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April 11 TN News Digest

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

Whirlpool opening new plant in East Tenn. (Associated Press)

Appliance maker Whirlpool is opening its new manufacturing plant in East Tennessee, replacing a 123-year-old facility. The $200 million project adds about 130 jobs to the Whirlpool workforce of 1,500 people in Cleveland, Tenn. U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson is expected to join Whirlpool Corp. Chairman and CEO Jeff M. Fettig at the grand opening ceremony Tuesday. The facility of about a million square feet manufactures premium cooking products.

GERDAU Awarded $25,000 (WNWS-Radio)

Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis have awarded $25,000 to Gerdau in Jackson. “If Tennessee is going to become the number one location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, then we must offer a well-trained workforce to employers,” said Governor Haslam. “This kind of training grant not only helps educate workers, but also provides incentive to employers looking to relocate or expand in Tennessee.”

Tenn. bill on evolution and teaching to become law (Associated Press/Johnson)

Tennesee’s Republican governor says he will let a bill become law effective April 20 that protects teachers who allow students in their classrooms to criticize evolution and other scientific theories, such as global warming. Gov. Bill Haslam had said previously he would probably sign the bill. On Tuesday, he disclosed he would let the law take effect without his signature, saying he believes the legislation doesn’t change scientific standards currently taught in Tennessee’s public schools.

Gov. Haslam allows evolution bill to become TN law (Tennessean/Sisk)

Despite saying it will create confusion, Haslam doesn’t veto it A bill that encourages classroom debate over evolution will become law in Tennessee, despite a veto campaign mounted by scientists and civil libertarians who say it will reopen a decades-old controversy over teaching creationism to the state’s schoolchildren. Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that he will allow House Bill 368/Senate Bill 893 to become law without his signature, a symbolic move that signals his opposition but allows the measure to be added to the state code.

Haslam doesn’t sign evolution bill, but it’s still law (Times Free-Press/Sher)

A controversial bill protecting teachers’ classroom discussions of “weaknesses” in evolution and other scientific theories became Tennessee law Tuesday without the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam. Haslam, a Republican, said that while he doesn’t think the bill changes scientific standards or the state’s educational curriculum, he also believes “good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion.” “My concern is that this bill has not met this objective,” Haslam said in his statement. “For that reason, I will not sign the bill but will allow it to become law without my signature.”

Haslam Won’t Autograph ‘Evolution Bill’ (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today issued the following statement on HB 368/SB 893: “I have reviewed the final language of HB 368/SB 893 and assessed the legislation’s impact. I have also evaluated the concerns that have been raised by the bill. I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.

Tennessee evolution bill becomes law without governor’s signature (CA/Roberts)

The evolution bill became law without Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature Tuesday, making Tennessee one of two states in the nation where teachers are free to point out flaws in current scientific thought on evolution, global warming and other accepted theories. The other is Louisiana. The issue has created plenty of heat for Tennessee with news coverage around the U.S. and Canada and a host of editorials asking Haslam to veto.

Creationism bill becomes Tenn. law (Politico)

Tennessee will now allow the discussion of creationism theory in its classrooms. The controversial legislation — known as the “Monkey Bill” by those who said it attacked teaching evolution — became law on Tuesday without Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature, Reuters reported. The Republican Gov. said he allowed the legislation encouraging classroom debate about evolution to become law despite his misgivings because he thinks it will not significantly impact the state’s science curriculum.

Tennessee enacts evolution, climate change measure (Tribune)

Tennessee enacted a law Tuesday that critics contend allows public school teachers to challenge climate change and evolution in their classrooms without fear of sanction. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam allowed the controversial measure to become law without his signature and, in a statement, expressed misgivings about it. Nevertheless, he ignored pleas from educators, parents and civil libertarians to veto the bill. The law does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change and “the chemical origins of life.”

