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May 20 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Awards $120,000 Trails Program Grant to the City of Clarksville (C. Online)

Tennessee Governor 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 was awarded to the City of Clarksville to connect Mary’s Oak Trail Head and the 101st Pedestrian Bridge through Heritage Park. “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.

TN.gov website gets a redesign (Tennessean/Cass)

The state has a newly revamped website at TN.gov, which Gov. Bill Haslam’s office is touting as “dramatically redesigned and improved.” “For many Tennesseans, TN.gov is the primary way they interact with and experience state government,” the governor said in a news release. “The goal of this new design is to enhance this experience by presenting users with a path to the content and services they need in the most efficient and effective way possible.”

Unforeseen Hostility to Class-Size Flexibility Plan Surprised Haslam (TN Report)

After finishing the first third of the term in office he was elected in a landslide to serve in 2010, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s been able to check off a handful of campaign promises from his to-do list. But one of his biggest frustrations has been realizing that running government isn’t always just like running a business. He says that’s particularly true in education, where his initiatives have at times faced opposition from locally elected school boards and county commissions about how to implement them.

Commission bars ‘misleading’ names (Tennessean/Young)

If you’re a candidate for public office and you have no money or name recognition, what do you do? One option: You try to change your name to something people can’t help but notice. But the State Election Commission saw through that ploy Monday. At the recommendation of the state’s elections coordinator, Mark Goins, the commission voted not to allow David “None of the Above” Gatchell or James “Tea Party” Higdon to appear on the ballot for the U.S. Senate race in the ways they’d prefer.

Saving little hearts: Legislation makes simple test mandatory (Daily Times)

Legislation requiring a simple test to detect potentially fatal heart defects in newborns was signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam April 17. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), was suggested by Karin Coulter, executive director of Saving Little Hearts Inc. According to a news release from the state senate, the bill requires the state’s Genetic Advisory Committee to develop a program to screen newborns for critical cyanotic congenital heart disease (CCCHD) using pulse oximetry prior to discharge from hospitals and other birthing facilities.

Tennessee legislative session brings measures on immigration (TFP/Trevizo)

During the final days of Tennessee’s legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill that requires anyone applying for public benefits to prove they are in the country legally. The legislation is part of the state’s efforts to enforce immigration and is one of the major pieces the state has passed, said its sponsor, Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas. Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign the bill, according to his office. Tennessee’s more targeted approach to immigration enforcement laws differs from the approach taken by some other states.

Feds ease deadline for state to create insurance exchange (Times-News)

Tennessee lawmakers won’t need a special session to determine whether to set up a state health insurance exchange called for in the federal health care reform law, according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Ramsey, R-Blountville, had floated the idea of holding a special session later this year on creating an exchange pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the law this summer. “The federal government has now decided they aren’t ready (to implement the exchanges). … Time is not of the essence now. We’ll come back in session in January and address it then,” Ramsey said.

Immigrant grads rally for in-state tuition (Tennessean/Young)

Just hours before her graduation from John Overton High School, Arely Bravo, 19, stood on the steps of the Parthenon with about 50 other people and vowed to fight for tuition equality for all of Tennessee’s students. “Undocumented students have to pay out-of-state tuition even though they’ve been here since they were babies,” said Bravo, whose parents brought her to Tennessee when she was about 5 years old. “We just want to be able to pay as much as any other student would to continue our education.”

Cleveland-Bradley County alliance hit by sales tax dispute (TFP/Leach)

Officials say an ongoing sales tax dispute between Bradley County and Cleveland could put future partnerships between the two governments at risk. On Monday, Bradley commissioners are expected to vote on a resolution declaring that the county won’t be able to participate in joint capital projects with the city “due to a potential loss of sales tax revenues.” “This dispute has an effect on a lot of stuff, period,” commission Chairman Louie Alford said. “We need to mend our fences.”

