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June 7 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 Legislation Phasing out Inheritance Tax (C. Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today traveled to Luckey Family Farm in Humboldt to highlight the second of three tax cuts passed during this year’s legislative session and signed by the governor. Haslam held a ceremonial bill signing of HB 3760/SB 3762, which phases out the state inheritance tax during the next three years before it is completely eliminated starting January 1st, 2016.

Haslam signs bill to cut taxes (Jackson Sun)

Tim Luckey grasped Gov. Bill Haslam’s hand and thanked him for helping Luckey keep a century-old farm within the family. Haslam and about 25 other state and local officials, farmers and co-op members went to the Luckey farm off Tenn. 186 South in Humboldt on Wednesday to watch Haslam sign a ceremonial bill that eventually will eliminate the state’s inheritance tax. Luckey and his father, Joe Luckey Jr., own 500 acres of farm land. At an estimated value of $10,000 an acre, Luckey’s land would be worth an estimated $5 million.

Gov In West Tenn to Sign Inheritance Tax Legislation (WNWS-Radio)

Gov. Bill Haslam today traveled to Luckey Family Farm in Humboldt to highlight the second of three tax cuts passed during this year’s legislative session and signed by the governor. Haslam held a ceremonial bill signing of HB 3760/SB 3762, which phases out the state inheritance tax during the next three years before it is completely eliminated starting January 1, 2016. The bill was introduced by the governor as the state continues its work toward providing the best customer service at the lowest possible cost to Tennesseans.

Governor Signs New Crime Legislation (WREG-TV Memphis)

Three new laws in Tennessee are in place after receiving the seal of approval and signature of TN Gov. Bill Haslam. Haslam was in the mid-south today to sign the bills into law. Governor Haslam was at the Bartlett Justice Center this afternoon to make three laws official. They will all mean stiffer penalties for the offenders. Stiffer penalties for felons in possession of guns, gang members that commit violent crimes together and a third law that hits home in Bartlett.

Haslam signs bill to curb metal theft (Marshall County Tribune)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law legislation sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy to reduce the growing problem of metal theft in Tennessee. The new law puts stiffer penalties into place on both the selling and the purchasing of stolen metals. Tracy of Shelbyville got the bill passed in the final days of the 2012 session. It also gives the Department of Commerce and Insurance more enforcement authority over scrap dealer registration.

Slow Gov’t Services an Extra Burden on Taxpayers: Haslam (TN Report)

Whether it’s inefficient state workers or lagging technology at driver’s license centers, the public essentially pays an additional “tax” any time government services are slow, Gov. Bill Haslam said this week. “I think there’s two kinds of taxes. There’s a tax that people pay, sales tax, income tax or whatever tax you’re paying. And then there’s the tax that you pay when you don’t get full value for government service,” he told the Tennessee Digital Government Summit in Nashville Tuesday.

TDOT developing traffic app (Memphis Business Journal)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is developing a smartphone app using traffic data it already collects, Nashville public radio station WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the app at a digital government conference in Nashville. TDOT already posts notices regarding traffic congestion on traffic signs and online. Haslam said the app would customize that information and make it more accessible. The free app is expected to be available later this year.

Veterans outreach office may soon come to Washington County, Tennessee (T-N)

“They have the right to have somebody out there advocating on their behalf,” says Donald Smith, Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs. The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs believes every county should have a county service officer, with one clear objective. “The bottom line is to get veterans to be aware of their benefits and to get somebody out on the streets in the county, at some of the events in the county, and get face to face, one on one with the veterans to explain to them what’s available to them,” says Smith.

TN MADD fears loss of specialty tag (Tennessean/Humbles)

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers of Tennessee needs about 70 of its specialty license plates to be purchased by June 30 or the plate will be retired. If that happens, the group says, it will lose a vital funding source for the organization. The MADD TN plate has provided more than $15,000 annually to the nonprofit that works to protect families from drunken driving and underage drinking. At least 500 of the specialty plates must be in circulation for the state to continue offering it.

Children’s welfare report examines state spending (Associated Press/Johnson)

Children’s advocates say a report released Wednesday on the welfare of children in Tennessee supports their belief that more preventive care programs will benefit youth long term, as well as save the state money. The Kids Count report, partially funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, focused on children’s well-being, but also examined how the state spends funds to improve the lives of children.

