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May 16 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Signs State’s $31.5B Budget (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam says he signed the state’s $31.5 billion spending plan Tuesday, putting into action a state budget that is $627 million less than this year’s. In an interview with TNReport Tuesday afternoon, Haslam said he’s proud of the budget plan, which spends about $400 million more than he originally pitched to lawmakers and the public back in January. “The ultimate budget had a lot of the things that we added back in when the revenue numbers improved,” Haslam said.

Haslam appoints assistant to oversee TEAM Act (Nashville Post)

Gov. Bill Haslam has tapped Larry Martin to oversee implementation of the Tennessee Excellence and Accountability Management Act. Martin, who will assume his new role as special assistant to the governor on May 23, will coordinate and collaborate throughout state government agencies the recruiting of new employees, the updating of department performance evaluations and the reviewing of employee compensation, which includes the salary study funded in the governor’s fiscal year 2013-14 budget.

Tennessee launches new jobs website (Nashville Business Journal)

State officials have unveiled a new jobs database to connect job seekers and Tennessee employers. According to a state news release, Jobs4TN Online will automatically notify job seekers when positions they are qualified for are posted. Likewise, it will notify employers when candidates who fit their needs join the site. The new jobs database is available here.

Tennessee upgrades its job search website (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Tennessee officials hope upgrades will provide help to workers and employers The state has upgraded and rebranded its job search website, hoping the changes will better connect Tennessee employers and job-seekers. State officials say the Jobs4TN Online site, www.jobs4tn.gov, goes beyond what other job search sites offer by including more Tennessee-specific information. Two labor experts said that should benefit employers and workers in the Volunteer State.

New Job Database to Connect Job Seekers with Employers (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis announced Monday a new jobs database to help connect job seekers with Tennessee employers. Jobs4TN Online is a virtual recruiter, automatically notifying job seekers when jobs they may qualify for are posted and notifying employers when candidates who fit their needs register. The online database contains positions from job orders placed directly by Tennessee employers, from Internet sites and from major job search engines. Jobs4TN Online also identifies available green jobs.

Haslam Says Media Misinterpreting “Gateway Sex” Law (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Cable news shows continue to lampoon Tennessee’s new law banning the promotion of “gateway sexual activity” in sex-ed classes. Governor Bill Haslam defends the the measure, which he signed Friday. The law allows parents to sue teachers who condone “gateway sexual activity,” which has been theorized to include kissing or even holding hands. Gray area or not, teachers employed by the school district are specifically protected from legal recourse, meaning only an outside instructor from an organization like Planned Parenthood would be open to a $500 fine.

Latest Altima rolls off Smyrna Nissan production line (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Nissan on Tuesday celebrated the newest version the Altima sedan rolling off the line at its Smyrna assembly plant, marking the first of several upgrades to the Japanese automaker’s first U.S. facility. Bill Krueger, vice chairman of Nissan Americas, said at the ceremony that the company’s new lithium ion battery plant is scheduled to open in September and that production of the latest model of the Pathfinder SUV will start the same month.

Nissan aims high with Altima (Tennessean/Williams)

Smyrna plant debuts redesigned family sedan This could finally be the midsize sedan that knocks the Toyota Camry from the spot it’s held for a decade as the best-selling car in America. Company officials stopped short of predicting such a victory for its new 2013 Nissan Altima, but the implications were clear. The redesigned Altima, the first of which rolled off the assembly line Tuesday at its Smyrna assembly plant, is designed to be “a cut above” its competitors — including the Camry and the other perennial Altima foe, the Honda Accord — and Nissan would like nothing more than to have its new sedan reach the top.

Tennessee governor signs second bill on municipal school districts (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law today the lesser of two bills lawmakers approved regarding the establishment of new municipal school districts in the Memphis suburbs. Senate Bill 2908 by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, lifts the ban on the creation of new municipal school districts in the section of Tennessee law governing municipal governments, effective with the transfer of administration of Memphis City Schools to the Shelby County board of education in August 2013.

Governor signs tattoo legislation (Associated Press)

A proposal that seeks to crack down on the tattooing of minors has been signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam. The measure, signed by the Republican governor this week, unanimously passed the Senate 31-0 and was approved 86-6 in the House. The law makes it illegal for anyone who is unlicensed to possess tattooing paraphernalia. The measure also encourages reporting incidents of underage tattooing to the Health Department.

Measure to allow students to opt out of activities (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a measure that allows parents to opt their children out of extracurricular school activities.Under the legislation, schools would notify parents about the activities “by way of student handbooks or policy guidebooks. Sponsors have said those parents who don’t want their children to participate in a certain activity can send a note to the school. The legislation unanimously passed the Senate 31-0 and was approved 75-14 in the House.

