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May 19 TN News Digest

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

May 19 Announced as ‘Armed Forces Day’ by Haslam, Grinder (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced May 19, 2012 is Armed Forces Day. The single day celebration was created to signify the unification of the Armed Forces under one federal department; the Department of Defense. President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for Americans to come together and thank our troops for their patriotic service in support of our country.

Haslam proclaims May 19th Armed Forces Day (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced May 19th, 2012 is Armed Forces Day. The single day celebration was created to signify the unification of the Armed Forces under one federal department; the Department of Defense. President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for Americans to come together and thank our troops for their patriotic service in support of our country.

Haslam awards $120,000 in grant funding for Clarksville Greenway (Leaf Chronicle)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today awarded an additional $547,000 in grants for recreational trail projects across Tennessee, $120,000 of that being allocated for the Clarksville Greenway. “These grants help local governments and organizations improve amenities such as trails, greenways and recreational facilities that contribute so much to a better community and quality of life,” Haslam said. “

Haslam signs FastTrack legislation (Elizabethton Star)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has signed legislation to expand the state’s FastTrack program to specifically support economic development in rural communities and for exceptional projects. The governor proposed the legislation, HB 2344/SB 2206, in January to create the Fast-Track Economic Development Fund, an expansion of the Department of Economic and Community Development’s (ECD) current infrastructure and job training program.

Haslam signs Legislation to expand FastTrack Program (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced he has signed legislation to expand the state’s FastTrack program to specifically support economic development in rural communities and for exceptional projects. The governor proposed the legislation, HB 2344/SB 2206, in January to create the FastTrack Economic Development Fund, an expansion of the Department of Economic and Community Development’s (ECD) current infrastructure and job training program.

Haslam weighs expansion of pre-K program (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam is considering a funding boost for the state’s public prekindergarten program, a move that would put him at odds with some fellow Republicans in the legislature. The governor told The Associated Press in an interview this week that Tennessee’s improving revenue picture could allow the state to resume pre-K expansion. “You’ll see us between now and when we propose next year’s budget making a decision on if it’s time to fund pre-K in a bigger way,” Haslam said.

First Lady Completes Year of Reading-Improvement Efforts for Kids (TN Report)

Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam completed a two week-long statewide reading tour yesterday with final school year-end visits to two of her 10 partnership schools. Haslam’s final year-end visits to schools during the last two weeks included meetings with school administrators, recapping what was learned during the partnership and emphasizing the importance of literacy and parental involvement.

TN’s jobless rate falls for ninth straight month (Associated Press/Rugaber)

The unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of U.S. states last month, evidence that modest economic growth is boosting hiring in most areas of the country. And in many states, unemployment has fallen well below the national average, which was 8.1 percent last month. The rate was under 7 percent in 22 states in April. That compares with only 13 states in April 2011. Tennessee’s unemployment dropped slightly in April, marking the ninth straight month of decreases in the state’s unemployment rate.

Tennessee Supreme Court to hear appeal kidnapping case (TFP/South)

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear an appeal from a Chattanooga man convicted of kidnapping his partner in a home invasion robbery and forcing the man to eat crack cocaine and dog feces. Jereme Little has been in state prison since his 2008 conviction on a charge of especially aggravated kidnapping. Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern sentenced him to 18 years because of his previous criminal history. But Little could win a new trial if the higher court accepts his argument that Stern made errors in her jury instructions.

Governor Could Face Skepticism Over Pre-K Expansion (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Some Republican lawmakers could push back against Governor Bill Haslam over expanding pre-kindergarten education. Haslam said earlier this week he’ll look at adding to the program if more state tax dollars keep rolling in. Right now Tennessee’s pre-k program focuses on disadvantaged students – those who can get free or reduced-price lunch. The program costs around $85 million a year, enrolling some 18 thousand kids.