Watson not upset by Haslam move on evolution bill (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, says he is not upset with Gov. Bill Haslam’s refusal today to sign into law a controversial Watson bill that protects teachers who “help” students understand “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution and other scientific theories. Haslam, a fellow Republican, allowed the legislation today to become law without his signature, saying “good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion.”

Anderson Co. man charged with TennCare fraud (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

An Anderson Co. man was charged with TennCare fraud after allegedly using his son’s benefits to pay for a prescription for the addictive painkiller Percocet in Knox Co., according to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG said Anthony Eugene Morgan, 44, was charged following a joint investigation with the Knox Co. Sheriff’s Office. If convicted, the Clinton man, could face up to a two-year sentence. “Local police as well as medical providers are clearly committed to eliminating prescription drug abuse,” Inspector General Deborah Faulkner said.

Law Enforcement Gets Better Data, More Questions on Pseudoephedrine (WPLN)

After the first three months of a new electronic tracking system, pharmacies in Tennessee say they’ve stopped the sale of about 15,000 products containing pseudoephedrine.It’s a common ingredient in cold medicine and the key ingredient in methamphetamine. Drug stores have had to log sales of pseudoephedrine for years, in the hopes of identifying repeat buyers who use it for meth production. But the new system collects data from all of the state’s pharmacies, in real time.

Dual enrollment soars at Cleveland State (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Trevizo)

Aleksandr Migovich has completed Calculus I, II, III and Differential Equations at Cleveland State Community College — basically his math requirements for an engineering degree. And he hasn’t even finished high school. In his junior year, Migo-vich, 17, said he was pushed by his sister, who is graduating with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, to take advantage of dual enrollment — a program in which high school students can earn college credits.

Volkswagen eyes Mexico for Audi factory, state official says (TFP/Pare)

Tennessee’s economic development chief said Tuesday he isn’t surprised by reports that Audi plans to bypass Chattanooga and build its first North American plant in Mexico. “Mexico is what we’ve heard. We haven’t verified it yet,” said Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development. “We want to see it here.” German magazine Der Spiegel reported recently, citing no named sources, that Audi has won the backing from parent Volkswagen to build the new plant in Mexico.

State development authority gets 1st female member (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Local Development Authority has its first female board member. According to a news release from the Tennessee secretary of state, Brentwood City Commissioner Elizabeth Crossley has been appointed to the panel by House Speaker Beth Harwell. The Tennessee Local Development Authority provides loans to local governments to pay for capital improvements such as water and sewer projects and pollution control facilities. Crossley is a former mayor of Brentwood with a long history of involvement in civic affairs.

McCormick: Haslam will make Tenn. Regulatory Authority ‘less political’ (TFP/Sher)

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Tuesday that the Haslam administration’s proposed changes to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority will make the agency “less political than it’s been” in decades. “This thought that we’re from a nonpolitical, some kind of a pure little agency, into something that is political is one of the most ridiculous things that I’ve heard in my eight years up here,” McCormick told Government Operations Committee members.

Synthetic drug bans moving forward in Tennessee government (Herald-Courier)

Bills that would make synthetic drugs illegal in Tennessee are moving forward. The Tennessee House passed the first of three bath salts bills last night. House Bill 2645 deals with the chemical compounds of the drugs. Representative Tony Shipley told us the house finance committee would begin discussing part two, House Bill 3175, this afternoon.

Tenn. House Advances Gun Bills (Associated Press)

The House has rushed four bills out of subcommittee to guarantee workers the right to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots. The measures were advanced to the full Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee on Tuesday after a truncated debate. Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville said last week that she expected the gun bills to be vetted through committees despite word from the Senate that the companion bills are not likely to receive full floor votes this year.

Guns-in-parking-lot bills move forward in TN House (Tennessean/Sisk)

Supporters of legislation that would expand gun owners’ ability to carry their weapons in their vehicles scored a victory Tuesday and embarked on a major push to pass a measure before lawmakers go home for the year. A House subcommittee rushed out four bills Tuesday that say employers must let their workers bring their guns, provided they are left in the parking lot inside locked vehicles. The bills had been bottled up in the subcommittee all session amid opposition from the legislature’s Republican leaders.