Tennessee gets OK to hike private equity, include strategic lending (P&I)

Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, Nashville, can increase its target private equity allocation to 10% from 5% under legislation signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The law also expands the types of private equity investments the $31.3 billion retirement system can make to include strategic lending, but only through Dec. 31, 2017. Previously, Tennessee Consolidated could invest only in domestic and international venture capital, corporate buyouts, mezzanine and distressed debt, special situations and secondary funds.

Stretch of Tenn. 385 named for Gov. Dunn (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Tenn. 385, the eastern semi-circle roadway linking the Memphis suburbs, is about to have a third name on it: the Governor Winfield Dunn Parkway. Gov. Bill Haslam signed House Bill 3373, unanimously approved by the state legislature last month, designating the stretch of Tenn. 385 from its intersection with U.S. 70 near Arlington to U.S. 72 at Collierville “in tribute to” the former Memphis dentist who in 1970 was elected Tennessee’s first Republican governor in 50 years. Dunn, 84, now lives in Sumner County.

Math Classes To Share ‘Common Core’ Next School Year (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

This summer about 15 thousand math teachers and school principals in Tennessee will all learn to give the same lessons in the classroom. It’s part of a push toward ‘Common Core’ standards, adopted in 45 states to get schools teaching the same material. Officials say not even one in five high-school seniors in Tennessee is ready for college. In particular, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says many need help with math. Huffman says a main idea with Common Core is to narrow the focus of what’s being taught, so students understand it, rather than just pass tests and move on.

State’s top banking official seeks balanced approach to regulation (J. City Press)

A review of regulations on major U.S. banks may be forthcoming, especially after a $2 billion trading loss with JPMorgan Chase was announced last week. While many argue tougher restrictions should be enforced in order to prevent other major financial losses, banks, large and small, are concerned over the costs associated with the regulations.

Latest Polk County rock slide cleared quickly (Times Free-Press/Benton)

State and local officials say they’ll continue to monitor slide-prone areas of the Ocoee River Gorge’s road cut on U.S. Highway 64 in Polk County, Tenn., after a small rock slide near TVA’s No. 2 powerhouse temporarily closed one lane of the road overnight Tuesday. The slide occurred about 4.5 miles from the area where a slide on Nov. 10, 2009, damaged the road and left tons of debris that kept U.S. 64 closed for more than five months, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation officials. Rock slides can damage more than roads.

Cottonwood doctor loses license to practice following drug arrests (TN/Wilemon)

The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners has revoked the license of Dr. Allen R. Walker Jr. of Cottontown after he was charged with drug violations in Sumner County. The action by the licensing board follows Walker’s arrests in February on state drug charges and in March on federal offenses. Walker, who was already under a monitoring agreement because of a chemical dependency, allegedly wrote prescriptions for his use in the names of his children and other family members, according to the order.

State inspections find ‘deficiencies’ at abortion-providing clinics (NS/Nelson)

Report: Problems now corrected, ‘no actual harm’ A Tennessee Department of Health inspection earlier this year of two local clinics that provide abortions found several violations. Both clinics have corrected the deficiencies, the department said. The state contracted local surveyors to inspect Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, 1547 W. Clinch Ave., on Feb. 21 and Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic, 313 Concord St., on Feb. 22, in response to a complaint made by Lisa Morris, a Knoxville woman who has acted as spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Coalition.

State library hosts War of 1812 workshop (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Library and Archives is hosting a workshop on the War of 1812. The free event on Wednesday lasts an hour and begins at 11 a.m. CDT. It will be in the library auditorium, just west of the state Capitol in Nashville. Archivist Tom Kanon, who has written extensively on the War of 1812, is the speaker. The political and military issued will be examined. The event will explore the cause of the war and why Tennesseans wanted to fight in it.

State Supreme Court to review appeal request in slayings (NS/Satterfield)

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Tuesday signaled a willingness to at least consider the state Attorney General’s Office’s bid to appeal a decision ordering new trials in the January 2007 torture slayings of a Knox County couple. Rather than dismissing at the onset the state’s request to appeal Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s ruling upending convictions in the slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, the state’s high court is inviting debate on the issue instead.