Measure would help one-time offenders (Associated Press)

A legislative bill still on the governor’s desk is already drawing inquiries about getting criminal records cleared. The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/KXIbdn ) reported the bill was expected to become law July 1. Gov. Bill Haslam’s office has given no indication that Haslam would veto it. Under provisions of the bill, Tennessee residents convicted of single nonviolent crime in specific categories could have their records wiped for a $350 fee.

More states pass drug testing for welfare recipients (Stateline)

Oklahoma and Tennessee are the latest states about to require drug tests of those applying for welfare benefits. While such proposals are popular in statehouses this year, their legality is still unclear. “Hard working taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to subsidize drug abuse, and this bill will help to ensure they are not,” Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said in a statement Wednesday (May 16) when she signed the measure into law.

Commission Nears Budget Conclusion (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Commissioners could end their budget season Monday, May 21, with votes on two budget resolutions. One is a $1.1 billion consolidated operating budget. The other is a five-year Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) budget that totals $36.9 million in the first year – the fiscal year that begins July 1. The plan through June 30, 2017, totals $326.9 million. Commissioners meet Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

Department increases in city budget: most came from moving jobs, raises (NS/Witt)

Outside of a few increases for items such as reducing blight and adding employee raises, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room in the $180.5 million operating budget proposed by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero City Council is reviewing the budget now but has little power over how the money is spent. As a legislative body, they will review the budget and likely accept it in coming weeks.

Council has a pension plan in hand (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Witt)

City Council figured out which changes they want to make to the city employees pension plan, but that does nothing to bridge the massive shortfall in the retirement system. Council will soon have a resolution in hand that they can vet with the City Employees Pension Board, vote upon themselves and eventually put before voters in a November referendum. The process to this point wasn’t easy. It took at least a half-dozen meetings along with plenty of passionate input from employee groups.

Expansion to extend life of Chattanooga National Cemetery (TFP/South)

Dirt piles and new crypts at Chattanooga National Cemetery signal decades more use for the local treasure. Though it previously was scheduled to close in 2015, work that began two years ago and is scheduled to finish this year will extend the life of the cemetery to at least 2046. And local veterans groups and political leaders are working to add 20-25 more acres to the site. Cemetery Director Deborah Kendrick said the first phase of the current expansion, a section next to the Holtzclaw Avenue entrance, added 1,280 graves.

Rutherford County attorney’s job to get further study (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County Attorney Jim Cope fell three votes shy Thursday night of keeping his position and getting $259,000 for his private law firm next fiscal year. The Rutherford County Commission in an 11-8 vote called for by Commissioner Robert Peay Jr. decided more study is needed before choosing to either retain Cope and his six partners or establish a full-time county attorney’s office starting July 1. The majority favored sending the issue back to its Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee for more review.

Rutherford Co. hires attorney to defend assessor in sexual harassment case (DNJ)

The Rutherford County Commission voted Thursday night to hire Nashville attorney Randy Mantooth to defend Property Assessor Bill Boner in federal discrimination lawsuits. “I’m just glad I got one,” Boner said Friday in his office. The property assessor said he can’t at this time comment on the case other than to say he wants to meet with Mantooth and see what the attorney advises him to do. Mantooth will earn $150 per hour, according to the resolution the 21-member commission approved after coming out of a private executive session where they discussed the case with County Attorney Jim Cope.

TN lawmakers urged to act after horse video (Tennessean/Bewley)

Bills seek more for inspections, stiffer penalties Pressure is mounting on Tennessee lawmakers to take action against horse abuse after an undercover video this week exposed a Collierville trainer whipping, beating and dripping chemicals on horses. Trainers sometimes use painful chemicals on the ankles of Tennessee Walking Horses to force them to lift their legs higher when they step, accentuating their signature high kick. Animal-rights advocates say such “soring” is common, even though it’s illegal under state and federal law.