Cooper caucus looks to ‘fix’ Congress (Tennessean/Bewley)

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper has long said Congress is broken. Now he’s starting a new caucus to fix it. The bipartisan Fix Congress Now Caucus launched at a news conference at the Capitol last week. Cooper is founding the group with three other lawmakers: Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Republican Reps. Scott Rigell of Virginia and Reid Ribble of Wisconsin. Republican Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin also will join the group, according to Cooper’s spokeswoman, Katie Hill.

Bob Corker’s money, name recognition make him heavy favorite (NS/Humphrey)

Money, name recognition heavily in senator’s favor in field of 17 Not so long ago, Bob Corker was not sure he wanted another six-year term in the U.S. Senate because of frustration over congressional inaction, which he compares to “watching paint dry.” “Most people who know me know that all last year, I really had to think about that myself,” he said in a telephone interview from his Washington office.

Stakes high on eve of Tennessee’s 3rd District Republican debate (TFP/Carroll)

An incumbent, two challengers and the voters they’re courting will meet Monday in the first debate of an unusual 3rd Congressional District Republican primary. Experts and aides are predicting fireworks between U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp. It will be the pair’s most direct confrontation since Wamp — the 25-year-old son of Fleischmann’s eight-term predecessor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp — announced that he would try for his father’s old seat.

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.

No-bid contract in Chattanooga triples taxpayer tab (Times Free-Press/Smith)

Plans to save taxpayer money have backfired on federal officials in Chattanooga. A no-bid lease at downtown’s Warehouse Row, initially touted as a way to save on moving expenses, instead resulted in the U.S. attorney’s office paying one of the highest rents in the city. Taxpayers will foot a $5.75 million rental bill over the 10-year term. The new offices will cost the federal government $1.35 million more than the U.S. General Services Administration’s initial estimate over the next decade and triple the amount now spent to house federal prosecutors in Chattanooga.

Johnson City’s postal operations safe for now (Johnson City Press)

Johnson City’s East Main Street office is not among the U.S. Postal Service’s 140 offices that will undergo consolidations during the next two years to save money during its ongoing financial hardship. This does not mean the office is immune from a second round of consolidations in 2014. In February, the USPS announced it would move its mail processing operations at Johnson City’s main post office to Knoxville sometime after May 15, absent any intervening action by the federal government.

Middle TN summer jobs for young people are in demand (Tennessean/Williams)

Teens, more-experienced adults compete for jobs, as government funding dries up Joel Morrison has already been out of school for more than a week, but he hasn’t found a summer job yet to earn a little spending money before returning to college in the fall. Morrison, 19, a Columbia, Tenn., resident who just finished his freshman year as a business major at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, thought it’d be a breeze to land work during the summer break.

Knoxville among leaders in new manufacturing jobs (News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Mike Russell, president of Steel Plate Fabricators, lifts a stack of advertising fliers from his desk and frowns. It’s a thick stack — about six inches — and each flier advertises an auction to liquidate the equipment of a failed manufacturing firm. Russell said he gets these in the mail all the time. “This is my motivation.” Motivation to stay “hunkered down,” as Russell says; to buy only equipment and materials with existing funds, to avoid debt and to continue trying to “reinvent” the Knoxville company.

Memphis-area business lending stuck in neutral (C. Appeal/Evanoff)

In an atmosphere of wariness, a few area banks are stepping up the pace Only a few weeks ago, Triumph Bank loaned money to an expanding Memphis wholesaler. And Independent Bank, the second-largest lender based in Memphis, booked loans for two separate hotel deals. Some homegrown banks are making more business loans. But most borrowers and bankers remain wary. The overall pace of business lending appears flat across greater Memphis.

Study of schools ‘dissolution’ says response empowered suburbs (CA/Locker)

A journal article by a University of California law professor concludes that the 2011 state law allowing the creation of suburban school districts after the city and county schools merge next year “made things dramatically worse for Shelby County, including Memphis,” by favoring the “strongest suburbs” over the metro area as a whole. The Columbia Law Review article by UC Berkeley Law School assistant professor Michelle Wilde Anderson examined the Memphis City Schools district’s “dissolution” and the state’s response to it — the “Norris-Todd Act” of 2011 — in the context of its larger effects on regionalism.