Baumgartner faces 7 counts of failing to report felonious activity (NS/Satterfield)

Once a revered Knox County Criminal Court judge, Richard Baumgartner on Tuesday shuffled into a federal courtroom in shackles, accused of covering up the drug-trafficking crimes of the mistress he met via a Drug Court program he helped found. Baumgartner, who sent thousands of people to prison in his nearly two-decade-long tenure as judge, was arrested Tuesday as he drove away from his East Knox County farm and hauled into U.S. District Court with shackles on his feet and a chain wrapped around his belly and connected to handcuffs.

Drug testing plan for welfare recipients faces constitutional hurdles (TN/Wilson)

Yolanda Powers is willing to take a drug test in order to qualify for welfare. But she doesn’t think people struggling to get back on their feet should have to pay for it. Like many of the thousands of Tennesseans receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Powers says new legislation passed by the state legislature this month doesn’t bother her. The legislation, which Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will sign, is similar in nature to a number of controversial and constitutionally suspect laws in other states.

Nashville council’s preliminary budget approval sets stage for debate (TN/Cass)

The Metro Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to Mayor Karl Dean’s budget and tax increase proposals. It really didn’t have any choice. The council voted 30-3 for the budget and 30-4 for the 53-cent property tax increase on the first of three required votes for each measure. But those margins were misleading, because the Metro Charter basically forces the council to adopt the mayor’s budget on the first vote and then start debating it.

Nashville works to reduce domestic violence numbers (Tennessean/Haas)

Proposed budget adds 2 more prosecutors for domestic cases Domestic violence prosecutors should be familiar with Jontay Johns. The 29-year-old Nashvillian has been arrested at least 17 times on domestic violence-related charges since 2001 and has had at least two orders of protection sought against him, court records show. By the time he met 23-year-old Jennifer Fitts, he had been sentenced to spend 40 days in jail, according to court records.

Chatt. City Council examines $500,000 request for gang task force (TFP/Haman)

Chattanooga City Council members questioned the gang task force, police and fire pension board, and social service agency budgets on Tuesday. The proposed $209 million city budget, released earlier this month by Mayor Ron Littlefield, includes $499,878 for a gang task force created during this fiscal year, which ends June 30. City Council members are dissecting the mayor’s 2013 budget. About 44 percent of the budget goes to the police and fire departments while 26 percent is allocated to general government agencies and 22.4 percent is set aside for Public Works and Parks and Recreation.

No-tax-hike budget in OR clears first hurdle (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

City Council in a 7-0 vote Monday approved on first reading a budget that keeps the property tax rate unchanged at $2.39 per $100 assessed value. Second and final reading is scheduled May 29, when another public hearing on the proposal will be conducted, City Manager Mark S. Watson said. If approved, it would be the fourth year in a row without a tax rate increase. Watson said the budget includes 1.5 percent raises for the city’s 350 employees, adds President’s Day as a paid holiday and earmarks $500,000 to assist in needed repairs to Woodland Elementary School.

Knox sheriff pushing for pay increases (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Donilla)

Officials with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office will seek pay raises for the department today when they meet with the Knox County Commission to talk about the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones said Monday that he will be out of town today, but he asked his top leaders to talk with officials about the salary increases. He is seeking a boost in pay for everyone in his department, which includes about 1,020 workers, except for himself.

Carter budget group hears from school system on funding (Johnson City Press)

On Monday night, the Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission had its most difficult session so far in the process of setting a budget for the new fiscal year. The committee heard from the Carter County School Board, which is asking for an increase of $839,619 for next year, and from County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach, who strongly recommended some of the cuts made in the debt service fund last year should be restored.

Japan to honor Alexander of Tenn. (Associated Press)

Japan is bestowing national decorations on Sen. Lamar Alexander and a Vanderbilt University professor. The consulate general’s office announced Tuesday that Emperor Akihito is conferring the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star to Alexander for furthering U.S. economic relations with Japan. While Alexander was Tennessee governor and economic competition between the two countries was tense in the early 1980s, he led numerous trade missions to Japan.

Freshman lawmakers who vowed change lavish in mailings (Gannett/King, Bewley)

Republican freshmen who came to Congress last year promising to transform Washington’s free-spending culture are no different from most other lawmakers in at least one respect: They mailed out millions of taxpayer-funded fliers and brochures during their first year in office. Tennessee’s first-term lawmakers were no exception. Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper spent more on mass mailings than all but two other House members last year.

Needy States Use Housing Aid Cash to Plug Budgets (New York Times)

Hundreds of millions of dollars meant to provide a little relief to the nation’s struggling homeowners is being diverted to plug state budget gaps. In a budget proposed this week, California joined more than a dozen states that want to help close gaping shortfalls using money paid by the nation’s biggest banks and earmarked for foreclosure prevention, investigations of financial fraud and blunting the ill effects of the housing crisis.