Knoxville judge orders retrials in slayings (Associated Press)

A Knoxville judge has ordered retrials for three defendants in the 2007 torture and slaying of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom of Knoxville without responding to prosecutors’ motion that he step off the case Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood issued the ruling Tuesday, stating that new trials are necessary because of unspecified witness credibility issues. WATE-TV was the first to report the new ruling.

Blackwood reasserts order: New trials in Christian-Newsom killings (NS/Satterfield)

A special judge this week did something he wouldn’t be able to do a month from now — order new trials for a second time in one of Knoxville’s most horrific crimes while a motion that he step aside is still pending. Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood on Tuesday filed an order granting new trials in the January 2007 torture-slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23. The move came after the Tennessee Supreme Court faulted his legal reasoning in granting new trials in December and ordered him to revisit his decision using their ruling as guidance.

State Republican Primaries and Their Screwy Match-Ups (Metro Pulse)

Some of his colleagues must be grinding their teeth. There are 23 Republicans in the Legislature who have challengers in their primary, a somewhat unprecedented revolt within the Republican Party. But state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Memphis, who was arrested this past session for drunk driving and having a pistol in his car, does not have either a primary or a general election opponent. State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, however, has three opponents in his primary and a formidable opponent in the general.

Memphis City Council lowers tax rate, OKs budget (Memphis Business Journal)

The Memphis City Council approved a $609.8 million budget during a marathon session Tuesday while lowering the city’s property tax rate to $3.11, Memphis Daily News reports. The new tax rate is an 8-cent reduction from the current $3.19 rate. The budget, set to take effect July 1, will use $19.6 million of the city’s $81 million reserve. It also will use 10 cents on the property tax rate and $20 million in one-time funding from the city’s OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) trust fund to help raise the $64.8 million needed to fund Memphis City Schools.

Memphis City Council chooses middle ground on budget (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

The budget the Memphis City Council adopted Tuesday after 14 hours of meetings was a victory for council members whose focus has been reducing the property tax rate. “We changed the conversation from how much of a tax increase there should be to how much of a tax decrease we could achieve,” said council budget committee chairman Jim Strickland. The council had considered alternatives that could have pushed the tax rate as low as $2.91 before voting 7-6 to approve the $3.11 rate per $100 of assessed value, with $3.01 for city operations and the rest for city schools.

City Budget Season Ends With Frustration (Memphis Daily News)

The year of the “gap budget” at City Hall felt and sounded a lot like the previous two budget years at City Hall. The mayor and City Council were frustrated even as the budget deliberations came to an end with a lowered city property tax rate. The use of one-time funding for a one-of-a-kind situation in which the city is entering the last fiscal year in which it must fund Memphis City Schools caused the frustration.

Residents Choose Sides During Tax Hike Public Hearing (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Dozens of Nashville residents turned out at a Metro Council meeting last night to voice their feelings on a proposed 53 cent increase in the property tax. Among those who spoke were parents of students in Metro Schools, and city employees like AJ Price. “I am supporting this budget because as a public librarian, I have a role to play in the education of Nashville’s children.” Many speakers put their own spin on Mayor Karl Dean’s pitch for the tax increase–that a city has to be confident enough to invest in itself.

Murfreesboro may pull off raises without a tax hike (Gannett/Humbles)

New business, sales tax help The Murfreesboro City Council will hold a public hearing tonight about an administration-proposed $117 million budget that will avoid a property tax increase for the 14th consecutive year. “We have made a decision to not rely on property taxes as a sole revenue source,” said Councilman Shane McFarland, who will be voting on his sixth fiscal year city budget after the public hearing.

Murfreesboro mosque foes seek to stop construction (Associated Press)

Opponents of a mosque in Rutherford County filed Wednesday for an injunction seeking to stop construction. According to The Daily News Journal, plaintiffs filed the request with Chancellor Robert Corlew, who last week declared the mosque approval void because of inadequate public notice but did not halt construction. The construction has been ongoing during the year and a half the court case has dragged on. There already is an existing mosque but supporters say a bigger one is needed.