Mayor, director of schools to visit four schools Monday (Tennessean/Young)

Mayor Karl Dean and Metro Schools Director Jesse Register will tour four southeastern Davidson County schools in need of expansion and renovation from 10:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. on Monday. During the tour, Dean and Register will visit portable classrooms, look at how facilities are being modified to provide classroom space and visit cafeterias in need of renovation. Both will eat lunch with third-graders at A.Z. Kelley Elementary School.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Second chance measure for some crimes makes sense (Jackson Sun)

Legislation passed by the General Assembly giving some convicted criminals a second chance is on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk and deserves to become law. Haslam’s office has given no indication that the governor intends to veto the measure. People make mistakes, sometimes serious mistakes that involve breaking the law. Many Tennesseans express belief in a “second chance” for those who make mistakes. But should it apply to those who commit crimes? We believe there are instances when it can safely be applied.

Tom Humphrey: Post-session awards show continues with hijacks, highballs (NS)

More superlative performances from the 2012 session of the 107th General Assembly: Re-election Resolution of the Year: By remarkable coincidence, it seems the representatives who sponsored the most controversial statement-of-opinion resolutions are facing Republican primary opposition in seeking a new term. There was strong competition the production of the nonbinding resolutions, but if the objective was to rally the base with red-meat rhetoric, irritating Democrats in the process, the best was Rep. Kevin Brooks’ HJR588, condemning the “nefarious and destructive nature” of United Nations Agenda 21.

Gail Kerr: ‘Gateway sex’ bill makes TN a laughingstock again (Tennessean)

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the ridiculous law banning public school students from learning about “gateway sexual activities” because, he said, it really doesn’t change anything. He’s dead wrong about that. Like the infamous state law allowing us to eat road kill and the time a Metro councilman wanted to build a UFO landing pad, Tennessee has made headlines across the nation once again. We are a laughingstock. It damages every effort Haslam has made to attract companies and new jobs to Tennessee. The legislation is a confusing mess.

Chris Peck: Memphis needs long-term plan (Commercial Appeal)

Someone asks you: ”What’s the biggest problem Memphis faces?” How would you respond? Crime? Poverty? Race? Memphians share a certain bond of common understanding about this question. Living here, you learn quickly to use one of these chestnuts to fill in the blank when any conversation includes the comment, ”The problem with Memphis is …” But describing crime, poverty or race as the city’s biggest problem is both shallow and wrong. These hard-boiled issues, like death and taxes, are not really Memphis problems. They are eternal issues of conflict, points of friction, baked-in realities of the human condition.

Guest columnist: Schools work when citizens engage (Commercial Appeal)

If you really care about the children in this community, please find the time to show it in our schools. As the mother of three, education is where my heart lies. It takes a village to raise a child, the saying goes. But what does this really mean? Somehow, many of us have this idea that the “perfect” school system is determined by what plan is put on paper or how far we raise the bar on test scores and teacher performance. I dare not argue that these things are not significant, but let’s not forget about the people inside the village.

 

Clay Bennett Political Cartoon: “The Candidate” (Times Free-Press)

 

Frank Daniels: Note to Congress: Measure twice – sound advice (Tennessean)

“You’re just cutting your nose off to spite your face.” As a child, too often, that phrase would be thrust at me as an assessment of my choice of ways that I chose to “punish” my parents for their wanton disregard of my feelings and/or desires. The words sprung to mind last week when I saw that the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to strip the funding from the American Community Survey, a U.S. Census Bureau statistical survey that has become the largest source of information outside of the 10-year census. Information gathered from the 250,000 households surveyed each month (3 million a year) is used to allocate $300 billion-$400 billion in federal funds each year.

Editorial: Commissioners need to explore funding options (News-Sentinel)

The Knox County school system isn’t the only sector of county government that is seeking more funding in next year’s budget. The Knox County Sheriff’s Office wants to give employees raises. Some commissioners want to restore funds slashed from various programs ranging from senior citizen bus fares to economic development efforts. Commissioners should confine any property tax increase to school system funding, but that doesn’t mean other requests cannot be met. Some shifting of line items in the proposed budget could resolve the funding dilemma.

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