Still Alive, Guns in Trunks Bills Move Forward (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Proposals to allow Tennessee gun permit holders to keep their firearms in locked vehicles in an employer’s parking lot were supposed to be dead – or at least discouraged. But four such bills rushed of a House subcommittee on Tuesday. Some business interests have fought the measures as an erosion of their property rights. Fed Ex and Volkswagen executives testified they don’t allow private firearms at their job sites, even those legally carried by firearm permit holders. Still, the four such proposals were voted quickly out of a House subcommittee.

GOP Not Unified on Judicial Selection (TN Report)

Divisions within the Republican-led Legislature over how to pick the state’s most powerful judges are so deep that top GOP leaders say they’ll hedge their bets and advance two competing plans instead of agreeing on one. The only similarity between the two proposals is they would do away with the state Constitution’s requirement that judges face elections, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who said the move would give lawmakers an extra two years to hash out their differences on how judges are picked.

Competing Judge Appointment Ideas Swoop Towards Senate Floor (WPLN-Radio)

Two very different ways of appointing state judges flew out of a state Senate Committee Tuesday and were immediately scheduled for a floor vote on Wednesday. The plan from Senator Mark Norris is closer to the governor’s idea to write the current judicial appointment process into the state Constitution, but it’s not exactly the same The other version, from fellow Memphis Republican Brian Kelsey, is like the federal system. The legislature would confirm appointments by the governor.

Bartlett mayor tells state panel Memphis will control merged district (CA/Locker)

The mayor of Bartlett told a state legislative committee Tuesday that any countywide Shelby County school district would be controlled by Memphis because of the city’s size and “that has not been an acceptable better option” for suburban residents. Mayor Keith McDonald joined other suburban school advocates in responding to questions from the House Education Committee about the bill to lift the state’s 14-year-old ban on new municipal school districts.

School starting age would change under House bill (Tennessean/Wilson)

Legislation changing the cut-off age for students entering kindergarten is headed to the state House floor despite additional amendments that could be added there. The bill, which would require nearly all kindergarten students to be 5 by mid to late August, passed the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. The Senate bill is still in committee. The legislation would affect about 4,500 students, according to figures cited by the sponsor, Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin.

Solar industry fears massive tax increase (Tennessean/Cass)

Sponsors say current break unconstitutional When Franke Foodservice Systems built a new plant in Smyrna three years ago, the company decided to go green. Parking spots for employees driving low-emission vehicles sit close to the entrance. There’s a water capture system. And 167 solar panels cover 2,000 square feet of the roof, generating about 50,000 kilowatt-hours’ worth of electricity each year. But legislation the General Assembly is considering would make it harder to make that kind of investment in solar energy, a Franke executive said.

Laffer Rails Against Tenn. Estate Tax (Memphis Daily News)

Art Laffer, a former economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, once sketched a diagram on a cocktail napkin for a staffer in Gerald Ford’s administration – named Dick Cheney – to showcase what’s now known as the Laffer Curve. It was a parabola demonstrating how, eventually, tax rates can get so high they become counterproductive and produce diminishing revenue. Laffer, an unabashed conservative economist, has in that fashion and in more formal settings advised presidents and presidential candidates on tax policy for the last several decades.

Oral Chemo Leaves Legislators with Questions, Referred to Summer Study (WPLN)

Drug companies are coming up with pills that do the same job of fighting cancer as intravenous chemotherapy. But Tennessee lawmakers say too many questions are unanswered to make a decision on whether to require health insurance plans to cover the costs of the pills. A proposal to require such coverage was sent to a summer study committee on Tuesday. Insurance companies oppose the new measure, calling it a “mandate” that restricts their ability to shape health plans that are affordable for patients and businesses.