Hamilton County Commission prays; residents object (Times Free-Press/Haman)

Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor opened Wednesday’s commission meeting with a prayer in Jesus’ name. He finished the invocation with “All these blessings we ask in your son Jesus’ name, amen.” Two residents took issue with that, asking commissioners during the public comment period to stop holding Christian prayers, while others stood to defend the commissioners’ prayers. “The county attorney sent a clear message by leading the commission-sanctioned prayer today,” said Tommy Coleman, who wants a moment of silence instead.

Making Their Moves (Memphis Flyer)

Officially, Bob Corker is just one of 17 U.S. Senate candidates who will appear on the Tennessee ballot this year. He is opposed by four other Republicans, including two certifiable Tea Party candidates, by seven Democrats, and by five Independents. The sheer volume of opponents venturing to file against an incumbent would normally indicate that the officeholder in question is vulnerable. But Corker is regarded as a solid — nay, a prohibitive — favorite against any of his would-be challengers, all of whom, in the strict sense, are no-names.

Sen. Corker visits Dyersburg for breakfast fundraiser (State Gazette)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker made a fundraising stop in Dyersburg on Friday, June 1 at the Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce. The senator had a full morning beginning with the breakfast event, which was well attended by approximately 300 people who had a unique opportunity to interact with a United States senator. The senator’s morning also included a private meeting with Port Authority Chairman Jimmy Williamson, Attorney John Lannom, Chamber President/CEO Allen Hester and various aides on the Port of Cates Landing construction.

Weston Wamp, 25, visits seniors in search for votes (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Twenty-five-year-old Weston Wamp made his case to the elderly on Wednesday, visiting five retirement communities and targeting a dependable voting bloc in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. Wamp, the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, kicked off a three-day self-titled “Generations” tour at Morning Pointe of Hixson, where about 20 seniors gathered in a room to hear the young Republican’s stump speech.

Ex-US Rep. Tanner joining Nashville law firm (Associated Press)

Former U.S. Rep. John Tanner of Union City has joined a newly expanded Nashville law firm. Tanner, a Democrat who retired from Congress in 2011 after 22 years in office, will specialize in government relations for Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has similar responsibilities for the firm in Jackson, Miss., where it is based. Butler Snow announced Thursday that 37 attorneys are joining the firm in Nashville, bringing its total number of attorneys in Tennessee to almost 100.

Federal agency says mercury no health threat, wraps up OR work (NS/Munger)

A federal agency has completed the last in a series of public health assessments related to Oak Ridge pollution, concluding that current-day discharges of mercury from the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant do not pose a threat to local residents. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in a 341-page report, evaluated Y-12’s mercury discharges from 1950 to 2009 and potential exposures to residents near the plant or people living in downstream communities.

HCA Moves Dirt on New Metro Public Health Center (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A long-awaited land swap between Metro Nashville and HCA took a ceremonial step forward Wednesday. The Nashville-based hospital chain is building a new public health center for the city in exchange for land near an HCA hospital. City and company officials broke ground for the new public health center on what is now a grassy field across Charlotte Avenue from HCA’s headquarters. In an unusual arrangement, the company is in charge of construction and keeping the cost to taxpayers around $28 million.

New health department breaks ground; Centennial gains space (TN/Wilemon)

Nashville’s new Lentz Public Health Center on Charlotte Avenue will open by late next year when HCA takes possession of the old headquarters adjacent to its TriStar Centennial campus. An environmentally friendly three-story structure on one of the city’s main thoroughfares will replace the health department’s antiquated building. HCA will spend up to $28.5 million to construct the new headquarters in exchange for the old property at 311 23rd Ave.

New restaurants bring hundreds of jobs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Harrington)

Finding work may be as simple as looking for the nearest new restaurant. Hundreds of jobs are expected to be added among more than a half dozen eateries that will open in Knox County in the coming months, including several national restaurant chains. “We really have a lot of opportunities that represent a wide variety of jobs,” said Gil Minor, general manager of Chuy’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant chain that will open next month in front of the new Kroger Marketplace at Cedar Bluff and Kingston Pike.