Browns Ferry isn’t ready to inspect (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

TVA’s nuclear operations chief told officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Agency on Tuesday that Browns Ferry is not ready yet for a third and final special NRC inspection to clear its “red” safety rating. “TVA is beginning to see results [with improvement efforts], but we’re not there yet,” said Preston Swafford, TVA executive vice president and chief nuclear officer. “We will not invite an inspection team in until have confidence we are ready. … I can’t even give you a ballpark estimate now when that will be.”

World of Bluegrass festival to leave Nashville for Raleigh (City Paper/Greenberg)

The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass festival and conference is moving from the Nashville Convention Center to Raleigh, N.C., in 2013, according to multiple media reports. An IBMA spokeswoman declined to confirm the report Tuesday but did say there was a press conference scheduled for noon Wednesday in Raleigh. NBC-17 reported Tuesday afternoon that Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane was expected to make the announcement tomorrow.

Clarksville Jostens adds work (Leaf Chronicle)

Jostens announced plans to bring more business into its Clarksville facilities, with local workers expected to absorb memory book production from Topeka, Kan. That transition will likely add jobs to the Clarksville complex, which already employs about 600 people, according to Jostens spokesman Rich Stoebe. Jostens said 372 production jobs in Topeka will be phased out during the shift, which will begin in July. The Topeka plant mainly produces Jostens’ line of memory books, which most notably includes high school yearbooks.

Nashville schools’ rezoning trial turns focus to charters (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Charter schools became a point of contention Tuesday in Metro Nashville’s school rezoning trial, with attorneys arguing they’re another sign that the district is headed toward resegregating its black and white students. Judge Kevin Sharp, from the bench, asked Director of Schools Jesse Register if anything prevents charter groups from setting up what amounts to free private schools in Nashville. “They are not barred by the rules or law,” Register said.

Schools Superintendent Rick Smith asks for cash for STEM school (TFP/Hardy)

Demolition is nearly complete on a fast-paced project to open a science, technology, engineering and math school in Hamilton County by August. But now a lack of cash stands to slow construction. While waiting on donations to renovate space, the school system may borrow up to $500,000 from its own capital projects fund to ensure work continues. Donations of goods and services have come in, though Superintendent Rick Smith said the school system still needs to purchase materials and services to move forward.

Memphis City Schools teachers get test results (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

About 80 percent of Memphis City Schools’ 6,400 teachers scored well enough on their new evaluations to be fairly confident about their jobs. The remaining 1,350 are performing below expectations. Those not terminated will have to make measurable gains in the coming year to keep their jobs. The district released the final scores late Monday after spending the day informing an unknown number they were being terminated. Principals made the recommendation to Supt. Kriner Cash.

Up to 150 Memphis City Schools teachers face firing (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Between 130 and 150 Memphis City Schools teachers are being recommended for termination for poor performance — three times the number who lost their jobs for any reason last year. By contract, MCS must notify the teachers by June 15. Many began getting the word early this week. “Remember, this is the work we have been working on since we started working with the Gates foundation,” said Supt. Kriner Cash.

MCS Teachers Receive Report Cards (Memphis Daily News)

With the school year almost over, Memphis City Schools teachers have their grades from the first school year of TEM – the Teacher Effectiveness Measure system approved by the state to evaluate teacher performance. Memphis City Schools is the only school system in the state to use TEM, which is one of four teacher evaluation models approved by the state to evaluate teachers and determine what kind of professional development help they might need to become better teachers.

Schools face budget crunch (Times-Gazette)

There’s a gap of nearly $800,000 between where next year’s school budget is and where it needs to be. That’s what Bedford County Board of Education learned at a budget study session Monday night. For the past two fiscal years, 2010-11 and 2011-12, the school system has been spending more than it has taken in. The difference came out of the school system’s fund balance. But now, that money is nearly gone, and the budget document which school board members started with Monday night used up all of the available fund balance (not counting the 3 percent which the state requires school systems to keep in reserve) and would put the school system $347,093 in the hole.

Anti-censorship groups want Sumner schools to lift book ban (Tenn/Hubbard)

Two anti-censorship groups want Sumner County schools to lift a ban on the teen novel Looking for Alaska. The National Coalition against Censorship and American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression sent Sumner Director of Schools Del Phillips a letter Monday. It urges the district to honor its “constitutional obligation” and allow the White House High School English class to finish reading the student-selected novel.