Term limits, fee offices among charter group’s agenda items (NS/Donila)

Charged with looking over the county’s governing documents, the Knox County Charter Review Committee is finally expected tonight to dig into some hot button items: term limits, fee office appointments and pension board size. Committee members Diane Jablonski, John Schmid and Ann Acuff have noted on the committee’s agenda that they want the board to define exactly what a “term of office” is supposed to mean for a county officeholder.

Pension puzzle: City begins effort to correct underfunded benefit (NS/Witt)

A $13 million payment to the underfunded Knoxville employees pension waits in the 2012-13 budget, $2 million more than in the current year. While that must be paid now, city officials are hoping to keep the shortfall from growing in decades to come, and doing so will likely mean a change in retirement benefits for future city employees. Mayor Madeline Rogero, City Council, city employees and others started talks on ways to change the city’s pension when they kicked off a series of three workshops on Monday that are expected to create a referendum to go before voters this fall.

Lamar Alexander extols Memphis’ virtues as aerotropolis (Memphis Biz Journal)

There was a method to his madness back when former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander invited the world’s best harmonica player Charlie McCoy to entertain executives of Saturn, which the state was recruiting. Alexander, R-Tennessee, now a U.S. senator, recounted that story as a featured speaker at the Mid-South Aerotropolis Conference in Memphis today. Alexander spoke to a crowd full of business and government leaders which included U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority chairman Arnold Perl, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

Rep. Black Faces Tough Crowd Over Roll-Your-Own Tobacco (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

Tennessee Congressman Diane Black got an earful from constituents Tuesday night about roll-your-own tobacco shops. About two-dozen people turned out for Black’s town-hall meeting in Lebanon. Roll-your-own tobacco shops sidestep a higher tax on cigarettes by instead selling tobacco, and letting customers use a machine in the store to make cigarettes themselves. Last month Black introduced a bill to reclassify that as manufacturing (HR4134). Several shop owners like Ned Overton insisted that would kill jobs.

Sen. Corker on standing alone in D.C.: I’d do it again (Nashville Biz Journal)

More than two years ago, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker stepped forward as the lone Republican willing to negotiate with Democrats on federal financial reform. He garnered a cacophony of pressure from lobbyists, politicians and interest groups — from both sides — castigating him for the move, or pushing him one direction or another. In case you’re wondering, he’d do it again. The Tennessee Republican told a group of banking and real estate executives this morning that he senses a breaking point in the bitter partisanship in Washington.

Corker Calls Failure to Reform Entitlements ‘Immoral’ (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker is calling a failure to shore up Medicare “generational theft.” The first-term Republican used some of his strongest language yet with an audience in Nashville Tuesday. For months, Senator Corker has been writing editorials and railing that Congress is refusing to make difficult decisions about Medicare. Talking to mortgage bankers downtown, he called saddling young people with growing entitlement debt “immoral.”

Feds: Small-business lending tops $170M in Tennessee (Memphis Biz Journal)

The federal government says small business lending in Tennessee has increased by more than $172 million since local banks tapped its Small Business Lending Fund. That numbers marks the first time anyone has quantified the impact of the program so far, in terms of dollars going to businesses. Its success in general has been the subject of debate. Several Memphis-area banks — including Magna Bank , Independent Bank and Evolve Bank & Trust — have tapped the fund.

Report Urges New Tax on Medical Care (Wall Street Journal)

An influential federal advisory body called for levying a new tax on medical care to finance improvements to public-health services in the U.S. A report Tuesday from the Institute of Medicine says the U.S. health system has a “fixation” on clinical care, or treating people when they get sick, rather than preventing them from getting ill in the first place. More money from reliable sources is needed to fix the problem, said the report, which calls for the U.S. to close a gap in life expectancy with other high-income nations within 20 years.

Driving laws: In medical marijuana age, how high is too high to drive? (Stateline)

Twelve years after Colorado legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, more than 85,000 people have been certified by the state health department to use it. Now, there is increasing concern about a rise in traffic accidents caused by people under the influence of marijuana. Between 2006 and 2010, more than 300 fatal accidents involved drivers who tested positive for cannabis, according to the Colorado Department of Highway Safety.