2 Dems in congressional race have backgrounds in health care (N-S/Vines)

Two candidates with backgrounds in health care are seeking the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah. Mary Headrick, a Maynardville physician who has worked in area hospital emergency rooms, and Bill Taylor, a CPA who runs a health care management business in Ooltewah, are in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary. Fleischmann and three others are in the Republican primary.

Fort Campbell offering buyout incentives to civilian employees (AP/Hall)

Fort Campbell is offering incentives to its civilian employees to leave their jobs or retire early and trying to find new jobs for others in order to reduce the number of civilian workers by the end of the fiscal year. Chuck Munson, deputy garrison commander for the installation on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, said the installation has about 60 to 70 people that it has to move out of their current positions, either through a job change, attrition or voluntary separation.

Hamilton educators garner support with Teacher Induction Program (TFP/Poulisse)

Hamilton County elementary teachers guide their students toward broadening their minds, and this past school year some have guided other teachers, too. Since last July, the Teacher Induction Program has offered support to 42 recent college grads through their first year of teaching at 12 participating Hamilton County elementary schools. “They didn’t just survive, they were highly effective,” said Clara Sale-Davis, director of the Benwood Initiative, which funded the Teacher Induction Program.

Virtues of online education win praise from pupils’ parents (C. Appeal/Roberts)

Children jumped and squealed at Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in southeast Memphis Friday, an end-of-school bash/recruitment fair put on by Tennessee Virtual Academy. While kids bounced off the walls and floor, parents like John and Jennifer Martinez talked to teachers who will lead their children’s online lessons in the fall. Last year, they withdrew their four children from public and private Memphis schools.

Schools budget gap closed, but amount is slim (Times-Gazette)

Bedford County Board of Education, which on Monday faced the prospect of an $800,000 gap between the amount of money it could afford to spend and the amount it needed to spend in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, has closed the gap, passing a budget Thursday night with only the slimmest of fund balances. The $53 million budget, not counting the 3 percent state-mandated fund balance, has only a $32,608 margin for error.

Will they take money from education? (State Gazette)

If you ask Dyer County School Superintendent Dr. Dwight Hedge where the county stands on education, he will tell you that the county is at a crossroad and the next two weeks will be crucial in determining the community’s commitment to education. The ongoing budget discussions this week have centered on the possibility of reallocating money away from education in order to repair the health of the debt-service fund. It is a move that has education leaders and supporters concerned about the future of our children.

Alabama: Appeals Court Upholds Key Voting-Rights Law (Wall Street Journal)

An appeals court upheld a federal voting-rights law that requires some local governments to seek Washington’s approval before changing election procedures, rejecting a challenge by an Alabama county. In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Friday that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 remains constitutional. The judges said Congress acted properly in 2006 to reauthorize the law in order to protect minority voters.

Alabama: Alabama Gets Strict Immigration Law as Governor Relents (NY Times)

Only a day after calling a special session and urging the Alabama Legislature to make more changes to the state’s immigration enforcement law than the modest ones they had passed, Gov. Robert Bentley on Friday signed the bill into law anyway. The governor’s decision was arguably the quickest of several reversals that have taken place in recent weeks as politicians in Montgomery, the capital, debated the need for changes to Alabama’s immigration enforcement law, considered the strictest and most sweeping in the country.

Florida: Regraded Test Upends Florida Schools (Wall Street Journal)

Plunging results on Florida’s standardized writing test for fourth-graders has triggered concern among school officials, teachers and parents that the state is implementing changes to the testing system too quickly, and has spurred a broader debate about the increasing role of standardized testing in classrooms. On Monday, the Florida Department of Education released preliminary scores on the writing test that showed a drastic falloff in student performance, with only 27% of fourth-graders receiving a passing score of 4, on a 6-point scale, compared with 81% last year.

Maryland: Same-Sex Divorces Are Permitted (Associated Press)

The state’s highest court ruled Friday that same-sex couples could divorce in Maryland even though the state does not yet permit same-sex marriages. The Court of Appeals ruled 7 to 0 that couples legally married in another state could divorce. The case involved two women who were married in California and were denied a divorce in 2010. The ruling may have a limited effect because same-sex marriages, and by extension divorces, will start in the state in January.

