fate of President Obama’s landmark health care law likely will be decided Friday in an oak-paneled conference room adjoining the chambers of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. There, the nine justices will meet alone to discuss the case that transfixed Americans for three days of oral arguments this week. When all have had their say, they will vote in order of seniority. That initial decision may be altered as drafts of majority and dissenting opinions are written, circulated and rewritten, often many times.

$20M plutonium project at ORNL to support space program (News-Sentinel/Munger)

Over the next two years, Oak Ridge National Laboratory will carry out a $20 million pilot project to demonstrate the lab’s ability to produce and process plutonium-238 for use in the space program. Tim Powers, director of ORNL’s Non-Reactor Nuclear Facilities Division, said the technology demonstration will include development of neptunium-237 targets that will then be introduced into the High Flux Isotope Reactor to produce small amounts of Pu-238.

Nashville shopping mall reopens after shutdown (Associated Press)

The Opry Mills shopping mall in Nashville formally reopened Thursday after being shuttered for almost two years because of flooding from the nearby Cumberland River. The 1.2-million-square-foot mall at the site of the old Opryland USA theme park has been closed since May 2010. A dispute over insurance coverage delayed restoration work at the venue adjacent to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center and the Grand Ole Opry House. An estimated $200 million in repairs have been done.

Opry Mills Mall comeback is complete (Tennessean/Aycock)

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. When beloved theme park Opryland was reinvented as a mall, some in the community were less than enthusiastic. But Nashville watched the mall rise from a watery grave, post-flood, with a greater appreciation for the venue. The newly reopened Opry Mills is a retail destination, with more than 100 shops. But it’s also a social hub, entertainment option and source of pride for the crowd that gathered at the opening ceremony Thursday morning to celebrate its return.

Poll finds suburban residents support own school systems (C. Appeal/Kelley)

The preliminary results of a poll in Shelby County’s six suburban municipalities not surprisingly found 74 percent think having their own municipal school districts is a good idea. They were less enthusiastic about paying higher taxes to support them. Only 46 percent said they would pay $50 or more per year in property taxes, although 20 percent would pay “whatever it takes.” Thirty-five percent would pay nothing.

Schools Planning Group Looks at Denver Blueprint (Memphis Daily News)

Going from a centralized to a decentralized school system doesn’t mean less work for a school system. It just means a different kind of work. Those in the group drafting the blueprint for the merged countywide school system got an idea this month of how different and complex that can be as they looked at the Denver school system’s Office of School Reform and Innovation. Denver Public Schools has a “portfolio management” system similar to the one the local schools consolidation planning commission has picked as the structure for the coming schools merger.

Transition panel proposal for Aitken to lead unified schools dies (C. Appeal/Kelley)

A proposal to urge the unified school board to retain John Aitken as superintendent of the consolidated school system through the end of his contract in the summer of 2015 enjoyed a short shelf life at the Transition Planning Commission Thursday night. In fact, it was never debated. The idea — if the TPC had approved it and the board followed the TPC’s advice — would have effectively eliminated Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash from contention for the superintendent’s spot in favor of Aitken, the current head of Shelby County Schools. Cash’s current contract expires on June 30, 2013.

Weather Break (Memphis Flyer)

Stormy action on the merger front is followed by a (temporary?) lull. It had looked for a while last week that the progress of five suburban municipalities — Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, and Arlington — toward independent school systems might have suffered a double whammy. First had come the bombshell announcement of an opinion from state attorney general Robert Cooper that the five suburbs, all of which had scheduled May 10th referenda on forming new municipal school districts, could not proceed with any such votes until city/county school merger is completed in August 2013, the date specified by the 2011 Norris-Todd bill and formally countenanced by U.S. district judge Hardy Mays, judicial overseer of the case.

Proposed Hamilton Co Schools budget wouldn’t cover adding teachers (TFP/Hardy)

If next year’s proposed $383 million Hamilton County Schools budget is approved in its current form, more than $4 million in staff budget requests will go unfilled. A $1.5 million request to restore capital maintenance funding cut this year and a $1.375 million budget request to add new teachers would be the costliest items to go unfilled. The Hamilton County Board of Education discussed the two issues at a Thursday work session on the proposed budget.

McIntyre makes school budget pitch to community (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre said Thursday that his proposed plan to raise the district’s budget by $35 million over the next five years is similar to asking your boss for a raise. “You get that raise one time, but (it) continues in your base salary,” he said during a community forum held at Fulton High School. “Knox County Schools is asking for a raise of $35 million and that’s probably the simplest way to put this.” Thursday’s forum was an opportunity for the superintendent to present his budget to the community and field questions.

Martin named to school board by Hamilton County Commission (TFP/Haman)

In a tight vote, the Hamilton County Commission selected Greg Martin on Thursday to fill the school board’s vacant District 3 seat. When voting for the seat, which represents Hixson and Middle Valley, commissioners split 5-4 between Martin and Tammy Zumbrun, who was nominated by District 3 Commissioner Mitch McClure. “We need to realize that we’ve 11 good candidates,” McClure said before the vote. “We’ve been blessed.” Martin originally expressed an intent to run in the District 3 Republican primary on March 6 to challenge McClure for his commission seat, but later dropped out of the race and instead supported McClure challenger Marty Haynes.

Schools budget up $14 million (Daily News Journal)

Gill: Staffing for growth, state mandates to blame Rutherford County Schools’ budget is expected to increase by about $14 million for the 2013 fiscal year, which officials attribute to anticipated growth and complying with state mandates. The county Board of Education got its first look at the budget Thursday evening. The proposed budget is a little over $285 million, up 5.2 percent from the $267.1 million budget the district is operating on this year. “The increase is driven almost exclusively by growth and medical insurance,” Director of Schools Harry Gill Jr. explained.