Nashville feels tech talent shortage (Tennessean/Underwood)

Groups are taking steps to lure more skilled workers to Music City Nashville often gets compared to cities such as Raleigh, N.C.; Austin, Texas; Seattle; and Portland, Ore. — not bad company, if you ask me. All of those places boast vibrant, diverse economies, large university populations, quirky creative cultures, and more recently, growing scenes for tech startups. So, it was with a dash of dismay that I read about a recent Brookings Institution analysis that showed Nashville lagging far behind those other cities when it comes to the percentage of the population with a college degree, a vital ingredient for economic success, according to the report.

Maury County mayor says he’ll be fair with GM (Associated Press)

Maury County Mayor James Bailey says the government will be fair with General Motors over the company’s in-lieu-of-tax agreement. According to The Daily Herald (http://bit.ly/KGaZb4 ), some county officials expect GM to seek to change the agreement after announcing it is returning vehicular production to its plant in Spring Hill in the county. The agreement means GM’s flat yearly payments to the county and its cities are contingent on whether some portion of the plant is being used for automobile assembly.

Great Hearts revives charter school bid (Tennessean/Rau)

Great Hearts Academy, the Arizona-based charter school chain that had its application to bring five new schools to Nashville unanimously rejected by the school board last week, plans to appeal the decision, according to an email sent by its CEO to supporters on Tuesday. The school board said the plan diverged from the traditional mission of Nashville charter schools, which has targeted poor children and students zoned for failing schools.

Amid Appeal, Charter Applicant Says It Won’t Give Up (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

An Arizona-based charter school operator says it won’t give up on expanding into Nashville. Great Hearts Academies is appealing a rejection from the Metro School Board this month. Even if it doesn’t win approval this year, Great Hearts says it won’t walk away. As a charter, Great Hearts would be privately led, but still receive public money. Its CEO says opening later than next year in Nashville would still be worth it, because thousands of parents have shown interest.

Register to Metro Council: Higher pay would send ‘clear message’ (CP/Garrison)

Simply the rumor Metro might pay new teachers higher salaries has generated additional interest in Nashville among teacher applicants, Director of Schools Jesse Register told Metro Council members Wednesday. “I’ll tell you, we do not have a shortage of people trying to teach right now in our district,” Register said at a council budget hearing Wednesday that lasted nearly five hours, surpassing the length a public hearing the previous night.

Nashville schools’ budget draws fire (Tennessean/Cass)

Schools officials faced occasionally aggressive questioning from Metro Council members Wednesday as they considered a $46.4 million increase in operating funds. Council members asked about the district’s priorities in instruction, information technology and construction as Director Jesse Register and others made the case for a $720.4 million budget in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That’s actually $2.5 million less than the amount the school board voted to request two months ago.

Cheatham seeks new schools director (Gannett/Adkins)

The Cheatham County School Board has offered Stan Curtis, its transportation supervisor, a one-year contract to serve as director of schools for the 2012-13 school year. If Curtis accepts, he would begin work July 1. He would replace Tim Webb, who resigned in May after serving as the director since November 2010. Webb has accepted a job at principal at Richland High School in Giles County. A specially called meeting to vote on the contract is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

New East Brainerd school now on hold (Times Free-Press/Haman)

The consequence of a Wednesday vote by the Hamilton County Commission to halt architect selection for a new East Brainerd Elementary School will be overcrowding at the current school in two years, the school board chairman says. The commission voted 7-2 to stop the architect selection process, which began in May. “If they want to delay the school and construction, so be it,” Board of Education Chairman Mike Evatt said.

School board wants input on future of old Knoxville High (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Approves letter of interest on school property The Knox County school board has decided to move forward in gauging community interest in selling Historic Knoxville High School. On Wednesday, members unanimously approved creating a letter of interest for the property that will be fielded by the Knox County Purchasing Department. The letter will seek input from developers or other organizations that might be willing to purchase the building and develop it.

Smaller School-Budget Increase Passes Co. Commission Without New Taxes (MP)

“It’s like an episode of Parks and Rec,” a friend e-mailed halfway through the epic Knox County Commission meeting on Monday. And indeed, the meeting could not had been more like the television show if it had tried. Support Our Schools sent Commission 500 apples before the meeting started. A member of the Tea Party gave Commission 10 lemons and told the 11 members to make lemonade. A man played a harmonica. Recently arrested Commissioner Jeff Ownby chewed gum for two hours straight.