Wisconsin: What’s at Stake in the Wisconsin Recall Election (Wall St. Journal)

What unions really want is legal standing to sue employers and prevent any changes—in wages, hours or other conditions of employment—unwanted by their members. Wisconsin’s recall election is on, pitting Gov. Scott Walker against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. If Mr. Walker is voted out of office on June 5, what other politician will be willing to step forward to address America’s entitlement challenges? Mr. Walker’s record is well known: He limited collective bargaining for government labor unions and trimmed health-insurance and pension benefits, bringing them more in line with private business.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: The case for redemption (Commercial Appeal)

First-time, nonviolent criminals could find it easier to land a job if they qualify to have their criminal records expunged. A man or woman who has a criminal record is going to have a hard time finding a job. As frustration grows over unsuccessful job searches, the pressure mounts on those individuals to return to their criminal ways to earn money. It’s one of the key reasons why Tennessee’s criminal recidivism rate hovers around 50 percent. A bill expected to go into effect July 1 is a good start at addressing the issue.

Free-Press Editorial: Money for nothing? (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

$458,000. That’s what businesses and professional and trade organizations spent on nearly 70 receptions for lawmakers during the recently adjourned session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The good news is that spending is public record, so it cannot be kept out of the public eye. The bad news is, that’s nearly half a million dollars spent with the hard-to-miss goal of influencing legislation. No, the fact that a lawmaker attends a lavish reception put on by, say, AT&T is not proof of some kind of quid pro quo: An array of heavy hors d’oeuvres in exchange for the “right” vote on a telecommunications bill seems farfetched.

Free-Press Editorial: Ready, fire, aim! (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was the first in Congress to call for a hearing to understand the recent $2 billion loss reported by JPMorgan. The call by Sen. Corker, who serves on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, coupled with his earned credibility during his tenure, was a serious request that will result in answers. In interviews with CNBC, Corker demonstrated one of the reasons for his credibility. In contrast to jumping on an immediate political opportunity to capture headlines with sensational claims, Corker drilled the common sense of leadership into the situation with his remarks: “I’d like for us to be dealing with reality instead of myth and perception. I just want to make sure we have a good policy outcome here.”

Times Editorial: Threatening another crisis (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The financial crisis created by Republicans last year over an increase in the debt ceiling led to a downgrading of the nation’s credit rating, harsh budget cuts and a congressional logjam that caused Congress’ approval ratings to plummet to record lows. Apparently that wasn’t enough for Majority Leader John Boehner and his reckless band of no-nothing tea party destructionists. Boehner and his wrecking crew want to do it all over again this year for election season fireworks. In his apparent hope that President Obama will be blamed for another congressional stall, Boehner announced this week that he would tear up last year’s agreement for $2 trillion in budget cuts and demand even more cuts in the programs that so many Americans rely on.

Guest columnist: School budget boost would help teachers, parents, students (NS)

As an 18-year veteran of the Knox County school system and a lifelong Knoxvillian, I support the School Board’s bold budget proposal. I urge County Commission to take a similarly bold position in support of education. What I like most about the board’s budget proposal is that it gives Knox County decision-makers a powerful opportunity to orient our community in solidarity and support of teachers, schools and parents. Frankly, we need the support. In significant and hopeful ways, things in my profession are much better than when I began teaching in 1993.

Guest columnist: TVA should jettison plutonium project (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The Tennessee Valley Authority is quietly deliberating participation in a risky, expensive and controversial program: use of experimental reactor fuel made from surplus weapons plutonium. TVA’s interest is due to a U.S. Department of Energy program that began studying the use of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel (MOX) in the mid-1990s as a way to dispose of surplus weapons materials. In spite of growing financial and technical problems in implementing the program, DOE is focused on convincing TVA to take on the increasingly questionable MOX mission.

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