Interview set for schools superintendent candidate for Hardin County (J. Sun)

Wanda Johnston 1 of 3 nominated for Hardin Co. interim superintendent The Hardin County School Board will interview a candidate next week to replace Hardin County School Superintendent John Thomas in an interim capacity during his upcoming paid suspension. The board voted last week to suspend Thomas as soon as a replacement is chosen, and the suspension will last until a court makes a decision regarding accusations that Thomas brought a gun on school property.




Bill Haslam: I’m Not the Problem On Death Tax Reform (Wall Street Journal)

Regarding your editorial “Death Tax Defying” (March 24): In early January I proposed legislation to raise the exemption level on Tennessee’s estate tax from the current rate of $1 million to the federal exemption level of $5 million during my time in office. Just last week, I cemented that proposal by recommending doing so in the next three years and worked with House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent to completely repeal the tax in year four.

Pam Strickland: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam needs to show leadership (N-S)

The state Legislature continues to confuse religion and public education, and along the way is highlighting Gov. Bill Haslam’s problem with leadership since he moved from East Tennessee to the state capital. In both cases, what we have is an embarrassment for all good Tennesseans. House Bill 368, which critics say encourages discussion of creationism as a valid scientific theory, has been sent to Haslam to be signed into law. During his campaign for the chief executive office, Haslam, a devout conservative Christian, said he had no problem with evolution being taught in public schools and saw no need to push for creationism to be taught.

Editorial: School board flexibility a major plus (Jackson Sun)

The Tennessee House has passed a bill that affords local school boards more flexibility by allowing board members, in some instances, to participate in meetings remotely. The bill recognizes board member mobility, the advantages of modern technology and the importance of elected officials participating in meetings through discussion and voting. House Bill 2883 is sponsored locally by Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley and Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar. The companion Senate Bill 2723 is sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson.

Guest columnist: Gun bill would make colleges less safe (Tennessean)

As chief of police for Tennessee’s largest undergraduate institution, I have deep concerns about legislation under consideration now that would allow guns on college campuses. For those readers who might be new to this issue, SB 3002, commonly known as the “guns in parking lots” bill, will allow guns in vehicles in parking lots, including college campuses. Last month’s Trayvon Martin case in Florida is proof that a person with a valid firearms permit can make a tragic mistake and cause irreparable damage by making the decision to shoot a suspected violator.

Greg Johnson: Abortion information already a public record (News-Sentinel)

State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, last week pulled a controversial amendment to the Life Defense Act of 2012 after receiving threats. Ironically, those threats came after critics called Hill’s measure “a dangerous piece of legislation” and an “attempt to intimidate and terrorize” women and physicians. Hill’s amendment would have required the state to publish the names of doctors who provide abortions as well as demographic data about the women who receive them. Interestingly, Tennessee’s Department of Health already publishes data on multiple health issues, including births and deaths.

Editorial: Legislature wants Scopes trial rerun (Daily News Journal)

At a time when Tennessee is becoming a national center for technological and alternative fuel research and development, it is odd — to say the least — that our state Legislature would push scientific debate back more than 85 years. Our state was ground zero for the argument over teaching of evolution in the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” after a young teacher in Dayton was charged with violating state law that allowed only the biblical theory of creationism to be taught in classrooms.

Times Editorial: The lottery: Risk and reward (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

You can’t blame people for dreaming big, especially when the subject of that dream is more than $500 million. That’s the estimated jackpot for the current multistate Mega Millions lottery. The drawing is scheduled for ll p.m. tonight. Until then, lottery fever across the nation will continue to rise. No wonder. The huge jackpot, the result of rollovers for several drawings for which there was no winner, is the highest amount for any North American lottery in history. Indeed, it shatters the old Mega Millions record — a $390 million prize awarded five years ago.

Editorial: Caught in the middle? (Commercial Appeal)

The leaders of Shelby County’s suburban municipalities are creating a real barrier in reaching agreement with the unified school board about who will educate the children who live in unincorporated areas but attend county schools inside the suburbs’ boundaries. It’s one of the sticky questions that have to be resolved before Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools merge for the 2013-2014 school year. The cities are pushing to start their own municipal school districts when the merger takes place. About 18,000 children who live in unincorporated areas of Shelby County attend public schools.

Guest columnist: Affordable Care Act sparks innovators (Tennessean)

No matter what the outcome is of the Supreme Court’s review of the Affordable Care Act, one assured outcome of this legislation is an upsurge in entrepreneurialism. In Nashville, innovative new ventures created in the wake of the Affordable Care Act not only fuel the local economy, they also improve the quality and efficiency of health care in America. For example, the law contains a provision aimed at reducing the rate at which patients are rehospitalized after an initial discharge.

Guest columnists: Health reform’s benefits already on display (C. Appeal)

Last Friday marked the second anniversary of President Barack Obama’s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Like many 2-year-olds, the health care reform law — more than 2,000 pages of text fraught with complexity and compromise — has been a difficult child to love at times. Despite venomous attacks from its opponents, however, the law is already showing how it could improve the health and well-being of all of us in Shelby County. The reform law’s benefits have already changed many lives. Young adults can now be covered under their parents’ health care policies until they are 26 years old.

Editorial: Officials must be ready to act on health care ruling (News-Sentinel)

The U.S. Supreme Court heard six hours of oral arguments this week on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative success to date. The justices have several options as they ponder the fate of the controversial health care law. A decision likely will be issued in June. Like virtually all Americans, Tennesseans have a keen interest in the outcome. If the law is upheld, Tennesseans without health insurance now will have to obtain policies or pay a penalty beginning in 2014. The state will have to set up exchanges where people can shop for policies.

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