Suburbs set class for school boards (Commercial Appeal/Wolff)

If voters in the six suburbs outside Memphis approve a referendum Aug. 2 for municipal school districts, citizens who want to sit on the school boards will have some homework. The suburbs are jointly hosting a workshop Aug. 7 at the Bartlett Station Municipal Center to educate those who are considering running Nov. 6 for the 30 school board positions. Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman, who also serves as a suburban member of the unified school board, presented the idea to the other suburban mayors.

California: San Diego and San Jose Lead Way in Pension Cuts (New York Times)

While the eyes of the nation focused on Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker brushed back a recall attempt by critics of his move to strip most public-sector unions of their collective bargaining rights, a pair of less noticed local elections Tuesday in California could have more immediate ramifications for struggling state and local governments and for organized labor. Residents of San Diego and San Jose voted overwhelmingly to cut the pension benefits they give city workers.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Tougher sex offender law will protect women (Jackson Sun)

A new state criminal sentencing guideline brought to the Tennessee General Assembly by law enforcement was signed into law recently by Gov. Bill Haslam. Registered sex offenders who are arrested for stalking or indecent exposure now will be charged with a Class E felony and be subject to six to 12 years in prison. This is a significant improvement in the law that will get convicted sex offenders off the street and into prison where they belong. The change in the law was initiated by Jackson Police Investigator Mark Headen following the arrest of a violent sex offender in March 2011.

Guest columnist: Access to education gives Tennessee a chance (C. Appeal)

Denying youngsters access to education is unkind, unenlightened public policy and bad for the future of our state and society. Two important election-year issues, education and immigration, converged in Tennessee last month with a rally at the Parthenon in Nashville. Students and their advocates called on local and national leaders to do the right thing and support national immigration reform, the DREAM Act and tuition equality for undocumented college students.

Free-Press Editorial: Tantalizing VW prospect in Chattanooga (Times Free-Press)

It is no closely held secret that Volkswagen long has planned a major expansion of operations at Enterprise South Industrial Park, but just what that expansion might look like has been less clear. Some hints are surfacing, however, and at a good time for the Chattanooga area. Even as the local Pilgrim’s Pride poultry-processing plants are laying off 190 employees, Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen of America, has told the Detroit Free Press that Chattanooga may be an ideal location to build a midsize utility vehicle. That would be in addition to the award-winning Passats already being built in Chattanooga by thousands of workers.

Guest columnist: Good public schools aid all of us (Tennessean)

Mayor Karl Dean has courageously proposed a Metro property tax increase — the first such increase in his administration — and one badly needed if Nashville schools and public safety are to continue their recent improvement. Supporting the tax increase for police and public safety is in everyone’s interest, and we have seen how the investments of the past two mayoral administrations have resulted in lower crime rates and a safer city. Increased taxes for schools may be another matter for the parents of the 20,000 Nashville students who attend private schools.

Wendi C. Thomas: At least give a try at finding leadership (Commercial Appeal)

Nice isn’t enough. Familiar isn’t enough. Basic competency and the confidence that he won’t embarrass anyone isn’t enough. The unified school district needs a dynamic, charismatic, oh-my-God-who-knew-a-superintendent-could-be-so-great leader. Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken isn’t it. Thankfully this week, the back-door machinations to send Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash packing and usher in Aitken’s reign were put on pause. A special meeting scheduled for Monday to discuss Cash’s contract was canceled, but no one thinks Cash will oversee the merged district. He’s just too polarizing.

Editorial: College’s True Cost (New York Times)

The Obama administration is rightly pressing colleges to bring clarity to the often misleading and unintelligible financial aid letters that many send out to newly admitted students. The White House’s announcement that 10 colleges and state university systems have agreed to create user-friendly financial aid letters is encouraging, but more will obviously need to be done. Many colleges actually hide the real expense of an education by issuing financial aid letters that blur the distinction between grants and loans to make the school look more affordable.

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