TVA Reservoirs Storing Cold Water In Case Of Hot Summer (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

It’s too early to know whether the unseasonably warm March will ripple into higher summer electric bills across the state. A major factor could be rising temperatures in area rivers, which the Tennessee Valley Authority uses to cool its power plants. TVA has to follow environmental rules for how warm water can be when it goes back to the river after it’s used to cool nuclear and coal facilities. If the water’s too hot, the plant will throttle back operations, leaving the power grid to draw electricity from elsewhere, which can drive up costs.

Teacher Evaluation Sparks Debate Among Educators (Memphis Daily News)

The schools consolidation planning commission hasn’t made any decisions yet about teacher pay and benefits or suggestions about how many teachers the merged school system might need. But when it got its first look at the human resources overview last week, there was immediate discussion about which direction to go in teacher evaluation. The state evaluation models being used in public schools across the state are in their first year.

Metro schools chief proposes disclosure forms for board, officials (TN/Anderson)

Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register proposed a new statement of interest form for school board members and top school officials Tuesday, weeks after local labor officials filed ethics complaints against them. The new forms, proposed during the Board of Education meeting, require school officials to disclose all sources of income in a preceding calendar year, and financial interests in businesses or nonprofits with relationships to Metro schools. It also requires disclosure of gifts, including meals, travel and entertainment exceeding $100 within a year.

Schools seek more funds; Hamilton County says no tax hike (TFP/Haman)

The Hamilton County school system, which annually accounts for more than half of the county’s budget, is projecting to spend at least $10 million more in general purpose funds next fiscal year. The county’s budget process is heating up for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. The schools’ adopted general purpose budget for this fiscal year was $316.5 million. An early draft of next year’s budget request hits $329.5 million. At least five of the nine commissioners said Tuesday they’ll refuse to vote for a tax increase to meet school budget demands if it comes to that.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Tennessee’s Titan (Wall Street Journal)

Scott Walker of Wisconsin isn’t the only governor who successfully ended collective bargaining for public employees. That happened last year in Tennessee under new Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. But unlike Mr. Walker, Mr. Haslam isn’t facing a recall election financed by unions. “We did it in a quieter way,” he explains. Few governors have had as much legislative success in the first half of their term as Mr. Haslam, a business executive whose family owns Pilot service stations.

Gail Kerr: Legislature chooses stupid bills over little kids (Tennessean)

Tennessee kindergarteners are showing up without the basic skills they need to start school. Tennessee lawmakers are doing nothing about that. Instead, they are concentrating on creating ways to debunk evolution in science class, make Johnny pull his pants up, and force teachers to teach only abstinence instead of safe choices to hormone-laden teenagers. Gov. Bill Haslam bemoaned the statewide news coverage of those kinds of topics, but he tossed blame on reporters. He said the media only jump on the “craziest” of bills, to the detriment of calling attention instead to what he’s doing.

Editorial: Charter Review Committee turns to serious business (News-Sentinel)

After spending several weeks getting familiar with the daunting task at hand, the Knox County Charter Review Committee is getting serious about its work. The 27-member panel, which is convened every eight years to review the county charter and make recommendations for revisions, will take up several key topics during today’s meeting. Voters would have to approve any changes to the charter. Some of the changes they will be recommending are housekeeping measures — cleaning up ambiguous language in some of the charter provisions, for example.

Editorial: Literacy a critical skill to maintain good health (Daily News Journal)

The old saying is true that what you don’t know can hurt you. Sometimes it can even kill you. When it comes to our health and medical needs, knowing is indeed half the battle because you can’t treat what you don’t really understand. That’s why we were glad to see a recent forum involving literacy experts and health care professionals to discuss ways to make sure those with literacy problems get access to the right health care services. The connection between literacy and health care is clear.

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