School-Test Backlash Grows (Wall Street Journal)

The increasing role of standardized testing in U.S. classrooms is triggering pockets of rebellion across the country from school officials, teachers and parents who say the system is stifling teaching and learning. In Texas, some 400 local school boards—more than one-third of the state’s total—have adopted a resolution this year asking lawmakers to scale back testing. In Everett, Wash., more than 500 children skipped state exams in protest earlier this month.

Dry spell lands Chattanooga on drought monitor (Times Free-Press/Pouilesse)

Chattanooga is “abnormally dry” right now, according to weather officials. Yearly, monthly and seasonally, Chattanooga is behind in rainfall, said Kate Guillet, a meteorological intern with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn. Chattanooga was the only area covered by the Morristown office — East Tennessee, Southwest North Carolina and Southwest Virginia — deemed dry enough by the Climate Prediction Center to make it on the U.S. Drought Monitor, Guillet said.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Learning to read critical to education success (Jackson Sun)

Tennessee’s First Lady Crissy Haslam was in town on Monday to help promote the Imagination Library and the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation at a Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce reception. We appreciate her presence to help highlight the value and importance of early childhood reading. At a time when public education is struggling to keep up — and often to catch up — with our rapidly changing times, nothing could be more important than teaching children to read and to experience reading as something that is fun and rewarding.

Jim Leonhirth: Know Nothing State on horizon (Daily News Journal)

Tennessee resident Carrie Underwood’s No. 1 debut on the Billboard album chart last week bodes well for the Oklahoma transplant’s career and the country music industry, but it also provides an example of the paradox that is Tennessee. Underwood’s “Blown Away” was one of 10 albums in Billboard’s top 40 last week that have Tennessee or country music connections, and Nashville likes to tout itself as the “third coast” in competition with the entertainment centers in Los Angeles on the West Coast and New York on the East Coast.

Richard Cowart: TennCare Plus program may be next big thing (Tennessean)

Program seeks to move tens of thousands in state away from fee-for-service care TennCare Plus is shaping up to be the next big thing for TennCare. This month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will receive state applications for an ambitious new program to move 2 million dual-eligible beneficiaries, those eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, away from fee-for-service care. This initiative could affect up to 136,000 Tennesseans. Let’s review the new program and where it may be headed in Tennessee. According to CMS reports, approximately 9 million beneficiaries are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid services (dual-eligibles as they’re called).

Editorial: ‘Buckle up’ message not being heard (Tennessean)

So far this year, 352 people have died on Tennessee roads, each death a tragedy for someone. Tennessee Department of Safety officials are reeling from an abrupt reversal in safety trends. In January, the department announced that in 2011 our highways were the safest in nearly 50 years; traffic fatalities had declined to 947, only the third time since 1963 that highway deaths had been less than 1,000, and annual traffic deaths were down 26 percent during the past five years. This year, traffic fatalities are up more than 12 percent through the same period in 2011, putting Tennessee on pace for 1,065 deaths, the most since 2007.

Gail Kerr: Highway fatality signs are a sobering reminder to drive safely (Tenn)

And now there are 352. That’s the updated number on those gruesome interstate traffic signs that report the number of “TN ROADWAY FATALITIES THIS YEAR.” If the signs bother you, good. They should. They don’t highlight a mere morbid annoyance. The signs are a reminder that each number that adds up to that total represents a dead family member that somebody once loved. Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Deanna Lambert reported on Twitter yesterday “that’s 39 more than last year.” Tennesseans are dying in droves this year on roadways, a 13 percent increase over the same time last year.

Editorial: Sharper focus on teachers (Commercial Appeal)

While not perfect, the new teacher evaluations have helped identify teachers who aren’t doing a good job helping kids learn. The good news is that new teacher evaluations showed that almost 80 percent of Memphis City Schools’ 6,400 teachers scored well enough to be considered competent or very competent teachers. The remaining 1,342 are performing below expectations. So the question remains now of how to deal with those who scored badly on a new evaluation system that still needs fine-tuning. That’s an important question for a process that has left some teaching jobs in jeopardy.

Frank Munger: The strange case of Trench 13 (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

One of the strangest episodes in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge cleanup program — and there have been quite a few strange episodes — occurred on Aug. 8, 2005. That’s when workers attempted to tap into an old waste burial site known as Trench 13, with plans to retrieve containers of nuclear waste that had been “stored” there for decades. Trench 13 was one of 22 trenches in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Solid Waste Storage Area No. 5. The DOE-funded project was designed to excavate the containers of transuranic waste — a particularly nasty class of long-lived radioactive material — and repackage the waste for final disposal at a repository in New Mexico.

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